Welcome to the Mountjoy Ministries Blog

This blog was authored by Bryan W. Sheldon, author and Bible teacher. His books are listed below. The studies in the blog are offered in the desire that they may be helpful in directing readers to the truths contained in the Bible.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Christianity Considered 3

Christianity Considered 3

Why the Cross?

The mission of Jesus involved dying on a Roman gibbet. Jesus spoke of it on a number of occasions. We have to face the question, Why? Why did He have to die and why by crucifixion?

The cross is the most widely used symbol of Christianity. Crosses are worn on necklaces and lapel pins—they are seen on and outside churches. Yet the cross was an execution stake on which felons were put to death. Why wear such a gruesome token? It is, of course, the symbol of how the founder of Christianity, Jesus Christ, was executed. But, if Jesus was the Son of God, and had such power, why did He offer no resistance to those that arrested Him? And if He was innocent, why didn’t He put up some defence? Let us check the Biblical record to find some answers.

Did Jesus Himself say how He was to die?

Yes He did! In private conversations with His disciples, Jesus tried to prepare them for the time when He would no longer be with them. Indeed, He indicated that He would be unjustly executed. “From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day”. (Matt. 16:21) Some time later He said again, “The Son of Man is about to be betrayed into the hands of men, and they will kill Him, and the third day He will be raised up.” (Matt. 17:22,23) This second time He added the detail of how He would be taken—it would be by betrayal. And again at a later date He warned them once more. “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and to the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death, and deliver Him to the Gentiles to mock and to scourge and to crucify. And the third day He will rise again.” (Matt. 20:18,19) This third time He added that it would not be the Jews that would kill Him, but the Gentiles (Romans) and that His execution would be by crucifixion. These are most remarkable details of an event over which normally you would say the individual has no control. The most startling detail is His prediction that He would rise from the dead.

Did Jesus say why He was to die?

Yes He did! He said, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, (this is a clear reference to the manner of His death—by crucifixion) that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:14,15) Here then, is the purpose of His death, that those who believe in Him, that is, in His life, death and resurrection, might themselves have eternal life. This He repeated, in different ways, on several occasions. For example, speaking of those that follow Him, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish.” (John 10:28) And speaking of Himself in prayer to God the Father, He said, “You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him.” (John 17:2)

Does the New Testament give any account of the death of Jesus?

Yes it does! In fact the description of the death of Jesus is recorded in all four biographies. Moreover, the explanation of why He died is given in all the later books. Peter explains what happened and Paul explains why it happened. But let us look at the gospels first.

All four gospels record the events leading up to the execution. Different details are given prominence by the different authors. However, there is a harmony between them all. The events of the last twenty four hours in the earthly life of Jesus unfolded in this fashion.

The night before He died He celebrated a Jewish feast, the Passover, with His disciples. At that meal He again warned them that He would soon die, adding that it would be to obtain forgiveness of sins for many. Using a cup of red wine as a symbol for His life blood, He said, “Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood ... which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” (Matt. 26:28) This was a confirmation of something He had said some days earlier. “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Matt. 20:28) A ransom is a price paid to buy back someone from some kind of imprisonment. However, Jesus said His death would be a ransom, not just for one, but for many. Leaving the room where they had shared a last meal together, they travelled across the Kidron valley to a quiet garden, called Gethsemane, where He prayed. It was here that Judas brought a large contingent of soldiers to arrest Jesus. He offered no resistance.

From the garden at the foot of the Mount of Olives, He was taken to be questioned by two of the Jewish leaders, Annas and Caiaphas. These, His implacable enemies, were ready to recommend the death sentence. The examinations before Annas and Caiaphas took place some time after midnight. While in their custody Jesus suffered abuse and humiliation.

Early the following morning, to give the trial of Jesus some semblance of legality, the Sanhedrin (the council that ruled the Jews) was convened. Jesus was found guilty of blasphemy (a religious charge) and condemned to die. However, the Jews at that time were a conquered race, and it was the Romans that had the power of life and death over its citizens. So Jesus was taken to Pilate, the personal representative of Caesar, who was the officer who had control of Jerusalem. The Jewish leaders, to obtain confirmation of the death sentence from the Romans, had to change the accusation against Jesus, from a religious one to a political one. They accused Him of plotting against Rome. Even though Pilate was convinced that Jesus of Nazareth was innocent of all charges, he finally submitted to pressure and blackmail, and gave Him to an execution squad to crucify.

By this time Jesus was in a quite appalling condition, having been beaten, abused and flogged over a period six hours. Nevertheless, He was compelled to carry His execution stake. But because He was so weak He collapsed under its weight, and another was conscripted to carry it.

