Again the high priest asked Him, saying to Him, “Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” Jesus said, “I am. And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “What further need do we have of witnesses? You have heard the blasphemy! What do you think?” And they all condemned Him to be deserving of death. . . . So when the centurion, who stood opposite Him, saw that He cried out like this and breathed His last, he said, “Truly this Man was the Son of God!” – Mark 14:61-64; 15:39
There’s no such thing as benign blasphemy.
The high priest and the other religious leaders could have handled His claim to be the Christ or Messiah. Similar claims from other “messiahs” were fairly routine… and ended badly as the Roman authorities easily defeated the well-intentioned rebels, crushing all hope of liberation. But this man was different. He claimed to be the Son of God.
In his reply to the question, “Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?,” Jesus used the divine name “I AM.” Although the religious leaders were looking at a very ordinary looking “Son of Man,” Jesus declared that when the kingdom of God is finally ushered in, He would be seen by them again, sitting next to the One who is all Powerful.
This was blasphemy in the minds of the horrified priests. To insult, devalue, or malign God was unspeakably offensive and punishable by death. They had no doubts. They did not hesitate. Jesus was a blasphemer of the one and only true God!
In North America, it’s hard for us to understand how offensive blasphemy can be to a group of committed religionists. In our culture, we blaspheme deities and people with ease, then laugh about it, never giving it another thought. Whether we hear it in the news, on a late night talk show, in a political speech, or on the radio, it’s just not a big deal… it’s all just good fun.
However, the Incarnation–God becoming flesh– is a major hindrance to Christianity on the stage of world religions. Researchers report that more Christians have died for their faith in the last 100 years than in the past 2000 years — most died because of the ancient conviction that Jesus was God’s Son. The baby in the manger is sweet, but a grown man who claims to be God must be stopped!
You cannot affirm Jesus’ “message” and also abandon His claim to be God’s Son. His entire proclamation hinges on that fact. If it is untrue, everything He taught should be tossed. Popularizing an argument from the 19th century, C. S. Lewis in Mere Christianity explains:
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.
Lord, Liar, or Lunatic? It’s a “trilemma”! Among the religious leaders who heard Jesus, and in the courtroom of human hearts through the ages, there are no harmless liars or lunatics. The opponents were just being intellectually honest: Jesus was either telling the truth, or He was guilty of insulting and offending God. Rather than let God handle it (and believe me, He can), these men determined Jesus should die for His blasphemy. They got what they wanted.
But another man, a battle-hardened soldier who had seen hundreds of men die, watched the dying of Jesus against the backdrop of what he had been told about Jesus. The centurion was more thoughtful than the religious priests. He connected the dots. He saw what the priests and religious scholars couldn’t or wouldn’t see. Arising from the uncluttered observation of a centurion standing near the cross, he couldn’t help speaking his thoughts aloud, “Truly this Man was the Son of God!”
Blasphemy? Or truth?
It’s the greatest barrier to belief for millions of people. But for others, like the centurion and me, it is the blessing that redefines all of life… and it’s the central, explosive truth of the Christmas Revolution.