Friday, May 24, 2013

Acts 27 test 8a: James the Just gives a Captain's Knock, on the potentially destructive power of the tongue, followed by a discussion on the credibility of the gospel as being "of first importance" . . .

As we have been reporting, I had a visit recently from a delegation of NT-era ghosts (James, Peter, John, Paul and John the Baptist with his good friend in the after life, Pilate . . . ), as an expression of concern for what is going on in our post-modern, increasingly Anti-Christian age.

Last time, we saw how John the Baptist and Pilate took the shine off the ball, then they passed it to the apostles.

As Pilate's ghost put it:
Anyhow, I guess we have said our piece, it's time for the big guns, the apostles, to speak.

The other three apostles looked to Captain James, hinting that yes, while we are to be slow to speak, sometimes we need to speak, even first.

James began his knock with some quick sixes and fours; plainly, he is on solid form:

James 3: 1 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. 

2 For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. 

3 If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. 4 Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. 5 So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.

How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!     

6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life,  and set on fire by hell.  

7 For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, 8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. 

My brothers,  these things ought not to be so. 

11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.

 13 Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. 

14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. 15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 

16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. 

18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. [ESV]

The other apostles, Pilate and the tucked in head of John the Baptist all gravely nodded.

Solid knock.

Peter then cleared his throat, and glanced at Paul with a twinkle in his eye.

He began to face the bowling as the ends changed, making some serious swings and hits:

2 Peter 3: 15 And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, 16 as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. 

There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. 

17 You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. 

18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. [ESV]
Paul chuckled, admitted, yup I have occasionally been less than simple, then took a sober stance:

1 Cor 1:17 . . . Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

 18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written,  

                    “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
        and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

 20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 

21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 

22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

 26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards,  not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 

27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being  might boast in the presence of God. 

30 And because of him  you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” [ESV]
Pilate held up his hands, looked at them -- still stained with blood after 2,000 years nigh on, and said: Paul, you are so right. I wish I had done better when I faced my Eternal Test that day as governor.

Our Lord Jesus looked like just another country preacher the big boys in Jerusalem had taken a dislike to and wanted to get rid of. Even though my wife tried to warn me, I just somehow didn't have the courage to face the duty I had to justice and I did wrong. 

Shameful wrong.

It seemed the easiest way out, given how I was already beginning to be in trouble with Caesar and all.

But, it was wrong.

I failed my Eternal Test.

John the Baptist looked at him, pity in those eyes. (It was disconcerting to see him looking from under his arm, though.)

He said, yes, Pontius, but in the end, what men meant for evil, God turned into the greatest good we have ever had: redemption, backed up by the triumph of the resurrection.

Peter looked across at the two long-time friends, then said:

2 Pet 1: 16 For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 

17 For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son,  with whom I am well pleased,” 18 we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. 

19 And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, 20 knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. 21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. [ESV]
He shook his head.

Amazing, isn't it.

With over 500 eyewitnesses, and not one of us being broken because we KNEW -- KNEW -- the truth, we have now come to an age where many want to pretend that we did not even exist, that Jesus was not even real. 

What folly!

There was a polite knock on the door.

When I answered, of all people Simon Greenleaf of Harvard was there, with Frank Morison.

Sorry to be a bit late to the party, but we had a bit of trouble getting permission to join a C1 circle. Special permission was granted because of our background as Lawyers and especially because we have expertise on evidence.

Frank turned to Simon and said, I just heard Peter speaking about being eyewitnesses to the Majesty of our Lord.

Didn't you write The Book on Evidence? 

Why not say something to that, Simon?

Simon nodded. He began:
Evidence, in legal acceptation, includes all the means by which any alleged matter of fact, the truth of which is submitted to investigation, is established or disproved . . . None but mathematical truth is susceptible of that high degree of evidence, called demonstration, which excludes all possibility of error [ Greenleaf added: I wrote almost 100 years before Kurt Godel, who was trying to join the visit too, but was even more delayed . . . ], and which, therefore, may reasonably be required in support of every mathematical deduction. 
Matters of fact are proved by moral evidence alone; by which is meant, not only that kind of evidence which is employed on subjects connected with moral conduct, but all the evidence which is not obtained either from intuition, or from demonstration. In the ordinary affairs of life, we do not require demonstrative evidence, because it is not consistent with the nature of the subject, and to insist upon it would be unreasonable and absurd. 
The most that can be affirmed of such things, is, that there is no reasonable doubt concerning them. 
The true question, therefore, in trials of fact, is not whether it is possible that the testimony may be false, but, whether there is sufficient probability of its truth; that is, whether the facts are shown by competent and satisfactory evidence. Things established by competent and satisfactory evidence are said to be proved.
By competent evidence, is meant that which the very-nature of the thing to be proved requires, as the fit and appropriate proof in the particular case, such as the production of a writing, where its contents are the subject of inquiry. By satisfactory evidence, which is sometimes called sufficient evidence, is intended that amount of proof, which ordinarily satisfies an unprejudiced mind, beyond reasonable doubt.
The circumstances which will amount to this degree of proof can never be previously defined; the only legal test of which they are susceptible, is their sufficiency to satisfy the mind and conscience of a common man; and so to convince him, that he would venture to act upon that conviction, in matters of the highest concern and importance to his own interest. [A Treatise on Evidence, Vol I, 11th edn. (Boston: Little, Brown, 1888) ch 1., sections 1 and 2. Shorter paragraphing added. (NB: Greenleaf was a founder of the modern Harvard Law School and is regarded as a founding father of the modern Anglophone school of thought on evidence, in large part on the strength of this classic work.)]
I also had something a bit more to say to this, for this particular case:
It should be observed that the subject of inquiry [i.e. evidence relating to the credibility of the New Testament accounts] is a matter of fact, and not of abstract mathematical proof. The latter alone is susceptible of that high degree of proof, usually termed demonstration, which excludes the possibility of error . . . In the ordinary affairs of life we do not require nor expect demonstrative evidence, because it is inconsistent with the nature of matters of fact, and to insist on its production would be unreasonable and absurd . . . The error of the skeptic consists in pretending or supposing that there is a difference in the nature of things to be proved; and in demanding demonstrative evidence concerning things which are not susceptible of any other than moral evidence alone, and of which the utmost that can be said is, that there is no reasonable doubt about their truth . . . [Testimony of the Evangelists, Ch 1.]
By the way, young man, I am willing to accept your use of a descriptive term for the error of the skeptic, Selective Hyperskepticism. That goes to the heart of the problem of stony unwillingness to consider ample and adequate evidence, when it cuts across predilections.

Frank, I think you have something that is also needed.

Morison nodded, and began:
[N]ow the peculiar thing . . . is that not only did [belief in Jesus' resurrection as in part testified to by the empty tomb] spread to every member of the Party of Jesus of whom we have any trace, but they brought it to Jerusalem and carried it with inconceivable audacity into the most keenly intellectual centre of Judaea . . . and in the face of every impediment which a brilliant and highly organised camarilla could devise. And they won. Within twenty years the claim of these Galilean peasants had disrupted the Jewish Church and impressed itself upon every town on the Eastern littoral of the Mediterranean from Caesarea to Troas. In less than fifty years it had began to threaten the peace of the Roman Empire . . . . Why did it win? . . . .
We have to account not only for the enthusiasm of its friends, but for the paralysis of its enemies and for the ever growing stream of new converts . . . When we remember what certain highly placed personages would almost certainly have given to have strangled this movement at its birth but could not - how one desperate expedient after another was adopted to silence the apostles, until that veritable bow of Ulysses, the Great Persecution, was tried and broke in pieces in their hands [the chief persecutor became the leading C1 Missionary/Apostle!] - we begin to realise that behind all these subterfuges and makeshifts there must have been a silent, unanswerable fact. [Who Moved the Stone, (Faber, 1971; nb. orig. pub. 1930), pp. 114 - 115.]
Paul had been watching intently.

He then spoke:
1 Cor 15: 3 . . . I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: 
[I:] that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 

[II:] 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 
[III:] 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 

[IV:]  6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 

[V:] 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 

[VI:] 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 
9 For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain . . . 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed. [ESV]
He shook his head.

What is so hard to understand about that, that we here have a letter I wrote in 55 AD, to people I first preached to 50 AD, in a well-known crossroads city, having shortly come there from Athens where I spoke before the Areopagus, and told the truth backed up by 500 eyewitnesses?

I am not even using my own words that -- I admit -- are sometimes hard to understand. I am quoting the official summary you, Peter, James, John and others crafted and gave to me only a few years after the passion of Our Lord.

What could be plainer.

And Frank, you are right.

Back when I was the spear tip of the persecution, one of the strangest things was, we just could not answer to the evident facts. That is a part of what was pricking at me inside. Believe you me, if there was a fraud, I would have been the first one to have known it.

Do I have to shake my head hard and let it fall off like John's over there, to underscore that I, too and an eyewitness and stood for what I know, at the cost of my life?

Peter held up his hands, and James also looked across.

We too paid with our lives for the witness of the truth. One in Jerusalem, the other in Rome.

Pilate held up his hands again, and looked at the blood on them.

Sadly, he shook his head.

If anyone had a good reason to know, I did. 

If I had one inkling that those guards from the tomb were in dereliction of duty, I would have had them killed on the spot.

There was a tomb raid all right, but it did not come form the disciples, whom my spies told me were last seen scampering and running in a rout, not rallying and attacking.

And the leader had said to the one who did pull a sword. That's you peter, that your Master rebuked you and healed the man you tried to decapitate, but he ducked and you only got his ear.

So, when I looked into the eyes of those guards, who had been drinking to try to calm their nerves, but were still ashen white and shaking, I knew, knew, knew, that this was no ordinary matter.

My wife was so right, why didn't I simply listen to her and take courage of my convictions?

I was a coward.

These men, they stood peacefully for what they knew was true, and that at the cost of their lives.

What a cynical, silly, closed minded age that cannot tell the difference between over five hundred brave, true witnesses and myths . . .

Hey, it is getting late, let's continue with the visit, DV on the weekend. END