Monday, September 28, 2015

Telling It - The Risen One

Preached on Sunday, September 27, 2015

Scripture readings: Acts 3:11-16; Mark 16:1-8

I got to know a family in one of the small towns where I used to serve as a pastor. I came by for a visit. It wasn’t a pastoral visit, although they had a sister-in-law who came to my church.
Around Tall Timbers Ranch (Church Camp)
Washington Cascades, Above Leavenworth WA
September 2015
It wasn’t a pastoral visit because I wasn’t their pastor in any way. It was a small town where it was fairly easy to know everybody, and I had a friendly relationship with this family.
When I got to their house they did talk to me about what they thought it means to be Christian, and they wanted me to know that they didn’t buy into it. They wanted me to know where they stood, and I appreciated that.
They had all the usual reasons. They had some unusual reasons, as well. Whatever their reasons were, mostly they were talking about beliefs and behaviors.
I listened for what seemed like a long time. I would nod and sort of repeat after them what they had just said. I put in my two cents worth here and there. It was all friendly and sincere talk.
Then a thought came to me. I said something like this. “From your experience, you have good reasons for saying what you say. But there is something about being Christian that you haven’t said anything about. When you are Christian, then you are a person who has died and risen from the dead.”
A couple of them said, “What?” And I repeated what I had just said, “When you are a Christian, you die and you rise from the dead. We need a new life, and Jesus died and rose from the dead to give us a new life. When we receive Jesus we die to our old life and we rise into a new life. We become a new creation.”
They guessed what I meant. One of them commented that most Christians didn’t seem like new creations to him. I said, “That’s true. Sometimes it’s tricky the way it works, or doesn’t seem to work, but that’s how it is supposed to work.”
It’s true and it is absolutely essential. You must die and rise from the dead to know Jesus. Another way of saying this is more famous: “You must be born again.” (John 3:7) But I like saying that you have to die and rise from the dead because it’s more surprising. It’s not a direct quote from the Bible but it is a paraphrase of what the Bible clearly teaches.
It’s also true to say that a Christian is someone who believes in Jesus, but what does it mean to believe?
A Christian knows Jesus, and trusts Jesus. A Christian depends on Jesus, lives in Jesus, and has Jesus living in them. A Christian listens to Jesus, learns from Jesus, imitates Jesus, and follows Jesus. A Christian surrenders to Jesus as their Savior and their Lord.
All of this is true. All of this matters. It’s all important. And it all must lead to this: you must die and rise from the dead. There are two verses from the Bible that I love that refer to this. One verse is this: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20) The other verse is this: “If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17)
Without Christ, in the heart of my human nature, I am full of barriers and obstacles between me and God, between me and myself, between me and others, between me and the whole creation and the way the world works. These barriers blind me. They handicap me from the changes that would give me true life, and the freedom to be and to do what I was created to be and to do.
Christ took my nature upon himself, on the cross, and so (in Christ) my nature has died. When I trust what Christ has done for me, when I surrender to what he (in his infinite love) has done for me, then my surrender to him and to his love are like my being crucified to myself and dying to myself.
Christ gives us a new life with God by trading his supernatural nature for our natural nature. Paul says it like this: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)
Just as Christ has died for me, he has also risen for me. When I surrender to what his love has done for me (and for the world), and when I surrender to what I could never do for myself, then I die; but I also rise with Christ, because he has risen to give me the new life that I could never create or maintain by myself. When I live in a state of faith and surrender then I am a person who has died and risen from the dead.
This is what my favorite verses mean.
The miracle that made a lame man walk, when Peter grabbed him by the hand, was an example of this. It took a form that people could see and understand. The lame beggar no longer lived. He became a new creation that could walk, and jump, and praise God.
This happened because Jesus had been killed by his own people, and because Jesus had gone on to rise from the dead. Peter told this to the crowd. “You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this. By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong.” (Acts 3:15-16)
God has designed the whole creation for resurrection: Peter called that future time the “times of refreshing” and the time for God “to restore everything as he promised long ago.” (Acts 3:19-21)
Peter said that Jesus is the prophet that Moses predicted who would come and do great and wonderful thing, like the thing that Moses did in the Exodus (only even better). Moses led God’s people from slavery in Egypt to the freedom of the Promised Land where they could live in harmony and blessing with God and with each other.
Peter said that the blessing that God had given to Abraham would make it possible for the people of Israel to be a blessing to all people. (Acts 3:26) The blessing was fulfilled by Jesus who will lead all the peoples of the earth from the slavery of a fallen world to a “Promised Land World” in which everything, and everyone, will be refreshed and restored.
It’s true that Peter quoted from the words of Moses that tell us that those who don’t listen will be cut off. (Acts 3:23) Think about what this means in the light of what happened to the people of Israel when Moses was leading them to freedom. Not everyone wanted to leave slavery for freedom.
The ones who wanted to stay in Egypt (and to go back to Egypt, when they left) caused so much trouble because they didn’t want what God wanted to give them. Some of their breed made it to the Promised Land and, there, they caused so much trouble that the Promised Land never became what God had promised.
