How Christianity *Really* Got Started
Skeptics have a difficult time explaining how Christianity really got started. What gave 11 ordinary and otherwise unremarkable men the confidence to proclaim the gospel in the face of immediate and intense opposition? What was it that transformed Paul—previously a sworn enemy of Christianity—into such a dedicated and unrelenting advocate for the gospel?
Every single disciple died a martyr’s death (with the exception of John, who they tried to kill by boiling in a pot of oil). The question for the skeptic is: Why? Why would these men choose to suffer and die for something they knew to be a lie? People die for a lie all the time. At Jonestown, for instance, hundreds of men and women were deceived into suicide by “Kool-Aid.” But people don’t voluntarily die for something they know to be a lie.
No one has helped me understand this better than Chuck Colson. He was a Marine Corps colonel and President Richard Nixon’s “hatchet man,” the guy Nixon trusted to do what no one else would—mostly the illegal and dirty stuff. He earned the title because he was ruthless.
Colson was the kingpin behind the Watergate wiretapping scandal. He teamed up with five other guys, all of them hardened veterans from the Marines, the FBI, and the CIA. But the wiretapping operation went south, and they got caught. When the press broke the story, Colson called the group together to come up with alibis. They agreed on a false story and vowed that they would stick to that false narrative to the end.
And then they were called in for questioning.
Colson says, “Do you know how long it took for each of us to break? Under threat of prison, we started pointing fingers at each other in less than a week.” And that was with a small group of highly trained operatives. Colson then turns the discussion toward the disciples, asking, “Are you going to try to convince me that a bunch of untrained fishermen maintained their story, unbroken, to the end, as each was tortured and executed? Not a chance.”
Colson is exactly right. Just consider what happened to the Apostle Paul because of his testimony. On five separate occasions, he was given 39 lashes with a whip for preaching. Each time he got up and kept preaching. Three times he was beaten with rods, which is a step up from the whip. At least once (but probably more) he was publicly stoned. He was shipwrecked and nearly died at sea in his devotion to take the gospel to others. And in the end, he was executed.
Paul’s apostleship couldn’t have been a con game, because what would Paul have gained from his lie? The reward for his devotion wasn’t money, sex, or power; it was a back full of scars and an unmarked grave.
What makes someone willing to accept an early death like that? What makes someone willing to endure suffering time and time and time again? What transforms Christianity’s #1 Enemy into Christianity’s #1 Emissary?
Only an actual vision of the resurrected Jesus. Paul died for Jesus because he knew Jesus had died for him, had defeated death for him, and had risen again to new life for him. Without that assurance, the strongest men in the world would crumble when faced with opposition. But with that assurance, ordinary men and women become vessels of courage, hope, and otherworldly power.