Sunday, March 23, 2008
Jesus Christ, Our Lord
(An Easter Sunrise Service sermon based on Acts 10:34-43)
You may have noticed that in my sermon titles for Holy Week I have been using the first person plural possessive pronoun “our” rather than the first person singular possessive pronoun “my.” So, for example, this particular message is entitled “Jesus Christ, Our Lord” rather than “Jesus Christ, My Lord.” While I didn’t think out the implications of that choice as I was getting ready for Holy Week, I have come to believe that the good Lord led me in an important direction. I say that because in my reading and praying this week the truth that what God did in Christ is more about us than it is about me keeps coming back to me.
For instance, an article in the New York Times about two new books on resurrection said that “both books emphasize that in classic Jewish and Christian teachings, resurrection refers to a collective resurrection of people and renewal of all creation at the end of time.” [Peter Steinfels, “Resurrection is Often Misunderstood by Christians and Jews,” New York Times, March 15, 2008] When you stop and think about it, when the New Testament talks about the future resurrection, it always talks about the resurrection of all believers and not of this individual here and that individual there. We will be raised together.
For another instance, there are these words from Barbara Bowe as she reflects on Paul’s teachings about the body of Christ: “Somehow, as Christians, we have often missed the main point—that Christian identity is a corporate identity and there is no such thing as ‘an individual Christian.’ Those words are an oxymoron. To be a Christian is to be a member of the body of Christ.” [Barbara E. Bowe, Biblical Foundations of Spirituality: Touching a Finger to the Flame (Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003), p. 158] When we are saved we become a part of the body. To be Christian means to be in relationship with other Christians.
Easter reminds us that we are saved to be a part of the body and that we will all be raised as a body when Christ returns. Easter is first of all about Christ and it is second of all about all of us who are in Christ. But Easter is third of all about everybody in the whole wide world; it is about every person of every nation and of every race and of every language. That is so because the forgiveness of sins that is possible through the resurrected Christ is available to all who will believe.
When we gather to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the salvation that we have found in him, it is natural that we would be glad for what we have found in him and for what he has done in us. I have already said that we need to move beyond thinking about what it all means to “me” and move to understanding what it all means to all of us who are in Christ. Now I want to challenge us to understand, to accept, and to celebrate what the resurrection means to absolutely everybody.
It all comes down to this fact: “Jesus is Lord of all” (v. 36).
In the context of Peter’s sermon in Acts, that meant that he was Lord not just of the Jews but also of the Gentiles. A major conflict in the earliest days of the church revolved around whether or not Gentiles could be accepted into the Christian faith without first accepting the marks of Judaism. Tied into the conflict were Jewish attitudes toward Gentiles; Gentiles were regarded as unclean and therefore as people with whom a Jew should not associate. The question was whether the Gentiles were going to be regarded as equals in the family of God that had been made possible through the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
We really should be thankful that the problem was resolved in the way it was—otherwise you and I, all of whom are Gentiles, might not be Christians! Again, though, what I am calling us to celebrate is the fact that Jesus really is Lord of all and that through his crucifixion and resurrection the way of salvation really has been thrown open to all who will believe. It is right that we celebrate what the resurrection means to us but we also need to celebrate what it means to everybody—and our celebration of what it means to everybody only deepens what it means to us. Christian joy, after all, is compounded and multiplied when others share in the blessing.
Simon Peter had been there when the crucified and resurrected Lord Jesus had said, just before he ascended to heaven, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:46-47). “All nations” means “all people in all nations,” but Peter and the other disciples probably heard “all Jewish people—all people who are like we are—in all nations.”
But then Peter had that remarkable dream in which three times he was commanded by God to kill and eat animals that Jews would not eat because those creatures were regarded as unclean. Each time Peter protested that he had never eaten anything unclean. And each time he heard the Lord’s voice say to him, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” On the heels of that three-fold dream came men who had been sent by a Roman centurion named Cornelius who had been told in a vision to send for Peter. Peter went, and having been taught by his dream, he preached the gospel to those Gentiles. In his sermon Peter made clear that the salvation made available through Christ was available to everyone—he really was Lord of all.
And he really is Lord of all.
Early on this Easter morning, as the light breaks into the darkness, I hope and pray that the light of God will break into our darkness like it did that of Peter. I hope that as we affirm that “Jesus is Lord” we will affirm that he is Lord of all. I hope that we will celebrate the fact that God’s family is a big family and that “everyone who believes in him”—red or yellow, black or white, American or Asian or African or European, rich or poor, male or female—“receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (v. 43). The Lord Jesus died not for a select few—he died for all who will believe. The Lord Jesus rose from the tomb not to benefit just a certain group or certain groups—he rose to give life to all who will believe.
So let us celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. But let us not celebrate selfishly—let us celebrate generously and graciously. Let us celebrate the amazing grace and love of our Lord.