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The Resurrection – Fact or Fiction?

Proof of the resurrection.
Lesson 56 from The HOPE Study Guide

INTRODUCTION

…as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the grave. And behold, a severe earthquake had occurred, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it. And his appearance was like lightning, and his garment as white as snow; and the guards shook for fear of him, and became like dead men. And the angel answered and said to the women, “Do not be afraid; for I know that you are looking for Jesus who has been crucified. He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said.”

– Matthew 28:1–6

On the morning of the third day after Jesus had been crucified, a group of women went to visit the tomb. They were not the first. Earlier that morning, an angel of God descended from heaven. The soldiers guarding the tomb were struck with fear, and the angel moved the stone that sealed the entrance. The tomb was empty! Just as He promised, Jesus had risen from the dead!

…Over the next forty days, Jesus physically appeared to many people. With some He walked and talked. With others He shared a meal. In one instance, He appeared before more than five hundred people.

– The HOPE, Chapter 11

OBSERVE & CONSIDER

How important is the historical fact of the resurrection of Jesus? The Apostle Paul wrote that if Jesus has not been raised from the dead, then our faith is worthless! (1 Corinthians 15:17). In upcoming lessons we gain a deeper appreciation of Paul’s powerful statement as we consider the significance of the resurrection. But let’s start by examining the overwhelming evidence that the resurrection of Jesus actually occurred, and that it was not just a fabrication or a myth as some skeptics claim.

Volumes have been written on this subject, but for the purpose of our study, we will consider four areas of evidence:

  • The Empty Tomb – Jesus had said publicly that He would rise from the dead. Knowing this, the Hebrew religious leaders feared that someone might try to steal His body and then start a resurrection rumor. So they convinced the governor to post soldiers at the grave site and to place an official seal on the tomb (Matthew 27:62-66). The governor’s soldiers were highly motivated to guard the tomb, for they knew that if they failed to obey orders the punishment could be death. Breaking a government seal was also punishable by death – and yet the tomb was empty!
  • The Eye Witnesses – The Bible records numerous encounters that various people (including His inner circle of disciples who knew Him better than most) had with the resurrected Jesus (Matthew 28:9-10,Matthew 16:20; Mark 16:12-18; Luke 24:13-43; John 20:14-18, John 26:29; John 21:15-23). On one occasion Jesus appeared to a group of 500 people at once (1 Corinthians 15:6).
  • The Response of the Disciples – Even in light of the empty tomb and eyewitnesses, some argue that the account of Jesus’ resurrection was a carefully designed conspiracy. But that argument loses its strength when you consider the passionately committed lives of His disciples after the resurrection. Many of those who followed Jesus, including all but one of His twelve disciples, were martyred for their steadfast belief in Him. More than any others, these men would have known if the resurrection was a hoax. Yet they were boiled in oil, sawed in half, crucified upside down, thrown to lions and speared to death. Some men are willing to die for what they believe is true, but only a madman or a fool would die for what he knew was a lie.
  • The Testimony of Experts – In a court of law, experts are often called upon to evaluate evidence. Throughout time countless scholars have weighed in on the evidence for the resurrection and concluded it to be a fact of history. As stated above, volumes have been written on this subject. As an example, consider the following quote from Thomas Arnold, Royal Professor of Modern History at Oxford and author of the book, History of Rome: “I have been used for many years to study the histories of other times, and to examine and weigh the evidence of those who have written about them, and I know of no one fact in the history of mankind which is proved by better and fuller evidence of every sort, to the understanding of a fair inquirer, than the great sign which God hath given us that Christ died and rose again from the dead.”

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God’s Love and Justice Intersect

At the cross His justice was satisfied and His love fulfilled.
Lesson 54 from The HOPE Study Guide

INTRODUCTION

After nailing Jesus to the wood, they lifted Him up to die. Over Him they placed a sign indicating that on this cross hangs the King of the Hebrew people. The religious leaders objected, but the soldiers followed the governor’s orders. The sign remained. Some reviled Him …others mourned. Yet through it all Jesus did not say a harsh word. Instead, speaking to His Father in Heaven He said, “Forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” For three hours darkness fell over the land. It seemed so senseless. And yet it made perfect sense.

God is righteous and just and pure. He could not accept the evil that entered the world through Satan. Nor could He accept the evil that entered humankind through Adam, for to do so would be to violate His character, and corrupt His nature.

But God is also love. He created people to love them and to be loved by them. For God to judge people for the evil in them would be to destroy the very objects of His love.

