Church Year

How Are You To Be “More Than A Conqueror”?

How Are You To Be “More Than A Conqueror”?

Because of Jesus’ resurrection, all threats against you are tamed. Jesus conquered death, so death and evil are not the end of the story and we can have hope.

To the One Who Conquers, I Will…

In Revelation, one of the key themes is conquering through suffering. The number of occurrences of the verb “to conquer” throughout the Book of Revelation illustrate this theme.[1] John describes amazing promises made to Christians, addressing the promises specifically to those who “conquer”:

  • To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God (2:7)
  • The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death (2:11)
  • To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it (2:17)
  • The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations (2:26)
  • The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels (3:5)
  • The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name (3:12)
  • The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne (3:21)

The One Who Conquered

How will these staggering promises come to pass? How will “the one who conquers” conquer amidst affliction and persecution? How will they find the strength to endure and overcome against all odds? John provides the answer: they will conquer by looking by faith to the One who has already conquered, Jesus Christ. We read in Revelation 5:5-6:

And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.” And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain.

John describes Jesus as both the kingly Lion and the meek Lamb who has conquered all His and our enemies. Jesus has conquered his enemies through his suffering and death on the cross and yet he is also one who has been slaughtered. Jesus is “the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth” and he is the one who “loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father.”[2] We reign with him because he died and freed us and made us a kingdom for his glory.

This truth is a strong encouragement to you in the midst of suffering. We follow a crucified redeemer who by his death and resurrection has conquered death. Death is no longer the enemy that produces fear in you. Jesus says: “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.”[3]

This image of the conquering Christ who prevailed through suffering gives you hope. In being united to Christ, you too will conquer as you look through the eyes of faith to the one who has accomplished everything on your behalf through his death and resurrection. It is for this reason that John writes in 12:11: “And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.”

We Are More Than Conquerors

The truth of Rev 12:11 can free you to breathe a sigh of relief and thanksgiving instead of despair. Because God’s plan for you is never to allow anything to separate you from his love, you can face the worst of the world’s uncertainties with great confidence, as St. Paul writes in Romans 8:31-39:

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.[4]

No opposition. No accusation. No condemnation. No separation.

And since God did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, God will most surely, most certainly, without any doubt or any possibility of failure, provide for us. John Chrysostom explicates: “The wonder is not only that God the Father gave His Son but that He did so in this way, by sacrificing the one He loved. It is astonishing that He gave the Beloved for those who hated Him. See how highly He honors us. If even when we hated Him and were enemies He gave the Beloved, what will He not do for us now?”[5]

Because God’s plan for you is so certain, you can face the most difficult circumstances, the most terrifying enemies, and the most devastating ordeals with confidence. You do not merely survive your trials; you are “more than a conqueror” because absolutely nothing will be able to separate you from the love of God in Christ.

 

[1] John uses the verb “to conquer” 17 times: Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12, 21; 5:5; 6:2; 11:7; 12:11; 13:7; 15:2; 17:14; 21:7

[2] Revelation 1:5-6

[3] Revelation 1:17-18

[4] Romans 8:31-39

[5] John Chrysostom, “Homily on Ephesians I.I.8.” in Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Vol. 8, Ed. Mark J. Edwards (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 114.

Pentecost

Pentecost

This Sunday is Pentecost Sunday, which is the commemoration and celebration of the receiving of the Holy Spirit by the early church as recorded in Acts 2.

In Acts 2, Jesus’ promise of the Spirit becomes a reality as the Spirit descends on the disciples at Pentecost. The disciples “began to speak in other tongues” (2:4), and devout Jews from many nations were amazed, “because each one was hearing them speak in his own language” (v. 6). God shows that the gospel is breaking through linguistic barriers and going to all nations, and then Peter stands up and, in the first recorded sermon in Acts, explains how Pentecost is the glorious and long-anticipated fulfillment of God’s work of redemption since the beginning. Through Peter’s sermon we see the most prominent theme of Acts: the gospel of Jesus will go out to the nations, through the witness of his disciples and the enabling of the Holy Spirit.

God Initiates

When the celebration of Pentecost comes, Acts 2:1, 5 places 120 of the disciples (1:15) together in Jerusalem. Acts 2:2 then says “and suddenly there came from heaven.” The direction of agency is important. While often in religion humans must first do the equivalent of speaking in other tongues (mysterious incantations, complicated rites, elaborately altered behavior) in order to lure the gods into visitation, at Pentecost God’s Spirit rushes into the scene of his own accord: the apostles are just waiting. Pentecost illustrates the fact that God is the initiator of our salvation; he comes to us independent of our control.

Babel

Since the time of Babel, the nations of the earth were divided by language, unable to come together as a result of their rebellion against God (Gen. 11:1–9). Even in God’s redemptive acts of the Old Testament, he singled out the Jewish nation in order to mediate blessing to the nations (Gen. 12:1–3; Ex. 19:6). The good news of God’s grace was only communicated in the Hebrew language. With the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the curse of Babel begins to unravel. No longer is the gospel confined to the Hebrew language; it is available directly to all nations and all languages. The restored order of God’s kingdom begins to break into the dark and confused world of sin. Pentecost is, in a sense, a magnificent reversal of Babel.

