Why I Am a Believer

 

believeThis question was originally raised as a topic of discussion in our Sunday School class.  However, it has been something that I routinely address during Bible studies at the jail.  I address it often because the constant change in jail population brings new faces – men whom I haven’t met yet.  Therefore, I find that I must reintroduce myself to the class.  Inevitably, I explain why I am a Christian.

Before I begin, let me point out that your reasons to follow Jesus might be different than mine.  Some people have had profound encounters with God and have become His followers as a result.  Others were led to Jesus by way of a series of events that were unmistakably divine.  I don’t believe there is a wrong or right way to come to faith.  We each have our own story and reasons.  This is mine…

I am a pragmatist.  By that, I mean that although I have emotions like everyone else, I don’t prefer to make my decisions based on those emotions.  Rather, I prefer to process available data the best that I can, and then make informed decisions that seem logical.  Often those decisions are made in spite of the way that I feel.  I am not purporting that this a superior way of thinking – it’s just the way that I am wired.

My pragmatism has led me to several inescapable conclusions. First, the existence of the universe has led me to the conclusion that there is a Being, Mind, or God that created everything (click here for a brief explanation of what I mean).

Second, the claims of one Jesus of Nazareth are extremely unique.  Not only did He set Himself up as God (many have done that), but He pinned those claims on His resurrection from the dead (Matt 12:39-40).  To paraphrase the claims of Jesus: if He comes back from the dead then He is God.  If He fails to rise from the dead, then we can ignore Him.

This is an extremely interesting claim.  In the history of humankind no one has ever been able to will themselves alive after being dead for several days.  It is an impossible feat.  Therefore, if Jesus – or anyone, for that matter – can return from the dead, on their own power, then no one can justifiably ignore their claims to godhood.

Do we have any good evidence to lead us to a conclusion regarding the resurrection claims of Jesus?

History suggests that Jesus lived and died sometime in what we now refer to the first century, A.D.  This is long before I came into existence and so I have no firsthand knowledge of the resurrection.  However, like any event in history, if we have reliable, firsthand accounts, then we may be able to make some judgments about the event.

I believe that the historical record (Biblical and non-Biblical) reveals that Jesus was condemned to die by the Romans.  The record also reveals that several days after His death, His followers claimed that He had returned physically from the dead and that they spoke to Him and handled Him.  Because those who rejected the claims made by the disciples of Jesus could not produce the corpse of Jesus, it stands to reason that they recognized that the tomb was empty. But, why was it empty? What happened to the body?

Three of the witnesses who claimed to see Jesus after His death recorded their accounts (Matthew, John, & Peter [Mark’s Gospel]).  A fourth person, Luke, did not see Jesus,  but interviewed sources who did and recorded their reports.  All four of these accounts have been preserved to this day with only insignificant changes.

The historical record also reveals that Christianity came into existence in the first century.  It is not, as some believe, a branch of Judaism.  In some aspects, it was a radical departure from Judaism.  It seemingly began when a small group of untrained peasants began to proclaim that they had seen Jesus alive after His resurrection.  Most of these men would eventually face brutal torture before being murdered for this testimony.  Yet, none of them changed their story.  Obviously, they were convinced that they had seen Jesus alive.

Yet, we do not have just the testimony of Jesus’ friends.  We also have adverse testimony.  James, a half-brother of Jesus, was once a non-believer (John 7:5).  Something evidently changed for him because he would become the leader of the Jerusalem church.  Also, Saul of Tarsus, who was a persecutor of Christians and had official documents giving him the authority to arrest believers, joined the church.  Not only did he join the church, but he would become the most influential Christian of all time!

What would make both friends of Jesus and enemies of Jesus depart from their Jewish faith and begin a new, persecuted movement?  What would cause them to live as paupers and go to torturous deaths when they could have easily avoided these things?

I believe that the most reasonable, logical answer to these questions is that both these skeptics and friends died believing that Jesus had risen from the dead.

Why did the Jews not produce the body of Jesus and end the Christian movement?  Why did the Romans not produce the body of Jesus and end the uproar between Christians and Jews?  I believe the answer to these questions is quite obvious: neither the Jews nor Romans had the body of Jesus.

To my way of thinking, the most reasonable explanation for the empty tomb is that Jesus walked out of it alive.  This would explain why the Jews and Romans did not have His body.  It would also explain why the disciples of Jesus – and even skeptics and enemies – were willing to be tortured and die.  As well, it would explain why these men were willing to depart from their historical, Jewish faith and become outcasts.

And, this is why I am a follower of Jesus.  I am a follower because I have found the evidence indisputably overwhelming.  I believe it points to the only logical conclusion: that Jesus is God and is worthy of my worship and discipleship.  My pragmatism has led me to faith.

Dane Cramer is a backpacker, Christian blogger, jail chaplain, and author of two books: Romancing the Trail and The Nephilim: A Monster Among Us.


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