This was a dilemma of divine proportions. But according to His story, this moment had been planned before creation, and predicted throughout the ages.

At the cross Jesus took our sin upon Himself. He paid the penalty for our sin. He became our substitute. At the cross God’s justice was satisfied, and His love fulfilled.

– The HOPE, Chapter 10

OBSERVE & CONSIDER

Millions of people around the world wear crosses as jewelry. But in reality, the cross is an instrument of death, not an ornament.1 After being “tried” by the Hebrew religious leaders, the governor, and a Hebrew king named Herod…after being beaten to near death…after being rejected by a frenzied crowd…Jesus was then sent out to a place called Golgotha (the Place of the Skull) to die on a cross.

While the events surrounding the cross of Jesus are described in the final chapters of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, no amount of words can fully describe or capture the meaning of that cross and what Jesus accomplished on it. What He did was horrible and yet beautiful, obscene and yet holy, common and yet magnificent, simple and yet brilliant.

If you have not already done so, read carefully the excerpt above from The HOPE. Consider the phrase “a dilemma of divine proportions.” The dictionary defines a dilemma as a situation that requires a choice between options that seem mutually exclusive; a problem that seems to defy a solution. If you could pull back the facade of visible forces that appear to rule our world, (namely the power of people and the power of nature), you would find two invisible forces behind it all, shaping the course of history as we observe it. The first is God’s love for people, and the second is His righteous responsibility to judge them. These two great forces seem to be irreconcilable to each other – “a dilemma of divine proportions.” Yet at the cross of Jesus these two great forces were forever reconciled! Continue reading


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What Is Truth?

Don’t be sidetracked. The truth is a person… Jesus.
Lesson 53 from The HOPE Study Guide

INTRODUCTION

Pilate therefore entered again into the Praetorium, and summoned Jesus, and said to Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?”… Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting, that I might not be delivered up to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.” Pilate therefore said to Him, “So You are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” Pilate said to Him, “What is truth?”

And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews, and said to them, “I find no guilt in Him. But you have a custom, that I should release someone for you at the Passover; do you wish then that I release for you the King of the Jews?” Therefore they cried out again, saying, “Not this Man, but Barabbas.” Now Barabbas was a robber. Then Pilate therefore took Jesus, and scourged Him.

– John 18:33–19:1

Now Jesus had spoken often of the Kingdom of God. So the governor asked Him, “Are you a King?” Jesus said that His Kingdom “is not of this world.” The governor said to the religious leaders, “This man has done nothing deserving of death.” But the religious leaders continued to seek the death of Jesus, claiming He was a threat to the people and the governor. Jesus did not defend Himself. The governor was amazed.

– The HOPE, Chapter 10

OBSERVE & CONSIDER

Entire books have been written on the events that took place during the last week of Jesus’ earthly ministry. Because The HOPE is a summary overview of the Bible, it cannot deal with all of the events of the Bible, and certainly not with each one in detail. This lesson will focus primarily on just one detail in one of these events.

After celebrating the Passover meal, Jesus and His disciples went to a garden. There Jesus was seized and taken before the Hebrew religious leaders. They questioned Jesus and found Him guilty of claiming to be the Son of God. He was then sent to the foreign governor (Pilate) who ruled over the land of the Hebrews. The Hebrew religious leaders reasoned that if Jesus asserted before Pilate His claim to be a king (or any other kind of “ruler”), then the governor would be forced to deal harshly with Jesus, perhaps even putting Him to death. This is where our present lesson begins.

Pilate asks Jesus if He is a king. Jesus answers that His Kingdom is not of this realm. Jesus then says that He has “come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” At this point we can only speculate what the governor is thinking. Both Matthew 27:14 and Mark 15:5 tell us that the governor is “amazed” at Jesus. Even though Pilate may not understand exactly who Jesus is, he knows that Jesus is someone of a very exceptional nature. The governor then asks Jesus, “What is truth?” Continue reading


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Liar, Lunatic, Lord – “Who Do You Say that I Am?”

Why Jesus left us no other choice.
Lesson 50 from The HOPE Study Guide

INTRODUCTION

He began asking His disciples, saying, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” And Simon Peter answered and said, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.”

– Matthew 16:13–17

OBSERVE & CONSIDER

The people of Jesus’ day had varied opinions about who He was. Not much has changed in our day. If you asked a number of people on the street who Jesus is, you’d probably get a number of different answers. Some might say, as Peter did in the verse above, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. But others would likely identify Him merely as a great teacher or a prophet, or perhaps a man who performed miracles.

