Christmas: The Fairy Tale That Must Be True
Have you ever stopped, just for a second, and considered the far-fetched claims of Christianity at Christmas time? During this particular holiday, Christians all over the world—millions and millions of them—pause to contemplate a first-century middle eastern infant, mothered by a teenage girl who had never been with a man, born dirt poor and from a small, obscure hick town called Nazareth. This little boy, this underdog whose life was allegedly surrounded by miracles such as a virgin birth, unexplainable healings, and resurrection, Christians say, is the answer to all the world’s problems. The hope of the universe rests on the belief that this seemingly far-fetched fairy tale…
…is actually true.
Come on. Really? Yes, really.
Jesus, that little baby boy from the obscure hick town and virgin womb…he would grow up and speak these words about himself for anyone who would listen:
“I am the way, and the truth, and the life,” he said, “no one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)
Why did Jesus claim to be the truth, versus one single truth among many other truths? Why did he say that he would not share his glory with any other God or any other religious leader? Why was he unwilling to accept the mere designation of Rabbi or of a good moral teacher or of an exemplary human being? Furthermore, why do his followers seem stuck on the idea that Jesus, in being the truth, is the singular path to God? CS Lewis, a secular atheist intellect turned Christian, answers this question as well as anyone in Mere Christianity:
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
But what is it, exactly, that has made Lewis so certain that Jesus is more than a great human teacher, but is instead the Son of God, the Word who has become flesh, the Incarnate Deity? I believe the answer to this question rests in a single word:
Jesus, who was crucified, dead, and buried, rose again bodily from the dead.
But is there evidence, any evidence whatsoever, that these claims are true? I think so. Do you?
The man Saul of Tarsus was militantly opposed to the Christian religion and a leader in the first century massacre against the followers of Jesus. Yet, Saul of Tarsus later became a follower of Jesus. The turning point occurred for Saul when he was on his way to Damascus to arrest more Christians. Jesus, having risen from the dead, met him on the road, temporarily blinded him, and asked him a question, “Saul, why do you persecute me?”
The message to Saul was clear. In standing against Christians, he was standing against Christ, the risen Messiah. And in standing against Christ, the risen Messiah, he was standing against the truth.
In an instant, Saul, once a big shot among the Jews, became small in his own eyes. Saul, a great teacher and leader, was at a loss for words.
Instead of striking Saul down, Jesus forgave him.
From that point forward, Saul of Tarsus was also Paul the Apostle, the inspired writer of approximately one third of the New Testament. He later wrote these words:
“I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly and in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.” (1 Timothy 1:12-16)
This is why the little boy came into the world at Christmas time. To save sinners. Even the foremost of them.
But how did Paul know that his words were “trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance?” How did Paul know that his belief in Jesus was belief in the truth versus a belief in one of several legitimate, competing “truths?”
He knew his words were trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance because Christ had risen from the dead. Because Christ had risen from the dead—a claim that cannot be made by any other religious founder or leader. And if Christ has risen from the dead, everything else that Jesus said and did can be accepted as true. This includes things like the virgin birth, the healings, turning water into wine, and all those other wonderful things about the fairy tale that is true.
But what if the resurrection of Jesus—and thus everything else about Jesus—s actually not true? What if it is a myth? What if in the end, it turns out to be a cleverly made up hoax?
If it is a hoax, Christians are the most pitiful people in the world.
Paul wrote to the Corinthian church:
“If the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most of all to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead” (1 Corinthians 15:17-20)
In fact…Christ has been raised.
How can we be so sure? As Simon Greenleaf, distinguished professor of law at Harvard discovered, the evidence is overwhelming. Based on the evidence alone, it takes more faith not to believe that Jesus rose from the dead than it takes faith to believe it.
As the Apostle Peter once wrote, “We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty (2 Peter 1:16).
Eyewitnesses. Of his majesty.
What eyewitness evidence to Jesus’ resurrection was so convincing to the likes of Simon Greenleaf? There are several excellent books that have been written on the subject, including Who Moved the Stone? by an English journalist attorney named Frank Morrison. Also, The Case for Christ and The Case for Faith by Lee Strobel, More Than a Carpenter and Evidence That Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell, and Tim Keller’s The Reason for God are excellent, more detailed treatments of the subject.
