The Hope of Easter

Jesus’ resurrection is the basis for a life in relationship, both now and beyond this existence.

PREPARATION FOR EASTER — PART 2

Scripture focus- “The Son of Man must be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal  life.” [John 3:14,15.]

PSALM –– 33:18-22
EPISTLE — Romans 4:1-5,13-17
OT Lesson –Genesis 12:1-4a
Gospel Lesson –Matthew 17:1-9

The world today is in many ways an ugly place.  Hate, war, violence of all kinds justified in the name of religion or sport…. There seems to be a fundamental ‘rot’ in society…. Nature seems to be reacting with catastrophe after catastrophe….  Rust, and decay, disintegration, and obsolescence have made our planet a difficult place to live.   The ‘Psych’ wards are full, and there are not enough counselors and psychiatrists to meet all of the desperate needs of our disintegrating world.

Many people live in small communities like ours to avoid the “big cities” and all the crime, etc.  And then we have a murder!  We concern ourselves about health, and eat right and exercise, and someone gets leukæmia and dies.   Worry and fear tie us up in knots; we don’t know what to do.  We hope against hope that we will survive, but suicide ‘dogs’ our circle of friends, relatives, and acquaintances.

Our Scriptures today have been directing our attention to a feature figure from ‘yesteryear’.  A man who lived in an ungodly setting, but came to stand out as different.

The man Abram was seemingly a little shy and bashful, and very respectful of his family, and by the look of it did not push himself forward in society.  But he was a man who had put his faith and trust in God — Jehovah.  It would seem from his actions that he followed the ancient custom of recognizing the “Living God” in worship.  And so God came to him and invited Abram to join Him in His work, and His plan, a plan to provide a rescue for mankind in fulfillment of His promise to Adam and Eve after their sin. [“Abraham entered into what God was doing for him and that was the turning point.  He trusted God to set him right.” Romans 4:3 MSG]

God’s original plan was to create mankind to communicate with them and have a relationship with them as they enjoyed His creation.  But God is also Holy, and can only remain in a relationship where there is the capacity for a reciprocal, sinless, relationship.  Sin fundamentally changed all that: we now need someone to provide a way for us to get reconciled with God, in order to re-establish a relationship with him.

God provided that way in Jesus Christ.  His death cancelled the debt of sin we owe.  His resurrection is the basis for a life in relationship, both now and beyond this existence.

What then can we learn from Abraham’s experience?  Abraham survived the hardships, the famine, and the separation from his birthplace because he had hope.  He believed that God’s promises for an effective future were legitimate, whether he saw or understood it or not. And of course God gave the ultimate test when He asked Abraham to give up his son, Isaac: the son of the Promise. [Gen. 22, and condensed in Hebrews 11:17-19 “By faith Abraham… offered Isaac… Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death.”]   It was that model of faith that provided the Psalmist in Psalm 33 with the courage to express his confidence that God could be trusted in spite of circumstances.

Jesus’ disciples followed “The Messiah”, but were not always convinced that they were doing the right thing.  So once in a while God would encourage them.   One of those times was the incident mentioned on our Gospel reading: Matt 17:1-9.  Jesus was revealed to them in His radiance and Moses and Elijah as well.  Peter was “blown away” with it all.  But I believe it was one of the things that helped them to “hang in there” when it really got tough.

Jesus gave Nicodemus the strategy for having that kind of hope and trust and faith for himself — and it is for us as well.  Jesus said:

In the same way Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert1 so people could have something to see and then believe, it is necessary for the Son of Man to be lifted up– and everyone who looks up to him, trusting and expectant, will gain a real life, eternal life…  God didn’t do to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was.  He came to help, to put the world right again, anyone who trusts in him is acquitted.”[John 3:14-18 MSG]

Let’s look at Romans 4:13-16:

That famous promise God gave Abraham– that he and his children would possess the earth– was not given because of something Abraham did or would do.  It was based on God’s decision to put everything together for him, which Abraham then entered when he believed.  If those who get what God gives them only get it by doing everything they are told to do and filling out all the right forms properly signed, that eliminates personal trust completely and turns the promise into an ironclad contract!  That’s not a holy promise; that’s a business deal.  A contract drawn up by a hard-nosed lawyer and with plenty of fine print only makes sure that you will never collect.  But if there is no contract in the first place, simply a promise– and God’s promise at that– you can’t break it.  This is why the fulfillment of God’s promise depends entirely on trusting God and his way, and then simply embracing him and what he does.”[MSG]

Eternal life comes by faith- not based on our achievements but on His GRACE: the free gift of unmerited forgiveness.

