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First Presbyterian Church, Nashville

Dr. Todd B. Jones

Easter Day, March 31, 2013

Out of the Depths: Resurrection and the Redemption of All Things

Psalm 130; 1 Corinthians 15:12-28

             A fellow had a dog that learned to talk.  He brought it to a talent agent to get the dog on television.  “This dog can speak,” he claims to the skeptical agent.  “Okay, Sport,” the guy says to the dog, “What’s on the top of a house?”  “Roof!” the dog replies.  “Oh, jeez, come on…,” the talent agent responds.  “All dogs go ‘roof.’”  “No, wait!” the guy says.  He asks the dog, “What does sandpaper feel like?”  “Rough!” the dog answers.  The agent rolls his eyes, losing his patience.  “No, hang on!” he says.  “This one will amaze you.”  He turns and asks the dog, “Who, in your opinion, is the greatest baseball player of all time?”  “Ruth!” the dog says.  With that, the talent agent, having endured enough, boots them out of his office, out onto the street.  As they walk down the street, the dog turns to the guy and says, “Maybe I should have said Derek Jeter?!”

             Well, give Paul credit!  When it comes to what happened on the first Easter, and what it means to the world, Paul left nothing unsaid.  He devotes the whole of 1 Corinthians 15, all fifty-eight verses of it, to the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Paul puts all his eggs in the Easter basket.  For Paul, if the resurrection of Jesus on Easter did not happen, if it is not true, then nothing else about Christian faith and the God it proclaims is true.  And if this central reality of the faith is true, then the resurrection of Jesus Christ is a game-changer, a world-altering event.

             Yet even when Paul wrote this letter to the Corinthians, about twenty years after the crucifixion of Jesus, and at least ten years before the first Gospel would be put into writing, there were some members of the small, struggling congregation in Corinth who were turning away from the revolutionary proclamation of the resurrection of the body.  Immortality of the soul was a more commonplace belief in the Greek-influenced culture of Corinth, even though it was not a Jewish or Old Testament idea at all.  Similarly, in our own culture, we hear people today talk about rebirth, life after death, personal immortality, reincarnation and all kinds of other vaguely spiritual beliefs almost as a matter of course.  Only Christian faith speaks of the resurrection of the body.  We affirm that we believe in it every week when we recite the words of the Apostles’ Creed.  Easter is not the statement, “The eternal spirit of your Master lives on,” or “The immortal soul of Jesus has gone to dwell in heaven.”  That is not what the angel in Mark and Matthew or the two angels in Luke proclaimed to the women.  In Mark the angel said, “Do not be afraid; you seek Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified.  He has been raised; He is not here.  See the place where they laid Him….” 

             The tomb was empty; the body was gone.  All four Gospels report this.  In spite of differences about the numbers of angels and the names of the witnesses, all four Gospel writers agree that the tomb was empty.  Paul says this is the truth on which Christian faith rises or falls.  “If Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain.  We are ever found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that He raised Christ….”

             This is the message that converted the Mediterranean world, and is still creating new Christians around the globe today.  It is not a collection of spiritual principles.  It is an announcement of events that happened, events that can be described: Christ died; Christ was buried; Christ was raised from the dead; the Risen Christ appeared, bodily, to the women, then to Peter, then to the twelve, then “He appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time.”  This is the earliest preaching of the Church that Paul repeats for us to open his great chapter on resurrection.

             All of the Gospel writers report how surprising, how unexpected, how completely without precedent this event was.  It stuns and astonishes the earliest disciples with a power they must reach for words to describe.  Yet it was for Paul and for all four Gospels writers a bodily resurrection.  To be certain, it is a different body – one that is not always at first recognized, one that passes through locked doors, yet also one that eats fish and shares in the breaking of bread and cooks breakfast, and most wonderfully of all, speaks and shares the nail marks of His wounds, and can be encountered face-to-face.

