The Evidence for the Resurrection of Christ (Part 2)

Jesus’ Tomb
Three decades ago, archaeologists found an ossuary in Jerusalem that had what is believed to be a family tomb. This was not big news until recently when James Cameron announced that he was filming a documentary claiming this was the tomb of Jesus Christ. Now, thirty years after the fact, it has been announced that “researchers have made a new discovery that could shake Christianity off its foundation”. I have even watched some of the more liberal ‘Christians’ come up with new theories that make Jesus’ ascension into heaven symbolic. One priest even made the comment that Jesus’ spirit ascended but His body remained on earth.

Why is it that each time the atheists make a claim, Christians put their faith in these wild theories even though there is no credible evidence? When researchers found a tooth of a pig some years back, it was declared to be a missing link for mankind and they used this tooth to create – not one hominid, but an entire family. Science eventually prevailed and it was proven to be a tooth of an extinct pig and not the imaginary ‘Nebraska Man’ created from the imaginations of evolutionists. The evidence of Jesus’ tomb is on par with the pig’s tooth – a speck of evidence and a mountain of imagination. It is such a laughable theory I originally shrugged it off; however, since I have seen so much concern over the topic among Christians, I have decided to add a brief segment into this study.

The arguments for the tomb of Jesus are so easily refuted, that no rational person would give them any credibility. A few paragraphs should sufficiently aid the Christian with all the information needed. The first thing that should be noted is that the archaeologists that discovered the tomb did not see any significance in the names at all as related to Jesus Christ (and still do not). Why? These names were so common during the era of Christ, that it is not surprising at all to see them together. Think about the scriptures. In the four gospels, three Mary’s are directly involved with Jesus. There could have been more, but the fact that in one place you see three people named Mary should be sufficient evidence that the name is quite common. The same is true for the name ‘Jesus’. Jesus was the third most common name in Israel during the era of the tomb. Evidence for this is also found in scripture. In Colossians 4:11 Paul introduces one of his workers as Jesus whom they call Justus.

The Tomb of Jesus theory claims that the odds that Jesus and Mary being in the same tomb together is rare and proves Jesus married Mary Magdalene. This is like saying the odds of a man named Steve being married to a woman named Mary is nearly impossible. Since these two names are common in America, you may find dozens of Steve’s and Mary’s joined together in marriage. Critics of the Bible also claim that Mary’s tomb has the name ‘Magdalene’ over the tomb. This is an attempt at deception. The name on the tomb is ‘Miriamne’ which is a Greek name. Cameron is claiming that this is the Greek translation of ‘Magdalene’.

There are two flaws with this statement, first, it is pure speculation that this Greek name means Magdalene and researchers have not made this connection – only Hollywood has. Second, why would a Jewish woman have a Greek name put on her tomb? The Jews despised the Roman government and the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. was a revolt to break away from Roman rule. The only reason Greek was spoken was because of Roman law. When Rome conquered a nation, they established a Roman governor and required all people to learn a simplified form of Greek. This was a point of contention among the Jews in the Bible and ultimately led to their destruction as a nation.

Amon Kloner, the Jewish archaeologist who oversaw the original excavation of the ossuary in 1980 called Cameron’s claim ‘nonsense’.  He stated that Jesus’ family were Galileans with no ties to Jerusalem. Also, the Archaeology Institute of America stated the following:

Jacobovici points to the James Ossuary as the last missing piece of the puzzle, though he acknowledges the artifact has a controversial background. The inscription on the box, “James Son of Joseph, Brother of Jesus,” has been demonstrated to be at least half fake. Studies of the box show that “Brother of Jesus” was recently added to the inscription by forgers. Moreover, a recent news report states that an FBI expert witness at the trial of Oded Golan over the “James Ossuary” and other dubious antiquities, has testified that Golan had photos of that ossuary taken in the 1970s. See http://www.archaeology.org/online/features/jesus/

So in other words, Director James Cameron and filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici are taking a little bit of fact, mixing it with proven frauds, and creating a documentary that they claim to be proof. Ernst Haeckel would be proud!

Those who promote the Jesus Tomb theory claim that they have evidence through DNA testing. They fail to publicize the fact that the DNA came from a contaminated source where several remains were mixed, making it impossible to tell whose DNA was being tested. So even if they could make a reasonable test, it has little value. The fallacious claim is that since the two samples tested were proven to be unrelated, this proves that the remains were a married couple. The claim of DNA evidence serves only one purpose – to make the theory sound scientific. It is merely a vain attempt to fabricate evidence from the ruins of their theory. Why are atheists so gullible? Perhaps it is desperation. The real bottom line of the documentary is money. The press release in 2007 was to generate publicity for their book and movies. That is why researchers shrugged off the claim, but the media and atheist circles devoured it like wolves.

The best expert witness Cameron could come up with was Shimon Gibson of the Albright Institute of Archaeological Research in Israel. He was also a member of the original team that excavated the ossuary, and his response was reported by the Archaeology Institute of America:

After a lengthy description of the original condition of the tomb, Gibson confessed to being skeptical about the claims that the site was Jesus’ tomb, though he added he was trying to keep an open mind about the possibility.

In other words, he doesn’t see credibility in the theory promoted by Cameron, but he’s willing to be persuaded. Ah, the heart of atheism. I have another theory. Perhaps he is truly skeptical to this imaginary theory, but he isn’t willing to risk losing any financial compensation he was to receive from promoting the documentary. It is ironic that the best expert witness on this claim is someone who is not convinced, yet the masses are accepting the theory like it was the gospel.

The name Matthew was also found in the tomb and it is supposedly evidence that it is Jesus’ tomb. Once again, this is a very common name; however, why weren’t the other disciples buried in the tomb? If you notice, the only names that have been the target of attention are the ones that are common to names found in the Bible. When they figure their odds that they broadcasted as evidence, they only chose the names that would increase their argument and ignored the rest. It was claimed that the odds were 600 to 1 in favor of their theory. That is only using four names and assuming the other six ossuaries to be inconsequential. An honest attempt would have factored in the six limestone boxes that could not be linked to the Bible. These were not included in their statistical analysis.

The strongest evidence against the Tomb of Jesus theory is the location of the tomb. At least the swoon theory had the foresight to put Jesus in a far away place, but the new theory puts Jesus right in the middle of Jerusalem. Think about the implications of this for a few moments. The church is now growing at an alarming rate, the Jewish religious leaders are doing everything in their power to stop this new faith, the apostles are being beaten, threatened, jailed and killed for their claims that Jesus rose from the dead, and ascended to heaven. Doesn’t it seem a little odd to say that Jesus was living openly in Jerusalem – the hotbed of controversy – and no one thought to point down the street and say, “Why is Jesus living down the road with his children?” The irony almost makes me laugh.

Critics claim this discovery to be the deathblow to Christianity. So in truth, they are admitting the very flaw that undermines their own claims. If this find shakes the foundation of Christianity today, how much more true would this have been during the life of the apostles? The entire Christian belief system would have crumbled and the early church with it if Jesus was on the streets of Jerusalem. If these were just a bunch of cult followers, they would have rewritten the Bible to fit the evidence and would have made Jesus into a cult leader instead of a risen Savior. This would include rewriting the Old Testament that foretold that His life would be taken from the land of the living (Isaiah 53:8).

Anyone who puts any faith at all in this theory should also take a moment to pay homage to the Nebraska man’s pig’s tooth.

