Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and THE TRUTH, and the life.—Jesus (John 14.6)
With almost the entire Christian world celebrating the Resurrection this past weekend (this was a year when Easter coincided for both the Latin Catholic West and the Greek Orthodox East), I’d like to simply ask a question that I believe is the most relevant question for any follower of Jesus to ask regarding the Resurrection. That question is, “What is the Truth that the Resurrection actually proclaims?” (As a warning, be wary of domesticated, conventional answers that focus only on postmortem differences while leaving the world around us unchanged.)
The Truth that the Resurrection announces, in all actuality, is not any different from the Truth that Jesus was announcing throughout his entire life and teachings. The Resurrection is simply the Divine endorsement of that Truth over the “non-truth” embodied by the Powers that Be in their treatment of Jesus when they were threatened by the Truth Jesus proclaimed. Let me unpack and explain this idea.
The “non-truth” that many systems of this world embody is threefold: 1) for proper politics to be executed, violence is required. It is the lesser of two evils that must be embraced and to think otherwise is at minimum, naïve, and at most, treason; 2) for healthy economics to exist, a disguised, culturally acceptable form of greed cannot be avoided, and this is the way to success; and 3) for religion to please the gods, sacrifices must be made. (I’ll explain more on this point in a moment, but for now, think of Jesus’ message: His Father desires mercy, not sacrifice; see Matthew 9.13; 12.7.) The Truth that Jesus embodied exposes (see John 3.20) our politics as amounting simply to being a veiled form of violence driven by the fear that others will take what we desire. The Truth that Jesus embodies exposes our economics as amounting to hoarding more than “our daily bread.” We are holding on to what does not belong to us out of fear that we will go without tomorrow, while those around us are being deprived today by our actions. Moreover, the Truth that Jesus embodied exposes our religions as amounting to nothing more than an elaborate system of sacrifices that create victims in attempts to please a God out of fear of punishment if sacrifices are not made. (This one is so deeply rooted in many of us that it is almost impossible for us even to see. This is also, according to the Jesus story, the significant religious motive that led to the crucifixion of Jesus. I’ll share more on this in a moment.)
The “non-truth” embodied by this world (its systems of politics, economics and religion), in short, is that violence is either justifiable or, at least, it is inevitable, and to think otherwise is naïve. Greed, if controlled and monitored, is actually the wisest way to govern our resources. And lastly, sacrifice, based on a healthy fear of the divine, is the way to keep the gods happy.
Jesus came saying He was the way, the Truth, and the life.
Jesus came calling us to a new human community, a nonviolent community that shares with those who do not have, and practices mercy for another rather than “sacrifice.” This community has a strange absence of violence, greed, and “sacrifice” as well as an absence of the fears that drive all three. However, there is a rub. There also exists presently, in this world, Powers that Be whose place of privilege and ease depends on the existence of violence, greed, and sacrifice all rooted in fear. They perceive the coming of Jesus’ Kingdom, His new humanity, as a threat. Jesus’ gospel is not good news to them; it is a threatens to take from them all that they hold dear. Some say, “If it isn’t good news, then it’s not the gospel.” And while I understand what they are trying to say—and I agree with their intentioned meaning—what Jesus was bringing was gospel, but Pilate, Caiaphas, and Herod did not feel that Jesus’ announcement of a new world, free from those things upon which their place of privilege depended, was good news.
How did they respond? They, all three, with the help of the mob, united to kill him.
John 18.28—Then they took Jesus from Caiaphas to Pilate’s headquarters. It was early in the morning.
Luke 23.12 —That same day Herod and Pilate became friends with each other; before this they had been enemies.
Matthew 27.20—Now the chief priests and the elders excited the mob to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus killed.
Remember, within the Jesus story, Pilate stands for political systems that depend on violence for their success. Herod stands for economic systems where greed is the promised way of success. In addition, Caiaphas tops them all and stands as the figure head of an elaborate and intricate religious system of sacrificing innocents, driven by what is labeled as a “healthy” fear of God.
Acts 2.22-33—You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know—this man, given to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power…This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God…
Acts 3.13-15—The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate, though he had decided to release him. But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses.
Acts 4.10-11—Let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead. This Jesus is ‘the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone.’
Acts 5.30—The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things…
Acts 10.36-42—You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as He who reigns over the living and the dead.
Acts 13.23—Of this man’s posterity God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, as he promised…My brothers, you descendants of Abraham’s family, and others who fear God, to us the message of this salvation has been sent. Because the residents of Jerusalem and their leaders did not recognize him or understand the words of the prophets that are read every Sabbath, they fulfilled those words by condemning him. Even though they found no cause for a sentence of death, they asked Pilate to have him killed. When they had carried out everything that was written about him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead; and for many days he appeared to those who came up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, and they are now his witnesses to the people. And we bring you the good news that what God promised to our ancestors he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising Jesus…
The cross, my dear friends, is not where justice, divine or human, was satisfied. The cross is the quintessential travesty of justice in human history, where God becomes the Victim of our political, economic, and religious systems that sacrifice others for their success. The Resurrection reveals that God is not present alongside those systems. The Resurrection proclaims that God stands with the innocent victims of those systems and is revealed through them. In short, the Resurrection proclaims that Jesus, rather than those systems, is the embodiment of Truth.
