An interview with Phillip on 2BL on Easter Day
One of Sydney’s most popular preachers, from St Matthias Church is Phillip Jensen and he is on the line for us today. Phillip, what are your thoughts about Easter?
Easter’s a great time of the year, it really is. It’s like a wedding anniversary. We are married all year round we think of our spouse, and love our spouse, all year round but It’s nice to have an anniversary each year to sit down and consciously put our minds to just how good it is to be married.
Is that part of the reason that we give gifts at Easter time?
Well, I actually don’t give gifts at Easter time but yes, I suppose if you wanted to give gifts you could do it then. But I think more important than the gifts at anniversary time is to spend some time thinking again about the commitments we made, however many years ago it was, and renewing those commitments to each other. Easter is like that. It’s the time when I can sit down and see the commitment that God has made to me, in his Son, and can reflect again on the commitment that, by his Spirit, I’ve made to him.
How do you feel about the commercialization of Christmas – Easter, I slipped and said Christmas there, because it’s following the Christmas patterns isn’t it?
Yes it is. Commercialization drives our community. You only have to look at the way it’s driven our sport at the moment – where making money is the thing that matters, and the trouble with commercialization is it trivialises things. So, I understand that some of the big footballers are now going to earn five times as much as our Prime Minister. It makes important things trivial and unimportant things very important. And so, here you’ve got the matter which, at its most superficial level the matter of Easter is deeply unpleasant, it’s the brutal murder of a young man. At a deeper level, of course, it’s actually the murder of the Prince of Life and what we’re doing is celebrating it by the kind of nonsense of a bunny that goes around laying chocolate eggs. It really is, such a trivialization. But people by and large can’t face big questions and the commercial materialist always find it easier to kind of make money out of nice fluffy bunnies and chocolate, which we all love so much, rather than actually ask what life is about and what death is about. Most people won’t acknowledge that they’re going to die.
Well, surely Phillip Jensen, it’s the fear of death, and the fact that we are one of the few animals that understands that we’re going to die, that drives most religion and indeed maybe behind the mystery of Easter for Christians.
The fear of death?
The fear of the unknown of death, I guess.
Well, yes, death is rightly to be feared. It’s right to fear death. The person who doesn’t actually ever stop and think about death is living a very intellectually stunted life because it’s one of the very few realities we’ve got. Something much worse than death though is the judgement that comes after death.
Can I take you to one of the sticking points of Easter and that is the resurrection? If we had news from the United States, or Italy, or India, or anywhere around the world, or Australia, Wollongong or anywhere around the world, that someone had been fairly brutally murdered by the judicial system, probably unjustly, and then three days later had come back to life, I think you, and perhaps most of your parishioners, and probably most of the listeners would be rightfully sceptical wouldn’t we?
Yes. I think we should be. There are two sides that we don’t want to fall over. On one side is just crass gullibility. If you believe everything you are told, well, you just stay in ignorance and stupidity, don’t you? Whenever you are told something you’ve got to stop and think “Is this true? Are they trying to pull my leg? What’s in it for the person who’s telling me?” I’ve got to investigate, and I’ve got to look. The other side of the coin that is just as bad is cynicism, because cynicism doubts. And once you go down cynicism you can doubt everything. In fact, you can even doubt your ability to doubt if you really work at it. The cynic doesn’t know anything because he could never make his decision about anything because there’s always room for doubting something else. Now life is caught somewhere between cynicism and gullibility. If you tell me what someone rises from the dead, I’m immediately on the sceptical side because dead men don’t rise. But if I move to beyond scepticism into that kind of cynicism which says, “Dead men don’t rise and it doesn’t matter what you tell me, I’ll never believe it when one has.” I’ve actually ruled out the possibility before I’ve looked at the evidence. That is as stupid as it is to accept it, just because somebody said it.
OK will you define two parting camps. In the middle is Phillip Jensen who’s taken the leap of faith that Jesus did rise again on the third day, now why?
Ah no, no, no, no! Excuse me picking up. I took no more a leap of faith than anybody else. Faith is not something you leap about. Faith is something that comes from reason.
OK well give me your reasoning, I’m fascinated to hear.