The stolen body theory.
This is the only counter-argument that is even remotely logical. It also has flaws that can’t be explained. First, who stole the body? It is undeniable that the body of Jesus was no longer in the grave. The disciples, Jews, and Roman soldiers all concurred that the body was missing. As one historian put it, “history’s silence is deafening concerning the body of Jesus. No one has ever claimed to see the body of Jesus after the resurrection.” If the Jews or Romans stole it, they would have produced it. All of the efforts to squelch Christianity and the determination to explain away the resurrection would have ended quickly if someone produced the body. We know that the soldiers did not have it or they would have surely produced it. They were paid for their silence, how much would they have been paid if they produced the body? There would have been no need to think up and rehearse the story of the disciples stealing it if the soldiers had it. We know the Jews didn’t have it, because they would have been the first to put it on display. This only leaves the disciples or the resurrection.

Let’s look at the possibility that the disciples took Jesus’ body. When Jesus was arrested, the disciples scattered like cowards. Peter was the boldest of the twelve and he denied Jesus three times. To show how cowardly he was at this point, he was afraid of a servant girl who did not even have the legal right to testify in that culture. Yet when she confronted Peter, he called curses down upon himself to prove he was not one of Jesus’ followers.

The disciples were too afraid to come forward to take Jesus down and help with the burial. How is it that they would suddenly be bold enough to risk certain death and sneak among the guards, break the seal, move the stone without rousing anyone and take the body. Also consider that the head cloth was neatly folded and laid beside the burial cloth. Anyone sneaking into the tomb would be hastily retreating after getting the body. They would not take the time to remove the burial cloth and then neatly fold it.

How would a stolen body suddenly empower eleven men who were hiding from the Jews to go out and begin preaching His resurrection boldly before the same leaders they feared? What would make eleven men rejoice at being beaten, imprisoned and then put through painful deaths? A stolen corpse? The stolen body theory holds no water.

The final possibility is that Jesus was resurrected. We see that all the evidence against the resurrection falls short, but what evidence lends credibility to the resurrection? Let’s begin by examining the disciples. These men fled in all directions when Jesus was arrested and they did not offer any defense on his behalf during the trial where he was sentenced to death. After the resurrection there was a dramatic change in their lives. These men who were afraid to be present at Jesus’ burial now were going into the very city where the crucifixion occurred, and were boldly proclaiming His resurrection at their own peril.

The crowds were still present and so were the council members that tried Jesus and the soldiers who crucified Him. Why would they suddenly have such a change of heart that they would preach the same Jesus that they had just denied? Not only did they preach the resurrection, but they also condemned those responsible for His death and called them to repent so they could be forgiven.

To create a legend, you don’t go where the eyewitnesses are and exaggerate when the facts are still fresh. Legends are born by carrying the story to a distant land or waiting until the facts have faded from memory. The disciples went to where the fire was still hot. They proclaimed the resurrection to those whom they knew would examine the facts. There are no accounts of anyone refuting the disciples. There was no attempt to silenced them with evidence; they were threatened in an attempt to persuade them to stop. When ordered to never again preach in the name of Jesus, Peter said, “We cannot help but to proclaim the things which we heard and saw.”

There were many eyewitnesses to the resurrected Christ. Look at Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 15:

6 After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep.
7 After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles.
8 Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time.

Paul presented his claim before those that could question him and in fact is inviting them to question. He is saying that most of these witnesses are still alive and available to examine. His reference to James is significant because James was one of the brothers who scoffed at Jesus during his life. After mocking him, the Bible says that even his brothers did not believe him.

People may be willing to die for what they believe to be true, but who would die for what they knew to be a lie? The eleven disciples saw Jesus die. They gained absolutely no financial gain from this faith; indeed we see just the opposite. They lost everything except their joy and the hope of heaven. When Jesus was alive, their hope was their expectation of an earthly kingdom. After the resurrection, they lived for Christ with reckless abandon as they were committed to the hope given to them for the eternal life and the kingdom of God to come. Only John died of old age; however, he was beaten, imprisoned and banished to the isle of Patmos. Patmos was a penal colony where criminals were sent to die either from starvation or from the hands of other criminals. Each of the other disciples were beaten repeatedly and eventually killed. Look at how Jesus’ disciples died and determine if this sounds like men clinging to a lie:

Matthew was slain in Ethiopia.
Mark was dragged through the streets until dead.
Peter and Simeon were crucified.
Andrew was crucified.
James was beheaded.
Philip was crucified.
Bartholomew was flayed alive.
Thomas was pierced with lances.
James, the less, was thrown from the temple and stoned to death.
Jude was shot to death with arrows.
Paul was boiled in hot oil and beheaded.

All of these men could have lived if they had said one statement: “He is dead,” but they refused. The list above accounts of their deaths but they also endured hardship, imprisonment, beatings, and torture. Paul was stoned three times and survived. He was beaten with forty strips from a cat of nine tails on five occasions, and imprisoned repeatedly. Similar stories follow the other apostles. Bartholomew was crucified twice. He was first nailed to the cross and then brought down by the Roman Emperor and set free. Not even a fool would have continued to spread a lie after this encounter, yet Bartholomew recovered and went on spreading the gospel until he was captured again and crucified a second time.

The disciples lived lives that would be considered sheer misery by the world, yet they rejoiced in their sufferings. Not one of them caved in and chose the easy life. Can anyone believe that not one of these men would deny his resurrection unless they absolutely witnessed the resurrected Christ? What did they have to gain by forming this kind of religion? They lost property and often were abandoned by friends and family. Even if you could believe that these men were willing to suffer for a lie, would they be willing to draw their own friends and families into suffering? They may have suffered for Christ on the outside, but they rejoiced openly and lived with joy and peace that their captors did not have and could not understand. Throughout history, many of the very people who have persecuted Christians have become Christians. As they saw the strength, joy, and peace that defied logic, they saw their own lives as meaningless. There are many testimonies of captors who witnessed persecution who said, “I want what that person has.”

If Jesus’ disciples had stolen the body of Jesus in hopes of being religious elitist, they would have given up when the illusions of grandeur proved to be a failure. If it were a lie, they would have quickly grown tired of the beatings and other punishments. Look at James, the brother of Jesus. He rejected Jesus during His life. I am sure that he thought of his older brother as just another sibling and a delusional one at that. Yet after seeing the resurrected Christ James was a changed man as well. After James encountered the risen savior, he no longer referred to himself as a brother of Christ, but a “bondservant of the Lord Jesus Christ.” Not a single critic ever questioned that the tomb was empty. There was no doubt of this fact. The real question is, which testimony do you believe? Those who reject Christ or those who were eye witness testimonies to His resurrection and GLADLY suffered for their proclamation of this truth?

Are the gospels reliable? What about the differences? One of the biggest arguments against the gospels is that they have slight differences. The irony is that if all the gospels were identical, they would have zero credibility. These same critics would say they were written by the same people. In truth, the differences between the gospels are not contradictions but the eyewitness testimonies written from different perspectives each testifying to the same truth. Critics of the gospels argue both sides and don’t see their own contradiction.

Skeptics claim that the later church doctored the manuscripts to support their beliefs and then these same critics point out the differences as proof of error. First, if the later church had doctored the manuscripts, why didn’t they fix the differences? Second, we know the manuscripts were not doctored because we now have documents dating back before the ‘questionable’ era and there are virtually no differences. By all standards, even harsh critics agree that the scriptures have maintained an incredible accuracy over the centuries.

