resurrection

The Passion and Resurrection of the Christ

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[From a compilation of the Gospel narratives, all of which add insightful details to the trial, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus. These narrative begin in Mark 15, Matthew 27, Luke 23, and John 18.]

Early in the morning the leading priests and the elders met again to lay plans for putting Jesus to death. Then they bound him, led him away, and took him to Pilate, the Roman governor.

Now Jesus was standing before Pilate, the Roman governor. “Are you the king of the Jews?” the governor asked him.  Jesus replied, “So you say.”

But when the leading priests and the elders made their accusations against him, Jesus remained silent.  “Don’t you hear all these charges they are bringing against you?”Pilate demanded. But Jesus made no response to any of the charges.

Now it was the governor’s custom each year during the Passover celebration to release one prisoner to the crowd—anyone they wanted.  This year there was a notorious prisoner named Barabbas. As the crowds gathered before Pilate’s house that morning, he asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you—Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?”

The leading priests and the elders said,“By our law he ought to die because he called himself the Son of God.” They persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas to be released and for Jesus to be put to death.  When Pilate heard this, he was frightened.

He took Jesus back into the headquartersagain and asked him, “Where are you from?”But Jesus gave no answer. “Why don’t you talk to me? Don’t you realize that I have the power to release you or crucify you?”

Jesus said, “You would have no power over me at all unless it were given to you from above. Those who handed me over to you have the greater sin.”

Then Pilate tried to release him, but the Jewish leaders shouted, “If you release this man, you are no ‘friend of Caesar.’Anyone who declares himself a king is a rebel against Caesar.”

Pilate saw that he wasn’t getting anywhere and that a riot was developing. So he sent for a bowl of water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood. The responsibility is yours!”

   And all the people yelled back, “We will take responsibility for his death—his blood be on us and on our children!”

So the governor asked again, “Which of these two do you want me to release to you?”

The crowd shouted back, “Barabbas!”

Pilate responded,“Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?”

“Crucify him!”

“Why? What crime has he committed?”

“Crucify him!” yelled the crowd.

 Pilate responded,“Take him yourselves and crucify him. I find him not guilty.”

So Pilate released Barabbas to them. He ordered Jesus flogged with a lead-tipped whip, then turned him over to the Roman soldiers to be crucified.

The soldiers stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him.  They wove thorn branches into a crown and put it on his head, and they placed a reed stick in his right hand as a scepter. Then they knelt before him in mockery and taunted,“Hail! King of the Jews!” And they spit on him and grabbed the stick and struck him on the head with it.  When they were finally tired of mocking him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him again. Then they led him away to be crucified.

Along the way, they came across a man named Simon, who was from Cyrene, and the soldiers forced him to carry Jesus’ cross.  They went out to a place called Golgotha (which means “Place of the Skull”).  The soldiers gave him wine mixed with vinegar, but when Jesus had tasted it, he refused to drink it.

The soldiers nailed him to the cross, then gambled for his clothes while keeping guard. A sign fastened to the cross above Jesus’ head announced the charge against him. It read: “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” The place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek, so that many people could read it.

The leading priests objected and said to Pilate, “Change it from ‘The King of the Jews’ to ‘He said, I am King of the Jews.’”

Pilate replied,“No, what I have written, I have written.”

The people passing by shouted abuse, shaking their heads in mockery.  “Look at you now! You said you were going to destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days. Well then, if you are the Son of God, save yourself and come down from the cross!”

The leading priests, the teachers of religious law, and the elders also mocked Jesus.  “He saved others but he can’t save himself! So he is the King of Israel, is he? Let him come down from the cross right now, and we will believe in him!  He trusted God, so let God rescue him now if he wants him! For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’”  

Two criminals were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left.

One of them scoffed and said, “So you’re the Messiah, are you? Prove it by saving yourself—and us, too, while you’re at it!”

But the other criminal protested, “Don’t you fear God even when you have been sentenced to die?  We deserve to die for our crimes, but this man hasn’t done anything wrong. Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”

 And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

At noon, darkness fell across the whole land.  At about three o’clock, Jesus called out with a loud voice, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”

Some of the bystanders misunderstood and thought he was calling for the prophet Elijah.  One of them ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, holding it up to him on a reed stick so he could drink.  But the rest said, “Wait! Let’s see whether Elijah comes to save him.”

Then Jesus shouted out again, and he released his spirit.  At that moment the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, rocks split apart, and tombs opened.

The Roman officerand the other soldiers at the crucifixion were terrified by the earthquake and all that had happened. They said, “This man truly was the Son of God!”

The Jewish leaders didn’t want the bodies hanging there the next day, which was the Sabbath.  So they asked Pilate to hasten their deaths by ordering that their legs be broken. Then their bodies could be taken down.  So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the two men crucified with Jesus. But when they came to Jesus, they saw that he was already dead, so they didn’t break his legs. One of the soldiers, however, pierced his side with a spear, and immediately blood and water flowed out.

As evening approached, Joseph, a rich man from Arimathea who had become a follower of Jesus, went to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. Pilate issued an order to release it to him. Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a long sheet of clean linen cloth.  He placed it in his own new tomb, which had been carved out of the rock. Then he rolled a great stone across the entrance and left. 

The next day, on the Sabbath, the leading priests and Pharisees went to see Pilate.   “Sir, we remember what that deceiver once said while he was still alive: ‘After three days I will rise from the dead.’  So we request that you seal the tomb until the third day. This will prevent his disciples from coming and stealing his body and then telling everyone he was raised from the dead! If that happens, we’ll be worse off than we were at first.”

Pilate replied, “Take guards and secure it the best you can.”  So they sealed the tomb and posted guards to protect it.

Early on Sunday morning, as the new day was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went out to visit the tomb.  Suddenly there was a great earthquake! An angel of the Lord came down from heaven, rolled aside the stone, and sat on it.  His face shone like lightning, and his clothing was as white as snow. The guards shook with fear when they saw him, and they fell into a dead faint.

Then the angel spoke to the women.“Don’t be afraid! I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen. Come, see where his body was lying.  And now, go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and he is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there. Remember what I have told you.”

The women ran quickly from the tomb. They were very frightened but also filled with great joy, and they rushed to give the disciples the angel’s message. And as they went, Jesus met them and greeted them. They ran to him, grasped his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t be afraid! Go tell my brothers to leave for Galilee, and they will see me there.”

Then the eleven disciples left for Galilee, going to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go.  When they saw him, they worshiped him, but some doubted.

One of the twelve disciples, Thomas, was not with the others when Jesus came. They told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he replied, “I won’t believe it unless I see the nail wounds in his hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in his side.”

Eight days later the disciples were together again, and this time Thomas was with them. The doors were locked; but suddenly, as before, Jesus was standing among them. “Peace be with you. Thomas, put your finger here, and look at my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!”

“My Lord and my God!”Thomas exclaimed.

Then Jesus told him, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.”

The disciples saw Jesus do many other miraculous signs in addition to the ones recorded in this book.  But these are written so that you may continue to believethat Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing in him you will have life by the power of his name.

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If there is one thing that is more clear than ever, it’s that the world is broken, and I’m not saying this just because Michigan and not Ohio State is in the Final Four.

  • Shooters (who will use knives if they can’t get guns)
  • Sexual harassers and abusers (#metoo movement and human sex trafficking)
  • Families literally imprisoning their own children
  • Love letters to mass murderers (the Parkland Shooter)
  • Twitter abuse that exposes the cruelty that simmers in more people than we knew
  • Racism that is a very real ongoing problem in our culture
  • This Nxvim cult I have been reading about that literally brands and enslaves women
  • Netflix has more and more documentaries about corruption, lies and greed in business

Last week, a friend of Sheila’s was shot by her husband and put in the trunk of his car, where she stayed until one of her six children talked their father into turning himself in.

