25. Redeemed From (1)

PART FIVE: Nuts & Bolts of Redemption

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 25. Redeemed From (1)

Eph 2:1-3    As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.  All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts.

Big Brush Strokes: We move in to what I anticipate will be the penultimate Part of this series, before we reach the most difficult and potentially contentious final Part, that may possibly be a minefield as I want to look honestly and openly and look for fresh wisdom and insight in respect of some of the things that seem to blight modern church life or perhaps act as challenges or possible hot-spots of contention with the world. However, before we move into that, so as not to create too much of a culture shock against where we have been so far in the series, I think we need to look more broadly at creating a foundation for these things by recapping some of the key things we’ve seen in big brush strokes to remind ourselves of what the picture of redemption is all about, and then in the following studies consider some of the detail outworking of redemption, the nuts and bolts of it, if you like, how it really works. We have said in passing that redemption is about being delivered from our old lives into new lives. So let’s think some more about this matter of being delivered FROM.

From Godlessness: This is so simple, straight-forward and obvious that it should hardly need restating, but it is just because it is so obvious that we need to face it and consider it. Now some people dislike the use of the word ‘godless’ because they think it is associated with being a pagan unbeliever – and it is – but it is also a characteristic of so many lives, of ‘believers’ as well as unbelievers. Let me demonstrate. In our starter verses above, the apostle Paul opens up with, “you were dead”. Put aside, for the moment, how and why you were dead (in the way you lived) previously, and remember the warning that God gave Adam and Eve originally: “you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” (Gen 2:17)

Now it is clear after the Fall that they continued to live for many years, but without that previous relationship with God. Yes, physical death did eventually come but spiritual death – the absence of God in their lives – became the new way of life. So, when Paul said “you were dead” he meant, as he referred to their old lives before knowing Christ, that they had been spiritually dead with no relationship or awareness of God. Yes, as we’ll see, this was worked out in the way we lived and the things we did, but those things all followed the approach to life that we had – being without God (godless) – and that all starts in the mind. In the active sense it is open hostility to God and rejection of God, but in a passive sense it is expressed as simply not thinking about God, and it is this latter approach that Christians so often live with.

Reliance upon me: The other side of the coin to godlessness is self-centredness. Now there is a difficulty here in that we are all made with ‘self-consciousness’, and that is not a result of the Fall but simply something that all sentient beings have. Indeed that is part of the definition of us human beings. So there is nothing wrong with being self-aware, but that is very different from self-centredness which refers to the exclusion of others and, in this case, the exclusion of God.

Biblical Examples: Consider some of the people we have examined earlier in this series. When Abram told his wife to pretend to be his sister, he was acting to protect himself. When Jacob schemed and plotted and connived, it was all to advance himself through his own cleverness. When Joseph received prophetic dreams, all he could think of was how great that was going to make him, not why God might do that and what He might do to make that happen. When Moses killed the Egyptian he was taking action in a way he thought was good, not pausing to think of the consequences. When David took Bathsheba he never paused to think of the consequences, he was simply taken up with desire, and that set in motion a series of consequences (she became pregnant) that led him to have her husband killed. Again and again and again, we have here examples of how people think only of themselves (at the moment) and give no thought to God or His wishes or, even worse, His demand for accountability.

Applied to the Christian Life: Now Paul, in our verses above, was making the point that this is how our lives were run, prior to knowing Christ. When we come to Christ, the theory is that we will cease to be god-less and (implied) become God-focused, but the truth is that it is so easy to continue like that. It is what is natural, it is what the old life did, and the enemy seeks to fill our minds with so many distractions that we forget the way it needs to be now. Paul was later to write, “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Rom 12:2) We have commented more than once that God’s desire is to change us into the likeness of Jesus (see 2 Cor 3:18) and I said just now in a way that might sound slightly legalistic, ‘we forget the way it needs to be now’ but the reality is that when we permit our approach to life to remain self-centred and god-less, we are left, like Jacob, having to scheme and plot how to triumph in life, not realizing that God does want us to triumph in life, but with His wisdom and His revelation and His activity in our circumstances. How easy it is not to pray, not to seek God, not to ask for His wisdom, not to ask for His intervention, how easy it is to think, to reason, to work and struggle to achieve ends that we think will be good.

Sub-standard Goals: The trouble is that, yes, God does want us to think and to reason and to work but so often our goals are less than His and our ways are more arduous than His so that we exhaust ourselves in the process. Did God want Abram to succeed in life? Oh most definitely, just look at the things He said He wanted to do for him. Did He want Jacob to succeed? Oh, most definitely. Again look at the prophecies and the end results. And Joseph? Oh most definitely. The dreams said it all, it was just that Joseph didn’t understand there could be a way of humility, so that instead God had to use his pride and arrogance to set in motion the events that followed, events in which God intervened as He gave favour to Joseph. Did God want Moses to deliver his people? Yes, but not by killing them one by one (the logical outworking of what he started to do!) Now God has great goals for us but either we can’t believe they could be that good, or we don’t see how they could come about, so we struggle and beaver away at being successes (i.e. we are being godless) when all the time the Lord is longing to show us a better way.

The First Goal of Redemption: Division between us and God came about at the Fall and was formalized, if we may put it like that, by God’s judgments on humanity. Nevertheless that never meant that He stood back, never to have any more dealings with mankind, for we soon see (as we saw in the second study) that He was having contact with Cain and Abel, with Enoch, with Noah and with Abram. God’s desire has never changed, to have a relationship with those He had created. The Fall was not the end. Throughout our studies we have seen this desire of God’s, to redeem people from the mess they have been making with their godless efforts and bring them into a real relationship that is good, with Him. Whatever else you might have considered or picked up in these studies, a real and ongoing relationship with the Lord is the first and foremost goal of God’s work of redemption. He redeems us from being far away, to come close to Him. The fruit of that is peace, a sense of security, wisdom, revelation, grace, strength, power, all things that He can provide for us. Even more than this, as we have already hinted, He longs to be involved in our circumstances so that, where we let Him, He will intervene to bring about changes in them.

Practicalities: We’ve just given a broad sweep of the things He wants to do for us, but let’s pick up on three of the most obvious ones the scriptures speak so clearly about. Consider: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:6,7)

  1. Anxiety: Anxiety has to be one of the most common emotions that we Christians experience – worries, concerns, fears, doubts – a mixed bag under this one heading. Why? Because life is often difficult, and people are often difficult, and the circumstances become difficult, and we struggle in our minds with what to do, can we do, is there anything to do? And so we worry. Remaining in a state of worry (sorry if this sounds hard) is godless and self-centred. The means of dealing with it is there in those two verses – not to reason, rationalize, scheme, plot, plan – it is to take it to God, to commit it to Him. As the psalmist put it, Take delight in the Lord,and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn, your vindication like the noonday sun. Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him.” (Psa 37:4-7) Giving over your circumstances (commit your way) to the Lord means we will trust Him to be there for us, and that will be seen in practical outworkings. The Living Bible puts it well, “Commit everything you do to the Lord. Trust him to help you do it, and he will.” (v.5)
  1. Wisdom: We find we are confronted by people or circumstances who challenge our ability to cope; we don’t know how to handle them. We feel all at sea, lost. (and then, so often, we worry). “you don’t know what you’re doing, pray to the Father. He loves to help. You’ll get his help and won’t be condescended to when you ask for it. Ask boldly, believingly, without a second thought.” (Jas 1:5,6 Message version.) Perhaps we are more familiar with, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt.” (NIV) But there it is, when we run out of ideas, ask Him. This is the God we sometimes describe as all-knowing and all-wise.
  1. Grace: Perhaps the umbrella that all these things come under is grace which, in this context, can be defined simply as ‘God’s resources that are available to us to enable us to cope’, and we might add, ‘to cope with everything that comes our way in life.’ As the Lord said to Paul, “My grace is enough; it’s all you need.” (2 Cor 12:9 Message version) Believe that.

With God: So, to conclude, these things are all there available to us, plus lots more, and they become available when we stop being self-centred and godless and turn to God. To conclude with Jesus’s words: “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Lk 11:11-13) OK? Ask!

11. Resurrection = Power

(We pick up the threads again of the series we started before Lent, particularly appropriate after Easter))

PART TWO: Lifted up – for Resurrection

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 11. Resurrection = Power

Phil 3:10    I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection

The Resurrection Parallel: As we move into the second Part of this saeries, we remind ourselves that we are basing these studies on Jesus’ words about “when I am lifted up” which can have three applications. The first was about being lifted to die and the second one, which is a quite natural follow-on when we consider Jesus’ life, is about resurrection. The parallel with Jesus death and resurrection and the same happening, in spiritual terms at least in our lives, is strong in the New Testament.

We have seen it previously in Romans 6; now see it in Ephesians 3:  I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people,  and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms.”  (Eph 3:18-20) i.e. the same power that raised Jesus from the dead is the power that now indwells you. There is a hint of what is coming in the final Part that we will consider – ascension and ruling in heaven and that is put as a parallel by Paul when he speaks about our inheritance. At this point in time, this is expressed as hope for the future which we are encouraged to believe in, as we take hold of it today in the power of God that we experience. Do you see how all these things are inter-related?

Death essential: Of course without death there cannot be resurrection. We see that from earliest preaching: This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him,” (Acts 2:23,24) and the apostle Paul, as we saw previously, follows on from that: We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”  (Rom 6:4) It sounds an obvious thing but when you apply it to the spiritual parallel of our lives, it becomes vital. If we do not put to death all those things we considered in the first Part, they will act as a hindrance to us being able to enter into the experiences paralleled by resurrection which we will consider as we go through this Part.

Indeed, when we start thinking about resurrection parallels in our lives, the thought that death MUST go before, puts a new emphasis behind all we said in that first Part. Our starting point had been the picture of the seed falling into the ground and ‘dying’ and without that happening, it cannot possibly ‘germinate’, get nourishment from the soil, be watered and grow. The burying and ‘dying’ is vital.

