Thursday, 22 September 2016

5 Ways Jesus isn't just 'another Nice Guy'

By Isaac Withers

I have a friend at uni who talks like no one I know. He was one of those people that used to say ‘cheeky Nandos’ genuinely. ‘Bad guy’ seems to be his ultimate insult, ‘nice guy’ plays a similar role when he approves of someone, and before we split for Easter last year, he applied it to Jesus.

We’d been talking about how we were going to celebrate the coming holiday and I was talking faith stuff, Easter, all that. He said he didn’t believe Jesus was the son of God but thought he was a ‘really good guy’.

It was a really funny exchange in between printing essays, but it reminded me of how many people must see Jesus. How there are various versions of pop culture Jesus, all 'nice guys'.You probably know them all already. There’s:

a)       Hippie Jesus, favoured by internet memes. A guy in a robe you could easily replace with ‘The Dude’ from The Big Lebowski, who’s just happy for you whatevs bro.

b)      Che Guevara Jesus, this kind of political figure, a leading revolutionary in a Jewish uprising, who was killed.

c)       Then there's guy they told you about in assemblies at school at 9am when you were bored/tired out of your mind, where he walked you through a nice story to get to a moral. About how you should be nice. Stirring stuff.

For all our laughing that day, I knew that my friend was representing our generation, a whole wave of people had never had Jesus explained to them beyond the nice guy image. So, almost to remind myself, I thought I’d write this all up, as to why Christians have many reasons to distinguish their ‘nice guy’ from the rest.

 1. The Claim

 So, this is a biggie, but we have to start here.

Jesus's claim to be the son of God, sets him apart in history. When you think of the other major religions of today, none of the founders of those faiths, claimed such a position. Not Mohammad, nor any of the Buddhas, or even anyone involved in Scientology (yet...).

And it was my first response to this friend. 'He claimed to be the son of God!' That's why he's remembered. He's either crazy, or it's true. For all the nice stories about lost sheep and for all the entertaining agricultural analogies, they all fall to the wayside with this.

But let me pass this on to someone who's thought this argument through.

“A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher.

He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

2. The Miracles

If you haven’t seen the film Risen yet, I advise you to check it out. It came out around Easter this year and it follows a centurion (Joseph Fiennes) on his quest to find the body of Jesus post-supposed resurrection (and it’s got the kid that played Malfoy in it). SPOILER ALERT, Jesus is alive about halfway into the running time. Sorry.

The scenes with the centurion, the disciples and Jesus are really interesting. There’s a moment when the centurion, asks Peter ‘why do you follow him?’ Straight after that question, someone limps over nearby, covered in bandages under their robes, and you watch Jesus get up, embrace them, heal them, send them on their way, and then sit back down with his friends. Peter turns to the centurion and says, ‘that’s why we follow him’.

I think it’s the fault of 9am assemblies at school, and people telling the nice stories of the nice miracles, that they seem far less real to us 2000 years later. But they’re consistently reported, all over the New Testament and they make sense of the phenomenon of early Christianity. If it was a few stories, you could make it up, but there’s 37 detailed accounts of miracles in the Gospels, and then countless references to more.

'So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics, 
and he healed them.' 

Matthew 4: 24

'But there are also many other things which Jesus did; were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.'

John 21:25

The Catechism clarifies the purpose of this phenomenon of miracles that Jesus brought with him wherever he went. 'They are not intended to satisfy people's curiosity or desire for magic' (CC 548:272), instead, 'the signs worked by Jesus attest that the Father has sent him. They invite belief in him' (CC 548: 269). And they're a phenomenon that set him apart form everyone else really.

3. The Crucifixion

To be ‘nice’ to someone, I think you draw the line a long time before dying for them. Nice is offering them another biscuit, the one you could have had. It’s nothing drastic.

It's perhaps easier to think that Jesus was just a good philosophical teacher, if you leave this area well alone. He was brutally executed. Bishop Robert Baron at World Youth Day described the cross as ‘a kind of state sponsored terrorism’, a way for the Roman Empire to say, if you mess with us, this is what we’ll do to you. St. Paul put it like this:

'And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, 
even death on a cross.' 

Philippians 2:8

The early church would have got what Paul meant. God accepted worse case scenario. Crucifixion was the worst way to die, and I still don’t think we have come up with an uglier alternative. Jesus the nice guy doesn’t go anywhere near this kind of pain, this kind of brutality. But the real Jesus?

'Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.' 

John 15:13

Jesus died for what he said, but the Church says that much more than that, he died for usThe message of Christianity, is that Jesus died for every human individual. No other 'nice guy' carries that. Where other religions are stories of man reaching for God, Christianity's story is one of a God constantly reaching down to us. 

Even when it hurts. 

Even unto death.

 4. The Resurrection

This is a huge claim. Most people tend to just shrug this point off as obviously untrue. When someone dies, that’s it.

And yet, it's what so many of the early Church were martyred for. It's what came to shake the lives of those most intensely trying to break the early Church, people like St. Paul. And without it, there simply isn't a Christian faith.

Resurrection is a precisely Judeo-christian principle. Christ's resurrection fits completely with his life long message of an afterlife, and fits straight into the Jewish prophesies of the Old Testament.

'The mystery of Christ's resurrection is a real event, with manifestations that were historically verified, as the New Testament bears witness. In about A.D. 56 St. Paul could already write to the Corinthians: "I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve. . ." '

(CC 639:490)

And yet, it's a huge belief, that's hard. It's probably not something you can convince a mate of across and Nandos. But it's something that no other faith claims, that no other nice person is said to have achieved, and if we remove the Passion and the Resurrection from the story, we can't be surprised when people live with a tame version of Jesus.

5. The Church

I feel like this is a good point to end with: Jesus has his Church.

A lot of the time, people who believe in nice guy Jesus, will separate him from the Church. If he was anti-establishment and anti-religion in his own time, how could he agree with the Church today? And they have a little scriptural evidence to back that up. Think the turning of the tables in the temple, and Jesus's calling out the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. However, in the context of the rest of scripture, that doesn't really hold water.

'Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; 
I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them.'

Matthew 5:17

And right after the turning over of the tables, you get this:

'Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.'

John 2:19

I'm going to pass this point over to someone cleverer, so again, Bishop Robert Baron, take it away. Commenting on a fairly recent viral video called, Why I love Jesus, but hate religion, he had this to say:

'Was Jesus against the corruptions of religion in his own time? Sure, in fact often bitterly so! Did he know about the ways that institutional religion goes bad? Of course! ... But, Jesus was not simply against religion, in fact he was a loyal, law abiding Jew. Jesus in fact said, I don't want to abolish it, I want to fulfill it. In other words, he took the very best of Israelite religion, took the best of Jewish instiutionalism: think of law, covenant, temples, sacrifice, priesthood - he didn't abolish it, he fulfilled it. He brought it up into a new and higher synthesis.'


Unlike the nice philosophers we've seen come and go with time, the belief of Christians, is that Jesus still works through his Church. And there's a world out there that has been undersold on him and his Church, drastically. I challenge you to shake the nice guy image they know. Because this generation is comfortable, and needs something better than just a nice guy to look up to. 

And so do I.

'There are a lot of new age people today, who want spirituality without religion. And there are Evangelical Christians who want Jesus without religion. The problem is, both those views end up with an abstraction. But the one thing the real Jesus is not, is abstract. The word became flesh, and now that incarnation is prolonged over space and time precisely in and through the Church: sacraments, liturgy, the mystical body, the lives of the saints, the love we have for each other, that's precisely where the real Jesus is apparent to us.'

Bishop Robert Barron

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