There is evil at work in the world, and we know it. It’s not just the stories ‘out there’ that get headlines; it's the story of our own life that reveals how all of creation groans as it waits for redemption. (Romans 8:22)

Maybe we have had things done to us that have damaged us. These are the things that we see or experience and we know deep in our souls, “This is not okay. That is not the way life is supposed to be.” We know something is wrong, and we instinctively desire that justice be done, that God deal with evil in the world. The prophet Amos said, “Let justice roll down like a river,” and that resonates with us. (Amos 5:24)

But that will put us in a bind, because we have done things to othersthat deserve condemnation. Something we said or did contributed to the brokenness of this world, and to someone else’s life in particular. We did or said something that was not okay, and honestly, we are the perpetrator, not the victim. Our words or our actions or even our attitudes have hurt others. There are obvious ones where someone is physically hurt, right? But there are more less noticeable ways we go about doing this.

  • Our addictions lead us to use and hurt those around us.
  • Our pornography use demeans and dehumanizes others.
  • Our sarcasm leaves deep scars.
  • Our insecurities cause us to lash out at others who have done nothing wrong.
  • Our need to be in control makes us cruel and manipulative.
  • As parents, we pass on too many of our dysfunctions to our kids, and as kids, we have wounded our parents more than we know.

Let’s be honest: we have all done things that deserve condemnation. There is plenty of guilt to go around.  And this means that if God is going to judge evil, God is going to judge us.

Enter Jesus, the incarnation, God in human flesh.On our own, we are spiritually dead. Our sins have doomed us to be swept away by the justice of God. Jesus came to take that flood on himself, and in so doing bring peace between sinful, fallen humanity and a holy God. And because Jesus was fully God and fully human, as a perfect man he satisfied God’s uncompromising justice against sinful humanity; as God, he revealed God’s unfailing love in his sacrifice of himself to pay the penalty He demands.

“God did not, then, inflict pain on someone else, but rather on the Cross absorbed the pain, violence, and evil of the world into himself… this is a God who becomes human and offers his own lifeblood in order to honor moral justice and merciful love so that someday he can destroy all evil without destroying us.” (Tim Keller)

Or, as John so eloquently puts it in Scripture:

“God so loved the world that He gave his only Son, so that whoever believes on Him will not perish, but have eternal life.  For God did not send His son into the world to condemn the world, but so the world through Him could be saved.” John 3:16-17)

Jesus said his death would rescue us from the ultimate penalty that we deserve for what we have done; his resurrection shows that He has the power to do what He says he will do. He has shown us that, in the midst of this broken world, Jesus loves us enough to give his life so that we can truly live, and he is strong enough to offer the only kind of healing and hope that can save even the worst of us sinners.  And here is where the radical and perhaps even scandalous message of the gospel really kicks in.

  • Jesus came to save those who have been verbally, physically, emotionally or spiritually abused – and those who did the abusing.
  • Jesus came to save those who have been used – and those of us who use others for our own selfish gain.
  • Jesus came to save the cheated on and the cheater, the back-stabber and the back stabbed, the liar and the lied to, the grudge-holders and the grudge creators.
  • Jesus came to save those who self-destruct, and hate, and judge, and lash out, and hurt others.

And since all of us are on this list – probably in every category in some way -  that’s great news for all of us.

2,000 years ago, we were visited by a God who entered the world to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10). That is still what Jesus does today.

No matter what you have done, or what has been done to you, or what you think of Jesus, it is still true: “That by believing in Him you will have forgiveness of sins, the redemption of your soul, and life everlasting.”

 

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The Days We Celebrate (Easter 2017)

1 Corinthians 15The Voice (VOICE)

 Let me remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I preached to you when we first met. It’s the essential message that you have taken to heart, the central story you now base your life on; and through this gospel, you are liberated…. 3-4 For I passed down to you the crux of it all which I had also received from others, that the Anointed One, the Liberating King, died for our sins and was buried and raised from the dead on the third day. All this happened to fulfill the Scriptures; it was the perfect climax to God’s covenant story. 

Afterward He appeared alive to Cephas (you may know him as Simon Peter), then to the rest of the twelve. If that were not amazing enough, on one occasion, He appeared to more than 500 believers at one time. Many of those brothers and sisters are still around to tell the story, though some have fallen asleep in Jesus. Soon He appeared to James, His brother and the leader of the Jerusalem church, and then to all the rest of the emissaries He Himself commissioned.  8 Last of all, He appeared to me…

13 Friends, if there is no resurrection of the dead, then even the Anointed hasn’t been raised; 14 if that is so, then all our preaching has been for nothing and your faith in the message is worthless. 15 And what’s worse, all of us who have been preaching the gospel are now guilty of misrepresenting God because we have been spreading the news that He raised the Anointed One from the dead (which must be a lie if what you are saying about the dead not being raised is the truth)…

Friends17 if the Anointed has not been raised from the dead, then your faith is worth less than yesterday’s garbage, you are all doomed in your sins, 18 and all the dearly departed who trusted in His liberation are left decaying in the ground. 19 If what we have hoped for in the Anointed doesn’t take us beyond this life, then we are world-class fools, deserving everyone’s pity.

20 But the Anointed One was raised from death’s slumber and is the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep in death. 21 For since death entered this world by a man, it took another man to make the resurrection of the dead our new reality. 22 Look at it this way: through Adam all of us die, but through the Anointed One all of us can live again. 

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We live in a world in desperate need of peace.

Terrorism, rumors of wars, persecution, genocide, human trafficking, tension between police and citizens, political fighting, social media frenzies of name-calling and insults. It hits closer to home, too: our families, our workplace, our friendships, our church. Then there is the lack of peace deep inside – the depression, anxiety, despair and shame. We live in a world in desperate need of peace.

I want to talk about how Jesus’ death and resurrection makes peace possible.

There is a Hebrew word, Shalom,that refers to peace with God, within, and with others. In many ways it takes us back to the Garden of Eden, at a place and time when everything was good. We have wandered far from that place of peace and rest, and the history of the world shows that we do a terrible job re-creating peace on our own. The prophet Jeremiah lamented the people who say, “’Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace”; Luke records that Jesus wept for Jerusalem: “If you had only known on this day what would bring you peace.”

The prophet Isaiah said that one day there would be a Prince of Peace; Paul wrote that Jesus is our peace; Jesus said he came to bring a peace that was unlike anything the world could give. When he appeared to the disciples after his resurrection, one of the first things he said was, “Be at peace.”

This promise of peace through Jesus Christ is our hope in a fallen and broken world, and that’s our focus today.

Peace With God

We were created to be at peace with God – pure, holy, unstained by sin. Genesis talks about the close communion of God and Adam; it’s that kind of peace that is the goal. Unashamed, guiltless, not covering or hiding our sins or ourselves.

But sin ruined that kind of peace. And lest we blame Adam, we all contribute. We all choose to do that which appalls a righteous and holy God. Everyone is directed by their conscience; Christians are directed by the Bible and empowered by the Holy Spirit – and yet we still at times choose to willfully choose a path of spiritual, emotional, relational and sometimes physical destruction that we know offends  the God who created and loves us and hurts those around us. We don’t just ignore God or make mistakes; we are rebels. Some of us are just more obvious about it than others.

It not that we are totally unaware. If nothing else, our stories betray us. We want a line between good and evil, a really clear demarcation: “There are evil people and things; there are good people and things.” We want Sauron vs. Gandalf; the Lion vs. the Witch; Captain America vs. the Red Skull; Ohio State vs. anyone else, really.

