Archive for the ‘Christology’ Category

In Bart Ehrman’s debate at (I assume) Southern Evangelical Seminary against some other person who (I assume) is arguing in the affirmative for (I assume) ‘Can historians prove Jesus rose from the dead?’ (I have to make assumptions, because the person posting this video conveniently edits out all but Erhman’s material – s0 much for fair and rational debate…), he uses the following logic (at around the 13:00 mark):

  • What historians do: Establish what most probably happened
  • What miracles are: the least probably occurrence
  • The Dilemma: How can the Least Probable occurrence be Most Probable???

Aside from the fact that he is wanting historians to be entirely objective in their study of historical events, yet demands that they subjectively approach their work with the subjective assumption that miracles are always the least likely explanation for things, he entirely misses the point.

Quite likely though, both the topic of the debate and possibly the material presented by his opponent has forced him to take this approach. He actually speaks correctly when soon after this argument he states that belief in the Resurrection is for theological reasons. I entirely agree with him on this. And this is why I entirely disagree with his argument above. For theological reasons, the resurrection of Jesus is actually the most probable occurrence – in fact it is the most certain event in the history of the world – more certain than you sitting here reading this blog (who knows, you could be dreaming this!).

The certainty of the resurrection of Jesus (and therefore of our own resurrection) will most likely never be known using the historical method. We may be able to say with certainly that the first followers of Jesus believed and proclaimed Him to be risen, but anything beyond that – from a historian’s perspective – is a matter of assumption, or some may say, faith.

But here is why we may know for certain that Jesus rose from the dead; why the whole Biblical story must end with resurrection (hang in here with me – it seems like a long argument, but it’s truly glorious):

  1. God is the triune God of Love. Father, Son and Spirit; one God, three persons eternally united in love. Love is not merely something God does, but his character – which is why everything He does is Love.
  2. Because he is Love, he created a universe, inhabited by creatures made in his image, who themselves are designed to find their identity and authenticity in love – loving God and loving one’s neighbour is the summary of what it means to be human.
  3. Because God is Love, he also acts in perfect righteousness, holiness and justice; by nature He is ‘other person centred,’ and so his concern is always for the good of the Other. We see this demonstrated when Jesus is angered upon entering the temple and drives out the money changer and traders. He not only speaks but acts in righteous anger. And why? ‘This is my Father’s house!’ His desire and passion is for His Father’s glory and honour – because he loves his Father. But not just that – ‘My Father’s house should be a house of prayer for all nations’. Jesus not only loves his Father, but because he knows that ultimately his Father will be glorified as the nations gather around the Throne, he also loves his neighbours and desires all nations to know the Father.
  4. Because this is Who God is and who we are, God says the following about His creatures: ‘Keep far from a false charge, and do not kill the innocent and righteous, for I will not acquit the wicked.’ (Exodus 23:7 ESV). He is saying that He will not treat a truly wicked person as if they are righteous; he will not ignore sin or sweep sin or evil under the carpet, nor give then the reward that a righteous person deserves. To do so would be to deny His character as Love: what kind of loving person sees injustice and ignores or minimises it?
  5. The flip side of this is what David recognised about God: ‘For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption. (Psalms 16:10 ESV). If a person is truly  righteous, God will not treat him as a wicked person deserves; he will not allow him to be abandoned to Sheol (the grave) – which is the wages of sin. What this means is that if a truly righteous person suffers, they will not only be delivered from their suffering, but compensated, or vindicated, ie. shown to be righteous. And if it so happens that a righteous person is killed, then to be true to His Righteous, Holy, Love, God will vindicate this person by raising them from the dead, not allowing them to see corruption.
  6. Enter Jesus. The One on whom the Father gives his unqualified approval. The only human being who has ever lived an entire life of perfect righteousness – not because he ticked the boxes of the Law, but because he perfectly loved his Father and his neighbour: he was truly and fully human. HIs life and teaching are set in stark contrast to us and our lives, and show us up to be the children of wrath that we are: hated and hating, enemies of God, and divided between each other by walls of hostility. Jesus is the only one who might truly yet humbly claim, ‘…you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption.’ By rights, Jesus should never suffer, never die, never know any estrangement from the Father, never know a moment when the Spirit is absent, never have cause to say to the Father, ‘Where are you?’
  7. Yet: ‘Look and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow, which was brought upon me, which the Lord inflicted on the day of his fierce anger.’ (Lamentations 1:12 ESV). Jesus, the Holy One, faced all that only the wicked deserve – what we deserve. Rejection, mocking, abandonment, false accusation, torture, grief and ultimately death; to all external appearances, Jesus is utterly cursed and rejected by the Father, with his own words of abandonment and the cold, sealed tomb as the seeming conclusion to a life that his followers thought would end in political glory.
  8. Little did his disciples (nor his enemies) know at this point that by entering into this suffering and coming under the Father’s wrath as the Lamb of God, Jesus was acting in perfect, loving and joyful obedience to the Father. In this action he was ‘fulfilling all righteousness’: he was loving and glorifying his Father by his full obedience, and he was loving us, his neighbours, as himself by becoming our substitute and taking our curse upon himself. His willing, voluntary giving up of his own life was the ‘icing on the cake’ of his obedient life of love; it was the final act that drew together the threads of all he had said and done up to that point.
  9. Resurrection is inevitable. The Father was true to His character and promises, and raised Jesus, His Holy One from the grave, as Peter declared on the day of Pentecost. It was impossible for Jesus to remain in the grave, because if he did God would cease to be God, or at least He would be the most evil, untrustworthy of all tyrants. Because God is Who He is, the resurrection of Jesus is the most likely event; even more certain than death, is the claim that the Saviour is Risen.

This is incredibly good news for us. If, by faith, you are united to Jesus; united with him in his life (because he united himself with you in his incarnation and baptism), and united with him in his death (because he hung there as your head; your representative; he drew you into himself), then you have also been united with him in his resurrection, and can look forward with a keen certainty to the day that you will rise, clothed in his immortality, when the sting of death has gone and your mortal body will pulse with his life. In Christ, the Father looks at you and says, ‘This is my holy one. I will not abandon their soul to sheol; I will not let them see corruption.’ As inevitable as Jesus’ resurrection was, so too is that of anyone who trusts in him.

On Thursday, August 22nd 2013, Flinders Evangelical Students partnered with the Flinders Uni Muslim Association to present a forum exploring the identity of Jesus.

Speakers were Samuel Green (Christian) and Abdullah Kunde (Muslim)

When we met with our Muslim friends to plan the event, we began by acknowledging that both Christianity and Islam are missionary faiths. We were honest about the fact that we would like all Muslims to become Christians, and that they would like all Christians to become Muslims – in fact the two faiths are mutually exclusive. We were able to respect one another on this basis – because we knew that there would be no ‘hidden’ agendas. How can you be friends when you never know if the other is being honest with you?

The format of the evening was as follows:

A 20 minute presentation by each of the speakers on their view of Jesus. The aim of their talk was not to refute the other, but to present why they believe their view to be true.

15 minutes each for each speaker to pose questions to the other. This was an opportunity to clarify, and to raise any inconsistencies in the other’s presentation.

10 minutes each to answer questions that had been written down by the audience.

As you watch, I trust that something will become clear. The Muslim view of Jesus is not good news. Much of it is refuting those who believe Him to be divine. What is left is simply another role model, whose teaching has been lost (as Muslims believe the New Testament is corrupted, even though the Quran does not say this).  As Samuel says right at the end of his question time (1:43:00), how can you honour a prophet if you do not read his book? But Muslims cannot do this, because they do not trust the New Testament (Gospel) we have today.

By contrast, the true Jesus – as seen in the Bible and proclaimed by Christians – is incredibly good news. In Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, God does for us what we are unable to do for ourselves; through faith in his death and resurrection on behalf of sinners, we may come into the Father’s family, and have the assurance of sins forgiven, and future that is secure.

Jesus is not the bringer of Good news; He is the Good News. He does not bring a way of salvation, He is Salvation.

'Who do you say I am?' Views of Jesus at Flinders University

Isaiah 53

In my earlier post, I spoke about how the Messiah is a saviour – in the sense of dealing with the evil, suffering, injustice and chaos of this world. The King/Son of Man would defeat the enemies of God, who by association are the enemies of God’s people, and bring peace and justice to the whole creation.

This is however only one side of Messiah’s saving work. It’s the side that the disciples (and the Jews) got: they understood Psalm 2 &110. What they didn’t get was Isaiah 53 – or rather that the suffering servant is the Messiah, and that Jesus embodied both. This is why Jesus commended Peter for his confession of him as Christ/Son of God, but rebuked him when Peter refused to accept that the Messiah must die.

Isaiah 53 speaks of another aspect of salvation – from the righteous wrath of God. When we read the OT we cannot avoid the fact that God’s wrath is expressed against those who He calls his own people. Even as God was rescuing them from Egypt and making a covenant with them, calling them His people and He their God, it was made very clear to them that there was still a barrier between Him and them: no-one was allowed to even touch the mountain or they would die; no-one but Moses could enter the tent of meeting; and the priests were required to offer bloody sacrifices to deal with people’s sin. The Israelites were constantly selling themselves out to idolatry and forsaking God, showing that their hearts were far from Him, to the point where in His anger He sent them into exile.

All of these things were signs to Israel (and to us, as we look back) that the ‘physical’ aspects of God’s salvation – Land, offspring, prosperity, kingdom, etc. were only pointers to the heart of salvation – salvation from sin, and form the wrath that sin deserves. The history of God’s anger tells us, among other things, that in order to be truly God’s people, the fact of sin and wrath need to be dealt with.

There would have been no doubt in the Israelite’s mind as they went to the temple of three things:

  1. Sin is serious. The sight of an animal being slaughtered, it’s blood drained, its guts ripped open and its carcass being consumed by fire may sound to us to be macabre, bloody, primitive, crass and obscene; this is because sin is macabre, bloody, primitive, crass and obscene and the sacrifice is an image of what sin both does and deserves.
  2. Sin can only be justly dealt with by death. Because God is Love, He is also just. He demands, in His holy Love, that all offences against Himself and against His creation be punished. The scales of justice must be balanced, or God would not be good.
  3. Therefore the only way that God’s justice be satisfied, and a guilty, vile, wretched sinner such as I be saved, is if a substitute is provided, who pays my own debt and receives the wages of death that I have earned. This is what the sacrificial system pictured: what we call penal substitutionary atonement.

This is why the Messiah had to die, if he were to be truly the saviour. Setting up an earthly kingdom in the place of the Romans would not change a thing – it would just be a repeat of the Old Testament; another loop in the cycle, since the hearts of people would be still the same.

This is why, when Jesus was about to be arrested and crucified, he said, ‘The time has come for the Son of Man to be glorified!’ (John 12:23, 13:31).

The glory of Jesus is the glory of the cross – the amazing grace and love demonstrated in his self sacrifice. Has it captivated your heart?

Our culture is full of messianic wistfulness – heroes and antiheroes. Popular culture bears this out. In the last decade, fifty three (American) superhero movies have been released (most based on Marvel or DC comics). In men movies it’s the macho guy who saves the world; in chick flicks it’s the heartthrob who saves the maiden in some way. No matter how democratic we fancy ourselves, we still cheer when a good politician is elected, and complain when a bad one gets in. It is in the human psyche to desire a Messiah; in fact it’s the way we are designed: to rule and be ruled. We are not truly human unless we are depending on God or His Agent for our security, provision and identity.

The Old Testament Jews also had Messianic hopes – not just because of this creational design, but also because of the promises. Across the panorama of the Biblical story is an unfolding, multi-faceted picture of the One in whom the hopes of Israel – and ultimately the Nations – is founded:

  • The seed of the woman (Genesis 3:15 – cf 1 Tim. 2:15) who would crush the serpent’s head;
  • The Prophet like Moses (Deuteronomy 18:14-19) who will lead God’s people into the promised land;
  • The descendant of Abraham (Genesis 12-26) who would bring blessing to all the nations of the earth (the promise repeated, affirmed, clarified at least 16 times in these chapters, and then many times again to Isaac and Jacob after him);
  • The son of David (2 Samuel 7) who would establish the throne forever;
  • The Son-King of Psalm 2 who receives the nations as his inheritance;
  • The Holy One of Psalm 16 who will not see decay or be abandoned to the grave;
  • The Priest-King of Psalm 110 for whom God make his enemies his footstall
  • The Servant of Isaiah (Isaiah 53) who will bring justice by suffering for the sins of the people;
  • The Son of Man of Daniel (Daniel 7) who would establish the victory of God over the raging nations;
  • The Good Shepherd of Psalm 23, Jeremiah (31), Ezekiel (34), Micah (5), Zechariah (13) who will lead and care for His people.

…just to name a few.

All of these pictures make up a composite, a ‘mosaic’ of the Messiah.

Then the man Jesus shows up and embodies all of them in some way in his life and ministry. Some of the images are only first combined in Jesus – eg. the suffering servant and the Son-King at his baptism and transfiguration: ‘This is my Son (Ps 2), with whom I am well pleased’ (Isaiah 53). Different people and groups across Jews and Samaritans were looking for various different figures: Jesus arrives and we see that they are all pointing to Him.

So, how do we speak about Jesus the Messiah (Christ is a title, not a surname)? I wonder how many people, by observing our lives and hearing us speak would conclude that Jesus is our Messiah – not just our ruler, but the One in whom all our hopes, dreams, yearnings and desires find their fulfilment? Would they have a Messianic image? Would they see that He is the one to whom all their superhero-yearnings point?