The Coming of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1–13)      

Since the time of Babel (Gen. 11:1–9), the nations of the earth were divided by language, unable to come together as a result of their rebellion against God. Even in God’s redemptive acts of the Old Testament, he singled out the Jewish nation in order to mediate blessing to the nations. The good news of God’s grace was only communicated in the Hebrew language.

With the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the curse of Babel begins to unravel. No longer is the gospel confined to the Hebrew language, but is available directly to all nations and all languages. The restored order of God’s kingdom begins to break into the dark and confused world of sin.

This gives us hope today. The gospel of Jesus Christ triumphs in a world that is still groaning under the curse of sin (Rom. 8:22). One day his reign will be fully realized, and the effects of sin that plague us will fall away completely.

While often in religion humans must first do the equivalent of speaking in other tongues (mysterious incantations, complicated rites, elaborately-altered behavior) in order to lure the gods into visitation, at Pentecost God’s Spirit rushes into the scene of his own accord: the apostles are just waiting. Pentecost illustrates the fact that God is the initiator of our salvation; he comes to us independent of our control.

The experience of the Spirit at Pentecost is a fulfillment of the prophecy of John the Baptist concerning the one—Jesus—who would baptize in the Holy Spirit (Matt 3:11, Mark 1:6, Luke 3:16, and John 1:33). This promise is also repeated by Jesus Christ in Acts 1:5. The coming of the Spirit at Pentecost has a specific purpose in redemptive history: to show that God’s salvation is now flowing out to people from every nation, tribe, and language. This is repeated in the three outpourings of the Spirit that follow in Acts 8, 10–11, and 19.

Pentecost is a climactic event in salvation history for the whole Church. Luke’s focus in Acts 2 is on the fulfillment of prophecy, not on paradigms for personal experience. Luke is introducing the expanding gospel ministry of the Holy Spirit as the gospel is beginning to spread.

The story in Acts is also our story, because we are participating in God’s story. The descent of the Spirit on these apostles who looked like crazy drunk men is really our birth story, for those in Christ. While we think of our lives in terms of our own births, upbringing, education, families, line of work, and so on, there is another story that has been happening parallel to these things, actually it has weaved its way through these things. And it begins here with the descent of the Holy Spirit who fills these believers. If this had never happened, if God had not looked on Christ’s work on the cross and said, “It is good,” then raised him from the dead and set him at his right side, pouring out his Spirit on his people to take the message of his gospel of grace to the nations, we would still be in our sins. We would still be lost and without hope.

Peter’s Sermon at Pentecost (Acts 2:14–41)

Peter begins his famous Pentecost sermon with an extensive reference to the Old Testament, a citation from the prophet Joel, who predicted that God’s Spirit would be poured out in the last days, the days before the final judgment (the “day of the Lord”). According to Peter, the last days have begun. This “new religion” is actually the continuation of what God has been doing through Israel all along. Better yet, this God made promises years ago that these “last days” would come, and at Pentecost God is demonstrating that he is faithful and powerful to keep his promises. As he promised, God is pouring out his Spirit on all flesh—men and women, young and old, Jew and Gentile. God is mercifully and joyfully calling all people to salvation.

In Peter’s first sermon, the essence of gospel proclamation is clear: “Jesus is Lord” (v. 36). This simple statement poses a fundamental challenge both to the Jews (with their strict monotheism) and to the Romans (with their religious-political system founded on the supremacy of Caesar as Lord). The resurrection is also one of the core elements throughout the gospel presentations in the book of Acts. After setting current events in redemptive history, here Peter quotes from the Psalms to show that the resurrection (Ps 16:8–11) was God’s intention along. The crucifixion of Christ was part of God’s plan, and he followed it by raising Jesus from the dead. Peter shows that this is all promised in Scripture. God’s grace breaks through the walls of the worst of human rebellion.

Just as Jesus promised that the gospel would spread to the end of the earth, Peter proclaims that “the promise is … for all who are far off”. The gospel is not confined by geographical boundaries, but is universal in scope. But “far off” is not just geographical: by his death and resurrection, Jesus Christ has reconciled to himself all of us who were formerly “far off” from God and one another. No one is so far removed that God cannot redeem them.

The Fellowship of the Believers (Acts 2:42–47)

The Holy Spirit brings forth a devotion to the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, community, and prayer. Notice also the unity of mind and heart of these first believers. When God is present by his Spirit, unity happens. This shows us what the Holy Spirit does when he works in us individually and collectively. He brings forth love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal 5:22–23).

The Spirit’s ministry also brings forth conversions and numerical growth to the church, as we see that “the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (v. 47). The Spirit produces not only inward spiritual growth, but also expansion and growth of the church. Gospel-fueled, Spirit-empowered growth is a repeated theme that runs throughout the rest of Acts, as we see that “more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women” (Acts 5:14) and “the churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily” (Acts 16:5; see also Acts 6:7; 9:31; 12:24; 13:49; 19:20). The Spirit continues to testify through the church to the grace of God in Jesus, bringing about growth in love and in numbers. The grace of God is fruitful and effective, and we see God taking the initiative to spread his grace to ever-expanding numbers of people.

 

This post is adapted from my book, Acts: A 12-Week Study, and my notes on Acts in the Gospel Transformation Bible.

Trinity Sunday: Objects & Agents of Grace

Trinity Sunday: Objects & Agents of Grace

This posts adapted from my sermon on Trinity Sunday (June 15, 2014) at The Cathedral Church of Saint Luke.

Trinity Sunday

Trinity Sunday is one of the principal feast days in The Episcopal Church: Easter Day, Ascension Day, Pentecost, Trinity Sunday, All Saints’ Day, Christmas Day, and the Epiphany. Most feast days are about events connected to God’s redemptive plan (birth of Christ, Magi worship Jesus, crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus Ascension, outpouring of the Holy Spirit). But today is about God specifically.

Rusty Old Switch

Let me tell you a story as an angle in to what we will focus on this morning. Just bought a house and moved in the past few days. Under the break box is a rusty smaller box that looks like a timer or switch or something. I fiddled with it a few days ago, flipping it on and off to find out what it did. It seemed to be a useless old fixture.

The next day as we were moving some things in I noticed that a few things weren’t working. First, I couldn’t get the sprinklers to come on and then the garage door wouldn’t work and then the pool started turning green because the pool filter hadn’t bee running.

I called the couple we bought the house from. They explained that I must have turned off the switch for all these things I needed. That rusty old switch gave power to all these very important functions I needed, especially the pool filter. I had my two little girls coming over the next day and they were excited about the pool. I couldn’t have them swimming in algae.

I now know the significance of that rusty old switch and now I check it all the time. If something goes wrong, I run over to see if it’s related to the switch.

That’s kind of like the doctrine of the Trinity for us. It can be something we take for granted or even dismiss as “rusty” or “old” or “not useful,” but the reality is that the Trinity is the heart of what that we celebrate every Sunday and all the benefits of being adopted into God’s family. That’s why it is the topic of Article 1 of the 39 Articles.

Importance of the Doctrine of the Trinity

What is the Trinity and why is the doctrine important? God is one. God has one mind, one plan, one will, one nature, one essence, one Being. God is one and eternally exists as three persons: Father, Son, and HS. That is the Xn teaching on the nature of God. That is what “trinity” means. It is “tri” “unity”. This is what Tertullian was communicating when he created the word “Trinity”, which isn’t in the Bible but the teaching sure is. He was saying there is tri-unity: which is that God is one but three persons and three persons working together with one will, one nature, one mind. These three persons are completely equal in attributes, each with the same divine nature. While each person is fully and completely God, the persons are not identical.

Within God there is both unity and diversity: unity without uniformity, and diversity without division.  The Athanasian Creed (circa. ad 500) says it like this: “We worship one God in the Trinity and the Trinity in unity; we distinguish among the persons, but we do not divide the substance. … The entire three persons are co-eternal and co-equal with one another, so that … we worship complete unity in Trinity and Trinity in Unity.”

Our focus on Trinity is not just talking about the metaphysical, eternal understanding of the nature of God. But the Bible also talks about what the Trinity means for us and how we encounter God. Let’s look at two of these.

We are objects of grace and agents of grace. The order matters too. We are first object and then agents. Being an agent doesn’t make you an object.

Objects of Grace

First, we are OBJECTS of the Trinity’s grace The doctrine of the Trinity is most fully realized in the NT where the Father, Son, and Spirit are seen accomplishing redemption. We see this clearly in 1 Peter 1:2: “To those who are elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, and for obedience to Jesus Christ for sprinkling his blood.” Our salvation is triune in the sense that the Father plans redemption of the world, the Son accomplishes redemption by his life, death, resurrection, and ascension, and the Holy Spirit applies redemption to us in our hearts and lives.

We worship not only the complete unity in Trinity and Trinity in Unity, but we worship because the Triune God was fully active in our rescue and redemption. Redemption of sinful humans is accomplished through the distinct and unified activity of each person of the Godhead. Listen to Heb 9:14: “how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.” Or  2 Cor 13: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.”

This is “grace upon grace.” This is the unconditional overwhelming love of God.

My father taught me the word “unconditional.” I remember him saying, “I love you unconditionally.” I thought he was taking about Air Conditioning. Since we lived in FL, I knew AC was important and figured it as a good thing. But I finally asked what “unconditional” meant. He explained that there was nothing I could do for him to love me any more and nothing I could do for him to love me less…ever.

That’s when I learned that love begets love. You go where you are loved. I was compelled to be around him lots and to obey him. His love for me motivated my loyalty and love for him.

