Easter Sunday, April 8, 2012
Scripture reading: Matt 28:1-7
I know that many of us observed Lent this year. My daughters chose to give up sugar, so I joined them, and let me tell you, all of us were really looking forward to Easter this year!
* All this week they are said how excited they are for Easter; so am I – I am so ready for a white mocha.
Theologically speaking, it is a mistake for Christmas to be a bigger deal than Easter and I applaud anything that makes us enjoy Easter more.
* Easter Monday – if we add Lent, we should add this.
Easter is the highlight the Christian calendar. Everything builds up to it: Christmas, Passover, Good Friday. Without Easter there is no Christianity. It is that simple.
The meanings of Easter
Every year, I get to talk about the resurrection and what it means for us. Easter is profound in its meanings and implications. There are several different themes:
1. Jesus was “declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:4)
The resurrection as a historically verifiable event remains one of the most conclusions evidences of Jesus as God.
2. “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.” (4:25)
The resurrection is part of what saves us from our sins. It is the proof that Christ’s death was abundantly more than sufficient to pay for our sins.
3. “...we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.” (Romans 6:5)
Jesus’ resurrection is the both the promise and the model of our own resurrection. This is what we’ll look at this year.
A Revolutionary Idea
For us, the resurrection no longer has the massive revolutionary and counter-cultural meaning it did in Jesus day. Now most people more or less believe in life after death, but not then.
* Popular belief: Jesus died and went to Heaven; we will too.
But there is another aspect of the resurrection that remains revolutionary and counter-cultural. Part of the original meaning of the resurrection has been lost and forgotten and because of that, Christianity has lost part of its relevance.
* We think of the resurrection is a future event for Christians; the Bible says it is a current event for all of creation.
Let me repeat that: The Bible teaches that the resurrection is not simply a future event, but one that begins when you become a Christian:
NIV Colossians 3:1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.
This about what that is saying: Life after death begins before death. Hang on to that thought for a moment.
Not only that, but resurrection will extend to all of creation:
Romans 8:20-21 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.
In the same way we will be liberated from decay, so will the entirety of creation. This passage helps me deal on of the burning question every pastor faces:
Q Will pets be in Heaven?
* Story of Princess’ death.
So will our pets be in Heaven? Yes. Except for Siamese cats. They are evil – I have owned one.
* I don’t mean to be flippant; that’s a burning question to many people who have strong bonds with their pets.
Most of the answers “yes” answers are based on God’s love for us and what would make us happy, but there is a deeper answer in the Romans passage – God’s goal is the renewal of all creation.
So did you come to church on Easter just to find out that Fifi will be in Heaven?
No, this is way bigger than that – I want us to make a fundamental shift in how you see Resurrection, from a future even to a present reality.
Q Why is this so important?
Because we make crucial decisions based on how long we think we will be somewhere.
I have been to New York twice. The first time I took a nap the entire time and the other I saw all the sights. The first time was a 3 hour layover on my way to Europe. The second was four days that Marilyn and I had before flying back from a wedding.
* If you view this life as something to endure until you get to Heaven, you won’t invest yourself into it.
* If you believe that creation is all going to go up in smoke, you aren’t likely to invest much effort into it.
I think that many failures of evangelicals to lead in social justice, art, caring for the environment, care for the material and emotional needs of the world come from missing the current reality of the resurrection.
Knowing vs. Experiencing
It is one thing to teach you facts that you know and understand, but an entirely different matter to help you experience them and part of your reality.
In 2003 1,356 children were born in Skagit Valley. That is a fact. You can look it up if you don’t believe me. Even if you don’t believe me, that is little more than a statistic to know. It doesn’t affect my reality very much.
But on March 5th, at 8:23 pm, just one baby was born, a little girl that changed our life. Marilyn and I can measure our life by before kids. Grace changed our reality.
* The facts about resurrection can be memorized, but I want your present reality to be affected by it.
Because we are raised with Christ and he will renew creation here are five facts for us to experience:
1. Death is not the end and is nothing to be feared.
1 Corinthians 15:54-55 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” 55 “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”
It is not the end, nor is it the beginning – it is the end of the beginning. Death is the transition from knowing in part to knowing fully, from the first tastes of life to the full feast.
* Lord of the Rings: “Not the end...”
2. Your suffering is not pointless:
You may embrace your trial and troubles. No tear need be wasted, God works it all for your joy.
They say of some temporal suffering, “No future bliss can make up for it,” not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory. And of some sinful pleasure they say “Let me but have this and I’ll take the consequences”: little dreaming how damnation will spread back and back into their past and contaminate the pleasure of the sin. Both processes begin even before death.
The good man’s past begins to change so that his forgiven sins and remembered sorrows take on the quality of Heaven: the bad man’s past already confirms his badness and is filled only with dreariness. And that is why, at the end of all things, when the sun rises and the twilight turns to blackness down there, the Blessed will say “We have never lived anywhere except in Heaven”, and the Lost, “We were always in Hell.” And both will speak truly.’[The Great Divorce, p. 67-68]
In no way does this mean your current trials and sufferings are not real, nor does it undermine them, but Easter means that they are not wasted.
* Easter is God’s promise that all the pain and misery of this world is temporary; God is renewing and restoring this world.
3. Your struggle with sin is not hopeless: You are gaining ground even now and you will win.
Be encouraged, but don’t give up. How you battle sin will have eternal effects:
1 Corinthians 3:14-15 If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.
4. What you do here matters eternally.
At the end of the chapter about the resurrection, Paul says:
1 Corinthians 15:58 Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.
This doesn’t just mean second commission stuff (“Go and make disciples,” Matt 28:19-20), but also first commission stuff (“fill the earth and subdue it” Gen. 1:28).
Stop worrying about how prestigious what you do looks to this world (this age is passing away), nor to “really spiritual” (they are missing the point).
* What is the work done for the Lord that will last? It is everything you do as an agent of his Kingdom.
Agent of the Kingdom
The Lord’s Prayer doesn’t say, “Our Father...take us to your kingdom in Heaven because it’s a real dump on earth.”
Matthew 6:9-10 Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
* When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we are both expressing our desire to renew this earth and extend his kingdom here.
The end goal is not to go to Heaven where everything is hunky-dory, it is to bring God’s rule to earth, so that everything becomes hunky-dory.
* In fact, Christians don’t go to Heaven, it comes to them.
Not only that, we are offering ourselves for the job – we are offering to be agents of God’s kingdom here on earth, now on this side of Heaven.
The message of the resurrection is that God will do for the entire creation what he has already done for Christ, and we are invited to participate in some small way.
In other words, we are offering ourselves to help bring Heaven onto earth even now, not waiting for it to come to them:
Raising children to love God, love others, and care for God’s creation.
Having a home that reflects God’s order and peace.
Going to work cheerfully, working hard and doing what is right.
Sharing God’s love and the Gospel with the hurting around us.
Treating our body as something that will last forever.
Loving our family like we will in Heaven, sacrificially, mutually caring for each other (illustration of banquet in Heaven and Hell).
Picking up a piece of trash.
We know we won’t get the job completely done – that was the error of liberal Christianity. Just as our complete resurrection will require a radical transformation of our body, so will the earth, but we still get to be agents of the resurrection.
5. Finally: The joys of this life as the sample of what is coming.
At Starbucks, we like to sample some of our treats, give you enough of a taste that you want to buy more. The joys of this life are a sample of Heaven.
* It is not the full thing, and not the exact same thing, but it is enough for us to look forward to real thing.
On Thursday we held a Seder, recreating the Passover supper Jesus shared before his death. It is traditional to end the Seder by saying “Next year in Jerusalem!” as every Jew hopes to celebrate Passover in Jerusalem.
We changed it, to say “Next year in the New Jerusalem,” reflecting our hope for Jesus to return and to fully bring the kingdom of God to earth.
* We are eager for his return, as Revelation ends with, “Come, Lord Jesus.”
Go in joy
To wrap it all up: Go out in joy and happiness. This is what Easter is, not only a reminder, but a sample of our reality and its promised fulfillment.
Enjoy this day. With every bite, every sip, every laugh, every delight, you are tasting the resurrection, that your life is being transformed and will one day be fully transformed.
* We look forward to our personal Easter and creation’s Easter.