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  Comments Off on The Passion Of The Christ: The Days Of Silence  
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Are Christians Insiders?


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From time to time, those who have reason to criticize the traditional church pull out the Pharisee-accusation card. The idea is that Christians in the traditional church are the new Pharisees.

At times, the accusation can refer to legalism and at others to self-righteousness or to exclusivity. The idea is, a la the Pharisees of the first century, these traditional church people believe themselves to be in the know; they get it, do it right, and separate from those who do it wrong. They are insiders and proud of it.

On Sunday, my pastor, Mike Erre, put forth the idea that Christians are insiders, but our problem is that we act in a prideful way because of it.

I have to admit, I bristle at this idea. I don’t think Christians are insiders. Except, we kind of are.

Let me try to clarify.

First, as I’ve laid out in other articles, Christians are not Pharisees (see for example “Who Are The Pharisees” and “Missio Minded“). Pharisees believed they had the inside track with God because of their birth and because of their rigorous adherence to the Law. In other words, they were entitled to a seat on the inside but they had also earned it.

Christians, on the other hand, recognize that we are part of the “all” in the verse, “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” We don’t deserve right standing with God and can’t earn it. Bottom line, we aren’t special–not in and of ourselves.

Besides our “not Pharisees” status, we also have received a commission to go into all the world and make disciples. “The world” contains people from different religious backgrounds, economic strata, ethnicities, languages, races, nationalities. There’s no exclusivity here. The Church is the least segregated organization on the planet.

Granted, local churches don’t always look like the greater Church, but that’s to be expected. People worship where they live. I don’t have to travel to Japan to worship with Japanese Christians just to put a white face in their congregation.

On the other hand, in the US, particularly in a number of cosmopolitan cities, there is a blend of peoples from different backgrounds. In those instances, the local body should more nearly reflect the great blending we will one day experience in heaven.

But are Christians to separate from the rest of mankind? Jesus said no. We are to be in the world. We are to be light for the world. We are to be witnesses to the world. These are hard things to accomplish if we are off in a corner.

In one respect, being a Christian has nothing to do with me. I don’t have one spiritual provision that every other person in the world can’t have.

So are Christians insiders?

God calls us His children, members of His body, branches on His vine. Anybody can be His child, but only those who go to Him actually are. Anybody can be members of His body, but only those who accept the headship of Jesus are. Anybody can be a branch on His vine, but only those grafted to Him are.

Christians aren’t insiders. We don’t deserve special consideration from God and we haven’t earned His favor. But we are adopted members of His family, invited guests at His banquet. We know Him, are friends with Him, hang out with Him because He’s brought us near. We’ve accepted what He’s made available to everyone.

Are we insiders, then, because we realized the paucity of our own abilities and our great need for a God who could rescue us from darkness?

No, the same information is available to everyone. It’s not exclusive. On this, I trust God’s word:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. (Rom. 1:18-20)

Suppress the truth. That’s the picture of all of us, except at some point Christians relent. We give up and accept the truth instead. We are like people who can’t swim, drowning in the deep end of the pool. We fight the life guard, try to grapple with him, to push him under so we can keep our head above water. But at some point we either give in and let him rescue us, or we drown.

Are we special? No. Are we insiders? No. Are we in God’s family? Yes. And that’s an exclusive group–only those who have stopped fighting God are in.

So Christians aren’t insiders, but we are sorta.

Published in: on March 31, 2014 at 7:19 pm  Comments (1)  
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Cleaning the Cup


1194095_wine_glass_dark_fieldIn recent years a fairly popular criticism of Christians in Western society is that those in traditional churches are playing the part today of the “religious leaders,” also called the Pharisees, who clashed with Jesus in the first century.

I maintain that this position compares avocados and watermelons. The Pharisees were trying to work their way into God’s good graces, even as they rejected Jesus. Christians–if they are actual followers of Christ–have understood that our best efforts fall short of God’s glory and have instead accepted the work of Jesus at the cross.

Does the fact that Christians follow Jesus mean that we can then live as we please and do as we wish? Certainly not. The instruction in the New Testament is for Christians, which I think we sometimes lose sight of, at least here in America. Rather than concerning ourselves with all that the Bible says, we work to bring all of society into a godly lifestyle.

To an extent, this is not a bad thing. Christ’s teaching is life-changing, but the truth is, it’s possible to clean up the outside of the cup and leave the inside disgustingly dirty.

