Category Archives: evangelism

Cosmic, Corporate, and Individual Reconciliation through Union with Christ (Part 4)

Ministry of Reconciliation through Christ

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Jesus and Jihad (part one)

 

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Introduction

Islam has many expressions. It is not monolithic. We are wrong if we think we understand Muslims because we have met one or read the Qur’an. That is a simplistic and false understanding. “Islam is a dynamic and varied religious tradition.”[1] In the same way, if you have met a Christian and read the New Testament, for example, that does not mean that you understand Christianity. “The range of contemporary Muslim religiosity varies tremendously. One of the reasons for this is that people understand and ‘use’ religion in a variety of ways; that is true whether we are dealing with Islam or Christianity or any other religion.”[2]

As Christians have different beliefs regarding certain doctrines, Muslims have different beliefs as well. Christianity has many expressions, liberal and fundamental and various particular denominations. In this post (and in part two), we will explore the Islamic understanding of jihad and contrast it with Christianity. Our first observation is to realize the multifaceted nature of our exploration.

Many Expressions of Islam

As we have briefly seen, not all Muslims are the same and not all Muslims understand jihad in the same way. So, some Muslims emphasize the more peaceful passages (e.g. surah 5:32; 2:256; Allah is also repeatedly said to be “most gracious, most merciful”) and that the Qur’an seems to teach to not begin the fight (2:190; 22:39). However, others believe that those who have not confessed Allah and his prophet have already essentially made war with Muslims and should be subjugated.[3] Some Muslims are strict adherents to Islam and some are secular. Muslims are not homogeneous. (For example, we see two very different narrative accounts in Nabeel Qureshi’s, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus and Mosab Hassan Yousef’s, Son of Hamas). In fact, “not all Muslims believe that the Qurʾān is the literal and inerrant word of God, nor do all of them believe that Islam requires strict conformity to all the religious and moral precepts in the Qurʾān.”[4] We could group Muslims into three broad groups: secular Muslims, traditional Muslims, and fundamentalist Muslims.

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Mike Kuhn, Fresh Vision for the Muslim World (a book review)

[Kuhn, Mike. Fresh Vision for the Muslim World. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2009.]

Author Background
Mike Kuhn is uniquely qualified to write on this subject as he has many years of experience in living closely with Muslims in both the Middle East and North Africa. He holds master’s degrees in both Arabic and theology. Kuhn is well positioned to speak on the subject because he understands well Muslim culture after twenty-two years serving overseas he also knows American culture as he was born in America and recently pastored in Knoxville, Tennessee. Kuhn currently serves as a professor at the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary in Beirut, Lebanon.
Importance of the Book
This book is important because Kuhn brings wisdom grounded in the Bible and infused with the gospel and love for Jesus and people who need to know Him. This book is important because it is true to its title, it gives fresh vision for the Muslim world. The reader will put the book down with a better understanding not only of Islam but also of the people that follow its teachings. The reader will be moved to compassion, stirred to action, and guided by practical direction.
Overview
Kuhn says that his premise is that we as Christian must incarnate ourselves (16). We must be with people. We must laugh at their jokes, wait in their traffic jams, weep at their funerals, and cry for joy at their weddings (2). We must also understand them and part of understanding them is understanding their history and past Christian interaction with them (thus, ch. 2-4). “We need some sense of the complex history of the Muslim world and the involvement of the ‘Christian’ West in it” (58). That is a necessary first step in good communication and incarnation (59).

Kuhn proceeds then to talk about the theological differences between Christianity and Islam. For instance, “the essence of the Christian faith—God became human being in Christ—is diametrically opposed to Islamic faith” (69). There is also a vast difference in the view of what constitutes humanities problem and thus our view of salvation is different. Islam teaches that “individuals are neither dead in sin nor in need of redemption; rather, they are weak, forgetful, and in need of guidance” (78). The heart of the difference between Islam and Christianity is how man is put right with their Creator (81).

In chapters seven through nine, Kuhn reminds us that Jesus’ concern was not with “the geopolitical state of Israel during his earthly ministry. His concern is with his kingdom—the kingdom of heaven” (120). The place of the state of Israel is a subject filled with tension for many Muslims and Christians alike but it is also a very important and practical subject. So, we must seek God and His Scripture for wisdom, we must understand Jesus’ words (130, 171). Kuhn points out that the need of the entire world is to see “the manifestation of the kingdom of Jesus in his people” (158, italics mine), not in an earthly nation. As we have seen, we are to love our neighbors and part of loving someone is understanding them, their history, their perspective, their past hurts.

Chapter ten talks about jihad and explains that not all Muslims understand jihad in the same way, some have a spiritualized understanding of jihad (e.g. 199). So, it is important to understand that Muslims, like Christians, are not all the same. In fact, “the primary concerns of most Muslims are similar to ours—raising their children, providing for their children’s education, saving for that new car or outfit… We must exercise care not to be monofocal in our understanding of Islam” (187). Chapter eleven challenges us to faithfully speak for Jesus and live for His Kingdom and not our own. In part 5, chapters twelve through thirteen, we see steps to incarnation and what it means to live missionally (see esp. 225).

Evaluation
I appreciate Kuhn’s humble honesty. Kuhn says that in his early years of encountering Muslims it worked on him like sandpaper. Kuhn realized “the reality and depth of the Islamic faith and worldview” (64). He came to understand John 6:44 more fully (64). Muslims will not come to Christ through “persuasive philosophical arguments, or governmental prestige and influence. It is the gospel that must go out in human form through people” (85).

I believe Kuhn could have had more Scriptural argumentation at places but I realize his book was not meant to be exhaustive. However, I agree with most of what he wrote and believe it is truthful. That is, I believe Kuhn made a cogent case in what he said. I also appreciate that he gave a recap of each chapter, it helped give the book clarity.

Stylistically, I appreciate that Kuhn covered many different topics yet did not lose the focus of the book. For example, he introduced incarnation at the beginning (8) and then weaved it through the rest of the book (see e.g. 13, 16, 75, 85. 242). What is needed Kuhn pointed out, though sadly rare, “is an extended hand, a caring smile, someone who is willing to go the extra mile to help someone in need” (259) (cf. Matt. 5:13-16; Jn. 13:35; 1 Cor. 10:33).

I appreciate Kuhn’s reminder that “The kingdom of Jesus as opposed to empire is not concerned in the least about the political boundaries of a country. It is a reality that overlays the political boundaries” (256). We must remember that the Roman Empire came and went, but Jesus’ Kingdom is eternal (254) (cf. Jn. 18:36). Kuhn’s challenge is timely, he says, “if Western Christians are able to bid farewell to our fortress mentality, we will find that our countries have already become exceedingly accessible and potentially fruitful mission fields” (244). Kuhn further points out that if American Christians are overly aligned with their governments’ policies then their missional impact will likely be impacted (241). Instead, as Christians, Jesus should be our King and His policies should hold ultimate sway. The real hope of the Muslim world, and the Western world for that matter, is not democracy, it the diffusion of the good news of Jesus the Christ and the establishment of His reign (218).

