There is nothing like a breath of fresh air after a bout of mask-wearing or a lockdown, and the same is true in looking at life, and the claims of the Christian faith. C. S. Lewis pointed out that ‘Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.’ I think that was one of the first things I sensed about Christianity even when I, as a twelve year old, I was bogged down in Leviticus, like Alice in Wonderland without a compass. I felt more than thought that this might be incomprehensible, but it is surely important! As the fog started to lift – all too slowly – it became clear that Christianity centres on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
There are many important people in history. Is not Jesus just another one – or even the most important one? That does not quite fit, and the more we ponder it the more incongruous it seems. We may be impressed by some people of history, particularly those who have shown integrity, lovingkindness, and courage. Others are set before us as celebrities who have achieved in the sporting arena and others are made famous mainly by media acclaim. Greta probably won’t save the planet, and the Australian of the Year could well be just the Brat of the Year. But Jesus is sinless. He is in command of every situation, and every word is incisive and truthful. Nothing is amiss. He is gentle and courageous; the leader and the servant; the Lion and the Lamb. He is holy, blameless, pure, and set apart from sinners even while being totally involved in their lives.
Furthermore, His death is unique. Socrates was courageous in death, as was Dietrich Bonhoeffer. John Wesley was confident to proclaim of the early Methodists: ‘our people die well.’ Yet Jesus’ death is different. It resembles a martyrdom in some ways, and has been mistaken as such, but that is insufficient. He died on behalf of sinners; His death was an act of substitution. Even before we understand it properly we sense that Jesus went to the cross when He did not have to. It was an act of self-sacrifice.
Muhammad, as a contrast, simply died of fever in A.D.632, while Buddha may have died after eating contaminated meat. Jesus’ death is different, yet He did not throw Himself on an unexploded hand grenade in a fox hole. He came quite deliberately to die, because the wages of sin is death. Without His death, we would have to pay for our own sins. He died on behalf of people who were very unlike Him – those who are weak, sinful and His enemies (Rom.5:6, 8, 10).
Lastly, He defeated death, the last enemy, by rising from the dead. Muhammad stayed dead, and so did Buddha, Confucius, Socrates, and millions and millions of others. Kings die, popes die, presidents die, sporting heroes die. On the other hand, Jesus is alive forevermore. Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin and Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. These things are important, but not in the same category as Jesus’ rising from the dead.
Lewis got it right: Christianity cannot be moderately important. If we sit back and contemplate it with the detachment with which we might contemplate fiscal policy in the modern world, we have not understood it. Think on these things: the sinless life of Jesus; the atoning death of Jesus; and the everlasting triumph of Jesus. If these things are not true, Christians are most to be pitied (1 Cor.15:12-19). If these things are true, find joy and peace in believing.
– Peter Barnes
Peter Barnes is the editor of AP and pastor at Revesby Presbyterian Church NSW.