Blood, Sweat and Tears… and Grace

A few weeks ago I was out doing some karaoke with some friends and sang “And When I Die” by BS&T. It’s a great song… but it got me to thinking. The poor guy in that song is really lost, and it’s such a shame because God has shown us so much about Himself and wants to grant us His beautiful grace and an eternal relationship with Him. So, I decided to teach on this more or less and as I’m going through it, I thought I’d reflect on some things in preparation for my teaching.

I’m not scared of dying,
And I don’t really care.
If it’s peace you find in dying,
Well then let the time be near.

Really, you don’t really care? Perhaps people have gotten to the point where they really don’t care about dying and they’ve been numbed to the significance of it. The irony in this is that, without Christ, you’re already dead, dog:

Ephesians 2:1-3 – And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.

Maybe it does make sense. After all, we are born into death in this universe. Ever since Adam and Eve decided they wanted to be their own gods, they experienced death… i.e., what we would call spiritual death but what is to God real death… alienation from Him. As a result we’re just slaves of our selfish desires carrying on according to the course of this world which is authored and led by Satan. What a sad state. I think BS&T sense this in the next verse of their song:

Now troubles are many, they’re as deep as a well.
I can swear there ain’t no heaven but I pray there ain’t no hell.
Swear there ain’t no heaven and I pray there ain’t no hell,
But I’ll never know by living, only my dying will tell.

There sure are troubles in this world. But we can’t figure anything out about eternity until we die? Is that true? How tragic would that be if it were true? But the fact is we can know, and it’s pretty straightforward too. God is a personal God who invented communication and has communicated clearly with us by coming here Himself and explaining it all in His Word:

Eph 2:4-9 – But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, [5] even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), [6] and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, [7] so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. [8] For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; [9] not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Look at that! God loved us so much that he came and did what we could not do for ourselves.

He reconciled us (restored unity by removing root cause of alienation, our sin by dying the death we deserve). I like the way Chuck Smith puts it in his “Why Grace Changes Everything” book:

First, all of your sins have been taken care of, washed, and forgiven because of your faith in Jesus Christ. Second, God looks at you as righteous because of your believing in Jesus Christ. Apart from what you are doing or not doing, apart from keeping any code of ethics, God is imputing righteousness to your account because you believe upon Jesus Christ.

It means that God has granted us a standing before Him just as if we had never sinned.

He raised us up from our spiritual death state to be with Him now and forever in eternity, including a seat of rulership in His eternal kingdom.

And probably the underlying current is that He restored a relationship with us, something that was lost in the garden and has now been reestablished. A real relationship where we experience the grace, peace, provision, and leadership of the God of the universe as was always intended. And all of this simply comes by trusting in Him.

That’s tripped out. It means we are a “new creation”. What a blessing to now come into this relationship which isn’t about “salvation insurance” as I used to think of it when I first got saved. But it’s a new life of love that means real impact in others life and most importantly being part of building God’s kingdom.

This is so clear and explicit in Scripture, how is it that we ever lose sight of this? I do though, and I’m so glad we have the Word to remind us when we turn to it. Otherwise I get caught up in basing my relationship with Christ on how I feel , or my circumstances, or the arbitrary sorts of self-righteous standards that I make up to make me think I’m doing good… never experiencing the flip side of grace: peace.

None of my efforts or self-derived perspectives is worth anything in a relationship with God. He’s done everything we need to relate to Him… why should we try and add anything else? Isn’t what He has done good enough?

What truly is cool is that we now can experience true freedom:

Eph 2:10 – For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so that we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. (NLT)

A relationship with God where we now can choose to trust Him, grow in Him and love others. Before, all we could choose was either to be enslaved to our selfish selves and follow the course of this world or to choose to enter into a relationship with Christ. Now after doing that, freedom is wide open to us. It’s too bad that what BS&T seem to desire so badly at the end of their song:

Give me my freedom for as long as I be.
All I ask of living is to have no chains on me.
All I ask of living is to have no chains on me,
And all I ask of dying is to go naturally.

is not freedom at all. But what real freedom is, is open to all when we trust Jesus for it.

