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The Resurrection of Jesus Christ

24 Mar

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With each new historical account that is published about the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, the result is yet another attempt at discrediting history.  In a sense, every skeptical generation’s “fresh look” at these events this may suffice as unintended evidence of historical reliability and documentation accuracy throughout the years.  It is either reliability or, as skeptics maintain, the grandest collusion and hoax ever perpetuated upon mankind.  However, what are the chances of such collusion stretching across at least twenty centuries?  That said, whether doubt by skeptics or reaffirmation by advocates, when it comes to addressing the Resurrection of Jesus the Christ, there is truly nothing new under the sun.  I shall elaborate.

An example of this is the two-thousand years of discussion and supposed refutation of the literal resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Despite a new generation of scholars, or recent attempts to gain personal notoriety, it all comes down to denials of the historicity of the event. In fact, there are only so many ways to deny history. Yet, skeptics continue and with each attempt, another debunking occurs. With each new attempt to invalidate the resurrection, we must “be ready to give to every man an answer for the reason of the hope that lies within . . .” (1 Peter 3:15)

But what is at stake in all of this? It is simple, really. The moment the resurrection is falsified, the entire Christian faith collapses. Christianity is founded on Jesus, and is validated in His life, death, and resurrection. Simply put. Show Jesus to be a liar and it’s over. Demonstrate that someone other than the biblical Jesus lived and died, or that history is incorrect, and all of Christianity and truth come tumbling down.

Dr. Bruce Chilton, in a 2013 cable television interview with John McLaughlin was addressing his book Mary Magdalene, but stated the following: The body of Jesus is still here on the earth and that he only resurrected in a spiritual sense, much like an angelic form.” Chilton also argues that disciples later formed the argument that Jesus’s body rose from the dead. This is nothing new, as the reader with see.

Dr. Murray Harris (1990), in his book From Grave To Glory, says something very close to this. He maintains that the body that entered the tomb was not the literal body that exited the tomb. So, in both Chilton’s and Harris’s cases, there is little explanation as to what happened to Jesus’s literal body if it did not exit the tomb literally.

Religious groups, such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, do not believe Jesus was God, and therefore, His resurrection is an event with which He had little to do. Again, they maintain Jesus was resurrected as a spirit, and the body vaporized in the process. The Mormons also believe in something similar. Both believe Jesus is not God, as orthodoxy would maintain via the canons. Chilton believes Jesus was God in the flesh, but not “God enough” to raise Himself from the dead in His literal body.

Dr. Norman Geisler sees this entire Battle for the Resurrection as satanic. He writes: “Satan’s strategy does not change. He begins by casting doubt on God’s Word . . . Then, if Satan is successful in casting doubt on God’s Word, he will find new ways to ‘spiritualize’ away it’s literal truth. That is, if he cannot get people to doubt that the Bible is God’s Word, he will get them to question how it is to be interpreted. The first strategy worked with the theological liberals. The second strategy is aimed at evangelicals.” (p. 21)

Whether derived from satanic deception, the human mind, or both, the challenges remain. “Did Jesus Christ rise from the dead in the body in which he died?” If He did not, how then could a resurrection be proclaimed?

I am approaching the topic of “The Resurrection” from seven aspects, which include: (1) The Foundation of the Christian Faith, (2) The Early Church, (3) Defense at Corinth, (4) Questioning Our Existence, (5) If Jesus Rose, (6) Attacks upon Christianity that Focus on the Resurrection, and (7) Considerations and Implications.

ONE: THE FOUNDATION FOR THE CHRISTIAN FAITH

The foundation for the Christian faith is the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. This doctrine is verified by even the most ardent of adversaries. In fact, all antagonists have done the church a favor over the years by stating quite clearly the beliefs of the early church. They then proceed to assault these beliefs. Arianism is just one example.

The church councils over the years, including Nicaea and Constantinople met to codify the Church’s beliefs and stand against heresy. A few great reads on these topics, should the reader desire further information, include: The History of the Christian Church (Philip Schaaf); Heresies Exposed (Louis Talbot); Evidence that Demands a Verdict, More Evidence that Demands a Verdict, The Resurrection (all by Josh McDowell), In Defense of the Resurrection (Norman Geisler), The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (Aldred Edersheim), and Testimony of the Evangelists (Simon Greenleaf).

The historicity of the view of Jesus’s literal, bodily resurrection is the capstone Christian event. Throughout the ages, the resurrection has been a major unifying doctrine of all Christendom. Without the Resurrection, there is no uniqueness to Christ and Christianity.

TWO: THE EARLY CHURCH

An event such as the Resurrection is sure to elicit skepticism, even among supporters, whether in the early church or in today’s pews. As humans, we struggle with assurance and security issues, particularly when we are not certain that history and scholarship are on our side. However, much of the doubt occurs today because of laziness in scholarship on the part of the average Christian, and a malaise toward truth, especially when cultural and personal beliefs get in the way.

Despite being just a few years removed from the literal event, some the early church believers struggled with the event. There is similarity today in this struggle. The more immorality and unchecked sin found in the church, the less the adherence to doctrinal truth.  Slippage of truth muddies all truth, especially if the slippage occurs with a foundational truth, such as the Resurrection, or deity of Jesus, for example. This is where the Church at Corinth struggled. They allowed culture and acceptable behaviors of culture to dictate doctrinal positions. There is nothing new here.

Whether accepting divorce as a norm, homosexual marriage are part of God’s plan, or any other sinful practice, once the church acquiesces to cultural practices doctrinal slippage is right behind. This plagued the early church at Corinth and it plagues us today.  Sinful practices that are corrected means the church is active in dealing with its ills.  Practices unchecked and tolerated lead to abounding errors.

Observe the Apostle Paul’s words to the Church, “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)

THREE: DEFENSE AT CORINTH

Paul writes, “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” (1 Corinthians 15:14) The apostle rested his entire argument on the bodily resurrection of Jesus. In fact, either Jesus did rise, making it the most glorious event in the history of the world, or he did not rise, and we are all deceived. Such a deception would prove Jesus a liar, and therefore not God. So, we see Paul rested his entire case for the faith on the Resurrection. As a Jew, and former persecutor of the followers of Jesus, this was monumental.

FOUR: QUESTIONING OUR EXISTENCE

Some serious considerations emerge from discussions on the Resurrection. Namely, (1) Where have we come from? (2) Why are we here? (3) What is our destiny? (Paul Little, Know What and Why You Believe series)

If Jesus is God, and proved this through His Life, death, and Resurrection, then He is trustworthy. When He validates the Scriptures, we must listen. For in them, we learn more about ourselves and our purposes for existence. Without the Resurrection, we can have little-to-no-trust in all other things attributed to Jesus. With the Resurrection, there is truth about our existence, both here and after death.

FIVE: IF JESUS ROSE

If Jesus rose from the dead, then we can be certain that God exists. We can also be certain that He cares about us as people, individually and personally, and that the expansive universe has meaning and purpose. Therefore, we can trust God that what He says about life and death are true, making our current experience in this world just as important as those who have gone before us. Since death is a universal experience, none of us will escape this world alive. This is exactly the point of the Resurrection. Only God could escape the plight that plagues all humans.

But Who raised Jesus? The Bible is clear that the following is true:

(1) God the Father raised Jesus. Observe John 5:21, “For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son also gives life to whom He wishes.” Also observe Acts 2:24, 32; 3:15, 26; 4:10; 5:30; 10:40; 13:30, 33-34, 37. (NASB)

(2) The Holy Spirit raised Jesus from the dead. We see this in Romans 8:11. “But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.” (NASB)

(3) The Son raised Himself from the dead. We see this in Romans 1:4, “Who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord . . . and John 10:17-18, The Son Himself lays down His life and takes it up again.” (NASB)

It is clear that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit raised Jesus from the dead. Still, asks the doubter, “Who raised Jesus from the dead?” The only complete answer is that God did. It is apparent that the trinity was involved in the Resurrection. Romans 10:9-10 demonstrates this truth: “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.” (NIV)

SIX: ATTACKS UPON CHRISTIANITY THAT FOCUS ON THE RESURRECTION

There are just three reasons for all attacks upon the Resurrection. First, the event is attacked because it is foundational and center to the Faith. If the foundation goes, then so too goes all upon which it is built. Second, the event is attacked so as to make every effort to discredit the Savior. If the event did not happen, then we do not have a Savior. Third, if the Bible is incorrect and contains the record of a false messiah, and inaccurate accounts of the Resurrection, then it is open to being challenged on all other moral fronts. Every culture has dealt with these considerations and implications, as they pertain to the Christian faith.

SEVEN: CONSIDERATIONS AND IMPLICATIONS

Here are three things to consider when answering the question “Did Jesus rise from the dead?”

1. First, we must consider the historical fact of the Christian Church worldwide. The church has a historical beginning and emergence. It is true that other religions have historical beginnings. However, no other religion is based on such a profound event as the Resurrection.

The history of the Church traces to AD 32, in Palestine. The Book of Acts chronicles stories about entire communities that were affected by the message of the Resurrection. Unlike other religions, there was no secret message given behind closed doors, or through curtains, or theology derived from one man’s words and writings. The message of the Resurrection was wide open, spread openly, and tested by communities and scholars of the day. The same is true for today.

Believers in Jesus were first called Christians at Antioch. In Thessalonica, the Apostle Paul’s preaching persuaded some of the Jews and Greeks, as well as women, to believe in Jesus and the Resurrection message. Unlike religions of the day, and some even today, women were included in the Faith from the very beginning. The message of the Resurrection turned the world upside down. We read this in Acts 17:6, “When they did not find them, they began dragging Jason and some brethren before the city authorities, shouting, ‘These men who have upset the world have come here also’ . . .”

Throughout the ages, believers referred to the Resurrection as the basis for their teaching, preaching, living, and eventually dying. Evidence of the latter is Acts 6:11-14, where Stephen is the first record martyr in the Bible. One must question whether a person is willing to both live for a lie, and die for the same lie.

The Bereans were noble people, in that they studied and did their own research before they believed in Jesus and His resurrection. We see this in Acts 17:11, “Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.”

2. Second, the fact that Sunday is the day of worship for Christians means that shifting the worship calendar from the Sabbath, the 7th day of the week, to Sunday, the 1st day of the week was enormous. Acts 20:7 provides evidence that believers gathered together to commemorate the Resurrection event “on the first day of the week.” This is quite remarkable, in that many numbered in the first believers were Jews.

3. Third, there is the fact of the recorded New Testament. There are vast numbers of independent testimonies to the historicity of the resurrection. From Josephus to the modern historians, the records are clear. The New Testament includes eyewitnesses in John, Peter, and Matthew. Saul of Tarsus has an encounter with the risen Jesus, and accepted the resurrection without question (Acts 9:1, 17; 1 Corinthians 15:8). Thomas believed in the Resurrection after touching the literal, physical body of the risen Savior. His proclamation of “My Lord, and my God,” stands as a believer’s skepticism turned affirmation (John 20:28).

There is no evidence to indicate that the Resurrection did not occur. There are several theories propagated as attempts to explain away the event, but no evidence exists to the contrary. In fact, the empty tomb and the post-resurrection appearances are events discussed by believers and non-believers alike. The fact remains, that Jesus is not in a tomb. There is no body and no one can claim that there is a body. I will revisit this point in a later section.

All other deceased religious and political leaders of the past remain dead and in their graves and tombs. The challenge remains today as it has always remained. Prove that Jesus did not rise from dead as He said, and the entire Christian faith collapses as a house of cards.

WHAT ABOUT THE EMPTY TOMB?

