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What Women Want

By Tom Thomas 

King Arthur’s Queen Guinevere baffles him.  Like Arthur every other man is perplexed too.  We don’t know what makes her tick or what she wants.  In the Broadway play ‘Camelot’ King Arthur muses to himself.  He cannot figure Guinevere out.   I so identify with him.  King Arthur remembers Merlin the Magician teaching him about the animals.  Merlin turned him into a beaver to teach him about beavers.  Arthur says, ‘I should have had the whirl to change into a girl to learn the way the creatures think’.  ‘How to handle a woman?’  he wonders.  ‘Ah, yes’ he remembers.  Merlin said, ‘The way to handle a woman is to love her, love her, merely love her…’

The prolific crime and mystery novelist Ruth Rendell knew what woman want.  The hero in her novels is Chief Inspector Reginald Wexford.  Chief Inspector Reginald Wexford exemplifies what woman want in man.  She used to get tons of female fans telling her they wanted to marry Chief Inspector Wexford.   Ruth knows the reason: Chief Inspector Wexford answers what woman want (1) he makes them laugh (2) he ‘likes women very much and always has time for them’. (W Post, Obituaries, May 3, 2015)

Jesus fulfills a woman’s deep want and need more than any man.  Why have so many women over history followed Him?   He did what Ruth Rendell said:  he shows he likes women.  A revolution occurred because He dignifies them.  He accepts women as having standing.  As men, Jesus gives women access to Himself.  He always has time for them.  He pays them attention.  I want to try to show how the account of Martha, Mary and Jesus makes this clear.   How their want of Him made Him the one thing necessary in their lives.

Jesus entered Martha and Mary’s village of Bethany.  Bethany is just over the crest of the Mt. of Olives.  Martha ‘welcomed’ Jesus into her home.  Martha is the only woman I can think of who invited Jesus into her home.  Taking the initiative to do so took self- confidence.  It tells us she was friendly toward Jesus and his ministry.  Jesus did not decline Martha because she was a woman.  Perhaps Martha could do it because her home was large enough to accommodate Jesus and his disciples.

Martha’s sister Mary was also there.  When Jesus entered, Mary followed the Lord.  She took her place at His feet.  She begins listening to what he was saying.  This is radical.  Jewish teachers were generally opposed to women learning.  Jesus not only lets her sit at his feet. As we shall see, he expects her, a woman, to listen and learn.  This is still controversial in 2017.  The Taliban says the Moslem Quran does not allow women to be educated.  If Jesus entered your house, would you be sitting there with him?  Where was Martha?

Martha was ‘distracted.  She is overburdened by the various tasks of hosting guests.  She is anxious to provide a fine dinner and comfortable hospitality for her special guests.  Every host knows the tension between being with your company and attending to the ongoing preparation for dinner.  Guest’s hands and feet need washing; heads need oil; towels for drying;  fire for cooking tended; meat prepared and cooked; the vegetables, the bread, the deserts, and water drawn.  The tables have to be set with your best utensils and crockery/china.  The candles filled with oil and lit.  Flowers put in vases.

Our first Thanksgiving dinner as newlyweds Pam and I hosted my parents.  It was nerve-wracking for Pam.  Pam had never prepared a turkey in her life.  This was her first dinner for the in-laws.  She knew none of the recipes my parents enjoyed.  She baked a cake from scratch.  It was three layers.  When I cut the cake, it crumbled into bread crumbs.  She had iced the outside, but forgot to ice between the layers!

After all, Martha is entertaining Jesus!  The Prophet who taken the world by storm!  Martha is just plain stressed out.  She wants to give him an impressive dinner.  But she is feeling put upon.  With all that needs to be done, her sister is sitting there with Jesus.   Martha leaves her preparations and makes her way to Jesus.  If she appeals to Jesus, Jesus will tell Mary to help.  Mary will listen to the Master.  The Holy One will enlighten Mary to her injustice and selfishness. ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself?’ Tell her then to help me’.  ‘Tell her to do her share.’  Tell her to pitch in.  ‘Many hands make work light’ my mother would say.

But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha’.  Saying her name twice shows his strong interest in her.  There are many people around him but He considers her.  ‘Martha, Martha, you’re worried and distracted about much.’  You’ve been thrown into undue disorder and trouble.  These ‘worldly’ matters are too much oppressing you.  Things have gotten out of perspective.   You’re in overload.  For a lot of people, life moves at a chaotic clip.  It’s an all too typical woman’s – yes, man’s too – but particularly a woman’s concern today.  She is working a stressful job; she’s trying to be a good mother/wife. Women typically bear the brunt of the responsibilities of family and home.  Maybe she is also taking a night class to work on her degree.  I heard of a single woman holding two jobs; her father had Alzheimer’s in a care facility; her mother who lives with her has a health issue; and she is raising children.  ‘Martha, Martha’.

