8. Prayers of a Life in Tension by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Prayers_of_a_Life_in_Tension_webFather God, Beloved Son, Holy Spirit,

We praise you for your example in life. In you, the law and the prophets are fulfilled, not in words, but in actions.
We are no longer without hope—good news is preached; broken hearts are healed; liberty is proclaimed for the captives.
In you, there is jubilee;  in you, there is comfort;  in you, death is forever banished. That we may never mourn again. Amen and amen.

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1 Corinthians 15: Resurrection Changes Everything

RPC_tomb_03092014bBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.  Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. (1 Corinthians 15:3-6 ESV)

The Apostle Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth reaches its climax in chapter 15.  The first two verses of the chapter build up to a short confession recounting the story of Jesus (vv 3-6).  Scholars believe that this is one of the earliest confessions of the church. Several points are striking about this confession, including:

  • The confession refers to Jesus of Nazareth as Christ.  Modern critics often assert that titles such as Messiah or Son of God are confessions of the latter church.  Here it is immediately confessed by the early church within a couple years of the crucifixion.
  • The use of Cephas to refer to Peter hints at the ancient nature of this confession.  Cephas is Aramaic; Peter is a Greek translation.  Because the entire New Testament (NT) is written in Greek, Aramaic shows up in the NT mostly in quotations where authenticity is important.  Paul uses Cephas 8 times; the Apostle John is the only other NT author to use Cephas. John wrote:  John brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter). (John 1:42 ESV)  By contrast, Peter is used 100 times in the NT.
  • Paul uses the word, scripture(s), 14 times in his letters.  The NT uses it 51 times.  This confession is the only place in his letter to the Corinthians where he uses the word, scripture(s).  Apparently, the early church felt that it was important to tie the Jesus story to Old Testament scripture.
  • This confession links the cross to forgiveness of sin.  This is called the doctrine of the atonement.  Some theologians have recently questioned the doctrine of the atonement because the existence of sin implies an absolute moral standard.  Yet, the confession makes it clear—Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures (v 3).
  • The confession makes it clear that Jesus’ resurrection was witnessed by large numbers of people, not just the disciples. While a small group might have made up a resurrection story (or have been delusional), a large public crowd could not (v 6).  Paul’s account accordingly throws cold water on many modern theories disputing the resurrection.

Because Paul’s letter was widely circulated and there were many eye-witnesses to what he wrote about, clearly this confession was a keystone of the early church.

The resurrection was also the key doctrine that Paul taught.  He writes: …if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished (vv 17-18).  In other words, without the resurrection there is no salvation from sin, no victory over death, and no eternal life.  There have been many martyred saints, but only one resurrection.  We remember Jesus.

The resurrection speaks of the power of God and the divinity of Jesus Christ. Because Christ is divine, then scripture as understood by the traditional teaching of church provides a reliable rule for life.

Resurrection changes everything.  This is why it is called the Good News.

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Graham Shares Gospel; Speaks about Judgment

BillyGraham_10212013Billy Graham.  2013.  The Reason for My Hope:  Salvation.  Nashville:  W. Publishing Group (Thomas Nelson).

Reviewed by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Billy Graham will celebrate his 95th birthday on November 7, 2013 with a new campaign called:  My Hope with Billy Graham (http://bit.ly/1cPVrOx).  Graham’s new book, The Reason for My Hope, was released on October 15th in anticipation of this campaign.  He writes to summarize the Good News that he preached during his ministry (vii).

I have read Graham since I learned to read (http://bit.ly/19pe0Yp) so I was anxious to see his latest book.

Graham organized his book into eight chapters.  The chapter titles are instructive because each chapter is well-named and self-contained.  The titles are:  Rescued for Something, The Great Redemption, Sin is In, The Price of Victory, Where is Jesus?, Defining Christianity in a Designer World, No Hope of Happy Hour in Hell, and He is Coming Back.  Before these eight chapters is an introduction focused on hope and after them is an afterword, Living Life with Hope.  The afterword talks about how to find Christ in six steps and includes a believer’s prayer.

Graham’s writing style is distinctive.  As a master of collage, Graham reads the times through highly personal stories of individuals that are like Norman Rockwell paintings that spring to life.  In chapter one, for example, Graham takes us aboard the cruise ship, Costa Concordia, as it runs aground off the Italian coast.  In an age of seemingly miraculous technology, Graham questions how the crew could make such simple mistakes and, having made them, could be so indifferent to the safety of passengers under their care (11).  As the chapter draws to a close, Graham observes:  when we are rescued from something, we also saved for something.  In the words of former president, Ronald Reagan, after the assassination attempt on his life—I believe God spared me for a purpose (12).  Indeed.  We yearn to learn that purpose.

Graham’s  comments about the dark side of postmodern culture are particularly pointed.  Popular music, art, and film are infatuated with evil.  The increasingly frequent occurrence of mass shootings, such as during the 2012  Dark Knight showing in Aurora, Colorado, almost panders to this infatuation (158).  If God was willing to flood the earth in the time of Noah, exactly how can this generation avoid judgment when Christ returns? (168).  In some sense, we are judged by our own indifference.  Graham helps us taste, touch, and see our need for salvation in each of these accounts.

Part of the My Hope with Billy Graham campaign is to teach Christians how to assist seekers in coming to faith.  Graham’s six steps to finding Christ include a series of musts–[you must] Be convinced that you need him, Understand the message of the cross, Count the cost, Confess Jesus Christ as Lord of your life, Be willing for God to change your life, and Desire nourishment from God (170-182).   In the words of the Apostle Paul:  everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:13 ESV).

To understand Graham’s success as a writer and as an evangelist, one needs to understand that he was one of the first evangelists to understand how truly to engage the culture and present the Gospel with multi-media.  His use of collage in writing, for example, shares a lot in common with the use of vignettes in a mini-series.  Collage appears simple, but its construction is highly complex.

Graham’s writing is very engaging–The Reason for My Hope is classic Graham.  I look forward to hearing more about it on November 7.

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