The Resurrection audio (4MB)
Something that I find annoying is walking in on the middle of a really good conversation.
Or turning up late to a movie – it’s never quite the same if you miss the start.
Or, you know, when you’re channel flicking and you come across a really interesting scene in a film and you keep watching but you’re still kind of trying to fill in the gaps to work out what’s happening.
Of course this is not a problem with James Bond films though because in these the story line is always basically the same and completely predictable, and you know the bad guys always lose and he always gets the girl.
And then there are the movies you’ve seen before, and you don’t mind watching them from the middle – like, The Sound of Music, for example.
And then some movies are such an ingrained part of you that you barely even need to watch them, because you can practically recite them from start to finish. For me, this is not a movie, but my DVD of the Les Miserables concert. I can actually recite that entire musical from start to finish. I thought about doing that for your listening pleasure this morning … but then I thought, maybe not.
Well becoming a Christian is a lot like coming in on the middle of a really good conversation.
Or perhaps a better analogy, is that we were all channel flicking in life, and some of us suddenly stumble across the resurrected Christ. We pause. We turn the volume up. We go, ‘wow, I haven’t see this movie before. This is different. What’s this about? This has got my interest.' We keep watching. Awhile into it we go, ‘yep, I believe in this’, I’m gonna give my life to this. We become disciples of Jesus. We keep watching … and watching …. and watching … (and some Christians never do anything much more than watch, occasionally hit rewind, re-live the good bits, stay on the couch) … and the movie seems as though it’s never going to end …
Many of the early believers found this frustrating. Coz they’re like, ‘We’ve been following Jesus for a few years now and he still hasn’t come back to finish the story … how long can we possibly be waiting for his return?’ Well, it’s 2010 now, and we’re still waiting … and the faithful who’ve gone to heaven, they’re still waiting too. And what has the church done in the meantime?
Here’s what’s very common … a lot of Christians today never really get the resurrection, because they didn’t go back and learn the story from the start. They never understood the basic concept of sin, the fall of humanity, and the consequence of this, which is death. And so, it might sound strange, but many Christians have never really been taught what the cross or the resurrection has achieved.
Other Christians have a different problem: they decide that they’ve seen the good bits of the movie and they don’t need to keep watching … … they never really get that they are now characters in the story … and because they don’t know how the story’s going to end, they change the channel … they disengage … Sunday at church is like going to see a good movie that you’ve seen before – you can recite the scenes you know off by heart – and you think ‘I love this movie – it really is a great story. I’m so glad I’m saved and I’m going to go to heaven to be with Jesus.’ They don’t get that the story isn’t over, it continues and they are part of its unfolding.
It isn’t their fault. Somewhere along the way the church stopped telling us the whole story … and I want to say unequivocally this morning that that has been a serious mistake. This has led to the kind of church where:
- being a Christian is only for Sunday
- the scripture and the communion are reduced to sentimental remembering
- faith becomes focused on what will happen when you die
- faith barely connects with what’s happening in life now
- church is like a spectator sport
- and doing ministry is reserved for the clergy
The remnants of this church are still very alive today. And if you wanna know the real stumbling block for people today, when it comes to the resurrection … I don’t think it’s believing in miracles … it’s this spectator church, driven by fear of what happens when we die, and not by the love of God that has come into our world now. The church is and always has been the first piece of evidence of the resurrection that people look to.
- You see, we all start out, really, in the middle of the story of salvation history.
- Every single one of us is here because we have had an encounter with the risen Christ
- Even the new Christian or the seeker, cannot come here, cannot step through the door, and not encounter him in some way.
- It is possible, however, to not recognize him. It is possible to not understand or expect the resurrection. It is possible, that the risen Christ you have encountered, is a stranger to you, as he was to those on the road to Emmaus … but you have encountered him in his church … which puts you in the middle of the story, and yet two things remain if we’re gonna tell the whole story: the past and the future.
