April 20, 2014 - Easter
The biscuits were
flat. It was Friday morning a few years ago and I was making breakfast for our
men’s Bible study. This time something went wrong, and the biscuits which
should have risen nearly two inches high to be light and flaky remained about a
half inch thick and were now hot, hard, hockey pucks made out of flour.
I don’t know if it the
Bisquick was old or if the oven wasn’t hot enough or whether the humidity and
atmospheric pressure didn’t cooperate, but the biscuits didn’t rise. Our guys
were gracious and a generous covering of sausage gravy made those tough little
circles more or less edible, but they weren’t what they should have been. As we
read these four verses from Paul this morning, we might wonder if that’s not
true of us. We’ve been loudly affirming that “Christ is risen!” this morning,
yet do we look like people who have been raised with Him? Are we what we should
be if it’s true that Christ has been raised?
That’s what Paul tells
us back in chapter 2, verse 12. If Christ has been raised, then we’ve been
raised with Him. It’s what Christian baptism is all about. The whole imagery of
baptism is about being placed down under the water, like a corpse is buried in
the ground, and then coming up out from under the water, like people rising
from the dead. The baptized person who trusts in the power of God working in
Jesus is raised up by that very same power which raised Jesus from the dead.
Yet life may feel a
little flat… or possibly very flat. It certainly doesn’t feel fluffy for the
parents of more than two hundred high school students in Korea. It’s not rising very high for Jews in Eastern Ukraine. There’s no loft for folks who
sleep on our streets. And lack of employment or medical problems or depression
is keeping several of us down.
So Paul comes along
like some guru of positive thinking and tells us here in verse 1, “seek the
things that are above.” If you just heard that, it could sound like any of the
platitudes we often lay on each other or which television and movies dump on us
constantly. “Buck up!” “Look on the bright side.” “Find the silver lining.”
“Think positive.” “Happiness is a choice.” “Don’t let it get you down.” “Have
faith.” If what Paul says here is just one more of those cheerful throwaway
lines we say to each other when things look a bit bleak, then it’s worthless.
But Paul didn’t just
tell us to look up and not down, like some cute story about the man who one day
found a five dollar bill on the ground and so spent the rest of his life
looking down, only to come to the end of his life another seven dollars and
fifty-six cents richer and having missed the sky and the clouds and the birds
and the trees blooming in the spring. That’s all fine, but Paul has a much
better reason for us to look up.
“Seek the things that
are above,” comes right in the middle of Paul’s affirmation of what we are
celebrating today. His premise is “If you have been raised with Christ…” and
his aim for us is not just some positive attitude that tries to rise above
difficulties in life. The “above” he wants us to seek is “where Christ is,
seated at the right hand of God.”
Christians seek the
things that are above because that is where Jesus is. We don’t just have faith
or hope because those are good attitudes for facing life. We have faith and
hope because Jesus Christ rose from the dead and we are constantly looking up
and toward Him.
That’s what happened
in our Gospel reading to those women the first Easter morning. They went
looking down, bending over to peer into the darkness of a tomb where they
expected to find a dead body. And they met angels who told them not to look
there, not to look down into that hole, but to look up for a man who had been
raised from the dead. And then Matthew 28:8 says they ran away “with fear and
The two Marys were
glad but afraid, like you and I when we try to overcome the downs and flatness
of life by looking on the bright side or making happiness our choice. We can
manage some smiles, some joy, but there’s that fear, the fear that the bright
side is not really there, that things are not actually going to work out. That’s
like the joy and fear of those women who had been told Jesus was alive but
didn’t know for sure.
But then verse 9 says
“Jesus met them…” That changes everything. As some churches are putting on
their signboards this year, Easter changes everything. They saw Jesus with
their own eyes, they fell down and took hold of His feet with their own hands.
