The Rest of the Passion?

There are so many discussions in the blogosphere right now surrounding the authenticity of the church, scriptures and the relevance of the cross to Christianity. I’m participating in a couple of them on an elementary level and I am again back to a gospel no one really reads. The Gospel of Nicodemus. It is also my understanding that in some anabaptist/Mennonite/Amish circles, this gospel is highly regarded as historically accurate or at least worth the time it takes to read. Perhaps I dreamt that and some sage Menno (Leon/Dad) will likely be along to confirm or deny that.

Anyway, the account of Christ’s trial and cricifixion in the Gospel of Nicodemus or Acts of Pilate is more in depth than the Bible’s accounts go. Christ has little or nothing to say that is different from what our Gospels record, but everyone else does. Particularly the Sanhedrin, Pilate and Jesus’ followers.

The Jewish leaders were angry that Jesus was performing miracles on the Sabbath (not really caring that he was doing miraculous, wonderful things only God could do, but that his timing was lousy) and loudly denouncing him as an evil person.  According to this writing, people whom Jesus had healed came to his defense. The man who took up his bed and walked, the woman with the issue of blood (apparently her name was Bernice), blind, lepers and others told their stories. How cool! They couldn’t deny the deity of Jesus Christ, yet the leaders swept that part away.

A verbal stone thrown at Jesus was the accusation of the leaders that because of him, many children had been killed by Herod at his birth. I never thought about this much. Imagine all the heartbroken parents walking around watching Jesus live his life and wondering how Mary got so lucky as to have her child spared! Only 33 years later, Jesus had to have felt their burden. I wonder if he ever talked about it. The leaders at his trial acknowledged that he was the one Herod was looking for, so I imagine it came up somewhere.

I particularly like the depth to which Pilate’s agony is portrayed in this writing. He was tortured over the decision to prosecute Jesus. He tried and tried to let him go, but couldn’t. His politics got in the way and he ultimately washed his hands, but you can almost feel his sorrow at doing so.

Then, the crucifixion as portrayed here and the reaction of the guards to the resurrection is so great! They couldn’t believe their eyes and acknowledged in no uncertain terms that they had crucifed a righteous man. At the appearance of angels at the tomb, they played dead out of fear, but they knew by then who they were dealing with. They tried to convince others of his deity, but even in all of that, the leaders couldn’t accept. Couldn’t surrender.

We do that every day, don’t we? Reduce his miracles, deity and holiness to what is convenient for us. As long as he is working in our lives on our time line, we’re happy to let him carry on. As soon as he works a miracle, nudges our conscience or otherwise breaks through our thick skulls at a time we don’t want him to, we try to deny his power in our lives. We take back control. We can’t surrender.

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Why Can’t we Believe?

Supernatural events abound in the scriptures. Amazing encounters with angels, healing, resurrection and rainbows. We read of countless miracles of Christ throughout his life. Even a fig tree wasn’t immune to his powers. Scriptures also record supernatural experiences of a less-than-holy kind too. Satan and his little helpers had their grips into people in many ways. I imagine watching Christ walking around on two legs was quite upsetting for the Evil One and he truly fought back. Filling people with demons, sickness and all forms of bad stuff.

Evangelicals accept the miracles in scripture as fact and accept Satan’s workings as fact yet struggle to notice or believe that equally supernatural events can happen to us today. When they do, we call them “miracles”. I wish there were another word for it. I would like to think that miracles would be an every day occurance and something we come to expect. I wonder why we can’t believe. Not “believe in…” or “believe that…” or “believe on…”, but simply Believe. Period. I wonder what would happen if we took God at his word. That he can, will and does intervene in miraculous ways if we pay attention. We limit God to our North American version of what’s comfortable and let him “work through us” or “in us” and that’s fantastic…but we stop there and fail to let him simply work wonders all by himself.

My most vivid encounter with the supernatural happened in Penang, Malaysia. I was 15 years old. A Hindu man who worked at our school invited a small group of us to come witness his firewalk at Thaipusam. (Click this link for more information and pictures). This Hindu festival celebrates Lord Murugan and followers go to ask him for things or to thank him for answered prayers. My friend had asked the god Siva the year before for a son. His wife had given birth 10 months later and now he needed to go thank Siva by performing some rather atrocious physical acts as an offering to his god. His plan included walking the hot coals and pulling his son on a wagon behind his back around the island. Attaching the wagon to my friend were long cords with hooks on the end which he embedded into his back. It is an honor to be asked to attend and watch. (Pictures here of Penang Thaipusam).

We made our way to the temple and up onto a balcony of a house right outside the courtyard. I will never forget the smell of the incense and hashish that assaulted us out there. It was a fantastic smell and below us, participants were going into their trances. The loud Indian music was beautiful and awful at the same time. Quite bewitching in fact. We watched our friend with the head of the temple chanting and singing and breathing in incense. We watched him turn into a puppet with no control over himself. We watched a demon take him, I think. The next two hours more and more men did the same things. Skewering themselves with sharp rods, walking fire coals and other hideously painful acts of contrition. But…no blood and no pain. The doctors on the island said that very few Thaipusam participants come in after the event for medical attention to their wounds. Most of them simply have no marks at all to show.

Towards the end of the walk, we made our way down to the temple courtyard to greet some people we knew. I have never felt heavier in my life. As though evil had a taste and it was trying to shove itself down my throat. I can tolerate heavy incense and the hashish wasn’t too bad…but the heaviness was physical and unrelated to the smells. We were surrounded by painted men, their wives, families and many many children. Suddenly we heard someone screaming and the crowd in front of us parted wide. The high head of the temple was standing a few yards ahead screaming at us to leave. “Get out! You are Christians! You will ruin everything!” was basically the message we heard. So we did. But in that moment, we knew we were surrounded by something far greater than ourselves. I wasn’t afraid. I felt such peace as though I could fight anything these people threw my way. I had a power greater than theirs and they weren’t going to win. Then, a rush of sadness pushed down on me and I wept the whole way home.

Later, our Hindu friend at the school told us that people at the temple that day could see something different around us. We had a light or a presence that was following us as we walked around. And THEY were afraid of US!

My supernatural God visibly walked with me that day. We had prayed for protection and we got it in buckets! I have never doubted his presence since then. There is truly a battle going on for our souls in the air around us. I think if we reached out far enough, we might touch it sometimes.

Mary, Mother of Christ Resurrected

I am amazingly drawn to the life of Mary, mother of Christ. Popular culture paints her as a young woman to whom nothing extraordinary happened. She was young, naive and simple…until the day the angel Gabriel appeared to her.  Until then, we imagine, she had lived a quiet life in Nazareth, doing the things all other girls did. No mention of her immediate family, parents or siblings. But, when this angel showed up, she doesn’t seem afraid of him. Luke describes her as “troubled” and although Gabriel asked her not to “be afraid”, Luke seems to imply that she simply wondered what was up with this?! Luke 1:29 “Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.”

According to the Nativity Gospel of Mary, extraordinary circumstances surrounded this young woman’s life long before this angelic visit and long before she herself was conceived.  Her father, Joachim, was greatly troubled at his barrenness. The high priest at that time belittled him saying he was unworthy of presenting his gifts before God because God had not seen fit to bless him with offspring. Joachim wandered into the pastures of the shepherds to hide himself in his sorrow. While he was there, an angel of the Lord appeared to him and assured him that he would indeed have a child. God had seen fit to “open the womb” of his wife, not to just give them children, but to bring glory to Himself. Sound familiar? This angel then appeared to Anna, his wife, and told her that she would bear a child, name her Mary and that this child would find favor with God. She would be a special child in the temple of the Lord.

According to this writing, Joseph was also called divinely to be the “root of Jesse” through which our Lord Jesus Christ would be born.  It seems that both Mary and Joseph were somewhat accustomed to divine intervention.

When Gabriel appeared to Mary, he filled her “chamber” with “great light.”  [Chap 9, vs. 3] “And the virgin, who was already well acquainted with angelic faces, and was not unused to the light from heaven, was neither terrified by the vision of the angel, nor astonished at the greatness of the light, but only perplexed by his words; and she began to consider of what nature a salutation so unusual could be, or what it could portend, or what end it could have. ”

It seems to me that God would be mighty picky about the vessel in which his son would be nurtured. If God was to take the form of man and be born of a woman, a virgin, He would likely have groomed her from the moment she was conceived. I imagine Mary must have become quite used to angels checking in on her now and then, and, dare I say…she may have conversed on a more intimate level with YHWH who would ultimately become her son? It seems so fantastic and supernatural…yet she accepts it with such grace as though she always knew it would happen this way.

Christ loved his mother like no other person on earth…as I hope my children love me. As he hung crucified, he beseeched John to love her and asked her to take John as her son. Watching out for both of them as he left them behind. Unbearable heartache enjoined with unending love as the skies opened and God himself took on the pain and sin of the world in complete and utter surrender to love…while this woman who loved Him in all imaginable ways looked on. Her heart must have been bursting and breaking and flying high to be entwined with the unimaginable healing power of grace.

The Nativity Gospel of Mary as a historical account of events was likely handed down orally from generation to generation…much like our own family histories today. It does nothing to diminish the deity of Christ, rather delves into the history of his mother and I read it as a love note on her behalf.  Frederica Matthewes-Green has this wonderful essay on Mary that discusses writings pertaining to the Virgin Mary.  Many of us are afraid of her…we don’t want to fall too deeply into what some fear would be a worship of Mary on par with a worship of Christ…but I think it’s worth looking at this woman as a integral part of the life of Jesus Christ on a deeper level than just that of the birth mother.  Did she live her life waiting for her son to give of his? How much did she know or understand? I wonder, too, how much time Jesus spent with his mother after his resurrection…how could he stay away; how could she?

An amazing woman, to be sure…and one that I am desperately anxious to meet some day.

Apocryphal Thoughts from Smallville

I am about to embark on a journey into touchy territory. Those of you who know me personally will not be surprised at all by this. It is common knowledge among my friends that I tend to speak before I think and talk straight from the tip of my brain most of the time. I also am willing to acknowledge error in my ways. The fact that I have a keyboard in front of me makes it worse because I type faster than I think! However, so many thoughts lately spring to the surface and this is my forum for writing them down! I plan to have multiple postings concerning the personality of Christ, the Apocrypha and so on…it might take days, weeks or months. So, I add the following disclaimers and apologies up front:

1. I am a Christian who believes in the Holy Triune God. I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as the Son of God and his sacrifice, made for me, defeated death itself to reconcile me to God. I believe the Bible is truth.

2. The subject matter discussed in this and subsequent similar posts are merely thoughts and questions, peppered with opinion and designed to stimulate thought.

3. I welcome feedback and comments, but abhor snarkiness, so don’t bother if you’re just around to pick on people. I want intelligent thought.

4. I apologize to anyone who may read anything I write and doubt for a minute where my faith lies…um…dad.

5. It’s kinda long.

Most Christians will loudly tell you that they believe in the following supernatural events recorded in scripture (just naming a few):

 Moses parting the sea and all those plagues! Job being tortured by Satan himself. Sodom and Gomorrah and a woman turns to a pillar of salt. Angels appearing all over the place. The VIRGIN birth, water into wine, raising the dead, healing the sick. Last, but definitely not least, the resurrection of Christ himself, who is the Son of God. Let’s face it…belief in God himself requires a little thinking beyond the earthly realm.  If we, as Christians, believe these things to be true and factual without question or denial then why do we have such a hard time with some other events recorded but not included in the Bible as it now stands?

Let’s be honest about interpretation and translation, admitting that some human agenda did, in fact, go into comprising the Bible in the form it is in today. That is not to say God has not inspired His Word or had influence on the decisions of the Council of Nicea or whoever else was involved. But, each translation is a tad different. And PEOPLE decided which books to include and in that simple fact lies the potential for humanity to creep into the mix. (I am sure that right here some of you are wondering where my belief lies…I told you so, I told you so.)

So, I’ve been reading the Infancy Gospel of Thomas. It is a gnostic gospel. Some argue that it is a forgery and some argue it is authentic and came before other gospels in chronolgy. I don’t want to concentrate on the validity of the writings, but on some of the content as it raises interesting questions. The stories told are of miracles and supernatural acts that Jesus performed as a very young child. Stories about healing people who were injured, creating life from clay and instructing his teachers rather than learning from them. My favorite is the one describing him helping his father, Joseph, build a bed. The wood beams were uneven, so young Jesus stretched one to the right size so it would fit. I can picture it: “Here, Dad, let me help with that….” Yikes!

Sometimes young Jesus seems to be using his “powers” to exact revenge on someone who has wronged him in some way. That would be contrary to our image of the loving, gentle Jesus. He actually had the townspeople scared of him and wanting him gone since he wasn’t playing nicely with other children; he was striking them down dead! But, he always undid the “bad” things he caused to happen and healed people when someone acknowledged his holiness. We accept, that as a man, he got really riled up and fashioned whips to empty the temple, His Father’s house…why not as a child? It seems to me that is in the very nature of God to do things that way. He is a vengeful God, yet one full of grace and mercy. If Jesus was God, then how could this nature not be in him? If we admit that he, at the age of 12, was preaching and teaching in the temple…somewhere before that he had to have exercised some supernatural powers…right?  I mean, did he just suddenly develop this habit of performing miracles when he hit the age of 33? I doubt it. He knew who he was and he reacted with the heart of his Father. If the stories in the Infancy Gospel of Thomas are true at all…people living around Jesus must have felt like they were living in Smallville with Clark Kent down the street!

Why are those events so implausible when the rest of it is accepted as fact? One day God the Father spoke out loud and said “Here is my son…” and a dove descended and landed on Jesus’ head and everyone saw it…yet we can’t believe that as a child he would have had SOME kind of divineness? The scriptures leave a whole lot of the life of Christ out. Those parts, I hope, don’t impact our salvation, our faith or our eternity. They aren’t “necessary” for teaching, preaching and rebuking. But they are mighty interesting, I am sure, and I wonder how much of what is recorded in writings like Thomas and others is based in truth.

To be continued….