Five Facts About Jesus’s Crucifixion We Ignore, But Shouldn’t

Having preached quite a few Palm Sunday, Good Friday and Easter sermons, I can say that there are things about those days that are easy to find in our Bible texts to want to teach our people. We Love familiarity, even if it can breed contempt. With the Bible, the familiar passages and truths are extremely important and I would never advocate ignoring them. I would only encourage my fellow pastors and their worship leaders to keep the passion alive because it should never get old to us.

I also advocate for dealing with lesser-known yet important facets of the familiar stories in the Bible and teaching them to our people, even if they hurt our brain, make us uncomfortable or risk confusing someone. These are the main reasons we are tempted to ignore parts of Scripture, but this is unwise to me. Christians need all the cards on the table when it comes to our source of truth. Today I want to discuss five of the things that are a part of the Jesus crucifixion narrative—from the Last Supper the night before he died until his actual death—that are too often ignored.


1. John’s timeline of the Last Supper and Crucifixion appears to conflict with the other three Gospels.

In short, the Synoptics–Matthew, Mark, and Luke–say that the Last Supper was a “Passover meal” (see Matt. 26:17-19; Mark 14:16; Luke 22:13). John, however, says in 19:14 the day of Jesus’s crucifixion was “the day of preparation of the Passover”.

Often in sermons and in writing, I have chided the temptation of those critical of the Bible to find contradictions in details in things like the four Gospel accounts. There are many if you believe the Evangelists who wrote the accounts of Jesus’ life were trying to be precise by modern courtroom standards and that they were trying to present one cohesive account of what happened. They were not on either charge. Examples of what I mean are that one writer says there were two angels at the tomb and another says there was one. One says the stone was rolled away before the women arrived and another says it was rolled away by an earthquake in their presence. My response to many of the ‘contradictions’ is that they make about as much sense to consider them in conflict as a modern NFL fan would consider it a contradiction for one Chicago Bears fan to say that their team won the Super Bowl in 1985 and another to say they won it in 1986. If you are not an NFL fan, the contradiction is easily explained: the NFL regular season takes place in one calendar year and the Super Bowl takes place in the next. Every Chicagoan calls that team the “85 Bears” yet technically they won the Super Bowl on January 20, 1986.

In fact, for my Easter sermon in 2013, I interviewed four Bears fans who watched that Super Bowl and asked them three questions about it—the score, the year, the MVP—and their answers varied slightly. As N.T. Wright has stated, the fact witness accounts differ does not mean that nothing happened. To Bears fans in January of 1986 something amazing happened! That is not the nature of eyewitness testimony and we can easily find contradictions in 2,000-year-old data by parsing the words in English. Witnesses often have differing details and if one writer says there were two angels while another says there was one, that doesn’t mean there was only one. I can easily say, “I’m going on vacation next week” and if later you hear me say, “My wife and I are going on vacation next week,” you’d be obtuse to think that is a contradiction.

Yet, the issue of what days the Last Supper and Crucifixion took place is not quite so easily discarded. It would be like hearing one parent say their child was born on Thanksgiving and the other say their child was born on Christmas. Again, it doesn’t mean their child was not born, but it does present some difficulties with the witness.

The scope of this article is not to hash out how this apparent disconnect can be resolved. My goal is to get Christians to think about these things when thinking about Good Friday. Because the skeptical world is thinking about them. I will give an excellent resource that discusses many possible resolutions and that gives an opinion on the most likely one: Last Supper & Lord’s Supper by I. Howard Marshall. The short version of the best solution to him is that the first three Gospel writers and John are using different calendars. But I strongly urge all of our REO readers to do a deep dive into it. Beyond the controversy here, Marshall offers great thoughts on the Last Supper in general, which is an event we still celebrate to this day.


2. Many early manuscripts do not contain the verse about Jesus sweating great drops of blood.

This is found in Luke 22:44. It and the prior verse are not as well attested by the massive amount of NT manuscripts textual critics use to determine original wording. Depending on what translation and what type of Bible you use, there may be a note in the margin or below that indicates this.

Let me be clear that I do not think that textual notes you read in Bibles that say “not found in many of the earliest, most reliable manuscripts” is some kind of trump card to know whether verse or phrases belong in our Bibles. So I am not saying or implying that Luke never meant to put in this verse about Jesus sweating blood and a scribe later added it. There are many people who believe that Mark 16:9-20, John 7:53-8:11, Acts 8:37 and similar passages and verses are later additions, but there are also good defenses of them belonging. Just because a manuscript is “early” does not mean that it is better and the word “reliable” is very subjective.

No, my point is that this is the kind of thing Christians should be aware of. It honestly does not matter to me what a person’s opinion is of whether Luke 22:43-44 is original or not, nearly as much as it does that Christians know how our Bibles are put together. One of my favorite resources on this topic is the NET Online Bible (Netbible.org), because it gives textual notes and notes on the original languages about verses like these. And while the text critics who write for this Bible are not the final authority, they do have informed opinions and often give the reader all of the possible options instead of a merely dogmatic take of their view.


3. The prophecy about Judas getting 30 pieces of silver and buying the potter’s field is cited from Jeremiah in Matthew 27:10, but appears more easily cited from Zechariah.

As with #1 above I do not consider this to be a legitimate contradiction that should somehow cast aspersions on the reliability of the Bible or its inerrancy. A detailed explanation of possible reasons Jeremiah is mentioned instead of Zechariah can be found here.

Instead, to me, this is simply a fantastic opportunity for Bible readers to dig deeply into Old Testament prophecies and how the Old Testament impacts the New. Zechariah seems on the surface to be where Matthew is quoting from, but as you read passages like Jeremiah 16 and 32 it helps you understand how you can connect those passages to what Matthew was writing. Finding connections between the Hebrew and Aramaic Scriptures and the Greek New Testament is crucial to practicing correct hermeneutics. Readers of the Bible only stand to benefit from reading Jeremiah, regardless of whom Matthew meant to cite. Jesus said the entire Old Testament testified about his suffering, death and resurrection. Matthew 27:10 would be a part of that.


4.The bodies of many holy people who had died came to life when Jesus died.

Found only in Matthew (27:52-53), this seemingly random and crazy twist in the story is one that I have not heard many people talk about. And since its mention comes and goes so quickly, I could sort of understand that…if it didn’t foreshadow exactly what Christ was about to do in less than 48 hours. Resurrection means everything in the New Testament and every time it happens in the Bible, whether it be God using Elijah or Elisha in the Old Testament or the resurrections of Lazarus, Eutychus or Jesus himself in the New, it matters. They all are significant and contribute to the foundation of our theology and understanding of God and eternity. Those two verses in Matthew 27 on the heels of the temple curtain being ripped should be mentioned with frequency during our Good Friday sermons.


5. What happened to Jesus’s soul between Friday afternoon and his resurrection?

I honestly do not believe this is greatly ignored in the American church because I have heard it discussed but I do think it deserves more attention than it gets. And I wonder if the strangeness of some verses in the New Testament that try to explain it (especially 1 Peter 3:19-20) gives us pause in preaching it.

And again, my intent in bringing it up is not to pontificate about my own personal view of the subject, but to urge us to think deeply about it and do a careful interpretation of the New Testament passages that can help us understand it. Even the difference in where the quotations start in Jesus’s statement to the thief on the cross matters–is it, …I tell you today, “You will be with me in Paradise”… or …I tell you, ‘Today you will be with me in Paradise”…? Rightly dividing the word of truth is not for the lazy or careless and on topics like these a healthy dose of humble yet focused work is prudent.


