In this last lesson in the series, Mike will be answering more miscellaneous questions posed in the survey. This includes questions about lent, various church rituals and our state of mind in heaven.
So last week I said that the remaining question in our series didn’t fit into any particular category, so I divided them up into two sections, those that could be answered from the Old Testament and those that could be answered from the New Testament. Last week we did the questions from the Old, tonight we finish up with questions that can be answered from the New Testament. Six questions, and four of them have to do with Jesus’s death and resurrection.
What is Lent, and does it apply to us?
Answer, the term Lent refers to a Roman Catholic practice. The word comes from the old English word lencten, which refers to the spring time of year. It is a Roman Catholic observance of Lent, it actually refers to a period of fasting and penitence and other types of ascetic practices, for example for married people in the Catholic church many of them give up intimate relationships during the time of Lent. Also these things, the giving up, some people give up smoking, people will give up candy, whatever, they give up things during the 40 day period between the Catholic calendar observances of Ash Wednesday and Palm Sunday.
Catholic religion much of it is geared to the liturgical calendar. They have feasts and different observances throughout the year, and so when we talk about Lent we’re talking about a period of time between two particular events in the Catholic calendar, between Ash Sunday, excuse me, Ash Wednesday and Palm Sunday. This represents the time that Jesus spent fasting in the wilderness, 40 days, so the Lent period is 40 days.
Catholics also celebrate Palm Sunday, which is a memorial of Jesus’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem, and we read in Luke 12, people were praising Him, they laid garments on the ground, palm leaves and so on and so forth, palm branches that He walked on, or the animal that He was riding on walked on as He entered the city. On this particular Sunday, on Palm Sunday, Catholic churches give palm leaves to those who come to mass. I remember as a boy growing up in Catholic Quebec, growing up in the Catholic church, Palm Sunday, yes, we would get them on the way out, the ushers would be giving either the long strips that you see, or some palm leaves that were folded into crosses, and these palm leaves are kept, they’re burned, and the ashes are then used the following year on Ash Wednesday.
On Ash Wednesday the people come forward and the priest draws a small cross with his thumb dipped into the ashes, and puts a little cross on the forehead of the individual. This is a semblance to the ashes and sackcloth that the Jews used to wear when in mourning, or penance, right, when somebody died or they were in mourning, or something, what did it say in the Bible? They would put on sackcloth and ashes, right, put ashes on their head as a sign of their mourning.
Well this is a modern day, a modern day observance in the same way except the ashes are used to put a cross on the forehead, and the idea is that that 40 days representing Jesus’ fasting in the wilderness, modern day Catholics symbolically with the ash on the forehead and realistically deny themselves certain things during that period of 40 days. I remember Ash Wednesday was the beginning of the season of Lent, and when I was a child I remember giving up candy. As I mentioned, some people used to use, that was the best time to quit, if you were a smoker, Lent is coming, they’d try to quit smoking during those 40 days of fasting. And of course this would last all the way until the Easter week.
So this is what Lent is, when you hear about that for Catholics who follow a religious calendar with various, as I said, rituals, feasts, practices tied to different Bible characters and events, as well as Catholic traditions which, I may add, have no basis in scripture. For example, one other feast, the Feast of the Assumption, the Feast of the Assumption, August the 8th, and that particular feast celebrates and commemorates the taking up of Mary into heaven without seeing death. I see the questioning look on your faces, and I’m assuming that the questioning look on your faces is where is that in the Bible? Where does it say in the New Testament that Mary was taken up into heaven in bodily form? Like Elijah was taken up, right? I mean, it says that in the Old Testament. Jesus was taken up, wasn’t He, right, because He was taken up into heaven, but where does it say that Mary was taken up, did not see death, did not taste death, she was assume, assumption, she was assumed into heaven, where do you see that? Well, you don’t see it anywhere, it’s made up out of whole cloth, it’s just a made up thing. But it’s been there, that feast has been there for so long that Catholics don’t question it, it’s just, yeah, that happened. Why do we know that’s so? Well, because that’s the teaching of the Catholic church, so it’s so because they teach that it’s so. Now, the same person asked if Lent applied to us, and of course the answer is, well, no it doesn’t. The only religious observances that apply to us are the ones that are specifically given to us to observe in the Bible. When I say observances, I mean rituals.
