Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Invention of Crucifixion

There are many claims made by critics against the notion that Jesus fulfilled Messianic prophecies. Chief among them is the question of whether the crucifixion of Jesus was in fact a credible fulfillment of ancient prophecy. Even the most imbalanced skeptics are unable to credibly deny that Jesus was crucified approximately 2,000 years ago. What they probably will debate is whether or not this is a compelling fulfillment of ancient prophecy. By way of background, crucifixion is a form of slow and painful execution in which the victim is tied or nailed to a large wooden cross and left to hang until dead. The invention of this form of capital punishment dates back to ancient Rome as far back as the First Century A.D. Was this mode of death credibly prophesied regarding Jesus or not?

There are several ancient prophecies regarding Jesus and crucifixion. But, one of the most graphic and specific is Psalm 22 (it is right up there with Isaiah 53). Keep in mind that Psalm 22 was written approximately 1,000 years before crucifixion was even invented. With that in mind, consider the following excerpts from Psalm 22 (and their fulfillment in the gospels): “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Mark 15:34, Matthew 27:46) .. But I am … scorned by mankind and despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads (Mark 15:29, Matthew 27:39); ‘He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him’ (Matthew 27:34) … I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws (John 19:28) … a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet—I can count all my bones—they stare and gloat over me; they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots. (Mark 15:24, Matthew 27:35, Luke 23:34, John 19:24)” There is only one fate known to man that Psalm 22 describes – that fate is crucifixion.

Let’s now examine what the critics have to say about this. Below are the most prominent criticisms in the form of italicized questions. What follows is a possible apologetic response:

Couldn’t the gospels be deliberately written to mimic prophecy? This criticism actually admits that Psalm 22 is prophecy. Many critics won’t agree with such an admission even though they employ this criticism. But, by admitting Psalm 22 is prophecy as a mechanism of arguing that it is not prophecy is self-refuting. Either it is prophecy or it is not. That said, there are many aspects about Jesus’ death that He had no control over, namely the manner being crucifixion and the dividing his clothes for the casting of lots. Further, these two facts about the crucifixion scene have never been credibly questioned. Jesus was certainly crucified. And, Roman soldiers were always tasked with stripping the victim naked and deciding which among them gets to keep the clothes, often determined through the casting of lots. Remember, crucifixion and Roman soldiers casting lots was invented 1,000 years after Psalm 22. Is it mere coincidence that Jesus was killed in a manner consistent with Psalm 22 which was not invented until the time of Jesus? Not only is this criticism potentially self-refuting, it requires suspension of disbelief.

Couldn’t a better interpretation of the piercing of hands and feet be that of a lion who pins down his prey? The answer is simply “no.” This chapter of Psalms makes many allegorical references (dogs, bulls, etc.), but this specific prophecy makes no mention of a lion. Why should we insert something that is not there? Wouldn’t that be the type of thing that is precisely guilty of the first criticism above? Regardless, the word used for piercing in Hebrew is “karah” which means literally to “dig through.” In other words Psalm 22 is describing both hands and both feet being dug through. That hardly sounds like a lion holding down its prey. But, it sounds a lot like crucifixion.

Does forsaking Jesus really sound like part of God’s plan? Actually yes. It was prophesied in Genesis 3:15. And, Isaiah 53:10 also prophesied, “it was the will of the Lord to crush him.” It was always part of God’s love story to sacrifice Himself out of love for us. The pouring out of God’s wrath on Jesus in place of us was part of God’s plan from the very beginning. That is the gospel in fact (Jesus in my place).

