Sunday, April 16, 2017

All Things New: Homily for Easter Sunday 2017

Christ is risen! Oh, Christ is risen – Death is dead, and Life is alive! Can it really be true? Isn't it too good? Isn't it too unbelievable? And yet you can't explain the rise of the early church without it, and you can't explain what's happened in our lives without it. Jesus' resurrection is the victory of a whole new world over this world we know. It's true. Jesus really did rise from the dead. He really is alive today – right now, this very moment – in a glorified body, residing in heaven but planning to rejoin us for a great big party at a time of the Father's choosing.

And yet some people will still say, “So what? So what if one man rose from the dead two thousand years ago? What difference does that make in my life in this world right now?” Does it really matter? Does it make a difference? What do you think? I think it does. Paul thinks it does, or else he wouldn't have written, “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. … If Christ has not been raised, your faith is pointless and you are still in your sins. … If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:14,17,19). How tragic would it be!

But on the other hand, if Jesus is risen, then he really is Jesus Christ – Jesus the Messiah, Jesus the Son of David, Jesus the Son of God – and that's big news. It's good news. And, thank God, it's true news: “In fact, Christ has been raised from the dead” (1 Corinthians 15:10). Which means that Jesus is who he says he is. It means that God approves all his claims about himself. It means that God has sent Jesus, chosen Jesus, to be God's true face toward the world. It means that God has chosen Jesus to be God's true face toward you. In pop culture, we get a lot of pictures of God – God as an angry bearded man, thundering from heaven; God as a senile grandpa, patting us on the head; God as a butler in the sky; God as a great big mystery, totally beyond our ability to know. Sweep all those pictures into the rubbish bin. The only picture you need is Jesus, who reveals his Father's heart.

Does that matter? It does, because one of the astounding claims Jesus made earlier in Holy Week was that he had come to offer a new covenant – he said it at the Last Supper, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20). If Jesus were still dead, that would've been a lie. But since he's risen, it's the truth. And that matters because the new covenant is a new kind of relationship with God. It's like God said through the Prophet Jeremiah long before:

Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. For this is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.

Did you catch that? God's saying that, in this new relationship, he won't forgive sins piece by piece – a little bit here, a little bit there. No, he's going to wipe the slate totally clean – forever. And because Jesus lives, you're invited to have that. God wants a new relationship with you, one where you're totally and permanently forgiven for everything you've done, everything you've thought, everything you've been a part of. God won't remember your sin; he'll throw it far away, far as the east is from the west, far as the bottom of hell is from the heights of heaven. It won't be based on anything you do. It will be based on what Jesus already did. “The wages of sin is death,” but Jesus paid those wages. And in return, “the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

And instead of having to worry constantly about following a law that's outside you, that's over you, that's forboding and closing in on you from all sides – he'll write it on your heart, inside you, with his Spirit. This is a radical change – this changes everything. It's like a new exodus. Long ago, God took his people from Egypt, where they were slaves to the Pharaoh. The Passover lambs were sacrificed so that their blood would protect the Hebrews from God's judgment on Egypt's sin. And then God took them out through the sea, into the desert to meet him there, and made a covenant, an agreement, a relationship with them, like he was marrying them. And then, in time, he brought them to the place he'd promised them and gave them the victory.

And because Jesus lives, God has done the very same thing for us. He's our Passover lamb, whose shed blood protected us from God's final judgment – there's no wrath left over for you, if you're covered. And then God led us out from our slavery to sin. He made a new relationship with us. He set us free, and calls us the bride of Christ. And he gives us the victory over sin, over death, over the devil, over the world. That sort of thing does matter! If that story is your story, it means that you are not an ordinary person – not in the least. It means that you are an ex-slave celebrating freedom; it means you've passed from death to life; it means you're a victorious conqueror – “in all these things, we're more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:37). Don't you think that makes your life different?

In the new covenant, God promised he would “restore the fortunes of the tents of Jacob” (Jeremiah 30:18) – well, that's you! You're restored! In the new covenant, God promised he would say, “The LORD has ransomed Jacob and has redeemed him from hands too strong for him”(Jeremiah 31:11). Again, that's you! You have been ransomed! You have been redeemed from the hands of Satan, the hands of Death, the hands of your sin, the hands of your old self, none of which you could escape on your own, but all of which are left grasping at nothing while you walk free!

In the new covenant, God has “caused a Righteous Branch to spring up for David” – that's King Jesus, risen from the dead – “and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land” (Jeremiah 33:15). That's hope for the whole world all around us. The work he's doing in your heart, the work he's doing partly through our hands and our voices in the world today, he'll one day lead himself at the return of the Risen King.

And because Jesus lives, because Christ is risen, God says, “They” – that's us – “shall be radiant over the goodness of the LORD … their life shall be like a watered garden, and they shall languish no more. Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance, and the young men and old shall be merry. I will turn their mourning into joy; I will comfort them and give them gladness for sorrow” (Jeremiah 31:12-13). Instead of sadness, joy! Instead of sorrow, gladness! Instead of loneliness, comfort! Instead of the desert, the Garden of Eden! God will be your God, you will be his, and you will know him yourself! That sounds like a big difference to me! And it begins now.

And is God going to change his mind about all this? Is he going to ever look at you and decide to scrap it? No! Because Jesus lives, you have a guarantee that will never happen. Because God said the new covenant would be “an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them” (Jeremiah 32:40). And as long as you're responsive to the Spirit of God working on your heart, bringing it in line with the word God's spoken, you won't turn away from him, either. In hard times, in your darkest hour, you can have this trust: that God has not turned away from doing good to you. He may be knocking down some walls, putting holes in the drywall, but he's renovating you from a shack into a palace – and “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ,” at the return of the Risen King (Philippians 1:6).

And all these things – they begin now. Paul tells us, “We were buried, therefore, with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). That's for now – right now. Is there something you've been struggling with – maybe an addiction, maybe a doubt, maybe a deep-seated grief, maybe a sorrow, maybe a dysfunctional relationship, maybe a sin you can't seem to give up? Christ was raised from the dead so you could walk in newness of life. Are you just tired, bored, worn out, discouraged? Christ was raised from the dead so you could walk in newness of life. Consider yourself dead to all those things and alive to God in Christ Jesus (Romans 6:11). “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he [or she] is a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Maybe you're wondering how you can have a part in this. How can your story be one of exodus? How can you have the new covenant? How can you have that forgiveness? How can you be a new creation? How can you have the promises of God on your side? Where do you have to look? These promises are so good, you might think you have to search high and low to find them, to make them happen. But you don't. It's already within your reach, because God's grace put it there (Romans 10:6-8). “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). If you're willing to praise and worship Jesus as the LORD who reveals God his Father to you – and in the early church, this kind of public confession began with baptism – and if your heart trusts that he really is alive from the dead through the power of God, then all these promises are for you. That's it – trust in Jesus' resurrection power, worship him as Lord, give the direction of your life over to his wisdom, and all this and more is for you.

And maybe you're wondering what else this new covenant business is all about – what all is included in the package? What other big differences does it make? And if that's something that's on your mind, we'd love to see you here with us in the weeks to come. We'll be spending the next several months mostly exploring that very question through the prophecies of Jeremiah's younger friend Ezekiel, after a short detour through a very famous story Jesus told next week. Those prophecies – they find their truth in Jesus. And that story – you can trust it to have power for your life, because God raised Jesus from the dead. Jesus “abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Timothy 1:10). So “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).

And hear this: The words that the Father whispered in the quiet tomb of his Son that first Easter morn, the words that the Father whispers in your heart the moment you first believe, are the words that one day, at the return of the Risen King, he'll shout so all the universe hears and obeys: “Behold, I am making all things new!” (Revelation 21:5).

When that day comes, the cemetery outside these walls will be a very exciting place to be – because Jesus' infectious resurrection life will be an epidemic, and no one out there will be immune from catching his case of immortal life! “For if we have been united with him in a death like his,” which is exactly what happens to those who believe and are baptized, “we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Romans 6:5).

And when that happens, we'll be ready for the wedding supper of the Lamb and his Bride – Jesus and his church (Revelation 19:7-9), and we will be his people, and he will be our God forever (Jeremiah 30:22; 32:38; cf. Revelation 21:3). And every day will be Easter perfection. Until then, we who believe and are baptized, we the people of the new exodus, gather around the Lord's Table, sharing the beautiful foretastes of the banquet that's coming – as we proclaim our Risen King 'til he comes. And in the meantime, he is “with [us] always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). Amen.

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