Friday, April 28, 2006

DaVinci Decoded Going Live: May 5, 2006


Yes friends, on Friday night, May 5, I will be a guest on WBFJ's Crossroad Radio, 10pm - midnight, discussing the DaVinci Code. It was supposed to air tonight, but there was a scheduling conflict. We trust God's sovereignty in the rescheduling of the event. Thanks to Deke and John for inviting me.

I invite you to tune in on radio or web and please pray for God to use me a vessel of His glory in this venture.

WBFJ can be found in Greensboro on 103.5, Winston-Salem 89.3

Listen online at www.wbfj.org (click "Listen Live" in upper right hand corner).

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Monday, April 24, 2006

DaVinci Decoded: Part 5 -- The Council of Nicea


This week in our ongoing study of the themes related to the bestselling book and soon to be film DVC, we are going to look at one of the most important events in Christian history: The Council of Nicea. If anything good has come out of the popularity of DVC, it is that it has given pastors an opportunity to discuss these important themes with congregations who may not otherwise be interested in hearing about the crucial events of Church History. I hope that those who have read DVC will have their curiosity spurred on to investigate more about the Council of Nicea, rather than just believing what Dan Brown writes about it. To begin, I am going to tell you what Dan Brown says about the Council of Nicea, and then I will tell you what the council actually was.

On page 233, Brown writes:
“During this fusion of religions, Constantine needed to strengthen the new Christian tradition, and held a famous ecumenical gathering known as the Council of Nicea.”

The fusion of religions is the supposed melding together of Constantine’s newfound
Christianity with his cultic beliefs in the state religion of the empire, Sol Invictus. As we noted last week, Constantine did remain the head of this religion, but only because Roman Senate required the Emperor to be the religious head as well. Of course, Brown’s characters insist that his conversion was not genuine, and that he remained a steadfast pagan throughout his life.

p233: “At this gathering … many aspects of Christianity were debated and voted upon—the date of Easter, the role of bishops, the administration of the sacraments, and, of course, the divinity of Jesus. ... Until that moment in history, Jesus was viewed by His followers as a mortal prophet … a great and powerful man, but a man nonetheless. A mortal."

The following dialogue ensues:
Teabing: “Jesus’ establishment as the ‘Son of God’ was officially proposed and voted on by the Council of Nicea.”
Neveu: “Hold on. You’re saying that Jesus’ divinity was the result of a vote?”
Teabing: “A relatively close vote at that.”

One of the sources which influenced Dan Brows was the work by Picknet and Prince entitled
The Templar Revelation. On page 261 of that book, we read the following:
“The Council of Nicea, when it rejected the many Gnostic gospels and voted to include only Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John in the New Testament, had no divine mandate for this major act of censorship. They acted out of self-preservation, for by that time—the fourth century—the power of the Magdalene and her followers was already too widespread for the patriarchy to cope with.”

So, if we believe The DaVinci Code and its literary cousins, then the Council of Nicea was
where Jesus was voted in as God and where all the Scriptural writings that speak against the deity of Christ were voted out of the New Testament Canon. But should we believe this?

Constantine assembled The Council of Nicea on May 20, 325 AD. Nicea is known today as Isnik in Turkey. It was a gathering of the bishops from across the empire. Approximately 300 bishops attended, mostly from the eastern half of the empire. Contrary to popular belief, Constantine did not preside over the meeting, but instead he appointed Hosius, bishop of Cordova and friend. Though he was present at all the sessions, after his opening remarks, Constantine moved aside and allowed the theologians to settle the issues. The main purpose of the council was to debate and decide matters involved in what has come to be known as the Arian Controversy.

Arius was a North African priest with a history of controversy. So it was no surprise at all in 318 when he began to challenge teachers in Alexandria about the nature of Christ. Alexander, the bishop of Alexandria, engaged him in a heated exchange of words. Arius claimed that the Logos, the Word, which became flesh in Jesus Christ was not the true God. The Son of God, according to Arius, had a different nature from God the Father. The Son was not omnipotent, nor eternal, nor divine except in some approximate way. He was a lesser being, created by the Father, though higher than all other created beings. Arius knew how to get his teaching accepted by the masses. He had his ideas composed into little songs, like ad jingles. It is said that in any schoolyard or shipyard, one could hear these songs being sung. Arius's ideas and their obvious divergence from orthodox, biblical Christianity, created quite an uproar, such that wherever Arius went, riots broke out.

The teachings of Arius and the controversy they sparked were widespread. Bruce Shelley, in Church History in Plain Language (p59), cites the comments of one ancient bishop in reference to the city of Constantinople:
“If in this city you ask anyone for change, he will discuss with you whether God the Son is begotten or unbegotten. If you ask about the quality of bread, you will receive the answer that ‘God the Father is greater, God the Son is less.’ If you suggest that a bath is desirable, you will be told that ‘there was nothing before God the Son was created.”

At the Council of Nicea, Arius was invited to present his case for his divergent views.
As Arius gave his position, he burst into one of his songs:
“The Uncreated God has made the Son; A beginning of things created; And by adoption has God made the Son; into an advancement of Himself; Yet the Son’s substance is; Removed from the substance of the Father; The Son is not equal to the Father, Nor does he share the same substance; God is the all-wise Father; And the Son is the teacher of His mysteries; The members of the Holy Trinity; Share unequal glories.”

It did not take long at all for him to be recognized by those in attendance as a heretic. Notice in the artwork at the top of this page that
there is a body under Constantine’s throne. That is Arius, and it is to represent how he was trampled underfoot by the council. And so it was not, as Brown’s Code would have you believe, a situation where the debate occurred and then the moderator said, “OK, How many think Jesus was God? And how many think he was not?” No, each one of these men at the council came in believing that Christ was fully God, and Arius was unable to convince them otherwise. And in order to prevent future perversions of the doctrine of Christ, the council made several key assertions about the nature of Christ:

Very God of Very God (John 1:1, Colossians 2:9)
The Council allowed for a differentiation of tasks and relationships within the Trinity, but a shared fullness of deity.
Of one substance with the Father (
homo ousios; John 10:30)
Begotten, not made (John 1:1-3)
Became man for us and for our salvation (John 1:12-14)

The conclusions of the council were affirmed by everyone present except two: Secundus of Ptolemais and Theonas of Marmarica. Both of these men were from Libya, and both were friends of Arius. Following the council, Arius, Secundus and Theonas were all exiled. So, it was not as Brown would have you believe. It was not a
very close vote that established Jesus as the Divine Son of God, unless somehow you consider 298 to 2 a close vote.

The Council of Nicea published the Nicene Creed summarizing the doctrine of Christ. The Nicene Creed that most people are familiar with today is actually a revised form issued at the Council of Constantinople in 381. The original Nicene Creed was very simple and reads as follows:
"We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; by whom all things were made; who forus men, and for our salvation, came down and was incarnate and was made man; he suffered, and the third day he rose again, ascended into heaven; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. And in the Holy Ghost."

While not explicitly stated by Dan Brown, we know that some of his sources believe that the council of Nicea also produced what we now know as the Canon of the New Testament -- that list of acceptable scriptures. The word "canon" means "standard," or "rule." However, there is no historical record indicating that there was any discussion taking place at the Council of Nicea concerning the New Testament Canon. However, one can understand how this mistaken notion comes about. The Council did publish a list of "canons," but remember that this was not originally a technical term referring only to the acceptable list of Scriptures. The Canons of the Council of Nicea were the conclusions of the Council concerning how church leaders and laypeople should be disciplined over various issues. These were the "standards" or the "rules" concerning church discipline in that day. They can be read in their entirety in Eusebius'
Ecclesiastical History. There are some historical indications that the Council did discuss the dating of Easter, but this was not a major issue for the Council.

