Who Spits On Jesus?

The_Empty_Tomb020When I was growing up, it was a popular attention getting device for youth leaders to equate the abuse Jesus received during His trials with the indifference and sinful behavior of contemporary teens. Our lies or lust or gossip were nothing more than us spitting at Jesus.

There’s a certain truth to that line of thinking, though I have to admit, it lost a lot of its power with frequent use. The point is, sin is our way of turning our backs on God. We are choosing to go our own way, not God’s way.

He says follow Him; I say, I’ll go where I want. He says His word is true; I say, I’ll decide what I think is true. He says, love your enemy; I say, I’ll love who I want. And so it goes.

The difference, though, between my sin and those who spit on Jesus is that by faith I understand His sacrifice purchased my redemption. Where once my sin was a barrier between me and God, now His Spirit lives in me.

It’s the difference we see in Peter’s life. Where once he denied knowing Jesus, he began preaching Him openly in front of thousands. Peter said it like this in his first epistle:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who, through His great mercy, has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. (1:3)

The life I now lead is being brought into conformity with Christ. He will transformed the body of my humble state into conformity with His glory by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself. (Phil. 3:21)

The only people spitting on Christ, then, are those who can’t claim this new life. Their lives aren’t being transformed. They have no new birth. They still have their sin separating them from the God who loves them.

In short, Christ’s resurrection was a game changer for all who believe. We have no righteousness of our own, so He clothes us with His righteousness.

Are we still spitting on Jesus? From time to time we try. But God lovingly brings us back, convicts us of sin, transforms our minds, corrects our waywardness, instructs us in the way we should go.

Our response to His work in our lives is the clearest way we have of knowing what kind of relationship we have with Him. Some of us, like small children, throw tantrums, but in the end we come back to our Heavenly Father in submission to Him. Others are quicker to hear His voice and respond.

Still others aren’t part of His family and resist His call and complain about His justice.

The Creator of the universe, the preexistent I Am, the Holy One who is Truth, who is Love, who knows the end from the beginning deserves our falling-on-our-face-at-His-feet worship. To withhold what He deserves is to spit on Jesus.

Published in: on April 18, 2014 at 6:45 pm  Comments (1)  
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The Passion Of The Christ: The Days Of Silence

The_Burial001Most people, when contemplating the events of Easter, assume Jesus was crucified on Friday because numerous references in the gospels mention that the next day was the Sabbath.

Mark 15:42 “When evening had already come, because it was the preparation day, that is, the day before the Sabbath

Luke 23:54 “It was the preparation day, and the Sabbath was about to begin.”

John 18:31 “Then the Jews, because it was the day of preparation, so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away.”

But if my former pastor, Chuck Swindoll, is right and “Sabbath” refers to the Special Sabbath connected with the last day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, what John calls “a high day,” then there are several days of silence following Jesus’s death.

I need to back up. There’s much more we could discuss about the events surrounding Jesus’s death: Judas’s betrayal, for instance, and his subsequent suicide; Peter’s adamant statements that he didn’t know Jesus, hours after his failed attempt to prevent His arrest; the passerby named Simon who was commandeered to carry Christ’s cross; the seven recorded statements Jesus made from the cross; the soldiers gamboling for His clothes; the thief making a statement of faith as he hung dying, and Christ’s response to him.

Each event is significant and has much to teach. I haven’t ignored them because I think they are peripheral. Rather, they seem unaltered whether we look at the crucifixion events in the traditional way or in the expanded view.

There’s also a common understanding of what took place after Christ’s death, from three in the afternoon until six. When the Romans realized that Jesus was already dead, they pierced His side “to make sure.” The blood and the water that poured from his pierced heart convinced them He had died.

One of his disciples, a wealthy man named Joseph of Arimathea, went to Pilate and claimed the body. He gave up his own grave on Christ’s behalf, then he, along with Nicodemus, wrapped the body in burial cloths with some spices, laid it in the tomb, and rolled the stone in front of the entrance.

This was a hasty burial, no doubt, because they had to finish before the Sabbath which began at six that evening.

Significantly, a group of women who we don’t hear a lot about, but who had followed Jesus also, saw where they put His body: “Now the women who had come with Him out of Galilee followed, and saw the tomb and how His body was laid” (Luke 23:55). Mark names two of these women: Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of a man named Joses. Matthew mentions these two women also, apparently because they stayed by the tomb for a time: “And Mary Magdalene was there, and the other Mary, sitting opposite the grave” (Matt. 27:61).

This is significant because of what came later. But at this point, Jesus was dead. What else were they to do? We know that Joseph and Nicodemus, two members of the Sanhedrin, neither having been part of Jesus’s trial, did what good Jews did: “And on the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment.” Of course, this “they” could have referred to all parties, not just those two men.

Scripture is silent about the twelve—now only eleven—except to say they were locking their doors because they were afraid of the Jews. But we are told what two other groups of people did.

First were those women who had followed Joseph and Nicodemus to the tomb. They started by buying spices to anoint Jesus’s body: “When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, bought spices, so that they might come and anoint Him” (Mark 16:1).

