Christians all over the world are celebrating Easter today. They believe Jesus died and came back to life three days later. This is the miracle Christians talk about. It’s believed to be central to Christianity — without the resurrection, he’s just Jesus, not Christ.
For a long time I didn’t consider myself Christian, because I don’t think the resurrection happened. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and the evidence that this guy came back from being dead is basically 0. I think focusing on the resurrection — a man literally coming back from the dead — is hiding a much bigger, much more profound miracle.
The miracle is this — Why on earth do people even talk about Jesus today?
He had no money. No power. He wasn’t a king — not even a duke or a prince! He wasn’t born into any wealth and didn’t create any along the way — at least, no wealth that we can count with physical tokens. Jesus was some poor guy who gave a few speeches and was then tortured to death by the Romans. There are countless people who fit that description, and you probably haven’t heard of any of them.
There’s very little historical evidence that Jesus actually existed — there’s even a debate about that. And yet he’s a main character in the most popular book ever written, and named by billions of people as one of the most important figures in their lives. That is a miracle.
Why do people still talk about Jesus today?
Even if the ressurection actually happened — that isn’t enough to explain it. Lots of people were believed to have come back from the dead. Those stories all died out like, just like the legacies of so many forgotten kings.
So how on earth is the story of Jesus alive today? How on earth did that happen? And why him? That’s the miracle. It’s difficult to think of a single historical figure who’s had anywhere near the same amount of impact on the world — and yet this guy didn’t have an army to go around killing people, a throne of gold, or even a book that he wrote.
Why are we even talking about him? That’s the miracle to me.
We talk about Jesus because his message resonated so strongly with the people of his world, that they remember the messenger. Jesus’ message was that even the smallest people matter. Even outsiders, prostitutes, lepers, tax collectors, the blind — everyone good, law abiding people love to hate — yes, God loves those people too.
Jesus’ message spread like crazy among the poor in the roman empire — and there were a lot of poor people.
Jesus’ message got a signal boost with the emperor Constantine adopting Christianity before the battle of Milvian Bridge. This battle won Constantine control of half the Roman empire. Constantine claimed to have seen a vision of a cross in the sky, with the words “In this sign, you conquer.” The vision compelled him to convert, he says, and he had his soldiers paint a cross on their shields.
Imagine being one of those soldiers. This idea of Jesus has given you hope for a long time, but it’s been risky, because you could even be tortured by the state for saying you believed in it. You stuck with it because it gave you hope, and you longed for the new world, when God’s rule would be present in every day life. This soldier thing — that was just a job.
Then, your general says to paint a cross on your shield. How much harder would you fight?
Why did that happen? Maybe the sources which say Constantine had a vision are accurate. Maybe he hallucinated.
Or maybe Constantine knew all of his soldiers believed in this thing which seemed harmless enough, and figured his soldiers would fight harder if their leader believed in the same god.
With the rise of martial power and a political structure behind Christianity, it’s no surprise that the message of Jesus lasted as long as it did. We still have buildings in the Capitol structured after roman architecture.
There are small number of symbols from the ancient world which still find expression in our modern world today. Most of them were trappings of power and control — the one exception is a total loser of a Jew, born to nobody, who was tortured to death in the armpit of the Roman empire, whose legacy went on to rule the world. That’s a miracle.
Technology may very well give us the ability to bring people back from the dead. That ability won’t matter much, if we don’t carry through with Jesus’ message of love and inclusion for everyone. There’s incredible power behind that message.
One thing we’ve learned from our scientific studies of the physical world: transmitting a message over a long distance requires a lot of power. How did such a loser manage to generate so much more power than kings and emperors, so that his signal comes in clearer than those from strong men with more power in their day, who are much closer to us in space and time?
That’s a real miracle.