Does the Historical Evidence Favor Jesus of Nazareth Rising from the Dead?

 

Just a little something to think about as we prepare for the Lord’s Day tomorrow. Blessings, Julian Pace.

Even the casual observer of the worldwide Christian church would conclude that on many issues of theology, spirituality, and practice Christians disagree, sometimes markedly so. However, this same observer would be remiss if they were to conclude as well that Christians are not united by anything at all. Indeed, whether Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox or Protestant all would affirm certain doctrines as essential to the faith: The Trinity, Jesus as true God and true man, and of course the Resurrection of Jesus. Of these doctrines, perhaps none is more essential to the faith than that of the Resurrection. Indeed, if Jesus of Nazareth is dead today than the other doctrines just mentioned are mere fantasies. While the doctrine of the Resurrection has come under heated assault almost since its’ first proclamation, the good news for the Christian is that the historical foundation for this doctrine is strong. Indeed, it will be the purpose of this article to demonstrate that the Resurrection is supported by multiple lines of historical evidence and that there is no need for the Christian to have anything less than full confidence in this event’s reality.

The truth of the Resurrection has been defended by a number of intelligent and informed Christian scholars such as William Lane Craig, Gary Habermas, N.T Wright, and Wolfhart Pannenberg. Many lines of evidence have been suggested by these scholars as supporting the factuality of Jesus’ Resurrection. In this article, I will focus only on three. First, it will be shown that the vast majority of New Testament scholars affirm that Jesus existed historically and died by crucifixion sometime in the early first century. Second, it will be shown that Jesus was probably given an honorable burial by Joseph of Arimathea and that the tomb he was interred in was found empty by his followers. Third, it will be shown that the early Christians almost certainly had veridical experiences of the Risen Lord.

It should first be noted that almost no professional historian of antiquity nor New Testament scholar rejects that Jesus of Nazareth existed historically and was crucified sometime in the early first century. Indeed, the much-celebrated New Testament Scholar Bart Ehrman, who by the way is no friend of orthodox Christianity, has this to say on the matter

Despite the enormous range of opinion, there are several points on which virtually all scholars of antiquity agree. Jesus was a Jewish man, known to be a preacher and teacher, who was crucified (a Roman form of execution) in Jerusalem during the reign of the Roman emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was the governor of Judea[1]

Now, it is not the position of this article that because the vast majority of scholars accept Jesus’ existence and crucifixion then it is therefore necessarily true. However, the fact that there is almost no debate on these issues in the academy does speak well for the quality of the evidence that undergirds these two important facts about Jesus of Nazareth.

The fact of Jesus of Nazareth’s existence and crucifixion are further buttressed by the fact that a strong case can be made for the basic historical reliability of the Gospels in our New Testament. Indeed, it should be noted that E.P. Sanders, a scholar who is no conservative, in his acclaimed book The Historical Figure of Jesus makes a cogent and balanced case for the Gospels being correct on at least the important details of Jesus’ life. Interestingly, Sanders still affirms their basic historical veracity despite the fact that he is quite willing to admit that the Gospels have a number of historical and methodological problems. Sanders concludes that the Gospels contain enough eyewitness accounts and were written close enough to the lifetime of Jesus for us to consider them reasonably accurate sources for the life of Jesus.[2] Even if one is convinced that the Gospels do contain some historical errors there is simply no reason to conclude that they contain no historically accurate information about Jesus at all. Indeed, all of the Gospels were written within sixty years of Jesus’ lifetime and contain at least some eyewitness testimony.[3] Furthermore, all of them assume Jesus’ existence and all of them record that he was crucified by the Romans. Thus, it can be reasonably stated that skepticism over the basic details of Jesus’ life, such as his existence and crucifixion, is simply unwarranted. Indeed, Bart Ehrman sums up well the weakness of the case that Jesus did not exist historically

The idea that Jesus did not exist is a modern notion. It has no ancient precedents. It was made up in the eighteenth century. One might as well call it a modern myth, the myth of the mythical Jesus[4]

Indeed, the evidence for the basic details of Jesus’ life is simply overwhelming and at this juncture simply irrefutable.

The second line of evidence is more contested within the academy, though perhaps not as greatly as one might assume. Indeed, many fine critical scholars are willing to accept that Jesus of Nazareth was given an honorable burial in a tomb and that said tomb was found empty by his early followers. Indeed, there are a number of good reasons to believe that the empty tomb narrative is basically correct. Noted apologist and scholar William Lane Craig has ably defended the fact that Jesus was given an honorable burial by Joseph of Arimathea in his well-received book Reasonable Faith. Craig is convinced that the burial story recorded in the Gospels is accurate for two reasons. First, Craig demonstrates that the historical detail of Jesus being buried by Joseph of Arimathea is contained in the Gospel of Mark, this is important as the Gospel of Mark is both an early and independent source for the life of Jesus and thus Craig reasons that the burial account is probably sound. Indeed, at least some scholars are convinced that Mark was written only fifteen years after Jesus’ lifetime, thus greatly increasing the likelihood that it is a reliable source for the life of Jesus.[5] Furthermore, Craig cites the German source critic Rudolf Pesch for further support as Pesch is convinced that the source behind the burial narrative dates to within seven years of Jesus’ lifetime.[6]

Second, Craig is convinced that Jesus was given an honorable burial by Joseph of Arimathea because he thinks it is unlikely that the early Christian community would have invented a story about a member of the Sanhedrin showing such respect for the body, and thereby the person, of Jesus of Nazareth. [7] Acts 2:23, 36 and 4:10 demonstrate well the animosity the early church held towards the Sanhedrin. Indeed, Acts 2:23 records the Apostle Peter as saying “This Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death. (NASB)” The reference to “godless men” by Peter is almost certainly a reference to the Sanhedrin and demonstrates well how poorly the early Christian community viewed this body.

The burial account by Joseph of Arimathea has received some criticism from scholars. Indeed, Bart Ehrman has suggested that the Romans would have had no reason to release Jesus’ body to Joseph of Arimathea. In fact, they preferred to let bodies rot upon the crosses so as to make an example to would be rebels. Furthermore, Ehrman is convinced that Pontius Pilate, being the particularly nasty fellow that he was, would not have released Jesus’ body under any circumstances. There are a number of problems with this argument. First, it simply does not deal with the evidence in favor of the burial narrative specifically enough. To very specific lines of evidence Ehrman responds with an argument that is the equivalent of “this could have possibly happened” which is not a very strong argument. Second, it is not unreasonable to conclude that the Romans may very well have bowed to Jewish pressure and allowed them to remove the bodies of those crucified. Particularly during Passover which was one of their most sacred festivals. Indeed, Josephus notes that Pilate upon entering Jerusalem offended Jewish sensibilities by displaying Roman effigies and standards within the city. After much Jewish agitation, Pilate removed the images.[8] Third, we are privy to at least one example of people being removed from the cross due to the petition of a Jew. This Jew being Josephus when he begged the Emperor Titus to release three of his acquaintances from the cross. Titus acceded to Josephus’ request. [9] Ehrman is a credible biblical scholar, and his critique should not be dismissed out of hand, but his objections are not strong enough to discount the basic historicity of the burial account of Jesus of Nazareth.

There is also much historical evidence in favor of the early followers of Jesus of Nazareth finding his tomb empty a few days after his death by crucifixion. Interestingly, a study done by Gary Habermas that surveyed the vast majority of the literature pertaining to the study of the Resurrection of Jesus in English, German, and French between 1975 and 2005, showed that an impressive seventy-five percent of scholars who wrote on the subject were convinced that Jesus’ followers found his tomb empty a few days after his death by crucifixion.[10] Again, it should be noted that the argument presented here is not one in favor a majority vote deciding a historical event’s veracity. However, the fact that such a large number of scholars find the evidence in favor of the empty tomb at least credible should cause the skeptic to at least give the matter some consideration.

The discovery of Jesus’ empty tomb is recorded in a number of early sources. Not only is it recorded in the Gospel of Mark but it is also found in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5. The latter passage states

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. (NASB)

Scholarly consensus places the writing of the 1 Corinthians sometime around C.E. 55 which is only about twelve years or so after the lifetime of Jesus. Furthermore, William Lane Craig and Dale Allison are both convinced that the passage Paul quotes here is probably the product of an early Christian writer other than himself.[11] Thus the tradition behind this passage could date to within seven years of Jesus’ lifetime. It should be noted that while the empty tomb is not explicitly mentioned it is strongly implied by the phrase “He was buried.”

Perhaps the most interesting detail of the Markan account of the empty tomb is that the writer of Mark’s Gospel records for us that the first witnesses to the empty tomb were women (Mark 16:1-8). While this does strike us moderns as unusual, this was truly noteworthy in first century Palestine. This is because in Jesus’ day women were not seen as reliable witnesses to an event regardless of the circumstances.[12] If the Apostles created a legend about the tomb being empty it is unlikely that the legend would have recorded that women were the primary witnesses to the empty tomb. The fact that Mark’s Gospel records what was probably a rather embarrassing detail to the early Christian church, greatly increases the likelihood that the account is true.

Several objections to the truth of the empty tomb have been suggested. Perhaps the most popular secular explanations of the empty tomb are the Wrong-Tomb Theory, The Apparent Death Theory, and the Conspiracy Theory. The Wrong-Tomb Theory explains the empty tomb away by asserting that the disciples simply visited the wrong tomb on Easter morning. This explanation is implausible for two reasons. First, if the story of Jesus’ burial by Joseph of Arimathea is true then there is no reason to believe that Jesus’ final resting place was not reasonably well known. Second, it is implausible to suggest that the Sanhedrin would have allowed the early Christian belief in the Resurrection to continue if the correct tomb could have been located and Jesus’ body put on display for all to see that he was truly dead.

