Archives For Jesus

Salvation at Auschwitz

September 18, 2013 — Leave a comment
July-August Sorted Magazine
The July-August edition of Sorted Magazine is available to buy now.

Just a few months ago, on a bitterly cold day, I was trudging around the internment camp of Auschwitz, Poland, listening to my guide explain this building and that, when I came across a plaque that caught my attention. The corroded brass plaque was affixed to the side of the wall of one of the buildings that housed the inmates. It marked the courageous life of one man by the name of Maximilian Kolbe, a Polish priest.

The story of Kolbe is one I will not forget quickly. After an alleged escape attempt by one prisoner of the camp, all of the inmates were assembled and from them 10 random men were selected for death by starvation. The brutality of this response was sure to crush any fleeting thoughts of escape that may have surfaced in the minds of the imprisoned men.

One of the chosen ten began to break down in tears as the realisation of his fate overwhelmed him. At this point Kolbe steps forward from the ranks and offered himself in the place of his fellow inmate. Laughing, the camp’s officers agree.

Locked in a small, windowless room underground, Kolbe and the 9 other men are left to slowly starve to death.

As the war drew to a close, the camps liberated and the few inmates who were still barely alive rescued, one man by the name of Franciszek Gajowniczek limped away from Auschwitz to begin the rest of his life. This shell of a man was one of the lucky few to make it through. He was a survivor and all because of one man. Maximilian Kolbe took Gajowniczek’s place in the 10 and this selfless act became the ‘salvation’ moment of Gajowniczek’s life, who incidentally went on to live to the ripe old age of 95.

Ultimate Salvation

When Jesus Christ was nailed to a cross to pay the price for a crime he didn’t commit, what was happening had far deeper significance than the people murdering him knew at the time. The Roman soldiers had killed a man entirely unaware of the part that they played in the greatest selfless act the universe has ever witnessed.

When Jesus died, the pivotal point in all of human existence was permanently established. Jesus’ death was the salvation moment for not just one internment prisoner, but for the entire world imprisoned by sin and without hope.

The Bible says that God’s love and justice met at the cross. Jesus stood in our place and paid everyone’s mess with his life. His perfect life – and his life alone – could pay for all the mess of the world. Justice demands payment and as we faltered Jesus stepped forward and took our place, freeing us to life.

Established in History

You can visit Auschwitz today, as I did, and find the plaque honouring Maximilian’s life. You too can visit the small, dark cell where he was starved and murdered, as Gajowniczek did every year after his release. You can read the accounts of his fellow inmates and others at the camp, now published for the world to examine.

Maximilian’s story is grounded in history. His exemplary life and death still inspire many today.

Commemorative Plaque for Maximillion Kolbe
Commemorative Plaque in Auschwitz Internment Camp for Maximilian Kolbe

So too Jesus’ exemplary life and death reach out to us from history to ask us to learn from his story. Attested to by reliable eyewitness accounts, preserved through written records for generations after to examine, the stories of Jesus Christ reach out to us today and leave us with a question to answer.

Maximilian died and we celebrate him for a hero. We can think about why he did what he did but we ask those questions from the position of a spectator to the story. Gajowniczek alone reaped the reward of Maximilian’s death, our benefit comes through the inspiration we may receive from the story.

But with Jesus’ death the reward is yet to be determined. Jesus’ story isn’t merely an inspiring, courageous tale of an act of wonderful selflessness. That’s because the story of Jesus’ life and death isn’t over. We don’t observe that monumental historical event from afar as a spectator.

When we read of the life and death of Jesus we become aware that we are immediately and inescapably involved as characters in the story. Jesus died that all people would be liberated from their mess and the mess of the world. The rewards of his ultimate selfless act aren’t reserved for one man alone but are for all of us.

Jesus stepped forward, in front of us, to take our place, and set us free. The great selfless act has taken place and the freedom that has been bought is offered to all of us now. The only question left is: of what reward will his sacrifice be for you?

This article appeared in the July-August edition of Sorted Magazine.

The Historical Jesus

February 25, 2013 — 1 Comment
The March-April edition of  Sorted Magazine is available in W.H. Smiths now

The March-April edition of Sorted Magazine is available in W.H. Smiths now

The great, British philosopher Bertrund Russell once said,

“Historically it is quite doubtful whether Christ ever existed at all, and if He did we do not know anything about Him.”

Outside of the Bible – which incidentally is an incredibly reliable document – what kind of evidence is there that Jesus ever existed? Jesus Christ is arguably the most influential man in the whole of human history, indeed our entire calendar system pivots around his birth. Surely dear old Mr. Russell must be wrong? Surely there must be more evidence than the Bible for the life of Jesus?

