Denying the Resurrection

So they took the money, and did as they were taught: and this saying was spread abroad among the Jews, and continueth until this day (Matthew 28:15).

Stories attempting to deny the truth often take much more faith to believe in than the truth itself.

As Jesus arose from the dead, the Roman guard had trembled and became as dead men (Matthew 28:4); they later report to the Temple authorities the things which had taken place (Matthew 28:11). The chief priests had no desire to believe them; their power and influence were centered on the Temple, and as good Sadducees, they denied even the potential of the dead to be raised (Matthew 22:23). They did not disbelieve the Roman guard, but instead attempted to suppress the evidence, giving them financial incentives to claim that the disciples came and stole the body while the guard slept (Matthew 28:12-14). Thus they did so; Matthew inserts himself into the narrative to declare that this story had circulated among the Jews for years after, even unto the time he was writing his Gospel (Matthew 28:15).

Giotto di Bondone - No. 37 Scenes from the Life of Christ - 21. Resurrection (detail) - WGA09225

Such is the way it has gone ever since among those who would deny Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. For generations many maintain great disincentives from maintaining confidence in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. If Jesus is risen, as Peter would make it clear in Acts 2:14-36, then Jesus is Lord and Christ, the King. If Jesus is King, then Caesar is not as powerful as he would imagine himself to be. If Jesus is King, and His people represent the temple of the living God (1 Corinthians 3:16-18, 6:19-20), then the Temple in Jerusalem has but a short time left, and its authorities are soon to be obsolete. If Jesus is the Christ, the hope of Israel, then His teachings must be true, and all must submit to Him, and not heed the Pharisees, scribes, and other professed teachers of the Law (Matthew 5:17-20). If Jesus is the risen Lord, the one like a Son of Man who received an eternal Kingdom (Daniel 7:13-14, Revelation 1:12-18), then He will bring to nothing the kingdoms of this world, and He is the true and full revelation of the One True God, a light in the darkness to those who persist in idolatry (Colossians 2:9, Hebrews 1:1-3). Those who benefit from the philosophies of men, idolatry, who exercise authority in governments, and who receive honor and respect as teachers, religious or otherwise, have much to lose and little to gain from the truth of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.

Throughout time some have maintained their integrity, have conceded their error, and submitted themselves to Jesus as the Risen Lord. We praise God for such good and honest hearts. Unfortunately, far too many have responded to the good news of the resurrection of Jesus like the chief priests did. They have found it easier to make up stories which deny the resurrection, no matter how fanciful or incredible, so that they can persist in living as they had formerly.

Some have claimed that Jesus did not truly die, but only fainted on the cross. They would have us believe that the Romans were not as effective as we might have imagined they were at executing people; that He was pierced in His side but made no movement or provided no indication of life (John 19:33-37); that He was wrapped in linen with many pounds of spices and aloes and remained merely unconscious (John 19:38-40); and then, after all that, to “awake” on the third day in full strength, roll the rock away, and fend off or cause great fear to come upon a whole Roman guard (Matthew 28:1-4). A truly incredible story! It takes far more faith to believe this than to accept the resurrection of the dead.

Some have claimed that the Apostles and others suffered from a mass hallucination. It strains credibility to suggest that more than five hundred people would suffer the same hallucination at the same time (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:3-8). Beyond this, those who claim to see things in hallucinations persist in them, and yet the Apostles and their associates claimed to see Jesus in the resurrection only over a forty day period, and then no longer (Acts 1:3). Claims of hallucinations cannot make sense of the story as written.

Yet perhaps the most commonly held view is the story circulated by the Roman guards and among the Jews in Matthew 28:13-15: the disciples stole the body of Jesus away while the Roman guard slept. First of all, the Roman army was nothing if not disciplined. Far less serious infractions than sleeping on the job led to decimation; if it were not for the chief priests’ intervention, this entire guard would have no doubt been executed (cf. Acts 12:18-19). The Roman guard would not have been sleeping, and they certainly would not have stayed awake had the disciples come, rolled the rock away, and took the body of Jesus!

