No resurrection? No Christianity

sproutI like Good Friday. There’s something about the love of God that you can’t miss when you look at the Cross.

Last week, I entitled my blog: “No Cross? No Christianity.”

But let’s imagine that Jesus had died but not risen. Would Christianity even exist?

The Apostle Paul didn’t think so. Writing to the Corinthians, he insisted:

And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith (1 Cor. 15:14, NIV).

No resurrection? No Christianity.

Pondering the resurrection yields many truths. Here are a few:

1. Resurrection reminds us that “good” and “evil” are not to be confused.

People looked at the life of Jesus Christ and saw the loving goodness of God. Yet a handful of religious leaders refused to acknowledge that goodness. Instead, they called it evil and nailed it to a Cross.

God will not tolerate calling what is good, evil. That was the essential point of Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost: “You will not let your holy one see decay” (Acts 2:27b). God had vindicated Jesus, the righteous one.

Good is good and evil is evil. The resurrection is God’s warning to not confuse the two.

2. Resurrection affirms that our bodies are to be joyfully celebrated.

Gnostics taught that only spirit is pure; matter – including our bodies – is corrupt and must merely be endured. Resurrection, on the other hand, reminds us that our bodies are good creations of a good God;  they are to be celebrated! In fact, our bodies are so important that God will one day give them back to us in new-and-improved form. Jesus’ resurrection is the prototype of the resurrection of all (John 5:28-29). The joys of this life are bodily joys. They will be restored in the Kingdom of Heaven.

3. Resurrection is the promise that God will one day right all wrongs.

Why do bad things happen to good people? Theologians have sometimes solved the riddle by either claiming that God is not all good or that God is not all powerful. Both of these solutions fail to satisfy because they leave out Christ, more specifically the Cross, the Empty Tomb and the Second Coming.

There is no greater example of a “bad thing” happening to a “good person” than when the religious leaders had Jesus crucified. Sometimes we forget that the story doesn’t end with the resurrection. The end of the story is the return of Christ! It is only then that the dead are raised and final judgment takes place (2 Thess. 4:13-18; 2 Cor. 5:10).

The resurrection of Jesus is a past event but one that points us forward. Because Jesus lives, we too shall live. Because God through a specific resurrection righted the terrible wrong done to his Son, so we believe that God will one day through a general resurrection right the wrongs suffered by many across human history.

Summing it all up

Resurrection Sunday is indispensable to the Christian faith. No resurrection? No Christianity. Good and evil are not to be confused. Further, we celebrate our bodies as God’s good creation here on earth and – one day – his new creation in the Kingdom of Heaven. And while we mourn that evil can triumph over good in this life, the resurrection teaches us that God will one day set things straight.

Christ is Risen! He is risen, indeed.

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Image credit: HDWYN.com

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Where did Bresee get his catchy phrase? And does it help?

Phineas F. Bresee

Phineas F. Bresee

Last week, a Preacher’s Conference convened at Nazarene Theological Seminary. Though I was unable to attend, I caught my mind wandering back through the halls of NTS. Hanging on a wall in one of those hallways is a pencil sketch of Phineas F. Bresse, next to a framed quotation. Bresee, a key force behind the union of holiness groups in 1908 to form the Pentecostal Church of the Nazarene, cautioned:

“In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; but in all things, love.”

I’m not sure why the administration chose to hang those wise words where everyone could see them. Maybe it was to prevent lively theological discussions from morphing into something toxic? Whatever the motivation, there is something I’ve since discovered: The words aren’t original with Bresee. In fact, a quick internet search shows lots of people past and present quoting them.

The original quotation was from Peter Meiderlin (1582-1651 CE), also known as Rupertus Meldenius, an obscure Germain theologian. Discussing whether the late divine Johann Arndt had been orthodox in his thinking, Meiderlin cautioned:

“In a word, were we to observe unity in essentials, liberty in incidentals, and in all things charity, our affairs would be certainly in a most happy situation.”

Apart from the origin of the phrase, it may be asked: Does it help?

As some have noted, it depends what parties to a conversation consider “essential” vs. “non-essential.” For example, some seem willing to fight to the death over whether God created the universe in 6 twenty-four hour days. Others are more flexible, allowing God whatever time frame necessary, even billions of years, as long as we affirm that God is the Creator. So, group 1 sees so-called “youth earth creationism” as essential to the whole structure of Christian faith, while group 2 decidedly does not.

