It Is Not Finished

577For me, Easter Sunday is the most significant celebration of the year. It brings together everything that makes us Christians: faith, hope, and love.

In the time of Jesus, Jerusalem was considered to be the holiest city in the world. It was the location of the Jewish temple, but it fascinated Romans and Greeks. It had been rebuilt, starting with King Herod, and the lavish scale and costly accouterments would astound us, even today. The temple was one of the grandest buildings of the ancient world, and would surely have been on Herodotus’ list of the Seven Wonders if it had existed in his day. The temple was made to be the focal point of grand festivals, much beloved by the Jewish people. It had a spacious courtyard and covered porticoes, capable of holding hundreds of thousands of pilgrims for the festivals.

The biggest and most important annual festival was Passover, celebrated each year on the 15th day of the spring month of Nisan (the Jews had a lunar calendar of 28 day months). Every Jew in the cities all over the Roman Empire desired to be in Jerusalem for this festival. (Today, some observant Jews still end their Passover celebration by saying, “Next year in Jerusalem.”) Josephus, the Jewish historian of this period, claims that one year there were 100,000 lambs slaughtered for Passover in Jerusalem. If each lamb serviced a meal for ten men, Josephus’ implicit claim is that over a million pilgrims had packed the city for the celebration. Imagine a city of maybe 50,000 people swollen to twenty times its usual population! (like Los Angeles, 4 million people, ballooning to 80 million in the summer!)

Raising suitable lambs and having them available for sale was big business in those days for the villages surrounding Jerusalem (including the shepherds of Bethlehem). It was like the Christmas season for merchants today, they could make a year’s income in a few days. There was one special lamb, though. On the 10th of Nisan, the High Priest would go outside the city to a lamb seller and choose a perfect lamb to be the Lamb of Israel. One tradition says that this lamb was led by the High Priest into the city in great ceremony, with pilgrims lining the streets, singing, shouting, and waving palm branches in worship. Traditionally, they sang the lines of Psalm 118, “Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord.” This Lamb for Israel would be penned within the Temple courts, and during the week of Passover, all the visitors in town could go and view it. It had a huge role as a “celebrity” lamb, scheduled to die by the hand of the High Priest.

On the week of Jesus’ death, he ate a Passover meal with his disciples on Thursday night, a meal he modified to become our basis for the Lord’s Supper. He went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray, and there Judas, the betrayer, led a squad of temple police and other rabble to arrest him. Jesus was seized, and given a series of trials. He was condemned and led to the place of the Skull, and there he was crucified. His nailing to the cross took place about 9:00 a.m. on Friday morning.

Meantime the Temple was buzzing with activity. Thousands of pilgrims were bringing their Passover lambs to be ritually killed and this went on for hours with gallons of blood being spilled. The blood ran out the Temple’s drain system into the Kidron, the little stream between the Temple and the Mount of Olives, turning into a crimson flow. The killing of these lambs went on for six hours, until about 3 p.m. At that time, all the lambs were sacrificed except one, the Lamb of Israel. With great pomp and ceremony, this lamb was brought to the High Priest himself. He stood before the great altar and taking the ceremonial knife, he killed the final Passover lamb, proclaiming in a loud voice, “It is finished.”

At about the same time, there was a small group of Jesus’ disciples who gathered around his cross on a hill called Calvary. They had witnessed Jesus’ agony on this evil tree for about six hours. Then, about 3 in the afternoon, Jesus raised himself one last time and wheezed, “It is finished.” The perfect Lamb of God had been slain, not just for Israel, but for the sins of the world. Jesus statement meant both that death had come and that his mission of atoning sacrifice had been accomplished.

But it was not the end. Jesus died, and was buried, but on the following Sunday, God raised him from the dead. He who was dead lived again. Death had not won and our world will never be the same. It is not finished. Celebrating the Resurrection means it is only beginning.

Mark S. Krause
Nebraska Christian College

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The Future of the Restoration Movement, Part 3

thefutureIn my earlier posts on this topic, I pointed out two trends I see for the future of the Restoration Movement. My observations were:

First: the institutions of the Restoration Movement are undergoing massive shifts and changes.

Second: the Restoration Movement is becoming less about principles and more about people. 

My third observation is: the people of the Restoration Movement will be important players in the new movement for a unified church.

What, you say, there is a new movement for a unified church? You hadn’t heard about it?