But when did they do that? The next day after the crucifixion was the Sabbath, so they wouldn’t have bought spices then. No market would be selling spices on a Sabbath. But according to Scripture, they took those spices they bought to the tomb early on the first day of the week—the day after the Sabbath. So either Mark got it wrong and the women already had the spices or the inspired Word of God is true even on this point, and we’ve merely misinterpreted the time frame.

By accepting the idea that the Sabbath following Jesus’s crucifixion was a Special Sabbath, we can then read these events as follows: all the Jews rested as was commanded. Then the day after the Special Sabbath, the women bought and prepared the spices (Luke 23:56a). The following day would be the regular Sabbath during which they would again rest, so the earliest they could have made it to the tomb was the first day of the week, early Sunday morning.

The second group Scripture follows during this period were the Pharisees, though “follow” is a little to expansive. The day after the crucifixion, they once again met with Pilate, this time to get his help guarding the tomb.

Jesus had said often enough that He would rise on the third day, that they got the message, even though they didn’t believe it. Their assumption was that His disciples would take things into their own hands and fake a resurrection by stealing away Christ’s body. The Pharisees were afraid of what would happen if that story got out.

Pilate granted them Roman troops—or perhaps they had a Roman contingent at their disposal on a regular basis and merely gained his permission to use them in this capacity. At any rate, they were able to assign guards to the tomb and even to put a seal upon it—some kind of authenticating mark, perhaps, that indicated the tomb was secured by the authority of Rome.

So now, Jesus has been buried. The disciples are afraid, the Pharisees are afraid, the women are preparing, the Romans are guarding. Apart from Jesus, none of them expected what was about to happen next.

Published in: on April 17, 2014 at 6:11 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Passion Of The Christ: Good Wednesday

the_crucifixion011I don’t have an ax to grind about when Christians commemorate the day Christ was crucified. In some ways, I think it’s odd that we do at all. I mean, Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper so that we would remember His broken body and shed blood—the evidence of His sacrifice on our behalf. So setting aside Good Friday seems, redundant. Not a bad thing, certainly, but kind of like Kids Day.

When I was young I asked my parents why moms got Mother’s Day and dads got Father’s day but kids didn’t get a day. She wisely answered, That’s because every day is kids’ day. Well, she probably didn’t say “kids” but you get the idea. If it’s normative, then no special commemoration needs to be made.

So too with Christ’s death on the cross. We are regularly to celebrate it, so a special Good Friday seems unnecessary to me. But not to others.

So why am I calling this post Good Wednesday and talking about Christ’s execution today? Last year I wrote about the idea which I learned from my former pastor, Chuck Swindoll, that Christ died on a Wednesday, allowing His body to be in the grave three days and three nights as Scripture says.

This year I’m looking at an altered timeline which would allow for the events of the Passion described in the gospels to take place in all their fullness. I think that’s important for a number of reason, the greatest perhaps being that this understanding eliminates what some people have referred to as inconsistencies or contradictions in the four gospel accounts.

One of these differing accounts has to do with the time of Jesus’s crucifixion. Mark gives several time references in his record of events:

It was the third hour when they crucified Him. . . . When the sixth hour came, darkness fell over the whole land until the ninth hour. (15:25, 33)

Unlike the western manner of reckoning time, the Jews marked the hours starting at sunrise, as explained by Strong’s Lexicon:

hōra: a twelfth part of the day-time, an hour, (the twelve hours of the day are reckoned from the rising to the setting of the sun)

Hence, the third hour would have been 9 AM, the sixth hour, noon, and the ninth hour, 3 PM.

However, John records a different time in his gospel:

Now it was the day of preparation for the Passover; it was about the sixth hour. And he said to the Jews, “Behold, your King!” So they cried out, “Away with Him, away with Him, crucify Him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.” (19:14-15, emphasis added)

Note that John describes Pilate at the end of his haggling with the Jews—the end of Jesus’s final trial—and it is already noon. Either he got the time wrong or Mark did or they both got it right and these events happened on different days.

Because I think all Scripture is inspired by our omniscient Holy Spirit, I don’t think either book has a wrong time recorded. Rather, I think we’ve been reading these accounts through the lens of our tradition. If we presuppose the accuracy of Scripture, based on God’s authorship, then where we think we see discrepancies, we need to re-evaluate our understanding.

If we understand the events connected with the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus to have taken place over a period of several days, we can offer a counterpoint to the idea that the gospels contain errors or aren’t reliable or are only reliable for the generalities or the themes they depict.

Blood_MoonOne added note, not really related to this topic. This week the Americas enjoyed a rare sight—a full eclipse of the moon, the kind that creates a reddish cast, and consequently is known as a “Blood Moon.”

Monday night I watched as the earth’s shadow slipped across the face of the moon, darkening the reflected white light and in turn darkening the sky. The “total” part of the eclipse lasted only moments.

But imagine the day Jesus died and the full eclipse of the sun. Not the gradual movement of the moon between it and the earth, I don’t think. Mark said darkness fell over the whole earth on the sixth hour until the ninth. The heart of the day, from noon until three.


And why not? Why wouldn’t the universe protest against the Light of the world hanging on a cross, against the Maker of life giving up His Spirit in death.

