Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: crucifixion

Slaying the beast within

A year and a half ago, a young man who had served a sentence for armed robbery appeared in court to explain that he had learned his lesson. He said that he had learned that he needed to stop and think before doing something and consider the consequences. “I have learned to tell the difference between good and evil,” he testified.

Two weeks ago, the fiancee of this young man, mother of his two young children, went missing. A few days later a sack containing her dismembered body was found under a bridge. The young man who had supposedly learned to tell the difference between good and evil has been charged with murder. What happened?

There is a beast within each one of us that cannot learn, cannot be tamed. Most often it shows itself in words, but sometimes far more horrible things happen. James writes:

And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell. For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind: but the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be.  James 3:6-10

The apostle Paul wrote: “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing” (Romans 7:18). No  anger management course, no behaviour modification therapy, can ever fully master this beast. It has to die.

That is why Jesus said: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” (Luke 9:23). That is, if we are to be followers of Jesus Christ, we must daily renounce the inclinations of that inner beast and nail it to the cross. Paul is saying the same thing when he writes: “For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live” (Romans 8:13). “Mortify” is used here in its original French sense of “make to die.”

The new birth is the result of the death of this inner beast, to be replaced by a new life, one that is not animated, or in harmony with, the forces of hell, but one that is animated by the Holy Spirit and in harmony with the powers of heaven. Here are the words of Paul again: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

The beast within does not want to stay dead. That is why Jesus spoke of the daily need for self-denial and cross bearing. That does not mean a daily new birth; the Holy Spirit does not leave us so easily. A Christian may do and say things at times that indicate the influence of the inner beast; if someone else has been hurt the Holy Spirit will prompt him to make amends for the hurt he has caused. No one should ever have to wonder who has control of the life of someone who calls himself a Christian.

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The life is in the blood

There is a fountain filled with blood
Drawn from Emanuel’s veins;
And sinners washing in that flood
Lose all their guilty stains.
-William Cowper

Christianity is a messy, bloody religion. Some people find this repulsive and would prefer a neater, bloodless form of Christianity. But that is a lifeless Christianity — the life is in the blood.

The Old Testament law mentions several times that the life of all flesh is in the blood. Consider for a moment the many ways our life depends on the blood flowing through our veins. The blood carries oxygen and nutrients to every cell in our body. The blood also purifies the body, picking up minute quantities of waste throughout the body and carrying them away to be disposed of. The blood fights infection and disease, containing cells that seek out, destroy and remove invading cells that would harm our body. The blood stops bleeding and repairs wounds. We could not live without the things our blood does for us.

In a spiritual sense the blood of Jesus Christ does for us what the blood in our veins does for our natural body. It cleanses us from all sin and gives us life; it is the remedy for all spiritual diseases that war against the soul, the source of healing for the wounded soul.

Soon we will commemorate the resurrection of our Saviour. That is also vitally important for our spiritual life, but let us remember that we would have no life at all if it wasn’t for the blood.

How long was Jesus in the tomb?

Matthew12:40 — For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

Those are the words of Jesus, stating clearly that He would be in the tomb for three days and three nights. His crucifixion and burial took place on a Friday, the day before the Sabbath, and He rose early in the morning of Sunday, the first day of the week. How does that add up to three days and three nights?

Many people have wrestled with that question and concluded that the crucifixion and burial actually took place on a Thursday; I have even read some who claim it must have been Wednesday. These folks have done their calculations carefully and appear to have unassailable logic on their side. Obviously, the idea that Jesus died on Friday is just a figment of somebody’s imagination in the far distant past. Except . . .

Not everybody thinks like we do — not even in calculating the passage of time. When I began to learn French, I discovered that if I wanted to meet somebody a week from today I would have to say “in eight days.” If I said “in seven days” he would be there a day before I would. What is going on here? Well, I am writing this on a Wednesday and to the French mind it makes no sense to skip today when counting the days to next Wednesday. Today is not over yet, so I must count today and all the days up to and including next Wednesday. That makes eight days.

In the beginning that was incomprehensible, completely ridiculous, to my mind. Who ever heard of such a thing? Well, guess what? My way of thinking was equally baffling and harebrained to French-speaking people.

And French-speaking people aren’t the only ones who think like that — the writers of our Bible, Jews and Greeks, thought exactly the same way. For people who see things that way, it is perfectly logical that the period from late Friday afternoon to early Sunday morning perfectly fulfills the prophecy of three days and three nights.

Someone might object that there were only two nights, Friday and Saturday. That again depends on how we look at things. We say last night was Tuesday night, but I got to bed just after midnight so all my sleep happened after it became Wednesday. If something newsworthy happened during the night, a French language newspaper, in order to be precise, would describe it as the night of Tuesday to Wednesday.

The way we see things is so blindingly obvious to us that it never even occurs to us that other people might see things in a completely different way. A generation after the Vietnam war, Robert McNamara came to the stunning conclusion that “those people don’t think like we do.”

George W Bush led the USA into a war in Iraq, thinking that the people over there would be overjoyed that the USA had come to liberate them. France refused to join this adventure, knowing full well that the reaction of the people in Iraq would be much different than Mr. Bush expected. Things might have turned out better if the US had asked the advice of the French instead of vilifying them.

These profound differences in the way people view events around them are something we need to be aware of when we attempt to share the gospel. We have framed the gospel in terms that make sense according to the paradigms of our own culture. We should not be too quick to assume that people of another culture have understood what we told them and rejected it. In all likelihood, their first impression is that we are trying to convert them to our culture. That can serve as a roadblock to further attempts to share the gospel. It would be better to take the time to learn their way of thinking and frame the gospel in terms that fit their understanding.

And certain women

“And it came to pass afterward, that he went throughout every city and village, preaching and shewing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God: and the twelve were with him, and certain women, which had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary called Magdalene, out of whom went seven devils, and Joanna the wife of Chuza Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others, which ministered unto him of their substance” (Luke 8:1-3).

The gospels of Matthew and Mark also mention the women who followed Jesus, but those mentions do not come until the time of His crucifixion. Luke tells us  that there were women among those who travelled with Jesus at a much earlier period. He names three of them and says there were many others, and that they provided financial support for His ministry. The gospels of Matthew and Mark add the names of Mary, mother of James the less and Salome, the wife of Zebedee,  and also mention that there were many others.  It is always mentioned that these women came from Galilee.

Luke tells us that Jesus had cast out  seven devils from Mary Magdalene (Mary of Magdala). Some would infer from this that Mary was a woman of low repute who had been rescued by Jesus. It seems more likely that she was a woman of some status and means who was in no way inferior to Joanna and the others. The Herod mentioned here would be Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee. It appears there were believers in his household, just as Paul later mentioned the believers in the household of Caesar.

These mentions are tantalizing and we would wish to know more. Did they aid Jesus and the apostles in their ministry, perhaps ministering to women and children along the way? Certainly Jesus considered them to be worthy to be present during His ministry and to hear His teachings.

Yet most people of Jesus’ time would have been scandalized to see women among His entourage. No doubt they were somewhat discreet in their actions, but the very fact that they were there is evidence that Jesus held women in much higher esteem than did either the Jews or the Romans. The fact that they are mentioned at all in the gospels attests to the fact that the writers of the gospels had caught Jesus’ attitude of respect for women.

The role of these women comes into much sharper focus at the time of the crucifixion. All three of the synoptic gospels mention their presence and Luke tells us that Jesus appeared to them after His resurrection before He appeared to any of the apostles.”And they remembered his words, and returned from the sepulchre, and told all these things unto the eleven, and to all the rest. It was Mary Magdalene, and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, and other women that were with them, which told these things unto the apostles” (Luke 24:8-10).

This is in itself a mark of the authenticity of the gospels, for if they had invented the story of the resurrection they would never have mentioned the women as being the first witnesses of the risen Lord. The testimony of a woman had no validity at that time and place. In fact, the next verse tells us the apostles did not believe the women. It was only Peter and John who were sufficiently stirred by their testimony to run to the sepulchre to see for themselves.

