Archives For Easter

“He is risen!,” exclaims one. “He is risen, indeed!, responds another.

This is a traditional Christian greeting. One exclaims the glorious statement of fact, a truth that has gripped and transformed them, “He is risen!” This is followed by a response from another that reflects the same glorious transformation, “He is risen, indeed!”

This greeting is grounded in the historical truth of Jesus’ resurrection. The hope that this expression exudes is grounded in Jesus’ first words to the gathered disciples, “Peace be with you” (Jn. 20:19). Before explaining the significance of this expression, which is both theologically rich, and experientially life-transforming, it will be helpful to recount the events of this “first day of the week” (the day after the Jewish Sabbath, and a statement which reflects this is an early account of the resurrection, since after the resurrection, this day was referred to as “the Lord’s Day,” cf. Rev. 1:10), this day on which Christ was raised, the day we know as Sunday.

  • Early in the morning, a few women discover the empty tomb (Matt. 28:1-7; Mk. 16:1-7; Lk. 24:1-7; Jn. 20:1).
  • The women depart from the garden and inform the disciples (Matt. 28:8-10; Lk. 24:8-11; Jn. 20:2).
  • Peter and John run to the tomb and discover it is empty (Lk. 24:12; Jn. 20:3-10).
  • Mary returns to the tomb and meets the resurrected Jesus (Jn. 20:11-18).
  • Jesus appears to Cleopas and another with him on the road to Emmaus (Lk. 24:13-35).
  • That evening, Jesus appears to the disciples, minus Thomas, in a house in Jerusalem (Lk. 24:36-43; Jn. 20:19-23).

In recounting what occurred on this day of Jesus’ resurrection, John describes these events. It began “early” with the discovery of the empty tomb (Jn. 20:1-10) and Jesus’ appearance to Mary (Jn. 20:11-18). And then “on the evening of that day” Jesus appeared to the disciples (Jn. 20:19-23). Because Thomas was not with the disciples at this time, and when informed of this appearance of Jesus by the other disciples, he would not believe. John records that “eight days later” when the disciples were gathered, this time with Thomas, Jesus appeared to them again (Jn. 20:24-29). This led to Thomas’ confession, “My Lord and my God” (Jn. 20:28)!

With this larger context of John’s recounting of the events surrounding Jesus’ resurrection in mind, I return to the evening of the day in which Jesus was raised. John writes, “On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you’” (Jn. 20:19). This word is key in this first encounter with Jesus. Jesus reiterates this statement, saying “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you” (Jn. 20:21). And then, “eight days later,” when Thomas is now with the other disciples, not having been with them in their first meeting with Jesus, he, once again, meets them in a similar manner and says, “Peace be with you” (Jn. 20:26). In light of the disciples’ fears on the evening of this resurrection day, Jesus’ words of peace refer immediately to their present situation. He reassures them in the midst of certain and real fear of the Jews, they ought to be at “peace.” This is not the first time Jesus mentions peace.

Earlier in the Gospel, John records Jesus saying, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (Jn. 14:27). Jesus gives peace unlike any peace offered by and experienced in the world. Based on the peace Jesus offers, our hearts are not to be troubled or afraid. Jesus reiterates this teaching post-resurrection. Later, Jesus declares, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (Jn. 16:33). Once again, Jesus promises to them peace – peace in the midst of tribulation. The reason is because he has overcome the world. Now when Jesus meets with the disciples on the evening of the first day of the week, the day in which Jesus resurrected, his first words are “Peace be with you.” Not only are they uttered as a culmination of Jesus’ previous teaching. They are also filled with meaning because of his death-burial-resurrection.

