I raised a few eyebrows recently by quoting an imaginary conversation between a First Century Christian and a Roman citizen worshipping the pagan deities: “My God may be a ‘Jackass’, but at least he doesn’t rape, lie, and steal like the pagan gods.”
I admit it seems odd to hear a Bible teacher call his Savior a “Jackass”, but the label was referring to graffiti ridiculing Jesus, which I displayed earlier on the overhead. It was carved by some nameless pagan on a cave wall, dating from the 2nd C – a time when Christianity was taking the Empire by popular storm. It is called “graffito blasfemo” by the Vatican, but known as “the Alexamenos graffiti” because it says, “Alexamenos worships his god” and depicts Alexamenos saluting the crucified Jesus, who is butt-naked, with a Jackass head. Such was the contempt any decent Roman citizen would have towards a crucified “Savior”, risen or not.
As the famous Roman statesman, Cicero, put it: “Let the very name of the cross be far, not only from the body of a Roman citizen, but even from his thoughts, his eyes, his ears.” If you took his advice, you would never listen to the Christian “Good News”, as it was called. In fact, you would never call it “Good News” at all.
This highlights a crazy aspect of Christianity which makes it difficult to assert that all the major world religions are essentially the same, as historian Bruce Shelly puts it: “Christianity is the only major religion to have as its central event the humiliation of its God…Crucifixion was a barbarous death, reserved for agitators, pirates and slaves.”
Shelly understates the problem: in fact, no deity worshiped anywhere on this planet or at any time in history would voluntarily tolerate the humiliation Jesus tolerated. It runs against the grain of man-made religion. It runs against the flow of human history.
While Egypt enjoys the so-called freedom of “Arab Spring”, it still imprisons anyone who questions the prophet Mohammad, which the Koran deems blasphemous. This week, according to news sources, Egypt’s public prosecutor has ordered the arrest of popular satirist Bassem Youssef over alleged insults to Islam and to President Mohamed Mursi, in the latest clampdown on critical media. Judicial sources said several complaints had been filed against Youssef, whose razor-sharp humor – delivered on his weekly television program “Albernameg” (The Show) – has spared few public figures. He is accused of offending Islam through “making fun of the prayer ritual” on his show, and of insulting Dr. Mursi by “making fun of his international standing”, the sources said.
The Russian Orthodox religion (which bears no resemblance to the Christianity taught in the Bible) also persecuted its detractors in Moscow recently. “Pussy Riot” is a Russian head-banging, heavy-metal band featured on 60 Minutes last week, where Leslie Stahl reported:
Pussy Riot made international headlines in March of 2012, when five members of the band were arrested for hooliganism, after praying/singing to the Virgin Mary at the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow, asking her to “please drive Putin away.” Of the five women, three were charged. One, Katya Samutsevich, was found guilty but was “released after seven months because she never actually danced on the altar.” (See more about it here: http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-504803_162-57575969-10391709/why-the-pussy-riot-story-is-important/. )
Jesus taught us to “turn the other cheek” and to “love your enemies.” Even the prophet Mohammad could not swallow the story of the Crucifixion. According to the Koran:
They [Jews] said, ‘We killed the Messiah, Isa the Son of Mary, the Apostle of God’ –but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them. (Qur’an 4:157)
According to Mohammad, the crucifixion was only a ploy, a stunt staged by Jesus and his followers. Yet this huckster still should be revered as “a prophet of God,” Mohammad taught (which makes you wonder what kind of ethics he thought were acceptable for “a prophet of God”).
The Real Jesus
Why anyone would create such a dumb legend as a criminal, crucified Lord? All the skeptics and liberal theologians who consider the Resurrection of Jesus a matter of popular legend, it must be asked how such a dumb legend could ever take off in the Roman Empire? Especially since its followers were often persecuted and executed, why create fictional beliefs guaranteed to look like foolishness?
The only plausible explanation for the distinctive, implausible “Good News” of the crucified Christ is actually provided by God Himself:
“The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God. As the Scriptures say, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and discard the intelligence of the intelligent.’” (1 Corinthians 1:18-19)
The Real Jesus is big enough to handle whatever “blasphemies” or humiliations they hurl at him simply because He is, in fact, big enough to be God. He does not merely survive, He wins! Indeed, His victory continues marching through history, winning new adherents, and there is nothing anyone can do about it — such is the superiority of God’s wisdom.