Tag Archives: resurrection

On Being Son of God

There once was a person who received the Spirit of God.

With the reception of this Spirit, the man became something he was not before: God’s own son.

Knowing that God was father, and protector, and deliverer, he implored God for deliverance in the face of suffering: Abba! Father!

But deliverance, and entry into glory, would only come after suffering.

This person, of course, is any person who has been united to Christ. This biography of adoption, hope, importunity, suffering, and glory, is Paul’s description of people who have received the Spirit (Rom 8:12-17).

Every Christian.

But perhaps you heard another story?

Perhaps you heard the story of Jesus?

Perhaps you heard the story of Jesus at his baptism being given the Spirit, and the voice from heaven saying, “You are my beloved son?”

Perhaps you got annoyed that I said this was a becoming, rather than an affirmation of what Jesus had been all along?

Perhaps you knew that Abba! Father! was Jesus’ prayer?

Perhaps you recognized that it is Jesus’ suffering that resolves in glory, first of all?

Perhaps we need to be so confused on a more regular basis. Perhaps we have gotten so in the habit of recognizing the bits of Jesus that we imagine to be unrepeatable, utterly unique, that we have missed the opportunities we’re given to recognize that Jesus’ life in relationship to God is a picture of a human life perfectly in step with the Creator.

We receive the Spirit of sonship, because Jesus first was appointed son (cf. Rom 1:4). We are led by the Spirit that led, indeed drove, Jesus into the wilderness and empowered him in a life of kingdom-bringing, death-defeating power. We cry abba, father because we are sons bearing the likeness of the firstborn son. We are heirs of this father because we share our elder brother’s inheritance.

The God who only said “very good” over the creation after the creation of people to mediate God’s own presence to it, did not give up on that plan. It is renewed in “the human, Christ Jesus” (1 Tim 2:5).

Resurrection and Transformation

Resurrection is the consummate display of the power of God. In the resurrection of Jesus, God’s power, through the Spirit, reaches down and undoes the greatest power in all creation–the power of death.

God’s own identity is shaped by this moment. Not only is God the God who created all things, calling the things that are not so that they come to be, God is now the God who gives life to the dead (Rom 4:17; 2 Cor 1:9).

The power of God, the power of the Spirit, the power of new creation, the power of the arrival of new humanity–this is all the resurrecting power of God. And it is all the power in which God envelops God’s people when the gospel comes with “the power of God for salvation.”

The power of God for salvation is power for eschatological salvation, and new, resurrected bodies. But that eschatological future impinges on our present: God gives us the Spirit, God calls us beloved daughters and sons.

God, in other words, opens up to us the resurrection life of Christ, so that we might now start becoming conformed to the new image of God. God extends to us the power to put to death the deeds of the flesh and to walk in newness of life.

In Romans 6, Paul digs deep into his union-with-Christ theology: we are baptized into Jesus’ death. His death becomes our death–the death of our old humanity that is enslaved to sin and death.

But this does not leave us on neutral ground. He summons us to make real in the present the identity that is coming to us in the resurrected Christ: “Present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead and your bodily members as weapons of righteousness to God.”

We are those who are, at root, “dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

The resurrection life of Jesus becomes our resurrection life. And it is the life in which we have the power to walk in a manner worthy of the God who embraces us into God’s family.

When Ephesians 4 or Colossians 3 talks about laying aside the “old self,” and putting on the “new self,” the Greek is actually saying, “the old humanity” and “the new humanity.” The reality that those texts invite us into is a full participation in the new creation of which we are a part as we are joined to Christ, the firstborn of the new creation.

What does all this mean?

In short, we should never undersell the notion that sanctification is really possible. We should never allow the realities of our day-by-day failings to overwhelm our deep conviction that God is making all things new, beginning with the humanity that has been united to the Human One in his conquest of sin and death.

Resurrection means transformation–both the transformation of our bodies that we look forward to, and the transformation of our lives day by day.

Resurrection means we always have hope: hope that God is greater and stronger than our looming death, hope that God is greater and stronger than our besetting sins, hope that God is greater and stronger than our besetting sorrows.

Every tear wiped away.

No more sin.

No more death.

Resurrection means transformation.

Resurrection and Sending

I’ve been reflecting on the resurrection of Jesus over the past week or so.

It tells us about God’s cosmic action, to renew the whole world and humanity upon it. And so it tells us about our destiny as humans.

