CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

“When they had driven [Stephen] out of the city, they began stoning him; and the witnesses laid aside their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul. They went on stoning Stephen as he called on the Lord and said, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!’ Then falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them!’ Having said this, he fell asleep.” ~ Acts 7:58-60

Stephen was the first recorded martyr of the Apostolic Church, i.e., the "protomartyr." His death, witnessed by Saul (who would later become the Apostle Paul) has been viewed by some as the second most important in the New Testament – the first, of course, being that of Jesus. As stated in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia,

“The impression made by Stephen's death was even greater than that made by his life. Though it marks the beginning of the first great persecution of Christians, the death of the first Christian martyr resulted in the greatest acquisition Christianity has probably ever made, the conversion of Saul of Tarsus. The vision of the risen and exalted Jesus vouchsafed to the dying Stephen presented Christianity to Saul of Tarsus in a new light, tending to remove what had been its greatest stumbling-block to him in the Crucified One. This revelation coupled with the splendid personality of Stephen, the testimony of his righteous life and the noble bravery of his sublime death, and above all his dying prayer, fell upon the honest soul of Saul with an irresistible force and inevitably brought on the Damascus event, as Augustine clearly recognized: ‘Si Stephanus non orasset, ecclesia Paulum non habuisset.’”

Recently, some archaeologists reported that they have located the remains of a church about 2 kilometers west of Ramallah in Palestine which appears to have been built over the burial place of St. Stephen. According to an article written on an Eastern Orthodox website, Provoslavie.Ru, entitled "Burial place of Holy Archdeacon Stephen the Protomartyr discovered":   

Research in the Kharaba at Taiar village, which lies two kilometers west of Ramallah, carried out by the Palestinian and Israeli researchers have yielded unexpected results. Within the framework of a project by the University of Jerusalem for the discovery and restoration of antiquities, a group of archaeologists led by Dr. Salah al Hudeliyya has discovered ruins of an entire church complex that includes a temple of the Byzantine-Umayyad era as well as a Byzantine monastery.
“Inside one of these churches we came across an inscription which indicates that this church had been built in honor of Holy Apostle and Archdeacon Stephen the Protomartyr, buried here in 35 AD,” the historian related.

The Christian Media Center adds a few more details as reported by Salah H. Al-Houdalieh, a Researcher at the Institute of Archeology through Al-Quds University. According to its report:

“In this church, an inscription has been found that is 88 centimeters wide and and one meter high, consisting of eight lines and with an inscription in Greek, which speaks about the body of St. Stephen and says that he was buried here. This place is known as “Khirbet al Tireh” and also as “Kafr Ghamla,” and “Ghamla” is St. Stephen’s spiritual guide. The other part of the inscription speaks about a woman named Dina, who would have invested money in this church in order to honor Jesus’ visit to this place, when Joseph and Mary, his mother, could not find him, during their trip from Jerusalem and Nazareth that lasted three days. He likely passed through this place on one of those three days.”
I am thus far underwhelmed by this discovery. I certainly acknowledge that St. Stephen’s importance was probably not lost on the early church, and so it is highly likely that his burial place would have been preserved somewhere. There are a few details of this report plus other reports that make me wonder what this find really may be.
First, this is not the first time that St. Stephen’s remains have allegedly been discovered. According to the tradition of both the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, the body of St. Stephen was originally buried “a few miles from Jerusalem,” but was apparently lost shortly thereafter.  Church tradition further teaches that the bodyof St. Stephen was located in August 415 by Lucian following a dream. It appears that his bones (or “relics” as they are referenced in the traditions) were transferred to the Church of Sion (or Zion) at Jerusalem. At this point, the teachings differ as to what happened.
The Orthodox church teaches that his bones were translated to Constantinople. According to the Orthodox Church in America website in an article entitled “Stephen from Jerusalem to Constantinople”:

In the year 415 the relics of the saint were uncovered in a miraculous manner and solemnly transferred to Jerusalem by Bishop John and the bishops Eutonius of Sebaste and Eleutherius of Jericho. From that time healings took place from the relics. Afterwards, during the reign of holy Emperor Theodosius the Younger (408-450), the relics of the holy Protomartyr Stephen were transferred from Jerusalem to Constantinople and placed in the church of the holy deacon Laurence (August 10). When a church dedicated to the Protomartyr Stephen was built, the relics were transferred there on August 2. St Stephen’s right hand is preserved in the Serapionov chamber of the Trinity-Sergius Lavra.

Roman Catholic tradition seems to differ on the ultimate disposition of the bones (relics) of St. Stephen.  According to the website, the relics of St. Stephen are located in the church of St. Stephen in the city of Jerusalem. The New Advent Encyclopedia reports that after St. Stephen was moved for a time to the Church of Zion, in 460 the relics were moved to “the basilica erected by Eudocia outside the Damascus Gate, on the spot where, according to tradition, the stoning had taken place (the opinion that the scene of St. Stephen's martyrdom was east of Jerusalem, near the Gate called since St. Stephen's Gate, is unheard of until the twelfth century). The site of the Eudocian basilica was identified some twenty years ago, and a new edifice has been erected on the old foundations by the Dominican Fathers.”
So, it appears that we have multiple, possible relics of St. Stephen. The ones housed in this new find outside Ramallah, the ones housed in the Eudocian basilica, the ones located in the church at St. Stephen in Jerusalem, and the ones in the Serapionov chamber of the Trinity-Sergius Lavra. I think that we need clarification as to whether any of the other locations can lay legitimate claim to being the home of the true relics of Stephen before we can answer whether this new site might even be a possible location for his tomb.
The second question raised by the alleged find relates Al-Houdalieh's placement of importance on the place being known as Kafr Ghamla, which is noted because Ghamla was allegedly St. Stephen’s “spiritual guide.” Now, I cannot find from where Al-Houdalieh derives this information. The Bible contains no reason to believe that St. Stephen had a spiritual guide other than Christ (as clearly indicated in Acts 6 and 7) and I find no other reference to St. Stephen having a spiritual guide named “Ghamla” in any of my other resources.
I think it is possible that Al-Houdalieh is confusing Ghamla with Gamaliel, who was a teacher of Paul prior to his conversion, and who allegedly had a hand in the initial burial of St. Stephen immediately following his execution. According to "The Finding of the Relics of St. Stephen, the First Martyr" by Father Francis Xavier Weninger, 1876:

After St. Stephen, the first martyr, had been stoned to death by the Jews for having incontestably proved that Christ, Whom they had crucified, was the true Messiah, some pious men, filled with deep sorrow, buried him with all due reverence. Foremost among these was Gamaliel, who had formerly been a teacher, and later a disciple of St. Paul. He arranged everything so that the body of St. Stephen was carried, during the night, by some Christians, from the spot in which it lay, to his country-seat, which was a few miles from Jerusalem.