God’s Sovereignty must mean Our Surrender: But then we considered the matter of sovereignty, and this is where a unique dynamic comes in. Unlike a do-it-yourself activity or working from a self-help book, living out the Christian faith is not only about following the instructions of the teaching in the New Testament but also taking the leading of the indwelling Holy Spirit; it is a personal relationship thing and that can’t happen unless we are willing to put aside our own hopes, desires and dreams and submit to the Lord’s plans for our lives – which are always better!!!! But for His will to prevail, ours has to die.

Available to all People: When it comes to people, it is so easy to let personal likes or dislikes prevail, but Jesus is open to all and wants us to be available to all, but we cannot do that and be his instrument unless we are willing to die to those likes or dislikes in respect of people, our own prejudices. If it applies generally to people, it certainly applies where we have a need to be forgiven or to forgive. Failure to die to self means the Lord cannot raise up new life in the form of reconciliation and healing.

Don’t Lose the Resources: Then there was the subject of allowing people or systems or methods to replace our reliance on the Lord Himself. While we rely upon or look to anyone or anything other than the Lord as our resource, we will not be able to receive the flow of His Spirit, His power, into our lives. We have to die to those other ‘resources’ if we are to become recipients of the Lord’s resources. Jeremiah had to bring the word to God’s people, “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water,” (Jer 2:13) which was all about substitutes.

Reliance in all areas = blessing in all areas: Anxiety and worry, and the whole subject of trusting the Lord is, at the heart of it, all about knowing the Lord in daily experience, not merely in reading about Him in His word. Death to self means turning to Him, relying upon Him, turning to Him with all problems and difficulties, whether intellectual, material, spiritual or emotional, and not making our own intellect or cleverness, or our own will-power, the resource we will rely upon.  Anxiety closes us down. Reliance releases resources.

This is a very real issue. Another way of putting it is to ask are we godly or godless, selfless or selfish, when it comes to running our lives? Death to the godless and selfish approach to life is essential if we are to let the Lord move in with resurrection power to deliver us in the trials we face in life and shine as His children.

Pleasure, a supplementary gift: Finally we considered the difficult path of enjoyment and pleasure that can exclude the Lord from our lives. In such a case it is death to excess, death to making pleasure the source of meaning and fulfillment for our lives. Where the seeking after pleasure through goods or experiences has subtly grown to fill our lives to the exclusion of the Lord, then balance is never going to come and all we can hope for is a jaded ‘existence’ if we fail to put to death such a reliance. In today’s age that is a particularly hard thing in modern life.

Life Options: So there it is: failure to face and deal with these very real issues means we will be consigned to a mundane life of ordinariness, jadedness and frustration, a life where the glory and wonder of the Lord cannot break through in resurrection power. Clearly the opposites of these things that we have considered, and which need putting to death, will be goals of the resurrection life and so, having dealt with them thus far, we will endeavor not to repeat them in the following studies. Instead we will consider what the resurrection life means and how it can be experienced, even in what we might consider the ordinary aspects of the Christian life, so they can become less ordinary and become a source of excitement, faith and hope, rather than drab, taken-for-granted features of formal religion. Remember, this second Part is all about power to live the new Christian life.

22. Dead to the World

Short Meditations for Easter on the Cross: 22. Dead to world 

Gal 6:14  May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.

The cross, a symbol. Many people wear it around their neck. Churches have it on their spire; it appears in many such places, a symbol at the heart of the Christian faith. Paul has just been speaking about those who boast in outward, physical expressions of their faith but, he says, I won’t boast in any such thing; the only thing I will ‘boast’ about, the only thing I will get excited about, is my Lord’s cross. It isn’t, he infers, what I do but what he has done that we should get excited about.

But then he says something strange as he talks about the cross: “through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”  The JBP version puts this well: “God forbid that I should boast about anything or anybody except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, which means that the world is a dead thing to me and I am a dead man to the world,“  and the Living Bible puts it, “Because of that cross, my interest in all the attractive things of the world was killed long ago, and the world’s interest in me is also long dead.”  Don’t they put it so clearly, but even they need thinking about.

By coming to God in repentance we surrendered our old lives to Him for Him to make us anew. The reason He could accept us was the fact of Jesus dying on the cross to take our sin, our guilt and our punishment, as we’ve said before. But in so coming to Him we gave up the allure of the ways of the world and surrendered to the ways of God which are far better. But it is a two-way street. Not only have I died to the ways of the world, but as far as the world is concerned I am a write off. Just the other day I heard someone launching off about their mother-in-law who was ‘a born-again Christian’ and it was said in a derogatory way.

For many in the world we are irrelevant as far as they are concerned in terms of running the country, and yet isn’t it a strange thing that when Government or local government has problems in society and they are looking for help, they come to the local church because they recognise here are a group of caring people who will step up to the mark to help the community. As far as they are concerned, if we speak of the cross, we are dead people, yet as a resource for the needy community they recognise we are vital. (That doesn’t mean to say that there will not be spiritually hungry and thirsty people who won’t see is and be drawn to Christ, for our ‘good works’ are to be attractive – Mt 5:16)

The Cross is not merely a symbol, it is what divides us from the world around us and determines our lives and our future.

28. The Voice for the Dead

Short Meditations in John 5:  28. The Voice for the Dead

Jn 5:28  “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voic

With this series of meditations (the Short meds) we try to focus the meditation on just one verse as a form of discipline which is a little difficult here as the verse caries on into the next and the temptation is to observe what happens in this verse and then its outworking in the next, but we’ll keep the outworking until the next meditation. What does this one verse say to us?

Well, I suggest, something very simple and also very profound. The very simple thing that Jesus says to whoever hears or reads these words of his, is that they will hear his voice AFTER they die. The phrase “all who are in the graves” can be simply be taken to mean, whoever has already died. It is that simple and straight forward. Now what this must also say to those who think that death is the end is that you are wrong! There is more to come. You may not be bothered with all this talk in the Bible of ‘eternal life’ but these words to Jesus apply to absolutely everyone; note the all who are in their graves.”

Now the more profound thing that follows from this is that after death YOU are going to have dealings with Jesus Christ, because he is saying here that all will hear the voice of the ‘Son of Man’ which we have already noted he applies to himself. He, Jesus, makes this claim that because of who he is, his voice will reach beyond the grave and therefore he is saying that he himself extends beyond death – anyone’s death wherever it occurs in history – and that puts him on a par with God, so we have yet another of these subtle implications that Jesus IS God.

Now when we move on into the next verse we will see what happens and why Jesus will speak but for now (as if there was no follow-on verse) anyone who reads these words should think – “There is an existence after death?  I am going to have to face God after death?” Within this there comes a serious challenge, why would God want to talk to me after death if it were not to talk about how I have lived this live here and now?

I find those who deny there is anything beyond death simply short-sighted. That is not being unkind, but it is an acknowledgment that we normally base our actions and beliefs on evidence. Now there is an enormous amount of evidence to suggest that the Bible is true and can be trusted, and then, that what those who spoke have been recorded in a measure, that can be accepted, but what evidence is there that there is nothing after death? Throughout history this belief of an afterlife has permeated the human race, so why deny it?

25. The Dead Raised

Short Meditations in John 5:  25. The Dead Raised

Jn 5:25  I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live

Jesus is subtly making the same point again and again, that his business is to bring the dead to life. The world does not like it when you say they are spiritually dead but that it the truth – before we receive God’s salvation through Jesus Christ we are spiritually dead. Now we have to be careful here for people in the world use the occult and the occult operates in a spiritual dimension but that is not ‘life’ as the New Testament speaks of it. ‘Life’ only comes when the giver of all life – God – puts His own Holy Spirit within a person – He alone is life, life that goes on and on and on. He is eternal life and any other form of life ceases at the end of its human existence here on earth.

Yes, New Age people and spiritists dabble on the edges of the spiritual world but that is very different from encountering the living God; they may inadvertently have dealings with demonic beings bringing deception and an appearance of another reality, but it is not the reality of heaven and of God, and it is certainly not eternal life.

When Jesus says, I tell you the truth,” he is declaring, “This is really true,” so when he goes on, “a time is coming and has now come,” he is saying that this possibility of a new life has already come – with him. There is no doubt about his claim: “when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live,” for he describes himself (somewhat rarely) as the Son of God. It is an outright challenge, but then who else but God could make such a claim to impart life to the dead. Maybe it is something they expected the Messiah to be able to do, but Jesus lifts himself beyond a mere messiah figure when he clearly calls himself the Son of God. No wonder the legalistic Jews got upset, but he has a lot more to say before we get to that.

But perhaps we need to return to the subject of the spiritually dead before we finish for this is the state of all those who may be family, friends or workmates or fellow students. It doesn’t matter how nice they are; this is a not a question of sociability or even morality, this is a question of the ability to have a genuine spiritual relationship with God. Doing good or being nice are laudable in themselves but they are no replacement or substitute for a living relationship with God. If our own relationship is not particularly sparkling we may take it for granted and fail to distinguish clearly between them and you or be afraid to make that distinction because you feel it is presumptuous, but it is not – it is a distinction between eternal life and eternal death. Hold that!

21. Life Givers

Short Meditations in John 5:  21. Life Giver

Jn 5:21  For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it

It might be a scary thought that new birth only comes when God gives it, if it wasn’t for His love and the knowledge that in reality He wants ”everyone to come to repentance” (2 Pet 3:9) and it is only our own stubborn and foolish hearts that keep us from receiving all of His goodness through salvation. His desire is to bless us and bring us to salvation, to raise us from the (spiritual) dead.

This looks a funny verse at first sight. “The Father raises the dead”. It is God the Father’s sovereign actions that prevail. Although there is a unity in the Trinity, the Son always submits to the Father in whom is all authority. So the Father seeks to bring us back to Himself and in so doing He rescues us from spiritual death (separation from Him) and imparts life to us, the life of His own Holy Spirit, eternal life. But it starts with the Father. As we have said before, He always initiates the activity.