And this applies to us as we relate to God. We are objects of grace and we get to be and are called to be agents of the Trinity’s grace

Agents of Grace

This is what our Gospel reading is about: “Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age’.”

This is the Great Commission to Jesus’ disciples and also a picture of our participation. We get to be agents of the very thing we desperately needed. That’s a high calling. It’s a renewal of the original calling in the Garden of Eden to “multiply and have dominion” except now it is both physical and spiritual.

But notice that the commands to do those three things are in between two promises: Jesus has authority and Jesus is with you. You need to know both of these. These promises give us hope and expectation: “I have authority over everywhere, so go everywhere because it’s mine.” We should expect God to act and that our endeavors to be fruitful.

In addition to having authority, he is with you for solace and strength, for pardon and renewal. He is with you always and forever, no matter what. This is covenantal faithfulness and presence.

Prayer

On this Trinity Sunday, we celebrate that we who were once enemies of God are now reconciled and objects of his grace…but on top of that we even are commissioned to also be agents of that grace to the world.

Let us pray: “Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth: set up your kingdom in our midst. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God: Have mercy on us, sinners. Holy Spirit, breath of the living God: Renew us and all the world. Amen.”

 

What Does Jesus’ Resurrection Have to Do with Me?

What Does Jesus’ Resurrection Have to Do with Me?

The cross is God’s gracious response to our own sinful and willful irresponsibility, choices, and actions. We sin. We are perpetrators of evil—and this separates us from God. It is this aspect of sin that has been dealt with by the vicarious sacrifice of the atonement.

But we are also victims of sin. We have enemies who harm us. We are victims who have been sinned against in numerous ways. Because of sins done to us, we are also captive, held in bondage by powers in some sense external to us and greater than we are. Or we may be held in bondage to our own desires or fears, our self-centeredness or despair. Sometimes the Bible describes the human problem as suffering, being in bondage, slavery, or captivity, each and all of which separate us from God.

What we need in this regard is for God to fight on our behalf, against our enemy, for our freedom from bondage. This is what God did in the Exodus for his people. The clearest and most powerful manifestation of God doing this for us is Christ’s victory over death in the resurrection (Eph. 1:19–20). In this victory over principalities, powers, and death, the Son reclaims creation for the Father and freedom for you. “He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him” (Col. 2:15)

In answering the question, “How does Christ’s resurrection benefit us?” the Heidelberg Catechismanswers: “First, by his resurrection he has overcome death, so that he might make us share in the righteousness he won for us by his death. Second, by his power we too are already now resurrected to a new life. Third, Christ’s resurrection is a guarantee of our glorious resurrection.”

God accomplished redemption in Christ’s victory over sin and death, but the effects of that victory have yet to be fully realized. So while the ultimate outcome has been assured (Rom. 8:18–211 Cor. 15:51–57; Revelation 21), the struggle between life and death, good and evil, continues. However, the shalom (i.e. peace in its fullest sense), freedom, and rest of redemption will one day be fully realized when Jesus returns.

Jesus was physically raised from death as “the firstborn from the dead” (Col. 1:18), securing a future resurrection like his own for all those who are united to him through faith. Through his triumphant resurrection, Jesus opened the way for us to experience resurrection and eternal life in the new earth when he returns instead of the death we deserve.

Christ’s victory gives us back our identity and restores our meaning. We recognize, and may truly know for the first time, that we have a future that ends in peace, as well as a past that can be healed and forgiven, and now live in the hope of the gospel. Christ opens up for us a new identity because he himself remained always true to his identity, a share of which he offers to us.

In Christ’s victory, fear and shame are banished, to be replaced by profound joy that we are no longer strangers to God and to one another, that we are no longer so utterly isolated and alone.

Adapted from On the Grace of God

The Resurrection Is Not Just A Metaphor

The Resurrection Is Not Just A Metaphor

For Christians, resurrection isn’t just a way of expressing a spiritual truth. We believe that something completely unique in human history happened.

The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is a central tenet of the Christian faith. One of the earliest creeds (concise summaries of Christian beliefs), the Nicene Creed, declares that Jesus “for us . . . and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; he suffered and was buried; and the third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures.”

More Than A Metaphor

Resurrection is often misunderstood as merely a metaphor for a spiritual afterlife. But as prominent New Testament scholar N.T. Wright explains, the word “resurrection” had a very specific meaning in the ancient world:

“Resurrection” denoted a new embodied life which would follow whatever “life after death” there might be. “Resurrection” was, by definition, not the existence into which someone might (or might not) go immediately upon death; it was not a disembodied “heavenly” life; it was a further stage, out beyond all that. It was not a redescription or redefinition of death. It was death’s reversal.

For Christians, resurrection isn’t just a way of expressing a spiritual truth. We believe that in the first century something happened that was completely unique in human history up to that point: a man actually, physically died; he was buried in a tomb for three days; and then he actually, physically was raised back to life, never to die again.