Jesus last words from the cross and the first words to his disciples are connected. It only makes sense that the last words of Jesus, “It is finished,” which reflect the completion of the earthly work Christ came to accomplish, are followed immediately after the resurrection with “Peace be with you.” The death-burial-resurrection of Jesus Christ is the ground by which sin, our defiance and rebellion against God, is addressed (Gen. 2:16-17) and his wrath is propitiated (Rom. 3:21-26). Faith is the means by which this completed, finished work of Christ is received in our lives. That is, if we truly understand Jesus’ final words from the cross, we then ought to expect that Jesus’ first words to the disciples would be “Peace be with you.”

G. R. Beasley-Murray, a New Testament scholar, captures the essence of this truth in the following statement:

It is well known that that was (and still is) the everyday greeting of Jews in Palestine – ‘Shalom to you!’ But this was no ordinary day. . . . Never had that ‘common word’ been so filled with meaning as when Jesus uttered it on Easter evening. All that the prophets had poured into shalom as the epitome of the blessings of the kingdom of God had essentially been realized in the redemptive deeds of the incarnate Son of God, ‘lifted up” for the salvation of the world. “His ‘Shalom!’ on Easter evening is the completion of ‘It is finished’ on the cross, for the peace of reconciliation and life from God is now imparted. ‘Shalom!’ accordingly is supremely the Easter greeting. Not surprisingly it is included, along with ‘grace,’ in the greeting of every epistle of Paul in the NT.

It is finished . . . Peace be with you. These two historical statements are rich with theological truth, and essential for our new life in Christ. The peace pronounced and accomplished by Jesus in the New Testament is the fulfillment of the shalom promised in the Old Testament.

Shalom, according to one, is “one of the key words and images for salvation in the Bible. The Hebrew word refers most commonly to a person being uninjured and safe, whole and sound. In the New Testament, shalom is revealed as the reconciliation of all things to God through the work of Christ. . . . Shalom experienced is multidimensional, complete well-being – physical, psychological, social, and spiritual; it flows form all of one’s relationships being put right – with God, with(in) oneself, and with others.” Although there is some overlap with how this term is understood outside of Christianity, there is a unique use of the term due to the death-burial-resurrection of Jesus Christ.

In essence, what makes this unique, concludes one, is “the offended party (God) initiates the process of reconciliation with his enemy. It is not humans who approach God to make peace, but God who reaches out to humanity. . . . it is by means of the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ that peaceful relations between God ad humanity can be effected.” It is emphasized in the Aaronic blessing/doxology in the Old Testament, “The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace (Num. 26:24-26), and the person and work of Jesus Christ in the New Testament, “he himself is our peace” (Eph. 2:14).

On this day in which we remember and celebrate this peace we have received, we ultimately worship the One who brought this peace, Jesus Christ, who is the “Prince of Peace” (Isa. 9:6), and is himself our peace (Eph. 2:14ff). Here are a few implications of Jesus’ completion of his earthly work (“it is finished”) and the peace he brings (“peace be with you”).

First, we have peace with God. “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. . . . There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 5:1; 8:1).

Second, we have peace with one another. “For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father” (Eph. 2:14-17).

Third, we live lives marked by the peace of God and the God of peace. “The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. . . . What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me– practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you” (Phil. 4:5b-7, 9).

Finally, we live with the certainty of future, ultimate peace (shalom). “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross” (Col. 1:19-20).

Dear friends, on this day we remember and worship Christ, confessing he is “My Lord and my God!”

Peace be with you!

John Chrysostom: An Easter Sermon

Greg Strand – March 27, 2016 2 Comments

On this day we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, I share a sermon preached by John Chrysostom (ca. 347-407) in the fourth century. Prior to his sermon, I share some information about Chrysostom the man, one of the early church fathers, which will give you some background as you read through the sermon from Chrysostom the preacher (the golden mouthed preacher).

Chrysostom excelled in the disciplines of rhetoric and law. However, not finding satisfaction in these studies, he pursued Christian asceticism. While living an ascetic life, he pursued God and almost ruined his health. It was a means God used to refine and prepare him for another kind of ministry.

