1 Corinthians 15:50-58 – Keep the Easter(tide) Coming

He Is Not Here by He Qi

What I am saying, brothers and sisters, is this: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled:

“Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
“Where, O death, is your victory?
    Where, O death, is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (NRSV)

Throughout my years of conducting Easter Sunday services, I inevitably have someone mention to me after the glorious resurrection celebration how much they enjoy Easter music and cantatas. Then, the conversation oftentimes ends with some sort of statement on how it is too bad we only sing such songs once a year.

Here is my proposal: Then don’t just sing them once a year. Instead, rejoice with resurrection singing and gusto to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ, for the next several weeks.

“I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” – Jesus

John 11:25-26, NRSV

The hopes and expectations of Christians are realized in Christ’s resurrection. The good news of Easter cannot be contained or limited to a single day (Easter Sunday). That is why, according to the Christian Calendar, Easter is only the first of fifty days of celebration called “Eastertide” which leads to the day of Pentecost. Eastertide is a season designed especially for exploring the new life we have in Jesus and the joyful Christian life we can all experience.

Just as we would likely not think of taking only one vacation day in the year for renewal, so it is necessary to take more than one day to enjoy Easter. If nothing else, Eastertide gives believers an opportunity to let Christ’s resurrection percolate in our hearts so that we end up becoming people in real life who exhibit an alive spirit.  And, God knows, we could use much more of that in our congregations and our world!

“The message of Easter is that God’s new world has been unveiled in Jesus Christ and that you’re now invited to belong to it.”

N. T. Wright

If life, eternal life, and the necessity of being alive are all needs for us, then it only makes sense that we would want to take advantage of what Eastertide has to offer: A deliberate look at Christ’s resurrection, exploring its implications and impact for us. Simply assuming we all know about resurrection will not do, any more than my wife simply assuming I love her without looking her straight in the eye and telling her so. 

If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile (1 Corinthians 15:17). Without an Eastertide, there’s a sin-as-usual kind of approach to life with a sort of shoulder shrug that says, “Meh, what’s a guy to do?”  Instead, we have the hope of life everlasting because Christ has risen from death. We have the hope of individual renewal, corporate revitalization, and worldwide revival because there is a risen Savior.

Spring is the time of year which can give shape to the rest of our seasons. Christ’s resurrection gives us a reason to rejoice, hope, persevere, and serve gladly, knowing that our labor in the Lord is not in vain. 

Easter is not over. It is just beginning. 

Therefore, throwing parties for Jesus is in order. Celebrating life, new life, is not only fun but biblical. Maybe some people outside the church look at Christians as uptight and repressed because we are not throwing the best parties and celebrations. 

After all, we have the highest reason possible to celebrate loudly with great passion and joy. Our joy can lead us to paint the town red, whoop it up, raise the roof; splurge, and be effusive with our worship. Christians, full of redemption and reconciliation, break out of their staid existence to hail King Jesus not just today but all through Eastertide because Christ is risen!  He is risen, indeed!

Almighty God, who through your only begotten son Jesus Christ overcame death and opened to us the gate of everlasting life: Thank you for giving me a reason to celebrate with joy my Lord’s resurrection. May I be raised from the death of sin by your life-giving Spirit and give the best party in the neighborhood; through Jesus Christ who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Take the Stairs Out of the Basement Shame Lounge

Since then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Colossians 3:1-4, NIV)

A century ago, the English novelist, G.K. Chesterton, observed that in the house of life, many people are content to live in the cellar. In fact, they assume the cellar is the only room in the house. Cellars and basements have certainly changed in the past one hundred years, yet Chesterton’s observation still holds true – that people often seem content to dwell in conditions far beneath what they could experience. 

Maybe the basements of today provide a way to extend Chesterton’s metaphor. Rather than take the stairs and dwell in the house itself, we create spaces in the basement, game rooms and family rooms, to avoid dwelling in the main part of the house. We might even make the basement a shame lounge, complete with old purple shag carpeting, dimly lighted with a lava lamp, and stocked with cheap $2 a bottle wine. Its where we go when we are down on ourselves.

It’s hard to be joyful in the basement, especially when it’s a shame lounge, because it is a place where people hate themselves because of their failures, are disappointed with God for what has been allowed to happen in their lives, and blame others for their sadness.

