Trilemma: Liar, Lunatic, or Lord (Part 3)

Mark 3:20-35

Tom Pennington  •  December 20, 2015
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Perhaps you saw the news article this week from the State of Kentucky about the Charlie Brown Christmas pageant that they wanted to hold there in one of the schools. And the Superintendent of Schools said, "You can hold that event, you can have the play, but just in the interest of making sure nothing religious is in the schools, when you get to the point of the story and the question is asked, 'What is Christmas really all about?'" You remember, in the story, Linus responds with a verse from Luke 2, that it's all about the birth of Christ. The school superintendent said, "When you get to that part, just leave it out." Now, I thought about, what a parable that is of our times. They want Christmas, they want to have the celebration of Christmas, but they just want to leave that part about Christ out.

Sadly, there are many who don't leave Christ out in name but they do in practice, because they miss the point of who He really is, and that's really what we're studying together as we consider Christmas. I began this Christmas series, and I admit to you it's an unusual one, let me just say that at the start, but I began this series with Jesus' question to His disciples, "'Who do you say that I am?'" "'Who do you say that I am?'" That is the most important question that's ever been asked. It's the most important question that you will ever answer.

We've already responded to four wrong answers to that question, wrong answers that circulate all the time, but especially around the Christian holidays, especially at Christmas time. And today I'm not going to go back over those wrong answers. Instead, what I want to do is I want to change the wording and I want to give you a positive outline that you can follow as you share the gospel. Here's an outline that you can use and if you don't get it all down these slides will be available along with the recording online so you can go back if you want. But here is an outline you can follow as you communicate the gospel

Number one, Jesus was a real man who lived in the first century. Jesus is not a myth as some would say. And I gave you two lines of defense for that. One is outside the Scripture. Secular and non-Christian sources confirm the existence of Jesus of Nazareth and the main events in His life. Here are just a few examples of those non-Christian sources: Josephus, Tacitus the Roman historian, the Jewish Talmud, and Pliny the Younger, all considered valid historical sources, document both the existence of and the key events of the life of Jesus.

The second line of defense we took is from within the Scripture, which is, of course, our ultimate authority. And I pointed out to you that Jesus selected 11 eyewitnesses. He intentionally chose 11 men, He chose 12 but He knew one of them would be a betrayer, so He chose 11 men who would be firsthand eyewitnesses of everything He said and taught and did. He anticipated this objection and there were eyewitnesses to His life and the details of His life. And He makes a big point of this in Luke 24. In Acts 1:8, He says, "'you are My witnesses of these things.'" He chose them to that end.

Secondly, as we go through our little line of argument here, not only did Jesus exist and live in the first century, but we have historically dependable accounts of what Jesus did, what He taught, and what He claimed. And again, I took two lines of argument. One of them from outside the Scripture is this, we have more manuscripts of the New Testament documents, over 5,700 Greek manuscripts, and we have manuscripts that date closer to the time the originals were written than any other ancient document. In fact, we have the Rylands Papyrus, which dates to 25 years after the time John wrote it. Whereas, with most ancient documents, the ones that are taught in schools, in colleges and universities, the time between the originals and the manuscript copies we have average 700 to 1,400 years.

Secondly, as far as a line of defense that we have these historically dependable accounts, we looked again within the Scripture. And we noted that Jesus specifically authorized the apostles to write the New Testament as the definitive authorized account of His life and of His teaching. In the upper room discourse in John 14 and John 16 He says, the Holy Spirit is going to come and recall to your memory everything that I taught you. He's going to teach you more than I taught you. And then in John 17:20 He says, in His high priestly prayer, there are going to be those who come to faith in Me through the word of these ones I'm sending. He authorized them both to speak and to write on His behalf. So we have then, in the New Testament documents, historically dependable documents. They accurately report what Jesus said and did.

Now, that brings us to a third point in our little progression, our apologetic for Jesus. Not only did Jesus live in the first century, not only do we have historically reliable documents, but in those documents Jesus unequivocally claimed to be God. He claimed to be God. In John 8 He says, "'before Abraham was born, I am.'" They understood Him to be claiming deity. They picked up stones to stone Him. In Mark 14, under oath, the high priest, in the company of at least a supermajority of the Sanhedrin, puts Jesus under oath and says, "'Are You the Christos'" the Messiah, "'the Son of the Blessed One.'" To which Jesus says, "'I am.'"

Undoubtedly, unequivocally in the historically reliable documents of Jesus' life and ministry that we have, the authorized documents of His life, Jesus claimed to be God. And He claimed to be the savior of the world. In Mark 10:45 He said, "'I have come to give My life as a ransom in the place of many.'" Jesus made remarkable, audacious claims for Himself.

Now, that brings us to the fourth part of our little argument here, about Jesus, and that is, once you understand that He made those claims there are only three possible conclusions to those claims. This argument is often called the trilemma. Either Jesus was a liar or He was a lunatic or He was, in fact, the Lord as He claimed.

Now, let me just give you a couple of sources that, resources that will fill out your understanding of each of those points. I would recommend to you The New Evidence That Demands A Verdict by Josh McDowell, as well as a book, a little book, by Nathan Busenitz called Reasons We Believe. Both of them will defend both from outside the Scripture, and more importantly from within the Scripture, why we believe what we believe about Jesus of Nazareth.

Now, the last couple of weeks we have been in Mark's gospel where I invite you to turn with me this morning, Mark 3, because here we find the earliest version of the trilemma argument. It was written by Mark under the direction of the Apostle Peter in the mid 50's A.D. And here Mark documents for us one of the longest, most significant days in Jesus' life and ministry. But during the morning of that day three very significant events occur. Let me read it for you. Mark 3, beginning in verse 20,

And Jesus came home, [that is, from a ministry tour, preaching tour of Galilee, back to Capernaum] and the crowd gathered again to such an extent that they could not even eat a meal. When His own people heard of this, they went out to take custody of Him; for they were saying, "He has lost His senses." The scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, "He is possessed by Beelzebul," and "He casts out the demons by the ruler of the demons." And He called them to Himself and began speaking to them in parables, "How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. If Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but he is finished! But no one can enter the strong man's house and plunder his property unless he first binds the strong man, and then he will plunder his house.

Truly I say to you, all sins shall be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin" – because they were saying, "He has an unclean spirit."

Then His mother and His brothers arrived, and standing outside they sent word to Him and called Him. A crowd was sitting around Him, and they said to Him, "Behold, Your mother and Your brothers are outside looking for You." Answering them, He said, "Who are My mother and My brothers?" Looking about at those who were sitting around Him, He said, "Behold, My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is My brother and sister and mother."

That is a fascinating text and you can see that it breaks down into three basic scenes. Verses 20 and 21, Jesus' family leaves Nazareth to go to Capernaum. Verses 22 to 30, the Pharisees attack Jesus as He teaches at a house there in Capernaum. And then in verses 31 to 35, Jesus' family arrives where He's been teaching. Those are the three scenes.

What's remarkable is that these three scenes confront us with the only three possible responses to Jesus and His claims. And these are always only the three choices, whether it's the first century or whether it's today. There are only three basic alternatives when it comes to Jesus' extraordinary claims to be God, only three. We know this is what He claimed, so there are only these three possibilities.

First of all, His claims were false and He knew they were false. In this case, Jesus was a deceiver; He was a hypocrite and a liar. A second option is that His claims were false and He didn't know that they were false. In this case, Jesus was sincere in His claims to be God but He was sincerely deluded. He was, in fact, a lunatic. He was out of His mind. The only other possibility is that His claims were true and that He is, in fact, the Lord of glory, God incarnate.

You see, Mark wants every person who reads his gospel, who reads what we just read together, he wants every person to be confronted with this choice. Who do you say that Jesus is? He made these claims. These are the only three possibilities. You too are forced to answer Jesus' question, "'Who do you say that I am?'"

Now, last time we saw the response of Jesus' four brothers. We met them in Mark 6, they're named, four brothers, and His four brothers concluded, that is, at least until after the resurrection, that Jesus was, in fact, a deluded lunatic. This is what His brothers decided. Notice verses 20 and 21, "And He came home," that is, from traveling in Galilee to Capernaum, "and the crowd gathered again to such an extent they could not even eat a meal. When His own people heard," now, who are His own people? Look over at verse 31, they're His mother and His brothers. As we noted last time, Mary is not part of this conspiracy. She's just confused. She understood, she'd had it announced to her who her Son was. She's concerned for Him, that He's not eating, He's not caring for Himself. She's confused that He's not presenting Himself the way she expected the Messiah to present Himself, so she tags along.

