The Whole World FROM His Hands

Potter

Genesis 2: 7 “Then the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.”

Not all religions have seen their gods as the makers of the world in which they live. The Greeks believed that their gods sprang to life from an eternal earth. The creation story in the Babylonian epic The Enuma Elish similarly has various gods developing out of the material of the universe already present. Then they bring order to that universe with their abilities to control certain forces of nature.

The more modern idea is to turn things completely around. Man becomes the maker of God. Atheistic anthropologists suppose that our concept of god is nothing more than a product of the human imagination, even a product of human evolution. Over time we have developed the concept to make god more and more to our liking. Now that is an idea that appeals to human pride, if there ever was one. We get to dictate to god what the rules are, the standards of morality, even whether he gets to exist. Just a few minutes pondering human depravity, cruelty, and selfishness will tell you what a frightening idea this is. Man making the rules for the god he has made is a certain recipe for disaster.

No, “the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground…” God the Father is often symbolized as a hand from heaven. From what we know of creation from Genesis 1, I suppose that a giant mouth might also be an appropriate sign for our Maker, since he spoke most of the world into existence with his commands. But people, the crown of his creation, were not made by an impersonal command. The Lord formed us, like a potter working the clay between his hands, shaping it and molding it until he has something both functional and beautiful. Then he took this lifeless collection of creatively arranged dust particles, and intimately he breathed life into them.

Isn’t this picture of God’s hand forming us from the dust of the ground at one and the same time humbling and awesome? It is humbling as it puts us in our place. Our origin is nothing more than dirt. Since the fall into sin, we cannot escape the fact that someday our bodies will return to that humble origin. Indeed, the process has already begun! We are like Cinderella at the ball, and the bells on the clock are already chiming midnight, and soon, too soon, we will return to what we were before the magical transformation.

But consider the awesome power of God to turn dust into the miraculous, complex, multi-talented bodies we inhabit. Consider the awesome love of the LORD that so freely blessed us with our being. Only when his Son adopted a set of human hands for himself, and let them be pierced and made powerless to redeem us, has he shown more free and faithful love than this.

“I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth,” Christians have been confessing for thousands of years. Many question this simple statement of faith in our time. But it is more than an abstract piece of theology we should fight to defend. It is evidence of God’s love that we want to believe.

Seeking To Be Found

hide-seek

Isaiah 55:6-7 “Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near. 7 Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.”

Mankind leaves almost no stone unturned in its search for God. Some seek him in quiet strolls through nature, the moving sight of a beautiful sunset. Others spend hours in meditation thinking about themselves, staring at their navels, hoping that they will discover the “god within.”

The one place we can be sure to find him is not a place where we see him with our eyes. It is a place where we hear him speaking. This one place is in his word. While his Holy Word is preached to us, read to us, and printed for us, God can be found. He is near. His words bring us the Lord himself!

Do you note a sense of urgency in Isaiah’s encouragement? Why such an earnest, emotional plea? Israel didn’t lack the opportunity to seek God. The truth of his word was all around them. Prophet after prophet delivered the message. Over hundreds of years it was written down and copied. As the Apostle Paul wrote the Romans, “Theirs is the adoption of sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises.”

But for all that word of God, all that opportunity to seek and find him, the people of Isaiah’s day were unwilling. Past generations had been known to repent of their sins. Israel had a heritage as God’s chosen. But now they followed their own ways. They followed other gods, pursued other ambitions–making a living and seeking fun. Most ignored Isaiah’s plea: “Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts.”

Is it hard to see the warning for ourselves? We may have grown up with law and gospel properly divided, the Gospel purely preached, the sacraments rightly administered. But God’s plea for us to daily, hourly repent of our sins is no less earnest. Repentance is not the idea one man I know had of it. “Repentance is something I did a long time ago, pastor, when I first became a believer,” he told me. But it’s not just a one-time event from the past we go through, and then we are done. The very first of Martin Luther’s 95 theses says, “When our Lord Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent ye,’ he meant that the whole life of the believer is to be a repentance.” The sins that you and I are committing today are dangerous and damnable. “Let the wicked forsake his way.” “Seek the Lord while he may be found.”

For just this purpose, the promises of God become so precious, so important. Threats and warnings can’t turn us around by themselves. Why seek a God who is only mad at you? His promises, on the other hand, hold out so much more: “Let him turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.”