While those stories are instructive and good, it’s not what we experience in real life. Even the writers of Scripture knew this. Look at any primary character in the Old Testament and find one whose life was a pure as snow. They don’t exist. The line between good and evil runs right through the center of our hearts. It’s why we are awesome parents one day and horrible parents the next. It’s why one day I’m the husband my wife dreamed about when she was a kid and the next day I’m not even close. It’s why our friendships struggle, and our families fight, and even church can feel like a battleground.

The whole world is in a war between sin and holiness, and at times the epic heroes arise and defeat the classic villains, and we cheer (as we should), but more often than not we see that murky middle battleground where the Boromirs and the children who visited Narnia and the Tony Starks struggle to embrace the good and reject the evil. And even then that just reminds us that the epicenter of this battle is in our heart.

We see in the Old Testament how God instituted a plan to begin a restoration project that pointed toward Jesus. It starts with Abraham.

God made a covenant, an agreement with Abraham,  that Paul alluded to in the passage we read today (“ the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus was the climax to God’s covenant story”). God promised that he would bless the world through Abraham and his descendants, who would become the children of Israel. Abraham just needed to be obedient and follow God. To seal the covenant, it was typical at that time for the two parties to kill an animal, dismember it, and walk through the middle as a way of saying, “If I break the covenant, may this be done to me.” In a vision, God appeared to Abraham and walked through this dissected animal alone. In other words, God said, “If either one of us breaks the covenant, may this be done to me.”

Eventually, God renewed this covenant relationship through Moses (the 10 Commandments and all the extra details), and gave his people an incredible amount of instruction on the kind of life that pleases God.

So all the Israelites were now in a covenant with God – they occasionally re-read the Law publicly and reaffirmed that yes indeed, this was the plan. This covenant was a little different in that there were some conditions: if they did good, they would be blessed. If they did bad, they would not. This led to trouble, because the Jewish people were terrible at keeping the Law.  

God initiated a temporary substitute through the sacrificial system, but they had to keep repeating this (for good reason.) It didn’t matter how much or how often the rabbis added more and more laws to try to make sure they could live perfectly. They couldn’t. If anything, the more detailed they got, the more it became clear how far they were from holy.

To make it worse, the cause-and-effect penalties of their sin caught up with them. The conditions of the covenant had to be honored and they were. The wages of their sin were conquest and enslavement. One Old Testament prophet recorded that they sat by the rivers of Babylon and wept as they remembered what they have lost – and what they could have.

They longed for a Messiah, a deliverer, and bringer of hope and peace. It appeared that these people - who were supposed to be the means by which God blessed the world -  had sold their spiritual birthright in exchange for their sin. They had failed to live up to God’s standards even when God had made them clear through Moses.

Now they were scattered, dying, convinced God has abandoned them.

But God had not.

God did bless the world through Abraham’s descendants – but not in a nationalistic sense like the Israelites expected. It was through the lineage of the Jewish people  that Jesus was born. That was the plan all along.

Enter Jesus, God in the flesh, sent to earth to fulfill the demands that God made on himself in his covenant with Abraham. God did not break the covenant; Abraham did. Yet God would pay the price for that sin by taking upon himself the penalty. He would be killed. He would also offer one sacrifice once and for all to fulfill the obligation of the sacrificial system under the law of Moses. On the cross, Jesus was torn for the sins not just of the Israelites, but of the world. Jesus satisfied the requirements of both those covenants while establishing a new one, one that all of us can be a part of.

Why is this important? Because all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. Without Jesus, we are dead in our sins. Our peace with God is broken, and without Jesus there is nothing between us and His wrath. No matter how good we think we are, we have shaken our fist at the heavens and said, “Not your will, but mine be done” over and over again.

But on the cross, the justice and mercy of God meet. God initiates a covenant fulfillment with us even before we are aware of the need for it. Because of the death and resurrection of Jesus, our war with God can end, and we can be at peace with Him. Our sin does not have to condemn us or separate us from God.

We can be forgiven, loved, embraced, even adopted into God’s family so that we are called ‘children of God.’ We are offered forgiveness and hope in this life and an eternity of joy in the presence of God in a New Heaven and New Earth, a reality in which, as Tim Keller says, all that is bad will be undone.

Peace Within

I mentioned a number of things earlier that rob us of peace within: depression, anxiety, shame. We could add anger, bitterness, jealousy, hopelessness, unforgiveness…

Some of those things can be caused by medical issues that a doctor can help (our biology is fallen too). Some of those things we can bring on ourselves because of our sinful choices. Some of things can arise because of sin that has been done to us. I believe the presence of Jesus gives us hope in the midst of all of those things, but there is one primary reason Jesus died and rose again when it comes to peace within. That is to address our guilt and shame for our sin.

Here’s the reality.

On this side of heaven, I will sin because I am not perfect. With the help of the Holy Spirit, the guidance of God’s word and the community of God’s people, I will be remarkably better than I would be without those things. God miraculously frees us from the overwhelming power of sin. Because of Jesus, I am not doomed to be chained by the power of sin. However, the cross and the empty tomb don’t remove the presence of sin. Not yet. I am no longer enslaved to sin, but I can still choose it.

And I do. I’m not perfect. Ask anybody. Neither are you. If you aren’t sure if that’s the case, ask your family. They will fill you in. So what do I do with that?

I could become consumed with perfection and working on my own power – and run myself into the ground trying to achieve the impossible. Then, I will become either insufferably arrogant the more I am successful or sadly self-loathing the more I fail. That’s the kind of righteousness the Bible says is filthy rags. It’s gross. Self-righteousness is not pretty.

Or I can turn to Jesus, the “author and finisher of my faith,” who sees me in my imperfect sinfulness and loves me anyway – and that love includes not letting me stay where I am, but changing and renewing me so that I increasingly become like Jesus. 

Because I have Jesus, I will have a strength I would never have on my own. In my times of doing good, I am driven to worship God, not my own willpower and work, so I avoid arrogance. In my times of failure, I am driven to throw myself at the mercy of a God who is faithful even when I am faithless, and that reminder of the love and tenderness of Jesus moves me out of my self-loathing as I remember that that Jesus knows and loves me, gave His life for me, and is transforming me into His image.

With Others

This changes everything is our relationships. The more we understand how the love of Jesus brought about peace with God, the more determined we will be to pass on that love. And when we see how his death and resurrection show His love – truly see it – we will love Him in return, and it will change us.

What kind of love is that? A radical, self-sacrificing commitment to the good of those around me. It’s what the Bible calls agape love. Jesus died so that I could live; why would I not in some way choose to ‘die’ to myself so that those around me can live? It’s how I honor my Lord. It’s how I pass on the legacy of Jesus.

 In some ways we commemorate this during communion: “This is my body which was broken for you …do this in remembrance.” We can’t die and bring salvation for our sins or the sins of others – we must have Jesus for that. But we can honor what Jesus has done by being broken and spilled out as we show the love of Jesus.

 As followers of Jesus, we ‘die’ to jealousy, envy, anger, pettiness, meanness, pride, selfishness. The Bible insists that we present our bodies as a living sacrifice, that we climb up on the altar and sacrifice everything in us that needs to die. We could never do this on our own power, but we are not alone. We have God’s spirit inside us, his Word in front of us, and His people around us.

 We can do this, because God is with us.

 This is the peace the Resurrected Lord offers to us.

  • Through Jesus, our relationship with God can been repaired so that we are no longer rebels. We are servants, friends, children, kings, priests. As a church we are the bride of Christ, and the bride will be made glorious in preparation for the glorious return of Jesus.
  • Through Jesus, our peace within can be restored as we surrender and then commit our lives to the love and grace of a Risen Savior who is greater than all of our sins. We do not have to live in shame and fear; we can be transparent, bold and loved.
  • Through Jesus, our peace with others flows from this reality. We will want to go into all the world and preach the gospel and make disciples. We will  want everyone so see how the love of a Risen Savior transforms our lives, not for our glory but for the glory of the One who makes this possible.