But the brothers, they come to a very different conclusion about Jesus. Notice verse 21, "When His own people heard of this, they went out" literally, "to arrest Him." The Greek word is used six times in Mark's gospel other than this and always it means to arrest, to seize someone physically by force. And here's why, "for they were saying," this is what they had said to themselves again and again; the English catches the picture of the Greek language here. This is what they were rehearsing about Jesus, "'He is - out of His senses, He's lost His senses.'" He's lost His mind. He's not thinking or behaving rationally. He is mentally unstable.

Think about this, Jesus' four brothers, His younger brothers, whom He basically raised after Joseph's death, hear His claims to be more than the son of Joseph and Mary, and what do they conclude? He's crazy. He's out of His mind. We need to go get Him and bring Him back to the family home for His own good. But before Jesus' brothers could get to Capernaum to take Him home for His own sake, as well as for the sake of the family reputation, another accusation was leveled at Jesus that is far more serious than insanity, an accusation that came from His enemies, from the religious leaders of the nation. And they accused Jesus not of being a deluded lunatic, but of being a demonic liar.

The second part of the story unfolds in and just outside the home where Jesus was teaching there in Capernaum. I want you to notice, first of all, the false accusation that they bring, actually there are two of them, the false accusations. Verse 22, "The scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, 'He is possessed by Beelzebul,' and 'He casts out the demons by the ruler of the demons.'" Who are these men? The scribes were those who both copied and taught God's Law in Israel. They were mostly Pharisees by theological persuasion and those in this incident, notice verse 22 says, they had come down from Jerusalem.

So far, in Jesus' ministry most of the opposition had come from Galilee, from the local area where His ministry was centered. But these men came on a mission from the capital. His ministry had created quite a stir, even at that distance. And so, they are sent to check up on Jesus. The scribes were highly educated men. They were experts in the Jewish Law. And in the case of these, they were representatives of the most powerful men in the nation. And it immediately becomes clear that they were not there on some sort of impartial fact finding mission, because right out of the gate they make these outrageous accusations of Jesus.

Now, why would they have said this? What sparked these allegations? Matthew tells us. Turn back to Matthew's parallel account, Matthew 12. Matthew 12, Matthew gives us a little more insight into what happened that morning. Verse 22, "Then a demon-possessed man." Here is a man who is under the control, a hapless victim, of a demon. And in his case, because of that, he was blind and mute. You understand that there are plenty of cases of blindness and muteness that are not connected to demon possession, most of them in fact. But in this case they were related. And Jesus casts out this demon and He healed this man of his blindness and his inability to speak, "so that the mute man spoke and saw."

Now, watch the response of the crowd in verse 23, when they saw this miracle, "All the crowds were amazed, and were saying, 'This man cannot be the Son of David, can he?'" That's a messianic title. They're saying, is it possible this, this man is the Messiah? It's in response to that possibility that the Pharisees respond in verse 24, "when the Pharisees heard this," when they heard anyone say, maybe He is the Messiah, "they said, 'This man cast out demons only by Beelzebul the ruler of the demons.'"

Now go back to Mark 3. Now that we know the context, I want you to see the accusations that they make. They make two different accusations against Jesus. Verse 23, I'm sorry, verse 22, "The scribes were saying," the English there picks up the sense of the Greek verb, which has the idea not that they said this once, but this was their new line, this was their new response to Jesus, they kept on saying. And notice the two accusations they make, "This sustained campaign," as one author puts it, "of the vilification of Jesus." First of all, "'He is possessed by Beelzebul.'"