Almost no one defends the Apparent Death Theory as an explanation for the empty tomb any longer, though it was embraced by some people, including Friedrich Schleiermacher the great liberal theologian, in the early nineteenth century.[13] This view states that when Jesus was taken from the cross he was not truly dead. Once laid in the tomb Jesus revived and presented himself to his disciples as the Risen Lord. This view is at best deeply problematic for it ignores the fact that the Romans were expert executioners who simply would not have allowed for a mistake of this magnitude.[14] Simply put, no one who endured the entire punishment of crucifixion could have reasonably survived.

The Conspiracy Theory, like the Apparent Death Theory, has fallen on hard times lately and is simply not an explanation that critical scholars take very seriously any longer. This theory states that the early disciples stole Jesus’ body from the tomb and lied about his Resurrection. This view falls apart for the simple reason that it fails to take into account that the early Christians were willing to give their lives for their faith. Indeed, one wonders why a group of disillusioned men who just saw their beloved Rabbi die a terrible death would cook up such a conspiracy when there was so little to gain from doing so. The well-respected New Testament scholar Michael Licona perhaps says it best

The disciples’ willingness to suffer and die for their beliefs indicates that they certainly regarded those beliefs as true. The case is strong that they did not willfully lie about the appearances of the risen Jesus. Liars make poor martyrs. … The apostles died for holding to their own testimony that they had personally seen the risen Jesus.[15]

Indeed, due to the fatal flaws inherent to the Conspiracy Theory, it was only embraced by a few deists in the nineteenth century. Its’ multiple flaws must indeed force us to conclude that a better explanation must be available.

The third and final line of evidence is that there are multiple accounts of many people seeing Jesus of Nazareth alive after his crucifixion. Indeed, the Gospels and the New Testament epistles provide for us multiple early and independent sources that demonstrate that many early Christians were eyewitnesses to the Risen Lord.[16] In 1 Corinthians 15, a source that dates to within at least fifteen years of Jesus’ lifetime, the Apostle Paul mentions that Jesus was seen by “Peter”, “The Apostles”, as well as “five-hundred other Christians.” Interestingly, Paul also mentions that James, the brother of Jesus who at first rejected his claims to messiahship (Mark 3:21), saw Jesus of Nazareth alive after his crucifixion. It is almost certain historically that much of Jesus’ family rejected his ministry prior to his Resurrection as this detail is recorded in Mark which is an early source. Furthermore, it is unlikely that the early Christian church would have invented something so embarrassing. The fact that James later came to believe in Jesus must force us to conclude that some very powerful experience must have made him change his mind about his brother. Indeed, the plethora of evidence has forced the hardly conservative New Testament scholar E.P. Sanders to conclude

That Jesus’ followers (and later Paul) had resurrection experiences is, in my judgement, a fact. What the reality was that gave rise to the experiences I do not know[17]

E.P. Sanders expresses well the opinion of many New Testament scholars. Most are convinced that the early Christians had experiences of some kind that lead them to believe that Jesus was alive. However, whether these experiences were veridical or the product of hallucinations is typically where scholars diverge.

The most common response to the early Christians experiencing the Risen Lord is that they were the victims of hallucinations. However, the problem with this explanation is that early and independent sources affirm that “groups” of people were witnesses to the Risen Lord (1 Corinthians 15) and most Psychologists remain unconvinced that “groups” of people can experience the same hallucination at the same time.[18] Furthermore, we would be justified in remaining skeptical about the truth of Jesus’ Resurrection if only some or even one of his early followers came to the conclusion that he had been resurrected. Indeed, sometimes people convince themselves of falsehoods when under serious emotional and mental pressure. However, the judgement of most New Testament scholars is that very many early Christians were convinced that they had experienced a resurrected Jesus of Nazareth.[19] With these considerations in mind, the Hallucination hypothesis simply does not explain why groups of people were convinced they saw Jesus alive after his crucifixion.

In conclusion, the evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is quite strong. Not only is there overwhelming evidence for his existence and crucifixion, a reasonable case can be made that he was given an honorable burial by Joseph of Arimathea, his tomb was found empty by his followers, and that they saw him alive after his crucifixion. With these facts in mind, Christians should not shy away from skeptics when they ask tough questions about the Christian faith. The evidence is strongly in favor of Jesus rising again on the third day and we should not be afraid to affirm his resurrection as a historical reality. Furthermore, as Christians we should readily take comfort in the truth that our own resurrection has been rendered certain because Jesus’ resurrection has been confirmed by the historical evidence as well as the inner witness of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. With all this in mind, perhaps the only thing left to say would have to be “Even so come, Lord Jesus come! (Rev 22:20)”

Endnotes

[1] Bart D. Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist?: the historical argument for Jesus of Nazareth. New York: HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2013.12

[2] E.P. Sanders, The historical figure of Jesus. New York: Penguin Books, 1996. 57

[3] Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the eyewitnesses: The Gospels as eyewitness testimony. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2017.