Jesus didn’t advocate scouring the inside and leaving the outside filthy, though. He said, essentially, clean the inside and the outside will take care of itself: “You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also” (Matt. 23:26).

Here’s what Jesus was really getting to:

“So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” (Matt. 24:28)

In other words, these words are directed at pretend Christians, or at religious people in other faiths that think doing a bunch of good deeds will put them in right standing with god or the universe or whatever it is they worship.

The outside can look all spiffy and clean. One reason Christians team up with Mormons in political matters, I believe, is that Mormons are so very moral. They are pro-life and pro-marriage, don’t drink or smoke or gamble, go to church, give to charities, and generally present a face of kindness.

Clean cups, at least on the outside.

Honestly, moderate Muslims are right there beside them. The women dress modestly, all are law-abiding, they worship regularly, they oppose homosexuality, drinking, and abortion.

I could say the same about any number of people of religion–they do many, many right things because in their belief system, they have to. The doing is their ticket to “God’s” good graces–whether that means enlightenment, nirvana, heaven, or another planet where they will rule.

Shockingly, atheists fall into this category, too. Their list of “right things” will differ from Mormons, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and pretend Christians, but they still have their list. Be tolerant of people who hold a different belief system than traditional Western culture, take care of the environment, avoid even the appearance of prejudice, speak only in a politically correct way, support gender equality, gay marriage, and labor unions.

The gods that the atheists are trying to please, of course, are themselves. They talk much about doing something meaningful for society and leaving a legacy.

Jesus said he didn’t come for the people who have these spiffed up outsides. Those folk see no need for Him because they believe it’s up to them. Either God expects them to measure up or they have to measure up to the standard they’ve set for themselves. So they busy themselves cleaning the outside of the cup, and when drink splatters, which it always does, they hurriedly wipe it away. When greasy fingers leave a smear, they wash and polish, until the outside shines.

All the while, germs roam free on the inside. They can hate and lust and covet to their heart’s content. They can doubt God and rail at Him, they can be disappointed and think He’s let them down or doesn’t really care or isn’t really there. Just so long as on the outside, no one knows.

Jesus said He came to heal, but only sick people need healing. The well send the physician away. Services not needed here–only healthy people on site.

But that attitude is indicative of the spiritually blind. All people have fallen short of God’s glory–His righteous standard, and the only standard that matters.

Children run races and win trophies, but how silly if they strutted around claiming to be the fastest runner in the world. They have measured themselves against themselves and decided they are the best. But if they were to measure themselves against the world record holder they would clearly, consistently, and always fall short.

So too with Man’s efforts, as soon as we measure ourselves against God’s holiness. We might shine the outside of our cup in an effort to fool ourselves and others that it is clean, but to kill the germs crawling around inside takes the touch of the Master, the work of Jesus, the healing of the One who came to save.

Published in: on June 14, 2013 at 6:29 pm  Comments Off on Cleaning the Cup  
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Moral, Religious People Are Not Allies Of Christ


The_Moneychangers001When Jesus lived on earth, He often criticized the most religious, most moral group of people in Judaism–the priests, Levites, and Pharisees. He told parables in which they recognized themselves as the people on the wrong side of right. He usurped their authority to clean out moneychangers from the temple. He called them a “brood of vipers” on more than one occasion, and warned them that they stood under God’s wrath, that they were headed for hell (Matt. 23:26). He called them liars and said their father was the devil (John 8:44).

In spite of this example that Jesus set, many Christians today choose to embrace moral, religious people and call them allies. Fine Christian people are more fearful of the immoral, left-leaning liberals than they are of the legalistic religionist. But Jesus never went after the tax collectors or the Roman collaborators or the prostitutes the way He went after the Pharisees. He never called them names or painted them as uncaring cheats in His stories.

Why did Jesus seem so abrasive when He dealt with these Jews who were meticulous about keeping the law, and we twenty-first century Christians wink at the legalism of our new-found moral friends?

I’m referring specifically to Mormons and the Christians who are willing to “look past” their legalism, their false teaching, their lies, their distortion of God’s revelation and of His Person.

How heinous it is that we have a President who embraces abortion and gay rights, who reinterprets the Constitution. But why would we turn to a Mormon instead? Do we not care about the normalization of Mormonism as much as we care about the normalization of homosexuality? Do we think a man who believes in an invented religion with a prophet who has greater authority than the Bible, would actually think twice about reinterpreting the Constitution too?

