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Raised to Life

Date: 26/05/2019/Speaker: Ps Gary Chan

Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?” “They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. (John 20:11-14)

A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:26-28)

As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” (Luk 24:28-32)

Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” “No,” they answered. He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish. Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” (John 21:4-7a)

Meanwhile, Saul was uttering threats with every breath and was eager to kill the Lord’s followers. So he went to the high priest… As he was approaching Damascus on this mission, a light from heaven suddenly shone down around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?” “Who are you, lord?” Saul asked. And the voice replied, “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting! Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” The men with Saul stood speechless, for they heard the sound of someone’s voice but saw no one! (Acts 9:1, 3-7)

It seems like a long time ago already and you may not realise this but in the church calendar, we are still in the period of Eastertide which finishes in 2 weeks time at Pentecost.

During the Easter week the church remembered the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

On Easter Sunday, we proclaimed “Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen indeed!”

When I was growing up as a young Christian in the church I attended, Easter was one of two “big days” – major events that were used to focus on evangelism – to bring our friends and family members to Christ. The other one was Christmas.

Easter was particularly important for this – just as Jesus conquered the grave, so those who receive Jesus as Lord and Saviour “would not perish but have everlasting life”.

These services focused on the one thing most of us are afraid of, and the one thing that we have no ultimate control over – when our physical bodies die.

So bringing our loved ones to receive Christ would mean that their eternal souls would not die and that we could ourselves experience bodily resurrection too one day when Christ returns and be reunited with our loved ones.

So, fundamentally, the choice presented was to accept Christ and live, or deny Christ and die.

Even though it was 2 decades ago that I was in that church, I still remember what the altar calls were like.

Maybe it was the PTSD, but at the end of the Easter sermon, I remembered the preacher standing up and challenging the thousands of people gathered with this, “if you were to die tonight, do you know where you will be spending eternity?”

He would then proceed to pound the pulpit with one hand in this rhythm and said, based on the death rate of unbelievers, this is the number of people that are dying and going to a godless eternity.

But when someone tells them about how Jesus has conquered the grave and has risen to new life and they too can do the same, we save that person from a godless eternity. The pounding would stop for a moment, before restarting again.

He would then go to ask everyone to close their eyes and say that “noone comes through the Father but through Christ” and that “if we are to confess with our lips and believe with our hearts, we will be saved” and that “angels rejoice in heaven when one sinner repents”.

The preacher would then ask people while noone is looking and only God’s eyes are looking for people to make a decision to receive Christ and raise their hands.

They would be led in the “sinner’s prayer”, given a Bible, asked by the ushers (who somehow had their eyes open) to fill in their contact information and so they could be invited back for their introduction to Christianity class.

Familiar to anyone? That was the way I came to make a decision to know God, and have led others to God know too. That was my diet for 7 years.

Early on in the beginning of FCC, Christmas was our big day and we didn’t have Miak and Pauline in ministry back then so I took on the role of organizing the Christmas services. I took that model of the “big day” and copied it (with the drama skit but minus the pounding), because that was what I knew and what I thought I was supposed to be doing..

Over time I have learnt how altar calls are useful for people to have a time of reflection, decision and commitment, but I need to recognize how it at the same time can create trauma or remind people of the hurt that they had been inflicted in their past church experience, and we need to use these tools in light of the heart and character of God and how that needs to be reflected in everything we do.

We read different passages of scripture of what happened after the resurrection where Jesus appeared to the disciples during this period before his ascension. Over time I also started asking more questions that I felt hadn’t been addressed.

Questions like, if the point of the gospel was the resurrection, then why didn’t the early manuscripts of the Gospel according to Mark give any focus to it? Why did resurrection have to take 3 days? What happened during those 3 days? Did Jesus experience a real physical flesh and bones resurrection? Is the resurrection body a special body with particular powers? How come it can appear in one moment and suddenly disappear in another moment? If you look at the timelines of the accounts, how come it could be in 2 different places at once? How come this resurrected Jesus could pass through locked doors? How come the disciples couldn’t easily recognize Jesus? What happened to the original body? Matthew recorded that many graves opened up and had saints appearing among the people? Were they in resurrected bodies too or was it a city of walking dead? For such a significant and visible event, why aren’t there any other records that have been found that we can use to understand more about what happened?