Now, sometimes you'll see this name Beelzebul as it appears in the Latin Vulgate translated by Jerome, as Beelzebub. It's impossible to know what this name really means for sure. There are two common explanations. One is, it is an intentional corruption of Ba'al Zebub, the Philistine god of Ekron, and the name of that god meant, The Lord of the Flies, or even, really, The Lord of the Dung. Another explanation is that it means Lord of the Dwelling, that is, the dwelling of evil spirits. We really can't be sure exactly what the name means, but we can be sure of whom it refers. Notice verse 22, "'the ruler of the demons.'" Verse 23, "'Satan.'" You understand what they're saying about Jesus? They were accusing Jesus of being inhabited by, under the control of, Satan himself. They said, Jesus is demon possessed. But not just demon possessed, He is devil possessed by Satan himself.

Now, the second accusation they make is that He casts out the demons by the ruler of the demons. They couldn't deny that a genuine miracle had taken place, a demon had been cast out, and so they're left with only two options. Either they can admit that it's of God or they can accuse Jesus of being in collusion with the devil, and that's the option they choose. They try to undermine Jesus by attributing His miracles to Satan.

Now, do you understand the essence of the attack on Jesus here? There really are three basic attacks. Number one, they're saying Jesus, you see Jesus, He is not the deeply spiritual man He appears. He is, in fact, a hypocrite; it's pretense. Secondly, they were saying, He is in league with Satan. Not only is He a hypocrite, He is evil. He's a con man with a selfish agenda. He's in league with Satan to accomplish His selfish agenda. And thirdly, He knows, Jesus knows that His claims are not true. He is a liar. Now, if they were right, we could add another one, and that is, that He was a fool, because Jesus will later give His life in defense of these claims. So, what was their conclusion about Jesus of Nazareth? He's a demonic liar.

It's ironic to compare what they said about Jesus to what the demons themselves said. Go back to chapter 1, Mark 1:23,

there was a man in the Capernaum synagogue there with an unclean spirit; [he was possessed by a demon] and he cried out to Jesus, saying, "What business do we have with each other Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who You are – the Holy One of God!"

So the demon says, "'You're the Holy One.'" The Pharisees say: You're an evil impostor; You're a liar; You're a deceiver, a con man.

Now, that's the accusation, the false accusations, that they bring. That brings us to Jesus' refutation in verses 23 to 27. First of all, Jesus identifies the lack of logic in their thinking. Verse 23, "He called them to Himself." Now, that implies that the scribes and Pharisees had been talking behind Jesus' back, that they were just out of earshot, either there in Peter's house or maybe just outside in the street. Matthew tells us, I love this, that Jesus knew their thoughts. He hadn't overheard them. He knew their thoughts. And so He calls them over. Now, wouldn't you have loved to have been there for this little discussion. Hey, you guys, come here a minute, come here. And then, verse 23 says, He "began speaking to them in parables." He's not making it crystal clear; it's encapsulated in parables, "'How can Satan cast out Satan?'"

By the way, notice in this passage, Jesus affirms the existence of both Satan and demons. While sometimes too much is made of them and we don't need to fear them, "Greater is He who is in us than he that is in the world." At the same time, we deny their reality to our own detriment. Jesus says, they're real, and notice, He accuses the scribes here of an illogical conclusion. He gives two illustrations to make His point, versus 24 and 25. Illustration number one, "'If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.'" If a nation or an empire is involved in civil war, then that nation is not going to continue to exist; it's going to be destroyed. The second illustration is in verse 25, "If a house,'" a family, "'is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.'" Some of you thought Abraham Lincoln was the first to say that, not true, it was our Lord. Jesus says here, listen, what's happening between me and Satan is not a matter of one kingdom locked in civil war, rather, of rival kingdoms that are at war with each other.

Jesus' conclusion comes in verse 26, "'If Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but he's finished!'" Shoot your own soldiers and eventually you will lose the war and your kingdom. It's irrational for Satan to do this, Jesus says. And then in verse 27 He presents the only reasonable conclusion from the data, "'But no one can enter the strong man's house and plunder his property unless he first binds the strong man, and then he will plunder his house.'"

Now, this text has been terribly abused in charismatic theology. What does it really mean? What is Jesus saying here? In this parable, Jesus is explaining what was really happening when He cast out demons. There's no indication here that we are called to do this in any way. He's talking about what He did. And the picture in this parable is of a powerful man who had filled his house with his wealth. In the analogy, the strong man, the powerful man is Satan. The house, Satan's kingdom. The property or goods are his human victims. Jesus' point is this, if you want to take what belongs to such a man, if you want to take the human victims away from this powerful man, you must first overpower him.

