Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: disciples

Four women named Mary, three men named James

I suppose there has always been a fashion in names. When I was a boy in school there were three Roberts in one classroom. To our teachers we were Bob, Bobby and Robert; to our classmates we were Bob, Professor and Goofy. I was Professor, I must have been a know-it-all. Goofy was the class comedian; in the midst of a serious discussion he would come out with an off-the-wall remark that would crack up the whole room. The teachers did their best to pretend they were not amused, but even they could not help smiling at times.

Years later, while working in an auto parts factory, there were often three Bob’s out on the floor. Bob Wolfgram was a shift supervisor, Bob Wickenheiser an electrician, and Bob Goodnough was from the quality assurance department. When Bob was paged over the PA system, we had to listen carefully to get the last name.

And back in my younger years all the nice girls were named Joan. At least it seemed that way to me, though I did have a couple of female cousins who were not named Joan and who I thought were pretty nice. I believe Joan was the most popular name for girls in that era.

Getting to the subject at hand, it can seem confusing to sort out all the Mary’s mentioned in the gospels. The name was popular because Miriam was one of the most prominent ladies in the Old Testament. In Hebrew the name was spelled Myriam or Miryam; it became Maria in the transition to Greek and Latin and is spelled Maria, Marie or Mary in most European languages.

The first lady we encounter in the New Testament is Mary, the virgin who was espoused, but not yet married, to Joseph and who became the mother of Jesus. Then there is Mary, the wife of Alpheus (also spelled Cleophas or Clopas), Mary the sister of Martha and Lazarus, and Mary Magdalene.

There is no indication in the Bible that Mary remained a perpetual virgin. Matthew 1:25 states that Joseph knew her not until she had brought forth her firstborn son. That plainly indicates that a normal conjugal relationship began after the birth of Jesus and that he was the eldest among the children of Joseph and Mary.

Mary, the wife of Alpheus, is sometimes called Salome, and John 19:25 states that she was the sister of Mary, the wife of Joseph. They both had sons named James and Jude (or Judas). Those who hold to a doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary take verses like Matthew 13:55 to refer to the children of the other Mary and Alpheus. To this Adam Clarke comments: “Why should the children of another family be brought in here to share a reproach which it is evident was designed for Joseph, the carpenter; Mary, his wife; Jesus, their son; and their other children?”

Jesus was a frequent guest in the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus in Bethany. After Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, this Mary anointed the feet of Jesus with spikenard (John 11:2 and 12:3). This should not be confused with the incident recorded in Matthew 26:7, Mark 14:s and Luke 7:37, of a woman anointing the head of Jesus. This anointing also took place in Bethany, but a few days later in the home of Simon, the Pharisee, and the woman is not named.

Neither should the woman in the latter anointing be confused with Mary of Magdala. Nor should we assume that Mary Magdalene was a former prostitute or a very sinful woman. The scribes and pharisees would surely have made such accusations against her if there were any grounds for doing so. All the information we have of her indicates that she was a respectable woman of some wealth, Jesus had cast seven evil spirits out of her and that she was the first person to whom Jesus appeared after his resurrection.

James in the New Testament is a translation of the Greek form of Jacob (Yaakov in Hebrew), the father of the Israelite people. There are three men named James in the gospels and the early church. The first is James, the brother of John. He became the first leader of the church in Jerusalem. James, the brother of our Lord, remained a skeptic during the life of Jesus, but became a believer after the resurrection. He was the second leader of the church in Jerusalem after the first James was murdered by Herod. It is this James who wrote the epistle of James. James the less, son of Alpheus and Mary Salome was also one of the apostles of our Lord.

The things I believe

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Image by Heidi B from Pixabay

I believe in the God revealed in the Bible. The great and terrible Almighty and Eternal Creator of all things, who hates all unrighteousness. I believe that He is at the same time loving, merciful and compassionate, a father for the fatherless. He knows everything about us and wants us to know Him and be with Him for eternity.

I believe the Bible as it is written. It was written by many different men over several thousand years, yet the more I read it the more I see that there was one mind guiding it every step of the way, the mind of the Holy Spirit. I believe the Bible interprets itself, providing we read it all. Each time we read it a little more of God’s great design opens up before our eyes. We cannot discover that design by reading little bits here and there, or by looking for some external key to unlock its mysteries. That is a way that leads to deception.

I believe in the church revealed in the New Testament. I believe that it was God’s plan from the beginning to draw all those who put their trust in Him into one body, with Jesus Christ as both the foundation and the head. God is calling all mankind, but only those who are born again and led of the Holy Spirit may become members of His church. The church described in the New Testament cannot be an amorphous confusion of disembodied body parts, or living stones scattered here and there. The picture given by the New Testament is of a living, functioning and coordinated body or temple.

I believe that Jesus’ call to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations is still being obeyed. The door is yet open for those who are willing to consecrate their lives to Jesus, not only as Saviour, but as Lord of their lives.

I believe the time is short; judgment is coming.

Built upon the rock

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Mont St Michel, France

THE ROCK
“Upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” There need be no mystery or speculation about what rock Jesus meant in this verse, He was simply referring to Isaiah 28:16, “Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste.” Jesus is the rock upon which He is building the church.

THE CHURCH
What is it? The word Jesus used was ekklesia, which means called out. The church is the fellowship of those who have been called out of the world to a new relationship with Jesus and with other followers of Jesus.

Why is it necessary? The values and the goal of those who follow Jesus are different from the values and goals that we formerly had and of those who still do not know Jesus. We need to gather together to help and encourage one another and to be in a place where Jesus can continue to teach us His ways.

THE MISSION
“Go ye therefore, and teach (make disciples of ) 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.”

The mission given to the apostles, and to the church, is not simply to make converts, but to make disciples. A disciple is a learner, one who is willing to be taught. We are taught by the Word, by the Holy Spirit and by the church.

Jesus is building the church because we need to be in a place where we can be discipled and disciplined so that we do not lose our way and wind up back where we came from before we met Jesus. That place is where we are all united on the foundation of Jesus Christ and building upon that foundation.

Four kinds of Christians?

In musing over the many directions taken by Christians I have encountered over my lifetime, it seems that they fall into four basic categories: ritualists; activists; survivalists and disciples. I don’t pretend that this is the nec plus ultra of analyses, but it is something that has helped me sort things out in my own mind.

Hmm, nec plus ultra, that says exactly what I am trying to say, but I wonder now if it helps anyone else understand what I am trying to say. It is Latin and means “nothing more beyond.” I think it would be understood if I were writing in French, which I’m not. What I wanted to say back there is that this explanation works for me but somebody else might be able to do a better job.

I’m not sure that I’ve found the best word to typify each category either, but here is what they mean to me;

  1. Ritualist. I would include here all those who feel the need to regularly sit in on a worship service at a certain day and time. This includes those who are strongly attached to a liturgical form of worship, but I would include all those who feel the important thing is to be there. They are not specifically drawn by the preaching or the fellowship, they just want to be part of what’s happening. Perhaps the best way to describe them is as consumers of spiritual food, rather than contributors.
  2. Activist. This includes all who feel they are called to change the world. this might include the Christian ecologist, the one who feels a burning call to enlighten the world about him about the need to prepare for the sounding of the sixth trumpet of the Apocalypse, or one who feels he has to share the message of salvation with every person he encounters, on the street, in stores, at football games.
  3. Survivalist. The opposite of category two. They have given up on the world and all their efforts are focused on just hanging on. They see danger everywhere, are suspicious of everyone. Sometimes they gather in  communities and protect themselves from outside influence by restricting social contact, sometimes even speaking a different language.
  4.  Disciples. To disciple means to teach. To be a disciple means to be a learner. This is a life-long process where one never gets to the point where he has nothing left to learn and no need of others. One cannot really be a disciple in isolation from others, or according to one’s own plan or schedule. Discipleship includes the idea of being part of a disciplined and orderly group where learning is possible.

Lest I be misunderstood, I want to emphasize that I have encountered true Christian believers in all four groups and I can recognize all of those tendencies within myself. Left to our own devices we all tend to go off on some tangent. As an elderly neighbour was wont to say “There is no moderation in the human race.”

The Great Commission is a call to make disciples of all peoples, including those next door if they are willing to listen. It is not enough to lead someone to salvation and then leave them to carry on as best they can by their own devices. The Great Commission is not fulfilled until there is a disciplined body able to function as a body, not merely a collection of disconnected body parts.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to paint a picture of a group of mindless zombies led by a dominating leader. Jesus Christ is the only Lord and Shepherd of the church. Yet He has called for the establishment of a servant leadership to watch over the spiritual health and growth of each assembly.

I mentioned moderation. It is listed as part of the fruit of the Spirit and is not something that can be taught. Yet it seems that we need to be taught the need for moderation. Part of the whole life of discipleship is learning how to relate to one another in a way that is supportive and encouraging for all and will maintain a purity of faith and life. This is what our Lord and Shepherd expects of us and the better we come to know Him, the better we will be able to relate to one another.

Evidences of the Resurrection

People despise Christian faith.  They hate it, and are afraid that it may be true. – Blaise Pascal

Unbelievers say that the disciples stole Jesus’ body and lied about the resurrection to save face.  How believable is that?  How long would the disciples have kept up that fiction, if it was a fiction, when they were being hunted down and killed for their testimony?  All the arguments against the historical reality of the Resurrection bear that same taint of desperately wanting not to believe.

The gospels are reliable historical documents.  Sceptics do not dispute the existence of the people and places mentioned, or the time in which the recorded events occurred.  The existence of four gospels is also persuasive evidence that the writers are describing historical facts.  There are enough differences in the details recorded by each writer to eliminate the possibility that they simply copied from each other.  Yet the similarities are so striking that it is evident that they are each describing something that really happened.

Each gospel writer states that a woman, or a group of women, was the first person to arrive at the tomb on the first day of the week.  John mentions only Mary Magdalene, Mark mentions Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome, Matthew mentions Mary Magdalen and “the other Mary”, Luke mentions Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James and “other women”.  There is no disagreement here, simply each one writing the facts that were known to him.

This is strong evidence that they were telling the truth.  In that era, and for most of history since then, the testimony of a woman was not deemed worthy of belief, they could not testify in court.  If the writers were making up a story about the resurrection, they would not have placed women at the tomb before any man.  Writers of that era had no way of knowing that two thousand years later no one would consider it remarkable that women were the first witnesses.

The empty tomb was a huge scandal for both the Roman authorities and the Jewish leaders.  They were aware that Jesus had said He would rise again.  They would have spared no effort to find His body.  The fact that it was not found is strong evidence that there was no body to be found.  He had indeed risen.

In 1 Corinthians 15:5-8, the apostle Paul lists the many persons to whom Jesus appeared after the resurrection, the majority of whom were still alive at the time he wrote.  Despite enormous persecution, there is no evidence that any of those witnesses ever denied that they had seen the risen Lord.

The most compelling evidence is the transformation of the disciples.  All fled when Jesus was arrested.  Peter denied his Lord three times.  The disciples on the road to Emmaus felt like it was all over.  Yet a few years later it is said that they have turned the world upside down (Acts 17:5).

Can there be any other explanation but that these discouraged and demoralized disciples actually met their risen Lord?  That He would meet with them in a locked room without opening the door, yet broke bread with them, cooked fish for them and ate with them?  That He showed them the wounds in his hands, his feet, his side and invited them to touch Him?  That he gave them a commission, telling them “All power is given unto me in heaven and on earth.”  And they believed Him.

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