Posts Tagged ‘Jesus Christ’

Did Jesus Actually Exist? An Agnostic Historian’s Answer

Someone in a Facebook group I’m a part of posted this. Inflammatory initial scrawl aside, this is fantastic perspective on the reality of Jesus’ existence by a notable scholar that has no vested interest in the conclusion other than a historical one.

I know that this is not an objection held by any real majority (most reasonable atheists and agnostics don’t dispute the existence of Jesus, rather, the dispute is on the truth of His claims and the claims made about Him). However, the view is popular enough that it warranted discussion on this radio show, and so it warrants discussion here.

Listen to Bart Ehrmann give a terrific account about what matters to historians when discussing historical data, and how this relates to the existence of Jesus.

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The Two Witnesses

I was reading one of my study books (Four Pillars of a Man’s Heart by Stu Weber) and it was talking about how God promises restoration for us. Weber quotes this verse in talking about it: “See I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse.” Malachi 4:5-6, NIV

While this verse flows well with the concept Weber is discussing in his book (on the Faithful Friend pillar, if you are curious), it got me thinking about something else. Verse 5 clearly states that God planned to send Elijah back to earth before the “great and dreadful day of the Lord.” That got me thinking about a possible representation of Elijah in the Bible. Where, you might ask? Let me tell you. 🙂

Revelation 11 talks about how God will send two witnesses during the Tribulation to preach for 1,260 days (aka 3 1/2 years) before the beast that comes from the abyss kills them, they lie dead for 3 1/2 days, then will be resurrected and called up to heaven in a cloud by God. There has been a lot of speculation as to who these two witnesses will be. In the Left Behind series, the two witnesses are called Eli and Moishe, a fictional suggestion that perhaps it will be Elijah and Moses who will return to bear witness for the Lord. There is certainly some support for this view; these two were there at the time of Jesus’ transfiguration (Luke 9:30-31), and a cloud came and enveloped them to bring them back into heaven. This would also fit with the verse from Malachi quoted above. So this is entirely possible.

But then I got to thinking about Hebrews 9:27, which says, “Just as man is destined to die once, and after that face judgment…” Moses already died once, so is it possible that he will die again in fulfillment of Revelation 11? Perhaps, as there is evidence that Lazarus died twice, and Jairus’ daughter may also have died twice. But Elijah never died (2 Kings 2:11-12), so if he is one of the two in Revelation 11 to fulfill the prophecy in Malachi 4, wouldn’t it make more sense that God would send another man who had also never died to endure the same first death and completely validate Hebrews 9:27?

Luckily, there is just such a man, and this is why I find God amazing. If He is sending two witnesses to testify about Him, then be murdered but still live and be called back into heaven, then it is amazing that He allowed two men to never taste death in all of recorded human history (note: there might be some question about Melchizedek, but as there is no definitive record of his birth or death, we’ll stick with the “two men” claim as most accurate). One was Elijah, and we’ve already discussed him. The other is discussed in Genesis 5:21-24, and his freedom from death is verified in Hebrews 11:5. This man is Enoch, father of the last man to die before the Flood and seen as one who “pleased God.” This guy sure seems like he would be a good candidate to return and testify about God’s goodness, and also would help in the fulfillment of Hebrews 9:27. For with the death of these two men, every person in recorded human history would have experienced death, even God personified through Jesus Christ.

So are the two witnesses in Revelation 11 Elijah and Enoch? I’m honest enough to say that I don’t know. It would have been much easier if God had just put their names down, but it is a mystery that is interesting enough to keep it a mystery. However, God has put the possible pieces on the game board for this to be the case, so wherever I am viewing the Tribulation from, either in heaven or on earth, I will be very excited to see just who these men are that are the answer to prophecy!

I Am Second – Brian “Head” Welch

Here’s a great video with Brian Welch, better known as “Head” from the rock band Korn, talking about how having it all wasn’t enough. How awesome a God do we serve that He loves each and every one of us, no matter our past or our circumstances. No one is denied access to Christ; He wants everyone to come to Him. If you haven’t considered it before today, perhaps this video might offer some insight or perspective into what it means to truly give up everything and trust that God knows best.

Ephesians – Beginning of a Bible Study

So I’ve decided to start going through the book of Ephesians and do a study, taking it slowly and really trying to digest what God’s Word says. So I may end up posting all of my learnings on here, or I might just post from time to time when I think something is really cool. I was impressed with God pointing me to this book by what my NIV Study Bible said regarding the theological message of Ephesians: “Unlike several of the other letters Paul wrote, Ephesians does not address any particular error or heresy. Paul wrote to expand the horizons of his readers, so that they might understand better the dimensions of God’s eternal purpose and grace and come to appreciate the high goals God has for the church.” While I know I definitely have sins in my life that need working on, this sounds right up my alley based on where I am spiritually.