First, the earliest explanation of the empty tomb was the claim that the disciples came and stole the body of Jesus. This is recorded in Matthew 28:11-15. The Jewish religious leaders gave out money to the soldiers and told them to claim that the disciples came at night while they were asleep, and stole the body. This can be discounted by the fact that any Roman soldier asleep on duty was sure to face punishment, and even death.

Each of the disciples of Jesus faced torture and, all but the Apostle John, were martyred for believing in Jesus, His deity and His resurrection. We must consider whether people are willing and able to die for lies, or whether they die for beliefs which they “think” to be true. There is a stark difference for believing in something they believe to be true and dying for it, versus believing in something they know to be false, yet dying for it. There is also a major difference is dying for something true, regardless our beliefs. The disciples died knowing and believing, actually having contact with the resurrected Truth, Himself.

If Jesus truly remained dead, and His disciples had stolen His corpse, then how does one explain the appearances of Jesus alive? The record indicates He appeared to many, after His resurrection. Here are some examples of His appearances.
~Mary Magdalene (John 20:11-18)
~Peter (Luke 24:34; 1 Corinthians 15:5)
~The Eleven (minus Thomas) (Luke 24:36-43; John 20:19-25)
~Thomas (John 20:19-20; 24-31)
~Seven Disciples at the Sea of Tiberias (John 21: 1-23)
~James (1 Corinthians 15:7)
~Group of Women (Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:1; Luke 24:10)
~Cleopas (Luke 24:13-35)
~The Eleven (John 20:26-29)
~Disciples; Large Gathering mountain in Galilee (Matthew 28:16-17; 1 Corinthians 15:6)
~Ascension (Luke 24:49-53; Acts 1:3-11)

There is an interesting statement in Gospel of Matthew, which historians have somehow left alone. There is a reference that the tombs were opened and many dead appeared directly after the death and resurrection of Jesus. This was no small event interpreted by a small sect of faithful believers. His death and resurrection had profound effects upon the world.

Observe Matthew 28:50-53: “And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom, and the earth shook, and the rocks were split, and the tombs were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the tombs after His resurrection they entered the holy city and appeared to many.”

He did not die so that subsequent cultures worldwide could invalidate His teachings on marriage, relationships, love, or to somehow allow non-Christian validation to beliefs and practices contrary to what He and the Apostles taught on, pertaining to the same. Jesus certainly did not resurrect to bring fresh, new cultural perspectives based on sexual attraction and orientations. He conquered sin, with which all of us have to contend, and all of us “used to practice.” It is timely that the Supreme Court is hearing a case on California’s same-sex marriage law. Where is Christ in all of this? This remains to be seen.

Second, there is the hypothesis that the authorities of the day moved the body from the tomb. This is an argument that is easily refuted. Why would Roman guards be necessary if the authorities intended to remove the body? Why then pay the soldiers to say the disciples stole the body, if the authorities were the culprits? The telltale signs are these, (1) No Jewish or Roman authorities stepped forward to refute the Resurrection, and no one produced the body of Jesus to stem the tide of the spread of Christianity throughout the years.

The religious leaders were so angry that they did all they could to stop the message from spreading, even later arresting and beating Peter and John (Acts 4). But, it was too late. However, imagine for a moment that the authorities actually had the body of Jesus. Who in their right minds would believe the body would not have been produced, so as to allow Christianity to flourish?

Third, another popular theory is that because of distress and darkness, those who arrived first at the tomb were confused and actually arrived at the wrong tomb. Critics, conclude, “No wonder the tomb was empty, it was the wrong tomb!” Again, this theory is weak. If the first visitors, who were women, went to the wrong, then it would have been easy to later produce the body from the right tomb.

This theory is quite offensive to women, by implying they were in such a poor emotional state that had no sense of direction in the early morning hours. Furthermore, how likely is it that after burying a loved one that all of His friends would arrive at the wrong place of burial? Since the tomb was a borrowed burial place, we must also assume that the owner, Joseph of Arimathea, would have easily identified his own private property. After all, Jesus was not buried in a public cemetery.

Fourth, the silliest—yet one of the theories that garners a lot of attention still today—addresses Jesus’s death and resurrection through what is called the “Swoon Theory.” This theory proposes that Jesus did not actually die in the first place. He was simply reported as dead, and appeared as such from the torture and exhaustion.. The theory also proposes that with the coolness of the tomb, and with rest and recovery, Jesus revived and everyone thought Him to be resurrected.

Would Jesus have survived His wounds? Would he have survived approximately 75 pounds of spice wrappings? If so, He would have had to extricate Himself from these wrappings and heavy grave-clothes, rise from his stone slab, muster the strength to push lift a stone from its moorings with hands pierced with spikes, and roll it away from the tomb entrance. He then would have had to overcome Roman guards, and walk miles on feet pierced with a spike. Furthermore, to do all of this, we must assume that the Roman soldier who pierced his heart with his sword, actually missed, and Jesus’s heart, or surrounding tissue regenerated somehow within three days. The bottom line is this: Jesus would have had to lie to His disciples about His death, if He was merely swooning and recovered. Thus, the world’s greatest hoax would then have been perpetuated.

One last point remains, with little attention from history. If this theory is correct, then Jesus died sometime later in history. Where then, does His body lie? Regardless the theory, it all comes down to one thing: Where is the body of Jesus? The answer given at the empty tomb still resonates today. In Luke 24:1-8, we read:

“On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ” Then they remembered his words.”

Here are some advocates of the swoon theory, throughout history.

1. 1780: German Karl Friedrich Bahrdt claimed Jesus deliberately feigned his death, using drugs provided by the physician Luke, to appear as a spiritual messiah and cause Israel to abandon the idea of a political messiah. Later, Jesus was then resuscitated by Joseph of Arimathea, in whose tomb He was placed. Jesus was assumed to have Essene connections with Joseph and together they plotted the conspiracy.

