Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Power of His Resurrection

The resurrection of Jesus is something to celebrate. But there is celebrating, and then there is celebrating. Offering a Big Mac meal to someone might result in a great celebration of your kindness or it might result in nothing more than an odd look. It all depends on the situation of the person receiving your gift. It will be received in one way by a homeless person who hasn’t eaten in a while but quite differently by someone who is just leaving a five‑star restaurant. To be able to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection well, we need to accurately understand our situation and what exactly it is that Jesus has offered us. So, to help you in this, before I talk about the resurrection, I’m going to spend a little time talking about evil.

The first thing that I want to do is make a simple, and what, I’m sure, will appear to be obvious, statement. Evil exists. You all know that. And yet, it is so easy to forget that. It is so easy to get used to the existence of evil so that you don’t actually notice it anymore. So, let me remind you.

How often have you gotten up on some winter morning to discover that it was another grey and gloomy day, with the temperature just rising out of the single digits, but with little hope of much more warmth. Is that just another day in dreary Erie? Or is it a manifestation of evil? Well, consider what it would be like to have awakened in the Garden of Eden back when the world was perfect. I’m guessing that a sparkling blue sky, bright sun included, would greet you, with the temperature hovering somewhere in the comfortable sixties. Dreary days are an expression of the evil of our world.

It’s time for another family re-union, and everyone is there. You’re all joking with each other, enjoying some really good food, playing games and all the rest. And before anyone leaves, a family picture is taken. Smiles abound. It was a really good day. But then, there’s another family re-union. However, at this one, no one smiles. It’s a funeral for one of the family, someone greatly loved. And even with the various attempts at comforting one another, it still feels wrong. What is that but another expression of the evil of our world.

Then, there are the more everyday situations where evil touches life. There’s the job where there is too much to do in any one day, and everyone expects you to have their part of the project done yesterday. Or it’s a day maybe a little too filled with errands that really have to get done. But having buckled all the kids in their car seats and starting off, one of them gets sick all over himself. Do you think Adam felt stress in the Garden? Do you think kids would have gotten sick?

And then, as you leave the days of your youth far behind and grow older, you find that your body doesn’t work quite as well as it once did. Things that you enjoyed doing with ease become more difficult, more frustrating. Try to imagine, if you can, a body that would never grow old and decrepit, you know, a body like the one that Adam or Eve started out with.

What have I described? Life in a fallen world. Life that suffers the many different expressions of evil. And how do people respond to all of this? There are those who excuse the evil. They adjust their expectations and tell themselves, ‘Well, what can you expect? That’s life.’ They excuse the evil and think that they will be able to handle it all. But can they handle it all?  No. Instead, there is growing frustration, mounting stress, anxiety.

Some try to find relief in distractions of various sorts, that is, addictions, both legal and not, moral and not. Anything to hide from the persistent sense of evil. But their attempts to distract themselves so often fail. It’s difficult, especially for some, to hide from that constant sense of weariness and the growing awareness of the gray of life that sometimes slides into depression. If you’ve been reading the news lately you’ll know that one result of this has been the increasing number of those who overdose on some drug or other, or even those who skip that intermediate step entirely and go right to suicide. It’s a growing problem.

It doesn’t end this way for all, or even most. But here’s one thing that affects all. One day the funeral we are attending will be our own. We all die. It seems unavoidable and so we just tell ourselves that’s how life is. But what is it but more evil.

When people stop and consider what’s going on - something few do - they realize that life isn’t working out as well as they had hoped, not nearly as well. And why? There is evil in our world, and it touches us all. And it is only the fool who tries to ignore this.

Now, we’re ready to talk about Jesus’ resurrection. Now, we can appreciate what He has offered us and celebrate it.

It’s Paul who writes,

that I may know him and the power of his resurrection… Philippians 3:10

Paul understands that something tremendous happened on that first Easter morning. Jesus was raised from the dead. And this wasn’t anything like what happened with Lazarus, who, you’ll remember, was also raised from the dead. You see, Lazarus died again. But Jesus will never again be touched by the evil of death. He was not merely raised but resurrected. Jesus experienced the power of resurrection. He now lives forever. We celebrate that today.

