Given for the Saints at Medicalodge, Neosho, MO, on 3/18/07
"But the glorious fact is that Christ was raised from the dead: he has become the very first to rise of all who sleep the sleep of death" (I Cor. 15:20).
Many of you have probably heard about the docudrama called "The Lost Tomb of Jesus." If not, you will. It details an event in 1980, when archaeologists working in Israel uncovered the Talpiot tomb, which contained ten ossuaries (limestone bone boxes). Probably because land was scarce, it was customary in the time of Christ, to lay out the bodies of the deceased until everything decayed except the bones. They then put the bones in these ossuaries, which were stored in a tomb for final internment. In this particular tomb, scientists found ten ossuaries with the inscriptions of names which could have belonged to Jesus' family: Yeshua (Jesus), Yosif (Joseph), Maria (Greek for Mary), James, and another one which they postulate belongs to Mary Magdalene.
To come to this hypothetical conclusion, they had to strain at a gnat and swallow a camel. Using what I call "pseudo-science" to prove their case, they utilized the skills of a number of Ph.D.s in the field of Archaeology, Biblical Languages, Mathematics and Statistics, and various authors, and film makers, including Executive Producer of the film, James Cameron, who includes in his credits, The Terminator, Aliens, The Abyss, and Titanic. The Director, Producer and Writer of this particular "documentary" (and I use the term loosely), was Simcha Jacobovici, a passionate, in-your-face Israeli who knows without a shadow of a doubt that he has found the bones of Jesus of Nazareth, Mary Magdalene, whom he says was Jesus' wife, and their son Rueben (???).
Lenny and I watched this far fetched production for two hours. Rather than saying they had found the bones of Jesus, they ended each segment with a question, such as, "Could these be the bones of Jesus?" They even ground up some bone fragments and took them for forensic DNA sampling to identify familial similarities. That made me laugh out loud, for as I asked Lenny, "Did they find Jesus' hairbrush then, to see if they had a match? Or maybe his toothbrush?" The scientific results were patched together with "bubble gum and bailing wire," as my Uncle Neil used to say, but they had their fun and convinced themselves.
After the airing of this film, Ted Koppel hosted an excellent hour of rebuttal. In the first half, scientists had the opportunity to question Jacobovici the producer, and Dr. Tabor, his collaborator and consultant (Ph.D. in Biblical Studies, University of Chicago), for the film. In the second half hour, they had three theologians on the panel. One was a priest, the President of Catholic University; the second was head of The Dallas Theological Seminary, and the third was a Professor at the Virginia School of Theology. The question Ted Koppel asked them was "IF it could be proved that these were the bones of Jesus, how would it affect your faith?" I want to mention that Koppel himself was VERY skeptical of the science used and the conclusions reached in the film.
The Catholic priest said it wouldn't bother him a bit. The reason why was something to the effect that he believed in the traditions handed down to him by the fathers from the beginning. The Evangelical said, "Well, yes, it would be devastating to the faith of millions who believed Jesus rose bodily from the tomb." Dr. Tabor asked him why it was necessary for Jesus' liver and spleen and kidneys to get to heaven. Why couldn't a spiritual resurrection be just as good as a physical one? The Evangelical's answer was something like, "Because the Bible says so." The third theologian was the one who impressed me the most, because she challenged the film makers to explain how they could pass off mere supposition as fact by using reenactments to show how their theory would have played out, leading the viewers to believe it was true. That, the woman theologian said, was using unfair tactics to cause the viewer to assume facts not in evidence. She also observed that Christians need to exercise their "critical thinking." Her comment reminded me of John's statement, "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are of God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world" (I John 4:1). I think she was saying that Christians are way too gullible.
What do you believe and why do you believe it? If your theology came from your parents and/or your church tradition, then you may be at risk to have your faith shattered. When I was in grad school, we rented a little house just off campus owned by a devout Christian woman in her seventies at the time. During that school year, Armstrong walked on the moon. We didn't have a TV set, so I went over to her parlor and watched it with her. After it was over, she said, "I don't believe that's true. They are only pretending to be on the moon." When I asked her why she thought that, she replied, "If man was supposed to be on the moon, it would be in the Bible." Her mind was made up so strongly that she could not allow a new thought in lest it destroy her faith in the Bible.
What is your faith resting on? Someone or something? A set of beliefs? Whatever is in the Bible? Or God Himself? Having said that, let me hasten to assure you that I found "The Lost Tomb of Jesus" to be sheer fabrication, clever, but illogical, and it irritated me in the extreme that the filmmakers apparently think we are so stupid that we'll believe something because they have found an expert somewhere to say it might be so, statistically speaking. But it got me to wondering at the same time about the basis of our faith. Why do we believe what we believe? The answer, "It's in the Bible," no longer cuts it for me because there are over 30,000 denominations, all claiming they believe the Bible entirely, and none of them agreeing on what it says. It's obvious that if the letter would suffice, then Christ would not have had to pay the price in blood.
Depending on science to prove these were the bones of Christ is also ludicrous since science and religion are mighty strange bedfellows. A geologist friend used to say that religious people know nothing about true science, and I always countered him with, "And scientists know nothing about the Spirit." Neither statement is absolutely true, but you get my drift here. It reminds me of a statement we heard last winter in Sky Valley Park. Lenny and I were soaking in the hot mineral spas, and over the loud speaker, we heard the guest speaker in the fellowship hall there, assuring the old folks present that every word in the Bible is true; the fossil record is probably false, but if it isn't, then, you can bet there were duck billed platypuses on the ark. Oh really? He concluded by asking, "Who are you going to believe, scientists or the Bible?" If we need physical proof of spiritual matters, our faith is in crisis and we really do need to go back to basics.