Conclusion
I conclude with a pungent quote from Kuhn:

As Muslims grow increasingly suspicious and fed up with the violent response of Islamists, they are beginning to look for alternatives. Some are finding their alternative in secularism. Others are turning to materialistic pleasure. Will we as Christ-followers have anything to offer them? (214-15)


How we live as exiles…

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The Bible teaches us that we, as Christians, are exiles (1 Pet. 1:1, 17; 2:11; Phil. 3:20; Heb. 13:14). That is, we as Christians are separated from our true country. This is a biblical reality and more and more becoming an empirical reality. For instance, Newsweek has said, “Christians are now making up a declining percentage of the American population” (cf. U.S. Public Becoming Less Religious“). 

America has been postmodern and now we’re told America is post-Christian. But it’s not surprising. And it’s actually ok because this is not our home. We are “exiles” (1 Pet. 1:1, 17) and so we shouldn’t expect to have a nice cushy Christian majority (not that a Christian majority is wrong). We function, as the early church functioned, from the margins, not from the center.

Also, notice that Peter doesn’t tell us to wage war to ensure that we are the “moral majority.” No. Peter says, “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation” (1 Pet. 2:11-12 see also 1 Cor. 5:9-13).

It’s actually Christian’s morality that Peter is concerned with. Peter doesn’t say watch out for the world’s morality (and Peter lived under Roman control). No. He says, watch out for your own morality. Wage war against your soul. We are called to live our lives “constructively embedded within society while not being enslaved to all of its norms and ideals” (Lee Beach, The Church in Exile, 183). Continue reading


Living to Share the Gospel

As we read in Philippians we see that Paul lived to share the gospel. That’s what he was all about. Even when he was imprisoned for sharing the gospel he said, “It’s okay. It actually worked out quite well because I was able to tell the prison guards about Jesus.”

Paul lived to share the gospel. But what made him live like this? He hadn’t always lived for the gospel so what changed him? And what perhaps needs to change in our own lives so that we will live to share the gospel of Christ?

As I was preparing to write this I struggled because this portion of Philippians (1:12-18, 27-30) seems irrelevant. It seems disconnected from our everyday life. So, I was trying to think of some angle that I could share to make it relevant and I was struggling to do so. I was thinking that if I were talking about procrastination, lust, or something else then that would be relevant.

As I continued to think about it, however, I realized the problem is not with the passage. The problem is with us, with me. The passage doesn’t seem relevant because we don’t share the concern that Paul had, and that the Bible has. We, I am afraid, our deficient in our devotion to the gospel.

Sharing the gospel and our…
Our Deficiency
This first point comes from my own mouth and mind and not directly from Philippians. However, upon reflection, I think it is important that we consider our potential deficiency.What is our deficiency? Or, what would make this passage seem irrelevant?

I fear we (myself included!) get used to the gospel. It ceases to amaze us. We take it for granted. Paul’s letter to the Philippians was likely written 30 years after his conversion but we see that he is still amazed by the gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul says, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21) and later on he says everything is rubbish compared to Christ (3:8).

Our deficiency is our deficient view of the gospel. We esteem it of low worth. Until that deficiency changes we won’t delight in sharing the gospel and we won’t carry out our duty of sharing the gospel. So, briefly, what is the gospel?

Philippians 2 talks about Jesus, who though He was in the form of God, made Himself nothing and humbled Himself to die for us, even by death on a cross. 2 Corinthians 8:9 reminds us of the wonder of the gospel: our Lord Jesus Christ, though He was rich, became poor, so that we by His poverty might become rich. This is the good news of the “great exchange.” Jesus, God in flesh, took our filthy sinful stains upon Himself on the tree; and He gave us His beautiful robes of righteousness.

The apostle Paul understood that and that’s why he said everything—everything!—is rubbish compared to Christ. We too need to understand that. It makes sense logically but often times it hasn’t worked itself into the nooks and crannies of our lives.

So, we see the need of cultivating a heart of worship, a heart that is amazed by the gospel. As John Piper has said,

“No one will be able to rise to the magnificence of the missionary cause who does not feel the magnificence of Christ. There will be no big world vision without a big God. There will be no passion to draw others into our worship where there is no passion for worship.”[1]

It is when we taste and see that a restaurant is good that we tell others about it. It is the same with the gospel. We need to “taste” that it is good. We need to know understand that the LORD “has done gloriously.” Look at Isaiah 12:1-5:

“I will give thanks to you, O LORD, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, that you might comfort me. Behold, God is my salvation… Give thanks to the LORD, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the peoples, proclaim that his name is exalted. Sing praises to the LORD, for he has done gloriously; let this be made known in all the earth.”

It when we taste the God’s goodness that we say, “Let this be known in all the earth!”

Sharing the gospel and our…
Our Devotion (Phil. 1:12-18)
In a letter such as this, it would have been customary for Paul to explain how he was doing. It would have been natural to discuss his physical conditions.[2] I expect Paul to say something like:

“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, especially for the gift you gave me. That was really helpful. However, as you know I am in jail for preaching the gospel and I am fresh out of funds. I don’t have a lot of food and my sneakers are worn out. It’d be great to get some help. I am also very tired as my bed is very uncomfortable and the blanket they gave me is terrible. The guards also keep me up late. They like to play cards and their cursing is terrible…”

However, Paul says nothing like that. Actually, we’re not even really told about his physical well-being, let alone the state of his sneakers.

Yet, imagine how difficult it must have been for Paul. One commentator has said, “For a traveling apostle to be put in prison must have seemed like a concert pianist having his hands tied behind his back.”[3] Yet, Paul was not complaining.

Why is this the case? Certainly, Paul had material concerns. There are times when Paul let his material needs be known. For instance, he asks for his coat and books (2 Tim. 4:13). Paul surely had physical/material concerns but they weren’t main concern. We see Paul is concerned with the gospel and its advancement.

Paul’s good is wrapped up with the gospel.[4] Even though he was locked up he could rejoice because it “served to advance the gospel” (Phil. 1:12).[5] Paul made known to his guards that he was in jail for telling people about Christ. It was such a big deal that it got around to a bunch of people, “the whole imperial guard,” it says (v. 13).

“The soldiers were used, of course, to the ‘gospel’ of Caesar—the supposed ‘good news’ that a new emperor had taken the throne, bringing (so he claimed) peace and justice to the world. Now here was someone out of the blue announcing that there was a different ‘gospel’: that Jesus of Nazareth had taken the throne of the world, and was summoning every man, woman and child to bow the knee to him.”[6]

The guards were interested in hearing Paul’s story because they probably thought Paul was crazy at first. After all, they must have thought, who worships and confesses as King and Lord a crucified Jew?!

Yet, upon further discussion with Paul, they would have seen that Paul was not a lunatic but rather quite sane. If what Paul said about Jesus was true it would make sense that he would be willing to be imprisoned for Him (the guards themselves had suffered for their own king). Further, in light of Jesus being the King and Lord, it makes sense that Paul was encouraged, even in prison.