But for Paul, that’s not the end of the story. The power of Jesus’ resurrection was not completely spent on that morning. Paul understands that what Jesus accomplished at His resurrection was not just for Himself. What Jesus accomplished on that day also benefits us, His Church. There is more to the power of that resurrection. And Paul wants to know, wants to experience, that power. And what is the benefit of this power that Paul yearns for? The destruction of evil.

Now, he - and we - have already experienced some of that power, some of that destruction of evil. The presence of evil had made any pleasant relationship with the Father impossible for people like us. This evil, our evil, condemned us before Him. We could only be enemies, on the brink of being justly condemned forever. But that problem, that expression of evil, has been obliterated by the resurrection of Jesus.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Romans 8.1

As a result of Jesus’ resurrection, a once impossible relationship now exists between us and the Father. We who were once God’s enemies have now become His beloved children. The evil that had condemned and alienated us has been removed, destroyed, obliterated. That’s not a dream to hope for or something to try to work toward. It’s right now a fact. And it is a fact because of the power of Jesus’ resurrection.

But as Paul knows, and the rest of us too, even that does not exhaust our experience of the power of the resurrection. After all, there is more evil that needs to be dealt with. So, consider those frustrations of life: the stressful job, sick kids, ageing bodies and all the rest. Now, we need to admit that the power of resurrection does not make these experiences of evil go away just yet. However, it does transform them. It changes how they function in our lives. Now, these evils, which work to destroy the lives of other people, are being used for good in the life of every saint.

And we know that all things work together for good… Romans 8:28

Yes, that ‘all things’ even includes evil. Things that were once so destructive and so frustrating are now redeemed. They have become tools in the hands of the Spirit, tools to sanctify and not destroy. What once would have been an unmitigated evil will now do us good. And as we learn to believe that, hope grows, real hope, not just blind wishing. All because of the power of Jesus’ resurrection.

But that power is even still not exhausted. There is yet the promise of the future. Jesus has already made some changes, freeing us from evil. Then, there are those things that are still in the process of being changed. But that leaves the changes that will occur in the future, when the age to come arrives. We are on our way back to the Garden where there will be no cold and gloomy days. None. There will be no failing, ageing bodies. No stressful jobs or sick kids. Gone also will be the felt need of addicting distractions of any sort. It will be sunshine and bliss, satisfying work, perfect health and no frustrations. Every day. And each day will be better than the one that came before it. All because of the power of Jesus’ resurrection.

While we still face evil, we can rejoice. We can celebrate Jesus’ resurrection. It is the power of God that Jesus wields to deliver us from evil.

Now, what do you do with all of this? The answer to that is simple. You believe it. It’s the Gospel. But don’t just believe it in some abstract, theoretical way. Believe it in the midst of life, as you face evil. Believe it when Satan tempts you with discouragement as he tells you that it’s another cold, grey day and that nothing good will come of it. Believe it when you are once again frustrated by plans that don’t work out. Believe it when you don’t feel like your sins are forgiven; God can’t actually be your Father who cherishes you. Believe it when your body complains about what you are expecting it to do. And believe it when the future glories seem too distant. Believe the Gospel of the power of Jesus’ resurrection. Respond to the evil that confronts you by clinging to that belief. Doing that will not be easy. It will take hard work. But the results are worth it: things like optimism. Imagine that. Being optimistic in the face of evil. It will confuse your unbelieving friends - and draw them to Jesus.

We live in a world that is filled with evil, all sorts of evil. But the power of Jesus’ resurrection is real. It was real back on that first Easter morning, accomplishing what everyone thought was impossible. And it is real today, still accomplishing what everyone thinks is impossible.

So, let your celebration of Easter go beyond the mere sentimentality of words thoughtlessly repeated. Celebrate the day embracing what Jesus has done for you by the power of His resurrection.

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