I don’t know if Ghamla is supposed to be a variation of Gamaliel, but if this isn’t the reference, I am unable to discern what Professor Al-Houdalieh is talking about. Moreover, even if Ghamla is supposed to be Gamaliel, it is unclear on what basis Al-Houdalieh believes that Gamaliel was Stephen’s spiritual guide. All that can be gleaned about Gamaliel from the Bible is that he was on the Sanhedrin and urged caution about the quick rejection of Jesus as the Messiah prior to the date of Stephen’s execution. It isn’t even clear whether he was present at Stephen’s execution, and it certainly isn’t clear that Gamaliel had any direct connection with Stephen. The only connections I could find between Stephen and Gamaliel Church Tradition teach (1) Gamaliel had a hand in the burying of St. Stephen’s body shortly after the execution, and (2) that it was Gamaliel who came to Father Lucian in a dream to lead him to find the missing body of Stephen. Neither of these translate to Gamaliel being Stephen’s spiritual guide.
Third, I wonder about the additional reference of Dina referencing the trip of the Holy Family to the temple from Nazareth when Jesus was 12 years old. (Luke 2:41-51) It almost seems as if this new site is being used to promote this new find as a tourist mecca. This belief is reinforced by the remainder of the information found on the Christian Media Center site which suggests that the goal of the dig in the first place was to attract tourists. The CMC site continues:
The project began in 2013 as the collaboration between the University of Jerusalem and the Greek Orthodox church. After the excavations, a phase of awareness and fundraising phase has begun. The goal is to enhance this new acquisition in the Palestinian archeological heritage and make it accessible to all in the future by including it in the Holy Land pilgrimage circuits.
“The main purpose of this project is to create awareness among all Palestinians on the importance of Palestinian cultural heritage. In addition, we would like to create an archeological park, which probably open in 2020.”
Finally, even Christianity Today cautions that this particular archaeological find should be taken with some skepticism. According to a page entitled the “BiblicalArchaeology’s Top Ten Discoveries of 2014” by Gordon Govier:
The tomb of the first Christian martyr may have been located in an excavation just west of Ramallah. An Orthodox church news service recently reported that a church complex excavation revealed an inscription indicating that the church had been built over the burial site of St. Stephen, who was interred there in 35 AD. However, the lack of news of this discovery from other sources raises questions that bear further investigation.
Now, it certainly is possible that the church tradition on this point is incorrect. It is possible that St. Stephen was taken about 12 miles from Jerusalem shortly after his execution by Christians (perhaps, including Gamaliel) and buried in the location identified by Al-Houdalieh. It is possible that the entire account of Father Lucian finding the relics as the result of a dream could be fictitious. It is possible that the remains were found by Father Lucian as reported, taken to Jerusalem and interred in the Church at Sion, only to be moved to the location identified by Al-Houdalieh when Church at Sion was sacked and the church destroyed in the early Second Millennium. But regardless, there are a lot more questions to be answered on this find then have been answered thus far.
So, I will leave the reader with two thoughts: (1) this may be the actual tomb of St. Stephen, however, more research is needed before anyone should jump on this bandwagon, and (2) one needs to wonder whose hand is located in the Serapionov chamber of the Trinity-Sergius Lavra. I wonder if the hand bears any relation to Cousin It?

In what was obviously intended to be a light hearted interview, Physicist Stephen Hawking was interviewed last night at the Sydney Opera House where he was asked the gripping question, “What do you think is the cosmological effect of Zayn leaving One Direction and consequently breaking the hearts of millions of teenage girls across the world?" In a move obviously designed to keep the hopes of these millions of heart-broken girls intact, Hawking responded, “My advice to any heartbroken young girl is to pay close attention to the study of theoretical physics. Because one day there may well be proof of multiple universes. It would not be beyond the realms of possibility that somewhere outside of our own universe lies another different universe—and in that universe, Zayn is still in One Direction."

Ah, my heart is still aflutter. Zayn may still be with One Direction in another universe.

This is, of course, standard fare for the Multiverse crowd in an effort to respond to the obvious fact that this universe seems carefully designed to support life, aka, the Anthropic Principle. To get around the appearances of fine-tuning of so many of the basic facts of our universe which have to be what they are to support life, Multiverse theorists have maintained that somewhere outside of this universe is a sort of cosmic pool which is bubbling up billions upon billions of universes. It just so happened that one of them is the universe that we inhabit, and the reason that this universe appears so finely-tuned for life is that we have had billions of universes and with so many universes the odds were in favor of one having just the right balance to support life. So, what appears as fine-tuning or design is simply the result of random chance.

But, of course, in these billions upon billions of universes, Hawking is suggesting that there is one that is identical to ours except that Zayn stays in One Direction. In fact, this is consistent with the theory that there are multiple universes which are wholly identical with our own except that one decision was made differently. So, in one universe, Zayn leaves One Direction. In another, Zayn stays with One Direction. In a third, Zayn never joined One Direction. In a fourth, Zayne left One Direction two years ago but returned after spending two years as a driving instructor at Cheap Thrills Driving School in Sacramento. In a fifth, Zayn died in a horrible car accident three years ago, but in a sixth, Zayn survived the accident but lost both of his legs and One Direction turns into a group dedicated to supporting the rights of the disabled. The list goes on and on.

Now, think about your own situation. If the version of the Multiverse being referenced (perhaps even promoted) by Hawking is correct, there are millions of you in existence. In one version of you, you went to a different college. In another version, you went to prison. In another version, you married your high school sweetheart, but in a fourth, you had a shotgun marriage with someone you didn’t care about. In still another, you are working as part of the crew of a travelling carnival. And despite their myriad of differences, all of these people are you existing in various alternatives of your life simultaneously.

Is this really sensible? Not really. But that doesn’t stop the theorists. Never mind that there is no real evidence that such a Multiverse Pool bubbling up universes exists. That’s irrelevant. The question to the Multiverse theorists is whether it could exist, and since we can create computer models that show how it would work if it did exist then it is obviously the explanation for the appearance of design that we see in the universe. At least, that’s the theory. And if these multiple universes exist, then the multiple billions of you exist as well.

I’m sorry that I am going to break the heart of so many One Direction fans, but while it is theoretically possible that there may be such a Multiverse and in billions of those alternative universes Zayn is still singing in One Direction, we have no real evidence to believe it to be true. And even if it were true there is no way to ever get to those different universes (or even if we could get to them, it would take an eternity to find any of the right universes where Zayn stayed in One Direction). But don’t worry, if there is that alternative universe, there would also be an alternative you already listening to One Direction and cheering on Zayn in that universe (unless, of course, it is one of the other alternative universes where you never became a fan of One Direction in the first place).

