Tag Archives: Easter

Risen Indeed!

And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.  (1 Corinthians 15:14)

It has been 1,987 years since Jesus gave His life on the cross and rose again, and many in the world today still deny the fact. This denial began with one of Jesus’ own disciples. “The other disciples therefore said unto him [Thomas], We have seen the Lord. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe” (John 20:25, emphasis mine).

Thomas needed physical evidence in order to believe, and many today still want to see some physical manifestation. They want to see a miracle, experience a “feeling.” or suddenly speak in an unknown language in order to believe. Eight days later, Jesus granted Thomas’ request, but also lovingly reprimanded him for his lack of faith. “Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed” (John 20:29, emphasis mine).

For those that demand evidence, God provides abundant evidence, however, “they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand” (Matthew 13:13). Let us briefly examine just some of the evidence.

First, there is the evidence of an empty tomb.  No court in the world will try someone for murder without a dead body. Where is Jesus’ body? Where are His bones? Not long ago, an ossuary was found in Jerusalem supposedly having the inscription “Jesus son of Joseph,” but that was soon proven a hoax.[1] Besides that, many fail to understand that “James, Jesus, Joseph, and Mary” were very common names in those days, so the inscriptions prove nothing. However, an inscription found on another ossuary said “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.” This may indeed contain the remains of James the brother of Jesus.[2] However, the fact remains that the tomb (and there are several suspected) which temporarily held Jesus’ body remains empty.

No body means no victim, and for this reason many suggest that the crucifixion never really took place. One rumor suggests that the betrayer, Judas, was crucified in Jesus’ place and that Jesus walked away free. Those same people are the ones looking for His bones in ossuaries. Muhammad is buried in the Al-Masjid an-Nabawi mosque in Medina, Saudi Arabia. Confucius’ body rests in his home town of Qufu, Shandong Province, China. Buddha’s cremated remains (the “relics”) are distributed among several stupas. Bahá’u’lláh, founder of the Bahá’í faith, is buried in Bahji near Acre, Israel.[3] Two main tombs in Jerusalem compete as the burial place of Christ, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the Garden Tomb, but both remain empty.

Second, many eyewitnesses saw Jesus alive the third day after His crucifixion and other times thereafter. The four Gospels report that the women (disciples also) that followed Jesus discovered the empty tomb first (Matthew 28:1-8; Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24:1-11; John 20:1-2, 11-18).  Luke records that Jesus appeared to two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-32). Those two return to report to the eleven (Judas had taken his own life because of the guilt he felt for betraying Jesus), and while they gave their report, Jesus appeared to all of them (Luke 24:33-43). John’s account notes that Thomas missed that first appearance (John 20:19-25). All of this happened on Resurrection Day. The next Sunday, Jesus appeared to them again, but this time Thomas, the doubter, was in the group of disciples (John 20:26-29). Thomas’ doubt transformed into belief, “And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God” (John 20:28, emphasis mine).

Jesus had many “disciples” (both men and women) besides the twelve “apostles” composing His core group; so when the Gospel writers talk about disciples, they likely include the many that followed Jesus during His ministry on earth. The word “disciple” literally means “student,” so the number of eyewitnesses went beyond the core group. Following Jesus’ ascension into heaven, there were many that could testify to His resurrection. The Apostle Paul asserts “After that, he [the risen Christ] was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:6, emphasis mine). At the time of Paul’s writing the letter to the Corinthians, there remained many eyewitness that could attest to the resurrected Lord. The Law says that “at the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses, shall the matter be established” (Deuteronomy 19:15), and Jesus had more than 250 times the number of witnesses required by the Law. Paul himself, never having known Jesus during His earthly ministry, met the risen Christ as he traveled toward Damascus to persecute the followers of The Way. Of all the witnesses, he says of himself, “And last of all he [the risen Christ] was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time. For I am the least of the apostles, that am not [worthy] to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God” (1 Corinthians 15:8-9, emphasis mine). Despite the abundance of eyewitness, some hold to the silly notion that all these witnesses experienced mass hallucinations. Seriously? I will not dignify that with a response!

