Crucifixion Part 1

This is the first in a 3-part examination of the history of Roman crucifixion.

I. INTRODUCTION

Crucifixion (from Latin crucifixio, perfect passive participle crucifixus, fixed to a cross, from prefix cruci-, cross, + verb ficere, fix or do, variant form of facere, do or make ) is an ancient method of execution, whereby the condemned person is tied or nailed to a large wooden cross (of various shapes) and left to hang until dead.

German scholar of religion Martin Hengel, the author of the work entitled Crucifixion (full title Crucifixion in the Ancient World and the Folly of the Message of the Cross), originally published in 1977, writes that while authors commonly regard the origins of crucifixion as coming from Persia due to the writings of the Greek historian Herodotus, the practice of impaling or nailing someone to a post or something similar to it, was also found among the Indians, Assyrians, Scythians, Taurians, Celts, Greeks, Seleucids, Romans, Britanni, Numidians and Carthaginians. The Carthaginians is commonly thought to have passed the knowledge to Romans, who then perfected the method.


II. HISTORY

While the origins of this method of execution are quite obscure, it is clear that the form of capital punishment lasted for over nearly 900 years, starting with the Persian king Darius’ (reigned 550-485 BC) crucifixion of 3000 Babylonian slaves in 519 BC and ending with Constantine in 337 AD; thus tens if not hundreds of thousands of individuals have been subjected to this cruel and humiliating form of punishment. There are records of mass executions in which hundreds of thousands of persons have died due to this practice.

It is common belief that crucifixion was only reserved for criminals, as a result of Plutarch’s passage that “each criminal condemned to death bears his cross on his back”, however literature clearly shows that this class were not the only individuals who were subjected to crucifixion. For example, Alexander the Great crucified 2000 survivors from the siege of Tyre on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. Condemned Roman citizens were usually exempt from crucifixion (like feudal nobles from hanging, dying more honorably by decapitation) except for major crimes against the state, such as high treason.

The goal of Roman crucifixion was not just to kill the criminal, but also to mutilate and dishonour the body of the condemned. In ancient tradition, an honourable death required burial; leaving a body on the cross, so as to mutilate it and prevent its burial, was a grave dishonour.

Under ancient Roman penal practice, crucifixion was also a means of exhibiting the criminal’s low social status. It was the most dishonourable death imaginable, originally reserved for slaves, hence still called “supplicium servile” by Seneca, later extended to provincial freedmen of obscure station (‘humiles’). The citizen class of Roman society were almost never subject to capital punishments; instead, they were fined or exiled. The Jewish-Roman historian Josephus mentions Jews of high rank who were crucified, but this was to point out that their status had been taken away from them.

Control of one’s own body was vital in the ancient world. Capital punishment took away control over one’s own body, thereby implying a loss of status and honor. The Romans often broke the prisoner’s legs to hasten death and usually (with a few known exceptions) forbade burial.

III. METHODS OF CRUCIFIXION

Crucifixion was literally a death that was ‘excruciating’ (from the Latin word ‘ex cruces’, “out of crucifying”), gruesome (hence dissuading against the crimes punishable by it), and public (hence the expression “to nail to the cross”), using whatever means expedient for that goal. The methods varied considerably with location and with time period.

The Greek and Latin words corresponding to “crucifixion” covered a wide range of meaning, from impaling on a stake to affixing on a tree, to a mere upright pole (a ‘crux simplex’) or to a combination of an upright stake (‘stipes’ in Latin) and a crossbeam (‘patibulum’).

If a crossbeam is used, the victim was forced to carry it on his shoulders, which would have been torn open by a brutal scourging, to the place of execution. The Roman historian Tacitus records that the city of Rome had a specific place for carrying out executions, situated outside the Esquiline Gate, and a specific area reserved for the execution of slaves by crucifixion.

A. SCOURGING

Scourging the victim was a legal preliminary to every Roman execution, and only women and Roman senators or soldiers (except in eases of desertion) were exempt. The usual instrument was a short whip (known as a flagellum or flagrum, seen at right) with several single or braided leather thongs of variable lengths, in which small iron or lead balls or sharp pieces of sheep bones were tied at intervals.

For scourging, the man was first stripped of his clothing, and his hands were tied to an upright post.

The poet Horace refers to the horribile flagellum (horrible whip) in his Satires, calling for the end of its use. Typically, the one to be punished was stripped naked and bound to a low pillar so that he could bend over it, or chained to an upright pillar as to be stretched out.

The back, buttocks, and legs were flogged either by two Roman officials known as lictors (from the Latin verb ligare, which means “to bind”, said to refer to the fasces that they carried) or by one who alternated positions (some reports even indicate scourgings with four or six lictores). The severity of the scourging depended on the disposition of the lictores and was intended to weaken the victim to a state just short of collapse or death.

There was no limit to the number of blows inflicted — this was left to the lictores to decide, though they were normally not supposed to kill the victim. Nonetheless, Livy, Suetonius and Josephus report cases of flagellation where victims died while still bound to the post. Josephus also states that, at the Siege of Jerusalem at 70 AD (Jewish War 5.11), Jews who were captured by Titus’ forces “were first whipped, and then tormented with all sorts of tortures, before they died, and were then crucified before the wall of the city. This miserable procedure made Titus greatly to pity them, while they caught every day five hundred Jews; nay, some days they caught more; yet it did not appear to be safe for him to let those that were taken by force go their way, and to set a guard over so many he saw would be to make such as great deal them useless to him. “

Flagellation was so severe that it was referred to as “half death” by some authors and apparently, many died shortly thereafter (some survivors were even reported to have gone mad due to the intensity of the scourging). Cicero reports in In Verrem (II.5), “pro mortuo sublatus, perbrevi postea est mortuus” (“taken away for a dead man, shortly thereafter he was dead”). Often the victim was turned over to allow flagellation on the chest, though this proceeded with more caution, as the possibility of inflicting a fatal blow was much greater.

As Pontius Pilate was only the Prefect/Equestrian Procurator of Iudeaea Region (from 26-36 A.D.), he might have had no true lictor of his own, hence regular soldiers might have administered the scourging in place of lictores.

After the scourging, the soldiers often taunted their victim. In Jesus’ situation, this took the form of plaiting thorns (several prickly or thorny shrubs found in Palestine, especially the Paliurus aculeatus, Zizyphus Spina-Christi, and Zizyphus vulgaris may have served for the purpose) into a sort of ‘crown’ (the Gospels use the Greek word stephanon, which usually implies a wreath or garland of some sort; however some think that it is likely that the crown was a sort of ‘cap’ that covered the whole head, as in the illustration at right), dressing him in a purple (so say Mark and John) or scarlet (Matthew) cloak (Matthew and Mark used the Greek word chlamys, which was originally a sort of cloak worn by Greek soldiers made from a rectangle of woollen material about the size of a blanket, typically bordered, and was usually pinned at the right shoulder while John used the word himation, which was a type of cloak worn over the tunic or chiton), in order to mock him as King of the Jews. In addition, he was also provided a reed (kalamos) for a sceptre, which was later used to beat him (Matt. 27:30). However, once the soldiers got tired of this sport, they took off the robe, “dressed him in his own clothes, and led him off to crucify him.”

B. TO THE PLACE OF EXECUTION

It was customary for the condemned man to carry his own cross from the flogging post to the site of crucifixion outside the city walls. He was usually naked, unless this was prohibited by local customs. Since the weight of the entire cross was probably well over 300 pounds (136 kilograms), only the crossbar was carried. The patibulum, weighing 75-125 pounds (35-60 kg). was placed across the nape of the victim’s neck and balanced along both shoulders. Usually, the outstretched arms then were tied to the crossbar.

The processional to the site of crucifixion was led by execution teams composed of four soldiers, headed by a centurion, with the condemned man placed in the middle of the hollow square of the four soldiers.

A herald carried a sign (titulus, epigraphe) on which the condemned man’s name and crime were displayed; alternatively, it would have been hung around the victim’s neck. The board was said to be whitened with gypsum while the lettering was in black; alternatively, the lettering was done with gypsum. The description of guilt written thereon was usually made to be as brief and as concise as possible; the Gospel’s record that Jesus’ titulus merely contained his name and his crime (“the King of the Jews”). Eusebius (Ecclesiastical History 5.1) recorded a Christian martyr named Attalus who was led to the ampitheatre to be killed, with a placard being carried before him which said simply: “This is Attalus the Christian.”

At the site of execution, the victim stripped of his clothing (if any) and, at least in Palestine, was given a bitter drink of wine mixed with myrrh (gall) as a mild analgesic to help deaden the pain. The criminal was then thrown to the ground on his back, with his arms outstretched along the patibulum. Any article of clothing belonging to the victim became the property of the party of soldiers in charge of the execution, as per the law; thus, the soldiers drew lots for Jesus’ clothes.

There was no ‘set’ posture for someone being crucified; soldiers usually crucified victims in various postures and positions (Josephus mentions that during the Siege of Jerusalem, soldiers crucified those they caught “one after one way, and another after another” to amuse themselves).

Upright posts would have presumably been erected and fixed permanently in such places, and the crossbeam, with the condemned man perhaps already nailed to it, would then be attached to the post. To prolong the crucifixion process, a horizontal wooden block or plank serving as a crude seat (known as a sedile or sedulum), was often attached midway down the stipes.

C. TYING OR NAILING TO THE CROSS?

The condemned man may sometimes have been attached to the cross by tying him securely there (some scholars have, in fact, argued that crucifixion was actually a bloodless form of death and that tying the victim was the rule), but nails are mentioned by Josephus, who states that, again during the Siege of Jerusalem, “the soldiers, out of the wrath and hatred they bore the Jews, nailed those they caught, one after one way, and another after another, to the crosses, by way of jest, when their multitude was so great, that room was wanting for the crosses, and crosses wanting for the bodies.”

Therefore, other scholars such as Hengel, who here takes along with Hewitt (1932) have argued that nailing the victim by his hands and feet was the rule and tying him to the cross was the exception.

In Roman times iron was expensive; thus, nails from a crucifixion were usually removed from the dead body and reused over and over to cut the costs. Also, objects used in the execution of criminals, such as nails or ropes from a crucifixion were frequently sought as amulets by many people, and was thus removed from the victim following their death.

This is attested to by a passage in the Mishna (Tractate Sabbath 6.10) which states that both Jews and Amorites (a sort of ‘codeword’ for non-Jews) may carry a nail from a crucifixion, a tooth from a jackal and an egg from a locust as a means of healing:

MISHNA IX: It is permitted to go out with eggs of grasshoppers or with the tooth of a fox or a nail from the gallows where a man was hanged, as medical remedies. Such is the decision of R. Meir, but the sages prohibit the using of these things even on week days, for fear of imitating the Amorites.

GEMARA: The eggs of grasshoppers as a remedy for toothache; the tooth of a fox as a remedy for sleep, viz., the tooth of a live fox to prevent sleep and of a dead one to cause sleep; the nail from the gallows where a man was hanged as a remedy for swelling.

“As medical remedies,” such is the decision of R. Meir. Abayi and Rabha both said: “Anything (intended) for a medical remedy, there is no apprehension of imitating the Amorites; hence, if not intended as a remedy there is apprehension of imitating the Amorites? But were we not taught that a tree which throws off its fruit, it is permitted to paint it and lay stones around it? It is right only to lay stones around it in order to weaken its strength, but what remedy is painting it? Is it not imitating the Amorites? (Nay) it is only that people may see it and pray for mercy. We have learned in a Boraitha: It is written: “Unclean, unclean, shall he call out [Leviticus, 13:45].” (To what purpose?) That one must make his troubles known to his fellow-men, that they may pray for his relief.”

As this Mishnaic passage mentions both Jews and non-Jews carrying these objects one can infer the power of these amulets and their scarcity in the archaeological record. Not only Jewish sources attest to the power of these objects; Pliny in Naturalis Historia (28.11) wrote that:

…So, too, in cases of quartan fever, they take a fragment of a nail from a cross, or else a piece of a halter that has been used for crucifixion, and, after wrapping it in wool, attach it to the patient’s neck; taking care, the moment he has recovered, to conceal it in some hole to which the light of the sun cannot penetrate…

Perhaps, however, the number of the individuals crucified may determine the manner in which the execution took form. For example, during the Third Servile War (led by the slave Spartacus), which happened in 73-71 BC, 6600 prisoners of war were crucified along the Via Appia between the cities of Rome and Capua, it would seem plausible that the most quick and efficient manner of death was employed; namely, to simply tie the victim to the tree or cross with his hands suspended directly over his head, causing death within a few minutes, or perhaps an hour if the victims’ feet were not nailed or tied down.

Patrick lives in Japan. He supports the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite according to the Missal of Bl. Pope John XXIII.

The photo shows, “The Crucifixion,” by Jacopo Tintoretto, painted in 1565.

Who Was Caiaphas?

Joseph Caiaphas, the Jewish high priest between AD 18-37, best known for his role during the trial of Jesus of Nazareth. Nothing is known about his early career, but we can assume that he was a member of a wealthy family, because he married a daughter of the high priest who is called Annas (or Ananus) son of Seth, high priest from AD 6-15 (John 18:13). Even when he was no longer in function, he was apparently extremely influential. According to Josephus, five of Ananus’ sons became high priest (Antiquities 20.198); to this we may add Caiaphas, his son-in-law.

Both Annas and Caiaphas may have sympathized with the Sadducees, which found most of its members among the wealthy Jewish elite. Some scholars think it probable that Caiaphas was a member of the embassy that went to Rome in AD 17 to discuss fiscal matters (Tacitus, Annals, 2.42.5).

In AD 18, the Roman governor Valerius Gratus (AD 15-26) appointed Caiaphas as high priest. The two men must have had an excellent working relation, because Caiaphas remained in office exceptionally long. Gratus had dismissed at least four high priests – Annas (Ananus), Ishmael ben-Fabus, Eleazar ben-Ananus, and Simon ben-Camithus – before appointing Caiaphas. Aside from Annas, the aforementioned high priests ruled for only a single year before being taken out of office.

It is tempting to link this appointment to the Jewish embassy that in AD 17 had appealed to Tiberius for a reduction in the tribute of Judaea: was Caiaphas rewarded for his tactful behavior in Rome? In any case, Gratus’ successor Pontius Pilate never changed the high priest, which can mean that he had found in Caiaphas a man who could be trusted.

Jerusalem at the time of Jesus was goverened by the high priest and his council. This was a reversion to the system that had been followed in the Persian and Hellenistic periods before the Hasmonean revolt. The high priest, often in concert with the ‘chief priests’, sometimes with the ‘elders’ (influential, aristocratic laymen), was in charge of ordinary police and judicial procedures, and he – alone and in such combinations as just described – figures large in the Gospels, Acts and in Josephus.

Priesthood was hereditary among the Jews; the priests traced their lineage to Aaron, brother of Moses and first high priest. During the Persian and Hellenistic periods, the high priests, who were rulers of the nation, were (or were thought to be) members of the family of Zadok (1 Kings 1:28-45). The Hasmoneans were hereditary priests, but they were not Zadokites. When they arose to power as a result of the Maccabean revolt against the Seleucids, however, the natural consequence was that the leading member of the family was declared high priest.

When Simon ascended to the high priesthood (1 Maccabees 14:41-49), the previously ruling Zadokite family was deposed, though the system of government remained the same. About a hundred years later, however, the revolt of Aristobulus II (66-63 BC) and his son led to Herod’s appointment as King of Judaea, and this changed the system.

Herod, himself a non-Jew, could not claim descent from a priestly family and had to appoint high priests during his reign. When Rome deposed Archelaus in AD 6 and sent a prefect to govern Judaea, it also began to appoint the high priest. Thereafter it sometimes granted the right to a member of Herod’s family, but sometimes this right was retained by the prefect (later procurator), or by the legate of Syria.

During a sixty-year period (AD 6-66), the high priests were always chosen from one of four families of aristocratic priests. The high priests as political appointees did not have quite the prestige and authority of the hereditary high priests of earlier periods, but nevertheless they had some prestige and a lot of authority.

For the most part, they governed Jerusalem successfully.
In Jerusalem, then, even when Judaea was under ‘direct’ Roman control, Jewish leaders were in day-to-day control. The magistrates were Jews who ruled by Jewish law, the schools were Jewish and the religion was Jewish. The high priest and his council had a wide range of responsibilities: they were required to organize payment of tribute and to get the money and goods to the right person. Jerusalem was policed by the Temple guards, commanded by the high priest.

The high priest was a suitable ruler because the office was traditional and thus was held with great reverence, and the prefect considered him the ideal spokesman for and to the population of Jerusalem. Granted, there were cases when people did not like a high priest (the mob hunted down and killed a former high priest when revolt broke out in AD 66), but whether the high priest was good or not, respect for the office was deep and genuine.

First Herod and then Rome took control of the priestly vestments and released them only during special occasions. With them on, the high priest wielded too much power. Cases concerning control of the vestments, and with it the appointment of the high priest, more than once went directly to the emperor for decision.

Who controlled the vestments and the office really mattered, because the man in the office was not only a mediator between Rome and her subjects, but also between God and man. He was the one who, on the Day of Atonement, would go into the Holy of Holies and make atonement for the sins of himself and all Israel.

The Romans considered the high priest to be the reasonable official for them. If people wanted to deal with Rome, they went to the high priest. If Rome wanted to communicate with the people, the prefect summoned the high priest. If anything went wrong, the high priest held full responsibility. But he was only the first among equals: responsibility to prevent trouble fell, to some degree, on all the leading citizens.

In short: Rome’s rule over Judaea at our period was rather ‘indirect’: it governed through client (puppet) kings or resident governors, who in turn, utilized local aristocrats and magistrates down the food chain – be it the local village elder or the Temple high priest.

The prefect’s main duties are to maintain domestic peace and collect tribute: in Judaea – specifically in Jerusalem, both tasks are turned over to the priestly aristocrats, while the prefect would usually limit himself to monitoring for potential trouble and moving out only when things spiralled out of control, under normal circumstances.

If the high priest did not preserve order, the prefect would intervene militarily, and the situation might get out of hand. As long as the Temple guards, acting as the police, carried out arrests, and as long as the high priest was involved in judging cases (though he usually did not execute anyone), there was little possibility of a direct clash between the Jews and the Romans.

But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. So from that day on they made plans to put him to death. (John 11:49-52).

To keep his job, he had to remain in control, but any decent high priest – and Caiaphas, it seems, was pretty decent – had to care about the common populace as well. He had other obligations than just the need to prevent clashes with Roman troops. As the man in the middle, he should also represent the views of the people to the prefect, and should stand up for Jewish customs and traditions.

Around AD 36, Pilate’s career in Judaea came to an end. The governor of Syria, Lucius Vitellius, intervened in the Jewish affairs during the Passover festival of AD 37 and removed Caiaphas from office. The man who had ruled the longest of the nineteen high priests of the first century was succeeded by his brother-in-law Jonathan, a son of Ananus, who himself ruled for only a year before being replaced by his brother, Theophilus (AD 37-41).

In November of 1990, a family tomb was discovered in Peace Forest in North Talpiot, Jerusalem. The crypt contained four loculi (burial niches), with twelve intact ossuaries (boxes containing human bones), as well as some coins. The coins, as well as the writing on the ossuaries, help date this tomb as being from around the 1st century AD.

On one of the ornate ossuaries (left), measuring 74 cm long, 29 wide, and 38 high, two inscriptions were found: on the side was written Yehosef bar-QYF’, with Yehosef bar-QF’ written on one end. This ossuary contained the bones of two babies, a young child, a teenage boy, an adult woman, and a man about 60 years of age. Another ossuary from the same tomb also bore the inscription QF’.

After some study, the bones were buried again back on the Mount of Olives – because burial is so central to the Jewish faith, there has in fact been some recent controversy between archaeologists and ultra-Orthodox Jews over human remains uncovered in digs: it is now a rule that uncovered remains are to be promptly turned over to the Ministry of Religious Affairs (presently the Ministry of Religious Services) for reburial – while the ossuary is currently located in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

Those who favor the Caiaphas interpretation (based on Josephus, who mentions his name as Joseph Caiaphas) propose that QYF’/QF’ should be read as Qa[ya]fa’, while those questioning it think that it should be vocalized as Qofa’ or Qufa’ instead.

Patrick lives in Japan. He supports the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite according to the Missal of Bl. Pope John XXIII.

The photo shows, “He Is Guilty Of Death” by Vasily Polenov, painted in 1906.

The Question Of Sin

Have you ever thought what the world would be like if sin were absent? No armies, no wars, no police, no courts, no jails, no locks, no passwords, no scams, no weapons. Life would be Absolute Bliss.

The Apostle John speaks here about the age-old problem of sin. In these few verses John mentions the word, sin nine times. Why? Because it’s such a problem and it’s something that affects every person. It affects us in such a way which is detrimental to our well-being.

