Have you ever walked into a movie halfway and then spent the rest of the movie trying to figure out what it all means? It makes for a challenging viewing experience – you don’t really know the characters, and you have to guess why people do what they do – you don’t get the luxury of the director carefully laying out all the background and motives. In some ways, starting a movie at the half-way mark is an experience you can never repeat once you see the whole movie. A lot of the questions are cleared up, of course, but then you realize your own understanding is overturned: all the speculations you have about what happened before are blown away by the actual missing scenes.
Sometimes it can be like that when you think about various beliefs and actions recorded in the Bible. We don’t catch the full effect, I think, because we’re coming in the middle of it all. A long time ago, Jesus was born, lived, taught, ministered, and then died. Then after being buried, he came back alive and went back to heaven, promising to return for his people.
But we walked into the middle of this. The first scenes happened before we were around, and we are trying to puzzle out what it all means right now. Is it a matter of simply believing a set of facts? Is it now a matter of the actions we take, being sure to do all the right things and avoid all the wrong things?
We can get confused because we haven’t watched the first episodes, so to speak. We know about it because the narrator for this week’s show tells us (quickly) that Jesus-was-born-lived-died-rose-again and now let’s tune in to this week’s episode of As the Circumstances Worsen.
If we only live with what we know right now, what we see and expect based upon our own experience, life can be difficult. Oh, let’s be honest: it’s downright awful at times. There are no sure guarantees, except perhaps pain and disappointments. Relationships will fall apart. People will grow up. Children leave home and send cards, maybe. Jobs disappear due to events entirely beyond our control or understanding. Loved ones die, sometimes with no explanation. Injustice thrives. Well-meaning thoughts and words are turned back in anger, and our intentions are used as weapons against us. And we find ourselves in the middle of mess, with nothing to hold on to, nothing as the anchor that can keep us from drifting along or even drifting away.
It can be confusing and discouraging if we’re just living in Act II. That’s why the church tries to so hard to keep reminding us that Act I wasn’t just a prequel: it’s essential to understand the story, whether we’re trying to figure out what we’re supposed to be doing in Act II, and even what’s coming in Act III: The Finale.
The cross and resurrection aren’t just religious tales. They are essential to understanding our current situation. Jesus’ death on the cross killed the power of sin over us. Jesus’ return to life killed the power of death over us. And the power which brought Jesus’ dead body back to life is the same power who lives in us. I can’t make it any clearer, I think: it’s a phenomenal thing that’s never happened before, that God should become man, die for our brokenness, and be raised to life again and give that life to us.
It’s the answer to the main problem: why do we screw things up and do such terrible things when we know better? The cross and resurrection is the answer
That’s why the cross and tomb are central to Christian belief, not just a babe in a manger or good thoughts about humanity. It’s all about Jesus doing something no one else has done before or since: die, and then be raised to life, never to die again.
We can’t escape living in Act II. It’s where all the exciting stuff is going on, where we make decisions, good or bad, and then live out the results of those decisions. But we have this promise, this guarantee: the Jesus who was central to Act I is going to be with us all through Act II, and when he shows up during Act III, the show is over and we’ll all go home.
Now, I can’t say I’ve seen Act I, and I will see Act III at the same time you do (or maybe just a little bit earlier). But hang on, and do what you need to do in Act II, because based upon the reviews, Act III has an ending that’s out of this world.