NPM09: Descending Theology: the Resurrection

by Mary Karr

From the far star points of his pinned extremities,
cold inched in—black ice and squid ink—
till the hung flesh was empty.
Lonely in that void even for pain,
he missed his splintered feet,
the human stare buried in his face.
He ached for two hands made of meat
he could reach to the end of.
In the corpse’s core, the stone fist
of his heart began to bang
on the stiff chest’s door, and breath spilled
back into that battered shape. Now

it’s your limbs he comes to fill, as warm water
shatters at birth, rivering every way.

Source: Poetry (January 2006).

The final lines remind me of verse 17 of 1 Corinthians 15.  After Paul has told the church the implications of resurrection, he gives them a personal application: if Him, then you; if not Him, then not you.  If Jesus is risen from the dead, then so will (are) you; if Jesus is not risen from the dead, then neither will (are) you.

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Why Was Jesus Crucified?

Around this time of year, the majority of the questions I get asked are:  “why did Jesus die?”,  “who killed Jesus?”,  and “what does Jesus’ death mean to Christians?”.  Larry Hurtado at Slate gives a good answer, especially in unpacking the oft-forgotten phrase from the Creed, “crucified under Pontius Pilate.”

Here’s a gret quote:

In fact, Jesus’ crucifixion posed a whole clutch of potential problems for early Christians. It meant that at the origin and heart of their faith was a state execution and that their revered savior had been tried and found guilty by the representative of Roman imperial authority. This likely made a good many people wonder if the Christians weren’t some seriously subversive movement. It was, at least, not the sort of group that readily appealed to those who cared about their social standing.

HT: @FakeSpurgeon

NPM09: Good Friday, A.D. 33

Mother, why are people crowding now and staring?
Child, it is a malefactor goes to His doom,
To the high hill of Calvary He’s faring,
And the people pressing and pushing to make room
Lest they miss the sight to come.

Oh, the poor malefactor, heavy is His load!
Now He falls beneath it and they goad Him on.
Sure the road to Calvary’s a steep up-hill road —
Is there none to help Him with His Cross — not one?
Must He bear it all alone?

Here is a country boy with business in the city,
Smelling of the cattle’s breath and the sweet hay;
Now they bid him lift the Cross, so they have some pity:
Child, they fear the malefactor dies on the way
And robs them of their play.

Has He no friends then, no father nor mother,
None to wipe the sweat away nor pity His fate?
There’s a woman weeping and there’s none to soothe her:
Child, it is well the seducer expiate
His crimes that are so great.

Mother, did I dream He once bent above me,
This poor seducer with the thorn-crowned head,
His hands on my hair and His eyes seemed to love me?
Suffer little children to come to Me, He said —
His hair, his brows drip red.

Hurrying through Jerusalem on business or pleasure
People hardly pause to see Him go to His death
Whom they held five days ago more than a King’s treasure,
Shouting Hosannas, flinging many a wreath
For this Jesus of Nazareth.

by Katherine Tynan, from Herb o’ Grace (electronic edition)

In Like a Lion, Out Like a Lamb

“In like a lion, out like a lamb.”  They say that about March (although the past two years are proving them wrong),  but consider it in the context of Jesus for a moment.  Jesus enters Jerusalem right before the feast of the passover, and the city treats him like a king:

The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!”  John 12:12-13

Jesus here is treated like we assume he should be.  He is treated as an equal (at least) of the Roman emperor, and praised for coming in the name of the Lord.  He is lauded as the King of Israel.  For many people in the crowd, this wasn’t just some emotional parade; for them, Jesus represented an end to the exile they had been living in for their entire lives.  He was the return of the true King.

Jesus enters Jerusalem as the Lion of Judah, the successor to David and the one who would bring God’s presence back to the temple.  He is hope incarnate.

Of course, I don’t need to tell the rest of the story.  Within days, the crowds would yelling something else.  They would not see him as hope, but as a criminal.  He was not David, and would not defeat Israel’s enemies.

