A wonderful testimony appeared in an article published in the Daily Mail newspaper today (Saturday). It featured this prisoner at a Soviet Union labour camp. Absolutely exhausted, he was driven to the end of his endurance. He threw his shovel down to lay for a rest on a nearby bench, expecting the guards to arrive to give him a severe beating, as he had seen done to others who took a rest without permission. Instead, an emaciated prisoner arrived to where he was lying down, and with a stick, drew a cross in the mud beside him. He looked at the cross, believed, and found the energy to resume work before the guards arrived.
Born again right there and then. No Bible readings (this was banned in the Soviet Union), no church attendance, no altar call, no confessing to a priest, no man in a suit booming out a sermon on repentance, not even a "sinner's prayer" uttered from his lips. Just a crude representation of a cross drawn with a stick in the mud. And his eternal destiny changed forever, never to revert to his former spiritual state. Such as the wonder and the simplicity of God's grace!
And how I wish this simple faith can be seen a lot more, not only in this country, but on a global scale, and particularly in the Middle East. If all the Muslims saw the Cross and believed, surely this would be a far, far better world to live in, would it not? At least mainstream terrorism would have been dealt a fatal blow. And that's where the present unrest in the Western World had originated, not just from the Middle East where different sects of Islam fight each other (Sunni against Shia, for example), but their belief in Jihad, compelling them to fight non-Muslims altogether. Then the awkward little fact that the prisoner in the labour camp had no need to investigate different sects and beliefs within the Christian faith - whether the Catholics were truer to the Bible or if Protestants were. Then this niggling but rather huge debate whether a saved person is eternally secure in his salvation, or not. None of these things either stirred his faith nor muffled it. Instead his faith came by a crude cross etched in the mud. That was all.
This testimony was found in a much large article on why our nation has become so secular, which was about embracing materialistic comforts rather than meditating on our sinful condition and realising our need for Jesus Christ crucified, buried, and resurrected. One prime example is seeing Easter as a time for ceasing work, enjoying a holiday, shopping, and the emphasis on chocolate eggs as well as bunnies for the kids, rather than a reflection on the Resurrection of Christ. And this came on a day later, after an online article was posted at the same newspaper, by atheist David Fitzgerald of San Francisco, who wrote that Jesus Christ as a person had never existed. Part of the basis of his assumption was the idea that the Bible, particular in the four Gospels, was inconsistent with how this man was presented, contradictions on one thing upon another.
What we have been through in the last few years, knowing that Jesus Christ was Crucified, buried and Resurrected is absolutely vital for our faith and well being. As one popular chorus (one of our wedding songs) goes:- Father God, I wonder how I managed to exist without the knowledge of your parenthood and your loving care...the record of Jesus Christ as the Son of God must be as solid rock upon which our faith rests. As for the case of David Fitzgerald, as with Richard Dawkins, and Sam Harris, no matter how much I know the Bible, I would not be able to stand up face to face to them unless some miracle, whether in speech or action, takes place - but even then, like the Pharisees of old, once their minds are set, nothing can change them. And unfortunately, they seem to draw the masses along with them into eternal darkness. Again as I said before, this happens out of celebrity, academic, or social class worship. Therefore I too have felt earthquakes in my own faith over many years, with both my knowledge of Scripture challenged along with adverse circumstances.
Since my conversion towards the end of 1972, I remained settled with the idea that Good Friday come round every year simply because Jesus was crucified on a Friday. It made sense: Three days in the tomb - Friday evening, all day Saturday, and a tiny bit into Sunday. Even if I knew about the Hebrew marking of time, their new day starting at sundown, my opinion of a Friday crucifixion would have remained unchanged, as the last few hours of Friday would have been counted as the first day, as would have been all the small hours of Sunday morning. This originated from the Catholic church, and had been ongoing throughout the centuries, and it was what I grew up with. Like the vast majority of the Christian public, I never questioned the essence of Jesus crucified on a Friday.
That is, until I came across Matthew 12:40 which reads:-
For as Jonah was for three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be for three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
If ever there was a verse, and the only one in the whole of the New Testament at that, which throws a spanner into the works of a long-standing creed, surely this must be it. In my younger days as a believer, it was just one of these things I had to swallow, hoping I wouldn't get bellyache afterwards. That was until I was walking through a street at a South London borough of Brixton in 1974 with a good friend of mine, that he mentioned the idea and his support for a Thursday crucifixion. Ouch! But even then I wanted to believe, since this made far better sense. Jesus Christ crucified a day earlier. It would be goodbye to Maundy Thursday. And opposed to centuries of Church tradition, as well as going against a statutory national holiday. But this is why I don't mind believing a fringe theory, or living on the edge. If Jesus was crucified on a Thursday, he then would be dead for three actual days: Thursday evening, and all day Friday and Saturday. And as the three nights would have fitted in, these would have been Thursday night, Friday night and Saturday night, as Jesus had already risen before daybreak of Sunday. But even considering the Jewish reckoning, he would have been dead for the small hours of Friday, Saturday, and Sunday mornings.
