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.

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A Touchable Jesus

March 24, 2017

Jesus’ encounter with Mary after his resurrection is perplexing to some readers (see John 20:17). The King James Version reads: “Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father.” Yet Matthew 28:9 reads: “And they came and held him by the feet, and worshipped him” (Matthew 28:9, KJV). And later, Jesus instructs Thomas to touch him (John 20:27).

This has given rise to a speculative interpretation that seeks an explanation in the reason given in John 20:17, and so proposes an ascension to the Father before the ascension recorded in Acts. Something happens in this “first” trip to heaven that allows him to be touched later. However, this speculation is unneeded.

Several problems exist with this speculative interpretation of John 20:17. First, “touch me not” doesn’t necessarily imply that Mary has not touched Jesus. Sometimes we say “don’t touch me” after being touched. Even beginning with the KJV reading, I think this interpretation starts with an unwarranted assumption.

Second, “touch me not” renders a Greek verb that is present imperative (a command in the present tense). Prohibitions in the present imperative often convey the idea of stopping an activity in progress.* Several translations try to convey this idea:

  • Do not cling to me… ESV
  • Stop clinging to Me … NASB
  • Do not hold on to me… NIV
  • Do not cling to Me… NKJV

These translations are conveying the correct notion that Mary is touching Jesus, and he is asking her to stop. She doesn’t need to cling to him, for he hasn’t yet ascended to his Father — they still have some time left, although this also gives her a warning that their relationship is going to change with the ascension. He has a mission for her, and he needs her to let go and find the brothers and give them his message. This correct understanding of the verb completely negates this interpretation.

This speculation fails to take in account the chronologically close encounter with Jesus and the women who come to the tomb: “And they came and held him by the feet, and worshipped him.” (Matthew 28:9, KJV) The time between this encounter and the encounter with Mary would have been very short. This too argues against this interpretation.

What I find encouraging about these scenes is that the resurrected Jesus is a touchable Jesus. I had a Greek professor who believed that the popular Christian conception of the afterlife was a little too much Plato and not enough scripture. I sometimes wonder whether when we hear “spiritual body” that our minds don’t go to something ghostly and insubstantial, yet scripture presents us with a touchable Jesus.

*Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, p. 724; Friedrich Blass, Albert Debrunner, and Robert Walter Funk, A Greek Grammar of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, §336(3), p. 172.


Why Did So Many Jews Reject Jesus?

May 13, 2016

The first thing to note is that there were believers who were part of the Sanhedrin: Nicodemus (John 3:1, 4, 9; John 7:50; John 19:39)  and Joseph of Arimathea (Matthew 27:57, Mark 15:43, Luke 23:50, John 19:38). That is two out of 71 members of the Sanhedrin. We have no idea whether others could have been converted after Jesus’ resurrection. Further, Acts does note priests becoming Christians (Acts 6:7). So there were those in positions of leadership who did become Christians. But I think it is safe to assume that the majority did not. So why not?
 
A large part of the ruling class was made up of Sadducees. The Sadducees as a sect of Judaism did not believe in the resurrection, spirits, or angels. Since they had wealth and power, they were primarily concerned about the maintenance of the status quo. So I think their reasons for rejecting Jesus were largely political. They didn’t want anyone upsetting things with the Roman Empire. They wanted to continue in their positions of prominence. Pride and possessions got in their way.
 
For the Pharisees and the rest of Judaism, politics also plays a part in the rejection of Jesus. It is just the politically opposite side from the Sadducees. This side wanted revolution and ultimately got it. They wanted to kick the Romans out and have Israel be in charge of Israel. This would lead to the First Jewish-Roman War (AD 66-73), which included the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, and the Bar Kochba Revolt (about AD 132-136). Jesus was offering them a kingdom, but not the kind of kingdom they wanted. I think this played a significant part in the rejection of Jesus.
 
We must also consider Paul’s statements in Romans 10 and 11. Paul writes: “For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness.” (Romans 10:2–3 ESV) Ignorance of scripture and spiritual pride played a part.
 
Paul reminds his readers that a “remnant” out of Judaism did in fact respond to the gospel and were saved (Romans 11:5), but Paul does note a hardening:
 

What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened, as it is written, “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear, down to this very day.” (Romans 11:7–8, ESV)

The question then is how does hardening work, whether in the case of Pharaoh in Exodus or the Jews of the first century? I take as a given: “God shows no partiality” (Acts 10:34). People are morally responsible for hardening their own heart. Yet, there is some sense in which God hardens hearts. I think it is in the fact that God presents us with his saving acts and a choice. The condition of our heart determines whether we will respond favorably to God or reject God. As the saying goes, the same sun hardens clay and melts wax.

