Is Jesus Like God or is God Like Jesus?

JesusAlthough I agree that Jesus is God (John 1:1), I have something specific in mind when I ask if Jesus is like God or God like Jesus. Traditionally, people have looked at Jesus and identified divine attributes and used this as ways to demonstrated that Jesus is God.

But some theologians sees this as a backward process.

There is a growing trend to start with Jesus and to use him as the measure to determine what is truly God. I have seen this in the writings of Greg Boyd and have heard similar things by Scot McKnight and Brian Zahnd. I will admit that I have not read Boyd’s Crucifixion of the Warrior God, although I hope to in the near future. But I have read such statements in Boyd’s other books.

This is a convenient hermeneutic for Boyd and other (mostly Anabaptist) scholars. There are some troubling passages in the Old Testament where not only does God perform acts of violence, he also commands his people to use violence. This can be difficult for Christians who are committed to nonviolence.

What Boyd is able to do is to look to Jesus and then measure descriptions of God in the Old Testament by that standard. Anytime we read a description of God, we should ask, “Could we see Jesus doing that?”

So when God in the Old Testament command people to care for the poor, that is consistent with Jesus and so is an accurate description of God. But when God in the Old Testament calls people to attack and destroy a city, that is inconsistent with Jesus and so is an inaccurate description of God.

I have not read enough of Boyd to know how he explains those troubling passages. I would suspect he would say that the Israelites misunderstood what God wanted or tried to impose their own agenda with a theological foundation.

While I can see the attractiveness of this view, I have some serious concerns.

The first is that it makes interpretation of the Old Testament very difficult. Just because the Old Testament quotes God in saying something, doesn’t mean that God actually said it. The Old Testament is a mix of accurate and inaccurate accounts, some divine revelation mixed with mistaken ideas about God. This theory prevents us from reading the Old Testament in anything like a straightforward (I purposely avoid literal) manner.

The other problem is that I don’t think this theory takes seriously diversity within the Trinity. They look to passages like, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.” (Hebrews 1:3) From this it is argued that since Jesus is exactly like God, God is exactly like Jesus.

However, I suspect that if you asked the author of Hebrews to summarize Israelite history, he would have include the warrior images of God and the God-ordained invasion of Canaan. Probably all of the apostles would have understood the Old Testament as accurately revealing the words and actions of God.

I believe the author of Hebrews was trying to describe Jesus in such a way the demonstrate he was far greater than the angels or Moses. I don’t think he was trying to redefine God as being more Christ-like.

I don’t see why belief in the Trinity requires the Father, Son and Spirit to act in exactly the same way. Each person of the Trinity had different roles and I don’t think the earthly ministry of Jesus revealed everything about the Godhead.

Here is an example from the New Testament. In Acts 5, we find the deaths of Annias and Sapphira. It seems to be the Holy Spirit who is responsible for their deaths. Do we find Jesus killing people during his earthly ministry? No. Does that mean that the deaths of Annias and Sapphira was not divine judgment? No again.

I agree that there are some troubling passages in the Bible and that we need to wrestle with them. But I am not convinced that using the earthly ministry of Jesus as the standard of what is really God is the way to go.


Share

Does a Non-Historical Adam Remove the Need For Jesus?

AdamOne of the current conversations even among evangelicals, is the historicity of Adam and Eve.While young earth creations might never question the existence, many theistic evolutions (or evolutionary creationists) would question that Adam was a specific individual in history.

This conversation goes deeper than the means of God’s creation but actually touches on issues of salvation. If there was no Adam, there would be no need for Jesus, since Jesus’ death on the cross reverses the curse that came with the original sin.

Before going any further, I need to say something very clearly. I’m going to write in full caps so no one misses it:

I’M NOT SUGGESTING THAT ADAM WAS NOT HISTORICAL.

My only point in this is to look at how this question relates to what Jesus did and what that means for us. Was the death of Jesus completely tied to the fall of Adam and Eve?

There is no doubt that Paul discusses the parallel between Adam and Jesus, especially in Romans.

Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned—To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law. Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come. But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ! (Romans 5:12-17)

I will not argue about Paul’s use of Adam in his understanding of the atonement. But I would like to make two observations.

  1. The four Gospels describe the death of Jesus and emphasize the importance of that death. yet none of them explicitly connect that death with Adam’s sin. They seemed to think it made sense on their own. If we didn’t have any of Paul’s letters, we would still see the death of Jesus on the cross as an extremely important event.
  2. I don’t need Romans or Genesis to tell me that the human race is fallen. The sinfulness of humanity is one of the easiest doctrines to prove. Whether it is the constant flow of violent crimes reported by the media or our own knowledge of our deceitful hearts, sin is obvious. If Adam had never been mentioned in Genesis, I would still believe that we are sinful and that we needed something radical to restore to God and to other people.

Was Adam a real historical figure? Christians will debates that for years to come. Does that answer determine whether Jesus’ death on the cross was actually needed? No. Humanity is sinful and Jesus restores us to right relationship with God. That is something that all Christians should agree on, whatever they might think of Adam.


Share

Was Nazareth Inhabited During the Time of Jesus?

I regularly hear skeptics claim that Nazareth was not inhabited during the first century, thus creating a major problem for the Gospel accounts about Jesus. This claim has been repeated so many times that people believe it without checking out more recent research.

It is true that for a long time that there was not much archaeological evidence for Nazareth. The reason for this is that Nazareth during the time of Jesus was a small village, one of such little importance that we would not expect much in terms of remains. This reflected in the Gospel of John.

“Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked. (John 1:46)

Nathanael is basically saying that Nazareth is such a backwater that no one should expect anyone of importance to come from there.

Having said that, archaeological evidence has emerged for the first century habitation of Nazareth. Here a few articles worth reading.

I am agnostic as to whether or not the house discovered belonged to Jesus’ family. I am confident, however, that there is good evidence for Nazareth existing during the time of Jesus. If you are interested in archaeology and the New Testament, I recommend Jesus and His World: The Archaeological Evidence by Craig Evans.

Share

7 Differences Between the Bible and the Qur’an

Qur'anThe Bible is scripture for Christians and the Qur’an is scripture for Muslims. There are things that they have in common but there are also some significant differences. Here are seven differences between the Bible and the Qur’an.

  1. The Qur’an is only considered to be authoritative in the original Arabic. Muslims do not even refer to Qur’ans in other languages as translations. While it is helpful to know Hebrew and Greek for the Bible, there is nothing sacred about those languages.
  2. Many Muslims consider the Qur’an to be co-eternal with God. They would not date the Qur’an to the time of Muhammad, but believe it has always existed along side God. A closer parallel than the Qur’an and the Bible would be the Qur’an and Jesus.
  3. The Bible contains many genres of writing, while the Qur’an is written in all one style. The Bible includes history, biography, letters, wisdom literature and apocalyptic literature, while the Qur’an is basically poetry.
  4. The Bible is arranged roughly chronologically, with Genesis describing creation and Revelation describing the remaking of the world at the end of history. The Qur’an is basically arranged with a short Sura at the beginning and then from longest to shortest. Events from different periods of history appear throughout the Suras.
  5. Christians emphasize the human activity in the writing of the Bible more than Muslims do with the Qur’an. While Christians believe in the inspiration of the Bible, we see the Spirit using the personality, style and circumstances of the human authors. Muslims believe that Muhammad simple recited what Gabriel revealed to him.
  6. The Qur’an was written over a much shorter time than the Bible. The Qur’an was written over about twenty years, while the Bible was written over a period of about 1500 years.
  7. Muslims revere the Qur’an much more than Christians revere the Bible. Muslims react much more strongly when a Qur’an is burnt compared to how Christians react when a Bible is burnt (even though both groups should be upset).

What other differences do you see?




Share

Did Jesus Have a Disability?

Jesus

People with disabilities have not always felt valuable. This includes the context of the church. Are disabilities just a reminder of all that is not right in the world?

But what if Jesus had a disability? I’m not suggesting that he had autism or was lame. But consider this passage:

 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11)

Many people see the cross as the greatest sacrifice that Jesus experienced. But what about the incarnation? God the Son became a human being!

One of the first heresies was not doubts about Jesus’ divinity but about his humanity. Some could not believe that Jesus really became human and that he must have only seemed to be human.

But the incarnation teaches that Jesus really became human. He emptied himself. If taking on humanity with all of its limitations is not a disability, what is?

People with disabilities should not feel out of place in churches. They should feel right at home because the foundation of Christianity is about the worship of the disabled God.

Share

Did Jesus Ever Do Apologetics?

Awhile back, I got into a conversation with someone on Twitter about apologetics. This person, who had a seminary education and was involved in ministry, was pushing back on a tweet I wrote about the importance of apologetics. One of the things that she said was that we should emulate Jesus, and what he did was tell stories. Telling stories was what we should be doing, not apologetics.

There are a couple of things that I could say about this. The first is that our New Testament is bigger than just the Gospels. I might ask how much of Paul’s letters is just telling stories? Another thing I would do is point her to the Gospel of John. John is not all that interested in Jesus’ parables and he records more teaching than stories.

But what I want to do here is to ask if Jesus ever did apologetics. First I must define apologetics. Some people, such as Karl Barth, define apologetics very narrowly as arguing from natural theology. I see apologetics as being much broader than that. I understand apologetics as simply giving a reason for why you believe what you believe. That reason can come in many forms.

One passage in which I see Jesus doing apologetics is:

The same day some Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came up to Him and questioned Him: “Teacher, Moses said, if a man dies, having no children, his brother is to marry his wife and raise up offspring for his brother. Now there were seven brothers among us. The first got married and died. Having no offspring, he left his wife to his brother. The same happened to the second also, and the third, and so to all seven. Then last of all the woman died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will she be of the seven? For they all had married her.”

Jesus answered them, “You are deceived, because you don’t know the Scriptures or the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage but are like angels in heaven. Now concerning the resurrection of the dead, haven’t you read what was spoken to you by God: I am the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob? He is not the God of the dead, but of the living.”

And when the crowds heard this, they were astonished at His teaching. (Matthew 22:23-33)

In this passage, Jesus is defending belief in the resurrection. He does that here, not with stories, but with Scripture and logic. That is apologetics.

Another passage is this:

On the Sabbath He was going through the grainfields, and His disciples began to make their way picking some heads of grain. The Pharisees said to Him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?”

He said to them, “Have you never read what David and those who were with him did when he was in need and hungry— how he entered the house of God in the time of Abiathar the high priest and ate the sacred bread—which is not lawful for anyone to eat except the priests—and also gave some to his companions?”  Then He told them, “The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath. Therefore, the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:23-28)

In this passage, Jesus defends the activity of his disciples on the Sabbath, not with a parable, but by looking to an Old Testament example. That is apologetics.

I’m not trying to minimize Jesus’ use of stories and parables. They are an important part of his teaching. But to say that because he sometimes taught in parables that we should stick to just stories is not reasonable. Jesus was not afraid of using apologetics when the occasion called for it, and neither should we.




Share

Who is Jesus?

A sermon based on Luke 9:18-20 and preached at Queen Street Baptist Church. You can find the audio here.

Introduction

I have been fortunate to have had a number of jobs and roles. Second only to my role as a pastor, has been the times I have been able to teach the Bible at a number of colleges. The lectures go well, the conversations are enjoyable but there is one part of the class that always stresses out my students. And that is exams. I understand that, I’m quite happy to be on the instructor side of the exams. As I hand out the exams to the class, I tell the students that there is plenty of room to get questions wrong. But there is one question that they need to get correct and that is the place on the exam for their name. If they get that one wrong, they get zero. Identity is key.

It is the same thing when it comes to our Christian faith. There is plenty of room to get certain things wrong about our faith. We might be wrong about the process by which God created the world. We might be wrong about the nature of Noah’s flood. We might be wrong about how some Old Testament battle took place. But there is one question that we cannot afford to get wrong. This time it is not our identity but that of Jesus. We could get every other theological or historical question right, but if we get who Jesus is wrong, we have failed the exam.

That might seem like an awful lot of pressure. Everything is depending on this one truth and yet we know that there is plenty of disagreement as to the answer to the question. I believe the passage that we are looking at should encourage us. The one who gets the correct answer in our story is Peter, the one who normally gets things wrong. This should tell us that the truth about who Jesus is definitely within our grasp.

Who Do People Say That He Is?

In our passage, we find Jesus beginning with an important question, but not the most important question. Jesus asks the disciples who people were saying that Jesus was. We need to remember it was much more than just the twelve disciples that were spending time with Jesus. We should be thinking of the twelve, and then a larger group of disciples, and then a larger group of observers, either trying to figure out who Jesus was or just entertained by the show. It is this larger group that Jesus asks about.

The disciples report on three identities that were floating around. One was John the Baptist. We find earlier in this chapter that Herod feared that Jesus was John the Baptist risen from the dead. Since Herod had John killed, he was understandably concerned. Others thought that Jesus was Elijah. Why Elijah? Well the Old Testament teaches that Elijah never died but was rather taken to heaven before death. Malachi, in the last book of our Old Testament, prophesied that Elijah would return. Many Jews then and even now look to the return of Elijah. Finally, some thought Jesus might be one of the prophets of old. The reason for this is that many Jews believed that there would be no more prophets after the Old Testament. Since Jesus sure seemed to act like a prophet, he could not be a new prophet but he could be an old prophet risen from the dead. None of these possibilities were accurate.

While we do not need to know every ancient opinion about Jesus, we should be aware of what people today are saying about Jesus. We should not just assume that our neighbours believe the same things we do about Jesus or that they have no ideas about Jesus.

We have Muslims who believe that Jesus was a prophet but that he was not the Son of God and that he never died on a cross. We have Jehovah’s Witnesses who believe that Jesus is powerful but that he is not God. Rather he is the first being that Jehovah created and he is to be identified with the archangel Michael. There are spiritual people who say that Jesus was just a great religious and moral teacher. There are atheists who say that Jesus was deluded. There are even people who say that Jesus never existed.

What do the people in your life say about Jesus? Why is this important? We want to be a church that is relevant and engaged with our community. We don’t adopt unbiblical beliefs but we should know what other people believe in order to be able to communicate with them effectively.

To do this we may have to leave our comfort zones and actually talk to people about Jesus. This is not about forcing our views about Jesus on others but simply asking people what they believe. The wonderful thing is that if we ask and listen with respect, they will be more willing to hear what we have to say.

Who Do You Say That He Is?

I do believe it is important to understand what other people are saying about Jesus. But it is even more important that we wrestle with our own understanding of Jesus.

In our passage, the disciples would have been much more comfortable about discussing other people’s views about Jesus. But Jesus made the question personal by asking who they thought he was.

Try to use your imagination to fill in the gaps between Jesus’ question and Peter’s answer. Did all of the disciples start staring at their sandals, hoping that if they didn’t make eye contact, they wouldn’t have to answer? Was there a long awkward silence before Peter meekly offered his answer? Or did Peter immediately blurt out his reply, excited that he finally knew the answer to one of Jesus’ questions?

What we do know is that Peter did answer Jesus and said, “The Christ of God.” We might not be impressed with that answer. Of course he was the Christ, his name was Jesus Christ, wasn’t it? Despite what some people may think, Christ is not his last name. Nor was it obvious that Jesus was the Christ.

We sometimes think that there was one Jewish understanding of what the messiah or Christ would be like and Jesus so perfectly fulfilled that job description that no one had an excuse. The truth is that there were many Jewish theories about what the messiah would be like, some even expecting two messiahs. And even within the multiple theories, people were not expecting a messiah like Jesus.

Until this point, the only ones who recognized Jesus as the Christ were the unclean spirits that Jesus was casting out and he ordered them to be silent. Peter is the first human being to recognize Jesus as the Christ.

Who do we say that Jesus is? We may acknowledge him as the Christ, but what does that even mean?

As a young person, I did not have a very accurate understanding of who Jesus was. I saw him as sort of a demigod, that is half human and half God, sort of like Heracles. He was powerful but not God the Father powerful. He could probably take Satan out in a fight but they would be fairly equally matched. This is not a very orthodox understanding of who Jesus is and I have learned much since those days.

Here are some things that the Bible says about who Jesus is.

  1. Jesus is God incarnate. He is not half God, nor is he a lesser god who the main God created. Jesus is co-eternal with the Father and the Son and participated in creation.
  2. Jesus was really incarnated as a human. Jesus did not just pretend to be human, he had a real human body. He grew and learned, just like all of us.
  3. Jesus was both a teacher and a miracle worker. While people today may be skeptical of miracles, those who witnessed Jesus’ ministry did not doubt his miracles.
  4. Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins. His death was not just an unfortunate event imposed on an innocent man. The cross was always a part of the plan. It is through the cross that we find forgiveness of sins.
  5. Jesus rose from the dead. The resurrection of Jesus was not a spiritual experience or even a powerful memory. Rather the tomb was actually empty and Jesus was able to interact with his disciples.
  6. Jesus promised to return. Despite all of the predictions about the end of the world and our suspicions about such claims, Jesus will return. And when he does, we will join him in his resurrection.

This is the basic teaching about who Jesus is. How does that fit with your understanding of Jesus? Please do not take my word for it. The goal for the Christian should be to agree with my opinions, but to know the truth. I encourage you to study the Bible and discover what it says about Jesus.

Conclusion

Why do we date our years from the birth of Jesus (even if the dating was not done perfectly)? The reason is that people have long known that the appearance of Jesus was not just about another religious leader trying to start a movement. All of history hinges on the coming of Jesus into the world. Who do people say that Jesus is? There are many theories and we should be aware of them. But even more important is reflecting on who we believe Jesus to be. It should not be about who we want Jesus to be. It must be what the Bible says Jesus was. You may be at different points in your journey of understanding Jesus. That is okay, as we should all be learning more about Jesus. The point is to continue on the journey and always be committed to finding the truth.

Share

Pauline Christology

Pauline ChristologyWas Jesus divine? Was the divinity of Jesus a later invention of the church? What did Paul, our earliest Christian writer, say about Jesus? I can think of no better resource to answer these questions than Gordon Fee’s Pauline Christology.