In Luke’s account, immediately after Jesus appeared to the disciples he did two things: he explained the past and the future. It reads: “he opened their minds to understand the scriptures” … that the psalms and the prophets foretold that the Messiah must die and rise again (Luke 24:45-6). Once he has explained the past he turns his attention to the future – “You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised” … the Holy Spirit (Luke 24:49)
Every resurrection account has a past, present and future. In Matthew 28 the immediate implication of witnessing the resurrection is the future – to go and make disciples of all nations
If we want to be a vibrant church that witnesses to the resurrection … if we want to feed people the bread of life … if we want to teach the bible, preach the gospel and build community that demonstrates God’s love … the first thing we have to get right, is our faith in the resurrection … we have to believe in the whole story. That means four things:
1. It was always going to happen
2. It happened
3. It is happening
4. It will happen
- If we do not preach the resurrection of Christ in its past, present and future context, we reduce it to
- a historical debate about whether the accounts are reliable;
- or a scientific debate about whether it’s possible;
- or a philosophical debate about its religious significance …
- but none of that will do … because we all started in the middle of the story, with some experience of the Risen Lord in the world today … and that is in fact the only place where a person can start …
If we’re gonna lead people to that place, we have to be a church that’s about the past, present and future. (So, firstly, we begin with the past)
The resurrection was going to happen
Jesus was I think quite harsh with the disciples on the road to Emmaus: “how foolish you are and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah would suffer these things and then enter into his glory …” (Luke 24: 25)
We know from reading the scripture and understanding the whole of biblical history, that the resurrection was necessary for our salvation. Because it is only by defeating death that Jesus is able to lead us to eternal life with the Father … and this immediately rules out any theories about the resurrection narratives being nothing but symbolic language … because it was necessary …
And if we don’t believe that only the cross could defeat sin and that Jesus has broken the power of death, then we don’t have a gospel to preach. (So that’s part 1. Part 2 is that …)
The resurrection happened – and it happened on earth … the bible makes 3 things clear:
1. It was an historical event and not a simply a concept or philosophy
- There were eye-witnesses
- 1 Cor 15:5-8 – “… he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all … he appeared to me.”
2. It was physical and not simply a spiritual experience (Jesus had a real body)
- Mtt 28:9 - the disciples took hold of his feet and worshipped him
- He ate with his disciples – Luke 24:42-3; Jn 21:12-14
- Luke 24:39 – Jesus says – “look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see I have.”
- Thomas touches the wounds on his hands and side – Jn 20:27
3. The new body had been made out of the old (this was not a plastic surgery job, not a brand new Jesus, but God had taken the old body and changed it)
- We know it was not a resuscitation of the old body – at first, they didn’t recognize him
- or a brand new body that bears no resemblance to the old one – he still has the scars from the cross
- it is the old body, that has been recreated
- if it were a completely new body that was not made out of the old, we wouldn’t need to know that the tomb was found empty, and it wouldn’t matter if the old body remained to perish as it normally would
- but the gospel writers go to great lengths to tell us that the tomb was empty, the body was gone
- and it had not been stolen – Mtt 27:62-66 – guards were placed at the tomb
- Why does this matter? Because it shows us that God’s not going to annihilate us and start again from scratch. He’s going to change us. Our old self will die, but the new self is already being born out of the old (which brings us to Part 3 ..)
Resurrection is happening to us now
If the kingdom of God is where God reigns over sin and death … then it has begun on earth, because Jesus came back from the dead. We now know what Jesus meant when he taught the disciples that “the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21) We don’t have a new resurrected body yet, but the new life has begun.
As Paul wrote in Colossians, “when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith, in the power of God …” (Colossians 2:12). And the keyword there is “faith” – so if you’re wondering, what does this resurrection look like in this life … believing is seeing, and the more we believe, the more we see that we are the body of the risen Christ. His Spirit is with us. And every life-giving, miraculous thing that Jesus did in his life on earth, he can still do today, through his people.
And yet … as true as it is that the kingdom is now … it also true that it is yet to come, and we know this as we continue to face the death and suffering of this life. So we equally say that:
Resurrection will happen on the last day
And we can be sure, that the good work God has begun in us now, he will bring to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. (Phil 1:6) And on that day death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more.
And we can hope for that day … but in the meantime we have more to do than wait. There is not one account of the resurrection where Jesus says: ‘ok guys well it’s been a blast, good to see you again, heading back to heaven, so I’ll see you at the judgement day.’ No, he sends the Spirit, and then he sends his followers to make him known to all the world.
We have come in on the middle of the story, and we have choices to make about what sort of a church we are going to be.
We can be a church that sits back and watches re-runs of the bits we know. Then all we have to offer is sentimentality.
We can be a church that teaches human philosophy about the resurrection because we didn’t read the Old Testament.
We can be the church that only teaches our future inheritance in God’s kingdom, with nothing to offer but hope.
Or we can be a church that has good news for the poor today … we can be the church where new creation has already begun … where lives are changed … and where hope is real.
But only if we are really in it … and only if we really believe that the resurrection has a past, a present and a future.