Loosening Your Ties to the World

I am so thankful for our Body of Christ and the fact that we have this “radical” aspect…

  • A priority on love relationships, not performance, rituals, or even corporate worship… Our ability to relate starts with Jesus. I am so blessed by Him and filled with love from Him that enables me to love others and experience the relational “image of God” we were uniquely created to have.
  • A priority on the Word as the preeminent objective source for God’s revelation and discernment –> fuels and objectifies love; a document – preserved for centuries, having been tested time and time again only to stand stronger than ever through the gristmill of history – that is living and active, able to speak as clear as ever into the here and now
  • A focus on serving others –> most important outcome of love, our ability, calling, privilege to emulate our Lord, to reach out to those who don’t know Christ and serve those in need.. and experience what it means by “it is better to give than to receive”

But there is one area of “service” that will undermine all these aspects that make us a vibrant BOC and my life meaningful …

Luke 16:13 “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

How true it is that I can easily get caught up in the demands for “services” on me by the world. What an opportunity I have to invest in the world. That’s what it seems to be all about. I may be able to shrewdly make lots of money (or at least dream or always try to). I get paid … I can then gain some control, some fun, some comfort… But what does that really get me? How can I free myself from serving the pursuit of the American Dream to the pursuit of building the Kingdom of God?

Let’s go back to Luke 16 and see if there are any keys to be had…

Luke 16:1-13 Now He was also saying to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and this manager was reported to him as squandering his possessions. [2] “And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an accounting of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’ [3] “The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig; I am ashamed to beg. [4] ‘I know what I shall do, so that when I am removed from the management people will welcome me into their homes.’ [5] “And he summoned each one of his master’s debtors, and he began saying to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ [6] “And he said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ And he said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ [7] “Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ And he said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’ [8] “And his master praised the unrighteous manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the sons of this age are more shrewd in relation to their own kind than the sons of light. [9] “And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by means of the wealth of unrighteousness, so that when it fails, they will receive you into the eternal dwellings.

[10] “He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much. [11] “Therefore if you have not been faithful in the use of unrighteous wealth, who will entrust the true riches to you? [12] “And if you have not been faithful in the use of that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? [13] “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

The elements of the parable:

  • – A manager who’s messing up
  • – A rich owner who’s pissed at the manager
  • – The manager freaks out and decides to bail by settling the owners debtors in a very favorable way for them
  • – The owner praises the manager for his shrewdness in setting himself up for the future

Christ’s applications:

  • sons of this generation are shrewder than sons of light – a slam on Christ-followers … we’re too naïve and enamored with the bright lights of wealth to realize what we are really dealing with
  • make friends with money for eternity – money is a means to an end, but it is only that … it always leads to something, what will that something be?
  •  faithfulness with the insignificant money demonstrates trustworthiness if given more significant things – isn’t that what we ultimately want, something or at least to be part of or involved in something, or someone, that is really significant?
  • you don’t really own anything – this is a shocker… what do you mean it’s not my money?
  • you can’t really serve both God and money – this is a stunner … who do you serve?

These are the things that we need to take stock in. It seems to me that the bottom line here is one of a reality check. If what Christ is saying is really true… is that working itself out in my life? Or, am I blind to my allegiance? It’s not very hard to figure that out. What are you spending your money on? How big of a priority is it to “make friends for eternity” with your money? Is money an insignificant thing or not so insignificant thing? Are those my possessions?

Christ is saying, if you want to follow Me, you have to release your ties to the world’s values. Christians just don’t seem to get it (do we really look that different than others in the world who do not know Christ in the area of our finances?). Yet, we are in such a position to really score for the Kingdom with the unrighteous mammon we have. It’s really quite an opportunity. As Paul says:

1 Tim. 6:17-19 Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. [18] Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, [19] storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed.

We can invest our silly money in building our fellowship by supporting those who minister, are burdened, are effective at following God’s lead, teach, and establish a vibrant ministry.

Just as important are the greater ramifications of the Great Commission, to reach all the people groups of the world for Christ. The opportunities to support missionaries in this endeavor are many. This is only becoming a bigger issue. As our American $ drops like a rock, it costs more to minister overseas.

Related to this, but perhaps even more significant is that the same amounts of money we spend on cable TV, CDs, candy, fast food, cigarettes, etc… could go a long way with the brothers and sisters working in the less developed if not impoverished parts of the world where Christianity has wide open doors and people are under severe hardship. I’m not saying just throw your money somewhere to make yourself feel better. One needs to look into how ministries are making a difference and is it just social relief or is the Kingdom of God being built.