Was Martha ‘multi-tasking’?  She was trying to juggle multiple tasks.  ‘Multitasking’ is our word for today for juggling the overload of many duties.  ‘Multitasking’ is doing two or more cognitively complex things at the same time.  Dr. Frances E. Jensen, a U of Penn neuroscientist, says ‘multitasking’ is a myth.  Yes, you can chew gum and watch the baby at the same time.  That’s not multitasking.  But you cannot make cordon Bleu and solve a problem with your boss on the phone at the same time. If you try to do them at the same time your brain has to switch back and forth constantly.  You do neither well.  Focusing on more than one complex task is virtually impossible.  If you’re a teen – or Tom Thomas – it is impossible!

‘Martha, Martha, you’re worried and distracted about much.’  Are you too? Jesus continued. ‘But one is necessary’; ‘there is one need; ‘there is need of only one thing’.  Simplify.  ‘Mary has chosen the good portion’.  The word ‘portion’ connotes ‘food’.  Jesus puns, ‘Mary has chosen the better food.’    What food did Mary choose?  Jesus…the bread of life.  She chose to sit with and listen to Him.  What food did Martha choose?  The bread…of the kitchen.  Given the choice between life’s duties, responsibilities, vocations, and avocations and Jesus, Jesus  ranks above them all.  Which are you choosing?  Which is your practice?  Which is your first priority?   Is everything else second to Him?    What if Martha had done that? Driven, Type A people are asking who would have provided the beautiful arrangements of food and drink?  Better to have Jesus and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich than a Better Homes and Garden banquet without him.   Jesus consistently messages this: to the rich young ruler: sell everything, give to the poor, then come and follow me; to the man who wanted to bury his father before following Jesus.  Jesus said, ‘Let the dead bury the dead, follow me.’ Martha doesn’t realize who is in her midst.  Few people do.  In him is ‘the fullness of deity dwelling bodily’…the One who is before all things… ‘the one who is to have first place in everything’ .

Here is the man women want – the man women need; a man who likes women; loves women; wants them to learn from Him, to be with Him and He with them.  He would rather have Martha than a well- appointed home; He would rather have Martha than appetizing cuisine; He would rather have her than fine hospitality.  He wants Martha for herself; not for anything she can give him.  Where have you heard of such a man? Where have you heard of such a holy man, or spiritual leader?  Take the holy one the Buddha as an example.  The Buddha said to his disciple Ananda: ‘Women are stupid, Ananda; that is the reason, Ananda…why women have no place in public assemblies…’

Jesus shows as much interest in her as a man.  He invests in her worth: invites her to join his circle; wills her to be his disciple; believes she is just responsible as a man to God; just as capable of hearing, understanding and learning as a man.  This is a watershed for woman in history.

Women respond to Jesus.  He’s what they want.  He’s what they need.  They’ve heeded his word to Martha.  They have made Jesus their first portion –the one thing necessary.  He has fulfilled their deep want and need.  Probably in greater numbers in church history than men…in different ways: as wives…as mothers…a martyrs…as activists…as writers…as teachers…as evangelists…in mission…to great effect.  Perpetua was a 22 year old new mother.  She was imprisoned by the Romans with her infant for declaring she followed Christ.  The proconsul told her he would release her if she said, ‘Caesar is lord’.  Her father begged her to lie. She would not.  She said, ‘Jesus is Lord’.  She so wanted Jesus, when made to decide, she chose him above her father, her child, and her own life. Her witness lives on today.

Mademoiselle De La Mothe, better known as Madam Guyon, was a teenage girl in Paris.  She was smart and beautiful.  She was tall and well built.  She had a Grecian countenance, high forehead and brilliant eyes, and a noble sweetness.   She thought a lot of herself.  She spent a good part of the day in front of the mirror.  At 17, she fell deathly sick.  She was not expected to live.  As she languished, her sins haunted her.  She realized her self had been her religion.  She knew she was out of favor with God.  She recovered.  See sought God.  The only way she knew to try to get God’s acceptance was earn it:  she began to do good works.  It didn’t take away her sorrow for her sin.  Then she came to understand loving Jesus Christ is a matter of the heart.  Then she came to know personally Jesus Christ not by doing righteous works, but by faith.  Now, she said, ‘For I had now no sight but of Jesus Christ’ .  She was sorrowful of her wasted past.   Why was she so late in finding Jesus?  ‘Why’ she wondered, ‘have I known thee so late?  Alas, I sought you where you were not, and did not seek you where you were!’  She wrote the name of her Saviour in large characters and attached it to her person.  She wanted to be reminded continually of Him. She wrote poems and letters for Christ.  She influenced circles of Christians and mystic theologians like Francis Fenelon.

What do women want?  What do you want?  They want the One who accepts and honors them; the One who wants to be with them; who wants them to be in his company and they in his;  the One who loves them – they want Jesus Christ!  He is the one thing necessary.  Is He for you the One necessity?

 

 
Image by Georg Friedrich Stettner († 1639) – Van Ham Kunstauktionen, Public Domain, Link

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Bishop S. I. Newman at the Gate of St. Peter

 

Guest article by Dr. Livingston Greystoke

Bishop S. I. Newman stood at the Gate of Heaven.  There Saint Peter met him.  We are privy to their conversation which I report just as it occurred.