They worshipped Christ who had been raised. Then verse 10 says Jesus raised
them up, told them not to be afraid, and sent them off to tell the rest of the
As we will hear next
week, Jesus also went and met those men, gave them the same assurance He gave
the women. He is raised. He is alive. He is there and waiting for all of us
above, on the other side of everything that gets us down, on the other side of
death. This life is not all there is. There is a life after this one, and there
is a Man who rose into that life to bring us all there with Him. And that
I’ve been reading a
sort of a combination science fiction and cop story about a man trying to do
police work after the astronomers have discovered a large asteroid is on a path
to strike the earth and obliterate all life here in a few months. He has to
deal with the fact that the people he works with no longer care about their
jobs. The medical examiner and the records clerk and many of his fellow
officers just drop it all and go off to do whatever they always wanted to do in
the time they’ve got left. They term such departures, “going bucket list.”
Impending death makes them reorder their priorities.
Boswell reports that
Samuel Johnson said the same in words that are often misquoted, “Depend it upon
it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates
his mind wonderfully.” It’s easy for us to understand that imminent death
focuses us on what really matters in a powerful way. Maybe what we don’t
understand as well, what Paul is trying to say to us, is that the imminent hope
of life, of being raised again with Jesus, can give us an even better
and more powerful focus.
In verse 2, Paul tells
the Colossians “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are
on earth.” And many, many people hear that and think that is just the problem
with Christianity, with Christians. We are so concerned with heaven, with the
next life, that we ignore and neglect this world. They are ready to blame our
otherworldly focus for all sorts of problems like the ruin of the environment
or condoning slavery in the first half of America’s history. As an old
country-western song puts it, they think we are “so heavenly-minded that you’re
no earthly good.” Friends, don’t believe it.
heavenly-minded we become, the more earthly good we will be. Talking about hope
in Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis says, “If you read history you find
that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who
thought most of the next.” And he goes on to talk about the Apostles who sparked the conversion of an
empire, the great thinkers and architects of the Middle Ages, and the
Evangelicals who preached the abolition of the slave trade in both England and
America. He says they “all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their
minds were occupied with heaven.”
As I’ve said before,
it is Christians who wanted to understand all they could about the life to come
who first founded universities where people learned all they could about this
present life. It was those who believed in the resurrection of the body who
first started gathering the sick into hospitals to care for those bodies now.
And as Lewis said, it was those who saw an eternal value in every person who
began to refuse to let human beings be bought and sold for mere money.
And it all starts
here, on Easter, in the fact that Christ is risen, that Jesus was raised from
the dead and met those women on Easter morning. In fact, in terms of earthly
good, I might argue that all feminism, all appreciation for women’s rights, all
clear understanding that women are the true and complete equals of men starts,
here in the garden around the tomb. In the ancient world where women were
ignored, where they had few rights, where their testimony didn’t count in court,
God chose them to be the first witnesses of the best news the world has ever
Easter is the best
reason you and I have for earthly good. That’s what Paul was telling the
Colossians. Look at the rest of the chapter here. It’s all about how they behave,
about dying to an old, destructive way of life and being raised into a life
which loves and builds up others. Thinking about that life to come, that life
in the next world, is meant to do all sorts of good in this world, and in us.
Don’t get me wrong
though. Our Easter faith that Christ is risen and that we are raised with Him
is not just some nice story that motivates us to be nice and make this world a
better place. Making this world better is a sweet and glorious side effect, but
it’s not our aim. Lewis said, “Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown
in’: aim at earth and you will get neither.”
And in case we are
inclined to get it wrong, to switch our focus away from the next world where we
will be raised to new life with our risen Lord, Paul puts this world and this
life firmly in its place in verse 3, “for you have died, and your life is
hidden with Christ in God.” The very premise of our call to look up, to seek
the things that are above, is the fact that we are raised with Jesus. And we can’t
be raised with Him if we haven’t died with Him.
wonder why God needed all that ugly business with the Cross. Why would a good
heavenly Father put His beloved Son through torture and death, especially if He
is all-powerful? Why not just offer grace and forgiveness to everybody and skip
all that pain and suffering? The reason was and is that we need a new life. We are so far down that the only hope is to be raised. And you can’t be
raised unless you die. Christ could not raise us up with Him unless He first
died with us. And we cannot rise with Him unless we first die with Him.
