Tag Archives: resurrection

To simplify . .

How complicated does it have to be? In a world where so much is complicated – technology, getting help, simply handling the everyday things we use – do the big questions have to be endlessly complicated as well? What about the decisions? Perhaps not. Paul writes (in today’s reading, 2 Timothy 2:8-15)

“Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David–that is my gospel”

2 Timothy 2:8

a simple summary – and a good one. Paul is chained as a prisoner, but seems to think imprisonment worthwhile, in the hope that his efforts and endurance will help others to find salvation – “safety” – in the same way, through Jesus. His concern with outsiders comes from Jesus, and is a reminder for us. He doesn’t tell us where “the saying” comes from – a hymn, a bit of worship text, a poem?, but is underlines his point:
Jesus is our focus, a leader reliable enough to follow through death to life beyond. (You have to be very sure of a leader to go on that campaign with him!) He reminds us of the importance of enduring, of keeping going – for it is those who continue their loyalty to him who will gain the benefit.

But Jesus is not like us in being possibly unfaithful. He keeps faith, whatever we do, and that is part of the difference. Jesus is remembered as the one who was raised from the dead – the great evidence of God’s approval of the man and his message. His pioneering of that journey is vital.
Jesus is also a descendant of David – not just the Messiah (“Great David’s greater Son”, to quote a hymn of ours), but one who, coming in that tradition, fulfills and advances it.

So is it all that simple? “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David–that is my gospel” 2 Tim 2:8. Yes, and no. Yes, that is a good summary, and it does tell us where we should be focussing and who we should be following. No, because it is a summary, and to understand the summary you need to read the whole argument.

Paul goes on to that in verse 14 “avoid wrangling over words”. There are 2 sorts of discussion:

  • one is a point scoring contest, an attempt to win. It can go on for a long time as people twist words, facts, anything
  • another involves careful listening, building with others a deeper and better picture of an important reality.

Paul knows only too well how pointless the first is. Words are terribly inexact things, but they are the best means of communication we usually have. There is a danger in using them – of confusion, of point-scoring competition, of giving the wrong picture, an inaccurate picture, a picture that looks OK to me but has a totally different meaning for the other person.

You see the dilemma, and its solution. We try to work out our faith, to understand at the deepest level we are capable of. But when we are in danger of getting too clever, or too totally confused/bemused

“Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David – that is my gospel”

2 Timothy 2:8

That instruction can be given without qualification

“Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David–that is my gospel”

2 Timothy 2:8

It’s a Revelation!

There is also a comment on Exodus 14 and 15 here, and four on John 20:19-31 as Good Doubt, Constructive Doubt, John 20:24-, and Why.

For some people, Revelation is a book of horrors and nightmares, but I want to convince you otherwise. We have 6 readings from Revelation in the next 6 weeks, and they have some positive things to say. So Revelation 1:4-8 starts off with the offer of free gifts. Not a bad strategy, but are they worth having? – you judge:

grace and peace be yours from God” verse 4

Not just God being nice to us, although we don’t deserve it (good!), but also we are given grace. I wonder if we take that seriously enough. Peace – again, not only are we no longer in rebellion against God, but we are given peace, not to worry about everything ?! not bad, and not finished:

“by his sacrificial death he has freed us

free gifts in 8 verses – its enough to get you in the habit of Bible-Reading! But there’s more. There is a good deal here about Jesus. We tend to think of Jesus the preacher and teacher, but this is later:

“Jesus Christ, the faithful witness “

to God’s ways and nature, which we need to know about;

“first to be raised from death”

The first, not only one who will be resurrected.

“ruler of the kings”

Now in power, exercising great power, in a way we still need to learn about.

“first and last”

Alpha and Omega, the A-Z of the Greek alphabet. We might say something like “Pioneer and Last Word”.

Was . . Is . . is to come.

This is a different picture, and an important one – the Lord of power, who won the highest place by obedience in accepting the lowest.

Free Gifts, from a Lord with power and honour, and then there’s us:

“He loves us “

You can’t truly say that of many in power, but Jesus has demonstrated the point, and still does!

