When I was at school, in both maths and English I was taught that double negatives make a positive: in maths, if you multiply two negative numbers, you get a positive number (I’m not sure I ever understood why) and in English, I was taught that two negatives cancel each other, resulting in a positive. ‘You ain’t seen nothing‘ means you actually have seen something.
Double negatives are sometimes used to create litotes, a deliberate understatement for effect. I think this is perhaps why the NIV translates 1 Corinthians 15:10 as God’s ‘grace to me was not without effect’), thus drawing our attention to God’s amazing and utterly effective grace. In Greek, we are told God’s grace is not in vain or empty or barren (J.B. Phillips translates this as ‘the grace He gave me has not proved a barren gift‘), but the English version does make us pause over the phrase to be clear we actually understand what Paul is saying.
Double negatives make us stop and think. Other versions put the positive spin on the phrase to make Paul’s meaning crystal clear (the Message version says ‘I’m not about to let His grace go to waste‘; the Voice version says ‘I have made sure His grace to me was not wasted.’) I quite like the linguistic effort of working through the double negative, however, to reach the conclusion that God’s grace is effective in every situation and for every person. Grace is that all-purpose ingredience vital for every day!
So, how are you coping, then, in this strange new world of lockdown? There’s a lot of talk about coping strategies online and about protecting and strengthening our mental and emotional health, about how to build resilience at a time when nothing seems quite normal anymore. A quick trawl through Facebook quickly reveals people cope in different ways: knitting, crocheting, crafting, sewing, baking, gardening and so on. All perfectly normal hobbies that are useful at any time.
But I’ve become somewhat alarmingly aware that some of my coping strategies aren’t tenable in the long-term and have been digging a little deeper into why I do these things. My main coping strategy has been to take advantage of the opportunity to shop for food and then to spend the rest of the day cooking and eating. My food bill has doubled since lockdown, even though I am supposedly only feeding two people now instead of more! I have spent a lot of time preparing wonderful meals: pancakes with berries and yogurt for breakfast (pretending I’m in the Mediterranean, presumably), making batches of cheese scones for coffee breaks, baking cakes to give to other people, cooking beautifully prepared lunches and dinners… and judging by the photos on Facebook, I’m not the only one.
When I question ‘why’, however, I realise that the superficial answer that ‘I’m a feeder’ doesn’t really cut the mustard. I have bought so many chocolate treats for my grandchildren (delivered to their doorstep like an Easter bunny on steroids) that they probably could have a treat each day for the rest of the year. I’ve delivered enough food in a week to my elderly father to feed him for a month (and his freezer isn’t that big!) Why?
In part, it’s to alleviate boredom, to use up some of the additional time I now have. In part, it is a desire to help others. But mainly it’s an attempt to pretend things are normal when they’re not. Because cooking and feeding are part of my known, familiar world, and I prefer that world to the reality I am actually inhabiting.
This present situation leaves us feeling helpless. Our usual routines are left in shreds. And that leaves me with guilt (I’ve always struggled with irrational guilt) and inadequacy (another familiar burden.) I’m not out there like the key workers, working as usual in unusual circumstances. However much I clap them and no matter how many morsels I make to pass on to them (and I’ve done that too!), I feel guilty for not being on the frontline. No matter how much propaganda comes my way telling me I’m saving lives and saving the NHS by staying at home, I don’t feel good about it.
Added to that is inadequacy – the feeling that I’m not doing enough or that my attempts to work in new ways (livestreaming church services, for example) aren’t hugely successful. My husband reponds to change and challenges with the long-legged aplomb of a hurdler, but I’m here in my usual schoolday sports’ day misery: staring at the hurdles and thinking they look like high jumps. The familiar ghost of inadequacy – that voice that tells me nothing I do is good enough – is as present in lockdown as in everyday normality. I don’t really know why I expected otherwise!
Coping strategies are one thing, and not to be despised at all. But they are not, in themselves, solutions (and that’s fine.) But if I’m honest, I find it much easier to hide in the kitchen making another meal than I do taking time out with God. I find it easier to do something with visible, tangible, edible results than I do spending time in prayer, waiting on God and studying His word and essentially living by faith. I don’t think I’m alone in that.
There’s been a lot of talk about ‘getting back to normal’ and some debate about how we’d all like the ‘new normal’ to look. Most of us admit that the rat race, dog-eat-dog, materialistic way of living that leaves us exhausted, too tired to play with our children and too stressed to enjoy friends and family time isn’t really the way we want life to be. But if we don’t learn to create a ‘normal’ with God at the centre, this period of lockdown won’t have taught us anything truly worthwhile or lasting. So I’m abandoning the kitchen for now and spending some of this Bank Holiday just chilling with God.
Garry spoke tonight on ‘The Messiah’s Manifesto’, initially speaking from one of Isaiah’s Servant Songs (Is 42:1-7). Here, we see that the Servant of God would be aided by God, approved by God and anointed by God, a bringer of justice, but not in the retributive way people were expecting. Instead, He would work with tenderness and gentleness, giving light, sight and liberty to all.
Jesus proclaimed and delivered freedom to all. Speaking in the synagogue (Luke 4:18), we see Him quoting from both Is 61:1-2 and Is 58:6, to show us who He was and how He would work. He taught about freedom (see John 8:31-32, 36), showing us that by His death and resurrection, He offered freedom to the prisoners and the oppressed. All of us were prisoners to sin, and His rescue does not involve tunnelling out or fooling the guards, but paying the price in full.
What exactly does Jesus offer to free us from?
1. We are freed from sin and its control
Acts 13:39 says, ‘Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses.’ The law showed us how to be perfect and acceptable to God, but unfortunately, we are not perfect and cannot keep the law perfectly. Help is available, though. Rom 6:5-7 reminds us that we have to put to death the old life, which is not easy (firstly because we are so used to the way of sin and secondly because it is often enjoyable.) To play with sin, however, is to play with fire (see Prov 6:27) and we must cooperate with God to enter into the freedom from sin He can give us. (Rom 8:1-2)
2. We are freed from guilt
Our consciences are like the ‘app’ that tells us when we have crossed the line between right and wrong, but we can be either over-sensitive (as Paul realised when discussing meat sacrificed to idols) or desensitised (when our consciences are ‘seared’). We need to have a trained conscience, understanding that Jesus truly has freed us from the debt of sin and therefore we can approach Him with confidence. (Heb 10:22)
3. We are freed from our fear of death
Heb 2:14-15 tells us that Jesus has freed us from our fear of death. Without Him, we are lost, the curse of death is upon us and we have no hope beyond this life. All we could expect is ‘a fearful expectation of judgment’ (Heb 10:27), but Christ has died and risen again, thus breaking the power of death. All around us, we see a fear of death (perhaps exacerbated at the present time because of the pandemic), but the resurrection demonstrates how Jesus can free us. If He can free the disciples who were huddled together in a room even after the resurrection (John 20:19) and transform them into fearless evangelists who faced martyrdom with courage, He can do the same for us!
We’re very aware of manifesto pledges during political elections and how these are (usually) not worth the paper they are written on. Jesus the Messiah not only pledges to bring liberty; He makes good on His promises!
Resurrection Is Unbelievable
It’s clear from Paul’s teaching in this letter that some people were teaching that resurrection is impossible. They said that there could be no such thing as resurrection – which is perfectly true from a human point of view! Even though medical science has made great advances (the average life expectancy in the UK is now 81, compared to 68 years in 1950), we still cannot raise anyone from the dead. But if we factor God into the equation, then nothing is impossible. God is able to do immeasurably more than all we imagine or think. (Eph 3:20) Nothing is too hard for Him. (Jer 32:17) God ‘gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not.’ (Rom 4:17) Easter demonstrates to us the reality that resurrection is definitely possible if God is in on the action!
Resurrection Is Necessary to Free Us From Sin
The Bible teaches us that death has come as the result of sin (Rom 5:12); ‘the wages of sin is death.’ (Rom 3:23) The Bible talks about two kinds of death, however: the physical death our bodies experience at the end of our lives and spiritual death which is essentially separation from God. It was to save us from spiritual death, from eternal separation from God, that Jesus died on the cross and was raised to life on the third day. This is why we need resurrection truths to be part of our everyday lives here on earth as well as something to look forward to in the future. Paul makes it clear in Romans 6:9-14 that sin no longer has mastery over us because Jesus defeated it on the cross – therefore we are free to live a new kind of life.
Resurrection Offers Us Hope
The interconnection between Christ’s resurrection and ours is something that’s stressed over and over again in this chapter. Paul says, ‘Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.’ (1 Cor 15:20) He is the guarantee that all those who belong to Him will be raised from the dead at His second coming. The worst thing anyone can do to us is to take away life, but we know that even if we lose our lives, there is still the hope of the resurrection! One day, we will leave this body, but then we get a perfect one! – we exchange the perishable for the imperishable, the mortal for immortality. (1 Cor 15:42, 53) Hope, therefore, is the fuel that enables us to get through life. Because Jesus experienced resurrection, we too can experience it.
Aaron Shust sings, in the song, ‘Resurrecting’:
‘By Your Spirit I will rise
From the ashes of defeat.
The resurrected king is resurrecting me.
In Your name I come alive
To declare Your victory.
The resurrected king is resurrecting me.’ (‘Resurrecting’, Aaron Shust)
Today is Easter Sunday, probably the most important day of the whole year, the day when we celebrate the victory that Jesus Christ won for us through His death and resurrection. All of God’s plan for the salvation of the world is bound up in this truth, for as Paul teaches us in 1 Corinthians 15: ‘if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.’ (1 Cor 15:14) The resurrection of Jesus means that we know His sacrificial death on the cross was acceptable to God. It was enough. The price for sin has been paid. We are now reconciled to God.
The resurrection of Jesus means we know that death doesn’t have the last word; towards the end of this chapter, Paul says, ‘“Death has been swallowed up in victory.” “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”’ (1 Cor 15:54-55) The resurrection of Jesus gives us hope, even in hopeless situations, because it demonstrates to us how totally and utterly our God has the power to transform situations. If God could turn the defeat and humiliation of crucifixion into something beautiful and victorious, then nothing we face in this life has the power to keep us down. Resurrection is at the heart of our Christian faith and needs to be at the heart of our daily lives too. In this chapter, Paul talks a lot about different aspects of resurrection, and we need to absorb these truths so that we can become a people living in the power of Christ’s resurrection every day of the year, not just on Easter Sunday.
We see in this chapter that resurreciton is impossible from a human perspective, but entirely possible when we take God’s power into account. We see also that it is necessary to break the hold sin has over us and to bring us back into a relationship with God. Finally, resurrection enables us to live with hope, not only for now, but also for eternity.
Easter Sunday is our day of victory because it was Jesus’s day of victory. It’s the day when we celebrate Jesus’s victory over sin, death and hell. It’s the day when we dance because our God does impossible things. It’s the day when we dance because we’re set free from the power and mastery of sin and are now free to live for God and serve Him with gladness and sincerity. It’s the day when we hold high our banner of hope and say that nothing can separate us from the love of God. This is our day of victory. Let’s believe that. Let’s proclaim that. Let’s live in victory.
Today is Easter Sunday. It’s a day of celebration and wonder, a day when we proclaim to all that He is not here in the tomb; He is risen! It’s a day of overflowing joy and boundless surprise as we declare that Jesus has defeated death and is alive forevermore – and because of this, everything has changed.