But what about the other verses that mention things that we don’t see at Jesus’ crucifixion? As with most if not all prophecies, the human instrument through whom God breathes typically elaborates with analogies and symbols to describe the vision that they are trying to grasp and explain. Not all analogies and symbols must be present in the actual fulfillment in order for the prophecy to be found to be fulfilled. For example, the Psalmist also says, “For dogs encompass me.” Does that mean that if there are no dogs at the foot of Jesus’ cross this prophecy was not fulfilled? That conclusion would be silly. Any reasonable review of the text would quickly conclude that in the Psalmist’s vision, he felt the feeling that you might feel when you are surrounded by dogs. His vision was through Jesus’ eyes. Since the Psalmist could not fully understand what he was seeing, he elaborated with metaphors to help the reader feel what he was feeling. From Jesus’ vantage point, does this metaphor make sense? Well, of course Jesus felt like that while hanging to die on a cross surrounded by his accusers and executioners. Wouldn’t you? This criticism is reaching at best.

Why is there no mention of the resurrection? This question makes no sense because Psalm 22 actually does mention the resurrection, just not in literal terms. Psalm 22:21-22 says, “You have rescued me from the horns of the wild oxen! I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you.” Sounds like a figurative resurrection to me.

More importantly, Psalm 22 is not the only Old Testament vision that points toward Jesus the Messiah. The entire Bible is the story of Jesus from beginning to end. The Old Testament is filled with literal and figurative imagery that points to the Lamb of God that was slain for the sins of mankind. For example, consider the following “types of Jesus Christ” throughout the Old Testament: Jesus is the word that spoke creation into existence. Jesus is the preeminent Adam that delivers us from the sin of the second Adam. Jesus is Noah’s Ark. Jesus is the High Priest Melchizedek. Jesus is the Passover lamb whose blood on the door posts also points to the cross yet to be invented. Jesus is the Moses leading His people out of bondage. Jesus is the ram that God provided to spare Isaac from death. Jesus is the Joseph that rescues His own. Jesus is the Joshua and great general who leads the armies of Heaven against His Father’s enemies to reclaim His Promised Land. Jesus is Boaz, the Kinsman Redeemer. Jesus is the Good Shepherd of Psalm 23. Jesus is the Wisdom of Proverbs. Jesus is the Groom of Song of Solomon. Jesus is the Hosea who unconditionally loves his bride, a prostitute. Jesus is the Jonah in the whale for three days and nights before being spit out as a symbol of His resurrection. Jesus is the Mosaic scape goat on whom all the sins of Israel as a nation were laid every year. Jesus is the Lion of Judah. And, those are just a few of the many examples of types of Jesus Christ in the Old Testament. God is weaving a story from “Let there be light” to Revelation’s closing “Amen.” And that story is Jesus. The fact that Psalm 22 points to His crucifixion is entirely consistent, in context and fitting.

Was Jesus prophesied to be crucified 1,000 years before the invention of crucifixion? Yes. What does that suggest? You be the judge, but judge wisely.

You can purchase the book "Reason If You Will - How To Answer Questions Regarding Faith" by clicking HERE. You can also follow @ReasonIfYouWill on Twitter.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

You Think You’re A Christian?

Do you remember years ago when those 3D picture books were widely published? They contained pictures that at first glance looked like repeated smears in a tiled pattern. But, when you looked at them in a certain way, a clear 3D image would emerge that some people were simply unable to see. These pictures are called stereograms. The artist arranges certain lines of a 3D image in certain locations in the repeated tiled pattern, such that if you adjust your focus as if directly inches behind the picture, your vision of the picture blurs in the foreground thereby merging the tiles together in a uniform way so as to bring the points of the 3D image together to create the 3D image in your closer blurred vision. Your normal vision (inches behind the photo) is perfect. But, your vision at the lesser distance of the photo is blurred. But, it is only in this condtion that you can actually see the amazingly crisp 3D image arise from the blur. Some people are capable of seeing the images and some are not. This disparity between different peoples' visual capabilities reminds me of similar disparity in the area of spiritual vision.

In Matthew 13, when Jesus was explaining the “parable of the sower” He elaborated on the identity of the soil on the “path” from which the birds devoured the seed. Jesus revealed that, “When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path.” Hearing without understanding is not too dissimilar from the person today who looks at a stereogram but can’t see the 3D image. Interestingly, before Jesus' parable explanation, He informed His disciples as to why He often spoke in parables instead of more direct communication. To show the intent of His communication style, He repeated the sobering words of Isaiah 6, “You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive. For this people's heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.” In other words, on our own, we are self-blinded from the truth of God’s Kingdom until God removes the blinders we placed on ourselves.

