Beneath intellectual objections to Jesus’ claims are often deep-seated fears. Imagine a conversation between Paul and “Jonathan,” a friend from Paul’s pre-Christian days who visits him in Felix’s Caesarean prison.
Jonathan was escorted into the dingy cell where his old friend looked up at him from a small table covered in parchments. The closed air smelled of mold. Jonathan tried not to look shocked.
Paul looked puzzled for a moment and then his eyes went wide with recognition. “Jonathan?” He hurried stiffly around the table to embrace his friend. Saul smelled worse than the mold, Jonathan thought.
“Here,” Paul said as he cleared more parchments from a chair and pulled it over. “Sit down!” As he did, Jonathan said, “So, is this your idea of a Mediterranean holiday?” Paul laughed. It was the same loud, healthy laugh Jonathan remembered. He missed it.
“Welcome to Caesarea Maritima, the jewel of Palestine! My villa, however, is less than luxurious.” The two smiled wordlessly for a moment. Then Paul said, “It is so good to see you again, Jonathan.”
“Look at you, Saul. You’re an old man before your time. You walk like my father.” Paul laughed again. He had always liked Jonathan’s candor.
“Where’d you get that ugly scar above your eye?” Jonathan asked. Paul answered, “I took a stone to the head in Lystra.” “You were stoned?” Jonathan exclaimed. “Saul! What happened to you?”
“Well, after the priest of Zeus had wanted…”
“No, I don’t mean why you were stoned. I can guess that. I need to know what happened to you. We haven’t spoken for over 25 years.” Jonathan’s eyes misted. “But we once were friends. You among my closest. Some of my best memories are the hours we spent debating Mishnah and politics.”
“Which I always won!”
“Yes, even when you didn’t!” Both men laughed. The old joke eased the awkwardness. “The last time you and I were together like this was just after the Council granted you the commission to Damascus. Remember? You were so angry over the Nazarene sect. I tried to get you to take Gamaliel’s approach. But you were immovable. ‘We cannot just let this poison spread!’ you told me. Then the next thing I know a plot is being formed to kill you because you’re spreading the poison in Damascus!”
“Do you know what happened to me?” asked Paul. “Of course,” said Jonathan. “Your story is notorious. But, Saul…this?” Jonathan gestured around the cell.
“What?” Paul’s eyes pierced with his familiar intensity.
“This doesn’t strike you as a bit crazy? You would have become a leader of the Sanhedrin. But instead you’ve spent decades wandering the Empire half zealot, half fugitive, preaching Jesus like a madman. And it’s cost you everything. You lost your faith. You lost a promising career. You lost your friends. You’ve lost your youth. You have no family, no home, no money. Now you’re a prisoner of Rome, Saul! And if you ever go back Jerusalem you’re a dead man. Your life looks like a tragic waste.
“That’s why I’ve come. Before you’re. . . gone I need to ask: has Jesus been worth it, Saul?” Paul prayed silently then answered, “My life has been a tragic waste — if Jesus was not raised from the dead. If Jesus’ body was stolen as your Council claims, I am a fool — among men most to be pitied.
“But, Jonathan, if Jesus was raised, then what? Then my faith was not lost but found. Then my career has been wonderful. Then I have family and friends all over Asia Minor. If Jesus was raised, if I’m doing his will, if he’s providing all I really need and guiding me safely to his heavenly kingdom, what need do I have of money or houses or freedom?
“So the real question is, was Jesus raised from the dead, Jonathan? The answer determines whether I’m wasting my life in a Roman prison or you are wasting yours in respectable Jewish society.”
Jonathan was quiet for a minute, and then sighed, “I don’t know. The body-theft story grows weaker with time. I can’t see why Jesus’ disciples would suffer so much over a lie for so little profit. Then there are the miracles. And there’s you. I don’t know what to do with your life. You believe in Jesus in a way I have never believed in Judaism. But, Saul, I’m afraid to examine your question too hard. If I begin to believe in Jesus’ resurrection I’ll lose everything. That scares me. I don’t think I could do. . . this.” He gestured at the cell again.
Paul’s eyes were soft and his words hard. “Then, Jonathan, you care less for God and truth than for security and comfort. Your fear of losing them powers your unbelief. Jesus once said, ‘whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?’ So I need to ask you: is security and comfort worth that, Jonathan?
“Stop looking at what you would lose if Jesus was raised from the dead, and start looking at what you would gain!” Paul’s haggard face became radiant. “I’ll answer your question: yes! Jonathan, Jesus has been far more than worth it! Everything I’ve lost is like rubbish compared to gaining him! Come and see!”
The freedom to follow Jesus comes from seeing the reward. If we see it, the costs cease to be costly.
And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him (Hebrews 11:6).