The Strangeness of the Gospel

A friend of mine, Clint Wilson, shared an excerpt from Michael F. Bird’s college textbook Introducing Paul  a while ago and I thought it was very profound.  It concerns the strangeness of Paul’s claims to first-century hearers. We would all do well to remember how unusual the claims concerning Christ are. It is easy for us this side of 2000 years of Christian history to see the Christian claims as “old hat.” Bird writes:

Imagine you are walking through your local university or college and hear in the quad an elderly man from South America telling people loudly about God’s love and salvation. He announces the ‘good news’ of Carlos Hernandez. He recounts how Carlos was a Peruvian peasant attested by man mighty deeds of power and miracles and who proclaimed the end of the world. But the chief men in the city of Lima feared his popularity with the peasant class, falsely accused him of being an Al-Qaeda terrorist and had him killed by electrocution. But a week later, this Carlos was raised from the dead and was seen by several American tourists. Then the man declares that ‘this Carlos was electrocuted for your sins and salvation is found through faith in him’. And then, to make matters worse he starts singing:

Carlos was there on that horrible chair

They tied him down with bolts and then zapped him with 40,000 volts

It was for you our saviour fried and died

Despite the fact that his chair caught on fire, this one is God’s true Messiah

The wisdom of the world has been refuted because Carlos was electrocuted

He is my saviour and my lamp, because he absorbed every deadly amp

Now I know that God does care, ’cause he sent Carlos Hernandez to the electric chair.

I like the way this short excerpt gets us to reorient our thinking about the Gospel.  It has never been some commonplace event, a blip on the radar of human history.  It was something profoundly strange and unheard of….God becoming man and dying on a cross?  What kind of God is that?  And yet that is exactly what we proclaim.  The death and resurrection of Jesus invokes two seeming absurdities:  the infinite entering a finite world and the suffering of a deity.  This is the message that Christians proclaim unabashedly.  An incomprehensible movement of God that sends many rational minds recoiling in horror.  Yet, it is not without rationale.  It is a statement about the brokeness of people living in an absurd world, a mad world as one songwriter poignantly puts it.  The absurdity of evil demands an equally absurd reality: a suffering God.   A profound and indescribable truth bound up in human frailty; hanging on a Roman execution device the likes of which only a sociopath could conceive.  In this event, the sins of the world collide with the God of love and they don’t stand a chance.  The infinite God bears our pain in Himself.  A beautiful truth, embodied in Jesus, in whom we place our hope.  As the great Athanasius puts it, He was made man, that we might be made God.  Food for thought as we anticipate Good Friday, commemorating Jesus’ death on the cross.

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Investigating the Resurrection of Jesus

The Crucifixion of Jesus

A copyrighted image of Jesus on the Cross

From time to time I’ll invite friends to contribute posts for discussion on my blog.  My friend Clint Wilson has graciously accepted an invite to share from a talk he did on the resurrection of Jesus as viewed from an historical research perspective.  I hope it can be enlightening in giving reasons why Christians uphold the resurrection as a true event in history.  I will break this up into multiple posts so individual pieces can be discussed/debated without having to respond to the whole piece at once.

I. Importance & Centrality of the Resurrection

 Resurrection is the linchpin of the Christian faith-you can’t have Xty without resurrection.  In the first century we know of multiple messianic or quasi-messianic movements b/c of the records of the Jewish historian Josephus’, a contemporary with many of these movements.  They, like Jesus went about proclaiming the kingdom of God, promising signs of salvation and wonders.  And all of these movements came to an end with the violent death of the key figure or founder.  In the 1st century when your movements leader was executed violently, you could either give up the movement or find yourself a new messiah.  Yet, the jewish groups that followed Jesus didn’t do either of these things.  They continued the movement and said that their recently crucified Jesus was the messiah and was therefore the Lord of the world.  How can we explain this?  Why did this group continue to move forward in promoting the Kingdom of God and say that their leader, who by the way had been crucified on a cross by the Roman empire, was in charge of it all?  The answer that they all gave was that Jesus had been raised from the dead…he had been resurrected.

There are numerous instances in Scripture that indicate the centrality of the cross as a focal point for the Christian experience.  

Proliferation of Resurrection teaching

  1. It was the focal point of the disciple’s preaching
    1. Many doctrines were based upon it
    2. Belief in it is required for salvation (Rom 10:9)
    3. It secured for us an inheritance in heaven (1 Pet 1:3-4)
    4. If it did not occur we are lost (1 Cor 15:17)
  2. It was the evidence that Jesus provided to validate his teachings (Mt 12:38-40; 16:1-4; Jn 2:18-21).  The Resurrection was the chief reason provided by the apostles that Xty is true (Acts 17:2-3, 18, 31; 2:22-32; 1 Cor 15:17)
  3. It is claimed, therefore, that Jesus’ resurrection largely confirms Jesus’ claims, much of xtian doctrine, and the truthfulness of Xty (1 Cor 15:14).

Has the Resurrection fallen on hard times?

 Professor Richard Dawkins of the University of Oxford tells us in The God Delusion that a “serious” historical case can be made “that Jesus never lived at all”.  In The Atheist Manifesto the French philosopher Michel Onfray contends that from start to finish Jesus was “a trick born of a rational mind”.  “At that time,” he assures us, “Jews were not crucified but stoned to death.”  And, finally, in the provocative God Is Not Great Christopher Hitchens speaks of Jesus’ “highly questionable existence” and says of the resurrection: “We have a right, if not an obligation, to respect ourselves enough to disbelieve the whole thing.”  But do we?

 I think that if we look at the historical facts we will see that the alternative theories which would seek to explain away a historically reliable physical resurrection are built on shaky if not unsupported arguments altogether and that that the evidence is in favor of Jesus’ rising from the dead.