“Resurrection. Then What?”
February 07, 2016
By John PartridgeU
Scripture: Isaiah 6:1-13 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 Luke 5:1-11
Have you ever tried to figure out one of those Rube Goldberg machines? If you aren’t familiar with the name “Rube Goldberg,” these contraptions are those machines that take lots of unnecessary steps to do something simple. The beginning of the television detective show, “Elementary,” starring Jonny Lee Miller as Sherlock Holmes and Lucy Liu as Dr. Joan Watson begins with that sort of machine. There are many videos on the Internet that show these kinds of machines and a few really incredible ones by the musical group “OK Go. Years ago, Kermit the Frog used to have one occasionally to talk about “what happens next” and with each step he would talk about, not surprisingly, what happens next. Whether we are young enough to watch Sesame Street, or old enough to remember when Basil Rathbone was the definitive Sherlock Holmes, watching these sorts of things is fascinating as we all wonder how the builders think and we wonder what will happen next.
It is with this fascination that we look forward to the next book in a series, or the next sequel to our favorite movie. And it is with this same fascination that we read other stories, including scripture, and we wonder, what happens next. And so, even though the Easter story of Jesus’ resurrection is the highlight of the Christian year, and the climax of the Biblical narrative, we keep on reading to see what happens next until Jesus ascends into heaven, and then later, the story of Pentecost.
But then what?
When we read the Bible like a story that has a beginning, middle and end, we know that the Old Testament is the beginning and has a lot of the background and back stories that we need to understand the characters. We understand that the Christmas story is the beginning of the Jesus story and Easter and the resurrection are the climax. But what happens next? Is the story over when Jesus returns to heaven? Obviously, the disciples go out into the world and their story is in the rest of the New Testament, but what is the point? If the whole story starts in Genesis, and Easter is the climax, then what’s the point? We read these stories and we often wonder… what happens next?
To answer that, let’s begin once again in Isaiah (Isaiah 6:1-13) so we can understand the background that led to the coming of Jesus the Messiah.
6:1 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. 3 And they were calling to one another:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.”
4 At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.
5 “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”
6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”
8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”
And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”
9 He said, “Go and tell this people:
“‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’ 10 Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.”
11 Then I said, “For how long, Lord?”
And he answered:
“Until the cities lie ruined and without inhabitant, until the houses are left deserted and the fields ruined and ravaged, 12 until the Lord has sent everyone far away and the land is utterly forsaken.
13 And though a tenth remains in the land, it will again be laid waste. But as the terebinth and oak leave stumps when they are cut down, so the holy seed will be the stump in the land.”
Isaiah proclaims that Israel will be destroyed, the cities left empty, houses deserted, fields and crops burned, and even those who survive will face another round of destruction until even the forests are left with only stumps. All of Israel is described as a desolate wasteland.
But hope remains.
Isaiah doesn’t describe the stumps of the trees as dead things as most of us would expect, but as seeds. “The holy seed will be the stump in the land.” Isaiah wants the people to know that the holy seed, that thing that God is doing, remains in the land. Although the land is desolate and the people are few, God is not dead. Instead, both the land and the people of Israel are to endure a time of dormancy. In more modern language, Isaiah says, “Winter is coming.” But dormancy and winter, although dreary and dark, still contain a seed of hope… the hope of spring.
And we find the spring in the coming of Jesus. In Luke 5:1-11 we hear these words:
5:1 One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. 2 He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. 3 He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.
4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”
5 Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”
6 When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break.7 So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.
8 When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” 9 For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken,10 and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.
Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” 11 So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.
In this short story, there are several things that reveal who Jesus is. The fishermen can see immediately that Jesus is able to see things in nature that they cannot. They see that Jesus can see in each of them, what they could not see in themselves. They see that God can prepare a blessing for them even though they cannot see it. And finally, they see that Jesus’ knowledge of the world, and of them, is truly frightening. For these men there was no doubt that the seed Isaiah spoke of had sprouted, there was no doubt that winter was over, and that the promised Messiah had come.
That was God’s story all along. Eight hundred years before the coming of Jesus, during the life of the prophet Isaiah, God knew. God knew that Jesus would stand by that lake; he knew that those fishermen would be there, and he knew that those fish would be where he needed them to be.
It was a part of his story.
But where does that leave us?
How does this all lead us to what happens after the resurrection?
And so, let us turn to 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, where Paul is answering a very similar question.
15:1 Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.
3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.
9 For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. 11 Whether, then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.
At first, this may not seem to answer the question about what happens after the resurrection but it does, so bear with me for just a minute.
Paul says that the story of Jesus, his birth, life, death, and resurrection, is what he has preached, what we have all believed, and that our belief in that story is what has saved us. Then Paul says that this story, that Jesus died for our sins, is of first importance.
And so what happened after the resurrection of Jesus?
After the resurrection, Jesus appeared to the twelve disciples. Then he appeared to more than five hundred men and women who believed in him, and then he appeared to Paul and converted him as well.
And if we go one step further, what happened next?
What did the disciples do after they saw Jesus resurrected, alive, and walking the earth? What did the five hundred do when they heard? What did Paul do when he heard? And what did Paul’s church do when he told them?
They all did what Paul was doing. They all considered that story, the birth, life, death, resurrection of Jesus to be of first importance, to be more important than anything else. And all of them committed their lives to telling others what had happened so that they could also hear the good news and be saved. Each generation that has heard this story has believed that it was true, and they took upon themselves that same mission. Each generation told the next generation until now that story has come down to us.
Every story has a beginning, middle, and end. God’s story didn’t end with the resurrection. God’s story is still being written.
“What happens next,” has been happening for two thousand years and is still happening today.
What happens next is that the story that Paul told is still the story of first importance. The story of the Gospel message is still the most important story ever told, it is still the most important story that we know, and it is still the most important thing that we do.
What happens next is that we must still do what the disciples did, what the five hundred did, what Paul did, and what every generation since then has done.
We are no longer the people who listen; we have become the people who know the story. And because we know the story, the story that is of first importance, it is our turn, it has become our job, our mission, to share that message of good news with anyone who hasn’t yet heard it.
That is what happens next and that is what happens after the resurrection.
The Gospel story is of first importance.
And sharing that story with others is the first, and the most important, thing that we do.
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