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Keep Good Friday and Easter Together

Keep Good Friday and Easter Together

Easter services are much better attended than Good Friday services. I suspect this is inherent in human nature. We prefer the solution to the hardship getting there. We prefer the happy ending to the suffering that led up to it.

It’s not surprising that we do. Who doesn’t prefer those good times? Who doesn’t want to have as an affirmation of faith the proclamation: He Is Risen!

But our reality is much different. We live through hard times. We have those moments when it seems all is lost. We suffer through times of waiting, wondering whether things can get better or not. Moments of great victory come at a cost.

Holy week illustrates this so effectively. Jesus has toiled through the hardship of His ministry, facing rejection and opposition. Then all comes to a climax, not in victory, but in arrest, trial and death. Almost everyone concludes that things are all over. He’s dead. What are we going to do.

Then there is the silence and waiting of the Saturday between. What will happen as the new week begins? Will they be coming after us? What do we have to do.

And then there is Easter Sunday morning.

We say “He is risen!” with enthusiasm and joy, but many of those who first heard it said it with doubt, fear, and concern. What were they to believe now?

But it becomes more and more certain. They know He has risen from the dead. Triumph!

But what happens now? Is it all an easy run to the end?

No! It is time to be witnesses, to face the trials that come after.

Whenever we pretend that the Christian life is going to be easy and without difficulty, we set someone up for a failure of faith.

So what good did it all do?

There is something more important that Good Friday has to say to us. Yes, it tells us that God knows our suffering. Jesus has been through what we go through. I like to emphasize that when we explain why Jesus had to die the death that He did, we include the simple fact that it was the kind of death that human power provided for someone like Him at the time He appeared. Something different would not be experiencing what we experience.

It also tells us that Jesus is the Lord of Life, who has conquered death. He is not only sympathetic, but He has the power to do something about it.

But it also tells us that Jesus suffered with us for a purpose, and He takes us with us. I was strongly impressed with this as I read Ephesians 2 recently.

Here are some points:

  1. Jesus came to us when we weren’t ready for Him (2:1-3). We can know He means it, because it wasn’t our good looks or attractive personalities that brought Him here.
  2. It was because of love and mercy (2:4-5; see point #1).
  3. He makes us alive with Him (2:5). We have an eternal destiny.
  4. In Christ, we have a glorious purpose (2:6).
  5. It’s a gift. This is important because what we can earn, we can fall short of (2:8-9).
  6. We are his creation, so forget all the ancestry sites (2:9).
  7. We have work to do, but it is work that He planned, that He empowers, and that He carries out.

Ultimately, this lets us know that whatever we are, we are in the One who created us. We live for a purpose, a purpose that is created, assigned, and carried out through that one power. We do not live for futility, even in the greatest of darkness.

So if, on the Monday after Easter Sunday you don’t feel very much like an Easter person, remember that many who heard of the resurrection didn’t either, but God had a purpose for them.

In Him, everything (Ephesians 3:14-21).

Might I recommend slowly and meditatively reading the whole book of Ephesians, or at least chapters 2 & 3?

(The featured image is of my wedding wring, which has “Ephesians 3:14-21” inscribed inside of it. This passage was read at Jody’s and my wedding.)

Ephesians 2: The Radical Nature of the Gospel

Ephesians 2: The Radical Nature of the Gospel

As I’ve been reading this passage repeatedly this week, I have been repeatedly struck by the radical nature of what Paul is saying here. I’m surprised we don’t spend more time on it, because it seems to me to clarify many things that are left unclear in Galatians and Romans.

Of course, considering the discussion of authorship, if one thinks Paul did not write the letter, one would hardly go there for a clear statement of Paul’s view. I think a similar corrective would be provided if one added the undoubtedly genuine 1 & 2 Corinthians to the mix when one wants to determine Paul’s theology.

In the meantime, however, Ephesians 2 remains radical. There are two ways in which this impressed me.

1) Contrary to what many modern readers imagine, the gospel message of grace received through faith does not treat works negatively, provided they are in their proper place. If I walk a couple of miles a day with a view to reaching Australia, I will likely be disappointed. There’s an ocean between here and there, and I keep winding up at my starting point. If I do the same thing for exercise, however, it’s a good thing.

Works done to earn God’s favor are destined to fail. Since all that we do is by definition a result of God’s gift to us (of life, before salvation), we can’t actually create something that God needs in order to make God owe us something. But to fail to attempt good works, however imperfectly we may accomplish our mission, after we have received God’s grace, is not only ungrateful, it is a rejection of the gift. The gift of grace makes good works possible.

For by grace you are saved through faith. Yet this is not from you. It is God’s gift. It’s not from works, so nobody can boast. For his creation is what you are, created in Christ Jesus for good works, so you can walk in them (2:8-10).

I also note that the exclusion of boasting as a reason why works are not the source of our salvation also excludes an intellectual sense of achievement in grasping and accepting the gospel. We are also not saved through intellectually comprehending the theology of salvation. We are not better than the person who cannot comprehend the theology.

2) This radical gospel could not have been produced using a modern hermeneutic. It must add to, and in some cases transform, what came before. I do not mean to suggest that Judaism was a graceless religion. I think it was filled with grace. I think the transformation is rooted in the Torah and developed in its early stages by the prophets.

But that entire process required just that—a process. God’s message came at various times and at various places before God finally spoke to us through God’s Son (Hebrews 1:1-3). Is there a more profound way for God to speak than through the incarnation? I don’t think so. But there is the possibility that we will more and more deeply understand the implications of God’s message.

In the face of this radical gospel, our hermeneutic of God’s entire revelation is often not radical enough to let us hear God calling us ever deeper.

I apply this idea to my previous note on egalitarian and complementarian texts. Rather than seeking a filter for those commands that are eternal and those that are temporal (and I suggest that all commands are both eternal and temporal; always given for a time and place, always deriving their force from an eternal principle), we need to be asking how God’s revelation should continue transform our natures and attitudes, both individually and as Christ’s body.

I think this is the failure both of many of us (definitely including myself) and of much of  the 21st century American church.