I decided to take it super slow and start with just Ephesians 1:1, and I was amazed at how much I was able to get from this seemingly innocuous verse.

Ephesians 1:1 (NIV)
“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus.”

The first word that caught my attention was the word “apostle.” An apostle is to be one who not only follows, but also does the work of; there is not reason I can’t be an apostle of Christ in the same way that Paul was. However, in doing so I must admit great responsibility and great failures in sin, because I can’t be ready to do the work unless my own heart is prepared.

The phrase “of Christ Jesus” is also important. We, as apostles, must align ourselves with Christ. This is what separates us from everyone else, because plenty of other religions and cults, even worldviews, believe in some form of God. But it is our understanding that Jesus Christ is also God and worthy of the same type of honor as the Father that sets us apart. We are Christians because of Christ, so to talk about who God is to someone who doesn’t believe is too broad, because I can talk to someone about God and a Muslim can talk to someone about God, and that person will be confused because “how do you separate the two?” It is Christ, the mediator between the Father and man, that is the difference, so we must be firm in our alignment with our Savior.

Now the phrase “the will of God” is an all-encompassing phrase, but when I read it in this context it was just another affirmation that nothing can be done outside of God’s purpose and plan. God will only call apostles as He has intended to call them for all of eternity. What’s more sobering is that if we have that responsibility placed on us, there’s really no way of getting out of it. I guess that’s what I’ve been trying to do, and basically all I’ve done is run away from God. But if it’s like a game of tag, I can’t forever avoid being “it.” God will catch me, because He is so much greater than me. But if I let myself be tagged, or even run to God to let Him tag me, how much sooner can I start the work, and how much greater could the potential benefit be?

Those in Ephesus are called “saints.” The study notes in my Bible say that this word carries the idea of dedication to a deity. A cross reference to Romans 1:7 and I get this description: “The basic idea of the Greek for this word is ‘holiness.’ All Christians are saints in that they are positionally ‘set apart’ to God and are experientially being made increasingly ‘holy’ by the Holy Spirit.” It is interesting that all of this connotation of Christians happens before Paul explains sanctification, and it looks like the words “sanctification” and “saint” probably come from the same root in the Greek. So those in Ephesus were already on the journey down this process of being “set apart” for God’s purposes, and I can relate. It is living within the will of God and separating yourself for the relationship with Him. I guess it’s also this separation that allows us to clearly understand what it is we’re supposed to do, since we are focused on God and not on the world, so it’s easier to hear His voice.

These saints are “faithful” and also “in Christ Jesus.” We studied the word “faithful” in Bible study last week as it relates to God’s character, and it is a statement of keeping the promises made, or keeping the covenant. So in a sense, Paul is applauding the Ephesians for continuing to hold fast to God’s promises, although what’s interesting is that the covenant God makes with us doesn’t really get affected by us. God will keep His promises, whether we act or whether we rebel. But the Ephesians were demonstrating the “confident hope” laid out in Hebrews 11, and only in doing that does it seem like we can develop serious spiritual growth.

As part of being “in Christ Jesus,” they have the privilege of being included into the reward of His inheritance through the death of Christ. Notice the difference between “of Christ Jesus” and “in Christ Jesus.” The phrase “of Christ Jesus” means we are to be aligned with Him, just like President “of the United States” shows where the President’s allegiance lies. However, “in Christ Jesus” means that we are not just aligned with Him, but part of the family. It is an inclusive statement, meaning we share in His joy, His love, and all of the things that make Him God. This includes the holiness and graciousness that are a part of His nature, so it ties right back to the idea of the “saints” and a common theme that runs through this book.

My application: I really think God has called me to this position to discuss with atheists. While it is probably the most unenviable task, I feel like I am supposed to do this. In a way, I have been sort of frustrated with God, because I’m having to use arguments that have the potential to swell up my pride, and as I read last night in “Mere Christianity,” “Pride comes directly from Hell.” It is the devil’s sin, and it is my greatest weakness. From this all of the other sins I fail at daily arise. God, I need Jesus to lean on in these discussions. I need to make sure I see these people through His lens, and He loves these people so dearly that He has a deep desire to see them be exposed to His truth. I know that I’m supposed to be a part of that, but I feel so weak. But the verse God keeps reminding me of is that “Christ’s power is made perfect in our weakness.” So I will answer the call, but God please grant me the humility I need to not stumble in the face of your work.

A Circle of Trust

WIFE has recently been going through Romans 8, and that is the inspiration for this blog post.

Anyone who has seen the movie “Meet the Parents” starring Ben Stiller remembers that a common theme running through that movie was the “circle of trust.” While initially this meant the group of people which the father-in-law (Robert DeNiro) trusted with key information, it ended up being a perfect phrase when describing the wedding ring Stiller’s character gave his girlfriend.

