Steve’s Letter – April 2014
APRIL 1, 2014
The wife fell on the casket at the funeral home and cried out, “Speak to me, George. Just speak to me!” A lady in attendance leaned over to her friend and whispered, “If George speaks to her, I’m out of here.” I remember the first time it dawned on me that a dead man got out of a grave. It made the hair stand up on my head.
(Those were the days when I had hair. I now have a crew cut and the crew has escaped ship…sorry.) I had taught it, preached it and written about it but that particular Easter Sunday, for some reason I can’t explain, it was real. Maybe for the first time I realized that the King was in the audience. I don’t remember what I said but I do remember that the sermon was—maybe for the first time—more than words. Whatever I said was powerful and I laughed a lot.
Do you know one of the great dangers of our faith? It is the danger of reducing our faith to words, propositions, doctrines and concepts to which we give intellectual assent. It’s the “stuff” we believe and we think that’s enough. James said, “Big deal!” Well, he didn’t say that exactly, but that’s what he meant when he said, “Even the demons believe—and shudder” (James 2:19).
Don’t get me wrong. I teach in a theological seminary and think that the propositions are important. Mothers used to say to their daughters, “kissin’ don’t last, cookin’ do!” I know that’s sexist and if I could find a better way to say it, I would; so don’t send me letters. But you and I both know there is truth behind that saying just as there is truth behind this one—“feelings don’t last, doctrine do!”
As a matter of fact, it’s the truth that will make us faithful when we want to run. Eric Metaxas in his wonderful book, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (if you haven’t read it, do so, even if it’s so long you’ll probably have to devote the rest of your life to reading it), makes it clear that Bonhoeffer and the other Germans who stood against Hitler did so not because they wanted to, had a nice feeling about being faithful, or were caught up in a voice they heard in the night. They were faithful because of revealed, propositional truth that they couldn’t ignore. Hitler and his ilk were in the darkness of their lies and Bonhoeffer was gripped by truth.
But with that being said, if our truth is only words, concepts and doctrines, it isn’t enough. It is like a thirsty man or woman holding a photograph of a cold glass of water. The photograph just won’t quench his or her thirst.
It’s the same issue with Thomas who doubted that Jesus had risen from the dead (John 20). I suspect that Thomas would have been eventually convinced of the resurrection. Doubt, as a matter of fact, is probably the greatest motivator for faith because it drives us to check. The genuine can always be tested and Thomas would have probably gotten around to testing it. I suspect the same questions and doubts that Thomas had (“Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe”) would have brought him to a conviction concerning the resurrection of Christ.
But then Jesus showed! That’s different.
“Put your finger here,” Jesus said to Thomas, “and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side.”
When I realized the “King was in the audience,” it was similar to Thomas. It was the difference between doctrine and reality, between propositions and passion, and between theology and experience. “Feelings don’t last, doctrine do” is true, but doctrine without feelings, reality and experience doesn’t last either. It’s one thing to believe the doctrines of grace, for instance, and quite another to be forgiven. It’s one thing to defend the truths of the Christian faith and quite another to be able to sleep at night because they are true. It’s one thing to exegete 1 Corinthians 13 about love and it’s quite another to love and to be loved.
We’ll rejoice in and celebrate the resurrection of Christ on Easter Sunday…but if Jesus doesn’t come, it will be no different than celebrating any event in our history—we’re glad that it happened but it’s in the past. The celebration will never answer the “so what?” question.
Paul said, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins…we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:17 & 19).
So let me suggest this Easter that you not just celebrate the resurrection of Christ…celebrate yours. I think I’ve told you about the worship leader who overslept and missed the Easter sunrise service. The next year, his pastor called him in the wee hours of the morning and woke him up with, “Jesus is risen…and you better too!” Jesus said, “Because I live, you will live also.”
Anybody here want to live forever?
Easter is the time when Jesus comes himself and says, “Okay, wish granted.” And in fact, he’s the only one who can make that promise because he’s the only one who has been there, done that and come back to talk about it.
But there’s more. At Easter, don’t just celebrate the victory of Christ…celebrate yours. Forgiveness isn’t just a desire and a hope for us; it’s a reality. Jesus said, “It is finished!” When he said that, it really was finished. You’re covered, you’re forgiven and now you’re free.
All of us believe in the forgiveness of sins. We repeat it in the Apostles’ Creed, we claim it as the touchstone of our theology of redemption, and we tell others about it. But there is always the suspicion that our sins might be so big, so horrible and so deep that it won’t be, can’t be, for us. So we pray and hope.
In fact, this Easter you might take Martin Luther’s admonishment to heart: “There are some who have no understanding to hear the truth of freedom and insist upon their goodness…These people you must resist, do the very opposite, and offend them boldly…For the sake of liberty of the faith do other things which they regard as the greatest of sins…use your freedom constantly and consistently in the sight of and despite the tyrants and stubborn so that they may learn that they are impious and that their law and works are of no avail…”
And then, this Easter, don’t just celebrate the joy of the past…celebrate yours right now. Michael Kelly Blanchard’s lyrics are profound and powerful:
In these days of confused situations,
In these nights of a restless remorse,
When the heart and the soul of the nation,
lay wounded and cold as a corpse.
From the grave of the innocent Adam,
comes a song bringing joy to the sad.
Oh your cry has been heard and the ransom,
has been paid up in full, Be Ye Glad.
So be like lights on the rim of the water,
giving hope in a storm sea of night.
Be a refuge amidst the slaughter,
for these fugitives in their flight.
For you are timeless and part of a puzzle.
You are winsome and young as a lad.
And there is no disease or no struggle,
that can pull you from God, Be Ye Glad.
I know, I know, Rick Warren is right. It really isn’t about us; it’s about God.
I know that.
But it’s about us too. This Easter celebrate him, celebrate the empty tomb, celebrate God’s power, his goodness and his sovereignty…
…but don’t forget to celebrate what he’s given you too!
And have a really good time, okay? He asked me to remind you.
The image used with this post is licensed under the
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.
Attribution: Antonio Litterio