Reading through the Bible with my son has me feeling like a kid again.
This isn’t something new; we’ve always read Scripture together. But at the ripe age of seven, our son is weaned off the storybook-style, paraphrased, pop-up, scratch-and-sniff “Bibles” marketed to kids in his bracket, and now we’re plodding through the original. We usually read about half a chapter each night, talk about it, and pray—from Genesis 1:1 onward, genealogies and all.
Needless to say, each nightly reading involves some unpacking, and engaging in this exercise cannot but give you fresh eyes towards Scripture. My son and I are being discipled together. I’d liken it to taking your child for his first time to that favorite theme park of yours, boarding that classic log flume ride you know so well, and studying every reaction on his face to see if he’s experiencing the same thrill as you—until the moment when you’re both screaming with your hands in the air on the final plunge down into the water, because somehow, even though it’s your hundredth time, that climactic drop manages to catch you both off-guard.
Yes, I just likened reading the Bible to riding Splash Mountain. Because with every paragraph and every plot twist, we’re white-knuckling the proverbial handlebars of Scripture as we negotiate every bend, dip, and loop—from the rhythmic refrain of the creation week to the gut-wrenching sensation you feel when Eve bites into the forbidden fruit. At times I feel like that overly chatty moviegoer we all know well—or knew so well, back when physical theaters were a thing—shouting just before the jump-scare: “No! Don’t go in there!” And yet, in watching these reruns of redemptive history for the hundredth time with my boy, I never cease to gain fresh insights. So, as my humble Easter offering to you, what follows is one of them.
By Way of Review
The plot of Genesis is not hard to follow. There’s one true God, and his existence is a non-negotiable of reality that logically precedes the opening verse (“In the beginning, God…”). At the onset, as the Spirit of this God hovers over the blank canvas of the cosmos, God begins to announce his kingly decrees into the void, and worlds explode into being. Six days later, God crowns creation by forming man and woman in his own image and appointing them as his vice-regents. Yet a grave warning (literally) is spoken to a planet teeming with life: “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (2:16-17).
At the risk of spoiling the plot, Adam and his wife take the bittersweet bait, sending the universe into a nosedive. The genealogy following Adam’s descendants makes a point of noting of the men of each generation: “…and he died”—eight times, in fact (cf. Gen. 5:5ff, emphasis added). Death began its reign with Adam (Rom. 5:14)—and not only death, but sickness, suffering, and sorrow. And yes, for those of you with the ’rona on the mind, this does mean that the current pandemic is a result of sin, but not necessarily the particular sins of China, Italy, or orange man. Adam, our team coach, incurred the violation, and the whole human race was penalized. Our world is cursed.
But these judgments are punctuated by mercy; God promises Adam and Eve a coming Rescuer (Gen. 3:17), fashions animal skins to conceal their shame (v. 21), and postpones their death sentence for nearly a millennium (5:5). Common graces work their way into a rotting world the way a pinch of preservative stops a lump from spoiling. The world is passing away (1 John 2:17), and the world is being saved (John 3:17).
It’s important to rehearse these well-worn facts because we don’t give them their proper weight—especially the fact that death is our most ancient foe. Like my two-year-old whenever we play hide-and-seek, we forget what game we’re playing, who’s hiding, who’s counting, and our objective. We mistake various bogeymen as the real enemy—a political force, a rival denomination, or the presence of conflict itself. But despite our susceptibility to distraction, let us take note: death is the final antagonist in the story (1 Cor. 15:26). We will each stare down this foe sooner or later, and we will lose. The mortality rate is 100 percent.
I am sorry to belabor my point. We must rehearse the background of the story if what’s next is to land on our souls with any force. So forgive me as I now move to what will appear to be a defense of the extraordinarily obvious.
A Thought Experiment
With Eden behind us, let’s say it’s about 130 years later (perhaps 3870 B.C., give or take). Adam and Eve are advanced in years by today’s standards, but they’ve aged well. Envision them engaging in all the daily hum-drum we’d imagine happening east of Eden—Eve bouncing young Seth on her hip, Adam sweating as he works the ground, and so on. Their lives look normal to us, but to them life seems downright perversely different from the original design. They know that their deaths are coming at some point—whatever precisely that means—and the prospect is horrifying. Fear of the grave greets, haunts, and enslaves the humans from afar as it lurks, ready to pounce—the young race’s dread only heightened by fear of the unknown. To Adam and Eve, there is no “circle of life.” Life is a straight line that now breaks off, they’re told, at just the wrong moment. Death is an intruder.
