Thursday, March 28, 2013

Evidence that demands a verdict

1 Corinthians 15:13-14  “But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is without foundation, and so is your faith.”

I feel rather confident that if I were to survey Christians and ask the question, "What is the most important Christian holiday?", Christmas would be the winner by a landslide.  I'm not sure this would even be a conscious response to the question, but more of a reflexive, instinctual answer.  Christmas is so much more popular and glamorized that I think it is the first thing that pops into our minds.

I would argue that the relative importance of Easter dwarfs Christmas.  By a mile.  Not even close.  Christmas celebrates Christ's birth, which was obviously important and a prerequisite to all He did while on earth.  I'm not saying Christmas is not important.  But every human being who has ever lived in history had a birth.  That is not unique.  Maybe you could make an argument that immaculate conception separates Jesus from other humans, and you would be correct.  But that isn't what we celebrate on Christmas.  We celebrate a common event- the birth of a child.

Easter celebrates something MUCH different.  Easter celebrates something that no other person in human history has ever done.  Jesus rose from the dead.  We can debate all of the theories about how Jesus wasn't really dead, etc., but the historical facts indicate that He died on the cross.  His body was prepared and He was enclosed in a tomb.  On the third day, that tomb was found empty.  We can also debate the theories about how the disciples stole the body to propogate their story, how the body was moved, etc.  The evidence suggests, though, that the only explanation for the empty tomb is that He rose.

Even if you could argue against the empty tomb, how do you explain His appearances?  Multiple appearances to many different individuals?  This is what convinced the disciples that He conquered death, not an empty tomb.  The appearances of Jesus and proof that it was Him in resurrected physical form is what set them on fire for speading the message of the Gospel.

The resurrection is the cornerstone of the Christian faith.  If it did not happen, all of this is a farse.  Paul said so himself.  Whether you are a believer or a non-believer, this story and this event demand that you choose a side.  Choosing whether you believe that Jesus rose from the dead is not just limited to an opinion about this event.  The side you fall on with regard to the resurrection defines what you believe about Jesus and Christianity.  If you believe it is true, then what choice do you have but to believe in everything He said and taught?  If Jesus is, in fact, the only human in the history of the world to rise from the dead and ascend into Heaven (just like He told us He would), how do you argue with anything He said?  How do you declare Him to be anything but God incarnated?

If you do not believe that Jesus rose from the dead, there is a very different set of implications.  Without this being true, how can we believe that anything He said was true?  If the empty tomb and resurrection is an elaborately staged event to perpetuate a false message, our faith is without foundation.  Further, this would make Jesus an absolute nut and make Christianity the biggest hoax in history.

You can't have it both ways.  You have to come down fully on one side of this or the other.  Jesus was not simply a "good moral teacher".  He either is who He said he was (the one and only Son of God), or He was an egomaniacal lunatic.  Which do you believe?  Easter provides you a litmus test to decide.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Recognizing God's voice

1 Samuel 3:4-5  "Then the Lord called Samuel, and he answered, 'Here I am.'  He ran to Eli and said, 'Here I am, you called me.'  'I didn't call you,' Eli replied.  'Go lie down.'  So he went and lay down."

This story continues and we learn that it was God calling Samuel, but he mistakenly thought it was Eli's voice he was hearing.  How often do we do the same thing?  We hear a voice calling us, but we don't realize whose voice it really is.  We run out into the world and start finding people, places, and things with which to associate the voice. 

We don't often have the benefit of someone like Eli who will tell us that we are looking in the wrong place and send us away.  We go down a lot of mistaken roads following what we believe to be the source of what we heard.  Many times it is God's voice we are hearing, but we are not well trained at discerning His voice.  Fortunately, God is patient and will continue calling us until we recognize it is Him we are hearing. 

With the increasing amount of noise in the world, hearing God's voice requires even more diligence and discipline on our part to create times of quiet in our lives where He is free to speak and we are prepared to listen.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Motivations and Following Jesus

Luke 19:5-7  "When Jesus reached the spot, He looked up and said to him, 'Zacchaeus, come down immediately.  I must stay at your house today.'  So he came down at once and welcomed Him gladly.  All the people saw this and began to mutter, 'He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.' "

I can see two reasons why most of us would not have done what Jesus did here.  First, we would have made it a point to steer clear of sinners, because of the "wisdom" which tells us to protect ourselves by closely guarding who we associate with.  While there is certainly a time and a place to be on our guard and recognize that we are vulnerable to negative influence, most of us carry this WAY too far and use it as an excuse to not associate with people who look different, act different, have different views, etc.  We are most certainly at risk of being drawn into sin in certain situations, but self-protection is not the path Jesus modeled for us.

Second, we may have considered showing grace and mercy to Zacchaeus right up until the point that the "in crowd" started to speak negatively of us.  I'm afraid there would be at least a tinge of desire and motivation on our part to show grace and mercy only as a means of looking good to others.  When we realized that our actions would not accomplish that goal, and that the opposite image was what others were gossiping about, would we have stuck with it?

Two common motivations, both driven by selfishness, keep up from following Jesus' example.