The Apostle Paul wrote to the Colossian Church to lay a solid foundation of teaching on who Jesus Christ is and what he has done (chapters 1 & 2); and to give some solid encouragement and exhortation on what that theological foundation means for daily life (chapters 3 & 4). 

The Colossian believers were to avoid getting sidetracked by false teachers telling them they belong in the basement of life, in the shame lounge, and that the only way up the stairs and out of the cellar is through a crazy, circuitous route of constant rule-keeping.

The truth Paul wanted the Colossians to grasp is that Jesus has made the stairway clear through his cross and resurrection. Those who believe in these redemptive events are full participants in the death and life of Jesus. Christ rising from death is not merely a doctrine to believe; it is a powerful reality to be lived! Christian doctrine always has the upward trajectory of changed lives. Paul gave three reasons why we must live upstairs instead of hanging around the shame lounge….

1. We must take the stairway out of the shame lounge and live upstairs because Christ’s resurrection makes it possible.

Paul made up a word that takes five words for us to communicate in English (συνηγέρθητε – “you have been raised with”). It is meant to communicate the truth that we have a vital connection and union with Jesus (co-raised with Christ). Jesus has so closely identified with us that it is as if we are his body. 

The bond existing between Jesus and the believer is so intimate and so close that when Jesus was raised from death, we took part with him in that event. The incredible implication of this is that our life is to be the life of Christ. Our task, then, is to live up to who we are in Christ. 

Paul exhorts us toward that end by telling us to set our hearts on things above. Today, on Easter Sunday, is the day to get our hearts out of the shame lounge and live upstairs with Jesus, who is seated at the right hand of God. 

Empty Tomb by Anneli Anderson

Being seated at the right hand is a symbolic picture that the work of Jesus on the cross is finished. Therefore, the only work left to do is to believe, and to participate in the life of Christ. We do that by living upstairs with Jesus. Christ’s heart was set on giving us eternal salvation from sin and death, and he accomplished it. 

Now, Jesus Christ has his heart set on seeing us experience freedom from the habits of shame and addictive practices which keep us from living upstairs with him. Jesus wants our hearts. Christ does not want us getting headaches from smoking nasty cheap cigars in the shame lounge any longer because his resurrection has made it possible to be with him in the clear bright sunshine of grace. 

We are to set our minds on things above, not on earthly things. We must get our heads out of the cellar and get them upstairs with Jesus. If our heads are not in the main part of the house, shame thoughts will fill the void. The shame lounge becomes a prison because our thoughts do not rise above the bad circumstances we have experienced. You, however, have been raised with Christ. We can ascend the stairs of grace and enjoy life.

The believer in Jesus will follow him up the stairs and dwell with him in God’s house. The Christian will develop the life of the mind by being seeped in the living water of Jesus and not the cheap wine of shame. The follower of Jesus will take the stairs with a heart of prayer that talks to Jesus on a regular basis, instead of sitting in the shame lounge, mumbling speeches to oneself.

The person raised with Christ will take the stairs and serve the Lord with all their heart, mind, and strength because staying in the confining walls of the basement shame lounge prevents the believer from seeing the immense need of people in the neighborhood who are lost, sick, dying, hurting, hungry, depressed, and longing for someone to show them the stairway of grace out of the hopeless basement they are in.

So, take the stairs!

  • Take the stairs and leave the shame lounge behind with its anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language (Colossians 3:8).
  • Take the stairs as God’s chosen people who dwell in the upstairs grace by embracing the house rules of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another in love. (Colossians 3:12) 
  • Take the stairs to forgiving whatever grievances we have against one another because the Lord has forgiven us. (Colossians 3:13)
  • Take the stairs to love, which binds every good virtue together. (Colossians 3:14) 
  • Take the stairs into the large living room of peace, since as members of one body we were called to peace. (Colossians 3:15)
  • Take the stairs and let God’s house shape you as we enter the rooms of teaching and admonishing one another with all wisdom; singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in our hearts; and doing all things in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him for raising us up with him. (Colossians 3:16-17)

Take the stairs and live the resurrected life!

