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Applied Christianity:  P - R - A - Y

 

Power of Questions

     1.  Place the burden of proof on the person making the truth claims.  Some simple, straight forward questions, followed by specific follow ups, will often expose weaknesses in a given position, and create self-doubt.  For example:

 

WHO:  "Who do you say that Jesus is?"  "How do you know that?"

WHAT:  "What can you do to deserve Heaven?"  "How do you know when you've done enough?

WHEN:  "When Jesus returns, will you be ready?"  "'Are you sure?'"

WHERE:  "Where did you get your values?"  "Are any of them in the Bible?"

WHY:  "Why were you put on this Earth?"  "Would you like to know?'"

HOW:  "How do you know that your view of God is correct?"  "What led you to that conclusion?"

 

     2.  When self doubt is observed, clear up the confusion by presenting evidence and  reason; as supported by Scripture. 


     3.  Finally, study the Scriptures, so that you can target your questions and responses to your listeners' present beliefs.

 

Resurrection (The "Minimal Facts" Approach)

 

The "Minimal Facts" approach -- outlined by Gary Habermas and Michael Licona, in their book, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus -- considers only that data which meets two criteria:

     1. The data must have an abundance of strong evidence.

     2. The data must be granted by virtually all scholars on the subject -- even the skeptical    ones.

The five facts that meet this criteria are as follows:

 

FACT #1:  Jesus died by crucifixion.

FACT #2:  Jesus’ Disciples believed that He appeared to them after He rose from the dead.

FACT #3:  Paul, a persecutor of the church, suddenly accepted Christianity.

FACT #4:  James, the brother of Jesus (a skeptic) suddenly accepted Christianity.

FACT #5:  The  tomb was empty.

 

Let's look at each one.

 

FACT #1: 

Jesus died by crucifixion.

 

That Jesus was executed by crucifixion is recorded in all four Gospels.  However, a number of non-Christian sources of the period also report the event. 

Here are a few:

     1.  Josephus, a 1st-century Jewish historian, wrote, "When Pilate, upon hearing Him (Jesus)   accused by men of the highest standing among us, had condemned Him to be crucified."


    2.  Tacitus, both a Senator and a historian of the Roman Empire, recorded, “Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty (crucifixion) during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus.”

 

     3.  Lucian, a Greek satirist, wrote, "The Christians, you know, worship a man to this day -- the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that account."

 

     4.  Mara Bar-Serapion, a non-Jewish, non-Christian, Stoic philosopher, asked the question, “What advantage came to the Jews by the murder (crucifixion) of their Wise King, seeing that from that very time their kingdom was driven away from them?”

 

     5.  The Talmud, a record of Rabbinic discussions pertaining to Jewish Law, ethics, philosophy, customs and history, reported, "On the eve of Passover Yeshu was hanged."  It should be noted that "Yeshu" is  "Joshua" in the Hebrew language; with the equivalent in Greek being "Jesous" or "Jesus."   It should also be noted that to be "hanged" was to be "hanged on a tree," a common first century  image used to describe crucifixion.

FACT #2: 

Jesus’ Disciples believed that He appeared to them after He rose from the dead.

After Jesus’ death, His disciples were radically transformed from being fearful -- both denying and abandoning Jesus at His arrest and execution -- into being bold proclaimers of the risen Lord. They not only remained steadfast in the face of imprisonment and torture, but also unto death.  It is clear that they sincerely believed that Jesus rose from the dead.

 

What accounts for this transformation?  Jesus’ Disciples claimed that He appeared to them after His resurrection.  

This conclusion can be corroborated from the five sources below:

   

    1. The writings of the Apostle Paul record the Disciples' claim that Jesus rose from the dead.        

 

     2.  Oral histories have been copied into the writings that comprise the New Testament.  These histories are significant, since they had to have been developed years before the New Testament was written.  These histories include hymns, story summaries, poetry and carefully constructed "creeds" that record essential doctrines of the Christian Faith.  "Creeds" -- short passages of text (sometimes using both repetition and rhyme) -- were friendly to both memorization and retention.  A popular first century format to pass along important  information, they were often used by New Testament writers; notably, 1 Corinthians 15:3-5.    