Let me be clear again that I definitely believe the core aspects of the Good Friday part of the Passion narrative are more important than what I have shared here. Jesus’ atoning sacrifice, his forgiving of those who killed him, and his words to the Pharisees and his statements while on the cross deserve a million sermons. Yet there are details in the story that are easy to overlook but teach us vital aspects to God’s story as revealed to us in Christ’s crucifixion. We need not lose one to gain the other. We just need to give the richness of these passages their due.




Una Perspectiva Panameña sobre la Semana Santa

Puesto que pasé casi 30 años en Panamá como misionero, tengo una perspectiva sobre la Pascua de Resurrección que confío que haya enseñado una lecciones importantes.

En primer lugar, la Semana Santa en nuestros primeros años en Panamá tendía a ser influida mucho por el Catolicismo Romano, la religión predominante en Panamá. La semana entera era templada, con menos énfasis en los aspectos comerciales de la vida. El viernes santo era sobrio y solemne, las emisoras de radio y canales de televisión sólo podían tocar música solemne, penas funerarias, etc. Las iglesias celebraban misa para conmemorar el viernes santo. No había deportes o entretenimiento. Posteriormente, el viernes santo llegaba a ser más secular, y ha continuado así. Es posible que algunas emisoras de radio hayan mantenido programación solemne, pero no así los canales de televisión. Algunas personas mayores, estrictamente católicas, dicen que la fecha se ha convertido en tiempo feriado, pero no “día santo.”

Es interesante que en aquellos años el domingo de resurrección era como cualquier día normal. Se llamaba “domingo de gloria”, pero según nuestra perspectiva no había mucha celebración de la resurrección de Cristo, y la gente iba a la playa, tenía paseos, visitaba familia, etc., básicamente como cualquier otro tiempo cuando no le tocaba trabajar. Pero ni la solemnidad ni la frivolidad le tocaba a la gente profundamente. La solemnidad no influía a la gente a venir a Cristo para pedir perdón de pecado y recibir un Salvador que cambiaría su vida. La frivolidad no era gozo cristiano, basado en la certeza del Señor resucitado que había conquistado la muerte.

¡Qué diferencia descubrimos en la iglesia evangélica! En primer lugar, muchas iglesias celebraban un culto especial para el viernes santo que daba énfasis a los últimos siete dichos de Cristo desde la cruz. Yo pude participar en muchos de esos cultos durante los años, a veces predicando una de las siete palabras, como en un servicio unido, y a veces predicaba los siete dichos. El culto a veces se extendía mucho, pero el enfoque teológico y práctio ayudaba al cristiano y daba un buen desafío.

Cantábamos canciones como “Hay Un Precioso Mantanial,” y “¿Qué Me Puede Dar Perdón?” Además, cantábamos sobre la pasión de Cristo como “Oh Qué Amor,” y ¿”Sabes Que Murió Jesús?,” ese último cantada a la música de una canción popular en Los Estados Unidos en los años 1960 “Sealed With a Kiss.” Canciones hermosas, melódicas sobre la muerte de nuestro Salvador en la cruz que me tocaron profundamente, pero desconocidias en inglés.

El Domingo de Resurrección siempre era un día especial en Panamá. Cantábamos en español por supuesto, canciones como “La Tumba Le Encerro” (“Up From the Grave He Arose,”) con volumen y emoción, y luego escuchábamos en mensaje predicado en ese día de días.
Nosotros pudimos introducir el concepto de servicio de amanecer a la iglesia de Bethania donde servimos unos 15 años. Creo que algunas iglesias ya lo hacían, pero era concepto nuevo para muchos a quienes vimos llegar a los pies del Señor, y rápidamente se convertía en una de las actividades más populares e inspiradoras del año. Un servicio temprano, generalmente como las 5:30 o 6:00 a.m., seguido por un desayuno, y luego la Escuela Dominical, significaba un día glorioso en el Señor y con Su pueblo.

Recuerdo nuestro primer domingo de resurrección en Panamá en 1978, cuando nos reuníamos los domingos en la noche. Creo que era un 26 de marzo. Nuestro servicio principal se celebraba los domingos en la noche en aquel tiempo. Cantamos. Oramos. Yo prediqué. Al final, un joven de más o menos 20 años pasó al frente para recibir a Cristo. Su palabras fueron estas: “Sabía que tenía que haber algo más en la vida de lo que yo había encontrado, y esta noche lo he encontrado en Jesucristo.” ¡Cristo resucitó! ¡Él vive! ¡Ha resucitado. Ha resucitado verdaderamente!

(Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in English on April 13, 2017. You can read it here.)




The Resurrection and the Prominence of Empirical Evidence


That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete.
[The Apostle John]


The most obvious and crucial distinction between Christianity and other major world religions is that it is based not on rules, philosophy or human goodness, but on the facts of a man’s life. It is appropriate that Christmas and Easter are both so widely celebrated (even if a Sunday morning attendance box to check for many) because both, in stark contrast to some other major religious and holy days, answer the question “What happened?” What happened in real time and space in 3D world history?

And it is not merely as simple as something happening. In both cases, something amazing happened. Something literally miraculous and literally incredible. Something scientifically impossible. A virgin gave birth and a man rose from the dead. Someone more poetic than me has commented that Jesus entered the world through a door marked “No Entrance” and left through a door marked “No Exit.” Which makes the juxtaposition of what happened and why Christians believe it so fascinating.

For if you read the New Testament carefully and notice which themes emerge, you can definitely find doctrine and morality. Jesus, Paul, Peter, John et. al. taught things like, “Return evil with good,” “Love is patient and kind,” and “If your neighbor is hungry, and you have to give, it is wrong to turn him away.” But if you get at the heart of the New Testament’s message, it definitely is NOT “Be good and you can get to God” or “Think correctly and you will be enlightened.” It really is about what Jesus did. What happened. The miraculous, impossible things that men and women gave their lives to make sure the rest of the world would know forever.

When John opened his first epistle, he didn’t begin with loving your neighbor, or even with Jesus’s atoning sacrifice being for the entire world. No, he began by pronouncing Jesus as God and saying “We saw him. We heard him. We even touched him.” In short, he is making a case that the impossible things that Jesus did by coming and going from this world were empirically verified by those who followed him. And THAT is the message he wanted to begin with. All truth claims about Jesus and the morality that follows hinge on what they experienced with their five senses.

Peter, in his second letter, also values this early on:

For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.

And this was also how even Luke, who was not an apostle but was a scientist and doctor, began:

Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the Word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.

And perhaps it is no surprise since he also wrote Acts and as a result recorded numerous direct quotes from the apostles that kept highlighting the importance of them being witnesses to what happened with Jesus, notably his resurrection:

God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it…

You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this…

The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed by hanging him on a cross. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins. We are witnesses of these things…

We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead…

“Then I asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’
‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ the Lord replied. ‘Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen and will see of me…

Empirical evidence of Jesus’s resurrection was so important to Paul that what we now know as the Apostles’ Creed is the main thrust of it:

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

In short, the creed was not rules or philosophy, but what Jesus did. It is precisely what happened—what they experienced with their senses. The theological implications arise from that.


I close with noting two of the scenes from the Gospels that were, in part, the basis all of the aforementioned verses. They fascinate me for several reasons I want to discuss. All of them are empirical save one. First from Luke:

While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”

When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence.

First, I cannot help but notice that the cognitive dissonance of a dead man now being alive was so outrageous and so overwhelming, the empirical-based evidence of actually seeing him wasn’t enough. Resurrection from the dead was so magnificently far away from what they could comprehend (notice the use of “joy” conjoining amazement above), they could not even believe their own senses. That is a historically special case of “What happened?” Because it was, indeed, impossible. And that is the truth that launched the Christian faith.

