By Dermot Cottuli
In the lead up to Easter I’d like to take some time to look at the only person whose life and influence has been so far-reaching and impacting down through history that even our secular nation stops twice every year for a national holiday celebrating events from his life. We’re taking a look at the carpenter from Nazareth, who later became known as the Jewish Messiah and the Saviour of all humankind. A man who only lasted 3 years in his career ending job, who never travelled more than 100 miles from his childhood home, who didn’t command an army or a million followers on Facebook and yet here we are 2000 years later, part of a movement of his followers that number a third of the earth’s population, living as far away as you can possibly get from the ground upon which his sandals trod.
There’s no one like Jesus and there never will be. His influence surpasses every other person who has ever been born from the beginning of time right up until today. Over my next two messages I want to look at some of the things that are unique about Jesus. When we’ve finished everyone will have to make a decision. What will you do with this man? What will you do with Jesus?
Some of you are going to realise that you only knew half the story and will find yourself even more passionate about following in His footsteps.
Others of you may have questioned whether you simply believe in Jesus because that was what you were brought up to believe and by the end of our series you’ll realise that your belief has gone from a lazy emotional commitment to a passionate conviction firmly rooted in historical fact and obvious logic.
Some of you are going to to come face to face with the distractions that have clouded your lives and find them blown away in the light of a truth that wasn’t meant to be used simply as a comforting blanket to wrap yourself up in on a cold winters night, but rather as a cataclysmic disruption to all your hopes, dreams and plans for your future.
Whatever happens, one thing is absolutely certain, you won’t be the same once we’ve finished.
1) Jesus is unique because unlike anyone else in history his coming was pre-announced, and I don’t mean by 9 months. We’re talking by 1000’s of years.
History is full of men who have claimed to have had a message from God or who have claimed to be divine themselves – Buddha, Mohammad, Confucius, Krishna, Jesus Christ – each has a right to be heard and considered but there needs to be a reasonable test by which we can judge the merits of their claims.
- Test of Reason
- Test of History
Reason because everyone has it, even those without faith, and history because everyone lives in it and should know something about it.
Reason dictates that if these men really came from God then the least God could do for them would be to pre-announce their arrival. Long before a new iPhone is released onto the market, Apple lets you know it’s coming.
If God sent someone from himself or if He himself came to earth with a vitally important message for all of humankind would it not be reasonable that he would let people know beforehand that He was coming?
He might even go further. He might even let you know where He would be born, where He would live, the message He would bring, the enemies He would make, the reason for His coming and He might even let you know the kind of death He would die. By the extent to which the messenger conformed to these pre-announcements you could then judge the validity of their claims.
Reason further assures us that if God did not do this, then there would be nothing to prevent an imposter from appearing in history and saying “I come from God,” or “An angel appeared to me in the desert and gave me this message.” In such cases there would be no objective, historical way of testing the messenger. We would only have his word for it, and of course he could be wrong or worse, lying.
What record before you were born was there, that you were coming?
Socrates had no one to foretell his birth, neither did Confucius or Buddha. Mohammad wasn’t pre-announced, he simply turned up and said here I am, believe me.
But with Jesus it’s different.
Jesus steps out of the line of other such claimants to divinity and says “Search the records.” And not just the writings of Jewish historians but other cultures and peoples, the Babylonians, Persians, Greeks and Romans.
Isaiah, a Jewish prophet, writing hundreds of years before Jesus said he would be born of a virgin.
Genesis 49:10 written 1400 years before Jesus, talks about how the Messiah would be born from the line of Judah. Jeremiah 23:5 speaks of the fact that the Messiah would be a descendant of King David.
Micah 5:2 600 years before Jesus
“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”
The prophet Isaiah doesn’t just talk about Jesus being born of a virgin but also said that before he appeared on the scene there would be another man who would prepare the way for his coming, preaching in the wilderness. He was speaking about John the Baptist, the cousin of Jesus. And in Isaiah 53 we have Jesus’ incredible sacrifice laid out for us 100’s of years before he was even born and then followed through perfectly in his recorded life.
Isaiah 53 (TLB)
But, oh, how few believe it! Who will listen? To whom will God reveal his saving power? In God’s eyes he was like a tender green shoot, sprouting from a root in dry and sterile ground. But in our eyes there was no attractiveness at all, nothing to make us want him. We despised him and rejected him—a man of sorrows, acquainted with bitterest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way when he went by. He was despised, and we didn’t care.
Yet it was our grief he bore, our sorrows that weighed him down. And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God, for his own sins! But he was wounded and bruised for our sins. He was beaten that we might have peace; he was lashed—and we were healed!
We—every one of us—have strayed away like sheep! We, who left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet God laid on him the guilt and sins of every one of us!
He was oppressed and he was afflicted, yet he never said a word. He was brought as a lamb to the slaughter; and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he stood silent before the ones condemning him. From prison and trial they led him away to his death. But who among the people of that day realised it was their sins that he was dying for—that he was suffering their punishment? He was buried like a criminal, but in a rich man’s grave; but he had done no wrong and had never spoken an evil word.
But it was the Lord’s good plan to bruise him and fill him with grief. However, when his soul has been made an offering for sin, then he shall have a multitude of children, many heirs. He shall live again, and God’s program shall prosper in his hands. And when he sees all that is accomplished by the anguish of his soul, he shall be satisfied; and because of what he has experienced, my righteous Servant shall make many to be counted righteous before God, for he shall bear all their sins. Therefore, I will give him the honours of one who is mighty and great because he has poured out his soul unto death. He was counted as a sinner, and he bore the sins of many, and he pled with God for sinners.
