Posted tagged ‘Jesus Christ’

Our Transcendent Hope

December 19, 2017

Depositphotos Image ID: 84091092 Copyright: kevron2002

A very close friend of mine was expressing concern about the state of the world recently. Specifically, Donald Trump seems to be provoking the Korean dictator, like a bully provokes a mass murderer. I was not prepared for such an existential discussion, and I did not respond very well.

The concerns are real. I was haunted by the specter of nuclear war as a child growing up in the 60’s and 70’s. I even bought a poster of a mushroom cloud to hang on my wall, not because I wanted the world to end in a ball of fire, but because it was the reality I couldn’t ignore.

But we do learn to ignore realities likes that. Maybe because it’s hard to live with them, we learn to push them back into the recesses of our consciousness. We displace the angst with busyness, entertainment and other distractions.

The fact is that life is short and tenuous. Whether we live to be a hundred or 80 or only 8, life will end. This is also a harsh but true reality, but I’m afraid it isn’t very helpful for someone who is laboring under the burden of the weight of the world. I wish I had said something more.

I firmly believe this world is not all there is. We thirst, and water exists to quench our thirst. We hunger, and food exists to sate our hunger. It makes sense that, if we yearn for something transcendent, something transcendental exists to satisfy our existential longing.

We all seem to “know” this, but the world is so full of a thousand flim flam answers to the ultimate existential question that we hardly have any idea where to start looking. We might be tempted to seize on the first or closest one, like responding to that Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes mailer declaring you might be the winner, or we abandon any hope of an existential answer and resign ourselves to the material world.

Is there proof of something transcendent? How can we know? These are serious and heartfelt questions.

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Lured by Buddha but Taken by Christ

November 21, 2017

Depositphotos Image ID: 31717905 Copyright: DesignPicsInc

I have reflected and written about the fact that I was enamored by Buddhism in college, especially after a world religion class my freshman year but Buddhism is not where I found my enlightenment. I found enlightenment in reading the Bible.

I didn’t find enlightenment in reading what other people said about the Bible. I found enlightenment in reading the Bible myself.

I have written about the facial similarities of Christianity, Buddhism and oneness. They both place some emphasis on losing or denying one’s self and achieving oneness, but that is where the similarities end. In Buddhism, oneness with the cosmic essence of the universe is something we achieve. In Christianity, oneness with God is achieved in us as we submit to God and allow Him to take His rightful place in the center of our lives.

Whereas, Buddhism encouraged me to ignore myself, look past myself and to escape myself and all of my feeling, ambitions and ego into a cosmic forgetfulness of self, the Bible confronted me with myself. Reading the Bible was like having a one-on-one soul-searching conversation with a stern but loving Father who knew me more intimately and fully than I knew myself.

And then I met Jesus in the Gospels. I can only describe him as divine love incarnate. He is a figure like no other. Bold, daring, fearless, loving, brotherly, piercing, healing. He is everything we would expect a God, a father, a brother, a friend to be. (It wasn’t right away that I was introduced to and experienced the person of the Holy Spirit.)
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The Significance of the Resurrection

October 24, 2017

depositphotos Image ID: 24765707 Copyright: lexmomot

I have written about the central importance of the resurrection of Jesus many times, but I come back to it again. Nothing could be more important. Of this Paul, was crystal clear in his writing.

If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain;

If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins;

If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are evolved people most to be pitied;

If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die”;

What you sow does not come to life until you die.

These are all statements made by Paul in his first letter to the people in Corinth.[1] These statements underscore and highlight the importance of the resurrection in Christian thought.

Jesus is the center of the Christian faith, and the gospel is at the center of Christianity and the resurrection is at the center of the Gospel. If Jesus was not raised from the dead, everything falls apart. The claims of Christianity are bankrupt because they rise or fall on this one point.

If Jesus was raised from the dead, Jesus is who he said he was and no other event in human history is more significant; no  religion or philosophy lays a claim to hope in the present and the future like words of Jesus. Jesus truly is the “light of men”[2] and the “bread of life”[3].

