Have you ever heard a politician accuse someone of being, “on the wrong side of history”? It’s a figure of speech, a cliché, that is meant to label an opponent as backward or ignorant in the face of inevitable social change. In other words, the passage of time will vindicate the views of the one and prove that the other was an enemy of progress. Since we recently marked the day in which Jesus of Nazareth died on a cross, and since today is the day we celebrate his resurrection, I thought it would be appropriate to ask the question, “Was Jesus on the wrong side of history?” After all, we’ve had 2,000 years to consider the question.
At the time of his crucifixion, Jesus lost the support of everyone. Jewish religious leaders believed he was a blasphemer for comparing himself to God and threatening their power, so they tried to kill him. The Roman authorities desired to keep their subjects in check, so killing this instigator of the people and enemy of the Jewish authorities made sense. Even Jesus’ closest followers scattered in those dark hours. The one who was meant to be Christ’s rock-solid representative, Peter, verbally declared that he had never known Jesus on three occasions. But far more damning than the loss of his people, had to have been the loss of God, his father.
The night before his crucifixion, Jesus asked God, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39) The cup he’s referring to is his horrific death. It’s a death that Jesus saw coming because the prophets of old foretold it. Isaiah, who lived 600 years before Christ came, wrote, “Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God,stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions,he was crushed for our iniquities…he was led like a lamb to the slaughter.” (Isaiah 53:4-5,7) King David wrote 1,000 years before Jesus was born, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?…All who see me mock me;they hurl insults, shaking their heads.“He trusts in the Lord,” they say,“let the Lord rescue him.“…a pack of villains encircles me; they pierce my hands and my feet” (Psalm 22: 1,7,8,16) Jesus understood that these prophecies referred to him. God declared the nature of his son’s death centuries before he ever walked the earth.
According to the Bible, Jesus was on the right side of history even when everyone forsook him as he experienced an excruciating death. In the hour of his death it must have seemed to the world that Jesus had made some tragic mistake, or perhaps he had done something terrible to deserve the judgement of God (like if he had been claiming to be God’s son if it weren’t true). But looking back, and looking through the pages of the Bible, it’s clear that this was all part of God’s plan to save his people. Isaiah the prophet even declares that it was God’s will to crush him. It was God’s will to sacrifice his beloved son to save us out of love. (Why this is so is for another blog post)
His resurrection three days later, his ascension into Heaven, and the subsequent spread of his church all strongly favor the idea that Jesus was on the right side of progress and an unmatched force for social change. But this all hinges on the truth of his resurrection. Anyone can die, but who can rise again?
And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. 1 Corinthians 15: 14-19
Paul is saying, essentially, that if Jesus is still dead, he was a pitiful fool, and so are we. Christ would be on the wrong side of history and so would all of his followers.
In the final analysis, the answer to the question of whether Jesus falls on the right or wrong side of history rests entirely on the reality of his resurrection. If he did in fact rise from the dead, we can trust all of his claims about being the son of God and the exclusive savior of mankind. But if he died on the cross and stayed dead, we must dismiss him entirely and judge him as an enemy of progress. The basis of his whole teaching is that he can save people from their sins. If he can’t even save himself, how can he save anyone else? If the crucifixion killed God incarnate, God incarnate rose from the dead in three days. If the crucifixion killed a delusional yet well-intentioned man, a delusional yet well-intentioned man is dust and ashes. It’s one or the other. History knows no neutrality.
Jesus once asked two blind men, “Do you believe that I am able do this?” He asked them if they believed he had the authority and power to restore life to their eyes: if he had power over death and decay.
Today, on Easter Sunday, I join them in saying, “Yes, Lord!”
“You cannot go on seeing through things for ever. The whole point of seeing through something is to see something through it. . . . If you see through everything, then everything is transparent. But a wholly transparent world is an invisible world. To see through all things is the same as not to see.” – C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man
‘When they see what I do, they will learn nothing. When they hear what I say, they will not understand. Otherwise, they will turn to me and be forgiven.‘ ” Jesus, Mark 4:12
Today is a holy day for both Christians and Jews. For Jews it marks the beginning of Passover, which marks the day that death passed over the ancient Hebrews before their exodus from Egypt. Christians recognize today as Good Friday, which marks the day that Jesus Christ died, nailed to a cross. On the first Passover, the Hebrews marked their doors with lamb’s blood as a sign that they were God’s people, not meant to taste the sting of death. On the day that Jesus was nailed to a cross, his blood poured out for all who would accept him. He is called the Lamb of God, and his blood was willfully shed for God’s people so that they could have his life. Blood is life, and Christians get their life from God. Good Friday, the day Jesus allowed himself to die, is both terrible and wonderful for the ones who see it. But for those who see right through it, there is only the sight of a mythical fool going to his death, never to rise and therefore never to have any importance to them.
It is good to question things. No one wants to be accused of gullibility. It is also good to test things. Why accept anything on blind faith? There is a widespread belief that faith is incompatible with reason and sanity. And there are plenty of religious people out there that only reinforce the stereotype. Just watch a movie like Religulous by Bill Maher. It looks like he had an easy time finding some ignorant people who supported his bias against the sanity of Christians. Once again, they’re out there. If you want to feel better about rejecting Jesus Christ, I can understand honing in on some of his less admirable followers to back up your own beliefs. Even Gandhi did it. “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
The real test of one who pursues more truth and understanding comes when you’re willing to accept the full humanity of another who believes something different. If you’re simply “seeing through” the person you’re speaking to, you’re not really seeing them. If all you see is a silly or ignorant person, you dismiss them without much of a thought. I struggle with this, as most of us do, but I also take steps to really see where others are coming from. This is not because I’m looking to find a more appealing thing to believe in. My faith in the actual person of Jesus Christ is firmly implanted in me, and I not only let it grow, but want it to grow. Truthfully, it is this faith, which softens my pride, that even allows me to engage in discussion without popping a blood vessel.
There are many things you can choose to believe in: many philosophies you can choose to accept: many people you can choose to agree with. But I would warn you against the exercise of seeing through everything. That would mean declaring the death of God and truth in the world and looking past anything that might challenge your position. I remember taking a Bible as Literature course and the professor assuring us that we would not be approaching the book with any religious bias. That’s great, but what about the bias that assumes the book isn’t true? How is that really open-minded? And furthermore, how does that take into account the purpose of the book in the first place? To approach the bible as an old book of fairy tales is to not approach the bible at all.
I would encourage you to look at the story of Jesus and a teacher named Nicodemus, from the Book of John. It is at the start of chapter 3. It is one of my favorite parts of the whole bible because it is a one to one discussion between an open-minded religious leader and the man who claims to be God’s son. You see, many religious leaders throughout the story of Jesus are arrogant and close-minded and Jesus doesn’t share this kind of dialogue with them. They simply wouldn’t want it anyway. But this guy, Nicodemus, he is interested by what Jesus has to say and Jesus is more than willing to spend time talking about many things.
So today is the day Christians remember the death of God on a wooden cross. They see more there than an entire lifetime could contain. They see a hard truth about this world, and an even harder truth about their own. The world is ripe with evil and pain and death, and these things come to us too, eventually.
But Sunday is Easter.
And two-thousand years ago the son of God saw the first sunrise of a new age on this earth.
“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” C.S. Lewis The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses