Tag Archives: Easter

What Might Have Been? What Will Be? Easter’s Answer

By Rev. Cliff Wall

They walked a lonely road of doubt and fear headed for despair. Two men wondering on a Sunday afternoon, “What might have been? What might have been if their teacher had not died?” (Luke 24:21). Doubting the reports of women and angels, who that morning swore that he really was alive (Luke 24:13-35).

What might have been, if that dream had not been devoured by a nightmare? What might have been, if that disease had not come calling? If that precious child had not been lost? If that baby had seen the light of day, or that teenager had walked across the stage? If that parent had not been so filled with rage? What might have been if that mother had lived to see her children have children one beautiful day?

What might have been of that relationship, if I had said something differently or just different? Or if I had said nothing at all? What might have been if I had decided differently? Or if something different—something just and true—had been decided about me?

I wonder, oh how I wonder, about what might have been? What if that accident had not happened? If tragedy had not fallen? If evil had never darkened my door?

So often in this world the beauty and joy of the seed of potential never finds its bloom. Things in this world are really never as good as they could be, and neither are we. Hopes are dashed; dreams are shattered; and the warm light of every life—not matter how dim or how bright— seems to be extinguished by the cold darkness of death.

But those two despondent disciples did not walk alone. A familiar stranger, no stranger to the evil of this world, came along side them, bringing with him Easter’s answer to the question, “What might have been?” Also to the one about what will be?

The promise of Easter is that through Jesus and the power of his resurrection we have a real and living hope, hope that our future is as bright as Christ’s past. We have hope that the potential of what might have been in this fallen world will be far, far better than all we could ever imagine. The glimmer of the good of what might have been in this world, will be infinitely brighter and more brilliant in the world to come. O what a day it will be to see those who never walked, joyously leaping and dancing with Jesus in the blessed Trinity! To see those who never talked singing, “holy, holy, holy is He”!

The darkness of that Friday afternoon, was swallowed up in the light of the victory of Sunday morning. Therefore, it is good; Christ’s death is redemptive. The hopelessness of what might have been has been swallowed up in the victory of what will be because of Easter. Hope has come; hope is with us; hope will come again.

Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? Thanks be to God who gives us the victory of what will be over what might have been through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

Does Belief in the Bodily Resurrection of Jesus Make one a Christian?

So you believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus? Do you believe it was a miracle of miracles that really happened in time and space, an actual historical event, not just a metaphor? If yes, great! But does that alone, belief in the bodily resurrection of Jesus a Christian make? Maybe not!

I do believe it is necessary to believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus to be a Christian, but I don’t believe everyone who believes in it is. I know the reality that many Christian theologians and pastors for philosophical reasons do not accept the bodily resurrection as a historical fact. Because of their naturalist presuppositions they rule out the possibility of supernatural miracles a priori. In this case not only the resurrection is ruled out, but other miracles recorded in the Bible as well.

Since I’ve been a pastor in the United Methodist Church, I’ve had more than a few lay people tell me, to their dismay, that they’ve had preachers who tried to explain away miracle stories in naturalistic terms. The most common story explained this way, apparently, is the one of Jesus multiplying the loaves and the fishes. Rather than actually miraculously multiplying a meager five loaves and a couple of fish (the modern American country boy in me likes to envision this as a few saltines and a couple of sardines) to feed thousands with plenty of leftovers, the naturalist explanation is that Jesus just inspired individuals to share what they really already had with them. Of course, one who would preach this as a mere metaphor for inspired generosity, might be a bit more reluctant to preach the resurrection stories as mere metaphors too even though that is what he or she really believes. Yet, evidently, not everyone is as timid in that regard. I know of churches who have also been alarmed by their pastors denial of the bodily resurrection too. One lay person said a pastor he had in a Episcopal church said he didn’t believe in life after death at all. He taught that eternal life was a metaphor for the good life of peace and justice here in this world as it is and nothing more.

But what if a person really does believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus? Does that mean she or he is authentically Christian? Well, not necessarily. There is another important question. What does the bodily resurrection of Jesus mean to you?

