Wednesday, July 17, 2013

God raised Jesus from the dead... (3)

... continued from Saturday
But the heart of the sermons in Acts has to do with Jesus. Some aspects of the sermons may be a little surprising to us because we are so used to the fact that Jesus is divine. If anything, we struggle today to remember that Jesus was also fully human. But in the earliest days it was probably the other way around. They knew Jesus was fully human, and they had only begun to understand the fullness of his divinity.

So Peter speaks of Jesus as a "man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs" (Acts 2:22). These were things that God did "through" Jesus. We probably wouldn't put it quite this way today. We would probably prefer to say something like, "Jesus showed us who he was by the miracles he did." The way this sermon in Acts puts it sounds like the way you might talk about miracles God did through you or me.

And perhaps there is a point to be taken here. While he was on earth, Jesus played it by the human rules. Dare we say that, in one sense, there is nothing Jesus did while he was on earth that we cannot also do through the power of the Holy Spirit, just as he showed us? Now obviously we cannot atone for the sins of the whole world. None of us will ever go our whole lives without sinning.

But through the Spirit we at least potentially can live without intentional sin from today to the day we die. By the Spirit God can do miracles through us like he did through Jesus. Jesus tells his disciples in John 14:12 that they will do greater things than he himself did while he was on earth.

One pattern that emerges in Acts is an implicit comparison between the things Jesus, Peter, and Paul do. Jesus heals a cripped woman (Luke 13). Peter heals a lame man (Acts 3). Paul heals a lame man (Acts 14). Jesus raises a girl from the dead (Luke 8). Peter raises a woman from the dead (Acts 9). Paul raises a young man from the dead (Acts 20).

In each case, these three points make a line that points to us today. It says that, through the power of the Spirit, God can do miracles like healing the lame and raising the dead today through us. Jesus was fully human. You could argue that the things he did on earth, he did in part to show us what God can do through humanity on earth. He played it by the human rules to show us what the Spirit-filled human rules were.

Peter goes on to make it clear that the people and rulers of Jerusalem didn't pull one over on God or Jesus. Jesus' death on the cross was part of God's plan, something he knew was going to happen ahead of time. We will talk about this feature of Acts in later chapters. Acts has strong wording here and there about God's plans and foreknowledge, language that different Christians unpack in different ways.

Then we get to the climax of the sermon, the part that we always know is coming: "God raised him from the dead" (2:24). Again, we probably prefer to sing, "He arose! He arose! Hallelujah, Christ arose!"  Acts and Paul put Jesus in the more passive position--God raised Jesus. God is the one who vindicated Jesus by raising him from the dead.

With spiritual ears, Peter hears an echo of the resurrection in Psalm 16, which appears in more than one sermon in Acts. We will return to it when we look at Paul's sermon in Acts 13. God did not let Jesus' body disintegrate in the manner of mortal bodies, but raised him from the dead. More than anything else, the resurrection and all that it entails is what the apostles were sent to witness (2:32).

The significance of Jesus' resurrection and exaltation to God's right hand may also take us a little by surprise in Acts.  "Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah" (2:36). The train of thought goes in this way. You killed him. God raised him. God exalted him and gave him a seat at his right hand. That is to say, God has installed him as the Lord and as the anointed king, the "Messiah."

But wasn't Jesus always the Lord? Wasn't Jesus always the Messiah? Isn't Jesus the second person of the Trinity? Of course he was, and we find language in the gospels that refers to Jesus as Lord and Messiah prior to his resurrection.

However, we are so used to these truths that it is hard for us to get into the heads of the first disciples or to hear the full meaning these terms had originally. Again, they knew Jesus was human. They were only beginning to understand the extent of his divinity. In fact, it is possible the disciples never had the full understanding we now have, after centuries of the early Christians struggling to find the right words to describe Jesus' nature. We are blessed today to have the end result of those debates--the early creeds of the church.

It is also worth hearing the sense titles like "Lord" and "Messiah" had to the earliest Christians. In a real sense, they thought of Jesus' exaltation to God's right hand as a kind of enthronement. Jesus is finally installed as king in heaven as he is seated by God's throne.  Perhaps in its earliest sense, it is at this moment that he most truly becomes king.  He truly begins to rule.

We sing it in the chorus, "He is Lord. He is Lord. He is risen from the dead, and he is Lord."  This is the timing of Acts.  Jesus assumes his role as Lord most fully after his resurrection.  Romans 10:9 embodies this timing: "If you declare with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." What does it mean to declare "Jesus is Lord"? It is to confess that God raised him from the dead and installed him as king.

The "hymn" in Philippians 2 confirms this timing. "Therefore God exalted him to the highest place, and gave him the name that is above every name... that every knee should bow... and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord" (Phil. 2:9-11).  The timing of the hymn puts this giving of the name after Jesus has suffered death.

The earliest Christians seem to have thought of Jesus' resurrection and subsequent exaltation to God's right hand as his enthronement as king of the cosmos. The reign of God through Jesus begins as Jesus fully assumes the titles of Lord and Christ, royal titles that God bequeaths to him. We will see this pattern throughout the sermons in Acts...