Taking Off Grave Clothes (John 11)

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany. [Mary and Martha, his sisters] sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.”  But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness is not unto death; it is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by means of it.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.  So when he heard that he was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go into Judea again… Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awake him out of sleep.”

 The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead; and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him...”

On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home. "Lord," Martha said to Jesus, "if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask."

Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again." Martha answered, "I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day." Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?" "Yes, Lord," she told him, "I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world."

And after she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. "The Teacher is here," she said, "and is asking for you…”   Then Mary, when she came where Jesus was and saw him, fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled; and he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept.[1]

 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. "Take away the stone," he said. "But, Lord," said Martha, the sister of the dead man, "by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days." Then Jesus said, "Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?"

So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, "Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me." When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!" The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, "Take off the grave clothes and let him go."

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The physical revival of Lazarus was yet another of the seven miracles that John included in his gospel[2] to fulfill his stated goal: so we would believe that Jesus was who he claimed to be. Jesus himself says this happened “so the Son of Man will be glorified…so that you may believe…you will see the glory of God…for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe you sent me.” In this miracle, we see Jesus establishing that he has has the power to raise the dead. This is important, because the Bible teaches us two key principles that follow from this fact.

First, death cannot stop God from raising us into eternal life. One chapter earlier, John quotes Jesus as saying: “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:28) Martha affirms this. She believes it will happen on the last day. Jesus basically says, “Yes, because of me.”

Second, God can raise us from spiritual death to life in this life. Paul wrote in Romans 8:

“If Christ lives within you, even though the body is as good as dead because of the effects of sin, the Spirit is infusing you with life now that you are right with God. If the Spirit of the One who resurrected Jesus from the dead lives inside of you, then you can be sure that He who raised Him will cast the light of life into your mortal bodies through the life-giving power of the Spirit residing in you.” (Romans 8:10-11)

Jesus infuses us with new spiritual life through His Holy Spirit even before he raises us up to the ultimate glory of eternal life in bodies that are incorruptible and free of the ravages of sin and death.

Matthew records that Jesus healed a lame man so people would know he had the power to forgive sins (Matthew 9). In other words, he did something miraculous they could see in order to prove he could to miraculous things they couldn’t see. Here again, Martha believed in an unseen world of resurrection; Jesus raises Lazarus in the seen world so that people would believe the entirety of his claims. 

But there’s another portion of this story that lingers with me, an odd and even gross detail that was important enough to include. In this midst of this celebration is a sobering reality: even though Lazarus had been raised into new life, he had spent some time in the corrupting power of death, and he stank. And now those who loved him were going to need to hold their noses and get their hands dirty as they unwrapped him.[3]

I realize that this is not the main point of the story. That fact that Jesus has the power to bring the dead to life is the main point of the story. Next week, I am going to focus on the implications that has for our lives. But today I want to focus on a small detail I believe offers something for our spiritual instruction. Remember: Jesus used a physical miracle to prove a spiritual reality. In this case, I think we see a physical analogy that acknowledges an important part of the spiritual reality of what it will look like when we are raised into a new spiritual life in Christ.

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When we move from death to life, it’s glorious but it’s not always pretty.  Let’s start with the glorious part. Our resurrection with Christ saves us from spiritual death. It frees us from the legacy of our sin eating away at us and corrupting us. This is fantastic news.

“You laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him.” (Colossians 3:9-10)

“Put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:22-24)

So it’s glorious. If you have a testimony that includes freedom from bondage to sin, you know this. When Jeff shared his story a couple weeks ago, the glorious power of God at work in his life was made clear. Our new life is glorious. It’s just not always pretty. Zombie stories give us a decent analogy for what sin does to us. It kills us and we don’t know it. We stumble around, falling apart, consuming others, wasting away in ways that are both heart breaking and terrifying.

And Jesus heals us from that.

I was watching a special on the History Channel about Halloween, and in their segment on the history of the zombie in world literature they noted that Jesus was the only ‘zombie’ (person who was dead and came back to life) that came back to give life to others rather than take it away.  The History Channel was not promoting the divinity of Christ, but even they recognized that there is something different and important about Jesus.

But even though we have been brought to life, we spent time dead in sin experiencing spiritual corruption, and there is a legacy that lingers. It’s going to be a process. There’s some cleaning up to do. Can we just be honest about that? Here’s Lazarus celebrating – “Woo hoo! No way! I’m alive!” and his friends are like, “You need to take a bath.”

In heaven, the corruptible will put on the incorruptible (1 Corinthians 15:54). We are not there yet. New life on this side of heaven is glorious but it does not yet equal perfection. We are freed from the controlling power and the eternal penalty of our sin because of Christ, but God made a world in which we reap a temporal penalty for what we have sown (Galatians 6:7).

This is why, if you were dead in greed, or gossip, or sexual sin, you likely won’t walk away from a new commitment to Jesus suddenly freed of the habits and patterns you have formed over the years. We are “being renewed” (2 Corinthians 4:16) and “being transformed by the renewing of our minds” (Romans 12:2) Those are progressive verbs. We still have to “put on the new self” (Ephesians 4:24).

This is not one momentous moment where you announce “Old self out!” drop the mic and walk away with no connection whatsoever to anything you have done before. We walk away from who we were, but when we first start out we are still pretty close to where we started. Distance takes time. Addicts will long for their addiction even as they conquer their old habits. Criminals might spend time in jail even if those they wronged forgive them. Gossips have wounded friendships that need time to heal. 

I often hear people say, “I’ve changed. Why can’t we just move on and forget about who I was?” Well, because you have grave clothes on. They will come off, but it will take some time, and you still stink. You’ve trained yourself to think about people and situations in a land of corruption. You have spent years building a whole system on how you gauge your value and worth in a land of corruption.  

God promises to transform you if you surrender your life to Him, but it’s a process (what we call sanctification).[4] Be patient. You need some unwrapping, and right now you don’t smell new yet.

We must be honest. The church is full of forgiven people who have been given new life in Christ and who stink. I know I do. I might clean up good on a Sunday morning and look fine (theoretically), and I have been raised from death to life by the power of Jesus Christ, but if you know we me at all, you know that there are still some clothes from my time spent in the grave that still need some unwinding.

Back to Romans 8. After Paul talks about new life in Christ, he writes that all of creation groans in anticipation of God’s New Creation in the world to come but has not yet arrived – and that includes those who are children of God:

“Though we have already tasted the firstfruits of the Spirit, we are longing for the total redemption of our bodies that comes when our adoption as children of God is complete—  for we have been saved in this hope and for this future. But hope does not involve what we already have or see. For who goes around hoping for what he already has? But if we wait expectantly for things we have never seen, then we hope with true perseverance and eager anticipation.” (23-25)

We celebrate new life, we take great hope in the total future redemption we can experience because of Jesus – and we recognize that the reason we are full of expectation and hope is that Heaven has not yet arrived. We live in a church community full of people who have walked out of their spiritual graves (yay!) and are trailing grave clothes behind them (yikes). I hope this gives us a realistic expectation of church community.

  • It’s why we celebrate together - and then struggle with each other.
  • It’s why we praise God for redemption – and then beg him to help us be better at forgiving the redeemed around us who wound us.  
  • It’s why we can feel torn between loving Jesus and loving the people who claim to love Jesus.
  • It’s why we can’t hide from others in our walk with Christ. We need others to help us move into the life God has given us.

It’s beautiful and messy on this side of heaven. And it’s in these times that the community of the Church has an opportunity to shine.

God expects the church to move stones and unwrap grave clothes.