Eternal life is real and it is for us to take by faith — despite the fact that we don’t have any ‘rights’ to it. So we need to:

  1. Admit that we need it.  [See Hebrews 11:6; I John 1:9]
  2. Believe God and trust him that what Christ did on the cross was adequate for everyone and for every sin and wrong.  [See Heb 7:25; John 3:17; I John 2:2]
  3. Commit ourselves to him completely leaving the results and consequences to him. [Proverbs 3:5,6; Hebrews 4:14-16; I John 2:15-17]
  4. And enjoy an abundant, full, complete life here and eternal life in the ‘here-after’. [See John 10:10]

© 2000 D. H. Friesen

Jesus Saves

Something has gone terribly wrong. Something must be done about it.

(IN PREPARATION FOR EASTER)

The ‘Spiritual’ asks the rhetorical question: “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” Our first reaction is usually “Of course not!”, or  “I would never do something like that!”, or “NO WAY”!   But there is that little “niggle” in our hearts that says, “I’m not so sure”.  And we struggle with the idea, and usually do a poor job of justifying ourselves. There is something in “them” that we recognize in ourselves.

The story is told of a Jewish witness at the Nuremberg trials who, when faced with the man responsible for implementing the “Jewish Solution”, broke down and wept.  When he was asked why he was so overcome, he said “I see me in his eyes”.  We sometimes have said, “But for the grace of God — there go I”.

Are we guilty of having crucified Jesus? For Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, the temptation was to choose independence — an independence from God, attempting to be on a parallel with Him.  “That sin disturbed relations with God in everything and everyone, but the extent of the disturbance was not clear until God spelled it out in detail to Moses”  [Romans 5:13 MSG].  Paul called himself the “Chief of sinners”.  Richard Neuhaus writes:

About the chief of sinners I don’t know, but what I know about sinners I know chiefly about me.  We did not mean to do the deed, of course.  What we have done wrong– they seemed, or mostly seemed, small things at the time.  The word of encouragement withheld, the touch of kindness not given, the visit not made, the trust betrayed, the cutting remark so clever and so cruel, the illicit sexual desire so generously entertained, the angry answer, the surge of resentment at being slighted, the time we thought a lie would do no harm. It is such a long and tedious list of little things.  Surely not too much should be made of it, we thought to ourselves.  But now it has come to this.  It had come to the cross.  All the trespasses of all the people of all time have gravitated here, to the killing grounds of Calvary. [Neuhaus, p. 33]

Paul wrote “All have sinned” [Romans 3:23]. And Solzenitsyn declared, “the line between good and evil runs through every human heart” [Gulag Archipelago].

The prophet Isaiah wrote, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way“.  But notice the wonderful next statement: “The Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” [Isaiah 53:6].  So “we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all…. ‘Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.’ And where these have been forgiven there is no longer any sacrifice for sin” [Hebrews 10:10,17,18].  Because “Jesus Christ the righteous One… is the atoning sacrifice for our sins and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” [I John 1:1,2].

The word ‘Atonement’ could be explained as At-one-ment.  That is, bringing back into fellowship/relationship, or reconciliation.