2. 1800, Karl Venturini proposed that a group of supporters dressed in white, who were part of an underground “secret society” but heard groaning from inside the tomb, where Jesus had regained consciousness in the cool, damp air. They then frightened away the guards and rescued him.

3. 1802: Heinrich Paulus, wrote that he believed that Jesus had fallen into a temporary coma and somehow revived without help in the tomb.

4. 1920: Ernest Brougham Docker speculates about the theory in If Jesus Did Not Die on the Cross.

5. 1965: Hugh J. Schonfield addresses the possibility of the theory in The Passover Plot.

6. 1982. Holy Blood, Holy Grail, speculated that Pontius Pilate was bribed to allow Jesus to be taken down from the cross before he was dead.

7. In 1992, Barbara Thiering explored the swoon theory in-depth in her book Jesus and the Riddle of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

8. 1994: Holger Kersten addresses the theory in Jesus lived in India.

9. 2006, Baigent published The Jesus Papers, a book that describes how Jesus may have survived the crucifixion.

In closing, we hearken back to the words of Geisler: “The bodily resurrection of Christ is an indispensable foundation of the Christian faith. No deviation on this doctrine should be tolerated within the ranks of orthodox Christianity.” (In Defense of the Resurrection, p. 28)

empty tomb (2)

A Christmas Reminder . . .

13 Dec

Babies have a way of finding ways into the alcoves of our souls, the very places where things are known only to God.  They crawl right up into those hidden areas and something quite miraculous happens. Those little ones open us wide to the world, while teaching us a little more each day about God.   Think about it. Who can touch us more deeply than a newborn baby?

One baby in a room of adults reduces most of us to mere functional illiterates–and by choice!  We become entranced by the bald-headed, toothless, drooling squirmers, and quite mesmerized by their attempts to make sense of the insensible.

I remember talking to my own children: “You wan Dada to bwing your baba or bankie?”

I won’t go into all the baby talk, or nicknames my wife and I had for our children.  Some of them are hilarious, to be sure.  If you are as we are, you might still find the urge to pop open one of these phrases from time-to-time, just for the sake of reaction.  There aren’t too many of us that are able to hold back baby-talk when face-to-face with a little life in our presence.  It is almost expected.

I often wonder if grown adults talk to the aged the same way.  After all, both ends of life’s continuum quite resemble each other.  However, that discussion is for another time.  In the presence of babies, we sing and tell stories.  For some, these practices begin while the baby is in utero.  We talk to them, and we pray for them.  After they are born, we teach them nursery rhymes and, as they grow into toddlers, tell them stories of our childhood (and maybe just a bit embellished), and instruct them in right and wrong, as well as share in affection and closing prayers at bedtime.

Remember those fun days?  I am referring to the fun days before they sat on the sides of their beds and cried for no reasons at all, or got quiet when they realize as teenagers that they are held accountable.  Recall the moments when we asked them, “What’s wrong,” only to hear in return, “Nothin”?  I surely remember them!  In fact, there are times I’d like to sit on the side of my own bed and cry a little for myself, these days.  It is sometimes a good thing to feel sorry for ourselves, as adults, at least for fifteen minutes, before someone asks for money, or the cell phone rings.

However, I am left to wonder: Why is it that babies bring out the best in us?  I remember their giggles, tiny dimples, gummy smiles, flailing hands and stubby toes, their splashing arms and legs during baths–capped off by their pudgy, solid, yet wrinkly feet.  All of this serves to remind us of life’s simplicities and basic human needs.  Babies also remind us of the necessity of the protection they need, their fragile states, and complete dependency.  The trust they place in adults is astounding.  However, they learn quickly.  Once they figure out that we are not perfect, all things begin to change.  If you are like I am, you are torn by those early years, sometimes longing for them again–but happy also not to have to repeat those long nights, illnesses, doctors’ visits, and the like.

Have you ever wished for your children to stay little forever.  Have you ever spoken that desire?  Nah!  There are grandchildren for those reasons.  Right?  Babies are signals of life.  Life must moves onward.  Babies are reminders that the future is already in the “present”–and the word-play is intended.  I think you know to which “present” I refer.  Babies comprise the past through one’s DNA and heritage.  They consume the present and they embody the future.  Babies are the miracles that are united from one sperm and one egg–gestating over time–to become the “other” us. With each birth of our children, we are reminded that “WE” are with us. We are connected and that’s that.

Here in this supposedly sophisticated twenty-first century, we tend to place things, such as child birth—which have the sense of the miraculous—onto the realm of the ordinary.  But that is pedestrian.  Each conception brings into existence a unique entity, a person of the most distinct, individual “being.”  The truth is we are all unique and the mold is broken with each one of us. However, we have this little nature thing, with which to contend. Moreover, therein lays the problem!

Imagine for a moment that your teenage daughter comes home one day and tells you that she is impressed in her spirit about something incredibly unique.  What if she tells you that an angel of God had told her that she was specially favored among all other young teenagers of the day? Assume, then, that sometime later she informs you that she is pregnant, yet maintains that she was still a virgin–untouched by any man sexually.

To make matters more concerning, imagine your single, teenage daughter had been engaged to a man more than twice her age–and that the engagement was going to be broken by the man, once he discovers your daughter is pregnant. I know, I know . . . I can imagine your faces now. Yet, I do think you know where I am going with this.

Philosopher Paul C. Vitz asks us to “Consider that Mary was pregnant with Jesus today.” I also ask us to do the same.  What are the chances that some of the parents of this pregnant teenage girl would shuffle her off to the local Planned Parenthood clinic?  What would her friends and contemporaries say?  Speaking as one who was conceived prior to marriage, I rather identify with that last statement, in terms of its implications.  Know what I mean?

No, I am not claiming divinity, personally–but divinity as a delicacy, now that stuff is freakin’ awesome! (It is approaching Christmas, after all)  The prophet Isaiah (ca 800 BC) stated: “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14) A miracle baby son, a virgin, and the name translated to mean “God with us” (Immanuel) Hmmmm. Most interesting.

