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Four Gardens – Ravi Zacharias

RZIM has recently re-released a video about Easter:

In this classic message, Ravi Zacharias shares thoughts from the perspective of Easter as he delves into four gardens: the text, the context, the contest, and the conquest.
Ravi inspires with truths surrounding creation, the word, the cross, and the resurrection in presentations excerpted from the Jesus Among Other Gods group study. This presentation is a beautiful and thought-provoking reminder of all that Easter celebrates.

Have a safe and blessed weekend as you remember and celebrate the death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Philippians 2:6-11

The Evidence for Easter

Tyndale House, a Christian community dedicated to researching all the primary evidence relevant to the study of the Bible, has produced three short introductory films on the evidence for the central events of the Easter narrative.

Evidence for Jesus’ Trial

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Dr Dirk Jongkind, a Research Fellow at Tyndale House, pieces together the earliest manuscript evidence for the New Testament and shows how it tells the story of Jesus’ trial before Pilate.

Evidence for Jesus’ Crucifixion

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Dr Peter Williams and Dr David Instone Brewer look at the Munich Talmud, which contains traditional Jewish teaching, and discover how even the deleted text provides evidence for Jesus’ crucifixion. Read more about the evidence of the Munich Talmud here.

Evidence for Jesus’ Resurrection

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Dr Peter Williams gives a summary of the biblical evidence for the foundation of the Christian faith – Jesus’ bodily resurrection.

[HT: Justin Taylor]

The Resurrection Effect

“The message of the Resurrection is that this present world matters; that the problems and pains of this present world matter; that the living God has made a decisive bridgehead into this present world with his healing and all-conquering love; and that, in the name of this strong love, all the evils, all the injustices, and all the pains of the present world must now be addressed with the news that healing, justice, and love have won the day. That’s why we pray: “Thy kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven.” Make no bones about it: Easter Day was the first great answer to that prayer.

If Easter faith is simply about believing that God has a nice comfortable afterlife for some or all of us, then Christianity becomes a mere pie-in-the-sky religion instead of a kingdom-on-earth-as-it-is-in-heaven religion. If Easter faith is simply about believing that Jesus is risen in some “spiritual” sense, leaving his body in the tomb, then Christianity turns into a let-the-world-stew-in-its-own-juice religion, instead of a kingdom-on-earth-as-it-is-in-heaven religion. If Easter faith is only about me, and perhaps you, finding a new dimension to our own personal spiritual lives in the here and now, then Christianity becomes simply a warmth-in-the-heart religion instead of a kingdom-on-earth-as-it-is-in-heaven religion. It becomes focused on me and my survival, my sense of God, my spirituality, rather than outwards on God and on God’s world that still needs the kingdom message so badly.

But if Jesus Christ is truly risen from the dead, Christianity becomes what the New Testament insists that it is: good news for the whole world, news that warms our hearts precisely because it isn’t just about warming hearts. The living God has in principle dealt with evil once and for all, and is now at work, by his own Spirit, to do for us and the whole world what he did for Jesus on that first Easter Day.”

NT Wright, Grave Matters, Christianity Today 4/06/1998.

Brian Bruce on CloseUp: Not close enough

Mike Hosking interviewed Brian Bruce on CloseUp this Easter Friday for 10 minutes on the question Who killed Jesus, and why? Bishop Patrick Dunne, head of the Catholic Church in Auckland was there to represent “a more orthodox view.”

Brian Bruce looks like a conservative iconoclast; a fair-minded, respectable intellectual. He, in fact, is not an authority in biblical or historical Jesus scholarship. He is a film-maker whose research in the historicity of Jesus extends as far back as one full year.

What he argues for is that the Jews were not responsible for killing Jesus, but that it was Pilate. He builds his case on the idea that the gospel narratives are unreliable, hearsay and stories spun with an agenda. His words are the gospels are “war-time propaganda.”

What can we say in response to this? First and most importantly, what he presumes is that the gospels do in fact blame all the Jews for Jesus’ crucifixion. Bishop Patrick Dunne was hampered by the time constraints and the pressure of being put on the spot, so any short comings of his response are easily forgiven. He did well to quote Tom Wright in response to a particular qualm of Brian Bruce’s about a verse in John blaming the “Jews” for Jesus’ death. His mistake though was to only counter the example Brian Bruce used to illustrate his claim, rather than attacking the claim itself.

To counter the claim itself one could point out anti-Semitism in the gospels is ridiculous. Jesus was a Jew, and all the writers of the New Testament – including the gospels – were Jews themselves. The majority of the earliest Christian converts were Jews. Paul’s missionary mode-of-operations was to first preach in the synagogue to the Jews in hopes they would turn to Christ. The Bible in the past may have been used later to justify anti-Semitism, but it was used wrongly. There are no grounds theologically for blaming the Jews for Christ’s crucifixion. A close reading of the gospels will reveal that Jesus always remains in control of the situation: a masterful manipulator in the storm of controversy stirring about him. Jesus willingly submitted himself, in obedience to the will of God, to crucifixion. At any stage of the unfolding drama he could have escaped had he wished it.

Bruce thinks it ridiculous that the judicial murder of Jesus was orchestrated by the Sanhedrin in the middle of the night on one of the most holy days of the Jewish calendar when such an act was forbidden in Jewish law. He thinks it unbelievable that the only person to stick up for Jesus in the crucial hours of his trial was Pilate. This and evidence like it leads him to suggest that the gospels have it wrong – the Romans actually were responsible for Jesus’ death.

One could easily deal with the examples he uses to undermine his case. A little bit of knowledge of the religious and cultural backdrop would take the legs he stands on right out from under him. One could point out (1) the serious reason why Jesus was on trial in the first place – for claiming to stand in the place of, and be equal with God, (2) that no Jewish person would stand for something like that, or (3) the religious politics involved that made Jesus a stone of contention for the religious elite, or (4) the danger of siding with Jesus in such a volatile situation, etc.

It is easier however to remove the floor his legs stand on. A moderate position that Brian Bruce could have taken is this; the lack of information is insufficient to render these events plausible (i.e. we can’t know if these things were the actual things that took place). Instead of remaining unconvinced of the veracity of the gospels claims regarding who actually was responsible for the death of Jesus, he argues from what information he can garner that these events are implausible, and that something more plausible happened instead (i.e. we shouldn’t believe it because we can’t imagine how it could be true, instead we should believe something completely different which we can imagine). A philosopher of history would wrap him over the knuckles.

He makes other mistakes. He says basically that the gospel narratives cannot be trusted, for they were written between 40-80 years after Jesus’ death. Brian Bruce apparently does not know that in cultures with strong oral traditions that three generations of telling and re-telling is not enough for legendary accretion to wipe out the historical core. Neither does he appreciate that 40 years, a very late estimate of the gospel’s date of authorship, is still a very early source of information on the historical Jesus. In terms of ancient history, a source 40 years removed from the events is to die for. To have four such detailed accounts, so closely matched in their details, is unprecedented.

It seems as if he does understand that the earliest evidence for Jesus does not come from the gospels but from Paul, writing no more than 25 years after Jesus’ death. But he adds that it is suspicious that Paul didn’t know about such things as Judas’ betrayal and the Last Supper, yet he apparently spent several days with Peter and John, checking and investigating the details. Now, raise your hand if you find it suspicious that Brian Bruce is an expert on what Paul didn’t know. What’s more, these may be details that are not demonstrable true, but they are details which we have no reason to disbelieve if they are true.

Further, even if Judas’ betrayal and the Last Supper are not true, these are details that do not effect the veracity of the historical core of information regarding Jesus’ death, burial, post-motem appearances, and the disciples belief that God raised Jesus from the dead. You get the impression that apart from key facts such as there was a person called Jesus, he did something wrong, he got killed for it, that Brian Bruce is calling the whole Easter story a fiction. If that is true he finds himself not only outside the broad mainstream of historical research concerning Christ, but far-and-away to the extreme right of the most liberal Liberal.

Even the most dedicated sceptic has to admit that something happened to those disciples that was powerfully transformative. For fishermen, after the disaster of seeing their Rabbi crucified – what they would have understood to mean he was literally accursed by God, condemned as a blaspheming heretic – to then go on, and in the face of tremendous persecution preach the gospel – that Jesus is God – shows that something very unusual took place that first Easter Sunday.

There are other mistakes of Brian Bruce’s that could be countered. In fairness he didn’t have much time in the interview to develop a strong and convincing case, such as the one he apparently presents in his writing. But such a poor interview bodes not well at all for the quality of scholarship in Brian Bruce’s investigative reporting of Jesus.

You can see the interview for yourself here.

The stone has been rolled away

Resources for Easter

Easter is a time to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ and how God’s work in rescuing humanity through the cross and death of Jesus was powerfully and decisively vindicated. No other season in the Christian calender is as important or as crucial to the Gospel message as Easter. With the historical events of the death and resurrection, Christianity stands or falls.

With that in mind, here are a few resources that might be useful in our reflection and proclamation of the fantastic, life-changing truth of these events.

Books:

The Cross

Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross: Experiencing the Passion and Power of Easter Edited by Nancy Guthrie, Crossway, 2009.

Scandalous: The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus (RE: Lit) by D. A. Carson, Crossway Books, 2010.

Redemption Accomplished and Applied, John Murray, Eerdmans, 1955.

