The Apostles Turning the World Upside Down-Today!

The Apostles Turning the World Upside Down-Today!

Reading through Acts is an incredible apologetics experience. I once heard an ex-atheist interviewed on the Side B Stories podcast say it was reading through Acts that brought him to faith. He said there was no way it could be made up, and of course I agree! One of my goals in writing Uninvented was to encourage Christians to read the Bible with an apologetics mindset. This is especially crucial in our secular age. We need to understand how the Bible presents itself as true history, not as myth, fairy tale, or fiction as critics have insisted for 300 years. When you read it, it reads real. It breathes out verisimilitude on every page. Acts is especially powerful in this regard because Luke, the author (also of the gospel) is such a careful chronicler of events. Even non-Christian scholars have to admit he is an excellent historian. We also have much to learn from Acts about the world-transforming nature of the faith that has once for all been delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3).

This piece was specifically inspired by a sermon I heard at our church earlier this year as the pastor was making his way through Acts. Paul and his companions were in Thessalonica, and as usual causing a stir by preaching the risen Lord Jesus. We read in Acts 17 how some Jewish religious leaders were none too happy and formed a mob to take out the trouble makers.

6 And when they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.”

Exactly! There is another king named Jesus! And Caesar doesn’t like that one bit.

Having read the NIV translation of the Bible since I became a Christian in 1978, I didn’t know this verse said what the ESV correctly translates as, “turned the world upside down.” The NIV says, “These men who have caused trouble all over the world . . . ” and that doesn’t do justice to the Greek. That morning I couldn’t help feeling a thrill at this passage, especially connecting king Jesus to turning the world upside down by turning it right side up! According to Strong’s, the extended meaning reads like this:

anastatóō (literally, “change standing from going up to down“– properly, turn something over (up to down), i.e. to upset (up-set), raising one part up at the expense of another which results in dislocation (confusion); to unsettle, make disorderly (dis-orderly).

These Jewish leaders didn’t realize how right they were! God’s created order distorted at the fall was turned upside down, everything potentially becoming the inversion of what God created to be. The mess that we see all around us and observe in history, not to mention our own lives, was the result. But God from before the world was even created was going thwart the devil’s plans, and it started the very day of the disaster created by man’s rebellion. That fallen world is what the Apostles were turning upside down, and God through his Holy Spirit and His word and His people is still doing it.

Fighting The Fall
I first heard this phrase when I was a young Christian, and the moment I heard it I said to myself, yes, that is what I want my life to be! That desire was actually planted some years before I became a Christian. When I was 16 my Catholic grandmother gave me a book for Christmas called The Robe about the centurion who oversaw the crucifixion of Christ. When they cast lots to see who would get his robe, he got it, and it had a deep emotional and psychological impact on his life, eventually transforming this Roman pagan into a Christian. Having rejected his life as a Roman military professional, he wandered throughout Judea trying to figure out this new life, and wherever he went he made a positive impact on the people he encountered. He helped turn anger and bitterness and jealousy and dysfunction into joy and peace and harmony. When I heard this “fighting the fall” phrase, I thought back to the centurion and the vision it gave me of what I wanted my life to be.

Just as the curse which sin brought affects everything, so the righteousness Christ came to bring seeks to reverse those affects in everything. It starts with the greatest commandment, loving the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and mind, and loving our neighbor as ourselves. That sets the foundation because the gospel the Apostles preached was a ministry of reconciliation. To reconcile means to restore harmony in a relationship, and God in Christ came to restore harmony to our relationships to other people and creation. The fall brought chaos, and salvation brings order. At Babel (Gen. 11) God thwarted man’s hubris, and started the process of reversing the fall in choosing Abram (Gen.12) through which he would bless all the peoples on earth. The blessings started when Christ fulfilled the promise and succeeded where the first Adam failed. On the cross he purchased a people to carry it out, and guaranteed its ultimate fulfillment when he ascended to the right hand of God to reign over all powers in heaven and earth (Eph. 1:18-23).

Christ also began the reversal of Adam’s failure to fulfill what is called the dominion mandate (Genesis 1).

28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

Reconciliation extends beyond relationships, the foundation, but also to creation. Instead of letting weeds grow in the garden, we pick them. Instead of letting dust and dirt settle in the house, we clean it. Instead of living in huts, we build houses. We live in an area of Florida bustling with growth and dynamism. Every time I see a new development spring up out of the dirt I think, the fall is losing! Or when a new road is built to allow traffic to flow more smoothly and safely I think, the fall is losing! We are “taking dominion” by building, cleaning, fixing, fighting entropy (the inevitable nature of things to wear down unless we do something about it). We are created in the image of God to be co-creators with the raw material He has graciously provided.

Goodness, Beauty, and Truth and Christ’s Reign
Those familiar with classical education hear these words often. In a world full of evil, ugliness, and lies, God has given us the mission, as Paul says, to “not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21). Living by site, Christians are easily driven to pessimism. I started pushing back on this natural tendency when I decided to believe what the Bible tells me is true about the nature of reality, that Christ reigns over all of it. Not some of it, not ninety-nine percent of it, but all of it. How in the world could we ever think that man or Satan could act outside of the express will of the king of the universe? We can’t know how this works; we don’t have to do the math, but simply accept and trust God’s revelation of his sovereign reign in Christ over all things. If you really believe this, it will transform your life and how you view everything. Reading through Romans recently, I was struck in this regard by Paul’s words about Abraham (4:17):

He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed—the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.