So, in conclusion, contrary to the claims of the
DaVinci Code, Jesus was not elected to be God at the Council of Nicea by a narrow margin. The Council affirmed the historic Christian doctrine that was established by Jesus Himself and recorded in the writings of the Apostles that we now have in the New Testament documents. Neither did the Council of Nicea canonize the Bible. In fact, the discussion never came up.


Friday, April 21, 2006

Pressing On Toward the Goal (Philippians 3:11-14)

I was reading a book recently that suggested that the reason most churches don’t see many results is that they don’t know what results they are looking for, and therefore they don’t know how to pursue them. In other words, what is missing in many churches is a clearly defined goal, or as this author suggested, a common understanding of what it means to win. That statement struck me as both simply profound and profoundly simple. Yet, another obstacle stood in the way of defining that goal. One of the greatest descriptions I have ever heard for a church is that of a covenanted community of believers sharing life together. If that description is accurate, then it seems to me that before one could ever pursue defining a goal for the church, one must be certain that he or she understands the goal of life for the individual. As long as every member of the church pursues diverse goals in each of their lives, the church cannot move forward together toward a common goal. So let me ask you a question: “What is the goal of life?” If you listen to some in our culture, it is to accumulate as much wealth as possible as soon as possible so that you can enjoy as many years as possible pursuing your own leisurely desires. The ad populum force of that goal is hard to resist when one is moving along with the inertia of the world’s ideologies. However the Christian is not called to follow the desires of our culture. The call of Jesus is “Come and follow Me!” And following Jesus means going against the grain of the culture in countless ways, not the least of which is in determining the singular goal of our lives.

So, what is the goal of life? The Apostle Paul answers that question very directly here in these verses. In Philippians 3:4-6, Paul told of all his accomplishments, but in verses 7-10, he renounced them all in exchange for gaining Christ, being found in Christ having a righteousness not his own, and knowing Christ in the way that is only experienced through the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings. Paul said in v10 that he desired to be conformed to the death of Christ. There is a daily dying for Christ that must occur as we determine each day to live for Him rather than for ourselves, but I believe Paul was looking further ahead when he said he sought conformity to the death of Christ. I believe he was saying that just as Christ’s life culminated in the offering of Himself as a sacrifice to God, Paul wanted his own life and death to count for something eternal. Paul wanted God to glorify Himself in his life and in his death. So is death Paul’s goal? Is the Christian’s life a morbid pursuit of death? Is it a suicidal tendency, some form of psychosis that needs medication or therapy? No, death is not the goal of Paul’s life – Resurrection is! Though verse 10 ends with the word death, verse 11 continues the thought with so that. Death is not the goal. The goal is something beyond death. This is our first point.

I. The Goal of Earthly Life is Eternal Life.

As I was browsing through a bookstore the other day, I couldn’t help noticing how many books dealt with discouragement, depression, stress, anxiety, and the like. The most troubling thing was that I was in a Christian bookstore! Could it be that we are beginning to realize that our ultimate satisfaction cannot be found in this life? Could it be that we have found the bankruptcy of believing that we can find ultimate satisfaction in our jobs, our relationships or our hobbies? In “The Weight of Glory,” C. S. Lewis said, “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

But I would ask, “Are we really pleased?” If so, why so many pills? Why so much therapy? Why so many self-help books and pop-psychology gurus? We are not pleased because do not know the true source of pleasure. We are trying to find it here on this earth, when it is not available here. We are trying to find it in this life when it can only be found in the next.

Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:19, “If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.” If the ultimate satisfaction of our hopes is going to be realized in this life, then indeed, as he says in 1 Corinthians 15:32, the Epicureans are right when they say, “Eat, Drink, and Be Merry, for tomorrow we die.” What difference does it make how we live if this is all there is to life? The writer of Ecclesiastes said in Chapter 3, verses 11, “He has also set eternity in their heart.” We have a longing for something that cannot be satisfied in this life. Lewis wrote,

“A man’s physical hunger does not prove that man will get any bread; he may die on a raft in the Atlantic. But surely a man’s hunger does prove that he comes of a race which repairs its body by eating and inhabits a world where eatable substances exist. In the same way, though I do not believe … that my desire for Paradise proves that I shall enjoy it, I think it a pretty good indication that such a thing exists and that some men will.”

The goal of this life is to be found in the next one. That is what Paul is telling us here in this passage. He says that the resurrection from the dead is what he is aiming for. It is this very thing he desires to lay hold of, for he says it is for this that Christ Jesus laid hold of him. Christ has laid hold of us so that we may lay hold of the greatest desire that we have in life. But the goal is not merely heaven. It is found in heaven, but it is not heaven itself. John Piper asks a very important question in his recent book God is the Gospel. He says, “If you could have heaven, with no sickness, and with all the friends you ever had on earth, and all the food you ever liked, and all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauties you ever saw, all the physical pleasures you ever tasted, an no human conflict or any natural desires, could you be satisfied with heaven, if Christ was not there?” I suggest to you that if you think you could, then you have the wrong goal. The reason we long for heaven is not because of its many pleasures, but because of this singular one: there we shall be in the presence of Christ.

This is why Christ laid hold of Paul. This is why Christ lays hold of us. This is why we are aiming for the resurrection – so that we may behold the glory of the face of Christ forever. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:6, “For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts.” And why has He shone in our hearts? Paul says, “to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” And so Paul says here in Philippians 3:14 that this goal, this prize, is the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. That’s the goal: To one day hear God call us forth through the doorway of death to enter the presence of this Lord Jesus Christ who has redeemed us where we will behold Him in all His glory forever and ever.

C. S. Lewis said, “I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you … We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience. We cannot hide it because our experience is constantly suggesting it ….” But Lewis says we cannot find it in these experiences; if we try to we will only become idolaters. No, he says, “They are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.” Yet Lewis goes on to say, “Almost our whole education has been directed to silencing this shy, persistent, inner voice; almost all our modern philosophies have been devised to convince us that the good of man is to be found on the earth.” Oh, but friends, see what the Apostle Paul is placing before our shortsighted eyes in this text: The goal is not here; it is there. And the goal is not the place, but the Person with whom we shall dwell in that place. And if you are in Christ Jesus, then you shall hear that upward call of God and reach that goal in eternity.

But meanwhile, here we are. We are “stuck in the muck” of this life, with its pain, with its tragedy, with its sin and corruption. We are homesick for a country to which we’ve never been before. Why can’t we go now? Ah, that is the second point that Paul brings to our attention in the passage.

II. The pursuit of the goal is an ongoing process.

I once heard of a preacher who asked his congregation, “How many people here want to go to heaven?” He was shocked when no one raised their hand. Confused and disillusioned, he asked, “What is the matter with you people?” The old man on the front row stood up and said, “Well, preacher, it ain’t that we don’t want to go, it’s just that we thought you were getting up a group to go right now!”

No, we aren’t getting a group up right now. The attainment of this goal is yet future. There can be little doubt that the first century knew no greater servant of Christ than the Apostle Paul. Yet even he said in v12 that he had not already obtained it. He says in v13 that he does not regard himself as having laid hold of it yet. Though others may think he had arrived spiritually, Paul says, “No – I am still a work in progress.”

None of us have obtained it. The goal is still out there, yet future. We have undoubtedly received a foretaste of it. Paul says in Ephesians 1:13-14, “In (Christ), you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory.” By coming to dwell within us in the person of the Holy Spirit, God has given us just a foretaste of the glory to be enjoyed in Heaven. But the fullness is yet to be experienced by any of us. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5 that as long as we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. But there is coming a day for us when we shall be absent from the body and at home with the Lord. In the meantime, however, Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:9 that our ambition is, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him.

We have had a number of friends who have adopted children from various parts of the world. It is a lengthy process. Even once all paperwork is approved and all plans are finalized, there is still a wait. The child belongs to them by virtue of the completed adoption, but the child has yet to come home. So, the waiting time is filled with preparation: preparation of the home, as well as preparation of the child for the transition to a brand-new environment.