                                                                    

      3.  Sermons and sermon excerpts, recorded in The Acts of the Apostles, can be traced to the earliest teachings of the Apostles and the Christian Church.                  

 

     4.  It is well accepted that the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were written during the first century -- giving us four early accounts of the Disciples' claim that Jesus rose from the dead.                 


      5. 
It is probable that some of the "Apostolic Fathers" (Church leaders who immediately succeeded the twelve Apostles)  had known and fellowshipped with Jesus' Disciples. Therefore, there is an equally strong likelihood that their teachings -- including their belief in the resurrection -- can be traced directly to the Apostles themselvesSeven of the "Apostolic Fathers" (Clement of Rome, Polycarp, Ignatius, Tertullian, Origen, Eusebiuss, Dionysius of Corinth) attested to the willingness of the Apostle’s to suffer and die for what they knew to be true -- the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ.

 

FACT #3: 

Paul, a persecutor of the church, suddenly accepted Christianity.

 

Consider the following three points.

     1.  Paul changed from being a persecutor of the Church, to becoming one of its most dynamic and influential Christian leaders.  "I   want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the Gospel I preached is not of human origin. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.  For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it.  I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. 

But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, my immediate response was not to consult any human being. I did not go up to Jerusalem to see those who were Apostles before I was, but I went into Arabia.  Later I returned to Damascus. 

Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Cephas (Peter) and stayed with him fifteen days.  I saw none of the other Apostles -- only James, the Lord’s brother.  I assure you before God that what I am writing you is no lie.  Then I went to Syria and Cilicia.  I was personally unknown to the churches of Judea that are in Christ.  They only heard the report:  'The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.'  And they praised God because of me" (Galatians 1:11-24).

     2.  Paul’s conversion was based on a direct encounter with the risen Jesus.  In The Acts of the Apostles, Luke records Paul's own account of his  conversion to Christianity.  "Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing  out   murderous threats against the Lord’s Disciples.  He went to the High Priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to 'The Way,' whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. 

As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from Heaven flashed around him.  He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, 'Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?'  'Who are you, Lord?'  Saul asked.  'I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,' He replied. 'Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do'" (Acts 9:1-6).

     3.  Paul's conversion was recorded in his own letters to the Church, by Luke, in The Acts of the Apostles, and by the early Church Fathers; giving us multiple attestations of the same event.

 

FACT #4: 

James, the brother of Jesus (a skeptic) suddenly accepted Christianity.


Here are four facts to consider:

 

     1.  The Gospels report that Jesus’ family, including James, were unbelievers prior to His resurrection.  "Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that He and His Disciples were not even able to eat.  When His family heard about this, they went to take charge of Him, for they said, 'He is out of his mind.'  Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived.  Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him" (Mark 3:21; 31).

"Jesus left there and went to His hometown, accompanied by His Disciples.   When the Sabbath came, He began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard Him were amazed. 'Where did this man get these things?' they asked. 'What’s this wisdom that has been given Him?  What are these remarkable miracles He is performing?  Isn’t this the carpenter?  Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon?   Aren’t His sisters here with us?'  And they took offense at Him.  Jesus said to them, 'A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home'" (Mark 6:1-4).  "For even his own brothers did not believe in Him" (John 7:5).

     2.  An early Church creed (as recorded in 1 Corinthians 15) reports the appearance of the risen Jesus to his brother James.  "For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve.  After that, He appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.  Then He appeared to James then to all the Apostles, and last of all He appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born" (1 Corinthians 15:3-8).

     3.  In Paul's letter to the Galatians, he testifies to his meeting with James, the brother of Jesus; revealing James' (and Peter's) position of leadership in the Church in Jerusalem.  "I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Cephas (Peter) and stayed with him fifteen days.  I saw none  of  the other  Apostles --  only James, the Lord’s brother" (Galatians 1:18-19).

In The Acts of the Apostles, Luke also records James' standing within the church.  "Peter motioned with his hand for them to be quiet and described how the Lord had brought him out of prison.  'Tell James and the other brothers and sisters about this,' he said, and then he left for another place"(Acts 12:17).

 

"The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them.  When they finished, James spoke up.  'Brothers,' he said, 'listen to me.  Simon has described to us how God first intervened to choose a people for His name from   the Gentiles.   The  words of the Prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written: "After  this I will return and rebuild David’s  fallen tent.  Its ruins I will rebuild, and I will restore it, that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, even all the Gentiles who bear my name, says the Lord, who does these things -- things known from long ago." 

It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.  Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood.  For the law of Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath'"(Acts 15:12-21).

"When we arrived at Jerusalem, the brothers and sisters received us warmly.  The next day Paul and the rest of us went to see James, and all the elders were present" (Acts 21:18-19).

     4.  James died as a martyr because of his belief in Jesus and His resurrection. Hegesippus, in his Five Books of Commentaries on the Acts of the Church, described James' martyrdom as follows, "They went up and threw down the just man, and said to one another, 'Let us stone James the Just.'  And they began to stone him: for he was not killed by the fall; but he turned, and kneeled down, and said: 'I beseech Thee, Lord God our Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.'

And, while they were thus stoning him to death . . . , one of the priests . . . took [his] staff and hurled it at the head of the just man.  And so he suffered martyrdom; and they buried him on the spot, and the pillar erected to his memory still remains, close by the temple."

Clement of Alexandria corroborated the account; describing James as being, "Thrown from the pinnacle of the Temple and [being] beaten to death with a club."  Josephus in his Antiquities of the Jews, also confirmed that James the brother of Jesus, met his death by stoning.  Thus, James' martyrdom is confirmed by both Christian (Hegesippus and Clement of Alexandria) and non-Christian (Josephus) sources.


FACT #5:  The tomb was empty 

Three uncontested sources for this fact are useful to consider.

     1.  The Jerusalem Factor:  Jesus was publicly executed in Jerusalem, where He made His post-resurrection appearances, and where His empty tomb was first proclaimed.   Had the tomb not been empty the Jewish leadership and/or the Roman government would only have to take the body out of the tomb for all to see.


   2.  Enemy Attestations:  Jesus’ enemies indirectly admitted that the tomb was empty.  Rather than point to an occupied tomb, early critics accused Jesus’ Disciples of stealing the body.  "When the Chief Priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, 'You are to say, "His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep."'  If this report gets to the Governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.'  So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed.   And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day" (Matthew 28:12-13).  There would have been no need to account for the missing body if the body was still in the tomb.

     3.  The Testimony of Women:  If the account of the empty tomb had been invented, it would most likely not have listed women as the primary witnesses.  In that day a woman’s  testimony was not nearly as credible  as  that of a  man’s.  In light of this internal evidence, the empty tomb is given additional  historical credibility.

 

Anyone, Anywhere, Anytime

Have you ever been in the right place at the right time to witness for our Lord? Were you ready to respond with the Gospel?  "But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.  Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you, to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect" (1 Peter 3:15). 

What does it mean to "be prepared?"It means to, "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15).

Your ability to be a witness for our Lord by correctly handling the Word of Truth, begins with a studied knowledge of God's Word.  "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy 3:16-17).  "However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me -- the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace" (Acts 20:24).

By familiarizing yourself with Scripture, you will be prepared to both; "Contend for the faith that  was once for all entrusted to the saints" (Jude 1:3), and to, Encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it" (Titus 1:9).

Remember, a "Divine Appointment" can happen with anyone, anywhere, at anytime.  What is a "Divine Appointment?"  We were all born with a purpose, and a limited time on Earth to fulfill our purpose.  "Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be" (Psalm 139:16).  God has both uniquely gifted and uniquely prepared us to fulfill our purposes on this Earth.  "For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do" (Ephesians 2:10). 

