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The Cost of Resurrection

March 29, 2007


As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins….
But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions…. (Ephesians 2:1, 4-5)


Filoftea Popescu died in November of 2005.
 tombstone
She was pretty disappointed when she found out about it recently, too.

Filoftea discovered her untimely demise when she applied for a passport and was told that the Romania’s People Registration Service had declared her dead, stripping her of any rights as a citizen. The government sent a copy of her death certificate to her doctor, Nicolae Toboiu – who was understandably surprised to see her when she came into his office shortly after. The People Registration Service has admitted its error and fired the staff responsible for it. But Filoftea still isn’t alive. That will have to wait until she saves some money.

It will cost her a month’s wages to obtain a court order to bring her back to life.

That’s steep, but a month’s wages is a bargain for resurrection, I suppose. I imagine that if we could solve the problem of our own deaths – or the deaths of the people we love – by forking over a month’s worth of salary, most of us would jump at the chance. Of course it’s never that easy. Death is a problem that eludes humanity’s best efforts. Sooner or later, it does to all of us what Filoftea’s “death” did to her; it strips us of our identities. It makes us a part of the past, irrelevant to the present or future. Sin kills us.

While we usually think of sin in judicial terms – guilt and innocence – the Bible speaks of it in other ways, as well. One of the earliest of those biblical pictures of sin has to do with death. Sin causes human beings to not only be considered guilty from a forensic point of view, but to die. “Dust you are, and to dust you will return.” Sin strips away our identities as surely as Filoftea’s death did. God personifies it in Genesis as a wild animal or demon lying in homicidal wait for us: “sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”

It’s not just that sin makes us guilty. It’s not just that it leads to punishment. The problem with sin is that it kills: “the wages of sin is death.”

We tend to dismiss that language, I think. We tend to write it off as figurative, or at least spiritualize it. Obviously, death isn’t the consequences of every sin – none of us would have a very long life if that were the case. It’s more, I guess, that sin sort of cumulatively sets in motion the power of death in the world, and eventually we’re all its victims. Whether the currency is violence, war, neglect, addiction, carelessness, disease, or what have you, eventually the wages of sin is death. Human sin has turned loose death’s power, and human death is the result.

We’ve turned much of our attention as a race toward keeping death at bay. We advance medical technology so fast that not even doctors can stay on the cutting edge. We eat better diets, manage stress, exercise, and live exponentially healthier lifestyles than we did a generation ago. We undergo cosmetic surgery to reverse the physical effects of age – the daily little reminders that we live under the power of death. We protect ourselves from attack and do our best to maintain healthy international relations.

But nothing we can do will hold death at bay indefinitely. We know that, of course, though we like to pretend. Nothing medical, or physiological, or psychological, or military, or political – nothing takes away the death sentence that we’re under. That’s because death is ultimately a theological problem, and it’s one that not even religious observance can solve. I can’t be good enough, or observant enough, or devout enough – partly because I’m just not capable of it and partly because it’s not just my problem. My own sins have made it personal, but the problem is that death owns us all.

So the cost of resurrection was paid, strangely enough, by a death.

“God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ,” Paul wrote – “even when we were dead in transgressions.” He goes on to say that God “raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.” It isn’t going far enough, apparently, so say that one day, sometime, we will be raised from death. Better to speak of salvation in past tense verbs and “ed” suffixes. Where Jesus is, there we are too. Made alive with him. Raised with him. “In the heavenly realms” – that is, the way they see things in heaven – seated with God, taking our places in the eternal life of heaven, because of Christ Jesus.

God is too merciful to watch his children dying and disappearing, one by one.

This resurrection isn’t just for good people. It’s not a hope that we work toward, trying to get over some bar. It isn’t a carrot God dangles in front of us to keep us on our best behavior. It’s grace, the gift of a loving God to people who couldn’t save themselves. It is exclusive, yes, but only in that the gift is bound up with Jesus, and only available to people who associate themselves with him by putting their trust in him. But it’s offered to everyone who will put themselves in his hands like that.

What happened to Filoftea is pretty strange, but I can imagine something stranger. What if, after paying her money and getting her life back, Filoftea decided that she preferred pretending she was dead? What if she gave up her identity and lived as if Filoftea Popescu was really dead? We’d wonder why, wouldn’t we? Why would someone choose to live as if she were dead? Why wouldn’t she make the most of the new life she had received?

A good question, and a good question for those of us who have been raised with Christ to ask ourselves. Do our lives reflect our new status, the new realities we enjoy in Jesus? Or are our lives still dominated by death? That’s the choice we have: what do we do with the new life we’ve been given?

What value do we place on the price paid for our resurrection?

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