Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: resurrection

How many days until next Sunday?

Well, that’s a foolish question if there ever was one, everybody knows it’s eight days.

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Image by Robin Higgins from Pixabay

But I’m writing to English-speaking people and most of you probably don’t know that. You probably count Monday to Sunday and come up with seven days. But today isn’t over with yet, how can you just ignore it, say it doesn’t count?
I used to think that way; it was as obvious as could be that a week is seven days and therefore it is seven days until next Sunday.

Then I learned French and discovered that they think differently. Partial days do count, you need to start with what’s left of today and count up to next Sunday, and voila! it comes to eight days. Once I could get my head around that, I discovered that this is the way that a whole lot of the world thinks.

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Including the people of Jesus’ day. It was no stretch to them to call it three days when Jesus was in the tomb from just before sundown on Friday to just after dawn on Sunday. That was obviously three days.

But I have read carefully thought out dissertations by aspiring Bible scholars who proved to their own satisfaction that Jesus could not possibly have been crucified on a Friday. If He was three days in the tomb, He had to have been crucified on Thursday. I even saw one some years ago that argued for Wednesday. That just goes to show that if you don’t know something, you can’t know that you don’t know it.

One of the gospel accounts says three days and three nights. How does one account for that when it was in fact only Friday night and Saturday night?

Let me answer that question with a few others. At 2:00 am this morning was it Saturday night? But Saturday ended at midnight. Was it Sunday night? We say that night follows day, it doesn’t precede it. Then was it Sunday morning? But it was still night.

The French solution is to say that last night was the night of Saturday to Sunday. No possibility of confusion there.

I think the simplest way to understand three days and three nights is to say that Jesus was in the tomb three days and the portions of night associated with those three days.

Seek the heavenly prize

Last Sunday Tiger Woods won the Masters golf tournament. An amazing triumph for a man who a few years ago thought his days of playing golf were over. Four surgeries and long months of rigorous training later, he is outplaying the best in the world.

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He has had to endure pain, ridicule and scorn, and overcame them all. His reward? Another green jacket, a pile of money and tons of praise and publicity.

Those are things that will perish with time. The apostle Paul wrote about sports and said that Christians should train like athletes, not heeding the protests of their body. But, he said, they do it to win an earthly prize, we do it to win a heavenly prize.

The other big news story of this week is the fire that broke out Monday afternoon at the cathedral Notre Dame de Paris. President Macron cancelled a televised speech, politicians stopped campaigning. By noon the next day wealthy families in France had pledged 700 million Euros to rebuild the cathedral. That is more than one billion Canadian dollars. Obviously this 800 year old building has a great significance for a great many people.

But, the apostle Paul says: “God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands.”

What then should a Christian consider to be the most precious of all earthly objects? Not something to be worshipped, but the thing that is the most significant for Christian life?

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It is the cross; the cross where our Saviour died, and where we must also die to the impulses of our body. Beyond the cross lies the resurrection. For Jesus it was at once a bodily resurrection and a spiritual resurrection. For us the spiritual resurrection comes first, the bodily resurrection later.

May we never trivialize the cross by calling the petty difficulties of life a cross. That is not the cross to which Christ directs us. The cross of Christ is an instrument of death. In order to become what God wants us to be, what he created us to be, everything that hinders must be nailed to the cross and left there to die.

That means all our human desires, hopes and ambitions must be taken out of the way. Just thinking of that brings agony and fear. Yet beyond the cross lies a new life, with blessings we cannot imagine and will never experience if we shrink from the cross.

Leenart Bouwens, an anabaptist preacher and colleague of Menno Simons and Theodore Philippe in the 15th century, baptized more than 10,000 persons. We don’t know a whole lot about him, but it is said that one time a couple came to him desiring to be baptized. After visiting with them he said “You need to go home and die first. I never baptize living people.”

The cross of Christ is still the way we must take to win the heavenly prize.

The importance of being doers

The men who had been with Jesus were of a dismal mood that first Easter morning. They had believed everything He had told them, except for the really strange parts. Now this. Wasn’t Messiah supposed to cast out their uncircumcised overlords and restore the kingdom? They came together to discuss what to do next, or if there was anything left to do.

The women had something to do. They had gathered all the supplies needed for their task and they left for the tomb early in the morning to prepare their Master’s body for a proper burial. They were just as disheartened as the men, but this one thing they had to do.

Thus it was the women, the doers, who came to the tomb, found the stone rolled away and the tomb empty, saw the angels, heard their message. One of them, Mary Magdalene, heard Jesus speak her name.

The women raced back to where the men were to tell them the wonderful news that the Master was alive. The men didn’t believe them. Nevertheless, Peter and John went to the tomb to find out for themselves just what had happened.

It all rings true, doesn’t it? If the men had wanted to invent a story about a man who had died on a cross, then came back to life, wouldn’t they have written in a more heroic role for themselves? All the details of the story bear the unmistakable stamp of truth. Their highest hopes crushed by the death on the cross, their bewilderment and feelings of hopelessness.

The only thing that could have turned their despair into joy and invincible courage must have actually happened. They met the Master whom they had seen perish on the cross, had seen the blood and water pour from his side, and He was alive again. They could touch Him, feel His wounds. He walked with them, talked with them, cooked them a meal.

Now all the really strange parts of His teachings made sense. His kingdom was something much greater than they had been able to imagine, and He commissioned them to carry the good news of the kingdom into all the world. They became doers, many of them died because people didn’t want to hear their message. Other people took their place and the message is still being told and still changing lives.

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.

The song of Mary Magdalene

This well-known hymn was written in March of 1912 by C. Austin Miles after a scene appeared in his mind of Mary Magdalene coming to the garden early on the first day of the week. She had seen the open tomb and now she thought she was seeking His body. Then His familiar voice spoke her name.

I come to the garden alone
While the dew is still on the roses
And the voice I hear falling on my ear
The Son of God discloses.

Refrain

And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own;
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.

 

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.

Paradise

MJfountnThis is Crescent Park in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. Not really paradise, just a pretty nice spot to find smack dab in the downtown of a city on the arid prairies.

The first home of mankind was in a true earthly paradise, the Garden of Eden. As a consequence of their sin, Adam and Eve were driven from the garden, and ever since there has been a gnawing desire in the heart of each of their descendants to find their way back to that garden.

The paradise envisioned by many cultures was an enclosed garden, with trees, flowers, birds and animals, in which one could find peace and rest from all the evils of this life. The Jewish rabbis of antiquity wrote of such a garden and pictured Abraham at the gate to welcome all his spiritual descendants.

This traditional understanding was the background for Jesus’ mention of Abraham’s bosom in the account of the rich man and Lazarus. Later on, the dying thief would have readily understood the meaning of Jesus’ promise “Today thou shalt be with me in paradise” to mean such a place.

But this is not heaven. Our minds want to skip over the period of time between death and the judgement. The Bible gives only sketchy glimpses of this, but clearly states that the dead will not rise again before Jesus’ return. At that time there will be a bodily resurrection followed by the judgement.

Yet it is clear that there is already a separation between the saved and the lost at the time of death. Paradise for the redeemed and a place of torment for the lost. If this is so, why is there a need for the Last Judgement? It seems from the judgement account in Matthew 25 that many of those who found themselves in the place of torment will harbour a conviction that a horrible mistake has been made, that they have been punished unjustly. And those who found themselves in Paradise will have had misgivings about whether they were worthy of such a place. It will be made plain for all to see that each one’s placement was just and their destiny will be sealed for eternity.

If Paradise is such a place of beauty and peace, what will heaven be like? “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9). We just don’t know, but surely it will be a Paradise beyond our ability to fathom while we live in our earth-bound bodies. It will not be a place of sensuous pleasures, such as imagined by the Qu’ran, but neither will it be a place of sterile, utilitarian beauty. Will there be birds and animals there? We havbe no word either way, but surely there is no harm in imagining heaven in terms of the things we find beautiful and heart-warming today, since heaven will surely not be less than what we can imagine.

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?

Where is Paradise?

The first paradise was the Garden of Eden. In the Septuagint “garden” in Genesis 2:8 appears as “paradise,” the paradise of Eden. The Hebrew word in the original refers to a walled garden of pleasure and delight, where sin cannot enter. It appears that all peoples of the earth have in their traditions a memory of a time when the original inhabitants of the earth lived in some such earthly paradise. There is a longing in all of us to return to this paradise.

When Jesus told the dying thief “Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise,” was He speaking of heaven? Where then would be the judgment of which the Scriptures speak? “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:10); “for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ” (Romans 14:10). This judgment comes at the end of time, after the bodily resurrection. In another place, the apostle Paul warns about those “Who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some” (2 Timothy 2:18).

The sequence in the Scriptures is the bodily resurrection, then the final judgment and then the final separation to eternal torment or eternal joy. “When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: and before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats . . . And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal” (Matthew 25:31-46).

It would appear then that when Jesus spoke of paradise He meant the abode of the spirits of the dead before the resurrection. Paradise and “Abraham’s bosom” were both terms used by the Jews to describe the abode of the departed spirits of the righteous. Revelation 6:9 uses the term “under the altar” to describe this place. The parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:20-25) demonstrates that even here there is a division between the saved and the lost. Yet here it appears that communication is possible between the two parts of the abode of the dead, even though the conditions are quite different. I believe we can infer from the Scripture that in heaven the separation will be of such a magnitude that those in one place will not be aware of those in the other.

Those that have died are thus in an intermediate state and place, awaiting the resurrection and final judgment. Some are in a place of beauty and joy, some in a very unpleasant place, yet not the torments of eternal fire. It would appear from this that those in Matthew 7:22 who came before the judgment throne complaining: “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?” would be those who found themselves shut out of paradise and felt that a horrible injustice had been done. Jesus’ answer is horrible to contemplate: “I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (verse 23).

If we are to enter paradise, and eventually heaven, our works must be the outworking of the Holy Spirit in our lives, not works that are done in an attempt to earn the favour of God or our fellow men.

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.

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