I bet you thought I missed some good opportunities to stir it up in the post “About Jesus.” Well, not exactly. I just felt I needed to have a good foundation from which to bloviate. A lot has been written concerning the various events in Jesus’ life. I contend and maintain that they are all miraculous from beginning to end. In fact, one word that comes to mind when thinking about Jesus seriously is the word “supernatural”. The dictionary definition of “supernatural” is “pertaining to, or being above or beyond what is natural; unexplainable by natural law or phenomena.” So it may be a little absurd to attempt to explain something that is by definition “unexplainable” and “above and beyond” what we all experience as natural.
This brings up the question of worldviews, does it not? There are those who would claim to be historic, orthodox, or even Evangelical, with a capital E, Christians, who are not so sure about the nature of Jesus as a supernatural being. They will passionately defend the Deity of Christ, His miracles as historical fact, and even suggest indirectly that those who do not hold to their view of Creation may not in fact be Christians. But if you go and suggest that Jesus is still alive and well on planet Earth and doing the sort of things he said he would when He was here the first time they get a little snippy and suggest that maybe you need Lithium, counseling, and a Bible study, and preferably all three. Thanks to Jack Deere we have a great name for these folks. They are Christian or Bible Deists. Deists were the people that believed God built the world like a watch, wound it up, and left for a vacation. Their Trinity consists of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Bible. Their doctrine, and their hearts, are bulletproof. The suggestion of a need for medication for psychological derangement suggests that their attitude is one of greater trust in the modern Naturalist system that the true Christian worldview. Much of the teaching and ministry in churches reflects a greater trust in psychological theory than in the revelation put forth in the scriptures. Naturalism pervades the thinking of the church because it is the dominant worldview of our culture, and unfortunately the church much more reflects the culture surrounding it rather than challenging the culture to see in a new way. The secular method of counseling as a means for personal transformation has all but replaced the life of reflection, prayer, meditation, worship and repentance taught in the pages of God’s book. And then a clearly anti-supernatural worldview leads to a stunted outlook on life, church, society, and even the study of Scripture itself. This makes room for all manner of unbelief masquerading as intellectual pursuit. The result is a weak, compromised witness in the culture at large. We have nothing to say and no power to say it with.
Saint Patrick came into a culture and proclaimed a strong gospel message and backed that message up with real spiritual energy that transformed an entire people group in one generation. His impact is felt to this day. Patrick, the real man, made a real difference on his generation of fellow believers. One of the outstanding facts of the Breastplate is that it stands as a witness throughout the ages of the radical, primitive belief that propelled the Celtic church forward and made it a viable movement for hundreds of years.
To make a statement of belief in the strength of Christ’s birth in our culture would only invite cynicism and derision. In fact the prayer leaves out the part that is so challenging to us these days, but was common accepted knowledge in those days. It was a virgin birth. It was the result of a work of God’s Spirit descending upon and overwhelming a human being and causing a kind of life that was in fact both divine and human at the same time for the first and only time in history. It was a singular, unrepeatable event in history, a miracle.
Jesus’ baptism was a miracle as well, for when a supernatural, divine being comes to take the place of merely human, broken beings by identifying with them in their weaknesses and, dare I say this, SINS, He himself being by nature SIN-LESS, a transaction is beginning which will have it’s fulfillment in the death of Jesus. The miracle here is that Jesus fully intended to “fulfill all righteousness” by dying on behalf of all who could not stand before God on their own because of sin. Jesus knew from day one what He was doing, He was preparing to die.
How was the crucifixion miraculous? Well, there are all of those prophecies that were literally fulfilled describing in detail virtually every aspect of the event, from Jesus being beaten and marred to the men playing lots for His clothing. And how about this little bit of trivia, Jesus “gave up the ghost.” Jesus cried out with a loud voice and died in such a way that a hardened military officer who saw it said “Surely this man must be the Son of God!” What would make a man familiar with death and dying say something like that? Only a death that was miraculous.
The burial was miraculous mostly because of the fulfillment of this prophecy seven hundred years prior by the prophet Isaiah, “He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.” And the followup to that in the book of Matthew, “As evening approached, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus. Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body, and Pilate ordered that it be given to him. Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away.”
The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is the single most important event in history for the Christian. As the apostle Paul put it, “If Christ has not been raised our preaching is futile and so is your faith.” And also, “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 Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers 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.” At the time Paul wrote this, he was not trying to get people to believe in something, he was simply reminding them of what they knew by experience, namely that they knew personally individuals who were there when Jesus appeared to as many as five hundred people at a time. They were flesh and blood people who sat across the table from them and or were well known to them in the context of their normal lives.
Not a lot is said about the Ascension as a supernatural or important event these days. In fact, it’s a rather short event, barely two verses of scripture cover it all. “After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” ” Of course, this is a highly supernatural event. First of all, the same Jesus who for the last forty or so days has been walking through walls and appearing to people all over the place has appeared to all those gathered, just goes up into the clouds! Then two men in white, angels, tell them to get a move on! Angels, Jesus appearing and disappearing, just another day in Jerusalem, ho-hum. The disciples were so used to supernatural events by this point that they just turned around and went back into town. “Yeah, yeah, angels, I see ’em. Angels are everywhere, man. Get over it!” Trust me when I say this, anyone I know who has really had an encounter with an angel has not been the least bit flippant about. They also generally say that they almost, almost, wish it hadn’t happened.
So what about the part about “His descent for the judgement of doom?” There are a couple of scriptures that could indicate that Jesus went into the place of the dead to proclaim the gospel and receive the faithful believers that hoped for His appearing. Many preachers have had a lot of fun with this as Jesus kind of going into the Devil’s town and taking over like some super spiritual John Wayne shoot ’em up scene from a Western movie. Since Satan is a created being, and not equal with God, this cosmic shoot out is highly unlikely. It more likely comes from a misunderstanding of the eighth line of the Apostle’s Creed, which simply states, “He descended into hell,” or hades, the place of the dead. The real meaning was simply originally meant to reinforce that Jesus did in fact actually die. This is pretty important because there are still those who claim that Jesus never died on the Cross, or that He swooned in some way. In order to have a genuine resurrection you have to have a real death in the first place.
It is possible that St. Patrick’s Breastplate was taught as an extension in prayer form of the early creeds. Well, there you have it, then. Pray on!