Posts Tagged ‘resurrection’

Easter Sermon 2015: “He Has Risen—He Is Not Here”

April 16, 2015


My Easter sermon for 2015 is one part apologetic for the resurrection of Jesus Christ and one part proclamation of what that resurrection means: forgiveness and reconciliation with God, eternal life, and God’s putting the world to rights (as N.T. Wright often says). This is the first time I’ve preached Mark’s version of the resurrection in nine or ten years—although I would hate to re-read my sermon from back then!

Sermon Text: Mark 16:1-8

[To listen on the go, download an MP3 of this sermon by right-clicking here.]

The following is my original sermon manuscript with footnotes.

When I was a child, to my great shame and embarrassment, I was a crier. For whatever reason, when I was a kid, I cried easily and often. This fact embarrassed me greatly. I know I know There’s nothing wrong with crying, but I was mortified at the thought of crying in front of my classmates in elementary school. The prospect filled me with dread. Yet somehow it still happened, year after year. Year after year, from first grade through sixth grade, something would happen—I’d get in a fight, I’d get in trouble, teachers would yell at me—and tears would flow. I would cry at school, and I felt like the whole world saw me.

Here’s the worst incident: It was literally the last day of sixth grade. I had gone the entire year without crying even once. A new record. And back in those days no one did any work on the last day of school. We spent most of the day in class parties or on the playground. What could go wrong? It was such a happy day. What could happen that would cause me to cry? Well, we were on the playground. By one of the jungle gyms. And I said or did something to cross Doug Smith—the class bully, my nemesis, my enemy—and he punched me in the gut. Cold-cocked me. Knocked the wind out of me. And I promise you, it was as if my skin turned green; it was as if muscles grew and ripped through my shirt and pants. It was as if I transformed into the Incredible Hulk. Read the rest of this entry »

Olson asks a good question about Satan

May 22, 2013

In this post, theologian Roger Olson explores a question I’ve been thinking about for many years now (as recently as last week, in fact): Where the Devil is Satan (in Contemporary Christianity)?

He explores some reasons we Christians (by which he says he mostly means his fellow moderate evangelical Christians; but it goes without saying that his words apply even more to many United Methodists) avoid talking about the devil. In my experience, this reason resonates:

A second, related reason, I think, is our moderate Protestant craving for cultural respectability. Belief in a literal Satan and demons seems, however nuanced, guaranteed to bring scorn from sophisticated people living under the influence of the Enlightenment.

Having been someone who previously didn’t believe in a literal Satan and demons (at least through seminary), this reason resonates with me. I used to be embarrassed by those quaint descriptions of demon possession and exorcism that are so prevalent in three of the four gospels. Satan was merely the personification of impersonal, undirected evil. He was symbolic, not literal.

The first chink in my armor of unbelief began to appear in an Augustine theology class taught by an English lay Catholic theologian named Lewis Ayres. We were discussing a passage from Augustine that allotted to the devil a greater share of responsibility for evil in the world than I could reconcile with my liberal Satan-as-symbol belief.

I said, “Wait a minute, Dr. Ayres. I hardly need Satan to explain why I do evil. I sin just fine without resorting to ‘the devil made me do it.’ I don’t get it. I don’t understand the role that a literal Satan would play in human sin.”

Dr. Ayres replied, “Just because you don’t understand what he does doesn’t mean he doesn’t exist!”

“Fair enough,” I said. But I was thinking, “Lewis Ayres believes in a literal Satan?!”

I can’t tell you how important this exchange was: here was a very smart, intellectual Christian—a professor at Candler of all places—who believed in Satan. I’m sure many other profs did, too, but Dr. Ayres was the first one to say so out loud.

Why was Satan such a taboo subject?

I blame it on Enlightenment thinking, which reasons that since believing in one invisible something that we can’t access directly through our senses (namely, God) is hard enough, why make Christianity that much harder by adding hundreds, thousands, millions(?) of invisible somethings called angels and demons?

This is silly, of course. If you believe that one thing outside of time, space, and matter (who isn’t really a thing, but you know what I mean) created everything, including us humans, how much harder is it to believe that he also created invisible angelic beings, some of whom, like humans, chose to rebel against God?

My point is, once you’re over the hump of believing in God—assuming that’s a hump to be gotten over—believing in Satan and demons is easy. And if you ask me, there certainly seems to be ample evidence for his existence, especially given the history of the 20th- and 21st-centuries.

