The most amazing discovery of my life is the fact that Jesus is a genuine Being Who came to us as God on earth. Having faith without evidence to back it up is useless! Who cares what you or I might believe? But we can prove now based on the testimony of people that we used to think were dead that Jesus the Christ actually walked the earth two millennia ago knowing things about God, reality, death, the afterlife, and the meaning and purpose of human life that He could not have known if He had not been an emissary from the Godhead. Some years ago this truth hit me hard, with a joy so deep I cannot even express it! The Lord isn’t just a religious figure, but rather He is an elevated Being Who came to earth with an essential purpose. So then I was determined to know that purpose, and if possible to help the Lord fulfill it; and my first shock was the realization that the religion that bears the Lord’s name has very little to do with Him. Far from coming to earth just to die for our sins, Jesus spent three years sharing with us a set of teachings that we now can demonstrate came through Him directly from God, unprecedented in their elegance and simplicity, and entirely sufficient all by themselves to bring the kingdom of God on earth.
For most of the first millennium after the Lord’s death, His manner of passing was so little remarked that amid the plentiful uses of symbols like the anchor, the fish, the vine, and the dove, the use of the cross as a Christian symbol is nowhere to be found. But today that Christian cross is everywhere! The cross that depicts the Lord’s manner of death has become the symbol of Christianity because between the fourth and eighth centuries a series of Roman councils invented a new religion based in fear which replaced the gentle movement based in love that Jesus had so well begun. If I am wrong about this, I am going to a hell that the dead insist does not exist; but if what the evidence tells us is true, then it is time at last to move beyond that old false and fear-based Christianity.
I have given you a graphic photograph of the Lord dying, nailed to a cross, so you can better appreciate the ghastliness of all those sanitized Christian crosses! Suspended above the altar in my husband’s brand-new church is the archetypical Catholic cross that bears a life-sized, full-color Jesus. The few dribbles of blood are decorous, true, and the face of the Lord is beatific, but no one is allowed to enter that magnificent modern church without being made to feel sinful and unworthy because Jesus had to die a ghastly death in order for God to forgive us. In the New England Protestant church of my childhood the sanctuary cross was of bare wood, but it was nonetheless large and prominent. Never for a moment are Christians allowed to forget the manner of the Lord’s death, nor can we escape the Christian notion that it was entirely our fault! As the great mid-century stand-up comedian Lenny Bruce once said, “If Jesus had been killed twenty years ago, Catholic school children would be wearing little electric chairs around their necks instead of crosses.”
What follows are the actual words of a twenty-first-century Christian preacher. This dear man believes with all his heart that he is devoting his life to Jesus, but is there anything in what he says that seems to be related to the Lord’s Gospel words? He says, “Many people can’t see how a loving God would let people spend eternity in hell. The problem is that we are all born in sin because of the Garden of Eden! God tells us there is only one way to cleanse ourselves of sin, and that is the plan that our loving God gave us. He sent His only Son to die for the sins of all humanity. Jesus was born of a virgin so He was without sin, and then He lived His life without sin, so when He died on the cross he could pay with His blood for the sins of all mankind. That is why it is only faith in Jesus Christ that can wipe away our sins so we can spend eternity with a holy God. Those who never accept Christ will die still in sin, so they cannot be reconciled with God. This is God’s loving plan to save us.”
Please re-read those words. Is there anything about the Gospel teachings of Jesus on love, forgiveness, and bringing the kingdom of God on earth that seems to you to comport at all with what this earnest preacher says?
Even for those who don’t realize that it has nothing to do with the teachings of Jesus, Christian theology is plain off-putting. And many prominent thinkers have pointed out the fact that it makes no sense! Eighteenth-century French philosopher the Marquis de Sade said, “To judge from the notions expounded by theologians, one must conclude that God created most men simply with a view to crowding hell.” And no less an intellectual light than Albert Einstein wisely noted that, “I cannot imagine a God who rewards and punishes the objects of his creation and is but a reflection of human frailty.” It is no surprise that in the United States, which has the world’s largest Christian population, the most prominent religious persuasion has of late become “no religion at all.”
We owe a tremendous debt to those who preserved the Lord’s words for two thousand years! Thanks to the Apostle Paul, the Roman Emperors, and all the nameless worthies who played their part in advancing a religion not based in Jesus that still venerated the name of Jesus, you and I have the amazing chance to read an approximation of what Jesus said. We never will know what might have been forgotten in the couple of generations before the Gospels were written down, nor what those Roman councils might have removed; but, wonderfully, enough remains for us to reconstruct what the Lord came to do so we can advance His true work today. It was inevitable that a religion based in random fear-based human notions eventually would lose its appeal, but what is wonderful is the fact that despite a broad-based disenchantment with Christianity, in survey after survey Jesus Himself still shines! His favorable rating in the United States remains as high as ninety percent.
Jesus did not come to die for our sins. He tells us in plain Gospel words that neither He nor God judges anyone, and those that we used to think were dead tell us that the death of Jesus on the cross has never made an afterlife difference for a single human being. Furthermore, that whole false theology of substitutionary atonement is insulting to God and humiliating to Jesus! When we read His Gospel words, we find Him clearly telling us why He came. Other objectives He might have had have been lost, but for now these five are a coherent plan:
* He Came to Teach Us to Relate to God directly. We can demonstrate that God is real! So at last you and I can speak to God on our own, and God will lovingly listen.
* He Came to Teach Us to be Seekers. Far from wanting us to stick with old religious beliefs, Jesus urged us to remain forever open to new divine revelations!
* He Came to Teach us How to Grow Spiritually. The teachings of Jesus on forgiveness and love are the easiest and most effective method for achieving rapid spiritual growth ever found.
* He Came to Save the World. Humankind now risks prompt extinction on a desolated planet, but the teachings of Jesus have the power instead to bring the kingdom of God on earth.
Yes, the Easter miracle really did happen. We are told by upper-level beings that for Jesus to suffer a public death and then rise from the dead had not been part of His plan. But He had found it so difficult to convince His followers that despite the fact that our bodies decay our spiritual lives really are eternal that He decided to demonstrate for them and for us the fact that death is an illusion. It doesn’t matter, of course, when He decided to do it, but we are assured that is why He did it. The fact that Jesus’s ghastly death and His re-animation of His dead body were all done to demonstrate that life goes on altogether transforms the Easter Week events from humiliating proof of our unworthiness into a glorious demonstration of God’s perfect love.
So at last Jesus rises! It is happening now! Amazingly, Jesus the Anointed One, the Christ, the Son of the Living God now rises from the false religion that has blessedly preserved His teachings, and He speaks to us freshly in 2019 as clearly as He spoke to us long ago. And just as the Lord’s first listeners were called to leave their fishing nets and follow Him, so you and I are being called now to put aside all our lesser struggles and begin to share the Lord’s Way with the world. Of course, since His Way is not a religion, it won’t matter whether we are Christians, Jews, atheists, or any religion at all: we can forget about religions and join hands worldwide as we share God’s perfect love. This is such a joyous time to be alive!
Rather than the fear- and guilt-based gloss that Holy Week has always carried, eased just a bit on Easter morning by the comfort of lilies and chocolate eggs, you and I have no reason any more to feel anything but gratitude that Jesus chose to die as He did to demonstrate that eternal life is our birthright, no matter what our religion might be. What Jesus is demonstrating for us all is that God loves us perfectly, no matter what! And living in the certainty of God’s perfect love, all of us can join hands at last and learn to love everyone else on earth.
I will be traveling during this coming week, so I have invited a beloved Guest to share with us His thoughts on Easter morning. I hope you will welcome Him with all your heart!