By Pastor Glenn Pease
What is the most radical thing that could happen to you after you die? Death is not the last chapter in the biography of anyone. Things have a way of happening even after you are dead. Pastor Leland Botjen of Spokane, Washington almost left the ministry after his first funeral. The family of the deceased was poor, and a pine box was all they could afford. As the pallbearers carried the coffin up the stairs, the bottom fell out and the body rolled down the steps. The mourners were screaming, and the undertaker fainted. He was frozen in a state of shock.
That was a radical after death experience, and history is full of them. Just because the body is dead it does not mean that it cannot yet have a history. Bodies have been stolen from their graves and sold. Bodies have been moved from one country to another, or one cemetery to another. Dead bodies are still things, and a lot of things can be done with things like bodies.
My Christian aunt donated her body to medical science, and so part of her are still having a history. At her memorial service I saw what I had never seen before. There were balloon bearers rather than pallbearers. They hung in large bunches across the front of the sanctuary, and after the service everyone gathered outside and they were released to ascend into the sky and out of sight. In each balloon was a piece of paper with her favorite Scripture which read, "Trust in the Lord with all thine heart and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct thy paths." Prov. 3:5-6.
She wanted her memorial service to be a celebration, and to be a time when even the last event of her life would be a service to the kingdom of God. Her body will go on serving, and the balloons were an act of service to convey the Word of God to others. It was a beautiful experience, and a radical new experience for me. But it does not come close to being the most radical thing that can happen to someone after death.
The two thieves that died along side of Jesus were likely cast into the city dump and burned to ashes. Cremation is certainly a radical thing to happen to a body. Others have been left to be eaten by birds and animals, and this is a radical reality that has been the fate of many thousands. But none of these come close to being the most radical after death experience. That honor has to go to the experience of being resurrected. All of the after death experiences of people who see lights, and who see loved ones are all kids stuff in comparison to the experience of being resurrected. To be truly dead and then to have your body refilled with life, and renewed by the Spirit, and revived to consciousness to walk again in the land of the living-that is the ultimate in radical.
This means that the resurrection of the body of Jesus is the most radical event in history, for He was the first to be resurrected never to die again. All others who were raised from the dead had to endure a rerun of dying all over again. Their resurrection was only temporary, but the resurrection on that first Easter was the beginning of the end for the reign of death, for the resurrection of Jesus was a permanent victory over death. Paul says in Rom. 6:9, "For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, He cannot die again, death no longer has mastery over him."
If resurrection is the most radical thing that can happen to one after death, and the resurrection of Jesus was the first permanent resurrection, then we can see why Easter is the world-wide focus that it is, for we are celebrating the most radical event that can be conceived. Before Easter there was a sort of dualism in the universe. Satan and his rebel forces had been cast out of heaven, but they had considerable power on earth. Their control of the realm of the dead seemed to be secure. To rob the enemy of this stronghold someone had to penetrate this fortress of death, and then escape to prove that life is superior to death. Easter is the celebration of the success of just such a radical military maneuver.
By means of his radical resurrection Jesus defeated man's greatest enemy. Now a follower of Jesus does not need to fear entering the realm of death, for it is no longer under the control of Satan, but is under the Lordship of Christ. Paul makes this clear in Rom. 14:8-9. "So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that He might be Lord of both the dead and the living."
There have been many decisive battles in history that have determined the direction of history, but none so decisive as this one that determined the destiny of all mankind. Because of His victory over death there is now an up for every down, and the up has the final word. Yes there is death, but life has the last word. Yes there is ugliness, but beauty has the last word. Yes there is falsehood, but truth has the last word. We could go on and on because the radical resurrection of Jesus has made all negatives temporary and all positives permanent. That is why Paul was such an incurable optimist. That is why he could write in Phil. 4:8, "Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things."
Paul knew that when a Christian becomes a pessimist it is because they have taken their eyes off of the radical resurrection. All the negative things of life are real, but they are not permanent. They will be, not just out of style, but totally obsolete in the kingdom of Christ. Therefore, the Christian has no business making them the focus of life. It is the permanent that is to be the focus, for in so doing we honor the victory Jesus gained by His radical resurrection. When we are pessimists we are being pre-Easter in our thinking. Pre-Easter is death oriented, but post-Easter is life oriented. Keep this in mind every time you are thinking negative, for it means you are taking your eyes off the radical resurrection. When this is your focus you will be able to say with Camus, "In the midst of winter I suddenly found that there was in me an invincible summer." Or sing with Charles Wesley-
Jesus, my All-in-All thou art:
My rest in toil, my ease in pain,
The healing of my broken heart,
In war my peace, in loss my gain,
My smile beneath the tyrant's frown:
In shame my glory and my crown.
In want my plentiful supply,
In weakness my almighty pow'r,
In bonds my perfect liberty,
My light in Satan's darkest hour,
In grief my joy unspeakable,
My life in death, my All-in-All.
