Posts Tagged ‘resurrection’

The Faith of a Mustard Seed

It’s interesting when you read some passages in the Bible and you can actually see just how right Jesus is. I mean, if there was any doubt that Jesus knew the hearts of men, He makes it pretty clear in some instances. I think I just read one.

In Matthew 17, shortly after the Transfiguration of Jesus (the subject of my 2nd run at the identity of the two witnesses in Revelation), a man brings his son who “has seizures,” or as referenced in the King James Version, is a “lunatic.” The man originally brought the boy to the disciples and asked them to cast the demon out of him. Yet the disciples, who had been given by Jesus the power to heal and exorcise demons (Mark 6:7), could not cast this demon out of the boy.

So as Jesus comes down from the mountain (one pastor I heard recently believes this to be Mt. Hermon), the man asks Jesus to heal him because the disciples couldn’t. Jesus answers. “You unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me.” Jesus then casts the demon out of the boy.

The disciples, no doubt, were astonished. They had cast out demons of others before, yet were unable to. So of course they needed to know why they no longer had this power. Matthew 17:20 is Jesus’ reply: “He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” Clearly, the faith that the disciples had in Jesus had suffered from a lapse. Jesus even suggests that perhaps it had not only waned, but dissipated, as he called the disciples part of an “unbelieving and perverse generation.”

Now this seems a little harsh, doesn’t it? Don’t you think God could have seen that the disciples largely had the best of intentions and let it slide, giving them the power to cast out demons? But God knew the disciples’ hearts. He knew that they at this point didn’t even have the “faith of a mustard seed.” Jesus explains how much God can do with a little bit of unassailed faith. I think throughout history He’s proven faithful Himself on this account. Look at some of the pillars of faith, not only from Hebrews 11 but from some of the early church fathers, and even these same disciples who received the power of the Holy Spirit.

But we can even see that the disciples didn’t have the necessary faith. It’s evident in the very next passage! Matthew 17:22-23: “When they came together in Galilee, he said to them, ‘The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised to life.’ And the disciples were filled with grief.” Jesus predicted both His death and resurrection in the same sentence, and what is the disciples’ reaction? Were they excited about Him coming back to life and reigning once again? Nope, they were filled with grief because of His death! They didn’t understand the power of coming back to life. Why? Because they didn’t even have the faith of a mustard seed.

So why do we not believe that God can do great things with our belief? Even in this story, Mark 9 records that the father asks for Jesus to “help his unbelief.” As a result of his belief, Jesus casts the demon out of his son. So with our own belief, with the faith of a mustard seed, what could Jesus do for us, or through us? I think it’s safe to say that the majority of us (myself included) don’t even have the faith of a mustard seed right now. If we did, we would be moving mountains for God’s kingdom.

This is a personal challenge to me, and I’m extending it to you, the reader, as well. What can I do in examining my own life to determine how to get my heart to start acting in faith? What can I do to “help my unbelief?” I know the answer–I can’t do that myself–but I also know that God doesn’t call me to be inert. I need to move to where He is pushing me so that I can see His power and renew my faith. Hopefully, more of us can accept the call-to-action that our faith so desperately requires.

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The Two Witnesses, Part Deux

A year and a half ago, I posted this blog post about the two witnesses of Revelation 11. I posited that potentially these two would be Elijah and Enoch, since these are the two men that have never tasted death (Hebrews 9:27). But I heard a talk recently that makes me think that a more popular view is correct. Let me explain.

At the Transfiguration of Jesus (Matthew 17), two men appear with Jesus. One is Elijah, whom is prophesied as a forerunner of Christ’s kingdom in Malachi. Jesus even references this question from Peter in confirming that Elijah would come back. I think it’s safe to say that Elijah would be one of these witnesses.

The other is Moses. He’s more of an interesting character, because he died before entering the Promised Land, but we don’t know where he is buried. Why? The Lord Himself buried Moses. In fact, Jude 9 tells us that Michael was sent to contend with Satan for the body of Moses. Why would He do this for a dead body? Perhaps because He had plans for that body, and didn’t want it desecrated.

But there’s one other thing that in my laziness I never read until it was brought up in a message I heard today. In Revelation 11, these two witnesses are given two distinct powers: 1) “They have power to shut up the heavens so that it will not rain during the time they are prophesying,” and 2) “They have power to turn the waters into blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague as often as they want.” (Revelation 11:6).

For those of you who know your Old Testament history, who was given the power to shut the heavens and keep it from raining in Israel. Answer: Elijah. Who was given the power to turn the waters into blood and cast plagues? Answer: Moses. Seems rather convenient that these guys have the same power, no?

So I think it’s safe to say I’ve amended my position a bit, and believe that the two witnesses of Revelation 11 are Elijah and Moses. It doesn’t mean this is for certain the way it’s going to happen, but the pieces of the puzzle fit rather nicely together if this is how it were to happen. Man, God is awesome. We ought to remind ourselves of that more often than we do.

The Resurrection of Jesus: A Minimal Facts Argument

An atheist that came on this blog recently “challenged” me to present the case for the resurrection of Jesus based on this post I put up a couple of weeks ago. Luckily, this very topic was also a part of our SWAT Seminar that took place about a month ago, and Craig Hazen presented what we call a “minimal facts” argument that the best explanation of the knowledge we have is that Jesus did, in fact, rise from the dead.