Third is the matter of the radical change in the lives of all of the disciples. Immediately after Jesus’ arrest, they all went into hiding. Mark, probably writing for Peter, remembers Jesus’ arrest: “And they all forsook him, and fled” (Mark 14:50, emphasis mine). Mark probably witnessed this firsthand. Speaking of himself in third person (out of embarrassment I am sure), he says, “And there followed him a certain young man, having a linen cloth cast about his naked body; and the young men laid hold on him: And he left the linen cloth, and fled from them naked” (Mark 14:51-52, emphasis mine). Peter, who boasted, “… If I should die with thee, I will not deny thee in any wise. Likewise also said they all” (Mark 14:31, emphasis mine) was the first disassociate himself from Jesus with a verbal denial despite Jesus’ warning. “Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, That this night, before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice” (Matthew 26:34).  Faced with the challenge of making a public declaration of his association with Jesus, Peter succumbed to fear. “Then began he to curse and to swear, saying, I know not the man. And immediately the cock crew. And Peter remembered the word of Jesus, which said unto him, Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. And he went out, and wept bitterly.” (Matthew 26:74-75, emphasis mine).

Shortly after Jesus appeared to them, the disciples maintained a low profile. They met secretly in the Upper Room and evangelism never entered their minds. At first, they must have wondered if they had all experienced a mass hallucination. The Gospels give no indication that Jesus met with them regularly following His resurrection. Indeed, some could not believe their own eyes with those brief encounters. “And when they saw him, they worshipped him: but some doubted” (Matthew 28:17, emphasis mine). Jesus was alive, but so what! The Jews would kill anyone proclaiming Jesus’ name. Not surprisingly, the disciples wanted to get things back to “normal.” “Simon Peter saith unto them, I go a fishing. They say unto him, We also go with thee. They went forth, and entered into a ship immediately; and that night they caught nothing” (John 21:3, emphasis mine).

These cowering, fearful men were not likely candidates to “have turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6) with the message of a risen Christ. Even with their firsthand encounters with the risen Lord, they dared not speak out. These (“To whom also he shewed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3, emphasis mine)) would not put their lives on the line for the risen Christ whom they, as John put it, “… have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life” (1 John 1:1, emphasis mine). Why would they put their lives on the line for what they knew to be a lie? Yet only fifty days after the Crucifixion, at Pentecost, these same men boldly stood in Jerusalem and proclaimed the risen Savior to every tongue and nation (Acts 2:1-5). The fear of death no longer silenced them. When commanded to stop teaching in the name of Jesus, “Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29, emphasis mine). What made the difference? They saw and handled the risen Christ, and they experienced His power, the Holy Spirit, indwelling their lives. Christ is risen indeed!

Reader, we cannot see or handle the risen Christ, but we have the empty tomb. We have the written testimony of hundreds of eyewitnesses. Men and women who would rather die than deny what they had witnessed firsthand. We have the continuing witness of the living body of Christ, the Church. “Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed” (John 20:29, emphasis mine). You and I are they “that have not seen.” To us Jesus says, “… be not faithless, but believing.” (John 20:27). Christ is risen indeed. One day, very soon, He will return to reclaim His creation as King of Kings, and Lord of Lords. Be sure you are ready to meet Him.

Notes:


[1]  “Jesus’ tomb story: Does the evidence add up?” (http://www.icr.org/article/1063/386), accessed 04/14/2017.

[2]  Jackson, Wayne. “The Jesus Ossuary Inscription.” ChristianCourier.com. Access date: April 14, 2017. https://www.christiancourier.com/articles/578-jesus-ossuary-inscription-the, accessed 04/14/2017.

[3]  “Burial places of founders of world religions,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burial_places_of_founders_of_world_religions, accessed 04/14/2017.

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The King Is Coming!