A Christ-centered mind is radically optimist and life-centered. There is no record of anyone being able to stay dead in the presence of Christ. Every time Jesus confronted a corpse He brought it to life. No one ever died in His presence, or stayed dead after He arrived. Even the thief who died next to Him was promised to be alive with Him that very day. No doubt, the reason Jesus did not come to the home of Lazarus when He was dying was because if He did Lazarus never would have died. Jesus had to stay away to give death a chance to do its worst. Then He came and raised him from the dead to demonstrate that even after death has done its worst life is still superior. Jesus said on that occasion in John 11:25-26, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though He dies, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die."
This is radical teaching. Nobody in history except Jesus made such radical claims. If you don't think Jesus was a radical, you are just not listening. The people who did listen said, "No man ever spoke as this man." In John 14:19 Jesus said, "He who has seen me has seen the Father." Try and top that! When a man says you are looking at God when you are looking at me, you have reached the top rung on the ladder of the radical. You can't get beyond the extreme of saying, as Jesus did, "All power in heaven and on earth is given unto me." Let's face it, Jesus was the most radical personality whoever walked this planet, and He made the most radical claims, and did the most radical things, and at the center of it all is the radical resurrection. Jesus said in John 6:40, "For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him shall have eternal life, and I will raise Him up at the last day."
The resurrection is so radical because it becomes the foundation for the ultimate plan of God to have an eternal family in heaven raised up from the realm of death to dwell with Him forever. There is nothing moderate about the resurrection.
It is the supreme truth of Christianity.
It is the Mt. Rushmore of Christian memorials.
It is the Mt. Everest of Christian peaks.
It is the Crown Jewels of Christian values.
It is the Niagara Falls of Christian resources.
It is the Great Pyramid of Christian permanence.
It is the Grand Canyon of Christian awesomeness.
It is the Rock of Gibraltar of Christian stability.
It is the Sun of the Christian solar system.
The resurrection is the most radical event in history because it made the most radical changes in history. You cannot exaggerate its importance. You cannot excessively exalt it, or find terms that are too superlative to describe it. Paul made this clear in I Cor. 15:14 where he wrote, "..if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith." The proverb says, "Don't put all your eggs in one basket." God, however, does not always do the conventional thing. He did put all His eggs in one basket, and it was the Easter basket that He chose. The entire plan of God hinges on the reality of the radical resurrection. If this is not real, the entire plan of God is a house of cards ready to collapse into a meaningless heap. If Easter is not true, then Christianity is as worthless as a rotten egg. But if it is true, then all the forces of hell cannot withstand its radical power to change everything that sin has corrupted and made rotten. It reverses the ultimate wrong of death, and gives to us the ultimate right, which is life.
Two centuries ago a Russian General named Rimniksky Suvarov faced an enemy that greatly outnumbered him. But he motivated his army to advance, and they won an important victory. He ordered all the captured enemy ammunition melted down and he made medals out of it for his soldiers. The very lead that was intended to pierce their hearts and take their lives was worn over their hearts in pride, for they had turned defeat into victory. What a radical change from bullets of death to medals of life. That is what Jesus did by His radical resurrection to the cross. He made this object of horror and death a symbol of beauty and life. By His resurrection He changed everything.
The epitaph of Jesus is the most radical in all of history. All over the world the words on tombs and graves are, "Here lies _______" the name is given, but on the tomb of Jesus are the words of the angel, "He is not here." That is radical. People go to famous tombs because the bodies of well-known people are there. But people go to the tomb of Jesus because His body is not there. If His body was there, there would be no reason to go, for it would mean that all He said was worthless, and that all He did was futile. But people go because the empty tomb is the radical symbol of His radical resurrection. That is what makes all that He said and did the most radical truth and action in the history of the world.
In the 19th century it was a custom to bury valuable things with loved ones in order to show your grief. Dante Gabriel Rossetti showed the extent of his grief by putting into coffin of his wife the manuscript of his poetry. These famous poems laid in her arms for years. Then he began to doubt if this was the best place for his creativity to lie. He risked imprisonment and fines by digging up her grave and retrieving his poetry. It was wet and had to be dried leaf by leaf, but this poetry rescued from the grave is now in anthologies of poetry all over the world. But as radical as this was it cannot begin to match the radical resurrection of Jesus by which He inspired poems by the millions.
Before Easter death was a dead end street, but by his radical resurrection Jesus changed it from a terminal to a freeway to the eternal city, and ever since, the joy of the Easter message has brought forth poetry and songs of praise and thanksgiving. There has never been a more radical gift ever given than the one made possible by the radical resurrection. An unknown poet wrote,
Thanks to Thee, O Christ victorious!
Thanks to Thee, O Lord of Life!
Death hath now no power o'er us,
Thou hast conquered in the strife.
Thanks because Thou didst arise
And hast opened Paradise!
None can fully sing the glory
Of the resurrection story.
Easter is so radical because it is the basis for all the other Christian holidays and celebrations. There would be no Christmas, lent, or Good Friday, or a Christian year at all if there had been no Easter. Jesus could walk on water, feed the famished, heal the heart broken, cure the contagious, hush the hurricane, lift the lowly, and teach the truth, but all of this would be in vain if His body did in the tomb remain. If the tomb of Jesus was not empty, then all of the rest of His life would be, for all the hopes of man for a radical victory over death would be buried there with Him. But Jesus lives, and His radical resurrection began to change the world right away.
