If Christ had not risen…

As my husband and I walked to our favorite breakfast spot this morning, we wondered if there is a name for today (the Saturday before Easter Sunday) in the church liturgical calendar.  After all, there is Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and tomorrow is Easter Sunday, but what is today?  Thomas proposed that it should be called Hopeless Saturday, for this is the day that Christ lay dead in a dark stone tomb, and his disciples were left wondering what to do after the guy they had thought was the Messiah was just crucified in front of their eyes.  It got me thinking, what if Christ had never risen?  How would it have affected Christ’s followers, world history, and our own lives today?

Acts 5:33-37 gives us a glimpse into what would have become of the disciples.  As the Jews debate what to do about the increasing numbers of Christians, a wise leader of the Pharisee reminds them of other movements which had risen and fallen in Jewish history:

“For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody.  A number of men, about four hundred, joined him.  He was slain, and all who obeyed him were scattered and came to nothing.  After this man, Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the census, and drew away many people after him.  He also perished, and all who obeyed him were dispersed.”

If Jesus had stayed in the grave, He would have been just another obscure footnote in history, like Theudas and Judas of Galilee.  His followers would have eventually scattered, returning to their previous lives and jobs, such as fishermen and tax collectors.  They would have been left wondering what to make of the past three years of their lives, and still waiting and hoping for the Messiah of Jewish prophecy to come.

There would have been no Pentecost (the coming of the Holy Spirit and addition of thousands of new Christian believers), no church, no Apostle Paul, and no New Testament.  The Romans and their territories would have remained pagan and polytheistic.  Looking back at how the Roman Catholic church became such a powerful shaping force in history, the world would look drastically different without it.  Our laws, science, technology, music, and art would have undoubtedly progressed down a different path, perhaps more similar to our Arab and Chinese neighbors.  The 2.2 billion people in the world today who call themselves Christians would be adherents of some other religion or none at all.  America in particular, having been founded on Judeo-christian values, would be virtually unrecognizable to us.  And even the way we tell time would be different, as it would not be the year 2017, which is counted starting from the time of Christ.

But even more gripping is how it would personally affect Christian believers today. As the Apostle Paul wrote, if Christ was not risen, then our faith is futile and we, of all people, are the most to be pitied (1 Cor. 15:12-19).  If Christ was not risen, then we would also be pagans, worshipping false gods and unable to know the one true God.  We would be separated from Him forever, offensive to His holiness, strangers and aliens, unaccepted, unloved, lost, and deserving recipients of His wrath.  We would be spiritually dead, ruled by our flesh and the desires of our mind, slaves of sin and unable to change, with no chance of forgiveness or redemption.  There would be no Holy Spirit indwelling and praying for us, having no hope and without God in the world.  We would have no ability to do anything that would matter eternally.  Our circumstances in the world would determine our identity, purpose, and worth.  We would have no inheritance, no hope of Christ’s return, no looking forward to the day when He will make all things new and wipe away our tears.  Day after day would only be an endless treadmill of work and trying to find meaning, only to perish without hope.  Much like the writer of Ecclesiastes, we might say, “I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and indeed, all is vanity and grasping for the wind.”

PRAISE BE TO GOD that this terrible thought experiment is just a figment of imagination, for history very thoroughly documents the fact that Christ was risen!  First, we have the eyewitness accounts of His followers, whom He appeared to after being resurrected.  They felt His wounds, talked to Him, and witnessed Him eating.  Most of these people later lost their lives, persecuted for insisting on the truth of the things they had seen and heard.  Rather than dying out as the Jews expected it to, Christianity exploded, adding thousands of believers in the months after Christ’s death and resurrection.  Even the greatest persecutor of Christians, Saul, was transformed when he met the risen Lord, and devoted the rest of his life to making Christ’s name known.   He endured beatings, arrests, shipwrecks, and sickness to take the news of the resurrection all around the world.  The record of these things, the New Testament, is preserved with more manuscript evidence and accuracy than any other ancient document from the same time period.  Other ancient sources, even those that were hostile to Christ, don’t deny that He rose again, but rather accuse Him of doing it by black magic.

Because of this, today is not Hopeless Saturday, but, as my Anglican sister has informed me, it’s called Holy Saturday.  A day of waiting and expectation for Easter Sunday, that glorious day of celebrating Christ’s resurrection and our true source of light and hope in this world.

 

 

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Do you want to know more about the Bible, but don’t know where to start? Maybe you’ve started, but have problems sticking with a daily Bible study routine? Are you tired of the same old devotionals and ready for something deeper? Swim in the Deep End invites you into the adventure of studying the Bible for yourself. It answers questions that many people have about Bible study: How do I find time? Where do I start? How do I understand what it means? How do I apply it to my life? And what should I do if I get out of my devotional routine?

