Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Studying Jesus #3 On the 3rd Day He Rose Again


While I initially planned a post on Jesus's birth and early years following the last installment in this series, I thought the time was right to publish something on the Resurrection, since we have entered the Passion Week (Of course, a separate Easter post will be featured on Sunday!). 

Meanwhile, here are notes from another Sunday School lesson I took last year at my previous congregation:

Jesus Christ rose again from the dead on the 3rd day. But how can we believe such an amazing thing? Here are 3 points to think about:


The Empty Tomb

On the Sunday after his crucifixion, early in  the morning, the tomb of Jesus was found to be empty. We know this because:

·         Women went to the tomb-At that time, women were not considered equal to men. If this was a made up story, the writers would have never mentioned women because nobody would believe them.
·         The disciples initially did not believe that Jesus had really risen from the dead (Matthew 28:17, John 20:9, 24) Later on, the disciples became the leaders of the church. Once again, if the empty tomb was a made up story, the disciples would not have been shown in this light.
·         The Jewish leaders had to make up lies (Matthew 28:11-15)-If the tomb was not empty, why would they to make up stories to explain the missing body?


Visions of Jesus

At different times and different occasions, the risen Jesus appeared to many people (Luke 24:13-35, 1 corinthians 15:6). Were these hallucinations? No, because different people do not hallucinate at the same time. Moreover, Saul (who latter became Saint Paul) was at first an enemy of the Church. Then how come he saw the risen Jesus (Acts 9:1-5) if Jesus wasn’t actually alive?


The Preaching of Disciples


Finally, the disciples who were in hiding suddenly started preaching that Jesus had risen from the dead. What made them so brave? Another thing to notice is that the tomb of Jesus was in Jerusalem and the disciples preached the message of resurrection in Jerusalem. If Jesus didn’t really rise from the dead, then the disciples would have no chance of being successful. However, they managed to convert thousands of people within days (Acts 2:41, 47)

We also have to look at the changed lives of the disciples:

  • Peter denied Jesus 3 times, but ended up converting 3000 people in one day
  • Thomas doubted Jesus, but he traveled all the way to India to preach the message. The St.Thomas Church in Chennai was built in his name
  • Paul wanted to finish the Church, but ended up being its greatest martyr and missionary. He planted more churches than anyone else, and wrote the most number of books in the Bible.

If Jesus of Nazareth didn’t rise from the dead, how do you explain all these things?



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Sunday, 30 March 2014

Son of God (2014 Movie)

Their Production. His Story


This is a belated review of the 2014 Bible epic “Son of God”. Before moving on, do understand why I am writing my analysis on this movie after a month of its launch:

·         The movie was not released in Pakistani theaters
·         My DVD player isn’t working
·         I was waiting for a pirated link better print

Now that the air is cleared, here are my two cents on the movie.

To start off, I don’t buy the argument that it's useless to make more Jesus movies. The Bible says ‘there is nothing new under the sun’, and this applies to stories more than anything else. Good stories (like Batman) will keep resurging without thwarting off audiences, so why can’t the Gospel story have another shot?

But this is where the Son of God (or most Jesus movies for that matter) fail us. It is the Biblical account of Jesus and his followers that gives all energy to these movies, with the exception of The Passion of Christ (2004) and The Last Temptation of Christ (1988). Beyond the Biblical passages and popular Christmas traditions, there is nothing that merits Son of God as a cinematic experience independent of its religious overtones.

For instance, we are taken from the Garden of Eden to the Cradle in Bethlehem. Fast forward, and Jesus Christ is heralded as the Deliverer of the Jews at Palm Sunday immediately after his baptism. What happens in between? Of course, I don’t expect filmmakers to make up stories of Jesus’ ‘missing years’ before the start of his public ministry, but there were hardly any substantial references to his miracles and teachings in the movie.

And as with other Jesus films, such as the Jesus of Nazareth (1977), Son of God is largely devoid of emotions, and the costumes and makeup make up for most of the acting (see what I did there?).

To me, the strong points of the movie were as follows:

·         Instead of a winged creature entering Mary’s room, the Angel Gabriel actually appears as a man, apparently a Roman. Joseph experiences the same thing in the market place. This was a great interpretation of how supernatural beings may enter time and space. Why they didn’t do the same with the satan character confuses me.

·         The man Gabriel enters Mary’s home as soon as her fiancĂ© is taken away by the Romans. In the next scene she becomes pregnant. I am assuming that this was done deliberately by the writers to make us as judgmental on Mary as Joseph and the rest of her village was.

·         The parallel shots and flashback/forward scenes were brilliant, e.g. Jesus envisaging his brutal death when satan lures him with royal imagery, the crowds who first shouted Hosanna now abuse Jesus, Paul’s attacks on Churches when he opens his eyes in Ananias’ house, and the simultaneous prayers of Jesus, Caiaphas, and Claudia.

·         The honorable burial of Jesus by Nicodemus and Joseph, which in my humble view eliminates all charges of anti-Semitism. Along similar lines, I first thought the movie had racist elements when I saw the satan character, but then the leading Wise Man as well as  the cross-bearing Simeon changed my mind!

