Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Ascension of Jesus

"You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth." Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. Acts 1:8-9 NKJV

Most scholars agree the Ascension of Jesus occurs on the Mount of Olives east of Jerusalem, the highest point in the area. Other references to the Mt. of Olives draw our attention to this place of importance. In Zechariah 14, the prophet pictures a restored Jerusalem and a Divine Warrior who will rescue Israel. Shadows of Christ's earthly ministry and the Messiah's Second Coming point to certain victory with, "The the LORD will go out and fight against those nations... On that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem..." (14:3-4) Since ancient times, many Jews have wanted to be buried here. Jewish tradition believes "that when the Messiah comes, the resurrection of the dead will begin on the Mount of Olives. There are more than 150,000 graves currently there, including some notable rabbis, and the Tomb of the Prophets which is said to contain the remains of Zechariah, Haggai, and Malachi.

Scripture records Jesus at the Mount of Olives on various occasions during His earthly ministry. In Mark 13 and Matthew 24, sitting on the Mount of Olives Jesus delivers what Biblical historians call the "Olivet Discourse" as He explains the "Signs of the End of the Age" to the disciples. On Palm Sunday as Jesus leaves Bethany and enters Jerusalem descending from the Mt. of Olives, He weeps for Jerusalem. The Garden of Gethsemane is at the foot of the Mount of Olives, and Jesus prays there prior to the crucifixion. It is here He is betrayed by Judas. In prophecy and prophecy fulfilled, the Mount of Olives becomes a place of importance.

Forty days after His resurrection, Jesus is taken up to Heaven in the presence of His apostles. The Ascension of Jesus, Ascensio Iesu, is one of the 5 major events in the earthly ministry of Jesus that define Him as the Son of God, His baptism, transfiguration, crucifixion, and resurrection being the others. During the last evening the disciples and Jesus spend together before the crucifixion, at least three times He speaks about the coming of the Holy Spirit. (see John 14:16; 15:26; 16:7) In John 16:7 Jesus says, "...Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you." Much has happened since that night. On the Mount of Olives, Christ gives authority and assigns the mission to His apostles, telling them to be His witnesses and take the Gospel message to all people, to all nations. In Luke 24:50-53 we read that Jesus blesses them and then is taken up into heaven; "Then they worshiped Him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy." Scripture describes the fellowship and assurance the apostles carry back to the other believers as they prayerfully wait in community for the coming of the Holy Spirit. ~dho

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Witnesses - Then and Now

Jesus said, " it is written that, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead on the third day, ... You are witnesses of these things." Luke 24:46-48

Numerous and reliable historical records, both religious and secular, speak of Christ's resurrection. Biblically, the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) which were written 20-30 years afterwards, and the Gospel of John (50-70 years after) list many witnesses to this supernatural event. The book of Acts and Paul's writings also make references to witnesses. Details in Luke come from "the early disciples and other eyewitnesses". In contrast to the rumors of the disciples stealing Jesus' body and bribes that the Chief Priests pay the guards to pass along this story, God carefully crafts official records of Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection making sure accurate historical evidence remains.

Of the many eyewitnesses, there are angels, Mary Magdalene, the disciples, the two on the road to Emmaus, and other believers. During the forty days after His resurrection, Jesus shows himself to the apostles "by many convincing proofs...speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God." (Acts 1:2-3)  They ate with Him, touched Him, listened to Him teach. According to John 20:30-31, "Jesus' disciples saw Him do many other miraculous signs besides the ones recorded in this book. But these were written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing in Him you will have life." John's testifies, "This is that disciple who saw these events and recorded them here. (John 21:24)

From the Scriptures we know that Jesus' brothers did not believe (John 7:3-5) until after His death. Through Paul's writings we know that Jesus appears to His brother James, who later becomes head of the Jerusalem church. In 1 Corinthians 15:6 Paul notes that "more than 500 of His followers" witness Jesus after the crucifixion. And the final eyewitness to Christ's resurrection is Saul on the road to Damascus to persecute Christians.(Acts 9:1-19) The zealous Pharisee with a history of violent persecution of Christians is renamed Paul. When reason doubts and culture discounts even the possibility of resurrection, history's eyewitnesses establish a detailed archive that prevails for more than 2,000 years.

