Every year during Advent, we anticipate the return of Jesus at the end of time. On the Solemnity of Christ the King that we celebrate today, his ultimate sovereignty over the entire universe is recognized by Christians around the world. Centuries before he came to earth the first time 2,000 years ago, however, the Jewish people had been expecting a savior as well. The long-awaited Messiah would be a great king who would liberate them from foreign occupation and restore Israel to its former greatness.
For many Jews, Jesus turned out to be a failed Messiah. Having suffered a cruel and ignominious death by Roman crucifixion, then the most dreaded form of capital punishment, he ultimately did not fulfill their expectations of messianic glory through military strength. Though he was the first, there have been many claimed Messiahs since Jesus. In the end, all of them were disappointments.
About sixty-two years after a failed Jewish revolt against the Romans in 70 A.D. that led to the utter destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, a man named Simon Bar Kokhba (“Son of the Star”) tried again to bring down the Roman occupation. He was a legendary figure purportedly with superhuman strength, who liberated the Jews for two and a half years, until the Roman army returned with a massive onslaught so violent that the blood was said to flow forty miles to the sea.
Three hundred years later, a man calling himself Moses appeared on the Greek island of Crete, promising the Jews there that he was the Messiah who would lead them back to their homeland. Gathering a large following on the sandy shores, he instructed his disciples to follow him into the sea, reassuring them that God would part the waters as he had done thousands of years earlier. Needless to say, most drowned. Another failed Messiah.
A self-proclaimed Jewish savior also rose up in eighth century Syria. He promised to expel Omar II, the Muslim caliph ruling there and return the people to Israel. Like the others, however, “Serene,” as he was known, soon was captured and forced to recant his messianic status.
In twelfth century Iran, a man named David Alroi also claimed to be the long-awaited Messiah. He formed a makeshift militia by uniting local Jewish armies and revolted against Muslim rulers because of the taxes they had imposed on the Jews living there. After a flourish of success in capturing his hometown, the rebellion eventually was crushed.
Indeed, Messiah claimants have arisen in every age and corner of the world, including as recently as 1994. Islam and Christianity also have seen their fair share. That all have failed should lead us back to the beginning, to the original Messiah, a carpenter from Nazareth, whose ostensible lack of success touched off this future stream of copycats. But was he really a failure?
Join us this Sunday to learn why Jesus Christ is the only authentic Messiah and true King of the Universe.
—Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
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
Saint Brendan celebrated its annual memorial Mass last Sunday. Dozens of pictures were projected onto the church video monitors, as we remembered our loved ones who had recently passed away. I was deeply moved by the presentation, because it was a vivid reminder that the individual stories of our lives, each of which is precious in God’s eyes, do not end with death but live on forever.
The reality of eternal life is central to our faith. Because the immortal Son of God “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness” and “becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross,” and then rose triumphantly from the grave (Philippians 2:7-8), he paved the way for the resurrection of us all. The “children of God” will rise from the dead, Jesus says in the gospel story this weekend, because “he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive” (Luke 20:38).
Years ago while living in Atlanta, I took some classes at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University. I remember one of my professors asking the class whether they believed in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. I was astonished by the question, since the room was filled with seminary students studying to become ministers in various Protestant traditions.
For what seemed like an eternity, you could have heard a pin drop. Stunned into silence, no one responded. The question itself seemed to imply and invite a skeptical response, which fearful students dared not challenge. Despite the fact that I was enrolled part-time in an academic program and was not preparing for professional ministry, I was the first to answer. I could feel my temper flaring. I struggled to control myself in front of the class, but to no avail. It was obvious that my emotions were running high, as I told the professor off and emphatically affirmed the truth of the resurrection. The classroom erupted in applause, and rightly so.
Indeed, the empty tomb is the ultimate representation of Jesus’ claim to being God. As the apostle Paul wrote, “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain” (1 Corinthians 15:17). Theologian Gerald O’Collins put it this way: “In a profound sense, Christianity without the resurrection is not simply Christianity without its final chapter. It is not Christianity at all.” As Lee Strobel wrote in his best selling book, The Case for Christ, the resurrection is “the basis of Christian hope” and “the miracle of all miracles” (Zondervan 2016, 224).
Join us at church on Sunday, as we continue our quest into the truth of Jesus Christ, history’s most compelling figure. This week in our message series, CSI: Christ Scene Investigation, we take a hard look at the evidence for his resurrection and ultimate victory over death.
—Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
Father Roger Gustafson