The Resurrection Reality of Obedience
Christ is risen! (He is risen indeed! Hallelujah!)
We continue our focus on the ‘resurrection reality’ both in this Easter season and each day of our lives. Jesus is alive today – physically, really, truly – the adjectives are meant to convey the message that the Jesus who was walking around 2,000 years ago is still around today – walking, being with, helping, guiding, comforting, challenging – and using words, water, bread and wine to be with his people planet wide – otherwise we’d have to form a very long queue to meet him.
It is a message that is constantly challenged with people basically saying to the followers of Jesus ‘prove it’. It is challenged in two ways. Because the resurrection message only ‘works’ because there is a death message, the world sometimes tries to say that Jesus didn’t die – that he somehow revived, escaped, got better, and died later – usually of old age – somewhere else. There’s no evidence and only fanciful speculation for this assertion. The other challenge is the ‘Jesus stayed dead’ version – maybe the body was hidden, maybe lost – but what happened was that a vision or legacy of what Jesus wanted his followers to do carried on and it doesn’t take too much effort to add God’s Spirit or something spiritual and you can easily have a spiritual resurrection. This doesn’t square with the historical evidence we do have and, to me, it seems a waste of time to promote. The only reason, I can see to promote a spiritual resurrection – Jesus is still dead but let’s follow the idea of Jesus or the spirit of Jesus – we can be Jesus to others sort of thing and that’s how Jesus is ‘alive’– is then it is easy to turn Jesus into what you want him to be. People then can turn Jesus into their image and do what they want claiming that they are following the spiritual Jesus.
On the night before Jesus died, Jesus spent the time before his arrest serving his disciples, washing their feet and instituting a new covenant with his body and blood, teaching them in the upper room, on the way to the garden, in the garden, and praying for them. This is a little of what he said:
[Jesus said] “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.”
“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” (John 14:15-21 ESV)
The resurrection reality for those disciples was that they were changed from the scared, fearful, and timid followers of Jesus to the fearless, bold, almost reckless followers of Jesus because they encountered Jesus alive again after his death. We can imagine getting excited by the news flash that death’s power has been defeated and that death in this world has become a doorway home to be with God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Jesus didn’t leave his followers as orphans – alone, fending for themselves – he was with them and also because he was hidden from their sight – and this happened after the ascension – Jesus and the Father was giving them another Helper who would be with them forever and whom we know to be the 3rd Person of the Trinity – the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit – the Spirit of truth – will live up to his name by keeping the followers of Jesus in the truth. Christians don’t work out the truth about Jesus or discipleship as such. No, Christians receive this truth when the Holy Spirit brings God’s Word to be people – declares to them that God loves them in Jesus; when they hear the absolution or the declaration at baptism or the liturgy of the Divine Service and through the sharing of the story of Jesus – it is God presenting his truth again and again to people and people receiving it. That’s why we call ourselves beggars – beggars of God’s grace – because we’re always receiving handouts – a handout from God, freely given – of life, of faith, of hope, of perseverance, and of love.
Receiving Jesus, the followers … follow! That’s Christianity. Gift and response. This is the resurrection reality. Jesus taught that night in terms that we often bristle at, get uncomfortable about – that this following is about obedience. If you love me you will keep my commandments. A little later … Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me.
Lutherans talk about Law and Gospel and from Reformation times onwards this has happened there has been a struggle to work out the relationship between the two. Often presented as a pendulum – the Law (what God expects and demands and punishes when rebelled against) and the Gospel (what God has done in Jesus and his gifts and promises) are messages the Church swings between – as do people – you either need one or the other. At it is implied that once you’ve heard the Law – then heard the Gospel, you don’t need the Law anymore because salvation is only through the Gospel. That’s usually the biggest problem – I’m saved now I can do what I like – which people usually don’t say as bluntly but that’s what they mean.
That view bluntly goes against what Jesus says – and the resurrection reality – that yes, we can’t work our way to heaven; yes, we are sinful and are only saved through Jesus alone; but we are not immediately ‘beamed up’ into heaven at the moment of our salvation for we live in this world – and following Jesus means obedience to him and his Word – and that does take us back to the Law. We’re not being saved through our obedience but our salvation is partially seen in our obedience to Jesus – that’s what faith directs us to – that’s what ‘the following’ in the ‘we follow Jesus’ is all about.
So Law and Gospel are two messages we need to hear – which the Spirit of truth brings to us personally – to help us better trust Jesus and what he does for us and to help us better follow Jesus in our day to day living. Jesus summarised the commandments in the word ‘love’. What is the loving response, word, deed, attitude we need for each moment? We learn by doing – and particularly in worship and through God’s Word it starts with receiving Jesus, listening to Jesus, seeking to obey Jesus, obeying Jesus in our day to day living. We’ll never get it right – that’s why we also receive – and practise – forgiveness – but our day-to-day experience of the resurrection reality isn’t all that spiritual or ‘glowing’ – it is obedience to Jesus and his Word.
There may be joy at this. There will be tough times at this. Sometimes we’ll find it easy. At other times, incredibly hard. But Jesus, his Father, and the Spirit of truth will not leave us as orphans. The resurrection reality is about day to day living – beginning with God’s grace and love and continuing as we follow where that grace and love – where Jesus – leads.
And today … Christ is risen!
- John 14:15 - 21