All of that was written 700 years before Jesus turned up, in the sacred book of the ones who would eventually kill him.
Moses speaking 1400 years before Jesus in the book of Numbers said a star would appear in the night sky, a star that would tell all of Israel that a ruler had come. Jeremiah predicted that Herod would kill all the baby boys in Bethlehem to try and kill the newly born King of the Jews. Hosea 11:1 talks about the Messiah having to flee to Egypt and later being called back to Israel which is what happened to Mary and Joseph and young Jesus to avoid the slaughter of the baby boys that occurred.
Jesus fulfils well over 300 prophecies that pre-announce his arrival, his life, his death and his resurrection, and interestingly, once Jesus ascends to heaven the prophecies stop!
Writers from other cultures and civilisations also spoke of a coming Messiah
Tacitus, a Roman senator and Historian born 58 AD said of the Roman culture
“People were generally persuaded in the faith of the ancient prophecies that the East was to prevail and that from Judea was to come the Master and the Ruler of the world.”
In 69 AD Suetonius in his account of the life of Vespasian recounts the Roman tradition when he wrote
“It was an old and constant belief throughout the East that by indubitably certain prophecies the Jews were to attain the highest power.”
China had the same expectation but because it’s on the other side of the world, it believed that the great Wise Man would be born in the West. The Annals of the Celestial Empire contain this statement:
In the 24th year of Tchao-Wang of the dynasty of the Tcheou, on the 8th day of the 4th moon, a light appeared in the Southwest which illumined the king’s palace. The monarch, struck by its splendour, interrogated the sages. They showed him books in which this prodigy signified the appearance of the great Saint of the West who’s religion was to be introduced into their country.
The Greeks expected him, for Aeschylus in his Prometheus six hundred years before Jesus’ coming wrote,
“Look not for any end, moreover to this curse until God appears, to accept upon His Head the pangs of thy own sins vicarious.”
Cicero, after accounting the sayings of the ancient oracles and the Sibyls about
a “King whom you must recognise to be saved,” asked in expectation, “To what man and to what period of time do these predictions point?”
The fourth Eclogue of Virgil recounted the same ancient tradition and spoke of
“a chaste woman, smiling on her infant boy, with whom the iron age would pass away.”
Not only were the Jews expecting the birth of a Great King, a Wise Man and a Saviour, but Plato and Socrates also spoke of the Logos and of the Universal Wise Man “yet to come.” Confucius spoke of the “Saint”; the Sybls, of a “Universal King”; the Greek dramatist of a saviour and redeemer to unloose man from the “primal eldest curse.”
All of these were on the Gentile side of the equation. What separates Jesus from all other men is that first of all, he was expected; even the Gentiles had a longing for a deliverer or redeemer. That fact alone distinguishes him from all other religious leaders.
2) A second distinguishing fact is that once he turned up, He struck history with such force that he split it in two, dividing it into two periods: one before His coming, the other after it.
Buddha didn’t do that neither did any of the great Indian philosophers. Even those who deny Jesus have to date their attacks on Him, A.D so and so – so many years after his coming. When you write your date of birth on a Centrelink form you’re referencing how many years you were born after Jesus. Everyone in the world today does the same thing when they talk about the year they were born in.
3) A third fact separating Him from all others is this: Every other person who ever came into this world came into it to live. Jesus came into it to die.
Death was a stumbling block for Socrates–it interrupted his teaching. But to Jesus, death was the goal and fulfilment of His life, the gold that he was seeking. Few of his words or actions are understandable without reference to the cross and his death. He presented himself as Saviour not just a Teacher. It meant nothing to teach men and women to be good unless He also gave them the power to be good, after rescuing them from the entrapment of guilt.
The story of every human life begins with birth and ends with death. In Jesus however, it was his death that was first and his life that was last. In the book of Revelation it describes Him as
“the Lamb slain as it were, from the beginning of the world.”
The very meaning of his name, Saviour, spoke of his death from the moment of his birth, because for him to be our Saviour required Him to die in our place.
Jesus’ greatest achievement began at the moment of his death, (which is saying something because he lived a life unmatched by anyone born to this day), and has continued on through his resurrection right up until our day. His death opened the door for the whole world to be be saved if people simply believed in Him. Without His death the 32% of the world’s population who call themselves His followers wouldn’t even exist because it was His death that provided Salvation for all humankind. His death didn’t cut short the life of an amazing teacher in the prime of his life. His death was the curtain raiser, or in Jesus’ case the curtain ripper, to the main scene in the history of the world. Everything else that happened before was just the prologue to the main event. And no-one else can claim that for any other “so-called” messenger from God. When they died it was all over, when Jesus died it was just beginning.
4) Jesus was unique because he had an eternal prehistory.
Everyone has a back story but only Jesus has one that stretches back into eternity past. His back story predates history itself.
John 1:1-5 NLT
In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He existed in the beginning with God. God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him. The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.
John 1:14-15 NLT
So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son. John testified about him when he shouted to the crowds, “This is the one I was talking about when I said, ‘Someone is coming after me who is far greater than I am, for he existed long before me.'”