The Easter Goat

goat

Easter is upon us and just like clockwork a story to undermine Easter makes the news cycle. Easter is a holiday event marking the weekend of the good news of the gospel that Jesus Christ died, was buried, and then left the grave to provide salvation. So of course, there is breaking news to pull against Easter and that news takes the form of a story that claims the Pope believes there is no eternal Hell (To their credit the Vatican is denying the Pope said this). If true this is news because it breaks with thousands of years of Church teaching and seemingly conflicts with the words of Jesus himself. It is also news because many people want this anti-gospel this anti-Easter view to be true. The reported conversation linked here claims the following quote from the Pope.

“They are not punished, those who repent obtain the forgiveness of God and enter the rank of souls who contemplate him, but those who do not repent and cannot therefore be forgiven disappear. There is no hell, there is the disappearance of sinful souls.”

This idea of a limited or nonexistent hell is not a new idea and if one accepts this view it changes everything about our relationship with God. Here are a few consequences of accepting the idea that Hell is nonexistent or is not eternal.

No Hell = No Consequence

Those that reject God and continue on in their rejection of the creator will have virtually no consequence for the life they live. One might live the life of Hitler or a child abuser and know that at the end of the day the consequence will simply be to “disappear”. It will be as if one was never born. Jesus taught something much different.

5 “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, 6 but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. Matthew 18:5-6 ESV

If you are an unrepentant abuser and you destroy the soul of a child with perversion then it would be better to be drowned in the bottom of the sea than to face the judgment of God (as if one could escape from God to begin with). Jesus went on even further in the same verses.

7 “Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes! 8 And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. 9 And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire. Matthew 18:7-9 ESV

Jesus makes the point that it would be better to live life on earth broken and damaged than to be “thrown” into the “eternal” hell. Consequence to sin is a heavy price, it is a scary price, and Jesus was not shy about making that reality clear to his listeners. Many people in their heart hope that hell is not real because being unmade and disappearing forever would be welcome relief to the reality of eternal fire.

No Hell = God will be Mocked

The atheist preaches that when one dies the chemical reactions stop firing in the body and brain causing the self to end. Only the material is real. There is no immaterial soul that continues on. Darkness overtakes the mind and death is the end. If there is no hell and rebellious sinners just cease to be then the atheist is mostly right about their view of God. God who is true will then be replaced by the lies of men. People will be free to set themselves up as god and make themselves in whatever image they want. There is no right or wrong only what mankind states as the truth. This short life we live right now will be the only thing that matters. Why does God even need to communicate “woes” if God and truth become relative?

20 Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! Isaiah 5:20 ESV

No Hell = No need for Jesus

Finally, if there is no Hell then what did Jesus die to save me from? What is the point of Easter and the gospel of Christ? What do I need salvation for?

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes Romans 1:16 ESV

Salvation is defined as deliverance from destruction. While true that Salvation could be a deliverance to eternal life from a destruction of nonexistence that is not the context that Jesus taught and it is not the context of day in which Jesus taught. A timeless existence is the context for both those with God and those opposed to God. God through Jesus made a way to save the creation so that we are able to glorify, worship, and have a loving relationship with God the Father for all eternity. Jesus is the good news of salvation. I pray that everyone would submit to that plan. The alternative is not going to be peaceful nonexistence.

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” Matthew 25:31-33; 41; 46 ESV

They Followed Jesus Anyway

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The Resurrection of Christ is real and we know it to be legitimate based on the reaction from His followers. Most of the disciples and many of the close associates of Christ died unnatural deaths proclaiming a risen Jesus. If a resurrected Jesus was simply a plot hatched by these disciples then what are the odds that they would give up worldly advancement only to most likely die for that lie? The reason conspiracies are untrue or fail to get off the ground if they might have been true is that the more people involved the more likely it is that someone will break and give up the lie. Now a resurrected Jesus alive and meeting with his followers was no isolated event. Jesus over many days and weeks appeared to hundreds of people.

