The Case for Christ

April 14, 2017

Because of Easter, some may be thinking about the resurrection of Jesus. For some it may be a strong belief. Others may view it as a myth. Among the latter, there may be some who still cling to the Christ of faith, which means Christ as some sort of ideal although they believe the historical Jesus is moldering in a grave somewhere. Others who hold a mythic view of the resurrection may wish the whole things would disappear into the dustbin of history. The most rabid of this sort may even view religion as dangerous. And of course, there may be some who believe, if asked, but for whom such belief doesn’t have much impact on life.

C.S. Lewis wisely observed, “One must keep on pointing out that Christianity is a statement which, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The one thing it cannot be is moderately important.”* In other words, I think the importance of the claim about Christ means that everyone should seriously investigate the case for Christ. And this also means examining our own presuppositions and worldviews that might get in the way of such an investigation. Skeptics have examined and become believers. But upon belief, we should never take it lightly.

“Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17, ESV). Although we must read Matthew, Mark, Luke and John for the eyewitness testimony, I’ve found the serious studies of others have helped me sharpen and strengthen my own belief in the resurrection. One of the first books that I read of this type was Who Moved the Stone? by Frank Morison. Frank Morrison is the pen name of Albert Ross. Ross set out to write a book that would disprove the resurrection. He ended up convincing himself of the truth of the resurrection and writing a very different book. First published in 1930, the book continues to be in print. Here is a list of helpful books.

  • Who Moved the Stone? by Frank Morrison
  • The Testimony of the Evangelists: The Gospels Examined by the Rules of Evidence by Simon Greenleaf. Greenleaf was a law professor at Harvard. For those who can wade through 19th century prose, it has helpful insights into looking at the evidence of the gospels.
  • The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel. Strobel was a newspaper reporter for the Chicago Tribune. When his wife came to belief in Jesus, it upset his perfect atheist marriage. He used his investigative talents as a reporter to attempt to disapprove the resurrection. He ended up becoming convinced of the resurrection.
  • The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus by Gary R. Habermas and Michael R. Licona
  • Christianity on Trial: A Lawyer Examines the Christian Faith by W. Mark Lanier. Lanier is a successful trial lawyer. His book brings his experience with evidence to the task of examining Christianity. This book begins with questions about God and morality before dealing with Jesus.
  • Cold-Case Christianity by Wallace J. Warner. Warner is a LA homicide detective. He also began as a skeptic, but examined the case for Jesus using his skills as a cold-case, homicide detective. He became convinced of the resurrection.

The evidence of this case demands to be examined by everyone. The resurrection of Jesus changes everything.

*C.S. Lewis, “Christian Apologetics,” God in the Dock, p. 101.


“PRESIDENT/OWNER”

September 30, 2016

I like computers, but one of their less desirable traits is the ability to generate tons of supposedly “personalized” mail. It’s still junk mail. We received at the church an envelope on which was printed:

PRESIDENT/OWNER
CHURCH OF CHRIST

No doubt we were on a mailing list comprised mainly of businesses for which the addressee of President/Owner was more appropriate, but with that title staring me in the face, I couldn’t help but think of some analogies.

In a sense, we do have a “President/Owner,” although the more familiar and biblical terms are “Lord” and “head of the church” (Ephesians 1:22, 5:23). He is in fact the sole owner. No stocks were sold; no share-holders were invited to participate in the financing. He alone gave his life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28). That should say something about the kind of allegiance we owe him.

He has even give us inter-office memos and memorandums to follow. (We call them the New Testament.) He has set up an organization to provide proper training of his people. (“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…” Ephesians 4:11–12, ESV). And he has even been known to threaten closing down a “branch office” when it failed to live up to the task. (“I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent” Revelation 2:5, ESV).

We are conditioned to give due respect to presidents, urgent memos, job training, and the like. When we turn from the world of business to the church, let us not lose reverence for our Lord, urgency for his word, dedication to his training and mission, and respect for his warnings. He is after all our “President/Owner.”


The Resurrection Body

April 15, 2016

Paul’s tour de force on the resurrection is 1 Corinthians 15. It was prompted by the denial of the resurrection by some in the Corinthian congregation (15:12). Paul first gives evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. Paul notes the Scriptures and the many eyewitnesses which include himself. To deny the resurrection is to deny Christ’s resurrection. For Christ not to have been raised, then faith is futile, we are still in our sins, and we are of all people the most to be pitied. But Paul will have none of that: Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. The resurrection of Jesus is connected with the future hope of Christians. Jesus is the basis of our hope.