Notice also that Jesus closes this interaction with His disciples by saying “blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear.” They are “blessed” because God has blessed them with sight by removing their self-imposed blinders. They are from then on like those who look at a stereogram and can see the 3D image. The others who heard Jesus’ words but did not understand were not so blessed. And, while they received Jesus’ words initially absent understanding them, their reception of Jesus’ words would likely not endure like a student not remembering a lesson that they never grasped. Later, in Matthew 24:13 Jesus went further to say regarding the last days, “But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” In other words, of the numerous shades of faith, enduring faith is the only saving faith. By indirect implication, those who hear the gospel, receive it, but do not endure were probably never “saved.” They heard the gospel but never understood it. That should be a very sobering thought for those who think they are Christians but are not. So, how do you know that you understand the Gospel?

We will help answer that question in a moment because this post is primarily directed at those who refer to themselves as a Christian but might be fooling themselves. If you have heard the gospel but do not understand it, this post is for your primary benefit. After all, hearing the gospel without living it probably means you never understood it. And, your faith is that which by life confession has not endured. I will share some more diagnostic questions for you later. But for now, if you question the notion of enduring faith being the only shade of faith that saves, meditate on the following verses and choose to agree with God:

  • Hebrews 3:12-14 addresses those already inside the Church, “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.
  • Romans 11:19-22 also addresses those already in the Church, “Then you will say, ‘Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.’ That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God's kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off.
  •  In Matthew 7:21-23 Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” Those four words of Jesus (bolded) will shock many who believe themselves to be Christians.
  • Hebrews 10:32-39 says, “But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. For, ‘Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay; but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.’ But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.”

For clarification, these passages do not support the concept that one can lose their salvation. The Bible is clear that nothing can remove us from God’s hand (John 10:27-29, among others). The more appropriate application is that not all shades of faith are effective at placing us in God’s hand to begin with. All that is required is as small as a "mustard seed." But, not any old seed will do. Only enduring faith that does not “shrink back” is effective at placing us in God's hand. And, the only way for a finite man to attempt to measure whether his faith is enduring is for that faith to pass the test of time. Keep in mind that, unlike us, God measures/determines our faith with foresight before the beginning of time . Only we are limited to hindsight. To that end, the best forward looking barometer of enduring faith is the faith marked with choosing to love Jesus unconditionally until death and beyond, as He has so promised to love us (albeit in our sinful and wretched state).

For those defending the gospel, you must first understand it and receive it. Understanding will generate unconditional love for Jesus and boundless hope. Then, from the foundation of hope that this understanding germinates, defend and clarify this simple and clear gospel with others in gentleness and respect. 

Now for some diagnostic questions for those intrigued: Are you one of those who “shrinks back?” Have you heard the gospel without understanding it? Can you explain the gospel to someone else? Can you describe the simple message of the gospel in a way that is consistent with the Bible? Has the gospel altered any area of your life in a significant way? Is the gospel continuing to alter areas of your life in significant ways? Would Jesus agree with the gospel that your life centrally demonstrates? Do people see your life and think more clearly about Jesus? Do you love Jesus? I mean, do you choose to love Jesus above all and no matter what? Do you love Jesus above yourself? Have you committed to love Jesus until your dying breath? Do you really understand His gospel? If you answer poorly to any of these yes/no questions, then you are probably one who does not understand the gospel. If so, then for now you are probably like the soil on the path. You have heard and probably don't understand. You are probably one who the Bible refers to as having fallen away. Unfortunately, you are probably not a Christian except possibly in name only (only God will be the judge of this - not you or me).