So, you can take comfort that even as Zayn leaves One Direction in our universe, you possibly remain a fan in billions of other universes (at least in the billions of universes where you became a Zayn or One Direction fan at all). In this universe, you’ll just have to listen to their old music and live in the good ol’ days.

Rather than conjecture about other multiple universes that we can’t know or prove exist, isn’t it better to accept what we actually do know? Isn’t it better to acknowledge that this universe does support life and it is the only universe you know or ever will know? Isn’t it better to accept that while there may be multiple billions of you in other universes, that this is the one life you have any true knowledge about and in which you can make life decisions?

"And so Simon Peter also came, following him, and entered the tomb; and he saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the face-cloth ("sudarium") which had been on His head, not lying with the linen wrappings, but rolled up in a place by itself." ~ John 20:6-7

After a five year absence from public display, the "controversial" Shroud of Turin can once again be viewed by the public in Turin, Italy.  For those unfamiliar with the Shroud (possibly because they have been spent the last few decades living on the moon -- it's hard to imagine some other way someone would be unfamiliar with the Shroud), I defer to the description of the Shroud found at the official website of the Shroud of Turin

The Shroud of Turin is a centuries old linen cloth that bears the image of a crucified man. A man that millions believe to be Jesus of Nazareth. Is it really the cloth that wrapped his crucified body, or is it simply a medieval forgery, a hoax perpetrated by some clever artist? Modern science has completed hundreds of thousands of hours of detailed study and intense research on the Shroud. It is, in fact, the single most studied artifact in human history, and we know more about it today than we ever have before. And yet, the controversy still rages.

Personally, I don't think that the Shroud is all that "controversial", but that's the word chosen to describe the Shroud by our friends at USA Today as well as the Shroud of Turin website. Personally, I believe a better word to describe the Shroud would be fascinating, as in "the question of whether the Shroud is really the burial cloth of Jesus leads to fascinating discussion." I love reading stories about the Shroud because there is so much up-in-the-air about the authenticity of the Shroud and the questions that have been raised about the efforts to determine a date for the Shroud. I mean, if the Shroud is a fake, exactly how did people with medieval technology manage to pull it off?

But in reading about the Shroud, I recently came upon a very interesting article entitled
The 'Other' Shroud of Christ" by Mary Jo Anderson (hereinafter, the "Anderson article") about an object called the Sudarium of Oviedo. Now, I have never heard of the Sudarium of Oviedo previous to reading the Anderson article, but in looking through the articles, I found the story to be worth sharing with CADRE readers -- especially since there appears to be a relationship between the Sudarium and the Shroud of Turin.

According to a Anderson article,

While the assumed chronology of the Shroud is veiled in the mists of medieval history, the Sudarium is a revered relic that could well have been preserved from the days of Christ’s crucifixion.

In Latin, sudarium means “face cloth.” The Revised Standard Version of the Bible translates sudarium as “napkin,” a clear indication that this smaller cloth was not identical to the longer burial shroud called the sindon in the New Testament’s Greek. The smaller cloth was used to cover the face of the body immediately following death, a Jewish practice of respect and compassion for the family of the dead.

According to Liber Testamentorum (Book of Testaments), written by Bishop Pelayo of Oviedo in the twelfth century, a “holy ark” made out of oak by followers of the twelve apostles was said to contain the Sudarium, along with several relics of the Virgin Mary and the apostles and a piece of the cross on which Jesus was crucified. According to Pelayo, the ark remained in Jerusalem for the first 500 years following the resurrection.

Philip “the Presbyter,” a leader of the Christian community in Palestine, fled Jerusalem with the oak chest when Chosroes II, king of Persia, sacked the holy city in 614 A.D., according to Pelayo’s chronicle. John the Almoner, bishop of Alexandria, welcomed Philip and his precious cargo. When the Persian invasion continued into Egypt, the chest was said to have accompanied the faithful into Spain, where St. Fulgentius received it and sent it to Seville. In 657, according to Pelayo, the ark traveled north to Toledo where it was protected until 718. Citing slightly different dates from those in Pelayo’s chronicle, Lucas, the bishop of Tuy, wrote in his 13th-century Chronicum Mundi (Chronicle of the World) that the ark was taken north from Toledo to Monte Sacro in Asturias in 711, to escape the advancing Moors. History and Description of Spain, a text completed in 977, corroborates this move, at least obliquely, with a description of Christians fleeing the Muslims to the mountains of Asturias and burying their relics underground.

From atop Monte Sacro, Alfonso II, king of Asturias, turned back Spain’s Moorish invaders and established his court at Oviedo. The 800-year Reconquista, or reconquering of Spain from the Moors, began with Alfonso’s victory. He built a Cámara Santa (holy chamber) in 840 A.D. to shelter the relics in the ark. Later kings built Oviedo’s cathedral of San Salvador (Holy Savior) around this tiny chapel.

So, the Sudarium (face-cloth) appears to have a pedigree that demonstrates that it was in existence (apparently without dispute) since at least 718 A.D. when it left Toledo and was transferred Monte Sacro in Asturias. It has remained in Oveido since 718 A.D. and has been in the Oviedo Cathedral since it was built in 840 A.D. While the Sudarium itself is not on display, the ark in which it is stored can be found in the Ovido Cathedral.

The Sudarium, while rarely displayed to the public, has been the subject to some examinations over the past several years. According to the Anderson article,  

In the late 1980s, Ricci urged a systematic study of the Cloth of Oviedo that would compare it with the Shroud. Early investigations included a photographic study of ultraviolet and infrared images of the cloth. This preliminary study confirmed that there is no underlying image of a face on the Sudarium—unlike the Shroud, which contains a bodily image that looks like a photographic negative. The Sudarium presents only a pattern of successive stains from perspiration, blood, and lymph. In the testing, video images were digitized so that the images on the two cloths could be highlighted and compared.

The First International Congress on the Sudarium of Oviedo, held in 1994, sponsored further testing. The findings indicated that the Sudarium had been placed against the face of a man who had been beaten on the front and back of the head. Although there is no facial image on the Sudarium, it does contain a distinct facial impression, the 1994 study showed. The cloth is impregnated with blood and lymph that match the AB blood type on the Shroud. (This was a crucial test, for had the blood types not matched, any subsequent testing would be pointless.) The pattern and measurements of the stains indicate a placement of the cloth over a face. Measurements of facial features were also made.