The question Jesus asked Peter, “Who do you say that I am?” is the most important question a person will ever answer. Having considered the ministry and the claims of Jesus over the past several lessons, the time has come for us to deal with this question.

Some may argue otherwise, but Jesus did not leave us the option to say that He is merely a great teacher, or a prophet, or a man who performed miracles. The reason we do not have this option is summed up in an argument that was first made by C.S. Lewis,1 and later by Josh McDowell.2 This argument insists there are only three possible answers to the question “Who was Jesus?”

Jesus claimed to be God. Some deny that He really made this claim, but that is in fact the reason the religious leaders wanted Him dead. Jesus was clear about His claim and that claim leads to only one of three possibilities:

  1. Jesus sincerely believed that He was the Son of God, but He was Himself deceived, so much so that He was willing to die because of it. This would put Jesus in the category of a lunatic.
  2. Jesus knew that He was not the Son of God, but He was willing to lie about it. This would not only make Him a liar, it would make Him a very evil man because He was intentionally misleading people, many of whom would suffer and die because they believed Him.
  3. Jesus was who He claimed to be: the Son of the Living God.

 

Jesus left us no other options. We cannot call Him just a good man, because a good man would not mislead people by saying that He was something He was not. We cannot call Him just a good teacher, because a good teacher would not teach something that was untrue. And if Jesus was deceiving people, either intentionally, or because He was Himself deceived, then we cannot conclude that His power to perform miracles was from God. It would be more reasonable to assume that the power had come from Satan.

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Seeking the Blessing, but not the Blesser

Even today people seek the blessing over the Blesser.
Lesson 48 from The HOPE Study Guide

INTRODUCTION

Then the eyes of the blind will be opened, and the ears of the deaf will be unstopped. Then the lame will leap like a deer, and the tongue of the dumb will shout for joy.

– Isaiah 35:5–6

And Jesus withdrew to the sea with His disciples; and a great multitude from Galilee followed; and also from Judea, and from Jerusalem, and from Idumea, and beyond the Jordan, and the vicinity of Tyre and Sidon, a great multitude heard of all that He was doing and came to Him. And He told His disciples that a boat should stand ready for Him because of the multitude, in order that they might not crowd Him; for He had healed many, with the result that all those who had afflictions pressed about Him in order to touch Him.

– Mark 3:7–10

News of Jesus spread quickly throughout the land. Hundreds of years earlier, a Hebrew prophet wrote that with the coming of God’s promised Deliverer, the blind would see, the deaf would hear, the lame would leap like a deer, those who could not speak would shout for joy, and good news would be proclaimed! Some, whose hope was set on God’s promised Deliverer, were asking, “Is Jesus the One?” Many were not as concerned with who He was as with what He could do for them.

– The HOPE, Chapter 9

OBSERVE & CONSIDER

As Jesus traveled about the land teaching and doing miracles, the word about Him quickly spread. From Mark 3:7-10 we read that a great multitude from many different regions had heard what Jesus was doing and came to Him. But after further consideration of this verse, notice what is revealed about their motives.

They wanted something from Him. They came for healing, but Jesus wanted to teach them who He was. He did heal many, as the verse reads, but Jesus was not primarily interested in healing physical ailments. According to Bible teacher Ray Stedman, “He had a greater mission – to teach and preach the Word to them so as to heal the hurt of the heart and the spirit.”1 The crowd was making this very difficult because of their focus upon the physical. This is still happening today, as crowds clamor for the power, but not the person of Jesus. Anticipating this would happen, Jesus instructed His disciples to prepare for Him a way of escape. When the people pressed in to touch Him, making it impossible for Him to continue teaching, He would withdraw by boat. In Matthew 13:1-5, Mark 4:1 and Luke 5:3, we read that Jesus actually taught from a boat.

Notice what is actually taking place in this story. The people wanted something from Jesus: their physical healing. It wasn’t wrong for them to seek physical healing, but they made it such a priority, pressing in on Jesus, that they ultimately failed to get what they were after. They sought after the blessing more than the Blesser. Continue reading


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The Temptation of Jesus

The difference between a test and a temptation.
Lesson 45 from The HOPE Study Guide

INTRODUCTION

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.

— Matthew 4:1

And when the devil had finished every temptation, he departed from Him until an opportune time.

— Luke 4:13

Jesus then departed to the wilderness to be tempted by Satan. But Jesus would resist and Satan would flee. This wilderness encounter was a test. And just as a precious metal is tested to prove its nature, this test was further proof that Jesus was indeed the Son of the God come to earth to do the will of His Father. After resisting Satan, Jesus came out of the wilderness in the power of the Spirit.

— The HOPE, Chapter 8

OBSERVE & CONSIDER

After Jesus was baptized, He was then led by the Spirit (of God) into the wilderness to be tempted. This temptation is described in Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 1:12-13, and Luke 4:1-2. Notice that the Matthew 4:1 passage says the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted, but it does not say that the Spirit tempted Jesus. That is an important distinction because the Bible also says in James 1:13 that, “God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.” Satan (who is called the tempter in Matthew 4:3 and 1 Thessalonians 3:5) is the one who does the tempting.

Based upon the James 1:13 passage, notice also that it was futile for Satan to tempt Jesus, for “God cannot be tempted.” In the end, the temptation of Jesus served only to further the purposes of God. It was all part of His plan. This will become even more evident as we consider the word “tempt.”

“Tempt” (or tempted) comes from the Greek word “peirazo,” which is actually a legal term meaning “to make proof of.”1 In light of this root definition, we could say that Satan was tempting Jesus in order to prove that He was no different than any other man that had ever lived; that He was just like Adam and that He would fold under pressure. Ultimately, the same way that a prosecuting attorney seeks to disqualify the testimony of a defendant, Satan wanted to disqualify Jesus as the Deliverer who would free mankind from Satan, sin, and death. Continue reading


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How Could Jesus Be Born Without Sin?

How sin is transmitted
Lesson 42 from The HOPE Study Guide

INTRODUCTION

…just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned…

— Romans 5:12

And I will put enmity between you and the woman, And between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise him on the heel.

— Genesis 3:15

God’s plan was unfolding. But who could have ever imagined it would happen like this? From the ancient promises of God, one might have considered that to overcome sin, the Deliverer would be without sin, just as God is without sin. But who would have expected that the Deliverer, promised by God throughout the ages, would be God Himself in human form?

— The HOPE, Chapter 8

And through Adam, sin would be passed down from generation to generation, infecting all humankind to this very day.

— The HOPE, Chapter 3

OBSERVE & CONSIDER

In the previous lesson we said that we would revisit the issue of a holy God putting on flesh. How could a sinless God enter this sin infected world as a human and yet remain sinless? First, let’s deal with why this is important, and then we’ll deal with how it is possible.

As we see from the Chapter 8 HOPE excerpt above, in order for the Deliverer to free mankind from sin, He would need to be sinless Himself. This line from The HOPE summarizes the truth of a key theological doctrine. The Deliverer had to fulfill the Law in order to be the mediator and reconciler between God and man. In order to fulfill the Law, He had to be without sin.

Many verses in the Bible state that the Deliverer was without sin (Hebrews 4:15, 2 Corinthians 5:21, 1 Peter 2:22, 1 John 3:5). But how is this possible? Repeatedly in our study of The HOPE we have read about the sin that has infected all mankind (see Chapter 3, Lesson 18). And from Romans 5:12 above we read that “just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned.” How then could the Deliverer be born of a human and not be infected with sin? Let’s consider two possibilities.

First, we must acknowledge that if God can do whatever He pleases, then He could certainly have miraculously protected Jesus from being polluted by sin while He was inside Mary’s womb.1

Second, we must consider carefully Romans 5:12. Notice that the verse says that “through one man sin entered the world” and so death spread to “all men.” The verse does not say through “one man and one woman” sin entered the world. Sin entered the world through Adam, not through Eve. It was Adam, not Eve, who passed sin on to their descendants.2 Perhaps this is why in Genesis 3:15, God promises that the One who will bruise (literally “crush”) Satan on the head will be One who comes from the seed of woman, not from the seed of man. Continue reading


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God of the Unexpected

The birth of Jesus.
Lesson 41 from The HOPE Study Guide

INTRODUCTION

And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb, and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus.”

– Luke 1:30–31

And she gave birth to her first–born son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

– Luke 2:7

After thousands of years of watching and waiting, it finally happened. One night in the city of Nazareth, a young woman named Mary had an unexpected visitor. An angel from God told her she would bear a son, and that she was to name Him Jesus, which means, “The Lord is our deliverance.”

…But Bethlehem was very crowded and there was no bed for Mary. So they found shelter in a stable. And so it came to pass that the Promised Deliverer, the Son of God, came into the world as an infant born in the most humble of settings.