I have read Fee’s earlier book, God’s Empowering Presence, where Fee looked at every mention of the Spirit by Paul. That was an amazing book. In Pauline Christology, Fee does the same thing for Jesus.

When we think of Jesus as divine, the two passages that often come up are Philippians 2 and Colossians 1. Those are important passages but there is so much more. Fee demonstrates convincingly that Paul’s high christology permeates all of his letters. For example, Paul repeatedly describes Jesus accomplishing what the God of the Old Testament was prophesied to do. Paul’s use of Lord for Jesus was not just a term of respect, but as a statement of Jesus’ divinity.

Pauline Christology, is an essential resource for those interested in biblical studies and also those involved in Christian apologetics.

I recently gave a lecture that touched on the divinity of Jesus, you can listen to it below.

Share

William Lane Craig on the Historicity of Jesus’ Resurrection

The foundation of the Christian faith is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. As important as the crucifixion is, the reason we know that was something more than a senseless death is that Jesus rose from the dead. The Apostle Paul tells us that if Jesus did not rise, our faith is in vain.

One of the great defenders of the resurrection is apologist William Lane Craig. In this video, Craig speaks to the historicity of the resurrection. You can find more resources at the Reasonable Faith site.


Share

4 Things You Need to Know About the Resurrection

This is the Easter sermon that I preached at Queen Street Baptist Church.

Easter Sunday is by far my favourite Sunday of the entire year. Christmas is wonderful with all of the carols and nativities and everything else that goes with it. But it is Easter that really fills me with joy and gets me excited to worship. And it is not just because of the chocolate!

When it comes to the birth of Jesus, we really do not know when in the year he was born. Whenever it was, it is very unlikely that it was December 25. Why is it such a mystery? Because the early church did not celebrate Christmas. It is not the Christmas is bad or sinful, it is just that the birth of Jesus was not the foundation of the Christian faith.

But Easter is very different. Easter is grounded in history. The death and resurrection of Jesus took place during the time of Passover. We have a pretty good idea of when these events took place. It is not just because of the connection to Passover. The earliest Christians knew immediately that Easter, not that they called it that, was the foundational event for the Christian faith.

How do I know this? Christianity emerged out of Judaism and many of the earliest Christians really valued their Jewish heritage. There was some flexibility in how observant but the most outward aspect that people noticed was Sabbath observance on Saturday. But soon the time for worship was moved to the Lord’s Day or Sunday because of the resurrection of Jesus. Think about how difficult it is for some churches to move worship from 10 am to 10:30 am and then imagine moving worship from the Sabbath to Sunday mornings. That is a huge shift not just in tradition but in theological emphasis. It was saying that worship was no longer a response to the first creation, the day God rested, to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The resurrection of Jesus was that important. I will add that people did not worship on their day off. At least in the Jewish areas, the Sabbath was still the day of rest. Christians would need to get up very early in the morning to worship before they went to work for the day. They would do this because they saw the importance of a weekly remembrance of the resurrection of Jesus.

What I want to do is to help you see the importance of the resurrection by looking at four things you need to know about the resurrection of Jesus. 

The Resurrection Does Not Take Away From the Pain of the Cross

There is a danger when we come to celebrate the resurrection that we have already forgotten Good Friday. Easter Sunday is about victory and life and resurrection, but all of that takes place in the shadow of the cross. I have heard people suggest that Jesus’ death on the cross was not so horrible because he knew that he would rise on the third day. That is simply not true.

First of all, crucifixion was and is one of the most terrible ways to execute a person. Is designed for maximum pain, shame and humiliation. Crucifixion was used by the Romans to make examples of people. It was not just to end a life. Jesus, Son of God as he is, still had a completely human body and felt the pain as much as any other person who was crucified on that day.

But there is something else. We should be asking why Jesus died. Was it because the religious leaders were jealous of him? Was it because the Romans wanted to remove a troublemaker? While there is truth to both suggestions, the real reason for Jesus to die was to take the penalty for our sins. Sin, not just individual things that we do wrong, but general rebellion against God separated us from God and the life that God wants for us. Jesus chose to go to the cross, to suffer and die so that we might be reconciled.

What I want you to get is that as the Son of God, Jesus was the creator of all things, including not only the wood of the cross and the iron of the nails but the very people who crucified him. Think of the emotional and spiritual pain of submitting to such treatment.

The resurrection does not erase any of this suffering but it does illuminate it. Thousands of people were crucified by the Romans in the first century. But only one man was resurrected. The resurrection of Jesus tells us that something more than a travesty of justice took place on the cross. The resurrection of Jesus reveals that God was working in that suffering and death to bring forgiveness and eternal life.

The Resurrection Really Did Happen

Something else that we need to know is that the resurrection of Jesus really happened. It is not uncommon for people to affirm the resurrection but in a very qualified way. They might say that Jesus was risen in that the first disciples felt his continued presence in a way that almost seemed like he was there. Jesus was alive in their hearts and memories. Jesus was alive because the disciples were continuing his mission. But that is not what Christians claim.

Christians believe that Jesus really died on Good Friday and really rose from the dead on Easter Sunday. Christians believe that before the resurrection, his body was in the tomb. After the resurrection, the tomb was empty and Jesus was interacting with people in a physical way. He was not a ghost. Luke’s Gospel presents a story of post-resurrection Jesus eating fish to demonstrate how solid he was. John’s Gospel has Jesus cooking breakfast for his disciples after his resurrection.

What is unique about Christianity is that it is the only falsifiable religion there is. If we went back in time with a camera, we could not tell if a particular religious leader was receiving a revelation or experiencing enlightenment. But we could tell if Jesus rose from the dead.

The resurrection of Jesus is one of the most historically reliable truths of all religions. According to Paul, Jesus appeared not just to one or two people, but to over five hundred people. These people were from a variety of backgrounds, from Jesus’ close friend Peter to Jesus’ half-brother James, who was skeptical during Jesus’ earthly ministry.

I share all this to say that we need something solid on which to build our faith. Life is too hard to hope on something that may or may not have happened. There are many stories in the Bible that are hard to understand and uncertain in meaning. But the resurrection of Jesus is clear and demonstrable. This is something we can build a faith on.

The Resurrection Will Be Shared

What is Easter about? Is it just ancient history? Is it just a happy ending to the sufferings of Jesus? The truth is that Easter is something relevant to all of us today and it points toward something in the future, something will directly affect us.

Have you ever wondered why some of the disciples (not just Thomas) had trouble believing that Jesus rose from the dead? After all, they had seen Jesus raise Lazarus and a number of other people from the dead. Surely Jesus could rise as well.

The issue is that the disciples knew that the raising of Jesus was very different in kind from the raising of Lazarus and others. Each of those people had their bodies repaired, their spirits called back and their hearts began to beat again. They went on with their life, eventually got sick again and died. Those people were buried and their bodies are little more than remnants of bones today.

What was being claimed about Jesus was not a resuscitation of his body but a resurrection. There was a very strong belief within Judaism that one day God would raise up his people in new bodies that would last for eternity. The Jews even knew when this would happen. It would happen on the Day of the Lord, the day when God rights every wrong.

The problem is that Jesus’ resurrection did not take place then, as that day has not happened. This is significant, as Paul describes Jesus as the first-fruits of the resurrection. That is, the resurrection of Jesus is the promise that we too will experience the resurrection.

What happens when we die? Everyone knows that if you have put your faith in Christ, you will go to heaven. That is true and yet when we read what both Jesus and Paul taught in the New Testament, the focus is almost completely on the resurrection of the body. The idea of being forever a disembodied spirit for eternity is foreign to the Bible. Being only a spirit is limited to the time between our death and and the resurrection.

This is very important. There was a period in my life in which I was an atheist and one of the reasons was trouble over the concept of heaven. I am a concrete thinker and the idea of being a disembodied spirit was so abstract that I really struggled with the concept. I wish someone had told me about the resurrection of the body and that is why I am telling you about it now.

My children get this concept, especially our daughter faith. She can understand that God will rebuild our bodies into something that cannot get sick or wear out. One of my proudest moments was when I heard Faith give a biblically accurate description of the resurrection of the body to another child. And she did it, not to show off Bible knowledge, but rather to give hope to the friend who had a sick parent. That leads us perfectly into our final point.

The Resurrection Gives Hope

What is it that this world needs? Do we need more powerful smart phones? Faster computers? More complex cars? Do we need more toys?

My observation, through life and ministry, is that our world needs hope. What is hope? Hope is having a sense that we see right now is not all that there is, that there is something better coming. A child might live in hope that if they eat their vegetables, that there will be a tasty dessert at the end. A student might live in hope that all their studying will pay off with a fulfilling career after graduation. A parent might live in hope that restless nights and dirty diapers will pay off with being able to watch their children grow and become parents themselves. It is all about hope.

But we need hope in deeper areas of our life than enduring homework and changing diapers. There is real fear and pain that can grip us in a crushing embrace. We need hope.

We have already looked at the resurrection of Jesus as something that we will share in. The resurrection of Jesus gives us hope in the face of death. We can be assured that there is something beyond death because Jesus has come back to tell us.

But the resurrection of Jesus is not about enduring a painful life only because there will be a nice afterlife at the end. The resurrection of Jesus speaks to every area of our life right now.

What took place at the resurrection. Jesus went from a broken and bleeding man nailed to a cross,, looking like the greatest failure to becoming the risen Lord, victor over sin and death. Nothing about the cross would have led those bystanders to believe anything else was going on. But something was going on with Jesus and something is going on with us.

I want you to think about the biggest stress that you are facing right now. What is the one thing that wakes you up in the middle of the night? It could be a health scare. It could be relationship problems. It could be a loved one who doesn’t want to hear about Jesus. It could be memories of past trauma or abuse. It could be a million different things.

What does the resurrection of Jesus Christ mean to any of these things? The resurrection of Jesus tells us that God loves us and that he works in powerful ways when all outside signs tell us everything is hopeless.

I am not talking about a name and claim it theology. My children have not been healed of autism, but we have some seen some pretty major miracles in our relationship with them. My father died from a serious illness, but a few weeks before he died, he prayed with a pastor friend of mine to receive Jesus as Lord. God is God and he does things his way and in his timing. We cannot predict how God will act in our circumstances. All we can be issued of is that God is real and God is at work. We can have hope.

Conclusion

Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed. We are here to celebrate the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ and we should celebrate it. We should sing the hymns and read the Bible passages. But in all of that, I hope that you remember these four things: 1) the resurrection does not take away the pain of the cross, 2) the resurrection really happened, 3) the resurrection will be shared and 4) the resurrection brings hope. You may be in a place where any one of these four truths are the one that you have to grab on to. Wherever you are, go in the power and love of the risen Jesus.

Share

Did Jesus Ride Two Donkeys into Jerusalem?

DonkeyI will confess that when I preach on the triumphal entry of Jesus, I usually preach from either Mark’s or Luke’s version. The reason I avoid Matthew’s account is that it looks at first glance that Matthew is saying that Jesus is sitting on two donkeys at the same time. That is too much to explain in a sermon.

Here is the account from Matthew from the HCSB translation.

When they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage at the Mount of Olives, Jesus then sent two disciples, telling them, “Go into the village ahead of you. At once you will find a donkey tied there, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to Me. If anyone says anything to you, you should say that the Lord needs them, and immediately he will send them.”

This took place so that what was spoken through the prophet might be fulfilled:

Tell Daughter Zion,
“Look, your King is coming to you,
gentle, and mounted on a donkey,
even on a colt,
the foal of a beast of burden.”

The disciples went and did just as Jesus directed them. They brought the donkey and the colt; then they laid their robes on them, and He sat on them. A very large crowd spread their robes on the road; others were cutting branches from the trees and spreading them on the road. Then the crowds who went ahead of Him and those who followed kept shouting:

Hosanna to the Son of David!
He who comes in the name
of the Lord is the blessed One!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!

When He entered Jerusalem, the whole city was shaken, saying, “Who is this?” And the crowds kept saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee!” (Matthew 21:1-11)

So what exactly is going on here? Is Jesus really riding both the donkey and the colt at the same time? What would that look like?

The key to this is the Zechariah 9:9 passage which this event is the fulfillment of.

Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
Shout in triumph, Daughter Jerusalem!
Look, your King is coming to you;
He is righteous and victorious,
humble and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

This seems pretty straight forward. The King is to enter into Jerusalem on a donkey, specifically a colt which is a foal of a donkey. Zechariah seems to be speaking about one animal.

Here is how Matthew quotes the Zechariah passage in Greek:

ειπατε τη θυγατρι σιων ιδου ο βασιλευς σου ερχεται σοι πραυς και επιβεβηκως επι ονον και επι πωλον υιον υποζυγιου

The Greek word kai (και) is most often translated “and” but is translated “even” in the HCSB. It seems clear that Matthew does want us to be thinking of two animals even though that is not what the Hebrew of Zechariah 9:9 says. He can do this because the Septuagint does include the kai. Matthew (as with the other New Testament writers) frequently use the Septuagint.

Why would Matthew make things so complicated when he could have had a nice simple story with one donkey?

We need to remember that one of Matthew’s goals is to make it extremely obvious that Jesus is the fulfillment of prophecy. For most authors, a simple citation of Zechariah would have been sufficient. Not for Matthew. Matthew, thinking with a very Jewish mindset is wanting to fulfil the requirement of two witnesses. Matthew does this elsewhere with the healing of the blind men in Matthew 9:27-31, instead of the one blind man in the other Gospels.

So was there one donkey or two?

The accounts of Mark and Luke do not deny that there was a second donkey, they simply ignore it. The actual fulfillment was Jesus riding the colt and that is all Mark and Luke need to mention. Likely Jesus was only riding one donkey, even if the second was there (Matthew would have understood the practical challenges of trying that). What Matthew is interested in is not the riding ability of Jesus but the prophetic significance of the event. We need to read Matthew not just with our own interests but with his theological and literary intentions.

Share

C.S. Lewis Challenges the Jesus Myth

Certain forms of the Jesus Myth Theory make a big deal out of the dying and rising theme where the experience of a god represents what is taking place in nature with regard to seasons and the harvest. Some of this emerges from James Frazier’s The Golden Bough.

While I see many of the supposed dying and rising gods as not really fitting that description, there are religious traditions as described by Frazier.

C.S. Lewis lived in a time when Frazier was very influential. You will see Lewis interacting with him in a number of books if you know where to look. I found this particular statement by Lewis in Miracles to be very interesting:

C.S. LewisI myself, who first seriously read the New Testament when I was, imaginatively and poetically, all agog for the Death and Re-birth pattern and anxious to meet the corn-king, was chilled and puzzled by the almost total absence of such ideas in the Christian documents. One moment particularly stood out. A “dying God”—the only dying God who might possibly be historical—holds bread, that is, corn, in His hand and says, “This is my body.” Surely here, even if nowhere else—or surely if not here, at least in the earliest comments on this passage and through all later devotional usage in ever swelling volume—the truth must come out; the connection between this and the annual drama of the crops must be made. But it is not. It is there for me. There is no sign that it was there for the disciples or 9humanly speaking) for Christ Himself. It is almost as if He didn’t realize what He had said. (p. 118)

You can find more on this topic on my Jesus Myth page.


Share

Four Portraits, One Jesus

Mark L. Strauss, Four Portraits, One Jesus: A Survey of Jesus and the Gospels. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007. 559 pp.

Four Portraits One JesusBible college and seminary students need to learn many things, but near the top of that list is a good understanding of Jesus and the Gospels. Although there are many books that fall under that category, one of the best books in textbook form is Mark L. Strauss’ Four Portraits, One Jesus: A Survey of Jesus and the Gospels.

The book is divided into four sections. The first section is the introduction to the four Gospels. In this section, Strauss explains what the Gospels are, their origin and nature through historical-critical methods and how to read and hear the Gospels through literary-critical methods. The second section deals with the historical, religious and social/cultural setting of the Gospels. The third section looks at each of the four Gospels. Strauss describes the Gospels in this way: Mark: The Gospel of the Suffering Son of God, Matthew: The Gospel of the Messiah, Luke: The Gospel of the Saviour for All People and John: The Gospel of the Son Who Reveals the Father. The fourth section is on the historical Jesus. Strauss looks at such issues as searching for the real Jesus, the historical reliability of the Gospels, the contours and chronology of Jesus’ ministry, Jesus’ birth and childhood, the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, the message of Jesus, the miracles of Jesus, the messianic words and actions of Jesus, the death of Jesus and the resurrection of Jesus.

The book is very comprehensive in looking at the relevant issues concerning Jesus and the Gospels. The author writes from an evangelical perspective and so this resource is appropriate for schools and students of that background. At the same time, Strauss does wrestle with critical issues and students are able to encounter some of the theories outside of the evangelical world.

The book is nicely laid out with colourful pictures and sidebars to give added detail about people or places mentioned in the main text. The topics are presented in a logical sequence and the writing is clear and concise. Each chapter ends with discussion questions and further reading. As with many of Zondervan’s textbooks, online textbookplus resources are available for instructors.

I highly recommend Four Portraits, One Jesus as an excellent textbook for any introductory courses on Jesus or the Gospels. This book will give students all they need to build a solid foundation. This is the textbook that I have been looking for.

Stephen Bedard

Share

8 Things We Learn From the Great Commission

Last words are extremely important. In Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus gives his disciples his standing orders. We call this the Great Commission.

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18–20 ESV)

In some cases, Jesus gives commands to his disciples that are meant just for that group and that time (e.g. “Remain in Jerusalem”). Other times, they are general commands that are meant for all disciples at all times. This is the case with the Great Commission.

Here are eight things that we can learn from the Great Commission.

