Most of us are familiar with the saying, “If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.”
We all know how this applies from personal experience with advertisers. I recently received a fake check for one million dollars which I was told I could cash upon supplying the sender my credit card information. Americans are so inundated with such bogus claims of advertisers; they’ve learned to turn a deaf ear to them.
This saying applies in the realm of religion as well. Some faiths make fantastic claims that are literally “too good to be true.” Some forms of Eastern Meditation promise its practitioners the attainment of perfect peace by becoming one with the universe but fail to deliver. The Beatles, following George Harrison’s lead, followed the Maharishi to India to learn to meditate, but they reported it was not what it was cracked up to be and returned to England disillusioned. Other faiths promise a home in heaven if one is faithful to keep all the rules. But eventually, the adherents are forced to admit that more is needed than mere will-power if one is to gain admission to the pearly gates.
The Gospel, at least upon first hearing, also appears on face value to be “too good to be true.” Just take its central claim: that the God who created all things submitted Himself to be born of a virgin and entered this world as a human being. We are tempted, at least at first, to reject it. Even the two other monotheistic faiths (Judaism and Islam), while sharing much in common with Christianity, part company when it comes to this claim, seeing Jesus merely as a prophet and a good man. Yet, there is no Gospel if the Man, Christ Jesus was merely a man of noble character or even a prophet rather than the very God of gods.
That this is difficult to believe is evident by the fact that even the disciples He chose were not fully convinced, at first, of the true nature of his Person. But as they spent time with Him, it began to dawn on them that the Man Jesus Christ was none other than God in the flesh. This fact (that the disciples believed he was God in the flesh) has been contested over the centuries. But one simply needs to look at the language they used in their letters to describe Him to conclude that they believed in his deity. Take, for example, the fact that the disciples uniformly testify after spending three years with Him that he was “without sin” (I Peter 2:22). Jesus Himself once asked his enemies, “Which one of you convict me of sin?” (John 8:46). Surely, if they could have done so, they would have taken him up on this. They did not for the simple reason they could find no sin! This fact (that he was without sin) could not be said of a mere mortal for, as Solomon reminds us in his prayer of dedication at the temple, “there is no one who does not sin” (I Kings 8:46).
It may seem too good to be true, but the Bible clearly teaches God chose to visit this planet, not merely as He did in the Old Testament by giving mere tokens of his presence, but by enshrouding Himself in the womb of a virgin in order to become fully human. This mystery (for that is what the New Testament refers to it as) cannot be fully grasped by the human mind. Yet it is openly declared in the Old and New Testaments as a fact that cannot be contradicted: “He (God) was manifested in the flesh” (I Timothy 3:16).
Several years ago, I was asked to teach Church History at a seminary in North Carolina. As I was preparing the lectures dealing with the Post-Nicene Fathers, I had to examine countless pages of their attempts to explain how Jesus could be both God and Man. It seemed they haggled over the minutest details as they attempted to understand Him. I had a difficult time understanding why they split hairs over the minutest details when it came to grasping how He was the God-Man. But one day it suddenly dawned on me; their difficulty explaining Him is due to the fact there is simply no one like Jesus in all of history. He defies explanation! No wonder they exhausted the language in their attempts to get a handle on his real identity.
This major Gospel fact that Jesus of Nazareth was not a mere man, but God in the flesh may seem to be too good to be true. But wonder of wonders, it is true! Lying at the heart of the Gospel is the incredible fact that the God who created the universe by his spoken word came into the world as a baby and lived a perfect life. No other religion comes even close in having such a divine Mystery at its core.