And Jesus says, that's exactly what's happening when I cast out demons, I am, by divine power, overpowering Satan and his servants, the demons. I am plundering Satan's kingdom, Jesus says, I am taking property that belongs to Satan, the human victims of demon possession, and I am taking them to Myself. And I can only do that, Jesus says, because I'm more powerful.

In fact, in Matthew 12, the parallel passage, Matthew 12:28, Jesus said, "'if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.'" Jesus says, to cast out demons requires more than human power and that means I'm either doing it through the Holy Spirit or I'm doing it through Satan. And it's illogical to think I'm doing it through Satan because it would be foolish of him to undermine his own authority by casting out his own minions. So there's only one conclusion that makes sense, Jesus was casting out demons by the Spirit of God; that's His refutation.

Now, Jesus finishes this section with a solemn warning. Notice verses 28 to 30, "'Truly I say to you,'" literally, amen. The Hebrew word amein means, this is absolutely certain. "'I say to you,'" this is the New Testament equivalent of the Old Testament expression, as the Lord lives. Jesus says, listen, I promise you, this is true. And then He goes on in verse 28,

"all sins shall be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin" – because they were saying, "He has an unclean spirit."

This is one of the most solemn passages in the New Testament. It's also one of the most difficult to interpret. There's no way we can exhaust it here, but let me briefly explain it to you. Verse 28, He talks about the extent of divine grace, "'Truly, truly, I say to you, all sins shall be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they utter.'" In other words, He says, listen, there's almost no limit on divine grace. All kinds, all classes of sins can and will be forgiven, even people who blaspheme the true God. God's grace is truly amazing.

But there is one exception. It's described in the next two verses, in what is usually called, the unpardonable sin. What is this sin? Well, I want you to look first at the results of this sin, verse 29, "'whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness,'" that is an absolute negation of even the possibility, "'but is guilty of an eternal sin.'" This sin bears eternal guilt and the one who commits it will never be forgiven.

So what is this sin? Well, it's not ordinary blasphemy because verse 28 says all sins will be forgiven, even blasphemies. Matthew 12, in this same context, Jesus said, blasphemies against Me, the Son of Man, will be forgiven. So what is the unpardonable sin? Look at verse 29, "'whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness.'" Now, what is the sin? You can only understand the sin of blaspheming the Spirit in the context of what had just happened that morning. Verse 30, Jesus spoke this, notice, "because they were saying, 'He has an unclean spirit.'" You see, the scribes had just committed this sin. That's what prompted Jesus to talk about it.

So what then are the necessary elements of the unpardonable sin? What has to happen for it to be the unpardonable sin? Two things. Number one, there has to be a manifest undeniable act of the Spirit. In this case it was the healing of the demon possessed man who was blind and mute. Listen, nobody in the story questioned that the man was blind and mute. No one questioned that he'd been healed. And Jesus pointed out the only logical explanation was that it was a work of the Spirit. In fact, remember, even the people said, wow, maybe this means He's the Messiah. So, there has to be a manifest, undeniable act of the Spirit.

Number two, there has to be an intentional conscious act of attributing to Satan what you know to be a work of God. You see, the scribes knew a miracle had taken place. And they knew, listen carefully, they knew it had to be of God. How did they know this? You remember Nicodemus, one of their own, went to Jesus in John 3, and what does he say to Jesus? "'Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.'" We know this. And yet, in spite of the clear evidence, in spite of what they knew, these men intentionally attributed to Jesus, or excuse me, attributed Jesus' miracle to Satan.

Why? Why would they deliberately distort the truth about Jesus? Well, Pilot tells us, you remember, in Matthew 27:18, "Pilot knew that because of envy they had handed Jesus over." This was about protecting their power, their position, their status, their influence. Jesus had to go or they would lose their position.

So what is the unpardonable sin? It's blaspheming the Holy Spirit. When men deliberately dishonor the Spirit, misrepresenting His work and His nature.

