by Brian Douglas
Stop me if you’ve heard this one: A Christian, an agnostic, and an atheist take a four-hour car ride together. Yeah, it sounds like a bad joke, but this was the real circumstance I found myself in years ago when I agreed to join two work colleagues on a road trip to a sporting event.
I am the Christian in this story, and although I knew roughly where my two friends stood on the subject of eternal salvation, I had not planned to take advantage of my captive audience and go on the offensive to score a conversion for Christ. You’ve got to pick your moments for that, after all, and this didn’t seem like fertile ground. My atheist companion, however, had different plans, and soon I found myself playing defense to his challenge of my Christianity. All of this made our agnostic friend very uncomfortable, and he soon took up the role of referee in our debate.
It was just like the preachers of old had predicted! My ability to defend my faith was being put to the test, ready or not. When he opened with an attack by saying it was “a fairy tale from 2,000 years ago,” I knew what was in store for me. We sparred for about an hour, and I’d be lying if I told you I could recount every detail of the blow-by-blow exchange. But the one moment that stuck with me all these years later was my challenge to him, “If you don’t believe in any God, then what do you think happens to you when you die?”
Without missing a beat, he gave a simple and chilling reply: “Worm food!”
It struck a nerve. I picked that question for a very specific reason. I wanted to hit my opponent where it hurt, and being honest, the thing that would keep me up at night was a burning question of not whether I had chosen the wrong religion for my life, but whether or not any religion was right. The idea of nothing, no resurrection, caused me mental anguish and no small amount of actual, physical pain. I want to go on, for the things we do here to have meaning, and to have a Lord granting grace and comfort to me in the dark times of doubt and fear. Maybe that rings true for some of you this Easter, too.
Jesus found himself explaining the grand design on his own road trip shortly after his resurrection from the dead in Luke 24. Two dejected disciples were walking to a town called Emmaus when Jesus appeared to them in disguise at first, hearing their sad tale of how their savior was crucified and seemingly would not fulfill their vision of redeeming Israel. They needed a big picture moment.
Luke 24:25-27 details what Jesus said to these two guys: “‘How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” (NIV).
An Eye-Opening Moment
For those two travelers, the story was also roughly 2,000 years old, so maybe they should be forgiven for not putting all the pieces together concerning what the Old Testament prophecies provided. Christ laid out the story for them, one that has only gotten better as we see the plan that God had in store from our modern perspective.
Next, their eyes were opened to the fact that this was indeed the living Jesus. Luke 24:32 tells us, “They asked each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?’” (NIV). The Bible says their eyes were opened to see who he really was when they sat down at a table with him and he broke bread and gave it to them (Luke 24:30, 31). They could now start to understand the victory that had been achieved after what seemed like the bitterest of defeats, and they returned straight back to Jerusalem to tell the apostles and others what they saw. I like to imagine that the trip back took half as much time as they ran with joy.
Jesus appeared to them all again, even ate some fish just to prove how real this was, and then they could see this wasn’t just about Israel. What the resurrection accomplished was repentance and forgiveness of sins for every nation. The mere fact that Christians today are plentiful and celebrate the resurrection of Jesus and all the New Testament delivers is a testimony on why you should not be sitting on the fence or in defiant opposition to the existence of God. Where else are you offered a plan so compelling on what we are doing here, what our purpose should be, and where we will end up after we die?
Reasons to Believe
I don’t remember the precise details, but some of the story arc Jesus shared is what I used to make my case for Christ to the atheist that day on our road trip. I’m not sure I made a dent in his attitude, but I was proud that I stood my ground and gave none. I completely understand why someone would have their doubts now—even the apostles weren’t getting it at first! We all have to arrive at our own salvation with fear and trembling, and taking in these concepts takes time to learn—and a lifetime to understand. But in my great debate, I made it clear that the resurrection of Jesus earned me a chance on my own, and with that comes a generous portion of peace that soothes me on those sleepless 2:00 am moments when my mortality catches up with me.
I will concede the atheist may have been right about the repulsive answer he gave: My body might just be worm food when it’s all said and done. But not, thank God, my eternal soul. Nor yours. For as he was resurrected, so shall we all be in his name. May that knowledge burn within your heart this week as you travel along the road with Jesus as your companion.
Brian Douglas grew up in Nashville but is a recent transplant to the Cincinnati area to work as a Category Director of Shopper Based Design for P&G Baby Care. He resides in Mason with his wife, Christy, and their daughter, Mary Kate, a junior at Elon University.