We Preach Christ Crucified!

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There’s a popular belief that Jesus Christ escaped death following His crucifixion. The swoon hypothesis, as it’s termed, asserts that Jesus didn’t really die but fainted and was later revived by the cool, damp air in the tomb. While Christianity confirms the crucifixion and resurrection story, Islam is totally not supportive of Christ’s death. According to the Qur’an, Jesus only appeared to die on the cross and later ascended into heaven. Some secular scholars even propose that Jesus was given a drug while he hanged on the cross making him unconscious. As a Christian, I strongly believe these truth-claims deserve a much closer examination. We need to ask further questions to test the credibility of these assertions: What really happened during the crucifixion period? What was Christ’s medical condition during the crucifixion period? Are the historical records from distant time or not? What does History, Medicine and other fields of discipline relevant to the topic have to say about this subject?

As a Christian, I take my stance based on what God’s word (the Bible) says: Christ was crucified. All four gospels by virtue of eyewitness testimonies, confirm that Christ died on the cross. How can we possibly tell if the authors are telling the truth or not? Let’s consider the dating of these gospels. One of the major factors to consider when examining eyewitness records is the time span between the occurrence of an event and its documentation. It goes a long way to determine the extent to which a piece of evidence is compelling and convincing. With that established, let’s do some simple math over here.

With respect to what most scholars agree, Jesus Christ died between A.D 30 and 33.

According to standard scholarly dating, Mark’s gospel was written in the 70s, Matthew and Luke’s was in the 80s while John’s was written in the 90s.

By observation, Mark’s Gospel is closest to what really happened (written no less than 40 years after the event).

This implies Mark’s account was documented within the lifetime of eyewitnesses to the event. I daresay it’s almost impossible to have falsified the crucifixion story within a period where most of the witnesses were still alive. I’m not alone in this view. Professor Bart D. Ehrman, a Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies and an agnostic scholar said: “one of the most certain facts of history is that Jesus was crucified on orders of the Roman prefect of Judea, Pontius Pilate.” There you have it! A non-biblical evidence (not subject to any form of bias) to also support the crucifixion story. Now, it’s very important to note that we are dealing with a story that was spreading like wildfire in Jerusalem. There’s absolutely no way a fabricated story would have been permitted to circulate within that city. It wouldn’t even make sense to say the listeners at that time were cut to the heart by the apostles’ preaching if their message was indeed a false gospel (refer to Acts 2). The early Christians would have surely protested against the spread of such mythical stories and the emergence of the Church wouldn’t have become a reality. Now compare this to another historical account like that of the Qur’an for example. The Qur’an’s record is about seven centuries after the event took place. We are talking about a seven hundred-year period where legend is very possible to distort the truth. So now that you have a 40-year old biography as against a 700-year one, which of these report will be compelling and convincing enough in making truth-claims?

Let’s also take a critical examination of Jesus’ medical condition before, during and after the crucifixion process. Personally, I feel there’s no way Jesus could have survived this brutality. But truth isn’t based on feelings or instincts because both can be easily mistaken. How then do we assess the truth-claims out there? Let’s turn our attention now to a well-known authority—Medicineto see if these ideas of Jesus surviving the cross fit the facts of reality.

Prior to the crucifixion, Bible records that Jesus prayed His heart out till His sweat turned into blood. ‘How can sweat possibly turn into blood?’, I thought to myself. Apparently, the Bible wasn’t making a fanciful statement. Hematidrosis is a medical condition where a person sweats blood. It’s rare though. The main cause is still uncertain but many scientists believe it’s as a result of extreme stress. If a sound mind lives in a healthy body, I can infer then that Jesus was in an unhealthy condition because a distressed mind was living in His body. Now, this was even before the Roman soldiers spat and hit Him in the face. The psychological stress was just the beginning of what was yet to befall Him (the brutal whipping and crucifixion). Concerning the flogging, Roman soldiers were known for their expertise in lashing criminals. 39 strikes to the back was the standard but depending on the mood of the soldier on duty, it could be reduced or increased. The whips used were made of braided leather thongs with metal balls woven into them. This was designed to cut deeply into the skin, exposing the muscles, bones and spine as the whipping intensified. Most of the time, the victims will die from excessive blood loss before the crucifixion itself. We are yet to consider the 5-7 inch nails that were driven through his wrists and feet yet we can already picture the impossibility of Him surviving this great ordeal.