This book contains practical answers to these questions and emphasizes relationship with Christ rather than religion. It also has thought-provoking questions at the end of each chapter, making it useful for both individual and group study. The last chapter gives several study plans on topics such as the attributes of God, the will of God, suffering, anxiety, and conflict. It is a great tool for new Christians or anyone who wants to freshen up their Bible study routine.

Approaching the Throne of Power and Grace

“…through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, angels and authorities and powers having been made subject to Him.” 1 Peter 3:22

“…according to the working of His mighty power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come.  And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” Eph. 1:20-21

“Having disarmed principalities and power, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it.” Colossians 2:15

I think these are some of the most encouraging verses in the Bible!  Jesus is alive, and He’s enthroned at the right hand of His Father God.  Through His resurrection, He disarmed and conquered every single principality and power.  Having incapacitated them and rendered them powerless, He marches them through the universe, shaming and embarrassing them in their defeat. Like a proud hunter who uses the skin of his kill to make a new ottoman, they are subjugated to serve as His footstool, showing His complete domination.

What is most encouraging to me is the sheer scope of His victory.  Paul has to get his thesaurus out to make sure he gets the point across:  Jesus is far above all principalities.  And in case you’re not sure what he means by that, he adds, Jesus is superior to all power.  Not sure what all power means?  Everything that has any might at all.  And just in case you don’t get the picture, He’s also over all dominion and every name that is named.  Everyone. Everything.

But wait, Paul–do you just mean all principalities, powers, might, and dominion that we’ve heard of?  NO!  He means everything we’ve heard of and everything we haven’t yet heard of.  Things we don’t even know we should be scared of yet.  Everything in this age, and everything in the future has been subjected to Christ.  Not just some, but all.  Not just now, but forever.  No ifs, ands, buts, or maybes!

This includes not only spiritual principalities and powers such as angels, demons, and sin, but also things that go by the more familiar names of:

  • world leaders and governments
  • depression
  • racism
  • addiction
  • anxiety
  • loneliness
  • terrorism
  • that awful boss of yours
  • chronic pain
  • disease
  • painful memories
  • shame
  • eating disorders
  • an unfaithful spouse
  • panic attacks
  • grief
  • futility
  • despair
  • a bad temper
  • abuse
  • pride
  • lust
  • insecurity

Every name that is named.  Whatever controls you, Jesus has control over it.  And He invites us to “come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16)

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How Much is Enough? (+free book download!)

The other day a woman I was counseling asked me a great question: “How much time should I spend in daily devotions?” She confessed that she felt pressured to live up to what other women in her small group were studying and how much time they were spending. I fought the urge to tell her exactly what I do for my quiet times, and instead answered her question with a question: “How much time do you need in order to have a vibrant and growing relationship with the Lord?” When I asked her that question, she was able to come to a reasonable answer on her own. I think a lot of people are unsure about what devotional times should look like, and often have the question, how much is enough? This is a subject that I address in Swim in the Deep End, as you will see from the following excerpt:

The most cited reason for not studying the Bible (according to my unscientific survey) is “I don’t have enough time.”  In fact, I have used this very excuse in explaining to my friend why I hadn’t been spending time in the Word.  Her response?  “We make time for the things that are important to us.”  Ouch.

Now I’m not going to say a specific number, like “you need to spend x amount of time studying the Bible every day” Remember, this is about building a relationship.  God refers to us as “friends” and the even more tender term, “children”  (John 15:15; Ephesians 1:5).  The relationship between Christ and His church is compared to the most intimate relationship of all, husband and wife (Ephesians 5:22-33).  Can you imagine what my husband would do if I told him, “Okay honey, I can hang out with you every morning between 7:00 and 7:15.  Except on the weekends, when I’ll be sleeping in.  Those days, I probably won’t get around to talking to you at all, except while we’re at church.”  What kind of relationship is that?  I wouldn’t communicate with my husband like that, so why would I do that with God?  While our communication isn’t strictly planned, it is regular and frequent.  Without consistent interaction, we would start to drift apart, immersed in our own worlds.

In the same way, a good relationship with God is a combination of spontaneity and intentionality.  It responds to daily circumstances, but is also comprised of daily discipline.  Some conversations are pleasant and easy; others require hard work and careful listening.

Like what you read? Click here to download the entire book for free now through March 8!

He did WHAT?!?

A man going into battle made a vow to God: “Let me win this battle, and when I return home victorious, whatever comes out of the door of my house I will give as an offering to You.” God gave him victory in the battle, and he returned home. Who should appear at his front door, but his only daughter, playing music and dancing to celebrate his homecoming?

The man informed his daughter of the vow, saying, “I have given my word to the Lord, and I cannot go back on it.” Stoically, she accepted this news, and asked only that she have two months to spend with her friends and mourn her fate.