Let me offer you a parallel from my field, biblical studies. In 1906, a great German scholar, Albert Schweitzer, published a book entitled The Quest for the Historical Jesus. Briefly, this was the culmination of 19th century efforts to sort through the theological formulations about Jesus and recover the story of the man who lived in Galilee in the first century. Schweitzer was a brilliant mind, having the equivalent of doctoral degrees in music, philosophy, theology, and medicine. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1952. However, many believed that his “Quest” book left many questions unanswered. He lost interest in biblical studies soon after the publication of this important and controversial book. Schweitzer’s work spurred many other books, but little consensus. It marked the end of the first “quest.”

In 1959, James Robinson published A New Quest for the Historical Jesus. Robinson noted that the “quest” had been revived and had shifted from a rigorous historical investigation to one based on the philosophical driver of the day, existentialism. This is not the place to trace the developments of this second quest, but simply to say it quickly reached dead ends (or drove over cliffs, depending on your chosen metaphor).

In 1993, an evangelical British scholar, N.T. Wright, announced that a “Third Quest” had begun, what I remember hearing described as the “New New Quest for the Historical Jesus.” This time, conservative and not-so-conservative scholars plunged headlong into analyzing and debating every piece of evidence about Jesus and his world, both from the Bible and other ancient sources. The results were things like Wright’s colossal series, Christian Origins and the Question of God, now at four volumes out of a projected six. The second volume, Jesus and the Victory of God is a hefty 700 pages and is the epitome of this third quest, exploring every possible avenue to recover the best and most accurate picture of the man, Jesus.

Three quests pursuing the historical Jesus, all having the same goal but different presuppositions and results. Each was a product of its historical context.

The Restoration Movement as envisaged by the Campbells and Barton Stone was a quest for Christian unity. They saw this as possible if Christians would abandon divisive creedalism and look to the Bible as the sole source of doctrine. However, even among the ranks of their immediate followers, complete consensus concerning the doctrines of the Bible was never reached. Alexander Campbell and Barton Stone themselves disagreed over something as central as the nature of God, Stone being semi-Arian and Campbell being clearly Trinitarian. Yet they agreed in principle to cooperate and have their churches be united. After their passing, the movement was split over things that seem almost comic in retrospect. Using pianos in worship? Paying ministers? Observers of the Restoration Movement in the first half of the twentieth century must have been amazed the a unity movement had so many hard-line sectarians.

In the 1980s and 1990s, there was a second quest for unity. This seemed to be motivated partly out of the dismay that the Restoration Movement had splintered so badly and needed to restore its own unity if it had any hope of being an example to the church at large. Several things happened, including the founding of the Stone Campbell Journal, a publication that had writers from all three branches of the movement. But while on a scholarly level the SCJ was a success, the churches were still separated. Perhaps they had lived apart for too long, a little like childhood friends reunited in old age who have little in common but distant memories.

I think there is now a third quest for Christian unity underway and it has little to do with the Restoration Movement. The sectarianism that has so permeated the church in America for 300 years makes little sense to many today. The megachurch phenomenon has congregated Christians of many backgrounds served by pastors with equally diverse educations and experiences. As I have said for twenty years, it is not about doctrine anymore and certainly not about doctrinal warfare. There are a few essentials: the authority and value of the Bible, the divinity of Christ, and the necessity of faith for a saving relationship with God. But no one wants to fight over premillennialism anymore.

There is a growing sense that Christians should be active agents for good in their communities, far beyond just inviting people to Sunday services. If the church is to matter to the next generation, it must do things that matter. Social justice is high on the agenda of the millennial generation, and this will not go away.

I believe the churches and the leaders of the Restoration Movement are poised and able to make a substantial contribution to this new quest for unity. Can we truly be Christians only again? Can we quit drawing lines that divide and find reasons to unite with other Christians?

There are some big issues here, and they are found throughout the evangelical community. Can we quit treating Catholics as sub-Christian enemies? Can we leave our right-wing or left-wing politics at home and no longer let our churches be political tools? Can we finally banish racism from our churches and accept people of all skin colors and ethnicities as brothers and sisters, even as church leaders?

The result of this may be that the Restoration Movement becomes a footnote in church history books. But it may be that its influence will be evident in a more unified church for the next century. That would be a good outcome, I think.

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College