But in this ever shrinking world, we have a responsibility to share with those brothers and sisters less fortunate than us (2 Cor 8:13-14) … and why not, I got to believe it will go to building the Kingdom of God way more than what I would have spent it on.

Related to this is the fact that the pressure on the poor countries of the world is only increasing. The price of staple foods (rice, corn, wheat, etc…) has recently skyrocketed 50%. Countries that were already spending over 50% of their income are going to be devastated.
We spend less than 10% of our income on food, on average. It’s going up for us to, but the thing is, we for the most part buy processed foods, like Corn Flakes. I heard on an NPR article that the cost of the corn that goes into a bowl of delicious Corn Flakes has gone up from about 10 cents to 20 cents, a fraction of the total cost since most of the cost is in the processing (which has not increased in price too much). However, poor people do not buy Corn Flakes, they buy corn or rice… which has gone up 50%… if it was costing them at least ½ of their income to buy food, now it will cost them at least 75% of their income. This is very disheartening.

    We are a culture with all it’s energy focused on “making it”. And we have for the most part. From an article in 2001 (http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/fandd/2001/12/wade.htm) referring to data from the United Nations which dates back to 1989, the 20% richest people in the world possessed nearly 83% of the wealth of the world. I couldn’t find how much it’s changed since then, but I can’t imagine it’s changed that much in the opposite direction.

    We’re in that 20%. The reality is that the rich clip_image001get richer at the expense of the poor; that just ain’t right. Why are we so fortunate? Why is the child born in Rwanda who has nearly a 20% chance of not making it to his or her 5th birthday because of very treatable diseases caused in large part by malnutrition born there? I don’t know why, but it certainly is not because I deserve to be born here. If I really look at things the way they are, I sure as hell shouldn’t take it for granted.

    But the fact is we have an amazing opportunity. Since we have wealth, one thing we know is we have a ministry of sharing it!

    Did Jesus survive the crucifixion?`

    Let’s begin responding to Kersten’s elaborate and speculative explanation that Christ traveled and ultimately died in India with the key question, did Jesus survive the crucifixion? The other lines of “evidence” that Kersten brings up: the relationship between Buddhist and Jesus’ teaching, the perversion of Paul’s theology, and the travels of Christ before his public ministry and then after his crucifixion are all based on extremely speculative explanations which are based mostly on legends that are many hundreds of years removed from the actual events. However, Christ’s crucifixion and what happened afterward is regarded by all as a historical event with several reliable accounts in the Gospels where the facts can be subjected to scrutiny.

    Jesus’ ordeal  

    In order to survive the crucifixion, Christ after going through several trials before Jewish authorities (Mk 14:55ff, 15:1), Herod (Lk 23:8-12) and Pilate (Mk 15:2; Lk 23:2-5; Mk 15:6ff), which included scourging (Mk 15:15), beatings with fists (Mt 26:67) and rods (Mk 15:19), and a crown of thorns forced on his head (Mk 15:17)… then crucified…  somehow has to be able to recover after having appeared to die and then go and appear to his followers.

    An excellent explanation of Roman crucifixion in general and Jesus’ trials, beatings, and crucifixion in particular can be found in the article by Edwards, Gabel, and Hosmer: On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ in JAMA, V. 225, March 21st, 1986 pp. 1455-1463. 

    Now, the beatings and scourging at the hands of the Jewish and Roman guards was severe to say the least. Scourging was performed with a short whip of several strands that had either pieces of metal or glass tied at the end and was applied to the back while the victim was tied to a post or object. The whipping consisted of 39 lashes and the person administering the blows was well trained to execute maximum pain and damage by dragging the embedded metal or glass across the back shredding flesh and muscles often exposing the skeletal structure. It was not uncommon for people to die from this beating alone.