Leaving a more monastic life, he moved to the city and adopted a less physically rigorous lifestyle and engaged in a more public ministry. Being recognized for his God-given gifts, Chrysostom was ordained a deacon in 381 and an elder in 386. His primary role as an elder was preaching. God used his earlier training, especially in rhetoric, to expound the Word of God will clarity and with power. Eventually in 398, Chrysostom was appointed Patriarch of Constantinople, a role in which he served until his death in 407. He was committed to reform, both the moral leniency of pastors/clergy and the moral corruptness of the city. This commitment of ministry and message, led to trials and difficulties for the nine years he served in this role. Toward the end of his life, he was exiled because he defied an imperial order. While in exile he died.

God had gifted Chrysostom greatly as a preacher of the Word of God. God also gave him an inner resolve of courage and conviction. He spoke truth boldly. As is often true, when he exercised his God-given gift of preaching, he found strength, concluding, “Preaching improves me. When I begin to speak, weariness disappears; when I begin to teach, fatigue too disappears.” But as is also often the case, when one exercises those gifts of preaching truth, particularly when it is a call to reform, it may lead to trouble and tribulation. This is true for one of the early church’s most gifted preachers.

One notes, “In this role his rhetorical skills amplified by his scholarship and piety earned him a reputation as a biblical expositor second to none.” Based on his published sermons, treatises and letters (600 sermons and 200 letters survive), later generations concluded the same, with leaders in the sixth century church referring to Chrysostom as Chrysostomos, “golden mouthed,” i.e. Chrysostom is the “golden mouthed preacher.”

Chrysostom’s “theology was expressed primarily in his sermons and was neither systematic, precise, nor original. His sermons drew spiritual and moral applications from a literal and grammatical exegesis of the Scriptures.” Chrysostom was given the title “Doctor of the Church, as he is considered one of the great early church fathers of the East, along with a few other church fathers of the East, Basil the Great, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Athanasius.

Read, ponder and mediate on the truth expounded by John Chysotom in this fourth century Easter sermon.

The Easter sermon of John Chrysostom” (circa 400 AD)

Are there any who are devout lovers of God?
Let them enjoy this beautiful bright festival!

Are there any who are grateful servants?
Let them rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord!

Are there any weary with fasting?
Let them now receive their wages!

If any have toiled from the first hour,
let them receive their due reward;
If any have come after the third hour,
let him with gratitude join in the Feast!
And he that arrived after the sixth hour,
let him not doubt; for he too shall sustain no loss.
And if any delayed until the ninth hour,
let him not hesitate; but let him come too.
And he who arrived only at the eleventh hour,
let him not be afraid by reason of his delay.
For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first.
He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour,
as well as to him that toiled from the first.

To this one He gives, and upon another He bestows.
He accepts the works as He greets the endeavor.
The deed He honors and the intention He commends.
Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord!

First and last alike receive your reward;
rich and poor, rejoice together!
Sober and slothful, celebrate the day!
You that have kept the fast, and you that have not,
rejoice today for the Table is richly laden!

Feast royally on it, the calf is a fatted one.
Let no one go away hungry. Partake, all, of the cup of faith.
Enjoy all the riches of His goodness!

Let no one grieve at his poverty,
for the universal kingdom has been revealed.

Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again;
for forgiveness has risen from the grave.

Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Savior has set us free.
He has destroyed it by enduring it.
He destroyed Hell when He descended into it.
He put it into an uproar even as it tasted of His flesh.

Isaiah foretold this when he said,
“You, O Hell, have been troubled by encountering Him below.”
Hell was in an uproar because it was done away with.
It was in an uproar because it is mocked.
It was in an uproar, for it is destroyed.
It is in an uproar, for it is annihilated.
It is in an uproar, for it is now made captive.

Hell took a body, and discovered God.
It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.

O death, where is thy sting?
O Hell, where is thy victory?

Christ is Risen, and you, o death, are annihilated!
Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is Risen, and life is liberated!

Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead;
for Christ having risen from the dead,
is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Him be Glory and Power forever and ever. Amen!

During this season of the year we preach (hear) sermons and teachings on the cross of Christ. When we focus on the cross, it also means that we focus on the person of Jesus Christ, the God-man.

Preaching and teaching on Christology requires good biblical and theological thinking and careful speaking. Often when one attempts to make a point, a statement is made rhetorically to make the point. At other times, one makes a statement in such a way that it creates surprise or shock, often because it has not been considered previously so it becomes another means of teaching or correcting misunderstanding. This will often occur when one addresses teachings that are controversial or teachings; that are “deep and wide.” When we have plumbed the depths of these profound truths, we have only scratched the surface.

There is mystery in theology. This is not to claim it is illogical or mystical, but there are some things we can know, there are things we know in a mirror dimly, and there are some things that belong to the secret things of God. This does not lead to passivity in our study of biblical truth or fear. Rather it leads to conviction and humility – conviction because though we do not know, understand or speak truth exhaustively, the truth we know and speak is true truth; humility because there is so much more to God than He has revealed and that we know.

As we speak with conviction and humility, we must be careful because we can make theological mistakes on one side or another. This is especially true regarding the person and work of Christ. When we speak of these matters, we must do so anchored in the Scriptures as the absolute norm (norma absoluta), which from this foundational truth is also the norming norm (norma normans) as it is used to formulate confessions, with the confessional creeds in the supportive role to Scripture (norma normata), especially the Nicene-Constantinople (381) and Chalcedon (451), which serve as our guard rails. We must ensure we don’t end up in theological aberration, heterodoxy, or worse yet, heresy regarding these essential doctrines to the Christian faith. To this end, we humbly engage in “faith seeking understanding” (fides quaerens intellectum).

A recent example of this was a question asked, in rhetorical form, and answered by David Murray Was Jesus Still God in the Tomb? Though there is much to commend in his brief reply, here is what is important to read and question:

Was Jesus God in the womb? Was Jesus God in the tomb? You probably answered yes to the first question, but hesitated to do so over the second, didn’t you? Although it’s brain-bursting to think of God as an embryo, it’s brain-numbing to think of God as a corpse. . . . But was Jesus not also on a cold slab of rock in a Middle Eastern cave? Yes, He was. While His human soul was separated from His body, His divine nature was separated from neither and never will be. His divine nature was as united to His lifeless body on earth as it was to His glorified soul in heaven. . . . Christ’s body and soul, His manhood, were inseparably joined together to the divine person of Christ. Therefore if I had walked into the garden tomb and gazed on Christ’s outstretched body, I not only could have, but should have, fallen to the ground and said, “My Lord and my God.” That dead body was still God and therefore deserving of worship.

Steve Wellum, professor of Christian Theology at Southern Seminary, and author of the forthcoming book on Christology in the Foundations of Evangelical Theology series (Crossway), replied through answering another rhetorical question: Was God Really in the Tomb as a Corpse? Wellum responds broadly by focusing on “the language of God in the incarnation,” “the language of hypostatic union,” and “the pre-glorified body of Christ.”

Regarding the language of the incarnation, Wellum notes,

Dr. Murray’s use of language regarding the incarnation, though legitimate in most places, needs more precision in order to avoid misunderstanding. . . . one must be careful in the use of God without qualification. . . . When we use the word God we mostly think of God in his entire being. . . . In order to be more precise in (1) how we speak of the incarnation, (2) how we use the word God, and then (3) how we apply this language to Christ’s death, it is better to say that God the Son was in the womb, God the Son died—not God without qualification. In the incarnation it is God the Son who becomes incarnate (not the Father and Spirit) and in the death of Christ, it is God the Son who dies (not God without qualification).

Wellum then addresses the language related to the hypostatic union.

