Patriotism and religious observation will not get anyone, no matter how pious, into heaven
By Dr. Donald Whitchard
“And as He was going, they were spreading their garments in the road. And as He was now approaching near the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the miracles they had seen, saying:
‘Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the LORD,
‘Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!’
“And some of the Pharisees in the multitude said to Him, ‘Teacher, rebuke Your disciples. And He answered and said, ‘I tell you, if these become silent, the stones will cry out!’
“And when He approached, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, ‘If you had known this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes. For the days shall come upon you when your enemies will throw up a bank before you, and surround you, and hem you in on every side, and will level you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.”
- Luke 19:36-44 (NASB)
Let us get an issue settled here and now, especially those of you who read these expositions and articles that I have presented over the months. What we are examining is in no way, shape, or form even to be remotely defined as a mere legend or myth. The story of Jesus Christ is not the product of anonymous Bedouin sages that have been embellished over the years, nor is it the end product of a conspiracy from a group of peasants who were so devoted to the cause and words of their devout but misguided teacher that they formulated a scheme to carry on the mission of Jesus and transform it into what we refer to as the “Church”.
The words and deeds of Jesus are not on par with tales of legendary Graeco-Roman “heroes” that have been collected by scholars such as H.D.F. Kitto in his work on the ancient Greeks, or by Will Durant and his multivolume history of the world. Nor can they be found in the writings of Edith Hamilton and her work on mythology. The undisputable fact that Jesus Christ is a literal historical figure is verified by well-known authorities such as Dr. Bart Ehrman, Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina and is known as the author of books such as Misquoting Jesus (2005), Jesus interrupted (2006), and The Triumph of Christianity (2019).
This work along with others presented questions on the authority and accuracy of Scripture. This viewpoint is unique and interesting, considering that he is one of the most recognized and notable experts on the origins and structure of the New Testament. There are other works which support conservative views of Scriptural authority, such as from the pen of Dr. Norman Geisler, late dean of Southern Evangelical Seminary and the author of numerous books on Christian doctrine and apologetics (defense of the Christian faith). He co-authored The Popular Handbook of Archaeology and the Bible (2013) listing non-Biblical , non-Christian sources such as Flavius Josephus (Antiquities of the Jews), the Babylonian Talmud (Jewish rabbinical commentaries on the Scriptures, their interpretations, and traditions), Pliny the Younger (a contemporary of the Emperor Hadrian), Tacitus (author of a history of the Caesars), and others such as Mara Ben-Serapion, Suetonius, Thallus, Lucian, Phlegmon, and Celsus. Each of these men mention the historical figure of Jesus and His teachings in their histories, most of them composed only a short period after His death and resurrection. These Roman and Jewish contemporaries had the following conclusions concerning Jesus and His work:
- Jesus lived during the reign of Tiberius Caesar (14-37 A.D.)
- He lived a virtuous life.
- He was a wonder worker.
- He had a brother named James.
- He was claimed to be the Messiah.
- He was crucified under Pontius Pilate
- He was crucified on the eve of Passover.
- Darkness and an earthquake occurred when He died.
- His disciples believed He rose from the dead.
- Christianity spread as far as Rome.
- His disciples were willing to die for their beliefs.
- Christian disciples denied the Roman gods and worshipped Jesus as God.
(Geisler, Norman, and Holden, Joseph. The Popular Handbook of Archaeology and the Bible, Eugene, OR., Harvest House Publishers, 2013, pp.295-296).
Other scholars and apologists such as Dr. Frank Turek, Daniel Wallace, Darrell Bock, Sean McDowell, Josh McDowell, Ravi Zacharias, R.C. Sproul, D. James Kennedy, Randall Price, John Walvoord, Bruce Metzger, Walter Kaiser, Gary Habermas, James White, J. Warner Wallace, John MacArthur, W.A. Criswell, and organizations such as Associates for Biblical Research all affirm not just the historical fact of Jesus, but of the accuracy and evidence obtained from ancient manuscripts, archaeological discoveries, topical research, historiography, archival resources, and testimonials that also give credence and truth to the claims and work of Jesus Christ as well.
The accepted narrative of a legend or myth is that the hero conquers his foes, rights all wrongs, rewards his compatriots, rescues his princess or damsel, and ends with a life of victory, praises, wealth, comfort, and an eternal entrance into an afterlife where all is well and all turns out right at that time. All His compatriots have been loyal and steadfast, brave, intrepid, men of courage and superhuman strength ready to go to war and do deeds of valor, or so it goes.
This story weaving occurs over a long period of time, usually centuries, and is careful to leave out or refute any instances where the main characters are cowards or incapable of performing their duty, or anything else that would be humiliating or embarrassing. No bad deeds or words would ever be presented, and each character would be flawless, almost superhuman, and possess some empathy for the less favored. Women would have been secondary characters with no real value except to be the object of chivalry and less so as a contributor to the legitimacy of the story. A central factor about the heroes of legends is that they tended not to meet a humiliating death at the hands of their foes, or be ridiculed, spat on, mocked, hated by those whom he came to help, nor to be abandoned.
