(Sermon in Cromer Church, Easter Day 27/3/2016)
This Easter evening, I’d like us to look a little more at resurrection life – what it meant for Jesus, what it means for us. I’d like to use Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians as a starting point.
He said, ‘I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms…’
Let’s begin by praying that prayer for ourselves….
We pray that we may know the hope God has called us to. To do that we need to look back to the history of that first Easter day.
Imagine the scene in that upper room. Ten disciples are there – not Thomas, he’s visiting his family who were in Jerusalem for the Passover. (I made that bit up.) Everyone is excited – although Jesus their leader was crucified and buried only the day before yesterday (that’s three days ago in their way of counting), they know that his body has gone from the tomb, that some of their womenfolk claim to have seen him alive, and now they’ve heard that he has appeared to Simon Peter. So it must be true! Jesus is alive from the dead!
Then there’s a knocking on the door – scary, could it be the authorities out to get them too? But the voices outside reassure them, so they open up and in rush two other disciples who should have been in Emmaus by now, but are almost too excited to speak – ‘We’ve seen him, we’ve seen him!’ No need to ask who, but they all settle down and listen to what the two from Emmaus have just experienced. Absolutely convincing! Then as they try to get their heads around all this news they suddenly are aware that someone else is in the room with them. All heads turn at the same time, and there he is, Jesus, very much alive and well!
Suddenly, doubts arise.
How did he get there – no-one opened the door! Help, it must be a ghost! Help!
So Jesus proves to them that it is really himself, resurrected from the dead, not just a ghost that has left its dead body.
Use your eyes! Look, it’s me, the one who was crucified – look at the nail prints in my hands and feet! Look, you can’t see through me, I’m solid! I’m flesh and bones! Touch me and feel my bones for yourself!
They still didn’t believe!
So Jesus asks for food, and eats it in front of them. Ghosts can’t do that! This is not proof simply of life after death, of the spirit continuing to live after the body has died. This is proof of resurrection! The resurrection of the body, a transformation from one kind of human existence to a new kind of human existence.
The image on the screen of planet earth reminds us of the old creation in all its beauty. Jesus’ resurrection was the beginning of a new creation – far better than the old! And the Christian hope is that we will be part of it. When we say ‘hope’, we do not mean a doubtful thing – ‘I hope it is true’. It is a certainty! It is called ‘hope’ simply because we cannot see it – it lies in the future.
And the promise of God is that in the future we will be like him – we’ll be recreated in the image of the resurrected Jesus.
Paul says to the Corinthians, ‘The first man (Adam) was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the man from heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven.’
Our destiny is resurrection life. When Jesus the King comes back to end this world and begin the new, we too will be given a body like Jesus’ resurrection body. Jesus’ earthly remains had been replaced by a new kind of human body. Definitely a human body, with flesh and bones and the ability to touch and be touched, to hug and be hugged, to enjoy everyday food and deal with it. But definitely a new kind of body, unlimited by the rules of life as we know them, able to appear and disappear at will – at least in this world. We’ll have a body like his – we won’t stay forever as disembodied spirits in heavenly realms, we’ll have flesh and bones.
We’ll then be perfect in our characters, too – like Jesus, we’ll have the fruit of the Spirit in all its fulness.
Our lives in the age to come will be purposeful. All things in heaven and earth will be under king Jesus, and we will be given responsibility under him.
We will also share in Jesus’ glory – the new humanity is the climax of God’s new creation.
The new creation is not just us! The old creation is amazing; but the new will be far more wonderful than the beautiful world we now live in.
This world will be transformed, with new laws of nature. Paul says in Romans 8, creation will be set free from its bondage to decay to share in the glorious liberty of the children of God.
1 Corinthians 2 tells us that no eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him – it’s beyond our imagination! Don’t ever imagine it will be boring! It will be full of life and plants and animals and exciting things to do and see!
But the main thing is that we will be for ever in the presence of God. There will be no separation between heaven and earth. We will see him as he is in all his love and glory and beauty and power – and, says John, we will therefore be like him. As far as it is possible for a created being to be, we will be one with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus – now, or ever.
