questions Posts

Did the Resurrection of Jesus really happen? – by Sam Holm

Death.  When we contemplate our own mortality or experience a loved one’s death, we must come face to face with death.   For the Christian and non-Christian alike, death brings pain.  However, the Christian has a different perspective.  Jesus gives us hope in a better life now and after death.  Why?  Because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Did the Resurrection of Jesus really happen?

The reality of the resurrection can be examined and scrutinized.  Our faith in Christ is not only built on theology.  It is based on history.  In John 14:6, Jesus proclaimed, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” Now, this is not a provable fact in the same way that His resurrection is provable, but it is nevertheless either true or false. It cannot be true that Jesus is the only way while at the same time it is also true that other religions can also offer salvation. If salvation comes through Jesus, then it is because He is the Son of God and it cannot come through any other means. As we have studied, if there are other ways to be saved, then Jesus is a liar and a fraud and He offers no salvation at all.

In 1 Corinthians chapter 15, Paul addresses doubt about the resurrection.  He makes several strong statements.  “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain… And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.”  At least some in the church in Corinth doubted whether or not they would be raised.  Paul addresses their doubt head on by listing many who saw the resurrected Christ and were still alive at the time of the writing.  “(Jesus in resurrected form) appeared to Cephas (Peter), and then to the Twelve.  After that, He appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all He appeared to me.”  He seems to say, look at all of the eyewitnesses.  Jesus rose again.

However, many of us still doubt about the Resurrection.  Let’s address several of the primary questions of doubt.

Did Jesus die?   - Yes.  The Roman Historian Tacitus wrote in his final work Annals 116AD (assessing blame on Christians for the fire that destroyed Rome in 64AD): “Christus, from whom the name (Christians) had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of . . . Pontius Pilatus..”  What was the extreme penalty?  Crucifixion.  The Romans were experts at executing and wanted to be sure He was dead.  They publically killed him.  He did not pass out.  When he was seen on Sunday, he was in full health.  If he had suffered on the cross and somehow escaped death, he would not have been worshiped as a resurrected Lord two days later.  He would have needed someone to nurse him back to health.  Jesus died on the cross.

Was the tomb empty?  – Yes.  Gary Habermas writes that “75% of historical scholars accept the historicity of the empty tomb.”  Even early critics like Justin Martyr and Tertullian say it was empty.  Jewish writers never refute it, they just try to explain it away.  In addition, the resurrection was first preached in Jerusalem.  If the tomb was not empty, the body would have been produced by the government and religious leaders.

Was the body stolen?  – No.  The Jews and Romans would have shown everyone if they had it.  The body would have squashed the Christian revolution.  The disciples were terrified and had no motive.  Just a few days prior they deserted Christ in his greatest time of need.  They would not have stolen the body knowing they would end up dying for what they said they believed.

Was it a group hallucination?  – No.  500+ people at the same time?  That’s funny.

Was the story made up?  - No.  Nothing looks fictional in the way it is presented.  The resurrection appearances suddenly stopped (at Ascension with the exception of Paul).  Women were the first witnesses in the gospel narratives and they were not given a voice in court.  You would not choose a woman to prove your story was true.  Witnesses were alive when the NT was written.  “500+ people – they are alive today.  Go ask them.”  What is the motive?  Suddenly, this group is ready to suffer and die for their faith.  No one would do this for something they made up.

Josephus in Antiquities of the Jews wrote around 93AD “About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he . . . wrought surprising feats. . . . He was the Christ. When Pilate . . .condemned him to be crucified, those who had . . . come to love him did not give up their affection for him. On the third day he appeared . . . restored to life. . . . And the tribe of Christians . . . has . . . not disappeared.”

Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, “I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.  For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures…”

Jerry Vines says: “Gospel not a catch word for man made theology.  Nor a code word for man-made methodology.  But a clear word of divinely directed history.”

In verse 11 of 1 Corinthians 15, Paul says “His grace toward me was not in vain (NIV – Without effect… NLT – God poured out his special favor on me-and not without results…).  The transformation of thousands of lives and the explosion of the early church is the primary reason we know this story was not made up.  What happened to those who believed in the resurrection?  James, the brother of Jesus, was openly skeptical that Jesus was the Messiah. Later James became a courageous leader of the Jerusalem church, even being stoned to death for his faith. Paul, possibly the PRIMARY biblical example, was persecuting the church and then his life transformed?  Why?  He saw the resurrected Lord.  Faith in the resurrected Christ totally transformed the lives of all who saw him.

The resurrection of Jesus really happened.  The death of death.  Do you believe it? You can respond to the truth of the resurrection by responding to Christ Himself, as the Risen Lord.  You can receive salvation through believing in the resurrection.

Faith in the resurrection does not only transform the way you die, it transforms the way you live.  There is a member in our church.  I’ve asked permission to share his story.  He was a cultural Christian.  He grew up hearing the stories of Jesus, went to church on occasion and lived like the world.   Then, one Sunday he was faced with the truth of the God, Jesus and the resurrection.  Life totally changed.  He said when we were talking, “Suddenly, my faith was the most important thing to me.”  He read many books attacking and affirming the faith.  His conclusion.  The resurrection really happened. And his life is proof.

Jeff Warren’s father died last Monday.  In his obituary we read: “He was an active member at FBC Charlotte where he was a deacon and loved teaching Sunday school. Following retirement he became the Assistant to the Pastor (Dr. Charles Page) in the area of evangelism. Gene had a passion for sharing Christ with anyone who would listen.”  If Jeff’s father were here today, do you know what I think he would say?  The resurrection of Jesus happened!  And his life is proof.

Is your life proof that the resurrection of Jesus really happened?

 

 

Doubting Out Loud

Can I trust the Bible is true? Is it really God’s Word?

Rational evidence abounds for the existence of God. The Christian, however, believes in the one and only God revealed in the Bible. The Bible teaches us who God is, what He is like, what He has done, and what He is doing. Mostly the Bible points us to who He is in Christ. Crucial then, for the skeptic and believer alike, are questions like, “Is the Bible really God’s Word?”, “Is the Bible reliable?” and “Can I trust that the Bible is true?”

Who wrote the Bible and how was it written?

The Bible makes an audacious claim concerning itself: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16-17

The Bible is inspired by God – literally “Breathed out by God”.  It refers not to the writers but to the words written.

“For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” 2 Peter 1:21

Men wrote the Bible as they were inspired by God. Why do you think God used regular men as “instruments” for His communication?

Over 2,000 times in the Old Testament alone we read, “God said…” or “Thus saith the Lord” It’s interesting that the writers themselves knew they were being used as mouthpieces for God and that He was speaking through them:

“The Lord reached out His hand and touched my mouth and said, “Now I have put my words in your mouth.” Jeremiah 1:9

“The Lord spoke through me.” 2 Samuel 23:2

“What I am writing to you is the Lord’s command.” 1 Corinthians 14:37

What would you expect from a book inspired by God?

Is my Bible reliable?

Some people challenge the reliability of the Bible, not because they’ve read it but because they don’t want to confront its truth.

 Interesting Facts about the Bible

  • We don’t have the original hand writings of Paul, Peter, John or any other writer of the Bible. We don’t have any original hand writings, or what are called “autographs”, of any literary work from ancient history of any real significance.
  • The real test of the reliability of any ancient work then, depends on the manuscripts (the handwritten copies).

The key is how many manuscripts we have and when they were written.

  • The New Testament we read today is based on about 5,500 early manuscripts or pieces of manuscripts all written in the original Greek.
  • The Gallic Wars, written about the same time as the New Testament, is based on 9 or 10 manuscripts.  It’s interesting that no one questions the reliability of the Gallic Wars. The New Testament was written from 50 AD to 90 AD.  The earliest fragment dates about 120 fragments dating within 150-200 years. Compare that again to the Gallic Wars, written about that time, where the earliest copy dates about 1,000 years after it was written!
  • Another famous work of antiquity is The Iliad by Homer. It was written in 900 BC and the earliest manuscripts are found in 400 BC. The first complete copy is dated about 500 years after it was written.
  • The 5,500 manuscripts were found throughout the known world of the New Testament. These manuscripts are surprisingly exact in comparison to one another. The minor discrepancies never alter the meaning of any text. The bulk of these manuscripts agree word for word with one another. Our Bible today is based on these first manuscripts. There has not been a lot of “passing down through the ages” because we have access to these early manuscripts. The famous Dead Sea Scrolls, discovered in 1947, proved that the Old Testament had been passed down correctly through the years by scribes whose job was to copy exactly from one text to another.  Most scholars date the Scrolls at about 150 BC-50 BC.

