“Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.’ Nathanael said to him, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ Philip said to him, ‘Come and see’ ” (John 1:45,46).
WHETHER SOMETHING SEEMS “LIKELY” IS USUALLY DETERMINED BY OUR CULTURE AND OUR CONDITIONING. If you had asked somebody two thousand years ago whether it was likely that people would ever travel to Mars, they would have said no. Today, however, that feat does not seem as unlikely as it did back then.
But we should not be so arrogant as to think that we’ve broken free from the limitations of culture and conditioning. We may be freer to see the likelihood of some things than ancient people were, but in all honesty, we are less free than they were to see the likelihood of other things —including the truth of the gospel.
The inherent likelihood of the resurrection of Christ (and therefore of the truth of the gospel) has not changed since the first century. If it seems more improbable today, it is only because we approach the question with a set of prejudices that ancient people were not bound by. Before even considering the historical evidence, we’ve already made up our minds that there is no God who could have caused the event, so we dismiss it out of hand.
But if you have ever sat on a jury in a courtroom and had to evaluate evidence, you know how wrong you can be when you start thinking, “It just doesn’t seem possible that this could have happened.” If the evidence is sufficient, you have to revise your opinion of what is possible and go with the evidence. The operative question is not “Is this likely?” but “Is this true?”
And so it is with the gospel. However unlikely, implausible, or even impossible it may seem, the gospel story must be judged on the basis of the evidence, even if we don’t want it to be true. As C. S. Lewis once said, “I do have moods in which the whole thing looks very improbable; but when I was an atheist, I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable.” Fortunately, C. S. Lewis did not let his moods determine his beliefs one way or the other.
So if our sense of likelihood tells us that “nothing good can come out of Nazareth,” the gospel simply says, “Come and see.”
“The gospel is wildly improbable — except that it happened” (Michael Horton).