Also consider the testimonial aspect. If three witnesses testified to being eyewitnesses to an event and their stories matched completely with the exception of a few supporting details, would that evidence be valid? By all standards it would. In fact, if there were no differences, it would raise serious doubts to their credibility. The scriptures provide Matthew, Mark and John as eyewitness accounts to the life of Christ and they all agree. Luke comes in as a character witness that makes an airtight case. Luke was not an eyewitness. Luke wanted to do two things. He wanted to give Theophilus a complete explanation of who Jesus was and he wanted to compile all the testimonies that had been handed down 2nd and 3rd hand from eyewitnesses. This is an extremely important testimony. This is how we know if the word and doctrine handed down agrees with the events that actually occurred.

The gospels were not widely circulated at the time. The differences in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and John prove that the each of the apostles wrote from their own eyewitness perspective. The gospel of Luke proves that the gospel was accurately handed down without becoming sensationalized. There is virtually no difference between Luke’s account that was passed by testimony and the apostle’s accounts that were witnessed directly. These three witnesses and the character witness of Luke would hold up under any cross-examination.

The earliest apostle writings can be dated back to eyewitnesses. You can’t make that claim from other religions. Christianity was written down closer to the actual events than other religions. The Gathas of Zoroaster were estimated around 1000 BC but didn’t make it into writings until after the third century AD and the most popular Parsi biography was written in 1278. Buddha lived in the sixth century BC, but the scriptures of Buddha were not written until the first century AD. Muhammad died in 632 AD but his sayings were not written for more than 100 years, 767 AD. Unlike other religions, outside the Bible there are many supporting witnesses that verify the accuracy of the accounts of scripture. Without the Bible, we can prove through historical evidence that:

-Jesus was a Jewish teacher
-Many people credited Jesus with healing and exorcisms
-People believed He was the Messiah
-He was rejected by the Jewish leaders
-He was crucified under Pontius Pilate in the reign of Tiberius
-After his shameful death, His followers believed he was still alive and this faith spread to the multitudes throughout Rome by AD 64
-The Christian faith was held dear by all manner of people; women, men, slave, free, rich, poor.
-Those who converted, worshipped Jesus as God.
-There are also tens of thousands of archaeological discoveries that validate the scriptures and silence criticism.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is a fact of history and applies to every person’s life. Because Jesus died, our debt was paid. Jesus’ last words on the cross were, “It is finished”, the debt has been paid. His death on the cross paid the debt for your sin and His resurrection gives you life. Romans 10 says:

9 that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in
your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.
10 For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the
mouth confession is made unto salvation.
11 For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes on Him will not be put
to shame.”

Salvation depends on the resurrected Christ. When you believe and confess Him as your Savior, you will no longer have to fear the shame of your sins, and no longer have to fear God’s holy judgment for sin. The Bible says that Jesus came into the world and that the world was made through Him. As many as receive Him, to them He gives the right to become the children of God (John 1). It is not automatic, we must acknowledge Him as Lord. The Bible also says that we must count our lives as a loss and receive new life through Him.

Jesus died to take your debt to sin and exchange His righteousness in its place. When we receive Christ, we literally become the righteousness of God so that we are completely justified before Him. It is no longer your ‘falling short’ but the gift of righteousness credited into your life because of your faith and trust in Christ. If you have never received Jesus as your Lord, he offers a new life where the past is buried and you become a new creation.

“My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?” The cry of Jesus on the cross is the love of God. The Bible says that though Jesus existed in the form of God, he humbled himself, took on the form of a bond servant, and became obedient unto death on the cross. The cry of his humanity is a declaration of the love of God to bear our guilt in our place. When Jesus cried, “It is finished,” your debt was paid in full. Hope and salvation is found in Jesus Christ alone and only Jesus proved to be our Savior by His death, burial and resurrection.

Eddie Snipes

The Evidence for the Resurrection of Christ (Part 1)

Psalm 22:
1 My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me? Why are You so far from helping Me, And from the words of My groaning?
2 O My God, I cry in the daytime, but You do not hear; And in the night season, and am not silent.

14 I am poured out like water, And all My bones are out of joint; My heart is like wax; It has melted within Me.
15 My strength is dried up like a potsherd, And My tongue clings to My jaws; You have brought Me to the dust of death.
16 For dogs have surrounded Me; The congregation of the wicked has enclosed Me. They pierced My hands and My feet;
17 I can count all My bones. They look and stare at Me.
18 They divide My garments among them, And for My clothing they cast lots.

24 For He has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; Nor has He hidden His face from Him; But when He cried to Him, He heard.
25 My praise shall be of You in the great assembly; I will pay My vows before those who fear Him.
26 The poor shall eat and be satisfied; Those who seek Him will praise the LORD. Let your heart live forever!

The most descriptive account of the crucifixion of Christ was written over 1,000 years before Jesus was born. This vivid detail of the anguish of Jesus as He bore our sins leaves little doubt that the crucifixion was a part of God’s plan from the beginning. As a part of this Easter season, let us take a closer look at the life, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We will look at the resurrection account in light of both scripture and history. What evidence outside the Bible validates the biblical account? Obviously, in a short study like this, we can only hit the highlights of this subject; therefore, let us take a brief look at history and the biblical account that gives reasonable evidence to believe. The purpose of this study is to gain a deeper understanding of the crucifixion and equip saints for sharing faith among a skeptical world. It is frequently argued that there is no evidence outside the Bible to verify the Bible’s claims. Thank God this is far from true; history, archaeology and science are filled with irrefutable proofs that validate the scriptures. In this study we will look at historical accounts that are widely accepted as credible by both biblical scholars and secular historians. Let us take a brief look at the Life, Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus.

The Life of Jesus
Some time back, I had a discussion with an atheist who stated that he would not believe Jesus existed unless he saw irrefutable proof. He claimed that the authors of the Bible made up the whole story of Jesus. It is ironic that he needs no proof to believe in the conspiracy of the disciples but he needs irrefutable proof that the conspiracy does not exist. How do we know that Jesus really existed? How do we know that Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, or the founding fathers who signed our declaration of Independence existed? How do we know any historical event is true and not a fairy tale made up to shape history? We know they existed because historical documents, artifacts, the testimonies of eye witnesses and other evidences are examined and accepted as credible by those who have examined the evidence. We either believe the generation that lived through the events or we have to believe there is a massive conspiracy to fabricate historical events. As individuals, very few of the men in our past are mentioned in detail; instead most of their names show up in history as having been at an event but little is known about them as individuals. Where is Jesus mentioned in history? Obviously, the Bible will give the detailed description of Jesus because He is the central figure of the Bible; however, Jesus is accounted for in many other historical documents as well.

First look at the testimony of the Jewish Talmud. The Talmud is a historical document that includes commentaries on the Jewish books of the law, civil and religious records. The Talmud is not supportive of Christianity and is very hostile to Jesus. The Talmud praises the trial, conviction and execution of Jesus. The Talmud also refers to Jesus as a bastard son of Mary. The account of Jesus in this historical document was indisputably written by those who were enemies of Jesus. In a court of law, if your enemy testifies on your behalf, willingly or unwillingly, it is a highly credible testimony. The Talmud testifies on behalf of many of the Bible’s claims about Jesus; it verifies the existence of Jesus, states that Jesus was a teacher, verifies the trial of Jesus as instigated by the religious leaders, the conviction and crucifixion of Jesus. Even more importantly, the Talmud verifies that Jesus performed many healings and miracles. It claims that Jesus performed these miracles through the power of sorcery; however, the key evidence is that even though the enemies of Jesus are hostile witnesses, they do not dispute the miracles but verify them and validate the Biblical account. Jesus’ very enemies validated His works and even though their intentions were malicious, they provide a strong testimony for the scriptures.