We have been adopted into God’s family. We just haven’t yet come to the opportunity to go to our new home. So, in this interim time, the time between adoption and homecoming, God is preparing us. He is perfecting us. Paul says even after nearly 30 years of walking with Christ, in v12, I have not already become perfect. But every day, God is working. He is shaping. He is crafting. He is developing. He is making us to be more and more like Jesus with every passing moment. And the more He does this, the more useful we are to Him here in this life. So we wait, and as we wait, He continues. But we need not fear that when the moment of the upward call comes, we will be found imperfect if we are in Christ. Through the divine act of justification, God has already declared those who have faith in Christ to be perfectly righteous as a free act of His grace. This is what Paul refers to in v9, being found in Him not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ. It has been declared positionally. It is now being developed practically. But John reminds us in 1 John 3:2 that although we may not know what we will be when that day of the upward call comes, we do know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is. And John says, everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.

Paul speaks of the coming day of the resurrection of believers in Christ in 1 Corinthians 15 as a day of transformation. Not all will taste death before that day, for he says, “We will not all sleep,” but one thing is certain, “We will all be changed, in a moment in the twinkling of an eye at the last trumpet.” In 1 Cor 15:50 he says, “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.” When that resurrection trumpet calls us to our eternal home, and beckons us to come and lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus laid hold of us, an instantaneous transformation will take place. Paul says, “For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory. “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Now, it is interesting to me that whenever the New Testament speaks of this coming victory, it does so with a view to the present, and 1 Corinthians 15 is no different. Paul concludes his thoughts on the resurrection there by saying this in v58: “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.” And so he says here in Philippians 3:13 – This one thing I do.

What is it that he does here in the in-between days? He says he presses on toward the goal. Two participial phrases modify that action of pressing on. Forgetting what lies behind, and reaching forward to what lies ahead. You cannot strive for the future by living in the past. The failures of the past will shackle you if you do not leave them behind. Do you think a Sunday goes by without the devil saying to me, “So, you are going to get up and preach now, huh? How can you stand and speak for God after all you’ve done in your life?” And every time that nagging sense comes over me, I just have to cling to this—forgetting what lies behind … I press on. Some of you know that feeling. You have some sin or some failure in your past that you have let become a ball and chain to keep you from being all you can be for Jesus in this day. I tell you as a fellow pilgrim on the journey – forget what lies behind and press on!

But I also want to tell you that we must not only forget past failures. Past successes can be just as much of a hindrance. The last several weeks have been very challenging for me as we move closer and closer to the day of celebrating the 60th Anniversary of Immanuel Baptist Church. God has granted some significant victories here in the past. And you need to love your past, but you cannot, and you must not LIVE in the past, because there is work to be done for Christ in the present, and a goal to strive for in the future! Whether success or failure, it needs to stay behind us. There are folks who say, “We should have moved 20 years ago.” Well, you didn’t. And I am glad you didn’t. This corner of High Point Road is the perfect spot for us to have an embassy of heaven. So let’s leave all talk of past regrets in the past. There are folks who say, “Once upon a time, we had a great ministry here.” Amen. Praise God. But leave it in the past, and start taking up the mantle to provide a great ministry here in the present! You have to if you are going to press on. God did not call me here to be a curator of a museum. I am as firmly convinced as I was in September that God has placed me here, for better or for worse, like it or not, to help guide this ship toward our heavenly harbor which is still out there beyond the horizon. And along the way to that harbor, we have a mission to rescue as many of the perishing as we can and bring them aboard. And we CANNOT turn back. We have to forget what lies behind and press on toward that goal.

Paul said, This one thing I do … I press on. And to press on, you not only have to forget what is in the past, you have to reach forward to what lies ahead. And what is it that lies ahead? Eternity with Jesus Christ. Are you reaching for Him? Is your sole desire at this moment in your life to know Him better than you ever have and serve Him more faithfully than ever before? If you are reaching out to Him, others will be able to see the reflection of His glory as you live for Him and serve Him. Some of you here have come to the point in your life where you realize that you have more years behind you than ahead of you. None of us have any guarantees. I am one of the youngest people in this room, and it may very well be that all of you will attend my funeral. So each of us needs to be asking the question, when the upward call comes, how do I want to be found? I do not want to be found sitting still, thinking about how good it used to be.

I want to be like that athlete who has run himself to the point of exhaustion but he knows he’s not at the finish line yet. So he keeps on pushing, striving, driving himself to keep going as hard as he can, and when he gets to the place that the end is in sight, he doesn’t coast across the finish line. He lunges for it with every ounce of remaining energy, sprawling out for that line as if it is the only thing he has ever wanted in life. And when he does, he won’t fall to the ground. He’ll be embraced by the Righteous Judge, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will say, “Welcome Home. You have finished the race. You have reached the goal. You have received the prize.”

If you want that too, then you need to look at the goal of your life. What is it? Where is it? Who is it?

Some of you will not be able to cross the finish line because you’ve never crossed the starting line. Pursuit of this goal begins by turning to Jesus Christ in repentance and faith and inviting Him to reign over your life as your Lord. Let us pray with you today as you make that decision. Others of you are in the race, and you’re running hard. Friend, I am running beside of you saying, “Keep it up! Hang in there! We’re in it together, and we’re going to make it!” You might need some encouragement today to keep pressing on toward the goal. And then there are others – in the race, but some have never left the starting line. Some have slowed down or stopped. Listen friend, you know if you are one of these, THE RACE ISN’T OVER YET! Keep running! Keep pushing! Keep pressing on toward that goal. Forget what lies behind and press on! I want to challenge you today to kick it into a higher gear and run harder than you ever have toward the goal! Hear and heed this admonition from Hebrews 12:1-2: “ … let us … lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith ….” Or as Paul would say, Do this one thing – keep on pressing forward toward that goal of spending eternity in the presence of the glory of Christ. Amen.


Monday, April 17, 2006

Reasons to Believe in the Risen Christ: 1 Corinthians 15


1 Corinthians 15:1-23

Reasons to Believe in the Resurrection of Christ

Do you remember where you were when the news broke on August 22, 2002? I do. I was sitting in front of the computer in my study at the parsonage of Conowingo Baptist Church in Conowingo, Maryland, when I read one of the most amazing pieces of news to ever pass before my eyes. On August 22, 2002, I read about Mayor Gil Bernardi of Le Lavandou, France, on the French Riviera issuing a startling decree. “It is forbidden,” says the decree, “to anyone who does not have a burial plot to die within town limits.” The reason for the decree was that a court order restricted the town government from building a new cemetery. Since the old cemetery was full, the mayor had no other choice but to outlaw death. The day after the decree was issued, Bernardi was asked about it, and he said, “No one has died since then, and I hope it stays that way.”

That was very intriguing to me. To my knowledge, this is the first time that death has been outlawed by a civil government. However, if Jesus really did what we say He did 2000 years ago, when He died for our sins and rose from the dead, then for all practical purposes, death has been rendered invalid and impotent forever.

Easter is the day of our celebration of His glorious resurrection, and the salvation we can receive because of Him. The Apostle Paul said in Romans 1:16, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” And here in this 15th Chapter of 1 Corinthians, he gives a brief overview of that saving gospel. The Corinthians were so distracted, so divided, so deceived, by many unnecessary things, so Paul deemed it appropriate to remind them of what matters most. He says it is of the utmost importance that we believe, that we know, and that we trust these things:

- Christ died for our sins according to Scripture

- He was buried

- He was raised on the third day according to Scripture

Now notice that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is foundational to the gospel. Remove it and there is no gospel; and if there is no gospel, there is no salvation. No less than 104 times in the New Testament, the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ is spoken of, including this reference here. Think of what Paul would be saying if the resurrection didn’t exist: Here is the gospel—“Jesus died and was buried.” That makes Him no different from anyone else who has ever lived. But, you might say, “Jesus died for our sins,” and I might say, “Everyone dies for something.” Innocent people have died on death row in the place of the guilty, but God will judge the guilty one rightly. Compassionate people have jumped in front of assassins’ bullets to protect the lives of others, but even those whose lives are spared have no guarantee of eternity. Jesus died for our sins, but He was nothing more than a compassionate martyr unless He was able to defeat those sins and their penalty. And that could only be accomplished by the resurrection.

