Easter 2018: Paul Tothill talks about the day God's restoration of all things began.
Note: These are notes from Paul's Easter message at Gateway Church on 2/4/18.
In Australia, we celebrate the Easter long week end and many people turn to church to celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. There is little doubt the Cross of Jesus’ suffering, His Passion, evokes both deep emotion and for some scorn. Yet the Cross and the unjust and brutal death of Jesus as the greatest expression of God’s love towards all humanity remains the turning point of all history. When Jesus gave up His last breath to embrace death, an historical revolution began, at least this is what the first apostles, Paul and the early church believed. Their suffering Messiah King had won a great spiritual and cosmic victory. Christus victor! Jesus had defeated all the powers of darkness and upon reaching the mercy seat in heaven, his blood atoned for the sins of all humanity for those who would believe.
The Cross means so much that it is impossible to plunge its depths today. And the answer to what the Cross was achieving is not found in a neat theological statement or one simple verse of Scripture. It must be pieced together. It is a crescendo of hope and the future establishment of God’s eternal Kingdom established in a new earth that is woven together by many prophetic and theological statements in the context of the narrative of God’s covenant people.
To be sure, as NT Wright is at pains to reveal, on the “first Good Friday, at 6 pm”, when the Scripture was fulfilled even down to smallest and most profound detail, “a revolution had begun”. The world had been permanently changed and now God had taken back to Himself what was taken illegally through the deception of Satan and the worship of false gods. Humanity had been caught up in a cosmic spiritual battle for planet earth leading in an attempt to control the heavens. Yet few Christians see it this way. They understand the simplicity and saving values of the Cross, but they do not understand what it means for them in any great detail beyond that. Again, this was not the case for at least the early apostles and those who came into this God-centred eternal King rescuing salvation through their ministry.
Easter at one level is the remembrance of a series of Jewish feasts pointing to their fulfilment in Jesus Christ. These feasts all relate to the story of the Hebrews’ deliverance and their future hope. As I have been explaining it is difficult for us to understand the full meaning and power of the cross and its revolutionary and historical power outside of the narrative of the exile and return from exile of God’s covenant people.
However, at another level, two Psalms were brought into sharp focus when Jesus became the Passover lamb, the suffering King-servant and the resurrected victorious King. The first is of course Psalm 22. This captures what was going on in both the natural world of time and space and the very real spiritual world that was swirling around Jesus. And this brings both explanation, fulfilment and mystery to the Cross and the finished work of Jesus.
Explanation and fulfilment, because King David under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit foretold what would happen to Jesus as the Son of God. Mystery because Jesus’ ministry brought forward the love of God and the power and authority of the Kingdom realm to destroy the works of every dark power and to win back God’s authority on earth both by miracles and suffering. The mystery of Christ’s suffering has been acknowledged but rarely embraced by the modern teaching of the Gospel, yet it was foundational to the thought of the early Apostles including, and in particular, Paul.
Paul, the apostle of Christ wrote: My passion is to be consumed with him and not clinging to my own “righteousness” based in keeping the written Law. My “righteousness” will be his, based on the faithfulness of Jesus Christ - the very righteousness that comes from God. And I continually long to know the wonders of Jesus more fully and to experience the overflowing power of his resurrection working in me. I will be one with him in his sufferings and I will be one with him in his death. Only then will I be able to experience complete oneness with him in his resurrection from the realm of death. Philippians 3:9-11.
And again: I can even celebrate the sorrows I have experienced on your behalf; for as I join with you in your difficulties, it helps you to discover what lacks in your understanding of the sufferings Jesus Christ experienced for his body, the church.
It is this mystery between bringing forward the Kingdom of heaven and revealing God’s authority in His love and power and Christ’s suffering as a victorious Messiah King that the early church embraced in being witnesses to the reality of the Gospel.
Jesus mission on earth was not just to reveal the Father and it was certainly that; but to reveal the Father and the kingdom in a manner that God would also destroy the works of darkness and set the spiritual world and world affairs on its head. He said what must have seemed to be strange to His disciples when anticipating His mission and later theirs in bringing forward the Kingdom:
How enriched you are when you bear the wounds of being persecuted for doing what is right! For that is when you experience the realm of heaven’s kingdom.
How ecstatic you can be when people insult and persecute you and speak all kinds of cruel lies about you because of your love for me! So, leap for joy - since your heavenly reward is great. For you are being rejected the same way the prophets were before you. Matthew 5:10-12 Sermon on the Mount.
Then Jesus specifically spoke to His disciples again in speaking of the Kingdom of heaven that was at hand.
