Archives For Resurrection

Remove The Stone

September 10, 2014 — Leave a comment

ID-100113575The events in John 11-12 involve a dynamic interaction between Jesus, his friends, a curious crowd[i] and some very concerned authorities.

We read of spies, intrigue, assassination plots and a mutinous disciple.

The text tells us that Jesus’ friends had serious concerns for his safety in a crowd[ii].  This is emphasised by John when he tells us that Jesus is warned against returning to Bethany (11:8).

In 10:31, John states that the reason for this is due to a previous clash, between offended stone throwers and their intention to arrest Jesus, who only after pushing them back with verbal rebuttals manages to avoid any further unnecessary contact.

We see this danger also exemplified by the assassination plots first laid out against Jesus and then Lazarus. We are later told of Caiaphas, the chief priest[iii], and his appeasement not just of 1st Century Jewish law, but also that of the ‘Pax Romana’; a 1st and 2nd century status quo enforced by Rome’s well disciplined, and heavily equipped legions.

The text then shows the true extent of Iscariot’s character, as Mary, in front of the risen Lazarus and his sister Martha, pours ointment, made of an expensive Indian perfume, onto the ‘feet of Jesus, wiping his feet with her hair.’

In John’s reflection we are unable to escape the tension as he writes:

‘Judas did not care for the poor. He was a thief. Having charge of the moneybag, which he used to help himself to’ (12:6)

The situation appears to have been a mix of grief, anger, joy, faith, reason and fear.

But, who, when tempted would struggle to disagree with Iscariot or the crowd today?

Jesus, this so-called ‘’preacher of love”; the so-called ‘Son of Man’; a man presumed to be one of absolute peace and tolerance, so easily managed to incite the anger of the authorities.

If he is about grace, why is he so divisive?

Look at how Jesus treated his friend Lazarus and see how he is absent when Lazarus’ sisters are in need?

Why did he place his own security over the healing of his friend?

How is that not selfish betrayal?

Did his intolerance know no bounds?  Perhaps the whispers and accusations spoken against him are true?

These questions might not be so unjustified, that is of course if it were not for this key event:

In front of the people gathered to console the grieving sisters, Jesus returns, prays, speaks, and then raises Lazarus from the dead.

Jesus is first met by Martha.

Possibly indicating prior conversations of lament and confusion between Lazarus’ sisters, who speak separately with Jesus and say:

“Lord, if you had been here…” (11:21 / 11:32, ESV)

He tells Martha that ‘your brother will rise again…I am the resurrection and the life. Do you believe this?’ (11:23). Martha’s response is retold in the form of confession: ‘she believes he is the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world’ (11:27)

Yet, it’s a curious thing that following this John observing Jesus’ body language, describes him as being moved to ‘anger[iv] and indignation’[v]  – better described as a ‘snarl, snort or growl’ (Carson).

With such a response and what we know of Jesus Christ, it is not beyond reason to suggest that:

Here He is, with the power of the life-giver moving through his human veins standing before the tomb of his friend.

Here, Jesus recognizes the lingering effects of death which has passed through Lazarus and still torments those gathered.

The life of Lazarus, a friend of Jesus, now silenced by the ‘total peril’[vi]; the ‘nothingness’, which is a ‘stubborn element and alien factor’[vii] that ‘opposes and resists God’s world-dominion’[viii], yet passes its devastating blow throughout all humanity.

It is here that Jesus’ ‘quiet outrage flares up again[ix]‘, yet he responds with an uncharacteristic public prayer, beginning with thanksgiving saying:

‘Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe you sent me’ (11:41-42, ESV)

Although ‘two interpretations are possible’[x], there is little doubt that at this point:

‘Christ does not approach the tomb of Lazarus as an idle spectator, but as a champion who prepares for a contest; He groans; for the violent tyranny of death, which he had to conquer…and contemplates the transaction itself’ (Calvin, 361)

Here ‘Christ shows that he is the commencement of life and that the continuance of life is also a work of his grace’ (Calvin, 356), commanding bystanders to:

“Remove the stone.” (38-39, The Message)
And then he cried out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out”.
The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go” (11:43-44, ESV)

Three things stand out to the modern-era hearers.

First, the text confronts us with three things Jesus does when he is angered and deeply disturbed by the events around him: he asserts himself, turns to prayer and gratitude, and then acts.

Second, is that we do well to understand ‘that grief and outrage are right responses held together, in tension, but grief and compassion without outrage reduces both to mere sentiment, while outrage without grief hardens into self-righteous arrogance and rage’[xi]

Finally, from this we can understand that the consequence of Christ’s victory is the right for us to exist. It is no longer a hopeless existence, merely surviving in the shadow of a destructive vacuum of that which has no right to exist.