“made us a kingdom of priests” ?

We are all to bring people to God, and God to people; here we are told it is what we are for.

Why? “to serve his God and Father” can you think of anyone better to serve? even yourself? (do you live up to his standard?). So here we are, in Revelation, blessed with Free Gifts, given by a Risen and Powerful Lord, so that we may not live selfishly and idly, but be equipped and ready to serve God in a ministry to all the world. Surely that is worth paying attention to?

Why Resurrection?

Where does the Resurrection of Jesus fit into Christian thinking? So much seems already complete on Good Friday: Jesus had become High Priest and offered one sacrifice for all time; he has given his example, and his body and blood. Yet the resurrection is central in early preaching, for two main reasons.

First (as we see in 1 Corinthians 15:19-26) because the power of death has been broken. Someone has come back. So the perspective of this letter – and all Christians – is longer than a human lifespan. (So verse 19, “If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied” – but our perspective is eternal). Many people like to think their loved ones continue after death – but without any reason for their hope. Jesus gives reason, and structure, to that hope.

Secondly, the resurrection transformed the disciples, because God raised Christ. This was most dramatic for Paul. As Saul the Pharisee, he was sure Jesus was a false teacher: his attitude to the Law and Tradition; his taking authority to himself; and the claim to be Son of God – all, in Saul’s thinking, condemned him. But then Saul, persecutor of Christians, met the risen Jesus. Since he was alive, by the power of God, he must be right – and all Saul’s ideas wrong where they differed. The resurrection of Jesus is the most wholehearted affirmation of his life and work.

So, the Resurrection shows life beyond death, giving a new perspective to human life. It proves Jesus’ authority to be that of God the Father. And so it reminds us that Christianity is Christ – we are his followers, he is our Lord.

April Fool Easter?

It’s not often Easter falls on 1st April. (Yes, I looked it up! It has happened once before in my lifetime – 1956, and will come again in 2029,2040, but not then till 2108). I mention it because it seems to fit with Mark 16:1-8 – a funny end to the gospel, as the women run from the tomb, afraid? We almost want to ask, “Are you serious?” (Yes, verse 8 is the end, although there are 2 other endings given in most bibles, they are not in the best manuscripts, and look like attempts to “round off the story” from other gospels).

We can suggest all sorts of things:

  • Mark wanted to explain how unexpected this was, adding to the authenticity. If you were going to invent a story – be more plausible!
  • Better: He continues the theme of the failure of Jesus followers (the men are no better!) – which emphasises what God does, and the hope for imperfect believers (yes, like us!) later.
  • And perhaps: This is the end of part 1. Part 2 is being written by the believers for whom Mk wrote – they know about the spread of the Church (it has reached them in Rome), about the importance of the Resurrection, and the power of the risen Christ. What Mk is saying – to us as well – is “Now, write the next chapter”

Fear of the unknown is real in today’s Church, too. As we face changes, there will be voices that cover the fear with cynicism or ignorance. Perhaps we can go back to the good old days? Perhaps the changes we don’t like thinking about will never happen? But no, what is past brings us to our present. The present we need to face with faith.

“We just have to carry on as we have in the past”. No. The past contains some big mistakes. In Wales we have failed to engage with younger people, or indeed to evangelise their parents and grandparents, for half a century now, and unless we find the courage to do so, the Church will die out in Wales with us – and we will have to answer for failure, complacency, and unfaithfulness. (There may be other fears and failures where you are – something to think about).

And that is why it is important that the women were afraid, and that they got over their fear. If you look at Acts 10:34-43, you will see how Peter felt all sorts of doubts about going to a Gentile – it took a dream, and a summons to show him God’s way, but the result was vital.  He went beyond his fears.  If you look at 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 (another reading set for Easter Sunday) Paul was not surprised his friends in Corinth were daunted when some of their congregation died, and they wondered if they had somehow missed out, or made a basic mistake in the meaning of the gospel. He had faced death himself, more than once, and could sympathise, but also remind them that the Christian Good News was, in 2 words, “Jesus, and Resurrection”.