  1. It is based on Jesus’ authority. Too often we start reading at v. 19 and forget v. 18 but they are all part of the same statement. It is a good rule of thumb that if we see the word “therefore,” we should discover what is there for. What Jesus commands us to do emerges out of the authority he has received from the Father.
  2. We are to go. The command is not just to be ready when people come to us, but to actually initiate something ourselves. This is never easy. Even the early church preferred to stay in Jerusalem until persecution forced them to scatter. This does not mean that we must go overseas as missionaries. Rather we just need to be proactive.
  3. We are to make disciples. Often the Great Commission is interpreted as being about converting unbelievers. That is part of it but it goes much farther than just getting someone to pray the sinners prayer. Making disciples requires a greater commitment than just evangelizing.
  4. We are to go to all nations. The word translated as “nations” is the same word that is translated elsewhere as “Gentiles.” As we see later in Acts, the early Christians really struggled with moving beyond ethnic Jews to Gentiles. It was outside their comfort zone. The Great Commission assumes that we will interact outside of our own group despite our discomfort.
  5. We are to baptize. Without going into detail about differences in baptism, I will say that Jesus expects these new disciples to be integrated into the Christian community. Baptism is more than just community, but being joined together with other baptized believers is essential.
  6. We are to teach. While some would say that this generation only wants community and experience, we are not off the hook when it comes to teaching. This teaching can come in many different forms, from corporate gatherings to one-on-one mentoring. The Church must not neglect its teaching activity.
  7. Disciples are to observe commands. In an attempt to avoid images of legalism, some churches are loose with expectations of obedience. I am not talking obedience to the church, as that way leads to legalism. I am talking about obedience to what Jesus commands us. Salvation is by grace and not works, but that does not mean we get to disobey Jesus.
  8. Jesus’ presence makes it possible. The Great Commission starts with the authority of Jesus and ends with the presence of Jesus. The Great Commission is not something for us to do in our own power. We do the best we can with the gifts God has given us and rely on the presence of Jesus and the strength that comes from that.


Share

Jesus from the Pagans

The Myth Master, who in this video proved that Jesus never existed, is back. Now the Myth Master demonstrates beyond a shadow of a doubt that the story of Jesus was borrowed from the pagans.

If you are interested in this topic, please visit my Jesus Myth page for a heap of responses to this theory.




Share

Is Jesus a Sun God?

SunSome versions of the Jesus Myth Theory attempt to argue that Jesus was a sun god and that he was derived from other sun gods. But other than a desire to connect Jesus with Horus and other sun gods, is there any evidence that Jesus was originally conceived as a sun god? Later Christian artwork that portrays Jesus as having a halo does not speak to what the first Christians believed or wrote about.

Synoptic Gospels

Mark, the earliest Gospel, speaks of light twice (Mark 4:22; 13:24) but does not use it to describe Jesus. Matthew and Luke use light in a rather ordinary way and when it is used as an image, it for the Church and not Jesus.

The one possible exception is Jesus’ transfiguration, where Jesus’ face shines with the light of the sun (Matthew 17). The description of his face comes across as a minor detail with the focus being on the Father’s testimony about the Son. Besides, the description is fairly typical of heavenly beings. In addition, the earlier version in Mark 9:3 does not mention the sun or his face but rather describes the whiteness of his clothes.

Regarding the sun, Jesus uses it in a normal manner, except when he uses Old Testament allusions about the sun going dark at the Day of the Lord. These were images that were already present in Jewish eschatological thought.

John

Mythicists love John because there is much talk of Jesus as light. The question is, does the light imagery refer to the sun? It should be noted that John does not use the word ‘sun.’ Could it be assumed that light is equivalent to the sun? The early chapters contain a strong correspondence to the Genesis creation story (see this article I wrote). Light is the first thing created by God but the sun comes later. The Genesis account seems to be a direct response to pagan sun worship. John echoes this.

Paul

Paul only mentions the sun twice, neither in reference to Jesus. He speaks of light, but by far he uses light as a metaphor for truth rather than speaking of Jesus. If Jesus was originally a sun god, Paul seems unaware of this.

Why is it that most (all?) New Testament scholars neglect to comment on Jesus as a solar deity? It is most likely because if a person was not looking for it, they would never find these themes in the New Testament. Things like connecting Jesus to the sun because he was born on the winter solstice are meaningless, since the New Testament never says when he was born. If mythicists want to connect Jesus to pagan gods, they best look elsewhere.

For more information the Jesus Myth, get my book Unmasking the Jesus Myth.




Share

Translating the Jesus Myth For You

If you have encountered the Jesus Myth Theory (JMT), you may be confused. They claim that the stories of pagan god-men are almost exactly the same as the story of Jesus. But when you read the Gospels and then read the myths, the connections are not so clear.

I will attempt to help by translating what the JMT says and what they really mean.

You may come across a JMT statement such as:

God X was born of a virgin on Dec. 25, had twelve disciples, was crucified and was resurrected on third day, just like Jesus.

Let’s go through this statement as I translate each piece for you.

EgyptVirgin Birth: When the JMT says virgin birth, they don’t mean virgin birth. The child may be born to a woman who had previously lost her virginity. The child may have been conceived through sexual intercourse between the father and mother. What the JMT really means is that there is some supernatural element to the conception.

Dec. 25: Aside from the fact that the Bible does not claim that Jesus was born on Dec. 25, there is another problem. God X is not necessarily described as being born on Dec. 25. What happens is that there is some solar element to the god and so this is linked to the winter solstice, which is usually Dec. 21 or 22.

Twelve Disciples: God X does not have twelve disciples. What is really meant is that in some of the art depicting god X, you sometimes find engravings of the Zodiac. There is no narrative of disciples, just the common use of the Zodiac for decoration.

Crucified: Many of the versions of god X are not even killed. But those who are, are not crucified. When god X is described as being crucified, they simply mean that he was killed.

Resurrected on the Third Day: Many versions of god X are not resurrected. Osiris remains dead but is given dominion over the underworld. Attis’ body remains dead but his body does not decay. When there is a return to life, it does not happen on the third day.

I share this information because I believe that some proponents of the Jesus Myth Theory are not honest. When they tell someone that Horus was born of a virgin, the person they are talking to probably believes that Horus was born of a virgin, even though it is false. We need to clarify terms and not let the JMT get away with making connections that are not there.

Share

What is the Foundation of Christianity?

I recently had an interesting conversation about the foundation of Christianity. It began with a response to a pastor’s statement that the foundation of Christianity is not the Bible but is Jesus. Some people were deeply concerned about this statement.

What is the foundation of Christianity? Jesus or the Bible?

In terms of the Bible, we must acknowledge its extreme importance. What we know about Jesus comes primarily from the Bible. When we want to know Jesus better, we dig into our Bibles. I would never deny that.

But does that make the Bible the foundation of Christianity?

I am concerned by how some people seem to raise the Bible above Jesus. I have had conversations with Christians about inerrancy and I was surprised by the results. They admitted that they could see how Jesus could make (non-theological) errors but could not see how the Bible could make (non-theological) errors. They were willing to give the Bible a higher degree of inerrancy than Jesus!

Here are some of my thoughts of why the Bible is not the foundation for Christianity.

 

BibleThe earliest Christians did not have access to the Bible as we know it. What would they have in the first century? Those who had the money may have had access to the Greek Old Testament (Septuagint). We do not know exactly when the Gospels were written, but even with the early dates, not enough copies would have been made for most Christians in the first century to have access. Paul’s letters? We see from 2 Peter that they were being collected in the first century. But you still have the problem of copying them and distributing them to the various cities where churches existed.

What did the early church have? They had oral traditions and creeds. First Corinthians 15 3:7 would be an example of this. But you can’t equate oral traditions with the Bible. Some oral traditions made it into the Bible, some did not. The Bible contains some of these creeds but includes other original material as well.

What about Christians today? Is it possible for a person to become a Christian without access to the Bible? There are people who become Christians by hearing the simplest form of what Jesus did without any actual quotes. There are others that have become Christians through dreams and visions and who do not encounter the Bible until later.

What if the Bible was not inspired (don’t worry I believe it is inspired)? What if the Gospels were simply accurate traditions about who Jesus is and what he did? Even without the inspiration, people could put their faith in Jesus and become Christians.

I am not dismissing the importance of the Bible. But the Bible is important because it points us to Jesus, the true foundation of the Christian faith. The earliest creeds of the Church were not about the importance of the Bible, but that Jesus is Lord.

I am reminded of this passage:

“You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me,yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” (John 5:39–40 ESV)

 

JesusJesus’ opponents thought life was to be found in the Scriptures but in reality, life is to be found in the one the Scriptures point to.

Paul also teaches, “For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 3:11 ESV)

The Bible is important but it is not the foundation of the Christian faith. The Bible points to and teaches about the true foundation, that of Jesus Christ.




Share

Was Horus Born of a Virgin?

Among those who promote the Jesus Myth, one of the favourite pagan gods is that of Horus. It is claimed that much of what we read in the Gospels about Jesus is found in the story of Horus, including the virgin birth.

Is this true?

Let us begin by looking at how the virgin birth in Matthew and Luke is described:

  • Mary is unmarried and has not experienced sexual intercourse.
  • Jesus is conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit without any sexual intercourse.

We would expect to see some similarity to this if Jesus’ virgin birth was based on the story of Horus.

Instead of just summarizing the story in my own words, here is what the actual myth says:

HorusHis sister [Isis] hath protected him, and hath repulsed the fiends, and turned aside calamities (of evil). She uttered the spell with the magical power of her mouth. Her tongue was perfect, and it never halted at a word. Beneficent in command and word was Isis, the woman of magical spells, the advocate of her brother. She sought him untiringly, she wandered round and round about this earth in sorrow, and she alighted not without finding him. She made light with her feathers, she created air with her wings, and she uttered the death wail for her brother. She raised up the inactive members of whose heart was still, she drew from him his essence, she made an heir, she reared the child in loneliness, and the place where he was not known, and he grew in strength and stature, and his hand was mighty in the House of Keb. The Company of the Gods rejoiced, rejoiced, at the coming of Horus, the son of Osiris, whose heart was firm, the triumphant, the son of Isis, the heir of Osiris.

From the Book of the Dead
Translated by E.A.Wallis Budge

What is being described here? Osiris has been killed and his sister/wife uses her magic to produce an erection so that she can be impregnated by him.

So this is what we have:

  • Osiris and Isis are a married couple who presumably had already been sexually active.
  • Isis becomes pregnant with Horus through sexual intercourse, although with some magical assistance as Osiris was dead.

I do not want to tell people what to believe. However, this discussion must go beyond simple assertion that both Horus and Jesus were born of a virgin as if the stories were almost identical.

If you are interested in this question, my advice is to read the primary sources for both the birth of Horus and the birth of Jesus and then decide for yourself.




Share

Jesus’ Resurrection and Disabilities

Easter Sunday is the most important day for Christians. It is the day that we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus.

Does this have anything to say about disabilities?

When we think of the afterlife, we think about becoming perfect according to popular understandings of normal. All the things that we think make us stand out will be removed and we will have the bodies we always wanted.

What will the afterlife really be like? The only hint that we have is Jesus. The resurrection body of Jesus is the type of body we will have at our resurrection. Yes, it will be a better body. It will be a body that will be built for eternity. Jesus was also able to do things that his other body could not do. He walked through walls and even seemed to travel differently.

But there was something else interesting about his body. He still had his scars. The holes in his hands, feet and side would not seem to be ideal by normal standards. None of us would choose them. And yet there they are in his resurrection body. While a resurrection body is, what I tell my Bible college students, “an upgraded body,” for Jesus it was a body that was in continuity with his “weak” body.

What does this means for those who have disabilities?

It is possible that some aspect of what we consider disabilities may be represented in our resurrection bodies. The difference is that it would no longer be a disability any more than Jesus was still being bound to the cross.

I am not necessarily saying that those in wheelchairs will be unable to walk in the resurrection or the blind be unable to see. But it is very possible that those parts of their life will be represented in some way in the resurrection.

Easter Sunday is a day of hope for all Christians. The possibilities that it opens up are limitless.

Image by pixaby

Share

5 Reasons Why the Resurrection of Jesus is Important

The resurrection of Jesus is the foundation of Christianity

There are a lot of topics that I have no interest in arguing about. There are certain biblical stories and events, while interesting and having something to say to us, that in the end will not make much difference to us. On our death bed, we will not be wondering how many Israelite soldiers were at a certain battle. The same cannot be said for the resurrection of Jesus.

The resurrection of Jesus is one of the most important claims of Christianity. It is sad that some Christians speak of the resurrection as if it is just a happy ending tacked on to the crucifixion so that we don’t get depressed. If you study Acts and Paul’s letters, you will see that very often Paul talks about the resurrection without even mentioning the cross.

Here are five reasons why we should take the resurrection seriously.

 

1. Jesus was the first of the resurrection

The Jews believed in the resurrection but believed it would happen at the end of the world. It would be a resurrection of all God’s people. What happened to Jesus was not just a return to life. It was not a resuscitation such as what happened to Lazarus. The resurrection of Jesus was the first event in the general resurrection and was the sign that the end had begun.

2. The resurrection supports Jesus’ claims

Anyone can claim to be a messiah. Anyone can claim to be a son of God. The fact that Jesus claimed such things was not all that amazing. But the resurrection shines a whole new light on those claims. If Jesus was lying about the Son of God, why would God raise him from the dead?

3. The resurrection clarifies the cross

What happened on the cross? Jesus’ death was the atonement so that we do not have to pay for our sins. But how do we know that? Thousands of people were executed on crosses and there was no reason to believe that anything other than a painful death was going on. The resurrection helps us to understand that the cross a much bigger event. If it was not for the resurrection, we would not know about the atonement.

4. The resurrection is our hope

As mentioned before, the resurrection was not just for Jesus but for all of God’s people. If the cross is victory over sin, the empty tomb is victory over death. What will happen to us after death? When Jesus returns, we will be resurrected. How do we know this is true? Jesus has already been raised. What kind of body will we have? One just like Jesus.

5. The resurrection explains suffering

We do not have to look far to see suffering. It is in our world, in our community, in our life. Why does God allow this? Where is God when there is pain? It is at these times that we need to look at what happened to Jesus. All the questions we ask about pain could have been asked of Jesus on the cross. Jesus felt God-forsaken but he endured because the resurrection was just over the horizon. How do we endure? Same reason. We long for the resurrection, but like Jesus, we only get there through the cross. The cross and resurrection is the lens through which we must look at all suffering.

 

For more information on the resurrection, I recommend N.T. Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God.

Share

Devotions: Hebrews

A devotion based on Hebrews 4:15.

The author of Hebrews is writing to Christians, probably of Jewish origin, who are struggling with their faith. Should they remain Christians or should they return to their former Judaism? The author has a very carefully crafted response that focuses on the identity of Jesus. Loyalty to Christianity stands or falls on who Jesus is. The author begins by arguing for the deity of Jesus and his superiority over all angels and prophets. But in this verse, the author reminds his audience of Jesus’ humanity. Jesus really was human and he really does know our temptations.

Who do we understand Jesus to be? Is Jesus so lofty that we cannot imagine him understanding our struggles? Jesus was a real human being and he experienced all the temptations that we do. The difference is that he did not sin. In those moments when we feel so alone, we need to call out to the Jesus who truly knows what we are going through.

Share

Jesus: The Final Days

233590: Jesus: The Final Days--What Really Happened
Jesus: The Final Days–What Really Happened

By Craig A. Evans & N.T. Wright, edited by Troy A. Miller / Westminster John Knox Press

What do history and archaeology have to say about Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection? In this superb general-reader book, two of the world’s most celebrated writers on the historical Jesus share their greatest findings. Together, Craig A. Evans and N. T. Wright concisely and compellingly convey the drama and the world-shattering significance of Jesus’ final days on earth.

Share

Is Jesus the Angel of the LORD?

JesusIn the Old Testament, there is a mysterious figure known as the Angel of the LORD. What is mysterious about the Angel of the LORD is the identity of this figure. In one way, this being seems to be an angel. In another way, this being is so important that he seems to speak with God’s words. It looks almost like the Angel of the LORD is God with some sort of visible (but not a fleshly) body.

This has led some theologians to see the Angel of the LORD as a christophany rather than a theophany. That is, they see the Angel of the LORD as a pre-incarnation appearance of the Son of God (it would be an anachronism to call him Jesus despite what I do in the title).

I am very skeptical of this theory. It is not that it is impossible, although Hebrews goes out of the way to differentiate Jesus from angels (see my The Watchtower and the Word).

My question is more about why someone would make this identification in the first place. It seems as if people are asking, what person of the Trinity has a body which could appear as the Angel of the LORD? The answer seems to be Jesus. The assumption was that pre-incarnation Jesus was just spirit but it was spirit shaped like a human body that could fit perfectly into his Jesus body.

There is no reason to believe this. God the Son should be no different than God the Father or God the Spirit. The Angel of the LORD could just as easily have been the Father or the Spirit as the Son.

So what or who was the Angel of the LORD? My guess is that the Angel of the LORD was in fact an angel. This angel had special authority to speak the words of God. If God could speak through a burning bush, there is no reason why he could not speak through an angel. This angel did not speak his own opinion but spoke directly from God.

 

Share

Was Jesus Adopted as the Son of God?

Christians believe that Jesus is the Son of God. But what does that mean? Does that mean that Jesus has always been the Son of God or that God really liked Jesus and adopted him as the Son of God?

One of the key verses in this discussion is:

“[Jesus] was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 1:4 ESV)

That kind of looks like Jesus became the Son of God at his resurrection. That would be a problem for traditional Christian theology.

I would suggest that “declared” means more that he was revealed as the Son of God. That is, questions about his relationship to the Father were resolved by his resurrection. The Father would not have raised Jesus if Jesus had been lying about their relationship. The resurrection validates all that Jesus had claimed.

Having said that, it could be argued that this is just wishful thinking on my part. It would help if this could be demonstrated to already be a part of Paul’s way of thinking. Well, I’m glad that you asked.

Paul argues that Christians are already children of God.

“The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” (Romans 8:16 ESV)

In the same chapter, Paul also argues:

“And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” (Romans 8:23 ESV)

As with Jesus, there is a connection between our relationship with the Father and our resurrection. Like Jesus, our relationship does not begin at the resurrection but is fully revealed at our resurrection. People can say what they want about Christians now, but at the resurrection there can be no disputing that we are sons and daughters of God.

So was Jesus adopted as the Son of God? Not at all. Jesus has been the Son of God for all eternity. But that Sonship was revealed in a new way at his resurrection.