Expect to be hated by all because of my name, but be faithful to the end and you will experience life and deliverance. And when they persecute you in one town, flee to another. But I promise you this: you will not deliver all the cities and towns of Israel until the Son of Man will have made his appearance …
This mystery of miraculous power and the Kingdom breaking in and the acceptance of suffering for the name of Jesus was central to the apostolic mission and the early church as it was for Jesus to move in the way of love to completely destroy the work of the enemy. It was to join themselves as one with their King.
Paul again spoke of this when living empowered by the Holy Spirit: And since we are his children, we qualify to share all his treasures for indeed we are heirs of God himself. And since we are joined to Christ, we also inherit all that he is and all that he has. We all experience being co-glorified with him provided that we accept his sufferings as our own. Romans 8:17
They considered it part of their reality co-labouring with Jesus in bringing forward God’s Kingdom. No disciple was above their teacher. But the great news was that at the Cross Jesus overcame the world through His suffering! Through His suffering a revolution began.
The Cross therefore was the final showdown between love and truth - that which is good; and the absence of love, lies and dark powers, that which is evil and Sin. This showdown revealed the wisdom of God as an expression of the triune God’s unfathomable love for God’s creation and all humanity and the unsurpassable worth He gave to those who were enslaved to the spiritual powers of darkness and evil living separated from God because of Sin.
John, the apostle of the chest, clearly brings this central reality into his gospel in JOHN 3:16. Starting at John 3:14;
And just as Moses in the desert lifted up the brass replica of a snake on a pole for all people and see them saved (healed and delivered) so the Son of Man is ready to be lifted up. For this is how much God loved the world - he gave his one and only, unique Son as a gift. So now everyone who believes in him will never perish but experience everlasting life.
This means that Jesus through His suffering and death was revealing God’s unchanging unfathomable love for the whole world. And in displaying the power of Divine love and God’s perfect wisdom, Jesus was willing to become the suffering King-servant, placing His trust completely in the Father and in doing so completely destroying the power of spiritual darkness that was ruling the world. A revolution, a new era, a new epoch had begun.
Make no mistake at the time Jesus went to the Cross, although the Kingdom had been revealed and was slowly breaking in by miraculous power that the Father was revealing through Jesus, Jesus would have known, that He had to win back the authority over the earth that had been stolen by deception from Adam and return it to the church - His royal priesthood. This manifold work of breaking the foundational bonds of Sin and its continuing spiritual enslavement and corruption of humanity (and the cosmos) physically, emotionally and spiritually and winning back spiritual authority over the earth was central to Christ’s mission as the coming conquering King. And this aspect of His mission was found in His suffering and His glorification. It was a master stroke of God’s wisdom. He would destroy the work of the enemy by an unthinkable expression of His love towards all humanity. God would himself become Sin to liberate humanity from the source and bondage of sin by taking it to death.
Now we see two Psalms coming clearly into play. Psalm 2 formed part of the future hope of the coming Messiah King that would win a definitive victory. Christus Victor. But Psalm 22 looked anything like a King in victory. This is why the cross looks like foolishness to the self-appointed wise. The suffering of Jesus was the moment of prophetic fulfilment and victory over all darkness! I repeat: Now the coming King had come. He had come to rescue His people! Now He was coming in power to release His people from the slavery of exile in darkness and bondage, those enslaved to the spirit of the world and a counterfeit Kingdom of darkness.
The coming King would not fight like the world, but through His own suffering and on the foundation of unfathomable love! It was love that overcame death to bring God’s people, His creation back to His life and under the power and loving authority of His Kingdom. The battle of spiritual powers was real. Mel Gibson’s Passion captured this so well.
The battle had been on-going since the Garden. But the birth of Jesus had brought that spiritual battle into the centre. This is important to understand. Jesus had been destroying the works of Satan by healing the sick, delivering people by casting out demons and setting them free, and raising the dead. His ministry in the desert was marked by the first showdown, with Satan testing Jesus and inviting Him to take a short cut. Peter was even used by Satan to undermine God’s purposes to change all of history and every spiritual reality at the Cross of Christ’s suffering. But because of love Jesus was unwavering- yet challenged deeply, in His resolve.
God my God! Why do you abandon me now?
Let me pause here, and let’s jump forward for a moment to make the connection between David’s words of foretelling, a Messianic prophecy and its fulfilment.
For three hours, beginning at noon, darkness came over the earth. And at three o’clock Jesus shouted with a mighty voice in Aramaic, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” - that is, “My God, My God, why have you deserted me?” Some who were standing near the cross misunderstood and said, “He’s calling for Elijah.” One bystander ran and got a sponge, soaked it with sour wine then put it on stick and held it up for Jesus to drink. But the rest said, “Leave him alone! Let’s see if Elijah comes to rescue him”. Jesus cried out, took his last breath and gave up his spirit. At that moment, the Holy of Holies was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook violently, rocks were split apart, and graves were opened. The many holy ones who had died were brought back to life and came out of their graves. And after Jesus resurrection they were plainly seen by many people walking in Jerusalem.
The revolution of God’s love and victory over darkness had begun! The true King had won a resounding victory over the spiritual powers of darkness, finally and for all. It did not look like what many anticipated, hence the mystery and the gloating of powers of wickedness that tormented Jesus. Back to Psalm 22 as Jesus immerses Himself in Israel’s covenant narrative with YHWH.
Why do you remain distant, refusing to answer my tearful cries in the day and my desperate cries for your help in the night? I can’t stop sobbing. Where are you my God?
Yet I know that you are most Holy, its indisputable. You are God-enthroned, surrounded with songs, living among the shouts of praise of your princely people. Our father’s faith was in you through the generations they trusted and believed in you and you came through. Every time they cried out to you in their despair you were faithful to deliver them; you didn’t disappoint them.
But look at me now. I am like a woeful worm, crushed and I’m bleeding crimson. I don’t even look like a man anymore. I am abused, despised, and scorned by everyone! Mocked by their jeers, despised by their sneers as all people poke fun at me, spitting their insults, saying, “Is this the one who trusted God? Is this the one who claims God is pleased with him? Now let’s see if your God will come to rescue! We will just see how much he delights in you!”
Oh, the power of divine love!!! Jesus was willing to suffer all of this because of His love for His God, His Father and what He knew His suffering love would establish for all humanity. Every insult, every blow, was revealing the true nature of darkness coming at Jesus as He pressed in to knowing His Father was faithful. He was modelling what He had taught about the Kingdom. He remained steadfast in his identity, his mission and God’s love.
Your ancestors have been taught, “Take and eye in exchange for an eye and tooth in exchange for a tooth. However, I say to you, don’t repay an evil act with another evil act. But whoever insults you by slapping you on the right cheek, turn the other to him as well…
Your ancestors have also been taught “Love your neighbours and hate the one who hates you. However, I say to you, love your enemy, bless the one who curses you, do something wonderful for the one who hates you and respond to the very ones who persecute you by praying for them. For that will reveal your identity as children of your heavenly father.
Of course, Jesus asked the Father to forgive those who did not know what they were doing and whose hearts were veiled by the powers of darkness they were operating under, even as He destroyed and God judged Sin, taking Sin and death to death and then in death dethroning Satan making a spectacle of him.
The Gospels reveal Jesus was so badly beaten and whipped and disfigured He was barely recognisable. Completely innocent on a cross built for a criminal so that because of God’s love He would set the world free from their enslavement and spiritual shackles of bondage. Through what appears to be a complete injustice to human reasoning, God was destroying the works of Satan and satisfying perfectly His justice. God had judged not just Sin but also Satan to liberate all of humanity at the cost of the suffering of His King, His eternal Son. When you realise and reflect upon the suffering Jesus went through, it reminds you quickly of the personal cost to Jesus of your freedom and it reminds you of your unsurpassable worth to God and that God and His divine love are the centre-piece of our salvation - rescue and liberation to bring forward God’s Kingdom by living from eternal life, not us.
Lord, you delivered me safely from my mother’s womb. (Remember, Satan’s plan was to kill every first-born child in the hope of killing Jesus.) You are the one who cared for me ever since I was a baby. Since the day I was born, I’ve been placed in your custody. You’ve cradled me though out my days. I’ve trusted in you and you’ve always been my God. So, don’t leave me now, stay close to me!
For trouble is all around me and there is no one else to help me. I’m surrounded by many violent foes; mighty forces of evil are swirling around me who want to break me to bits and destroy me. Curses pour from their mouths! They are like ravenous, roaring lions tearing at their prey.
Jesus did not endure only the physical and emotional pain of the Cross. He endured all of Satan’s forces, all the dark powers, the bulls of Bashan surrounding Him attacking Him, accusing Him relentlessly and tormenting Him with judgement and curses until a place of physical, emotional and spiritual exhaustion. Every part of His being subjected to suffering for the sake of love and victory!
Now I am completely exhausted; I am spent. Every joint of my body has been pulled apart. My courage has vanished and my inward parts have melted away. I’m so thirsty and parched- dry as a bone. My tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth and now you’ve left me for dead.
