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Made for More (Paperback)

Chapter 1 WHO DO YOU SAY THAT I AM?

For a moment, forget what you know—or think you know— about religion in general and Christianity in particular. Let’s take an impartial look at the life of Jesus of Nazareth and begin with a plain fact: Throughout the entire world and all of history, it would be hard to find any individual whose life has had a greater impact than that of Jesus. One need not be a Christian to say this. H.G. Wells, no particular fan of Christianity, wrote:

I am an historian, I am not a believer, but I must confess as an historian that this penniless preacher from Nazareth is irrevocably the very center of history. Jesus Christ is easily the most dominant figure in all history.

The impact of Jesus is quite amazing when we recall that he lived 2,000 years ago in a backwater of the Roman Empire and never traveled far from home (except when he lived in Egypt for a short time as a child). He never held political office, never wrote a book, never invented something, never discovered anything, never led an army into battle and never amassed great wealth. In fact, he never did any of the things that are typically considered “historic.”

We know almost nothing about ninety percent of his brief thirty-three years on earth, and during the three short years of his public work, he spent much of his time in out-of-the-way villages rather than in the one city of influence in the region, Jerusalem. The evidence indicates that he seemed to avoid publicity, even commanding his followers not to tell anyone of the extraordinary miracles he was said to have performed. Indeed, the one act for which he is most remembered—and the one thing to which the eyewitnesses of his life devote the most ink in their documents about him—is that, by all conventional standards, he died as a spectacular failure, rejected by the very people he sought, in a particularly gruesome and shameful way reserved for the lowest dregs of society. He appeared to be such a failure, in fact, that his body had to be placed in somebody else’s tomb.

How is it, then, that Jesus has become the single most influential person in the history of the world? Not only do Christians follow him as their savior, but other religions regard him as a holy man. Cultures and religious traditions have been deeply impacted by the civilization that spread throughout the world in his name. Even people of no religious faith have been profoundly influenced by him, such that, in the West, to be an atheist means primarily to disbelieve in Jesus. It is not Zeus, Quetzalcoatl, or Moloch that a typical Western atheist busies himself with not believing in.

Even the calendar most of the world uses today records time from the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. “A.D.” is an abbreviation for in anno Domini, which is Latin for “in the year of our Lord.”

So what sets this man apart from the billions of others who have lived upon this earth? Many people have lived longer lives and many seem to have accomplished far greater things. Why would a man who died in the prime of his life—naked, penniless, shamed, virtually alone, and in great agony—become the focal point of history?

Paradoxically, it is precisely at this moment of seeming failure—the shameful death of Jesus—that we can start trying to unlock the mystery. Why would a man who “went about doing good and healing all that were oppressed” (Acts 10:38), be rejected, tortured, and killed? What exactly did Jesus do to earn such a fate?

The documents from the period closest to him describe him as “a sign of contradiction” (Lk 2:34). At first glance Jesus may appear to be like other religious figures, preaching love of neighbor; reminding us of the permanent things that all prophets, poets, and storytellers have called us to contemplate; and urging people to turn toward God and to love one another. But something separates Jesus from all the others.

The primary message of Jesus is not a call to moral perfection, although that is an element of his teaching. No, the primary message of Jesus is Jesus. Other religious leaders like Moses, Buddha, Mohammed, and Confucius had a message about God or right living for their followers. But the most they had to say about themselves was that they were teachers of the true and right way or a prophet of God.

Jesus departs from all the religious leaders of the world by making a far more radical and unique claim. He claims not to be a messenger but to be the Message. In short, his identity is the issue.

So who is he? That question—perhaps the most provocative question in the history of the whole human race—is one he himself put to his followers: “Who do men say that the Son of Man is?” (Mt 16:13).

His followers’ answers were varied: Some people said John the Baptist, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets. And, like his followers, we may be tempted to leave that question in the realm of public opinion—what do others think? But Jesus won’t let us stay in the abstract. He requires of each of us the same thing he demanded of the apostles: to make a personal choice. “Who do you say that I am?”

Your answer to this question may involve some deep consideration, but the potential answers are surprisingly limited. Let’s look at some of the non-Christian attempts to explain Jesus.

A Moral Teacher Like No Other?

One very popular attempt to explain Jesus is to see him as a great sage. Now, to be sure, he is a wise man standing in a long tradition of wise men. Many religious figures in history passed on wise sayings, did good, and proclaimed justice. Unlike theirs, Jesus’ teachings possess a clarity and a curiously counterintuitive quality that speak of one who operated at a radically different level. He was “quick on his feet” in debate, but he was much more than a snappy debater. He thought deeply and, more importantly, he lived deeply.