Well, there is.

Non-Christian History

Jesus was born in Bethlehem and grew up in Roman-occupied Nazareth. The Roman Empire covered much of Europe, Northern Africa, and parts of the Middle East at the time. So what of the Roman historical record? Here’s Tacitus, one of the great Roman historians:

“Christus … suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus.”

This small excerpt is part of a longer piece on how the Romans treated the early Christian church. Tacitus, writing in the second half of the 1st Century, corroborates Biblical facts about Jesus and the beginnings of the early church.

A well-worn objection to the Bible, and the New Testament accounts of Jesus in particular, goes something like this: “The early Christians made up the stories about Jesus because they needed to spread their false message.” Well, Tacitus and the Romans certainly didn’t need to spread the message. Quite the opposite; the Romans wished that the Christians didn’t exist! Christians were viewed as a nuisance and as law-breakers for not worshipping the emperor. The last thing that the Romans would have wanted to do would be to lend credence to the Christian message. Tacitus’ record is simply an honest historical account of the facts.

Jewish History

Another group of people not exactly tickled by the arrival of Jesus were, surprisingly enough, the Jews. Many Jewish leaders, keen to keep the peace with Rome, saw Jesus as a threat to the status quo. So let’s see what the Jewish historical record says.

Here we have Josephus. Writing in the early 90s (first Century) this Jewish Historian says:

“Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. He was the Christ; and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him, for he appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him; and the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct to this day.”

Hmm. Jesus, Pilate … the historical record of Jesus does seem to be emerging clearly.

Christian History

We also have written records from early Christians. We have the Bishop of Rome, Clement, here writing to the church in Corinth:

“The Apostles received the Gospel for us from the Lord Jesus Christ; Jesus Christ was sent forth from God. So then Christ is from God, and the Apostles are from Christ.”

Or how about Ignatius? Just one of the many Christians murdered in Rome by the Romans. He wrote of the crucifixion, as did Justin Martyr. In fact, both of these men quote facts, places, and names – all things easily checked by their readers.  Additionally, both of these men were martyred for their faith in Jesus Christ.

It was the 16th Century French mathematician, Blaise Pascal, who said, “I believe those witnesses who get their throats cut.”

That’s the thing; these historical records were composed by people who didn’t have much to gain, but had plenty to lose. Reputation, peace, or even their lives were at stake.

So let’s return to Mr. Russell’s argument. It may be that one would not want Jesus to have existed for any number of reasons but the plain facts of the matter are that the historical record has overwhelming evidence for the remarkable life of Jesus Christ. As one New Testament scholar has put it, “The theory of Jesus’ non-existence is now effectively dead as a scholarly question.”

If Jesus didn’t exist then we can forget about Christianity. It would just be another myth and should be treated with as much respect as the hairy sky monster. But Jesus did exist and his very existence challenges us today. Will we ignore him, or will we brave further investigation of the man who changed human history more than anyone else in all time?

This article appeared in the March-April edition of Sorted Magazine.

In the absence of anything new on the blog this week please enjoy these links that have caught my eye:

The “It” Factor Every Relationship Needs
What are you prepared to do to make things successful?

I Won’t Hire People Who Use Poor Grammar. Here’s Why.
“Grammar signifies more than just a person’s ability to remember high school English.” Interesting article that’s close to my heart – from the Harvard Business Review blog.

Eight Twitter Accounts During the London Olympics
The New Yorker lists some interesting Brits to follow to get into the Olympic mood.

What Would Jesus Tweet?
Does what it says on the label. Plus helpful terminology guide for those new to Twitter.

Apologetics: An important spiritual discipline for our time
“Christian thinker G. K. Chesterton observed in 1933 that while it is important to win the unsaved to Christianity, leaders must increasingly endeavor to “convert the Christians to Christianity.”

University of Oxford goes to the Olympics
Oxford has a proud sporting heritage. Here are nine alumni competing in the Games this year.

 

For ten years Bill Watterson entertained the world through his cartoon series, Calvin and Hobbes. In these cartoons Calvin – an intrepid little boy – is always off on some grand adventure with his faithful sidekick, Hobbes.

Calvin’s father – a hybrid of Watterson’s own father and himself – is often seen trying to help little Calvin “build character”, usually in the middle of a camping trip gone wrong. Yeah, you may have been there too.

Calvin regularly fails to see the point of this character building exercise, often noting how the lessons in life his father so eagerly dishes out seem to save his father some expense.

