Christianity’s Spread: 1000 – 2016 AD

Check out this video: Christianity’s Spread: 1000 – 2016 AD!

Christian Cross
Christian Cross

In a previous blog, I posted this graphic map of Christianity’s spread from its beginnings around 30 AD to the year 1,000.  This sequel video shows its continued global spread until the present time.  Note that the maker of this video (Ollie Bye) includes all branches of Christianity in the video, including Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy and Oriental Christianity as well as Protestantism.  He does this by using different colors.  Of course the video is simplistic, but it does a great job of showing how Jesus’ words about preaching to all nations is being fulfilled!

The map gives a global perspective

So often we think of Christianity as a European or North American thing that was exported to other parts of the world.  This video showing Christianity’s spread over the past one thousand years gives perspective on that idea.  The truth is that Christianity only reached most of Europe around 400 years after the time of Christ, and spread to eastern Europe just before the year 1,000 (see the previous video).  Christian Faith came to North America with the European colonists in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Share your thoughts

Tell me what you think about this visual representation.  Feel free to share the video with your friends, but don’t forget to give credit to Ollie Bye, its creator.

The Bible is Cross-Cultural

Diversity
Cultural Diversity

Really?  The cross-cultural Bible?  Cultural diversity and cross-cultural understanding are important themes for society in the 21st Century. Turn on the news, or watch a movie, and the issue of cultural understanding is likely to be brought up somewhere along the line. But, how we are supposed to actually become cross-cultural people? Should we move to a neighborhood that is multi-cultural? Should we listen to the music and read books by people who are not like us culturally? Should we feel ashamed of our own cultural backgrounds?  Many people are left feeling confused and angry.

The Value of Cross-Cultural Understanding

My point is not to debate whether cross-cultural understanding is important. Obviously the ability to understand something about other cultures has many positive outcomes. Few people would disagree that mutual cultural understanding would produce greater harmony among in our divided society.   The Bible itself looks forward to the day when people from every nation, tribe and language are united in the worship of their Creator (Revelation 7:9).

But how can we develop a cross-cultural outlook when it seems that forces are working to divide people into isolated, antagonistic groups? One way is to rediscover a cross-cultural resource that has always been available to us: the Bible.  A moment’s thought will show that studying the Bible is a rich cross-cultural experience in itself.

Cross-Cultural Bible: The Old Testament

Moses and Pharaoh in Exodus
Moses and Pharaoh

For example, reading Genesis requires us to accompany Abraham out of ancient Iraq and Syria into the land of Canaan. The study of Exodus involves the reader in a second-hand experience of Israel’s oppression in ancient Egypt, and the drama of their escape and freedom.   The later portions of the Old Testament bring us in contact with the cultures of ancient Israel, Babylon, and Persia.

Cross-Cultural Bible: The New Testament

ancient woman
Greco-Roman Woman

The New Testament also opens up cross-cultural experiences to the reader.  In the pages of the Gospels, we visit the world of First Century Judaism as we walk with Jesus through the villages of Galilee.  In the New Testament letters, we travel through time into Greco-Roman culture as we grapple with the problems of Christians in the early churches.  It may be possible to read the Bible and ignore the cultural features, but to do so is to miss some of its most important teachings.  In fact, we must understand at least some basic elements of the cultures of the Bible in order to correctly apply their lessons to our own times and our own lives.

Examples

A few examples will show what I mean. In the Old Testament book of Ruth, Naomi and Ruth, find themselves in a dangerous society.  They appeal to Boaz for protection.  Boaz then acts to provide protection and to bring them into a family unit.  People who fail to understand the culture of ancient Israel might jump to the conclusion that this story is an example of ancient sexism.  But understood in light of the times and the culture, it should be seen as a brave and generous act of compassion.  Likewise, the provision for slavery in the Old Testament might be seen an oppressive practice, unless the reader remembers that ancient societies had no welfare system. When people fell into hard times and family could not assist, the way to avoid complete ruin and starvation was to enter into a limited period of servitude. Once the period ended, the person could make a fresh start.

In Luke chapter 1, Mary’s acceptance of the word of the announcement that she should conceive the Messiah —before her marriage to Joseph— is nothing short of heroic. That Mary and Joseph would go on to raise Jesus in a disapproving and gossipy village environment, so common in all times and cultures, should cause us to marvel at their faith and endurance.  In the book of 1 Corinthians, chapter 11, the command for women to cover their heads in public worship might be seen as insensitive in our own self-absorbed culture. But when the reader understands that the point of the command is the issue of public respectability.  Head covering for women demonstrated respectability in that culture.  Once the principle is grasped, appropriate application can be made for our own times.

Conclusion

True—people have often applied things taught in the Bible inappropriately.  But that fact is not an argument against the Bible itself–only against failing to understand the cultures of the Bible and how its truths can be applied across cultures to our own situation. The point is that, among all of the other amazing things about the Bible, it is also a deeply cross-cultural experience. Time spent in its pages can cause a kind of cultural sensitivity desperately needed in our diverse and troubled times.

Advanced Bible Quiz

Bible Quiz
Bible Quiz

This 100-point advanced Bible quiz is designed to measure your knowledge of the key people and facts in Bible’s storyline and motivate you to dig deeper into the Bible itself.

Basic Information

The Old Testament contains (1) ______ books. The New Testament contains   (2) ____ books. Together they form the entire canon of Christian scripture. The Old Testament was written primarily in the (3) ________________ language; the New Testament was written in the common (4) ______________ language of the First Century.

 The Old Testament

Genesis begins with God creating the earth in a complete cycle of (5) ____ days. The first man and woman (6) _________ and (7) ________ lived in the Garden of (8) ­___________, but chose to turn away from trusting in God and embrace the wisdom of the (9) ________________. For this, they were banished from the garden and forbidden to eat from the (10) __________ of Life. Their first two sons, (11) ___________ the firstborn and (12) __________, quarreled and the elder murdered the younger. A third son, (13) ________, was born afterward to continue the godly line.

The following generations saw humanity sink deeper into sin and degradation. God planned to send a (14) ___________ to judge the human race. He chose a man described as “righteous in his generation” to survive this disaster by building an (15) ________ and saving his family as well as pairs of all types of (16) _______________. This man’s name was (17) ____________. His three sons, (18) __________, (19) __________ and (20) ______________ are the ancestors of the current nations of the earth.

After the restored human race rebelled against God again by building the (21) ___________ of Babel, God chose (22) _______________ to begin a new line of faith. This man’s son (23) _______________ was born when his mother, (24) _________ was too elderly to bear children naturally. God blessed this child of faith and his wife, whose name was (25) ________________ with twins, Esau and (26)__________. God later changed this man’s name to (27) _____________. He became the father of (28) _____ sons and a daughter, primarily through (29) ___________ his beloved wife and (30) ___________, her sister. These sons were the founders of the tribes of Israel. Among this sons, the one with the greatest faith was named (31) _____________. He was sold as a slave by his brothers and sent to the land of (32) ___________ but later saved them from a devastating (33) _______________, which afflicted the entire region.

The story of Israel’s escape from slavery is told in the book of (34) __________. After their escape, Israel crossed the Red Sea on dry ground. Their leader, (35) ____________, met with God on Mount (36) _____________ and received the law binding Israel in covenant with God. (37) ___________ is the book which recounts Israel’s conquest of Canaan. To defeat foreign enemies and rescue his people, God later gave them a succession of leaders called (38) ______________. At the end of this period, in response to the people’s demands, God gave them kings through a man named (39) _______________.

The three kings who ruled over all Israel were: (40) ________, (41) ____________, and (42) _________________. The second of these kings is famous for loving God deeply. His killing of a mighty Philistine warrior named (43) _______________ earned him the reputation as a hero of faith. However, his affair with (44) _________________, the wife of a trusted soldier, brought lasting shame and disgrace. The third king over a united Israel was renowned for his great (45) _____________: so much so that the Queen of (46) ___________ traveled a great distance to learn from him. During the reign of the fourth king, the kingdom split in two. The northern kingdom was known as Ephraim or (47) _____________, while the southern kingdom was called (48) ____________.

Ministering in the north were prophets whose role was to call the nation back to faith in God. One of these people who spoke for God, a fiery prophet named (49) ___________, met with the false prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel and demonstrated through his faith that the LORD was the true God. His successor, (50)___________, is sometimes called the helpful prophet. Due to their unfaithfulness to God, the northern kingdom was eventually conquered and scattered by the (51) ________________ Empire.

Just over a hundred years after this, the southern kingdom was exiled to the land of (52) _______________.   The two prophets who ministered in this land were the priest, (53) _______________ and (54) _______________, a member of the nobility. The fact that many of the Jews in exile were able to return to the Promised Land after (55) _______ years is recorded in the books of (56) __________ in which proper worship was restored and (57) _________________, in which the walls of Jerusalem were rebuilt.

(58) ________________ is the book that served as the hymnal of ancient Israel. This book is followed by two books of wisdom: (59) ________________, a collection of practical truths for daily living and (60) ______________________, which explores the meaning of life. Included in this wisdom and poetic collection is a love song, entitled               (61) ____________________________. It expresses the devotion of a king for his lovely bride. Also in this collection, the book of (62) ______ deals with the issue of suffering which seems to be undeserved.

The prophetic books of the Old Testament are divided into two groups: the (63) ____________ prophets and the (64) ___________ prophets, which are distinguished purely on the basis of length, not importance. The prophet whose book contains the most messianic prophecy is (65) _____________. Jerusalem’s destruction was witnessed and described most fully by the prophet (66) ________________. The prophet (67) _____________ attempted to run away from God’s calling, but repented after he was swallowed by a fish and ended up fulfilling his task. Another prophet, (68) _____________ was told to marry a wayward woman to demonstrate God’s commitment to his unfaithful people.

The group of books, not accepted in Protestant versions of the Bible, but which is included in Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox versions of the scripture is called the (69)   ____________________.

 The New Testament

The period between Malachi in the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament era lasted roughly (70) _______ centuries. The New Testament begins with the record of Jesus’ life and ministry by the gospel writers: (71) _________________, (72) ­­­­­ __________,   (73) ___________ and (74) ____________. In the first verses of the fourth gospel, Jesus is described as the eternal (75) __________ which was with God and was God, and through whom all things were created. He was incarnated in the womb of a virgin named (76) ____________ and born in the city of (77) ______________________. He was later raised to maturity in the northern region of   (78) __________________. Jesus taught truths about the Kingdom of God through a kind of story or illustration called (79) ______________. He spent the approximately three years of his earthly ministry focusing on the training of his (80) _____________ disciples. He also performed many (81) __________________ to validate his claims of being the Messiah of Israel and the Son of God. Jesus was put to death by the Roman governor, (82) __________ ___________, during the Jewish festival of (83) __________________, but afterward rose from the dead on the (84) _________ day.

The book of (85) _____________ is the inspired history of the early church. The majority of the letters of the New Testament letters were written by one man: the Apostle (86) ____________. Next to him the most New Testament books were written by the Apostle (87) _____________, who wrote a total of (88) ­­­______.   Two short, but powerful letters, found near the end of the Bible were written by the disciple who once denied Christ. His name is (89) ___________. The theme of the letter to the (90) _________________ is that, though everyone is guilty before God, anyone may be saved through faith in Jesus.   It is often thought to be the most systematic explanation of the gospel in the New Testament.

(91) ___________________ is the book which encourages Jewish followers of Jesus that Christ is greater than Moses or even angels. The letter whose key word, “joy” is found throughout its four chapters is (92) _________________. Two letters were written to a church known for its immaturity and worldly living. This church was located in the ancient city of (93) _________________. (94) __________________ is written to a man whose escaped slave had become a Christian and was now returning home.

The letter stating most fully that we are saved by faith apart from the Law is (95) ___________________. However, the letter of (96) ______________ makes it clear that faith without works is dead. Three books were directed to two young church leaders named         (97) ________________ (98) and ____________. The pair of letters, which most emphasize the “man of sin” and Christ’s return were addressed to the church in                                         (99) ______________________. The book of (100) __________________ fittingly climaxes the New Testament, closing with Christ’s second coming and kingdom.

How did you do?   I know this was a challenging test.  Even some Christian leaders might struggle on parts of it.   A good grasp of the main facts and themes of the Bible is a great foundation on which to build an unshakeable faith!

Intermediate Bible Quiz: Answer Key

Answer key
Answer key

How did you do on the Intermediate Bible Quiz?  Here are the answers.

Basic Information

The Bible commonly used by Protestants contains a total of (1) 66 books. It is divided into two main sections: the (2) Old Testament and the (3) New Testament. The first section was written mainly in the ancient (4) Hebrew language; the second section was written in the (5) Greek language of the First Century.

 Bible People and Storyline

The book of Genesis describes the first humans as living in a garden named (6) Eden. There they fell into (7) sin by eating forbidden fruit. To prevent the complete corruption of the human race, God later sent a devastating flood while saving a remnant under the leadership of (8) Noah. Later, the restored human race rebelled against God again by building the Tower of (9) Babel. After this, God called a man named (10) Abraham to begin a line of chosen people who would represent him to the rest of the world. The great-grandson of this man was sold into Egyptian slavery by his brothers. His name was (11) Joseph.

After several generations of slavery, the descendants of this former slave and his brothers became known as the nation of (12) Israel. They were delivered from their slavery under a lawgiver named (13) Moses. Although God promised them the land then known as (14) Canaan in which to establish themselves, they showed a lack of faith and many of them died in the wilderness. After forty years of wandering, God raised up a man called (15) Joshua to lead them into this Promised Land.

In this new land, the nation was at first ruled by servants of God called   (16) judges, one of whom was a woman named Deborah. Later the nation was ruled by a series of (17) kings, the best known of which was David. When this line of rulers became foolish and disobedient to God, he divided the nation in two, with the northern capitol in Samaria while the south had its capitol in (18) Jerusalem. Though they were warned to cease worshipping idols and devote themselves to the true God, the people continued to disobey, with the south eventually suffering exile in (19) Babylon. A book of 150 musical poems, some of which were written during this time, was used by God’s people in worship. It is entitled (20) Psalms. Though called to represent him in the world, God’s people often needed correction by men and women speaking on God’s behalf. These people were called (21) prophets.

The second main section of the Bible begins with the life and ministry of (22) Jesus. He was incarnated in the womb of a virgin named (23) Mary and born in the city of (24) Bethlehem. He performed many (25) miracles to validate his claims of being the Son of God. After being accused of blasphemy, he was condemned and put to death by the cruel method of (26) crucifixion. After (27) three days in the tomb, he rose from the dead. The book of (28) Acts is the history of the early Christians. They formed a new people of God, known as the (29) Church. The basic Christian message, called the (30) gospel is the good news that, though people are guilty before God, anyone may be forgiven and reconciled to God through faith in God’s Son.

The associate of the Lord and main spokesman for the earliest Christians had been a simple fisherman. His name was (31) Peter. The majority of the letters in the second section of the Bible were written by one man: the Apostle (32) Paul. Other letters were written by various Christian leaders. One of these letters makes it clear that faith without works is dead. It was written by (33) James, who was probably a brother of the Lord. Several other letters were written by the Apostle (34) John, who was especially close to the Lord during his lifetime. The book of (35) Revelation fittingly climaxes the Bible, closing with the promise of the Lord’s return and the establishment of his Kingdom on earth.

Never be discouraged.  A good grasp of the main facts and themes of the Bible is a great foundation on which to build an unshakeable faith!

 

Basic Bible Quiz

Basic Bible Quiz
Basic Bible Quiz

This 15-point basic Bible quiz is designed to measure your basic knowledge of the overall storyline of the Bible .  Fill in the blanks to see you much you know!

The Christian Bible is divided into two main parts, the (1) ______ Testament and the (2) _____ Testament. This first book in the Bible, called (3) ________________ tells the story of the origins of the universe and of human civilization. This book describes the first humans as living in a place called the Garden of (4) __________.   They disobeyed the command of God and followed the temptations of the (5) _______________.

