In prep for RESURRECTION Sunday at Grace Church, I have been rereading Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church, by N.T. Wright, who is one of my favorite teachers/authors and one of the world’s top biblical scholars. It is well written, easily understood and worth reading (and rereading!). As with most of Wright’s books, it’s a little long, but I highly recommend it!
The main message of the book is that most of us have got the emphasis of the resurrection wrong. It’s not meant to assure us of life after death in heaven at some far away, “out of this world” or heavenly place, but to demonstrate the lordship of Christ over the whole world and his coming back to develop the kingdom of God on the new earth. “Jesus of Nazareth ushers in not simply a new religious possibility, not simply a new ethic or a new way of salvation, but a new creation.” (p. 67)
“In Mark’s short, and probably truncated, account there is no sense of ‘Jesus is raised, therefore there really is life after death’…For anyone who has read the whole gospel, the strong implication is, ‘Jesus is raised, just as he told you he would be; in other words, all that he said about the coming of the kingdom through his own work, through his death and resurrection, has come true.’ The resurrection completes the inauguration of God’s kingdom…It is the decisive event demonstrating that God’s kingdom really has been launched on earth as it is in heaven.” (p. 234). So, “The message of Easter is that God's new world has been unveiled in Jesus Christ and that you're now invited to belong to it.” (p. 352)
“As long as we see salvation in terms of going to heaven when we die, the main work of the church is bound to be seen in terms of saving souls for that future.” This why many Christians are bent on making converts rather than disciples and holding up “turn or burn” type signs on street corners rather than engaging non-Christians through relationship. Wright continues, “But when we see salvation, as the New Testament sees it, in terms of God’s promised new heavens and new earth and of our promised resurrection to share in that new and gloriously embodied reality – what I have called life after life after death – then the main work of the church here and now demands to be rethought in consequence…. if what matters is the newly embodied life after life after death, then the presently embodied life before death can at last be seen not as an interesting but ultimately irrelevant present preoccupation, not simply as a ‘vale of tears and soul-making’ through which we have to pass to a blessed and disembodied final state, but as the essential, vital time, place and matter into which God’s future purposes have already broken in the resurrection of Jesus.” (p. 197) So…”What you do in the present—by painting, preaching, singing, sewing, praying, teaching, building hospitals, digging wells, campaigning for justice, writing poems, caring for the needy, loving your neighbor as yourself—will last into God’s future [reality and kingdom on the new earth].” (p.193)
“Salvation, then, is not ‘going to heaven’ but being raised to life in God’s new heaven and new earth….For the first Christians, the ultimate salvation was all about God’s new world, and the point of what Jesus and the apostles were doing when they were healing people….was that this was a proper anticipation of that ultimate salvation, that healing transformation of space, time, and matter. The future rescue that God had planned and promised was starting to come true in the present. We are saved not as souls but as wholes.” (p. 198, 199)
“Resurrection doesn’t mean escaping from the world; it means MISSION to the world based on Jesus’ lordship over the world…. Jesus is now enthroned as the Lord of heaven and earth. His kingdom has been established. And this kingdom is to be put into practice by his followers summoning all nations to obedient allegiance to him, marking them out in baptism.” (235) “Easter was the beginning of God’s new world, the long-awaited new age, the resurrection of the dead.” (p. 244) “The message of Easter is that God’s new world has been unveiled in Jesus Christ and that you’re now invited to belong to it….Christian holiness consists not of trying as hard as we can to be good but of learning to live in the new world created by Easter.” (p. 253)
“Jesus is risen, therefore God’s new world has begun. Jesus is risen, therefore his followers have a new job to do. And what is that new job? To bring the life of heaven to birth in actual, physical, earthly reality.” (p. 293)
What a powerful and invigorating the message! The Easter message of Christ’s resurrection is a call to arms for all who believe in the risen Jesus. It’s a call to missional activity, reminiscent of Christ’s resurrection to newness and the biblical promise of a renewed heavens and earth (Rev. 21). This message is a transformational one that seeks to see all that we do in terms of this victory over sin, death and evil!
Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed!
May we live our lives like it’s true!