Widely Acknowledged As Facts

By historians, scholars, experts in the field, and those who have spent a lifetime looking into it:

The Jew Jesus, also known as the Christ, went around firstly in Galilee and latterly in Jerusalem, teaching, growing a following, and was believed to be working miracles including healings and exorcisms, around the early 30s AD.

He was crucified under Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judaea from Ad 26-36, at Golgotha, just outside Jerusalem, on a Friday.

He was buried that evening in a tomb owned by a Jewish council member, Joseph from Arimathea.

Early on the following Sunday morning female followers of Jesus, Mary Magdalene included, found Jesus’ tomb empty.

Despite having every motivation to do so, neither the Romans nor the Jewish council were ever able to produce a body, and say, “This is the Jesus we crucified, he’s still dead”.

Hundreds claimed to see Jesus risen from the dead in the weeks following. Too widely dispersed geographically, and too many in number, to be hallucinating.  Many of these hundreds would go on to be executed for their claim rather than renounce it.

Jesus’ half brother, James, was initially sceptical of the claims but later professed belief, became a leader of the new Jesus movement and was also martyred rather than renounce his faith in the 60s AD.

Saul of Tarsus, a devout Pharisee, was a persecutor of the early Christians, but then later claimed to see the risen Jesus, and devoted his life to spread the news about the resurrected Christ.  He was also killed rather than recant his testimony in the 60s AD.

These early Christians, a small Jewish sect, under conditions of intermittently harsh and violent persecution, grew exponentially from a handful of followers to around 10% of the known world’s population in AD300 with adherents drawn from every strata of society.

The above are historical facts.  Julius Caesar, Charlemagne, Christopher Columbus type facts.  Widely acknowledged and accepted.

What I put to you today is that the best explanation for the above facts is that Jesus did indeed rise from the dead.

Further to this, he lives today.  He is unique and he is central to humanity’s (and therefore your) purpose and meaning.  This truth can be intellectually accepted and emotionally experienced today.

You have received an invitation.

Happy Easter.

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Saturday Shut Down

This Saturday two groups of self professed devout Jews were sorely tempted to do the unthinkable – break the sabbath.

The Chief Priests and the Pharisees, having publicly slaughtered the healer from Nazareth for alleged Sabbath-breaking, didn’t quite have the trust in Yahweh to call a halt to their “shut-down-the-son-of-man” project for a day as they should.  They broke the law they were claiming to uphold as they increasingly aligned with the hand washing Roman regime.  Not content with controlling the outcome, they also needed PR team in overdrive managing the public narrative that day.  Bury it, seal it, guard it, shut it down.  We kill him, control him, write the report, and don’t think about the principles we sacrifice in order to do so.

The women from Galilee, Jesus’ mates and most faithful disciples, were also desperate to break the Sabbath that day.  Did they debate it?  I bet they did.  “Even Jesus healed on the Sabbath – we should go to him, they’ll be sealing that tomb now...” Desperate to anoint their Lord and stem the decay of their dead friend’s bludgeoned body.

But they sat there, burial spices in hand, and kept the Sabbath.

Broken, bewildered, defeated and desperate they still trusted and honoured Yahweh, and prepared to do something beautiful for their Lord.

God, make me like those girls.  On days of utter defeat, promises unfulfilled, heaven silent, Jesus buried by the regime, would I trust and honour the Father, and plot to do something beautiful for my Lord.

Friday

Simon of Cyrene, why were you on the scene?  Why were you there that day?

Those ruthless Roman soldiers compelled you to carry their instrument of execution up that dusty hill.  Did some of his blood and sweat and torn flesh drip on you from that chunk of wood?  Some of his stigma and scorn cast their bitter shadows over you?

Tell me, Simon from Cyrene, was it blind fate that left you in the wrong place, at the wrong time, losing your dignity under the force of a brutal regime?  The stain of the shame never quite removed from you…

Or was it providence that lead you near Golgotha that day?  Was your greatest honour being chosen to carry that frame as a beautifully graceful King paid a ransom for you and for many? Did goodness and mercy follow you all your days as you spoke of what you had seen?

Simon of Cyrene, you were at the scene.

Where does it leave you today?

Thursday for friends

Of all the things he could have done that Thursday night – the night before his execution – there was one thing he eagerly desired to do:

“You’ve no idea how much I’ve looked forward to sharing this meal with you…” Luke 22:15

He really wanted to have dinner with his mates.

Only deniers, doubters, deserters and the desperate in the mix, but he still longs to sit down and break bread with us.

Woeful Wednesday

Judas, how could you??  What were you thinking?  This is the Messiah!  You’ve watched him up close for three years – seeing blind eyes opened, the lame walk, the dead raised.  Heck – you’ve preached and healed people yourself.  You’ve heard the greatest teaching ever… had a front row seat to the Kingdom of God coming.  This is Jesus.  How could you?!  For money?!  And not even that much!!  What were you thinking?  How could you?

Yet, we know how he could, don’t we?  Because we’ve done it many, many times ourselves.  Crashed out when the crunch week came.  Traded in a tough time with Jesus for a bit of quick titillation or some little trinket.  Took the short term fix instead of the fellowship of his suffering.  Pocketed a bit of cash in place of taking up our cross.  Aligned ourselves with the status quo, though it conspires to kill Jesus.  Isn’t Judas one of the people most easily relatable to this holy week?

All disciples betray Jesus.

We betray him at the worst time for the worst reasons.

Maybe we don’t kiss him for cash, but we’ve all fled during his time of need.

We can deal with the guilt and regret of this by bringing our own judgement on ourselves.  Tragically and unnecessarily cutting short our life like Judas.

Or, like Peter, we can weep bitterly over the evil that’s been exposed in us, but dig our fingernails into hope.  Despair of ourselves, but trust that Jesus, our bloodied, broken and betrayed Jesus, still might just have something for us.

Who knows, it might not be that long till barbecues on the beach.

Tetchy Tuesday

Some days, like the one we remember today, Jesus was tired, tetchy, and in need of a decent meal.  In terms of conforming to the image of Christ in this regard, I don’t feel I’m doing too badly…

He then engaged in the kind of behaviour that would have resulted in him politely being asked to exit the Garden Centre.

He’s full of mercy, grace, truth and love, and he really can’t stand fruitlessness – especially on an empty stomach.

This should shock us a little.  Crack our complacency a touch.  The Jesus we follow, in the most important week of his life, cursed a fruitless plant and killed it.

A guilt driven, “hey let’s get super busy and make some fruit happen!” response would only engage us in leaf management, which has never succeeded long term from Eden onwards.

The subsequent teaching makes it clear – ‘mountain moving fruit’ is no problem – we simply need to ask.

The issue then is connection.  Abiding.  Asking.  The John 15 stuff.

So, connect with him today.  Get to the source.  The fruit follows.

“As we approach Easter…”

Not every day perhaps, but today, Mutinous Monday, let’s remember this aspect of Jesus’s life and character:

He entered into a place of worship and caused carnage.

Coins-clattering-doves-flapping-and-crapping-religious-hucksters-raging carnage.

He physically forced people from a room like a security guard.  Turned over cash registers like an anarchist.  Prevented people coming through like a bouncer unconcerned about it all kicking off.

This was no benign clergyman musing out loud, “As we approach Easter…”

This was a working class northerner in his early 30’s manhandling people.

We don’t approach Easter.

Easter squares up to us.