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Saturday, 30 April 2011

The Resurrection of Jesus - Part 6

Although, as already stated, no reputable scholar has ever doubted the emptiness of the tomb in which the mortal body of Jesus had been laid there have been, over the centuries, many attempts to explain that emptiness without recourse to the miracle of the resurrection.

The earliest recorded attempt was, of course, that by the chief priests.  Matthew records that, after the women had gone to tell the disciples this wondrous news that he was not dead, but was risen, "... behold, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sum of money to the soldiers and said, 'Tell people, And if this comes to the governor's ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.' So they took the money and did as they were directed; and this story has been spread among the Jews to this day." (Matt 28:11-15).   Such a story takes a lot of believing.  It ignores the fact that the disciples were afraid of the Jewish hierarchy (see John 20:19).  It ignores the fact that soldiers knew that they were responsible, with their own lives, for the safekeeping of any prisoner - even One Who had been crucified - and simply wouldn't have fallen asleep while on duty.  It ignores the fact that there was nowhere where the disciples could have hidden the Body, that would not have been discovered by the Jewish and/or Roman authorities.

Another suggestion is that Jesus didn't actually die, but 'merely' swooned on the cross; revived in the tomb; and let Himself out; convincing all of those with whom He met that He had been resurrected.  Once again, one does not have to be a criminal lawyer to pick large holes in such a suggestion.  It ignores the fact that this Man had undergone, not just crucifixion, but also the sleeplessness, lack of food and water, physical abuse, and flogging of the twelve hours (or thereabouts) prior to that crucifixion.  This suggestion expects us to believe that Jesus, in this extremely weak state, could revive; slip out of the grave-clothes in such a way as to leave them undisturbed; move that heavy stone - from inside the tomb, where He would have had to depend on obtaining sufficient 'friction grip' with the palms of His hands - up that incline; carry it a distance from the tomb; get past the guards; acquire some suitable clothing; and appear to His disciples looking as strong as He apparently did!   John Stott suggests, concerning this theory: "Such credulity is more incredible than Thomas' unbelief" (Basic Christianity).

Another popular 'explanation' is that the women went to the wrong tomb!  Not only would that have been highly unlikely (how many of us would go to the wrong grave, just a few days after the burial of a dear friend?) but, if it had been the case, would not the authorities have quickly produced the Body from the correct tomb, and paraded it around Jerusalem in order to scotch these crazy rumours once-and-for-all?

Yet others suggest that it was the authorities, themselves, who moved the Body in order to ensure that the tomb didn't become some sort of 'pilgrimage site', and a focus for future rebellion.  This theory is no more reasonable than the suggestion that the disciples removed the Body.  Oh, of course, it immediately gets around the difficulty of getting it past the guards.  However, once again, all that the authorities had to do to destroy the testimony of the disciples, was to parade the Body around Jerusalem.

Of course, the whole thing may just be the result of hallucination!  All of the alleged post-resurrection appearances were nothing more than wishful thinking translated into visions!  One of the problems for those who propound such a theory is that we now know a lot about hallucinations.  We know, for example, that only particular kinds of people are subject to hallucination.  These are highly-strung, highly imaginative, nervous types.  Yet the recorded appearances of the risen Jesus were to a variety of people with differing psychological make-ups.  We also know that an hallucination is a very personal experience.   You and I may both hallucinate simultaneously.  But we will not experience the same hallucination.  The pink elephant that you see walking into the room, will be seen by me as a yellow submarine floating on the table-top.  If we both see the pink elephant, it will be at different times, and in different places.  Yet the risen Jesus appeared to groups of people of varying sizes - and, on one occasion at least, to over five hundred people, simultaneously. (see I Cor.15:6).  No modern psychologist would accept that this was all nothing more than hallucination!

There is, in fact, only one explanation that accords fully with all of the known evidence.  That explanation is "... that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, ... " (I Cor 15:3-4).

The decision is now yours to make.  The evidence speaks for itself.  It says very clearly:

"Christ is risen; He is risen indeed!"

Each of us must ask ourselves that question that Pilate put to the crowd: "... what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?"  (Matt 27:22).  Upon our answer to that question depends our eternal destiny!

Friday, 29 April 2011

The Resurrection of Jesus - Part 5

So, here we are, with the fifth part of this series of posts dealing with the resurrection of the Lord, Jesus the Christ.  Can we summarise the positive evidence for this momentous event in the history of planet Earth?  I believe that we can.

First of all, as already mentioned, there is the fact that Jesus was dead!  It may seem that this is one of those self-evident statements that do not need to be made - but there are those who claim that it is not true.

However, let us consider, again, the purpose of crucifixion.  It was, simply and plainly, to kill the victim.  It was the execution of the death penalty.  The survival of someone who was crucified was as likely as the survival of someone strapped to the electric chair; placed in the gas chamber; hanged from a gallows; stood before a firing squad.  It simply didn't happen.  When the words of the Apostles' Creed state that "He was crucified, dead, and buried;" that is exactly what happened.

