…in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. (1 Peter 3:16-17)
From time to time I get asked why Christians believe that the man of history, Jesus Christ, is believed to be divine. It’s one thing to believe that he is special and that he’s left his mark on history, but it’s another thing altogether to believe that Jesus is God. Sometimes people support there critiques by claiming that Jesus never said he was God, or that the Bible doesn’t actually describe Jesus as God. While it is true that you won’t a quotation of Jesus saying “I am God” in the Bible, this is not to say that Jesus and the Bible writers deny this. In fact, there is significant evidence to support the claim that Jesus is divine.
Divine functions performed by Jesus
In relation to the universe
- Creator (John 1:3; Col 1:16; Heb 1:2)
- Sustainer (1 Cor 8:6; Col 1:16; Heb 1:3)
- Author of life (John 1:4; Acts 3:15)
- Ruler (Matt 28:18; Rom 14:9; Rev 1:5)
In relation to human beings
- Healing the sick (Mark 1:32-34; Acts 3:6; 10:38)
- Teaching authoritatively (Mark 1:21-22; 13:31)
- Forgiving sins (Mark 2:1-12; Luke 24:47; Acts 5:31; Col 3:13)
- Granting salvation (Acts 4:12; Rom 10:12-14)
- Dispensing the Spirit (Matt 3:11; Acts 2:17, 33)
- Raising the dead (Luke 7:11-17; John 5:21; 6:40)
- Exercising judgment (Matt 25:31-46; John 5:19-29; Acts 10:42; 1 Cor 4:4-5)
Divine status claimed by or accorded to Jesus
In relation to his Father
- Having divine attributes (John 1:4; 10:30; 21:17; Eph 4:10; Col 1:19; 2:9)
- Eternally existent (John 1:1; 8:58; 12:41; 17:5; 1 Cor 10:4; Phil 2:6; Heb 11:26; 13:8; Jude 5)
- Equal in dignity (Matt 28:19; John 5:23; 2 Cor 13:14; Rev 22:13; cf. 21:6)
- Perfect revealer (John 1:9, 14; 6:32; 14:6; Rev 3:7, 14)
- Joint possessor of the kingdom (Eph 5:5; Rev 11:15), churches (Rom 16:16), Spirit (Rom 8:9; Phil 1:19), temple (Rev 21:22) divine name (Matt 28:19; cf. Rev 14:1), and throne (Rev 22:1, 3)
In relation to human beings
- Recipient of praise (Matt 21:15-16; Eph 5:19; 1 Tim. 1:12; Rev 5:8-14)
- Recipient of prayer (Acts 1:24; 7:59-60; 9:10-17, 21; 22:16, 19; 1 Cor 1:2; 16:22; 2 Cor 12:8)
- Object of saving faith (John 14:1; Acts 10:43; 16:31; Rom 10:8-13)
- Object of worship (Matt 14:33; 28:9, 17; John 5:23; 20:28; Phil 2:10-11; Heb 1:6; Rev 5:8-12)
- Joint source of blessing (1 Cor 1:3; 2 Cor 1:2; Gal 1:3; 1 Thess 3:11; 2 Thes 2:16)
- Object of doxologies (2 Tim 4:18; 2 Pet 3:18; Rev 1:5-6; 5:13)
Old Testament passages referring to Yahweh applied to Jesus
- Character of Yahweh (Exod 3:14 and Isa 43:11 alluded to in John 8:58; Ps 102:27-28 quoted in Heb 1:11-12; Isa 44:6 alluded to in Rev 1:17)
- Holiness of Yahweh (Isa 8:12-13 [cf. 29:23] quoted in 1 Pet 3:14-15)
- Descriptions of Yahweh (Ezek 43:2 and Dan 10:5-6 alluded to in Rev 1:13-16)
- Worship of Yahweh (Isa 45:23 alluded to in Phil 2:10-11; Deut 32:43 and Ps 97:7 quoted in Heb 1:6)
- Work of Yahweh in creation (Ps 102:25 quoted in Heb 1:10)
- Salvation of Yahweh (Joel 2:32 quoted in Rom 10:13; cf. Acts 2:21; Isa 40:3 quoted in Matt 3:3)
- Trustworthiness of Yahweh (Isa 28:16 quoted in Rom 9:33; 10:11; 1 Pet 2:6)
- Judgment of Yahweh (Isa 6:10 alluded to in John 12:41; Isa 8:14 quoted in Rom 9:33 and I Pet 2:8)
- Triumph of Yahweh (Ps 68:18 quoted in Eph 4:8)
Divine titles claimed by or applied to Jesus
- Son of Man (Matt 16:28; 24:30; Mark 8:38; 14:62-64; Acts 7:56)
- Son of God (Matt 11:27; Mark 15:39; John 1:18; Rom 1:4; Gal 4:4; Heb 1:2)
- Messiah (Matt 16:16; Mark 14:61; John 20:31)
- Lord (Mark 12:35-37; John 20:28; Rom 10:9; 1 Cor 8:5-6; 12:3; 16:22; Phil 2:11; 1 Pet 2:3; 3:15)
- Alpha and Omega (Rev 22:13; cf. 1:8; 21:6, of the Lord God)
- God (John 1:1, 18; 20:28; Rom 9:5; Tit 2:13; Heb 1:8; 2 Pet 1:1)
You head to the local library looking for a book to read over the long weekend. Something with drama, mystery, intrigue, torture, murder. You want to read about some allegations of grave robbery, insider plots, religious corruption, political power plays. And you’re keen to spice it up with some angels and demons, astrology, ghostly appearances, the spiritual underworld, ancient signs, the dead coming to life, and claims to divinity. “Where will I find something?” you ask.
