Tag Archives: Resurrection

Scripture on Sunday – Psalm 16 (Part 2)

The Path of LifeLast week we studied the first six verses of this psalm and found a single-minded, whole-hearted declaration of allegiance to the Lord. The psalmist looks to God himself as his inheritance, rather than to God’s blessings and gifts. And yet, the Lord does give blessings as well as his own presence; the second part of the psalm enumerates these many blessings that the faithful might experience. For the psalmist, these blessings include counsel and guidance, defence, security, and deliverance. Nevertheless, to have the Lord is to have all there is, every blessing and more besides.

David blesses the Lord “who has counselled me.” If we recall that this psalm was probably composed in the midst of desperate circumstances, we might assume that this divine counsel specifically addressed David’s present need. That may be the case. But it is also true that God’s general counsel provides the foundation for his wisdom in specific circumstances. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 9:10), and unless one is instructed first in this initial wisdom which learns to view the world from a theocentric centre, it may be that they cannot discern the specific direction required in particular circumstances. David’s allegiance to Yahweh, and his whole-hearted trust in him, provides the framework within which he receives the divine counsel.

It is also of interest to note the manner in which this counsel came: “Indeed, my mind instructs me in the night” (NASB). The counsel did not arrive in some spectacular manner such as via an angel or a vision, but by means of his own thought processes as David prayerfully pondered his circumstances. God can and sometimes may use more spectacular means to convey his wisdom and will, but it is good for us to be reminded that more often, it seems that God uses very ordinary channels to accomplish his purposes. Of course there remains the twin requirements of learning to distinguish the divine counsel from the counsel of our own hearts, and of learning to test and confirm this guidance by means of the other gifts of grace God has given us in Scripture and the community of his people.

The final verses of the psalm are a celebration of confidence in God, again, in the midst of the most desperate circumstances. Craigie (153) titled his exposition on this psalm, “Confidence in the Face of Death.” Convinced that Yahweh is his only good, and thus his only hope, the psalmist sets the Lord continually before him, giving his attention to the Lord, placing his hope and confidence in him. More comforting still is the thought that the Lord himself is at his own right hand: even in dire straits he will not be shaken (cf. 15:5). Therefore, the psalmist rests in God, his whole being rejoicing in God’s presence, power and promise—heart, soul and even flesh.

Craigie reads these final verses as applying directly to the psalmists own immediate circumstances:

With respect to the initial meaning of the psalm, it is probable that this concluding section should not be interpreted either messianically or in terms of individual eschatology; … The acute concern of the psalmist was an immediate crisis and an immediate deliverance. His body had been endangered and his life threatened with untimely termination in Sheol. … The psalmist acknowledges that God makes him know, or experience, the “path of life,” not the afterlife, but the fullness of life here and now which is enriched by the rejoicing which emerges from an awareness of the divine presence (Craigie, Psalms 1-50, 158).

In this interpretation, verse ten is simply the psalmist’s assurance that his present circumstances will not result in his death, while the eleventh verse portrays the ongoing life that God gives as one of joy and satisfaction. This joy is grounded both in who God is and what God gives: the joys of his face (“presence”) and the joys of his right hand (“in your right hand”; see Kidner, 86).

Craigie’s conclusion helps make sense of the psalm in its original context, with the added benefit of instructing our hearts in the ways of faith, especially when ‘slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’ loom large. The path of life issues from a steadfast allegiance to God in faith, a recognition that only in him is our good to be found; seeking our good and deliverance elsewhere is to embark on a different path where hope is vain and sorrows multiply.

Nevertheless, from the earliest days of the Christian church this psalm has been read messianically. In his great Pentecost sermon, the apostle Peter argues that David indeed died and was buried. But David spoke as a prophet of the resurrection, for it was Christ who was neither abandoned to hell and whose flesh did not suffer decay in the grave (Acts 2:25-31). And so from the earliest days of the Christian church this psalm has also been read in terms of individual eschatology: the “path of life” transcends the bounds of this world and its hopes, extending beyond the grave to the life to come, evermore in the presence of God and the fullness of joy.

The Christian reception of Ps. 16 illustrates a reading strategy that quite transforms the original pedagogy. The general counsel for a morally flourishing and satisfying life with God morphs into a uniquely Christian vision of adhering to the risen Lord … Christianity is born by wrestling with ancient texts in light of startling events that require textual grounding in order to be theologically warranted. The Christian reading of David’s psalm is a fresh instruction for people in a quite different context than the one the psalmist originally attributed to David. But the underlying hope is the same (Charry, Psalms 1-50, 76).

Worship on Sunday

sunday-worshipA few weeks ago while preparing a talk for City Bible Forum, I read an essay by Oxford professor of philosophy Richard Swinburne, entitled “Evidence for the Resurrection.” Swinburne, who retired in 2002, is a major Christian apologist of the late twentieth-century, with substantial contributions in the philosophy of religion and the philosophy of science. He attached an appendix to his essay simply entitled “Sunday.”

Swinburne notes that since the earliest days of the church there has been a universal Christian custom of celebrating the Eucharist on a Sunday. This practice, in turn, is grounded on the belief—deriving from the apostles themselves—that Christ had risen on a particular day (Swinburne, “Evidence for the Resurrection,” in Davis, Kendall & O’Collins (eds.), The Resurrection (Oxford: OUP, 1997), 208). Swinburne provides evidence for this claim from the New Testament, but also from the Didachē, from Justin’s First Apology, and significantly, from Eusebius’ record of two Ebionite groups who celebrated “the Lord’s day very much like us in commemoration of his resurrection” (209). That the Ebionites, a group deeply committed to Jewish discipline, practised Sunday worship in place of the Sabbath, is particularly noteworthy. Also noteworthy is the fact that there is no record in the early centuries of the church of the Eucharist being practised on any other day but Sunday.

There is no plausible origin of the sacredness of Sunday from outside Christianity. There is only one simple explanation: the Eucharist was celebrated on a Sunday from the first years of Christianity because Christians believed that the central Christian event of the resurrection occurred on a Sunday (209).

This, however, is only half the story; who, asks Swinburne, in those very early days decided that the Eucharist was to be celebrated on a Sunday? There is no hint in the New Testament that the apostles made this decision. Yet there are suggestions towards an answer to this ‘who decided’ question. First, Swinburne notes that the New Testament records a number of appearances of the risen Jesus to his disciples on the first day of the week, including the day of the resurrection itself, and further, that a number of these appearances occurred in the context of a meal. Second, he notes that the descriptions of these appearances include the Eucharistic phrases Paul and Luke used in their last supper accounts (e.g. ‘breaking bread,’ ‘taking,’ giving’ and ‘in like manner’), and so suggests that Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances included the Eucharist. Third, the synoptic tradition records the word of Jesus to the effect that he will not “drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when [he] drinks it anew” in the kingdom of God (cf. Mark 14:25). Yet Swinburne notes that in Acts 10:41 Peter testifies that the risen Jesus appeared to his witnesses, and that he used to eat and drink with them after his resurrection.Swinburne

All this suggests an explanation of the universality of the tradition of Sunday celebration—not merely in the belief that Jesus rose on a Sunday, but in the belief of the apostles that they had joined with Jesus in post-resurrection Eucharists which he commanded them to continue on Sundays (211).

Swinburne acknowledges that his argument faces the silence of an explicit New Testament record of such a Eucharistic meal, but does not find this absence especially troubling. He also suggests that Paul’s “for I passed onto you what I received from the Lord” (1 Cor. 11:23), can be understood in terms of what came from the mouth of the Lord himself, via an oral tradition.

Whether or not Swinburne is correct in his suggestion—and certainly there are alternative views—some account must be given for the universal custom of Sunday Eucharistic celebration, especially amongst those Jewish believers who comprised the very earliest church. Such an account must surely come to grips with early Christian belief that Jesus rose on that first Easter, or indeed, that some of the earliest witnesses believed they ate and drank with the risen Lord on or shortly after that day.

Something happened which led to this new development in history. What happened? The most plausible explanation is simply that the earliest Christians truly believed that Jesus was raised from the dead. What is the most plausible reason for the emergence of this belief? The belief that Jesus had appeared to a variety of individuals and groups, and the testimony of those who had seen him. Even the age-old tradition of Sunday worship is an evidence for the resurrection of Jesus.

I must admit that I found Swinburne’s conclusion very attractive:

So there is some reason to suppose that the universal custom of Sunday Eucharist derives from the post-resurrection practice and command of Jesus himself… (212).

