The Congregants’ Account

Thursday, June 18th, 2020

The Congregants’ Account, Audio Version

Here’s my proposed headline, from The Galilee Gazette, perhaps:

Carpenter’s Claim to Fulfill Old Prophesy Infuriates Hometown Congregation

Nazareth – This past Sabbath, Yeshua Ben-Yosef, an unemployed local man, was accosted, forcibly ejected from the village synagogue, and nearly killed by a group of livid congregants after he assumed the Rabbi’s chair and strangely claimed to personally fulfill a prophecy from the Prophet Isaiah. He somehow managed to elude the angry crowd, though, and currently cannot be located. 

Authorities are asking anyone who may have knowledge of his whereabouts to contact them immediately. They hope to carefully question him, and, if possible, find out what might explain his grandiose claims. His family does not believe Ben-Yosef poses an immediate danger to anyone; but they are concerned about his inexplicable, bizarre behavior in recent months.    

According to congregants familiar with both him and his family, Ben-Yosef regularly attended the village synagogue most of his life. However, within the last six months, Ben-Yosef abruptly quit his occupation as a wood-working craftsman, and went absent from the village for long periods of time. His family says that Ben-Yosef left his job to become an itinerant rabbi. His brothers say he became obsessed with something he calls “the Kingdom of God,” which he claims is “at hand.” Even his family is unsure of what he means by “the Kingdom of God,” and why he believes it is worth abandoning everything to pursue with such urgency. They are concerned about his mental health.

When asked what infuriated them so much about Yeshua Ben-Yosef’s message, Nazarene congregants used words like “arrogance,” “audacity,” and even “blasphemy.”

One witness said, “Look, we’ve known him for about thirty years — his whole life, actually. Yet he presumed to stand up, walk up in front of us like that, and say what he said! I mean, he sat himself casually in the Rabbi’s chair, took a synagogue scroll, carefully found and slowly read that passage. He claimed in all seriousness that Isaiah had spoken of him!”

Another added, “No, it is wasn’t just that. I mean, he did all that, yes. And that did seem very arrogant of him. Who does something like that? But he did more than just claim to fulfill any prophecy. He claimed to fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy about the Anointed! About the Anointed! The prophecy he read is about the Anointed One! Does he actually think he is the Messiah?!?”

A third congregant elaborated, “We are all from the same synagogue! We’ve heard the same messages he has! We’ve listened to the same rabbis! We’ve made the same pilgrimages! Does Yeshua really think that he is somehow more knowledgeable about the scriptures than we are? We all know that the Messiah cannot be a former carpenter from Nazareth.” 

A fourth congregant nodded and asserted, “It was both arrogant and blasphemous of him. He claimed to be the Lord’s Anointed One, when we all know that Elijah must come first. The scriptures clearly and unambiguously say so. The Prophet Malachi says so. Elijah must come first. If Yeshua had been listening to the rabbis, like us, he would have known that. Where is Elijah? Elijah should have personally introduced Yeshua the Self-Proclaimed Messiah! But Elijah was nowhere to be seen! How can Yeshua possibly be the Lord’s Messiah?”   

A fifth, visibly upset, person yelled, “And he even had the chutzpah to insult us! He sat there on the Sabbath, in the Rabbi’s chair, and proceeded to insult us! He said that we are inferior to the Gentiles, that the Lord somehow prefers the Gentiles to us, the children of Abraham!”   

Ben-Yosef’s mother said she does not know exactly what to make of her son’s behavior, but does not believe he is arrogant, audacious, or blasphemous. She wonders if he is instead just misunderstood.

This has been an imaginative elaboration on Luke 4:16-30. Please read it.

Messiah Died and Rose Again

Sunday, April 12th, 2020

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for 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.

The Apostle Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5

Jesus died; but he did not stay dead. He died and rose again.

These are the two essential, indisputable tenets of Christian dogma and confession. Neither may be altered or nuanced — not even a little bit. They are non-negotiable, not mythological, and not relative. They are absolute fact, actual, historical yes-it-happened facts no. 1 and 2. 

So, one must deliberate and decide: Are these claims true? Do you believe these tenets or not? Ultimately, there is no fence-sitting, no middle ground. A choice must be made. You must vote. You either believe and confess these tenets as truths, or you are not actually a Christian. No matter what you say, nor how nice you are. What, then, will you choose?

If the previous statement comes across as overly rigid, too narrow, pushy, or somehow stingy, consider what is at stake. The core of Christian doctrine and the basis of Christian hope hinge on what happened within history, within a very narrow window of time. The hinge of history is played out in the person and the terminal life events of Jesus, the Nazarene, in just three days. We claim that he died a particularly painful, gruesome, and brutal death, but shortly thereafter rose again to life, life eternal. 

There’s very little historical dispute about whether Jesus of Nazareth was actually executed by crucifixion. Most historians will concede that the preponderance of evidence shows this was true. So yes, his death really happened. His crucifixion happened. But in and of itself, as one execution among others, his crucifixion carries little historical significance. It’s just another sad event, another tragedy.

What matters is what happened afterward.

His followers made a big commotion. They made an astonishing claim and, with it, a very big commotion. They went around saying that Jesus of Nazareth did not stay dead. It was a fantastic claim, but not necessarily the first time fervent followers had said something similar. His followers were not just pointing to an ethereal myth. They argued with specificity. They named eyewitnesses. They pointed to exact times and precise places. It actually, historically happened, they said. It was more than just another vacuous myth. 

Jesus died in a particular place, but did not stay dead. Instead, he rose at a specific time and place. What matters is that he did not stay dead. And, a group of witnesses relentlessly and stubbornly verified their claim with times, locations, and names.      

In 1 Corinthians 15:17 the Apostle Paul — who was not initially a follower of Jesus, nor even a believer in Jesus — says that if Christ has not been raised, our faith is futile. Notice that he calls Jesus “Christ” here. That name change is significant. Jesus is his historical name (kind of, it is actually closer to Joshua, but that’s an explanation for another day). Christ is a scriptural title. By referring to Jesus as Christ or Messiah, Paul is using scriptural shorthand to interpret who Jesus was and what he did. That Jesus is the Messiah explains not only the end of Jesus’ life on earth, but the entirety of his life and mission. If you look back to the prophecies of the Old Testament, the explanation of Jesus is there, waiting to be discovered. His life was foretold centuries in advance. His mission was explained in detail, long before he was even born.

In summary, then, as a historian, someone may say that Jesus of Nazareth died a tragic early death, and his followers then went around claiming that he rose again. As a Christian, someone must say that it was the Christ who died, but shortly thereafter rose again, invincible over sin, satan, and death.   

He arose a victor from the dark domain, and he lives forever, with his saints to reign. 

He arose, He arose, Alleluia, Christ arose.