The Living Among the Dead
But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they and some others came to the tomb, bringing the spices which they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb. They entered in, and didn't find the Lord Jesus' body. It happened, while they were greatly perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling clothing. Becoming terrified, they bowed their faces down to the earth. They said to them, "Why do you seek the living among the dead? He isn't here, but is risen. Remember what he told you when he was still in Galilee, saying that the Son of Man must be delivered up into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again?" They remembered his words, returned from the tomb, and told all these things to the eleven, and to all the rest. (Luke 24:1-9)
Throughout His ministry Jesus repeatedly chided people for their unbelief in Him. But just what did He have in mind when He talked about belief or unbelief? Was it simply belief in the fact that He came from heaven and His identity must be acknowledged as the Son of God? What difference does it make if we 'believe' that Jesus came from God if it doesn't change what we think about God? Or worse yet, if we imagine that God sent His Son to this earth as the whipping boy to interfere with God's out-of-control-wrath against sinners by stepping in front of God to push us out of the way and take the hits?
If believing in Jesus does not extend to believing the very same thing about God – that God is no different than Jesus and Jesus is the express, explicit and complete revelation of the truth about what God is really like, then I question the life-changing potential of any such belief. For it is our opinions about God, the God that we reflect in the way we think, act and feel from deep inside, often a god we imagine to be a great deal like us – it is the god we picture deep in our gut that forms the likeness we will reflect as human beings. This deep mirror in the soul is where the kind of belief Jesus talked about matters, for this is where our greatest problem lies. Though our profession or intellectual awareness may bring us to realize that God could be better than we have made Him out to be in the past, it is our heart's view of God that determines how we will react under pressure. And if you noticed, the heart is not nearly so easy to convince as our head for it must be transformed by experience, not merely logic.
What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? May it never be! We who died to sin, how could we live in it any longer? Or don't you know that all we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him through baptism to death, that just like Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we also might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with him in the likeness of his death, we will also be part of his resurrection; knowing this, that our old man was crucified with him, that the body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be in bondage to sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin. But if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him; knowing that Christ, being raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no more has dominion over him! For the death that he died, he died to sin one time; but the life that he lives, he lives to God. Thus consider yourselves also to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Therefore don't let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. Neither present your members to sin as instruments of unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God, as alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin will not have dominion over you. For you are not under law, but under grace.
What then? Shall we sin, because we are not under law, but under grace? May it never be! Don't you know that to whom you present yourselves as servants to obedience, his servants you are whom you obey; whether of sin to death, or of obedience to righteousness?
But thanks be to God, that, whereas you were bondservants of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching whereunto you were delivered. Being made free from sin, you became bondservants of righteousness. (Romans 6:1-18)
What does it mean to 'present ourselves as servants?' We don't usually present ourselves physically to someone offering to be their slave do we? Yet in some way we must be presenting ourselves to obey one side or the other in the supernatural. It has to do with who we rely on to give us our sense of identity. What way is Paul referring to when he talks about being instruments for either sin or for God?
When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit of it, and ate; and she gave some to her husband with her, and he ate. The eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked. They sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons. (Genesis 3:6-7)
Did Eve and then Adam present themselves to obey the serpent by choosing to believe his assertions about God rather than trusting God's words to them? Did they not both believe things about their identity based on claims of the serpent that in turn affected the actions they chose to carry out, choices that reverberate all the way down to affect us?
How we believe.
Notice again the words Paul uses that help explain what he is referring to. Consider yourselves... What part of our thinking apparatus do we use when we consider ourselves, especially when it appears that what we are choosing to consider doesn't seem to correspond to what most consider reality?
Without faith it is impossible to be well pleasing to him, for he who comes to God must believe that he exists, and that he is a rewarder of those who seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)
We find the definition for the word faith a few verses earlier.
Now faith is assurance of things hoped for, proof of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1)
If we rely on modern definitions of faith, we will find it difficult to correlate them to what we read here in Hebrews. For instance, here is a sampling of a dictionary's opinion about the meaning of faith:
- confidence or trust in a person or thing
- belief that is not based on proof
- belief in God or in the doctrines or teachings of religion
While it might seem plausible to imagine that faith means believing something not based on proof, it doesn't really align with what we find in Hebrews where it insist that faith itself is the proof.
