Monday, February 23, 2015

Why Is It Important To Believe In Jesus?

"Alright", you say. "I agree that the Bible is a reliable document, I believe Jesus really existed, that He is God, and I accept that He was Resurrected. So what? Why do I have follow Him?" The answer is given in His foretelling of His Second Coming. He will come again in glory to judge. For some this is a scary thought. For others it is something that is longed for. It all depends on our faith. If we know Him, trust in Him, have a relationship with Him, allow Him to guide us in our daily life, then we know there is nothing to fear when He does come again to judge all mankind. But if we do not know Him, if we have ignored His teachings, have lived a life separated from Him, then we might feel scared to know that He will come again and will judge us.

God has given us all a free-will being made in His image and likeness. We can chose to follow Him or to ignore Him. But there will be consequences based on how we choose. God Himself will not force himself on us because He is a God of Love. He is looking for our love and love must come out of our voluntary action, not something that is forced on us. Do we love Him as He loves us? We need to ask ourselves if we have made the right choice.

We will not be able to fool Jesus, He knows what is in our heart. He died a voluntary death on the Cross to show us the way through His Resurrection to eternal life with Him in His Kingdom. He wants all of us to be with Him. He knows how we struggle having been fully man while he lived on earth. He knows our sinfulness. He is patient, loving and most merciful. If we have not followed His teachings, He only asks for us to seek forgiveness and to surrender our will to His will. Then He will guide us and protect us and we will not have fear about His Second Coming. John the Theologian, a witness to the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ, writes:
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.  -  John 3:16-21
To be judged and accepted by Him we must know Him, we must believe in Him, we must follow His teachings. Others who do not know Him will not pass the test when He comes again. If we do not see the need for a savior, if we put our faith in the pleasures of this world, then we will not be accepted into His Kingdom when he returns. Our whole life will pass in front of us as we face judgment. We will be able to judge ourselves. Either we will know and love Him or we know that we ignore Him and never learned to know and experience His love. We choose in this life to be united with Him or to separate from Him. We can choose either path.

To know Him and become united with Him is what the Orthodox Way of Life is all about. Explore it more here

Reference: Orthodox Way of Life 

Monday, February 16, 2015

How can we believe in the Resurrection of Christ?

There are some who call themselves Christian who question the reality of the Resurrection. They ask with sincerity, "Did Jesus really rise from the dead? Where is the proof?" They do not question His Crucifixion or the fact that He was put into a tomb after He was taken down from the Cross, but cannot accept that he was resurrected from the dead. They wonder if the body was stolen or that Jesus just fainted and really wasn't dead or some other rationale.  But this fact of His Resurrection is the heart of Christian belief. You cannot be a Christian and doubt that He rose from the Dead. This is the hope we all have as Christians that we too will be resurrected, following Him to be united with Him in Paradise for eternity. Without the Resurrection there is no basis for the Church, the sacramental life based on the Holy Spirit that Jesus sent on Pentecost. So this question needs to be answered.

Let's take the argument that someone stole the body. We need to ask who had such a motive to do so? It's not clear that there was anyone who had such a motive. We can consider the possibilities of the Romans, Jewish religious leaders or the disciples.

The Romans were most interested in peace in Their territory. If they had stolen the body there would have been chaos. The only reason they let Him unjustly be crucified is that they thought it would bring peace. They were concerned about the problems that would occur if anyone stole the Body. So what did they do? They stationed guards around the tomb and sealed it. They knew he was dead as it was they who killed Him.

How about the Jewish leaders? What would have been the rumors if they had stolen the body and hidden it somewhere? People would have thought He had risen from the dead, the very idea they were trying to suppress. They surely wanted Him to be dead and able to prove that He was dead lying in the tomb. The fact that He was missing from the tomb was a serious problem for these Jewish leaders. The Jewish leaders were suspicious that the disciples had stolen the Body to give the people the impression that Jesus had in fact risen from the dead and was Who He claimed to be, the Messiah.

