Easter: Why the Resurrection of the Body and New Creation Matter

41 The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor. 42 So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; 43 it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. 46 The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. 47 The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven. 48 As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly man, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man. 50 I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

55 “Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”

56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 58 Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

–1 Corinthians 15.41-58 (NIV)

This week we have been looking at the longest biblical exposition of the resurrection of the dead. Paul has been thorough about it, reminding us about the truth of Jesus’ own resurrection and how in it we have a preview of coming attractions regarding God’s New Creation and our own resurrection. What is noticeable in all this is that there is no OT precedent for a two stage resurrection of the dead. This is further evidence that something powerful and unique happened on that first Easter morning and we ignore it at our own peril.

In today’s passage, Paul finishes up his exposition on the resurrection of the body. As we have seen, when the first Christians spoke of the resurrection, they were not talking about dying and going to heaven to live forever in some disembodied state. No, as Paul explains here, the first Christians had in mind bodily resurrection in which our mortal bodies would be raised and reanimated by God’s Spirit, just the way Jesus’ mortal body had been.

This was and is the Christian hope.

When Paul speaks of a spiritual body, he is not talking about some disembodied state. He is talking about what will animate our new resurrection bodies–God’s Spirit. That is why Paul tells us that flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God because flesh and blood or mortal. Our mortal life is in the blood and we must one day die because of sin in our mortal bodies (the first Adam who brought about death). But when our mortal bodies are raised on the Last Day when the trumpet sounds–biblical speech that refers to signaling the New Creation is upon us–when Christ returns with great power and glory to finish the work he started at his First Coming, our bodies will no longer be perishable but imperishable because those who belong to Christ, the second and life-giving Adam. As Paul reminds us in today’s passage, then death will be truly vanquished forever. Neither will we be subject to sickness, decay, or anything else that can go wrong with our bodies. We will be alive and living directly in God’s Presence, never to be separated from him again. Clearly, then, we can see that Paul is not talking about some form of resuscitation of our mortal bodies, but of actual transformation of our mortal bodies.

To be sure when we die there will be an intermediate state where we will go and rest with the Lord as a disembodied spirit (cf. John 14.1-9; Luke 23.40-43; Philippians 1.22-24). To be with Jesus is surely a wonderful thing, but that is not our permanent destination. Our permanent home will be in God’s New Creation where there will be no more suffering, sorrow, hurt, despair, brokenness, loneliness, alienation, sickness, or death. None of it. As we have just seen, we will get to live in God’s direct Presence and for those who love the Lord, this will be something unimaginably wonderful!

“That’s all well and good,” you might say, “but that’s way off in the future (maybe). What does the resurrection of the body have to do with me today?” Just this. In raising Jesus from the dead as first-fruits of the general resurrection of the dead and as the promise of New Creation, God is telling us in a powerful way that creation matters to him and so it should matter to us. If God intends to set his fallen creation and creatures aright in the New Creation, so we who follow Jesus must resolve to work to bring about New Creation in ways that are possible for us and with his help through the Holy Spirit. In Jesus, God himself has given us an example of how he wants us to live. It is the way of the cross and it involves giving our lives completely to God in service to him and others. We can be sure to encounter opposition along the way, sometimes violent and severe opposition, but because we have our resurrection hope, that will not deter us.

Look around God’s good but fallen creation. There is plenty of work to be done on God’s behalf. Jesus’ resurrection reminds us that we need to care about what is going on in this world and open ourselves up to the guidance of his Holy Spirit so that he can use us as his Kingdom agents. By our loving service to God and others, we can have confidence that God will use us to bring his healing love and mercy to others who desperately need it and in doing so, we reveal God’s glory to his broken and hurting world. I don’t know what God is calling you to do–and it doesn’t have to be anything spectacular–but he is surely calling you to do something in his Name and service, and he is asking you to do it simply in the context of your own life. When you say yes to his gracious invitation to have life in Christ, you can be sure that you will be living life to its fullest. You will know what it means to have abundant life and you will have it, not by self-aggrandizement but through selfless and sacrificial love, the same kind of love that our Lord demonstrated when he walked this earth. Think about this. Each of us has the opportunity to mimic our Lord. Is that not just the coolest thing ever?

Here then is the complete package for life. In Jesus’ resurrection we have the assurance of life forever, of being intimately connected to the Source and Author of all life, now by the power and Presence of his Holy Spirit living in us and then in his Direct Presence. We also have our marching orders for this life in which we will find meaning and fulfillment, even as we encounter resistance and opposition. But when the latter happens, we also have confidence that nothing in all creation can ever separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ. We know this to be true because we have the very life of Christ and his first disciples as powerful examples that even in the midst of utter despair, there is real hope. We have real hope because we have a God who loves us and delivers for us in and through Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

If you have not yet discovered this rich secret, take a chance and ask Jesus to come into your life and make you his own. It will be the best decision you ever make. And for those of you who know and enjoy this kind of relationship with Jesus already, take a moment today and stop to give thanks and praise to this wondrous God of yours who loves you, created you to have relationship with him, and took care of knocking down all the barriers that prevented you from having the kind of relationship with God that he intends for you to have.

Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

What Might Our Easter Hope Look Like?

11 While the [lame] man [whom Peter and John had healed] held on to Peter and John, all the people were astonished and came running to them in the place called Solomon’s Colonnade. 12 When Peter saw this, he said to them: “Fellow Israelites, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? 13 The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. 14 You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. 15 You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this. 16 By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has completely healed him, as you can all see.  17 “Now, fellow Israelites, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. 18 But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Messiah would suffer. 19 Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, 20 and that he may send the Messiah, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus.

–Acts 3.11-20 (NIV)

Here is a story that is bound to warm the heart and give us hope. Peter and John have just healed in Jesus’ name a man who was lame from birth and this has attracted a crowd, as we would expect. The apostles have recently been anointed with the Holy Spirit who descended on them at Pentecost and the first thing we notice is our astonishment at seeing (likely) illiterate fishermen speak to the crowd with such power and eloquence. What caused this? When we give our lives to Jesus in faith and are faithful in our obedience to him, we are transformed to the very core of our being. It may not come all at once and it may seem like a struggle at times (perhaps often), but transformation will come to those who give their lives to Jesus

The second thing we notice is the effect of Jesus’ resurrection and the accompanying promise of God’s New Creation to which the Resurrection points. Peter and John followed their Master’s cue in healing the lame. They healed in Jesus’ name, reminding us of the Messianic activities that our Lord demonstrated during his earthly life (e.g., healing the sick, curing the lame, giving sight to the blind, healing the deaf, offering mercy and forgiveness to sinners, etc.). Jesus has ascended into heaven as Lord of the universe and no longer walks the earth. Now his first followers have been blessed with his power to heal so that others might begin to understand who Jesus really is. If Jesus weren’t really alive, if he wasn’t really raised from the dead, what Peter told the crowd makes absolutely no sense at all.

But Jesus is alive and Jesus is Lord, and Peter reminded the crowd in whose Name he was acting so that they might put their whole hope and trust in Jesus and believe. The same is applicable to us today. We are asked to look at what Scripture says about Jesus and believe. We are asked to look at the changed lives of countless believers and believe. Yes, it is sometimes hard to see Jesus in the lives of some who profess to be his followers. But this is not Jesus’ problem; it is the problem of the human condition and sin. It is the problem of half-hearted commitment to Jesus and an unwillingness to give up our desire to be God. It never has been easy to follow Jesus but as we see in this story today, it is well worth our effort when we engage in the struggle through the help of the Spirit.

We are also reminded in this story of healing that creation matters to God and so it should matter to us. Yes, we live in a fallen world and we are fallen creatures. But in raising Jesus from the dead, and continuing his healing and redemptive work through his people and directly through his Spirit, God reminds us that we are not to be “other-worldly” in the sense that we stop caring about this world and its massive needs. No, like Peter and John, we are to roll up our sleeves, deny our selfishness, take up our cross each day in self-giving love and service, and get busy in following Jesus. We may not be blessed with the gift of miraculous healing as the first disciples were, but God can still use us as his agents of New Creation and we must listen carefully for what he calls us to do.

Last, Peter in this story reminds us of the unbelievable love, mercy, and grace of God. Peter reminds his audience that they had rejected their Messiah Jesus and had demanded he be killed. They wanted Pilate to hand over to them a murderer instead of the Author of life. How sad and how typical of the human condition. How often do we demand not Jesus but other lesser and more harmful things in our lives? But despite this, Peter reminds us that God in his mercy is still willing to forgive us because we often act in ignorance, just like the crowd did who demanded Jesus’ crucifixion. We would expect there to be no hope for these folks (and us) but again we are astonished at the great love and mercy of God because God continues to offer us mercy, even when it is undeserved.

What this story reminds us in a powerful way is this. No matter who we are or what we have done, if we are willing to make the effort and turn things around in our life, we can expect God’s healing forgiveness and mercy. If we are willing to repent, i.e., if we are willing to stop playing God and let God be the God of our lives, we have hope where there should be none. Just as the first followers of Jesus found hope in the midst of despair when they realized that he had been raised from the dead, so we too can find real hope in the midst of our own despair if we are smart enough to turn to the Lord of life and be healed. This is only possible because God did raise Jesus from the dead, in part, to demonstrate that in Jesus there really is hope for us, no matter who we are or what we have done. But to have this hope requires humility and a willingness to follow, not lead (at least in the context of our relationship with Jesus).

The resurrection of our Lord provides us with great hope and purpose for living. It reminds us that God can turn our utter despair and hopelessness into real hope, healing, transformation, and redemption. Nothing is beyond the forgiving power of God except our intentional and willful rejection of it. Nothing. The promise of New Creation foreshadowed in Jesus’ resurrection reminds us that creation matters in God’s eyes and so it should matter to us. This means that we need to listen for our marching orders from God and then get busy in carrying them out to the best of our ability. In other words, if we really have faith in Jesus, we must be willing to follow and obey him in our lives. If this is not a recipe for finding meaning and purpose in life, I don’t know what is.