If we see nothing exceptional in the account of the women at the tomb, it is because over the years the gospel has transformed people’s attitudes toward women. The last mention of these women is in Acts 1:14, immediately after the ascension: “These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren.” No doubt these women were present a few days later on the day of Pentecost and were filled with the Holy Ghost, thus becoming witnesses and participants in the beginning of the Christian church.

Pookie come home

Pookie wasn’t here to greet me when I came home Tuesday evening after taking my wife to the airport. Pookie,a little flame point Siamese, showed up on our doorstep two years ago in fall, a feral kitten looking for a home. We didn’t need a third cat, but pretty soon he had captured our affection and we couldn’t think of letting him go. He is the Energizer bunny of the cat world, and is always there to give an enthusiastic greeting when he hears the car coming. This time he wasn’t there, and didn’t come when I called.

Finally, after dark, he showed up. He had wounds on his head between his ear and his eye and below his chin. He had been attacked a week earlier by some creature and we were giving him antibiotics to quell the infection from that. I hoped that the antibiotic in his bloodstream, plus the two remaining pills, would be enough to prevent any infection from this new attack. By Thursday evening I knew it wasn’t going to be enough, so I took him with me when I went to the Delisle vet clinic to work on their bookkeeping. He got one antibiotic pill there at the clinic and another that evening.

Our most lively cat had become lethargic and slow moving, yet yesterday morning he wanted to go out. I expected that he would only be out a short time, but the hours went by and no Pookie appeared. I finally called the lady on the farm next to our acreage and she said she had not seen Pookie, but that all their cats went into hiding during the day because of the dogs. Their son and his family are moving back from Alberta and the dogs are staying next door until they can move to their new home. But the dogs are penned up in the evening and then the cats come out to be fed.

Evening came, and still no Pookie. By this time I had worked through most of the grieving process, from denial to anger and finally acceptance that I probably would not see him again. Just before I went to bed, I decided to look once more. In my pyjamas, with slippers on my feet and a flashlight in my hand, I opened the door to go out . . . and in walked Pookie.

He must have found a safe place to sleep the day away and was moving  with greater ease than in the morning. I popped a pill in his mouth, made sure he had enough to eat, went to bed and slept peacefully.

I wondered about my feelings, is it right to be so emotionally affected by the supposed loss of an animal? We humans seem often to be unbalanced in our love. Some people are animal lovers, but have difficulty getting along with people. Some people profess a love for their fellow man, yet are very hardhearted toward animals. I don’t believe either extreme is pleasing to God.

Wasn’t it the shepherd’s love for his sheep that gave meaning to the Old Testament sacrifices? Shepherds knew their sheep, called them by name, took care of their needs, protected them, and loved them. God asked them to take the very best out of their flock and to offer it as a sacrifice for their sins. Don’t you suppose they were reminded again and again how serious their sins were when they had to take a sheep that they loved and offer it as a sacrifice to atone for their sins?

David went from tending his father’s flock as a shepherd to tending his heavenly Father’s flock as king. He never lost the heart of a shepherd. When he sinned by numbering the people and the death angel was sent among the people, David said: “Lo, I have sinned, and I have done wickedly: but these sheep, what have they done? let thine hand, I pray thee, be against me, and against my father’s house” (2 Samuel 24:17).
Isn’t this why David was a man after God’s own heart?

Finally, it took the sacrifice of Jesus, the only-begotten Son of God, the perfect Lamb of God, to bring an end to the slaughter of animals as atonement for sin. Don’t you suppose the Father’s heart was broken when Jesus cried out from the cross “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?

No suffering is pleasing to God, He knows every sparrow that falls. He has no pleasure in the death of sinners, yet the death of His own Son makes plain the terrible reality that sin separates us from God.

 

How can we be sure that Christ arose?

There are people in our day who say that Jesus never existed. However, there are references to Jesus in first century writings by both Jewish scholars and Roman officials. No one from that era ever denied that Jesus was a real person. The gospels are eye witness accounts and the authenticity of their accounts on other points has been established.

Luke, in particular, was a meticulous historian. He placed the events in his gospel with reference to secular events and individuals. It has been found that the officials he mentions really did exist in the time and place that he ascribes to them. In both the gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles, Luke took great care to seek out authentic eye witness accounts to compile his history.

There is no attempt in the gospels to cover up the weaknesses of the disciples of Jesus. They fled at His arrest; Peter even denied ever knowing Him. When He died on the cross, they assumed that all was lost. When they first heard reports of His resurrection, they scoffed.

Yet not much later they were boldly preaching the gospel of the risen Saviour. What made the difference? Was it not that they had personally met Jesus, whom they knew to have once been dead, talked with Him, ate with Him, touched Him? What else could have given them the assurance to endure opposition, persecution and death for the sake of the gospel?

If the authorities could have produced the body of Jesus, the story would have ended there. If one of the disciples had ever broken down under torture and confessed to lying about the resurrection, the Christian faith would have died on the spot. Those things never happened, even though Roman officials did their utmost to make them happen. In time, the report was spread abroad that these men had “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6).

So here is the question for Christians in the 21st century. This world needs to be turned upside down as badly as it ever has in ages past. We say we believe in the resurrection, we say we believe in the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Why are we having so little impact on the world around us?

Triumph in the cross

Jesus entered enemy territory when He came to earth, and He knew it. Satan and He had been adversaries since the Garden of Eden when Satan tempted Eve to eat the forbidden fruit, asking her, “Did God really say you shouldn’t eat it? You must have misunderstood, it’s good for you.”

Since that time, Satan had opposed the work of God by every means at his disposal. Far too often he had been successful, yet his ultimate goal of proving God’s love for mankind to be a failure had been continually stymied. Now here was the Son. Satan’s thought was no doubt the same as the wicked husbandmen in Jesus’ parable: “This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and let us seize on his inheritance.”

Satan’s plan appeared to have succeeded. He stirred up the religious leaders to use desperate measures to eliminate the One whom they perceived to be a threat to their positions and authority. Jesus hung on the cross, His lefe ebbing away. Satan felt victory within his grasp. Then he heard the terrible words from the cross: “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Terrible words for the enemy of our souls, but wonderful, life-giving words for all of us who by our sins were responsible for Jesus being nailed to the cross.

And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses; blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross; and having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it. (Colossians 2:13-15)

Did Jesus descend into hell?

The Apostles’ Creed says: “He descended into hell.” Or does it? This short little confession of the essentials of the faith is thought to have begun as questions that were asked of applicants for baptism: “Do you believe . . . ?” It was soon compiled into the form we have today – except for the clause “He descended into hell.” This clause was not added until the fourth century.

The Roman Catholic Church and many Protestant churches use the version containing this clause. Anabaptists have never accepted the “descended into hell” clause.

Doesn’t the Bible say that Jesus was in hell after His death on the cross? There are a few verses that might seem to give this idea, but does that impression stand up to a close examination?

Psalm 16:10 says “For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.” Peter quotes this verse in Acts 2:27, referring to it again in verse 31, and applies it to Christ. The original words translated as hell are sheol in Hebrew and hades in Greek, both words refer to the place of the departed spirits after death, where they wait for the resurrection of the body. The basic sense of the passage is that Jesus’ body would not lie in the tomb long enough to suffer decomposition.

1 Peter 3:19 is often cited as a basis for the descent into hell. Here is the whole passage from verse 18 to verse 20: “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: by which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.”

The Roman Catholic Church bases its doctrine of purgatory on verse 19, teaching that there will be a second chance for the lost after death. This verse does not offer any hint that the “spirits in prison” repented, nor does any other part of Scripture speak of a second chance after death. What then would have been the purpose of Jesus descending to the spirits of the lost to speak specifically to those who perished in the flood?

A simpler explanation is that Christ, “by the Spirit,” preached to them through Noah before the flood. The fact that Peter refers to Noah as a “preacher of righteousness” (2 Peter 2:5), lends considerable weight to this interpretation. The term “spirits in prison” is not used elsewhere to refer to souls in hades, the place of departed spirits, but to those who are bound in unbelief, as in Isaiah 61:1: “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound.”

Whatever our interpretation of these verses, we dare not take them as referring to a descent of Jesus into the place of eternal torment, for on the cross He promised the dying thief: “Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.” These are Jesus’ own words, testifying that He himself would be in Paradise after His death.

The inconvenient Jesus

Jesus was the enemy of formalism and legalism, the one who castigated the religious leaders of His day for their hypocrisy.  He was the friend of the poor, the oppressed, the outcasts and the sinners.  We like to believe that no matter what others may think of us, Jesus is our unconditional friend.

That isn’t far off the mark, but when we go to a funeral and hear that our dear departed uncle is now in heaven, all his sorrows are over, while we never noticed that our dear departed took any interest in preparing for heaven, then we begin to wonder if the picture has not gotten skewed.

Jesus’ own words are difficult (impossible) to reconcile with the picture of a Jesus who welcomes everyone to heaven, even if they never showed any desire to go there.  Things like: “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God,” and: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me,”and even:  “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.”

Jesus had strange ideas of what it meant to be blessed: “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.”

The meaning of these verses is that if heaven is not more important to us than all our earthly pride and possessions, even our own family, we are never going to make it there.  These, and many other of the hard sayings of Jesus are an inconvenient obstacle to those who wish to believe in a Jesus who will accept them on their own terms.

Things do not work that way in real life; we must accept Jesus on His terms.  That includes repentance, self-denial and for many people may include rejection by friends and family and even physical danger, persecution and death.

There was no easy way out for Jesus when He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane: “Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour” and: “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.”

He suffered the agony of the cross, blood poured from His wounds and His side.  He did not go through this to make life on earth easier for us, but to make eternal life in heaven possible for us.  Our way to heaven must also involve submission to the will of the Father, a willingness to forsake the thoughts and things that are highly esteemed by those around us and to bear the shame and reproach of the cross.

There are no short cuts, no easier pathway for someone who claims a special illumination.  Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, and His way is the narrow way.  If we want to be in heaven with Jesus, that way is the only way.  This is still good news.  Heaven will be worth it all and there will be no one there who did not really want to be there.

All power

And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Matthew 28:18

These are bold words, yet coming as they did from the mouth of one who had risen from the dead we must grant their credibility.  The question then is, at what point was Jesus given this power?  Was it at the moment of his resurrection, or did he possess all power before that?

After the resurrection we see that Jesus still had a body that could be touched, he could prepare food and eat it; nothing in his appearance announced that he was now different.  Yet he joined his followers in a closed room without opening a door, then left the same way.  Some people might think of this as something similar to Star Trek characters being teleported.  However, it does not seem that Jesus was moving miraculously from one place to another in the visible world, but that he was slipping between the created and uncreated spheres, between that which is temporal and that which is eternal.

This is remarkable enough, but before his crucifixion and resurrection he turned water into wine, multiplied the loaves and fishes, healed the sick, raised the dead, cast out demons and healed congenital infirmities.

The greatest display of his power, however, took place on the cross.  The battle between Christ and Satan began in heaven and continued on earth.  Jewish leaders had expected Messiah to restore their earthly kingdom and give them dominion over their enemies.  Jesus had a much greater goal in mind.  At the very moment when it seemed that Satan had finally gained a complete victory, the mercy seat in the heavens was anointed with the blood of the Son of God and Satan’s hope of victory was forever crushed.  The veil of the temple split from the top to the bottom, showing that all mankind now had free access to the mercy seat.

Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross; and having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it.  Colossians 2:14-15

It was therefore necessary that the patterns of things in the heavens should be purified with these; but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these.  For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us: nor yet that he should offer himself often, as the high priest entereth into the holy place every year with blood of others; for then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.  Hebrews 9:23-26

What seemed to be a fatal weakness was actually a display of power that transcends any other that we could imagine.  That should give us a pretty good clue as to how God expects us to witness of his power to others.  Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. 1 Corinthians 1:25

And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.  Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.  Matthew 18:18-20

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