The life of evangelical churches and their spiritual leaders has been portrayed in some recent films and series. Can they help us start conversations?
The heavenly hope was, for Peter, no “pie in the sky when we die” – it was a real and life defining certain expectation.
Easter has come and gone for another year. But Easter will never fade for God’s people.
Think about the Apostle Peter, for instance. He was a rugged fisherman called by Jesus to become one of his core followers. He watched and experienced all that we read about in the Gospels. He was at the heart of most of the action. When it came down to it, he wanted to be there for Jesus. When it came down to it, he couldn’t make it faithfully through the night.
Then things went from bad to worse. Jesus was killed. The disciples were in hiding. Peter had not been able to say sorry for his denial of the man he so dearly loved. Saturday passed. Sunday morning came. Women came to report that the tomb was empty. Peter raced John to the tomb and that day he met the risen Christ more than once. Surely in their private conversation, Peter would have expressed his heart to Jesus over what had happened? Two weeks later, on a Galilean beach, Peter was given the chance to express publicly his love for Jesus. He had failed, but he was not finished.
Every encounter with the risen Jesus must have thrilled their hearts, but before too many weeks had passed by Jesus returned to His Father and they waited in Jerusalem. On Pentecost, it was Peter that boldly stood to declare what was going on. Peter pronounced persuasively that the pangs of death could not keep hold of Jesus and he had risen from the dead!
Easter was very real for those who saw the real Easter. And for a few weeks, their enthusiasm is to be expected. But surely the delight must fade? Every event eventually fades, doesn’t it? Not for Peter.
Fast forward over three decades and Peter writes a letter to some dispersed and discouraged Christians in Turkey. As soon as he launches he is gushing about the reality of Easter again! Thirty-plus years and his passion remains undimmed! Peter could not help but write about the covenant mercy of God that led Him to cause us “to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead!”
Peter went on to write about that hope: an inheritance kept where it cannot die, be defiled, or disappear. The heavenly hope was, for Peter, no “pie in the sky when we die” – it was a real and life defining certain expectation. But the hope Peter spoke of was more than just the heavenly inheritance to come. It was also a present tense living hope.
How does the resurrection of Jesus shape our lives today? What do we have as well as the hope that lies ahead? Peter writes that we have perspective in the midst of challenging trials. The suffering that besets God’s people now has purpose – it proves the miracle of our faith. The suffering we endure now with faith results in greater glory to the God we look to in the midst of the trials.
As well as perspective, Peter writes that believers have an unexplainable love for Jesus. Because he rose from the dead, Jesus is not simply the object of our nostalgia, like a spiritual Elvis or JFK. Jesus is alive and that means that while we do not see him, we do love him. As hard as it is to explain the hope that characterizes God’s people, it is even more difficult to explain the love that we have for Jesus Christ. It is a first-rate spiritual miracle for a self-absorbed and incurved human heart to be turned inside-out so that it doesn’t hate Jesus (our natural condition), but loves him from the heart!
Finally, as well as perspective and love, the believer also has inexpressible joy. When we see Jesus our joy will overflow, of course, but now, even though we do not see him, we rejoice with a joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory. True believers suffer, true believers endure, but true believers are people of joy. It comes from the perspective we have, it comes from the love that is birthed within us, it comes because Jesus has conquered the greatest enemy – death itself.
Since death is defeated we live, present tense, with a living hope, with victory-shaped perspective, with unexplainable love, and with inexpressible joy. We live, present tense, because Jesus lives, present tense. Since death is defeated, Easter must not and cannot fade for us.