This article is adapted from a talk given at Reformation Fellowship on Easter Sunday, April 16, 2006.
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It is difficult for us believers to keep God in perspective. God is love—John tells us—and that is profoundly and certainly true. But God is also wrath—wrathful toward anyone who fails to take him seriously.
The same can be said for Jesus, the man whom God sent to be the embodiment of God’s very being. Jesus is a man who has manifested profound and unprecedented love. Yet he is a man who will deal out decisive and devastating wrath. Jesus is a loving Messiah; but Jesus is also a punitive and wrathful Messiah. C. S. Lewis was trying to capture this strange and uneasy balance in his depiction of Aslan, the Christ figure in his Narnia tales. “Aslan is not a tame lion,” the children are told.
Jesus’ love, rightly understood, is of truly heroic proportions. While Jesus was entirely innocent of any evil whatsoever—a perfectly good human being—he nevertheless volunteered to die the death that you and I deserve. Anyone who has seen the movie The Passion of the Christ has seen a disturbing depiction of what Jesus’ choice entailed. Jesus endured tremendous pain, suffering, and humiliation in order that we might have a possibility of receiving mercy from God, our judge. He did not have to do it. We did not deserve such a sacrifice; he did not owe it to us. The universe could have gone on just fine with the whole lot of us being condemned to destruction. Jesus made such a sacrifice as an expression of love—a God-like love that took suffering upon himself so that we could avoid the ultimate suffering. Jesus is a hero. We owe him our utmost gratitude. We should all lie on our stomachs before his feet, weep for joy, and wipe his feet with our hair. Nothing short of this understands what he did for us. Nothing short of this understands how profound is the love he has shown us.
At the same time, the coming wrath of Jesus, rightly understood, is of truly epic proportions. The day will come when Jesus—raised from the dead and seated at the right-hand of the throne of God—will come to bring judgment upon the earth. When he comes, he will come with a sword—a sword that is thirsty for the blood of all who have opposed the truth he proclaimed. He will not then be coming to forgive. He will be coming to judge unbelief—the only unforgivable sin. Many will say to Jesus on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?” But then Jesus will declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness” (Matthew 7:22-23). Those who have believed in Jesus as a cuddly, toy Messiah will be destroyed in that day. Those who have believed in Jesus as their all-accepting, tolerant enabler will meet their doom on that day. Those who have believed in Jesus as their supernatural problem-solver will be condemned on that day. Those who have believed in Jesus as their life-giving sugar daddy will be cast into darkness on that day. Only those who have believed in the risen Jesus as the eternal King of Kings enthroned over all of created reality will be spared condemnation on the day that Jesus comes in wrath.
Today we celebrate Easter, the day Jesus was raised from the dead. Why did God raise him from the dead?
Because Jesus’ propitiatory offering by which he appealed to God for mercy on our behalf gained acceptance by God?
Yes, that’s an important part of it.
Because the mercy of God is stronger and a more important priority than God’s justice?
Yes. That’s true.
Because our condemnation to death is going to be swallowed up by God’s merciful gift of Life?
Yes. That’s right.
But just as important as any of these is this:
God raised Jesus from the dead rather than leave him to rot in the tomb because Jesus had run the race set before him and had qualified himself to be the very embodiment of God’s will and rule over all of creation forever. Jesus had shown himself to be the very embodiment of all that the God above all gods is. Therefore, God raised him up from the dead to rule as God and to serve as our judge.
Because Jesus was raised from the dead, he—more than any other entity in the cosmos—must be feared. I must take him seriously—or die the eternal death.
Because Jesus was raised from the dead, I must take care to hear, and understand, and heed the message he brought into the world.
Because Jesus was raised from the dead, I must listen to his teaching and obey it.
Because Jesus was raised from the dead, I must not fritter away my life in idle, foolish pursuits.
Because Jesus was raised from the dead, I must not give my life to money and the making of money.
Because Jesus was raised from the dead, I must not spend my whole life escaping into entertainment.
Because Jesus was raised from the dead, I must not make up my own religion and pretend that it makes me right with God—even if I call it Christianity.
Because Jesus was raised from the dead, I must not succumb to that numbing apathy that forgets to remember that Jesus is real.
Because Jesus was raised from the dead, I must not get so busy with the things that will burn up in the end that I never acquire the things that will last.
Because Jesus was raised from the dead, I must labor and work and fight—waging battle against the evil within my own soul.
Because Jesus was raised from the dead, I must be vigilant to guard my own heart—turning it to the love of God and his righteousness above all else.
Because Jesus was raised from the dead, I must diligently practice until I learn to discern the difference between good and evil and between truth and error.
Because Jesus was raised from the dead, I am not my own; I am the servant of another. And it is the role of a servant to serve his master faithfully.
As we remember Easter today, may we take this challenge to heart. Christ is risen. Therefore, as he was raised from the dead to live to serve our God, we too must consider ourselves made alive in order to live to serve our God.