Nevertheless, for the sake of argument, let us carry out this “story” to its end. Why would the disciples have taken the body? They would have wanted to do so in order to claim that Jesus was risen from the dead. According to the modern point of view, the death of Jesus would have led these disciples to some kind of religious experience or enlightenment so as to begin to claim that Jesus is actually Lord in heaven, that through their own study and observations they were able to re-tell the story of Israel and its hope in the Messiah along the lines of Jesus the crucified but risen Messiah, and this all on their own.

Such is a fabulous tale, and again takes far more faith than to accept the Gospels as written! Who among the disciples expected Jesus to rise again? They did not understand what Jesus meant when He had told them so beforehand (Matthew 16:21-23, 20:17-28). Simon Peter claimed to be ready to die with and for Jesus, ready to establish the Kingdom on earth, and struck a slave to that end (Matthew 26:30-35, 51-54). The disciples scattered when Jesus was arrested (Matthew 26:56); they even doubted when they saw Jesus in the resurrection (Matthew 28:17). Beyond all this it was apparent to everyone that the Apostles, particularly Peter and John, were “unlearned” and “ignorant” men from Galilee (Acts 2:7, 4:13): are these the men who on their own will devise a most compelling and novel re-imagination of God’s purposes of His Messiah?

The greatest testimony to the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is His disciples. Before the resurrection they are everything you would expect from proud but uneducated Galilean Jews, fervent in zeal, expecting the Christ to come, defeat the enemies of Israel, and ultimately usher in the day of resurrection, and ready to rule with him in that Kingdom. As Jesus is tried, executed, and raised from the dead, the disciples accept the truth of what is going on, yet still do not understand what it is or what it represents (e.g. Acts 1:6). Yet, after the Holy Spirit falls upon them in Acts 2:1-4, they are transformed into proclaimers of the Good News of Jesus of Nazareth, boldly indicting those who crucified Him, standing firm where they had once shrunk back, declaring that God raised this Jesus whom they had crucified from the dead, that He was the Servant of whom Isaiah spoke, He is begotten of God in the resurrection, He has all power and authority and will return one day to judge the living and the dead (Acts 2:17-10:41). The Gospel they preach, the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets in Jesus of Nazareth, is something no human would imagine from the pastiche of messages given in the Law and the Prophets and yet does embody and fulfill them; so it is that Paul can say that God has revealed the mystery of the Gospel in his time (Ephesians 3:1-6).

The Apostles and the Kingdom of Jesus they worked so hard to affirm only make sense in light of Jesus’ resurrection. Denying the resurrection leads only to stories more fabulous and more incredible than the sober testimony preserved in the New Testament. Ultimately no disincentive against belief in Jesus the Risen Lord is worth condemnation and eternal separation from God (2 Thessalonians 1:6-9). We do well to trust the testimony of the Apostles, trust in Jesus the Risen Lord, and seek to live according to His will!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Denying the Resurrection

The Proclamation

And there were shepherds in the same country abiding in the field, and keeping watch by night over their flock. And an angel of the Lord stood by them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
And the angel said unto them, “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all the people: for there is born to you this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. And this is the sign unto you: Ye shall find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, and lying in a manger.”
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men in whom he is well pleased” (Luke 2:8-14).

Thanks to generations of traditions, whenever people think about the birth of Jesus and its meaning, various Christmas themes invariably come to mind. We imagine the stereotypical nativity scenes; movies parody the devotion that many have to the “baby Jesus” that often is not communicated toward the Jesus of the rest of the Gospels. Many others seem to disassociate the “Christmas story” from the “Easter story” regarding Jesus.

Yet, as the angel’s proclamation makes clear, one cannot separate out the “baby Jesus” from the Jesus of the rest of the Gospels. One cannot disassociate the story of Jesus’ birth from the story of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and lordship. From the beginning, the angels declare Jesus’ identity: the son of David, the Savior, the Christ, Lord. This is a message of good tidings of great joy to all the people; a Gospel message, the beginning of the fulfillment of all the promises God has made to Israel through the prophets. Sure, the “baby Jesus” has not yet done any of these things. But the Incarnation of the Christ is complete; it really is the first miracle surrounding Jesus, and it paves the way for everything moving forward.