But there is specific evidence that He died!  John, who was an eye-witness of the terrible deed, recorded something that would not have had any particular meaning to a Galilean fisherman of some 2,000 years ago, but that God the Holy Spirit ensured that he wrote!  In John 19:34-35, he writes "... one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. He who saw it has borne witness - his testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth - that you also may believe."  Now, medical experts assure us that, if Jesus had still been alive when the soldier pierced His side, then strong spurts of blood would have emerged with every heart-beat.  What John saw, however, was not even (as I used to think!) two separate spurts, side-by-side - a bit like dual flavoured ice-cream from a 'Softy' machine.  What he saw was the seeping out of a watery serum, containing semi-solid clots of blood.  This, to a modern pathologist, is clear evidence of massive clotting of the blood, and is exceptionally strong medical proof of death.  John, of course, would have had no idea of that significance to a modern medic.  That spear-thrust, and its outcome, is positive proof that Jesus had died.

The emptiness of the tomb has already been mentioned, and will be mentioned again.  But it, too, is rock-hard (no pun intended!) evidence that Jesus had risen from the dead.  For example, the seal was broken.  This was not, of course, some form of air-tight seal around the circumference of the stone disc. It was a legal seal, by which a cord would have been fastened across the stone, and sealed at each end by the "... the leading priests and Pharisees ..." (Matt.27:62; 65-66).  To have been caught breaking such a seal would have had dire consequences indeed!   The guard, too, was an attempt by the Jewish hierarchy to keep the Body of Jesus under their control!  But if death itself could not hold Him, what chance had a group of Temple soldiers?!

Even the stone bears witness to the resurrection.  Someone has said that it was removed, not to let Jesus out, but to allow the witnesses to go in!  However, the language used by the evangelists is of great interest.  Remembering that this 'stone' was not just some convenient, but large boulder, but a specially shaped stone disc, like a very large millstone (without the central hole, of course!). It would have been upright, in a groove that was slightly inclined, and a chock would have been used to keep it away from the entrance.  When the chock was removed, the stone rolled down in the groove, and at an angle against the rock-face.  Little wonder that the women were concerned about moving it!  When we check the original Greek text, we discover that prepositions are used that clearly indicate that the stone was separated from the tomb, at such a distance that it appeared to have been picked up, and carried away!

Finally (for this post) there are the post-resurrection appearances of the risen Lord.  These appearances were to individuals and small groups (e.g. Mary Magdalene, the two on the road to Emmaus), and to larger groups (e.g. the disciples, the group of more than five hundred of whom Paul speaks - I Cor.15:6).  These were people who had not expected the resurrection; yet who then went on to "... turn the world upside down ..." (Acts 17:6).

Evidence?  Many have been convicted in modern law-courts on evidence that is less compelling!  Until tomorrow!

Thursday, 28 April 2011

The Resurrection of Jesus - Part 4

It's Sunday, early in the morning.  Some women, "... who had come with [Jesus] from Galilee followed, and saw the tomb, and how His body was laid; then they returned, and prepared spices and ointments.  On the sabbath they rested according to the commandment. But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices which they had prepared.  And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the Body." (Luke 23:55-24:3).

Why did these women prepare spices, and return to anoint the Body of Jesus?  For the very simple reason that they expected to find it there!  Indeed, Mark records that there only concern was about who would roll the large stone disc from the entrance to the tomb - itself hewn out of the solid rock (Mark 16:3).  Were they unaware of the seal that the high priest had left to ensure that the tomb was undisturbed?  Did they think that they might manage to persuade the soldiers to attend to the heavy work?  Were they even aware that a guard had been set?!  We don't know!  the only thing of which we may be certain is that they fully expected a body to be there to anoint.

As we amalgamate the four Gospel records we discover that, as the women arrived, "... there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone, and sat upon it. His appearance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men." (Matt 28:2-4).  Mark's account states that, having arrived at the tomb, the women "... saw that the stone was rolled back; - it was very large.  And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe; and they were amazed. And he said to them, "Do not be amazed; you seek Jesus of Nazareth, Who was crucified. He has risen, He is not here; see the place where they laid Him." (Mark 16:4-6).  This young man (the angel?), instructed them to tell the disciples - especially Peter, who was undoubtedly still smarting form his denial of the Lord, and who needed this special word of encouragement - and the women, understandably, fled!  However, they did as they had been told, and, according to John, Mary Magdalene "... went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, 'They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.'  Peter then came out with the other disciple, and they went toward the tomb. They both ran, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first; and, stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; he saw the linen cloths lying, and the napkin, which had been on His head, not lying with the linen cloths but rolled up in a place by itself." (John 20:2-7)  Peter and John then returned home; but Mary - who must have followed them to the tomb - remained, weeping.  It was at this point that she had that amazing encounter with the risen Jesus.

The major point that this record makes is that the tomb was empty!  At least, it was empty of the Body of Jesus.  The grave-clothes were there; the piece of linen that had been wrapped around the head was there; but of the Body, there was no trace.  And this is something that has never been disputed by any serious scholar, because the evidence is so overwhelming.  J.N.D.Anderson - a former lawyer and professor of Oriental Law in the University of London, has written: "Have you noticed that the references to the empty tomb all come in the Gospels, which were written to give the Christian community the facts they wanted to know?  In the public preaching to those who were not believers, as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, there is an enormous emphasis on the fact of the resurrecetion, but not a single reference to the empty tomb.  Now, why?  To me there is only one answer: There was no point in arguing about the empty tomb.  Everyone, friend and opponent, knew that it was empty.  The only questions worth arguing about were why it was empty, and what its emptiness proved."