The crucifixion process was incredibly agonizing to the extent that a new word had to be invented to describe the intensity of its pain—excruciating. The word literally means, ‘out of the cross’. Just think about this for a second: there was the need to describe this extraordinary pain with an entirely new word. I’ve even spared you the scientific details of the trauma Jesus went through on that day. But really, do you possibly think the Messiah who had been severely battered and bruised by trained Roman soldiers could have escaped death?

Come to think of it, it sounds really absurd to think the early church would have concocted a story that the all-powerful son of God suffered mercilessly at the hands of mortal men and died. First of all, the Christians weren’t going to benefit in any way from making such an audacious claim. Secondly, you need to explain how Christ managed to remove the tight linen He was wrapped in, roll the huge stone away and slip past the Roman guards to meet up with the disciples in that weakened state. Even if He succeeded in doing that, His followers would have been greatly discouraged at the site of His bruised body. For people whose lives were in danger just for being a disciple of Christ, it was best Jesus was dead and gone. Going around and proclaiming that Christ had died and risen from the grave wasn’t only going to make the Great Commission a lot more difficult; they were putting their very lives in danger! It wouldn’t have made sense for them to do that and I’m sure many will agree to that. But no. That isn’t the case. On the contrary, the disciples were ready to put their lives on the line by communicating nothing but the truth to the world. I have to admit I envy this level of courage and integrity!

I personally feel the ideas that claim Christ escaped death are in a tug of war with scientific and historical evidence. You need a high dose of faith to actually believe they fit the facts of reality.

But most importantly, let’s ask ourselves these intriguing questions: if Jesus knew what was going to happen to Him, why would He still walk into the hands of His oppressors? Was there something in it for Him by allowing Himself to be subjected to the worst form of humiliation? Was there any ulterior motive? Allow me to say that Christ endured the Cross because of you and I. It’s at the center of the Cross that we receive the forgiveness of sin and the fullness of His love and grace. The Cross was designed to portray the worst form of humiliation but Christ took it and made it the best place for victory celebration. This is why we try not to impress you with polished speeches and the latest philosophy when we come to you. We keep it plain and simple: first Jesus and who He is; then Jesus and what he did—Jesus crucified.

On The Synoptic Gospels: There’s Enough of a Discrepancy

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At times, you think you are a champion when it comes to biblical expositions until a hot question from nowhere sears your skin. Have you ever been caught off guard when you were asked to reconcile a scripture with another scripture(s)? I’ve come to realize that most of us (Christians) don’t like to read wide. Please, it’s not just about prayer, prayer, prayer. There’s also the ‘read wide’ and ‘meditate’ factor. Paul advised Timothy to study for a purpose; to lift himself up to the place where he would be able to handle correctly the Word of Truth. We can’t keep running away from the consequences of our laziness forever. They’ll soon catch up with us one of these days and question our own stance in Christ (that’s if it hasn’t already). For me, I’m beginning to learn a lot ever since I decided to stop lazing about to explore and read wide. For the purpose of this write-up, I want to talk a little bit about the synoptic gospels (Mathew, Mark and Luke). I’ve finally conceded that they aren’t too consistent just like most skeptics and other people say—and I am extremely glad!