Some light can be had when we look back through history to see what a group has judged to be “essential” vs. “non-essential.” In the Church of the Nazarene, we have never had a statement committing us one way or another on the timing of the return of Christ. Instead, we have always merely insisted that he will one day return. We’ve left the particulars up to individual conscience. On that issue, we have always embraced “wiggle room.” The onus then is on the group that wants to jettison history and change direction.

Though it makes the phrase less catchy, we might amend it to say:

“In what we’ve always thought essential, unity; in what we’ve always believed non-essential, liberty…”

When all is said and done, the best way to read Meiderlin’s phrase may be in reverse and with some modification: “In all things remember love, even as we discuss things some consider essential but others think are non-essential.” Our starting point is always love. Otherwise, tempers may flare and we may forget our first duty, to love our neighbor as ourselves. May love always be our watchword and song!

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Photo credit: Nazarene.org

Eugénio Duarte on Last Things

Dr. Eugénio R. Duarte
37th General Superintendent
Church of the Nazarene

Dr. Eugénio R. Duarte (pronounced DEW ART) is one of six General Superintendents in the Church of the Nazarene. His meditation (below) is part of the “We Believe” series on Nazarene beliefs, widely distributed via e-mail by the Board of General Superintendents.

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We believe … that our Lord will return,
the dead will be raised,
and the final judgment will take place.

Growing up in a community greatly affected by emigration, I observed early on the struggle some experienced between wanting to stay home with loved ones and their need to leave. In fact those who were able to depart in search of a better life were considered brave; emigration became a mark of prestige. My older brother left the day before he would have been recruited to serve in the army. Many ran away out of fear of dying in battle.

My brother promised that he would return home. We waited for many years. Then one day we learned that he had passed away, and our hope of seeing him again vanished. We could never be certain about his real desire to return or even his ability to fulfill his promise. This is an oft-repeated human tragedy.

Unlike humans, Jesus is always able and willing to fulfill His promises. The promise of His return was made with unswerving confidence. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:1–3, NIV).

Theologians do not agree on details surrounding the second coming of Jesus; they have differing views about the order of eschatological events. But there is unequivocal agreement that Jesus is coming again because in His own words and in other parts of the Scriptures it is clear that He will return. In fact the Bible ends with Jesus’ words, “I am coming soon,” followed by the Church’s “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20, NIV).

Our belief in the second coming of Jesus is also firmly supported by God’s promise of His victory over all sin, death, pain, afflictions, and injustice. To see the Lord Jesus when He comes—whether we are raised from the dead or found alive in Him—will be cause for great celebration.

The spirit of hope and celebration with which 1 Thessalonians 4:15–17 proclaims His return must be accompanied by the declaration in Romans 2:1–16 that Jesus will judge the world. Those who refuse to know and confess Him as Lord will miss not only this moment of celebration at His coming, but also the eternal joy of being with the Lord forever. The reality of unbelievers having to face the unbiased Judge should prompt the Church to share the good news with everyone and to disciple all who come to know and love Jesus.

Let the Church say AMEN to the announced return of the Lord!

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“On the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from there he will come to judge the living and the dead.” (The Apostles’ Creed)

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Photo Credit: Wesleyan Anglican

Five questions about the Second Coming, answered

Note to the reader

This is a sermon I’ve preached recently in Kenya, Rwanda, and the DRC. It has been well-received, and I hope it will be  helpful to you as well.

All Scripture citations are from the New International Version.

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Text: Acts 1:1-11

INTRODUCTION

It’s a famous line that’s been used in countless book titles. Just fill in the blank:

“Everything you always wanted to know about ______ but were afraid to ask.”

What would you put in that blank? Today, here’s how I’d like to fill it:

“Everything you always wanted to know about the Second Coming, but were afraid to ask.”

In some ways, this is a hard topic to preach since there’s no single “classic passage” that we can turn to. Rather, what we can determine about Christ’s return is scattered in various passages of the New Testament. So even though we’ve chosen one passage (Acts 1:1-11) as our official sermon text, today is really more of a topical sermon. I hope you have your Bible open, since we’ll be looking at a variety of Scripture portions. Together, let’s consider five questions about the Second Coming.

Continue reading “Five questions about the Second Coming, answered”