Think about it. The God who created everything out of nothing, calls things that don’t have existence into being. That means by His power (Zech. 4:6) through His people transforming everything the devil distorts and tries to destroy into goodness, beauty, and truth, wrapped up in a big red bow of love. Of course all of it driven by the one on the cross who paid it all that we might have life that is really life. Many Christians think Christ’s reign won’t be fully realized until he returns, but that is not at all the biblical witness.

Psalm 2 introduces the king God has installed on Zion, His holy mountain. What do kings do? They reign, and this Messianic Psalm points to Christ. And notice the following verses in other Psalms declaring the reign of this Almighty king:

  • God reigns over the nations; God sits on his holy throne. Psalm 47:8
  • The Lord reigns; he is robed in majesty; the Lord is robed; he has put on strength as his belt. Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved. Psalm 93:1
  • Say among the nations, “The Lord reigns! Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved; he will judge the peoples with equity.” Psalm 96:10
  • The Lord reigns, let the earth rejoice; let the many coastlands be glad! Psalm 97:1
  • The Lord reigns; let the peoples tremble! He sits enthroned upon the cherubim; let the earth quake! Psalm 99:1
  • The Lord will reign forever, your God, O Zion, to all generations. Praise the Lord! Psalm 146:10

And in Psalm 110, a Psalm of the reign of the Messiah, we’re told that Christ is at God’s right hand until He makes Christ’s enemies a footstool for his feet. We know the operative word is “until” because in I Corinthians 15:25, Paul echoes these exact words, but adds the word “must.” So Christ “must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.” And we know what these enemies include because the final enemy to be defeated at his return is death; so any evil, ugliness, and lies, and anything associated with sin must be defeated before Christ returns to defeat death. I know, that is very hard to believe when we live by site, but that is the clear declaration of the word of God.

Dominion and the Triumph of Christianity
From a human perspective, what do you think the odds of Christianity taking over the Roman Empire were in the first century? How about when Jesus’ disciples were cowering in fear while their supposed Messiah lay in a tomb after having been brutally killed on a Roman cross? Or when those crazy Galileans (i.e., Jewish hicks and hayseeds) were running around Judea claiming this Jesus of Nazareth had come back from the dead? How about the odds being zero because nobody in their right mind would have even dared think such a thing could happen, especially Christians. But three hundred years later it did. Eventually Christianity defeated the pagan world and gave us the modern world. It is still transforming lives, which transforms families, communities, and eventually nations. That’s the whole point.

British historian Tom Holland wrote a wonderful book called Dominion about how the only explanation for the modern world is Christianity. Holland, not yet a Christian, is an historian of the ancient world. He loved the pagan Greeks and Romans, but over time he realized he had nothing in common with those people. He started asking why, and Dominion was the result. While early Christians could never envision the world becoming Christianized that is exactly what happened, and I would argue precisely the point of the gospel. Why do I say that? Because Jesus did! In the Great Commission, Jesus said he was given all authority “in heaven and on earth” specifically that “all nations” would be discipled. Most Christians believe this means individuals will become Christians by the preaching of the gospel, and whether it has influence on the culture of a nation is beside the point. No, that is the point! And I recently learned that Paul ends Romans confirming exactly this:

25 Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages 26 but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith.

I like the way my NIV translates this as, “so that all nations might believe and obey him.” That is dominion, and there is no way transformation of civilizations happens because of a lie. It only happened and will happen because Jesus rose from the dead, ascended to the right hand of God, and sent his Holy Spirit to extend his reign on earth, advance his kingdom, and build his church.

Having listened to a lot of testimonies over the last several years, I am convinced there is no way psychology alone can explain the transformation of people’s lives. If Christianity is a lie, then that’s all it is, nothing more. But it is in fact the power of the Living God as Paul tells us (I Cor. I:18):

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

That power is the word from which we get our English word dynamite. God’s power blows up the works of the devil and transforms lives and does exactly what the Apostles were accused of doing 2000 years ago—turning the world upside down!

 

Uninvented: Resurrection, The Foundation of the Church in the Book of Acts

Uninvented: Resurrection, The Foundation of the Church in the Book of Acts

We won’t be surprised to learn that the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth was the most important factor in the establishment and growth of the early church. As we’ll see from Acts, the Apostles proclaimed it everywhere they went and it was clearly the foundation of the early church. Anyone who is presented with the Christian faith is confronted with a choice. Either this first century Jewish itinerant preacher came back from the dead after being brutally tortured and killed on a Roman cross, or he didn’t. That alone determines whether Christianity is true or false, and there is no in between. C.S. Lewis put it well:

One must keep on pointing out that Christianity is a statement which, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The one thing it cannot be is moderately important.

Our response to the resurrection should mirror Lewis. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, it is of no importance, and if he did, it is of infinite importance. One thing it cannot possibly be is moderately important. Yet when the Enlightenment influenced biblical criticism became a scholarly pursuit in the 19th century, many of the scholars and their followers wanted to keep Christianity without the resurrection. As reason was embraced over revelation, there developed in due course a dogmatic anti-supernatural bias: If there was something supernatural in the Bible it was assumed it couldn’t have happened and needed to be explained some other way. I say, if it didn’t happen burn the Bible and move on to something else. It’s all a lie. But alas they tried to keep the Bible, and we were introduced to something called “liberal” Christianity which is anything but Christianity. A hundred years ago J. Gresham Machen wrote a book called Christianity & Liberalism arguing that liberal Christianity was another religion altogether, and he was right.

Something Happened to Start the Early Church
One thing all non-orthodox Christian scholars agreed on even with their anti-supernatural bias was that something dramatic had to happen for the emergence of Christianity out of Judaism and its explosive growth. J.P. Moreland says anyone “who denies the resurrection owes us an explanation of this transformation which does justice to the historical facts.” Skeptics don’t like these historical facts because, well, resurrections can’t happen! Let’s confuse them with these facts they have no ability to explain apart from the supernatural. According to Moreland, the first Christians, strict Jews all, immediately gave up these Jewish convictions that defined everything about their religion:

  1. The sacrificial system.
  2. The importance of keeping the law.
  3. Keeping of the Sabbath.
  4. Non-Trinitarian theism.
  5. A human Messiah.

The skeptic says, “Yeah, so what. No big deal, happens every day of the week.” Well, if it does, I’m waiting for some evidence. Instead, all we get is anti-supernatural bias masquerading as above-it-all, supposedly objective assertions with zero basis in historical fact. As Moreland says in a bit of understatement, “The resurrection offers the only rational explanation.”

What makes the resurrection especially difficult for the skeptic to dismiss is the Jewish understanding of resurrection. A good example is when Jesus went to his friend Lazarus’s tomb and was comforting his sister Martha:

21 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”

23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”

24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

The resurrection for Jews was solely an eschatological concept, something that will happen at the end of time when all sin, suffering, and death is dealt with once and for all. One person rising from the dead in the middle of history with a continuation of fallen reality was incompatible with everything they believed about resurrection. If they were to make up the resurrection of Jesus, they would have to invent a concept nobody had ever thought of in the 1,500-year history of the Jewish religion. Knowing this, we are confronted with the concept of Uninvnented: How could these Jews make up something they couldn’t conceive or imagine? I would argue they couldn’t, and the burden of proof is on the skeptics with an anti-supernatural bias to prove they did make it up, but they can’t.

Options to an Actual Resurrection
Because something had to happen for Christianity to emerge out of Judaism, the 19th century scholars and skeptics had to come up with some reason related to the resurrection that the first Christians so boldly proclaimed even at the threat to their own lives. Any of the options that have been invented, pun intended, are far less plausible than Jesus of Nazareth coming back to life on the third day after he was crucified as his followers so proclaimed.

Some, like the Pharisees, claim the disciples stole the body. Those men and women were not in any shape emotionally or psychologically to have done so. Their confusion and distress by events that happened so quickly, compounded by mourning the death of the man they thought their beloved Messiah, makes them unlikely candidates as masterminds of a conspiracy to deceive the Roman government of Judea and the Jewish leaders of Jerusalem. Not only that, but they would also have been deceiving Jesus’ followers, and then have openly lied about it for the rest of their lives, even as they gave their lives for what they knew to be a lie. Eighteenth century Christian philosopher William Paley puts it well:

Would men in such circumstances pretend to have seen what they never saw; assert facts which they had no knowledge of, go about lying to teach virtue; and, though not only convinced of Christ being an imposter, but having seen the success of his imposture in his crucifixion, yet persist in carrying on; and so persist, as to bring upon themselves, for nothing, and with full knowledge of the consequences, enmity and hatred, danger and death?

The question answers itself.

There are only two other equally implausible options. One is he didn’t really die on the cross, known as “the swoon theory,” and the other is that somehow the body disappeared, and his followers thought they experienced a risen Jesus. For the former, if Jesus somehow survived something the Romans were particularly good at, and had extensive experience doing, Jesus wouldn’t have been in good shape. An ER with modern medicine would have had a hard time keeping him alive. He certainly wouldn’t have been the Jesus they boldly proclaimed as risen, a victor over sin and death, one to be worshiped as Thomas said as Lord and God.

The only other option to an actual physical resurrection, stolen body, or swoon theory, is that the tomb was in fact empty, and Jesus’ disciples thought they saw Jesus. These appearances of Jesus, while not real, had the effect as if they were real, and boom—Christianity explodes! German higher critics of the 19th century, and liberal Christians of the early 20th, were fond of arguing for this spiritual Jesus somehow appearing, and the disciples having what they called a “resurrection experience.” The historicity of the event was beside the point, and we all know (wink, wink) people don’t come back from the dead, especially after the Romans got done with them. Jesus’ followers were so distraught, the argument goes, and so longing for the crucified Messiah to come back to them somehow, that their minds conjured up a Jesus who came back from the dead. Then, because of this “spiritual” experience, they went throughout the Roman Empire proclaiming a resurrected Lord. The problem with this explanation, other than its absurdity, is however it was explained, by dreams, visions, or mass hallucinations, it all comes up against the same cold hard truth: for Jews, a resurrection of one man in the middle of history was inconceivable, as was a resurrection that was not bodily and physical.

Eyewitnesses of a Risen Jesus
One thing liberal scholars completely rejected was that Jesus’ followers were eyewitnesses of a Jesus who did miracles and rose from the dead. All of it, in their minds, could be explained “naturally” or psychologically. Yet Jesus followers claimed they were eyewitnesses. The careful historian Luke who also wrote Acts says exactly that (Luke 1):

Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.

This sounds like something we should seriously consider. Or they were lying. That I have a hard time believing.

Let’s see how Luke conveys the foundational importance of the resurrection in Acts. I will simply put the verses below and let you contemplate the cumulative reality power they have.

 

  • Acts 1:3

After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.

  • Acts 1:21-22

21 Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us, 22 beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.”

  • Acts 2:23-24

23 This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. 24 But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.

  • Acts 2:31-33

31 Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay. 32 God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. 33 Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.

  • Acts 3:15

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

  • Acts 4:2

They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people, proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead.

  • Acts 4:10

10 then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.

  • 4:19-20

19 But Peter and John replied, “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! 20 As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

  • Acts 4:33

33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all . . .

  • Acts 5:30-31

30 The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed by hanging him on a cross. 31 God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins.

  • Acts 10:39-41

39 “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, 40 but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. 41 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.

  • Acts 13:30-37

30 But God raised him from the dead, 31 and for many days he was seen by those who had traveled with him from Galilee to Jerusalem. They are now his witnesses to our people.

32 “We tell you the good news: What God promised our ancestors 33 he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus. As it is written in the second Psalm:

“‘You are my son;

today I have become your father.’

34 God raised him from the dead so that he will never be subject to decay. As God has said,

“‘I will give you the holy and sure blessings promised to David.’

35 So it is also stated elsewhere:

“‘You will not let your holy one see decay.’

36 “Now when David had served God’s purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep; he was buried with his ancestors and his body decayed. 37 But the one whom God raised from the dead did not see decay.

  • Acts 17:2-3

As was his custom, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead. “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah,” he said.

  • Acts 17:31

31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”

  • Acts 26:8, 22-23

Why should any of you consider it incredible that God raises the dead?

22 But God has helped me to this very day; so I stand here and testify to small and great alike. I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen— 23 that the Messiah would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would bring the message of light to his own people and to the Gentiles.”

 

Uninvented: Reading A Biblical Text Theologically and Apologetically

Uninvented: Reading A Biblical Text Theologically and Apologetically

Given we live in an utterly secular age it is important for the sustenance of our faith that we learn to read biblical texts through apologetic lenses. The inspiration for my book Uninvented came from a growing conviction I developed as I studied apologetics that the Bible itself was a testimony to its own veracity. The question before us is always the same: could this be made up or invented. Remember that biblical critical scholars for several hundred years affirmed that it could be. In fact, they seemed to think making it up so easy they never saw the need to defend their position. To them their anti-supernatural bias wasn’t a bias at all but the obvious position of enlightened “scientific” scholars. Nope, it was bias plain and simple. Before they even got to the text they assumed miracles can’t happen and the biblical concepts of revelation and inspiration can’t be real. This apologetics orientation applies to the theology of the text as well.

I didn’t focus on how the theology did that, but I’m sure an entire book could be written just about that. I hadn’t even thought about such a thing when I initially had the idea for writing the book. I was going to call it Psychological Apologetics, because how the people portrayed thought and acted reflected how real people think and act. The text has verisimilitude in a way no ancient text could have had given there was no such thing as fiction in the ancient world. The Bible reads like straight ahead history and we have only two choices when we come to the text: Either it is true or it is not. In the history of scholarly biblical criticism I referenced, many scholars have wanted to have it both ways. They take some of what Jesus said and did as having actually happened, and some as made up depending on the whim of the scholar. If we don’t accept that the Bible is the inspired work of one Divine author, then on what basis do we accept any of it as authoritative? To me, such an approach is arbitrary and completely worthless. In the title of the great Frank Sinatra song, it’s either all or nothing at all.

The Problem of the Partial Jesus
In the book I call this a partial Jesus, and he’s a real big problem for those scholars, as well as anyone else who only wants a piece of Jesus. This would include Christian heresies like Islam and Mormonism, but also other religions like Hinduism and Buddhism, not to mention Judaism from whence Christianity sprang. I quote Jewish historian Geza Vermes in the book, and he loves certain parts of Jesus, but ignores those parts, for example, where Jesus declares himself to be the divine Son of God who is the only way to the Father (John 14:6). Which brings me to the apologetics of the theology of the Bible. Jesus is the easiest and most obvious example of this, but we find this theological verisimilitude everywhere. I was again reminded of this when I read this passage in Luke 9:

23 And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. 25 For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? 26 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.

The Greek word translated life, psuché- ψυχή, is where we get our word psychology. It’s often translated soul, and means the essence of who we are as persons, all that makes us specifically unique as us, you and me. Modern Christians tend to interpret these verses as Jesus referring to eternal life, what happens to our souls after death, but I think Jesus is referring to something much larger in scope. How many people throughout history have metaphorically gained the whole world, yet are empty and miserable. Such people often ask—Is that all there is? They thought the entire world, everything their hearts could have desired given to them, would be enough to finally satisfy the longing in their being. It wasn’t, and isn’t. I believe Jesus is speaking primarily to this, to life in this fallen world, with the heavenly life to come gravy on the turkey.

