Followers of Christ are the proof of his existencePublished 9:34am Friday, October 4, 2013
By the Rev. Todd Walsh
Grace Lutheran Church
It’s confirmation season again at Grace Lutheran. Our classes are up and running. Our youth are up and running…to confirmation, not away from it. Confirmation is a great place for questions and conversation.
One of those conversations landed on the question, “Can you prove that Jesus existed?” It’s a great question that opens the door to make an important point.
So we talk about the historical evidence. The first thing I say is that there is no historical evidence for the existence of Jesus. That is shocking to the students. There is the New Testament. But the New Testament is written by the insiders. Real evidence would have to come from the outsiders who had no claim on the religion.
Mind you, the New Testament is a remarkable bit of evidence. There are four Gospels, and they are rather similar. There must be something to these four authors getting their stories so close together. Consider also that these four Gospels are separated by hundreds of miles and half a century. The story held together through time and place.
Then I talk about a Jewish/Roman writer of the late first century, Titus Flavius Josephus. His writings include mention of Christianity. But what is written is obviously an addition by later Christian writers. However Josephus does write about the martyrdom of James, the brother of Jesus. Now we are getting somewhere.
Archeologists unearthed a dedication stone for a stadium in Caesarea on the Holy Land coast a number of years ago. It bore the name of Pontius Pilate. This is the only physical evidence for the existence of the blood-thirsty governor. Then we have the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. Scholars used to balk at it as the burial place of Jesus because it is inside the Old City, not outside as the new Testament says the burial place of Jesus is located. But digs have now revealed that the church is outside the city walls of the Jerusalem of Jesus’ day. It also matches the New Testament descriptions of a quarry used as a graveyard.
Scholars have for a long time taken interest in the people who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls. Some of those writings match up with sayings of Jesus in the New Testament. They match up even more with the words of John the Baptist. And the location of the Qumran community that wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls is in the same area that the New Testament says John baptized Jesus.
So there it is: a short rundown on the evidence that Jesus was actually a real historical person. The conclusion is that there is no direct evidence. However, there is some evidence for people associated with him and his first followers.
So where is the evidence for Jesus? How can there be no evidence for the most famous and important human being in the world? And if this is God in the flesh should he at least have left some kind of radiation or vapor trail?
Here is the evidence. Here is the proof. “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it,” Paul tells the Christians in 1 Corinthians 12:27. The proof for the existence of Jesus is his followers. I tell our confirmation students, “You are the proof for the existence of Jesus.” Martin Luther once called Christians “little Christs.” We have the privilege and responsibility to carry on the ministry and life of Jesus through our lives. Now we don’t run around wearing a robe and sandals to look like Jesus. That would work only a few months in Minnesota. But we take in God’s word in the Bible as he did. We gather for regular worship as he did. We pray as he did. We care for others as he did. I would dare say that we even do miracles as he did because our prayers and caring can change lives for the better. And there is no greater miracle or healing than the forgiveness we have received from God being share with others.
You could also say that Jesus himself was interested in leaving some evidence of his presence on our planet. He tells the disciples after he is risen from the dead and before he ascends into heaven, “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1.8.) Now Albert Lea is not the ends of the Earth in a derogatory sense. It may feel that way on a winter’s day of 20 below!
It is easy to see the apostles as witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus. It might be hard for us to see ourselves as witnesses to something that happened 2,000 years ago and 6,000 miles away. But that is what the Christian people are. We are witnesses to what we have been told by others. We see the importance of Christian community and its ability to retell the story of Jesus through the centuries. Those first apostles and other believers shared their experience. And that experience has been handed down until it reached us here today.