The Importance of Singing in Spiritual Formation

Andy Crouch (2017) makes an interesting point about the wholistic nature of singing and its contribution to our spiritual formation:

Worship is more than singing, of course. But there is something about singing that is fundamental to Jewish and Christian worship – starting with the Psalms, continuing with the hymns that grew out of the early church and the renewal and revival movements of subsequent centuries, finding new expression in the chants of Christian slaves in the American South, and abounding even today in a profusion of “worship music.”

Simply, singing may be the one human activity that most perfectly combines heart, mind, soul, and strength. Almost everything else we do requires at least one of these fundamental human faculties: the heart, the seat of the emotion and the will; the mind, with which we explore and explain the world,; the soul, the heart of human dignity and personhood; and strength, our bodies’ ability to bring about change in the world. But singing (and maybe only singing) combines them all. When we sing in worship, our minds are engaged with the text and what it says about us and God, our hearts are moved and express a range of emotions, our bodily strength is required, and – if we sing with “soul” – we reach down into the depths of our beings to do justice to the joy and heartbreak of human life. (pp. 190-191)

Crouch, A. (2017). The tech-wise family: Everyday steps for putting technology in its proper place. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

Five Reasons Easter Is the Best Good News

I want to share with you the best good news!

My intention here is not to promote my sermon, but I do want to share with you the meaning and joy of Easter. To that end, here is the Easter message from Immanuel Church this year. And below you will find my sermon manuscript. I hope it will be a helpful explanation of the significance of Easter and the good news of Christianity. Feel free to comment and/or ask questions.

 

Introduction

I love Easter. The older I get the more I love Easter…

Our family has, on many occasions, driven all through the night. When our children were little, it was the best way to travel. Actually, it is still the best way to travel. It is just that Jess and I are getting too old for that! But for many years, those all-night treks were how we travelled to faraway places, and each time the story was the same. We would set out in the late afternoon or perhaps closer to bedtime, and we would begin with energy and excitement. Maybe there was a stop or two while the kids were still awake, but eventually, everyone was sound asleep. That is when the real work began. We would only stop for gas, and Jess and I would begin driving in shifts, trading off who was driving and who was sleeping. As the night wore on, the excitement wore off, and the shifts began to get shorter and shorter. Caffeine can keep you awake, but it cannot make you feel rested. I remember so vividly, on our trips to Boston, the bleary-eyed exhaustion I would feel twelve hours in, usually right when we were hitting New York City traffic. It does not matter when you drive past New York; there is always traffic. There we would be, bumper to bumper at a toll booth, starting to wonder if the night would ever end, if we would ever arrive.

But then something amazing would happen.

A new day would dawn. Rays of sunshine would begin to appear from the East, the direction we were driving. And just like that, the night was gone. The journey was not over, but we had renewed energy and determination. We had turned a corner.

Easter morning is like that moment, multiplied eternally.

Last year my daughter wanted to run cross country. We thought that was a great idea, so we signed her up. But we had no idea what we were getting into. The first meet we attended I was shocked to see hundreds and hundreds of kids and parents lined up for the race. At every race we attended, it was all we could do to find a parking space. It really turned out to be an exciting season. But there is one race I will always remember. My daughter was running at Victor Ashe Park. Victor Ashe was my favorite course because you can cut across the track and catch the runners at several different points and run alongside for a minute and cheer. On this particular day, I remember she was coming up a hill on the backside of the course. It was the final part of the race, and you could tell she was feeling the strain of the distance combined now with the hill. So, I had just crossed over from the other side of the course and caught her coming up the trail, and I began running with her and cheering her on. Of course, I hadn’t been running that whole time, so I was able to keep up fairly easily. At least, I thought so, that is, until she took off. All of the sudden she quickened her pace and took off in a full sprint. She was gone and I just watched her go. What had happened? She had spied the finish line. She knew how the story ended. She knew she would make it. She knew nothing could stop her now.

Easter morning is like that moment, multiplied eternally.

