Christianity should not have succeeded and previously we talked about some of the reasons for this; the unassuming beginnings of Jesus Christ and the coming of the Jewish messiah being first announced to non-Jewish astrologers, Magi who practiced what God had declared sinful. However, the message of the coming of the Son of God is that of loving salvation from eternal death, a life-line given to all who will accept the Lord and His will for their lives. So, with the holidays upon us now, I thought it would be a fitting time to continue our discussion on the light that wouldn’t burn out and go a little deeper.
We’ve all grown up hearing fairy tales and stories of mighty heroes overcoming the odds, winning the heart of the people or that damsel in distress. They shine as pinnacles of success and in many tales, their endeavors rarely fail. Thinkers like Joseph Campbell (Hero of a Thousand Faces) tell us that these elements are embedded in humanity’s psyche. It’s what we want to hear. However, the gospel accounts tend to misbehave, revealing information that would undermine one’s efforts to rally the world to a new religion.
We already talked about the humble origins of Jesus Christ as a potential stumbling block, but what about those events that the world would perceive as failures? Mark 6:1-6 tells us that when visiting His hometown, Jesus was faced with jealousy and unbelief from those who knew Him growing up. It was so intense that it affected the Holy Spirit’s power and He was only able to do a few miracles there. This was not an isolated incident, as John 6:52-66 says that the piercing teaching of Christ, regarding the spirit and weakness of the flesh, made many of his disciples turn back and desert Him. This was chiefly manifested in the betrayal of one of Christ’s Apostles, Judas Iscariot. Understand the significance of this; the 12 Apostles were not simply following Jesus to be fed or healed, but were hand-picked messengers that the Lord filled with the same Holy Spirit as He had. Many today don’t realize that these men did some of the same miracles that Jesus did during His time on earth and many more afterwards. Judas was a part of all of these amazing events, and still sold Jesus out to His adversaries for 30 pieces of silver.
Finally, the central figure of a new religion, who claimed to be God incarnate, admitting that He was ignorant of something would have been considered a colossal failure in the ancient world. This occurs as Jesus is discussing the circumstances of His return to the earth in Matthew 6 and in verse 36 he reveals that even He does not know the time of that event, only the Father God does. Now, Christians understand that a strong possibility for this is that in order to fully experience a human life and sacrificial death, Jesus temporarily gave up divine equality with God, as stated in Philippians 2:5-8. Still, to the 1st century Roman world, a claim to divinity was a serious issue and this humble act did not fit the lofty nature of their pantheon. How could someone put their trust in a person who was not even aware of a thing so key to proving their credibility?
Ah, but maybe you’re thinking that is the genius of the writers of the gospels. Creating this realistic information was meant to convince us that it really did happen. Well, if that is the case then we come to another hurdle; the inclusion of many historical figures and events. Roman governor Pontias Pilate,”in the 15th year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius” (Luke 3:1), the pool of Bethesda where Jesus healed a crippled man; this information has been archaeologically proven. It’s easy for us today to read a name in the Bible like “Herod Agrippa” and think “well, that sounds real enough”, but the gospels and letters of the New Testament were written mere decades after the time of Jesus. There were many people still living who would have either remembered these events or been able to interview those who did in order to test their accuracy. If lies were found, then it is most likely that as the gospels spread in number of publication over the centuries, so would documents from that era denouncing them as lies.
The point is that if Christianity were built on falsehoods, then it would not have served the authors of the gospels and letters of the New Testament to include so many realistic but unpopular pitfalls to Christ’s ministry as well as detailed historical information that could easily be investigated and possibly proven to be lies. These things may make for an “interesting read” now, but in the first century, when a new religious movement could mean your own death, it wouldn’t have been feasible. There is much more to discuss, but we’ll conclude this little series next time with an exploration of the deepest and darkest reason why the message of Jesus Christ should not have endured. Yet strangely, it’s the very reason why it has, continuing to set hearts ablaze with joyful light today. I hope you’ll come around again with an open mind and heart. Happy holidays!
Pool of Bethesda:
Hero With a Thousand Faces (Joseph Campbell):