It sounds very interesting, but the carbon dating of the Sudarium has been, to a certain degree, as disappointing as the carbon testing of the Shroud. According to the Anderson article, the Sudarium's Carbon testing placed the date of the relic in the 7th Century (the 600s) which would correspond to the date that we know that it has been in Spain. So, if the Sudarium is a 7th Century forgery based on Carbon testing, why am I bringing it to the attention of the readers?

I bring it to the attention of the readers because the Sudarium gives rise to a rather interesting problem when combined with the Shroud. The Shroud, some may recall, was Carbon tested three times since 1988, and the dating from those studies placed the creation of the Shroud between 1260 and 1390 A.D.  But here's the interesting part: there are a lot of similarities between the image on the Shroud and the evidence found on the Sudarium. According to the Anderson article:

Alan Whanger, professor emeritus of medicine at Duke University, found similarities in the blood stains on the two cloths by using a polarized image overlay technique. He noted 70 congruent patterns on the face and more than 50 on the back of the head and neck. Furthermore, when the image on the Shroud was placed over the stains on the Sudarium, there was an exact correlation between the stains on the Sudarium and the image of the beard of the man on the Shroud.

Now, if the Sudarium has been kept safely in Oveido since 718 A.D., and if the Shroud was created between 1260 and 1390 A.D., exactly how did these two forgeries (because that is what the carbon dating tells us that they are) come to correspond so exactly? Did the artist who created the Shroud -- using methods unknown to 21st Century artists -- also have access to the Sudarium? Was his/her access lengthy enough for him/her to measure out 120 different patterns on the front and back side of the Sudarium so that they would correspond with the patterns on the yet-to-be-created Shroud? How was this artist able to observe these patterns when they are so very difficult to see today despite 1300-1400 years of careful preservation? How did the artist create the image of the face on the Shroud so that there would be an "exact correlation" between the stains on the Sudarium and the bearded image on the Shroud?

I don't know the answers, but I do think that these are good questions. I will keep my eyes open for other articles and pass them along when discovered.

The Internet has opened up new quick avenues for facts, and there is very little we cannot learn about very quickly if we want to do so. Ask something like, “What were the Bab Ballads?", and most of us can whip out our cell phones, lap tops or tablets and look up the Bab Ballads on the World Wide Web in a matter of seconds. The amount of information immediately available about any given subject gives people the illusion that they know more about a particular subject than they actually know. But knowing a few facts is not the same as knowing the subject.  Moreover, the depth of learning that comes from reading articles on the Internet limits understanding.

Think about it: in your field of study – whatever it may be – have you ever conversed with another person who has read a couple of articles on the Internet and acts as if he/she knows as much about your job/field as you do? Of course, you have, and of course, he/she doesn’t. It is less common in fields of the hard sciences or mathematics because people are largely notoriously weak in mathematics and physics. Besides, there is usually only one answer to questions like, “What is the square root of X?” or “What is the formula for calculating the force exerted by Y on Z?” Still, I imagine that even physicists and mathematicians have had to deal with people insisting that they understand physics or math better than the physicist or mathematician. Certainly, doctors report that the access to medical information on the Internet at websites like WebMD (which my office jokingly calls "") has caused people to show up at doctor's offices already convinced of their diagnosis and refusing to accept any other diagnosis.

However, for other areas, religion, psychology, alternative health treatments and politics being chief among them, people regularly feel as if they are super-knowledgeable about a subject with only a few moments of Internet research. Why? In part, because there are multiple possible answers to a question such as “Why are so many people in poverty?” and simplistic answers are readily available on the Internet, e.g., “The poor are being oppressed by those with wealth,” or “the poor are lazy and don’t want to work.” Both of these answers may have some merit to them, but neither is fully correct by itself. Still, because the ill-informed individual was able to find an answer quickly on the Internet they feel as if the answer discovered is final. It is rarely easy to respond to these people because they can usually cite facts they found on the Internet to support their view. Nevertheless, they miss the details that make all the difference between being knowledgeable and being dangerous.  

Living in this information age has led people to believe they know everything (or, at the very least, can become informed on anything in a few quick web searches). Consequently, we begin to believe that we are somehow better than those in the past. But breadth of knowledge is not equivalent to depth of knowledge. Today, thanks to technology, the river of knowledge is wide but it is shallow – very shallow. And a shallow knowledge leads to a faulty knowledge. One can ordinarily find factual support for anything that suits the predilections of the individual doing the searching – in fact, sometimes experts are paid to sway public opinion by posting on familiar websites information that agrees with those visiting that website. An endless loop is created where the website informs the reader of the “truth” and the reader than goes back to that website to get confirmation that what they originally learned is the “truth” – which they always receive.

But knowing facts is not the same as knowing the subject. Information garnered from web searches, even if accurate, remains extremely shallow. As mentioned above, I could ask someone a question about the Bab Ballads. Chances are that the individual will never have heard about the Bab Ballads. So, using today’s amazing access to information, the individual will pull out her tablet, cell phone or computer and look up “Bab Ballads” on the Internet.  Of course, she will find a website or two (certainly Wikipedia will be consulted – even though in some areas it is less reliable than Yahoo! Answers) which will give her a quick description of the Bab Ballads. But reading a description is not the same as reading or hearing the Bab Ballads themselves. It is not the same as recognizing the author of the Bab Ballads or the purpose of the Bab Ballads or fully seeing why the Bab Ballads were unique. It certainly isn’t the same as trying to put yourself in the place of a typical 19th Century Englishman reading or hearing the Bab Ballads. The factual information is there, but there is no depth. In today’s world, we have become more and more familiar with things, but knowing only a few basic facts about something creates a shallow pool of knowledge, indeed.

Moreover, as reported in the Atlantic Monthly's article, "Is Google Making Us Stupid?", not only is the access to quick, easy answers making us less able to comprehend (or at least consider) deeper issues, the way that the Internet presents the issues also tends to make us less thoughtful and insightful. An article on citing this Atlantic Monthly article sums it up nicely:

According to developmental psychologist at Tufts University, Maryanne Wolf, “We are not only what we read. We are how we read.”

“Wolf worries that the style of reading promoted by the Net, a style that puts “efficiency” and “immediacy” above all else, may be weakening our capacity for the kind of deep reading that emerged when an earlier technology, the printing press, made long and complex works of prose commonplace. When we read online, she says, we tend to become “mere decoders of information.” Our ability to interpret text, to make the rich mental connections that form when we read deeply and without distraction, remains largely disengaged. Deep reading, as Maryanne Wolf argues, is indistinguishable from deep thinking.”

