Easter and revolution don’t seem like they go together. One is about celebrating and new life and the other is about conflict and undoing things. Renown historical theologian, N.T. Wright, has written two books addressing these two ideas and they both revolve around the Easter story. The title of one is ‘The Day the Revolution Began’, and the other is ‘Surprised by Hope’. Both have to do with Easter. For most people, and even most Christians the idea of Christ’s crucifixion and his resurrection has to do with Jesus dying for my sin, but then resurrecting because he overcame sin. This is a true thought. But, it is incomplete; it is deficient; it doesn’t go far enough into the depth of Good Friday and Easter. Jesus did more than just die for my personal sins. Wright says, “…the cross was when something happened as a result of which the world became a different place, inaugurating God’s future plan. The revolution began then and there; Jesus’ resurrection was the first sign that it was indeed under way.”
The apostolic message given in the 1st period of the church placed its emphasis upon repentance, but it was more than a repentance of personal sin. It was a repentance from seeing the world one way into seeing the world in an entirely new way. When the Apostles were calling the Jews to repent, it wasn’t because they weren’t aware of their sin, or because they needed to repent of their sin. Indeed the entire system of sacrifice was a constant reminder to them of their sin. What was so radical or revolutionary was a message that God, through Good Friday and Easter had altered the course of the universe. This world and its outcome is on a new trajectory!
Again, Wright, “The [Apostles] seemed to have interpreted Jesus’s crucifixion within a much larger – and perhaps more dangerous – story than simply the question of whether people go to “heaven” or “hell.” That question, in fact – to the astonishment of many people – is not what the New Testament is about. The New Testament, with the story of Jesus’s crucifixion at its center, is about God’s kingdom coming on earth as it is in heaven.” This is what Jesus taught his disciples to pray. To be sure, it takes God to bring His kingdom to earth, but included in that prayer is us. We are to be signs and servants and demonstrations of God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. In other words, we are not to pray that we get to heaven. We are to pray that we are God’s instruments to bring his kingdom to earth.
This is exactly what Jesus did when he walked the earth. He was giving us an example of what that kingdom life looked like – good, just, merciful, compassionate, humble, grace-filled, kind, patient, bearing the sins of others. Many Christians, when we read the list of directives given in the Bible telling us what to do or not to do see it as the means to make sure we get to heaven. In other words, no one doing the wrong will get to heaven, and those doing the right will get to heaven. But what those directives are really conveying is this is what the kingdom of God looks like; this is what you have been brought into by the death and resurrection of Jesus; this is what the kingdom of God looks like on earth as it is in heaven. We don’t do the commands to get to heaven. We do the commands because we have started the life of heaven now – in Christ Jesus!
If we begin to grasp this; if we will wrestle with this idea, it will revolutionize the way we think and live. It will reorient our motivation for everything. If our good actions are the seed of God’s kingdom being planted in the earth the promise is that God’s kingdom when it is fully revealed will yield a harvest from that seed.
Easter is about being ‘Surprised by Hope.’ It is about being surprised not that you get to go to heaven, but it is being surprised that all your work in this life when done in Jesus’ name, or done as unto Him, or when done in the Spirit – however we want to say it – is being used by the Holy Spirit; is going to bear fruit for eternal life.
Paul the Apostle, after he gives this powerful unveiling of our glorious bodies and our final victory in I Cor.15 concludes his thought with a statement that almost doesn’t seem to fit in with the rest. I Cor.15:58 says, “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, be immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.” Is Paul only referring to our “Christian” labor, or is he referring to all that we do in this life?
Wright goes on to develop this thought and says everything we do in this life that has its connection to goodness is a part of bringing God’s Kingdom to earth – everything! Sewing, manual labor, singing, music, dancing, art, ecology, learning, science, cooking, care for the sick and elderly, working for a living, relaxing, laughing, marrying, bearing children – all are a part of the beauty of God’s kingdom when done in faith, hope, and love. This is a surprise to most of us. It is shocking to most of us. Shocking, because we have not been taught that doing “natural’ things has any eternal value. But we have been taught wrongly if that is what we think.
“Hands up, to those who have heard the message that every act of love, every deed done in Christ by the Spirit, every work of true creativity – doing justice, making peace, healing families, resisting temptation, seeking and winning true freedom – is an earthly event in a long history of things that implement Jesus’s own resurrection and anticipate the final new creation and act as signposts of hope…” Easter is about entering into the life of new creation now.