St. Peter: Who are you?

Bishop Newman: Who are you? Where am I?

St. Peter: I am Peter, the Lord’s apostle.  You are at the very entrance of heaven. I can tell, Mr. Newman, you are surprised to see me.  Did you think that what we now see extending out through that Gate to eternity was a myth?  You did teach, quite consciously, the Lord Jesus was a mental projection of the needs and hopes of us disciples.  Certainly, you did not expect to meet Him – or me – here, did you?  I assure you, Mr. Newman, we are quite real.

Bishop Newman: You can understand why I made such an assumption.  Our most brilliant scholars in the most esteemed academies using the most contemporary historical analysis convinced me.   I was just using my God-given reason to consider the texts.  God would not want me to commit ‘intellectual suicide’ in reflecting on what people wrote about him – or her – or it- whoever.

St. Peter: Reason is one thing, prejudice another.  And, isn’t reason exercised together with faith?  After all, ‘without faith it is impossible to please God’.  Let me ask you.  Why should you be admitted through these gates?

Bishop Newman: Since you asked, all modesty aside,  I rose to the top of the clergy ranks; colleague among colleagues; leader of leaders; most devout of the devout, esteemed by clergy and lay; viewed to have an unusual set of leadership skills; an apt expounder of relativizing the Scriptures for our day; and passionate for the issues which oppress.  What might have been my most important attribute, I was recognized as having the gift of being able to make myself acceptable to all.  I strove to fulfill Jesus’ greatest passion – unity in the Church!  This was no easy task.  Glory be to God what God inspired in me!

St. Peter: Were you not like brother Paul?  He regarded ‘everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord?’  He determined to ‘never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ’.  Didn’t you hold back from preaching the cross? You thought it foolishness so you didn’t preach it! Though it is foolishness to the pagans brother Paul preached it anyway! You should have known the cross is the power of God to those being saved.  You thought talk of the cross as a necessary, objective substitutionary sacrifice for sin a crass antiquarian throwback to medieval days. 

Bishop Newman: But I was so moved when I administered the Eucharist and passed the cup, saying, ‘The blood of Christ given for you. Amen’.  It was a numinous experience.

St. PeterBut you lived as an enemy of the cross.  You promulgated the rejection of the authority of God’s Word by urging persons to indulge their lusts and make their god the belly. You, of all people, the ecclesial leader of God’s people, have led the weak into licentious ways.  You have encouraged extra-marital sex by advocating the right to homosexual practice.  You ought to know unrepentant ‘fornicators’ will not be at home here!  You promised freedom but gave slavery!

Bishop Newman:  I was extremely passionate on behalf of those upon whom the shadow of the cross falls.  I stood with the oppressed and the ‘have-nots’ against ‘the haves’.  I challenged systems of discrimination and injustice.  I politicked for the care of creation and climate justice.  I struggled against the criminalization of abortion.  I supported the absolute right of a woman to choose to abort a fetus at any stage in her womb.  I fought hard against the erection of structures of homophobia and heterosexism.  I have protested against discrimination based on gender identity – transvestites should be welcomed in every pulpit! Prejudice against any chosen, loving sexual practice must not be indulged.

St. Peter:   Bishop S. I. Newman, your compassion for the humble, the lowly, the poor in body and spirit is admirable. Nonetheless, for you, what is bitter is sweet; what is dark is light; what is false is true. You have the form of religion but not the power.  You know the politic but not the Person.  You are a teacher of the law without understanding either what you say or the things about which you assert.  You have come to the wrong Gate.  Your own words speak against you.  You will neither fit nor be happy here. Adieu.

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What Happened to James

By Tom Thomas 

What happened to James?  James was our Lord’s brother.  Sometime after Jesus’ death, James was known for being on his knees praying.  Before Jesus’ death James was known for his unbelief.  Before I get to James, let me ask you this:  what happened to David Wood?  What happened to Saul, the Pharisee hunter of Christians?  What do any of these questions have to do with the resurrection?

David Wood’s dog was hit by a bus and died. His mother was terribly upset. David was not. It was just a dog.   A few years later his friend died.  He felt no sorrow.  He saw how others were feeling and sensed maybe he should feel sorrow.  David was separated from his feelings.  He couldn’t empathize with others.  He was diagnosed a sociopath.  On top of this, David was an atheist.  Right and wrong didn’t matter to him.  One day David’s life came into focus.  He brutally attacked his father and beat him with a hammer until he thought him dead (he wasn’t).  He was imprisoned for ten years.  David is now a missionary, reconciled with his father, and has an earned Ph. D. from Fordham University.  What happened to him?

