Points With a Punch

Points With a Punch

21111_largeAs I mentioned, I was the innocently lent the book, “A Case for Christ” by Lee Strobel, that started me on my journey of exploring Christianity. There were a number of things that were either over my head or simply had never concerned me about the religion. However, there were a few things that blew me away and started to unravel my cocoon of skepticism.

One of the first points that struck a deep chord in me was the idea that you have no choice but to only believe one of two things regarding Jesus Christ:

  1. He was real- fully man, fully God and son of the Father
  2. He was real, but he was bat shit crazy (this is a paraphrase, not Mr. Strobel’s words)

At first, I found this a little extreme. There must be a middle ground. That is where I had only thought of myself- yeah, he’s real and he was a pretty cool dude, but messiah? Nah. However, as the book points out that this really isn’t possible. After all, we are talking about a historical figure that was proclaimed to have performed some pretty heavy miracles and believed so full heartedly that not only did he convince a number of others to give up their jobs, family, and livelihood to follow him, but took the belief that he was the Son of God so seriously, believed it so deeply that he died a gruesome and horrible death convicted of this belief. Now I’m not sure if you really understand how horrible a death by crucifixion is, but I think it is an important piece to the puzzle so forgive me while I take you on a brief aside.

passion-of-the-christThe physical pain of crucifixion goes far beyond the nailing of the hands and feet to the cross. This was excruciating given that the victim had to choose to try and bear his weight with his feet sending sheering pain through them or let his arms take the weight of his body pulling on the nails buried in his flesh (most likely in the area of the wrists as the Greek word used in the bible translated as “hand” refers to the arm and hand together- though there is still speculation about this), pulling muscle, bone, tendon and nerves. Eventually, this would lead to exhaustion. The length of time on the cross varied from hours to days and death was typically from asphyxiation- essentially the full weight of one’s body held only by the arms would hyper-expand the chest muscles and make sufficient inhalation difficult. There are speculations about this practice causing the lungs or the cardiac sac to fill with fluid and be fatal. Besides asphyxiation, other causes of death would be from dehydration, sepsis (infection from the wounds), or even animal predation. In addition, the victim would be forced to endure the humiliation of being stripped naked and left to hang there for all to see. It was one of the lowliest deaths a person could face.

So back to where we were. Knowing that this would be his fate, Jesus stuck by his claims. I would think it fair to say that no sane minded con-man would be that foolish or headstrong in his convictions. Wouldn’t you? I think Mr. Strobel was right- either you buy the messiah story or you believe he was just plain crazy. Capital C-R-A-Z-Y. There is no in between.

The other point that really caught me off guard and was like a sucker punch to the jaw -when the book discussed the fates of the apostles. I was like, what?! As I said before, I went to Sunday school and confirmation but this was the first time I was hearing any of this. I guess I had never thought about what had happened to the apostles; I just assumed they led happy little lives telling people about this hip cat, Jesus, they had befriended. (My ELCA Lutheran pastors were a somewhat hip married couple and I suppose all the guitar and eternal love influenced me some). I had never actually read the Bible (in fairness, I doubt that many of the Christians in my church had either- we never used them during sermons or even had them available and no one ever brought one). Had I read it I would have known a bit more about the trials of Paul and the various imprisonments and beatings he endured. That might have given me a better base line.

Paul describes his sufferings in 2 Corinthians 11:24-28:

24 Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food in cold and exposure. 28 And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.

You need to understand I was coming into this book a naively privileged white western woman who was allowed to ask these sorts of questions openly everywhere she went, never understanding that Christian persecution had existed during Christ’s time and continues today (this was pre-ISIS). I knew a little bit about the Great Persecution before the reign of Constantine (and I only knew the little I did of this thanks to my art history classes). I had no idea how wide spread persecution was and still is for believers in other countries. I had no idea that your spiritual belief could still make you a target and that people today still worship and learn in secret.

So when I read Strobel discuss the fates of the apostles I was flabbergasted. I can’t recall how much detail he went into as I was so awestruck (and slightly skeptical) I did some digging on my own. In case you aren’t familiar with the fates of the apostles I will briefly recap it here:

 

Peter  martyred in Rome about 66 AD. He was crucified upside down, per his request as he did not feel himself worthy to die in the same way as Jesus
Paul   martyred in Room about 66 AD. He was beheaded.
Andrew   said to have been crucified.
Thomas   said to have died when pierced through with spears of four soldiers
Phillip arrested and cruelly put to death.
Matthew possible stabbed to death in Ethiopia
Bartholomew martyred (various accounts); possibly skinned alive and then beheaded.
James said to have been stoned and then clubbed to death.
Simon killed after refusing to sacrifice to the sun god in Persia. May have been crucified or hacked to death.
Matthias (he replaced Judas) death by burning.
John the only apostle generally thought to have died of natural causes from old age.

 

So you might be asking what the big deal is- after all, this might be old news to you. For me though, it was just more proof that there was no middle ground. You have here another case of it must be true or these men might be bat shit f-ing crazy. Here are men that followed Jesus willingly giving up everything they had; they were so convicted by what they heard and saw that they continued on after his death preaching and teaching despite the danger, the frustration, the hunger and homelessness, to ultimately give up their lives for what they believed.

Now I know that there are some naysayers out there that will compare the power of cult leaders and their members’ devotion (Jamestown, the Manson Family, Waco, etc) but how many of those believers are still standing up for what they believed years later? How many are crossing the world on foot to spread that message? How many would be willing to put their beliefs to the test in suffering to this day? There is no denying historically that the apostles lived a hard life traveling and spreading the gospel and that they died in some of the most heinous ways- all for what they believed to be the truth. That’s huge. Really, just stop and think about that. What would you have given up? How certain would you have had to have been to endure that much pain?

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