We see also the impact that Paul’s example had on the Philippians; they were emboldened to “speak the word without fear” (v. 14). How might our boldness help others to be bolder in sharing the gospel? You never know, God may use you to stir up a revival.

Perhaps the most surprising thing we see is that Paul even rejoices when people “preach Christ from envy and rivalry” (v. 15) and “out of selfish ambition” (v. 17). So, we see Paul had a delight in the gospel that bled out into the way he thought about the sharing of the gospel. Paul was passionate about the gospel and desired it to be shared. He had written previously, in Romans, that “he was ashamed of the gospel of Christ because it was the power of God for salvation to all that believe” (Rom. 1:16). Paul continued passionately and boldly unashamed.

So, what are your aspirations? To make money? To travel? To find a new job? To be in a relationship? To do well in school? To be successful in life (however, you define success)? “None of these is inadmissible; none is to be despised. The question is whether these aspirations become so devouring that the Christian’s central aspiration is squeezed to the periphery or choked out of existence entirely.”[7] Our central concern should be the gospel and its advancement.

Sharing the gospel and our…
Our Duty (Phil. 1:27-30)
In Philippians 1:27 Paul tells us about our duty. Paul says, “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ.” Paul is telling us that the gospel is amazing and calls us to life change. We cannot understand and be impacted by the gospel without being changed. When we taste the sweetness of the gospel then we begin to be moved to desire to live our life in line with the gospel. We begin to strive “side by side for the faith of the gospel” (v. 27). We even begin to see it as a good thing if we suffer for the sake of Christ (v. 29).

Paul’s form of ambassadorship changed but not his purpose and duty. Paul was an ambassador in chains (Eph. 6:20).[8] This is the case for us too. We might serve in different locations and different circumstances but we are still called to be ambassadors for Christ wherever we are. So, the specific call and circumstance might change but we are all called to share and care about the gospel.

When our devotion to the gospel of Christ is waning and deficient we need to work at cultivating a heart of worship. Because not only is the gospel a delight but we also have a duty to share and care about it. We are called to strive “side by side for the faith of the gospel” (v. 27) and notice as we stand side by side and encourage each other we can stand firm not and not be afraid of our opponents (v. 27-28).

A Few Questions:
1. What did you find encouraging and what did you find challenging about this post?
2. How is our view of the gospel sometimes deficient?
3. The gospel is the most amazing reality in the world but sometimes it may seem irrelevant. What does that say about us and our focus when that is true of us?
4. What are you tempted to care about more than the gospel? What is your “good news”?
5. Do you care about the gospel? Do you share the gospel?
6. How might your boldness help others to be bold in sharing the gospel?
7. Is it true we should have a devotion to Jesus and His gospel? Or, is it legalistic to say we must be devoted and that we have duty?
8. What would a devotion to the gospel look like in your everyday life?
9. Why would we be devoted to the gospel of Jesus Christ? What would motivate us in that way?

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[1] John Piper, Let the Nations be Glad (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1993), 40.

[2] Paul’s letter “is thoroughly transformed by the gospel” (Gordon D. Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, 106 cf. 108).

[3] N.T. Wright, Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters, 89.

[4] “This passage shows us that when our joy is connected to the advancement of the gospel rather than to our physical condition or to the responses of other people to us, it remains firm, even when these circumstances stand against us” (Frank Thielman, The NIV Application Commentary: Philippians, 66).

[5] We see that “God works not merely in spite of but through adverse circumstances” (Ibid.).

[6] Ibid. Cf. D. A. Carson, Basics for Believers: An Exposition of Philippians, 23.

[7] D. A. Carson, Basics for Believers: An Exposition of Philippians, 26.

[8] John Stott, The Message of Philippians, 72.


Evangelism as an Overflow of Worship

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Why do we share the gospel? Because we’re told to? Guilted into it? Or do we share the gospel? Many of us don’t. However, what could motivate us to share the gospel? Guilt? I don’t think that’s the most helpful or biblical motivation. 

We share the gospel or should share it because it is the gospel; it is good news!  When we have good news will share it. If we like a certain football team, soccer team, or bad mitten team we will be excited if they win and likely even call friends that like the opposing team to brag. If we go to the store and see a certain purse or pair of pants on sale and we buy them we will be excited and even tell someone how much we paid for them. If we go to a new movie or see a show we like we will not hesitate to tell someone about it and that they “have to see it.” We do these things because we’re excited about the “good news.”

I could command you to tell the good news. I could write out the Great Commission right here and just say, “Do it.” But I think if I did that, I would be pulling that text out of context. Notice, before Jesus said His words in Matthew 28:16-20, He first did and said many other things. We find the Great Commission positioned at the end of Matthew. In fact, if my math is correct, there are one thousand and sixty-six verses before it. I believe we must first hear the rest of the book for Jesus’ last charge to be in context; not least of which is Jesus’ death and resurrection. I believe the followers of Christ who were there to hear Jesus’ charge were worshipers (cf. Matt. 28:1; 9: “Mary Magdalene and the other Mary… took hold of his feet and worshiped Him.”). They had not only heard the gospel but had seen it with their own eyes (1 John 1:1-2). They were not given some bland command in the Great Commission but rather it was to them an outlet so that they did not burst.

The singer must sing a song or go mad and the Christian must tell of Christ. Elihu describes well the feelings of compulsion we should have. “The spirit within me constrains me. Behold, my belly is like wine that has no vent; like new wineskins ready to burst. I must speak, that I may find relief” (Job 32:18b-20a).[i] Or Jeremiah says it this way, “If I say, ‘I will not mention him, or speak anymore in his name,’ there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot” (20:9).[ii]

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Our Missionary God and Our Mission

God incarnated Himself. Became poor, despised. God is the ultimate missionary. He Himself who is the good news, brought good news.

If we are going to be “missional,” i.e. intentionally evangelistic, we must focus on and learn from God the Great Missionary. God’s love is unrelenting and displayed through a vast array of means. It is tangible. It cares. It comes to us. It gives. God’s love is present, active, premeditated.

God’s mission is not disconnected from who He is but expressive of who He is. God’s character, in Christ, literally bled out. God’s missionary heart is not forced but fundamental. God is a God who calls, reaches, and loves the unloving; and He always has been.

We cannot expect our hearts to overflow with missional love unless we meditate on God’s love that we see expressed through the Scriptures. For the good news of Christ to overflow out of our hearts it must daily be in our hearts as good news. We don’t want the gospel and a life of love to be forced, we want it to be so natural that it pours out. We don’t just need our actions to change, we need our character to change. We need to be different. We need to care in ways that we don’t care. We want to intentionally share, not mainly because we have to but because we want to.

We must regularly challenge ourselves by the active nature of mission. God did something. He was not passive. He came. He had a plan (since before the foundation of the world) and He executed it. It cost Him but He carried it out. He opened wide His arms and welcomed in the unloving and hateful world as He hung stretched out on the tree.

We too must be active. We too must enter the world in tangible and intentional ways. We must have a plan and execute it; even if it costs us.