By speaking of sin nine times John is highlighting the fact that we cannot brush it under the carpet as if it doesn’t really matter. He brings it out into the open by talking about it.

We all live in a world where every living creature has an enemy. A caterpillar must watch out for the birds; the frog has to watch out for the snake, the antelope must watch out for the lion. The tuna has to watch for the shark.

What about people? People have any enemy as well. The enemy is real, it’s not imagined. It’s like a virus which affects everyone; and the enemy is called Sin.

As John highlights public enemy number 1; he also introduces the theme of saying and doing. A person’s Christian life is to amount to more than mere talk; we must also walk the walk, living out what we believe.

If we are in fellowship with God, if we are walking in the light, our lives will back up what our lips are saying. But if we are living in sin, walking in darkness, then our lives will contradict what our lips are saying, making us hypocrites.

The Bible calls the Christian life a walk. This walk begins with a step of faith when we trust Christ as our Saviour. But salvation is not the end it is only the beginning of a spiritual walk. Walking involves progress, and Christians are supposed to advance in the spiritual life.

Just as a child must learn to walk and must overcome many difficulties in doing so, a Christian must learn to walk in the light. God’s light. But the fundamental difficulty is the matter of, you’ve guessed it, sin.

Sin, tries to stop completely, or interrupts our walk with God. Our sin causes us to stumble and fall and sometimes not get up at all.

Of course, sin is not simply outward disobedience, sin is also inner rebellion or desire. In the second chapter of this letter we are warned about 3 things. The desires of the flesh; desires of the eyes, and about the pride of life, all of which are sinful. Sin is also the breaking of God’s law and refusal to submit to the law of God. Living in independence of God’s law is the very essence of sin.

Suzannah Wesley was the mother of John and Charles Wesley and she had 17 other children. She herself came from a family of 29. She had a huge impact on the lives of both John and Charles.

One day as a young man, John asked his mother this question; he asked her; ‘can you give me a definition of sin’? Not many children ask their parents that.

This was her answer; ‘whatever weakens your reasoning; impairs the tenderness of your conscience; obscures your sense of God, takes away your relish for spiritual things; or increases the power of flesh over the spirit; that becomes sin’. Fairly comprehensive. There is no better definition I know. If we only ever pinpoint sin; I don’t commit adultery so I’m OK; or I don’t steal so I’m OK; I’m not a jealous person so I’m OK; I don’t gossip so I’m OK. Then we become Pharisaic in our outlook.

But when we look at the big picture of how we live out our lives like Suzannah Wesley did it leaves no wriggle room. Our problem today is that we have lost the ability to define things for what they are and what they were. There are now in Western Society very few absolutes in a world instead defined by relativism. But the bible speaks of absolutes and always has. There is a clash then with what the bible says and what the world wants and desires.

Governments and people deal with issues today without any idea of definition. Because concerning the definition of a moral issue you have to draw on something or somebody from which to give you the moral compass you need.

You cannot just decide to make up a moral code, which of course is what is happening today. Today there are very few things that are labelled wrong or bad. Society today is re defining what sin is. It is being made up as it goes along and it’s a road that leads to disaster. One of the things I love about the bible is that it tells us the way it is. It doesn’t conceal bad behaviour even by the saints.

The mighty Abraham the friend of God, who had great faith; became weak in his faith when he went down to Egypt and told a series of lies to the pagan Pharaoh that his wife Sarah, was his sister. And then foolishly through his impatience married the slave Hagar in order to have a child from her. In both cases God forgave Abraham his sin, but Abraham had to reap what he sowed.

God will remove our sins, we know this because of what Jesus did, but he does NOT change the result, as many of us I’m sure can testify. No one can unscramble an egg. Moses killed an Egyptian soldier in a fit of rage; and then had to live many years of his life on the run. God forgave him his sin, but he still lived in fear. You can easily trace King David’s gradual downfall from when he had his illicit affair with Bathsheba who was married to another man. God forgave him, but his family soon after started to disintegrate. The kingdom started to break up.

The fact that Christian’s sin bothers a lot of people. They forget the fact that their receiving the new nature does not eliminate the old nature they were born with. The old nature which originates in us, beginning inside our mother’s womb fights against the new spiritual nature, which we receive once we trust in Jesus.

No amount of self-discipline, no amount of man-made rules, and no amount of self-help programmes can control this old nature. It holds to us like a limpet on a rock. Only God’s Holy Spirit can enable us to put to death the old nature and produce the Spirit’s fruit in us through the new nature.

Sinning Christians like Peter, woman at the well, Moses, Abraham, David, Sarah, Jacob, are not mentioned in the Bible to discourage us, but to warn us.

Why do you keep preaching to us Christians, about sin, an angry church member said to the minister? After all, sin in the life of a Christian is different from sin in the life of an unsaved person. Yes, indeed said the minister, it is different it’s much worse. All of us therefore, must deal with our sins if we are to enjoy the life that is real. And how do we do that you may say?

Well. we do a couple of things. One is we can decide to cover our sins. Mark Twain said; ‘we are all like the moon. We all have a dark side, we want no one else to see’. The trouble with little sins is that they don’t stay little. Light produces life and growth and beauty, but sin is darkness; and darkness and light cannot exist in the same place. If we are walking in the light, the darkness has to go. If we are holding to sin, then the light goes. That is the reality.

How do Christians try to cover up their sins; the answer is by telling lies. We want our Christian friends to think we are spiritual people so we lie about our lives and try to make a favourable impression on them. We want them to think that we are walking in the light, though in reality that is not the case.

Once a person begins to lie to others, they will sooner or later start to lie to themselves and verse 8 deals with this. The problem now is not deceiving others, but deceiving ourselves.

The scary thing is that it is possible for a believer to live in sin, yet convince himself or herself that everything is fine in their relationship with God. The classic example is of King David and his adulterous affair with Bathsheba where he foolishly thought everything was fine with God and with life afterwards. He would continue on tending his royal vineyards as if nothing much had happened. You can read about that in the book of Second Samuel.

God cannot be mocked. But the spiritual decline becomes still worse. The next step is trying to LIE to God verse 10. We have made ourselves liars; now we try to make God a liar. We contradict his word, which says, ‘that all have sinned’; and yet we maintain that we are the exceptions to the rule. We apply God’s word to others but not to ourselves. We believe the message is for someone else in the pew behind us, not ourselves. Many who lean strongly to the left in politics hold to this view.

The whole process starts out with the believer telling lies and ends up with them becoming a confirmed liar. It begins as a role they play; then it becomes a longer role and then, the very essence of their lives. Eventually their character becomes eroded. Sin is lethal. Even the smallest dose is lethal. What do we do? We can try to cover our sins or we can confess our sins.

God is light. He is pure, perfect and Holy. Therefore, it is impossible for him to close his eyes to even the smallest sin. That smallest sin has to be dealt with because it’s wrong and it offends God’s holiness. But God is love too. He wants to save sinners and fill them with his love and grace and truth. How then can a holy God uphold his own justice and still forgive sinners?

The answer is in the sacrifice of Christ. At the cross God in his holiness judged sin. But God in his love offers Jesus Christ to the world as a sacrifice to atone for our sin and become our Saviour.

God was just in that he punished sin, but he is also loving in that he offers forgiveness through what Jesus did at Calvary. Jesus finished his work on earth; the work of giving his life as a sacrifice for sin; that’s why He cried out from the cross; ‘it is finished’. But he has an Unfinished work in heaven. For he represents us before God’s throne.

As an Advocate he intercedes for us and helps us when we sin. When we confess our sins to God, because of what Jesus does for us in heaven, God forgives us. When we get to heaven we will need someone to speak up for us. Someone who is on our side. That’s what an advocate does. Because Christ our advocate lives for us at God’s right hand, he can apply his sacrifice to our need’s day by day, hour by hour.

This is where the Cross and Resurrection dovetail perfectly together. The cross is dead without the resurrection. The resurrection is meaningless without the cross. All he asks is that when we have failed, we do Not try to cover sin up. Instead in faith we confess our sins. To confess sin means much more than simply to admit them. To confess sin, means to say the same thing about it that God says about it.

Confessing is not simply praying a lovely wee prayer, or making pious excuses. True confession is naming sin; calling it by name for what it is. It’s simply being honest with ourselves, acknowledging that we are all steeped in sin from our birth and falling on God’s infinite mercy.

Rev. Alan Wilson is a Presbyterian Minister in Northern Ireland, where he serves a large congregation, supported by his wife. Before he took up the call to serve Christ, he was in the Royal Ulster Constabulary for 30-years. He has two children and two grandchildren and enjoys soccer, gardening, zoology, politics and reading. He voted for Brexit in the hope that the stranglehold of Brussels might finally be broken. He welcomes any that might wish to correspond with him through the Contact Page of The Postil.

The photo shows, “Christ and the Adulteress Woman,” by Domenico Morelli, painted in 1969.

Jesus The Teacher

We heard recently the way Jesus shatters our illusions in how we see life and how we live it out. Where we skilfully over many years erect various types of spiritual illusions to safeguard ourselves from the real truth that Jesus confronts us with. Shattering our false illusions is part of Jesus job to get us to see past ourselves and to focus our attention on him.

Great teachers not only dispel myths and shatter illusions; great teachers make you think; whether you want to or not.

One of the qualities that many of us tend to gloss over when we think about Jesus is the fact that he was a truly great teacher.

In fact he was the greatest teacher who ever lived. He taught in ways no one had ever heard before. And what he said touched people deeply. If we cast our minds back to primary school or secondary school days whether its 5 years ago or 65 years ago I have no doubt that we can all remember a teacher who impacts upon us for good or for ill through their teaching.

In my experience some were excellent and some; well they could do much better.

In Belfast we had a French teacher who would be lying down on top of his desk with a pillow under his head, casually staring up at the ceiling, and greeted each one of us in French as we entered the room. ‘Bonjour Alain, Bonjour Henri’, and so on. Then he would go outside for a quick smoke and proceed to teach us as he inhaled on some Russian cheroot.

Or some of the art teachers. Art was great fun; because some of the teachers just let you go ahead and express what you feel on canvas. So it was all a bit random without any structure.

We had a maths teacher Mr Steele and when I think back he was more of a philosopher than a maths teacher.

Any way one day the class was misbehaving and by way of punishment he got a glass bowl filled it with water and put a pen in the bowl.

Then he told us for the rest of the period to write down 20 observations of the bowl, the water and the pen.

 

Well you can imagine for a 14 year old it was mental torture.

I have no idea how many observations I noted down. But the one thing I learnt much later on was that a persons Mind is influenced by how much they observe and understand truth.

