Monday, April 24, 2006

Contemplation #133
“We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers.” 1 John 3:14

If there is a sign which indicates that we have been transformed by the resurrection of Christ, that his newness of life has taken true root in us, it is that we have become people who love others. John’s use of “brothers” here is not like the sectarian usage so prevalent in Christian circles, where this is a term only given to select people that we deem are worthy because of religious belief and practice to be called “brothers.” Our participation in the resurrection of Jesus is not seen in how we love only those who believe like us, for how would that be an imitation of Christ’s love? If my love is simply favoritism for my “Christian brothers” it is not much of a sign that I have passed from death to life, for any pagan loves those who are like himself.

Contemplation #134
“If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.” Romans 6:5

There is a promise and hope in Paul’s words which assure us that choosing to die with Christ, in a baptism of selflessness and faith, destines us to his resurrection. But he also goes on to point out in this passage that he is speaking not only of looking forward to a resurrection of the last day, but to a new life now. The transformation from old life to new life that is symbolized in the going down and coming up of baptism, must be intentionally pursued in a life that both puts to death the now foreign sinfulness that persists, and seeks to nurture the beginnings of holiness. This work is most difficult, but we can be certain that we will be united with Christ in this newness.

Contemplation #135
“I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” Philippians 3:10-11

Resurrection can only come after the suffering of death. Here Paul tells us that we must with determination plunge ourselves into the sufferings of Christ, if we want to enjoy the mysteries of his resurrection. If we concentrate on the work of embracing the death of Christ within our hearts and being, the resurrection of a new person in the image of Christ will occur quite naturally. The part of this that lies within my grasp, and to which I must conform, is the suffering and death. Just as Jesus was raised not by his own power but by the Father, so we cannot raise ourselves but only lay our lives down for God to raise us.

Monday, April 17, 2006

For Easter we have contemplations on the resurrection.

Contemplation #130
“If only we have only hoped in Christ in this life, we are of all men most to be pitied.” 1 Corinthians 15:19

Paul is speaking about what would be our case if truly Christ had not been raised from the dead. We would have placed all our confidence in nothing and would be miserable people indeed. Consider also Paul’s assumption: that we are placing all of our hope in Christ. This is such a basic idea, but also so lacking in Christianity. Many who believe in Jesus place some hope in Christ, some in their church, their denomination, their obedience, their traditions, or their goodness. They have not one hope. Before God they are hoping in many things religious, and so cling to all of these instead of Christ alone. Those who hope in many things are others to be pitied for they do not know Christ.

Contemplation #131
“I declare to you brothers that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God . . .” 1 Corinthians 15:50

How do we read this passage? Paul is talking about the necessity and reality of the resurrection, so we may conclude that he is saying that physical humanity cannot enter heaven. If we think this, then we equate the kingdom of God with heaven rather than with God’s rule into which we are able to enter here on earth. Let us realize that even here and now we do not enter God’s existence by flesh and blood, but by the Spirit and the way of the inward life. The resurrection of the dead which gives a new spiritual body is a necessary conclusion to the way we live now under the sovereignty of God. Our bodies will be transformed to match the transformation of our inward self which now is the work of God in us.

Contemplation #132
“The sting of death is sin . . .” 1 Corinthians 15:56

We probably think more of death as the wages or payment for sin, and this is not a wrong idea. However, the death that is the result of sin is a soul-death, or death of a being completely as that person is cut off from God, the One who gives and sustains life. In speaking here about physical death, Paul says that it’s “sting” is sin. Where there is no sin, by grace through Jesus Christ, there is no “sting” to it. Physical death under grace not a entrance into soul-death, but the transforming process of growing into greater perfection. We can only grow so far in this world through the inward changes God brings, and then we must move on to greater godliness by leaving the restrictions of this existence.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Contemplation #127
“ . . . so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.” Hebrews 2:9

We are always more comfortable with the teaching concerning what Jesus does for us, than with what we might experience in him. That he is our substitute is a comforting thought. He takes on himself the penalty for our sin and we receive his righteousness. But this text also shows us that it is the grace of God active in the life of Jesus that makes him the bearer of death for the sake of others. If we recognize that this same grace of God is what will animate our lives in Christ, giving us direction, purpose, and ministry, then we must acknowledge that we too may be called to bear what is not ours in order to lighten the burden of others.

Contemplation #128
“ . . . so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.” Hebrews 2:9

The grace of God that brought Jesus to taste death for us was not God’s grace to and for us only, but grace to Jesus as well. Is it the merciful action of God that leads us into situations where we suffer for the sake of others? If this is the grace of God, what is the purpose of this grace? The Hebrew writer reminds us that even Jesus learned obedience from the things that he suffered and that he was made perfect (5:8). We have no path to perfection other than the one opened for us by Jesus. Learning to die to ourselves means becoming willing to die for others, and this is only “by the grace of God.”

Contemplation #129
“ . . . so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.” Hebrews 2:9

The first part of this verse says, “But we see Jesus . . . now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death . . .” The following verse speaks of another of Christ’s works for us, “In bringing many sons to glory . . .” Do we not see that we share in the death of Christ, not purely by proxy but also in reality, so that we may share in the reality of his glory? Who wants glory by proxy only! Jesus tasted death, and enjoys glory. We must taste death to receive glory . . . though only through him and the grace of God given us in Christ. So often we want to come down from the cross, hoping to skip the death and move straight to glory. The grace of God allows no such shortcut, but takes us through death to glory in Christ.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Contemplation #124
“ . . . his grace to me was not without effect.” 1 Corinthians 15:10

Paul knew that grace is not only a gift that is received, but that it effects change within the recipient. The grace of God in our lives works profound differences in who we are, how we live, what we say, how we treat others, how we see the world, and how we relate to God. Grace enables us to become what we could not be. As Paul says earlier in this verse, “by the grace of God I am what I am.” One way to describe the “effect of grace” is that it so thoroughly permeates our being that we become people of grace. Grace changes us into the new humanity, which is the image-of-God humanity we have always been meant to be.

Contemplation #125
“ . . . his grace to me was not without effect.” 1 Corinthians 15:10

While we can speak of the common effects of grace, there are also individual effects – where the grace of God intersects with our personal stories. Paul could talk about the way in which God’s grace had redirected his life, and rewritten the story of his life, from persecutor to evangelist. We may profitably reflect on the impact that grace has had and is having on the direction of our lives. What is different because of grace? What will be altered by the influence of divine grace? How am I being remade into a new person by the persistent work of grace?

Contemplation #126
“ . . . his grace to me was not without effect.” 1 Corinthians 15:10

The effect of grace can be associated with the purpose of God. When God gives grace it is the means to accomplishing his will. What God wills, he does; what he does, he does by grace. We could say “his work in me was not without effect” or “his purpose for me was not without results”. This is the faithfulness of God in immanent and immediate involvement in our daily lives. The gift of God’s grace is a subtle promise that his purposes are at work, and that his ends will be accomplished. Grace never lacks for effect in the same way God’s word never returns void.