The Hope of the Resurrection

, by Christopher D. Hudson


“Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ”


The angels declared, “He has risen!”

The explanation for the surprising vacancy at Jesus’ grave site is found in these three words (see Luke 24:6). The women who had come to tend to Jesus’ body two days after it was laid in a cave were distraught to find the tomb empty. Angelic messengers assured the women that Jesus was no longer in the tomb. No one had stolen Jesus’ corpse; in fact, there was no corpse.

Jesus was alive.

Easter Sunday is announced with the words “He has risen!” The darkness of Good Friday is lifted. Sadness and grief are abated. The power of death is broken.

“He has risen!”

Christianity rests upon these three words. According to Scripture, two enemies stood between God and his creation: sin and death. Jesus defeated sin by living a blameless life before God and offering himself as a sacrifice to pay for sin.

He defeated death by giving up his life on the cross, going into the grave as a corpse, and emerging two days later as a living, breathing Savior—a bridge between God and humanity.

The apostle Paul emphasizes the importance of Jesus’ resurrection in stark terms:

If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. . . . And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15:14, 17–19)

The good news—the best news of all, in fact—is that the events of Easter render such dire possibilities moot. Jesus has been raised from the dead. And as another New Testament writer observed, Jesus’ resurrection makes possible the resurrection of everyone who follows him:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you. (1 Peter 1:3–4)

This blog post has been adapted from Walking with Jesus, a special-edition magazine that is now available on store shelves. 
 
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Great Men of the Bible: Paul

, by Christopher D. Hudson

Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength. Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus.

Paul’s life displays God’s ability to transform a person from a persecutor of the church to one of its most effective missionaries. Paul’s ministry spans many years, geographically covering almost the entire Roman Empire and thirteen books of the New Testament (Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, Philemon, Titus, and 1 and 2 Timothy) are attributed to Paul.

Paul, known as Saul before his repentance, is born in Tarsus (Acts 22:3), an important city in the Roman Empire. Paul is thoroughly Jewish, but his birthplace affords him the privileges of Roman citizenship, something he later uses to his advantage in sharing the gospel (Acts 16:12 – 40; 22:24 – 29; 23:23 – 24; 25:11 – 12).

As a young man, Paul is actively involved in persecuting the early church and imprisoning Christians for their faith (Acts 8:3; 9:1 – 2; Philippians 3:6). He is present and complicit when the first Christian martyr, Stephen, is stoned to death (Acts 7:58). As a member of the conservative Pharisee sect of Jews (Acts 23:6; Philippians 3:5), Paul attains a high level of theological education studying under Gamaliel, a well-known rabbi (Acts 22:3).

As Paul travels to the city of Damascus to arrest Christians, a light from heaven flashes around him. He hears a voice from heaven ask, “Saul, why do you persecute me?” This encounter with Christ leaves Paul blinded. When a Christian named Ananias prays for Paul, his sight is restored. Paul is then baptized and spends time with the disciples in Damascus (Acts 9:2 – 19).

Shortly after his repentance, Paul goes to the desert area of Arabia and returns to Damascus (Galatians 1:15 – 20). He spends three years there before returning to the cities of Asia Minor. Paul’s bold preaching and his repentance from persecuting Christians becomes widely known in the region, making him a target for church persecutors. A group of Jews attempts to kill him in Damascus (Acts 9:23 – 25), causing him to flee to Jerusalem.

When Paul arrives in Jerusalem, many Christians fear and do not trust him. Then Barnabas, a well-respected disciple who would later accompany Paul on his first mission, meets Paul and convinces the church that his repentance is genuine (Acts 9:27).

Paul goes on to become the greatest missionary of the early church. He takes four missionary journeys, founding, establishing, and teaching churches throughout the Roman Empire. As such, he becomes the apostle to the Gentiles, or the non-Jews. His letters instructing, correcting, and encouraging these churches and the leaders he appoints over them comprise a large percentage of the New Testament.

Paul endures many hardships during his ministry. He is persecuted, stoned, arrested, beaten, shipwrecked, and imprisoned. He preaches the gospel both when he is free and when he is imprisoned. He is ultimately sent to Rome, where, according to church tradition, he is executed by beheading because of his faith in Jesus Christ. 


This blog post has been adapted from The Most Significant People, Places, and Events in the Bible. You can learn more about it here.

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Following Jesus: The Bible - God's Message to Us

, by Christopher D. Hudson

“All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.”
2 Timothy 3:16–17 (NLT)


Lots of books are inspiring. The Bible claims to be inspired.

By inspiration, Christians mean that the Bible is God’s message to us. The Christian teaching is that the Spirit of God superintended some forty human authors over roughly two thousand years, so that they recorded (in their own unique styles) God’s holy revelation to humanity about the spiritual history and future of the world.