Jesus could have enlisted angels or moved the stone himself; Jesus could have knocked those grave clothes off with a word. He didn’t; he let Lazarus’ friends and family do it. This physical reality points toward an important spiritual one:

“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2)

“Therefore encourage one another, and build up one another.” (1 Thessalonians 5:11)

“Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another. In the end, you may be healed.” (James 5:16)

For whatever reasons, Jesus enlists us in His service.

“In the commands for the bystanders to roll away the stone and unwrap Lazarus we learn that although only God can raise the dead, He still uses men to do the things they are capable of doing. That's how the Lord always operates. He does what He does, but we do what we can do. There's no greater joy in the world than … taking off grave clothes for the Lord! We play a part in what He does.”  – John McArthur

I don’t think “joy” is a word that comes to mind, frankly, when I think of helping others get rid of the lingering reminders of their spiritual corruption. I’d like everyone around me cleaned up, thank you very much. I don’t want the hassle of high-maintenance friends or needy family members or other people in church who offend me or make me angry because their words, attitudes or actions still stink. But that’s a crucial reason we do life together. There are 59 “One Another Verses” in the Bible.[5] Why are there so many? Because it’s hard to do life together, but it’s crucial.

I have two tips to offer today on this aspect of ‘life together’: be humble and be wise.

1. Be humble. Get over yourself. For every person you help become free from their grave clothes, someone else is helping you. You might think the lingering effects of someone else’s sin is overwhelming…but I’m telling you, somebody close to you has is rubbing Vicks under their nose when they help you out. There is never room for arrogance or meanness in the church.

2. Be wise.

  • Seek God’s wisdom and truth. Sin is subtle. You can enable someone rather than help them if you aren’t careful. You can shame those you are trying to help if you aren’t careful. You can get pulled into the very sin you are trying to help others be free from. We are to be people of grace and truth, and that balance can be tricky. You will need to pray and read Scripture. You may need to read books on a particular subject or listen to sermons/podcasts. If you can do this without betraying someone’s confidence, you may need to ask an expert you know. Seek wisdom beyond your own feelings and thoughts.
  • Know your boundaries. Do you have a relationship with this person? Will you be meddling or helping? Do you have good reason to believe they will value what you have to say? Are there others around them already doing the unwrapping? Maybe you can help, but maybe you will be in the way. This is part of the things for which you should be praying, and, if appropriate, seeking counsel.
  • If you are helping someone and it feels messy, use your words. Here are four examples for different situations.
  1. “I feel like I need to be honest about you, but I don’t know if what comes out of my mouth will reflect what’s in my heart.”
  2. “I am not your enemy; I am your friend, and because I am your friend we’ve got to talk about this thing in your life.”
  3. “I’m glad you have confided in me, but I don’t know what to do or say right now. Can we just hang out?”
  4. “I think I offended you. I’m sorry.”

So be humble, and be wise.

Jesus does what only he can do: bring the dead to life.

We do what he asks us to do: welcome those who were dead back into the community of the living. And in the process of God raising and we, the church, unwrapping, the glory of God will be revealed so that the world might believe.

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[1] Why did Jesus weep when he knew that he would raise Lazarus from the dead? The Bible is not clear, but I suspect it had to do with a) Jesus’ grief over the calamitous reality of the devastating consequence of what sin does in the world. See “Why Jesus Wept,” http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/why-jesus-wept

[2]  This passage occurs in a broader context. The gospel of John is famous for Jesus’ Seven Miracles. They progress in interesting ways:

  • Water to wine – Jesus shows the power to change elements, and he only reveals this to his mother and servants, two classes of people looked down upon in Jewish culture.
  • Healing the official’s son – Jesus shows power over temporary sickness as well as distance (he doesn’t have to go to the man’s house). This miracle was shown to a Gentile from Herod’s court, one of the oppressors of God’s people.
  • Healing the paralytic – Jesus shows power over long-term sickness as well as his power over the Law. This third miracle is done once again for one of the culturally marginalized.
  • Feeding the 5,000 – Jesus shows power not only to multiply elements rather than just change them , perhaps linking him to God’s provision during the Exodus. This is his first very public miracle, shown to thousands.
  • Walking on water – Jesus shows his power over elements once again, perhaps as another purposeful connection with God as revealed in the Old Testament. The Spirit of God moved over the water in Genesis 1; now John, who made a clear connection to Genesis in the beginning of his book, records the Word of God moving over the water. 
  • Healing the man born blind – Jesus shows he has the power of creation; he doesn’t just heal eyes that had once been good and then gone bad, he creates working eyes where there had been none.
  • Raising Lazarus – Jesus shows his power over physical death, which establishes his power over spiritual death .

[3] Whenever the Bible takes the time to point out that something stinks, this is never a good thing. In Genesis 19, the angels said of Sodom and Gomorrah that “the stench of the place has reached the Lord…”  “And I have made the stink of your camps to come up unto your nostrils: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the LORD” (Amos 4:10). Isaiah 65 talks about God gagging on the stench of rebelliousness and pride and hypocrisy.

[4] See Theopedia’s definition: http://www.theopedia.com/sanctification

[5]http://storage.cloversites.com/wakarusamissionarychurch/documents/59one_another_scriptures.pdf

The Hope of the Resurrection

The following satirical letter to NYU has been floating around the internet for a while:

IN ORDER FOR THE ADMISSIONS STAFF OF OUR COLLEGE TO GET TO KNOW YOU BETTER, WE ASK THAT YOU ANSWER THE FOLLOWING QUESTION  ARE THERE ANY SIGNIFICANT EXPERIENCES YOU HAVE HAD, OR ACCOMPLISHMENTS YOU HAVE REALIZED, THAT HAVE HELPED TO DEFINE YOU AS A PERSON?

I am a dynamic figure, often seen scaling walls and crushing ice. I have been known to remodel train stations on my lunch breaks, making them more efficient in the areas of heat retention. I write award-winning operas, I manage time efficiently. Occasionally, I tread water for three days in a row.

I woo women with my god like trombone playing, I can pilot bicycles up severe inclines with unflagging speed, and I cook Thirty-Minute Brownies in twenty minutes. I am as expert in stucco, a veteran in love, and an outlaw in Peru.

Using only a hoe and a large glass of water, I once single-handedly defended a small village in the Amazon Basin from a horde of ferocious army ants. I play bluegrass cello, I was scouted by the Mets, I am the subject of numerous documentaries. When I’m bored, I build large suspension bridges in my yard. On Wednesdays, after school, I repair electrical appliances free of charge.

I am an abstract artist, a concrete analyst, and a ruthless bookie. Critics worldwide swoon over my original line of corduroy evening wear. I don’t perspire. I am a private citizen, yet I receive fan mail. I have been caller number nine and have won the weekend passes. I bat 400. My deft floral arrangements have earned me fame in international botany circles. Children trust me.

I can hurl tennis rackets at small moving objects with deadly accuracy.  I know the exact location of every food item in the supermarket. I have performed several covert operations with the CIA. I sleep once a week; when I do sleep, I sleep in a chair. While on vacation in Canada, I successfully negotiated with a group of terrorists who had seized a small bakery. The laws of physics do not apply to me.

I balance, I weave, I dodge, I frolic, and my bills are all paid. On weekends, to let off steam, I participate in full-contact origami. Years ago I discovered the meaning of life but forgot to write it down.  I breed prizewinning clams. I have won bullfights in San Juan, cliff-diving competitions in Sri Lanka, and spelling bees at the Kremlin. I have played Hamlet, I have performed open-heart surgery, and I have spoken with Elvis. But I have not yet gone to college.

He’s a fantastic guy, but he is not real.  He sounds good, but neither I nor anyone else I know of will be restructuring their way of life to follow him, or introducing others to him, or starting a Church of The Living NYU Student, or wearing a bracelet (WWNYUSD). It doesn’t matter how great he sounds, he is not real (and neither was the letter). 