We are ambassadors for Christ, God makes His appeal through us. God speaks through us! So we must implore people on behalf of Christ to be reconciled to God (2 Cor. 5:20).


A Brief Defense of the Resurrection

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Introduction
Did the resurrection happen? I mean, did the resurrection actually happen? Is it an event that happened in space and time? Or is it myth? Was Jesus a zombie like one of my friends has claimed? The answer to this question has profound implications. If there is no resurrection from the dead then Christ has not been raised (cf. 1 Cor. 15:12-13), Christian teaching is pointless (v. 14), faith in Christ pointless (v. 14), Christians are lying about God (vv. 15-16), all humanity is still in their sin (v. 17), none of our loved ones that have died are in heaven (v. 18), and Christians live a sad and foolish life (v. 19).

If the resurrection didn’t happen why do we go church? Why read the Bible? Why seek to uphold the New Testament ethic?

Do you feel the weight of this question? Do you feel its significance? If Christ did not rise then the Church is a sham. My life is a sham.

Why Argue for the Resurrection?
First, because it is the most significant question of history. It is the ultimate questions that leads to ultimate conclusions.

It changed the world. The launch of the World Wide Web in 1990. It led to a wealth of information unprecedented in any other age to include what followed after the creation of the printing press in 1440. The Declaration of Independence, the French Revolution, the first moon landing, the first flight, the Model T, antiseptics, the Industrial Revolution; they changed the world and, one could argue, for the better. However, their significance pales in comparison to the question of the resurrection.

The topic of the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is profoundly important. Upon it Christianity, indeed, heaven and hell rest. It is the hinge on which the direction of one’s life hangs, but it is more than that. The resurrection, if it happened, means that the hermeneutic with which we look at the world, even the whole of the universe, must correctly fit that evidence.

It means that all of history—that of the television to that of Tokyo—and everybody—Albert Einstein to Adolf Hitler—hang in the balance. It means that there is a day of reckoning; a day of profound peace and of hell. It means this world will one day finally be great for some and for others it will be the best they’ve known. It means that there is purpose and extreme futility.

It means that the unreal is real. It means that the far out has burst upon the scene. It means that what is seen is not it. It means that there is more. It means that there is meaning and direction to the cosmos. It means history is going somewhere and it is on its way.

If the resurrection happened then that new creation is the most significant thing that has happened since the (literal) beginning of time with the creation of all things. If the resurrection indeed happened then it confirms the words and work of Jesus. If the resurrection happened, it truly changes everything.

Second, it is important to argue for the resurrection because the Bible itself all over the place argues for the resurrection. It’s what the Christian hope is built upon. If it didn’t happen then what are we doing?!

So, many of the sermons in Acts seek to prove that Jesus is the promised Messiah (see Acts 9:22; 13:16ff; 16:13; 17:3, 17; 18:4-5, 19; 19:8ff; 24:25; 26:6, 22-26; 28:23, 31 cf. 18:28; from the beginning of the church preaching and teaching was integral 2:42).[1] Also, Luke wrote an “orderly account” to Theophilus so that he would have “certainty” (Luke 1:3). Luke said that Jesus “presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs” (Acts 1:3).

Peter says “we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Pet. 1:16). John talks about very tangible proof: “…we have heard… we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands… the life was made manifest, and we have seen… that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you” (1 Jn. 1:1-3). Even when warned at the cost of punishment Peter and John said in Acts that they could not but speak of what they had seen and heard (Acts 4:20).

The reality of the resurrection is something that is obviously very important to the New Testament authors. It is something that they did not take for granted but gave witness to (cf. e.g. Jn. 19:31-37). The reality of the resurrection is no less important for us today. We must still give testimony to it. We must still give the “many proofs” (cf. Acts 1:3) for it.

So, to the question, did the resurrection happen? Actually, even before that question, is it even possible for the resurrection to happen?

Assumptions
Antony Flew, when he was an atheist said, “Certainly given some beliefs about God, the occurrence of the resurrection does become enormously more likely.”[2] Likewise, Douglas Groothuis says, “If a convincing case can be given for theism, the probability of miracles in general, and the resurrection in particular, is increased.” [3] I believe that case can be made, has been made, and is actually self-evident thus the possibility of miracles follow.

It is important before considering the evidence to think about our assumptions. For instance, in Harper Lee’s book To Kill a Mocking Bird the correct verdict could not have been given in that context (i.e. Maycomb’s racist white community) because people excluded the possibility that anyone other than the black man, Tom Robinson, was guilty. Despite the strong evidence that Atticus Finch put forward Tom was still convicted. Why? Because people were prejudice against the truth. The people’s a prior assumption, that Tom was guilty because he’s black, led them to not honestly look at the evidence and pronounce the correct verdict.[4]

This sadly still happens. It happens in the court of law and it happens when people consider the evidence for the resurrection. Atheists and naturalists will obviously claim that Jesus could not raise from the dead because for them that is not even a possible option. It must have been something else. There must be a different explanation. And so, they propound all sorts of other ideas. Yet what they offer does not do justice to all the information.

More common, however, is a more popular form of denial. Either people just say it’s not possible without clearly weighing the evidence or they deny it because of doctrine. That is, they don’t like certain things that the New Testament teaches and realize if they deny the resurrection then they don’t have to worry about any of the other teachings; such as repentance. However, as Timothy Keller has said, “The issue on which everything hangs is not whether or not you like [Jesus’] teaching but whether or not he rose from the dead.”[5]

Four Historical Foundations Paul Mentions in 1 Corinthians on the Resurrection
In 1 Corinthians 15:3-9 Paul gives us four points of how we can know the reality of the resurrection:

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.”

Notice that this teaching is of “first importance.” There is a lot that we can disagree on but this is not one of those things. This is one of the absolute bare essentials. If we lose this then the whole structure collapses. Also, notice that Paul is delivering something to us that he “received.” Paul is incorporating an earlier confession or tradition that was passed down.[6]

First, the Crucifixion.  Christ died (1 Cor. 15:3). And He died on a cross. This is basically an undisputed fact.[7] The Talmud even reports that Jesus (Yeshu) was hanged (as in on the cross) on the eve of the Passover (b Sanh 43a-b; cf. Justin Martyr Dial. 69) for practicing sorcery (it is important to note that the authorities did not deny that “strange” things accompanied Him).[8] The Jewish historian Josephus says that Pilate condemned Jesus to the cross (Antiquities, Book 18, ch. 3, par. 3). Lucian, a Greek writer of the 2nd century, mentions the crucifixion of Jesus as well (The Death of Peregrine, 11-13). The fact that Jesus was crucified is very significant for a lot of reasons.

