Friday, March 28, 2008

2nd Sunday of Easter


Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint John 20,19-31.

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, "Peace be with you."
When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.
(Jesus) said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you."
And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the holy Spirit.
Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained."
Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.
So the other disciples said to him, "We have seen the Lord." But he said to them, "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe."
Now a week later his disciples were again inside and Thomas was with them. Jesus came, although the doors were locked, and stood in their midst and said, "Peace be with you."
Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe."
Thomas answered and said to him, "My Lord and my God!"
Jesus said to him, "Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed."
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of (his) disciples that are not written in this book.
But these are written that you may (come to) believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Christ is Risen! Alleluia, Alleluia!

The Empty Tomb

Let's consider the evidence of the Resurrection. And in doing so, we must start with the fact of the empty tomb.

The Gospels tell us that Jesus was buried in the tomb of a wealthy man, Joseph of Arimathea. Three days later that tomb was empty. It was empty despite the fact that it had been sealed by a huge stone weighing close to two tons and despite the fact that it had been guarded continuously by a special contingent of Roman soldiers (Matthew 27:62-66).

When the soldiers reported their startling discovery of an empty tomb to the chief priests of the Jews, they were given a bribe to tell the people that "His disciples came by night and stole Him away while we were asleep" (Matthew 28:11-15).

The significant thing about the reaction of the Jewish leaders is that they did not challenge the fact that the tomb was empty. That's because the tomb was empty. They simply could not argue with that reality, and so they made up a story to explain why the tomb was empty.

And men have been concocting explanations ever since that time. Let's consider some of those explanations, and as we do so, I think you will begin to sense that the shallowness of their arguments speaks louder in many respects than the counter arguments of Christians.

Explanations of the Empty Tomb
1) Confusion - Perhaps the silliest argument of all is that the disciples went to the wrong tomb! Yes, some supposedly learned men have proposed this theory over the years.

Yet, the Gospel accounts tell us that Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of Jesus, both accompanied Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemas to the tomb and watched them prepare the body for burial (Matthew 27:57-61 and John 19:38-42). Are we to suppose that when the women returned they could not find their way?

And even if they did get lost and looked in the wrong tomb, did Peter and John do the same thing? Did the Roman soldiers forget which tomb they were guarding? Did Joseph of Arimathea suddenly have a memory lapse as to where his tomb was located? And why didn't the Jewish leaders simply go to the right tomb and produce the body?

The answer is simple: the tomb was empty!

2) Theft - The oldest explanation of the empty tomb is the one the Jews made up and bribed the soldiers to tell namely, that the body of Jesus was stolen by His disciples. Yes, this explanation would have us believe that Peter, Andrew, James and John were body snatchers!

Now wait a minute. Are we really to believe that a small rag-tag band of followers who were scared witless at the arrest of Jesus and who fled into the night to save their own skins, suddenly found the courage three days later to take on a guard of Roman soldiers?

Even more significant, what would have been the motivation of the disciples to steal the body? We're told over and over again in the Scriptures that they did not understand that Jesus was to be resurrected (Mark 9:30-32). Their behavior after the crucifixion testified to this as they sat around in despair mourning the loss of their leader.

And yet, this very group suddenly came alive with hope and went forth boldly proclaiming the Resurrection at the risk of their lives. Are we really to believe that a group of frightened disciples could be transformed into a courageous band of fearless proclaimers by snatching a body, hiding it, and then committing their lives to a lie? That's more difficult to believe than the Resurrection!

3) Hallucination - One of the popular modern day theories has been the idea that the disciples experienced a series of hallucinations. As one advocate of this novel concept has put it, "They experienced a disruption of the physio-chemical structures of the brain in such a way as to be able to see what they desperately wanted to see."

I will grant that Mary Magdalene might have had an hallucination. After all, she was a frightened and frustrated young woman wandering around in a cemetery at day break. As a matter of fact, the reaction of the disciples to her news of the empty tomb and her encounter with angels who informed her of the resurrection indicates that they thought she had been "seeing things" (Luke 24:11).

But what about the appearance of Jesus to all the apostles on three different occasions, or His appearance to 500 believers on a Galilean mountain, or His ascension before a host of disciples? (1 Corinthians 15:5-7 and Acts 1:1-11)

An hallucination is a highly subjective experience and a very personal one. Like beauty, it is in the eye of the beholder. To believe that 500 people could have the same hallucination simultaneously takes more faith than a belief in the Resurrection! And furthermore, the hallucination theory does not explain the empty tomb.

4) Hypnosis A- nother modern theory is that the disciples experienced mass hypnosis. The advocates of this idea argue that the disciples so desperately wanted Jesus to rise from the dead that they created an aura of auto-suggestion (or mental hypnosis) and thus, whenever the name of Jesus was mentioned, His disciples believed they could see Him.

Now, mass hypnosis is a probability, with even as many as 500 people, given precisely the right type of controlled environment and the proper mass medium like radio, television, or film. But mass hypnosis without some form of mass media, and without a professional hypnotist, and without ideal conditions, is utterly outside the realm of sound reasoning. So, I ask you, how could 500 people in the open air of a country side, before the invention of mass media, and before the discovery of hypnosis, be subject to mass hypnosis? And how does this explain the fact of the empty tomb? I think it's obvious that the skeptics are grasping at straws.

5) Fainting - This leaves us with a centuries old theory that has recently been popularized by an apostate Christian named Hugh Sconfield. It's called the "swoon theory."

This is the idea that Jesus really didn't die on the cross. Instead, He just passed out and then woke up three days later. Sconfield has revived this idea in his book called The Passover Plot.

Mr. Sconfield would ask us to believe that after Jesus was scourged and crucified, and after He had laid in a cold, damp tomb for three days without food or water, He suddenly revived, removed His burial wrappings, rolled back the stone, and ran around the country side for 40 days without the benefit of even a dose of penicillin or a tetanus shot. Only a fool could believe such utter nonsense!

6) Nostalgia - There is one other theory that has become very popular among modern day liberal theologians. It is what I call the "nostalgia theory." It's the idea that the Resurrection occurred only in the hearts of the disciples.

A few years ago The Dallas Morning News reported this theory had been proposed to the students of SMU by a professor of New Testament theology from the Perkins School of Theology (SMU's seminary). He stated in his incredible Easter "sermon" that Jesus had not really risen from the dead in any literal way. What happened instead, he explained, is that Jesus came alive in the hearts of his disciples as they sat around and discussed his life and teachings just as had been the case with the followers of Martin Luther King after his assassination!

Such a ridiculous concept is a natural outgrowth of liberal apostasy because it leaves them with the kind of Jesus they like one who was only human. Their "messiah" turns out to be a man who meant well, but who in reality was a deluded fool who thought he was God in the flesh.

This theory denies the well documented post Resurrection appearances of Jesus, and like all the other theories, it fails completely to explain the fact of the empty tomb.

A Summary
The tomb of Jesus was empty. It was empty not because it was the wrong tomb. Nor was it empty because the body had been stolen.

The fact of the empty tomb was not based on hallucinations or hypnosis. It certainly was not based on daydreaming or wishful thinking. The tomb was empty! That is an historical fact.

But let me hasten to say that the greatest evidence of the Resurrection of Jesus is not the empty tomb.

Powerful Evidence
The greatest evidence of the Resurrection in Scripture is to be seen in the transformed lives of Jesus' disciples. For within 50 days of His crucifixion, His disciples had been miraculously transformed from a defeated, frustrated, hopeless group of individuals into a confident band of Christian soldiers determined to win the world for their Lord.

Jesus' own brother, James, who did not believe in Him while He was alive, became the leader of the Church in Jerusalem. Peter, who denied Him three times in a fit of cowardice, began to proclaim Him boldly, even before the very Sanhedrin Council that had condemned Jesus to death (Acts 4:1-12). A young Christian by the name of Stephen gave his life for Jesus (Acts 7:51-60). And the most ruthless persecutor of the church, Saul of Tarsus, became the greatest missionary in the history of the church all because he encountered the risen Lord on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-9).

I ask you, what more evidence could one demand?

The Most Convincing Evidence
Well, there is more evidence, and I consider it to be the most convincing evidence of all. I have in mind the way in which people's lives continue to be transformed today through their encounter with a living Jesus.

Have you met Him? Have you been born again by placing your faith in Him? Romans 10:9 says "if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved."

Salvation is to be found in a personal relationship with a living Jesus. Here's how Jesus expressed it: "This is eternal life, that they may know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent" (John 17:3).

When one of Jesus' disciples named Thomas finally encountered Him after His resurrection, he cried out, "My Lord and my God!" Jesus replied, "Because you have seen Me you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe" (John 20:28-29). I challenge you to believe in the risen Lord, "that believing you may have life in His name" (John 20:31).

Monday, March 17, 2008

Palm Sunday (Passion Sunday) -Hosanna to the Son of David


Basic Facts About Palm Sunday
Liturgical Color(s): Red
Type of Holiday: Sunday Feast
Time of Year: Sixth Sunday of Lent
Duration: One Day
Celebrates/Symbolizes: Jesus' Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem
Alternate Names: Passion Sunday, Fig Sunday, Dominica in Palmis, Kyriake, Heorte Ton Baion, Heorte Baiophoros
Scriptural References: Matthew 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:28-40

Palm Sunday of the Lord's Passion (the full name), the first Sunday of Holy Week within the Lenten Season, commemorates Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem preceding his passion. As he entered, the people of Jerusalem recognized Jesus as their king, saying "Hosanna to the Son of David; Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!"

Traditionally in the Western Church the Palm Sunday service begins with the "blessing of the palms," where the palms used in the procession that follows are blessed. Then a procession into the church building follows. If there cannot be a procession from the outside of the church, a solemn entrance, taking place entirely within the church, may be done. The hymns and psalmody are related to Christ's office as King. Traditionally the Gloria Laus (All Glory Laud and Honor...), written by Theodulf of Orleans, is sung. Many times the worship service contains a "preaching of the passion," where different events in the last days of Christ are read publicly within the Eucharistic service. Palm Sunday is also called Fig Sunday, because figs were traditionally eaten that day, memorializing the fig tree cursed by Christ after his entry into Jerusalem. In England Palm Sunday was called Olive or Branch Sunday, Sallow or Willow, Yew or Blossom Sunday, or Sunday of the Willow Boughs, named for the local replacements for the traditional palm branches.

Various customs have developed to celebrate Palm Sunday. In the Slavic countries, the faithful walked through their buildings and fields with the blessed palms, praying and singing ancient hymns. They then laid palm pieces on each plot of ground, in every barn, building, and stable, as a petition was made for protection from weather and disease, and for a blessing upon the produce and property.

History

The pilgrim Egeria attests to a Palm Sunday procession taking place in the Jerusalem Church at the end of the 4th century. In the Gallican Bobbio Missal of the 8th century we find a reference to blessing of the palms, which symbolize the victory of Christ. The more elaborate celebrations of the Middle Ages have been replaced by simpler services in the Western Church. Many denominations, including Lutherans, Methodists, and Presbyterians celebrate Palm Sunday, in addition to Catholics and Eastern Christians.

Traditions
Blessing of the Palms
Eating Figs
Placing Palm Pieces at Different Locations
Singing the Gloria Laus

Symbols
The Palm Branch

Sunday, March 9, 2008

5th Sunday of Lent - "I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live"


Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint John 11,1-45.

Now a man was ill, Lazarus from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha.
Mary was the one who had anointed the Lord with perfumed oil and dried his feet with her hair; it was her brother Lazarus who was ill.
So the sisters sent word to him, saying, "Master, the one you love is ill."
When Jesus heard this he said, "This illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it."
Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.
So when he heard that he was ill, he remained for two days in the place where he was.
Then after this he said to his disciples, "Let us go back to Judea."
The disciples said to him, "Rabbi, the Jews were just trying to stone you, and you want to go back there?"
Jesus answered, "Are there not twelve hours in a day? If one walks during the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world.
But if one walks at night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him."
He said this, and then told them, "Our friend Lazarus is asleep, but I am going to awaken him."
So the disciples said to him, "Master, if he is asleep, he will be saved."
But Jesus was talking about his death, while they thought that he meant ordinary sleep.
So then Jesus said to them clearly, "Lazarus has died.
And I am glad for you that I was not there, that you may believe. Let us go to him."
So Thomas, called Didymus, said to his fellow disciples, "Let us also go to die with him."
When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days.
Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, only about two miles away.
And many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them about their brother.
When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him; but Mary sat at home.
Martha said to Jesus, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.
(But) even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you."
Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise."
Martha said to him, "I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day."
Jesus told her, "I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live,
and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?"
She said to him, "Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world."
When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary secretly, saying, "The teacher is here and is asking for you."
As soon as she heard this, she rose quickly and went to him.
For Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still where Martha had met him.
So when the Jews who were with her in the house comforting her saw Mary get up quickly and go out, they followed her, presuming that she was going to the tomb to weep there.
When Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said to him, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died."
When Jesus saw her weeping and the Jews who had come with her weeping, he became perturbed and deeply troubled,
and said, "Where have you laid him?" They said to him, "Sir, come and see."
And Jesus wept.
So the Jews said, "See how he loved him."
But some of them said, "Could not the one who opened the eyes of the blind man have done something so that this man would not have died?"
So Jesus, perturbed again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay across it.
Jesus said, "Take away the stone." Martha, the dead man's sister, said to him, "Lord, by now there will be a stench; he has been dead for four days."
Jesus said to her, "Did I not tell you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?"
So they took away the stone. And Jesus raised his eyes and said, "Father, I thank you for hearing me.
I know that you always hear me; but because of the crowd here I have said this, that they may believe that you sent me."
And when he had said this, he cried out in a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!"
The dead man came out, tied hand and foot with burial bands, and his face was wrapped in a cloth. So Jesus said to them, "Untie him and let him go."
Now many of the Jews who had come to Mary and seen what he had done began to believe in him.