This post reflects our Wascana Fellowship meeting on Easter weekend. As a little bit of background, our fellowship traditionally celebrates the events associated with Easter at the time of the Jewish Passover, (sometimes called the “quartodeciman” dating) which happens a month later this year than usual. (This is due to the unusually early Easter this year.)
We acknowledge that the vast majority of Christians prefer to celebrate according to the Julian or Gregorian calendar dates as fixed by the Roman and Orthodox church traditions, and find no fault with their preference. What is represented by that tradition transcends the date assigned to it. For this reason we explored its importance in that session on Easter weekend.
As we were in the midst of studies in the first letter of the Apostle Peter, I thought it appropriate to start in that letter to outline the importance that the early disciples placed on Jesus’ death and resurrection.
The letter begins with Peter calling them an “elect” people who have been called into a completely new life because of a world-changing event.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. [1 Peter 1:3-4a | NIV]
Jesus gives a “new birth” that leads to an eternal inheritance. What makes it all possible, however, is Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Without that, there is no new hope, no new birth and no eternal inheritance. For Peter, it is inconceivable to be a Christian without believing that Jesus lived, died, and was brought back to life.
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. 19 After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits— 20 to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, 21 and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him. [1 Peter 3:18c-22 | NIV]
(Note: The unravelling of when and to whom Jesus “made proclamation” will have to wait for another post.)
Not only is it inconceivable in Peter’s mind to be a Christian without that understanding, but Peter uses that fact to motivate the believers in Asia Minor (to whom the letter is addressed) to do two specific things. First, he asks them to live morally pure and blameless lives that will eventually bring honour to God. He then asks them to cheerfully endure unjust suffering because of Jesus’ example of suffering and dying unjustly for the sins of everyone else.
As we address those points we can remember that Peter himself was an eyewitness to Jesus’ death and resurrection. On the day of Pentecost, the next Jewish holy day after the resurrection of Jesus, Peter had this to say to his pilgrim audience in Jerusalem,
“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”37 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.” 40 With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” 41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. [Acts 2:36-41 | NIV]
For Peter, Jesus’ resurrection proves that Jesus is the Messiah promised to the people of Israel. It also makes him Lord over all peoples in the world. When pressed about what to do about Peter’s proclamation, Peter tells them to “repent” and “be baptized,” which are biblical code words for changing your life for the better and entering into a covenant (one that includes obedience) with Jesus, who is the God of Israel.
In addressing his request to cheerfully endure unjust suffering, Peter notes that Jesus suffered unjustly to bring people to God, and therefore, to a lesser extent, our non-retaliatory endurance of evil against us may bring others around, too. He goes on to apply this specifically to wives and slaves as examples of following Jesus even if treated unjustly. The idea is that those who partake in Jesus’ suffering and disgrace also partake in his resurrection and glorification when he returns.
For Peter, the events commemorated on Good Friday and Easter Sunday are the very turning point of world history. Nothing else even compares.
The Apostle Paul, Peter’s counterpart in the non-Jewish Christian church, was of one mind with Peter about the importance of Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascention to heaven. Writing to the church in Ephesus, he prays,
that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength 20 he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way. [Ephesians 1:18-23 | NIV] (emphasis is mine)
Karen H. Jobes, writing in the Baker Evangelical Commentary on the New Testament: 1 Peter put it this way,
The gospel of Jesus Christ is not a new religion or something separate from the redemptive work of Israel’s Yahweh. Rather; Jesus Christ is foundational to God’s redemptive work because the Father’s foreknowledge and the Spirit’s sanctifying work terminate in the covenant between God and people that was established by Christ’s blood (1:2). The sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit does not draw one into some generic spirituality but into the covenant with God in Jesus Christ that stands as the culmination of God’s work and revelation throughout all history. By raising Christ form the dead, God created the eternal new life into which he gives people new birth (1:3). To believe in the resurrected Christ is therefore to have faith and hope in God (1:21).
Jesus Christ is the only human being who has completely cheated death – which is something only God could do. He is still alive. He is with God and he is God, ruling all of creation at his Father’s “right hand.” All he asks is that we trust him with our lives.