Resurrection Sunday – Watch Live
Where We Stand With God. The Illusion of Neutrality.
Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 40:1-2; Isaiah 40:28-31
New Testament Lesson: Romans 5:18-20; Hebrews 9:26-10:14; I Corinthians 15:1-22
(Romans passage read in unison as a Call to Worship)
Gospel Lesson: John 20:1-18
Years ago I told you of my experience as a young teenager of working watermelons each summer on my uncles’ farm at Kanapaha.
I told you of the excessive and oppressive mid-summer heat of the open field, with row-upon-quarter-mile-row of ripening watermelons to be manually harvested, shimmering as if a mirage.
As Neil Diamond sang, “You could almost hear yourself sweat.”
I told you of nearly being ‘bear-caught’ – what city-folk would call heat exhaustion – and of the promise at the end of each row of a spate of rest, a drink of sugar-cane water, and of a few minutes spent in the shade provided by the wind-break treeline.
One such time I was barely cognizant; only loosely tethered to the planet; close to dehydration; standing dazed at the end of the row in the blazing sun.
My uncle said, “Son, the shade is free. But you have to go stand in it.”
Britain was prostrate.
Defeated in every regard save for formal surrender to the Nazi war machine which was poised on the coast of France, some few miles across the English Channel.
The Maginot Line had been circumvented and trampled as if it were a tinker-toy model with match-stick structures – the French army in panicked retreat.
The British Expeditionary Force – basically all Britain’s ground troops (because of almost 20 years of turning a blind eye and deaf ear to Germany’s military build-up and bullying) – these were pinned against the Channel at Dunkirk, awaiting inevitable annihilation.
In surely the most rag-tag flotilla ever assembled, more than 300,000 troops were evacuated from the Dunkirk coast by fishing boats and pleasure craft, freight barges and tugboats, and what few smaller vessels were available from the British Fleet.
Left behind was virtually all of England’s land war material, and now it faced the power and might of the Wermach, without much of an army, and even fewer weapons.
The United States – standing obliquely aside and pontificating about remaining neutral – lest we inadvertently offend either side in ‘Europe’s war’ – watched to see what would happen next.
Winston Churchill – newly installed Prime Minister (at the ripe age of 65) took to the airwaves to rally his nation to what he called the ‘salvation of Christian civilization.’
In a speech to the House of Commons, he spoke of the then-present state of the political environment in the US.
“Our kith and kin in the new world currently labor under the illusion of neutrality. This is too bad, for neutrality in the face of evil is immoral, and standing aside in the face of tyranny is cowardly and fraught with danger. When evil prowls and devours – the issue is existential – and where we stand identifies exactly who we are.”
Where you stand with God is of existential importance for your life here and for the life to come, and identifies exactly who you are.
We celebrate today the central event in all of history.
After having – by His life and mission – fulfilled the ‘just requirement of the Law’ (in Word, deed and in Spirit) – freeing mankind from the curse of Eden – Jesus was crucified, descended into Hell and proclaimed the Gospel to all who had died ‘in the hope’ of the Messiah.
The Bible says “He led captivity captive”, and thus validated the covenant that those who believe God’s promise would be seen by the Father as righteous.
On the 3rd day (the 1st day of the week – Sunday) He was resurrected bodily and spiritually from the dead by the same God He was before creation (‘In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God, and the Word was God’. ‘Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness’.); the God He served while fulfilling His earthly ministry – and the God to whom He would return in glory.
On this issue – the Resurrection of Jesus – the Church must be clear and unequivocal.
On this issue we cannot flirt with the Illusion of Neutrality.
On this issue we cannot stand idly by when subtle or vicious forces of evil whisper things about the Resurrection such as:
‘It is not essential that Jesus rose from the dead bodily. What is important is the ‘spirit of resurrection; of springtime and of earth’s annual reawakening’.
On this issue the Bible does not equivocate – and neither can we.
The Resurrection of Jesus is – as Paul phrases it – ‘of first importance.’
For if He is not raised from the dead, this entire book is a lie.
If He is not alive today in Glory and in the hearts and lives of believers everywhere, then our faith – and the faith of everyone who has ever responded to the Gospel – is less than worthless, because if He is not raised from the dead, then we are not only helpless, we are utterly hopeless.
But He was raised from the dead and He is alive.
It is still His mission both to seek and to save that which was lost.
Including you…and me.
What does this mean to you and for you?
Nothing at all if you have not done business with Jesus.
Nothing at all if you have succumbed to the deadening and dangerous illusion of neutrality.
But if you have trusted the Promise – if you have believed the report – if you have coupled your life to today’s event – here is what Easter means for you.
Abundant shade, and freedom from the snare of the illusion of neutrality.
Easter gives you positional righteousness and informs your entire worldview.
Think about this.