The events surrounding Lazarus show us that Jesus is opposed to death as much as he is opposed to sin.

In this, His “yes” to life resonates as the preamble for the grace-conclusion found in the scarred Christ standing outside his own tomb, where permission to live, not just for now, but forever in fellowship with God, is granted by grace to the responsive sinner.



[i] Carson: ‘They were puzzled and confused.’

[ii] John Calvin rightly noted that: ‘the rage of his enemies had not subsided’ ; Commentary of John Sourced from (p.355)

[iii] John 11:49-50

[iv] ἐμβριμάομαι: rebuke; warning; deeply moved; groan. Not ὀργή: wrath; hostility.

[v] ‘His inward reaction was anger or outrage or indignation’ (Carson, 1991)

[vi] Barth, K. 1960 God and Nothingness CD.III.3 Hendrickson Publishers (p.289-290)

[vii] ibid

[viii] ibid

[ix] Carson, D. A. (1991). The Gospel according to John (p. 416). Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; W.B. Eerdmans.

[x] Ibid

[xi] Ibid

Image: “Stairs In A Cave” courtesy of  papaija2008 at


Easter Sunday is an anticipation of Pentecost.

Karl Barth writes of the human response being one of ‘unconditional gratitude…because baptism of the Holy Spirit is the active and actualising grace of God. This is because humanity is now ‘free for decision. A decision that conforms to our liberation’ which has come about in the gift of reorientation handed to us in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. (Barth, C.D IV.4.1, pp.33-3).


This short clip is a good introduction to N.T Wright’s argument for a better understanding of the Jewish belief in the unity between body and soul. This is a position which asserts that the whole person is not just soul, spirit but is also body. We are not just immortal souls trapped in flesh, inside a world God will destroy. Rather we are unique, complete beings that along with the earth God wills to renew, as heaven meets earth in the current time of grace and the to-be-fulfilled physical reunion of Jesus Christ.

Of course there is a lot more to the discussion posited  by N.T Wright in his books ‘Surprised by Hope’ and ‘Creation, Power and Truth’. My attraction to Wright’s thinking here is the back-to-basics eschatological theology which seems to stream past the ‘heresies brought into Christian belief {surrounding this topic in particular} by philosophy’ (Tertullian, Prescription against Hereticsemphasis mine) – for example: Platonism.

There is great hope, joy and wonderment in revisiting this ancient Hebraic understanding that Christians rightly inherit – the mystery, the historical roots and the socio-political impact on the lives of the Jewish people all hold implications for Christians in contemporary society. The belief in the resurrection of the body lies at the foundation of Christianity and is a significant part of the New Testament testimony. We ignore it today, by labelling it as an obfuscated, abstract theology, at our peril.

‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with humanity, and they will be His people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain, for the former things have passed away…I am making all things new’ (Rev.21:3-5, ESV)

A Garden Rendezvous

August 29, 2013 — Leave a comment

Hand raised. People stare.

Blood drips,

matted hair.

Limited movement, no one helps

Every inch


Nail enters,

sinew breached.

Vocals strain, expressed pain.

Tendon torn,

Chipped bone

Second. Pierce.

Feet manoeuvred, third place.

Breathing gasps,

”Finished” word.

Lost feeling,

hanging there,
side is pierced
silence follows

Dark day,

follows night

Third day,

looming light

a Garden Rendezvous (John.19-20).


A narrative sermon: Jn.20:24-29

I remain clear about the reality.light concept_editedMarch013

Some people say He deserved it, others eager for gain, simply aligned themselves with the lies. As the old saying goes, ‘’misery loves company’’ I guess.

Perhaps it was fear of disloyalty, the mob or fear of the unfettered power claimed by corrupt and cynical people. The same people who made judgements without allowing them to be questioned.

Perhaps it was fear

Being shamed as a supporter?


Some of us remained. Alone, together enduring the subtle put downs, the lies whispered in the dark behind our backs. You know the types, lies that circulate like chains of smoke around the necks of accusers and prosecutors alike. Enduring the fallout, retracing our steps, persevering, it is like being knee deep in the mud. Has it really been 8 days already?How can one group of people have so much influence, so much control and, how come so many are uncritically willing to point a finger?

Who can stand against the deviancy control techniques they employed to engineer a biased response.

*sigh*….I’m exhausted.
How infuriating this all is!

Still I remain clear about the reality.

What I saw is what I saw – there is no bias in telling the truth even when it is discounted as subjective babble.

Me, recondite?

*sigh*…perhaps, I am.

Still I remain clear about the reality.

What I felt is what I felt – there is no contradiction in the embedded data here, even though my thoughts and experiences are ridiculed as ambiguous, damned to be without meaning, tasked to be silenced forever.