But what seems to be more vexing is the apparent contradiction between Matthew and John concerning the Passover. In Matthew's account, Jesus sends his disciples to prepare a room where they can eat the Passover (26:17-19, along with Mark 14:12-16, and Luke 22:7-13). All three of the four Gospels record that it was already the first day of unleavened bread, and Jesus sends his followers out to prepare for the Passover. But it was John who recorded that when the Jews brought Jesus to Pilate, that the Roman governor had to come out to them, for their refusal to enter his palace was because they did not want to defile themselves, for they have yet to eat the Passover. So according to John, the Passover wasn't eaten yet (John 18:28.) And this was the morning after the Last Supper was eaten.
No wonder the Bible must be a treasure trove for the leering scoffers! And yet, as I see it, John must be right on this account. The morning of the day, according to John's account, Jesus was brought to Pilate, the Passover lambs across Israel had not yet been slain. This would explain why Paul referred Jesus as the Passover Lamb in his first letter to the Corinthian church (5:7.) If this is true, then Jesus must have died at the same time as the Passover lambs were slain among all the Jewish families across the Middle East. It was John too, who made a quick statement, as in parenthesis, that the day following the crucifixion, was "a high day" (19:31) - his equivalent of a bank holiday. It was a special Sabbath, not the normal Sabbath, but rather the first day of unleavened bread, which fell on a Friday. So if this is true, the crucifixion took place on the Thursday, Jesus died three hours later, at the same time all the Passover lambs were slain and roasted, and by nightfall, the Passover festival began, which by then it was already Friday.
The only way, as far as I can see, is that according to the first three accounts, the Last Supper took place after sundown, which was already the same Thursday as the Crucifixion, his death, and the slaughtering of the Passover Lambs. But the meal they had that night was the Last Supper, in which the New Covenant was initiated by the Lord himself. If John's account is to be believed, when the Last Supper was feasted on, all the Passover lambs were still alive, waiting to be killed.
Then another issue where sneering atheists would love to throw the book at, is the apparent disagreement between Mark and John over the time of day Jesus was crucified. In Marks's account (15:25), it was "the third hour" that Jesus was crucified. But in John's account, by the sixth hour, Jesus was still before Pilate (19:13-15), pleading to the baying crowd to change their minds, but to no avail. If we understand the third hour being nine in the morning, and the sixth our being midday, then clearly a discrepancy exist between the two writers. However, Luke's recording of Pilate sending Jesus and his accusers to Herod seems to back John's record, rather than Mark's. Even if Herod was in Jerusalem on that day, allowing up to thirty minutes to cross the city, then another thirty minutes to return to Pilate, this would have given Herod at least a full hour to interrogate Jesus, still leaving ample time for the Roman governor to plead to the crowd on Jesus' behalf.
Does that leave the possibility that an error has crept in with a later copying of Mark's Gospel? Personally, that's how I see it, unless a justifiable explanation can be offered. This seems at first at least, to give victory to the atheists and the academics, who point their finger at us for insisting that the Bible is the infallible Word of God, entirely without error. And according to some, particularly with a Church of Christ member on this website, God is seen as fully able to protect his Word over the millennia, especially with modern translations. If that tiny discrepancy in Mark's Gospel proves to be an error in ancient copying, then this will open the floodgates for the academic scoffers to destroy its credibility.
But the main thing is that all four accounts record the death of Jesus by crucifixion, his burial, and then his resurrection early that Sunday morning, before daybreak. And upon this record my faith rests. The death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, proving once and for all that he is the Jewish Messiah who came to reconcile the world to himself, not counting our transgressions against us. And no other man who ever lived and died had enjoyed the privilege of a physical resurrection, defeating death forever. And furthermore, no other man fulfilled Old Testament prophecy with such startling accuracy than Jesus of Nazareth. One only need to read Isaiah 53, Psalm 22, and Zechariah 9:9, 11:12-13 as examples to see how Jesus was the fulfillment of prophecy written hundreds of years before he came.
Old Testament prophecy fulfilled is the greatest testimony of Jesus being the Christ, of God himself we call the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. God became man to atone for our sins, bringing us to the Father and making us citizens of his Kingdom in Heaven. This is the greatest news no other religion can offer, totally by grace, and free of any works.
Happy Easter to you all. Enjoy your chocolate eggs, for its sweetness is a good symbol of the Gospel, and the start of a new life, in which the confection represents.