For many of us, we can relate to little Calvin when we experience suffering. It may be personal and felt, it may be trivial and inconvenient, it may be grotesque and life-altering.

Calvin felt left alone to suffer without meaning and without support.

There is a difference however between the world of Calvin and Hobbes and this life. His name is Jesus. Christianity says that there’s nothing man can do to make it to God. Instead, God came to man. His name is Jesus.

When it comes to suffering Jesus suffers alongside us. We do not have a God indifferent to the human condition. He has been there. And he is with us in our pain, no matter the circumstances.

More than that too, Jesus suffered for us. He willingly, lovingly and purposefully laid down his own life to pay a price that was around our necks. He suffered in agony, alone for hours and he did it thinking of each of us.

There is a present, felt reality about suffering in this world. Some of us will go through more than others but all of us will suffer and all will die.

Jesus’ suffering wasn’t pointless. It had a purpose. More than that, it had ultimate purpose that speaks into this life as well as the next. And there’s more good news: Jesus can use your pain and your suffering and turn it for good.

Suffering and pain can devastate joy, tear up hope, bring the strong to their knees and cause us to cry out, “Why?” In this world gone bad Jesus came to bring healing. He came that we might be saved out of despair and into a living, lasting hope. He’s done it all for us.

Jesus suffered and died that we might see him through our suffering and live.

For more Calvin and Hobbes go here: http://www.gocomics.com/calvinandhobbes/

 

Wedding Morning Suits

Groom and Best Man

I have just returned from one of my favourite weddings of all time. My best friend married his new best friend in a beautiful ceremony with a fantastic reception in Bristol.

The church was packed out with friends and family keen not to miss this couple, loved by many, make their vows before God. Everyone I talked to agreed it was a top-class wedding, with lots of fun and a deep sense of purpose about the proceedings.

The day belonged to the happy couple; the glory belonged to God.

From the readings in the church, to the message during the service, to the toasts (yes, Jesus got a toast at this wedding) to the speeches,much was made of what God had done and will do through my friends.

It was my honour as Best Man to offer a speech. What could I say of my friend? What should be said? It’s not hard to see the central point of his life as that time when he took Jesus seriously. That decision had serious consequences and marks his whole person. So it was clear, by making much of my friend, I was making much of Jesus and His transformative power.

As an apologist I love to make much of Jesus. The wonderful thing is that this time it went hand in hand with honouring my friend.

In an age when weddings have greater significance that marriages, when money is splashed around in the name of good times with scant regard for the significance of the proceedings there is an opportunity to go with it all, or return to the core and give thanks to God.

People are marked by what they choose to celebrate. It was such an honour to be a part of a very special day where God came first and we could all rejoice together!

Worship and Trials

April 1, 2009 — Leave a comment

“If a burden and its resulting pressure come upon us while we are not in an attitude of worship, it will only produce a hardness toward God and despair in our own souls.” – Oswald Chambers

Last year I went through I and II Peter with the staff at YWAM Maui. This year I’m going through them again, thanks to the current series from Mars Hill. If you haven’t spent much time in these two books, I’d encourage you to as they’re incredibly rich in insight for how to live out our faith.

The short of it is that trials will come at us. Some times those trials will be, well, trying! To diminish them is often to live in denial. To deny that a Christian should experience trials at all is outright heresy, and a complete misreading of the Bible. Jesus himself said that when we put His principles in place in our lives that we will face trials and persecution (Matthew 5:11,12).

Life can be humming along nicely and we may not be in the practice of worship. Aside from highlighting a misunderstanding of God, this bad habit can also set us up for failure. When trials come, and come they will, if we are not in the habit of worship then things can stop humming in tune very quickly.

It has also been my experience that one trial, no matter how severe, will not correct the bad habit of not being in the practice of worship. I had two fairly large battles last year. And the first one, medically related, took me out and caused me to question just how firm my personal relationship with the Lord was. And did I learn? It took another large disorientating wave to knock me off of my feet at the end of the year, this time crushing my pride fairly well (tip, if you give you life to the Lord and don’t surrender your pride it will hurt when he sanctifies that part of you!), to realise that quite apart from Jesus deserving worship at all times I was built to worship Him in relationship with Him. This is the life giving part of the deal, and will put is in a position to handle the trials well.

When we suffer well, we represent Jesus well. When we take the knocks and still praise Him, we become more like Him. We need to worship Jesus, even rejoicing in the tough times (1 Peter 1:6). His grace is huge. When we worship Jesus for who He is, Jesus gets brighter, sin gets darker and his grace appears more powerful to us.