More amazing facts about the Bible

  • The more you dig into the facts concerning the Bible the more reliable it becomes.
  • The early church leaders quoted the New Testament in their writings. Almost every New Testament book is quoted by Clement, bishop of Rome, who wrote about 96 AD.
  • More that 25,000 sites showing some connection with the Old Testament period have been located in Bible lands.  Archaeologists have found the Bible to be accurate.
  • The Bible is full of remarkable prophecies that have been fulfilled. Over 300 prophecies are fulfilled in Jesus alone including His birth, life, and death (i.e. Micah 5:2, Isaiah 52:13-53:12, Luke 24:25-27).
  • Jesus Himself quoted Scripture as final authority (Matthew 26:54, 56).

How did we get the Bible?

  • It’s important to understand (in this age of the internet, smart phones and iPads) that the simple fact we have the Bible is a miracle in itself. The period of “textual transmission” was a process that was carried out by hand. The moveable type printing press was a product of the 15th century AD.

Textual Transmission

  • Scholars believe the earliest books of the Old Testament were written about 1,400 –1,300 BC
  • The books of the New Testament were all completed by about 50 AD to 90 AD.

By 150 BC we know that all the books of the Old Testament had achieved some textual form.

  • The “canon” (from the Greek word “kanon” meaning “rod” or “rule”) is the word given to the “list” or “series” or “standard” of Scripture – the authoritative and inspired Word of God.
  • The earliest evidence of any Old Testament books is from about 200 BC. There are no complete copies of the Hebrew Old Testament earlier than around 900 AD. The Jewish people held Scripture in such high regard that worn manuscripts were destroyed rather than to risk that they be profaned. Any worn or older manuscripts would be placed in a storage area in the Synagogue (called a “genizah”) where they were kept until proper disposal.
  • It should come as no surprise that little archaeological evidence dates back before the time of Christ.

The Significance of the Dead Sea Scrolls

  • As mentioned earlier, the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in 1947 in what has been called the greatest archaeological discovery of the century.  These scrolls, found in ancient jars are dated to 150 BC – 50 BC. In one dramatic stroke, the age of the manuscripts we now possess were hurdled back almost 1,100 years!
  • Comparing the scrolls with the Masoretic text (10th century AD) we found that the accuracy of transmission over the period of nearly a millennium was miraculous!

Significant translations and the standardization of the canon.

  • As early as the narrative of Exodus 24 we know of a document called “the book of the covenant” as Moses “wrote all the words of Yahweh”. (Ex. 24:4-8
  • The idea of a closed canon was seen as early as the book of Deuteronomy which has attached the warning – “you shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it”. (Deut. 4:2; 12:32)
  • By the time of the destruction of the temple in 70 AD, the standardization of the Old Testament seemed almost complete.  (The need for a closed cannon became evident with the advent of synagogues.)
  • The Council of Jamnia (90 AD) was a group of rabbis who gathered to debate certain books and to determine which ones did and did not “defile the hands”.
  • Rabbi Akiba (55 – 137 AD) insisted that the smallest details in the text had great significance providing an impetus to the standardization process.
  • The work of the Masoretes (from about 200 BC). This group of Jewish scribes passed on the Scriptures with incredible accuracy and gave us the “Masoretic Text”. They accurately passed on the Scriptures until about 1200 AD.
  • The Septuagint or LXX (because it was reputedly done by 70 Jewish scholars) is the Greek translation of the Old Testament and is dated at about 300 BC.  The LXX became the “Bible” for the early church.
  • The Latin Vulgate (384-405AD) was the primary Latin version which became the official version of the Roman Catholic Church.
  • The Wycliffe Bible, dated 1382 was the first complete English translation.  William Tyndale (1484-1536 translated from the original languages (not the Vulgate).  The King James Version of 1611 was a translation (not a revision) of all available textual evidence.