             The New Testament offers us ten separate resurrection appearances by Jesus after Easter morning.  Every writer of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament is convinced of the bodily resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, who was most assuredly “crucified, dead and buried.”  All of them believed that this was something only God could accomplish.  And for Paul, this event signals that nothing will ever be the same again for this world.  For Paul, the resurrection of Jesus is the sign that God has acted to usher in a new age, and that God has asserted His sovereignty over all of human history, indeed over the whole creation.  For Paul, the resurrection is the sign that tells us that God has triumphed over evil, that death has been defeated, that sin and suffering will never have the last word.  For Paul, the resurrection is the flare shot up into the sky to announce that Jesus is alive, and He is King, and He shall reign forever.  Paul writes, “But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.”  The resurrection of Jesus is not some isolated event.  It is the sign of our hope for all creation, and for hope in all that the Gospel proclaims to be true.

             For Paul, it is impossible to describe the impact of what happened on that first Easter morning in large enough terms.  Of course, none of this starts with Paul or with Easter.  From the days that God established His promise with Abraham, God has been intent upon blessing all the families of the earth.  This is God’s promise to Abram in Genesis 12: “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”  There is nothing narrow or parochial about Biblical faith.  The God of the Bible is intent upon saving and blessing, reconciling and redeeming the whole world.

             Psalm 130 ends with an incredible promise of redemption: “It is He who will redeem Israel from all its iniquities.”  This is what I love so much about the Bible!  It is so sure, so confident, so utterly certain of the future!  I can be so afraid of what tomorrow holds.  I worry way too much about the future … not so much my own future, but that of my children and grandchildren, my country and where it is heading, this world so given to violence and greed.

             There is none of this fear or uncertainty in the Bible.  “It is He who will redeem Israel from all its iniquities.”  That is a whole lot of iniquity.  And the Psalmist tells us that God is sure to redeem it all!

             Paul believes the same large, life-giving truth.  “For as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ.”  Paul says, “For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet.  The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”  This is Paul’s Easter faith, and it is glorious, and reason to rejoice in our hope.

             To the Romans Paul asks, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”  Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  This is what the resurrection of Jesus means to Paul.

             To John, on the island of Patmos, a Roman prison colony, the risen Christ enables him to envision an equally glorious future.  “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.  And I saw the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘See, the dwelling of God is among mortals, He will dwell with them as their God, and they shall be His people, and God himself will be with them; and God will wipe every tear from their eyes.  Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the former things have passed away.’”

             This is resurrection faith, dear friends, and we will never have enough of it!  We are so prone to be timid and fearful, to live lives that are far too measured and tame.

             When Winston Churchill learned finally that the United States was entering the war after Pearl Harbor, and after Hitler declared war upon us, everything changed for him.  Prior to our entry, Churchill put on a good face, but after France fell so quickly, he feared that Great Britain alone would not have the power and the resources to wage war successfully against Germany and the Axis powers.  He struggled with nagging fears and deep depression.  But once the United States declared war on Japan and Germany, everything changed.  Churchill simply knew that together there was no power in the world who could defeat us, and his newfound courage and confidence buoyed both nations.  Well, Easter was the same kind of confidence changer for Paul.

             Rob Bell was the pastor of Mars Hill Church in Grand Rapids and a graduate of Fuller Seminary.  Rob wrote a book a few years ago that landed him on the cover of Time Magazine and cost him his job at Mars Hill Church.  The book was called Love Wins, and while he may not have gotten everything right in his book – who ever does? – I do think he asked a very powerful question in his book.  If God is love, and if God is sovereign, then looking at the grand sweep of things, here is Rob Bell’s question: “Does God get what God wants?”  I want to say a resounding “yes” to Rob Bell’s question!  Because I have examined the evidence as carefully and thoroughly as I have ever weighed anything.  And I am persuaded that Christ is risen, and the whole Gospel is true.  This resurrection of Jesus proclaims that life is stronger than death, that love is more powerful than hate, that hope is larger than fear, and that good will finally overcome evil.  Christ is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

                                                                                     Amen

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