If you are one who finds yourself feeling hopeless, take heart and hope in Jesus. Time and again we are reminded that there is real hope in his resurrection and he invites you to be part of that hope so that you too will be transformed and find new life, both here on this earth and for all eternity.

Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Easter: Why Bodily Resurrection Matters

29 Now if there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized for them? 30 And as for us, why do we endanger ourselves every hour? 31 I face death every day—yes, just as surely as I boast about you in Christ Jesus our Lord. 32 If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus with no more than human hopes, what have I gained? If the dead are not raised,

“Let us eat and drink,
for tomorrow we die.”

33 Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character.” 34 Come back to your senses as you ought, and stop sinning; for there are some who are ignorant of God—I say this to your shame. 35 But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” 36 How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37 When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. 38 But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body. 39 All flesh is not the same: Human beings have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another. 40 There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another. 41 The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor.

–1 Corinthians 15.29-41 (NIV)

In today’s passage, Paul continues to defend the bodily resurrection of Christ (and eventually his followers). As we saw yesterday, without the hope of resurrection, we Christians are most to be pitied because we often have to behave in ways that are counter-intuitive and which go against our natural proclivity toward selfishness. Here Paul talks about his own life and ministry. “Why,” asks Paul, “would I want to undergo suffering, hardship, persecution, and threat of death for some guy who is dead, buried, and gone forever? Just doesn’t make any sense unless you think I am a total moron! No, it makes more sense for me to live a life in which I seek as much pleasure and self-satisfaction as I can since it all comes to an end when I die. And frankly, if Christ has not been raised, you’d be smart to adopt the same lifestyle and philosophy!”

Sound familiar?

Given that Acts 19 does not not mention Paul being imprisoned in Ephesus or him being exposed to wild beasts, it is not unreasonable to think that Paul here is talking about the vehement opposition he probably encountered there. Regardless if Paul faced literal wild beasts, the point remains the same. If Jesus is not raised from the dead, then we’d best get busy and get everything we can because our days are numbered.

Moreover, as Paul reminds us here, it is shameful for any person who claims to be a Christian to deny Jesus’ resurrection. True enough. Without the resurrection, there would be no Christian faith today because the first followers of Jesus would certainly not have seen him as God’s true Messiah, and sadly there are many churches in the West today that deny the bodily resurrection of Christ. Is it any wonder these churches by and large are shrinking and dying? After all, if you don’t believe in Jesus’ resurrection, you really have very little Good News to tell people. We see this sadly illustrated in a recent blog entry from Ben Witherington:

I had just gotten off the bus in a tiny coal mining village in County Durham England, when I saw the Methodist Chapel steward running down the hill to meet me.   It was Easter Sunday and I was scheduled to preach in that little chapel.   The steward came up to me, somewhat breathless and said,  “I’m ever so sorry but Mr. Witherington  I need to ask you a question.”    I said “Shoot”  and he replied “No nothing so drastic as shooting, just a question.”    I said “Go ahead.”    He said “You do believe in the resurrection of Jesus don’t you?”      I said,  “Of course,  that’s what I’m here to preach on.”   You could see the relief written all over his face.  “I’m ever so relieved,” he said,  “because the chap we had last year didn’t.  He rattled on about spring and the beauty of the flowers returning and that sort of drivel.”

No wonder Paul called it shameful when Christians deny the Resurrection. It’s just plain weird.

Then Paul gets to the heart of his teaching about resurrection. He reminds us that resurrection is more than just spiritual disembodiment or existence after death. No, when the early Christians spoke of resurrection they meant bodily resurrection that would be part and parcel of the New Creation. Paul will get much more specific about this later in chapter 15 and we will look at what he says later this week. Right now, what we should take care in noticing is what Paul says about the body. He reminds us that our bodies are God’s not our own, that it is foolish to wonder how God can resurrect our mortal bodies because God is capable of doing anything God wishes. To show how God will transform out mortal bodies into resurrection ones, Paul uses several analogies about planting and sowing. And while all this requires faith on our part, we must also understand that implicit throughout Paul’s argument is the notion that we don’t have to go totally on faith to believe in bodily resurrection. We have our first and actual example of what our resurrection bodies will look like in Jesus! How exactly Jesus could eat and drink and yet materialize suddenly in a locked room is not explained by the NT writers, nor does it need to be. The point is, that we have a preview of coming attractions in Jesus and that must be sufficient for the moment.

So here we have it. Resurrection gives us hope for an eternal future. It gives us meaning and purpose right now because we realize that God values his creation and creatures, and so must we if we choose to believe and follow Jesus. The hope of resurrection also gives us power to endure opposition that will inevitably come when we choose to follow Jesus. We can endure it because we know our suffering is temporary and have confidence that death will ultimately be swallowed up in life. In other words, resurrection gives us a prize on which to keep our eyes.