Just because we have more information, doesn’t necessarily mean that the information is better. In fact, it could even be argued that information is being dumb-down and infantilized due to our ever-shrinking attention spans. This bombardment of information, according to some psychologists and researchers, could even end up “interfering with our sleep, sabotaging our concentration and undermining our immune systems”.

When the person believes that they already know everything that they need to know about a subject, they become resistant to instruction from those who know more. The attitude becomes one of "been there, done that." They may even become obstinate believing that since they have already read about the subject to their satisfaction on the Internet, efforts by others to give them more and/or better information become interruptions or annoyances. As a person becomes more comfortable that he knows all that is needed to be known about a particular subject, he will begin to dismiss those who are the real practitioners as if they are laboring in fields that he has already harvested. As a result, this person lingers in a faulty view based upon faulty information, and consequently he may come to hold those who actually know better wrongly in contempt because of their hubris. As the old saying goes, “Familiarity breeds contempt.” Contempt, of course, is "the feeling that something is...worthless"; "disdain"; "scorn." Contempt follows for points of views that are not consistent with the simple (and often simplistic) foundational principle from which the individual has formed beliefs.

I believe that those of us who have been reading about, thinking about, and studying the claims of Christianity for many years -- and especially those of us who have argued for the truth of Christianity on the Internet -- will understand this: the ability of people to immediately access snippets of information from the Internet to argue against Christianity is killing true conversation. Many of the shallower objections raised have been answered and soundly, but they continue to persist as if they are brand new because anti-Christian websites never take down articles or arguments that have been proven unfounded. And even when the objections have some measure of merit (I admit that there are several good reasons to doubt Christianity although I believe each of them have been adequately answered), the person posting the objection is usually unwilling or even unable to think past the initial argument. The thought is there, but it is generally not the thoughts of the person actually posting the objection -- they merely mimic or mirror the thoughts of others without truly understanding the underlying premises for the argument.

Don't get me wrong. I am not against information being as available as possible. I would much rather have too much information than too little, but the exhaustive amount of unfiltered information available on the Internet presents new challenges to Christians in spreading the Gospel message. Not only do we need to present the news, we have to overcome objections gleaned from casual surfing of the Internet which aren't even the individual's personally held objections because they are merely borrowing the thoughts of another. How do I know whether an objection is really real or if it is just a convenient roadblock dug up from some anti-Christian website?

The charge of being “superstition” is usually leveled against Christians. A none too typical example can be found in an unimaginatively named blogpost, “Christianity is a Superstition” by an individual blogging under the pseudonym of Chatpilot – another back-sliding Christian who claims to have had a really good grasp of Christianity when he went to his “very fundamentalist, literalist church” until his mind was apparently polluted by the sirens’ call of the Jesus-mythers. Here’s what Chatpilot wrote about Christianity: 
As I stated in my previous post religious beliefs are taught, and not only are they taught they are passed down from generation to generation within a society. What is being taught? The former superstitions of ones ancient ancestors before they even understood what science was and how the world and particularly nature functioned. God was created in the imagination of a primitive mind with limited understanding and resources about the various phenomena of nature.

Wow, that’s pretty condemning. So, if I am to understand that Christianity is a religion filled with gullible people who believe a superstition, it would seem logical that Christians are much more likely to fall into the trap of believing other superstitions and pseudo-sciences than their enlightened atheist/secularist counterparts, eh?  Well, not so fast.

According to an article published by Baylor University entitled “Baylor Survey Finds New Perspectives On U.S. Religious Landscape” the exact opposite is true: the irreligious (which includes atheists and secularists) are more likely to be superstitious than Conservative Christians. The article was not shallow; rather, the authors stated that their mission was to “ask deeper questions than other surveys do.”  To that end, a “total of 1,648 adults chosen randomly from across the country answered more than 350 items in the survey, which was designed by the Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion (ISR) and conducted by the Gallup organization in the fall of 2007” and asked participants questions designed to describe “what they think about God, what is God like and how does that characterization influence other parts of their lives.”  In the section of the article sub-titled “Christianity and Superstition”, the article states: 
The Baylor Survey found that traditional Christian religion greatly decreases credulity, as measured by beliefs in such things as dreams, Bigfoot, UFOs, haunted houses, communicating with the dead and astrology (Ch. 15, "Credulity: Who Believes in Bigfoot"). Still, it remains widely believed that religious people are especially credulous, particularly those who identify themselves as Evangelicals, born again, Bible believers and fundamentalists. However, the ISR researchers found that conservative religious Americans are far less likely to believe in the occult and paranormal than are other Americans, with self-identified theological liberals and the irreligious far more likely than other Americans to believe. The researchers say this shows that it is not religion in general that suppresses such beliefs, but conservative religion. "There's an old saying that a man who no longer believes in God is ready to believe in just about anything, and it turns out our data suggests it's true. That is to say, religious people don't believe this stuff, but there's no education effect," Stark said. Among other interesting findings on paranormal or occult beliefs: People who have read The Purpose-Driven Life or any book in the Left Behind series are less likely to believe in the occult and paranormal, while those who have read any book on dianetics or The Da Vinci Code are more likely to believe. (Emphasis added)

But that’s not all. Astronomy Education Review, in its 2011 issue, published an article entitled “Astrology Beliefs among UndergraduateStudents” which showed something rather interesting. 
A survey of the science knowledge and attitudes toward science of nearly 10000 undergraduates at a large public university over a 20-year period included several questions addressing student beliefs in astrology and other forms of pseudoscience. The results from our data reveal that a large majority of students (78%) considered astrology “very” or “sort of” scientific. Only 52% of science majors said that astrology is “not at all” scientific.

So turning the numbers around, 48% of science majors believe that astrology is at least somewhat scientific! That should be shocking to some.

Another study published by the Journal of Undergraduate Research in 2004 entitled “Religiosity, Locus of Control, and Superstitious Belief” further noted a lack of correlation between religiosity (as it is termed) and superstition. The abstract notes, “This study examines two possible correlates of superstition: religiosity and locus of control. ANOVA suggest that levels of religiosity do not have a significant relationship with levels of superstitious or paranormal beliefs.”  (The author of the study could not believe her own findings, so she had to add language suggesting reasons that her findings did not find a strong correlation in the Discussion area when they obviously should have. C’est la vie. Such a response is what many Christians have come to expect from secular-minded scientists: stick with the negative hypothesis about Christians, Christianity or Christian beliefs despite the evidence.)  

And this is not contrary to our experiences. Where do you find people who believe in pyramid power? Where is astrology in vogue? Where do people practice transcendental medication? Where do you find your books believing in Bigfoot, zodiac signs and Ouija Boards? In the church? No, usually in the up-scale neighborhoods of cities populated by the self-pronounced "smarter-than-Christians" elitists. 

