Reading Ramblings – March 27, 2016

Reading Ramblings

Date: Easter Sunday, March 27, 2016

Texts: Job 19:23-27; Psalm 118:15-29; 1 Corinthians 15:51-57; John 20:1-18

Context: He is Risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! This is the victory cry the Church has proclaimed for centuries. The resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is the foundation of Christianity, the singular event in human history that alters all of human history and gives it meaning. All those who put their trust in his victory share in that victory. There is hope for this world and this life, and hope beyond death itself. If it happened, then everything is changed. If it didn’t happen, then nothing else that Jesus said or did means anything to you and I today.

Job 19:23-27 – This is perhaps hands down my favorite Old Testament passage. The powerful proclamation of hope in a Redeemer, in one who will stand upon the earth and whom Job will be able to see with his own eyes, despite the fact that Job will die long before that day is a prophetic note of almost unparalleled depth. The story of Job is likely one of the oldest stories in the Old Testament, describing a time roughly on par with Abraham and the Patriarchs in early Genesis, before the establishment of the priesthood after the Exodus. As such, this proclamation is additionally powerful. For those who doubt that the Old Testament points towards a physical resurrection, this text demands attention. It is not simply a hope, it is the hope of God’s people going back thousands of years.

Job’s faith is entirely in the vindication this Redeemer will convey to him personally. It is not an abstract hope, but a personal one. Job has hope specifically because this Redeemer will come and he, Job, will be present to witness that day despite the fact that he will have died. Death will not be able to keep Job from the presence of his redeemer, because it is death that he is redeemed from. Job’s wish that his words were engraved in rock with an iron pen might be too transient – his words have been read and recited for thousands of years, and will continue to be a rallying cry of hope for God’s people.

Psalm 118:15-29 – The second half of Psalm 118 is a beautiful assertion of our hope in Christ. The first half of the psalm clearly demonstrates the responsive nature of the song, with verses 1-4, then 5-7, then 8-9, then 10-13 each having a central word or phrase that is repeated throughout (‘his steadfast love endures forever, the Lord, it is better to take refuge in the Lord, I cut them off ‘- respectively). Verse 14 introduces the idea of songs of salvation, and the remaining half of the psalm may be best interpreted as the content of those songs of salvation sun in the tents of righteousness.

Vs. 15-16 stress the power and accomplishment of the Lord, like a warrior singing the praises of his king or war leader. But what is the content of the Lord’s accomplishment? The singer/speaker lives – he is not dead and will not be dead, but rather will live on to sing God’s praises. How is this possible? Vs. 17-24 explain. We anticipate entering through the gates of righteousness. Not by our own determination, because the gates are God’s, not ours – He controls entry. But the Lord has granted access to the speaker/singer by becoming that person’s salvation. By doing on their behalf what they could not do for themselves. The Lord does this through an unlikely means – a stone rejected as unsuitable will turn out to be the one, perfect stone that holds the whole structure together. Such an unlikely event – where skilled and trained stonemasons don’t recognize the perfect value of a specific stone – points to the glory of God, and is equivalent to God declaring into us what we cannot conjure for ourselves – righteousness. Verse 25 is a simple prayer that this reality might be the speaker/singer’s own, and vs. 26-27 are praise to God for already having done this.

1 Corinthians 15:51-57 – Paul forges the link between the death and resurrection of Jesus with our own hope. As Jesus has been raised from the dead, so shall we all. Our greatest fear and enemy, death, has been conquered in the resurrection of Jesus the Christ. He has demonstrated his power and mastery over it in human history, the security, the downpayment for our own hope. Though we must die physically (unless He returns beforehand!), death cannot keep us. Death injures us, steals the ones we love, and continues to terrorize us until we can no longer resist it or flee from it. But death’s victory is not permanent. Jesus has won the victory, and given that victory to you and I who trust in him.

John 20:1-18 – John depicts the events of Easter morning with great clarity. Mary Magdalene (along with other women, as the other Gospels tell us) comes to the tomb early in the morning. But the stone has been rolled away and the body is gone. Likely wishing to emphasize the further angelic presence later in his story he doesn’t mention the angels that greet the women initially. Their panicked report to the disciples causes Peter and the unnamed disciple (generally agreed to be John himself) to race to the tomb to see for themselves. The burial cloths of Jesus are described with great care, and the disciples are led to believe the women’s report of the angels and the announcement that Jesus’ body has not simply been stolen (why leave the burial cloths then, and why fold them neatly?), but rather that He has been raised from the dead and thus has no further need of them (similar to Lazarus in John 11).

John goes on to recount another touching episode. Mary Magdalene at some point has returned to the tomb, perhaps following Peter and John. While they leave, she remains. Her sorrow seems to indicate confusion about what is going on, concern that something has been done to Jesus’ body. Jesus appears to her, giving her comfort in her sorrow. Mary is thus the first person to see the resurrected Christ, and so unprepared is she for this moment that she doesn’t even recognize him. Tears and sorrow and confusion prevent her from recognizing the obvious – this isn’t just some man who looks similar to Jesus, this is actually Jesus raised from the dead!

Mary goes to share what she has seen with the disciples. What first was suspected is now confirmed – Jesus is alive! Mary’s words echo faintly the Samaritan woman at the well who goes to her town to tell them what she has encountered. Mary does not bother with theological musings, she simply tells what has happened to her – she has seen the Lord. Our witness to faith can and probably should be that simple and straightforward – this is what the Lord has done in me. The invitation is for the other person to investigate for themselves and come to their own conclusion based on the evidence and their experience.

The Christian faith and hope is thus equally grounded. We may not have seen Christ with our own eyes, but we trust the testimony that has been handed down for 2000 years. We know that this testimony remains unchanged – it has not been corrupted or lost and recreated. It is the same testimony that was first being circulated. We trust it as we do reports of who the President of the United States is (how many of us have actually met him in person, or attended his inauguration?), or that George Washington was our first President, or that Plato was a Greek philosopher. We base our trust and belief on the testimony of others. That testimony needs to be evaluated, compared to other sources of testimony, and determined either to be valid and true, or something else.

He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Let this be your cry of faith on this Easter Sunday and every day. Because He lives, we look forward to life as well!


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