When looking at Jesus Christ one has to wonder why this poor carpenter’s gospel spread became the worlds largest religion. If you examine Jesus from a purely historical and secular mindset it really doesn’t make a lot of sense. Andy Stanley (author of “Deep & Wide”) put it this way:
“At the center of this grassroots movement, originally referred to as The Way, was a Jewish carpenter whose message centered on a “kingdom” that wasn’t directly connected to this world. He spoke mostly in parables that few could understand. He insisted that those who followed him love the Romans and pay those onerous taxes. He alienated the influential and the powerful. He offended practically everybody. His family thought he had lost his mind. After only three years of public ministry, he was arrested, publicly humiliated and then executed. Sounds like a strange way to start a movement…”
– Andy Stanley
I have to agree with Andy on this one. Jesus was not only hard to get behind, he also openly criticized and challenged a religious system that had existed for thousands of years. His claims to be the “Son of God” and “Lord” were not only offensive to his Jewish audience, but also to the Romans who claimed Caesar to be a “Son of God” and a “Lord of Lords.” The way this Jesus guy carried himself it’s surprising he wasn’t caught and killed sooner. If Jesus was not who he claims he was then he definitely had one of the most arrogant and self destructive religious careers in history.
So what was it about Jesus that made him a success? Why didn’t his movement die off right after his death? The answer I point towards is that his followers were absolutely convinced that he was not dead.
We all know the resurrection story, and how Christ appeared periodically to his followers for 40 days following his death before finally ascending into heaven. Some struggle with these accounts, but I have to believe them. These cowardly disciples who were in hiding all suddenly abandoned all fear and became missionaries to the ends of the earth. Peter, who denied Christ three times during his death, chose to be crucified upside down instead of denying the risen Lord. These men were convinced that they were not carrying on some dead guys legacy. These men had seen the risen son of God, and in doing so they had lost all fear of death.
The reason Christianity thrived and survived was because it’s first preachers, teachers, and missionaries were not promoting a philosophy or a theology… they were attesting to a Gospel that they had witnessed first hand. Despite the brutal oppression the church of the first century would endure at the hands of various famous persecutors, the movement would not die. Death had no sting for those who had seen the resurrected Christ!
I hate to think what the first century church would think of the twenty first century one. While we have grown huge in our scope and numbers, we have also grown more dormant and complacent. A lot of established churches have change from a movement into a weekly meeting. We pass on opportunities to share the Gospel because the timing isn’t right or because we don’t want to be awkward. I’m guilty of this myself to my great shame, and I hope to avoid repeating my past mistakes.
If the early church was willing to be stoned, burned, tortured, mauled, and slashed to death for the sake of the Gospel I feel like I can maybe risk an awkward conversation for the sake of my neighbor’s soul. Christ has risen, death is dead, spread the good news.
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
– Matthew 28:19-20