So I got to thinking, it being Holy Week and all: Do you sometimes think about the people of the Gospel as ‘unreal’? I mean it was over 2,000 years ago and it’s not like we have video. But if you do a little Googling, to a vast majority of historians, Christian or otherwise, Jesus and his disciples were historical figures. They were as real as Caesar, Alexander or Tut. A good portion of their lives have been recorded not only in the Christian Bible but by at least a dozen non-Christian writers. There is a pretty good essay on the veracity of the Gospels, Apostles and all, if you follow this link. Truth
So what about these 12 men, these first followers of Christ? They must have been supermen – right? Well not so much if you get into it. They were a diverse lot: fishermen, tax-collectors, political zealots, tradesmen, and common-folk of the time, sort of like you and me. And what helps to support the validity of the Gospels is that they act and speak very much as we would in similar circumstances. They get angry, they are selfish, they make mistakes; they have good days and bad days. The authors of the Gospel do not sugar coat these guys as we would expect if they were writing some heroic Greek myth. A prime example of this reality occurs on the last days of Jesus’ earthly life. Here are men who have lived, ate, and journeyed with Jesus for 3 years. They have heard all of his teachings, seen all of the wondrous miracles, witnessed the huge crowds; even see Jesus being transfigured in the presence of Elijah and Moses. You would think that would be sufficient to believe beyond a doubt, that this was truly the Son of God. I mean that’s all a lot better than video!
But even in the presence of God, the true humanity of these men is constantly portrayed throughout the Gospel. Like us, they refuse to believe the un-Hollywood-like ending Jesus describes at the last supper. Like us, they panic in Gethsemane when Jesus is arrested and run for their lives. Like us they deny Jesus when confronted with the undesirable consequences. They abandon Jesus at his most vulnerable hour. Not so hard to believe, right? I mean regardless of what you may have witnessed in those three years, you may have also bolted when the thought of torture and death by crucifixion was a consequence – right? (I think about the group of kids playing baseball and little Johnny hits the ball through the neighbor’s window and the kids scatter like roaches when the light gets turned on.)
People like you and me. But what happens next? What could possible turn these guys around? How are these seemingly cowards transformed? Think about it. How would you turn around the shame, the dishonor and immense fear and embarrassment of Good Friday to the joy and commitment and steadfast belief of Easter Sunday? What would you need to see to pick up your cloak and then walk the known earth and spread the word of Christ? What would it take for you to dedicate your life to relentless service while suffering constant persecution, imprisonment, torture and ultimately a martyr’s death? (11 of the 12 Apostles died because they refused to deny Jesus, and John lived out his life imprisoned because of his commitment.)
Well, the answer to me has become quite clear. They saw the risen Lord, Jesus Himself. They saw the empty tomb. They saw the wounds on His hands, feet and sides. They saw Him ascend to Heaven. They saw it all and then told the world and died doing it so that we could believe. Why else would 12 ordinary men – men who have truly existed in history – do what they did?
And this is part of the reason I have come to believe…in the Gospel…in Good Friday…in Easter and in Christ Himself…as much as I believe in George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson; all of whom I have also not had the honor to meet.