So, what’s the explanation? Why is it that Christians (specifically, conservative Christians) seem less amenable to falling prey to superstitious ideas than the irreligious? There are several possibilities.

One is that Christians already believe in one big superstition, so there is no reason to believe in any other. As one commenter on the Yahoo! Answers page writes, “All this is saying is that believing one form of exclusive superstition makes one less likely to believe in other forms of superstition.” Really? This might make sense with belief in some types of superstitions or pseudo-scientific beliefs like tarot cards or witchcraft, but all? Nothing in Christianity says that a Christian cannot believe in Bigfoot or UFOs. In fact, since Christians believe in the afterlife, it would seem as if it would be more likely that Christians would believe in communicating with the dead or haunted houses. At least some people have suggested that the Star of Bethlehem was a astrological event that brought the wise men (astrologers) from the East. Wouldn’t that make it more likely that Christians would believe in astrology? The Biblical Joseph’s ability to interpret dreams was what got him out of prison, so why don't Christians believe in dream-interpretation the way that non-Christians do? Consequently, this seems like a rather shallow answer.

A second more compelling answer relates to the loss of a foundation of science. Consider this: science was originally birthed in the Christian western world – not the world of Asia or Africa or the Americas. And while there were some experimentation by the ancient Greeks, it never resulted in a real scientific revolution. Why not? The answer is partially because it is the Christian world view that gives rise to science because it provides a basis for believing that science tells us something real. If God created the universe as stated in the Book of Genesis, then the universe is not a dream, nor is it evil. Moreover, in studying the universe, people have a right to believe that their senses are telling them something and that the universe makes sense because it comes from a rational mind.

For secularists and atheists, there is no reason to believe that the universe is rational. In fact, while science depends for its “truth” upon the principle that the laws of nature are the only immutable thing, the scientists know that we not only have no proof that such underlying assumption is true. But we also have no reason to believe that our minds, which are themselves the product of an irrational universe, are truly reasoning rationally. Moreover, the very principles that we have set up are forever being overturned by new scientific worldviews. The Copernican model of the universe was overturned by the Galileo's model of the universe which, in turn, was up-ended by the relativistic universe of Einstein. Now, there is even news reports that the speed of light may not be constant – a potentially troubling concept for the Relativistic view of the Universe.

In a universe with no real ability to know things, why not believe in dreams, pyramid power, haunted houses and astrology?  After all, just because these things are thought to be ridiculous by today’s scientists is irrelevant since they really can’t know the truth anyway. The Astronomy Education Review provides support fot this view. One of the questions that the participants were asked for agreement or disagreement was that “there are phenomena that physical science and the laws of nature cannot explain.” 81% of the participants either agreed with this statement or strongly agreed with this statement. 81%! That's huge. (Incidentally, I agree with the statement, too.) For those who are irreligious and for whom (we are told) rationalism and science are the only tests of truth, this seems to be a resounding negation of the trust in science.

This failure to believe that science can tell us everything about the universe is behind my final basis for understanding this rise in superstition and pseudo-science, and it is nothing new. The venerable G.K. Chesterton noted this reason at least as early as 1926 in his book, The Everlasting Man. In that book, Chesterton made the following observation: 
Superstition recurs in all ages, and especially in rationalistic ages. I remember defending the religious tradition against a whole luncheon table of distinguished agnostics; and before the end of our conversation every one of them had procured from his pocket or exhibited on his watch chain some charm or talisman from which he admitted that he was never separated. I was the only person present who had neglected to provide himself with a fetish. Superstition recurs in a rationalist age because it rests on something which, if not identical with rationalism, is not unconnected with skepticism. It is at least very closely connected with agnosticism. It rests on something that is really a very human and intelligible sentiment, like the local invocations of the numen in popular paganism. But it is an agnostic sentiment, for it rests on two feelings: first that we do not really know the laws of the universe; and second that they may be very different to all that we call reason. Such men realize the real truth that enormous things do often turn upon tiny things. When a whisper comes, from tradition or what not, that one particular tiny thing is the key or clue, something deep and not altogether senseless in human nature tells them that it is not unlikely. (Everlasting Man, Part 1, Section 6)

In other words, as men allegedly become more rationalistic, it is at the expense to a very large part of the human psyche. Rationalists necessarily argue that these deep, ingrained feelings that people have are irrational and therefore should be ignored. But we can’t ignore them. It is part of who we are. We were (pardon the expression) made that way. We instinctively recognize that there is more to life than can be measured with a yardstick or expressed in mathematics.  There is a truth that is outside of the bounds of science – a truth which science cannot touch nor understand. And if we suppress that truth by trying to suppress Christianity then people will necessarily express it by other means. Rabbit’s feet, pyramid power, transcendental meditation, New Age philosophy, the occult, etc. etc. These are all examples of man reaching out to express what she already knows to be truth, but which the rational mind supposedly denies.

Those trying to stamp out the supernatural and Christianity will never succeed in stamping out the innate feeling and part of humanity that knows there is more out there than our microscopes, telescopes and scientific method can ever hope to explain. To paraphrase the words of the singer-songwriter Donovan, they may as well try and catch the wind. But Christians already have an answer for that ingrained understanding of the universe -- and that understanding is that God created the universe, cares for the universe, and saved the universe through Jesus Christ. That, my friend, ends any need for talismans.

Allow me some reflections today, on a connection to Passover which isn't always appreciated.

On the first Passover, the Hebrews (the dusty ones) were instructed to escape the destroyer sent by God (leaving aside whether the destroyer was or wasn't God Himself in action), by painting the blood of a slain lamb around their doors.

On the last Passover (or the greatest Passover so far anyway, since we still celebrate it every year in remembrance as though we are participating in the event ourselves at that time), the One Who authoritatively sent the destroyer (or Who possibly even was acting as the destroyer Himself), voluntarily dies in a way the lambs had been symbolizing for centuries (as well as fulfilling other Jewish sacrificial prefigurations).

The Lamb of God dies in solidarity with the lambs.

But not only in solidarity with the lambs.

The Only-Begotten of God dies in solidarity with the firstborn sons of man (and beasts) who were destroyed by the destroyer on that first Passover night.

The Judge Himself voluntarily dies with those who have died so that others may be spared the judgment; and voluntarily dies with those who died in result of His judgment.

That in itself is astonishing enough: so much so that it is unique as a claim in the history of religions, despite all attempts at teasing out supposed parallels (typically later than the idea!) to explain the emergence of the idea.

But it is so astonishing that even the people who are supposed to be representatives of the Judge today, Christians all over the world, usually overlook the connections.