Josephus, the great Jewish historian wrote about Jesus. Josephus also claimed that Jesus was a teacher that wrought many surprising feats. Josephus states that by miracles, Jesus won over many Jews and Greeks. Josephus testifies that Jesus was condemned under Pilot, crucified, and then He appeared restored after three days. Josephus states that Jesus’ followers were called Christians after Him.

Roman governor Pliny the Younger produced writings, which also testify on behalf of the Bible. He stated that Christians were sent off to be executed for their “stubbornness and unshakable obstinacy that ought not to go unpunished. …they would not recant and they worshipped and honored Christ as if he were a god”.

There can be no reasonable doubt that Jesus did in fact exist and other historical documents hold testimonies that do not contradict the biblical account. We have testimonies that verify Jesus’ miracles, crucifixion, resurrection and the fact that His followers believed He was God. Two of these three witnesses are hostile to the gospel, yet verify the gospel. There is no shortage of proofs for those who will be open enough to see it.

The Crucifixion
We have already seen that Josephus, Roman historians, and the Talmud validates the crucifixion. Lets look at the picture of the crucifixion. In an essay on a popular atheist website, the writer makes the comment, “On the cross Jesus’ last words were, ‘My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?’ That doesn’t sound much like Jesus’ plan went as he expected”. Of course, this was not Jesus’ last words. After this quote, Jesus then said, “It is finished” and finally, “Father into your hands I commit My spirit”. Even so, as we have seen from the opening passage of this study, not only was the crucifixion foretold a thousand years before this torturous method of execution was invented, but even Jesus’ words and thoughts were foretold as well. It is clear by reading Psalm 22 that God’s plan was completed exactly as expected. The historical account of Matthew 27:46 matches the prophecy of Psalm 22. Matthew 27:

46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”

To add to the historical significance of the crucifixion, look at the following passages:

Luke 23:44 Now it was about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour.
45 Then the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was torn in two.

Matthew 27:50 And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit.
51 Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split,

There is also a plethora of historical evidence that validates this event in scripture. Two witnesses to this scripture are Thallus and Phlegon. Although they did not witness the crucifixion, they were both eye witnesses to the events surrounding the crucifixion. Look at their accounts:

Thallus finished his historical account of the world since the Trojan war in 52 A. D. His work was destroyed but quoted by Julius Africanus in AD 221. Julius gives a commentary on Thallus’ AD 33 record of the darkness across the land. “Thallus in the third book of his histories, explains away the darkness as an eclipse of the sun – unreasonably as it seems to me.”

Thallus testified that this event occurred on the exact day of the crucifixion but explained it away as an eclipse of the sun. Why did Julius Africanus state this explanation seems unreasonable? The reason is because the feast of the Passover was ALWAYS celebrated on the new moon during the Jewish month of Nisan. The new moon occurs when the lunar cycle has been completed, and the new cycle begins. At the beginning of the new lunar cycle, the moon is not visible. Each day, more of the moon becomes visible until it reaches a full moon, and then begins to fade each day as it approaches the next new moon. This is an approximate 30 day cycle. On the new moon, the moon has no visibility at all in the sky because it is on the opposite side of the earth, thus making it impossible to have an eclipse. Therefore, to attribute this event as an eclipse is truly an unreasonable assumption. Traditionally people credit this darkening to clouds; however, this is not the case at all. Look at the testimony of a Greek historian named Phlegon.

A Greek author from Caria named Phlegon wrote about the darkness that occurred in the 4th year of the 202nd Olympiad (equivalent to 33 A.D.). “There was the greatest eclipse of the sun. It became as night in the sixth hour of the day (noon) so that the stars even appeared in the heavens. There was a great earthquake in Bithynia and many things were overturned in Nicaea”.

Thallus’ account did not mention an earthquake but Phlegon did, however both reported the same darkness and both believed it to be an eclipse. Thallus was not close enough to feel the earthquake but Phlegon was. The earthquake was regional, but the Bible says that the darkness was over all the land. It is no wonder that they chose an eclipse as the reason since there was no other logical explanation without understanding the scripture’s claim that the sun refused to shine. How this occurred will never be known, but the evidence clearly shows that this event was witnessed throughout the Roman Empire on the date and time stated in the scriptures.

The darkness reported was not consistent with a normal eclipse and was referred to as ‘the greatest eclipse’. Consider how an eclipse occurs. A full eclipse is a rare event and it can only be seen in a specific region. If Atlanta gets a full eclipse, Texas will only get a partial eclipse; therefore, the same applies in this historical event. If two records of the same event occurred thousands of miles apart, an eclipse cannot explain it. Add to this the fact that never is an eclipse so dark that the sky is darkened and all the stars can be clearly seen. Though many have sought natural causes to explain the darkness, they clearly validate the Bible’s account.

Two other pieces of significant evidences are the account of the pierced side and the tomb of the prominent rich councilman, Joseph of Arimathea. After Jesus died on the cross, Joseph went to Pilot and asked for the body so he could bury Him with honor. Pilot sent a soldier to verify that Jesus was already dead. The soldier verified Jesus was dead and pierced His side. The spear clearly went through to the heart and John 19:34 says that blood separated from the water poured out. The only way the blood could separate is if circulation has stopped and the blood begins to clot and separate. It is highly unlikely that John could have known this to be evidence of death and fabricated it. This era had little medical knowledge and those present would not have understood the significance of this statement at the time.

Isaiah 53:9 foretells that Christ would die with the wicked but would be buried in the rich man’s tomb. John’s account is fulfillment of this prophecy. (See Mark 15:43 and Luke 23:50-51) Joseph of Arimathea was a rich, prominent member of the council that condemned Jesus to die. Fabricating the story of Joseph would have been a fatal blow to any ‘conspiracy’. If the disciples were going to make up a story to fulfill this prophecy, as some have claimed, they would not have picked someone out of the council that tried Jesus. If it were a lie, they would be the first to protest and would have the public platform to dispute the claim. There is no reasonable doubt that Jesus was crucified, died and was buried in the councilman’s tomb.

The Resurrection
The resurrection is the most controversial part of the biblical account of Jesus. If Jesus was not bodily resurrected, He was not God, He was not a Savior and Christianity is a lie. Symbolic resurrection is not compatible with the Christian faith. The resurrection is the evidence that Jesus proclaimed to be a sign that He was who He claimed to be. The resurrection is the proof that Jesus conquered death. It is also what gives Jesus the authority to claim that He is the resurrection and that we all will be partakers of the resurrection if we are found in Christ. This alone separates Christianity from mere religion.

The apostle Paul states that if the resurrection is not a fact, then we are false witnesses before God. He sums it up this way, “if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!” 1 Corinthians 15:17. If Jesus could not rise from the dead, He is not our savior and our faith is a lie. However, if Jesus were God in the flesh as He claimed to be, then taking up His body would be a small thing. Lets finish this study by examining the proof of the resurrection.

