Getting from God to Christ (Part 3)





You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless, until they rest in You.

Augustine, Confessions I.1

 

Given St. Augustine’s notion that God has made us for Himself and we will continue in our restlessness until we find rest in God, then it would seem proper for us to expect that God will have done something to make this “rest,” or spiritual satisfaction, available, especially if this “rest” is essential to our ultimate well-being.  This makes plausible the whole idea of revelation; that is, it makes it reasonable to expect God to communicate with us, as a Person to persons, concerning the terms for discovering the rest we seek.  We want to discover, above all things, what God did to enable this relationship.


We might expect the communication from God about our relationship to, first of all, tell us that God is a powerful Creator and cares enough to continually sustain His creation.  That is, that it would be congruent with the facts about the universe.  There are several biblical resources that confirm the findings of science.  While scientists speak of the anthropic principle as having originated in the 1970s, the truth is that about 3000 years ago this idea of fine-tuning for the sustaining of life was already hinted at by the prophet Isaiah.  “For thus says the LORD, Who created the heavens, Who is God, Who formed the earth and made it, Who has established it, Who did not create it in vain, Who formed it to be inhabited: I am the LORD, and there is no other.”[1] The biblical record further corroborates this view when it proclaims, “You alone are the LORD; You have made heaven, The heaven of heavens, with all their host, The earth and everything on it, The seas and all that is in them, And You preserve them all.”[2]  Douglas Geivett has stated, “God is represented in the Christian Scriptures as the personal Creator of the universe, a being of great power and intelligence, who takes an active interest in the affairs of the universe and exhibits special concern for the finite persons who inhabit our part of the universe.  Thus the basic metaphysical presuppositions of the Bible dovetail with our inquiry in the origin of the universe.”[3]  In referring to his own critical investigation into the “holy books of the world’s great religions” Hugh Ross has this to say, “Except for the Bible my suspicions were confirmed that they were penned from the limited space-time perspective of human beings and reflected the limited and often incorrect scientific knowledge of the times in which they were written.  Only the Bible . . . accurately described . . . the anthropically fine-tuned nature of the universe and solar system.”[4]  Precisely the discoveries one would expect to make in the book in which God chose to reveal Himself.


The second thing we could expect this revelation to do is clearly and frankly assess our condition of estrangement, and then provide a definitive way to overcome it.  According to Douglas Geivett, “The claim must embody . . . a realistic appraisal of the human predicament and recommend a cure with a plausible prognosis.”[5]  In the gospel of Christ we discover “the precise nature of our human predicament as diagnosed with unparalleled realism: we have rebelled against God.”[6] Geivett finds a positive thrust in the particularity of the scriptures in that they provide “a precise diagnosis of the human condition, as well as a satisfactory remedy, we can explain the impetus behind currently fashionable forms of religious pluralism in terms of the human propensity to hide from the God whom we have offended.”[7] This carries us back to the Fall of humankind where Adam, having partaken of the forbidden fruit, sought to hide from God.  He sensed this estrangement and sought to correct it on his own. 


The Christian doctrine of the Fall seems to best account for the human predicament.  The ‘why” as to our intuitive awareness that we are not what we are supposed to be and our propensity to fall short of keeping the moral law, no matter how hard we try to do so.  God, then, as now, had to set the terms for a relationship with Himself. The Scriptures say that God made animal skins to clothe the estranged humans.[8] The adumbration of sacrifice is significant in that God was to declare later that “the life is in the blood,”[9] and it is only the blood that enables atonement, or “at-one-ment,” with God; that which humans need and seek. 


The continuity of the biblical account is astounding, for this whole sacrificial system was a foreshadowing of the death of Christ who would be identified as “the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”[10]  Even in the New Testament we find the same message. “there is no remission from sin.”[11] 


“Sin” is how the Bible defines human estrangement from God.  This term encompasses our failure to live up to the moral standard that God has established, whether by ignorance or presumption, and of which we are intuitively aware. This moral standard is really not so much His commandments, but His own holy and righteous character.  Scriptures teach that no human can achieve the goodness required to be in relationship with God, because, ultimately, the goodness required is His own moral goodness.  The only remedy for this estrangement is found in the shedding of blood, the giving of life, of another; a spotless, sinless sacrifice.  This is fulfilled in the death of Jesus Christ, in whose blood we may find the forgiveness of our sins, and the restoration of our relationship with God.[12]  What Christ’s death, as the consummation that all the Old Testament sacrifices foreshadowed, shows is that God takes sin very seriously and cannot dwell with it, but also that he loves us and desires a relationship with us enough to make provisions for it.[13]    In the cross, holy justice, that cannot abide sin, and forgiving love, that yearns for relationship, meet.  The God of the Bible, who “takes no pleasure in wickedness, nor shall evil dwell with him,”[14] has assessed the human condition, and found it dreadfully wanting.[15]  He is a God with specific expectations, and proscriptions.  He is Lewis’ “God of determinate character.”  Scripture does not play word games, declaring with clarity who God is, what God expects, and what He rewards – “the Lord is righteous, and He loves righteousness, and the righteous will see His face.”  Yet, His holy character is not such that He cannot, through His love, provide a way for sinful humans to be at one with Him.  In Christ, the righteous requirements of the law of God are met in behalf of sinful humanity.[16]  Crying out in faith for this provision is the means to salvation, i.e. the means to being declared by God to be as righteous as He requires for us to dwell with him.[17]