Resurrection of Jesus

Image from Metropolitan Museum of Art

Share

Devotions: Luke

A devotion based on Luke 19:9.

One of the most popular stories in the Gospels is the story of Zacchaeus. There is a reason why children are able to enjoy it. It is incredibly visual. We can picture this short tax-collector perched in a tree, listening to Jesus. We can imagine the surprise on his face as Jesus invites himself over for dinner. This story is visual in another way as well.

One of the central doctrines of Christianity is that salvation is based on faith alone. There is no good work that will ever make us right with God. Having said that, Christian faith is much more than mental assent. Zacchaeus could have acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah as a matter of doctrine. But instead, Zacchaeus demonstrated his faith by attempting to make up for the wrongs he had done. There was a visual representation of his faith. What evidence is there that we have faith in Jesus?

Share

Devotions: Mark

A devotion based on Mark 8:33.

The Apostle Peter is known for saying and doing the wrong thing but one of the worst experiences was that which resulted in Jesus calling him Satan. Not even the denying of Jesus resulted in such a harsh rebuke. After calling him this name, Jesus went on to explain that Peter had set his mind on the things of ‘man.’ This is the same Greek word as ‘people’ in Mark 16:27 when Jesus asks about those who do not know his identity. Peter’s sin was falling into non-disciple thinking.

What is our understanding of Jesus? The New Testament gives us plenty of information on the identity, mission and commands of Jesus. It is not difficult for a Christian to know who Jesus is and what he wants for us. But it is possible to step out of non-disciple thinking. We can look at Jesus through the eyes of what the world thinks is right rather than what the Word says is right. It is then that we must reset our eyes on the things of God.

Share

7 Things You Need to Know About Jesus

The point at which a movement usually moves from orthodoxy to heresy is its understanding of Jesus. If we get Jesus wrong, we get everything wrong.

Jesus Christ

Metropolitan Museum of Art

1. Jesus is not a created being. The Arian heresy (similar to the Jehovah’s Witnesses) almost took over the Church. The reason the Nicene Council was called was to clarify the Son’s nature and they concluded that the Son was not created. Before there was Jesus of Nazareth, there was God the Son.

2. There really was a historical Jesus. Despite what Jesus mythicists claim, Jesus is not a symbol, image or myth. Jesus is as historical as any other ancient figure and the evidence we have is very good.

3. Jesus was born of a virgin. The virgin birth (more accurately the virginal conception) is not an attempt to copy pagan virgin births (it is actually hard to find a pagan virgin birth). It is difficult to make sense of the incarnation if Jesus’ human existence is fully explainable by the actions of a man and a woman.

4. The incarnation must be taken seriously. Jesus was not God pretending to be a man. Jesus was as fully man as he was fully God. He had to learn to walk and talk as every human child must. He got tired and hungry as all normal people do.

5. Jesus died for our sins. The death of Jesus was not just the wrongful death of an innocent man. Jesus could have prevented his death by keeping away from Jerusalem. Jesus had to die to bridge the gap between God and humanity, thus reconciling us through the redemption of sin.

6. Jesus was resurrected. The resurrection is not a pleasant epilogue to make the story end on a positive note. The resurrection is essential to the story. Evidence from Acts and Paul’s letters suggests that the resurrection was often preached more than the crucifixion. It is the resurrection that demonstrates the truth of all that Jesus said and did.

7. Jesus will come again. The second coming is not the invention of some religious fanatics. It is found throughout the New Testament. Jesus fulfilled some Old Testament prophecies but there are promises of restoration that have not been fulfilled. The Day of the Lord is coming when all things will be made right. That will happen when Jesus returns and the general resurrection takes place.

Is a group that you encounter orthodox or heretical? This list of essential beliefs about Jesus is a good test.

Share

The Prodigal Definition Returns

The story of the prodigal son from Luke 15:11-31 is one of the most famous stories in the Bible. In fact the phrase, ‘the prodigal son,’ has entered into our every day vocabulary. When someone who has been away for some time and comes back we say, “The prodigal son returns.”

The only problem is that is not what ‘prodigal’ means. Instead of giving a modern definition, let me give an ancient definition.

[A] ‘prodigal’ means a man who has a single evil quality, that of wasting his substance; since a prodigal is one who is being ruined by his own fault, and the wasting of substance is thought to be a sort of ruining of oneself, life being held to depend on possession of substance. – Aristotle, The Nicomachean Ethics

This definition fits very well with what is taking place in the prodigal son story. The question is: Is the story about a prodigal son or a lost son? Different Bibles title the story in different ways.

Since Luke places this story with the lost sheep and the lost coin stories, he likely meant it to be seen as about lostness. However, I suspect that Jesus originally told the story about prodigality. The sin of the son is not about leaving but about wasting.

Does that mean that Luke was wrong? Not at all. The younger son was lost, not because he physically left his father, but because he wasted what his father gave him.

It is when we are prodigals with the gifts that God has given us that we are truly lost. So read the story in a fresh way and above all, stop using ‘prodigal’ as being about going away.

Prodigal Son

Metropolitan Museum of Art

Share

Would Jesus Buy the Rapture?

Over at the CNN Religion blog, Jay Parini wrote an article called “Even Jesus Wouldn’t Buy the ‘Rapture.'” This is a response the new television series called The Leftovers. I have no interest in defending that show. But I would like to talk a little about Parini’s comments.

Just for context, Parini is a poet and novelist rather than a Bible scholar. To be fair, he did write a biography of Jesus and so I assume he has done some research.

I need to say that I agree with part of what he says. I do not like rapture talk. I think that the biblical description is the resurrection. He is right that rapture theology is a relatively recent innovation.

At the same time, it is a bit of stretch to say that Jesus would find it completely foreign. What does rapture theology teach? Jesus will return and when he comes back, Christians will be raptured and meet him in the air. What does resurrection theology teach? Jesus will return and when he comes back, Christians will be resurrected and meet him in the air.

There is a difference between the rapture and the resurrection. One stresses the abandonment of a wicked world and the other the rescue of a wicked world. I prefer the resurrection.

What is clear in the Bible is that Jesus will return and on the Day of the Lord, Christians will be raised and transformed. That is something that Jesus would recognize even if he would not call it the rapture.

Share

Embarrassment of Riches

Reinventing Jesus“New Testament textual criticism suffers from an ’embarrassment of riches’ unparalleled  by any other piece of ancient literature. The manuscript copies of the New Testament are far more plentiful and earlier than any other Greek or Latin texts. In terms of manuscript data, any skepticism about the Jesus of the Gospels should be multiplied many times for any other historical figure. We have more and earlier manuscript evidence about the person of Jesus Christ than we do anyone else in the ancient world—including Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great.”

Reinventing Jesus

Share

Tony Costa Ministries

I am always happy to promote Canadian apologetic ministries. One of those ministries is led by Tony Costa. Tony is an apologist who bridges scholarship and practical apologetics. He has a Ph.D and has published in Hope’s Reason: A Journal of Apologetics. Tony has recently had a book published called Worship and the Risen Jesus in the Pauline Letters. Check out his book and if you teach or study at a school, perhaps you could request that your library order a copy.

 

 

Share

Advent Three: The Cross

When we think of Christmas, we think of the manger and the shepherds and many other images. How many of us think of the cross? The word Christmas actually comes from Christ’s Mass. If you know anything about the Catholic concept of Mass, you will know that is a celebration of the crucifixion of Jesus. Built into the idea of Christmas is the anticipation of his death. This idea sneaks into Christmas in some surprising ways. The colours of Christmas are green and red. Green is the colour of life and red is the colour of death. The purpose of the incarnation is not just give us a glimpse of God (although it does do that) but to provide atonement for us through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. By the death of the God-Man, the bridge between us was crossed and we have the opportunity to be made right with God. So enjoy Christmas, celebrate the traditional symbols, but remember that the baby was born to die.

 

Share

It’s All About Jesus

I love this quote by John Stackhouse, taken from his fantastic book Humble Apologetics.  This rings true to me and it is the desire of my heart for my apologetics ministry.

“Since the heart of God’s revelation of himself is the figure of Jesus Christ, and since the heart of the Christian story of salvation is the career of Jesus Christ, Christian apologetics—like everything else in the Christian religion, from worship to mission, from prayer to almsgiving—rightly focuses on Jesus Christ.” (p. 189)

Share

A Child and a Son

I believe strongly in defending the Christian faith and putting forth the strongest argument possible.  At the same time, I am a firm believer in not overstating our case or presenting claims not supported by the data.

One example is this familiar passage that is often read at Christmas:

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6 ESV)

I have recently heard two apologists (not just any apologists but two of the most highly respected apologists) use this passage as Old Testament evidence for the incarnation of Jesus.  They argue that Isaiah is prophesying that the Messiah will be both God and man.  The reference to ‘child’ is the human body of Jesus that was born in Bethlehem to Mary.  The reference to ‘son’ is about the eternal sonship of Jesus, that is that he is the Son of God.  In two different ways, Jesus was both a child and a son, one referring to his humanity and the other to his divinity.

That is a very clever interpretation.  Unfortunately, it is not supported from what we know about Old Testament literature.  What we have here is not a prophecy about the incarnation but an example of parallelism, specifically synonymous parallelism.  In synonymous parallelism, a statement is made and then the same statement is made again with different words.  So in Isaiah 9:6, ‘son’ is a synonym of ‘child,’ just as ‘given’ is a synonym of ‘born.’  Isaiah is not giving new information in the second part, he is simply restating for emphasis.

Why do I bring this up?  I am certainly not trying to weaken the Christian belief in the incarnation.  I believe that Jesus is both God and man.  However, we have a responsibility to keep our arguments as tight as possible.  While seeing a deeper meaning to ‘child’ and ‘son’ sounds neat, it does not take much research to discover this is not supported by Hebrew poetic style.  We need to build our arguments on solid biblical foundations and not clever interpretations.

Share

The Difference Between Buddha and Jesus

Siddhartha Gautama’s path to becoming the Buddha began with observing four sights.  I take the wording from this site, from which you can get some more information on Buddhism.

One day, as Siddhartha was touring a park area of the kingdom, he saw four things that changed his life. First, he saw a sick person. He had never seen a sick person before and was shocked at the sight. Next, he saw an old person, someone stooped over and suffering the effects of old age. Again, he was shocked for he’d never seen this suffering before. Then, he saw a corpse! He’d certainly never seen a dead person before, nor did he even really understand the reality of death. His father had kept him sheltered from all these things, particularly death.

Finally, he saw a sage or holy man walking up the path. The sage passed by the sick person, the old person and the corpse – and as he did so, his face and demeanor was filled with compassion, peacefulness and joy.

I often wonder how Jesus would have reacted to these four sights.  We know Jesus saw sick people and healed them.  But on a deeper level, he saw sickness as a sign of ways that creation had not submitted to the kingdom of God.  Sickness is something that has a temporary existence.  We do not know much of Jesus’ reactions to the elderly.  Likely he would see them as people to be respected, especially those who have remained faithful.  Aging was not something to be feared but a part of human existence and something that gets us closer to the resurrection.  Jesus did raise people from the dead, but again that was a sign of the coming kingdom.  Jesus did not end all death at that time, that is something that would take place in the future.  Jesus did understand that there are different kinds of death.  Spiritual death is much more serious than physical death.  But even physical death will come to an end with the resurrection.  I suppose the best way to summarize the way Jesus would have reacted is that he would have seen these things in their eschatological context.  Then there is the fourth sight of the sage walking by in full peace.  Why was the sage at peace?  Was it because he did not fear sickness, aging or death?  Or was it because he had achieved a state where he was no longer disturbed by the suffering of others?

However the sage may have reacted, we know that the Buddha saw the answer to the suffering he observed as being a destroying of desire and a separation from anything that can make you suffer.  Despite the English summary of the events, compassion is not really a part of Buddhism.  I am not saying that Buddhists do not perform acts of charity and mercy.  I know they do good deeds.  But Buddhism at its core is not compassionate, in the literal sense of “suffering with.”  In fact, the point of Buddhism to to escape suffering.

In contrast, Jesus entered into the suffering of the people he encountered.  The whole point of the incarnation was so that the Son of God could know our suffering, not just as fact but as experience.  He felt compassion.  He joined people in corporate repentance with John’s baptism.  He was moved by the sick and grieving.  He cried at a funeral.  Jesus embraced our suffering on the cross.  As Christians we are called not to a detached form of care for others but to rejoice to those who rejoice and grieve with those who grieve.

I say this not to make a judgment about Buddha or Buddhists (although as a Christian, I have made a choice).  Rather, I want to demonstrate that Buddhism and Christianity are very different religions at their essential core.

Share

Two Men and a Sin Baby

Romans 5:12-21

Introduction

Why do things happen to us?  Why do we experience some good things and some bad things?  In our society, we pride ourselves in personal autonomy.  We want to believe that things are within our control.  Do you want to get ahead in life?  Roll up your sleeves and get to work.  What do we tell our children?  You can be whatever you want to be.  This is a good thing.  We do not want to be like some cultures that just accept their circumstances, even extreme injustice, because they see themselves as paying off the sins of a former life.  Our society has benefited because there are people who have a dream and a vision and they are willing to work to achieve those goals.  We are blessed because there are people who could see beyond their current circumstances.  However, it is not completely true that each of us is in full control of our destiny.  It is not true that we can do whatever we want.  It is not true that the human experience is just a collection of individual choices.  We are affected by forces greater than ourselves.  In many ways, life is like being in a fast moving river.  We can move around  in the river, adjusting our position, moving around a bit, but we are still stuck with the current and with the twists and turns of the river.  People have made choices that affect our life.  This will seem very unfair.  I should be able to choose my own destiny, it is not right for other people to choose it for me.  And yet this happens all the time.  You could be working for a company, seeking to be a model employee, doing extra work and trying your very best.  That will affect you some.  But if the owner of the company makes some bad business decisions that lead to bankruptcy, you are affected by their decisions beyond what you try to achieve as an individual.  Is that fair?  No, but it would be reality.  What if the Prime Minister of Canada decided to declare war on the United States of America?  Would that affect you if we went to war with our neighbours to the south, even if you were not involved in the decision?  Of course.  Parents make choices that affect their children, spouses make choices that affect their spouse and the government is always making choices that affect us all.  That is the experience of life.  Then we should not be surprised that is true in our spiritual life as well.  Christianity is not just about a bunch of people, some choosing to be good, others choosing to be bad.  It is much more complicated than that.  Paul presents for us a picture of human existence and our relationship to God according to the choices of two men: Adam and Jesus.  It is interesting that Adam simply means man and Jesus’ favorite title was the Son of Man.  These two individuals, Man and Son of Man, made decisions that affect us all.  We cannot avoid their decisions, although we can choose which choice will rule our lives.  Let us look at the story of these two men.

Man

The first man was Adam.  In many ways, he was the ultimate parent.  Just as I can make choices that will affect my family, Adam was given the responsibility of choosing for all of his family, including us.  Adam was given a blessed existence.  Life was easy and life was good.  Adam had a close relationship with God, it was like two friends walking together in the garden.  There was the potential for a wonderful existence for the human race.  Then came the serpent.  It is easy to blame the serpent and it was certainly not innocent.  But the serpent did not make choices for the human race, Adam did.  What was the sin of Adam?  It was not eating the wrong kind of fruit.  There was something much deeper going on here.  The first thing he did wrong was lose trust in God.  God promised to care for him and bless him.  But Adam lost sight of that and wanted more.  Can you imagine being promised ninety-nine things and being upset about the one that is withheld?  We can imagine, because often that is our experience.  The other part of the sin was wanting to be more like God.  The serpent said that if the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil was eaten, the first couple would be like God.  Obviously the serpent was trying to manipulate them, but the trick worked only because they really wanted to be more like God.  When I say more like God, I do not mean they wanted to be more kind and loving and merciful and righteous and holy.  They wanted to blur the lines between the Creator and the creation.  They craved what God had and coveted his greater power.  If they had to disobey God’s one command so they could narrow the gap between God and humanity, then so be it.  How do we know this happened?  Should we be watching for an archaeological discovery of a man born without a belly bottom?  We know this story is true because this still is our story.    We are still on the same quest as our father Adam to push God off the throne.  People do this through new age mysticism in order to become a god or through technology, playing god in the laboratory.  What was the result of Adam’s choice?  He got what he wanted.  He gained the knowledge of good and evil, by losing the one and receiving the other in experience.  This brought death into the human race.  What kind of death?  Theologians disagree on some of the details but we do agree on is that this was spiritual death.  It was death in that humanity was now separated from God.  A huge wall went up that prevented God’s life power to flow back to us.  Death reigned, not just for Adam as an individual, but for all the human race.  One choice by one man, brought death into the world, all because he wanted to be more like God.

Son of Man

That sounds rather hopeless.  However, Christianity is anything but hopeless.  God had no intention of leaving humanity in its separation and in its bondage to death.  But how would such a thing be reversed?  Adam had the legitimate authority to choose the way for humanity and God would be breaking his own rules by arbitrarily overturning the decision.  In order for God to reverse the results of Adam’s sin, he would have to almost repeat the original setting and give us a second chance.  But who could take Adam’s place?  Not just any person would do.  After all, Adam went into this without a sin nature and everyone after him has a sin nature.  God needed someone who was not already bound to sin and so was free to choose one way or another.  The person who was chosen was God’s Son, born as a human being, coming into this world without a sin nature.  It is interesting to compare Adam and Christ.  Adam longed for what God had.  But listen to what Paul says about Jesus: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” (Philippians 2:5–7 ESV)  Jesus already had equality of God and he refused to cling to that.  What Jesus did was much harder than what was expected of Adam.  It is one thing to decide that you are not going to pursue something, it is another thing to give up what you already have.  If time was rolled back fifteen years, it would be possible for me to choose to not have a family.  Many people make that choice and are happy with it.  But if I had to choose to give up my family, to lose my wife and children, I could not do it.  Experiencing it now, I would not be able to give up family out of ignorance.  In the same way, Jesus already knew what he had and what it meant for him to give up that to become human.  But it was not just about equality with God.  It was about obedience.  Adam brought death into the world through disobedience.  Life could come flooding back into the world only by a much greater act of obedience.  Adam had one commandment to obey: do not eat of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil.  He failed.  Jesus has one commandment to obey: go and die on the cross.  Do you see the contrast here?  Don’t eat some fruit, go and die a painful death.  I know the commandment I would prefer.  And yet Adam could not obey the painless command, while Jesus was fully obedient to the painful command.  Do not think that Jesus was just going through the motions, that this was no big deal because he was the Son of God.  Read about Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, the night before the crucifixion.  Jesus really wrestled with this, knowing full well the price of obedience.  And yet Jesus was still able to say “Not my will, but your will be done.”  That was obedience!  The result of that obedience was as great as Adam’s act of disobedience.  Life came rushing like a flood back to the human race.  The opportunity to remove the separation from God suddenly was back.  The repair process from all the damage done by Adam had no begun.  What Adam as Man had done was bind us to death.  What Jesus as Son of Man had done was to free us to life.

