April 6, 1993
Christianity stands or falls on one issue. Taking a firm stand on this issue landed Paul the Apostle in the middle of a controversy.
About 55-60 years after the birth of Christ, Roman leader Festus, governor of Caesarea, didn’t know what to do with this fiery preacher. Some angry Jews demanded justice concerning their charges against him but they could not prove what they said and Paul, a Roman citizen, refused to be tried in their territory. He insisted he be taken to Rome for the Emperor’s decision.
Festus was confused. He discussed the matter with King Agrippa. “When his accusers got up to speak, they did not charge him with any of the crimes I had expected. Instead they had some points of dispute with him about their own religion and about a dead man named Jesus who Paul claimed was alive.”
Obviously Festus did not believe Paul’s message either, but resurrection was not a new idea. One segment of Jewish religion always taught that people would be raised from the dead. The idea most of them refused to accept concerned Jesus, the man who claimed to be God, the man they had crucified. Other Jews, including Paul, preached that He was alive, that He had risen from the dead.
Why should that shake them up? Why bother with the expense and hassle of bringing legal action against a radical preacher for a message they were sure was untrue? What was the point? If Paul was wrong, after a while no one would listen to him and the issue would fade into the past. If Paul was right, some should have been delighted that resurrection had been proved a reality.
However, the death and resurrection of Jesus was full of implications. This event could not be accepted at face value without considering the significance of all else Jesus said and did. Anyone who rises from the dead and walks the earth again like He did, could not be a mere man. His resurrection demanded they reconsider His claims. Who was He? Why did He die? How does what He said apply to them?
The clip shown at the Academy Awards of Clint Eastwood’s performance in a movie called “Unforgiven”sets up the message of the resurrection. One line, (even though somewhat out of context) explains the reason Jesus died. Apparently some men had been killed. Another younger actor was trying to adjust his emotions to the finality of their death. In desperation, he lifted a bottle to his mouth and said, “Anyway, they deserved it.” To this, Eastwood replied, “We all deserve it.”
That’s it. That’s why the Jews were mad at Paul’s message. Jesus died because we all deserve it. Only Jesus did not deserve to die. His life was spotless before man and God. He willingly went to the cross to satisfy the justice sin demands because He loves us.
This was the claim of Christ, that He was God Himself, filled with love and compassion for people whose sin meant they deserved nothing but death. If this claim was true, nothing less than His death and resurrection would prove it.
Of course those who wanted Jesus to die could not accept Paul’s message. It incriminated them. Better get rid of Paul. Oddly enough, it had not been too many years prior that Paul felt the same way. He also killed Christians. It was not until the risen Christ confronted him personally that he knew the message was true.
The movie “Unforgiven” (which I have not seen) sounds like bad news compared to the amazing hope that Paul’s accusers refused to accept and that Paul himself nearly missed. Thankfully, God had compassion on him and rewrote his story — with a small title change from Eastwood’s film — it now reads “Forgiven.”