2. We must take the stairway out of the shame lounge and live upstairs because we possess new life in Christ.

We died, and our lives are now hidden with Christ in God. The shame lounge is now dead to us. We can ascend the stairs and live a new life. One of my friends in college was a party girl; she partied every chance she got. Then, she became a follower of Jesus. She received an invitation to a kegger and sent this response back: “I regret to inform you that I will be unable to attend your party because I have recently died.”

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20, NIV)

Since the shame lounge is dead to us, take the stairs and then burn them behind you so that you not go back there again. The basement may feel safe and familiar, but as a believer in Jesus, you and I now belong to God. Our security is firmly with Jesus upstairs, not downstairs.  God has called and gathered us upstairs out of the shame lounge.

Don’t go back downstairs. If we don’t burn that old stairway we will eventually go back down into the basement. Then, someday, someone will find your lifeless corpse down there. Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to the shame lounge: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, and greed, which is idolatry. (Colossians 3:5)

3. We must take the stairway out of the shame lounge and live upstairs because of the future glory that awaits us.

Christ is coming again. When Jesus returns, the believer will share in God’s glory forever.  Christ has not returned yet because he wants to live through us here on this earth for a while longer. Jesus desires to spread good news of grace and forgiveness through us. Jesus Christ wants others to have the chance to ascend the stairs and live a new life. He is patient, not wanting any to perish in the cellar, but for all to experience the resurrected life. The Apostle Paul himself struggled to put all his energy into living the resurrected life:

I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:10-14, NIV)     

Move to another level. Leave the shame lounge basement behind. The first step up the stairway of grace is always a step of surrender so that our heart, mind, soul, time, possessions, and energy are revitalized to new ways of living.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

He has given us new life and hope.

He has raised Jesus from the dead.

God has claimed us as his own.

He has brought us out of darkness.

He has made us light to the world.

Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!

Philippians 2:5-11 – Palm Sunday

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

Therefore, God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father. (NIV)

I often take the posture of kneeling or prostrating when I pray. I do this, not because I think my prayers are more effective that way, but because this embodies my petitions with a recognition of Christ’s lordship over my life. Also, for me, there is no experience quite like using the kneelers on church pews and bowing together in a common experience of recognizing the lordship of Jesus Christ.

I sometimes ponder a question as I am on my knees: What kind of people would we be if we looked like these verses in Philippians?  The Apostle Paul said to the church in Philippi that their “attitude” should be the same as that of Christ Jesus. Their mindset, the way they think about everything, ought to be just like the mind of Christ. If we want to know how to think well and live well, how to relate to others in a good way, then we ought to thoroughly adopt the mind and the attitude of Jesus.  

How we should think and live comes from God. Within the life of the triune God exists three persons: Father, Son, and Spirit. Within this great three-in-one God exists perfect love, absolute holiness, united harmony, and constant respect. The Holy Scriptures tell us that just as God is holy, we are to be holy. Just as God is love, so we are to love one another. Just as God is harmonious, we are to live in harmony with one another. And just as God is supremely exemplified in the person of Jesus as a humble servant, so we are to practice humility and service in all our relations.

None of this is optional for the Christian. There is no place in the believer’s life for pride, posturing, and power-broking. There is to be humility, taking the posture of lowliness, and using any kind of influence for the benefit and encouragement of others – just like Jesus did while on this earth.

In a world pre-occupied with power and control, safety and security, influence and throwing its weight around, there is Jesus. He did just the opposite of engaging in upward mobility; he practiced downward mobility, and in doing so Christ descended into greatness as Lord and Savior.

Jesus did not consider equality with God as something to be grasped. The pre-incarnate Christ did not sit in heaven as the second person of the Trinity and hold onto his lofty position with tight fists – he did not grasp it tightly. When Jesus came to this earth, there was a humble willingness to open his hands and relinquish his rights and privileges as God. Christ made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant. Jesus gladly, not reluctantly, emptied himself for us. Jesus became one of us.

The television series, Undercover Boss, is a reality show in which high-level corporate executives leave the comfort of their offices and secretly take low-level jobs within their companies to find out how things are really working and what their employees are honestly thinking about their jobs and what is happening. In the process of this undercover mission, they learn of the perceptions about their companies, the spirit of their work forces and — maybe — something about themselves as well.