Kenneth Scott Latourette wrote in his History of the Expansion of Christianity, “It was the conviction of the resurrection of Jesus which lifted his followers out of the despair into which his death had cast them and which led to the perpetuation of the movement begun by Him. But for their profound belief that the crucified had risen from the dead and they had seen him and talked with him, the death of Jesus and even Jesus himself would probably have been all but forgotten.”

H.D.A. Major has written in his book The Mission and Message of Jesus, “Had the crucifixion of Jesus ended his disciples’ experience of Him, it is hard to see how the Chrisitan Church could have come into existence. That Church was founded on faith in the Messiahship of Jesus. A crucified Messiah was no Messiah at all. … It was the resurrection of Jesus, as St. Paul declares in Romans 1:4, which proclaimed Him to be the Son of God with power.”

Now I want you to notice something very significant here. Paul did not just throw this doctrine of the risen Christ on the table and say, “Believe it, just take my word for it, tell ‘em Paul told you so.” No, belief in the resurrection of Jesus is very rational, very intellectual, and very much warranted.

So many times, people think that becoming a follower of Christ means taking an intellectual flying leap, checking your brains at the door, and foolishly buying into an unbelievable myth. Several years ago, Jesse Ventura gave voice to a statement that has been echoed by godless people in all generations: Christianity is a crutch for weak-minded people. I used to say the same thing myself. However, I have learned that God does not expect us to follow along in spite of evidence. If all God wanted was for us to buy into a theory, Christianity would be no different than any other religious system in the world. However, God gives us evidence to confirm that our faith is rightly focused. It is not a leap in the dark, but a step toward the light. The evidence for belief in Christ and His resurrection is as strong as any historical fact. Consider the evidence found in this passage alone:

I. The Evidence of Scripture (v4) (according to Scripture)

The Gospel of Luke records that when the Risen Jesus appeared to His disciples, we read (24:44-48).

Now He said to them, "These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled." Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and He said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”

So, in referring to the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms, Jesus says in essence, “The whole OT testifies to this.” The Hebrew Bible that we now call the Old Testament, was divided into three parts: Torah (Law), Nevi’im (prophets), and Kethuvim (writings). Therefore it became known as Tanakh: an acrostic (TNK) for those three divisions. Jesus Christ is saying to His followers that for centuries, it has been prophesied that I would come, and I would die, and I would rise again.

You remember Job’s great affirmation of faith in Job 19:25-27-- "And as for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will take His stand on the earth. 26 "Even after my skin is destroyed, Yet from my flesh I shall see God; 27 Whom I myself shall behold,

And whom my eyes shall see and not another. My heart faints within me.”

You recall how Jesus answered the Jews who wanted a sign:

Matthew 12-- 39 But He answered and said to them, "An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; and yet no sign shall be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet; 40 for just as JONAH WAS THREE DAYS AND THREE NIGHTS IN THE BELLY OF THE SEA MONSTER, so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

Jesus, Peter, and Paul all referred to Old Testament scriptures in discussing the resurrection. Genesis 22, Psalm 16, Isaiah 53, and Hosea 6:2 are among their favorites as is Psalm 22.

It has been well noted that the rabbis sometimes, when teaching from the Psalms would refer to them by their first line, since they did not have numbers at that time. With that in mind, think of what Jesus could have been saying on the cross as He said, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” If you know the first lines of the Psalms, as most faithful Jews in Jesus day would have, they would have recognized this as the opening line of Psalm 22, which concludes with a great statement of victory over the Psalmists trials and a coming forth to give God praise in the midst of the assembly.

So the Scriptures, the Old Testament Scriptures, written centuries before, affirm that Jesus would not only die, but would rise again. But what of those who don’t believe in the Scriptures? What evidence shall we give to them?

II. The evidence of eyewitnesses (v5-7)

We could say anything we want about a person after he has died. We can even say that he is risen from the dead, but that would be easily disproven. Just go dig up the grave and see if it is empty. If it is empty, that is still no guarantee. We might say, “I will believe it when I see him face to face.” We criticize Thomas for his skepticism, but we must say we would be just as skeptical about the claim that someone who was dead was no longer. Two words are crucial here in this passage: He appeared. And the eyewitnesses to whom He appeared are powerful evidence that He is risen indeed.

A. The Abundance of Eyewitnesses (5-8)

In Deuteronomy 19:15, a principle is given to cover matters of government and judgment: “A single witness shall not rise up against a man on account of any iniquity or any sin which he has committed; on the evidence of two or three witnesses a matter shall be confirmed.” If two or three witnesses is enough to confirm a thing, then how much more sure is something witnessed by no less than 640 eyewitnesses?

In verses 5-8, we read of no less than 514 eyewitnesses:

¨ Cephas (Peter)

¨ The Twelve

¨ More than 500 Brethren at one time

¨ James

¨ Paul himself, in an unnatural encounter on the Damascus Road

Elsewhere in the NT, we read of at least 126 other eyewitnesses.

¨ Mary Magdalene (John 20)

¨ Joanna and Mary (Luke 24)

¨ Annas and Cleopas (Luke 24)

¨ 120 people (Acts 1)

¨ Stephen (Acts 7)

So that is at least 640 different people who saw the risen Jesus after His bodily resurrection. If you were on a jury, and you were deliberating this case, after how many of these would you say, “OK, we’ve heard enough.” No case would require more than 640 eyewitnesses to identify a person. But you say, “Well, how do we know any of this is true? How do we know Paul wasn’t making it up?” One statement confirms it, and I believe it seals the case as it affirms …

B. The Availability of Eyewitnesses (v6)

“Most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep.” Obviously by our day, all have died, but when Paul wrote this letter, he indicated that most of those who had seen Jesus after His resurrection were still alive and could be consulted about the matter. Any person in Corinth who doubted the reality of Christ’s resurrection could have sent correspondence or traveled to Jerusalem and sought out any of these 640 people who could validate their eyewitness accounts of His resurrection.

The testimony of eyewitnesses is powerful! In fact, as Luke compiled information to send to his dear friend Theophilus, he said that Jesus had, “presented Himself alive, after His suffering, by many convincing (or, infallible) proofs” (Acts 1:3).

The evidence of Scripture and the evidence of eyewitnesses ought to be enough to convince anyone of the reality of Christ’s resurrection. But if spiritual evidence and tangible evidence are not enough, then perhaps practical evidence will be, as we see …

III. The Evidence of Changed Lives (v8-11)

“Last of all,” Paul says, “as it were to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.” For much of Paul’s career, people doubted his claim to be an apostle. They said he hadn’t even seen Jesus, so how could he call himself an apostle. But Paul said that Christ appeared to him last of all, “as to one born at the wrong time.”

You recall how Paul’s life was changed as he met Jesus? We meet him in Acts 7:58 as he is in hearty agreement with the martyrdom of Stephen. So convinced was he that these Christians were blasphemous heretics, he began persecuting them intensely. Acts 8:3 says that he began ravaging the church, entering house after house, dragging off men and women and putting them in prison. Acts 9:1 says that he was breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord. So he sought permission to pursue them violently and that permission was given.

But then Saul (which was his Hebrew name) met Jesus. After this encounter on the Damascus Road, his life was radically changed: Acts 9:20-22 says, “immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, ‘He is the Son of God.’ All those hearing him continued to be amazed, and were saying, "Is this not he who in Jerusalem destroyed those who called on this name, and who had come here for the purpose of bringing them bound before the chief priests? But Saul kept increasing in strength and confounding the Jews who lived at Damascus by proving that this Jesus is the Christ.” His changed life and his reasoning from the Hebrew Scriptures was considered proof to them that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior of the World.