The librarian brings you a book. It’s a little bit dusty. Doesn”t get borrowed too often. You look at the cover and it says Holy Bible. She opens it for you and points to The Gospel of Matthew. Where did she get it from? Is this Fact or Fantasy? Is it found in Fiction or Non-fiction? Is it History or Legend? Biography or Novel? Was it next to Harry Potter and The Twilight series, or was it down with The Works of Josephus and Suetonius?
What do you think?
Reading these requirements sounds like we’re dealing with fiction and fantasy, not history and reality. This is the kind of stuff you find in airport novels, B grade movies, low rating TV dramas. It’s not the kind of book you take seriously. Or is it?
I can tell you most people don’t. Even in many churches. The last 100 years or more has seen embarrassed churchy people talking these things down. Bishops denying that Jesus was born to a virgin. Theologians writing books claiming that Jesus didn’t actually rise from the dead. It’s just his idea that lives on and that’s what we mean by resurrection. Many will say, it doesn’t matter one way or the other. The ideas are nice, they’re moral, they’re a good story, they’re nice for children. And hey, we get a few public holidays, so don’t worry about it!
Let me be open with you. Unless this is non-fiction, historical, factual, and continues to have relevance, then I’ve backed a complete loser. I’ve invested all my hopes, plans, priorities, aspirations, on this being truth. When I discovered that I had a terminal illness, the weight of these issues became enormous. I experienced doubts, fears, and confusion. I had big questions. Real questions, not just theoretical or ideological questions. They were intense, existential, of utmost significance. I engaged in investigation and reinvestigation. I had bet my life on this. Is it true?
I hadn’t just staked my future on this being real. I’d been living my life on the basis that it is. I’d been teaching that this book explains life. I’d been calling others to take it seriously. I’d been an advocate, an ambassador, a preacher of these things. Was I a fraud? Inadvertently even? Am I mistaken? Some say it doesn’t matter. I say it does!
In 1 Corinthians chapter 15, one of the first Christian preachers had this to say about the substance of the events described in the gospels:
14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.
This is not just the idea of Christ living on, keeping his memory alive, but his physical bodily resurrection. Real death followed by real coming back to life. If it didn’t happen then there’s no point me trusting that it did or trying to persuade people that it still matters.
15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead.
If these things are simply one big misunderstanding then the early Christians were guilty of perjuring themselves. They were liars, perpetuating myths about Jesus, brainwashing people with ridiculous notions. And therefore I’m guilty of doing much the same thing. Gullible, deluded, or just plain deceptive.
17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.
When it comes to death – and let me tell you this is something that I take very seriously – I believe what happens afterwards really matters. If there is a God, and he takes me seriously, and I’m asked to give an account for how I’ve treated Him, then my only hope is in Christ dealing with my sins in his body on the cross. No point claiming I’ve been good. I haven’t. No point backing my religious behaviour. It’s pathetic. My hope is only in Jesus and his life, death, and resurrection. If this didn’t happen, then I don’t have a leg to stand on before God.
18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost.
There’s no hope for countless people who’ve already gone to their grave believing in Jesus. And what about those who’ve done so at gun point, who’ve been burned alive, crucified upside down, or thrown to lions? When all they had to do was change their minds! Recant! All they had to say was “No, I don’t really believe it!” They could have lived.
