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~ A Lawyer for Jesus ~
You probably know about a suit in Italy wherein a Roman Catholic priest was challenged by his former school companion, an atheist, to prove that Jesus historically walked the earth two millennia ago. The priest allegedly fostered a deception to promote the "business" of Christianity. I suppose that translates into committing fraud for personal gain. The judge, not surprisingly, dismissed the suit and the man who filed it is expected to appeal to a European Union court.
My first, somewhat sarcastic response, given the preponderance of overturned convictions of innocent people during the last few years, was "How can a court determine the truth about someone who lived on this earth over 2000 years ago when the courts and their juries have made so many mistakes in determining the truth about someone physically present before them?"
So let's consult a lawyer. One of the founders of the Harvard Law School
was also unconvinced about Jesus' historicity and applied his legal and analytical
skills towards disproving the biblical claims that God incarnated into our
humanity in Jesus, was crucified and resurrected. The legal scholar is Simon
Greenleaf, who painstakingly studied the biblical witness accounts as well
as that of the Roman historians such as Josephus, Tacitus and others.
Mr. Greenleaf wrote: "The great truths which the apostles declared, were
that Christ had risen from the dead, and that only through repentance from
sin, and faith in him, could men hope for salvation.
"This doctrine they asserted with one voice, everywhere, not only under the greatest discouragements, but in the face of the most appalling terrors that can be presented to the mind of man. Their master had recently perished as a malefactor, by the sentence of a public tribunal. His religion sought to overthrow the religions of the whole world.
"The laws of every country were against the teaching of his disciples. The interests and passions of all the rulers and great men in the world were against them. The fashion of the world was against them. Propagating this new faith, even in the most inoffensive and peaceful manner, they could expect nothing but contempt, opposition, revilings, bitter persecutions, stripes, imprisonments, torments and cruel deaths.
"Yet this faith they zealously did propagate; and all these miseries they endured undismayed, nay, rejoicing. As one after another was put to a miserable death, the survivors only prosecuted their work with increased vigor and resolution. The annals of military warfare afford scarcely an example of the like heroic constancy, patience and unflinching courage.
"They had every possible motive to review carefully the grounds of their faith, and the evidences of the great facts and truths which they asserted; and these motives were pressed upon their attention with the most melancholy and terrific frequency. It was therefore impossible that they could have persisted in affirming the truths they have narrated, had not Jesus actually rose from the dead, and had they not known this fact as certainly as they knew any other fact.
"If it were morally possible for them to have been deceived in this matter, every human motive operated to lead them to discover and avow their error. To have persisted in so gross a falsehood, after it was known to them, was not only to encounter, for life, all the evils which man could inflict, from without, but to endure also the pangs of inward and conscious guilt; with no hope of future peace, no testimony of a good conscience, no expectation of honor or esteem among men, no hope of happiness in this life, or in the world to come.
"But it is impossible to read their writings, and not feel that we are conversing with men eminently holy, and of tender consciences, with men acting under an abiding sense of the presence and omniscience of God, and of their accountability to him, living in his fear, and walking in his ways. Now, though, in a single instance, a good man may fall, when under strong temptations, yet he is not found persisting, for years, in deliberated falsehood, asserted with the most solemn appeals to God, without the slightest temptation or motive, and against all the opposing interests which reign in the human breast.
"If, on the contrary, they are supposed to have been bad men, it is incredible that such men should have chosen this form of imposture; enjoining, as it does, unfeigned repentance, the utter forsaking and abhorrence of all falsehood and of every other sin, the practice of daily self-denial, self-abasement and self-sacrifice, the crucifixion of the flesh with all its earthly appetites and desires, indifference to the honors, and hearty contempt of the vanities of the world; and inculcating perfect purity of heart and life, and intercourse of the soul with heaven. It is incredible, that bad men should invent falsehoods, to promote the religion of the God of truth. The supposition is suicidal.
"If they did believe in a future state of retribution, a heaven and a hell hereafter, they took the most certain course, if false witnesses, to secure the latter for their portion. And if, still being bad men, they did not believe in future punishment, how came they to invent [that] which was to destroy all their prospects of worldly honor and happiness, and to ensure their misery in this life? From these absurdities there is no escape, but in the perfect conviction and admission that they were good men, testifying to that which they had carefully observed and considered, and well knew to be true.
"Either the men of Galilee were men of superlative wisdom, and extensive knowledge and experience, and of deeper skill in the arts of deception, than any and all others, before or after them, or they have truly stated the astonishing things which they saw and heard."
In addition to this consideration of motive, there are more scholarly and
historical evidence substantiating the physical visitation of the Immanuel,
the Chirst-with-us, than other historical figures whose existence we take
for granted as truth and that of religious teachers such as the Buddha.
Indeed, human nature does not propel people into enduring great suffering and painful deaths in the name of a deception. The conspiratorial agreement of many to suffer and die without one whistle-blower to keep a deception alive defies any motivation for personal gain. The willing martyrs gained nothing from the material world and lost everything in the name and loving devotion to their All, the Christ. Shouldn't their lives and sacrificial legacy give us pause to consider for Whom they were living and dying?
There's a rhetorical question that's been around for years: If you, a
Christian, were to be tried in a court of law for being one, would there
be enough evidence to convict you? The intent of the question is to inculcate
shame if the answer is no. The cleverness of the question makes us overlook
one reality, which has been demonstrated millions of times throughout Christian
history: A Christian would not be tried in a court to prove or disprove his
or her devotion to Christ. Upon being charged, he or she would plead guilty
in devotion and happiness to be persecuted in the name of Christ. There would
be no trial in which he or she would defend against the charges of being
a follower of Christ.
The sued priest was a humble man of a small town who never expected to be accused in a court of law of deception for personal gain regarding his love and devotion to Jesus. Actually, he is blest for that. Perhaps, God willing, I will also someday be worthy of such a blessing.
John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
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Spiritual Resource Services © March 2, 2006