Biblical arguments to support the Resurrection of Jesus

Biblical arguments to support the Resurrection of Jesus

Bible scholars widely agree on the following three points regarding the resurrection of Jesus:

  1. Jesus’ tomb was found empty very soon after his death by crucifixion.
  2. Shortly after this claims started that Jesus was alive.
  3. Within weeks the disciples were proclaiming the Gospel message, based on a sincere belief that God had raised Jesus from death in accordance with Old Testament prophecies.

These three points are widely acknowledged to support the resurrection as an historical event. This note briefly outlines some of the supporting arguments.

  1. The Empty Tomb

The ‘empty tomb’ is noted several times in the New Testament. Matthew 28 gives one reason: the tomb guards were bribed to say Jesus’ disciples stole his body. This shows there was an empty tomb soon after the crucifixion, and it was not denied by the authorities. In all four Gospels women are the first to discover the empty tomb. Much is made about this as in first century Jewish society women were treated pretty much as second class citizens and would not be seen as reliable eye witnesses, particularly for something so significant. It is suggested that if the empty tomb story was a later legend, it would be more likely to feature the disciples.

Jesus’ crucifixion was a very public event and the location of the tomb would have been known, and checked. This appears to be the case from Peter’s address to the crowd in Acts 2, a few weeks after

Jesus’ resurrection on the Day of Pentecost, when he refers to the empty tomb and that his audience were aware of this. Peter also states Jesus‘ body would not see decay in keeping with Old Testament prophecies. Finally, in a 2006 survey of over 2,200 publications on the resurrection since 1975, 75% of scholars accepted the historicity of Jesus’ empty tomb. The evidence is so compelling that even a number of Jewish scholars are convinced that the tomb was found empty‘.

  1. The Resurrection Appearances

Paul wrote about Jesus’ resurrection appearances in 1 Corinthians 15. These can be summarised as: Jesus died, was buried and raised on the third day; he appeared to Peter; then ‘The Twelve’; to 500 at once; then James, then all the Apostles and then to Paul.

Appearance to Peter: Galatians 1 states that Paul visited Peter in Jerusalem after his Road to Damascus conversion. This may be the earliest New Testament writing from around 48AD. So, when Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians (around 54AD), that Jesus appeared to Peter, he presumably got that from Peter himself.

Appearance to the ‘Twelve: it is thought that Paul is referring to the disciples here (less Judas), with ‘The Twelve’ being the group’s collective name, some of whom Paul had personally met.

Appearance to the ‘500’: Paul must also have known some of the ‘500‘, as he states most of them are still alive (1 Corinthians v6), so presumably they could have confirmed what Paul was saying. These witnesses may have been questioned during one of Paul’s trials for his claims about the resurrection of Jesus (see Acts).

Appearance to James: This is the brother of Jesus. According to Mark 3 and John 7, none of Jesus’ brothers believed in him while he was alive. However, Acts 1 states they were with the disciples in Jerusalem following his Ascension, and that they were ‘joined together constantly in prayer’. In Galatians 1 Paul states that he stayed with Peter and ‘saw none of the other Apostles – only James, the Lord’s brother’. So a few years after the resurrection, James was being named among the Apostles. In Galatians 2 Paul states he visited Jerusalem again 14 years later, and this time he met with James, Peter and John, who were ‘reputed to be pillars’ of the church in Jerusalem.

In Acts 21 Raul returns to Jerusalem during his third missionary journey to visit the church leaders (some 20-25 years after the resurrection). This time Paul ‘went to see James, and all the elders were present’. Some commentators state James was by then the leader of the church in Jerusalem.‘ How can we explain James’ transformation from non -believer during Jesus’ lifetime to head of the church in Jerusalem? Paul suggests the answer in 1 Corinthians 15: James had met the risen Jesus.

Appearance to Paul: Paul‘s ‘Road to Damascus’ experience is recalled three times in the Book of Acts and also referred to in his letters. This transformed Paul from committed Pharisee and persecutor of the early church, to a life of poverty, suffering and ultimately execution. Clearly something signi?cant happened that day – like James, Paul met the risen Jesus.

  1. The origin of the Christian Faith

Even sceptical New Testament scholars generally agree the disciples were convinced that God had raised Jesus from the dead, and that the origin of the Christian faith was based on this core belief . This conviction was vital as they faced considerable opposition to their claims about the resurrection from Jew, Roman and pagan.

From the outset the disciples openly accused the Jewish leaders of being complicit in Jesus’ death (see Acts 2). There would also be the threat from the Roman occupiers, who would have brutally put down any unrest, or anything standing against their authority, and they would have seen the ‘Kingdom of God‘ as an earthly kingdom and therefore a rival. The disciples, being Jews, would have no concept of a suffering Messiah, who would be crucified then raised from the dead, so it is unlikely the resurrection accounts were based on existing Jewish beliefs. Following Jesus’ death it seems likely that belief in Jesus as the Jewish Messiah would have ended without the resurrection.

Finally, had there been no resurrection it is difficult to imagine how a small group, whose leaders included uneducated fishermen, could have devised and established a new world religion, which spread with extraordinary speed across a very large area within the space of a few years.

Reference: Reasonable F aith; Christian Truth and Apologetics (Third Edition). W. L. Craig. Crossway

 

Special Services 2017 draft

BBC commissions drama from author who wants to ‘kill God’

BBC commissions drama from author who wants to ‘kill God’

The BBC is set to air a drama based on novels from Philip Pullman, the author who has previously said he is “trying to undermine the basis of Christian belief”.

BBC One announced on Tuesday [17th November] that it was commissioning a drama series based on Pullman’s book, His Dark Materials, but is yet to give a date for transmission.

Pullman has repeatedly attacked the Christian faith, at one point saying his books are about “killing God”, and that God should be “put down” if he is as Christians describe him.

“Overthrow God”

BBC News has said that the His Dark Materials trilogy tells of “a battle against the church and a fight to overthrow God”, while The Guardian says the books cast “original sin in a positive light”.

Jane Tranter, who is leading the BBC project, dismissed the idea that religious groups may object to the upcoming drama. However Pullman himself said in 2008 that the Christian response to a film version of one of the books “did influence a number of people not to go to see it”.

Toned down

The Golden Compass film, which was released in 2007 featuring Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig, was intended as the first instalment of the trilogy. Many of the more explicitly anti-Christian themes of the first novel were toned down for the film version, but its Director said these would emerge in later films. So far the other two books have not been adapted for cinema.

Rebel

Pullman has told The Washington Post, that he is “trying to undermine the basis of Christian belief”, while The Sydney Morning Herald reported that Pullman said: “My books are about killing God”. In 2002 he told The Sunday Telegraph: “if there is a God and he is as the Christians describe him, then he deserves to be put down and rebelled against”.

Christian Institute – 10 November 2015

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The Advent Wreath

The Advent Wreath

There are several traditions about the meaning or theme of each candle.The scheme that accords best with the Common Worship Principal Service Lectionary is: Advent 1 – The Patriarchs Advent 2 – The Prophets Advent 3 – John the Baptist Advent 4 – The Virgin Mary Christmas Day – The Christ

Each of the four Sundays then reminds us of those who prepared for the coming of Christ. ‘The Patriarchs’ can naturally focus on Abraham, our father in faith, and David, the ancestor in whose city Jesus was born. ‘The Prophets’ gives an opportunity to reflect on the way the birth of the Messiah was foretold. John, who proclaimed the Saviour, and Mary, who bore him in her womb, complete the picture.

Blessed are you, sovereign Lord, God of our ancestors: to you be praise and glory forever. You called the patriarchs to live by the light of faith and to journey in the hope of your promised fulfilment. May we be obedient to your call and be ready and watchful to receive your Christ, a lamp to our feet and a light to our path; for you ore our light and our salvation.

Blessed be God forever.

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Archbishop of Canterbury statement on the migrant crisis

Archbishop of Canterbury statement on the migrant crisis

In a statement on the ongoing migrant crisis facing Europe and the Middle East, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Revd Justin Welby, said today:

“This is a hugely complex and wicked crisis that underlines our human frailty and the fragility of our political systems. My heart is broken by the images and stories of men, women and children who have risked their lives to escape conflict, violence and persecution. There are no easy answers and my prayers are with those who find themselves fleeing persecution, as well as those who are struggling under immense pressure to develop an effective and equitable response. Now, perhaps more than ever in post-war Europe, we need to commit to joint action across Europe, acknowledging our common responsibility and our common humanity.”

“As Christians we believe we are called to break down barriers, to welcome the stranger and love them as ourselves (Leviticus 19:34), and to seek the peace and justice of our God, in our world, today.”

“With winter fast approaching and with the tragic civil war in Syria spiraling further out of control, we must all be aware that the situation could yet worsen significantly. I am encouraged by the positive role that churches, charities and international agencies are already playing across Europe and in Syria and the surrounding areas, to meet basic humanitarian needs. These efforts may feel trivial in the face of the challenge, but if we all play our part this is a crisis that we can resolve.”

“We need a holistic response to this crisis that meets immediate humanitarian need while tackling its underlying drivers. I commend the UK Government for its strong commitment to the world’s poorest people through the delivery of the aid budget. It has shown global leadership by providing £900 million since 2012 to the crisis In Syria. It has also shown moral leadership in using Royal Navy ships to save the lives of hundreds who have tried to make the dangerous crossing across the Mediterranean.”

“I hold in my heart particularly those who are most vulnerable in conflict, and those who we have a special duty to protect. The Government has rightly sought to provide sanctuary to unaccompanied children, women and those who have been victims of or are at risk of sexual violence. I welcome this while urging a renewed commitment to taking in the most vulnerable.”

“The Church has always been a place of sanctuary for those in need, and Churches in the UK and across Europe have been meeting the need they are presented with. I reaffirm our commitment to the principle of sanctuary for those who require our help and love. The people of these Islands have a long and wonderful history of offering shelter and refuge, going back centuries – whether it be Huguenot Christians, Jewish refugees, Ugandan Asians, Vietnamese boat people or many many more.”

“It has always been controversial at the time it happened, always been seen as too difficult. Yet each time we have risen to the challenge and our country has been blessed by the result.”

“We cannot turn our backs on this crisis. We must respond with compassion. But we must also not be naïve in claiming to have the answers to end it. It requires a pan-European response – which means a commitment to serious minded diplomatic and political debate, but not at the expense of practical action that meets the immediate needs of those most in need of our help.”

++ Justin Welby 3rd September 2015

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Government urged to do more for Christians fleeing from Islamic State

Government urged to do more for Christians fleeing from Islamic State

“We are proud to die for Christ.” With these words, three orphans and two nuns secured their release from their ISIS hostage-takers, according to a participant in a meeting at Westminster Central Hall on the crisis facing Syrian Christians last Monday (26 October). The London summit drew together representatives of Christian communities in Syria and Egypt, members of British Universities, representatives of the Bishops of Coventry, Peterborough and Europe, NGOs and advisers to the Archbishops’ Council and the Mission and Public Affairs Council.

The aim of the meeting was to debate how to secure the safety of Christian Communities in Syria and in the camps in Jordan, along with Yazidis, members of the gay community (some of whom have died most appalling deaths), women and large numbers of Muslims also targeted by ISIS. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has argued that no one group should be disadvantaged in the allocation of visas.

Organised by the Barnabas fund, its international director Patrick Sookhdeo was joined by Canon Andrew White, the President of the Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East. The two were grateful for the ‘outstanding compassion’ of British Christians in their response to the crisis. The work of the Archbishops of York and Canterbury was also acknowledged, as was the contribution of Archbishop Idowu-Fearon of the ACC. However, they also had criticisms to make of the British Government because of its inaction in the face of the threat from ISIS. They also claimed that DflD was discriminating in who should receive help, and they accused the British media of being silent in their reporting. They pointed to the death threat hanging over 180 Christian hostages, for whom ISIS had demanded a ransom of £50000 per person.

It was emphasized that no ransom would be forthcoming, since there was no guarantee that it would secure their freedom, it would only encourage further kidnappings and fund more arms for ISIS. The meeting heard claims that the UK Government seemed to be blind to the reality that for Syrian Christians the options are convert, be killed or flee. Speakers said it was contradictory for the Government to argue for the EU to embrace Turkey while Turkey had called for an IS Consulate in Ankara. Some pointed instead to the response of the Australian Government in taking 12,000 Christian refugees. And Canberra’s system of allowing private sponsorship of refugees was also praised. Home Secretary Theresa May also outlined proposals for a similar private sponsorship system in the UK in her speech to the Conservative Party Conference in October. However, since then there has been little action on the part of the UK Government. Views were expressed that this might be related to the funding of UK institutions and businesses from Gulf States.

Last week two members of the House of Lords made an appeal to the Prime Minister to welcome Christian refugees. Lord Alton and Baroness Cox pointed out that nearby states were more kidly disposed to accepting Muslim refugees but the situation was not the same for Christians. There were calls for a liberalising of the rules to allow some Eastern European states to accept more Christian refugees. So far this has had a cool reception in Brussels. It was suggested that such a policy may result in those states being excluded from the Schengen visa zone.

Church of England Newspaper 28 October 2015

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O come let us adore him!

In his name the nations will put their hope’

(Matthew 12: 21)

The year is 2021; it is a grim world in which a quarter of a century has passed since Omega, the year the world discovered that women were no longer becoming pregnant. Subsequently, the world’s elderly have died, the middle-aged have become elderly, and the young have matured into adults – but not a single child has been born.  Scientists have struggled fruitlessly to understand the phenomenon and to develop new ways to extend and improve life. Such is the premise of The Children of Men by P. D. James.

In the novel, it is made clear that hope depends on future generations. James writes, “It was reasonable to struggle, to suffer, perhaps even to die, for a more just, a more compassionate society, but not in a world with no future where, all too soon, the very words ‘justice,’ ‘compassion,’ ‘society,’ ‘struggle,’ ‘evil,’ would be unheard echoes on an empty air.”

The story centers on the plight of Kee, a young woman who against all odds falls pregnant. Various parties would want to control Kee and her baby for their political ends and so she entrusts herself and her child to Theo, a history professor, who endeavours to take them to a place of refuge. Soon after the birth of Kee’s child the trio are caught up in a battle between insurgents and soldiers. The baby gives out a cry and the fighting stops as the belligerents gaze in wonder at the newborn child. Kee’s baby has brought hope for a future, a meaning to life and peace.

The Christmas symbolism is clear. Jesus Christ was born into a world that was expectant and hopeful that God would do something great. His promise of a Messiah who would deliver Israel from oppression and bring salvation to the world gripped the imaginations of those who believed God’s promises. Christ’s birth was therefore welcomed by the faithful as evidence that God had not given up on humankind, that despite it’s sin the world could hope for the best of futures where the very words ‘justice,’ ‘compassion,’ ‘forgiveness’, ‘mercy’, ‘grace’, ‘holiness’, ‘glory’ would be recited as Christ’s Kingdom was built. Simeon who gazed on the Christ Child expressed the delight and wonder of a waiting world. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.”(Luke 2: 30-31)

We too should gaze with delight and wonder on the Christ Child but if Christmas is to mean anything at all it must be regarded as much more than the birth of a baby boy. It commemorates the incarnation of God, His becoming a human being, one of us. In his Son, Jesus Christ, God left the glory of heaven for the squalor of a borrowed stable and an earthly existence that would acquaint him with sorrow and grief. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only [Son], who came from the Father, full of grace and truth’ (John 1:14).

As a child in the care of Joseph and his mother Mary, Jesus found refuge in Egypt. However at the end of his life Jesus forsook all refuge and willingly surrendered his life to death on the cross and thereby lovingly paid the penalty for the world’s sin. His resurrection broke the power of sin and death and won the eternal refuge of heaven for everyone. Christmas has brought among us the one who claims to fulfill the messianic prophecy, ‘In his name the nations will put their hope’ (Matthew 12: 21). Our world is no longer the grim place it once was. Christ has brought us hope for a future, a meaning to life and peace.

