Lent Day 40: 1 Corinthians 15

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Yesterday was Good Friday. Today, nothing. Nothing but a dead body in a tomb and a bunch of desolate, defeated followers. Hope is lost. Everything is lost.

Easter Saturday is a dark day for the early church (I guess, in part, because it’s not really born until Pentecost, after Jesus’ ascension). The disciples have seen Jesus die and all their hopes die with him. Their faith was in him, their dreams were in him. But that all disappeared on the cross.

And it would have stayed that way, too. If Jesus’ body was still lying, undiscovered and undisturbed  in a first century tomb in Jerusalem then hope would be dead too and there would be no church. The disciples would have scattered, nothing left to fight for or believe in, and the status quo would have  remained.

But one thing changed. One thing which, had it not happened, would have seen Jesus and his followers forgotten quicker than they came to prominence.

“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance : that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.” (1 Corinthians 15:3-8 NIV)

Jesus rose again!

When he said that he would rise after three days, the disciples didn’t really know what be meant. Now they did, they saw him. Paul didn’t believe it had happened and persecuted the early church, but he, too, saw Jesus.

Jesus rose again!

He overcame death, as the Old Testament prophets had written. He overcame death so we wouldn’t have to. This isn’t wishful thinking or mindless acceptance. I agree with Paul when he says,

“And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Corinthians 15:17-19 NIV)

If Jesus hadn’t been raised from the dead then what is the point in following him. If he hadn’t been raised then he is simply a good teacher telling us common sense stuff about how to live and how to treat each other.

But, if Jesus hadn’t been raised from the dead, why were so many willing to say he had been? Why were so many willing to risk ridicule, violence, arrest, imprisonment and even death simply for saying that Jesus was alive. Power? Influence? Money? The apostles got none of those things. They received something so much more wonderful and eternal than any of those things,

“But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.” (1 Corinthians 15:10 NIV)

The grace of God. The knowledge that, whatever they have done in the past, whatever horrendous acts they may have committed, God turns their worthlessness into something He treasures and loves. The knowledge that their sin is no longer what defines them, but something they are able to beat, with God’s help. The knowledge that death of the body is not the end, but eternal life in God is there for them and for anyone who believes in Jesus.

Jesus rose again!

I’m not skilled in apologetics or evangelism. I can’t get into long intellectual debates about the existence of God or the rationality of my beliefs. I’m not great at trying to steer others onto the same path. But I can tell you what I believe and why I believe it. That’s what I’ve tried to do over the last 40 posts as I’ve reflected on the Gospels over lent. I may not convince people, other believers may disagree with me, but I know one thing. One thing which unites Jesus’ followers. One thing which holds faith together. One thing which, despite the almost unbelievable, supernatural nature of it, I believe with all my heart and mind.

Jesus rose again!

Lent Day 39: John 19-20

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Do you ever get the feeling that you’re missing something? It’s not Good Friday until tomorrow, but here I am writing about the crucifixion and resurrection already. And it’s in a blog post entitled “Lent Day 39” when it’s only day 38 ( I missed a number out near the beginning!).

When the film “The Passion Of The Christ” came out I, like millions of others, went to see it at the cinema. It is a brutal, uncomfortable, but probably intensely real telling of the story of Jesus’ betrayal, trial, torture and crucifixion. It’s not a film for the faint hearted as you see Christ’s flesh being flayed by Roman whips, his head bleeding from the crown of thorns, his hands and feet have large nails driven through them and his agonising death on the cross. It is incredibly visual, bloody and emotionally draining.

What looks like being the last shot, just before the screen goes dark and the credits roll, is of Jesus’ lifeless body, having been taken down from the cross, laying in the arms of his grief stricken mother, Mary. Through her tears, she looks directly at the camera, breaking the fourth wall with an angry, accusatory look at the audience. In her silence she seems to be saying “This is your fault. You did this to my son. Your sin, your arrogance, ignorance, greed and selfishness have taken him from me.”. And you sit, looking back at her, dumbstruck. Trying to comprehend what you have done to deserve such a look, such a charge.