It’s only fitting that during those hours when the dominion of darkness seemed to be winning, that the world would go dark.

Praise God, those three hours of darkness, those three days of Jesus’s burial, came to a glorious end.

Published in: on April 16, 2014 at 7:39 pm  Comments (2)  
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The Passion Of The Christ: Resolving The Four Trials In Three Hours Issue

Arrest_and_Trial011The more closely I read the details of the events leading up to Jesus’s crucifixion, the more convinced I am that they unfolded over a period of days, not hours.

The morning after his arrest, Jesus was hauled in front of the Sanhedrin for a final religious kangaroo court. The decision had been predetermined the night before, but to simulate legality, the elders, chief priests, and scribes gathered together to make it official.

Having declared Jesus a blasphemer, they dragged Him off to Pilate. Not wanting to defile themselves by entering into a Gentile home, which would make them unclean and unable to eat the Feast of Unleavened Bread, they remained outside while Pilate came to them.

I don’t know what they expected. A rubber stamp on their guilty verdict? They didn’t seem prepared. Pilate asked them what Jesus was guilty of and they said, in essence, Trust us, he’s no good. In other words, they made no accusation at first, apart from calling him an evildoer—a fact, they told Pilate, he could believe because they would not have brought him otherwise. A rather circular argument, and one Pilate wasn’t buying.

His first ruling was, You take him and punish him if he’s broken your law.

The Jews cut to the chase, then: “We are not permitted to put anyone to death.” But they still had the problem that their accusation of blasphemy was not a crime against Rome.

That’s when they changed tactics and started accusing Jesus of things that would be an affront to the Roman government: “We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding to pay taxes to Caesar, and saying that He Himself is Christ, a King.” (Luke 23:2-3)

The last point got Pilate’s attention. Leaving the Jewish leaders outside, he went into the judgment hall and called Jesus to him. In reality, this interview began the first of the three political trials Jesus faced.

Did all these events happen in less than an hour? I have my doubts. In fact, because it was the day after Passover and the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, a special Sabbath according to Old Testament law, I would postulate that the Pharisees delivered Jesus over to Pilate’s soldiers and scurried on home without hanging around the Gentile judgment hall.

I could be wrong about this. Pilate might have concluded this first trial some time that day, but I think it’s just as possible he didn’t rush right out when the Jews came calling, that he dealt with this legal matter in order, after he’d tended to the usual matters of the day. At this point he would certainly not have had reason to think the situation was an emergency.

At any rate, at some point, whether that day or whether several days later after the Special Sabbath and the regular Sabbath, in his interview with Jesus, the governor tried to nail him down regarding this accusation that He claimed to be a king.

Pilate said to Him, “So You are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” Pilate *said to Him, “What is truth?” (John 18:37-38)

Pilate went outside to the waiting Jewish leaders and rendered his verdict regarding Jesus—not guilty. The Pharisees, perhaps growing somewhat desperate, tried to strengthen their case against Jesus, telling Pilate He was stirring up the people from as far away as Galilee.

At last Pilate saw a way out of this mess. Kind Herod, ruler of the Galilean district, was in Jerusalem for Passover. He could deal with Jesus.

And so ended the first trial. But did the second trial start that same day? Scripture doesn’t say one way or the other. But we are told that up to this point Herod and Pilate didn’t get along. Would Herod have rushed to respond to a message from Pilate that he was sending him a prisoner to examine?

Possibly. Scripture says Herod was eager to talk to Jesus. But did he know at once that Jesus was the prisoner?

I don’t know.

And I don’t know what the protocol was for judicial hearings. I do know that John the Baptist had been kept in prison for days and that Paul, when he was to be tried by Festus, also remained locked up for days. I don’t think there was a Roman policy about a speedy trial.

Scripture does say, Herod “questioned Him at some length” (Luke 23:9a). Was that for hours? All day? We don’t know for sure, but I suspect it was longer than the hour the traditional view of these events would allow.

The thing was, Jesus wouldn’t placate Herod’s curiosity. He refused to answer his questions. Even when the chief priests and scribes showed up to accuse Jesus of crimes He hadn’t committed, He made no defense.

Herod didn’t render a finding but that didn’t stop his soldiers from making sport of Jesus. After the official part of the trial, they decked Him out in a robe, mocked him, and treated him with contempt.

Back Jesus went to Pilate. The governor, according to Luke, had to call the chief priests and scribes together, again an indication that they weren’t standing in the streets waiting for this decision to be handed down.

I suspect by this time they realized they needed more leverage against Pilate. And if these trials were spread over several days, they would have had a reasonable amount of time to stir up some opposition to Jesus.

I don’t see the crowd who welcomed Him into Jerusalem turning against Him in a matter of an hour or so. But given time, word would get out that the Sanhedrin had found Jesus guilty.

On top of that, there were a number of Messiah claimants who preceded Jesus. Were the people once again disillusioned when the Passover came and went and Jesus didn’t lead them against Roman rule? That’s what most of the Jews expected from the Messiah. He would come as the descendant of David to claim his throne.

