Tim LaHaye unravels the mystery behind a 2000-year-old, worldwide fascination with one person—Jesus Christ.
- David C Cook
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WHY THE WORLD IS STILL FASCINATED BY HIM
By TIM LAHAYE, DAVID MINASIAN
David C. CookCopyright © 2009 Tim LaHaye
All rights reserved.
To invoke a well-worn cliché, truth is indeed stranger than fiction. Never in a million years would a novelist or playwright attempt to create such a story ... a story of a young carpenter from an obscure village who would go on to become the most influential person in all of history ... a story of a man who would continue to impact the world two thousand years after His execution ... a story of a man who could miraculously heal the sick, predict the future, and even rise from the dead! No one would ever believe such a story ... right?
It has been estimated that there are currently between seventy and one hundred million people in America alone who do indeed believe such a story, and as many as two billion more worldwide. Not only are most of these people convinced the story is true, they have gone so far as to stake their eternal destinies upon it.
Influence Far and Wide
During a break from our TV interview on Larry King Live in March of 2006, Larry surprised Jerry Jenkins and me with this statement: "I am not a believer, but I have the utmost respect for Jesus Christ. I believe He was the most influential person who ever lived."
Why would Larry King make such a statement?
Because it's true.
Of the estimated more than thirteen billion people who have lived on the earth since the dawn of recorded history, why does the one named Jesus Christ draw so much attention—more attention without question than any other person? The world has always been, is now, and will forever be fascinated by Jesus. But why?
Before we attempt to answer that question, let's consider the facts: He has served as the inspiration for more literature, more music, and more works of art than any other person in history. Millions of churches throughout the world have been built in His honor. Our calendar has been set according to His birth. The two biggest holidays celebrated worldwide each year, Christmas and Easter, commemorate His birth and His resurrection. Nearly everyone who has lived on this planet during the last two millennia has heard of Him. Is there any other person who comes to mind for which the same can be said?
Amazingly, His influence in the world has not diminished over the course of the succeeding centuries. Despite ever-evolving cultural changes and notwithstanding media reports to the contrary, Jesus is just as relevant to this generation as He was when He walked the shores of Galilee. Throughout the ages, people inspired by His teachings have taken the initiative to build the majority of the world's hospitals, instigate the formation of most of our colleges and universities, and launch countless humanitarian programs in nearly every part of the globe.
Even those who discount the miraculous side of Jesus' persona nevertheless find His teachings to be astute and infused with wisdom. Secularists and followers of other religions alike seem compelled, at the very least, to esteem Him as a great teacher or wise sage. However, simply having an abundant level of intellectual insight doesn't really begin to account for the amount of adoration Jesus has received during the past two thousand years. Have there been other great thinkers and philosophers down through the ages who are as worthy? Confucius, Descartes, Hume, Kant, Kierkegaard, Marx, Nietzsche, Rousseau, Russell, and Sartre are names familiar to those who have studied the subject of philosophy. Has the level of devotion to any of these men risen to even a fraction of that which has been afforded Jesus?
Then there are the "big three" of the ancient Greek philosophers—Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle—who together are said to have formed the philosophical foundation of Western culture. And yet, despite being in the public eye for only three and a half years, Jesus and His teachings have arguably impacted the world far more than the collective erudition of these three great philosophers whose combined careers totaled more than 150 years.
Still, there are others who deem the attributes of Jesus to extend far beyond that of mere wisdom. Many believe Jesus to be a prophet, a Messiah, even God in human form. And it is these claims that have motivated some to go to great lengths to try to curtail His influence in the world. Down through the centuries untold millions of Christian martyrs have been subjected to horribly agonizing deaths on account of their allegiance to Jesus, beginning with the stoning of the apostle Stephen shortly after the crucifixion of Christ and continuing ever since. By the Middle Ages, the various types of torture and killing devices used on Christians had become so grisly as to almost defy description. It seems there was no shortage of creative ways in which martyrs could be stretched, burned, flayed, sawed, pierced, hung, boiled, or drowned.
The Writing on the Wall
Throughout history countless writers have felt compelled to publish their personal perspectives on the historical facts surrounding Jesus and His teachings. The works of second-century writers such as Irenaeus and Tertullian, for example, support those of the New Testament writers Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Other apologists (defenders of the faith) from Augustine to Francis Schaeffer followed in succeeding centuries.