Then, as all seems lost, there is one last shot. A closed, rocky tomb, filled only with the body of a young man, suddenly radiates with intense light. As the light dies down you see a glimpse of Jesus, no longer dead, stand up and walk.

When I saw the film there were maybe 100-150 people in the cinema with me. You could have heard a pin drop as we walked out in silence, stunned by what we had just seen. The silence was finally broken by one young lad piping up,

“Wow, they’ve really set that up well for a sequel, haven’t they?”

It’s a comment which still amuses me now. But he’s right. The film concentrates only on part of the story of Jesus’ last few days on Earth; the pain and suffering he went through. And rightly so, because he did it for a reason. Mary’s accusatory look towards us at the end is justified because it is our fault. We have let our sin, our pride, arrogance, greed, lust, hatred and all the other self-centered feelings of the world to take over our lives. He went through that agony to break that.

But it wouldn’t have worked had the last bit, only tantalizingly glimpsed in the film, not happened. Jesus rose again! He defeated death and the power it had over us because our sin was killing us all. The resurrection is where the real triumph comes from and where our real hope comes from.

So, that young man in a cinema in Dorset was spot on. They did leave it open for a sequel. The thing is, the sequel has been and is being made. We are all living it, right now. Every moment on Earth has been changed as a result of what happened that weekend 2000 years ago in Jerusalem and is all geared towards a happy ending beyond anything even Hollywood could dream of. We have the script, we just need to take part in the film, because it is more real and wonderful than we ever imagined it could be.

Lent Day 13: Matthew 27-28

This feels so familiar to me. The part of Jesus’ life which, ultimately, defines why those of us who choose to follow him do so.

All seems totally lost. Abandoned by the disciples at Gethsemane. Disowned by Peter outside the temple. Condemned by a crowd agitated by the religious leaders. Discarded to his fate by Pilate. Mocked, whipped, beaten, paraded through the streets and, finally, nailed to a cross and left to die the most agonising death you could imagine.

All seems totally lost.

He dies.

Then, drama. The ground shakes. Rock splits open. The dead are raised to life.

And my favourite part. The temple curtain, the piece of fabric separating the holiest part of the temple from the masses, keeping ordinary people from God’s dwelling place, is torn in two.

We are no longer separated from God. Jesus’ death has seen to that. He has taken everything which was killing us, keeping us from God, and it has died with him. He has given us the ability to turn away from the evil which has found its way into the world, into our hearts, and be reunited with God.

But, there’s more. Much more. He beats sin and evil, but that’s not enough. He has to beat death itself.

So there, by an empty tomb, with unconscious Roman guards replaced by an angel, stands Jesus. Alive, as he said he would be.

He returns to the disciples. They react as the world has reacted for the last 2000 years. Some readily accept. Some seriously doubt. But he’s there, they can see him, so they all, eventually, believe.

Then he gives them what has become known as the Great Commission,

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20 NIV)

As a follower of Jesus (at least, I try to be) I believe that what we read in the last two verses of Matthew is the most important event which has ever happened, both globally and personally. I believe that it really happened, no matter how fantastical it seems. I believe that this gives me, not only the incentive, but the ability to get past everything which is bad about me as a person and to improve. To grow closer to God. To view and treat others with love and respect.

I am not perfect. I do things which I know are wrong every day. Some little things and some really big things, but I keep coming back to this moment at the cross and it helps me to move on. To stand up to temptation and refuse it. To recognise when I’m doing wrong and to do better in future.

I believe that Jesus will come back, because he said so. I believe that God’s kingdom will come to earth, because He said so.

And I believe that, in my own ham-fisted way, which may or may not make sense to people, that I should share the news that Jesus died so that we can all live.

Because he did. And because he said so.