February 22, 2021
The Lent 2B Sermon Starters include commentary and illustration ideas for Mark 8:31-38 from the Lectionary Gospel; Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16 from the Old Testament Lectionary; Psalm 22:23-31 from the Lectionary Psalms; and Romans 4:13-25 from the Lectionary Epistle.
Related Reformed confession: OT Lectionary: Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 78 (Lord’s Day 29)
Author: Scott Hoezee
One reads of such terrible things now and then. Stories about the happy couple who had a magical wedding and then died in a plane crash on the way to their honeymoon. Or the man who just got the promotion he had been dreaming of but who gets hit by a bus on his way home to tell his wife. Or as memorialized in the searing choral piece “The Seven Last Words of the Unarmed” by Joel Thompson, we learn of the last words of 23-year-old Amadou Diallo whose last words to his mother before being shot 19 times by 4 police officers were “Mom, I’m going to college!” (The officers mistook Diallo for a serial rapist they heard was in the area. Diallo was unarmed. The officers were eventually all acquitted of manslaughter.)
Or consider Peter the disciple. Jesus had recently praised him for an accurate and good testimony as to the identity of Jesus. Jesus blessed him to the heavens. But suddenly only a little while later this same Jesus excoriates this same disciple, even going so far as calling him “Satan”!
It is the kind of turnaround that takes one’s breath away. It is in that sense also quite tragic.
What went wrong? How did Peter go from blessed saint to accursed devil in the span of minutes? Most of us know the answer: the disciples had been pining for the moment when Jesus would “make his move” and start a more public assault on the powers that be. And if he really is the Christ of God, well then, it was only a matter of time. But how could Jesus make anyone’s life better by having his own life end? Jesus’ proposal for dealing with this life’s woes seemed counter-intuitive, the exact opposite of how most people operate. Yet Jesus goes on to tell everyone this very plainly and simply. “If you want to get behind me, then you’ve got to give up your clutching at this life, go under the sentence of death by having a cross-bar draped over your shoulders, and just die.”
But then comes one of the most famous things Jesus ever said. Starting in verse 35 Jesus talks about the human soul, conveyed four times in three verses through the Greek word psyche. The NIV first translates this as “life” in verse 35 but then switches to “soul” in verses 36 and 37, but in the original it is the same word throughout, the word psyche. Jesus is concerned about our souls, about that mysterious but undeniable spiritual center to who we are as marvelously complex creatures made in the image of God. If Jesus is who we Christians say he is (namely, the very Son of God), then we ought to take seriously what Jesus has to say about our souls. After all, we believe Jesus is the One who created those souls in the first place. Who would know better than Jesus how they work?
But what Jesus tells us is an apparent paradox. What we all want is to hang on to the life we’ve got. Diminishment, despair, and ultimately death is what we all rather dearly want to avoid. Unless depression or grave illness has eclipsed for us any sense of life’s goodness, most of us would have to admit that most days, most of the time, we like being alive.
We enjoy a good laugh. We relish good food. We get a kick out of creation’s beauties. We feel satisfied when we’ve done some task really well. We’d give almost anything to keep on watching our children and grandchildren grow. Just in general we’re intrigued by the idea of life’s having a “next,” a new horizon with new possibilities, new things to explore. The notion that there might not be another “next” for us is what can rather quickly induce a marrow-chilling fear and a clutching desire to head off whatever it is that threatens our being able to click along pretty much the way we always have.
We don’t want life to end, which is why when Jesus predicts his own end, Peter tries to shout Jesus down. “Don’t talk that way, Master Jesus! If you’re the Messiah, then you’ve got to save your own life first of all so that you can save and then improve the lot of our lives, too!”
But no, Jesus has to go another way. He has to die, and if we’re smart, we’ll let him drag us down with him. Because this same Jesus also had something to say about what would happen three days later . . .
Note: We have additional Lenten Resources, worship ideas, and Sample Sermons on our 2021 Lent and Easter page.
