The power of the Cross

Bidbro church

SUNDAY APRIL 28th 2019

St Lawrence Bidborough – April 28th 2019.  Acts 17:22-34

Opening prayer from Eph. 1:18 “I pray that your minds may be opened, that you may know the hope to which God in Christ has called you, Amen.”

What a mess the world is in.  I could babble on about the two new political parties formed in Britain this month, and the two elections coming up in May – threatening to overturn our cranky political system completely, but I won’t.

For a moment, I will focus on one issue – that of population:  there are more children as a proportion of the world’s population than ever before.  We know how to bring babies to birth better than ever before, and with less mothers dying in childbirth.  We also know how to bring children safely to adulthood, with basic good food, clean air, and of course, safety from war and terrorist attack…  Enough said on that.

With regards to overall population growth, the world’s population has I think trebled in my lifetime, please correct me if I am wrong.  China has led the way in overall population control, and of course our western culture is turning away from the safe nurture of children within the love of the parents that conceived them – enough said on that.  If you don’t agree with me when I say, what a mess the world is in, again, please correct me after the service.

And so it must have seemed to the people of Athens 2,000 years ago, as St Paul spoke to them from the steps of the Areopagus.  Maybe the Romans had established a comfortable way of life for the free and richer people of Athens, but of course if they were honest, they were only a small proportion of the world of their day.

Questions such as “Does God exist, does He care for us, is there life after death, and what of miracles?  Were debated endlessly.  There were those, as today, who would simply not believe that a person could rise from the dead (v32 of Acts 17)  Put yourself in their shoes….

Was Jesus dead?  He died by crucifixion.  There are historical facts.  At an internet level of course there are plenty of ‘Jesus mythers’ around, just as there are holocaust deniers, and climate change deniers.  The fact is, even the most critical scholars accept that Jesus was baptised by John, he made disciples, the inner group and many others from a wider circle.  Then, no serious scholar however critical, would deny that Jesus was a miracle worker, that he taught mainly about something called the Kingdom of God, and that he died on a Roman cross.

How did crucifixion work?  It was a step process.  Scourging, the half death, leather things, bits of bone, veins and arteries exposed.  Julius Caesar: “it is more grievous to scourged than to be put to death.”  Then Jesus was nailed to a cross while blood drained.  Third step, death blow.  It is among the most certain fact of history, that he was crucified by Pontius Pilate.

Did he rise?  Official credal statements made it very clear that he died.  The most interesting source is the creed to be found in 1 Cor 15:3-7 creed, repeated by St Paul as he writes to the church in Corinth.  James Dunn, a Durham professor,  I contributed to a book he wrote about church life in the North-East.  He says of 1 Cor 15:3-7: “This tradition, we can be entirely confident was formulated as tradition within months of Jesus death.  Gert Ludemann: “the elements of the tradition are to be dated in the first two years after the crucifixion”.  Paul Barnett:  “…within 2 or 3 years of the first Easter.”  Richard Burridge and Graham Gould: “from only a few years after Jesus death”.  Robert Funk of the Jesus seminar: “within 2 or 3 years at most.”  Richard Hays: “within about 3 years”, Very early material  1 Cor 15:3-8 (read it together).

Notice what we have here, it was for forgiveness of sins, Jesus death and burial, resurrection.

Lee Strobel wrote a book 40 years ago “The Case for Christ.”  Two years ago, it was made into a film.  What follows summarises something along the lines of what he said and what is in the film….  He summarises what other Bible scholars have taught….  There were the appearances to individuals (Cephas), small groups, large group more than 500.  James and Paul untimely born.  All of this as authoritative and very early tradition.  Friends and Foes.  James did not believe his brother was the Messiah, Paul persecuted the church.  This passage eliminates two sceptical responses, to Jesus resurrection.  The legend hypothesis, and the hallucination hypothesis.  It is the heart of Christian teaching from the beginning.  Hallucinations are not shared and most certainly, not by many people at the same time.

And, the fatal flaw in both the legend and the hallucination arguments against Jesus’ resurrection:  is that those who have them, or make the up, they make poor martyrs.  I accept that suicide bombers make martyrs of themselves, having been deluded by extremist teaching, and only for instant and presumably near painless death.

(READ ALOUD 2 Cor 11:24-27).  Consider becoming a Xian?   it’s a GREAT LIFE !!  So many of the first disciples were stoned, willing to endure prison, flogging and death.  Yet….

Gerd Ludemann again: “it may be taken as historically certain that Peter and the disciples had experiences after Jesus’ death in which he appeared to them as the risen Christ.”  Bart Ehrmanh:  “We can say with certainty that some of his disciples at some later time insisted that Jesus had appeared to them, and had convinced them that he had been raised from the dead.  “It is a historical fact that some of J followers came to believe that he had been raised from the dead soon after his execution.  Paul Fredriksen: “I know that in their own terms, what they saw was the raised Jesus.”  For Fredriksen, he goes on: “I’m not saying that they really did see the raised J, I wasn’t there, I don’t know what they saw.  But I do know that, as a historian, they must have seen something.

I know what they saw, for me it is obvious, the sort of thing that would convince that a man who had been dead was in front of them and explaining why he had to die and rise again.  Yet, so many do not believe in the historical evidence.  Two broad issues emerge.  Many people have a prior commitment to reject supernatural events, they are committed to refuse that miracles never happen.

Pew Forum:  “Spirit and Power, a 10-country survey of Charismatics and Pentecostals – the  USA, Brazil, Chile, Guatemala, Kenya, Nigeria, S. Africa, India, the Philippines, and S.Korea.  Researches found that 200,000,000 Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians have personally witnessed miraculous healings.  Not counting Christians in other countries.  Edmond Tang:  “All Christian churches in China practice some form of healing. in fact, according to some surveys, 90% of new believers say that miraculous healing is a reason for their conversion.  Craig Keener in Miracles:  It is no longer plausible to tout uniform human experience as a basis for denying miracles, as in the traditional modern arguments.  Hundreds of millions of claims would have to be explained in non-supernatural terms for this appeal to succeed.  While many may be so explained, one cannot adopt the conclusion of uniformity as a promise without investigating all of them.”  In other words, those who deny such miracles, without investigating them, do so by a blind faith, and ignore all the evidence against their unbelief.

So to conclude:  If Jesus rose from the dead, it is surely a good idea to listen to his teaching – about sin, judgement, and salvation.  If we don’t want to take his teaching seriously, we need to deny it, and reject the evidence.  We must decide what we want to believe ahead of time, and simply reject the evidence.  We call science, anti-science, as bigots, we call others bigoted.

The facts are, that Jesus died by crucifixion, and that is recognised by friends and foes.  The friends of Jesus, those who became his disciples, were willing to face torture and death.  So, if anyone can tell me about God, its Jesus, God who became a human being, humbling himself, even to death, death on a cross, God in Christ.

I began by talking about children in our world.  I finish with a saying by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian who died in Flossenburg concentration camp, 9th April 1945, probably by hanging but slowly.  He wrote: “You can measure the morality of a society and culture by how it cares for its children and their future.”  A challenge for our society.

And personally?  How do you respond?

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