Our modern skepticism about Satan, therefore, corresponds to modern skepticism about the resurrection. What do those very liberal Christians who want to reduce Jesus’ resurrection to a spiritual experience within the hearts of his disciples think they’re gaining? If we already believe in a God who intervened in the universe at least once (to call it into being), how much harder is to believe that he intervened on other occasions?

My point is, whether or not Christianity is an intellectually “respectable” thing to believe in, it won’t be because you’ve gotten rid of the bodily resurrection or angels and demons. So you may as well believe in those things, too.

Sermon 03-31-13: Easter 2013

April 8, 2013
This picture, taken during my trip to the Holy Land in 2011, reminds me of Peter's "stooping and looking in" in Luke 24:12.

This picture, taken during my trip to the Holy Land in 2011, reminds me of Peter’s “stooping and looking in” in Luke 24:12.

Happy Easter! Sorry this is late. My family and I just returned from our spring break trip in Florida. Yesterday, I left Vinebranch in the very capable hands of my friend John Alan Turner.

At first blush, the angels’ question to the women at the tomb seems a little silly: “Why do you search for the living among the dead?” “Because Jesus is dead,” the women might have responded. “We watched the Romans kill him, and the Romans are nothing if not experts at killing people!” Contrary to modern myth, people in the first century knew as well as we do that when people die, they stay dead. It’s no wonder they had a hard time believing in the resurrection at first. So if you struggle to believe in it, you’re in good company! You’re starting in the same place as people who would later lay down their lives because they believed in it so strongly.

If you already believe it, however, this sermon will challenge you to consider what it means for our lives and world today.

Sermon Text: Luke 24:1-12

The following is my original sermon manuscript.

Nearly everything I learned about working with people—or didn’t learn but should have—I learned from my experience working in sales for a large telecommunications company. My friend and mentor was a man named Don. Don worked on a large national account with a partner, Allen. The account was an important client that would soon be spending millions on new communications equipment—either with our company or with a competitor. In an effort to close the deal, Don and Allen invited their customers on a lavish business trip. And they wined and dined them, treated them like royalty, pulled out all the stops, spared no expense.

And that was exactly the problem, you see: they spared no expense. And when they returned from their trip, and our boss, Eddie, saw their expense report, he was furious. First, he called Don into his office and chewed Don out. And all Don said in response was, “You’re right. I’m sorry. It will never happen again.” After coming out of Eddie’s office, Don told me, “I better go warn Allen.” Allen, you see, was a little more hot-tempered than Don. Don knew that Allen’s tendency was to argue back—and Eddie was in no mood for arguing today. So Don said to him, “Allen, no matter what Eddie says to you, you just need to agree with him and apologize profusely. I’m serious, Allen. Don’t try to argue. Don’t try to defend. Don’t try to justify. Just say, ‘Yes, sir. You’re right. I’m sorry. It won’t happen again.’ Otherwise, you’re going to get in trouble.” Read the rest of this entry »

Heaven is hard to imagine, but…

October 22, 2012

Is there a lead-lined umbrella to protect us from prying eyes in heaven?

For the past 17 years, whenever a significant milestone in my life occurred—graduations, the birth of my children, ordination—I could count on my Aunt Mary, who died a couple of weeks ago, telling me how confident she was that her late brother, my dad, was “looking down on me” and feeling pride at my accomplishment.

I would never tell her this, but the thought that Dad had the equivalent of a 50-yard-line club-level seat in heaven, viewing all the significant events in my life, never comforted me. On the contrary, if deceased loved ones can see us at our best, what’s stopping them from seeing us at our worst? Speculating about what the dead in Christ can and can’t see down here makes me think of Superman’s X-ray vision. Will a lead-lined umbrella protect me from prying eyes?

The larger problem, however, isn’t my concern for privacy: It’s that now, when I think of heaven, I’m thinking of comic books and superheroes and X-ray vision. I’m thinking of people who live somewhere up there looking at us down here—as if heaven were a place up in the sky. In other words, this way of speaking of heaven makes it seem unreal, which does not help!

The truth is, I struggle to believe in heaven sometimes. It often feels like pie-in-the-sky. Wishful thinking. Too good to be true. I suspect I’m not alone in feeling this way. I’ve known a few Christians—intellectuals, like me—who say that they don’t need heaven; that it’s enough for them to know God now, and enjoy this gift of life now. They don’t exactly deny the afterlife, but if there is one, it’s just the cherry on top. Heaven isn’t essential to their faith. Moreover, they don’t let hope for an afterlife sully their motives for doing good now. Heaven, they say, won’t be a bribe for good behavior.

