April 2, 2015
This blog post is part four of four. Read part one.
And this ridiculous, unbelievable teaching was believed. Christians convinced many Jews: men who studied the Old Testament fervently. The Christians convinced them that Jesus – whom they had most likely seen walking through the town a month before – was the one who was promised would come, the Anointed One pointed to and looked out for in the entire Jewish Bible. The theology and coincidence of the Christian lie must have been very convincing. It could be said to be more astounding than any of the miracles described in the gospels. The myriad of prophesies about the Messiah all converged on Jesus: itself a massive improbability.
Also, the Greeks were converted: the intellectuals of the ancient world. Poor, rich, intelligent, simple, Scythian, Corinthian, Jew, Asian, Australian? Christianity spread to become one of the most influential movements (granted, sometimes for the worse) in the world.
People often die for a good cause: Buddhists burned themselves alive in the 1970s to draw attention to the political climate in Asia, cults regularly stage suicides. In all these cases though, the martyrs passionately believe in their cause. In the case of the apostle’s, though, their good cause died before their eyes on a wooden cross outside of Jerusalem. The Messiah who would restore Israel and set up his kingdom was publicly disgraced and executed. There was no apparent good cause to die for.
To put it another way: the apostle’s charismatic cult leader was dead. Cults tend to suicide alongside their leader: while the apostles didn’t become “die-hard” Christians until after their leader had been dead for four weeks.
Very few would die for a lie that they knew was a lie, very few would persist in preaching doubtful wishful thinking. I doubt anyone could succeed in converting people into the early church (a place of massive persecution) with such a scattered brain and flimsy message. The very existence and proliferation throughout massive differences in culture, class, wealth and personality is extraordinary and highly inexplicable. Its very existence and capability for changing people is a massive proof for the resurrection.
One more thing: this was written by the apostle Paul (circa 55AD), a missionary throughout Asia and Europe. He was a violent, proud and outstandingly intelligent man who persecuted the church and approved of the first execution of a Christian (Acts 7) before he became a Christian. This is his testimony to the reliability of trusting in the Jesus phenomenon – again, why did this successful, brilliant individual do it?
“I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashings minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have laboured and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked?” (2 Corinthians 11:23-27)
Well that is what we’re up against. Whether we believe in God or not, there is a historical dilemma that each one of has to resolve. There is a message and an offer that we have to make a decision about. We should, if we consider ourselves rational, sensible people who care about their well-being, reach an answer to these questions:
* Was Jesus a liar a lunatic or the Son of God?
* Why didn’t the authorities produce the corpse?
* Why did the followers of Jesus put up with so much and die for the message of Jesus’ death and resurrection?
* How did the message of the cross succeed?
If Jesus in fact did not rise again, Christianity is pathetic and evil. It deceives people, motivating them to convince their friends of this deception. But if the apostles and millions of Christians since (more this century than any other) suffered and died for something that was witnessed – for a historical and spiritual truth – then everyone needs its message, it is the only way to be saved.
The message of Christianity is unique because it is non-religious, historically verifiable and compatible with this world. It centres on a person who claims that we have all rejected God (hence the state of this world and the absence of God in our everyday experience). This man taught with authority that we all will be held responsible after death for our passive (ie ignoring the issue) or active rejection. This person claimed that his death provides a way for us to re-establish the broken relationship with God by taking the just punishment we deserve.
To accept the Christian faith isn’t to have some experience or feeling or be happy all the time or sit in a convent or something. It is to believe rationally from history that God raised Jesus of Nazareth from the dead and confess from this belief that he is Lord of your life. This can be established through a prayer to God saying you will turn away from your rebellion-attitude, asking that he count Jesus’ death as your punishment and a committing to live with Jesus as your Lord. This relationship of Lord to servant or Father to son is developed by:
(i) reading the Bible: where God speaks to us.
(ii) praying, i.e. speaking in response.
(iii) obeying it.
To see if the Bible’s account and explanation of Jesus is worth considering I recommend reading the Gospel of John.