(An Easter sermon based on Colossians 3:1-4)
A few years ago, when our Minister of Worship Bob Walker returned from a mission trip to Russia with the Sons of Jubal (the Georgia Baptist Convention’s Men’s Choir), he told me that the Baptist worship services there always begin with an affirmation of belief in the resurrected Lord. I thought that sounded like a good idea. After all, the reason that we Christians worship on Sunday rather than on the Sabbath is that Jesus rose from the dead on Sunday. Sunday is the Lord’s Day; Sunday is Resurrection Day; each Sunday is a “little Easter.” And so for some time now we have voiced such an affirmation at the beginning of our worship services:
Pastor: Christ the Lord is risen!
People: Christ the Lord is risen indeed!
I continue to find that affirmation very meaningful.
On this Easter Sunday morning, though, I want to pose a question about that affirmation: So what? What difference does it really make? What difference does it really make to us that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead?
Such a thought has been on my mind all through this Holy Week. On Palm Sunday I wondered what difference it makes that Jesus Christ is our King. On Maundy Thursday and Good Friday I wondered what difference it makes that Jesus Christ is our Lamb and our Priest. At our Sunrise Service I wondered that difference it makes that Jesus Christ is our Lord. And now, at our final Holy Week service, I wonder what difference it makes that Jesus Christ is, as Paul put it in Colossians 3, our Life. After all, if all the things that we say are true about Jesus and us are in fact true, then it really should make quite a tremendous difference, shouldn’t it?
So what difference does it make that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead?
First, it makes a difference then.
That is, it makes a difference in the future. It makes a difference for eternity. “You have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory,” Paul said (vv. 3-4). One of the things that this statement means is that we do not yet see all that we will be. But one day, when the resurrected Christ appears and is made known to all, then we will also be known as we are meant to be known. In other words, the fact of Christ’s resurrection includes the fact of our resurrection. That will be glory for us. The family of Christ who make up the body of Christ will be all that God intends for us to be.
You know, some things are even one way or they are the other. Either this life is all there is or there is such a thing as eternity. Either our death is the end of our existence or it is an entry point into a life beyond death. Either there will be resurrection for those whose lives are hidden in Christ or there will not. Our Christian faith tells us that eternity is real, that there is life beyond life, and that there will be a resurrection. We base all of that on the resurrection of Jesus Christ. When it comes, that will be glory for us.
Such glory draws us toward it; it draws us forward. We are not all that we should be here and we never will be. This life will always be one of incompletion and imperfection; we will always have our struggles and our doubts and our fears. But the resurrection means that a better day is coming and that the full life that God intends for us that is presently hidden with Christ will one day burst onto the scene. His life guarantees our life. His appearance guarantees our appearance. What a cause for “Hallelujah!”
Second, it makes a difference now.
Since Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead, and since our life is hidden with Christ in God, and since when Christ who is our life is revealed we will also be revealed with him in glory, the resurrection of Jesus makes a tremendous difference now. Since all of those things are true, how can they not make a difference in our lives here and now? Listen to what Paul said: “So, if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (vv. 1-2). Earlier in the letter Paul had said, “When you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead” (2:12). Our baptism symbolizes something that is literally true: we have died to self in Christ and we have been raised to new life in Christ—right here and right now! Our life is hidden with Christ in God for the future, but it is also hidden with him right here and right now.
It is an amazing thing: we can and should be so identified with Jesus Christ in his crucifixion and resurrection that we literally experience his kind of life becoming our kind of life. Because we have been raised there are things that we can rise above. We have been raised and so we can rise above the things that threaten to hold us down. Paul told the Colossian Christians that they could rise above the same things that we can rise above.
We rise above superstition and speculation. The Colossian Christians needed to rise above “philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ” (2:8). They ran the risk of being led astray by people who taught them that they could gain some kind of super knowledge that went beyond the teachings of and about Christ. Now, there are all kinds of knowledge available in this world. Wherever truth is found, God is in it, because God is the author of truth. But we need to avoid superstition and speculation in our faith. Everything we need to know about God we finally see in Jesus Christ, in whom “the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (2:9) and in whom we “come to fullness” (2:10) as well. When it comes to knowing what we need to know to be saved, we see it all in Jesus. In him we can rise above the need for anything else. When Jesus Christ is our life, we live secure in our relationship with him, not insecure in what we might or might not understand.
We rise above sin and guilt. “When you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross,” Paul said (2:13-14). We are all aware of our sin and of our sense of guilt. But we can rise above them. God has nailed our sin to the cross with Jesus and in Christ God has taken away our sin and the necessity for our guilt. How much greater will our lives be if we don’t live them encumbered by guilt? We are forgiven! We can rise above it. When Jesus Christ is our life, we live under the power of forgiveness, not the power of guilt.
We rise above legalism and moralism. The Colossians were being told by some that they needed to observe certain laws and that they needed to follow certain rituals and that they needed to avoid certain things if they were going to be good Christians. To believe and live in those ways, while it may appear that it makes one a better Christian, actually has quite the opposite effect. It actually drains from us the power of the new life that we have in Jesus Christ. Granted, there are things that we will do and that we will not do when we are living the Christian life, but we will do or not do those things precisely because we are growing in our life in Christ, not because we are trying to prove or to show what good Christians we are. When Christ is our life, we live under grace, not under law.
We rise above what hurts us and what hurts others. In our passage, Paul told the Colossians to set their “minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (3:2). They could do that precisely because they had died and their lives were “hidden with Christ in God” (3:3). Then Paul went on to detail some of the things that they should “put to death”; they were “earthly” things (3:5). We need to put the same things aside and we can because we are alive in Christ. What kinds of things did Paul name? They were things that will harm us, such as fornication and impurity (v. 5). But they are also things that will hurt others—“anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language” (v. 8).
Indeed, because we are in Christ, because Christ is our life, because our life is hidden in the life of the resurrected Christ, we can live in amazing ways that build up others and ourselves up. Listen to what Paul says:
As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, cloth yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (3:12-17)
Doesn’t that sound like a marvelous way to live?
Well, that is the difference that the resurrection of Jesus Christ makes. Because he is risen from the dead, he is our life and in him we can live in ways that rise far above the kinds of ways that drag us down. We can live in ways that reflect his life. We can live in grace, in love, and in faith. We can live truly remarkable and amazing lives because they reflect the life of Jesus. They reflect the reality that we are based in eternity.
But do our lives really reflect those realities? Does the resurrection of Jesus really make that kind of difference in us and to us? It can. It really can. Will you let God do what he wants to do in your life? Will you, from this day forward, live toward the new life in Christ that is in fact yours?
So, what difference does the resurrection make in our lives? It makes all the difference in the world and in the world to come. Our lives are hidden with Christ in God; Christ is our life. So, whether we are here or whether we are there, we are in him. Frederick Buechner, writing in his book Peculiar Treasures about what Lazarus might have experienced when he was raised from the dead, said, “When Lazarus opened his eyes to see the figure of Jesus standing there in the daylight beside him, he couldn’t for the life of him tell which side he was on.” May we live so thoroughly in Christ here that it is that way for us.