Lord, Liar or Lunatic?

By Neil Earle

Extra! Extra! Read all about it. Have you seen what some of the most famous names in history have said about the man we call Jesus Christ?

Even devout Christians need to brush off these statements once in a while complied by a number of sources from Josh MacDowell to Jewish theologians.

The German Enlightenment philosopher Goethe (1749-1832) stated flatly: “If ever the divine appeared on earth it was the person of Christ.”

The English thinker John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) focused a most brilliant question, one which almost blows away 90% of skeptical attacks. “But who among His disciples,” asked Mill, “was capable of inventing the sayings ascribed to Jesus, or imagining the life and character revealed in the Gospels?”


Differing views on Jesus – his origins and his role – abound.

The church historian Philip Schaff took off on Mill’s point: “Who could imagine such a character of fiction as this: who always returned the wisest answer to tricky questions (“Go and do likewise” to a smart-aleck lawyer whose arrogance had set up the Parable of the Good Samaritan)…

…who taught the sublimest truth in the crispest language (“Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s”)…

…who revealed the deepest knowledge of human nature without turning cynical (“Most assuredly, I say to you, one of you shall betray me”)…

…who never lost possession of Himself under the cruelest punishment (“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”)…

…who calmly and deliberately predicted his own death and stayed around for the arrest (“leave her alone; she has done this [anointing with perfume] for the day of my burying?”)…

C.S. Lewis put it nicely: “It would take more than a Jesus to invent a Jesus. The Cause is always greater than the Effect.”

Lewis went on to propose a sort of dialectical straitjacket: “If Jesus was not God, from where did he derive the sanity and purity of his teaching? The discrepancy between the depth and sanity of his teaching and example and the megalomania which lay behind it unless he was God has never been satisfactorily explained if he were not God. If he were not God, He could only be a fool, for he died for his teaching with no hope of redemption, for he hatched the cruelest hoax in history.”

He was, says Lewis, either the Lord of all, or He was a liar, or He was a lunatic. Lunatic? Yes. For no sane person today would follow someone who made the claims Jesus Christ made – “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood, has eternal life…He who eats me shall live of me.”

That covers a lot of ground. Josh MacDowell says, “If Jesus were not God he deserved an Oscar.”

The Incomparable Christ

Years ago a dedicated Christian wrote this summary:

“Here is a man who was born in an obscure village of a working class woman. He grew up in another village; he worked in a carpenter shop and then at age 30 began a career as an itinerant preacher. He never wrote a book, he never had a family, as far as we know he never went to college and had any great connections or travelled more than 200 miles from home…and yet…and yet we have no other Teacher who so completely eliminated the trivial, the false from his teaching, who selected only the eternal and the universal and combined them in a teaching where all great truths find a congenial home.”

The Jewish scholar Sholem Ash in The Encyclopedia of Religious Quotations noted: “Jesus Christ is the outstanding personality of all time…No other teacher, Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, Mohammedan is still a teacher whose teaching is a guidepost for the world we live in…Other teachers may have something basic for an Oriental, an Arab or a Westerner, but every act and word of Jesus has value for all of us. Why shouldn’t I, as a Jew, be proud of that?”

Philip Schaff added: “Rejected by the Establishment, abandoned by his friends, left stripped naked in full public view, he is today the most well-known figure in history. Herod could not destroy him, the grave could not hold him and his friends could not discourage him and the mighty Roman Empire could not suppress his story. The sages and heroes of history are receding from us, and history shrinks the records of their deeds into a narrower and narrower page. But time has no power over the deeds and words of Jesus Christ.”

So far Jesus has been right and his doubters have passed from the scene. Right? Yes. He did say: “Heaven and earth shall pass away but my words shall not.”

The apostle Paul summarized what Christians see at work here: “In Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead in bodily form” (Colossians 2:9).

Jesus Christ – today he is still beyond our analyses; he confounds our measuring devices; he escapes our talented artists, novelists, script writers and producers. And he disturbs our consciences still. Perhaps Thomas’ reaction is the only fitting response as, falling at his knees, we say: “My Lord and my God.”