There is an author named Paul Maier. In 1994, he published a fiction book called A Skeleton in God’s Closet. The gist of the book is that a Christian archeologist discovers a tomb in Jerusalem that holds an ancient skeleton. And EVERY fact about the skeleton points to it being the remains of…Jesus of Nazareth. The book then focuses on two things- the archeologist trying to prove that the skeleton is a hoax while wrestling with his own faith as he continues to be unable to prove that fact. He has a crisis of faith. I WON’T spoil the ending, just in case you ever read it!
Then, in 2003, Maier published a sequel- More Than a Skeleton. This fictional work focuses on a mysterious man who shows up in the Middle East, claiming to be the second coming of Jesus Christ. Our hero, the Christian archeologist, goes to try and prove or disprove the man’s claims. In the midst of that, he sees this man do things that seem to defy all odds. He seems to truly be Jesus Christ. But there is doubt. While thousands and thousands believe and follow this man, there are those who believe he is nothing more than a con man- a liar. Is he the “real deal” or is he merely a liar? Our hero has to try and figure that out.
Last week, we talked about author C.S. Lewis- prolific writer of 67 books and countless articles and other publications. He often wrote about, either overtly or covertly, Christian themes. We talked about the piece he wrote about Jesus that basically laid out what we called a trilemma- a choice among three options, each of which is, in some way, difficult to accept. Lewis’ three options were, in a nutshell, that Jesus was either A. a liar, B. a lunatic or C. The Lord. If He wasn’t divine, then the only other alternatives were that He was evil or deluded. Lewis said Jesus couldn’t be more than one of them. Therefore, we are left with a choice.
Today, we continue our current 4-week sermon series designed to delve into those three options, pick them apart and see where they lead us. We are trying to be as objective as possible- not simply dismissing the first two because we “know” the third choice is the “right” answer but instead weigh each one from its own merit. With all of that in mind, here is today’s Scripture-
Mark 2:3-12 Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”
So, these four guys bring this paralytic on a stretcher to the house where Jesus is. Picture a small, one-room structure with a flat roof. They get there, see the size of the crowd and realize they are NOT getting in through the front door. So, they get creative! They carry him up to the roof and…dig a hole! You might imagine that to be a hard thing to do. That’s because you’re thinking “21st-Century roof”. But this was 1st Century roof! Picture a roof made of sod. So, they dug a hole in through the thatch and dirt. I imagine it meant a shower of dirt inside the house. They then lowered the man between the now-exposed structural beams and to the floor below. And Jesus is touched by the faith they exhibit, the lengths they are willing to go to in order to reach Him. He immediately tells the paralytic that his sins are forgiven.
Meanwhile, some teachers of the law are there. They are appalled when they hear Jesus say that. They label Him a liar- “He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” Jesus responds with a question, “Is it easier to say ‘your sins are forgiven’ or ‘get up and walk’? But so that you’ll know I’m not a liar…” He then turns back to the paralytic and says, “Get up, take up your mat and walk!” The man, as we know, DOES and everybody is amazed.
In 1992, Steve Martin and Debra Winger made a movie called Leap of Faith. It’s about a faith healer who tours the country, seemingly performing great healing miracles. We learn early on that he and his assistant have a scam going. They have a rather elaborate system of gathering information, choosing just the right people and then setting them up in such a way that it seems they are being healed. He is NOT what he seems. He is…a liar.
The teachers of the law that were at that small, thatched-roof house in 1st Century Palestine that day thought the same thing of Jesus- He was a liar. They weren’t sure how He did it, but “only God can do what He claims to do!” They had no doubt that this man before them was running a scam. And the question arises- what if they were right?
For anybody but God to claim to forgive sin was blasphemy. And the teachers of the law KNEW Jesus wasn’t God…right? Their reasoning was actually pretty sound. According to Jewish teaching, even the Messiah couldn’t forgive sins. That was something ONLY God could do. So, as far as they were concerned, they were on really good footing here.
People claiming to be the Messiah has been an issue throughout history. From before Jesus showed up to now, people crop up who claim to be the One. They have all proved to be liars…save One. But what if that One…wasn’t that One? How do we know? What makes Jesus different from all of the other people claiming to be the One?
Now remember- we are intentionally weighing each of C.S. Lewis’ options on their own merits. We are intentionally NOT jumping ahead to what we KNOW will be my logical conclusion when we wrap this up in a couple of weeks. And why IS that, by the way? Why are we even bothering with this exercise? There are two primary reasons:
- Ralph, whom you have heard me reference MANY times and whom I had the extreme joy of serving with at the first church we served. He was one of the finest human beings I have had the honor of knowing and, as a “retired” United Methodist clergy, was an unlikely person to be very open-minded about theology. But he always encouraged me to read things I disagreed with. His rationale was that, if I only read those authors whom I agree with, I would never stretch and grow.
- I went to a VERY liberal seminary. They had lots of beliefs, theologically, that I didn’t…and don’t…agree with. And while that was hard, especially early on when I was not only a new pastor but a relatively new Christian, it forced me to consider what I truly believed. I had no choice but to set aside merely depending on what other people had taught me and truly consider what I believed about my faith. In the end, I came out the other side a much stronger Christian.
My goal for the remainder of this series- two more weeks- is just that. I pray you are challenged to take what you know in your head and filter it through your heart and come to some real conclusions about what you believe. Learning from others is essential- you have to start somewhere. But you also have to get to the point where you stop simply taking someone else’s word for it. That will only take you so far. Eventually, you want to get to the point where you are willing and able to look into the tomb for yourself and decide…for yourself…if Jesus is a liar, a lunatic or the Lord. Where you land, you find that you can run with a lie, but you can’t hide from the truth!