– The HOPE, Chapter 8

OBSERVE & CONSIDER

God often does things very differently than we would do them. In fact, He often does what we would not expect. In Isaiah 55:8 it is written, “‘My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,’ declares the Lord.” The truth of this verse is incredibly illustrated in the coming of God’s promised Deliverer. Consider two things about His coming.

First, rather than expecting man to make a way to God, He came to man! This simple yet profound truth separates the essential message of the Bible from every other religious system in the world. Other religions teach what man must do to make a way to God. However, such teaching: a) fails to recognize the vastness of the chasm between God and man created by sin, b) inflates man’s potential to close that chasm and c) diminishes the holiness of God by implying that such a thing is even possible. The Bible teaches there is nothing man can do to make a way to God, but because God so loved man He came to him instead!

Second, consider how God came to man. He came in a way that is so intimate and humble it is almost unthinkable. He came as an infant born to a young virgin in the most mundane of settings: a common stable. This is not a scenario that the mind of man would invent. It is God’s way.

Many religions view the physical world as intrinsically evil. For these religions, it would be an abomination to believe that a Holy Creator God would put on the flesh of a man and subject Himself to a sin filled, fallen creation.1 (We’ll consider this matter further in our next lesson.)

Even for those who can embrace the amazing method of God’s arrival, there is still something very odd about the manner in which He came. He came quietly, in obscurity. When a political candidate decides to run for election, he (or she) often hires a public relations firm to “represent” him. The goal is to create momentum for the campaign by creating as much visibility and public interest as possible. The same is true of an entertainer preparing to go on tour, or for a movie that is about to go into distribution. The press releases and the hype begin flying.

God’s promised Deliverer arrived with no fanfare or publicity. In an earthly sense, the audience for this event was small – just some shepherds and few barnyard animals. This is the event by which western civilization measures time (BC and AD),2 and yet it went unnoticed by most of the people of that time and place. In the spirit realm, however, a celestial audience of angels gave a heavenly ovation as the eternal God entered time and space in the flesh of a man! (Luke 2:13). Continue reading


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The Passover – Images of the Promised Deliverer

A picture of the promised Deliverer.
Lesson 34 from The HOPE Study Guide

INTRODUCTION

“Speak to all the congregation of Israel, saying, ‘On the tenth of this month they are each one to take a lamb for themselves, according to their fathers’ households, a lamb for each household…Your lamb shall be an unblemished male a year old; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. And you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of the same month, then the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel is to kill it at twilight.’”

– Exodus 12:3, 5, 6

‘And the blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live; and when I see the blood I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.’

– Exodus 12:13

Moses returned to Egypt. And with his brother, Aaron, Moses went before the Pharaoh. But the Pharaoh’s heart was hard toward the Hebrew people, and he refused to let them leave Egypt. So God sent a series of terrible plagues on Egypt. But none of the plagues touched the Hebrew people. After each plague, the Pharaoh still refused to let the people go. Then God commanded every Hebrew family to slay a lamb and place blood from the lamb over the door of their dwelling. And God sent death to every first–born in the land, except those who were in a dwelling with blood over the entrance. As with Adam and Eve in the garden, and Abraham and his son on the mountain, it was yet another picture of how a sacrificial substitute would someday deliver humankind from Satan, sin, and death.

– The HOPE, Chapter 6

OBSERVE & CONSIDER

As we see from the Bible verses and The HOPE excerpts above, Moses returned to Egypt to deliver his people. But the ruler of Egypt refused to let them go, even after God sent a series of plagues which should have caused him to realize that God Himself was behind Moses’ request. After nine plagues which brought diseases, insects, reptiles and various natural disasters to Egypt (without affecting the Hebrew people),1 God told Moses to institute something that is celebrated in part by the Hebrew people to this very day. It is known as the Passover.

Through Moses, God instructed the Hebrew families to take an unblemished lamb into their households and to care for it for four days. That sweet innocent lamb must have become like a member of the household! After four days they were to kill the lamb and prepare it for a meal. God gave them specific instructions for preparation of the lamb, and what they should eat with it. Every element of the Passover meal was rich with special meaning. Numerous books have been written on this subject. (See “For Further Study”).

God also instructed the Hebrew people to place blood from the lamb over the doors of their houses. God said that He would send death to every first born in the land, passing over those dwelling in any house with blood over the door. And everything came to pass, just as God said. Continue reading