They are very human tendencies: materialism, ignorance of scripture, and spiritual pride. God and his saving acts in history present all of us with a choice.


Can We Believe in the Resurrection?

March 1, 2016

Can modern people still believe in the resurrection of Jesus? George Eldon Ladd in his book, I Believe in the Resurrection of Jesus, notes three approaches to the resurrection found in contemporary biblical scholarship:

  1. Christianity is a historical religion. The resurrection is a historical event—it really happened!
  2. The resurrection was a real event in past history whose nature is such that it transcends history, and therefore, it is not subject to verification.
  3. The resurrection did not happen, but talk about the Christ of Faith.

Approaches 2 and 3 have been influenced by an anti-miraculous, naturalistic approach that claims to be “scientific” and “objective.” Ladd counters, “A truly scientific method is the inductive method which accepts as a working hypothesis the best explanation for the known facts.” What are the facts that need to be explained?

  1. The empty tomb. Why would the disciples steal the body? If the Jewish leaders could have produced the body, why didn’t they?
  2. The eyewitnesses. The eyewitnesses suffered and died for their testimony. If their testimony was a fabrication, why the dedication? If their testimony was a fabrication, why did they have the women as the first witnesses of the resurrection? Why did they tell of their own faults and disbeliefs?
  3. The transformations. What changed fearful disciples into heroic martyrs? What changed Paul from their most ardent opponent into the most zealous evangelist? What caused Jewish Christians to transfer their worship from Saturday to Sunday? What caused Jewish Christians to accept Jesus as the Messiah when the Law said “anyone who is hung on a tree is under God’s curse” (Deuteronomy 21:23, NIV). What caused Jewish Christians to call Jesus “Lord,” a term used in the Old Testament for Yahweh?
  4. The Prophecies. Mathematician Peter Stoner in his book, Science Speaks, had university students calculate the odds of eight Old Testament prophecies being fulfilled in one person (he chose Micah 5:2, Malachi 3:1, Zechariah 9:9, Zechariah 13:6, Zechariah 11:12, Zechariah 11:13, Isaiah 53:7, and Psalm 22:16). He came up with the odds of 1 in 1017. Stoner compares this to the odds of choosing the correctly marked silver dollar in a pile of silver dollars two feet deep over an area the size of Texas.

I believe in the historicity of the resurrection. I believe that Jesus died for our sins, was buried, and was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures.


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 One Who Came from Heaven

January 28, 2015

In 2004 at the age of six Alex Malarkey was in a horrible car accident. The accident left him paralyzed, and he was in a coma for two months with questions about whether he would survive. But when he awoke from his coma, he talked about having been to heaven. This became the basis for the book, The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven. The book lists Alex and his father as co-authors, although I suspect that six year olds don’t really author books. The book became a New York Times Bestseller.

But the bestseller has become a recent scandal. Alex, now a teenager, has recanted the story. In fact, he has attempted for the past two years to get the publisher and booksellers to listen to him. This is what he wrote to the publisher, booksellers, and what he calls “the Marketers of Heaven Tourism.”

I did not die. I did not go to Heaven.

I said I went to heaven because I thought it would get me attention. When I made the claims that I did, I had never read the Bible. People have profited from lies, and continue to. They should read the Bible, which is enough. The Bible is the only source of truth.1

The scandal has more to do with when did the publisher and booksellers know. Emails would seem to indicate that in the case of one bookseller, they knew and did nothing. They have subsequently agreed to pull the book, and the publisher has agreed to stop selling the book (although the book had a reprint in 2014 and is still on Amazon.com). I feel badly for Alex. He was a child and is still a minor.

But why bring up a scandal? Partly because it is in the news. Partly because stumbling blocks to faith exist, and we need to be prepared for them. Christian scandals are not new; they go back all the way to Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11). We need to be reminded that our faith must be in Christ. People can disappoint.

I appreciate Alex’s statement: “They should read the Bible, which is enough.” I believe in heaven because of Jesus. He is the one with Old Testament prophecies pointing to him. The New Testament teaches that he had an existence prior to conception, that he came to us from heaven (John 1:1-14, John 3:13, Philippians 2:5-11). He is the one with witnesses to his resurrection and ascension, who were transformed and persecuted. I can have confidence about heaven, because Jesus is truly the one who came from heaven.

1“The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven” Recants Story, Rebukes Christian Retailers


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!