Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Why Does Jesus Matter? Part Two

The Gospels describe Mary Magdalane (one of Jesus followers) going to the tomb in order to anoint his body with oils as was customary for Jewish burials.  However, when she gets there the large stone covering the entrance has been rolled away and the tomb is empty. After making this discovery she goes to tell the men what she has seen and they in turn go and look for themselves.

Now an empty tomb is not enough to suddenly make these scared and confused disciples who had locked themselves away behind closed doors into a bold and fearless movement declaring that Jesus is Lord.

But what did it mean to call Jesus Lord?
The pages of history are splattered with the ideology and blood shed by rulers and dictators, Kings and Queens, Caesars and politicians, each demanding, through the shedding of other’s blood, and the blind pursuit of ideology, that they be seen as ruler, as in control, as the one whom citizens will follow. They would each call themselves Lord.

Yet as these bloody pages of history are written, the Wind of God's Spirit blew carrying upon it a whisper first uttered behind those locked doors, that turned into a joyful declaration on city streets, which in turn became a movement that transformed an Empire; that whisper?

Jesus is Lord.

Whilst many of the rulers of this world throughout history have governed through drawn sword or loaded gun, this Lord commands forgiveness of enemies, prayer not violence, washes our feet and sheds his own blood for the salvation of the world.  This Lord, this Prince of Peace, brings about his Kingdom through the revolution of love, the outrageousness of grace, the transforming power of hope.

For these disciples the tomb was empty because Jesus had risen from the dead. The early Christians did not believe Jesus had been resuscitated like a dead man who gets a second chance at life, rather they believed that somehow Jesus had passed through death, triumphed over it and left death behind in the empty tomb; the risen Jesus had entered into a new life, an eternal life, a life not determined or controlled in any way by death.  This had been the story of his life, a life that was lived in a creativity that death could never take away. The necessity of death that controls us Jesus was able to live beyond into a life of pure love, grace and forgiveness.

After the resurrection Jesus was like but also not like how his disciples knew him. His body had been transformed into one that was beyond death. So he was not resuscitated, not a zombie or a ghost, but was transformed. He could appear and disappear at will, no longer bound by time and space, yet he also sat and ate with his disciples and still in some way bore the scars of the crucifixion, yet was healed and whole. So he had a body that could be touched, but this body was now beyond death, a reality of the Kingdom of God, which meant that God's Kingdom (God's rule and reign) was now part of our time and space.

In his resurrection something world shattering and history transforming occurred. Jesus was established as ruler over time, space and eternity. All those things that had held humanity and the cosmos in bondage - sin and death - had been conquered and triumphed over by Jesus.

For the early Church the Easter event was God's total victory over everything that led to death, violence, sin and the decay of the divine image in each person. In Jesus, to use the language of one of the letters in the New Testament, all things had been transformed so that everything could be reconciled to God.

By his death the Church believed that Jesus had once and for all overcome death. They believed this because Jesus was the source of all life, the One who is Life and that this Life could not be held down by death, the power of death exhausted at the cross, destroyed and unable to stop him from walking out of the tomb into resurrection morning - imagine the claws of death desperately trying to hold Jesus down in the darkness of the grave, yet too weak to restrain him as he gets up and walks out, the light of resurrection morning vanquishing those claws like the sunlight disintegrating a vampire.

All pain, injustice, oppression, violence and sin had been overthrown by the Risen Jesus, and this message, this 'good news' is what the Church boldly proclaimed. All that had separated humanity from God, all the powers that had ruined our relationship with God had been defeated, broken and destroyed. The Church took this message to all who would listen, an entire Roman Empire transformed in the process, a world forever changed, the pages of history written with this Gospel.

The uniqueness of this message is hard to convey. It has to be said again, the Easter event was not a resuscitation, a zombie, a severely injured man surviving, no, this Easter event was something else entirely. The resurrection was the exhaustion and overcoming of death by Jesus.

As a result the Church has often struggled with how to convey this message with the words that can be used in order declare and express what happened. Nothing like this had ever happened before. And yet in spite of the limitations of language in fully declaring and describing what Jesus had accomplished the Church continued to hold on to and share this gospel, this good news.

History reveals how the Church not only used words and proclamation, but sought to live lives that reflected their Master Jesus, lives that shared the grace-filled, non-violent, non-coercive, compassionate, revolutionary love of God. Of course history also reveals how the Church has drastically got this wrong, revealing the dark side of humanity, power and corruption.

Yet throughout history countless followers of Jesus have sought to remain faithful to their Lord, to reflect Him in all that they are and all that they do that the world might encounter the Kingdom of God and see that Kingdom lived out, albeit in a fragmented and provisional way.

Without doubt something occurred on that first Easter that transformed those first fearful disciples into unashamed followers of Jesus, followers who would rather die than deny their Master.  They were not simply preaching a philosophical message or an ethic of how to live a good life, the Easter message was something else entirely, a message they were willing to die for.

Indeed, it is a message, or should I say a Person, who continues to be proclaimed throughout the world today, One that disciples today continue to be persecuted for, One that they continue to die for.

The hope of the resurrection breaks forth like a new day bringing healing in its wings, the God of history ushering in this new dawn, each person invited and beckoned into the very Life and dance of God with the hope and promise that Jesus' story will become our story.


Anonymous said...

Yes for resurrection power among us in Jesus and blood sake and we love living in joy and in love of the Father in every moment and share the word in favor of God to save and heal and satisfy our soul in from weariness an emptiness to joy with heaven ,thanks and bless and pray,keijo sweden

Joe Haward said...

Great to hear from you Keijo. Blessings to you in Sweden.

Anonymous said...

I'd just like to pass on another way to help spread the gospel and it's simply this:-

Include a link to an online gospel tract (e.g. as part of your email signature.

An email signature is a piece of customizable HTML or text that most email programs will allow you to add to all your outgoing emails. For example, it commonly contains name and contact details - but it could also (of course) contain a link to a gospel tract.

For example, it might say something like, "p.s. you might like this gospel cartoon ..." or "p.s. have you seen this?".