At any rate, when Jesus returned to Pilate, the Jewish leaders were prepared. They had the charges they could bring and the people primed to do their part.

Pilate again declared Jesus to be innocent and turned to the people, hoping they would side with him. Instead they clamored for a real insurrectionist named Barabas, and cried for Jesus to be crucified.

The governor had one ally, though. His wife had had a dream—which fits more perfectly into the timeline of events if she had heard about Jesus appearing before her husband, then had a dream in the night. Whenever this dream occurred, it unsettled her for some time, (“last night I suffered greatly in a dream because of Him” Matt. 27:19b) to the point that she had to warn Pilate not to have anything to do with “that righteous man.”

Pilate settled on a different punishment from crucifixion—scourging. His soldiers beat Jesus, mocked Him, feigned obeisance to the “King of the Jews”—the people they hated. None of this satisfied the Jewish leaders.

Again they threw the original charge at Jesus: “He made Himself out to be the Son of God.” Now Pilate was terrified, but he was more terrified of Rome. When it looked like he’d have a riot on his hands, when the Jewish leaders accused him of being no friend of Caesar’s for allowing this rival king to live, he relented.

And so, after all his findings of not guilty, Pilate washed his hands of the matter, literally, and told the Jewish leaders to do what they wanted to do.

Three political trials and one religious trial, all in the space of three hours? It doesn’t seem likely. But if these events were spread out over days, not hours, it’s easy to see them unfold logically—particularly the crowd growing more and more hostile and Pilate’s resistance wearing down.

Easter events calendar2

Published in: on April 15, 2014 at 7:13 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Passion Of The Christ: Arrest And First Trials

Arrest_and_Trial032In the introduction to this series of Easter posts, I mentioned that I’ve been troubled when reading the various gospel accounts of the events involved with Jesus’s crucifixion and resurrection.

One of those troubling aspects for me was what appears to be the sudden dramatic reversal of the crowd reaction to Jesus. Especially now as a writer, I like to see that events are properly motivated, and quite honestly, the Big Reversal seemed too abrupt to be explained. Remember, in the traditional way of looking at things, the Pharisees had perhaps an hour or an hour and a half to convince the crowd that the man they’d wanted to crown as the promised Messiah actually should be crucified.

Putting in more time for these events to happen answers a lot of questions, at least for me. With that said, here’s a look at one possible timetable.

Passion Events Calendar

Let me reiterate, I’m not a Hebrew scholar. In addition, I haven’t studied ancient calendars. All I’m doing is postulating a way all the events mentioned in the gospels could have happened which would allow Christ’s body to have been in the tomb three days and three nights.

The traditional understanding of what we’ve called “the last supper” seems fairly straightforward. Jesus instructed some of His followers to get things ready for the Passover meal, the first of the eight days of celebration:

Then came the first day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. And Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover for us, so that we may eat it.” (Luke 22:7-8)

Much happened at that meal: Jesus instituted a remembrance ceremony:

And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood. (Luke 22:19-20)

He also outted Judas—or at least made it known that one of the twelve would betray Him. At some point in the evening, Satan entered Judas.

Another important event during this meal was Jesus confronting Peter with the truth that despite his protestations of loyalty, he would deny Jesus that very night.

Amazingly, in the face of doubts and denials and betrayal, Jesus spent a good deal of time talking with His followers about what was about to happen. He also washed their feet, prayed for them, sang a hymn with them, then headed out for a quiet garden where He could pray.

After a time of fervent communion with His Father and a period of ministry by angels, during which His disciples slept, a group of Roman soldiers and a mob from the chief priests, scribes, and elders, led by Judas, came looking for Jesus. His arrest was nearly without incident.

Peter tried to back up his bold words earlier and took a sword to one of the Roman servants. I used to be bothered by the Biblical record that Peter lopped off this guys ear. It seemed so odd. I couldn’t picture how or why Peter would go after the guy’s ear.

Except, the word for sword, machaira means “a small sword, as distinguished from a large sword,” or “large knife,” the kind a person would most likely use to cleave downward. A possible explanation, then, is that Peter intended to cleave this man’s skull in two, but either he wore a helmet which deflected the blow or he moved to evade it. At any rate, his ear took the brunt of Peter’s action.

After Jesus restored Malchus’s ear, his disciples ran off. I imagine the appearance of a sword riled up the soldiers and they wanted a little payback. At any rate, Jesus was alone with the crowd of Jews and Romans who led him off to his first trial.

He actually had three religious trials of a sort and three political trials. That night after his arrest, He faced the first two religious trials.

First He was led to the house of Annas whose son-in-law was the current High Priest. Here’s what Strong’s Lexicon says about Annas:

high priest of the Jews, elevated to the priesthood by Quirinius the governor of Syria c. 6 or 7 A.D., but afterwards deposed by Valerius Gratus, the procurator of Judaea, who put in his place, first Ismael, son of Phabi, and shortly after Eleazar, son of Annas. From the latter, the office passed to Simon; from Simon c. 18 A.D. to Caiaphas; but Annas even after he had been put out of office, continued to have great influence.

I should say he had influence—over his son, then his son-in-law, if not with the other Pharisees.

