The Jesus ossuary controversy
By now you’ve probably all heard about the supposed discovery of the bones of Jesus in Jerusalem (from here on I’ll be calling it the “Jesus-in-a-Box Controversy”). I’m not at all surprised someone is trying to make money off the find. But the claim of finding Jesus’ bones is serious because it calls the historical accuracy of the resurrection into question. This itself is nothing new. Even in Paul’s day the bodily resurrection was attacked as a sham. Scripture reminds us that if the resurrection of Christ is bogus, our preaching of the gospel is vain, we lie about God, our faith is futile, our death is hopeless, and we are dead in our sins (1 Cor. 15:12-19). The resurrection is pretty important to the church.
But my personal concern is this: How do I as a Christian gauge this controversy? I want to take this (and other) controversies as opportunities to check my own heart condition. So here are a few thoughts for us to consider:
1. It’s a good reminder of the reality of deception. If Satan’s goal is deception, why wouldn’t he have carved a box with names and bones in an attempt to undermine the gospel? Have we forgotten we have a powerful enemy of the truth willing to take all efforts to subvert the Cross? In this situation, either Satan is a deceptive box crafter and/or he has convinced men of evil lies. Either way, Satan’s work in deception frequently goes unnoticed. Don’t wait for the local newspaper to uncover the Satanic deception — stay on your biblically-illuminated toes.
2. It’s a good reminder to keep our eyes on the gospel. The DaVinici Code was an excellent example how broad punches that land both in the Roman Catholic and Evangelical camps cause equally broad religious alliances. I assume the Jesus-in-a-Box Controversy is headed in the same direction. It will provide a platform for various religions to form alliances in a common goal of protecting the resurrection. The fallout of many years of this activity is that Christians and pastors can no longer discern between a self-righteous gospel and a self-renouncing gospel. Aren’t we on the same team? Honestly, it gets hard to tell the difference when various gospels stand hand-in-hand every year to battle the next cinematic heresy. The tendency will be to let the gospel fade into the background and become more obscure to a culture that largely hopes in self-righteousness. If I understand Paul correctly, it’s not the outright denial of the faith that poses the greatest dangers. The greatest dangers to the church are the subtle shifts in the message of the gospel (see Gal. 1:6-10, 2:11-21). So take this controversy as a great opportunity to rejoice in the self-renouncing Cross (Gal. 6:14). Don’t get thrown off-center.
3. It’s a good reminder to walk by faith and not by sight. Do you trust your eyes more than God’s Word? This question really surfaces in an event like this. If we find our faith shaking in front of the pictures, then it’s possible our faith has always been propped up by what we see with our eyes. We are called to walk by faith in Scripture as opposed to walking by sight (Rom. 10:17; 2 Cor. 5:7; Heb. 11:1). The argument you will read on this controversy is that there is no conclusive evidence these are the authentic bones of Jesus. The problem is there also remains the unlikelihood of proof that these are NOT the bones of Jesus. If we walk by sight we may inevitably come to an inconclusive standstill with the visible evidence. Controversies like this one are useful to gauge our own hearts with this question: Do I take God at His Word or not? “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead” (1 Cor. 15:20).
4. It’s a good reminder of our propensity to worldly logic. As we’ve seen in our study of Calvin, a true understanding of the gospel exceeds the limits of depraved common sense. The Spirit seals the authenticity of the gospel on our hearts supernaturally (see part 10 of our Humble Calvinism series). Apart from God’s intervention, the gospel will seem foolishness to us; which means once we become Christians we are frequently placed in worldly situations where the true answer will be labeled ‘foolish.’ In this particular controversy, Christians should be free to respond by saying, “God revealed Himself in Scripture. Scripture says Jesus was raised from the dead. Jesus’ bones are in heaven with the rest of His resurrected body. Done.” I’ve read all types of arguments about DNA impossibilities, archaeologists refuting things and language experts making arguments to disprove the authenticity of the boxes. I’m certain lengthy books are already being written. Personally, I wonder how much of this is motivated by Christians seeking to defend their biblical faith without looking foolish to the world? I’m not saying it’s easy to be considered foolish, but it is the cost of devoting our minds and lives to God’s revelation. God has spoken. Take Him at His Word and boast in Him (1 Cor. 1:18-31).
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t disagree with the conclusion of those who deny scientifically or archaeologically that Jesus is in the box. I know He’s not (and honest science and forensic evidence will bear this out). Nor am I arguing for an anti-intellectual fundamentalism that hides from the hard questions. I’ll leave the hard questions for the experts.
My plea is for honesty. Bible-believing Christians and pastors should keep God’s revelation open and central in this controversy, no matter how foolish it appears to the world. We are not called merely to believe in the Cross privately but boast in the Cross publicly! It’s in the light of controversy we gauge our success here.
The bottom line is that I don’t need the testimony of an archaeologist or scientist or scholar to sleep well tonight. I trust in God’s revelation. Christ rose from the dead. God said so. And we must be willing to bear the label of ‘fool’ to stand on the only Rock that can withstand the Titanic breakers of Hollywood.