LIGHT ABOUT THOSE IN THE GREY

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 Martin Luther King had such a page turning effect when he spoke of a day where “a man would not be judged by the color of his skin but by the content of his character”.  This was accepted as true and right by all of good will but points to a broader reality: we are all going to be judged.  One subset of that experience that is pointed to in ancient scripture and tradition is a cleansing of that person when they area already heaven bound as summed up above. 

“All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1030, 1994). 

A common objection is that this is a yoke of burden and oppression which undermines the work of Jesus Christ on the cross and is unscriptural.  However the term used above is “undergo” meaning Christ is doing the work.  Also, supposedly, any interpretation of scripture to support purgatory is woven out of whole cloth.  Here I will make a case that purgatory is consistent with the atonement in Christ, scriptural and founded in Christian tradition.  We know that God has set a time for one and all of eternal judgment (Hebrews 6:2), but there is his work to do in us along the way.

This Christ-centered context of this post-death purging for those heading to heaven is not an impersonal action of Christ but between his death and resurrection he preached to them.  Would it be in his nature to communicate with us while being purified?  We know he never changes (Hebrews 13:8). 

Look at 1 Peter 3:19–20. These verses show Jesus preaching to “to the spirits in prison.” The “prison” cannot be heaven, because the people there do not need to have the Gospel preached to them. It cannot be hell, because the souls in hell cannot repent. It must be something else…..there is nothing unbiblical about the claim that those who have died might not immediately go to heaven or to hell (Christine Pinheiro, Catholic Answers, www.catholic.com November 1, 2005). 

Jesus made a reference of specifying a context of a sin not be forgiven and implied some can be forgiven.  Jesus says that some sins “will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come” (Matthew 12:32).

Where Christians can be at a loss on understanding salvation, soteriology, often one sees only a legal conversion with little room for further grace filled participation under Jesus as savior who forgives and cleanses (1John 1:9).  In fact,  God works his grace to perfect us as its says, “God disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness” (Hebrews 12:10).

This may be conceded by critics of purgatory but the objection is that God uses only earthly circumstances to discipline us.  However, only a breath of words later a heavenly context is used. 

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven, and to a judge who is God of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks more graciously than the blood of Abel (Hebrews 12:22-24). 

If “just men” means perfect, how are they “made perfect”?  Doesn’t this seem like a contradiction? God is judge and acting that way in heaven.  This is why there is intercession by the faith for the departed saints precisely to support them sharing in “his holiness.”   

This was embedded in Jewish belief a few centuries before Christ.  When Jewish rebels died with pagan lucky charms on them, there was a concern for their souls. 

He also took up a collection, man by man, to the amount of two thousand drachmas of silver, and sent it to Jerusalem to provide for a sin offering. In doing this he acted very well and honorably, taking account of the resurrection (2 Maccabees 12:43).

Paul took this to heart in discussing how the Christian will be judged and keeps a purgative effect centered on an encounter with Jesus Christ.  While MLK had the beginning of a point, here we see our works being judged and a purification after death for those who are already Christians. 

For no other foundation can any one lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any one builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble—  each man’s work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done.  If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire (1 Corinthians 3:11-15).

This belief of interceding for the departed and their post-death purgation continued in the early development of Christian faith and practice.  Having a mass said for a loved ones was believed by someone who was pivotal on the word and doctrine of the Holy Trinity. 

A woman, after the death of her husband…prays for his soul and asks that he may, while waiting, find rest; and that he may share in the first resurrection. And each year, on the anniversary of his death, she offers the sacrifice” (Tertullian, Monogamy 10:1-2 [post A.D. 213]). 

Augustine differentiated between mass said for those whom there was doubt or no doubt that they went straight to heaven.  This man is someone who Catholics call a Doctor of the Church and Protestants often see as proto-Protestant. 

“There is an ecclesiastical discipline, as the faithful know, when the names of the martyrs are read aloud in that place at the altar of God, where prayer is not offered for them. Prayer, however, is offered for other dead who are remembered.” (Sermons 159:1 [inter A.D. 391-430]). 

Augustine specified two points of reckoning other than heaven.