Here, then, is a powerful antidote for hopelessness and despair. We are reminded that just as God gave the first followers of Jesus new hope and purpose for living by raising Jesus from the dead, so he can with us too. If you are one who suffers from  hopelessness, meaninglessness, or despair, take a chance and turn to the Risen Lord Jesus. Ask him to heal you in his good time and way through the Power and Presence of his Spirit and through the loving support and help from other faithful people. Then work at following Jesus in faithful obedience. You will find, as countless others have, that in losing yourself to the Lord of life you will surely find yourself as well as new life. Thanks be to God through our Lord Jesus Christ!

Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

CT: A Resurrection Prayer

From Christianity Today online.

O Risen Lord, be our resurrection and life.

Be the resurrection and the life for us and all whom you have made.

Be the resurrection and the life for those caught in the grip of sin and addiction.

Be the resurrection and the life for those who feel forsaken.

Be the resurrection and the life for those who live as if you do not.

Be the resurrection and the life for those who do not believe they need resurrection and life.

Be the resurrection and the life in churches that believe they are dying, and in successful churches who don’t know they are dead.

Read and pray the whole thing. Repeatedly in the coming days.

Easter: What Does Resurrection Really Mean?

12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. 20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 24 Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For he “has put everything under his feet.” Now when it says that “everything” has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. 28 When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.

–1 Corinthians 15.12-28 (NIV)

[Jesus said] 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live.

–John 14.18-19 (NIV)

You recall that in yesterday’s lesson, Paul talked about the historicity of the Resurrection, about how we can be assured that Christ was bodily raised from the dead and appeared to several of his followers. We saw that Paul placed a premium on eyewitness accounts (his own included) and in telling the truth. In today’s lesson, Paul continues to lay out his defense of the Resurrection and we would do well to pay attention to what he says.

Apparently there were some in the church at Corinth who denied the resurrection of the dead and Paul strongly refutes this. Most strikingly, Paul reminds us that if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised and his testimony, along with the testimony of other Christians, is a lie, that he is guilty of providing false testimony about God! What a damning and terrible thing to say!

But of course, Paul knows the reality of the Resurrection and so he knows he is not a liar.

Paul also reminds us that if the Resurrection did not take place, then we who are believers are most of all to be pitied. Why is that? Well, first, if Christ was not raised bodily from the dead, then death still reigns. We are still “children of Adam,” that is, we are still dead in our sins. Elsewhere, Paul has reminded us that the wages of sin is death and death is all we have to look forward to if Christ was not raised. Bummer. This is an especial bummer for Christians who are taught to deny themselves, take up their cross each day, and follow Jesus. Who would really want to do that if all they had to look forward to was death? Why would we want to do what does not come naturally to us, e.g., to extend mercy to others to resist our selfishness, etc? It just doesn’t make sense. In fact, it’s just dumb. Heck, just ask any of Christianity’s critics! :-)

But if Jesus was raised from dead, following Jesus most certainly does make sense as Paul explains. If Jesus is raised from the dead, then that means there is life beyond our physical death and will bring purpose and meaning to our lives right here and now. We no longer have to be afraid. We no longer have to be in despair, because in Christ God has conquered death. Later this week we will look at ways in which the Resurrection can bring meaning and purpose to our lives here on earth. Right now, I want to look at what Paul meant by “resurrection.”

In talking about the resurrection of the dead and Jesus’ Resurrection, Paul was not talking about dying and going to heaven to be with Jesus forever. Yes, those who believe in Jesus will certainly be with him when we die. But for Paul and the early Christians, this is not what resurrection meant. As Bishop Tom Wright has put it, Paul was talking about life after life after death. Our bodies will die and we will rest in the Lord in a disembodied state (cf. Luke 23.40-43; Philippians 1.22-23; John 14.1-4). But that is not the end game. The end game is New Creation–God’s New Creation, new heavens and earth, and this is where we will be raised from the dead and have our bodies reanimated by the very Spirit of God. We will get bodies like our Lord’s. They will not be mortal bodies, but immortal ones, not subject to death, decay, illness or any of the other nasty things that can go wrong with our mortal bodies. As Paul tells us here, this will happen when Jesus returns in great power and glory to finish the redemptive work he started.

Frankly, the Church overall in recent years has done a pathetic job in teaching this. I know when I was a young man, I could not say the line in the Apostles’ Creed about believing in the resurrection of the dead because I really didn’t understand what that affirmed. I mean, who among us has seen a dead body resurrected? Every cemetery I’ve visited seems to be doing quite fine, thank you. But Paul and the Creed were talking about our future hope, a hope based on and rooted in the preview we see of coming attractions in Jesus’ own death and resurrection. That is why believing in the historicity of Jesus’ bodily resurrection is critical to the faith. Without it, we have nothing and are left without hope.

What all this means, of course, is that creation matters. God don’t make junk and in the Resurrection of Jesus, one of the things we see is that God is setting in motion his plans to redeem his broken and fallen creatures and creation (cf. Romans 8). Notice carefully that God has decided not to throw everything out and start from scratch. Sin is intolerable to God’s holiness but he is not going to utterly destroy his good creation or his creatures. No, God is going to bring New Creation from the old and when that happens, death will be obliterated forever. Because we know that we are not going to wink out of existence when our bodies die, and because we now have our marching orders from the Lord to love and serve both him and his people, this must lead to meaning and purpose in our lives right now. Look around you. There’s plenty of work to do in the name of Jesus.