There is a man called Pinchas Lapide, LAPIDE, he wrote a book called The Resurrection of Jesus. He’s a Jew. He was a Jewish man before he wrote the book and a Jewish man after he wrote the book and he is a non-Christian Jew at that. He looked at the evidence and for many years didn’t believe that Jesus rose from the dead because, as a Jew he was opposed to Christianity and he couldn’t accept it. But then one day he realised that that was a matter of prejudice. Irrespective what Christians showed him he wouldn’t believe Jesus rose from the dead. So, he just removed the prejudice and looked at the resurrection on the basis of ‘what if it did happen?’. And he has written this book, you’ll find it around, in which he goes through the evidence and from the evidence he concludes that Jesus did rise from the dead. It’s a piece of historical research. He’s a historian of the 1st century studies and from just looking at the history, not as a Christian, comes to conclusion that Jesus did rise the dead. My experience is that most people, one, have never looked at the evidence and, two, are prejudiced. They have already decided it can’t be true before they looked. When Lapid removed his prejudice and looked, he concluded that Jesus did rise from the dead.
You are looking back 2000 years of course.
Which is a fair stretch.
It is a fair stretch but there’s hardly anything in this lifetime that has been better documented and more rigorously tested than the scriptures. Take it this way. Jesus gets killed in 30AD. By 60AD there are so many Christians in Rome, at the other end of the empire, that the then Emperor Nero is able to blame them for the burning of Rome. There is enough of them for them to be popularly disliked and hated so that they can be known. So what happened that a group of Jews should suddenly move from their kind of monotheism to trinitarianism, from believing in Sabbath going, to moving across to taking the first day of the week of the day of the Lord? What was it the transformed that Jewish religion which was so obstinately practised throughout the empire?
Could it be, Phillip Jensen, that faced with an oppressive regime, and one of the great social revolutionary leaders that they were inflamed by the power of his ideas, that you should love your neighbour as yourself for example?
The problem with that is, it’s why people prefer the Easter bunny. That is, Jesus’ teaching about ethics is not what does it because loving your neighbour, you can actually find in the Old Testament. All the ethics of Jesus you can find in the Old Testament. What’s different about Jesus is the was crucified. Christianity is not about being good. If it is about being good, I wouldn’t go to heaven.
Phillip, is this something we should know?
Ok. OK. Well then as a martyr of course, that would make him even more potent as a social revolutionary.
No, no, no there are thousands of martyrs. Good men and women have died for causes down the centuries.
Well, they put the twist on the story that had risen again.
Even the ‘risen again’ which is a wonderful, if you like, ‘twist on the story’, that’s not the key to it. It’s why he should die, that’s the problem.
Well he died for…
It’s not he rose from the dead, their problem was: Why, if he is God’s prophet, should he have been executed?
Why would God let that happen, I guess, is a question?
Yes, that’s right and you see it’s because he didn’t come to teach us how to live. He came to pay the penalty for the way we do live. We’re not good people, Christians are forgiven people.
But if we’re judged at the end of our lives, after our lives, then we’re incurring the penalty ourselves, aren’t we?.
Absolutely. That’s what we will do, unless he pays the penalty for us. If I’m to face God after my life, on the basis of what I’ve done, then I’m lost. But if I’m to face God on the basis of the fact that my penalty has been paid for me already, then I’ll be saved. Jesus is not just a young man brutally murdered. Jesus is not just a martyr. Jesus is not just a teacher of great truth. All those things are true but that’s not just it. Jesus is God, become man, paying the penalty for us. That famous verse, John 3:16, “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” He’s God’s great gift is Jesus’ death on our behalf.
If you were God, Phillip Jensen, would you do it the same way?
If I were God, yes. But if I’m Phillip Jensen, I guess not because I’m too self-centred, I’m too selfish. See, as a sinful person there’s no way I would think of doing it. That’s part of the wonder of it all, isn’t it? It actually is, is better than we would ever imagine. God is more loving and kind than we ever deserve or could ever imagine.
Phillip Jensen, with those thoughts let me wish you a happy and holy Easter and my thanks for the time you spent with us.
Bob, I hope you have a wonderful time this Easter too, and of course, the best way of having it is with Jesus.