None of the executives cease to be executives. They just make a willing decision to take the lowest level job in their own company to hopefully benefit the employees and the entire corporation. The best episodes are when the most generous executives go above and beyond helping the employees around them at the end of the show. 

Jesus descended to earth. He never ceased to be God. Yet, Christ willingly put his kingly robe in the closet and donned Dickies and work boots. He came among us and purposely limited himself to identify with us fully – and secured for us the greatest generosity imaginable – an answer to the problem of guilt and shame through forgiveness of sins.

Jesus became a servant. He completely tied himself to us. Jesus did not come to this earth seeking to be served, but sought to serve and give his life as a ransom for many. Christ kept going lower and lower to the point of descending to the greatest humiliation of all – death on a cross. Jesus endured the ultimate shame of the ancient world by dying a terrible death. The King of the universe was killed by vicious humanity so that he might redeem and save those very same people from their terrible plight of bondage to evil.

We are to be humble people, embracing a lowly status of slaves to God and to one another. The ancient Philippian church had a real problem with pride which is why Paul talked about emulating the mind and attitude of Christ in his humiliation. The following are exhortations Paul gave to the Philippians, which were to reflect the practice of humility in relationships:

  • Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ (1:27). 
  • Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves (2:3). 
  • Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling (2:12). 
  • Do everything without complaining or arguing (2:14). 
  • Join with others in following my example and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you (3:17). 
  • Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God (4:6). 

Because of Christ’s humble obedience to the Father, he was exalted from the lowest place to the highest place.  King Jesus is on the throne, above everyone and everything. Because of his descent to this earth, Christ has ascended in glory and honor. We can now see God in a new way, through Jesus. And when we do, it causes us to kneel in prayer and profess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

In the ancient world, this was subversive language. If Jesus is Lord, Caesar is not, and ultimate allegiance does not belong to the Roman Empire. If Jesus is Lord, the local gods are not. And in our day, it is no different. Historical characters and religious deities may come and go, but the issue of ultimate allegiance still pertains to us. If Jesus is Lord, no politician or celebrity is owed lordship status. Pride and arrogance are to be put down at every turn in favor of humble service and loving actions.

If we are to follow Jesus Christ truly and really, we will practice downward mobility and embrace humility. Bowing, kneeling, and prostrating will become second nature to us as we give our unflagging allegiance to Jesus. We will accept our creaturehood and God as Creator. We will live in the reality that Jesus is Sovereign over all creation. 

As we enter the Christian Holy Week, let us acknowledge and know the humiliation and exaltation of Christ….

Just watch my servant blossom!
    Exalted, tall, head and shoulders above the crowd!
But he didn’t begin that way.
    At first everyone was appalled.
He didn’t even look human—
    a ruined face, disfigured past recognition.
Nations all over the world will be in awe, taken aback,
    kings shocked into silence when they see him.
For what was unheard of they’ll see with their own eyes,
    what was unthinkable they’ll have right before them.

Who believes what we’ve heard and seen?
    Who would have thought God’s saving power would look like this?

The servant grew up before God—a scrawny seedling,
    a scrubby plant in a parched field.
There was nothing attractive about him,
    nothing to cause us to take a second look.
He was looked down on and passed over,
    a man who suffered, who knew pain firsthand.
One look at him and people turned away.
    We looked down on him, thought he was scum.
But the fact is, it was our pains he carried—
    our disfigurements, all the things wrong with us.
We thought he brought it on himself,
    that God was punishing him for his own failures.
But it was our sins that did that to him,
    that ripped and tore and crushed him—our sins!
He took the punishment, and that made us whole.
    Through his bruises we get healed.
We’re all like sheep who’ve wandered off and gotten lost.
    We’ve all done our own thing, gone our own way.
And God has piled all our sins, everything we’ve done wrong,
    on him, on him.

He was beaten, he was tortured,
    but he didn’t say a word.
Like a lamb taken to be slaughtered
    and like a sheep being sheared,
    he took it all in silence.
Justice miscarried, and he was led off—
    and did anyone really know what was happening?
He died without a thought for his own welfare,
    beaten bloody for the sins of my people.
They buried him with the wicked,
    threw him in a grave with a rich man,
Even though he’d never hurt a soul
    or said one word that wasn’t true.

