April 4, 2021
Lord’s Day Worship
The sermon starts around 19:05 in the audio file.
Or, Freedom for and from Killjoys
John 11:25-26 Series: Easter
When grapes die they are glorified. Without any external energy applied, a grape that has lived to the full becomes more potent every fall. I learned about this reality from Robert Capon, in a chapter titled “Water in Excelcis,” water in the highest. Because of the way that God made grapes, and because He sustains the chemical processes that grow and ripen and then ferment, grapes are born to become wine. According to Psalm 104:15 it’s a gift; just as God gave grain to become bread, so He gave wine to gladden the heart of man.
Wine is, according to God-given laws of science, inevitable.
“Each thing, at every moment, becomes the delight of His hand, the apple of His eye. The bloom of yeast lies upon the grapeskins year after year because He likes it; C6H12O6 = 2C2H5OH+2CO2 (glucose ferments into ethanol and carbon dioxide) is a dependable process because, every September, He says, That was nice; do it again.” (Capon, The Supper of the Lamb, 85)
Man must intervene to stop fermentation, or react after the face to undo the results of the alcohol bonds. Man can also ignore the whole thing, excuse himself by covering his mouth, and his eyes, but he cannot make creation different.
“Only the ungrateful or the purblind (the slow) can fail to see that sugar in the grape and yeast on the skins is a divine idea, not a human one. Man’s part in the process consists of honest and prudent management of the work that God has begun. Something underhanded has to be done to grape juice to keep it from running its appointed course.” (Capon, 89)
According to John 6:55-57, the living Father sent His Son to be true food and true drink. In flesh and blood Jesus lived to the full, full in obedience, and like a grain of wheat became even more potent when He died and was buried (see John 12:23-24). Because of who Jesus is, He could not help but rise from the grave.
God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. (Acts 2:24)
According to God-given laws of sacrifice, Jesus’ resurrection was inevitable, along with the resurrection of every man who believes in Jesus. A man can deny these truths, but he cannot undo them. Resurrectio in excelcis! This is resurrection in the highest!
Grapes die every harvest to make hearts glad; wine exists inescapably. Jesus died once for all (Romans 6:10) and those who died with Him are given cups overflowing with joy in salvation. Jesus’ resurrection is a first-fruits, and His elect can’t help but be following-fruits (1 Corinthians 15:20). As He Himself said, He laid down His life for the sheep that they may have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10-11).
So what is the deal with wine in an Easter sermon? There are a couple reasons, both of which I’ve already introduced without calling them points per se, and I’ll restate them and then spend some time with each one. But it’s also come to our attention that some outside our church have taken to calling us the “boozer” church. It is sort of humorous, and sort of expected, and sort of a great opportunity to ask what we want to be known for, indeed, what we ought to be known for. And that is as related to the resurrection as the letter r.
We should not want to be known for our sin, though it wouldn’t be a bad start if we had a reputation for being quick to confess our sin. And, of course, drunkenness is a sin. So is the wrong kind of fear. The same is true of thanklessness, or boredom with God, or lack of joy, or self-righteousness. But we keep worshiping even though it could be done wrongly. And based on the number of kids dressed in their new Easter outfits, it’s obvious that husbands and wives aren’t entirely avoiding the marriage bed even though the sins of lust and sexual immorality are obvious and dangerous selling points in our cultural context.
The good news is that drunkenness died with Christ. He atoned for all our sins, and our fleshly desires died in Him and were buried with Him. So also lying and covetousness and anger and slander and obscene talk died with Him. And the good news is that death wasn’t His end. It couldn’t be. And because we are united with Him by faith, death isn’t our end either, and that makes certain things certain.
Wine, then, provides a double-analogy, both because it is inevitable and because, received rightly, it makes glad.
Jesus’ interchange with Martha in John 11 continues to help map my theological coordinates. The Gospel of John has the “I am” statements, claims that Jesus made about His nature as God. “I am” is, of course, the idea behind God’s covenant name, Yahweh, which God told to Moses (Exodus 3:14). Jesus took up the I am identification for Himself. He said, “I am the bread of life” (John 6:35), “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12), “I am the door of “the sheep” (John 10:7). To some scoffers He even said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58), leaving no doubt as to His conscious claim of divinity.
In John 11 Jesus came two days late to see Lazarus. When He heard that Lazarus was sick He staid away (John 11:6), and when He arrived in Bethany Lazarus had already been buried four days (11:17). Lazarus had two sisters, Martha and Mary, and Martha came out to meet Jesus (11:20). She believed enough to believe that if Jesus had just come sooner He could have kept her brother from dying (11:21). Even still, she seemed to have some hope that Jesus might be able to do something (11:22).
Jesus gave her some theology, but she initially put it in the wrong category. He said, “Your brother will rise again,” and she understood that about the end times, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” It is His response to this comment that requires our Easter attention.
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.” Resurrection, then, is not only an action God can accomplish, it is an attribute of God as revealed in the Son. Just as the Son is access to God (the door), as well as understanding (the light) and energy (the life) of the world, He is also the conqueror of death. He not only can keep from dying, He overcomes dying. It belongs with His very nature.