The disciple Matthew Levi (1st century AD), the tax gatherer wrote: “And Joseph, her husband, being a righteous man, and not wanting to disgrace her, desired to put her away secretly. But when he had considered this, behold an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for that which has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for it is He who will save His people from their sins.’ Now all this took place that which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet shall be fulfilled . . .” (Matthew 1:19-24)

The Christmas holiday (derived from “holy-day”) is about the advent of Jesus, the baby, and the beginning of His earthly pilgrimage.  The birth occurred more than likely during the summer months and there was no snow.  That reminds me, what happens in Australia and Africa, during December in the Southern Hemisphere?  I hope Santa’s varicosities aren’t too apparent with those pasty legs of his, filling out those speedo-like shorts.

John 1 speaks also to this illustrious Christmas event: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God . . . And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1: 1, 14).

This baby Jesus is the gift that keeps on reminding us of our flesh and mortality. The baby reminds us of our beginning and the blessings we are to others.  However, why do we keep Him in a manger?  Why is Christmas about Jesus as a baby only?  Is it because there is no room in the “inn of our hearts?”  Maybe it reflects the reality that babies are no threat.  Babies do not challenge the way we live.  Babies are the miracle gifts in-and-of-themselves. Nevertheless, babies do grow up into young adults and then enter mature adulthood.  Baby Jesus becomes a challenge to people’s supposed sovereignty.

Apparently King Herod also had serious concerns about the baby Jesus, for he had all male children slaughtered, age-two and under.  This infanticide occurred in Bethlehem and its surrounding environs (Matthew 2:16).  Herod feared all of this talk about the birth of a king, a Messiah, would diminish his sovereignty over the land.  As a result, the child Jesus and His parents went to Egypt until King Herod had died.  Afterwards, they returned to their homeland. One interesting piece of trivia from the Hebrew language is quite telling. The name “Beth-lehem,” can actually be interpreted “House of Bread.”  Now I am singing, “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem” . . .

Later Jesus was given the title “Bread of life,” and communion would be taken at “the Last Supper,” to symbolize His crucified and broken body.

Part of the communion remembrance today using crackers or bread illustrates the “broken bread” of life.  Who would have ever thought that the bread of life would have been born in a house of bread?  All of this is derived from the Christmas story?  Yes indeed!  Another point of interest was that when the wise men came to visit Jesus, He was already a toddler.  The Magi were the ones who tipped off Herod, and this was the reason for the age-2 on down slaughter of the innocents.

Therefore, yes we celebrate the baby Jesus.  Nevertheless, we really should be celebrating the toddler, at least in my mind.  But no toddler I know would stay in a crib, let alone a feeding trough for animals.  I know my own kids did not. As far as my kids were concerned, they kept jumping out, falling on their heads, or something along those lines. That might explain a few things.  Now my father’s statements to me in my youth ring more clearly.  He would ask rhetorically, “What is the matter with you? Did you play too many football games without a helmet?” I never figured out “how many” was too many.  But back to Jesus.

Some 2,000 years after the birth of Jesus, his infancy still influences the world. While some wanted to make Him an Earthly Excellency, believers see Him as their All-Sufficiency, beginning with infancy. The commemoration of Jesus’ birth is the real reason we celebrate the giving of “gifts” to each other.  Jesus is the ultimate gift to the world.  The reason for the season is ultimately for His pleasin’.

A second gift was given to us by the resurrected Jesus, just prior to His ascension. Luke, the physician, records in Acts 1:3: “. . . He also presented Himself alive, after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days, and speaking of the things to come . . . He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised . . . ” Jesus told His followers: “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments. And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever” (John 14:15-16). The Holy Spirit is the gift that keeps on giving.

During this festive season of holidays, may we Christians celebrate like never before.  May we live and love like never before. The baby has grown, lived, and He has changed the world through his death, resurrection and ascension. Don’t you think it is time to be Christ-like in ways that show we also have left our own “Christian cribs?” My apologies to the hip-hop community.

Dear friend, let us celebrate the holiday as He is NOW in our lives. May we look back to the past, while living in the present–knowing that we have a future with Him.  May our baby-talk, and baby-walk grow into a mature, contagious conversation, coupled with a powerful Christian walk.  May this walk evidence movement in the right direction, prompted by the Spirit and evidence by the fruit of the Spirit.

No, I did not imply fruitcake. Unlike “divinity,” THAT stuff is so nasty, and is the evil twin doorstop with the yule log.

Thank you for reading!  I thought I would share a little reminder about why this time of year is extra-special for me and many others.

OK, where’s my egg-nog?

Happy 2018 all!

Is Suicide Unpardonable?

6 Apr

I would like to open a discussion on the topic of a person taking his or her life. We call it by the term “suicide.” Of course, the suicide of Pastor Rick Warren’s son, Matthew, age 27, has spurred this post. Is suicide ever justified?

I am saddened about the death of Matthew Warren, and I am dedicated to praying for the family. I hope you are also.

Furthermore, let us make certain to spend a little extra time lingering over those hugs with our kids, and making certain to state our love in words and by actions. One never knows how long we have on this earth, which leads me to the next point.

The facts are that even with all of these loving expressions, we live in a world that is tainted by evil and sin. We live in bodies that are faulty, and riddle with chemical imbalances, at time. We also live in a world that clamors for our lives. There is no mistaking the fact that evil exists, and that some people are tempted to end their lives. The culture of death and abuse in which we live is pervasive. Many young people are not seeing their futures as full of purpose.

I am left to wonder the extent that biology plays into suicidal thoughts. I know firsthand the thyroid deficiencies that cause destructive thoughts and irrational behaviors. I am aware of the depression that haunts some people, due to chemical imbalances, bipolarism, or clinical depression. The threat of suicide by all should be taken seriously. There is the reality that the brain is affected by biology and chemistry, and emotions and the brain are connected.

