“The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him, ‘Immanuel’ – which means ‘God with us’.” Matthew 1:23
Some thirty years ago, sat with a clergyman ordained in the 1930s, we discussed a book called “Reasonable Belief”. We thought it a good book, then he looked thoughtful. “Do you know the problem, Ian? Belief is not reasonable.”
Being reasonable means trying to rationalize the story of Jesus, but being a Christian is about being unreasonable, being a Christian is about making a decision to commit one’s life to this man ‘Jesus’. We can be reasonable and rational, we can have many arguments for the existence of God, we can develop wonderfully complex theologies, but there comes a point when we have to make a leap of faith; when we have to decide whether he really is ‘Immanuel’; whether Jesus is ‘God with us’.
It was CS Lewis who suggested that Jesus was ‘mad’ or he is ‘bad’ or he is ‘God’. We must decide on Jesus’ claims for ourselves. We come to church each Sunday and we read the story of Jesus in church each week and sooner or later, if we are thinking at all, we have to say to ourselves, ‘what is this story about? Do I believe this?’ It is not possible to read the Gospel story and not to have these questions. Jesus is a great teacher, he is a marvellous philosopher, he is an excellent psychologist, but he is not primarily any of these. He comes among us as one claiming to be the Son of God, he comes among us as one who performs miracles, he comes among us as one whose life is presented to us as a series of miracles. So is he mad or is he bad or is he God?
There are many parts of Jesus’ life where no rational, scientific, worldly explanation is possible. The virgin birth, the miracles in the course of his ministry, the resurrection, the ascension – no explanation is possible for those who do not believe these things. To remain in the church, but not to believe is illogical. If these things are not true, then Jesus was mad or bad and the whole of the Christian faith is built on lies and deceit.
Our Gospel reading this morning relates the story of the virgin birth. If we do not believe this to be true, then what else do we discount? What else do we say has been made up? Being blunt, if there are chunks of the story that have been made up, then we would have to doubt the integrity of the whole story.
Christianity is not a religion of compromise or fudging, the claims made are too radical. At its very heart the Christian faith is about the supernatural and the miraculous.
We need to understand where it is we are coming from, what it is that we believe. Faith does not fit into the limits of human reason. Faith by its very nature means a leap into the unknown. No matter how long you think, there is no rational way of explaining how God takes on human flesh, of how Jesus performs miracles, of how Jesus rises from the dead. These are not things you can explain in human, rational terms.
Most of us read these stories and we accept that there are things beyond the power of human understanding, we have no explanation, but we accept by faith that these things are true because our personal experience of God leads us to believe in our hearts they are true.
The weakness of arguments that would dismiss people’s faith is the conclusion that if something cannot be explained, then it must be untrue. Such a conclusion, that it is possible to possess all the truth that there is to be known, is every bit as the arrogant as the Church’s attitude towards science down through the centuries.
At the very heart of the whole debate there is one simple question: do we believe in the miraculous? If we believe in miracles, if we believe that God does things beyond all human understanding, then all things are possible. If we believe in miracles, then our answer to ’mad, bad, or God?’ is undoubtedly, that he was ’God’.
If we don’t believe in miracles, then no explanation is possible for the life and ministry of Jesus. The answer to ’mad, bad, or God?’ would have to be that he was mad; or that he was bad, in fact, the worst conman in entire human history.
All of us must face this question. When we come to church, when we say our prayers, when we sing our hymns, when we say the Creed, when we share the bread and the wine, have to answer for ourselves.
“The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him, ‘Immanuel’ – which means ‘God with us’.”
Mad, bad, or God?