But wait – there is another word found in the dictionary that actually corresponds to this biblical description of faith. Do you know that that word is? It is the part of our brain we refer to as our 'imagination.' Take a look at this dictionary definition for the word 'imagination':
the faculty of imagining, or of forming mental images or concepts of what is not actually present to the senses.”
This corresponds very closely to the Bible's definition of faith far better than the dictionary's definitions for faith that sound more religious than practical. Faith is what we imagine things to be, the reality we perceive in our imagination that shapes our perceptions and determines our sense of orientation that in turn strongly affects how we will react under various circumstances and situations, especially during confrontations or times of intense emotions.
Looking for ourself.
Is it possible that we still today continue to look for the living among the dead? Consider this: how do we imagine ourselves, who we are, what we believe about our own identity? From where do we get our sense of worth and value? Isn't it often true that we imagine our identity still comes from what we can do, or maybe what we own, how well we perform, or is even derived from the history of our past, good or bad. Intellectually we might admit this should not be the basis of perceiving our true value and identity, yet still we default back to feeling hopeless, or maybe proud, or even desperate to do something, anything to prop up our perceived worth because we still feel inadequate or dissatisfied.
Paul refers to our usual beliefs about our identity as 'the old man' one that is naturally selfish, proud, defensive and puts self ahead of other's interests. We are all quite familiar with this identity for we were born and raised thinking this way and we often presume that it has to be the defining fact of who we are. To try to believe anything different than how we have felt and/or reacted our entire life feels too much like grasping for an imaginary illusion, even dishonest. It may sound nice and even attractive; it might give hope for a potential future state of existence; but to believe it is a present reality feels too much like indulging in deceptive thinking which often violates our sense of integrity.
The truth is however, that we are the ones who have been deceived our entire life about this and the truth is quite the opposite of what we have always imagined. Worse yet, what if religion has actually contributed to our self-deception by using guilt and fear to motivate us to improve our old creature, to adjust it, to try to discipline and convince and even coerce ourselves into aligning our life with the law of God? What if the path to freedom that Jesus exposed is so radically different that we struggle to find it believable – which is the very problem He kept running into while He walked this earth with us?
Believing has results.
So, what does this have to do with seeking the living among the dead? How might this help to inform us as to what the angels may have had in mind when they admonished the women to think differently? And more importantly, is it possible that we are still making similar mistakes in our own lives today that keep us stuck in a state of despair, depression or hopelessness when in truth the facts of reality are just the opposite? How might we be lacking in utilizing the true power of our imagination which is literally our faith?
Note again the explanation the angels gave concerning their interesting statement.
"He isn't here, but is risen. Remember what he told you when he was still in Galilee, saying that the Son of Man must be delivered up into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again?" They remembered his words, returned from the tomb, and told all these things to the eleven, and to all the rest. (Luke 24:6-9)
What changed when the angels instructed them to remember the words of Jesus? Did facts of reality change?
Not at all.
Did the imaginings of their minds and the resultant feelings they experienced change?
The contrast could hardly be more striking!
Identity in/from Christ
Paul emphasized the truth that Jesus came to absorb into Himself all humanity. As a result every human being died 'in Christ' when He absorbed the natural effects of all of our sin.
Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old things have passed away. Behold, all things have become new. But all things are of God, who reconciled us to himself through Jesus Christ, and gave to us the ministry of reconciliation; namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not reckoning to them their trespasses, and having committed to us the word of reconciliation. We are therefore ambassadors on behalf of Christ, as though God were entreating by us. We beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For him who knew no sin he made to be sin on our behalf; so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:17-21)
This subject of being 'in Christ' eluded me for many years. I sensed that it must be an extremely important topic that I needed to study. Yet every time I attempted to look into it I could not make any sense of it and my study was always stymied by contradictions I could not resolve. So I simply laid it aside until the time when God would finally bring it to my attention in a way that would fit everything else He was teaching me.
Finally that time came a couple years ago, and when I was handed the key that unlocked this mystery for me I became very excited and immediately began to collect all my previous notes and pour over every verse in Scripture I could find to discover the real truth about this. And as I suspected, it is at the very core of the good news of the gospel, though usually masked in confusion for most people as it was for me most of my life. One of the keys to help me unlock this is in the following passage.