Clearly, one of the most significant pointers to this being God’s prescribed means for our finding spiritual satisfaction is that the essential message of the whole Bible is the same.  This becomes particularly remarkable when one considers that the message of the Bible came to us through some 40 human authors, living in diverse cultures and within varying socio-economic statuses and wrote over a period of about 1500 years, then seeing what they wrote explains with great continuity who we are, how we got here, why we have this sense of estrangement, and what God arranged for our restoration to Himself.


There is another, substantial criterion by which we can confirm the source of God’s revelation to us once and for all.  We might expect that God would confirm the means of his prescribed solution to our estrangement with a definitive intervention in history that could not be interpreted as anything but the work of God.  If God has moved in history in any definitive way, it would seemingly have to include the life and work of Jesus Christ.  The reason for this is that Jesus Christ did not only die on a cross under Pontius Pilate, but also rose from the dead.


It can be confirmed by extra-biblical sources that Jesus lived, went about teaching and doing good, attracted many followers and then was crucified.  It can also be seen though extra-biblical sources that something transformed his followers into bold witnesses that would readily give up their lives for the belief that their master, Jesus Christ, had indeed raised from the dead.[18]   When one considers all the elements of one of the most critical claims of Christianity, viz. that Christ has been raised from the dead, the evidence is compelling.


There are a number of things that are nearly impossible to account for if the resurrection of Jesus did not occur.  First his empty tomb, second the eyewitnesses that claimed to have seen Jesus after his death, third the enthusiastic evangelism of the disciples, fourth the earliest writings of the Christian church, and fifth the rapid emergence and expansion of the early church.[19]


The first point deals with Christ’s empty tomb.[20]  What happened to Christ’s body?  The suggestions that have been proffered as naturalistic explanations to the resurrection are unconvincing.  The suggestion that the disciples stole the body is problematic when one considers the fact that all the disciples held to the claim, and no one’s conscience got the best of them to “blow the whistle.”  Besides if the disciples knew of the conspiracy, what would explain their unanimity in proclaiming the gospel of Jesus under threat of severe bodily harm, perhaps that suffered by their master, or even death?  Another suggestion is that perhaps the authorities, Roman or Jewish, took the body.  This defies explanation, for they wanted to keep the body from being removed and set a Roman guard to keep it from happening.  Further, if they had taken the body, to silence the disciples proclamation that Jesus had risen from the dead would simply require the production of the corpse of Christ.  This would make it immediately evident that they were gravely misguided.  This did not happen.  Some have suggested that the disciples hallucinated that Jesus had risen.  A problem with this is that hallucinations are not collective but individual.  There were hundreds of eyewitnesses that asserted that they had seen the risen Christ.[21]  Perhaps Christ just fainted on the cross and then revived in the coolness of the tomb. If Jesus merely revived, he would still have had all the marks of his scourging, and be in need of serious medical attention. How would such a bruised and beaten man in such need of care have inspired his followers to go out and deceptively proclaim, under threat of death, that he had risen in glory and power? Finally, there is the suggestion that the women went to the wrong tomb.  Obviously, even if they had, this error would be quickly corrected, as there were other witnesses to the burial. The alternatives are less plausible than the claim of the New Testament that “He is risen , as he said.”[22]


One may then object that the records of the resurrection are unreliable; because they were religious propaganda intended to elevate the historical Jesus to a divine status that he himself never intended anyone to believe.  The problem with this objection is that the New Testament records have been demonstrated to be reliable documents rooted in history.  When one considers such factors as the manuscript evidence, viz. that the New Testament boasts the greatest number of extant copies compared to other classical writings, thus making reconstruction much more accurate, even by standards of secular scholarship, and that the gaps between the original manuscripts and the copies is small compared to all other classical works considered to be reliable for historical information.  These two factors have led even a critical New Testament scholar such as John A. T. Robinson to conclude that the New Testament is “by far the best attested text of any ancient writing in the world.”[23]