But then we find, running parallel to this, the Son also gives life to whoever he will. We have seen previously that the Father shows the Son all that He is doing, all that is on His heart, and the Son joins in that activity, so here, when the Father desires to raise a person from their spiritual death, the Son does likewise; it is a joint Father and Son activity and, of course, it is the Holy Spirit who is imparted to bring that new life. Whenever new birth occurs, the entire Trinity is involved.

Note the final expression, “to whom he is pleased to give it.” Even as we said the Father’s desire is for repentance to come and salvation to follow, by implication it also pleases the Son when he is able to bring another person into his Father’s kingdom. There is indeed rejoicing in heaven when every new birth takes place.

Perhaps we cannot emphasise this enough that it is the desire of the Godhead to bring salvation to mankind. Three times in the book of Ezekiel we find God’s desire declared in this manner, for example: “I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!” (Ezek 18:32).

Some people seek to portray God as a vindictive, nasty being who just delights in bringing destructive judgment on mankind. Nothing could be further from the truth!  The whole point of Jesus coming to the earth and dying on the Cross was to open the way for us to be saved. God wants to bless us and that can only come through His salvation through Jesus, because while we live our self-centred ‘old lives’ we won’t be open to receiving His direction and thus His blessing that He wants to bring to us.

49. Resurrection Necessity


Focus on Christ Meditations: 49.  Resurrection Necessity

Acts 2:23  This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.

As we move on looking at the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, having considered the warnings beforehand that it was coming, before we move on to look at the facts of the resurrection, it would be profitable to consider WHY the resurrection is so vital to our beliefs.

The Problem Stated: The apostle Paul focused on this subject when he wrote, For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” (1 Cor 15:3,4) In the next study we will consider the greater detail that then follows, but for the moment we need to look at his later remark which goes right to the heart of the matter: “if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised.” (1 Cor 15:14,15)

Death in History: Our starting point, as we considered in some measure previously, is that Christ was dead and buried. If he stayed like that then he would find himself in a gallery of fame that included other famous religious leaders, e.g. Mohammed, Buddha and so on, let alone lesser but important leaders in history. The starting point has to be that history shows that all great men and women died, were dead and buried, and remained dead and buried. THE claim that separates Jesus Christ out from any other major leader, is that although he died, he did NOT remain dead; he rose from the dead, he was resurrected and in that, he is unique, there is NO one else like him in all history.

Two Critical Overview Consequences: Now look back at what Paul wrote: “if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” Two things. First we have this New Testament  that, after the Gospels and Acts,  is full of the writings of Paul, Peter, James and John, and they all say the same thing, and it all hinges on the Lordship of Christ because of his resurrection. If Jesus was not raised then all that teaching was wrong and then, secondly, it means that our faith, founded on all this teaching, is unwarranted and pointless. It isn’t simply the fact of his resurrection that is important, it is also the consequences that flow from that. To understand that, we need to look at some of this teaching we find in the New Testament, and there we will see six consequences.

  1. Ground for Belief for Justification: Going through Romans, we see this again and again. Speaking about our lives, Paul wrote, “us, to whom God will credit righteousness–for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.” (Rom 4:24) Now see this clearly. The whole of Paul’s teaching is that we are justified by belief and faith, just like Abraham was: “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” (Rom 4:3) Abraham’s belief was focused on God’s power to bring new life to his body, give him a son and make him a nation, resurrection power, if you like! We are justified when we believe that Jesus died for us and rose again: “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.” (Rom 4:25) The resurrection of Christ becomes the focal point of our belief. If it didn’t happen, we have nothing to believe in.
  2. Ground for Ascension & Rule: The apostle Peter focuses our belief as follows: “this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also–not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand–with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.” (1 Pet 3:21,22) We focus on a Lord who was raised and subsequently ascended to heaven where he rules today. If he wasn’t raised, he couldn’t have ascended and would not be in heaven reigning gloriously today. Our faith would be pointless. Paul said the same thing: “That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms.” (Eph 1:19,20)
  3. Ground for Our Power: But that takes us on to another aspect of this, for the power Paul spoke of there was the power we now have: “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.” (Eph 1:18,19) Hope, an inheritance and power, the same power as raised Christ. i.e. God releases that same power in us That’s what Paul also said in Romans: “just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” (Rom 6:4) and “if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.” (Rom 8:11) Christ being raised is paralleled with us being given a new life and that life is enabled by this same power. If that power DIDN’T come and raise Jesus, then all this is pie in the sky!
  4. Ground for Eternity: He repeats this with the Corinthians: “By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also.” (1 Cor 6:14) But this is not just for now, it is also about our eternal future: “we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence.” (2 Cor 4:14)
  5. Ground for the Second Coming: But there is another aspect to be considered: “to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead.” (1 Thess 1:10) We speak about waiting for Jesus’ Second Coming, but if he was not raised from the dead, then his body is still in the ground and has rotted and any talk about a glorious return in power (e.g. Rev 19) is meaningless.
  6. Ground for the Final Judgment: Yet, one more aspect. Men question whether there will be a final judgment. Yes, says Scripture, God keeps His word as the resurrection proves: For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:21) or, as the Message Version puts it, “He has set a day when the entire human race will be judged and everything set right. And he has already appointed the judge, confirming him before everyone by raising him from the dead.”

