The Politics of Resurrection

In our Adult Faith class at church we've been going through the book of Acts. On my week to teach I had Acts 5.12-42.

Before reading that text, I backed up and had the class read Luke 9.23-27:

Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self? Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.

“Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.”
I asked the class this question: "What would have this sounded like--this call to 'take up you cross and follow me'--to the people standing there that day listening to Jesus?"

We've so moralized this text that I don't think we appreciate what Jesus was asking. Crosses littered the landscape. People carrying crosses on the way to crucifixion were driven through city streets. The roads leading into cities were lined with bodies hanging on crosses.

The cross was a tool of Imperial terror and control. Its shadow of fear fell over every aspect of colonial life in the outposts of the Roman Empire. Crucifixion was a bully demanding obedience and compliance.

And in the face of that threat and terror Jesus says, "take up your cross and follow me." It was a call to radical fearlessness for a people living under the shadow of Imperial torture.

And yet, the day Jesus said these words no one knew about Easter Sunday. Without the resurrection the fearless call to "take up your cross and follow me" would have sounded suicidal. But with Jesus raised from the the dead the Imperial threat had lost its grip upon the political imagination of Jesus' followers. They had been emancipated from fear. Just as Jesus had been in the face of Pilate's threats. And the outcome of this liberation was twofold. First, no threat of violence could sway or deter the followers of Jesus. They had became fearless. They now existed outside the bounds of Imperial control. Without fear they had become unmanageable. Second, they had joy. In the face of beatings, torture and imprisonment the followers of Jesus would sing.

Basically, the politics of the resurrection explains the very odd behavior of the apostles in Acts 5. Selected portions of the text:
The apostles performed many signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonnade. No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people. Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number...

Then the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail...

The apostles were brought in and made to appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest. “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,” he said. “Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.”

Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than human beings!..."

They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.

The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.
This is the political impact of the resurrection, a people wholly willing to take up their cross and follow Jesus, to death if necessary. Such a people cannot be intimidated. Not threat of physical violence could sway or stop them. They are free to obey God rather than man, no matter the cost. They sang in the face of torture. And out of that fearless political imagination a new world would be born. 

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