Second, I cannot help but be deeply impacted by the fact that Jesus kept trying to empirically prove it to them by eating the fish. It’s almost like “Me actually being here in the flesh isn’t enough? Touching me isn’t enough? You think I am a ghost? Watch this.” And then he does something else they can observe with their five senses. An incredible scene.

Next, coming full circle, from John:

A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

Similarly as above, I am again amazed that Jesus solves the doubt, not by telling him to have more faith or to merely believe his eyes, but by going further and letting him touch him. It is that sense that John mentions as well at the beginning of 1 John that really grabbed my attention as I was preparing my mind and heart for Easter this year.

But as any good student of the Bible will tell you, John 20 doesn’t stop with belief based on the empirical. Jesus tells Thomas after he confesses him as God that those who have not seen and still believe are “blessed.” That includes you and me. The apostles witnessed based on what they saw, heard and touched. We witness based on what we believe. But we are not the unfortunate ones. God, in his divine sense of justice, again turns the world upside down by proclaiming the blessed group the opposite one as you’d think. Just as with the Beatitudes. Those who have not experienced Jesus in real time and space join the ‘poor in spirit’ and ‘those that mourn’ as blessed in God’s kingdom.

Yet who is blessed is not the heart of our Gospel. The heart is the apostles’ message of Jesus. Their empirically-verified message passed down from generation to generation for nearly two millennia. All of our theology is built upon “What Happened.” And that makes Jesus wholly distinct from Mohammad and Moses and Siddhartha Guatama, the founder of Buddhism. He wasn’t just killed and buried. He resurrected and appeared, so that he could be seen, heard, and even touched. That is how Christianity began. And that is the heart of Easter.




Five of Our Favorite Easter Themed Songs

It has long been our contention that Easter does not get the kind of attention it deserves. At least, when compared to another religious holiday like Christmas. Specifically, Easter-themed music feels like an afterthought a lot of the time. We think that is sad and unfortunate. Easter is the moment our faith became a reality – the specific moment in time when God defeated sin and death and made our redemption possible. It is a time of reverent contemplation and passionate celebration. So, as is our way, we have to chosen honor this season by highlighting five of our favorite Easter-themed songs. We hope you enjoy the list we put together.

♦ “I Will Rise” by Chris Tomlin

Chris Tomlin may need to leave old hymns alone or “stay in his lane” (I disagree with statements like this but I won’t fight about it), but I don’t think I can stand for people besmirching him over a song like this. This song isn’t a theological essay like many great hymns but the one point it makes is extremely important and it makes it well. Christ’s resurrection isn’t just an empirical fact in history; it means everything for us as far as what happens to our bodies and souls for eternity. 

And it is rife with biblical phrases and allusions. Look at just a few from the very start: 

There’s a peace I’ve come to know (Reminds me of John 16:33) 
Though my heart and flesh may fail (Taken directly from Psalm 73:26 but also reminds me of Job 19:26 and 2 Corinthians 4:16) 
There’s an anchor for my soul (Sounds like Hebrews 6:19) 
I can say It Is Well (Not Scriptural as much as it was clearly taken from the H.G. Spafford hymn, which is entirely appropriate) 

And as he gets to the chorus the number of citations or allusions to how Jesus beat death are multiplied. No, this song isn’t as deep or complex as 1 Corinthians 15’s take on the resurrection. Clearly, this theme can fill thousands of pages of doctrinal discussion. But we rejoice in the mere fact that resurrection wasn’t a one-time isolated event for one man, but the firstfruit of the resurrection of everyone who trusts in that man. I have played this song overlaying an iMovie of Scriptural references, many of them above, the last three times I have preached at Easter at my church–2009, 2013, and 2017. I cannot say enough about how much it floods my heart with the joy and hope of what matters most—how the Bible answers the problem of the vilest, most despicable, unforgivable villain there is: Death. Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. –  Gowdy Cannon

♦ “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today” by Charles Wesley

“Christ the Lord” was written by Charles Wesley, brother of John Wesley and 17 other siblings.

Interestingly, Charles and John didn’t enter into a personal relationship with Jesus until right after they finished serving as missionaries to Georgia. On the boat ride back home to England, they met a Moravian constituent. Once back in London, he introduced the Wesleys to fellow Moravians who led them to Christ. From them, they learned what it really meant to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Wesley’s conversion experience took place in 1738 and he wrote this hymn almost exactly one year later. It was written and played as one of the first hymns of the brothers newly founded Wesleyan Chapel in London. This was just the beginning of his hymn-writing career. He would go on to write well over 6,000 more hymns. I have not read or sung all of these songs but I have heard that many of them are mediocre at best. But those that are great are considered the best of the best in all of hymnology (many consider his “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” the most theologically rich Christmas song). And “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today” is one of the most theologically rich Easter songs. It has certainly been one of the most popular Easter songs since it was first published in 1739.

Christianity celebrates the entry into new life by dying and that new life through the death and resurrection of Jesus is what this hymn clearly celebrates. It is via our acceptance of this sacrifice that we truly live. I Corinthians 15:19 tells us that if this life alone is all that we can expect, we are of all men most pitiable. But for Christians, it isn’t all we expect. We have a hope of life with Christ after we die. That is why we can confidently say, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55). This truth is at the very center of Christianity. That Jesus died and rose again so that we too may die and rise again into everlasting life with Him. 

The first three stanzas of this song remind us that Jesus rose three days after His death, rose to heaven to reign as a glorious king, finalized his work of redeeming grace, and opened paradise for all. But the song also reminds us that this was not just something that happened and finished up over 2000 years ago. The fourth stanza is clear that this is still true for us and that we have reason to sing praises to God above for His great work of love all the world. He, all three persons of the Godhead, did this for us. The last two lines finalize: “Praise Him, all ye heavenly host, alleluia! Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.” – Ben Plunkett

♦ “Grave Robber” by Petra

This is not an Easter song. It is a song about what Easter made possible. One thing that Petra (mainly Bob Hartman writing the lyrics) excelled at was incorporating Scripture into their songs. This one is filled with allusions, direct quotes, and paraphrasing. This song, more than almost any I have heard, is entirely focused on the hope the resurrection of Jesus brings to believers. The lyrics are powerful, encouraging, and triumphant. As the chorus of the song so aptly states:

Where is the sting, tell me where is the bite
When the grave robber comes like a thief in the night
Where is the victory, where is the prize
When the grave robber comes
And death finally dies

In the here and now, we still struggle and fight with death, but one day, death will be no more. Death will finally die. That is our great hope, provided to us by the death and resurrection of our Lord. This classic song, by the preeminent Christian rock band of the 1980s, is the perfect reminder of this truth. For my money, few songs can match it in melody, structure, sound, and message. Every year around Easter, this song makes its way into my music rotation and I never regret it. It moves me every time I hear it. I hope it will move you as well even if the style is not your preference. Focus on the lyrics and the truth they convey. One day, the Grave Robber will “wipe away our tears – He will steal away our fears. There will be no sad tomorrow – there will be no pain and sorrow.” That is a truth worth singing about. – Phill Lytle

♦ “Remember Me” by Ben Shive (Performed by Andrew Peterson)

I’ve been listening to Andrew Peterson’s music a lot lately, especially his latest album Resurrection Letters: Volume I, released just in time for Easter last year. I heartily recommend the entire album (along with the Resurrection Letters, Prologue EP and the Resurrection Letters, Volume II album released 10 years prior[1. Yeah, I don’t understand volume two being released 10 years before the prologue and volume one either. ]), but I am supposed to write about just one song.

I strongly considered the modern congregational hymn “Is He Worthy?” (which Chris Tomlin borrowed for his latest album Holy Roar) and my personal favorite “His Heart Beats” which focuses on the actual moment of Jesus’s resurrection. In the end, I chose “Remember Me”.

