Thursday, October 16, 2008

Sola5 Wednesday Recap - 10/15/08

This weekly topic is an effort to recap the Wednesday night Bible study I teach at Sola5, my youth group. I hope it serves to help us all in contemplating the ceaseless riches of God’s grace as revealed through the Scriptures.

Last night, we concluded our study of Christ’s resurrection by looking at John 20:11-18. Whereas last week we focused on the empty tomb and the many stories offered to explain it away, this week we focused on the reality of the resurrection - what it accomplished, and what it means for us as Christians. We begun by pondering the question, “If Jesus’ life is our example and Jesus’ death bought our forgiveness, then why does the resurrection matter?” What does Jesus’ resurrection have to do with our faith? Is it just a tag-on happy ending to the more-important crucifixion? What we found is that there indeed is no more important reality in our faith than the resurrection, because without it our faith lacks any real power and our evangelism lacks any real authority.

First off, we looked at the resurrection as a demonstration of power. God, in raising Christ from the dead, did something that is impossible by human means. Christ’s power was seen here more clearly than ever before. Look at Mary Magdalene’s reaction to the empty tomb. The fact that Christ is alive has not even registered with her brain. She is distraught that his body has been stolen or moved, despite even seeing angels flanking the empty tomb. She doesn’t recognize Jesus when he appears to her. Plainly put, resurrection isn’t something that anyone plans to see. I fear, in a way, that we’ve all become so familiar with declaring that Jesus rose from the dead that we’ve lost the incredible nature of that claim. What happened in that moment was the ultimate display of divine power - the shattering of the force that we humans, for all our ingenuity, are powerless to overcome - death.

But why the display? Was God just showing off? Was this the divine equivalent of a rabbit out of a hat? By no means. To truly understand the purpose, we need to look at a parallel event from Jesus’ ministry in Luke 5:17-26. In that section, a paralyzed man is brought to Jesus for healing, and Jesus responds by pronouncing his sins forgiven. The Pharisees are outraged and essentially protest, “Who do you think you are? You can’t forgive sins! That’s God’s business.” Jesus fully anticipates what they’re getting at. Anyone can say, “Your sins are forgiven.” How can we know that it’s true? Christ responds by saying, “But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins, get up and walk.” Christ performs a physical miracle as a demonstration of the power that he has over sin. The resurrection does the same thing. I could say that I’m going to throw myself in front of a bus and die for your sins, and I could indeed throw myself in front of a bus – but how can you believe that I’ve bought you cosmic forgiveness? What evidence would there be that I had delivered on my promise? The resurrection is the evidence that Christ has accomplished what he said he would do – seek and save that which is lost. He said as much himself in John 2:18-22.

But the resurrection is not only a demonstration of power, it’s also a declaration of authority. Notice Christ’s focus once he reveals himself to Mary. He speaks of ascending to the father repeatedly. Why the focus on his ascension? After all, the disciples don’t even know he’s alive yet! Philippians 2:8-11 fills us in about the significance of Christ’s exaltation – which began with his resurrection and continued with his ascension to the Father’s right hand – the ultimate position of authority. He stands now above all things, and all men must answer to him – all must one day bow. Christ’s resurrection and exaltation is what establishes him as not one religious leader among many, but as Lord of the universe.

And consider the tremendous effect that has on us as Christians – specifically, on our evangelism. Look at Paul’s exhortation to Titus in Titus 2:11-15. He encourages him to proclaim the gospel of salvation in Christ, and to do so “in all authority. Let no one disregard you.” He tells Titus that his preaching – his exhortations and rebukes – carry ultimate authority and he should preach accordingly. How can he say that? Who is Titus? How can I say to all people when I preach, “You must trust in Jesus Christ in order to have peace with God?” I have no authority. But I don’t proclaim my own authority, I proclaim Christ’s authority, which he has clearly demonstrated by rising from the dead. All people must answer to him. The exclusivity of the gospel would be arrogant (as the world often accuses) if I invented it. However, the authority of the gospel doesn’t rest in me, but in the risen Christ.

Presented with this picture, we all must decide what to do with the authority of Christ – the triumphant conquering king of Revelation 19. Will you reject and fight against it, as many do, or will you embrace it, and take refuge in him as your mighty fortress? There is no more important thing that you will ever consider in your life. Not because I say so, but because the one who died but is alive forevermore said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the father except through me.”

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