In the Christian view, the Bible is God’s very Word. We read the Bible, therefore, to hear from God. We read it to learn about him and to understand how to get back on track when we lose our way. It’s by engaging and embracing the eternal truth of Scripture that we learn to live in ways that bring honor to God, blessing to others, and joy to our own souls.


Reflection Question
How should knowing that the Bible is inspired by God affect the way you read Scripture?


Prayer
Lord Jesus, your prayer is my prayer: “Make [me] holy by your truth; teach [me] your word, which is truth” (John 17:17 NLT).




This blog post has been adapted from my new book Following Jesus. You can learn more about it here.
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Following Jesus: Worship - A 24/7 Experience

, by Christopher D. Hudson

“Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker.”
Psalm 95:6


Worship is more than singing songs about God. It’s more than a religious service at the church building up the street.

Our English word worship comes from the archaic word worthship (the state of having worth). Whatever we deem as worthy (or valuable) is what we worship. Whatever that thing, person, or goal is, we gladly give our time, money, attention, energy, and hearts to it. If we decide, “We won’t worship God,” we’ll find something else to focus on and devote ourselves to. We humans can’t not worship.

Christian teaching is that the Lord is the ultimate worth in the universe. This is why followers of Jesus spend their entire lives (not just their Sunday mornings) trying to make much of him. We do everything—live, work, drive, eat, exercise, give, parent, love our neighbors, and so on—to show how much we value Christ, his life, and his commands. Do you see now why worship is a 24/7 experience?

Reflection Question

What does worship look like in your life?

Prayer
Lord Jesus, I want to center my life on you. I want to value you above all else. I want to follow you and worship you every day. Amen.


This blog post has been adapted from my book Following Jesus Daily Devotional. You can learn more about it here.

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Was Jesus Born on December 25?

, by Christopher D. Hudson


In recent years, many bloggers have complained that the church under Rome adopted the holidays and customs of pagans as their own holidays. While often true, the context of these decisions explains the rationale and can remove some of the negative connotations associated with these decisions.

Background
Although Rome had made it illegal to worship pagan gods, the practical task of converting people’s faith was not as easy as commanding it. By redefining known holidays, the church redeemed them for their own purposes. This replacement approach made it easier for new Christians to adapt to their new religion.

The celebration of Christmas (the Christ-mass or mass of Christ) provides the greatest example of this. Many ancient religions celebrated the midwinter solstice in one manner or another. Some cultures even declared that the sun would disappear if their worship didn’t turn the path of the sun on that exact date.

While Roman paganism wasn’t quite that extreme, it did celebrate the victory of the sun god and light over darkness at the winter solstice. The ancient pagans believed that the Unconquerable Sun (Sol Invictus) was born on that date. Choosing this day for the celebration of Christ’s birth allowed the church to usurp the pagan festival of the Unconquerable Sun held on the winter solstice.

To that end, the church did indeed commandeer the pagan Roman holiday to institute Christmas. Its action allowed an easier transition for pagans who converted to Christianity, and it provided the church with an opportunity to teach about the birth of Christ—the One who overcame darkness and lives within us.

So, was Jesus born on December 25? Likely not. Because the church didn't know what day Christ was really born, they selected this day to become the time we commemorate His birth. They took a day people were used to celebrating and gave it a new meaning.

The early church similarly replaced New Year’s Day. Before Christ, the pagans celebrated the New Year with a drunken celebration that indulged physical passions. The church replaced this debauchery with the Feast of the Circumcision—a day to remember the circumcision of Christ when He was eight days old. By modern logic and counting, eight days after Christmas would occur on January 2, but the people used the same method of counting as the earliest church did. In the case of Easter, the Gospel writers claimed Jesus was buried for three days, even though He was dead only part of Friday night and Sunday morning. By similar counting techniques, January 1 lands eight days after December 25.


In addition, the church likely redeemed symbols used as part of these various pagan celebrations. While we’ll never know the actual origin of the Christmas tree, many legendary stories reference how the Christmas tree replaced a similar pagan symbol. One traditional story recounts that Saint Boniface (c. AD 675–754) chopped down an oak tree used by pagans. After his defiant act, he found a fir tree growing at the base of the oak tree and used its triangular shape to exalt the Trinity.

Does the church's conscription of pagan holidays and rituals undermine their meaning? Not at all. Just as Christ takes unholy people and makes them holy (2 Cor 5:17-21), the church took pagan, unholy holidays and brought them new life and meaning.   

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 The above article is adapted from my book How Jesus Changed the World. More information on the book can be found here.

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