hope

This week’s word is a theological phrase. Many of the aspects of our salvation can be defined using a word: adoption, justification, regeneration, etc. But this aspect of salvation, union with Christ, requires the qualifying prepositional phrase.

The specific union we are highlighting today is our union with Christ. Union with Christ makes relationship with God the Father possible because Jesus intercedes for us with his righteousness. Union with Christ also makes relationships with brothers and sisters in Christ possible, making us the church, because we are all united in Christ.

John Murray has written that “union with Christ is the central truth of the whole doctrine of salvation” (Redemption, 201).

Our union with Christ in salvation is a glorious truth and wonderful privilege. Jesus himself describes it to his followers during his discourse on the last night with them before the crucifixion.

18I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 

John 14:18-20 (emphasis mine)

22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. 

John 17:22-23 (emphasis mine)

Jesus is not alone in describing this aspect of salvation. In his letters, Paul referenced union with Christ in one form or another at least 165 times.

As a glorious salvation truth, our union with Christ is utterly dependent on grace. When God saves us through Christ, he invites us into relationship with Christ. He also gives us the Holy Spirit (the spirit of Christ Romans 8:9) to dwell within us.

Our union with Christ is a part of the great exchange that God makes on our behalf. Christ took our sin. And God gave us Christ’s righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21).

We no longer stand before God in our own deeds. We stand before God in Christ. As a result, we can pray to the Father through the righteousness of Christ. We can abide in Christ because we’ve been brought into relationship with God through Christ. We can be assured of eternal life because we are in union with Christ. Our salvation is dependent on the righteousness of Christ.

In his discourse, Jesus went on to describe his union with believers using the analogy of the Vine and branches. Jesus taught his followers that relationship with him means abiding in him.

1 I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.

John 15:1-11

Abiding in Christ is how we apply our union with Christ in our Christian experience.

We abide in Christ by realizing that our union with Christ is a gift of grace. We don’t earn or deserve our salvation. We receive it. But upon receiving it, we have the privilege and responsibility of living it out.

We abide in Christ by loving and obeying Christ. The privilege and responsibility of living in union with Christ is defined by loving and obeying Christ. When we obey, we love; when we love, we obey. We love and obey because we have been made one with Christ. It is our new nature in Christ.

Sinclair Ferguson explains it this way:

In a nutshell, abiding in Christ means allowing His Word to fill our minds, direct our wills, and transform our affections. In other words, our relationship to Christ is intimately connected to what we do with our Bibles! Then, of course, as Christ’s Word dwells in us and the Spirit fills us, we will begin to pray in a way consistent with the will of God and discover the truth of our Lord’s often misapplied promise: “You will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you” (John 15:7b).

Sinclair Ferguson, In Christ Alone: Living the Gospel Centered Life, (kindle locations 933-936).

We are steeped in the Easter season where we reflect on Christ’s passion week, death on the cross, and resurrection. These seasonal themes are more than just for this time of year. They are permanent. This season serves as as reminder of the glories of our salvation. Take some time this week to read your Bible, especially the Gospels and Jesus’ Passion week. Let God speak to you through his Word about his salvation and who you are in Christ.

Rejoice. You have union with Christ. Christ died on the cross taking your sin. You no longer stand before God in your righteousness, or your unrighteousness. You stand before God in Christ.

Abide. You have union with Christ. Love and obey the one who gave his life for your salvation. Let God’s Word guide your thinking and dictate your behavior.

Celebrate. You have union with Christ. Easter is just around the corner. Whether in person or virtual, we should celebrate our union with Christ on Resurrection Sunday.

Hope. You have union with Christ. Heaven is assured for those of us in Christ. Heaven is Christ’s abode. Those of us in Christ are assured to be there.

Easter is the high mark of the Christian calendar. Yes, we have Christmas and its celebration. But Christ’s advent has been shaped by commercialization and media. Even so, it is Christ’s entrance into the world. Christmas is special for the believer, but it is not ultimate. Jesus did not come to the world to live as a baby or as a child. Christmas matters because Easter happened.

Holy Week is our opportunity to reflect on Jesus’ passion and resurrection. Much of the gospel accounts are given to the last week of Jesus (1/3 of Matthew, 1/3 of Mark, ¼ of Luke, and 2/5 or nearly half of John). The last week of Jesus’ life emphasized his conflict with the religious leaders setting up the final act of his life. In this last week, Jesus predicted his future and taught his disciples. He invited them to witness something glorious and eternal. 

We cannot overstate Holy Week’s importance to Christianity. It is the culmination and fulfillment of the salvation we so loudly proclaim.

But this year it feels different. This year it is different. Holy Week 2020 does not feel holy. Many believers across our world will not gather in their churches. They will not dress up in their Easter outfits. They will not celebrate the season with Easter egg hunts, pastel colors, and decorative hats. Because many churches won’t gather, Easter musicals and cantatas will be cancelled or postponed. Easter sermons will take on a different tone. The high attendance day of the gathered church in the West will not be. This year, many of us will celebrate Easter in quarantine and during stay at home orders.

Holy Week does not feel holy. This year it does not feel like a celebration. It feels more like a separation.

We are tense—cooped up in our homes unable to visit, travel, go to school, or even work as normal. We are confused—frustrated at what we’re experiencing. We are afraid—uncertain if we will get sick, if we do, what will happen, and if we can recover from the challenges facing us. We are worried—anxious about tomorrow.

In truth, for many of us, Holy week 2020 may actually be more like the first Holy Week. 

The disciples could sense the tension. For years it had been building between the Jewish religious leaders and their Master, Jesus. Time after time they had questioned him, attacked him, and baited him. With ingenious wit and gracious words, Jesus always managed to silence his critics. This did little but anger them further. 

Upon Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem mere days before the Passover, the disciples could feel the tension.  Jewish lawyers, Pharisees, and other religious leaders saw this as the opportune time. They arrived with questions designed to trap Jesus in blasphemous statements. Yet as before, they were thwarted and left dumfounded. 

The tension of Passover week elevated at that fateful supper. The Lord’s table that he instituted the night before his trial and the day before his death. Judas was sent on his mission of betrayal. Peter’s denial was foretold. And the party left for a time of prayer. Jesus prayed while his followers slept.

The tension in the garden grew significantly with Jesus’ arrest. Led before the Sanhedrin, Pilate, and Herod, Jesus faced mock trials that culminated in his crucifixion outside of Jerusalem. During this part of Holy Week, the disciples scattered in fear, doubt, and confusion. 

The tension became passion when Jesus was beaten, crucified, and unjustly punished on Calvary’s cross. Jesus suffered unlike any man before. Not only did he face the physical brutality of Roman execution, but Jesus carried in his body the curse of God for human sin. Jesus became sin, that we might know God and experience salvation. 

 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

2 Corinthians 5:21

The tension on Calvary became death in a borrowed tomb. Any hope the disciples had that Jesus would come down from the cross and fulfill their vision as a political Messiah, was finished when Jesus’ dead body was removed from the cross and buried. 

The tension of his followers became confusion. How could One who had done so many miraculous things not keep himself from suffering like this? The confusion led to fear. If they would do these things to Jesus, which ones of us are next? The fear led to worry and uncertainty. What will we do now? Jesus was our life for three years. What next? Will where we go? What will we do? 

No, the first Holy Week did not feel holy. The first Holy Week did not feel like victory. The first Holy Week did not feel like a celebration. The first Holy Week did not culminate in fancy hats, pastel colors, musicals, cantatas, egg hunts, desserts, and celebrations. The first Holy Week concluded with an event at first confusing and ultimately more important than any other even ever to take place on planet earth. 

But at the end of Holy Week was a resurrection.

While our situations may cause us to feel isolated and separated this Easter, we can and must still celebrate. Here are some ways you can make this Easter special and unforgettable in your Christian faith.

IMAGINE how Jesus’ followers felt during Jesus’ passion week. Remember how it was during Holy Week for those who first experienced it. But also remember, they met the Risen Lord. Everything changed for them when they saw the resurrected Christ. Everything changed for us when we met Jesus, Jesus who is alive and not dead.

REFLECT on the universal and personal importance of Jesus’ death and resurrection. It was for you he died. Your sins are the reason Christ went to the cross. The sins of the world are the reason Christ died and went to the cross. It was for you that Christ rose from the dead. It was for the nations that Christ rose from the dead. We are right to individualize our salvation experience, but we must do so in light of the billions of other individuals who need salvation.

PAUSE all other distractions to make time to worship Jesus. That first Easter gathering behind locked doors with fearful disciples did not feel holy or full of celebration. But when Jesus entered everything changed. You may be celebrating Easter by yourself, with a spouse, or with your children. You may not be with your church family (in person). But you are not alone. Jesus is with you. He is ever present and you can worship him as you celebrate his resurrection.

JOIN other believers (your church) through streaming, radio, or television. While we may not by in the same rooms physically, we can still celebrate together. Here are some links to celebrate Easter with Wilkesboro Baptist Church. You can join us for worship through Facebook, Vimeo, or YouTube. If you attend another church, make sure you join them in whatever capacity you are able to worship.

ANTICIPATE gathering with fellow believers again. While our normal may be different after Covid-19, we will one day gather again to worship Christ. As for my church, we will create our own Easter Sunday celebration when we are able to gather again as a church family. Let the distance and separation created by our circumstances motivate you to participate in worship when we are able to gather again.

REMEMBER that Jesus’ resurrection defeated death. Everyone of us will face death. I’m heartbroken for those church members who have lost loved ones recently and have not been able to have memorials and funerals. I’m heartbroken for the thousands of families and friends who have lost someone to Covid-19. But we don’t have to grieve, worry, or dread like those without hope. Jesus died, was buried, and rose from the dead. Jesus is victorious over death. Death holds no power over the believer for Jesus holds power over death. This is the hope of Easter. And this is truly why Easter is Holy, no matter what it feels like.

Photo by Bruno van der Kraan on Unsplash