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We Know God by Looking at Jesus

October 2, 2017

Depositphotos Image ID: 31681491 Copyright: DesignPicsInc

I listened to a Tim Keller sermon about John 1 in which he focused on the revelation that the Word was in the beginning; the Word was with God, and the Word was God, and God’s Word became flesh and dwelt among us. You can follow the link in the last sentence to read a summary of the beginning of the message.

Keller says:

“Jesus is the supreme revelation. If we are to know God, neither rationalism nor mysticism will suffice. For God chose to make Himself known finally and ultimately in a real historical human being.”

Keller doesn’t break that statement down, but he provides an illustration of how rationalism is insufficient to know God. I will summarize Keller’s illustration and provide one of my own for why mysticism can’t be relied upon for knowing God. Neither are sufficient, alone, to enable us to know God, and the reason why is that God revealed Himself in the person of Jesus.

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Buddha, Jesus and Oneness

February 3, 2016

How many people have claimed to be God and have people wondering for centuries whether the claim is true? The list is short! While many people have claimed to be God or a god, most of them have only left  people wondering what they were smoking or what the diagnosis is!

I often recall the World Religion class I took in college and the fact that Buddhism was particularly attractive to me at that time. I entered that class thinking that truth could be found in many places, all around the world, in all the religions, philosophies and cultures. I still think there is truth to that. After all, truth is truth wherever it is found.

At the same time, I hear people say that all religions are essentially the same or that they are all the same in the essence. I didn’t find that to be true when I studied the word religions in college (though my professor suggested the same sentiment), and I don’t find it to be true now. While there are some similarities and themes that run through many if not most of the world religions, the differences significant and fundamental.

A comparison between Buddhism and Christianity is one example.

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Unto Us A Child Is Born

December 26, 2015
© Can Stock Photo Inc. / Anke

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / Anke

The prophet Isaiah, spoke the word of God and foretold of the coming of the Christ child over 700 years before Jesus was born into the history of mankind in a humble manger. 

For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore. (Isaiah 9:6-7)

As Peter said, “the Lord is not slow about His promise, … but is patient toward you.” (2 Peter 3:9). In the fullness of time, God emptied Himself and entered into the history of His own creation. (Phil. 2:6-7)

The angel appeared to Mary and gave her the news that Isaiah foresaw:

And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1:31-33)

And it would not just be that this Christ child would come for the lineage of Jacob and David; He would come for all mankind. (more…)

The Thoughts of Many Hearts Revealed

December 20, 2014
canstockphoto14185731

Young Jesus presented to Simeon at the Temple

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“Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.'” (Luke 2:34-35) People tend to focus on the “Christmas story”, but this verse that follows the account of the birth of Jesus is significant, if not subtle, in its ramifications.

Simeon was a temple priest who entertained the rituals performed by Mary after Jesus was born. Luke says that it was revealed to Simeon by the Holy Spirit that Simeon would not die before he had seen the Messiah. Devout Jews of the time were expecting a Messiah (Christ in Greek). Keep in mind that over 300 years had passed since the last of the Old Testament prophets who foretold the Christ. Simeon knew this baby was the One!

Following an article I read recently, the author had a back and forth discussion with a reader about whether Jesus actually existed. The skeptic questioned the reliability of the Bible and did not believe that Jesus of Nazareth was an historical figure. Among other things, he questioned the lack of reference in First Century historical accounts of Jesus and the miracles that the Bible portrays. The reader argued: if so many miraculous things really happened, wouldn’t everyone have heard about them and made mention of them in historical accounts?

Never mind that social media was late to arrive in First Century Galilee and CNN had not yet been picked up in Jerusalem at that time. I wonder: would you believe accounts of miracles if they were reported in India? Mexico? Montana? Would you have even give it a second thought if some fishermen, homeless or prostitutes claimed to be healed?

Of course, this question begs another question: Isn’t the Bible a historical account? The “books” of the New Testament are written like historical accounts, especially the Gospels and the Book of Acts. The Epistles are written as letters to various groups of people. Do we question Civil War letters? They were not written with the intention of preserving historical accounts. Since they were written with the ostensible purpose of communicating to specific people about contemporaneous matters of concern to those people at that time, and without a conscious intention to be historical, letters generally are highly credible as historical records.