When Martha acknowledges that He is “the Christ, the Son of God” (John 11:27), she is using the categories that she was familiar with. Putting it together, the Messiah is the Savior through death, Immanuel, God with us, who defeats death. It could not be otherwise because resurrection is God’s idea, and in a sense it is in His very nature.
When Jesus told His disciples that He must suffer, be killed, and then rise again (as in Matthew 16:21), it wasn’t simply because He knew more of His Father’s plan, it was because He knew His own character. When Jesus told His disciples that they would weep and lament, but that their sorrow would turn to joy as when a woman had great joy at the birth of her baby (John 16:20-22), it’s because He knew the rejoicing that His resurrection and their reunion would bring. He said,
“So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” (John 16:22)
We should drink this in.
Jesus’ resurrection gives birth to joy (John 16:22), to “the experience of gladness” (BDAG for χαρά).
What is it, though, that causes such joy? There are reasons for joy, reasons for rejoicing, and it relates to some of the things that God gives us through the resurrection of His Son.
We can’t be condemned/canceled. Which is another way to say that we are forgiven, and we can know that we are forgiven because Jesus’ resurrection demonstrates the Father’s acceptance of the sacrifice. We deserved judgment; “The wages of sin is death.” All of us were guilty, and God’s righteousness requires that unrighteousness be addressed. For all those who would ever believe, God sent His Son to die in their place. Jesus paid it all, it is finished. Peter wrote,
Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him. (1 Peter 3:21–22)
So Paul wrote,
“Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died–more than that, who was raised–who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.” (Romans 8:33-34)
Christian, your guilt was crucified in Christ. Your flesh was crucified in Christ. Your disobedience and “the record of debt that stood against” you, was crucified in Christ (Colossians 2:14). So let no one pass judgment on you (Colossians 2:16).
When Christians are being tagged today as haters, as racists, as hypocrites, as dangerous (which, of course, could have been the kind of criticisms against Christians in Rome to whom Paul was writing, Christians who were about to be “regarded as sheep to be slaughtered” as Romans 8:36), we are to remember that Jesus died, was buried, and rose again on the third day (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). When the serpent and his offspring accuse us, we remember that we are forgiven, we cannot be condemned.
We can’t be enslaved/captivated by sin. A second reason for our joy in the resurrection is because we have been raised with Jesus and we share in His life. We can obey, and obedience has consequences of blessings.
This reality is also pictured in our baptism, and it is an argument Paul uses in order to challenge those who think grace is only as good for covering sin. Grace also changes us.
“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:3-4).
Sins of every kind are the killjoys; God blesses obedience and good works with joy. Every self-pitying, moping desire of the flesh is a killjoy, but we are free from the joy-killer within us.
We can’t be manipulated/coerced. Because “we know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again,” and that “death no longer has dominion over him” (Romans 6:9), because He promised that “everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:26), what can man do to us?
We no longer seek the glory that comes from man (John John 12:43), let alone the protection that comes from man. We are free from those killjoys, those who would shame us or malign us (see 1 Peter 4:3-5). We seek the glory that comes from God. We seek the same joy as Christ.
let us run…looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2)
So we have patience and endurance and courage and joy. None of that would be possible apart from the resurrection.
How then should we live? I am not exhorting you to be more joyful, though there are those imperatives (Matthew 5:12; Romans 12:12; Philippians 4:4; 1 Thessalonians 5:16). I’m saying joy is yours. Joy is an indicative in the resurrected Christ.
Don’t accommodate yourself to self-pity, to mopery, to the spirit of this age, to death. Ours is not syrupy simplicity, nor is it like the vinegar of truth. Our joy is not a cackling of fools like the crackling of thorns under a pot (Ecclesiastes 7:6), but like well-aged wine, refined (Isaiah 25:6), mature and deep.
In his book The Everlasting Man G.K. Chesterton wrote:
“Pessimism is not in being tired of evil but in being tired of good. Despair does not lie in being weary of suffering, but in being weary of joy. It is when for some reason or other the good things in a society no longer work that the society begins to decline; when its food does not feed, when its cures do not cure, when its blessings refuse to bless.”
Let us not be weary of joy, or give it up, thinking that it is the problem.
According to God’s will grapes become wine become a heart-gladdening gift to man. According to God’s will the Son took on flesh, obeyed perfectly, sacrificed lovingly, and rose again on the third day so that His joy might be in us. You were a killjoy, and He has made you free. You are surrounded by killjoys, and He has made you free. Resurrectio in excelsis!
As you give your kids candies and chocolates for a sweet celebration of resurrection, make sure you are tasting the goodness of the Lord. As you gather, as you eat ham and drink wine, make sure your heart is glad in God. If you are hurting, if you are struggling, make sure you mediate on God’s power that raised His Son from the dead and the hope He calls you to.
May the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead. (Ephesians 1:17-20a, ESV)