April 1, 2015

Killing Jesus Just Part of the Greatest Story Ever Told

By Donald G. Mashburn

The bestseller book, “Killing Jesus,” written by Billy O’Reilly with the aid of his researcher and co-author Martin Dugard, has been a big moneymaker for the authors and their publishers. It has brought O’Reilly both acclaim and criticism. The movie version, “Killing Jesus,” drew the largest audience ever for National Geographic. Many Christians, however, are upset that “Killing Jesus” avoids saying that Jesus is “the Son of God,” and avoids Biblical references to His divinity.

In interviews with Norah O’Donnell of CBS, O’Reilly defended the book by saying, “It’s not a religious book. There’s no religion in the book, nothing. It’s all about history.”

If “it’s all about history,” why did the writers ignore the most compelling history available to any researcher of Biblical history, such as the accounts of eye-witnesses who traveled months and years with Jesus, night and day, eating and sleeping with him, and soaking up His teachings? Why would O’Reilly not be interested in the writings of Jesus’ traveling companions and disciples, Matthew, Mark, John, Peter and James, and the two accounts by the historian Luke; or the writings of others such as Paul and the Lord’s own brothers, Jude and James?

The O’Reilly book centers only on the painful death of Jesus, and misses what good writers try to reveal about famous men they write about: Who was he, where did he come from, what did he do, how and why did he die?

In writing only of the death of Jesus, O’Reilly missed a golden opportunity to add the testimony of eyewitnesses to the story and make it his version of The Greatest Story Ever Told!

O’Reilly really missed the meaning of why Jesus came and why He died by ignoring the New Testament record. This allowed him to in effect fabricate a reason for Jesus’ death. When O’Reilly told CBS’ O’Donnell that Jesus was “violent” she asked how, and O’Reilly answered with the account of Jesus chasing the money changers and peddlers out of the temple.

O’Donnell chimed in with, “He was upset with people of His own faith.” O’Reilly replied, “Absolutely. He was … upset that the Jews were taxing, overtaxing, and extorting the folks.” O’Donnell asked, “And that story is important … because it explains why so many people wanted him dead?” O’Reilly said, “That’s the crux of the ‘Killing Jesus’ theme, is that there was a reason he was executed. Not that He was saying He was God. … “But now you when you interrupt the money flow – now you’re into territory where they gotta get rid of Him.”

O’Donnell then asked, “[Isn’t] The title “Killing,” using killing, a bit sensationalist?” O’Reilly replied, “Of course. Of course it’s sensationalist. That’s who I am. I’m a sensationalist.

O’Reilly earlier told the reporter that he felt the Holy Spirit had moved him to write “Killing Jesus.” I won’t judge the source of O’Reilly’s inspiration for “Killing Jesus,” but I can say he missed a great opportunity to tell his huge audience the real reason Jesus died on the cross.

He could have shared with millions why the Son of God gave up His heavenly glory to become flesh, walk among and teach people about God and the Father’s plan of salvation. He could have shared with them Jesus’ own words, found in John 3:17: “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.”

Or the Savior’s words in John 6:47: “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in me has everlasting life.”

But O’Reilly didn’t do that, and counts his book a great success because of the millions of copies sold, and a record-setting movie. O’Reilly said just this week that Christianity is under attack in the secular world, particularly among what he calls “secular progressives.” Yet he missed a chance to defend it by ignoring the real story of the life, ministry, death, and burial of Jesus, and the resurrection of the Christ, the Son of God, the Savior of the world.

O’Reilly admitted to being interested only writing of the suffering and the terrible death of Jesus. But writing the larger story of who Jesus was, why He was where He was, and why He was crucified would have given O’Reilly a more solid standing as a historian, writer and storyteller. And it would have expanded the reading audience to include most of those who have heard of either Jesus or O’Reilly.

Jesus did disrupt the commercial activities in the temple, when He “cleaned house,” so to speak (see Matthew 21:12). But O’Reilly got it wrong when he said the reason for killing Jesus was that “when you interrupt the money flow – now you’re into territory where they gotta get rid of Him.”

To learn the real reason the Jews wanted to kill Jesus, O’Reilly needed only to note the Jews’ opposition to Jesus’ teachings, particularly those proclaiming His divinity and oneness with God. Jesus’ claim to be God and the Jews’ reaction are both clearly seen in John 10:30-31, where Jesus stated: “I and My Father are one,” and then John wrote, “Then the Jews took up stones again to stone Him” (v.31).

It’s strange that a writer would ignore Jesus’ claim of being Who He was and the hostility it caused among the Jews. When they learned it was Jesus Who healed the paralytic man, the Jews sought to kill Him, “Because He not only broke the Sabbath, but also said that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God” (John 5:18)

It’s strange, also, that O’Reilly would ignore words of hope from Jesus, such as those found in Matthew 18:11, “For the Son of Man came to save that which was lost.”

In these days leading up to Easter Sunday – Resurrection Day – hope seems to be rather scarce. A troubled world groans under the strain of economic woes. Wars, uprisings, and cruel persecutions afflict almost every continent, Antarctica and North America being notable exceptions.

In our own lives, troubles often crowd out hope. Yet, in a sense it may be said that hope was what the crucifixion, burial, and resurrection of Jesus were all about. It’s the hope that’s available to all whose faith is in the One Who said He was the Way, the Truth and the Life – the Christ of Calvary.

It’s the coming of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, whose crucifixion, burial, and resurrection we celebrate, albeit solemnly, at Easter. Those who believe in the Christ of Calvary find not only hope for today’s troubles, but also hope – Blessed Assurance – for life eternal with Him. The basis for their faith is described in the opening line of the old hymn, “The Solid Rock,” which states simply: “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.”

Moreover, it was the Christ of the Cross Who gave us example as the Perfect Servant that we should love and help others.

The world was changed forever by that first Easter. And it changed the eternal destination of all who accept Him as Savior and Lord. These are called “Christians.”

Some writers of books and much of the world may not understand how necessary it was for the burial tomb of Jesus to be empty on that first Easter morning, yet they should realize that a Jesus still in the grave would leave us without any hope for salvation.

No book or movie can adequately describe the torturous journey our Savior endured on the way to the cross. He had suffered untold indignities, beatings, ridicule, and scourging. It was a terribly cruel and painful path that terminated at a crude cross to which the Son of God was nailed, and where His side was pierced with a spear and He shed His redeeming blood for all mankind. Having done His Father’s will, and having “paid it all” for us, the Savior of the world cried out, “It is finished!”

We should all realize that if His agonizing death on the cross were the end of the story, we would still be lost in our sins. However, the crucifixion of Jesus was not the end of the Easter story. The Son of God died on the cross, was buried, and rose from the grave as He said He would. The resurrection and the empty tomb forever changed the world, and changed the eternal destiny of those who believe on Him.

It’s the whole story of the Christ of the Cross, not just the killing of Jesus, that is The Greatest Story Ever Told.”