I’d like to share with you what Richard John Neuhaus says are 4 truths at the heart of ‘Atonement’. [Neuhaus, p.33, 34]

  1. Something is terribly wrong.  When we seriously looked at ourselves (before we gave our lives to God), we found we were like the prodigal son — in a distant land far from home.  God was not near.
  2. Whatever the measure of our guilt, we are responsible for the death of Christ.  Rabbi Hershel used to say, “Some are guilty — all are responsible.”  In order for Christ’s death to be adequate for us, we have to admit that our sins nailed Christ to the cross.
  3. Something needs to be done about it.  We react intuitively — Justice must be done!  The modern world has us approach the issue of guilt from two angles.
    1. One is the “Gospel” of Positive Thinking. You can blame your parents, your genetic make-up, society, the other guy: just not yourself! After all, guilt can put you in the ‘rubber room’! “If you think positively, all of those negatives will leave and you’ll be fine.”
    2. The other tactic is to do the “stiff upper lip”. “I’ll get through it”. “Real men never cry!” “Take your lumps!” “Time heals!” “You’ll get over it!”
      However “both of these options are worse than useless. They are obscene.” It is an attempt to “make peace with the evil they know” [Neuhaus,p.34].

4. Something must be done about what has gone wrong.  Only we cannot do it! Neither “individually or as the human race together can we make up for one innocent child tortured and killed.  How can we make up for Auschwitz, or ‘the killing fields’ of Cambodia”,  or the atrocities of our modern era? [Neuhaus, p.34].

Only someone, who was in no way responsible for the wrongs, acting out of pure love and grace, could  right the wrong and adequately serve justice.  Jesus said “I am the good shepherd.  The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep… The reason the Father loves me is that I lay down my life… I lay it down of my own accord” [John 10:11, 17,18].

And He can be depended on to forgive us and to cleanse us from every wrong.”  [And it is perfectly proper for God to do this for us because Christ died to wash away our sins.] [I John 1:9 LB]  “Work hard for sin your whole life — and your pension is death.  But God’s gift is, real life, eternal life, delivered by Jesus, our Master.” [Romans 6:23 MSG]

Bibliography

  1. MSG- Peterson, Eugene. The Message, NavPress Publishing Group, 1995.
  2. LB- Taylor,Kenneth. Living Bible, Tyndale House, 1971.  (Out of Print.  New Living Translation available from Amazon.com)
  3. Neuhaus, Richard John. “Father Forgive Them”. First Things, March 2000, Number 101.
  4. Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr Isayevich.  Gulag Archipelago. Trans. Thomas P. Whitney, Harper and Row, 1974.

© 2000 D. H. Friesen

Faithful in the Meantime

We are to go out into the world, being salt and light, until he returns.

[Concluding the Apostles’ Creed]
OT Lesson   Isaiah 52:7-10
NT lesson   Revelation 21:1-7

“The resurrection of the body and the Life Everlasting AMEN.”

“God is at work” and as He has “pursued a loving relationship that’s real and personal” [1. Blackaby, Henry T., Experiencing God, Nashville, LifeWay Press 1989] — we have responded.   We’ve invited Jesus Christ into our lives and have discovered that it has changed us.  The Holy Spirit is working to develop the character of Jesus Christ in our lives.

The Apostle John wrote in John 1:12,13 “To those who believed in His name He gave the right to become children of God… born of God.”  And the Apostle Paul writes in Eph. 1:5 that we are “adopted as His sons through Jesus Christ.  And “having believed, you are marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit who is the deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession.” [Eph. 1:13b, 14].

Humanity started out as perfect — without defect– complete– and capable of choice and responsibility. As a result of the sin of Adam and Eve all nature was ‘cursed’ [see Gen. 3] Weeds would make agriculture difficult– antagonism between humans and animals would make living hazardous and the pain of childbirth would remind us that sin hurts.

God had said that when “you eat of it (that is the tree of the knowledge of good and evil) you will surely die.” [Gen 2: 17]. And so from that point on the dying-disintegration.  Cells are dying as well as being reproduced and from adulthood on the dying goes faster than the reproduction.   But God wants to restore our bodies as well as us to Himself.  The “resurrection is God’s counter-fulfillment of a plan whereby He might redeem what had been lost in Eden” [2. Lockerbie, D. Bruce, The Apostles’ Creed, Wheaton, Victor Books 1977, p.130]

The Old Testament had introduced the concept of resurrection in Isaiah 26:19: “But your dead will live; their bodies will rise. You who dwell in the dust, wake up and shout for joy.  Your dew is like the dew of the morning; the earth will give birth to her dead.” And so in I Corinthians 15, Paul presents the logical arguments, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, for the fulfillment of that passage in the model of the Lord Jesus Christ.

So when Christ returns, our bodies will be changed and we will become like Christ [I John 2:3] — only in a changed body could we enjoy God forever “so in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye … we will be changed.” [see I Cor. 15:50-54].  And Paul concludes that because of these facts we can continue to do the work of the ministry God has given us in spite of the circumstances, “Because you know your labour in the Lord is not in vain.”  [I Cor 15:58] This ‘resurrection’ has the purpose of preparing us for the “Life Everlasting.” This ‘Eternal Life’ is not merely an extension of our existence related to time.  It has the connotation of “Outside of time” [3. McGrath, Alister, I Believe, Illinois, InterVarsity Press,1997] The flow of time as we know it here will no longer exist.  It is sometimes expressed as “a forever NOW”.   What it specifically will look like is beyond our ‘ken’ but it is figuratively described as this in a passage in the Revelation.  “Now the dwelling of God is with men and he will live with them, they will be his people.  He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain for the old order of things has passed away.”  [Rev 21: 3,4]

I can hear some people rolling their eyes and saying “So what!  That’s a ‘someday’ thing.  What about the here and now?  What difference does it make now?” I believe Barry Callen summarizes it well in the title to his book on the “End Time”.  He calls it “Faithful in the Meantime.” [4. Callen, Barry, Faithful in the Meantime, Napanee, Evangel Publishing House, 1997.]   He writes:

“The final judgment will establish as enduring reality the nature of the relationship with Christ that was chosen in this life… At death the burden of freedom is lifted; the wealth of freedom spent… Our individual life stories in this present world are significant and have permanent implications in the final unfolding of the divine story” [Callen,  255]

In II Peter 3 [see MSG], the apostle challenges us and reassures us that God is faithful and that His coming is seemingly delayed only in that He wants everyone to respond to Him so that no one will be “lost”.   Not all will respond, but God doesn’t want to lose any more people than absolutely necessary.

So we are to “Go into all the world and preach the ‘Good News’ (of Salvation) to all creation” [Mark 16:15], and  “make disciples, baptizing them, … and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”  [Mat 28:19,20]   We are to be Salt in order to make society taste better and last longer and to ‘Shine’ out our “Light” so that every one can get a clear picture of God and what He’s done for us and can do for everyone [see Matt 5:13-16].  Let us be “Faithful In the Meantime”.

THE APOSTLES’ CREED

I BELIEVE IN GOD, THE FATHER ALMIGHTY, CREATOR OF HEAVEN AND EARTH. I BELIEVE IN JESUS CHRIST, HIS ONLY SON, OUR LORD. HE WAS CONCEIVED BY THE POWER OF THE HOLY SPIRIT AND BORN OF THE VIRGIN MARY. HE SUFFERED UNDER PONTIUS PILATE, WAS CRUCIFIED, DIED AND WAS BURIED. HE DECENDED TO THE DEAD. ON THE THIRD DAY HE ROSE AGAIN. HE ASCENDED INTO HEAVEN  AND IS SEATED AT THE RIGHT HAND OF THE FATHER. HE WILL COME AGAIN TO JUDGE THE LIVING AND THE DEAD.

I BELIEVE IN THE HOLY SPIRIT, THE HOLY CHRISTIAN CHURCH,  THE COMMUNION OF SAINTS,  THE FORGIVENESS OF SINS,  THE RESURRECTION OF THE BODY,  AND THE LIFE EVER LASTING. AMEN

Other resources used:

  1. Alister McGrath, I Believe — Exploring the Apostles’ Creed, Illinois, InterVarsity Press, 1997.
  2. D. Bruce Lockerbie, The Apostles’ Creed: Do You Really Believe It?  Wheaton, SP Publications Inc., 1977.
  3. Holy Bible, New International Version. International Bible Society, 1984.
  4. Eugene Peterson. The Message, Colorado, Navpress, 1993.
  5. Gilbert Staford. Theology for Disciples, Anderson, Warner Press, 1996.

©2000 D H Friesen