Peter and Paul are both clear that the Christian faith stands, and faces fear, on the Resurrection of Jesus. That did 2 things:

  • it meant life had to be lived with a new perspective and horizon, no longer just for 70 years (more or less), but for life and eternity. It challenged fear of death, and of illness.
  • It meant Jesus was right. God raised him, and underlined all that he had taught and done. Fear of the unknown is now limited – God knows. We have reason to learn to trust Jesus.

What we face is not new, except in detail. The shadow of death, the fear – of the unknown, the unexpected, or just of not coping, is still real. It is a fear that needs to be faced, with a risen Lord.

Resurrection

You don’t need modern science to tell you that dead people stay dead.  True, in my lifetime there have been changes of definition – we used to talk of heartbeat or breathing, and now both can be replaced by machines for a time.  But if you resuscitate a dying person, you still have to deal with the reason why they were dying in the first place.

So, when Matthew tells us of Easter Morning (Matthew 28:1-10), he is not saying that the crucified and buried Jesus has been resuscitated.  He is very carefully saying (as Luke says in Acts 10:40) that Jesus has been raised from the dead.  He is the same, and not the same.  Recognisably the same person, his body seems to work under different rules, and is clearly not weak and failing.

We’d love to know more.  What exactly is involved? How does this happen?  And we are not told.  Perhaps it would be beyond us.  We are given reasons to believe, but no explanation of the mechanism.  Matthew is careful to lay out reasons: Jesus had warned his disciples, there was prophecy, the tomb is empty – despite the guard, and the difficulty that causes the authorities.  Perhaps most important, I cannot think disciples lived new lives, and went to their deaths, for a lie.

Matthew is keen to explain that the risen Jesus continues the relationship with his disciples that has been the most important part of their discipleship.  As time went on during his ministry, they didn’t learn a system, progressing from elementary to standard and advanced.  They got to know him, what he was like, what he thought important, how he used the power and gifts of God.  That would continue.  It might not be an easy beginning: all had made mistakes earlier, but now, they had to come to terms with the fact that at Jesus betrayal and trial and death, they had all failed – seriously.  Re-forming that relationship with Jesus would be difficult, but vital.

That is one of the important things about Easter for us.  Like those disciples, we face the challenge of building a new life.  Even if we have been Christian for decades, it is always a new life, resisting the easy slipping back into the habits and ways of the surrounding world.  Can we live in the way he still lives, following his lead, keeping close?  It always has been a challenge, and still is.  We don’t have to make the journey to Galilee, but seeing Jesus, and what he is doing, is very much part of our Easter agenda.

Fitting it all together

The gospel reading this Sunday is long – either the full account of Jesus’ Passion from Matthew, or a shorter version.  That leaves us to try and make sense of all that is going on.  It is rather like a detective story.  Different events, perhaps connected, but is there a pattern?  It all comes together at the Cross, as Jesus dies, with the last strands tied up at the Resurrection.

Let me try and bring two major strands together. One picture of Jesus comes from the prophet Isaiah, who spoke of a “Suffering Servant”.  It doesn’t make easy reading:

Isa 53:6 All of us were like sheep that were lost, each of us going his own way. But the LORD made the punishment fall on him, the punishment all of us deserved.

His suffering is, somehow, for us. By his death, he sets us free. It’s not obvious – partly because it is not flattering. It means I need someone else to die in my place. Coming to terms with that is part of the offence of the gospel – like the reminder that Christian life begins with repentance, and trusting God to do for me what I am incapable of.

But I talked about a detective story. Alongside this theme of Suffering for us in the way Isaiah described, there are others. Perhaps the easiest is Jesus the Messiah King:

Mat 21:5 “Tell the city of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you! He is humble and rides on a donkey and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

On Palm Sunday, Jesus rides into Jerusalem, cheered by excited crowds.  All through his ministry, he had spoken of the Kingdom of God (Matthew calls it the Kingdom of Heaven), and slowly his friends came to understand that it didn’t mean a revolution against the Romans. It meant a community of people, for whom “God rules” – God in charge, directing lives, activity, priorities.

