Quest for the Real Jesus: Sermon by Rev. Canon Patrick P. Augustine, Rector Christ Episcopal Church, La Crosse, Wisconcin


The human appetite to learn about Jesus is insatiable -- never satisfied. In spite of all the skepticism of the human mind, there persists compulsive interest in the person Jesus, who continues to fascinate, intrigue and draw people with his wonderful life and teaching.[1][1] CNN, Associated Press, FOX News, Discovery Channel, CBC and major newspapers feature the latest news on Jesus. This week, filmmakers James Cameron (Oscar-winning “Titanic” director) and Simcha Jacobovici presented their claims regarding two stone ossuaries (somewhat similar to coffins, meant to contain the bones of the deceased)) which they said had probably held the remains of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. One of my senior parishioner during Thursday Bible study last week said, “Why are they robbing me of my faith? First it was the DaVinci Code, then the Gospel of Judas, and now ‘The Lost tomb of Jesus?”
Recent years have been very good for the Jesus business in America. I don’t mean that proper “business” about Jesus that goes on in churches, but the profitable trade in Jesus by the variety of publications and other media that cause commotion in both the academic world and the church, feeding the demand they have thus created for more of the same. Sales in scandal are high. Stocks in shock are rising. Futures on the historical Jesus are sound. Commerce in Christ has rarely been better.[2][2] Tova Bracha, a Jewish woman in Israel who lives in an apartment next to this ancient Jewish burial tomb joked, “Maybe I can make a fortune selling trinkets to tourists. Maybe the value of my home will soar.”
Sensational news sells where consumerism, the drive above all else to acquire material or intellectual wealth, has become the dominant philosophy of life. In the enlightened society of the West, discoveries of new things are patented, which conveys the rights of ownership and the potential for profit. In the last several years there has been great interest in the “historical Jesus.” Each year new books and magazine articles appear and the media offer new programs. Since the 1970s, college courses on the topic of the “historical Jesus” have drawn overflowing enrollments. Our age is commonly said to have experienced an information explosion. On the surface it appears that this includes an insatiable intellectual hunger to find out more about the man Jesus from Galilee. Jesus would look at such a crowd and have compassion on them. But the search for the “historical Jesus” has not produced many like Matthew, Peter, James and John who, following Jesus, came to confess to him "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Matthew 16:16). On the contrary, contemporary critical scholarship is speculative, skeptical, and unconcerned as to what “really happened” in its claim to be freeing Christian faith from dogmatic entanglement with “fundamentalists.” Such quests, filled with inventive, imaginative speculation such as the alleged discovery of the “Lost Tomb of Jesus,” do not bring anyone closer to the person of Jesus. In the Wizard of Oz, Dorothy said to her dog, “Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.”
The followers of Christ need have no problem with the claims of the filmmakers about this discovery. It is not even new. In 1980, ten ossuaries were found in the industrial area of Talpiot. 27 years ago, archaeologist Professor Amos Kloner of Ban Ilan University published a detailed report on the findings. He said, “There is no likelihood that Jesus and his relatives had a family tomb. They were a Galilee family with no ties in Jerusalem. The Talpiot tomb belonged to a middle-class family from the first century C. E.” The names on these ossuaries, Jesus, Marriam, Jacob, and Judas were common names in Palestine. Historians and archaeologists in Jerusalem have joined church leaders in dismissing the claims of the filmmakers. Their hypothesis holds little weight.

Bishop N. T. Wright tells a true story in his book The Challenge of Jesus:

A friend of mine lecturing in a theological college in Kenya, introduced his students to “The Quest for the Historical Jesus.” This, he said, was a movement of thought and scholarship that in its earlier form was carried on largely in Germany in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. He had not gone for into his lecture when one of his students interrupted him. “Teacher,” he said (“I knew I was in trouble,” my friend commented, “as soon as he called me ‘teacher’!”) “if the Germans have lost Jesus, that is their problem. We have not lost him. We know him. We love him.”[3][3]
Jesus has been in the spotlight from his birth to the cross to the empty tomb. Among major world religions, Christianity claims origins that are relatively accessible to historical inquiry. The New Testament itself was certainly for the most part composed before the end of the first century C.E.; that is, within seventy years of the death of Jesus. Paul’s letters (and probably others, such as that of James and the letter to the Hebrews) provide firsthand evidence for the Christian movement from its first three decades. The Gospels were composed between approximately 70 and 90, but also contain materials that go back to earlier decades, to the earliest years of Christianity. Perhaps most convincingly, the Acts of the Apostles provides a narrative account of the movement’s birth and initial expansion from Jerusalem to Rome, written in all probability before the end of the first century.[4][4] The Christian faith at the earliest form of its development was under scrutiny by the ecclesiastical powers of Judaism and the religious skeptics of the world’s superpower of the day, Rome. False claims of Jesus’ divinity and resurrection could have never survived. The Romans and the Jewish leaders would have produced Jesus’ body to quash the claims of lowly Galilean fishermen and housewives who had no status or credibility in that society â€" if they could have. A top Jewish scholar like Paul would not have become a devoted follower of Jesus had he not met the risen Christ on the road to Damascus, where he was going in order to crush the movement toward faith in this same Christ. How otherwise could this strong enemy of the Cross of Jesus come to make such a bold statement as “. . . if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain . . . and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins”(1 Corinthians 15:14, 17).
Paul was thus firm in pointing out that if Christ had not risen from the dead, then faith in him would be worthless. Christianity stands or falls on the resurrection of Christ. If the resurrection really happened, then Christianity is true and Jesus is the only Savior. However, if the resurrection never occurred, then Christianity is just another false religion, promoting a false messiah. Christian faith is not based on belief in a great teacher, a miracle worker, or even an inspiring martyr. Christians believe that as wonderful as Jesus’ life and teachings and miracles were, they would be meaningless if it were not historic fact that Christ died and was raised from the dead, and by his death made atonement for the sins of humanity.[5][5] “Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved” (Philippians 4:1).

[1][1] George Carey, Canterbury Letters to the Future, Kingsway Publicationsp.99

[2][2] Luke Timothy Johnson, The Real Jesus, HarperSan Francisco, 1996. p.1.

[3][3] N. T. Wright, The Challenge of Jesusâ€"Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is, IVP Academic, 2006, p.13.

[4][4] ibid p.87

[5][5] Lee Strobel, The Case for Christ, Zondervan, 1998. p.26.

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