… here’s what would have happened:
Paul of Tarsus went into the land of Wer-zit to preach the gospel to a group of people the Romans called the Hoo-Deyz. These people sat in the city square to listen to Paul share the story of Jesus and how he died on the cross to save us from our sins.
After Paul finished his story, one of the Hoo-Deyz elders by the name of Jeenius, who had been educated by the best of the Greek philosophers, stood up and said, “Now hold on a minute Mr. Paul, you said this Jesus is human?”
Paul replied, “Yes, that’s correct, sir.”
“Then how can his death save us from our sins?”
“Because, sir, he’s a special human. He’s the son of God.”
“He’s the son of God but he’s human? Not a demi-god like Hercules?”
“You are correct, sir.” Then Paul went on to repeat what he had already said about God sending Jesus to save us because he thought the people did not hear the first time. After he had finished his lecture, he sat down to wait for any questions.
Jeenius, who had been scratching his head for the whole duration of Paul’s lectures, stood up again and asked, “But Mr. Paul, you said a while ago that Jesus said the greatest love is to die for your friends.”
“Yes, sir, that’s correct,” said Paul. “Jesus died for his friends and consequently gave us this greatest love.”
“And God resurrected this special human named Jesus. Right, Mr. Paul?”
“Yes, sir! Correct again!”
Jeenius scratched his head again to the point that he had created a bald spot, but he didn’t mind because he was really perplexed by his visiting Jew who claimed to have the good news. “And God sent this special human named Jesus because God loves us. Right, Mr. Paul?”
“Yes, sir!” said Paul. “I commend you for your keen mind.”
“Don’t commend me yet, Mr. Paul, for there’s something I don’t get.”
Jeenius sat down because his old knees couldn’t carry his weight any longer. “Well, you see Mr. Paul, you said this true God of yours loves us, and that’s why He sent us His only begotten son, a special human named Jesus to die for our sins. Then you said that this special human Jesus said the greatest love is to die for your friends. Then you also said that the true God is Love itself. It doesn’t make sense, sir, because how can the true God who is Love itself not give us the greatest love, instead delegate this task to another? Can a husband say to another man, ‘Look here, I order you to go to my wife and love her, and by delegating the loving of my wife to another man, I prove that I love my wife.’ It doesn’t make sense, sir.”
A low buzz began to fill the city square as the Hoo-Deyz who were listening attentively began to murmur among themselves.
“Add to that, Mr. Paul,” continued Jeenius, “if the greatest love is to die for your friends, then Jesus gave us the greatest love, but this true God of yours didn’t. Therefore to my mind Jesus is more worthy of my love than God. And to be perfectly honest, my pet dog too is more worthy of my love than God because I know that my pet dog is willing and capable of dying for my sake. So, Mr. Paul, my problem is why should we accept this God of yours who is less worthy of my love than my pet dog? How is that the good news?”
Now it was Paul’s turn to scratch his head. “You don’t understand. Jesus died for our sins. That’s the good news.”
“Sorry to say this to you, Mr. Paul, but in the Hoo-Deyz religion we also believe in human sacrifice to atone for the sins of the community, and we had just sacrificed my cousin – oh, don’t worry! We didn’t force him. He volunteered.”
“But … but …” Paul stammered, “Did God resurrect your cousin?”
“No,” replied Jeenius, “but his death resulted in some of the young ones getting better from their illnesses. I reckon that’s good enough for us.”
Paul smiled. “Well, sir, the good news is the resurrected of Jesus!”
“I guess,” said Jeenius. “But other religions already teach the resurrection of the dead, and of human beings being the sons and daughters of the gods, and of the gods bringing their beloved friends back to life. You do not bring new ‘truths’ to us. But even if the resurrection of the dead is not taught by other religions, even if you are the first to teach us this, I still can’t get over the fact that this true God won’t give us the greatest love which according to Jesus, son of God, is to die for your friends.”
“Oh, old man!” said an exasperated Paul. “Can’t you see? God cannot die because God is spirit. Only humans can die.”
“Yes, sir, that’s true, but Jesus, son of God, didn’t say the greatest human love is to die for your friends. He said the greatest love, period. You bring us no good news, sir, at least nothing we have not already heard before.”
Thus, the Hoo-Deyz picked up their shawls and went away. Paul, defeated, shook the sand from his sandals and went to the next town, as Jesus had commanded, but again he was met with the same objections given to him by Jeenius. Granted that some believed in his ‘good news,’ but most didn’t. The so-called ‘Christians’ did not increase in number, and when their little population was massacred by the Romans and the Jews, the faith died. The ‘Christians’ had nothing to offer to the peoples of those times which they had not already heard from other cults. Their good news was bland, for how was Jesus, a special human being sent by God to redeem us, any different from the other heroes described by the myths who were also considered special and who were also resurrected by the gods?
Now imagine if Paul had said this:
“Listen, friends, the good news is this: God humbled Himself and came down from heaven to become human and to die for our sins. He took our sins upon Him, swallowed them all up, died and rose again. This means, friends, three things: first, that God is on the side of the oppressed because He has chosen to become oppressed; second, God has given us the greatest love which is to die for your friends; and third, all our sins, all the evils in the world, cannot defeat the One True God.”
What do you think Jeenius would have said?