It seems to me, Mormons have buffaloed Christians … and others, by their moral front. They want very much to be treated as just another Christian denomination, not as the cult that they are. The problem is, their founder’s and prophets’ writings show otherwise. Here are just a few points of Mormon belief many may not realize.

About God and Jesus (source for these excerpts, Truthnet.org):

  • “God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man…”(Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 345)
  • “The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangilble as man’s; the Son also; but the Holy Spirit has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit…” (Doctrine and Covenants, 130:22)
  • “As man is, God once was: as God is, man may become” (Prophet Lorenzo Snow, quotedin Milton R. Hunter, The Gospel Through the Ages, 105-106)
  • Remember that God, our heavenly Father, was perhaps once a child, and mortal like we ourselves, and rose step by step in the scale of progress, in the school of advancement; has moved forward and overcome, until He has arrived at the point where He now is” (Apostle Orson Hyde, Journal of Discourses, 1:123)
  • When our father Adam came into the garden of Eden, he came into it with a celestial body, and brought Eve, one his wives, with him. He helped to make and organized this world. He is Michael, the Archangel, the Ancient of Days! About whom holy men have written and spoken—He is our FATHER and our GOD, and the only God with whom we have to do” (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, 1:50)
  • Jesus is the brother of Satan this is revealed in the Pearl of Great Price, Book of Moses 4:1-4 and affirmed by Brigham Young in the Journal of Discourses, 13:282)

About history in America (source of this quote is Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry):

  • The Book of Mormon is supposed to be the account of people who came from the Middle-East to the Americas. It covers the period of about 600 B.C. to 400 A.D. It tells of the Jaredites, people from the Tower of Babel who came to central America but perished because of their own immorality. It also describes some Jews who fled persecution in Jerusalem and came to America led by a man called Nephi. The Jews divided into two groups known as the Nephites and Lamanites who fought each other. The Nephites were defeated in 428 A.D. The Lamanites continued and are known as the American Indians. The Book of Mormon is the account of the Nephite leader, Mormon, concerning their culture, civilization, and appearance of Jesus to the Americas.

latter day cipher coverFor a more comprehensive look at Mormonism, check out The Mormon Mirage by Latayne Scott. For a look at Mormonism through the personal means of a story, see the murder-mystery Latter-Day Cipher also by former Mormon Latayne Scott.

Published in: on January 30, 2013 at 6:29 pm  Comments (5)  
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Jesus And The Dirty Dozen


During Jesus’s early ministry, He took a lot of criticism from the Pharisees, particularly about the company He kept — sinners and prostitutes and tax collectors. Today those who like to criticize the church seem to relish this accusation, repeating it as if this is a blueprint for how Christians are to live.

Go out and find some sinners to eat with, the critics seem to say. If Jesus were here today, you wouldn’t find him hanging out in some stuffy old church. He’d be in the gay bars, in brothels, maybe in porn studios — wherever he could find sinners to hang with.

Except, when you read the gospels, it’s clear that Jesus wasn’t hanging out with sinners the way today’s church-critics think. The sinners were actually hanging out with Him.

Jesus’s normal modus operandi was to show up in the tabernacle on the Sabbath and teach or heal. In fact, when the Pharisees came to arrest Him, He said, “Every day I used to sit in the temple teaching and you did not seize Me” (Matt. 26:55b).

Of course, there were days He taught in houses or on hills or even from a boat. He healed in a variety of places too — on streets, near the city gate, in houses.

Interestingly, He got invited to a lot of places by “unsavory characters.” Right before His final Passover meal, for example, He ate at the home of Simon the leper (Matt. 26:6). But, you see, Simon couldn’t still be a leper or no one eating with him would have been clean and therefore qualified to eat the Passover.

And was Mary Magdalene still a prostitute or still demon possessed? Was Simon the Zealot still a terrorist? Was Matthew still a tax collector, for that matter?

Seems in the Bible, a person’s sinful reputation stayed with them. James, for example, refers to “Rahab the harlot” in chapter five of his letter, when he could just as easily have called her King David’s great-grandmother, or the converted Canaanite, or the messenger-hider.

So these sinners that Jesus was eating with — were they still living the lifestyle of sinners? Or were they people who came to Him to find cleansing and healing and forgiveness? People like Nicodemus and Mark and Barnabas and Timothy?