No, the resurrection provides a) a focus for our belief, b) a parallel for the power that is ours today that enables us to live today and c) which will also carry us into eternity, but it also shows d) how Jesus could ascend and rule at his Father’s right hand, and e) be there ready to return in glory at the appropriate time, and f) a confirmation that God’s agenda for the end is on course. Without it, all of Paul’s preaching was just pure deception and our faith meaningless wishes. That prepares the ground for us to go on and examine the equally important subject of the evidence for the resurrection which we will consider in the next study.


48. Resurrection Forewarned

Focus on Christ Meditations: 48.  Resurrection Forewarned

Acts 2:23  This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.

From death to resurrection. Jesus, we saw, had the power to raise others from the dead but now, with his own death, we are told it was the Father in heaven who now raised Jesus from the dead. As with his death we will consider what Scripture had to say about it BEFORE it happened, then the fact of it happening, and finally the significance of it happening. So, first of all, what warning was there that this is what was going to happen?

Let’s start with Jesus’ own words, as we said we would do. Yes, we have seen these verses before but let’s see them again to ensure we really and truly take in this particular aspect of them. They start in Mt 16:

  • From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” (Mt 16:21) Then there was,
  • “When they came together in Galilee, he said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised to life.” (Mt 17:22,23) And finally there was,
  • “Now as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside and said to them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!” (Mt 20:17-19) We have seen each of those before because they were linked with his explicitly speaking about his death.

However there are also other references in Matthew: “As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” (Mt 17:9) That verse did not make reference to the third day, but it certainly put Jesus’ resurrection on the agenda! Then there was, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth,(Mt 12:39,40) a very specific reference to what would happen. The death would only appear as that over three days. After that there would be resurrection even as Jonah was given a new life after what was surely going to be death. Also at the Last Supper there is an oblique comment, “Jesus told them, “This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written: ” `I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.” (Mt 26:31,32) There it is again, part of his agenda.

Now it becomes clear that Jesus words were not only discussed among the disciples they were talked about further afield, so much so that they got to the ears of the religious elite. We’ve seen it before but it is pertinent here: “The next day, the one after Preparation Day, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate. “Sir,” they said, “we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, `After three days I will rise again.’ So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead.” (Mt 27:62-64) It was because of this claim that had become widely known that the authorities took these precautions, to prevent any false claims about it having happened. As far as they were concerned such a thing was preposterous and so they wanted to prevent the disciples staging any false resurrection appearances and claims, and so the first stop was to ensure the body remained in the tomb.

Next we turn to Old Testament prophecies to see if this was foretold. Now if you remember what we said when we did this with his death, you will remember that we said that although there are many prophecies about his kingship and the coming kingdom, there is little or nothing about his death. Having said that we should not be surprised, therefore, when we say there is only one reference in the Old Testament that was picked up in the New Testament to refer to the resurrection: “Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will live in hope, because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay.” (Acts 2:26,27 citing Psa 16:9,10)  Peter used this verse in his sermon on the Day of Pentecost to show that in fact the resurrection was expected. To that he added his absolute assurance about what had happened: “Brothers, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact.” (Acts 2:29-32)

The apostle Paul also used it in his preaching for the same reason: “So it is stated elsewhere: ” `You will not let your Holy One see decay.’ “For when David had served God’s purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep; he was buried with his fathers and his body decayed. But the one whom God raised from the dead did not see decay.” (Acts 13:35-37)

As we search among the strange verses of Isa 52/53 there is just a glimmer of the resurrection there: “Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days.” (Isa 53:10) Although death is implied there is also this strong hint that yet there will be life after it.

So again we see this mystery: the two main events of the existence of the Son of God on earth were hardly spoken about in the prophetic utterances of God’s men and women in the Old Testament. Why? We are not told. Perhaps because the Lord did not want to influence the outcome by telling of it beforehand. Perhaps if it had been laid out so clearly there would have been imposters trying to create it like a modern-day illusionist. Again the truth is that in hindsight there are indicators in the Old Testament but very tenuous, and yet when the Son of God comes, he is very specific with his disciples that this is what is going to happen.

No conjuring trick, no pretending death – crucifixion at the hands of one of the most brutal armies in the world does not allow that theory – no spiriting the body away and then having a look-alike stand-in afterwards – the apostles would not have given their lives for a lie – no, none of these possibilities stand scrutiny. That leads us on to the next study where we shall examine the details of what happened and ask, why would anyone make this up?

8. He’s Alive?

Meditations on Aspects of Easter: 8.  He’s Alive?

