All month we’ve been asking ourselves some thought-provoking questions to help us better understand and appreciate what Jesus has done for us.
Questions like, “What if Jesus never lived?” How would our world be different if he never existed at all? Or, “What if Jesus never taught?”
Last week we asked the question, “What if Jesus never died?” And this week we are asking, “What if Jesus never rose again?” Or another way of asking it: what actually changed in our world because of the first Good Friday and Easter?
In a sense, today is kind of Part II of my message from last week. So I want to give you just a brief recap in case you missed it.
To understand the death of Jesus, we have understand the whole story of the Bible. What it boils down to is really two ideas: blessings and curses.
From the very beginning God wants humanity to be blessed. And that just means that we would experience abundance, peace, wholeness, and God’s presence with us.
Basically that we would live a life like the garden of Eden. Blessed.
But in the story, humanity keeps rejecting that offer of blessing. We think we know better than God what will make our lives good. So we pursue things like greed and lust and pride and essentially become enslaved by these idolatrous “powers” of our world. By sin.
We are cursed by our choice to reject God’s offer of blessing and life. And that curse leads to death.
To make a long, beautiful, powerful story very short, despite our rejection of him, God was not finished in his mission to bring blessing to the world.
And so God himself entered into our world as Jesus Christ, and in his self-giving love he took our sins on himself and became our curse and he experienced the consequence of death so that we can be free.
Because Jesus died, The curse is over.
HOPE OF NEW CREATION
And that’s where we left off last week. The curse is gone. Sin has lost its power. Death is defeated.
But that’s not the end of the story. Because remember, God doesn’t just want to end the curse; he wants us to experience blessing again. So when is that going to happen?
Well, along with the storyline of the curse in the Old Testament - as things get worse and worse - there’s another storyline that starts to develop. It’s the story of what a return to blessing - a return to Eden might look like.
(passages on screen like last week)
Yet again, God starts to speak through the Old Testament prophets, and they start to envision a New Creation, where humanity can experience blessing again. For example,
“Look! I am creating new heavens and a new earth,
and no one will even think about the old ones anymore…
And the sound of weeping and crying
will be heard in it no more.
This is the Eden ideal. No more grief. No more pain.
But not just that. The prophets also envisioned humanity once more at peace with one another:
They will hammer their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will no longer fight against nation,
nor train for war anymore.
I love that. In Eden there’s literally no use for swords anymore.
But not just that. In this New Creation it’s not just an absence of violence, the land is also abundant and overflowing with good things.
“The time will come,” says the LORD,
“when the grain and grapes will grow faster
than they can be harvested…
They will plant vineyards and gardens;
they will eat their crops and drink their wine.”
It’s abundance and feasting and plenty.
But not just that. Even death itself has no place in this New Creation.
In that day the wolf and the lamb will live together;
the leopard will lie down with the baby goat.
The calf and the yearling will be safe with the lion,
and a little child will lead them all.
Isn’t that a beautiful image? I just picture a little 5-year-old leading a parade with rabbits and cheetahs and orangutans, and everyone’s just chilling. It’s basically Narnia.
New Creation. This is the life of blessing God wants us to experience. Harmony with one another and with the earth. Abundance and life springing up everywhere we look.
And most importantly, blessing means the presence of God walking among us just like he did in Eden.
The LORD himself, the King of Israel,
will live among you!
At last your troubles will be over,
and you will never again fear disaster.
Imagine! Humanity no longer separated from our Creator. It’s beautiful.
One little side note here. There’s one thing the prophets were not hoping for or dreaming of that might surprise you… As far as I can tell (and I’ve looked), they don’t ever talk about going to heaven when we die.
That’s just not a part of their worldview. What they do talk about is heaven - God’s realm - coming down to become a part of ours.
In their vision of the New Creation, heaven and earth become one. That’s what Eden was like. And some day, in their mind, the whole world will be like that.
This is the hope that was sustaining the ancient prophets of Israel, hundreds of years before Jesus.
Even as they longed for the curse to be broken, and for the power of sin to be overcome, they also held onto these visions - these promises - of what God would one day bring about: a New Creation - a return to Eden.
Let’s just take a second. I want to ask you something.
What would New Creation look like for you? What would it mean for you to be blessed?
I’m not just talking about unlimited ice cream with no calories (that would be great). I’m asking, what would it look like if your life was made right again? For God to wipe every tear from your eyes?
No more anxiety about the future…
Harmony between your family members…
No more bullies at school…
The end of the rat race for a paycheck…
Hearing God’s voice clearly…
Healing for the pain you feel…
Get specific and ask yourself: What would it look like for me to return to Eden? [pause]
Now hold on to that idea. We’re going to come back to it in a moment.
For now, what I want to do is bring all these threads together and get back to our question for the weekend. What if Jesus never rose from the grave?
Again, last week I talked about the curse. Humanity rejected blessing - we rejected Eden - and as a result we became enslaved to the idolatrous powers of this world. Greed, fame, sex, money… they ruled over us.
We were cursed and death was the ultimate consequence.
As we said last week, if Jesus had never died, that curse would never have been dealt with. We would still be trapped under the power of sin with no escape. We’d still be cursed.
Thankfully, he did die for us. But if Jesus never rose… then that death would have been kind of pointless.
I mean, if he went to those great lengths to bear the sins of humanity, to become the curse for us… If he willingly died at the hands of the powers of our world but then stayed dead?
Well that’s not much of a victory, is it?
The Apostle Paul puts it this way in 1 Corinthians.
1 Corinthians 15:17-18
If Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost!