So what stands today as evidence of Jesus' resurrection besides words on paper? We are the proof! The Holy Spirit sent by the living Christ dwells within each believer. With our testimonies of redemption and everlasting life to come, we become the spiritual witnesses of a resurrected Messiah, contemporary vessels of His Presence. The living Christ embodies the hope and peace and love we find by believing in Him. The resurrection is an integral truth of Christianity, a truth confirmed by eyewitnesses. ~dho

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Tell the Story - Part 2

He is not here, for He has risen, as He said. Come, see the place where He lay. Then go quickly from the tomb and tell His disciples that He has risen from the dead ...So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell His disciples." Matthew 28:6-8 ESV

Christ's death on the cross shouts of miraculous events from darkness to the tearing of the Temple's curtain in the Holy of Holies, from an earthquake to people rising from the dead. The Roman officer and soldiers at the crucifixion, "were terrified by the earthquake and all that had happened. They said, 'Truly, this was the Son of God!'" (Mt: 27:54)  Religious leaders who were secret followers of Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, boldly ask Pilate for the body of Jesus for proper burial. From Friday until Sunday, fear dominates the hearts and minds of Jesus' own disciples. On Sunday the message of the angel, "He is risen!", echoes in the empty tomb.

All four Gospels speak of the empty tomb, of angels, of the resurrection of Jesus. First to learn of the resurrection are the women who come to the tomb to anoint Jesus' body for burial. In John's account (chapter 20) Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene in the garden. Jesus joins the two returning to Emmaus, both are disillusioned that Jesus has been crucified. As they walk together, Jesus explains the Scriptures and prophecies about the Messiah. Invited to eat with them, they recognize Jesus when He blesses the bread. They hurry back to Jerusalem to tell the disciples. Jesus appears to the disciples who are in hiding in fear, greeting them, "Peace be with you." The angels' message to go and tell that Jesus is risen from the dead spreads throughout the region.

Jesus remains on earth for 40 days after His resurrection. Initially, the story of His resurrection sounds absurd and hard to believe, but the Good News of Jesus' victory over death changes doubt into wonder and fear into joy! Jesus teaches the disciples, opening their minds to the the Scriptures that the Messiah must suffer and die and rise from the dead on the third day. He reminds them the Holy Spirit will soon come and empower them. This message of forgiveness and everlasting life are for all people. These followers of Jesus, these witnesses of a risen Savior begin to tell the story of resurrection and hope! This story of extravagant love still brings grace today. ~dho

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Tell the Story - Part 1

The Religious leaders told the Roman soldiers: "You are to say, 'His disciples came by night and stole Him away while we were asleep.'" Matthew 28:13 NASB

The gospel message in Christian theology recognizes two important truths: Christ died for our sins, and Christ was raised from the dead on the third day. Both are integral truths that must be accepted in order to embrace Christianity. Historical evidence is confirmed by witnesses and the Scriptures. The crucifixion of Jesus leads to death and death to burial; Christ's absence from the grave and eye-witnesses reveal His resurrection. The New Testament's four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) have 5 chapters and nearly 150 verses that are dedicated to Jesus' life on earth after death which includes some forty days after His resurrection. About this time, there are two stories; one is false, the other is true.

In Chapter 28:11-15, Matthew records one story. Upon the discovery that Jesus' grave is empty, the Roman soldiers who were to guard the tomb hurry to the Religious leaders, telling them the body is gone! Desperate to maintain their political power and religious influence, they give "a large sum of money to the soldiers" and create a story for them to tell. Despite the story's weakness, they promise the guards to cover for them should Pilate catch wind of the happenings. The soldiers agree, take the money, and begin to spread the cover-up story. The story becomes widely spread among the Jews, "and is to this day." (Matthew 28:15).

When did the soldiers leave the tomb? Were they frightened when the stone rolls away and Jesus appears? Maybe the shiny, bright angels make them flee? We don't know the specifics of their situation, except that the body of Jesus is missing, and they know their lives are on the line. Historically, Roman guards could be executed for falling asleep while on assignment. Whether out of fear or greed, the soldiers accept the bribe, and they tell the story!

The Religious leaders certainly react to their own fears. What if this Jesus is the Messiah? Will others believe He is the Son of God? Those soldiers say the body is missing, so what will we do if the people choose to believe in Jesus? What about our reputations? By creating a conspiracy story, these chief priests agree to help the soldiers, but in reality they are protecting themselves. Power and greed, or at least the need to feel powerful and benefit from greediness, fuel many bad decisions. So, they also tell the story of Jesus' disciples coming to the grave in the dark of night and stealing His body. The story still circulates today.** -dho

** next week: Tell the Story - Part 2 ... another version!