Monthly Archives: October 2012

Coincidence

I do not believe in coincidence. I believe we live in a universe created by a God who did not simply wind it up and let it go but placed upon the universe and all creation certain specific laws which govern how the universe and all creation work. There are absolutes which cannot be broken, violated or ignored. Mathematics is absolute. Two plus two always equals four. Truth is absolute. I also believe God created people in His image as independently thinking, feeling and acting beings who have decided to ignore and rebel against Him. As an eternal being we, as temporal beings, cannot completely know or understand Him. We can know Him. We can understand Him. But we will never completely know and understand Him. He created us like Him so we might have a relationship with Him. This does not mean we are god but have the tools needed to see the evidence of His actions, hear Him when He speaks and act accordingly. We do not act as those who are like Him but demand He be like us. We are not in control. He is in control.

I have no desire to enter into the circular arguments which surround predestination and election. We cannot know how God knows what He knows but that He knows what He knows. We cannot understand why He does what He does but that He does what He does. He has revealed Himself to us and us to ourselves. Because He is God He knows intimately and wholly everything there is to know. Because we are temporal created we can know only what we can see, the evidence of what has happened and what is revealed extrapolating what from what we see, the evidence and revelation truth. If we are honest with ourselves we will see our fighting against accepting the obvious. God is, we are, and there is a rift between us and God and between each individual. Relationships are broken especially the people’s relationship with God.

Everything which happens has purpose and is directed by God to bring each person into a more intimate relationship with Him. Jesus’ death and resurrection was directed by God and has the purpose of bringing each person created by God into an intimate relationship with Him which they do not have. His resurrection and the absolute evidence of his life, death and resurrection points to God’s desire for relationship with those created in His image. This may sound like a stretch in logic but then we have not fully examined all of the evidence. We have not examined the evidence of the ancients talking about and predicting His coming and death and resurrection. Here is too much evidence to ignore the fact they knew God was doing something. We have not examined the life, works and words of Jesus but he did live and spoke and acted. There is too much evidence to ignore. We have not fully examined the truth of his resurrection but it happened. There are too many people who saw him die, knew he died, then saw him alive. All of the evidence points to the direction of God in his life, death and resurrection.

We have examined the evidence of his death, though not exhaustively. He was a man and he was put to death by professional executioners. All of the evidences says he was real, alive and then dead. All of the evidence given is trustworthy. His resurrection is the touchstone and benchmark of truth. In order to be raised he must first be alive and capable of dying and then die. All of the historical evidence of how he died is trustworthy. Yet, we now are faced with the fantastic related by only one of the witnesses. What Matthew relates is incongruous with what has been happening.

Four things happen in conjunction with the death of Jesus. We can explain two of them based on the third. We can explain the last based only on the resurrection of Jesus.

There was an earthquake. Jerusalem was situated on top of a mountain. We might call it a hill. A major fault line runs from the tip of the Sinai Peninsula up the Jordan valley. Major earthquakes hit the area every 80 to 100 years. Smaller earthquakes are common. When Matthew’s document records an earthquake there should be no surprise. “And the earth shook, and the rocks were split” [Matthew 27:51 ESV]. Two things happened, probably in conjunction with the earthquake. First, the curtain separating the Holy of holies in the temple was torn from top to bottom. “And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom” [Matthew 27:51 ESV]. Second, many tombs were opened. These tombs were cut into the side of the mountains with heavy stones rolled into place to cover and block the entrances to them. “The tombs also were opened” [Matthew 27:52 ESV]. Earthquakes break things. Especially, mad-made things.

Now, we are faced with the improbable. Those tombs contained people who had died. Matthew tells us specifically, “many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised” [Matthew 27:52 ESV]. We do not know how long these were dead. We do not know when they were raised or whether they went on to live for a long or short time only to die again. “Raised” means to awaken, to be roused from a sleep. People do not put those who are asleep in a tomb and roll a stone in front to keep them in. They put those who are dead in a tomb and roll a stone in front to keep people out and the stench of death in. Some people who had died were brought back to life after Jesus’ death and probably when he was raised. Matthew gives us a timeline stating “and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many” [Matthew 27:53 ESV]. He identifies them as “saints” or those who are morally blameless and consecrated to God. Notice, they appeared to many which means they made themselves known to people. There is no evidence denying this statement. There is no evidence denying the curtain was torn or the tombs were opened in conjunction with an earthquake.

Jesus’ resurrection is the profoundest evidence for the certainty of all else written by Matthew. Nothing about what happened is coincidence. All of what happened is directed and has purpose.