Now imagine that Christ, the new Adam, had come in that generation instead of ages later. Suppose, by some extraordinary turn of events, that Jesus has been born, lived for a spell, and died—like his older brother Abel. Eve weeps by the tomb. A gardener approaches, and she naturally mistakes him for her horticulturalist husband. But it isn’t Adam—it’s him. He is risen!
A son of Adam died under the curse and emerged unscathed! Our enemy—that enemy, ushered into the world when paradise was lost—is vanquished! The hellish monster named Sheol swallowed the God-man whole, but he burst forth from the fell beast’s belly and now stands over its pathetic carcass. Death died the ugly way, run through and doubled over, like wicked, fat Eglon (see Judges 3). The Savior descended into hades and arose victorious to ascend back into the garden-presence of God, leading a whole host in his train: a new, redeemed human race, following the same pattern of death and resurrection.
The sin that ruined the world has been canceled and its power broken. The words “you shall surely die” now ring hollow, and the children of men take up the taunt: “Death, where is your sting?”
The purpose of this thought experiment is that we would realize: the good news of the resurrection of Jesus should fall on our ears no differently than it would have on Adam and Eve’s. What Jesus accomplished in his resurrection is no less earth-shattering in its cosmic implications than if he had done it the moment man rebelled and first felt the sear of terror over this thing called “death.”
Likewise, this news is as good now as it would be if you had first heard it beside the deathbed of a loved one with cancer, or the moment after you got that tragic phone call about the accident, or in your own last gasps. That which you fear most, or ought to fear most if you only remembered what game you’re playing, has been declawed, defanged, disarmed, and disgraced embarrassingly. Jesus has won by a long shot.
He is Risen
I’m writing this on Resurrection Sunday, but the day makes no difference. It should go without saying, but the fact that Jesus rose from the dead is a gigantic deal.
I saw a major news outlet report this morning that the worldwide COVID-19 death toll has surpassed 20,000, making for “somber” Easter celebrations. While those who have lost loved ones are certainly grieving, as well they should, this sort of reporting also gives me the distinct impression that the writer scarcely bothered to darken a church door to join other “Easter worshipers.” Today we celebrate the lights-out victory of Yahweh incarnate over our very mortality; to characterize this holy day as “somber” is a bit like reporting, “Enthusiasm over the Cubs’ surprising World Series victory in 2016 was dampened by the memory of over a century’s worth of losses.” Emotions don’t work that way any more than black velvet dulls diamonds. And—talk about burying the lede—the real headline ought to contain some mention of the resurrection toll, which now sits at one and counting. (I’m no pandemic modeler, and I don’t need to do too much number-crunching to notice that one is less than 20K, but I’m also told that these things follow curves—see 1 Corinthians 15:22.)
And while we’re on the topic of headlines, the news of Jesus it is not a big deal the same way in which news stories from across the world dash on and off our Twitter feeds in a few microseconds, flashing in the pan of our overstimulated collective conscience. This is the kind of news a friend Facetime-calls to announce, without a text or calendar invite first. Scratch that; this is the kind of news you knock on someone’s door for. It applies to us personally—not just economically, politically, or ideologically, but bodily. If we stay in our sin and resist God, we await certain death, and an empty eternity trapped under divine wrath. But if we turn from sin and come in trust to Jesus, the divine grave-robber, we will not surely die. At least, not in any ultimate sense, since we too will emerge with him victorious on the other side.
- “Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?’” (John 11:25-26)
- “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:19-23)
Hopefully by now I’ve more than defended the rather obvious thesis, which up until now has only been implied. It’s that Easter Sunday is the one variable that throws all the models completely off-kilter and turns the calculus of the coronavirus on its head. Jesus being alive right now, still sporting nail wounds as he rules the universe, literally changes everything.
Don’t let the roller-coaster resurrection story become stale for you. Grab a Bible, plop down on a couch with your kids, read it over and over, talk about it, and feel the awe. For those who are hidden in Christ, sin is forgiven. Death is done. Fear not. He is risen.
He is risen indeed.