Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Man of Steel and the Son of Man

This past week fanboys of the superhero genera flocked to their local movie theaters to watch the much anticipated Batman vs. Superman. The Dark Night and the Man of Steel on screen at the same time battling each other and the forces of evil is enough to send any geek into apoplexy. I’ll admit—I’m a sucker for an epic good vs. evil showdown whether it’s in Middle Earth, Gotham City or a galaxy far, far away.    

Not long ago I watched a documentary on the evolution of comic books in popular culture and I was surprised to learn where the artist and writers got their inspiration for Superman. In order to trace this development we have to go back to the 1930s, which was a time of rampant anti-Semitism, not only in Europe but in America. Many Jewish cartoon artists couldn’t get jobs as illustrators with major publishers or publications, so they turned to creating comic books.

In Cleveland, Ohio, two Jewish young men—Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster—lived near each other and worked side-by-side on the high school newspaper. Afterward they stayed in touch and kept on working together on various projects. These two young men seemed to feel that Jewish people and all around the world needed a new Moses, a figure who could bring hope to a world that was engulfed in prejudice, slavery and an encroaching holocaust. So they created a modern-day Moses for the comic books—Superman—who was really he was an alien named Kal-el from the planet Krypton, sent to earth by his father moments before his home world was destroyed. On earth, he tried to blend in to humanity as the mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent while keeping his developing super powers under wraps.    

Like Moses, he was a man whose own people were facing annihilation; whose parents placed him in a kind of ark and set him adrift in an effort to save his life in infancy; who was discovered and adopted by someone from another culture who raised him as a son; who had a double identity; who had to keep his real heritage under cover; who had a strong sense of justice;
who was bold on the one hand, but on the other hand was meek and mild-mannered; who was a self-sacrificing person, yet with access to profound power and who became a fabled deliverer who saved people with superhuman feats of wonder.

How fascinating that Moses is such a powerful figure in the Bible that he evidently became the inspiration for the greatest superhero of modern science fiction. This speaks to something in our society and of the human condition. We need a Savior from outside this world. The hero archetype is probably one of the most powerful in the human experience. Just look at the big budget special-effects laden movies that seem to be coming out of Hollywood on an assembly line—The Amazing Spider Man, The Dark Knight, The Man of Steel, Ironman, Captain America, The Avengers, and the list goes on.

Innate to the human condition is the knowledge that our world is broken and we are totally incapable of fixing it, much less managing our own problems. Thus, the superhero ideal is a dominant one—imbued with special abilities these crusaders of good always find a way to save the day. And so, the Greeks had Hercules, The Vikings had Thor and we have Clark Kent. Humanity longs for a Savior, so much so, that have invented stories to live vicariously in them.    


I submit to you that all these tales of heroes are successful because they are derivative of the true story arc that God has revealed in the Bible. Superheroes are sign posts that point us to look deeper at the philosophical/spiritual issues. At the heart of the Gospel message is a sinless Savior who takes up the hopeless plight of humanity—Jesus goes up against the forces of evil, He turns back disease, demons, death with miracles and in the ultimate act of heroism, He sacrifices himself for humanity, only to rise again as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. 

C.S. Lewis has written, “In the Christian story God descends and reascends,” he writes. “He comes down; down from the heights of absolute being into time and space, down into humanity; further still, if embryologists are right, to recapitulate in the womb ancient and pre-human phases of life; down to the very roots and seabed of Nature He has created. But He goes down to come up again and bring the whole ruined world up with Him. One has the picture of a strong man stooping lower and lower to get himself underneath some great complicated burden. He must stoop in order to lift, he must also disappear under the load before he incredibly straightens his back and marches off with the whole mass swaying on his shoulders.”[i]

[i] C.S. Lewis, Miracles (San Francisco: Harper One, 1947), 179.  

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Holes in the Hallucination Theory

Image result for Risen Christ

Not long ago I was watching a documentary about the U.S. Navy SEALs and the intense training they must endure to be inducted into this elite fighting force. At the beginning of their extensive “weeding-out” process the cadets must survive “Hell Week.” The trainees must pass a series of grueling tests—they must be drilled in the cold ocean for hours at a time, they must work as a team carrying heavy logs and a two-hundred-pound Zodiac raft, they must go without food, warmth, and keep mentally strong on only a few hours of sleep. On average, only 25% of SEAL candidates pass through Hell Week, making it the toughest training in the U.S. Military.

The incredible stress and extreme exhaustion of this training has caused many of the cadets to experience hallucinations. One man thought he “saw” a train barreling toward him out of the ocean, another believed that he and his team were about to paddle their raft into a solid wall, while another was convinced that an octopus came out of the water and waved at him.[1] When these false perceptions of reality were pointed out to other cadets, no one else saw them, even though they were all experiencing the same physical and mental pressure.

I mention this story because it relates to a common objection given by skeptics attempting to explain away the resurrection of Jesus by naturalistic theories. Commonly called, “the hallucination theory” proponents of this view argue that that what Jesus’ disciples really experienced on that first Easter Sunday were vivid hallucinations of the risen Christ. In other words, the disciples wanted to believe the claims that Jesus would really rise from the dead and so their sub-conscious willed grand and glorious visions of a resurrected Jesus complete with an empty tomb, angelic appearances and personal experiences touching His nail-scarred body.

It doesn’t take long for anyone with a lick of common sense to realize that the skeptics are hallucinating if they think this alternate explanation really has a leg to stand on.  

First, we should note that hallucinations are not experienced by groups only by individuals. They are not collective experiences. Remember the Navy SEALS? Several of them experienced false perceptions of reality, but none of them were the same. Hallucinations are like dreams in this way. Imagine that you wake up in the middle of the night and you say to your spouse, “Honey, I just had a dream that we were in Hawaii. Come back to sleep and join me in my dream and we’ll enjoy a free vacation together.” We all know this is impossible, because you can’t share dreams. In the same way, mass hallucinations are out of the realm of possibility.

Clinical psychologist Gary Collins explains, “Hallucinations are individual occurrences. By their very nature only one person can see a given hallucination at a time. They certainly are not something that can be experienced by a group of people. Since a hallucination exists only in the subjective, personal sense, it is obvious that others cannot witness it.”[2]

Second, the hallucination theory doesn’t work because Jesus appeared on twelve separate occasions, to over 500 eyewitnesses during a forty day period (1 Cor. 15:3-8). According to the Gospel accounts four times the risen Christ was touched and four times people ate with Him. It strains all believability that hundreds of people could experience the same hallucination for that amount of time.

Keep in mind that Jesus not only appeared to His disciples but to His skeptical brother James (1 Cor. 15:7), as well as to Saul of Tarsus (later to become the apostle Paul), a self-professed enemy of the Christian faith (Acts 9). How likely is it that these two would also have individual hallucinations of a resurrected Jesus to whom they had no previous commitment?

Third, the hallucination theory cannot explain the empty tomb and the missing body. If the disciples really were seeing imaginary things then the Roman or Jewish authorities could have taken them to tomb and showed them that it was still sealed up. Moreover, they could have paraded Jesus corpse around the streets of Jerusalem and emphatically put an end to the preaching of the Gospel. That would have ended Christianity forever. If the resurrection was a hallucination, then why did the guards report the body missing? (Matt. 28:11-15).

This theory simply does not have any explanatory power, nor does it fit the facts. When all of these factors are taken into account, the hallucination theory crumbles under the weight of evidence. Thus, the Christian can remain confident that Christ has risen in power and glory!

[1] Gray Habermas and Michael Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2004), 106.
[2] Josh and Sean McDowell, Evidence for the Resurrection (Ventura, CA: Regal, 2009), 208. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Buried Treasure

From a crumpled paper bag in a dilapidated house came a baseball-card find of a lifetime—seven of them actually. Baseball card experts in Southern California said that they have verified the legitimacy—and seven-figure total value—of seven identical mint condition Ty Cobb cards from the printing period of 1909-1911. Before the recent find, there were only about fifteen known to still exist. Cobb’s .366 career batting average is the highest in major league history which is another reason why this lot is so highly desired by collectors.

                             Joe Orlando

Joe Orlando, the president of Professional Sports Authenticator in Newport Beach, California, who verified the find, said it is “spectacular” and “miraculous” to have come across such a cache. “I am not sure if any other baseball card find is more remarkable than this new discovery,” Orlando said in a statement. The family who discovered the cards in a neglected paper bag at the run-down house of a deceased great-grandfather has asked to remain anonymous. “At first, they thought it was trash,” Orlando said. “One of the family members said, ‘Let me sift through the contents of this bag,’ and thankfully they did.”[1]

When I came across that story I was reminded of a parable that Jesus told about a man who also found something of incredible worth. In the midst of His discourse on the Kingdom of God Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field” (Matt. 13:44).

Remember that a parable is an “earthly story with a heavenly meaning.” It uses objects and scenarios from the physical world to illustrate spiritual truth. So what was Jesus saying here?  Well, if you’re like me you probably grew up hearing one interpretation like this: the man represents a sinner, the field is the Bible and the treasure is the Gospel. Thus, a sinner is looking through the Bible, finds the Gospel and then gives up all that he has in order to be a Christian.

That sounds like a neat fit, but its just wrong. As I began to grow in my spiritual insight and Bible study I realized that I had totally missed the meaning behind this parable and many others that Jesus taught in Matthew 13. In hermeneutics (the process of interpreting the Bible) there is a basic principle called, “expositional constancy” which simply means that idioms, symbols and themes of the Bible are used in a consistent manner. So in Matthew 13 Jesus makes sure to use the symbols of those seven parables consistently. In fact, He interprets the idioms for us when He explains the parable of the weeds to the disciples, so there is no risk of misunderstanding (13:36-43). Unless, of course you’re just, well—not the sharpest knife in the drawer.


Going back to Jesus’ own explanation we can reinterpret this parable correctly. The man is not a sinner, but the Lord Jesus (13:37). The field is not the Bible, but the world (13:38). That being said, the treasure cannot be the Gospel or Christ.  To begin with Jesus is not hidden, but perhaps one of the most well-known people of history. Secondly, it’s the Savior that finds the sinner not the other way around (Luke 19:10). And no man could ever purchase salvation, because it’s a free gift (Rom. 6:23; Eph. 2:8-9).

So who or what is the treasure in this parable? If we go back into the Old Testament we find that God uses the symbol of treasure to represent the nation of Israel. Consider these scriptures:

Just prior to giving Moses the Ten Commandments God said, “Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine . . .” (Exodus 19:5).

The Psalmist wrote, “For the Lord has chosen Jacob for Himself, Israel for His special treasure” (Psalm 135:4).  

Knowing that this parable is really about Israel it changes everything. Jesus is saying that the nation of Israel was placed in the world to bring glory to God and be a light to the gentile nations (Is. 49:6), but Israel failed. It became entangled in idolatry and oppressive legalism. Therefore, the nation became a hidden treasure and by the first century they were under the boot of Roman occupation.

Then when Christ came into the world He uncovered the nation. That is the story of the Gospels. He revealed for a brief flash of time the glory that was Israel. He declared it in great messages like the Sermon on the Mount. And then He demonstrated it by healing the multitudes, by driving the moneychangers out of the temple, by feeding the thousands with bread and fish, and by rebuking death and evil everywhere He went. In the short course of the three and a half years of our Lord's ministry He uncovered the treasure of Israel. Finally, Christ came into the world and gave all had, even His life’s blood, to purchase the whole world so that He might save the nation (John 11:51; Is. 53:8).  

However, because the Jewish people rejected Jesus as their Messiah, the nation suffered judgment and expulsion when the Romans destroyed the Temple in 70 AD (Luke 19:41-44). Just as the parable foretold, the nation would be covered up again. For 1900 years Israel was utterly lost among the nations, dispersed. When our Lord covered the treasure over it was hidden completely in the field of humanity again. But in our own time we are facing an amazing wonder, one of the most remarkable things that has ever taken place in the annals of men, and one of the most dramatic demonstrations of the truth of the Word of God! God has gathered this nation together again, brought in the people from the outlying countries of the world, gathered his dispersed from the four corners of the earth, and brought them back into the land.  


Politically, Israel was reborn when the modern state came into existence in 1948. But, the Lord is not done with Abraham’s descendants. In the parable, the man bought the field to redeem the treasure. And so it is with Christ. He has redeemed the nation by His own blood and one day He is returning to reclaim what is rightfully His.  During the Millennial Kingdom Christ will establish her once again as glittering treasure. -DM

[1] Andrew Dalton, “Baseball Card Bonanza: Family Scores with Rare Ty Cobb Find,” Associated Press, 3 March 2016

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Virtue: The Only Way to Preserve A Republic

You may have heard the well-known story I’m about to tell you, but nonetheless its bears repeating because of the high stakes this election year. The deliberations of the Constitutional Convention of 1787 were held in strict secrecy. Consequently, anxious citizens gathered outside Independence Hall in Philadelphia, PA when the proceedings ended in order to learn what kind of government had been produced behind closed doors. The answer was provided immediately when a Mrs. Powel asked Benjamin Franklin, “Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” With no hesitation, Franklin famously responded, “A republic, if you can keep it.” This exchange was recorded by Constitution signer James McHenry in a diary entry that was later reproduced in the 1906 American Historical Review.[1]

What Franklin meant by that response is that a republic is a fragile political creature and if it’s not carefully guarded it can mutate into tyranny. The Founding Fathers had studied the republics of antiquity—like Greece and Rome—they knew the risks they were taking when they framed our Constitution. Democratic republics, like the United States, are not merely founded upon the consent of the people; they are also absolutely dependent upon the active and informed involvement of the people for their continued good health. Moreover, our Founders knew that the people involved in the political process had to be guided by an absolute standard of morality or else the governing body will become corrupt and oppressive.

George Washington said, “Religion and morality are the essential pillars of civil society.” John Adams, our second president, remarked, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” Noah Webster wrote, “The moral principles and precepts contained in the Scriptures ought to form the basis of all our civil constitutions and laws.”

These men were not beholden to the “political correctness” agenda of our age which foolishly argues, “You can’t legislate morality.” All legislation is someone’s definition of right and wrong, therefore the question is not if we can or can’t legislate morality, but the issue is whose morality will be legislated?   

Where do you think our Founding Fathers came by these ideas? The Bible, of course and in particular a verse from Proverbs 14:34, “Righteousness exalts a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people.” You cannot have true liberty without true righteousness, men and women living responsibly under God as citizens of both His kingdom and this great country.

Righteousness and liberty are inextricably interwoven. We will have more liberty—or less—in direct proportion to our character. When we lose character—righteousness—then we will lose liberty. People who cannot live responsibly from within must be governed from without.

Our Founding Fathers knew the best government was the least government, and the more character the citizens have, the more responsibility they will assume, and the less government you’ll need. Real liberty always comes from within. Without righteousness, our republic cannot work.

James Madison, fourth President of the United States, said, “We have staked the whole future of American civilization not upon the power of government. Far from it. We have staked the future upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves and to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God.”   

Remember that the Constitution was written by people with character for people of character. The blessings we enjoy are the residual blessings our forefathers left us. We’re living in the shadows of an age and our liberties are fast receding over the horizon. We as the church must continue to be “salt and light,” preserving and illuminating a decaying and darkening world.

As Ronald Reagan so eloquently explained, “If we ever forget that we are ‘One Nation Under God,’ then we will be a nation gone under.”

[1] John F. McManus, “A Republic If You Can Keep It,” The New American, 6 November 2000 <http://www.thenewamerican.com/usnews/constitution/item/7631-a-republic-if-you-can-keep-it> 

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Rapture Ready?

In his autobiography, Just As I Am, Billy Graham, writes about an encounter he had with the late President of the United States, John F. Kennedy. The story goes that JFK had just been elected as president and he invited Rev. Graham down to Palm Beach, Florida to play a round of golf. As they were riding in the car on the way back from the golf course, President Kennedy asked that the car be pulled over to the side of the road. The engine was turned off and then the president turned to Billy and this exchange occurred:

“Do you believe in the Second Coming of Jesus Christ?” the president asked unexpectedly. “I most certainly do.” “Well, does my church believe it?” “They have it in their creeds.” “They don’t preach it,” he said. “They don’t tell us much about it. I’d like to know what you think.” I explained what the Bible said about Christ coming the first time, dying on the cross, rising from the dead and then promising that He would come back again. “Only then” I said, “are we going to have permanent world peace.” “Very interesting,” he said, looking away. “We’ll have to talk more about that some day.” And he drove on.”[1]

Tragically, we all know that a few years into his term at the White House JFK was assassinated on November 22, 1963. According to Graham he never got to finish that conversation with the president. Billy said that on the day of Kennedy’s funeral he was haunted by their roadside conversation as Cardinal Cushing read from 1 Thessalonians 4:16, “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first.”[2]

As I thought about that story it occurred to me that it’s not enough to simply know about the Lord’s coming, but to be ready for His coming. As the old preachers would say, “Whether by clod or by cloud we shall all meet the Lord.” In 1 John 3:2-3 we read these words, “Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.  And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.”

Did you catch John’s short admonition at the end? In connection with the imminent return of Christ, John argues that His unexpected arrival should act as an incentive for believers to live pure and holy lives. Living in light of the Rapture should have a cleansing effect on God’s people.  

If Jesus were to come back this afternoon what would He find you doing? It’s a powerful thought isn’t it? I have often thought it would awesome to be raptured out of this world while preaching. Talk about an unforgettable sermon illustration! However, the flipside is a sobering thought as well. No doubt Christ will return and catch some believers entangled in lewd and shameful actions—like the school teacher who returns to her classroom only to see the students shooting spit wads at each other and flying paper airplanes.

If the rapture were to happen today would you be embarrassed to stand before Jesus? John’s message is simple—when we have heard and understood the promised return of Christ then we cannot keep living our lives the same old way. Like the news of an incoming hurricane or an ultrasound that shows a baby in the womb, future events have present implications that we cannot ignore. As the Church, we are the Bride of Christ (Eph. 5:25), and how we look on the day the Groom appears to take us away matters immensely. The purity of our lives tells Him how much we longed for Him and how much we loved Him. -DM

[1] Billy Graham, Just As I Am (New York: Harper Collins, 1997), 468.  
[2] Ibid., 475.