When these connections line up and negative emotions emerge from angry moods and language of destruction, we all must listen. However, what happens when we are all blindsided by irrational acts?

Having said all of this, permit me to address some issues for conversational purposes.

First, Jesus, in offering up His life and being in command of the moment it ended, has been accused of suicide by some critics. I would like to know the differences between giving up one’s life by choice, and ending one’s life by choice. They are both ends of life by choice. Is it in the purpose that we consider one not as suicide and the other, as such?

Second, if a military person charges directly into the line of fire, we call this person a hero—even if it means his life is ended. Is this suicide to do so, knowing the outcome is sure death? On the other hand, again, is it in the purpose for which the life ended that allows the removal of the label of suicide?

Third, is it possible for a person to be in such a state that ending his or her own life is to be viewed as equal to sacrifice for a higher cause? Alternatively, is suicide a cheap way out of problems, purposeless, irrational, and devoid of anything heroic?
We struggle to understand reasons why people would be tormented by thoughts of death and destruction. Yet, if we trace the family history, it seems as if others in the family’s past have also committed the destructive act. Some argue this is a spiritual issue. Others argue it is genetic and that mental illnesses are passed on.

I think there is a sensible position in the middle, where both explanations might fit as reasons. Certainly drugs can cause a person to commit irrational acts—whether prescription or not.

This leads me to the ultimate question: If the last act committed by a Christian is a sin—in the case of suicide, which a crime against oneself and a sin to God, as well as the stumbling other believers—does this person find himself in the presence of the Lord, and ultimately heaven? I do not know the answer to this question. I did not originate life and I do not control its ends and eternality.

Additional issues for concern:

(1) How is killing others the same, or different from killing self?

(2) If suicide ever justified for the believer, if it means saving someone else from harm?

(3) Is suicide an unpardonable sin, since the person deceased cannot ask for forgiveness after the fact?

(4) Is there purposeful suicide to alleviate suffering, whereby the person saves others from having to deal with the individual any longer?

(5) If a physician assists in a patient’s suicide, by his or her choice, is that really suicide, or murder—or both?

(6) What reasons are there biblically, and what theological context is there, to say categorically that suicide keeps one out of heaven, or allows one into heaven?

I do not pretend to know everything, and I am neither a medical doctor nor a psychiatrist. Nevertheless, I have opinions. I shared some of mine. Now, I would like to know yours!

The Illegal, Criminal Trial of Jesus

28 Mar

Criminal Attorney, J. E. Ingram (1924), wrote a wonderful book analyzing the trial of Jesus Christ. The title of this book: Criminal and Illegal Trial of the Nazarene Peasant. Ingram was a criminal lawyer, practiced in Illinois, Oklahoma, and Texas, over 90 years ago.

Ingram’s work brings the charges against those who brought the charges against Jesus–everything from His arrest, to His questioning, and the times at which the trial proceedings occurred. I will summarize Ingram’s points in this blog, and include the laws broken by the authorities at the time. These laws will be placed in quotes, followed by their references, and a conclusion. I will begin with the initial charge levied against Jesus of Nazareth.

THE INITIAL CHARGE
The charge brought against Jesus by the Jewish authorities was that He broke Mosaic Law, and committed blasphemy against Jehovah. Furthermore, as Ingram puts it, “The criminal indictment brought against the defendant before the highest court of Roman justice, Pilate and Herod, was treason against the government of Rome and Caesar.”

I. THE ILLEGAL ARREST OF OUR SAVIOR

A. The Jewish law prohibited all proceedings by night.
B. “The testimony of an accomplice is not permissible by Rabbinic law propter affectum and propter delictum, and no man’s life, nor liberty, nor his reputation can be endangered by the malice of one who has confessed himself a criminal.” (Mendelsohn, Criminal Jurisprudence of the Ancient Hebrews, p. 274)
C. “Thou shalt not go up and down as a talebearer among thy people; neither shalt thou stand against the blood of thy neighbor.” (Leviticus 19:17-18)

II. JESUS BEFORE ANNAS (CAIAPHAS) WAS ILLEGAL

A. The Jewish law prohibited all proceedings by night.
B. “Be not sole judge, for there is no sole judge but One.” (Mishna, Pirke Aboth 4:8)
C. “A principle perpetually reproduced in the Hebrew scriptures relates to the two conditions of publicity and liberty. An accused man was never subjected to private or secret examination, lest, in his perplexity, he furnish damaging testimony against himself.” (Salvador, Institutions de Moise, pp. 365-366)

III. THE INDICTMENT AGAINST JESUS WAS ILLEGAL
A. “The entire criminal procedure of the Mosaic Code rests upon four rules: certainty in the indictment; publicity in the discussion; full freedom granted to the accused; and assurance against all dangers or errors of testimony.” (Salvador, Institutions de Moise, p. 365)
B. “The Sanhedrin did not and could not originate charges; it only investigated those brought before it.” (Edersheim, Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, vol 1, p. 309)
C. “The evidence of the leading witnesses constituted the charge. There was no other charge; no more formal indictment.” (Innes, The Trial of Jesus Christ, p. 41)
D. “The only prosecutors known to Talmudic criminal jurisprudence are the witnesses to the crime. Their duty is to bring the matter to the cognizance of the court, and to bear witness against the criminal. In capital cases, they are the legal executioners, as well.” (Mendelsohn, Criminal Jurisprudence of the Ancient Hebrews, p. 110)

IV. THE SANHEDRIN COURT PROCEEDINGS WERE ILLEGAL BECAUSE THEY WERE HELD AT NIGHT
A. “Let a capital offense be tried during the day, but suspend it at night.” (Mishna, Sanhedrin, 4:1)
B. “Criminal cases can be acted upon by the various courts during the day time only.” (Mendelsohn, Criminal Jurisprudence of the Ancient Hebrews, p. 112)
C. The reason why a capital offense trial was not held at night because oral tradition says, “the examination of such a charge is like the diagnosing of a wound–in either case a more thorough and searching investigation can be made by daylight.” ((Maimonides, Sanhedrin III)