And those connections go even farther. For all the unjust are called to return to justice by cooperating with the Judge in dying with and for the sake of everyone -- including with those who are slain by the Judge.

For as St. Paul says in Romans 6, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with the likeness of His death certainly we shall also be of His resurrection.”

Those who die with Christ, Paul goes on to say, crucify their old selves with Him so that our body of sin may be made powerless and so we may no longer be slaves to sin, for he who has died is acquitted by the judge from sin. “And if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is no longer dying: death no longer is master over Him, for the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God.”

Yet Christ dies for all, and with all! -- not only with the victims of injustice, and not only with those who die for the sake of saving the unjust and bringing them to justice, but also Christ dies with the unjust, the Judge Himself “being reckoned with the transgressors” (as Paul puts it elsewhere in 1 Corinthians.) No one can come to die with Christ except those for whom and with whom He first dies.

That means, at the very least, the Judge Himself, having died with the first-born sons of Egypt, shall someday, sooner or later (perhaps even already), save and free them from their sins, to live the life the Judge Himself lives, together with the Judge, and in honor of the Father Who gives all judgment to the Son so that all may come to honor the Son and the Father both together (and the Holy Spirit, too): even those of “the all” given to the Son by the Father who are raised by the Son into a resurrection of judgment instead of life.

As Jesus explains by report in GosJohn 5:21 and afterward, “Just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom He wishes. For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son, so that all will honor the Son even as they honor the Father.”

Does Jesus mean a false honoring with the lips and not with the heart? No; the Son does not give false honor to the Father, and would not give those who falsely honor the Father to the Father. “He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father Who sent Him.”

What of those who come to honor the Son and the Father? Those who do so come out of death into eonian life, God’s own life that He shares with His creatures even though they are not God and, unlike the Son, do not have this life in themselves. Those who do not yet honor the Father and the Son are raised to a resurrection of judgment, but by Christ’s explicit terms a judgment that did not result in those being judged coming to honor the Father would be failure by the Son; and if the Son did not intend them to come to honor the Father, that would be an unjust judgment by the Son! For the Son (as Jesus goes on to say in that fifth chapter) does nothing for Himself and brings those who do not yet honor Him to honor Him only so that the Father may be honored.

Does the one who honors the Son hear the word of the Son and so come to believe in the Father Who sends the Son, come into sharing the gift of eonian life from the Son? Of course! Thus the goal of the Judge’s judgment, being that all may honor the Father and the Son, results in those coming out of death into eonian life. And so Jesus promises, in this context, with the double Amen: an hour is coming when the dead ones shall hear the voice of the Son, and those who hear shall live! -- both those who already honor the Father and Son, and so who do the good things, and also those who have done the bad things and so who are raised to a resurrection of judgment. The goal of that judgment remains: so that all, including those being judged in the coming resurrection, may honor the Son and the Father and so pass out of the death into eonian life.

In a later incident, reported in John 6 where Jesus is disputing with His religious opponents again, He states that those who are given to the Son by the Father are saved by being dragged to Him -- and not even one person can come toward the Son if the Father Who sends the Son doesn’t “drag” Him. Relatedly, all that the Father gives to the Son shall come to Him, sooner or later, and shall not be cast out; nor shall the Son lose any of “the all” who have been given to Him by the Father: but that includes all those given to Him by the Father to be judged! Jesus even connects this raising (reported at verse 45 of that chapter) to the prophecy from Jeremiah 31:34 that all people from the least to the greatest shall come to YHWH to be taught by YHWH. Even those who are unjust? Yes! -- “for I will forgive their injustice, and their sin I will remember no more.” So Jesus isn’t talking about raising people who will never be given to Him, but about raising people who have not come to Him yet: but they will, and will be saved.

Again, reported a day before the death of Jesus on that final Passover, in GosJohn 12: when Christ drags all persons to Him by being “lifted up” (whether on the cross or beyond the cross, but not apart from the cross), that definitely involves a judgment of the world. Yet the Son, as Jesus says at the conclusion of His final public evangelism before His death (vv.47-50 of chapter 12), is not sent by the Father to judge the world, even down to the one who doesn’t maintain His declarations (which Jesus was also just complaining about His religious opponents, who ought to have been serving Him instead), but instead to save the world. And yet the Father does send the Son to judge the world! The “precept” given to the Son by the Father to be saying and speaking, the word which shall be judging those who reject the Son on the final day, is itself eonian life. But Jesus has also just said that He doesn't give this judgment to be judging the world but rather to save the world!

In other words, the judgment of the last day will itself be the gift of eonian life by the Son, and not with the intention of hopelessly judging the world but to save the world: to bring all persons to truly, not falsely, honor the Son and the Father together.

It is true that those being judged by the Judge Himself may still continue rejecting eonian life for a while. But every saved sinner was already rejecting the eonian life which God was insisting on giving to them, so it is not a case of God 'respecting' their choice to be finally unrighteous (as though He Who Is Essential Righteousness could ever be feasibly said to respect any choice of unrighteousness per se!) or He wouldn't be acting to save any sinner at all! But whoever is saved by the Son was and will be dragged by the Son toward Himself by being raised out from the earth. That isn't a passive offer by God which someone might refuse without God's active and continuing pursuit, and Jesus says the scope of the action is all not only some.

The judgment itself is eonian life, which God has been, and is, and shall be pressing those who don't yet have it to accept -- and whom God is dragging to accept. However long they refuse to accept it, their refusal doesn't prevent God from goading them to accept it until He gets it done. How hard it may be for them (or any of us) to kick against the goads, as Saul of Tarsus once did! -- but God accomplished His goading of Saint Paul, and God means to accomplish this goading, too.

Thus later that night before His Passover sacrificial death, Jesus starts His final prayer together with His apostles and disciples (minus Judas Iscariot, already off to betray his friend and teacher and king and lord), as reported in John 17:1-2: "Glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You; just as You gave Him authority over every flesh, so that He may give eonian life to everything You have given Him."

By those explicit terms, the only way that the Son and the Father may glorify each other is if the Father gives all authority to the Son so that the Son may give eonian life to everything over which He has authority.

That's the context in which Jesus soon afterward says He isn't praying for the world but for His immediate disciples: He's asking that they should be preserved as witnesses to the world, including about this, that the Father gives all authority to the Son so that the Son may give eonian life to everything over which He has authority. Similarly, as Jesus says here (and elsewhere before here), everything the Father gives the Son belongs to both Persons and must not, shall not, be finally lost.

By the same token, this means that although the "son of perdition" given to the Son to be guarded will perish, so that the Scripture may be fulfilled, Judas still was also given to the Son and so shall not be finally lost; Judas Iscariot isn't among those whom Christ is praying will stay true for evangelizing the world, but he is among all those over whom the Son has been given authority for the purpose of giving them eonian life.

