500 witnesses to the resurrection of Christ

Resurrection © 2020 Simon Peter SutherlandEaster is a ‘Christian festival‘ that celebrates and remembers the resurrection of Jesus Christ. All around the world, Christians and religious persons gather to remember an event that has changed the face of the world we live in.

For many Christians, Easter is a very special time. But as with most Christian or religious festivals and practices, Easter attracts a wide variety of opinion and belief.

For some, Easter has become a time for organisations to make a profit. For others it is a time when families get together and give people chocolate eggs. For others, Easter is just a paganised festival and not in the Bible. For others Easter is just a time when religious people sit in churches listening to texts being read over and over. As I say, there are many thoughts and beliefs.

But laying aside the varying ideas of religious paganization, ritualistic services and fairytale like storytelling and chocolate eggs, let us remember that Easter represents a very real and verifiable historic occurrence. Let us remember that this occurrence is an event that no serious historian or Theologian does or can satisfactorily deny.

This event happened 2000 years ago in Israel and this event has changed the face of the world we live.

To clarify the familiar story, I am writing about the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

History and the Bible shows that sometime around AD 33 Jesus of Nazareth was crucified in Jerusalem by the Romans. The Messiah had been betrayed by His friend Judas and arrested in the garden of Gethsemane. Jesus withstood six trials during the night, and the early morning, and after being punished by Pontius Pilate He suffered an extreme beating and scourging by Roman solders. He was then sentenced to death and after carrying His own cross, He was crucified outside the city walls of ancient Jerusalem. After six to nine hours on the cross, He was certified dead.

By all accounts the story should have ended there. But it didn’t. His body was wrapped in a shroud, placed in a rich mans tomb. A large stone was rolled over the entrance, and it was then given an official Roman seal. Guards were then placed (night and day) around the tomb to keep watch so that His followers could not remove the body and simulate a resurrection. Three days later however, the tomb was found empty and the stone was rolled away.

Jesus was then seen alive by Mary Magdalen, a woman and after He was seen by His Apostles and then by five hundred people at one time.

This event is called the resurrection of Jesus Christ and it is the cornerstone of the Christian faith. Without the resurrection of Jesus Christ, Christianity is just another religion and faith is useless.

Writing about this event some 20 or so years after it happened, Paul was writing to believers in ancient Corinth. This city was (and is) in southern Greece and in the 1st century Corinth was situated on a trade route.

In 1 Corinthians 15: 3-7 Paul had this to say:

For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles.

This claim is extraordinary. Some may say ‘well, that’s just what the Bible says...’ as though the resurrection of Jesus is just a claim made in the Bible alone and that the Bible is just another religious book. But the problem is, even if the entire New Testament, or the individual writings were not part of the Bible, the letter of Paul to the Corinthians would still be extant. Even as a singular document, Corinthians would still stand as a historical source by itself.

By saying this, I am claiming that there was a time when the Books of the New Testament were individual works, written by individual persons to specific peoples. Paul’s letters to the Corinthians are like that.

If we take our minds back and add some imagination, it would not be difficult for us to imagine the things people were saying about the resurrection of Christ during the time of St. Paul. Some said there is no resurrection of the dead. Others said there is no life after death. Others said the disciples could have made the stories up. Others may have said the disciples were hallucinating and saw Jesus alive due to being overcome with enormous grief over His death.

But Paul appealed to his original readers and invited them to check his facts with the original eye witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. If they didn’t believe Paul, they could go and interview the eye witnesses themselves. These eyewitnesses were likely to have been the people living in Galilee. At the time of writing most of these eye witnesses were still living.

Thus, modern reader, I invite you to consider the following points:

  • All scholars, modern and ancient, accept that Paul wrote 1 Corinthians.
  • All scholars, modern and ancient, accept that Paul was an actual historic 1st century person.
  • All scholars, modern and ancient, accept that there was a Church in Corinth.
  • All scholars accept that 1 Corinthians likely dates to around AD. 55, 56 or earlier.
  • History shows that Corinth was under Roman rule at the time of writing and no charge was raised against Paul for claiming Jesus’ death and resurrection was historical fact.
  • Mass hallucinations do not occur. It is impossible for over 500 people to hallucinate the same thing at the same time.

For the modern reader, I close with these words. It is my belief that Jesus Christ is proof of God. I believe that Jesus Christ is proof that there is life after death. I believe that Jesus Christ is proof that God has power over life and death and that the Bible is true.

Real Christianity has something that no one else has. That something is The Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

People, let us remember that life is so uncertain and fragile and can pass away at any moment. We live but we do not live by our own control. Christ is the One who holds all things by the word of His power (Hebrews 1: 3) Paul said to the philosophers in Athens, “In Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17: 28). Let us remember that life is beyond us. We are but dust and from dust we came and to dust we will return.

It is to be believed, that those who believe in Jesus Christ and trust in Him, will live forever. Will you this day, turn from your sin, put your trust in Jesus Christ, believe in Him and receive the gift of everlasting life.

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Stay at home WILLIAM SALESBURY clip

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The Lord’s Prayer

Sunset in Wales © 2020 Simon Peter Sutherland

“Our Father, Who is in heaven.
Holy be Your name, may Your kingdom grow,
Your decrees be fulfilled upon the earth,
even as in heaven.
Grant for us this day, our needful bread.
And forgive us our debt as we ourselves forgive our debtors.
And carry us not into temptation,
but rescue us from Satan’s evil influence.
Because Yours is the kingdom, and the mighty power
and the glorious honour, forever more. Amen..”

The Gospel of Matthew 6: 9-13

Translated by Simon Peter Sutherland

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William Salesbury’s 500th Anniversary

William Salesbury St Asaph © 2020 Simon Peter Sutherland2020 marks the 400th anniversary of the Welsh Bible and the 500th anniversary of the traditional birthdate of Welsh New Testament translator William Salesbury.

According to tradition, William Salesbury was born in 1520 and died sometime around 1580 or 1584. He was from a small town in North Wales and became one of the greatest scholars and Christian hero’s Wales has ever known.

He became an Oxford scholar and withdrew into seclusion during the reign of Mary Tudor between 1553-1558. In 1567 he published a Welsh translation of the New Testament which became the foundation for the 1588 Welsh Bible by Bishop William Morgan.

2020 also marks the 400th anniversary of 1620 Revision of the Welsh Bible by Bishop Richard Parry and Dr John Davies and events around Wales will be held to commemorate this event.

My documentary “William Salesbury, The Man from Lllansannan” marks the dawn of my journey into the history of the Church in Wales and Welsh Christian history. This documentary is my contribution to the life and legacy of this most excellent and dedicated Christian man. Of whom Wales owes so much.

Throughout the Bible, people read, spoke and heard people speak in their own languages. Jesus read the Scriptures in Hebrew, one of His own languages (Luke 4: 16). At Pentecost, the people were confounded because they heard people speak in their own languages (Acts 2: 6). The Apostles and New Testament authors wrote in languages people could understand and the early Church translated them into the common tongue.

Let us remember those who were once in great need of reading the Scriptures in their own languages and remember those who gave their lives and dedication to seeing the most important Book in the world translated into the common tongue.

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William Salesbury The Man from Llansannan Trailer 2020

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Ancient Kameiros, and the spread of early Christianity on Rhodes

Kameiros © 2019 Simon Peter Sutherland

Kameiros, Rhodes © 2019 Simon Peter Sutherland

Recently I visited the ancient City of Kameiros on the Greek island of Rhodes. This is now an archaeological site.

In ancient times Kameiros was one of the three ancient cities of Rhodes and today has some evidences of the spread of early Christianity on the island. Here the city was built upon three levels. There was a Temple of Athena, a Stoa and an Acropolis. There was even a reservoir.