Without the resurrection, there would be no Christianity, as the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian Christians: “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. . . . If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Cor. 15:14, 17). Paul saw the Resurrection as the lynchpin of the Christian faith.

Put bluntly, if Jesus Christ claimed to be the Savior but remains dead in a tomb after a brutal crucifixion, his claims were, and are, meaningless. However, if Jesus did rise from death, then his claims to be God, his bearing the penalty of our sins in our place on the cross, and his teachings about the kingdom of God and life after death are vindicated.

Suffered, Crucified, & Buried

Throughout his ministry, Jesus predicted numerous times that he would be killed and then rise from the dead:

  • “As they were gathering in Galilee, Jesus said to them, ‘The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day.’ And they were greatly distressed.” (Matt. 17:22–23)
  • “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” (Luke 9:22)
  • “And taking the twelve, [Jesus] said to them, ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.’” (Luke 18:31–33)

Around A.D. 33, Jesus’ prediction came true. He was captured, put through a series of false trials under cover of night, and sentenced to death. He was executed by crucifixion, and when the Roman soldiers had verified that he was dead, he was buried in a nearby tomb, with a heavy stone covering the entrance and a Roman guard posted to ensure no interferred with his body.

A New Era Of The Kingdom

His followers gave up hope. But on the morning of the third day, they returned to find the guards gone, the stone rolled away, and the tomb empty. Soon, Jesus began to show himself to his followers, fully and physically alive again. As Paul records, Jesus showed himself to Peter, to the twelve disciples, and even to hundreds of his followers at a time (1 Cor. 15:3–8).

Unlike the pagan religions of the ancient world, Judaism had a belief in bodily resurrection. But it was a resurrection that would occur at the end of time. There was no expectation in Jesus’ culture that one man would be resurrected as a precursor to the general resurrection. Even when Jesus himself predicted his own resurrection, his followers were confused (Luke 9:44–45).

When Jesus was crucified, they were devastated; when he rose from the dead, fully present in flesh and blood again, their whole world was changed. Empowered by the belief that Jesus’ resurrection signaled the start of a new era of God’s kingdom, they went out preaching the good news about what Jesus had accomplished by dying for sins and rising in victory over death.

Death Is Not The End

Jesus’ resurrection is the central miracle of his life. In triumphantly rising from death, just as he promised, he vindicated his claim to be the Son of God, sent to deliver the world from sin and death. His resurrection showed that he had successfully paid the penalty required for human sin and had overcome the curse of death that has held humanity in bondage since the Fall.

His resurrection paves the way for all those who trust him to look forward to a resurrection patterned after his. As Paul writes, “In fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:20–21).

Because Jesus was raised from the dead, Christians live with the hope and expectation that death is not the end for us, because we look forward to being raised like Jesus was and living forever with him.

A Theology of the Last Supper

A Theology of the Last Supper

Maundy Thursday, which remembers the Last Supper, is a celebration of the new covenant.

In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

1 Corinthians 11:25–26

As we progress through Holy Week toward Easter Sunday, one of the traditional Christian feast days is “Maundy Thursday” (also known in various traditions as Holy Thursday, Covenant Thursday, or Thursday of Mysteries). Coming before Good Friday, this day commemorates the Last Supper of Jesus with his disciples before his arrest, trial, and crucifixion.

Jesus’ Last Supper provides the basis for one of the most important observances of the Christian church: the Lord’s Supper, also known as Eucharist or Communion in different traditions. From the earliest days of the church, Christians have re-enacted the Lord’s Supper in accordance with Jesus’ instruction that his followers “do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19).

The New Covenant

The significance of the Last Supper is seen in the fact that it is when Jesus instituted the new covenant with God’s people, as he explained, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20). The Mosaic covenant, which God had made with Israel, was constantly broken because of the sin of God’s people. In the Old Testament, God’s prophets declared that someday God would institute a new covenant with his people and put his law into their hearts: “For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jer. 31:31–34).

As he broke bread and passed around the Passover cup, Jesus was being very intentional. The broken bread foreshadowed his body being broken in death, and the cup foreshadowed the shedding of his blood and the absorbing of God’s wrath against sin.

Christ’s death is the basis for the redemption of all God’s people through the new covenant relationship with God that had been promised. The old Mosaic covenant was replaced with the new covenant through the work of Jesus in his life, death, and resurrection, which provided complete atonement for all the sins of God’s people: past, present, and future (Rom. 3:25–26; 2 Cor. 3:1–4:6; Heb. 8:6–13).

Past, Present, and Future

There are many differences in the way various Christian traditions understand and celebrate the Lord’s Supper, but at the core is a basic unity in celebrating God’s redemption in the past, the present, and the future. We see all three of these elements in the Apostle Paul’s explanation of the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 11:25–26.

