Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter: Good News, Bad News . . . and More Good News


Today is Easter Sunday, the day on which the Church celebrates the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the grave. What does this historical fact mean?

First, the good news of Easter:

Jesus' resurrection confirms that he is in fact the Son of God, the long-promised Savior of God's people. "His Son . . . 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" (Romans 1:3-4).

Jesus' resurrection shows that God approved of Jesus' finished work of atonement, his wrath-deflecting death for sinners. He fully bore the punishment due upon sinners, and having completed it, was vindicated (justified) by being raised from the dead. "Jesus our Lord . . . was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification" (Romans 4:25). "By his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I [God] will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong" (Isaiah 53:11-12).

Jesus is the living, secure source of sure forgiveness of sins for all who turn to him, now and for eternity. "Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem" (Luke 24:46-47). "For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life" (Romans 5:10). "The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, but he [Jesus] holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them" (Hebrews 7:23-25).

Jesus defeated death, opening up a new future for God's redeemed humanity. For all in Christ, death is not the final word. "God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it" (Acts 2:24). "But 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 all in Adam die, so also shall all in Christ be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. . . . The last enemy to be destroyed [by Christ] is death" (1 Corinthians 15:20-23, 26). "Our Savior Christ Jesus . . . abolished death and brought life and immortality to life through the gospel" (2 Timothy 1:10).

Believers in Christ will one day share new bodies like his. "What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body" (1 Corinthians 15:42-44). "But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself" (Philippians 3:20-21). "When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory" (Colossians 3:4).

Those who belong to Christ already possess new life and victory over sin's guilt, shame, and power by the same Holy Spirit, a foretaste and a down payment confirming the glorious new life to come. "We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. . . . For the death he died, he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God" (Romans 6:3-5, 10-11). "But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ--by grace you have been saved--and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus" (Ephesians 2:4-6; see also Colossians 2:13-15).

Many people, feeling either an internal need for religion or desiring an external show of false piety, only attend worship services on Christmas and Easter. These motives even drive many people to church week after week. Perhaps you are one of them. It is a blessing indeed to hear of the Good News, the gospel of Jesus and his resurrection. But Easter isn't all good news. Here's the rest of the story:

Being raised from the dead and exalted as God's Son, Jesus is also the King who commands our obedience and submission. "The LORD said to me, 'You are my Son; today I have begotten you. As of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel.' Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him" (Psalm 2:7-12). "The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him" (John 3:35-36).

As the Living One who holds the keys to death and hell, Jesus will come again to judge all people. "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" (Revelation 1:17-18). "The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he 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).

As terrible as the sufferings and crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth were (and are) to witness, at least if you only come to church on Good Friday, you are left with only a dead man. If the last word about Jesus was his burial in Joseph of Arimathea's tomb, then we are left with a benign Judean rabbi -- a man of love and power, to be sure, but one whose love and power are no longer active for us today. But in fact Jesus has been raised and demands the obedience of faith from all people. We can either be honest with ourselves and God about our wretched condition, our sinfulness, and the failures in trying to live life on our own terms--and the just anger of God due to us because of that. And we can turn to Jesus and embrace him as the Living One, the sure Savior whose death has paid for all our sins and removed God's wrath, and who opens to us eternal, new life in fellowship with him and all his blessings. The same love, forgiveness, power, healing, wisdom, and compassion Jesus embodied and used for good in his earthly life can be yours today if you commit yourself to him and receive him as our Rescuer and Master. The good news of Easter will become your good news. Or you can choose to remain indifferent to this Jesus, perhaps gambling upon the chance at a later day to take him seriously.

Just as Jesus asked his dear friend Martha, so he asks all of us today: "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?" (John 11:25-26). If you do believe this, here is a possible prayer you can use:

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, you are alive today, and that gives me great joy and hope! Your death has paid for my sins and secured my forgiveness, and I know you call to me now to receive you and cross over from death to new life. I am a needy sinner, but in unfathomable love and grace you gladly and fully meet all my needs, both now and forever. I turn from my ways and trust you as my Savior and my King. Take me to be yours, and reign in my life--because I have no other hope. You are trustworthy and true, and I know you will do all this for me. Amen!


RT said...

Hey Drewski,

A pleasure as always to read your thoughtful ruminations. Would that all disciples were so diligent in their study of God's word and careful understanding of the teachings therein.

Which is why I was given pause by your curious conclusion to this otherwise excellent post. Contra your title, you've got good news, bad news, more good news...and more bad news. Not to sound like a grumpy Lutheran, but you kind of throw the ball back into our sinful court there. Can you offer justification (!) for including a sinner's prayer in the proclamation of the Gospel? Its omission from said proclamation is something I thought we were agreed upon...

How is life in VA? If you need a vacation, you're always welcome to the visit the Left Coast!

Andrew said...


I can always count on you for a theology check! I do agree that the Gospel is the Gospel, a message, news, a proclamation, kerygma--take it or leave it, it's unchanged: Jesus has come as the long-promised Savior, through his incarnation, death, resurrection, and ascension bringing life to dead sinners. No one’s response (or lack of it) changes it. I also agree that oftentimes "sinner's prayers" can be twisted into Arminian do-it-yourself theology and easy-believism. It’s not a prayer that counts, but baptism and faithful, lifelong discipleship.

No, the sinner's prayer isn't part of the Gospel itself, per se. It’s not the Good News. But it is one way of crystallizing the response the Gospel calls us to make. It doesn't include the necessity of baptism and church membership--something without which no one can be a disciple (extreme circumstances notwithstanding). So – is a sinner’s prayer incomplete? Yes. Unwarranted? No.

If you’re taking the angle that the “sinner’s prayer” puts the ball back in our court, leaving salvation up to our own decision—well, yes and no. Yes, faith is the commitment of our souls to Christ’s nail-pierced hands full of the mercy of God. But that doesn’t mean faith and salvation are, in the end, up to me. That faith is, in the end, generated solely by the Holy Spirit as a free gift of God in his electing grace (Eph. 2:8-9; Phil. 1:29; 2 Pet. 1:1).

I’m sure Seaside will sound nice when we hit good ol’ August 95F-and-muggy weather down here in Richmond.