V. SANHEDRIN CONVENED BEFORE THE OFFERING OF THE MORNING SACRIFICE, WHICH MADE THE SANHEDRIN’S ACTIONS ILLEGAL
A. “The Sanhedrin sat from the close of the morning sacrifice to the time of the evening sacrifice.” (Talmud, Jerus, Sanhedrin I:19)
B. “No session of the court could take place before the offering of the morning sacrifice.” (Lemann, Jesus Before the Sanhedrin, p. 109)
C. “Since the morning sacrifice was offered at the dawn of the day, it was hardly possible for the Sanhedrin to assemble until the hour after that time.” (Mishna, Tamid, The Perpetual Sacrifice, 50:3)

VI. THE PROCEEDINGS WERE CONDUCTED ON THE DAY PRECEDING A JEWISH SABBATH; ALSO ON THE FIRST DAY OF THE FEAST OF UNLEAVENED BREAD AND THE EVE OF PASSOVER. THESE PROCEEDINGS WERE ILLEGAL.
A. “Court must not be held on the Sabbath, or any holy day.” (Betza, Chapter 5:2)
B. “They shall not judge on the eve of the Sabbath, nor on that of any festival.” (Mishna, Sanhedrin IV:1)
C. “No court of justice in Israel was permitted to hold sessions on the Sabbath or any of the seven biblical holidays. In cases of capital crime, no trial could be commenced on Friday or the day previous to any holiday, because it was not lawful either to adjourn such cases longer than over night, or to continue them on the Sabbath or holiday.” (Rabbi Wise, Martyrdom of Jesus, p. 67)

VII. THE TRIAL OF JESUS WAS ILLEGAL BECAUSE IT WAS CONCLUDED WITHIN ONE DAY
A. “A criminal case resulting in the acquittal of the accused may terminate the same day on which the trial began.”
B. “But if a sentence of death is to be pronounced, it can not be concluded before the following day.” (Mishna, Sanhedrin, 4:1)

VIII. THE CONDEMNATION SENTENCE WAS PRONOUNCED AGAINST JESUS BY THE SANHEDRIN AND WAS FOUNDED UPON HIS UNCORROBORATED CONFESSION
A. “We have it as a fundamental principle of our jurisprudence that no one can bring an accusation against himself. Should a man make a confession of guilt before a legally constitutional tribunal, such confession is not to be used against him, unless properly attested by two other witnesses.” (Maimonides, Sanhedrin 4:2)
B. “Not only is self-condemnation never extorted from the defendant by means of torture, but not attempt is ever made to lead a man on to self-incrimination.” (Mendelsohn, Criminal Jurisprudence of the Ancient Hebrews, p. 133)

IX. THE CONDEMNATION OF JESUS WAS ILLEGAL BECAUSE THE VERDICT OF THE SANHEDRIN WAS UNANIMOUS
A. “A simultaneous and unanimous verdict of guilt rendered on the day of the trial has the effect of an acquittal.” (Mendelsohn, Criminal Jurisprudence of the Ancient Hebrews, p. 141)
B. “If none of the judges defend the culprit, and all pronounce him guilty, and having no defender in the court, the guilty verdict was invalid and the sentence of death could not be executed.” (Rabbi Wise, Martyrdom of Jesus, p. 74)

X. THE SENTENCE OF CONDEMNATION WAS PRONOUNCED IN A PLACE FORBIDDEN BY LAW; THE HIGH PRIEST TORE HIS CLOTHES; AND THE BALLOTING WAS IRREGULAR
A. “After leaving the hall (Gazith) no sentence of dath can be passed upon anyone soever.” (Talmud, Bab., Abodah, Tarath (Idolatry), Chapter 1:8)
B. “A sentence of death can be pronounced only so long as the Sanhedrin holds its sessions in the appointed place.” (Maimonides, Sanhedrin 14)
C. “And he that is the high priest among his brethren, upon whose head the anointing oil was poured, and that is consecrates to put on the garments, shall not uncover his head, nor rend his clothes.” (Leviticus 21:10)
D. “And Moses aid unto Aaron, and unto Eleazar, and unto Ithamar, his sons, ‘uncover not your heads, neither rend your clothes; lest ye die, and lest wrath come upon all the people.'” (Leviticus 10:6)
E. “In ordinary cases the judges votes according to seniority, the oldest commencing; in a capital trial, the reverse order was followed. That the younger members of the Sanhedrin should not be influenced by the views or arguments of their more mature, more experienced colleagues, the junior was in these cases always the first to pronounce for or against a conviction.” (Benny, Criminal Code of the Jews, pp. 73-74)

XI. THE GREAT SANHEDRIN MEMBERS WERE LEGALLY DISQUALIFIED TO TRY JESUS
A. “The robe of the unfairly elected judge is to be respected not more than the blanket of the ass.” (Mendelsohn, Hebrew Maxims and Rules, p. 182)
B. “As Moses sat in judgment without the expectation of material reward, so also must every judge act from a sense of duty only.” (Mendelsohn, Hebrew Maxims and Rules, p. 177)
C. “Nor must there be on the judicial bench either a relation, or a particular friend, or an enemy of either the accused or the accuser.” (Mendelsohn, Criminal Jurisprudence of the Ancient Hebrews, p. 108)
D. “Nor under any circumstances was a man known to be at enmity with the accused person permitted to occupy a position among his judges.” (Benny, Criminal Code of the Jews, p. 37)