Once we are ready -- first in our relationship with Christ, and second in our familiarity with Scripture -- the Holy Spirit will lead us to an opportunity to do the good works that God prepared in advance for us to do.  By responding with sound doctrine, with wisdom, and with gentleness and respect; we will be doing the work that we were born to  do.   "For it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill His good purpose" (Philippians 2:13). 

"In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for special purposes and some for common use.  Those who cleanse themselves from the latter will be instruments for special purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work" (2 Timothy 2:20-21).  "And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please Him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work growing in the knowledge of God" (Colossians 1:10).

ANYONE

Here are some examples and some advice from the Apostle Paul.


"[We] Reasoned with those in the Market Place talking to anyone who happened to be there" (Acts 17:17). 

"Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah" (Acts 5:42).

"Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.   Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone" (Colossians 4:4-6).


"He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ" (Colossians 1:28).


"For, 'Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.'  How, then, can they call on the One they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the One of whom they have not heard?  And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?" (Romans 10:13-14).

ANYWHERE

"As was his custom Paul went into the synagogue and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead.  This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Christ" (Acts 17:2-3).


"He  said  to  them,  'Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to all creation'" (Mark 16:15).


"You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house" (Acts 20:20).


"Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed His word by the signs that accompanied it" (Mark 16:20).


ANYTIME

 

"Be very careful, then, how you live -- not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.  Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the   Lord’s will is" (Ephesians 5:15-17). 

 

"Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers" (Galatians 6:9-10).

 

"Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear" (1 Peter 1:17).

"I will extol the Lord at all times; His praise will always be on my lips" (Psalm 34:1).


"Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good" (Titus 3:1).


"Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage -- with great patience and careful instruction" (2 Timothy 4:2).

 

Your Living Witness

Maintain a Heavenly Perspective

Viewing life from the perspective of eternity gives us the strength we need to withstand the problems that we all face, and to provide a living witness to those we come in contact with.  Our life on Earth is quickly passing away. By contrast our destiny in Heaven is eternal; and devoid of both pain and death.  As John explains, "He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death, or mourning, or crying, or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.  He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” (Revelation 21:4-5).

 

According to, Gary R. Habermas and J. P. Moreland, in their book Immortality: The Other Side of Death, "The God of the universe invites us to view life and death from His eternal vantage point.  And if we do, we will see how readily it can revolutionize our lives:  daily anxieties, emotional hurts, tragedies, our responses and responsibilities to others, possessions, wealth, and even physical pain and death.  All  of  this  and  much more can be informed and influenced by the truths of Heaven. The repeated witness of the New Testament is that believers should view all problems, indeed their entire existence from what we call the 'top-down' perspective: God and His kingdom first, followed by various aspects of our Earthly existence ."

 

Not surprisingly, being drawn into the world’s desire for comforts and possessions can interfere with a Heavenly perspective.  The Apostle Matthew advises, "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on Earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in Heaven where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matthew 6:19-21).

 

By keeping our minds on Heavenly things, we will be invested with a peace that passes understanding.  By letting every action, every word, and every deed, pass through God’s filter of love and peace, we will live a life not only pleasing to God, but a life bearing a witness for Christ to be seen by others.

 

As the  Apostle Paul said, "Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.  And be thankful.   Let  the  word  of  Christ  dwell   in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.  Whatever you do, whether in word,  or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him" (Colossians 3:15-17).

 

In his book The Nature of Spiritual Growth, John Wesley explains the role of faith in Christian lives, and thus in our living witness. "Christian faith fulfills man’s desire to perceive the eternal.  It gives him a more extensive knowledge of all things invisible.  Living faith introduces him, with fullest certainty, to what the eye has not seen, nor the ear heard, nor the heart conceived."  As the writer of Hebrews reminds us, faith is, 'being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see' (Hebrews 11:1)."

 

Finally, experiencing life as a "Living Witness" is described by the Apostles Paul and Peter  respectively.  "Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make  the most of every opportunity.  Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone" (Colossians 3:4:5-6).  "In your heart set apart Christ as Lord always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you, the reason for the hope that you have.  But do this with gentleness and with respect" (1 Peter 3:15).

                           

 

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