O come let us adore him.

Happy Christmas!

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Truth Matters

…contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.

(Jude 3)

On the morning of my wedding an uncle who had been married a good number of years gave me some advice. ‘She’s always right. Even when she’s wrong, she’s right’. He wanted me to realize that to enjoy a quiet life as a husband I should always surrender the argument to my wife. Sound advice? On occasions when little is at stake it may be best not to risk division by pressing home an argument. But even within marriage there will be times when the issue under discussion is so serious that searching for the best outcome through gracious argument has to be the responsible course. Some times contending for the truth is necessary. Truth matters.

Jesus Christ certainly thought so. He presented himself as the truth: I am the way and the truth and the life.’ (John 14: 6) and He was a contender for the truth about himself as the Son of God, the world’s Saviour and Judge. Christ’s enemies understood this better than most. They once tried to entrap him and although they were unsuccessful their flattering approach contained more than a grain of truth: ‘You teach the way of God according to the truth. You are not swayed by others because you pay no attention to who they are’ (Matthew 22: 16). Jesus spoke the truth about himself even to those who were skeptical and hostile, and he was undeterred by the prospect of disagreement: ‘Do you think I have come to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division’ (Luke 12: 51).

Christ’s claim to be the bringer of division and not ‘peace on earth’ may seem to challenge his right to be the prophet Isaiah’s ‘Prince of Peace’ whereas the opposite is true. Had he withheld the truth about himself for fear of alienating skeptics no one would have heard his Good News, believed in him and gained peace with God: ‘Therefore since we have been justified through faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ’ (Romans 5:1).

Christ understood the importance of contending for the truth and he expects his followers to be equally committed even if it results in disagreement within families: ‘From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three’ (Luke 12: 53). Jesus does not set out to deliberately create division between people; on the contrary division is always regrettable and sad. Nevertheless, if those who are ignorant of God’s love are to come to know him the truth about Christ must be explained to them, and if those who claim to be Christian and yet hold fast to heresy are to be challenged and enlightened the truth about Christ must be contended for. There is always a risk of disagreement and division but the Bible clearly sets out the Christian’s responsibility: ‘Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints’ (Jude 3).

Jude’s exhortation is less than popular with those who insist it does not matter what you believe as long as you live well and love all. Such people should consider the mind of Christ.  He who calls himself ‘the truth’ does not share such a lack of doctrinal concern. It is plain that Christ loves the truth, speaks the truth, he is the truth. How then can his followers be so indifferent to it? There is always room for debate on peripheral matters but the central Christian truths cannot be compromised. We must, as Rupert Meldenius famously wrote, ‘…preserve unity in essentials, liberty in non-essentials and charity in all things.’ Problems arise among Christians when we make concessions on clearly revealed scriptural truths which should never be surrendered yet insist on secondary matters which are neither revealed nor required by God. E.g. Christians may agree to disagree on the bodily resurrection of Christ and at the same time divide over whether or not clergy should robe to lead worship.

What are the essential truths that Christians must never fail to contend for? They are the Truth about Christ, and the Truth about Holiness. The irreducible minimum of Christian belief is that Jesus of Nazareth is the unique God-man who died for our sins and was raised from death to be the Saviour of the world. Christians believe and act on these truths by submitting to Christ as Lord and trusting him as Saviour. Just as Christianity exalts Christ so it promotes holiness. The truth about Christ and the truth about holiness are essential truths that cannot be sacrificed and should always be contended for even at the expense of disagreement and division. We have to accept that ‘they may not always be right and when they’re wrong, they’re wrong’.  Truth matters.

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Show Hospitality

Show Hospitality

Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing

some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.