 After a devastating flood in which humanity was preserved through the family of (6)__________, the Bible continues with the establishment of a chosen people known as (7) _____________. These people were delivered from slavery and received God’s Law under a leader called (8) __________.   Though this nation was to represent God in the world, it often needed correction by people who spoke for God. This type of corrective leader is called a (9) ______________.

The second section of the Bible begins with the record of the life and ministry of  (10) __________. His followers were later organized into a new people of God called the (11) ____________. The first leaders of this new people of God were called (12) _________________.   One of these leaders named (13) ____________ was a former fisherman, who had denied his Lord in a moment of weakness. Another of these leaders preached the Christian message in many places and wrote at least twelve letters to various groups of believers. History knows him by the name of Saint (14) __________. The book of (15) ________________ closes the Bible by promising the coming of God’s Kingdom at the end of the Age.

How did you do? You can find the answers in the key to this Level 1 Quiz posted as a separate blog.  A good grasp of the main facts and themes of the Bible is a great foundation on which to build an unshakeable faith!

Basic Bible Quiz: Level 1 Answer Key

Answer key
Answer key

How did you do on Basic Bible Quiz: Level 1?  Here are the answers:

The Christian Bible is divided into two main parts, the (1) Old Testament and the (2) New Testament. This first book in the Bible, called (3) Genesis tells the story of the origins of the universe and of human civilization. This book describes the first humans as living in a place called the Garden of (4) Eden.   They disobeyed the command of God and followed the temptations of the (5) Serpent (or Devil).

 After a devastating flood in which humanity was preserved through the family of (6) Noah, the Bible continues with the establishment of a chosen people known as (7) Israel. These people were delivered from slavery and received God’s Law under a leader called (8) Moses.   Though this nation was to represent God in the world, it often needed correction by people who spoke for God. This type of corrective leader is called a (9) prophet.

The second section of the Bible begins with the record of the life and ministry of (10) Jesus. His followers were later organized into a new people of God called the (11) Church. The first leaders of this new people of God were called (12) Apostles.   One of these leaders named (13) Peter was a former fisherman, who had denied his Lord in a moment of weakness. Another of these leaders preached the Christian message in many places and wrote at least twelve letters to various groups of believers. History knows him by the name of Saint (14) Paul. The book of (15) Revelation closes the Bible by promising the coming of God’s Kingdom at the end of the Age.

If you missed some answers, don’t be discouraged.  A knowledge of the Bible is something that comes with time.  Keep reading!

 

Can I Trust the Bible? Yes you can!

We can trust the Bible
Study the Bible with confidence!

Many so-called experts claim that we cannot trust the Bible.  They assert that the written documents of the Bible were not well preserved and that the copying process resulted in many mistakes.  Yet Christianity and Judaism have traditionally claimed that the Bible we read and study today represents the Word of God faithfully handed down through the centuries by God’s people. But which claim is true?  How can we be sure that the Hebrew and Greek copies scholars use for translation into English are faithful to the original documents?  In other words, can we really trust the Bible?

Where did our Bible come from?

Let’s begin with how the Bible came to be preserved and passed down.  As far as anyone knows, none of the manuscripts of the Bible that were written by the original authors are still in existence. This fact leads to the legitimate question of whether what we read in the Bible today accurately represents what was written down by Moses or Isaiah or Paul.  Because of the lack of original material, scholars must rely on early copies of the original manuscripts.  Experts in the discipline of manuscript study can compare the various early copies available in order to sift out the small percentage of variations in the text and synthesize the original content. Over the years, this process has yielded a very high degree of confidence in the texts of both the Old and New Testaments.

Evidence for the Old Testament

The manuscript evidence for the Old Testament is quite strong.  It might seem obvious that most of the books of these Hebrew scriptures were written in the ancient Hebrew language, but a few of the later portions were actually composed in a related language, called Aramaic. These books were probably written over a nearly 1,000-year span between 1400 and 400 B.C. by several dozen different authors, including Moses, Ezra, David, Solomon and others. Until 1947, the best and earliest manuscripts for the Old Testament were known as the Massoretic Texts. The Massoretic Texts were copies of still earlier manuscripts (now lost) made by Jews in eastern Europe between 800 and 1000 A.D.  Many critics of the Biblical text argued that the accuracy of these manuscripts, which date from the Middle Ages, was probably very poor due to the more than 1, 200 years between the original documents and these copies.

The Dead Sea Scrolls

But in 1947, through the providence of God, the accuracy of the Massoretic Texts was confirmed by the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls.  This large collection of miscellaneous writings dating from 200 B.C. to 100 A.D. included dozens of much earlier copies of Old Testament books. The scrolls were found carefully preserved in desert caves in the Qumran area of the Dead Sea. What scholars have discovered in studying them is that, apart from a few very minor differences, there had been virtually no change in the text of the Hebrew Scriptures for more than 1,000 years. So, almost overnight, doubts about trustworthiness of the Old Testament suddenly became much less convincing.

The Septuagint

In addition to the Dead Sea Scrolls, there is also an ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament made around 200 B.C, known as the Septuagint.  The Septuagint also confirms the copying accuracy of the Old Testament.  So, based upon the evidence of the extreme care with which the Jews copied their scriptures, as well as the insight provided by the Septuagint, we can have confidence that the material of the Hebrew Scriptures is highly accurate.

Evidence for the New Testament

When it comes to the New Testament portion of the Bible, the evidence is even better. The books of the New Testament were probably written in Greek between A.D. 45 and 100.  The very earliest copies we have of the original books date from just after A.D. 100.  For example, there is a fragment of chapter 18 of the Gospel of John, which dates from around A.D. 110. Since the Gospel of John was probably originally written around A.D. 90, that puts the time from original to earliest known copy at about 20 years. An even earlier manuscript portion, known as the Chester Beatty Papyrus, dates from around A.D. 100. Since Paul probably wrote this portion in the years A.D. 55-65, that puts the time lapse from original to copy at less than 50 years. These examples illustrate the very strong evidence for the reliability of the New Testament compared with other works of ancient literature.

All told, there are something like 5,000 early Greek copies of the New Testament in existence today, as well as hundreds more in Latin, Syriac, Coptic, Ethiopic and Armenian translations. With the aid of computer software, scholars are able to do intensive comparisons of the available copies in order to “weed out” any copying mistakes and synthesize the original text of the New Testament.  More evidence for the trustworthiness of the New Testament comes from the writings of the Christian Church before 400 A.D., called the Patristic writings.  These early Christian works quote so extensively from the New Testament that it can be virtually reconstructed from these writings alone.  One expert estimated that only one half of one percent (.05 %) of the New Testament is now in any doubt as to its original wording.  Most of this small percentage of uncertainty has to do with word order, rather than content.  For example, there are a few passages that are unclear as to whether they said Christ Jesus or Jesus Christ – hardly a reason for doubting the reliability of the New Testament.  So, just as with the Hebrew Scriptures, the text of the New Testament has been shown to be highly accurate.

Conclusion

All of this evidence points to the conclusion that the Bible we use today is extremely reliable and can be trusted.  It has lost very little, if anything, in the copying process from the original writings of the authors.  While none of this by itself proves the Bible’s inspiration, it does support Christianity’s ancient claim that the Scriptures are the word of God, fully inspired and authoritative for the ages.

A Neglected Female Perspective on Jesus’ Resurrection

Women at the tomb

A female perspective on the Resurrection of Jesus is desperately needed in our divided times. Though male myself, I have tried to see the resurrection of Jesus through the eyes of the women who went to his tomb as recorded in Matthew 28:1-10, Mark 16:1-8, and Luke 24:1-12.  The following is my attempt to tell their story in a single narrative.

The Women’s Story

It was an early Sunday morning twenty centuries ago.  Actually, we would probably describe it as night because the darkness had not yet been mixed with the faintest light of dawn.  A small group of women–three or four–were on their way to do something that would break their hearts. They were going to finish preparing the body of their dear friend and honored teacher for his final burial. Over the past days, these women had experienced an emotional ups and downs.  Just seven days earlier they had been convinced that their teacher, leader, friend was finally going to be acknowledged as the Messiah that their people had been expecting for centuries.