Before I answer this question and the one about James, let me ask you this:  what happened to Saul, the Pharisee hunter of Christians?  Let me refresh you regarding Saul.  Saul was a contemporary of Jesus’ apostles.  He was a Jew of the tribe of Benjamin.  From the age five Saul was strictly educated in the Old Testament law.  At age of thirteen, he studied Scripture under the Jewish scholar Gamaliel. Gamaliel was the Alan Derschowitz Harvard law professor of the day.  He prepared Saul to teach the law. Saul became so zealous for the law he surpassed his Pharisee peers.  He would even kill for the Law.

In fact, Saul took a leading role in hounding the church.  He went to Christians’ houses.  He hauled them – even women – to prison.  Saul said, ‘I was violently persecuting the church of God’…I ‘was trying to destroy it’ (Gal 1: 13).  He took cool pleasure in the stoning of preacher Stephen.  He held the coats for others to throw stones. (Acts 8:1)

Then, suddenly, something happened.  People said, ‘He who formerly was persecuting us is now proclaiming the faith he once tried to destroy?’(Gal 1:23)Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem…?” believers asked (Act 9:21) He now goes by the name of Paul.  He testifies in the synagogues Jesus ‘is the Son of God’.  He argues Jesus is the Messiah. (Acts 9:22) What gives?  How could one so passionately against Jesus turn so  for him?  This brings me to James.

What happened to James?  In 2002 an archaeological discovery was made.  A first century ossuary box was uncovered.  An ossuary box contains the bones of a deceased person.  This box had this inscription on it, ‘James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.’  Whether or not it is authentic is still being studied.  No matter, Jesus had four brothers, one whose name was James.  Not a lot is known about James. James was the physical son of Joseph and Mary.    He, his brothers, and mother Mary traveled with Jesus early in his ministry.  But Jesus did not win him over.  There was conflict between Jesus, James and his brothers.  They did not believe him.  They thought anybody can claim to be a Messiah in the country where few see him.  ‘If you do Messiah works, show the world’.  Prove yourself.  Do your miracles in D.C., not in Tight Squeeze!  Jesus went to his grave with his brother James a skeptic.

But what happened to James?  The next thing you hear James is on his knees praying.  He is with his mother Mary and Jesus’ disciples in the upper room.  Ancient testimony says James was frequently found on his knees begging forgiveness for people.  His knees were hard like a camel’s.  James is now called ‘James the Righteous’.  He is the leader of the Jerusalem church.  On account of Jesus, James was stoned in 62 AD.  What happened to James? Once a skeptic …now a martyr.

Here’s the answer:  Take Paul first:  he saw the risen Jesus Christ.  At midday when traveling to Damascus a light shone on him.  The light was brighter than the sun and encircled him.  He heard the Voice speak to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’(Acts 26: 14)  Paul asked, ‘Who are you Lord?’  ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.’ (Acts 9: 5) Paul testified, Jesus ‘appeared also to me.’  ‘Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?’ Paul asked (1 Cor 9:1).  Seeing the resurrected Lord Jesus instantaneously turned Saul around.  The resurrected Jesus turned Saul into Paul.

What happened to David Wood?  In prison he ran into Randy, a Christian. Randy articulated his reasons for believing in Jesus.  It made David’s unbelief seem silly. David wanted to refute Randy’s faith. So David began reading the Bible. Jesus’ resurrection bothered him.  Why would the disciples risk death to testify to the resurrection if they didn’t believe it? He also read in the Bible Jesus is the resurrection and the life; the Son of God can set you free.  David knew he had many psychological, spiritual, and moral disorders.  He couldn’t help himself. Who could? Only Jesus, the One God raised, could.

What happened to James, the Lord’s skeptical brother?  The apostle Paul gives the answer:  ‘Christ was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he …appeared to James…’ (1 Cor 15: 7)  Our risen Lord Jesus appeared to James!  The risen Lord Jesus revealed himself to his brother.  Jesus Christ showed himself visibly, bodily to James and to Paul.  Nothing else would reverse a James.  Nothing else would reverse a Saul:  not hallucinations; not delusions; not mental dreams; not a myth; not conversion disorder or any combination thereof.   Jesus appeared bodily, visibly.  Our risen Lord turned James the skeptic into James the Just!!  The bodily risen Jesus transformed Saul into Paul.  The meditation on Jesus’ resurrection in concert with the risen Jesus radically changed a sociopath into a missionary.  For nothing else would they have endured and kept true:  through insults, ridicule, rejection, mockery, beatings, suffering, and martyrdom: Paul beheaded and James stoned.

You too can know the risen Lord Jesus.  He says, ‘Look at me. I stand at the door. I knock. If you hear me call and open the door, I’ll come right in and sit down to supper with you.’ Let Him in.*

*Gary R. Habermas and Michael R. Licona’s book,  The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus has been an instrumental resource in the above.                                              

 

Image: “Ossuary of James the Brother of Jesus” CC License. 

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Tuesdays with Tom: “They Didn’t See Him”

By Tom Thomas 

Suppose I returned to Spring Hill cemetery several days after burying my father?  I reach his plot. I noticed the grave was disturbed; the marker overturned, and the clay dirt scattered around the sides.  Inspecting closer, I saw the casket opened.  The body was missing.  What would I conclude?  What would you conclude?