In the Greek there is a curious parallel between verses 33 and 34. In verse 33, following Peter’s wrong-headed criticism, Jesus calls Peter a “satan” and tells him to go opiso mou, which means “behind me.” Then in the very next verse Jesus says that if anyone wants to follow opiso mou, they need to deny themselves and take up the cross. The second use of that phrase opiso mou is not necessary in Greek since the Greek verb “to follow” automatically carries with it the sense of “behind me”–it is not necessary to spell it out and so it usually isn’t.
But Mark has Jesus repeat opiso mou as a way to create a parallel to Peter in the previous verse. Maybe what Mark is saying is that there are two ways to get behind Jesus: if you insist on holding onto this life, of seeking the solution to life’s difficulties by grabbing still more of that same life, then you can get behind Jesus as a satan.
But if you are willing to let go, to release your fierce grip on your own ego–and on the life you hope will boost and bolster that ego–if you can just die along with Jesus, then you can get behind Jesus as a disciple. Then you can be behind Jesus as a follower who is back there with a clear view of what Jesus does so that you can then imitate him. One way or the other everyone ends up behind Jesus. The question is whether you’ll be back there so you can go where Jesus goes or whether you’ll be back there to be left behind. If you are back there to follow, then even though you first die, you will end up with abundant resurrection life. If you end up back there because you decided to make the goodies of this life your be-all and end-all, then you also will die, but that will be the end of you, too.
Throughout much of her life actress Helen Hayes was regularly hailed as “The First Lady of the American Theater.” Clearly this was a lofty, flattering title. Ms. Hayes must have felt honored each time she heard it.
Or maybe not.
Because as it turns out, Ms. Hayes is the one who came up with that title for herself! She cooked it up, stuck it into a press release, and forever after journalists made use of this sobriquet or nickname whenever they wrote articles about Hayes. But really the same thing happens all the time. In our age of media hype it is not at all unusual for actors, athletes, and yes, even preachers to come up with their own sobriquets or designations.
Press releases from Christian publishing houses now regularly promote Rev. So-and-So by claiming he is “widely acclaimed as the most dramatic preacher of our times.” Or someone may be touted as “the most sought after speaker on today’s lecture circuit.” A few years ago Newsweek magazine ran an article on contemporary preaching which included a list of the top twenty current American preachers. Within weeks you could not read the names of most of those twenty folks without immediately reading also the line “Recently named by Newsweek one of the most influential preachers of the late-twentieth century!”
But of course the sign of really having made it is not just having such a distinction attached to your name. No, the truly stratospheric are themselves the point of comparison. So now we often hear the claim that a certain person is “The Michael Jordan of . . .” as in the Olympics some years ago when Hermann Maier was called “The Michael Jordan of downhill skiing” and George Hackl “The Michael Jordan of luge!” And the list goes on.
In Mark 8 Jesus had just admitted to indeed being “the Christ,” the Messiah who could save the world. Peter and the others were no doubt thrilled to have their suspicions confirmed. Talk about your sizzling designations! They were insiders to the Christ! Surely life would soon get very sweet very fast. Jesus had no place to go but up. The days of the Caesar were numbered. Israel would soon be back with Jesus sitting on a golden throne with inlaid mother of pearl even as the disciples would be co-rulers of this new empire. Gone would be the days of dusty feet, rumbling stomachs, and tattered fishing nets. Soon they’d eat red snapper that someone else had caught, steamed with capers and tarragon by the palace chef and served on silver platters by servants eager to please the Messiah and his buddies.
Except that to bear the name of “Christ” leads to a very different kind of path after all.
Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
Author: Stan Mast
As any regular reader of my Sermon Starters on these Old Testament readings can easily tell, the theme for Lent in Year B of the Revised Common Lectionary is covenant. Every one of our Lenten readings has to do with God’s covenant in one way or another, even our upcoming lesson from Numbers 21, which is about covenant broken and restored.
As we journey to the cross, we do not walk alone. We walk with the God who has taken his people by the hand and will not let go. In all of these readings, the story of God and his sinful people is based on a series of promises. One of my favorite old gospel songs says that we are “standing on the promises of Christ my King.” Through all the self-examination, sorrow and repentance of Lent, we will be walking on the promises.
We started last week with the post-Flood promise of Genesis 9, where God makes a covenant with the whole human race (as represented by Noah and his family) and all of the animal kingdom (represented by the animals from the ark). It is a universal and unconditional covenant. “Never again will I destroy the whole earth with a flood.” That covenant is the bedrock of life on planet Earth. Life will go on to the end of time. God has made a solemn promise, a covenant.
In Genesis 17 God makes what seems like a more limited covenant– not with the whole human family, but with one family, with Abraham and his descendants. Unlike the covenant of Genesis 9, this one has a condition built into it. Abraham and his seed must “walk before God and be blameless,” which will be symbolized by the faithful administration of the sign of circumcision.
The covenant with Abraham, too, is everlasting. God will remain faithful to his promise for the generations to come. However, if his people are unfaithful, they might not remain in the covenant. Covenant breakers can put themselves outside the covenant. But, as the very first mention of this covenant said, even those outside the covenant can be blessed by God, because “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you (Genesis 12:3).”
That mention of Genesis 12 reminds us that God has made covenant with Abraham 2 times before this in Genesis. It all began after the debacle of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11. It took only two chapters for humanity to once again rise up in God-defying rebellion. Thus, in Genesis 12, God begins over again with a new humanity represented by a pagan named Abram. He was 75 year old when God came to him with the multi-pronged promise that Abram will become a great nation, that his name will be great, that the way people treat Abram and his family will call down blessings or curses on them, and that “all peoples on earth will be blessed through [Abram and his seed].”
The second iteration of the covenant with Abraham came in Genesis 15, when Abram was 86 years old. In spite of God’s promise that Abram would become a great nation, here he was, an old man, with not even one child. So, in Genesis 15 God specifically promises Abram that he would have a child whose seed would become as numerous as the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore. That covenant is sealed with an elaborate ceremony involving the shedding of much animal blood.
Now, here, 13 years after that last promise, with Abraham just one year short of 100, God comes to Abram again with a third iteration of that original covenant. God comes to “confirm (verse 2)” and “establish (verse 7)” that covenant with Abram. Abram desperately needed this word from God because he was still childless and well beyond the age where conception was statistically likely. Indeed, it was physically impossible for post-menopausal Sarai. For 24 years the promises of God’s covenant had not come true. So, it is remarkable that, as Romans 4 puts it, “against all hope, Abraham in hope believed….”
This renewal of the covenant is signaled by new names for the covenant partners. For the first time God identifies as El Shaddai, which the NIV translates “God Almighty.” Some scholars claim that the literal meaning is “God of the mountains,” perhaps an allusion to the many mountains that loom in the history of salvation (Moriah, Horeb, Sinai, Zion, Calvary).
Further, God gives Abram and Sarai new names, signifying the new beginning they are about to experience. “Abraham,” in particular, points to the imminent fulfillment of the promise of multiple offspring who will become “many nations.” What’s in a name? A new future guaranteed by a mighty God who makes and keeps covenant.
This renewal of the original covenant of Genesis 12 and the repeated covenant of Genesis 15 focuses on the promise of family—not just the one child of Genesis 15, but the “great nation” of Genesis 12. Here God promises not just one nation, which we would expect given Genesis 15, but many nations, which is an expansion and explanation of “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you (Genesis 12:3).” Reading this through New Testament eyes, we hear an echo of the Great Commission commanding the disciples to “make disciples of all nations.” By faith, many diverse peoples will become descendants of Abraham and heirs of these covenant promises (Galatians 3).
But there’s even more here for the careful preacher. Not only will many nations come from Abraham and Sarah, but also kings. Think of David and all of his descendants, many of whom broke covenant with God, resulting in Israel’s Exile. And think of Jesus, the son of Mary who would occupy the throne of his father David (Luke 1:32)). Here is a natural connection to Christ, whose obedience would result in a “new covenant in [his] blood.” Because of his sacrifice, this old covenant would, indeed, be “an everlasting covenant between God and all of Abraham’s descendants for the generations to come.”
It’s unfortunate that the Lectionary intentionally omits verses 8-14, probably because of the sensitive subject of circumcision (who wants to preach on that?) There is so much in those verses, including the repetition of the promise of “the whole land… as an everlasting possession,” though that, too, is a sensitive subject in today’s world.
At the end of verse 8 we encounter the central promise of the covenant, the root of all the other promises; “I will be their God.” As Paul put in Romans 8, “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, will he not also, with him, freely give us all things?”
God promises all good things in his covenant, and he only asks for a piece of us, albeit it a central piece of us men. Of course, God asks that we “walk before me and be blameless,” which means a whole-life commitment to our covenant Lord. But in the elided verses of our reading, God narrows that commitment down to a single point, the sacrament of circumcision. It was an apt sign of the covenant; the God who has drawn a circle around a particular man and his family now asks that man and all his male children to draw a circle around a particularly personal part of their lives. “Walk before me and be blameless” calls for the commitment of our whole self– not just the spiritual, but also the physical, including what for many men is the center of life.
Now, of course, in the non-patriarchal culture of the church, neither circumcision nor un-circumcision counts for anything. Instead, all of us, men and women, are called to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice to God (Romans 12:1,2). Maybe circumcision is a bit too personal, painful, sexual to preach on in your church. But if you dare, you can help people realize that commitment to the God who freely gives us all things is often personal, painful, and, yes, even sexual. Which makes this a perfect Lenten text.
That is so particularly in times like ours, when there so much that makes hope difficult. Like Abraham, we face challenges that seem overwhelming—from pandemics to politics to personal struggles. This text reminds us that “our existence, our family of God, our church, our future—everything hinges upon the promises of God and God’s faithfulness in keeping the promises (William Willimon).” Because of God’s covenant promises fulfilled in Christ, Lent (and life) is not a lonely journey; we walk hand in hand with a God who shed his blood so that we could freely receive all things.
I know that this illustration is embarrassingly familiar, but it captures the difference between involvement and commitment. When you sit down to a breakfast of bacon and eggs, you owe your nourishment that morning to a hen and a pig. Both are represented on your plate, but there’s a big difference. The hen made a contribution. The pig made a commitment. The hen got involved. The pig gave a piece of himself. The God of the covenant made a commitment to bless, a commitment that resulted in God giving himself to and for us. How have we responded? With some involvement in the things of God or with commitment to God that might cost us dearly?
Author: Scott Hoezee
In this week’s Gospel sermon article here on the CEP website I noted the dramatic experience of Peter in Mark 8 when he falls about as far as a person can fall within the span of minutes. Peter goes from being blessed to the heavens by Jesus to being cursed to the depths of hell by Jesus who even calls Peter “Satan.” Peter still holds the world record for fastest change in status.
If you read the entirety of Psalm 22, you may have a similarly disorienting experience. The psalm goes from the early verses of dereliction, abandonment, and torture (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”) to the closing verses that rhapsodize over how great God is and how all peoples (living and dead) will eventually give God the glory. What’s more, despite the opening claim of divine abandonment, verse 24 claims that that appears to have been a mistaken sentiment. God had not abandoned anyone after all. The earlier cry for help was received and responded to. God had never gone anywhere as it turns out.
Most Psalms of Lament eventually turn a corner (exceptions are Psalms 39 and 88). The psalmist vows to praise God again in the future when deliverance from affliction comes. Or the psalm (like Psalm 22 perhaps) is written in retrospect after deliverance came and so praise is given for that. Or (think of Psalms 42-43) the psalmist remembers past times when God came through for him and this in turns provides a ray of hope that this will happen again sometime (hopefully) soon.
Often, though, this turn back toward more hope-filled things is brief. A quintessential Psalm of Lament is Psalm 13 and its vow to praise God and put hope in God comprises just a verse or so. Yet Psalm 22—a poem that begins with the most searing lament of them all—goes on and on and on for a very long time at the end with these more sunny things, thus shifting the psalm’s tone. Fully one-third of the whole song is about praise and hope and restored joy.
Sometimes this leads commentators or preachers to use the ending of the psalm as a reason to wash out or nuance into insignificance the bracing opening verses. I once heard an Old Testament professor claim that since even Jesus knew how Psalm 22 ends, his quoting the first verse from the cross means we cannot take Jesus seriously. Jesus did not really feel abandoned by his Father and the Spirit. He knew his situation was not that bad because he knew how Psalm 22 concludes. So one has to imagine that when Jesus cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me!?” he did so with a bit of a wink and a nod, a twinkle in his eye since what he was actually signaling was that he was not abandoned at all because the end of Psalm 22 takes all the air out of that idea.
But my friend Frederick Dale Bruner doubts that premise. A lot. As Dale has said, “When you are hanging on a cross, you are not at the same time holding a Bible study.”
Does the lyric ending of Psalm 22 undercut its searing opening? Is everything contained in verses 22-31 a way to write off the beginning of the psalm as essentially mistaken impressions and bad theology? Or can we hold these in tension? Can we say that the sense of abandonment in the early verses was utterly real to the psalmist—and in the moment at least that this was the poet’s truest experience that had some solid evidence to support it as well—even though the day comes when God roars back on the scene to make things better?
Yes, we can and should hold these things in tension. Because if we don’t, we make the laments in the Hebrew Psalter out to be either brazen lies, stagecraft, or giant mistakes of perception. And if we take that line of thought, then it is a short hop, skip, and a jump to telling people something they are told too often as it is: “Never talk to God this way because you are always wrong when you say these impolite things to God and God must surely despise such prayers. Don’t do it. Don’t lament. Suck it up when bad things happen and know that those bad events are not nearly as real or important as God’s abiding presence, which your faith is apparently too weak to detect at low moments in your life.”
The poet Jane Kenyon wrestled with depression—what she called “melancholy”—her whole life. At one point she wrote a series of 9 poems with the overarching title “Having It Out with Melancholy.” The shortest of the 9 is titled “Advice from a Friend” and here is the whole “poem”:
You wouldn’t be so depressed
if you really believed in God.
Let’s just admit that we need less of this kind of sentiment in the church and not more.
The truth of our experience is that at times God does seem remote, does seem to have gone off duty, does seem to be failing to uphold some promises. That is real. It was real for Jesus on the cross, it was real for every poet who ever penned a Psalm of Lament (including the darkest of them all in Psalm 88), and it is real for us. So we are not wrong to express it. God can take it. And yes, there is the hope of God’s eventual rescue. Yes, we know in the end God has won the cosmic victory in Christ. God will have the last word on everything. We will not be abandoned in the end. So we can sing the ending of Psalm 22 with gusto and faith. But we need not shove the lamenting person into this too quickly and we most certainly must not cash out or dismiss their laments when they have every reason in the world to express them to God.
Jesus entered this world of sorrow, pity, and death to win the ultimate victory. But he also entered into all of that personally so we could know that he understands how life sometimes feels from the inside of the human experience. And sometimes it feels like divine abandonment. Sometimes it feels like God is moving too slowly. So we can do both: Lament and Praise. Express our feelings with honestly and then later honestly praise God for God’s goodness too.
Either without the other is incomplete.
Note: We have additional Lenten Resources, worship ideas, and Sample Sermons on our 2021 Lent and Easter page.
In the film The Shawshank Redemption the wrongly accused and wrongly imprisoned character of Andy DuFrense escapes prison after nearly 20 years of incarceration and misery. But before he can enter into the freedom of the outside world, his escape plan requires him to crawl nearly half a mile through one of the prison’s sewer waste pipes. There was no achieving freedom without first crawling through the foulness of human feces. There was promise on the other end of the pipe but in the meanwhile, there was no denying the awfulness of the pipe. It was putrid. Andy hated it. He threw up until he could not throw up anymore.
But that undeniably horrible experience—as well as two decades of many hellish traumas inside the prison—only made his eventual freedom sweeter. You could not have one without the other. Which is what we have been saying about the genuineness of lament even in psalms that turn the corner to more hope. The hope shines brighter when we do not dismiss the awfulness of what came before.
Author: Doug Bratt
Death continues to intimidate many people. As a result, most people will do almost anything to avoid or at least indefinitely postpone death. The Bible suggests that we’d even trade everything we have in exchange for an escape from death.
