13th Sunday after Pentecost
August 19, 2018
“Stuff I Always Wanted to Know, But Never Asked”; Questions about Jesus
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Today we continue my monthly sermon series called “Stuff I Always Wanted to Know, But Never Asked.” Today I will try and answer your submitted questions about Jesus.
My Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,
Last week’s sermon on Heaven was kind of long and involved. That’s what happens when you have 11 questions to answer about Heaven. I don’t expect that today’s sermon will be much shorter and certainly not any easier. There were 7 questions asked about Jesus, so I will try and answer them all and I will address them in “chronological order,” that is, in terms of Jesus’ earthly life.
Here is the first question: “If Jesus was (born) a Jew, why aren’t Christians Jewish?” Yes, Jesus was born Jewish. By the time that he was executed by the Romans, however, many Jewish people would have considered Jesus guilty of blasphemy because of His actions and teachings about God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Gospels record several incidents where Jesus is accused of blasphemy for directly or indirectly claiming to be the Messiah/Divine. For example, when Jesus cured the paralytic man lowered through the roof (Mark 2:1-12), he saw the faith of those involved and said, “Son, your sins are forgiven” (v. 5). “Some of the scribes were sitting there asking themselves, ‘Who but God alone can forgive sins?’ Jesus said, ‘Why are you thinking such things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, your sins are forgiven, or to say, Rise, pick up your mat and walk? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins – He said to the paralytic, ‘I say to you, rise, pick up your mat, and go home’” (Mark 2:8-11). Jesus’ claim to be God – to forgive sins – flew directly in the face of Judaism.
During the Passion, Caiaphas, the high priest, commanded Jesus, “I order you to tell us under oath before the living God whether you are the Messiah, the Son of God.” Jesus said, “You have said so.’ Then the high priest tore his robes and said, ‘He has blasphemed!…You [members of the Sanhedrin] have now heard the blasphemy; what is your opinion?’ They said in reply, ‘He deserves to die!’” Jesus is also identified as King of the Jews and Son of God. To say that Jesus lived and died “Jewish” and that all Christians are therefore Jews may be too simple. Jesus was not Jewish as such; He re-defined Judaism to include the understanding and worship of the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. As a result, many Jews converted because they believed in Jesus as Messiah. Technically, the question should be why aren’t all Jews Christians, not the other way around.
Okay. Next question: “Was Jesus married to Mary Magdalene?” Answer? NO! Jesus was not married to anyone. So where did this idea come from? A lot of this nonsense started back in the late 1960s – early 1970s and a rebellion against any establishment. This led eventually to 1982 with the book “The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail.” In this ridiculous book, the authors put forward a hypothesis that Jesus married Mary Magdalene, had one or more children, and that those children or their descendants emigrated to what is now southern France. The “Holy Grail” is not an actual chalice they claim. It’s the womb of Mary Magdalene and the children she bore with Jesus. More recently, author Dan Brown built on this myth with the novel/movie “The Da Vinci Code” starring Tom Hanks. Watching Tom Hanks in “Da Vinci Code” and thinking its real is like watching “Forrest Gump” and thinking it’s historically accurate.
The main passage that Brown and others use as support for this crazy theory is a little known paragraph from the Gnostic writing the “Gospel of Philip” (63:32-64:10). The text describes Mary Magdalene as a “companion” of Jesus. History tells us that this text from the Gospel of Philip was composed in the 2nd half of the 3rd century. This is a full 200 years after the life of Jesus. All 4 Gospels are written well before that and are universally accepted as accurate. Not one Gospel even hints at Jesus being married to anyone. There’s a reason why Gnostic writings and others are not in the Bible…because they’re not the inspired Word of God; they did not pass the test for inclusion in the Bible (canonicity). These works were the “fiction” genre of the first 5 centuries; they are the “Forrest Gump” of their time.
Next. “Why is Jesus not on the cross (behind) the altar and only on some crucifixes?” Good question. I will explain. The simple difference between a cross and the crucifix is that on a cross there is no body of Jesus. A crucifix has the crucified body of Jesus on it. We remember Christ crucified when we look upon a crucifix, and we remember Christ risen when we look upon a plain cross. Our cross behind the altar is a cross to remember Christ risen! After the Protestant Reformation, a lot of Roman Catholic symbolism was rejected, and Roman Catholicism uses a crucifix to remember Christ crucified. Luther himself doesn’t seem to have minded, so in the Lutheran Church we can and do use both. Our main cross is empty to remind us that both the cross and tomb are empty because Jesus is risen.
Three questions were asked about the descent into hell: “Why did Jesus descend into Hell after being crucified and what did he do there?” “What does 1 Peter 3:19 mean “went and proclaimed to spirits in prison”? Act 2:31 says “Christ was not abandoned in Hades” Does that mean he went to Hell after his death?” In Colossians 2:15, Paul wrote “(Christ) disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them by the cross.” All orthodox Christian churches must confess the 3 ecumenical creeds in which we confess that Jesus “descended into Hell.” Jesus, after He was made alive again in the grave descended into hell, not to suffer punishment, but to proclaim His victory over the enemies in hell. If you know anything about NASCAR, you know that the winning driver takes a “victory lap” after the race. Jesus’ descent into hell is His “victory lap.” The souls in hell were not offered a second chance at salvation; instead Jesus announced His victory over death and the Devil. This is one of those article of faith items. We hold off on curious investigation or wonder “why?” A day will come when it will all make sense even if our current understanding is less-than-complete.
One last question: “What happened to Jesus’ mother Mary, Joseph, and all of the Disciples?” Most scholars agree that Joseph died before Jesus’ ministry began. He is present at Jesus’ birth, the first 2 years in Egypt, and the Temple trip when Jesus was 12, but not at His first miracle, his trial(s), his crucifixion, or the resurrection. If/how Joseph died is unknown. Mary was (of course) present at Jesus’ birth, His first miracle, His death, Easter morning, and she’s in Jerusalem after the Ascension for the Day of Pentecost (Acts 1:14-15). After that, Mary disappears. Some scholars speculate she moved into the home of John before his exile. Regardless, Mary is now in heaven with all the believers who have died in Christ, not because she gave birth to Jesus but because she trusted in His shed blood as payment for her sin. All of the 11 disciples except for John were martyred for the faith. According to tradition: Peter was crucified in Rome, James the son of Alphaeus was thrown from the temple and James the son of Zebedee was beheaded in Jerusalem, Andrew made it to modern-day Russia, Philip died in modern-day Turkey (Phrygia), Bartholomew and Thomas were killed in India, and finally Matthew, Simon the Zealot, and Thaddaeus were executed in Persia (Syria).
Next week…questions about Doctrine/Theology and until next week our prayer continues to be “Come Lord Jesus, come quickly.” No questions asked.