Some helpful definitions

  • Those who accept the Bible as the Word of God are often accused of taking the Bible literally.  What does it mean to take the Bible literally? (Read Isaiah 55:12 or Psalms 114:4,6). Isaiah 55:12 says, “All the trees of the field will clap their hands.” The Bible is to be interpreted in the sense in which the authors intended it to be received by its original readers.
  • Another important term we must clearly define is “inerrancy” which means “lack of error” or infallible”. Some use the words inerrancy and infallibility as one in the same; others do not. Biblical inerrancy is the doctrine that the Bible, in its original manuscripts, is accurate and totally free from error of any kind; and does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact. Biblical infallibility is the belief that what the Bible says regarding matters of faith and Christian practice is wholly useful and true. It is the belief that the Bible is completely trustworthy as a guide to salvation and the life of faith and will not fail to accomplish that purpose.
  • We must remember that the Bible was written, not as a science textbook or history book (though accurate in both), but as a love letter (a story) of God’s redemptive work throughout history, and namely through the life and salvific work of Christ. We must avoid imposing on the biblical writers our own twentieth century standards of scientific and historical precision and accuracy. For instance, Scripture often describes things “phenomenologically”- which simply means, as they appear to be. We speak in these terms when we say, “The sun is rising!” We don’t mean that the sun is rising. Scientifically we mean that the rotation of the earth and the trajectory of the it’s orbit is bringing the Western Hemisphere into a direct angle to view the sun’s rays coming to earth. But a scientific description is not why we are making the statement.

 No other writings even attempt to make the claims the Bible does of itself or make bold predictions with 100% accuracy.

Which do you think is truer?

  • I must understand in order to believe.
  • I must believe in order to understand.

Faith always precedes reason when we approach our infinite and eternal God. Don’t forget that the Bible is a spiritual book and the Holy Spirit speaks through Scripture to your heart. We cannot rely on reason alone.

Consider and discuss these questions:

If you are a follower of Christ, did you believe the Bible was inspired before you became a Christian? Did you think it was reliable?  What can we expect from a letter from God that we could not expect from any other literature?

You can have full assurance that your Bible is the Word of God. Read it, study it, cherish it, but most of all, obey it as you walk with the Savior to Whom it points.

 

 

And the Angels were Silent – Saturday

“He put Jesus’ body in a new tomb that he had cut out of rock, and he rolled a very large stone to block the entrance of the tomb.”  Matthew 27:60

How quiet it is on Saturday before Easter.  How sad it is.  How despairing it must have been for those who had seen their teacher, their friend, and their hope die right before them.  All of creation held its breath to see what would happen next.  All of heaven peered toward earth to see how we would respond.  And God didn’t move.  Not one word; not even a sign.  Have you ever been there?  You had great expectations that God was up to something big, something life changing, and then…nothing.  Have you ever put all of your hopes in a person or in yourself, only to see them come crashing down before you?  Then you know how the disciples must have felt.

They had all run away scared.  They couldn’t believe it.  Their leader, their master was dead.  He was really dead!  It was all over.  No hope, nowhere to turn, no plans.  On Saturday all they could do was run for their lives and hide out hoping no one would find them.  Do you ever think God is silent?  Do you ever pray thinking it doesn’t get past the ceiling?  Let Easter Saturday serve as a lesson for every day of the year.  God may seem to be silent, but in reality, He’s about to bring about His greatest work!  If you ever wonder if He’s at work on your behalf, ponder the difference between Saturday and Sunday.  Remember, God may seem slow, but He’s never late.

Pray:  Lord, I confess I have not trusted You in Your silence. I want You to work in my time and in ways that don’t require a lot of waiting and wondering. I realize that when You are silent is when You will soon show your greatest work.  And when You are silent, I can show my greatest faith and trust in You.

 

Jesus the God-Man

Jesus raised questions as soon as He appeared on the public stage. Since the first century the questions have continued: Who is He? Where does He come from? How can He speak with such authority? Believers, skeptics, the curious, and opponents continue to debate the answers. 2,000 yrs. later, Jesus remains the central figure of history and still the dominant influencer of our culture. A recent updated TIME magazine lists Jesus as one of the “100 People Who Changed the World”. He’s on the cover with the Beatles, Mother Teresa, Hitler, and others.

I remember, years ago, at the turn of the century, the millenium, TIME ran it’s normal “Person of the Year” cover story and then added, the “Person of the Millennium”. Guess who? You got it: Jesus Christ. I remember thinking, “Yes, and the millennium before that, and the one before that, and the millennium to come, and the one after that one…” Jesus is the central figure of all of human history.

