Easter comes along every year. It’s the basis of our faith, but if we’re not intentional, the celebration can become tired and altogether expected. Some of it should be. Longstanding liturgy or a traditional form of ceremony is a significant way to invite us into the work and wonder of God. For example, many keep the tradition of a passion play or a Good Friday service called Tenebrae which is Latin for shadows. However, in an effort to continue to share the story with fresh eyes, sometimes tying details together or linking moments to other parts of Scripture can help. In that vein, here are 12 significant death and resurrection details that have the potential to preach.
Wayne Grudem is a professor of New Testament at Phoenix Seminary. He is author of “Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine“, a well-crafted tool that I continue to refer to for answers. Before moving to Arizona some years ago, Dr. Grudem had a long tenure at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. That’s where I experienced his New Testament class. He brought the amount of energy that is expected when a football coach huddles his team together before a game. Every class began with a hymn, a very different, but memorable way to bring the Gospel down into our hands and to ready our hearts for its study. From that point on, it was go time. One particular day, he gave a seemingly easy assignment: take all four Gospel accounts of Jesus’ resurrection and systematize them. In other words, make them flow as one story… because it is one story.
The church today and through the ages uses the days before Easter as a time of pilgrimage. We are asked to make our way with Jesus as he journeys toward Jerusalem. It’s a time of faith, courage, fear, hope, risk, miracle, belief, and prayer. It’s the narrative that forms our faith. Because we know where the story ends (with the cross) and begins again (with the resurrection), it’s worthwhile to consider retelling points along Jesus’ journey with our congregations, especially in their context as pilgrim stories leading us into Jesus’ passion. Below are ten stories to study afresh.
February is the classic time when we remember the country’s earliest leadership due to George Washington’s birthday on the 22nd. Today, it’s normative to dismiss figures in history because we think ourselves wiser and better. It’s what C.S. Lewis calls chronological snobbery. If we’re not careful, we can fall into this trap of arrogance and not realize the tides of change that made America were orchestrated by principled, God-fearing people.
The story of redemption is one of reconciliation, both to our God and to our neighbor. Revelation 7:9 says, “After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.” It’s an eternity that casts off the pride of Babel and the false perception of Christ’s triumphal entry. In Heaven, our differences don’t divide us.
The suffering of life doesn’t seem to pair with the goodness of God. I like to quote Anton Chekhov, the famous Russian short story writer, and a Christian. He says that there should be someone with a hammer at the head of every happy man, “reminding him with a knock that there are unhappy people, that however happy he may be, life will sooner or later show its claws”. That someone is often God, especially if we have eyes to see the brokenness in people’s lives. There is nothing easy about pain and there’s nothing easy about its instruction, both before it begins and in the mix of its weight in our lives. How should we teach about suffering? C.S. Lewis is a good person to turn to, to both feel the hammer at your head and also find some instruction on how to unravel the difficulty of pain. His book The Problem of Pain (1940) and A Grief Observed (1961) are helpful guides to working through suffering theologically and emotionally. Here are several points worth considering, especially in the role of pastor. (more…)
The serpent in Genesis brought with him a bag of tricks. The story describes him as crafty. Though the devil is not mentioned, he most certainly used the serpent to introduce the same lie that banished him from heaven. Imagine if this new creature, made in the image of God, believed the lie! They would also fall like lightning, be cast down, and left to rot. The lie was simple: disobey God and you will be like him; you will be able to judge what is right and wrong. Once the couple took from the tree, they were indeed cast out, forced to work in a fallen world that became violent in the trespasses of their sin. But the story carried redemption that the devil never saw before. We know its fulfillment in Jesus. We preach it every Sunday. We also know that the reality of God working in the world, from the care shown the first couple down to our own lives, hasn’t stopped the devil from sharing and spinning the same lie: “You will be like God.”
Throughout Scripture, we see God working through unlikely people. God seems to always have a longer view in mind. It’s all backwards, upside down, and countercultural. Jacob the liar, Joseph the favored, Rahab the prostitute, Gideon the doubter, David the youngest – none of them might make it on our shortlist of ministry personnel. What did God see? We don’t entirely know, but we do see His good providence in the fuller story of the Gospel. Hebrews 11 lists each one, along with others, as a testimony to faith. “Faith,” verse 1 says, “is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” As we launch into a new year, how do we instruct our congregations about starting right with the end in view? Similar to those in Hebrews 11, we must have faith in God’s story, this side of Jesus.
Threads of deliverance in the Bible: Scripture is often enlivened when we see symbols or circumstances through the stories in the Bible. As we delve into particular events, there is rich and complicated meaning in real-time, but a bird’s eye view can also assess what’s occurring in light of what happens next. For example, Sarah wouldn’t know Hannah or Elizabeth or Mary, but the line of God’s mercy and providence in these unexpected mothers is profound, and comparing the songs of Hannah and Mary, even more. Water is another example. It nourishes the first garden, redeems us through Noah, delivers Moses, turns red with plague, comes apart several times, quenches wilderness thirst, saves Israel for a time with Hezekiah, breaks with the Son of God’s first breath, begins His ministry, changes to wine… and more. It’s a powerful, redemptive narrative. And this kind of patterned approach is applicable to our congregations. Water, for example, is something God still uses, inviting each of us into baptism and a life sustained by living water. How much more full is the symbol with the background of God’s story! Let’s read some stories of the threads of deliverance.
As you might know, Christmas is a collection of 12 feast days beginning with Christmas day. Why many in the church celebrate the eve and day of Christmas, and not the season, is not clear. Perhaps this mindset is rooted in the Reformation or simply due to convenience. The connection between the Incarnation and the 12 days after is the revelation of wise men from the East. This revelation is called Epiphany, or the unveiling of God in the flesh. It’s an astonishing account that these foreign seekers knew enough to look up and use Scripture to analyze the skies. Plus, it’s a big jump to realize God is working in the world to the truth that God has come in human form to save all people. Though they didn’t understand all the theology, we know from Matthew that the wise men came to worship the baby born “king of the Jews,” following the star to Bethlehem, with Micah 5:2 as their guiding verse.