Easter is a popular holiday for people, but for more and more in our culture today, the meaning of Easter is lost. They would see it as a fun time to celebrate spring and the tradition of giving candy and gifts in a pretty basket. But celebrate the resurrection of Jesus from the dead? Not so much. For many the thought of Jesus rising from the dead is not something they can believe in. How do they explain their belief? They might say that people in ancient times didn’t have our scientific knowledge about the world, and that people back then were more superstitious and believing in magical kinds of things happening than we do today. They might say that Jesus’ followers were heartbroken by his death, that they believed in their hearts that he had risen spiritually, even though he really didn’t come back alive physically. They might add that over the decades, these feelings turned into legendary stories that deified Jesus, alleging that Jesus never claimed to be God. Then those stories were written down to become the four Gospels that include details of Jesus doing miracles and resurrecting from the dead in order for Christians to bolster their belief in him as the Messiah.
The above view sounds reasonable to the average contemporary person, but only because they ignore key historical components of the New Testament’s testimony. The skeptic’s claim is that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John’s recording of Jesus’ resurrection is the result of a re-telling of events that developed long after the events themselves. Like with the children’s “telephone” game that I played in one of my elementary school classes when the teacher whispered something in the first child’s ear--and then by the time it went to the last child, the message was completely different and fabricated from what was originally spoken--so do those skeptical of the gospel message think something similar occurred in the four Gospels. How shall we respond? For one thing, anthropological studies show that the ancients were very accurate in transmitting historical accounts verbally. But, more importantly, the first accounts of the empty tomb and the eyewitnesses are not found in the gospels, but in the letters of Paul.
One of Paul’s letters, in particular, First Corinthians, was written 20 years after Christ. And in 1 Corinthians 15:1-3 we read an account that actually takes place within 5 years after Christ. Paul refers to the gospel message he had preached to them years earlier, which, at the time of his writing First Corinthians, is now tradition. The apostle writes: Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. 3 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, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. 6 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. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.
Paul is not speaking of some legendary story about Jesus put together after decades of retelling that changed the facts. No, he speaks of the historical empty tomb, the resurrection of Jesus, and he lists some of the eyewitnesses to whom Jesus appeared. Not just individuals and small groups, but Jesus appeared even to 500 people at once. And most of them were still alive, so that if the readers of 1 Corinthians wanted to check up on Paul’s version of the facts, they could still find those people alive and inquire of them.
Those who claim that the gospels are mostly made-up stories about Jesus need to back up what they say with evidence. The burden of proof for believing in the resurrection of Jesus is not only upon believers; those who disbelieve also have a burden of proof that must be met if what they say is to be believed. The evidence of the empty tomb and those whose lives were transformed from cowering to courage after they saw Jesus is powerful evidence for believing in the Christian understanding of Easter’s meaning.
Blessings to you as we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection!
In March we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. Did you know that Patrick was a real person? According to History.com, St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated annually on March 17, the anniversary of his death in the fifth century. The Irish have observed this day as a religious holiday for over 1,000 years. On St. Patrick’s Day, which falls during the Christian season of Lent, Irish families would traditionally attend church in the morning and celebrate in the afternoon. Lenten prohibitions against the consumption of meat were waived and people would dance, drink and feast on the traditional meal of Irish bacon and cabbage. Saint Patrick, who lived during the fifth century, is the patron saint of Ireland and its national apostle. Born in Roman Britain, he was kidnapped and brought to Ireland as a slave at the age of 16. He later escaped, but returned to Ireland and was credited with bringing Christianity to its people. In the centuries following Patrick’s death (believed to have been on March 17, 461), the stories surrounding his life became ever more ingrained in the Irish culture.
One of the best-known teachings of St. Patrick is that he explained the Holy Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) using the native Irish clover, the shamrock. The way he explained God as three-in-one is by showing that the shamrock is really just one leaf with three parts. In the same way, the Bible shows God as one entity, yet three persons. The word “Trinity” is not in the Bible, but the concept of the Trinity is taught there. One of the clearest places where we see the Trinity in the Bible is in Matthew 28:19, when Jesus says, Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. In Galatians 1:1 the Father is spoken of as God. In John 20:28 Jesus is spoken of as God. And in Acts 5:3-4 the Holy Spirit is spoken of as God. All three persons of the Godhead are mentioned in 2 Thessalonians 2:13 where we read, But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters loved by the Lord, because God chose you as firstfruits to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. The idea that God is one but three persons comes out at the very beginning of the Bible when Genesis 1:26-27 states: Then God said, "Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground." So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
It is difficult to understand this mystery of how God is one entity, yet three persons. But that is what Scripture teaches, and so Christians accept it and believe it. Some will misunderstand this teaching and insist that Christians believe in more than one God: 1 + 1 + 1 = 3. The Bible does not teach this, and Christians do not believe in three Gods. The proper way of understanding the Trinity is to see it like this: 1 x 1 x 1 = 1. One of the biggest reasons for accepting this Biblical truth about God is that it explains how the crucifixion of Jesus can save us. At the very moment Jesus takes on the sins of the entire world, he cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” As Jesus takes on our sin, his communion with the heavenly Father is broken temporarily. God the Father could not mix with sin. God the Son did, and it results in our forgiveness in a way that only God can forgive sin, wiping it totally out of our life when we are united with him in faith and baptism.