In order for us to function effectively as Christian’s and think clearly, our Minds must be Cleansed, refreshed, and renewed so that we can receive deeper transforming truth. Jesus as the greatest teacher who ever lived was a master at mind renewal.

He knew that the mind is the gateway through which we process and apply truth. But truth is accessible only to the receptive mind. The key being; A person must be willing to learn. In other words they must be open to the truth.

An old Chinese proverb states: when the person is ready, the teacher appears.

But how do we know if we really want to learn.

Are we ready for the mysteries of God’s kingdom and what it means to love the Lord with all your heart, soul and mind.

Like youngsters learning to read; when will we be done with basic picture books and be instead ready for things that will stretch and challenge our minds spiritually. For many Christians we go a certain distance and then we put the blockers on and go no further.

Jesus as a great teacher used parables as mind renewing tools to stretch and challenge our thinking.

He used parables to make people think differently about God’s kingdom and to test whether they wanted to enter into his kingdom.

He knew exactly what he was saying, how he would say it, when he would say it and to whom he would say it and he could literally read a person’s mind.

He knew their thoughts and he knows our thoughts of each person in church this morning. So when Jesus spoke to the people he did so for a reason; not to confuse them; but to get them to use their minds; their logic; their powers of reasoning.

Test and see what I am saying. He said; ‘The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked through the dough’.

‘The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field’.

‘Again the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.’

These sayings brought light and insight to the eyes of those seeking God; but cast a veil of darkness and mystery over critics and cynics. Nothing has changed. For many people their minds became dull; because their hearts have become hard.

They miss the opportunity to look beyond themselves and the obvious.

Jesus goes on to say why he speaks to people in parables.

‘This is why I speak to them in parables otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts; and turn, and I would heal them. But blessed are your eyes because they see and your ears because they hear.’

Words spoken by the great teacher in Matthew 13.

There you have Jesus message of the good news in three words;

Firstly To Understand, To Turn and be To be Healed. This is the process of how change generally speaking comes in a person’s life.

Salvation comes to those who allow their minds to be open in the first place; in order to change their heart so that they understand the message; and who turn away from their misguided illusions, to God.

So first you must ask yourself this question; am I ready for such a turning away from myself, to God?

Because when all is said and done Salvation involves belief in God and a heart felt turning away from sin.

And the point where we must all start from is being totally honest with yourself and know your failings and sinfulness.

When we do not love God with all our heart mind and soul we sin. Which means that I constantly sin against God because I do not love him with all my heart mind and soul.

I want to but I can’t, because there is still part of me that wants to do my own thing; without God. Maybe others feel the same way.

And who of us can honestly say that we love our neighbours as ourselves.

 

Is my mind prepared to be Open and then pierce through the layers of illusion, confusion, doubt and cynicism, like stripping away the layers of skin around an onion.//////

There is only one way to find out. Through your mind think carefully to what Jesus is saying; is the hidden truth breaking through.

If so will you allow it to shape your thoughts and renew your mind? And If the truth does Not appear before you and remains difficult to find; all is not lost; unless you give up the search.

My advice to you is; don’t give up the search. With Jesus treasure hunters become treasure finders.

The seeker is rewarded; but the cynic goes home empty handed.

One difficulty that people encounter is that they claim they cannot find God.

They say: I want to find him, but I can’t; or he simply isn’t there.

Well, we are told in the bible that God is omnipresent; meaning he is everywhere. So if he is everywhere why can I not find him? God of course can hide himself from us if he wants to and one of the reasons he does that is because of our sins. So we need to get that sorted out. Our sins get in the way of us growing in our faith. It doesn’t mean however that God has disappeared.

David tells us in Psalm 66; if I has cherished sin in my heart the Lord would not have listened.’ Cherished here means to aim for sin and to look forward to it. It doesn’t mean the actual presence of sin in our lives, because sin is always present in our lives at some point.

But there is a huge difference a gulf, between the element of sin and actually looking forward to sinning; cherishing and holding on to it.

Proverbs 8 tell us; those who seek me find me.

And Jeremiah in chapter 29 puts it well when he says; you will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. ‘I will be found by you’, declares the Lord.

Sometimes our search for God may grow cold and we think that, that’s it. The search has ended. But then something miraculous happens. One day God taps us on the shoulder and he says; its me. I’m here now.

You were looking for me and now I’m here. So what are you going to do.?

The reality is of course that God was always there but he has chosen to come to us at this particular point and time in our lives. This happened with countless people in the bible when God turns up unexpectantly.

One such incident happened with Mary the teenage mother of Jesus.

The angel Gabriel was sent to Nazareth to speak to her when she was engaged to be married to Joseph. Gabriel knew her name; do not be afraid Mary you have found favour with God.

You will be with child and give birth to a son and you are to give him the name Jesus.

After listening to all this, what was Mary’s reaction when God turns up right before her eyes.

She said, I am the Lord’s servant, may it be to me as you have said. God appears taps Mary on the shoulder using an angel. Mary had no idea this would happen or the full consequences of what Gabriel had outlined. God turned up unexpectedly with Mary, but always at the right time in a person’s life.

She was a good virtuous Jewish girl although she wasn’t necessarily seeking God.

As a good Jewish girl she knew of the existence of God. She knew that he was omnipresent. She knew that he was the maker of heaven and earth; but She didn’t expect him to turn up in the way he did.

This can be a very sobering moment in a persons life; God turning up and whispering your name; and you know that its him. But what happens next? What did Mary do? She accepted God at his word and believed it to happen.

She had the opportunity to keep her mind shut and convince herself that this was all a bad dream and things like this don’t really happen. But she didn’t.

In submission to God she turned to him not away from him.

Or little Zacchaeus who climbed up the sycamore fig tree to see Jesus passing through.

His situation was different from Mary’s in that he was looking for Jesus although perhaps not in a deep spiritual way; more in a casual way.

He went looking for him among the crowd of on lookers and found him. How did he react when he found Jesus; he told everyone that he would give back the money he acquired to the poor in fact he would give back four times he needed to.

I have no doubt that Zacchaeus was a happier man giving money to the poor that taking it from them; because Jesus in those few moments with Zacchaeus had turned his life around.

Both Zacchaeus and Mary had allowed the great teacher to open their minds and heart and turn towards him. The truth was in front of them; they could see it and they knew it to be true.

So whether we are seeking God like Zacchaeus or not expecting God like Mary what will be your response?

You see the scary thing is that God is still around. I think we all know that and accept that.

But what happens if and when he turns up in our lives and we know and hear him speaking the truth. Jesus speaks the truth and we know deep down he is right.

Jesus can turn up most unexpectantly. Are you prepared to allow your mind and heart to be changed by him? He may turn up just the once and give you that one opportunity.

Who is teaching you how to live your life rightly? Yourself; your boss, your friends, your family. Can they be trusted? Can they be always trusted to have your interests at heart?

Alan Wilson is a Presbyterian Minister in Northern Ireland, where he serves a large congregation, supported by his wife. Before he took up the call to serve Christ, he was in the Royal Ulster Constabulary for 30-years. He has two children and two grandchildren and enjoys soccer, gardening, zoology, politics and reading. He voted for Brexit in the hope that the stranglehold of Brussels might finally be broken. He welcomes any that might wish to correspond with him through the Contact Page of The Postil.
The photo shows, “Christ and Nicodemus,” by Fritz von Uhde, painted ca. 1896.

Nahum The Carpenter, The Sixth Epistle

It is now over two years since Ezekiel left for Corinth. Ruth and Nahum have had several reports that he is healthy and doing very well in Greece. Ruth is hoping he would be home soon.

Ezra and Elizabeth have become a very popular couple in their community. They are invited to many social events and are often seen either walking hand in hand or riding on their horses. They make a very interesting couple as Ezra is quiet, and a little bit shy, however when he does speak people listen.

Elizabeth is out going and a confident conversationalist, they truly compliment each other.

Elizabeth has completed her medical training and even though she is very young she has quickly created a reputation of a caring, tender, compassionate and clever medical person. More than just a nurse!

People say that she has a special ability to diagnose your problem before she even examines you. People are coming from around the country to the hospital where she works and actually asking for her. Fortunately, the medical men in the clinic respect her abilities and often ask for her opinion as well. Ezra likes to tell her she has God-given abilities!!! She laughs him off.

Later that summer Ezra confided to his mother that he wanted to ask Elizabeth to marry him and how should he go about it??

This made Ruth smile, almost giggle! Ezra asked what is it? Oh Ezra she replied it brings back such fond memories of your dear sweet father and me!

He said, please tell me.

She began by saying that when they were children they went to the same school, although boys were in one room and girls in another. Your dad had to leave school when he was thirteen as his father needed him in his shop, after he quit school Nahum was almost never seen, he worked all day in the shop and then went home helped his mother and went to bed. His father was not a well man.

One day I asked a friend of Nahum’s to come to his shop with me. We were now about 15 or 16, Ezra was shocked to see us, but so proud to show us his father’s shop and the work they did. We were impressed. We invited Ezra to join a group of friends who met on Friday nights, we usually had a fire, some food and maybe, if we could get it a wee bit of wine. We always had a good time. He agreed to come.

One cold, rainy Friday night some months later he showed up with a parcel in his hands. He chatted with his friends and then when he saw me alone he came over and in his shy manner he said, I made you a gift, if you don’t like it, it is ok. He surely lacked confidence!

He gave me the package and when I opened it he had made me a leather broach, four different coloured leaves with a black dot in the middle! It was beautiful and I still have it!!! With tears in my eyes, I said Nahum this is beautiful I would never ever give it back; I leaned over and gave him a kiss on his cheek. It was the beginning.

After this we started seeing each other whenever we could and we had become good friends. About two years later I said to him did you ever think about getting married. He jumped up and said for sure! When would you like to do it?? I said hold on, I did not say I wanted to get married, I was just asking.

We talked some more and I explained what I knew about getting married. In the new Christian Church you had to have a priest, minister or disciples marry you, it was law. Also it was proper for the man to ask the girl’s parents for permission to marry their daughter.

This information set him back a bit, but I could sense from his manner and actions that there was a determination behind that shyness.

One evening when he knew I was out, he came over to my house.  I had told my parents he might be coming over one of these days so please welcome him, so they were prepared.

The poor guy came in and my parents greeted him warmly, suspecting what he wanted. They gave him a mug of wine. When they realized he was struggling they tried to help him and asked if there was something he wanted to say? He stuttered and stammered and said no, no,  I better be going.

