Posts tagged Jesus
14 Jun 2013
Often when considering the claim that Jesus rose from the dead, the saying popularised by Carl Sagan is quoted:
Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.
Now, the claim that Jesus rose from the dead is a pretty extraordinary claim if ever there was one.
Or is it?
The apostle Paul didn't think so:
Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead? (Acts 26:8, ESV)
For Paul, the claim that God would raise someone from the dead was really quite an ordinary claim. Of course, that doesn't mean that every claim that someone has come back to life from the dead should be accepted without any investigation. But, if it is perfectly conceivable that God might raise someone from the dead, that does mean that no "extraordinary" evidence is required to establish whether or not a particular person has been raised from the dead. Perfectly ordinary evidence will suffice: evidence that the person was dead, and evidence that the person who is now alive is that same person who was dead.
Extraordinary evidence may be required, but only if the claim can first be established that the resurrection of Jesus is actually an extraordinary claim. And, for me at least, I'm not prepared to accept that claim without some fairly extraordinary evidence to back it up.
23 Apr 2013
And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld" (John 20:22-23, ESV).
These verses link together the gift of the Spirit to the church with the authority of the church to pronounce on whether someone's sins are forgiven.
What on earth is this about?
Some might take these words to mean that, when a Christian commits a sufficiently serious sin, they absolutely must make confession of that sin to a minister of the church, otherwise that sin will not be forgiven. However, these words of Jesus (and similar words elsewhere) are certainly not sufficient to establish such a practice, nor do we read of such a thing happening anywhere in the New Testament. Now, it may well be valuable for us to confess our sins to one another, and to assure one other of Christ's forgiveness. But it is difficult to see that as the primary meaning of these words.
Others might take them to mean this, and nothing more than this: that the disciples were commissioned to proclaim that whoever believes in Jesus will be forgiven, and whoever does not believe will not be forgiven. But, if this was all that Jesus intended to convey here, it is difficult to see why he didn't express it more clearly. His words seem much more specific, and seem to give the disciples the role of saying of particular people, that their sins are forgiven, and of other particular people, that their sins are not forgiven.
So what do these words mean?
Jesus' words are a promise. Jesus promises that there will be a correspondence between what the disciples say is the case (in terms of forgiveness) and what is actually the case (in terms of forgiveness). It seems to me that what Jesus is promising here is precisely what we find happening in the book of Acts. On the day of Pentecost, Peter said, "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38, ESV), and then we read of 3000 who were added to their number that day. Presumably, given Peter's words, those 3000 were baptised, and their baptism was taken to be a sign that their sins had been forgiven. So Jesus' promise would mean that this sign of forgiveness was not an empty sign, but that the sins of those 3000 people really had been forgiven.
It seems to be the case that, in Acts, people responded very clearly and powerfully to the proclaimed word. People heard the word, responded with faith, received the Holy Spirit, and showed undeniable evidence of that. It was abundantly clear that some people had received forgiveness, and that other people had not received forgiveness. (Take Cornelius and his companions for an example of the former.) Jesus' words, therefore, I take to be a promise that the initial preaching of his word would be accompanied with a powerful work of his Spirit, such that the disciples would be able to declare accurately and with conviction that the sins of certain people had been forgiven, and that the sins of certain other people had not been forgiven.
What about today?
It should be clear that things are not always so clear! There are many in the church, who have received the sign of forgiveness in baptism, who show no evidence of the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives, and who therefore show no evidence that they really have been forgiven. We still administer the sign of baptism, on a credible profession of faith, but it can be many years after receiving someone into the church that it becomes undeniable that the outward sign has been accompanied by an inner transformation (or not!). So might it be the case that, in building his church, there are times when Jesus makes his true church abundantly visible, and times when he allows his true church to be somewhat hidden from view? Certainly in the apostolic age the true church was made powerfully visible. And I'm sure that is also the case today in other situations of persecution or of mission or of revival. But that is not necessarily the case in every time and place.
Perhaps we should be laying hold of Jesus' promise, and praying that, by a work of his Spirit, his true church may become more visible in our own day? The whole creation is longing for such a day, and shouldn't we? "For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God" (Romans 8:19, ESV).
10 Feb 2012
The gospel: Jesus came to earth to die and to rise again.
But what about all the stuff Jesus did before he died, which the four gospels tell us about? Is that part of the gospel, or just the backdrop for the real gospel?
