Resurrection in Three Dimensions

May 4 – Resurrection When:  Historical Evidence

May 11 – Resurrection Then: Theological Explanations

May 18 – Resurrection Now: Practical Expressions

Session 2: Resurrection Then: Theological Explanations.

“Resurrection is not a symbol or merely a historical event, but is the new creation.” ~Steven Paulson, Luther Seminary

When Jesus rose from the dead on Easter morning, he rose as the beginning of the new world that Israel’s God had always intended to make.” 

~N.T. Wright, Simply Jesus

“[Jesus] was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.” ~ Romans 4:25

Initial Questions and Statements about Resurrection

How would you finish this sentence?  “Because Jesus is risen…”

What does it mean that Christ was raised from the dead?  What effects does this have for us, for our world?

Our route for today: two temptations; the relationship between the cross and the resurrection; how does the resurrection reach me?; where does the resurrection send me?

(At least) Two Temptations when Considering the Meaning of the Resurrection.

I.  The first temptation is to consider the cross as the downer; the resurrection as the upper.

In this temptation, the resurrection is our source/guarantee of glory and power in this world. This understanding can be seen in many forms in the church.  (Please keep in mind that each of these forms containsome important truth, otherwise they would simply fall on deaf ears)

1. Prosperity Gospel.  Joel Osteen, for example, has no room for the cross or the forgiveness of sins.  God wants you to have “your best life now” and “maximize your potential.”  The resurrection is our model for becoming more than who we are today.

2. Pentecostal spirituality.  The presence of the risen Christ in your life (and in your congregation) is proven by charismatic – “signs and wonders” – spiritual experiences, initially through a “second baptism” in the Spirit, evidenced by speaking in tongues (or at least proven by people who actually seem excited to be there worshipping).  Why would the risen Christ not give you such power?

3. Church growth/success.  A particular temptation of mainline denominations (and specific congregations, like Bethesda) is to define the effects of the resurrection in terms of the church’s power to grow numerically and in power/influence.  That is, 1) Jesus rose, 2) the gospel spread, and 3) if we are not ourselves growing bigger and spreading our influence, something is wrong either with us or with the power of the risen Christ himself!

4. End-times speculation about the risen Christ coming back to conquer through violence and achieve the “true victory” over sin, death, and the devil.  This assumes the victory of the cross was limited in effect, forcing the risen Christ to make like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator and promise, “I’ll be back.”  And you know what will happen when he comes back.

Instead of these and other forms of the temptation to consider the resurrection as the “upper” that gives us power, Paul’s boast (or his “upper”) is cross-centered.  He nears his conclusion to Galatians with this amazing statement,

14 May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15 For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything!”

Paul considers himself dead to the world, and the world dead to him.  But this should not be taken as a lack of concern for the world.  (Simply observe his great missionary efforts and sacrifices).

In other words, the cross and resurrection of Christ does not give you a “lever” to pull in the old world which is passing away.  The cross and resurrection of Christ creates and announces that there is a new creation altogether.  It is hidden, but held by faith.  It will be revealed at the last day, which is also the first day. 

As Paul says elsewhere in Colossians 3:3,

“Your life is hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.”

To be hidden in Christ is not to be hidden in power and glory, but in you being crucified.  More on this to come…

II. The second temptation, which we might fall into when trying to avoid the first temptation, is to say something like, “Well, it’s ok not to have power in this world, because we’ll be off to heaven soon!  We will be passing away.  I’ll fly away oh glory, I’ll fly away in the morning.  When I die, hallelujah by and by, I’ll fly away.” 

The biblical promise is much different: in Jesus, and now through his church, the life of heaven has been born on this earth. 

The resurrection is the beginning of God’s new world, the beginning of the kingdom.  God is now in charge, on earth as in heaven, as Jesus taught us to pray.

“The stories of the risen Jesus have a different quality altogether.  They seem to be about a person who is equally at home ‘on earth’ and ‘in heaven.’”  NT Wright, Simply Jesus, 192.