I also noticed an emphasis on ‘revolution’. Pilate fears that Jesus will initiate a revolution that will cost him his position as the Prefect. Jesus asks Peter to come with Him and change the world, which Peter repeats at Cornelius’s house. And when the townsmen accuse Mary of adultery, Joseph’s declaration to accept her even with child also sends strong social signals.  The social message is more overt than washing away of sins in this movie, and this might strike a chord with contemporary audiences.

What ultimately differentiates Son of God from its predecessors is its budget, production quality, and the OST by Lorne Balfe and Hans Zimmer that provides the necessary emotion to this movie. Apart from that, it hardly has any cinematic finesse. Of course, we as Christians will always find depictions of Jesus inspiring, but it is high time we get a Gospel story in a presentation that can be called a film in its true sense. 

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Monday, 24 February 2014

Of Rumors and Apologetics

Apart from running a worldwide religious organization, the Pope is responsible for doing some of most notable things in history, such as: 
But today, I found out something about the Pope that puts all previous records to shame. The Pope has hired notable author J.K. Rowling of the Harry Potter fame to rewrite the Bible!

Note: From here on, this article becomes a little serious...

The origin of this rumor is the satire website WaterFordWhisperNews. How did I find this out? Simple. I went to Google.com, clicked on 'images', dragged the image from the linked Facebook page, and dropped it.

But just to make sure that the admin of the page didn't get the joke, here is a screenshot of the comments along the image:



This only goes to show that the more and more people simply cant comprehend humor. Reminds me of a blog on a local news site, where they had to put up a disclaimer specifying that the article (with outlandish and made-up material) was a work of satire!

In a previous post, I have outlined that this is the kind of apologetic that goes around on the internet. The sad thing, there is a wide audience to consume this kind of rumor and outright deceptive propagation, and they are willing to 'share' it. (Talk about creating shareable content)

At least on my blog, I aim for accuracy while conveying religious information...

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Saturday, 22 February 2014

The Bible as History

Bible is indeed a historical book. It was written at a specific time in a specific location. But Bible is not a book of history in that we do not consult it to write our assignments on the events of the world. We distinguish between the timeline of events presented by the Bible, and the one by secular, academic historians. Do both move in the same direction, or do the lines diverge? 



Before answering this question, it is important to note that every year, all of us forget to celebrate perhaps the greatest day in religious history, or should I say, the history of the world. Confused? Well, don't you know that God created Adam on 23rd October, Sunday, 9 A.M in 4004 B.C.! 

Jokes apart, we have to answer this serious question. Jesus said to Nicodemus:
12 'I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?' John 3
Here are the notes from the Apologetics Class I took on whether there is any external confirmation of the events of the Bible:


  • Salvation History: The Bible is not a history book. Rather, it contains stories and events that were written from a religious viewpoint    

  • Was Writing Invented At the Time of Moses?: It was invented before Moses. E.g. the Epic of Gilgamesh was a Sumerian poem that now exists in standard Akkadian language dated 2000 B.C. at least 200 years before the time of Moses. Sumerian language, one of the oldest languages in the world, was discovered via clay tablets dated 4000 B.C. 

  • Events in Genesis: The creation story as well as the story of the flood are almost ubiquitous in Near Eastern and Greek literature, e.g. Utnapishtim    

  • Ages in Genesis-Did People Really Live that Long? No, that was the standard way of writing ages of old people at that time. E.g. The Babylonian list of Kings, where the average age is 43,200 years! (John Hargreaves, A Guide to Genesis, pg. 50)


  • Nations in Genesis 15 Never Existed: They did. We have extensive evidence of the Hittites, who hold an important place in European history 

  • No Historical Record of Herod's Infanticide: It was not a major event to begin with, i.e. how many Jewish babies under the age of 2 would actually be in Jerusalem and its vicinity? But we do know that Herod was a tyrant, who killed his own family members! 

  • Accuracy of Luke: Pilate as 'prefect' of Judea, the altar to the unknown God in Pergamum, the use of titles like 'Proconsuls' and 'Politerus', once considered erroneous, were later confirmed via inscriptions. As Sir William Ramsay remarked: 'Luke is a historian of the first rank'

Other issues of Biblical history, especially concerning the person of Christ will be discussed in other posts. 

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Tuesday, 18 February 2014

How To Subscribe to My Blog (For Gmail Users)

Dear reader,

Thanks for visiting PK Christian Writer. Here’s how you can become a member on this blog to stay updated on new material:

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Monday, 10 February 2014

My Christian Faith #3 The Unity of the Bible

What started as a weekly blog series has become a victim of the reality of life and the writer's personal frailties. Now things seem to be on track, so here is the 3rd installment of Bible series!

The topic of contention is the reliability of the Bible, the Scriptures on which we base our beliefs. Earlier we discussed how the Bible uniformly informs us of its own supernatural origins, but that is more of a "necessary but not sufficient" argument.