“Remember Me” was written by Ben Shive (with whom Andrew Peterson collaborated on all of the Resurrection Letters albums) who, in his words, “wrote these songs [“Remember Me” and “Into Your Hands”] to help myself and the folks at my church remember Jesus this Good Friday.”[2. Link] I love that this song wasn’t written primarily to be published and recorded (though I’m glad it was) but was written by someone to help himself and his fellow church folk to remember Jesus.

I chose this song mainly because the lyrics cover the full story and meaning of Easter from our part as “wayward sons” and “prodigal daughters” in need of a redeemer to “ascend that hill” for us, through the story of Jesus during his last week from triumphal entry “as a King” to death on the cross to resurrection, to the resulting hope we have of our eternal life with our Lord when Jesus returns.

Secondarily, I chose the song because of the groovy pop tune atypical in Easter songs. It’s refreshing. – Nathan Patton

♦ “Arise My Love” by NewSong

I love a good power ballad. I love Easter Sunday. Put them both together, and you get “Arise My Love”. 

It is, formulaically, every bit 80s power ballad. A slow build, synth, echoey drums, it’s all there. Stryper could have done this song, and they would have killed it. If they added in a screaming guitar solo, it would be icing on the cake. (I’m still holding out for a Stryper cover BTW).

But this song is so much more than just an epic build. This song is a freight train of theologically sound emotion that is focused on the most victorious moment that humanity has ever witnessed. When you listen to this song, you get the sense that all of creation, all of Heaven and Hell, has been moved to contemplative silence at the tomb. Then you get to the chorus, the airy, heavenly “Arise, My Love! The grave no longer has a hold on you! No more death’s sting, no more suffering! Arise! Arise, My Love!”

I cry every time I hear it. I’m tearing up right now as I write this. It takes a lot to move me to this kind of emotion, but this song captures that most epic moment of all time so very well. Jesus is blazingly glorious, and this song gives just a tiny, minuscule glimpse into that reality. 

“Sin, where are your shackles? Death, where is your sting? Hell has been defeated! The grave could not hold The King!” – D.A. Speer

Hopefully, a few of your favorites were included in our list. We welcome you to share some of your favorites with us in the comment section. Let’s celebrate, through music and song, the resurrection of our Lord together.   





Church Discipline: The Form, The Attitude, The Reasoning, and The Goal

While I am positive the Bible runs counter to every culture in the world in many ways, it is how it is countercultural to America that most interests me as a citizen of this nation. Here at REO, we’ve written about many of them and one that I have not touched thus far due to how nasty its connotation can be is the issue of how churches deal with people caught in sin. What happens when the church finds out about a marital affair? Or a porn addiction? Or that someone has been lying habitually, or dealing with anger in sinful ways?

I realize that orthodox American Christian churches historically have messed up this aspect of theology and practice quite badly at times and that has caused the concept of church discipline to be treated as a profane term to be avoided both in speech and action. I add that I believe my current church in Chicago has actually done this quite well biblically speaking, thanks almost entirely to the other elders I have worked with. This doesn’t change the fact that this issue is significantly misunderstood and poorly practiced in some Baptist and Evangelical churches, if practiced at all.

I fear churches avoid discipline for at minimum three reasons. First, people so often in recent church history have done this with so little grace and without reconciliation in mind that it conjures up images of gossiping, self-righteous church members and leaders and scarlet letters. Second, on the opposite end, some churches simply do not judge the behaviors of their membership. Either through a warped view of grace, because of the fear of man, or a huge overlap of both, they never confront for any reason. These first two demonstrate how easy it is to live in extremes and not in the tension of balanced biblical interpretation and application—in this case, grace and truth[1. Which are not true opposites and need to work together, and that is basically the point of this whole article]. And third, the the current American church culture bends to segregating your church life and your personal life so that church is just a place to worship an hour a week and blend in and not a place to live in transparent, confessional community with other believers every day.

None of these things are remotely biblical.

Today I want to deal with it head on and with as much wisdom as I can. And as alluded to above, I do not come at this with mere head knowledge. I feel like I have been led by other men of God and have through the fire. By the grace of God we have come to understand this area of theology to some level. Having said that, while the best teaching and preaching involves illustrations and personal experiences, I will obviously be avoiding that today out of prudence and common sense. At least for the most part. A simple interpretation of a few Bible passages will be enough to start and these interpretations—and not my own war stories—will be most effective in helping others understand this topic. Jesus and Paul, the main source material for the NT for this topic, both speak very plainly about it.

With these two men in mind, here are four crucial aspects to confronting sin in the church, according to the inspired New Testament authorities:


The Form: Four Steps of Increasing Severity

In Matthew 18:15-18 Jesus gives a very basic and practical model to follow when a fellow believer has sinned. First, confront them personally. If they do not listen, take another Christian with you. If that doesn’t work, take it to the church. And then if they still do not listen then “treat them as an unbeliever (Gentile, pagan) or tax collector”.

There is a lot to unpack there and some of it is open to interpretation but I’ll try to be succinct. Disagreement here is welcomed below in the comment section (as well as disagreement with any part of this). The first two steps are pretty simple so I’ll skip to the third one. Our church has interpreted “the church” as this being the step when the elders get involved. Not the whole church at large. Not only does the latter seem impractical in our culture, it is our aim to show as much grace and patience in keeping things private until absolutely necessary. I hasten to add here that my church does not practice these steps with a “one and done” approach, meaning we may have several conversations at each step with the person caught in sin, as we try to figure out the truth and how best to serve the person, either through discipline or counseling or something similar.

Once the fourth step comes, then there is no choice. If the offending person shows no willingness to repent or even to meet with the church to present their side, then the person is removed from membership and the church must be notified.

What exactly does it mean to “treat them as an unbeliever or a tax collector”? Well in some way I believe it means you consider them as someone who is not a Christian because they cannot be if they are living in unrepentant sin. Especially after being shown that much grace. That part seems pretty straightforward. And after that? Well, this is where it can get hairy and part of this discussion is affected by how we view certain passages on the topic. I once had a disagreement with another elder at my church about how to treat a person at the fourth step, as far as how to interact with them. Based on 1 Corinthians 5:9-13 I was adamant that this person needed to be cut off and left to their own selfishness as punishment. No association with them would be biblical. Another elder more graciously advocated for trying to win them back through relationship, since that is what our church does with unbelievers. Isn’t that the ultimate end to treating them as a pagan or tax collector? Could Paul and Jesus be in conflict here?

We discussed it for a long time. I admit the other elder was closer to the truth than I was but we both moved some towards the middle. We established that the way we would go about would be to try to maintain a relational connection if possible (in our experience people in stage four often do not want to have any communication with the church), but only to try to win them back with loving and graceful truth. Essentially by evangelizing them. But this does not mean we simply hang out with them as we would any other lost person just to be a friend. I share Jesus with the lost friends I have but not in an aggressive way every time we are together. Sometimes we just get together to watch a baseball game. I may work Jesus into the conversation, but it is not always the main point in the meeting. That is a crucial difference between a Step Four unbeliever and an unbeliever who has never been a part of the church. The former needs to be approached with restoration as the primary goal of the meeting. That is at least where my church landed.


The Attitude: Humble Self-Awareness

In Galatians 6:1, Paul makes it clear that when we confront someone in sin, no matter which step I would think, it has to be with humility. This can be shown through our word choices and the whole of our nonverbal communication, though I am sure what humility looks like will change from person to person. It obviously isn’t weak or passive or apologetic in this context but it absolutely should communicate to the sinning party, “I am not better than you. I could very easily be caught in sin just as you have been.” Self-righteousness has no place in church discipline. And it is my firm belief that if a Christian is living face down before God in worship, preaching the Gospel to themselves, and seeking forgiveness from God and others daily, then when it is time to confront, they will be able to practice Galatians 6:1 correctly. Isn’t this what Jesus taught in Matthew 7:1-3 as well?


