It’s a pretty amazing testimony to the person of Jesus Christ that 10 out of His 11 remaining ‘original’ disciples died violent deaths for their faith. I mean, that’s some pretty harsh odds. And these guys weren’t shocked and surprised by their martyrdom, Jesus warned them they would face such violence for Him.
I imagine, watching God die a humiliating, disdainful death (crucifixion in Roman times was reserved for the worst of the worst) would leave its mark on a fellow. But not the kind that would have you lining up for martyrdom! More like the kind that would make you deny you ever knew Him, and send you right back to your former life. There is no victory to be found in being publicly annihilated.
That’s why I believe the resurrection of Christ actually happened. Maybe a lone madman would die for their own lie, but not 10 for the same deception. And not by choice.
Only true believers willingly die for what they believe is true. Which makes the Apostolic witness pretty air-tight in my opinion.
However, I don’t think those 10 disciples died to defend what they saw, nor even what they believed. They died because they knew personally, in relationship, who God is.
They weren’t trying to tip the eternal scales of judgment in their favor with a God of condemnation. They weren’t trying to win a place at God’s right hand, nor trying to atone for their own sins. They did it because they were friends of God. In the same way God was friends of them.
It was Jesus Himself that said:
“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
John 15:13 (NRSV)
And then, He lived that out right before their horrified eyes.
There are lots of theologies and religious ideas about the cross (roughly 2,000 years worth) and what it means for humanity. Our consumer-driven culture has often twisted orthodox Christianity into a hollow shell of itself: ‘Follow Jesus for fame, fortune, happiness!’ Or, ‘Jesus means victory!’ Or, ‘Jesus is the ultimate badass!’
The beauty of Christianity is that its ‘good news’ was scratched onto a placard above the scourged and crucified body of Christ.
We all want to rush headlong into resurrection– to what we believe encapsulates the victory part of the Gospel. But the disciples saw things quite differently. They had no expectation that Christ would be resurrected. Or that He had carefully planned out His own execution. Jesus talked in parables so much, that most likely they tuned out half the time…
The disciples had zero faith in a resurrected Lord.
Televangelists love to talk about the power of faith. As if we too can become all-powerful within our respective realms of influence as long as we have enough of the right kind of faith. We can even raise the dead by our faith!
They miss this all important part of the Gospel message– NOT ONE of Jesus’ followers had any faith after His death. It was Mary Magdalene that first saw the risen Christ– only because she was on the way to the tomb she believed held His corpse.
Jesus had to make a few visits, and walk through a wall, before He could convince all of His Disciples that no one had maliciously stolen His remains… That He was indeed alive and kicking.
Can you imagine how dumb they all felt? ‘Oh…. So THAT’S what you meant about rebuilding the Temple in 3 days. Sheesh! I was wondering how we were going to pull that one off. This is way cooler anyway… Boy, have we missed you!!!’
The 10 disciples that died a martyr’s death, certainly didn’t do so out of their abundance of faith.
You know what I think? We are at a time and place in our culture where authentic relationship is rare and hard to find. And yet, we so crave it! Wives will stay with abusive husbands, men will resort to steroid use and pec implants to make themselves more attractive to those they yearn for, school children will endure bullying for a chance to be part of ‘in’ crowd… We are all so convinced that we are not worth relating to, let alone worthy of basic dignity as we are. Why would God want anything to do with us collective scumbags?
The disciples had a depth of relationship with God in Christ that few of us will find this side of eternity. Their martyrdom tells us friendship with God is worth more than life itself. It’s that good!
The disciples also tell us that friendship with God doesn’t depend on our own faithfulness. If that were the case, we’d all be screwed because the Gospel message wouldn’t have been spread past the Rooster crowing. It isn’t our faith in God that promises to redeem and restore us– it’s God’s faith in us. In God’s eyes, we are worth being crucified for.
No matter how badly we are treated by other human beings, no matter how badly we may treat other human beings– God wants us to get to know Him.
How crazy is that?!
That’s pure foolishness!
“But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.”
1 Corinthians 1:27 (NRSV)
It is only in our moments of weakness and shame that we come to truly know God. God, who exchanged His glory for human weakness and shame, to earn back the relationship He has always intended to have with us.
Now, that’s good news. Even if it does come with 2,000 years of baggage…