We sometimes sense that many people believe that if we just didn’t have to worry about death, our lives would be so much less stressful. Aside from a few morticians and life insurance salespeople, we assume we’d be far happier.
So while the Bible doesn’t report exactly what his disciples initially thought of Jesus’ death, we can imagine their reaction. We assume that they thought about it the way we think of someone’s execution for a crime she never committed. His disciples probably thought of Jesus’ crucifixion as an awful tragedy and ghastly injustice.
Jesus’ followers may also have deduced from his crucifixion that he’d been nothing more than an idealistic martyr. Sure, he’d said something about rising from the dead again. But at the end of the first Good Friday, that probably seemed like nothing more than the ramblings of a delusional person.
Think too of how death looked on that awful first Good Friday evening. After all of the day’s sound and fury, it seemed as if death, with its thugs, sin and Satan, was the undefeated champion of the world.
If, after all, death could beat the only person who didn’t deserve to die, it could beat anybody. So when Jesus died, it must have seemed as if the whole world’s fate was to eventually die right along with him. But in the darkness of the first Easter, God slugged it out with the defending world champion, death. In that darkness, God crowned life the new world champion.
The first Good Friday’s darkness symbolized the Father’s abandonment of Jesus. The first Easter’s darkness provided the perfect setting for the Father to show his love for Jesus. On that first Easter, after all, God showed that God, not the religious and political leaders, had orchestrated Jesus’ death. On that first Easter morning, after all, God announced that God accepted and approved Jesus Christ’s work on our behalf.
It had seemed as if death and its goons had been in control ever since our first parents caved in to temptation. Death had, after all, mowed down one generation after the other. Death seemed to have beaten every person from Adam to Jesus.
Of course, a few of God’s people had escaped death by somehow going right into God’s eternal presence without dying first. Yet people like Enoch and Elijah hadn’t conquered death; they’d just “sidestepped” it. Death, after all, continued to claim sinners and saints, rulers and subjects, employers and employees, and even young children. Death, in fact, seems to have been particularly busy during this past year.
On the first Easter morning, however, God conquered death and its goons. So we can say that death, in a sense, died on that glorious morning. On that first Easter morning, for the first time, death and its allies had to grudgingly admit that someone was superior to them.
Yet it may seem as if we’re celebrating too soon. After all, the number of people who have died hasn’t shrunk by even one since Christ rose from the dead. People we know and love still die. Millions of people have died of COVID in just the past year alone. Both our Epistolary Lesson’s proclaimers and hearers know that we too will also die, unless Jesus Christ returns first.
Yet Christ’s resurrection changes, among other things, the meaning of death for Christians. Christ’s Easter victory over death changes how we look at death. Now, with the apostle Paul we can sing, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”
After all, as one theologian points out, Christ’s resurrection means that death is, in a real sense, no longer death. In the light of Christ’s glorious resurrection, it’s more like a “shadow” of death that can scare but not hurt us.
In fact Paul suggests that Christ’s resurrection has turned death into something like a wasp that has lost its stinger. Even with its dying breaths, death can generate a lot of noise. Yet it can no longer do God’s children lasting harm.
Of course, death itself is sometimes still very painful. But it loses its stranglehold on us once Christians die. Death still stings those who love people it claims. But it must surrender its grip on those who have died.
So, as a colleague notes, when the New Testament talks about physical death after God raised Jesus from the dead, it often uses the term “sleep.” In I Thessalonians 4:14, for example, Paul writes, “We believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.” That colleague points out that our Lesson’s proclaimers might point out that Paul says that Jesus “died.” However, the apostle says that Christians who die are “asleep.”
Of course, various people have used the word “sleep” to describe death. They, however, were just basically trying to soften its blow. By raising Christ from the dead, God actually turned death into sleep for God’s dearly beloved people.
So now while we may still fear dying, Christians no longer have to fear death. Whoever sleeps, after all, isn’t permanently gone. She’s just resting so that she can eventually awaken refreshed.
