Resurrection Facts: There is a Bigger and Better Picture

When we are being honest, we may be more easily identified as Canadians than Christians. The passion of the typcial Christian in Canada just does not seem to be of the same calibre as that of the apostles we meet in the pages of the New Testament. And if the Christians in Corinth in New Testament times were being honest, they would seem to be more easily identified as being Greek than Christian. As we learn in 1st Conrinthins 15 their theology was influenced by Greek thinking, especially with regards to the afterlife. Their lacking theology could and would cause a lack in living for Christ:

Do not be deceived:
“Bad company ruins good morals.”
Come to a sober and right mind, and sin no more; for some people have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame. (1 Corinthians 15:33-34)

In contrast, there is no doubt about Paul’s allegiance, passion, and priority: “And why are we putting ourselves in danger every hour? I die every day!” (1 Corinthians 15:30-31a) How is it Paul is so recognizably representing Christ than his birthplace,Tarsus, his religion, Jewish, or his citizenship, Roman, while the Christians at Corinth seem more Greek than anything? How is it Paul is passionate and we are often not? One reason is that he, and others like him, have a bigger and better picture of reality. They have a solid knowledge that Jesus is risen from the dead and that there will be a resurrection to life of anyone who is in Christ. That hope drives Paul to choose the dangerous and difficult path rather than an easier one:

32 If with merely human hopes I fought with wild animals at Ephesus, what would I have gained by it? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” (1 Corinthians 15:32)

Paul, the other apostles, and many, many Christians down through the centuries have risked their lives, given their lives, lived their lives for Jesus, and shared the Gospel everywhere they went because they had a bigger and better picture of the reality of God’s love and eternal life. Paul in 1st Corinthians 15 was encouraging the Christians at Corinth to see this bigger picture and if we feel more Canadian than Christian, perhaps we ought to see it also. Here are a few things to think about:

Our vision of the afterlife may not be clear enough, we may need a bigger and better picture of eternal life. Paul’s vision of eternal life put his experiences of life in perspective: “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18) The notion of glory here is not to be missed. Paul speaks of this glory in what he says immediately before:

For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him. (Romans 8:15-17)

Some people think the afterlife of the Christian consists of being a diembodied immortal soul sitting in clouds playing a harp, which of course sounds kind of boring and lacking in glory. That concept is not Biblical. The Bible points us to relationship. We are children of God, and remarkably co-heirs with Christ. We deserve to be neither. All attempts to describe what God has prepared for His children invariably fall short. We simply do not have the language yet to describe glory. Sadly most attempts to describe eternal life are missing God Himself, as if being home for Christmas is more about enjoying the view from the front porch than in enjoying the presence of loved ones.

Our vision of God with respect to the afterlife may not be clear enough, we may need a bigger and better picture of God Himself. The picture of disembodied souls flying around captures neither the capability nor desire of God. Indeed such a picture does not even require thinking of God’s presence, many people believing in their souls flying away to some sort of afterlife at death with no idea of God being a part of it. And it does not capture the grand span of Biblical theology. We can make it sound like God is on some sort of plan B, disembodied souls in eternity, because He could not pull off plan A spoken of in the first two chapters of Genesis. He is still on plan A and we look forward to bodily existence in the presence of God following our resurrection.

There is a wonderful thought of being reunited with loved ones in the afterlife. I once heard a pastor powerfully give an illustration of the death of a loved one being like a person taking a journey across a river. We are sad as we say our goodbyes, but upon arriving on the other shore, there is joy as loved ones are reunited. A beautiful illustration but with one problem. God was missing! And at funerals, even Christian ones, God is often is left out of the picture. We need a bigger and better picture of God Himself. To be in His presence will be astounding, more astounding, in fact, than being reunited with loved ones.

Our vision of Jesus with respect to the afterlife may not be clear enough, we may need a bigger and better picture of who Jesus is. Some who would call themselves Christian would qualify that by saying that Jesus was a great teacher, but just that, and being a Christian means being inspired by his great example and teaching. Jesus therefore has nothing to do with any kind of afterlife we might experience. The New Testament points to a far more divine picture of who Jesus is and what he accomplished. However, sceptics say this results from an evolving picture in the minds of Christians between the events of Easter and the writing of the New Testament documents. People’s memories would have changed they say. Indeed I recently heard a podcast where this was claimed along with appeals to an experiment where people had poor memories of the speeches of American Presidents. I was surprised at the comparison. There is no comparison! Jesus was unforgettable. His teaching astonished. His miracles astounded. His death and resurrection caused people, sinners and sceptics alike, to pick up their crosses and follow. He was unforgettable. The apostles were not changing their stories about Jesus, they were changing their lives for Jesus. They were willing to die, having a bigger and better picture of eternal life, having a bigger and better picture of Jesus and his role in the hope of eternal life.

Our vision of salvation may not be clear enough, we may need a bigger and better picture of God’s grace. Some think there will be no salvation. Some think that salvation can be earned, as if it is an easy thing for us to span the gulf that exists between a sinful creature and Holy Creator. Some think salvation is a right: “You created me, you owe eternal life to me.” Because of our sin, God does not owe us another minute of life either now or in the future. Salvation is God doing something for us we could never do for ourselves, something we do not deserve. There is far more to say about it, but when we truly understand God’s amazing grace, we sing the hymns of the faith with far more passion than than we can muster for our national anthem. When we grasp the depth of His grace, we will want to be known first as Christians, second as Canadians.

If we are lacking passion, it may be because we do not have a clear enough picture of eternal life, God, Jesus, and salvation. Like the Christians of Corinth we may want to trade in a theology shaped by society for the bigger and better picture we get in the Bible.

Resurrection Fact: From Sinner to Saint.

Do you feel worthy of the title “saint”? You may be thinking of a saint as someone recognized as special within the Roman Catholic tradition. Or you may be thinking of the word as used of someone who is known to be a very good person. We are thinking more of the word as we find it in many English translations of the Bible where it usually translates a word meaning “holy one.” It is used to refer to every Christian. So do you feel worthy of the title? Do you feel like you fit the description of a saint, a “holy one?”

Though “Saint Clarke” has a nice ring to it, I often do not feel the title is fitting for me. This is especially true during renovations. I am not too handy but my wife thinks I am, and so I sometimes get in over my head during renovations. If you are around me when I am you will discover that I can be far from what you might call a saint. So what are we to do when the Bible calls every Christian  a “saint” but we do not feel worthy? We are not alone in being uncomfortable with a title. Watch for the apostle Paul’s discomfort with his calling and title as he describes Jesus’ resurrection appearances:

Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. (1 Corinthians 15:8-9)

So how did the Apostle Paul deal with this title that did not fit comfortably? The first thing Paul does is admit the truth. Indeed, he is not worthy of the title: “I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle.” Paul does not point to anything about himself that would make him a fine candidate for the job. He points to Jesus: “Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.” This was God’s choice. This was God’s grace. Paul who blew it, knew it:

For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am. (1 Corinthians 15:9-10)

This is far from “I was born this way, so leave me to remain what I am” that we often hear today. This is “by the grace of God I am now something I do not deserve to be and would never be able to become on my own.” When the title of “saint” feels uncomfortable, it is a reminder that  “by the grace of God I am what I am.” Though a sinner from birth, by the grace of God we become saints.

But how is that possible? Paul has already pointed out the answer:

3 For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received:that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, 4 and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures. (1 Corinthians 15:3,4)

“Christ died for our sins.” That is what enables us to become saints. It is our sin that makes the title of saint uncomfortable, if not impossible to wear. But “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures.” Which scriptures? They include the prophecies of Isaiah 53. The whole chapter is worth reading, but here is a selection to ponder:

4 Surely he has borne our infirmities
and carried our diseases;
yet we accounted him stricken,
struck down by God, and afflicted.
5 But he was wounded for our transgressions,
crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
and by his bruises we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have all turned to our own way,
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all. . . .
8 By a perversion of justice he was taken away.
Who could have imagined his future?
For he was cut off from the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people. . .
10 Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him with pain.
When you make his life an offering for sin,
he shall see his offspring, and shall prolong his days; . . .
The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities . . . .
because he poured out himself to death,
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors
(Selected from Isaiah 53)

Just as the apostle Paul could not point to himself for his apostleship, but only point to Jesus, so we can only point to Jesus for our sainthood. He is the One who clears away the sin standing in the way of becoming a holy one.

But since Jesus makes our sainthood possible, does this mean sin does not matter, and that we can therefore go on sinning all the while calling attention to our sainthood? First off, notice how different Paul’s activity was from before meeting Jesus to after. He went from persecuting the saints to trying to convince everyone he met that they should become one. There was a big change in Paul’s life. There was repentance.

Paul is the one we often quote when we speak of salvation being by faith and not works. And yet Paul worked hard:

But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them—though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me (1 Corinthians 15:10)

This is not a work to ensure salvation. This is work to ensure salvation is not in vain. This is work God called and enabled Paul to do. Even our works are a sign of God’s grace.

I have a remarkable watch. It is a Pebble smartwatch which does many things including counting steps and tracking sleep. Mind you I was surprised to find out that according to it I slept through an important meeting one day. I can take no credit for this remarkable watch. I did not think of it. I did not invent it. I did not get involved in the engineering of it. I was not involved in the manufacturing of it. I was not involved in the distribution of it. I did not even pay for it. Well I might have paid for it but I did not buy it for it was a Christmas gift. But what I do is wear it. In fact the watch is not very useful if I don’t. This is what salvation is like. We can take no credit for it. It is purely by the grace of God that we are what we are; saints. But we must wear it. We will want to wear it. And at times the clothes of salvation may seem too big for us, but as we keep going and growing in the Spirit, we will grow into them. Salvation is by God’s grace alone, but we are involved, we must wear it.

So you are a Christian and you don’t feel like a saint today? By the grace of God you are what you are, and what you are as a Christian person is a saint. By the grace of God and the help of the Holy Spirit, you will grow into the title, just like Paul did his.

So you are not a Christian and you don’t think the title “saint” could ever apply to you? God has a history of calling the most unlikely of people to become saints. Perhaps that most unlikely person today is you?