3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 ESV

With this many people involved in a conspiracy how could it last? There is no tradition that any of the disciples rejected the gospel, but there is tradition that they died for this gospel. In the Gospel of John there is an interesting exchange between Peter and Jesus relating to the future hardships and death that Peter would encounter for Christ. After Jesus told Peter that he would die, Peter asked Jesus about John. John the author of this narrative with some years between the conversation and the time of recording the history seems to interject an understanding that the disciples knew they were going to be martyred for the gospel and some most likely had already seen that end.

Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who also had leaned back against him during the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” So the saying spread abroad among the brothers that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?” John 21:20-23 ESV

Jesus also warned the disciples that by following him they would pay a price, that they would not be popular, and he even uses the word “hate” to describe how the world would feel about them. Even today Christians die for proclaiming a risen Jesus and celebrating Easter.

19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. John 15:19-20 ESV

Much of what is listed here is tradition, but with any tradition there is a foundation of truth even if the exact details have been lost. I believe it is safe to take away that many of the original followers of Christ died teaching and preaching about Easter.

Simon (Peter)

Church tradition holds that Peter was crucified upside down by the Romans around 65 AD. He requested to be crucified upside down because he felt unworthy to die the same way as Jesus.

[Jesus speaking to Peter] Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” John 21:18 ESV

Andrew (Peter’s Brother)

Church tradition holds that Andrew was crucified around 69 AD.

James (Son of Zebedee brother of John)

Luke in the book of Acts records how James was killed along with other followers by Herod around 44 AD.

About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword Acts 12:1-2 ESV

Saul (Paul)

Church tradition holds that Paul was imprisoned with Peter and then eventually beheaded around 65 AD.

James (The brother of Jesus)

James was one of the leaders of the church in Jerusalem (Galatians 1:19) and the church tradition holds that he was thrown from one of the higher walls of the temple. When his attackers realized he survived the fall they had him beaten to death with a club (gotquestions.org).

*Revised and Edited. Originally published on Human Effort in April 2014.

John 20:9 | Rise and be Alive!

Easter

It is a day that would become the first Easter, the resurrection of Jesus from death, a day that started like any other and as normal as any morning in a world of sin, grief, and death. Those who loved Jesus have come to tend the still fresh grave. Mary Magdalene one of His followers unexpectedly finds the grave disturbed and the body missing. She runs to tell this terrible news to Peter and John but they too are confused and dismayed.

9 for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. John 20:9 ESV

It is clear to the modern reader of this gospel what has happened because Easter is an event that is celebrated and has been celebrated for a few thousand years. That Jesus destroyed death for all people of every tribe and nation. The disciples and the followers of Christ did not yet fully understand this event that was occurring right before their eyes. They were confused and overwhelmed. John writes that he did not understand at that moment what was happening. To most familiar with what John is communicating this is hard to believe because Jesus told the disciples plainly exactly what was going to happen.

17 And as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside, and on the way he said to them, 18 “See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death 19 and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.” Matthew 20:17-19 ESV

Because of His relationship with the Father and because He was executing the Father’s will perfectly Jesus was in complete control of the future events and Jesus knew the purpose and the outcome.

My post today is to celebrate the wonder of this event and to acknowledge it before others that I am a follower of Jesus because of what God accomplished through Him. But maybe the reader of this post is familiar with the Easter event but not the message and significance of what occurred. Why must Jesus be raised from the dead? What is the purpose and point of this Easter event that makes it an annual celebration and the most important day of observance in the Christian life?

Peter who was confused on that first Easter morning not understanding what Jesus had told him plainly and not understanding the scriptures preaches his first sermon on this very topic. Peter now clearly understands and answers the question about the purpose of Christ and His resurrection on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit arrives to establish the Church.

31 [King David] foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. 32 This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. 33 Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. 34 For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, “‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, 35 until I make your enemies your footstool.”’ 36 Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Acts 2:31-36 ESV

Peter tells us that Jesus is raised from death to life by God the Creator to exalt Jesus as the King of Kings. King David acknowledges this future Jesus as his Lord a greater king than himself. God exalts to Jesus to His rightful place a throne next to God the Father. All power and authority both in life and in death is given to this King and Lord.