At the end of the two months, he carried out his vow and offered his only child as a burnt offering to God. This sounds like something out of a twisted Greek tragedy, but actually, it’s in the Bible (Judges 11:29-40). Which leads to some pretty tough questions:

Was God happy about his actions? Does He sanction child sacrifice? What kind of God would do that?

Are we supposed to imitate this myopic dedication to God?

These questions arise because we tend to read the Bible prescriptively rather than descriptively. In other words, we think that Bible stories are meant to impart moral lessons, and just because someone’s in the Bible, we should follow their example. However, we are hard-pressed to find any human in the Bible who set a consistently good example. Noah got drunk. Jacob lied to his father. David committed adultery and murder.

The only consistently good, heroic character in the Bible is God!

For the most part, stories such as the one above are not condoning behavior, just describing it. There are some sections of the Bible which clearly do contain ethical teaching, such as Proverbs, the Sermon on the Mount, and Paul’s letters. However, reading descriptively rather than prescriptively helps alleviate many interpretive problems, especially when reading Old Testament narratives.

Another method that helps interpret these difficult passages is taking the whole of Scripture into account. In Jeremiah and Ezekiel, God speaks out strongly against child sacrifice and even punishes people harshly for sacrificing their children. He is as appalled as we are, if not more so, and says, “I did not ask you to do that, nor would such a thing even come into my mind!” (Jeremiah 19:5-paraphrase). Both Jesus and James caution believers against making any vows, but rather “let your yes be yes and no be no.” Jephthah’s actions would probably not be commended by God, nor should they be imitated by us; rather, it seems to be the pattern of the book of Judges to demonstrate the inadequacy of Israel’s human leaders and point to the need for a divine Shepherd King.

In my book, Swim in the Deep End, I challenged people to get deeper with their Bible study. Inevitably this leads to passages which are shocking, disturbing, and difficult to apply; however, following the above suggestions can help make it easier.

The Things Which We Have Seen and Heard

In my recent study of Ezekiel, I started to get a little confused. At certain points in the book, God tells Ezekiel that he is going to be mute. Then, in the very next verse or chapter, Ezekiel speaks to the people (see Ezek. 24:27 and 25:1, for example). I wondered, how can he be mute and also be speaking?

The answer lies in what he was speaking: the Word of God. He was restricted from speaking unless the word of the Lord came to him. This was explained back in Ezekiel 3:26-27, although I had forgotten about it: “I will make your tongue cling to the roof of your mouth, so that you shall be mute….But when I speak with you, I will open your mouth, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God…..”

The prophet Amos confirmed this experience: “The Lord God has spoken! Who can but prophesy?” (Amos 3:8) And when the Apostles were severely threatened by the Jewish Council and told not to speak in the name of Jesus anymore, they responded, “Uh, that’s all well and good, fellas, but we don’t really have a choice in the matter…for we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard!” (Acts 4:13-20).

It seems that when the Lord has something to reveal about Himself, there is no containing it. He speaks, the world is created. Whatever He says comes to pass. And we are privileged to have the Bible, which is God-breathed, living and active, and sharper than a two-edged sword (2 Tim. 3:16 and Heb. 4:12). How can we not study it, dwell on it, and memorize it? How can we not speak the things which we have seen and heard?

5 Tips for Sticking with Your Bible Reading Plan

Although I generally prefer to study a small section of the Bible in great detail, there’s also something to be said for getting a broad overview by reading through the entire Bible in a year.  It helps you see the overall narrative, pick up on connections, and improve your biblical literacy.  However, it can be hard to stick to a plan.  Below are 5 tips to help you stick to a reading plan in the coming year:

  1. Don’t be a perfectionist. If you get behind a few days, don’t try to make it up.  Instead, just pick up where you should currently be reading and go back only if you have time.  Knowing God is a lifelong pursuit; if you’re reading your Bible consistently, you’ll encounter the part you skipped again sometime.  It’s better to miss a small part and stick with it than quitting because you’ve gotten too far behind.
  2. Do it with someone else. I was the queen of starting Bible-reading plans and not finishing them until I got married.  Now my husband and I do the plan together and he makes sure I stick with it, even when I want to slack off!
  3. Try to read it at the same time every day, or tie it to something in your daily routine that you have to do every day.
  4. Pray that God will give you motivation and perseverance. That’s a prayer He would love to answer positively!
  5. Pick a plan that makes sense to you. Some plans have you reading in four different places every day; personally, I find jumping around that much to be confusing.  Some people like the variety, though.  There are so many plans to pick from—find something that suits your style.  Click here for a Canonical reading plan.  This means that you will encounter the books of the Old Testament in the order that the Ancient Hebrews would have originally read them.  (The New Testament is still in the same order as in the English Bible.)  Happy New Year!

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*Credit for organizing the Canonical reading plan into a spreadsheet, adding some sweet clip art, and making me stick to it all year goes to my awesome husband, Thomas.*