My mother went over to him and said, come sit down beside me and have another mug of wine. She comforted him and after a while he blurted out that he loved their daughter, he thought she was the loveliest, smartest and most special girl in the whole world and he wanted her to be his wife. My mother and father hugged him and amid tears they said they would love to welcome Nahum into our family.

We were married a few months later and we have been so happy for over 23 years.

My mom said, oh Ezra, I am so sorry, I got carried away there!  I said mom, that is a beautiful story and it makes so much sense,   dad is still the same person today, Thank you for sharing.

My mom then told me to go see Mr. Goldman, the jeweler, and ask him to make a gold ring. She suggested that I try and put my little finger near Elizabeth’s ring finger (without her noticing) so I could tell Mr. Goldman the approximate size. She said I should speak with Elizabeth’s parents and ask them if I could marry their daughter. Then propose to Elizabeth.

Although shy like his father, he had no problem speaking to Elizabeth’s parents seeking their permission. They, like Ruth’s parents over 23 years ago said they would love to have Ezra as a son in law.

A few days later Elizabeth accepted his proposal but said she would like to wait until their wedding to wear his ring, but she did love it. Ezra understood.

They decided to wait to get married until Ezekiel returned. Fortunately the wait was not long, as a few months later he returned with six fellow disciples so the marriage took place with Ezekiel assisting and Isaac performing the wedding ceremony.

Hananiah and Juthine agreed to have the ceremony and reception at their farm. It was a beautiful day and the charming young couple was pleased that so many of their friends and relatives attended.After a short trip to a country home for a few days the young couple returned home and set up their new apartment in a friends large home about two miles outside of town.

It was a very pleasant cozy home, but the distance meant they usually rode their horses to work and into the city.They were both establishing their positions in life. Ezra was gradually taking over Nahum’s shop and making favourable changes and improvements resulting in more business and more income.

Elizabeth was continuing to grow her reputation as a healer of the sick. She now had started using new methods, new herbs and new remedies to treat the ill. People appreciated her compassionate manner too.

Nahum the Carpenter should now be called Nahum and Son, but they never got around to changing the name. Ezra was continuing to grow the business.One day he was working outside when two boys, Samuel and Ethan, who he had seen at some of the Christian services were walking by bare foot. He called to them and asked where are your sandals?  They smiled and said we don’t have any! He asked where are you going. They replied they were just out for a walk, nothing else to do.

Ezra called them over to his shop and asked if they would like to help him. They jumped at the opportunity. He told them to sweep the shop, smooth the sand at the entrance way and put the garbage in the cart and to sort the pile of leather, stacking it by size. It took them a few hours and when they finished he gave them each a pair of sandals.

They were so excited to receive such a gift for so little work. He asked them where they lived and they explained they lived with their mom in a small apartment nearby. Their mom worked as a servant for a wealthy family. They had no money, but mom was able to bring home food every day so they were well fed. They were both still going to school. His father had died when they were young.

Ezra asked them if they would like to come by every other day and help him, they happily agreed. This was the beginning of a lasting relationship.

As Ezra and Elizabeth were beginning their lives, another couple was at the other end of the spectrum. They were elderly, lived on a small farm on the outskirts of town. They were now unable to work their farm and had hired a young neighbour boy to look after their small herd of sheep and flock of chickens.

Their names were Yohanan and Mariamme. The farm had been in Mariamme’s family for generations and it was expected it would be handed down to her heirs too. Unfortunately Mariamme had two miscarriages, the second one resulting in her being unable to bear children.

The couple was very bitter about this situation and was angry with God for his lack of love shown to them.

Several months ago they reluctantly came to a Christian service where they met Isaac and listened to his teachings of this man Jesus and became members of his church.

Having seen them a few times at the services, Isaac and Nahum asked if they could visit them. The old couple welcomed them warmly into their home a few days later.

Nahum and Isaac told them they understood their anger. They also explained that this man Jesus told them to believe in him and to put their trust in him and they would find peace and love. They also told them that they believed God had a plan for everyone and maybe someday they would understand why they were childless.

Following a very enjoyable evening both Nahum and Isaac complimented the couple on the size and majesty of their home and expressed their admiration for it. Mairiamme told them her grandfather had built it for his own family and also added a small apartment on the rear of the home so his eldest son and his wife could remain at home and help run the farm.

Since they had no children, Yohanan and Miriamme lived only in the main part of the house, the apartment was used for storage.

When they left, Isaac and Nahum were pleased that their visit was able to add some comfort and hope for this very nice couple.

Time would prove them correct.

 

John Thomas Percival continues working with wood and pondering about the early history of Christianity.

 

The photo shows, “Jesus Ministered to by Angels,” by James Tissot, painted 1866-1894.

Our Identity In Christ

From time to time we hear on the news of some people who through a traumatic experience in their lives lose their memories.

Maybe they have been beaten up with serious brain injuries and they cannot remember who they are; whether they are married or single, where they work or where they live. Their identity has gone. Sometimes their memory returns to them but in many cases it does not.

They have no idea who they are, no idea of their past, present or future. Their identity has gone. It is a terrible thing to happen.

Did you know that Satan is trying to erase your true identity and mine? He is you know. There is a spiritual war going on over your identity. Satan cannot create anything. Only God can create.

What Satan does though is, he perverts, he destroys, and he distorts your identity. Gradually he wants to rub it out.

So anything that God creates, he takes what God has created and perverts, distorts and destroys. He takes sex and perverts it; he takes relationships and destroys them; he takes thoughts and distorts them. He takes God’s truth and alters it too.

Satan cannot hurt God because he is not as powerful as God, if he was as powerful he would do it, but he can’t. Incidentally God created Satan, Satan did not create himself.  So because he cannot hurt God he hurts God’s children. He is very skilled at this.

If he can keep you from being you, and hide your true identity he has succeeded in hurting God.

How does Satan do this? How does he keep you from knowing your true identity.? Well He uses different tools to do this and they are generally always the same tools. They seldom change over the centuries.

One of them is the Opinions of other People.

Parents, friends, colleagues, family members have said things about you all through your life; some of the things have been good some of them bad; some of them true; some of them not true; and most of the time they have said these things to mould you and shape you to be like them.

They want you, to be what they want you to be. Not what God wants you to be. And Satan uses the opinions of others to prevent you from finding out the real you.

Secondly; he also uses hurt and pain to deceive you in your life. If he can get you guilty, angry, bitter, resentful, ashamed, hating, he knows you are going to miss your true identity. He wants to fill you up with these sort of things.

He can use hate or bitterness in your life to the extent that it becomes all consuming; that’s all you ever think off. Getting you own back or how to hurt that person.

Thirdly he uses the MEDIA all the time. The messages are why can’t you be like that person. You should look them, you should dress like them, you are never going to have their talent or their ability.

Be more like them, be more like everybody else. Why don’t you buy what they buy and have what they have; Not to be you – but to be like everybody else.

And Satan puts thoughts in your mind. When God puts a thought in your mind its inspiration, it’s a great thought; like a light coming on. When Satan puts a thought into your mind its temptation; there’s a twist to it; a hidden agenda.

We have thoughts as well; but most of those thoughts are stupid; one or two are good; most are stupid. WE choose which thoughts we are going to hold on to.

However; the thoughts that Satan puts in our minds are; you have to earn God’s acceptance to be loved and liked by him; you have to earn it. He says things like; you don’t matter, you’re not important, your worthless.  That sin you committed 3 years ago you could never be forgiven for that. You should be ashamed of yourself.

What are people going to say when they find out you did this.

It is tragic and it seems to be a daily occurrence when a young person takes their own life over comments made or photographs taken that have gone public, or the threat to do so; on social media. Something is very badly wrong in our society with social media.

All shame comes from Satan. It doesn’t come from God; shame comes from Satan. These are the things he says to you to prevent you from understanding your true identity. I hope you can see his methodology.

But the number one tool he uses is to erase your true identity is; to repeat what he has told you. How can that be, you may ask yourself??

Well He will plant a seed in your mind at some point, he walks away and allows you to keep on repeating it.

You heard and you believe it. I’m worthless, I’m no good, I’m never going to amount to that. I can’t do this and I can’t do that. I’m guilty, I’m ashamed and that’s me, that’s the true me. That’s my identity.

Things stick with you. You can believe your own assessment of yourself very easily.

Has that ever happened to you.  In my home church in Bangor we had very fine preachers in that church over the years. Very articulate, very well educated, natural orators.

Satan used to say to me you could never be like those men. You’re not educated to their level; you’re not an orator like them, you don’t have their command of English. You don’t have their presence. You not smart enough. Besides your too old; your past it.

Do you know what – I believed it?

Maybe you have convinced yourself through the seed Satan has planted or the seed he has got others to plant for him, that you are not good enough, too old, too stupid; you don’t have that talent.

Now then you may well ask;……If all these tools are being used against me to conceal and hide my true identity, how can I know the real me??

Blaise Pascal was a very famous French mathematician, physicist, and philosopher in the 17th century. An extremely intelligent and clever man. He invented many things but as a Christian he wrote; ‘not only do we know God through Jesus but we only know ourselves through Jesus Christ. Apart from Jesus Christ we cannot know the meaning of life. We cannot know ourselves, we cannot know God; except through Jesus Christ.’

Now this term ‘in Christ’ is found 140 times in the bible which is a lot. It is the most used term to describe a disciple or believer. By contrast a ‘Christian’ is used only a few times.

About 35 of those times God says; because you are ‘IN Christ’ here is your true identity, here is who you truly are. Here’s who you were made to be, here’s the real you.

This is what it means to be ‘In Christ’.  These are the 4 finger prints of your true identity. Can you find the 4 marks? This is your test. What are the 4 marks:

  • You are chosen
  • There’s a Royal Priesthood
  • You are Holy
  • You belong to God

And because of these things God wants us to praise him, which is right and proper.

All of these fingerprints of your true identity given to us by God point to ONE thing that I am completely accepted. I am completely accepted by Christ.

The deepest wounds in our lives have come from Rejection. All of us have these wounds. Generally, they are hidden concealed wounds that we carry around with us.

They have been caused mainly by spouses, family, friends, or people at work. We have felt rejected through their actions; a divorce, cut out from the will; dumped from a relationship; ignored at work.

Out of that wound or wounds we try to find acceptance in our lives. But We look for it usually in the wrong places; we look to parents, family, work, partners; the pub; entertainment, activities; and what happens is that you see the same pattern emerging again and its usually based on how well we are doing. Am I wearing the right clothes; am I going to the right bar, driving the right car.

If You look back to the sixties, seventies or eighties and see what people are wearing; you say to yourself what on earth were they wearing those things or why did they have their hair in that way. Why because they needed acceptance. We’ve all been there.