Classical Christology, grounded in such a statement as John 1:14, makes it clear that it is the Word or the person of the Son who adds to himself a human nature which consists of a body and soul. As a result, the Son, not the divine nature of the Son, subsists now in two natures: (1) his divine nature which he shares with the Father and Spirit, and (2) his human nature, which is his own. . . . The divine nature of the Son did not add to himself or unite himself to a human nature; instead it was the person of the Son who forever subsists in the divine nature and who now adds to himself a human nature. . . . Christ’s two distinct natures were inseparably joined together in one person.

Finally, Wellum addresses the heart of Murray’s question as he focuses on the pre-glorified body of Christ. Though I summarized the previous responses, I include his complete response on this one since it is vital to understand.

We now come to the issue of how we are to think of Christ’s body in the tomb prior to his glorious resurrection. Do we say that as we gaze on Christ’s lifeless body that “God was a corpse” or “God was in the tomb” or that we should bow down and worship the dead body of Christ?

Obviously these are not easy issues, but I would not state it just as Dr. Murray has stated it. Instead, I would say the following. On the cross, God the Son incarnate died. How do I say such a thing? On the basis of thecommunicatio idiomatum: whatever is true of the natures may be predicated of the person and since it is the person, not the natures, which lives and acts, it is legitimate to say that on the cross God the Son died. But what exactly does this entail metaphysically speaking? I do not think it entails that the person of the Son or the divine nature dies in the sense that the Son does not continue to act, live, and rule. What it does mean is that the Son experiences death in and through his human nature so that the person of the Son experiences a separation of his human body and soul. As a result, Christ’s human body is now temporarily separated from him and put in the grave, while he, as the person of the Son, continues to subsist in his human soul and his divine nature. If we think about our death, assuming a duality to our nature, when we die we as persons continue to exist in and through our souls, but our human bodies are placed in the grave and there is an abnormal separation in our human nature of body from soul. In a similar way, in and through his human nature, this is what God the Son experiences. During this time, God the Son is still fully human because he continues to subsist in his human soul, yet he experiences for this intermediate period a separation in his human nature as he awaits the full union of his body and soul at the resurrection.

Is it legitimate then to say that when we enter the tomb, “God is a corpse” or “God is in the tomb”? I would not state it this way. What I would say is that the human body of God the Son is in the tomb even though he, as the Son, continues to live, rule, and sustain the universe. One has to be careful, as noted above, not to give the impression that somehow God is dead (when he is not) nor even that God the Son is now a corpse (which he is not). What is dead is the human body of Christ which has been temporarily separated from his human soul and which in less than three days will be reunited so that our Lord Jesus Christ, in his glorified human nature, will be seen.

Might this commitment to biblical fidelity and doctrinal/theological precision not lead you to frustration or despair, but rather to delight – delighting in the Lord Jesus Christ and worship of Him!

I have previously stated my annual practice of reading a new book each year during major times of the church year like Christmas and Easter. This year I wrote about The Final Days of Jesus.

Each day this week Justin Taylor posts a short clip (about five minutes) of different New Testament scholars explaining the significance – historical, cultural, sociological, political and theological – of each day in the final week of Jesus’ life addressing: the triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the Passover meal/last supper/Lord’s Supper eaten with His disciples, the ignominious crucifixion, and the glorious resurrection.

Palm Sunday, Day 1: In this clip with New Testament professors Doug Moo (Wheaton College Graduate School) and Andreas Köstenberger (Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary), they address the historical phenomenon of the feast of the unleavened bread culminating in the Passover, and what it would mean for the city of Jerusalem, a city of 40,000 that could become six times that number during this celebration, and what that would have meant to Roman and Jewish leaders.

Monday, Day 2: In this clip with New Testament professors Nicholas Perrin (Wheaton College) and Grant Osborne (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School), they focus specifically on “the cursing of the fig tree, the cleansing of the temple, and the role of the temple in the theology and practice of Jesus.”