This is very significant, because to be hung on a tree, to be crucified, was to be cursed in the eyes of the Jews. Paul tells us this (Gal. 3:13) reminding us of Deuteronomy 21:23. How could Christianity develop and believe in a crucified, cursed, carpenter as their long-awaited promised Messiah? What could make sense of the fact that Jesus was crucified and later venerated as the Promised One, indeed, God incarnate?[9] Surely a crucified man could not be the Messiah (Deut. 21:22-23 cf. Acts 5:30; 10:39; 13:29; Gal. 3:13; 1 Pet. 2:24).[10] Plus, the expectation was a king in the vein of David. A Yehoshu’a that defeats Israel’s enemies, not a Yehoshu’a that will be defeated by dying upon a tree.[11]

This makes the existence of the Church all the more amazing. Why would people such as Peter, James, and Paul follow—to death!—someone that was crucified?! What could account for this historical fact? Why would Jews switch their day of worship from Saturday, the Sabbath, to Sunday in light of someone that died a horrible death on the cross?[12] Why would the Church be persecuted for “eating flesh” (i.e. celebrating the Lord’s Supper) if Jesus only died and never raised?

Of course, we know that Jesus, the Messiah, died as the Lamb of God to take away our sins. We see that His death was the fulfillment of passages like Isaiah 53. However, that was not immediately understood then. They did not a first understand that the Messiah must suffer many things (cf. e.g. Lk. 18:31-34; 24:11). They did not understand that Jesus’ death was indeed in “accordance with the Scriptures.” Yet, they would understand. So, we see, “Jesus’ resurrection is, in fact, the best explanation for why ancient monotheistic Jews would worship him as divine.”[13]

Second, He was Buried. Jesus was buried (1 Cor. 15:4). Laid in a tomb and later His tomb was found empty. There are multiple attestations of this. The Gospels Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all tell us about this. Further, they tell us that women were the first people on the scene. This is significant because a woman’s testimony was no good in court in that day.[14] If the empty tomb story would have been made up they would not have chosen women to be the first witnesses to the resurrection. Instead, it would have made sense for them to say that Peter, for instance, was the first person on the scene.

Also, they would not have left any discrepancies in the accounts. However, discrepancies remain. They are not irreconcilable but they remain. If the story of the empty tomb was fabricated the account of it would be much more tidy.[15] Anyhow, if Jesus did not rise from the dead His followers would have no motivation to claim that He did.

One of the theories put forward against the resurrection is that Jesus was not actually dead when He was taken off the cross.[16] However, think of this: Jesus would have been a more horrific image than a zombie. He would have been in no position to convince His disciples that He had rose from the dead. Plus, He would then be a deceiver which greatly conflicts with His amazing ethical teachings.

All of this aside, it is just not possible that Jesus would have lived through the whole ordeal.[17] So William Lane Craig has said that the apparent death theory is foolish when we consider “the beatings of Jesus, His exhausting all-night trial and interrogations, His scourging, His crucifixion, the spear in His side [which serves to demonstrate that He did in fact die], the binding and wrapping of His body in seventy-five pounds of linen and spices, and the cold tomb sealed by a large stone.”[18]

In fact because of the type of beating that Jesus underwent before He was even crucified He could have died even beforehand so there was no way that He would have lived through the crucifixion.[19] Further, the guards though not doctors or scientists likely had as much experience with dead bodies as morticians. They would have known if Jesus was not dead. So Alexander Metherell, who has both a medical degree and a doctorate degree in engineering and has edited five scientific books, has said that “there was absolutely no doubt that Jesus was dead” and “there’s just no way he could have survived the cross.”[20]

People have even claimed that Jesus death was faked. They claim that Jesus was slipped a drug that put Him into a deep stupor (they use Mk. 15:36 as their proof text) so people thought He was dead. However, this theory falls short for a number of reasons. Not least is the fact that had Jesus fell into a deep stupor He would have in fact died. One of the ways, probably the most common way, which people died on the cross was through asphyxiation. Thus if Jesus was drugged He would have certainly died of asphyxiation anyhow.

William Edwards concludes his study “On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ”:

“It remains unsettled whether Jesus died of cardiac rupture or of cardiorespiratory failure. However, the important feature may be not how he died but rather whether he died. Clearly, the weight of historical and medical evidence indicates that Jesus was dead before the wound to his side was inflicted and supports the traditional view that the spear, thrust between his right ribs, probably perforated not only the right lung but also the pericardium and heart and thereby ensured his death. Accordingly, interpretations based on the assumption that Jesus did not die on the cross appear to be at odds with modern medical knowledge.”[21]

So I think we see through the “swoon theory” is unbelievable it does lend credibility to the other evidence leading to the resurrection. This is because if someone is willing to claim that Jesus did not die on the cross rather than face the other evidence then the other evidence must be substantial indeed.

So what then is the significance that Jesus was buried and that Paul and the confession stated that? The Heidelberg Catechism says that “His burial testified that He had really died.”[22]

Third, the Tomb was Empty. Jesus rose from the dead (1 Cor. 15:4) and thus left an empty tomb. Actually, it was never even claimed that the tomb was not empty. That was not an option that anyone could have claimed because the tomb was empty. Instead, the authorities that wanted to crush the early Christian movement said that the disciples stole Jesus’ body (Matt. 28:13, 15). Yet, that claim is preposterous for a few reasons. For example, Jesus’ followers did not have the motivation or the means to put on such a pointless charade. People have also put forward the idea that the women went to the wrong tomb. This view, however, doesn’t hold up to scrutiny either. If the women had gone to the wrong tomb then the authorities would have said so. They did know where the tomb was; they set guards in front of it.

First, we see early attestation that the tomb was empty. Paul quoted an early confession that Jesus was raised (1 Cor. 15:4) which implicitly states that the tomb was empty. We also have other very reliable historical sources that all claim that the tomb was empty.

Second, if the tomb wasn’t empty it would have been impossible for the Christian movement, which is founded on the resurrection, to get started in Jerusalem. Perhaps if the disciples would have moved somewhere else then it would have been possible but not in Jerusalem. People there had certainly seen Jesus teach, die a horrible death, or at least heard rumors about Jesus. Jews and Gentiles alike had reasons for hostility against the radical upstart movement. People didn’t understand Christian teaching and as Jesus predicted it brought division. So if people in Jerusalem could have produced Jesus’ body to shut up the movement before it got off the ground they would have. But they didn’t, because they couldn’t. If the tomb was not empty then there could be no Christian movement; especially in Jerusalem. Paul and the Gospel writers all identify and give names of multiple people that were said to be eyewitnesses of the resurrection. If people wanted to they could question them and determine the validly of their claims. So Craig shows that “the controlling presence of living witnesses would prevent significant accrual of legend.”[23]

Again, and thirdly, the fact that the Gospels tell us that women discovered the empty tomb argues for its validity. This, once again, is because if the Gospel accounts had been made up, they would not been made up to include woman being the witnesses to the empty tomb. Something else to consider looking at is the Shroud of Turin.

Fourth, Jesus’ Appearances. Jesus appeared too many (1 Cor. 15:5-9). Paul gave a pretty substantial list of witnesses. In fact, Paul basically said, they are still around, here are their names, you can go question them yourself. Actually, that is apparently what Luke did. Luke did a thorough investigation of the whole thing and his final verdict was that the resurrection and thus the Church did indeed happen.

