2. Objectionable

Short Meditations for Easter on the Cross: 2. Objectionable

1 Cor 1:23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles

Again we start our focus on the Cross, the crucifixion of Christ, through the eyes of the apostle Paul. Yesterday I suggested that we will find a distinction between the events (crucifixion) and the significance or meaning (the Cross) as we go on. For the moment we are seeing Paul’s focus on the events, the actual putting to death on a cross of Jesus Christ. Yesterday we saw him saying this was absolutely at the heart of the gospel, with the implication that without it there would be no gospel. No death, no Saviour.

But here, a little earlier in his letter, we see him making an equally strong declaration, but it is in distinction to those who come from a different perspective: “Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom.” (v.22) The Jews had their Old Testament (as we would call their scrolls today) and had set views or interpretations, so demanded that Jesus perform signs to show he was their Messiah conforming with their understanding, while Greeks exalted in their wisdom or intellect and wanted reason.

For both groups, crucifixion was an anathema, a loathing. The Jews saw such a death as a proof of a cursed person (Gal 3:13) – and so no way could Jesus be the expected Messiah, the anointed and blessed of God – while the Greeks saw it as pure folly to talk about a condemned criminal being executed being a means to finding meaning and purpose in life. For both the religious and the intellectual this whole idea was preposterous.

Paul almost implies, ‘I don’t care what you think, this IS God’s method of bringing salvation to the world. You Jews may stumble over this, rejecting it as crass insensitivity to suggest that a crucified man can be our saviour, and you Greeks may scratch your heads and rumble on about it being pure nonsense, but this ‘crass insensitivity’, this ‘pure nonsense’ is the way that God has decreed to be the way people can be saved, it is the only way for meaning and purpose to be truly achieved.’

Which leaves us pondering on how we, ourselves, view the crucifixion, the Cross of Christ? Are we embarrassed by it? Do we try and convince people of their needs for a relationship with God without any reference to the Cross, the crucifixion, Jesus dying for them? Until we do include it we are preaching only half a gospel, which in truth is no gospel.

So, do we include the facts of the event – Jesus’ death on a cross – and do we include the significance that we will go on to see in later studies – it was to take your sins and mine and declare us free of guilt and thus acceptable to God. That is the Gospel. Worship Him.

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1. Confusion

Lk 24:9-11   When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.
   
The subject of the resurrection of Jesus Christ has always caused controversy. It always will, because it makes a claim that no other religious leader has ever had made about him – that he died and then within three days, rose again from the dead. It is, of course, humanly impossible!  And that is what becomes such a stumbling block for so many. It can’t be! Such things don’t happen.
    
Non-Christian theologians of the nineteenth century caused havoc to unwitting believers by using their academic authority to say, “It can’t be!” and a whole school of liberal theology grew up and undermined the beliefs of many in the next century. It wasn’t until other theologians challenged this and basically said, “Hold on, you’re prejudging the situation. You start by saying it can’t be and so in your minds of course it can’t be. But that’s an unscientific approach. You need to look at the evidence with an open mind and ask, what does the evidence indicate?”
   
I think it was Sherlock Holmes who used to say (I may be wrong!) that when you have done away with all the alternatives, what you have left, as unlikely as it may seem, is likely to be the truth. In 1930 a solicitor by the name of Frank Morison set out, with similar thoughts as the liberal theologians of his day, to investigate the truth of the apparent last seven days of Christ’s life. He certainly had a high regard for Christ himself but in his own words he wanted to take the story and “strip it of its overgrowth of primitive beliefs and dogmatic suppositions.” He ended up writing the now-famous book, “Who Moved the Stone?,” a thorough and incredibly detailed investigation of the death and apparent resurrection of Jesus Christ, in which he becomes utterly convinced of its truth and veracity. In the closing words of the book, “there certainly is a deep and profoundly historical basis for that much disputed sentence in the Apostles Creed – The third day he rose again from the dead.”  In his care of investigation he echoes the Gospel writer, Luke, who recorded our verse today, who wrote at the beginning of his Gospel, “since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account,” (Lk 1:3).
   
In the Gospel accounts there is complete confusion over what has happened to the body of Christ which has disappeared from the tomb. Matthew’s Gospel records, “While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, “You are to say, `His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.” (Mt 28:11-15) That was a sad attempt to cover up and bring a plausible explanation to the confused events of that time, because if the disciples had taken the body the word would have crept out. More than that, if the disciples had known that they had the body and that Jesus was still dead, the rest of their lives would be living a lie as they proclaimed the resurrection again and again, with ten of the remaining eleven (Judas having died already) giving their lives for this belief and dying as martyrs.
  
Wonders of modern technology have meant that it is easy today to take, off a CD or off the Internet, the Gospels that previously had been limited to hard-copy paper. It is relatively easy, therefore, to line up the accounts next to each other and compare them. It is a fascinating exercise to merge them to produce a full picture of what happened. I’ve done it – but it isn’t an easy exercise because there do appear confusions that come from the differing accounts. If anything, it is this confusion that I find adds credibility to the accounts of the resurrection. We have acknowledged that humanly speaking it is the most difficult of stories to accept.
   
However if this was a made up myth then I would expect the writers to coordinate their writings so that there is perfect harmony and an easily understood account. It certainly isn’t that, and it is the confusion of the accounts (which we will examine) that brings authenticity to the story. If there were a series of massive explosions in, say London, Singapore or New York, the initial witness accounts would seem to be all over the place. There would be agreement over the key facts, certainly, but the differing viewpoints would throw up a multitude of questions. That’s just how it is with such an event, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ, as certain and sure as we are about it, is one such confusing event.
   
Its biggest confusion, as we have already suggested is that humanly speaking, it is the record of something that seems impossible. However if we are going to exhibit integrity and use a scientific approach to it, we need to examine the evidence, which will lead us on to the next meditation. The challenge for each of us becomes, therefore, am I willing to exhibit an open and honest mind, and carefully examine the evidence to arrive at a conclusion that might conflict with all my previously (possibly unfounded) presuppositions? This is where integrity comes in. This is where each of our hearts are revealed.  This is going to be a mind and spirit exercise. It will be a mind exercise because we will examine the evidence, consider its veracity, and draw logical conclusions. It will be a spirit exercise because it impinges on the very deepest innermost feelings and experiences that I can possibly have, and in that sense it might be scary, but it is certainly exciting.