Even those who do not believe in Jesus find his teachings compelling. For instance, the great scientist Albert Einstein said:

As a child I received instruction both in the Bible and in the Talmud. I am a Jew, but I am enthralled by the luminous figure of the Nazarene ... No one can read the Gospels without feeling the actual presence of Jesus. His personality pulsates in every word. No myth is filled with such life.1

And yet, for all that, we miss the point almost entirely if we treat him merely as a wise man. Why? Because again and again Jesus is recorded making claims that no mere wise man ever made.

Jesus Forgives Sins

In just one of many similar incidents, Jesus is brought a paralyzed man and, when he sees the faith of the man’s companions, he tells the man, “Your sins are forgiven” (see Mt 9:2-7). The people are scandalized. They ask, “Who can forgive sins but God?” Then Jesus asks, “Which is easier: to forgive sins or say, ‘Rise and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins…” he turned to the paralytic and said, “Rise, take up your mat, and go home.” As the man stood for the first time, his restored body gave physical witness to the forgiveness Jesus had granted.

Two thousand years of taking the Christian revelation for granted can dull our appreciation of what is meant by Jesus’ act of forgiving a man’s sins. Jesus is not saying “niceness is nice.” Nor is he trying to make a disabled person feel better about himself. Rather, as his critics understood perfectly, he was claiming to be the One offended by all sins. He did not forgive someone who had tried to harm him, as we might forgive a reckless driver who cuts in front of us or an acquaintance who rifles through our wallet. He offered forgiveness to a man who was, humanly speaking, a perfect stranger. To do that was, as his critics knew all too well, a claim to be God—because it was a claim to be the One chiefly offended by human sins.

The real miracle, then, is not the physical healing of the paralytic, but the actual forgiveness of his sins. For Jesus is, by that act, claiming to be God. His critics are right: only God can forgive sins, and Jesus does not dispute that. He heals the man precisely to drive home the point that he, the Son of Man, is also the Son of God.

Jesus Claims Preexistence

In John 8, the religious leaders criticize Jesus, saying, “Who do you think you are? Do you think you are better than Abraham?” Jesus responds, “Truly, truly I say to you, before Abraham was, I am” (Jn 8:58). Again, a modern reader may not get the immensity of what is being claimed here. Jesus is not merely claiming to be older than Abraham (who died about two thousand years before Jesus was born). That would be extraordinary enough. Jesus is saying infinitely more. “I AM” is the Name of God in Hebrew, the Name by which he revealed himself to Moses in Exodus 3. It is a Name so sacred that Jews do not even write or speak it. Jesus, in this passage, takes that Name to himself! He is claiming to be the same eternal God who spoke to Moses in the burning bush! The religious leaders understand his claim perfectly. That is why they pick up stones and try to kill him as a blasphemer.

Here are some other key things Jesus did:

Jesus Claims to Be the Only Way to the Father

Jesus Allows Himself to be Worshipped

In John 20:26-29, we find Jesus and the apostles together a week after his resurrection. The apostle Thomas had not been present the week before when Jesus appeared to the others. Thomas had made it clear that he would not believe that Jesus had indeed risen from the dead unless he could stick his fingers into the wounds of Jesus. Then Jesus suddenly appears and Thomas falls to the ground, saying, “My Lord and my God!” Being strict Jews, Jesus and the apostles were necessarily monotheists, worshipping only one God. Yet when Thomas exclaims, “My Lord and my God,” neither Jesus nor the other apostles correct him. Instead, Jesus accepts this worship, thereby claiming again to be that one God of Israel. The more you look, the clearer it becomes: no one thought Jesus was just a sage.

A Guru?

Once we really grasp what Jesus says about himself, the sheer magnitude of the claim can often make it irresistible to find some way to dodge it, because the implications are so huge for us. So if Jesus is not a sage, some people will attempt to solve the problem by turning to Eastern religions. Maybe Jesus was the “guru to the Jews.” According to this theory, Jesus’ claims to be God are taken in a vaguely Hindu sense. “Yes,” goes this line of reasoning, “Jesus did claim to be God, but that is because he believed that everything is God and he was trying to awaken us to the God-consciousness of which we are all a part. So he claimed to be God, but he also believed that every person, and indeed every thing, is God.” The main problem with this account is that it simply doesn’t match the record in the least. Jesus gives not the slightest hint of the Hindu pantheistic mindset. He rather emphatically teaches that he is God and we are not. He emphasizes that he is from above and we are from below (Jn 8:23), that we are sinners (Mt 7:11) and he is without sin (Jn 8:46), that God is one, and that the earth is God’s footstool, not a cosmic extension of his divinity (Mt 5:34). In fact, Jesus is thoroughly Jewish with a thoroughly Jewish conception of a God who is utterly distinct from his creation. The God he claims to be is not Vishnu, Brahma, or any other pagan deity. He calls himself by the Name of the God of Israel—I AM.