Now, this brings up an important question that Christians struggle with. Can this sin be committed today? Is it possible to commit the unpardonable sin today? Let me just say, it's very unlikely for this sin to happen today because there must be such a clear manifest work of the Spirit of God that no one can deny it. No one was denying that something happened there that day. But if it were to happen today, and I'm not willing to say it can't, it would have these same two characteristics. To be the unpardonable sin there has to be a manifest, undeniable work of the Spirit of God and there has to be an intentional conscious attributing of that work to Satan when you know in your heart it is the work of God.

There are people with soft consciences who struggle with this. I've had people ask me, Tom, tell me, how can I be sure that I haven't committed the unpardonable sin? Well, remember this sin is a persistent, conscious choice to assign to Satan what you know to be of God. It never happens by accident. And it never happens without a conscious act of the will. Bishop Ryle was right when he said this, "Those who are troubled with fears that they may have sinned the unpardonable sin are the very people who have not sinned it." Remarkable passage.

But here's the question for us as we anticipate the celebration of Christmas this week. What are the implications of this remarkable passage in which Jesus is accused of being a demonic liar? Let me give you a couple of implications. Number one, clear incontrovertible miracles are never sufficient to cause a dead heart to believe. They just saw a miracle and what did they do? Believe? No, they attributed it to Satan. What did Jesus say about resurrection, you remember, in Luke 16? He said, He had Abraham say to the rich man in hell, "'Even if one rose from the dead they will not believe, if they will not believe Moses and the prophets.'" If they won't believe the Word of God, they won't believe a miracle either. Because all miracles do is confirm the credibility of the messenger. But ultimately, it's the message that has to be believed.

You know, in a strange way there's great encouragement for us here because we're all trying to share the gospel with our family and friends, and if a miracle were required to convince them to believe we're all very inadequate witnesses. But a miracle isn't, because God has determined to use His Word. Remember, Jesus' brothers didn't believe, and what did James write in the first chapter of his letter once he did believe? He says in James 1:18, "God caused us to be born again, to be brought to life, by the word of truth." It wasn't the miracle of the resurrection that caused James to believe, that just validated Jesus as God's messenger. It was the truth he heard from Jesus that God used to bring him to life. And the same thing will be true for those in our lives. Don't stop sharing the truth with them.

Number two, as Jesus' followers we too will be called liars and deceivers who have evil or selfish agendas. Jesus says this very clearly over in Matthew 10. Turn back there with me. In Matthew 10:24 He says,

"A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master. It is enough for the disciple that he become like his teacher, and the slave like his master. [Now listen to this, middle of verse 25 of Matthew 10.] If they have called the head of the house [that's Jesus] Beelzebul, [He says, listen, if they've called me Satan,] how much more will they malign the members of his household?"

That's us. Jesus says, don't be surprised, don't be surprised when people start treating you as though you're insincere, you're just in it for something other than the truth, you have selfish agendas, you're a pretender, you're not really what you seem. That's what they said about Jesus. So, of course, they're going to say it about us.

Notice verse 25 again, "'It is enough for the disciple that he become like his teacher, and the slave like his master.'" Jesus goes on to say here in chapter 10 of Matthew, "'Don't fear them.'" "'Don't fear them.'" Verse 28, "'Don't fear those who can kill the body.'" Don't even fear physical persecution. They can't kill the soul. "'Fear Him,'" God, "'who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.'" And He says, listen, God takes care of the sparrows, verse 31, "'you're much more valuable than many sparrows.'" God's going to take care of you. So verse 32, "'You just keep on confessing Me before men,'" you just keep on acknowledging Me as Lord. Oh, and verse 34? Don't think that there's even going to be peace in your own family. Where there are unbelievers there's going to be conflict.

Do you see what Jesus is saying? He's saying, if you're following Me, then the same thing is going to be said about you that was said about Me. Your sincerity will be doubted, your motives will be questioned, you will even be called evil itself. It's okay, you just keep on confessing Me.

Number three, and here's the reason we're studying this passage as we anticipate Christmas, if Jesus was not God, as He claimed, and if He was not delusional, as His brothers claimed, then He had to have been, as the Pharisees claimed, a demonic liar. If Jesus was not God, then He was not good. Get it out of your mind, any idea of Jesus as some sort of good moral teacher if He wasn't all that He claimed. If not God, not good.

