When I was a kid, every Easter, I think it was NBC, played the miniseries "Jesus of Nazareth." It had a bunch of well-known stars like Anthony Quinn, Anne Bancroft, and my favorite, Ernest Borgnine. Sure, there was some extra storytelling going on, but it was a moving account of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection. And for the most part it was sympathetic to the gospels and to Christian sensitivities.
Well, those days are pretty much gone.
Whether it's the Discovery Channel's airing a show on the supposed lost tomb of Jesus (they actually claim to have found His bones), or Newsweek (while it was still in print) featuring a cover photo of a cool-looking Jesus on the streets of New York City, or simply one of the major news networks interviewing a "modern" biblical scholar, Easter has become prime time for reconstructing the historical Jesus.
Gone also are the days when the main argument about Jesus was whether He really was (and is) the Son of God, or just a great moral teacher. No doubt you'll remember C. S. Lewis's famous quote that Jesus was either who He said He was, or he was a madman ("on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg") or a liar or something worse.
But today, the arguments focus more on the reliability of the gospels themselves. It's hard to use Lewis's excellent response when someone flings back in your face, "Well, we don't really know what Jesus said after all"-or if Jesus even existed-because Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were all just propaganda pieces for a growing social and cultural movement.
But what if the Gospels are indeed what they claim to be? Eyewitness accounts of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth?
On "BreakPoint This Week," my colleague John Stonestreet talked about this very issue with a friend of mine, a pastor and a man for whom I have enormous respect, Dr. Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City.
They discussed Dr. Keller's excellent book, "Jesus the King: Understanding the life and death of the Son of God." In it, he focuses on Jesus' life as told in the gospel of Mark. And as Dr. Keller and John point out, there are many sound arguments for believing that the gospels are indeed eyewitness accounts.
Look for instance, at the portrayal of Peter and the disciples in Mark. If the young church wanted to make up a rosy propaganda piece about its leaders, they would not have painted the picture of Peter as a coward and the other disciples as consistently clueless!
But that's what the gospel of Mark does. Or take the role of women in the Gospel of Mark. They were the first to discover the empty tomb. But in the Jewish and Roman worlds, women couldn't serve as witnesses in court! So there's no way Mark or any of the gospels would rely on their testimony-unless, of course, the women really were eyewitnesses and what they said really happened.
So, as you prepare for Easter, be ready for the conversation with a colleague or neighbor who's watched or read the latest revisionist history of Jesus.