Let’s look at the contrast between Matthew 20:20 and Mark 10:35 as an example. According to Matthew’s account, the mother of James and John asks Jesus to permit her sons to receive an enviable spot in the kingdom He was going to establish. However according to Mark, the two sons made the request themselves. Is it possible for both to be right at the same time? Yes, both can be right at the same time in the sense that it’s very likely their mother made the first request before they joined the chorus to push their hidden agenda across. Don’t we all in some way relate to this kind of incident? For instance, you want to go and see a movie so badly with your friends but here’s the problem: Daddy. You know very well that you aren’t in any way going to get his approval to leave the house at that late hour. So you throw in your trump card by asking your big bro (let’s call him Danny for now) to plead on your behalf. Okay, Danny agrees. Both of you approach dad…and both of you are put on a sweet, cool blast. Unfortunately, your two little sisters (Erica and Katie) witnessed everything right from when you devised the plan through to when it fell through. Doorbell rings. Mum’s home. As expected of their inquisitive nature, they both rush towards the door, eager to break the news to her. I want you to analyze how both of them reports to mum carefully.

Erica: Mummy, Mummy, Jake [referring to you] wanted to go to the movies tonight but dad said ‘No!’

Katie: Hmm mum, it was so sad when Jake was refused the chance to go out with his friends to the cinema even after Danny tried to convince papa on his behalf.’

Are we right to dismiss the story because the two sisters weren’t consistent in their speech? That their eyewitness testimony wasn’t word for word? Or would you say the story is fake because Katie mentioned Danny’s attempt to convince dad while Erica didn’t? Certainly not! What you see over there are two authentic testimonies that are coherent even though they were reported from two different angles. Let me come home a bit so you understand me better. I daresay that you don’t jot down the same notes (a verbatim record) as your friends when you sit in the lecture hall to listen to a talk. The obvious move is every person makes an effort to capture the central themes and with respect to their area of interest, decide to either include or omit other details. So you see, it isn’t a big deal after all. Once the centrality of the message is accurately captured, you are rest assured to have in your hands nothing but a collection of authentic historical records.

It is true that the gospels differ slightly in their record of events and this is simply because the writers had different perspectives and areas of interest. Matthew speaks of Jesus as the Messiah and King of the Jews and constantly harks to the Old Testament prophecies to support his claims. You begin to sense his inward desire to reach the hearts and minds of the Jewish audience with his message. Then Mark rather talks about Jesus as the Son of Man, the greatest servant of all times who comes to make the most outlandish statement ever: to be great in God’s kingdom is to SERVE. It’s even funny how Mark decides to omit Jesus’ genealogy. But let’s not be quick to point fingers here. According to the criteria for writing an ancient biography, the writer was free to select or omit certain things about whoever he was writing about but NOT THE CENTRAL THEMES that were to portray character and personality in the most truest possible way. If in any way, the writer tampered with those untouchable points, the people had the right to prompt him about his mistake(s) to make sure such error was corrected before it was passed down to others. It shouldn’t come as a surprise then if Mark focused heavily on Jesus’ ministry, death and resurrection instead of His birth. What’s more important here is although he doesn’t focus on Jesus’ genealogy or His Messianic status, he perfectly captures Jesus’ words and deeds on great servanthood (authenticating Isaiah’s recordings in Isaiah 42:1-7) which was and is still profitable for emulation. But come to think of it, Who outlines the genealogy of a servant anyway? mmm? *just thinking aloud*

Thinking that the disciples may have been biased when recording Jesus biography, you meet this wonderful man of integrity, a great historian, an educated physician, who displays meticulous adherence to technicalities and chronology in recording the various events that took place during Jesus’ time. Have you ever read the opening statements of Luke’s gospel before? You have no idea how that physician was careful to avoid falsification of documents. So you see, Luke isn’t only interested in recording Jesus’ compassionate nature or His healing ministry, he’s bold enough to include geographical details of certain places (e.g Luke 3:1-2) and datable references to specific events (e.g Luke 2:1-2) to inform his readers that his story wasn’t a myth or fiction but was factual; and that real things happened to real people at real places. Concerning Luke’s accuracy as a historian, John McRay (professor of New Testament and Archaeology at Wheaton College) said,

“The general consensus of both liberal and conservative scholars is that Luke is very accurate as a historian…He’s erudite, he’s eloquent, his Greek approaches classical quality, he writes as an educated man, and archaeological discoveries are showing over and over again that Luke is accurate in what he has to say.”