Suppose you were among those who went to pay your respects to Jesus?  Upon reaching the tomb, you saw the gravestone rolled back; the tomb disturbed, and the buried body missing.  Do you, like the disciples, have grave difficulty with the empty tomb?  Have you thought about Jesus’ bodily appearances?  Is your heart slow to believe?  You can identify with the disciples.  You can surpass their difficulty.  Let me consider the resurrection narrative.

It was the first day of the week, Sunday, at early dawn.  A group of women walked in twilight to Jesus’ tomb.  Go back three days to Friday.  Some of these accompanied the priest, Joseph of Arimathea, to bury Jesus’ body.  To leave a person without a burial shows gross disrespect.  I officiated in Long Beach, CA at the funeral of a man who had no one to bury him.  Joseph of Arimathea would see Jesus buried.  Joseph was a wealthy member of the Jewish Council.  He was also a secret disciple of Jesus.

The Roman governor Pilate gave Joseph Jesus’ body.  So Joseph removed Jesus’ body from the cross.  He would inter Jesus in his own never-before-used tomb carved out of rock. Would you let Jesus use your tomb?  It would be a good deal.  Jesus only used it three days but its value rose thereafter.

Joseph and another priest, Nicodemus, wrapped the body.  They use an expensive, linen shroud with spices of myrrh and precious aloes.  They hurried to complete the work before sundown and the beginning of the Sabbath. A handful of men rolled the huge, flat stone over the tomb’s entrance.  This kept thieves and animals out.  Later, Pilate ordered the tomb sealed and cordoned off.  He placed a guard of soldiers at the grave.  The tomb was now a site under state control.

At early dawn, Mary Magdalen; Joanna, the wife of King Herod’s manager; Mary the mother of James the apostle, and other women walked to the tomb.  They wanted to finish embalming Jesus’ corpse.  The women had not been thinking too clearly. How would they get into the tomb?  They couldn’t move the massive stone.  Going a little further, they looked up and saw the stone already rolled back.  Maybe Joseph of Arimathea had already arrived.  They ventured in the tomb’s darkness but saw no body – not even Jesus’ corpse.  They stood there perplexed, at a loss for answers.

Had the gardener moved him?  Had the authorities removed him?  Suddenly, from out of nowhere, two strangers appeared beside them.  The strangers’ clothing gleamed brilliantly – like the whiteness of lightening.  The dazzling intensity spoke for itself.  The frightened women could only bow their faces to the ground.

The angels searchingly asked the women, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?”  That is, ‘Why are you seeking the living one among the dead ones?”  The question was a gentle rebuff to the women’s accepted philosophy of reality.  Is it a rebuff to yours?

Imbedded in the angel’s question is the mark of history – not fiction.  The women went to the tomb thinking as I would to my dad’s grave.  One out of every one dies…and never returns.  Absolute fact.  The women went to the tomb knowing Jesus died.  They thought as you think – He’s gone forever – never to return.

Ever wondered where we get this philosophy?  From common, human experience.    Could there ever be a specific case, sometime, somewhere, that is different from what is generally thought to be the case?  An anomaly, an exception to the rule?  Suppose a scientist did an exhaustive investigation.  The scientist observed 30 kinds of flies, ten kinds of beetles, four kinds of wasps, and six kinds of grasshoppers.  The scientist generalized, ‘All insects have three pairs of legs’.  The next day a caterpillar sauntered by.  It has all the properties of an insect. Except it doesn’t have three pair of legs – it’s all legs! An exception to the rule.  Now the scientist goes back and revises his conception.

Many modern intellectuals – among them many theologians – say there is no example of a literal resurrection happening in common human experience. So a bodily resurrection can’t be.  Isn’t Jesus’ resurrection such an exception to common human experience?  But it can’t be, they say, that He rose from the dead.  There are no examples of such things in common experience!  This is circular reasoning.  It assumes as valid what one is trying to prove.  It won’t allow what doesn’t fit with what you have already determined to be the case.

It’s like our insect scientist saying he/she has already determined what insects are.  A caterpillar can’t be one.  It doesn’t fit his/her preconceived notion of what an insect is.

The angels gently reproach the women.  The women are surprised to hear Jesus is alive.  How about you?  Does God reproach you for looking for the Living among the dead?  Many still consign Jesus to the dead.  He’s a great religious figure; an inspired prophet; a great example; and one in whom divine consciousness lived.  Nonetheless, He’s gone the way of all other great religious teachers and philosophers.

A missionary was speaking in Northern India.  A Muslim came up to him afterwards and said, “You must admit, we have one thing that you do not – and it is better than anything you have.”  The missionary was interested to hear more. Muslim said, “When we go to our Mecca, we find at least a coffin.  But when you Christians go to Jerusalem, you find nothing but an empty grave.”  The missionary replied, “That’s just the difference.  Mohammed is in his coffin.  Jesus Christ is risen!”

Pam and I were on vacation in the California Gold Rush country.  We visited Sutter Creek’s cemetery.  We read the epitaphs on the tombstones.  One grave had a pillar – like the Washington Monument rising out of a block of granite.  At the top of the pillar was a clinched fist with the index finger pointing upward to the sky.  The deceased was saying to me, “Don’t look here, look up.”  Don’t look for Christ in the grave.  ‘He is not here.’

The women flee out of the tomb. They tremble in fear and astonishment.  They run to tell the giants of the faith, the eleven apostles, the news.  If anybody would believe, these guys would.  They watched Jesus do miracles for three years.

The woman relayed to the disciples their experience at the tomb – every last detail.  A woman’s testimony in a Jewish court was questionable.  Here is a group of women, having come from a resurrection, hysterical, trembling, pale from fear, unable to contain themselves as to all they had seen and heard.  They reported the news.  The disciples took it like the Editor of the New York Times:  ‘Uhh, huh – Sure!’  The men summed up the women’s words: “an idle tale.”  “Idle tale” is a medical term used for wild delirium.  They’re on drugs!  Rubbish!  Fantasy!

So some have thought ever since.  Paul preached Jesus’ resurrection.   “Some of them sneered”. (Acts 17:32)  Martin Luther spoke of the resurrection.  Luther noted the reaction, “To this day there are many who laugh all the more at this article, consider it a fable ….” An ‘idle tale’ thought Jesus’ disciples: a resurrected Jesus did not fit their framework of reality.  Jesus could break out of a rock tomb.  He couldn’t break out of the disciples’ rock hearts and rock minds!

Later that same day, two were walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus.  Emmaus was a village about seven miles west of Jerusalem.  The two were absorbed in conversation about the women’s report of the empty tomb and angels.  While they were discussing this, a man overtook them.  He fell into their stride.  He said to them, “What is that you are talking about?”  They stopped still in the road.  They were full of the tragedy of Friday.  Cleopas answered, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days.  The stranger asked, “What things?”

Cleopas said, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a mighty prophet in words and actions.  How he was condemned and crucified.  We were hoping that he was the one to redeem Israel.”  They went on.  “Yes, this is the third day, and some women of our company amazed us.  Earlier they went to the tomb and didn’t find his body.  They came back saying they had seen a vision of angels who said Jesus was alive.  Peter and John went to see for themselves.  They found the tomb just as the women said.  But they didn’t see him.”  I can almost hear Cleopas voice trailing off when he said, “They didn’t see him.”  There’s the catch – whether 30 AD or 2017 – ‘they didn’t see him.’ Neither empty tomb nor women’s report convinced them.

“O foolish men!” the stranger upbraided them with strong emotion.  You are ‘slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!  Wasn’t it necessary that Christ should suffer and enter into his glory?” the stranger asked.  Didn’t they have the words of the prophets from the Old Testament?  And didn’t they have the words of Jesus prophesying he would rise again?  Now they heard first hand testimony of the women …and angels…yet they didn’t believe.  You’ve got all that.  Do you believe?  The stranger called them “unintelligent and dull of belief” – that is, slow in believing.  The stranger then explained how the Old Testament applied to the Messiah.  They liked what they heard. They begged the stranger to stay and eat.  He took the bread, broke it, and gave thanks.  They suddenly recognized him!  He was Jesus whom they knew.  Then “he became invisible from them.”
They recalled to each other, “Didn’t our hearts burn within us when he explained the scriptures?’ Believers through history have testified to burning hearts.  I have felt a burning chest the night I gave myself to God.

Preacher John Wesley put it in classic words.  He was in a fellowship/study group.  There he felt Jesus Christ.  Wesley said, “I felt my heart strangely warmed … I felt I did trust Christ.”  You don’t have to see Him to feel Him.  Your eyes may be closed, but you feel the warmth of the sun.

What it took to get the disciples to believe! I can hear people say, ‘If it was hard for them, how much harder for us?  At least they got to see him’.  This is Cleopas’ attitude which Jesus reprimanded: ‘But they didn’t see him’ Cleopas said.  ‘O people slow to believe!’  You now have the testimony of the Old Testament; the testimony of Jesus; the testimony of the women and the disciples, the evidence and testimony of Paul; and the experience of hundreds of years of burning hearts!

In some ways, we have more than the disciples had that first Easter morn.  The risen Jesus has been established by sight, by voice, by touch, by reasoning argument, by historical evidence from genuine and moral men and women, and by centuries of ‘warm hearts’.

Why are some of you still troubled by Him?  Why do some question?  Why do you dispute Him in your hearts?’  Jesus says, ‘Stop doubting and believe’. (John 20:27)

 

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The Slaughtered Lamb

by Tom Thomas 

Only one person was worthy to rule Britain – the person who could pull the sword from the stone.  In the novel, ‘The Sword in the Stone’, the king’s son had died.  The king had no heir.  Rival dukes and lords fought over who was fit to reign.  Magician Merlin created an orderly way to identify the King’s worthy successor.  He inserted a magic sword in an anvil that he put on top of a stone.  An inscription on the stone said, ‘Whoso pulleth out this sword from this stone is rightwise king born of England’.  Only the one fit to rule could pull the sword out.

Nobles came from far and wide to pull the sword out.  Everyone tried.  No one could.  Soon it was forgotten.  But Merlin in the meantime saw potential in a teachable weakling name Arthur.   He tutored him.   Finally, Merlin brought Arthur and his royal step-brother Sir Kay to the stone.  Sir Kay pulled as hard as he could on the sword.  It didn’t budge.  Arthur tried.  The sword came loose.  Arthur was the one worthy to assume the throne of Britain.

In the apostle John’s revelation, he is shown into heaven.  A question looms over the courts of heaven:  ‘Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?’  No one in heaven or earth could open the seals.  This morning I want you to look with John into heaven.  With your mind’s eye see the One seated on the throne.  Rejoice, the question was answered by the Lamb slaughtered.  Rejoice, those washed by the blood of the Lamb have been purchased.  You?  You have a bright future!

The first three chapters of John’s revelation relay our Lord’s words to seven churches in Turkey.  They are words of encouragement, rebuke, repentance, warning, and promise.  Basically, Jesus says ‘Wake up! Shape up! Get a move on it’.  We learn the reason for “Waking up! Shaping up! Getting a move on it”.  The rest of the book, chapters 4- 22, reveals the apocalypse: Armageddon is coming.

In the time period Jesus speaks to these seven churches Christians are living in danger.  The Roman emperors are unleashing their cruel whims upon Christians. Emperor Nero set Rome on fire in 64AD.  Three quarters of the city burned.  Nero blamed the Christians.  He accused Christians of ‘hating the human race’.   He executed Peter and Paul.  He put Christians to death in horrific ways. In 81 AD Emperor Domitian followed with a reign of terror.

The Son of Man speaks to John the words for the seven churches in this fearful context.   He shows John heaven.  ‘After his I looked, and there in heaven a door stood open!’  A voice like a trumpet commands him, ‘Come here’.  The next thing John knows is he’s peering into the court of heaven.  There is a throne and the One seated on the throne.  What a contrast with being on earth!  The one seated on the throne had the appearance of precious stones – jasper, a transparent crystal-like stone; and carnelian, an opaque, blood red stone, like fire smoldering.  An emerald rainbow encircled the throne like a halo.  The forest and meadow greens cooled the crimson.  The rainbow reminds one of the rainbow Noah saw: the sign of God’s pledge and promise.  Lightning and peals of thunder came from the throne!

Around the throne are 24 elders dressed in white robes and golden crowns.  Also, four, strange living creatures – a combination of animal and man – sing to the One on the throne, “Holy, holy, holy, the Lord God the Almighty who was and is and is to come.’ Three ‘holies’ – one for each, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Three holies to stress God’s perfect Otherness.  The living creatures sing day and night without ceasing.  I listen to a radio station from Wake Forest, NC that broadcasts non-stop music 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, including holidays.  God is being praised without ceasing.  All the elders and living creatures fall before His throne, casting their crowns before him.  ‘You are worthy, our Lord and God…’ That’s the greeting the Roman Emperor Domitian demanded.  ‘You are worthy, ‘Lord and God’.  Christian believers prostrated themselves only to the Lord God, the Almighty.

The One on the throne is alone worthy!   He alone has dominion over all.  By Him, all things – visible and invisible – were created.  By His will all things exist.  All things – even you – are rightfully His.

If you were a Christian back on earth in the seven churches, you knew the evil oppression of the Roman emperor.  You, reader, are on the planet today – North Korea is launching threatening missiles; terrorists are running vehicles into pedestrians; Syrian leader Assad is spraying his own people with Sarin gas; Christians are labeled people who ‘hate’.  The earth is coming apart at the seams.  One wonders who rules?

‘God is in his heaven’…He is being worshipped, praised, and adored without pause: this, the sweet spot of the universe; this, the universes’ safe haven; the port in the storm; the supernal shelter, the universe’s safe space.  Here is the impregnable, impenetrable citadel, the high command and headquarters of everything.  It has no rivals, no competitors, no counterparts, no equivalents, or no contenders.  Enemies, yes…but no equals.  The core of the universe and beyond is at peace, unperturbed and under control.   Fear not.

Colton Burpo was a four year old when his appendix burst.  The doctors missed diagnosing it.  He walked around another five days with infection taking over his body.  By the time he got properly diagnosed and into surgery, his survival was iffy.  He pulled through.  Then he began telling his father about heaven and Jesus. His dad Todd knew Colton couldn’t know what he was talking about – unless he’d been there.  Father Todd tested his little son Colton.  Todd said, ‘You said you were with ‘Pop’ – his grandpa – what did you do when it got dark’ in heaven?  Colton blurted out, ‘It never gets dark in heaven…It’s always bright.’