Here, hundreds of people once lived in terrace type houses. On my visit I greatly admired an area where these ancient houses once stood. Here, archaeologists affirm many early Christians once lived.

This is interesting because the first and only time Rhodes is mentioned in the Bible is in Acts 21: 1 and my documentary explores that passage of Scripture. However, it must be pointed out that before the time of Paul’s visit to Rhodes in the AD 50’s, there is no evidence for Christianity on the island. We can only imagine that Christianity must have spread from either Rhodes town or Lindos, after the Apostles visit.

Here in Kameiros early Christians would have had to live amongst pagan temples and the worship of other gods. However, in 142 AD an earthquake destroyed the city. Today it lies in ruins.

Kameiros, Rhodes © 2019 Simon Peter Sutherland

Kameiros, Rhodes © 2019 Simon Peter Sutherland

Much of ancient Kameiros is yet to be excavated, some of the finds are in the British Museum.  But what I learned from this visit was that Christianity was present on Rhodes very early. This is interesting because clearly someone brought the Gospel to Rhodes in the early days of Christianity. I propose that archaeology and history affirms that Luke in Acts was correct and that he and Paul brought Christianity to Rhodes on Paul’s third missionary journey.

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Hymn Stories: The Day Thou Gavest Lord, Is Ended

The Day Thou Gavest Lord, Is Ended, is a classic hymn, greatly upheld as a favourite in Britain and the Anglican Communion, and is sung in many Churches of other denominations.

It was written in the 19th century by Church of England minister, John Ellerton (1826-1893). The story goes that in 1870, the Rev Ellerton was walking home after teaching classes at the Mechanics’ Institute and noticed how beautiful the night was. He wrote the lyric based upon that inspiring moment. Being customary in the Anglican Communion to give thanks to God ‘Morning and Evening’ the lyrics reflect 1 Chronicles 23: 30 and Psalm 113: 3. Christians from the earliest days of the faith, gave thanks to God both in the morning and the evening. This hymn reflects that practice.

It is easy to assume that the words and music of such great hymns were written entirely by one person, but this is not always the case. The melody for The Day Thou Gavest Lord, Is Ended is actually set to the Hymn tune known as St. Clement, in 98. 98. meter. This tune is generally credited to Clement Cotteril Scholefield (1839-1904) and first appeared in a hymnbook in 1874. This publication was known as Church Hymns and Tunes.

This inspiring and uplifting melody sets the lyrics in motion for an ever flowing waltz of affectionate love. These are no mere words of a self focused individual, but from the soul of a person devoted and affectionate to the One true God. They ascribe to God the honour and praise as the One who gave the sinner the gift of each day and night. The knowing that God hears the praises of His people. They give thanks to Him continuously for His provision and building of His Church. That she is unchanging, and “unsleeping” as the world worries its way through life. That men’s empires pass away, but the Kingdom Christ has established, will never pass away for He is her King.

For me, the lyrics “Thy Kingdom stands and grows forever” reflect the constancy of the Kingdom of Christ and the sovereignty of His reign. The word “Thy” reflects the singular focus upon the Kingship and person of Christ. “Thy Kingdom stands and grows forever” does not relate to any supposed Kingdom to come in our future, or during any futuristic millennium, but the identity of Christ’s Kingdom, being His Church, was expected and prayed for during the lifetime of Jesus (Matthew 6: 10). That the reign of Messiah (upon the Throne of David) was proclaimed, by the preaching of Peter, that the prophecy concerning the throne of David was fulfilled by and at the death and resurrection of Christ (Acts 2: 30-36). Who’s Kingdom knows no end (Isaiah 9: 7, Luke 1: 33).

The lyric speaks of the continuing growth of Christ’s everlasting Kingdom. That His people are everywhere beneath the “Western skies” and such can never be destroyed.

The hymn has continued to be sung in Churches everywhere and today it remains the official hymn of the Royal Navy and has also been included in many editions of the Scottish Psalter, and Methodist hymnbooks.