The Resurrection endorses the Truth that, with Jesus, God’s Kingdom that was in Heaven has now come to earth. It has not entered and conquered this world by killing its enemies but rather by allowing itself to be killed by its enemies. This was done in an attempt to expose the dirty, rotten systems and “non-truths” they peddle and to call all to a new way of living life here on earth.
The Resurrection endorses and proclaims that a new Kingdom has arrived: 1) this Kingdom is not dependent on violence for its existence (it would rather have its own blood shed than to stain its hands with the blood of another); 2) it is a Kingdom that shares generously the bread it receives today with the poor, the widow, and the alien, without fearing what may come tomorrow; 3) this Kingdom marks the end of Sacrificing others, even in the name of standing up for and defending what is good or “the right thing,” all the while believing we are working for righteousness, Truth, and saving our community. It is a Kingdom whose coming marks the beginning of a way of mercy (rather than sacrifice) and kindness toward those previously deemed by religious communities as living outside of the “Torah” and labeled by them as “sinners.” The Truths of this Kingdom are embodied in Jesus. This Truth springs eternal, and the Resurrection marks the beginning of a new world based on this Truth!
The Resurrection unmasks the systems of the present age and announces that a new age has begun. Granted, we do not see all things in submission to this new age yet, as Paul would say. Nevertheless, the age has arrived and it is our privilege to enlarge that age, crowding out the old age like plants being subversively undone by the mustard seed’s growth in the garden, until the time when the Kingdom can be handed, unobstructed, back, once again, to “the Father” (I Corinthians 15.24).
The Resurrection endorses the Truth—that Jesus embodied—over and against the “non-truths” being embodied by the systems of this world. The Resurrection victoriously announces that the Truth is the Truth we find in Jesus. And what is that Truth?
Jesus is the Truth:
The way of life is enemy love and forgiveness, not violence.
(The Truth we encounter in Jesus is that violence is not only unnecessary, but actually finds no place in the life of someone endeavoring to follow Jesus. A community centered in Jesus is inescapably a nonviolent community; see Matthew 26.52)
Jesus is the Truth:
The way of life is sharing with those who do not have enough of what they need to last them until sunset, while we trust that there will be more of what we need tomorrow.
(Think of the Manna as well as the story of the loaves and fish. We follow Jesus who makes sure there will be baskets of loaves and fish left over if we seek first the Kingdom and share what little we have today, even if it is only a couple small loaves and fish. The Truth we encounter in Jesus is that greed cannot be baptized under the title of “good stewardship;” it must be abandoned (see Matthew 16.9).
Jesus is the Truth:
The way of life and to God is not in making sacred the sacrifices of those without which our religious communities would be least diminished, the condemnation of those from which unity around them as “enemy” can be most easily accomplished. It is not in excusing such sacrifices under the pretense that those sacrificed are not victims but “sinners,” not living according to our interpretation of the “Torah.” It is not found in motives rooted in the fear of divine repercussions if sacrifices are not performed. The Truth is that God does not, nor has He ever, desired sacrifice. He is not satisfied by sacrifice. What the God of Jesus desires is mercy.
(The Truth we find in Jesus is that every person is sacred, regardless of how they measure up to our own deified estimation of what is right or wrong. “The Father” is more concerned with how we relate to them than how we relate to Him. For, truly, they and He are the same; see James 1.27; Matthew 25.40.)
The ancient Hebrew hope was not of going to Heaven at death or escaping some Hellenistic, postmortem Hell. The ancient Hebrews looked forward to an age here on earth when injustice, oppression, and violence would all be set right by the Hebrew God. The Resurrection of Jesus proclaims that the age the Hebrews longingly looked forward to in hope—where all of injustice, oppression, and violence is set right—has begun!
The HeartGroup application this week is very simple.
1) In the wake of the Resurrection, spend some time this week sitting with Jesus each day—with pen and paper in hand—and ask the living Jesus to show you where in your life you have yet to recognize your own victimization to violence, greed, and sacrifice rooted in fear rather than mercy. As a victim, you may stand in the place of the oppressor OR the oppressed. Ask Jesus to grant you forgiveness for others in whatever way you stand in the position of being oppressed. In addition, ask Jesus to open your eyes to recognize the way in which you stand in the position of the oppressor. Ask Jesus to give you the humility to seek their forgiveness as well as the courage to embark on a new way of life, a way that the Resurrection points to as the Truth, the way, and the life.
2) Journal your experience.
3) Share whatever Jesus does in you through this experience with your HeartGroup this upcoming week.
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!
Now go run in the expanse of the light streaming from the empty tomb.
I love you, guys.
I’ll see you next week.