The Eyewitness Factor
Vol: 117 Issue: 17 Friday, June 17, 2011
Suppose that somebody released a new book attributing a slew of miracles – including the ability to raise the dead – to the late Ronald Reagan. Continuing on, let’s also suppose that the book attributed divine qualities to Ronald Reagan, including the power to forgive sins.
Not only does the book claim that Reagan possessed these Divine attributes, but also that he lived a life of perfect sinlessness. (For the sake of my point, just suppose such a book would get published.)
In truth, Ronald Reagan was one of the greatest presidents in American history and one of the giants of the 20th century. His wisdom led to the end of the Cold War – he was one of the most quotable presidents ever.
But my fake book, despite Reagan’s actual greatness, would never make it to the newsstands, let alone spawn a new religion. Why? Too many living witnesses to the actual Ronald Reagan.
If Reagan raised a dead guy, I’d know about it. If Reagan healed the sick, I’d know. If he walked on water, I’d know. If he claimed he had the power to forgive sins, I’d know about it.
It wouldn’t matter how persuasive the writer or how air-tight his story. I was there, so to speak. I wouldn’t even have to look anything up.I’d know the Reagan book was full of lies.
The Gospel according to Mark is believed by most scholars to be the earliest of the Gospels to be published in Jerusalem, somewhere between AD 45 and AD 60 – between fifteen and thirty years after the events they describe.
“And again He entered into Capernaum after some days; and it was noised that He was in the house. And straightway many were gathered together, insomuch that there was no room to receive them, no, not so much as about the door: and He preached the word unto them. And they come unto Him, bringing one sick of the palsy, which was borne of four. And when they could not come nigh unto Him for the press, they uncovered the roof where He was: and when they had broken it up, they let down the bed wherein the sick of the palsy lay.” (Mark 2:4)
Let’s set the stage here. Jesus is in Capernaum, where He is so well known that He packs the house. The synagogue in Capernaum is big – I’ve seen the ruins. There must have been hundreds in there.
In any case, four guys show up in carrying a fifth guy on a stretcher. They can’t get in through the crowd so they break through the roof and, in full view of the crowd, lowered his stretcher down, presumably with a rope.
Mark says that first, before anything else, He forgave the sick man his sins, which would have as big an impact within Israel as it would here if Reagan had done the same thing. Everybody would be talking about it.
Then, after setting tongues to wagging by forgiving his sins, the Lord tells him to get up and walk.
“And immediately he arose, took up the bed, and went forth before them all; insomuch that they were all amazed, and glorified God, saying, We never saw it on this fashion.” (Mark 2:11)
Back to our supposed book about Reagan. Suppose it contained a similar story about Ronald Reagan in the Oval Office. Would you believe it? Of course not.
You were there during the Reagan administration and if something like that happened you would know about it.
And even if you weren’t, you know somebody that was alive during the Reagan administration and they’d tell you it was baloney.
Ronald Reagan took office in January, 1981, just over thirty years ago. That’s an even longer interval than between the Resurrection and Mark’s Gospel.
Jewish society in the 1st century AD was among the most literate in the world. Jewish history was carefully documented – many Jews could trace their genealogy all the way back to Adam.
When the Gospel of Mark was introduced, it was introduced first to the society best-equipped to refute it.
Jerusalem was a small, tightly-knit community in which almost everybody knew everybody else and most were inter-related. Given the intimacy of their society and its level of literacy, the Gospel of Mark should have been received the way our supposed book on Ronald Reagan would be.
Thirty years after the events, there would still be plenty of eyewitnesses to the life and times of Jesus. If the events described in the Gospel of Mark were not true, then Christianity could not have taken hold.
It is a matter of historical fact that as early as AD 60 Christians were being rounded up by the Romans and given the choice of denying Christ or embracing an incomprehensible cruel death, like being mauled to death by wild animals.
They chose death.
There are NO surviving records from the first century denying the events described in the Gospel of Mark – not even from those that had the most to gain by such a denial. Both the Jews and the Romans sought to stamp out Christianity by persecuting Christians.
Don’t you think it odd that they didn’t try to deny that the events occurred? That would seem to be the simplest way to put a stop to all this nonsense. But THAT never occurred to the authorities of the time.
That is what makes Christianity unique among all religions. For it to exist, Jesus had to be a real Person Who did real things in front of real people. If it turned out that Buddha was really a compilation of ancient thinkers, it would have little effect on Buddhism itself.
Buddhism could exist without a literal Buddha. It is what Buddhism teaches that is important, not its founder. And while Islam’s founder is the key element to that religion, both the Koran and Islamic Law were written and developed by followers of Mohammed after his death.
But the details of the life and death of Jesus Christ are critical to Christianity. If Jesus did not live, then He did not die on the Cross to pay the penalty due for your sins.
“And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.” (1st Corinthians 15:17)
If He was not condemned by Pilate — despite Pilate’s own proclamation of His innocence — then He was condemned for cause, and could not die for your sins, since He would have had His own account to settle.
If He were not raised from the dead (after three days in the grave – and later seen by more than five hundred witnesses) then death and the grave have not been defeated, and we remain dead in our sins.
Christianity is unique in that it isn’t based on what Jesus taught, but Who He is and what He did. The Bible doesn’t say, ‘obey the teachings of Jesus and be saved’. It doesn’t say we are saved by His teachings, but rather, we are saved by Who He is.
There is nothing we can add in our mortal bodies that can augment or improve upon the price paid for our salvation. At best we can only make minor, temporary improvements to our conduct.
But we can no more save our own souls through our own actions than we can make ourselves younger by exercising. Recognition of this reality is unique to Christianity.
“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:” (Ephesians 2:8)
Look at the elements: For BY GRACE are ye saved — through FAITH — and THAT not of yourselves — it is a GIFT of God.
It is so simple that most people can’t explain it, and even if they can, even more can’t accept it without further complicating it.
God grants the ‘grace’ (an unmerited, undeserved gift) through faith that is ‘not of yourselves’ but is rather a gift of God.
Christianity must be true. Logic demands it.