If Jesus was not real – if he was not who he said he was – then Christianity has nothing to offer that you can’t find in another worldview, a self-help shelf or a bottle. But if Jesus was who he claimed to be, then He matters in ways that nothing else does.[i]

This is what I want to address today – the reality of Jesus Christ. If you attend here throughout the year, you are going to hear over and over again how Jesus saves and transforms even the most broken and hopeless lives. You are going to here how God is awesome, and Jesus alone is worthy of our praise. You are going to here testimonies about how Jesus enters into our reality and changes us from the inside out. But this Sunday, I just want to talk about the reality of Jesus. [ii] The APOSTLES CREED (which probably dates from the second century) begins like this:

I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only son, our Lord, Conceived of the Holy Spirit, Born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried, [he descended to the dead] on the third day he rose again, he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come again to judge the living and the dead..,”

 If we have grown up in church or been a Christian for a while, we can lose sight of how fantastic this claim is.  The Incarnation says that God came to earth as a human being in order to save us from the penalty of our sins and restore peace between us and God. God made a good world; we break it. Over and over, we do the kinds of things that destroy peace with God, with others, and within. In an unbelievable act of love and grace, God himself took care of the penalty we deserved so that our sins could be forgiven and peace could be restored.  [iii]

 If you think that’s a fantastic claim today, so did those who lived with Jesus.

 THE BACKGROUND

The Jews had been waiting for a Messiah (a Savior) since David. Time and again they ended up enslaved to other nations. By the first century, they had spent several hundred years convinced that the Spirit of God had been removed from them. They were waiting for a Messiah who would do two key things to fix this broken world: defeat the enemy and liberate Israel (in Jesus' day, that was Rome), and purify / rebuild the temple.  Plenty of people claimed they were this promised Messiah.

  1. Judas Maccabeus 160's BC, entered Jerusalem at the head of an army,  purified the temple, destroyed altars to other gods, but was eventually killed in battle.
  2. Judas (of Galilee), Zealot, led revolt against Romans AD 6 (Acts 5). It failed.
  3. Theudas (mentioned in Acts 5.36) claimed to be a Messiah, and led about 400 people to the Jordan River, where he would divide it to show his power.  He was stopped and executed in AD 46.
  4. The Anonymous Egyptian (Jew), with 30,000 unarmed Jews, did a reenactment of Exodus around AD 55. He led them to the Mount of Olives, where he claimed he would command the walls around Jerusalem to fall.  His group was massacred by Procurator Antonius Felix, and he was never seen again.
  5. Simon bar Kokhba ca. 135), founded a short-lived Jewish state  that he ruled for 3 years before being defeated in the Second Jewish-Roman War.  580,000 Jewish people died.

 

No wonder John the Baptizer, while in jail awaiting his death, sent a message to Jesus: “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” This was John the Baptist, who once announced Jesus as, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” He needed to know if Jesus was the real deal.

 Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. And blessed are those who do not take offense in me.” (Luke 7)

That last line seems odd, but remember that the Jews were expecting a Messiah with a sword, not a healing touch.  Jesus is basically saying, ‘Don’t let this trip you up. This is what a real Messiah does.”[iv]

So after doing all these things to show He was who He claimed he was, Jesus’ crucifixion suggested that he was just another failed messiah. He had not freed them from Roman rule and had not restored the Temple as they expected.  Now he was dead and his followers were hiding. Typically, another person would be tagged to continue the movement, usually a family member or relative.

And yet three days after Jesus’ death this movement begins.

  • The early Christians claimed they had seen a Resurrected Messiah at a time when no one believed that individuals would be resurrected. The Greeks thought the soul would finally be rid of the body. The Jews believed in the coming Resurrection where the entire world would be renewed, but they did not believe in the personal resurrection of individuals.
  • They didn’t appoint a successor (which was the normal response at the time)
  • The early Christians said they had more hope than ever before, not because Roman rule was gone but because they had been offered life in a Kingdom that was not of this world.
  • They claimed that Jesus had set them free from a much greater problem than Roman rule – the just and eternal consequence of their sin.
  • They claimed that the community of the church was now the temple, and it was being restored as the people in it were transformed into the image of risen Christ who was at work inside them through His Spirit and His word.
  • They worshipped Jesus at a time when worship of a human was blasphemous to the Jews and potentially traitorous to the Romans. 

The early followers of Christ reordered their entire worldview, changed their view of God, and radically changed their way of life to the point of being willing to die. Why? What had happened to cause them to confidently make this claim? [v]

It was the belief that Jesus had resurrected. He had shown He was the Christ, God in the flesh, by showing his mastery over death.

 “But when they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away – for it was very large.  And entering the tomb, they saw a young man clothed in a long white robe sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed.  But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed.  You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.  He is risen. He is not here.  See the place where they laid Him.  But go, tell His disciples – and Peter- that He is going before you into Galilee, and there you will see Him, as He said to you.” (Mark: 16:4-7) 

Several years later, after a miraculous conversion that moved him from a killer of Christians to an apostle of Christ, Paul would write that the power and hope of Christ’s Resurrection is meant to bring us to life. 

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world… all of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts… because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus…” (Ephesians 2:1-10) 

We are all in need of a Savior. We cannot save ourselves from the sin and brokenness within us and around us.  Nothing outside of us can save us either. We won’t be saved by a new tax system or a higher minimum wage or better health care or another person who will ‘complete us’.  We don’t need a better social circle or more money or amazing sex or the latest I-something. Substitute saviors will never save us.  We know this. They have failed us time and again, and then ones we think are working now will fail us too.

Christ offers to raise us out of sin, despair and death.  As Tim Keller says, because of Christ we are offered the hope that one day “everything sad will come untrue.” The very things that were once a sign of the deadness and despair of sin can be the very things that are a testimony to the life-giving power of Christ. 

That is what Easter offers to us.  The Crucifixion showed us how much God is willing to sacrifice for our good. Our salvation cost Him a crucifixion. The Resurrection of Christ shows us that Jesus has the power to do what He claimed.  We, who are sinful, broken and so often wondering if there is any hope, have an answer. 

“God so loved the world, that He gave His Son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send His son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.”  (John 3:16-17)

This is the heart of Christianity, and it is the hope of Resurrection.

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RECOMMENDED RESOURCES

Cold Case Christianity, J. Warner Wallace

The Reason for God, Timothy Keller

Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis

The Case for Christ and The Case for the Real Jesus, Lee Strobel

The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, by Gary Habermas and Mike Liconna

The Jesus I Never Knew, Phillip Yancey

What if Jesus Had Never Been Born? D. James Kennedy

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis (fiction)

The Sin Eater, Francine Rivers (fiction)

A.D. 30, Ted Dekker (fiction – recommended to me)

The Gospel of John (movie)

 

ENDNOTES

[i]  By way of contrast, the historicity of the founder of other world religious does not carry the same level of importance in other major world religions. Buddhism does not rise and fall on the historical reality of Siddartha – which is good, because the earliest records start 2 to 3 centuries after his death, and some of the trusted manuscripts appear 1,000 years later. Hinduism does not rise and fall on the reality of anyone.  It is not based on historical truth, but revealed principles. (If fact, it sees history as a weak point for other religions, because they become falsifiable.) Islam does not rise or fall on whether or not Mohammed rose from the dead, or was who he claimed he was. He was a prophet, not a Savior.

