Happy Easter! Today Easter and our Ethos series go hand and hand as we talk about being a church that is seeking spiritual reality. My faith says that there is no greater pinnacle of spiritual reality than what was accomplished in Jesus’ resurrection.
Corner Church Ethos:
- Follow Jesus
- Focus on Scripture
- Value everyone's story
- Build real relationships
- Seek spiritual reality
- Encourage everyone to take personal ownership of faith, church and community
- See that we are better together
- And do this again and again so that people can have an opportunity to walk to church
The goal of this series is not just to be an information dump, but to be an intentional processing of who we are. And as we celebrate Easter together, this is a great time to process, not just let it slip by.
Again, there is no greater moment of seeking spiritual reality than seeking the impact of Jesus’ resurrection. Let’s start with the context leading to Easter, to the resurrection of Jesus.
Jesus had the last supper with His disciples (Matthew 26, Mark 14, Luke 22, John 13). There He predicted His betrayal, He washed their feet, He gave the new command to love as He loves, and he predicted Peter's denial.
Next, Jesus and His disciples went to the garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26, Mark 14, Luke 22, John 18). There, Jesus implored His disciples to pray with Him and pray that they would not fall into temptation. The disciples slept. Jesus prayed with deep emotion. Judas led the mob to Jesus. Peter lashed out and cut off a man’s ear. Jesus healed that man. And they took away Jesus to be tried.
Then Jesus was tried and convicted (Matthew 27, Mark 15, Luke 23, John 19). Jesus was brought before the Jewish religious authorities. Peter denied knowing Jesus three times. Jesus was delivered to Pilate, the Roman governor. Judas realized what he had done and took his life. Jesus was passed off to Herod and was made a spectacle of. Pilate declared Jesus innocent and tried to have Him released. The crowd wanted Barabbas released by tradition and wanted Jesus crucified. Jesus was flogged and mocked by the soldiers and forced to carry His own cross to the place of the skull where He was crucified.
Finally, Jesus was crucified and died (Matthew 27, Mark 15, Luke 23, John 19). Jesus was nailed to the cross with two criminals, one on His left and one on His right. They put a crown of thorns on His head and put a sign over Him reading that He was King of the Jews. One thief repented and Jesus assured him of his being with Jesus in paradise. Jesus cried out to God, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?” And Jesus died. Because of the approaching Sabbath, they didn’t want them hanging on the crosses, so they went to break their legs in order to hasten their deaths, but Jesus was already dead. The pierced His side and blood and water flowed. Then some followers of Jesus got permission to take His body and they placed Him in a tomb.
But the story wasn’t over.
Jesus was resurrected (Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, John 20). The women went to the tomb and it was empty. Jesus appeared to the women. He appeared to the two on the way to Emmaus. Jesus appeared to his disciples minus Thomas, and then with Thomas there. He appeared to many over the next 40 days, and He gave His commissioning:
Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 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, baptizing 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 28:16-20)
So today we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection.
Declaring celebration, having a holiday, dressing up a little, making some plans–these things are great but there has to be more to this than just that. We are going to process together. I want you to brainstorm as a table for about two minutes:
Who are some people who have done great things in human history?
We could list names like Napoleon, Muhammad, William Shakespeare, Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Aristotle, Alexander the Great, Thomas Jefferson, Henry VIII of England, Charles Darwin, Elizabeth I of England, Karl Marx, Julius Caesar, Queen Victoria, Martin Luther, Joseph Stalin, Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton, Charlemagne, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Plato, Louis XIV of France, Ludwig van Beethoven…
And there are a lot of people throughout history who have done amazing things who are not on this list and no one today has any remembrance of them.
What does it tell you when you can’t see the personal impact of someone who did something great in history?
What does it tell you when you can see the personal impact of something who did something great in history?
Sometimes someone does something great in history and it has an impact on you and others and you see it, recognize it, acknowledge it, celebrate it, think about it, and remember it.
Sometimes someone does something great in history and it has an impact on you and others and you don’t see it, you don’t recognize it, you don’t acknowledge it , you don’t celebrate it, you don’t think about it, you don’t remember it.
What is the difference? Maybe it is me? Hold on to that…
It is nice to celebrate Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. But how does all of this Easter stuff impact me/us? And not just in an “I can give you an answer” way. But really–how does Easter and what happened impact me/us?
My faith says that each step towards spiritual reality is a step towards Christ, and I think there is value in intentionality in our steps. I hear Paul's words in 1 Corinthains 9:
Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. (1 Corinthians 9:25-27)
So here today is a moment of processing–which needs to be part of a lifetime of processing. No matter where you are, no matter where you have been or what you believe, my faith says that a step towards spiritual reality is a step towards Christ. So in that stepping, I bring some elements to the table. There is a lot of insight on Jesus’ impact on grace and salvation in Scripture:
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God. (Ephesians 2:8)
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)
If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. (Romans 10:9-10)
Connection to God. Relationship with God. Removing things that separate us from God. These things have been accomplished by Jesus. This is what we celebrate at Easter.
But I want to play the instigator for a moment. I want to bring a tension to the surface in order to pull us into processing, spurring us on in conversation. I know the words of Paul in Romans 6:
What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? (Romans 6:1-2)
We should not manipulate grace or take it for granted or cash it in as some cheap trick. We should not use grace as a loophole in doing whatever.