The New Testament lists twelve separate appearances over a forty-day period:[24]

  1. Mary Magdalene (Jn. 20:10-18)
  2. Mary and the other women (Matt. 28:1-10)
  3. Peter (Lk. 24:34; 1 Cor. 15:5)
  4. Two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Lk. 24:13-35)
  5. Ten apostles (Lk. 24:36-49)
  6. Eleven apostles (Jn. 20:24-31)
  7. Seven apostles (Jn. 21)
  8. All of the apostles (Matt. 28:16-20)
  9. Five hundred disciples (1 Cor. 15:6)
  10. James (1 Cor. 15:7)
  11. Again to all the apostles (Acts 1:4-8)
  12. The apostle Paul (Acts 9:1-9; 1 Cor. 15:8; 9:1)

One of Jesus’ followers (likely Mark) fled naked risking great shame (or worse) but was transformed by the good and surprising news of the resurrection (cf. Mk. 14:32-52). Paul, a persecutor of the Church, was radically transformed and ended up being persecuted himself for preaching the truth of Jesus the Christ’s resurrection.

As has been very often pointed out:

 “The disciples… went from dejected, dispirited and grieving followers of a crucified rabbi to apostles, those who had beheld the risen Christ and who, on that basis, preached him as Lord of life and the Judge of history… The actual resurrection of Jesus is the best explanation for the disciples’ transformation from cowardice, despair and confusion to confident proclamation and the willingness to suffer persecution, hardship and even martyrdom for the sake of Jesus and his gospel.”[25]

And who would die for a known lie? Who would go to a bloody painful death if it could be avoided simply by denying a lie?

After Jesus was taken His apostles were scared and hid in the upper room. Peter denied Jesus 3 times. After Jesus’ resurrection he appeared to the apostles and many others.  After the apostles saw the resurrected Jesus they were no longer scared, they were emboldened.  All of the apostles died for their beliefs, except John. Yet, tradition says he was boiled alive and later exiled to the island Patmos. Following is how the apostles died:

  • Peter- crucified
  • Andrew-crucified
  • Matthew- the sword
  • John- died a natural death after being boiled in oil and exiled
  • James, son of Alphaeus- crucified
  • Philip- crucified
  • Simon- crucified
  • Thaddaeus- killed by arrows
  • James, the brother of Jesus- stoned
  • Thomas- spear thrust
  • Bartholomew- crucified
  • James, the son of Zebedee- the sword

Many have contended that the appearances were just hallucinations. However, this theory also falls short for various reasons. Actually, even the Orthodox Jewish scholar Pinchas Lapide, believed that Jesus did in fact rise from the dead even though he didn’t believe that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah. So, for instance, he said, ““When this frightened band of apostles suddenly could be changed overnight into a confident mission society… Then no vision or hallucination is sufficient to explain such a revolutionary transformation.”[26]

Others have put forward the “conspiracy theory” view that says the disciples made up the resurrection story. However, as I said, the Gospel accounts have small, though not contradictory, discrepancies in them. This would not make any sense if the early followers of Jesus got together and fabricated the whole thing. However, it would not make any sense for them to fabricate the whole thing anyhow. What would they gain from such lies?! Nothing. Nothing but persecution and death. So clearly the crucifixion of Jesus was not just some conspiracy theory that some whacks made up to serve their own end.

Can you imagine the disciples saying, in the words of William Lane Craig,

“Let us band together… to invent all the miracles and resurrection appearances which we never saw and let us carry the sham to death! Why not die for nothing? Why dislike torture and whipping inflicted for no good reason? Let us go out to all nations and overthrow their institutions and denounce their gods! And even if we don’t convince anybody, at least we’ll have the satisfaction of drawing down on ourselves the punishment for our own deceit.”[27]

Even mobsters, like Henry Hill and Alphonse D’Arco, from time to time break down and confess what they swore on life and limb they would not confess. Surely Jesus’ followers who had everything to lose and nothing to gain would break down and confess it was a hoax if it was. Thus the “conspiracy theory” fails to meet the demands of the evidence.[28]

Further, Craig points out that “if we distrust these men, then we must distrust all writers of history and records. If we accept the records of secular historians, then we must by the same standard also accept the reliability of the disciples’ testimony to the resurrection.”[29] Similarly, Licona points that “to claim as useless any effort to know the past is not only the death of history but of the legal system too.”[30]

Conclusion
Many scholars have concluded along with Thomas Arnold, who wrote the History of Rome and who was appointed the chair of modern history at Oxford, that “I know of no one fact in the history of mankind which is proved by better and fuller evidence of every sort, to the understanding of a fair inquirer, then the great sign which God has given us that Christ died and rose from the dead.”[31] Michael Licona, after deliberating for 600 pages says, the resurrection is “very certain.”[32] “Jesus’ resurrection is the best historical explanation of the relevant historical bedrock.”[33]

If Jesus Christ has been raised there is purpose and direction to the cosmos; to our life. If Jesus rose from the dead His claim and promises our justified. If Jesus rose then we, who have faith in Him, will also rise. If Jesus rose the Kingdom of God and new creation has broke into this broken world. Truly, “The resurrection of Jesus… is the symbol and starting point of a new world.”[34]

Suggested Resources:
Discussion:
  • How has the resurrection changed you?
  • How has it changed someone you know or know of? For instance, think of the Apostle Paul.
  • How should the fact of the resurrection continue to change you?
  • What should you do differently this week in light of the resurrection?
  • How can you thank Christ for the resurrection and all that it means?
  • Lastly, read 1 Corinthians 15 this week, pray, and think about the importance of the resurrection of Christ.

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[1] Marten Hengel rightly says Paul considered the “Jewish-Messianic message and its concomitant scriptural evidence… quite important from the very beginning.” (Marten Hengel, “Paul in Arabia” Bulletin for Biblical Research 12.1 [2002], 59).

[2] Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus, 115

[3] Douglas Groothuis, Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith, 530. See also e.g. Licona’s discussion of John Dominic Crossan’s view in The Resurrection of Jesus, 44-45 see also 608.

[4] See also John Adams in Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus, 609.

[5] Keller, The Reason for God, 210. Also, William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith, 279.

[6] Licona says “Paul wrote the letter we now refer to as 1 Corinthians in A.D. 54 or 55. If Jesus died in A.D. 30, we are reading a letter that was written within twenty-five years of Jesus’ death by a major church leader who knew a number of those who walked with Jesus. If this letter contains tradition that Paul has preserved, we are even closer than twenty-five years to the events it claims to report” (The Resurrection of Jesus, 223-24. See 223- 35).

[7] Even John Dominic Crossan says the fact that Jesus was crucified is “as sure as anything historical ever can be” (Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography [San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1991], 145).

[8] See: “Jesus of Nazareth’s Trial in Sanhedrin 43a.”

