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The Problem of... the Myth of Christ

Read this message transcript from the "The Problem of..." message series

Harold Bullock: When I was a kid in elementary school, I had a highlight of the week. Superman came on TV. Oh, it was fabulous. The Man of Steel, bending bars with his hands, bullets bouncing off of him. It was a great story for a guy in elementary school. It was marvelous, a lot of fun.

Looking back, if you watch those movies today and TV shows, you can find them on YouTube, there was some problems, like Superman's suit had wrinkles in it. It was before Spandex.

And then, given what we have today with CGI graphics, it leaves a lot to be desired. But at the time, it was great. We all... We love stories. We like stories especially about impossible things. Things that are just too big for us, stuff that we can't do, and today, you'd watch Iron Man, or the Avengers, and have a lot of fun, and then go on your way home. I enjoyed the stories.

When I... As I got a little bit older, I got into middle school, and I ran across the book of Greek and Roman myths. Stories, legends of their Gods. I got into that. I really enjoyed... They're fabulous stories. I discovered later that they were really sanitized for a middle school child to read, but fabulous stories. We like stories, and stories have been around a long time.

Earlier, if you wanted to engage a story, you had to have a story teller. Someone had to know the legends and tell them, and you had to listen. Today of course, we watch our stories. We have movies, videos, and we enjoy them.

You know, Iron Man is a lot of fun. The Avengers are a lot of fun. However, you wouldn't want to stake your life on Iron Man. I'm going to trust Iron Man to come and help me. Or even if you have a suit, that's a story; it's a legend. It's fun; it's a lot of fun, but you just don't stake your life on that.

That issue has been raised related to Jesus Christ. We're going to take a look at that this morning. I'm Harold Bullock. If you're new here, I'm the senior pastor here at Hope. We've been into a series of messages dealing with this Problem Of... We've looked at several things—the exclusivity of Christianity, evil and suffering, and other issues. You're welcome to check online and get some of the past messages if you'd like.

Today, we're wrapping up with “The Myth of Christ.” There's a handout in your listening guide if you want to use it.

I've entitled the message, “The Myth of the Myth of Christ.” The myth of Christ idea, a problem that people have brought up, is that Jesus was just a first century story pieced together from different pieces of previous religious legends…stories of gods, stories of demi-gods, half gods, half-humans.

And what happened really, according to these people, is that in the first century, people just pieced together this wonderful great story, and then sort of sold it on the religious market.

Books have been written about this. Here's one: Christ Conspiracy: The Greatest Story Ever Sold; Christ in Egypt, looking at the supposed connection between Egyptian gods and the story of Jesus Christ; The Pagan Christ, another book; The Jesus Mysteries, again, looking at connections with previous pagan gods.

Movies have been done on this. One of them is The God Who Wasn't There. Another one is Zeitgeist. Then Bill Maher had some of these ideas in his movie he came out with, Religulous. These all claim that Jesus, the story of Christ, was just a story, and people borrowed from previous legends in order to piece it together.

What I'd like to do with you today is take a look at this and investigate it more closely. The writers of these myth books, and the movies, they do not... They do not do several things.

First of all, they don't reflect the majority of historians who think a Jesus actually lived. They may not believe that he rose from the grave, but this person actually lived. This is a real person. Some would raise questions, but the vast majority accept that he was a reality.

Even in the first century, Tacitus, an early Roman historian, he wrote this…around, I'm sorry, this is around A.D. 115... “Nero, Roman Emperor, fastened the guilt on a class hated for their abominations. Nero blamed Christians for things that occurred in Rome, abominations called Christians by the populous. Cristus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius Emperor at the hands of the procutor, Pontius Pilot.”

Pilot was the governor of the area of Israel. This was in his annals. Tacitus was a historian who had access to the records of the Roman Senate. Josephus…Josephus is a Jewish historian, and he writes, around 1893/94, recounting what had happened: "About this time there lived Jesus. A wise man if indeed one ought to call him a man for he wrought surprising feats. He was the Christ. When Pilot condemned him to be crucified, those who had come to love him did not give up their affection for him. On the third day he appeared, restored to life, and the tribe of Christians has not disappeared." Now these are early historians. Modern historians, looking at all the evidence, the vast majority would say Jesus is a real person. This is not just simply a story.

The people who write the books don't agree with them. They also don't show familiarity with what the Bible says. They say things about the Bible that just are not in it. For example, the writers say—the writers of the books and movies—say that Jesus was born on December 25th. Actually the Bible doesn't say when he was born. We celebrate Christmas on December 25th. That started several centuries later, but there's no date given for when Jesus was born. Probably from the surrounding circumstances, it sounds like it might have been later in the spring, but we don't know. However, they're not familiar with that.