[ii] For the extra-biblical evidence about the life and person of Jesus, check out an article by J.Warner Wallace, “Is There Any Evidence for Jesus Outside the Bible?”  (http://coldcasechristianity.com/2014/is-there-any-evidence-for-jesus-outside-the-bible/)

[iii] The death of Jesus was understood by the early Christians as a fulfillment of a covenant God had made centuries earlier.When God made a covenant with Abraham in Genesis 15 (and following), he used the standard form of what was called suzerain covenant-making. In typical fashion, Abraham killed some animals, cut them in pieces, and arranged them to walk through. Typically, both parties or just the weaker party would walk through the dissected animals as a way of saying, “If I break our covenant, may this be done to me as punishment.” But then only God, the stronger party, passed through (as a fiery pillar) – but never made Abraham, the weaker party, do the same.

By passing through the slaughtered animal, God was saying that if He didn’t bless Abraham and honor the covenant, God – the stronger, initiating party - would have to pay the penalty. That alone would be unusual, but that wasn’t the most incredible point. God was saying that if Abraham doesn’t keep the covenant, God would pay the penalty for Abraham.

This was unprecedented. God was clearly not a consumer god, paying attention and blessing us because we made him happy.  God was a covenant god, but completely different from the wealthy, powerful lords of earth. He gave the rules, established the penalty of rule-breaking, then committed to paying that penalty for everybody.

What kind of God would do that? A God who arrives in the person of Jesus Christ. On the cross, Jesus fulfilled the conditions of the covenant by paying Abraham’s penalty. We commemorate this every time we partake in communion – His body broken, His blood spilled. The covenant must be honored. Someone must pay for breaking the agreement.

Read more at “The Only Thing That Counts,” http://nightfallsandautumnleaves.blogspot.com/2013/10/the-only-thing-that-counts-galatians-51.html

[iv]  There are at least two key reasons Jesus performed miracles.

Miracles confirmed Jesus’ divine mission

  • He “manifested His glory” at the marriage feast in Cana, so his disciples “believed in Him.” (John 2:11)
  • "Men of Israel, listen to this:  Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through Him, as you yourselves know.  (Acts 2:22)
  • “Even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father." (John 10:38)

Miracles confirmed the message of the gospel  (Hebrews 2:1-4;  John 2:18-21;   Matthew 12:38)

Then the Jews demanded of him, ‘What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?’  Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.’ The Jews replied, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?’ But the temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.” (John 2:18-21)

“...This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.”  ( Hebrews 2:1-4)

“Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Get up, take your mat and walk'? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins . . . ." He said to the paralytic, "I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home." He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, "We have never seen anything like this!"”     (Mark 2:9-12)

[v] “If we are to think in first-century Jewish terms, it is impossible to conceive what sort of religious or spiritual experience someone could have that would make them say that the kingdom of God had arrived when it clearly had not, that a crucified leader was the Messiah when he obviously was not, or that the resurrection occurred last month when it obviously did not.”  - N.T. Wright

 

Could We Live Like This?

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He Is Risen!

 

Luke 22:54-62 (ESV)

54 Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest's house, and Peter was following at a distance. 55 And when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat down among them. 56 Then a servant girl, seeing him as he sat in the light and looking closely at him, said, “This man also was with him.” 57 But he denied it, saying, “Woman, I do not know him.” 58 And a little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.” But Peter said, “Man, I am not.” 59 And after an interval of about an hour still another insisted, saying, “Certainly this man also was with him, for he too is a Galilean.” 60 But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about.” And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed. 61 And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.” 62 And he went out and wept bitterly.

 

Ashamed

 

 

Luke 23:44-47 (ESV)

44 It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour,[b] 45 while the sun's light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Then Jesus,calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last. 47 Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent!”

 

Mourning

 

 

Matthew 28:5-7 (ESV)

But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.”

John 20:11-16 (ESV)

11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb.12 And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her,“Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, "Rabboni!” (which means Teacher).

 

Rescued

 

John 20:19-21; 26-28 (ESV)

19 On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me,even so I am sending you.”

26 Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”

 

Doubting

 

Luke 24:45-48 (ESV)

45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written,that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance and[a]forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things.

John 20:30-31 (ESV)

30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book;31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

 

Despairing

 

Matthew 28: 18-20 (ESV)

18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in[a] the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

 

 

I love the characters in the story of the Resurrection. They are us. The Bible does not surround Jesus with superheroes. Prostitutes, tax collectors, and the demon possessed hung out with him. Before and after he died, his followers scattered in despair. Even after he rose again, people didn’t believe him.

That’s just the way people are. It’s a messy story.

Jesus died and rose to save people who really need saving, people who were dying in some way because of it. 

With the Resurrection of Jesus came an important question: “Can things be different for us too? Do we have to life like that? Or can we live like this – like you?” We don’t want “that,” the way we already know we can live: We can be cowardly, overwhelmed by grief, broken by our sinfulness, doubting, full of despair. Nailed it. But if what you are saying is true, there is a new way to live.

"[Jesus’] purpose in dying for them is that their lives should now be no longer lived for themselves but for him who died and rose again for them.... in Christ [we] become new people altogether—the past is finished and gone, everything has become fresh and new.” (2 Corinthians 5:15-17)

“God has restored our relationship with Him through Christ—not counting our sins against us —and has given us this message of reconciliation. We are now Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were appealing direct through us… We appeal to you, on behalf of Christ, ‘Make your peace with God.’” (2 Corinthians 5:18-20)

Paul is writing this. Paul, one of the very people who were so full of sin, so broken, so dead inside. Paul is the voice of the Resurrected, through whom God wants to spread the Good News to the World. Jesus is alive, and because the dead can live again through the power of God, no one needs to be “dead in their sins.” All can be brought to life through Christ.

  • The cowards can become unashamed. The disciples who hid in fear became the voice of the Gospel.
  • The used can become worthy. The prostitutes and demon possessed were the first to witness the risen Christ.
  • The broken can be mended. Jesus specifically meets with Peter to let him know that God wanted him in his kingdom.
  • Those dead in their sins can be made alive. That which has brought shame and despair can be transformed into boldness and hope.

This is the power of the Resurrection.

We can all live like this.

"I Am What I Am": Resurrection and Grace in 1 Corinthians 15

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In Chapter 15 of the first letter to the church in Corinth,  Paul brings his readers back to the heart of their commitment to Christ. If there if one core truth that ought to provide the foundation for their lives, this is it:

 “Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken a firm stand.  By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.  For what I received I passed on to you as of primary importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve.  After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.  Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.  (15:1-8)

The city of Corinth offered a lot of ideas about what should guide someone's life. It was a city of temptations, pleasure, and distractions of all kinds, full of popular slogans that were easy to say and dreadful to live:

“Everything is permissible” (6:12; 10:23)“The Food for the Stomach and the Stomach for Food” (6:13) •“Let us Eat and Drink, for Tomorrow We Die!”  (15:32)

People in the Corinthian church were not immune to the influence of their city.  Even as followers of Christ, they used the first slogan to justify flaunting their freedom in Christ, the second as an excuse for sexual immorality, and the third to live like there was no tomorrow.  Somewhere, I suspect there is Greek version of YOLO carved in temple stone.

Paul refocuses them on the person of Christ.  Jesus was dead, and He’s not anymore. He conquered death. There is no greater miracle. There is no greater sign of power. There is no other aspect of our faith that trumps this one. If Jesus rose from the dead, everything changes. Paul should know:

"For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. I have worked harder than all of them—yet I can’t take the credit for what I have accomplished.  God has been working through me by His grace. Whether, then, it is I or they who preach this message, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.” (1 Corinthians 15:9-11)

Paul reminds them, “I was who I was.” He earlier referred to himself as "one abnormally born."  This world literally referred to a miscarriage or an abortion. It was a slang term used by the common people in Rome to describe Senators who got into the Roman senate by favor or bribery. They were "abortives"  -  they did not deserve to be there.  Paul says that's who he was.  Then he says, “By the grace of God, I am something different and new.  Look what God’s grace can do.”

