Easter Sunday 2016: Acts 10:34-43, 1 Cor. 15:1-11, Jn. 20:1-18
Christian leadership is not Christian unless it is driven by the centrality of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But everything hinges on what that event means. If the resurrection of Jesus is an inspiring spiritual story, then Christian leadership primarily leads people by means of religious distraction. But this is not what the first Christians said, and it doesn’t match what they actually did. They claimed that the resurrection of Jesus is nothing short of the inauguration of a new world in the middle of this world, a new creation in the middle of the first creation. The evidence for this is vast, and the implications if true are vaster yet.
In order to see how the resurrection might be the beginning of a new creation. We really need to understand the first creation. What must it have been like to wake up in that first creation? What was it like when the world was dripping wet only minutes, hours, days old? We have a taste of that kind of original newness and goodness in the experience of new children, new love, new marriages, new discoveries, new inventions, new and wonderful gifts. New things are unsullied, unspoiled, and the possibilities for the future seem endless. What will this child do? What will she become? What will we do together as husband and wife? What will this gift enable? And Adam and Eve, as the first man and woman in the history of the world, were the King and Queen of this creation. They were the first leaders of the world, and they had the whole universe waiting for them to discover and enjoy.
However, if evolution is true, then that is just a make-believe story that humans tell themselves to cope with the harshness of reality. There wasn’t really an original Eden, modern sociologist and psychologists will say, but we project our love for new things and for innocence backward, imagining that there was an actual time when everything was completely innocent and good and new. Some believe the stories help people cope – so they don’t mind them as much, but others believe that they prevent people from actually facing reality – and they seek to free people from what they consider a delusional escape. And Christians can sometimes have their own versions of this when they think that the resurrection of Jesus is merely about going to heaven when they die. If the death and resurrection of Jesus is merely a spiritual escape plan, then it functions as a somewhat more “Christian” coping mechanism. This world is corrupt and spoiled, but you get to leave it all behind. Of course, the Bible does clearly teach that heaven awaits every believer in Christ, but that isn’t all. And if that is all we teach, “Christian” leadership may seem to reduce to distraction tactics and escapism, and the mission may seem to vacillate between group therapy sessions and pyramid marketing schemes. And the point is that this kind of leadership flows directly from our view of the resurrection. What you believe the resurrection means effects the way you lead.
Listen to the way Peter and Paul describe the meaning of the resurrection and their mission. Explaining what happened to Cornelius the Roman centurion, Peter tells him that he and the other Christians are witnesses of the goodness of Jesus, of the fact that the Jews put him to death by hanging him on a tree (Acts 10:38-39), but that God raised him on the third day and appeared to those chosen by God as witnesses, those who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead (Acts 10:40-41). And the command they received was to preach to the people that this Jesus is the one appointed by God to be the judge of the living and the dead and everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name (Acts 10:42-43). The resurrection means that Jesus is the judge of the whole earth and everyone who believes is forgiven. This is not an announcement of escape or distraction. It’s the announcement of present reality, a change in regime, and the New King is Good. Christian leadership leads with this.
Paul relates to the Corinthians that Jesus died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures (1 Cor. 15:3-5). He appeared to the twelve and more than five hundred, some of whom were still alive at the point of Paul’s writing to verify the claim (1 Cor. 15:5-7). And last of all, Jesus appeared to Paul, as one untimely born, least of the apostles, in that sense (1 Cor. 15:8). But Paul testifies that this grace – the grace of meeting Jesus alive from the dead – has not been in vain (1 Cor. 15:10). This grace has been potent, powerful, and electric. Paul says that this grace propels people to work, and even though he got a late start, Paul has taken the lead (1 Cor. 15:10). The resurrection means that Jesus is alive changing lives and propelling people to live fearless, bold, ambitious, and creative lives. Christian leadership believes this, announces this, and lives this.
What Does This Mean?
It’s no accident that Mary Magdalene mistakes Jesus for a gardener outside the tomb (Jn. 20:15). In the beginning Adam sinned, and now sin and death have spread to all men because all men sin (Rom. 5:12). Jesus is the New and Faithful Adam who has crushed the serpent by His death and resurrection (Gen. 3:15). Neither is at an accident that it is Mary Magdalene who first meets Jesus in the garden cemetery. She had seven demons before she met Jesus, and she represents unfaithful Eve and everyone one us in our sins.
Jesus commissions Mary to announce His ascension to His brothers (Jn. 20:17). This is essentially the same announcement as the Great Commission that Jesus gives to the Church to go into all the world preaching the gospel and making disciples of all nations (Mt. 28:18-20. Because of the resurrection, the entire world is being restored. Christian leadership is the joyful, fearless living out of the truth of the resurrection. Because Jesus is risen from the dead, we are sent out to explore, build, plant, create, discover, marry, bear children, and share this gospel – the good news that Christ is risen, that there is a new Adam, a new Gardner in Eden, and therefore all things are ours and all things are being made new (Rev. 21:5).