Susan Moore said...

I like how Romans 1:3-4 sums it up; “regarding His Son, who as to His earthly life was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by His resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.”
But why is it necessary to connect Jesus to the power of God? What is the most basic power He must be to hold together both the cosmos and the Scriptures? He must be the Word, Himself. The one who is faithful and true. From out of nothing He spoke words, and light appeared. And by His Word all creation came to be.
And through His inspired and inerrant words written through His obedient scribes, He gave us the Word of God. And in those words, by His Word, He takes the names for those things which He has made, the elements of His creation, and over time He assigns to each at least one spiritual meaning. And then he takes those naming words, words such as tree, water, seed, life…and their new spiritual meanings, and teaches us about God and the spiritual realm: The person and realm that exists, but that we cannot see. By taking His seen creation and assigning spiritual meanings to the names of its physical elements, God makes it possible for us to ‘see’ Him, and the unseen spiritual realm. He also does this same process with our relationships, some things that we humans make, and a few verbs. Let’s not miss the relevance of Him taking the names of things and giving them new meaning. He also reveals that pattern of renaming/ascribing new meaning when He renames His people: Abram became Abraham…
And when we accept Him who is true as Lord and God of our lives, He puts in us The Spirit of The Word. And through His intercessory power we can understand the spiritual meaning of the words of the Bible, not just the literal/physical/concrete meanings. For instance, we can understand that ‘do not be unevenly yoked’ does not refer to marrying within one’s human race (as it was thought to mean when I was growing up in the 60’s), it means to marry within one’s spiritual race –believers to believers.
The speed and accuracy that this understanding occurs is ultimately in the hands of the Spirit, but requires a willing and eager human heart. It seems that, because we are indwelled with the Spirit at the time of salvation, we are then fully made in the likeness of Christ. But our human spirit may still block the expression that change. I call that the vapor trail of residual sin. Just like how a jet leaves a trail behind it, showing where it has been, our human nature may continue to leave a residual trail of sin on this earth. Even though at the time of salvation we are immediately new creations in Christ, and aliens to this world, we still walk among mortals in a fallen world and are cast in physical bodies that still need to be shed or re-created before we may wear our new eternal spiritual bodies.
Because of those temporal connections to this physical and finite world, we cannot ‘see’ our glorified eternal selves (or others’) until we ‘die’ our physical death. So, in my mind, although life here without sin is possible, it is not likely probable until one’s heart is rendered pure by the Word who is faithful and true.

Susan Moore said...

Part 2.
Thus enters miracles, the works of God. The twelve disciples were called by the Word of God to follow Him. But the Word worked through Paul in the other way. Paul wasn’t understanding the Word. So God, in a work of God, struck Paul blind and knocked him to the ground. As Paul was struggling to his senses he asked, “Who are you, Lord?” He had finally gotten it right. And then the Word concurred, “It is I, Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”
In contrast to the 12 initial disciples, because it was given to Him with His expressed eternal power, Paul had immediate understanding of both the divine nature of the Word (the Word that communicates by speech), and the eternal power of the Word (the Word that communicates by works such as in creation and re-creation which includes miracles). But there is only one Word, and that is Jesus Christ. His works, therefore always authenticates Him as the Word who speaks with expressed eternal power.
We should be clear about this –His works do not authenticate Him unless He is also the Word. They authenticate Him as the Word. A Christian who allows the Spirit to perform a miracle through him is not authenticated in any way unless he is already glorified. In one sense, we are already glorified, we just can’t see it yet. But I mean actually glorified. God cannot authenticate with His works an imperfect anything. The miracle only authenticates that the Word is present and acting through speech with expressed eternal power. Although the disciples understood that they, themselves, were not being authenticated by the miracles that were performed through them, they did not fully get the connection between the power of His Word with the power of His works being through His Word. It seems John understood it best, he seemed to be a more abstract thinker.
Paul, on the other hand, due to being given to Him by the expressed eternal power of the Word, understood that connection immediately. Although He understood the eternal power of the Word immediately, he did not understand His loving nature until after He sat blind without eating or drinking for three days, and then was miraculously healed. As evidence of that understanding, and out of thankfulness for His mercy and grace, Paul was immediately obedient to the Word, and began proclaiming His holy name.
Now one may see why it is absolutely vital that we renew our minds and stop, in our prideful ignorance, suppressing the truth about God. We must stop denying the power of God (2Tim. 3:1-5). We must be willing to allow Him to use His expressed power through us to affect the changes He desires in this world. His Word and His works go together –always.
This is also a response to the video (by the way). It seems that whatever one believes regarding sanctification, one must be able to read and understand my online testimony, and have it comfortably fit into one’s belief. Or the belief is not quite there yet. (My online testimony is at and is Roman numeral ‘I’ titled, ‘Healed’.)
I had to laugh when, in the video, you were described as a prolific writer who does his best thinking when he is writing transparently to the world. Apparently I am the same way. That was first evident in about three years of prolific emailings to Pastor Joe, et al. Tag –you’re it? 