The pain of not being Chosen is too great. Not being chosen in the school playground can last a lifetime and can lead on to other things.  At school I was good at sport so I was generally chosen first or second and you know what; it made me feel good.

I can still remember being chosen first for the football, cricket or basketball.

When you are chosen it makes you feel good doesn’t it. When you are selected to play for the first eleven or first 15 and your name is pinned up on the notice board it makes you feel good. Or chosen to represent your school or your work in a particular event. Being part of a promotional team for your work.

But invariably unless we are naturally talented and gifted in some particular way which most of us are Not; we run the risk of chasing after this acceptance from other people and other things and get disappointed.

But with God we don’t have to do that. With God he accepts you as you are.

It doesn’t matter to him if you are broken and hurting or bleeding inside. In fact, sometimes that is a good thing. You have been chosen by God himself. That is the truth.  But How do I know this even though I don’t feel it?

Because God chose me before everything. Eph 1:4 he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight by his love.’

Think about that for a moment. Before God chose to make the oceans he chose you. Before he made the solar system he made you. Before he put the moon, sun and stars in their orbit he chose you. Before he placed a flower, a tree, a mountain, or elephant on this planet; he chose you.

That’s how I know my true identity. He chose me because he has said so.

Jesus made me acceptable. Titus 3 v 7. Jesus treated us much better than we deserve. He made us acceptable to God and gave us the hope of eternal life.’

God Made us and gave us.’ Do not try to perform your way into acceptance by God because it is not based on performance it’s based on a gift. This is where the true identity starts.

That’s the mistake the rich young ruler made with Jesus. His idea of being accepted by Jesus was based on performance. He told Jesus that he had kept all the commandments since he was a boy. There was no one like him, very few could keep the commandments as he had.

His acceptance by Jesus was based on his spiritual performance.

God’s view of me ‘ IN Christ’ is this; I am extremely valuable. But We actually want more than acceptance, we want to be valued.

God says I don’t just accept you; …… I value you.

Holy’ and valuable. Holy means valuable. The Holy Bible is extremely valuable the holy land the holy city, holy of holies is considered more than just normal it is considered extremely valuable. God says your true identity is extremely holy and very valuable.

What is it that makes something valuable? First thing is who owns it. Things owned by famous people are of more value than things NOT owned by famous people.

Tennis shoes. You go on line and see that a football shirt worn by Messi is for sale and one worn by Alan Wilson is for sale. Which one will you buy. It’s a no brainer. It’s the same with a rare book or rare letter that has been hand written.

It’s not the owner of the book that is valuable but who wrote it. God is the author of your life.

If God is your owner/author you are extremely valuable. If you belong to the King of Kings you are his treasured possession because nobody values you more than God. Others may not value you, but God does.

Why am I extremely valuable; because God is my father and I am in his family. One day in heaven he will share all his glory and all his inheritance with me. He will share everything with his children. God wanted children and he has millions of them.

Now this is important; everybody is created by God, but NOT everybody is a child of God. Everybody is loved by God; but NOT everybody loves God.  I think we would all accept that.

You have to choose to be in God’s family and a lot of people do not choose to be in his family. You do not automatically qualify to be in God’s family because God happens to love you.  You are to love God.

Nor do people choose to trust in his Son Jesus Christ. And that’s the key to finding your true identity. Trusting in Jesus.

When we choose to trust in Jesus there’s that phrase again, In Jesus. When we choose to trust in Jesus our heavenly father promises to take care of all our needs.

Jesus says, “consider the ravens; They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn, yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds.” God takes care of birds, and animals and insects. If he does that for them, then He will take care of you

How much are you worth. Look at the cross and see how much you are worth. This is how much you are worth. Arms wide open.  Jesus is saying I’d rather die than live without you. I’m willing to die and shed my blood for you in order that you may have faith, forgiveness, and eternal life.

The greatest ransom ever paid in the history of the world was given by God to buy you and secure your identity in him.  Amen.

 

Alan Wilson is a Presbyterian Minister in Northern Ireland, where he serves a large congregation, supported by his wife. Before he took up the call to serve Christ, he was in the Royal Ulster Constabulary for 30-years. He has two children and two grandchildren and enjoys soccer, gardening, zoology, politics and reading. He voted for Brexit in the hope that the stranglehold of Brussels might finally be broken. He welcomes any that might wish to correspond with him through the Contact Page of The Postil.

 

The photo shows, “St. Mary Magdalene in House of Simon the Pharisee,” by Jean Beraud, painted in 1891.

Nahum The Carpenter, The Fifth Epistle

Ezra and some of his friends have suddenly become big time horse lovers. Several of them own one or more and they often go riding in the country together. They recently have been having little contests to see who has the fastest horse.

A local wealthy farmer by the name of Hananiah agreed to lend some of his fields for a friendly race. He had his employees set up markers around the fields for the riders to follow and he cleared  a standing area for those wanting to watch.

On the Friday before the race it rained all day. They considered cancelling it, but when Saturday dawned it was sunny and bright so the race went ahead.

There were twenty entries. They decided to run five heats; the winner of each heat would run for the title.  Ezra won his heat by a good margin and was looking forward to the championship run.

Shortly after the final race started and the horses were just approaching the public standing area, Ezra’s horse hit a loose piece of turf, thrown up during the heats, and stumbled. Ezra was thrown head first into a huge mud puddle! His first reaction was to see if his horse was ok and she was, secondly he started to check to see if he had anything broken, he did not. But his pride was sure smashed!!!

As he laid there covered in mud and barely able to see, he looked in amazement through his muddy eyes, he thought he saw an angel helping him! This angel spoke to him and asked if he was ok, he said he thought so, but was very sore. To his amazement she took off a shawl she was wearing and started to clean his face. He tried to stop her and told her not to ruin her shawl, but she continued. By now she too was getting covered in mud. With his eyes cleared he could see she was beautiful, maybe the most beautiful girl he had ever seen!

She helped him sit up and was continuing to clean off his arms and shoulders when she said Hi, I am Elizabeth, and my daddy owns this farm. Oh, he said I know your father, he comes to our shop! She said now I know who you are, you make sandals! She said look these are the new red ones daddy had made for me. Oh wow he replied, I made those, I thought they were the prettiest sandals I ever made and now I see they are being worn by the prettiest girl I have ever seen. Through her mud splattered face Elizabeth was blushing.

By now friends were also helping Ezra to his feet, he was happy to be uninjured, but disappointed in not finishing the race, he asked if his horse was ok and a friend said yes she was fine and was being washed up too.

Elizabeth, now covered in mud, had removed her sandals and was carrying them, she took his arm and said come to our house, I will give you some of my brother’s clean clothes. Ezra tried to say he would be ok and would just go home and change, but she insisted.

After washing in the pond, he graciously accepted her offer of clean clothes.

Following the race and the winner declared, Hananiah invited everybody to come and enjoy some food and wine and celebrate the first horse race in Jericho! Ezra went with Elizabeth!

The following week when Ezra was working in his shop, he was surprised when he heard a female voice calling his name. He looked up and to his surprise there was Elizabeth standing in the doorway

He put down his tools and walked to meet her.  She explained that she told her Dad she wanted to see your shop and he told me just to stop in, that’s how all the other customers do it. She also explained that she was walking home from her class at the hospital where she was training to be a nurse. He was very impressed. Medicine was something admired as few people understood it or wanted to enter the profession.

They had a nice chat and Ezra asked if Elizabeth would like to go to the Pub Friday evening, she agreed. The young couple were seeing each frequently after that first evening, and it was getting serious.

Meanwhile, Isaac has been very busy working with the Christian disciples. He does occasionally come and help Nahum when he needs him.  His job with the Christians is what could be called a front man. He goes ahead of the leaders and makes arrangements for the Church services for them.

Most of the services are held in homes, preferably large homes, sometimes they are outside in the courtyard. He recently took Nahum to a service in a large home. Nahum noted that the speakers used a stand to hold their bibles and papers so they could glance down and see them clearly. The stand was called a dais and this one was taken from an old synagogue.

It was about chest high for most men. The front was sloped down so the papers could be easily read.

After the service Nahum went up to the home owner and asked if he could look at the dais, he then made drawings and took measurements.

Before he went to his shop the next day he went to a local woodcutter and bought some wood. He took his team of donkeys and wagon and took the lumber to his shop.

Let me interrupt myself here for a minute and tell you that when my father took over his father’s shop their main business was making carts, wagons and cabinets. It was my father who learned the leather business and he liked it better than carpentry. I felt the same way, but I still enjoyed working with wood whenever someone wanted a cabinet or table built I was delighted to build it.

He explained to Ezra what his plan was and they started making a dais! When finished they got some oils and stained the base a light colour and the top a shade darker. Ezra added his own touch by putting two large holes at either side at the top and front, to hold candles.

The following week Isaac told Nahum they would take the new dais to a service at Hananiahs .

When they arrived with the new stand people were very impressed and their comments made Nahum very proud and happy.

The next two weeks Nahum and Ezra produced 19 of the new dais. They had orders for 12 from locals and four more were being shipped to places beyond Jerusalem. They were very pleased to be able to build these new stands and provide them for the new Christian Ministry. This also meant more work and more revenue for their shop. They had actually hired a young man to assist them. He was the son of one of the local Christian families and was enjoying learning new trades. Ezra found that he really enjoyed teaching and coaching him, something he had never experienced before, much like when Isaac was teaching him.

Ruth and Nahum were very happy and thankful for their life at this time. They were enjoying good health and prosperity, Ezra was gradually taking over the shop, and his education was making the business more successful and the tax man never bothered them. Seeing their eldest son in love with one of the most beautiful and talented young ladies in the area was also a reason for happiness! Of course the possibility of having a “daughter” very soon made Ruth excited with anticipation.

The only thing missing was Ezekiel!

It is now over two years since Ezekiel left for Corinth. Ruth and Nahum have had several reports that he is healthy and doing very well in Greece. Ruth is hoping he would be home soon.

Ezra and Elizabeth have become a very popular couple in their community. They are invited to many social events and are often seen either walking hand in hand or riding on their horses. They make a very interesting couple as Ezra is quiet, and a little bit shy, however when he does speak people listen.

Elizabeth is out going and a confident conversationalist, they truly support each other.

Elizabeth has completed her medical training and even though she is still a young lady, she has quickly created a reputation of a caring, tender, compassionate and clever medical person. More than just a nurse! People say that she has a unique ability to diagnose your problem before she even examines you. People are coming from around the country to the hospital where she works and actually asking for her. Fortunately, the medical men in the clinic respect her abilities and often ask for her opinion as well. Ezra likes to tell her she has God-given abilities!  She laughs him off.