These are still the important questions, today.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

The Resurrection of Jesus - Part 3

It is possible to concentrate so much on the crucifixion of Jesus, that the hours beforehand are all but overlooked.  This is a major mistake. Let's think, all too briefly, of some of what happened, from the moment when, led by Judas Iscariot, the soldiers - accompanied by the leading priests, and the elders - arrested Him in the Garden of Gethsemane (Lk.22:47ff). 

First of all, He was taken to the home of Annas, father-in-law of the High Priest where He was questioned about His teaching.  Then He was sent to Caiaphas, the High Priest, where He was 'tried' (if it can be called a trial) and found guilty of blasphemy.  Then He was taken to the Roman Procurator, Pontius Pilate - where the main charge suddenly became one of telling people not to pay their taxes (an outright lie!).  Pilate then discovered that Jesus was a Galilean, and had Him taken to Herod Antipas, who was in Jerusalem at the time - possibly for the Passover.  Herod had Jesus returned to Pilate, who then tried to have Him released.  The chief priests were having none of this, and informed Pilate that, if he let this Man go free, then he was "... no friend of Caesar" (Jn.19:12).  Neither for the first, nor the last, time, political expediency won the day!

Of course, all of this was not done with sensitivity and compassion.  During these trials, Jesus was knocked about; butted with spears; spat upon; and mocked.  Then Pilate decided that He should be flogged and crucified.  The flogging has been described thus: "The adjudged criminal was usually first forcefully stripped of his clothes, and then tied to a post or pillar in the tribunal.  Then the awful and cruel scourging was administered by the lictors or scourgers.  Although the Hebrews limited by their law the number of strokes in a scourging to forty, the Romans set no such limitation; and the victim was at the mercy of his scourgers."  

The brutal instrument used to scourge the victim was called a flagrum, and was made of long strips of cord, or leather, into which were tied pieces of bone and/or metal. These ensured the total laceration of the victim's flesh.  When we add to all of that the 'crowning' with thorny branches; the agony of being re-clothed as the material rubbed against the broken and bleeding flesh; and the fact that all of this was at the end of a period of sleeplessness of more than 24 hours; and we get some idea of the physical torture that the Saviour experienced.

Yet there was more to come.  Now He had to carry His cross - or, at the very least, the horizontal beam - all the way to the place of execution.  This proved too much and, eventually, the Roman soldiers - not known for dispensing much of 'the milk of human kindness' - compelled Simon of Cyrene to carry the cross for Him.
At Golgotha, He was tied, and nailed, to the cross, which was then raised to the vertical position. Each of the Gospel records has the simple words "And they crucified Him", because when they were first written, people were all too aware of the horrors of that method of executing the death penalty.  One, more modern, author spells it out in graphic detail: "The unnatural position made every movement painful; the lacerated veins and crushed tendons throbbed with incessant anguish; the wounds, inflamed by exposure, gradually gangrened; the arteries - especially at the head and stomach - became swollen and oppressed with surcharged blood; and while such variety of misery went on gradually increasing, there was added to them the intolerable pang of a burning and raging thirst; and all these physical complications caused an internal excitement and anxiety, which made the prospect of death ... bear the aspect of a delicious and exquisite release."

Yet, in enduring all of that - and much worse, for His suffering was not only physical, but also spiritual as He became all the ugliness, and vileness, and evil, and depravity, and wickedness, and contemptibility, that is sin (see II Cor.5:21) - He was still able to utter those amazing words, "Father, forgive them, for they don't know what they are doing." (Luke 23:34).

"Amazing love, O what sacrifice,
the Son of God, given for me.
My debt He pays
and my death He dies
that I might live,
that I might live!"  (Graham Kendrick)

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

The Resurrection of Jesus - Part 2

The Bible is full of prophecy - not just that which is "forthtelling" (i.e. "This is the Word of the Lord"), but also "foretelling" (i.e. predictive: "This is what is going to happen").  A study of the latter group will show that many of them have been fulfilled, although there are some that have yet to be realised.  However, one 'sub-group' that can be easily checked out, is that which comprises the claims of the Lord Jesus that he would rise from the dead.  Indeed, John Stott, in his useful little volume, Basic Christianity, writes that "Jesus Himself never predicted His death without adding that He would rise, and described His coming resurrection as a 'sign'" (my emphasis).

Think about it!  If you, or I, were to go around and inform our friends that, not only would we die a violent death, but that three days later we would rise from the dead, we would be instant candidates for a prolonged stay in an institution for the mentally unstable!  And this would be right and proper.  Only a mentally unstable person would go around talking like that unless that person knew that what was being claimed would actually take place.  Only One Who is God could speak thus, with the certainty with which Jesus spoke.

There are too many of these instances for me to give them all in a single post, but here are just a few examples:  "Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to Him, 'Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.'  But He answered them, 'An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign; but no sign shall be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so will the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.'" (Matt 12:38-40; my emphasis).  "... after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee." (Matt 26:32).  "... He was teaching His disciples, saying to them, "The Son of man will be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill Him; and when He is killed, after three days He will rise." (Mark 9:31).  ""The Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised." (Luke 9:22).  "Jesus answered them, 'Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.'  The Jews then said, 'It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?' But He spoke of the temple of His body. When therefore He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken." (John 2:19-22).

Of course, there were also many others who testified to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus - many of them in circumstances in which it is highly unlikely that they would have been merely "making something up"!  Ignatius, who became the Bishop of Antioch, was born less than 20 years after the death and resurrection of Jeus so, while he was not himself a contemporary of the Lord, he would have known people who were alive at that time.  He was martyred by being thrown to wild beasts, in the Colosseum in Rome.  On his journey there, when he would undoubtedly have been in a most sober frame of mind, he wrote his Epistles. Referring to his Saviour, he wrote, "He was crucified, and died, under Pontius Pilate.  He really, and not merely in appearance, was crucified, and died, in the sight of beings in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth.  He also rose again in three days."

The resurrection  of Jesus, the Christ, is an event in history, every bit as much as is the Battle of Bannockburn, the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, or the destruction of the Space Shuttle Columbia.  We may discuss the meaning of it - that is theology; but the historical event is a matter of looking at the evidence.  The nature of the resurrection Body of Jesus may be a mystery (although I do have my own theory!), but its disappearance from the tomb is also a matter to be decided upon by examining the historical evidence.

Until tomorrow - and Part 3!!

Monday, 25 April 2011

The Resurrection of Jesus

It is just as well that I am a man of words!!  A great deal of my time this evening has been taken up with a Facebook discussion with some of my former pupils on the Person of the Lord Jesus; the reliability of the Bible; and the creation/evolution debate!  Well, it's good to know that some of them think of more than the latest electronic gadget, pop song, or whatever else occupies the minds of the majority of young people today.
I then logged on to the online version of The Independent newspaper - and got myself involved in another discussion on the historical existence of Jesus of Nazareth, and the fact of His resurrection (which event was celebrated, yesterday, by millions of people around the world).

So is there any real evidence for that event?  It's an important question!  Josh McDowell makes the point that it "... is one of the 'most wicked, vicious, heartless hoaxes ever foisted upon the minds of men, or it is the most fantastic fact of history."  I'm not actually happy with the use of the word "fantastic" which, itself, is related to "fantasy".  The resurrection of Jesus is an undeniable, fully accredited, fact of history.  And this is not surprising.  It is unimaginable that Father God would allow such a momentous event to be left in some sort of historical limbo - to be believed, or not believed, according to the whim of the individual!  And, of course, it is the keystone of the Christian Faith.  The Resurrection of Jesus, the Christ, and Christianity itself, stand or fall together!

So what is the evidence?  First of all, there is far too much to cover it in one post!  Indeed, books have been written on that evidence.  So, this evening is just an introduction and, God willing, I will add a post each night this week until I have covered all of the main aspects of the evidence.

My plan is to briefly deal with the importance of the Resurrection in this post.  Then, in subsequent evenings, I hope to deal with the claims of the Lord Jesus that He would rise from the dead - a claim to which more credence was given by the Chief Priests, than by the disciples!  This, I hope, will be followed by a post on the situation at the tomb before the Resurrection; one on the post-resurrection scene; one on the positive evidence for the Resurrection; and one - or possibly two! - on some of the offered "alternative explanations" for the empty tomb.  That should take me nicely up to the end of the week and, possibly, to Sunday as well!
So, why is the Resurrection of such great importance?  Well, I've already mentioned that it is the central plank, the corner-stone, of the Christian Faith.  Paul writes to the Corinthian believers: "... if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless. And we apostles would all be lying about God—for we have said that God raised Christ from the grave. ... And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost!  And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world." (I Cor. 15:14-19)

It also makes Christianity unique among the belief-systems of mankind.  Of the major world-systems that are based on personalities - only Christianity claims an empty tomb for its Founder.  Abraham, the recognised father of Judaism, died about 1900 B.C. - but no-one has ever made any serious claim that he was resurrected from the dead.  When the Buddha died, possibly in the mid-6th century B.C., it was recorded of him that it was "with that utter passing away in which nothing whatever remains behind." (the Mahaparinibbana Sutta), and there is no trace in the Buddhist holy writings of him having existed after his death, or having appeared to his, presumably distraught, disciples.  Muhammad died in 632 A.D., and his tomb in Medina is visited, annually, by tens of thousands of Muslims.  Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, died in 1539 A.D.  His body, it is claimed, disappeared while those of his followers who had come from a Hindu background, and those from a Muslim background, argued over the manner of its disposal.  But there is no claim that he was ever seen alive again.  Only Jesus left an empty tomb!

Finally (although there is so much more that could be mentioned), there are the recorded words of the Lord Jesus Himself.  "The Father loves me because I sacrifice my life so I may take it back again. No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded." (John 10:17-18; my emphasis); and "'Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.'  ... when Jesus said 'this temple,' He meant His own body. After He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered He had said this, and they believed both the Scriptures and what Jesus had said." (John 2:19-22).

Michael Green, in his book Man Alive, states that, "Christianity does not hold the Resurrection to be one among many tenets of belief.  Without faith in the Resurrection there would be no Christianity at all.  The Christian church would never have begun; the Jesus-movement would have fizzled out, like a damp squib, with his execution.  Christianity stands or falls with the truth of the Resurrection.  Once disprove it, and you have disposed of Christianity.  Christianity is an historical religion.  It claims that God has taken the risk of involving Himself in human history, and the facts are there for you to examine with the utmost rigour.  They will stand any amount of critical investigation."

I trust that this, and the the ensuing posts, will be of help to anyone who wishes to thus investigate.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Marriage - there's no getting away from it!

Having just read that SNP leader, Alex Salmond, has publicly given his personal backing to the introduction of full homosexual/lesbian (let's call a spade 'a spade', and not 'a manually-operated agricultural digging implement') marriage, I am astounded by the reported words of Tim Hopkins, director of the Equality Network: “We very much welcome Alex Salmond’s personal position on the issue. Whoever wins the election, we look forward to a consultation and then legislation.”

