A few years ago, Dr. Peter Berger, the preeminent sociologist of our time, came to Christ Community for a conversation about religious faith. After eloquently expressing the formidable plausibility challenges of faith in our late modern western world, Dr. Berger was asked if he considered himself a Christian and if so why? This more personal question seemed to take the towering intellect and prestigious academic by surprise. Dr. Berger paused for a moment, then pensively looked up and said, “I do consider myself a Christian.” Another thoughtful question emerged. “Dr. Berger, Why are you a Christian?” Dr. Berger then pointed out his belief that something occurred over 2000 years ago on Easter morning that cannot be explained away, something that had spoken hope into his life and to the world. For Dr. Berger, an empty tomb is what made all the difference.
As a faith community on Easter morning we once again peer into the empty tomb and hear the Gospel writers hope-filled words, “He is not here, He is risen!”
Do we grasp with heart and mind the massive significance of those words? As we prepare to celebrate Easter, let us be reminded that we are Christians because we truly believe there was an empty tomb. The Apostle Paul banked his entire life on the bedrock truth of Jesus‘ bodily resurrection. For Paul, the very crescendo of the Gospel was “the fact Christ has been raised from the dead….” (1 Corinthians 15:20) Peering into the empty tomb of our Lord and Savior who conquered death makes all the difference in our lives and our world. Not only does the empty tomb point to our own resurrection from the dead and a joy-filled eternity with our risen Lord, it also speaks loudly to the importance and meaning of the vocations of our present daily lives.
Writing to the local church at Corinth, Paul concludes his masterpiece chapter on the bodily resurrection with an exhortation of living the resurrection life in our daily work. Paul concludes, “Therefore, my beloved brothers and sisters, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:58) As we prepare to celebrate the glorious good news of Easter, may our hearts be filled with a renewed hope that there is life beyond the grave, that as image bearers of the one true God, we are never ceasing spiritual beings with a grand eternal destiny in the New Heavens and New Earth. Let us also be reminded that our lives here and now in this small moment we call time, really matter. Peering into the empty tomb, may we hear and heed the words of the Apostle Paul encouraging us to live resurrection lives each and every day wherever God has called us to serve. Paul writes to the local church at Colossae, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” (Colossians 3:23-24) Resurrection hope not only greets us at the grave, but also on Monday when we enter our paid and non-paid workplaces.
Resurrection again. (Acts 9:32-43)
Yes, you read that right. If you’re anything like me, resurrection is something that’s associated with Easter or even with a guy named Lazarus who shows up in the book of John. Oh…and there’s also that time that Jesus brought a little girl back to life (Mark 5:21-24, 35-43).
But when you get to Acts 9, suddenly Peter does it too. To be sure, Peter is empowered by the Holy Spirit, but still this is Peter—not Jesus, not a deity, not God—the “Yes, I denied Jesus 3x” Peter! If you were reading the New Testament in large swaths, you’d think that even though the church is undergoing so much persecution, death is on the run.
So what’s going on?
After all the action (read: mass conversions and persecution) that’s been underway in Jerusalem, the church is beginning to scatter throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria (Acts 8:1). Little gatherings of these people with the “words of Life” (Acts 5:20) are popping up all over the place. And Peter takes it upon Himself to go and visit these burgeoning little faith communities.
One of the first places Peter visits is the town of Lydda. Upon arrival, Peter is introduced to a man named Aeneas who had been paralyzed for over eight years. Peter proclaims over this guy, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; rise and make your bed” (Acts 9:34). And “immediately” Aeneas is healed. Linguists will highlight how the wording literally means, “right at this moment Jesus Christ heals you.”
It’s another astounding work of God on the spot. And just like the man born lame in Solomon’s Portico earlier (Acts 3:6), this was a catalyst to more people trusting in the power of the resurrected Jesus!
Well, word gets out, and Peter is summoned by followers of Jesus to another nearby town by the name of Joppa. A woman named Tabitha (in Hebrew) or Dorcas (in Greek), who was a pillar of the faith, has died. She was a woman who went out of her way to devote her life to works of charity for the vulnerable, especially widows. The ones the rest of the world ignored, she served. The ones who were shut up by the powerful cry out powerfully for her, and Peter is invited into this scene of grief.
What’s astounding isn’t just what happens next but how much this feels like déjà vu. If you were to read the situation of Jesus raising Jairus’ daughter in Mark 5:21-24, 35-43, the parallels would be striking. In Mark, Jesus asked everyone to leave the room. So does Peter here in Acts 9. Jesus’ command in Mark 5 is Talitha kumi [“Little girl, get up”], and Peter’s command here in Acts 9 is “Tabitha, get up,” which in its Aramaic form is Tabitha kumi. In both instances, they return to the grieving party, and everyone is surprised.
The similarity is striking. Peter empowered by the Holy Spirit is doing what Jesus did in Jesus’ name. Don’t miss this! God in Christ is working through the apostles and His church to such an extent that even the dead are raised. And people in Joppa and the surrounding country begin to embrace Jesus in droves like they did on that hillside in Galilee. It was an amazing day where even death seemed to lose ground.
Resurrection power today?
But when you sit at your computer, scan through your phone, check your Facebook feed, and go about your day-to-day, it’s so easy to feel distant from God and from His power—this kind of power we read about here—at work in the world.
But just because Jesus is seated at the right hand of God the Father doesn’t mean He’s disconnected from His world. This passage reminds us of this truth: Jesus is in heaven still working through His people to make His name and reign known this world over, and Jesus is just as zealous to redeem the lost and broken in the 21st century as He was in the 1st century.
