The following are some of my thoughts from an older essay that I recently integrated into a longer essay (as an addendum, I posted the aforementioned essay to this blog on 12-25-07), describing my ecclesiastical journey:
Let me talk to you about my Messiah, Jesus Christ. Let me open quite controversially. If Christ is just a great moral teacher, He failed, and failed miserably. For all His altruism, His selflessness in serving others, for all His concern for the disenfranchised, for His formidable moral standards, His end is not one that I would consider a glowing endorsement for emulating His life. He was crucified; He died a death quite gruesome and, in death, was associated with criminals. If such is the potential end for emulating Christ the Teacher, then I want nothing of it. If we consider Christ only a moral example, then I cannot endorse Him above the Buddha. I cannot endorse Him above Gandhi. I cannot endorse Him above an Old Testament patriarch. They differ not in kind, but only in degree. His death carries no greater meaning and import than that of Martin Luther King’s. However, if Christ is more than a teacher, if He is who He and His followers claim Him to be, the Son of God whose death on the cross precedes something greater, His physical resurrection, I then must consider Him in an altogether different light.
I read, in the New Testament canon and in early church history, stories of martyrdom. I read, too, of multitudes abandoning the very foundations of their life to turn and follow, often at great personal, and sometimes ultimate, cost, the One whom they believed to be something greater than a teacher. These 1st century Palestinian Jews (and the gentiles, also), the first followers of Christ, had no great need of a Messiah as a life coach, a minister to their finances and marriages. Their lives were, I believe, even if in a time of political tension, quite predictable for the most part. They were tied to the rhythms of the land, of harvest. They were, for the most part, farmers and craftsmen. They were embedded in the life of the synagogue. Too, the individualism, the obsessive focus on self, of contemporary western culture would be, I believe, quite alien to them.
The Messiah that many were expecting and the Messiah that they received were quite different from one another. Again, there was political tension in that time and place. Judea was under Roman rule and before the first century closed, the 2nd Temple would be, as predicted by the Messiah, in ruins. The expected Messiah would be a King, a strong Man who would break the shackles of Roman oppression and return to the Jews self-rule, and Jerusalem, the city of God, would take her place as the beacon of light to all the nations. This did not happen, though. They instead received a Child who would grow up to divide rather than conquer, to turn child against parent, neighbor against neighbor. He would upset the status quo. He would be, for a time, a pauper King, having, as He said to would-be disciples, no place to lay his head. The Messiah was homeless. His family, for the most part, before witnessing the resurrected Christ, did not, I believe, consider Jesus to be anything but perhaps a bit mad. Even his inner circle of disciples could not wrap their minds around Christ’s proclamations about Himself. Rather, they still anticipated a political King who would establish a theocracy. The pre-Easter Jesus, on the cross, left his followers discouraged and defeated. The post-Easter Jesus revolutionized his adopted ones. Easter changed everything.
How can I talk coherently about Easter and find words worthy to address our risen King, words not compromised by cliché? I am humbled by the task. First, Easter is absolutely not just a metaphysical event having no concrete reality. The resurrection was not just merely a spiritual event; it is more than metaphor. The resurrection actually occurred in time and space. The Creator, the One through whom all things hold together, was willingly brutalized and murdered by His creation. He willingly became our Scapegoat, our blood sacrifice once for all. He is the new Covenant. Everything changed on Easter.
I can give coherent reasons and evidence to help illuminate the reality of the Easter event. It does not, contrary to what most would imagine, require a giant leap of blind faith. I can affirm with as much clarity the physical resurrection of Christ as I can most any event in ancient (and not so ancient) history. Where does this leave me, though? What do I do with this formidable knowledge? What does it mean and to where does it lead? Before we can even begin to address these questions, we must inquire as to the why of the Easter event.
Why did the Word that created cosmos, created humanity, deem it necessary to take on, from the Christmas event to eternity forward, a sinless human nature, and after taking on flesh, have it brutalized and nailed to that tree? Only in the context of that question can we begin to understand the Easter event. Here we find truths both simple and daunting, both compelling and repulsive.
We, as disciples of Christ, are beholden to our Messiah to apprehend these difficult truths to the best of our ability. Because of complacency that often permeates American Christianity, I believe that, as a church, we often worship more a pre-Easter Jesus rather than the post-Easter Jesus. The pre-Easter crowds gathered to the Messiah to receive from Him. The post-Easter Messiah drew to Him those who were willing to die for Him. The followers of the pre-Easter Jesus fell away from Him at the cross. The post-Easter disciples of Christ followed Him to the ends of the earth; they looked to give themselves away, to serve the Messiah, to die to self. I ask myself, which Christ am I following?