But now Christ has been raised from the dead. He became the first fruits of those who are asleep. For since death came by man, the resurrection of the dead also came by man. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then those who are Christ's, at his coming. Then the end comes, when he will deliver up the Kingdom to God, even the Father; when he will have abolished all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy that will be abolished is death. (1 Corinthians 15:20-26)
The truth of reality is that every human is in Christ. This is because Christ came to this earth and died to capture the position in heaven of representative for every human being, taking that assumed role away from the great usurper Satan who took it away from our first father Adam. This means that now Jesus has full, undisputed authority in heaven and on earth to define what constitutes human identity, and He has lived that identity as our new Adam, the new Father of every human being that ever exists.
Just as we had no choice but to inherit our selfish nature infused into us by our first parents, neither do we have any choice that our true identity now is determined by what Jesus declares us to be – beloved children of God. In Christ the identity of every last human is a person who is fully loved, accepted, viewed as perfect and lovely and with infinite potential to reflect the glory of God.
Behold, how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! For this cause the world doesn't know us, because it didn't know him. Beloved, now we are children of God, and it is not yet revealed what we will be. But we know that, when he is revealed, we will be like him; for we will see him just as he is. Everyone who has this hope set on him purifies himself, even as he is pure. (1 John 3:1-3)
It is obvious to many that this is not usually descriptive of our experience, and there is no reason to try to deny that. Yet while we don't deny our fallen condition, we urgently need to untangle the confusion between our condition and our identity. This was the crux of my confusion that blocked me from seeing the truth of this reality for so many years. Now I have come to see that if there is one thing important to sort out it is this: My identity in no way is to be perceived as coming from my performance, either good or bad. Rather my identity is purely and unequivocally established by who Christ is and His reflection of God's true character as the only true example of the definition of what it means to be a human being.
I realize that there is a great deal of debate as to whether passages such as this refer to everyone or just those who accept Christ. Most of my life I believed these descriptions only applied to believers and that until a person accepted Jesus as their Savior (whatever that means according to your particular religious tradition), that these descriptions did not apply. But since my mind has been opened by the Holy Spirit I have come to view this from a larger perspective, the broader view of the real problem of sin and the truth about the nature of salvation. I then saw that this assumption formed part of the trap that locked me into a mindset of unbelief and prevented me from experiencing the real truth that set me free when I embraced the truth of what it really means to find that my identity already exists defined by Christ.
We are reflectors of God, just as we were created by design to be in the beginning. To be human is to reflect the likeness of our perception of God. The problem is not that we no longer reflect God but that our perception of what God is like, the likeness we retain in our warped and distorted imagination has become so corrupted that our condition reflects our faulty perceptions about God rather than the truth about Him as reflected by Jesus, the only perfect, normal human being. “Be therefore perfect...”
This word perfect must also be extracted from heavy baggage that has too long been associated with it. Perfect is not about rule-keeping as we have long imagined it to be. Rather, perfect has to do with reflection, and only Jesus accurately reflected the true glory of God's character of agape love in its purest form. This is why the only way to the Father is through Jesus, for only Jesus exposes the real truth about the God we are meant to reflect as well. To believe in Jesus then, means to believe that God is exactly like Jesus just as He said He is. Then the more we 'imagine' God to be just like Jesus, and the more we come to know both of them through investing ourselves into an intimate relationship with Jesus, the more our own lives will naturally reflect the same true image of God that Jesus reflected.
Now the Lord is the Spirit and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are transformed into the same image from glory to glory, even as from the Lord, the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:17-18)
Jesus is the only human mirror through which we may see the accurate truth about God, the reflection that is complete – perfect. By focusing on knowing Jesus then, our own lives increasingly will naturally reflect a more accurate likeness of Jesus and God as we become transformed by the ever-increasing glory that is seen and experienced in our hearts. This is how our condition is to be brought into alignment with the reality of our true identity as defined by Christ.
But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. (Romans 6:17-18 NAS95)
Following is a list of verses describing the before and after feelings of some of the people involved with Jesus after His resurrection. Notice particularly the dramatic change in their demeanor and outlook when their imagination/faith finally embraced the truth in contrast to believing their own assumptions.