It seems that Jesus was the first to put together these 2 great ideas – the King, and the Servant. 2 ideas which nobody else had imagined could combine in one person!  But don’t think that is all there is. We could talk about why it was important that his identification with us included suffering, so that all who suffer and have suffered know he understands. We could talk about Sacrifice, and how Jesus is both priest and sacrifice. Or we could see that through the language of the “Lamb of God”.  That’s not a complete list! There are so many things brought together, resolved and explained at the cross. But if that is difficult to focus on, or to remember for more than a minute, just take the two.

Jesus is the Suffering Servant. Isa 53:5,6  But because of our sins he was wounded, beaten because of the evil we did. We are healed by the punishment he suffered, made whole by the blows he received.  All of us were like sheep that were lost, each of us going his own way. But the LORD made the punishment fall on him, the punishment all of us deserved.

Jesus is the promised King  Psa 89:3,4  You said, “I have made a covenant with the man I chose; I have promised my servant David, ‘A descendant of yours will always be king; I will preserve your dynasty forever.’ “

and if nobody expected those to come together, that is why it was unexpected!

The direction of Power

The story of Jesus visiting his friends and raising Lazarus from the dead (John 11:1-45) is a powerful introduction to the crucifixion and resurrection – though Lazarus is brought back to human life, and will die again, and Jesus is resurrected, to eternal life with no further death to face.  You can see why we read it on Passion Sunday, looking forward to the final events of Jesus’ earthly life. It stands with the raising of the widow’s son at Nain, and of Jairus’ daughter, as signs of Jesus power, even over death.

But it is not only Jesus Power, it is about his motivation. In fact there are at least 2 other things to see in this story.  Jesus cares about these people. They are friends. He knows how different the 2 sisters are – Martha will meet him with forthright words, Mary with emotion. Jesus accepts that. He sympathises, and is moved to tears himself. Yes, his power, and this action, is important – but he is no showman, manipulating his audience to do tricks. Lazarus restored life will be a witness, and a support to the family.

So we learn about Jesus power, but also about his sympathy and relationship with this family and its members.  Thirdly, again importantly, we see how his conversations deepen the faith of Martha, Mary, and the others there. Martha: “Yes, Lord, I Believe that you are the Messiah”. Mary just comes to Jesus and kneels at his feet. For the moment, they are entirely bound up in their bereavement (which would have had serious consequences for their lives). Yet it will not be long before the faith now dawning and strengthening will be essential to them as Jesus disciples are scattered after his execution.

Are we just onlookers? I hope not. We need to know each of those 3 things, and to know them not just intellectually, with book learning.

  • Jesus is powerful. Some idea of what he can do is vital for us to trust.
  • Jesus cares. Even minor characters – the ones we might call unimportant – get loving and sympathetic treatment.
  • Jesus wants to talk with us about faith, life, and where we are going. Only when that happens can we find our way – His way – forward.

I imagine Mary said many times, “Why did it have to be like this?” We could answer, we are so glad it was like that, and written down for us to benefit!

Distraction – and focus on the important (Kingdom 2c)

Religious people have a sad reputation for arguing over trivialities.  I wish I could claim it was undeserved, but too often religion has been seen as trivialising, competitive, irrelevant – and the criticism has sometimes been just.

It’s a relief, then, that when Jesus is approached by a group of Sadducees, who did not believe in the resurrection or afterlife, with a trick question about relationships in heaven, he is not distracted.  Luke 20:27-38 has a basis in Deuteronomy 25:5-, regulations designed to safeguard families and their property.  The Sadducees had been foiled earlier in chapter 20.  Demanding to know about Jesus’ authority, they had been unable to answer his counter-question about the authority of John the Baptist.  Now, they want to make Jesus, with his belief in resurrection, look silly, or simply to distract him into a pointless speculation.

