I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, -- Philippians 3: 10 (NIV)
Soon, the Easter bonnets will be put away. The big family meal will be over. Christians will begin to return to their regularly scheduled routines. Mothers Day is coming up followed by Father's Day and into the summer where we can pause and be thankful for our country and our soldiers on Memorial Day and the Fourth of July. It seems sometimes as if the experience known as Americana has infected the church more than the church has affected the country. I am afraid that sometimes in our daily grind through this life that holidays become moments were we pause but we do not necessarily consider and reflect why it is that we are celebrating. While this may be acceptable as a part of Americana, it should not be so in the Christian faith.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the single most significant day in our faith -- period. Based upon what we believe we were on the outside looking in until God sent His Son to reconcile us back to Him. We were destined for hell, and eternal separation from God until Jesus Christ rose from the dead. While this can get lost amidst the chocolate bunnies and colored eggs, we need to pause long enough to thank God for sending His only Son to die for us while we were yet still sinners. Unfortunately with the rise of feel-good, bless-me theologies in the modern church things such as the cross, the blood of Jesus, and the resurrection are paid lip service before such a compassionate God. The Apostle Paul outlines for us in the key verse today three things we should be pursuing as believers regarding this pivotal moment in our faith.
The first thing we should want is to know the power of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. That is right beloved; there is unlimited power in the resurrection that is available for us in our walk. The first thing that makes it so powerful is that the greatest fear we have, death, has now been defeated!
And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died. -- 1Thessalonians 4: 13-14 (NLT)
Death no longer has any sting! Note that Paul differentiates between believers and non-believers in terms of hope. If we remember back before we were saved we will remember the feelings of despair and hopelessness that permeated our lives. There is power in the hope God provides. But so many Christians do not walk in the power Christ appropriated for them back on Calvary. They remain bound by the hopeless things of this world. They are saved but literally crawling into heaven. When Resurrection Sunday becomes just another holiday to have a nice meal with family and friends, we minimize the power the day should hold in our lives. God reminds us where the power lies:
"But don't be afraid of those who threaten you. For the time is coming when everything that is covered will be revealed, and all that is secret will be made known to all. What I tell you now in the darkness, shout abroad when daybreak comes. What I whisper in your ear, shout from the housetops for all to hear! "Don't be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God, who can destroy both soul and body in hell. -- Matthew 28: 26-28 (NLT)
When we are bound by the things of this world then we are focusing on the wrong life. There is nothing man can do to us -- God has already saved us! But how do we get to the point where we are so enamored with this life that we lose our focus and mute the resurrection power within us? By ignoring the second thing we should be pursuing -- the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings!
Oh Reverend, don't talk to me about sufferings! I just want to know how God is going to bless me! I just want to know how God is going to improve my lot in life. As Barnes Notes on the Bible puts it:
"Many are willing to reign with Christ, but they would not be willing to suffer with him; many would be willing to wear a crown of glory like him, but not the crown of thorns; many would be willing to put on the robes of splendor which will be worn in heaven, but not the scarlet robe of contempt and mockery."
So many today want the position without the sacrifice. Many want to be called apostles and prophets but do not want the true burden those offices hold. Many want the appearance of super-spirituality without the relationship with Christ that is required. Realize what Jesus went through beloved. Flogged with weapons designed to rip the skin off of your back. Thorns shoved into his head until the blood dripped into His eyes. His beard ripped out. Forced then to carry a cross weighing upwards of 100 pounds -- carrying the very instrument He knew would be used to kill Him. All the while suffering the taunts and mockery of those around Him. The very people He was dying for -- ridiculing Him as He marched to His death. Oh Reverend, don't talk to me about the blood! I want a soft and easy bloodless religion! Let's be honest with ourselves. We can get upset if someone is sitting in our regular pew spot! I know people who have left churches because their feelings were hurt! Barnes Notes continues:
"To do this, is one evidence of piety; and we may ask ourselves, therefore, whether these are the feelings of our hearts. Are we seeking merely the honors of heaven, or should we esteem it a privilege to be reproached and reviled as Christ was - to have our names cast out as his was - to be made the object of sport and derision as he was - and to be held up to the contempt of a world as he was? If so, it is an evidence that we love him; if not so, and we are merely seeking the crown of glory, we should doubt whether we have ever known anything of the nature of true religion."
Indeed, the nature of true religion must be based on relationship. That relationship must embrace both the good and the bad. That is why divorce rates are so high, even in the church. We have no problem with the positive but as soon as something comes against us we claim our differences have become irreconcilable. Nonsense! We simply choose to not endure the suffering.
But not only are we to relate to His sufferings -- the key verse actually says we are to fellowship in the sharing of these sufferings. Fellowship intimates a much closer relationship then we are used to with suffering in this country. We are to be close and personal friends with the suffering of Jesus Christ -- not mere spectators. Not pay it lip service while we are passing the marshmallow peeps out. Close enough to smell the blood running down our back. Close enough to feel the thorns in our brow. We are not to intellectualize it. We are not to treat it as a story or a documentary. We are supposed to fellowship in it. We are to sit down with it and get to know it. We are to sup with it. Only then can we begin to get a true glimpse into the sacrifice God has made on our behalf which will unlock the power of His resurrection in our lives. I do not know how anyone can watch The Passion of the Christ and not weep uncontrollably. The graphic nature of the sufferings of Christ on display and yet experts on history say that Mel Gibson did not even come close to how bad it truly was. Yet we have people in the Church of Jesus Christ who see no problem in sharing the altar of a holy God who sent His only Son to go through this torture with pagan symbols and worldly excuses. The only logical rationale I can come up with is that we simply have not fellowshipped in the sharing of His sufferings. As I sit here in tears now writing this, I realize that I had not either until today. This is what Jesus meant by not being afraid of those who threaten you. I have fellowshipped in the sufferings of Jesus Christ! What can you possibly do to me? I now understand how Peter, who failed so miserably for so long was able to demand to be crucified upside down!
Beloved, there is resurrection power available for all of us who call on the name of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. But it is not found in a padded pew, playing church. It is not found in seeker friendly nonsense that pretends the Gospel is no longer relevant enough to reach the lost of this generation. The true Gospel is always relevant enough and if we find ourselves in a church where it is not, the problem is not with the Gospel I assure you. I can see now that those dead churches that strip the sufferings of Christ out of the Gospel are left with a cardboard cutout of the truth. As long as you stare at it straight on, it looks right. It even sounds right. But if we change our perspective we see it is only one-dimensional. It has no depth. If we take off the crown of glory we like to wear and replace it with the crown of thorns, we can see the Gospel being preached is false. The crown of glory is only truly obtained when we first fellowship with the sharing of His sufferings by taking on His crown of thorns. Once we have truly fellowshipped there, then there is nothing man can do to us anymore. We will be set free from religion and truly understand relationship. The Spirit of God inside of us will rise up and we will preach the Good News of Jesus Christ. Not a one dimensional Christ -- but the genuine article. People want to spread lies and gossip about us? They mocked our Lord and spit on Him! People want to try and strip our dignity? They tore His clothing off His back and gambled for it! The power of His resurrection is found beloved -- in the fellowship of the sharing of His sufferings. We cannot expect the power without the suffering. Just take a look around at a lot of the modern churches and you will see what I mean. Paul warned us: