What is resurrection life like?
“Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” (Lk. 24:46-49)
Here at the end of Luke’s gospel, Jesus reiterates that His death and resurrection was always the plan, and that because it has now happened, his disciples are being sent out to the nations as witnesses. Jesus is sending the promised Holy Spirit from the Father in order that they might be clothed with power from on high for this task.
There are many things that mark the new creation, that mark the new world that has begun to emerge because Jesus defeated sin and death and rose triumphant over it. But one of the things that marks this new creation is the call to go, the call to leave, the call to disperse, and the fact that somehow God has determined to turn every leaving, every division, every breach, every break of His people into part of His victory lap. This is in fact what has happened. The disciples did remain in the city of Jerusalem and then when the Spirit came upon them, they began to boldly proclaim the resurrection of Jesus, and as they did so, they ran into opposition and resistance. The gospel was preached first to the people of God, the Jews, and when Stephen could not be silenced, he was put to death and Saul began persecuting the Church, and the Christians scattered. You would think that this would be a horrible way to start. But it was right on schedule and exactly according to plan.
In other words, the Church immediately begins mimicking the pattern of Jesus: death and resurrection. Literally, the death of Stephen precedes the robust expansion of the Church into Judea and Samaria. Death and resurrection. Then after James the brother of John is put to death by Herod and Peter is thrown into jail and miraculously set free, Paul and Barnabas are set apart for missionary work and go on their first missionary journey. Death and resurrection. The Church has it’s first council in Acts 15, a controversy has broken out in the Church, and then tensions erupt between Paul and Barnabas and they end up separating. And this leads to Silas and Timothy joining Paul, and a second missionary journey, this time into southern Europe and Greece. Death and resurrection.
We see this in miniature in every city Paul preaches the gospel. He preaches Jesus in Damascus and there are plots to kill him, and new disciples begin following Jesus. Death and resurrection. He preaches in Antioch, and an angry crowd erupts, and Gentiles rejoice and believe in Jesus. Death and resurrection. A rowdy crowd blows up in Iconium, and half the city sides with the apostles. Death and resurrection. A violent mob in Lystra stones Paul and he is left for dead, and then he gets back up and the disciples of that region are greatly encouraged and strengthened. Death and resurrection. A violent mob breaks out in Philippi and Paul and Silas are arrested, and the story ends with the jailor and his family believing in Jesus and being baptized and the brothers in Philippi being encouraged. Death and resurrection. Mobs and angry crowds in Thessalonica, Berea, Ephesus, and finally all the way back to Jerusalem and before the Sanhedrin: again and again, it tells us that many believed in Jesus, many were encouraged, the gospel went forth, the name of Jesus was extolled. Death and resurrection. Death and resurrection. Again and again.
At every step along the way, it would have seemed that this tiny band of disciples, this weak group of uneducated fisherman, this new teaching that a man came back from the dead – it would have seemed that if this was all made up, if this were a scheme of men, if this were fad, it should have died many times. It should have been silenced; it should have been shredded beyond recognition within a few decades. Because ordinarily when you kill something it stays dead; when you scatter adherents, they fade away; when you stone their leaders and throw them into jail – they can’t get back up and they stay locked in their cells.
But Jesus rose from the dead, and because He rose from the dead, you can’t kill His bride. You can try, as many have over the centuries, but we have been clothed with power from on high. This is the power of the risen Lord of the universe. This is the power of His unending life. Sure, disciples can be stoned and killed and scattered, but it turns out that the Church, the Bride of Christ now has the power to come back again and again and again.
Resurrection life is like that. We are an Easter people. We are His witnesses. We have His life imprinted on ours. We may be sent to jail, we may be sent across the world, we may be sent to a hospital bed, we may be sent to our graves. But we are always sent as witnesses – witnesses of death and resurrection. And little do they know, but we are clothed with power from on high. So whether it is a divorce or barrenness or a wayward child or cancer or chronic pain or divisions or job loss or persecution or a sin that must be repented of or betrayal or death, we lift our heads with boldness and face the dark with a twinkle in our eyes because we know this story. Most of us can look back at our lives already and see this pattern imprinted upon us: crosses, losses, heartache, and sorrow. And yet the darkness has never won. The light just keeps getting brighter. We know this story. We are this story. The story is death and resurrection, and that is what resurrection life is like.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.