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, June 30, 2009

Did Jesus really rise from the dead?

Dear Friends,

My apologies for not posting recently but I have been away from my computer. Let me make it up to you by beginning a study on the resurrection of Christ.

Did Jesus really rise from the dead?

Most people, when asked, “Is there life after death?” reply, “I don’t know, no-one has come back to tell us”. The Bible tells us that is not true. That there is one who returned from the dead, never to die again. That one is Jesus of Nazareth, the founder of Christianity. And if He did rise from the dead, then it is a fact that demands the attention of everyone. And if He didn’t rise, then Christians have been deceived, and the foundation of the Christian faith crumbles. Paul wrote: “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men”. (1 Cor.15:19) The resurrection is at the heart of the Christian message. Everything hangs on it. Jesus was just another good man, unjustly killed, if death was the end of Him. But if he rose from the dead ... ....

The Resurrection: Fact or Fiction?

It has sometimes been said that the resurrection is the best attested fact in history. Sir Edward Clarke KC, in a letter to the Rev. E.L. Macassey, offered the following perspective: “As a lawyer I have made a prolonged study of the evidences for the resurrection of Jesus Christ. To me the evidence is conclusive...I accept unreservedly as the testimony of truthful people to facts they were able to substantiate.”

B. F. Westcott, one of the ablest of New Testament textual scholars, said: “Taking all the evidence together, it is not too much to say that there is no single historical incident better or more variously supported than the resurrection”. As mentioned in an earlier study, Frank Morison, originally planned to write a monograph on the trial of Jesus. Confronted by the fact of the resurrection, he was convinced by the evidence, became a Christian and wrote instead ‘Who Moved the Stone?’

Well, what are the facts?

The Bible states that Jesus rose from the dead and showed Himself alive over a period of nearly seven weeks. (Acts 1.3) There are ten recorded resurrection appearances.

(i) To Mary of Magdala. (John 20.14 ff)
(ii) To others of the women. (Matt.28.9,10)
(iii) To Peter on his own. (Lk. 24.34; 1 Cor.15.5)
(iv) To the two on the road to Emmaus. (Lk. 24.13 ff)
(v) To a group of disciples when Thomas was absent. (Lk. 24.36 ff)
(vi) To the disciples when Thomas was present. (John 20.26 ff)
(vii) To the seven disciples by the Lake. (John 21.1 ff)
(viii) To a company of more than 500, in Galilee. (1 Cor.15.6)
(ix) To James, the half-brother of the Lord. (1 Cor.15.7)
(x) To those who witnessed the ascension. (Lk.24.50,51; Acts 1.9)

When Jesus was buried, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joses had noted where the grave was. It was the women that were concerned that the proper dignities had not been performed for the body of Jesus, so they returned with others on Sunday morning to anoint the body and lay it to rest honourably. But something had already happened. Angels had descended and one of them had moved aside the stone door of the tomb. A small task for an angel! The soldiers placed there to guard the body had gone, having been scared out of their wits. The women were instructed by the angelic messengers, to return to the disciples to tell them that Jesus had risen. Mary of Magdala found Peter and John and the three returned together to the tomb, and found it just as she said. Peter and John left but Mary was distraught and unwilling to leave the vicinity of the grave. Consequently, she was the first to see, and then to touch and to talk to Jesus. Initially, she did not recognise Him and so asked the stranger, who she thought was the gardener, where the body of Jesus had been taken. Jesus spoke her name, and she immediately recognised and embraced Him. Now given fresh instructions by Jesus Himself, she returned to the company of the other disciples.

While this was proceeding, Jesus was seen a second time—this time by a group of the women. He instructed them also to return to the disciples and tell them to go to Galilee.

But what about the those that ordered His execution?

Meanwhile the soldiers had returned to the Jewish leaders and told them about the earthquake and the angels. So the Sanhedrin was again convened. Talk about resurrection was particularly distressing for the Sadducees (the High Priest and Chief Priests were Sadducees) because they said that there was no life after death. They decided to start a rumour about a conspiracy—the disciples stole the body while the guard slept. Not very credible — but it gained momentum and many believed it.

The appearances of Jesus on the morning of the resurrection continued thick and fast.

At some time that morning Jesus was seen by Peter, although we have no details of the encounter. But we do have a fuller description of the experience of Cleopas and another un-named disciple. They were on the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus when they were joined by someone who looked like a travelling Rabbi. It was, of course, the resurrected Jesus. At first they did not recognise Him, but they were strangely encouraged as He gave them an explanation from the Scriptures why the Messiah had to die. It was only when they returned to the familiar surroundings of their home and Jesus broke bread that they recognised Him. But in that moment He disappeared.

