May 1, 2011

This Jesus God Raised Up

Passage: Acts 2:32

This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses.


That was the day everything changed!  We sometimes say this of certain discoveries; in 1928, for example, Scottish biologist and pharmacologist Sir Alexander Fleming made the discovery of the antibiotic substance penicillin. We sometimes say it of inventions; in 1976 Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, working in Job’s parent’s garage, created a homemade microprocessor computer board.   We sometimes say this of a child’s development; the day they learned to walk, or ride a bicycle, or read all the words of their first book.  We sometimes say this of moments in our own lives; the day, for example, we met that particular someone.  Negative moments impact us similarly; everything changes the day a loved one dies.

It would be hard to overstate; no, let me put it this way—no language in the world has words adequate to capture the magnitude of the way everything changed the day Jesus was raised from the dead.  Everything about human existence is different in the bright light of Jesus’ resurrection.  We are currently in the church season of Easter; it lasts until Pentecost (June 12).  In the sermons of this season I am planning to explore the difference the bright light of Jesus’ resurrection makes.  In this message I invite you to reflect with me on some of the implications of this clause from Peter’s Pentecost sermon: “This Jesus God raised up”.
1. First, though, I would like to take a brief detour to touch on a subject that arises from our text—namely that Jewish people (and others) maintain the New Testament itself to be inherently anti-Semitic. “You that are Israelites”, Peter’s sermon declares, “Jesus of Nazareth ... this man ... you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law.” Sadly, Christian history is replete with those who drew the grossly unfair conclusion that that every last Jew was (and is) a “Christ-killer”.   Therefore any severity visited upon the Jews is deserved, even necessary if we Christians are going to protect ourselves against the subtle, sneaky evil of the Jews.

Considering how Christians in history behaved towards Jews, I can understand why Jewish people would conclude that the religious texts they read were anti-Semitic.  Lest you think this an exaggeration of what Christians concluded consider what some of its leaders said.

Bernard of Clairvaux, whose hymns we love to sing (“Jesus, thou joy of loving hearts...”, for instance); Bernard of Clairvaux wrote vitriolic slander about the Jewish people.  John Chrysostom of the Eastern Church (“Chrysostom” means “golden-mouthed”, and the man was given this name inasmuch as he was the finest preacher of his era—the fourth century—and one of its gentlest spirits); John Chrysostom said that Jews were no better than pigs and goats; Jewish people deserved whatever murderous treatment was meted out to them.  Martin Luther said Jews should be hounded out of the country and their synagogues torched.

Anti-Semitism continues in the Church today.  The United Church of Canada along with eight other Christian denominations are member churches of the organization known as Kairos.  Among other initiatives Kairos claims “to promote a peace that is just for both Palestinians and Israelis”; the fact, though, that they myopically single out Israel as the source of all the problems for Palestinians and Israelis belies their claim; holding the nation of Israel to a standard required of no other middle-east government has a distinctive anti-Semitic odour.

A careful reading of New Testament texts shows that the Apostles understood that a compromised Jewish leadership had plotted to kill Jesus—not every single Israelite (after all the Apostles we all Israelites).  I don’t believe the New Testament to be inherently anti-Semitic.  I will admit, however, that there are many passages in it which have been distorted inasmuch as Christians haven’t been careful enough in reading the text.  Let’s be sure we understand this and then expunge from our misreading of the gospel every last vestige of anti-Semitism which may yet lurk in our hearts.


2. This Jesus God raised up; what Jesus is Peter talking about?  When he says “this Jesus” he identifies a very particular person named Jesus.  It is the “Jesus” he introduced earlier in the sermon.  “Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know—this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law.”  There is only one Jesus who fits this description; this Jesus God raised up.

When the disciples proclaimed that it was this man—Jesus of Nazareth—whom God raised from the dead they mean he was bodily raised; a man was raised not some spiritualized hologram.  To say Jesus was raised was to say the whole of him in all that he is was raised.  Many today want to spiritualize this idea; they conceive of the resurrection of Jesus as Jesus raised to be some sort of spiritualized entity.  This idea is born from the dualism that pervades much of our modern understanding; a dualism that makes a sharp distinction between the spiritual and the physical.  The Biblical understanding of human life everywhere repudiates such dualism.

In recent online news posting one author asked the question this way; as you listen to this question please note the assumed dualism—that is the way the author implies a split of the physical from the spiritual as if the physical were unnecessary.  The author asked: “Does the resurrection need the resuscitation of Jesus' body to have any transformative significance in the 21st century?”

The author makes a second mistake in his question; the New Testament does not speak of Jesus’ resurrection as resuscitation.  Jesus was really dead and was raised to life evermore; a life that includes physicality—though it is a transformed physicality.  When the Apostle Paul described the resurrected body he described the perishable body of this life as “a physical body” and the imperishable body in the resurrection life as “a spiritual body”. Paul is no dualist; both are bodies complete with physicality—the “spiritual body” is the transformed physicality of the resurrected Jesus. In another place the Apostle Paul wrote that in Christ “we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his”.