So he says in 1 Cor 15:9-10 that he is not fit to be called an apostle because of his past, but God’s grace made him an apostle through that encounter with the risen Christ, and compelled him to be the most fervent laborer in God’s harvest fields.

And we might point to hundreds and thousands of other godless people whose lives have been radically altered by meeting Christ. Josh McDowell set out to disprove the resurrection of Christ, but couldn’t, and he became a follower of Christ, and today is one of the world’s most influential evangelists. C. S. Lewis was an atheist with no appetite for the things of God, until he encountered Christ in a personal way. Since then, his book “Mere Christianity” has been used to win the souls of countless atheists and skeptics. On and on we could list those who are well-known examples of people who the Risen Christ has transformed. I was radically converted from dogmatic atheism to faith in Christ as I read the Bible and considered the reasonable claims of Christ. I run into people all the time whom I haven’t seen for many years, and they say, “What are you doing these days?” I say with pride, “I am a Southern Baptist Pastor!” When they return to consciousness, they ask how on earth that could be possible. It really doesn’t make sense unless you allow that Jesus is alive and is still in the life-changing business.

We have considered theological evidence: long before the birth of Christ, His life, His death, and His resurrection were prophesied in the Hebrew Scriptures. We have considered testimonial evidence: over 640 eyewitnesses to the Risen Christ are mentioned in Scripture, and Paul invited his readers in his day to contact them for further inquiry, since most of them were still alive that point. We have considered existential evidence: lives that underwent radical change through an encounter with Jesus Christ.

IV. Other Evidence

Now, there is much more evidence to prove the resurrection of Christ. The empty tomb stands as a remarkable testimony to the resurrection. I have already said that an empty tomb by itself is no evidence. But, an empty tomb with no other reasonable explanation is. Some have attempted to suggest many other theories of how the tomb of Jesus became empty.

It has been suggested that Jesus’ body was stolen by his disciples, and they made up the story of his resurrection. This was, in fact, the first alternative theory ever offered to explain the empty tomb. This was the story concocted by the chief priests, the elders, and the soldiers when the tomb was found to be empty (Matthew 28:11-15). Yet people continue to advance this theory as if it was cutting edge. My response to this is to say, if it was all a lie, why did so many of the earliest Christians die for it? You say, “Well, people die for lies all the time.” Think of the 9-11 hijackers who killed themselves and multitudes of others for Mohammed’s lie that death in jihad would transport them instantly to a heavenly garden to be attended to by 70 virgins. How about the followers of Jim Jones, David Koresh, Heaven’s Gate? Indeed, people die every day for the sake of a lie, but all do so believing that lie to be the truth. No one dies for a lie that they know is a lie. And if Christ was not risen, the apostles and early followers of Jesus would have certainly known it. They had no reason to believe in a resurrection unless they had been personally and powerfully convinced of it. Something happened that transformed them from paranoid recluses to powerful evangelists. And if the apostles had stolen the body, or known that somehow Jesus was not actually risen, do you think they would have suffered and died for Him?

¨ John suffered imprisonment and exile at Patmos (the only one of the faithful apostles to not be killed for his faith)

¨ Andrew, James the Less, Philip, Simon Zealotes, and Bartholomew were all crucified

¨ Peter was crucified upside down

¨ Matthew and James, brother of John, were killed by the sword

¨ Thaddaeus (the other Judas) was killed by arrows

¨ Thomas was run through with a spear as he preached

¨ Paul was beheaded

¨ Matthias died either by crucifixion or by stoning, then beheading.

The evidence for a stolen body and a fictitious resurrection is not convincing. Others have said that the body was stolen by the political and religious leaders of Jesus’ day. This is an even more ridiculous suggestion. First of all, they had no motive for stealing the body, and if the had stolen it, they would have probably paraded it through the streets to prove that the resurrection did not occur. But that did not happen.

Others have said that the disciples went to the wrong tomb. If that is the case, then certainly Joseph of Arimathea could have pointed them to the right tomb, or otherwise, the religious and political leaders of the day would have. Most certainly, this does not explain the empty tomb of Christ.

Still others have said that Jesus did not really die. They say that He merely fainted on the cross, but after being placed in the tomb, he regained consciousness and escaped from the tomb. I would remind you that we are talking about an individual who was beaten, whipped, and scourged beyond recognition; He was nailed to a cross with spikes in his wrists and feet; He was pierced in the side by a spear, breaking his pericardial sack and causing blood and water to flow out. Now, I am supposed to believe that this person did not really die, but rehabilitated himself to the point that within three days (with no food or water, mind you) he could move a massive stone, fight off an entire regiment of soldiers, and present himself alive and well to his followers. With all due respect, I believe that it would take much more faith for me to believe that than to believe that He rose from the dead.

Sir Edward Clarke, a once prominent English attorney for King’s Court said, “As a lawyer, I have made a prolonged study of the evidences for the events of the first Easter day. For me the evidence is conclusive, and over and over again in the high court I have secured the verdict on evidence not nearly so compelling.”

Historian Thomas Arnold said, “The evidence for our Lord’s life and death and resurrection may be and often has been shown to be satisfactory. It is good according to the common rules for distinguishing good evidence from bad. Thousands and tens of thousands of persons have gone through it piece by piece as carefully as every judge summing up on an important case. … I know of no one fact in the history of mankind which is better proved by fuller evidence than the great sign that God has given us that Christ died and rose again from the dead.”

In John 11:25-26, Jesus said, “"I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me shall live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die.” And after that statement, He asked a very important question: “Do you believe this?” Do you? If not, why not? I suggest that if you do not believe it, it is not because of the evidence, but rather in spite of it.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

The Little Engine That Couldn't: My Journey

One of my earliest memories is of being in my dad's lap while he read to me, "The Little Engine that Could." I think I can, I think I can.

A little railroad engine was employed about a station yard for such work as it was built for, pulling a few cars on and off the switches. One morning it was waiting for the next call when a long train of freight-cars asked a large engine in the roundhouse to take it over the hill "I can't; that is too much a pull for me," said the the great engine built for hard work. Then the train asked another engine, and another, only to hear excuses and be refused. At last in desperation the train asked the little switch engine to draw it up the
grade and down on the other side. "I think I can," puffed the little locomotive, and put itself in front of the great heavy train. As is went on the little engine kept bravely puffing faster and faster, "I think I can, I think I can, I think I can." Then as it near the top of the grade, that had so discouraged the larger engines, it went more slowly, but still kept saying, "I--think--I--can, I--think--I--can." It reached the top by dint of brave effort and then went on down the grade, congratulating itself, "I thought I could, I thought I could."

By the middle of my high school years I was dogmatic about two things: There is no God, and America is the greatest nation on the face of the earth (and I could have killed anybody who disagreed with either). My least favorite people were neo-hippies and Christians, because they stood against the two things I treasured most in my life.

I don't know how I arrived at my atheistic beliefs initially, but I know that as a teenager, I was taking full enjoyment of the moral liberty that atheism provided me. I was a rabid evolutionist and I hated anyone who was religious in any fashion. I can remember several Christians trying to befriend me, and when they would start in with their "sales pitch" I would become irate and start issuing my standard arguments about evolution, the problem of evil, the hiddenness of God, religious hypocrisy and whatever else I thought was convenient at the time. I was proud of driving many Christians to tears (though I think now that they were weeping for other reasons). The ones I couldn't defeat by fine sounding arguments, I would corrupt by drawing them over to the "dark side" of loose living. I remember several Christians, drunk at the Saturday night parties, inviting me to join them in Sunday School in just a few hours. I never accepted. Would you? People would say to me, "You can't make it in life without God." I think I can, I think I can.