The Previous Week

Such excitement; such hope!  Only a few days ago their expectations were all coming true.  Now it had ended so suddenly, so tragically.  The previous Sunday–just seven days ago–Jesus of Nazareth had arrived in Jerusalem to the acclaim of the cheering multitudes. He had entered the holy temple and called out the corruption of its leaders.  The packed and eager crowds hung on his words.  Though Jesus’ enemies had tried to discredit him, they were unable to counter his answers, and went away, publicly embarrassed.  It had looked like the Messiah and his Kingdom had actually arrived at last.

Then on Thursday, Jesus and his closest followers sat down to the annual Passover meal–the traditional celebration of their people’s deliverance from slavery long ago.  During that extended meal he taught them as usual about God’s coming Kingdom.  But this time the teaching was more personal.  Jesus addressed them as friends.  It was hard to believe, but he had seemed to be saying that the covenant between God and Israel had been fulfilled, and that a new covenant was being established based on himself. There was talk of blood sealing this new covenant–but then he had always spoken in symbols and metaphors.

Later that night, though, the metaphor turned into reality.  Jesus was arrested by his enemies. The next day, Friday, he was tried before the high Jewish council and, later, by the Roman governor. To the disbelief of his followers, he was quickly and unfairly condemned and executed after public humiliation and torture. Within forty-eight hours the women had gone from excitement and expectation to numbed grief and devastation.

The Lord is Dead

All day Saturday they were haunted by the memory of taking his shattered body off that cross. Along with two kind men–Joseph and Nicodemus–the only two members of the high council who sympathized with Jesus, they carried his body to a nearby tomb that Joseph donated in this hour of need. Together, they had done what they could to prepare Jesus’ body in the short time before the Sabbath came at sundown. The Romans sealed the tomb with a heavy stone and posted a guard.

Sunday

Now the Sabbath was over and the little band of women were picking their way through dark lanes and streets of Jerusalem and then out of the city gate to the tomb where the final preparations would be made to lay their beloved master to his final rest.

Arrival. Shock. Confusion. Are we at the wrong place? No, this is surely the right place. How could we forget this scene of crucifixion so etched in our memories barely thirty-six hours ago? But something is dreadfully wrong. The tomb is standing open. That big, heavy stone door is laying way over there. How? There is a man sitting on it. Who is he?  He is terrifying, powerful. Light seems to be radiating from him.

What is he saying? “Jesus isn’t here. He is alive from the dead.” What does that mean? We must look inside the tomb. Another man in shining clothes. An angel? ” Where is out master?” “See for yourselves,” he says: “He is not here.” We look at the niche where we placed his body, now just the empty shroud lays there.

Outside now.  Bewildered. Where has he gone?  “You there, sir.  Are you the groundskeeper?  What has happened to the body of our teacher?  Where are the soldiers?  Please help us!”

“Mary!” That familiar voice.  Recognition!  Tears.  Fear.  Joy.  Alternate laughing and weeping.  Questions.  He is saying, “Don’t detain me. Don’t hold me–not yet.  Run and tell my disciples that I am alive and I will meet them soon.” ” No, Lord.  We don’t want to leave you.  Don’t send us away.  Alright.  Yes Lord, we will go tell the others.”

The First Eyewitnesses

Stumbling, hurrying, running into the waking city as the light grows stronger. Pounding on the door of the safe house where the men are staying. We tell the story with words tumbling out of our mouths. Interrupting, talking one on top of another. Those infuriating blank looks from Peter and the others.  More urgent attempts to make them understand.  Questions.  Disbelief.  Off they go to see for themselves–just like men!

But oh the joy, the relief. Our hope is renewed.  Morning has come.  We sit down to an improvised breakfast.  More talk. Is this a dream?  More tears. Irrepressible joy.  Nothing will ever be the same!

Passion Week 4: Relating to Jesus’ resurrection

Jesus is risen!