Do you really want to know God? There is no place we can get to know him better than in his promises of mercy and forgiveness. Sometimes we may be tempted to look at these promises like the children of Israel looked at the manna. It sustained their lives for a while, but after having the same old thing long enough they “detested this miserable food.” Isaiah’s words help to renew our appetite for God’s banquet of grace.

He reminds us that God has mercy on us. Maybe confession and absolution, maybe hearing forgiveness promised in a sermon, maybe our Savior’s intimate promise of forgiveness in his supper can become perfunctory. We may receive them with little joy or feeling. But they are never given that way by our Lord. God has mercy. His word invites us to peer into the heart of God, where we find that he has made us the objects of his affection. Relieving us of our sins and our sufferings is always a moving experience for him. Here we find a tender-hearted Father who wants nothing more than to see us escape the pain and agony we deserve for our sins.

God’s pardon comes “freely.” The emphasis is not so much on the fact he gives it free of cost. Here he is speaking about how liberal, how generous, how lavish the Lord is with this gift. Stewardship appeals sometimes remind us, “You can’t out-give God.” Here the prophet reminds us we can’t out-sin his grace, either. He has more pardon, more forgiveness, than we can possibly exhaust, though we may sin all day every day.

So don’t be afraid. Seek him now! He wants us to find him.

The Sure Foundation

Foundation Stones

Ephesians 2:19 “Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.

We have been built on a foundation. But before we consider the content of that foundation, note that “built” is a passive word. We didn’t place ourselves on that foundation. We were built there. It’s just like any other building project. The materials don’t do the work. It is the builder who chooses his materials, purchases them, picks a spot for each piece, and then fits it into place.

Isn’t that what the Christian Church’s Chief Architect has done with us? He chose us as his material, even though we were no different than all the other pieces he might have chosen to use. He purchased us for his project at the cross, where his blood paid for us in full. In washing our sins away and declaring us holy and righteous he removed everything that would make us unsuitable for the grand structure he is making. He determined our place in his holy structure and then he fit us into place by calling us to faith. At every step along the way he was active and we were passive, as passive as any brick or a two-by-four sitting on any other foundation we might see. We are built on the foundation.

That foundation is Christ and his coworkers, the apostles and the prophets. The apostles and the prophets lived on opposite sides of Jesus’ life. The prophets worked hundreds of years before Christ, and the apostles directly after him.

But though they were separated by time, their assignments were much the same. These men served as God’s official messengers. Whether they were pointing ahead, or pointing back, they all pointed to Christ.

Nor were these run of the mill Christian pastors. These were the men whose Spirit-inspired words became the Bible that preserves God’s message for us today. Paul seems to be thinking of them already as one unit, like the two testaments of the one Bible we read and believe.

That is a solid foundation on which to build our faith that makes us God’s Church. That foundation does not move. Every generation seems to develop its own philosophies to explain life and search for truth. Those philosophies are a chain of reactions against the one that came before. People reading this have lived through the rise and fall of existentialism, modernism, and postmodernism. There is no lasting, solid ground there. The science of one age becomes the nonsense of the next. We no longer try to bleed people to good health. We no longer explain the transfer of heat from one object to another as the result of the flow of some theoretical “caloric fluid.” At one time, that was all good science. But those foundations crumbled.

God’s word given through the apostles and prophets does not change. Here we know what sin is. More importantly, here we know who our Savior is. And he himself is the chief cornerstone. A cornerstone, as you may know, was more than a decorative, ceremonial concrete block in an ancient building. It was a perfectly square stone, a stone with perfectly carved angles that were used to make sure everything would line up just as it needed to.

Everything, everyone, in Christ’s church lines up with Jesus Christ himself. By faith in his saving work alone each one of us finds our place as part of God’s spiritual house the Church. Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven, given among men, by which we must be saved.

It is Christ’s choice, not my personal appeal, Christ’s work, not my goodness, Christ’s word, not my intelligence, that joins me to God and his people today. That’s a truth on which we can build with confidence.

Membership Has Its Privileges

Passport

Ephesians 2:19 “Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household…”

“Aliens” has become an emotionally charged word in our time, especially when paired with the word “illegal.” The foreigners and aliens Paul has in mind were not nearly so controversial.