My fervent patriotism began in the seventh grade. In a classroom one day, my closest friend and I decided that we both wanted to fly jets in the U.S. Navy. I began looking into how to actualize that career ambition and found that the most direct route ran through Annapolis: the U. S. Naval Academy. I made up my mind that I would do whatever it took to gain appointment to the academy and take flight off the deck of a Navy carrier. In high school, I enrolled in Air Force JROTC, and poured my life into it. By the end of my sophomore year, I realized that the chances of me taking flight were better in the Air Force than the Navy, so I switched directions and decided to "Aim High." Colorado Springs would be my goal. People would say to me, "It's really hard to get in, and it's really tough out there." I think I can, I think I can.

In March, 1992, I received the only thing I had wanted for six years of my life: the appointment letter. I was in. I had also received an ROTC scholarship that would pay all of my education expenses at any school where the Air Force had a program. When it was all totalled up, I had nearly a half-million dollars on promise from the US Government, leading my entire graduating class in scholarship monies awarded. I graduated June 4, and on June 28, I boarded a Delta flight bound in Greensboro bound for Colorado Springs. The two things I believed in most were still alive and kicking in my heart: There is no God, and all I want to do is fly Air Force jets and blow up Communists and Terrorists. Could I maintain those treasured ideas over the next 20 years of my life? I think I can, I think I can.

Dateline, Colorado Springs, US Air Force Academy, June 29, 1992. I strutted onto the beautiful campus of the Academy ready to sign my life over to Uncle Sam. First stop: Haircut. I didn't even give them the pleasure; I had it all shaved off the day before I left. Second stop: Medical. Walk down the hall and get poked by about 12 different needles. Third stop: Uniforms. There it was. My name across the right chest, number 96 right over top. The rest of the day: Push-ups. More push-ups. Dinner. More push-ups. That little train was chugging away. I think I can, I think I can.

When the time came for lights out, I hit my bunk feeling exhilarated and exhausted from the most incredible day of my life. I couldn't wait to get at it the next day. As the lights went out and my two roommates started snoring, I started thinking about many things. I could not direct the flow of thoughts as they raced through my mind, but I recognized suddenly that there was a great big piece missing in my life and I wasn't sure what it was. One thing I knew: I could not sign away the rest of my life until I found it. I walked out of my room to the XO's quarters and told him what was going on. He said, "Let me get the Chaplain." I said, "No, no, no. I am an atheist. You got a shrink or something?" They said, "Go to bed and we'll talk tomorrow." Honestly, the words came out of my mouth before I ever knew they were in it: "I can't wait that long, I have to go home now and find this missing piece in my life." You think it is hard to get into a service academy? It is harder to get out. After much debating, I finally said, "Look, we don't swear in until tomorrow. You don't own me yet. You have to let me go. If I change my mind, I will go through the swearing in and then I am yours." So I walked back to my room (somehow the hallway seemed longer now) and I went to bed. I arrived with two rigid beliefs. I lost my grip on both of them that day. Could I recapture either one of them? I hope I can.

The next day, I walked out of the campus quad through the "Quitters' Gate" beneath the sign which read "Bring Me Men" (they have since changed that sign to be politically correct). I came back home. People who patted me on the back now wouldn't look me in the face. I was a quitter, a loser, a failure in the eyes of most. I had no one to turn to, with one exception. Just a few weeks before I left for Colorado, a new friend had entered my life. Nate Veach and I had almost everything in common, except one thing: He was a Christian, I was an atheist. I called him and told him what I had done, expecting him to say what everyone else had said. Instead, he said, "Hey man, that's great. I am glad to have my friend back home." Over the next few weeks I practically lived at Nate's house. I even started attending church with him and his family. I didn't like it, but it gave me something to do on Sundays, so I tagged along. He didn't mind me being an atheist, and I was starting to grow more comfortable with him being a Christian. I was accepted by most of his Christian friends and family as well. Could I hold on to my atheism and my newfound Christian friends at the same time? I might be able to.

It wasn't many days after my return that my maternal grandmother died of cancer. Along with all my cousins, I was a pallbearer at her funeral. I can remember walking away from the cemetery that day wondering, "What really happens now?" Prior to that day, I was convinced that death was just a fade to black, and then nothingness. Could I still believe that? I'm not sure I can.

A few weeks later, Nate asked me to join him at a church youth camp. I just laughed. What in the world am I going to do there. Let's just say that he managed to convince me by appealing to one of our common interests: girls. "I'm in!" They gave me a Bible, and every morning, they actually made me read it. C. S. Lewis says that an atheist has to be very picky about his reading material. I agree. As I read this book that I had so ridiculed over the years, something began to click. Could it be that this was the missing piece? I was reading First Samuel 3 one morning and I couldn't help noticing a striking parallel. Every time God tried to get Samuel's attention, he ran off to Eli. "Samuel did not yet know the Lord; the Word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him." Eli told him, "The next time, say, Speak Lord, for your servant hears." I prayed, but I didn't know to whom, "God, if you are there, and you have been trying to get my attention, I am listening today." The delight of that decision was soon overshadowed by terror. What if He really is there? Can I stand before Him after the life I have lived and my rejection of Him? I know for a fact that I can't.

That day it was as if all creation was testifying to me that God was there and that He had been pursuing me like the Hound of Heaven for many years. That night, it was explained to me that Jesus Christ had died for my sins so that I could receive God's forgiveness by turning from sin to trust Him as my Lord and Savior. Though I resisted for several hours, before we retired for the night, I burst forth in confession of my newfound faith in Christ. Could I deny Him any longer? I know that I cannot. I know that I cannot. Can I swallow my pride, renounce my atheism, and allow Christ to reign over me? I know I must, I know I must.

OK, long story made less-long, The last fourteen years have flown by so fast, it is dizzying to imagine. God has blessed my life in so many undeserved ways. And though I have failed Him often, the Lord has never left me, forsaken me, or failed to be faithful to me. I found the piece of the puzzle that was missing. And in light of all that He has done for me, can I rise each day with prayer and praise to Him, and dedication to His service and His glory? You know the answer. Choo-Choo!

Gospel of Judas (Continued)

I have a little more time now to write some more extended thoughts on the Gospel of Judas. I am indebted to Dr. Danny Akin and Dr. Al Mohler, two of our SBC Seminary Presidents, for helping me respond intelligently to the issue, as I have not had a spare moment to read the Gospel of Judas for myself yet.

The Gospel of Judas claims to contain records of secret conversations between Jesus and Judas Iscariot. According to the document, Jesus was asking Judas to help Him by betraying Him to those who would crucify Him, thus liberating Jesus from the confines of His physical body and freeing His spirit. This is the sort of dualism that is found in nearly all Gnostic writings. Bart Ehrman of UNC-Chapel Hill's Religion Department writes in the forward to the English edition: "This gospel was about the relationship between Jesus and Judas, and indicated that Judas didn't actually betray Jesus, but did what Jesus wanted him to do, because Judas was the one who really knew the truth, as Jesus wanted it communicated."

Recently a Christian and a leader in a church of another denomination said to me, "I am reading the gnostic gospels, and I find them more interesting than some parts of the Bible." My response was that it is good for us to read them, and I have no problem with finding them interesting. However, we need to understand more about their historical context before we are ready to exchange the New Testament for these "new and improved" writings. Their primary interest and value to us is not in giving us a glimpse of early Christianity. Instead, they give us a window into some of the earliest deviations from orthodox Christianity -- namely the Gnostic movement which has its roots in early departures from "the faith once delivered" combatted by the Apostle Paul in Colossians and John in most of his writings in the New Testament. "Full-blown" Gnosticism does not take shape until the middle of the Second Century, nearly 100 years after the writings of the eyewitnesses that we now have in the New Testament. The Gospel of Judas had surfaced in the time of Irenaeus, and he dismissed it as heresy. This is significant because Irenaeus was a disciple of Polycarp, who was a personal acquaintance of the Apostle John, the last surviving apostle, who was a part of the "inner circle" of Christ's disciples.

