Review of ‘Byzantium’ (a novel)

Byzantium by Stephen Lawhead
Byzantium by Stephen Lawhead

Here’s the opening sentence of this novel:

“I saw Byzantium in a dream, and I knew that I would die there.”

Puts the reader in a certain frame of mind, doesn’t it?

Byzantium tells the story of Aidan, an Irish monk. Together with his companions, he sets out on a pilgrimage to the eponymous city. From the moment Aidan leaves Irish soil, his life suffers an acute shortage of dull moments. In quick succession, there’s a violent storm at sea, a pirate attack, a shipwreck and another pirate attack. The monks are separated and Aidan is taken captive.

He is enslaved (multiple times), learns to speak the language of the Vikings and that of the Saracens, learns to like foreign food, gets himself entangled in imperial court intrigue, survives a battle in the desert, serves as a slave in a silver mine, gets engaged to marry an Arab noblewoman, survives a battle at sea… It is no wonder that he also suffered a crisis of faith, concluding that God had abandoned him.

What I didn’t like. The cast of characters was very long. In order to keep them straight, I made a list which had 51 names by the time I was through. I wish Lawhead hadn’t given inconsequential characters the dignity of a name and occupation. For example, of the 27 Irish and British characters on my list, at least 15 did little to nothing in terms of plot development.

What I don’t know if I like or not. Only when I’d reached the end of the book did I realise that most of the characters who started out as baddies turned out to be really nice people and some of those who were neutral when first introduced ended up as nefarious villains.

Conclusion. A most enjoyable story! No doubt Mr. Lawhead did tonnes of research, which wasn’t wasted on this reader. Towards the end, there was a presentation of the Christian message which thankfully was neither heavy-handed nor shoehorned into the plot.

What of Aidan’s dying in Byzantium? you ask. I had to wait until page 870 to find out; I shan’t be divulging that here 🙂

Why historians (should) take the resurrection seriously

First, if you’re not a historian, why should you take the resurrection of Christ seriously?

Now on to historians.
The following aren’t historical proofs, but compelling reasons for not discounting the resurrection of Christ as myth:

  1. There was no cultural expectation or precedent that would have led to the invention of the belief in resurrection.
  2. The belief in the resurrection didn’t develop slowly as legend, but was part of bedrock Christian belief from very early on.
  3. (Details in the video below)

  4. There was almost certainly an empty tomb. The dispute in antiquity was how it got that way, and not whether it was empty or not.
  5. There was a significant number of men and women who put themselves forward as witnesses for the resurrection, and many died defending it.


Given these pieces of information, why would a person not believe in the resurrection? Because if there is a God above the laws of nature, He makes a claim on our lives.

The theology of the thief on the cross

Just because the second thief of the cross didn’t know much theology doesn’t mean he didn’t know any theology.

Here’s what he knew:

  1. God is to be feared. But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said–Luke 23:40.
  2. He realises the qualitative difference between the punishment inflicted on him and that inflicted on Jesus. “We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”–Luke 23:41
  3. He understood his biggest problem wasn’t his imminent death, but what awaited him on the other side of death. Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”–Luke 23:42

This should lead us to ask where he got this knowledge from. While hanging from a Roman cross is hardly an ideal time for profound theological reflection. If it wasn’t there already, it would take a miracle from God to put it there at such a time.

He’d probably learned all this earlier, and up to that point it hadn’t seemed relevant to him. And when it became relevant, it was the most important thing to him.

May the Lord awaken in us a saving knowledge!

This post is based on Carl Trueman’s sermon titled The Second Thief on the Cross.

Good Friday

In the cross, in the cross
Be my glory ever
Till my ransomed soul shall find
Rest beyond the river.

Lead me to the cross, where Your love poured out
Bring to me to my knees, Lord I lay me down
Rid me of myself, I belong to You
Lead me to the cross

What did Jesus come to do?

Jesus Christ’s agenda for His ministry was to do His Father’s will. The gospel writers Luke and John used the Greek word dei to convey to their readers what it was necessary for Jesus to do and have done to Him.

Carry out divinely-appointed encounters

“Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”
-Luke 2:49

But he said, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.”
-Luke 4:43

When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.”
-Luke 19:5

Now he had to go through Samaria.
-John 4:4

Suffer and be rejected

And he said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”
-Luke 9:22, parallels in Matthew 16:21, Mark 8:31

“But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.”
-Luke 17:25

“‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ”
-Luke 24:7

“Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?”
-Luke 24:26

Fulfill scripture

“It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.”
-Luke 22:37

He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”
-Luke 24:44

Be lifted up

“Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up.”
-John 3:14

The crowd spoke up, “We have heard from the Law that the Messiah will remain forever, so how can you say, ‘The Son of Man must be lifted up’? Who is this ‘Son of Man’?”
-John 12:34

Gather His sheep

“I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.”
-John 10:16

Rise from the dead

They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.
-John 20:9

Be believed in for salvation

“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”
-Acts 4:12

Be received by heaven until the appointed time

“Heaven must receive him until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets.”
-Acts 3:21

This post isn’t an original idea, but came out of a study Bible.

Why did Jesus come?

The synoptic gospels contain ten purpose statements for Jesus’ earthly ministry, all but two given by Him:

I have come…

Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.”
-Mark 1:38, parallel in Luke 4:43

On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
-Mark 2:17

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”
-Matthew 5:17

“I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!”
-Luke 12:49

“Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.”
-Luke 12:51, parallel in Matthew 10:34

“For I have come to turn
‘a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—
a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’”
-Matthew 10:35

The Son of Man came…

“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
-Mark 10:45, parallel in Matthew 20:28

“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
-Luke 19:10

Have you come…?

Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an impure spirit cried out, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”
-Mark 1:23-24

When he arrived at the other side in the region of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men coming from the tombs met him. They were so violent that no one could pass that way. “What do you want with us, Son of God?” they shouted. “Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?”
-Matthew 8:28-29

Conclusion

Christ came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets. He came to preach and call sinners to repentance.He would seek and save the lost by serving and giving His life as a ransom. His coming would also bring fire and division. Ultimately, He would destroy the forces of evil.

This post isn’t an original idea, but is based on a series of highly academic (i.e. dry) talks.