Still, it’s what God had in mind all along,
    to crush him with pain.
The plan was that he gives himself as an offering for sin
    so that he’d see life come from it—life, life, and more life.
    And God’s plan will deeply prosper through him.

Out of that terrible travail of soul,
    he’ll see that it’s worth it and be glad he did it.
Through what he experienced, my righteous one, my servant,
    will make many “righteous ones,”
    as he himself carries the burden of their sins.
Therefore I’ll reward him extravagantly—
    the best of everything, the highest honors—
Because he looked death in the face and didn’t flinch,
    because he embraced the company of the lowest.
He took on his own shoulders the sin of the many,
    he took up the cause of all the black sheep. (Isaiah 52:13-53:12, MSG)

Ephesians 1:7-14 – Even More Blessings!

Interior of St. Vitus Cathedral, Prague, Czech Republic

We have been ransomed through his Son’s blood, and we have forgiveness for our failures based on his overflowing grace, which he poured over us with wisdom and understanding. God revealed his hidden design to us, which is according to his goodwill and the plan that he intended to accomplish through his Son. This is what God planned for the climax of all times: to bring all things together in Christ, the things in heaven along with the things on earth. 

We have also received an inheritance in Christ. We were destined by the plan of God, who accomplishes everything according to his design. We are called to be an honor to God’s glory because we were the first to hope in Christ. You too heard the word of truth in Christ, which is the good news of your salvation. You were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit because you believed in Christ. The Holy Spirit is the down payment on our inheritance, which is applied toward our redemption as God’s own people, resulting in the honor of God’s glory. (CEB)

Believe it or not, the first chapter of Paul’s letter to the Ephesian church comprises only two sentences in the Greek language for which he originally wrote. Ephesians 1:3-14 are one sentence, and Ephesians 1:15-23 is the other sentence. Thankfully, understandably, and mercifully, English translators have created multiple sentences for us so that we can better make sense of the text. 

It’s almost as if Paul was so excited to talk with the Ephesian believers about who they are in Jesus Christ and what they possess in him that he blurted out in writing with a flurry of enthusiasm and excited fervor without stopping to take a breath or a break.

Paul stacked word after significant word on top of each other to communicate the spiritual blessings believers in Christ enjoy.

Redemption, forgiveness, insight, protection, inheritance, and salvation are just some of the blessings given. If that wasn’t enough, God has graciously given us the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, the one who comes alongside and helps us to live into the blessings we possess because of the person and work of Christ.

It’s as if we came to Christmas day expecting a package of underwear and found instead a bunch of big boxes with some of the most lavish and expensive gifts we’ve ever seen!  This says much more about the giver than it says about us. It was according to God’s good pleasure in Christ that believers in Jesus have such privileges.  Like the parent who sits back and watches the unpackaging of presents happen with great joy, so God delights and is pleased with the gifts given to us. 

First and foremost, in the entirety of Holy Scripture, all the stories and narratives, teachings and writings, are about God. The Lord of all creation is both the subject and object of each book of the Bible. Every good thing we have in this life is because of God’s grace. Each positive experience is a direct result of God’s steadfast love toward people. All good gifts come from a good God who is delighted and pleased to give them.

Not even one of us purchased our own gifts and stuck them under the tree. God bought them all with the precious blood of Jesus and sent the Spirit to deliver them to us. 

Take some time today in a quiet place and reflect on just one of the words in today’s New Testament lesson. Think about redemption or forgiveness, salvation, or grace, or any of the words which grab you. Say it repeatedly, quietly, and loudly, thoughtfully and with flavor. Consider what God did to bring you that gift.  Contemplate the way(s) in which you have received the gift.  Plan one way in which you might share your gift with another person.  Then, give glory and praise to God for the grace lavishly given to you.

May your meditation lead to a deeper appreciation of what God has done for you; and may that revelation result in praise, honor, and glory to the One who accomplished so much on our behalf.

Gracious God, you have revealed and made known the way of deliverance from the power of darkness and brought me into your marvelous light.  Help me to better understand all the ways you have acted on my behalf so that my life might reflect your grace and steadfast love to the world, through Jesus Christ, my Savior, in the enablement of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.