Finished

Jesus has been on the cross for at least three hours, likely more. His body has reached the end of its endurance. I have briefly described the torture and torment suffered by this man since the early hours of the morning. Not only has he suffered at the hands of men, not only has he been exposed to the elements, not only has he heard the taunts and mocking of those who falsely accused him before the Religious and Roman court, but even his God forsook him. How many people could stand, could endure the complete abandonment faced by Jesus? Yes, his mother was there and at least of few people he knew who loved him. They were a small contingent surrounded by a mob who did not care for him, who were doing their job executing him, or who wanted him dead. Those who loved him gave some comfort but not to his body. They could not. Jesus was truly alone on the cross when he died.

All four documents are witnesses to the death of Jesus on the cross. Matthew and Mark tell us Jesus “cried a loud cry” [Mark 15:37 ESV] or “cried out again with a loud voice” [Matthew 27:50 ESV] before dying. Luke, relying on eye-witnesses to the events to tell us the words of Jesus gives us a long statement, especially long for someone exhausted from such an ordeal. “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” [Luke 23:46 ESV]! I can hear him uttering these words in short, rasping, guttural cries. God, who had abandoned him, as he exclaimed just moments earlier, did not cease being God to him. This statement carries a number of assumptions which can be discovered and determined only by examining the life and ministry of Jesus.They cannot be ignored nor explained away. There is no reason to suggest Jesus did not cry this statement just before he died.

Finally, as he dies, for he truly dies, Jesus utters one more word. “Finished” [John 19:30 ESV] or “completed.” There is more to the word than a declaration the torture is over, the suffering is done, and they can do nothing else to his body. This word carries the meaning of a debt which has been completely paid in full. His job is done. His task is complete. His reason for coming is fulfilled. He has nothing left to do. These are the implications of this last word.

And, Jesus died.

He did not swoon, descending into a coma or catatonic state, immobilized yet retaining even the vaguest spark of life. He died. His death is a real death. There is no evidence suggesting he did not die. Jesus the person died on the cross. When he breathed his last his body died. There was no possibility of rescue. Those Roman soldiers standing around guaranteed his death. They would let no one rescue him. When they put him on the cross there was only one possible outcome. He would die. How long it would take is irrelevant. Some have lasted days on a cross. Jesus lasted hours. He died.

“Finished.” Before Jesus is resurreected he first died.

I Thirst

Dying is thirsty business. Jesus whispers he is thirsty. Not everyone heard him say this. But some did. John tells us he uttered these words for two reasons. His death was imminent and his thirst was predicted. “After this, when Jesus realized that everything was now completed, he said (in order to fulfill the Scripture), ‘I’m thirsty'” [John 19:28 ESV]. He had just cried out in anguish, lamenting why God, his God, had abandoned him. Some mistook this agony for a cry to Elijah to come and rescue him. Others continued mocking him muttering aloud their own desire for Elijah to come and save his life. They no more believed Elijah would come than they believed the innocence of the one hanging, nailed to the cross.

Jesus was a man. He has endured torture at the hands of Roman soldiers experienced at delivering the most pain without killing their victim. He has had nothing to eat, though he probably could not have eaten. He has had nothing to drink, having refused the gall offered before he was impaled through his arms and feet to the cross. He has been scourged, his skin cut to ribbons by a whip designed to flay. He has had to carry a heavy beam and been unable to. Another was forced to carry it for him. He has been exposed to the elements, hanging for several hours while an unusual darkness which, at that time of year, brought cold. He is feverish, dehydrated, traumatized. Still, he continues to pull himself up with arm muscles burning from exertion and on feet impaled by a single spike. His pain and agony, his physical condition was real, a tangible horrifying experience which would soon end in his death.

Two accounts are given of Jesus receiving this last drink. In the documents written by Matthew and Mark he cries out with a loud voice. Did any who were not crucified remain silent through the experience? All cried. We have some historical evidence suggesting some, a very few, withstood the pain stoically. Jesus was not one of these. He cried out. He felt real pain and cried out with real cries. When he did this Matthew says “one of the men ran off at once, took a sponge, and soaked it in some sour wine. Then he put it on a stick and offered Jesus a drink” [Matthew 27:48 ESV]. Who the man was we do not know. It probably was not one of the soldiers there. It was probably one of his disciples, who filled with empathy tried to alleviate at least some of Jesus suffering. John tells us they put the sponge filled with sour wine on a “branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth” [John 19:29 ESV]. This sour wine was not the gall offered earlier.

Hyssop is a small plant used in the ritual cleansing of the temple by the priest. Its stalk is at most 18 inches and flimsy. Mostly likely, the sponge soaked with sour wine was attached to a reed, a long stick or even a javelin (a husso) with hyssop. Every Jew living in or visiting the temple in Jerusalem knew what hyssop was and its use in the temple. John suggests Jesus’ request for a drink and the use of hyssop to deliver the sour wine has implications beyond a simple act of mercy by an eyewitness.

Giving a drink to a dying man is an act of mercy. Jesus is moments away from death. A real man having real needs facing real death. His resurrection is as real as he.