In John chapter 12
verse 24, Jesus said, “unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies,
it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” Jesus
let His life be dropped into the ground, so that He could rise and thereby
raise up many lives, the lives of everyone who believes in Him.
Go back to baptism
again. We go under the water to be raised out of it. Jesus said that unless we
lose our lives we cannot find them. And so Paul puts the life we live now into
perspective. It’s not our focus. It’s not the point. We’ve died to that life,
to an old life in this world. Our real life, the true life, the life we have
raised with Christ, is hidden with Him in God.
There is nowhere else
to hide a life where it will be safe, where it will last. On the hundredth
anniversary of the church I served in Nebraska, I watched a mason carefully
chip the cornerstone out of that church building. Behind it was a metal box, a
time capsule put there when it was built in the 1950s. We all gathered around
in excitement to open it. It was interesting, but mostly disappointing. There
was a list of church members at the time, a crumbling Sunday bulletin, and I
think a few faded photographs. We had hoped to catch a glimpse there, in what
they’d hidden in that box, of the lives of the people who built our church, but
there wasn’t really much to see.
Then it came time for
us to seal that box back up again and to put something in it ourselves. I think
we put in a pictorial directory, which I’m sure is also crumbling now. And you
know what I chose to put in, as the great record for posterity of that church
in 1992? A floppy disk. Oh, I didn’t put in an old-fashioned 5-1/4 inch disk. I
put in the very latest, high density, premium 3-1/2 inch floppy with all our
church records and some orders of service and even a few sermons. I was sure I
was hiding there a perfect slice of life in our time.
You laugh and so will
the people who open that box again someday. Even if the data on that disk
survives, which I’m told is doubtful, no one will have a machine or the
software to read it. You can’t save your life on a disk and you can’t do it on
a CD or on flash memory or even in “the cloud,” because despite the name the
“cloud” is not in heaven. It’s just lots of drives located somewhere else.
Those who think the human race will achieve immortality by uploading ourselves
into computers are as silly and misguided as I was with my floppy disk. The
only place to let your life be hidden where it’s truly safe is just where Paul
says it is, “with Christ in God.”
Where are you looking
to hide your life? In a bank account you’ve been accumulating for years? In a
house you’ve nearly got paid off? In work which is satisfying and meaningful?
In a degree you’ve studied like crazy to earn? In the children you are raising?
Those are all good things, sweet blessings, but they are all here in this
world, on this earth. And they are not all that different from my floppy drive.
They won’t last forever. They are not safe and secure places to hide your life.
The memory of that
church in Nebraska, of those folks I served there, is not going to survive in
this world, and they themselves are certainly not going to survive, just
because we wrote them down and tried to hide their memory in that wall. They,
and you and I, are not even going to survive in the minds and hearts of people
who love us, because one day those minds and those lives will also fade away like
data on whatever drive you care to name.
Instead we look above.
On Easter we look to Christ who has been raised, and we remember that our lives
are hidden in Him in the sure and certain hope that we will be raised with Him.
And I know that the names and pictures in that box behind the stone in Nebraska, whether printed on paper or coded on a disk, are much better preserved in Him, in
the life and mind and heart of Jesus our Savior. Your lives and my life are
safe and loved and cherished in His life.
And the promise is
that no matter what fades or who dies in this world, it can be hidden safely
and then given back to us. Verse 4 is our great hope. “When Christ who is your
life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.” They laid
Jesus behind a stone, but He did not fade, He did not crumble into dust. When
the stone came away from that place, He walked out into the sunlight of eternal
life. And He invites you to believe in Him, to believe that He will do the same
Just as He was
revealed there in the garden to the women, Jesus will be revealed to everyone
when He comes again. Trust Him. Hide your life in Him. And He will raise you up
to be revealed with Him. Christ is risen!
Valley Covenant Church
Copyright © 2014 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj