Sunday, March 27, 2016

The End is the Beginning

I love to read biographies. I love to read about people who have done great and interesting things in their lives. But I always get sad at the end. Because I have to read about their death. It doesn't matter what they accomplished; it doesn't matter if they enriched the lived of many; it doesn't matter if they saved the lives of others. In the end they die. Good or bad, whether they deserved it or not, they all die. As do we.

That's one of the ways in which the gospels differ from biographies. The gospels record the death of Jesus, of course. But they end with his resurrection, with new life, a new beginning, really. And that's why they are still read by people all over the world.

Why else would we still read about a carpenter who had a brief ministry and then was executed in the most horrible way? No one else wrote about Jesus during his lifetime. He is mentioned by contemporary sources in connection with his followers. But he wouldn't even have had any followers had he been just another wannabe messiah who was killed by Rome. If they escaped being executed along with their leader, such followers either went back to their old quiet life or latched onto the next would-be savior. They never remained loyal to their old deceased leader. What good is a dead messiah?

To be fair Jesus' disciples felt the same way. The two going to Emmaus despairingly say of Jesus, “...we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.” They couldn't go back to John the Baptist because he was dead, too. Most of them probably would have returned to being fishermen. They would have lived out full lives and died of natural causes. They would have had normal, possibly pleasant lives. Nobody in the wider world would have known about them because nobody would have written about Jesus or them.

So the question is, why didn't they choose to live those ordinary, safer lives? Why did they instead choose to venture out of the room they had locked against the authorities, face the very people who had arrested Jesus and eventually suffer awful deaths themselves? It makes no sense. Unless Jesus rose from the dead.

The world reckons death to be the worst thing that can happen to anyone. That's why countries threaten each other with war. That's why dictatorships threaten dissidents with execution. That's why terrorists have an impact way beyond their numbers or public support. People fear death. And that gives evil people great power over others.

But what if you take death off the table? What if you knew for certain that God raised Jesus from the dead? What if you knew that God will do the same for all who trust and follow Jesus faithfully no matter what? What could you do if death were not a consideration?

That's what turned the disciples, cowering behind that locked door immediately after Jesus' death, into courageous apostles proclaiming that the crucified Jesus is Lord of all. They faced people who had the power of death over them armed only with the gospel, the good news of what God is doing in Christ. It's because on this day the resurrected Jesus appeared to them. They knew that he had broken the power of death and evil that ruled the world. They knew that even if they died in his service, they would live. They knew that even if this world and all of creation came to an end, God would resurrect it as a new heaven and a new earth. Because God is a God of life. Death cannot stop him but he can turn death into a gateway to new life.

Before Easter, everyone knew that death was the end. After Jesus walked out of that tomb, everything changed. The end became the beginning of something unimaginable. The old rules that enslaved mankind were over. Anything was possible. Paul wrote, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” If you are in Christ, that applies to you, too. What's stopping you? 

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