When I recorded instrumental versions of this melody for use my documentaries, I explored the melody from a purely musical perspective. I let the notes raise my soul to the spiritual realms of musical praise. Where music can take the soul into places where words cannot enter. Many modern chorus’ and so-called ‘praise and worship’ songs do not have the power or depth to attain that.

I love the idea and sound of traditional Anglican Church music, and although I have yet to ever attend a service where this hymn has been sung, it has quite possibly become my favourite hymn.

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A 15th century image on St. Paul’s Gate, Rhodes

St. paul's Gate © 2019 Simon Peter Sutherland

Apostle Paul on Rhodes © 2019 Simon Peter Sutherland

While on the Greek island of Rhodes, I revisited the site of Acts 21: 1. This location is Rhodes Town, the site of the Colossus of Rhodes and St. Paul’s Gate. Here Paul and Luke landed in the 50’s AD.

It is quite easy to miss but within the walls surrounding the Gate of St. Paul, there is a 15th century image of the Apostle high up on the wall.

The image itself is faded and undefined. But it represents the familiar image of the Paul we know.

Apostle Paul, Rhodes Town © 2019 Simon Peter Sutherland

St. Paul, Rhodes Town © 2019 Simon Peter Sutherland

This is Paul the elderly and powerful. His left arm is raised. His right arm is carrying a sword. Representing the sword of the Spirit. His head is leaning to the left.

The Gate of St. Paul was constructed during the 15th century and fortifies an area of the harbour known as the Kolona Harbour. The locals of Rhodes town generally accept that this was the precise location where Paul and Luke landed. This location satisfies me as the site of Acts 21: 1.

Once again, as always, it was wonderful to stand in the places written about in the Bible. The message is clear, keep our eyes fixed upon the Apostles’ doctrine (Acts 2: 42).

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Why I have returned to the Church of England

Church Steeple © 2019 Simon Peter Sutherland

© 2019 Simon Peter Sutherland

Over the last few years I had been attending a Baptist Church. However, due to a recent unnecessary, unorthodox, sectarian practice of ‘re-baptism‘ I have left the Baptist church and have returned to the Church of England. 

For some, this decision may seem unhealthy. Liberalism, it seems, has corrupted the Anglican communion. Such views would not be entirely wrong.

However, things are not as simple as that. The Anglican communion is a very complicated establishment, and is deeply divided. Liberalism and a false gospel has indeed corrupted the establishment but it has not corrupted the true conservative evangelical wing of the Church of England. This conservative evangelical branch, I argue, is the true Church of England. The liberal, revisionist branch is a false distortion. I believe it has forsaken the Bible.

Because of changing times, liberalism and church corruption, many churches are closing. Yet the many parishes that remain true to the Gospel, are in fact flourishing. It is to this conservative evangelical wing of the Church of England that I abide.

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© 2014 Simon Peter Sutherland

In the 16th century, many reformed Christians died for the faith. Tyndale, Frith, Latimer, Cranmer, Ridley, Bradford and George Marsh, were all Church of England men. Yet it was a fight even back then. Today, over four hundred years later, there is still a continuous movement to reform the Church of England from within. Organisations such as Reform and Church Society all continue to abide in loyalty to the Bible and the principles of the doctrines of the reformation.

For me, the true Church of England is the way forward. As a churchwarden of Deane once said to me, ‘I truly believe the Church of England is “the best boat to fish from”. I believe this is true. For me, Cathedrals are some of the most inspiring monuments a person can ever visit and I am in the historic presence of some of the greatest men Christianity has ever known. Unlike many independent churches, which are often self governing and separatist, the Congregation Christ spoke of in Matthew 16: 18 was one. It was not divided into denominations. It was simply the Congregation of believers.

I have faith that Christ will continue to build His Congregation, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.

Being in the Baptist church, was not all bad. I still have many fond memories and those memories will remain. But the Lord would not leave me there. There is a path that I must take. For me, my Christian journey has simply reached a new era. It is simply unacceptable that the Church of England has been robbed of the Gospel. We ought not to forsake her. Something needs to be done. There must be reformation.