19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
What a waste! Why would you spend your life living for a fiction, trying to persuade others. It’s really pretty sad! In fact, we may as well take these words seriously…
32 If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”
That’s right. No point wasting my life on God, Jesus, hoping for resurrection, and a life beyond the grave. May as well simply focus on and enjoy what I’ve got now, because that’s all there is, and it’s not going to last that long.
What do I believe? I believe in the death of Jesus and the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. I believe in the ongoing significance of these events. I believe that my sin against God has been dealt with and that I have real hope for all eternity. As it says in 1 Corinthians 15:
3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.
I believe the evidence needs to be considered carefully. Weighed up seriously. These events make sense of promises written centuries before. They tie in so well with the words of the Bible that predicted them happening. When these words were first written, it was less that a generation after the events described. There were people alive who claimed to be eye-witnesses to the resurrected Jesus. You could question and cross examine them.
Cephas (Peter) had spent so long with Jesus, he was hardly likely to be mistaken. The twelve weren’t expecting him to appear. They were cowering in a room, in fear of their lives, after Jesus was killed. Five hundred people claimed to have seen Jesus on one occasion. You can’t explain this as mass hallucinations. And you could have asked some of them about who and what they saw. James, the brother of Jesus, would have been hard to convince. Not to mention Thomas, who wouldn’t believe without physical evidence. And Paul (or Saul as he used to be known) was so persuaded of the resurrection that he went from imprisoning Christians to joining them in prison. I understand a few lawyers would love this quality of evidence.
And then there’s the circumstantial evidence. How do you explain the missing body? The empty tomb? The wrong tomb? Surely, they’d just go to the next one. The authorities stole the body? All they had to do to stop the early Christians was produce it. The disciples stole the body and pulled off a conspiracy? Likely! A pathetic bunch of eleven cowards overthrowing imperial guards and then perpetuating lies that they go on to die for? Surely, at least one would have cracked to save himself!
There are many more pieces to the puzzle. Lot’s more circumstances to consider carefully. They keep pointing me to the conclusion that the accounts of Jesus are non-fiction, factual, historical records of real events. And these events are worth staking your life on.
This Easter, please consider.
This post is for my two baristas this morning…
Thank you for your coffee, and the second one! I’d contemplated making myself a coffee this morning, but my machine was off, I only had a few beans, and I didn’t have time. So discovering you guys as I walked to work was a bonus!
Sorry I didn’t have any money. I’d left my wallet in the jeans I was wearing yesterday. It was nice of you to offer to barter, but I didn’t really have anything I could part with. And then you were so generous – offering me lunch! Bananas, plums, rolls! I couldn’t take anything because I’d already picked up the lunch my wife left on the bench.
You seemed surprised when I told you I was a pastor. Maybe you don’t meet too many! And then suggesting I could offer you a blessing in exchange for a coffee! But your next suggestion was a cracker…
How about free entry to heaven?!!
Not sure how powerful you think I am or what influence I have, but as I said, I can’t give you that. BUT it is available! Truly! There are free tickets on offer. Paid for already. It’s what Easter is all about. Good Friday, the day Jesus died, is the day the entry fee to heaven was paid. For you. For me. For all who will trust Jesus. So if you’re serious about getting in, then I’d recommend you take a good look at Jesus. Best place to look is in the Bible. I’d suggest reading the Gospel of Mark.
I know you were surprised when I came back with the money. You probably get lots of people pretending to be pastors who have left their wallets at home, asking for free coffees! And you were probably even more surprised when I told you that I wanted to give you a blessing too. Those two books called A Fresh Start that I gave you were written by a good mate of mine. It’s a pretty clear explanation of what being a Christian is all about. The book explains how entry to heaven is possible and why it’s free. Please check it out. And I hope you like the Chuppa Chups too. I’m not allowed to eat sugar any more.
Not sure if you’ll get to read this, but I hope you will.
Great coffee too, by the way. I’ll be back for another! Have a great day.
Cancer has been front and centre this last week. Relay for Life on the weekend, with cancer survivors and carers, and the memory of loved ones now gone. Surgery today for our niece to remove any traces of melanoma. A funeral this morning for my friend’s mum, who lost her brief battle with lung cancer. Not long before there was Tony Grieg, and then Peter Harvey, and there have been so many others. Mums and dads, grandparents, cousins, uncles, children, bosses, neighbours, colleagues, passing acquaintances. Cancer is a cancer on our world. It invades our lives. It breaks our hearts.