And the resurrection narratives show us how much it takes to begin to understand who Jesus is and what he was up to. No one, it seems, got it before Jesus was raised. Except, maybe, the woman who anointed him in Mark 14.

But then the most ridiculous thing of all happens.

The resurrected Jesus seems darn-near incapable of appearing to someone without commissioning that person, immediately, to go bear witness to what she or he has seen.

In Matthew, the women are sent to proclaim the promise of Jesus’ appearance to Jesus’ brothers. The eleven do go to Galilee. Jesus appears, and despite some doubting, he sends them to all the ethne of the world.

The two people on the Road to Emmaus took it on themselves to make known what they had seen, and then Jesus appears to them and the rest of the disciples and commissions them all as “witnesses of these things.” They will bear witness after they receive the Spirit.

In John, Mary receives the commission to make Jesus’ glorification known to the boys. And when Jesus appears to them, as they are in hiding, he sends: “As the father sent me, so do I send you.”

Finally, there is the case of Saul, perhaps the most dramatic appearance-become-sending story of them all. With the appearance of the resurrected Jesus, Paul is sent to not only proclaim but embody the message of the crucified Christ.

When the church in Acts “witnessed,” it did not simply say some things that were true about God, or recount the story of Jesus. It bore witness to the fact that Jesus had been raised from the dead–because they had seen it.

Resurrection is the hinge on which the Christian story turns.

Not only is it the hinge of the ages, as the new creation dawns. Not only is it the hinge in the life of Jesus, as he takes on an eternal, heavenly version of the authority he exercised on earth. Not only is it the hinge in the disciple’s understanding, as they have their minds opened to finally comprehend what kind of Messiah Jesus was to be.

It is all these things. And it is also the turning point in the story of the church, because now the doubters are sent to bear witness to the Messiah whom God has raised from the dead.

Resurrection and Revelation

The disciples didn’t get it. Jesus’ ministry, that is.

Pretty much ever.

We see hints at their incomprehension early on, when Jesus speaks in parables and the disciples don’t understand (Mark 4). Immediately after, they are terrified by a storm at sea, and Jesus rebukes them for their lack of faith.

We learn that they are hard of heart in a second episode at sea (Mark 6:52)–a point that’s reiterated in another boat when the thousands-feeding twelve perseverate about forgetting bread (Mark 8:16-21).

But surely they got it, at least a little bit, when Peter confesses, “You are the Christ!” A little bit.

Not enough to keep Peter from rebuking Jesus when Jesus predicts his own rejection, suffering, death, and resurrection.

In Mark’s Gospel, the disciples never actually come around. They are, in the end, like the seed that falls on rocky soil (Peter–the rock!), that falls away when danger and persecution arises on account of the word.

Of course, the crucifixion isn’t the end of the story. Failure isn’t the end of Christianity. In Mark the disciples never actually get it at all.

That’s because there are no resurrection accounts.

One of the most important functions of resurrection is revelation.

It’s not a panacea, of course. We read in Matthew that the eleven do obeisance to Jesus, “but some doubted.” In fact, doubt or dullness continues to plague those who meet the resurrected Jesus.

But doubt does not win.

Jesus enlightens the minds, opens the eyes, convinces the doubting.

What does all this mean?

First, resurrection is a necessary but not sufficient condition for the “Christian” faith of the disciples.

Without the resurrection, the disciples are not only devoid of hope, they are devoid of understanding. In Luke 24, the people on the road to Emmaus are dismayed at Jesus’ death, because they had hoped that he was going to be the one to redeem Israel (v. 21).

It is only the revelation of the resurrected Jesus that transforms their understanding.

Second, and growing from the first point: this is why there is something deeply right about looking to the resurrection to help us understand the earliest Christology of the church.

The Christologies of the NT are reflections on the identity of Jesus through the lens of the shared conviction that Jesus has been raised from the dead.

This is why John 2:22 says that the disciples remembered and believed what Jesus had spoken “when he was risen from the dead.”

It is only after the resurrection, in Luke 24, that Jesus “opens their minds to understand the scriptures” that speak of the messiah as suffering and raised.

That Jesus is the Christ was a constant conviction of his companions. But what that actually meant for Jesus–not only his identity but his peculiar vocation, is only known in retrospect (at least, that’s how the Gospels and Paul depict it).

Resurrection entails revelation.

Revelation that Jesus’ ministry was not a failure.

Revelation that the Crucified is King.

Resurrection and New Creation

On Monday I shared some thoughts about resurrection: it signals Jesus’ enthronement.