In the risen Jesus, heaven and earth hold together.  The message of the resurrection is not that Jesus is a bridge to get dead people to heaven.  The message of the resurrection is that Jesus is the first fruits of the new creation of heaven-earth.

What, then, is the relationship between the cross of Christ and the exaltation of Christ in the resurrection, ascension, righthand of the Father authority, and coming again to judge?

“He was crucified, died, and was buried.  He descended into hell.  On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the father, and he will come to judge the living and the dead.” ~From the Apostle’s Creed.

It is only in the light of the bodily resurrection that Christ’s ministry perfected in the cross appears as a victory.  

We saw some of this evidence last week, with the historical implausibility that yet another failed messianic movement would have inspired such a previously unimaginable story (“He is risen!”) and such martyrdom (dying for this story).  Something happened that dramatically altered the understanding of the cross for Jesus’ followers.  

The resurrection vindicates the life and death of Jesus Christ.  He is who he said he was.  He won the world by seemingly losing at the world’s game, only to reveal the power of God to ignore the rules printed in the game box!  In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe this is called the “deeper magic,” which the White Witch could not understand.

These various expressions for the exaltation of Christ – risen/ascended/seated/coming – reveal the meaning of the exaltation from various points of view: Christ lives, he is set free from the earthly limitations of space and time, and he belongs entirely to the divine life.  Christ coming again to judge the living and the dead means God will do for the whole cosmos, in the end, what God did for Jesus at Easter.

“The exaltation does not imply a separation from the life and struggle on earth, but on the contrarynearness, presence.”  Gustav Aulen, The Faith of the Christian Church, 218.

Christ’s ascent is his descent; his absence is his presence.  If Jesus is now in heaven, he is present to every place on earth.

So, how does the Resurrection of Christ reach me?

John 11: Martha and Jesus at the tomb of Lazarus.

17 When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. 21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.* 22 But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”** 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.*** Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” 

*“Lord if you had been here my brother would not have died!”  Martha’s not here for a sermon, but to chastise Jesus.  His timing is off.

**“Your brother will rise again.”  Martha hears this promise as law (accusation) because she has to wait until the end of the world.  “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”  

***Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life…”

Jesus speaks in the substantive – I AM – he becomes resurrection.  How does the resurrection reach me?  Not as an idea or concept to accept or reject, but as a person – Jesus Christ.

All other religions/philosophies want to make resurrection a concept to think about and determine whether to believe it.  And Martha, too, had been taught a religious doctrine: the resurrection of all on the last day.

But Resurrection Himself is in her backyard, speaking to her, creating faith that was not there before.  Faith not in a concept, but in a person. 

So Martha said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are…”  Her faith clings to this person – Christ, Son of God, the one coming into the world.

We can say that believing in the resurrection is to believe only in Jesus Christ, but it is to believe in Jesus Christ while you yourself are dying.

Martha is dying before Jesus, unable to do anything else.  What can’t she do?  Speak to her brother.  She knows in theory there is a resurrection at the end of time, but meanwhile she has to wait with a broken heart.  The resurrection is needed FIRST for her, later for her brother.

Recall that the first temptation is to turn the resurrection into a theology of glory and power, rather than to come under it, undergo it, understand it as a theologian of the cross – that is, as one who is dying and being put to death, and to have no solution to this problem other than Christ to show up and speak to you.

The crucifixion is the end of you; the resurrection is the new you, the new creation.  This is the difficult of preaching and believing in resurrection – the resurrection of Christ is the death of myself, because Christ came back from the grave without my beloved sins.  He left them there, along with my death.  Having my death taken from me is the death of me, because I was planning to make the most of my life, planning to enjoy my best life now, intending to “do enough” to be fit for heaven one day.  But when the risen Christ speaks to you, you realize that time’s up!

Summary statement. 

The proper teaching of the resurrection of Christ is that the victory is already won on the cross itself.  The resurrection is the creating new; the forgiveness of sins.  It is the Risen Christ coming to you through Word and Sacrament, to hand over the goods.