This is the Christian hope! This is your future, your destiny, if you love God, because of Jesus death and resurrection for you! Rejoice! Whatever your present circumstances, you have an eternal hope and future! Rejoice!
In his prayer for the Ephesians Paul prayed not only that they would know the hope to which God called them, but also ‘the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints.’ (The word ‘saint’ means one of God’s people; all who follow Jesus are called saints in the Bible.) A lot of people think Paul is praying that we might know the riches of our glorious inheritance. But that’s the Christian hope – he’s already prayed for that. Paul wants us to know the riches of God’s glorious inheritance in the saints. In the new creation, the most important thing in God’s eyes is… us!
We are God’s glorious inheritance. We are his pride and joy. But how can this be?
When God looks at us his people, he sees us whole. He knows all there is to know about us – good, bad, secrets, everything. But He sees us as united to Jesus, through our faith in him. He sees us as people in the making – people who have plenty of faults just now, but whose sins have been condemned and dealt with by Jesus’ death. He sees us as people who have begun a new life and are learning to follow Jesus; and he sees what we will be in the future, absolutely perfect. He sees us whole. He loves looking at us!
He sees us not just as individuals, but as a body – the body of Christ, the bride of Christ, the most beautiful and glorious part of his whole new creation. That’s Cinderella going down there, on her wedding day, admired by all, especially by the prince. Imagine the pride and joy God has looking at the Bride of Christ! That’s us, as a group!
And he sees us as his family, his close family. What do most people say is their number one priority? Their families. They say that because they are made in the image of God. God’s family is his number one priority. We are so dear, so incredibly important to God. We are his glorious inheritance!
Open your eyes to see what God sees! Who is God’s glorious inheritance? The people sitting next to you, behind you, in front of you. All who belong to Jesus. So look up to them, not down on them – whatever their gender, nationality, age, culture, education. Learn to love them as Christ loves you – look at the way Christ looks at them, and follow him! Don’t turn your back on them, whatever their faults! Look at what they are going to be! Glorious!
The third thing Paul prayed for the Ephesians was that they might know the incomparable power of God for us who believe – the same order of power that God used to bring Jesus to new life from death. That power of God is for us who believe – here and now. Paul wants us to know it – not just theoretically, but in experience.
Do we say, I’ve never experienced that power? I think we have – it’s just that we haven’t recognised it. Let me explain.
The power of God is resurrection power, new creation power. It brings us new life – the life of the new creation. And the source of that life is our union with the resurrected Lord Jesus.
The best picture I can think of is the one Jesus used, when he said, ‘I am the vine, you are the branches.’ Vines can be propagated by rooting cuttings, or by grafting a branch onto an existing root stock. If a branch is grafted, it gets life and the power to grow from the root stock – it cannot live by itself. When we believe in Jesus, we are united with him as a branch grafted into the vine is united with the vine; and the resurrection life of Jesus flows through us.
Two things happen when we join ourselves to Jesus. First, there is an amazing act of new creation: our spirits, our innermost beings, are transformed, put to death and resurrected so that now, in our heart of hearts, we have a life from Jesus that is perfect and cannot be corrupted by sin or suffer death. We are ‘born again’. This new creation happens in the deepest part of our lives, and we are not always aware of what has happened; but since what goes on in the spirit affects our minds, emotions and actions, sooner or later people will notice a difference. And it happens not because of anything we’ve done, but only because we have put our trust in Jesus and accepted him as Lord of our lives. Joined to Jesus, we are spiritually joined to his death; his crucifixion sets us free from the penalty and power of sin. Joined to Jesus, his new life becomes our new life; we are alive to God and fully acceptable to him. This opens the way for the second thing to happen…
The second thing that happens when we join ourselves to Jesus is that Jesus comes to live within us by his Holy Spirit. Because we’re forgiven, the Spirit can live in us. He doesn’t take over, but lives within us; he offers guidance, he gives us power to keep going, he works through us – provided we let him. We are already living in the presence of God – God in us!