There is a strong temptation to minimize the birth story of Jesus; it is only in two of the four Gospels, it is associated with the Christmas observance and all sorts of things that do not come from the pages of Scripture, and there does not seem to be much in the way of redemption in the story. And yet the Incarnation is pivotal for everything that follows: God has taken on flesh and dwells among mankind (John 1:1, 14). He can now live the life He is to lead; He can teach what He must teach, do what He must do, and guide the grand story of God toward its ultimate triumph and the source of hope for all generations. Let none be deceived: there is no Golgotha, no cross, without the manger in Bethlehem. Without the events that transpired in Bethlehem on that evening, there could not have been an empty tomb. since there would never have been a body within it. There is no crucifixion or resurrection without the Incarnation; without the beginning of the Gospel, there really is no Gospel.

The Incarnation is deeply tied into the story, and its details bear this out. The angel’s proclamation does not come to Herod, the chief priests, the Sadducees, the Pharisees, or even city-dwellers; it comes to shepherds, the humble stock from whom Moses and David derived (Exodus 3:1-3, 1 Samuel 16:11-13). As with the shepherds, so with Jesus: He would maintain His ministry mostly on the fringes, amongst the villages of Galilee, speaking the language of rural life. Furthermore, Jesus is not in a palace, or in a crib bedecked with gold, but in a stable, amongst the animals, lying in a manger expropriated for the purpose, born to a carpenter and his peasant wife. His origins could hardly be more humble, and thus was the spirit in Him throughout His ministry (cf. Matthew 20:25-28). He would fulfill all the things spoken about the Christ, but not in the expected ways. He would manifest all spiritual power, but it would not be directed in the standard ways the world would have expected, and particularly toward the ends that Israel would have desired. The Child born in humble surroundings, proclaimed upon by angels to shepherds, would lead by serving, direct in humility, and reign with power on account of sacrifice.

The whole story is presaged at the very beginning; one can preach the whole Gospel message based upon what is found in Jesus’ birth account. God the Son became the Immanuel child and the Immanuel man, and through Him we have hope in the message of good tidings presented in His name. Let us make the same proclamation as the angels did that evening in Bethlehem, and honor Jesus of Nazareth as the son of David, the Savior, Christ the Lord, as thankful for the Incarnation as we are for His life, teachings, deeds, crucifixion, and resurrection that proceeded from it!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Proclamation

The Revolution

And when [the Thessalonian Jews] found [Paul and Silas] not, they dragged Jason and certain brethren before the rulers of the city, crying, “These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also; whom Jason hath received: and these all act contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, one Jesus” (Acts 17:6-7).

In the late eighteenth century, a small band of American colonists envisioned a revolutionary way of maintaining government– a nation without monarchy or aristocracy, administered by its citizens for its citizens. It seemed like foolish talk to a world full of kings and aristocrats, but with sufficient determination and a little bit of help from the enemies of their enemies, these colonists defeated their overlords and set the American experiment in motion. The model of that revolution would spread, first to France about a decade later, and then throughout the world over the next two hundred years. Now the constitutional republic of America is held up as an ideal for which other nations aspire. It was a revolution that started small but took over the world.

Around two thousand years ago, a small band of Jews traveled throughout the Roman Empire advancing a revolutionary way of thinking and living. They proclaimed that a Palestinian Jew executed for treason by the Roman procurator in the days of Tiberius Caesar was really king, because God had raised Him from the dead and had declared Him Lord with power. Since God had acted powerfully through this Man, named Jesus of Nazareth, all people, whether Jew or Greek, were to change their ways, no longer following in the paths of their ancestors, but should become more like this Jesus, humbling themselves and serving others. They dared to declare that God had torn down the walls that divide men from each other, and that regardless of ethnicity, race, language, social status, every man and woman were equally precious in the sight of the One True God their Creator, and they could all be one through Jesus. The people did not really need to fear Caesar anymore– sure, they needed to be good citizens, paying taxes and honoring Caesar, but they did not need to worship his Genius. If Caesar had them killed, they would die witnessing that Jesus was really king, and that they would live again. Death had lost its sting; the tyrant had lost his most effective tool for coercion. Little wonder, then, that the Thessalonians declared that these men were turning the world upside down!

The Jesus revolution was not like any other. It was less about political oppression or national aspiration and much more about the greater conflict between the spiritual forces of good and evil (cf. Ephesians 6:10-18). The Jesus revolution was about freedom from the bondage of sin and death so as to obtain life (cf. Romans 6:16-23, 8:1-8). A lot of revolutions lead to societal chaos or rampant immorality; this revolution led to greater love, mercy, and the practice of righteousness. It baffled the authorities of the day, for they perceived that the declaration that Jesus Christ was God and Lord was at least partially subversive, but the Christians did not act like political subversives.