We see it a bit differently.  We see Jesus entering a city full of people who (relatively speaking) had no idea what he was about to do.  Many thought he was there to throw off the shackles of Rome, but Jesus had a much larger mission.  In other words, Jesus entered Jerusalem as a lion, but would leave a sacrificial lamb.

Maundy Thursday

Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God,  rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist.  Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.  He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?”  Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.”  Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.”  Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!”  Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.”   (John 13:3-10)

Peter’s reaction to Jesus’ humiliation is quite similar to what my own would have been.  No, Lord, you can’t do this; you can’t lower yourself that much.  How could the one we all understand to be the King of Israel act as if he were a servant?  Please, stand up.  Frankly, you’re embarrassing us.

And yet we can all clearly see (with enough hindsight, of course) that every step Jesus took expressed his humility.  Every time he faced a group of religious leaders who ridiculed him or escaped from an angry crowd, Jesus was “lowering” himself.  The one who created everything was forced to live as a man; the prince had become a pauper.

Here, Jesus is doing exactly what Paul described in Philippians 2:

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy,  complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.  Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.  Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,  but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

At this time of year, it is easy for us to think about Jesus is purely individualistic terms.  This season is about Jesus dying for us, for our sins.  And yet on this day we are forced to consider another aspect of our Lord’s ministry.  Following his example, we “lower” ourselves, doing things many may consider beneath us.  We feed the hungry and minister to the poor.  We take the Gospel to places others refuse to even think about.  We become servants to all, putting others ahead of our own needs.  Just like Jesus did.

Holy Wednesday

“Is it I, Lord?”

This is the question the disciples asked Jesus when he announced someone would betray him.  What an incredibly insightful question; they each knew, or at least feared, they had the capacity to betray their Lord.  They had been following him for a while, they had seen every miracle and listened to every teaching, yet there seems to be a fear that they would be the ones to turn against Jesus.

Even though Peter would disagree, saying he would follow Jesus anywhere, each of these men would abandon Him in due time.  They would all run away, fearing for their lives.  Soon they would learn that, while they weren’t the ones to betray him, they did not have the strength to face their enemies.

Of course it would be easy to be hard on the disciples, as if we wouldn’t do the same exact thing.  As if I wouldn’t have run away long ago, even before there was a fear of death.  As if I wouldn’t have been the one to betray him.

This is a hard lesson to learn: that we have the capacity within us to both follow and betray our Lord.  That we are constantly living out the same scenario, at once following and rejecting Jesus.  We pray “Is it I, Lord?” hoping the answer is no, yet knowing beyond a shadow of doubt that our time will come.  Thirty pieces of silver?  Has it ever been that much?

And yet the context of this gives us hope.  The disciples are sitting around the table, receiving the bread and blood from Jesus.  He gave the bread of life to Judas, knowing what would follow.  He gave the wine to Peter, knowing he would deny even knowing him.  He served the rest, knowing they would run in fear.

The hope we see in this is almost unimaginable.  Those who have the capacity to betray him are invited to his table.  Those he knows will turn their backs on him and run away are given his body.

Easter Quotes

Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death with death

Eastern Orthodox hymn

Easter would hardly have been, for two thousand years, the spring and center of Christian life and prayer, would hardly have provided the focus of Christian worship and the form of Christian hope, if the word Easter were simply the name of something that once happened in the past.

Nicholas Lash, Easter in Ordinary

“Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him.”

Angel to Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, Mark 16:6 ESV

Death in vain forbids him rise.

Charles Wesley, Christ the Lord is Risen Today

Those first-century Jews who expected the Resurrection saw it as a single event, the raising to new bodily life of all at the very end. But it is central to Paul and, after him, to all other early Christian writers, that the Resurrection is now a two-stage event– or better, a single event taking place in two moments, as Paul puts it: Christ the first fruits, and then at his coming, those who belong to him.

N.T. Wright, in The Resurrection of Jesus

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.

Paul, 1 Corinthians 15:3b-4

To live in the light of the Resurrection– that is what Easter means.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison

Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

1 Corinthians 15:12-19

(Some quotes taken from Christianity Today, April 2007)