Friday, September 11, 2009

The Gospel of the Resurrection

Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you … For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures. (1 Corinthians 15:1-4)
The gospel is the “good news” that Jesus the Messiah died for our sins, was buried and rose again the third day. All this is as God foretold in the Old Testament. It is important to note that, as significant Messiah’s death for us on the cross is to this message, it is utterly incomplete without His resurrection from the dead three days later. As Paul so forcefully observes, “If Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!” (1 Corinthians 15:7).

There is a causal relationship between sin and death: “Through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). Death came into the world because of sin (treason against God), and the only way death can be overcome is by dealing with sin. So the resurrection of Messiah demonstrates that He has not only conquered death but has broken the power of sin as well.

The Resurrection is much more than that, though. The expectation of the Jews was that there would be a resurrection of the dead at the end of the age in which God would establish the righteous once and for all upon the earth. What they did not understand, though it was there in their Scriptures, was that Messiah would be raised from the dead. A messiah who needed resurrection was for them a contradiction in terms.

So it was a puzzlement, even to the disciples, when Jesus the Messiah, Son of the Living God, as Peter recognized (Matthew 16:16), was nailed to a tree. On that day they had no expectation that He would be resurrected three days later, though Jesus had foretold them of this a number of times. They were as surprised as anyone else to discover that this had indeed come to pass.

It meant that the end of the age had come upon them in an unexpected way, that it had somehow broken into the world ahead of time. And now here was Messiah who, through His faithfulness on the cross, contended with the powers of darkness, sin and death, and emerged victorious over them all, raised up by God the Father and established as righteous King over all.

The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the guarantee that all who receive Him will likewise be raised again from the dead at the end of the age and established once and for all upon the earth. He is the “firstborn from the dead” (Colossians1:18), the firstfruits of what is to come.
But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming. (1 Corinthians 15:20-23)
The resurrection of Jesus is also the promise that our life between now and that future day when we stand once again upon the earth is not meaningless but significant. What we do now will make a difference then. For the kingdom of God is already breaking into the world (Matthew 11:12; Luke 16:16), the power of the resurrection is already at work in us (Ephesians 1:15-20; 3:20), the darkness is already passing away and the true light is already shining (1 John 2:8). So Paul concludes his resurrection teaching with this strong encouragement: “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:58).

The good news of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is the guarantee that the power of sin and darkness has been defeated, the kingdom of God has broken into the world, the power of God is now at work in and through those who believe, and at the return of the King our bodies shall be raised from the dust and we shall stand once again upon the earth with our Redeemer.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Gospel of New Creation

If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. (2 Corinthians 5:17)
There is a new creation coming. It is not a another creation or a different creation but a renewal of creation. God never gave up on the first as a failed creation. Adam rebelled in the Garden of Eden and by doing so, as God’s representative king on the earth, plunged all creation under a curse. But God never set it aside. Instead, He made a way to redeem it.

This plan reached its climax in Jesus Christ, God and Man joined together in one person, who is called the Last Adam (1 Corinthians 15:45). At the cross, He defeated the powers of darkness, the devil and all his works (Hebrews 2:14; 1 John 3:8), then was raised by God the Father as the “firstborn from the dead” (Colossians 1:18). It was through the Son of God that the first creation came into existence; it is through the Son also that the renewal of all creation has now begun.

This new creation is not yet complete. We live in between the time of the new beginning and the final fulfillment. Indeed, even creation itself longs for this completion:
For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. (Romans 8:19-22)
The bodily resurrection of Jesus the Messiah from the dead is the guarantee that all creation shall be renewed. For all authority in heaven and earth has been given to Him (Matthew 28:18), and He rules and reigns as Lord of all, not as a divine but disembodied spirit but as the eternal God/Man who is forever embodied in the stuff of creation. When He comes again, the heavens and the earth will be made new (Revelation 21:1) and “we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2).

