Reflections on Christian Faith
The Implications of Jesus's Resurrection
Christianity is often accused of being an arrogant religion: that it is not often content with being one among many religions. Christians make the claim that the ministry of Jesus is of universal significance. That means that we believe that the only way to please God is to live as Jesus taught us live, to pray as Jesus taught us, to love God as Jesus loves him.
Evidence – Ministry
On what do Christians base such a claim? Looking objectively at the information available about Jesus makes it clear that there isn't much on offer. He lived in a little backwater which had a reputation for prickly awkwardness. It is unlikely that he could speak or read Greek and therefore unlikely that he would have known any of the Greek classics. He left no written material.
What we do know about him is contained largely in four accounts of his life which were not written down until fifty to seventy years after he died. Three of them are roughly the same, showing him as having ability to heal and as one who challenged the authorities with short, pointed stories and challenging action. The fourth account pictures him as more like a philosopher making long involved speeches. Behind the sentimentality of nativity plays there are two quite different accounts of his birth. All four accounts do agree that he was crucified by those whom he had challenged. If that was all there was then Jesus would have had little more to offer than Isaiah or Paul. They, after all, did manage to leave some written material.
|Evidence – Resurrection
For Christians, the event that takes Jesus into a new realm, onto a totally different plane, is the resurrection. If this took place, then our view of Jesus has to be dramatically changed. He can no longer be regarded as just a Palestinian teacher who occupied a particular space at a particular time. If the resurrection did take place then Jesus is clearly a very different type of being who exists beyond our present concept of space and time. From the way he lived and taught, from the way he died and rose again, it is clear that he is a being who shares the very nature of God.
If he rose from the dead, then his teaching, which has at its core the unstoppable love of an intimate God, is to be applied in every place and every time. All human beings of whatever faith and race are called on to face up to that teaching and respond to divine love with a love which seeks only the wellbeing of others.
|This interpretation is clearly supported in the New Testament. The letters of Paul and others have some purple passages. One of the most triumphant is this from the Letter to the Ephesians:
"he raised Christ from the dead and enthroned him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all government and authority, all power and dominion, and any title of sovereignty which commands allegiance, not only in this age but in the age to come.?
If the principles of the ministry of the risen Jesus apply to all people, then what is the point of becoming a Christian? The point is that we deliberately seek to respond to God's love with as much love as possible for him and all humanity. Recognising the huge demands of this way of loving, Christians seek through prayer and worship to find the resources to meet those demands. They also seek forgiveness for their frequent failures.
If living the Jesus way is the way to please God and is the way to true fulfilment, then out of love we must offer it to the world, avoiding the horrible mistakes of the past. Matthew saw this when he ended his gospel with the command of Jesus to make disciples of all nations.
I believe in the resurrection and therefore I believe that Jesus is a being who exists beyond our present concept of space and time. I seek to deliberately live my life in the way of love revealed by Jesus. I know I can't do it on my own so I constantly seek inner strength from the in-dwelling Spirit, through prayer and worship and fellowship. I know I fail frequently, so I constantly seek and find forgiveness.
This is where I stand! What about you? What is Jesus to you? Is he locked away in history or is his challenge as sharp and penetrating now as it ever was?
|A Christian Approach to Death|
The first Sunday in November 2012 was just after All Saints Day – the day when many churches and individuals remember those who have died during the past year. It was also a week before Remembrance Sunday when we are reminded of the dreadful loss of life in the two world wars and the other more localised wars that have marred the life of our planet. It seemed to me then that it would be appropriate to share some thoughts on the Christian approach to death. I hope these thoughts will continue to be helpful to people.
Necessity of death
The first thing we must recognise is that death is a necessary part of Iife. The world would have been a very different place without death. There would be no humans, no other mammals, no reptiles, no birds, no insects, no spiders. There would just have been the simplest of single cell creatures such as the amoeba.
|This is because our world was made in such a way that life developed step by step as living beings reproduced and died. The reproduction process was not exact and occasional changes would occur in the next generation. A small number of those changes gave rise to organisms which were better adapted to their surroundings than previous generations. These new organisms would therefore gradually take the place of some other organisms in their niche. In this way new species developed and evolved over millions of years until human beings emerged at the pinnacle of the process. Without death the processes of evolution could not take place.
Even without evolution, death is necessary for life to progress. It’s young people who think new unthinkable things. This is true as much in music, art and theatre as it is in science and technology.
Unnecessary Death – War and Poverty
Even though death is necessary there are many terrible situations where vast numbers of deaths occur unnecessarily. Terrible death tolls can occur as a result of natural disasters such as volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes and epidemics. We humans add to that death toll when our greed, our lack of compassion, create poverty, pollution and famine, and when we unleash the dogs of war.
Christians have a duty of love to do all in their power to reduce this death toll. We are duty bound to use significant proportions of our resources to support those in need and to live in such a way as to encourage those things which promote peace and harmony in our homes and communities.
Now let me move on to personal responses to the death of significant people in our lives. It’s worth noting at the outset that there’s one simple way to avoid the pain of loss and bereavement – don’t love anyone, don’t make friends with anyone, always keep to yourself and don’t share anything with anyone else!
They say that it’s love that makes the world go round. It’s certainly true that it is love that brings the simplest and the deepest experiences of pleasure and contentment. It’s love that gives others a place in our hearts and when death tears them away from that place there is inevitably pain. The deeper the love the greater the pain. It could be said that bereavement is the price we pay for love. In my experience it is a price worth paying.
All that is true for people of any faith or no faith. What is specifically Christian in our approach to death?
|Life beyond death [John 14;1-6,27]
The first thing to note is the Christian hope that there is life beyond this life. Read this familiar passage from John’s gospel.
"Do not be worried and upset," Jesus told them. "Believe in God and believe also in me. There are many rooms in my Father’s house, and I am going to prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to myself, so that you will be where I am. You know the way that leads to the place where I am going."
Thomas said to him, "Lord, we do not know where you are going, so how can we know the way to get there?" Jesus answered him, "I am the way, the truth and the life, no one goes to the Father except by me."
Peace is what I leave with you; it is my own peace that I give you. I do not give it as the world does."
[Revised Engish Bible]
by Bernhard Plockhorst
|John clearly believed that the life of Jesus continued after his death, so he could confidently write these words "I will come back and take you to myself." The Christian teaching is that not only does our life continue but that God is as deeply involved in that new life as he wants to be in this life. There are two things that encourage me to share this confidence and hope.
|The Unimaginable (1 Corinthians 15 – "How are the dead raised?" )
|Many people have another question at this point. They ask "What lies beyond death?’ Let’s listen to Paul writing to the Christians at Corinth.
But you may ask, how are the dead raised? What kind of body? How foolish! The seed you sow does not come to life unless it has first died; and what you sow is not the body that shall be, but a naked grain, perhaps of wheat or some other kind; and God clothes it with a body of his choice, each seed with its own particular body.
Paul Writing his Epistles
Valentin de Boulogne
1591 - 1632
So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown in the earth as a perishable thing is raised imperishable. Sown in humiliation, it is raised in glory; sown in weakness it is raised in power; sown as an animal body, it is raised as a spiritual body.
So when this takes place, and the mortal has been changed into the immortal, the scripture will come true: Death is destroyed, victory is complete! Where, Death, is your victory? Where, Death, is your power to hurt?" Death gets its power to hurt from sin, and sin gets its power from the Law. But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! [Revised Engish Bible]
The Link between now and then (1 Corinthians 3 – "Building on the right foundation" )
Let each take care how he builds. There can be no other foundation than the one already laid: I mean Jesus Christ himself. If anyone builds on that foundation with gold, silver and precious stones, or with wood, hay and straw, the work each one does will at last be brought to light; the day of judgement will expose it. For that day dawns in fire, and the fire will test the worth of each person’s work. If anyone’s building survives, he will be rewarded; if it burns down, he will have to bear the loss; yet he will escape with his life, though only by passing through the fire. Surely you know you are God’s temple, where the Spirit of God dwells. [Revised Engish Bible]
Even though we do not know what that life will be like, we can influence it. The things that carry over into it are the qualities of selfless love, the harvest of gifts of the spirit – love, joy peace etc. These erect permanent buildings on our foundation of faith.
Money, possessions, self importance and their like have no place in the life to come. They will be destroyed and will not contribute to our building. If that’s all we take we will have to start from scratch in building our new life.
I hope you will be helped by these thoughts about the necessity of death, the cost of love, confidence in the future and the unimaginable quality of that new life which does have links with our present life. I offer them in the hope that they will be particularly helpful as we reflect on those whom we have known who have passed through death and as we remember the almost unimaginable numbers who have died in world wars and local wars. May they also inspire those who still have the gift of life, to use that gift and all the gifts we have been given to make this world a better place for all God's people.