[4]Bart D. Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist?: the historical argument for Jesus of Nazareth. New York: HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2013. 96

[5] John A.T Robinson, Redating the New Testament. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2000.

[6] William Lane Craig, Reasonable faith: Christian truth and apologetics. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2008. 362

[7] Ibid, 364.

[8] Josephus, Jewish War 2.9, 2.4

[9] Josephus, The Life of Flavius Josephus, 76

[10] Gary R. Habermas, “Resurrection Research From 1975 To The Present: What are Critical Scholars Saying?” Journal For The Study Of The Historical Jesus3.2 (2005): 135-53. 141

[11] William Lane Craig, Reasonable faith: Christian truth and apologetics. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2008. 365

[12] Ibid, 367

[13] William Lane Craig, “Jesus’ Resurrection.” http://Www.reasonablefaith.org. Accessed August 10, 2017. http://www.reasonablefaith.org/jesus-resurrection.

[14] Ibid

[15] Michael R. Licona, The resurrection of Jesus: a new historiographical approach. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2010. 370.

[16] William Lane Craig, Reasonable faith: Christian truth and apologetics. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2008. 381

[17] E.P. Sanders, The historical figure of Jesus. New York: Penguin Books, 1996. 280

[18] Gary R. Habermas, “Explaining Away Jesus’ Resurrection: Hallucination.” http://www.equip.org. Accessed August 10, 2017. http://www.equip.org/article/explaining-away-jesus-resurrection-hallucination/.

[19] William Lane Craig, Reasonable faith: Christian truth and apologetics. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2008. 392

 

Select Bibliography

Ehrman, Bart D. Did Jesus Exist?: the historical argument for Jesus of Nazareth. New York: HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2013.

Bauckham, Richard. Jesus and the eyewitnesses: The Gospels as eyewitness testimony. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2017.

Craig, William Lane. Reasonable faith: Christian truth and apologetics. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2008. 362.

Geisler, Norman L. Systematic theology. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 2002.

Habermas, Gary R.”Resurrection Research From 1975 To The Present: What are Critical Scholars Saying?” Journal For The Study Of The Historical Jesus3.2 (2005): 135-53.

Licona, Michael R. The resurrection of Jesus: a new historiographical approach. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2010. 370.

Sanders, E.P. The historical figure of Jesus. New York: Penguin Books, 1996.

Robinson, John A.T. Redating the New Testament. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2000.

 

 

 

 

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Wolfhart Pannenberg: Theologian of the Resurrection

With Easter Sunday rapidly approaching it is only fitting to recognize one of the greatest defenders of the historicity of the Resurrection in the twentieth Century, Wolfhart Pannenberg. Pannenberg felt that the study of Theology should be undertaken like other Academic disciplines and in his lifelong quest for truth he found that the Christian faith was deeply intellectually satisfying. I hope you enjoy reading about one of the greatest theological minds of the twentieth century, Wolfhart Pannenberg. Blessings and peace to all, Julian Pace.

He vehemently defended the Resurrection but denied the Virgin Birth. He was hugely influential but leaves few disciples. – Fred Sanders writing for Christianity Today upon the death of Wolfhart Pannenberg

It would not be implausible to say that one day church historians will include Wolfhart Pannenberg, along with Karl Barth, Thomas Oden, and J.I. Packer, as one of the greatest theological minds of the twentieth century. Pannenberg’s prowess in the fields of theology, philosophy, history, and the natural sciences set him apart from his contemporaries. In his lifetime, he molded a unique theological system that on the one hand was generally traditional and Lutheran, yet probing and rational in a way that placed him squarely within the tradition of the Enlightenment. It is probable that his most important contribution to Christian theology was his stirring defense of the bodily resurrection of Jesus and how he saw this event as the key to all of history, indeed the key to all revelation as well.[1]

Wolfhart Pannenberg was born in Stettin, Germany (now Szczecin, Poland) in 1928, and though he was baptized as an infant into the established Lutheran church he was raised in a secular household. Despite his unchurched and secular background, Pannenberg was apparently a spiritually sensitive person and at sixteen was privy to what he would later call his “Light Experience”.[2] This powerful experience led Pannenberg to critically investigate the world’s religions in light of their philosophical and intellectual merits. The results of this intellectual quest, combined with the guidance of Pannenberg’s literature teacher who was a member of the Confessing Church during the second World War, led Pannenberg to conclude that Christianity was the most reasonable faith system available and therefore he became a Christian.[3]