Next Friday is Good Friday. A strange day, when we remember a man dying. In fact, I remember two men dying on this day. On Good Friday 2007 – it was the 6th April – I lost a good friend. He was only 29 years of age. He’d only been married for two years. We’d go to the gym together. He was my neighbour. He stood in the rain and helped us bury our family pet. He’d encourage me with stories – all true. He was my brother in Christ. Cancer took hold of my friend and it didn’t let go. I’d conducted his wedding and, soon after, I conducted his funeral.
It’s not right that a parent should have to view the death of their child.
It’s not right that a wife should lose a husband after only 2 years of marriage.
It’s not right that a man shouldn’t live to see his 30th birthday.
It’s not right. God knows it’s not right. I wondered, after my friend’s passing, if we’d be able to look on Good Friday as good ever again. How could it be good when every Easter we’d be reminded of the death of our friend, or husband, or son?
We need to reflect on the death of the other man. He’s the reason we call it Good Friday. Jesus, who wasn’t much older than my friend. Jesus, who never married. Jesus, whose mother looked on in anguish at his death. Not a good Friday for Jesus. Nailed on a wooden cross. Between two criminals. Publicly ridiculed. Despised and rejected. Forsaken by his followers. Crying out, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
The worst of Fridays. The brutal execution of an innocent man. A genuinely good man. A just and merciful, compassionate and courageous man. But even more, this man Jesus was the Son of God, the Messiah, the Lord, and the Saviour. He was Immanuel, God with us. The death of Jesus was no accident. God wasn’t ambushed by the might of the Jews or Romans. There was a plan, a costly plan, a purpose to the death of Jesus. Something that would turn the worst of Fridays into the best day ever.
God had promised this day, centuries before, through the prophet Isaiah:
The servant grew up before God—a scrawny seedling,
a scrubby plant in a parched field.
There was nothing attractive about him,
nothing to cause us to take a second look.
He was looked down on and passed over,
a man who suffered, who knew pain firsthand.
One look at him and people turned away.
We looked down on him, thought he was scum.
But the fact is, it was our pains he carried—
our disfigurements, all the things wrong with us.
We thought he brought it on himself,
that God was punishing him for his own failures.
But it was our sins that did that to him,
that ripped and tore and crushed him—our sins!
He took the punishment, and that made us whole.
Through his bruises we get healed.
We’re all like sheep who’ve wandered off and gotten lost.
We’ve all done our own thing, gone our own way.
And God has piled all our sins, everything we’ve done wrong,
on him, on him. (Isaiah 53:2-6 The Message)
On that first Good Friday, Jesus took our sin upon himself and he bore the punishment. He paid the price. He won our forgiveness, our freedom, our life with God. As Jesus hung on that cross, it should’ve been me… and you. Jesus, the Righteous One, took the judgment we deserve. He endured it, himself, so that we don’t have to.
It’s because of that first Good Friday, that we can look on the day my friend died as a very good day. My friend knew the forgiveness of sins that comes through Jesus. He trusted Jesus, not only in his life, but unto death. He knew the significance of Good Friday and the sure hope of Resurrection Sunday. As I saw the lifeless body of my friend in the hospital on Good Friday, I recognised that he was no longer there. He’d already departed. He was now with his Saviour. Death no longer had hold on him. Cancer did not have the final word. That word belonged to Jesus.
As many throughout Australia battle fires and soaring temperatures, I’m privileged to be staying on Sydney Harbour. The sea breeze is soothing, the harbour waters are cooling, and the views are amazing. Yesterday I went for a paddle on a surf ski, joined by a little dog called Maliki. She’s one of three dogs here at the moment (including our Bonnie) and the only one who managed to clamber onto the slippery ski without falling off.
We headed out against the breeze towards Middle Harbour Yacht Club. After a while the winds built up, gusting around 30-40 kph. I figured we should turn back. We made the turn and, while side on to the waves, Maliki slipped off and started swimming away. I reached for her and promptly fell off also. Dog one way, ski the other way, and the current was strong. I let go of the paddle, reached Maliki and then had to swim to the ski and recover the paddle. Not that easy in high winds. Eventually, I got hold of all three, put Maliki back on the ski, and hung on gasping for breath. The lungs aren’t what they used to be.