The earliest writings of Christianity attest to the historicity of the resurrection of Christ, because they attest to an even earlier oral tradition.  Gary Habermas has shown that there are many creeds and traditions embedded in the New Testament texts, especially certain writings of Paul, that actually predate the texts themselves.[24] These creeds are an important clue to discovering what the earliest Christians believed and taught about the person of Jesus Christ.  It soon becomes evident that they did not fabricate a “Christ of faith” for there was not enough time to develop such legends and too many living witnesses to allow for distortion to occur.  Through oral traditions the apostolic teachings were memorized and passed on until they were recorded in written form.  These creeds confirm the gospel of Christ.  One of them seems to be in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 where Paul makes specific reference to the gospel as a creedal tradition that he had been taught by others.   He writes:


1Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, 2by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you--unless you believed in vain. 3For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures,[25]


This tells us that the “gospel,” as spelled out by Paul here as entailing the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, was not his invention, but rather something that he received as a legacy from those who came to faith earlier than he.   According to Habermas “the majority of critical scholars question a few of the epistles that bear Paul’s name . . . But Romans, Corinthians, Galatians and Philippians are rarely questioned, even by skeptics.”[26]


1 Corinthians and Romans are two of the most historically accredited New Testament documents, written by Paul in the early 50s and 60s A.D.  The significance of the date is that Christ died sometime within the early 30s A.D. thus Paul is referring to the beliefs among Christians that arose shortly after the actual events of the death and resurrection of Christ.  This is hardly enough time for legends about the “Christ of faith” to be developed, especially when multiple eyewitnesses to the events would still be alive and know whether the events were being properly reported.[27]  Along with the historical events of the death, and resurrection, are the theological implications of these events.  Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that he rose again the third day according to the Scriptures,” (according to the Scriptures being a reference that these events occurred in fulfillment of Old Testament foreshadowing).[28] In Romans Paul speaks of the resurrection as being that event by which Jesus was “declared to be the son of God with power.”[29]


Another evidence that the resurrection occurred as recorded in the New Testament is the presence of eyewitnesses.  Returning to 1 Corinthians, it is significant that Paul, after discussing the “gospel” in terms of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection, spends more time discussing his post resurrection appearances to specific people. 


5and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. 6After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. 7After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. 8Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time.[30]


It is evident that Paul most definitely wanted to demonstrate that the resurrection had occurred and that it meant eternal life for all that would subsequently believe in Christ.  This is the obvious burden of the entire chapter as Paul proclaims,


13But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. 14And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. 15Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up--if in fact the dead do not rise. 16For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. 17And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins![31]


Paul understood the critical significance of the resurrection for the whole structure of the Christian faith and that, even then, eyewitnesses must confirm its historical validity.  For him to say that there were over 500 that saw the risen Christ at once and then to say that most of them are still alive to testify was a huge risk for his own integrity and ministry if these events did not happen.  One of the more significant points about witnesses of the resurrected Christ has to do with the women.  C. Stephen Evans comments that, “It is noteworthy that women were the first witnesses to the resurrection.”[32].  Why so “noteworthy?”  It actually increases the plausibility of the gospel accounts about the resurrection when one considers the patriarchal society in which this message was first presented.  If the early Christians really were writing propaganda, then why would they include something that would, in this man-centered culture, not appeal to many people at all?  Who would believe the witness of women, and why would the gospel writers risk the immediate rejection of the gospel records by suggesting women were the first to see and report the resurrection? This does not fit with either the goals or means of propaganda, which is to appeal to the interests of the masses to persuade them.  The only logical conclusion is that they were writing the facts just as they had occurred.


Finally, we will consider the enthusiasm of the disciples and the emergence and expansion of the early church.  The political and religious odds were against Christ’s followers and the movement that bore his name.  In view of these odds, one of the most signal elements to demand the attention of skeptics as well as believers is the transformation of a band of dejected and fearful disciples following Christ’s crucifixion, into a band of bold and enthusiastic preachers of the resurrection under threat of bodily harm and even death.  Christ’s’ disciples would stand before the authorities and say “We must obey God rather than man.”[33]  Frank Morrison, an English journalist who set out to disprove Christianity as a hoax, came away from investigating the facts “compelled by the sheer force of circumstance” to write, instead, showing that Christ is indeed risen from the dead. Morrison, overwhelmed by the evidence, states,


“Whoever comes to this problem has sooner or later to confront a fact that cannot be explained away or removed by any logical processes whatever.  It looks us persistently in the face as the one concrete and unassailably attested certainty of the situation.  This fact is that, . . . a profound conviction came to the little group of people whose behavior changed - a change that attests to the fact that Jesus had risen from the grave.[34]