How long did this phase of Jesus’s trial last? We don’t know. But at some point Annas sent Him to Caiaphas, the sitting high priest. He was the one who had counseled the other leaders that they needed to kill Jesus (John 18:14).

No surprise then, that Jesus faced a series of trumped up charges brought by false witnesses. And yet, they couldn’t get the required number of two to agree.

Caiaphas resorted to another illegal tactic—he directly questioned Jesus. When He answered, Caiaphas declared Him guilty based on the “blasphemy” they’d just heard.

But there were a couple problems. Among the illegal aspects of this trial was the fact that only the Sanhedrin, the group of seventy elders, could determine guilt and only during the day. In addition, Jews, living under the authority of Rome, couldn’t carry out the death sentence. On top of that, blasphemy was not an offense Romans cared about.

Hence, trial number two was not sufficient to accomplish what Caiaphas wanted. There had to be a third religious trial, and then they had to deal with the Romans.

Published in: on April 14, 2014 at 6:57 pm  Comments (2)  
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The Passion Of The Christ: A Peek At The Timetable

The_Last_Supper015As I mentioned in the past, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Jesus Christ was crucified on a Wednesday, not on a Friday as Church tradition says. From time to time, as I read through the gospels, then, I try to piece the events of “Passion Week” together. In the process, I’ve come to realize not everything fits in a period of seven days.

In fact, everything Scripture mentions after Jesus’s arrest doesn’t really fit into the small window of time we normally allow. Here’s how we usually hear it: Jesus and his disciples celebrated the Passover in the evening, complete with Christ washing their feet, then went out to the garden.

During the first part of the night, while the disciples slept, Jesus prayed, then Judas showed up along with the arresting Romans and Pharisees. They led Jesus first to the former high priest, then to the current high priest. After scurrilous accusations which couldn’t be proven, the high priest questioned Jesus. At His answer, he found Him guilty of blasphemy.

The next day at day break, to make the finding legal, the Sanhedrin, a group of seventy elders, met together and again declared Jesus guilty.

To sentence Him to death, however, they needed the Roman governor because they didn’t have the power of the death penalty in their Roman-ruled nation. But, blasphemy wasn’t a crime in the eyes of the Romans, so they needed to charge Jesus with something else.

Consequently, they marched Jesus off to Pilate, the governor, and hurled more trumped up charges against Him. Pilate heard the case but declared Him innocent. In the process, however, he learned that Jesus came from Galilee and would therefore be under Herod’s jurisdiction.

As it happened, Herod was in town, so Pilate sent Jesus to him. Herod interrogated Jesus, who didn’t answer his questions, then, after his soldiers had mocked Him, sent Him back to Pilate.

Pilate, under pressure from the Jews, questioned Jesus again and declared Him innocent, but the Jews riled up the crowd. Afraid that a riot would break out, Pilate agreed to let them crucify Jesus.

His soldiers, then, ridiculed Jesus as the King of the Jews, beat Him, and marched Him off to crucify Him.

All by 9 AM the day after His arrest.

I’m no archeologist or Hebrew scholar, so I don’t know how far the meeting place of the Sanhedrin was from Pilate’s palace or how far Pilate was from Herod’s palace or where precisely the Praetorium was where the soldiers beat Jesus or how far they had to travel to get to Golgotha where the execution took place. But I have to say, even if the travel was minimal, it’s a stretch for all those events to have taken place between sun up, when the Sanhedrin could legally meet, and 9 AM when Scripture says Jesus was crucified. The Sanhedrin, Pilate, Herod, Pilate, near riot, soldiers mocking and beating. That’s less than a half hour for each event, presuming, of course, that there was no waiting.

The thing is, I’m pretty sure the timetable for the events of Passion “week” have been based on the words “Sabbath” and “on the first day of the week” which was when the women went to the tomb and found it empty.

But there are other time indicators in the gospel passages–words like Passover, feast, and preparation day.

I’ll start with Passover and feast. For years I struggled with the gospel account because there’s clear testimony that Jesus ate the Passover with His disciples (see for example Matt. 26:20ff, Mark 14:14f, and Luke22:8ff.) However, John 18:28 says during Jesus’s trial, the Pharisees wouldn’t go into the Roman Praetorium because of the Passover–they wanted to stay clean so they could still eat it.

So . . . which was it—a past event or a future one?

I heard one preacher say Jesus and His followers ate the Passover early. Except that’s not what the Bible says. Ever.

The easy answer is found in Numbers 28:16-17 and in the corresponding passages in Leviticus and Exodus: the Passover was followed by seven days of feasting known as the Feast of Unleavened Bread. In fact the book of John records Jesus’s time with His disciples by beginning with “Now before the Feast of the Passover, Jesus knowing that His hour had come that He would depart out of this world to the Father. . .” (John 13:1a).

Passover, then, was to be held on the fourteenth day of the first month. The next day was a holy convocation or special Sabbath and the beginning of seven days of eating Unleavened Bread. The last of those days was also a holy convocation or special Sabbath.

Of course, there was still the regular Sabbath, meaning that there was the Passover, seven days of Unleavened Bread, and at least three Sabbaths.