The Reasoning: Protect the Body from Death

Paul gives a significant amount of teaching on this topic in 1 Corinthians 5. But for this article, I want to zero in on one thing he teaches. We practice church discipline and are willing to put people out of membership for a reasonable end: if you do not take sin out of the church, it will spread throughout the church like gangrene in a diseased foot will go to the rest of the body. Amputation can absolutely be the most gracious thing to keep a body healthy. He uses the illustration of yeast in bread but the point is the same; the sin of one person can corrupt the whole church if not extracted. That is just the nature of sin and humanity. If a person sins without repentance and the church lets them stay, other members will be extremely inclined to fall into similar temptations. So by removing the unrepentant former member from the church community, you are actually doing something entirely gracious—you are protecting God’s bride, who is supposed to be presented to him as radiant and without spot or wrinkle. This is of course primarily because the blood of Christ makes the church clean, but repentance keeps her clean. A lack of repentance, even by a single individual, can potentially ruin the whole body. Churches must be willing to seem ungracious to that one so that they are being gracious to all.


The Goal: Reconciliation, Always

Perhaps the biggest sin of Phariseeism is that its self-righteousness makes reconciliation impossible. No matter the teaching in the New Testament, I cannot help but comprehend this topic as one where reconciliation with the one caught in sin and the church as the goal of every step. There is no room in our churches for “You messed up so you don’t belong here.” Quite often in my experience, people do not say this to the sinning person’s face; they just gossip them out of the church. Gossip is about as perpendicular to healthy confrontation, humility and reconciliation as it can be. And as such is listed with the worst sins in New Testament lists (Romans 1:29; 2 Corinthians 12:20).

Instead, we need to be actively seeking reconciliation and restoration with the person caught in sin. That is what Jesus was teaching by giving the steps he gave in Matthew. It seems obvious to me that just looking at those four verses (vs. 15-18) you can see grace being shown by giving the person numerous chances to repent and by giving their sin privacy. But by looking at the larger context of Matthew 18, it becomes even more obvious how essential it is to see the guilty person as someone to be forgiven if they repent. In 18:21-35, Jesus teaches that we forgive over and over and over precisely because God has forgiven us far more than we have been offended.

Additionally, I believe Paul dealt with the offending man from 1 Corinthians 5 in his second Corinthian letter and taught to welcome him back into fellowship. Now I must assume that the man had repented because I do not think you can have reconciliation without repentance. You can forgive without it, but reconciliation takes two people: A forgiving victim and a sorrowful offender. But the fact Paul advises to forgive and accept the man from 1 Corinthians 5 is powerful when you consider how repulsive his sin was.


Much more could be said on this topic but part of why REO exists is to foster discussion and not presume to present the final, authoritative word on subjects like these. So feedback even in the form of disagreement is welcomed below.





Narnia’s Aslan and The Biblical Trinity

Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight,
At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more,
When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death,
And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again.”

The greatest fantasy works of the last century all have a character that feels larger than life, a leader that seems omniscient at times and full of wisdom all the time. I’m thinking of course of wizards like Gandalf and Dumbledore in literature and the Jedi Yoda in film. Each in their own way has an air of both invincibility and goodness to them so that you know the hero of each story is in good mentoring hands as they seek to vanquish the evil they must face.

Even among this specific genre of character, there is something wholly unique about C.S. Lewis’ Aslan the Lion, who impacted a wide range of heroes across seven distinct stories. As a Christian, his uniqueness is obvious after even a cursory reading of The Chronicles of Narnia—far more than a wizard or Jedi, he seems sovereign and completely transcendent over humans and every other being in the fantasy world in which he resides. To say it another way, he is godlike. And seeing as how C.S. Lewis’ intention in creating Aslan is not a secret, I think we can say he is Godlike. Capital G. It would be an exaggeration to say that I’ve learned more about God from Narnia than from Lewis’s non-fiction but it’s closer than you would think. Every time I’ve read these stories, this aspect of Aslan has struck me as more and more meaningful.

This year I completed my 4th reading of this series all the way through (having read The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe maybe ten times), taking notes on this topic. And I was able to really zero in on this one thought as I read this time—Aslan not only communicates the attributes and personality of the Christian God, but also of each of his three persons, which are at times distinct. I think you can clearly see the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in his actions, words and general character. Today we at REO discuss them.  

 

Note that because the allusions to the Trinitarian God in LWW are so famous—notably that Aslan dies as an act of atonement and rises from the dead and that the Beavers refer to him as “good” but not “safe”—I will bypass that book and focus on the other six. Note also that as I cannot cover them all due to space restraints I strongly encourage our readers to share any I may have missed in addition to commenting in general. Lastly, I will be going in publication order. If you disagree with that, prepare for a Prince Caspian-esque fight to the death! (Just kidding.)

Prince Caspian

One of the remarkable things about Aslan is that, other than The Magician’s Nephew if I’m not mistaken, for such a dominant player in the story he actually has sporadic appearances. By the page count in my big one-volume version of The Chronicles of Narnia, this book begins on page 317 and Aslan doesn’t show up until page 373 and then it is only by Lucy seeing him ‘off camera’ so to speak. He doesn’t speak until page 378 and doesn’t appear in all his glory until the following page.

The fact he shows up before he is heard or “seen” is exactly what I’m talking about. Lucy sees him with her childlike innocence and faith (a carryover from LWW), and the whole scene smacks of the story of God calling Samuel, as well as biblical statements like, “The last will be first,” and “A little child will lead them”. Which Lucy subsequently does. Literally. And while there is no one verse I can point to that mirrors this, I love that Aslan tells Lucy that he seemed bigger because she had grown. On the other hand, Aslan telling her “All of Narnia will be renewed” has a clear parallel in Revelation 21:5.

Aslan’s later moment with Susan, forgiving her for not believing, definitely has a Jesus/God type feel to it. Especially since it’s the sin of unbelief.

Finally, I love that Prince Caspian responds to Aslan that he doesn’t feel sufficient to take up kingship in Narnia with Aslan replying, “Good. If you had felt yourself sufficient, it would have been a proof that you are not.” There are few things as crucial to the Kingdom of God as being humble and meek. The New Testament reminds us over and over that the humble will be exalted. Just as Caspian was.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

The most obvious example of my thesis as seen in this book is Eustace explaining how he regained his human form after being stuck as a dragon for a time. The way he describes Aslan removing his dragon skin as being painful and pleasurable at the same time sound exactly like something you’d read in the Bible, where conflicts live in tension. And where transformation happens in Christ.

And later Aslan says, “I call all times soon,” echoing a thought the Apostle Peter has about how God views time in his second epistle.

I also appreciate how at the end he is a lamb at first before metamorphosing back into a lion, since both animals are used to describe Christ in the New Testament.

The Sliver Chair

I confess Jill’s first encounter with Aslan in the second chapter of this book was the first passage that really birthed the idea of this article. There are few passages in the whole series that cause my heart and mind to dance with joy the way this one does.

Aslan inviting her to drink makes me think of Divine invitations in both Old and New Testaments to do the same (Isaiah 55, John 4). Drinking the water immediately quenches the thirst and not drinking it leads to death.

And I adore this quote by Aslan: “I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms,” followed by the explanatory note: “It didn’t say this as if it were boasting, nor as if it were sorry, nor as if it were angry. It just said it.” That brings chills to my soul like few things outside of Scripture itself.