The theological genius of this passage and it’s apologetic power comes from its counter intuitive message. If we really want what the whole world could never give us, it’s in somehow denying ourselves, metaphorically taking up the worst instrument of death and torture ever devised by man, and following Jesus. Who says such things! Certainly not the great moral teacher so many of those scholars and religions have said He is. In the words of the great trilimma made famous by C.S. Lewis, Jesus is either a lunatic, a liar, or Lord. There simply are no other choices. And there are myriad examples of Jesus saying things like this throughout the gospels. We are confronted with a stark, binary choice when we encounter the Jesus we find there: He is either who he said he was, the divine Son of God come from heaven to be the Savior of the world, or he was not. If it is in fact the latter, he has to have been the most diabolically evil person who ever lived. All of his life would then have been a fraud meant to deceive people into believing something that was not true.

Coming back to the passage, when we really grapple with what Jesus is declaring, it gets even crazier. The choice before us is more stark, more binary, and the implications profound beyond words to capture. He’s saying if you want true fulfillment and purpose and hope and joy and excitement and everything you think the world can give you, it’s all to be found in Him! The extra added bonus, the cherry on top if you will, is that we get to live forever in a resurrected body on a redeemed earth where there will be no more suffering, tears, and death. In light of this passage, we can better understand what Jesus is saying in the John 14 passage:

I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

We Evangelicals are entirely too familiar with this passage to be as utterly blown away by it as we should be. Anyone who wants a partial Jesus needs to be confronted with this passage. If it is true, then He is Lord and Savior. If is not, burn the Bible and run away from it as fast as you can. It is simply either/or. Anything else is, as my father often said, BS.

Theological Apologetics in Redemptive History
The apologetics power of passages like this must not be seen in isolation, as if the argument begins and ends with the trilemma, or the binary choice we are all confronted with when encountering Jesus. What makes the theological apologetic so powerful is seeing it as a thread woven together from the first verse of Genesis to the last verse of Revelation. The thread of the theological history of redemption weaves together a glorious tapestry of such stunning beauty it would be absolutely impossible to be the mere product of human imagination and ingenuity.

I often marvel at God’s revelation in creation where we sees God’s invisible qualities made visible in material reality (Rom. 1:20). The more science and knowledge advances, the more it is obvious the insane complexity could only be a product than of an Almighty personal God. The only proper response is doxology and dumbfounded silence in the face of such majesty. The inscripturated word of that same God in our Bibles is even more amazing to me than that! Written over 1500 years by 40 or so authors primarily in two languages into 66 so called books, and yet it has a continuity that is breathtaking. The only plausible explanation is one divine author.

The entirety of the history of redemption is found in the first three chapters of Genesis: creation, fall, redemption, and consummation. In the words of that wonderful Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young song written by Joni Mitchell, it’s all about getting “back to the garden.” And we’re not talking about Woodstock. God created everything good, very good, and he placed the apex of his creation man, in the center of the garden, paradise, which was then promptly ruined by that man. God of course knew this would happen and He had a plan, revealed to us in chapter 3. He’s letting Adam and Eve know they blew it big time, but that their rebellion, and ours, is not the end of the story. Outlining the curse that came as a result, He says to the serpent:

15 And I will put enmity
between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
and you will strike his heel.”

In this one verse is encapsulated all the ugliness in the entire history of the world, and the answer to that ugliness. It is this cosmic drama that plays out so compellingly in our Bibles, and makes it read so real. At the heart of the drama is conflict, one every human being knows exists. There is something profoundly wrong with this world, and us, and we all feel in the depths of our beings there must be an answer. And guess what? We know what it is! Why in the world do we mostly keep it to ourselves? Don’t do that! Be a little annoying for Jesus, and you my just find someone else who’s looking for the answer you’ve found.

 

 

Uninvented: John the Baptist Beheaded—You Don’t Make That Up!

Uninvented: John the Baptist Beheaded—You Don’t Make That Up!

We read of John’s beheading in Matthew 14:1–12 and Mark 6:14–29. Matthew’s account is more concise, while Mark gives us much more detail, as his consistent with Mark. He covers fewer events in Jesus’ life, but gives more details of those he does address. Christians believe what we read in our Bibles are actual historical events that happened in space and time, not mythical or fictional stories. What Christians often don’t know, however, is how extra biblical literature confirms that. John the Baptist is a good example. We learn a lot about his life and ministry from first century Jewish historian, Josephus. One thing neither Matthew nor Mark tell us is the name of Herodias’ daughter who asked for John the Baptist’s head on a platter, and got it! Many Christians know the name, though, Solome. We only know that because of Josephus.

Apart from Josephus, John’s life and death also give us evidence of the historicity of the gospels from an Uninvented perspective. He could never have been invented because of first century Jewish Messianic expectations, something biblical critics (i.e., those in the scholarly profession of biblical criticism) ignored for two hundred years. It wasn’t until the 1970s that the Jewish nature of Jesus’ world became a topic of scholarly study. This is critically important because a Jewish Jesus would in my opinion have been impossible to make up, and the life and death of John is a good example why. No Jew at the time expected the 400-year-long awaited Messiah to be like Jesus, not his personality, or teaching, or miracles, or his life, and most certainly not his death. This is all part of the reason the Jesus we read about in the gospels confused everyone. As I call him in the book, the conundrum that was Jesus.

