John Foster tells how an enquirer from Hinduism approached an Indian Bishop. Unaided he had read the New Testament, and the story had fascinated him. In particular he was gripped by the person of Jesus Christ. He felt he had entered a new world. In the Gospels it was all about Jesus … his works, his suffering. In the Book of Acts it was all about the disciples of Christ … what they did, what they taught. They had taken the place Christ had occupied. The Church continued where Jesus left off. ‘Therefore’ this man said to the Bishop, ‘I must belong to the Church that carries on the life of Christ!’
During the last 2,000 years there have been times when the Church has undoubtedly lived up to being this kind of Church. Even today there are parts of the world where the Church is growing phenomenally – China, South America, Africa – primarily because it is carrying on the life of Christ. To be quite honest, however, if the whole Church down through the ages had constantly lived in this way, we would surely have won the whole world to Christ by now? We need to recover what it truly means, as Christians, to be an ‘Easter people living in a Good Friday World’!
This poignant expression, ‘We are Easter people living in a Good Friday world!’ was first coined by Barbara Johnson in her devotional book, Splashes of Joy in the Cesspools of Life, and she should know. There was sorrow and tragedy connected to each of her three sons, her husband endured a long recovery from a near-fatal car accident, and she fought cancer for six years before succumbing in 2007. She persevered through her life’s difficulties with faith and a strong sense of humour.
As Christians we are indeed an Easter people! We live this side of the historic and significant events of that first Easter. Christ has died, and Christ has risen! As a result everything has been changed, for all time. A power has been released into the world sufficient to change everything, to change all of us, for the better! The Bible implies, in a number of places, that it was through the power of the Holy Spirit that God raised Jesus from the dead, and goes on to tell us that this same power also abides in us as believers. Thus the Apostle Paul, writing to the Church in Rome, tells us that ‘if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you’ (Romans 8:11). Jesus himself promised us that we would ‘receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you’ (Acts 1:8). Power to live victoriously and to witness effectively! Indeed the Apostle Peter tells us that ‘[God’s] divine power has [already] given us everything we need in order to live a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and godliness’ (2 Peter 1:3). We need to be who we are in God … an Easter people!
As Christians, however, we also live in a Good Friday world! In certain respects that which Jesus endured and experienced that first Good Friday perfectly portrays the kind of world we live in. The brokenness, the suffering, the pain, the hurting, the rebellion, the deceit, the sin, the unfairness, the victimisation, and so on. This world, in many ways, is a beautiful place. We understand, to some degree, what God meant when, following the various acts of creation, he stood back and looked at it and ‘saw all that he had made, and it was very good’ (Genesis 1:31). There are many wonderful people in this world – kind people, caring people, loving people, people who like Jesus himself ‘go around doing good’ (Acts 10:38). But even the best of us are sinners who need a Saviour. And probably the really, really good people are in the minority. Two thirds of the world we live in suffers from colossal need – deprivation, starvation, lack of clean water, lack of basic human rights, violence and war, and so on. And even in the so-called ‘civilised countries’ there is considerable corruption, greed, and disharmony of one kind or another. My conviction remains that the vast majority of people, deep down, know that they are sinners, and could and should live more godly, useful lives, but don’t know how to change? Undoubtedly there are literally millions of broken, hurting and needy people out there who really need to hear the Good News we have as Christians, and experience the power of God to change lives for the better for themselves! We live in Good Friday world!
When Jesus looked at the society of his day – in all their sin and need – he did not condemn them but looked at them with compassion. Whilst there may have been those who were ‘demonised’ (for want of a better word), and delighted in doing evil rather than good, the vast majority of people were ‘distressed and scattered like sheep without a shepherd’ (Matthew 9:36). It is vital that we Christians also see people the way Jesus saw them. How is it that so many of us have substituted ‘legalism’ and ‘morality’ for the Good News we are supposed to be sharing with people in their need? John Drane, commenting recently on yet another blog in the social media raising the question of Christians and sex, suggested that it was time we Christians got obsessed with another three-letter-word, G.O.D! How easily we get distracted from what should be our priority as Christians.
In the Sermon on the Mount – preached to a good number of religious people including the scribes and Pharisees as well as to ordinary people – Jesus forcibly underlined the fact that we are all sinners, even those of us who pride ourselves that we live righteously. He tells us here ‘You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, “You shall not murder!” and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment … but I tell you anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment … You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery!” but I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart’ (Matthew 5:22,23; 27,28). Jesus here is deliberately pulling the rug out from beneath the feet of all those who considered themselves righteous, a ’cut above’ others, superior, judgmental! We are all sinners everyone of us, and the only way we can be righteous in the sight of God is by grace. We are not here to judge others, to moralise, but to share the Good News of the Gospel with sinful people, just like us, who need to find a way out of their hopelessness, a way back to God, a way of living that will glorify God and bless others! The majority of people don’t need ‘putting right’ … they already know that they are ‘wrong’ … but they don’t know how to change things, how to make things better. And how on earth will they know unless we share the Good News with them? We live in a Good Friday world, but as Easter people, and we have the solution to this world’s predicament – the ability to ‘hold forth the word of life’ (Philippians 2:16)! As Pope John Paul II reminded us several years ago: ‘Do not abandon yourselves to despair, for we are the Easter People, and ‘Hallelujah!’ is our song.’