We watched the first one last evening as part of our family devotions. I encourage you to join me to listen and learn from these scholars as they teach on the text of Scripture regarding Jesus’ final week leading up to the cross and resurrection. Come back to Taylor’s blog each day this week to hear the rest of the teaching.

One of the disciplines I began early in ministry was reading a new book on one of the major doctrines associated with the church year. I previously shared about this discipline as it pertains to Christmas.

Before addressing this topic, it might be helpful to say a word about the church year. Most Evangelicals, pastors and local churches do not follow the church year. They follow much more closely the civil year and acknowledge those days in the church, e.g. Mother’s and Father’s Day, 4th of July, and others, than the days associated with the church year. The exception for many are two of the most important days for all Christians, the incarnation of Jesus Christ, celebrated at Christmas, and the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, remembered at Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter.

It is important to acknowledge that there is nothing sacred or inerrant about the church year. A local church is not obligated to follow a church year in that there is no biblical mandate to do so. Many Evangelicals moved away from following the church year because of the negative, ritualistic approach to it. It was rote, empty and meaningless. However, if a local church does not follow the structure of the church year, they will still follow a structure. The question is which one. Misuse and abuse does not necessarily mean one ought to no longer use. It might entail using with the right motives, for the right reasons, to a good end. Regardless of the strengths and weaknesses of following a church year, and there are both, a church year does provide structure to the Christian’s corporate life as the people of God centered around Jesus Christ and the major events around Him.

Now I move back to the season of the church year we are entering: Lent and Easter. In the past I have read many books on the atonement and the resurrection. This year I will be reading the new book written by Andreas Kostenberger and Justin Taylor, The Final Days of Jesus: The Most Important Week of the Most Important Person Who Ever Lived (Wheaton; Crossway, 2014).

The book addresses the final week of Jesus’ life leading to the cross (pp. 13-14).

This book covers Jesus’s final days. In these pages you will read the eyewitness accounts of what the most important person who ever lives said and did during the most important week of his life. Sunday through Sunday – from what we now call ‘Palm Sunday’ to ‘Easter Sunday’ – we will put the accounts together in roughly chronological order, letting you read all four records of these events as we seek to explain to the best of our ability what is happening.

The book’s primary focus is on the biblical account of the final week of Jesus’ life, culminating in his crucifixion, burial and resurrection. It does this through attention to historical detail and theological insight, with the ultimate goal being worship of the Lord Jesus Christ (p. 21).

 While the primary purpose of this book is not academic – instead, our desire is to provide an aid to informed worship – and we have thus refrained from providing extensive references to the scholarly literature, the discussion is informed by responsible evangelical scholarship. There is a rich tapestry of historical detail, literary artistry, and theological insight to be gleaned from the Gospel accounts of Jesus’s final week, and we have done our best to include all the relevant material and to do so in a way that is informative, intelligible, and interesting to read. . . .  It is our prayer that God will see fit to use this volume to bring glory to himself and to the Lord Jesus Christ.

 As those who have experienced the new life in Christ, we remember, celebrate and worship the risen, ascended and exalted Lord Jesus Christ and we eagerly await His return. As those who have experienced new birth, we are known as Easter people, a truth that transforms our lives and every day of our lives (p. 203).

 Jesus’s ‘final days’ were not the end, however, While his sinless life, substitutionary death, and triumphant resurrection accomplished our salvation, Jesus’s work still continues. After he ascended to heaven and took his place at his Father’s side, he sent the Holy Spirit to empower the church’s gospel witness to the ends of the earth. Even now, he upholds the universe by his powerful word, intercedes for us with the Father, and is preparing a place for us in heaven. At one glorious future day, he will return to take us home with him. He will judge the unbelieving world, and the devil and his demons, and we will live with him in God’s presence for all eternity.

What book are you planning to read this year to accompany the church’s celebration of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, of Good Friday and Easter? I commend The Final Days of Jesus.

UPDATE: If you want to hear from the authors, here is a brief interview.