This week, the BBC began its long-awaited three part series called, simply, 'The Passion'. It looks, from various perspectives, at some of the dramatic events during the last week of Jesus' life, leading up to his trial and crucifixion.
The writer has taken some liberties along the way with regard to the story. There are clear departures from the narrative given in the gospels, which are our major historical source for information about the man Jesus of Nazareth.
However, I get the feeling from the one part of three that we've seen thus far, that the writer and director have tried at least to depict the humanity of Jesus - and what impending crucifixion must have meant for him. At least the story is being told.
In an age of rampant secularism and religious plurality some would argue that poetic license with a story like this one is par for the course.
As we enter the Easter period, though, it might be healthy for us to reconsider the unique claims Jesus made about who he was and what he'd come to achieve.
Try as you may to be tolerant of all beliefs, you can't honestly look at the life and mission of Jesus without entering into a debate about which path is the right path. He was adamant, you see, that the message he brought was not simply a truth but the truth when it comes to finding God.
That will sound highly intolerant in today's politically correct culture. Whenever you try to compare world religions, people accuse you of being intolerant.
What we call tolerance today, though, is often not tolerance at all - it is absurdity. We try to have our cake and eat it too; to agree with every idea that comes along - even if those ideas are directly opposed to each other.
To question a person's beliefs is not the same as making a personal attack on them. It is possible to disagree with what someone believes, and even to disagree with all your heart, without losing your respect for their humanity and their right to make the choice. But we must remember this basic fact: truth can never be tolerant of error.
Many people, thinking they're being tolerant, will say that all religions lead to the same destination, so it really doesn't matter what you believe. But if two religious systems give very different answers to the basic questions of life, you can't say they're pointing in the same direction.
It's like comparing two compasses. If one says north is this way, and the other says south is in the same direction, you know that one of them has to be faulty.
There are ways to test whether a religion is what it claims to be. For example, we might ask, how it has affected the people who've adopted it? Has it lifted people to a new level of life?
Perhaps the ultimate test of a religious faith, though, is the person of its founder. What does this person say about himself -- and what right does he have to speak to me?
This is where Christianity really stands apart. Only Christian faith is based solely on the person of its founder. If you removed Buddha from Buddhism, you would still have a religious system. If you took Mohammed out of Islam, you would still have a religious system. If you take Jesus out of Christianity, though, you're left with nothing at all. Jesus didn't just point the way to God, he claimed to be God in human form.
Jesus didn't challenge us to believe in his teachings or to follow his path -- he challenged us to follow him. He said that believing in him was the only way for a man or woman to be made right with God. Most people like to think of Jesus as a nice guy in a caftan who said some amazing things. But Jesus was dangerous!
In many religious systems, no proof is given to back up the teaching aside from the teaching itself. But Jesus claimed to be the Son of God - and then claimed certain proofs in support of this.
First, there's the moral weight of his life. It's one thing to preach a certain lifestyle; it's another thing to live it out. No man ever lived out his own teaching so completely and so consistently as Jesus. The Bible says he was without sin. No other faith makes that claim about its key figure.
Then there's the teaching of Jesus. Most of the world's religious teachers have given us lists of instructions to take us to some spiritual goal. Not Jesus: he did exactly the opposite.
Rather than adding new rules to our lives, Jesus told us that he had come to "fulfill God's law" on our behalf. He taught that, because he lived up to all of God's laws in his lifetime, his death in my place allowed my moral debts to be cancelled.
Jesus made bold claims about being the Son of God and he claimed that the miracles he performed - of healing and deliverance - backed up those claims.
Unlike the stories of some other religions, where miracles take on mythical proportions, the miracles of Jesus were recorded by eye-witnesses as historical fact. Every one of them is located in a specific place, and fits into a sequence of real events.
Miracles were not dropped into the Jesus story to give it effect; they were a vital part of his daily life, and they often formed a part of his teaching.
One of the most remarkable aspects of Jesus' teaching was the way he linked it to his death. He talked about it as if what he was teaching would make no sense unless he died.
Buddha made no such link between his death and his words; neither did Mohammed. According to Jesus, having the rich life he was promising would only be possible once he had died to remove the barriers between me and God.
Of all the proofs Jesus offered us, one was intended to be the most conclusive of all.
He prophesied that on the third day after he died he would rise again, as evidence that what he'd been telling us was true. This claim is totally unique among the founders of the world's religions. In fact, it's so central to the Christian faith that the apostle Paul said if Jesus hadn't been raised from death, Christianity would be worthless.
According to the gospels, Jesus didn't just crawl out of that tomb. He was so completely alive, that his own disciples were overcome with fear when they saw him. He appeared to them on many occasions before he ascended into heaven, walking, teaching and even eating among them.
This was no phantom: they were able to touch his body. This was no hallucination, either. He was seen by up to five hundred and fifty people at one time - people don't have mass hallucinations like that. What's more, they weren't even expecting to see him alive!
There's a museum in Turkey where you can see the sword of Mohammed and what some people say are strands from his beard. Nobody disputes that he is dead. Some people claim to have found a tooth of the Buddha. Nobody disputes that he is dead. Moses is dead and so is Abraham -- nobody disputes that either.
Yet, Jesus left us no physical relics. No part of his body has ever been recovered. Why? Because he has risen from the dead, he is alive.
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Thanks for putting your free podcasts on your website. Spread the word! Tonight I listened to 'Living with Excellence' - a fantastic message, professionally delivered with humour, clarity and compassion. Thank you Mal! Christer, United Kingdom
EDGES: what fantastic well presented programmes, with excellent answers to current issues. I have not come across anything like EDGES. I just want to absorb as much of the info as possible! Thankyou for such Godly insight. Anon, UK
Awesome resources, very helpful and valuable. I am preaching at a youth conference next weekend and have found some great supporting material here, thank you. Leanne, New Zealand