The more I read about it, the less satisfying the answers I found were – all trying to ignore or sidestep or inadequately explain these phenomena.

If this event is so central to the Christian faith and you can’t explain all of these things, then maybe we can’t be too certain of the hope that we hold on to of a life after death.

If you came today looking for answer to that question, I am afraid I don’t have one for you. Not because there isn’t one. But because I think we are focusing on the wrong question.

The mechanics of how the resurrection happened will remain a mystery, but we need to focus on the larger narrative in which the resurrection is situation in, and that’s where we will find the heart of the Gospel and the point of Easter.

So what is the point of Easter then? What does the resurrection show us?

I think the point of Easter is what completely changes as a result of Easter.

We walk with the disciples in the Gospel narratives and thereafter and from their perspective, 3 things changed for them in the light of Easter –

1/ a complete change in the way the disciples knew God,

2/ a complete change in the way the disciples lived,

3/ a complete change in the way the disciples interacted with one another and the world.

This is so important for us to understand, because otherwise we will be focusing on the unanswerable questions rather than understanding how we are being called to rise to new life in Christ.

So let’s look at the three changes starting with the first change –

1/ A complete change in the way the disciples knew God

For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. (1 Corinthians 15:3-8)

One of the central things that happens in the Easter story is the appearance of Jesus to the disciples. We read different accounts of this during our time of worship.

And Paul writes that even though he was not one of the twelve, and even though Jesus had already ascended, Jesus still appeared to him.

So Paul was not talking about the appearance of Jesus in the resurrected body, but that there was an encounter with the person of Jesus – not a form that you could validate with your eyes, but one of a deep knowing of this reality that God was there with him on that road to Damascus, and that it was Jesus.

Meanwhile, Saul was uttering threats with every breath and was eager to kill the Lord’s followers. So he went to the high priest… As he was approaching Damascus on this mission, a light from heaven suddenly shone down around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?” “Who are you, lord?” Saul asked. And the voice replied, “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting! Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” The men with Saul stood speechless, for they heard the sound of someone’s voice but saw no one! (Acts 9:1, 3-7)

Paul experienced a light from heaven and the voice of God. He encountered the living Christ in a different way.

Last week Pauline shared about Peter’s own experience, of encountering the risen Christ through a vision on the rooftop of Simon the Tanner’s house.

So what was that first change the disciples experienced?

When Jesus’ body died on the cross of Calvary, the gospels tell us that the curtain in the temple was ripped into two. This large, heavy curtain was put up by the priests to protect the holy of holies in the temple, where God’s presence was.

The understanding of the priests was that it was only the priests after they had gone through the ritual of cleansing themselves and making themselves right before God can enter the presence of God.

And God showed the world in the Easter events that now all are righteous, all could experience God, all could encounter God, and ripped down the veil of separation that the priests had put up.

So the way that the disciples related with Jesus completely changed – they understood that the one that they knew and followed was not only with them before the crucifixion, but was always with them. That death did not have the final say. That God was with them always, till the end of the age.

Reflection Question: How as the living God appeared to you? Do you recognize the Christ with you?

“If God has to be God, God has to be real to me” – Roselle Chua

My sharing: I grew up in a Christian family but my first experience of encountering the living God was during times of worship when I was in my early 20s. It was like being lifted up, wrapped in love and love being poured into my heart till it is overflowing. That’s why I love to worship with music, and got involved in the music ministry so that others would be able to have an encounter with God in a similar way.

I also see God through God’s creation. I love travelling and experiencing the majesty of God through the world. The splendour and intricacy of creation is more beautiful than any artist can dream up.

But God appears differently to each one of us, just as God appeared differently to Paul. It could be in a time of prayer and meditation, and yet others, it could be through the people around them. I remember Zihao sharing with me an experience while we were attending the Hillsong Conference during an altar call he asked God to show him God’s face, and God showed him a vision of the faces of every person placed in his life who loved him.

Just as God appeared to the disciples then, the living God wants to reveal the person to God to each one of us. Sometimes it’s about us taking a moment to recognize that it is God who is with us.

That was the first change – a complete change in the way the disciples knew God.

The second change that happened was the change in the lives of the disciples.

2/ A complete change in the way the disciples lived

Something life-transforming happened at Easter, something that transformed Jesus’ first followers.

These disciples were completely different people before and after Easter.

They went from fearful hiding to courageous proclamation, from denying Jesus to affirming Jesus and people, from scarcity thinking to having this unquenchable hope.

What a different picture we see – this is Peter and John at the Garden of Gethsamane, the ones who denied Jesus and fled and here we see the same Peter and John in Acts 4 boldly ministering the gospel, and going to prison for it without wavering the hope that was in them and the faith they had in God.

These were still the same people, but the way they lived their lives completely changed.

John Stott –

“Perhaps the transformation of the disciples of Jesus is the greatest evidence of all for the resurrection.”

The way the lived their lives changed because their perspective had changed.

You see, the disciples themselves had experienced a resurrection.

Resurrection involves more than just our physical bodies. It involves the restoration of our true selves towards shalom – the way we were intended to relate spiritually, physically, relationally, and politically.

What changed for them? They knew whose they were – they were the beloved children of God, they were loved, they were worthy, they were precious, they were called by God to the abundant life and to fulfill God’s mission.

They could do all things not because they had they had the ability to do so but through the living Christ who is with them and strengthens them.

Reflection Question: How has the way you lived changed as a result of Easter?

We are called to be witnesses to the change.

We defeat the accuser by the blood of the lamb and the word of our testimony. (Rev 12:11)

My sharing: I was a shy gay kid growing up. I still remember in my teens I had to give my first speech as part of a training camp with my classmates – it was so traumatic that I can remember it 30+ years later till today. I carefully prepared my script, packed it full of information and when it was my turn, I went to the front, held a mic for the first time, and presented it to a room full of my classmates.

Everyone else to had a turn and each person was given feedback of what they did well – how eloquent they were, how funny they were, how interesting they were and how they could improve.

And at the end of it, I remembered how disappointed I was. I didn’t get any feedback. Zilch.

After pouring all that work into it. It was just “thank you Gary, next.”

Maybe they didn’t have time to give me feedback, but the way I received it compared to my classmates was this probably wasn’t my thing since I didn’t get any positive feedback, and I don’t matter since I didn’t get any feedback. It was such a traumatic experience. Today, standing here, doing this, preaching this sermon, from the very thing that was my trauma, the very thing that is my weakness is what God uses to show who God is.

The Apostle Paul puts it this way in 2 Cor 12:9

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

The second change of Easter was a complete change in the way the disciples lived.

3/ A complete change in the way the disciples interacted with one another and the world.

The birth of the Christian movement emerged from this way of living, these experiences of this new life, first with the disciples and then within the early Christian community in Jerusalem and onto the larger world.

The disciples learnt that they too were called to the same mission as Jesus – to break in the kingdom of God into every area of life, to participate in the restoration of the world in the way the were to relate with themselves, one another and the world, to not conform to the patterns of the world but to transform how they live by renewing their mind as a result of the change of perspective.

The early church was birthed out of that self-giving love of the community and radical living as a witness to the who God is.

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke breadin their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. (Acts 2:42-47)

It’s the reason why we are here today – because God continues to call us together to be that witness of God’s love to the world and one another.

Reflection Question: What is God calling you to change in the way you interact with others in the light of Easter? What new thing is God calling you to this Easter?