Moreover, as Paul reminds us in today’s passage, when we believe in Jesus’ resurrection, we must also acknowledge that Jesus is Lord and Caesar is not. This means that we are to follow Jesus’ orders, not the world’s. We are to act like we believe the Promise and seek to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. This is bound to stir up opposition from the world and from the powers and principalities because when we choose to follow Jesus, we are thumbing our noses at them and nobody, especially the powers and principalities, likes to have others thumb their noses at them. Nobody. What this means, of course, is that you should be prepared to suffer for the Name because you inevitably will. The powers and principalities have been disarmed by the cross of Christ (cf. Colossians 2.14-16) but they haven’t been dealt with in a final way. That too will come with New Creation. But because the Resurrection is real, you can rejoice in your suffering because you know that you are being faithful to your Lord and that your work is not all for naught.

I can’t speak for you, but all of this fills me with great hope. Honestly, I never was able to get very excited about living in eternity in a disembodied state. I guess in the final analysis, I am just too earthy a creature so what Paul is talking about here excites me. I look forward to the day when I can live in God’s New Creation, in his direct Presence, with my new resurrection body (whatever that will look like). I look forward to the day when I am no longer weighed down by this body of sin that burdens me so terribly. I look forward to being reunited with those believers whom I have loved and lost for a little while. And I look forward to loving, worshiping, and serving God in his New Creation, free from the fear of death or hurt or sorrow or separation or loss or anything else that has the power to keep us separated from the Source and Author of all life.

What about you? Does this notion excite you and fire your imagination? If it does, and if you have not already done so, give yourself to Christ and begin living the kind of life now that will become fully in effect then.

Easter: Learning More About the God We Didn’t Expect

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 your 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 first 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. 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. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. Whether, then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.

1 Corinthians 15.1-11 (NIV)

In today’s passage, Paul talks about the basis for believing in the Resurrection. The first Christians didn’t believe in some hallucination. They didn’t believe in the feeling of a ephemeral presence. They believed in the Risen Lord and it was a life-changer for them. It can be a life-changer for us as well.

The term Paul uses above when he talks about receiving the Gospel is a technical term that indicates great care was taken to transmit accurately eyewitness accounts. Repeatedly the NT writers indicate to us that they placed great premium on telling the truth and therefore, eyewitness accounts were carefully preserved after they were validated. Yes, Paul did meet the Risen Christ on the road to Damascus (see Acts. 9.1-9), but he also received the Gospel with its account of Jesus’ resurrection from the first believers who had experienced first-hand the Risen Lord. Jesus wasn’t a figment of their imagination. He was real. There is simply no other way to explain why the Christian faith took off like wildfire.

When God raised Jesus from the dead, he validated who Jesus was and ushered in the beginning of God’s New Creation. More on that later this week. What this means for us right now is that we have real hope. First and foremost, in validating Jesus by raising him from the dead, God reminds us that through Jesus he has taken care of ending our exile from him forever. This is the heart of the Gospel and as Paul reminds us today, God didn’t just make this up on the fly. He didn’t look around at his creation and decide that it wasn’t working and that he’d best go to Plan B. No, sending our Lord to die for us was in God’s plan from all eternity. This reminds us that God is not a capricious God, that he is firmly in control, and that he has acted decisively on our behalf.

Second, in raising Jesus from the dead, we are reminded again in a powerful way that God is a God we did not expect. We look around at our broken world, at the massive suffering and hurt the we and others experience. We long for an omnipotent God, a god of our own making, who will descend to his world and zap all evil and evildoers (as long as we don’t fall into that latter category, that is). We wonder why God just doesn’t come and put everything aright. But that is not how God has chosen to manifest himself. He has chosen to manifest himself as a crucified Messiah and that leaves us baffled. Why would he do that? He has chosen to inaugurate his New Creation through Jesus’ resurrection and promised to return again in great power and glory to finish what he started. Why would he do that? He requires that we live in the “already-not yet,” where evil has been vanquished but not finally, and he asks us to receive this in faith. Why would he do that?

Of course, I don’t have the answers to these questions. Nobody does (and run like crazy from anyone who tells you they do). But this is what it means to live by faith, to have a faith that changes us and others at a fundamental level. The Resurrection reminds us that life does have meaning and purpose, that life is so much more than a biological existence. It reminds us that God has knocked down all the barriers that our sin has erected and invited us into a life-giving relationship with him now and for all eternity. In other words, as Jesus reminded us, life is having a relationship with the living God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Resurrection also reminds us that God’s promises are true and that living in faith isn’t as absurd as it looks at first blush.

Are you ready for that kind of living, with all of its challenges and opportunities? If you are, then say “yes” to God’s gracious invitation to you (if you have not done so already). You know he is a God who will deliver because he is a God who raised Jesus from the dead and gives life where there is none. Thanks be to God through our Lord Jesus Christ! Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

 

Tom Wright: The Church Must Stop Trivialising Easter

Good stuff. Read it all and let it work on you.