The man who has cultivated that remote land and who has gotten his bread by his very great labor is able to suffer this labor to the end of this life. After this life, however, it is not necessary that he suffer. But the man who perhaps has not cultivated the land and has allowed it to be overrun with brambles has in this life the curse of his land on all his works, and after this life he will have either purgatorial fire or eternal punishment (Genesis Defended Against the Manichaeans 2:20:30 [A.D. 389]).

Augustine described a continuity of the Lord’s discipline that transcended earth into beyond. 

Temporal punishments are suffered by some in this life only, by some after death, by some both here and hereafter, but all of them before that last and strictest judgment. But not all who suffer temporal punishments after death will come to eternal punishments, which are to follow after that judgment (The City of God 21:13 [inter A.D. 413-426]). 

Perhaps this was just a fluke in North Africa.  Not so according to Augustine who had lived in Italy before he was the bishop of Hippo and corresponded with bishop of Rome.

The universal Church observes this law, handed down from the Fathers, that prayers should be offered for those who have died in the communion of the Body and Blood of Christ, when they are commemorated in their proper place at the Sacrifice (Augustine, Serm. clxxii, 2, P.L., XXXVIII, 936).

This was not only a universal practice but a common practice of the priests in their parishes.  This was clergy and laity in unison and with great vigor according to an early church historian respected by Christians of many different backgrounds. 

“[A] vast crowd of people together with the priests of God offered their prayers to God for the Emperor’s soul with tears and great lamentation” (Eusebius, Life of Constantine IV.71).

As someone who used to not believe in purgatory this gives me pause to be both reverent and hopeful.  I am reverent because God is consistently holy and just.  I am hopeful because I know God neither allows or does anything regarding me without it being something tied back to the essence of who he is: Love.  For this covers a multitude of sins.  And he disciplines those he loves (Proverbs 3:12). 

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KINGDOM OF LIGHT: TENSION IN THE CHOICE

It is common to speak of a means to an end, but is there an end to the ends?  That is to say, a time when there is no time.  Like the cosmic dance of what we call reality coming to an end giving way to a greater reality. 

Traditional Christianity refers to judgment. In the post-modern age where feelings beget facts and morality is relative, an objective end to life as we know it with a judgment does not fit the common pallet.  In having a religious argument, responsibly and amicably, the lines of contention fall on language and ironically the judgment of man on God.  After all, what each human decides on God is a fork in the road of if one is personally responsible or not in an eternal judgment.  Within discerning the God-directed part of that fork are the faculties of faith and reason.  Both are gifts from God we incorporate or we do not.  First, “without faith it is impossible to please him. For whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6).

But on the way to this judgment, reason is not by nature opposed to faith nor faith to reason. The pattern of traditional and biblical Christianity expresses the two in a harmonious context. 

Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth—in a word, to know himself—so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves (John Paul II, Fides et Ratio, September 14, 1998).

Inherently such faculties are there in each of us, but Christianity is not supposed to promote those just to bow the knee to a system but to one divine essence and three persons in the Holy Trinity. The gospel says that Jesus became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14), died for us and lives always. The gospel presents him as God and Savior.  This declaration is strong, deservedly so, for ultimate truth. It is truth about God and ourselves which is missed when one waters down the historical Christian faith away from how in the early 4th Century it was said God would “come in glory to judge the living and the end.  And his kingdom will have no end” (Nicene Creed, 325).  When the judgment of God is watered down in the name of grace, what stands is neither judgement nor grace.  But both meet in the cross of Christ which humanity can be indifferent to if it is not careful. 

  The tragedy is that the ultimate good- God Incarnate- appeared, and we responded not with exultation but with murderous violence.  This makes plain the full perversity of the freedom of indifference, this terrible capacity to say no, even when presented with that which would bring us greatest life.  One of the essential features of evangelical proclamation is an honest naming of sin.  When we are tempted to say ‘I’m okay and you’re okay,’ whenever the culture is drawn toward self-complacency, Christian evangelists need to hold up the cross of Jesus.  The crucifixion of the Author of Life is God’s judgment on the world and the fullest expression of the divine anger at sin.  We should not, by the way, shy away from this thoroughly biblical language, for it is simply another way of speaking of the divine love, God’s passionate desire to set things right (Fr. Robert Barron, Exploring Catholic Theology, 2015).

There is tension in these truths: a proposition that God loves us and, like MLK said, we will be judged.  God the Father gave Jesus so that anyone who would believe would not perish (John 3:16).  The proclaiming of the gospel shines a light on man’s need for God first in how, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). 

The proposition has a universal timeline centered in part on the context of  the death that touches us all. 

And just as it is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him (Hebrews 9:27-28).

So with the human experience having a 100% mortality rate, there is a directive on the side of worthwhile immortality.  On the first day that Christianity was born and went public, this was an exchange which in different languages has been played out for 2,000  years.  The exchange is one being convicted in their heart of their sin in light of the gospel and a willingness to submit to Jesus in his fullness. 

Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what should we do?’ Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.’ (Acts 2:37-39). 

Is it fair for it to be so clear cut?  The tensions in some when they hear of submitting uniquely to Jesus would say emotionally that it is not.  But I will next make a case that it is. 

COMMUNION IN THE LIGHT

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Getting good news makes one joyful in hearing it, hopeful for what comes next if it is to happen with some delay and tends to be simplified in the mind to a point. 

If someone has a conversion in Christianity the simple summary is that they are going heaven and they are a part of something beautiful now: the Body of Christ.  So with such joy and hope, it would put a damper on both if they are told they cease to be a member of the Body of Christ when they die.  After all, common Sunday school and big church sermons reflect on how believers rejoice together, mourn together, carry one another’s burdens and build each other with gifts of the Holy Spirit.  To cease to be a participant in any way between death and the second coming of Jesus would rightfully appear isolating, arbitrary and inconsistent with the unity and love of fully participating Christians in fellowship now. 

This is why from early church history onward there has been a “communion of saints” (Council of Nicea, 325) interpreted to include the intercession of the saints.  The criticism of this is that to call on their intercession demeans the truth of how, “there is one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5).

However there is no conflict at all.  Christ is intrinsically holy while saints in heaven and earth can partake of his divine nature as the only way to claim righteousness and sanctification.  If Paul could speak of himself and his companions as co-laborers, then what about the work of intercession of believers in heaven when they are not encumbered by mortal coil? 

For that, observe the context of that supposed trump card against heavenly participation of the departed. 

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings (eucharistia) should be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself a ransom for all—this was attested at the right time (1 Timothy 2:1-6). 

Is Paul urging Jesus to do his job as a mediator?  In context, Paul is exhorting Timothy and those under him to participate in the mediation of Jesus as what is fitting of the people of God. 

This principle does not stop at death.  John the apostle wrote on what he saw in heavenly places stating “And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and with golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints” (Revelation 5:8).  What are they doing with the prayers of the saints?  Apparently nothing wrong since it appears to be an action of holiness. 

I came to both a spiritual understanding and experience on this fact on March 30, 2013.  On a chilly Saturday night in Wickenburg, Arizona I had a connection with a man named Barnabas.  Barnabas was a man who was established in the Christian community and stood up for a man named Saul to be welcomed among them though he had persecuted them before. Later he stood up for his cousin to stay in ministry despite earlier inconsistency. I am speaking of St. Barnabas who supported the future St. Paul.  His real name was Joseph the Levite but he was called Barnabas by the brethren meaning “son of encouragement.  I had earned my Bachelors in Social Work the year before and was about to start in my Masters in Social Work.  This fateful night I would be confirmed into the Catholic Church.  This man I never met in the flesh would  be not conjured but appreciated as a brother in Christ who participates in intercession for someone who was called to encourage and stand up for the marginalized.  This is a good and righteous thing.  For this I chose him as my patron saint that night when I was confirmed into the Catholic Church. 

Augustin saw this as true saying, “It is wrong to pray for a martyr, to whose prayers we ought ourselves be commended” (Sermons 159:1 [inter A.D. 391-430]). 

More broadly on this point are the saints in heaven who have lives as testimonies of god’s grace we can draw from as written by the author of Hebrews. 

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:1-2). 

The “witnesses” described here is with the word martys which is where we get the word martyrs from.  Whether in each ones case there was a violent death or not there is no doubt that they are in that cloud in a reflection of the work of the cross.  In fact, the full spiritual dimension includes angels, saints, a city, a purification process and a living statement of the blood of Jesus. 

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven, and to a judge who is God of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks more graciously than the blood of Abel (Hebrews 12:22-24). 

To understand the resurrection of Jesus and what it means is to see this as connecting the heavenly and earthly realms joined together by God and not man.  But by God’s grace, there is a broad community that can stand together.

THE RESURRECTION ENCOUNTER

Jesus Holding The Bread“I love God but I hate religion” is a common phrase today.  But religion can have connection if one can find it in its purest from.  If there is a pure form to connect with Jesus, one would hope he knew about it and said something about it . Otherwise he would not be a rightful founder of the Christian faith which includes in its elemental teaching “the resurrection of the dead” (Hebrews 6:2). 

First, in moving from our individual experience of Christ in the power of his resurrection, there is a context to corporate worship being a worship in spirit and truth.  To illuminate this, Christ in his resurrected body took initiative on the day of his resurrection.  He came walking on the road to Emmaus with two disciples who somehow could not recognize him.  He led them through a Bible study about their crucified leader they mentioned and how the Old Testament needed to be fulfilled.  As it got to the end of the day they badly wanted to keep his company though not knowing it was their Lord.  This is what he did. 

When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognized him; and he vanished out of their sight. They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the scriptures?” And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven gathered together and those who were with them, who said, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread (Luke 24:30-34). 

First what we can notice is the structure of it.  It is preceded by an overview of the scriptures with an explanation of their meaning.  In my church we call that the Liturgy of the Word.  Then Jesus is at “table with them”.  This can be a setting for a meal but “table” is often interchangeable in the Old Testament with the word for altar.  So it is allowable for it to be a sacrificial setting.  “He took the bread” possibly could be the todah sacrifice of thanksgiving which in Greek is eucharistia.  Then with “and broke it” is reminiscent of Jesus saying several days ago “this is my body, broken for you” when he proclaimed a new covenant. The main pattern is consistent with the mass or Divine Liturgy in Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches.  Properly understood, to partake of the Eucharist is a not like partaking of Christ: it is partaking of Christ.

[H]e become a grain of wheat that dies; thus in the Eucharist he makes a gift of himself to all, gives himself to us and is held in out hands as the true Bread of Life.  Thereby the Eucharist becomes seeing, as happened in an exemplary manner to the disciples at Emmaus.  In the breaking of bread we recognize him, and it is as though the scales fall from our eyes. In the Eucharist we behold him whom they have pierced, the bleeding head now wounded (Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, On the Way To Jesus Christ, 1994). 

The Greek word used here for “known” is ginōskō again which denotes an enhanced level of intimacy. This is what Jesus was getting at a year before calling people to eat his flesh and doubling down with “gnaw” (trogen).  It continues as a central experience for the early church as we see in Acts  how they “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). 

This comes up again with “day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they partook of food with glad and generous hearts (Acts 2:46). The author did not repeat anything about apostles teaching, fellowship and prayer but mentions breaking bread.  This is central to a gospel of the kingdom with baptism as the default, material and spiritual entrance and continues with the Eucharist.

So last, we return to Paul.  He told the Corinthians that their disorder in communion offends the Lord’s body but does not say they offend the symbol.  And shortly after his comment to the Philippians about knowing Jesus in the power of the resurrection he says this for the environment of this Christian life. 

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let all men know your forbearance. The Lord is at hand. Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:4-7). 

One should keep in mind that it was customary for the letters of Paul to be read in front of a congregation.  If the highlight of their meeting was “the breaking of the bread”, then much is taught here. 

The Lord is at hand– – If the early Christians believed in what is called the Real Presence in how the bread was Christ’s flesh (John 6), then the highlight of Christ coming in communion was substantially at hand. 

with thanksgiving– – The word here is eucharistia. This is where we get Eucharist.  The Greek translation of the Old Testament uses eucharistia for the thanksgiving sacrifice.  This could be just saying thanks, but the other words imply the more likely eucharistic interpretation. 

let your requests be made known to God– – This is connected with the ancient practice of the “prayers of the faithful” which occurs after the Eucharist and has the recurring refrain of “Lord, hear our prayer”.   

the peace of God, which passes all understanding– – This points to the mystery and transcendence of God.  In context of this passage and others, I would suggested the context of this peace was in an early but developing context of the mass. 

This is further suggested to be the case in the early church writings.  Among themes expressed by Ignatius are the Eucharist as a holy, substantial, eternal and a reference point for the on true faith. 

I have no delight in corruptible food, nor in the pleasures of this life. I desire the bread of God, the heavenly bread, the bread of life, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who became afterwards of the seed of David and Abraham; and I desire the drink of God, namely His blood, which is incorruptible love and eternal life (Ignatius Letter to the Romans 110). 

They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again. Those, therefore, who speak against this gift of God, incur death in the midst of their disputes (Ignatius, Letter to Smyrnaeans, 110). 

And this food is called among us Eucharistia [the Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined.

This is also reinforced as a holy work by Justin Martyr. 

For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh- – (Justin Martyr, First Apology, 66, 154 AD).

And finally with Ireneus we see Eucharist as the summit of faith that brings together the Cross, The Resurrection and the judgment to come. 

And just as a cutting from the vine planted in the ground fructifies in its season, or as a grain of wheat falling into the earth and becoming decomposed, rises with manifold increase by the Spirit of God, who contains all things, and then, through the wisdom of God, serves for the use of men, and having received the Word of God, becomes the Eucharist, which is the body and blood of Christ; so also our bodies, being nourished by it, and deposited in the earth, and suffering decomposition there, shall rise at their appointed time, the Word of God granting them resurrection to the glory of God (Ireneus of Lyon, Against All Heresies, Book V, Chapter 2, 180 AD).

This work of the salvation begins and ends with God.  It is on the terms of Jesus and not religion that man makes up on the fly.  The articulation of it is intimate but also is always in development.  Therein lies the patience of faith. 

The Intimacy of The Divine Life

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In engaging ones self into a spiritual life, there is a longing in the human person for a sense of connection with the divine that is above the life and death factors as we know it.  To do this effectively in Christianity may not happen every day if one is going by feelings.  An enduring habit is to be at a place of listening in the quiet moments where the physical reality is dulled down and not grabbing our attention. 

I remember an interview with Mother Theresa where she was asked how she starts her day.  She said she starts it in prayer listening to God.  When asked what God says she said he is listening too.  How to do this?  How does it work? She said only it is something to be experienced and not explained.  I am left with the impression in part of the resurrection of Jesus that is central to that understanding.  Death and silence were all around in that tomb three days after Jesus was crucified.  But while it was still dark, something outside of the life-death cycle that man defaults to happened.  Jesus happened.  And for Christian faith to develop properly and apply God’s grace going on 2,000 years it is a matter of hope from the resurrection in the dark and in the light, in the quiet and in the noise.  Because of the resurrection, which leads to Jesus ascending to heaven, we are given the Holy Spirit with several graces to live out a resurrected, grace filled life.  As individuals, we can know the Jesus in the power of the resurrection and in a personal way that outshines the allure of anything else as Paul writes below. 

Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own, based on law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith; that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead (Phillipians 3:8-11). 

To connect the resurrection to intimacy is connected to the new covenant in Christ which is marital and familial as we look through the Bible. We are to worship the Father in spirit and truth (John 4:23) and be called to the wedding supper of the Lamb as is said frequently in Revelation. Marital intimacy may in a sense more greatly implied by Paul’s comment. 

The Greek word translated know is ginōskō (ghin-oce’-ko). This word carries the normal meanings of the word know as we typically use it in English. In the Greek, however, it also carries the idea of knowledge grounded in personal experience. It is to know and to experience, and that means to understand. In the Jewish religious sense of the day, it was used to describe sexual relations between a man and a woman, as in Adam knew Eve. Ginōskō, therefore, is an intimate knowledge of a person or thing (The More Sure Word, http://www.themoresureword.com/2011/04/19/experiencing-truth/)

Knowing Christ in the power of his resurrection begins in grace. 

I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Galatians 2:20). 

Notice, it is Paul cooperating with God’s grace but it is Jesus who made and makes the leading move.  The work of grace is God being the primary mover working through faith so we can do good works (Ephesians 2:8-10).  The Greek word for work here is erg  which is a primary but obsolete word; to work; toil (as an effort or occupation); by implication an act: – deed, doing, labour. 

But if we are to know Christ in the power of his resurrection together, how is it lived out in our works of participation?  And what would be the greatest of those works?  Would we still avoid  a striving of our own effort and, if not, how?  For that we look to the words of Jesus, the apostles and early church fathers. 