My Sharing: I never thought about being a missionary. But 10 years ago, we were into our sixth year at FCC when I discerned God’s call to be a blessing and build up the churches in the region. Out of that call, God brought people into my life and opened the doors to bulid relationships with GSKL in KL and BMCF and Hong Kong and out of that we organized the first Amplify conference in 2009 – to strengthen and equip leaders of the affirming churches in Asia. And it has been an incredible journey to see how God has used and graced the work.

This week, we saw marriage equality pass in Taiwan and I am thankful that we had the opportunity last year to stand and walk with the LGBT community and call for change in churches and legislation in Asia. This Easter, I sense God getting me ready for the next chapter of that journey to gather the leaders, to build Amplify into a network of churches in covenant with one another, to create structure where other leaders can serve and bless the churches in Asia, to heal the differences between our churches, to support the leaders in each of our churches, and to equip and recognize new leaders more intentionally.

This requires many deaths – a death of my comfort and convenience, a death of my pride, a death of my attitude of unforgiveness and lack of grace, a death of my own small minded agenda so that I can rise to new life.

And God continues to call us all to die and be resurrected, to die and be resurrected so that we can move towards greater shalom and greater love.. How far away is our church and the global church from the church we see in Acts..

Closing

As we close today, a lot of the ideas we talked about are encapsulated in the Great Commission. Here are the words of Jesus before He ascended to heaven before the Holy Spirit was poured out at Pentecost.

Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’ (Matthew 28:18-20)

Many of us grew up understanding that the Great Commission was a call to convert others to Christianity. The church which I grew up in called it to plunder hell and populate heaven, based on this idea of our life after death being the primary purpose of Christianity.

But God’s idea of Easter is so much bigger, grander, more inclusive than that.. And God invites all of us, wherever we are, to follow him – to change how we see God, to change how we see ourselves, and change how we see our purpose.

“Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” – how it changes the way we know God, how we are all invited to experience God, how God’s presence is not conditional on our performance, how God promises to always be with us.

“Baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” – how it changes the way we live, knowing that we all belong to God, that we are called to die and rise to new life.

“Go and make disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” – how it changes the way we live – we are all called to be part of the mission of God, to follow Christ, to live out the commandments to love God, our neighbor, ourselves and the world into wholeness and restoration.

And this is the journey that we are all invited into – and it is our own Easter – our own death and resurrection.

I want to close where we started on the traditional idea of Easter – a transactional one that I am dying to in order to embrace a much more expansive understanding of it.

After all, we are reminded that “perfect love casts out all fear”.

I want to encourage you with the words of theologian Bruce Epperly as a way forward for those who are here who are similarly recovering PTSD sufferers as we close, or if you are wondering in light of the narrowness of the understanding of Easter whether Christianity is really for you.

Bruce says –

“You don’t have to believe in a literal (resurrection) to be a follower of Jesus. Jesus’ revelation defies any category of literalism, orthodoxy, or reductionism. Jesus is alive whenever we choose life, whenever we launch out in the deep, whenever we believe more rather than less. But, more than that, resurrection happens even when we can’t believe or turn away from God. God is faithful, God’s mercies are new every morning, for “believer” and “non-believer” alike.

A resurrected Jesus doesn’t punish, compete, or exclude. Resurrection is the embodiment of Shalom for everyone, not just believers. Resurrection is waiting especially for agnostics, doubters, and people who have been driven from faith as a result of the traumas and tragedies of life. Resurrection gives life, healing, and courage when we need it most, and always when we least expect it. Resurrection gives us hope that abundant life is our legacy now and forever more.”

Today if you are not experiencing this same radical abundance of new life that comes out of the radical transformation, the resurrected Christ is with you, the resurrected Christ wants to lead you, if you would trust His heart, and follow Him.

“The central message of Christ is that suffering and death brings resurrection and transformation… Resurrection only comes out of death – real death. Our losses are real. And so is our God, the living God.” (Peter Scazzero, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality)

One final question for us to reflect on as the worship team comes forward – “What mindsets does God want to put to death in your life so that you can rise to new life?”