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What is the Meaning of Life

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Lesson 50 of 208
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Was Jesus a Legend?

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WHAT IS THE MEANING OF LIFE? Program 50 Was Jesus a Legend? by Ernest O’Neill

What is the meaning of our present life? Why are you alive here? What’s the purpose of your life? That’s what we’ve been talking about on this program. What we’ve been sharing is that it’s really important to try to get some answer to that question that has some more authority behind it other than just the opinion of yet another human being. Because we are surrounded by human beings who have given us answers to that question.

We have all kinds of religious leaders like Muhammad and Buddha and Zoroaster and Confucius who are just men like ourselves who are just giving a human opinion. But we have no one who seems to have come from outer space or who has come from beyond the world and can tell us what the Creator, or the Supreme Being behind the universe had in mind when He made this world and made us. That is, we have no one, except a unique human being who lived in the first century of our era. That’s the person we are discussing on this program.

We’ve talked about the historicity of this man Jesus. We’ve said that his historicity — that is, the fact that he existed and lived and said the things that we’ve read he said and did — the historicity of this man is far more clearly established than the historicity of Julius Caesar, or the historicity of Buddha, or the historicity of Pliny or the historicity of Plato. The historicity of this man Jesus is more reliably established by the number of manuscripts that lie behind the history that you and I read of him today than we can find in any of the other ancient figures of that time.

So, when you read the record of his life in the last quarter of what we call the Bible, you’re reading historical evidence that is solidly backed up by manuscripts that you can find in the library of the University of Manchester or the library of the British Museum in London. You’re reading history that’s certain, and sure and firm.

Now, what kind of person do we read about? Well, we read about a man who talked like the Son of God. He talked as if he was the Son of God. When he was being tried for his life, he didn’t back off his claim. The interrogator said to him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” He replied, “I am; and you will see the Son of man seated at the right hand of Power and coming with the clouds of heaven.”

Now, if there was ever a time to back off the claim that he was the Son of the Creator of the universe, that was the time. After all, his teaching could have stood. He could still have been very famous, if he would only stop saying that he was the Son of God. But he didn’t. Right at that point when he knew it would bring about his death, he said he was the Son of God.

Now, what we have said is that many people, of course, do that. Many people are in the asylums and psych wards today. They claim to be Napoleon; they claim to be Bismarck; they claim to be Julius Caesar; and they claim to be God’s son. But what we have said about them is that they have other marks of imbalance in their character. I mean, you can tell they are lunatics, because they live like lunatics; they behave like lunatics. They have other trends in their personality that show that they are not normal or balanced. This man doesn’t.

This man is the person we point to as the supreme example of a balanced human being. In other words, he claims to be the Son of the Maker of the universe, but he acts like the most balanced human being that ever lived. Here is what John Stuart Mill said about Him (and Mill was a skeptical, cynical philosopher here in England) …and this is what he said about this man Jesus of Nazareth:

“Above all, the most valuable part of the effect on the character which Christianity has produced by holding up in a divine person a standard of excellence and a model for imitation, is available even to the absolute unbeliever and can nevermore be lost to humanity. For it is Christ, rather than God, whom Christianity has held up to believers as the pattern of perfection for humanity.”

“It is the God Incarnate, more than the God of the Jews or of nature, who being idealized, has taken so great and salutary a hold on the modern mind. And whatever else may be taken away from us by rational criticism, Christ is still left, a unique figure, not more unlike all his precursors than all his followers, even those who had the direct benefit of his personal teaching.”

Mill goes on to say, “It is of no use to say that Christ, as exhibited in the Gospels, is not historical, and that we know not how much of what is admirable has been super added by the tradition of his followers. The tradition of followers suffices to insert any number of marvels and may have inserted all of the miracles which he is reputed to have wrought, but who among his disciples, or among the proselytes was capable of inventing the sayings ascribed to Jesus, or of imagining the life and character revealed in the Gospels?”

“Certainly not the fishermen of Galilee. Certainly not the Saint Paul, whose character and idiosyncrasies were of a totally different sort. Still less, the early Christian writers, in whom nothing is more evident than that the good which was in them was all derived, so they always professed it was derived from the higher source. About the life and sayings of Jesus there is the stamp of personal originality, combined with profundity of insight, which must place the prophet of Nazareth, even in the estimation of those who have no belief in his inspiration, in the very first rank of men of sublime genius of whom our species can boast.”

That’s the kind of opinion an ordinary skeptical cynic has about this man Jesus of Nazareth. So, it’s difficult to say that he’s a lunatic. Everybody, even the most intellectual of our human race, regards him with respect. C.S. Lewis says, “No one has yet explained how such deep moral teaching could come from the lips of a megalomaniac.” So, it’s impossible to say that this man who claimed to be the Son of the Supreme Being behind the universe was a lunatic, because he didn’t act like a lunatic — not at all.

But, maybe he was a liar? Maybe he was just a liar? Perhaps Jesus was simply a con man, a simple liar? Maybe he knew he wasn’t God, but deliberately deceived his hearers about his true identity in order to lend authority to his preaching? We can see that. A lot of us can imagine that. Maybe he wanted people to respect his teaching, so he thought, “Well, if I say I’m the Son of God, they’ll respect it more than if I say I’m just an ordinary man.”

But there’s a problem here, a problem of logic, because he is universally regarded as the teacher of the highest ethical ideals the world has ever seen. He is, you know. He is regarded as the greatest moral teacher the world has ever seen. Moreover, his life is looked upon as the outstanding example of a perfect, faultless example of his teaching. If he is a liar, then the whole world of logic crumbles in our hands, and our ability to make even the simplest observations with our five senses become questionable.

It is nonsense to say that the greatest moral teacher and example the world has ever seen lied about the focal point of all his teaching: his own identity. If Jesus was a liar, then the world is a tale told by an idiot. You can see that. We can’t on the one hand say he is the greatest ethical teacher the world has ever seen, and he is the greatest example of his own teaching, and his life is the most perfect life that man has ever observed on the earth, and then say “But at the central point of all his claims, he was lying. He was a downright liar.” It just makes foolishness of our logic.

It’s impossible to claim on the one hand that he is the greatest ethical teacher the world has ever seen, to

claim on the other hand that he is the most perfect example of his high moral teaching, and then at the same time to say that about the central point of his teaching he was a liar. You can’t. You can’t have that kind of combination of lying and conning together with high moral teaching. It just makes illogicality of our logic. It turns the whole world upside down.

Was Jesus a lunatic? How then can you explain the balanced life that we all respect or the highest life ever lived here on earth? Was Jesus a liar? How then can you explain that we all regard him as the highest moral and ethical teacher the world has ever seen and that he was the highest example of an ethical life that we have ever observed? Well, perhaps he was a legend. Was he just a legend? Let’s look at that possibility tomorrow.