New Testament Rituals
There’s only two rituals or observances that we are specifically told to keep.
Some people don’t like using that word because they thing it takes away the significance of it, but not at all, it is a ritual, it’s something we do that has a spiritual significance. Baptism, it’s the immersion in water, I mean, how ritualistic do you want to be? That’s a pretty graphic ritual. The immersion in water, what a true biblical baptism is, of a repentant believer in Jesus, rich in significance and power. Baptism acts out in a physical way the actual, spiritual effect that is happening at that moment. A person is burying the old guilty sinner and resurrecting the new forgiven saint.
In addition to this, it is at the moment of baptism that God gives to that person baptized the following gifts, positions, and powers. At baptism that a person:
- becomes a disciple of Jesus – Matthew 28
- obey the gospel – Mark 16:15-16
- is born again – John 3:5
- has sins are forgiven and you receive the Holy Spirit – Acts 2:38
- added to the church – Acts 2:47
- put on Christ – Galatians 3:26
- receive a clear conscience – I Peter 3:21
- considered saved – I Peter 3:21
All these things actually happen at baptism because God has ordained it and commanded it in His word. So baptism is a ritual, it is an acting out, but it’s not one invented by mankind. This is the important difference. The empowerment, or the importance, or the necessity of baptism as something that we are obliged to perform or submit to is established by God’s word, not tradition or not the idea of some religious group.
The Lord’s Supper
The other ritual that we have, number two of two, is communion. This is the only other ritual given in the New Testament that Christians are obliged to observe. We’re commanded to observe this by Jesus Himself. Jesus Himself commanded that believers be baptized, right? And Jesus Himself commanded that believers observe the Lord’s supper. They’re not suggestions, they’re commands, okay. Jesus commands this:
And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you, do this in remembrance of Me.”
– Luke 22:19
Do, do this, this is an imperative verb. It’s grammar, it’s an imperative verb, you must do this in remembrance of Me. In Acts 2:42 we see the apostles and the early disciples doing this. After the 3000 were baptized it says they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, that’s the biblical way of saying communion, and prayer, and then another place in Acts 20:7 Luke writes,
On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread…
What’s Luke teaching here? Well he’s saying that early in the first century people would gather together on the Lord’s day for what purpose? Well, to break bread in order to take the communion. So the early disciples being taught and led by the apostles followed through on Jesus’s command to do this in remembrance of Him. So the empowerment, and the importance, and the necessity of baptism and communion are things that are commanded of us and so we follow through. Also as in baptism, we have a lot of information in the New Testament that guides us in how or when or why we’re to continue this observance, and I think in this group here we’re pretty familiar with that, so I’m not going to list out a whole lot of scriptures.
Now, there were other cultural practices that the New Testament mentions and even teaches about, things like foot washing, or the wearing of veils, or not wearing of veils, or having a love feast, but these were not commanded for future generations of Christians, just baptism and communion. When Paul talks about the wearing of veils in 1 Corinthians he’s commenting on that practice. People, women were doing that in those days, and there was a problem in the church about the wearing of veils. Some women wanted to do away with the wearing of veils because they felt, well, I’m free in Christ, I don’t need that anymore. And in doing so, they were getting ahead of social convention. In other words, people were scandalized that they removed the veil. And so Paul teaches about the veil and what he teaches women in the first century about the veil is, they mustn’t get too far ahead of convention.