The renewal of creation has already begun in Jesus the Messiah, and those who are in Him, who belong to Him by faith in Him, are already part of it. It is as Paul said, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.”

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Gospel of Abraham

And the Scriptures, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, “In you all the nations shall be blessed.” (Galatians 3:8)
The gospel is God’s plan to justify the “Gentiles,” the “nations” — the Greek word is the same, ethnoi — to declare them righteous when He comes to judge the world and set things right. It is the good news He preached to Abraham when He promised that He would bless all the nations of the world through him.

The word “justify” means to declare one to be righteous. It is the act of a judge, the decision or finding he makes in a case brought before him. When God justifies you, He finds for you, in your favor, and not against you. It was God’s purpose all along to find for the nations of the earth, and it is happening through Abraham’s seed. 
Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, “and to your seed,” as of many, but as of one, “And to your Seed,” who is Christ. (Galatians 3:16)
This Seed of Abraham is Jesus of Nazareth, descendant of Abraham through Isaac, Jacob, Judah and eventually King David. He is the Messiah who was promised throughout the Old Testament. He was never meant for Israel’s sake alone but as God’s redeeming king for every tribe and tongue on earth.
For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:26-29)
The good news God preached to Abraham, to bless all the nations of the earth through him, is fulfilled in the Seed of Abraham, Jesus the Messiah. Through faith in Him, we too are become Abraham’s seed, both to be blessed and to be a blessing.

(See also The Gospel of the King)

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Upright in Heart

My defense is of God
Who saves the upright in heart.
(Psalm 7:10)

Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, you righteous;
And shout for joy all you upright in heart.
(Psalm 32:11)

Oh, continue Your lovingkindness to those who know You,
And Your righteousness to the upright in heart.
(Psalm 36:10)

The righteous shall be glad in the LORD, and trust in Him.
And all the upright in heart shall glory.
(Psalm 64:10)

But judgment will return to righteousness,
And all the upright in heart will follow it.
(Psalm 94:15)

Light is sown for the righteous,
And gladness for the upright in heart.
(Psalm 97:11)

I will praise You with uprightness of heart,
When I learn your righteous judgments.
(Psalm 119:7)

The Hebrew word for “upright” is yashar and speaks of being straight, level, right, pleasing, just, fitting, proper. To be upright in heart is to be transparent, open before the LORD. David knew much about this. His heart was so opened up to God that he was called “a man after My own heart” (Acts 13:22).

David learned that there is no hiding out from God. He had tried that and it didn’t work — he became sick inside and out (Psalm 32:3-4). It was not until he became honest before God, confessing his sin, that he not only experienced relief but also an unexpected sense of elation, for he discovered once again the graciousness of God (see Surrounded by Faithful Love and Joyful Shouts). He recommends that same kind of transparency of heart before God, because there is gladness, and twirling and shouting for joy to be had (32:11).

To be upright in heart is to know God (Psalm 36:10). Knowing God is not about having information about Him but relationship with Him. It is personal, not perfunctory. The focus is not on duty but on delighting in Him. Paul’s prayer for the Church was that “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him” (Ephesians 1:17), to know God more and more, deeply and intimately.

To be upright in heart is to trust in the LORD. It is the transparency of faith. We can depend on Him to defend and deliver us (Psalm 7:10), enlighten and guide us (97:11), instruct us in what is right and good (119:7). It is faith in God that actually pleases Him. Not that our deeds are unimportant, but they must come from an open and trusting heart that is turned toward God. “Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6).

For those who know, honor and love the LORD, who diligently seek after Him, who are transparent before Him and confident in Him, the rewards are really quite magnificent. He will spread out His steadfast love and faithfulness to cover them (Psalm 36:10, see The Prevailing Love of God). When He comes to set everything right, they will be around to see it (94:15) and their boast will be all about what He has done (64:10), with ecstatic praise, joyful shouts and wild dancing. These are the upright in heart.