So there is grace. There is Jesus. There is the price that He paid for us. It is amazing what has been done for us! Paul processed the love of God and was fully convinced:
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)
So keeping grace, Jesus, forgiveness, relationship with God, and God’s love all in our view, I am going to ask you a question: What separates people from God?
But before we get to that question, let me put one more moment on the table. On the cross, two criminals hung next to Jesus:
One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:39-43)
Remember the theme of grace. Remember that we are to not just keep on sinning. Remember that nothing can separate us from the love of God. Remember the two thieves on the cross. Feel the complexity of this question.
What separates people from God?
There is a person that appears in Jesus’ life a few times, and in the Easter story, who seems to be on this journey toward spiritual reality: Nicodemus. Nicodemus comes to Jesus first in John 3 in the night and is feeling out who this Jesus guy is:
Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.” Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!” Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” “How can this be?” Nicodemus asked. “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.” For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God. (John 3:1-21)
In John 7, many were turning to Jesus, but the religious authorities, which Nicodemus was one, railed against Jesus and wanted to stop Him as His popularity was growing:
Finally the temple guards went back to the chief priests and the Pharisees, who asked them, “Why didn’t you bring him in?” “No one ever spoke the way this man does,” the guards replied. “You mean he has deceived you also?” the Pharisees retorted. “Have any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed in him? No! But this mob that knows nothing of the law—there is a curse on them.” Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus earlier and who was one of their own number, asked, “Does our law condemn a man without first hearing him to find out what he has been doing?” They replied, “Are you from Galilee, too? Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee.” (John 7:45-52)
Finally, Nicodemus’ last appearance is after Jesus’ death on the cross. He shows himself to be a follower of Jesus:
Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jewish leaders. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there. (John 19:38-42)
Nicodemus, by cover of night, came to Jesus to seek spiritual reality. Nicodumus, with risk of being called out and excommunicated, asked that Jesus would at least be given due process. Nicodemus, separating himself from the religious authorities, was part of honoring Jesus after His death on the cross. I see in Nicodemus someone who is engaged in the process of seeking spiritual reality.
What animates and motivates someone to be committed to seeking Spiritual reality over time?
Easter is a celebration of the grace afforded to us through what Jesus did on the cross. Luke 18 builds into the complexity of this.
He told his next story to some who were complacently pleased with themselves over their moral performance and looked down their noses at the common people: “Two men went up to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee, the other a tax man. The Pharisee posed and prayed like this: ‘Oh, God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, crooks, adulterers, or, heaven forbid, like this tax man. I fast twice a week and tithe on all my income.’ “Meanwhile the tax man, slumped in the shadows, his face in his hands, not daring to look up, said, ‘God, give mercy. Forgive me, a sinner.’” Jesus commented, “This tax man, not the other, went home made right with God. If you walk around with your nose in the air, you’re going to end up flat on your face, but if you’re content to be simply yourself, you will become more than yourself.” (Luke 18:9-14 MSG)
Are you in or are you out? Are you a believer or not a believer? Are you good enough or too bad?
There is no debate that the tax collector had room to grow. But in this moment, with humility, perspective, and intentionality, directionally he was taking a step towards spiritual reality–a step towards Christ and relationship with God.
Christianity can be lived out as a bounded set, where you are in or you are out. Bounded sets are not evil–It’s helpful to know who you are and what group you belong to: family,coworkers, neighbors, group chat. The biggest issue with defining Christianity as a bounded set is that it’s static–you are either in the circle or out of the circle.
The Pharisee in the temple saw himself as in and saw the tax collector as out. Bounded set is more about a destination that you arrive at than a direction that you are headed. This narrative in Luke 18 is not a story of a tax collector who had made it, but about his direction.
Today, we have remembered the context of Easter. We have come up with a list of people who have done great things. We talked about our own awareness or lack of awareness of people that have done great things. I invited you to feel the tension in the question, “What separates people from God?” We processed Nicodemous’ ongoing seeking of Jesus and asked why someone would seek spiritual reality again and again and again. And in all of this we celebrate Jesus.
I love the words of Paul in Romans 6, here in the Message version:
But now that you’ve found you don’t have to listen to sin tell you what to do, and have discovered the delight of listening to God telling you, what a surprise! A whole, healed, put-together life right now, with more and more of life on the way! Work hard for sin your whole life and your pension is death. But God’s gift is real life, eternal life, delivered by Jesus, our Master. (Romans 6:22-23 MSG)
This nudges us to the last conversation today:
What changes as a person moves from seeking to be good enough to have a relationship with God to seeking to have a relationship with God?
What changes in a person that seeks Spiritual reality earnestly over time?
Take It Deeper Questions:
- Read Romans 6:15-23.
- Who was your first boss? How did they manage you? How would that management style work for you today?
- What is a living, real-world definition of gace?
- How have you seen grace lived out in your relationships?
- How have you seen grace lived out In your relationship with God?
- How is seeking relationship with God different from trying to be good enough to have relationship with God?
- How are you challenged, focused, confused and or frusttraited by this text?
Bible Reading Plan:
- Judges 18
- Judges 19
- Judges 20
- Judges 21
- Ruth 1