To clarify the resurrection, let us first look at the arguments against it. There are many alternative views used by critics to claim that the disciples conspired to make Jesus look like more than a man. Out of all the dozens of alternate stories, only two are even remotely worth examining. Most conspiracy stories are so weak that no one who uses reason would consider them valid. Even the two more common views are so weak that only those desperate for another answer would even give them credibility. Most skeptics try to argue Jesus out of history in order to avoid the debate all together. History does not support them, but that doesn’t seem to be a deterrent to those determined to disbelieve. Let us examine the two most popular conspiracy stories about Jesus.

The Swoon Theory. This alternative explanation has been repackaged with many variations. The most popular variant was ‘The Passover Plot’ published in 1965. The basic argument is that Jesus and His disciples conspired to fulfill messianic prophecies by faking Jesus’ death on the cross. They managed to manipulate the Jewish leaders into trying and convicting Jesus, the people into demanding the crucifixion and the Roman government into executing Him. The legal manipulation would have been a miracle in itself. Before being nailed to the cross, Jesus was supposedly given a drug that appeared to make him look dead and trick the soldiers into removing Him from the cross while he was still alive. The cool damp air of the tomb revived Him and He appeared alive to His followers. By just using simple logic, this argument fails miserably. The first obvious flaw that jumps out is the question ‘how did they know Joseph would offer his tomb?’ If you can believe that Joseph and Pilot were a part of this conspiracy, there are plenty of other flaws to fight through. Jesus was beaten so badly that He was too weak to carry His own cross and a bystander was commissioned to carry it for Him. He had nails driven through His wrists and feet. The blood loss is hard to escape. The blood poured out His feet, hands, back from the beating, and finally a mortal wound was inflicted between His ribs when the spear pierced His heart.

If someone has faith enough to get past the impossible odds of survival, there are a few more problems to deal with. How does a man who has had spikes driven through his limbs get up and walk and appear as a victorious leader to the people? Somehow Jesus revived, untangled himself from the burial cloths wrapped around his body, pushed a massive stone away from the entrance of the tomb, passed through a squadron of soldiers guarding the site, and ran away without anyone noticing. Not only did he escape, but he also walked seven miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus with two travelers who did not notice he was wounded.

How is it that most people can’t walk with minor pain in their feet, but Jesus was able to walk with holes in His? He had full use of His hands because he took over the evening meal and broke bread. We could come up with dozens of functions that would cause Him excruciating pain if this was a faked resurrection. If by some miracle Jesus and the disciples pulled this off, He would have looked so weak and anemic that no one would have been amazed. It seems a little hard to believe the disciples were able to get the multitudes fired up by seeing a half-dead Jesus

Eddie Snipes
04/2010

Seeing Christ in the Covenants

(An excerpt from Simple Faith)

As you may know, the Bible is divided into the Old and New Testaments. The Old Testament is divided into 39 books, and the New Testament contains 27 books. Generally speaking, the books of the Bible are divided by author or time period. For example, the Apostle Paul wrote two letters to the Corinthian church. Each of those letters stands alone as a book of the Bible.

While the books are divided by author or time period, there is an undergirding foundation to each of the Testaments. The first covenant is the underpinning of the Old Testament. Just before Jesus was crucified, He proclaimed that he was bringing in a new covenant.

The word ‘covenant’ simply means: an agreement made between two people. It is like a binding contract.

On the surface, these terms may sound like theological jargon, but there is an exciting truth unveiled through these covenants that point directly to how God relates to you and I as individuals. I want to show you how the Old Covenant unveils the love of God for mankind that wasn’t fully realized until the New Covenant was confirmed through Christ.

 

God’s Covenant with Abraham

When the Bible teaches the Christian what it means to have faith, Abraham is the example. Yes, the Old Testament patriarch is the model for New Testament faith. Abraham was before the law. This is significant because the Bible makes it clear that the covenant with Abraham came by faith through the promise, and not by the works of keeping the Old Testament law. We’ll look at this shortly, but let’s first take a look at the covenant of faith given to Abraham.

Genesis chapter fifteen is an amazing passage. The chapter begins by God declaring, “I am your exceedingly great reward.” The New Testament points back to God’s relationship with Abraham as an example of how God relates to us as believers. We think of rewards as things, but the true reward is God. If we have intimacy with God, we have everything. If we lack that relationship with God, we have nothing of lasting significance.

The Bible calls Abraham the friend of God[1]. Jesus declared to his disciples, “I no longer call you servants…I call you friends.[2]” In both the Old and New Testaments, the joy of faith is friendship with God. It’s the goal behind redemption.

The faith of Abraham and the relationship he had with God is the same as God offers to the Christian today. God spoke to Abraham and revealed the promise of his inheritance. Then the Bible says that Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him for righteousness[3]. This is how the Christian believes today. God reveals the promise of our new life through Christ, and by faith we believe God and we are credited with the righteousness of Christ[4].

Hopefully you will begin to see the harmony of the Old Testament and the New Testament. What God did in ancient times was a foreshadowing of what God was about to do through Christ. All the Old Testament points to the coming Christ, and all the New Testament points back to our redemption through Christ.

The same is true for the covenant of Abraham. After Abraham’s justification by faith, God introduced the covenant. If you aren’t familiar with the word ‘justification’, it simply means to be justified – or to be declared as just. Those who were once under the accusation of sin are declared just through Christ, and no longer are accounted as sinners. This is a topic we’ll go into later. For now, be aware that Abraham was justified by faith when he believed God, prior to any covenant.

After being declared righteous, God offered the covenant – or a binding agreement with Abraham. The Lord pointed to the land surrounding Abraham and declared, “I will give you this land for an inheritance, and to your descendants.”

At this time, the land had inhabitants who already possessed it. Knowing this, Abraham asked a natural question – how? God not only reveals the how, but takes it a step further. God explains that the current inhabitants will be deposed once they become morally bankrupt[5], but then God seals the promise with a covenant.

In the ancient times, when two parties entered into a binding agreement, they would take an animal – usually a ram or a cow, slay it, and lay half the animal on the side where one party sat, and half where the other party sat. They would then swear an oath to each other, and both parties would walk between the pieces. The meaning of the ritual was that each person agreed that what was done to this animal would be done to them if they broke their part of the agreement. In other words, the covenant could not be broken without a death penalty. Keep this in your mental cache. It will be significant when we see how God brings in the New Covenant.

Something interesting happens as God prepares to make the covenant for Abraham. He asks Abraham to prepare the sacrifice,[6] but does not allow Abraham to participate in the confirmation. Look now at Genesis 15:9-12, 17-18a

 9 So [God] said to him, “Bring Me a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old female goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.”
 10 Then he brought all these to Him and cut them in two, down the middle, and placed each piece opposite the other; but he did not cut the birds in two.
 11 And when the vultures came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.
 12 Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, horror and great darkness fell upon him.

 17 And it came to pass, when the sun went down and it was dark, that behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a burning torch that passed between those pieces.
18 On the same day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying: “To your descendants I have given this land…

 

At this point, Abraham’s name has not yet been changed, so he is still being called Abram. For the sake of clarity, I will continue to refer to him as Abraham.