 There are other supposed contradictory writings found in the gospels like the healing of the centurion’s servant (who came to Jesus: the centurion or his elders—Matt 8:5-13 vs Luke 7:2-11), Jesus casting out demons into pigs (did it occur in Gadara or Gerasa?—Matt 8:28-34 vs Mark 5:1-20 and Luke 8:26-39), the order of Christ’s temptation (Matt 4:5-10 vs Luke 4:5-12) and many others which have been dealt with successfully over the years. If we fail to research on these overwhelming issues, what happens is we just take a superficial glance at what is before us and easily mark them as ‘fake’. The piece that we often overlook is the fact that once you take painstaking efforts to plunge deeper into what each writer intends to communicate to us, you begin to marvel at how beautiful the accounts fit together in such magnificence and genuineness. You begin to understand that each writer writes from a unique perspective by laying special emphasis on a particular interest in his recordings. It’s as though the synoptic gospels operate on the same principles as that behind panoramic photography—multiple images of an event are taken and fitted together to give us a single wide comprehensible image of that  event.

Last thing I want to say is inspiration (Biblical inspiration to be precise) doesn’t necessarily mean recording exact words, phrases or statement. The essence of inspiration is to piece together evidence accurately for the preservation of truth in unity (not necessarily uniformity). In the case of the Bible, men are specially influenced by the Holy Spirit (style of writing and natural abilities are still intact) to make an infallible record of the Word of Truth. That’s why some of the writers are poetic, others are straightforward in their language and so on. Once you are able to carefully delve deep into the gospels, the historicity of Jesus and His claims and by extension the authenticity of the Bible, you just open yourself to a new atmosphere where you sink to the knees and say just like Paul, ‘THAT I MAY KNOW HIM…’. I tell you, the evidence for the credibility of the synoptic gospels, the New Testament and the entire Bible is so amazing and mind-blowing! It’s been proved time and again (from history and archaeology) how accurate the biblical references are. If you’re in doubt, I’ll kindly ask that you visit the works of prominent scholars such as Paul Barnett, Gleason Archer, Craig Blomberg, Norman Geisler, Bruce Metzger, Edwin Yamauchi, John McRay…and reach your own verdict. These esteemed people (not an exhaustive list by the way) have published articles that speak volumes on the authenticity of the New Testament. Honestly, I never knew there were such compelling evidence out there. And yes, I said earlier that I was extremely glad for the less consistent nature of the synoptic gospels because if the records had appeared all too consistent, we may have probably  accused them of being involved in a conspiracy. On the contrary, the beauty emanates from the harmonization of their ‘supposed discrepancies’.

May I say with all respect that having this intellectual knowledge is nowhere close to basking in the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. The facts about the Bible is just to inform us that what is written isn’t a toy story but truth itself. It is intended to make you think (if you’re a believer) and to make you believe (if you’re a thinker). The Apostle Paul in spite of his great knowledge in history and languages moved beyond facts and evidence to embrace the experiential knowledge that came from acting on what he believed based on all the credible facts and evidence he had at his disposal. That is my prayer for us all. That even as we continue to search to know more about the truth, we will take it a step further to desire an experiential knowledge of our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ who sustains the whole universe by the power of His Word. God bless you.

What Are We Actually Choosing When We Choose To Be Christians? 1

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I have seen and heard so many misrepresentations of the term ‘Christian’ or ‘Christianity’ to the extent that the one-line statement I could have used to answer this question proves a little futile. Therefore, instead of providing an immediate answer to the question, I humbly ask that you follow me closely as I put some bits and pieces of information together first.

This question interests me a lot. It’s got to do with the fact that it captures the word ‘choose’. Becoming a Christian was, is and will always be a matter of CHOICE and not COERCION. In addition, it isn’t genetic too; you don’t become one by inheriting some genes from your parents who are Christians. You don’t become one by associating yourself with people who have deep reverence for God. It doesn’t work that way. It’s a decision you make on your own after weighing all the options in life; no one else makes (or has to make) that decision for you. People can be of positive influence to you in helping you make that decision but it still boils down to you. It’s a personal choice. Please note that.

