Taunts of the Assembly

I tell you this, brothers, it is not a mystery: we are all going to die. Actually, we shall not all sleep, as Paul put it (1 Corinthians 15:51). He considered the return of the Lord to be imminent, and, since time on earth is linear, we have to be closer to His return now than Paul.

If the Lord tarries, as they used to say, then we will all die. But, and this is the good news for Christians, we shall all be changed. We will be raised in Christ.

The questions, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” are taunts against death. “What can you do to us now, death? You’ve lost all your teeth.” These taunts are individual, and they are also the taunts of the assembly.

Our bodies will be raised, and we as the body of Christ will be raised. In the resurrection we will have identity as Christians and as the church.

We have that identity in seed form even now. If you are a believer, you have the promise of full fellowship. If you are a believer, you have the present experience of fellowship, both with God through Christ and through the Spirit with one another.

So we share communion in celebration of victory, by faith in both the firstfruits of victory and the final victory. Together we remember Christ’s death and His triumph over death. We are mere mortals, but we will be mere immortals not long from now. We shall all be changed, thanks be to God!

Not As I Will

Jesus is risen from the dead just as He said. His resurrection is the first of its kind and all of us who believe in Him will be raised when He returns. While we sing in thanks and praise and hope, how else can we celebrate the significance of this great news? In other words, how can we make Easter great again?

We can, and should, give up our sins for which Christ died. We can, and should, give up trying to make our self-righteousness look acceptable to Him. We can, and should, give up our grudges toward those for whom Christ bore condemnation already. And, following Christ’s example, if we want to make Easter great again, we should give up our own wills.

In Gethsemane, sorrowful and troubled, falling on His face and praying, Jesus said, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39). After returning to His sleeping disciples Jesus went away a second time and prayed, “Your will be done” (verse 42). And after that, “he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again” (verse 44).

It’s not a surprise for Him to pray this way. He told others, “I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me” (John 6:38). What is surprising is how we think we’re going to get fruit by saving our seed (John 12:24). But Jesus told His disciples, “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (John 12:25).

Give up your self-sufficiency. Give up your schedule to glory. Give up your arrogant plans (James 4:13-17). Give up looking to your own interests (Philippians 2:4). “He died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Corinthians 5:15). Have the mind of Christ, and give up your will for Easter.

Foolproof Resurrection

Why go through religious rituals like baptism or the Lord’s Supper? Why risk comfort and convenience for Christ? Why pursue righteousness when someone is going to give us grief about it? We do all of the above for sake of reward.

In Hebrews we read:

Without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)

But when do we get this reward? It is not always, and not even mainly, in this life. So Abraham “was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (verse 10). Those like him “desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one” (verse 16). Some through faith “conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises,” (verse 33), and others “were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life” (verse 34).

All these are those “of whom the world was not worthy” (verse 38).

We are called to live by faith, to endure “as seeing him who is invisible” (verse 27). We spend ourselves because of foolproof resurrection; we can mess up spending our lives for Christ but we can’t mess up our lives being resurrected in Christ. We obey because of that resurrection. We will not lose out on the reward because Jesus is risen from the dead.

So come, eat and drink. May your faith be strengthened. And may we all have more of the same mind, the same love, and be in full communion for sake of the Christ Jesus our Lord.

Comfort from the Dead-raiser

We’re going to be talking about resurrection in church for the next couple months leading up to Resurrection Sunday, and, for that matter, we’re going to be talking about it forever in the resurrection. In the meantime, prior to our resurrection, God’s Word reminds us that when we think about God we should think about His resurrection power.

In 2 Corinthians 1 Paul wrote about his afflictions and then about the comfort God gave him in his afflictions. His afflictions were actually pretty bad.

“We do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. (2 Corinthians 1:8)

He had just told them that he was comforted, and that his affliction was for their comfort and salvation (verse 6). But the heaviness and pain and sufferings were real. He thought he might die any moment, and it was bad enough he might have preferred death. Believing the gospel doesn’t make life more easy but it does tell us that there is more after this life.

We endure as we hope in God, and God wants us to remember who He is.

Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. (2 Corinthians 1:9)

God is the Dead-raiser. Jesus called Himself “the resurrection and the life” (John 11:24). He is the “God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3), and His ability to comfort us is tied to His ability to raise the dead. Therefore, “Let us hold fast the confession our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23).

Look for a Second

On the first day of the week we worship because Christ rose from the dead; the first day changes all the other days for good. Likewise, His resurrection, though only something that happened once, is just the first of many in a different way. He will not rise from the dead again, but because He did many more will after Him.

Paul told the Corinthians,

in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:20–23, ESV)

On the first day of the week we remember the first fruits. “First fruits” is one Greek word, ἀπαρχή, a word that refers to the beginning that represented more. Just as there is no need for an outline without at least two points, so a first signals us to look for a second, for a succession. Paul called Jesus the firstborn from the dead (Colossians 1:18), the firstborn among many brothers (Romans 8:29).

We are an army of new men, the offspring of His offering. Supernatural life was breathed into us. We have hope not only in this life but in the life to come. We are no people to be pitied, we are a people purchased and raised and promised the glory of an imperishable body. Jesus is the first fruits and we are part of the rest of the resurrection harvest.

The Top of the Faith Chart

When we co-opt the apostle John’s language and talk about faith as victory that overcomes the world, we do so without smirking or crossing our fingers behind our back because our faith is in victory that overcomes death. If your god can’t do something about death then he can only offer so much.