For virtually his entire career, Pannenberg was a creature of the academy and it is in the field of academic theology that he produced the most written work. However, it should not be overlooked that his contributions in defending the historicity of the Resurrection have influenced and continue to shape the thinking of Evangelical theologians and New Testament scholars to the present day.[4] Indeed, this aspect of his theological output is probably his most enduring legacy. While Pannenberg’s staunch defense of the historicity of Jesus’ Resurrection has won him many admirers in the Evangelical and Roman Catholic world, his liberal German peers were shocked at his findings. While Pannenberg was undoubtedly shaped by the liberal biblical criticism that was, and remains, rampant in German universities, this did not stop him from making the case that the evidence from the Pauline epistles and the existence of the church itself plausibly leads to the conclusion that Jesus of Nazareth did indeed rise from the dead.[5]

Dean of Beeson Divinity School Timothy George, is right to point out that Pannenberg’s thinking on several critical theological issues present some problems for Evangelicals.[6] Pannenberg rejected the Virgin birth, Chalcedonian Christology, as well as the concept of biblical inerrancy. However, this did not stop Pannenberg from taking the scriptures seriously and he felt that since the Bible was the record of God’s dealings with man it should be studied vigorously. In conclusion, Evangelicals should approach the work of Wolfhart Pannenberg critically but also with an eye to learn. Despite his errors on important theological issues, Pannenberg’s work on the Resurrection has inspired many other Evangelical theologians and scholars to defend the Resurrection’s historicity with an even greater level of sophistication. Indeed, one cannot help but wonder how many have been persuaded to accept the claims of Christ in part due to the work of Wolfhart Pannenberg. Pannenberg demonstrated that Christianity is a belief system that is firmly grounded in historical events and therefore one need not sacrifice rational thinking and critical investigation on the altar of blind faith. For this reason alone, Pannenberg deserves our enduring respect and admiration.

References

[1] Wolfhart Pannenberg, Jesus-God and Man. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: (The Westminster Press, 1977), 67-69.

[2] Michael Root, “The Achievement of Wolfhart Pannenberg.” First Things (March 2012): 3-4. Accessed April 5, 2017. https://www.firstthings.com/article/2012/03/the­achievement­of­wolfhart­pannenberg.

[3] Michael Root, “The Achievement of Wolfhart Pannenberg.” 3.

[4] William Lane Craig, “The Resurrection of Jesus” Accessed April 5, 2017. http://www.reasonablefaith.org/the-resurrection-of-jesus. It is evident when reading Craig that the influence of Pannenberg is present. This is only reasonable as Craig did doctoral work under Pannenberg in Germany. Other Evangelicals like Gary Habermas and Michael Licona have built on Pannenberg’s work on the Resurrection.

[5] Wolfhart Pannenberg, Jesus-God and Man. 88-106.

[6] David Roach “Dean George on Wolfhart Pannenberg.” Accessed April 5, 2017 http://www.beesondivinity.com/fromthedean/posts/dean-george-on-wolfhart-pannenberg.

For Further Reading

Braaten, Carl E., and Philip Clayton, eds. The Theology of Wolfhart Pannenberg: Twelve American Critiques with an Autobiographical Essay and Response. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1988.

Erickson, Millard. Christian Theology. 3rd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1983.

Olive, Don. Wolfhart Pannenberg. Makers of the Modern Theological Mind. Grand Rapids, MI: Word Publishing, 1977.

Pannenberg, Wolfhart. Jesus-God and Man. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: The Westminster Press, 1977.

Pannenberg, Wolfhart. The Apostles Creed: In the Light of Today’s Questions. 1st ed. Philadelphia, PA: The Westminster Press, 1972.

 

How Should Christians face discouragement?

 

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Discouragement is a universal human phenomenon. Christians are not excepted from this unhappy aspect of human experience. Discouragement is a very real and present danger in the life of the believer. Many different events in our life can lead us to despair- Death of a close friend or relative, prolonged sickness, multiple failed endeavors, or not being able to find stable employment. Sometimes just being a faithful witness for Christ in this sin sick world can lead us to depression. Any number of things that life throws at us can lead us to despair and allow us to slip into a lifestyle plagued by discouragement. When we get discouraged, and it is not a matter of if it is a matter of when, how should we deal with it? How should we face this age old problem in a fashion that honors Jesus Christ and is becoming of our Christian proclamation. In the following paragraphs I have listed a few things to remember if you are facing discouragement.

1st Kings 19 tells us that right after Elijah witnessed God’s power and glory on Mount Carmel (no not Mt. Caramel) that he fled to the wilderness due to the persecution wrought by the wicked Queen of Israel named Jezebel. Rather than being energized by the incredible victory, Elijah ran to the desert and fell into a deep depression. In fact, 1st Kings 19:4 tells us that Elijah begged God for death. If you are discouraged remember that you are in good company. Elijah was one of the greatest prophets of the Old Testament and even he succumbed to discouragement. The fact is, sometimes doing the right thing for God will make some people very unhappy and we will face persecution for our efforts. It is difficult to remain unaffected by such harsh rejection. Now, I am not saying that we should see our plight of discouragement as a badge of honor or develop a martyr complex but nor should you go to the opposite extreme and think that you are less of a Christian for sometimes getting discouraged.