XII. THE CONDEMNATION OF JESUS WAS ILLEGAL BECAUSE THE MERITS OF THE DEFENSE WERE NOT CONSIDERED
A. “Then shalt thou inquire and make search, and ask diligently.” (Deuteronomy 13:14)
B. “The judges shall weigh the matter in the sincerity of their conscience.” (Mishna, Sanhedrin 4:5)
C. “The primary object of the Hebrew judicial system was the render the conviction of an innocent person impossible. All the ingenuity of the Jewish legists was directed to the attainment of this end.” (Benny, Criminal Code of the Jews, p. 56)

CONCLUSION
Due to the enormity of this case, and the facts that are presented, the Jews broke the law down the line, in making certain to execute the Messiah. However, this was appointed from the foundations of time, that the Son of Man would be lifted up. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed, “Not my will, but Thine, Father.” The result? “He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; Like a lamb that is led to laughter, and like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, so He did not open His mouth.” (Isaiah 53:7; Acts 8:32)

The Bible is Dead; Long Live the Bible

20 Apr

Colleges and universities are supposed to be places of enlightenment and growth–growth of the whole person.  However, the moral-free campus environment, coupled with the abject spiritual poverty and outright ridicule of things Christian, is enough to see the real threat our own children face in schools of higher learning.  There is a war over “faith” that many of our own children face.

Students are subject to ridicule, and fear standing up, or else their grades may be affected. Standing for truth and absolutes is difficult today, but not impossible.  Every generation has some challenges. One of these challenges is found in the following.  A recent Chronicle of Higher Education issue contained a piece titled:  “The Bible is Dead; Long live the Bible.”

The Chronicle Review published the piece from a book written by a professor at Case Western Reserve University, Timothy Beal.  In his recent book titled, The Rise and Fall of the Bible: The Unexpected History of an Accidental Book, Timothy Beal questions the integrity and veracity of the Bible. Take note: “Did no one notice all the glaring discrepancies? Could all those many, many people involved in the development of biblical literature and the canon of Scriptures have been so blind, so stupid?” Just what exactly where they blinded to, so stupid, regarding?

Beal writes: “The Bible can atheist any book under the table on some pages.  It presumes faith in God, yet it also often gives voice to the most profound and menacing doubts about the security of that faith.  The Bible is not a book of answers, but a library of questions. How rare such places have become in a society addicted to quick fixes, executive summaries, and idiot’s guides. The canon of the Bible is that kind of place.”

Apparently, placing trust in the Bible as God’s Word and a guide for life equates to being blind, or stupid. Yet, with that assumption on my part, Beal leaves unaddressed that the major questions of life are indeed answered in the Scriptures. These include the purpose and meaning of life, love, marriage, children, as well as life after death–and a host of others.  Yes, there are questions, but unlike other religions, there are very direct assurances in the Scriptures, based on Jesus Christ.

The author attempts to argue that “There is no faith without doubt.  Doubt is faith’s other side, its dark night. People of faith know the reasons to doubt their faith more deeply and more personally than any outside critic ever can.” Notice the appeal to Eastern religion here? What Beal does not address is the relationship aspects that are clearly developed in the Scripture. He dichotomizes faith and doubt, as if opposite sides of the same coin.

Faith, like doubt, has to be placed in or on someone or something. Doubting one’s faith, as a thing owned, is very different from doubting the One into Whom faith is placed.  If one doubts his or her own faith, then no wonder there are issues. Such a faith is merely human and emerges from a psychological base, not a spiritual, or relational one.  If a person can doubt his faith, can he have faith in his doubt?  Now that raises some very interesting questions.  I think the reader sees the point.

Beal tries to cozy up to the Bible, but his best efforts fall short. Having rejected the authoritativeness of the Scriptures, he then writes:  “Scriptures have a tendency to exceed the boundaries of orthodoxy and resist closure.  The Bible keeps reopening theological cans of worms.  It resists its own impoverishment by univocality.  In so doing, it fails to give answers, leaving readers biblically ungrounded.”

By stating there is no univocality, Beal strikes at the heart of the Bible as God’s Word.  After all, if the Bible is God’s Word, then there is a vocality to which we ought to listen. The Bible claims that “all Scripture is inspired by God . . . ” That sounds quite univocal to me!

The author stresses a supposed inadequacy of the written text. One can only question whether he is open to books written by one man, such as the Book of Mormon, or the Qur’an, or other religious books, in terms of their univocality?

He seems open to quoting Buddha and others to make his points, hence an appeal to truth through the avenue of human faith in self. Here is another area where Beal sorely misses the point.  The Bible is inspired by one voice, written through the voices and styles of many, and points to One and only One Person, overall.  Faith is unidirectionally. Faith is placed in Jesus Christ, who is the “way, the truth, and the life.” No one comes to the Father, except through Him, according the Scriptures. (John 14:6) But if the Scriptures are not God’s Word, then even these attributed words of Jesus are suspect.

As people, moreover as believers, we can place our faith in doubt, or we can doubt our faith.  Whatever the case, both miss the mark.  Faith in the Person of Jesus Christ and his exclusive claims as God comprise the object of faith placement.  Show me more univocality than Christ’s exclusivity, and that’s where I would doubt that faith as merely human.  God in the flesh is quite exclusive.  Dead men’s bones in tombs make their religious claims neither true, nor exclusive.

In closing, one does not need Kant, Buddha, or even Dostoyevsky to make a point about faith. If a person does not believe the Bible to be God’s Word, then what it says about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, life, death, and many things in-between are also suspect. Either faith in self exists, or faith in God exists. Having faith in faith is mere gimmickry. It is from God’s Word where we derive our moral compasses and absolute truth. Faith and doubt are not truth. Faith in truth does not make it so.

Truth changes not, in the face of the worst doubt, or extreme faith.  What else is unchanging in this world, regardless of views that attack the Scripture?  It is Jesus Christ. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and yes, forever.” (Hebrews 13:8)  Did not the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus answer the ultimate questions of life?

Timothy Beal. “The Bible is Dead; Long Live the Bible.” The Chronicle Review. April 22, 2011, B6-8.

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