The people Paul was picturing with these metaphors were the Gentiles. For centuries they were not included as part of God’s people. Although that is not true of the Gentiles as a class of people today, Paul’s words still have application to each of us before we came to faith.

How, then, were we like foreigners and aliens? Such people struggle with the language and culture of the country they have come to. Those foreign to God’s kingdom find the communication problems only worse. Not only do we not know the meaning of terms like justification, sanctification, grace, or redemption. The very concepts are unknown. We can’t comprehend being saved by forgiveness without our good works. We don’t speak God’s language of salvation, and that leaves us with deep suspicions that work against trust and faith.

Such non-citizens may have as much trouble with the law as they do with the language. Spit your gum out on a street or sidewalk in the United States, and the person who winds up with it stuck to the bottom of his shoe may be annoyed, but you won’t have the police on your tale. Try that in Singapore, and you may find yourself a thousand dollars poorer. It’s the law. When I was growing up in Minnesota, I remember Vietnamese refugees being arrested or fined by the game warden because they would be caught with 5 or 6 times their legal limit of some kind of fish. They didn’t have such limits in their home country.

Foreigners and aliens to God’s kingdom may be just as ignorant of some of his laws. A man new to the Christian faith was taking premarriage classes in one of our churches. He was shocked to learn there was anything wrong with premarital sex. The unbelieving world openly rejects many other laws of God’s kingdom. Abortion and euthanasia, homosexuality and no fault divorce are just a few of the things our Lord condemns but the world embraces. Those who approve of these things live as citizens of a different ruler and a different country. They may be unaware of the horrible sentence God will pass on those who defy his law.

For those who believe, that was the past. Paul says that something has changed. “Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household…” Why would God take someone whose values are so different than his and give them official standing as a member of his holy, spiritual nation of people? Why would he be willing to make it so easy to become one, and so costly for him? Those who want to become citizens of the United States go through a course of study, and take a test, before they can take the oath. Our Lord did all the work for us by giving us Jesus. The process was complete the moment he first kindled faith in our hearts.

Such heavenly citizenship certainly has its privileges. We have immediate access to the ruler of the country. He will hear our case and consider us in his policies and decisions.

Better yet, we are privileged to live under his gracious rule. His government provides public services and protections like no other government on earth. He provides for the health of our souls by distributing forgiveness at no cost to us. No deductible or co-pay has to be met. His system of education provides truly higher learning. An army of angels defend us from our enemies, and he miraculously and mysteriously turns the evil we do suffer to work for our good.

But he gives us a position even more intimate and privileged than that. We have been changed from foreigner to family member. We are members of God’s own household. He has made us family.

Doesn’t the mention of family fill most people with an immediate sense of security? Children in the family have all their needs provided. They don’t worry about shelter, clothing or food. Mom and dad simply take care of that for them.

It is in God’s spiritual family that we find a Father’s love, love so deep and so completely devoted that he would not spare anything, even his own Son, to make us his own and save us from sin and death. It is in God’s spiritual family that we find the love of fellow brothers and sisters in faith who support and encourage us on our journey through life and help keep us on the way that leads to our heavenly home.

Membership has its privileges. Nowhere is that more true than the spiritual nation in which God has given us citizenship and divine family into which he has adopted us.

Confident To Declare His Praise

Megaphone

1 Peter 2:9 “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”

Some people go on and on about themselves, about their hobbies or opinions or tastes. Jesus has given you something actually worth talking about. He has called you to be his spokesmen, to do endorsements for him. He didn’t hire a supermodel or the number one rated athlete in the world. He called you. He has not made us all his door to door salesmen, but he calls us to speak from the heart, and tell what we know, when the opportunity presents itself. Nationwide Insurance once claimed to have “the world’s greatest spokesperson in the world” in its commercials. Jesus has called you to be the world’s most important ones.

What we declare are his “praises.” The word Peter uses for “praises” does not refer so much to the act of worship, words or songs that express, “Our God is awesome.” They include the record of his deeds, the accounts of his kindness, the characteristics of his person that make it so. We are talking of the hand he has had in all human history: sending us a Savior, and seeing to it that the message salvation in Jesus has reached you and me.