They asserted, however, that the sum and substance of their fault or error had been that they were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god, and to bind themselves by oath, not to some crime, but not to commit fraud, theft, or adultery, not falsify their trust, nor to refuse to return a trust when called upon to do so. When this was over, it was their custom to depart and to assemble again to partake of food–but ordinary and innocent food. Even this, they affirmed, they had ceased to do after my edict by which, in accordance with your instructions, I had forbidden political associations (Pliny the Younger, Proconsul of Bithynia, to the Emperor Trajan, ca. 111-113; Letters 10.96-97).

This strange revolution spread; within three hundred years, it would consume the entire Roman Empire.

The call for the Jesus revolution would be diluted over time by tradition, compromise with worldly authorities, and particularly the lack of true zeal and devotion by its adherents for its core principles. It is true that the Jesus revolution did change attitudes regarding many practices; it is impossible to separate the developments of Western civilization from the principles of Christianity.

Nevertheless, the same message that turned the first century world upside down has the capability of turning the twenty-first century world upside down. It is time again for all men to hear the revolutionary message that Jesus is Lord. If Jesus is Lord, the spiritual powers of darkness and the political regimes of today are not. If Jesus is Lord, the message must go out about repentance and turning from the futility of the traditions inherited from our ancestors, and our need to pursue the image of Christ the Son with all devotion and zeal. The revolutionary Jesus message will have no power if it does not lead to a complete change in the way that we think, feel, believe, and act. Yet when we begin to think like Jesus, have the attitude of Jesus, and show love, mercy, and compassion like Jesus, people will take notice. That is how the revolution can spread, and again take the world by storm!

The Jesus revolution is not like any other. It demands the reformation of the heart, soul, and mind. Yet it is the only revolution that can truly change the world. Let us promote the revolutionary message that Jesus is Lord, serve Jesus as Lord, and obtain the glory of the servants of God!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Revolution

Walking as He Walked

He that saith he abideth in [Jesus] ought himself also to walk even as he walked (1 John 2:6).

Why did Jesus live?

It would be entirely understandable if people got the impression that Jesus lived only to die for our sins. A lot of emphasis in preaching and teaching falls squarely on the death of Jesus for sin and comparatively less on how Jesus lived and the lessons of His life.

This is not to say that Jesus did not die for our sins, or that His death was not part of His life. According to Ephesians 3:11 and John 1:29, Jesus’ death for the forgiveness of sins was understood from eternity and from the beginning of His work on earth. Romans 5:5-11 eloquently expresses the nature of Jesus’ death and its great value for those who would believe in Him. Furthermore, there must be an emphasis on the death of Jesus for sin in the preaching of the Gospel, since it is a significant part of what must be believed, and a good reminder of what was required for us to be redeemed from sin (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, Titus 3:3-8).

On the other hand, to believe that the only reason for Jesus to come to earth was to die would be a gross exaggeration and a distortion of what the Scriptures teach. If all Jesus had to do was to die, why did He preach and teach the people for three years? Why not just go quickly to Jerusalem and get it all over with?

Many may point to the fact that Jesus needed to first fulfill the prophecies made regarding Him, and that is certainly true (cf. Luke 24:44-47). Jesus Himself said that all things required fulfillment (Matthew 5:17-18). But are the only reasons why Jesus lived the fulfillment of prophecy and to die?

The Scriptures indicate that Jesus is the Word made flesh– if you see Jesus, it is as if you are seeing the Father (John 1:18, 14:6-11). Jesus came to communicate in word and deed the nature and essence of God. This was not designed to be a mere intellectual exercise or a model attempt!

When we read Scriptures like the “Sermon on the Mount” in Matthew 5-7, the various parables in Matthew 13 or Luke 14-16, or the instructions to the disciples in John 13-17, among other passages, it becomes quickly apparent that Jesus in life is interested in making disciples who will follow Him, live by His principles as He did, and to proclaim His message and advance His Kingdom for His purposes and to His glory.