Still I remain clear about the reality.

What I heard is what I heard – there is no delusion, even when it is covered in a milieu of emotive fog. For me this is more than a memory, although it is conveniently forgotten by the elite and too easily abandoned by those who blindly followed.

Still…I remain clear about the reality.

The days darkened, hope vanished because the words were deconstructed, meaning lost meaning, the truth was reversed and those words twisted by the process of cross-examination – our faith all but abandoned.

Belittled, embattled, bitter and cold we sat. The others knew my opinions. Understanding the past was not going to be easy. Sin appears to have been rewarded. Isn’t this the opposite of what we were told to expect?

I need to confess..*sigh*… I no longer remain clear about the reality. I need air…this is all too much.

Disorientated by the distortions that surround me it seems I am burdened with the task of speaking reason to my unreasonable friends. Love speaks truth, and I must speak even if it costs me. Ah, the depth of grief that engulfs them! It’s not that their optimism is foreign to me; after all we walked among the dead, we saw them return alive to their loved ones! I still rejoice about the time I witnessed a grateful father ask for help in his unbelief following his daughters impossible healing. But now that experience taunts me, I thought I was one of the strong ones, convinced beyond all question by what I had seen, felt and heard. I rose and turned towards the door, angry, disappointed and determined for this to be a final stand for reason. How could I convince them? They seem so certain…

I am especially aware of this moment of hesitation – because I heard that unmistakable voice. My heart beat faster and the anxiety  that had overwhelmed me waned . With distinct clarity I sensed a return of that deep joy which always beamed from that transcendent-imminence full of understanding and compassion.

This too easily forgotten energising-joy was almost always accompanied by bespoke words full of warmth and light. Then suddenly there they were… ‘’Thomas! see?…these scars…touch them, for a Spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have…blessed are those who have not seen me yet have believed’

With a gust of contrition I looked up, and in breathless, staccato sounds I uttered the words…’My Lord and my God!’

Keep Calm_redefined_RodLampardMills_2013


When the task of defining preaching is put before me I favour Walter Brueggemann’s concept of ‘funding imagination’ (1993, p.20).This task, he writes:

‘is to provide the pieces, materials, and resources out of which a new world can be imagined. Our responsibility, then, is not a grand scheme or a coherent system, but the voicing of a lot of little pieces out of which people can put life together in fresh configurations’ (The Bible and postmodern imagination 1993, p.20)…It is sparking ‘the human capacity to picture, portray, receive, and practice the world in ways other than it appears to be at first glance when seen through a dominant, habitual, unexamined lens’
(The Bible and postmodern imagination 1993, p.13).

Preaching is about lifestyle, it is about creating (homiletics) a platform for the Gospel to transform, criticise and impact us instead of us transforming the gospel. As John Webster writes ‘if the Gospel does not do this it cannot be regarded as the Gospel, but as human isegesis’.

The power of this statement should impact our ideas of preaching because whatever form preaching may take, the content must be the Good News, the Euangelion-proclamation where we ‘encounter God’s action’ (David McGregor, 2012). In this way ‘Church becomes a spiritual event and a not only a structure of human society’ (McGregor, 2012).

Preaching as ‘funding imagination’ leads to a practical ‘theology of confrontation whereby the Gospel has a platform to sharply call into question the presuppositions of secular culture…the Gospel is not added to what humanity already knows but, instead, overturns human knowledge and calls men and women to break with their past orientation (lifestyle)’ (Bloesch, Essentials of Evangelical theology 2006, p.287 emphasis mine).

In addition Charles Spurgeon pointed out that preaching is intrinsic to lifestyle. This is found in his caveat that

‘our characters must be more persuasive than our speech’
(Lectures to my Students 1954, p.17).

Spurgeon’s caveat here is reinforced by the notion that ‘only the Holy Spirit can make the message, act or art credible and knowable’ (Bloesch 2006, p.72). Whilst my reflection here is not entirely definitive, it does serve to prove that a central element in preaching is that it ‘funds imagination’. Preaching, whether that is through art, music, dance, memes, chatting over coffee or simply sharing a testimony proclaims Good News.

This Good News ‘disorientates us in order to reorientate us towards God’s commanded orientation’ (Barth, Brueggemann, Webster, McGregor). This Good News is that Jesus the Christ is for us and His acts in life, death and resurrection summon us to respond. In sum perhaps preaching could be viewed as something we do when we ‘wonder at something, then invite others to wonder with us’ (Austin Kleon Blog: Notes on writing and drawing, 2011)


Photo credit: Austin Kleon Blog: How to steal like an artist: notes on writing and drawing, 2011.