Our connected world has martyrs on display each week. There are the terrorists who strapped with bombs, scream phrases of worship, as they die in a hail of bullets or explosion; gunmen who kill bystanders to make a statement about their repression or depression; fundraising crusaders sacrificing their time and life, who bring awareness, even funding, to a need and they become the de-facto financial beneficiaries of their martyrdom; politicians and civic leaders claiming to sacrifice their careers, glory, and personal dreams for the community of people they seek to govern, only to have their personal lives explode as the truth of their corruption is exposed. Where’s a good martyr today? Where have all the martyrs gone?
I ask you to consider this thought: martyrs are a human creation, a consequence of our communities and socialization. Our humanity’s frail existence is based on one premise: we are breathing, alive and sentient. Once our earthly life ends…the rest is a mystery we struggle to fathom. We can, however, see our fragile existence as our only reality. This magnifies our need to have heroes who overcome the natural and observed boundaries of humankind, or to have myths explain our human suffering, as Sisyphus, the first true member of the Rolling Stones. The Greeks were major players who codified the use of sophisticated gods to express the human need for myths. The question to consider: is Christianity or Jesus Christ defined by our world by martyrs or myths? Yes, to Christianity and No for Jesus Christ.
Christianity, the religion, is a creation of humanity’s interaction and response to God’s plan for Creation. For some, the Plan is enough to create and sustain their faith. Often these folks are considered intellectually diminished for their acceptance, belief. Others need, or have needed, more to prove their faith for themselves or to convince others. This natural longing for more is inherent in our desire to explain things that are bigger than us. It isn’t wrong or immoral in its character or inclination, though it can take on that form. It is simply how we are built. Martyrs and myths are created to fill the void needed for taking leaps of faith, which take us on to the other side of whatever spiritual journey we are traveling. Neither the view of the simple minded faith or the complexity of needing more, should attack or accuse the other of infidelity towards God or Jesus. Rather, accepting how others express faith, is grace. It is letting God decide how best to help those walking toward or with Jesus.
Jesus never was given the charge of being a martyr. The word wasn’t even a part of God’s vocabulary in the Bible. Paul’s reference to Stephen’s death (Acts 22), is the only time the word is used. Stephen did not purpose his death as a martyr, others created it. Jesus did not see his role as being a martyr, but rather a man with purposed conviction to live his life according to God’s words. From the beginning of his ministry as an adult he asked people to follow him (Matt 4) as he followed God. He challenged others to be worthy, by imitating his life (Matt 10). It’s actually kind of wacko for someone to make such a claim, but his true and stated ambition was to show how we could have a relationship with our Creator. Unlike others, Jesus goal was not to die. It was to trust God to bring him back to life, through his death, so that anyone could have a relationship with God. Death and worshiping it’s means, was not the goal, the resurrection was the goal.
So what about the “myth” of his resurrection? Have there been any myths created through the religion of Christianity, because God does know there have been plenty of “martyrs”! Jesus’ resurrection is the quagmire of intellectually substantiation of faith. The realm of history clearly states that Jesus was a real man on earth. Both the Romans and the Jews would have been complete idiots to not display his body to disprove his resurrection, from the date of death onward. It is so improbable that his disciples took the body from elite Roman soldiers, that the recorded history of the empire was that the Jews did it to keep his followers from proclaiming Jesus’ resurrection was true. If there were a bus in those days, you’d say the Jewish leaders just got thrown under it! However, if that were true, they surely would have shut down the whole Pentecost Party in Acts 2 by showing these “believers” Jesus’ body. The man Jesus died. Roman history records his life and death, and does its best to hide his resurrection. Like much with faith in any God, or supposed written word: the truth is 50/50. It either is or it isn’t. It is defined by the historically defined existence of one man: Jesus. Jesus not only existed, he vexed the greatest power of human existence
Jesus said from John 5:16-30:
“19 Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. 20 For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, and he will show him even greater works than these, so that you will be amazed. 21 For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it. 22 Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, 23 that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him.
24 “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life. 25 Very truly I tell you, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. 26 For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. 27 And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man.
28 “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice 29 and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned. 30 By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me.
Your choice: Martyr, Myth or the Son of Man?