I also find it interesting that Elijah found himself discouraged immediately after he witnessed God sending down a pillar of fire in an incredible show of his might. For Elijah, this must have been and unforgettable and emotion filled experience. It is a simple fact of human psychology that after extremely joy filled moments in our life we can often experience a letdown. So when this does happen remember that this is normal. When you feel discouraged after a great spiritual victory I would recommend that you take the time to remember what God just did for you in this very special time. Do not be like the fickle children of Israel who often rejected God right after he did something kind for them. Sometimes you will have to make a conscious effort to remember God’s goodness but it will be well worth it! It is also helpful to remember that God is going to continue to do great things with you. Philippians 1:6 says this “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (NIV). If you have been gloriously saved by Jesus Christ (And I hope that you have) and Jesus has not returned yet (Which he hasn’t) then you can be confident that God will continue to give you spiritual victories.

In 1st Kings 19:5-8 we are shown, albeit indirectly, another beautiful truth about God. While in the wilderness and still in the throes of depression God does not forsake Elijah. Rather, he feeds and cares for him by way of Angels. As Christians, we can take comfort in the fact that God does not care for us only when we are faithful and bold, but even when we are broken. God’s love toward us is not conditioned upon our performance. Roman 5:8 echoes this thought in perfect harmony when it says “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (ESV). If you are discouraged, reflect on this truth and be encouraged by the goodness and faithfulness of God.

 

In 1st Kings 19:14 Elijah is quoted as saying “I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts; because the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life.” Pretty much everything Elijah says in this statement was indeed true at the time with the exception of one phrase “I alone am left”. Sometimes when we are discouraged we blow things way out of proportion. Things were certainly bad in Israel in Elijah’s day but he had clearly lost perspective. For one, he was not alone because God the Father is still on his throne, Jesus is still Lord, and the Spirit is still at work. God has indeed promised us that he will “never leave us, nor forsake us.” For these reasons we should never fear being truly alone. We should also rejoice in the fact that God will always have a remnant of people on earth who will follow him. Consider the words of 1st Kings 19:18 “Yet I have reserved seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.” God gently reminds Elijah that he is not the only person standing up for what is right and, by the way, modern Christian, neither are you. God in his grace has given us the Church-Not the building we worship in or hear the word of God preached but the people who make up the community of the redeemed. Dear Christian, when you are discouraged this is the time when you should lean on your fellow believers all the more. You should look to them for guidance, comfort, and care. All too many people when faced with struggles exit the church. This is the last thing you should do when you are discouraged. If you think that by leaving the church your problems will fade, then you are deceived. Cling to your fellow believers all the more. That is what God would have you do.

As you can see, the word of God has not left us without an answer as to what we should do when we are discouraged. In the previous paragraphs we have only considered one chapter of the Bible and It speaks directly to our present struggles. If I could leave you with one final encouragement I would simply say that if you are discouraged you should take even more time out of your day to search the scriptures for wisdom and encouragement. God has given us the Bible so that we might be taught, encouraged, and reproved. Sometimes the words of the scriptures challenge and sting but they are always instructive-And they will always draw us closer to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who has promised us that all who follow him will indeed find rest.

 

 

 

The Joy of Preaching

Beware of becoming a preacher. Preaching is addicting. No matter how much you preach you will never be satisfied. Preaching God’s word will energize you, particulary when you see people being saved! As I write this I am contemplating the joy of preaching at Calvary Baptist Church of Mcintyre, Georgia tomorrow and I could not be more excited and humbled to bring the message! If you are confident God is calling you to preach then start today! St Francis said “Preach Always, Use words when nessacary”. You can start fulfilling God’s call on your life right now. These days, technology gives you an instant audience. Think of how much nicer facebook would be with fresh insights into God’s word instead of the garbage that passes as thought provoking conversation on today’s blogoshpere. However, if you feel called to preach you must take this responsibility seriously. There is enough heresy in our world. Don’t become a part of the problem. Be a preacher who is part of the solution. While I am a young an inexperienced preacher, the following is a list of a few suggestions to anyone who is considering becoming a preacher. I have gleaned this knowledge from scripture as well as from Godly men in the ministry.

