Archaeologists in Norway have discovered a rare Viking ship burial. National Geographic reports: “The 65-foot-long ship was covered over more than 1,000 years ago to serve as the final resting place of a prominent Viking king or queen. That makes it one of the largest Viking ship graves ever found.”
This find is obviously remarkable. But having spent more than two weeks in Israel, I can tell you that history means different things to different cultures.
A few days ago, our group visited Tel Dan, where we viewed a gate that dates to the time of Abraham. We toured the probable site of King David’s palace in Jerusalem. And we joined archaeologists in sifting through dirt excavated from the Temple Mount area in Jerusalem; one of our group found a piece of pottery that dates to the time of Solomon.
One result of the Jewish people’s long and challenging history is their commitment to their nation. Twenty centuries of dispersion from the Holy Land and the horrors of the Holocaust have hardened their resolve to preserve their people and country.
They know they cannot take their security and future for granted. Forces far more numerous are allied against them. Anti-Semitism is tragically increasing in Europe, America, and around the world. The Holocaust is still a living reality for their people.
The people of Israel live every day in the reality that what unites them is far more powerful than what divides them. Therein is a lesson for Christians today.
Does God accept “the worship of all religions”?
Henri Nouwen was a brilliant Catholic priest and scholar. His writings on spirituality and psychology have been very influential for me.
I especially appreciate his candor in describing the church and culture. Father Nouwen admits: “Over the centuries the Church has done enough to make any critical person want to leave it. Its history of violent crusades, pogroms, power struggles, oppression, excommunications, executions, manipulations of people and ideas, and constantly recurring divisions is there for everyone to see and be appalled by.”
Though Father Nouwen died in 1996, he could be responding to today’s news.
The Department of Justice has subpoenaed at least seven of the eight Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania as part of an investigation into sexual abuse by priests. This appears to be the first federal probe of this size and scope into sexual abuse by US Catholic priests. The probes follow a grand jury report in Pennsylvania that found credible evidence that 301 “predator priests” abused more than a thousand children in six dioceses since 1947.
In other news, a new study reports that 51 percent of evangelicals believe God “accepts the worship of all religions, including Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.” This despite Jesus’ clear testimony, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).
Jesus declared that his church would be built upon the recognition that he is “the Christ, the Son of the living God” and that the gates of hell would not be able to withstand the assault of those who built their lives upon that truth (Matthew 16:16, 18).
Tragically, for many evangelicals, our relativistic culture is more influential than the word of God. It is not surprising that our community of faith is less stable and increasingly fractured when so many have lost sight of our foundation.
“The Church is an object of faith”
Just as the Jewish people know their solidarity is the key to the future of their nation, Christians need to remember that our solidarity is the key to our witness. Jesus prayed that we would be one so that the world would know that the Father sent the Son (John 17:21, 23).
This does not mean that we overlook sin in our midst. The opposite is true, in fact. The prophets consistently identified and condemned the sins of their day. Jesus exposed the hypocrisy of the religious leaders of his day (Matthew 23).
But despite the failures of God’s people, it is always too soon to give up on God.
Father Nouwen: “The Church is an object of faith. In the Apostle’s Creed we pray: ‘I believe in God, the Father . . . in Jesus Christ, his only Son–in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church.'” Nouwen rightly notes that this ancient confession of faith “does not say that the Church is an organization that helps us to believe in God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. No, we are called to believe in the Church with the same faith we believe in God.”
That is only possible, however, insofar as the Church is based on the truth of God’s word. When our faith rests firmly in God’s promises, we find solidarity in the fact that our lives are built firmly on the same rock. While this does not mean an absence of sin, it does mean access to the ever-present grace that keeps us in restored union with the Father.
Standing before the sarcophagus of King Herod
Here is the key to being the church Jesus intends us to be: absolute abandon to Jesus. Oswald Chambers offers this challenging observation: “God witnesses to Himself; He cannot witness to you, but He witnesses instantly to His own nature in you. . . . the Spirit witnesses only to His own nature.”
In other words, the Father speaks to the Spirit who lives in us (1 Corinthians 3:16). Only when we are “filled” or controlled by the Spirit can he sanctify us and use us as he wishes (Ephesians 5:18).
When we “quench” (1 Thessalonians 5:19) or “grieve” the Spirit (Ephesians 4:30) by our sin, we keep the Father from making us like the Son (Romans 8:29). And since the world judges Christ by Christians, our sin drives sinners from their Savior.
The good news is that our risen Lord has defeated every force that has ever been aligned against him.
This week, our tour group visited the Israel Museum, where we viewed the sarcophagus of Herod the Great, the tyrant who tried to have the baby Jesus murdered. Nearby stood the casket of Caiaphas, the high priest who condemned him to die. Next to it stood the “Pilate Stone,” a monument displaying the name of the Roman governor who sentenced Jesus to die.
They are all relics consigned to the dust heap of history, while more than two billion Christians worship the One they tried to destroy. “History” is truly “His Story.”
Now our Father wants to manifest his Son through us. As the hymn asks, “Can others see Jesus in you?”