Because it was a political execution, the Romans selected a site for the crucifixion that would be very public. It was near a busy cross-roads, in fact near the road on which Jesus had ridden into Jerusalem to fulfil the prophecy, “Tell the daughter of Zion, behold your King is coming to you”. (Matt.21.5) When the execution party reached the spot, the Romans nailed Him to a cross. At this time Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do”. (Luke 23.34) This was at nine o’clock in the morning (the time of the morning sacrifice in the Temple). He hung on the cross for another six hours, the last three of which was under the cover of an unusual darkness. It was when the light of the sun was shut out that He cried, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matt. 27:46)

At the end of the six agonising hours, during which He had suffered the wrath of man, the wrath of Satan and the wrath of God, He declared, “It is finished” (John 19.30) and gave up His life. This was at 3 o’clock in the afternoon (the time of the evening sacrifice in the Temple).

When the request came to bring His body down from the cross, one of the execution party, to make sure He was dead, thrust a spear into His side. From this open wound came blood and water to mingle with the blood already on the ground beneath the cross.

Such were the main facts of the end of Jesus’ earthly life.
He was betrayed—just as He said.
He suffered at the hands of the Jewish leaders—just as He said.
They condemned Him to death—just as He said.
They handed Him over to the Romans— just as He said.
The Romans mocked Him and flogged Him—just as He said.
He was crucified—just as He said.

To be continued

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Christianity Considered (Part 2)

Who was Jesus (Continued)

What did others think of him?
He was scrutinised by friends and enemies. None found any error, untrue word, or unkind action. Unsolicited testimonies include the following:
From the Father. “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Matt. 3:17)
From Judas. “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” (Matt. 27:4)
From Pilate. “I find no fault in him at all.” (John 18:38) and “I am innocent of the blood of this just Person. You see to it.” (Matt. 27:24)
From the felon co-crucified with him. “This Man has done nothing wrong.” (Luke 23:41)
From the Roman in charge of the crucifixion party. “Certainly this was a righteous Man!” (Luke 23:47)
From an unclean spirit. “I know who You are—the Holy One of God!” (Mark 1:24; Luke 4.34)
Indirectly from Herod. Pilate said, “ … having examined him in your presence, I have found no fault in this Man concerning those things of which you accuse him; no, neither did Herod.” (Luke 23:14,15)
From Peter, the apostle to the Jews. “You were not redeemed with corruptible things, …but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.” (1 Pet. 1:18,19)
From the writer of the letter to the Hebrews speaking of Jesus, Son of God. “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin”. (Heb 4:15)
His miracles supported His claims
The Jewish leadership, many of whom were students of the Scriptures knew what to look for in any individual making the kind of claims Jesus made. They expected attesting miracles. “For Jews request a sign”, wrote Paul. Jesus provided multiple miracles to answer this requirement. The gospel stories contain numerous examples of Jesus healing all kinds of illnesses and, in three instances, raising the dead. He also demonstrated His powers over nature. These miracles, as Archibald Alexander puts it: “...were performed, for the most part, in an open and public manner, in the presence of multitudes of witnesses, under the inspection of learned and malignant enemies, in a great variety of circumstances, and for several years in succession. His enemies never denied these signs.”
The healing of leprosy
In the culture of Jesus’ day, leprosy was considered a judgement of God upon sin. The leper was considered to be personally under the judgement of God. Therefore, the Jewish leadership expected any Messianic claimant to have an ability to heal this disease. Jesus satisfied that expectation. He helped the many lepers that were in Israel at that time, lifting the judgement of God and healing their ravaged bodies. Luke described the beginning of this ministry. “Behold, a man who was full of leprosy saw Jesus; and he fell on his face and implored him, saying, Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean. Then he (Jesus) put out his hand and touched him, saying, I am willing; be cleansed. Immediately the leprosy left him.” (Lk.5.12,14) It is significant that this first recorded case of leprosy treated by Jesus was a person “full of leprosy”. The disease had such a hold that it had almost extinguished life. It had run its course and had the decaying man firmly in its grip. The touch of Jesus regenerated the dying body of the diseased man. On another occasion He healed ten lepers at one time. (Luke 17.12 ff.) This ability to heal lepers was also delegated to His disciples who had much success in this area. (Matt.10.7,8; 11.5) This ministry, along with other instances of healing, had added significance by its strong connection with the forgiveness of sins.
The Forgiveness of Sins
The clearest case where an authenticating miracle was used to support His claim that He could forgive sins is recorded in three places. (Matt. 9.1-8; Mark 2.1-12; and Luke 5.17-26) There a paralytic was healed only after Jesus declared his sins were forgiven. You can guess what His enemies made of that claim. They said, “Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Luke 5:21) In another incident, He forgave the sins of a notorious woman. (Luke 7.48) These acts of forgiving sin are not the acts of a man, not even a good man, but the work of God.
C.S. Lewis, a University academic, said of this claim to forgive sin: “Now unless the speaker is God, this is really so preposterous as to be comic. We can all understand how a man forgives offences against himself. You tread on my toe and I forgive you, you steal my money and I forgive you. But what should we make of a man, himself unrobbed and untrodden on, who announced he forgave you for treading on other men’s toes and stealing other men’s money. This only makes sense if he is the God whose laws are broken and whose love is wounded in every sin.”
That Jesus claimed deity and was God walking the roads of Israel in human form, is further confirmed by the apostle Paul. He wrote: “Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God”, (Phil. 2:5,6), and again, “looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ”. (Titus 2:13), and again, “Christ ... who is over all, the eternally blessed God.” (Rom. 9:5)

