Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Risen Christ

My heart was elevated today as I contemplated the majesty of Jesus' triumph over sin and death upon the cross, and what it means to be born again. To be born again as the Bible explains it, has nothing to do with church affiliation or water baptism, but instead is by grace through faith, which we place in Jesus Christ when we confess and believe on Him as our Lord and Savior. When He agonized on the cross, it was not the pierced hands and the taunting jeers that caused Him so much hurt, but the undiluted wrath of the Father poured out on Him for our sakes, to punish the totality of our sins in Christ's person.

The Father loves the Son, for the Son does everything that pleases Him. Jesus never spoke a word, or performed an action out of His Father's will, and in fact God testified that Jesus was His beloved Son, in whom the Father was well pleased, Mark 1:11, Matthew 3:17. The voice from Heaven was for our sake. What went so wrong, as to put Jesus on the cross, and suffer such wrath? Nothing went wrong in the plan of God. Our sins had separated us from our God, Isaiah 59:2. Though the Father so loved the Son He did not spare Him, but offered Him up for us all, Romans 8:32. That God demonstrated His awesome love for us is clear. History shows that God was willing to enter our world as a virgin-born Man, and bear the penalty for our sins His own justice demanded, which is death, Romans 6:23. The soul that sins shall die, Ezekiel 18:20.

What is death in the Bible, but separation from our Creator; being cast away from the Almighty? This is why Jesus cried out on the cross, "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" Matthew 27:46. The sky turned black, and for three eternal hours the Son of God was utterly alone on the cross. Sin equals separation from God, and Jesus bore our sins on the cross; like the proverbial sacrificial lamb from so many Levitical offerings, a Substitute was punished in the guilty's place.

There are numerous accounts of interest recording the crucifixion and the darkness across the land, and I will mention a few. Aside from the gospel writers, Josephus records Jesus' life and death, as well witnesses telling of His resurrection in his Antiquities. Tacitus confessed Jesus was put to death under Pontius Pilate. Lucian the martyr went on record as saying, "Search your writings (secular historical documents) and you shall find that, in Pilate's time, when Christ suffered, the sun was suddenly withdrawn and darkness followed." Tertullian (who lived before Lucian) said, "At the same moment, the day was withdrawn even when the sun was at its height. Those who never knew that this also had been spoken concerning Christ, judged it to be nothing but an eclipse. However, you shall find this event, that happened to the world, recorded even in your own archives." Thallus, who lived during these events, called it an eclipse. Phlegon, who lived during the Emperor Hadrian's time (AD 140), also called it an eclipse. "There was the largest and most famous eclipse that had ever occurred. The day was so turned into night at the sixth hour (noon, just as the gospel writers testify), that the stars were seen. Also an earthquake in Bithynia destroyed many houses in the city of Nicaea."

How can we know the love of God in the person of Jesus Christ? The cross, the empty tomb, and the reality of Christianity even today form a chain of continuous miracles that lends credence to the historicity of Christ's life, death and amazing resurrection.

What was one of Paul's greatest arguments about this miracle? "For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures: and that He was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: after that, He was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep (have died). After that, He was seen of James, then of all the Apostles. And last of all He was seen of me also," 1st Corinthians 15:3-8. More than five hundred people had seen the risen Christ, and Paul suggested to those reading to go and ask them. Can so many people, from so many walks of life be so deluded, yet be so transformed in their delusion as to become morally upright and sober minded persons? The cowards that were the eleven when Jesus was arrested and crucified were suddenly bold enough to stand (just Peter and John at one point!) before the council of elders in Jerusalem and declare the fact of Christ's triumphant resurrection. They died martyrs for the most part. But unlike the Crusaders, or followers of cults who believe death is their faithful act that will bear them to Heaven, winning God's approval, the Apostles knew that was unnecessary. Jesus died on their behalf, and when they placed their faith in Him, Heaven was their destined home, for they were now joint-heirs with Christ, Romans 8:17.
No, they laid down their lives out of love for their God, to spread abroad His gospel, and to live the very message they were conveying; part of which simply being, "For to me to live is Christ, to die is gain," Philippians 1:21.

The empty tomb was a monumental terror for the opponents of Christianity in the beginning. Had the Pharisees been able to produce Jesus' body they would have; more so the Roman soldiers whose skins were on the line for failing in their duties! What did they do instead? "[The elders] gave much money unto the soldiers, saying, Say ye, His disciples came by night and stole Him away while we slept," Matthew 28:12-13. This was the best they could offer to counter the rise of Christianity. They did not deny Jesus' miraculous powers, but merely attributed them to the Devil. Yet Jesus Himself testified, "Wisdom is justified of her children," Matthew 11:19. How is it that within the last hundred years archaeologists have now "discovered" Jesus' tomb, always conveniently buried with his wife (or wives) and children? How many bodies does He have, or was He cut into pieces and buried all over Israel, like the myth of Osiris in Egypt? No reasoning, unbiased person could believe that what the desperate Roman soldiers and the seething Jewish priests failed to locate could be found 1,900 years after the fact. Yet we are fed the lie that His early followers preserved His body and even named the tomb, risking their entire faith (not to mention their lives) on this very embarrassing finding! Who would go on to be persecuted and submissively die for their faith, absolutely knowing it was a lie?

One hundred years after Christ's life, Rabbi Akiva ben Joseph put forth a man named Simon Bar Kohba as Messiah, to fulfill messianic prophecy. Yet Bar Kohba's revolt ended in bloody disaster: Israel revolted from Roman rule, and Emperor Hadrian sent Julius Severus to quell them. Bar Kohba, who was apparently hailed as the "star out of Jacob (Numbers 24:17) was killed in battle, defending Bethar, while 580,000 more Jews, placing their faith in this false hope, were also slain. Bar Kohba's life actually is a staunch witness that no man could simply enter onto the world stage and announce himself to be Christ, the Messiah. No, the Old Testament had more than 100 prophecies to be fulfilled in Christ, all of which Jesus accomplished in His thirty plus-year life on this earth.

Christianity is not a religion. Christianity is a personal relationship with the risen Savior, of faith in Him born by compelling evidence that demands our utmost attention. We ignore such amazing proof at our own peril. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are born on the shoulders of fact; Jesus Christ literally died, was literally buried, and literally was raised from the dead. This is the gospel Peter, Paul, and the rest preached, even unto their deaths. Paul was beheaded along the Appian Way, while Peter was crucified upside down, according to church tradition. Both died knowing they were already saved, and did not need to suffer death to gain further assurance. But both loved their Lord, even unto death, and testified of His actual, physical resurrection: which proved His unique position of deity, the only true God. This unflinching stand for the truth proved to be their deaths.

Christians do not argue theology: we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block, and to the Greeks foolishness, 1st Corinthians 1:23. We are the savour of life unto life in those that are saved, while we are the savour of death unto death unto those who perish, 2nd Corinthians 2:15-16. To preach God come as a Man, and put to death on the cross for the sins of mankind is apparently a foolish and offensive message, the Holy Spirit informs us. Yet when a Christian confesses that Jesus Christ is Lord, what else are we declaring but that Jesus Christ is incarnate God, God the Son, Creator and Sustainer of all things (Romans 10:9, 1st John 4:2-3, John 1:1,14)?

Jesus is risen to the right hand of the Father, and He came to give us rest and peace for our souls, Matthew 11:28-29, John 14:27, Philippians 4:7. He is the Savior, to the exclusion of all world religions, which teach works of some form to enter Heaven or attain perfection. Jesus has done the work, and He has sent the Spirit of grace to this world, into the hearts of believers, to comfort, encourage, and empower us to share the gospel and our lives, as our Lord has commanded, Luke 24:47, Mark 16:15 Matthew 28:19-20.

Isaiah saw Christ's glory 700 years before He came as a Man (Isaiah 6:1; John 12:41) and foretold His coming. Peter, James and John saw His glory on the mount of transfiguration, Mark 9:1-13, Luke 9:27-36. Yet the appearance of the risen Christ, with material evidences following, raised these fishermen and plebeians to a moral and doctrinal ministry like no other. The transfiguration terrified them, with the Son's glory momentarily exposed; but the Son's resurrection life, demonstrated by speaking with them, eating with them, touching them, etc. captivated them. They were now willing servants of their Savior, serving out of love, compelled by a deep fear for the souls of other men, and willing to be spent unto death on their behalf, Philippians 2:17, 2nd Timothy 4:6, 2nd Peter 1:13-14.

Our Lord Jesus, the risen Christ, lives forever, and lives to intercede and save ungodly sinners, which is what every one of us is before we are saved. He continues to call for His sheep, and His is the only voice which will bear a man into eternity. There is nothing, in my opinion, dogmatic about defending the truth; it is the truth, a factual and objective truth, whether or not anyone believes it. The truth of our salvation does not need permission or approval to be right. It is right by virtue of the fact that the cross, the empty tomb, and our risen Lord testify to it. Disbelief will not alter history or God's plan, but it will keep us from ever entering into life, John 8:24. May the Holy Spirit convict and convince anyone who reads these words. Amen.

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Joshua 24:15

All Scripture is taken from the King James Bible (KJV) or New King James Bible (NKJV). Copyright 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.