In his book, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Fortress Press, 2003), N.T. Wright gets to this question in his conclusion. There he tells of a Jewish scholar who believes that Jesus was truly bodily raised from the dead; yet he does not believe Jesus was the Jewish messiah or the divine Son of God.

The Jewish writer Pinchas Lapide has declared that he believes Jesus of Nazareth was bodily raised from the dead. Indeed, he believes this far more solidly than many would-be Christian theologians. But this belief does not make him a Christian. For him, the resurrection does not ‘mean’ that Jesus is in any sense, whether messianic or divine, the ‘son of god’. Rather, it means that he was and is a great prophet to whom Israel should have paid attention at the time. ~ N.T. Wright p. 721

So you believe in the resurrection. But what does that mean to you? What do you believe it means about Jesus of Nazareth?

Jesus meant for his miracles to be more than just displays of power; they were signs with symbolic import. They served to draw attention to his identity as the messiah and king of Israel. They also served to reveal his identity as the divine Son of God. As I shared in a previous post when Jesus calmed the storm on the sea, his disciples asked, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4:41 ESV). The answer based on the allusions to the Old Testament present in the story, startling as it may have been, is this man, Jesus, is the embodiment of Israel’s God!

If a person believes that Jesus really was raised bodily from the dead, but that he was only a manifestation of one of many valid gods in a pantheon of myriads of different gods who also may be helpful to connect with an impersonal “ground of being”, are they Christian? If a person believes that Jesus was only one of many ways to be saved are they really Christian? If people believe Jesus was really raised from the dead, but was only a man who achieved divinity as myriads of men before him, or that he was the first man to reach the threshold for optimum God consciousness, does that make them Christian? What of someone who believes Jesus being raised from the dead vindicated him as the greatest moral teacher, maybe even the greatest prophet, but not the divine Son of God in a unique sense? How about someone who sees the resurrection as an indication that Jesus may be their best bet to bring them good luck for success and fortune in this world?

John, who also records Jesus declaring,  “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6), says he wrote his Gospel, “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” (John 20:31). 

The apostle Paul declares:

.. if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. ~ Romans 10:9-10

Belief in the resurrection of Jesus is a requirement for salvation, but not the only one; Confession that Jesus is Lord is as well. Context determines meaning. The God here referred to is no impersonal ground of being which is legitimately manifested through myriads of gods or natural forces. This is the God of Israel who claims to be the one and only true God, the Creator of heaven and earth, who gladly intervenes and acts in history. And this is the personal God, who became incarnate (John 1) in the historical person of Jesus of Nazareth, who also gladly shares the divine title “Lord” with his Son (see also 1 Cor 8:5-6).

Resurrection_(24)
Icon of the Resurrection – Wikimedia Commons

In the ancient world miracles served an authenticating purpose (see Craig Keener, Miracles, (Chapter 1; Baker Academic, 2011). The resurrection of Jesus from the dead vindicated him in his claims and what he taught and revealed about God and eternal life, including salvation and damnation. The resurrection also vindicated the historical claim of the God of Israel to be the one true God and the world’s rightful Sovereign.

N.T. Wright puts it this way:

The resurrection constitutes Jesus as the world’s true sovereign, the ‘son of god’ who claims absolute allegiance from everyone and everything within creation. He is the start of the creator’s new world; its pilot project, indeed its pilot. ~ The Resurrection of the Son of God p. 731

You believe Jesus was raised from the dead? Great! Have you confessed Jesus as Lord in the sense above? Even better!

 

 

Becoming a New Creation for the New Creation

Easter is about much more than confirmation of an afterlife, although that would be a significant implication. Nevertheless, Easter, specifically here referring to the main event of Easter, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, is the firstfruits of a much larger harvest to come, the general resurrection of the dead (see 1 Corinthians 15), and along with it the renewal and rebirth of the creation itself (see Romans 8). The consummation of this new creation is described in Revelation 21 and 22; the story of it’s beginning is found in the stories of Easter.

Jesus was raised from the dead on the first day of the week. That’s the first hint that his resurrection was about new creation. There are other hints as well, but the first day of the week is symbolic of the first day of creation, and in the case of Jesus’ resurrection it is the first day of the new creation. Another clue is that the body in which Jesus was resurrected was not the same as it was before he was raised from the dead. His resurrected body was no longer perishable or mortal; it was, and still is imperishable and immortal.

The body, still physical, flesh and bone, as the gospel accounts make clear (see especially Luke 24:36-43), with which Jesus was raised had been transformed from the one which was previously subject to death and decay, to one that no longer could die. His glorious resurrected body in which he appeared to his disciples on the first Easter was like the body that all believers will receive after the general resurrection when Christ comes again. This promised new body is specifically designed for the New Creation, which will also still be a physical reality. In Philippians 3:21 we find the promise of the new body when Paul there says Jesus, at his second coming, “will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body” (ESV). 1 John says something very similar.

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.”                      1 John 3:1-3 ESV

In this passage from 1 John we get a strong hint about the connection between the resurrected Jesus and the life of believers before the general resurrection of all believers. The promise that we shall be like him when he appears, our ultimate hope, enables us to share in the purity that Jesus presently enjoys in his resurrected human form. According to John this purity sets us at odds with the world, the present age which John says is governed by sinful desire and pride, but is passing away (1 John 2:15-17). In the life of a true believer there is a dramatic change that takes place, and it’s not just a matter of following a different set of rules or principles that will enable us to have our best life now in the world. Instead it is a miracle that takes us out of the fallen world and takes the desires and ways of the fallen world out of us.

When someone believes a change of status and a change of being takes place. Faith moves a person from the status of being justly condemned as a sinner, to being declared righteous before God because of Christ. This also involves new birth, what John calls becoming children of God (John 1:12-13). There is a change in status, but also a change of being, from children of the devil, who live according to desires corrupted by sin,  to children of God, who receive the new heart and the new spirit promised to come under the new covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36:26-27). Through faith in Christ we receive forgiveness and the Holy Spirit, which begins the work of healing our hearts and renewing our spirits by giving us desires to please God rather than ourselves.

The Holy Spirit is just a down payment on a much greater inheritance (See Ephesians 1:13-14), but  make no mistake, he is a wonderful foretaste of glory divine. The new birth brings us out of one realm and brings us into another, the kingdom of God (see John 3). The change of being that takes place puts us at odds with the world because we are no longer of the world. As children of God, we become citizens of a new world, the new heaven and the new earth, and the new Jerusalem, which Revelation describes as eventually coming down from heaven to earth. But our citizenship in it doesn’t begin then, it begins the moment we believe. Children of God are children of the Jerusalem above, which will eventually come to earth (see Galatians 4:26, and context of course).

Back in Philippians, Paul conveys this idea by contrasting those who live to satisfy sinful earthly desires with those whose “citizenship is in heaven” (3:20). Our citizenship is present tense, although the fully consummated benefits of that citizenship we still await as we anticipate the return of Christ and the transformation of our bodies to be like his, the hope that we’re reminded of in the very next verse (v. 21). It is at that point that our spiritual citizenship in the heavenly Jerusalem will become a physical reality as the new Jerusalem comes down from heaven to earth in a renewed and reborn creation. But in the meantime, or the in-between-time, if you will, we live as citizens of the kingdom of God in a fallen and fading world subjected to bondage and decay because of sin, humanity’s rebellion against the Creator.

So Jesus’ resurrection could be considered the first act of new creation, but the new birth of believers is also an act of new creation. Interestingly, after his resurrection, when Jesus meets with his disciples behind closed doors in Jerusalem, after extending peace to them and showing his nail-scarred hands and spear-scarred side, John says “he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit'” (John 20:22). I believe this was an intentional sign-act echoing Genesis 2:7, where God breathes life into the first man. Here Jesus breathes new life, new covenant life, yeah, new creation life into his disciples in anticipation of their receiving the fullness of the promised Holy Spirit.

In 2 Corinthians where Paul is extolling the glory of new covenant ministry he alludes to Genesis 1:3 to explain what takes place in conversion. He says, “For God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (4:6). This is another hint that this is about new creation which becomes all the clearer when we get to 2 Corinthians 5:17 which says, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (compare Galatians 6:15). This new creation life in the fading-but-not-yet-gone fallen world is described in verse 15 as no longer living for self, but for the one who died for our sake and was raised from the dead. By faith we enter into what has been called the “already-but-not-yet” reality of the kingdom of God, the new creation, and the new Jerusalem, meaning it started with the first advent of Jesus, but it’s fullness is yet to be realized at the second advent of Christ. Salvation is about becoming a new creation in Christ who will be fully prepared for the New Creation wherein there is only righteousness and no more sin, wherein there are only saints and no sinners.

In the meantime in the in-between-time, however, we are called and equipped by the word of God and the Spirit of God to become channels through which the ongoing work of new creation continues. In John, before Jesus breaths on the disciples, he commissions them saying, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you” (20:21). He commissions them to proclaim forgiveness of sins and undoubtedly the new birth that goes along with it to bring others into the kingdom of God. The Gospel of Matthew puts it this way: ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (28:19-20). Dare I say, in other words, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Genesis 1:28). What else would we expect from the one who “creates in himself one new man” out of formerly separated Jews and Gentiles (Ephesians 2:11-22) to be restored into “the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24).

And, of course, the new human race began with the God-man, whom Saint Paul, in the midst of his teaching on the resurrection of the body, calls the last Adam (hint, hint). The first Adam, he says, referring to Genesis 2:7, “became a living soul”; the last, Jesus, he says, became a “life-giving spirit” (1 Corinthians 15:45). But, make no mistake, the later no more means that Jesus after the resurrection was just a spirit without a physical body than the former means the first Adam was just a soul (or that you or I now for that matter) without a physical body. In resurrection the essence of human life is no longer the natural and mortal soul of corruptible man infected with the disease of sin passed on to all from the first Adam; rather resurrected bodies will be sustained and maintained forever by the eternal Spirit of the Living God, which is passed on by the last Adam, the God-man, Jesus Christ, to all who believe and thus are saved (see also Roman 5).

To be saved is to be delivered “from the present evil age” as Paul says in Galatians 1:4, to be “delivered … from the domain of darkness and transferred … to the kingdom of [God’s] beloved Son” as he says in Colossians 1:13-14. Peter describes it as “having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire” (2 Peter 1:4), which John describes as having “passed from death to life” (1 John 3:14; also Jesus’ statement in John 5:24). But we are not saved and ushered into the kingdom for our own sake only, but also for the sake of others, so that God may use us to call others “out of the darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). But we can’t call others out of the darkness unless we ourselves are children of the light who are walking in the light (see Ephesians 5 :8-14; 1 John 1:7), else we are just blind and deceived leaders of the blind and deceived both headed for the eternal pit.

Nonetheless, as part of the New Creation inaugurated by the resurrection of Jesus we are to live accordingly, no longer as citizens of the world according to the spirit of this age, but as citizens of heaven according to the Spirit of God (see Romans 8), and as ambassadors (see 2 Corinthians 5 again) of our heavenly home in the fallen world, which should now be foreign to us and we foreign to it.

We enter into the New Creation the same way Christ did, by dying and being raised with him. Easter Butterflies on Cross

“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

Romans 6:3-11

This sets the pattern for entrance into and life under the new covenant and the new creation, which is its ultimate goal. The call of Christ is a call to die to sin and a sinful world, so that we may truly begin to live and walk in newness of life. The pattern of Christian life in the world before Christ returns or calls us home to be with him in heaven is to continue the process of putting off the old and putting on the new until the “body of sin is brought to nothing.” We do this by the power of the Spirit (see Romans 8:13) in hope and joyful anticipation of the resurrection of our bodies when the entire creation itself will be set free and reborn. It is only within this framework that we can begin to make sense of Christian vocation, including morality and ethics.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” 

Romans 8:18-25