Saturday, March 30, 2013

Is it the eggs? What’s Easter really about?

This weekend, many will gather with their families, and enjoy great meals and watch their kids hunt for Easter eggs and gorge themselves on to much candy. But what is the point of Easter? Is it just the eggs? What’s Easter all about? The Christian view of Easter is that it is a historical event that changes everything. Christians assert that after being killed by crucifixion, Jesus Christ physically rose from the dead, and that this historically event changes everything. Now, the sting of death is gone, and a whole new future lies before those who place their faith in Christ.

This seems like lunacy today, just as it did then. We often think that we’re a more advanced, enlightened culture than those in the past. But when you read the Bible, you realize no one was interested in believing it then either. But they had a problem, the facts were against them.

Here are the facts. On Easter morning, the tomb was empty. It was empty despite the fact that it was guarded by Roman soldiers; and as much as the authorities might have wanted to they couldn’t haul out Jesus’ rotting corpse because there wasn’t one to haul out.

Additionally, there were many eyewitnesses to the resurrection. One of the historical documents from the early church, 1 Corinthians, tells us that not only did the apostles see Jesus risen but that at one point after the resurrection 500 people saw him at one time. This was a letter to a whole church, a public document written somewhere between 15-30 years after the resurrection, and what St. Paul is basically saying is, “all these people who saw Jesus raised from the dead are still alive. You don’t have to trust me, you can go ask them”. He’s all but daring the readers to check the facts. He couldn’t do that unless most of these people were still alive.
Furthermore, there are the disciples changed live. This may be the greatest proof for the resurrection. When Jesus was arrested, his closest followers all fled and hid. How do these men who ran for their lives and hid end up preaching that Jesus is the savior of the world and telling everyone that he rose just weeks later? They saw the Jesus who said “I will die for all the sin and rebellion that you see, reconciling you to God if you place your faith in me and then rise from the dead to prove that I’ve paid the penalty”, risen. Apart from that, there is no logical reason to preach the gospel. Who suffers and eventually dies for something you know is a lie?

Everything about Easter says with one voice, it happened. Some will tell you that Easter is simply a symbol for death and renewal; that there is a circle of life, after death comes new life and after loss there is always gain. They point to nature, and say, “See the lesson of Easter, after winter there’s spring. From the death of the acorn comes a new tree. Therefore, we need to realize that there is always hope”. The problem is that this doesn’t line up with reality. Reality is that, as Tennyson wrote “Nature is red in tooth and claw”. In nature the strong eat the weak. The Easter bunny is a meal for the Coyote. The argument that Easter is just a symbol does an end run around your intellect, and is of little hope when you find yourself staring at a lost loved on, or a child in the ER.

But the Christian view of Easter is that God entered into the world, and changed history in the most counterintuitive way, he died on the cross as our substitute, and proved it by rising, and if you place your faith in Christ everything about your whole existence is changed. Your past is changed, your present is changed, and your future is changed. Everything changes. In the good and especially in the bad. In those moments of sorrow and hardship you can know there is hope because of what Christ did for you.

This Easter, my invitation to you is go to a church and hear about what God has done through Christ. He lived the life you should have lived, and died the death you should have died, and then he rose to show that everything is changed. I will be speaking about the death and resurrection of Jesus at First Baptist Church of Medfield, our service begins at 10:30am. I know there are many other churches that will be doing the same. Wherever you go, take the time this Easter to learn about what God has done for the world through the historical event that we celebrate as Easter.

Monday, March 25, 2013

He is risen, and that is glorious to behold

He is Risen. He is Risen indeed! The traditional call and response on easter is a wonderful declaration, one that always fires me up. He is Risen, He is Risen indeed! THis is the message that the gospel writers proclaimed, that the early church proclaimed, and that we still proclaim even to this day. He is RISEN! He is Risen indeed!
As we come to Easter, the declaration that He is Risen is a glorious, wonderful, awesome, overpowering thing to behold. It is an amazing truth that should grip our heart and warm us from the inside out because it says with a grand pronouncement, He has accomplished everything, because we could accomplish nothing, and we have to accomplish nothing, because he accomplished everything. It says, grace has been poured out on us, and declares that, as John Bunyan wrote “He wrestled with justice, that thou mightest have rest; He wept and mourned, that thou mightest laugh and rejoice; He was betrayed, that thou mightest go free; was apprehended, that thou mightest escape; He was condemned, that thou mightest be justified; and was killed, that thou mightest live; He wore a crown of thorns, that thou mightest wear a crown of glory; and was nailed to the cross, with His arms wide open, to show with what freeness all His merits shall be bestowed on the coming soul; and how heartily He will receive it into His bosom?”. Easter is glorious, because it is news that he accomplished everything he said he would , and while we may face pain, and tragedy, and suffering in this life, our sufferings are but for a time, our illnesses aren’t final, and in the end, as the apostle Paul wrote some 20years after the resurrection “we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed-- in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: "Death has been swallowed up in victory." "Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?"The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:50-57).
As we gather together this easter season for worship on, lets celebrate Chrsit’s glorious work with Joy, and lets come preparerd to worship our risen savior, because he has shown great love for us. Lets invite our friends, and our families to gather and celebrate the joy that this brings, because it is finished! Christ, the resurrection and the life, is risen, and the result is that “He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die (John 11:25-26).

