Sunday, March 27, 2016

Raised into the Age to Come

Today is Easter. It’s a special day to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. And Jesus’ resurrection should be celebrated, and it should be enjoyed. What I’d like to do this morning is to help you to enjoy it a little more. To do that will require taking a little time to understand more deeply what the resurrection was about.

So, let’s start with a comparison. Jesus isn’t the only person to have died and then to live again. Just to take one example, there was Lazarus. He was dead four days when Jesus showed up and called him to walk out of his tomb. So, two men, two deaths, two risings out of two tombs. Here’s my question. What is the difference between Jesus’ walking out of His tomb and Lazarus walking out of his? Or are they basically the same?

It’s really important that you see that there was a very basic difference between what happened to these two men. When Lazarus was raised, he was raised back into this age. One simple yet profound evidence of that was that Lazarus eventually died again. In contrast, when Jesus was resurrected He was raised into the age to come. Things like dying have no place in the age to come. That sort of thing doesn’t happen there. Jesus being raised from the dead - His resurrection - was so very different from what happened to Lazarus. Lazarus was returned to the same old same old. Jesus was transformed into somewhere dramatically better.

If you see that then you will understand me when I say that Jesus’ resurrection is a critique of this age. It’s a statement that while there are many good things about this age, it isn’t as good as it could be. If it were then He would have been raised to live here again.

Consider what Jesus experienced in this age.

His friends disappointed Him. Think: Peter, James and John at Gethsemane. ‘Could you not watch with me one hour?’

He shed tears of sadness first at the death of His friend Lazarus and then at the damning of Jerusalem.

He was frustrated at how dense His disciples could be. ‘O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you?’

He was misunderstood and attacked by those He was sent to help. Here remember our recent Gospel reading about Jesus’ reception in Nazareth.

He struggled with the Father’s will. ‘Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.’

And Satan was forever trying to get at Him from the beginning of His ministry to His very last day.

This is what life in this age was like for Jesus. And it is simply a reminder that the curse of God against humanity and against the rest of creation that started back in Genesis 3 is still in force.

Jesus’ resurrection is a statement that there is something deeply wrong with the here and now. To be returned to life in this age isn’t worth all that much. Jesus’ resurrection is a statement that there is something better, much better. And that it will take something as drastic as resurrection - the resurrection of our bodies along with the resurrection of the rest of creation - to enjoy that something better.

All of this would be so very depressing for people like us, people who live in this age, except for this fact. All who have been united to Jesus can begin to experience something of the age to come now. Yes, we do still live in this age, but something happened when we were united to Jesus.

And where did I get that idea. It’s right here in something Paul wrote.

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.Romans 6.1-4

Because Jesus was resurrected, not just raised like Lazarus, but resurrected to experience the life of the age to come, something has happened to us. We who have been united to Jesus get to experience something of that life to come. And we get to experience that now. This is what Paul means when he writes that ‘we too might walk in newness of life’.

What is this ‘newness of life’? When we were working our way through John’s Gospel one of the main themes had to do with ‘life’. John wrote so much about eternal life. And as I told you then, that isn’t about how long this life lasts. It’s about the nature of this life. It is the life of eternity. Or to translate, it is the life of the age to come. And Paul tells us that we get to enjoy something of that life now. We are not like our neighbors. We have one foot in this present age with its curse and death and sin, and all the problems that are included in that. But we have the other foot in the age to come where the curse is gone and life - real life - reigns. This is true of us because we have been united to Jesus. I find it interesting that Paul says this happens through baptism.

This says something about who we are or better who we are not. Some of our non-Christian neighbors have done some remarkable things with their lives, some really good things. But they have both feet in this present age. That means that they are plagued, tormented and limited by the curse. But we are not. To be sure, we are still greatly affected by sin and death but not limited by them. So when the Spirit calls us to put some sin to death that is something we actually can do. But that is not something our neighbors can do. They are still trapped, while we are not. As a result, we can be so very optimistic. Real change, lasting change, can happen to us. In fact, real change has happened to us. This change is not the superficial change that our neighbors might experience. This change is change on the level of the heart. We are people who are in the process of being deeply changed to enjoy something of the age to come now. And that is something that we can rejoice in.

This also says something important about our attitude to the commands of Scripture. These are not obligations that we obey out of a sense of duty. They are doorways into a greater experience of the glories of the age to come. Imagine some Christian who has dealt with conflict with other people by lying. It didn’t start out as large lies but over time that’s what it became. Then one day the Spirit confronts him. ‘It’s time to deal with that habit of lying.’ Should he be happy or sad when he hears these words? Should he think, ‘Ugh, do you know how hard that is going to be? I don’t know if I want to.’ Or should he think, ‘Good. I’m going to learn to speak the truth in love. The Spirit is going to help me experience more of what life in the age to come is like. Yeah! Let’s do this.’

The day will come when each of us will experience our own resurrection of the body. Creation will also be renewed. The perishable will put on imperishable. And the last traces of the curse will be utterly removed. We will experience reality the way God originally intended, the way Jesus does now. And what a day that will be. Until then, remember who you are because of your union with Jesus. You have one foot in that age already. And as the Spirit continues His gracious work in us we will experience more and more of the glories of that age.

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