Paul was dead in his sins; now he was alive because of Savior who was once dead came back to life, and it changed everything.  Later in the chapter he calls Jesus the “firstfruits,’ which is just another way of saying, “Look what Jesus started. Now, people who are dead can be brought back to life.”

    A God of Resurrection can resurrect you. 

Because Christ died and rose again, those things within us that have died can be brought back to life. Our passions, emotions, longings, loneliness, our despair, our depression, our aimlessness, our grief - all can be made new.

 Because Christ died and rose again, death is not the end. 

“Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you."  (1 Corinthians 15:58)

Comfort One Another With These Words

“Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore comfort one another with these words."                                              1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

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     There are three main observations in this section of Scripture:

Death brings grief.
Because Christ rose, Death does not have the final word. Comfort one another with the hope of the final Resurrection.

   The fact that death brings grief is really not earth-shattering.  People have always grieved death. But I appreciate how the Bible does not look away from real life.  There is no avoidance here.  Life is sometimes very hard, and it does us no good to look away.  There is something about entering into even the most painful emotions  and events that is important in a road to recovery.

    At the time Paul was writing this, the Jews had a variety of opinions about the afterlife, including a concept pretty close to our idea of Heaven, reincarnation, or annihilation.  No matter what they believed, there was a very methodical process to be sure the dead were honored: rituals for a day, three days, a week, a month, three months, a year, and yearly.  It’s not a process intended to consume them with grief, but to help them acknowledge a grievous loss and move on without forgetting the ones they loved.
    But the Greek/Roman culture didn’t just acknowledge grief; they indulged grief. When friends and family died, they hired people to play a dirge on a pipe or trumpet, or  to howl and lament in a dismal manner. They shrieked and tore their clothes and hair; they put dust on their heads, or sat down in ashes. This was a ritual of despair. 
    “Gladiator” contains a scene where Maximus is reunited with his wife and son after he dies.  It’s moving, but it’s just not accurate historically.  The Greeks and Romans  grieved mightily because they thought death was absolutely the end.  In fact the Stoics thought you were absorbed into the universe. Catullus wrote, "When once our brief day has set, we must sleep one everlasting night." 
      Some among the new converts in Thessalonica apparently doubted whether there would be any resurrection.  Those who accepted it were afraid that that the dead were cut off from the hope of eternal happiness with Christ, so their grief was more like the Gentiles in despair, "as those who had no hope."
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     Paul looks back to Christ's resurrection to lay a foundation for why they had a reason to view death differently:

   “For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him." 

     Since Jesus died and rose again, showing his power over death itself, we know that the power of life and death is under God’s control.  Having established that foundation,  Paul writes what is apparently the first written message to the Church about the return of Christ. 

According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.”

     This is a brilliant image, but a little background is necessary to fully appreciate the message.
     In 42 BC, Roman law deified Julius Caesar.  Poets celebrated the divinity associated with Augustus, and across the empire coins, monuments, temples and artwork promoted the cult of Augustus. The language of emperor worships contained a lot of words or phrases with which we are familiar today:

  • "Son of God"
  • "Faith" in the "Lord"
  • "A Gospel" about a "Savior" who brought "salvation"

     The Romans would gather together in something they called ekklesia, an assembly, where they would sometimes wait for the parousia, or triumphant return, of Ceasar ( or a Roman general or emperor) after an important military victory.  The citizens would go out to meet him and then escort him back into the city.  
Trumpets blew; crowds shouted; celebrants waved burning incense as a way of offering thanks for victory. 
      If commentators and historians are correct, Paul uses this image, so familiar to his audience, to describe a spiritual event--the most important spiritual event in this age.  

  • Churches were the true ekklesiai where the faithful citizens of heaven worshipped the true Lord and King
  • The church awaits the parousia, the triumphant return of Jesus, the king who has won the greatest spiritual victory there is. Through his death and resurrection, he has paid the penalty for our sins and thus conquered both physical and spiritual death.  
  • Just as loyal citizens went out of the city to escort Caesar home after a visit to the colonies, believers will go out to meet Jesus at his parousia and return with him in triumph.
  • The fanfare that accompanied the return of Ceasar is earthly; the fanfare that accompanies the return of Jesus will be heavenly. 

     Then, it appears Paul uses another great physical analogy – going to meet the returning, triumphant King in the clouds of the air – to address the fear the new Christians had that the dead would miss out on this great day. Paul wrote:

“Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us.” (Hebrews 12:1, KJV)

   The word for “cloud” here in reference to the multitude of followers of Christ is the same word used in 1 Thessalonians 4.  Paul makes the analogy that when the triumphant King returns, we will join the “cloud of witnesses” – all who have given their lives to God – to usher in the true Emperor and Lord. 
     One day, we will be taken fully into the presence of Christ along with everyone else who committed their lives to him, living or dead.  
     “Comfort one another with these words.”
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 If you are interested in a blog that primarily addresses how we as Christians find hope in the midst of grief and loss, visit (http://learningtojump.blogspot.com)

Between Crucifixion and Resurrection: Two Kind of Roads

(Read Part 1: "Between Crucifixion and Resurrection: A World Without God")   
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  In Luke Chapter 24 we see an event that takes place in the time between the death and the resurrection of Jesus

A time without hope. 
A time where it looked like they had been the prophets of a failed Messiah. 
A time when they tried so hard, but in the end it looked like nothing they really mattered.

Luke 24:13-27
     Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him.He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”
They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days? “What things?” he asked.
“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him;  but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel...  Then beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. 

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     There is a world of hurt in this statement: “We had hoped he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.” Can we all be honest?  There are times when Jesus feels GONE, and even if Jesus were standing right next to us, we wouldn’t be able to see him.
      There are times in life in which we feel abandoned, alone, and hopeless.  The Bible’s honest about it – there’s no shame in acknowledging what we all know to be true.  But those times didn’t last.  They are just seasons the Christ redeems.   
      There was always hope;  a God of Resurrection know how to bring life from death.  I didn’t see it at the times I was struggling, but Jesus was always there, on my Emmaus Road, walking with me. It just took me a while to see Him.
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     So what is the solution? Are there things we can do to get out of these times of despair? I don’t have a magic formula, but the Bible gives us basic principles: 

Psalm 121:1-2
I lift up my eyes to the mountains— 
where does my help come from? 
My help comes from the LORD, 
  the Maker of heaven and earth.
Psalm 123:1-2
Unto you I lift up my eyes, O God who dwells in the heavens… our eyes look to the Lord our God, until he has mercy upon us.”
"My voice you will hear in the morning, O Lord; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto you, and will look up.”  Psalm 5:3
    I hear the language in the Bible over and over again about directing our sight toward God, toward Christ. “I will lift up my eyes…”  We even see this imagery embedded in the story of the Emmaus Road in Luke 24:30:
 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight.
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     How do we look up and find Christ in the midst of despair?  I notice three things in the Emmaus Road story that are instructive.
1)     A community of Christians.  Cleopas was with a friend on the road to Emmaus. Even in the midst of his despair and disillusionment, he walked life's road with a friend. So often, we want to retreat and not let people in to the areas of our hearts and lives that seem desolate.  But we need the company of others!
2)     A study of the Bible.  Among other things, Jesus explained the Word to them.  He opened up the Bible and showed them truths that had always been there, but they had somehow missed.  The Bible is given to us so that we meet the Way, the Truth, and the Life through a message He has preserved for our hope. 
3)     A conversation with our Savior.  It's one thing to read about the Way, the Truth, and the Life - it's quite another to speak to Christ and experience his presences.  We see on the the road to Emmaus that the travelers fellowshipped with Jesus himself.  They talked; they shared supper and communion with Him. We can't talk to Christ like this, but we can pray - we can speak to God, knowing He hears, and that He is near.