Reading Ramblings – April 21, 2019

Reading Ramblings

Date: Easter Sunday – April 21, 2019

Texts: Isaiah 65:17-25; Psalm 16; 1 Corinthians 15:19-26; Luke 24:1-12

Context: In the last century theologians, some attempting to protect the Bible and the Biblical account from intellectual discrediting, shifted the historical events of the Bible into the realm of subjective experience. They downplayed the reality of Jesus’ resurrection for a theology that made the resurrection symbolic more than anything. But if the resurrection is not a reality, it certainly can’t serve as a very inspiring symbol. It seems highly unlikely that people would have gone to their deaths proclaiming as objective reality something they knew to be metaphorical or symbolic. If Easter is true, then it is the single-most important event in all of human history, and for 2000 years those who believe it is true have celebrated it as such. It is my hope and confidence personally, and I pray it is yours as well!

Isaiah 65:17-25 – The empty tomb is the beginning of the new creation vision Isaiah conveys here. Jesus offering himself as the perfect, sinless sacrifice satisfies fully the Law’s demand for obedience, and Jesus conveys this perfect obedience to you and I. The power of death is broken over us. Jesus’ resurrection is evidence that the Law has been fulfilled and He is not subject to death, and therefore his resurrection and promises to us are that we inherit his righteousness as if it were our own. A new creation free from the controlling power of sin and evil, death and Satan dawns. It’s a sunrise slow in coming, though, as we still await the full light of God’s power to reveal this new creation. But when it does at last, all things and persons will be transformed, freed from the destructive twisting of sin and Satan. The Church is called to proclaim the dawning of this new reality, and to be the place where we are encouraged and strengthened to begin living it out. Imperfectly and incompletely as of yet, but day by day in greater consistency with who we will be when our Lord returns.

Psalm 16 – What begins as a prayer for deliverance from temporal concerns ends as a declaration that not even death itself will separate the speaker from God. Miktal is likely some sort of poetic or musical description or perhaps instruction, but we are unsure of the best way to translate it from Hebrew. David declares his trust in the Lord as the ultimate source of goodness. He will set his eyes on those who live their lives similarly rather than those who follow other gods. There are other ways to live, other goals than obedience and thanksgiving to God, but David’s mind is firm. God alone will be the one to instruct and guide him, as God alone has trustworthy precepts. As such, even though situations may be uncertain David will continue to rejoice in God and trust in him, even to the point that not even death dismays him, as he knows God’s power can and will ensure that death is no separation for his faithful servant. Rather, the wisdom and power of God in this life are a foretaste of eternal joys for those who trust in God.

1 Corinthians 15:19-26 – The resurrection is real. Paul has encountered the resurrected Christ. Such an encounter alone was sufficient to turn Paul’s entire life around. He recognizes that if the resurrection was not real – if it was a psychological or theological construct, an emotional projection, anything less than a tomb formerly occupied but now empty because the dead inhabitant has been raised to real, corporeal life again – then Christians are pathetic fools, wishful thinkers constructing a false reality and future for themselves, and as any person who lives their life in fantasy instead of reality, objects for pity (or ridicule) above all others. Only a real resurrection vindicates Jesus’ identity and work. Only a real resurrection can lend credence to his promises to us (John 14:1-14, etc.).

Luke 24:1-12 – We need to remember that each writer remembers certain aspects of the event. It’s obvious from the slight differences of perspective or details mentioned that there was no effort between the Gospel writers to settle on a single identical account. Each account picks up different aspects and neglects others.

Luke provides a variety of specific details. Dawn on the first day of the week (Sunday, since Saturday is the Jewish Sabbath, the seventh day of the week as per Genesis 1 & 2). He names two women specifically (23:55) which doesn’t exclude that there were others. They bring spices to properly anoint the body for burial (Jews did not embalm like the Egyptians). They didn’t expect the stone to be rolled away, but this curiosity is eclipsed by the fact that upon entering the tomb there is no body. Luke does not identify the two men they meet but describe their clothes as dazzling. The Greek word is likely associated with words for lightning or even a star. It is clearly not typical clothing, and the hearer is meant to interpret the sparse description as an angelic messengers, further indicated by the women throwing themselves on the ground in fear.

These messengers do not provide new information to the women, but rather help the women make sense of the information they have based on Jesus’ words alone. This is important. Jesus prophesied everything that would happen to him. His hearers will remember this and will lead them to understand him not simply as a prophet but as the great prophet prophesied by Moses himself (Deuteronomy 18), the very promised Messiah of God. Easter is not some unexpected matter, as though Jesus’ followers hadn’t heard him describe it in advance. But now, for the first time, they can both remember and understand his words, contextually. A physical, literal resurrection from the dead. An empty tomb. And by the grace of God, two messengers to ensure that the women remember, understand, and therefore can adequately communicate this reality to the disciples. The women are the first to share the message that He Is Risen!

But they are not taken seriously. As women, their testimony is treated as unreliable by the disciples. They are overcome with emotion or distraught or any number of other possible explanations. The disciples might be imagined to be very good amateur psychologists, diagnosing the women’s words. But Peter finally decides to go and see for himself. He discovers not the messengers, but just the empty tomb and, another detail, the linen cloths his body had been hastily wrapped in the previous day (Luke 23:53). Without any idea what else to do, Peter returns to the place where they were all staying, no doubt to affirm at least part of the women’s story. Full understanding has not yet come, as he returns marveling. Not until the end of that first day will Jesus’ followers begin to truly understand what has happened!

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