05 April 2018

How Easter Changes Every Day

Resurrection Sunday at my church was great, just like it probably was in yours.  It was encouraging to see people I hadn't seen in some time, as well as meet a few new faces. We worshipped and celebrated our belief that Jesus rose from the dead.

Now, we are back to business as usual.  Another Easter is checked off the calendar, and we'll do it again next year. But my question now is this:  If we believe Jesus really did come back from the dead, then what impact does that make on us every day? 

The empty tomb, when truly believed, defines our worldview.  It is the lens through which we view and judge everything. I'm not merely talking about what we might believe about God or behaviors, but how we confidently know where to go to discover what is right and wrong about anything whatsoever.

I'm sure you have had many moments when you evaluated your position on an issue or an idea about God, trying to decide whether it was right or wrong.  But, have you ever thought deeply about why a certain behavior or idea is right or wrong? 

The answer to the why question that lurks behind every assertion is really the most important question.  If you can't articulate why you think something is true, then you have to admit that you're on pretty shaking ground.  People can still reject your why, but at least it's clear to them and you why you believe what you believe.  

Some people may just shrug their shoulders with the acknowledgment that they haven't really thought deeply about why they believe what they believe.  Some may say that cultural consensus usually points the way over time. Others may appeal to an individualistic sense of just what feels right.  Some may appeal to reason.  The reality that people have diverse opinions about all kind of issues and why they think what they think begs some important questions.

First, who is to say that he or she has the authority to assert what is right or wrong about any matter or issue? Isn't it arrogant to think anyone has THE TRUTH?  Who could possibly have that kind of authority? Yet, at the heart of any discussion about God or right or wrong is the unavoidable matter of authority.  For anyone to declare something right implies that some proper authority stands behind the assertion. 

I think we understand this in practical life.  Because of their roles, certain people have been given certain amounts of authority to exercise moral judgments and even enforce them (police officers, judges, lawmakers, etc.).  But these roles are an authority that is granted.  And it is expected that these draw upon a higher authority so that they make the right decisions.  An individual does not have a individual authority of his own.  His behavior is kept in check by an outside and greater authority.  If an individual begins to think he is above that authority, it usually is going to lead to behavior we define as criminal.  And in regards to those who have the responsibility to guard and enforce the moral rules, codes of conduct, laws and guidelines are in place to keep them on the right moral track too.       

So, for example, if the government declares it is wrong to steal, it is drawing on some kind of authority itself to tell citizens that it's wrong to steal.  The police officer who arrests you for stealing is drawing on that same authority that created the law that they are charged to enforce.  The really interesting question is where did the idea that it's wrong to steal come from?     

This leads to another logical question: How can we have any confidence of the existence of an objective, authoritative source of truth that defines and guides our existence?  In other words, what can guide us in determining what we should believe about the nature of our existence and our behavior?

All this brings me back to Jesus and the resurrection that we just celebrated on Easter.

Religious leaders and common folks alike wondered about Jesus' identity.  Jesus made authoritarian claims about himself and his message.  A logical question came from many: "Who do you think you are?"  He was also asked for some kind of proof for his claims.  "What sign do you give?"  Or some said, "Who can testify to the truth of your claims?"  

Frankly, as I read the gospel accounts, and I observe people asking these kind of questions of Jesus, I totally get it.  I probably would have been asking the same kind of questions with the same degree of skepticism.  If you were really listening, it sounded like Jesus was claiming to be God!  When they picked up stones to throw at him, they had been convinced that was exactly what his was claiming.

Jesus gave hints of his authority in the miracles he performed.  Those certainly got people's attention and got them talking.  Many perceived that God was working through him.  Many entertained the idea that he was some kind of special prophet.  They knew the stories of miracle-working prophets, such as Moses, Elijah, and Elisha. They just hadn't seen one themselves! 

The prophets had been called of God to correct the people and draw them back to God's commands and expectations.  The miracles God did through them gave them credibility and authority among the people.  Jesus' miracles gave him credibility to many, but only a limited credibility.  When he began to claim that he was God in the flesh who had come to lay down his life for sins, people shifted their thinking.

What they initially thought were miracles that evidenced the power of God, they now could only logically conclude were works of the Devil.  What else could make sense?  The miracles were undeniable!  But the blasphemy and heresy he was speaking was equally undeniable!  Even his closest and devoted disciples were having a difficult time getting their heads around Jesus' claims about himself.

When the religious leaders finally managed to get Jesus executed, they thought they had defused a potentially explosive situation and silenced a dangerous heretic.  And if that were the end of the story, then we would have to conclude they were right.  Furthermore, I wouldn't be writing about Jesus now, and we wouldn't have celebrated Easter.  He would have faded into obscurity along with countless others.  But something unprecedented happened that turned Jesus from an object of hostile rejection into the authoritative source of revealed truth. 

When Jesus came into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday the people in the city asked the question, "Who is this?"  They knew his name by then, but what they were pondering was deeper.  They were struggling to understand Jesus' significance.  Just one week later, the empty tomb provided the definitive answer, proving he was exactly who he had been claiming to be.

If we receive the news of the empty tomb as true, then that answers our question about our source for truth.  If we receive the witness to Jesus' resurrection, then we must recognize that God has given us our objective and unchanging source of truth to guide our individual lives and our society.

If you choose not to accept the historical witness to Jesus, then you are still left with the challenge of finding that authoritative source from which you define what is right and wrong - even if you choose to believe God doesn't exist.  Or, you can just receive what others pass down to you without much thought about it one way or the other.  Regardless, you will be still working from some source, even if you haven't defined it.   

For Christians, the empty tomb is not only about what Jesus did to forgive us for sin and provide us hope in living and in dying, it became the place where I can intellectually drive in a stake and say, "Here is the place where all truth and authority was confirmed!"

So on this Thursday after Easter Sunday, I can with confidence know that I have a source of truth for living.  I don't have to rely on the fickleness of cultural consensus, the fallible minds of men, or just a "might makes right" mentality.  When I need to know how to know God and what to believe about my behaviors and attitudes, I have the source. That source is Jesus.  Why?  Because he claimed to be God, and the empty tomb proved it.  And to know Jesus is to know the witness to him. The Bible is that outside, authoritative truth because it bears witness to Jesus who has the proven authority. 

Therefore, let us take up the Bible with a grateful and humble confidence because of the empty tomb and follow Jesus with the same zeal of those early believers who actually saw him.          

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