This morning in worship, the gathered community took the bread and drank the cup as we do each Sunday, and as God’s people regularly have done since the earliest days of the church, perhaps even, from that very first Easter when Jesus “took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them…” (Luke 24:30). Just as Moses and the elders ate and drank a covenant meal in the presence of Yahweh (Exodus 24), so the apostles and other believers may have done the same in the presence of the risen Christ. And so we, when we gather in worship to eat the bread and drink the cup, do so in the presence of the risen and coming Jesus, for he has promised: “where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them…For I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 18:20; 28:20).

Pannenberg on the Resurrection

Pannenberg Quote

Pannenberg gave much of his life to exploring the historicity and implications of the resurrection of Jesus. This simple quote makes a very plain assertion about the nature of the evidence for the resurrection, and identifies two great barriers to belief, the second perhaps more significant than the first. I have tried to find the source of this citation. Apparently it was given in an interview with Prism magazine. I have not located the particular magazine, let alone the issue.

I see City Bible Forum have put up a copy of my notes from last week’s lecture on their blog.

Practise Resurrection – An Easter Sermon

Everyday ResurrectionMt Hawthorn Community Church are on Easter camp, and they have asked me to preach for them this morning. Here is an outline of what I intend to say…

The text is Colossians 3:1-17.

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, for 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.

1. The central feature of this text, and indeed the whole central section of Colossians (i.e. 2:6 – 4:6) concerns our union with Christ and most specifically, our union with Christ in his death and resurrection. We have died with Christ, been buried with Christ, made alive with Christ, raised with Christ so that now our lives are hidden with Christ in God. Why this emphasis? What is going on at Colosse that Paul would write like this?

2. The Colossian church is a young church of young believers, under threat from false teachers who want to lead them into forms of spirituality beyond Christ and in addition to Christ. The false teaching is a curious mix of Jewish legalism, pagan philosophy and mysticism, and religious asceticism (see especially 2:8-23). Paul’s argument is simple: we are already united with Christ in his resurrection: there is nothing else to gain! Our lives are already hidden with Christ in God. We are the heirs of his glory – why, O why would we seek something else somewhere else? In him is all the fulness of the Godhead bodily – and you have been made complete in him (Colossians 2:9-10).

Does this mean, therefore, that Christians can be careless about the way they live, that there is nothing to the Christian life? God forbid! Although he does not say here, this is the kind of response Paul would make to this question. For Paul, the Christian life consists in learning to live more deeply from and into our union with Christ – in his death, and in his resurrection. What does it mean to practise resurrection?

3. Learning to Say NO!
Colossians 3:5-11 instruct us to “put off” the identity and ways of the old world.

What kinds of things are we to ‘put off’? Selfish, unrestrained sexuality, unfettered greed, anger and hatred, prejudice and violence. This is a spirituality of resistance to the ways of the world which are inherently idolatrous and destructive—to ourselves, to others, and to God’s good creation. These things afflict pain on people and destruction on community.

According to Ron Sider (The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience, 97, 103),

God’s grand strategy of redemption does not focus on redeeming isolated individuals; it centers on the creation of a new people, a new community, a new social order that begins to live now the way the Creator intended….The church is a new, visible social order. It is a radical new community visibly living a challenge to the sexual insanity, the racial and social prejudice, and the economic injustice that pervade the rest of society.

4. Learning to say YES!
What of the positive content of Christian life, spirituality and ethics? Not only is the community a community of resistance to the ways of the world, but it is also called to positively exhibit the life and character of the coming kingdom. We are called to live the lifestyle of heaven here on earth, the life of the future now in the present. This involves learning what it means to be a community of character, a community of peace, and a community of worship.

Christian life is life-in-community bearing witness to the God’s kingdom of love, righteousness and peace. Thus, to practise resurrection involves:

  1. A spirituality of faith and rest, resting from our own works because we trust fully in the work of Christ on our behalf;
  2. A spirituality of resistance and nonconformity to the destructive and idolatrous ways and practices of this world;
  3. A spirituality of bearing witness to a radically new kind of life in community, where love of God and love of others is the foundation and goal of all we do.

*****

Well, the morning (not necessarily the sermon!) went well. Mt Hawthorn Community is not a conservative congregation, but they are intelligent and thoughtful and bring a good level of discussion, reflection and question to their faith. The sermon moved to discussion during point four above and the discussion continued for 20 minutes during the service, and then for a further 30 or 40 minutes afterwards. One of the things I appreciate at Mt Hawthorn is that every sermon is followed by a time of Q&A during which the congregation engage with the material. It helps keep preaching honest and grounded.