In many religions and philosophies the problem of human life is said to be its physicality.  If only we could be released from the prison house of the physical, existence would be blissful.  The bodily resurrection of Jesus reveals that a redeemed humanity is needed—a redemption that includes the physicality of creation.  It affirms what the creation story declares; that God created the world and the human within the world and said it was very good—good in every aspect of its existence.

Therefore, the resurrection of Jesus underscores what the Bible everywhere declares—our physical life in the here and now is a good worthy of care.  Many philosophies at work in our world say otherwise; some think that the human the scourge of an otherwise pristine natural order; others say only the fit should survive; others that only children that are “wanted” should be brought to birth.  The bright light of Jesus’ resurrection says that human life is a great treasure.

3. This Jesus God raised up.  Peter’s pithy statement implies something more about the resurrected Jesus; it implies the continuity of the person of Jesus before and after the resurrection.  In perhaps a rather academic sounding statement, this is to affirm that the entire sequence of events—his life, death, and resurrection—comprise together the identity of Jesus Christ.  In fact, it is in the resurrection that we see fully who Jesus is.

The Apostolic witness is that these first followers of Jesus became convinced that he had risen because Jesus himself had revealed himself to them convincing them (1) he was alive and (2) that he was in fact the same Jesus they saw crucified.

This continuity means that the disciples began to see their pre-resurrection life with Jesus—in Galilee and Jerusalem—in the perspective that the risen Jesus was always this person.  In the bright light of Jesus’ resurrection everything changes for how they understood the rest of Jesus’ life.  There is a shift in the magnitude of what they understand his life to mean.  In the bright light of Easter, they come to know that the significance of Jesus’ teaching, the wonders he performed, the death he suffered is a universe-altering reality in the plan of God.

On the day Jesus was crucified all the disciples knew what Jesus had taught them in the course of their three years together. They all were there at Caesarea-Philippi that day when Jesus asked them—who do you say that I am?  With one voice through Peter they confessed, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  They were all in the boat the day he calmed the storm; on the hillside when he fed the 5000; at the wedding when he turned water into wine; at the pool of Bethesda when Jesus healed a lame man; in the region of the Decapolis when a man possessed by demons was relieved of his misery.  They had seen Jesus’ wonders and knew them as affirmation that Jesus was sent by God.  They knew all of this; but on crucifixion day they all deserted Jesus and fled for their lives.

The day of resurrection was the day all this changed for the disciples; the day when the full meaning, the fulfilled meaning, of the life and death of Jesus came into view.  They had known Jesus was special, different; in the resurrection they come to know who Jesus really is; they now see the full extent of what they confessed when they said he was the Son of God. Jesus was no mere wonderworker or insightful teacher or do-gooder—the resurrection changes everything for the disciples.

This Jesus God raise up; this Jesus is the Lord of the Universe.  When you read of his wonders, hear his teaching, see his love of sinners; the resurrection changes everything in how we hear and observe such a one as he!  Simply put, no one who can do for you about the any things of life as Jesus can.   To be in relationship with him is to be in relationship with the one who encompasses everything.  There is nothing in our reality beyond his reach.

Consider the cross; the resurrection is the validation by God that what he did there is effective.  In the cross Jesus did something about our profoundest need—our sin—when we didn’t want it nor know it was what we needed—while we were yet sinners Christ dies for us.  This witnesses that Jesus can do something about anything we face.  As Paul put it—“He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else?” We may not always agree that what he does is rectifying our need (somehow we still presume to know what God ought to be doing of us)—but the resurrection witnesses a startling YES it is so!  We will one day experience a resurrection like his.

In the bright light of Jesus raised, come with me again to the garden of Gethsemane; listen afresh as he says to his disciples “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here and stay awake with me”.   Jesus is one who intimately knows depression.  Depression is far more common among us than perhaps we care to admit.  For many it comes even when things are in relatively good shape in our lives; we can make no sense of why we feel crushed; why it seems a perpetual cloud follows us around; why we feel flat; yet there it is.

In the bright light of Jesus raised we are assured he is one we can trust our depression to; he is one who can help us in the midst of it.  As we pray he is helping us even though our enemy says otherwise; his anguish was not immediately lifted; yet God worked his salvation for us through him in the midst of it.  So Christ can work his purposes in us though depression seems to have its way with us; relief does come.

4.  This Jesus God raised up.  The continuity of the person Jesus before and after resurrection also shows us that God did not abandon Jesus to death.  In as much as we anticipate sharing in a resurrection like his, the resurrection of Jesus tells us that those who cling to Christ in faith can trust God to do the same.  You can be assured that God will not abandon you to death.
Further you know that it is you who will be raised.  We will know our loved ones again; the “you” Jesus knows and loves, he will preserve to share in his resurrected life.  Jesus said “I am the resurrection and the life”; to receive him is to receive the resurrection.

This is why we baptize; so these children will know the one who is resurrection and life.