To be clear, this should not make us presumptuous that God will work this way every time. More often than not, God doesn’t. He works much more often through the beauty of the weak, the fragile, and even the death of His people to put to shame the powers of this world. But as we face pain and suffering and stare down the dark and lonely road of death, may we remember that God is more powerful than it all, and He will never leave His people abandoned to death.
God is the author and giver of Life. He is the Life. And He has entrusted us with life in Christ (John 14:6) to share with all. Life and life abundant. Peter spoke it. Dorcas felt it. May we embrace it, share it, and have greater confidence today in our King of Life, our resurrected King Jesus who will come again to gather the living and the dead who are His!
[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]During our year-long exploration of the Gospel of Matthew, I have often thought of a memorable dialogue in C.S. Lewis’ classic literary work, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. In the imaginative land of Narnia, Mr. and Mrs. Beaver prepare Susan for the upcoming meeting with Aslan, the Christ figure. Lewis writes,
“Aslan is a lion – the Lion, the great Lion.” “Ooh!” said Susan, “I’d thought he was a man. Is he – quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.” … “Safe?” said Mr. Beaver. “…Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
These words, written by C.S. Lewis in the 20th century, describing Jesus, could have also been penned by the Gospel writer Matthew in the first century.
For twenty-eight chapters, a central thread of Jesus’ kingship has been woven tightly into the fabric of Matthew’s inspired eyewitness account of Jesus’ 30-year sojourn on a sin-ravaged earth. From the opening chapters of Matthew’s Gospel, we have seen how Jesus of Nazareth is the incarnational fulfilment of the Messianic Davidic King foretold in the Old Testament. He is Immanuel, God with us, who has come to rescue us from sin and death. Jesus is not safe, but He is good, for He brings to us forgiveness of sin and a new creation life: a radically changed life and a reordering of our heart loves, lived out in faithful vocational stewardship in the context of a radically new community called the local church.
The Gospel writer Matthew presents a compelling case for Jesus as King, both in His sinless humanity, as well as His Trinitarian deity. Jesus’ kingship was manifested through His supernatural power, healing of the sick, calming of the storm, and the ultimate miracle of His bodily resurrection from the dead. More than any other Gospel writer, Matthew displays Jesus’ kingship through the brilliance of His teaching on the truly good life and how it is experienced in His easy yoke of apprenticeship. Here we encountered the paradoxical topography of the kingdom Jesus is ushering into our lives and our world. When we take up our cross and follow Jesus, we lose our life, but in losing our life, we find it. When we put on Jesus’ yoke, we find true freedom not slavery.
Matthew points us to Jesus’ transforming path of discipleship in the Great Invitation. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Mt. 11:28-30) Jesus’ yoke fits us. In Jesus’ yoke, we learn to live our lives like Jesus would if He were us. In Jesus’ yoke, we embrace both His precepts and practices as we experience transformation and the life we truly long to live. Matthew also reminds us that it is Jesus’ yoke of apprenticeship that makes it possible for us to live into the Great Commandment, to love God rightly, and to love our neighbor rightly. It is in Jesus’ yoke that we, His church, can fulfill the Great Commission to make disciples of all the nations.
Throughout our journey in the Gospel of Matthew, we have seen Jesus heading step by step to the cross in faithful obedience to His Heavenly Father. On His way to the cross, where He became an atoning sacrifice for us, King Jesus revealed that His plan for redeeming a lost world centers around His church. In Matthew’s Gospel, we are reminded that the local church as God designed it is the hope of the world. Jesus said, “I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” (Mt. 16:18)
Matthew builds to a grand crescendo with the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. In each successive movement toward the cross of Calvary, he reminds us that Jesus’ impending death is not a tragic accident, but a triumphant plan orchestrated by a sovereign Trinitarian God. Carrying our sin on His shoulders, Jesus, the sin-bearing Son of God, was cursed and abandoned by God the Father so that we would never have to be cursed or abandoned by God. The Apostle Paul writes, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8, NIV) Jesus’ bodily resurrection is vindication of what was accomplished at the cross: the forgiveness of our sin and our reconciliation with God.
The resurrection of Jesus affirms the goodness of the everyday material world we live in and work in. The resurrected body of Jesus that cooked breakfast and ate with His disciples demonstrates that there is significant continuity between the present world and the new creation world to come. The empty tomb declares all of life matters; the school work we do, the customers we serve, the companies we run, the things we fix – they all matter. The resurrection is the hope that our deep longings for significance will be fully satisfied. It fulfills our longing for a love that never fails, a life that never ends, and work that truly matters.
Matthew ends his Gospel account of King Jesus similarly to how he began his writing. The risen Jesus is Immanuel, the God who is with us and will never leave us. Because of who King Jesus is and what He has done, there is nothing more important than following Him wholeheartedly in all of life. Jesus is not safe, but He is the King. He is worthy of our greatest thought, our most wholehearted devotion, our best sacrifice.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vcex_feature_box style=”left-image-right-content” heading=”HEAR MORE” image=”7388″]You can listen to any of our sermons on the Gospel of Matthew by visiting our SERMONS resources. Look for Sermons beginning December 2015 – A King for ALL People in the SERIES ARCHIVES.[/vcex_feature_box][vcex_button url=”/sermons” style=”outline” align=”right” font_family=”Merriweather Sans”]SERMONS[/vcex_button][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][/vc_column][/vc_row]