Confused yet?

I wouldn’t be surprised. I think just this little look at this one required celebration gives a feel for how tied the Jews were to ritual and regulation.

But for the purpose of the set of Easter posts I hope to write next week, I’ll conclude with this. The events of Easter happened in real time and involved real people. Our cursory look at what Jesus went through and what different people did doesn’t always gives us the complete picture. Maybe one of the best things we could do this coming Passion week would be to lay aside our suppositions and see what the text tells us.

Does it make a difference in the long run that we might be celebrating things that happened on the wrong days? Probably not. But I tend to think we might have a greater understanding of the people involved and why they did what they did. For me, I also gain more trust in the Bible. I see that the things that looked as if they were contradictory actually have clear explanations. And for those reasons, I think it’s valuable to take a closer look at the events of the Passion of the Christ.

Published in: on April 11, 2014 at 7:52 pm  Comments (1)  
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Not Ashamed Of The Gospel

Love of Divena coverIt’s getting harder in western society, I think, to say we’re not ashamed of the gospel. Well, we can say we’re not ashamed of the gospel–free speech, and all. But taking a stand because of the gospel, especially on the hot bed issues of our day, is becoming risky. Hence, Christians are re-thinking whether or not they should let their Christianity be known.

For example, I or my beliefs have been belittled or vilified on my own Facebook page by family and friends because of certain positions I’ve taken.

Dovetail this with what some Christian writers have been saying: Christian fiction is poor art in part because it aggressively preaches.

The accusations about Christian fiction are anything but new. Often people have decried the loss of Christian influence in the arts. Once Christians dominated painting and literature. So what happened, they ask.

Well, what did not happen was a switch from not preachy to preachy. Milton, John Donne, George Herbert, John Bunyan, and a great list of other writers led the way in literature by writing about their faith or incorporating it in their works in very clear and obvious ways. They were not ashamed of the gospel.

The real difference between then and now, however, is in execution. Too many writers add on “faith elements” as an after thought or to fulfill a necessity for their publisher. Some, on the other hand, slather in gospel references in the hopes of . . . well, preaching to the lost.

Other writers would just as soon see the divide between secular and sacred erased–but the implication is that a story well told, without any “faith elements” is sacred by virtue of the fact that it is artistic.

I wonder if this isn’t the writer’s way of being ashamed of the gospel. If a story is well told and the gospel is front and center, why does that story automatically get treated as if it is second rate?

Well, some may say, those stories are too unambiguous. They don’t make people think, they give too many answers? Really?

Recently I’ve been discussing salvation in regards to “the unreached peoples” of the world, and those living in India have been mentioned. At once I think of Kay Marshall Strom’s series Blessings in India: The Faith of Ashish, The Hope of Shridula, The Love of Divena.

India 1990. In the final book of the Blessings of India series, Shridula, old and stooped at fifty-nine, makes her painful way to pay homage to the elephant god Ganesh, lord of success and destroyer of evils and obstacles. “Why are we Hindus instead of Christians?” her seventeen-year-old granddaughter Divena asked.

“Because we are Indian,” said Shridula.

So begins a spiritual journey for Divena as she struggles against an entire culture to proclaim a faith close to her heart while rocking the world of two families. (backcover copy quoted from Amazon)

Yes, those are stories about God at work in one of those unreached parts of the world. No easy answers, but no hiding God, either. No shame of the gospel.

Honestly, I don’t know why, in light of the vast number of people who don’t know Jesus Christ as Savior, all Christian writers don’t make it a mission to bring faith to bear in a discernible way in our writing, in our stories.

No, I don’t think every story needs to be a salvation message. Some can show a believer coping with anorexia as Running Lean by Diana Sharple does. Others like Firstborn by Lorie Ann Grover can address gender issues. Or how about the Safe Lands series by Jill Williamson that shows a character’s struggle with lust and addiction?

God can show up in dramatic ways or daily, gradually, through His people. He can show up through types and symbols and allegory, or He can be present, identified from start to finish as the Creator, Sustainer, and Savior of the world. The how isn’t the issue, I don’t think.

But a dying world needs to hear Truth, and I don’t think it’s time for Christian writers to shrink back, ashamed of the gospel.

The Christian View Of Culture: The Secular/Sacred Divide

    Nothing for the Christian is essentially secular. It can only be secularized by leaving God out of it or by engaging in that from which God, by his nature, must be excluded.
    - The Real Face of Atheism by Ravi Zacharias (p. 145)

mud_poolI’ve read any number of times that one of the problems in the church and in Christian fiction is a propensity to divide life into camps—secular over there, Christian over here. Often times this line of reasoning comes from someone decrying the term “Christian fiction.”

However, the thought usually goes more along these lines: God created the world and everything in it; therefore, everything has a touch of the divine if we will see it—mountains and mud puddles, priests and prostitutes.

Interestingly, the quote above from evangelist/apologist Ravi Zacharias agrees with the idea that we have constructed an artificial divide. There’s an interesting wording difference between Zacharias’s phrasing and what I’ve read before. Rather than saying all is sacred, he says none is secular. I think that might be significant.