They have pierced my hands and my feet. Like a pack of wild dogs, they tear at me, swirling around me with their hatred. They gather around me like lions to pin my hands and feet. My bones stick out. Look at how they gloat over me and stare!
With a toss of the dice they divide my clothes among themselves, gambling for my garments!
Lord my God, please don’t stay away for you are my only might and strength. Wont you come quickly to my rescue? Give me back my life. Save me from this violent death. Save my precious one and only from the power of these demons!
Brian Simmons comments on this verse that like a “deer giving birth at the dawning lights Jesus cared less that his body was being torn apart and more about protection and salvation”. He was praying for us, not himself here, even as He suffered unimaginable spiritual torment, emotional devastation and disfiguring physical pain. Now in the midst of the unimaginable unfathomable discomfort and suffering and humiliation Jesus chooses to praise His Father, adopting one of King David’s Psalms.
I will praise your name before all brothers, as my people gather I will praise you in their midst. Lovers of YHWH praise him all your princely people, the off spring of Israel!
For He has not despised my cries of deep despair. He is my first responder to my sufferings, and he didn’t look the other way when I was in pain. He was there all the time, listening to the song of the afflicted. You’re the reason for my praise, it comes from you and goes to you. I will keep my promise to praise you before all who fear you among the congregation of your people.
I will invite the poor and broken and they will come and eat until satisfied. Bring YHWH praise and you will find him. Your hearts will overflow with life forever! From the four corners of the earth the peoples from around the world will remember and return to the Lord. Every nation will worship Him. For the Lord is King of all, who takes charge of all the nations. There they are. They’re worshipping! The wealthy of this world will feast in fellowship with him alongside the humble of heart, bowing down to the dust, forsaking their own souls. They will come and worship this worthy King! His spiritual seed shall serve Him. Future generations will hear from us about the wonders of the Sovereign Lord. His generations yet to be born will glorify him. And they will declare, “It is finished”
This revelatory and prophetic Psalm gives us great insight into what was going on at the Cross and around the Cross that historical day. Empowered by His love for the Father and the fulfilment of His purposes through His suffering, Jesus never stopped His priestly and kingly vocation!
In the midst of His own suffering He prayed for us and foresaw a restoration of all things back to the Father in Himself, with everyone returning back to God, back to relationship with God and fulfilling God’s purposes, their vocation to worship and obey God and to bring forward His Kingdom from a place of union with Him and to the praise of God. Death would be defeated!
Every detail of the Psalm is echoed in the reality of history in the Gospels. This historical event was God finishing the old order, fallen humanity, living outside of and apart from the love of God, living outside of His Presence in darkness and exile and bringing the whole world back to God in Christ. This revolution and victory was always known to God. Christ was slain before the foundation of the world. But now the revolution had begun and humanity and all of history entered into a new era. The old had gone and the new had come!
This was revealed to King David as written in Psalm 2. The future hope of Israel, Jesus the coming King had now come. He had won a victory in a manner that was unlikely and unappreciated to even Satan and His dark powers.
Psalm 2 is a drama of the Triune God speaking into a context of evil and darkness that had overtaken the nations who were God’s inheritance, as a result of Adam and Eve falling to Satan’s scheme of deception and his corresponding consequences of the corruption of God’s design in advancing His Kingdom to bring all darkness into the light of His glory.
What is crucial to understand is that God as King has never lost control of the heavens. He gave earth as His footstool and His multidimensional cosmic temple, the place where heaven and earth met, to His sons and daughters to carry His Kingdom authority from relationship with Him beyond the Garden into the whole world functioning as His kings and priests, a royal priesthood, to give expression of the Kingdom realm on earth.
Jesus was most certainly atoning for sin and reconciling us to the Father in Himself. But also, He was also doing more than that. He was completely destroying the power of Sin and Satan’s ruling authority over the earth. Spiritual governmental authority on earth had been stolen, now the Messiah King was winning it back and to re-establish God’s Kingdom on earth just as it has always been in Heaven- centred around Him and His King eternal. This was the hope of the early apostles. That they would be the citizens of a new earth and heavenly city on earth.
The hope of course was not just a return from exile but that God would once more establish His Kingdom reign and God would once more be King over the earth. This is why the disciples asked Jesus about freeing Israel and restoring the Kingdom before they received the Holy Spirit. They were looking for a Kingdom on earth as they believed. Their thinking was not that they would go to heaven, but heaven would one day, as the Kingdom of God, be established on earth.
Act 1 - the nations speak
How dare the nations plan rebellion. Their foolish plots are futile! (Devising emptiness). Look at how the power brokers of the world rise up to hold their summit and the rulers scheme and confer together against YHWH and His anointed King; saying “Let’s come together and break away from the Creator. Once and for all let’s cast off these controlling chains of God and his Christ!”