  1. Develop solid study habits- Many horrible and heretical sermons have been preached because young preachers have failed to study well. You may not be eloquent but you can be well studied. To be a good student does not mean you have to have a massive library or lots of commentaries. Many great resources are available online at sights like http://www.biblegateway.com. Also, listen to great and respected preachers of the faith. You will do well to listen to men like David Jeremiah, Billy Graham, Alistair Begg, and John Stott. You can also read fine sermons online by men like John Wesley, Charles Spurgeon, and the Church Fathers. Finally, immerse yourself in the scriptures and learn from Jesus Christ, the greatest preacher to ever live. Remember the admonition of 2 Timothy 2:15 “Study to show thyself approved unto God”.
  2. Don’t see preaching as an opportunity to spout your opinions- I have heard several fine preachers express their opinion on a subject from the pulpit before. Sometimes their insight was valuable. Often, it was not. Remember that it is your job to preach the truth of the scriptures. Your opinions on a matter should be offered only occasionally and when appropriate. They should always be offered humbly. Do not become so arrogant to think that because you are a preacher you are infallible. You are not. There is only one infallible preacher. His name is Jesus.
  3. Preach whenever and wherever you have the opportunity- My Father In Law is a pastor of a thriving church. He has preached to saints and crackheads in ditches. Everyone needs to hear the Gospel. Jesus made this clear in the Great Comission given in Mathew chapter 28. Use discernment, but there is nothing wrong with preaching at nursing homes, prisons, country churches that can’t pay you a dime, homeless shelters and wherever you are asked. God has blessed me as a preacher in some of the most unlikely of places.
  4. Rely on the power of God- Read the book of Acts. The Holy Spirit was constantly and continually empowering Peter and Paul in their preaching. If they needed the power of God in their life, you do too!  The Holy Spirit will transform your preaching if you will let him.
  5. Seek to be ordained or liscensed by a respected church or denomination-There are many great preachers who are not ordained or liscensed by any church. You do not have to be liscensed or ordained to preach but it will only open doors for you.
  6. It is not about you- Be sure your preaching is always pointing people to the Gospel and glorifying God. If you do this God will honor your ministry and use you in ways you would have never imagined. Who would have thought that Peter, a man who denied the Lord publicly, would have become such a great preacher.? If God can use Peter he can use you so long as you realize you are not the focus. Christ must always be at the center of all you do. Let your motto always be Soli Deo Gloria!

Me speaking at Armstrong State University on The Resurrection Of Jesus

Hi Everybody, here is a brief talk I gave at my Alma Mater a few months ago. This talk is a very personal one for me and it goes into what I believe is the very central truth of the Christian faith and the call God has placed on my life. I hope you are blessed by the message. If you have any further questions about the momentous event of the Resurrection or just want to talk I would love to hear from you. Blessings, Julian Pace.

An Exposition Of Hebrews 2:9-13

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The book of Hebrews is one of the New Testament’s greatest theological legacies. Only Romans rivals this magnificent book in terms of its’ theological value. Even secular critics have called this book an absolute masterpiece. However, this book has much to say to the average Christian as well. Specifically, I want to focus on a particular passage in this grand book. This particular passage is Hebrews 2:9-13. In this passage we are given five important reasons why Jesus came to our world a little over two thousand years ago. At some point or another every reasonable person must ask themselves what they think of Jesus and his life’s work.  Hebrews 2:9-13 answers these important questions so that we may know why our Savior came.

Hebrews 2:9a states “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death”. This verse is simply packed with truth. We are told that Jesus was made a little lower than the angels. From this verse we can see why many theologians have called Jesus’ sojourn on this earth his “humiliation”. To understand the gravity of this truth we must remember that Jesus Christ is truly divine and Lord of all! For him to be made lower than the angels is remarkable. However, even more remarkable is the reason given in this passage for his coming. This verse makes it quite clear that Jesus came to suffer and die. We see this truth fulfilled in the accounts of the Gospels when Jesus was crucified under orders of Pontius Pilate. While some liberal theologians have balked at such a grim reason for Jesus to come we must never forget that Jesus’ death was necessary for the remission of sins. Sin is destructive and pervasive and only by the shedding of Jesus perfect blood could it possibly be defeated. Only through Christ suffering can we find any hope. And what suffering it must have been to face crucifixion and separation from the Father! Truly, we serve a Savior beyond compare!

Hebrews 2:9 goes on to say this “crowned with glory and honor, that He by the grace of God should taste death for every man.” In this part of the verse we are given the second reason for Christ’s coming. Christ came because of God’s love and grace. Jesus Christ did not come because God saw great potential in humanity. Jesus Christ did not come because humanity had somehow earned his approval. In fact, Jesus Christ came into the world during a remarkably barbaric an unloving period. However, God still gave his beloved son to the world out of his spirit of grace and pure love. God’s love and grace are taught throughout the Old and New testaments. Who can forget the simple beauty of John 3:16 when it says “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” We should be thankful for God’s grace as it is the very essence of our salvation. That is why the word says “By grace ye have been saved”. Here we see the character of God strongly contrasted with the Islamic and Pagan understanding  of the divine. In other religions God, or the gods, only intervene for the benefit of man when they are somehow pleased by someone or a group of people. The God of the Bible is unique in that he seeks to save man despite man’s rejection of him. What a wonderful God of grace we serve!