1083829-gfSo, “Who is Jesus?” remains the key question. Many Christians don’t realize that Jesus made His identity the focus of His teaching. Think about it: the central focus of His teaching was not a certain principle or truth, (in fact He said that He is “the Way, the TRUTH, and the Life”). He personified Truth. Who He claimed to be was the central focus of His teaching and ultimately, their reasons for crucifying Him. This is why His question from Matthew 16:15,  “Who do you say I am?” echoes through time & space into our hearts today. This is the big question. And it’s a very personal question He’s asking: Who do you say He is?

Through the years it seems that we have drifted away from the biblical Jesus and preferred a safe, ethereal, sanitized Savior. It seems this left the world with no choice but to conclude that the stories about Him were myths and legends. He didn’t seem real or “now”.

This is not a new thing. Rudolf Bultmann, an influential German theologian and New Testament scholar- a prominent liberal voice- is best known for his concept of demythology -which was actually not what it sounds (a divesting or a “getting rid of”) the so-called mythological approach to the historical Jesus. Instead Bultmann advocated that theologians need to interpret, what he called, the mythological elements in the New Testament existentially. Meaning, he contended that faith in the kerygma- or “teaching” and proclamation of the New Testament was necessary for Christian faith, not any particular facts regarding the historical Jesus. Or to say: You don’t need the historical Jesus to have faith.

But without the historic Jesus, He’s just a fairy tale. N.T. Wright, the Anglican Bishop and today’s leading New Testament scholar, said, “It’s been said often enough, but it bears repeating: w/out the real human (historical) Jesus of Nazareth, we are at the mercy of anybody who tells us that “Christ” is this, or that.” So through the eyes of the historical Jesus we see God for who He is- the sent and sending God. He is the God who is on mission, “up close & personal” in our world, throughout history, & is at work today. We say Jesus was the God-man. Perhaps the more accurate expression is that Jesus was “THE God, in man”.

And indeed, a man with flesh and bone and blood running through His veins, given the name JESUS. Non-Christian historian sources reveal the historicity of Jesus. The First Century Roman historian, Tacitus, others like Suetonius, wrote about Christus (Christ) and His crucifixion. Flavius Josephus, the Jewish historian writes of Jesus, as does Thallus and other government officials like Pliny the Younger, the Emperor Trajan, the historian Hadrian, and more Gentile and Jewish sources all wrote about Jesus and the emergence of the early church. In fact, without the historical Jesus and His crucifixion there is no way to explain the birth of the Church in the First Century. There is no explanation for it.

Without the historical Jesus, we tend to sanitize and tame Him by encasing Him in abstract theology. The idea is this: Let’s get our Christology right and then determine to put everything at its service. In other words, let’s make sure that we understand who Jesus really is and then recalibrate who we are and all we do according to His character, His Person, and His life in us. In fact, let’s get our Christology right and then dare to place our deeply held desires for how to do church at its service. Not vice versa. Are we fundamentally aligned with Jesus’ purposes and His will for His community on earth? Let’s recover the absolute centrality of the Person of Jesus in defining who we are as well as what we do.

If we do not recognize Jesus in His humanity we will see Him as distant, almost fictional, a kind of super hero or mythical character whom we may worship but we will NOT follow. Some of us do not approach the Gospel in order to emulate Jesus but only to read stories about Him. A good place to start with a proper Christology is found in Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:5-11

Transformed by His love, may we live just like Him.

What’s the Gospel?

At the core of our Message, our ministries, our lives, our hope, and life is the Gospel.  The longer I preach the more convinced I am that I (we) have but one message: the Gospel of Grace found only in Christ. Surely all of Scripture is inspired by God and all of the Bible is profitable for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness- but it is the Gospel that is central. I’ve heard Christians through the years express a desire to go “deeper” in the Word. Sometimes this is a true desire to get beyond the surface preaching that seems to come from many of our pulpits. But most of the time this is a desire for more knowledge (and not a desire nor evidence of obedience to what is already known- i.e. kindness, compassion, care for the poor, the marginalized, a lack of grace and purity, etc..).

I ask, “What’s deeper than the Gospel?” How can we ever tire of studying, scrutinizing, exploring, and- indeed- applying the Gospel to every aspect of life. The Gospel is the well that never runs dry. Jesus is eternal and the exploration of His majesty is never-ending. Let’s preach, teach, and apply the Gospel. It is (HE is) the Only hope of salvation for those who believe.

Here Tim Keller (who is always Gospel-centered) answers the question: “What is the Gospel?”

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w0g-s4Qhtyk&feature=youtu.be]