These are the praiseworthy qualities and deeds of the God we worship, the things that bring him fame and praise. Jesus has called you to tell this story. He calls you to tell people who he is and what he is like. It’s not a hard thing to understand, not a complicated message to deliver. If you can talk about the great game your child had on the soccer or baseball field, if you can describe your favorite qualities in your best friend, you can do this. As a Christian, it is part of your calling. It is one of the reasons that Jesus’ made you one of his distinguished people.

A few decades ago one of my professors was applying to enter a doctoral program at the University of Minnesota. The director of the program scoffed at first. He thought he was just a backwards fundamentalist from a Bible college.  “You don’t seem to have the academic background,” he said. “To even enter the program you have to know ancient Akkadian.” That’s a language used in parts of the ancient Middle East and written with a stylus on little tablets of clay. It looks like a collection of triangles. “That’s okay,” said my professor. “I’ll teach myself over the summer.” And he did! Later this program director was heard quipping to a colleague, “The guy knew more than I did.”

My professor had a rare gift, but you couldn’t see it. What distinguished him was real, but it was hidden for the most part. So it is with you. You have a rare gift: your faith, your identity, your calling, your privilege. These impact how you live. They make a difference in your life. But to most people, most of the time, they are hidden. That makes them no less real, and no less important. Own your new identity as God’s people. Know that you are special to him. Then be confident to declare his praises to others.

The Christian’s New Look

Bride-Mirror

1 Peter 2:9 “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”

If God has forgiven all of our sins for Jesus’ sake, if he has declared that not a single mistake stands against us, then we must look different to him than we did before. This is why he starts referring to us with terms of endearment like “children,” or terms of respect like “saints,” in the Bible.  It’s not that we have stopped sinning, or that our old sinful nature is any less real, or any less bad, but with all our sins forgiven God holds a different image of us in his mind now.

And he invites us to start looking at ourselves the way he sees us. Peter says that you are a chosen people. That is a powerful statement of how God feels about us. Why is it that children take it so hard when they are chosen last for a team, or not chosen at all? Why is it that adults take it so hard when they lose an election? Is it not because there are feelings of rejection here? It seems as though nobody likes us or wants us. Our election by God is more than a cold, hard fact, like some mathematical principle. We are people that God wanted to be his own. We are the desire of his heart.

You are also a royal priesthood. To have God declare us royalty makes all the difference in the world. Royalty rules. God’s royalty rules all things. It isn’t always obvious to us, it isn’t even usually obvious to us, but as God’s royalty we rule and all things serve us–all things! Jesus promises his kings and queens by faith, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.” Paul assures us, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” The letter to the Corinthians pledges, “All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future–all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.”

As royalty, nothing and no one stands above us in our relationship with God. As priests, no one stands between us and God. Each and every priest, each and every Christian, can take his needs, or his requests, or his service to God directly since Jesus has given us all direct access to the Father.

Again, by forgiveness and faith, you are a holy nation. You are purer in God’s eyes than the most sterile environment on earth could make you. And not only has the last whisper, the last trace of impurity been removed by Jesus’ holy blood, but as a holy nation you have also been set aside by God for his special purposes. There is nothing common, or ordinary about any of you. Do you have dishes at home that only come out for a very special meal, clothes in your closet that only come out for a very special occasion, heirlooms you use only under special circumstances? In a similar way God has made you his holy nation not for any run of the mill purpose in his creation, but to be holy means to be set apart, and the special purpose for which God has set you apart will be made more clear in just a moment.

Peter concludes his list by calling you a people belonging to God. God looks at you as his own treasured possession. Cruel images of slavery may get in the way of appreciating the privilege of belonging to someone else, so think of God’s claim on you this way: When children have a favorite toy, what do they do? They put their name on it and you drag it along everywhere they go. When adults have some favorite tool or utensil, what do they do? You put their name on it, and guard it a little, and don’t lend it out very willingly. Or this is even better: if you can find that one other person with whom you would like to share the rest of your life, what do you do? You put your ring on his or her finger. You claim him or her for life. You treat this one as your most treasured possession. When Jesus found you he put his name on you, and made you a Christian, and now he treats you like the dearest thing he has in all the world.

This new identity, this new image that God has given to us by grace, is not merely a potential. It is not something he hopes you will become someday. In Christ, by faith, this already is the Christian’s new look.