    Jesus’ crucifixion involved having your body stretched out across the perpendicular beams, wrists and feet were nailed to the cross severing nerves and resulting in burning pain. In order to breathe, Jesus had to raise himself up by pushing on the nail through his feet, scraping his back against the raw wood. The body would drain of blood as the heart is forced to beat faster as energy is expended to breathe. Jesus would be dehydrating resulting in intense thirst. And the heart would have to beat at an extreme rate in order to compensate for the loss of oxygen due to the lack of blood. This was significant for Jesus because the soldiers did not need to break his legs (in order to hasten death by asphyxiation – Jn 19:33) because they thought him to be dead already. Jesus “premature” death was probably due to cardiac rupture or cardiorespiratory failure.  The fact that “blood and water” poured out when Jesus was pierced by the Roman guard (Jn 19:44) would have certainly insured the death since it would have “probably perforated not only the right lung but also the pericardium and heart” (JAMA, p. 1463). This led the authors of the JAMA article to conclude:

    “However, the important feature may be not how he died but rather whether he died. Clearly, the weight of historical and medical evidence indicates that Jesus was dead before the wound to his side… Accordingly, interpretations based on the assumption that Jesus did not die on the cross appear to be at odds with modern medical knowledge.” – JAMA, p. 1463 

    Kersten’s explanation 

    Kersten believes that Jesus did not die after being crucified. In order to survive, he was drugged with a narcotic in his wine which put Christ in a comatose state after which he was revived by Joseph of Arimathea (a supposedly secret member of the Essene community and part of the plan) who helped in the resuscitation.  This is essentially a variation of the “swoon theory”, one of several alternative resurrection-theories.png

    theories to Christ’s resurrection from the dead.  It’s important to note that other than Christ dying and then rising, this theory is the only real explanation that allows Christ to appear after the crucifixion because the historical details presented in the Gospels regarding the beatings and process of crucifixion are really not disputed. 

    So, how does Kersten come to these conclusions since there is no evidence in the text that Christ was drugged?

    His first line of evidence is that when it says that the “sour wine” sometimes translated “vinegar” in John 19:29 that Jesus was given was actually not vinegar-wine at all. After all, if it was vinegar, it should have the same effect as smelling salts and should have temporary stimulating effect (p. 152).  But instead, it had the opposite effect… Therefore when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit. (John 19:30). Kersten argues that the Latin word for vinegar is “acetum” which comes from “acidus” which means to be sour. And that what Jesus was probably given was a drink from the soma plant, asclepias acida, which was used by Persians and Indians and was considered a symbol of divine life, a drink of the gods, and the drink of immortality which had the effect of the appearance of death for several days after which one awakes to an elated state of higher consciousness (p. 153).  Then to help Jesus revive… “If one assumes that Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus were secret lay members of the Essene Order, it is logical that they would have been well suited for the task of treating Jesus’ wounds and helping the healing process. As experienced healers, the Essenes were familiar with exotic drugs and remarkable methods of treatment.” (p. 171)

    Several aspects of this explanation are hard to believe. First, what does a Latin rendering of “vinegar” have to do with anything in a Greek text? Second, there is no indication at all from the text that what was administered had any narcotic value at all or that any real amount was actually taken in. It is at best, an argument from silence.  Third, there is no basis for Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus to be secret Essenes. “If one assumes” in this case is a real stretch and strays so far away from evidence and continues a pattern of conjecture and speculation that is throughout the book.

    Kersten’s second line of evidence is the Shroud of Turin which he feels is “more tangible than such speculation” (as to the question of whether Jesus really died) and believes to be the impression of Christ. He goes through many pages of explanation of how the wounds show that the victim was still bleeding after being wrapped up, which implies the heart is still beating, though blood loss would have been minimal so that it would not have been that bad for Jesus after all.

    Now, there are also several highly questionable aspects to this explanation as well. First and foremost is the fact that NO ONE KNOWS WHO’S IMPRESSION IS ON THE SHROUD! One cannot place any confidence in the Shroud for anything pertaining to anyone. Second, the views he takes of the impressions on the shroud are highly contested in and of themselves. (See the “Wikipedia” site for a good overview of the controversy) Third, in order to make his argument for the fact that the Shroud is Jesus, he has to rely on controversial legends about the travels of the Shroud prior to the thirteenth century which is the earliest known reference to the Shroud.