How about the disciples, could they have stolen it. Remember the tomb was guarded by Roman Guards and its was sealed with a cord and a wax seal on orders of Pontus Pilot.  If these soldiers were neglect in their duty their fate would have been death. It would have been very difficult for them to have bribed the guards to have access to the tomb. There were 11 disciples so even if somehow they got by the guards and stole the body, one of the eleven would have surely said something about it eventually. Think about what they did after the Resurrection. They carried the Good News to all corners of the world and all but one was killed for their belief and teaching. If the Resurrection was a lie they made up, how could they have faced such suffering and death on behalf of a story that was made up? It's very likely that one of them when faced with the threat of torture and death would have given in and confessed that it was all a hoax, that they had stolen the body to make it look like He had risen from the dead. But not one of them did. They sacrificed dedicated their lives to Him and brought many to having faith in Him. Their efforts caused much suffering and difficulty for themselves as they acted over several decades without wavering in their faith.

Also the disciples saw Him after they found the empty tomb. They talked with Him, He instructed them on the mysteries of the Church, He prepared them for their future ministry to carry on His teaching. They set out to tell the world after having witnessed the resurrected Christ knowing they too would never die as Jesus had shown them that He truly had the power over life and death. They knew what they had witnessed was the truth.

How about the idea that Jesus did not really die but was only unconscious when taken down from the Cross? Examine the details of what took place.  First he was severely scourged, He was beaten with a whip that had several cords with a small piece of metal or bone attacked at the end. The idea was this kind of scourging would tear the skin.  Normally there was a limit to 40 strokes but the Romans were much more ruthless than the Jews and there was no limit for them. The historian Eusebius wrote in the third century that "veins were laid bare, and... the very muscles, sinew, and bowels of the victim were open to exposure."  Jesus could have died just from this whipping. When he ascended on the Cross he had already lost much blood. The use of the Cross was considered the most cruel way to kill someone. There were spikes that were driven through the hands and feet, but the killer was that you had to struggle to breath so death come from suffocation and each breath brought pain. It was a slow painful death. At the end the Romans broke the legs to make sure they could not support themselves for any more breaths. But in the case of Jesus they saw He was already dead and did not break His legs. To make sure He was dead the soldiers took their spear and pierced His body and there was something that looked like blood and water that came out. Medical technology tells us that the description accords with the fact that the blood had already been clotting inside His body and had separated from the watery serum a sure sign of death.

Knowing that Jesus was dead, and wanting to get the bodies disposed of before the sunset and the beginning of the Sabbath, Jesus was taken down from the Cross and prepared for burial in the tomb.  There was an influential man Joseph of Arimathea who asked Pilot for the body. He had a tomb nearby where He could be buried. Think of the situation. The spikes and to be taken out of his hands and feet and his body was torn severely from the scourging.  They prepared His body for burial according to the Jewish custom. The body was washed and then bandaged with narrow long strips of cloth that they wrapped tightly around His body. There was a mixture of spices placed between the layers of cloth that would seal them together.  In the case of Jesus we know they used a large amount of spices, 100 lbs, to make sure His body was well preserved. He was wrapped like a mummy and laid on a slab in the tomb. The tomb was then closed with a heavy stone, sealed and then guarded by Roman soldiers.

What happened? The day after the Sabbath were there was allowed no work some of the women who had followed Jesus went to the tomb to anoint his body with perfume.  But when they got there they found the tomb to be empty. They clearly expected to find Him there. They were dismayed to find Him missing. Then they fled to tell the disciples. Peter and John immediately ran to the tomb to verify what the women had seen.  John who was there records what he found.
And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus' head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples went back to their homes.    John 20:5-10
The women returned and are greeted by two angels. One, Mary Magdalene,  encountered the risen Christ in the garden. He says to her,
Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to my Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, "I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God."
His body was spiritualized. Yet he could eat and did with the disciples.  There were many who witnessed Him. There are many other details available in the Scripture. Its hard to imagine that all this could have been all made up.  With all the little details it is clearly the account of eyewitnesses There is the detail of the head napkin lying by itself and folded. It was clear that the body was not taken out of the grave cloths which had been sealed to gather with the mixture of spices. If they had it would have been unraveled. There was the empty grave wrapping and the head cloth by itself. This is not the scene of a robbery.

Truly He is risen!

Reference: Everything I Ever Wanted to Know About God: The Jesus Edition, Eric Metaxas

Monday, February 9, 2015

How do we know that Jesus was God?

How do we know Jesus was really God and not just some super human being who was enlightened? Jesus tells us in John's Gospel, "I and My Father are one." He told the Jewish leaders, "Most assuredly, I say to you before Abraham was, I AM."  This was the Jewish name for God and the name God used when Moses asked him what to call Him at the burning bush. Jesus also was able to forgive sins, something according to Jewish tradition only God was able to do. 