This is resurrection life. This is new creation. This is the power of God. Look at what the Bible says:
‘If we died with Christ, we believe we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:8-10)
And Paul goes on to say, ‘If Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you. (Romans 8:10,11)
God’s power is resurrection power. But if we really want to know his power, we need to be aware of what its nature is.
It is resurrection power – and resurrection can only happen after death. This world is so infected by evil that it cannot be put right just by making things better. Often the old has to die before the new can come. We may experience that in our own lives – God brings us down into the depths so that he can bring us to a new sphere of life or work.
God’s power is power to destroy the work of the devil. God doesn’t just get rid of all evil – He could just get rid of it, and one day he will; but in the meantime He allows evil to continue. Sometimes this is to enable evil fully to reveal itself, so that it can be pulled up from the roots, rather than just be hacked down only to grow again. Sometimes it is because God is bringing a greater good – the cross is the supreme example. We don’t always know why things happen. But we can be sure God’s power will work things out in the end for the best.
God’s power is power made perfect in weakness. He does not make us supermen and superwomen. It needs to be obvious that it is God’s power at work, not our own.
God’s power is ultimately the power to fulfil his purpose – in us, and in the world. That purpose is new creation. All he does is towards that end. Our hope has to become reality.
How does God do it? Not by shock and awe. He does not use coercion, he does not force us to believe or to obey – that would make us puppets. His amazing power is above all the power of love. He wants us to choose freely to work with him, because ultimately it’s all about relationships, how we relate with him, with each other and with the world around.
He prefers to work in ordinary ways, not just by miracles. He does do miracles – the resurrection of Jesus is the greatest one of all. But God is God of the ordinary. When we pray, give us this day our daily bread, we expect God to answer it not by miracles but by the usual rules of cause and effect – and that takes power!
Likewise, he prefers not to make a public display of his power. Even the resurrection was kept quiet, except to those who already believed in him.
God prefers to work through us. Rather than spreading the good news by angels or dreams (this does happen sometimes) God wants his people to share the good news by their words and actions, imperfect though they be. Rather than just changing us immediately into a Christ-like nature, he wants us to grow more and more, and to help one another to grow. Rather than put the world to rights immediately, he wants us to play our part. The life of Christ is in us; God’s power for us is so that we can live for Christ and grow his kingdom here and now.
So, as Paul says to the Philippians, ‘Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.’ Work out what God is working in.
So… what should we do?
Colossians 3:1-4 puts it in a nutshell. ‘Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.’ (Colossians 3:1-4)
We have a new life. But we still have our old habits and ways of thinking. We can choose either to live in the way we’re used to, or to live the new life Jesus has given us. ‘Set your hearts and minds on things that are above’ – things like mercy, justice, love, joy, peace, kindness. These values of heaven should be ours on earth. ‘Christ is our life’ – so how does he see things? How does Jesus see that person? That situation? ‘Christ is our life’ – so what is he doing in us and through us? Our new life, our new life with Jesus, enables us on earth to be his body, working by the power of God to see his loving, creative purposes fulfilled in our own situations.
Jesus is risen! The new creation has begun! We’re part of it if we belong to Jesus, and part of the process of bringing it fully into being sooner rather than later!
We have new life! So let’s live it!
I finish with the story of Cinderella after she’d married the prince – the time the prince went away on a journey and she went to visit her sisters to see how they were. (You won’t know this bit, because I’ve just made it up.) She found the house in a mess – they had no Cinderella to slave for them, and couldn’t cope. So she set to: put on her old apron and cleaned the kitchen and cooked them a meal – and found herself slipping back into the old ways. Lovely for the ugly sisters but terrible for her. Until the fairy godmother appeared, and said, ‘What do you think you are doing? Who do you think you are? You’re a princess! Don’t act like a slave! You have a life! Live it!’
I began with a prayer that we might know the hope God has called us to, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparable power at work for us. f you sense this Easter that you don’t yet have this new life, but would like to have it, or if you have any other questions, please ask James or myself or anyone you think could help!