The New Testament, alone, is evidenced in some 25,000 ancient copies when considering all languages in which New Testament text has been found. (Wikipedia) Homer’s Iliad is next in line for most preserved ancient texts with 643 ancient copies.

What of all the variations? Has the New Testament not been changed in all the time that has passed? Of the seven major Greek editions of the New Testament, almost sixty three percent (62.9%) of the verses are identical, without variation. Most of the variations are just spelling differences. The number of actual variants make up only about ten percent (10%) of the text, and none of the actual variations that exist affect doctrine (truthnet.org), but that is a topic for another day. The Bible is an ancient text that historians do consider for its historical value, even if some modern theologians and skeptics do not.

Jesus is referenced outside the Bible as well. “There are … secular references to Jesus, although they are few and quite late. Almost all historical critics agree, however, that a historical figure named Jesus taught throughout the Galilean countryside c. 30 CE, was believed by his followers to have performed supernatural acts, and was sentenced to death by the Romans, possibly for insurrection.[60]” (Wikipedia) According to the Biblical Archaeology Review article, Did Jesus Exist? Searching for Evidence beyond the Bible, we have solid, reliable historical texts that reference Jesus of Nazareth who lived, and died and was crucified.

Jesus Suffering lightstock_115938_xsmall_user_7997290The vast majority of historians and scholars do not seriously doubt the existence of Jesus as a real, historical person. These non-biblical accounts, however, do not confirm the miracles or the resurrection of Jesus except by reference to what His followers believed.

Many people discount the Bible as an historical writing or reject it altogether because of the strong religious content, though historical scholars largely accept the fact that Jesus was an actual, historical figure. Either way, the question is a good one: if Jesus was such a big deal, why is He not referenced in more historical documents?

Heading back to where this article started, it occurs to me that the Roman Empire at the time of Christ was large. It covered most of Europe and Asia Minor, areas of the Middle East and Northern Africa around the Mediterranean. (See Map) Judea in the Middle East was a small, insignificant area on the fringe of the Roman Empire. Histories at the time were written in Rome, not in the far flung provinces where most people were illiterate. There are some historical accounts (written in Rome) that mention Jesus as noted above, but not many.

Though followers of Christ appeared in Rome within a generation of Jesus’s death, they were relatively few in number. They were not influential people. Followers of the Way, as it was once known, were not apt to be involved in the culture, politics or society of the time. They were largely driven by learning and following the teachings of Jesus, expecting his quick return and spreading the word at a grass roots level. These people were not concerned about preserving history; they were expecting the return of Christ and the future He would bring.

Beyond, that, any evidence of Jesus historians might encounter from these early Christians, if they ever crossed paths, would be hearsay. We understand that the apostles and witnesses of Jesus were scattered from Jerusalem as a result of persecution from Jews who tried to purge their synagogues of the influence of Jewish converts to “the Way” (as early Christianity was called). According to New Testament texts, Paul was among those Jewish leaders who tried to quash the early Christian movement (until he had his own conversion experience). The issues with Jesus followers were uniquely Jewish concerns that would draw little attention from Roman rulers of the time except as the local Jewish struggle with these followers affected their rule – like the crucifixion incident itself, which is reported in non-biblical histories, and the example of Paul who claimed his Roman citizenship when being tried by the Jews. (Acts 25:1-12)

Further, we understand from the Book of Acts and the Pauline Epistles that Paul became the main advocate of early Christianity to the non-Jewish world in the First Century. The other apostles and eye witnesses of Jesus focused on the Jewish world, not the Gentile world, of which Rome was a part. It is not terribly surprising, then, that accounts of Jesus were not a focus of Roman historians at the time. A departure from traditional Jewish theology would be of little concern to Romans and the Roman Empire.

1544_josephus_01It is also not surprising that one Roman history in which Jesus is mentioned was written by a Jew, Titus Flavius Josephus, who lived from just after the death of Jesus (37 CE) to 100 CE. (Wikipedia) Josephus aligned himself with the Roman government and found favor, which afforded him the opportunity to pursue historical scholarship. His works focused on Jewish history, of which the story of Jesus and his influence was of some concern, though small. The mentions of Jesus by Josephus can be characterized more as asides than anything.

