Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

Ernest Hemingway once wrote a short one act play about Jesus. Very few people know about it. The title is Today is Friday.

The play opens with three Roman soldiers are in a bar drinking away the stresses of a long, brutal day of crucifixion.

The third soldier is sick and rueful. He complains about something being wrong with his stomach. It is clear something has gotten to him.

The second soldier tries to make him feel better by minimizing what has happened and by running down the victim as nobody special.

But the first soldier refuses to go along. The second soldier mocks the crucified man by saying it was obvious he was a poser because he couldn’t come down off the cross. But the first says, “He didn’t want to come down from the cross. It wasn’t his play.” The first soldier goes on to recount in a somewhat tragic and admiring fashion, “He was pretty good in there today.”

In Hemingway’s vision, Jesus is the bad conscience of the world, the mistreated and martyred man of peace, but not necessarily its savior. There is no hope in these men drinking to get rid of their ugly memories after a day of torture.

The haunting and memorable line is repeated throughout the scene, “He was pretty good in there today.”

Hemingway only grasped part of the picture.

Let’s turn to Frederick Buechner, the novelist, preacher, and memoirist. Buechner once had a conversation with his aging mother in her later years in which she asked him, “Do you really think anything happens after you die?” He was surprised because she usually didn’t want to talk about death. He responded loudly, against her usual deafness, “YES.” He said he believed, “SOMETHING HAPPENS.”

Buechner ended up writing his mother a letter because he didn’t feel he could get what he wanted to say past her deafness and general fear of discussing spiritual matters. In his letter he reasoned with her about the mind of God and our intuitions about eternity, but the key point he made was “I believe that what happens to us after we die is that we aren’t dead forever because Jesus said so.”

Jesus said so.

Now, why did a learned and sophisticated man like Frederick Buechner think that would matter?

Jesus said so. Who is this Jesus?

Look at The Gospel of Mark, Chapter 8 starting at verse 27:

27 Jesus went out, along with His disciples, to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way He questioned His disciples, saying to them, “Who do people say that I am?”
28 They told Him, saying, “John the Baptist; and others say Elijah; but others, one of the prophets.”
29And He continued by questioning them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered and said to Him, “You are the Christ.”

“And who do you say that I am?”

THAT is the question.

What makes the Christian faith different is the resurrection of Christ. The resurrection is the reason it matters what Jesus says about life and death. The resurrection is the reason martyrs endure.

Let’s examine the way it is presented by Paul as he speaks to the Athenian philosophers at Mars Hill where he made a spectacular entrance into their debating society. We all remember how he takes note of their statue to an unknown god and how he describes the true God, not made by human hands or living in a temple. It is less common to recall the way Paul finishes in Acts Chapter 17.
30”Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent,
31because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.” (Bolding added by me.)

The reason the church persisted under persecution and attempts at outright extermination is that it was built upon a claim of historical fact. The tomb was empty and many people saw Jesus after he was supposed to already be moldering in the crypt.

Several decades ago, two astronomers using a radio telescope heard a sound in the background that they couldn’t get rid of. Eventually, they came around to theorizing that the sound was the reverberating echo of the Big Bang, the massive explosion associated with the creation of the universe. Think about that. The moment of creation still with us even now. A sound so incomprehensively powerful that it continues to be heard.

The resurrection of Christ is like that. It is the biggest event of all human history and the booming power of it echoes throughout our civilization. Everything changed. Everything is still changing. The kingdom of Christ lies before us. And the question remains: And who do you say that I am?

Dear Reader,

Your charitable support for First Things is urgently needed before July 1.

First Things is a proudly reader-supported enterprise. The gifts of readers like you— often of $50, $100, or $250—make articles like the one you just read possible.

This Spring Campaign—one of our two annual reader giving drives—comes at a pivotal season for America and the church. With your support, many more people will turn to First Things for thoughtful religious perspectives on pressing issues of politics, culture, and public life.

All thanks to you. Will you answer the call?

Make My Gift

Comments are visible to subscribers only. Log in or subscribe to join the conversation.



Filter First Thoughts Posts

Related Articles