That would mean, within the narrative in which Jesus came proclaiming the kingdom of God, that Jesus had been enthroned as king over this kingdom.

Jesus’ message of the coming kingdom was an eschatological message that found its resonance within a first-century Jewish apocalyptic worldview. God was going to act decisively in history to vindicate God’s people, punish the bad guys, and fulfill all the promises God had made to Israel.

With the great assize comes new creation. Heaven and earth remade as an eternal home for God’s people.

Judgment resolves with an affirmation of the created world and humanity’s place upon it. People remade. Given new bodies. Restored to what Adam and Eve should have been: God’s faithful caretakers.

The resurrection of Jesus was viewed as categorically different from the resuscitation of Lazarus or Jairus’ daughter. They would die again.

Jesus’ resurrection was entrance into the dawning reality of new creation.

The way Paul works it out, Jesus is the man through whom resurrection comes. He is the second and last Adam (1 Corinthians 15).

Jesus, in other words, is the first resurrected human who determines the fate of the other humans who are joined to him.

A couple of times, Paul echoes the Gen 1 language of “image bearing” in order to describe our relationship to the resurrected Jesus: God predestined us to become conformed to the image of his son (Rom 8:28). As we have borne the image of the earthly (Adam), so too will we bear the image of the heavenly (Adam; i.e., Jesus) (1 Cor 15:49).

New creation dawns with the creation of a new humanity. Resurrection means that the first of our own humankind has become what the rest of us are destined to be.

This is the source of my gravest concerns about Bart Ehrman’s proposal for “how Jesus became God.” He looks at the resurrection, and the things New Testament writers say about it, and develops his argument that the resurrection leads to reflections on Jesus as divine.

But I, for one, am loathe to concede the connotations of resurrection to Jesus’ divinity. Historically, this is problematic. What it means to be raised from the dead is precisely to be a human who is given back a body (cf. 2 Macc 7). It also means, often, that the new creation has begun by God remaking humanity.

Theologically, pairing resurrection and divinity is problematic as well. In short, the problem is this: if Jesus was raised from the dead as an indication of his divinity, then those of us who are not divine have not hope.

Resurrection is simultaneously the judgment on and affirmation of our humanity. It is judgment, because it demonstrates that we must be changed. It is affirmation because it is a restoration of our bodily existence as the reconciled ones on God’s new earth.

Resurrection and Enthronement

It’s Easter.

For Christians, it’s always Easter, of course, even when we play the Lent game and embrace the cross for forty days per year.

This matters. I’m not just being a curmudgeon. If there’s one thing that matters for Christianity, it’s that it’s Easter. Jesus has been raised from the dead.

As the annual celebration is still coursing through my veins, so too are the debates about early Christology that I dove into last week. Those debates often swirl around how the disciples’ understanding of Jesus was transformed with their conviction that Jesus was raised from the dead.

And in the conjunction of church calendar and internet wrangling, I wonder if we’ve yet managed to dial in to the significance of this singular, Christianity-defining event?

Resurrection changes everything.

(Except, of course, when it doesn’t. More on that tomorrow.)

Let me start with how it changes everything for Jesus, and then I’ll come back next time with how it changes things for the people who want to follow him.

The most important words of the so-called great commission are these: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”Resurrection icon2

Here, the resurrected Jesus stakes claim to something that was not fully his before. By a gift of God, at the resurrection, Jesus has become Lord over all things.

This same idea is couched the language of “Messiah” and “Lord” in Peter’s sermon on Pentecost: “God has made him Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.” In that speech, Jesus’ resurrection is the moment when he takes his seat at God’s right hand, in fulfillment of God’s promise to David.

Paul says the same thing, using the royal “son of God” language in Rom 1:4: Jesus was appointed son of God, with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.

The most important thing for us to keep our heads around as we talk about the resurrection of Jesus is that the resurrection is only significant if it is a true transformation of the human Jesus from once-dead to now-raised.

With this resurrection of the man from the clutches of death, the new creation begins to dawn.

And with the dawn of new creation comes a new image-bearing Son of God, recreated to rule the world on God’s behalf.

Resurrection means that a body has been given new life. But the connotations it bears stretch beyond the nature of the body to a particular role.

That role is the recreation of the first humans’ role, the fulfillment of the promise to David.

Now, the Human One is enthroned at God’s right hand.

This is why the most basic, and important, thing that Christians say together, the singular thing that we say in response to the resurrection, is “Jesus is Lord.”

