Cosmic Resurrection – Lesson Recap, 4/9/17

So often I think we Christians sell ourselves short around Easter and the resurrection. Don’t get me wrong, I love Reese’s Eggs (get behind me, Satan!), surprising our son with some Easter bunny gifts, and worshiping together with God’s people on the day that exemplifies a Christian’s reason for existence.

We so often hear people at Church talk about Christ dying for our sins, willingly suffering in our place, or rising again on the third day. I think we’re missing the forest for the trees here. Yes, Christ did those things, although we could debate each of them till we’re blue in the face with different theories of atonement or how the harrowing of Hell looked (it’d make a great movie!). As Bunny says in Rise of the Guardians, “Easter is new beginnings, new life… Easter’s about hope.” So often we still focus on Christ’s suffering and forget that it points our way forward… it changes everything. I wanted to attempt to help our students get beyond the suffering or even just personal resurrection – hopefully after this lesson they can begin to see that God’s work is so much bigger than their own eternity even while tying in the definition of faith.

I began our lesson with this fantastic clip from The Skit Guys:

Our Risen Savior: Peter and John on Easter Sunday Video « The Skit Guys

In this clip at least, Peter and John represent two worldviews, neither necessarily wrong or right. Peter presents a more worldly, business-like view: this is the problem, here are some solutions, let’s get it done. Christ is missing, we disciples can go recover His body, and GO! John appears to be less of a do-er and more of a thinker: Christ is missing, but did He give us clues about this and does it mean anything deeper?

By the end of the video both are putting the pieces together of the breadcrumb trail that Christ left them: parables (The Kingdom of Heaven is like…), lessons (I will rebuild this Temple in three days), and encounters (This day you will join me in paradise)… He is who He said is, the Messiah, and He is Risen!!

So what is faith? How do we go from a purely earthly understanding of the problem to something more mystical and unseen? For the purposes of our time together, faith will be defined as: Believing in something we can’t see or don’t understand. Shortly after this video could have taken place, all the Disciples were gathered together and Christ appears in their midst (Poof!). Thomas, now called Doubting Thomas because of these infamous words, said that he wouldn’t believe Christ was resurrected unless he could put his hand in the wound in Christ’s side and his finger in the holes in Christ’s wrist. Christ obliges in this moment and Thomas finally believes. Then Jesus told him, You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me (John 20:29, NLT).”

Nearly two millennia later, faith is all we have to go off of – faith in God, faith that Scriptures passed down are still what God intended, faith that the events recorded happened at all, etc. This isn’t entirely preposterous; we hold faith in many things – that the light switch will turn on the lights, that the air we breathe is clean enough to survive, that the drugs the doctor is injecting us with is actually for our benefit, that… the list could go on. Just because the origin of our faith resides in the ancient past does not mean it must be any less true or actual. So, can we, as a group, believe that Christ did come back from the dead? Yes?

So what is the significance of that?

We first looked at 1 Peter 1:3-6, NLT:

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation, and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. And through your faith, God is protecting you by his power until you receive this salvation, which is ready to be revealed on the last day for all to see.

So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while.

Followed by 1 Corinthians 15:12-23, NLT (especially focused on 17-19):

16 And if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. 18 In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! 19 And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world.</p>

So because Christ is risen we have great “expectation” and hope in Him – we are no longer guilty of our sins because of gracious forgiveness, our salvation invites us into paradise with Christ as with the thief on the cross, and we have another life to look forward to after this one is over.

The 1 Cor passage referenced above concludes by mentioning death entering the world through Adam and being defeated a new Adam, Christ. This calls to mind the perfected state and intent of our Creation in the Garden, but we rebelliously told God we didn’t want that. To this day the struggle plays out in our every day lives when we’re told not do “the things” and insist on coming back to them again and again “like a dog to its vomit” (Jesus, what a gruesome metaphor!). “Beyond the reach of change and decay” lies a promise that will not be broken and that our sinful ways cannot corrupt. Why? Because Christ rose! There’s that personal resurrection piece that must be mentioned on Easter, but it’s such a small part of it! Our sin in Adam corrupted all of creation like a cancer that begins in one cell and eventually ravages the entire body, so did our sin eat away at the Good Creation we were so long lovingly crafted to be. Christ’s resurrection and defeat of death does so much more – it promises the defeat of the death of ALL of Creation, and the resurrection of the world! Yes us, but we are specs of sand for what God is interested in resurrecting!

