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Why is the resurrection of Jesus good news? (sermon)

April 7, 2012
Luke 24: 1-12, 36-49

Today we’ve been celebrating, singing bright songs, symbolising good things… saying things like ‘Christ is risen’ and ‘Death has been conquered’ and I suspect that many people when they hear those statements each Easter, if they’re not completely asleep by the time they hit the pew and immune to those familiar words, wonder at least two things… when they hear ‘Christ has risen’ they think something like… that’s nice for him 2000 years ago, but what has it got to do with us today? and when they hear ‘death has been conquered’ they think something like ‘I’m not sure I know what that means… how is death conquered? We still die don’t we? and I’m not sure what it’s got to do with heaven?’

So this week I set myself a task… to try and understand, and explain in ordinary words, the Christian answer to this question. Why is that event of the resurrection of Jesus good news for us today?

[gather thoughts – in simplest terms]

1. If the resurrection is true then… God is like Jesus…. and 2. If it is true then death loses its dominion over our lives.

Or better putting the two together…

If the resurrection is true and God is like Jesus… then death loses its dominion over our lives

In order not to simply repeat the problem of slogans we don’t really understand… let me try and unpack these statements:

Most people believed in some kind of afterlife… for Jews a resurrection from the dead at the end – with various accounts of what happened in the meantime. Belief in God or an afterlife was not Jesus’ provocative idea.

Jesus had this incredible, revolutionary conception of God… the God that Jesus believed in and trusted and obeyed, the God who shaped Jesus life to the very end was startlingly different from all of ancient religion. Many anthropologists would say that the common factor in ancient religion and often in modern religion too is a kind of principle of exchange ‘do ut des’ (I give in order to receive)… its also a principle of sacrifice… I give to the gods in order to receive good crops, good health, victory over my enemies, prosperity whatever.

Jesus doesn’t talk much directly about the nature of God… he tells a lot of picture stories (parables), but in the three gospels of Matthew Mark and Luke (leaving aside John for today, John’s a different kind of gospel) there are only three times Jesus talks directly about God. [This section inspired by Michael Hardin] Anyone like to hazard a guess as to what one of those three might be

  • Matt 6: 25ff  Don’t worry abut the body, food, drink, look at the birds of the air… “If God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, you of little faith” (God is the provider… the giver for all creation)
  • Luke 6: 32-36 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you… but love your enemies… and you will be children of the most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful just as your Father is merciful.” (God gives, not just physical creation, and not just like us who give to our friends, but God gives mercifully to enemies.)
  • Luke 11: 9-13 “Ask and it will be given… If you who are evil give good gifts to your children, who much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit…” (God gives good gifts, like a Father)
  • Best indirect indicator about God – dishing out forgiveness without sacrifice
  • Classic example of nearly getting killed atNazarethfor portraying a God-without-vengeance for all people.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the day of the Lord’s favour…”

    • Elimination of ‘the day of vengeance
    • Particular stories of God’s relation to enemy pagans

Jesus has lived his life in obedience to this God… the one he called Abba… Jesus was shaped by this God, he went to his death in obedience to this God.

“The God who gives (even to enemies)”…translates in Jesus life into his Self-giving to his death. Jesus was like this God.

So what the resurrection does is put the Big Tick on all of this. God says ‘This man Jesus was onto something!’

So if Jesus was onto something, not just in his thinking but in his living, then when Jesus is raised from death… not only is Jesus like this very different God, but more importantly God is like Jesus. Are you with me on this?

God is like Jesus not because God tells us so in words but because he gives Jesus again in an act of forgiveness. It’s not that words drop out of the sky or something. To give Jesus back to his disciples…(not in vengeance for having abandoned him and failed completely to understand what he was on about but in restoration) is precisely to continue to be the God that Jesus knew him to be. The resurrection continues the life of God as it was in Jesus.

 

2. If the resurrection is true and God is like Jesus then death loses its dominion over our life. What does this mean?

If you think about it, everyone lives their life in a context, defined by birth and death. But death can have a different character for different people. Death is like the horizon of our life in time. And that horizon is not just out there in the future like an endpoint that we may or may not think about… our physical clock is ticking down from the day we are born. Things start to wear out. The tide is coming in on the island that is our conscious life.

Inasmuch as we think of our life as a kind of possession, we’re losing it! Death is as present to us as life is.

If God is not like Jesus, then there are basically two options for the character of death, and therefore for how it effects our life.

Firstly, if we are atheists, then outside of the horizon of our life is… nothing (as far as we as conscious human beings are concerned). Nothingness… is the tide that is coming in on our little island of life. Not just as an endpoint, but as a process that constantly effects us.

Secondly, if we are religionists, whether in Jesus time or today, we probably believe in a god out there, or something to which we must come to terms. And that god is not purely a giver of good things but also a taker. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, as Job put it. In which case we must offer some sacrifice, not usually first-born or fatted calf these days, but we will have to do a deal. And in order to do that deal we will have to start to think of our lives as, in some sense, our private property. For the religionist it’s our capital, that we can offer some of in a deal with the god who comes to us in death.

For the atheist and the religionist, death becomes a taking of our private property. Death, whether we consciously fear it or not, becomes a threat… this is the source of the dominion of death – and all the ways we need to secure this private property, secure our status, build a system of health which keeps us alive at all costs as long as possible… we could talk about the impact of this on so many levels couldn’t we?

But perhaps we now see how this Jesus revolution hangs together… The resurrection is the event in which something interrupts history and people are persuaded that God is like Jesus, not a threat to be feared but totally love, and the giver of life. And something has been given into history, we call it the Holy Spirit, in which people are given the courage to live as if God were like Jesus… to live like Jesus… to give in a way that is free from the dominion of death, as if our lives are not private property at all, but a gift to be given.

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