A Roman magistrate said to the Christian prisoner before him, "I sentence you to death as a follower of the Nazarene." The prisoner replied, "Death sir is dead. It no longer has power to make me afraid. Our Master has conquered death and the grave and He told us, 'Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do.'" Rome had no weapon by which to counteract this radical strategy of Christ. The threat of death was the most powerful weapon in the world to coerce and manipulate people. Jesus took that away on Easter, and so it is no wonder that the cross of the despised Galilean became the dominate symbol, and the Roman eagle began to fade.
The resurrection of Jesus is the most radical fact of history, and it is also the most radical force in history, for it changed the value placed upon every human being. Life was cheap all through pre-Easter history, but if Jesus died for all, and rose at all might have eternal life, this changed the value of every person. They now have infinite worth. This was so radical a change that Celsus, the bitter critic of early Christianity, said that other teachers invited the clean and the worthy to follow them, but Jesus called the rag, tag and bobtail of humanity. Origin, the church father, answered the critic by writing, "Yes, but he does not leave them the rag, tag and bobtail of humanity, but out of the material you would have thrown away as useless, he fashions men, giving them back their self-respect, enabling them to stand on their feet and look God in th eye. They were cowed, cringing, broken things, but the Son has made them free."
The radical resurrection reversed so many of the values of the world and enabled ordinary men to live extraordinary lives. That is the whole point of this passage in Rom. 6. If we identify with the cross and resurrection of Christ, we can die to sin and live to God. The resurrection made it possible for any of us to live the life that is pleasing to God and victorious over the forces of evil. The resurrection life does not start after we die. It starts now in this life, and it is a radical change from the life of the flesh. The flesh life enjoys the physical, and by itself this leads to all sorts of sin. The resurrection life enjoys higher values of the spirit, and this keeps the enjoyment of the flesh consistent with those higher values. It enables a person to fulfill the chief end of man, which is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.
The one problem involved in the resurrection life is that you have to die first to experience it. Jesus could not be raised until He died, nor can we. We will not all die physically, for when Christ comes again those who are living will not die but be changed and receive new bodies like those who are raised from the dead. But all Christians need to die spiritually and be raised spiritually. We need to die to sin and to live to righteousness. We need to die to pride and to live to humble service. We need to die to greed and to live to generosity. Death and resurrection are a part of the whole process of becoming sanctified and mature in Christ. The less we die the less we can rise. The more we die the more we can rise. Resurrection is always after death, and so if people do not die there can be little in the way of rising.
It is one of the marvels of history that one poor man in England could care for the needs of ten thousand orphans. George Muller not only build 5 spacious building to house orphans, but he established day schools and Sunday schools all over the world. They touched up to 150 thousand children. It is estimated that he raised 7 and a half million dollars back in the 1800's. How could a man be so fruitful? When George was asked this he replied, "There was a day when I died, utterly died, died to George Muller, his opinions, preferences, tastes and will-died to the world, its approval or censure; died to the approval or blame even of my brethren and friends-and since then I have studied only to show myself approved to God."
The point is God could use all of us to care for thousands of orphans, but that the more radical the death the more radical the resurrection. If we are never crucified with Christ, we will never be raised with Christ to live the resurrection life of victory. What that victory means to you and I will be radically different for each of us. None of the Apostles did what Muller did, nor have any of the great Christians of our century. Each of us has a different role in God's plan, but that role is more likely to be fulfilled if we die daily and like the Sun rise anew each day to walk in newness of life. D. L. Moody said, "Everyday I have a little new birth." Sarah Woolsey wrote-
Everyday is a fresh beginning,
Every morn is the world made new,
You who are weary of sorrow and sinning,
Here is a beautiful hope for you,-
A hope for me and a hope for you.
Everyday is a fresh beginning;
Listen, my soul, to the glad refrain,
And, spite of old sorrow and older sinning,
And puzzles forecasted and possible pain,
Take heart with the day, and begin again.
This is radical teaching, but the fact is, the Scriptures support the idea that everyday is resurrection day. Easter comes but once a year, but everyday is resurrection day. Paul did not say that he dies once a year. He said that he dies daily. Nature is too slow a model for us to follow. Jesus said in Luke 9:23, "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me." Note the word daily. What you did yesterday was yesterday's life. Today is a new day and tomorrow will be another new day, and every day of your life is a new beginning. You have to start all over on every one of them, and die to self, and live to God.
Salvation is a one for all experience. It is an act of faith by which we trust in Jesus as Savior, and we are born again into the family of God. It can happen by the simple prayer, "Lord Jesus forgive me and come into my life." But the resurrection life is not an event. It is a process that never ends. It is daily and perpetual. Nothing we do on Easter will be of any major consequence if we do not continue to do it the day after, and everyday after, for where there is no death there can be no resurrection. It depends upon daily dying. Grasping this, and then doing it, can make everyday an Easter, and everyday a day in which we experience more of the power of the radical resurrection.