Then on Mount Tabor He revealed His divinity to three of His disciples. In Matthew 17 the event of His Transfiguration is recorded. He went with John Peter and James to the top of the mountain and as it is recorded, Jesus was "transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the night." Then Moses and Elijah appeared to them.  It was for these few moment that Jesus was not of this world but was part of eternity. God said to them, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." This event terrified the disciples and they fell on their faces and Jesus had to come and comfort them, saying, "do not be afraid." 

Some claim that he was a good moral teacher but not God. C.S. Lewis replies to this thought, 
"A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic––on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg––or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse."
Cambridge University Professor F.J.A. Hoyt, who spent twenty-eight years in a critical study of the New Testament text writes: 
"[Christ's] words were so completely parts and utterances of Himself, that they had no meaning as abstract truth uttered by Him as a Divine oracle or prophet. Take away Himself as the primary (though not the ultimate) subject of every statement and they all fall to pieces."
We have to choose. He claimed to be God and His claim is either true or false. If it were false either he knew it was false or He didn't. Was He a liar?  If He was lying then He was a hypocrite because he taught others to tell the truth. He would also have to be a demon because He told people to trust Him for their eternal destiny. Maybe He was a fool. His claims to be God led Him to His Crucifixion. He had the chance to back away from His claims as God at the last minute but He only reaffirmed that He was "I Am." I don't think it's logical to call Him a fool. How could He be a great moral teacher and be such a deceiver, a liar, a hypocrite? Neither does this make sense based on what we know about His life and what He taught.

Historian Philip Schaff writes:
How in the name of logic, common sense, and experience, could an imposter––that is a deceitful, selfish, depraved man––have invented and consistently maintained from the beginning to end, the purest and noblest character known in history with the most perfect air of truth and reality? How could he have conceived and carried out a plan of unparalleled beneficence, moral magnitude, and sublimity, and sacrificed His own life for it, in the face of the strongest prejudices of His people and age.
If He wanted power based on having followers, why would He have chosen the Jewish nation who so thoroughly beloved in the notion of one God. Why wouldn't He have gone to Egypt, Greece or Rome where they all believed in various Gods. There He might have been better able to convince people that He was another one of their Gods. But He chose the center of the Jewish faith, the most difficult place to sway people away from their Belief in one God and develop a mass of followers. 

Could He have been Lunatic, a crazy man? The problem with this is that we do not observe the imbalance and abnormalities that you find with deranged people. If He was crazy, its truly amazing how He could hide it in his ongoing behavior. He did not have a bloated ego. Even when He was adored by so many He kept his balance always knowing where He was going and what He was doing.

It is not logical to accept that He was a liar or a lunatic. The New Testament itself shows that He was truly God, truly divine. These were documents written within fifty years of His Crucifixion. The writings of the early Church fathers such as Justin Martyr, Ignatius, and Irenaeus all saw Him to be divine.

Ignatius of Antioch (AD 110): "God incarnate...God Himself appearing in the form of man."
Justin Martyr (AD 100-165): "...being the First begotten Word of God, is even God."
Irenaeus (Ad 177): "...the Father is God and the Son is God; for He who is born of God is God."

There are some who follow the story line of the well known novel, The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown, which proclaims that it was Constantine the emperor who declared Christ to be God and called the Council of Bishops a Nicea to make this declaration official. There is no historical basis for this claim. It is totally false as Jesus was known to be God from the time of His Incarnation. The Council of Nicea only affirmed what was taught from the time of the Apostles to refute a claim by an errant presbyter from Egypt, Arius, who taught that Jesus was only a super Human being, not fully God as well as fully Human. 

The whole idea of the Incarnation of God, of Jesus as both fully Human and Divine, defies human logic. But what was recoded by eyewitnesses clearly shows the reality of this event. The Gospel writers leave us a record for us to know who He was, fully God as well as full human, the Creator of this world with infinite powers who took on flesh. We are His creatures and like a clay pot cannot know its potter, we can never fully comprehend the full nature of our Creator. The integrity of the Gospels has been protected for over 2000 years, wooing us His true nature.

Make your choice, either He is truly the Son of God as recorded in history by eyewitnesses, or He is a liar, a fool, or a lunatic.