9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. Romans 14:9 ESV

I am part of the creation and I submit to the Creator who reigns over life and death. He has conquered death and extended to all who accept Him life eternal and free. That is why Easter is so important. That is why Easter has been celebrated annually for thousands of years by every nation and tribe.

24 It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, 25 who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. Romans 4:24-25 ESV

Jesus was convicted and sentenced to die for my sins. He paid the criminal’s wage of death on my behalf. Then three days later Mary discovered what Jesus had told them to be true that He was raised to life, the victor, to justify me before God that I a sinner who should be dead is given life and relationship with God the Father and Creator. Easter is upon us once again pointing the way to justification and mercy before God. If you have not already done so admit your selfishness and rebellion against God and submit to the Salvation of Jesus Christ.

18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit 1 Peter 3:18 ESV

Who is God to Judge?

21 Then Moses summoned all the elders of Israel and said to them, “Go at once and select the animals for your families and slaughter the Passover lamb. 22 Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it into the blood in the basin and put some of the blood on the top and on both sides of the doorframe. None of you shall go out of the door of your house until morning. 23 When the Lord goes through the land to strike down the Egyptians, he will see the blood on the top and sides of the doorframe and will pass over that doorway, and he will not permit the destroyer to enter your houses and strike you down. Exodus 12:21-23 NIV

29 At midnight the Lord struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of the livestock. 30 And Pharaoh rose up in the night, he and all his servants and all the Egyptians. And there was a great cry in Egypt, for there was not a house where someone was not dead. Exodus 12:29-30 ESV

God sent a destroyer to kill the first born in every house in the land of Egypt. Women, children, men, rich, and poor no one was exempt except for those that covered their homes with the blood of a lamb. Jews around the world still celebrate that event today as Passover.

17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. John 3:17-18 NIV

Jesus became the saving Passover lamb for us in eternity just like Moses demonstrated for a temporary moment. As it states in John 3:18 The Egyptians stood condemned already because they had rejected the one true God. The angel of death is coming for everyone because every person that has ever lived is condemned. Only the household that is covered in the blood of lamb will be spared with Jesus being the perfect Lamb for all that turn to him. Christians be they Hebrew or any nationality celebrate this event as Easter, the death burial, and resurrection of Jesus, and it occurs at the same time of the year as Passover. Passover was just a temporary event of judgment and salvation where Easter is the eternal event of judgment and salvation.

The Challenge that needs to be worked out is the idea that God has been unjust in killing the women and children of the Egyptians. To answer this charge one must understand our place in Creation. God is the Creator and I am created to be in relationship with Him. Yet I have rebelled against that relationship and I have tried to live life without God who created me. Because of that rejection God should have cast me away. Here is a verse from a song I like…

Tomorrow’s never promised, but it is we swear.
Think we holding our own, just a fist full of air.
God has never been obligated to give us life.
If we fought for our rights, we’d be in hell tonight.

God never promised long life or health and prosperity after the curse entered the world due to our sins. This world and our lives in it are temporary. In the book of Job God gives permission to Satan to kill the children of Job. God’s reason for this has nothing to do with Job and if he was faithful to God. God has his own reasons and his own plans. In the time of grief at having lost his family Job demands an audience with God feeling that he had been wronged. God appears to Job and his friends.

6 Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm:7“Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. 8 “Would you discredit my justice? Would you condemn me to justify yourself? Job 40:6-7 NIV

Paul is just as clear about our right to challenge God’s justice and authority.

17 For Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” 18 Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden. 19 One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist his will?” 20 But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’” 21 Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use? Romans 9:17-21 NIV

It seems to me that Western ways of thinking, thinking that is based on the power of technology and the comfort of wealth, creates the illusion that we can view ourselves as God’s equal. Or that we can make God in the image of a man. God is not part of the Creation. We think to ourselves on all the things we will do and be. Yet in reality we have less control of events than we like to think. God placed us where we are born, in location and time. God has given us gifts of intelligence and strength.

