Lies are normally clean. In other words, they make sense, especially when they are well thought out. Kids are different. Kids lie in tremendous ways. We often laugh about lies kids tell because their imaginations get the best of them too quickly. The ol’ “the dog ate my homework” lie is a good example. A little toddler may blame their messed-up room on “Freddy,” their imaginary friend, but when adults lie, they are normally more sophisticated and believable. “Why were you late for work?” your boss asks. “Traffic” is your deceitful response. Why traffic? Because it makes sense. We normally would not lie by reverting back to our childish ways, saying, “I was late because I died in a car accident and suddenly reappeared in the lobby thirty minutes later.” Why don’t we lie in such ways? Because that lie would be too far fetched to believe. Lies need to fit into the structure of the way things are. Lies need to be believable.
Ironically, when stories that sound too tremendous come from adults, we tend to believe them more. We say, “Why would someone tell a story that crazy if it were not true?” More than that, when the stories are incriminating and non-productive, they are even more believable. One of the greatest series of commercials ever produced was by Washington Mutual in the late nineties. They were describing the honesty and integrity of their lending officers. This supposedly inspired the company’s customers to be honest as well. In one commercial, a customer is seen arriving late to a meeting at work. He walks in to a room full of executives, throws his briefcase down on the table and says, “Sorry I was late. Was at a job interview. Nailed it . . .” His response was comical because in real life, very few people would incriminate themselves in such a way. His honesty was non-productive towards keeping his current job (in the off chance his prospective interview was not really “nailed”!) Another example is the drunk driver who gets pulled over. The policeman says, “Sir, have you been drinking?” to which the drunk driver says, “Yes, officer. I am really drunk.” The officer has every reason to believe this guy. After all, why would he lie? His admission is completely non-productive and self-incriminating. People normally don’t do this. People’s lies normally make sense, are believable, and don’t incriminate themselves. Otherwise, there is no reason to lie.
The Gospel is interesting in this regard. In fact, it is stupid. What I mean is that it is not really believable, it does not make sense, and it is incriminating (from the perspective of the culture to which it was first delivered). You see, for adults to make up a story so extraordinary is curious to say the least. A story in which the teller knew someone who publicly performed miracles, claimed to be God, was killed, rose from the grave, and then showed himself to hundreds of people does not fit into the normal pattern of lies. Its grandiosity only grows when dates, times, geography, and witnesses’ names are added.
As well, the Gospel is incriminating at every turn. Not only are the details within the stories themselves incriminating (as they make the witnesses look rather incompetent and hard-headed), the main points of the story lack appeal in every way. The two key points would be repulsive at all levels to the audience to whom the story was first told. At its very center, the Gospel is about God dying on a cross and rising from the dead. If this was a lie, not only was it tremendous, it was about the stupidest lie that could ever be told. It is completely non-productive. To the Jews, to have God die on a wooden cross is reprehensible. “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree” (Deut 21:23). Why would someone make up a story such as this in a community that would be completely offended by this claim? God dying on a tree? It simply would not make sense.
To the Greeks, it does not get any better. Greeks hated the idea of bodily resurrection. They, for the most part, believed that the physical universe was evil. Their only hope was the escape brought about by death, as the soul was released from the body. To say that God died on a cross might be fine, but to say that he physically rose from the grave and that this was our hope too would have been laughable. Why would anyone want to rise from the grave? Again, it does not make any sense to make this kind of story up.
My point is that the Gospel has none of the hallmarks of good or productive lies. It is about the last thing anyone would make up in that culture at that time. Why would someone make up something so extraordinary, unbelievable, counter-cultural, and reprehensible? In fact, it got most of those who claimed to be witnesses killed as martyrs. This alone does not make the Gospel true, but it does require some type of feasible explanation from those who claim that it is a lie. In many ways, the foolishness (or stupidity) of the Gospel ironically contributes to its feasibility.
1 Cor. 1:23
But we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness.