How to Stop an Indian Attack
When I was a kid, it was just expected that little boys would play “Cowboys and Indians.” This was in the days before political correctness… or historical correctness! There is an old saying, “History is written by the victors.” Or Hollywood! Movie and TV westerns created many myths—like scalping being invented by indigenous peoples (they learned it from the French). One of “facts” that I remember from movies is how to thwart an Indian attack-- just shoot the chief. Once the chief is out of the way, then the rest will just stop and give up. Evidently, Native Americans need a leader, so if you can eliminate the chief, the rest will scatter. Of course in the movies, that was usually pretty easy because the chief always rode up front and wore a huge headdress that just shouted, "Shoot me." And then the cowboys always had those magical Winchesters that never ran out of bullets!
The Jewish leaders subscribed to this TV western myth when it came to Jesus. They thought that if they could kill Jesus, his disciples would scatter. All they had to do was trump up some charges, pay witness and manipulate the legal process, and both Jesus and his movement would die. When they arrested Jesus, it looked like their plan worked because all the Indians did indeed scatter (Mk 14:50). In fact Mark tells of one young man (maybe himself) so intent on getting way that he ran right out of his clothes (Mk 14:51). They surely thought that the public, horrific execution of Jesus had ended his movement and their problems.
Imagine the shock of the Jewish establishment when Christ's movement grew further and faster after his death than it had before. Three thousand responded to Peter’s first sermon... a sermon on the resurrection, “Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay” (Acts 2:31). More (5000 men) responded in Acts 3 to a very similar resurrection sermon, “You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this” (Acts 3:15). The whole thing was getting out of hand, so the Sanhedrin called in the apostles in an effort to intimidate them into silence. What they got was the very same sermon, “Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead” (Acts 4:10).
Christianity spread because of the message of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Now first century people were not pushovers when it came to resurrection stories. They were not unsophisticated bumpkins or uncritically superstitious louts who would fall for anything. In fact, many Jews (like the Sadducees) didn’t believe in any resurrection any where at any time. Greeks were as likely as people today to see resurrection talk as a joke (they “sneered” in Acts 17:32). The idea of Jesus’ resurrection was not an easy first century sell at all! But that story spread like wildfire and filled the earth largely because the people who preached it were so radically changed by the message.
What keeps Christianity from spreading today is not that the message of the resurrection sounds too weird to modern, critical ears. The problem may be that those of us who believe it simply are not as changed by it not obsessed with it as were the first believers. The problem is not with the message of Easter; the problem is us.