[9] Martin Hengel says, “A crucified messiah, son of God or God must have seemed a contradiction in terms to anyone, Jew, Greek, Roman or barbarian, asked to believe such a claim, and it will certainly have been thought offensive and foolish” (Crucifixion John Bowden trans. [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1977], 10) as Paul himself later would say (1 Cor. 1:18, 23). See also Ibid., 61-62, and esp. 89. Justin Martyr Apology I ch. 13. Also the Alexamenos graffito shows how foolish many thought it was to worship one that had been crucified. The graffiti depicts a Christian worshiping an image of a man on a cross with a donkey head.

[10] cf. Thomas R. Schreiner, Paul, Apostle of God’s in Christ: A Pauline Theology (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2001), 75. Truly, “a crucified Messiah was a contradiction in terms for the Jews” (Thomas R. Schreiner, New Testament Theology: Magnifying God in Christ [Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008], 292). Paul himself was among the rulers that “did not recognize him,” the Messiah, nor what the prophets said regarding Him (Acts 13:27). Yet he later was enlightened to the fact that the Scriptures were fulfilled (v. 27b) when Jesus was condemned, i.e. “cursed,” on a tree (v. 29 see also vv. 30-39). Also, Loren T. Stuckenbruck after examining the relevant apocalyptic and early Judaism literature says, “messianic speculation varied from author to author and even within the documents themselves” (“Messianic Ideas in the Apocalyptic and Related Literature of Early Judaism” 112 in The Messiah in the Old and New Testament (Grand Rapids: W. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2007), 90-13.

[11] In Paul’s day “Messianic expectation married social discontent. The result was the offspring of anticipation and action” (David P Seemuth, “Mission in the Early Church” in Mission in the New Testament, 51). People, not least Paul, did not expect a suffering servant that would die a violent death to be the long awaited messiah. They expected a messiah that would bring violence to their oppressors.

[12] See Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, 579-80 and Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 554. “Wright argues that the empty tomb and the postresurrection appearances of Jesus are necessary conditions for the rise of early Christian belief in the resurrection of Jesus” (Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus, 107).

[13] Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 553.

[14] Cf. e.g. Wright who says “women were simply not acceptable witnesses” (The Resurrection of the Son of God, 607 cf. 326). Also, Craig, The Son Rises, 59-61.

[15] So N.T. Wright has said, “The stories exhibit… exactly that surface tension which we associate, not with tales artfully told by people eager to sustain a fiction and therefore anxious to make everything look right” (The Resurrection of the Son of God, 612).

[16] Or, as Islam teaches, Jesus was not really the one that was crucified. This, though ludicrous, is not any worse than thinking Jesus did not really die. Surah 157-58 says, “And [for] their saying, ’Indeed, we have killed the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, the messenger of Allah.’ And they did not kill him, nor did they crucify him; but [another] was made to resemble him to them. And indeed, those who differ over it are in doubt about it. They have no knowledge of it except the following of assumption. And they did not kill him, for certain.”

[17] To think of it in terms of the miraculous, it would be more miraculous for Jesus to have lived through the crucifixion and what lead up to it then that He was resurrected from the dead. 

[18] See his further helpful elaboration in The Son Rises: The Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2000), 37-40.

[19] Cf. Alexander Metherell, interviewed in Lee Strobel, The Case for Christ, 196.

[20] Alexander Metherell, interviewed in Lee Strobel, The Case for Christ, 200, 202.

[21] William Edwards, M.D., et.al., “On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ,” Journal of the American Medical Association (March 26, 1986), 1463.

[22] Heidelberg Catechism Q & A 41.

[23] Craig, The Son Rises, 106. “Something more than mere curiosity about an ancient puzzle draws our attention to the first centuries of Christian history… whether or not we regard ourselves as Christians or in any way religious, we cannot altogether escape the tectonic shift of cultural values that was set in motion by those small and obscure beginnings” (Wayne A. Meeks, “The Origins of Christian Morality: The First Two Centuries [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993], 1).

[24] See Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 546.

[25] Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 551.

[26] Pinchas Lapide, The Resurrection of Jesus: A Jewish Perspective (Fortress Press, 1988), 125.

[27] Craig, The Son Rises, 24. Craig says this referencing Eusebius of Caesarea’s argument in Demonstratio evangelica 3. 4, 5.

[28] See Craig, The Son Rises, 23-36 for a concise and pungent argument.

[29] Craig, The Son Rises, 25.

[30] Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus, 95.

[31] Thomas Arnold as quoted in Josh McDowell, The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict, 217.

[32] Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus, 608.

[33] Ibid., 610 cf. 619.

[34] N. T. Wright, Surprised By Hope (San Francisco: HarperOne, 2008), 67.


The Church is a Place for Outcasts

The church is a gathering of the redeemed. We are made holy. We were not innately holy. The church is a place where those who know they are sick come to the Great Physician (cf. Lk. 5:31). The church is a monopoly of outcasts. It is filled with struggling ex-thieves, ex-drunkards, ex-adulterers, and ex-revilers (cf. 1 Cor. 6:9-11).

The church is (or should be!) a welcoming place for all because we have all been welcomed at Jesus’ own expense. Colossians radically says that in the church “there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all” (Col. 3:11). Who am I, who are you, to say or act any differently?! 

True that it may be, the fact that the church is a place for outcasts is not easy. It brings with it, as you can imagine and know, a whole host of problems. So, what can sustain us through the difficulties? Where do we see the type of compassion we need to welcome the outcasts, the people that are not like us, do not think and smell like us, into the church?

What example do we have of compassion? What biblical model can we think of? None other than Jesus Himself! Jesus had abundant riches in heaven yet He left heaven for us and became poor that through His poverty we might become rich (2 Cor. 8:9). In Philippians, we are told to look not only to our own interests, but also the interests of others (2:4). Why should we do this? Because Jesus, who is God, humbled Himself and took the form of a servant to die for us (vv. 6-8). Our attitude should be the same as Christ Jesus’ (v. 5).

We know from the Gospels that Jesus had compassion on people.[i] He was even criticized by the religious leaders of the day because of the type of people that He reached out to and helped (cf. Matt. 9:9-13; 11:19; 21:31-32; Mk. 2:15-17; Lk. 3:12-14; 5:29-32; 7:36-50; 15; 19:1-10 for example). He ate with tax collectors even though they would cheat and steal from people (Matthew, who wrote the Gospel of Matthew, was previously a tax collector [Matt. 9:9-13]!). He talked to Gentiles who were basically unacceptable foreigners to many people. Jesus ministered to prostitutes and the friends that were closest to Him were not the religious elite but humble smelly fishermen. If we are to minister compassionately, we must imitate Jesus.

Veronese_Feast_in_the_house_of_Levi

He reached out and literally touched lepers (Matt. 8:2-4; Mark 1:40-44; Lk. 5:12-16). Lepers were people with a severe skin disease. They had to call out “unclean, unclean” when they saw people (cf. Lev. 13:45-46), and Jesus touched them! When Jesus walked up to, let alone talked to and touched, the leper, His followers, to say nothing of the religious leaders, would have been shocked, scandalized.[ii] Yet, what is Jesus’ response? Did He turn away? Did He tell the leper to stay back? No. Jesus was filled with compassion (Mark 1:41).[iii]  He cared for the outcast. He loved the unlovely even when it was the unpopular thing. Loathsome leprosy is not beyond Jesus’ loving touch.

