The apostles knew He wasn’t a ghost. After all, He ate fish. They got to touch Him. They even talked with Him on and off for over a month. Yet still… like John the Baptist, they thought Jesus was simply going to be King of a geo-political empire.
And they were going to be its rulers under Him.
In this 21st century, it’s hard to believe that Jesus is now alive, either as a ghost or a real body. Innumerable church leaders across the world, including ministers and priests as well as theologians, don’t believe He is alive. In an age of science and technology, we simply cannot believe that a dead man came back to life. Bishop Spong, an Episcopal leader, wrote a book in 1994 called Resurrection: Myth or Reality where he laid out that the various miracle stories and incredulous vignettes like Jesus eating fish after He came back to life had been made up. For the Bishop, Jesus hadn’t come back to life at all—either as a ghost or a real body. Jesus was just a fond memory—albeit a powerfully precious fond memory—stirring within the loyal disciples a deep inner sense that He lived on.
“Modern” theologians across the world agree with the Bishop, now believing that such
miracle stories—including the resurrection—are not true stories but “truth” stories. That is, such stories point us to abstract spiritual “truths” about life and God but are not real history. In this century, we are naïve to think the stories are actually true.
Like the revolutionaries of Jesus’ time, modern theologians and church leaders
world-wide are disillusioned with the real Jesus. For both the revolutionaries then
and theologians now, Jesus is a disappointment. Back then, Jesus had no vision and
exercised no power to overthrow the Romans to set up a new geo-political empire. And
now? Now we know the universe is incomprehensibly enormous, so it’s ridiculous to
think that Jesus would have had any real power over suffering and death. Either way,
Jesus’ vision for Himself was both ephemeral and, practically speaking, useless to deal with the tough issues of life and death.
This modern take on faith strikes one as such a profound contrast to the apostle
Peter’s eyewitness testimony on Pentecost, the day the Spirit filled the apostles with
discernment and courage:
People of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus from Nazareth was a very special man.
God clearly showed this to you by the miracles, wonders, and signs he did through
Jesus. You all know this, because it happened right here among you. Jesus was given
to you, and with the help of those who don’t know the law, you put him to death by
nailing him to a cross. But this was God’s plan which he had made long ago; he knew
all this would happen. God raised Jesus from the dead and set him free from the pain
of death, because death could not hold him…. Brothers and sisters, I can tell you truly that David, our ancestor, died and was buried. His grave is still here with us today. He was a prophet and knew God had promised him that he would make a person from
David’s family a king just as he was. Knowing this before it happened, David talked
about the Christ rising from the dead. He said:
He was not left in the grave.
His body did not rot.
So Jesus is the One whom
God raised from the dead.
And we are all witnesses to this.
(Acts 2:22-24, 29-32, NCV)
In our century, it’s hard to believe these eyewitnesses. But it’s even harder to believe the implications of their reports. Decades ago as a young man studying Scripture, I did wonder if the apostle Peter had actually given thought to the consequences of what he had witnessed. I soon discovered that the apostle Paul had given it a lot of thought— and he caught the cosmic implications of Jesus coming back to life:
The sufferings we have now are nothing compared to the great glory that will be shown to us. Everything God made is waiting with excitement for God to show his children’s glory completely. Everything God made was changed to become useless, not by its own wish but because God wanted it and because all along there was this hope: that everything God made would be set free from ruin to have the freedom and glory that belong to God’s children.
We know that everything God made has been waiting until now in pain, like a woman ready to give birth. Not only the world, but we also have been waiting with pain inside us. We have the Spirit as the first part of God’s promise. So we are waiting for God to finish making us his own children, which means our bodies will be made free. (Rom. 8:18-23, NCV)
So there it was. The apostle Paul had asked and answered the grand question: What does Jesus’ coming back to life mean for us and this world? His answer: All creation would have to be changed. The universe would have to be miraculously transformed into a place where there would be no more crazy uselessness of suffering and death—no more “ruin”—but have the freedom and glory that belong to us, “which means our bodies will be made free.”
By the power of the Spirit, the apostles finally got it. Jesus’ kingdom was never going to be a geo-political kingdom. Nor was it to be a list of moral dictums. Or a collage of poignant life lessons to make us feel good. Or a spiritual social work ministry. Rather, Jesus’ kingdom was to be cosmic. His kingdom was the liberation of the entire universe from evil, suffering, and death. As I noted in an earlier article on the Christmas hymn “Joy to the World,” Jesus’ blessings do flow “far as the curse is found.” And that curse is as far as the farthest galaxy. Like Paul, the beloved apostle John caught Jesus’ cosmic impact, painting this glorious panorama of the Lord’s coming kingdom:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away…. “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” (Rev. 21:1-5, NIV; abridged)
In the end, Jesus will bring the universe back to the Father to be re-created. Then, there will be no more pain. No more crying. And no more death. This futuristic vision—this cosmic mission—began with Jesus’ miracles of liberation. It was paid for by His death. And it was sealed with His resurrection.
So, sometime after I’m gone, like the prodigal son’s father who comes running out to warmly embrace his spent boy, my heavenly Father will come bounding out to embrace this spent servant by recreating me from dust—making me into a glorious body with the power of new life to be lived out in our transformed universe where there will be no more useless ruin.
… For thine is the kingdom… and the power… and the glory forever. Amen.