Church of the Living God

The Days We Celebrate (Easter 2017)

1 Corinthians 15The Voice (VOICE)

 Let me remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I preached to you when we first met. It’s the essential message that you have taken to heart, the central story you now base your life on; and through this gospel, you are liberated…. 3-4 For I passed down to you the crux of it all which I had also received from others, that the Anointed One, the Liberating King, died for our sins and was buried and raised from the dead on the third day. All this happened to fulfill the Scriptures; it was the perfect climax to God’s covenant story. 

Afterward He appeared alive to Cephas (you may know him as Simon Peter), then to the rest of the twelve. If that were not amazing enough, on one occasion, He appeared to more than 500 believers at one time. Many of those brothers and sisters are still around to tell the story, though some have fallen asleep in Jesus. Soon He appeared to James, His brother and the leader of the Jerusalem church, and then to all the rest of the emissaries He Himself commissioned.  8 Last of all, He appeared to me…

13 Friends, if there is no resurrection of the dead, then even the Anointed hasn’t been raised; 14 if that is so, then all our preaching has been for nothing and your faith in the message is worthless. 15 And what’s worse, all of us who have been preaching the gospel are now guilty of misrepresenting God because we have been spreading the news that He raised the Anointed One from the dead (which must be a lie if what you are saying about the dead not being raised is the truth)…

Friends17 if the Anointed has not been raised from the dead, then your faith is worth less than yesterday’s garbage, you are all doomed in your sins, 18 and all the dearly departed who trusted in His liberation are left decaying in the ground. 19 If what we have hoped for in the Anointed doesn’t take us beyond this life, then we are world-class fools, deserving everyone’s pity.

20 But the Anointed One was raised from death’s slumber and is the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep in death. 21 For since death entered this world by a man, it took another man to make the resurrection of the dead our new reality. 22 Look at it this way: through Adam all of us die, but through the Anointed One all of us can live again. 

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We live in a world in desperate need of peace.

Terrorism, rumors of wars, persecution, genocide, human trafficking, tension between police and citizens, political fighting, social media frenzies of name-calling and insults. It hits closer to home, too: our families, our workplace, our friendships, our church. Then there is the lack of peace deep inside – the depression, anxiety, despair and shame. We live in a world in desperate need of peace.

I want to talk about how Jesus’ death and resurrection makes peace possible.

There is a Hebrew word, Shalom,that refers to peace with God, within, and with others. In many ways it takes us back to the Garden of Eden, at a place and time when everything was good. We have wandered far from that place of peace and rest, and the history of the world shows that we do a terrible job re-creating peace on our own. The prophet Jeremiah lamented the people who say, “’Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace”; Luke records that Jesus wept for Jerusalem: “If you had only known on this day what would bring you peace.”

The prophet Isaiah said that one day there would be a Prince of Peace; Paul wrote that Jesus is our peace; Jesus said he came to bring a peace that was unlike anything the world could give. When he appeared to the disciples after his resurrection, one of the first things he said was, “Be at peace.”

This promise of peace through Jesus Christ is our hope in a fallen and broken world, and that’s our focus today.

Peace With God

We were created to be at peace with God – pure, holy, unstained by sin. Genesis talks about the close communion of God and Adam; it’s that kind of peace that is the goal. Unashamed, guiltless, not covering or hiding our sins or ourselves.

But sin ruined that kind of peace. And lest we blame Adam, we all contribute. We all choose to do that which appalls a righteous and holy God. Everyone is directed by their conscience; Christians are directed by the Bible and empowered by the Holy Spirit – and yet we still at times choose to willfully choose a path of spiritual, emotional, relational and sometimes physical destruction that we know offends  the God who created and loves us and hurts those around us. We don’t just ignore God or make mistakes; we are rebels. Some of us are just more obvious about it than others.

It not that we are totally unaware. If nothing else, our stories betray us. We want a line between good and evil, a really clear demarcation: “There are evil people and things; there are good people and things.” We want Sauron vs. Gandalf; the Lion vs. the Witch; Captain America vs. the Red Skull; Ohio State vs. anyone else, really.