On one hand, those suggesting we do away with the “Christian fiction” distinction say all is sacred. There seems to be a period there. The implication is that all can be enjoyed or utilized by a Christian whether or not God shows up.

In contrast, Mr. Zacharias stipulates that nothing is secular but anything can be secularized by leaving God out

But what does it mean to include God in the picture? Are we supposed to see Jesus in Avatar, for instance? Are we supposed to read Watership Down (Richard Adams) and see some end times message?

Not at all. I think including God means I first see the object or person or piece of writing before me for what or who they are. Jesus, for example, understood exactly who the woman at the well was—a Samaritan, a “seeker,” a divorcee, a sinner in need of a Savior. He didn’t dismiss her as too far gone for God and He didn’t dismiss her as already one of the family of God.

I guess what I’m thinking is this: we don’t need to force God into places.

I remember when I saw the first two Star Wars movies. I started to see Christian parallels and began to wonder if possibly Lucas was using intentional symbolism to convey a Christian message. Maybe he was saying the Force was God. Maybe our hero was a type of Christ.

In reality, I was forcing my worldview onto the movie.

Then where is God in Star Wars? Are they simply “secular,” something I can enjoy apart from my Christianity?

While I can enjoy them, I don’t think it’s necessary for me to do so apart from my Christianity but because of it. As I think on God and His Son, I am filtering my culture through the lens of my Christianity.

For example, I can look at the Force and compare that to God as He has revealed Himself in the Bible—a personal, loving Heavenly Father. While the Jedi knights could say, “May the Force be with you,” they could never say, “May the Force comfort you in your time of grief” or “May the Force hear your prayer” or “May the Force extend its grace and love to you.” God transcends the Force by His nature, by His personhood.

So I can come away from Star Wars entertained but also thankful that I know a personal loving God and do not have to trust to an impersonal, distant Force.

That’s only one example. Other possibilities include a conviction to commit to God … Or a willingness to mentor someone new in the faith … Or a determination to stand against evil regardless of the strength of the opposition.

You get the idea.

Nothing is secular unless I leave God out.

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This article is a reprint of one entitled “The Christian View Of Culture” published February, 2010.

The Way Of Salvation: An Addendum

Abraham005This morning I once again thought about inclusivism and salvation, Jesus and the unreached peoples, Abraham and faith–many of the same topics I covered in yesterday’s post “The Way Of Salvation.”

Why Abraham? Because a number of those in the Facebook discussion I was a part of mentioned Old Testament figures such as Noah and Job and Abraham as examples of people who, like the unreached peoples today, did not know Christ but who had faith in God.

I remember some time ago thinking about Abraham’s faith. Scripture says, “And Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness” (James 2:23b). What, I had to ask, did Abraham believe? It had to be more than that God exists–James makes the point earlier in the same chapter that the demons believe God is.

So what precisely did Abraham put his faith in?

I concluded by reading the account we have of his life in Genesis that Abraham believed what God told him, whether it was command or promise.

So when God told him to leave his home and go into a land he didn’t know and keep going until God told him to stop, Abraham said OK. When God said He would give him a son, Abraham said OK. When God told him to circumcise his household, Abraham said OK. When God told him to send Hagar and Ishmael away, Abraham said OK. When God told him to sacrifice Isaac, Abraham said OK.

At every turn, Abraham listened to what God said and did what God asked.

As I thought about Abraham today, I realized that he had this direct, special revelation from God and his faith was based on believing what God told him.

So if Abraham were a parallel with today’s “unreached people,” God presumably would give them the same kind of special revelation. He would communicate to them personally and specifically as He did with Abraham. Would their faith, then, be consistent with what Scripture says about salvation?

The question doesn’t go far enough. If God communicated with the “unreached people” today, giving them personal and specific revelation, wouldn’t He tell them about His Son Jesus? He wouldn’t have to tell them about circumcision or sacrifice. He could tell them specifically about His Son who came to be a blessing to the nations.

This kind of special revelation is absolutely within the power and possibility of an omnipotent, unlimited God. I have no trouble believing that God can reach down through miraculous means and save “unreached people” by preaching to them the gospel which they would believe.

I think God’s Word is clear that there is only one way for people to come to Him–through the Door, by the Way, by means of the one Mediator, the man Christ Jesus.

As I see it, those who believe in inclusivism have flipped God’s message on its head. They believe that God will bring them to Jesus so they can have salvation through His shed blood, but Scripture teaches that Jesus will bring us to God so that we can be reconciled to Him.

The inclusivism view seems to ignore the problem of sin. Scripture teaches throughout that sin is the problem humankind cannot overcome:

Behold, the Lord’s hand is not so short
That it cannot save,
Nor is His ear so dull
That it cannot hear,
But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God,
And your sins have hid His face from you so that He does not hear. (Isaiah 59:1-2)

Praise God that He sent His Son Jesus to conquer sin once for all.

Published in: on April 8, 2014 at 7:01 pm  Comments (2)  
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The Way Of Salvation

A recent Facebook discussion came up about salvation, particularly Inclusivism–whether or not God’s grace extends to people who, to our knowledge, have not heard the gospel preached.