Jesus’ resurrection on Sunday of Passion Week changed everything!  Out of all the followers of Jesus, only a few of the women were able to keep their wits enough to focus on practical things. Several of the women got up very early on Sunday morning, met at an agreed location, and set out together for the tomb to finish embalming Jesus’ body . As the walked through the darkness, the women must have quietly discussed both the heartache they still felt, and the task ahead. Specifically they wondered how they were going to roll aside the great stone that sealed the entrance.

Upon arrival, the women were stunned to find a scene of confusion. The stone weighing several tons, was not only rolled aside, but seemingly tossed aside some distance away. The Roman guard was dispersed and the tomb was empty.  Not knowing what else to do, they began the return journey to inform their friends. Mary Magdalene lingered behind because she wanted to ask what had happened of a man she presumed to be the gardener.  It was only when the man spoke her name that she realized he was actually Jesus, fully alive.

There were other experiences that day. After being urged by the women to see for themselves, Peter and John ran to the tomb and confirmed that it was empty.   Other followers of Jesus had been on their way home to figure out how to restart their lives– only to meet a fellow traveller, who they suddenly recognized to be Jesus at the end of the day’s journey.  Later Jesus appeared to his disciples when they were together in the upper room.  On still another occasion, Jesus appeared among the disciples when Thomas, who had been absent before, was present.

After his resurrection, Jesus seems to have been physically with his disciples a number of times during a period of several weeks, both in Jerusalem and in Galilee. Imagine the emotional swings they must have experienced during those days.  In all of their discussions with Jesus, one thing was certain to these men and women: Jesus had come to life again after dying. His death was no tragic accident, but a supreme payment of human transgression. Most importantly, Jesus had shown himself to be the Son of God by taking on a new kind of life: a life he was offering to share with them.

There are many truths to be gained from the resurrection of Jesus.  One that should always be emphasized is the almost unbelievable fact that you now have hope.  The gracious God, who loved and pursued us through history, has never given up on your reconciliation. For reasons of his own, God wants you back and has done all that is needed to forgive you, cleanse you, and make you his own. The resurrection proves this almost unbelievable fact.  So, next time life seems hopeless– next time your heart is broken, or weighed down with worry, remember that there is hope in Jesus’ resurrection. Put your full trust in him. Hold onto the gift of life he offers you.  It will guide you through all that life brings your way, and will bring you eternal life with him!

Passion Week 3: Relating to Jesus’ suffering

Jesus’ death and burial

It is on Saturday of Passion Week that fear really took hold.  Jesus’ followers– scattered the day before– have gone into hiding. They were terrified of betrayal by their neighbors or other who might recognize their connection with Jesus.  That Saturday of Passion Week, every footstep in the street, every knock at the house next door, every raised voice, caused the terror to rise to the surface again. The extreme disillusionment and sorrow of Friday is taking its toll on Saturday. Life is not simply flat and gloomy: now it is horrifying.

Had God abandoned them?  Were they heretics as their enemies claimed? Was Jesus a liar or a misguided fool? In their minds, the fishing, or the collecting of taxes, the farming and small businesses of their former lives now appeared to be a respectable alternative to all the talk about the coming Kingdom of God.  What about the miracles, the crowds and the new hope inspired by Jesus’ teaching over the past several years?  These now appeared foolish and even dangerous.  So the followers of Jesus quietly made their plans to slip back north up to Galilee and just disappear.  Fear had caused a sudden abandonment of everything these men and women had so optimistically believed as recently as one week before.

Many of us have experienced (or are experiencing) this kind of fear.  That deep kind of fear is dark and overpowering.  It makes us desperate and irrational.  It can cause us to be suspicious of those around us.  We feel like cornered animals with no way of escape.  So we crouch, ready to fight and flee, abandoning all we once held dear. Threatened layoffs at work, accusations by associates, a medical diagnosis or some huge disillusionment can have this effect on us.  Are you in the grip of fear? Are you considering throwing away some of your dearest commitments?  Do you feel abandoned by God?  Hold on: God isn’t finished.  Hope is just around the corner!