This change, Morison concludes, seems best explained by fact that the disciples had seen the risen Christ in glory and power and were thereby emboldened to stand before once feared adversaries and die for their commitment that Christ had indeed risen from the dead.  They did not fear the consequences of this bold stand because their Master had promised them, “I am the resurrection and the life.  He who believes in me, though he may die, he shall live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.”[35]  This theme is picked up by the Apostle Paul, who declares “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with him those who sleep (have died) in Jesus.”[36]


With the words “God will bring with him” we are back to the prospect and promise of a relationship with God.  Paul further explains that in Christ’s resurrection is our promise of resurrection and that once this occurs, “we shall always be with the Lord.”[37]  In Christ, and his resurrection God has historically visited humans whom he cares about and with whom he desires an eternal relationship.  Through the resurrection of Jesus, God confirms all that Jesus ever taught about the human predicament, and about its remedy.  He also confirmed Christ’s proclamations about himself and his indispensability as the singular way to obtain a relationship with God.[38]  The disciples believed this, and because of this conviction about the resurrection, stood firm under threat of death declaring, “There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”[39]


 

Conclusion:


Some will still insist a God of love would not exclude others from his eternal blessings simply because they did not know and confess Christ as Savior.  To this it might be replied that a God who loves us enough to create us and sustain us would also tend to our spiritual needs as well, and might be expected not to leave us on our own to figure Him out, but rather to cut through the religious and spiritual confusion and provide in time and history a clarion message of deliverance, and confirm that His message has been spoken once and for all by a very special, unmistakable sign that He indeed is behind it all.  He would do something decisive and unmistakable about it.  The relevance of the Christian message comes through here, because sufficient evidence points to His having done this in no one else but Jesus.  Thus we can proclaim confidently with the Apostle “There is truly only “one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” [40]


            Lewis relates how he, before becoming a Christian, was so reluctant to “pass over from the notion of an abstract . . . deity to the living God.”[41]   “I do not wonder,” he remarks, “this is the very point at which so many draw back – I would have done so myself if I could and proceed no further with Christianity.  An ‘impersonal God’ – well and good.  A subjective God of beauty, truth and goodness, inside our own heads – better still.  A formless life-force surging through us, a vast power which we can tap – best of all.  But God Himself, alive, pulling at the other end of the cord, perhaps approaching at an infinite speed, the hunter the king the husband -  that is quite another matter.”[42]  “There comes a moment when people who have been dabbling in religion (‘Man’s Search for God!’) suddenly draw back.  Supposing we really found Him?  We never meant it to come to that!  Worse still, supposing He had found us?”[43]

 




[1] Isaiah 45:18


[2] Nehemiah 9:6


[3] Geivett, Is Jesus the Only Way?, p. 195.


[4] Ross, Why I Believe in the Miracle of Divine Creation, p. 126.


[5] Geivett, p. 195.


[6] Ibid.


[7] Ibid.


[8] Genesis 3:21


[9] Leviticus 17:11


[10] John 1:29


[11] Hebrews 9:22


[12] Ephesians 1:7, Colossians 1:14, Revelation 1:5


[13] Romans 5:6-11


[14] Psalm 5:4


[15] Psalm 14:2-3, Romans 3:9-20


[16] Romans 8:4, 10:4; 2 Corinthians 5:21


[17] Romans 10:9-10


[18] Edwin M. Yamauchi, Jesus Outside the New Testament: What is the Evidence, in Michael J. Wilkins and J.P. Moreland, eds., Jesus Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents the Historical Jesus (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), pp. 208-222. Gary .R. Habermas, Why I Believe the New Testament is Historically Reliable, in Norman L. Geisler and Paul K, Hoffman, eds. Why I am a Christian (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001), p. 15-151.


[19] William Lane Craig, Did Jesus Rise From the Dead?, in Michael J. Wilkins and J.P. Moreland, eds., Jesus Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents the Historical Jesus (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), pp. 142-176; Gary .R. Habermas, Why I Believe the Miracles of Jesus ActuallyHappened, in Norman L. Geisler and Paul K, Hoffman, eds. Why I am a Christian (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001),pp. 117-124; pp. John G. Stackhouse, Can God Be Trusted? (New York: Oxford: 1998), pp. 133-146.


[20] Frank Morison, Who Moved the Stone, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan 1977), pp. 88-103.


