I am amazed by people who are so brazenly sure they are right about what they believe. I have friends who are completely sure there is no God and there is no logical need for such beliefs. They believe science is the ultimate answer for everything and they view my faith as a naive weakness and crutch. Sometimes I long to be as sure of anything as they are of everything. So I will be honest. I have wrestled with doubt in my faith journey. I am not convinced that I know everything. Here is a bit of what I wrote about that journey in Waking Up Slowly.
The story line of the movie Risen was intriguing to me. Historically, there was a Nazarene who was crucified, and two groups had a tremendous interest in making sure that his death was the end of the story. The Romans wanted no movement to grow so large that it would cause political unrest. The Jewish leaders wanted to stamp out the heresy that they believed this Teacher was spreading, in order to keep their power intact. It was a win-win situation for the religious leaders and Rome to eliminate this messianic hope of the people. The story is told through the eyes of a Roman military tribune named Clavius. He was tasked by Pilate to make sure Jesus’ crazy followers did not steal the body. A story had been circulating that the Nazarene would rise again in three days, so Clavius made sure the massive stone was rolled into place over the entrance to the tomb and sealed. Roman soldiers guarded the tomb, knowing full well they could be killed if they failed to keep the body secured.
Three days later the body was gone, and Clavius began a desperate hunt. The battle-hardened soldier could not accept that this Nazarene named Jesus could have somehow comeback to life. That is a step of faith that people are still wrestling with two thousand years later. But it is the most important question of all, if you are to put your faith in Jesus.
If Jesus did not rise from the dead, then there really is no difference in this man and any other great moral teacher. But if Jesus did rise from the dead, then His words are different from the words of any other teacher. All of Christianity depends on what happened in that event.
Risen explores the imagined lengths that the Romans and religious leaders went to in order to quell the rumor that Jesus had risen. They tried to find the body (or any similar body that might pass for his) that could be displayed to stop the rumors. They were not successful.
I struggled with these same questions.
- How could the body disappear?
- How did a bunch of cowards like the apostles become heroes of the faith and become willing to die martyrs’ deaths? Simply because they stole the body out of a tomb?
- Could they have kept a lie of such massive implications secret?
I love the way former Watergate principal Chuck Colson honestly evaluated the event:
I know the resurrection is a fact, and Watergate proved it to me. How? Because 12 men testified they had seen Jesus raised from the dead, then they proclaimed that truth for 40 years, never once denying it. Everyone was beaten, tortured, stoned and put in prison.
They would not have endured that if it weren’t true. Watergate embroiled 12 of the most powerful men in the world—and they couldn’t keep a lie for three weeks. You’re telling me 12 apostles could keep a lie for 40 years? Absolutely impossible.
Honest people can view the same evidence and come up with completely different opinions. I wrestled with the claims of Jesus Christ for a long time before I decided to believe that He was who He claimed to be. And I remember feeling exactly what the fictional character Clavius felt when he was asked what he feared most: “Being wrong. Wagering eternity on it.” I have never been able to accept the idea that there is no design or bigger purpose to this life.
Perhaps the most important argument for me is the impact that the Nazarene teacher has had on my life. I have haphazardly attempted to follow Him for many years. Tolstoy’s quote fittingly describes my awkward attempts: “If I know the way home and am walking along it drunkenly, is it any less the right way because I am staggering from side to side!” The apostles followed Jesus and saw that it was not an easy choice at times. Many followers were deserting Jesus after some difficult teaching.
At this point many of his disciples turned away and deserted him. Then Jesus turned to the Twelve and asked, “Are you also going to leave?” Simon Peter replied, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life. We believe, and we know you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:66-69, NLT)
That is my belief. I am drawn to Jesus. I believe that God decided to redeem man through this outlandish plan. No religion offers redemption without works other than the gospel of Jesus. I believe I have seen His hand over and over in my life. But if I am wrong and had the opportunity to live my life over again, I can honestly say I would change nothing.
I consider a life pursuing the impossible goal of becoming like Jesus to be more valuable than any honor or possession I could attain. The teachings of Jesus are so amazing and so radical that I cannot imagine that any man could have imagined them. If you drill down into just His words, you will find a sacred pathway that is worth seeking.
I believe my marriage is still intact because I have followed the teachings of Jesus. I don’t say that lightly. I honestly believe that without that faith commitment, Joni and I would not have survived. Whatever kind things that my friends and colleagues might say about me are in large part due to how I believe I should respond to them based on the words of Christ. I have been shaped and matured by this radical Rabbi who changed history. He changed me.
Tim Keller puts it this way:
The Christian Gospel is that I am so flawed that Jesus had to die for me, yet I am so loved and valued that Jesus was glad to die for me. This leads to deep humility and deep confidence at the same time. It undermines both swaggering and sniveling. I cannot feel superior to anyone, and yet I have nothing to prove to anyone. I do not think more of myself nor less of myself. Instead, I think of myself less.
I have been changed by these truths. I have confronted my doubts and I have chosen to stay focused on the claims of this Rabbi from Nazareth. If I am wagering my eternity, I choose to wager on Jesus.