While those stories are instructive and good, it’s not what we experience in real life. Even the writers of Scripture knew this. Look at any primary character in the Old Testament and find one whose life was a pure as snow. They don’t exist. The line between good and evil runs right through the center of our hearts. It’s why we are awesome parents one day and horrible parents the next. It’s why one day I’m the husband my wife dreamed about when she was a kid and the next day I’m not even close. It’s why our friendships struggle, and our families fight, and even church can feel like a battleground.

The whole world is in a war between sin and holiness, and at times the epic heroes arise and defeat the classic villains, and we cheer (as we should), but more often than not we see that murky middle battleground where the Boromirs and the children who visited Narnia and the Tony Starks struggle to embrace the good and reject the evil. And even then that just reminds us that the epicenter of this battle is in our heart.

We see in the Old Testament how God instituted a plan to begin a restoration project that pointed toward Jesus. It starts with Abraham.

God made a covenant, an agreement with Abraham,  that Paul alluded to in the passage we read today (“ the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus was the climax to God’s covenant story”). God promised that he would bless the world through Abraham and his descendants, who would become the children of Israel. Abraham just needed to be obedient and follow God. To seal the covenant, it was typical at that time for the two parties to kill an animal, dismember it, and walk through the middle as a way of saying, “If I break the covenant, may this be done to me.” In a vision, God appeared to Abraham and walked through this dissected animal alone. In other words, God said, “If either one of us breaks the covenant, may this be done to me.”

Eventually, God renewed this covenant relationship through Moses (the 10 Commandments and all the extra details), and gave his people an incredible amount of instruction on the kind of life that pleases God.

So all the Israelites were now in a covenant with God – they occasionally re-read the Law publicly and reaffirmed that yes indeed, this was the plan. This covenant was a little different in that there were some conditions: if they did good, they would be blessed. If they did bad, they would not. This led to trouble, because the Jewish people were terrible at keeping the Law.  

God initiated a temporary substitute through the sacrificial system, but they had to keep repeating this (for good reason.) It didn’t matter how much or how often the rabbis added more and more laws to try to make sure they could live perfectly. They couldn’t. If anything, the more detailed they got, the more it became clear how far they were from holy.

To make it worse, the cause-and-effect penalties of their sin caught up with them. The conditions of the covenant had to be honored and they were. The wages of their sin were conquest and enslavement. One Old Testament prophet recorded that they sat by the rivers of Babylon and wept as they remembered what they have lost – and what they could have.

They longed for a Messiah, a deliverer, and bringer of hope and peace. It appeared that these people – who were supposed to be the means by which God blessed the world –  had sold their spiritual birthright in exchange for their sin. They had failed to live up to God’s standards even when God had made them clear through Moses.

Now they were scattered, dying, convinced God has abandoned them.

But God had not.

God did bless the world through Abraham’s descendants – but not in a nationalistic sense like the Israelites expected. It was through the lineage of the Jewish people  that Jesus was born. That was the plan all along.

Enter Jesus, God in the flesh, sent to earth to fulfill the demands that God made on himself in his covenant with Abraham. God did not break the covenant; Abraham did. Yet God would pay the price for that sin by taking upon himself the penalty. He would be killed. He would also offer one sacrifice once and for all to fulfill the obligation of the sacrificial system under the law of Moses. On the cross, Jesus was torn for the sins not just of the Israelites, but of the world. Jesus satisfied the requirements of both those covenants while establishing a new one, one that all of us can be a part of.

Why is this important? Because all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. Without Jesus, we are dead in our sins. Our peace with God is broken, and without Jesus there is nothing between us and His wrath. No matter how good we think we are, we have shaken our fist at the heavens and said, “Not your will, but mine be done” over and over again.

But on the cross, the justice and mercy of God meet. God initiates a covenant fulfillment with us even before we are aware of the need for it. Because of the death and resurrection of Jesus, our war with God can end, and we can be at peace with Him. Our sin does not have to condemn us or separate us from God.