All of our rejection of God’s blessing - all of our sin - it spirals us down to death every time. That’s the consequence of the curse. If Jesus never rose, he’d be just one more victim at the hands of death. We’d still be stuck in our sin.
But if God did raise Jesus to new life, it means death doesn’t have power anymore. The grave couldn’t hold him. It means the curse has been overcome. That the cross actually worked!
The death of Jesus dealt with the curse; his resurrection proved it.
Thank God we live in a world where Jesus did die and rise again. Because it means that the curse is over and we can be free. The empty tomb is proof that our world has changed.
But that’s not all that happened with the resurrection. Yes, it proved that the cross had worked, but there’s more.
Because remember: God’s desire for humanity from the very beginning was not that we would just live in a world without the curse. No. His desire was for us to experience blessing.
Peace, abundance, his presence… The ancient prophets were on to something when they dreamt about New Creation. Because that is the end of the story. Humanity returned to Eden. And that is what the first Easter morning unlocked.
If Jesus never rose… then all this talk of New Creation would today be nothing more than the wishful thinking of some ancient bearded prophets.
But if Jesus did rise from the dead - into new life - then it’s proof that these dreams had begun to be realized. New Creation isn’t just some future idea anymore.
The moment Jesus walked out of that grave New Creation had begun.
God was always going to restore creation and bring humanity back to Eden. Back to blessing. At the resurrection that work of renewal had finally kicked off. New Creation started on Easter.
But here’s the thing that gets me most worked up about all of this…
Yes, one day, when Christ returns, the New Creation will be complete and we will live in blessing forever. God will bring heaven and earth together. He will reconcile all things to himself.
That’s what we have to look forward to - when these bodies are also resurrected into new bodies like Jesus.
That’s in the future, that’s all on the way, and that should give us great hope. But here’s what I don’t want you to miss: New Creation is also happening now.
The moment Christ rose from the grave in his resurrected body, New Creation began, and it’s been spilling into our world ever since.
Listen to what the Apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:
2 Corinthians 5:17
Anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person [new creation]. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!”
If we follow Jesus we are new creations. This isn’t just some future thing. It’s now.
This is what Jesus was teaching us during his whole time on the earth. He showed us that we can spread New Creation into our worlds now. We can spread God’s blessing and announce the end of the curse. We can spread an Eden kind of life today.
Caring for the poor and marginalized
Loving the unlovable
Sharing our abundance with generosity
Standing against violence
Living in harmony and peace and joy with everyone and everything, including the earth itself.
We can heal the broken places of our world in Jesus’ name and tell our friends and neighbors and loved ones, “Come back to God! Because the curse is over and the door to Eden is open once again!”
Yes we will experience the New Creation some day in all its fullness, but God is laying the groundwork for that right now through you and me.
This is what it means to have the Holy Spirit within us. Heaven is on earth and it’s right here! It’s the very presence of God giving us the ability to choose blessing and share it with everyone around us.
The New Creation began that first Easter morning and we get to help it spread.
HOPE. ACT. BELIEVE.
I know this is a lot to think about. Perhaps this is not the way you normally think about the cross and the empty tomb. But I hope it’s uplifting. This is the story of the Bible, and we get to be a part of it.
With all of that said, I want to end with a few encouragements for you.
First, a few moments ago, I asked you to think about what it would look like for you to experience New Creation.
I don’t know what you thought of, but I want to tell you this: there is hope. It may not always look the way you expect, but God is healing this world - he’s making things new.
It started with the body of Jesus and it continues in the brokenness of your life.
Whatever it is you thought of, will you share it with someone you trust? I know it might feel kind of risky.
But sharing your burden - your dream - with another follower of Christ may just be the beginning of how God brings New Creation into your brokenness. God is reconciling all things to himself, and that includes the things you’re facing.
This, friends, is why we’re here - the Church. We are here to help inaugurate this New Creation. To care for one another, to stand up for each another, to bring peace…
You don’t have to go through this alone.
Second, I just want to remind you… As followers of Jesus we are meant to live out the resurrection - to be New Creation people. As Paul says, we are Christ’s ambassadors. His representatives.
We can say to others, “Come back to God!” because thanks to him we live in freedom from the curse. We have experienced His blessing.
Don’t just sit on your hands and wait for heaven. Let Jesus bring heaven to earth through you! It doesn’t matter how young or old you are. You have a purpose in Christ. You have a destiny.
Healing brokenness, spreading joy, fighting for justice…
With your unique, God-given skills and passions and experiences, there is New Creation work for you to do that is yours and no-one else’s. Why give your life to anything else?
Don’t just live the cross; live the empty tomb!
If we do this together, then in these dark times our little spiritual family is going to look at lot like Eden. And that is a message that preaches itself.
Finally, I want to speak to those of you who don’t yet follow Jesus.
I believe this story - of the crucifixion and the resurrection - of the curse and the blessing - This is the story that gives our world meaning.
What if you gave your life to it? What if you surrendered to Jesus and let him bring New Creation to bear in your life?
Look, if it’s all made up, worst case scenario, you end up living a joyful life where you help other people and spread a bit of light instead of darkness. But if it’s true, you may very well be participating in the renewal of our broken world.
And in the process, you may just discover the person God created you to be. You were made for more.
And let me tell you. You as a new creation in Jesus? Now that person is going to change the world.
Follow Jesus and you will come alive.
Our God is the God of unfailing love and faithfulness. He’s the God of second chances. And he is relentless in his desire to bring us back into his presence - back to blessing.
He took the curse on himself so we could be free.
This Easter I hope we can remember just how beautiful that is.