Notice that God had Abraham prepare the sacrifice, but did not allow him to walk between the pieces. This is significant. The covenant was with Abraham and his descendants after him. If Abraham had been the confirming party, and either he or his descendants failed to uphold their part of the agreement, the covenant would be broken and judgment would fall. Sin has consequences. Israel (the nation that inherited the promise) sinned and turned their back on God repeatedly. According to the rules of the covenant, the violating party would be slain for breaking the covenant.

To protect Abraham and his descendants, God made the covenant with Himself, but Abraham was the beneficiary. This event was used as an example showing the certainty of God’s promises to us in Hebrews 6:13-18

 13 For when God made a promise to Abraham, because He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself,
 14 saying, “Surely blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply you.”
 15 And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise.
 16 For men indeed swear by the greater, and an oath for confirmation is for them an end of all dispute.
 17 Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath,
 18 that by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before
us.

 

In other words, to give God’s people confidence in the certainty of God’s promise, He swore the oath against His life; not against the life of any fallible man. Once again, we see the Old Testament revealing the truth of our promise. To make the promise sure, God swore the oath by Himself. Therefore, even in judgment when Israel abandoned God, the people had the promise of returning to the land and obtaining the promise by simply repenting and reconciling with the Lord.

When the people failed, the covenant remained, for God was the guarantee of the covenant. The oath was between God and Himself, not God and Abraham. However, through that covenant, God blessed Abraham and his descendants with the benefit of the promise. Abraham entered into the covenant as a receiver and not as one making the guarantee.

The law that came through Moses is not how God’s people obtained the promise. The promise has always been by faith, and even when the people fell short on keeping the law, the promise wasn’t nullified. Look at Galatians 3:17

And this I say, that the law, which was four hundred and thirty years later, cannot annul the covenant that was confirmed before by God in Christ, that it should make the promise of no effect.

 

Who was the covenant made through? God in Christ. God swore the oath to Abraham through Christ, and the covenant wasn’t dependent upon the law. When the people fell short, they could not nullify the promise of the covenant. Man cannot break a covenant made between God and Himself. Both the Father and the Son were present at the confirmation of Abraham’s covenant, and are symbolized through the smoking oven of judgment and the light of the gospel torch.

The law cannot nullify the promise. The success of the law was dependent upon man, so it failed. But the promise cannot be annulled by the failure of man, because it was confirmed by God in Christ. So even in the Old Testament, we see Christ being the covenant maker, though He was not fully revealed until His human birth.

The Bible says that the weakness of the law was man[7], and that the purpose of the law was to restrain man[8], show man his inability to justify himself, and therefore turn to Christ[9], to teach man about Christ[10], and to foreshadow Christ[11]. These are all roles of the law. One thing strangely absent is justification. The role of the law was not to justify man. Justification by faith was presented as God’s plan more than four-hundred years before the law was given.

Since man is the weakness of the law, it also stands true that any promises that are dependent upon man are at risk of failure. Any covenants dependent upon man are destined for judgment. Therefore, God swore a covenant by Himself with Abraham and his descendants as beneficiaries of the promise. God’s New Testament plan is no different.

 

The New Covenant

The New Testament and all of Christianity is founded upon the new covenant. A bit of study reveals the new covenant clearly foretold and foreordained in the rituals and practices of the Old Testament – a testament founded upon God’s first covenant. In fact, covenant and testament are interchangeable in their meaning, but for the sake of clarity I’ll use testament to refer to the division between the Old Testament times and the New Testament times.

The problem with bringing in a new covenant is that something must be done about the old covenant. The Bible says that it is to be done away with in order to unveil the full plan of God. The old covenant foreshadowed what God was going to do through the new covenant, but the new can’t be ushered in until the previous one passes away.

Remember when I said to keep the meaning of the covenant ritual in your mental cache? This is where it becomes significant. God swore by Himself as a guarantee for the covenant with Abraham. In order to break the old covenant, it must be done to Him as was done to the sacrifice. The person breaking a blood oath must be slain. And yes, this was part of God’s plan from the beginning.

God did not arrive at the New Testament era and say, “Oops.” The Lord foretold of how He would break the old covenant. The Bible says that the old covenant was confirmed by God in Christ[12]; therefore, since Christ is the guarantee of the old covenant, He must lay down His life to break it. And this is exactly what Jesus foretells of Himself in the Old Testament. Look at Zechariah 11:10-14

 10 And I took my staff, Beauty, and cut it in two, that I might break the covenant which I had made with all the peoples.
 11 So it was broken on that day. Thus the poor of the flock, who were watching me, knew that it was the word of the LORD.
 12 Then I said to them, “If it is agreeable to you, give me my wages; and if not, refrain.” So they weighed out for my wages thirty pieces of silver.
 13 And the LORD said to me, “Throw it to the potter” — that princely price they set on me. So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them into the house of the LORD for the potter.
 14 Then I cut in two my other staff, Bonds, that I might break the brotherhood between Judah and Israel.

 

So much is said in this passage. Let’s begin at the end. In the Old Testament times, in order to enter God’s covenant with Abraham, one had to be a Jew. Either they had to have been born a Jew, or they had to convert to Judaism. This is why there was so much confusion in the book of Acts in the New Testament. Jesus was a Jew, and so were his disciples. When God poured out His Spirit upon all people, treating the Jews and the Gentiles alike, Jewish believers had a hard time accepting this.

The word ‘Gentile’ simply means anyone who is not a Jew. For thousands of years, God centered His covenant upon Israel. Now that covenant was broken, and the Jewish Christians had a hard time understanding the significance of this.

This is why Zechariah’s prophecy is so important. The Old Covenant was based on the physical descendants of Abraham, but the New Covenant brings everyone into the covenant through a new spiritual birth in Christ. In order to open up the world to the promises of God, the Old Covenant that promised it to the physical bloodline of Abraham had to be broken.

Jesus alluded to this when he said, “Other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd.[13]

The Jewish nation looked upon themselves as the sheep of God. God cared for them, nurtured them, and protected them as the fold of His sheep. Now Jesus is saying that another fold will be brought in, and they will be united as one people along with the Jews. This is the gentiles. This is part of the New Covenant. Look at Matthew 26:27-28

 27 Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you.
 28 “For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.

 

Even Jesus’ disciples didn’t understand this until God revealed his plan to the New Testament church. The cross is where the Old Covenant was broken, and the New Covenant was born. Jesus took the staff of His protection over the flock of Israel, broke it in two, allowed Himself to be nailed to it in the form of a cross, and redeemed all people through the New Covenant.

Think back to the first covenant. Who prepared the sacrifice, and who confirmed the covenant? Man prepared the sacrifice. Abraham prepared it, but God confirmed it by swearing by Himself while making Abraham and his descendants the beneficiaries of the promise. The covenant was between God and God, symbolized in the burning furnace of judgment and the torch of light.

In the same way, man prepared the sacrifice of Jesus, but the covenant was between God and Himself, with us as the beneficiaries of the promise. In the first covenant, only Abraham, the father of the Jews was called upon to prepare the sacrifice. In the New Covenant, God called upon the Romans (gentiles) and the Jews to jointly prepare the sacrifice.

The Jews prepared the sacrifice through the trial that provided false testimony and then condemned Jesus with an illegal court. The gentiles prepared the sacrifice through the Romans who knowingly condemned an innocent man under Governor Pilot, and then executed Jesus on the cross.

Man prepared the sacrifice, but the covenant was between God as the Heavenly Father and Jesus the Son. Isaiah 53 says that it pleased the LORD (the Father) to bruise Him (the Son), and make His soul an offering for our sin.

