Wrath, Reality, and the Grace of God


 
I often have conversations in which my faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ, and in the Bible is either called into question, or treated like one of those quaint little idiosyncrasies old ladies are prone to. I’d like to speak to that.
 
Today we consider religious belief a kind of random selection made on the whim of personal preference, like choosing a flavor of ice cream. The attitude – the meme, if you must have trendy terminology – is that nothing non-material is real. Those in the fashionable “know” see the atheist as the brave realist able to look life in the eye and get on with his purposeless, short existence. But they see believers as poor weak souls L people who need to lean on a fairytale, and who will be barely, and condescendingly tolerated.

It occurs to few that a religious belief can be based on reality. I’m not sure most Christians even see their faith as based on fact, on history, on ontological truth, yet it is. In fact the Judeo-Christian worldview is the only world religion that can make that claim. Over and over again archeological information surfaces that bears out the accuracy of the biblical account (but that’s another post).

Because he is at the center of it all,  I begin with the historical actuality of a man named Jesus.

In fact, Jesus Christ, whose lineage can be traced back through David (king of Israel from 1010 to 970 B.C.) to, and beyond, Abraham ( 2nd millennium B.C.) is more thoroughly documented as having been a real person than his contemporary Julius Caesar.  Not only do we have thousands of biblical manuscripts that attest to his existence, but we also have dozens of contemporaneous, extra-biblical sources that mention him – Josephus, Tacitus, Suetonius, Pliny the Younger, Thallas, Celsus, just to name a few. Many of these historians were antagonistic toward Christus and spoke ill of him, but no one thought he was a myth, and as they argued against the Christian claims, they inadvertently justified the biblical accounts.


(And I see no reason, if there is a God who created us (and that’s another post), that He couldn’t have rearranged the necessary molecules to impregnate a virgin, which is a fine, but important theological point. Jesus, unlike the rest of us, was born perfect, and needed to be to do the job he came to do – to absorb the wrath of God in our place. But, that too is another post.)

Was Jesus God? Yes. How can I be sure?

§  He said so. In fact, he said so with such clarity and certainty that the Jewish hierarchy had him killed for it. “I and my father are one.” (John 10:30)*. There’s only one way to deal with this outrageous statement. Either he was lying, (and if so, he wasn’t a good man worthy of anyone’s attention and allegiance) or he was crazy (ditto). We’ve seen lying, crazy men produce hysterical popularity – Hitler comes to mind – but that allegiance doesn’t last. People have been sacrificing their lives now for two millennia on behalf of the Christ, the God-man, and they have been doing so because nothing he said was a lie and everything he said made sense, made sense of an absurd and horrifying world. He didn’t tell anyone to drink poison Koolaide. He didn’t profit from his ministry.  No one, Christian or not, speaks of him as being crazy.

§  That leaves only the third possibility – that he told the truth and he was not only man but also, in some way our limited brain power can’t understand, he was God. He backed up that claim by healing the blind, the paralyzed, the lepers. (Did you know that even though the Law of Moses contains several pages of instructions for dealing with the healing of a leper, such a healing had never taken place, not in 1400 years, and the Jews kept careful records of leprosy cases.) He raised Lazarus from the dead in front of a whole crowd of witnesses – in fact his miracles were never secret affairs. Something amazing was going on – this man didn’t just say he was God; he proved it, and the accounts of his miracles were written by four different eyewitnesses, at four different locations within decades of the healings – better documentation than we have for most historical events that we accept without reservation.

Not only was he God, but when his opponents finally killed him, he rose from the dead. I am sure of it, for many reasons.

§  Both the Jews and the Romans would have loved to disprove this allegation and all they had to do was present the body. Easy. Yet they never did. No remains have ever been produced.

§  And the disciples couldn’t have stolen the body because the Romans had posted guards by the tomb to prevent that. The stone that covered the door was too heavy to move quietly at night while the guards snoozed. And what would the disciples have gained by doing this? They were terrified and didn’t want anyone to know they were connected to Jesus – they’d seen what happened to him. (Interestingly, eleven of them died the same way because they insisted on his actual, bodily resurrection.)

§  Which brings me to my next point.  You don’t die for a lie you thought up. You don’t let someone nail you to a cross when all you’d have to do to get out of it is to say, “Never mind. Caesar’s cool.”  Thousands of early Christians were martyred. They could have recanted, but instead they walked into the Coliseum and let the lions have at them – they had to be very sure of Jesus’ resurrection, and by association, theirs’.

§  Lastly, there is no way, after what the Romans did to him, that he merely woke from his coma, in a cold, dark tomb, unwrapped and folded his shroud, knocked on the door of the tomb (un-openable from the inside) and sauntered out. Even secular historians have no doubt that he was crucified. The gospel accounts all describe the horrors of his death and medical experts agree that no one could have survived.
§  He was so badly beaten he was unrecognizable as human.
§  He was lashed with a Roman flagrum – a rod from which hung strips of leather knotted around jagged pieces of rock, metal or glass. They almost killed him with that.
§  They made him carry his cross on his lacerated back most of the way up the hill to Golgotha.
§  They nailed his wrists and ankles to the cross and left him to hang there struggling for breath for 6 hours.
§  Then, suspecting his death, a Roman soldier ran his spear up into Jesus’ left side and out came blood clots and water. He was dead; his blood was already separating. No normal human spontaneously recovers from that – unless God Almighty raises him from the dead.
           
God has created us all with free will – so free that we are allowed to disbelieve, to turn away from whatever obvious truth we choose to ignore. And those who choose to discount the logic and evidence of the deity and resurrection of Christ are free to do so. But all need to understand that we who look at the historical support and logical progression of the gospels and accept it as reality are not just playing video games. We mean it; we are sure it is true in the absolute, quantum physics, mathematical sense of TRUE. If we don’t leave you alone about it, it’s because we know what we’re talking about and we are afraid for you. The crucifixion showed us what God’s wrath looks like and we want none of that for anyone, let alone for those we love.

"He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him." (John 3:36)

*
• "I am." (Mark 14:60-62)
• "Yes, it is as you say." (Matt. 26: 63-65)
• "You are right in saying I am." (Luke 22:67-70) a) Turn to John 8:56-58

Art from the newly restored Sistine Chapel -- Michelangelo Bounarroti   1475 --1564