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass. (Zechariah 9:9)

Around 1,987 years ago on a Sunday afternoon (Mark 11:11), Jesus rode into Jerusalem as prophesied by the prophet Zechariah. The Gospel writer, Matthew, quotes Zachariah in part, “Tell ye the daughter of Sion, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass” (Matthew 21:5, emphasis mine). Matthew conspicuously omits Zachariah’s description of the coming King as “just, and having salvation.” Why the omission? Matthew Henry comments on Zachariah 9:9:

“He is a righteous ruler; all his acts of government will be exactly according to the rules of equity, for he is just. 2. He is a powerful protector to all those that bear faith and true allegiance to him, for he has salvation; he has it in his power; he has it to bestow upon all his subjects. He is the God of salvation; treasures of salvation are in him. He is servatussaving himself (so some read it), rising out of the grave by his own power and so qualifying himself to be our Saviour.”[1] (Emphasis mine)

Perhaps Matthew’s omission (as directed by the Holy Spirit) was purposeful. Granted, Matthew wrote after the fact from a vantage point of hindsight, yet the omission retained the prophetic formula of immediate and future fulfillment. Jesus did something similar when He applied Isaiah’s prophecy to Himself. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:18-19). He deliberately omitted the remainder of Isaiah’s prophecy: “and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn” (Isaiah 61:1-2).  Jesus fulfilled the first part of Isaiah’s prophecy at His first coming; “the day of vengeance of our God” will be fulfilled at His second coming when He will set up His millennial kingdom and “comfort all that mourn.”

In the same way, Jesus entered into Jerusalem as the coming King, “lowly [meek], and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass” (Zechariah 9:9). “He came unto his own, and his own received him not” (John 1:11). In a matter of days, the adoring crowd crying, “Hosanna: Blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord” (John 12:13) would turn into a raging mob shouting, “Away with him, away with him, crucify him … We have no king but Caesar” (John 19:15). They took the King and nailed Him to a cross.

Three days later, He conquered death and once again walked on earth. After forty days (Acts 1:3), He ascended to His throne having “purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Hebrews 1:3). However, He is not done. There remains prophecy yet unfulfilled. Many still mourn. Injustice still reigns. The Lord has not executed His vengeance and His creation still needs salvation. There is yet more to come.

The prophets spoke of God reigning on the earth. His Messiah will rule the world from the throne of David in Jerusalem. Jesus promised to return. “In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also” (John 14:2-3, emphasis mine). This same Gospel writer was granted the great privilege of seeing things to come. “And after these things I heard a great voice of much people in heaven, saying, Alleluia; Salvation, and glory, and honour, and power, unto the Lord our God … And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war. His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns; and he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself. And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God … And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS” (Revelation 19:1, 11-13, 15-16, emphasis mine).

He will once again enter the gates of Jerusalem, this time on a white horse as a conquering king. “And his feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east, and the mount of Olives shall cleave in the midst thereof toward the east and toward the west, and there shall be a very great valley; and half of the mountain shall remove toward the north, and half of it toward the south” (Zechariah 14:4, emphasis mine). What an awesome sight to behold!

Lately, I have been hearing many modern prophets suggesting that this year, 2017, will be the year that Christ will return to rescue His people from “the wrath of God” that is to come upon the earth. Their reasoning, from a biblical standpoint, is sound. All the ones I listen to are quick to issue the disclaimer that they are not setting dates. Jesus clearly stated, “But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only” (Matthew 24:36); so I respect that note of caution by these prognosticators. However, I sense, because of what I observe happening all around the world, that what they are predicting may be true. For the Church, the return of Christ has always been imminent, but it is truer today than ever before in the history of the Church. The King is coming! Jesus is coming very soon. Personally, I am looking for and anxiously awaiting His return.

Reader, you will meet Jesus very soon. The best way to meet Him is to be one of His own. Very soon, Jesus will return for His Bride, the Church, the collective body of all who have placed their trust in Him. When that day comes, all the powers of hell will be unleashed upon the world. No place will escape or be immune. You will still have the opportunity to repent when that time comes, but you will suffer tremendously for it. Why not give your life to Jesus now and avoid the horrors that are to come. All you need to do is confess your sin and recognize your need for Him. Ask Him to save you. Invite Him into your heart. Give Him first place in your life; make Him the Lord (the “Boss”) of your life, and trust that He will keep His promise. The King is coming, but this time He will not be meek and lowly. Are you ready to meet Him?

Notes:


[1] Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, note on Zechariah 9:9.

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Easter’s Wrong!