Let me read that again!   "... we look forward to a consultation and then legislation.”   This gives me the impression that this "Equality Network" or, at least, its director, has already decided what the outcome of the consultation will be!!  That, I would suggest, does smack of more than a little arrogance.

Of course - and at the risk of "Anonymous" (see Comments under my post on Good Friday) seeing me as even more of a "homophobic" "bigot" than he already thinks that I am - this is the sort of attitude that this (small) section of the population seems to be increasingly displaying.  This is why they, either individually or in their lobby groups (and, it seems, with the financial support of the British taxpayer through the involvement - always in support of those who insist on living out this perverse and unproductive lifestyle - of the government-funded EHRC) appear to think that the Christian community, on whose beliefs this nation was founded, are 'easy meat' for legal action, sometimes on the flimsiest of grounds and, indeed, sometimes appearing very much like entrapment.

Mr Salmond is, of course, as is every other individual, entitled to his personal point of view.  However, as the article suggests, he may have done his party a great dis-service as there may be many who, in the light of his statement, will be reconsidering their support for the SNP at the forthcoming elections to the Scottish Parliament.

Easter Day

"The Lord is risen"  "He is risen, indeed"
The traditional Easter greeting appears, at least in the circles within I move, to have gone somewhat out of fashion.  Yet those eight words encompass the greatest message that has ever been told among mankind.

It's a message of victory.  Paul writes to the early disciples of Jesus in Corinth: "... thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ." (I Cor 15:57).

It's a message of hope.  In the same letter Paul says "... Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died." (I Cor 15:20)  In other words, the resurrection of the Lord Jesus is not a stand-alone event, but the forerunner of the resurrection to eternal life for all who have placed their trust in Him.  "Just as everyone dies because we all belong to Adam, everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life. But there is an order to this resurrection: Christ was raised as the first of the harvest; then all who belong to Christ will be raised when He comes back." (I Cor 15:22-23).

It's a message of power.  "... the end will come, when He will turn the Kingdom over to God the Father, having destroyed every ruler and authority and power.  For Christ must reign until He humbles all His enemies beneath his feet.  And the last enemy to be destroyed is death.  For the Scriptures say, "God has put all things under His authority." (Of course, when it says "all things are under His authority," that does not include God Himself, who gave Christ His authority.)  Then, when all things are under His authority, the Son will put Himself under God's authority, so that God, Who gave His Son authority over all things, will be utterly supreme over everything everywhere." (I Cor 15:24-28).

It is a message of reconciliation.  "For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself, no longer counting people's sins against them. And He gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation."  (II Cor 5:19).

There's only one relevant question!  It was asked of the people of Jerusalem, by the Roman procurator, Pontius Pilate.  "... what should I do with Jesus Who is called the Messiah?" (Matt 27:22).  On your personal answer to that question, hangs your eternal destiny.  Come to Him, "... Who is the living cornerstone of God's temple." (I Peter 2:4) and, confessing your pwn sinfulness, fall before Him, like Thomas, and acknowledge Him to be your Lord, and your God. (see John 20:28).

Friday, 22 April 2011

Good Friday

Well, the Friday bit, anyone can understand.  It's simply a day of the week.  But why is it called "Good" Friday?  After all, hasn't it got to do with Someone dying on a cross - one of the most excruciatingly painful methods of executing the death penalty that the twisted mind of mankind has invented?  What's good about that?

If it was just any man who had died like that, I suppose that there wouldn't be anything good about it.  But this wasn't just any man.  This was the One known as Jesus of Nazareth; the One Who was the Creator God in human flesh.

Some years later, a man named Paul referred to that crucifixion in a letter to some of the disciples of Jesus in the city of Corinth.  He wrote: “For our sake He (God the Father) made Him (God the Son) to be sin, who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”  (II Cor 5:21; RSV)
John, one of the earliest disciples of Jesus, affirms to us that “God is love” (I Jn.4:8, 16).  And he isn't claiming that God is merely the highest form of love; but that He is the very essence of love.  Without God, love would not exist; without love, God could not exist. 
Paul, in those words to the Corinthian church, is telling us that when He hung on the cross, Jesus, the sinless, holy, perfect and without blemish Lamb of God, did not merely take my sin upon Himself, and pay the penalty that I owed.  He says that He became the very essence of sin.  He didn’t just die for my sins - amazing 'though even that would have been; He became all that sin is – all the ugliness, and blackness, and virulence, and bitterness, and maliciousness, and pollution, and poison, that is sin.  I wonder, was that what Isaiah saw as he was allowed to look over the horizon of time and get that glimpse of Calvary centuries before the event?  “He had no form or comeliness that we should look at Him, and no beauty that we should desire Him.” (53:2).  No wonder that, for a brief moment of human time, the Father could not even look upon the Son, causing Him to cry out, in anguish, “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?”
And He did all of that; He became sin; for you, and for me!  The hymn-writer didn’t quite get the message when he wrote “O help me understand it, help me to take it in; what it meant to Thee, the Holy One, to bear away my sin.” (K.A.M.Kelly).  H.G.Spafford was closer when he wrote “My sin – oh the bliss of this glorious thought – my sin, not in part, but the whole is nailed to His Cross, and I bear it no more; Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul”
And that is why this is Good Friday.  Because it was on that first Good Friday that sin was defeated; the devil conquered; and the way made open for sinful men and women to commune, directly, with their Creator.  And, of course, that wasn't the end of even that part of the greatest story ever told.  But that's for the day after tomorrow!