The verse we just reviewed also states that Jesus Christ came to suffer and die for every man. This is the third reason listed in this passage for Christ’s first coming. While the first half of the verse mentions that Jesus came to suffer and die, this verse expands on this thought and says that Christ came to suffer death for every man. Here we see the love God has for every person. Despite man’s sinfulness, evil, and outright rejection of the things of God, God still cares deeply for every person. I also think there is another truth we can draw from this. Some theologians have argued that Jesus Christ only came to save certain people and some people are simply doomed to judgment. Jesus death is necessary for anyone to be saved because without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins. Also, this verse makes it clear that Jesus came to die for every single person. We can also see from other verses that it is God’s desire that no one perish therefore God sent his son in the hope that all people would respond to the Gospel. We should be ever grateful that we serve a God who deeply loves each and every person and desperately desires that all come to repentance.

Hebrews 2:10 says “For it became Him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the Captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.” Here we are taught the important doctrine that God is the creator and sustainer of all things. Here we are also told that God sent Jesus to this world to glorify him and show that he is truly the second Adam and the only perfect man. Here we are given the fourth reason for Christ’s coming as well as an unusual name for Jesus. Here he is called the “Captain of our Salvation”. This title reflects the fact that without Jesus we are totally and utterly lost. Just like every ship needs a captain. Salvation is only accomplished with the person of Jesus Christ. This verse also states that glory is brought to Jesus when people become believers. In this verse it says specifically Jesus is gloried by “bringing many sons to glory”. Here we hear of a theme that is reminiscent of Romans 9 in which God promises whoever he saves he will bring to glory in heaven.

Hebrews 2:11-13 says “For both He that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of One, for which cause He is not ashamed to call them brethren, saying, “I will declare Thy name unto My brethren; in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee. “And again, “I will put my trust in Him.” And again, “Behold I and the children whom God hath given me.” .Finally, we are told in multiple ways in this passage that the fifth reason for Jesus Christ’s first coming is to bring us into the family of God. This is important as man’s relationship to God is essentially broken. Sure, man can know there is a God by simply viewing nature or studying philosophy but without Jesus Christ man cannot know God intimately. Here we are told that Jesus Christ and those who believe in him are one. In this passage, Jesus also calls the saved the children of God and is proud to be associated with them. As members of the family of God we enjoy many, many blessings. For one, we have a sweet fellowship with God through the Holy Spirit. We also enjoy the Fatherhood of God and his protection and love. Eternal life is also part of our blessed reward. Being a part of the family of God is truly and wonderful and beautiful thing.

In Hebrews 2:9-13 we are shown five important reasons for Christ’s first coming to our world. One reason Christ came was because he had to die. Specifically, he came to defeat sin. He also came for the sake of sinful man. This passage also makes it clear that Jesus Christ came because God deeply loves every human being.  In this passage, we are also introduced to the “Captain of our Salvation”, Jesus Christ. Without Jesus Christ our salvation is meaningless. Thankfully, Jesus Christ is the very center of our salvation. Finally, we are told that Christ came to bring people into the family of God with all of its’ benefits. There are other important reasons that we could mention why Jesus came. However, I think Hebrews two gives us some interesting reasons as to why Jesus came. By understanding why Jesus came we can more greatly appreciate the salvation we enjoy. We can also rejoice and thank Jesus Christ for the great things he hath done!

Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?

Acts 9:1-6 says.

And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest,

2 And desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem.

3 And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven:

4 And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?

5 And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.

6 And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?

Just like the Apostle Paul (called Saul in this passage) we were all at one time a rebel to the call and things of God. Sure, most of us were not like Saul who persecuted Christians but we have all sinned. Scripture affirms this when it says that “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God”. Thankfully, God saw it fit to draw Paul unto himself through a powerful spiritual experience. We could also add that most of us did not come to Christ in the dramatic fashion that Paul did (though God sometimes does reveal himself to people by means of visions and dreams). Still, our conversions are no less miraculous than that of Paul’s (even if they are less dramatic).

If you have been gloriously saved by the Lord Jesus (and if you have not I hope you will consider the claims of Jesus) Then you can rejoice that Jesus will never “leave you nor forsake you”. You can also be confident that when death comes Jesus will be waiting for you in the next life. These truths should give us confidence as we walk the path of life. Still, I think far too many Christians are content in their current state of spirituality. Sadly, some abuse God’s gift of grace by arguing that because they are believers they can behave in any way they so please. “Should we sin that grace may abound? God Forbid!” Rather we should respond to God’s gift of grace with devotion and ask the same question that Paul asked “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?”.

Imagine how our world would change if every child of God would ask this question when morning breaks! Imagine if we followed through and shared the Gospel with a coworker or a friend.? What if we simply followed through by giving encouragement to those who so desperately needed it? What if we finally made that donation to that charity we have been saying we would do something for for so long? The possibilities are endless and the rewards are eternal! As Christians we are not called to merely be content, we are called to be salt and light in a hurting and lost world. Let it be said of us that we take our task seriously. Remember, we can change our world by asking one simple question “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?”