But questions remain: “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” (1 Corinthians 15:35-58) Maybe the deniers were troubled by these questions. Greeks typically believed in a life after death without resurrection. Many Jews had a crude conception of resurrection. If you died lame or blind, you were raised lame or blind. Paul gives us our best glimpse at the resurrection body.

Paul provides us with an analogy. Our physical body at death is like a planted seed. There is continuity between the seed and the plant to come, but there is also transformation. Paul reassures us that God knows how to create different kinds of flesh for different kinds of purposes, and He can bestow varying degrees of glory. In other words, resurrection is not a mere resuscitation but a glorious transformation.

Paul illuminates by a series of contrasts. Our physical bodies are perishable, but the resurrection body will be imperishable. Our physical bodies face the dishonor of death and decay, but the resurrection body will be raised in glory. We experience weakness now, but we will be raised in power. We have a natural body now. One suited to the current natural world. We will have a spiritual body.

We need to be careful when we see this word “spiritual” that we don’t think immaterial like Casper the Ghost. We need to hold on to the word “body” and remember that Jesus in the resurrection was solid and touchable. The spiritual body will be animated by God’s Spirit and suitable for the transcendent realm of the age to come.

We have to admit the details are few. We still likely have many questions about the resurrection. But the resurrection body is not a mere resuscitation of the old. It is a transformation. It is something more glorious and suited for eternal life with God.

It is enough to trust our Maker. Jesus conquered death in his resurrection. And death will be conquered for each of us in our resurrection. With that hope we live in encouragement knowing that in the Lord our labor is not in vain.


Come and See!

August 21, 2015

John the Baptist came to bear witness about the Light. He claimed to be the voice crying in the wilderness: make straight the way of the Lord. After baptizing Jesus, John testified that he saw the Spirit descend like a dove from heaven and remain on Jesus. This was to indicate that Jesus was the one coming after John.

John didn’t fail to prepare people for the coming of Jesus. He even pointed his own disciples to Jesus. John upon seeing Jesus said: “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29, ESV). The next day, John repeats the words “Look, the Lamb of God” to two of his disciples, and they follow Jesus and spend time with him.

One of these is Andrew. He immediately finds his brother Simon and tells him: “We have found the Messiah!” One of the great spiritual accomplishments of Andrew’s life is summed up in simple words about his sharing with Simon: “He brought him to Jesus.”

Jesus also finds Philip and commands him: “Follow me.” Philip goes out immediately and finds Nathanael. Philip announces: “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” (John 1:45 ESV). Now this encounter with Nathanael is instructive for us. Nathanael objects: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46 ESV)

I don’t think Nathanael means that Nazareth was a bad place. Nazareth was a village of about two thousand in population. I suspect it is similar to when we describe a place as being a Podunk. We mean it is small and insignificant. But I love Philip’s response to Nathanael: “Come and see!”

Grand thoughts are found in this section of the Gospel of John. Jesus is the lamb that takes away the sins of the world. The saying prefigures Jesus’ atoning death. Andrew calls Jesus the Messiah, which means he is a king in David’s line. But I suspect that none of them understand the kingdom very well. Jesus alludes to Jacob’s ladder in his statement to Nathanael: “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” (John 1:51 ESV) Jesus will bridge heaven and earth, but I doubt whether any of these early disciples grasped all of this.

They know they have good news, and they are excited to share it. They don’t necessarily have all of the answers, but they are willing to seek. May we capture a bit of their boldness, so that we too can say to others: “Come and see!”


“The Messianic Mosaic”

August 7, 2015

Messiah means “anointed one” and comes from Hebrew; Christ also means “anointed one” and comes from the Greek language. Although a number of figures in the Old Testament were anointed with olive oil as part of appointing them to their ministry (like priests and prophets), the term when applied to Jesus has to do with the anointed king.

When I speak of messianic prophecies, I’m talking about the prophecies that Jesus fulfills in his role as king and savior. I find these prophecies convincing, but one of the questions that is asked is how could the Jews or any one else miss the point of the prophecies. I like the explanation of Michael S. Heiser:

By God’s design, the Scripture presents the messiah in terms of a mosaic profile that can only be discerned after the pieces are assembled.1

The point is straightforward: Only someone who knew the outcome of the puzzle, who knew how all the elements of the messianic mosaic would come together, could make sense of the pieces. Jesus had to enable the disciples to understand what the Old Testament was simultaneously hiding and revealing.2

Why was it necessary to reveal and hide at the same time? Paul gives us insight into the mission:

But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. (1 Corinthians 2:7–8 ESV)

If everything had been straightforward and clear, Jesus would not have been crucified, and the plan would have failed.