 

The Past

As Jesus instructed, we take the Lord’s Supper “in remembrance” (Luke 22:19) of Jesus’ finished work of salvation through his life, death, and resurrection. The bread broken and the wine poured out serve as concrete, tangible reminders of Jesus’ real, physical life and sacrificial death, which occurred once-for-all in the past. As Hebrews says, “We have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Heb. 10:10). The work of salvation is finished (John 19:30).

The Present

Yet when Christians celebrate the Lord’s Supper, it’s not only a way of remembering something past, but also proclaiming something that is present and looking forward to something that is future.

The Apostle Paul tells the Christians in Corinth that “as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Cor. 11:25–26, emphasis added). When Christians come together for the Lord’s Supper, we are celebrating and joyfully proclaiming the new covenant and the redemption through Jesus’ blood that is offered to all people. It proclaims the present power of the death of Christ and celebrates that we “who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Eph. 2:13). And as we eat and drink the elements Jesus said is his body and blood, we acknowledge our constant dependence on Jesus as the “bread of life” who came down from heaven (John 6:35–59).

 

A Future Hope

Finally, the Lord’s Supper looks forward to the future, because Jesus is coming again—“you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” As he gave his disciples the cup, he pointed them to his future return: “I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matt. 26:29). The book of Revelation portrays a great feast for “the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Rev. 19:6–10), which was anticipated in the prediction of a messianic banquet in Isaiah 25:6–8, Matthew 22:1–14, and Matthew 25:10. Jesus intentionally points his followers toward this future hope at the Last Supper.

When we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we remember God’s work of redemption in the past, we proclaim his grace in the present, and we look forward to Jesus’ return in the future. It’s a joyful, thankful, hopeful celebration as we reflect on and experience God’s grace to us through Jesus.

The Resurrection of Jesus: A Jewish Perspective (Book Highlights)

The Resurrection of Jesus: A Jewish Perspective (Book Highlights)

A Jewish PerspectiveThe Resurrection of Jesus: A Jewish Perspective

by Pinchas Lapide, translated by Wilhelm C. Linss

Augsburg Publishing, 1983

 


 

The resurrection of Jesus is central to the Christian faith. Without the resurrection, there would be no Christianity, as the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian Christians: “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Cor. 15:14).

Historically, Jesus’ resurrection (along with his claims to be the Son of God and the Son of Man) has always been the point of contention that separates Christians and Jews. However, the Orthodox Jewish theologian Pinchas Lapide (1922–1997), in his book The Resurrection of Jesus: A Jewish Perspective, turns that expectation on its head. Though he does not believe Jesus is the Messiah, Lapide does believe that the resurrection of Jesus was a historical event. Recognizing that Jesus and his disciples were faithful Jews, he seeks to understand it from a Jewish perspective.

Foundational Faith

According to Lapide, belief in resurrection was common in Judaism of Jesus’ day. He points out that not only does the Old Testament record several resurrections (or resuscitations; 1 Kings 17:17–24; 2 Kings 4:18–37; 13:20–21), it alludes to the future resurrection for all people in a number of places (Job 19:25–27; Hosea 6:1–2; Ezek. 37:11–14; Dan. 12:2). Individual resurrections provided the basis for the final, general resurrection. Lapide claims, “This certainty of a future resurrection of all and of a possible earlier resurrection of some people especially graced by God was the precondition of the Easter faith of the disciples” (p. 64). Thus, the Jewish faith of the apostles was the foundation of their faith in the risen Christ.

Lapide does see the cross “as a definite pledge of God.”

Though he believes the New Testament embellished some of the facts, Lapide argues that the oldest accounts of Jesus’ resurrection are simple and unexaggerated, which contributes to their reliability: “Instead of exciting Easter jubilation we hear repeatedly of doubts, disbelief, hesitation, and such simple things as the linen cloths and the napkins in the empty tomb” (p. 100). Furthermore, “The best proof for the solid faith in the resurrection is probably the realistic way in which the two oldest Gospels describe the painful death and Jesus’ cry of despair on the cross: ‘And Jesus uttered a loud cry, and breathed his last’ (Mark 15:37)” (p. 110).

Only 3 explanations

In Lapide’s mind, Jesus’ resurrection and appearances have only three possible explanations. They were either:

  1. A religious myth,
  2. A series of individual personal experiences, or
  3. Historical events.

Though formerly a skeptic of Jesus’ resurrection, re-examining the evidence led Lapide to accept the resurrection as historical fact: “If the defeated and depressed group of disciples overnight could change into a victorious movement of faith, based only on autosuggestion or self-deception—without a fundamental faith experience—then this would be a much greater miracle than the resurrection itself” (p. 126).

Resurrection, Lapide argues, is a hope Christians and Jews share.

Modern explanations of the resurrection that de-historicize the event appear to Lapide “as all too abstract and scholarly to explain the fact that the solid hillbillies from Galilee who, for the very real reason of the crucifixion of their master, were saddened to death, were changed within a short period of time into a jubilant community of believers” (p. 129). If God truly was active in the miraculous events of the Old Testament, then Jesus’ resurrection is not inconceivable.

