This year brings a new theme to the missionary survival guide that was first previewed in the 2013 post “Apologetics: The answer to `why?`” Most active Christians, missionary or not, will at some point encounter tough questions about the message they preach. These inquiries can be even more frequent abroad as you meet people who did not grow up with the gospel or reading the bible. It`s amazing sometimes how many of these are logical questions yet may have rarely come up back home due to an indifferent attitude, a loss of verve. However, now you`re faced with fresh ears and minds soaking in what you`re saying for the first time: 2000 years ago God came to the earth as a man and died for humanity`s sin, only to return from the grave. Needless to say, if the person takes you and the time you`re spending together with them seriously, they will have questions, deep questions, and you know what? They`re entitled to them. As long as the conversation is respectful to both parties, this is what we missionaries are here to do. So, from now on look for periodic dives into the wonders of the deep with the help of additional resources and counsel of the church. With that, lets explore a question that I feel is appropriate to start off with: Did Jesus really exist?
The quick answer would be a resounding “yes!!!”. Then again I wouldn’t be a Christian if I didn’t believe that, so lets approach this from an unbelievers’ point of view and start with the natural evidence, then moving on to the supernatural. The bible, a collection of sacred historical, philosophical and religious books spanning over 4000 years, claims to record the history of mankind’s broken relationship with the original God of the earth. The New Testament shares the factual good news, or “gospel”, of God’s son, Jesus Christ, coming to the earth 2000 years ago to redeem that link between the Creator and mankind. The New Testament of the bible begins with four of these accounts: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. They were written by those that either knew Jesus in life or were disciples of those who did. Many scholars believe that Mark was the first gospel to be written, around 66-70 AD, a mere 3 decades after Jesus’ time on earth. The earliest surviving copy of this gospel is from 120 AD. This is significant as even the copy is closer to the events that it records than many surviving ancient writings that the secular world readily accepts today.
That is biblical evidence, but what about extra-biblical? Two historians of ancient Rome, Josephus and Tacitus, each record events corroborating the historicity of Jesus. Josephus was a Jew who defected to Rome after a failed attempt at rebellion against the empire. He was tasked with creating a historical record of his people for the Emperor, which concluded with then contemporary issues. In the latter case, Josephus records the execution of James whom he identifies as “brother of Jesus, called ‘Christ’ “(Antiquities of the Jews, Book 20, Chapter 9, 1). Paul mentions meeting James, “the Lord’s brother”, in the bible (Galatians 1:19). Tacitus on the other hand wrote from 116 AD, 23 years later, sharing how Pontius Pilate condemned “Christus” to “the extreme penalty”, which is crucifixion (Annals, Book 15, 44). This is all amazing for two reasons. One, these men were not Christian and in no way trying to help the gospel spread. They were simply doing their job as historians and the death of James and of Christ Himself may have well been just another Sunday or Monday to them. Also, considering these historians are on Imperial business, it’s a miracle that information about a carpenter/”prophet” from Nazareth is mentioned at all in their works. The details on the Lord Jesus add up to about a page out of hundreds. Still, facts are facts and history, both biblical and secular, say the same thing: Jesus lived.
Now that we’ve loosely covered the academic evidence, the supernatural is the next logical step. One believes in Jesus by first hearing the gospel, the truth of what happened. That is history, but it’s a history that leads to miraculous life if accepted. Jesus promised those that believe He is the Son of God and that His death and resurrection is for their benefit would receive a spring of living water bubbling up in them into eternal life (John 4:10-14 ). Today, many from every walk and trouble of life have had their lives transformed by something that happened 2000 years ago. Liars, killers, pimps, prostitutes, rich, poor: all have cried tears of repentance when another Christian has prayed for them, kneeling at their side, hand in hand. Out of that newly washed remnant of humanity, there are some who have worshiped the Lord in miraculous new tongues, a gift that was documented in the first church just days after Jesus resurrection. I am one of those blessed to have experienced this gift on numerous occasions and I can honestly tell you that it is a faith booster. After all of the research, ancient chronologies and archaeological excavation, to feel the spirit of God bubbling and bursting inside your chest, to know that He is alive and just where He always wanted to be, is evidence enough.