The two returned from Emmaus to find the others gathered together in a locked room. With their leader executed, the followers of Jesus were worried that their lives might be in danger. At this point they still did not believe in His resurrection, even though the women had said they had seen Him. (Under Jewish law at that time, a woman was not considered a reliable witness, and her testimony was excluded from all legal trials). The two from Emmaus confirmed the testimony of the women, but they were not believed either. At that point Jesus appeared in the room, although they didn’t know quite how, since the doors and windows were locked. Consequently, the disciples thought He was a spirit. Jesus immediately scotched that idea and showed them His hands and feet that still had the nail prints. He also ate some fish to show He was real! Then He gave them a Bible study. “He told them, ‘This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day’”. (Lk 24:46)

However, Thomas was absent. Later they told him about the visit but he would not believe that Jesus was alive. He wanted concrete evidence. This was supplied a week later when Jesus appeared again and asked Thomas to examine His hands, feet and side—and not to doubt but believe. Thomas fell at His feet and cried, “My Lord and my God”. Thomas’ disbelief has given us a wonderful beatitude. Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John. 20:29)
At this stage none of the disciples have gone to Galilee as instructed. In our next blog we will see what happened when they did!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Christianity Considered 3

Why the Cross? (Continued)

What was the significance of the death of Jesus?

The principles laid down in the Bible suggest three possible reasons.

(i) The first is that it could be a life taken unjustly, just like the murder of Abel whom Cain killed.
(ii) Then it could be payment for a capital crime.
(iii) Thirdly, it could be someone dying in the place of someone else, as a substitute.

The blood of Jesus was shed in compliance with all three principles.

(i) That it was a life taken unjustly is clear from the narrative. Jesus was the only innocent man that ever lived. Pilate, the highest Roman authority, said from the judgement seat, “I find no fault in this man”. (Luke 23.4; John 19.6) The death of Jesus was a political assassination, that is a life taken unjustly.
(ii) Secondly, it was payment for a capital crime, although not His own. This points to the third aspect.
(iii) He died as a substitute, in place of someone else.

If the Bible teaches that Jesus died as a substitute, who was He a substitute for? For sinners! Sinners who were under sentence of death by God. Paul wrote, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. (Rom. 3:23) A condition that had a consequence. “For the wages of sin is death”. (Rom. 6:23) Who are these sinners that Jesus died as a substitute for. Well, me for one, you for another, indeed everyone, for, “There is none righteous, no, not one; There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one.” (Rom. 3:10-12) At some time or another, all who are honest with themselves will admit that they have failed to keep God’s moral law and fallen short of that high standard of perfection that God expects.

But Jesus “… Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree.” (1 Pet.2.24) “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God.” (1 Pet.3.18) We need to understand, “He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities.” (Isa.53.5) for “the Lord ... laid on him the iniquity of us all”. (Isa. 53.6)

But how can the death of one man be enough for God to forgive the sins of all men? It can’t! One perfect man could only be the substitute for one other. But remember, Jesus wasn’t just a man, He was God also. Therefore the value of His substitutionary sacrifice is infinite. His death can compensate for the sins of all men.

But why crucifixion?

But that doesn’t explain why it had to be by crucifixion. Well the answer to this is a bit complicated, but here are some of the implications.

(i) First, the Romans executed those that rebelled against their rule (which was the charge that the Jewish leaders laid against Jesus) in a very painful and public manner. Their purpose was to demonstrate to everyone that Rome would not tolerate any that stood against their power and authority. Crucifixion meant pain and humiliation, as well as lasting for several hours, sometimes even days. Crucifixion also meant the victim was ‘lifted up’ in public view so that all could see their agony and pain. Jesus was executed near a very busy cross-road in Jerusalem. It overlooked the city and the Temple, and His death was witnessed by the large numbers of people who had come to Jerusalem for the Passover festival. What the Romans did not realise was that they were fulfilling God’s plan because the beginnings of Christianity had to be very public. Nothing done in secret.

(ii) Also, God needed people to see the pain and agony that sin causes. Those that die without taking Jesus Christ as their substitute will have to suffer the penalty of their own sins. They will know a similar agony as Jesus suffered when separated from God and bearing the penalty for sin. But they will suffer without reprieve. It will be continuous and eternal.

(iii) Another reason Jesus was ‘lifted up to die’ was to symbolically demonstrate that His death was a victory, not a defeat. This is the decease He said He had to accomplish. When His agony came to an end He said, “it is finished”. (John 19.30) This was a cry of triumph, shouted out at the top of His voice, not a sigh saying, ‘I am glad that is over’. He declared, in the clearest, most direct way, that He had accomplished that which He had been born to do. When He was born, Joseph and Mary were instructed to name Him ‘Jesus’, that is ‘Saviour’, “for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matt. 1:21) This He did, and now we can know eternal life, if we accept that He died for our sins. I, along with many, have sung the words to Philip Bliss’ wonderful hymn, “Hallelujah, what a Saviour”.

Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
In my place condemned He stood,
Sealed my pardon with His blood;
Hallelujah, what a Saviour!

Lifted up was He to die,
‘It is finished,’ was His cry;
Now in heaven exalted high,
Hallelujah, What a Saviour!