While Lapide does not see Christ’s work on the cross as accomplishing redemption, he does see it “as a definite pledge of God, as a down payment of further hope for the longed-for complete redemption which we all are still expecting” (p. 136). Moreover, though he thinks Christianity has misinterpreted it, Lapide believes Jesus’ resurrection has “helped advance the divine plan of salvation” because it has “carried the faith in the God of Israel into the whole Western world” (p. 142). The resurrection of Jesus can still provide hope of God’s faithfulness to Jews who are waiting their messiah, Lapide asserts.

A Common Hope

Jesus’ resurrection does not have to be miraculous, according to Lapide. The works of God “do not arbitrarily skip the natural chain of cause and effect like the works of the sorcerer in a fairytale” (p. 150). Resurrection is no more miraculous than is the creation of life through natural birth: “Why should the resurrection of a personal ego after passing through death be more miraculous than the gradual awakening of a human being out of the lifeless matter of a fertilized ovum?” (p. 151). Rather than a supernatural event, the resurrection is a natural event that gives meaning to all of life, and “the hope of resurrection is a reasonable faith which should be sufficient for a meaningful, fulfilling life on earth” (p. 151). Resurrection, Lapide argues, is a hope that Christians and Jews share.

Lapide does not believe the resurrection proves Jesus is the Messiah.

It is unique for a Jewish scholar to accept the resurrection of Jesus as a historical event. Yet as Carl Braaten writes in the introduction, “It is the contradictory interpretation placed on the final 48 hours from Good Friday to Easter Sunday, the decisive events—cross and resurrection—on which the whole of Christianity is based” (pp. 13–14). Christians (and the New Testament) see in these events the revelation of the messianic identity of Jesus, while Jews still look for the Messiah who will establish God’s kingdom. Lapide accepts the resurrection as thoroughly historical, yet he is not a Christian because he does not believe it proves that Jesus is the Messiah.

For Lapide, Jesus is just a member of the great line of patriarchs and prophets who pave the way for the full salvation to be brought about through God’s kingdom. For Christians, the resurrection is God’s miraculous testimony that Jesus is “both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:26), “the Holy and Righteous One . . . the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead” (Acts 3:14–15). We as Christians believe that God “commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:30–31).

Advent IV: God Keeps His Promises

Advent IV: God Keeps His Promises

On the fourth Sunday of Advent (Advent IV), we celebrate God’s faithfulness in sending Jesus, and we remember that faithfulness as we look forward to Christ’s second coming.

The Scripture and Theology of the Fourth Week of Advent

Scripture readings for Advent IV focus on the coming of the Messiah who fulfills God’s covenant with David, bringing salvation for all people and the eternal reign of God on earth.

Old Testament Readings        

Old Testament passages for the final week of Advent reflect on prophecies, which are fulfilled by Jesus’ birth. Isaiah 7:10-16 recounts the story of King Ahaz, king of Judah at a time when Judah was facing a foreign invasion. Ahaz hoped for help from the king of Assyria. The prophet Isaiah, however, downplays human-oriented deliverance and instead points to God’s divine intervention to bring about his kingdom—an intervention that would come through a baby born in Bethlehem. Isaiah says, “The Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14).

We see something similar happen in 2 Samuel 7:1-16 when God corrects King David’s human plans by revealing his divine plan. When David starts to make plans to build a temple for God to dwell in, God counters that he himself will build his own “house” through the dynasty of David, ultimately dwelling among his people as God with us—Immanuel—in Jesus Christ. God promises that he will make for David a great name, give his people eternal rest from enemies, and give him an everlasting kingdom (Isaiah 7:9-16); these promises are fulfilled in the coming of Jesus.

Micah 5:4-5 looks forward to how God will rule over his people through Jesus: “He shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord…And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth. And he shall be their peace.”

Readings from the Psalms

In Psalm 80:1-8 we see the psalmist praying for deliverance and restoration. Because of God’s past deliverance, the psalmist calls for God once again to let his face shine upon his people so that they can be saved. The Gospel of John says that those who have seen the face of Jesus Christ have seen the face of God (John 14:9). In Jesus Christ, God fulfills his promise of salvation by making his face shine upon his people.

Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26 shows God’s steadfast love and faithfulness. God said, “I have made a covenant with my chosen one; I have sworn to David my servant: ‘I will establish your offspring forever, and build your throne for all generations’” (Ps. 89:3-4). God said he would be faithful to David, and through Jesus, God keeps his promise.

New Testament Readings       

New Testament readings for Advent IV continue to reflect on God’s faithfulness to his promises. The gospel was “promised beforehand through [God’s] prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 1:2-4). The good news of salvation is that God has been faithful to his promise to David in sending Jesus Christ, the only Son of God.

Hebrews 10:5-10 reminds us that Christ’s coming obliterates the old system of sacrifice, through the sacrifice Jesus made for us, once for all. Because of Jesus’ sacrificial death on our behalf, “we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Heb. 10:9-10). Jesus’ birth points us forward to the cross. As Karl Barth put it, “Except we see the Cross at Golgotha we cannot hear the Gospel at the crib of Bethlehem.”