By the way, this attack of Jesus as a liar, as a demonic liar, was the common Jewish attack of the early centuries of Christianity. Early Jewish apologists often charged Jesus with sorcery, that is, being in league with Satan. Here's the Jewish Talmud, "Yeshu of Nazareth was hanged on the day of preparation for the Passover because he practiced sorcery and led the people astray." Here's another quote from the Talmud, "A master has said, Yeshu the Nazarene practiced magic and led Israel astray." Justin Martyr, one of the earliest of the church fathers, knew the Apostle John, he says, "The Jews dared to say that He was a magician and seducer of the people." Origen, in his work Against Celsus, writes, "He laid it to the Savior's charge that He had been enabled to perform His miracles by sorcery." Tertullian in Against Marcion says, "The Jews took Jesus to be a magician with miraculous signs.

You see, if you refuse to believe that Jesus is God, but you don't want to say that He was out of His mind, that He was a nut, then you only have this option. You must conclude, listen carefully, you must conclude that He was an unspeakably evil man. He was a hypocrite. He was a liar. He was a deceiver. He was a con man of the first order. And, oh by the way, His power had to come from somewhere and so you also have to conclude that Jesus was empowered by Satan himself.

But even saying that it becomes evident that that can't be true, doesn't it? Philip Schaff, the great church historian, in his work on the person of Christ, wrote this, "The hypothesis of imposture," that is, that Jesus was an impostor, "is so revolting to moral as well as to common sense, that it's mere statement is its condemnation. How in the name of logic, common sense, and experience, could an impostor, that is, a deceitful, selfish, depraved man, have invented and consistently maintained from beginning to end the purest and noblest character known in human history?" How could that have happened? He says, "How could he have conceived and successfully carried out, a plan of unparalleled beneficence, moral magnitude, and sacrificed his own life for it in the face of the strongest prejudices of his people and ages?" I love what Philip Schaff says elsewhere, that is, "It would have taken more than a Jesus to invent Jesus."

There are only these three options. Jesus was not a deluded lunatic. And He was not a demonic liar. There is only one other option for us, as we anticipate the celebration of Christmas this week, as we celebrate His birth, He is the divine Lord as He claimed; He is God incarnate. If you sit here this morning and you are not His follower, you have never come to a place in your own life where you have acknowledged His right to rule you, there is only one thing for you to do, and that is to turn from your sinful rebellion, your own way, and to confess Jesus as Lord. Ask God to reconcile you to Himself through the death of His Son for sin.

If you've already believed in Jesus Christ, I think many of us here, as you anticipate the celebration of Christmas this week, let me encourage you, admonish you, plead with you, make sure that you don't let all of the traditions of family and friends get in the way of what you're really celebrating. Bring yourself to truly worship and adore the Lord, the miracle of the incarnation, that is what we celebrate, "the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us." Not a lunatic, not a liar, but the divine Lord clothed in human flesh. That's the message of Christmas. Let's pray together.

Our Father, we thank You for the straightforward presentation of Your Word. We thank You for the fact that You don't shield us and protect us from those negative things that were said to and about Christ. But rather, You lay them out there as the obvious choices that we must make regarding who Jesus really is.

Father, I pray for those of us, by Your grace, You've already brought to acknowledge Jesus as Lord. We already confess Him as Lord and we follow Him as His disciples. Father, I pray that You would encourage us, that You would strengthen us, that You would empower us to share this message with others. And Lord, this week as we gather with our family and our friends, help us to truly center our celebration on the reality, the miracle of the incarnation, that He was all that He claimed to be, the Word, the eternal God made flesh.

Father, I pray for those here this morning who are not His followers. Lord, I pray for those who are self-deceived, who are deceived by some profession they made in childhood even though they've lived without following Him as Lord their entire lives. Lord, help them to see the reality of their true condition. I pray for those who are not at all deceived, but who know that they're not followers of Christ. Lord, help them to be confronted with the choices that lie before them. And I pray that they would come to acknowledge, both intellectually and with their souls, that Jesus is Lord, to confess Him today as their Lord, to find the forgiveness that's offered in Him through His death and resurrection. So that this Christmas, for the first time in their lives, they really celebrate the Word incarnate. We pray in Jesus' name, amen.