Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Spruce Goose and the Bodily Resurrection of Jesus

Talking about the black sheep of the family
Sidney Herald religion column published December 6, 2015

During World War II, Henry Kaiser, steel magnate and shipbuilder, conceived the idea of a massive flying transport. He turned to Howard Hughes to design and build it. It was 6 times larger than any aircraft of its time. Beyond its size, creating this airplane was challenging because of government restrictions on war materials like steel and aluminum.

Hughes designed this “Flying Boat” entirely in wood. Hardly anyone thought it could rise from the water. Hughes did not seem to know what he was talking about. His ideas of aeronautics seemed wrong.

The plane originally was designated the HK-1 for Hughes-Kaiser, but even Kaiser withdrew from the project. The plane was re-designated the H-4. But the press insisted on calling it the “Spruce Goose,” despite its being made almost entirely of birch. It was their way to ridicule an idea that would not get off the water.

But on November 2, 1947, during a taxi test, Hughes made an unannounced decision to fly. With a co-pilot, several engineers, crewmen and journalists on board, the Spruce Goose rose from the water and flew.

Jesus had his own Spruce Goose. It was his flogged, crucified, and dead body. He said it would rise from the grave, and people thought he was crazy or demon possessed.

In one of the four trials of Jesus, “Some rose up and bore false witness against Him, saying, ‘We heard Him say, “I will destroy this temple made with hands, and within three days I will build another made without hands.’’” (Mark 14:58) He had not said, “made with hands.” He had said simply, “this temple,” about the temple of his body. He meant that after his crucifixion, death, and burial, on the third day he would rise in his body from the grave.

Jesus said publicly that He “must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He spoke this word openly.” (Mark 8:31)

John tells us the value of this rising of Jesus in his body from the grave. “When He had risen from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this to them; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had said.” (John 2:19-22).

Because of the resurrection, they believed what Jesus had said. His bodily resurrection showed that He knew what He was talking about. As Hughes knew something about aeronautics, Jesus knows something about resurrection. Christ’s resurrection assures us that his teaching is true.

The teaching is what Jesus told Martha. “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.” (John 11:25) The Apostles “preached in Jesus the resurrection from the dead.” (Acts 4:1) The Church still preaches today that by faith in Christ, our sins may be forgiven and our bodies may rise from our graves to eternal life and blessedness.

Why He Went Out of State for Surgery

Talking about the black sheep of the family

Sidney Herald religion column published September 6, 2015


The week he was gone from work, no one knew where he went. When he came back, he didn’t say, and no one asked. He seemed to be himself, except he was not going on like he usually did about his healthy lifestyle.


In time he confided in a coworker. He’d gone out of state for surgery. He gave a thin explanation of his condition. The coworker asked, “Don’t any surgeons in this state do that kind of surgery.” He said, “Yes, but I was ashamed.”


“Everyone has health problems,” the co-worker said. “There’s nothing to be ashamed of in that.” “There is for me,” he said. “You know I’m all about healthy lifestyle. Every part of my life is ruled by health consciousness. Some people say I preach it. Getting this condition ruins everything. It makes everything I’ve done and said foolish. It’s humiliating. I didn’t want people to know.”


The Church teaches that death is one of five steps in Christ’s state of humiliation. But why? Everyone dies. Where’s the humiliation in that?


It was humiliation because death made Jesus look like the healthy lifestyle preacher who, in truth, was sickly. Jesus not only preached life. He said He is life, that He has life in himself (John 5:26), that He can give life (John 6:33), abundant life (John 10:10), and eternal life (John 6:40). He said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) Because He preached such things, for him to die seemed to ruin everything He had done and put the lie to everything He had said.


Jesus went so far as to claim that all of Scripture is about him and his power to give life. He said, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” (John 5:39-40) As extreme as that is, He went further, saying, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:39) Really? All Scripture is about him? We must lose our lives for his sake? Wow. If that’s not true, talk about vanity!


But if it is true, talk about the humiliation of his dying. Christ “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death.” (Philippians 2:8) This Person, who is life, obediently died to give life to us who were dead in our trespasses and sins. (Ephesians 2:1, 5; Colossians 2:13) He snuffed the light of his life, hid his glory, and took our death-shame of sin.


Jesus willingly humiliated himself in death for us that we might live. “Christ died for the ungodly,” (Romans 5:6) “that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” (Hebrews 2:14-15) This He did openly, being crucified for the entire world to see, because he is not ashamed to call us his brothers. (Hebrews 2:11)

FUBAR: Fouled Up Beyond All Recognition

Talking about the black sheep of the family
Sidney Herald religion column published July 26, 2015

In the movie, Saving Private Ryan, Private Reiben asks, "Where’s the sense of riskin' the lives of the eight of us to save one guy?" Captain Miller says, "We all have orders, and we have to follow 'em. That supersedes everything, including your mothers." Private Reiben asks, "Even if you think the mission's FUBAR, sir?" "Especially if you think the mission's FUBAR," answers Captain Miller.

Corporal Upham asks, "What's FUBAR?" As things go from bad to worse, he learns what FUBAR means: fouled up beyond all recognition. (sanitized version).

When something is messed up so badly that it cannot be recognized as what it is supposed to be, that's FUBAR. That's what happened to Jesus when He was executed for our sins. Not only was He so messed up that He could not be recognized as God, even his humanity did not appear. Both were hidden under our sin that He was bearing.

“His appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind,” or “His appearance was so disfigured that He did not look like a man, and His form did not resemble a human being.” (Isaiah 52:14) Before crucifixion, Roman flogging already had accomplished this.

Flogging was a legal preliminary to Roman execution. Hebrew law prohibited more than 40 lashes. The Pharisees established a law of only 39, in case of miscount. Roman law was different. The executioner had discretion over the number of lashes. Some never made it to their crosses.

The tool for scourging was the flagellum, a short whip with several heavy, leather thongs. Some had lead balls near the end of each thong. Others had jagged stone, broken pottery, or pieces of bone. The pain of blows was intended, but the idea went further, to cut the skin.

“Finally the skin of the back is hanging in long ribbons and the entire area is an unrecognizable mass of torn bleeding tissue.” (C. Truman Davis, M.D. in the journal Arizona Medicine) In the movie, The Passion of the Christ, Mel Gibson was not exaggerating.

As preached by the apostles, the point was not how badly Jesus suffered, but that his appearance portrays how bad our sin is. Sin makes us unrecognizable as the humans we once were in Adam before the fall. We are FUBAR.

Our ruin showed on Jesus when He took our place and carried our sin. But Jesus triumphed over our sin with all its damage. He went from humiliation on our behalf to glorification. He rose from the dead. He ascended into heaven. He sat down at the right hand of the Father where He rules over all things. As He once shared our sinful ruin, now He shares again his Father’s glory. This glory is more dazzling than the ugliness of our sin. He prays for us. He sends us the Holy Spirit to commend the Gospel of forgiveness to us. Through the Gospel, He promises to share his glory with us in our resurrection.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

That Can't Be Here. It's in Chicago.

Talking about the black sheep of the family
Sidney Herald religion column published April 19, 2015

Marilyn and I were walking in Nice, Provence. While passing a gallery, something on a wall inside caught me. I stopped, stepped back, took a second look, and said, “That can’t be here. It’s in Chicago.”

Marilyn humored me as we went inside and headed straight to the painting that was the spitting image of one by Post-Impressionist painter, Paul Cezanne. Everything about it seemed true: colors, lighting, Post-Impressionist technique. Marilyn said, “What’s wrong.” “Nothing,” I said, “except that this hangs in the Art Museum of Chicago.”

A gallery assistant removed the painting from the wall, turned it around, and showed its certificate: “Vrais Faux 23/125.” I do not speak French, so I had to rely on Latin roots from two years of high school Latin. Vrais probably means true, I thought, and faux is false. True false? A genuine fake? That 23/125 seemed to be saying it was the 23rd copy in a series of 125. Ah, vrais faux, a convincing copy!

There have been dozens of convincing copies of Christ, many seemingly genuine fakes. Luke refers to this when reporting the deliberations of the council about what to do with the Apostles whom they had jailed but were found free and preaching in the Temple the resurrection of Jesus.

“A Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel … said … before these days Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. After him Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and drew away some of the people after him. He too perished, and all who followed him were scattered.” (Luke 5:34-39)

How can we pick out the true Christ from a crowd of convincing copies? The resurrection assures us that Jesus is the Son of God. Apostle Paul says Jesus “was declared to be the Son of God … by his resurrection from the dead.” (Romans 1:4)

“God raised him from the dead, and for many days he appeared to those who had come up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are now his witnesses to the people.” (Acts 13:31-32)

Many were resurrected with Jesus. “The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many.” (Matthew 27:52-53). It is hard to keep something like that secret. It is hard to persuade family and friends that those resurrected with Jesus had not been dead and buried like Jesus.

“He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days.” (Acts 1:3) “He appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time.” (1 Corinthians 5:6) By the resurrection we know that Jesus is not just a good likeness of God, but the “express image of his person.” (Hebrews 1:3)

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Talking About the Black Sheep of the Family

Talking about the black sheep of the family
Sidney Herald religion column published March 8, 2015

The children of a prominent family commissioned a biographer to write a book of family history. They warned him about the black sheep of the family, an uncle executed in the electric chair. The biographer said he could avoid embarrassment. “I’ll say he occupied a chair of applied electronics at an important government institution. He was attached to his position by the strongest ties, and his death came as a real shock.”

By contrast to the full truth, that’s how we usually speak of Christ’s crucifixion. We water down the embarrassment. In truth, the cross is a shame (Hebrews 12:2). Paul calls “Christ crucified a skandalon,” the Greek word for scandal. (1 Corinthians 2:23).

The cross is a scandal. Roman Senator Cicero said the very word “cross” should be “far removed not only from the person of a Roman citizen but from his thoughts, his eyes, and his ears.”