The true meaning of modesty is not being too far ahead of convention or too far behind convention, but being dressed in a way that actually doesn’t draw attention because you’re dressed in a very weird way, or you’re not dressed enough – those are the two extremities. The whole idea is not to draw attention by the way you are dressed, that’s the true meaning of modesty. The point I’m making here is that in the first century, Paul talks about the veil and the problem in the church and how to resolve that problem, but he doesn’t give any commands, you must do this and you have to do that to continue the wearing of the veil into the second, third, and fourth century, no. He was just solving a problem for them.
Communion, however, okay that’s a different thing, when he teaches about communion he says I’m going to tell you what I received from the Lord, I Corinthians 11. This is what I received from the Lord, on the first day of the week when you gather together to break bread and so on and so forth, so that’s a command. And he’s teaching the church how to observe that command in a proper way and to maintain that in the future. Other practices, like prayer beads, candles, parades, feasts, these are all things that were designed and implemented by the authority of religious leaders and teachers in various groups, and they may have had a sincere goal of enhancing worship or spiritual worship, I do not accuse other groups of having bad faith or trying to insult God by inventing something like that. What I am saying is they have no biblical authority to do so and so even though the action may have come from a sincere heart, sometimes sincerity is not the deciding factor, especially when it comes to worshiping God. The deciding factor in worshiping God is the word, this is what guides us. No more, no less, just what it says.
The Bible, of course, warns us not to go beyond what is written. 1 Corinthians, right? Paul says, now these things, brethren, I have figuratively applied to myself and Apollos for your sakes, so that in us you may learn not to exceed what is written, so that no one of you will become arrogant in behalf of one against the other. We mustn’t go past what is written, only what is written. So the Bible therefore gives us two significant observances that remember and celebrate both the death of Christ as well as our resurrection with Him, and this is the core of our religion and we do not need anything more to enhance it.
Can a Jew convert to Christianity and continue to celebrate Jewish feasts?
It’s interesting to note that this question is similar to the previous one, but the answer is different. When Christianity first appeared it was not considered an independent religion, but merely a sect of Judaism, and this was a good thing at this time in the first century because Judaism was a legally recognized religion within the Roman Empire. Religions had to be authorized by the government of Rome, and Judaism was an authorized religion. And so it permitted the young church to kind of fly under the radar, if you wish, during its early period, otherwise it would have been in trouble with Roman authorities, it would not have been permitted.
Of course, the first converts to Christianity were Jews, or converts to Judaism from non-Jewish populations. These early Jewish converts continued to live within the traditional Jewish culture, observing food laws and feast days as well as the Lord’s supper. There’s like an overlap period there, especially in the book of Acts, there’s this overlap period where Judaism is there, Christianity comes out of that, but they overlap for a time. For many of these early converts, there wasn’t a clear line between the two, and so Christianity was very much a part of the Jewish religion. The first tension came when Gentiles began to be converted to Christianity, people who had no connection to Judaism but they received Christ as Lord, that’s when the trouble started.
We see debates, for example in Acts 15 where Jewish Christians are trying to impose Jewish ritual and food laws on Gentile Christians, okay, and they don’t succeed. They didn’t want to let go of their Judaism, they didn’t want to let go of their culture, it was so much part of their religion, and when Gentiles started to become Christians they wanted to impose their Jewish culture on them as well, as a way of protecting that culture.
We read in Acts 15 that the apostles, nixed that, “no, no, you can’t do that.” The apostles have to actually rule on the matter and they send a letter with Paul and Barnabas to the church in Antioch restraining the Jewish Christians from doing this, but also exhorting the Gentile Christians to adhere more carefully to moral codes and to make a concession to a particular food restriction which was the eating of blood, which the Jews found particularly contentious. It was a gray area, they had to go slow.
Later on we see Paul the apostle make further concessions to Jewish Christians who wanted him to abide by certain purification rituals so he could maintain peace within the church. Remember, people were saying to Paul, everybody’s teaching that you’re wanting to deny the law of Moses, and that Judaism is no good, because he was preaching to the Gentiles. So the elders, the leaders in Jerusalem said to Paul, hey, we have an idea, there’s a couple of young Christian Jews here who are going to the temple and they’re going to pay a vow, why don’t you go with them to kind of show everybody that you’re not against the Jewish religion, you’re not against the culture, and to keep the peace, and we know what happened, right? He goes and does that and a riot starts in the temple, and he’s arrested, and that begins his long imprisonment.