Shocked

And when he had apprehended him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four quaternions of soldiers to keep him; intending after Easter to bring him forth to the people. (Acts 12:4)

The two highest church attendance days are Christmas and Easter. Easter probably wins the high attendance day of the two since it always falls on a Sunday. Neither day is historically accurate, but Easter typically comes nearer being right than does Christmas. Both holidays (holy days) come to us thanks to the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) in its attempt to “Christianize” the pagan celebrations of Saturnalia, which celebrated the return of the sun, i.e. the days getting longer, and Ishtar, whose origin is rather convoluted but basically has its source in the ancient fertility goddess of Babylon from whence come the icons of Easter eggs and bunnies.[1]

The pagans celebrated their “Queen of Heaven” on the first day of the week (Sunday) following the first full moon after the vernal equinox. Some form of this religious practice was observed by the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans. By the time the RCC came into power, pagans continued the practice, so, in order to accommodate the pagan population, the Church put a Christian spin on the celebration. There are several parallels that can be made between that pagan religion and what we believe as Christians.[2] Jesus was born of a virgin, He died, He was buried, and He rose again. Superficially, the pagan story sounds familiar, but this should not be surprising since Satan is the ultimate counterfeiter. Jesus said, “He [Satan] was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it” (John 8:44).  Since the celebration of Ishtar fell around the time as the Jewish Passover, and considering the parallels, it was not difficult to remake the pagan celebration into a Christian one. (Oh! Don’t be so shocked! We still do that today. In order to attract the “world” we adopt worldly practices, bring them into the church, and put a Christian face on them. Sometimes “Christian” events look no different than rock concerts. The only differences, if you can hear them, are the words of the songs. And for those of us who love the “old hymns” many of the tunes of those good old hymns originated in pubs and saloons. So, this is not unique to the RCC.)

Despite the title I chose for this article, my purpose here is not necessarily to bash our observance of Easter. (I prefer to call it “Resurrection Day” or “Resurrection Sunday.”) I believe that it is right and proper that we celebrate the Advent of our Lord and His death, burial and resurrection – the resurrection being key. They are highly significant events that altered the course of history and the destiny of man. But if we are going to celebrate these very special days, we should at least try to be “biblical” about it rather than “traditional.” Arguably, Christmas could remain as December 25th. While widely accepted by biblical scholars that the birth of Jesus probably took place around mid-September (more likely around the celebration of the Jewish Feast of Booths or Sukkot), counting back nine months would bring one to around December 25th as the time of conception, which would also be the actual “incarnation” when God came to be “with us” (Emmanuel) as a human embryo.

Easter, however, does not always line up exactly with Passover as is the case this year. Jesus was crucified on Passover. Jesus said, “Ye know that after two days is the feast of the passover, and the Son of man is betrayed to be crucified” (Matthew 26:2, emphasis mine). The Jewish day began at sundown, around 6:00 PM, unlike our western day which begins at midnight. On the afternoon before the Passover, Jesus sent His disciples to make arrangements to celebrate the Passover Seder (Matthew 26:18-19). “Now when the even was come, he sat down with the twelve” (Matthew 26:20, emphasis mine). “When the evening was come,” Passover had begun. After they had  finished the meal, Jesus went with His disciples to the Mount of Olives where He was arrested in the middle of the night – it was still Passover – and illegally tried and sentenced to death by crucifixion (Matthew 26-27, Mark 14-15, Luke 22-23, John 18-19). Jesus died at the ninth hour, 3:00 PM (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34; Luke 23:44-46), at the same time that the Passover lamb was being sacrificed at the Temple. It had to be this way in order to fulfill the Law of God given to Moses (Deuteronomy 16:1-6).

So, Jesus died on Passover, at precisely the right time in order to fulfill the Law of God and make a once for all atonement – a covering – for our sins. “For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul” (Leviticus 17:11, emphasis mine). “And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission [of sins]” (Hebrews 11:28, emphasis mine).

Biblically, then, Easter (Resurrection Day) should be celebrated in association with and very closely linked to the Jewish Passover. “Easter” is nowhere found in the Bible except as mistranslated in our beginning verse above (Acts 12:4). The Greek word translated “Easter” in this verse is pascha, the Greek transliteration of the Hebrew pesach or Passover. Evidently the translators of the King James Bible were taken in by centuries of RCC tradition.