“In light of the crucified’s degraded status and the heinous nature of the punishment, Gentiles understandably and not surprisingly viewed the victim with the utmost contempt. Indeed, ‘crucifixion’ was a virtual obscenity not to be discussed in polite company. The cultured world did not want to hear about crucifixion, and consequently, as a rule, they kept quiet about it.” (Martin Hengel, Crucifixion in the Ancient World and the Folly of the Message of the Cross)

Notre Dame Professor Jerome H. Neyrey shows that the entire process from arrest to crucifixion and beyond was an extended series of degradation rituals. The purpose was not to try guilt and execute justice. It was to label the accused not only as one who did wrong in the case, but as a wholly shameful person in all that he was, did, thought, or hoped to be. The rituals made shame his total identity.

Classical authors report crucifixion had about 19 typical stages. Their purpose was progressive humiliation and loss of honor. We might list them, but crucifixion is so cruel, bizarre, and obscene that we might lose focus.

The apostles went everywhere preaching this scandalous Gospel: Christ crucified. In Corinth, Paul said, “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:2)

They proclaimed God was this crucified Jew. They said this totally degraded, absolutely dishonored Jesus could save us from our sins! They said Jesus was scandalized not on his own account, but by the shame of our sin that He was bearing for us. They said, “For the joy that was set before him he endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2)

Passing from cross to throne, from shame to glory, He is able to bring many children with him to glory. (Hebrews 2:10) The glory He will give us includes even reigning with him. (2 Timothy 2:12) So Paul said, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.”

Sunday, March 1, 2015

How to Find the Church

“If you want to find the church you don’t look for Christians. You look for the pure gospel of Christ. God only knows who the Christians are. But we can and must know what the gospel is. So we don’t look for the biggest group, the most prestigious group, the holiest group, or the most spiritual group of people. We seek out the pure gospel of Christ. We follow the example of that poor woman from Canaan whose daughter was severely demon-possessed. She knew more about the church than most theologians do. If our Lord Jesus said, “Oh woman, great is your faith,” it would do us well to pay attention to how she exercised her faith.”

Rolf Preus, “God May Try You; He Won’t Deny You,” The Second Sunday in Lent, March 1, 2015, Matthew 15:21-38, Trinity Lutheran Church, Sidney, Montana, and St. John Lutheran Church, Fairview, Montana, p. 2.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Did Jesus Use the iPhone's Apple Maps

Sidney Herald religion column published February 15, 2015

When iPhone got Apple Maps, Apple received a storm of criticism. The maps were inaccurate. Australian police issued a warning not to use them to get to the town of Mildura. It would leave users stranded in Murray-Sunset Nation Park, 70 kilometers off target, and in a dangerous place without proper preparation.

Jesus looks like He used Apple Maps. He was the King. He should have been on his way to glory. “He set his face to go to Jerusalem,” (Luke 9:51), turned onto the Cross road and arrived at shame.

The hallmark of kingdoms is glory. Jesus spoke of King Solomon “in all his glory.” Salome and her sons, James and John, used the words kingdom and glory as synonyms. She asked Jesus to give them high places “in your kingdom,” while they asked for the same places “in your glory.”

In the wilderness temptation of Christ, the Devil “showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.” He promised, “I will give all this authority and their glory.” The kingdom and glory belong to Christ. (1 Peter 4:11; Hebrews 2:7; Revelation 1:6; 5:13) How was it temptation to offer him kingdoms and glory, when they are rightfully his?

Jesus told the twelve He would be “shamefully treated.” (Luke 18:32) When He said He must suffer many things and be killed, Peter rebuked him and said such things should not happen to him. Jesus wheeled on Peter and said, “Get behind Me, Satan! (Matthew 16:21-23) Why the strong reaction?

When we know the facts about crucifixion, we can see Peter’s point. Crucifixion is gruesome and grisly, ghastly and ghoulish, and yet Mark Goodacre says, “It was not merely the excruciating physical torture that made crucifixion so unspeakable, but the devastation of shame that this death, above all others, represented.” Crucifixion was so shameful, the Roman Senator, Cicero, said, “The very word ‘cross’ should be far removed not only from the person of a Roman citizen but from his thoughts, his eyes and his ears.” A king without glory, a shameful king, is a scandal and an offense.

The Devil’s promise was temptation because Christ’s road to glory was the Cross. Jesus was not lost. He knew the road. Afterwards he said, “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” (Luke 24:26)

Necessary? Why? To save us, He had to undergo our shame. Peter’s problem, like ours, was revolt against needing so much from God, against his own shame put on display in Christ’s Cross. Peter was not protecting Christ’s glory, but his own, just like Satan, just like us.

Satan tempted Jesus to abandons sinners, but Jesus did not get lost on the way to the kingdom. Jesus came to seek and save the lost. He found us in our shame and saved us. We can’t afford glory. We must receive the grace of his shame for us. The Father exalts Jesus because of what Jesus did for sinners.