    I would have to say that Kersten offers an extremely complicated and speculative explanation for the crucifixion which goes way beyond the clear accounts given in the Gospels and held within Christianity since 33 AD. The crux for Christianity is whether or not Christ rose from the dead or not. “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins” (1 Cor. 15:17). It is not surprising then that the largest sections of the Gospels concentrate on Christ’s final week before his crucifixion, the crucifixion itself, and the resurrection.  The gospel of Mark is dated to about 30 years after the crucifixion (50’s AD) and Luke and Matthew maybe 10 years after that. John of course was written near around the turn of the first century (60+ years at the most after the event).  These accounts have withstood scrutiny for nearly 2000 years without any convincing argument or refutation against them. This is orders of magnitude more reliable than the impractical arguments Kersten raises and his reliance on speculation and legend.

    Did Jesus Live in India?

    An Indian friend of mine at work asked me if I had ever heard of a book about Jesus living in India. I hadn’t. He knew of this book and said it sounded historically based so I said I’d be interested in reading it, found a used copy on Amazon (Jesus Lived in India by Holger Kersten; Element Books Ltd.; Dorset, England: 1986) and read it.

    Needless to say, I had my doubts about the idea that Jesus lived in India. Before getting the book I did a few internet searches and found that this idea of Jesus being in India was first brought up by a Russian journalist, Nicholai Notovitch in the late 1800’s who claimed he found documents in a Tibetan Buddhist monastery that referred to Jesus’ life in India after the age of 12 where he studied the Vedas, upset the local Brahman priests because he questioned the divinity of the caste system, and then hooked up with some Buddhist priests and mastered the Buddhist Scriptures before returning to Israel to take up his public ministry. Notovitch didn’t actually read the documents himself, he had to have a monk read them to him which he transcribed and later assembled into a historical order. In addition, Islam, especially by Hazrat Ahmad (1835-1908 A.D.) the founder of the Ahmadiyya Movement (www.alislam.org/library/books/jesus-in-india/index.html), purports Jesus to have survived the crucifixion and traveled to the Kashmir region (Srinagar) where he died many years later and where his tomb can be found today. Although, Ahmad discounts Notovitch’s version of Jesus living in India as a young adult. The idea Jesus’ lost teenage and young adult years in India was also propagated in the early 1900’s with the release of the “Aquarian Gospel”, a transcription of The Akashic Records by fellow Ohioan Levi Dowling while in a meditative state, which includes Jesus life in India between the ages of 12 and 30 (the “lost” years). Ironically, the account of Jesus in India based on the Aquarian Gospel and Notovich is being made into a movie directed by Drew Heriot set for release in 2009 (http://movies.ign.com/articles/823/823030p1.html). So maybe this is more relevant than I first suspected. It’s important to note that there is no evidence that the documents Notovitch cites do or ever existed (see Johnson, http://answering-islam.org.uk/Ahmadiyya/notovich.htm).

    Kersten essentially melds the two views described above of Christ in India (before and after his public ministry and crucifixion) along with many other linkages between the Kashmir region and Abraham, Moses, and the Lost Tribes of Israel. These are based mainly on local lore written in documents many hundreds if not more than a thousand years after the fact and names of places related to the post-crucifixion names for Christ in the East: “Yuz Asaf” (leader of the healed) and “Isa-Masih” (Jesus the Messiah). Most convincing to Kersten, is the evidence for Christ surviving the crucifixion which comes from “physical” evidence in the form of the “Shroud of Turin” and the supposed tomb of Jesus in Srinagar (note the carved “footprints” on the side of the tomb which were meant to prove the identity of the deceased, much like fingerprints? – p. 208).

    Kersten has to sweep away or negate the reams of historical evidence in the New Testament and other sources. He essentially equates much of Christ’s teaching with being influenced by Eastern teaching: “far more than a hundred passages which give a clear indication that their roots go back to the older Buddhist tradition” (p. 74) andalmost everything that has ever been said about Jesus has parallels in ancient Indian legends” (p. 120). He has to ignore Christ’s Jewish and OT basis for his teaching and ministry, including prophetic references. He has to come up with an alternative account of how Christ survived the crucifixion via a drug-induced comatose state. And, he has to discredit Paul’s theology and distance Jesus’ teaching from Paul.  

    I will discuss these issues and evidence for and against in the next blog installment. Initially I thought this is a rehash of the swoon theory to explain the resurrection of Christ. But, since this is now being made into a movie, perhaps in response to Mel Gibson’s Passion, it will be good to go through and makes for a good Easter topic anyway.