The angel answered the women, "Don't be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus, who has been crucified. (Matthew 28:5 WEB)
Then Jesus said to them, "Don't be afraid. Go tell my brothers that they should go into Galilee, and there they will see me." (Matthew 28:10 WEB)
They went out, and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had come on them. They said nothing to anyone; for they were afraid. (Mark 16:8 WEB)
Now when he had risen early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons. She went and told those who had been with him, as they mourned and wept. (Mark 16:9-10 WEB)
It happened, while they were greatly perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling clothing. Becoming terrified, they bowed their faces down to the earth. They said to them, "Why do you seek the living among the dead? (Luke 24:4-5 WEB)
But they were terrified and filled with fear, and supposed that they had seen a spirit. He said to them, "Why are you troubled? Why do doubts arise in your hearts? (Luke 24:37-38 WEB)
But Mary was standing outside at the tomb weeping. So, as she wept, she stooped and looked into the tomb, (John 20:11 WEB)
They told her, "Woman, why are you weeping?" She said to them, "Because they have taken away my Lord, and I don't know where they have laid him." When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, and didn't know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?" She, supposing him to be the gardener, said to him, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away." (John 20:13-15 WEB)
When therefore it was evening, on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were locked where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, "Peace be to you." (John 20:19 WEB)
Now look at how they felt after they finally chose to embrace the truth as it is in Jesus.
They departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to bring his disciples word. As they went to tell his disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, "Rejoice!" They came and took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. (Matthew 28:8-9 WEB)
Their eyes were opened, and they recognized him, and he vanished out of their sight. They said one to another, "Weren't our hearts burning within us, while he spoke to us along the way, and while he opened the Scriptures to us?" (Luke 24:31-32 WEB)
When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples therefore were glad when they saw the Lord. (John 20:20 WEB)
These verses make it clear that the core issue making this difference possible in people's lives was the state of their belief, their imagination.
After these things he was revealed in another form to two of them, as they walked, on their way into the country. They went away and told it to the rest. They didn't believe them, either. Afterward he was revealed to the eleven themselves as they sat at the table, and he rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they didn't believe those who had seen him after he had risen. (Mark 16:12-14 WEB)
Now they were Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James. The other women with them told these things to the apostles. These words seemed to them to be nonsense, and they didn't believe them. (Luke 24:10-11 WEB)
Also, certain women of our company amazed us, having arrived early at the tomb; and when they didn't find his body, they came saying that they had also seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of us went to the tomb, and found it just like the women had said, but they didn't see him." He said to them, "Foolish men, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! (Luke 24:22-25 WEB)
Their eyes were opened, and they recognized him, and he vanished out of their sight. They said one to another, "Weren't our hearts burning within us, while he spoke to us along the way, and while he opened the Scriptures to us?" (Luke 24:31-32 WEB)
He said to them, "This is what I told you, while I was still with you, that all things which are written in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms, concerning me must be fulfilled." Then he opened their minds, that they might understand the Scriptures. He said to them, "Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. (Luke 24:44-48 WEB)
But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, wasn't with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said to him, "We have seen the Lord!" But he said to them, "Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe."
After eight days again his disciples were inside, and Thomas was with them. Jesus came, the doors being locked, and stood in the midst, and said, "Peace be to you." Then he said to Thomas, "Reach here your finger, and see my hands. Reach here your hand, and put it into my side. Don't be unbelieving, but believing." Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!" Jesus said to him, "Because you have seen me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen, and have believed." (John 20:24-29 WEB)
A few personal observations related to this story of the resurrection.
Often the people who have the best news, the most accurate gospel, are the very people we give the least credibility to from our usual way of thinking. Examples:
The lepers during the siege on Jerusalem in Elisha's time. (See 2 Kings 7.)
The women commissioned by Jesus to announce His resurrection to the other disciples.
Even angels sometimes don't seem to carry enough credibility to convince us to believe news that seems too good to be true. Consider the case of Zechariah. (See Luke 1.)
Is is possible that criticism is an attempt to induce life out of a dead identity? That has so much potential that it needs to be unpacked by itself.