Jesus Christ, the Firstborn of the Dead: a Reflection on Acts 5:27-32, Psalm 150, Revelation 1:4-8,
It’s all about Jesus. Because of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, there is hope. Whatever forms of despair, discouragement, and doubt you bring to church this day, a new way of living is available to you. On this Second Sunday of Easter, the Psalmist declares, “Let everything that breathes praise the Lord!” Hope is the anticipation of the future as the fulfillment of God’s purposes. Praising the Lord manifests itself from the peace we have received from God.
Obedience to God is imperative to experience peace. What does obedience to God look like? That is the question being asked in the narrative from Acts. We see that in the Jewish religious leaders and how they wrestled with the political consequences of engaging the Roman Empire’s conspiracy game. Perhaps, obedience to God requires that we grasp the significance of Jesus being the firstborn of the dead. Quoting Stanley Hauerwas from Duke University, “It’s hard to remember that Jesus did not come to make us safe, but rather to make us disciples, citizens of God’s new age, a kingdom of surprise.” Obedience to God requires discernment, wisdom, and risk. It asks us to move beyond defending our preferences; to identify with those on the margins.
On that evening of the resurrection, the disciples were afraid and “playing it safe.” They hid behind locked doors. Jesus, aware of the disciples’ fear, appeared to them by walking through the locked doors. He said to them, “Peace be with you.” Jesus said it two times. It was the risen Jesus, the Jesus with nail holes in his hands and feet. The usage of the Greek word for peace ειρήνη, has both common and uncommon meanings. Its common meaning is simply a greeting for the day. Its uncommon meaning is the epitome of the blessings of the kingdom of God that are realized in the redemptive deeds of the incarnate Son of God. Everyone but Thomas was there that evening. A week later, Jesus again came through the locked doors. He greeted the disciples saying, “Peace be with you.” Thomas demanded to see the nail marks in Jesus’ hands and put his hand into his side. Jesus told Thomas to touch him, stop doubting, and believe.
The blessings of redemption are known when we are obedient. And when that is the case, peace indwells us. By placing our faith in Jesus, the first-born of the dead, we begin to receive peace. Jesus’ victory over death shows us the way to conquer death, despair, discouragement, and doubt. Faith leads us to obey. In our obedience, we participate in Christ’s resurrection. How? We offer ourselves to God in praise. With the psalmist we proclaim, “Praise the Lord! …Praise him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his surpassing greatness.” Tim Keller tells the following story about the power of Christ’s resurrection:
A minister was in Italy, and there he saw the grave of a man who had died centuries before who was an unbeliever and completely against Christianity…So the man had a huge stone slab put over his grave so he would not have to be raised from the dead in case there is a resurrection from the dead. He had insignias put all over the slab saying, ‘I do not want to be raised from the dead. I don’t believe in it.” Evidently, when he was buried, an acorn must have fallen into the grave. So a hundred years later the acorn had grown up through the grave and split that slab. It was now a tall towering oak tree. The minister looked at it and asked, “If an acorn, which has power of biological life in it, can split a slab of that magnitude, what can the acorn of God’s resurrection power do in a person’s life?”
The minute you decide to receive Jesus as Savior and Lord, the power of the Holy Spirit comes into your life. It’s the power of the resurrection—the same thing that raised Jesus from the dead …. Think of the things you see as immovable slabs in your life—your bitterness, your insecurity, your fears, your self-doubts. Those things can be split and rolled off. The more you know him, the more you grow into the power of the resurrection.
Until one has faith there is no peace…no obedience. The Christian faith is based on two premises: the redeeming power of the cross and the triumphal power of the resurrection.
Death was defeated at the resurrection. Death, the end of all life as we know it, the destroyer of all dreams, the breaker of all hopes, the crushing burden of all life, and the loss of all love was defeated. Its power has been broken. The empty tomb by itself is not sufficient for faith, but it is necessary to the faith. Without it there would be no resurrection, no faith, and no Christianity.
It’s all about Jesus. Thomas’ obedient pursuit of Jesus, with all his doubts, led him to faith. God will lead you to faith too. Resolving doubt often is found on the margins, particularly when we identify with those on the margins; the homeless, immigrant, enemy, and stranger. Choose to engage the margin. Receive peace. Be obedient.
Idea gleaned from Carlos E. Cardoza-Orlandi in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume 2 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 98.
Religion News Service, “Book Probes Post-Sept. 11 Spirituality,” by Douglas Todd, (27 August 2002).
Some concepts gleaned from James C. Goodloe’s sermon “Why Seek the Living Among the Dead?” preached on January 15, 2006.