Today we celebrate the resurrection of the Judge Himself “out from among the dead ones”, as the scriptures often put it (in Greek, a little obscured by English translations usually). As St. Paul says in his epistle to the Ephesians, beginning in chapter 1, the secret of God’s will, in accord with God’s delight which He purposed in Him (the Father in the Son), is to “head up the all in the Christ”, i.e. to bring all things into the federal headship of Christ, “both that in the heavens and that on the earth” as the fulfillment of the ages -- the same Christ “in Whom our lot was also cast”. God operates all things in accord with the counsel {boulê} of His will {thelmô}: a will which up until the days of Christ had remained an obscure secret but which Paul now prays (in verse 18) that his Christian readers will be enlightened about, in the eyes of their heart, so that we will know what the hope of God's calling is: the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. This secret will to bring all rebels against God into loyalty, Paul goes on to say is not only in accord with God’s delight, but also in accord with the working of the strength of His might which He brought about in Christ when He (the Father) raised Him out of the dead ones to be seated in the right-hand of God, as the living power of God in other words.

This, Paul goes on to say (verses 22-23) is why the Father under-sets all {panta hypetaxen} beneath the feet of Christ and gives Christ to the out-called (probably meaning the church here) as head over all {kephalên huper panta}. Headship always implies (later if not sooner!) a proper coherent relationship to those under the head, and the relationship in this case is not merely to the ecclesia but to {panta}, all. It is as the head of all that Christ, Who (very emphatically) fills complete the completion of the all in all (verse 23), is given to the Church (over which Christ is also head of course) by the Father.

And who does Paul go on to say is also included under this headship that shall complete the completion of the all in all? Every {archês} and {exousias} and {dunameôs} and {kuriotêtos} (every original leader and authority and power and lordship) and every name that is named not only in this age but in the age to come -- using terms typically recognized in Pauline language as referring to rebel spirits (human or otherwise).

Since they are still rebelling and so are not yet under the headship of Christ in proper subjection to Him, much less completed to the emphatic extent of completion by Christ, such promises would be an example of assurance by prophetic promise: the fulfillment is as certain as if it was already fulfilled. And not incidentally, Paul's point here is to reassure the Christians in Ephesus and teach them to understand (what they had apparently not understood yet but which would be revealed to them eventually) the total extent of the hope of God's calling, the total extent of the glory of His inheritance to the saints, and the total extent of the surpassing greatness of His power into us {eis hêmas} the ones who believe in accord with the energy of the might of the strength of Him!

Just as the Father had the strength to raise Christ out of the dead ones, so He shall have the strength to do all those other things, too. But those other things explicitly include bringing the rebel powers under the headship of the Son so that God may fully complete them, too.

Paul prays back in verse 1:17 that "the Father of the glory" may be giving Christians a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the realization of Him, enlightening the eyes of our hearts, into our perception of what we should expectantly hope about this calling. One way or another this would involve the Holy Spirit also leading Christians (sooner or later) to perceive both the utter extent of this evangelical expectation and its utter assurance of salvific victory!

(Admittedly, so far in Christian history most Christians tend to perceive one or the other assurance but not both; yet either side regularly recognizes that whichever assurance they perceive does come to them thanks to the operation of the Holy Spirit.)

Consequently, we who have been already saved have no right to boast about special privileges or merit. For (as Paul goes on to say at the beginning of chapter 2) we were also dead in our rebellions and sins, in which we also once walked according to the current age of the world, in accord with the prince of the power of the air, the rebel spirit now working in the sons of disobedience. We were ourselves by nature the children of wrath, too. But God, being rich in mercy because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we also were dead in our sins, made us alive together with Christ, saving us by His grace, and raising us up with Him to be seated with Him and in Him in the heavenly places -- so that in the ages to come He may use us as an example of the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus!

If us, who are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, who once were sons of disobedience and wrath, then also for anyone else who is without God in the world and who currently has no hope: no hope except for the grace of God, the Judge Who dies with us that we may live with Him together!

For we also were once far off and have been brought near by the blood of Christ on the cross, Who on the cross establishes peace between us, reconciling us to each other and to God through the cross. As it is written (in Isaiah 57, quoted by Paul in Ephesians 2), God punishes rebels even to death in order to lead them to repentance and salvation from sin, promising that He will surely succeed at this, thus comforting both the doers of evil who were punished by God to death, and the good people who are mourning over those who have sinned. The result is "Peace, peace, to those who are far and to those who are near", Gentiles and Jews becoming one people through the Messiah -- even though naturally, until those who insist on remaining wicked repent they can have no peace.

It is true that God is angry with sinners because of their injustice, and that after striking them and turning away His face they still continue turning away in their hearts (Isaiah 57:17), and God does see this: but even so God says through Isaiah He will heal such a sinner and lead him and restore comfort to him and to his mourners (those who weep because God has slain the sinner), leading the penitent sinner to praise Him instead. It is true that there is no peace for the impenitent wicked, who toss like a sea bringing up refuse and mud; but there will be peace when God finally leads them to be unjust no longer, reviving the hearts (v.15) of those whom God has made contrite or pulverized.

“For I will not contend forever,” God says through Isaiah in that chapter, “neither will I always be angry, for the spirit would grow faint before Me and the breath I have made.”

So let us have hope in God for those who have died: for the Judge Himself, the Only-begotten Son, voluntarily died on the cross, and rose to life again (as we celebrate this weekend and today): not only with and for the sake of victims of injustice, but with and for the sake of all who are doers of injustice!

And let us serve God in one of the purposes of the Church (as St. Paul says later in chapter 3 of that epistles to the Ephesians -- whom God later warned had set aside their first or primary love and so would be punished themselves unless they returned to that primary love, despite caring so much for truth that they would even test apostles),

in cooperation with the purpose of the ages which God the creator of all things brought about in Christ Jesus our Lord,

by making known the inimitable riches of Christ and the manifold wisdom of God,

not only to the Gentiles (as well as the Jews), but even "to the rulers and authorities in the heavens"! -- against whom we war as rulers of this present darkness.

For since the goal of making the inimitable riches of Christ known to Gentiles is to seek their salvation from sin, calling them to loyalty with the one and only God Most High, so the goal would be the same when making this known to the rulers and authorities in the heavens.

If they can, and by God’s intention shall, be saved, so will the firstborn sons of Egypt, slain long ago on the first Passover, be saved:

by the Judge Who died with them, and rose again from among them,

on that last and greatest Passover

we celebrate today!

Jason Pratt
Easter Sermon 2015

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