Abraham believed in the God who overcomes death.

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back. (Hebrews 11:17–19)

Faith that believes in resurrection power is at the top of the faith chart. What is more impossible than being raised from the dead? In Abraham’s case, he was prepared to act based on it. In our case, we are prepared to eat and drink based on it.

There is no “figuratively speaking” with the resurrection of Jesus because He died. He wasn’t almost sacrificed. He carried the wood of His altar, was bound by nails to it, and though God could have sent 10,000 angels to take Him off the cross, a “close to death” would only made us close to salvation. He died and was three-days-buried dead.

But then He rose again in accordance with the Scriptures. The angels told visitors to His tomb: “He is not here, for He has risen, as He said.” He was “declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead.” This is literally speaking.

When we eat the bread and drink the wine we proclaim His death but not because He’s dead. He lives! Our faith is in the resurrection and the life! May your faith be nourished by such a meal in such a powerful Savior who has overcome death for us.

Delighting in the Saints

Peter preached on the day of Pentecost about the resurrection of Jesus. He said, “God raised him [His Son] up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to held by it” (Acts 2:24). Then Peter proved his point by quoting Psalm 16:8-11 and made the following application.

Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. (Acts 2:29–32)

David had the hope of eternal pleasures not just for one of his descendants, but in his descendent. This is also the hope that every believers has in Jesus.

As it says in the Apostles’ Creed, “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.” These blessings were purchased for us by Christ.

Jesus is the first-fruits of those raised from the dead. When we pause around the Lord’s Table, we remember the path of life. To get on that path we believe in Him who descended from the Father, died, was buried, and rose again on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. When we believe, we are identified with Him in life and death, with His people, and with His path. We thank Him in joy and follow His way of loving sacrifice for others.

The communion meal provides a practice place for us to rejoice in our life, in our future resurrection, and to delight the communion of saints who are on the same path.

New Soil

As sons of Adam we have his sin. We don’t need to learn sin, in the words of our modern theologian Lady Gaga, we are born this way. Being born this way, where every intention of the thoughts of our hearts is only evil continually, is not an excuse for sin, like the Lady intended, but it is the reason we need a savior from sin.

When God saves us He doesn’t just pull up the weeds. He brings in new soil. Because He died and rose again He both forgives us and makes us different.

Our third year Latin class was translating and discussing 1 John 1:9. He forgives our sins, a plural noun, and cleanses us from all unrighteousness, or “wrongdoing,” which is singular. The plural refers to the acts of active and passive rebellion. There are many weeds to deal with.

But the singular unrighteousness refers to our nature. He is cleansing the soil, treating it so that less weeds and moss will grow. He really is making us different people, and this internal work must be done otherwise we can only ever deal with the surface.

When we eat and drink at the Lord’s Table we do it in remembrance of Him. We remember His obedience, His love, His death and resurrection. We also should remember His aim, to save and sanctify a people for His own possession. As Christians, we have been crucified with Christ, we no longer live. When we remember what He has done, we remember that we also died and rose again in Him by faith.

A Resurrection Relationship

If you could have whatever you wanted, what would you want? If you could define yourself by anything, what would you want said about you? There is more than one good way to answer those questions as Christians, and certainly a variety of vain answers for unbelievers. But, at least in one place, the apostle Paul wrote that he wanted nothing more than a resurrection relationship.

He listed his religious assets early in Philippians 3, reasons he had for being confident in his flesh. These were the very things he counted “loss for the sake of Christ.” Then he revealed his value system in two sentences.

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:8–11)

A Christian want list: knowing Christ, gaining Christ, found in Christ, showing Christ’s sufferings, imitating Christ’s death, and attaining Christ’s resurrection. Christ has made us His own. He fellowships with us now. He promises to raise us from the dead so that we will fellowship with Him without end.

The communion table gives us a taste and increases our wants for the power of His resurrection. No other bread endures to eternal life. No other cup satisfies. When we identify with Him here by faith, He will identify with us and raise us up on the last day. That will be gain.

Not Even the Days Are Figurative

The great resurrection chapter is 1 Corinthians 15. We are partaking of communion on Palm Sunday, a week before we celebrate Christ’s resurrection on Easter Sunday. This is the most difficult and the most glorious time of the year on the church calendar. We should remember the history.

On Sunday Jesus entered Jerusalem on a borrowed donkey and many hailed Him as the Messiah. On Monday Jesus cursed the fig tree and cleansed His Father’s house for the second time. On Tuesday He taught on Mt. Olivet and Judas agreed on a price for betrayal. On Wednesday we don’t know exactly what Jesus did. On Thursday Jesus ate the Passover Meal with His men, prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, was betrayed by Judas, and tried. On Friday Jesus was tried again and again, beaten over and over, crucified, and buried. There is no record of events on the Sabbath, but by early the following Sunday the tomb was empty.

This is “of first importance.” “Christ died for our sins,” “he was buried,” and “he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). This is the outline of the gospel story. Is any part of it figurative? The death? The burial? The resurrection? The 500 witnesses (in verse 6)? How about the three days?

Not even the days are figurative. Jesus did not leave the tomb three ages afterward when no one could verify who He was. His appearances were not three undefined seasons later. The details corroborate the week, the week is part of the gospel, and the gospel is our life.

Let us count our blessings these next seven days due to the work of Christ that important week.