Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Go and do likewise . . .

     I suppose this week I will be both preaching and laying a bit of foundation for some upcoming new things at Advent.  Our Gospel lesson in Luke certainly lends itself to both.  What is happening?  The Apostles and disciples are trying to figure out the Resurrection of Jesus?  Are we dreaming?  Is He a ghost?  Have we lost our minds?  You can well imagine how you would have been at that time, too.  Remember, we are the descendants, spiritually speaking if not genealogically speaking, of those who saw Jesus raised from the dead.  As astonished as we might have been at the parting of the Red Sea, the casting out of demons, the healing of lepers, or the restoration of sight to the blind, the idea of the dead coming back to life would have blown our minds, too!  So, as they are struggling with the meaning of this event, Jesus appears amongst them, teaching them and us about its significance.

     First, Jesus has a real body.  It is a real body that can be touched, felt, and seen.  It is a solid body that still retains the marks of His Crucifixion.  For those of you who expect to be raised as some ethereal spirit, floating on clouds playing a harp, Jesus’ Resurrection indicates to us that we will have real bodies.  Why?  He is the first fruit of the Resurrection!  If you and I are the second and third fruits, our bodies should be like His.

     To be sure, His body is similar but different than what the Apostles experienced in their travels with Him.  He is able to hide His identity from those who knew Him best as He encounters them outside His tomb or on the road to Emmaus.  He is able to travel vast distances almost immediately.  He can enter through locked or even shut doors.  But some similarities, though, remain.  He can eat.  He drinks water.  Notice He does not drink wine from the Cup of Joy until His kingdom is established forever.  He can lay hands upon and touch those in His presence.  He seems even to breathe, or at least exhale when it comes to bestowing the Holy Spirit upon those in His presence.

     This eating and drinking also serves another purpose.  It was axiomatic in the Ancient Near East, as it is today on shows like Ghost Hunters, that ghosts are incorporeal.  They cannot eat or drink.  So, when Jesus asks for a piece of fish or bread or a drink of water in the Gospel stories, that is His testimony against the rumors that He was a ghost, that He was a figment of their imaginations, that He was the shared experience of a mass hallucination.  Those who encountered the Risen Jesus ate with Him!  Those who encountered the Risen Jesus drank with Him!  Those who encountered the Risen Jesus touched the marks of His wounds!

     As shocked or awed as we might be at any miracle in the Bible, this is The Miracle which distinguishes our faith from all the other thoughts, ideas, religions, and spiritualities of the world.  Like you, I watched all those specials on television in the lead up to Easter.  Pundit after pundit, “expert” after “expert,” gave all kinds of excuses for why Jesus could not have come back from the dead.  He must not have really died.  His disciples likely stole His body.  My favorite, The Apostles and disciples came up with this idea as a way to gain prestige, power, and wealth.  LOL  As if Peter, John, Mark, James, Mary, Martha, and all the others were suddenly elevated socially, financially, or in power because they said they had seen the Lord.  Their testimony earned many of them death and derision.  There was no powerful Church of which they could seize control.  All they seized was the scorn, the plotting, the persecuting, and their own death at the hands of the Roman Empire.

     Wonderful philosophies and religions populated the ANE, great Rabbis had taught wonderful wisdom, but nobody claimed to be raised from the dead.  It was so far outside the human experience it is no wonder that people scoffed at the idea.  The intelligentsia of the day mocked the Christians.  The political powers of the day laughed at them even as they used them to cover their own failures.  The religious elite derided them for the very notion that a god could love people or die for them, let alone be brought back to life.  Those events might happen in mythology, but never in real life!

     The Resurrection, for us, is the cornerstone of our faith.  If it is not true, then Paul is right, we are to be most pitied.  We have been giving of our time, our talents, and our treasures for something pretend.  If the Resurrection is not true, we should be pitied as fools.  How many people have sacrificed their lives believing in its truth?  How many people have sold all their possessions and headed to leprosariums, to orphanages, to AIDS clinics, to foreign lands in service of a lie?  How many?  What causes people to have the confidence to face even death, trusting that God will redeem them or their situation?  The Resurrection.  If God can conquer death, all our other troubles pale by comparison.

