*Given at Midtown Christian Community, May 2, 2010
Almighty God, whom truly to know is everlasting life: Grant us so perfectly to know your Son Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life, that we may steadfastly follow his steps in the way that leads to eternal life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Last week we talked about how we live in the shadow of Easter. The resurrection isn’t just an event that happened a long time ago, it’s a reality that stands over us, holds us up, gives us life, changes our lives, gives us hope. We said last week that the question isn’t, “Did it happen?” But, “what happened, when it happened?” There are many windows into the resurrection, so many ways in which it is significant. Throughout the Easter season, which runs for some weeks past Easter Sunday, we ponder some of the ways in which the resurrection is important.
Our passages for this week will provide us yet another window into the resurrection, giving us a new and fresh perspective on what God did in raising Jesus from the dead. These passages invite us to think about the resurrection from the big story of what is going on in the world.
It all starts with how much God loves his world. His heart is for this world and he loves to show his goodness to his creation. God longs for the world to enjoy his life and blessing. This was God’s original intention for his world—that the world would enjoy his life and love and his life-giving presence. In fact, that’s what normal human existence would look like. God intended for the world to be his temple, and God’s presence was supposed to be everywhere. And people were designed to enjoy God’s world and God’s presence and one another. We were to worship God by being like God, only it would look less like God being God—it would be humans imitating God. God loves his world and loves enjoying it. And people were supposed to do the same thing. We were supposed to notice the wonders of God’s world and say, “isn’t that amazing! Hey look, a huge fish! Oh wow, a sweet waterfall!” When we acted like this, God’s heart would soar and he would thrill at our enjoying how wonderful his world was.
God wanted people to enjoy his creation and to enjoy one another. Serving and loving others would have been normal. Doing good and honoring one another was just the way things were supposed to work out.
Now, we all know that’s not at all how things work in our world, right? We don’t naturally love one another. We don’t serve others. We’re selfish. Unkind to one another. We hurt each other. We think only about our own needs and desires. We are impatient. We slander one another. If someone else gets hurt because I get what I want, that’s fine. That’s just how it goes.
But God isn’t satisfied with that. Because creation is in this kind of broken condition, and because people treat each other like this, God’s heart is broken. He can’t stand it. He longs for creation to enjoy his life and goodness and presence. We see this in the psalm. Our God loves to do good.
Because God is this kind of God—because he longs for people to enjoy him and one another and to have a blast being in his world, a long time ago God called Israel to be a nation that would help him fix creation. God desired to call the nations of the world back to himself, to start enjoying the world again. So God called Israel to be a “holy” nation. As it says in Leviticus, God told Israel that he was “holy,” so they were supposed to be “holy.” And holiness means “different.” God is a different kind of God than any other god. The one true God is unlike all the other gods in the world.
Typically the gods of the nations are nasty gods. They are selfish and have very small hearts—just like the Grinch, whose heart was two sizes too small. The gods want stuff from people; they aren’t interested in giving stuff to people. The gods of the nations love to keep their people cowering in fear; they manipulate their people. This is so because the gods of the nations are projections of humanity and humanity’s worst fears. But the God of Israel, the one true God is so totally different. As we see in the psalm he loves to give. He opens wide his hand to satisfy the needs of every living creature. He is faithful; he is near to those who call upon him; he upholds all those who fall and lifts up those who are bowed down. The gods we invent are only near to those who are important, or who have lots of money—because that’s how we’d be if we were God. But God is different, he is holy.
And because he is holy, he wants Israel to be holy, which does not mean that they’re supposed to be boring and can’t have any fun and are supposed to be super-serious and never do anything wrong. It means that they are supposed to be a people who enjoy God, God’s world, and other people the way that God originally intended. Israel was called to reflect in their lives the character of God—who can’t be seen. You can’t see God, but you’re supposed to be able to look at a bunch of people called “God’s people” and see what God is like.
So, as God’s holy people, Israel was supposed to do the things that Leviticus 19 says: and here I want you to do some work. Look at Leviticus 19 on your service sheet. If we were to put things in our own terms, what kinds of behaviors was Israel supposed to exhibit toward one another?
Now, sadly, the Old Testament story is the story of the failure of Israel. What is tragic is that Israel actually chose to follow other gods rather than to follow the one true God. Now, before you judge Israel as being really stupid for following other gods, remember what it means to “worship” a god. It just means that you live life in a certain way.
The worship of the one true God is enjoying this world as God’s world and enjoying other people—loving them and receiving their love; being committed to people; and serving them and being served by them.
It sounds like it should be easy to do that. But it isn’t. It’s far easier to be selfish. It’s far easier to spend my time living for myself. It’s more normal for me to spend my mind time thinking about how I can get things for myself and how other people need to pay attention to me and how I never get what I want. It’s easier to be transformed into people who serve other gods, and Israel ran into that very problem. Instead of being a different nation—a holy nation—and instead of helping the nations love one another and serve one another, they turned into a nation that was totally like all the nations that serve other gods.
They did this because they were sinful, broken people—like us—but also because there was something radically wrong with the world. This world had become enslaved in darkness, sin, and death. Satan had become the ruler of this world and was making sure that people’s mindsets were selfish. The powers of darkness made sure that there was something about the very air of the world that made people suspicious of one another, thinking thoughts only of serving themselves. The very fabric of creation itself was broken, so that no one was interested in living in the world in the way that God wanted.
So God had to begin to fix the world. And that’s where Easter comes in. God sent Jesus into the world to live a life as God intended. He loved others and was delighted on the few occasions when people actually loved him back. He served other people. He went to the broken, to the poor and the outcast. He healed parts of God’s world that were in pain.
But the powers of darkness, along with Sin, Death, and Satan made sure that Jesus was put to death. They have hijacked God’s world and make sure that there is no genuinely human conduct going on. The death of Jesus, God himself, shows that God’s world is in a seriously broken condition. But God began to reverse all this when he raised Jesus from the dead.
And that’s where we get this window into Easter. When God raised Jesus from the dead, he broke the stranglehold that God’s cosmic enemies held over the world. God’s world is now in the process of becoming whole again. And God has sent his Spirit into the world to create a new people—the church, to do the job that Israel was supposed to do. We are to be a holy people, a totally different kind of people. And here’s the big point—that project is actually now possible because God fixed what was wrong with the world. The very air of creation was polluted with death and the world was captive to Sin and Death so that Israel couldn’t be God’s people rightly. But now the world is being freed from Sin’s and Death’s captivity, and we are empowered by God’s Spirit to live lives of restoration and salvation.
What does that mean? How does it look?
Well, we get lots of clues from Leviticus 19, but also from the Revelation and John passages. It means we are to love one another. That was Jesus’ parting instruction—love one another. Go back to being human as you were designed—to love and be loved, to enjoy one another and do good. This is reflected in Revelation 19, where the saints are clothed in fine linen, which is their righteous deeds. That doesn’t mean that we have to work our way to heaven or try really hard to please God. It only means that our worship of God consists of our small and simple acts of service and love for one another.
So, praise God for raising Jesus from the dead! When God did that, he began his project of fixing the world and he now empowers us to be a community that reflects all that he is.