Act 2 - God speaks
God enthroned merely laughs at them; the sovereign One mocks their madness! Then the fierceness of his fiery anger he settles the issue and terrifies them to death with these words:
I myself have poured out my King on Zion, my holy mountain.
Act 3 - The Son speaks
I will reveal the eternal purpose of God. For He has decreed over me, “You are my favoured Son. And as your Father I have crowned you as my King Eternal. Today I became your Father.
Ask me to give you the nations and I will do it, and they shall become your legacy. Your domain will stretch to the ends of the earth and you will shepherd them with unlimited authority crushing their rebellion as an iron rod smashes clay jars!
Act 4 - The Holy Spirit speaks
Listen to me all you rebel kings and all you upstart judges on earth. Learn your lesson while there is still time. Serve and worship the awe-inspiring God. Recognise His greatness and bow before Him, trembling with reverence in his presence. Fall facedown before Him and kiss the Son (The Hebrew for “kiss” is nashaq and can also mean to be ruled by or be subject to, or be armed with purity) before His anger is roused against you. Remember that his wrath can be quickly kindled! But many blessings are waiting for all who turn aside to hide themselves in Him!
Make no mistake, the cross was the beginning of the end. In death Jesus took back the keys of the Kingdom. He told His disciples in His resurrection, but before His glorification as the fulfilment of Psalm 2, that “All authority in heaven and on earth” is now His. He is the King eternal of heaven and earth! We must take that seriously. All of creation does! He told them also to wait in Jerusalem to receive power from high to be His witnesses into the world as He took up his kingly position in Zion on God’s holy mountain. Indeed, in the Book of Acts, when persecution stuck at the church, they did not ask for God to take it away, they asked for more power, based perhaps, on Psalm 2! They knew they were in a spiritual battle and they knew the power of prayer and Christus Victor!
This authority and power was essential to bringing forward the Kingdom from a heart of love that was willing to bear witness to the love and power of God to liberate the whole world. Even to join in Christ’s sufferings! Of course, only Jesus could carry what God had assigned to Him to carry. But none the less the early apostles and church did not see “suffering for the sake of the Gospel”, to stand in God’s love and truth as Jesus did revealing the Kings victory and dominion as a bad thing. It was a joyful thing. It was a privilege. They knew what it meant to enforce their King’s victory as his servants.
And this leads us finally to Revelation 21 and a new heaven and a new earth. The passing away of the first heaven and the sea no longer existing. The Holy City, the new Jerusalem, the heavenly Zion descending out of the heavenly realm from the Presence of God, like a pleasing bride who had prepared herself for her husband, adorned for her wedding.
This then leads us to the crescendo of Revelation 22, the fulfilment of the great commission given to humanity living in Christ.
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life flowing with water clear as crystal, continuously pouring out from the throne of God and of the Lamb. The river was flowing in the middle of the street of the city and on either side of the river was the Tree of Life with its twelve kinds of fruit according to each month of the year. The leaves of the Tree of Life are for the healing of the nations. And every curse will be broken and no longer exist, for the throne of God and of the Lamb will be there is the city. His loving servants will serve Him, they will see constantly His face and His name will be on their foreheads.
In short, the Garden of Eden just as God intended in Genesis will cover the whole earth. It will be on earth just as it is in heaven. But notice that until then the church has been given a clear invitation and responsibility, a trust - a new life and a new vocation, a vocation that was lost because of self-consciousness and idolatry. But now through the forgiveness of sins and Jesus overcoming death, the hoped victory of the coming King, we are brought into that new life, with hearts unveiled, empowered by the Holy Spirit to co labour with Christ to bring forward His Kingdom, and this will involve both the miraculous and if necessary a willingness to suffer for the sake of revealing and establishing God’s love towards others. We must understand the language and imagery of the Cross is not one of theology, but of an intense spiritual battle, a war that we have been brought into whether we are aware of it or not.
Our assignment is to carry God’s divine love in our hearts, and to establish His Kingdom authority from a place of Christ’s victory, to embrace this understanding of the death of Jesus and his affliction as Paul teaches and to understand that if we suffer for the sake of love we are being filled up with understanding that is lacking in us, we are establishing the Kingdom life and Kingdom realm and overcoming evil even as Jesus did. Just as Jesus brought forward the Kingdom in miraculous signs and power and suffering love, then so must we.
The revolution has begun - let’s embrace it in Christ!
Want to get the latest from Paul Tothill delivered to your inbox? Submit your details here, and Paul will send you a weekly digest of thoughts, news and content.