Yet in giving Christ victory over death, God didn’t just give us something to which to look forward. God also gave God’s adopted sons and daughters something here and now. People sometimes say something like, “To the victors go the spoils.” We profess that the “spoils” the victorious Christ claims is our “righteousness,” our justification.
In other words, because God raised Christ from the dead, the heavenly jury is no longer weighing our verdict. It has returned and pronounced the verdict: we have a right relationship with the Lord.
God created Adam and Eve for a right relationship with himself. Yet when our first parents sinned, they scarred that good relationship. They left not only themselves, but also every one of their descendants guilty. They made people liable to the eternal death penalty that is eternal separation from God. Sin left even the saintliest people totally unable to save ourselves.
So if we were to have a good relationship with God, we needed to find it somewhere outside ourselves. Someone who had that good relationship was going to have to give us that relationship. Christ didn’t just enjoy perfect fellowship with his heavenly Father before he was born to Mary and Joseph. He was also completely righteous. Christ, after all, lived a perfect life. He never did anything against God or other people.
Yet because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead, we profess that he now shares that righteousness with his adopted siblings. We, to use my colleague Stan Mast’s evocative phrase, “get all the credit without putting in any of the work.”
Yet we also know that we need Christ to share his righteousness with us just as much as we need him to earn it. After all, we’re naturally like someone who’s travelling through the hot and dry American Southwest who’s desperately thirsty. When he comes to a restaurant, he doesn’t have enough money to buy something to drink. So while something to drink is right there for him, he can’t get it.
In a similar way, when Jesus died on the cross, he accomplished everything God’s dearly beloved people need to be in a right relationship with the Lord. He made everything ready for the great wedding reception that is eternal life in God’s glorious presence.
Yet the hungry and thirsty guests whom God graciously invited to that banquet didn’t come. In fact, those God invited to the great feast didn’t even want to come. So someone had to bring in God’s chosen guests.
That’s a reason why God raised Christ from the dead. God’s adopted children were hungry and thirsty for the banquet that is God’s salvation. Yet we didn’t want to come to that banquet on God’s terms.
So God in Christ went out and got us. God gave us the water of life for our thirst and bread of life for our hunger. God even gave Christians mouths with which to eat and drink and hands with which to accept God’s gifts. God, in other words, gives us not only salvation, but also the faith with which we obediently receive it.
So because of Christ’s resurrection our heavenly Father forgives and welcomes back prodigal children. Because of Christ’s resurrection the Lord makes the Lord’s prodigal children what Paul calls “heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ.”
It’s not enough for Christians just to carefully study what happens at Christ’s empty tomb. We also receive Christ’s resurrection for us with our obedient faith. Jesus’ followers actively trust that God, for Jesus’ sake, now not only views but also treats us as God’s beloved children.
Of course, God knows our sins even better than Romans 4’s proclaimers and hearers do. God knows perfectly well when we sin against the Lord and each other. Easter didn’t, after all, make God’s vision worse. God still sees when God’s dearly beloved people act, talk and even think as if we don’t know God.
Yet because God raised Christ from the dead, God treats us as though we’d never sinned. God deals with Jesus’ friends as people who’ve never put our trust in other people or things. God treats us as though we’d never used God’s name carelessly or neglected society’s most vulnerable members.
Because God raised Jesus from the dead, God also equips Christians to love God above all and each other as much as ourselves. God empowers us to forgive those who’ve hurt us and pray for our enemies.
Now Jesus’ followers can treat each other as Christian brothers and sisters. Of course, those fellow Christians still sometimes do and say things that scar us. They parent us imperfectly. Our Christian brothers and sisters break their promises to us and let us down.
Yet because God raised Jesus from the dead for their sakes as well as ours, we can view them as God views them. And, by God’s grace, we can even treat them as God treats them – as God’s sons and daughters, as our Christian brothers and sisters.
In her famous Diary of Anne Frank, the young woman writes this about her diary: “I want to go on living even after my death! And that’s why I’m so grateful to God for giving me this gift, which I can use to develop myself and to express all that’s inside me!”
From so many angles, that, as a colleague loves to say, will preach.