Meanwhile, the ski kept floating away in the wind and the waves, with me in the water clinging on, until it bumped into a luxury boat anchored in the harbour. A man poked his head over the side and asked if I was okay. I replied that I was, but I wouldn’t mind a rest! So we tethered the ski and climbed on board. Maliki and I shared a drink with the three couples on board! These people were very hospitable, doted on Maliki, and wanted to know all about where we’d come from. They could see I was pretty breathless and encouraged me to stay a while, until all was well. I explained that I had lung cancer and that I was struggling a bit. They probably thought I was stupid to be paddling on the harbour in these winds, because they mentioned more than once that it would be better to go out in the mornings before the winds got up. Yes, I know! I know!
After the winds had died down somewhat, we made our way back to shore. Interesting afternoon! It didn’t seem that big a deal, but it’s a reminder not to take the sea or my abilities for granted. Sometimes little things can quickly grow into big things. I’d proven the day before how easily I could fall off a stand-up paddle board, especially when two or three dogs try to get in on the action. Next time I’ll take a son, or daughter, or wife to rescue me!
I’ve been involved in rescuing people from the ocean before. And I’ve also enjoyed the help from others when caught in a rip and strong seas. It can be pretty scary. The important thing is to recognise when you’re in trouble and not to be too proud to seek help. Better to look stupid and be rescued, than to drown trying to do it all yourself.
It’s like this when it comes to relating to God. We need to be rescued and God is offering help. We need to drop our pride, our self righteousness, our hostility, and our apathy toward God. He’s reaching out his hand. He’s asking if we need help. He’s offering to take us on board his boat. He’s promising to get us safely to shore. He simply calls us to turn and put our faith in Jesus.
My experience yesterday brings to mind an extraordinary event in the life of Jesus – an incident that shows Jesus’ power to rescue.
35 That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” 36 Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. 37 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 38 Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”
39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.
40 He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
41 They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” (Mark 4:35-41)
To be honest, I didn’t think to cry out to God yesterday. But some years ago I did cry out, and he heard my cry, and he rescued me from something far more serious than the wind and the waves. He rescued me from the consequences of my sin and his judgement. God delights in rescuing people and I’m eternally grateful.
December 21 came and went without so much as a ripple. 21/12/12 had been forecasted as cataclysmic end to the world, based on a particular understanding of the Mayan Calendar. A handful of people escaped to various ‘safe zones’ throughout the world – though I’m not sure how that helps if the earth gets destroyed. Others were stockpiling food and wine – but I don’t know if they planned a feast before or after the world’s end! There was a bit of noise, some media hype, a few fanatics, and then disappointment – or should that be relief? December 21 was followed by 22, then 23, then 24, then Christmas… and now we’re well into 2013. What do we make of this? Ignore it? Joke about it?
I recommend learning from it. But what’s there to learn? Don’t listen to doomsday prophecies? Filter all media beat-ups? Be skeptical of all mystical explanations of the cosmos? Maybe, but I suggest something more concrete and personal:
It may not be possible to predict the end of the world,
but you can certainly predict the end of your world.
You probably won’t know the day or the month or even the year, but you can be absolutely certain that it will happen. Death is one of life’s certainties. We are finite beings. We grow old, get sick, and die. Sometimes this comes quickly, sometimes it’s delayed, but it always happens. Moses got right to the point when he wrote long ago:
Our days may come to seventy years,
or eighty, if our strength endures;
yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow,
for they quickly pass, and we fly away. (Psalm 90:10)
The Bible also teaches that this world will come to an end. It’s tied up with Jesus Christ. Just as Jesus entered this world once to bring salvation, so he will come again to judge the living and the dead. Jesus promises that this day will mean judgement for all who reject him, and life for all who submit to him and trust him. It’s common to ridicule and caricature the Bible’s teaching on the end of the world, but we’d do well to take Jesus at his word. He will come again.
So whether it’s the return of Jesus that marks the end, or whether it’s our mortality that guarantees our end, it makes sense to be prepared. There’s no point stockpiling things because they won’t help you and you can’t take them with you. There’s no ‘safe zone’ in this world you can flee to. But there is a way to prepare. Flee to Jesus and find refuge in him. He died and rose again to rescue you from the judgement to come. He’s offering you fulness of life now and forever. Do it now so that you don’t get caught out. Do it now so that you don’t miss out on the joy of relationship with Jesus in all the time you have left. Do it now because the more you practise putting things off, the better you’ll get at doing it. Do it now because the God who gave you this life wants you to enjoy life with him forever.