Monday, 18 April 2011

Certainty - in uncertain times.

The message that I brought to the Annual Conference of the Christian Police Association, is now available to hear on my Audio Blog at  ("hot-link" in right-hand-side bar).

It is at the top, as it has been posted as a post (!!) and not simply as a recording.  This is because I wished to provide some explanation!

Don't forget to listen to the short message, available each day until Easter Day, at the top of the right-hand-side bar.  The message "The Real Easter?" is also well worth a listen!!

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Holy Week Videos

Once again, the helpful folk at Damaris ( have provided some helpful video material for Holy Week.  There is also a video - The Real Easter? - that will be available all week.  I do recommend that everyone watches both that one, and the daily one that will change each day until Easter Day.

Happy viewing!

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Marriage - still under attack!

"His only motivation was money and he treated the marriage ceremony as nothing more than a financial transaction." These are the reported words of a member of the United Kingdom Border Agency's Immigration Crime Team, regarding Mr.Abdallah Magezi, a Ugandan national, who was convicted on Thursday at Basildon Crown Court of conspiring to facilitate a breach of UK immigration law.Magezi was described by the UKBA as the "Mr Fix-it" of an operation to hold bogus nuptials at St John's Church in Dock Road, Tilbury. 

This week, I also received some election material from the Christian Institute regarding a call by the (tax-payer funded!) Equality and Human Rights Commission, that the next Scottish Parliament legalise homosexual/lesbian 'marriage'.  At the Westminster level of UK government, it is claimed by one prominent homosexual news website, that both David Cameron and Nick Clegg (Prime Minister, and Deputy P.M., respectively) would like to "allow homosexual marriage and heterosexual civil partnerships".  The hold-back would appear to be, not moral, but financial, with even the homosexual lobby group, Stonewall, estimating that the cost would be in the region of £5 billion!  The Coalition Government is currently 'consulting' on allowing same-gender couples to register their civil partnerships within church buildings - something that they are not, at present, legally entitled to do.  It is claimed that this would only be 'permissive' legislation - but one wonders how long it would be before it became compulsory for clergy to perform such ceremonies!  Certainly, recent events have shown up something of the deviousness of the homosexual lobby and, if given an inch, they seem, very quickly, to be demanding a mile!    

Added to all of this is the promotion for primary schools, by Stonewall, of books such as King & King, Daddy's Room-mate, and Hello, Sailor - all written to promote a homosexual lifestyle as not only acceptable, but even commendable!

The traditional definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman, for life, and to the exclusion of all others, is not something arbitrary that was dreamed up by some Victorian evangelical Christians!  It is a definition that spans every culture, at every time.  True, there have been (and are!) some cultures in which a man is permitted to take to himself more than one wife.  But the general 'male/female within set boundaries' situation still holds.

Jesus made the situation perfectly clear when, having been asked by some Pharisees about the legality of divorce, He replied: "... from the beginning of creation, 'God made them male and female.' 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.' So they are no longer two but one flesh." (Mark 10:6-8; RSV).  In addition, there is the simple, biological fact that in order for a new life to be produced, a female egg must be impregnated by a male sperm.  There is no other way!

I hope that anyone who is approached by a candidate over the remaining two-and-a-bit weeks before the election, or who has the opportunity to attend a hustings, will ensure that such matters are raised, and the candidates' views sought.  We owe it to our children, and our grandchildren - and to the Lord.

Friday, 15 April 2011

I believe in God because ...

Sharon is a Youth Worker.  She has only got the time it takes to toast a slice of bread, to explain why she believes in God - not just accepting that He exists, but trusting Him with her life.  Listen in to see how she does (it's only a little more than a minute!!).

Monday, 11 April 2011

After the Conference.

The CPA Annual Conference, 2011, is ended and, by now, even the furthest-travelled delegates should be safely back home.  Indeed, many of them will probably have already completed a shift on duty!

It was, by any standard of measurement, a successful conference.  More than a hundred delegates gathered from every part of the UK - the south-west of England; the City of London; the Midlands; Wales; N.Ireland; Scotland (of course!); and many other Forces.  All united in a common love for, and allegiance to, the Lord Jesus.

My own parts, as stated in the previous post, were preaching at the Saturday evening Praise Service - which was open to the local inhabitants of Kincardine and Tulliallan (and a number were in attendance); and being involved in the brief Act of Remembrance at the Scottish Police War Memorial.

The theme of the Conference was "Certainty in uncertain times", and my message on Saturday was based on Psalm 46.  It's a psalm that speaks of God in three different ways: as our Refuge, in the midst of chaos - the One in Whom we may find shelter; as our Help in the midst of the culture and society in which we live - the One Who acts on our behalf; and as our Confidence, in the midst of the nations - the One in Whom we may have implicit trust.  He is, indeed, for His people, our Certainty in uncertain times.  We also listened to the personal testimonies of two officers - a reminder that we all come to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus in different ways, because salvation is a deeply personal experience.  I hope to be able to add a recording of my message to my audio blog at so do check from time to time!!