Of course, there have been numerous detractors as well throughout the last two millennia. One such author was Englishman H.G. Wells. Although overshadowed by his famous science fiction works that included The War of the Worlds, The Time Machine, and The Invisible Man, Wells was also a prolific writer of nonfiction. One of his efforts, titled The Outline of History, was a twelve-hundred-page volume that traced the history of our planet from its supposed primordial origins up through World War I.
Wells was an outspoken socialist and ardent promoter of Darwin's theory of evolution. And he was certainly no fan of Jesus of Nazareth. It therefore must have come as a bit of a shock to discover that upon the completion of his manuscript, Wells had devoted a staggering forty-one pages to Jesus Christ, which turned out to be a far larger amount than he had bestowed on any other historical person mentioned in the work, including his personal hero, Plato, who received a mere two-page mention from the writer.
Likewise, the secular Encyclopaedia Britannica in a recent edition saw fit to dedicate more than 21,000 words to Jesus Christ, which turned out to be the largest of any of its biographical entries, surpassing that of former President Bill Clinton, who collected only 2,511 words.
A more compassionate oeuvre of Jesus can be found written by the celebrated nineteenth-century American author Mark Twain. In his 1869 publication The Innocents Abroad, Twain recounted his travels through the Holy Land, and in particular the city where Jesus spent His youth:
In the starlight, Galilee has no boundaries but the broad compass of the heavens, and is a theater meet for great events; meet for the birth of a religion able to save the world; and meet for the stately Figure appointed to stand upon its stage and proclaim its high decrees.
Although not as well known as some of his other works such as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Innocents Abroad became Twain's biggest-selling book during his lifetime.
In more recent times there has been the unprecedented (and unexpected) success of the Left Behind series of novels written by myself and my cowriter Jerry Jenkins. This fictionalized account of the last days scenario as presented in the book of Revelation has struck a chord with readers who have been looking forward with anticipation to the promised return of the Lord Jesus Christ. With sixteen books in the series and more than seventy million copies sold, it has become one of the biggest-selling adult fiction series of all time, no doubt due to our readers' fascination with Jesus and the subject of biblical prophecy.
Extra, Extra—Read All about It
If you were to look closely at America's three leading newsmagazines—Time, Newsweek, and U.S. News & World Report—you might notice a rather odd recurring phenomenon. These magazines are dedicated to covering the top political, economic, scientific, and entertainment news from around the world each week. And although they occasionally touch on religious issues, these would certainly not be classified as religious publications. And yet, they have placed Jesus Christ on their covers more than two dozen times in the last decade! In fact, Jesus has appeared on more covers of Time than any other person who has ever lived, with the exception of the last few U.S. presidents. It begs the question as to why these news organizations who deal primarily with current events would find the details surrounding a Jewish carpenter from an insignificant Middle Eastern village who lived and died two thousand years ago so compelling as to feature cover stories about Him again and again. What's going on?
Time magazine itself has featured Jesus on its cover an astonishing twenty-one times during the last seven decades—and that's in addition to another sixty-five cover stories dealing with the subject of Christianity during this same period. To put this in perspective, examine the following list, which chronicles the number of times each of these other famous individuals (excluding recent U.S. presidents) have appeared on the cover of Time since the beginning of World War II:
O. J. Simpson—6
Martin Luther King—5
Osama bin Laden—5
J. Edgar Hoover—2
Curiously, the news magazines of today that feature a portrait of Jesus on their covers are most often accompanied by stories that give credibility to ancient Gnostic ideas while simultaneously undercutting proven historical biblical data. Taken from the Greek word meaning knowledge, Gnosticism primarily teaches that the human soul is divine and is trapped in a material world created by an imperfect god. In order to escape this inferior world, one must obtain esoteric spiritual knowledge reserved only for an elite few.
Frequently, these magazine articles claim to clear up some ancient mystery, reveal some hidden secret, or offer some new insights. In nearly every case the readers are asked to jettison their traditional beliefs about Christianity or encouraged to merge their "outdated" views of Christ with more "intellectually sound" Gnostic concepts. Often these new discoveries and new appraisals are nothing more than variations of old Gnostic ideas, which are based on second- or third-century documents of dubious origins that have been repackaged to appeal to a postmodern culture.