GOOD NEWS UNDER FIRE

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Some good news is too good to be true.  We get hooked in by our endorphins regarding a subject that is our sweet spot and critical thinking goes by the wayside.  There are many anecdotes where someone gets their hopes up and everything comes crashing down with a brutal reality. An outsider may be quick to say that the follower of the scam was just too gullible and maybe stupid and feel sorry for them. 

Such can be the attitude of critics of Christianity or people who misuse the historical-critical method to spiritualize the historicity of the resurrection to a wishful happy ending.  They say the gospels symbolized enduring esteem for him with a wistful myth. 

First we can address the view that Jesus never existed.  One can look at several secular Roman historians as early as the 60’s AD and see his existence was affirmed of the 1st Century and in Palestine.  The Nicene Creed mentions Pontius Pilate by name and in the ruins of Ceasarea a brick with his name on it is found in 1969.  Josephus and Tacitus mention Jesus and his movement. 

Next if one wants to suppose Jesus was misunderstood about resurrection, then one would have to question the apostles who served him to be not to be formed for a thoughtless  martyrdom.  Usually when there is a cult or terrorist movement the leader does not feel called to personally die for the cause.  But separate apostles from Spain to India suggests something outside of a mass hysteria especially when for some it is a matter of decades after the events of the gospel that they sacrificed for the gospel.  It is a gravely important thing to believe in when a natural causes demise happened for 2 apostles at the most. The rest died horribly according to many records. 

The message of the resurrection is central to Christianity and without it there is no faith.  But with it, Christians can access “one Lord, one faith and one baptism” (Ephesians 4:5).  This is the gospel of the kingdom in its most simplified description of living it out. 

There are those who would like to say that the gospels were written so long after Jesus’s life that they cannot be relied upon.  There are two problems with that. 

First, through the Bible it is frequently pointed out that how a prophecy was fulfilled.  In the gospels Jesus is quoted as saying the temple would be destroyed and Jerusalem would be ruined. We know from all the historians that this happened in 70 AD.  If Jesus dies in the early 30’s, the sacking of Jerusalem happened 70, wouldn’t it be incumbent on at least one of the gospel authors to point that fulfillment out? 

Second, in targeting the four gospels they forget the writings of other New Testament authors who affirm the resurrection. 

Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died…..Now if Christ is preached as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied (1 Corinthians 15:6, 12-19). 

From the social sciences we know about mass hysteria and the power of suggestion.  Both would have to be sustained with at least 500 people attesting to the resurrection. 

Keep in mind that this letter of Paul has been contextualized better than other epistles to have been written in the 1st Century with more agreement of historians than others.  The date it has been given is no later than 51 AD.  With Jesus being crucified under Pontius Pilate in the early 30’s then there is a fresh tradition being affirmed here. 

Also one should look at the significance of Greek on a few passages which suggests the veracity of Jesus being believed as Lord and Savior.   The Greek had the definite article like “the”.  We see it in English but in the Greek for two passage it is not actually there like the rest of the Greek Paul uses.  In Hebrew and Aramaic the definite article is on the preface or the prefix. An interesting theory is made by Dr. William Marshner in his talk “The Power of God” (Institute of Catholic Culture, 2017).  It is that there was a pre-existing context with two Pauline passages that borrow from the early days of the Church. It is a Semitic language and established this as tradition less than two decades before.   This is why in the Greek for this passage Paul who was a Jew slipped into the equivalent of speaking Greek with an Aramaic accent with the Corinthians because this doctrinal thought was established long before Paul evangelized Greece.  In fact, Christianity did not leave the Palestine area until about the early 40’s. 

For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles,  but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:22-24). 

If Jesus is only crucified, where is the power of God?  Later in that same letter Paul writes extensively about the resurrection of Jesus and the 500 witnesses. 

Likewise in this passage below written in the early 60’s was the same nuance of a typical Greek definite article not used which suggests being also from the earlier decades. Now read below with an “imaginary Aramaic accent”. 

Have this mind among yourselves, which was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking form of a servant, being born in likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him name which is above every name, that at name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to glory of God Father (Philippians 2:5-11). 

In other words, this is an early Christian creed that asserts the resurrection of Jesus Christ as historical with implications of the life to come.  Of this creed, the Christian can say with the late Rich Mullins, “I did not make it.  No it is making me.  It is the very truth of God and not the invention of any man” (Rich Mullins, The Creed).