Jesus’ resurrection is the most radical claim that any religion has ever made about God. The idea that God would become a man in order to suffer the most humiliating death is difficult to believe. Now we take it for granted because it is a story we hear all of the time, but back then it would’ve been a stunning claim and it still should be received as such. Crucifixion is described by Josephus to be “the most wretched of deaths.” It’s not terrible merely because it is the most painful, it is terrible because it is also the most shameful. I believe the shame aspect of Jesus’ death is the most significant part of his suffering. His divine honor was replaced with utter inferiority and derision. You have the son of the highest king being brought before men to die. The very act of crucifixion was a ritual intended to strip you of honor. Nailing your arms and legs to the cross, for example, represented a total loss of power. This is significant given that this is the almighty God that we’re talking about here.
It’s difficult to relate to the horror of shame in our individualistic society. A collectivist society like Japan can relate to this better than we can because shame takes high precedence (which explains their high suicide rate) as it did in ancient times. But imagine your most embarrassing moment. If you can’t think of one then visualize yourself nakedly defecating in front of your friends and family. As juvenile as this might sound, I urge you to try to visualize this event and their faces because I want you to feel the force of this shame. Suppose that this moment has become publicly known via the internet as a meme or a vine. Now you’re a laughing stock of the world, the equivalent of a “Bad Luck Brian” but worse. You couldn’t even walk outside without someone mocking you. Jesus’ shame is similar, but infinitely worse because of his divine status. The greater your status, the greater your humiliation.
It was foolish to the Romans and Jews to create a religion that proclaims the cross as its central message. Jesus was most likely crucified naked, and even worse, he lost the ability to control certain bodily functions like the release of excrement. This is not to say that he actually defecated, but it does emphasize how shameful the cross is. In fact, it’s so terrible that in ancient times it was almost unspeakable. The most detailed description we have of a crucifixion are the gospels themselves. The cross was proudly declared by Christians as proof of Jesus’ greatness, but it was used by society as proof of their madness. As Justin Martyr points out, “They say that our madness consists in the fact that we put a crucified man in second place after the unchangeable and eternal God.” Go back to the scenario I asked you to imagine and suppose that a handful of followers made you out to be a god after that event. Do you see how ludicrous that would be?
It’s no less ludicrous in Jesus’ case, but if this is the case then Christianity should’ve died within the first century. However, this is not what happened. Christianity multiplied at surprising rates in the first few centuries of its existence. In the eyes of the Jews, Greeks, and Romans, the entire notion of a crucified God was as absurd as claiming pigs fell from the clouds. Paul embraces this truth when he says, “the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness” (1 Cor 1:18). Now if Paul was just telling the Jews and the Gentiles a horror story at their bedtime, then maybe Christianity would survive. But instead he presents it as a historical fact. Every reputable historian agrees that Jesus was crucified. Even the skeptic John Dominic Crossan said, “That he was crucified is as sure as anything historical can ever be.” No critic of early Christianity ever denied that the crucifixion occurred, but in fact used it to their advantage. How then could something so ridiculous come to be so highly regarded?
The only explanation for that is the resurrection. An insurmountable difficulty like this can only be overcome by an impossible act. The only being we know who can do this in principle is God. To quote Paul again, “if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain” (1 Cor 15:14). It’s no good to propose that the resurrection is an invention of the apostles in order to redeem Jesus’ honor. Why would they affirm He is God after He was humiliated on the cross? That only increases the humiliation and increases the problem! It’s far more sensible to affirm He was a martyr of some injustice than to affirm He is God. Making it believable is the goal of any fiction that’s being disgusted as truth. If Christianity is an invention then the apostles failed miserably in making it believable because it was regarded as foolish by the Jews and the Gentiles. The only event that can overturn the shame of the cross is a real resurrection.
As oxymoronic as this may sound, I believe Jesus rose from the dead because it is ridiculous and impossible. Jesus conquered death so that I may live. May He receive the honor, praise, and glory forever and ever. Amen.