The Death of Death in the Death of Christ, by John Owen, Banner of Truth, 1959.

The Cross of Christ by John R.W. Stott, InterVarsity, 2006

The Truth of the Cross by R. C. Sproul, Reformation Trust Publishing, 2007.

The Resurrection

The Christ of the Empty Tomb by James Montgomery Boice, P & R Publishing,  2010.

The Resurrection of the Son of God by N. T. Wright, Augsburg Fortress Publishers, 2003.

Jesus’ Resurrection: Fact or Figment?: A Debate Between William Lane Craig and Gerd Ludemann edited by William Lane Craig, Ronald Tacelli, Paul Copan, and Gerd Ludemann InterVarsity Press, 2000.

Assessing the New Testament Evidence for the Historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus by William Lane Craig, Edwin Mellen Press, 1989.

The Resurrection, An Interdisciplinary Symposium on the Resurrection of Jesus edited by Stephen T. Davis, Daniel Kendall, and Gerald O’Collins, Oxford University Press, 1999.

Risen Indeed: Making Sense of the Resurrection by Stephen T. Davis, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1993.

The Son Rises: The Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus by William L. Craig, Wipf & Stock, 2000.

Raised with Christ: How the Resurrection Changes Everything by Adrian Warnock, Crossway Books (January 31, 2010)

Christopher Price & John Sabatino of CADRE (the Christian Colligation of Apologetics Debate Research & Evangelism) have helpfully posted a review of many of the above books on their site.

Online Articles and E-Books

Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die by John Piper (Free book made available by Desiring God Ministries)

This Joyful Eastertide: A Critical Review of The Empty Tomb by Steve Hays (Free online book by the bloggers at Triablogue)

The Argument from Miracles: A Cumulative Case for the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth by Timothy and Lydia McGrew (75 page pdf article)

Resurrection: God Saves by Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshear (Free 24-page chapter from their new book, Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe)

He is Risen Indeed by Ben Witherington III (Reproduced from Witherington III’s New Testament History: A Narrative Account)

Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus by Shandon L. Guthrie

Can the resurrection narratives be harmonized? Articles by J.P. Holding and Glenn Miller

Articles by William Lane Craig:

Contemporary Scholarship and the Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ

The Bodily Resurrection of Jesus

The Disciples’ Inspection of the Empty Tomb

The Guard at the Tomb

The Historicity of the Empty Tomb of Jesus

Reply to Evan Fales: On the Empty Tomb of Jesus

Articles by Gary Habermas:

Explaining Away Jesus’ Resurrection: The Recent Revival of Hallucination Theories

Jesus’ Resurrection and Contemporay Criticism: An Apologetic: Part 1 and Part 2

The Late Twentieth-Century Resurgence of Naturalistic Responses to Jesus’ Resurrection

Experiences of the Risen Jesus: The Foundational Historical Issue in the Early Proclamation of the Resurrection

Audio

The Evidence for the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth – William Lane Craig

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ: Some Historical Considerations Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 –  Gary Habermas

Radical Effects of the Resurrection – John Piper

Christ’s Resurrection – Sinclair Ferguson

Jesus is Alive – Mark Dever

The Good News of the Resurrection – Alistair Begg

The Doctrine of the Resurrection Part 1 and Part 2 – Wayne Grudem (Systematic theology class)

Why Does Jesus’ Resurrection Matter? and Q & A at The Vertias Forum- N T Wright

Debates

William Lane Craig and Robert Cavin: Did Jesus Rise From The Dead? (1995)
William Lane Craig and Gerd Ludemann: Did Jesus Rise From The Dead? (1997)
William Lane Craig and Robert Price: Did Jesus of Nazareth Rise From The Dead? (1999)
William Lane Craig and Gerd Ludemann: Jesus’ Resurrection: Fact or Figment? (2002)
William Lane Craig and Hector Avalos: Did Jesus Rise From The Dead? (2004)
William Lane Craig and John Shelby Spong: Did Jesus Rise From The Dead? (2005)
William Lane Craig and Bart Ehrman: Is There Historical Evidence For The Resurrection Of Jesus? (2006) (Transcript also available)
William Lane Craig and James Crossley: Was Jesus Bodily Raised From The Dead? (2007)
William Lane Craig and Roy Hoover: Should We Believe that Jesus’ Resurrection is Historical? (2008)
Bart Ehrman and Michael Licona: Is the Resurrection of Christ Provable? (2008)
Gary R. Habermas and Arif Ahmed: Did Jesus Rise Bodily From the Dead? (2008) PART I PART II PART III PART IV PART V PART VI PART VII PART VIII PART IX
Gary Habermas and Kenneth Humphreys Resurrection – Religious Fiction or Historical Fact? (2008) PART I PART II PART III PART IV PART V PART VI