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Tuesday, April 28, 2015

CrossTalk: Remembering Persons

“Who, after all, today speaks of the annihilation of the Armenians?” (Adolph Hitler)

I will. Will you?

I am writing these words on the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide. On April 24, 1915 the Ottoman Empire rounded up the community leaders in Constantinople and executed them. Thus began a reign of terror over the oldest Christian nation in the world. (Armenia had become Christian in 301 A.D. -- a full decade before Constantine came to power in the Roman Empire.)

Over the next eight years the Ottoman Turks worked to exterminate every Christian man, woman and child within their borders. After executing the Armenian leadership, their next order was to conscript all the males between the ages of 20 and 45 for military service thus removing most able-bodied men from their families. The women, children and elderly who were left were then rounded up and sent on death marches into the Syrian Desert. Most died of starvation and dehydration along the way. Those that made it to the last stop, Der Zor, found no refugee camp there. Instead, they were butchered by ax and sword. In all, approximately 1.5 million people were killed.

The world was reluctant to acknowledge these facts (and still is). This silence enabled Adolf Hitler, a mere 16 years later, to begin his own reign of terror with the words, “I have placed my death-head formations in readiness ... with orders to them to send to death mercilessly and without compassion, men, women, and children of Polish derivation and language. Only thus shall we gain the living space which we need. Who, after all, today speaks of the annihilation of the Armenians?” Hitler knew that those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it. And repeat it we have.

The holocaust of the Jews was not the last genocide of the 20th century. While 6 million Jews were being killed in Germany, between 8 and 60 million more people were being killed by Soviet Communists. Then, Communist China killed uncounted millions more. Who can forget the killing fields of Cambodia, or the slaughter in North Korea which is still ongoing after 60 years? More recently Rwandan Hutus slaughtered 850,000 Tutsis between April 7 and July 8, 1994. Even now, we are seeing regular spectacles of mass beheadings and slaughters of Christians in the very same Syrian Desert where 1.5 million Armenians marched to their deaths.

Who can forget? We can, and we do. The numbers are simply too staggering. The methods are too gruesome. The justifications are too close to home. For, even though the whole world agrees that it is wrong to take the life of an innocent person, yet every one of these murders was justified by the rationale that not all human beings are persons.

Thanks be to God, that the Lord who created these human beings has not forgotten them. Nor has He consigned anyone to non-personhood. The Maker of human beings does not agree with the judgments of the world that some human life is unworthy of life. Rather, He stands in judgment against the world’s judgments. For God’s part, He seeks out and loves the weakest most vulnerable. Jesus demonstrates His strength and sovereignty not by destruction of the weakest and smallest, but by dying for the weak and the small. He does not finish off the helpless, but raises up the helpless.

For this reason He came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary. He was made Man in order to rescue man. He came that you may have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10). In every place and in every heart that forgets this Truth, terror reigns. After all, once human beings can be stripped of their personhood, how could I ever be certain that my own life was worthy of life?

But Christ’s own death and Christ’s bodily resurrection is your own guarantee that you are worth dying for—not because of what you have done or not done, not because of your relative usefulness to society or even to God—but because of who you are. You are created by God in the Image of God Himself. You are one for whom Christ Jesus has given His own life.

If you are rebelling against God’s Word and God’s rule because you think it takes away your dignity, think again. If you think anyone worth less because they are rebelling against God, think again. Together let us listen to the Good Shepherd and learn to see our neighbor through the eyes of God. By this Word, you come to know the Good Shepherd Who lays down His life for the sheep (John 10:11).

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Did the Resurrection Really Happen?

Jonathan Fisk -

It's kind of an important question. I mean, if the resurrection didn’t happen, what on earth are we Christians doing? It’s not like it’s gaining us any power or money or anything. But if the resurrection did happen, then why is it that so many people in the world don’t believe it?

The resurrection did happen, and I can tell you how you can be certain of it. More than that, I can do it without telling you that you have to believe it just because the Bible says so. That’s the key thing. A lot of non-Christians in our world think that Christians are just a bunch of willfully ignorant nincompoops who believe in some book that fell out of the sky. But nothing could be further from the truth. Christians are Christians because something happened in history unlike any other thing ever: A guy named Jesus was murdered, but refused to stay dead. It’s not a leap of faith. It’s an historic fact that is as easy to prove as any other bit of history, if you aren’t too close-minded to consider the evidence.

  1. Jesus was a real human. Even without the Bible, modern scholars have to admit that there was a Jewish man named Jesus who lived in the first century. Non-biblical writings like Flavius Josephus, Mara Bar-Serapion and the Jewish Talmud all mention Him as a real, historical figure.

  2. The real human Jesus died by crucifixion and was buried. In the same way, some of these extra-biblical texts mention that Jesus was killed. They don’t go into detail, but only an ignorant person who gets all their information from internet forums will try to tell you that the real Jesus didn’t die, and wasn’t even buried.

  3. This Jesus had real followers who took his death very hard. At this point, we have to start trusting the books of the Bible as eyewitness accounts. We don’t have to believe they are true. We just have to trust that they tell us what the people who wrote them actually thought. That’s what we do with every historical document about any piece of history, at least, until we find other history that tells us something different. So the guy who wrote John’s Gospel around 90 AD also claims he followed this real guy Jesus, and believed He was the Savior of the world before He was murdered, watched Him die, and then fell into despair.

  4. Jesus’ tomb was found empty three days later. Next, the followers of Jesus who despaired after His death also tell us that they stopped despairing because He appeared to them as risen. But not just to them. Extra-biblical sources from Roman historians tell us that after Jesus was killed, “a most mischievous superstition...again broke out.” Yet another document, traced to Jewish sources, tells of a gardener named Juda who stole Jesus’ body. When you put all of these pieces of history together, and combine it with the fact that Christian belief in Jesus’ resurrection all started within walking distance of His tomb, there is only one reasonable historical answer: Somehow, some way, that tomb was empty.

  5. The disciples stopped despairing and started preaching, even though it meant their own deaths. Both biblical and extra-biblical documents tell us that Christianity came from the meeting together of these followers, in order to worship their leader “Christ” and listen to his teachings. Rather than give this up, the same disciples who once fled, willingly faced gruesome and painful deaths.

  6. Antagonists convert. James, Jesus’ brother by blood, and Saul, a man who made a business of killing Christians, were among these converts. More so, Saul’s own writings claim his reason for conversion was a face-to-face meeting with the risen Jesus.

  7. This is the event upon which Christianity is founded. Christianity is not direct proof that Jesus rose, but it is proof that people who knew Jesus personally before His death believed that He rose.

  8. Christianity was founded in Jerusalem. No one in the town where all this was happening could present the dead body so as to put a stop to it. Instead, the “stolen body theory” is preached even 
by the first skeptics.

  9. They worshiped on Sunday. These new Christians, a bunch of Jews (whose religion insists they worship on Saturday) start worshiping on Sunday, because Sunday is the day when they 
believe the resurrection happened.

  10. Do the math. The challenge for the non-Christian or the skeptic (which they are usually unwilling to take up) is to find an alternative historical explanation for where this Christianity came from which also fits all of these simple, documented facts. What could make orthodox Jews change their most sacred rituals, and go to the ends of the earth to tell others about it even though it only gets them killed? They say it was because they themselves saw this man risen from the dead. On top of this, the tomb was clearly empty and the man was nowhere to be found. So, what other explanation for all the facts can you come up with?
Over the last several hundred years the skeptics have tried. There’s the hallucination theory, and the swoon theory and that good ol’ stolen body theory. But none of those theories explain all of the above facts. You can’t steal a swooned body that gets up and walks away. Separate groups of people don’t experience the same hallucination. A Jesus who needed to be taken to the hospital would hardly have convinced terrified disciples to go out and die for him.
The simple reality is that there is only one explanation of the evidence that fits all the facts. It might be unbelievable, but it is anything but unreasonable. So put it in your pocket for the next time a skeptic attacks you with his claims that you are ignorant. Ask him how he explains what Tacitus says. Ask him why the Talmud called Jesus a sorcerer. Ask him to explain all the historical facts. Then, when he won’t (since he can’t), feel free to go right on believing the truth: that the resurrection did happen. Not only is it the best explanation for all of the real historical evidence, it also happens to be what the Bible says was God’s plan for the precise purpose of saving you.