“Christianity - Against All Odds”
Categories: The King's Way at Queen Way
Throughout human history, a number of powerful civilizations have dominated various regions of this planet. The Sumerians, Egyptians, Syrians, Assyrians and Babylonians all reigned over northern Africa and/or Mesopotamia at different points in history. Persia, Greece and Rome all controlled regions that extended far beyond Mesopotamia. We could talk about the mighty Chinese Empire. Then there were the Mayans, Aztecs and Vikings. Many of the western European countries have long histories of prosperity and domination as well.
Each of these nations had its own unique culture and religious system. Sure, some of them were influenced by their predecessors, as in the case of Greece and Rome, but they were all still very unique in their forms of government, their cultural identity, and again, their religious beliefs. From the worship of Ra and Osiris in Egypt, of Zeus and Aphrodite in Greece, of Odin and Thor among the Vikings, to Itzamn in the Mayan Empire, every ancient civilization worshiped, in most cases, a broad pantheon of gods. They had elaborate systems of religion that included holy days, sacrifices and priesthoods. Every major empire in history was very religious, often merging their political, cultural and religious identities into one.
In light of these facts, it's beyond incredible to me that of all the religions of the ancient world, the one story that has not only survived, but dominated, the world, is the story of the Bible. The three Abrahamic religions - Christianity, Judaism, and Islam - comprise over 55% of the world's population, with Christianity (in all its various forms), claiming 2.2 billion adherents today.
I'd like to focus for a moment on Christianity itself.
Christianity began nearly 2,000 years ago in the city of Jerusalem, a relatively small city in the land of Israel. Israel is less than 11,000 square miles in size, making it not much bigger than New Jersey!
Of all the powerful empires in history, how amazing is it that the world's largest religion (by far) originated in such a small, obscure place?
But that's not all...
Christianity is based on Jesus Christ, a man that was not a king, dignitary or even military leader. He wasn't the son of someone rich or famous. The Scriptures tell us that Jesus was born to a modest, unimportant family from Galilee, and that He never had riches or power.
"For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, and as a root out of dry ground. He has no form or comeliness; and when we see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him. He is despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him." (Isaiah 53:2-3).
"Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, lowly and riding on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey." (Zechariah 9:9).
"Philip found Nathanael and said to him, 'We have found Him of whom Moses in the law, and also the prophets, wrote - Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.' And Nathanael said to him, 'Can anything good come out of Nazareth?'" (John 1:45-46)
In terms of his economic and social status, Jesus didn't have anything going for Him! He was a peasant. He was from a part of Israel that even the Jews mocked and denigrated. What's more, He didn't seek power through political means or by force.
"Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." (Matthew 22:21).
"Therefore when Jesus perceived that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, He departed to the mountain by Himself alone." (John 6:15)
The Scriptures tell us that Jesus' time was spent preaching, serving others and performing miracles. And while the number of His disciples at times swelled, His message turned a lot of people away, and angered the Jewish leaders. Most notably, His life came to an untimely end when the Jewish people cried out to the Roman authorities, "Crucify Him! Crucify Him!" and He was executed on a cross, an excruciating, humiliating death for anyone to endure.
It's truly astounding that this obscure peasant from Galilee with no economic status, political connections or even widespread popularity, and whose life ended on a Roman cross, inspired a movement that spread like wildfire throughout Israel, followed by the Roman Empire, and finally, the world!
It might make sense for Zeus to attain this fame and notoriety, or Odin, or Ra, or Shiva. These gods and goddesses were touted by kingdoms that actually had some real influence in the world. These gods and goddesses had ornate temples, were worshiped in many cases by government mandate, and prompted the movement of mass amounts of wealth. These gods and goddesses promised guardianship over the sea, rain for crops, fertility, political power and a number of other things that mankind has always deemed important.
Most of these suppose deities have faded from relevance, having been relegated to history books.
But not Jesus.
If you're a skeptic, perhaps you're thinking that, while Jesus may have existed as a man, He was never anything more than that. His disciples either lied about His resurrection from the dead, or were loony, and the "Jesus legend" began in earnest.
But who would fabricate such a story as this?
At the time, the Jews wanted freedom from Rome. Jesus didn't promise that. The gospel accounts make it abundantly clear that Jesus wasn't the Messiah that the Jews expected. He was from Nazareth. He defied the religious authorities. His own family thought He was crazy. But most importantly, Jesus was crucified and the Jews believed that "Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree" (Deut. 21:23). Jesus crucifixion made Him a cursed man - and no Messiah of Israel could be cursed! The Jews certainly wouldn't fabricate such a story!
Maybe the Gentiles amended and perpetuated the story of Jesus. Historically, we know this wasn't true, but neither could it be true. The Gentiles mocked the monotheistic faith of the Jews, viewing them as a primitive, rebellious people. On what logical basis would they promote a crucified Savior? Beyond that, the concept of bodily resurrection was not widely believed among the pagans. So, once again, it is illogical to argue that the Gentiles perpetuated the story of Jesus.
I'm reminded here of what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:22-23:
"For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness."
One might argue, "Well, people believe lies all the time!" This is true! But are people generally eager to suffer
for what they know is untrue? While it is true that many throughout history have bastardized Christianity by turning into a political force, the early church was born and thrived in the midst of persecution, first from the Jews and then from the Romans.
In my view, it is ignorant for a person to contend that such a culturally-antagonistic, easily-disprovable, foolishly elaborate story that often resulted in persecution and martyrdom could catch so quickly and rip through the world like wildfire despite being false.
The same cannot be said of Zeus, Ra or Odin. How is this true?
Seeing Christianity in this kind of historical context is, for me, a faith builder.
I'd like to close with these two quotes:
"I know men and I tell you that Jesus Christ is no mere man. Between Him and every other person in the world there is no possible term of comparison. Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne, and I have founded empires. But on what did we rest the creation of our genius? Upon force. Jesus Christ founded His empire upon love; and at this hour millions of men would die for Him." -Napoleon
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.” -C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
The Egyptian, Mayan, Persian and Roman Empires have faded into obscurity. The gods and goddesses that were front and center in these once-mighty empires have likewise been buried in the annals of history. But a peasant from a country the size of New Jersey who suffered an untimely and humiliating death on a Roman cross nearly 2,000 years ago has somehow managed to captivate the world. While there are no longer any active temples to Zeus or Baal, there are assemblies of Christians worshiping Christ and being transformed by Christ the world over.
As Paul told the Corinthians, the message of the cross is foolish to the world. That's right. It's so foolish that a person can't help but give it a second look.