At the brief service on Sunday, we remembered not only those who had died on military service in the two World Wars but also, by name, those serving officers who had died since the beginning of last year - including PC Ronan Kerr of the Police Service of Northern Ireland murdered, just over a week ago, when a bomb exploded underneath his car as he set off to report for duty.  Although simple, that service - the first of its kind at a CPA Conference - seemed to be appreciated by all of those who were in attendance.

Regretfully, I was unable to attend the other sessions, but the reports that I have heard were all very good, and there was certainly a great sense of fellowship.  Please continue to support your own local officers in what is a demanding, difficult and, sometimes, demoralising job.  Believe me, they deserve that support!

Friday, 8 April 2011

Christian Police Association Annual Conference

This year, the CPA Annual Conference is being held in Scotland - at the Scottish Police College in Tulliallan.  If I recall correctly, this is the first time that it has been held north of the border - and if not, then it is certainly the first time for a very long time!

The CPA is the oldest Force Support organisation within the Police Force(s).  It was founded in 1883 by Catherine Gurney - who also founded the Police Convalescent Homes (Rehabilitation Centres) in Reading, Bershire; Harrogate,N.Yorkshire; and Auchterarder, Pethshire.  She also founded police orphanages and schools, and travelled abroad to continue her work and thus make the CPA a truly international organisation.  Little wonder that she was eventually awarded the OBE - a much more worthy recipient than the majority of those who receive such awards today!

Tomorrow evening, I have the privilege - in my dual capacity as a member of the CPA and a Force Chaplain - of ministering at the worship service (which is also open to the general public) to be hosted by Tulliallan and Kincardine Parish Church, where my friend, Rev Ken Donald, is the minister.  On Sunday morning, I will also (D.V.) be officiating at a wreath-laying ceremony at the War memorial at the College.

I share all of this to do two things.  First of all to emphasise the fact that there are many disciples of Jesus within our Police Forces, throughout the United Kingdom.  Indeed, I know of at least three Chief Constables who are members of the CPA!  They, and many others, have found that it is perfectly possible to be a committed  follower of Jesus, the Christ, within the Police Service.

The other reason is to encourage those of my readers who, themselves, are disciples of Jesus, to pray for our police officers and civilian staff.  Indeed, the CPA has an initiative that gives specific ideas as to how you might pray for your local officers.

For example, you might wish to contact your local police station and find out the names of the Community/Neighbourhood Police Team.  If you are within the Strathclyde Force area, you will be able to access that information online - although movement of officers means that it might not always be totally accurate!  Other Forces may have the same information on their websites.  You could then pray for those officers, by name, perhaps on a "rota" - so many each day.

You might also listen to local radio and television news, and take note of any items involving the police that should be the subjects of prayer.  Logging on to the website of your local Force and navigate to the news/appeals page, where you may find out about local situations over which you could pray.

If anyone would like to have a copy of the Pray4YourPolice card, please leave a comment to that effect (it will not be published!) together with an e-mail address and I will happily scan both sides and forward it to you.

I feel tremendously privileged to have had this door of opportunity opened to me, as I seek to serve the officers and civilian staff within my own Division.  It would be good if many others were to join with me in my most important duty - to pray for them, on a daily basis!

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

The listening PM!!!

I am so proud of my Prime Minister!  How brave of him to announce, with regard to changes in the NHS in England, that he and the Coalition Government are going to listen to the people who are most involved.  Well done, sir!  You deserve the congratulations.

However, now that you have set such a worthwhile precedent, may one expect the announcement of further listening exercises?  If the Prime Minister is short of ideas, I would suggest that he consult the people who are most involved concerning our continuing membership of the discredited, disastrous, debacle that is known as the European Union!  Since the people who are most involved are in that particular case, the British people as a whole and, especially, the hard-pressed tax-payer, this would require a referendum.  I await the announcement.

May I also suggest to the Prime Minister that he withdraw the £650 million grant that he has made - without, to the best of my knowledge, any consultation with Parliament, let alone the taxpayer who is funding it - to the nuclear weapon holding, and space exploring, nation of Pakistan?  This is the country in which Section 295c of the Penal Code allows minority groups to be targeted if they say, or are even falsely alleged to have said, something considered to be uncomplimentary about the Islamic prophet, Muhammad.  Yet the P.M. doesn't even lay down conditions to go along with his beneficence.  I am all for supporting those in genuine need - but it should be genuine!

The PM might also consider listening to those who are, currently, of pensionable age.  He might explain to them the rationale behind the proposed introduction of a straightforward single State Pension being awarded only to "new" pensioners - while the existing ones have to continue to go through the minefield of form-filling in order to obtain that for which they have given a lifetime's work.  Surely, if "we are all in this together", then all should be treated equally!

Finally, the PM might consider the unwelcome ramifications of the Human Rights Act, 1998.  Did he not actually promise a new British Bill of Rights?  When is he going to deliver on that promise.  If he is concerned about the withdrawal of support from his Coalition partners, I would suggest that he has nothing about which to worry.  They've had almost a year of ministerial cars, and the other perks of being in government.  Oh, they'll shout a bit, and insist that they are not in favour.  But does he honestly think that they will do anything to bring down the government?  As is often asked, "Do turkeys vote for Christmas?"

So come on, Mr Cameron.  make me - and, I suspect, a lot of other people - even more proud of you.   And please start with that referendum on our continuing membership of the EU!

Monday, 4 April 2011

A "secular" Bible!