Their continued conversation just adds more and more to the image: He gets her to see her sin; He tells her that she would not call to him unless he called her first; at one point he replies to her question with “I am”, and he mandates her to “Say [the signs] to yourself when you wake up in the morning and when you lie down at night and when you wake up in the middle of the night.” The whole scene is overflowing with Scriptures—Deuteronomy 6, John 4, 6 and 8–that point to how God interacts with humanity.

Finally, it is perfect to me that Aslan uses his breath to send Eustace and Jill to Narnia from the cliff in this chapter, the same means he uses to bestow forgiveness on Susan in the previous book. Both Hebrew and Greek have a word that can be translated to “spirit” “breath” and “wind” and hence, it feels like yet another echo of deity.

The Horse and His Boy

Shasta’s intimate confrontation with Aslan is one that I could read over and over before moving on in the book. Especially this: “I was the lion who forced you to join with Ararvis. I was the cat who comforted you among the houses of the dead. I was the lion who drove the jackals from you while you slept. I was the lion who gave the Horses new strength of fear for the last mile that you pushed bait in which you lay, a child near death, so that it came to shore where a man sat, wakeful at midnight to receive you.” I can clearly imbibe of the sovereignty of the Father, the comfort of the Spirit, the protection of the Son (as promised to Simon Peter), the invisible God who protects and never gets tired. All in this one short speech.

And then Shasta asks him “Who are you?” And Aslan says, “Myself,” which sounds semantically different yet quite similar to YHWH’s answer to Moses in Exodus 3 to a similar question. Mere mortals do not give that kind of answer unless they are being obtuse. Which Aslan, nor God, ever is.

The Magician’s Nephew

There can be no doubt about the chosen passage for this book:

“In the darkness something was happening at last. A voice had begun to sing…it seemed to come from all directions at once…Its lower notes were deep enough to be the voice of the earth herself. There were no words. There was hardly even a tune. But it was beyond comparison, the most beautiful noise he had ever heard. It was so beautiful Digory could hardly bear it.” 

And then:

“Narnia, Narnia, Narnia, awake. Love. Think. Speak. Be walking trees. Be talking beasts. Be divine waters.”

There are few things as Godlike as the act of creating. Not just making or producing, though there is that, but creating from nothing. By nothing more than the spoken word. Creating life. Life with personality. As Aslan does here. This is Narnia’s Genesis 1 and John 1. And what is remarkable in view of this article, between those two biblical chapters we know the Trinity is fully represented by the creation of the universe. There can be no mistaking who Aslan is to Narnia. Creation depends on the Creator but not vice-versa.

I will also add that even though I said I would not reference LWW in this article, this part of The Magician’s Nephew takes me back to this exchange in the LWW movie containing a truth that is only implied in the LWW book:

Jadis: Have you forgotten the laws upon which Narnia was built?
Aslan: Don’t cite the deep magic to me, Witch! I was there when it was written.

Boom!

The Last Battle

This scene gets me all choked up because it is so much bigger than fiction:

Then he fixed his eyes on Tirian, and Tirian came near, trembling and flung himself at the Lion’s feet, and the Lion kissed him and said, “Well done, last of Kings of Narnia, who stood firm at the darkest hour.” Not only does it sound like how Disciples Peter (Luke 5:8, pre-resurrection) and John (Revelation 1:17, post-resurrection) react to Christ, the words Aslan uses are clearly Christ’s to all those who remain faithful until the end (Matthew 25, Luke 19).

A similar scene with Emeth a few pages later has the same effect. He falls at Aslan’s feet only for Aslan to (again) breathe on him to raise him back to his feet, reminding me of Ezekiel’s encounter with God in Ezekiel 1 and 2. And he too is welcomed in, despite a life lived quite differently than Tirian, showing grace that our God does manifest in Scripture to people like Cornelius.

And there are these words of the Lord Digory:

“Listen, Peter, When Aslan said you could never go back to Narnia, he meant the Narnia you were thinking of. But that was not the real Narnia. They had a beginning and an end. It was only a shadow or a copy of the real Narnia which has always been here and will always be here: just as our own world, England and all, is only a shadow or copy of something in Aslan’s real world. 

A whole article could be written just on the way this series ends. But suffice it to say that Aslan’s role in the world he created and the “real” world is a clear a picture of the Christian God as could be. It makes me long for the New Heaven and New Earth unlike anything else in fiction. And not to merely experience the new but to experience seeing my Savior with my own eyes, and not the eyes of faith. I feel like that is the most real thing there is.

I believe God’s fundamental attribute is that he is “other”. He is not like us. He is exalted, highly lifted up, above and beyond and distinct from all beings in history. There is none like him, he says over and over in Isaiah. He is omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent. If that is what it means to be “holy” (and I believe it does) then that is who God is at his core, far more than other adjectives we use for his nature.

That is the air Aslan has about him throughout the seven stories. And that is why he has taught me so much about our God. Kudos to Lewis for this timeless children’s series that impacts adults in such a meaningful way




Jesus Is Offensive: Let Him Be (Part 4)

Links to the previous three essays can be found at the end of this article.


Part 4: Jesus Is Offensive In His Judgments

Injustice or Jealousy? 

One of the hardest parables Jesus gave for me to preach is the one from Matthew 20 where Jesus talks about workers getting hired at different times of the day and all getting paid the same wage at the end of the day.

I think I get it in its interpretation. That’s not the problem. The reason I say it is hard to preach is that no matter how you interpret it, it just sounds unfair. It is bookended by the phrase “The first will be last,” which sounds intriguing. But everything that happens in between sounds like a fast-talking businessman who gets you with the semantics of the contract he had you sign even though there is something clearly wrong with how it played out in real life.

Welcome to the world of not being able to put Jesus in any boxes. For the record, I do not think Jesus is a fast-talking businessman. I think God, and by nature Jesus, are completely fair in their judgments. But what is fair to God may not sound fair to me. And hence, it can be offensive. And crazy enough, this example isn’t even close to how offensive Jesus as Judge over men’s souls can be.


Even Tolerance Is Exclusive 

It gets even more offensive, at least if secular American culture is any indication when you talk about how Jesus himself and his early followers claimed he was the sole path to get to God. In one sermon Jesus attested, “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” This sounds like arrogance unless you consider that Jesus believed himself to be God himself and proved it by rising from the dead. Taking that into consideration I think he has the authority to claim which way is correct. Besides, you cannot escape claims of exclusivity by any view on this topic and the major world religions do not even try. Jesus also claimed the vast majority of people would not accept the one path, adding to the arrogant exclusivity effect.


The One Subject We All Want To Avoid

Yet it gets even more offensive. It is not enough that the vast majority of the world will not get to God because they choose manmade religion or human ego instead of Jesus Christ. The Bible teaches that those that do not end up in Hell. Whether we interpret the biblical imagery of Hell as literal or figurative, I find it quite difficult to get around the harshness of it being a physical, mental, emotional and spiritual reality. Maybe there isn’t really fire but there is real suffering[1. I learned a lot about this from Francis Chan and Preston Sprinkle in Erasing Hell, 76-80.].

This may be the king of all the offensive Bible teachings[2. Tim Keller says it is in his experience in the multi-contributor book Is There A Hell Or Does Everyone Go To Heaven When They Die?]. When you hear atheists talk about it, often their ire will come in the form of them saying something along the lines of: “Say I live a good, moral life. I love people. I give to the poor. I live that way until I die. According to the Bible, God is going to send me to eternal fiery torment just because I didn’t believe in his Son?” George Carlin, the comedian who used humor to make serious points, said it this way:

“Religion has convinced people there is an invisible man — living in the sky — who watches everything you do…And this invisible man has a special list of ten things he does not want you to do. And if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place, full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish, where he will send you to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry forever and ever ’til the end of time…But He loves you!”[3. Cited by Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion, 317.]