 

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Why I once believed in ‘Once Saved Always Saved’

Once Saved Always Saved © 2019 Simon Peter SutherlandMany years ago I read ‘The Sovereignty of God‘ by A. W Pink. This book is a well written work presenting the doctrine of the Sovereignty of God from the the Calvinistic perspective. It is well worth the read.

In this book the author affirmed the doctrine of ‘Once Saved Always Saved‘. Because of the sheer weight of Scriptures Pink presented, I believed the doctrine as very Scriptural.

A. W. Pink was from Nottingham and in my opinion, Pink was the most consistent Calvinist I have ever read. He was a brilliant man and an excellent Christian Theologian. He proclaimed the doctrines of Calvinism to the fullest with no weakness on his part. Obviously it is not difficult to realise that a man of such Scriptural knowledge would have his collisions with the Church of his day. His biography shows us examples of that. But most of it may relate to his Calvinism.

A. W. Pink should be admired, even by his Theological opponents, because he did not shy away from the proper logical conclusions to the clear teachings of Calvinism. These observations (in my opinion), separate him from the more common, inconsistent and unconvincing Calvinist revisionist preachers and writers of our day.

When I read Pink, it would not be long before I became persuaded by the doctrine of ‘Once Saved Always Saved’. Over time however, and through the clear lens of openly reading Scripture, the impact of Calvinism lost its flavour with me. I began to see too many Scriptures contradicting the system and Calvinistic apologists failing to explain the contrasts with proper exegesis or convincing argumentation.

In answer to my title, the reason I once believed in ‘OSAS’ was because of the selective Scriptures which Calvinists use to affirm their doctrine. I am convinced, if people simply read the Bible and never listened to Calvinistic preachers, they would see that eternal security is conditional and apostasy is possible for true believers. Christians have the duty to abide in Christ and no one can abide in Christ if they never were truly saved to begin with.

As a person who once believed the doctrine of ‘Once Saved Always Saved’, I understand it, not merely from knowledge, but from experience too. It is a very persuasive doctrine. However, over time I could see the natural progression of doctrinal bondage developing. Fear of departing from accepted doctrines and the teachings of popular preachers became easy to break when I digested and trusted the words of Christ “the Truth will set you free“.

The truth be told, people who believe in ‘Once Saved Always Saved’ very rarely arrive at that conclusion by simply reading Scripture alone, but by listening to their favourite preachers or their pastors, or biblically external books. For many people and preachers, the doctrine of ‘OSAS’ is Scripture itself and for an individual to deny it either makes a person a half Christian or simply not born again. These opinions however are absolute none sense. No one need accept such attitudes or permit themselves to be bullied into beliefs that contradict Scripture.

Obviously I would not regard those who teach the doctrine as false teachers, but I would say that without their rhetorical skills, the doctrine has little Scripture to authenticate it. The facts remain, as I have written in a previous article, the doctrine of ‘OSAS’ is a historical anomaly and was not taught in the church until the 16th century. John Calvin was probably the first person to have properly taught the doctrine. As I have previously argued in an earlier article, the doctrine likely has Gnostic origins rather than Scriptural foundations.

Over recent years I have repeatedly re-examined the doctrine and the more I read the New Testament from this perspective, and explored the contexts and the Greek, I saw an overwhelming amount of Scriptural evidences to claim the doctrine has little weight to it at all. In fact, there are so many Scriptures that contradict the position, many Calvinistic apologists and preachers are left scraping the barrel for argument, so much so that they are in danger of getting splinters under their finger nails.

The truth be told, there are over sixty or so verses in the New Testament which speak as warnings to Christians to remain loyal and in the faith and to abide in Christ.

It seems quite clear that the Calvinist claim that any believer who departs from the faith, was never truly saved in the first place, may well have some accurate Scriptural examples, but the majority of the doctrine is a violation of the plain reading of Scripture.

 

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