The fact that Jesus is mentioned, though, is significant. That he is mentioned only in passing in a text of Jewish history is also significant. Josephus is a credible source because he was not a follower of the Way, and his focus is clearly on Jewish history, of which he clearly though Jesus of Nazareth was simply an aside to Josephus writing from Rome.

The Biblical text, itself, suggests other reasons why Jesus may not have been seen as “such a big deal” during his life. He was born in lowly estate as a child to common folk, without fanfare, in a small, provincial town. He was virtually unnoticed for 30 years of his life. Once his ministry started, zealots among the Jewish people wanted to champion Him as an earthly Messiah to throw off Roman rule and establish a Jewish kingdom in the land overrun with Romans. The zealot movement began in 6 AD, and was active during the life of Jesus.

One of the Twelve Disciples, Simon, was a zealot. (Mark 3:18) Barabbas, who was spared instead of Jesus, was a zealot who was being punished for his part in an uprising. (John 18:40) People commonly believe that Judas, who betrayed Jesus, was a zealot. When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, He undoubtedly did that to demonstrate, in fulfillment of Scriptural prophecy, that he was the Messiah the Jews waited for, but the zealots were bitterly disappointed when they realized that Jesus did not intend to deliver them from Roman rule.

Jesus had different plans. The New Testament story claims tells that he came to accomplish a greater victory – victory over sin and death. He did not intend to overthrow the Roman government or to be established as king on the earth. In one instance after Jesus fed a multitude with a few loaves and fishes, the crowd tried to seize him and make him king, but Jesus slipped away. (When God Withdraws) In another instance, Jesus left the area he was in to avoid the Pharisees who were hearing about the work he was doing.

Jesus did not seek out publicity. In fact, Jesus often intentionally avoided the limelight. In Matthew 5:1, when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up a mountain. In Matthew 8, when Jesus saw a crowd coming, he moved to the other side of the lake. In Matthew 9:25, 14:22 and 15:39, Jesus sent the crowds away. Jesus left a crowd outside to go into a house in Matthew 13:36. The words Jesus spoke and the miracles He performed naturally attracted people to him, but he did not seek out the crowds, and He avoided them many times. When Jesus performed miracles and healings, He often instructed people not to talk about them.

One thing that stands out in retrospect after more than two millennium have passed is that the staying power of Jesus is not due to impact that He had when He walked the earth. The impact came later, after His death and resurrection. His influence is stronger now than it was then. In similar fashion to the few loaves and fishes Jesus used to feed thousands, the earthly following of twelve disciples has multiplied to millions and millions and still going strong after twenty centuries.

Simeon’s words in the verse at the top of this article are true: Jesus has caused the “falling and rising of many in Israel”; He has been “a sign that [has been] spoken against”; and “the thoughts of many hearts [have been] revealed” as people then, and now, and all throughout history, have reacted to Jesus. One cannot remain neutral in respect to Jesus. Throughout the Gospels, everywhere Jesus went, people reacted positively and negatively to Him. People still react positively and negatively to Jesus today, and people all throughout history have reacted positively and negatively to Jesus.

Though he was born into humble circumstances in a far flung province of the Roman Empire, an annoyance even among His own people, and only followed by the fringes of that provincial society, Jesus has had an impact on the world like no other. Scholars of all types and all traditions have devoted careers to Him; universities around the world have whole departments that engage in study of Him; other major religions are compelled to reference Him; the Bible is the most printed material in the world; and more things have been written about Jesus and the Bible than any other subject. Even time and history, itself, is marked by his life!

Then and now, even in the discussion of the historical Jesus, people are divided over Him.

Regardless of the historicity of Jesus, the words spoken of Him that were recorded in Luke 2:34-35 dating back to the First Century AD are proven true in every aspect. That, in itself, suggests that this Jesus is everything that has been spoken of Him, especially when we consider the relative insignificance of His life in the time in which He lived.


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