Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Easter Reflections

So for months now I've been meditating (more than usual) upon the death and resurrection of Christ, as I assume this blog surely reflects. At the risk of being redundant, I will attempt to do so yet once more, and hopefully avoid merely restating what I have previously said.

The gospel proclaimed by Jesus and the early apostles is quite simple- God's Kingdom has come to earth, and God's King has been revealed. All of the sublime realities we often associate with the term "gospel" (justification by faith, forgiveness of sins, hope of eternal life, renewal by the Holy Spirit) are all streams branching from that one river.

And this gospel, this claim so utterly massive in terms of its implications for the design and destiny of humanity, is unique. There is something (probably many things, but for this entry's purpose one thing in particular) that makes it distinct from any competing existential claims: the gospel is rooted in a historical event. Without the death and resurrection of Jesus, there is no message, no new kingdom, no new reality. If the man did not walk out of the tomb, there is no gospel. Or as Paul said, "If Christ has not been raised, your faith is useless and you are still dead in your sins."

The event is fascinating first of all because it emerges from a rich prophetic tradition that points towards it. Isaiah 53 most pointedly depicts a suffering servant who would make many righteous, a lamb led to the slaughter who would be somehow buried both as a criminal and placed in a rich man's grave. Yet this poor martyr, who it claims God was pleased to crush, will see the light of life. He will see the results of his anguish and his soul will rejoice. His descendants will multiply and God's perfect will shall prosper in his hand. Such a cryptic, epic prophesy recorded more than half a millenium before Jesus should give us pause.

The death and resurrection of Christ did not emerge in a narrative vaccuum. It was in fact the beautiful and startling crescendo to a story several millenium in the making. The children of Abraham had been exiled, taken as slaves to live a humiliating existence at the hands of pagan overlords. Yet from the days of exile we see prophet after prophet predicting that God would vindicate his people and fulfill his covenant promises made to the great king David. A king would come, a Messiah, to vindicate the people, atone for sin, and establish a new Kingdom blessed by the ongoing favor of God.

It is into these hopes and longings that Jesus Christ emerges. A messiah preaching a new kingdom, a savior coming to atone and vindicate. Yet at the very moment where we expect Yahweh to send plagues on the Romans as he did on the Egyptians, we see Christ on the cross saying "Father, forgive them." Where many hoped for David to slay Goliath, the son of David commands "Go and disciple Goliath." This truly is a new type of kingdom, a new type of covenant, a fulfillment to the unfolding story that shocks us by telling us that this banquet God has planned is for all of us.

And so we see the Easter story as a crescendo of the great story of God and humanity, and yet the story does not end there. I call the resurrection a historical event because it had such a significant hand  in shaping the unfolding of history. The men and women who formed that first Christ-centered community in Jerusalem, many of whom went forth to proclaim the gospel around the ancient world, brought a new worldview into being. They did so for one reason only, they believed they saw Jesus Christ raised from the dead.

Sure, one might argue that because of their deep loyalty and affection for Jesus, the disciples stole his body, pretended he had raised from the dead, and carried the lie on for the rest of their lives. But it doesn't take too much imagination to come to the conclusion that people don't actually behave this way. Such a hoax lacks a clear motive, and would hardly drive one to martyrdom, the fate that awaited the vast majority of Christ's early followers.

The best explanation for early Christianity is that these ordinary men and women witnessed the thing they claimed to witness. That they, propelled by the Holy Spirit Christ promised to give them, went forth with that proclamation and transformed the Roman Empire. And that story of the gospel continues to unfold today. What might seem a far-fetched reality to the outsider, is unbelievably real and transformative for millions across the planet as we speak. From my own small vantage point I could speak of miraculous healings and deliverances from spiritual bondage, of dreams and visions of Jesus still changing lives today.

Easter morning for the disciples 2000 years ago meant a new kingdom, a new reality, a new life. It offers the same to us today. The kingdom has come, and it is here to stay.


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