These types of statements are a clever bit of searing verbal gymnastics but are abysmal biblical hermeneutics.

The problem with it at its core is defining what a good moral life is. Take this statement from the late atheist Christopher Hitchens: “My challenge—Name an ethical statement or action, made or performed by a person of faith, that could not have been made or performed by a nonbeliever.”[4. Christopher Hitchens, God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, 289]

The answer to that is simple and it is the basis for all of Christian morality. A nonbeliever could not give glory to God in covenant relationship. It is foolish to use the Old Testament Law to try to castigate the Christian’s basis for morality since we are no longer under it (Romans 6:14; Galatians 5:18). Our basis of morality is in a relationship with God, similar to children to a Father and a bride to a husband, worshipping him with our lives. And those who have and do that will spend eternity with Him. Those who do not, will not. Make no mistake, if I live a moral life by the world’s definition but do not humble before God by confessing I am not moral by his standard[5. Remember, Jesus said put lust in the same category with adultery, and once disintegrated a rich young ruler’s morality, utterly humiliating him, after the man claimed he was righteous by God’s law], I am worthy of eternal punishment according to the Bible. If I never relationally enter into his kingdom to give Him all honor and glory for all that is good, I am worthy eternal punishment according to the Bible.

Here is what I mean: If there is a God who created you and gave you life and strongly desires a relationship with you in spite of you being sinful by his standards and you say, “Nope, I’m good. I got it on my own,” then that is about as terrible an insult as you can throw at him. Reading Ezekiel 16 gives a graphic allegory of why God sees it that way. As a result, human pride–defined in the Bible as living life without giving God the glory in covenant relationship—is listed over and over as something that God hates. And it is at times listed right beside things like the murder of innocents (Proverbs 6:16-19).

I expect the secular world to bristle at that and find it deeply offensive or just ludicrously stupid. But to me, it makes sense if there is a God. God’s standard of perfection cannot be attained and he offers committed relationship anyway, as the lone sovereign Creator of the universe. And to spit at that is the worst we can do. In Ezekiel 8 God tells his people he wants to show them the most abhorrent, vile, repugnant thing he can. And does he show them rape? Bestiality? Torture? No. He shows them God’s people worshipping other gods. For many the false gods are their own appetite and earthly things (Phil 3:19). Or to say it another way, it is themselves.

Hell in that sense makes rational sense to me. There will be people who end up in Hell who never killed a person or committed adultery. But there isn’t a single person in Hell who didn’t fail to give God the glory in covenant relationship. And if that is as evil as murder or rape or child abuse–and biblically I believe it is—then Hell makes sense. You can argue that even child abusers do not deserve Hell if they die without repenting, but putting it in that context definitely causes you to not take George Carlin or many atheist proclamations about biblical morality and Hell quite so seriously.

I hasten to add that I am adamant about saying Hell makes rational sense to me. It does not make emotional sense and I’m not sure it ever will. It causes me to be nauseous often when I think about it. It wages war on my emotions any time I preach it and no topic in the world makes me more uncomfortable. But if it is what the Bible teaches, I have to man up and deal with it.


Only Christ Can Judge You, And He Certainly Will 

Jesus clearly laid claim to deity by claiming to be the Judge of all humanity. He said in John 5, “Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son…And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man.” And he also claimed his judgments were fair and true (John 5:30, 8:16). I think we can also add one heavy adjective to his judgments as well: offensive.

It has not been my fundamental intention to bring a downer to the Christmas season this year. It’s simply to rediscover who Jesus is, at a time of year when people are talking about him and taking advantage of an innocent baby to make him someone he wasn’t. I guarantee understanding the real Jesus of Scripture will only help us to worship him more biblically this time of year.

And that is what REO is all about.

Read Part One Here. 

Read Part Two Here. 

Read Part Three Here.

 




Jesus Is Offensive: Let Him Be (Part 3)

Read Part One Here.

Read Part Two Here.

 

Part III: Jesus was offensive in his teachings

 

If your message isn’t different than an atheist’s, it isn’t the Gospel 

The first time I heard Matthew 25:31-46 I found it offensive. Jesus speaks of treating the hungry, the prisoner and the stranger as if they were literally Jesus himself. By calling them “brothers” it sounds like he means outcasts who are Christians. Regardless of what he means, we know from the rest of Scripture that Christians are mandated to help the poor whether they are believers or not.

These days, while I believe the Church still has a huge responsibility to teach this and similar passages, it is not offensive to my ears. It has been taught so often and so passionately in my circles, and my church is so intentional about it, that the zing of it is gone. And while I could always do more to practice this passage, it has been a source for several articles I’ve written for REO, which you can read here, here and here. (I add that because our culture is so honed in on this teaching, often wielding it imprudently as a political statement[1. There is no question Christians should practice it but to what extent the government uses it as a policy guide it isn’t close to clear in my mind] that its offense has been greatly diminished on a broad scale. Even nominal Christians who do nothing for the poor likely aren’t offended by the suggestion.)

Additionally, the idea of “helping the poor” is something atheists can agree within a vacuum. So there are many other passages Jesus taught that are far more inherently offensive. If we are to understand Jesus as offensive, I want to focus particularly on things that will offend all people to some extent.


Christians, Family and Hate 

One of the most obvious to my mind is that Jesus taught that we are to “hate” our family if we are to follow him. Correctly, preachers and teachers for millennia have taught that Jesus did not mean this literally, as that would contradict a bevy of other Scriptures on loving your family. But what he did through the use of hyperbole is make it clear that if love your family more than you love him you are not his disciple. Is that offensive? It is to me, and essentially everyone in every culture of the world I would guess. In fact, I have a friend from China who left his family to come to the US to study to be a pastor and his family thinks he hates them because he chose Christ over them. That is how he filters this passage.

Another similar one is when Jesus taught to not invite your friends and family over to your house for dinner but to invite the poor, the lame, the crippled and the blind. This to me is offensive because it is on a different level than “help the poor”. It’s one thing to go serve at the Pacific Garden Mission occasionally on a Saturday. It’s another to have those who are shunned by society sit at your dinner table as equals. That passage is in our Bibles and it doesn’t seem to be confusing in its interpretation or application. Yet a tiny minority practice it regularly in the U.S. I would guess. Because it is utterly offensive. 


Jesus Didn’t Always Aim for “Church Growth”

Perhaps the most obvious example in the Gospels of Jesus offending the masses is in John 6. After miraculously feeding the 5,000 Jesus later teaches them that they must believe him to be his disciple. They ask for a sign like the manna for their ancestors in Exodus. Jesus, as the master teacher, turns their words into a brilliant (if disturbing) illustration: to believe in him you must consider him the bread of life and in a figurative sense eat his flesh and drink his blood. The offense is not foundationally in the grotesque imagery, though it is that to any non-savage culture. It is offensive because as he did in Luke 14:25-35 above, he is demanding complete association with him to be his disciple.

And how do they respond? Most of this free lunch crowd confesses it is too hard a teaching and they walked out. I am not advocating modern churches practicing this often (nor am I saying not to), but what if we were willing to preach a Jesus or Jesus teaching so offensive, that the majority of our Sunday morning crowd decides they can’t accept it and do not come back? Even if we do not scare people off, at minimum people in the seats need to know that Jesus is offensive enough to accomplish that kind of mass rejection.