Similarly, there has been a resurgence of these identical Gnostic ideas in a number of recent high-profile books whose primary objective, it appears, is to undermine the historical facts surrounding the life of Jesus. Chief among such modern-day pro-Gnostic tomes is The Da Vinci Code by author Dan Brown, which spent more than two years on the New York Times best-seller list. Its revisionist claims include the assertions that Jesus was married and that His divinity was a concept invented by the Emperor Constantine in AD 325. When confronted with proof of the innumerable historical errors contained in the book, Brown defenders simply sidestep the issue by stating that The Da Vinci Code is a work of fiction.
A plethora of other like-minded books are on the market, such as The Jesus Papers by mysticism expert Michael Baigent; The Jesus Dynasty by religious studies professor James Tabor; Beyond Belief by Gnostic specialist Elaine Pagels; and Misquoting Jesus by lapsed evangelical Bart Ehrman, all of which, unlike The Da Vinci Code, make no claim of being fictional. These books elaborate on many of Gnosticism's theories, including the idea that Jesus didn't actually die as a result of the crucifixion, that the resurrection was fraudulently staged, and that the Bible is so filled with textual errors as to be completely worthless.
Traditional Christians would claim that today's revival and promotion of Gnosticism amounts to nothing more than a full frontal attack on the basic doctrines of Christianity. Gnostic promoters, on the other hand, would say that biblical doctrines were corrupted from the start and that only now is the full truth being revealed. So who is to be believed?
Hurray for Hollywood
Not surprisingly, the success of the book The Da Vinci Code caught the eye of Hollywood producers shortly after it made its way to the top of the best-sellers list. Noted actor Tom Hanks teamed up with film director Ron Howard to bring Brown's thriller to the big screen in 2006. The film ended up grossing more than $200 million domestically and was heralded as a bona fide success by the media. Many of the same anti-Christian themes that had permeated the book made it onto the screen.
Two years earlier, another Jesus-themed motion picture, Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, had taken Hollywood by surprise. Gibson's film did better than The Da Vinci Code at the domestic box office, bringing in more than $370 million. However, both films would ultimately succeed beyond anyone's expectations by generating in excess of $1 billion each once the foreign box office receipts and DVD sales had been counted.
Theologically speaking, the two films could not have been further apart. For many, The Passion, despite its reliance on some nonbiblical texts, was seen as an attempt to make a film that was somewhat faithful to the Scriptures upon which it was based. This was, to say the least, astonishing for a film produced and directed by a major Hollywood insider. The Da Vinci Code, on the other hand, was more typical of Hollywood and was seen as a blatant attack against various biblical precepts that millions hold dear. Media watchers were painfully aware of the double standard that had been employed by the studios regarding the production and distribution of these two films. As expected, The Da Vinci Code was enthusiastically embraced and promoted through the Hollywood system while The Passion was thwarted at every stage of its production and distribution. Only through Mel Gibson's tenacity and resourcefulness (financial and otherwise) was The Passion able to eventually see the light of day.
However, what is truly amazing in all this is that here were two major modern-day Hollywood films whose story lines, despite the polarity of their theology, revolved around a Jewish carpenter who hailed from an insignificant little town twenty centuries ago. And yet these films were still culturally relevant, controversial, and able to generate billions of dollars—two thousand years after the fact!
Who Do You Say I Am?
The Bible records an important exchange that took place between Jesus and His disciples while they were visiting various towns in the region of Caesarea Philippi. Jesus had been praying alone when He was suddenly approached by His disciples. As they began to walk together along the road, Jesus turned and asked two crucial questions. So significant was this discussion that it was recorded in the first three books of the New Testament (referred to as the Synoptic Gospels)—in Matthew 16, Mark 8, and Luke 9:
When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, "Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?" So they said, "Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter answered and said, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." Jesus answered and said to him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven." (Matthew 16:13–17)
Excerpted from JESUS by TIM LAHAYE, DAVID MINASIAN. Copyright © 2009 Tim LaHaye. Excerpted by permission of David C. Cook.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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