Saturday, March 22, 2008

Faithful, One Hundred Per Cent (Matthew 28:1-10)

Sometimes people have the idea that Jesus’ death was pointless.

Truthfully, if we value Jesus only for his ethical teachings or for his message about the love of God, then this question is tough to answer. Many people suggest that Jesus saw himself like a prophet of the old Hebrew kingdoms, speaking truth about oppression and injustice to the powerful people. This Jesus concerns himself with ethical issues, about things that people do and the way that they do them.

He may not have wanted to be killed, but he might have figured on some kind of confrontation. He knew that prophetic messages targeted powerful people and those powerful people would take serious steps to maintain their wealth and positions. By his sacrifice, God might awaken people’s consciences and they might decide to follow God’s law again.

Similar ideas suggest Jesus came to demonstrate God had no barriers between himself and people. Whether they were poor, sick, handicapped, righteous, sinners or whatever, God loved them all equally. He wouldn’t tolerate any human divisions and barriers that people might set up. Again, an unpopular message with the folks on the upper side of those barriers and something that might spur them to quiet the messenger.

And if Jesus were to die to prove his point, or even if his death proved that point whether he planned it or not, well, that would make sense. But if he came back after being dead, then what kind of sacrifice had he really made?

But at its core, Christianity claims that Jesus came to do more than proclaim a message. Of course, he did proclaim one – and one that featured more than a few of the things I mentioned up above. He did speak out against people who used wealth or knowledge or powerful position to take advantage of people who didn’t have those things. He did speak out against the idea that God liked certain kinds of people more than others. He did tell people God loved them. And it sure as heck ticked off those powerful folks who were on top of the heap and set them against him.

That, of course, is not all that he did. He did not just come with a message, he also came to be a message. He came not simply to proclaim God’s salvation, but to be God’s salvation.

In such a case, the crucifixion needs the resurrection in order to matter. Part of Jesus’ message, like I said, was the proclamation that God was with everyone everywhere. God asked people to acknowledge that truth and live it out in their everyday lives. Whether they were rich or poor, Gentile or Jew, male or female, didn’t matter. God simply asked them to display faith in him, trust him and live as he desired.

Such faith knew only one enemy – uncertainty. People might want to believe God was with them when their lives weren’t so great or when they faced real problems, but fear and doubt could block them. Jesus, in what he said and what he did, reassured them their faith was not misplaced.

More or less, we do that a lot for each other. Our testimonies of our own faith and our own experiences help those who go through the same thing we went through. In fact, even though each of us different experiences, when we add up all of humanity we can find the testimony of God standing by people in any situation.

Except one.

Christ claims God never deserts us, even in the life beyond this one. And we don’t have anyone’s testimony to reassure us. Even folks with stories of those visions they have when they’re clinically dead were only gone for minutes, maybe a couple of hours at most. And medical techniques were used on them the whole time they were gone, keeping their bodies from breaking down. None of these stories comes from someone gone for as long as 30 hours, the time from Friday afternoon when Jesus died to sometime early Sunday morning when he rose.

By rising, Jesus demonstrates that we can believe God is present beyond this life and beyond anything we know, because he has gone through that before us.

Before Horton the elephant heard a Who, he sat on an egg for a lazy Mayzie-bird who abandoned her nest. Despite ridicule, awful weather, threats of death and being kidnapped into a circus, Horton sat on that nest because he promised he would – “I meant what I said and I said what I meant…and an elephant’s faithful, one hundred per cent.”

On Easter morning, the Jesus who told us that God is with us no matter what tells us all, “I meant what I said, and I said what I meant…and your God is faithful, one hundred per cent.”

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