It may be helpful to highlight a few of these so-called “evidences.”
One such evidence is the Apostle Paul’s undisputed claim that there were over five hundred, real-time eyewitnesses to the resurrection of Christ in the first century, “most of whom (were) still alive” (1 Corinthians 15:3-11). Another evidence is the historical record of how each of the twelve disciples of Jesus died. Judas, the one false disciple, hanged himself over guilt related to his betrayal of Jesus. Ten of the others died as martyrs because of their unwillingness to recant their Christian faith to show ultimate allegiance to the Roman Caesar. The disciple John, exiled to the island of Patmos for the same unwillingness to recant, died of old age as a prisoner for Jesus. With this historic record in mind, Josh McDowell wrote the following in More Than a Carpenter:
“If the Resurrection had not happened, obviously the disciples would have known it. I can find no way that these particular men could have been deceived. Therefore they not only would have died for a lie—here’s the catch—they would have known it was a lie. It would be hard to find a group of men anywhere in history who would die for a lie if they knew it was a lie.”
Other evidence for Christianity includes the countless lives over the centuries that have been changed. In a candid interview about his Christian faith, Bono issued a challenge to his skeptical interviewer with these words:
“Either Christ was who He said He was the Messiah or a complete nutcase. I mean, we’re talking nutcase on the level of Charles Manson…This man was strapping himself to a bomb, and had “King of the Jews” on his head, and, as they were putting him up on the Cross, was going: OK, martyrdom, here we go. Bring on the pain! I can take it. I’m not joking here. The idea that the entire course of civilization for over half of the globe could have its fate changed and turned upside-down by a nutcase, for me, that’s farfetched.”
Bono’s point is that the best case for Christianity is the lives that have been changed by Jesus.
Liars becoming more honest, crooks returning what they have stolen, anxious and dying people finding peace, cowardly and fearful people finding courage, hurtful people asking forgiveness from those they have hurt, bodies wasting away as the souls who inhabit those bodies become more alive, business people doing the less profitable thing because it is the right thing, aimless people finding meaning in their lives, spouses staying committed to each other through the hard and dry seasons, addicts becoming sober, adulterers becoming chaste, pregnant mothers continuing their pregnancies knowing that they are carrying a child with Down Syndrome, rejected and unappreciated parents persisting in unconditional love toward their straying, entitled children. These are only a few examples of how the Jesus Christ of Christmas and Resurrection changes people.
The same power that Christians believe spoke the galaxies into being, that parted the ocean, that caused a blind man to see, that enabled a paralytic to get up and walk, that conceived Jesus in Mary’s womb without a sperm cell, and that raised Jesus from the dead—accounts for the billions of people who, having been brought into relationship with Jesus, have become better versions of themselves. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Perhaps you have been turned off to Christianity because of intellectual roadblocks. Perhaps, like Francis Schaeffer, you have been turned off by a “lack of reality” that you perceive in the lives and behavior of Christians around you.
Amid your questions, doubts, and disappointments, are there any Christians in your life who have shown you glimpses of something different, something more beautiful and lovely, even something admirable? Have you ever seen in Christians something that gave you pause about your doubts, that led you to consider that perhaps there is something to this Jesus character? Something like forgiveness of a hurt, compassion shown to a sufferer, generosity toward someone in need, or perseverance in a hard marriage?
If so, could this be Jesus reaching out to you, inviting you to consider, or perhaps reconsider, his claims?
If there are no such Christians in your life and if there is no such longing, would you consider, as the Harvard student Jordan Monge did, investigating “the works of the masters” such as Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, Descartes, Kant, Pascal, and Lewis? Better yet, would you consider reading through each of the four “Jesus biographies” in the Bible—the Gospels according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—each written from the perspective of a first-century believer whose life had been made new by the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus?
If you are not ready to open yourself to the possibility that Jesus is the truth, would you consider embarking on the journey that Simon Greenleaf once did? Would you accept the challenge, as he did, of attempting to prove that it is false?
Perhaps in your quest to prove Christianity to be false, you might discover, as Greenleaf and Francis Schaeffer did, that there is only one reason to be a Christian: because it’s true.
Or perhaps you won’t.