So we can see that the covenant was between God the judge of sin (burning oven) and the Son who is the light of the world (the flaming torch), with us as the beneficiary to the promise. The promise is our redemption from judgment against sin, and becoming joint heirs, who are now welcomed into the fold of God.

How can we not rejoice in the amazing work of God? And how can we not stand in awe of the foreknowledge of God? He revealed these things from the beginning. The Old Testament saints could not understand these things because Christ had not yet been revealed. We, on the other hand, can see clearly through the lens of the cross and see how God has been working out his plan for thousands of years.


An excerpt from Simple Faith, How every person can experience intimacy with God by Eddie Snipes



[1] James 2:23

[2] John 15:15

[3] Genesis 15:6

[4] 2 Corinthians 5:17-21

[5] Genesis 15:16

[6] Genesis 15:9-10

[7] Romans 8:3

[8] Galatians 3:23

[9] Romans 3:19-20

[10] Galatians 3:24-25

[11] Hebrews 9:19-28

[12] Galatians 3:17

[13] John 10:16

Simple Faith – Part 3

Building upon faith

Let’s take a moment to dispel another misconception of faith. Mark Twain made the following quote famous, “Faith is believing something you know isn’t true.”

Any Christian would refute this statement; however, many live as though this is their mission in life. They try to make themselves believe, and when doubts creep in, they try to overcome doubt by attempting to muster up more faith. It’s purely a human effort – and it’s destined to fail. Best case scenario, human faith is unfruitful. Worse case, people give up on believing. They give up because faith has failed them and they get tired of pretending. Manmade faith is often nothing more than self-deception.

Many years ago, my wife began a relationship with a woman who seemed very religious. As with most Christians, my wife had unanswered questions that nagged at her. She confided some of her struggles with her friend and was summarily rejected. The woman she believed to be her friend sent a scathing letter to her saying, “You have a disease called doubt. As with other diseases, doubt can be spread. I can’t be friends with you or maintain contact with you because I don’t want to catch your disease of doubt and corrupt my faith.”

The absurdity of this lady’s reaction left me stunned. While the Bible tells us to bear up those who are weak in faith, the human-based faith can only survive in a vacuum, and therefore cannot bear up anyone, for it is dependent upon mankind.

The great irony is that many people are shields to their faith rather than being shielded by faith. The Bible says that faith is the shield that protects the Christian from attack; therefore, if our faith needs to be protected rather than being our protection, it is not a true biblical faith.

The woman who feared doubt did not have true faith. Like so many others, her faith only survives as long as she can protect her beliefs from being questioned. She stands as the shield to her faith and through human will, protects the fragile belief system she has placed her hopes upon. Read the testimonies of Christians-turned-atheist. In almost every case, the testimony is the same. “I got tired of pretending.”

Perhaps we aren’t supposed to pretend. A Christian should not be afraid of truth – for all truth ultimately points to God. When you look at the arguments against the Bible they are often a woven tale that avoids anything that affirms the Bible and only accepts the things that are in agreement with the presupposed position, or can be twisted to fit the argument.

Another irony is that manmade faith has the same substance, whether someone claims to be an atheist or a Christian. Atheists stand as guards to their faith in humanistic thinking, weeding out and attacking anything that challenges their fragile belief system. They react with the same volatile emotions when something questions their foundation of sand. There is little difference between the counterfeit faith of religion and the counterfeit faith of atheism. And they both create similar reactions from the possessor when challenged with ideas that rattle their foundation of sand.

Many arguments are fashioned this way, and an entire book could be written with examples. Rather than picking out an example from the plethora of arguments against the Bible, let’s use the Bible itself as an example. My grandfather often used this as a tease, but it serves as a good example in our discussion. In this case, I can only accept the KJV’s wording, and through it, I can prove that women are dangerous drivers. Look at these passages from Acts:

Acts 27:15
 we let her drive
Acts 27:17
 and so were driven.
Acts 27:20
all hope that we should be saved was then taken away.

 

There you have it. The Bible disapproves of women drivers, right? I used the text exactly as written, without alteration, and I am able to prove my point by scripture. In reality, the only thing I have done is exclude information. What’s missing fills in the key to an accurate understanding. By hiding information that doesn’t say what I want to be said, I can give the false impression that I’ve proven something that is actually false.

If we look at Acts 27 in context, we discover that ‘her’ is a ship that the Apostle Paul and Luke were aboard. It was caught in a violent storm, and they struck the sails and allowed the ship to be driven wherever the storm would take them. In despair, the men felt that all hope was lost.

Excluding key pieces of information can make this text to appear to say something it does not say. The same is true for science, history, archaeology, and any other source of information. A critic can present a persuasive argument by excluding what he or she doesn’t want you to know, and presenting what can appear to say what they want you to believe. How do we defend against this? Simply by finding out the whole truth. What is missing is often what dispels doubt. This is why the Bible commands that we study to show ourselves approved.

Sometimes the information we need is not available. Yet if you know what you believe and why you believe it, the missing evidence won’t rattle you. It’s amazing that we can have a mountain of evidence, but if we have one criticism we can’t answer, we’ll doubt the mountain and trust the objection.

Rather than covering our eyes and pretending questions don’t exist, we need to look at the question and explore the objection in light of what we know is true. Only then can we have confidence. The person who runs from the disease of doubt can never have confidence in the truth. Sometimes the questions aren’t answered easily, but honestly seeking for answers will give the Christian confidence. And honestly looking at the mountain of truth will give assurance when the molehill of doubt arises.

In discussions with people who claim to be ex-Christians, I see a pattern. They began by refusing to look at questions honestly and standing as guards to protect their faith. A college environment or another source of influence put them in a position where they couldn’t escape criticism. By sheer human will, they fought doubt until it finally overcame them. In frustration, they declared that their faith was a childish fantasy and they gave up the whole thing.

Now they stand and guard to protect their new faith in humanism against the attacks of Christianity. They use the exact same methods; they have just changed sides. They still will not look at the whole truth with honesty. So now they continue to guard half-truths and protect their new faith, only it’s easier to stand in the atheist camp since there are more allies and it masquerades as intellectualism.

The truth of the matter is that you don’t need to protect God – or your faith. Faith is not forcing yourself to believe something. Faith is being assured of truth so that it becomes your firm foundation. If you can’t stand with confidence, you are lacking a foundation and your faith is manmade.

Let’s now look at what Jesus said about faith. Look at Luke 17:5-6

 5 And the apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.”
 6 So the Lord said, “If you have faith as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.

 

Rarely will you hear this passage looked at in light of what Jesus was communicating to the disciples. Just like the rest of us, the disciples who learned under Jesus struggled with doubt. Daily they witnessed the model of perfection – Jesus Christ. In the light of His life, they recognized something was deficient in their own lives. Throughout His life, Jesus professed absolute trust in the plan of our Heavenly Father. It was a plan that would lead Him to the cross. Yet He never wavered. In the same sense, Jesus constantly challenged the disciples to follow His perfect plan.

Jesus and his disciples knew the religious leaders of the day were seeking to destroy them and several times it looked like they might succeed. Once, they were nearly stoned, and to His disciple’s dismay, Jesus went right back to the city where their lives would again be in peril. Jesus said that He couldn’t die until His time was fulfilled. How could this man so firmly believe in God’s plan that He could walk right into peril without batting an eye? The disciples wanted this confidence, so they said, “Lord, increase our faith.”