Conclusion

This is an interesting story.  If we were looking at a piece of fiction, we might enjoy making the comparisons between Adam and Jesus on a literary level.  But this is not just a story.  It is literally a matter of life and death.   Adam chose death for the human race.  Jesus came and chose life.  But what does that choice mean?  It is not as automatic as what happened with Adam.  Adam’s choice had to be honored.  That means that death and separation from God are our natural direction.  What Jesus did was give us an opportunity to change destinies.  We cannot simply step out of Adam’s shadow, but we can step into Jesus‘ shadow.  By choosing Jesus, we can move out of death into life, out of separation and into relationship, out of darkness and into light.  We have only two options available.  We can be in Adam or we can be in Christ.  Which one will we choose?

Share

Miracle of the Incarnation

Romans 1:1-7

Introduction

What is it that is essential for us to get right?  Do we need to get the style of our worship music right?  Do we need to get the balance of liturgy and spontaneity exact?  What about the architecture of our churches or the translation of our Bibles or the length of sermons?  There are things that we might think are important but really are not that essential in terms of getting things exactly right.  What about the identity and nature of Jesus?  Does it matter if we get that right?  In the early church, there was one group that denied the divinity of Jesus and saw him only as a human prophet.  There was another group who denied the humanity of Jesus, seeing him as a divine being who only pretended to be human.  Both groups were strongly condemned by the church, not because of religious intolerance, but because they got the most important thing wrong.  If we get the nature of Jesus wrong, then we have gotten everything wrong.  There is so much that we can be flexible on, the nature of Jesus is not one of them.  This is something that Paul understood very well.  From our understanding of ancient letters, this section should be a simple “From Paul, to the Romans.”  But Paul uses his greeting to set the tone of the entire letter.  It is all about Jesus Christ.  Not just a generic Jesus, a Jesus you can shape and adapt to whatever you prefer, but the real Jesus who is revealed as God incarnate.  Let us take a look at what Paul teaches us.

Son of David

Paul starts by talking about Jesus “who as to his human nature was a descendant of David” (Romans 1:3 NIV)  Why would Paul mention such a thing?  This is actually a very rich statement.  In one way, this is an acknowledgment of Jesus as the Messiah.  There were many understandings of what the Messiah was going to be like, but the most common was that of a son of David.  David was the greatest king of Israel, one who is described in scripture as a man after God’s own heart.  God had promised that there would always be a descendant of David to reign.  Even after rival dynasties came and went, the Davidic line seemed to keep going.  But then after a long period of disobedience, the line of Davidic kings came to an end.  But people held on to the hope that another king from the line of David would appear.  The prophets called people to hold on to this hope.  “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.   And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.   Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end.   He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.   The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.” (Isaiah 9:6–7 NIV)  “In that day I will raise up the booth of David that is fallen and repair its breaches, and raise up its ruins and rebuild it as in the days of old.” (Amos 9:11 ESV)  So when Paul speaks of Jesus as a son of David, he wants us to see Jesus as the fulfillment of Israel’s hoping.  But there is something else being said here.  There is more to David than a powerful king and warrior.  David was the one who was not even considered worth including when Samuel came looking for a king among the sons of Jesse.  There was nothing obvious about David that would suggest that God would use him.  This was the David, who when he stood before Goliath, was laughed at as one little more than a joke.  Even as a king, David was one full of vulnerability and weakness.  The best way to describe David is someone who is very human.  Jesus was in his human nature, a descendant of David.  While Jesus did not share any of David’s moral weaknesses, Jesus did share in David’s humanity.  Like David, people took one look at Jesus and dismissed him.  There was nothing obviously attractive about him.  The people of prestige and power despised Jesus.  It was primarily the poor and outcasts that followed Jesus because the movers and the shakers of society rejected him.  As Paul is writing to the Christians at Rome, he is speaking to Christians who live as a very small religious minority with few rights.  Paul is writing to a city in which less than ten years later, Paul will die for his faith.  The Roman church had very little about it that would seem to speak to strength.  We may read it today, very aware of our own weaknesses and limitations.  We may feel completely unworthy to be in the presence of Jesus or to even dare call upon him.  In these times we must remember that Jesus also had a human nature.  Jesus did not just pretend to be human.  He was really human, with physical weakness, emotional pain and he embraced the human experience.  Jesus was like David, not just as a king but as a human being.

Son of God

In our weakness, it is nice to know that Jesus had a human nature.  We can find comfort in that, we can feel a sense of solidarity with Jesus.  But if Jesus was only human, he would be of limited use.  We respect people like Abraham, Moses, David, John the Baptist and Paul.  They were good people, who had things to teach us and lives to inspire us.  But we do not receive hope from them.  We do not pray to them or worship them.  We have no sense that they have the power to change our life or to reconcile us to God.  But we do feel these things from Jesus.  Why?  This was something that I missed out on, growing up in church.  I had a sense that Jesus was slightly more powerful than other prophets, that he was better at miracles than the others, but I still did not understand who Jesus really was.  Paul reminds us Jesus “was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 1:4 NIV)  This verse needs some clarification.  Paul is not saying that Jesus became the Son of God at his resurrection.  Jesus was the Son of God all along.  Even before he was born of Mary, he was God the Son from eternity past.  During his earthly ministry, Jesus spoke of God as his Father in a way that other people never did.  There was an intimacy between Jesus and God that could not be explained by being a good prophet.  So why does Paul mention the resurrection?  Any one could claim to be a son of God.  I am sure there are many people today who believe they are a son of God in some way.  How can you verify something like that?  In the case of Jesus, his resurrection was a sign that his claims of Sonship were true.  How?  Since people generally do not rise from the dead a couple of days after their death, we can safely assume God had something to do with it.  If Jesus had been lying by claiming to be the Son of God, we have every reason to believe that God would not raise him from the dead.  And yet on the third day, there was Jesus.  The resurrection, among other things, demonstrated God’s approval for the things that Jesus said and did.  In addition to mentioning Jesus as the Son of God, Paul confirms that Jesus is also our Lord.  This is extremely important.  One can believe on a theological level that Jesus is the Son of God, but it is something different to acknowledge him as Lord.  This is a part of my experience.  I came to correct theological conclusions about Jesus before I was willing to make him my Lord.  This is key.  Those who are approved on the day of judgment are not those who only can correctly answer a theology quiz, it will be those who know Jesus as Lord.  What does all this mean?  We know that life is hard.  We know that there are challenges beyond our ability.  To get through this, we need more than a human Jesus who can agree with us that things are indeed hard.  We need a divine Jesus who can actually help us through every trial.  The beautiful thing is that we do not have to lose that human solidarity in the process.  As God and man, Jesus has the power to help us and the experience to sympathize with us.

Conclusion

Why does Paul do all this?  Really, this section of the letter was just supposed to say who the letter was from and who it was to.  Did he really have to reflect on the incarnation of Jesus?  Yes!  By talking about who Jesus really is, Paul is defining who he really is and reminding the Romans of who they really are.  Who are we?  We are people who know Jesus.  Not just any Jesus.  We know the Jesus who is Son of David and Son of God.  We know the Jesus who is human and divine.  We know the Jesus who understands our weakness and the Jesus who has the power to help in our deepest needs.  That is a good reminder to have.

Share

Psalm 22, Christ and Humanity

As we approach Easter, we are drawn to the New Testament accounts of the crucifixion and the Old Testament texts that seem to point to the passion.  One of the most frequent is Psalm 22, the first part of which Jesus quotes while on the cross (Mark 15:34).  Many Christians look at Psalm 22 as a straight forward prophecy of the crucifixion of Jesus.  And it may be.  Or perhaps there is another way to look at it.

The problem with pulling Psalm 22 out from the rest of Psalms is that it contains many of the same themes found in the others.  The Psalmist describes the feeling of God forsakenness, expresses the pain of suffering, cries out to God and states a trust in God apart from the circumstances.  If Jesus did not quote it and if the Gospel writers did not record some of the surrounding events that touch on Psalm 22, we would not look at this passage as a prophecy.  Of course, Jesus did and the Gospel writers did and so we must connect them.  But what if the purpose of Psalm 22 was not to point toward details of the crucifixion of the Messiah but rather to express the suffering of God’s people and the need to trust God no matter what?  What if Psalm 22 was primarily about the human situation?  It certainly fits with the other Psalms that do that.

If so, what do we do with the allusions to Psalm 22 at the crucifixion?  What if Jesus was gathering up all our fear, anxiety, sorrow and separation from God, and was joining us in the human situation, not just to observe it but to overcome it? In that case, we would look at  “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalms 22:1 ESV) not just as a pointer toward Jesus but as a statement of our own experience, one that Jesus chooses to join us in.  Neither the Psalms nor the Gospels are limited to providing interesting biographical information (although the Gospels are ancient biographies) but also show us the point of contact between God and humanity.  In Jesus, our suffering and fear was taken up on the cross and was overcome.  When we look to the cross, we see not just Jesus, we also see our own suffering  and God forsakenness being crucified.

Share

So You Want to Be a Wise Guy?

James 3:13-18

Introduction

If you could have any of the God-given abilities of people in the Old Testament, who would you want to be like?  You could be like Abraham and Sarah and be able to have children at a very old age.  That does not sound good.  You could be like Moses and part bodies of water.  Might make fishing easier but not overly useful.  You could be like David and be able to take down really tall people with just a rock.  But you would likely get charged.  Many a child in Sunday school probably has wanted to be as strong as Samson.  But as adults we know we would always get called by friends who want help moving.  Probably, the most practical and most desirable gift of a person in the Old Testament is that of the wisdom of Solomon.  If only we had more wisdom!  Life continually brings challenges to us.  We are faced with decisions and problems and we need to know what choice to make.  This is an interesting time to be talking about wisdom as we live in the information age.  Many people of previous generations were not able to attend university because of distance, finances or not finishing high school.  Today, just about anyone can study at a university online.  Even if you did not seek a formal education, there is more information available to us today than we could ever take in over a lifetime.  The sad fact is that despite the overflow of knowledge available to us, there seems to be a real lack of wisdom in society, especially how the Bible defines it.  James is particularly interested in wisdom and his insight is as useful today as it was two thousand years ago.

What Wisdom Does Not Look Like

While wisdom may be lacking, what we do not lack are people who claim to be wise.  There are all sorts of people who think they have all the answers and are more than willing to share that with anyone who will listen.  It is interesting that we would agree that being wise is something good and desirable.  And yet if we hear someone being described as a ‘wise guy‘ we know automatically that it is a negative thing.  We naturally understand that there is a wisdom that is not real wisdom.  It is shallow, thoughtless, irrelevant and self-seeking.  That is not true wisdom.  James was very aware of this false wisdom.  Notice how James defines false wisdom.  His focus is not on a proper understanding of the facts.  James understood that a person could have a photographic and encyclopedic memory and yet still not be wise.  If is not just having wrong information, what is it that disqualifies some people as wise?  The key faults are envy and selfish ambition.  Why is it that you want to be wise?  Well, I want to be smarter than that guy, I want to be so wise that I can write my own ticket and be whatever I want to be.  These would be common motivations to seek wisdom and yet these traits disqualify whatever is attained from being wisdom.  Why is that?  Wisdom is not something to benefit you but something that makes you a benefit to others.  Unfortunately this is a mistake that Solomon made.  Solomon was given wisdom by God.  True wisdom.  But wisdom, like anything, can be transformed and perverted into something completely different.  In the beginning, things were going well with Solomon’s wisdom.  The wisdom he had was used to make him a good ruler.  He built a Temple for the Lord, the first ever Temple for the true God.  The nation of Israel was strengthened and became a real power in the region.  Solomon used his wisdom to make good judgments when people came to him on legal matters.  That sounds like good wisdom.  People respected and looked up to Solomon.  And Solomon enjoyed being respected and looked up to.  Leaders of other nations came to Solomon and Solomon enjoyed the attention.  He sent those queens and other leaders home with loads of expensive gifts, not as an act of charity but as a way to make obvious the wealth that he had accumulated.  I am sure that Solomon’s own people that were breaking their backs working to produce such wealth would have loved to have shared in it.  Solomon made some decisions that privileged his own tribe of Judah and attempted to break the leadership of the other tribes.  These decisions would lead to the splitting of the nation not long after Solomon’s death.  Solomon gathered much wealth to himself and gathered many wives as well, all despite specific warnings in the Bible to avoid such excess.  The result of Solomon’s misuse and ultimate abandonment of wisdom is that his relationship with God fell apart, his family fell apart and his nation fell apart.  The envy he had for the glamour of foreign rulers, his selfish ambition that desired power, wealth and respect for himself, completely contaminated the great wisdom that God had given him.  Solomon, despite great wisdom in the early years, is an example of what wisdom is not.

What Wisdom Is

So what does true wisdom look like?  In the movie Forrest Gump years ago, it was said that “Stupid is as stupid does.”  The same could be said of wisdom.  Wisdom is as wisdom does.  Wisdom is not something that is found in the brain.  Wisdom is about living a wise life.  James gives us some detail of what that looks like.  Wisdom is pure.  Nothing may feel pure but where James is going is that it is not something mixed with something else.  There is no room for wanting to be wise because wisdom will help gather wealth and will be useful in manipulating people.  Wisdom is peace-loving.  James is very interested in this because he concludes this section by saying “Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.”  Wisdom is vital in attaining peace.  Wisdom shows you how to have true peace with people, not a false peace based on ignoring what is bad, nor using knowledge to divide people in unhealthy ways.  Wisdom is being able to see the big picture and gathering people in under the things that really matter.  Wisdom is considerate.  How other people feel matters and you can not just go shooting your mouth off without thinking.  Wisdom is submissive.  Really?  We think of wisdom as a way to get power, but James sees wisdom as a way to be a servant.  Wisdom is full of mercy and good fruit.  Wisdom is not just how you can get for yourself but how you can give to others.  Wisdom is impartial.  Being partial means you have already decided the way its going to be and the facts can then be shaped according to that agenda.  Being wise means letting go of that agenda.  If an atheist is doing something good and your pastor is doing something bad, a wise person will acknowledge the truth and not get stuck with what only feels right.  Wisdom is sincere.  Wisdom means what it says.  It is not a disguise for something else, it is real and truthful.  I used Solomon as an example of what wisdom is not, I will use another son of David, this one farther down the family tree, to show what wisdom is.  The best example is that of Jesus.  That would seem to be obvious.  Jesus is God and therefore Jesus is wise.  Case closed.  Yes, but Jesus actually lived out this wisdom.  Since James is the half-brother of Jesus, it would be reasonable that James had Jesus in mind as an example of wisdom.  Think about Jesus as God incarnate.  He has the power and authority to beat down and humiliate anyone he encountered.  In fact there are early fictional accounts of Jesus that imagine what it was like as he was a child and they portray him in just such a way.  But that is not how the Gospels describe Jesus.  Jesus was pure and considerate.  He cared about other people.  He did not use his wisdom to hurt people but to help them.  Jesus was peace-loving.  This requires some comment.  Jesus said: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matthew 10:34 ESV)  This does not mean that Jesus came to bring war or that he enjoys conflict.  Jesus is saying here that people who follow him will have to make a choice and that choice is going to bring them into conflict with others who reject him.  Jesus‘ peace is not a shallow peace where people pretend to get along.  Jesus says: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:27 ESV)  Jesus is offering real peace.  This is peace with God, which leads to peace within ourselves.  This also leads to peace with others, but it is peace that is deeper and more substantial than the popular idea.  By the way, do you know how Jesus describes peacemakers?  “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” (Matthew 5:9 ESV)  Jesus is merciful.  We rely on that mercy daily.  Jesus is impartial.  It did not matter if a person was a prostitute, a religious leader or a centurion.  The truth was the truth without any hidden agenda.  Jesus was even submissive.  Jesus went to the cross, not because all other options were unavailable, but because he submitted to his Father which meant he submitted to his enemies.  Jesus is the great wise man.  Wisdom is as wisdom does.

Conclusion

I often hear people say “I need wisdom.”  What they really mean is that they want someone to give them the answer to their problem that will give them the best solution.  What car to buy, what job to take, what person to marry.  That is not actually wisdom, although wisdom would be helpful in making those decisions.  Wisdom is actually a lifestyle.  It is not just what you think, but what you say, how you say it, why you say it and how you treat people.  The scary thing is if we were wiser, we might not recognize our lives.  Our priorities and values might be turned upside down.  And yet that is exactly what James is asking us to do.  Seek wisdom.  But seek wisdom that comes from above, wisdom that makes us more Christ-like.

