How to Explain Jesus to a Skeptic

“Is it possible to know God?” 

It’s a question human beings have asked for thousands of years. It’s a question behind the major religions, each which imagined what a god or gods in control of the universe are like. Maybe you, at some point in your life, asked this very question. If you could see God just once, wouldn’t it settle your fears, give you assurance, and motivate you to hold firm in your faith? If you could talk to this God, wouldn’t it help you know not only what this God is like but what you’re meant to be like—what is his purpose for putting you on this earth?

The good news is that you CAN know God—not based on ideas or tradition from a long time ago, but the historical person of Jesus. If you want to know what God says, listen to Jesus. If you want to know what God is up to, watch Jesus. If you want to have a closer relationship with God, follow Jesus.

No single person has had a greater effect on our world than Jesus. Yet, lots of people haven’t grasped the immense, groundbreaking reality of Jesus because Christians have either made him too complicated and religious (“You have to do all these things to be a Christian”) or he’s been grouped as just another choice in a buffet of religions (“Pass the Buddhism, please”). Many of us stumble and mumble when somebody asks us why should they believe in Jesus. We wind up confusing people even more!

So how do you explain Jesus to somebody who is not a Christian?

#1. Jesus was a real man.

How do you know if something is real? If you’ve never been abroad, how do you know Japan is real? If I tell you that I have a brother, how do you know I am telling the truth? 

You look for evidence.

You investigate.

You would talk to people who have been there, known him.

The same thing goes for Jesus. You can visit the places Jesus visited, you can read writings from people who encountered Jesus. You can see the effects of Jesus even in our world 2000 years later. Jesus was a man— a real person in history. What’s interesting is that no ancient person and no modern scholar has ever seriously argued that Jesus did not exist.

But he was not a normal man. Jesus made claims no one has claimed in history. 

#2. Jesus claimed to be God.

Again and again, Jesus speaks of himself as being one with the Father, as being the one spoken about in the Hebrew Scriptures, as “I Am” himself. And this made religious people unhappy. This is the reason Jesus was killed—claiming to be God. Author C.S. Lewis says this about Jesus (my paraphrase): When someone claims to be God, there are only three possibilities-- they are a liar, they are insane, or they are telling the truth.  Jesus can’t merely be a good teacher or a good man. 

And when a person claims to be God, he needs proof. What is that proof?

#3. Jesus rose from the dead.

Coming back to life after being dead is called resurrection. This is what makes Christianity different than any other religion. If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, Christianity falls apart (1 Cor 15:14).

But how do we know Jesus actually rose form the dead and all this wasn’t made up?

  • Jesus died. (This is something both Christian and non-Christian scholars agree happened.)
  • Jesus was buried in a tomb. (The tomb was locked and guarded, according to both the gospels and Roman sources.)
  • Three days later, the tomb was empty.
  • Over 500 people saw Jesus alive after he died and was buried.
  • The lives of the people who saw Jesus were radically changed.

The 11 disciples had run for their lives when Jesus was crucified. They were afraid they were next. But in just a matter of weeks, they were boldly preaching and sharing the news of Jesus with everybody they knew. Some traveled thousands of miles to places like India and Europe. Ten of the eleven were killed for their faith in Jesus. 

How could that happen?

Christianity started in the very same city where Jesus was condemned to die. 

How could that happen?

Even outside the Bible, there are many 1st  and 2ndcentury writings where politicians and scholars talk about the mystery of Jesus and the incomprehensible boldness of his followers: 

Tacitus, Roman senator: “[N]either human effort nor the emperor’s generosity nor the placating of the gods ended the scandalous belief that the fire had been ordered [by Nero]. Therefore, to put down the rumor, Nero substituted as culprits and punished in the most unusual ways those hated for their shameful acts … whom the crowd called “Chrestians.” The founder of this name, Christ [Christus in Latin], had been executed in the reign of Tiberius by the procurator Pontius Pilate … Suppressed for a time, the deadly superstition erupted again not only in Judea, the origin of this evil, but also in the city [Rome], where all things horrible and shameful from everywhere come together and become popular.”

Josephus, Jewish writer: “Being therefore this kind of person, Ananus, thinking that he had a favorable opportunity because Festus had died and Albinus was still on his way, called a meeting of judges and brought into it the brother of Jesus-who-is-called-Messiah … James by name, and some others. He made the accusation that they had transgressed the law, and he handed them over to be stoned.”

The reality and resurrection of Jesus isn’t based on an idea but on evidence.

So why does it matter if you believe in Jesus?

Some would say it’s about getting into heaven when you die. And yes, while trusting in the One who conquered death and has promised to raise us too IS important, it’s so much bigger than that.

Jesus makes it possible to know God personally.

Jesus’ coming initiated the beginning of God’s Kingdom on earth that we are invited to join in.

Jesus shows us the extent of God’s sacrificial love for us.

Jesus demonstrates that God is in solidarity with us and all we go through in life.

Jesus promises to empower you with his Spirit.

Jesus gives your life a bigger purpose and mission.

Jesus unites you with a bigger family than just those related by blood (the Church).

Different than religions based on somebody’s interpretation of God, Christianity is based on simple evidence. So if you want to know what God is like, look at Jesus. If you want to know how God wants you to live, follow Jesus. If you want to experience life to its fullest, trust Jesus.  

Keep it simple. And watch what God does.