Did Jesus give them a list of ‘faith principles’ or ‘laws of faith’? No. He made it clear that they already had all the faith they needed. Jesus often used a mustard seed as an illustration. He often called it the least of all seeds. Jesus wasn’t saying, no seed is smaller than a mustard seed. It was a word picture that every person in that culture could understand. Mustard was a spice that everyone used and it was likely the smallest ingredient people could identify with. One time Jesus held up the tiny seed and declared it to be a symbol of how the Kingdom of Heaven grows from the smallest source.

In regards to faith, Jesus is again holding up a seed that looked so insignificant. “If your faith is this big, it can move mountains.” Jesus used both mountains and trees to illustrate the power of our faith. Both are objects that appear immovable, yet none can stand before faith in the heart of the one doing God’s will. So the answer to faith is, “You don’t need more.”

Jesus again uses this as a teaching opportunity when the disciples experienced failure. In Matthew 7, Jesus gave his disciples power to cast out demons and heal the sick. He sent them out to preach his coming, and they returned in victory, excited that even the demons had no power against His name. However, victory was turned into confusion when their faith was challenged.

After returning from a mountain, Jesus saw a commotion around His disciples. When He approached, the people informed Him that His disciples could not cast out a demon from a man bent on destroying himself. This was after the disciples had experienced great victory and rejoiced that demons were subject to them in Christ’s name. After Jesus cast out the resistant spirit and healed the man, the disciples came to Him to find out why they couldn’t do it. Look at Jesus’ answer in Matthew 17:19-21

 19 Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?”
 20 So Jesus said to them, “Because of your unbelief; for assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.
 21 “However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.”

 

The plain meaning is easy to overlook. The reason they failed was because of unbelief. Yet, Jesus made it clear that they indeed had the power, for all they needed was a mustard seed of faith – and then nothing was impossible. Nothing also means this event in which they failed. So we can see that Jesus empowered them to do this very thing. The disciples succeeded in Matthew 7, but here in Matthew 17 they failed. Unbelief caused the failure, and the solution is found in prayer and fasting.

Prayer and fasting does not increase their faith. Jesus made it clear that they already had enough faith. Instead, it was a call to weaken the flesh and build them up in the Spirit. Fasting brings the flesh under subjection while prayer puts their focus on the Spirit.

Unbelief is of the flesh, but faith is of the Spirit. The disciples were so focused on their unbelief that they could not walk by faith. All of their efforts combined could not muster up faith – and indeed it did not need to. They were already given the gift of faith. The problem was that they were walking in the flesh. The flesh verses the Spirit is a topic for another chapter, but keep in mind that Jesus never increased their faith. He always reminded them that they had what they needed. Unbelief may hinder their faith, but the solution wasn’t to gain more faith, but to deal with what was causing their flesh to dominate their lives and empower unbelief.

Romans 12:3 tells us that God deals every person the measure of faith. Faith isn’t something we build, nor is it something we obtain or increase. Faith is a gift from God. Anytime spiritual matters become man centered or man dependent, we have stepped outside of true faith. The Bible never tells us to build our faith; it tells us to build our lives upon our faith. Look at Jude 1:20-21

 20 But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit,
 21 keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.

 

This passage doesn’t tell us to build faith. The Bible says that we have a most holy faith that we should build ourselves upon. It’s most holy because it comes from the Most Holy God. We keep ourselves in the love of God by keeping his word. This is another avenue we’ll explore later. Let’s also consider Romans 10:17

So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

 

Why does faith come by hearing the word? It goes back to our examination of Hebrews 11. Faith is a sure foundation. The word is our foundation and as we hear the truth of God, we learn how to build our lives upon it. We hear, believe, and build ourselves upon the most holy faith that is revealed in the word. The word is by the Spirit (see John 6:63) just as faith is of the Spirit. You can know the word and still not have faith, but you can’t have faith without the word. The power to believe (or live by faith) has already been given to us by the Holy Spirit. What’s lacking is our understanding of God’s word and how to live in the Spirit where faith is discovered.

Rather than faith being something we force ourselves to believe, faith is believing God. It is God revealing His word to us in a way that creates such certainty that we build our lives upon that unshakeable foundation. Faith is believing God so that we are accounted as righteous. By faith, we move our foundation from human nature, and build it upon the assurance of God and His promises. A false faith says, “I believe,” but then remains on a dead foundation built on the weakness of the flesh. Then all spiritual matters are dependent upon man and have no part in the eternal power of God. When faith depends on mankind, it is a weak foundation and will not stand when we need the rock of a firm assurance.

We have a better foundation. When we believe God’s word and build ourselves upon that most holy faith, the disease of doubt has no power over us and we need not to convince ourselves to believe anything we aren’t sure to be true. We will have the firm assurance of truth and that assurance is the shield and strength of the Christian life.

 

Eddie Snipes
Excerpt from Simple Faith: How every person can experience intimacy with God.

Simple Faith – Part 2

What is Faith?

Faith isn’t a mystical force. As we have seen, faith is believing God and that belief causes us to act in obedience. Faith isn’t a substance as some claim by misunderstanding how the Greek is translated. Let’s take a moment and look at a passage that is often misunderstood, but is very important in understanding faith. Look at Hebrews 11:

 1 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

 

The King James and the New King James Versions use the word ‘substance’ in this passage. I’m going to use a little Greek here, but don’t let it turn you off. Knowing how words are translated can bring life to passages of the Bible. In Hebrews 11, the Greek word is ‘hupostasis’, which means: to put under, substructure, foundation, steadfastness of mind, confidence, firm trust, assurance, something of substance, or a real being.

While all these words can be used in translation, it should be self-evident that the context in which a word is used must be consistent with how we define the meaning of the word itself. When translating, don’t think of these as multiple choices where we just pick one which suits our fancy. Rather we need to understand that the translation is based on a definition. The Greek word is an idea, and the translator must choose an English equivalent which best conveys that idea into words, and do so while being consistent with what was being communicated in the original Greek.

Even if you don’t know Greek, you can get an understanding of what the word means by looking at all its possible English translations. Taken together, we can understand what is meant by substance by looking at the overall definition of hupostasis. Substance in this instance does not mean that faith has physical properties, but that it has ‘real substance’ in what it assures us of.

When someone makes empty promises, we say that their words have no substance. In other words, there is little assurance someone will fulfill their word if their promises were empty in the past. The opposite also is true. If someone is reliable and keeps their promises, we say their word has substance. This also applies to how hupostasis is translated in the above passage.

The Greek word ‘hupostasis’ is used four other times in the New Testament. Three times it means to boast or have strong confidence, and one refers to the real being of the person of Christ. The English word ‘substance’ is used two other times in the New Testament. Both are in Luke and both are Greek words that mean possessions or wealth. These examples are physical items, but is not the word ‘hupostasis’ as used in Hebrews 11:1.

Clearly this passage in Hebrews is referring to faith as being our firm assurance of things hoped for. As was the case in Jacob’s life, by faith, we also can have the confidence to hope for what we cannot see, knowing God will stand true to his word even if circumstances seem to indicate otherwise. Only by a firm assurance in God’s word can we have hope in the midst of trials and testing.

 

Eddie Snipes
Excerpt from Simple Faith: How every person can experience intimacy with God.