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What Easter Means to God

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BY DAN KIEHL, Senior Pastor of Oakwood Presbyterian Church
 

    “What does Easter mean to God?”  Does that question sound odd to you?  We are well-trained to ask the far less important question, “What does Easter mean to you?”  In an interview in World Magazine, the highly respected PBS journalist Bill Moyers was once asked, “Do you believe that the resurrection actually happened?”  Moyers answered, “You can't take the resurrection by fact - you have to take it on faith.  You appropriate the story for what it means to you and what it says to you. . .. If it means something to you, that's very important… Growing up in a Southern Baptist church, and all these years since - my faith is based on my experience.  This includes being taught to learn, thinking, reading the Bible critically from a historical and journalistic standpoint - I, like you, spend a lot of time reading my Bible - and it can't be justified by any of those measures.  It is part of my story and is therefore a necessary part of my faith, but I wouldn't dare suggest it is essential to anybody's faith who doesn't have my experience.”  Let me interpret Moyers’ doublespeak for you:  He was saying that the resurrection probably didn’t happen, but it doesn’t really matter if it did or not.  As long as I find some meaning in the myth of the resurrection, then it’s important to me.  According to Moyers, any value in the story of the empty tomb comes from the importance that I attach to it.

            Compare Moyers’ perspective to that of the Apostle Paul.  In Romans 1, Paul says that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, whose coming was prophesied beforehand by the prophets, who was descended from King David according to the flesh, “and was declared to be the Son of God in power…by His resurrection from the dead.”  He is saying that the one true God of the universe made it clear to us that Jesus was His unique, only begotten Son by raising Him from the dead.  The empty tomb was proof that all of Jesus’ claims to be fully God and fully man were true, and it proved that He is the ultimate revelation of who God is (Hebrews 1:1-3). 

             Much more than that, Paul goes on to say in the rest of the book of Romans that the resurrection was our proof that God accepted the death of His perfect Son on the cross as a payment for the penalty that our sins deserved – “God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8).  If Jesus had remained dead in His tomb, it would have shown that His claims to be God and His claims to be “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” were all false, that He had been a sinner like us and died for His own sins.  In I Corinthians 15, Paul says that if Christ is not risen from the dead, then our faith in Christ is in vain and we are still accountable to God for all our sins.  “But,” Paul joyously declares, “in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”

             Easter means to me what God told me that it means – because Christ is risen from the dead, I too will live with Him for all eternity.  I am saved by grace through faith.  The interview with Moyers ended with this sad statement from Moyers:  “I am not a Christian because I can't do what Jesus asks.  But, I care deeply about that figure.  He has instructed my faith; He looms large in my life.  But I can't do what He asks me to do, so I can't legitimately claim to be a Christian.”  None of us can do what Jesus asks – that’s why He had to die for us, and to be raised for our justification. 

 

Church & State Responsibilities

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ASK THE PASTOR WITH DAN KIEHL,
Senior Pastor of Oakwood Presbyterian Church

QUESTION: “What about the ‘separation of church and state’? What does the Bible teach about the role of the Church in relation to the State?”

ANSWER: There is no way to answer this question in a few paragraphs, but I’ll try to set out a couple of key principles. First of all, it is true that the Church and the state are separate entities established by God for different purposes. History is full of wrong-headed and tragic attempts to create a hybrid church /state, where ecclesiastical and civil authority are mixed and confused.

However, even though God created the church and state with separate responsibilities and spheres of responsibility, He didn’t ever intend for them to operate in total isolation from each other. They have a very important connection to each other – they were built upon the same foundation, the Word and authority of God Himself. Paul teaches in Romans 13, “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.” When Pilate boasted of his authority to Jesus, our Lord replied, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above.” This is an important point – whether those in civil government recognize it or not, their position and authority come from God, and they are accountable to him for how they use it.

The idea of a “neutral” state, which is immune from any religious influence, is not only foreign to Scripture, it is also logically impossible. Is murder wrong? Is stealing wrong? Is abortion the taking of a human life? Is assisted-suicide a legitimate option for suffering elderly people? Is a committed relationship between two men or two women a legitimate marriage? These are decisions which can only be made based upon a religious worldview. The question isn’t whether or not a government official should be influenced by his religious views or not; the question is, which religious views are influencing his decisions?

America is not a theocracy, and I don’t believe that it is God’s intent to establish a theocracy like Old Testament Israel in this age. However, God does still hold all human governments accountable for their decisions and actions, judging them by the standards of His holy and perfect law. In Romans 13, Paul says that a governing official is “God’s servant to do you good…He is God’s servant, and agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.” Civil government is given “the power of the sword” to punish lawbreakers, protect against enemy aggressors, to restrain wickedness and provide order in society. But how should our society define “lawbreaking”, “enemies”, “wickedness”, and “order”? These are fundamentally moral and religious questions.

This brings us to role of the Church in relation to the state. Again, even though there are no Israel-like theocracies today, I still believe that the basic principle of church / state relations is embodied in the structure of Old Testament Israel. The three authorities in Israel were embodied in the prophets, priests, and kings. The Kings wielded the power of the sword in punishment and protection, while the priests oversaw the ceremonial system of worship and religious instruction. The prophets were the means by which God communicated truth to the King and the people. This is well illustrated by the crucial relationship between the prophets and King David. The prophets were the spokesmen and interpreters of God’s will for the King, whether it was in his personal life (i.e., condemnation of his adultery with Bathsheba) or in his public office (condemnation of his decision to number his troops) (Cf., also John the Baptist’s denunciations of King Herod).

So how does all of this apply to a 21st century democracy like the U.S. of A.? Even though many of the laws in Scripture applied uniquely to Old Testament Israel or to the Church, the rest of God’s laws form the basic principles by which any government should carry out its responsibilities. The fact that no government on earth is listening doesn’t change the fact that they are still accountable to God and to his standards. And the Church continues to bear the responsibility of being “the prophetic voice to the king”, speaking the truth in love. How else could the civil authorities know the will of God? The church has no power or authority of the sword from God to force government officials (or anyone else) to comply with God’s will; our job is only to proclaim the truth, and then trust in the power of the Holy Spirit to change hearts and society. And we are blessed to live in a country where we still have multiple means of expressing God’s truth to those who govern us.

 

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