What brought me to become a Christ follower was a truth encounter.
I didn’t find Jesus’ face in my toast one morning or anything like that –
I was a police officer – used to examining evidence and coming to conclusions as a result of that investigation. I knew how to look at evidence. And I also knew how to face facts. If the implication of the evidence was that Jesus is who he claimed to be – the one and only Son of God, then that changes EVERYTHING.
If that really were true, then I would have to make a choice – to follow him; or try to forget him.
I’d been on the trail of happiness, meaning and purpose – searching in various areas and come up empty. I’d tried my best to live a good life (by my standards anyway), but had a trail of broken promises and resolutions to show for it. In my life I’d swung at times from believing in Jesus like I had done Santa as child, to ditching him along with church. Eventually after a wander through some new age and comparative religions I heard the Marxist phrase about religion being ‘the opiate of the people,’ which made me sound clever in the pub and came to regard Jesus as a mythical figure, or if he did ever exist he was either a irrelevant prophet or a religious nutcase out to stop people from having fun.
Then, in pursuit of a particular girl, I ended up at a church event that was fun, with a speaker who was interesting and passionate, met a group of people who had a peace I couldn’t understand and a joy – despite living in the same world I did – I knew I hadn’t found elsewhere; and they said it was all wrapped up in knowing this Jesus.
I figured I’d been wrong about church, wrong about (some) Christian ministers, wrong about Christian music and drama – maybe I’d been wrong about Christ? That was enough to get me looking. .
Over a period of time, most importantly, I started to look at what the witnesses had to say. That’s the policeman’s first job.
I interrogated 4 guys, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. They wrote four accounts that have survived pretty much as written all these centuries. These guys claimed to have known this Jesus. I checked out their credentials and saw that what we call the gospels rank as some of the best attested historical documents in existence. Written within thirty of forty years of Jesus’ death and the resurrection which they all reported. Like all good witness statements they’re told from different perspectives of the eye witnesses, but the events and central figure they describe are clearly the same. They haven’t been embroidered or materially changed since they were first written down. I went to the John Rylands library in Manchester city centre to actually see one of the most ancient part manuscripts, from the gospel of John, dated around 125AD!
I found that it wasn’t just the gospel writers who focused on Jesus. Aristocratic Romans wrote about this peasant in backwater Jerusalem. Pliny wrote letters to the Emperor Trajan saying how much trouble he was having getting these people to worship the Emperor. He had tried various means to force them and he asked about their religion. ‘They meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing a hymn to Christ as to a god, and to bind themselves by oath…not to commit fraud, theft, or adultery, not falsify their trust…I judged it all the more necessary to find out what the truth was by torturing two female slaves who were called deaconesses. But I discovered nothing else but depraved, excessive superstition.’ He went on to say that those who renounced faith in Christ would be set free, but those who did, he felt, were not really Christians anyway.
The Governor of Turkey at the time, Tacitus, wrote about this new religion: “the name Christian comes to them from Christus, who was executed in the reign of Tiberius by the procurator Pontius Pilate…”
He was against this new cult, remember!
How fast did this religion grow and spread across the Empire? Jesus was crucified in AD 33, the city of Pompeii near Naples was destroyed by volcano 46 years later, Christian wall paintings, mosaics and inscriptions are there….together with a chapel!
Jewish writers didn’t want to give much mention of Jesus because they saw it of course as a threat to their religion. But the Mishna do mention Yesuah of Nazareth as a trouble causer, an illegitimate man whose birth was in doubt, who did magic to lead people astray, before he was hanged on the eve of the Passover.
Flavius Josephus, the greatest Jewish historian, who was certainly not interested in promoting Christianity, writing in AD90, said in one of his twenty books of Jewish history; Now there arose at this time (Pilate’s governorship) a source of further trouble in one Jesus, a wise man who performed surprising works, a teacher of men who gladly welcome strange things. He led away many Jews, and also many of the Gentiles. He was the so-called Christ. When Pilate, acting on information supplied by the chief men around us, condemned him to the cross, those who had attached themselves to him at first did not cease to cause trouble, and the tribe of Christians, which has taken this name from him is not extinct even today.” (FF Bruce’s version).
So Jesus existed. Search for Jesus on Amazon and you’ll find 270,000 books and counting! Google him and you get 300 million references. But what’s so special about him? Wasn’t he just a travelling teacher or a religious rabble-rouser like those people in history and those who put him on a cross believed? Or wasn’t he just a nice, good man who went around in a nightie carrying lambs and was misunderstood? Wouldn’t he be turning in his grave at the thought that people were still following him – as God!? Maybe he didn’t think of himself as God at all?
My next post will continue the story…