“Easter” is not biblical, and it becomes painfully obvious especially this year. As noted above, Easter is the first Sunday that follows the first full moon after the vernal equinox. This year, the vernal equinox took place on March 19. The first full moon after that will be on March 23, making the 27th Easter Sunday. The problem is that the Jewish calendar is lunar, not solar. Nissan (Abib in the OT) is the first month of the Jewish religious calendar, and Passover is celebrated on Nissan 15. This year, 2016, Nissan 15, Passover, begins on Friday, April 22 at 6:00 PM and goes to 6:00 PM Saturday, April 23. We are celebrating Resurrection Day nearly one month before Passover, and that, to me, just seems wrong. You cannot have “resurrection” before the Passover sacrifice! If we were being biblical instead of traditional, we should be celebrating Resurrection Day on Sunday, April 24. Instead, we will just go with the flow and celebrate it according to the Roman Catholic tradition. This is why, especially this year, Easter’s Wrong.

Notes:


[1]  See “The Pagan Origin of Easter” http://www.lasttrumpetministries.org/tracts/tract1.html

[2]  Ibid.

 

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What’s Special About Sunday?

In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week ... (Matthew 28:1)

In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week … (Matthew 28:1)

And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came unto the sepulchre at the rising of the sun. (Mark 16:2)

Why should Christians worship on Sunday instead of Saturday as do the Jews and certain other “Christian” denominations? After all, in fourth of the Ten Commandments, God specifically says, “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it” (Exodus 20:8-11). So, are we in violation of God’s commandment by worshiping on Sunday?

First of all, let me say that setting aside one day of the week for rest and worship is right and proper whether that day be Friday, Saturday, or Sunday or any day of the week for that matter.  “One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind” (Romans 14:5).

Much of the confusion comes with the interpretation of the word “Sabbath” in the Bible.  The word in the Hebrew does not mean “seventh” (shebəiʽi), but rather “rest” or “to rest” (shebbot).  Genesis 2:2 tells us that “on the shebəiʽi day God ended his work which he had made; and he shebbot on the shebəiʽi day from all his work which he had made.”  Translating that seventh day to mean Saturday “assumes” that God began His creative acts on Sunday, and we really have no textual basis for that conclusion other than what has been handed down to us by Jewish tradition – that, however, is not to say that this tradition is in error.  Furthermore, as you study the “Feasts of the Lord” given in Exodus and Leviticus, you find that each of those days is considered a shebbot (Sabbath) regardless of what day of the week it falls on.  So, we need to be careful not to become dogmatic over things on which the Bible is unclear.  However, it is clear that we need to “sanctify” – set aside – one day a week for the Lord.

Today, on Resurrection Day, we celebrate our Lord’s victory over death. (See “Risen Indeed,” where I cover the facts of the Resurrection.) The Resurrection is significant for us who believe because we have the promise that because Christ conquered death, we too can be assured of a resurrection to eternal life. “But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen: And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain … But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.” (1 Corinthians 15:13-14, 20). Today we rejoice in Christ’s resurrection and look forward to our own resurrection to be with Him eternally.

In the New Testament, the first Jewish Christians went to the temple or synagogue on the Sabbath (Acts 13:14; 17:2; 18:4) for the sake of the Jews, but they also met on the First Day of the week (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2) because this was “the Lord’s Day” and also for the sake of the Gentiles which were not obligated to follow Jewish custom (Colossians 2:16). The reason for this change is because this is when Christ was raised from the dead (Matthew 28:1, Mark 16:2; Luke 24:1; John 20:1).

The First Day of the week was also the day that the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples gathered in the upper room (Acts 2:1). Scripture does not specify the day of the week, but when you consider that Jesus arose on the first day of the week and count forward 50 days (the Day of Pentecost) you will find that day to be Sunday also. The day that Jesus arose was the “First Omer” (Nisan 16) and the Day of Pentecost was the “50th Omer (Sivan 6). Not only were these days important on the Jewish calendar, but they have even greater significance in the Christian calendar. For this reason, it is proper that Christians should meet on the First Day of the week to celebrate the Risen Lord and the coming of the Holy Spirit.

 So, as you celebrate this Resurrection Lord’s Day, remember why it is so special. He is risen indeed!

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