Monday, May 07, 2007

“A New Day”

1 Corinthians 15:19-28[1]

I know you’ve heard me say this before, but it never ceases to amaze me how the Gospel of hope and salvation has been turned into its very opposite by the church. If you ask about what the Christian faith says about human destiny, I think it’s a fair bet that many would repeat the scenario of the “Left Behind” series with all its terrifying catastrophes and horrible suffering. It seems that people are fascinated with fire and brimstone—as if Sodom and Gomorrah represent what we have to look forward to! All I can say is that has never been the heart of the Christian Gospel!

In fact, a very strong case can be made that those ideas came from outside the Christian faith! Many of the ancient religions believed that destiny of humankind was something fearful.[2] But in contrast to all that fear and horror, the prophet we know as Isaiah declares in the name of the Lord that God is in the process of creating a new heavens and a new earth (Isa. 65:17)! For him, the future of humankind was something to rejoice over, not something to fear!

And yet, somehow, the Christian church became enamored with images of horrific destruction. Fire and blood and pain became the normal way of envisioning our fate. Of course, the average medieval person “believed” in these fiery depictions of the end time because they had no choice but to accept what was told them. And I realize that is why many people still believe in them today—some more firmly than they seem to believe in Jesus Christ![3] Again, that has never been the heart of the Christian Gospel! But I fail to grasp how it is that the violent images religions have drawn of human destiny continue to persuade anyone when compared the faith of our crucified and risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christf!

In the New Testament, the heart of the Christian faith is Easter faith. Paul emphasizes this clearly in his letter to the Corinthians. He makes it clear to them that the Gospel that Jesus died for us and rose again was something “of first importance,” (1 Cor. 15:3-4). In fact, Paul is so convinced that Christian faith is resurrection faith, that he tells the Corinthians without this faith and this hope, “we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Cor. 15:19)!

But make no mistake—for Paul, the resurrection of Jesus Christ meant the dawn of a new day.[4] Paul tells the Corinthians that Jesus’ resurrection is like the ancient Jewish practice of “first fruits,” the offering of the first of the crop that signified one’s acknowledgement that the whole harvest belonged to God. When applied to Easter faith, it means that the resurrection serves as the dawn of new life that one day will embrace all things! Paul says, “as all die in Adam, all will be made alive in Christ.” As the effects of sin are universal, so the salvation effected through the resurrection is universal. [5] Paul’s image of human destiny is one of hope and joy, where nothing—neither human willfulness nor even death itself—can limit the salvation that Christ now freely offers to all.[6]

The new day of Jesus’ resurrection rolls back the clouds of fear and death that have overshadowed our lives and reveals the light of God’s new creation already breaking into this world.[7] The light of God’s new day that dawned on that first Easter points us to the final day when death will no longer be our “inevitable destiny.”[8] It points us to the end of the despair that says death means that everything we think is meaningful comes to a pathetic end. The light of God’s new day points us to the time when everything that once separated us from God will be removed.

Paul says that the new day of the resurrection points us to the time when God will be “all in all”: “when … the God who has created everything and redeemed everything will so indwell his creation” that God fills everything and everyone with his life and his beauty and his love.[9] The Christian faith looks more like the Garden of Eden renewed than some horrible fire and brimstone day of reckoning! The Christian faith is about the good news of the Gospel of new life! With the dawn of that first new day of Easter came a faith and a hope in the God who creates, redeems, and gives new life to all things! Christ is Risen! Alleluia! Amen!

[1] A sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 4/8/07 at First Presbyterian Church Dickinson, TX.

[2]See Alan E. Bernstein, The Formation of Hell, 1-18; see also J. Moltmann, In the End, The Beginning, 140-41.

[3] Moltmann, In the End, 146-47, rather bluntly states that these notions are positively not Christian ideas, even if Christian churches have taken them over! Cf. Emil Brunner, Dogmatics III:344-45, 350: “time-bound apocalyptic” statements in the Bible do not take away from faith in Christ, for “Jesus Christ is Himself in His Person the promise of eternal life.”

[4] Moltmann, In the End, 87: “faith is Christian faith when it is Easter faith”; cf. also Brunner, Dogmatics II:365.

[5] Brunner, Dogmatics, II:304, 364; III:343, 371; Moltmann, In the End, 161, 164.

[6] Moltmann, In the End, 149. He adds that the traditional idea of Christ’s descent into Hell means that he fills it with his life! Cf. also Ibid., 163.

[7]J. Moltmann, The Way of Jesus Christ, 182; J. Moltmann, Theology of Hope, 197; J. Moltmann, The Church In the Power of the Spirit, 98-100; cf. N. T. Wright, Simply Christian, 92; Otto Weber, Foundations of Dogmatics II:97-98; Brunner, Dogmatics III:346, 366; Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, IV.1, 311-12.

[8] Moltmann, In the End, 48, 145; cf. Barth, Church Dogmatics IV.3:319: we look forward to the day when “the light of life which has appeared in Him will penetrate and fill even the remotest corner of the cosmos.”

[9] Moltmann, In the End, 155, 158.

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