With time, the church grew in number throughout the Empire and the Jews became quite aggressive in attacking Christianity, which forced the government to recognize its separate identity from Judaism. The break actually came in 70 AD. We often talk about Jerusalem destroyed by the Roman army, there was a rebellion, they laid siege to the city for a couple of years actually, starved them out, and finally they went into the city, they destroyed the temple, they took down the wall, they killed the people, it was terrible, it was a terrible massacre. Well, one of the things that happened from that was that Christianity was freed from Jewish persecution and restraint after that took place, and it was recognized as an independent religion and as such was now open for persecution by Rome, which by this time had decreed that any religion other than emperor worship was forbidden.
This set the stage for the persecution and martyrdom of Christianity by Rome. Now I’ve explained this brief history to point out that if you were a convert from Judaism to Christianity in the first century, because of the nature of the culture at the time you might have continued to believe in Jesus and also continued to celebrate Jewish feasts, but it’s not the same today.
Today, now that the two religions are completely separate you can identify culturally as a Jew but spiritually only as a Christian. So you can say, yeah, my father was a Jewish person, my mother was Jewish, we were born in Poland or something like that, and they practiced the Jewish faith, but I was converted to Christianity. You no longer keep the Passover with your parents. You might respect them, but you’re not keeping the Passover because you know who the true Passover is. So you can eat Jewish food, understand the history of the nation, but do it with the knowledge that the fulfillment of Jewish history and culture and religion, and all of its feasts and observances are found in Jesus. So if you’re a Jewish Christian, your guide for the practice of your life and religion is found in the New Testament, just like non-Jewish Christians. So for Jews and non-Jews, the only two rituals we observe are baptism and communion because they represent everything we believe and hope for and are the only ones that are given to us by the Bible.
Why did Jesus’s human nature agree to give up His life?
Answer: He did so because He knew what God’s will was.
41 And He withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and began to pray, 42 saying, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.” 43 Now an angel from heaven appeared to Him, strengthening Him. 44 And being in agony He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground.
– Luke 22:41-44
So His question to God and His struggle was human. His submission was from His human side. He did it because He knew this is what God wanted, and He wanted to do the will of God. He was able to do it because He had no sin to weaken Him or spoil the offering of His perfect life, I Peter 2:22.
So the fact that Jesus wanted to do God’s will, that was human. The fact that He struggled to give up His life was also very human. So why did He do it? He knew that this was God’s will. Why was it a struggle? Because He was human. I mean, it’s innately human not to want to go and be tortured and crucified on a piece of wood. Had the story of the last few hours of His life been, He went to the Garden of Gethsemane and He fell asleep with the other apostles because He was very calm and He was very serene, and He was saying to them, don’t worry, it’s all good, I’m not worried, you’ll see. You’ll see, it’ll all work out, I’ll be back in three days. Watch, here, wink, wink. That would not have been normal. What human being can look forward to the torture that He was facing and the awful death, what human being would not have fear? What human being would go to a thing like that willingly? So again, definite proof that He was fully human and He reacted fully as a human. But He reacted also as a human without sin, He accepted in the end God’s will.
How can God die if Jesus is God?
Answer: The fact that Jesus was a divine being who inhabited a fully human body answers this question. In John 1:1-18,” in the beginning was God, and with God, the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The life that Jesus offered on the cross was a human life, not a divine one. Divinity is eternal, and not subject to the experience of death.
The divine person that took on the person of Jesus permitted the human part of His nature to experience fatigue, anger, sorrow, even death so that He could offer a perfect and fully human sacrifice to pay for man’s sins.
14 Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.
