This month BioLogos has been discussing the miracle of Jesus Christ rising from the dead, celebrated this Sunday at Easter. While some voices in our culture say that science excludes the possibility of miracles, Ard Louis reminds us that science “cannot pronounce on issues outside its jurisdiction,” and several scientists explain why they accept the historical evidence that Jesus lived, died, and rose from the grave.
For Lent this year, I have been reading The Man Born to be King (1943), by Dorothy Sayers. This cycle of 12 plays, written for BBC radio, retells the full biblical accounts of Jesus Christ in dramatic form. Sayers was an excellent author and storyteller, one of the first women to graduate from Oxford, and a friend of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis (apparently C.S.Lewis read this play cycle each year for Lent). Sayers weaves the four gospels together, yet her goal is much more than reconciling minor discrepancies between the four accounts. As a playwright, she dramatizes the events and teaching of Jesus’ life, making the ancient text accessible to new readers while shedding fresh light for readers like me who have heard these stories for decades.
Her work is faithful to the authority of Scripture and the divinity of Jesus. In these plays, most of Jesus’ lines are straight from the Bible, setting his teachings in realistic situations such as a response to a disagreement between the disciples or a question from the crowd. But she reaches beyond the gospels as well. In Play 7, Scene 1 she has Jesus speak the words of Wisdom from Proverbs 8 in a way that sounds autobiographical, portraying Jesus as remembering his work as Creator. In Play 8, Scene 1, Jesus and Lazarus are at a dinner together after Lazarus rose from the grave, and Jesus shares a chuckle and a knowing comment with Lazarus as he tries to respond to questions about what it was like to be dead.
Yet what struck me more was how Sayers displayed the humanity of Jesus. Jesus was fully God, yet he lived a human life in a real, gritty, and complicated world. She fleshes out the various political and religious parties in Judea during that time, helping us understand the motivations of Herod, Pilate, the zealots, and the chief priests. She gives personalities to several of the disciples and adds minor characters, helping the reader picture these events happening to real people, people like you and me. In addition to Jesus’ sermons and words from scripture, she gives Jesus good lines of ordinary human conversation, such as greeting a family friend from Nazareth or answering the questions of a small child. Suddenly it is easier to imagine myself as part of the story. How would I have reacted to Jesus if I had lived in Judea and heard him preach? What questions would I have asked him?
Sayers gives the characters the full range of reactions to Jesus. A bystander is skeptical and sees the miracles as the tricks of a charlatan. A family member sees Jesus as merely a good preacher who could use advice on how to advance his ministry. A criminal crucified beside Jesus sees him as a lunatic and humors his “delusions” of divinity. The disciples see Jesus as the Messiah but don’t quite grasp that he is God himself. Some priests perceive the full import of Jesus’ claims and are deeply concerned that he is committing blasphemy. After Jesus’ trial, one priest says “I was ready to believe him to be a great teacher, a great prophet, perhaps the Messiah. I can do so no longer. He has claimed to be the Son of God—not in figure, but literally—the right hand of the power and equal in glory. That is either an appalling blasphemy, or else a truth so appalling it will not bear thinking of.” Another replies, “God is one, and God is spirit. Do you really think there are a host of gods and half-gods walking the earth, and subject to human frailty, as in the disgusting fables of the heathen?” Jesus’ claim to be fully God is shocking and radical, as much then as it is now.
For the people who met Jesus 2000 years ago, and for us today, the bodily Resurrection was the ultimate evidence of his divinity. God himself, the Creator of the cosmos, walked this earth, and no power could keep him in the grave. He did it all for the love of humanity, giving himself over to death out of his compassion for each one of us. In Jesus Christ, we see fully the self-giving love of God.
Where do you see yourself in the story? How do you react to Jesus? As we celebrate Easter, I encourage you to look at Jesus Christ anew, as fully human and fully God.