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Who is Jesus?

Karna Swanson - published on 01/21/13

While many seek to reduce Jesus to the level of a great teacher or prophet, and highlight his humanity, there is one thing we know about Jesus that is more important than anything else.

The claim that Jesus is God is the "unique treasure of Christianity". The single most important thing that we need to know about Jesus is that he is God. As such, he separates himself from every other great religious teacher and prophet, and compels the faithful to choose to stand with him, or against him.

Jesus is human, but more importantly, he is God.

While many have sought to underscore the humanity of Christ in recent decades, Father Robert Barron, founder of Word on Fire and creator and host of the 10-part documentary "Catholicism," asserts that "the most important thing to know about Jesus is that he is God. Jesus is the God-Man."
"Now, Jesus is human," he adds. "That's quite right. But the most important thing to know about him is that he is also divine."
In the Gospels, Father Barron notes, "it is explicitly laid out that Jesus is Divine."
In John's Gospel, Jesus says, "before Abraham came to be, I AM" (John 8:58). "His I AM there echoes the 'I Am Who I Am' of Exodus 3:14, when Moses says to God, 'What's your name?' And he says, 'I Am Who I Am,'" Father Barron explains.
The priest notes more echoes of this claim when Jesus says, "I am the bread of life" (John 6:35); "I am the Good Shepherd" (John 10:14); and "I am the vine" (John 15:5).
In the same Gospel of John, Philip has an exchange with Jesus in which he asks him to "show us the Father." Jesus replies, "Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father" (John 14:9).
"The same is true in the other Gospels, but they use a different symbols system," he says. "So we find, for example, that Jesus heals the paralyzed man, and he says, 'My son, your sins are forgiven.' And the bystanders say, but who is this man, only God can forgive sins, which is precisely the point! Mark is telling us there that this Jesus is God."

For 1st Century Jews, to say that Jesus is God was an extraordinary claim.

In the Gospels, Christ also makes the "extraordinary" claim that "unless you love me more than your mother and father, more than your very life, you're not worthy of me." Father Barron notes that no other religion teacher could make such a claim. The only one who could get away with such a statement, and say it "coherently," is the "one who is himself the highest good."
Another "breaktaking" claim made by Jesus took place during the Sermon on the Mount, when Jesus says "You've heard it said, but I say." Father Barron notes that Jesus is referring to the Torah, which "for a 1st century Jew, that's the highest authority there is, because the Torah was seen as the Word of God, quite rightly."
"Who is this Galilean prophet to say, well, you've heard it said there, but I say … claiming authority even over the Torah?" the priest asks. "Who could do that except the one who is himself the author of the Torah. That's why, we hear that language, we take it for granted, but that's breathtaking business. Up and down the Gospels you hear this affirmation."

When the Apostle Paul repeatedly proclaimed in his letters that Jesus is the Lord, he was deliberately underscoring the divinity of Jesus.

Even before the Gospels were written, the Apostle Paul had proclaimed repeatedly in his letters the divinity of Jesus. Over and over in his letters, Paul refers to Jesus Kyrios, which is Greek for Jesus is the Lord.
"Well, that's code," Father Barron explains. "Paul was Shaul, or Saul, who studied at the feet of Gamalio, the greatest rabbi of the time. He knew the Old Testament through and through. What's basic in the Old Testament is Adoni, Lord, a term used exclusively of God.
"And so when Paul—who knew that tradition back and forth, it was in his bones, in his blood—when Paul said, Jesus is Lord, he knew just what he was saying. And he knew how strange and radical it was, that this Jesus is God."
"That's the most important thing that we know about the Lord," the theologian added.

Those who hear the Good News about Jesus are compelled to make a choice to either stand with him, or against him.

No other major religious leader in history has made such brazen claims about being God. Father Barron notes that Mohammed never claimed to be God, but rather that he was God's messenger. The same for Moses, who had received the law from God, but never claimed divinity for himself. Buddah also never claimed to be God, but rather asserted that he had "found a way."
Christ, however, didn't say that he found a way. What Christ said was, "I am the Way."
"How strange that is!" Father Barron exclaims. "He doesn't say, 'I've found a truth, let me tell you about it.' He says, 'I am the Truth.' He doesn't say, 'Hey, there's this new mode of life that I've discovered, let me share it with you.' [He says,] 'I am the Life.'"
"Those claims are the unique treasure of Christianity," concludes Father Barron. "And therefore, as I said, they compel a choice. Either, as Jesus himself said, either you're with me, or you're against me.
"If Jesus is who he says he is, I must give my whole life to him. He's God, he's the highest good. If he's not who he says he is, he's a bad man. You can find that, by the way, in the apologetic tradition of Catholicism. 'Aut Deus, Aut Malus Homo.' That means, either he's God, or he's a bad man, and you've got to decide.
"Either you gather with me, or you scatter. Either you're with me, or you're against me. And there's the Gospel. The Gospel is the Good News about this Jesus, and it compels on the part of those who hear it, a decision, a choice."

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