The People of God

Fantasia-Heaven

1 Peter 2:10 “Once, you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”

The people to whom Peter was writing these words were Gentiles. They were scattered through Roman provinces like Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, areas that make up the modern nation of Turkey. Like us, each of these Christians had grown up as part of a certain family, a certain race, and a certain nation. They had a history and a culture that bound them together with other people. No doubt they took pride in the nation of their birth. How could Peter say that they were not a people?

Let’s look at this from God’s point of view for a moment. In the past there had been nothing that united these individuals from Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia with each other, with the possible exception that by nature they were all God’s enemies. There was nothing about being born a Cappadocian, or a Bithynian, that made you any closer to God. Whether individually, or as citizens of their native land, to God they were simply part of that great mass of people who followed idols. They were lost. Before God, they were nobodies.

Now let’s update the setting to our own day for a moment. Many who are reading this are citizens of the United States of America. There is nothing wrong with appreciating the fact that you are a citizen of one of the most powerful nations on earth, the land of the free and the home of the brave, the great melting pot. But none of this means anything to God. I used to live in Texas. There was a joke about a phone call from Texas to heaven being cheap, because it was a “local” call, not long distance. There may be very good civic reasons for taking a certain pride in the state of one’s birth or residence, but Texas is no closer to heaven than any other spot on earth. (I am sorry if that comes as a surprise or disappointment to some of you). Other points of pride get us no closer to the Lord. It makes no difference to him that your grandfather was a minister, or that you are a shirt-tail relative of the president, or that you graduated with the highest GPA in your class, or that you have a six-figures income.

Why? Jesus once told Nicodemus, “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.” Our flesh and blood birth or existence doesn’t make us spiritual children of God. Regardless of who we are or where we come from, by birth we are no different than members of Al-Qaeda, or shooters who commit mass murder at an elementary school, or any number of other sinister characters. To God we were not a people. We were lost. We were nobodies.

So what’s God trying to do, damage my already fragile self-image? In one sense, yes. He wants to destroy it altogether. But in another sense, no. He simply wants us to stop trying to find it in the sinful and prideful places we go looking all too often.

You see, Peter reminds us, “Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” Now you and I are God’s people. Now you and I have been shown mercy. Now we are somebodies! Jesus has made us very important persons (or people) in God’s eyes. When he redeemed us from our sins at the cross, he did more than free us. He claimed us. He made us citizens of a better country, a heavenly one (Hebrews 11:14-16). He made us members of his own noble family. It is not arrogance to say that this citizenship and this family truly are better than any other on earth. It’s not bragging. It’s just a fact.

We wear this new status with humility since we know God took us from nothing. Our place among God’s people is purely a gift. Still, this new identity belongs to us now, and it is only proper that we embrace it, enjoy it, and put it to use. It is no small honor to be the people of God.

Jesus Is Worthy

Lion-Lamb

Revelation 5:1-5  Then I saw in the right hand of him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals. 2 And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?” 3 But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it. 4 I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside. 5 Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals. 6 Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne…”

Are you ever concerned about the future? Make a trip to the emergency room, spend a day in the hospital, or have the doctor order up a series of tests, and all of a sudden the future is a big deal. Lose your job, or receive news that your company is “down-sizing,” and the future starts demanding a bigger percentage of our attention.

If worry about the future weighs heavy on our hearts, it probably has to do with our survival or that of someone we care about. We don’t know what is going to happen to us. But we do know the day is coming when the doctor can’t heal us anymore, and our income won’t support us anymore. Death waits in everyone’s future, and nothing makes us more concerned than death.

The Apostle John was concerned about the future, too. In this vision God is holding the future in his hands in the form of a scroll. The whole future is there— the scroll is full of writing on both sides, but it is sealed shut with seven seals. No one can look into the future, no one can read it because God has hidden it from view.

Who can open this scroll and show us the future written on it? A mighty angel asks the question, because even he isn’t able to. John tells us in the next verse, “…no one in heaven, or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll, or even look inside it.” There are those who claim that they can open the scroll today, but they are all frauds. In your newspaper each day you will find a column with the title “horoscope.” It gives no insight into what God has planned for our future. I once drove past the home of “Doris the Palm-reader.” She cannot read what God has written on the scroll in his hand. Even more respectable people like the weatherman can’t tell you with certainty what tomorrow holds.