Right out of the gate, John gets Jesus right and wrong. In Matthew 3, prior to meeting and baptizing Jesus, John preaches these fiery words:

11 “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

In John’s first century Jewish mind the messiah was coming to pronounce judgment on Israel’s enemies    and basically wipe them out. The Jewish people had been under various oppressors’ thumbs for almost 800 years by the time of Christ, first the Assyrians, then the Babylonians, then various other kingdoms, and finally the Romans at the time John and Jesus came on the scene. The Messiah they expected would be a king, a military conqueror in the mold of the great King David. John is proclaiming judgment against Israel’s enemies because that’s what the Lord’s Anointed (Messiah in Hebrew or Christ in Greek) was coming to do. All the kings of Israel were anointed, and thus the Lord’s Messiah, which is why all first century Jews were expecting a king, not a suffering servant a la Isaiah 53. I use the word “all” intentionally. Not a single Jew in the first century connected Isaiah 53 with the coming Messiah.

There was nothing in Jewish literature of the intertestamental period (between OT and NT) that would lead anyone to think a Messiah like Jesus was coming. Jewish historian Geza Vermes says in his book, Jesus the Jew, that “neither the suffering of a Messiah, nor his death and resurrection, appear to have been part of the faith of first century Judaism.” Nineteenth century Jewish Christian Alfred Edersheim in his book, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, concurs: “There is one truth which, we are reluctantly obliged to admit, scarcely any parallel in the teaching of Rabbinism: it was that of a suffering Messiah.” In the 400 years from Malachi to John a connection of the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 to a crucified Messiah never emerged. J. Gresham Machen writes, “[T]here is not the slightest evidence that the pre-Christian Jews interpreted Isaiah 53 of the vicarious sufferings of the Messiah, or had any notion of the Messiah’s vicarious death.”

Which brings us to John’s gospel to see how the Baptist got Jesus wrong and more right than he knew. In the previous passage in Matthew, John was right that Jesus was coming in judgment, just not a judgment he could have ever imagined. How Jesus would defeat sin and death, and begin to conquer all the suffering in this fallen world was inconceivable to first century Jews. Yet this passage in John 1 very much seems to relate to what we read in Isaiah’s message about the suffering servant: 

29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.”

I’ve heard this passage interpreted as related to Isaiah 53 several times over the years, recently in a sermon. The problem with that interpretation is that it’s wrong. If you read commentaries on this verse, most of them will take what I call the facile interpretation, that John is declaring Jesus as a sacrificial lamb a la Isaiah 53:7. The first time this occurred to me was in 2017 hearing the pastor at our church make this connection. Having been immersed in apologetics by this time for eight years I thought to myself, “There is no way John could have known that Jesus as the Messiah would die for our sins.” I had learned about Jewish Messianic expectations, and how unexpected Jesus was. Even after Jesus rose from the dead some of his disciples refused to believe he could be the Messiah. It is only in theological hindsight because of Jesus telling us the entire Old Testament is about him, that we know Jesus was indeed the lamb of Isaiah 53.

John, however, had the same expectations as every other Jew in the first century because when he was in prison he told his disciples to ask Jesus if he is the one to come, or should they expect someone else (Luke 7). The last thing he expected was to be in prison facing death as he proclaimed the coming of the kingdom of heaven and the long-awaited Jewish Messiah. Jesus confused him just as he confused everyone else. So his reference to Jesus as the Lamb of God needs to be explained. My first thought when I was listening to that initial sermon was that maybe John put those words in The Baptist’s mouth, but my conviction that Scripture is the inspired word of God made that a non-starter. There had to be some other explanation. It wasn’t long after that I came upon a talk by D.A. Carson explaining what John possibly thought as he was saying those words.

Carson addresses this in his commentary, The Gospel According to John. Carson spends two and a half pages discussing this, but this passages explains it best:

Whether we assume the category lay readily at hand for the Baptist to use, or that he was one of the first to think it up, the impression gleaned from the Synoptics is that he thought of the Messiah as one who would come in terrible judgment and clean up the sin in Israel. In this light, what John the Baptist meant by ‘who takes away the sin of the world’ may have had more to do judgment than with expiatory sacrifice. p. 150.

He adds John probably had in mind the apocalyptic lamb, the warrior lamb, found in some Jewish texts, and which John used in Revelation (the word lamb is used by John 31 times).

Since the Baptist couldn’t have had the Isaiah 53 lamb in mind, he likely meant the warrior lamb, and John writing in risen-Jesus hindsight knew, and knew his readers would know, who Jesus as the Lamb of God was. John also later in the gospel (chapter 11) reports Caiaphas saying to the Sanhedrin, “that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.” In both cases the men spoke better than they knew.

 

Uninvented: Who Is the Greatest and the Criterion of Embarrassment

Uninvented: Who Is the Greatest and the Criterion of Embarrassment

One of the most powerful arguments for the veracity of the historical accounts of the Bible is the criterion of embarrassment. The idea is simple: Nobody tells stories to make themselves look bad. Nor do they tell stories making themselves look bad to try to prove what they are conveying is historically true. Human nature doesn’t work that way. We tend to the opposite, wanting to make ourselves look good, excuse our foibles and faults, and we’ll even be tempted to lie to cover up things we don’t want others to know. Yet if you read the Bible the people portrayed almost never come up looking good with a few exceptions. I heard Tucker Carlson in a recent interview make this point. He’s been red pilled with the rest of us since Trump came on the scene, and he’s had an awakening of his Episcopalian faith. He decided not too long ago to read the Bible from cover to cover, something he’d never done, and was shocked at how horrible most of the characters were. That’s because they are real, flawed people like we all are, and the authors are writing about real people doing real things in real time. It doesn’t read at all like the fairy tales and myth ignorant critics think it is.

