Resurrection Is a Threat

20120130-173551.jpgWhat did resurrection mean to people in Jesus’ day, before he was resurrected himself? John 11 paints a helpful picture.

The bulk of the chapter is the account of the death and resurrection of Jesus’ good friend Lazarus. It’s a fascinating tale. Jesus first delays in coming to Lazarus’ aid, suggesting, somewhat cryptically, that Lazarus will survive the illness (vv. 1-4). But once Jesus does arrive on the scene, his friend has already died and the whole matter becomes a crisis of faith for the witnesses. In the end, Lazarus emerges from the tomb smelling quite fresh and all appears well.

Then the story makes an interesting shift, away from Jesus directly, to the broader context. Some of those who witnessed this resurrection felt compelled to report it to the Pharisees (v. 46). The Pharisees, in turn, call a council with the chief priests (v. 47). The conversation that John records says something remarkable about resurrection’s meaning among first century Jews.

In verse 48, the situation is assessed. If Jesus continues doing what he’s doing, performing signs and wonders and whatnot, things will turn ugly for the Jews. These men at the top of Jewish society seemed to believe that if Jesus kept at it, then the Romans would soon bring trouble on the people, generally. Significantly, it’s the occurrence of a resurrection that prompts such a conversation.

What does this mean? Why would a resurrection strike fear in the hearts of Jewish religious and political leaders? Why would the Romans see Jesus as a threat worth subduing? Two things I’ll say in answer.

First, a word about what Jesus was shaping up to be. We can all agree that Jesus was regarded as a messianic figure. This is why the disciples were following him in the first place. Moreover, his choice of twelve disciples (twelve new tribes of Israel) points toward this role. The many signs and wonders he performed had people whispering, Could this be the messiah? The result was more and more people attaching themselves to his cause, or “believing in him.” By nature, a messiah of Israel is also a political figure, a king, in fact, along the lines of David. And anyone claiming to be a king (or even doing the things a potential king might do) is a natural threat to the incumbent ruler – in this case, Caesar.

Second, resurrection is specifically a threat to any entrenched powers. This is less and less the case among today’s liberal governments, but the ultimate weapon that any political authority has over its subjects is the death penalty. Debate the effectiveness of the death penalty as a deterrence all you want, but if a king doesn’t like what you’re doing, he can very easily just kill you and all your followers. Problem solved. Indeed, the Romans were not bashful about such a tactic.

But what if someone were roaming the kingdom raising the dead? What if someone were undoing the king’s edicts of capital punishment? Well, you can see how any ruler would have to restrict such a powerful person. If death and the threat of death is going to continue to exert control over the populace, one who resurrects the dead must be stopped.

{Re}Fresh

Earlier this month, I began a collaborative effort with a few other writers to help bring encouragement to those trying to live faithfully to Christ’s lordship.  The new blog is called {re}fresh, and features some wonderful people, which will hopefully expand in the coming months.

Vocation: It’s Not Me vs. God

As part of my work with the Wellspring School of Leadership, I wrestle a decent amount with the question of vocation or calling.  In the church, we often like to talk about feeling a call towards a certain work.  One is not merely employed as a writer or a childcare worker or a doctor, she is called to it.  The underlying notion is that the person has a sense in which God has directly declared that she will do this specific work.

In many ways, I like this way of referring to one’s vocation, as it can grant someone a perspective that her work is a vital part of God’s overall agenda on the earth.

In speaking this way, however, we have to be careful that we don’t psych ourselves out.  I’ve had plenty of conversations with friends over the years in which the idea of receiving a call from the Lord was elevated to an unattainable height.  Somehow, in seeking God’s call, these friends had disregarded their own gifts, abilities, and passions.

But pitting “what I want to do” vs. “God’s call on my life” is a false dichotomy for the Christian walking with the Lord.  (This attitude was most commonly expressed when I was a teen as, “If you really follow the Lord, He’s going to send you to Africa, right where you don’t want to go.”)

Let’s be honest: Not everyone hears a voice out of the sky telling them precisely what to do with their lives.  Nor should they.  For many Christians, the process is appropriately much more organic.  The process of uncovering one’s call may very well begin with the question, “What would I like to do?”  After all, we’ve each been wired in particular ways, with specific interests, skills, and dreams.  And God has had an awful lot to do with that wiring.

In our individual searches for our specific callings, let’s allow the process to develop in conversation with the Lord, rather than, perhaps, simply waiting on a flash of lightning in the sky.  Tell God what it is you’d like to do.  See what He thinks of it; compare it with the trajectory of God’s work in the world, particularly through Jesus; and see if that doesn’t release you to pursue those desires with passion.  Oh, and see if, as you continue to walk with the Lord, He doesn’t refine the call along with you.

You never know, you may find that walking through that process will eventually feel like a bolt of lightning.