The Gospel of Judas was written at least 150 years after the alleged author died. This is typical of gnostic writings. They seek credibility by claiming authorship of those whose names are well known in the universally accepted canon of the New Testament. However, their origins are all much later than the deaths of those who are attributed authorship of the documents.

The Gnostic writings emphasize the attainment of esoteric, spiritual knowledge as the means of salvation. They differ from the New Testament teaching of salvation through the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary. Atonement and redemption from sin are nowhere mentioned in the Gospel of Judas, marking it as significantly divergent from the writings of the New Testament. Because of blatantly spurious authorship and deviant theology, the gnostic writings were rejected as they surfaced by the church at large. Contrary to the claims of The Da Vinci Code and other popular works which challenge Christian orthodoxy, there was no vote at the Council of Nicea to determine the Canon of the New Testament. The New Testament was "ratified" as the church received and recognized authentic writings of eyewitnesses of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.

The Gospel of Judas, contrary to the claims of the National Geographic Society, is not a "new discovery." Students of the early church fathers have been aware of it from the writings of Irenaeus for centuries. The document itself surfaced in 1970 near the banks of the Nile River. The text found was written in Coptic, but it is assumed to have been translated from a Greek original. This is the case with most of the Gnostic writings. The Da Vinci Code refers to the Gospel of Philip being in Aramaic, but there is no record of the Gnostic writings ever appearing in Aramaic.

Gnostic religion was far from monolithic. There were many varieties and sects of Gnosticism from its beginnings. It is believed that the Gospel of Judas has its roots in the Cainite branch of Gnosticism. They bear the name of Cain because of their practice of taking the characters of the Bible who are presented in a negative light, and attempting to redeem their reputations by painting them in heroic fashion.

Those who envision a grandiose revolution in Christianity because of the finding of the Gospel of Judas have leapt to an unsubstantiated conclusion. These individuals come to the Gnostic texts with a preformed bias against the Bible and orthodox Christianity, and find in the Gnostic writings ammunition for their position. The leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church has published the following comment on the media frenzy surrounding the Gospel of Judas, characterizing it as "non-Christian babbling resulting from a group of people trying to create a false ‘amalgam’ between the Greek mythology and Far East religions with Christianity. They were written by a group of people who were aliens to the main Christian stream of the early Christianity. These texts are neither reliable nor accurate Christian texts, as they are historically and logically alien to the main Christian thinking and philosophy of the early and present Christians."

The comments of James Howell, pastor of Myers Park Methodist Church in Charlotte, directed at another anti-orthodox writing, The Jesus Dynasty: The Hidden History of Jesus, His Royal Family and the Birth of Christianity by James Tabor, do well as a summary statement of all the present attacks against traditional Christianity. Referring to Tabor, Howell says, "Though Tabor has much hard evidence, he builds on facts with a hypothesis, then a guess, a few more facts, then another two hypotheses, an artifact that admits of multiple interpretations, another fact, then a guess- then he connects all these dots in one of dozens of possible ways. The feel in this marvelously well-written volume is that he is building a structure of facts toward his conclusion, and the reader may easily forget that a hypothesis is merely a hypothesis, and a string of them become guesswork."

Work done in this way in any other field of study would be instantly dismissed as irresponsible and as failing to demonstrate any level of academic integrity. However, when "research" of this variety is used to load the cannons that are aimed at the Bible, the Church, Jesus Christ, and traditional Christianity, it is accepted without question by the skeptics and scoffers of the world. The demand of our day is for intelligent Christian people to respond to these attacks by articulating what we believe and why, and demonstrating that Christianity is the only worldview in existence that makes real sense of the evidence of archaeology, science, history, and real life in the real world. The textual history of the New Testament is overwhelmingly sufficient to establish it as historically valid, but we live in a day where presuppositions and biases are valued more than academic prowess. We must rise to the challenge and defend the faith with sound and reasonable argumentation. To do anything less is to deprive God of the glory He deserves.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The Gospel of Judas


I have received several questions in the past week about the "discovery" of the "New" Gospel of Judas, which supposedly is going to make us all rethink our understanding of the Bible and Jesus.

This is just the latest in long history of attacks against the historicity of the Bible. This so-called Gospel is a gnostic writing which dates to the late second century, more than one hundred years after virtually all the writings of the New Testament. Remember, the NT was written by eyewitnesses, and is corroborated by mountains of historical textual evidence. These "gnostic" writings which have been popularized by the DaVinci Code, do not have an ounce of historical authenticity. The appeal is to people who have a predetermined bias against Christianity and the Church, so these texts give them a basis for their skepticism. However, if folks will apply the same historical research methods to these texts that they seek to apply to other areas of history, they will find that it is the NT, and not the gnostic writings, which stands up under trial.

For more information, please read Al Mohler's commentary on the Gospel of Judas at http://www.albertmohler.com/commentary_read.php?cdate=2006-04-07 .

Monday, April 10, 2006

The Art of the City


I have just posted a new article over at SacredSecular on the Art of the City. Check it out at http://sacredsecular.blogspot.com

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Knowing the Christ of Easter: Philippians 3:10

As Easter approaches, we see all of the cultural representations as we look around. We see bunnies and eggs, and baskets and candy, and flowers and lots of pastel things. This is what Easter is to our culture. However, to the child of God, the real significance ought to so dwarf those cultural expressions that they become virtually insignificant. Easter for the Christian should be a time of reflection, of meditation, of prayer, and devotion, wherein we contemplate the amazing accomplishment of Jesus Christ – He lived a completely sinless life, satisfying the righteous standard of God. He died on Calvary’s cross in our place, for our sins. He rose from the dead, conquering sin and death for us, and making His righteousness available to us through faith. And the event of Easter ought to bring all this realities rushing over us like a tumultuous wave, shaking us from our complacency, and our indifference and our spiritual anemia. Easter should be for Christians an annual wake-up call which says, “If Christ did all this for me, then the only appropriate response I can offer is to live every moment of my life for Him.” That is not a decision you can make one time, forty-seven years ago at a church altar. It is a decision that must be made moment-by-moment every day of our lives. And I believe Easter is a great time of year to revisit our commitment to Christ, and rededicate ourselves to Him afresh. It is also a spectacular time to give your life to Him for the very first time, upon hearing of all that He accomplished for you. In fact, I was reading something just last week which said that an overwhelming number of people who do not attend church would accept an invitation to attend church with a friend or family member. I also read that every year at Easter, somewhere between 10 and 20 percent of those who call themselves atheists or agnostics will attend church. So, I want to encourage you to invite your friends and family members who are lost and unchurched to our services next week.

But until then, I want us to focus today on these most important and relevant verses which are right here where we left off in the study of Philippians. I believe that God in His providence has so arranged our days together that we would arrive at this text on this day, as there is perhaps not a more important passage in the entire New Testament for us to consider this Lord’s Day before Easter. I would like to consider it under the heading of “Knowing the Christ of Easter.”

The Apostle Paul was writing these words near the end of his life. It is believed that he was born between the year 0 and 5 AD, and that he was in his mid-thirties when he became a follower of Christ. At the time this letter was written, he had been serving Christ for twenty to thirty years. And after that many years, the cry of his heart was still expressed with these words, “I want to know Christ.” So what does this mean?

Well, for one thing, we need to differentiate between knowing Christ and knowing about Christ. Paul is not saying, “I wish I could acquire more information about Jesus. I wish I could enroll in some higher level academic courses where I could learn about the theological controversies and dilemmas.” It is possible for a person to know much about Christ without really knowing Christ. For instance, I am a huge ice hockey fan. When I have leisure time, I go to games, I watch it on TV, I read about it, I study it. And I know a lot about hockey. I have credentials as an ice hockey chaplain by the one of the most reputable chaplaincy ministries in the world. But here is the really embarrassing truth—I can just barely stand up on ice skates, and I have never played ice hockey in my life. So I know a lot about it, but I have never known ice hockey in a way that I can say I have experienced it. I know a lot about Bobby Orr and Wayne Gretzky, but I have never met them. I don’t know them. If you were in an airport and saw Wayne Gretzky, and said, “Hey I heard about you from Russ Reaves.” He would say, “Who is Russ Reaves? I don’t know him and he doesn’t know me.”

