Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Lord of the Dead and of the Living

Death and resurrection cannot be separated. This may appear so obvious that saying it seems like a platitude. But what I observe quite often, in the words of others and in my own thoughts, is a dividing of these into two separate categories. Now, it is often necessary and profitable to separate them for the purpose of teaching, to gain the clarity that only comes when a thing is considered in its own right. But it is disastrous to separate these two in actual belief and in the living walk of the believer. Perhaps we have grown too accustomed to thinking of death and resurrection as different subjects. Perhaps it is tidier to deal in false dichotomies than to face the fullness of Christ. We can say with certainty that there are theologies in the church that are based on neglecting or marginalizing either death or resurrection. Protestants avoid crucifixes. Prosperity teachers make great use of 3 John 2 but can’t preach on Philippians 4:12. Christian ascetics love to fast but don’t show up to the wedding feast. In the first few centuries, the church had to vigorously stave off attempts to deny Christ’s divinity or His humanity. I wonder: is diminishing the reality of Christ’s death or Christ’s resurrection any less serious?

In truth, death and resurrection are not subjects at all, but a Person who died and was raised from the dead—Jesus the Lord. We cannot understand them except in Him, and we cannot have fellowship with Him while we minimize one or the other. He is the Life—“which we have looked at and our hands have touched”—that suffered and died on the cross (1 John 1:1). He is the Lamb who reigns yet was slain (Rev. 5:6). The Risen One invites us to touch His wounds (John 20:27). The Seed falls into the ground and dies so that a harvest will come forth (John 12:24). We eat the broken body and poured out blood of Jesus and enter into life through that communion. What a lie we become involved with when we dissect the Christ and subject His death and resurrection to our preferences.

Hebrews 11 is a passage known to many of us as the faith chapter, or, “The Hall of Faith.” Toward the end of this chapter, the author gives a rapid-fire list of things accomplished by faith. As one reads this list, two very distinct groups of saints emerge. Verses 11:33-35 talk of people who conquered, who walked in victory, who lived prosperously, who saw their dead raised to life again. The next three verses are quite different and deal with those who were mocked, tortured, killed, and went about destitute. Yet verse 39 says, “These were all commended for their faith….”

How could living by faith lead to such disparate experiences among God’s people? To make sense of this, we need to remember not just that these saints had faith, but whom their faith was in—the one who would die and rise again. Perhaps they didn’t believe in Jesus explicitly, but they did believe in Him in types and shadows: Abel’s shed blood, Abram receiving Isaac back from the dead, Joseph being raised to the right hand of Pharaoh, the Passover lamb. Clearly, the power of Christ’s resurrection is manifest through the faith of those in verses 11:33-35, while His suffering and death are revealed in the faith of those in verses 11:36-38. If, then, we live by faith in Jesus, we will know Him in the power of His resurrection, the fellowship of His sufferings, and in His death (Php. 3:10).

Unfortunately, we tend to equate faith in Jesus with certain outward circumstances, and we judge others whose situations are different from our own. Some of us think we’re not living by faith unless we are enduring some personal crisis. We might look at a wealthy, successful person and assume there is no way for them to trust the Lord. Conversely, many make the mistake that faith always conquers and never endures. In this mindset, we may think people lack faith if they experience a season of loss, if they don’t get every job promotion they pray for, or if God doesn’t heal them physically. But both of these positions are symptomatic of a Christianity in which death and resurrection are divorced from the person of Christ and are reduced to subjects or historical events.

Ultimately, eternal life is not believing the right things but believing in Him who died and rose again. It is following the Lamb wherever He goes, whether into the tomb or out of it (Rev. 14:4). It is sharing in His anointing and in His anointing for burial (Acts 10:38; Mark 14:3-9). “If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living. You, then, why do you judge your brother?” (Rom. 14:8-10). I pray the Holy Spirit will lead us into all truth through the testimony of Jesus (John 15:26, 16:13).


Richard said...

Hey Teague -- I commented on this over at my own blog, Blogger doesn't directly support trackback, so consider this the next best thing. :)

How's everybody holding up over there with Dorothy?

Have a good Easter. We've got another five and a half weeks to go.

Sent you an Easter gift, by the way. Your post made me think of something.



Matt N. Lundquist said...

When I saw this title I thought of Rom. 14:9 - interesting that you ended up there. Is Paul saying that Christ's Lordship is incomplete if He is only Lord of the living? Freud suggested a "death wish" - thanatos. I'm sure we all experience avoidance of full realization of mortality. It makes sense that such avoidance limits the full realization of resurrection wherein "Death is swallowed up in victory and the mortal in clothed in immortality!"

Carrie said...

I really enjoyed this one honey, :) Love you,