However, being a Christian in name only is not enough. The Christian life is a race that never stops as long as we have breath in our lungs. It is a race that we must run with the endurance of a lifetime of marathons. This is a race that consumes our entire life. And, it is a race run with supreme joy and fulfillment that only our loving Creator can supply. It is a race that is deliberately run. It is a race that if you are running, you know that you are. If you don’t know you are running this race consider the gospel anew and receive the free gift of eternal forgiveness and royal adoption. Click HERE to learn more about this awesome gospel.

You can purchase the book "Reason If You Will - How To Answer Questions Regarding Faith" by clicking HERE. You can also follow @ReasonIfYouWill on Twitter.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Worshiping Doubt

In practice of law, there is a threshold of proof that must be demonstrated in order to prove someone guilty of a crime. Guilt requires that the available evidence demonstrates criminal offense “beyond a reasonable doubt.” That means that if a jury of reasonable people can be convinced that there is reasonable doubt as to guilt, a verdict of innocence is appropriate. It is reasonable to assert that since this is a solid foundation for determining the guilt of individuals regarding criminal offenses, this threshold should also be met in areas of determining philosophical truth (at very least). But, in today’s culture, more often than not, less than reasonable doubt is exalted to the throne of reasonable. Insufficient doubt is glorified to immunity from doubt itself.

Doubt is defined as the uncertainty about the truth or factuality or existence of something. It is the state of being unsure of something. Doubt should simply represent what we don’t know. But, if what we don’t know is not more compelling than what we do know, then what we don’t know should not be exalted above what we do know. In other words, like faith, doubt should also not be blind doubt. Do Christians wrestle with doubt about what is true? Yes. But, what we know as true is so much more compelling than what we don’t know. Our faith fills in the lesser gaps of what we don’t know. And, the larger body of what we do know confirms our smaller gaps of faith. That is far more than what can be said of Christianity’s critics today.

Does reasonable doubt exist for the basic foundation of Christianity? Does reasonable doubt exist for the basic foundation of atheism? Does it seem like Christianity’s critics avoid this comparison between those two questions? For example, is there reasonable doubt that everything in the universe was created by nothing? The answer is yes, and beyond yes. Exalting doubt is the lowest form of pursuing knowledge. And, lazy doubt is no better. Further, doubt that desires not to move from doubt is arrogant doubt. The only thing worse than that is stubborn doubt. But, in all its forms, doubt is not an optimal mental residence. To this point, Romans 1:20 says, "For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse."

There are many examples of doubt in the Bible and how God graciously interacts with us when we doubt. Probably the most famous are John the Baptist and Thomas. And, in both of these cases Jesus responded (as should we) by confirming what we already know. He confirmed what we know in order to show that what we know is greater than what we don’t know. And, for those of us today, the Bible gives us fantastic advice in James 1:5-8 which says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” This passage may be speaking about the narrower doubt regarding a specific request made of God. But, the framework of our interaction with God should work the same as this in most if not all circumstances.

First, if we are in doubt about God, we must re-review what we already know. If what we know is more compelling than what we don’t know, we should demote doubt to its proper, lowest place below knowledge. Then, we should begin a discipline of daily reminding ourselves of what we already know in order to avoid the temptation to doubt in the future.

If however, what we know is not compelling to us in the moment, then we should ask God in faith for the specific wisdom that we need. Asking for what we spiritually need in faith means that we ask without doubting that God will supply that spiritual need. Asking for spiritual wisdom in faith is asking in hopeful expectation. Whenever this is done, God has yet to fail His children. After all, 1 John 5:14-15 says, “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.” And, we know for a fact that imparting His wisdom in our spiritual time of need is probably in our Perfect Father's will. This is good news to the one who genuinely wishes to overcome doubt.

Christian, don’t let doubts reign exalted over more compelling knowledge. Compare what you do know with what you don’t know and ask yourself which is more compelling. Doubt should never be exalted above knowledge and faith. As the young poet Joseph Solomon put it, “Before you doubt God, doubt your doubts.”

You can purchase the book "Reason If You Will - How To Answer Questions Regarding Faith" by clicking HERE. You can also follow @ReasonIfYouWill on Twitter.