The examples in Scripture are plentiful, but Jesus’ disciples are great fodder for this argument. They come off looking clueless most of the time, and are consistently confused by most things Jesus says and does. And keep in mind the gospels were the foundational books for the growth of a new religion built on a very old one. You would think those who wrote and promoted them would want to make themselves look good, or at least less embarrassing, but that’s not the case. Recently reading through Mark I was reminded of how this argument gives the biblical stories verisimilitude, which is the quality of appearing to be true or real. That is the argument of Uninvented in a nutshell. It’s an important reason when people read the Bible for the first time they’re surprised, like Tucker was, because it’s nothing like they expected. I wrote a post a year ago about the conversion of Shia LaBeouf, and if you listen to his interview with Bishop Barron he says how blown away he was when he read the gospels for the first time. Jesus was nothing like he expected.

When I first started thinking about and then writing the book I was going to call it Psychological Apologetics, but nobody would have known what that meant. Not a good thing for the title of a book. The idea in my brain was that if you look at the characters and how they are portrayed in the Bible from a psychological perspective, it reads absolutely real. People act and react exactly the way real people act and react. And keep in mind a critical point: fiction as we know it today did not exist in the ancient world. That is a modern phenomenon of the last few hundred years. Yes, ancient people made up and told stories, but they had no illusions they were creating verisimilitude. Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey, the foundational works of ancient Greek literature, are perfect examples to contrast with the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. There likely was a Trojan war something like Homer presents it, but nobody thought he was writing “history.” The reason this is a good comparison, and not the histories of ancient historians like Herodotus, Thucydides, or Livy is because of the super-natural elements in both. Skeptics think they are comparable—they are not. A cursory read of both makes that very clear.

Read the Bible and it’s apparent the writers of the biblical books were attempting to write history, while Homer was taking poetic license with the history involving the Greek gods. Nobody really believed Achilles, for example, was the son of the mortal Peleus, and the sea nymph, Thetis. While the ancients certainly believed in the reality of their gods, none of them saw the gods like the Hebrews saw Yahweh, the one true God. The religious texts of ancient pagans do not read anything at all like the religious texts of the Hebrews, what Jesus and the Apostles called the graphé- γραφή, the writings, our Old Testament. And just as there was no fiction in the ancient world, there wasn’t what we call today historical fiction, or writing history with made-up stuff to make it appear real. Knowing all of this makes the criterion of embarrassment all the more powerful to have in our apologetics tool kit.

I’ll briefly discuss the mark passage as a great example. It comes from chapter 9:

33 They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” 34 But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.

35 Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

36 He took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”

I love  how the Apostles, the Twelve, are so cowered by Jesus because they know how stupid it was to argue which of them is the greatest. This happens to Jesus’ closest followers a lot. They either do something they’re embarrassed by like this, or are afraid to ask Jesus questions when they don’t understand what he says or does. Another example along the same lines comes when James and John, the sons of Zebedee (and their mother) ask Jesus if one can sit at his right and the other at his left in his kingdom.  

In both cases, instead of rebuking them directly for being self-centered idiots, as if Jesus’ ministry is about them, he teaches them something so counterintuitive nobody in the Roman or Jewish world would make it up. All influence in the ancient world was a form of the will to power, might makes right. The stronger as well as the more affluent upper classes had all the benefits in that society. A large portion of the population were slaves, and the rest common laborers, few of whom had politics rights of any kind. Women and children weren’t all that far above slaves, and it must have been confusing when Jesus used a child as an example of what it means to be first in his very upside down kingdom. The absurdity of that in the culture of the time is difficult to convey because we’re too familiar with Christianity living in light of 2000 years of it. As we say in the vernacular of our time, you just don’t make that stuff up! Jesus says something just as absurd in the incident with James and John. The other ten were furious when they heard what the brothers had done, which is funny, then Jesus teaches them more craziness:

42 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.

What? Again, given our familiarity with the stories it’s difficult to read this with the shock Jesus’ disciples must have felt when they heard it. Jesus’ teaching here is so counterintuitive, so inside out and upside down that no Jew or Pagan of the time could have made it up. It had to come from Jesus of Nazareth, Son of God, Jewish Messiah, Risen Lord.  

 

 

 

Jim Caviezel to Jordan Peterson: “This is the Best Interview I’ve Ever Had in my Life . . . .”

Jim Caviezel to Jordan Peterson: “This is the Best Interview I’ve Ever Had in my Life . . . .”

I imagine as a famous actor Jim Caviezel has had a few interviews in his life, so when I saw that headline I simply couldn’t pass it up. By now you’re probably familiar with the blockbuster hit movie, Sound of Freedom, which has become a hit despite “Hollywood” doing everything it could to ignore it. You have to wonder why a movie about exposing the sexual trafficking of children is something to be ignored. The topic is horrific to even contemplate, but I’ve heard it’s a great film and treats the topic in a respectful and even holy way. We’ve tried to see it, but it’s been sold out in our area. We will persist!