Think of the biggest outcasts in today’s society—whether to you its addicts, illegal immigrants, poor people, unattractive people, those who have AIDS, so-called “white trash,” or whoever you think of—they are not outcasts to Jesus. He loves them. He reaches for them. No one is past His reach. No one is too sick for Him.

The most significant lesson from the cleansing of the leper story is that even outsiders can experience God’s healing grace. The church is called by this example to reach out to those on the fringes of society. Leprosy in its time was seen as reflecting the presence of sin, so reaching out to sinners is pictured here… Jesus came to save people from sin, any sin, no matter how serious. So the ministry of compassion he reveals here should be matched by the church’s efforts with those that most of society have given up on.[iv]

It is the very essence of Christianity to touch the untouchable, to love the unlovable, to forgive the unforgivable. Jesus did and so must we.

So, are you reaching? If we define lepers as those who are isolated, unwanted, the outcasts of society then who are the “lepers” who live around you today? Who are the “lepers” in your sphere of influence?

As we seek to minister compassionately, we must remember the gospel. We must understand that “none is righteous, no, not one” (Rom. 3:10 and see following), and this includes you, me, and the addict. All have sinned and are declared righteous by God’s grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (Rom. 3:23). In fact, the Bible says we were all once vile sinners, a.k.a. addicts, but we have been washed, made holy, and declared righteous in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ (cf. 1 Cor. 6:9-11).

The ground is level at the foot of the cross. We may not have the same addiction, i.e. sin problem, but we all have the sin problem. No, all sin does not look the same and does not have the same consequences (cf. 1 Cor. 6:18; Prov. 5:7-14) but it is all sin against a holy God. May we realize that we ourselves are sinners, even “the chief of sinners,” and say with Paul, “by the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Cor. 15:10). May we not be like the prideful Pharisee that puts himself over others (Lk. 18:11 cf. 13-14).

The loving and reaching grace of our humble and exalted Lord should create new Kingdom communities that transform. Even now the Lord is recreating (of course, there is an “already/not yet” aspect to it). Eric L. Johnson points out:

Shame… fosters an avoidance of self-examination and the assumption of responsibility, fear of others and of ‘being exposed,’ defensiveness and aggressive anger; it keeps people from reaching out to others… The revelation of God’s grace and mercy, his love for sinners and the broken and hurting, can therefore be profoundly encouraging and hope-giving. Direct experiences of God’s grace in the gospel can lead to reconfiguration of one’s self-representations, and one’s view of others and the world, and can facilitate a growing honesty and openness with God, oneself, and others, and so can help Christians become more willing to take risks with others.[v]

It is my prayer that we, as the church, would be more and more laid low by the profound reaching grace of God. God pulled us out of the slew of our sin. He pulled us out of death. We were helpless, lifeless. He saved us. May we understand and be humbled by Jesus’ saving work on our behalf and may we reach out as He did; in selfless humble love. We are not better or more righteous than others. We are saved. Saved by grace. We are outcasts that have been gathered for the wedding feast. We have even been given wedding garments. On our own, all of us, would be cast out on our own. Yet, through Christ we are all welcomed. 

When we understand this, when the humbling grace of God courses through the veins of the church, it has a healthy symbiotic effect. It creates communities of welcoming and upbuilding.  

________________________________________________

[i] Eric L. Johnson has similarly pointed out that “scriptural teaching leads us to infer that God is especially committed to those who have psychological damage and desirous of improving their well-being (Mt 9:11-13; 11:19; 18:6; Lk 6:20; 1 Cor 1:26-28; 2 Cor 4:7; Jas 2:5)” (Foundations of Soul Care, 473).

[ii]  “Jesus’ gesture made clear that he was not concerned with others’ taboos and dramatically demonstrated that God’s love extends to even the most outcast of society” (Craig L. Blomberg, Matthew in The New American Commentary: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture (Nashville: Boardman Press, 1992), 139).

[iii] B.B. Warfield points out that compassion is the attribute that is most often used to describe Jesus in the Gospels (The Person and Work of Christ [Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1950], 96-97).

[iv] Darrell L. Bock, Luke in The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1996), 165.

[v] Eric L. Johnson, “How God is Good for the Soul” in SBJT 7/4 (Winter 2003): 33. He goes on, “People who are especially burdened by their guilt and shame can become especially transformed by God’s mercy, grace, and forgiveness. In fact, the greater the sense of shame, the greater can be the eventual sense of gratitude and affection to God” (Luke 7:47)” (Ibid.).


Do Calvinists Practice Evangelism?

calvin_evangel

I was recently asked, “Do ‘Calvinists’ practice evangelism?” I think we see a parallel to this question in the motivation of the Gold Rush. During the Gold Rush, people went West because there was a good chance that they would strike gold. Calvinists, or at least healthy Calvinists, are motivated by this chance of “striking gold” as well. Let me explain…

During the California Gold Rush (1848-55), men and women left everything they knew to go “out West” because they knew that there was a chance—a good chance—that they would strike gold. Clearly, they would not have left family, friends, and security to go West if there was only a random chance of striking gold. However, there was a chance, and so there was a “Gold Rush.”

In total, around 300,000 people saw the potential gold as a great opportunity and set out for California. Men and women left their lives in the East—many times at great cost, sometimes even of life and limb—to travel to the West. This Gold Rush even brought people from as far away as Latin America, Europe, Australia, and Asia. The life of a prospector was a difficult one:  the work was hard, the environment was harsh, and there was the constant fear of Indian attack.

God Says There is “Gold” Among the Nations

Paul tells us that he endures everything for the sake of the elect (2 Tim. 2:10). Thus, far from making Paul relax his missionary zeal it encouraged it. In fact, one night the Lord said to him,

“Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent… for I have many in this city who are my people.” (Acts 18:9-10)

Paul was encouraged to keep speaking because God had many elect people in the city.

There are elect people among the nations—or “gold”—that only have to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ to be saved. So, it is true that Calvinists believe that God elects people to salvation (see for example Eph. 1:4) but it also true that God uses us as means to bring about that salvation (see Rom. 10:13 for instance). So it is a great evangelistic encouragement to us that there are people ransomed for God from every tribe and language and people and nation (see Rev. 5:9-10). This truth, far from causing us to cease our evangelistic efforts, should cause a type of evangelistic “gold rush.”

One of the greatest encouragements in evangelism and missions is that there is a chance that we will “strike gold.” There is a chance that those to whom we are ministering are of the elect—chosen by God to be saved. Far from discouraging from evangelism, this truth should stir us up all the more to evangelize. When we read the passages we looked at we should see “Gold!” God has not only made evangelism possible, but He has in fact guaranteed that our evangelistic efforts are not in vain, for “He has many people in this city.” Our eyes should light up with the prospect of spiritual riches for us and for those with whom we can share Christ.

So yes, Calvinists do, or should, believe in and practice evangelism.


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