The historian must explain why Christianity got going in the first place, why it hailed Jesus as Messiah despite His execution (He hadn’t defeated the pagans, or rebuilt the Temple, or brought justice and peace to the world, all of which a Messiah should have done), and why the early Christian movement took the shape that it did. The only explanation that will fit the evidence is the one the early Christians insisted upon – He really had been raised from the dead. His body was not just reanimated. It was transformed, so that it was no longer subject to sickness and death.

An Easter Message from Bishop Martyn Minns

Via email.

ALLELUIA!  CHRIST IS RISEN!
THE LORD IS RISEN INDEED!  ALLELUIA!

This triumphant cry is circling the globe on this glorious Easter Day and proclaims an event and celebrates a person that changed everything for good. More than that, Easter changed your life and mine because we are an EASTER PEOPLE!

We are a people of FAITH . Not a faith in some obscure philosophy, or some vague hope, but a living faith in a living person, JESUS OF NAZARETH whom we now know to be the CHRIST. But how can we be sure? Our faith rests secure on the evidence of the resurrection and the testimony of . . .

  • women who went to the tomb on that first Easter morning
  • more than 500 people saw him after the resurrection – it was no make-believe
  • Peter and the other apostles whose lives were forever changed
  • the Church throughout the ages
  • and people today who have experienced resurrection power in their own lives as they have come to know, love, and serve Jesus Christ.

We are a people who have known FORGIVENESS. When Jesus cried out, “Father, forgive them,” he was not just declaring forgiveness for those at the foot of the cross on that first Good Friday; he was setting in motion forgiveness for all those who would turn to him. That includes the thief next to him, the apostle Peter, and you and me. No longer do we need to live in the darkness of our sins, separated from God, but we can have fellowship with him. The wall of separation has been broken down – we have been forgiven. And that forgiveness is contagious. Not only have we been forgiven but we have been given the strength to forgive others also.

We are a people set FREE – set free to laugh! Set free to love! Set free to see miracles! Set free to serve! We are also . . .

Set free from FEAR of FAILURE.  Let’s face it: the cross looked like the greatest failure of all – but Easter shows it to be the greatest victory. And we have the promise that the same Holy Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead will also empower us and turn our defeats into his victories.

Set free from FEAR of DEATH.  No longer do we look at death as being the end of everything. No longer are we in bondage to the hopelessness that surrounds death without Christ. Instead, as EASTER people we can look at death and see it swallowed up by Jesus’ victory: the sting is gone!

But perhaps the greatest wonder of all is that we are a people set free to accept or reject God’s love. This Easter Day I am sure that there are many people sitting in churches who have heard the Easter story but have never responded to it – never said yes to the gift of FAITH, the offer of FORGIVENESS, or the adventure of being set FREE. This would be a very good day to respond and become an EASTER PERSON!

AMEN!
The Rt. Rev’d Martyn Minns
Missionary Bishop of CANA

The Resurrection: It Really Does Make All the Difference

Sermon delivered Easter Sunday, April 4, 2010.

Lectionary texts: Acts 10:34-43; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; 1 Corinthians 15:19-26; Luke 24:1-12.

In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

What is the Human Condition?

Good Easter morning! Today of course is Easter Sunday, the day when our Lord Jesus was raised from the dead and death was vanquished forever. Jesus’ resurrection reminds us that God’s promises are trustworthy and true. It means that everything really has changed and today I want to focus on what is our hope of glory.

Because we know the story and have the benefit of 20-20 hindsight, it is easy for us to miss the despair that is in the first part of Luke’s Gospel lesson this morning. The women who went to Jesus’ tomb to finish anointing his dead body did not expect to find an empty tomb or him alive. They expected to find a dead corpse. Despite Jesus telling them otherwise before he was crucified, the women, like Jesus’ other disciples, had no hope or expectation of finding Jesus alive. It simply wasn’t in their frame of reference or life experience. As far as they were concerned, the most wonderful person they had ever known had fallen victim to a monstrous injustice and now he was gone forever. Surely they must have felt very defeated and very alone.

Likewise with Jesus’ disciples. Even when they heard the women’s report of the empty tomb and their encounter with an angelic presence, Luke tells us that the disciples thought that the women’s report was an “idle tale.” After all, as John reports, the disciples were in hiding, afraid of being arrested and put to death like their Master had been. Surely they too felt very defeated and very alone because clearly they too had forgotten Jesus’ promise to them that he would be raised on the third day (see, e.g., Matthew 17:22-23).

And we can relate to all this, can’t we? We, like Jesus’ first disciples, often forget his word and promises to us, that he will never abandon or leave us alone (see, e.g., Matthew 28:20; John 14:18), and we act accordingly. Others refuse to believe the story of the Resurrection, considering it an “idle tale” just as Jesus’ disciples did at first. I have an old friend and former colleague who died recently and he was not a believer. As I read his obituary I was struck by how stark it was. There was an accounting of his life but nothing else. There was not one shred of hope in it. None. It was heartbreaking to read because it reminded me of what can happen to us when we either do not believe in God, stop trusting in his promises to us, or forget them. When that happens, it inevitably leads to fear, loneliness, isolation, and despair.

Where is God’s Grace?

But that is not how it is to be for God’s people. We are Christians and we have the cross of Christ and a Risen Savior. We do not worship some dead guy; how bizarre is that? No, we worship a Living Lord who is our great high priest, who empathizes with our weakness, and who offers us grace and mercy in our time of need (Hebrews 4:14-16). As Peter reminded his audience in our lesson from Acts today, by raising Jesus from the dead, God vindicated him in all that he said and did. We can believe Jesus’ promises to us and take him at his word because God raised him up from death. Simply put, the resurrection validates who Jesus said he was and is—God’s Son and Messiah. He is Lord of all!

For you see, we Christians have Good News in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. By becoming human and dying for us on the cross, God himself took care of the intractable problem of human sin and rebellion. He loves us so much that he bore the just punishment for our sins himself because he knows that none of us can lead sinless lives. In doing so, God made it possible for us to live with him forever. We no longer have to try to do the impossible, we no longer have to try to save ourselves. God has done that for us in the cross of Christ. Thanks be to God!

And by raising Jesus from the dead, God has given us a preview of coming attractions, so to speak, of his New Creation. As Paul reminded the Corinthians (and us), just as sin and death came through a human being, so life and the resurrection of the dead come from a human being. When God raised Jesus from the dead, he vindicated not only Jesus, but also God’s very creation and those of us who are in Christ. As Paul told the Romans in chapter 6, we who are baptized into Christ are baptized into his death. Just as we are united with Jesus in his death, so we are also united with him in his resurrection. In Colossians 1:27, Paul puts this very succinctly when he tells them that we have Christ in us, our hope of glory.

So what does the resurrection mean for us? What is our hope of glory that is in Christ? It means that God values his good albeit fallen creation and plans to redeem it rather than destroy it (and us). We are not destined to live in eternity apart from God or as disembodied spirits. Instead, as Paul writes to the Corinthians, when Christ returns again in power and glory we are going to be part of God’s New Creation, with a new heaven and earth. We who belong to Christ will be raised and get new resurrection bodies like his. Paul explicates this more in 1 Corinthians 15:35-58. We must be careful about supplying too much detail about our resurrection bodies but we know that they will be like Christ’s. Paul calls them “spiritual bodies,” bodies that are superior to our mortal bodies, bodies that will never be subject to sickness or decay or deformity or death. They will be immortal and incorruptible.

Whatever they look like, our new resurrection bodies will be equipped to live in the New Creation where there is no longer any brokenness or discord. And best of all in the New Creation, we will get to live directly in God’s presence with our loved ones who have died in Christ forever. Again, we must be careful about not adding too much detail to God’s New Creation but we can get a glimpse of what God has in mind by reading the last chapters of Revelation and Isaiah 53-55.

Whatever the New Creation looks like, we know that God will wipe away all our tears and sorrows and we will never have to experience the alienation, fear, or isolation we too often experience in our mortal lives. It is a glorious and wondrous vision of what life with God really is all about because we see in it life, perfection, and wholeness that we simply cannot comprehend or imagine. But we would expect this from a God who died for us and in his mighty resurrection vanquished death forever.

Where is the Application?

Besides giving us a wondrous hope for our eternity, what does the resurrection of Jesus have to say to us right now? First, it reminds us that life is more than just biological existence. The resurrection should help us develop an eternal perspective of life because it reminds us in very powerful ways that life does not end with the death of our bodies. Instead, life is a relationship with the Living Lord as Jesus reminds us in his high priestly prayer found in John 17:3.

This, in turn, helps us acquire a radically new orientation about this life. Suddenly our priorities change and our focus turns from pleasing ourselves to pleasing the Lord Jesus because we know that our mortal lives are simply a drop in the comprehensive ocean of eternity. As Paul told the Corinthians, if for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we Christians are the most to be pitied because this life is finite and is not going to end up well for any of us. But when we realize that life is about having a relationship with the Living God, then our priorities must necessarily change. The resurrection is proof that there is more to life than our mortal existence.

Second and related to the previous point, the resurrection reminds us that life and salvation are from God alone. No longer do we have to try to earn our salvation, especially since it is impossible for us to do so in the first place. Instead, God gives it to us freely in Christ Jesus our Lord. But if we are to accept his gracious offer to have life in him forever, Christ requires that we deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him because he wants us to become just like him. Of course, we don’t do any of this by ourselves or on our own. We do it with Christ’s help because we have Christ in us, our hope of glory.

Real life, therefore, no longer becomes a balance sheet for bean counters, where we keep track of all of our “good deeds” versus all of our sins and hope that the good deeds outweigh our sins enough so that we can get our ticket punched. Instead, real quality of life is measured by the quality of our relationship with the Living Christ, who loves us and gave himself for us. As Paul writes elsewhere in Romans 6, we who are baptized into Christ count ourselves dead to sin but alive in Christ because he lives in us and transforms us into his very likeness. And because Christ was raised to life, so we too can count on being raised with him to enjoy God’s New Creation. Do you have that kind of relationship with Christ?

Last, the resurrection reminds us that we are not to live our lives here and now as defeated people, the way Jesus’ first disciples initially were before they were confronted with the reality of his resurrection. I am not suggesting that suddenly you will be immune from all of life’s problems. Nothing could be further from the truth. What I am suggesting is that the resurrection reminds us we have a living Savior who lives in us and is right now, transforming us into his very likeness, and helping us deal with all of life’s brokenness with joy and hope. The resurrection reminds us that a new and better day is coming, that death is not the end, and that God is really in charge of his creation despite appearances sometimes to the contrary. If we are truly resurrection people, our lives will be filled with joy and power, even in the face of adversity and death because we know that beyond our brokenness is life and wholeness.

But that is sometimes hard to remember and live out, isn’t it? Life can get quite, well, yucky. That is why it is so important that we keep praying and reading Scripture, especially the NT, to remind ourselves of the promises of God and how we know they are trustworthy and true. That is why it is important for us to live life together as a resurrection people so that we can let God love us through his people and use us to love and support others when they need it. This is partly what it means to live as a resurrection people. Use the means of grace God gives you to help him empower you to overcome the Evil One and the brokenness of this world.

Summary

We come back to my friend’s recent death and obituary because it serves as a stark reminder of what life without Christ is really like. Without Christ we are on our own and without hope because death is our end. In contrast, I think of my own parents’ funerals or more recently my father-in-law’s funeral. They died in Christ and at their respective funerals there was joy and hope in the midst of tears. Sure, we miss them but we know where they are. We know they are safe with the Lord who loved them and claimed them. They died in the Lord and we know they will be raised with him. It is not because they were “good people.” It is because they were resurrection people who wanted a relationship with God and believed his promise to redeem them through the blood of his Son.

In the death and resurrection of Jesus, God has demonstrated his great love for us. He has taken care of the problem of sin and the alienation it causes; we are no longer separated from the Source and Author of all life! He has defeated death and reminds us that there is a better day coming. We will have new resurrection bodies to which can look forward. We will have a New Creation in which to live. And as we await our final redemption we have Christ in us, our hope of glory, right here and now to help us live not as a defeated people but as a resurrection people. All of this is God’s free gift to us because God created us to have a relationship with him, not for just a few years but forever. That’s good news, folks, now and for all eternity. Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.

An Easter Prayer

O God, who for our redemption gave your only-begotten Son to the death of the cross, and by his glorious resurrection delivered us from the power of our enemy: Grant us so to die daily to sin, that we may evermore live with him in the joy of his resurrection; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

N.T. Wright on the Resurrection

And that’s why ‘resurrection’ is what matters, rather than just ‘going to heaven’. Oh, if you belong to Jesus you will go to heaven to be with him; that’s what paradise means. But that’s just the long, bright tunnel before the new [creation] begins. And when God makes new heavens and new earth, he will raise you from the dead and give you a new body so that you can live in that new world  and, indeed, help God to run it. That’s the deal; that’s what the New Testament promises, even though many generations of Christians have never even begun to realize it.

Now we come to the point. When Jesus was raised from the dead on the first Easter day, it wasn’t simply as though he’d gone on ahead of us through the tunnel and out the other side. In Jesus’ resurrection a bit of God’s future, of God’s new heaven and earth, has come forward in time. You’ve seen the film Back to the Future? Well, the point of the resurrection is that at Easter a bit of the future God’s promised future  has come forwards to meet us, ‘back to the present’.

I know many people find this confusing, so let me try and say it a different way and see if it helps. You know that when it’s ten o’clock in the evening here it’s already ten o’clock in the morning in Australia? Perhaps you have friends or relatives in Australia or New Zealand; sometimes they may phone you, forgetting what time it is here, and they wake you up in the middle of the night. Well, what happens with the resurrection is like this. This whole world is still in the old time  ten o’clock at night, if you like. Evil and death are still at work. We’re all still asleep and we think nothing is ever going to be different. But suddenly we get, not a phone call, but a visit, from someone who is living in New Time. He is already in the new day. He has gone through death and out into God’s new world, God’s new creation, and to our astonishment he’s come forward into our world, which is still in Old Time, to tell us that the day has in fact dawned and that even though we feel sleepy and it still seems dark out there the new world has begun and we’d better wake up and get busy.

Only gradually, and particularly when [the first disciples] met Jesus, with his body fully alive, indeed, more alive than it had ever been, because it had been through death and out the other side–only gradually did they realize what had happened. In his death, Jesus had taken all the sin and death and shame and sorrow of the world upon himself, so that by letting it do its worst to him he had destroyed its power, which means that now there is nothing to stop the new creation coming into being. Jesus’ resurrection body is the first bit of the new creation, the sign of the new world that is to come. In terms of Good Friday as the sixth day, and Holy Saturday as the seventh day, the day when God rested after creation, the day when Jesus rested after redemption, Easter Day is the eighth day, the first day of the new week. This isn’t the end; it’s the beginning.

Christians at the Cross