Share

Karl Barth on the Virgin Birth

Karl BarthThe man Jesus of Nazareth is not the true Son of God because He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.  On the contrary, because He is the true Son of God and because this is an inconceivable mystery intended to be acknowledged as such, therefore He is conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.  And because He is thus conceived and born, He has to be recognized and acknowledged as the One He is and in the mystery in which He is the One He is. – Karl Barth

Share

Christ in Crisis

Mark 14:32-42

Introduction

What has been the hardest moment in your life?  It may have been the death of a loved one.  It may have been your own struggle with illness and the uncertainty about the outcome.  It may have been a long period of unemployment in which you could not support your family.  Think about that moment.  Let the emotions return.  How did you feel?  And how did you respond?  What kind of prayer did you pray?  Is it a prayer that you could easily share in church?  It is in these moments that we discover who we really are and where we find hope.  Last week, we looked at Jesus’ prayer for his disciples and for others that would believe.  It was an elaborate and beautiful prayer.  It was filled with reflection on the glory that the Son shared with the Father.  It gives us some information on the exalted and pre-incarnate God the Son.  At the end of the prayer, at the beginning of John 18, it says that Jesus and his disciples then made their way to a garden.  What we are about to look at is Jesus’ prayer in that garden.  What is the difference between the prayer that Jesus first prayed and the prayer he prayed in the garden?  Where Jesus first prayed, he was relatively safe from the authorities.  But traveling to the garden was a dangerous thing to do.  This is where Judas will lead a crowd to arrest Jesus.  It is not that Judas looked everywhere and just happened to find Jesus in the garden.  Judas knew that Jesus was going to be there, likely through earlier discussion.  To go to the garden was to ensure arrest and ultimately lead to the cross.  Take a moment to look at how Jesus is described by Mark.  Jesus was “deeply distressed and troubled. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.”

(Mark 14:33–34 NIV)  Eighteenth century theologian William Paley, in book Evidence for Christianity, makes this comment: “Our Saviour uttered no impassioned devotion. There was no heat in his piety, or in the language in which he expressed it; no vehement or

rapturous ejaculations, no violent urgency, in his prayers. … His words in the garden are unaffected expressions of a deep, indeed, but sober piety.”  While I respect Paley’s scholarship, I think he missed what the prayer of Gethsemane is all about.  The prayer at Gethsemane is all about emotion and urgency and not at all about unaffected expressions or sober piety.  This is a prayer that we can look to in our most desperate of needs.

Relationship

What we have found in all the prayers we have looked at is the importance of how we address God.  This prayer is no exception.  Jesus prays to God as Father, which his habit, especially considering his unique relationship with the Father.  What is interesting is that this time he prays to Abba Father.  Abba is an Aramaic word for father.  There is some debate over the exact meaning.  Some have said that it is analogous to our term daddy.  That view has been pretty much rejected.  However, it still seems to mean more than just the biological relationship of a son to a father.  Perhaps we should look at it as an affectionate but respectful way of speaking to a father.  We might think that is fine for Jesus, as he is connected to the Father in a way we never could.  Except the Apostle Paul tells us in Galatians 4:6 and Romans 8:15 that the Holy Spirit enables us to pray to Abba, Father.  We are invited to pray in the same way as Jesus.  What we need to see here is, especially in the most desperate of times, we must pray out of relationship.  If your life is falling apart, there is no comfort available from some cosmic force.  It is at such times that we need to make clear what our relationship with God is and pray out of that relationship.

Acknowledgment

Jesus then acknowledges that everything is possible for God.  That is very important for how we pray.  I loved and respected my parents very much.  There were many things that I asked from my parents.  But I never asked them to keep my children healthy.  I never asked them for a nice afterlife.  They would have given me those things if they could, but it was beyond their power.  Harold Kushner, in his book When Bad Things Happen to Good People, reflects on the death of his son from a terrible disease.  He wrestles with how the goodness of God and the power of God can co-exist.  He concludes, wrongly in my opinion, that God is all-loving but not all-powerful.  The Bible teaches that God is both all-loving and all-powerful.  But Kushner had to come to terms with God’s power in order to know how to pray.  He could pray that God would shed tears with people suffering but he could not pray that God would intervene dramatically to end that suffering.  Jesus prayed, acknowledging that God was all-powerful and that all things were indeed possible for him.

Honesty

It is one thing to be able to make a theological statement about what God can do.  It is another thing to be completely honest with God.  We know in our mind that God knows all things but in our hearts we feel as if we need to make ourselves look more spiritual than we really are.  But think about Jesus.  Who was Jesus?  Jesus was God sent as a human to die on the cross and make atonement for our sins.  And what does Jesus pray?  He prays “Take this cup from me.”  That means he does not want to go to the cross.  That does not sound spiritual.  But it does sound honest.  He knows that crucifixion is an extremely agonizing and painful death.  He knows that he will have all the world’s sins placed upon him.  No sane person would look forward to that.  It was completely appropriate for Jesus to pray that.  Are there things that you are afraid to pray?  Do you fear that God will respond with “You want me to do what?!”  If we are truly praying out of relationship, we should be praying in full honesty.  And don’t worry, God already knows how unspiritual we really are.

Submission

Think about where we are at this point in the prayer.  We have a God who is capable of doing anything.  We have a Jesus who is asking to avoid the cross.  Since it is only by the cross that we are able to be reconciled to God, our eternal destiny is hanging in the balance.  However, there was more to Jesus‘ prayer.  Jesus tells God, “Yet not what I will but what you will.”  First of all, this is always the case, whether or not we pray it.  We should not fear that we might accidentally pray something into being that was actually against God’s will.  My children sometimes pray when the sun gets in their eyes that God would make the sun disappear.  It is not likely to happen.  What Jesus is doing here is choosing to submit to his Father’s will.  He is honest about what he wants but will be obedient to what the Father wants.  This is extremely important.  In our moment of need or discomfort, we have a very narrow view of what we would like to see happen.  While not ignoring our immediate need, God sees that in the larger context of both our entire life and his overall plan for humanity.  So Jesus would like to avoid the pain of the cross but avoiding that pain would mean that there would be no forgiveness of sins for humanity.  That is too high a price to pay and so Jesus went to the cross.  This is how we must pray.  Yes, we are honest with God with what we want.  But we cannot hold that as our focus so much that if God does not grant it we are devastated.  Our focus has to be submission to God.  We do what God wants, which may or may not align with what we want.  Even so, we trust that God will grant us strength and patience throughout whatever his plan is for our life.

Conclusion

Are you going through a difficult time?  Is your life or the life of someone you care about falling apart?  Look to Jesus.  Not just as the source of your strength.  Look to Jesus as an example of one who went to Abba Father in weakness.  Look at the pain surrounding Jesus.  Look at his honesty.  Look at his submission to the Father.  This prayer is powerful for equipping us on how to pray in the most difficult of times.

Share

The Other Lord’s Prayer

John 17:1-26

Introduction

When we want to learn how to pray, it is natural for us to look to Jesus.  But this has both good and challenging elements.  The good thing is that we are followers of Jesus.  We want to do what Jesus did.  The Lord’s Prayer was taught because the disciples saw Jesus praying and knew he was the one to teach them.  Jesus was the greatest teacher of all time.  We should look to him as our model of prayer.  On the other hand, Jesus is God incarnate, he is the second person of the Trinity.  How do we imitate that?  How can we apply communication between two persons within the Godhead with our feeble attempts to call out to God?  The prayer we are going to look at acknowledges Jesus’ pre-incarnate relationship with the Father.  But at the same time, it is remarkably applicable to us.  The Gospel of John is particularly interested in Jesus’ prayer life.  While the others Gospels frequently tells us Jesus prayed, rarely do they give us the content of those prayers.  John does give us some of this information.  Some people have called this the real Lord’s Prayer, the more familiar Lord’s Prayer being more of a disciples‘ prayer.  Others have called it Jesus‘ High Priestly Prayer.  The title is not important.  What is important is that Jesus teaches us here how to pray by his example.  Whatever the differences between Jesus and ourselves, the principles are still applicable.

Timely

Jesus starts his prayer with “Father, the time has come.”  The time has come for certain things to happen in Jesus‘ ministry as Jesus looks to the cross.  But the time has also come to pray this prayer.  Prayer is timely.  What I mean by that is that prayer is not divorced from what is happening in our lives.  Events take place that drive us to prayer, and even more so to specific kinds of prayer.  This is a great prayer by Jesus.  But it is not the kind of prayer that he would have prayed at his baptism or at the wedding at Cana.  This prayer is closely tied with what was about to take place.  This is the prayer that he prayed not long before being arrested.  Prayer is timely.  I have learned to rely on prayer but my prayers are different depending on the circumstances.  The prayer I prayed the night we lost our first child in miscarriage is very different from the prayer I prayed the afternoon that Logan was born.  The prayer I prayed the first time I preached a sermon was different than the prayer I prayed when I found out our children had autism.  It is appropriate to pray, “Father, the time has come.”  Then ask: what time has come?  What are the pressing circumstances that require a specific kind of prayer.  Do not just pray in generalities, pray according to the times.

The Plan

Jesus has some very specific things that he prays about.  In fact, the content of this prayer is very different from the other prayers that we have looked at.  Jesus speaks of the glory that he shared with the Father before the world began.  He speaks of the way to receive eternal life.  He speaks of the teachings that he has given and he speaks of returning to the Father.  What is this all about?  Jesus is checking in with the Father with regard to the plan.  Yes prayer is adoration, confession, thanksgiving and supplication.  But it is also about checking with the plan.  Jesus was doing some amazing things.  But if those things did not fit with the Father’s plan, it would all be useless.  As Jesus prays, he brings these things to the Father and makes sure that they align with the Father’s plan.  This is vital as it gives Jesus the confidence to go through the most difficult part, that is the cross.  Now, it is unlikely that you have been chosen to atone for the world’s sins.  But that does not mean that there is no plan for you.  You have not been dropped on this planet simply to survive as many days as you can.  God has a plan for you.  Psalm 139 says “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” (Psalms 139:13 NIV)  You were created in specific way and that is because you are God’s handiwork.  “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10 NIV)  That might seem intimidating.  After all, I do not even know exactly what God wants for my life.  That is why we pray.  We follow God’s leading, discover the things that he has for us, and we pray through the whole thing.  It is like continually checking the instructions as you are assembling something complex.  I get very frustrated when I am working on something, confident in my own intelligence and then discover that if I had been checking the instructions, I would have noticed the mistake I made five steps back.  Prayer is our way of checking the instructions and making sure we are aligning ourselves with God’s plan.

Others

We need to pray for ourselves.  Jesus prayed for himself.  We saw that in the Lord’s Prayer and we will see that in the prayer in Gethsemane.  But in this prayer, we see a different focus.  Jesus is praying for other people.  This is why this prayer is sometimes called the High Priestly Prayer, because he is interceding for the people.  Jesus prays for his disciples.  He knows that they are about to enter a radically different stage of ministry.  Until now, they have been able to watch Jesus do the work with occasional opportunities to join in.  Now Jesus is returning to the Father and everything will be left on them.  Even before that time, just the experience of seeing Jesus crucified will rock them to the core.  Jesus knows that he will actually be glorified in the crucifixion, but he knows the disciples do not understand.  He prays for protection for them as they will face a world hostile to their message.  Then Jesus goes on to pray for future generations who will receive their message.  That includes you and me.  His primary prayer for us is that of unity.  Jesus‘ desire is that we would experience unity, that we would be one as the Father and Son are one.  Jesus prays that the world would see God’s love for us.  It is amazing to think of Jesus praying specifically for us.  Who do we pray for?  We pray for our own needs and likely for our very close friends and family.  But we need to pray for more than that.  We need to pray for those that we currently partner with in ministry.  That would be our local church, missionaries that we support, para-church ministries that we invest in.  But we should also pray for future generations.    Pray for the Christians who will be doing ministry twenty-five, fifty or more years down the road.  The time we have to work for the kingdom is relatively short, we need to do our best now but pray that future generations will build on and improve what we have done.

Action

Jesus concludes with these words: “I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.” (John 17:26 NIV)  Jesus concludes with what his intentions are immediately after the prayer is finished.  Prayer should lead to action.  We pray, not just so that God can do all the work but so that we will have strength and wisdom to do the work we have been called to do.  For Jesus that will be going to the cross to pay for our sins.  What action emerges from our prayer?  If our prayer includes checking in with God’s plan and praying for other people, then it probably will not take too much work to figure out what you need to do.  Consider prayer, not as a substitute for action, but as preparation for action.

Conclusion

Jesus prays.  Yes, he prays as the only begotten Son of God, but he still prays.  His prayer here, as much as it contains content foreign to our experience, is still an important model for our prayers.  Like Jesus, our prayers are timely, they fit with what is happening in our life.  Like Jesus, we need to check in with the Father regarding his plan for our life.  Like Jesus, we need to pray for others, those we know and those of future generations.  Like Jesus, our prayers should lead to action.  The question is: how do we pray?  The answer is: like Jesus.

Share

The Lord’s Prayer

Matthew 6:9-15

Introduction

When it comes to learning how to do something, there are different kinds of people.  Some people need everything spelled out for them.  They don’t want to think, they want each step described in detail with no room for variation or error.  There are others who find that far too constricting.  They want the barest possible description of a rather vague goal and then be given the freedom of how to accomplish it on their own.  The task they perform will resemble their own personality more than anything else.  I tend to seek something more in the middle.  I need clear goals and purposes.  I even like to have a good idea of how people have accomplished them in the past.  But at the same time, I like the freedom to be able to adapt to changing circumstances and to allow the job to fit my personality.  Let us apply this to prayer.  We are supposed to pray.  God could have just told us to pray but at the same time refusing to give us any examples, thus leaving us completely on our own to figure it out.  Or God could have said, you need to pray but you need to pray these specific words every time.  How would that fit with someone someone who is more intellectual or more emotional?  Would that be better for someone who is rich and is celebrating another financial victory or a street person who is dying in poverty?  The disciples wanted to learn how to pray.  Jesus taught them.  But what Jesus gave was not a regulated prayer that had to be done the same way every time.  We see there is some variation even between Matthew’s and Luke’s version.  It is likely that Jesus taught on this numerous times and did not feel the need to keep the wording precise.  We are going to take a look at the basic pattern of the Lord’s Prayer.  The first thing that I want you to notice is that there is some similarity between the Lord’s Prayer and the Ten Commandments.  Not in the details but in the pattern.  Both begin with a section focusing on God and then having a section focused on human needs.  This is a basic pattern of the Christian faith.  Remember what Jesus said when he was asked to summarize the Law?  Love God and love your neighbour.  God and humanity.  It is found throughout the Old and New Testaments.  Let us start with the focus on God.

Focus on God

Like the Old Testament prayers that we have looked at, Jesus specifies who he is praying to.  It is the Father in heaven.  It is not just Jesus’ Father, as he was uniquely God’s Son.  Jesus invites us to join him in calling him Father.  The Apostle Paul teaches about the role of the Holy Spirit in prayer and reminds us “you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”” (Romans 8:15 ESV)  Calling on God as Father is basic to being a Christian.  Our prayer to our heavenly Father is that his name be hallowed.  What does that mean?  When we see God’s name profaned, not just in swear words, but in how people treat what God stands for, our hearts should break.  In the Bible, a name is not just how you address a person but is a symbol of who or what that person is.  That is why when a major event takes place, often someone changes their name.  We want people to treat what God stands for, his holiness, grace, love, and justice, with reverence and respect.  Closely connected to this is the prayer that God’s kingdom come and will be done.  What is God’s kingdom?  It is not a place.  It is not heaven, at least not exactly.  Heaven is God’s kingdom but not geographically.  Heaven is God’s kingdom in that God’s will is fully done there. God’s kingdom is simply any where God’s will is done.  We need to know what God’s will is for this world and for our lives and pray that it is done.  Now, there is benefit to people when this is done.  It is God’s will that things like slavery and human trafficking come to an end.  Of course, this will benefit people.  Thousands of people would have a better life and would be free from suffering.  That is a good thing.  But in this prayer, that is not the motivation.  This prayer begins with the desire to see God glorified, to see his will accomplished and his name honored.  We rejoice that humans benefit, but our passion should be toward God.  Are you filled with this love for God?  Do you desire to see him glorified?  That is the model Jesus gives us.

Human Focus

There are some who believe our entire prayer life should be about God’s glory.  That sounds spiritual, but Jesus invites us to pray about human needs as well.  I call this human focus but that is not fully accurate.  There is still a focus on God, but we are praying for specifically human needs.  We pray for our daily bread.  Bread in the ancient world was a symbol for all food.  That could be extended to all our physical needs.  That is not unspiritual.  When the Israelites escaped Egypt, he did not just give them spiritual blessings, he gave actual bread and water for their physical needs.  I have a young family.  We have plenty of physical needs.  Time after time we have brought those needs to God.  I have looked around and have seen no obvious way the needs could be met.  Things have looked hopeless.  But when we have trusted in God, he has always come through.  We need food on our tables.  But we need just as much forgiveness.  We need God to forgive us.  We are in debt to God because we as sinners have sinned against an infinitely holy God.  If God does not forgive us, the most delicious banquet is of no use to us.  This forgiveness takes place when we first been the knee to Christ.  But it is an ongoing process.  We sin in thought, word and deed.  We need to continually seek forgiveness.  This sounds attractive to us.  But Jesus connects this to our forgiveness toward others.  This is somewhat harder to accomplish.  I have spoken to Christians who very much enjoy the thought of God forgiving them but who completely reject the possibility of forgiving other people who have hurt them.  This cannot be.  Is it that God punishes us by withholding his forgiveness when we refuse to forgive?  Or is it that we place ourselves in a state unable to receive forgiveness when we remain bitter toward others?  We must also pray against temptation.  The Christian life is not easy.  Being a Christian is not just about a prayer you prayed in Sunday school or camp.  It is not just about putting money in the plate or singing a hymn.  Christianity is a journey along a straight and narrow road.  There are numerous paths that seductively invite us to leave the way God has called us.  I am sure we all know people who seemed eager to serve God and were active in church.  Things changed.  They became busy or discouraged or hurt or confused.  At some point it just seemed easier to quit the journey.    I am not one who claims to hear directly from God.  But I remember a time that I woke up in the night and I demanded that God speak to me.  I was not looking for an audible voice, but I wanted something.  I got something, a word that popped into my head that I was not thinking about.  It was ‘Haran.‘  What is Haran?  The story of Abraham begins with his family leaving Ur and traveling toward the promised land.  Under the leadership of Abraham’s father, they stopped half way at a city called Haran.  God had to speak again to Abraham to get him to complete the journey.  Where I was at this point in my life is that I felt God’s call for ministry on my life.  I had even said yes to God and was willing to be a pastor.  But then I got comfortable.  I had a job and an apartment and felt no need to move forward.  When I heard Haran, I knew exactly what God was saying.  The next day, I called McMaster Divinity College and began the process to become a pastor.  Temptation can come in numerous forms, both comfort and pain.  We must pray that temptation does not take us from our journey.