The entirety of the Scriptures goes against this pagan narrative and presents people as they are in all their questionable character, reprobate behavior, acts of maliciousness, scandals and underhandedness, deceit, piety, and overall hatred of God and His Holy nature and decree. The Bible tends to not cover up anything, because it is written to show us without apology or excuse that these are real people like you and I with real sins and problems. They pretend to be brave on the surface but run or cower when faced with a problem or dilemma. In this story of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, we find an actual event of history, the fulfillment of prophecy, and the hard reality that what our LORD was about to face in terms of being the perfect, sinless sacrifice on behalf of our sins. He would face a time of pain and terror that we could not comprehend or endure, either physically or mentally. He would undergo the loss of unity with God the Father and take upon His sinless nature the sins for which we should be justly punished and cast into hell for all time.
As both God and man, the Lord Jesus knew that as He was being escorted through the streets of Jerusalem amid the cheering and adulation of the crowds who were hoping that He would be the One who would destroy the Romans and establish the kingdom of Israel, these same people who were shouting praises this day would be part of the crowd calling for Him to be crucified in a matter of days. He had not fulfilled their misguided definition of the role and purpose of God’s “Messiah” (Anointed One), being that of a conqueror /warrior like King David. He was and is the promised “Suffering Servant” so clearly described in the book of the prophet Isaiah (Chapter 53) as the One who would redeem us from our sins, and conquer the real foe, evil itself and its source. The people of Israel had clung to one interpretation, totally blind to the fact that they needed salvation on a spiritual level and not national.
Patriotism and religious observation will not get anyone, no matter how pious, into heaven, and to ignore and throw away the promise of salvation by the gracious mercy of God through Christ ended with a declaration of a coming, horrendous judgment from God for their wanton and deliberate unbelief. The hero of this narrative, if it were merely a legend or myth, would have never been found or studied in the annals of other civilizations because of the abrupt ending, being a horrendous death on an instrument of torture without hope or rescue from anyone. His followers all ran away, His enemies seemed to be triumphant, there are too many embarrassing details to hide, and it seems that the Supreme Being Who initiated this plan of redemption and rescue had failed, and the events are not made up but are historically validated, so no one can claim otherwise.
Indeed, if this was the entirety of the story of Jesus, the concept of the church, faith, hope, doctrine, evangelism, testimony, the need for Scripture, the nature and promises of God, the idea of resurrection, the stories of brave martyrs, the work of the apostles, or even a record of their very existence would be totally irrelevant, foolish, and a waste of time and effort on anyone’s part. For Jesus to have been a mere misunderstood and deluded Judean sage would have relegated Him to oblivion and any hope we might have of peace and assurance beyond this life. The Lord Jesus is not some Semitic guru Who operates above the level of perceived consciousness or whatever some misguided souls tend to proclaim, nor is He one to wink and let us get by with works and words that produce nothing but self-centeredness and evil. He plays no favorites, and if He is as the Scriptures and the Words of His own testimony declare, then He is to be worshipped, glorified, honored, praised, and yes, feared for the Holy Sovereign Lord and God He clearly claims to be.
As we now begin to witness the Passion week of our LORD in the following chapters of Luke’s Gospel, we know that because of His gracious act of love on the cross, He put aside the weapon of destruction that He could have rightfully used on His enemies. By stretching out His arms to be nailed on that horrid method of execution, He embraced us and by His actions, took us into His care, where we would no longer be strangers and enemies, but as His friends and family for all time, if we would but bow before Him, confess our sins, and embrace Him as Lord and Savior this day. He will bear the sword of heroism and victory when He comes back to rule and reign as King and Conqueror, and we will be with Him on that great and glorious day. He promised. After all He is the Hero of the story, right? Heroes always win in the end. Hallelujah.
Donald was born and reared in the authentic Cajun country of south Louisiana. He is a 1978 graduate of LaGrange High School in Lake Charles. He is also a graduate of Louisiana College (B.A. in History Education, 1984), New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (M.Div., 1994) and Andersonville Theological Seminary (Doctor of Ministry, 2000). He is an ACPE Certified Chaplain with training in Trauma/ER, NICU, and Psychiatric Pastoral Care from the McFarland Institute in New Orleans (2003). He has over thirty years of ministry service, which concluded when he was called to serve as pastor of Meadowbrook Baptist Church in Muskogee, Oklahoma from 2017-2018. Due to health concerns, he retired from public ministry in 2020 and now devotes his time to internet evangelism through the writing of Bible studies, sermons, and articles on current issues for varied Christian webpages and ministries. He is a regular contributor to sites such as Rapture Ready and Sermon Central as well as Inspirational Christian Blogs. He and his wife Cathy are both active members of Eastern Heights Baptist Church in Muskogee. Don will often serve as a panel member of the Gospel Rescue Mission Pastor’s Round Table Broadcast, shown monthly on the mission’s Facebook page as his health allows. He has a personal evangelistic blog as well and can be contacted at his Email address.
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