Lk 24:2,3    They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.

It is Sunday, Easter Sunday, Resurrection Sunday.  Whatever I write today will be inadequate. From that perspective I wrote about yesterday, of two thousand years of hindsight, I am convinced that so much of the time we just skim over the accounts of the first day of the week rather like we skim over the evening news on TV. It comes and goes. It may be terrible and for a moment or two we may be moved. It may be wonderful and for a moment or two we rejoice but as they say in the news world, the news cycle is incredibly short these days and so today’s news will be superseded by a new batch in a day or so. Is that how we will treat this incredible day? May it not be so. I have sought, during this week, to face the realities of what happened and why, in broad terms, rarely focusing on individual scriptures but seeking to capture the big picture. I want that for today especially.

Today we rejoice in our celebration services and so often it all seems so sure and so clear. For those involved, there on the ground in Jerusalem, I suggest, it was utterly confusing. If I may cite again, for I have used this story many times over the years, the illustration I came across a number of years ago, it might shed some light. Some people I knew, leaders of the church grouping of which I was part, went out to Africa to see for themselves the reality of accounts that had been coming of an amazing healing ministry that was going on in one country.

I will never forget one of the things they said: “For the first four days we struggled as our minds desperately sought to catch up with what our eyes were seeing.”  So dramatic and so incredible were the healings they witnessed, hundreds every day I believe, that their minds just could not cope with what they were seeing. For example, bodies changing shape in front of their eyes as God healed and straightened out broken and distorted limbs, and so much more.

Now imagine you were one of the people who were there two thousand years ago. We saw Jesus broken and bleeding body taken down from the Cross, utterly pale, no question, dead! And now standing before me is this man I have followed for three years and he doesn’t look an invalid even, and he is well and truly alive, and smiling at me. I think if I was me, I would have burst into floods of tears at the relief, once I passed the stage of believing it is him and he is alive. I often say that when it comes to the loss of a loved one through crippling old age perhaps, we should not feel guilt about having a feeling of relief mixed in with our mourning for loss. Sometimes death brings a sense of relief; this terrible ordeal is at least over. Now if that is so over a death, I wonder what it would be like when the person we feared was gone, proves to still be with us?

There are many questions over the accounts of the things leading up to the crucifixion and his death and resurrection, but that is not surprising. These close followers of Jesus have just been through the most dramatic three years of their lives as they have followed him around Galilee transforming the lives of thousands. It has been the greatest roller-coaster ride in history.

The biggest question has been “How?” followed by “Who?” Answers have not always been clear. Then come the events of Passion Week that we have sought to briefly reflect upon this week. It was confusing, often hostile, frequently chaotic; the fact is that these were incredibly tumultuous times and so although the facts are all there, they are a) not always there in their entirety and so b) the order is not always abundantly clear.

I did warn at the beginning that whatever I wrote would be inadequate. What I seek to suggest is that these events are so tumultuous and mind blowing that it is probable that if we could time travel back there with a bunch of psychiatrists, I am fairly certain they would diagnose most of Jesus’ followers as suffering from post-traumatic-stress syndrome. However many words Jesus spoke when teaching his disciples beforehand, nothing would ever truly prepare them for the emotions that would accompany the events we have been considering this week. And therein is the ring of truth.

If the four Gospel accounts had been precisely the same and neatly and orderly spelled out these events, I would be seriously suspicious about their veracity. These slightly shambolic records (at times at least) say, “This is true! This is what really happened.” And if it did, why did it? Well I have been desperately trying to catch a sense of reality about what went on in this week, but now we come to the words so often and so easily spoken in church: “Jesus died on the Cross to take the punishment for your sins.” Do I believe it? Utterly! Do I understand it? In general terms, as far as the words are all familiar words, yes, in a measure. Beyond that, if I am honest, and I have sought to be this week, not really. I struggle to comprehend my need (hence some of the earlier meditations) and I certainly struggle to understand how awful it must have been for Jesus to do what he did, and therefore how he could love you and me so much that he still went through with it.

The best I can do is say, I will declare it as the truth and that truth I comprehend more clearly on some days than on others – but I will live by that truth and trust that truth, and my knowledge of God, accumulated over nearly fifty years of following Him, says He is content and pleased with that. That truth opens up a doorway to a life in which I can experience the love and the goodness and the grace and the power and the wisdom of God on a daily basis. On a good day it is brilliant, and on a bad day, it is still the truth. And it is all like that today because nearly two thousand years ago in time-space history Jesus went through the things we have been considering this week, and he did it for you and me. And he rose from the dead and a whole new world opened up! Amazing! Staggering! Incredible! Wonderful! Hallelujah!

7. Silence and Questions

Meditations on Aspects of Easter: 7.  Silence & Questions

Lk 23:54-56    It was Preparation Day, and the Sabbath was about to begin. The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment

It is Saturday, the Sabbath in Israel. Let’s clarify days and times first. For the Jew the new day began at 6pm (yes, of the previous day) and so the day of celebrating Passover and eating the lamb started at 6pm on Thursday and finished at 6pm on Friday. The Sabbath, the Saturday on which no work could be done according to the Law, started at 6pm on Friday and finished at 6pm on Saturday, after which work could be done and spices etc. purchased from the markets which had reopened, to be able to be used next morning (Sunday) once the sun had come up. It is Saturday, the day of no work and so it is quiet. Behind some closed doors in Jerusalem (or maybe in Bethany) there are red eyes, red from weeping.

Now there are two perspectives that need considering in respect of that first Easter. First there is our perspective from two thousand years afterwards, and with the knowledge of hindsight – we have the completed Gospels and so we know what follows. We know that tomorrow we will celebrate Jesus’ resurrection, but because of this knowledge I would suggest we have a tendency to complacency. It’s a bit like the film, ‘The Titanic’. My wife says, “I don’t want to see it; I know the end, it sinks!” From our perspective, we know the end – he rises from the dead: God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.” (Acts 2:24) Yes, tomorrow we will sing victory songs about Jesus rising from the dead but we will have lost the sense that you would have (and we’ll consider tomorrow) if you had been there.

So let’s go back nearly two thousand years and see if we can grasp something of the awfulness of this day – because it was awful!  It is a day that is almost worse than yesterday. Yes, yesterday contained those awful events, the trial and crucifixion of Jesus, but somehow it seemed somewhat unreal. Some had been up all night long. Peter had fled in tears from the courtyard where he had three times denied his master. He is devastated and guilt ridden. John had been there and seen the trial and had no doubt heard about Peter’s experience. The others had mostly fled and were now behind locked doors. At least yesterday there was a faint glimmer of hope: if he is the Messiah it is just possible he will call down armies of angels and step down off the Cross and claim his Father’s kingdom. When he dies – well, we saw him raise others from the dead; is there yet hope? But he was taken down from the Cross, a lifeless and bloody body. They take him away, do some temporary embalming in a rush (6pm is rapidly approaching and nothing can be done on the Sabbath), place him in a cave, a tomb belonging to a follower, and roll a massive stone across the entrance to keep off predators (animal and human!)

And so now it is Saturday morning and there is an air of finality hanging over the day. Everyone else is taken up with observing the Sabbath. For them the continuity of life brings an air of normality but for those who had followed this wonderful man, this incredible miracle healer, there is an emptiness that is only filled with despair. It is all over, he is gone. Death is final. All our hopes have been dashed. Rome and the establishment have triumphed; they have got their way and removed him. All the bright hopes of ‘your kingdom come’ have evaporated. Was God in this? Was it all a dream, these past three years? What had it all been about? Is Satan stronger than God? Will evil ever more triumph over good? Has the whole Jewish history been a sham? What is the point of life? Well, we have some good memories, but you can’t live on memories, memories won’t stop you being hunted down as a supporter of this rebel who has now been executed? Nothing makes sense any longer. For three years, goodness had triumphed over evil. For three years, the sick had been made well, the deaf had been enabled to hear, the dumb had been enabled to talk, the blind had been enabled to see – but now that is all over, it is just memories. No more. The end. Where is God when we needed Him? Why didn’t He turn up and save Jesus?

Such are the questions on this Day of Silence. If the Old Testament had taught us anything it was that God is a communicator, God talks to us, but now – He is silent. Had Jesus got it completely wrong? Was he just a pretender (but what about the miracles????) and so had God judged him and put a stop to his ministry? God, are you there?????  What is going on??????  It’s no good saying, “Just hold on, be patient, it will all work out to the good if you just hold on,” because the very foundation of all we believed has just been crucified and, yes, he is truly dead and death is the end. We gave up our lives to follow him and we traipsed miles around the country following him. What for? What was the point? If it was God giving us a little glimpse of what was possible when He was on the scene, surely that seems a bit unkind, devastatingly unkind, when He walks away and we’re left with nothing!

Don’t you dare look at this from our perspective and think, well just maybe there were some of them who had held on to Jesus’ words and were just waiting for him to come back; we would have.  Oh no, all the accounts (and you can read them yourself as an exercise later today) show that these devastated followers were blown away when he reappeared, and the two on the road to Emmaus show they were utterly confused. No, there is no false hope here today. Just silence and questions.

Only a few days ago I was talking to a good friend who is going through harrowing life and family circumstances and all of his angst is summed up in one word – why? It is the word many of us ask out of circumstances of pain, anguish, loneliness and so on. I could attempt some answers but this Saturday is a day with no answers. Tomorrow may be different, but don’t hold your breath.

When God turns up with answers, they tend to come like a bolt out of the blue, unexpected and unforeseen. There is one thing I am sure about though, and it is this. If, when we get to heaven, should the Lord allow us to see back through all of history with His full and total sight and knowledge, I am utterly convinced that when we see it all, we will never be able to find a thing to criticize Him about. But for the moment, weep at loss, weep with fears, weep with frustration, weep for all these things, but may I come and sit or kneel beside you and weep with you so the three of us may weep together?