Alive, Living, Still to Be Contended With
“He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.” (Acts 1:3)
“Rather they had certain points of dispute with him about their own religion and about a certain Jesus, who was dead, but whom Paul asserted to be alive.” (Acts 25:19)
Throughout the Christian world, this past Easter in many church services these words were heard: “Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed.” It is not easy to know what these words mean to many of the folks who were saying them. Increasingly, I have come to the opinion that people believe that the resurrection was a unique but irrelevant oddity if it occurred at all. Some of course believe that the resurrection is what they call “a faith event.” That is, it is not historical but only occurred in the faith of the disciples. They believed it happened whether or not it really did. For this reason, in my preaching, I have tended to assert the reality of the resurrection by stating at the beginning of such a preaching, that Jesus is alive. For some reason this seems to carry a different force than merely to state that Jesus was raised from the dead. You can see that force of the words in the two verses quoted above. I especially like the force of the words as related by an unbeliever describing Paul’s preaching “Whom Paul had asserted to be alive.” What a wonderful description this would be as a summary of our preaching. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if someone could say of those of us who preach “they assert that Jesus is alive?”
When Jesus conducted his earthly ministry, his opponents wished to see him dead. They were threatened by him and by his message. They feared both the public and religious consequences. There were political ramifications for his assertion of who he was. And there were religious ramifications for who he claimed to be. On the one hand, they cried out “We have no king but Caesar.” On the other hand, they cried “Blasphemy.” If Jesus is no longer with us, then neither one of these cries expresses anything relevant today. Whether or not most Christians would admit it, they really do not believe either issue has anything to do with us today. Jesus has become inoffensive, and somewhat comfortable (if mildly embarrassing).
However, the true force of the statement “Jesus is risen” is that Jesus is alive and with us to be contended with as the living Lord. He did what he claimed he would do. He is doing what he promised. The uncomfortable truth is that Jesus is Lord of the nations and he is the Son of God who is to be worshiped as God. Above every “Caesar” there is a higher king today to whom they should and must answer, namely Jesus Christ the Lord. He is the only king and head of his church and the only mediator between God and man. His authority extends from the highest heaven to the lowest hell, and everything in between. He is bringing history to its ultimate conclusion. He is saving his people from their sins and he is going to make all things new in the end. But Jesus is alive today. He is living. And the uncomfortable truth is that publicly and religiously he is the principal with whom everyone must contend.
American Christians, generally speaking, seek solace in pluralism while decrying secularism. This is no answer. The tendency is to relegate Jesus to the supreme focus of Christian personal religious experience. But they are uncomfortable with Jesus being recognized as having a public role. In a similar way, it seems many evangelical Christians do not wish to see Jesus as forming the final people of God by his present authority. They look to some future form of the people of God, rather than seeing the church as a final temple which the Son of David is building now. The result in both these cases is a limitation of the lordship of Jesus Christ to becoming just people’s personal Jesus.
There needs to be a radical rethinking of the role of Jesus as the great king and his law as the only adequate foundation for public civil life. Man-made laws are essential to a society based in rule of law, but these man-made rules need to be grounded in moral absolutes which are rooted in the divine nature and therefore are the ultimate standard of what is right, good, and wise. Anything less is based merely on pragmatics “Why can’t I kill you? If you are inconvenient to me, if you offend my sensibilities, why can’t I just silence you permanently?” Without divine declarations and imperatives, we are left with the idea of who we are as human beings and we have no idea of how to set a value on our neighbor. We live in a time when men have decided he can redefine himself and decide according to his own value system the worth of his neighbor. We are driving off a cliff into irrationality and a chaotic ungovernable society which must end only in the ruin of our society. Having an implicitly Christian society does not require theocracy, nor does it require the ascendency of one sect, however it does require a publicly binding covenant (constitutional agreement) that Jesus Christ is Lord of the nation and that his law is foundational for all man-made laws. If your reaction is to wonder if such a suggestion is Sharia law Christianized, that it is some sort of Christian tyranny, then you ought to ask yourself “How deeply Americanized am I as a Christian? How deeply has pluralism, and secularism, and liberal thought given me my inner sensibilities so that my knee-jerk reaction is, “What does Jesus have to do with public life?”
In the same way, we hear Christian preachers say, “Jesus is Lord.” But they have abandoned basic Christian morality. There seems to be, generally speaking, little or very few sermons on elements of Christian character. Moralism is spoken against. However, we must teach Christian morals. I once heard it said that teaching Christian morals from the pulpit is doing little more than a psychologist, or rabbi, or priest would do. This is ludicrous. Psychologists do not teach the self-sacrificial love of Jesus. The rabbi teaches an eye for an eye or a tooth for a tooth. But Jesus will teach you to forgive seventy times seven. The Iman will teach you to destroy the infidel, but our missionaries lay down their lives for the sake of those who would believe. It is only Jesus who enables us to know what it means to love your neighbor as yourself.
Jesus is alive and his church needs to listen to his voice speaking his scripture as binding on all her practice: worship, government, evangelism, the missionary enterprise, finances, property, diaconal ministries and charitable institutions.
These two lines of thought that Jesus is the Lord in public life and Jesus is Lord of the church seem perhaps to have no connection. But this can’t be true. Because life is one whole thing. A stable society needs a sound economic basis. It needs solid building blocks as social units. It needs a public committed to the same general course of life. Christianity provides all of this. Stable families not riddled with adultery. Honest workers and businessmen with integrity doing their work as unto the Lord. Laws that are not merely arbitrary, but obviously right and good. A society that values human life and the right of personal property. These things may be taught in church, but they are lived out in the everyday life of a town, a state, and a nation. We often hear that we must change the nation one individual at a time. Others assert, “No, we must state the principles of Christian public policy.” These two things are not mutually exclusive. But they require a theology that recognizes that in both spheres Jesus is alive, living and to be contended with. We must assert his claims in our public life and we must call all men to a personal saving knowledge of Jesus as the Savior. He is alive, living, and to be contended with.
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