Jesus gives an answer which is straightforward and helpful.  Heaven will be different.  People raised to eternity will have different relationships, and surely a clearer focus on God and his plans.  He goes on to use the book of Exodus (part of the 1st 5 books of our Old Testament, which the Sadducees accepted as authoritative) to suggest afterlife.  If God can introduce himself to Moses at the Burning Bush as “God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob”, then they must still be alive in some way.  He IS their God, not WAS.  It is not an argument we might have thought of, but very much in the logic of this group. (see Exodus 3)

So, can we avoid the trivial, time-wasting and meaningless?  Perhaps.  But will we be able to focus clearly and sympathetically on what is really relevant and important, in God’s terms?  That is the challenge of Christian life in any age.  Jesus is a strong example and motivation.  Not only will he not be distracted in this exchange, but he will shortly go to his death.  All the gospel writers make that the climax and focus of their story.  Whether it will also figure in our story and conversation is a matter of daily decision, and focus.

I am grateful for Paul’s words (2 Thess 2:16f): “Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word.”

Constructive Doubt (Thomas)

This Sunday we remember Thomas, reading of his doubt in John 20:24-31. Thomas is also remembered as the traditional founder of the Church in SW India, as a disciple of great loyalty (John 11:16), and one who could speak out and gain an explanation others probably also needed (John 14:5).
John 20:24ff teaches us a good deal about the proper place of doubt. Thomas missed Jesus at Easter, and wants evidence. It says something for the disciples’ relationships that he was still with them a week later, when Jesus again appears. Jesus is not angry at Thomas, but offers his battered body as proof. Verse 27 refers to doubt (or disbelief or faithlessness, according to translation), suggesting that it is not the opposite of faith, at least for those of Thomas personality. We need to allow questions and doubt, (not cynically and unendingly, but) to reach a more firmly grounded faith.
We don’t know if Thomas accepted that invitation to probe, but whether it is the wounds, or Jesus knowledge of his words, the reaction is remarkable. “My Lord and my God!” It seems that going through his doubt has brought him further than those who did not share that experience. His words are an embarrassment to those who cannot accept Jesus deity, but also to those who have no intention of being ruled, or living as disciples committed to obedience to a master.
Jesus’ reaction contrasts those who “see” him and those who will not. This is a reference to those who shared his company on earth, but perhaps also to those who “saw” his identity as Messiah, and as “God with us”. We may not live in the first century, but will find it easier to trust and follow as we recognise Jesus identity, and place in God’s plans for the universe and for us.
John ends his chapter recording the purpose of his writing – to bring readers to believe in Jesus and find life. The miracles he refers to in verse 30 are those of Jesus ministry, but should we include additionally the miracle of life given through faith in him?

Easter summary (Easter 6c)

Coming near the end of the Easter season, we might ask what we have learned.  John 14:23-29 tells us Jesus words “those who love me will keep my word” (keep my commands in other translations) which raises the question of why we would want to.

Jesus also claims “I do as the Father has commanded me” John 14:31.  There is a clue.

I think the Easter season gives us time to absorb two big ideas.  The first is life beyond what is seen.  Against the constant temptation to limit our interest to what we can see, what is available now, the Resurrection widens our horizons and greatly increases the scale of reality.  Yes, we shall have to give an account of our use or abuse of all God’s gifts – but just as we learn to look at God’s gifts rather than our own abilities, so we grapple with eternity rather than 70 years life, more or less.  The universe is bigger and better than we think.

The second big idea, not denying that the Resurrection of Jesus has all sorts of things to say to us, is simply: “Jesus was right!”.  God endorses, in the strongest way possible, his teaching, his life, his sacrificial death.  At all the points where we might have wondered “Is that the right way?”, “Is God really like that?” or just “You must be joking!”, God says again “This is my Son, listen to him“, as he had at the Transfiguration, and in part at Jesus baptism (Mark 1:11, Luke 3:22, quoting Psalm 2:7).  Jesus spells it out to Phillip, when asked “Show us the Father“, he says in effect, “I have” – and in the Resurrection, the Father agrees.

Of course, that is not the end of the story.  We shall have to learn to live with it, and with the Holy Spirit (watch this space  . . ).  It will take much of the rest of the (Church) year to look at details and specifics, but Easter has set the scene:  Life is bigger and has more potential than you thought, and Jesus is right!