To which I say, Spare me, please! I don’t believe you. I think that you struggle to believe in heaven for the same reasons I do. You’re worried that it’s not real, and you don’t want to be disappointed (as if you would experience disappointment if this life were all there is). But instead of confronting the difficulty head-on, reasoning your way through it, you side-step it entirely. Then you pretend that it’s the honorable thing to do.

No, I stand with the apostle Paul, the cold-eyed realist on the matter of the afterlife, who said, “If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:19). Logically speaking, there’s no evading the fact that without heaven, we Christians are—to put it no more strongly—wasting our time and wasting our lives. Needless to say, my vocation as a Christian pastor is laughably absurd.

But see… that’s just the thing. If, like me, you struggle with heaven, then the moment you read the previous paragraph, something in your heart objected: No way! The way of Christ-like love is good. Self-denial and self-sacrifice are good. It’s good to be a peacemaker. It’s good to feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, and take care of the sick. Something inside of you wants the captives to be released, the blind to have their vision restored, and the oppressed to be liberated. Don’t you feel this in your bones?

If so, then you can also feel in your bones the logic of heaven. While I may entertain doubts about deceased loved ones looking down on us from above, and other popular, self-serving depictions of heaven, I don’t doubt for a moment my strong desire for justice to be fully and finally done (not against me, mind you, but at least for others). So forget about me, my eternal well-being, my survival beyond the grave, my reunion with departed loved ones. Apart from heaven, it’s impossible that the scales of justice can ever be balanced, or that the Good will be vindicated. Therefore, I find a future that doesn’t include heaven intolerable.

Obviously, this just scratches the surface of the topic. I haven’t said a word about the intermediate state versus full-bodied resurrection, our ultimate Christian hope. I haven’t discussed my favorite writing on the subject, which comes from C.S. Lewis’s The Problem of Pain. But I got to thinking about these things when I read John Koessler’s recent article in Christianity Today, “Why It’s Hard to imagine Heaven is Real.” You might appreciate it, too. He nicely describes the problems that make heaven hard to believe in. I especially liked this part:

Heaven as we have traditionally pictured it is an uninspiring place, a subject of clichés and the butt of jokes. Heaven is the green space where our loved ones go after they die, not unlike the cemetery itself. It is a quiet and comfortable spot from which our deceased parents and grandparents view significant events like graduations, weddings, family reunions, and presumably their own funerals. Like spectators on a hill who watch from a great distance, they “look down upon us” but cannot do much else.

Such affairs are tedious enough for the living. One can only wonder what they would be like for souls who were permitted to watch but not participate. Would they find our small talk about yesterday’s game or our employer’s irritating behavior to be interesting? Would they enjoy knowing that we miss them? Would they be distressed at the sight of our troubles? If this is heaven, then its inhabitants are more like Marley’s ghost than the angels. They might seek to interfere for good, but lack the power to do so.

If heaven is only a distant gallery from which the departed observe affairs as they unfold on earth, then it is a dull place indeed. It is more like that boring relative’s house your parents forced you to visit when you were a kid—the one without Nintendo or any children your own age—than the place where God’s throne dwells. This popular view of heaven pictures a realm so removed that our voice will not carry to its shores. It is close enough for the departed to watch us but too far away to have any real effect on earth. It is too removed from our present experience to sustain our interest and too far in the future to be of help in the present.

Personal incredulity is not an argument

April 26, 2012

A Facebook friend helpfully pointed me to a webpage that reminds us of eleven mistakes of logic that we often make when arguing. As I’m currently preaching a sermon series on evidence for the resurrection of Jesus, I’m trying my best to avoid them. One fallacy, which I had never heard of before, is “personal incredulity.” Here’s the description:

I’m struck by the fact that he uses evolution as an example. I get his point, but I also note that this same mistake is often made by skeptics and atheists concerning God, theology, and resurrection.

Recently, my friend Mike was watching an online debate between Christian apologist William Lane Craig and the late Christopher Hitchens. I assume this debate was part of Hitchens’s God is Not Great book tour several years ago. (Click here to read about a debate I witnessed live between Hitchens and my Christian ethics prof, Timothy Jackson.)