Hebrews 13: 2

South Africa failed to win the football World Cup tournament, which it recently hosted. Spain accomplished that feat. However the host nation did win the hearts of those countries whose supporters visited in their hundreds and thousands to savour its hospitality. Apart from the vuvuzelas, the irritatingly monotone blow horns beloved of the home supporters which made it impossible for the more vocally inclined visiting fans to sing their polished repertoire of chants and songs, few people had anything but praise for their hosts. Praise which echoes that expressed by many others, including me.

On my visit to South Africa in 1992 I was the recipient of generous hospitality from many people. I particularly remember an occasion when I attended worship in the Anglican Church in Rini Township. The era of apartheid had only just ended and the fruits of that segregationist legislation were still apparent. Rini was a black township and the church’s congregation was black and very poor. The service was extraordinary in its vitality, passion and warmth and the singing was heavenly. Afterwards, the small number of visitors, all of whom were white and relatively wealthy, were invited to stay for lunch. We thought it impolite not to accept the invitation and expected to share in a simple communal meal. However, we were sat at a table by ourselves and served sumptuous fare by smiling waiters. This little church obviously believed that nothing was too good for their guests. It was a humbling if somewhat embarrassing experience. If ever I received a lesson in Christian hospitality it was then. Perhaps they believed they were entertaining angels.

The biblical demand for hospitality is clear in both Old and New Testaments. The people of God are strangers and sojourners whom God has welcomed into the “household of faith.” In turn, God’s people are to “make room” for the stranger, not only in the community of faith but also in their own personal households. This is the biblical meaning of hospitality —making room for the stranger, especially those in most acute need.

For the people of ancient Israel, understanding themselves as strangers and sojourners with responsibility to care for vulnerable strangers was part of what it meant to be the people of God. As a nomad in the ancient Near East, Abraham knew the sacred rule of hospitality. It was more stringently kept than many written laws. There were many dangers, and travellers were at risk. The rule of hospitality was that a guest would be treated with respect and honour. Water would be provided for foot washing and a large feast prepared. The traveller enjoyed protection from all enemies for three days, as the host provided sanctuary. (The Lord)… loves the foreigners residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt. (Deuteronomy 10:18-19)

Jesus, who was dependent on the hospitality of others during much of his earthly journey, also served as the gracious host in his words and in his actions. Those who turned to him found welcome and rest and the promise of welcome into the Kingdom.

The practise of hospitality was also common in the Early Church; indeed it was fundamental to its fellowship, ministry and mission. The believers’ relationships were strengthened and social boundaries shattered as they shared meals together in one another’s homes. The poor were fed and the spread of the Gospel was resourced as Christians hosted itinerant evangelists. The value of hospitality was not lost on the Apostles: ‘Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling’ (1Peter 4:9).

Hospitality should not therefore be seen as a nice extra. It is not optional, nor is it a rare spiritual gift; instead, it is a normative biblical practice, a spiritual obligation and a dynamic expression of vibrant Christianity.  Jesus expects us to practise hospitality, for whenever we welcome and care for the stranger and the broken we welcome him as our guest: “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ (Matthew. 25:40).

The practice of hospitality is good for the Christian soul. We lose something of the distinctive nature of Christian discipleship when we neglect it. Some of the most rewarding occasions for us as a church family have been when we have eaten together, having catered for ourselves either through bringing-and-sharing food or enjoying the talents of our catering team. This should encourage us to eat together communally more often as well as inviting each other, those whom we know well and not so well, and newcomers into our homes.

All Christians are called to be hospitable because hospitality is ministry and it is absolutely essential to the health and vitality of Christian community. We should practice it readily; after all we might find ourselves showing hospitality to angels without knowing it.

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True Martyrs


For by the sacrificial death of Christ we are set free,

our sins are forgiven.

Ephesians 1: 7

Wickersley Parish Church’s patron saint, a man called Alban, is believed to have been a Romano-British citizen of the Roman town of Verulamium around the end of the 3rd century, who gave shelter to an itinerant Christian priest, later called Amphibalus. Alban was impressed by his guest’s message and after a time he received Jesus Christ as his Saviour. Soon afterwards a period of persecution, instigated by the Emperor, brought soldiers in search of the priest whereupon Alban exchanged clothes with him so as to enable the priest’s escape. Believing Alban to be the priest the soldiers arrested him instead.