Proponents of a view known as inclusivism argue that while no one is saved apart from the redemptive work of Jesus, it is not necessary either to know about the gospel or to believe in Jesus for salvation. (“Is Belief In Jesus Necessary?“)

Bible-openI see no teaching like this position in Scripture, so I am troubled to see this view taking hold with some Christians. Here are my concerns: are these ideas a “different gospel,” which Paul warned against? Does inclusivism honor humankind over God? Is this teaching a departure from the clear teaching of Scripture?

Here are the thoughts I shared on Facebook (with some editing and some addition) which address my concerns to a degree.

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Scripture teaches salvation is the result of God choosing us AND of us choosing God. I trust God to know the hearts of all humankind. He’s not going to hide from someone who would choose Him. I think that’s inconsistent with His nature as revealed by Scripture.

The thing is, we don’t know who all has received God’s word in the past–and rejected it.

I only recently learned that Church tradition says the Apostle Thomas went to India and evangelized many. How many Indians, then, went further east to spread the good news? We assume there was no missionary endeavor into places like China and Indonesia because they are not Christian cultures, but that’s merely an assumption on our part.

What did the other ten Apostles do, the ones Scripture doesn’t tell us about? Did they sit home or did they go to the utter parts of the earth as commanded and evangelize those we think never had a chance to hear?

We know that Philip evangelized an Ethiopian. Presumably he took the gospel to Africa. So how many African converts traveled south and west spreading the gospel? We assume none because we don’t see fruit. But that’s based on our limited knowledge.

In addition, before the earth was divided, all men knew of God. Did they take that knowledge and teach their children to mock Him or love Him?

And is it possible that God has a way of reaching people, preaching to people, that is beyond our understanding? 1 Peter 3:18ff certainly raises that question.

There’s a key passage in Ezekiel that speaks to this very issue, I think:

When I say to the wicked, ‘You will surely die,’ and you do not warn him or speak out to warn the wicked from his wicked way that he may die, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. Yet if you have warned the wicked and he does not turn from his wickedness or from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered yourself. Again, when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and I place an obstacle before him, he will die, since you have not warned him, he shall die in his sin, and his righteous deeds which he has done shall not be remembered; but his blood I will require at your hand. However, if you have warned the righteous man that the righteous should not sin and he does not sin, he shall surely live because he took warning; and you have delivered yourself. (Ez. 3:18-21, emphasis mine)

I’m still mulling the divide between “wicked” and “righteous” mentioned in these verses since other passages tell us there is none righteous. But for the sake of this topic, it seems clear that those who aren’t warned don’t get a pass. They are still responsible before God for their unrighteous state.

And even if there are people today who we think could fit the “righteous” category because of their sincere desire to seek God, this passage leads me to believe their sin, like that of all the rest of us, still separates them from God. In short, they need to be warned.

But I’ll come back to my original point. I believe God is good, and wise and faithful and omniscient and all powerful–so He is more than capable of meeting those who seek Him, however He chooses to do so. I tend to think that is by sending someone to them to preach Christ and Him crucified–whether that’s a missionary or an angel (angels rescued Lot, after all) or the resurrected Christ Himself–He’s not going to turn His back on anyone except those who turn their back on Him.

I personally think this issue has become hard because we live in a society that believes humans are good. We no longer think people deserve to die, though that’s what Scripture tells us. We believe people deserve to be rescued, that God was wicked for only saving Noah. But that’s an idea from the deceiver, I think.

God certainly isn’t wicked, and He would have saved any other person who was righteous. And Noah preached that they might be saved, probably for as long as he was building the ark and perhaps for years and years before hand.

In the end, I think it’s a matter of taking God at His word, much the way Abraham did: he believed God when He told him that Isaac would be the heir of a great nation AND that he was to sacrifice Isaac.

So, too, I think we need to believe God means what He says that Jesus is the way, that He shows us the Father, that no man comes to the Father except through Him AND that God desires none to parish. He’s a good God and He’s not going to do wrong.

We can trust God to deal with those we label “unreached” according to His lovingkindness, justice, and righteousness because He delights in these things.

As I understand the Bible, those who are saved are those who believe that God gave His only Son Jesus who died once for all, the just for the unjust, that we might have peace with God.

I believe in a big God who knows the hearts and minds of all people and who will not turn away those who draw near to Him. He’s told us in the Bible how He saves. Consequently, I believe He will bring the truth of Jesus to all who want to know Him.

Is He limited? We in the West seem to think so. We can only conceive of God saving the “unreached people” by a means we understand–a reasoning away of clear statements throughout the Bible about humankind’s guilt and need of salvation which God provided through His promised Messiah.

I choose instead to believe, “The Word of God stands forever” AND that God’s thoughts are not my thoughts, nor His ways my ways, but that as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are His ways higher than my ways, and His thoughts higher than my thoughts.

Whatever ideas I have of solving the “unreached peoples” problem are tiny. God’s ways are right and best and will not violate His word. He is righteous and He is infinite, not limited nor unfaithful. He can be trusted to do what is right.

Published in: on April 7, 2014 at 5:14 pm  Comments (17)  
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