Thursday, January 28, 2010

Way of the Cross pt. 3

Sermon 3 – Power of the Resurrection

So we have the practice of the cross (sacrifice and service). We have the pattern of the cross and resurrection (suffering followed by glory). But then, of course, we have the power of the resurrection. We haven’t quite put the full picture in here. The NT talks in the most extraordinary way about the power that is ours through the resurrection. Because of time I don’t want to elaborate on that a whole lot, but just think of Ephesians 1:18-20,

“8I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, 20which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms.”

Paul prays that we might know the incomparably great power that is ours in Christ, as it is the power of resurrection. There was Jesus lying in the tomb. Rotting flesh. And God reached down in power and pulled him back from death. That power is in you this morning. That’s astonishing, isn’t it? It’s kind of fizzing… I think of it fizzing through me. Like some super hero. Paul is writing to Ephesus, the center of cult activity. I think they felt the weight of evil and darkness around them. I can imagine that. Paul says, “You have God’s incomparably great power at work in you.”

We don’t have time to elaborate, but also we have freedom. Because of the resurrection we have been set free from the power of sin and death. And we have life. We have resurrection life flowing through our veins. And all of that because we have the Spirit. The eschatological Spirit. That is, the role of the Spirit as Paul describes it in Ephesians 1 is to take the life of the age to come and make it real. Make it present for us. And so the Spirit is the empowering Spirit. The liberating Spirit. The life giving Spirit. We have the Spirit of resurrection. The Spirit who gives us resurrection life (Romans 8) so that we have power, freedom and life. But the experience of resurrection power, freedom and life is only half the picture. If you stop there your Christian discipleship will go seriously off course.

What is the power for?

Acts 1-4

[Power To Be Weak]
Let me show you four verses.
“I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection.”
Phillipians 3
“He lives by God’s power. By God’s power we live with him.”
2 Corinthians 13.
“We pray this in order that you might live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way, being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might.”
Colossians 1.
“For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self discipline.”
2 Timothy 1:7

Let me go back to the first for a moment. I once saw an ad for a conference in a magazine, quoting those words. “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection.” That was across the top of the ad for the conference, and it promised a time of power and of victory. But that is only half the sentence, and it wasn’t meant to be read on its own. All those verses that we just read contain wonderful truths, and truths that we’ve really got to get into our hearts. Otherwise, we will give up. We will be defeatists. But they all go on, and this is how Philippians goes on, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.” Interesting that it’s that way around. We’ll think a bit about that in a moment. Imagine if you had the second part on its own. Boy, you’d be in trouble, wouldn’t you?

If we are called to the sharing in the fellowship of Christ’s suffering, and becoming like him in his death, we don’t have a hope of doing that unless we have power, a resurrection power.

Ok, let’s carry on.
Here’s 2 Cor.,
“He was crucified in weakness, yet he lives by God’s power.”

That’s the pattern of suffering followed by glory.
“Likewise, we are weak in him, yet by God’s power we live with him to serve you.”

See how that fits together?
“We pray this that we might be strengthened with God’s power according to his glorious might, so that you might have great endurance and patience.”

He says, I long for you to have power and might so that you might have endurance and patience.
“God did not give us a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power, love and self-discipline, so do not be ashamed to testify about our lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel by the power of God.”

So what have we got there?
We have power to love, power to serve, power to endure, power to suffer.
That is the language of NT power.
Resurrection power to be like Christ in his death.
“Power to be weak.”

That’s my kind of headline.
That’s so counter-intuitive, isn’t it?
Power to be weak.
Power to endure.
Power to suffer.

What does it mean when I say power to be weak?
I think first of all, it means laying aside our power, our rights, our status.
We become humbly, lowly, meek, gentle servants, slaves.
Servants of God and servants of others.
We no longer look to be served…
…but to serve and to give our lives for others.
We are no longer kind of jockeying for privilege and status and influence.
We esteem others as better than ourselves.
We put their interests above our own.
We die to self.

For all of that, we need power that we might live that life of weakness.
And I think too, power to be weak means God uses our weakness, our frailty, our foolishness.
He doesn’t use superheroes, or superstars.
He uses ordinary, weak, fragile people like you and me.
And you need to GET a vision for that.
He does it so that his glory shines out through us.
“But the Lord said to me,” famous verse says, “my grace is sufficient for you.
For my power is made perfect in weakness.
Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”

So we have power to be weak.
Then remember we have freedom. (resurrection freedom.)
There’s a good statement of freedom: “I am free and belong to no man.”
I’m just struck by how that could be a slogan of our age, couldn’t it?
I mean, that is the kind of motif of our culture.
I am free!
You are not the boss of me!
I am free and belong to no man.
Well, ok, that’s what Paul says, but let’s put it into context.
“Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone to win as many as possible.”
In other words, we have freedom to serve.

That’s what Paul in Galatians 5, isn’t it?
“Do not use your freedom to indulge yourself but to serve one another in love.”

What freedoms do you forgo in order to serve other Christians?
How are you adapting and changing for the sake of mission?
To whom are you a slave, that you might win them?

The Moravians sold themselves into slavery to reach other slaves.

So we have power to be weak, freedom to serve, and then we have life to die.

[Hiddenness of Christ]

Turn with me to Colossians 3. Before I do that, let me ask you a question. How does the NT most commonly describe what we refer to as the return of Christ? His appearing. His revelation. His manifestation. We’ve met it already in 1 Peter, “When Christ is revealed.” It does use the language of return, but not very much, actually. Mostly, it’s “when Christ is revealed.” Because, the pattern of suffering followed by glory, the cross followed by resurrection… That is the pattern, not only for Christian discipleship, but actually for the whole world. See, the cross is not only the great expression of divine love; it is also the great expression of human hatred, and sin, and rebellion. When we get the chance, we kill our creator. It reveals who we are. And so our world still lives as if it were under the cross. The cross still characterizes the world in which we live. A world in rebellion against God. A world that forsakes God. And a world that is cursed by God, that is forsaken by God.

When you open a newspaper… See, Jesus says, “all authority in heaven and earth has been given to me.” When you read your newspaper, is that what you see? Do you see a world under the authority of Christ? No. Of course not. You see a world characterized by the cross. A world of rebellion and hatred towards God. We live in a world waiting to be redeemed. A world that one day will be gloriously redeemed, liberated from its bondage to decay. But in the present it still is in bondage to decay. It still is cursed by God. It is still in rebellion against God. There is still that pattern of cross and resurrection, which is true for us, is true for Christ, is true for the world.

Christ has been raised as Lord, but his lordship is a hidden lordship. His kingdom is a hidden kingdom. And we really need to rediscover that sense of hiddenness and look forward to the day of revelation.

Let me read verses 1 to 4.
“1Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4When Christ, who is your[a] life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”

So there you see that pattern. We are waiting for Christ to appear, for his glory to be revealed to the world. At the moment it is hidden from the world. But actually, that is true of us. We too have been given life. We have been given resurrection life, but, sorry to disappoint, but looking around the room there is not a lot of evidence of a resurrection body. Not like Jesus had. Some of you look pretty much subject to decay. You know what I mean? We’re not appearing in locked rooms. And actually, we are being sick and decaying. The resurrection life we have is not yet manifest in our bodies. It is a hidden life. That’s what Paul is saying. Your life is hidden with Christ, in God. When Christ, who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. There will be a day when your resurrection life will be apparent, when it will appear, when it will be manifest, but at the moment it is a hidden life. You can’t pick Christians out from a crowd. You can’t say, “Well that one obviously is a Christian, because they are kind of glowing a bit. Sort of floating over the ground with little halos over their heads. Or, the signs of aging haven’t struck them.” They’re not like Aragorn. You know Aragorn is 88 in the story because he’s not affected by aging. It’s not visibly apparent. It’s a hidden life. Ok?

So how is it manifest? How do we see resurrection life at work? Well, let’s read the next verse.
“5Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.”

Put to death. We have life, to die. We have resurrection life. At the present it is a hidden life. One day it will be revealed in glory. But in the present, resurrection life is revealed now in the way of the cross, in a kind of hidden way. That’s kind of a contrary way, isn’t it? Life revealed in death. As you die to self, as you die to sin, resurrection life is revealed.

[Resurrection Life Manifested]

And that’s precisely what Paul says again in 2 Cor. 4:10-11.

“10We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body.”

How is the life of Jesus revealed in our body?
It is as we carry around in our body the death of Jesus.
That means that our life is revealed as we live for the way of the cross.
But it also means that we live the way of the cross through the life of Jesus that is ours through the Spirit.

We have the resurrection life to follow the way of the cross.
We need resurrection life to follow the way of the cross.

We are called to serve, to suffer, to love, to die to self. How can we do that?
We can do that because we are given resurrection life…
…God’s incomparably great power.
And as we do it, we reveal Christ to people.
We have this treasure in jars of clay, as Paul describes it.
This all-surpassing power is from God, not from us.
You reveal Christ’s transforming power to people.
You reveal Christ’s cross to people.
You reveal Christ’s grace to people as we live the way of the cross.

One day the skies will be filled with the glory of God.
One day everyone will see the resurrected glory of Jesus.
One day.
But already, resurrection glory is revealed in your home, in your street, in your workplace, in your school, as you follow the way of the cross.
As you deny yourself, serve others, and love the Lord Jesus.

The churches that are growing are the persecuted churches because persecution forces you to decide whether you are going to follow the way of the cross or not. Because all the decisions are bound up in the choice to be a martyr.
So in some ways we’ve got a harder job because we’ve got to bring that way of looking at the world to our people in the context of affluence and ease and call them to the way of the cross and the way of sacrifice, the way of suffering followed by glory, in the hope of resurrection.

[Promise of Resurrection]
All of this is done in the context of the promise of resurrection. “Lay up for yourselves treasure in heaven rather than treasure on earth.” “Our labor is not in vain.” The whole 1 Cor. 15 where Paul talks about the resurrection. The climax to that is, “don’t lose heart, our labor is not in vain.” And then of course we have the Lord Jesus Christ…

Hebrews 11 is showing the whole of the OT, saying that all these saints in the OT did what they did because they were looking forward. Hebrews defines faith as looking forward to what is to come, to glory. Moses gives up the pleasures of Egypt because he’s looking ahead. Egypt was the super power of the day. Moses was a son of Pharoah. He was the son of Mega Rich of his day. Just vast fortune. And he gives it all up because he’s looking ahead to the reward that Christ would give him. So there’s that pattern all the way through.

The Egyptians thought they could take it with them. But they couldn’t. I know that because most of their wealth is now in the British museum. Moses made a good choice.

And then it came to a climax, even when Jesus himself endures the cross for the joy set before him. Suffering followed by glory. Even Jesus is fixing his eyes on the joy that is to come. In order that he might endure the cross.

I want to head back to the beginning because if I were doing this properly, this is what I would have started with, but I wanted to make this my climax. Because we talked about the practice of the cross, the pattern of cross and resurrection (suffering followed by glory) the power of resurrection and the weak. Then we end with the promise of resurrection. I am getting very susceptible to the power of alliteration, as you can see. I used to hate it, but there you are, all of us fall eventually.

[Pardon of the Cross]

All of this will crush you if you don’t begin with the pardon of the cross.
The humble confidence that we have because Christ has died for us.
And I know you want practical stuff for your life, but please, this is the most practical thing you can understand for your walk.
The most practical thing is to bring yourself back again and again to the cross and to the grace of God.

The way of the cross will crush you if you don’t embrace the grace of the cross.
And not just then, back when you first went to God for forgiveness.
But day, by day, by day.
Every morning we need to wake up and say, there is now no condemnation for those that are in Christ Jesus.
We are great sinners, but we have a great savior in Jesus, in Christ.

God does not merely tolerate us.
He delights in us.
In fact, we make him sing.
Zephaniah 3:17,
“The Lord your God is with you. He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you. He will quiet you with his love. He will rejoice over you with singing.”

We make God sing because he looks at us in Christ.
He looks at what Christ has done for us and what Christ has made us.
And he rejoices over us with singing.

When you look into the face of God, what do you see?
When you pray, and you imagine God looking down on you, what do you imagine?
Do you see a frown?
You see a schoolmaster?
See a judge?
Or do you see a smile?
The Psalmist talks about the countenance of God looking down on us, smiling on us.
In Christ, God smiles upon us, and who can resist that smile?

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