     And make no mistake, this is a challenging claim to accept.  Some of you sitting here today may believe that the Resurrection was a spiritual thing or a hallucination.  You may not yet be sure what to make of it.  You are not alone.  Peter, James, John, Thomas, Mary, Martha, Mary and countless others did not believe until they saw, until they touched.  One thing none of us can deny, they sure acted as if they believed in His Resurrection.  Look at Peter today in Acts.  Less than a couple weeks ago, Peter was denying that he knew Jesus, even as Jesus faced His accusers before the Sanhedrin.  Like the others, Peter was hiding in a locked room.  He was still in a shut room.  But His encounters with the Resurrected Jesus changed him forever.  That same coward of Maundy Thursday healed a cripple on the steps of the Temple in Jerusalem in the name of Jesus!  For that horrible crime he was hauled before that same group that condemned his master.  How does he react?  Does he cower?  Does he deny his Master now?  No, he proclaims the Gospel of Christ crucified and Resurrected.  Better still, Peter tells them all that they sinned against God by putting God’s Anointed to death.  And what can they do, if they realize their sin?  Repent and turn to God, that their sins might be forgiven through the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ!  Who speaks that boldly for an idea?  Who gains that kind of courage for a philosophy?  This is no momentary courage either.  What Peter experienced transformed his view of God, of life, of everything!  What, but the Resurrection explains that amazing change?  What but the Resurrection explains his eventual willingness to go to Rome, to preach the Gospel, and to die there, crucified upside down?

     If Jesus’ Resurrection is true, there are some amazing implications.  Would God raise a liar, a blasphemer, a sinful man from the dead and so honor him?  Of course not!  Only His Anointed, His new Adam, His Beloved Son is worthy of such an honor.  But if Jesus was really raised from the dead, then all that He taught must be true!  That’s one of the reasons why we call the Resurrection the capstone or cornerstone of the faith.  Everything else in His teaching hangs upon the truth of His raised Body.  And this gets me to the foundation we will be laying here.

     After eating and showing them His wounds, what does Jesus do?  He teaches them.  These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.  If we were reading from one of those red-letter Bibles, these words would be in red because they are Jesus’ words.  And Jesus, as He was for those three years or so worth of ministry among them, continues to teach.  What does He tell us is this passage?  That the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms spoke of Him.  What you and I call the Old Testament, Jesus says speaks of Him.  Next time you are at home, look at your Bible.  Mark the page between the Old and New Testaments.  Notice how much is written in the Old Testament.  That leads me back, of course, to the second important point of Luke’s Gospel for us this morning.

     Why do we study the Old Testament?  Why should preachers preach on the Old Testament?  Because it contains roughly 2/3 of the total revelation that God gave us.  Put in a different way, 2/3 of the character and life of Jesus is told to us in the Old Testament.  Ever hear that nonsense that the God of the Old Testament is a God of wrath; the God of the New Testament is a God of love or justice or some other attribute?  Could such pithy statements be more wrong?  Here’s Jesus, raised from the dead, teaching His disciples that the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms speak of Him.  It makes sense, though, when we think about it.  Does God show lots of mercy in the Old Testament?   You bet.  Does God show lots of wrath in the New Testament?  Maybe we should ask the Guy who was scourged, mocked, beaten, and crucified for us about His perspective on the loss of God’s wrath in the New Testament.  But we do not study the Old Testament, preachers ought not preach the Old Testament, without the focusing lens of the Cross and Resurrection of our Lord Christ.  If we try to read the Old Testament absent that lens, we may well miss the very lesson intended by God.  We may, you might say, get focused on the wrong thing.

     Great, Brian, it makes sense for His disciples to study that stuff, but how can we?  He’s not among us.  We cannot see His wounds; we cannot watch Him eat.  True enough.  Jesus is not present with us as He was with His disciples.  Does that mean we are consigned to grope in ignorance when we study the Old Testament?  Of course not.  The same Jesus who demonstrated to His Apostles and disciples that He was raised from the dead, the same Jesus who taught that the Old Testament was about Him is the same Jesus who promised that He would be with us forever, even unto the end of the age.  Yes, those of us who believe without seeing are blessed, but that does not mean He is not with us.  In fact, when we pray before Bible studies, what do we ask?  Don’t we ask Him to be present with us or to send His Holy Spirit among us so that we might understand His word better?  And where two or three are gathered in His name, where does He tell us He will be?  In the midst of them!  Do you think He is lying?  God raised Him from the dead, so He must be telling the truth!  And so we study the Old Testament, alongside the New, expecting Jesus to be in the midst of us, teaching us as He did those first disciples, opening our minds to understand the Scriptures properly.

     Both the Resurrection and the teachings of and about Jesus give us our assignment and the third focus from Luke this morning.  You are witnesses of these things.  Brothers and sisters, why are you here today?  Is it because you just love to drive around Nashville and Brentwood in torrential downpours?  Is it because you are getting too much rest and needed an activity to fill in your schedule?  Is it because you haven’t had enough church potlucks yet in your lifetime?  Is it because you are convinced that your pastor’s body must reflect the Resurrected body we are all promised?  Why are you all laughing?  In all seriousness, though, my guess is, if we went around the room and allowed each other to answer that question, all of us are here because somebody in our lives testified to the truth of the Resurrection and invited us to come as a consequence of that accepted testimony.  Maybe it was a loving mother or father, who incarnated the role of the nurturing mother or Loving Father in your lives.  Maybe it was a joyful aunt or uncle who lived as if they were simply passing through this land.  Maybe for you it was a friend, a co-worker, a workout partner, a bridge partner, someone who simply lived their life as if they believed these words of Jesus, as if the Resurrection of Jesus, was true.  Maybe it was a stranger, maybe it was someone on television, maybe you were out driving around and saw three signs telling you to go to church.  And you wanted that Peace, that Joy, that Hope that Christians are promised and that Peace, that Joy, and that Hope by which they are called to live their lives.

     Brothers and sisters, you and I and all who gather each and every day throughout the world and even throughout time to worship and praise God for the saving work He has done in our lives are called to be heralds of the Resurrection in the lives of those who have not yet accepted His loving embrace.  How we testify to that Resurrection differs from denomination to denomination, parish to parish, individual to individual.  But make no mistake: we are all commanded to witness to His Resurrection.  It is not an optional opportunity.  It is, to use the example from earlier, a red-letter-command by Jesus.  Jesus has shared with each one of us this incredible treasure, this Truth which philosophers have sought, this Wisdom that sages have sought, this Love which spiritualists have sought throughout history and commanded us not to hoard it, but to share that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in His name to all nations.  You may not be called to preach to the Sanhedrin as did your brother Peter, you may not be called to anoint His feet as did a sister so long ago, but you are called to witness to those in your life.  You see, just as someone shared His love with you; you are called to be sharing His love with someone who comes after you.  You do not need theological training; you are not disqualified from the command because of your profession or heritage or even the past sins in your life; all you need is a love of Lord Christ and a willing and obedient heart.

     In my first few months here at Advent, a number of you have approached me about your fear of witnessing to Christ.  I get it.  We are planted in an area where some of our brothers and sisters are a bit more “in the face” of non-Christians (and even Christians of the wrong denomination).  I get it.  I am here to remind you this morning, though, that you are no less prepared and no less equipped than any of the fishermen He called, any of the women He accepted as disciples, the blind to whom He gave sight, the cripples to whom He gave the ability to walk, the Samaritan woman to whom He asked for water and to whom He offered Living Water.  There is no “perfect time” to share His love.  Moments of despair and mourning, moments of joy and celebration, moments of anxiety and peace provide an opportunity to witness to His Resurrection, to His forgiveness, and to the Hope He offers.  I know a few of you were recently nearly overcome by the idea that Jesus went to the Cross for each one of us, that had we been the only ones in the world, still He would have died for us.  As amazing as that sounds, consider this, He has chosen you to be His witness.  In the courtroom of public opinion, Lord Jesus has asked you to testify as to who He is and what He has done.  You and I have a role to play in the building of His kingdom.  You and I are called to witness to those not yet in the kingdom one person at a time, one individual at a time.  It may sound crazy to others; heck, it may sound crazy in our own ears.  But in His infinite wisdom, that is how He has chosen to spread His news and His love.  As crazy as it sounds, look at where that message has gone.  It spread from Jerusalem to the Mediterranean to the rest of the world all the way down to you and me.  It has crossed oceans, language and culture barriers, social strata, and who knows what else.  And now, now it falls to us, in the company of the Holy Spirit, to witness to His Resurrection in our lives, at work or school, at play, in health or sickness, at church or out in the world.  All He asks of us in return is that we lend our voices, our lives, our testimonies, that others might share in His redeeming grace.




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