Gospel Readings

Gospel readings for Advent IV tell the story of the angel coming to Mary and Joseph to announce Christ’s birth. In Matthew 1:18-25 the angel Gabriel tells Joseph that Mary “will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). This fulfilled what the Lord had promised to the prophet Isaiah: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, ‘God with us’)” (Matt 1:22, from Isaiah 7:14).

Luke 1:26-38 tells another more of the story and connects Jesus’ birth to the lineage of David. The angel tells Mary that her son “will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:32-33).

The Symbolic Spirituality of the Fourth Week of Advent

The Jesse Tree and Advent Wreath both bring to conclusion the theme of repentance throughout the Advent season. The Jesse Tree tells the story of God bringing his people out of exile through Jesus Christ, and the Advent Wreath expresses the peace that we experience through God’s redemption.

The Jesse Tree                       

The Jesse Tree in Advent III felt somber; Israel was in exile, and there was little hope in sight. But the story now takes a positive turn with the arrival of the one who paves the way for Christ. God’s promise has arrived, and by telling the stories of John the Baptist (Luke 1:57-80, 3:1-20, 7:18-30), Mary (Luke 1:26-38), Elizabeth (Luke 1:39-56), Zechariah (Luke 1:57-80), Joseph (Matthew 1:19-25), the Magi (Matt 2:1-12), Jesus (Luke 2:1-20), and Christ (John 1:1-18), the Jesse Tree becomes fully lit. The story that God began with Adam reaches the top of the tree with the arrival of the Second Adam, Jesus, who reverses the curse of sin by crushing the head of the serpent on the cross.

The Advent Wreath

On the last Sunday of Advent, a fourth candle on the Advent Wreath is lit. Traditionally, this purple candle has been called the “Angel Candle” and represents the peace that Christ’s birth brings to earth. All four of the candles around the Advent Wreath are now burning, each at a different height. Only one candle remains: the center, white Christ Candle that is lit on Christmas Eve, representing the pure lamb of God who has come to take away the sins of the world.

God Keeps His Promises

The Advent season is a journey through the biblical story that shows us how “all the promises of God find their Yes in [Christ]” (2 Cor. 1:20). Advent points us to Jesus, just like all Scripture. At his first coming, which we celebrate at Christmas, Jesus showed us his humility, his love for us, and his heart of grace toward sinners and sufferers. At his second coming, which we look forward to in Advent, he will complete what he started at his birth, bringing a final end to suffering, sin, and death, restoring his creation, and setting up a new kingdom of righteousness and peace. God keeps his promises.

This post is part of a series on Advent:

A Great Joy For All The People

A Great Joy For All The People

“The angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.’” Luke 2:10–11

Jesus’ arrival brings joy and hope for all people. The shepherds felt that joy when they received the announcement of Jesus’ birth from the angels. We feel that joy when we celebrate the Incarnation at Christmas and when we look forward to Jesus’ second coming—when everything will be made right.

A joyful future

In Isaiah 35:1–10, the prophet looks forward to the future promised for the people of God—a future inaugurated at the first coming of Christ and consummated at his second coming. When Jesus returns, the effects of sin’s curse will be removed: the wildernesses and dry land will blossom, and streams will come forth from the desert. The miracles Jesus did illustrate what life will be like in his kingdom: “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy” (Isa. 35:5–6).

When God brings restoration, tears will be turned into shouts of joy.

God cares about those on the fringes of society, those who have no voice of their own and cannot speak for themselves. The Messiah has been anointed by God to bring good news to the poor and liberty to the captives, proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of God’s vengeance on evil and oppression. God is one who loves justice and mercy, and in his kingdom those who suffer from injustice will be restored. Jesus “will save the lame and gather the outcast, and [he] will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth” (Zeph. 3:19).

Tears into shouts of joy

Our joy at how God has saved us—and our hope for the complete salvation that is coming—leads Christians to want to share that joy and hope with others. Psalm 146:4–10 says that the one “who executes justice for the oppressed, who gives food to the hungry” is blessed. The Lord opens the eyes of the blind, lifts up the downcast, keeps watch over sojourners, and upholds widows and orphans (vv. 8–9). When God brings restoration to his people, there will be laughter and joy, and tears shall be turned into shouts of joy (Ps. 126:5).

What God has done for us motivates us to spread that joy.

In Matthew 11:2–11, John hears rumors about what Jesus was doing and asks him (through his disciples), “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” Jesus responds to John’s followers: “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them” (Matt. 11:4–5). Jesus’ answer is incredibly fitting—“Look at what I’m doing,” he says. “You know that the Messiah will bring healing to those in need, and that’s exactly what I bring.”

As Christians, our joy at what God has done for us motivates us to spread that joy to others through both words and actions. We get to participate in God’s mission and help share the joy that is for all people: the Savior is here.