They say that Jesus was visited at a stable, at his birth by three kings who followed a star from the East. Actually what the Bible says is, he was visited at his house, not the stable, not at his birth, but as a toddler. He was visited by an unnumbered group of magi. Magi are not kings; magi are astrologers, eastern astrologers. Now we have, if you're familiar with Christmas time, we often have three kings and their camels bowing at the manger. That's actually not in the Bible. These were astrologers; they were wealthy people, but there's not a number for them. It doesn't say there were three. Three kinds of gifts were given…gold, frankincense and myrrh. Those were very expensive things, but we don't know if there were six gifts in three categories. We at least don't know how many people there were that showed up. However, the writers of the books recount that in the Bible, the Bible says that there were three kings.

Another one—they claimed the Jesus was a fisherman. Actually, his father was a carpenter, maybe a stone mason, and not a fisherman. That's probably his job. They just don't reflect familiarity of Biblical documents.

They also don't accurately portray the ancient documents. The legend literature that comes from the different cultures they refer to…all the professed parallels with Jesus just fall apart for the most part. According to the people who write the books, Jesus—the story of Jesus is modeled after certain gods… the Egyptian god, Horus, who is a sky god, the national deity for the lower part of the Nile, the northern part of the Nile; the Roman god, Mithras, a military god; the Greek god Dionysus—he was the god of wine and wild parties; the Greek god, Attis, who was a vegetation god; and then the Hindu god, Krishna. All these are supposed to have been models for this story. So they claim things that they're parallels, like a virgin birth, death and resurrection, crucifixion. So what I'd like to do is look at specifics with you on several of these. Now we're not going to go through all of them.

But first, Horus—Several of the books referred to the Egyptian connection. Horus—he's the Egyptian sky God and the protective deity for the lower Nile, near the Mediterranean. Horus, the writers claim, was born of a virgin. When you actually dig into the ancient documents, his mother, she had been married to his father for quite a while. His mother was impregnated by his dead father's body. Hmmm, that's not quite the same story as Mary; it’s very different.

He was born on December 25th; actually in the ancient literature there are three different birthdates given to him. December 25th was one of them. Of course Jesus wasn't born on December 25th, so it wouldn't be a parallel anyway. He was laid in manger. In the literature there's no mention of a manger. The Egyptians had both papyrus and then hieroglyphics. This is never mentioned. He was visited at his birthplace, Horace was, by three kings who followed a star from the east. That is never mentioned in the ancient literature. It's just not there. The first time it's mentioned is in some astrology books in the 1800s…you know, two centuries ago.

Horace was a child teacher. At age 12, he was teaching others. There's actually no mention of this in the ancient literature. This has no basis in the actual documents. He was baptized in the river by Anup, who was later beheaded. Jesus was baptized in a river by John the Baptist, who was later beheaded by the authorities. Actually there's no mention of this in the ancient literature. It just does not exist. Writers claim that he was followed by twelve disciples, Horace was. Well in the literature he had four disciples—a turtle, a bear, a lion and a tiger. These did not relate to him, like the disciples did to Jesus, and they did not; they never spread his teachings. This is very different. He was crucified between two thieves. Horace was crucified between two thieves and resurrected three days later, it is said. Actually, in most stories Horace lives on. He never dies. In one story his enemy cuts him to pieces and throws the pieces in the river. The pieces are fished out, respectfully by crocodiles. This is not quite the same thing. It just falls apart; the claims do.

Mithras, Roman military God—Supposedly Mithras had a, was born of a virgin. In the legends, in the actual literature, he emerges out of a rock, fully formed as a man, with a dagger and a torch, one in each hand—not exactly the story of Jesus. He was born December 25th, it's claimed. Yes, in the literature he was born December 25th, and we celebrate Christmas on the 25th; that happened centuries later…the shift to the celebration at that point. Mithras was buried in a tomb. That is never mentioned in the literature. Three days later he rose from the dead. Actually the literature says he never died. It's never mentioned. It just falls apart.

How about Krishna? The writers claim that Krishna was born of a virgin. In the actual literature, Krishna had seven older siblings, and then he was born when his mom was impregnated by a white elephant. The stories go weirder actually than we're covering. What I'm saying to you is, this just falls apart. The claim falls apart. Books can be written; movies can be made, but you want to dig in and examine stuff. I recommend to you the book that we've been using, The Problem of God. I'll show you a picture of it in a few moments. It would be of help to you.

