Guns And Plastic Bags


HandgunsConservatives, a group many evangelical Christians find themselves tied to, have been criticized for having pet topics—most notably, abortion and gay marriage. I’ve heard these topics are growing tiresome and Christians ought to accept that we’re in the minority on these issues and get over it!

Surprise, surprise. Liberals have their pet issues too—notably gun control and global warming/climate change. I find these issues as tedious as I’m sure liberals find topics I’m concerned about.

Gun control in the US has a major barrier: the Second Amendment to the US Constitution which states citizens have the right to bear arms. Of course our world is a very different place than when the founders of our government put that right in place.

All of us decry the misuse of guns—from gang drive-bys to school shootings and political assassinations or the attempts. But the debate rages whether or not passing new restrictions on gun ownership or purchase will change the climate of violence.

In other words, we all acknowledge the problem, but we don’t agree that gun control is the solution or even a solution.

So we seem to be at a sort of stalemate . . . until the state of Georgia comes along and passes a law which allows their citizens to wear sidearms in public, possibly even in churches or schools, and in parts of the airport. These are people without a police record and without reported mental illness for the last five years.

OK, that last point disturbs me. When was the last time someone was “cured” of mental illness? Isn’t it more likely that various mental disorders are being treated or medicated, not cured? And haven’t a number of those perpetrating mass murders been discovered to have a history of mental illness?

But apparently this wasn’t a concern in Georgia. Oh, well. What I’m wondering is this—will the Georgia gun law have the same effect as the marijuana laws have had? In other words, will they catch on? Will other states think passing state laws is a good way to get around the Federal government, no matter what they have on the books or how they might try to restrict long held freedoms?

I find all these attempts at regulation or deregulation quite interesting. The gay rights efforts are an attempt to deregulate the long held beliefs about marriage. Ever since the US became a country, marriage has meant a union between one man and one woman. The deregulation efforts could turn marriage into a free-for-all.

Abortion is also a law that deregulates. Once there was a moral understanding that life is sacred, but now that view has been deregulated and life is not sacred if a woman doesn’t choose to permit life to grow in her womb.

On the other hand, new regulations are being added beyond the gun control. For example, the city council for Huntington Beach, CA, has joined San Francisco in banning plastic bags. While all plastic is frowned upon, it is bags that have received the environmentalists’ ire.

I forget all the evils that plastic bags are responsible for—all related to sea life, I believe. I just find it . . . incredible that we are so concerned for the health and well-being of fish and dolphins and seals and whales and crabs, but so unconcerned for the health and well-being of pre-born humans.

But I misspoke. There is great concern for the health and well-being of the pre-born as long as the mother decides to keep the baby. In that instance, a violent crime against a pregnant woman that results in her baby dying, can bring charges of murder against the perpetrator. And a woman who smokes when she is pregnant? She’s marked with the scarlet N for negligent.

Ocean_wavesIt’s a crazy world anymore. But it’s not really a surprise. Once we detached from our religious moral underpinnings which had been influenced by Scripture, we’ve been adrift. Now we’re moving so far from shore, we’re losing sight of solid ground. We’re following the peaks or dips of each wave, depending on who’s at the rudder and how hard we’re rowing.

I recently read this in an article posted at The Federalist:

“The censorial climate of academia extends beyond tenured professors and touches the students, both in undergraduate and graduate school. They are being taught what is and is not an ‘acceptable’ way of thinking rather than being encouraged to think through difficult questions on their own.” (“The Closing of the Academic Mind,” emphasis mine)

No wonder we have so many inconsistencies. No wonder we have key talking points and favorite liberal or conservative issues. What we actually need is a return to that moral compass that can help us find solid ground again. Maybe then we could reason out what to do about immigration and energy resources and crime and yes, the big favorites of both sides of the divide.

There really are Biblical principles that could apply to these issues, if we would accept the authority of Scripture. But the only way that will happen is one person at a time, each person reading the Bible, believing it, and choosing to live according to its dictates.

CSFF Blog Tour – Numb By John Otte, Day 3


Numb-CoverThis month’s CSFF Blog Tour feature is a rare science fiction novel, written for adults and published by Marcher Lord Press. Numb by John Otte, a Christy Award finalist, is a stand-alone, though some reviewers believe there is room for a sequel, should John care to revisit this world again. I admit, I love the universe he imagined, but this story seems well-ended to me, and I don’t have any particular need to see these characters again. But since I’m already opinionating, I suppose I might as well get right to my review.