There are people who don’t seem to want to die to their old selves. They don’t want the freedom of being resurrected. They don’t want to become new creations. They want to remain their old selves. When we don’t want to die to ourselves we go on causing endless trouble.
There are people who don’t know Jesus, who don’t know that they have a chance to die and rise from the dead. There are even Christians who want to make belonging to Jesus into something different from dying and rising. But there is no life in that. There is no future in that. The whole universe will die and rise. God will make a new heaven and earth. (Isaiah 65:17) God says, “Behold, I make all things new.” (Revelation 21:5)
Jesus came to give the start-up of this newness to his people, and to us. This made the leaders of his people mad, because they wanted the promise of all things new on their old terms. They wanted their same old selves to hold the power as the gatekeepers in that new world.
Jesus acted as if he were the gatekeeper, and Jesus didn’t respect the old rules. He seemed willing to let all kinds of people into the new kingdom of God. Jesus was taking over their thing.
They didn’t know what they were doing and, in their ignorance, they killed Jesus. And then Jesus, as the gatekeeper of the kingdom, forgave them. (Luke 23:34) Jesus did this on the cross, because the gate is the cross. The cross is the door to the new creation. You can’t rise unless you die. (John 12:24)
In the restoration that Jesus brings to all things, he is the way of restoring of all things. He is the judge. But maybe we can understand the coming judgment this way. In the rules, as God makes them, you can’t really judge the world (and you can’t judge anyone) unless you have died for the sins of the world, and forgiven your enemies, and risen to give new life to the forgiven.
Those are the qualifications that the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit set for the job. The Son met those qualifications, but he was the only one who could meet them.
Otherwise we would never be able to live in the new creation. But we have to want to die and rise from the dead with the author and creator of that life. It’s the only way.
The time when God restores everything with Jesus hasn’t arrived. The seeable, touchable Jesus is in heaven, waiting for that time. The lame man was a sign, to the people who knew him, of God restoring everything. The lame man was also the sign that God is beginning to make everything new now. So are we.
We are new creations now, if we have died and risen from the dead. We are called to believe in the cross and the resurrection, and we are called to teach the cross and the resurrection. We are called to live the cross and the resurrection.
I have to tell you that we must believe and teach the cross and the resurrection; not just because anyone says so, and not just because God says so, but because God himself has died and has risen from the dead; and that is a mind-boggling way of saying that he is the living God.
We must believe and teach this because this is the truth of who God is. God has nothing else to give us than what he has. There is no life anywhere else than in this truth. This is not theology. This is not a beautiful, meaningful idea. This is God. This is life.
I remember pretty far back and so I remember loving Jesus when I was three or four years old. I remember it from singing “Jesus Loves Me.” I made a commitment to Jesus watching Billy Graham on television when I about nine years old. But church wasn’t very important to my family, and the church as I knew it wasn’t very good at teaching me a lot of things I should have known. And I was raised in a family that was pretty “free-thinking” about Jesus and spiritual things.
By the time I was a teenager, I had essentially made up my own religion around Jesus. I loved Jesus, but I reinterpreted him. My ideas were very well thought out. I also had very good reasons for not taking the church seriously. Those reasons were good reasons that still hold water.
I had to surrender most of what I believed. I had to surrender to the church as God’s idea for us all, even though the church (as I experienced it) was a pretty twisted thing. It is why I can say, today, that I believe, with all my heart, in a sinful church. I was spiritual, and I was not religious, and I had to die to my carefully constructed, sincerely held spirituality. My spirituality had to die in order for me to live in Jesus.
I had to die to my idea of who I was, and who I was meant to be.
I was only eighteen but it was hard to face. The women who found the empty tomb left it in a state of fear and bewilderment. That is what it is like to find out that you have to die and rise again. It’s nothing you could ever take lightly.
As a result, other kids who had known me for a long time saw that I had changed. A girl I had had a crush on for years told me that she could tell that I had changed and that I had a lot more confidence than I used to have. It wasn’t confidence in my self. It was confidence in God: in Christ.
I could do things I couldn’t do before. I could face things I couldn’t face before. I discovered talents and gifts that had never been visible before.
There was an opening that stayed open between my heart and God. That open place between me and God is still there, all the time. God, in Christ, is there all the time, even when I get so mad at him.
(Read the Psalms about anger and God. The Psalms teach us that we can bring anything to God, and God is big enough to handle it, and to handle us and our feelings about him.)
Times of refreshment and restoring came to me. Those times still come.
Some more verses from the Apostle Paul speak to me about this. “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-17)
The God who died and rose from the dead teaches us how to die to ourselves and rise with him every day. This is the kind of God he is.

This is how he claims us. This is how he makes us his, and teaches us to love. God is love and love lives by dying and rising. There really is no other way. That is why our message is about the cross and the resurrection. This is where true life is found, and nowhere else.

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