One Solitary Life


Clearing out some old files recently, I came across this famous meditation, written almost a century ago:

He was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He grew up in another village, where he worked in a carpenter’s shop until he was thirty. Then for three years he was an itinerant preacher. He never wrote a book, never held an office, never went to college, never visited a big city. He never travelled more than two hundred miles from the place where he was born. He did none of the things that usually accompany greatness. He had no credentials but himself. He was only thirty-three when the tide of public opinion turned against him. His friends ran away. One of them denied him. He was turned over to his enemies and went through the mockery of a trial. He was nailed to a cross between two thieves. While dying, his executioners gambled for his clothing, the only property he had on earth. When he was dead, he was laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend … All the armies that have ever marched, all the navies that have ever sailed, all the parliaments that have ever sat, all the kings that ever reigned put together, have not affected the life of mankind on earth, as powerfully as that one solitary life.[1]

So what does account for the influence of this one solitary life? One answer, of course, might be the resurrection: had Jesus’s followers not claimed he had been raised from the dead, then there the story would have ended—Jesus of Nazareth just one more failed messianic claimant among the dozens that litter this small corner of history, his tattered corpse just one of thousands of Jewish victims of the Roman imperial juggernaut. Yet indulge me in a thought experiment, just for a moment. Imagine, that first Easter morning, if rather than Jesus, his followers had encountered some other random person risen from the dead— perhaps one of the thieves who had been crucified next to Jesus for petty brigandry. Would the mere fact that there had been a miracle, even one so great as a resurrection, be enough to have launched a whole new religious movement? Arguably not, for the power of the stories of Jesus’s resurrection are not found in their describing some random miracle, but because of who it happened to: in short, the resurrection vindicates all of Jesus’ teaching that had gone before. The gospels are not claiming: “Look, people pop back all the time from the dead, Gehanna and Hades are really just like a quick trip down the road to the garage for a packet of cigarettes, isn’t life prior to the scientific revolution wonderful!” I would suggest that the average first-century person knew far more about death than we do, given the brutal shortness of much of life. No, the more radical claim of the gospels is that this one specific life, this one, solitary, remarkable, incredible life—this man, uniquely, was raised from the dead. Dismiss this as an invention if you wish, but make sure you know what you’re dismissing first; and remember, too, that if you throw out the resurrection, you’re still left with the huge questions of Jesus’s character, teaching and identity. One solitary life: a life that demands us to answer the question Jesus frequently asked his audiences: “Who do you say that I am?”

[1]      A combination of the original version in James Allan Francis, The Real Jesus and Other Sermons (Philadelphia: Judson Press, 1926) 123-124 and that found in Os Guinness, The Long Journey Home (Colorado Springs, CO: Waterbrook Press, 2001) 158.

Dr. Andy Bannister is a popular speaker, author and broadcaster. Andy is the Director of the Solas Centre for Public Christianity and an Adjunct Speaker with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries. Andy speaks and teaches regularly throughout the UK, Canada, the USA, and the wider world on issues relating to faith, culture, politics and society.