Death & Resurrection
Setting that led up to Jesus’ death
First, some background. It’s clear that both the political leaders and the religious leaders were unhappy with Jesus, and who he said he was, and what he did. They were upset with him. He challenged the status quo in a variety of ways. He called for fundamental change in people’s attitudes and actions toward women, toward the poor and the marginalized, even toward political rulers. He said, “You like to dominate your subjects but I want servant leaders.”
The violent revolutionaries wanted to persuade the whole Jewish nation to rise up in armed rebellion and he said, “No, I want you to love your enemies.” He called men to treat women as equals—another example of challenging the status quo.
Why Jesus was killed
In response to Jesus, people had two choices: change fundamentally, or reject Jesus’ claims. And the authorities [religious and political] decided they didn’t want to change fundamentally. So they crucified him. Jesus was killed for two reasons: because he was such a radical challenge to the social status quo; and because he claimed to be the Son of God. So if Jesus got killed and it was all over, then the final answer would be, “Jesus may be attractive, but he was wrong.”
It all hinges on whether or not he was alive on the third day. (I approach this as an historian, which is the area of my doctoral dissertation.) If you approach the question of the resurrection as an historian, the best historical conclusion is he was probably alive on the third day. Now I don’t think that makes you a Christian. A historian can always only say something is probable.
What does it all mean?
Leap of faith
If the best historical judgment is that Jesus was probably alive on the third day, then I’m ready to make a leap of faith—a leap that goes in the direction of the evidence—that there is appropriate evidence for the Christian claim. And I then make the final step of faith and say, “I believe with all of my heart that this carpenter from Nazareth is the promised Messiah, the only Son of God, the only Savior of the world.”
When you believe he is more than just a prophet, it changes the way you live
The call to live a life of love, justice, integrity, purity, and concern for neighbor, is all connected with this central claim. We believe that God forgives us in spite of our messing things up. If we repent and ask for forgiveness, that’s connected to this central claim of Jesus, too. If Jesus is really God in the flesh, then whether or not I live the way he calls me to live is a different question than if he’s just another great prophet.
By Ron Sider – Adapted from an interview for Turning Toward Jesus video curriculum. Sider is a professor of theology from Philadelphia, Pa.