The Truth That Sets Us Free
Vol: 28 Issue: 8 Saturday, September 8, 2018
Did you ever sit down and really think through all that the Bible teaches us about Christianity? If there is one thing about Christianity that really stands out in your mind, what might it be? What is there about Christianity that makes it different than every other faith/belief system?
There are many answers to that question, but the one that I think stands out most, from the perspective of an evangelist, is its all-or-nothing character. Think of all the thousands of minute details that make up the Gospel story.
If any of the events surrounding the life of Christ did not happen, or did not happen exactly as the Bible says they happened, then the entire structure of Christianity collapses.
“And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:14)
There are lots of so-called Christian scholars who deny the Resurrection was an actual, historical event, taking instead the view of contemporary Greek philosophers who believed that the soul was immortal, but not the body.
But Christian doctrine mandates that one day, all men will be resurrected and reunited with theirphysical (albeit changed) bodies. Some will be resurrected at the Rapture, the rest at the Great White Throne at the end of the Millennium.
But the Resurrection of Christ MUST have been a real, historical event, or else our entire doctrine collapses. And as Paul points out to the Corinthians, if the Resurrection is not true, then the Apostles (including himself) would all be found liars:
“Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not.”
Let’s look more closely into that aspect of our faith. The New Testament story is based entirely on eyewitness testimony. The Apostles wrote what they saw. So if they did not witness an actual, bodily Resurrected Christ and yet claimed they did, then none of the rest of their testimony is reliable.
And yet every one of them (except John) chose to die a martyr’s death rather than to recant a single word. If it was not true, then we have no explanation to the question of why they would willingly die to perpetuate what they KNEW to be a lie.
Men throughout history have given up their lives for an unworthy cause that turns out to befalse but I know of no case where a person would willing die for a cause they KNOW to be false. To argue that the Gospel is not true means arguing that ALL the Apostles faced painful, torturous deaths that they could have avoided by simply recanting.
The skeptic denies their eyewitness testimony, but fails to give any reasonable explanation for why. Why would they all accept a life of misery and deprivation, culminating in a torturous death, just to spread a myth?
Does it seem reasonable (on any level) that the Apostles would make up a story that ruined their lives, cost them their family and friends, and caused them a life of persecution and a miserable death as a criminal — just so they could be known by their first names 2000 years later?
Why is it that nobody denies the accuracy of Plato’s writings? Or Tacitus. Or Homer. Or Suetonius. Or Flavius Josephus (except the part where he refers to Jesus as an actual historical figure).
Before the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls our earliest Hebrew copy of the Old Testament was the Masoretic text dating around 800 A.D. The Dead Sea Scrolls date around the time of Jesus copied by the Qumran community, a Jewish sect living around the Dead Sea.
We also have the Septuagint — a Greek translation of the Old Testament dating to the second century B.C.
The oldest existing original manuscript of a New Testament book dates to 125 A.D. It was found in Egypt, some distance from where the New Testament was originally composed in Asia Minor.
In all, there are more than 24,000 ancient manuscripts against which to compare our modern Bible.
The number of manuscripts is astonishing, when compared to other universally-accepted ancient historical writings, such as Caesar’s “Gallic Wars” (10 Greek manuscripts, the earliest 950 years after the original), the “Annals” of Tacitus (2 manuscripts, the earliest 950 years after the original), Livy (20 manuscripts, the earliest 350 years after the original), and Plato (7 manuscripts).
New Testament manuscripts agree in 99.5% of the text (compared to only 95% for the Iliad). Most of the New Testament discrepancies are in spelling and word order. A few words have been changed or added. There are two passages that are disputed but no discrepancy is of any doctrinal significance.
Skeptics, liberals, and cults and false religions that claim the Bible has been tampered with are proven completely false by the extensive, historical manuscript evidence.
If Jesus wasn’t bodily Resurrected, then there can be no Rapture. (1 Corinthians 15:15)
“For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.” (1 Corinthians 15:16-17)
If the Resurrection wasn’t an actual, historical event, then the tragedy is compounded. Not only are you laboring under a false hope of redemption, you remain dead in your sins. There is no Comforter to indwell you until He comes.
There will be no joyful reunion with those that have gone on before. They are dead forever and forever lost:
“Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished.” (1 Corinthians 15:18)
The Book of Job, chronologically the oldest book in the Bible, spoke confidently of the resurrection of the dead even before the time of Abraham, saying,
“For I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; though my reins be consumed within me.” (Job 19:25-27)
But Jesus gave us additional revelation, a new ‘mystery’ for the Church, telling us exactly what happens when we die. There is no ‘soul sleep’ as the OT prophets supposed.
Jesus taught specifically and incontrovertibly that, when the moment of death comes, our conscious spirit lives on, AWAITING the resurrection of the dead, which is when our spirit is united with our new and improved physical bodies.
But we aren’t ‘sleeping’ while we wait. During the Dispensation of the Church, the Apostle Paul noted that for believers to be ‘absent from the body’ meant to be ‘present with the Lord.’
“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.” (2nd Corinthians 5:10)
The Apostle Paul wrote of physical death as it pertains to believers, saying;
“But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.” (1st Thessalonians 4:13)
But yet we do sorrow when a loved one dies. Even when we know that our loved one is now safely resting in the arms of Jesus. We know that our loved one’s race is run and their burdens have been lifted.
They are now where we all wish to be – but that does little to dry our tears. It is one of the conundrums of Christianity – everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.
Why do we sorrow when we know the truth? Would we be sad if our loved one had won the lottery? Of course not. But Heaven is the ultimate winning ticket. When your number comes up, you win.
And all your family and friends cry.
Why is that? Does that mean that their faith is weak? Are they really secret doubters? Paul intended to offer words of comfort — indeed, the chapter closes;
“Wherefore comfort one another with these words.” (1 Thessalonians 4:18)
Paul offers words of comfort because of the sorrow that comes with losing a loved one. Being sorrowful at the loss of the loved one is not evidence of a lack of faith. If you think about it, your sorrow isn’t because you have any doubt that your loved one is safe in the arms of Jesus.
You haven’t betrayed the faith. You sorrow because they aren’t here. Our loved ones are a gift from God given to us to make our sojourn on the Big Blue Marble bearable. The gift is deliberately temporary, which is what gives it its value.
When a loved one dies, we lose the gift of their companionship. Even though we know loss is also temporary, which mitigates the tragedy – it does little to ease the pain of loss in this life.
Our sorrow is not for our loved one – it is for ourselves. Their gain is our loss. It’s just that simple.
There’s nothing selfish in that – if one of my children got a fabulous job on the other side of the world I would be very happy for him – but personally devastated by the loss of his companionship.
The fact that I know I would see him again would mitigate the sense of loss. But it wouldn’t keep me from missing him while he was gone. Or wishing he was still here. (Or make me feel guilty because I did.)
Death is not the end of our existence, it isn’t even the end of our consciousness. But it is the end of our opportunity to choose to accept or reject the free gift of salvation procured for us by our Savior.
It places upon us, who know the truth, an awesome responsibility:
“When I say unto the wicked, O wicked man, thou shalt surely die; if thou dost not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand.” (Ezekiel 33:8)