According to N.T. Wright, in his recent talk on How God Became King: Why We've All Misunderstood the Gospels, the gospels are entirely about the gospel. They present us with a unified story of Jesus' ministry, death and resurrection. It is the story of How God became King, a story with four strands...
- The story of Jesus as the story of Israel. God called Israel to be his means of rescue, and the climax is reached as Israel's Messiah becomes the world's King [from 19:40].
- The story of Jesus as the story of Israel's God, the self-giving, covenant-keeping Creator [from 26:40].
- The story of Jesus as the story of how the church was founded, as part of God's plan, as King, to renew the world through his renewed, cross-bearing people [from 34:30].
- The story of Jesus as the story of how Israel's God defeated the powers of the world, and the dark power that stands behind them all. Jesus is enthroned, and Caesar and all other powers (earthly and demonic) are dethroned [from 39:20].
Hat tip: Steve Bishop.
19 Jan 2012
A substantial commentary on one of the synoptic gospels can easily fill its pages by concentrating on questions about the composition of the text and about the details of the historical events themselves, with constant reference to the other gospel accounts.
Strikingly, and refreshingly, Joel Green in his lengthy (928-page) commentary on Luke's Gospel shows no concern whatsoever with these questions. Rather, his overriding aim is to hear what Luke is trying to communicate, within the context of the Old Testament scriptures, and within his own historical and social context.
I've been reading this commentary very slowly for almost a year, mainly for personal reading, but also for a couple of sermons and a few Bible studies. Sometimes it's felt like a lot of reading, but I've never found myself wading through irrelevant material. Instead, I've been repeatedly struck with how rich Luke's Gospel is in its portrayal of Jesus.
So what, for Green, is the message of Luke's Gospel? Throughout the commentary, our attention is drawn back to Jesus' inaugural speech, in which he stated his own mission, "To bring good news to the poor ... to proclaim release to the captives" (4:18). "Poor" is to be understood not simply in material terms, but as those who are socially poor, marginalised, oppressed, rejected, and weighed down by sickness or the guilt of sin, and "release" is to be understood not just as setting free from whatever might hold someone captive, but in terms of full inclusion in the community of God's people, often demonstrated by a communal meal.
This sets the tone for the rest of the gospel, in which Jesus' mission is seen to be diametrically opposed to the way his society was ordered. Those at the forefront of the culture were concerned simply with their own status, and had no room for someone who preached and lived a message that involved losing one's own status for the sake of those on the margins of society. The climax, of course, is Jesus foregoing any status by dying an ignominious death on the cross, in order to bring release, forgiveness and full inclusion to those who were bound by sin.
While reading the commentary, I've been challenged to think about how Jesus would speak to our society. Is his message as diametrically opposed to the way our society functions as it was to the society in which he lived on earth? I think it is. Our society is built not so much on social greed (status), but on economic and personal greed (money and pleasure). But Jesus' message is just as radical, calling us to a total rethink of our whole value system. Once we have received Jesus' welcome and forgiveness, we are to value our resources (including our money) as opportunities to benefit those in need, and thereby to gain true riches in the economy of the age to come, rather than as opportunities to advance our own position in the economy of the present age.
7 Nov 2011
[Jesus] looked up and saw rich people putting their gifts into the treasury; he also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. He said, "Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on" (Lk 21:1-4, NRSV).
[J]ust as Jesus indicts the religious leadership for consuming the homes of widows, so now he laments the travesty of a religious system that has as its effect the devouring of this widow's livelihood. Note that in no way does Luke suggest that Jesus finds the widow's action exemplary or praiseworthy. How could he, when the religious system was supposed to care for such as these (cf. Acts 6:1-6), not render them utterly destitute? Jesus' mission is to bring good news to the poor, including this widow, not to impoverish the poor even further (Joel B. Green, "The Gospel of Luke", 728).
27 Sep 2011
In Jerusalem, the Dome of the Rock is situated on a famous rock known as Temple Mount. The rock is so called because it used to be the site of the house of the God of Israel, otherwise known as the Temple. It was the wise man, Solomon, who first built this house on the rock.
By Jesus' day, Solomon's house on the rock had been destroyed, and replaced by the second house on the rock, which was then known as Herod's Temple. It was a symbol of hope and security for the Jewish people, who viewed it as a sign of God's presence and blessing. But this house fell (and great was the fall of it) in AD 70, at the hands of the Romans.
Here are some very familiar words that Jesus spoke on another mount:
Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it (Mt 7:24-27, ESV).