The rest of the story

This past Sunday I spoke at Trinity CRC on the Heidelberg Catechism’s Lord’s Day 17 Q&A 45 and mentioned my surprise at how briefly the catechism treats Jesus’ resurrection. It takes eight questions and answers to cover Jesus’ suffering and death but only one question and answer to explain the resurrection. If the resurrection stands at the center of faith, you’d think the church’s teachings on it would be a bit more thorough.

Well, in my research for Sunday’s message, I was reminded how the Heidelberg Catechism was not split up into Lord’s Days when it was first published; the only divisions were the 129 questions and answers. Maybe it’s helpful not to see a big break between Lord’s Day 17 and the ones after it: Everything beyond Q&A 45 can be read in light of Jesus’ resurrection! The rest of the whole document – Q&As 45-129, each one – works out in greater and greater detail what it means that Jesus lives!

Isn’t that kind of how the New Testament reads? Each Gospel clearly attests to Jesus’ resurrection and begins to reveal its implications. From there every book in the New Testament makes at least a passing reference to it, many places actually delving deep into its significance. In fact, by word count, the Bible says more about the resurrection than the crucifixion and death of Jesus.

Lord’s Day 17 summarizes the Bible’s teaching of how the implications of Jesus’ resurrection explode in our lives. His resurrection changes everything! We “share in [Christ’s] righteousness,” we’re “raised to a new life,” and we have “a sure pledge … of our blessed resurrection” after we die. In other words, the resurrection is a historical fact for our salvation that brings renewed purpose to life today and gives us hope for the future.

It might not take a lot of words for the catechism to describe this, but it’s Good News that fills entire books and fills all of life.

Empty grave graphic found via Google

Joseph 6: “My Son Was Dead and Is Alive Again!”

Fun!

I don’t know what other word to use to describe discovering so many connections between the Joseph of the Old Testament and Jesus’ resurrection! At the climax of the story of Joseph as well as on Easter Sunday, we witness God transform death into life.

Father Jacob was convinced his son had been dead for years, probably decades. But it turns out Joseph is actually alive and has risen to power in Egypt! I am reminded of the father of the lost sons in Jesus’ parable inviting the older son to come into the house to feast and celebrate when the younger son returns from the far country, saying, “We [have] to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again.” I can hear Jacob saying, This son of mine was dead as far as I knew, but now he’s alive again! Joseph is alive, and Jacob at long last is at peace.

Empty grave graphic found via GoogleOn Easter we celebrate that God’s Son is alive. Unlike Joseph, who was only presumed dead, Jesus truly was dead. He died on the cross and was buried in a tomb. But, as we sing, “death cannot keep its prey,” and “up from the grave He arose!” And unlike Joseph, who was ruler only in one particular country, Jesus rules over the entire world. Jesus is alive and He reigns, so I can be at peace.

Finally there is joy in the story of Joseph. Yet it really only foreshadows the even deeper joy I have in the risen Christ. You’re welcome to read more about that in my Easter message based on Genesis 45-46. And consider giving thought to this question: What difference is Jesus’ resurrection making in my life?

Stingy Christian

Some oxymorons (actually, the plural is oxymora) are seriously funny: Jumbo shrimp. Honest liar. Scheduled spontaneity. Microsoft Works. Here’s one I’d like to add to the list: Stingy Christian. As far as I’m concerned, there ought to be no such thing.

I think Christians need to be the most generous people in the whole world! I am convinced of this once again in this season of Good Friday and Easter Sunday. On Good Friday, we remember how God gave His one and only Son to die for our sins. Who can imagine a more generous act than this? What more is there to give? And then on Easter, we celebrate the resurrection and the reality that in Christ, we have eternal life. How can anything be longer than eternal? To say that God is generous in His grace to us in an understatement!

Cross

It’s a terrible irony, then, that Christians (myself included) can be so terribly stingy. And I’m not just talking about finances (though I like keeping a tight grip on my cash as much as the next guy). I’m talking about a generosity of spirit, of hope, of love. People filled with the Holy Spirit of Jesus should not be able to help but reflect the kind of generosity we see in our Lord. But how often don’t I fight that spirit of generosity and keep the joy and blessings I have in Christ to myself?