Authority, Easter, Church

I don’t worry about authority in the church so much.

I know that this is a big deal to a lot of people. I know folks who have converted to Roman Catholicism from various Protestant traditions largely because the unseemly mess of Protestant opinion seems to spring directly from the lack of authority.

How will we know what it is to speak for God if we do not have an authority on earth to make that known? Should we not look to those who have gathered and said, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us?” Should we not look to the vice-regent that Jesus has installed on Rome, his holy hill?

Protestantism is, surely, a mess.

And evangelical Protestantism is a magnification of this messiness, manifested in the proliferation of churches and denominations and non-denominations.

Or, if it’s not a mess, it’ll do till the mess gets here.

Without centralized authority, it seems that we are reliving the ignoble era of the judges: there was no king, and everyone did what was right in his own eyes.

But I don’t think that the answer is the establishment of an authority here on earth. I don’t worry about the lack of an earthly authority for one reason: Jesus was raised from the dead.

If there is one confession that truly unites all Christians in all times and places it is this: “Jesus is Lord.”

Or, as Jesus indicates in Matthew 28, something changed with the resurrection. The authority that Jesus had begun to exercise while on earth has now been fully given to him:

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”

There it is.

The authority is Christ’s, and we shouldn’t attempt to take it for ourselves. Nor should we seek to give it to another person on earth.

I know, I know. Practically, this doesn’t help. We are, in fact, called to speak “authoritatively,” to speak for Christ, to exercise an ambassadorial function of those sent from the King to the distant kingdom in order to make our sovereign’s wishes known.

But that task is always one fraught with uncertainty. Locating Jesus’ voice in a person or a council only focuses the inevitable mistakes in the work a few rather than diffusing the mistakes more broadly.

And I suppose, that’s the point. By giving control to a group or a person we can eliminate diversity, but we cannot ensure even then that what we are doing is right.

We cannot turn our groping along toward the light into a full-fledged walking in the day simply by taking hold of the shoulders of the person who is groping along ahead of us.

Leadership is still important, but it will have to be much different leadership than the authority of a Tradition or Council if it is to function well in the story of the crucified and risen Christ.

If Jesus is risen from the dead, then “Jesus is Lord” must, in the end, be enough for us.

It’s Still Easter–So the Church Might Yet Live

The most difficult thing for us as Christians to receive, believe, and embody is that we serve the God who gives life to the dead.

I experience this dearth in myself.

I go into churches that were once vibrant, bustling, packed. And I experience hopelessness at the sight of classrooms become storage closets. I feel the emptiness, so much emptiness, in the spaces on the pews.

Can this death be undone? Can this people find new life? Can these bones live?

But this lack of hope—or is it faith?—reaches in from the dying gathering to the hearts of us who are called, ourselves, to die.

Such a place of apparent death holds up a mirror to us and asks, Have I been clinging to my own life, to the death of this place? Is the niche of power I carved out by finding my way to the vestry or diaconate, enabling me to maintain things here just as they were when they were so full of life—refusing to realize that clinging to the life of old is, itself, the source of the present death?

We create programs. We build a building. We find a place of influence. We offer an idea that sticks. We’ve birthed it. It is ours. It is us. It is me. So I will not give it up. I will not change.

I do not believe that God gives life to the dead.

I do not believe that those who find their life will lose it, but those who lose their lives for Christ’s sake, and the gospel, will save it.

If only life were so simply defined as “bodily life,” what an easy call that would be to follow. If only the life that I claim for myself weren’t in every word, or idea, or relationship, or place of influence.

But it is all these. And all of these must go with the body along the way of the cross.

Which is why the church must remember that it is still Easter. Our only hope, for thriving life as a people and as persons, is in the God who gives life to the dead and calls the things that are not into being.

Easter is Fathers Day

This week I spoke with a friend who, this past Sunday, was able to celebrate fathers day with her husband for the fist time. They had been trying to have a baby for a long time.

For all that our Hallmark holiday is a celebration of the parent, for the parent the day conjures up all the memories of the child–especially the birth.

When I saw my firstborn, I thanked her for being the one who made me a father. She thought I was weird, but got over it.

In Ephesians 3:15 speaks of God as the father from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. God’s own fatherhood is not simply about an eternal begetting of an eternal son. His is a fatherhood that has moments of celebration as new children come into the world.

When God creates humanity, God fashions for Himself his firstborn children upon the earth. That’s part of what “image and likeness” means:

This is the list of the descendants of Adam. When God created humankind, he made them in the likeness of God. Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them ‘Humankind’ when they were created.