The Story. Crusader is the perfect assassin: dedicated to the cause, loyal to the authorities over him, determined to complete his missions, and completely numb. He doesn’t feel emotion and he doesn’t feel pain. What’s more, he believes God has gifted him with this numbness so that he can take up the sword of judgment and wield it against those his superiors have marked as deserving of death—heretics, infidels, traitors, and the like. Above all, Crusader is good at what he does. In fact he’s the best the Ministrix has.

Imagine the uncertainty, then, when Crusader discovers, first, that he cannot complete his latest assignment—to assassinate an engineer named Isolda Westin—and second that some Ministrix agent has set him up and intends to kill him.

His inability to plunge the knife into Isolda’s heart is perhaps the most troubling thing Crusader faces. Something within him refuses to follow what he knows he must do. But why? And why is he, the most loyal, most accomplished Ministrex agent, now a target of the very leaders he has served these past ten years?

With these questions at the heart of the plot, Numb jumps into a tale of intrigue, suspense, action, and romance.

Strengths. There is so much to like in this story, but I think my favorite is the worldbuilding. It’s a little rare, I suppose, to put the element that most often fades into the background as the aspect of the story I liked best, but for me, the sense of place, without being bogged down by a lot of techno terms or details I didn’t care about, made the whole story more enjoyable. I thought there was just the right amount of science/technology mixed with the right amount of facts about the governments that dominated the populated universe to give me a feel for what the characters had to contend with.

Furthermore, the inventiveness seemed believable—a logical outcome of the way technology is advancing and of the way governments are behaving today.

I also thought the central theme was wonderfully woven into the story. Nothing seemed forced. The characters themselves, as a natural part of who they were and the predicament in which they found themselves, dictated the theme. It was never delivered in a heavy-handed manner, though I guess you’d say the “faith elements” were overt.

I liked the characters as well, though I have to admit, when Isolda appeared in chapter three, I felt quite relieved. I wasn’t sure about spending an entire book in the head of a numb assassin, no matter how justified he was in his own mind for doing what he did.

The plot was exciting, built as it was on intrigue. There were fight scenes, chase scenes, betrayals, rescues, hypocrites acting hypocritical and spies acting nobly. There were plenty of twists though the plot never became convoluted. Important elements were properly foreshadowed, so little felt as if it didn’t belong.

But that brings me to the next part of this review.

Weaknesses.

      SPOILER ALERT

Perhaps the only part of the story I didn’t find believable was the sudden attraction Isolda had to first one assassin, then the other. To her credit, she didn’t realize that Balaam, who appeared to be her rescuer, was actually there to kill Crusader and kidnap her. But here’s the thing—she showed definite signs of attractions to a complete stranger. Then when he is killed, she quickly shows interest in the agent who defeated him—the one who she knows is there to kill her.

This tendency to be easily won over to a man could have been a character trait of Isolda’s, except she had no such response to the one guy she actually had known for some time and the one she had shared experiences with and who seemed quite willing early on to protect her.

In short, the contrast between the way Isolda reacted to Gavin and to Balaam, then Crusader, made her actions a little hard for me to believe.

      END SPOILER ALERT

Apart from that plot point, I had no problems with this story. The writing was straightforward, the characters well defined, the surprises plentiful.

Recommendation. I’m happy there’s a quality Christian science fiction novel to go along with the growing number of excellent Christian fantasies. John Otte has done a wonderful job giving readers an enjoyable story that also provides sufficient meat to chew on. I highly recommend this book to all readers. It’s a must read for fans of Christian science fiction.

As it happens, all John Otte’s books, including Numb, are discounted at Marcher Lord Press. However, these prices are only good through April.

CSFF Blog Tour – Numb By John Otte, Day 2


Numb-CoverThe Christian science fiction novel, Numb, by John Otte, has a good number of surprises, but one is not how the book got its title. The main character, known for most of the book as Crusader, works as an assassin for the Ministrix, one of two dominant governments in the universe, this one claiming to be linked to the True Church. The assassin understands his role as that of executioner. He carries out the judgment against infidels, pagans, and heretics as his superiors order.

Crusader believes himself to be the perfect man for the job because God has gifted him with numbness. He can feel neither pain nor emotion. Consequently, he is single minded about his missions. He is not distracted by fear or guilt, and he is not slowed by pain or doubt.

At first this condition of numbness seems pitiful, at least to me, and I think to some of the characters in the book. Crusader has been conditioned by his handlers to believe his numbness is a provision from God. But not to feel joy or love or hope or anticipation or gratitude or excitement or satisfaction or even regret or sorrow, seems as if Crusader is missing the core of what makes a person human.