One final passage, from Revelation 21:1-5, NLT:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.
I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”
And the One sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!”

Yes, Easter is about our forgiveness and resurrection into paradise someday, but that’s such a small piece of the story! If that is all we care about we’ve missed so much of what Christ implored us to learn (Love God, Love Neighbor, Make Disciples)…frankly it’s selfish!! And as God is so self-giving, Christ so self-less, Holy Spirit so self-sharing, how can we call ourselves children of God and still act so selfishly to think the cross and empty tomb are just for me? The defeat of death and the resurrection of Christ are only the first indications of a much a larger promise!! The entire world will be made new and Heaven (God’s presence) will be with us on this ball we’re currently living on! Earth will be renewed and resurrected! The cosmos will be redeemed from the disgusting disregard with which we have treated it (insert landfill, strangled fish, and oil spill photos here…). If Easter is only about us we’ve missed the point. Is your faith big enough to understand Easter isn’t really for you at all? It is for all of us and more! God is interested in resurrecting! The whole cosmos will be made new! If your idea of God isn’t able to work cosmic resurrection, it may not be a big enough (or orthodox) view of God!

The students are always given a practical piece of homework – this week, because of your faith and the promise implicit in the resurrection of Christ, be an agent of renewal to someone this week that you don’t normally associate with. Find somebody walking around like a zombie, a person living life as though life’s over, somebody dead in their spirit, and try to breathe new life to them. Maybe they just need a smile or a Polar Pop. Maybe they need a friend to talk to them or better yet to listen. Maybe they need someone to stand up for them. Maybe their home life is dangerous and they need a safe place (your house?). Whatever the case may be, if you call yourself a Christ-ian, then do something Christ-like and work to defeat the little deaths that surround us every day.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Go with GOD.
If you don’t hear it from anyone else this week, I love you.

The Great Escape

*You get a cookie if you know the movie*

Tonight, Heather and I started getting addicted to watching a new show on TNT called The Great Escape. It was pretty intense, and we definitely enjoyed a changeup to the Amazing Race format.

But as I lay here in bed (not sleeping… curse you Mountain Dew, and your delicious green-ness!), my mind keeps turning back to this idea of escape… or more specifically, how we ourselves can’t.

There are a few blessed seasons of life where we may not face a ton of temptation, but whether we’re an old saint or somebody new to faith, Satan is always there trying to pull us away from God. He was there in the beginning poisoning our relationship with God in the Garden, he was in the desert trying to mess with God’s own Son, and today he’s still trying ruin the efforts of disciples and followers everywhere. One less soul in Heaven feels like a another notch on the belt for old Lucifer. There is simply no escape from his efforts to ensnare and entrap us. In the Bible, Peter even uses the image of a lion waiting to pounce to help describe Satan’s predatory passion for human failure.

It seems hopeless and perhaps tortuous, trapped like a fish with 100 lures in all directions, each more inviting than the last, but knowing that each could spell a broken relationship with God. The worst case scenario of look, but don’t touch.

What would you say if I told that though there is no escape from temptation (because Satan doesn’t take a vacation day), there is an escape from the pain of the failure and death of giving in to temptations? This is not freedom from consequences, and this is no quick fix that I refer to. No, sometimes we simply must sleep in the bed we’ve made for ourselves, poor decisions included. However, this is a rescue from the death of the wages of our sin. I refer to a healing and a restoration that comes from One who can heal all wounds. It is possible, one day, to know a freedom in your life that results from no longer being a slave to the temptations, choices, and sins that drag us down. This is the result of realizing that the ways of the world do not fulfill you and turning over the control of your life to One who would ask you to live by faith, not sight. Though it sounds like “following” gives you less control than striking your own path, it turns out that following God gives you more freedom (from bondage and pain), more joy (because of this freedom), and more hope (that there is light shining in the midst of your darkness). It can absolutely free you from the destructive patterns that choosing your temptations has gotten you into.

Turning your life over to Jesus Christ is absolutely the most transformative decision you can make. It will not keep Satan from tempting you or turn your life onto easy street, but it may just be the Greatest Escape you’ll ever experience. And the prize is worth far more than $100,000, too.

The Ultimate April Fools’ Prank

I’m a huge fan of April Fools’ Day. In fact, I am the type of guy who loves seeing the faces of people who just got pranked. Whether it’s America’s Funniest Home Videos, Punk’d, or Wipeout, seeing people get gotten is a favorite past-time of mine.

One year for Halloween I made a scarecrow and set it on my grandmother’s porch for a week or so before trick-or-treating would happen. Then, on the night of candy collecting I put on the scarecrow’s outfit and placed the candy bowl in my lap. You guessed it! Those grubby little paws would reach in, and I would scream till they reached their cars and drove off! TOO FUNNY!!

This year provides us April Foolers with a very unique opportunity, however. The funnest atheist holiday (as a great friend of mine called it) is combined with one of the holy days of the Liturgical Calendar, or Palm Sunday. I actually asked my pastor what he was planning for Sunday, and he said palm branches… I was floored! He is one of my fellow, prank-loving April Foolers! Perhaps he’s just throwing me off the trail though…

But as I got to chewing on the idea of these two divergent holidays converging this year, a thought occurred to me. Jesus was the greatest April Fooler of them all! I mean, if you’ve ever gotten mixed up in pranks you know how addictive they are. Once someone gets you then you want to turn around and get them back, only bigger! Then it just goes back and forth until somebody’s wife gets fed up with it!

Imagine this: It’s the first Palm Sunday (not that the ancient Jews called it that) and the people are basically coming out in droves for a huge welcoming party that they’re throwing for Jesus. If you close enough you’ll see the Pharisees there in the back. Those sniveling creatures are wringing their hands incessantly because they’re supposed to hold all the religious (and by extension social) power in the community, but here is this upstart on a donkey with the crowds throwing down robes and palms for his mule to walk on. They’re hanging on his every word. The Pharisees are furious.

John 12:19 says, “So the Pharisees said to one another, ‘See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!’”

So one of them gets the bright idea: “Won’t it be a great idea if we get all these worshippers and partiers to turn on Jesus by the end of the week?”
And another says, “What a great idea! He’ll never see it coming!”
Then a third says, “Maybe we could get them so turned around that they want to kill this one they’re calling the Messiah?”
There are cheers all around and much back-slapping. Well, except for that one guy who spends a little too much time actually living with the Scriptures rather than just proof-texting them, “Wait, guys… won’t that just fit into the prophecies?”
Guy #1 chimes in, “Oh you old so and so! Go back to your studies. Let the big boys make the devious plans.”
Cue snide laughter that goes on for a few seconds more than it should.

By the end of the week, of course, they succeeded. This triumphant entry became a huge defeat for Jesus’ followers and a huge win for the plotting Pharisees and their pharishcemes. From palms to Pilate, Jesus made it all the way into the hands of the Romans and death on a cross.

Ugh! Such arrogance! If only they had listened to this man they hated so much (but what villain ever truly listens to their adversaries??)! They would have heard that for at least a while Jesus had been planning the greatest April Fools’ prank that the world has ever seen! Early in His ministry Jesus went to the Temple before Passover and saw money-changers and merchants in His Father’s house of prayer. With a whip and a fiery spirit He cleared them out, so of course they whimpered about all the money they were going to lose. “Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.’” (John 2:19).

That right there! That moment! That conversation is when He let them know exactly what He was going to do! But they didn’t believe Him. So they thought for sure their prank would be better. They pulled off something unheard of! They ran one of the first successful political smear campaigns and in less than a week (and without the aid of the internet or John Stewart) got the King of Man a thorny crown.

So I can only imagine the party they were throwing for themselves as the disciples (well, those who hadn’t fled) lowered His body from the cross and laid it in a tomb… their precious Lord… I’m sure the champagne was flowing and the matzo balls were rolling. Like any good prankster, Jesus knew to wait to strike until they least expected it though. I’m sure that one Pharisee was keeping an eye out, the studious one. He tried telling them, but it’s hard to hear the shofar of your own impending doom when the harps of joy and arrogant victory are going strong.

True to His Word, three days after Christ died He took the shaped boulder blocking His grave and rolled it away in a blaze of radiant glory (it was blazingly radiant in my head anyways). From death to life He came forth! Up from the grave He arose! Victorious, powerful, and full of the Spirit He ascended back to life from the underworld with the keys of Hades and of Death in hand. The Temple was rebuilt in three days, just as He promised!

I can’t imagine how the crow tasted as those Pharisees heard the news. The prankers got pranked.

Yes indeed. Christ’s death was the ultimate April Fools’ Joke, because no grave can hold the one who gives life everlasting. May His example be inspiring to you on this Palm Sunday, I mean April Fools’ Day.

 

 

© 2012 by Jeff Brady