There I was, casually listening to the closing minutes of this morning's "Today" programme on BBC Radio 4.  Suddenly, my ears pricked up as John Humphrys, the presenter, announced that the well-known atheist, and humanist philosopher, A.C.Grayling had just had published a "secular Bible".  That sounded like an oxymoron, and my attention was guaranteed.

It's true! The official title of the volume is "The Good Book: A Secular Bible".  Mr Humprys (himself, at best, an agnostic) read a few verses from the King James (Authorised) Version of the real Bible, and Mr Grayling then read the "equivalent" passage from his own book.  Both of them had the good grace to agree that the language of the KJV was much more majestic.

However, it's not the language of any particular version of the Bible that is important - it's the message; and it never changes.  Dr Giles Fraser, a regular contributor to the daily "Thought for the Day", and Canon Chancellor of St Paul's Cathedral was at hand to debate with Mr Grayling.  However, I was rather disappointed as he seemed to think that humour was the best defence of the written Word of God!

Mr Grayling's book, according to Bloomsbury, the publishers, draws "... on the wisdom of 2,500 years of contemplative non-religious writing on all that it means to be human – from the origins of the universe to small matters of courtesy and kindness in everyday life – A. C. Grayling, Britain’s most popular and widely read philosopher, has created a secular bible.  Designed to be read as narrative and also to be dipped into for inspiration, encouragement and consolation, The Good Book offers a thoughtful, non-religious alternative to the many people who do not follow one of the world’s great religions. Instead, going back to traditions older than Christianity, and far richer and more various, including the non-theistic philosophical and literary schools of the great civilisations of both West and East, from the Greek philosophy of classical antiquity and its contemporaneous Confucian, Mencian and Mohist schools in China, down through classical Rome, the flourishing of Indian and Arab worlds, the European Renaissance and Enlightenment, the worldwide scientific discoveries of the 19th and 20th centuries to the present, Grayling collects, edits, rearranges and organises the collective secular wisdom of the world in one highly readable volume.
Contents: Genesis; Proverbs; Histories; Songs; Wisdom; Acts; The Lawgiver; Lamentations; Concord; Consolations; Sages; The Good; Parables

However, what Mr Grayling apparently fails utterly to do is to deal with the condition of mankind.  I was so disappointed that Dr Fraser failed to make any mention of the root problem of mankind - that which we call sin!  Sin, according to my memory of the Shorter Catechism, "... is any transgression of, or want of conformity to, the Law of God."  That covers both sins of commission, and of omission.  Of course we may learn from the great philosophers of the past.  One of Mr Grayling's favourites would appear to be the Greek, Seneca - a contemporary of the apostle Paul.  I recall, as an undergraduate, doing some essay work on Seneca  - and discovering that his thinking was so close to that of the New Testament, that I wondered if he had, in fact, like Paul, become a follower of the Way (Who is Jesus)!  Perhaps Mr Grayling should do some deeper research into Seneca's writings!

This newly-published volume may have been named "the Good Book" - but it will not explain the sinfulness of mankind; it will not point me to the only sufficient remedy for sin; it will not show me a God Who loves me so much that, in the Persona of the Son, He was willing to suffer death for me. 

I don't believe that it was mere coincidence that, when I went up to my study for my time of private devotions, the little book that I am currently using had, for today "The Wisdom in God's Word"!  Here is the opening paragraph: "We treasure Scripture.  It's God's inspired Word, and it teaches us the way to true life in this world, and eternal life in the world to come.  Indeed, it is the source of a wisdom that goes beyond that of the wisest philosophers (I Corinthians 1:20).  Bu this fact is rarely acknowledged in pour culture." 

"... a wisdom that goes beyond that of the wisest philosophers."  And that even includes A.C.Grayling.  I think that I'll stick with the original Bible - not just the "Good Book", but the "Best"!

Saturday, 2 April 2011

It's easy to spend other people's money!

I am no enemy of the Scottish National Party.  In previous elections, I have occasionally supported them with my vote, and believe that, given the constraints that are automatically laid upon a minority government, they have performed well during their four years in office.  Indeed, as I look at the possible alternatives (another LibLab coalition!), I sincerely hope that they gain sufficient seats on May 5th to be able to form a strong government for the next five years.

However, I don't believe that the party has done itself any good with the reported spending of more than £53,000 of taxpayers' (and, even with a very modest pension, I am still included in that group!) money, by endeavouring to block a Freedom of Information request regarding financial details of the party's local income tax policy - intended to be an alternative to Council Tax.  It is reported in today's Herald newspaper that Scottish Information Commissioner, Kevin Dunion, incurred the bulk of the legal costs after the Government attempted to take him to court - arguing  that the original FOI request was invalid, and that Mr Dunion did not have a right to view the documents.

The First Minister, Alex Salmond, eventually moved away from the court threat, after which the commissioner backed the newspaper and ordered disclosure of the information.  However, as if all of that wasn't bad enough, the newspaper also reports that it was confirmed, last week, that the Scottish Government intends to dispute this decision in the Court of Session - leading to further expense for the hard-pressed taxpayer!

Perhaps, in such cases, when it is a particular Party's policies that are involved, it should be the responsibility of the Party to meet any costs.  As it is, there appears to be a bottomless crock from which governments, and political parties, and politicians, have granted themselves the right to withdraw any required (whether, or not, genuinely necessary!) funds.  I, and my fellow-taxpayers, keep the crock filled up - the politicians empty it.

Aye, it's easy to spend other people's money - but is it always morally defensible?