When Adam had lived for one hundred and thirty years, he became the father of a son in his likeness, according to his image, and named him Seth. (Gen 5:1-3, NRSV)

Do you see how God’s relationship to Adam & Eve is the same as Adam’s to Seth? The father has a child in his own image and in his own likeness.

Now, for God’s children, that originally meant, as well, that these children should rule for him (Gen 1:26-28). That will be important to bear in mind.

Of course, in the unfolding story, God has other children as well. He says to Pharaoh, “Let Israel, my firstborn son, go!” Israel plays the role of God’s child which is “originally” the job of all humanity.

But the focalizing continues.

Within Israel, God chooses a particular son who will fulfill that primordial vocation of ruling for God. It is the Davidic King:

Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
and terrify them in his fury, saying,
‘I have set my king on Zion, my holy hill.’

I will tell of the decree of the Lord:
He said to me, ‘You are my son;
today I have begotten you. (Psalm 2, NRSV)

When the king is enthroned, the one who was already God’s son because part of Israel, which was already in a sense God’s son because part of ‘Adam, becomes God’s son afresh. It’s a new day of begetting or adopting.

It’s father’s day all over again.

Easter is the consummation of this recurring story of the God who begets children, sons and daughters to rule the world on God’s behalf.

Paul says, “He was appointed son of God, with power, according to the Spirit of Holiness by the resurrection from the dead.”

Jesus becomes the representative, ruling king, the son of God, as he is raised from the dead.

Jesus, at the resurrection, becomes a second Adam embodying within himself a destiny of life, even as the first embodied a destiny of death (1 Cor 15). As the first Adam was created son-ruler, Jesus at the resurrection is re-created son-ruler.

Easter creates a new, eternal Fathers Day–the one that enables God to claim fatherhood over an eternal family of those who will be God’s children forever.

At the resurrection, Jesus becomes firstborn brother of a new, large family, such that we all are conformed to his resurrection-likeness (Rom 8).

Easter initiates an eternal Fathers Day as Jesus becomes the eternal king, inheriting the throne of David:

And we bring you the good news that what God promised to our ancestors he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising Jesus; as also it is written in the second psalm,
“You are my Son;
today I have begotten you.”
As to his raising him from the dead, no more to return to corruption, he has spoken in this way,
“I will give you the holy promises made to David.” (Acts 13, NRSV)

As long as the church must say, “Jesus is Lord,” it must also say “Jesus is Messiah, the son of God.” And this means that it is still Easter.

And, as long as it is Easter it is the Day on which God became father of Jesus, and of the eternal humanity that is joined to him.

Preach It

It’s still Easter.

Yes, still.

Even now that churches have shifted their gaze to Pentecost and the Trinity, it’s still Easter. It’s Easter so long as Jesus Christ is raised from the dead.

And the presence of Easter means that those who are Christ’s have the ability to speak for him, extending his ministry of preaching and teaching through their own.

After the resurrection, Jesus appears to his disciples and says,

“I’ve received all authority in heaven and on earth.” (Matt 28:18, CEB)

Something happens in the resurrection–not just for us, but for Jesus himself. Jesus becomes Lord in a sense that he was not Lord before. Jesus is given all authority as the Resurrected One.

This is why it is always Easter. As long as the resurrected Jesus is Lord, as long as we are a people demarcated by the Spirit-given confession, “Jesus is Lord,” it is still Easter.

Precisely as one newly imbued with authority over all things, Jesus sends the eleven out into the world:

Therefore go…”

When the resurrected Jesus appears, he always sends. He appears to the eleven and sends them out. He appears to the women and sends them to the eleven. Luke-Acts is the exception that proves the rule: he tells the eleven to wait. But that waiting is for the purpose of being empowered in order to be sent.

He appears to Paul. And Paul becomes an apostle.

What business does the church have speaking for God? What business does the church have thinking that it can speak as though it knows what Christ would say?

The church has this business because it believes that Jesus is risen from the dead. As the Risen One, he has authority not only to rule, but to send.

Under the Lordship of the Resurrected One, we do not merely go out into the world, but are sent there. We do not merely talk, but we speak for him.

We are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us.

So go ahead and preach it. Speak what is true about God. Make disciples of Christ. Teach them to obey what Christ himself has taught.

Do this, because you are not alone:

“Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age.” (Matt 28:20)

Do this, because it is still Easter.