In his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis wrote that either Jesus “was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse.” But as we have been discovering in our Sunday message series, there is no indication he was a lunatic. The claims made by Jesus and his disciples in the gospel accounts about his divinity therefore are trustworthy, and these biographies containing factual eyewitness testimony demonstrate every indicia of reliability as authentic historical documents. Secular sources from that time period corroborate the facts of Christ’s life and death, as well as the world-wide movement that started after he died. Moreover, Jesus exhibited a number of God-like qualities during his earthly ministry.
The accounts of his resurrection also are credible because (i) he could not have faked his death on the cross, (ii) he was buried in a known tomb and the tomb later was discovered empty, a fact that was never in real dispute, and (iii) he appeared to many different types of people in various locations over a period of several weeks after his death, ruling out conspiracy, hallucination, or a case of mistaken identity as likely explanations.
Another critical piece of evidence emerges from the course of the apostles’ lives after the resurrection. Peter and Paul both were martyred in Rome about 66 A.D., during the persecution under Emperor Nero. Paul was beheaded. Peter was crucified upside down at his request, since he did not feel he was worthy to die in the same manner as Jesus. It is believed Andrew was crucified in Greece. Legend has it that Thomas went to India and was martyred there. Philip is said to have converted the wife of a Roman official and was put to death by her husband in retaliation.
A number of reports indicate that the tax collector and Gospel writer, Matthew, ministered in Persia and later was stabbed to death in Ethiopia. Simon was killed after refusing to sacrifice to a Persian sun god. Matthias, who replaced Judas, was immolated in Syria. The Jewish historian Josephus reported that James was stoned and then clubbed to death, and various accounts describe the martyrdom of Bartholomew. John died of natural causes, but only after being exiled to the island of Patmos during a Roman persecution.
Indeed, the Roman Martyrology contains the names of thousands of saints who offered the ultimate sacrifice of their lives as a witness to the truth of Christ. Had his crucifixion been the final word, Jesus would have fallen into the ranks of the world’s many failed leaders. But the fact that all of the apostles and many of the disciples who came after them were willing to suffer hardship, torture, and death serves as compelling testimony of Christ’s divinity.
Join us this Sunday as we continue the quest for the truth about history’s most compelling figure.
—Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
Father Roger Gustafson