Ruth and Nahum are enjoying their roles as leaders of the new Christian Church. They are well respected and people listen and believe what they are saying about Jesus.

Life is good for Nahum the Carpenter and his family.

 

John Thomas Percival continues working with wood and pondering about the early history of Christianity.
The photo shows, “Christ,” by Eduard von Gebhardt, painted ca. 1890s.

 

Nahum The Carpenter: Second Epistle

My sister Zilpah lives at the foot of Mount of Olives, it takes a full morning to travel there. Her husband  is Joshua, his family owns an olive grove. It has been in the family for generations.

We travelled there last Friday. We took three donkeys, one for the boys, one for Ruth and one loaded with supplies and sandals for everybody. I love giving gifts, and since we are not rich, giving them something I have made seems more special!!

It is almost two months after that man Jesus was crucified. I have been bothered by that scene ever since. However there are all kinds of stories about him rising from the tomb and being seen walking to Emmaus.  It seems a bit odd to me, I have never heard of anyone rising from the dead.  We are looking forward to discussing it with Zilpah and Joshua.

We arrived just after noon, and were warmly greeted by Zilpah, Joshua and their two boys. Joshua was particularly delighted to see us, and he came over and gave me a hug, and said so nice to see you and I hope you brought your tools??? We have a lot of repair work for you!!!

I smiled and said yes, I have my tools. He asked if we could stay an extra day to do the sandal and harness repairs, as well as some baskets that were falling apart! I told him we would be delighted.

Regarding my tools, I have this really nice old bag that my father passed down to me when he died.

When I was old enough to run the shop, my father decided he would make himself two leather, waterproof bags, fill them with supplies and tools and go into the country and visit farms and villages doing repair work.  I was so appreciative when he left me the two bags! I have rebuilt the smaller one and I can now use it to carry tools and basic supplies when I take trips.

We had a nice visit and lunch, and enjoyed some vintage wine. Since Joshua’s family has this huge olive grove, they also have several small vineyards and make wine every year. It is top class!

Joshua and I took a tour of part of his property as the ladies chatted and the children played! Before we knew it the sun was going down.  Joshua has an old stone grill at his house and he had some freshly killed meat he grilled for us while the wives made some fresh salads and of course some olives.

After enjoying a delicious feast, we put the children to bed and relaxed around a nice warm fire.

I quickly turned the conversation to ask what they knew about this man Jesus. We had not spoken to them about him before.

Immediately Zilpah’s face lit up like a star in the sky and she seemed to be in a sort of trance! Even her voice was different. She replied oh I am so glad you asked!!

I told her my story, about giving him sandals, about seeing him perform a miracle on our cousin and then being part of the gang who shouted Nail him, nail him.

Zilpah was very saddened by this news and scolded her brother for what he had done! She had been following Jesus when he preached around Jericho, and was completely taken by his presence!!!! She then shocked me when she told me her friend Mary Magdalene was a friend of Jesus and she witnessed his crucifixion and went to his tomb three days later.

Ruth and I were now so excited to hear more, so Zilpah said to Joshua, put some more wood on the fire and get another jar of wine and I will tell my story. I could not wait!!!!

Zilpah said she and Mary had seen many of Jesus’ miracles and listened to his sermons.  She said, we found them very difficult to understand at first, but usually we figured them out!!!

We were heart broken when he was crucified and our grief over whelmed us. We did not sleep for 3 days. Then Mary decided she would go the tomb where he had been placed. To her shock the huge boulder that was in front of the tomb was moved away!  She went in with a friend and there was no body in there!!!

However, while in the tomb a strange thing happened!  Somebody or something appeared to the women. They said after they thought it was angels, as it had a bright glow around them.

Whoever, or whatever it was said to them the body was not there he has risen from the dead. They were in awe and shocked, they went to tell Jesus’ eleven disciples who also didn’t believe what they heard so they went to the tomb and saw for themselves there was no body there.

Nahum and Ruth were sitting in amazement at the stories as told by Zilpah, however, they had heard similar stories from other friends and were delighted to hear them confirmed.

They tried to ask Zilpah some questions, but she politely asked them to let her finish as there was more!

She told them that friends of theirs were walking to Emmaus when a person appeared out of nowhere and started asking questions,  later that night that person, who was Jesus,  appeared to the disciples and told them he would be leaving soon to return to his father in heaven as  the scriptures had predicted.

Sure enough, forty days after his resurrection, he left his disciples and disappeared like a wisp of smoke into the heavens.

Both Zilpah and Joshua said they had joined a group of friends and they were called Christ People. Later that would change to Christians! One of the disciples, Peter was telling them all about the stories Jesus had been preaching.  The idea of loving your neighbour, asking God for forgiveness and something very special, the idea that Jesus had left something for everyone who believed in him, they called it The Holy Spirit. Zilpah was still learning about it, but said it was something inside of those who believed and it was a way to communicate with the risen Jesus and with God.

It was very late now and we were tired but so excited to learn more. We made a promise to return to their place in the near future to hear more. We went to bed with a new feeling of excitement we had never experienced before.

Nahum, Ruth and the two boys left early morning after spending five productive days with Joshua and Zilpah , family and servants. Joshua treated all his employees like they were part of his family. It made for a very happy working environment as well as an opportunity for the servants to live a respectable life.

We really had a nice time with all of them, and I repaired all their broken items and did not charge them. At least none of the servants, I found out when we got home that Joshua had put some shekels in my tool bag, which I asked Ruth to put in a special hiding place where we save for the boys.

During the trek home both Ruth and Nahum thought about the story Zilpah had told them about Jesus. They did not share each other’s thoughts until later that week when they had some quiet time together.

When they arrived home the two boys went with some friends to the waterfall and pool to cool off and wash the trip dust off!  Ruth unpacked the donkeys and I went to my shop, where I found 12 pairs of sandals, several pieces of harness and a few baskets that customers had left for mending. I started work on them immediately.

The boys came to my shop late in the afternoon and I asked them to go home and ask momma for some bread and cheese and a pouch of wine for me as I wanted to finish the repairs. They returned soon after and I worked until after sunset and finished my work.

On Sunday morning we woke up and had a very nice breakfast, we did not eat a big breakfast during the week, but today we had some bread Ruth had baked the day before, some figs, olives, raisins, cheese and nuts. Most of this came from Joshua’s farms.

After breakfast the boys went out to play and Ruth and I finally started talking about Jesus.

During the trek home they had spent hours in their own silence, with much time to think about what Zilpah had told them. They both claimed to have had some form of spiritual experience during their trip.

When they started chatting, they were both surprised to hear of the other’s experience! They both felt they were being drawn towards this new Christ People movement that had started. They were unsure what to do or how to seek more information.

Their fears were short-lived!! Two days later a friend who owned a market nearby had travelled to Joshua’s farm to buy fresh produce. On his way home he stopped by as Joshua had asked him to tell Nahum and Ruth to please return to their place and to plan on staying for a few weeks. He also asked Nahum to bring extra supplies with his tools as he had many items from neighbours to repair.

Ruth and Nahum were pleased but a bit confused at this request! They had not expected it!

Nahum came up with a great idea. There was a crippled man in the neighbourhood who often spent time around Nahum’s shop, just for something to do. He lived with his sister’s family.

He had been a teacher, one day he was walking home when a team of horses pulling a cart got spooked and he got in their path of destruction and was badly injured and crippled for life. He still did some private teaching but the schools would not hire him. His name was Isaac.

Nahum had made Isaac a fitted pair of boots to assist him with his walking. With the assistance of a cane and the boots, he was able to move about much more easily.

Nahum asked him if he would stay at his shop every day and explain to customers that Nahum was away for a few weeks but would be returning next month. Nahum had already started telling his regular customers too.

Isaac was delighted. They agreed on a salary, which Isaac thought was too much for what he was going to do, but Nahum thought this was his opportunity to show his love for his neighbour as taught by the Christ People. Both men were very happy. Oh, Isaac was also asked to keep an eye on their home too.

The following Monday, Nahum, Ruth, the boys and four donkeys left for Mount of Olives. The fourth donkey was laden with leather pieces, harness fittings and a small bale of special wicker for basket repairs.

Upon arrival at Joshua’s they set up home in one of the empty servants homes and Nahum began his repairs in a farm tool shed.

Every night was spent talking about the Christ People.  On Thursday, they went to their first meeting with Peter.

John Thomas Percival continues working with wood and pondering about the early history of Christianity.
The photo shows, “At the Genisaret Lake,” by Vasily Polenov, painted in 1888.

Nahum The Carpenter: A Tale Of The First Century

Nahum is my name, my two older sisters are are Zilpah and Ilana, my younger brother is Amos. I am living in Jericho with my wife Ruth and two sons, Ezra and Ezekiel.

I am writing this on a Saturday and it is taking me a long time, you see I had to work in my father’s leather shop when I was thirteen and I have not had much schooling!   I am scribing this on a thin piece of leather and will seal it in a clay jar, I hope someone will find it someday and ask for forgiveness for me for my weakness and my betrayal.

You see, yesterday, Friday,   they crucified Jesus and I was part of the crowd yelling NAIL HIM, NAIL HIM!!!

After he was crucified the curtain in the synagogue was torn down the centre, and then the earth went dark! When that darkness came over Jerusalem I too was hit by a cloud of darkness and I was actually struck dumb and unable to speak or even move for over an hour. It was a feeling of total regret and utter humiliation and I believe it was a message from God.

Let me give you some background. I am a shoemaker, I make and repair all types of leather and twine items, but I really like to make sandals. I once gave a pair to Jesus when he came near my little shop!

My father was also a shoemaker; and he went to the synagogue every Sabbath and took his two boys when we were old enough.  When he died, I was 18, I must admit I have not attended synagogue on a regular basis, I am now 38.

About once a month the Rabbis and treasurers call on me, urging me to attend and to bring my sons. When I give them a few shekels they leave me alone.

One day I was working outside my shop, under a sycamore tree when in the distance I noticed some dust rising as a group was walking in my direction.

I had heard from customers that a man by the name of Jesus was marching around preaching and performing miracles, I was very curious so I dropped my awls and needles and went to see what was happening.

The procession had stopped and Jesus was off to the side talking to somebody. I very quietly ran behind some trees where I could see better, and not be seen,  and was surprised to see my poor and blind cousin Bartimaeus  and his buddy calling Jesus’  name. I thought about going over to him and tell him to stop, and don’t embarrass our family, Jesus does not want to see you, looking so poor and dirty, but something stopped me.
Later I was sure glad it did, because Jesus went over to him and his buddy and in no time they both had gained their sight!!! This man Jesus performed a miracle on my cousin and his friend right in front of me.

I listened to some of his sermons and saw some more miracles. After, when I returned to making sandals, I began to think about this man and his teachings. They made me feel different, I had a warm feeling inside of me, and his sermons were meaning more to me than the teachings of the Rabbis at Bet Midrash or Halachot. I really liked what he was saying!!!

I went about my work for the next few weeks, but whenever I could I would talk to someone who had also come to like this man Jesus. I got to hear lots of stories about his miracles and his teachings to love one another. My dad had always taught us to be kind to others, but this man was actually telling us to love them. We really didn’t understand at first.

Then it all changed for me one day when two older men who had known my father and were big supporters of our synagogue came by and said they heard that I gave this man Jesus a pair of sandals and that people have heard that I have been saying nice things about Jesus.

I told them they were correct and I liked his teachings. They asked me to sit down and then they started to say negative things about Jesus, how he was attempting to make changes to our customs that were hundreds of years old and some said that he had been sent from God as his son.

They made fun of him and encouraged me to forget about Jesus and concentrate on the teachings that have been passed down from generation to generation. They really did not threaten me, but they did say that my business would be more successful if I would forget about this man Jesus.

I was very confused, and undecided as to what to do!!! Do I believe what my father taught me, do I forget about Jesus, do I follow the advice of the men who visited me??? What to do???

One day after I finished some baskets I was working on I decided to walk to a bar not far away. It was crowded and much of the talk was about this stranger in our town who is supposed to be performing miracles and preaching about love.

Many of my friends there had consumed a few too many cups of wine and were getting louder and louder! They started to make fun of Jesus and suggested we do something to get rid of him. I did not really participate, but after all many of these guys were my friends and some were my customers.

When they started asking who wanted to get rid of Jesus, the majority signed up! When they asked me I reluctantly said sure me too.

So, you can see now why so many people shouted NAIL HIM, NAIL HIM!!! Me too!

I know it is only Saturday and I do not know what will happen to this man Jesus, will he have a regular burial? Will there be a big funeral, I wonder what will happen???

What I do know is that I regret my decision to reject him, and now I want to find some way to be forgiven.

 

When not whittling another miniature animal, John Percival can be found listening to bird song most evenings.
The photo shows, “Christ in the House of His Parents,” by John Everett Millais, painted in 1849-1850.

The Early History Of The Cross

As often happens in matters of scholarly opinion, what is accepted as “true” turns out not to be so upon deeper analysis or newer evidence.

Thus, for the longest while, it was customary to read in books dealing with early Christian history that the use of the cross only gained currency after endorsement by Constantine.

This view was fully expounded by Graydon Snyder in his now “classic” work, Ante Pacem: Archaeological Evidence of Christian Life Before Constantine.

Many may not know or remember, but poor Professor Graydon was an early casualty in the now-normal “social justice wars.” He was an ordained minister, and had the misfortune of reading a Talmudic account of a man falling from a tree on a woman and “knowing” her by accident.

The Talmud said that this could not be rape. But a female student in the lecture thought otherwise and declared the reading of this passage as the justification of the sexual brutalization of women and forthwith lodged a complaint.

The university, ever eager to forestall offence no matter who gets destroyed in the process, slapped the then-63-year-old professor with a formal reprimand and distributed a memo campus-wide which stated that Graydon had “engaged in verbal conduct of a sexual nature” that had the effect of “creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive” space in his classes.

This was not the end of – the university then assigned a monitor that sat in each of Graydon’s classes and lectures, taking notes of anything that might be considered offensive. Graydon soon retired.

Let the date of this incident come as a valuable lesson to all – the demise of the university system happened long ago. This annihilation of a good man’s character occurred back in 1994…twenty-four years ago.

The 1990s were the halcyon days of such random acts of social justice, when universities eagerly dragged the Trojan horse of postmodernism into the Academy, worshipped it with much fawning, drank the heady wine of relativism and feel into the deep sleep of nihilism – from which they never awoke, for the barbarians descended from the belly of the wooden beast and conquered the hapless “intellectuals.”

And, now only various forms of self-indulgent destruction are offered by universities, where once a proud tradition of civilization held sway. Such is the fate of all Troys, if given into the hands of fools.

But let us return to the matter at hand.

In his book, Graydon categorically decided that no evidence existed for the cross as a Christian emblem before Constantine. This led to the false assumption that Constantine “invented” the cross as a religious sign, because he chose to use it during the famous Battle of the Milvian Bridge in 312 AD.

Given the popularity of Graydon’s book, this view became the “Gospel truth,” and is still widely repeated without question by historians of early Christianity.

Embedded in Graydon’s argument was a curious turn to psychology…since the cross was a method of execution of criminals, it was, thus, an emblem of shame, and could never have been elevated to a sign of the faith before Constantine’s imperial sponsorship of Christianity.

Popularizers then went to work, imagining Christians in the Roman world desperate to hide their faith, even descending down into catacombs to carry out their worship. And that they invented arcane signs to recognize each other, which only fellow-Christians would know (like the “Jesus-Fish” now often found on car-bumpers).

It all sounds plausible, but is simply not true.

Rather, the primary sign of the faith from its earliest beginnings was not the fish or the anchor or the wheel, or even the Sator-Square – but the cross itself. Graydon’s view is nothing other than an exercise in myth-making, which is finally destroyed by a new book that takes a fresh look at the entire “cross-debate” and offers facts rather than myths.

This book is The Cross Before Constantine. The Early Life of a Christian Symbol by Bruce W. Longenecker, which offers incontrovertible evidence that, from earliest times, the cross bore not only symbolic value but also theological significance.

The evidence Longenecker marshals to bolster this conclusion is impressive indeed, for it engages not only extensive material remains, but also solid literary testimony.

Such an approach also fully justifies the unique character given the cross in Scripture, such as, St. Paul’s famous exposition of the double conundrum of the cross – as a mark of utter shame and the very token of final triumph: “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God” (I Corinthians 1:18).

Such singularity of the cross links back to Jesus himself, with his well-known exhortation – “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16:24).

In, effect, then, Longenecker proceeds to uncover not simply the “life,” but the double-life, of the cross – as an instrument of painful execution, and as a symbol of life eternal.

He begins by examining the recent discoveries of various Jewish ossuaries that are engraved with crosses, either erect (+) or recumbent (x) – and these engravings are neither masons’ marks nor decorations.

Thus, the cross had significance in Jewish religious life during the Roman era. And this significance is grounded in Ezekiel 9: 4-6, where the cross is also the “mark” of God, which sets apart the faithful from the rest condemned to death, and is thus the emblem of life, a particular gift of divine grace.

Among the examples Longenecker shows are the Nicanor, Yehudah, Shalamsion, and the Jehosah ossuaries.

Thus, the “prehistory” of the cross is deeply rooted in the very “prehistory” of Christianity itself, namely, Judaic religiosity.

And because the early Jesus movement branched out of the faith of the Jews, Longenecker uncovers the earliest record of the cross’s double-life, both as a mark of God for mankind’s salvation, and as the process of execution that God, in Jesus, bears himself to bring eternal life to mankind.

Thus, the cross has importance far older than Constantine.

Next, Longenecker lays out an elaborate inventory of material and literary evidence.

He discusses the Alexamenos Inscription, the inscriptions in the Baths of Neptune in Ostia, the inscriptions in the catacombs of Rome, rings showing the cross, the famous Crucifixion Gem amulet in the British museum, the various inscriptions in Asia Minor, the graphic use of the cross in the gnostic Books of Jeu, the staurogram in Manuscript P66, and even the rather mysterious cross in a Pompeii bakery (Longenecker has devoted an entire book to the crosses in Pompeii, which is reviewed elsewhere in this magazine).

The literary testimony is even more extensive, and Longenecker deftly moves through it all to strengthen his case.

Thus, he makes use of the earliest witnesses from the first half the of the first century, namely, the Acts of Thomas; the Works of Hippolytus; Cyprian’s Testimonies and To Demetrianus; Tertullian’s De corona, On the Resurrection of the Flesh, Against Marcion; and Letters; Lactantius’s Divine Institutes; Clement of Alexandria’s Miscellanies; Minucius Felix’s Octavius (the first Christian work in Latin, little known outside scholarly discussion).

Moving on to the second century, Longenecker musters the Acts of Peter; the Acts of Paul and Thecla; Justin Martyr’s First Apology, Dialogue with Trypho; the Odes of Solomon; the commentaries of Ignatius of Antioch’s on Ephesians, the Smyrneans, the Trallians; and the famous Fifth Ezra; the Epistle of Barnabas; the Gospels and the Letters of St. Paul; and the Johannine Apocalypse (Revelation).

The conclusions that Longenecker draws from this extensive evidence is as follows:

  • The cross is found in various locations, always in Christian contexts – from Gaza and Jerusalem, out to Rome, Spain, North Africa, Egypt and East into Asia Minor and Syria.
  • Time-wise, the cross can be located as a Christian symbol from the first century down to the early parts of the third century AD. In other words, it is clearly used by Christians as an emblem of faith before Constantine.
  • Over the centuries, the shape of the cross evolved from the Jewish erect cross (like a +plus sign) to the more familiar body cross.
  • Longenecker also points out that the crosses found on rings may well have had an apotropaic function – to protect the wearer from demons and evil spirits (an attitude revived by Bram Stoker in Dracula’s aversion to the cross).

With his impressive and sedulous book, Longenecker has finally put out to pasture all the old myths about the cross, perpetrated by Graydon and his followers.

In other words, the cross was a well-established Judeo-Christian religious emblem long before Constantine took it up as his “coat-of-arms.”

For Christians, from the very beginnings of their faith, the cross had a double-meaning: it was the “mark” of God which set apart the believer from the non-believer, with all the significance of life and grace which this election signified. And, secondly, by extension, the cross became the “mark” that Jesus, the God incarnate, himself bore to embody an eternal life bought through horrific sacrifice.

The paradox becomes the solution – the “mark” of God becomes the instrument of torture, and then returns as a greater sign of life.

It is this paradox that St Paul explains: “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world” (Galatians 6:14).

Torture brings about glory, death leads to life eternal.

The cross is, in effect, the summation of the entire Christian proclamation – because of Jesus, death, though horrid, is not the end.

Longenecker persuasively demonstrates this historico-theological process in the great gyre of history.

 

 

The photo shows, “Christ on the Cross,” by Carl Heinrich Bloch, painted in 1870.