Matthew the tax-collector-turned-disciple invited his friends over to eat with Jesus. In context it seems unlikely that they were hatching devious money-thieving plots over their meal while they cracked jokes about sticking it to the Pharisees. Matthew was a different man now, one of the dirty dozen who had experienced Jesus’s cleansing grace.

Demon-free Mary was different, too. Now she wanted only to sit at Jesus’s feet. Leprosy-free Simon was most definitely different — he was hosting a party!

The image the gospels paint of Jesus is not the one the church-critics try to conjure up. Sinners came to Him in droves. They’d come to John the Baptist, too, and repented of their sins. The cleansing they received from Jesus wasn’t a momentary thing, though. They became new creatures. Old things passed away, replaced by the new.

Sure we still call them sinners because that’s what they were, in the same way that “sinner” identifies me. The Pharisees used the term differently, however. They put themselves in opposition to the sinners. So in the blue corner, Pharisees. In the red corner, sinners. And how dare Jesus side with the sinners!

The sinners He sided with were those who stood before God beating their breast and saying, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner” (Luke 18:13b).

They were broken, humbled, redeemed. A lot like the people in churches today who know Jesus.

Published in: on June 27, 2011 at 6:14 pm  Comments (5)  
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Who Are The Pharisees?


I heard it again this past week, this time from an established Bible teacher, which shows how the Christian community has been swayed to think the way our culture does rather than as the Bible teaches.

As you could guess from the title of this post, I’m referring to what people believe about the Pharisees, that Jewish sect of the first century often in conflict with Jesus. The common idea is that Jesus opposed them because they were oh, so religious.

This is simply not the case. In reality, Jesus Himself could easily be thought of as an example of a religious person. He could tick off a list of things similar to the one Paul recited in Philippians 3.

Jesus was circumcised the eighth day, of the tribe of Judah, a Hebrew of Hebrews. In fact, He was in the temple discussing the Scriptures with the priests and Levites at the age of twelve. As an adult, He was regularly in the synagogue on the Sabbath, often reading from Scripture and explaining its meaning.

He participated in religious activities, attending Passover, insisting John baptize Him, and instituting communion.

No, Jesus’s problems with the Pharisees didn’t stem from the fact that they were religious. Rather, He objected to their selfish, hypocritical use of religion. They were, in fact, prideful cheats.

The Pharisees had learned to make a show of their religion. Apparently since the restoration from the Babylonian exile, the Jews had learned their lesson and put aside their idols. You might say, it became the popular thing to be a worshiper of Yahweh. Consequently, to hold a powerful position in the nation, a person had to be better than the rest when it came to obeying God.

However, the Pharisees figured out ways they could “obey,” or at least appear to do so, and still make a buck. For example, they created a law that said if they dedicated their property to God, then they didn’t need to sell it to help their parents in a time of need. As Jesus pointed out, they created a tradition that superseded God’s command to honor their parents.

They also out-and-out cheated genuine worshipers by selling animals for sacrifice in the temple, often at a price that was unfair and sometimes using unfit animals—the law required an unblemished lamb.

Then there was their redefining of the term “work” since no one was to do any work on the Sabbath. They didn’t want Jesus to heal on the Sabbath because that would be considered “work.” They didn’t want His disciples to pick and eat grain when they were hungry on the Sabbath because that would be considered “work.”

These “work” laws were not from God. They were things the Pharisees concocted to establish and hold onto their power.

They were greatly concerned about power, as the gospels reveal, to the point that they wouldn’t give Jesus a straight answer to His questions for fear they would turn the people against them. They were also afraid the Romans would come in and take their power away if the people continued to carry on about Jesus being the Messiah.

And that was the bottom line. They rejected Jesus as the Christ. They above all others should have known what the Scriptures said about the Messiah, but they had learned to pick and choose the passages they wanted. A suffering servant? Not the messiah they were looking for. They wanted a glorious, triumphant King, if they still really wanted a messiah at all. Could be that they saw the messiah as a threat to their position too.

To sum it up, the Pharisees were interested in themselves. They made a show of religious activity because it benefited them, but it was nothing more than an outward display that belied what was going on in their hearts. They cheated people and bullied them, all in the name of doing God’s work. They freely ignored Scripture, added to it, and changed it to fit their purposes.

In other words, the Pharisees were those who used religious language to do what they wanted, not what God had said. They put themselves as the authority to determine what was right, not God’s Word.

Just like false teachers do today.

Published in: on December 29, 2010 at 7:02 pm  Comments (2)  
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