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Publications: Introducing Jesus

An excerpt from Chapter 3 of "Introducing Jesus" - an exposition of John's Gospel

Jesus has always been a controversial figure. There is nothing unusual about that, of course. Controversy has surrounded many great and important men of history. But the debate about Jesus is rather a special one. Normally it is a man’s ideas that provoke the argument. Take for instance a thinker like Karl Marx. He is controversial because of the revolutionary political and economic theories that he espoused. Or take a man like Sigmund Freud; he was the source of enormous outrage in his day because of the bizarre and unconventional explanations he gave of mental illness. The quarrels which these seminal thinkers have generated in our century all centre around the opinions they had. And I think you will find that is the way it is with 99% of all controversies.

But with Jesus it is different. With few exceptions, the ideas of Jesus are universally applauded. Which of us would want to quarrel with his ethic? ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ ... ‘Turn the other cheek’... ‘Sell what you have and give to the poor’. Everyone agrees upon the wisdom and laudability of this kind of advice. The moral values of Jesus have rarely, if ever, been contradicted. On the contrary, they have been a source of inspiration to multitudes both of Christians and non-Christians alike.

No, unlike Marx and Freud, what makes Jesus controversial is not the ideas that he expressed but the person he was. If Christians had been prepared to call Jesus just a great man, or a philosopher, or a genius, even a prophet, there would have been no controversy about him at all. He would have gone down in history as a saint and have been revered by just about everybody. It was not what he taught, but who he was that has caused the argument. Christianity has been a controversial religion simply because Christians have insisted that no category was sufficient to contain their Master, except the category of divinity itself. Jesus was God, they say; God in the flesh.

It is that which provokes the humanist’s contempt, which inspires the Muslim’s rage, which severed Christianity from its Jewish roots and which is still today the major obstacle to faith for many thinking people. ‘I can accept the Sermon on the Mount’, they say. ‘It’s the supernatural dimensions with which you Christians invest your Jesus that I find so difficult.’ Well in this chapter I want us to examine that controversy about the person of Jesus. I want us to think about why it is that Christians confess Jesus as God and about the great issues that hang upon that confession.

According to John, the controversy about Jesus’ divinity had already begun during the years of his public ministry in Palestine.

From Chapter 3 of Introducing Jesus an exposition of John's Gospel

by Roy Clements (copyright 1986)
Published by Kingsway ISBN 0-85476-321-X

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