At his trial, with his true identity revealed, Alban was urged to prove his rejection of Christ by making offerings to the Roman gods. He refused and defiantly declared his faith in “the true and living God who created all things”. He was condemned to death, led out of the city, across the river and up a hillside, where he was beheaded.

The martyrdom of Christians did not begin and end with the Roman era. Christians have suffered for Christ in every generation since. Most Christian martyrs lost their lives in the 20th Century and conditions are not improving for many Christians across the world.

On Wednesday morning, 18 April 2007 in Zirva, Eastern Turkey, three Christian men, Tilman Geske, a German missionary, Necati Aydin, a Turkish pastor, and Ugur Yuksel, met to study the Bible. On the other side of town ten young men all under 20 years old put into place final arrangements for their ultimate act of faith, living out their love for Allah and hatred of infidels who they believed undermined Islam. The Christians attending the Bible study had met these Muslim men previously and believed them to be ‘seekers’; they readily welcomed five of the group when they turned up at the Bible study. However, their guests had not come to learn about the Christian faith but to kill the infidels. Equipped with guns, bread knives, ropes and towels they tortured the Christians for almost three hours before murdering them in a most grotesque way.

It is right that we should be shocked by this account of martyrdom, but we should not be surprised because Christ warned that such things would happen. “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first…. They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, the hour is coming when those who kill you will think they are offering a service to God. They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me.” (John 15: 18, 16: 2-3)

Christians who live in the UK read such accounts with a mixture of horror and relief that we enjoy the freedom to practice and proclaim our faith. No one is likely to arrest us or try to kill us for believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, and were we to experience opposition from individuals or officialdom we may well consider it unseemly to complain when our fellow Christians are suffering such terrible persecution. That said, it would be unwise of us to ignore the change in the climate of tolerance towards Christians in the UK.

Recent months have witnessed what can only be described as the escalation of human rights abuses against British Christians. The arrest of a Christian street preacher in Cumbria shows how serious the situation is becoming. Dale McAlpine, when questioned by a woman, read from the Bible a list of sins, which included homosexual behaviour. Melanie Phillips, writing in the Daily Mail, graphically describes the event:

‘Terrifying as this may seem, the attempt to stamp out Christianity in Britain appears to be gathering pace. Dale McAlpine was preaching to shoppers in Workington, Cumbria, that homosexuality is a sin when he found himself carted off by the police, locked up in a cell for seven hours and charged with using abusive or insulting words or behaviour. It appears that two police community support officers — at least one of whom was gay — claimed he had caused distress to themselves and members of the public. Under our anti-discrimination laws, such distress is not to be permitted. And so we have the oppressive and sinister situation where a gentle, unaggressive Christian is arrested and charged simply for preaching Christian principles. It would appear that Christianity, the normative faith of this country on which its morality, values and civilisation are based, is effectively being turned into a crime.’

Given the politically correct consensus between our new government’s coalition partners the next decade is likely to bring more arrests of law-abiding Christians. This dire forecast begs the question ‘How should Christians respond to this increasingly oppressive secularising culture?’ We could complain but our complaints are likely to fall on deaf ears.  Not many of the 70% of Britons who ticked ‘Christian’ on their census forms are likely to take to the streets over the dismantling of the last vestiges of Christian Britain.

Our second option is to compromise with the prevailing culture. It would guarantee us less hassle but we could no longer, with any integrity, claim to be truly Christian.  A third option is to challenge the prevailing culture through word and deed. The message of the Gospel is freedom from oppression and sin but also freedom of conscience, thought, speech, and practice (little wonder tyrants wish to silence it). By proclaiming Christ and living out our creed with neighbourly love we serve as salt and light to our nation and emulate the many Christian men and women who countered tyranny with love as they defiantly declared their faith in “the true and living God who created all things”. Their example points us to the example of the Lord they loved and served. Jesus Christ, who defied tyranny, died in gentleness of spirit, and gave his life for the world.

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