Why is it that Jesus' message lasted beyond his short life? Why did the message and person of Jesus not evaporate like all the other wannabe messiahs?
Because at the core of his message was a brand new kind of love and at the core of his experience and history was a resurrection, Andy Stanley told his congregation at the start of Holy Week.
A few years ago, Stanley was in Rome with his wife when he noticed something that took him aback. Hanging over the entrance of the Roman Colosseum where the emperor once entered was a cross. Another hung over the entrance where gladiators had entered through.
Stanley posed to North Point Community Church members: "If you could imagine going back 2,000 years ago and ... what if we were able to gather ... some of the Christians that lived in Rome [and] say to them 'someday there will hang in the entrance of this arena of death a cross, a cross that does not reflect or represent the power of Rome, a cross that does not reflect or represent the anger and the death associated with crucifixion, ... [but] one single crucifixion of a Jewish carpenter ... who never traveled more than 25 miles from his home, was basically a public figure for three years, was betrayed by his own people and executed by the Roman authorities but whose message impacted the entire world ... and long after there was a Roman Empire people would worship and celebrate this one Jewish carpenter."
Jesus did not have any political influence, nor did he write any books. He was condemned to crucifixion which was the most shameful and painful way to die, the lead pastor noted. And decades after his death, Jerusalem and its Temple were razed during the Jewish-Roman Wars in 70 A.D. and all the Jews were expelled. With that, the entire context for Jesus' ministry and for what he taught vanished.
So how did Jesus' message last so that today a cross hangs at the emperor's gate of the Roman Colosseum?
Radical love and the resurrection, Stanley answered.
Citing Jesus' famous words, Stanley read: "As I have loved you, love one another."
Though the commandment may sound commonplace today, at that time, it was radical.
"In that statement and in the statements that would follow, Jesus did something that was so unusual that I'm sure it took them ... maybe the rest of their life to get their arms around," Stanley noted. "He said ... every single person that has been born has value."
"The primary thing that would mark Christians in the first century was that they had this unusual, fanatical ... selfless, sacrificial, weird ... love for one another," he stressed.
And that love was directed to all including slaves, women, the rich and poor and enemies.
While many Christians today may push for legislation or petition and protest in efforts to change a secular culture, Stanley pointed to a method that really works when trying to change culture – love.
"What we know works ... is this radical, unusual, unconditional love for one another," he said.
"The reason I know it works is because there is a cross hanging in the emperor's entrance to the colosseum in Rome."
Couple that message of radical love with the resurrection of Jesus and that's the answer to why Christianity has spread and why Jesus' name has become so powerful.
"Today we're here because of that radical love and because of an undeniable resurrection that catapulted this message out of a context where it should have been buried once and for all," Stanley said.
North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Ga., is one of the largest churches in the country. The megachurch will observe Easter with a service on Friday and three services on Sunday.