St. Patrick’s Day reminds us that when we were lost in sin, our God acted in every Person of his being to save us. The Father gave the Son, the Son offered himself on the Cross, and the Holy Spirit brings us to Jesus. We were so lost that it took every member of the Godhead to save us.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day!
Be sure to mark your calendar for April 29-30, 2022, for the Michigan Christian Convention. It will help you understand the big picture of the Bible's message. Find more details at www.michiganchristianconvention.org
At the beginning of the year our church hosted a life group that studied the life of Elijah through a book by Chris Hodges titled, “Out of the Cave.” A key point that Hodges brought out regards the importance of taking an honest look at our life priorities, loves, and having balance. He notes that many of us say we love God, and that God comes first in our lives, but the way we spend our time, money, and affections point to other priorities. Jesus shared the story of a very successful person who focused on wealth instead of God, tearing down his barns to build bigger ones to store the overflowing abundance of his possessions. In the end, the man lost what was most important. “God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:20-21). Do you love God more than anyone or anything else, and are you investing in your relationship with Him?
What about your relationships with other people? Investing in relationships is always important—not every relationship, but the ones that are integral to who God has called us to be and where he has placed us. We need to invest ourselves as much as possible in relationships with those who enhance, nourish, encourage, and sustain our lives. Conversely, we need to distance ourselves as much as possible from those who rob us of life. We need relationships in which we can be real with others who share our Christian faith so we can shoulder one another’s burdens and celebrate one another’s joys. Are you investing in relationships with other Christians in the church, or are you dismissive about their importance?
Our love for God and the people of his church will bring us closer to him, enabling us to illuminate God’s goodness, peace, provision, and power to those around us. When we do things that help God’s kingdom to grow around us and overcome the darkness in this world, we reveal that he is real to us, that he is meaningful, and that we love him. Do you love God…really?
Something to think about in this Valentine’s season!
Matthew 6:34 records Jesus’ words when he said, Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. As the New Year gets underway, you might find yourself constantly worrying about what the future holds. Will Covid get worse? Will the economy and inflation ever get better? Will I be able to meet the demands of my job, or will I even have a job? Will I be able to meet with my extended family again? Will our political leaders ever get their act together for the good of the country? There are all kinds of things we might be worrying about as one year ends and another begins. But Jesus says we are to stop carrying the weight of the past and to not worry over the uncertainty of the future. In essence, he tells us to focus on living our best life today.
That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t learn from the past or make goals for the future, rather, it means we should not constantly live with worry that cannot change anything. Marijohn Wilkin learned this the hard way. She grew up in Texas in a home where her parents loved the Lord and raised her well. As a teen she moved to Nashville, where she became one of the biggest names in country music, writing songs for Mel Tillis, Johnny Cash, Patti Page, Charley Pride, Patsy Cline, Glen Campbell, and many others. Despite her fame, however, Marijohn was not doing well by the time she turned 50, for she was consumed with fear about the future, which drove her to alcohol. Alcohol drove her to multiple suicide attempts. Her life was a mess.
When life finally got desperate enough, Marijohn remembered the God she left behind. She found a church and met with the minister, who opened God’s Word and directed her back to a life of faith. That’s when she realized that God didn’t make her to constantly be consumed by anxiety and fear. She went home and then wrote one of the most famous country songs of all time. Though sung by many performers in several versions through the years, the message has remained the same:
One day at a time, sweet Jesus, that’s all I’m askin’ from You
Just give me the strength to do every day what I have to do
Yesterday’s gone, sweet Jesus, and tomorrow may never be mine
Lord help me today, show me the way one day at a time
You cannot do anything about yesterday, and tomorrow is not yet here. The problem with worry is that it keeps you from doing what you CAN do. We can be godly in this immoral culture. We can vote. We can pray. We can be loving and kind to the people around us. We can be the best employees in our company. We can be the most faithful, prayerful church members possible. We can roll up our sleeves and work so that God’s church can be more of what he wants it to be. Worry costs us energy and effort that could otherwise be applied to living. So, let’s choose to trust the Lord today as we live one day at a time.
Happy New Year!