Even pain is a beneficial and necessary component for life, or so I understand from reading a story about a leper who gradually lost his sense of touch and no longer registered pain in his extremities. Each night he did a self examination to be sure he didn’t have some untreated cut that could become infected. Otherwise, his fingers and hands and feet could become gangrenous and would have to be amputated.

Feeling is vital.

But as I read Numb, I realized that a good deal of the population in western society lives to feel numb. In fact, many self-medicate, drink, do drugs or dive behind a computer, lock in on the TV, play round after round of the latest version of their favorite game, all in order to be numb to the real world around them.

Whether via the world of pretend or the vicarious competitions of sports or music or dance or survival, people are holding at bay unhappy spouses, too high credit card bills, nagging bosses, crying children, unkempt lawns, taxes, traffic, gas prices, corrupt politicians, aging parents, you name it.

When the world and its problems close in, sometimes it feels too overwhelming. If we allow ourselves to feel the crush, we’ll explode, so we scramble for whatever will numb the pain.

We may not take up a mission like Crusader did, but we act as if our numbness is a gift from God.

But it wasn’t for Crusader, and it isn’t for us. God isn’t about numbing us from the experiences he’s put before us. In fact, one of the things the Christian has been given is abundant life. That’s not only a future provision; it’s a present provision. And to live life abundantly means the opposite of numbing ourselves, insulating ourselves from the effects of our experiences.

Paul summed up the difference: Do not be drunk with wine but be filled with the Holy Spirit. Don’t rely on a depressant, a substance that induces forgetfulness and a lack of control. Instead, be filled with the One who guides us in all Truth, who is the source of joy and patience and gentleness and self-control and love.

He might as well have said, Do not be numb.

- – - – -

Take time to check out what other bloggers are writing about in conjunction with the Numb blog tour. There are a couple excellent interviews with John Otte you won’t want to miss: Shannon McNear‘s and Keanan Brand‘s day two posts. Jason Joyner, who has met John and hung out with him at conferences, has some interesting tidbits and even an interesting picture you’ll have to see to believe. ;-) You’ll especially want to learn how to Otte-fy your story, if you’re a writer.

John himself has a great post about how he came to write Numb. Highly recommend.

Published in: on April 22, 2014 at 7:23 pm  Comments (3)  
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CSFF Blog Tour – Numb by John Otte


Numb-CoverSo imagine you’re a pastor, one in an evangelical church that believes the Bible is true and has been inspired by the Holy Spirit. And imagine you also love science fiction, that you even write science fiction. What kind of story would you write?

Anyone come up with a novel about an assassin, one hired by the church?

Yea, that would not have been my first guess either, but that’s what Pastor John Otte has written in Numb, his third novel published by Marcher Lord Press.

John, a contributor at Speculative Faith (his columns post every other Wednesday), and a long-time member of the CSFF Blog Tour, spends most of his time pastoring at Concordia Lutheran Church in South St. Paul, Minnesota.

The son of a pastor, you’d think John’s future course must have been established from his youth—that is, until you learn he graduated from college with a degree in theater!

Graduated summa cum laude.

Majoring in theater!

Of course, he did go on, after graduation, to attend seminary where he earned his Master of Divinity degree. Soon after he began serving as a youth pastor, then as a senior pastor in Blue Earth, Minnesota. He was installed as the new pastor at Concordia in December, 2007.

And yet, that theater major was still very much alive. John had been a writer as early as elementary school and even then intended his stories to find an audience with the public.

He was so serious about his writing that he joined American Christian Fiction Writers shortly after graduation, and it was through that organization he eventually met his agent and his acquiring editor/publisher.

After publishing two superhero type stories, John created Numb, a novel nominated for the Clive Staples Award and just last week, named as a finalist for the Christy Award, Visionary Category.

Which brings us back to the assassin working for the True Church. His role, as he sees it and as he’s been trained to believe, is to serve as the sword of judgment against heretics, dissenters, or heathen. Wherever his leaders send him, he goes. Whoever they order him to kill, he destroys. And he’s the best at what he does because he’s been gifted by God, he’s told, to feel nothing—little or no pain or emotion. All the sensations that could distract him are swallowed up in numbness.

If you’d like to learn more about this story, check out what others on the CSFF tour are saying about Numb, the novel no one would expect a pastor to write.

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.

Darkness.

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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