To Summarise

If we read the gospels aright, we see that Jesus claimed to be Israel’s Messiah. But more than that He claimed a relationship with God as a co-equal. These claims were supported by actions of mercy and blessing, even to the point of forgiving the sins of individuals. There is no doubt that the writers of the gospels intended to indicate that Jesus of Nazareth was God walking the land of Israel in human form—a real man, and at the same time, really God. Consider this—God wanted to make Himself known to us, the crown of His creation. He did this by coming into the world in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.

Jesus was love personified.
Jesus was good personified
Jesus was wisdom personified
Jesus was God personified.

A last thought: CT Studd said, “If Jesus Christ be God and died for me, no sacrifice can be too great for me to make for Him”.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Christianity Considered (part 2)

Who was Jesus (Continued)

Jesus, the great I AM

Jesus used the phrase ‘I AM’ as a title. The name ‘I AM’ was the personal name God used to identify Himself to Moses and the elders of Israel at the time of the Exodus. Jesus took this great name of God to Himself, and used it on many occasions in various situations. His liberal use of this phrase was designed to indicate that He was the incarnation of the God of Israel. The strongest example is in John, chapter 8, when He said: “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.” In this statement, He not only stated He was Israel’s God, the ‘I AM’, but also supported it with the declaration that He existed before Abraham. (Abraham was the father of the Jewish nation and lived some two millennia before the birth of Jesus of Nazareth). The “most assuredly” at the beginning of the declaration emphasised its importance. Here are some statements of Jesus when the name I AM was incorporated into descriptions of His person and work.

“I am the bread of life”. (6.35); (6.48); (6.51) This statement is set in the context of the INCARNATION “For I have come down from heaven”. (see 6.33,38,41,42,51)

“I am the light of the world.” (8.12); (9.5); 12.46) He put this in the context of the His then current MINISTRY. “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” (John 9.5)

“I am the door of the sheep” (10.7) (10.9) and “I am the good shepherd:”(10.11); (10.14) These are set in the context of the DEATH of Christ. “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep.” (John 10.11,14,15)

“I am the resurrection and the life” (11.25) is set in the context of RESURRECTION. “Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’” (John 11.23 )

“I am the way, the truth, and the life” (14.6) is set in the context of the ASCENSION of Christ. “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you”. (John 14.1,2)

“I am the vine” (15.1); (15.5) is set in the context of a promised PENTECOST. “But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me”. (John 15.26)

This set of statements from the incarnate God encompassed elements from the whole cycle of His earthly life (from heaven to earth to heaven) - the incarnation, ministry, death, resurrection, ascension, return to the Father and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Individually each 'I am' is impressive, but as a group of interlocking truths they are compelling. Each of these statements begins with the name of God that encapsulates His eternal nature.

He claimed authority over the lives of people

Jesus invited a love and a loyalty that took precedence over love and loyalty for parents, children, possessions, and even life itself. Without giving him this kind of devotion people could not be His disciples (Matthew 8:21,22; 10:37; 19:29; Luke 14:26-33).

He expected people to suffer insults, persecution and slander for His sake (Matthew 5:11, Luke 6:22) and to lose their lives for His sake (Matthew 10:39; 16:25).

He expected people to acknowledge him before others and said they would be rewarded for doing so (Matthew 10:32). His Father would honour those who served him (John 12:26).

He claimed to be His disciples' only Master, Teacher and Lord (Mt.23:8-10; John 13:14).

To know Him

To know him was to know God (John 8:19; 14:7); to see him was to see God (John 12:45; 14:9); to believe in him was to believe in God (John 12:44); to receive him was to receive God (Mark 9:37); to hate him was to hate God (John 15:23); and to honour him was to honour God (John 5:23).

To be continued