Dear Christ Church,
Every day is a day where, as Christians, we should be relishing in the resurrection. However, there is something special about intentionally remembering Jesus’ death and resurrection during the Easter season. I loved being able to do that with you this past Sunday! I think our Easter breakfast was a pretty big hit as well. Maybe a tradition has been birthed?
I did a live video on our Facebook page about 3 different questions I received from the sermon. You can check it out at https://www.facebook.com/christchurchsouthphilly/
Below are the questions and my notes.
Question #1 What evidence is there, outside of the Bible, that Jesus even existed?
First, it is important to understand that the Biblical evidence should not just be thrown out. The Bible is a highly accurate historical book. The earliest biography of Jesus, the gospel of Mark, has been dated to a mere 21 years after Jesus’ death. So we can’t just throw it out. Scholar after scholar, Christian or not, attest to the veracity of the Bible as a book of history.
However, we are not solely reliant on the Bible for the existence of Jesus. A Jewish historian named Josephus, wrote in A.D. 93 or 94, a 20 volume masterpiece called Antiquites and in it he writes,
He brought before them a man named James, the brother of Jesus, who was called the Christ and certain others. He accused them of having transgressed the law and delivered them up to be stoned.
Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was claimed to be a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. He said he was the Christ; and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him, but said he appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him; and the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct to this day."
A Roman historian named Tacitus wrote around a similar time and he said,
Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite punishments on a class hated for their disgraceful acts, called Christians by the populace. Christ, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty (i.e., Crucifixion) during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their center and become popular.
A Roman historian named Pliny the younger writing about 105 A.D.,
I ask them whether they are Christians, if they say "Yes," then I repeat the question the second time, and also a third -- warning them of the penalties involved; and if they persist, I order them away to prison. For I do not doubt that -- be their admitted crime what it may -- their pertinacity and inflexible obstinacy surely ought to be punished.
But they declared their guilt or error was simply this -- on a fixed day they used to meet before dawn and recite a hymn among themselves to Christ, as though he were a god. So far from binding themselves by oath to commit any crime, they swore to keep from theft, robbery, adultery, breach of faith, and not to deny any trust money deposited with them when called upon to deliver it.
I then thought it the more needful to get at the facts behind their statements. Therefore I placed two women, called "deaconesses," under torture, but I found only a debased superstition carried to great lengths, so I postponed my examination, and immediately consulted you. This seems a matter worthy of your prompt consideration, especially as so many people are endangered. Many of all ages and both sexes are put in peril of their lives by their accusers; and the process will go on, for the contagion of this superstition has spread not merely through the free towns, but into the villages and farms. Still I think it can be halted and things set right.
A Greek historian named Lucian wrote A.D. 125
“The man was crucified in Palestine because he introduced this new cult into the world… Furthermore, their first lawgiver persuaded them that they were all brothers one of another after they transgressed once for all by denying greek gods and by worshipping that crucified sophist himself and living under his laws.
So even without the Bible we know that:
There was a man named Jesus who was a Jewish teacher
Many people believed that he performed healings and exorcisms
He claimed to be the Messiah (In the Greek, “Christ) and many people believed him.
He was rejected by the Jewish leaders
He was crucified under Pontius Pilate in the reign of Tiberius
Despite his shameful death, his followers who believed he had risen again spread beyond Palestine and there were a multitude of them in Rome as early as 64 ad.
His followers were willing to suffer terrible torture and even death for their faith in Jesus as the Christ.
“There is better historical documentation for Jesus than for the founder of any other ancient religions”- Dr. Edwin Yamauchi, University of Miami
Question #2 If God has power over death, then why does he allow so much death and evil to take place?
There is a theological answer to this, but before I give it, I want to speak directly to those for whom this is a very personal question. If this question of death and evil is personal to you, I want to be honest with you and let you know that there is no theological answer that can take away the grief in your heart. There is comfort and there is a healing balm and these will bring you peace in the midst of grief, but not take away your grief. Just because there is an answer as to why we can experience terrible things, that does not mean that we are not to grieve terrible things. Jesus knew that He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead, but he still wept with Lazarus’s sisters as they mourned their brother’s death. Peter writes in 1:3-6
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, (1Pe 1:3-6 ESV)
They were rejoicing in great truths and yet grieving at the same time. We need to have this category of being able to find joy in God (and the comfort that that brings), while also experiencing real grief over our pain. Scripture nowhere forbids grief or calls it a lack of faith. We are encouraged to grieve. Just read the Psalms! However, our grief is different in that
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. (1Th 4:13 ESV)
We are not told not to grieve. We are just told not to do grieve without hope. In the midst of our deepest possible pain, we can still feel the deepest possible hope in that God is remaking this world through Jesus and soon we will be in the new heavens where,
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away." (Rev 21:4 ESV)
That was all preamble, but I think it is really important. I wouldn’t want the theological answer as to why there still is death to smother anyone from feeling the grief of death. God certainly wouldn’t want that.
The reason that God still allows death and evil to occur, even though he has power over it, is because death and evil are part of this sin cursed world and it is God’s choice to still allow this world to exist. Why does God still allow this world to exist? Why does he not fulfill his promise to come back and make all things new?
Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation." For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (2Pe 3:4-9 ESV)
The reason that God still allows this world to exist, and therefore death and evil, is because God is not ready to let this world perish. Each day is a day of God’s mercy. Eventually these days will be over. God will say enough and punish all evil and bring the final death to all who have not yielded to his reign. Yet, such is the great love of God that he is not willing for that day to be today. He is still desiring for more people to come to know his love and surrender themselves to his mercy.
In the face of evil, we should either 1) surrender to God if we have yet to do so. 2) Make God’s plea known to those around us with urgency. Our grief is temporary, but the grief of those who die in their rebellion against God, that is unending grief. And so as much as we want all this evil to end, may we also want many more evil people to be spared. May our hearts reflect God and patiently endure this evil day, knowing that every day more and more souls are being won from darkness to light. Let’s take part with God in that great work.
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