Conclusion

The Lord’s Prayer.  It is a beloved part of our Christian heritage.  But it is not just a beautiful piece of liturgy.  It is a model for us in our own prayers.  We can pray this exact prayer.  But we can also pray our own prayers according to own situations and our own personality.  We can do this by building on this model.  Begin by glorifying God.  Pray for things that will not directly benefit you but will bring honour to God’s name.  Then move on and pray for yourself.  Pray for physical and spiritual needs.  It is not selfish, it is important.  Do not neglect this vital model of God and human focus in the Lord’s Prayer.

Share

Jesus, Socrates and Alexander the Great

In a recent discussion in the comments section of one of my blog posts, a person who doubts the historicity of Jesus suggested that an appropriate comparison of ancient figures would be that with Socrates, Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar.  These three have solid contemporary witnesses, whereas there is none for Jesus.

While I disagree that there is no good contemporary witness for Jesus, that is not where I want go.  I will give that there is very solid historical information for Julius Caesar.  The advantage there is that we have what people wrote about Caesar as well as some of his own writings.  It would be hard to argue with, although I suppose if someone was determined enough, all they would have to do is insist that it is all forged.

I want to focus on the other two though.  First of all, I have no doubt that Socrates and Alexander were historical figures.  But what do we know of them and how reliable are our accounts?  Socrates is known to us primarily from Plato, although he is mention by Xenophon and Aristophanes (no one would use Aristophanes as history).  Yet, Platonic scholars will readily admit that very often Plato is using the figure of Socrates as a character in his books to express Plato’s own thoughts rather than recounting Socrates own teachings or experiences.  We have no idea where Socrates ends and where Plato begins.

What about Alexander the Great?  We have a number of surviving biographies.  The fact that we have a number would seem to put us on firmer historical ground.  The problem is that all of these were written long after the events.  The five main surviving accounts are by Arrian, Curtius, Plutarch, Diodorus, and Justin.  Of these, all but Diodorus lived after the time of Christ.  Even Diodorus was from the second half of the first century BC.  I find it it interesting that people will take these accounts seriously as history and then dismiss Paul because he wrote twenty to thirty years after the events and the Gospels because they were written forty to fifty years after the events.  Would it really be preferable to have accounts three hundred years after the events?

Does this “prove” Jesus existed?  But it should make us be cautious in what standards we use to decide who is historical and who is mythical.

Share

What is Heresy?

There seems to be quite a bit of labeling of people as heretics in recent years.  It is easy to discount people with a label, but have people really thought through what this means?  The word heretic or heresy does not technically mean something bad or even false.  It literally means sect, opinion or sentiment.  Here are a couple of passages where outsiders described the early Christians as a sect.

“For we have found this man a plague, one who stirs up riots among all the Jews throughout the world and is a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes. But this I confess to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down by the Law and written in the Prophets, But we desire to hear from you what your views are, for with regard to this sect we know that everywhere it is spoken against.” (Acts 24:5, 14; 28:22 ESV)

The word translated ‘sect’ is the Greek word from which we get heresy.  While they may have been using this in a pejorative sense, they were actually correct: Christianity began as a sect or heresy of Judaism.  In this way, Roman Catholics are correct to see protestants as a heresy.  I just happen to believe that this heresy is more biblically correct than its parent group.

Well, what do we mean we speak of a Christian heresy?  It is very easy to describe positions that people disagree with as heresies, and by that they mean something un-Christian or unorthodox.  But where do we draw the line?  Should Calvinists see Arminians as heretics and Arminians see Calvinists as heretics?  How should evangelicals see Pentecostals or people who baptize infants see people who baptize believers?  How about amillennialists and postmillennialists and premillennialists?

That is not to say that we should not draw a line.  There is a difference between biblical Christianity and unorthodox belief systems.  I would make this suggestion of doctrines that must be present to be orthodox:

1) God as personal, separate from creation, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent and triune.

2) Jesus as historical, God incarnate, crucified, atoning and resurrected.

3) Salvation by grace through faith, found only through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.

We may disagree on other things, but I would hesitate to label a person or movement as heretical if they agreed on these doctrines.

Share

Impossibility of Miracles?

One of the criticisms of Christianity is the belief in miracles.  Miracles by definition are impossible.  The laws of nature cannot be broken.  There have even been forms of Christianity that have denied miracles as they are a bit of an embarrassment in a rational world.

I would like to suggest another way to look at miracles.  Rather than a breaking of the laws of nature, they are the right thing happening at the right time in the right way.  Let us look at some examples.  Jesus is reported as healing many people.  But are not people moving from sickness to health all the time through the influence of medicine and surgery?  What doctors do is change the conditions so that the body can heal.  In the same way, Jesus by command was able to change the conditions so that the person would be healed.  What about walking on water?  Given the right the technology, humans could change the conditions to allow someone to do that.  Changes could happen in the bouyancy of the water or the density of the water or the weight of the person.  Laws were not broken, conditions were just changed.  Many of the things that we do today would seem supernatural to the ancients.  It is not natural for a man to walk on the moon, but it is possible to set things in motion to make it happen.  It is not natural to perform a heart transplant but with a donor, surgery and medication, it can happen.  I am not making light of miracles or denying the supernatural aspect.  They are miracles in that Jesus was able to change the conditions  at the right time, in the right way to the right people for the right outcome.  What I am saying is that belief in miracles is not incompatible with reason.

Share

Papias on Christ and Michael

I am very interested in the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ claim that Jesus is the archangel Michael.  In my reading, I came across something interesting.  Papias was an early Christian father, a companion of Polycarp and someone who had met and heard the Apostle John.  He is an important witness for understanding what the early church believed.  Although we do not have full texts of Papias’ writings, we do have fragments embedded in other writings.  In Fragment of Papias 24:2-10 (I recommend Michael Holmes’ translation of the Apostolic Fathers), Papias sees the fight of Michael and the angels against Satan described in Revelation 12:7-9 as taking place while Jesus was on the cross.  The death of Jesus allowed Michael and his angels to achieve their victory.  This would seem to make it unlikely that the early church saw Jesus as Michael.

Share

Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Problem of the Archangel Michael

As you may know, Jehovah’s Witnesses do not believe that Jesus is co-eternal with the Father.  Instead of God incarnate, they see Jesus as the archangel Michael.  One of the first problems that they have to deal with is that the first couple of chapters of Hebrews make it very clear that Jesus is not an angel but is in fact much greater than angels.  Jehovah’s Witnesses respond by saying that Jesus is not an angel, he is the archangel, that is he is the head of the angels without actually belonging to the category of angel.  This is quite bizarre in its logic.  The way that arch prefix was used was most often the first among a group, such as the archierios or high priest, who also was a priest.  But here is another problem.  The earliest Christians saw Michael as an angel and not a superior being who happened to be in charge of the angels.  For example Shepherd of Hermas 69:3 (a Christian text so early it was almost included in the canon) says “And the great and glorious angel is Michael.”  This is just one example of many Jewish and Christian texts that saw Michael as an angel.  If Jehovah’s Witnesses want Jesus to Michael, they will have to ignore Hebrews and accept Jesus as an angel.

Share

The Bacchae

BacchaeI just finished reading Euripides play The Bacchae.  This is a very important ancient writing as it is one of our best texts for understanding the Dionysus cult.  This is of importance to me as Dionysus is one of the most frequent gods presented as an inspiration for the Jesus story by proponents of the Jesus myth hypothesis.  The claim is that Dionysus was virgin born, had followers, was arrested and persecuted, all exactly like Jesus.  The problem is when you actually read the text.  Dionysus is not virgin born.  Zeus impregnates a human woman through sexual intercourse but she is killed by one of his thunderbolts while she is still pregnant.  Zeus takes the baby and sews him to his thigh until he is fully ready to be born.  There was nothing virgin about it!  Dionysus is arrested as his female followers who are roaming the countryside in wild worship and partying are causing concern for the men.  However, Dionysus is not killed.  He escapes and destroys the palace.  He then takes the leader, dresses him up as a woman, promising him to show him the worship of his followers, reveals that he is a male in front of the wild crowd, and encourages them, beginning with the man’s mother, to tear the leader apart and kill him.  While an interesting story, one can not help but see how far this is from the Gospel story.  For those who embrace the Jesus myth theory, I strongly encourage you to read this story itself rather than summaries of the story presented in biblical language.

Share

Who is the Father of Jesus Christ?

Let me put my cards on the table: I believe Jesus to be the Son of God and that his human father was Joseph, the husband of Mary.  Why do I believe that Jesus is the Son of God when only Matthew and Luke record the virgin birth and Paul never mentions it?  Although the details of the birth are only found in Matthew and Luke, they are assumed when we see the pre-existence of Christ as described in John, Philippians and Colossians.  If Christ was present at creation, it is difficult to see how he could simply be the product of the sexual union of a man and a woman.

Nativity of Jesus

Image from the Metropolitan Museum of Art

The deity of Christ is a matter of faith but the human parentage of Joseph is well accepted.  However, I recently encountered a person on this blog who strongly disagreed.  The fellow agreed that Matthew 1 teaches that Joseph is not the biological father of Jesus and that the Holy Spirit was involved in some way.  Where we disagreed was that I saw the Holy Spirit as creating the embryo that would become Jesus of Nazareth within Mary without the assistance of a human father.  He disagreed, to which I responded that the only other option is that God led Mary to an alternate lover to impregnate her.  To my amazement, that is exactly what he was claiming, that God led Mary to have sex with a man named Heli before she was married to Joseph!

The basis of this theory is in the differences between the genealogies found in Matthew 1 and Luke 3.  In Matthew 1:11-12, Jeconiah is mentioned.  However, in Jeremiah 22:30 it says that the descendants of Jeconiah are cut off from the throne of David.  Since Joseph is a descendent of Jeconiah, he could not be the father of Jesus.  Luke 3 contains an alternative geneology that lacks Jeconiah and casts doubt on Joseph as the actual father while mentioning a man named Heli.  The theory is that having Heli as the father of Jesus allows lineage from David while avoiding the cursed Jeconiah.

There are several problems with this.  The first criticism to this theory should be that this seems completely against God’s character.  Certainly people in the Bible cheated (such as David) but it is never described as something led by God.  It is difficult to imagine how God could want Mary to have such a pre-marital affair with another man.  But there are other problems than just moral revulsion.  The passage of Jeremiah 22 when seen in context does not seem to be a prophecy that no one from the line of Jeconiah will ever sit on the throne of David.  The passage describes how far Jeconiah had fallen.  In ancient Israel and Judah, the ultimate punishment for a king was not death but rather the prevention of their son from sitting on the throne (see 1 & 2 Kings).  Jeconiah had fallen so badly that he and his family were exiled from the land and that none of his sons would reign.  That this was not an everlasting punishment applied to all of his descendents but rather something dealing with his immediate family is shown by the fact that Jeremiah 22:28 also speaks of Jeconiah’s descendents no longer being in the land.  Obviously Joseph, as a descendent of Jeconiah, was living in the promised land and so this passage no longer applied.  Regarding the differences between Matthew 1 and Luke 3, I do not pretend to understand the situation completely.  But I will point out this: Matthew 1:12-13 mention a descendent of Jeconiah named Zerubbabel son Sheatiel.  That same Zerubbabel reappears in Luke’s geneology in Luke 3:27.  So we have someone connected with Jeconiah even in Luke’s geneology.  Finally, when you look at the geneology of Luke 3, there is a repetitive pattern of the son of x, the son of y, the son of z.  Following that pattern, it seems clear that the reference to Heli seems to be from the generation previous to Joseph and not Mary’s alternate lover.

This theory of Heli as the father of Jesus is so obscure that it never even appeared when I googled it.  However, on this blog every question is worthy of addressing and in this post I have attempted to look at the theory in a logical and hopefully helpful way.

Share

Did Jesus Die on the Cross and Rise Again?

1 Corinthians 2:1-2, 15:12-17

Introduction

Have you ever been in some sort of sales transaction or contract? All sorts of details are being presented and the other person goes on and on and on. As you are listening to all the talking, you begin lose patience. What is the bottom line? Whether that is price or timing or quality or whatever, what is the main thing? We can apply this to every area of our life, including our Christian faith. There are all kinds of things that Christians talk about. We talk about worship styles and offerings and membership and baptism and predestination and sanctification and so on and so on. These are all very important, but what is the main thing? Part of it is what we have been looking at over the last two weeks: the divinity and humanity of Christ. But there is something else that is absolutely required. Christians can agree to disagree on many things but they cannot on this: the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We started off the message with some comments by the Apostle Paul. Paul is writing to a church in Corinth that valued knowledge and philosophy. Paul was an intelligent man, well educated, who could handle his own in any debate. But he says something very interesting and surprising, Paul says that he wanted to know nothing but Christ and Him crucified. For Paul, Jesus on the cross providing forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with God was central to the faith. Closely connected to this are his comments later on. Some of the Corinthians doubted the resurrection. Paul works through this and points out that if Jesus did not rise from the dead, our faith is in vain. For Paul, the crucifixion and the resurrection, were the two axles that drive the vehicle of the Church. Take one or both axles off of a car and it is good only as a lawn ornament. The same is true for the crucifixion and the resurrection for the Christian faith. But you might say that no one questions these central truths. Unfortunately, they have been questioned both inside and outside of the church. Today, we are going to look at some of the myths about the death and resurrection of Jesus and as a result become more confident that we are on a firm foundation.

I. Jesus Was Too Good to Die on a Cross

Right from the beginning, people were struggling with the cross. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 1:18, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” Why is the cross folly to some people? People back then understood very clearly what crucifixion was. It was one of the most painful and humiliating ways to execute a person. You did not look to a person on a cross with adoration or worship; you looked at them with pity or scorn. It was reserved for the worst of the worst. In the ancient world, there were both honorable and dishonorable ways to die. A good way to die would be to voluntarily ingest poison or stab oneself with a dagger. Crucifixion was at the bottom of the list. That is why the Greeks struggled with worshipping one who died on a cross. In addition, the Jews knew that Old Testament passage about one who dies on a tree being cursed. That did not sound like a messiah to them. People who struggled with this had two choices: either Jesus was not God’s chosen on or Jesus did not die on the cross. Muslims adopted this second option. Muslims believe that Jesus was God’s chosen messiah to the Jews. He was a righteous man who was condemned by the Jews. The Jews tried to crucify Jesus but God intervened because of how faithful Jesus was. They thought they crucified Jesus but God did a last minute switch, perhaps replacing Jesus with Judas. To the Muslims, Jesus was too good to be crucified. We might disagree, but it is worth asking: was Jesus too good to die on a cross? The reality is, that is the wrong question. It was not: was Jesus too good to be crucified, but rather was Jesus good enough to be crucified. God’s whole plan was for Jesus to die on the cross. The Jews were right to think of one who died on a tree being cursed. But the curse that Jesus had was not based on His sin but ours. He took on the curse of sin and death and paid the price. Jesus’ death does not contradict His goodness, it is based upon it.

II. Jesus Survived the Cross

One of the areas that critics have struggled with is that the disciples really seemed to believe that they saw Jesus alive on the third day. Assuming that resurrection is not possible, how can we explain this? For the last couple hundred years there has been an attempt to provide a non-supernatural explanation. This is called the swoon theory. The basic idea is that Jesus passed out on the cross and the Romans mistakenly assumed He was dead. They allowed Jesus to be buried and on the third day He recovered from His wounds and escaped the tomb, meeting up with His friends. Since they thought He had died, they also thought He had been resurrected. One the face of it, this seems to make sense. But let’s look deeper. The Gospel of John anticipates this theory when it recounts the Romans investigation into Jesus’ death. They pierced Jesus with a spear to ensure that He was dead. The Romans were too good at their jobs to make a mistake like critics claim. Let us assume for a moment that the Romans did not check or that Jesus survived the spear thrust. Surviving on the cross required the physical strength to lift oneself up to catch a breath. If you passed out, you would be dead soon from suffocation, because you would not be able to lift yourself up. But there are still more problems. Our earliest traditions in the New Testament interpret the appearance of Jesus, not as resuscitation, that is a bringing back to life, as experienced by Lazarus and others during Jesus’ ministry. They saw Jesus as being the first one to experience the resurrection, that is, the transformation that all followers of God looked forward to, the reception of an eternal spiritual resurrection body. Now imagine what they would have seen as Jesus appeared them on the third day if He had only passed out on the cross and had been trapped in a tomb for a couple of days. Jesus would have literally looked like death warmed over. They would not have been worshipping Him, they would have been rushing Him to a doctor. Under no circumstances would they have looked at his bruised and bloody body and anticipated that is what they would look like at the resurrection. The swoon theory is not logical at all.

III. There is No Historical Evidence for the Resurrection

For the last couple of hundred years, critical scholars have tried to piece together the historical Jesus from a non-supernatural perspective. They have attempted to reconstruct His journeys, ministry and even His sayings. But most often they stop at the crucifixion. The reason? The claim is that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is a matter of faith and not a matter of history. I am not sure how you can separate the two, but let us take a look. The best place to begin is 1 Corinthians 15, the first few verses of which have been dated as being within a few years of the events. Notice some important parts to this account. The resurrection was not something that took place in secret. Paul offers names and numbers of people who witnessed the resurrected Jesus. This is very important. It is often claimed that the disciples saw only what they wanted to see because of their grief. But that is difficult to accept from what Paul tells us. I had dreams for years and years that my grandmother was not really dead. I did not take those dreams very seriously as I was the only one having that dream. But if five hundred people were claiming to see my dead grandmother, I would get suspicious. There were too many people who claimed to have seen Jesus for this to be a hallucination. In addition, Paul challenges the Corinthians to talk to the people who saw these things, as most of them were still alive. This is not something claimed hundreds of years after the events. There were living witnesses. In addition to the number of witnesses, there is the nature of the witnesses. Paul names two people, James and himself, who were hostile to Jesus before encountering the resurrected Jesus. James, who was Jesus’ own brother, rejected Jesus during His life time, but after seeing the risen Christ, eventually became the head of the Jerusalem church. Paul, actually had Christians killed because he was convinced that Christianity was a false and dangerous heresy. After meeting the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus, Paul became the most successful evangelist, church planter and theologian of the early church. These are the kind of life changes that need more than a bad dream after eating too much pizza. There is much more that I could say, but I want you to take notice of where this belief in the resurrection of Jesus led these people. James died a very violent death. Peter was crucified upside down. Paul was beheaded. They did not have to go through these violent deaths, but were willing to because they were convinced of the truth of the Gospel. I love the story of Lord of the Rings and see many great life and moral lessons in it. But I would never give my life in appreciation for the story. The willingness of the first Christians who claimed to have seen the risen Jesus is good historical evidence that it really happened.