I think mosaic is a helpful way of thinking about the messianic prophecies. In them, you find the seed of woman who will bruise the serpent’s head (Genesis 3:15), the seed of Abraham who will bless all the nations (Genesis 12:3), and David’s dynasty that will last forever (2 Samuel 7:16). You find the suffering servant who dies an atoning death for others (Isaiah 53) and “one like the son of man” who receives an eternal kingdom (Daniel 7:13-14). And the list could go on. As separate pieces before the coming of Christ, it would be difficult to know whether these go together or not. After the coming of Jesus, we see how the pieces fit together to form a picture of Jesus’s person and work. The prophecies present a compelling messianic mosaic.

1Michael S. Heiser, The Unseen Realm, p. 241.
2The Unseen Realm, p. 242.


The Gift

December 17, 2014

It is one of our funny, family Christmas stories. By funny, I mean awkward, painful, and only slightly humorous at the time. It has become funnier with time and retelling.

My wife and I purchased a Christmas gift for one of our nephews. The gift was a hardback copy of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, one of the books in The Narnia Chronicles. This C.S. Lewis children’s story is a favorite in our family. I had read it in college and had wished it had been read to me as a child (and yes, the books are old enough that it could have happened). Before our son was born, we had purchased a set of The Narnia Chronicles, so they were his first, earthly possession. I say this to indicate from our point of view, this was a precious gift.

Our nephew opened our gift and immediately his face fell with disappointment. He threw the book on the floor and stormed off nearly in tears. The adults experienced the laughter of awkward moments. As I said, it’s become funnier with the retelling.

To be fair, he later read the book and enjoyed it, and maybe he wasn’t old enough at the time we gave it. But I suspect that many of us have that awkward, painful, and only slightly humorous gift story to tell.

Gift giving involves the transaction between two parties: the giver and the recipient. What is precious to the giver may not be precious to the recipient. If in doubt on this point, please check the gift exchange line the day after Christmas at your nearest, busiest store.

This brings me to the most important gift. God gave his only son. God had no more precious gift to give. The gift was costly beyond measure. The price included the suffering of crucifixion and death. It was costly to be a sin offering for others, and our need for the gift couldn’t be greater.

So how have your responded to this precious gift? Have you headed to the exchange line for what the world can offer in its place? Or have you received with joy and learned how precious is the gift!


The Prophesied Christ

December 6, 2014

Early Christians did not counterfeit the prophesies about Christ. The first century Jewish understanding of the messianic prophecies and the Christian’s claims about those prophecies are not far apart as Arlie J. Hoover notes in his book Dear Agnos: Letters to an Agnostic in Defense of Christianity (pp. 209-210).

The best proof that Christians didn’t invent the messianic argument is that long before Christ the Jews had a body of messianic literature that agrees substantially with what Christians said of Christ. Both Jew and Christian expected that the Messiah would be a descendent of Judah and David, be born at Bethlehem, be filled with God’s Spirit, be a king and priest, rule with justice, bestow peace, have a glorious and enduring kingdom, subject the gentile nations to his law, and so on.

What some of the Jews in their unbelief failed to recognize was the fact that along side the passages that depicted the glory of the Messiah were those darker passages that also depicted his death and resurrection.

The important point to note is that the prophesies were written before the birth of Jesus. We can know that from the Jewish literature of the time, the manuscripts of the Old Testament that date before the first century A.D., and the translation of the Old Testament into Greek which dates from 200 to 100 B.C. We do not have to worry about the criticism that would claim the prophesies were written after Christ to make it look like Jesus had fulfilled them.

That means the messianic prophecies need to be taken seriously as evidence about Jesus. The number of prophecies to consider are numerous. James E. Smith in his What the Bible Teaches about The Promised Messiah treats 73 prophecies. Alfred Edersheim listed 456 passages which were interpreted as Messianic in ancient Jewish literature. J. Barton Payne in his Encyclopedia of Biblical Prophecy identified 1239 predictions in the OT (6,641 verses) of which 127 (3,348 verses) were personal Messianic predictions.

Josh McDowell in Evidence that Demands a Verdict (p. 167) gives an interesting statement on the odds of Jesus fulfilling the various Old Testament prophecies. McDowell notes that one mathematician calculated the odds of fulfilling eight key prophecies as 1 chance in 100,000,000,000,000,000. The fulfillment of these prophecies by Jesus is evidence of God’s intervention and omniscience. They are an important part of the evidence to authenticate Jesus as God’s promised Messiah.