There is no cause for worry here.  Until the apostle John saw what the One on the throne was holding.  In His right hand, was a scroll with writing, front and back.  It was sealed with seven seals.  A friend of ours served on a British submarine in World War Two.  The sub left the harbor with sealed orders.  No one – including the commander – could open the seals until they were well at sea.

Then, a mighty angel asked with loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?’  No one, in heaven or on earth or under the earth, was able to open the scroll.  The only thing perturbing in heaven was John’s bitter weeping.  Things future that John was supposed to learn could not be told.  No one could open the scroll.  Humankind could not learn the purpose of why we are here; we could not know the goal for which we live.

For many secular historians, the future is a sealed scroll.  What characterizes modern history is it doesn’t know the goal of history.  It’s a mystery.  What’s the purpose toward which we live?  Who knows?  What’s the goal of history?  What’s our future?  If there is no goal, then no one knows who they should be, or what they should be doing to reach a goal that’s not there.

Then, one of the elders said to John, ‘Do not weep.  See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals’.  There is one who can open the seven seals!  The Lion of Judah!  Jacob prophesied from the beginning ‘the ‘scepter will not depart from Judah’ – a lion’s whelp (Gen 49:9).  A figure of a lion designated the conquering Messiah.  The Hebrew Scriptures promised a divinely inspired, messianic lion – King would come.  The Jews knew a coming Lion Messiah would destroy evil.  He would deliver God’s people from their number one and number two enemies –from spiritual powers and, eventually, political powers.  He would establish a new order of peace, righteousness, and joy (Isa 11: 9-11).

No Jew was prepared for what John saw next.  The Lion is a Lamb. John saw a Lamb standing there.  Sheep were the primary animals used by Israel for sacrifice.  At Passover, each family took a lamb.  In the evening they killed it by slitting its throat.  They sprinkled the lamb’s blood on their front door posts and lintel.  They ate the lamb’s roasted flesh.  The Lord’s angel passed through Egypt that night.  Every firstborn in the land that was not in a house with blood on the doorposts was killed.

Also, a sheep is what the prophet Isaiah compared the Suffering Servant of God.  Like a sheep, the Suffering Servant was defenseless –no weapons or defenses – no sharp teeth, no claws, no rippling muscles.  He would be mistreated and oppressed by harsh treatment.  It was treatment he didn’t deserve.  Yes, treatment others deserved.  By this very mistreatment He would redeem His people.   By this suffering He would bear their transgressions in his own person.

The Jews never knew what to do with this Suffering Servant of Isaiah fifty three.  In fact, no Jew reads Isaiah fifty three.  There is no evidence the Jews ever applied the Suffering Servant of God to the Messiah.  The Lamb standing before the throne discloses something Jesus’ ministry revealed – the Messiah is – the Lion and the Lamb.  He is first the slaughtered Lamb who dies.  He is later the conquering lion – King who returns.

The apostle John sees a Lamb standing in front of the throne.  The Lamb standing there looked like it had been ‘slaughtered’; that is, it’s neck had been slit.  Now John sees the elders in their white robes and the living creatures fall before the Lamb- just as they had fallen before the One on the throne – and sing,

‘You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.’

There is someone who can open the seals!  The Lamb standing there is worthy!  He is worthy to open the seals!  Why?  Because He was slaughtered:  ‘Christ died for us’! John the Baptist identified him, ‘Here is the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!’  Jesus told his disciples, ‘Was it not necessary Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory’ (Lk 24: 26)

He is worthy to open the seals because by His blood He purchased us.   If he had not, you and I would have no history … no future – only sin, death and judgment.  In 1993 an interfaith conference of liberal, feminists’ theologians met in Minneapolis.  Professor Delores S. Williams of Union Seminary of New York was asked about the meaning of Jesus’ death.  She said we don’t need any meaning of Jesus’ death.  ‘I don’t think we need folks hanging on crosses and blood dripping and weird stuff’ she said.

No?  The Cross is the engine of Christianity!  The Lamb is salvation and redemption!  Without the Cross, your only future is death, judgment and despair.  By Jesus’ death, through His blood, he has purchased saints out of sin, death and despair.  I deserve judgement.  You deserve judgement.  He took your judgment.   He took my judgment.  He purchased us out of sin, judgment, and death.  You have a future!  There is a goal toward which you live!

My cousin had an old rocker sitting in her basement.  It had been my great grandparents.  She never used it.  It had 1960’s fabric.  The foam seat was hard.  But it was solid mahogany wood.  It was still as strong now as it was in 1910.  She did not want it.  So she put it in the auction with my aunt’s things after my aunt died.  My wife and I bought it.  We paid what was necessary to buy it from being lost.

Jesus paid what was necessary to purchase you from sin, death, and judgment.  He is worthy to open the seals.  History can go forward toward its redemptive end.  The Lamb’s blood can redeem as many as possible from judgement and death.  When history arrives at its end, we will live with God and He with us.  The Lamb’s death is the only reason for the hope.  Do you know you have been purchased from sin, death, and judgment?  Is your faith in the Lamb’s blood?

Image: Angus Dei by Francisco de Zurbarán. CC license.