Scripture is absolutely clear about who God is.
Part of the ‘who’ is that He is Righteousness.
He is motive undefiled by ego.
He is compassion uncompromised by politics.
He is Truth undiminished by sophistication or culture or economics or ignorance.
He is God. He is changeless.
He cannot look upon anything unrighteous. The Bible says He cannot be untrue to His nature, and He is most surely not neutral about sin and evil and the consequences thereof.
Making propitiation for sin cost Him everything.
That we humans are unrighteous cannot be seriously questioned. Any 30-minute newscast puts the lie to such absurd philosophy, and a single civil moment examining our own lives dispels any sense of spiritual entitlement.
To most there comes a moment – a time – when the reality of God and the deficiency within ourselves begins to focus.
That ‘God-shaped vacuum’ in the heart begins to ache – or disturb – or trigger spiritual inquiry.
The realization that ‘the very things I would do, I do not. And the very things I would not do, I do.’
When our flirtation with the illusion of neutrality is shown to be thin gruel in the face of our insistent proclivities and we find ourselves in the burning sun of circumstance which threatens, it is then we realize we are spiritually dehydrated from lack of water from salvation’s well.
If we can but even for a moment be segregated from the choices available to us as the result of manifold advantages and manifest blessings we enjoy –(and to which we so easily do feel entitled) – in such a moment we can recognize our circumstance.
A sinner face-to-face with the urgent necessity for righteousness.
And we are in that moment lost; bereft; on the verge of heat-stroke; and we are caught in the middle of the too-long row with no shade in either direction within reach.
We are caught between the pincers of being annihilated by consequences of our choices, or drowned in the deep channel of our humanity.
It is for this moment Jesus fulfilled the Law; it is for this reality that He paid the price; it is for this pivot-point in your life that He endured your Hell and rose again; it is for this existential experience that He became the single final acceptable sacrifice for all.
In this moment when the illusion of neutrality is put to the lie, when the soul-parching heat of choices and habits and attitude and opinions have us spiritually bear-caught – in this moment, Jesus looks at you and says:
Come to Me. Find rest. Find shade. Find true meaning that is never illusory.
Let me evacuate you from peril on the vessel of My grace.
In the amazing providence of God, He says:
‘My love for my creation supervenes.
My desire that My creation be able to know Me overawes.
I have – out of my great love and mercy – made provision for you.’
‘I have done for you what you could not do for yourself.’
‘For all who will but trust, I will impart the Shade of Grace as righteousness such that when I look at you, I will see Jesus.’
‘I will provide a vessel of safety to rescue you from the pincers of sin and death’.
‘For all who will trust, I will remove the illusion of neutrality and replace it with an authentic faith in the One who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.’
Jesus offers every believer positional righteousness such that we can live and move and have our being in the shade of Grace.
Make no mistake, this gifted positional righteousness is far different from behavioral righteousness.
Positional righteousness is not chosen. It is obtained as an inheritance; the family legacy of the Resurrection.
Positional righteousness is a free gift – at God’s initiative – offered but never forced.
Absolutely essential for salvation, but only available because of Easter.
Again, make no mistake.
Behavioral righteousness will always be important because where we stand with God identifies who we are and authenticates our witness.
But Positional Righteousness is how we claim our place in the family of God; it is where we inherit the righteousness of Christ as our engrafted birthright.
It is the shade at the end of the exposed row of life’s vicissitudes.
As behavioral righteousness defines how we see God, positional righteousness defines how God sees us.
The resurrection not only guarantees every promise of God, it also imputes righteousness to you and to me.
When this positional righteousness has been secured for us by Grace, we become empowered by the Holy Spirit to contemplate our choices, our habits, our actions and reactions as members of God’s family – the household of faith.
And we lay down the intellectual and spiritual cowardice of any illusion of neutrality about Jesus.
So, on this Resurrection Sunday, 2016, how is it with you?
Have you been too long in the sun of being a cultural Christian or a believer at the margin?
Are you parched and dry; dehydrated and unsteady?
Are you weakened by exposure and perhaps a bit concerned that the blistering row of life stretching ahead is so long?
Or, have you become acclimated to the heat and maybe do not discern its damage and danger?
Have you lived in the quagmire of the illusion of neutrality about Jesus, and are you perhaps for the first time cognizant of being pincered by your choices and habits.
Do you perceive all you risk?
The very best shade is the shadow of the Cross.
In that shade you will find forgiveness, renewal, refreshing, and rest.
There you will find the wellspring of salvation.
There you will find peace and a quiet spirit.
There you will find your place in the family of God, no longer neutral; rather an authentic witness to Jesus’ Resurrection and to God’s Grace through that sacrifice.
Jesus’ evacuation boat is ready.
Let’s get aboard.
The shade of Grace is free!
Let’s get out of the sun.
He is risen!