08 April 2007

Declared to be Son of God

"Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for the sake of his name, including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ" (Romans 1:1-6 NRSV).

Like others before him, this Jesus of Nazareth had appeared on the scene, declaring that the reign of God was at hand. Though he spoke in riddles, the implications were clear: he claimed to be the long awaited Messiah, the prophesied True King of Israel. He would be the one, many believed, who would restore the kingdom to Israel and vanquish the Gentile overlords. A new age of peace and prosperity would soon begin, with the light of God's people shining out from Israel. Jerusalem would be the world's capital, and the Gentile nations would bow to Israel's king and Israel's God.

Again, like others before him and many who would come after, this son of a woman named Mary was killed by the Gentiles. His agenda rejected by the Jewish religious leaders, he was turned over to the Roman governors and executed. The death of this man was a public spectacle outside the gates of the city of David. Cursed was the man hanged on a tree. This was the proof that he was not, and could not have been, the Anointed One.

Then, on the first day of the week, something unexpected happened. He had said in riddle after riddle that this would happen, even plainly telling his disciples what to expect, and yet no one knew quite what to think or do when it did happen. The body, placed in a rich man's tomb on the day of his death, was gone. Who would steal it? The fear-filled disciples had no access to the tomb, as there was a Roman guard posted to keep the body from being stolen. The Romans placed a seal on the tomb to make certain, and the guards would not have wanted the tomb disturbed for the sake of their lives. The Jewish religious leaders made certain that these Roman guards were there specifically because they didn't want the body to disappear.

The body was gone. Then, the man no one expected to see began appearing to his disciples. He entered where doors were locked, but this was no ghostly apparition. He walked and talked with despairing disciples and even made breakfast one morning and ate with them. There was a series of appearances of the resurrected Messiah, on separate occasions, and at least of of these involved around 500 believers. It wasn't mass hysteria or self-deception: Jesus really did face down the powers of darkness, coming out on the other side not merely resuscitated, but truly resurrected.

Although there are other accounts of resurrections in the biblical narrative, this one was different. First, this was the proof that Jesus really was who and what he claimed to be. Second, this resurrection was to unending life. Third and finally, this resurrection guarantees our own bodily resurrection as well as giving tangible substance to the promised new heavens and new earth.

On the first day of the week, having finished his work of redemption on the sixth day, the work of new creation began.

"When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled: 'Death has been swallowed up in victory'" (1 Corinthians 15:54 NRSV).