Mike was impressed with Craig, and why wouldn’t he be? Craig knows all the arguments backwards and forwards, and is well-prepared to take on any comer. (Last year, Craig challenged Dawkins to debate him in England, but Dawkins turned him down. Smart man!) But my friend noticed that Hitchens had zero interest in engaging any of Craig’s arguments. And since Craig is such an earnest fellow, I can’t imagine that he fared well playing Hitchens’s game of scornful derision masked as witty repartee.

My point is, the fallacy of personal incredulity is a primary tactic of our celebrity atheists. Dawkins himself deflects criticism that he knows nothing about Christian theology by talking about fairies and flying spaghetti monsters. Why bother learning anything about theology? he would say. It’s such obvious nonsense.

And so it is with evidence for the resurrection. The attitude of many skeptics is, “It doesn’t matter what you tell me, I’m not going to believe that God raised Jesus from the dead. That’s beyond the realm of possibility.” Whatever else happened, we know in advance that that didn’t happen.

One thing I hope to get across in this “Reason to Believe” series is this: If the resurrection of Jesus did happen, then the evidence we have is the precisely the evidence that we should expect. 

What we can know for sure… so far

April 24, 2012

My sermon on Sunday dealt mostly with the “Legend theory,” one of several alternate theories created to explain away the miracle at the center of the Christian faith. I used something Richard Dawkins said in an interview years ago as a springboard for the discussion.

He said that he’s not surprised that Christians claimed that Jesus was resurrected, “After all, these sorts of legends sprang up all the time in the ancient world when a powerful, charismatic leader died.” In other words, the resurrection of Jesus was just another legendary account of someone dying and coming back to life.

So the question is… “Was it?”

No. Not even close. As I argued on Sunday, there are legends of gods and mythic figures dying and coming to life in a spiritual form or heavenly realm. Outside of the Bible, however, there are no clear parallels in the ancient world about a dead person resuming a bodily existence after dying.[†] If Dawkins were right, shouldn’t there be dozens or hundreds of examples?

In fact, even though there were many would-be messiahs in first-century Palestine who had large followings and, like Jesus, died at the hands of their Roman oppressors, only Jesus’ followers ever claimed that their leader was resurrected. Why? One would think that in a Jewish context—from which the concept of “resurrection” emerged in the first place—the disciples of these other would-be messiahs would also claim that their leader was resurrected—if it were so commonplace in the ancient world.

Richard Dawkins really meant to say that ancient people were gullible in a way that we moderns are not. Of course this is nonsense. People in the ancient world knew as well as we do that when people died, they stayed dead.

Besides, legends take time to develop. As I demonstrated on Sunday, we can say with historical certainty that the disciples of Jesus proclaimed from the beginning that Jesus was bodily resurrected. Therefore, for whatever reason—and we’ll look at other possible reasons next week—the disciples began saying that Jesus was resurrected shortly after he died. Maybe they were mistaken, crazy, or lying (we’ll get to that next week), but we know for sure that they claimed resurrection from the beginning.

There is another spin on the “Legend” theory floating out there. It’s less interesting to me than the first, but it goes like this: When the disciples proclaimed the resurrection of Jesus, and they (or their followers) wrote it down, they weren’t writing literal history, nor did they intend to be taken literally. They were instead copying their master, who himself used fictitious stories called parables to teach deeper spiritual truths.

If we try to make the resurrection a literal event, we miss the point—just as we would miss the point if we fretted over the location of the inn to which the Good Samaritan took his wounded neighbor.

Never mind that I’m not sure what that deeper point would be. Never mind that the gospels, Acts, and the epistles make the resurrection seem perfectly historical to me. This theory fails on many other levels. It doesn’t explain the passage we looked at on Sunday: 1 Corinthians 15:1-8. First, when Paul says in v. 4 that Jesus was raised, we can infer that the tomb was really empty. Otherwise, Jesus’ enemies could have stopped the young Christian movement in its tracks by simply producing Jesus’ rotting corpse.

Also, why were there hundreds of eyewitnesses to the resurrected Lord? If the disciples were creating a legend, why would they make women the first eyewitnesses to the empty tomb and resurrection—since women weren’t credible witnesses in the Greco-Roman world?