One of my regular prayers is for God to nurture generosity within me that shows through kind words and helpful actions, through my patience and joy, through how I use my time and steward my finances. Generosity is one of the best characteristics of God that the Holy Spirit empowers us to imitate! Anyone who thinks otherwise is clearly confused (…to end with another oxymoron!).

Resurrection power

In Italy there is a grave of a man who died over a century ago.  He was an unbeliever and completely against Christianity, though a little afraid of it, too.  So the man had a huge stone slab put over his grave and had the following message engraved in it: “I do not want to be raised from the dead. I don’t believe in it.”

Evidently, when he was buried, an acorn must have fallen into the acorngrave.  A hundred years later the acorn had grown up through the grave and split that slab.  It was now a tall towering oak tree.

If an acorn, which has power of biological life in it, can split a slab of that magnitude, what can the “acorn” of God’s resurrection power do in a person’s life?

Reflecting on this, pastor and author Tim Keller says:

The minute you decide to receive Jesus as Saviour and Lord, the power of the Holy Spirit comes into your life.
It’s the power of the resurrection – the same thing that raised Jesus from the dead…  Think of the things you see as immovable slabs in your life – your bitterness, your insecurity, your fears, your self-doubts.  Those things can be split and rolled off.  The more you know Jesus, the more you grow into the power of the resurrection.

Included in a recent “Leadership Journal” email; preachingtoday.com/illustrations/2012/march/7032612.html.
Sprouting acorn picture found via Google Images.

Fear and change

I spoke about our fears this past Easter Sunday and how Jesus’ victory over death puts our fears in perspective, especially our fear of dying.  The next day, this was the reading in Forward Day by Day based on Matthew 28:9-15

I once conducted a service of worship shortly after Easter for the patients of a mental hospital. I began by asking the congregation, mostly patients, what they thought the first words spoken by Jesus when he returned to the disciples might have been. They answered, “Do not be afraid.”

Those who are ill in the way that those patients were know with a certain instinct what the words of life are. When the struggle for existence has defeated you, you withdraw into fear: fear of enemies in the far distance; fear of “them;” even fear of yourself. Life is lived in terms of suspicion, never of trust.

We all exist on a continuum, I think, with those patients; we are all somewhat ill. Jesus comes and wipes away our fear. For many of us it is the fear of being wrong, the fear that we will be less than we thought we were, the fear that we will fail and our dreams come to nothing. If we will hear his words and trust him, then we can start again, this time on the basis of a sure hope, never again because we are afraid.

Jesus comes and wipes away our fears.  The result: We should expect to be changed.  And that connects with something Neil deKoning writes at the CRC’s Network I just read…

…The [Good Friday and Easter] story we tell was not intended to simply give us a wonderful celebration 2000 years later. Jesus came to bring change. Forgiveness, reconciliation, new life, and the power of resurrection are descriptions of change. The way of the cross is a description of change. We believe that in this way God brings redemption into our lives…

What does this mean for our ministry? What change ought we be praying for – not in general but in the particulars of our members and in our community? If Jesus said the way to transform lives and communities is through the power of the cross and the victory of the resurrection, what impact ought that have on the way we do ministry among the members?

Just asking the questions forces us to consider our ministry. Do we have a vision of change that is born out of our understanding of work of Jesus? Do we believe that confession and forgiveness, that self-sacrificial love, that the Emmaus Bible study (Luke 24), that obedient suffering are in fact transformational practices of the Christian life? Do we believe that communities bound in unity to Christ serving Christ can deeply impact community life?

Change is not easy. I look at the trouble of our communities and the struggles of community development and I see countless obstacles. But I notice that God in his ministry of changing the world went to the cross. It was the only way. If this is what God did, there is wisdom in seeking to follow that path…

Jesus says, “Do not be afraid.”  How does that change you?  How will that change the way you interact with your family and neighbours?