The best way to know and understand what we are actually choosing when we choose to be Christians is to first know and understand what it means to be a Christian. I prefer we make a very short journey into the past for the purpose. The reason? Simple. I believe strongly that the usage of the term has lost critical weight in this modern era because of how it’s been emptied of its true meaning. That’s rather unfortunate. A Christian must be a disciple of Christ. I’ve been looking for a better way to describe this term and thank goodness, I found one simple power-packed definition by the Methodist Minister, Rev John Farrar (1804-1884). He said a disciple of Christ is “one who believes His doctrine, rests upon His sacrifice, imbibes His spirit, and imitates His example”.

It’s not just about belonging to a Christian church or just practising some ‘do’s’ and ‘don’ts’ recorded in an ancient manuscript. It’s much deeper than that. If you’re in to follow Christ’s lead, it means you’re ready to listen and accept the fact that the wisdom from His teaching works. Of course, you cannot do away with valuing what He values most. Wisdom. Integrity. Patience. Kindness. Goodness. Honesty. Selflessness. All of these encapsulated in what He holds dear most—Love. Once you’ve established that, you’re ready to move onto the next step: Act. Stepping out to think, talk and act just like how Christ thought, talked and acted. For example, Jesus told His disciples to love their enemies. Love my enemies? You mean those seeking my downfall? Well, let’s look at the statistics. Does that kind of wisdom work at all? What happens when you genuinely love your enemies? Well, there are a lot of benefits: emotional, psychological, spiritual, even physical. Some people develop nasty heartaches not because of high salt or fat intake but because they’ve harbored some bitterness in their hearts for a long time. They could have avoided that unpleasant feeling if they chose to let go and let love lead. You won’t experience that kind of health benefit if you choose to sit and just believe. You have to act by forgiving the other party. That’s imitating His example. You’re out there to do a live presentation of how He lived. To represent. RE-PRESENT. Let that word sink in. ‘RE-PRESENTING’ Christ wherever you find yourself. If He was a person of influence, you have to be a person of influence. If He was down-to-earth, the same goes for you. Having this foreknowledge at hand, you quickly get an idea of what it is you’re choosing/about to choose.

Now, let’s tackle the crux of the matter briefly. Choosing to be a Christian means choosing to reshuffle priorities. You are in to exchange what you feel is more important to you with that which God knows is more important to you. That exchange doesn’t look pleasant at all in the beginning. Take the rich man who approached Jesus as an example. Jesus gave him the opportunity to reprioritize his life by exchanging his love for riches with something far more valuable, but he rejected that precious offer. I’m pretty sure he thought accepting it meant no association with money anymore. In other words, poverty and misery all the days of his life. And that’s how most of us feel sometimes.

There’s that feeling that once we become Christians, we will be quarantined from so many things like sex, beauty, money, power and so forth. That sounds funny considering the fact that God created all these for us to enjoy to the max (within proper limits). So what’s the problem? Our problem is that we allow these things to have us instead of us having them. These things easily possess us when we fail to prioritize rightly. Now, remember that ‘possession’ is a very strong word so we have no business playing around with it.

Knowing the danger it carries, isn’t it rather safe to trust the Creator of the universe when He says that we should look out for Him first in everything we do so that every other thing on the priority list falls in its pleasant place? I believe it is! We get to enjoy all that He has created fully with no limits – signed from above! You find true fulfillment in them too! When we fail to see through heaven’s eye, we begin to get greedy, lustful, corrupt and materialistic. We fail to set the balance between fun and fulfillment and we miss the beauty of everything. When Jesus said ‘REPENT’ (change your mind for the better), it was because He saw misplaced priorities among His audience. You and I also mean a lot to Him that’s why He still speaks to us. Repent! Change your mind for the better. It’s for this reason that when you make the choice, you’ve actually chosen to revamp the entire show of your life.

Having said all this, I proceed to answer the question: What we are actually choosing when we choose to be Christians is choosing to live the Christ-like life.