We can be forgiven, loved, embraced, even adopted into God’s family so that we are called ‘children of God.’ We are offered forgiveness and hope in this life and an eternity of joy in the presence of God in a New Heaven and New Earth, a reality in which, as Tim Keller says, all that is bad will be undone.

Peace Within

I mentioned a number of things earlier that rob us of peace within: depression, anxiety, shame. We could add anger, bitterness, jealousy, hopelessness, unforgiveness…

Some of those things can be caused by medical issues that a doctor can help (our biology is fallen too). Some of those things we can bring on ourselves because of our sinful choices. Some of things can arise because of sin that has been done to us. I believe the presence of Jesus gives us hope in the midst of all of those things, but there is one primary reason Jesus died and rose again when it comes to peace within. That is to address our guilt and shame for our sin.

Here’s the reality.

On this side of heaven, I will sin because I am not perfect. With the help of the Holy Spirit, the guidance of God’s word and the community of God’s people, I will be remarkably better than I would be without those things. God miraculously frees us from the overwhelming power of sin. Because of Jesus, I am not doomed to be chained by the power of sin. However, the cross and the empty tomb don’t remove the presence of sin. Not yet. I am no longer enslaved to sin, but I can still choose it.

And I do. I’m not perfect. Ask anybody. Neither are you. If you aren’t sure if that’s the case, ask your family. They will fill you in. So what do I do with that?

I could become consumed with perfection and working on my own power – and run myself into the ground trying to achieve the impossible. Then, I will become either insufferably arrogant the more I am successful or sadly self-loathing the more I fail. That’s the kind of righteousness the Bible says is filthy rags. It’s gross. Self-righteousness is not pretty.

Or I can turn to Jesus, the “author and finisher of my faith,” who sees me in my imperfect sinfulness and loves me anyway – and that love includes not letting me stay where I am, but changing and renewing me so that I increasingly become like Jesus. 

Because I have Jesus, I will have a strength I would never have on my own. In my times of doing good, I am driven to worship God, not my own willpower and work, so I avoid arrogance. In my times of failure, I am driven to throw myself at the mercy of a God who is faithful even when I am faithless, and that reminder of the love and tenderness of Jesus moves me out of my self-loathing as I remember that that Jesus knows and loves me, gave His life for me, and is transforming me into His image.

With Others

This changes everything is our relationships. The more we understand how the love of Jesus brought about peace with God, the more determined we will be to pass on that love. And when we see how his death and resurrection show His love – truly see it – we will love Him in return, and it will change us.

What kind of love is that? A radical, self-sacrificing commitment to the good of those around me. It’s what the Bible calls agape love. Jesus died so that I could live; why would I not in some way choose to ‘die’ to myself so that those around me can live? It’s how I honor my Lord. It’s how I pass on the legacy of Jesus.

 In some ways we commemorate this during communion: “This is my body which was broken for you …do this in remembrance.” We can’t die and bring salvation for our sins or the sins of others – we must have Jesus for that. But we can honor what Jesus has done by being broken and spilled out as we show the love of Jesus.

 As followers of Jesus, we ‘die’ to jealousy, envy, anger, pettiness, meanness, pride, selfishness. The Bible insists that we present our bodies as a living sacrifice, that we climb up on the altar and sacrifice everything in us that needs to die. We could never do this on our own power, but we are not alone. We have God’s spirit inside us, his Word in front of us, and His people around us.

 We can do this, because God is with us.

 This is the peace the Resurrected Lord offers to us.

  • Through Jesus, our relationship with God can been repaired so that we are no longer rebels. We are servants, friends, children, kings, priests. As a church we are the bride of Christ, and the bride will be made glorious in preparation for the glorious return of Jesus.
  • Through Jesus, our peace within can be restored as we surrender and then commit our lives to the love and grace of a Risen Savior who is greater than all of our sins. We do not have to live in shame and fear; we can be transparent, bold and loved.
  • Through Jesus, our peace with others flows from this reality. We will want to go into all the world and preach the gospel and make disciples. We will  want everyone so see how the love of a Risen Savior transforms our lives, not for our glory but for the glory of the One who makes this possible.

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