Why would the disciples have created a legend involving resurrection? Resurrection was something that Jews believed would happen to everyone at the end of history—when God would finally establish his kingdom on earth and peace and justice would reign. No Jew believed it would happen to one person in the middle of history, especially while the Roman Empire continued to occupy Palestine!

Would devout Jews like Paul and James, the brother of the Lord, risk the fate of their souls by abandoning orthodox Judaism for the sake of an invented story?

Finally, we know for sure that many of the apostles, including Peter, Paul, and James, were martyred for their faith. Would they have given up their lives if they knew the resurrection were merely a non-historical parable? It boggles the mind.

[†] Ancient historian and Bible scholar N.T. Wright treats this issue extensively in The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2003), 3-200. For a shorter treatment, see also Habermas and Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2004), 89-92.

What Tim Keller said

April 20, 2012

As we look forward this Sunday to our new two-part series on evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ, “Reason to Believe,” I’d like to direct your attention to something that pastor Tim Keller said in his profoundly good apologetic work, Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism:

Sometimes people approach me and say, “I really struggle with this aspect of Christian teaching. I like this part of Christian belief, but I don’t think I can accept that part.” I usually respond: “If Jesus rose from the dead, then you have to accept all he said; if he didn’t rise from the dead, then why worry about any of what he said? The issue on which everything hangs is not whether or not you like this teaching but whether or not he rose from the dead.” That is how the first hearers felt who heard reports of the resurrection. They knew that if it was true it meant we can’t live our lives any way we want. It also meant we don’t have to be afraid of anything, not Roman swords, not cancer, nothing. If Jesus rose from the dead, it changes everything.[†]

Timothy Keller, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism (New York: Dutton, 2008), 202.

“Resurrection of the dead” is for real

April 16, 2012

The most dramatic change in my theological thinking that occurred in seminary was believing in the resurrection of the dead as the second of a two-stage afterlife. The first stage is a disembodied intermediate state that believers enter immediately upon death (although Catholics believe that Paradise is preceded for most believers by a period of cleansing they call purgatory). Many theologians call this intermediate state “Paradise,” recalling Christ’s words to the thief on the cross: “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” It is also the stage to which Paul refers in Philippians 1:21 and elsewhere: “To live is Christ and to die is gain.”

The second stage is our ultimate Christian hope, referred to in the Apostles’ Creed as “the resurrection of the dead.” Paul’s dramatic chapter on resurrection, 1 Corinthians 15, describes this stage in some detail. In resurrection, God will give the redeemed in Christ new bodies that won’t wear out or suffer decay. And we will live in a redeemed, renewed, and restored Creation. Revelation 21, for example, describes—not believers being whisked away to some faraway heaven—but heaven coming down to this earth.

As N.T. Wright has said in many places, our ultimate Christian hope isn’t life after death but “life after life after death.”

All of what I’ve described is classic Christianity, proclaimed and believed as orthodox theology from the beginning of the Church (except that part about purgatory). It’s obviously far more robust than simply “going to heaven when we die.” That I was mostly unaware of it prior to seminary is my problem. I grew up in youth group, after all, singing about “heaven” as my final destination, not full-blown resurrection. That southern gospel classic “I’ll Fly Away,” as bad as the theology is, is an awesome song!

For most believers, perhaps, it’s enough to know that through faith in Christ they are safe for eternity—whatever eternity looks like, or however it works itself out. I understand that. As I preached on Easter, God’s defeat of death, the final enemy, was victory enough for me.

But this two-stage afterlife illustrates what God is up to in his plan of salvation for the world. God isn’t merely interested in rescuing souls from a world bound for destruction, as a firefighter rescues people from a burning building. He wants to save the building, too! He wants to save whole people, bodies and souls, and this good Creation along with it.

I haven’t read the article yet, but Roger Olson refers to a new Time cover story about what the magazine posits as “competing” views on the Christian understanding of heaven—one a disembodied state of bliss and the other full-blown resurrection.

Of course these views are not in competition. It isn’t one or the other; it’s both—although our ultimate hope is resurrection.

I couldn’t agree more with what Olson writes:

What I do is talk equally about two future realities for believers: “paradise” and “heaven.” I think it is appropriate to reserve the word “heaven” for God’s place now and our future home when this world and our bodies are freed from bondage to decay and God is all in all or everything to everyone. But I think we need to talk also about “paradise” as that place many people, in their folk religion, call “heaven”—the abode of the dead in Christ about which we know little. But the apostle Paul wrote the Corinthians about it and even suggested that he (or a man he knew) went there in some kind of “near death” experience.