Before concluding let me address specifically the charge of God’s judgment impacting the children of Egypt. God does not see life on Earth as the crowning achievement. Humankind forgets that this life is cursed and temporary. If God determines to bring children to their eternal home early that is His prerogative.

16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 ESV

Looking back to the Egyptians that God judged remember that God did not force the Egyptians to do anything they did not want to do. He allowed them to rebel and seek after god’s of their own making. That rebellion is our very nature. I do the same today and this is why God put on the limitations of man in the form of Jesus and died to restore the relationship. God’s perfect justice was satisfied in the punishment of Jesus and Jesus is the demonstration of God’s perfect love. God is always consistent and always perfect in all that He does. This short temporary life is your opportunity to embrace the mercy that He has provided and submit to Jesus as Lord for salvation.

17 Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear. 18 For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. 20 He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. 1 Peter 1:17-19 NIV

The Easter Resurrection

Paul reminded the Corinthian church of the gospel, the good news, which was delivered to them. This good news is the same for us today and is the message of the Easter holiday that is celebrated at this time of the year.

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas [Peter], then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 ESV

Paul testified to the fact that Jesus had died on a cross and then was raised on the third day, just as the Old Testament scriptures had promised. Paul reminded this church of the hundreds of people who Jesus appeared to after his death. Many of those people were still alive at this time verifying what Paul was writing in this letter.

Easter is about what Jesus did on the cross and the good news that this brings to each and every person. The good news, as Paul listed it here, is #1 Christ died for our sins as predicted by the Old Testament. #2 He was buried and physically dead. All the chemical reactions were done. #3 on the third day as predicted by the Old Testament Jesus was resurrected. This resurrection is new life not undead life. This is no zombie, but life restored and better than before because it is life that has overcome death. Resurrection of this kind is an event that human effort has been unable to replicate, and is accomplished by the direct intervention of a Creator who has authority to break the rules of time space.

The resurrection is key to the life giving power of Christianity. When we die that is not the end. We are eternal beings even when the physical breaks down and dies. Yet we reject the idea that the Creator has interjected himself into the affairs of men. We reject that God will require an accounting of what we have done with the life he created in us. In Paul’s day just as in our day many people rejected the idea that a resurrection is possible. We are all stuck in the physical of time space. We focus only on the closed off system and the natural laws that rule this system. Resurrection breaks those laws and is not a repeatable event to be studied and analyzed by men. Thomas one of the disciples refused to believe the testimony of his closest friends on this matter.

Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” John 20:24-25 ESV

The even more amazing thing about Thomas’ refusal to believe that Jesus was alive was that Thomas had witnessed countless times that Jesus had broken the laws of nature. Blind men seeing, the sick healed, food multiplied, and Thomas had firsthand eyewitness proof that resurrection is possible. He was there when Jesus resurrected Lazarus from the dead.

Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go”… So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” John 11:14-16a; 41-44 ESV

If it is hard for someone like Thomas to accept that the natural laws of what is possible and what is impossible can be broken then what chance do we who live in the age of science have?

The answer is that the Creator is not subject to the laws of the creation. We are all bound to the space time container yet what separates God is that as creator he is outside of the creation and is not bound as we are to the natural laws and to the forward direction of time.

An explanation of space time

In regard to the system we live in called space time Jesus put it this way…

And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. Revelation 21:6 ESV

The Alpha is the first letter of the Greek Alphabet and Omega is the last letter. Jesus who is God in flesh stands outside of time; he sees and interacts with the beginning and the end at the same time. It is the only way God can be all the things that make God ever present and all powerful. He is not limited to the space time container or to the natural laws that limit the creation.

If the Creator truly interacts and has plans for his creation then choose this day what you will believe. Easter is the good news that we can be given new life, a resurrection from the dead. God is calling us to serve him and he is the Creator who is worthy of our worship. If you refuse and continue in rebellion then do not think that once you die that this container of space time is all there will be. Jesus continued…

To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” Revelation 21:7-8 ESV