[21] 1 Corinthians 15:4-8 One might argue that the use of the Bible to prove the Bible is the worst case of begging the question, but from an historical standpoint, there is no question, even among the most liberal scholars, of Paul’s authorship of this letter in the mid first century.  This would be only about 20-30 years removed from the events of Christi’s death and resurrection. The eyewitnesses of this event could thus be found and interviewed.  Paul was no doubt risking his credibility by making these claims, unless, of course what he said is what actually happened.  There is no reason, except presuppositionally, to doubt that it did.


[22] Matthew 28:6


[23] John A. T. Robinson, Can We Trust the New Testament? (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans), p. 36; quoted in Gary .R. Habermas, Why I Believe the New Testament is Historically Reliable, in Norman L. Geisler and Paul K, Hoffman, eds. Why I am a Christian (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001), p. 148-149.


[24] Habermas, Why I Believe the New Testament is Historically Reliable, pp. 156-160.


[25] 1 Corinthians 15: 1-4.


[26] Habermas, p. 157


[27] See note 68


[28] Psalm 22 is a reference to crucifixion, and Christ’s substitution death is detailed in Isaiah 53.  Psalm 16 is a clear reference to the resurrection of Yahweh’s “holy one” or Messiah.  Peter makes this direct connection to Psalm 16 and the resurrection of Crhist in Acts 2:25-28.


[29] Romans 1:4.


[30] 1 Corinthians 15:5-7


[31] 1 Corinthians 15:13-17


[32] C. Stephen Evans, Why Believe?: Reason and Mystery as Pointers to God (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986), p. 115. (45:18 – Emphasis Added)


[33] Acts 4:19, 5:29


[34] Frank Morison, Who Moved the Stone (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1977).


[35] John 11:25 (Cf. 14:19)


[36] 1 Thessalonians 4:14.


[37] 1 Thessalonians 4:17.


[38] Acts 17:31


[39] Acts 4:12


[40] 1 Timothy 2:5


[41] C.S. Lewis, Miracles, (San Francisco, Harper Collins), 150.


[42] Ibid.


[43] Ibid.

 

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY


Anderson, Sir Norman. Christianity and World Religions: The Challenge of Pluralism. Leicester: England: IVP, 1984.

 

Barbour, Ian. Religion in an Age of Science, The Gifford lectures, Volume One. San Francisco: Harper, 1990.

 

Colson, Chuck and Pearcey, Nancy. How Now Shall We live? Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 1999.

 

Copan, Paul, True for You but Not for Me; Deflating ther Slogans that Leave Christians Speechless.  Minneapolis: Bethany, 1998.

 

Davies, Paul.  God and the New Physics. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1983.

 

Evans, C. Stephen. Why Believe? Reason and Mystery as Pointers to God. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986.

 

Gallup, George Jr., The Next American Spirituality; Finding God iinthe Twenty-First Century, Colorado Springs: Cook Victor, 2000.

 

Geisler, Norman L. and Hoffman, Paul K., eds. Why I Am  A Christian. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001.

 

Glynn, Patrick, God: The Evidence: The Reconciliation of Faith and Reason in a Postsecualr World. Rocklin, CA: Forum, 1997.

 

Hick, John. God Has Many Names. Philadelphia; Westminster, 1982.

 

Klemke, E. D., ed. The Meaning of Life. New York, Oxford, New York: Oxford, 1981.

 

Lewis, C. S. Mere Christianity. New York: Macmillan, 1952.

 

_________. Miracles, San Francisco: Harper, 1947.

 

McGrath, Alister E. Intellectuals Don’t Need God (and other Modern Myths): Building Bridges to Faith Through Apologetics. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1993.

 

McDowell, Josh and Stewart, Don. Handbook of Today’s Religions. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1983.

 

Morison, Frank, Who Moved the Stone? Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1977.

 

Norris, Richard A. Understanding the Faith of the Church. New York: Seabury, 1979.

 

Netland, Harold J. Encountering Religious Pluralism, The Challenge to Christian Faith and Mission. Downers Grove: IVP, 2001.

 

Nozik, Robert. The Examined Life: Philosophical Meditations. New york; Touchstone, 1989.

 

Prior, Kenneth F. W. The Gospel in a Pagan Society. Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1975.

 

Schaeffer, Francis A. The Complete Works of Francis Schaeffer: Volume 5, A Christian View of the West. Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1982.

 

Schroeder, Gerald l. The Science of God. New York: Free Press, 1997.

 

Stackhouse, John G. Can God Be Trusted?: Faith and the Challenge of Evil. New York: Oxford, 1998.

 

Wilkins, Michael J. and Moreland, J. P. , eds. Jesus Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents the Historical Jesus. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995.

 

Zacharias, Ravi. Can man Live Without God? Dallas: Word, 1994.

Related content