But Jesus did not only speak with authority. He also acted with authority. And thus, His works serve to substantiate His claims. What were His works? By the time of the preaching of this Sermon, according to Matthew (4:23-25), Jesus had already healed various types of sickness among the people and had cast out demons. They were yet to see lepers cured, the eyes of the blind opened, the dead raised to life, the storms stilled, water turned to wine, thousands fed from just a few shreds of lunch, and heaven opened. These works were meant to accredit Him by revealing the source of His teaching. We cannot study them candidly without coming to the conclusion reached by Nicodemus: “Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God; for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him” (John 3:2).
As I say this I am aware that there have been gigantic attempts in the world of scholarship to remove the supernatural element from the Gospels. But I am also aware that all of these attempts have ended up in total failure. In the year 1768, in Germany, an historian named Hermann Samuel Reimarus died, leaving behind a manuscript that was to have far-reaching implications. The manuscript argued that in dealing with the New Testament, historians must distinguish between the “aim” of Jesus and the “aim” of His disciples, by which he meant the Jesus who actually lived and died and the legendary Christ of the early Christian preaching. Faced with the choice between what he had come to consider two mutually exclusive positions, Reimarus chose the historical Jesus (stripped of all supernatural elements), and thereby launched a whole century of similar research. In this period in Germany, Christianity was viewed by many scholars as the product of the early disciples who stole the corpse, proclaimed a bodily resurrection, and gathered followers.
Unfortunately, each of the scholars only succeeded in producing a Jesus in his own image, and it became increasingly apparent that in each case the supernatural element had been eliminated at the whim of the historian and not at all on the basis of objective evidence. Thus, idealists found Christ to be the ideal man, rationalists saw Him as the great teacher of morality, and socialists viewed Him as a friend of the poor and revolutionary. The most popular lives of Jesus, those of David Friedrich Strauss and Ernest Renan, rejected most of the Gospel material as mythology. And Bruno Bauer, who followed them, ended his quest by denying that there had been an historical Jesus at all.
A person can hardly fail to be impressed even today at the immense amount of energy and talent that these German and French scholars poured into the old quest for the historical Jesus. In spite of their subtle imagination, genius, historical knowledge, and literary skill, all of their work came to nothing. They had attempted to eliminate Christ’s miracles. But when their work was examined under the most careful critical analysis, it collapsed. By the beginning of this century, when Albert Schweitzer declared his moratorium on the liberal quest, the entire scholarly world recognized that the previous attempts had been failures.