April 16, 2009
by Patrick Lafferty
Let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by Him this man is standing before you well. This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.
In school we hear of monumental moments in history like the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215, or the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, or the discovery of the double helix in 1953. Such moments have immeasurable significance in the course of history. Nevertheless, they are moments whose discernible effect on us is negligible. Who of us awoke yesterday thinking of, much less grateful for, the fact that the double helix always spirals in a clockwise direction?
On Sunday we heard afresh the astounding notion that a man, executed as an enemy of God and of the state, came to life again, days after His death; that in Him alone there is hope of a person’s reconciliation and relationship with the God responsible for all things; and that the power at work in Jesus’ resurrection was the same power that made a lifelong invalid walk again.
Yet, while the Magna Carta can’t hold a candle to the account of the resurrection of Jesus, is the latter to have any more palpable effect on us now some two thousand years removed? Is it no more than those other prodigious moments in history whose significance is to be noted, but not noticed in us in any existential way?
The Apostle Paul says that precisely the same power that raised Jesus from the dead is at work toward those who believe (Ephesians 1:19–20). That Jesus rose again might surely elicit our awe at the power of God. It might imbue us with gratitude for the love of God. However, the most precious and palpable effect of the knowledge of the resurrection may be its capacity to bring us contentment.
Contentment, Jeremiah Burroughs says, is “that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition.” A holy unflappability. A righteous calm.
Burroughs is careful and quick to clarify what he means by contentment. It is not a forced or feigned peacefulness. It is not a continual joviality or an unflinching stoicism. It neither denies the pain when it is present nor refuses to beseech God and His means in times of trouble. As Paul described his own experience, those contented in Christ may be “afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8–9).
Why would a knowledge of the resurrection nurture the soil of our souls for the growth of contentment?
It confirms to us that there is a power in the universe stronger even than death. The supernova in all its ferocious glory still can’t reanimate a dead person. But a God who restores a man to life allows us to rest in the fact that, whatever befalls us, we are not entirely subject to the capriciousness of life; the wiles of this world are still governed by a stronger Superintendent.
It reveals to us that history has a trajectory—a will and purpose behind all that unfolds. If the Lord wrought life from death and means to do so again at some undisclosed time (this morning perhaps!), then we may also rest content in the hope that we are not adrift in an otherwise unpredictable life; the fact that He arose divulges we are neither without mooring or meaning.
Finally, the fact that Jesus was raised from the dead proclaims most clearly that God is present to us in our condition. He knows our greatest need. “Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,” the fact that the Lord overturned our most formidable enemy, death, means we are not alone.
The knowledge that we are neither entirely helpless, nor adrift, nor alone—realities intoned by the resurrection—allows contentment to prosper in us. This state of being is in one sense graciously bestowed, in another intensely pursued.
Would you say you have that “inward, quiet, gracious frame”? Is it your practice, whenever you’ve lost your contentment, to trace the path back through the resurrection to find it again? It’s been said the resurrection is the only sufficient explanation for the rise, endurance, and flourishing of the early church. Should we not pray all the more, as Paul did, that the power of the resurrection would have its intended effect in us?