Conclusion

If you enjoy history, you might have liked what I had to say. But what does this mean to the average Christian? Each one of us knows that we do bad things and that we cannot live up to God’s standards. Our good works never seem to do the job. That could leave us feeling rather condemned and guilt-ridden over our condition. But if Jesus really did die on the cross for our sins, then there is hope. There is a reason to feel close to God and to feel as if there is a place in His family for us. And then there is the resurrection. I think almost everyone reflects on what happens after death at some point in their life. The resurrection of Jesus proves that there is something after death. Not only that, the resurrection of Jesus was meant to be the first stage of what would happen to us. The empty tomb proves that Jesus is the Lord who conquers not only sin but death as well. The resurrection of Jesus gives us reason to see our lives in light of eternity. Knowing that neither sin nor death have any more hold on us should have a tremendous impact on how we live our lives.

Share

Losing His Religion

A fellow blogger recently posted his reasons for walking away from Christianity. The last I checked, there were almost a thousand responses to his post. He obviously struck a nerve with both believers and unbelievers. You see his post here. I do not presume to tell him or anyone else what to believe. However, I do think it is worth responding to his list of 20 reasons, as many of them would be representative of other’s people struggle with faith.  His reasons will be listed in italics and my responses will follow.

God is wrathful, jealous, hateful, and kills nations of people like it is a bodily function. He is certainly not just or “holy” in nature.

The claim that God enjoys killing entire nations is extremely overstated.  What is being referenced here is likely the holy wars described in Joshua.  These are hard passages and not my favorites either.  But a careful reading will show that God’s intention was not for genocide but for Israel’s possession of the land.  The plan was to drive the Canaanites (of which God waited until their evil reached a certain level).  There are numerous examples of grace shown, even to the previous inhabitants of the land.

 
The act of throwing people into infinite torture and punishment for not believing a Jewish guy from 2,000 years ago was God’s son, or unknowingly worshiping the wrong god, is extremely cruel and sadistic.

I understand hell as being defined as absence from God.  The idea of little demons systematically torturing unbelievers is a post-biblical idea.  Our natural tendency is to be separate from God but God has provided a way to be in relationship with God through Jesus (the “Jewish guy”).  Would it not be cruel for God to force his presence upon people who have no desire for him?

 
The statements, “God works in mysterious ways,” or “It will all make sense in heaven,” are little more than irrational cop outs. This God allows horrible atrocities to be committed against innocent men, women and children every day.

I agree that those statements can be cop outs.  Does God allow those atrocities?  God has given us the conscience and the resources to make a heaven on earth.  Before we ask why God allows it, perhaps we should ask why we allow it.
Bloody animal and human sacrifices are illogical demands by a divine god as payment for petty wrong doings. These actions are no different than the rituals of archaic pagan religions. Not to mention the bizarre ritual of symbolically drinking human blood and eating human flesh.

In some ways God was revealing himself in a way that ancients could understand.  In another way, there is a timeless truth here.  We see blood as a symbol of death, the Hebrews saw it as about life.  How ethno-centric to reject their symbolism as illogical.  Also, the early Christians did not see communion as cannibalistic, that was a claim of their critics.
If God loves us and wants us to know and believe in him, why be so completely invisible? What is the purpose of being so illusive to those who believe and worship him?

Since God is spirit and does not have a body, it is natural for him to be invisible.  But he does reveal himself in nature and in experience.  As one who worships and believes in him, I do not find God to be illusive.  He is invisible enough to stretch my faith but real enough to give me hope and confidence.
God never manifests himself or performs miracles as he regularly did for the Israelites in Old Testament stories.

Actually, miracle stories are relatively rare in the Old Testament.  It is mostly Moses, Elijah and Elisha who perform miracles.  If you took all the miracle accounts of the Old Testament and combined them, you would have some Psalms longer than these accounts.  And who says God does not perform miracles today?  Doctors regularly question as to why some terminally sick people suddenly have no illness.  I have experienced a number of smaller miracles in my own life.
Prayers are never answered. Certainly not in the way Jesus described. Prayer has absolutely no affect on the world around us.

I am sorry if that is your experience but it is not mine.  Prayer does not work like sending a wish list to a cosmic Santa Claus.  But prayer does work and I have experienced dramatic answers to prayer.
Jesus did not fulfill major Old Testament prophesies or even fulfill his own promises and predictions.

I would need details as to what was in mind in this statement.  There are many Old Testament prophecies that are fulfilled in Jesus, as well as statements made by Jesus.  This is a very vague criticism.
The authors of much of the Bible are unknown. And of these unknown authors, the men who wrote the gospels likely never even met Jesus considering they were written 40-70 years after his death. A far cry from reliable testimony.

It is very possible that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John did write the Gospels attributed to them.  The accounts reflect earlier oral traditions of the people that did know Jesus.  In oral cultures, those traditions are just as reliable as written records.  In addition, 40-70 (I would say actually 30-60) years is quite reasonable.  Our written accounts of Alexander the Great are 300-400 years after his death.  We do not reject accounts written today about the Woodstock music festival, just because it is forty years later.

 
The Bible is repeatedly contradictory with itself, reality, and the laws of morality. Couldn’t God inspire a less poorly written book?

Again, I would need some examples.  I would disagree that the Bible is contradictory.  There is a consistent story of a God seeking his people and the struggles that go along the way.  As for morality, even in our post-Christian world, much of our morality is still shaped by biblical values.
The Bible is open to interpretation. Everyone interprets it in the way that suits them best or serves their purposes.

I agree that this is true.  But that does not mean that there is no true meaning to the Bible or that it is false.
Throughout history, Christians have justified horrific actions by the Bible and its teaching.

Unfortunately this is true.  That is why I am a follower of Jesus and not the fallible teachings and commands of any group of Christians.
The Bible promotes hate and persecution against women, homosexuals and those who worship other gods or no god at all.

The Bible does no such thing.  The Bible is actually very pro-woman in comparison with its cultural context.  The Bible does not promote hatred toward anyone.  Homosexuality is rejected and pagan worship is criticized.  But notice that Jesus spent much of his time with people who were hated and persecuted by their society.  There is a strong message of love and tolerance while still challenging us on our lifestyles.

 

According to the Bible, nearly 70% percent of the people in the world will burn in hell because they don’t believe Jesus was the son of God.

As I said earlier, should God force people into heaven even they want nothing to do with him?  Should not people have freedom of choice?

 

The only reason I was a Christian was because I was indoctrinated into the religion as a child as a result of the culture and region of the world in which I was born.

Good point.  I struggled with this as I was coming out of atheism.  In fact I put Christianity farther down the list of options because of this very reason.  I ended up becoming a Christian because I was convinced of its truth and not because of any cultural pressure.

 

Christianity has no more rational or factual foundation than any other religion on earth that I openly reject.

I would disagree.  But if you pushed things hard enough, Darwinism and atheism have the same problems.

 

The Christian church is disjointed and can’t even agree with one another.

This can be a problem.  But as a pastor, I work with pastors and churches of many denominations and we have always been able to put aside our differences to work together.

 

Christians are not at all ethically or morally different from non-Christians.

This can be a problem as well.  Thankfully my faith is in Jesus and not in fellow Christians.

 

Today, powerful church leaders steal, lie and molest young children. The church repeatedly attempts to cover up these atrocities, only to reluctantly apologize as a last resort.

The percentage of these events is relatively small and surely is no higher than among non-Christians.  It is still a horrible problem and the full weight of the law and condemnation of the church should be placed upon those who commit such crimes.

 

It is absolutely irrational to continue to believe archaic teaching with the amount of knowledge we’ve gained through science and technology. The Bible reads like a book of primitive folklore, not divinely inspired insight into our true reason for existence.

What examples are you thinking of?  Has science and technology proven that love for God and love for people (as Jesus summarized the Law) are no longer valid?  How would such proof look?  The basics of the Christian faith have not been proven false by science.  Science is not the church’s enemy as all truth is God’s truth.  It is true that the Bible was written in an ancient context and that our interpretation should reflect that, but it is not true that science has proven the Bible to be fundamentally false.

I realize that some people are going to walk away from Christianity.  My responses here are not likely to put a stop to that.  But what I want to demonstrate is that these reasons have responses and that if people are honest, they are not the real reasons for walking away.  They are excuses for something that is happening on a deeper level.  I encourage people to keep an open mind.  Feel free to ask questions, but have a measure of humility in acknowledging that not all of our answers are available in this world.

Share

Virgin Birth and Biology

One of the arguments that I have heard against the virgin birth is that it is impossible for a complex being to be born without the genetic material from both the male and female.  Science is demonstrating that it is indeed possible.  For the second time in recent years it has been demonstrated that a female shark has given birth without the involvement of a male.  You can read about it here.  This does not prove that Jesus was virgin born but it does suggest that it is more scientifically reasonable than previously thought.

Share

Is Jesus the Archangel Michael?

One of the distinctives of the Jehovah’s Witnesses is their belief that Jesus is not God but is rather the archangel Michael.  They derive this from the following passage.

“For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first.” (1 Thessalonians 4:16)

The thought is: how could Jesus come with the voice or call of the archangel if Jesus was not the archangel?  It could be questioned as to why Jesus’ identity is defined by the call of the archangel and not the trumpet of God.  But aside from that, for Jehovah’s Witnesses to get to this point, they have to make some questionable assumptions.

First of all, they assume that Michael is the only archangel and that uniqueness fits well with Jesus’ uniqueness.  It is true that Michael is the only angel described as an archangel in the Bible (of course Gabriel is the only other angel given a name so the competition is not that fierce).  But the Bible must be interpreted in its Jewish context.  In the Jewish world at the time, there were a number of archangels including Michael, Gabriel, Uriel, Raphael and others.  Should we take these Jewish apocalyptic ideas seriously if they are not directly from the Bible?  We should keep in mind that Jude was willing to quote from the Pseudepigrapha (1 Enoch and Assumption of Moses), including a tradition about Michael.

Even if Michael is the only archangel, there is still a problem: he is an angel.  This is a problem because of the following passage speaking of Jesus:

“He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.” (Hebrews 1:3-4)

The author of Hebrews then goes on to quote various passages of the Old Testament to demonstrate the difference between Jesus and the angels.  Jehovah’s Witnesses respond by saying that he is not an angel, he is an archangel, that is the head of the angels.  The Greek arche can mean “beginning, first, origin, ruling power, authority.”  Technically it can mean “head” but the emphasis is not on its distinctiveness from what it is ruling over.  For example, archipoimen means chief shepherd, but he is still a shepherd, he just happens to be the one in charge.  Also, we have archiereus, which is the high priest.  No one would argue that the high priest was not a priest but only a man in charge of the priests.  The high priest is a priest with certain responsibilities.  So with the archangel, Michael is still an angel, he just happens to be an angel with a very important role.  As long as we take the book of Hebrews seriously, it is impossible to accept Jesus as being the archangel Michael.

If you want learn more about this, get my book, The Watchtower and the Word. (USA) (Canada)

Watchtower and the Word

Share

Resurrection and History

Dr. John Dickson has an interesting article on the resurrection that you can find here.  I like what he says even if it might not be far enough for many Christians.  Dickson attempts to find a balance between apologists who attempt to prove every minute detail of the biblical accounts and skeptics that deny pretty much everything in the biblical account.  He takes a look at the biblical accounts and argues that there is a solid historical account, although it still takes faith to accept that what the disciples thought they saw was indeed a resurrected Jesus.  I like the way Dickson deals with the skeptics and he has good advice for Christian apologists.  It is a fairly short article and is well worth the read.

Share

The Muslim Jesus

There seems to be no lack of Jesus movies but a new one has come out that should capture some attention. It is called the Messiah and it was made by Iranian filmmaker Nader Talebzadeh. You can get some more information on this film and read an interview with Talebzadeh here.  This film attempts to show audiences the Muslim view of Jesus.

In many ways, Muslims have a high view of Jesus. Jesus is one of the greatest prophets, perhaps second only to Muhammad. Muslims affirm the virgin birth, Jesus’ role as the Jewish Messiah and his ministry of healings and miracles. However, Muslims do not accept Jesus as the Son of God. That is not surprising as most non-Christians, religious or non-religious would deny Jesus’ deity. What is surprising is that Muslims do deny something that most people would accept – that Jesus died on the cross. This is based on a passage from the Qur’an. This passage is a response to Jewish claims to have killed Jesus.

That they said (in boast), “We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the Messenger of Allah”—but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain) knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not—Nay, Allah raised him unto Himself; and Allah is Exalted in Power, Wise. (Sura 4.157-158)

The idea is that God substituted someone else on the cross for Jesus, as Jesus was too good to suffer thus. Many Muslims believe it was Judas who died on the cross, while God took Jesus to heaven without dying, similar to what God did for Elijah in the Old Testament. There are a number of problems with this. First of all, there is not agreement in the Qur’an on this. In Sura 19.33 we read these words of Jesus: “So peace is on me the day I was born, the day that I die, and the day I shall be raised up to life (again)!” This seems to affirm the traditional three-fold stage of birth, death and resurrection that Christians hold for Jesus. Qur’anic translator A. Yusuf Ali comments on this passage by saying “Christ was not crucified. But those who believe that he never died should ponder over this verse.” This goes against what Muslims say about Jesus’ escape from death.

Secondly, Jesus’ death is not a minor aspect of his ministry in the New Testament. The Gospel of Mark has been described as a Passion Narrative with an extended introduction. The story of Jesus dying for his people is firmly planted in an Old Testament tradition that includes Passover traditions, Day of Atonement theology, Psalm 22 and the Suffering Servant passages of Isaiah. The Apostle Paul makes it clear that Jesus’ death on the cross is the foundation of the Gospel (1 Corinthians 1:18-25).

Another problem with this film is that it is based on something called the Gospel of Barnabas. While on the surface, we might wonder why we should trust the New Testament Gospels and not another Gospel that just happened to not get included in the canon. That is because most people do not know what the Gospel of Barnabas really is.

The so-called Gospel of Barnabas, [is] a text written by a fourteenth-century monk in southern Italy who converted to Islam. In the form of a gospel, he wrote the life story of Jesus, in which he summarized the Islamic conceptions of Jesus and at the same time battled the Christian traditions where they conflicted with the Islamic. Thus, according to Islamic conviction, he lets Jesus prophesy the appearance of Muhammad and warns his community to follow the new prophet, whom he—in contradiction to the Qur’an—calls Messiah (compare Sura 61.6). (Islam: An Introduction for Christians edited by Paul Varo Martinson, p. 191)

While I affirm people’s freedom of religion and their right to portray Jesus the way they want, it is also important that people have the correct information by which to judge each interpretation.

Share

Christian Science and Jesus Christ

My post on Christian Science seemed to gather a lot of interest, so I thought I would dig a little deeper.  Since my previous post relied on the writings of an author critical of sectarian groups, in this post I would like to rely on Christian Science texts and the Bible.  Their web-site (www.Christianscience.com) has some useful information about their beliefs, including a summary of their beliefs from Mary Baker Eddy’s Science and Health that you can find here.  Notice this statement:

1. As adherents of Truth, we take the inspired Word of the Bible as our sufficient guide to eternal Life.

That is a good thing and I take that as permission to use the Bible to determine how close Christian Science is to biblical Christianity. 

One of the problems with Christian Science is its affirmation of the nothingness of matter, that all physical matter is pure illusion.  This of course means that Jesus, along withe everything else, is pure spirit and not matter or flesh.  How then do we interpret that idea with these passages:

“By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God.” (1 John 4:2, NRSV)

“Many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh; any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist!” (2 John 7, NRSV)

I know that it is not very helpful to call people an anti-christ and the adherents of Christian Science who have contacted me seem very nice.  I have no desire to insult anyone.  The point I am trying to make is that the Bible makes it very clear that Jesus in the flesh is a non-negotiable within the Christian faith.  John is likely responding to an early form of the docetic heresy that claimed that Jesus only seemed human, in reality being pure spirit.  Christian Science is an extreme form of docetism, claiming that not only did Jesus just seem to be in the flesh, we too only seem to be in the flesh – all living creatures in reality are pure spirit.

Here are few other statements from Mary Baker Eddy.

4. We acknowledge Jesus’ atonement as the evidence of divine, efficacious Love, unfolding man’s unity with God through Christ Jesus the Way-shower; and we acknowledge that man is saved through Christ, through Truth, Life, and Love as demonstrated by the Galilean Prophet in healing the sick and overcoming sin and death.

5. We acknowledge that the crucifixion of Jesus and his resurrection served to uplift faith to understand eternal Life, even the allness of Soul, Spirit, and the nothingness of matter.

The problem with this is the intended purpose of the cross.  Eddy seems to be saying that the cross is just a powerful demonstration of love and a means of encouraging faith.  But the Apostle Paul sees more in the cross than this.

“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”(Romans 5:6-11, NRSV)

Paul agrees that the cross is a demonstration of God’s love but that the cross is not just an illustration.  It was an act of justification that saved us from God’s wrath and reconciles us with God.  This is far from the message of Christian Science that sees the foundation of Jesus’ ministry in his healing rather than his death on the cross.

There is more that can be said but this gives us a start in understanding the differences between Christian Science and Christianity.  Again, my goal is not to insult anyone’s faith but demonstrate differences.

Share