The point could be belabored because in nearly 100 chapters in our Gospels, Jesus offends people over and over and over by what he teaches: The rich young ruler walks away sad, unwilling to part with his wealth…the lawyer tries to justify himself and gets put to shame…Jesus claims Gentiles are important so a crowd prepares to stone him…Jesus fastens a whip out of cords and violently drives moneychanger out of the temple, rebuking them for making his house of prayer for all nations into a den of thieves…Jesus regularly preaches on Hell and final judgment for those who reject him…and on and on. Jesus was a compassionate man to those who were hurting and humble (and even then he wasn’t always, as we saw in the last article). But you cannot escape how often he caused people to feel anger, shame and conviction when he taught. It is no wonder that Peter and Paul both interpreted Isaiah to mean that Jesus was a rock of offense, causing people to stumble. 


Offensive Can Be Good 

One connotation issue in American English is that our word “good” seems often to be associated with things that are pleasant, nice or agreeable. These are not synonyms for good in a biblical sense. If I work too much and God needs to slow me down, he could cause me to become violently ill. And that would be good, even if not nice or pleasant. Similarly, in a few weeks my wife is going to give birth. My understanding is that event will be painful and undignified and the opposite of agreeable or delightful. But will it be good? According to many fathers I talk to, it will be the best.

That is how we need to process Jesus and his teachings. Offensive seems bad, and not good, if we have poor definitions. Jesus’ hard teachings are good as only God’s goodness can be. But they are not easy to accept. They will knock us to our knees, cause us to weep with conviction and make us feel deep shame if we let them. Jesus makes no sense to an unbroken, self-sufficient people. That is the heart of offense and that is what Jesus does.

May we stop trying to portray him otherwise.

 

 




Jesus Is Offensive: Let Him Be (Part 2)

Read Part One Here.

 

Part II: Jesus was offensive in his language

 

I am thankful that some modern Christian leaders wisely advocate for graceful speech to others on social media (and off social media for that matter) when we disagree. Especially about politics. I myself have done so for REO, even linking an article by Tim Keller that helps deal with polemics in a mature and nuanced way.

So I want to be clear that, generally speaking, I think name-calling and demeaning language are not things Christians should practice. Quite often I would say they are sin since we are mandated by God to speak gracefully and to consider others more important than ourselves.


Sticks and Stones

Yet, when we read the Gospels, we discover that Jesus had zero issue calling people insulting names and being harsh in his speech in general. This, as much as anything, is proof that the real Jesus—and not the Politically Correct, Flannelgraph, Buddy-of-Sinners American Jesus—can be quite offensive to our ears and sensibilities.

One of the most obvious examples is how he referred to the hypocritical Pharisees as “whitewashed tombs” and children of Satan. That is pretty debasing language. But I’d like to spend more time in this article on other examples of this type of behavior from Jesus because one thing even the “Just Love Don’t Judge” crowd has no trouble recognizing is that Jesus was harsh to the Pharisees. The high and mighty religious crowd is the obvious exception. Often the Inoffensive Jesus advocates see the modern parallel for the Pharisees as Christians who preach even the judgmental portions of the Bible.

This is erroneous thinking. And even if it weren’t, Jesus’ scathing words to the Pharisees don’t begin to cover it when it comes to ways Jesus talked to people that can shock modern ears. A few others that are significant to me:

“At that time some Pharisees said to him, ‘Herod Antipas wants to kill you!’ Jesus replied, ‘Go tell that fox that I will keep on casting out demons and healing people today and tomorrow…'”

‘Jesus turned around and looked at his disciples, then reprimanded Peter. ‘Get away from me, Satan!‘ he said.” 

Then Jesus said to the [Gentile] woman, ‘I was sent only to help God’s lost sheep—the people of Israel…It isn’t right to take food from the children and throw it to the dogs.’”

“You unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me.”

“Then Jesus replied, ‘Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!‘ (He meant Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, who, though one of the Twelve, was later to betray him.)”

None of the people on the receiving end of these insults could be described as the “religious crowd,” at least not in the typical New Testament Pharisaical sense. You have a follower who abandoned Christ and (I believe) ended up in Hell, a follower who remained faithful to death, a woman who was a complete stranger and foreigner and just needed help, a general crowd of people including his apostles, and a Gentile ruler. In each case, Jesus is not graceful with his speech, but downright rude at best and vicious at worst. If Jesus is our example, this really turns the “Love Thy Neighbor No Exceptions” T-shirt on its head.


Trying to Rationalize It

Now I know in the case of the Syrophoenician woman, that a rejoinder is that Jesus did end up helping her and perhaps came across as curt and even racist to make a point to her to be persistent. Yet can you imagine, in that case, or any of the above, a modern comparison? Christians calling our governmental leaders and former leaders names is extremely common on social media. But if I seriously called one of my church staff “Satan” in one of our meetings, I would be confronted for being a jerk. Even worse (and this is incomprehensible), if a woman of another ethnicity came to my church and asked for help and I used a slur about her people as I at first refused to help, I’d get fired. Even if I did help her eventually.

Let me again be clear that I do not think people reacting by confronting or firing me in those cases would be wrong. This is really what I’m getting at: Jesus was, and is, offensive in ways that we should not be. At least not normally. And while we do not always mimic him, we do accurately portray him. And that is what I fear that American Christianity fails to do quite often. When we make Jesus the nonjudgmental guy who only showed compassion, we misrepresent him. And that is a frightening thing to do.


As far as it depends on you

If you read Paul, he can seem to contradict himself at times. As in Galatians 1 when he said, “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.” Contrast that with 1 Corinthians 9 when he says, “Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.” How is this reconciled? 

Well, I think in large part the two passages are explaining two things. In one Paul is talking about preaching the Gospel. In the latter. he is talking about how he lives before lost people. That is a huge difference and it can be applied in 2018 this way: People absolutely should be offended by my Christianity. But they should be offended by Jesus, NOT by my behavior, attitude and even the way I talk[2. Both Peter and Paul advocated being respectful and gentle when sharing our hope or correcting opponents and Paul instructed to live as peace with others as far as “it depends on you”.]. I aim to remove every obstacle to the Gospel I can (especially cultural ones) but I cannot remove Jesus. And as Jesus himself noted over and over and over, HE is the offense. That is why people will hate us.

Now, Paul did refer to false teachers as “dogs” so I cannot say for sure that insulting language is always wrong[2. False teachers, in my opinion, are a special case of people who merit far less compassion and patience, biblically speaking, than other lost people but that is an essay for another day.]. But I can say for sure that generally speaking, people should not be offended by me. And equally as important–they should be offended by Jesus. It is the height of lamentable irony that we want to make Jesus inoffensive when he himself assured us that he is the worst offense there is. The kind that produces hate. I absolutely love my neighbor as myself, per Jesus’s command. But if I expect that to mean I will get along in perfect harmony with lost people, then I do not understand Jesus at all. He said himself that he came to bring a sword and divide people. It’s his name, his message, that people hate.

So do I speak the way Jesus spoke? Not necessarily. But do I preach him and his words—pure, unedited and without shame? Absolutely. It doesn’t make a nice T-shirt. Because you can’t be offensive and nice at the same time.

 

 

 




The Sea of Light

To the left drifts the glowing star
promoting the night with its oblong light
caressing the dark with a deep, deep rite.

We see the star, the star, the oblong star,
the longish memoir from beyond time’s time,

beyond the cosmic jar
of the speckled, swirling galaxies of light.

We see the glowing star,
here and here, there and there;
we stare there and here,
within the blowing seas of sand

at
the unseen devil in the constellations,
the gelatinous dragon with his hideous secretions,
the struggle with our Sea
stamped on our stars.

Of the star we watch,
we magi of the light,
classified before time’s time,
yes, our sights are on the light.

Beyond the glow, we watched with all of the
night’s inanimate riders of the oblong winds;

As such here and here, right and left,
we see the star in a sea, a sea of light,
classified beyond the first watches

of the time in time we watch,
our sights on the light to the left;
yes, our sights are on the Light.