Investigating Easter

by Shafer Parker, FBB Staff Apologist

As some of you may know, I was a pastor before I came to work for FBB, and what follows is the heart of an Easter sermon I preached in 2016. The text was from John’s gospel, chapter 20, verses 1-10. For brevity’s sake I will not print the text here. Nevertheless, I suggest you read the passage first.

Intro.

When I was a teenager my dad got in his old work car at about 11 p.m. to go to work. He hadn’t driven very far when all of sudden he felt something cold and hard press against the back of his head. His first thought was that a desperate criminal must have hidden in the back seat and was now pressing a gun to his skull. He tried to think what to do and even considered deliberately wrecking the car in order to surprise the murderer. But when nothing happened he slowly turned around and looked behind him, only to realize that earlier he had placed an axe behind the front seat with the axe head on the car floor and the handle leaning against the back seat. It was balanced in such a way that when he braked for an intersection the handle rocked forward and rested against the back of his head.

So to recap, my dad’s first impression was, “A murderer is holding a gun to my head.” But further investigation showed him it was something completely different.

Something like that happened with Mary Magdalene. She came to Jesus’ tomb and saw the stone removed. Something had gone wrong, that was certain, but unlike the other women who were with her (see Mark 16:1ff), she didn’t investigate any further. Instead, she leapt to a false conclusion. She ran and told the disciples that the Lord’s body had been taken from the tomb and “we don’t know where they have put him.”

Peter and John went to the tomb, but instead of standing on the outside Peter, followed by John, went inside and investigated. From what they saw they correctly concluded that Jesus had risen from the dead. John adds that they believed in the resurrection on the evidence, even though they still did not understand that the Old Testament taught the resurrection. Nor had they seen the risen Lord.

You may remember that in the gospel of John, Jesus criticized Thomas for declaring that he would not believe without visual and tactile proof that Christ’s dead body had been raised back to life (John 20:25). Jesus provided the proof Thomas demanded, but he then promised a special blessing to “those who believe without seeing” (John 20:29). Obviously the group that is specially blessed for having believed without seeing the risen Lord would include all 21st-century Christians. But what you may not have noticed until now is that Peter and John fit into the same category. Unlike us, they were privileged to spend many hours in Jesus’ presence after the resurrection. But like us, they believed in Jesus’ resurrection before they saw His risen body.

Peter and John saw plenty of evidence for Jesus’ resurrection that first Easter morning. First, there was the material evidence, including the stone rolled back from the doorway, the empty tomb itself, the folded and separated face cloth (sudarium), the linen shroud still stretched out where the body had lain (the sindone, Matt. 27:59), and the strips of cloth (othonion) that were traditionally used for binding a dead body’s hands and feet, as well as enclosing the myrrh and aloes that were part of Jesus’ burial preparation (John 19:39-40).

Evidence to Produce Faith

The evidence listed above logically demanded a miracle to explain it. Consider the options facing Peter and John. If the body had been stolen by those who hated the Lord, they would either have carried him away wrapped in all the coverings, or else they could have just ripped everything away and tossed it anywhere. If you’ve ever watched a detective show on TV then you know what a house looks like when thieves have trashed it—like a bomb has gone off inside. The tomb would have been the same.

But a skeptic may ask, “What if it was the disciples who stole the body?” Well, as John admits in today’s text, they didn’t even believe in resurrection. Stealing Jesus’ body to fake a resurrection was the last thing on their minds. Okay, but what if Joseph and Nicodemus, or someone else had decided to fake a resurrection? What if people who loved Jesus had stolen the body without telling the disciples? Well, even if they had done, they still loved Jesus. They would never have deliberately treated His body to the indignity of being stripped naked before moving it. Remember, the linen cloths were still in place, undisturbed, as though they had once wrapped a body that had simply passed through them.

So let me say it again, all the evidence observed by Peter and John pointed to a miraculous resurrection; in other words, in an instant the evidence took these disciples from no hope to belief in the fact of resurrection, the fact that Jesus of Nazareth, who died on the cross, had miraculously risen from death to life! John saw—not Jesus, but the evidence of the empty tomb—and he believed!

Investigation as a Christian Virtue

If you read a little further in John 20 you will find that Jesus soon presents himself to Mary and she too becomes a believer. But it is clear that she missed out on a blessing by not going into the tomb like Peter and John and investigating the matter for herself. Had she done so her sorrowing heart would have been immediately made glad.

So let me now reveal the purpose of this message. I want to challenge you to be more like Peter and John, in this instance, and less like Mary Magdalene. This Easter I’m challenging everyone who reads this to shuffle off your spiritual apathy and mental carelessness and rise to the challenge of diligently investigating everything that can possibly be known about the one human being who actually conquered death! If you do that your life will be blessed forever!

Think about it. The Internet is simply lousy with false promises: How to get a flat stomach in two weeks. How my sister-in-law is making $1,600 an hour and you can too. How to boost your energy. How to conquer joint pain. The secret to eliminate gall stones and kidney stones naturally. The secret to keeping your friends from talking about their gall bladders. Five secrets your millionaire neighbour isn’t telling you. Learn this one trick to look 35 again, and so on. The thing is, we know the people behind these ads are making money because if they weren’t they wouldn’t stay in business. Their promises are too good to be true; nevertheless, somebody keeps buying what they’re selling.

Here is the promise God makes to everyone. Regardless of how you proceed, if you sincerely investigate Him you will never be disappointed. Peter and John were not disappointed when they investigated Jesus’ tomb, and you won’t be disappointed either, no matter what you investigate about God.

God invites us to study His divine nature and character because He knows that only good things will be found there, things that will bless our lives forever. Listen to these words from the Passion Translation’s version of the book of Proverbs, chapter 2, “My child, will you treasure my wisdom? Then, and only then, will you acquire it. And only if you accept my advice and hide it within will you succeed. 2 So train your heart to listen when I speak and open your spirit wide to expand your discernment—then pass it on to your sons and daughters. 3 Yes, cry out for comprehension and intercede for insight. 4 For if you keep seeking it like a man would seek for sterling silver, searching in hidden places for cherished treasure, 5 then you will discover the fear of the Lord and find the true knowledge of God. 6 Wisdom is a gift from a generous God, and every word he speaks is full of revelation and becomes a fountain of understanding within you.”

Conclusion

Remember Mary Magdalene; You cannot adequately understand anything about God if all He gets from you is a glance. During this Easter season, commit to the risen Lord that you will dig deep in understanding Him and His ways. If you do this, and stick to it, endless blessings are bound to follow.


No Place to Stand: A Look at the Shifting Sands of Mormon Ethics and Theology

Author’s note: I wrote the following column in January of this year, but for various reasons it did not get published. Nevertheless, I think it is worth reading. As I will demonstrate at the end, although I am not a prophet, recent events mean it comes as close to out-and-out prophecy as anything I’ve ever written.

Last week the Huffington Post ran an article by Katy Anderson with the Headline: How Attending My First Gay Wedding Changed Me as a Practicing Mormon. Anderson reports how her previous opposition to same-sex relationships disappeared when she saw her sister was “happier and healthier than she ha[d] ever been.” But Anderson didn’t stop there. She went on to philosophize that her sister’s joy was about more than marrying her girlfriend; she had become “someone who [was] finally living her truth.”

God’s teachings … about sex and marriage do not change with the culture or the times.

Anderson’s relativistic subjectivism is well exposed in an article by John Ellis on pjmedia.com. He argues that “living [according to subjective] truth” is destructive to society, and evidence that North Americans no longer recognize any transcendent authority. The result is the ongoing dissolution of society, of course, but Ellis also points out that men and women who live by such subjective standards will someday stand before holy God, facing judgment with no defense for their rebellion against His objective, unchanging truth.