– Hebrews 2:14-15
Because people are afraid of death, they do all kinds of sin. They’re greedy. They’re worldly. They’re immoral. Why? Because I’m going to die, I better take everything I can while I’m here. They’re afraid of death. So the law demanded the offering of a perfect human life as payment for the sins of mankind, and so Jesus comes along and He offers what was required, a perfect human life. And because He had a divine life, He made it possible. He didn’t offer up His divine life, there was no need for that. We’re not exchanging a divine life for a human life, we’re exchanging a human life for a human life. The fact that Jesus was divine gave a certain quality to His sacrifice.
How long was Jesus in the grave?
Answer: The Bible says that Jesus Himself said that He would be killed and raised three days later.
For He was teaching His disciples and telling them, “The Son of Man is to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill Him; and when He has been killed, He will rise three days later.”
– Mark 9:31
Jesus was crucified on the Friday, and He rose on the Sunday, John 20:1. So you have to understand how the Jews count days.
- Thursday Sundown to Friday Sundown, that’s a day. – He’s put in the grave.
- Friday Sundown to Saturday Sundown, that’s another day.
- Saturday Sundown to Sunday Sundown, that’s a third day.
I would say three days, two nights, but He said three days.
Will we know each other in heaven?
I saved this question for last because it completes well our series. There’s no passage in the New Testament that addresses this question directly, but there are several that give us insight as to what our relationships might be.
For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.
– Matthew 22:30
So Jesus says that we will in nature be like angels, that’s a clue. That’s a clue. So what do we know about angels?
- Angels know the difference between human beings because they interact with humans. Gabriel, was it not Gabriel that went to see Mary? He knew she was Mary, he knew who she was. Did he not also go see Elizabeth? He knew the difference between Mary and Elizabeth, he interacted with them, so obviously angels can interact with humans.
- Angels also have the ability to interact with different individuals, they’re not just a spirit power, wandering around there with no consciousness.
- Angels also interact with other angels and spirit beings, and they can distinguish from among them. Michael, for example, and Satan disputed over Moses’s body, Jude 1:9. And the Angel of the Lord, referring to Michael the archangel, as a prince of nations, Daniel 10:21.
- There’s a hierarchy of angels, and they have a certain relationship with people and also with nations. If angels have recognition skills and they’re able to communicate with humans and other spirits and we will in nature be like them, according to Jesus, then it’s reasonable to conclude that we also will have this ability to recognize angels as well as one another.
Remember, we’re going to be transformed into the perfect version of ourselves, not different versions. I’ll become the perfect version of myself that God has in mind, I’m not going to become something else. What’s the point? Where’s the joy? If I’m someone else and have a different consciousness, where is my joy? My joy is that I remember being a sinner, I remember being saved, I remember being faithful to the Lord and serving Him, and now everything He said to me that would happen is happening, and I’m rejoicing. Why, because I remember, that’s why. If I’m a different thing, well what’s the point of all of this? No point to it. What will be eliminated is sin and death, not our uniqueness as beings.
1 Then he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, 2 in the middle of its street. On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. 3 There will no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His bond-servants will serve Him; 4 they will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads. 5 And there will no longer be any night; and they will not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God will illumine them; and they will reign forever and ever.
– Revelation 22:1-5
I’d love to unpack that for about a half hour, just this verse. Look at all the things, he’s talking about us here. The Bible says that once in heaven our focus will not be on ourselves or on our loved ones, whether we recognize them or not. Our focus, our devotion and joy, will come from our ability to face the Son of God and glory in His live forever. I’m persuaded that the attraction and the love we have for our families and spouses will pale in comparison to the radiant beauty and joy produced by our presence before the Lord. I mean, who would you rather, and I know this sounds a little strange here, but who would you rather focus on your best buddy or God?
God says I’m going to have a direct relationship with you in heaven. I’m going to see you, and you’re going to see Me. Yeah. Absolutely. And there’s no end to Him, it means there’s no end to me knowing Him. That’s marvelous, joyful, wonderful. Anyways, some speculation about those things.