It’s called a “minimal facts” argument because the facts used don’t say very much (in length), but the argument uses only statements that both religious and secular scholars will agree are true. Believing and unbelieving (perhaps also termed “skeptical”) historical scientists will stipulate to the veracity of each of these statements, so we don’t need to debate their merits. When put together, they actually say a great deal. The debate centers around which hypothesis best fits the historical information we all agree on.

Before I give these statements (of which there are 12), it’s important to note the method for discovery and explanation. The scientific method is not the preferred method when discussing history. Rather, the method of inference to the best explanation is more commonly used. To steal from another blog post of mine, let me explain.

…We must use the evidentiary method, which is rooted in abductive reasoning. The problem is that in abductive reasoning, the logical fallacy of affirming the consequent is possible. For example, no one doubts the existence of Napoleon. Yet we use abductive reasoning to infer Napoleon’s existence. That is, we must infer his past existence from present effects. But despite our dependence on abductive reasoning to make this inference, no sane or educated person would doubt that Napoleon Bonaparte actually lived. How could this be if the problem of affirming the consequent bedevils our attempts to reason abductively? Philosopher and logician C.S. Peirce: “Though we have not seen the man [Napoleon], yet we cannot explain what we have seen without” the hypothesis of his existence. Peirce’s words imply that a particular abductive hypothesis can be strengthened if it can be shown to explain a result in a way that other hypotheses do not, and that it can be reasonably believed (in practice) if it explains in a way that no other hypotheses do. In other words, an abductive inference can be enhanced if it can be shown that it represents the best or the only adequate explanation of the “manifest effects.”

In modern times, historical scientists have called this the method of inference to the best explanation. That is, when trying to explain the origin of an event in the past, historical scientists compare various hypotheses to see which would, if true, best explain it. They then select the hypothesis that best explains the data as the most likely to be true. But what constitutes the best explanation for the historical scientist? Among historical scientists it’s generally agreed that best doesn’t mean ideologically satisfying or mainstream; instead, best generally has been taken to mean, first and foremost, most causally adequate.

So let me give the 12 statements that historical scholars almost universally agree are true and valid, and then perhaps you can decide for yourself what the best explanation of these truths is. For my money (and soul, consequently) the best explanation is that Jesus rose from the dead.

1. Jesus died by crucifixion.
2. Jesus was buried.
3. Jesus’ death caused the disciples to despair and lose hope, believing that his life was ended.
4. The tomb was discovered to be empty just a few days later.
5. The disciples had experiences which they believed were literal appearances of the risen Jesus.
6. The disciples were transformed from doubters who were afraid to identify themselves with Jesus to bold proclaimers of His death and resurrection.
7. This resurrection message was the center of preaching in the early church.
8. This message was especially proclaimed in Jerusalem, where Jesus died and was buried shortly before.
9. As a result of this preaching, the church was born and grew.
10. Sunday became the primary day of worship.
11. James, who had been a skeptic, was converted to the faith when he believed he also saw the resurrected Jesus.
12. A few years later, Paul was also converted by an experience which he likewise believed to be an appearance of the risen Jesus.

Hanging By a Thread

This past weekend our church hosted our second annual SWAT Seminar. SWAT stands for Spiritual Warfare and Apologetics Training. This year we were fortunate enough to be able to bring out Craig Hazen and JP Moreland to speak to our group. These guys are two heavyweights in the apologetics world. They travel all over the country and the world, going into both hostile and friendly environments giving arguments in favor of the truth of Christianity.

In his introductory talk on Friday night, Hazen laid the foundation for his talk the next day on “Christianity Among the World’s Religions” by making a very interesting point. He said that Christianity is weird. Why? Because it is the only religion that is testable. Think about it. Most religions in the world are about inward experience and a personal journey toward some form of enlightenment. It doesn’t matter about what happens in the external world, because the religion is inward-focused and no one can prove you’re not having the experience you claim to have.

In stark contrast, the apostle Paul hangs Christianity by a thread that, if able to be snipped, would cause all of Christianity to come crashing to the ground. What is that thread? 1 Corinthians 15:12-17 tells us:

“But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.”

If Jesus was not resurrected from the dead, Christianity is useless. This makes Christianity testable, because we can look at the evidence to determine whether or not Christ really was raised from the dead. We can create hypotheses that we can weigh against each other. Hazen did so on Saturday, giving 12 minimal facts that even secular historians agree are true by a large majority. We can then pit these hypotheses against each other using the inference to the best explanation and arrive at a reasonable conclusion. Perhaps I’ll post those later, but it’s easy to see why Christianity is so targeted among the world religions: because it can be objectively tested, and therefore Christians have sufficient belief that it can be defended. No wonder Peter told us to always be ready to give an answer (1 Peter 3:15). We need not have an answer if there isn’t a reasonable one available.

So Christians, we’re a bit strange. I think we already know this, but Paul’s distinction makes that more evident than ever. And yet we have strong reasons to believe that Christianity is true, and that we do not hope in vain. Your faith is hanging by a thread, but I have confidence it is one that can and will never be snipped, until Christ returns and makes plain the truth found in His Word.

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!