This interview includes the man about which the movie was made, Tim Ballard, a modern hero if there ever was one. He runs an organization called Operation Underground Railroad, a reference of course to the operation of the same name before the Civil War which rescued runaway slaves. I very much encourage you, even implore you to watch/listen to the entire interview. It’s brutal, and you have to be prepared to hear of evil that is simply incomprehensible. I briefly want to share why I would encourage such a thing: evil.

Over the four plus decades I’ve been a Christian I’ve come across people, both in person and in writings and recordings, who either doubt or abandon their faith because of the existence of evil. The understandable struggle of how evil could exist if there is an all loving all powerful God is not something we can wrap our minds around. That’s one reason the struggle as been referred to as “the problem of evil,” the “problem” supposedly being one for Christians to answer. Indeed, Christianity does need to answer such a conundrum, but every worldview that human beings embrace has the same “problem.” The issue for Christianity, though, is that since the so-called Enlightenment and Voltaire, this has been pushed in the secular West as a particular problem for Christianity. The sense you get is that if Christianity can’t answer adequately, people can reject it and no longer have a “problem.” That is simply untrue.

For all of recorded history human beings have been trying to answer the question, why. Every child as he grows up and begins to experience life says, “That’s not fair!” Whence this notion of fair? Or the notion that something is “wrong”? Why do we feel a sense of injustice when we are wronged? Why when we see or experience wrong we long for justice? For wrongs to be righted, for wrongs to be punished? C.S. Lewis titled the first chapter of Mere Christianity, “Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe.” He argues that all people in all places and times agree standards exist even if they disagree on the exact nature of the standards. He wrote the book, a series of talks, in the midst of World War II, and says if there no is Right and Wrong, then blaming the Nazi’s would be like blaming someone for the color of their hair. If Right, as he says is a “real thing,” only then and only then can we say what the Nazi’s did is Wrong. And remember, Lewis was an atheist into his 30s, partly because his beloved mother died when he was 9, and he experienced the horrors of World War I.

This brings me to Jordan Peterson and the interview with Caviezel and Ballard. As I said of Peterson in a recent post, he “has studied evil maybe more than any living human being,” yet for him instead of rejecting God, he clearly believes Christianity is the only thing that can make any sense of it at all. I don’t know the exact nature of his faith (God does), but he is one of the most effective Christian apologists of the 21st century, and studying evil is one reason for that. In fact I recently heard his daughter, Mikhaila, say he is currently writing a book disproving atheism. That should be interesting! When you listen to the podcast, Tim Ballard says his faith helped him deal with the horrific reality of human evil in child sex trafficking (he’s Mormon). And when Caviezel dove into Ballard’s horrifying world to prepare for the part, his Catholic faith helped him deal with it.

When we think about this “problem,” we need to understand that every religion and philosophy in all of recorded history is an attempt to deal with it, explain it, make sense of it, to answer the why. We don’t choose to be born, and before we know it we find ourselves conscious and involved in some massive cosmic drama of good and evil. The why haunts us because in so many ways it doesn’t seem to make sense, especially when we do not see wrongs and injustices righted. The only religion or philosophy that claims to know the answer is Judaism and its fulfillment Christianity. The former gives us the answer of why it exists (Genesis 1-3), and Christianity the solution. It is worth considering how this solution involved the greatest injustice ever perpetrated. An ostensibly perfect, sinless man who never did anything wrong and claimed to be God, allowed himself to be punished by a grisly and shameful death as a common criminal to pay the penalty of the wrongs others did.

Each of us had to decide for ourselves whether we believe that is true or not, but what we can confidently say is, there has never been any other answer to the “problem” like it. Especially because his followers claimed his rose from the dead in fulfillment of the Jewish religion in spite of such a thing being inconceivable to them, then being willing to give their lives for that claim. I personally find Christ’s life, death, and resurrection the only plausible explanation and answer that exists. In our day because we live in the post-Enlightenment secular West some people think if they are not “religious” they can escape having to provide an answer, but the “problem” still needs to be addressed, or just eat, drink, and be merry . . . . But as challenging as Christianity can be for some people to believe, every other ostensible explanation and “answer” has much bigger problems.

I’ll just address one. Most other religions and philosophies make no claim to know where evil comes from or why it exists—it just is. For those embracing some kind of demonic or evil force, that just is too, often like Manicheism believing good and evil are two equal forces battling it out in the universe. Augustine, the great 5th century Bishop of Hippo and one of the greatest thinkers of all time, once embraced it, but found it wanting and eventually embraced Christianity. Either option ignores or pushes aside the burning question inside the breast of every human being: why? Their answer? Who knows, just deal with it. In my mind the least plausible non-explanation is what Lewis implies in his critique, atheistic materialism. If all we are is lucky dirt, mere atoms in motion, products of random chance that come from nothing for no reason at all, right and wrong, good and evil are in the end meaningless concepts. Morals are mere preferences, like what flavor of ice cream I prefer. I prefer genocide, you prefer orphanages and hospitals. You say tomahto, I say tomaato. Que sera sera . . . I would suggest to Doris Day the future is indeed ours to see because a man 2000 years ago came back from the dead to tell us.