The Apostle John was deeply troubled that no one could open this scroll. “I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside.” John, too, was concerned about death and survival. Of the twelve men Jesus chose as disciples, only John was left. Many other leaders of the church at this time were being gathered by the Roman authorities and executed. John’s concern extended to the survival of the Church he had helped to establish. He deeply wanted to see that everything would be alright.

Then he received this comfort. “Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.” Do you recognize this Lion? The old patriarch Jacob spoke of him just before he died in Genesis chapter 49. “You are a lion’s cub, O Judah….The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his.” If we find it hard to identify him, John’s next description may make it easier: “Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne…”

You couldn’t create two more seemingly contradictory descriptions than these: “…the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed” and “Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain…” Lions are aggressive and powerful. We call them “king of beasts.” A lamb is weak and defenseless. The Lion has triumphed. The Lamb has been slain. Aren’t these opposites? How could they be the same?

You couldn’t create two more seemingly contradictory days than Good Friday and Easter Sunday. On Good Friday Jesus looks absolutely helpless. He ends up tortured to death on a cross. On Easter Sunday, Jesus looks absolutely victorious. If death can’t hold him, if the grave can’t oppose him, what else can? In his death on the cross Jesus is the Lamb who was slain. By his resurrection from the dead Jesus is the Lion who has triumphed. By them both Jesus is worthy to open the scroll and show us the future. Do you see why?

When Jesus was slain, he didn’t merely die like a lamb. He died as a Lamb, the Lamb of sacrifice, giving his life in payment for our sins. When Jesus rose, his triumph over death was more than a personal triumph. It was a triumph for us all. Death itself was defeated, ours included.

By paying for our sins and defeating death, then, Jesus has written our futures. They may not look the same in all the details. You may die rich, or you may die poor. You may die old, or you may die young. You may die peacefully, or you may die violently. But in every case, your future is the same. You will rise from death to live and rule in heaven eternally, for Jesus is the Lamb who was slain, and the Lion of the tribe of Judah has triumphed.

This is the future Jesus himself has written on the scroll for you. This is the future he reads to us at Easter and every Sunday. This is what makes him worthy. He not only shows us our future. He created it.

Declared To Be God

Easter

Romans 1:3-4 “This gospel is about his Son—who in the flesh was born a descendant of David, who in the spirit of holiness was declared to be God’s powerful Son by his resurrection from the dead—Jesus Christ our Lord.”

The truth that Paul shares with us in these verses may be the forgotten lesson of Jesus’ resurrection. We tend to stress the fact that because Jesus has risen from the dead, we know the Father accepted his sacrifice. His effort to pay for our sins was successful. More than that, we draw the conclusion that since Jesus is alive and our sins are paid for, someday we will rise from the dead, too. These things certainly ought to be emphasized.

But Jesus’ resurrection is also the miracle of miracles. A handful of other people have been raised back to life from the dead throughout history, but only to die again. Only Jesus raised himself from the dead, and only he has risen to a new kind of life and a never-ending life.

That makes a powerful statement about who Jesus is. No mere man could bring himself back to life. Jesus is the Son of God. The resurrection doesn’t make him the Son of God. It makes his divinity clear to see. It puts a big exclamation point on the truth that our Savior Jesus is also our God.

How does that truth help to put the “good news” in our gospel? Just look at the ramifications. 1) If Jesus is God, then his work, his life, his death, have infinite value. I can be sure that my sins are covered. 2) If Jesus is God, then you and I can put our utter trust in him. What he tells us, we can believe with complete confidence. How he treats us, we can receive with complete certainty that he is taking care of us. 3) If Jesus is God, then in getting to know him we are getting to know God. And what is the picture of God we get when we look at Jesus? Someone who loves us passionately. Someone who is caring, kind, gentle, and approachable, yet strong, steady, and upright. What more could you want on your side? 4) This passage concludes by calling him “Jesus Christ our Lord.” When people say things like, “Jesus is my Lord,” they are often thinking of the obedience they owe to him. But a Lord is also a protector, isn’t he? If our Lord is our God, then you and I are utterly safe. 5) If Jesus is God, then we can be sure we are in the right place whenever we are following him. If Jesus is God, then all the news for us is only good.

The heart of the Christian faith is not a list of principles or a way of life. It is a person, promised by prophets, descended from David, and declared to be God by his resurrection from the dead. The news is good, dear friends.