The New Testament writers themselves are very adamant. They're very hard on this that what they experienced was reality. It is not a story. So Paul writes—now Paul paid for his faith with his life; tradition says he was beheaded on the Appian way for his faith—well, this is what he says, "Now brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel. By which, by this gospel you are saved that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day." According to the scriptures, and he goes on, "and that he appeared to Peter, then to the twelve." These people saw him. "After that he appeared to more than 500 of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have died." What he's saying is, if you don't believe this, put together a delegation, send them back to the place, and ask questions. This is real. “Then he appeared to James, his brother. And then to all the apostles,”—the whole bunch. And last of all he says "He appeared to me, as one born abnormally late." He's saying  people have seen the risen Christ.

John, the disciple closest to Jesus, writes this, "That which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched. This we proclaim to you concerning the word of life. The life appeared and we have seen it and testify to it. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard." This is not a vision we had. This is a physical sensing of what occurred. Peter, leader among the early disciples says, "We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of the Lord Jesus Christ." We didn't tell you stories. “We were eye witnesses of his majesty for when he received honor and glory from the Father. And the voice was born to him by the majestic glory, ‘This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.’ We ourselves heard this very voice born from Heaven for we were with him on the holy mountain."

The writers of the New Testament are adamant. This is not a story. This is reality, and most of them paid for it with their life. They're also adamant, very firm, about how silly it is to have a faith based on myth. And so Paul writes, 1 Corinthians 15, “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith." If Christ has not been raised your faith is futile. It's worthless. “If only for this life, we have hope in Christ. We are more to be pitied than all men.” We are the clowns of the universe. He goes on to say, "but Christ has been raised and because of this life is different."

Why would people write books, make movies along this line? I don't know specifically what their motivations were. You, whenever you pick up a book you tend to anticipate that the person who wrote it at least did some research. So there's a certain kind of credibility immediately, but I'm not sure why because these things just don't hold water. There is a warning given in scripture in 2 Peter, a letter written by Peter, it says this; it talks about the time whenever people will come in the future and people will be spinning stories.” In their greed these teachers will exploit you with fabricated stories.” These teachers hope to make money. I don't know the conscience of each one of these who has produced literature/movies, but this just doesn't hold water.

If you'd like to do more research for yourself I'd recommend Lee Strobel, The Case for Christ. There's a list on the bottom of your handout. Lee Strobel was an investigative journalist, trained in the legal area, for a major Chicago paper. His wife became a Christian. He wondered if she had gone nuts. He began to do research to try to really nail down if this was real or not, and the video recounts his journey. I'd really recommend it. It's very good, very well done but also by a guy who was asking hard questions and looking for hard answers, solid answers. More Than a Carpenter by Josh McDowell, is very helpful book, not very long…goes into some of the evidences. And then The Problem of God by Mark Clark—that's the one we've referred to several times as we've done this series. These could be of help to you if you are not sure about Christ; check these out.

The Christian message is basically this: Jesus Christ is God. He's the second Person of the Trinity. And He came to Earth on a rescue mission. He came to pay the price for mine and your rebellion against God and to open the door for you to walk with God and lead you through life and through eternity. He actually has a relationship where He will lead you. Relationship with God begins whenever you bow the knee to Jesus Christ and trust Him with your life. “I believe you are God. Here's my life, direct me.” If the story of Christ is real, it changes everything; I mean everything. Next Sunday, we're going to talk about specifics of that as we take a look at how it changes everything.

I'd like to invite the band to return to the stage right now. Today there's a question for you. The question is this: is this story of Christ real? Now the vast majority of historians think He actually lived. We claim more than that; He also died to pay the price for our rebellion and rose again, but they believe He actually lived. When you investigate the issues thoroughly again, you can check The Case for Christ on YouTube. The evidence for His death and resurrection are compelling. They will not drive you to the wall and leave you with no choice, but they are extremely reasonable. I challenge you to check them out. Faith in Him has actually shaped all of Western society very differently from the rest of the world. If you're unsure, watch The Case for Christ; it recounts the journalist's work. If you are reasonably convinced that is true and you're here today and you're looking to connect with God, then tell Him you're a rebel. You have rebelled. Thank Him for forgiving you, and yield the direction of your life to him. The band's going to play, I Come to the Altar, as a time of meditation and commitment. While they play, if you're looking for God, talk with Christ. Yield your life to Him. This is not fantasy. This is reality.