Either God or a Bad Man

Jesus claims to be much more than merely a good man. And if he is not who he claims to be, then he cannot be a good man. In his book Mere Christianity, the great Christian apologist C.S. Lewis describes this trilemma.

Jesus claims to be God, so either he is God or he is not. If he’s not God, then we are left with two options: he either knows that he is not God and is a liar, or he mistakenly thinks he is God and is a lunatic. The one thing he most certainly is not is merely a good man.

If Jesus is a liar, he is not just any ordinary liar. He is a liar of, well, biblical proportions because he tricks many into thinking that he is telling the truth by working miracles. He would have to be a spectacular liar, as his claims are not just little fibs but lies of unprecedented magnitude about the most important thing imaginable. For a man to make and seriously sustain such a claim to innocent people, he would have to be far more than a mere “hoaxster.” He would have to be deeply evil.

Yet accounting for Jesus as evil is preposterous. In his teachings and, far more, in his actions he lives a life that is utterly oriented toward “bear[ing] witness to the truth,” as he puts it (Jn 18:37). If he is a liar, then for what conceivable purpose? Liars lie in the pursuit of some gain. What does Jesus gain as a result of his claims? Earthly power? When they try to crown him, he runs away. Status? He only wins the fleeting admiration of a small crowd of seemingly unimportant people—prostitutes, tax collectors, fishermen—and the undying enmity of the leaders who are bent on his destruction and who have the means to accomplish it. When he is on trial for his life and is challenged point-blank to answer whether he is indeed the Christ, the Son of God, he does not hedge and fib. He answers, again in language pregnant with double meaning, “I AM” (Lk 22:70)—thereby inviting crucifixion and the most horrific and shameful death known to antiquity. No liar bent on earthly gain would do this.

So if Jesus claims to be God and is not, we are left with only one alternative: he is insane. The trouble is that he is radically unlike any other lunatic who has ever claimed to be God. Read the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5–7. Does that sound like the manifesto of a psychotic to you? Watch his clever interactions with his enemies or his warm conversations with his friends. Do you think, “Here is a deranged man”?

On the contrary, it begins to look as though the difficulty of accounting for Jesus in any way but the way Peter did is indeed very great. And Peter’s answer to Jesus’ question is heartstopping: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mt 16:16).

But! “Yes,” says the skeptic, “if you believe everything you read. But why should we trust the story the Bible tells us?” I’ll tell you why.

Notes

1 “What Life Means to Einstein: An Interview by George Sylvester Viereck,” The Saturday Evening Post, October 29, 1926.

Made for More (Paperback)

by Curtis Martin

Discover how having a relationship with Jesus will help you make sense of life, understand your purpose, and experience the happiness you were made for.

Also available in Spanish

Made for More (Paperback)

by Curtis Martin

Discover how having a relationship with Jesus will help you make sense of life, understand your purpose, and experience the happiness you were made for.

Also available in Spanish

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About Made for More (Paperback)

While everything you do — and every decision you make — is aimed at making you happy, you may step back from time to time and ask yourself, “Why am I here?” and “Is there a deeper meaning to life?” To find these answers, you need go beyond the distractions of the world and be open to discovering your true purpose and self-potential.

If you find your true purpose, you’ll discover that you really are “made for more” than what our culture has to offer. You’ll see life as the adventure it’s meant to be, and you’ll find that you have an irreplaceable role to play in the world. This will set you on a path toward true peace and contentment that will last for the rest of your life — and into eternity.

This book is quick and easy to read, answering the question: “Why be Catholic?” Made for More establishes a case for Catholicism by posing and answering objections to Jesus, the Bible, and the liturgy.

Product Information

Alternative Headline Isn't it Time you Discover the Life God Created you to Live?

SKU MFMRPEF

Author Curtis Martin

ISBN 978-1-937509163

Publisher Beacon Publishing

Number of Pages 118

Book Format Paperback

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Great book

By Anonymous Person on Monday, May 15, 2017

Very motivational. If you feel like you have many questions about your faith and looking for answers. Curtis helps bring you back through his own personal experiences.

Made for More

By Rita on Monday, May 15, 2017

As a returning christian to the Catholic faith, this book reaffirmed for me the very reason why it is such an awesome tribute to God. The seven sacraments pave the way.
Thank you Mr. Martin for this truly inspiring
book.

Perfect Balance

By Fr. Andy Booms on Monday, May 15, 2017

I am excited about trying to help people discover their hunger for God, as a priest and pastor I know many are not aware of what joy really is. This book was a perfect choice for our Christmas gift in 2013 - I look forward to the impact it has on my congregation and am hopeful that many will read it. I say this because it is short, easy to understand and educational - I even learned a couple of things reading the book. 100% endorsement!

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