When Lenny and I were in Real Estate in Southern California, we met a dear old man who had been fleeced by an unscrupulous Real Estate agent. He was devastated emotionally and financially, and didn't want to trust anyone, but he soon began to trust us. As we helped him solve his problem, we got to know him. He was a retired engineer of some sort, a faithful member of his church. He confessed, however, that he had to have proof that the Bible is true. If it can't be proved, he said sadly, then he couldn't believe any of it. We witnessed to him, and came to really care about him and his wife, but he had no concept of the indwelling Spirit, and probably had to wait until he crossed Jordan to know God personally. Better late than never, but what a devastating thing it is for people whose faith is so shallow that any little thing can rock their boat. God is in charge of that as well, and some people we must leave in His capable hands.
The question Dr. Tabor asked the theologians about a spiritual resurrection versus a physical one bears another look. We in the West, especially, it seems to me, are tied to the physical, the literal, which is why there is so much confusion about what the Bible actually teaches. When you take everything literally, you end up in the grip of fear and panic and worry. For instance, what PROOF do you have that you will ever get to heaven? No matter how much scripture you memorize, quote, and claim, when it gets down to your final moments on earth, how can you be sure you'll be with Jesus forever? How do you know for sure they didn't find Jesus' bones, and if they did, would it matter to you?
The film makers referred to Matthew's commentary right before and right after the resurrection, "the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, "Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, 'After three days I will rise again.' Therefore order the sepulcher to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away, and tell the people, 'He has risen from the dead,' and the last fraud will be worse than the first." Pilate said to them, "You have a guard of soldiers; go, make it as secure as you can." So they went and made the sepulcher secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard" (Matt. 27:62-66). In spite of Pilate's precautions and the religious leaders' concerns, Jesus did rise again, as He said He would.
Even as the disciples were rejoicing, scarcely believing their eyes and ears, word came to the aforementioned chief priests and Pharisees that what the "impostor" had said, came true, guards or no guards. They hatched up a plan that these film makers capitalized on: "...some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sum of money to the soldiers and said, "Tell people, 'His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.' And if this comes to the governor's ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble." So they took the money and did as they were directed; and this story has been spread among the Jews to this day" (Matt. 28:11-15). "The Lost Tomb of Jesus" uses this passage to explain why Jesus' bones could be found today. As I looked at Matthew's account, it struck me that it was the unbelievers, the chief priests and Pharisees who believed Jesus might rise from the dead, rather than the disciples, who scattered like sheep without their shepherd after He died.
When Mary Magdalene ran to tell the disciples that she had seen Him, "they did not believe it" (Mark 16:11). She was the one, according to John's account, to whom Jesus said, "Do not hold me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brethren and say to them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God" (John 20:17). Later on, however, after Thomas had said he wouldn't believe it unless he had proof, Jesus appeared to them, though the doors were locked, and said to Thomas, "Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing." Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!" Jesus said to him, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe" (John 20: 27-29).
I personally believe, like most of you do, I'm sure, that Jesus' physical body actually rose from the dead. Regarding Him after the flesh, as the litmus test for belief in the resurrection, however, is majoring in minors. Lenny reminded me of Paul's statement: "Therefore, henceforth know we no man according to the flesh; yea, though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now henceforth we know Him so no more" (II Cor. 5:16, Phillips). The Apostle goes on to explain the inexplicable, the difference between the natural and the spiritual, "So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.....And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven" (I Cor. 15:42-44; 49).
Jesus was/is the first fruits of them that sleep. The physical resurrection is important, but the spiritual resurrection is even more important. For instance, if there has to be a body (a liver, a spleen, a kidney) to rise from the dead, then those who perished at sea or by fire, whose physical body was destroyed, have no hope of the resurrection. I suppose this is why some people are against cremation. Nevertheless, Paul asserts that we ALL have the hope of the resurrection because Christ was raised from the dead, for if He did not rise from the dead, Paul said, "....your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied" (I Cor. 15:17-19).
Paul never leaves us hanging. Here's the foundational truth upon which most of us rest: "But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam ALL die, so also in Christ shall ALL be made alive" (I Cor. 15:20-22). Therefore, the scourge of death, stalking every human being from birth on, has been nullified, canceled by the blood of the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sins of the world.
The proof of the resurrection, like the kingdom of heaven itself, lies within each of us. If you want to follow in the footprints of Jesus, look back to where you have walked. He was there in you, whether you saw Him or not. It was wonderful to be in Israel twice, and we hope to go again one day, but what I quickly saw is that Israel is NOT the "holy land" as it is billed. We are the holy land for God dwells in us. When the Light of the world lives in you and in me, we need not fear what man may say, or think, or try to prove. We have Him: our Father, our Brother, our best friend, our Lord, and our God.
Father, we thank You that Your love has swallowed up all doubt and all fear, and that You have raised us up from the miry clay and planted our feet on Mount Zion in You. We bless Your holy name and rejoice that You have called us to be Your children, that we may fellowship with You forever. Amen. Jan Antonsson
Jan and Lenny Antonsson
17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850 (Snail Mail)
Back to Basics: The Sovereignty of God
Back to Basics, II: Sovereignty and Reconciliation
Back to Basics, III: A Practicum on Sovereignty
Back to Basics, IV: Out of the Box
Back to Basics, V: The Codependency Factor
Back to Basics, VII: Where Is Hell?
Back to Basics, VIII: God Is Love
Back to Basics, IX: By Man Came Also
Back to Basics, X: Victory Over Death
Back to Basics, XI: Provision
The Glory Road
We're always happy to hear from you!
This page was uploaded to the web on 03/14/07
by Jan Antonsson, Webmeister,