A holistic account of life after death takes both equally seriously even though it emphasizes the resurrection of both our bodies and creation as the “blessed hope.”

By the way, I never before thought of Paul’s description of his trip to “the third heaven” in 2 Corinthians 13 as a near-death experience, but that makes sense. He was certainly near death many times during his dangerous ministry. Could he have had the same sort of out-of-body experience that other Christians have experienced when they’ve temporarily died?

Rewriting our future

April 11, 2012

At 70, Paul Simon is creating some worthy late-period work.

My favorite song on Paul Simon’s most recent album, So Beautiful or So What, is called “Rewrite.” With humor, the song’s narrator, a Vietnam vet looking back on his hardscrabble life, imagines changing those parts that didn’t work out as planned—as if his life were a Hollywood movie script. He sings:

I’ll eliminate the pages
Where the father has a breakdown
And he has to leave the family
But he really meant no harm
Gonna substitute a car chase
And a race across the rooftops
Where the father saves the children
And he holds them in his arms

Of course he can’t rewrite his history, but the song gives the impression that he can change his present and future—with the help of an unexpected Presence.

But I say
Help me, help me
Help me, help me
Thank you!
I’d no idea
That you were there
When I said help me, help me
Help me, help me
Thank you
For listening to my prayer

As far as we know, Paul Simon didn’t undergo a religious conversion. But religious—and even Christian-sounding—themes dominate the album. Paul McCartney noticed. After meeting Simon backstage after a concert last year, McCartney said, “I thought you were Jewish!” It’s clear from the record that Simon has embraced faith in God.

The song does get at something I preached about on Sunday. I said that resurrection reminds us that God isn’t finished with us yet—and won’t be until the other side of resurrection. It’s not up to us to bring heaven down to earth or to make our lives on earth into some kind of heavenly bliss. That’s God’s job, and he’s got that under control. In the meantime, we can afford to wait on God and be patient—with ourselves, with others, and with God.

We don’t get a rewrite or a do-over in life, but we can be confident that, as we trust in Christ, God is rewriting our future. And one day—at the end of history as we know it—we’ll become everything we’re supposed to be.

Here’s a YouTube video of the song…

Lenten Blog Tour: Paradise Now

April 21, 2011

The following post is part of the Lenten Blog Tour, which features Lenten reflections from 41 bloggers using scripture passages from the new Common English Bible translation. The CEB New Testament is out now, and the full Bible will be published later this year.

"Gordon's Calvary" at the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem: A proposed site for Golgotha, "The Skull."

Reflection Text: Luke 23:32-43

They also led two other criminals to be executed with Jesus. When they arrived at the place called The Skull, they crucified him, along with the criminals, one on his right and the other on his left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.” They drew lots as a way of dividing up his clothing.

The people were standing around watching, but the leaders sneered at him, saying, “He saved others. Let him save himself if he really is the Christ sent from God, the chosen one.”

The soldiers also mocked him. They came up to him offering him sour wine and saying, “If you really are the king of the Jews, save yourself.” Above his head was a notice of the formal charge against him. It read “This is the king of the Jews.”

One of the criminals hanging next to Jesus insulted him, “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!”

Responding, the other criminal spoke harshly to him, “Don’t you fear God, seeing that you’ve also been sentenced to die? We are rightly condemned, for we are receiving the appropriate sentence for what we did. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Jesus replied, “I assure you that today you will be with me in paradise.”

As most of my friends and parishioners know (and some of my blog readers are learning), I have become one of those annoying clergy people who tells everyone that they ought to go to the Holy Land if they ever get a chance. I say that as a former skeptic: you couldn’t have convinced me before I left how meaningful the trip would be.

My favorite places were those in which we could say with some certainty that Jesus walked here. Jesus healed here. Jesus spoke these words here. Sometimes I would even settle for “in this general vicinity.”

One of my favorite moments was captured in the 20-second video clip below. It shows the ancient synagogue in Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth. (It’s now part of a church.) It’s not quite the original synagogue—the walls were rebuilt in the fourth century—but the floor was original to the first century.

As I stood in this small room, I thought, How cool is this? It’s very likely that Jesus walked on this floor, possibly even mounted these steps, when, in Luke 4, he read the words from Isaiah that inaugurated his ministry: Read the rest of this entry »