Reference: More than a Carpenter by Josh McDowell and Sean McDowell

Monday, February 2, 2015

How do we know Jesus is a real person?

Many attack our Christian faith by raising the question, How do we know Jesus is a real person and the disciples did not just make up the story? Fortunately this is an easy question to answer. There were many firsthand witnesses and numerous documents recording his historical existence. There is little doubt among historians that he existed.

First we have the New Testament documents which were written within 75 years of His ministry. There are numerous copies from within 100 years of these being written and thousands of copies. But how do we know the disciples were recording the truth?  First the way the stories are written they are not in the form a myth because they are written as eye witness accounts with numerous details that are not central to the man events. Also, since they were written shortly after His death and Resurrection,  if it were all a lie, there would have been many who would have protested.  Instead, many feared this movement because of the truth of the events that took place and tried to persecute those who spread the stories and teachings.

But there is much more evidence from non biblical historical documents written by Jews and Romans who were not sympathetic to the Christians. One such evidence is the writing of Jewish historian Josephus who lived in Rome during the first century.  He wrote one book around AD 94 that refers to Jesus.  Here is what he wrote:
Now there was about this time, Jesus a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was Christ; and when Pilate, as the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the Cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him. For he appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him; and the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct to this day.
In this same book Josephus also mentions James as the brother of Christ who was tried before a council called by Anaius and turned over to the authorities to be stoned.

Another account is found in the writing of a Roman historian Tacitus discussing how Emperor Nero accused the Christians being responsible of the burning of Rome:
Hence to suppress the rumor, [Nero] falsely charged with the guilt and punished with the most exquisite tortures, the persons commonly called Christians, who were hated for their enormities. Christos, the founder of the name, was put to death by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea in the reign of Tiberius: but the pernicious superstition, repressed for a time broke out again, not only through Judea, where the mischief originated, but through the city of Rome also.
There is also Lucian of Samosata who wrote a satire, The death of Peregrines, that was popular in its day. He wrote:
The Christians, you know, worship a man to this day––the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that account.... These misguided creatures start with the general conviction that they are immortal for all time, which explains the contempt of death and voluntary self-devotion which are so common among them; and then it was impressed on them by their original lawgiver that they are all brothers, from the moment that they are converted, and deny the gods of Greece, and worship the crucified sage, and live after his laws. All this they take quite on faith, with the result that they despise all worldly goods alike, regarding them merely as common property.
Also we have another Roman historian Suetonius who wrote Life of Caudius. In this book he wrote: "As the Jews were making constant disturbances at the instigation of Chrestu, [Claudius] expelled them from Rome." The event is also referred to by Luke in Acts as it took place in AD 49.  In another book he wrote, The lives of the Caesars, you find this quote: "Punishment by Nero was inflicted on the Christians, a class of men given to a new and mischievous superstition."

Finally we have Pliny the Younger who is also known as Plynius Seconds who was the governor of Bithynia which is a territory in what today is known as Turkey.  He was seeking advice from the Roman emperor Trajan on how to deal with the Christians.  He wrote the following:
They affirmed, however, that the whole of their guilt, or their error, was that they were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verse a hymn to Christ as to a god, and bound themselves to a solemn oath, not to any wicked deeds, but never to commit any fraud, theft, adultery, never to falsify their word, not to deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up.
He also mentions in this letter that he had been forcing the Christians to "curse Christ, which a genuine Christian cant be induced to do."

We can also find reference in the Jewish Talmud seeing Jesus as a rabbi and claming that he was executed and had disciples being born of a virgin.  There are several mentions of him as being an illegitimate bastard son of Miriam.

There is also evidence in  the writing of Julius Africanis, who wrote around AD 221. He referred to a writer named Thallus who wrote in AD 52 mentioning a darkness that fell midday when Jesus was crucified.  He wrote:
Thallus, in the third book of his histories, explains away this darkness as an eclipse of the sun––unreasonable, as it seems to me (unreasonably, of course, because a solar eclipse could not take place at the time of the full moon, and it was the season of the Paschal full moon that Christ died.)
The bottom line is there is no valid basis to deny the historical reality of Jesus Christ. What is recorded in the New Testament is an accurate description of what took place. It has been well documented by the Gospel writers and affirmed in the letters of Paul.

Reference: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About God (but were afraid to ask): The Jesus Edition by Eric Metaxas, pp 13-23