No, Paul doesn’t mean that he wants to know about Christ. He means he wants to know Him. It is true that a person “knows Christ,” once he or she is saved. We even use that terminology, and I think it is appropriate, to say, “I came to know the Lord.” It was July 31, 1992 on the grounds of Fort Caswell, I came to know the Lord. Before that day, I didn’t know him at all. For Paul it was on a journey to Damascus to persecute Christians. Instantly there, he came to know the Lord. Acts 9 tells the story. For some of you, you can remember a time and a place. Others maybe cannot remember a time and place, but you know it happened. Others perhaps, have yet to come to know him, and it might be today. But at the point that a person comes to know the Lord, he or she does not know all there is to know of Christ instantly. In Christ, there is as F. F. Bruce says, “an inexhaustible fullness.” And the riches of that fullness are extracted through a lifetime of growing in our relationship with Him.

I met my wife in July of 1994. We have known each other now nearly 12 years, been married nearly 9. But she would agree with me in saying that know each other much more deeply today than ever before, and that knowledge of one another increases daily. Many of you have been married longer than I have been alive, and you would agree that as time goes by, you just come to know one another more and more with each passing day. So it is in our relationship with Christ. I came to know Him nearly 14 years ago, but I know Him much more deeply today, after 14 years of walking with Him than I ever have. You grow in your relationship with Him, in your knowledge of Him, as you daily experience His presence in your life. For Paul, after more than 20 years of walking with Christ, his greatest desire was still to come to know Christ more fully until the ultimate moment when we stand before Him face to face. So, how can we know this Christ of Easter in our daily lives?

Paul says that as he goes through the days of his life, he deeply desires to know two specific things in his walk with Christ: the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His suffering.

I. The Power of His Resurrection

He is not just referring to an end of life experience where he hopes that He will be resurrected. While surely he does hope for that, and expresses it in the next verse, here, his focus is on the daily experience of the power of God that raised Christ from the dead. This Christ who conquered death has come to dwell within us in the person of the Holy Spirit. And that means that we have unlimited power available to us here and now. This power enables the Christian to rise above his or her natural desires, weaknesses, tendencies, and habits. The opportunity is available for the Christian to yield to God and say, “Lord, I am incapable of handling this in the power of my own flesh, so in this very moment, I want to know the power that conquered even death, that Christ might deliver me right now.” Knowing the resurrection power of Christ means that there is nothing that this day will bring us that God cannot handle. There is no challenge, no obstacle, no trial, no temptation, in which God cannot give us victory.

So, why is it that we are often overwhelmed by these things in our daily lives? It is because none of us have exhausted the fullness of this knowledge yet. None of us have mastered it. After two dozen years of walking with Christ, Paul still said, “This is what I want to know.” I don’t know it well enough yet. But if I can learn to depend upon Christ and His resurrection power in my time of need, then I will experience victory in all these things. And every time I experience defeat, I am reminded of how desperately I need to know Him and the power of His resurrection. How are you going to overcome that besetting sin that continues to plague you? Resurrection power. How are you going to handle that antagonistic person who ridicules you for your faith? Resurrection power. How are you going to handle the discouragement that sets in when wave upon wave of bad news overwhelms you? Resurrection power. So here is Paul on death row – doesn’t know if he is going to live or die, but he knows it isn’t looking good. How is he going to handle that? I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection. If He conquered death through that power, then there is nothing that I cannot have victory over as well, if I will yield to Him in that moment.

But to know the Christ of Easter in life is not just about resurrection power. The very fact that we need this resurrection power in our lives is a testimony to the other aspect in which Paul desires to know Christ.

II. The Fellowship of His Suffering

See, if there weren’t any opportunities for suffering, there would be no need for resurrection power. If there was no cross of Christ, there would be no empty tomb. So, we are tempted to hear Paul saying, “I want to know Christ,” and we smile and close our eyes, and say, “Yes, Jesus.” And he says, “and the power of his resurrection,” and we say, “Hallelujah! Amen.” And he says, “And the fellowship of His suffering,” and we say, “Am – Whachou talkin’ ‘bout Paul?” I didn’t sign up for any suffering. You didn’t have to. Paul says in Philippians 1:29 that God has given you to opportunity to suffer as a gift of His grace. Wow. We might say, “Thanks but no thanks God.” But you see, you can’t really know Christ apart from suffering. That is why Paul desires the resurrection power first – so that he can endure the suffering, when it comes. There are several reasons why suffering draws us into a deeper knowledge of Christ:

A. Suffering enables us to know Christ more deeply because it drives us to depend all the more on Him.

As I read about the state of Christianity around the world, I read about declining churches and thriving churches. But the surprising thing is that by and large, the places where the church is declining are the places where there is religious freedom, and a long history of Christian influence. Areas where the church is thriving are the places where Christians are persecuted, there is virtually no religious freedom, churches have to meet in secret, etc. Why is that? How do we explain that? I have a theory, and I don’t know if one could do enough research to confirm it, but my theory is that liberty and affluence and influence lull the church into slumber. Christians become lazy when they don’t have to depend on the Lord for survival every moment of every day. We get very comfortable with our status, and our income, and our position, and our social acceptability, and we depend less and less on the power of God. However, in those other areas – the hard places where the church is thriving – there is no false sense of security in things of this world. There is, however a rock-solid confidence in the power of God, as they experience Him daily in their suffering.

Suffering kicks the crutches out from under us and helps us to see that the only real security we have in this life comes from knowing God and experiencing His presence and power in our daily lives. Unfortunately, we are often so busy propping up our institutions and our programs, that we miss that simple reality. So, first of all, knowing the fellowship of His suffering enables us to know the Christ of Easter more deeply because it drives us to depend on Him all the more.

B. Suffering enables us to know Christ more deeply because it gives us a platform to witness for Him.

The world is not interested in a Christianity that keeps us smiling when life is good, and the money is good, and everything is going to suit us. You can believe in magic rocks and enchanted trees when life is good. No big deal. But when the Christian suffers, and demonstrates the peace of Christ in the midst of that suffering, it is an attractive testimony to the unbeliever. The Bible does not offer us a religion which exempts us from the trials and tribulations of this world. In fact, the way I understand the New Testament, you better expect trials and tribulations. But in the midst of them, you can still know the peace of God that surpasses all understanding and display Jesus Christ through your suffering to all those who are watching your life. Life has been effectively compared to a sponge. You don’t know what is in it until it gets squeezed. And when life squeezes you, I hope you ooze Jesus, because you have come to know Him more deeply through the fellowship of His suffering.

C. Suffering enables us to know Christ more deeply because through it we enter into a special fellowship with Christ.

Jesus was prophesied in Isaiah 53 to be a man of sorrows and acquainted with our griefs. So, as we suffer, if we are suffering for Him, there is a depth of fellowship that we enter into with Christ. He suffered for us, and in Him we have been considered worthy to suffer for Him. So, we are never alone. He is with us; as we suffer, we are in fellowship with Him. Paul asks in Romans 8, “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” No, he says in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Christ. And he concludes by saying that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” [Romans 8:35-39].

Let me ask you something: have you come to know Christ? He died for your sins and conquered death for you in the resurrection, and offers you forgiveness if you will turn to Him and place your faith and trust in Him as Lord and Savior. Many of you have done that. But like Paul perhaps, now 20, 30 years later, maybe less, you say, “I don’t know Him nearly as deeply as I would like to. I want to know this Risen Christ of Easter!” So, today, why not say to Him, “Oh Christ, I want to know You! I am tired of just barely getting by. I want to fully live the life You died to give me. I want to know you more deeply than I ever have before. I want to know You in the power of Your resurrection. And I want to know you in the fellowship of Your sufferings.”