Word on Wednesday – by John Mason
‘Assurance’… July 9, 2014
Sometimes we may be tempted to doubt the supernaturalism of Jesus – his virgin birth, his miracles and his resurrection. In turn we may doubt the exclusiveness of Christianity – that it is through Jesus alone we have any hope of being restored in our relationship with God and knowing the joyful assurance of eternal life.
Evidence. How can Christianity be anything but supernatural if at a certain time in a certain place divinity did walk among men and women? Either Jesus did rise from the dead before many witnesses or he didn’t. If he didn’t, there’s no point in trying to salvage Christianity, by calling it, as some do, a myth.
Paul the Apostle expresses the logic of this in 1 Corinthians 15:14, 19: ‘If Jesus isn’t raised our faith is empty… and we’re to be pitied’. He, with the rest of the New Testament, is insistent: our faith rests on the testimony of eyewitnesses – the apostles and five hundred others – who said they saw Jesus physically alive, risen from the dead.
Not an irrational leap in the dark. Yes, Christianity is a religion of faith, but as I wrote last week, this doesn’t mean it involves some kind of irrational leap into the dark. Consider 2 Peter 1:16: We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.
What we often overlook today is that Peter and Paul and countless others, overturned the Roman world, not by terrorism or force of arms, but by the example of their lives and the testimony of their lips. Can we imagine the disciples of Jesus constructing a monstrous lie? We have to assess the reliability of their testimony. Christianity is not based on myth, but memory. Peter invites us to trust those memories. He wants to silence the doubts that arise within us, especially when times get tough.
Explanation. As you read this you may be thinking, ‘I have no problem with the facts; my problem is the interpretation. How do we know the Bible got it right?’
Let’s consider Jesus’ death. His crucifixion is a fact: historians outside the Bible tell us this happened. But the apostles said that Jesus died on the cross so that those who turn to him might be forgiven and reconciled with God. There’s no way a mere observer looking at the cross would have come to that conclusion. That’s an interpretation. So how can we be sure that apostles like Peter got it right? He answers our question in 1:19ff – We have the prophetic message more fully confirmed. You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation…
Peter is emphatic: he is not only reliable as an eyewitness, but he is equally reliable in the way that he has interpreted the meaning of Jesus’ life and death. Why is he so sure? Because he had the words of a prophet: You must understand this, … no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation. No prophecy was ever produced by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God (2 Peter 1:20f). The divinity of Jesus, his virgin birth, his sacrificial death, are not simply human deductions about Jesus, they are God-inspired testimonies as to what these things mean.
If you’re wobbling as a Christian, finding yourself besieged by people around you, let me encourage you to read your Bible as they did. But do it consistently ‘paying attention’, as Peter urges, ‘to what it says.’ When you do this it won’t be long, as it was for them, that the light begins to shine in the dark place, and the morning star arises in your hearts.
John G. Mason