Now, I love how the Bible not only shows consistency when it comes to names, dates, locations (I recently discovered a great consistency involving Genesis 6:3 and Psalm 90:10), but also when it comes to Biblical principles, and in this case, it does so in a completely circular way so as to tie all of these principles together. God revealed in the Bible His own little “circle of trust.” Let me explain.

Romans 8:1 says this: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,…”. Christians have taken this a variety of ways, but the simplest way to look at this verse is to say that those who have accepted Christ as their Savior are not condemned to an eternity away from Him in hell. We have been redeemed.

But how is this reprieve from condemnation achieved? 1 Corinthians 10:32 gives us a good piece of the answer: “When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world.” This could be thought of in terms of sanctification, where the discipline is not necessarily punishment, but more in terms of instruction to help set us apart through the process of making us holy. This is to allow us to step into this perfect holiness upon death and be fit to enter the kingdom of God. This discipline keeps us from condemnation. It’s very evident how these two principles (discipline and rescue from condemnation) fit together.

Now the word “discipline” triggered another verse in my head during discussions with WIFE. I looked it up, and you find it in both the Old Testament (Proverbs 3:11-12) and in the New Testament (Hebrews 12:5-6). It says this: “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” So according to these verses, the discipline of the Lord is done because He loves us, and it ties in well that in love He would want to make us holy through sanctification.

This is where it all gets tied up so beautifully. The Bible, in one of the most famous verses, explains why we are able to get the rescue from condemnation that comes from discipline. John 3:16-17: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” It was God’s love that caused Him to send Jesus Christ as a means of salvation and a rescuing from condemnation!

So these three concepts (rescue from condemnation, discipline, God’s love) are all interwoven so easily and with the same terminology in God’s Word. It’s not like these things are rocket science, or even hard to find. But the fact that God makes it so clear that salvation comes through the effect of sanctification and as a result of His love that it makes believing in this truth that much easier.

Thank you Lord so much for loving us in spite of ourselves. We turn away from you to our own way so often that we don’t deserve to be even recognized by you, let alone disciplined in love. We are completely unworthy of your salvation, but you made a way by sending your Son to suffer for our sakes, so man cannot say that God doesn’t know how to suffer like man does. I praise You for the ability that You alone possess to offer salvation and sanctify such an unclean heart, so we can spend eternity praising your matchless name. You are a great and loving God, and you reveal that every day through your Word and by sustaining us and supplying all we need. I love you, Jesus.

The Centurion Believed – Why Can’t We?

Given that this past weekend was Easter weekend, the subject matter of many church sermons (including the one at my own church) centered on both the crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. While many people surely know the events of the crucifixion, and there have been in recent years plenty of accounts of what exactly Jesus endured leading up to His death on the cross, it was a verse after the actual death of Jesus that caught my eye this weekend.

Matthew 27 tells the account of Jesus death. The verse in question is Matthew 27:54, which says, “When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, ‘Surely he was the son of God!'”

I’m sure the timing of the earthquake had something to do with the terror felt by the Roman guards, but in thinking about it, it probably wouldn’t have meant anything if not for what triggered it. Verse 50 says, “And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.”

For those of us who know a bit about crucifixion, we are aware that most of those who died on the crosses did so of asphyxiation. Those nailed finally lacked the strength to pull themselves up on their nailed hands to get breath, and the pleura would fill their lungs and cause them to suffocate and die. This is a long process and at the end the crucified was probably exhausted and extremely weak.

Yet not so with Jesus! No, He “cried out again in a loud voice.” If Jesus had mumbled His final cry (which we know from other gospels to be “It is finished!”) and then the earthquake happened, it would have been easy for those around to call it a coincidence or make up an excuse. But that Jesus was not suffocating was surely a powerful thing for a centurion, who had likely been to many crucifixions, to see. He was still full of energy, and with His loud cry and the subsequent earthquake, the centurion had to believe that the timing of the two was not coincidental, but divine.

Note also that in verse 50 it doesn’t say, “And then Jesus died.” No, it is, “He gave up his spirit.” Jesus had full power, even in death. Death did not overcome Him; He gave His spirit to death to fulfill the promise of His sacrifice. These powerful occurrences were easily enough to sway those who so recently had been mocking Jesus. I wonder where the centurion went after this. Perhaps he went to see Jesus’ buried to pay homage to the man he now believed to be the Son of God. No doubt this centurion was less surprised (and more in awe) when he found out that Jesus was no longer in the tomb three days later; He already knew firsthand that Jesus was capable of more than the average man.

So I guess my question for you as the reader is what it will take for you to change your heart in the way that this Roman centurion and his soldiers were changed. How loud does Jesus need to cry for you to listen to Him? And what is evident in the world today that you would attribute to coincidence instead of the power of the Lord working mightily?

It’s Friday…But Sunday’s Coming!