Here I present a more accurate argument as far as giving evidence for the supernatural origins, or at least the uniqueness of the Bible, is concerned. It is nothing but the unity of the Bible itself. What does this mean?

You will probably be thinking that all books in the world are coherent in that there is one or more central themes in them. But remember we are talking not about a single book,  but a collection of almost 6 dozen books written by different authors at different times in different locations and in different languages.

But before proceeding to some specific examples of this unity, it is important to understand that Bible is not uniform in the sense of a textbook, or even several volumes by an author. In fact one of the most amazing things about the Bible is the variety of literature present in it. Where else to you find natural history, law, poetry, letter, biography, and allegory rolled into one document? 

It is this literary diversity that makes the unity of the Bible such a strong argument for its divine origin. So let's get down to some real examples, one from the book of Genesis , and 2 from the rest of the corpus.

Have you read the flood story in Genesis? All Christians, even children, know it from top to bottom. But the overwhelming majority of readers will have overlooked one amazing thing about the flood story that goes on from chapters 6 to 9: reading the story forward from chapters 6-8 and then backwards from 9 to 8 shows the exact same pattern:



The technical term used for this literary structure is "chiasm", which can be described as an hour-glass where "X" is the middle.
There are several examples of chiasms in the Bible and it's contemporary literature, yet this one is the most prominent. Isn't it cool? But let's move on more detailed examples:

The Blood of the Lamb:
  • The first covenant sealed with blood (Exodus 24:8)
  • Forgiveness of sins lies in the blood (Leviticus 17:11)
  • A new covenant will be given (Jeremiah 31:34)


Compare with:
  • Jesus is the lamb (John 1:35-36)
  • He shed his blood for our forgiveness
  • This is the new covenant (Matthew 26:26-28)


The Blessing of the Nations

  • Genesis 1:1 God creates the heavens and the earth
  • Genesis 3:17 The earth is cursed
  • Genesis 11:8-9 Humanity divided into nations


Compare with:

  • Revelation 21:1 A new heaven and earth
  • Revelation 22:3 The curse is lifted
  • Revelation 7:9 All nations in heaven


Conclusion
So as you can clearly see, as vast and diverse as the books of the Bible are, we still find several themes that unite all of Scripture. The first example illustrates an amazing literary theme in one book, the second showed how the Law and the Prophets were fulfilled with a single statement of Jesus, and the last example showed how the first and the last book of Bible are related.

Not only does this make reading and understanding the Bible easier, but also points out to the fact that such a book can only come from Above.



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Friday, 27 December 2013

A Christmas to Remember



I started this blog last year in September to quench the fire of expression burning inside me. This is not my first experience of writing for the internet, especially in the religion and spirituality niche. But my previous blogs and social media profiles have long disintegrated into the lost archives of cyberspace.




Initially I thought I was doing good. During the Christmas season, I was uploading multiple blog posts every week, and I got some genuine recognition as well. I had many things to say, and I knew that my writing, reading, and research skills were improving with time.

But soon the reality of life sprang upon me. Even now I cannot call myself stable, either physically or spiritually, and this has been taking its toll on my writing. The struggle of not having the time and energy to come up with new material and the necessity of updating the blog regularly got the better of me, and so I loosened my editorial policies.

I have now started revamping the existing material, trying to find my voice once again. But this is not all that I have been doing during the Advent. I also entered a writing competition. Didn’t win, but it was good. You can read the entry here if you like.  

There is something else that has connected this blog with my life. Last year, I published a piece titled “Dead Children and Christmas” where I contemplated on the infancy narratives and the major child deaths in 2012. In retrospect, I was trying to write about something based on theoretical knowledge. Back then it was easy to say something like:

God’s sovereignty is prominent even when things go wrong, even when little children die

This year, however, I came to know what it actually feels like.

Half of my family has gone to Peshawar to attend a wedding and celebrate Christmas. This is the city where most of my relatives reside, and also the same place where the All Saints Church was bombed by terrorists.

You can imagine how emotionally loaded Christmas would be for them this year. But closer to home, we experienced the passing away of a child, a 9 year old girl who was physically unwell since birth. I didn’t even have the courage to stare at her face before she was buried. Watching the devastated family left me numb as well. I had nothing to say. I didn’t even attend church on the 25th.

As I tried to regain myself, my mind went back to the Christmas story. For the first time in my life, I saw suffering and happiness occurring simultaneously. Even our calendar displays this paradox, for 26th December is a public holiday for Christians while the 27th is the death anniversary of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. In Pakistan, we celebrate birth and death together.

And this is exactly what the Gospel narrates. As Rachel weeps for her children, Judah is consoled that he is not the least among rulers. It reminds me of a quote in ‘Shadowlands’, a movie showing the journey of C.S. Lewis’ ideological musings on suffering to the experience of watching his wife die from cancer:

Why love, if losing hurts so much? I have no answers anymore: only the life I have lived. Twice in that life I've been given the choice: as a boy and as a man. The boy chose safety, the man chooses suffering. The pain now is part of the happiness then. That's the deal.”

At this point in my life, this is as clear as it gets.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!


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