CNN is back again this holy season with another installment of its popular “Finding Jesus” series examining evidence around the man Christians believe is the Son of God. Although Jesus lived nearly 2,000 years ago, he remains as relevant as ever, according to one pastor tapped to offer insight for the program.
“The whole idea of Jesus was about justice, about equity but also about listening,” the Rev. A.R. Bernard said in an interview ahead of the series’ May 5 premiere.
Bernard, pastor of 33,000-member Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn, New York, insisted that divisions seen across the country today are not anything new.
“In our country, with the present changes [in the] administration and the divide that did not begin with Trump but has existed in our nation since the Civil War, it’s just been more pronounced. And with all of these different platforms that give people a voice, the conversation, the noise of the conversation has reached a level we’ve never experienced in our nation,” he said.
The biggest problem facing the country is people’s inability or unwillingness to communicate, he added.
“We’re not listening to each other, we’re talking at each other, trying to convince each other that our perspective is the right one. But we’re not listening to each other. The art of communication is not in your ability to speak. It’s in your ability to listen,” Bernard said.
In addition to serving as pastor of Christian Cultural Center, Bernard is also president of the Council of Churches of the City of New York, an organization representing 1.5 million Protestants, Anglicans and Orthodox Christians.
In “Finding Jesus,” the pastor appears among a panel of expert contributors who provide context to the historical figures and locations linked to Jesus’ life and ministry. Dramatizations are also used in the series.
“‘Finding Jesus’ is less an investigation of the life of Jesus,” Bernard explained. “So it’s not putting Jesus on trial. It is, however, an exploration of the evidence—the writings, the archaeological findings, and the people who were involved in Jesus’ story.”
The Bible presents Jesus as being conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of a virgin named Mary and living in Roman-occupied Judea during the 1st century. After more than three years of preaching publicly and doing miracles, he was tortured and nailed to a cross to die. Three days after his death, he came back to life, although critics speculated that his body simply had been taken from his tomb.
The disciples, considered eyewitnesses to his controversial miracles, were at odds about Jesus’ resurrection as well. In fact, the disciple Thomas—referred to as “doubting Thomas” by some Christians—refused to believe claims about a living, breathing Jesus unless he could see his body for himself, according to biblical accounts.
This was one aspect of “Finding Jesus” that struck Bernard, who offers commentary on the doubting disciple in the series. He believes Thomas symbolizes modern seekers.
“I looked at him as a critical thinker, one who was trying to make sense of the evidence that was presented to him over the 3 1/2 years that he spent with Jesus—the life, the death, now the resurrection,” Bernard said.
Thomas’ skeptical approach to claims about a resurrected Jesus reflects the reality that “Christianity is not a blind faith.”
“It is a reasoned trust in the person of Christ and the story that’s been presented about his life, death and his resurrection,” the pastor added.
Although “Finding Jesus” is more focused on exploring King Herod’s tomb, St. Peter’s bones, Lazarus’ tomb, and other people, artifacts and historic sites linked to Jesus, Bernard said he hopes the series will inspire non-Christians to explore the person of Jesus.
He also suggested that pastors incorporate aspects of “Finding Jesus” and tools from the series’ resource site in their sermons to strengthen their congregants’ apologetics.
“Unfortunately, too many Christians are not strong enough in their faith to defend that faith, to sit down and have a conversation with someone who is a skeptic or doesn’t believe in this Jesus and in this Christian life. So hopefully they will come out equipped,” Bernard said.
“Finding Jesus: Faith, Fact and Forgery” begins airing Sunday, March 5 at 9 p.m. ET on CNN. Additional episodes air every Sunday throughout the period of Lent, with “Finding Jesus” concluding April 9, on Palm Sunday.