Ellis has much more to say on this theme, but I want to take the story of Anderson’s change of views regarding homosexuality in a different direction. Many people do not realize that as a Mormon she was already pre-disposed to base her views—on sexuality and everything else—on feelings and changing circumstances.

From its beginning Mormonism has always been willing to modify its doctrines in order to maintain credibility with the prevailing culture. For example, in 1890 when adherence to polygamy risked the future existence of Mormonism, Mormon president Wilfred Woodruff announced the LDS church’s abandonment of their supposedly sacred tradition. Just like that, he ended a practice that Mormon founder Joseph Smith had once declared  a “divine prophecy” in the strongest terms possible (“For behold, I [God) reveal unto you a new and everlasting covenant; and if ye abide not that covenant, then are ye damned; for no one can reject this covenant and be permitted to enter into my glory….”). Strangely enough, Woodruff’s decision to end the practice did not come as new revelation. In fact, Smith’s original “revelation” is still listed in the church’s official Doctrine and Covenants, and in these days of relaxed attitudes toward all things sexual, polygamy is returning among mainstream Mormons.

Another modern revelation in June 1978 reversed the stand Joseph Smith had taken toward black men. Early Mormonism’s racism was so awful that I find it difficult to report on it. In The Way to Perfection Smith wrote: “Not only was Cain called upon to suffer [for killing Abel], but because of his wickedness he became the father of an inferior race… Millions of souls have come into this world cursed with a black skin and have been denied the privilege of Priesthood and the fulness of the blessing of the Gospel. These are the descendants of Cain.” This was the firm, unshakeable truth of the LDS Church, until the Mormons realized it was making evangelism difficult in Africa and South America. That’s when president Spencer W. Kimball went to his prayer closet and came back with the new revelation that “all of our brethren who are worthy may receive the priesthood.” Kimball didn’t say it explicitly, but this was his way of welcoming black people all the way inside. Again, let it be noted that when Katy Anderson changed her mind about same-sex relationships she was following a well-worn path laid out for her by her church.

I am not a prophet, but I will go so far as to say it is very possible that if our culture continues to applaud same-sex marriage, the leaders of the Mormon church may well end up following Ms. Anderson into a full embrace of the LGBTQ agenda. And why not? They have no unchanging, eternal Word of God. Instead, their doctrine flows from the inventive minds of Joseph Smith’s successors, men who have repeatedly proven themselves ready to place political expediency above all.

True Christianity is different. As Ellis says in his article: “We don’t get to decide what’s true. True religion is not a democracy.” No, it isn’t, but God’s sovereignty by itself is not enough. We must remember that our God is fundamentally good. In a world where “anything goes” sexually it is important for Christians to remember that God’s teachings in the Bible about sex and marriage do not change with the culture or the times. Why not? Because He made us and He loves us, and He alone knows the best way for His people to live.

Postscript: As I said at the beginning, I am not a prophet in the Biblical sense. Nevertheless, considering what I wrote in January, the following headline from yesterday (April 4, 2019) is enough to give me goosebumps: “Same-Sex Marriage Isn’t Apostasy, LDS Church Decides.” To read the article, go here. Apparently, the god of the Mormons is a real hipster, ever ready to change with the times.

The Bible Keeps Its Promises—Two Boys In the Temple

Two Boys In the Temple

I Samuel 3:1-21

Not only did Hannah’s life foreshadow Mary’s, Hannah’s son Samuel foreshadowed the life of Mary’s son Jesus. About a thousand years before Christ was born, Samuel was a young boy performing menial tasks for Israel’s High Priest Eli. The thing is, neither Samuel nor any of his superiors thought him special — until God spoke to him, that is. Then he was seen as both humble and wise beyond his years. The same was true of Jesus when he first visited the temple in Jerusalem during his twelfth year. “After three days [Jesus’ parents] found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers” (Luke 2:46-47). Christmas is often thought to be mostly for children, and Samuel and Jesus make it clear we are never too young to take seriously a life of faith and discipleship, as this older children’s hymn makes clear.

“I will early seek the Saviour, I will learn of Him each day
I will follow in His footsteps, I will walk the narrow way.
I will hasten where He bids me, I am not too young to go
In the pathway where He leadeth, Not too young His will to know.”

Parting thought: The parallels between Samuel and Jesus remind us the Bible is very much like a classical symphony. Themes are introduced; variations on those themes come and go, but finally all the themes come together in a thundering finish. The theme of the young boy in the temple, introduced in the life of Samuel and repeated in the life of Christ, is just one more proof that when God introduces a theme (promise), He will not stop until it is played in full.



The Bible Keeps Its Promises—In God All Women Are Highly Favoured

In God All Women Are Highly Favoured

…and she said to him, “Pardon me, my lord. As surely as you live, I am the woman who stood here beside you praying to the Lord.

~ 1 Sam 1:26

I Samuel 1:21-28

In today’s reading let’s revisit Hannah, mother of the prophet Samuel. She was not in Christ’s bloodline, but rather a woman whose life prefigured Mary in many ways. Like Mary, Hannah’s motherhood was also miraculous (see I Sam. 1:20). Also, like Mary, Hannah composed a great hymn of praise, a Magnificat, that testified to her personal faith (compare I Sam. 2:1-10 with Luke 1:46-55). And finally, like Mary’s son Jesus, Hannah’s son Samuel was dedicated to God long before he was born (I Sam. 1:11, 24-28). There’s even the possibility that Mary and Hannah shared a name. Remember, when the angel Gabriel visited Mary he said, “Greetings, you who are highly favoured!” Some scholars have noted that this is very possibly a new name, or title given to Mary, summed up in the single Greek word charis. But here’s where it gets interesting. Behind the Greek word charis is the Aramaic name “Anna,” and behind Anna is the Hebrew Hannah. It is very possible that Gabriel, acting on God’s authority, renamed Mary to give her the same name as Hannah. Parting thought: Who knew God’s promise to Eve in Genesis 3:15 would involve so many women? The Bible is unique among the world’s ancient books in presenting men and women working side by side as complementary servants of God.


The Bible Keeps Its Promises—Many Miraculous Births

Many Miraculous Births

Then Abraham fell upon his face, and laughed, and said in his heart, Shall a child be born unto him that is an hundred years old? and shall Sarah, that is ninety years old, bear?

~ Gen 17:17

I Samuel 1:9-20

We know that Mary was a virgin when Jesus was born, meaning the Messiah’s birth was totally miraculous. But let’s use this passage to remind ourselves of the many miraculous and unusual births amongst Christ’s ancestors. We’ve already learned that Abraham and Sarah were too old to have children (Gen. 17:17), yet Isaac was born anyway. Isaac’s wife Rebekah was also barren until Isaac prayed for her (Gen. 25:21). Then there was Rahab, who lived in Jericho and miraculously escaped being killed when her city was destroyed (Josh. 6:23). She became one of David’s great grandmothers, and thus part of the bloodline of Christ (compare Ruth 4:21 with Matt. 1:5). And we must not forget Ruth, a widow from the despised tribe of Moab who also went on to become a grandmother to David and an ancestor to Christ (compare Ruth 4:22 with Matt. 1:5). Today’s reading is a little different, in that Hannah was not one of Jesus’ ancestors. Nevertheless, the fact that she was barren until God blessed her with a son is highly significant. The son she received became Israel’s first prophet (I Sam. 4:1). That should remind us of another woman, Mary’s cousin Elizabeth (Luke 1:7), who remained barren into old age before giving birth to John, Israel’s last prophet, the forerunner and announcer of the Messiah (compare Isaiah 40:3 with John 1:23). Parting Thought: If miraculous births point to God’s life-giving power, then how much more does the birth of Christ testify to the amazing promise of salvation first made to humans back in the Garden of Eden.

The Bible Keeps its Promises – O Little Town of Bethlehem

O Little Town of Bethlehem

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
Though you are little among the thousands of Judah,
Yet out of you shall come forth to Me
The One to be Ruler in Israel,
Whose goings forth are from of old,
From everlasting.”

~ Psalm 2:10-12

Micah 5:1-5

Sometimes Bible prophecies are general in nature, making it hard to pin down exact times and places. In fact, some prophecies are so obscure that they would likely go unrecognized altogether if not specifically noted by the New Testament writers (see Matt. 2:17-18). Nevertheless, a few prophecies are so precise and detailed that scholars have been tempted to think they were written after the events they were supposed to prophecy. This passage in Micah is one such. Here the prophet speaks explicitly of Bethlehem being the birthplace of the Messiah some 700 years before the event. Fortunately, the evidence for the date of Micah’s prophecy is so strong that unbelieving scholars have not been able to explain it away. Notice what else this passage does. It promotes Jesus (again) as a shepherd King. (See Micah 5:4) and Lord over this world (Micah 5:2). And once again the theme of peace toward men is emphasized. It is also worth remembering that this is King David’s hometown (I Sam. 16:1). Parting Thought: Since many Bible prophecies are extremely specific, and proven accurate, should we have any trouble believing the Bible when it identifies the fulfillment of more ambiguous prophecies?

The Bible Keeps its Promises—The Birthday of a King

The Birthday of a King

10 Now then, you kings, act wisely!
    Be warned, you rulers of the earth!
11 Serve the Lord with reverent fear,
    and rejoice with trembling.
12 Submit to God’s royal son, or he will become angry,
    and you will be destroyed in the midst of all your activities—
for his anger flares up in an instant.
    But what joy for all who take refuge in him!

~ Psalm 2:10-12

Psalm 2

It should be endlessly interesting that when the Old Testament speaks of the coming of the Messiah it has as much to say about His kingly rule as it does about His atoning death. And notice how clearly Christ’s victory over the world is presented in this psalm. God laughs at the attempts of impotent human beings to thwart his purpose (Ps. 2:4). Despite all attempts to prevent Christ from taking authority, God says, “I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill” (Ps. 2:6). And at the end of the Psalm he warns the rulers of the earth to “Kiss the Son,” i.e., make peace through submission to Him, before it is everlastingly too late. But some may ask, “What has any of this to do with Christmas?” Many commentators suggest that when God says in verse seven, “You are my Son, today I have become your Father,” he is referring to Jesus’ miraculous conception in Mary’s womb. “Made man,” writes Adam Clarke, “born of a woman by the creative energy of the Holy Ghost, that thou mightest feel and suffer for man, and be the first-born of many brethren.” Parting thought: We ought to be thankful at Christmas, that the little baby born in Bethlehem grew up as one of us, so that now He is King of Kings He is still with us, still able to sympathize and enter with us into our joys and sufferings.

The Bible Keeps its Promises – A Prophet Like Moses

A Prophet Like Moses

“When Israel was a child, I loved him,
And out of Egypt I called My son.” ~ Hosea 11:1

Deuteronomy 18:9-18

As we think about the baby born in the manger, it is helpful to remember that Jesus is not only a king like David; He is also a servant-leader like Moses. That’s why Moses told the Israelites that the Messiah would be “a prophet like me” (Deut. 18:15,18). Jesus is like Moses in many ways, going all the way back to what happened right after each was born. Moses was born into danger because the Egyptian Pharaoh had issued an order that all newborn Hebrew boys were to be thrown into the Nile river immediately. Moses’ mother hid him for his first three months, but when he grew too large to hide she put him in a basket and let him float among the reeds. Technically she had obeyed the law since she did put him in the river. As you may remember, baby Moses was rescued by the Pharaoh’s daughter and raised in the Egyptian palace (Ex. 2:1-10). He was protected by God at the very heart of Egyptian power. Jesus was also born into danger. King Herod tried to take his life because he feared Jesus might take away his throne. Funnily enough, under the guidance of heaven, Jesus’ parents also took Him to Egypt to keep Him safe. In so doing God fulfilled yet one more promise/prophecy: “Out of Egypt I called my son” (Hosea 11:1) Parting thought: Moses was a fierce warrior for God who never hesitated to judge his own people for their disobedience. Yet he just as quickly offered himself as a substitute sacrifice when God wanted to pour out His wrath upon the chosen people (Ex. 32:32). Both of Moses’ character traits are seen in Christ. For more than a millennium Moses’ life and witness testified to the way God intended to keep His Messianic promises.



The Bible Keeps Its Promises—The Christmas Star

The Christmas Star

“I see Him, but not now; I behold Him, but not near;
A Star shall come out of Jacob; A Scepter shall rise out of Israel,
And [a]batter the brow of Moab, And destroy all the sons of [b]tumult. ~ Num 24:17

Numbers 24:10-19

The Israelites were on the march from Egypt to the Promised Land. But to get there they had to go through Moab. As the children of Israel drew closer, the people of Moab became frightened. Eventually the Moabite king invited a popular seer (prophet) named Balaam to come and curse them, but Balaam discovered he could only speak words given him by God, which led him to utter blessings, not curses. Then, in the midst of blessing Israel, a surprising thing happened. God showed Balaam the future. He saw the birth of King David (Num. 24:17), a birth that was yet 400 years away. He also saw the birth of King Jesus, nearly 1,500 years away. It was Balaam who first connected a star with Jesus’ birth. This is God’s first reference to the heavenly light that would guide the Magi of Babylon all the way to Bethlehem. Like the “sceptre” in Gen. 49:10, this star refers to the Messiah’s kingship. This entire text in Numbers 24 is designed to say to the king of Moab, “If you think you’re are a great king, you haven’t seen anything until Jesus reigns!” Parting Thought: If you study today’s Scripture passage carefully you will see that it is difficult to decide which part speaks about David, and which part speaks of the Messiah. David was another of God’s reminders that someday a great king would come to rule the world.





The Bible Keeps Its Promises—The Messiah Is a Lion

The Messiah Is a Lion

Judah is a lion's whelp: from the prey, my son, thou art gone up: he stooped down, he couched as a lion, and as an old lion; who shall rouse him up? ~ Gen 49:9

Genesis 49:8-12

Abraham begat Isaac. Then Isaac begat two sons, Esau and Jacob. Ordinarily the older son would receive a larger inheritance, and for Abraham and his descendants no greater inheritance could be given than the privilege of being one of Jesus’ ancestors, a blessing that usually went to the first born. But God told Isaac that the Messianic bloodline would flow through Jacob, the younger of the two. Then Jacob had 12 sons, who fathered the 12 tribes of Israel. At the end of his life, Jacob gathered his sons to his bedside to give a blessing and pronounce a prophecy over each. In that moment Jacob revealed that his fourth son Judah would be next in the bloodline of the Messiah. In Jacob’s blessing of Judah, we learn that the baby born in Bethlehem was not only destined to be the lamb Who would die for the sins of the world. He would also be a lion, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, who would rule over the nations with great strength and swift justice. As it says in Genesis 49:9, “Who dares to rouse him?” The Lamb of God died on the cross, but it was the Lion of Judah Who commanded His disciples to conquer the world by making disciples (Matthew 28:19-20). Parting Thought: Sometimes when a promise is made, we think we understand it, only to later realize that much more was intended. Who knew when God promised the woman’s seed would crush Satan’s head that He was talking about His only Son? (Rom. 1:5)