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Holy week, the resurrection, and us

Jesus birth literally divided history. The reason this fact is true is Holy week. From the jubilant triumphal entry, to the dark, heart breaking kiss of Judas, to the agonized cry of my God my God why have you forsaken me, to the moment that the veil of the temple tore in two, to the great moment of joy on the other side, the resurrection on Easter morning, it is holy week that tells you why this life mattered so much that it divided history. All of the gospel writers go to great pains to show you the importance of holy week. Over 30 percent of the gospels are devoted to this one week. Holy week is important. But what seals the deal on holy week is the resurrection. The resurrection is the signature moment when God revealed to the world that everything Jesus said about himself and his death, is true. Easter is that moment when the God demonstrated his power in an unparallel way, and showed the world that death was conquered, that Christ had  indeed triumphed over sin and evil, and that the world would someday be put right.
As we go through the month of March, and the weeks that lead up to holy week and Easter that Christians have traditionally called lent, I want to encourage you to think about five ways that this week impacts our lives as followers of Christ.

First, it means that our sin is paid for. On the cross, Christ paid for our sins. All our sin. Peter writes that “Christ died for our sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.(1Peter 3:18). That means all our rebellion, all our failure, all the cruelty, all the momentary indiscretion, all of it, every sin. Christ took it. He took our punishment, substituting himself before the wrath of God, while simultaneously giving his righteousness to those who look to him for salvation. This wonderful reality is what Luther called the great exchange. “God made him who knew no sin to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21)

Second, we have no need to fear death. Jesus resurrection is the first fruits of the grave. He is in essence a down payment on what we all can look forward to, a glorious, renewed, perfected body. One with no aches, and pains, no tendency to sin, and mess up time and again, one that will be able to live in perfect relationship with God and others forever. With this in mind, we can say with Paul “"Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?" The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.7 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1Corinthains15:55-57).

Third, adoption as sons. Ephesians tells us that “He predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will (Ephesians 1:5)”. Galatians tells us that “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons (Galatians 4:4-5). This is so often the overlooked treasure. We are not just saved from punishment. We are saved to something wonderful. Adoption. Now, because of what God has done through Christ, if we place our faith in Christ, we are his children. Adoption means that we have a new status. Before we were children of wrath. Now, our very status is changed, forever. This is incredible, and worth pondering. In Knowing God, Bible Scholar J.I. Packer notes that “The idea that all are children of God is not found in the Bible anywhere…” He’s absolutely right, it’s not. Instead it teaches that “the gift of sonship to God becomes ours not through being born, but through being born again. ‘To all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God--children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or of a husband's will, but born of God.' (John.1:12-13)  Sonship to God, then, is a gift of grace” (J.I. Packer, Knowing God, chap 19) .

This is an amazing truth. Have you stopped and pondered it lately?  Looking at it, Sinclair Ferguson, the Scottish Bible scholar observed, “If we fail to see this truth, we will reject the power of our adoption… The notion that we are children of God, His own sons and daughters… is the mainspring of Christian living… Our sonship to God is the apex of Creation and the goal of redemption.” ( Sinclair Ferguson, Children of the Living God). Do you rejoice in this reality? This is the jackpot. There is no greater effect on you here and now than this, and how you view this truth, says so much about your walk with God.  J.I. Packer adds, “If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how he much he makes of the thought of being God’s child, and having God as his Father. If this is not the thought that prompts and controls his worship and prayers and his whole outlook on life, it means that he does not understand Christianity very well at all. [Adoption] is the highest privilege the gospel offers (J.I. Packer, Knowing God, chap 19). Adoption is the jackpot, don’t miss it.

Fourth, living for the glory of God strengthened by the power of the Holy Spirit. We were created to live for the glory of God, but if you’ve been a Christian for any length of time, you know that this is just about impossible on our own strength. On our own we do everything but live for the glory of God. But now, the same power that raised Christ Jesus from the dead is living in us, through the Holy Spirit. Now, though the work of the Holy Spirit, it becomes possible for us to glorify God. Before, it was impossible, but now, as Paul writes “you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit to God. For when we were controlled by the sinful nature, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in our bodies, so that we bore fruit for death. But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code (Romans 7:4-6).

Finally, we can be sure that God keeps his promises. This is simple, but amazing. God made promises to his people about the messiah, and he made promises to us as his children. His promises about the messiah, his son Jesus Christ, were kept, at a terrible cost. The cost of the death of Christ. If he kept promises about the messiah, Christ, which cost him everything, how much more, having paid that cost, will he be willing to keep his promises to you, to us, his children. Surely He will keep promises to love us, care for us, watch over us, do what’s best for us.  Sometimes that feels like pain. Sometimes it involves discipline, but it means that no mater what, we can trust him and be sure that he keeps his promises.

During Lent and the weeks leading up to Holy Week and Easter, stop and ponder what it all means to for you, personally. Stop and ponder the death and resurrection and be heartened by all that it means. Consider what they mean in your life, and allow yourself to be encouraged, chastened, and called to a life lived for the glory of God. 

Additionally, I would encourage you to plan on coming to Holy week services. We will be having a Maundy Thursday service at 7:30 on the 28th, and then we will be having a Sunrise service on Easter morning at 6:30. This is tentatively scheduled for the Wheelock field. The location will be announced when confirmed. Then, we will be having our Easter morning celebration at 10:30. Plan on coming, plan on pondering the implications of the cross and resurrection. Plan on inviting friends to these services, and plan on sharing the hope of the gospel with them. Easter is the super bowl of the Christian Calendar. If Christmas is opening day at Fenway, Easter is the Super Bowl. Plan on coming, and plan celebrating all that God has done through the death and resurrection of Jesus.