Some years ago I received a letter from a young man I knew slightly. ‘I have just made a great discovery,’ he wrote. ‘Almighty God had two sons. Jesus Christ was the first; I am the second.’ I glanced at the address at the top of his letter. He was writing from a well-known psychiatric hospital.
There have of course been many pretenders to greatness and to divinity. Psychiatric hospitals are full of deluded people who claim to be Julius Caesar, the prime minister, the president of the United States or Jesus Christ. But no-one believes them. No-one is deceived except themselves. They have no disciples, except perhaps their fellow patients. They fail to convince other people for the simple reason that they don’t actually seem to be what they claim to be. Their claims are not supported by their character.
Now the Christian’s conviction about Christ is greatly strengthened by the fact that he really does appear to be who he said he was. There is no inconsistency between his words and his deeds. There is no doubt that he would need to be a very remarkable character in order to authenticate his extravagant claims. But Christians believe that he was exactly that. His character doesn’t prove his claims to be true, but it does strongly confirm them. His claims were exclusive. His character was unique. Carnegie Simpson wrote:
Instinctively we do not class him with others … Jesus is not one of the group of the world’s great. Talk about Alexander the Great and Charles the Great and Napoleon the Great if you will … Jesus is apart. He is not the Great; he is the Only. He is simply Jesus. Nothing could add to that.
Napoleon himself wrote:
Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne, and I have founded empires. But on what did we rest the creations of our genius? Upon force. Jesus Christ founded his empire upon love …
But even to say that Jesus is ‘the greatest man who has ever lived’ doesn’t fully do him justice. The point is that when it comes to thinking about where he stands in relation to other dominant figures from history, we’re not comparing like with like. We need to focus instead on the complete contrast that there is between him and everyone else. ‘Why do you call me good?’ he asked someone on one occasion. ‘No-one is good—except God alone.’ That’s it exactly. It’s not simply that he is better than others, nor even that he is the best human being who has ever lived, but that he is good—good with the absolute goodness of God.
The importance of this claim is very clear. What Christians call sin is a congenital disease which is endemic throughout the human race. We are all born with its infection in our nature. It is a universal ailment. Therefore, if the claim that Jesus of Nazareth was without sin is true, then he cannot have been human in exactly the same way that the rest of us are human. If he really was sinless, he was distinct from us. He was supernatural.
John Stott, Basic Christianity, New edition. (Nottingham: Inter-Varsity Press, 2008), 48–50.
I have just finished a study of this fantastic book. In this study, I deal with six chapters of Stott’s book. It is available on Amazon, as well as a part of my Good Question Subscription Service.