Under both covenants the command is given to be holy as God is holy (cf. Leviticus 11:17, 1 Peter 1:16). We are to love others as God has loved us, and this is expressed most powerfully through Jesus Christ (1 John 4:7-21). When we stop and think about it for a moment, all of the commands, principles, and exhortations of the new covenant– either regarding clinging to the good or abhorring the evil (cf. Romans 12:9)– are grounded and based upon the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.

This is why John is able to express the truth simply: if we will abide in Jesus, we must walk as He walked. We must be imitators of Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1). Granted, there are some aspects of Jesus’ life and teaching that apply to first century Judaism and are not directly relevant for the new covenant, yet this does not change the reality that the foundation of the ethics, principles, and statutes of the New Testament is Jesus and what He accomplished in life.

Did Jesus live to fulfill prophecy and to die for the sins of mankind? Certainly– but His life means so much more. He lived to show us how to live. He became flesh and showed the way through His words and His deeds. He shows us that it is possible to be human and yet be holy and godly, both in what we are doing and in what we avoid.

But how can we walk as Jesus walked if we do not know how He walked? If we believe that we are Christians, then we must claim that we are disciples of Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:18-20); how can we be disciples, or learners/followers, of Someone whom we barely know and under whose feet we are not sitting in order to learn? While all Scripture is profitable for spiritual growth (2 Timothy 3:16), the four Gospels should always hold a special place in our hearts, devotions, and study, for they are where we find the life and work of Jesus of Nazareth, our Redeemer, Lord, Master, Teacher, and Friend. Let us walk as Jesus walked, growing in His grace and knowledge (1 John 2:6, 2 Peter 3:18)!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Walking as He Walked

No Greater Faith

And the centurion answered and said, “Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof; but only say the word, and my servant shall be healed. For I also am a man under authority, having under myself soldiers: and I say to this one, ‘Go,’ and he goeth; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he cometh; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he doeth it.”
And when Jesus heard it, he marvelled, and said to them that followed, “Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel” (Matthew 8:8-10).

“Faith” is a word casually thrown around in our world. Most people recognize that religion has a lot to do with faith. Many in America believe that all one needs is faith. Yet, despite all this talk of “faith,” precious little energy is devoted to what this faith looks like.

Since Jesus provides such a great commendation for the “faith” of this centurion, we would do well to consider his example.

As a centurion in the Roman army, he understood authority. The Roman military expected complete obedience to every command; they conquered the known world because of their famous discipline. When the centurion received orders, he strove to fulfill them. When he gave orders, he expected them to be fulfilled. Everyone knew their place and their function, and it was assumed that they would do what they were told. Consequences for disobedience were sufficient to keep such a system in place.

The centurion hears of Jesus and believes the claims made about Him– he beseeches Jesus by calling Him “Lord” (Matthew 8:6). Based on that conviction, he makes his request, and he knows that if the Lord grants the request, the thing will be accomplished. He has no need to have Jesus come to his house and to see Jesus perform the act in front of him– he understands that if Jesus is Lord, and He says something will take place, it will be accomplished.

He also knows his place. He declares himself “unworthy” of having Jesus come to his house. He recognizes authority when he sees it and defers properly to that authority.

This is the type of faith that causes Jesus to marvel. What of us?

Do we have the conviction that Jesus is Lord? Well and good– what do we do with that conviction? Do we have the confidence in Jesus to accept that if He says that something will come to pass, that it will happen? Do we have the confidence in Jesus to believe that if we lose our lives, we will find them (Matthew 16:25)? Do we have the confidence that if we put the Kingdom first, God will provide (Matthew 6:33)? Do we have the confidence in Jesus to forsake all in order to serve Him (Matthew 10:37-39)?

Do we really understand authority? Americans live in a country high on freedom and quite skeptical of authority figures. Do we really accept Jesus’ Lordship? Can we see ourselves as His servants (Romans 6:16-18)? Are we willing to entirely subject our own wills to His (Galatians 2:20)?

Furthermore, can we muster the humility to recognize our place before Jesus the Lord? Do we recognize our own unworthiness of having the Lord in our presence (cf. Titus 3:3-8)?

The centurion shows how we can have a “marvelous” faith. That faith is the strong conviction of Jesus’ Lordship leading to great humility and subjection before Him. Let us have this faith so that we can recline at table with the Patriarchs and the Lord!

Ethan R. Longhenry

No Greater Faith