WHEW! We made it through Easter!
That probably didn't sound right (smile). It was a wonderful week and Resurrection Day celebration for us here in the Vail Valley, (one of our best attended Easter weekends in years), and I am confident it was a blessed Easter season in your community and home church as well.
So, now that Easter week is behind us, here at Trinity we are continuing our in-depth exploration of the amazing reality of Resurrection. If you have time in your week, I invite you to join us by listening to our messages. Along the way we will be addressing some of the questions - and dispelling some of the myths- that surround the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Questions such as "when we die, do we go straight to Heaven, or is there something in-between?" "What will Heaven be like? Does scripture tell us much about this? Will we just be sitting on a cloud with a little harp worshiping God 24/7 for all eternity?" "Do our loved ones who have already died 'look down' upon us from heaven?" "What about all the people who lived before the time of Jesus? What is their hope of Salvation and Resurrection?" And last but not least, "will we see our pets in heaven?" Before you scoff at that last question, even though it may seem childish, it's been asked of me by many adults over the years, and actually points to one of the wider hopes of Resurrection- the idea of all things made new, which we will unpack in the coming weeks.
Another question arose (pardon the pun) this past Monday when a young woman in our small group shared an experience from a church where they recited the Apostles Creed. (If you aren't familiar with the Apostles Creed, it is an ancient 'this we believe' confession, part of liturgical tradition for centuries.) She described how everything in the creed seemed perfectly fine, indeed what we do believe, until there arrived the phrase "He (Christ) descended into hell." Huh? Where did that come from? This wasn't something she was certain was in the Bible, and as it turns out, her question was well founded. I asked the question to my men at our breakfast study the next morning... "Does the Bible teach that Jesus descended into hell between His death and Resurrection?" The answer was the same as my own initial thought- "Well, I'm not sure where the Bible says this, but yes, I'm pretty sure that Jesus did descend to hell, and while there accomplished something significant, although I'm not sure exactly what." There's much that can be discussed around this statement, and why it is in the Apostles Creed, but here's my point. For all the tradition that teaches this idea of Jesus descending into hell before his Resurrection, it's simply not Biblical. There are a handful of verses that have been pointed to over the centuries to try and back the idea up, but upon close examination they fail to make the case. This isn't a matter of heresy, but an example of many people believing something because of what tradition teaches, rather than what the New Testament actually teaches.
Here's why this is important. When we consider any Biblical concept, but especially that of Resurrection, we don't want to miss the amazing truth of what scripture actually says. For just as there are traditional teachings that can't be justified Biblically, there is also life-giving truth in Scripture that is not taught traditionally. Put another way, while many traditional concepts of Resurrection and Eternity are harmless from a doctrinal standpoint, they can distract our focus from the majestic New Covenant scope of Resurrection God shows us in His Word. A prime example is Paul's statement in Ephesians 2, that because of His great love for us, God... raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the Heavenly Realms in Christ Jesus, in order that... He might show us the incomparable riches of His Grace. As we touched on Sunday, this is the reality that In Christ, we have already experienced Spiritual Resurrection, and already taken our first step into eternity. What happened to Christ through His death, burial, and resurrection has also happened to us through our own death, burial, and resurrection. This is a spiritual truth, but with profound implications for how we live right now, in the bright light of our faith in what is, and our Hope of what is to come.
Friends, I understand these concepts are difficult to grasp- they certainly are for me! But life is too important, and the truth is just too good, to settle for unfounded traditions or cartoon concepts of Resurrection and eternity. As you gather to worship with your church this Sunday, I ask that you pray for us here at Trinity as we cut through the clouds and mine deeply into the richness of God's Word- the truth of how what happened to Jesus through the cross also has happened to you.
From your friends and church family in the mountains,
For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.
2 Corinthians 5:4-6
For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his.