Easter morning is that moment when night gives way to day. Easter morning is that moment when all of humanity turns a corner. Easter morning is that moment when we see our victory is sure. Easter morning is that moment when we know our future. Easter morning is that moment when we see how the story ends.

I love Easter.

Christ is risen! That is our sure and unshakable hope.

We began this morning by reading the account of that first Easter morning as it is recorded in the Gospel of Luke. Those are the facts. And that is the most amazing good news in all of history. Nothing can top it. No marriage, no promotion, no amount of money, no achievement, no recognition, no promise of safety, no advance in medicine, no new bit of new technology can come even remotely close to the promise and hope this amazing good news brings. So, why does it matter that Jesus Christ is risen and alive? I want to give you five reasons why that fact is the most amazing good news in all of history. And when I am done, I want you decide what you will do in light of this news.

But before I give you the five reasons this is the most amazing news, you must understand one basic point (if you want to understand the five reasons). Jesus is not like any other man. The death and resurrection of another person would actually be a different category altogether. In fact, the Gospel accounts record several such resurrections, but none of them represent the good news of Easter. None of these raisings mean what the resurrection of Jesus means. The resurrection of Jesus is unique. What makes the resurrection of Jesus so unique and so important for us is the fact that everything he did, he did as the King. This is the meaning of “Messiah.” “Messiah” literally means the smeared one, as in, the anointed one, as in, the King. But not just any old king. “Messiah” in the Bible refers to the King who would deliver Israel, the nations and all of the world. So, Jesus is that King. And here is the important point you must understand: “As goes the King, so goes the Kingdom” (Horton, 523). What the King has done he has done for the Kingdom. What the King has accomplished he has accomplished for the Kingdom. The victory of the King is the victory of the Kingdom. So what has he done? On Good Friday, when Christ the King died on the cross, he achieved our salvation, but on Easter, the King has returned. And he brings with him the spoils of victory. What are those spoils? Well, those spoils are the five reasons the resurrection of Jesus is the best good news in all of history.

Let’s consider each one now.

1. Because Christ is risen… Our salvation is sure.

When Jesus walked this earth, he made an audacious claim. He said was the Son of God. He said he was the Messiah. And he said he had come to die for the sins of the world. In fact, just before he was executed, he had a passover meal with his disciples, and he told them that every time they had this meal, they should remember the death he was about to die. He said the bread of the meal, which was broken, symbolized his body that was about to be broken. And he said the wine poured out was to remind them of his blood that was about to be poured out, and then he added one critical detail. He said his blood that was about to be poured out in his execution was being poured out “for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matt. 26:28). Elsewhere he said that he came “not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:8; Mark 10:45). So, Jesus saw himself as the chosen one of God, the Messiah, and he said he had come to die for the world. He came to set captives free by giving his life as a ransom. The wages of sin is death, and he came to pay that debt. He came to die in our place.

But here is the million dollar question: Did it work? Anybody can say they are the Messiah. Anybody can say they are dying for the sins of the world. But how do you know if it worked? Well, if the payment for sin is death, which is what the Apostle Paul reminds us (Romans 6:23), then if that payment had been paid, once and for all, it was seem that death would be undone, right? To use another analogy, if someone goes to debtors prison, they stay until the debt is paid. If you see them walking the streets later, you figure the debt must have been paid. So, if everything we heard Jesus saying was true, then I suppose we would expect to see him up and about, no longer dead.

But of course, the good news of Easter morning is that Jesus is risen and death is undone, and therefore, because of this, we know that our salvation is sure. The Apostle Paul writes, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17). But Christ is risen, so we are not in our sins. In Romans, Paul declares that Jesus was “delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Romans 4:25). To be justified means to be declared righteous. So, his resurrection declares us righteous. This is not to say that his resurrection achieved our righteousness; his death did (Bavinck). We have been justified by his blood (Romans 5:9). But Christ’s resurrection is the “final proof that he had earned our justification” (Grudem, 1995, p. 615). As Bavinck puts it, “His arising was the public declaration of our acquittal” (p. 370). “The resurrection is the day of Christ’s crowning” (Bavinck, p. 369). So, Easter morning declares that the price for redemption has been paid. Because Christ is risen our salvation is sure! Thus, in his substitutionary death our sins are paid for, and in his resurrection, we have the receipt, the proof of payment. With the rising of Christ on Easter, we remember and rejoice in our sure salvation.

Easter means we can be justified. We can be forgiven. We can be free from our sin and shame. This redemption, which Christ has won and his resurrection has declared, is wonderfully good news. We could stop right here, and go on celebrating the rest of our lives. We are forgiven and free! But forgiveness and freedom is only the beginning. With the forgiveness of our sins, all the curses of sin begin to be reversed. We are forgiven and free to live a new life.

2. Because Christ is risen… We rise spiritually.

Apart from Christ, our hearts are darkened by sin. We are slaves to sin. We are cursed souls. We are incapable of pleasing God. Even our best moments are tainted by mixed motives and selfish conceit. But, as we have just said, in Christ’s death we have found full and final forgiveness. The debt we owed has been paid, and the subsequent curses of our sin have been removed. But more than that, now, in his resurrection, the spoils of the King are being distributed.

Remember the King has not just won the battle, but he has also returned, and he has brought with him gifts. He has been raised to now apply the justification he has won (Bavinck) and it begins with hearts that are raised. This is all over the New Testament. Let me give you just a quick sampling…

In the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he declares that we have been raised up with Christ. Ephesians 2:4-6 “[4] But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, [5] even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—[6] and raised us up with him…” So, with Christ, we died to sin, but not only that, with Christ, we were raised to walk in newness of life. In Christ’s resurrection, we have a spiritual resurrection. We are spiritually alive, and out of this the church is birthed.

How does this happen? Christ sends the Holy Spirit. This is what the Apostle Peter explains in the Book of Acts when the Holy Spirit arrives. He says, “[29] Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. [30] Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, [31] he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. [32] This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. [33] Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing” (Acts 2:29-33). So how is it that the Holy Spirit is being poured out on all who believe? Peter says it is because Jesus is not dead. He is alive and he has gone to His Father and sent back the Holy Spirit. If he had not been resurrected, we would not expect the Spirit to come. But because he is alive and well, it only makes sense that the Spirit has now arrived.

Later, in the same letter, Paul describes Jesus as the victorious King who returns bearing gifts for his people. But these gifts are not material blessings but spiritual gifts. Jesus gives his people spiritual gifts to bless them and build the church. Here is what we read: Ephesians 4:7-8 “[7] But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. [8] Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.” So the creation of the church is an overflow of his resurrection victory. We (in this room) are here because the victorious King returned, bearing gifts to equip and build the church.

And by the way, you must understand that Jesus did not raise us to new life in some second-rate way, passing out little Hershey kisses of the Spirit. Paul clarifies earlier in his letter to the Ephesians (1:19-20) that the very same power that raised Jesus from the grave is the same power that is now at work in us through the Holy Spirit (cf. Romans 8:11).

And of course, this is exactly what Christ said he would do just before his execution. He promised that he would go back to the Father and he would send the Holy Spirit to be in us (John 16). In his rising and his ascension to heaven, he has kept that promise.

Easter means we can know a new kind of spiritual life. We can be enlightened and awakened. We can be free from darkness. So we celebrate because Christ’s resurrection means our spiritual resurrection. But the fact that Christ is risen does not simply when for us some spiritual condition. Our physical reality is changed by the resurrection, too.

3. Because Christ is risen… We will rise physically.

In every story with a jailbreak, there is one thing everyone is trying to get, one thing everyone is straining and reaching out for, one thing everyone is trying to slide off the hook, one thing everyone is trying to wrench from the guard’s belt: the keys. He who holds the keys has the power of freedom and life.

In the Book of the Revelation of the Apostle John, the risen Jesus appears to John, and he tells him the most amazing thing. Jesus says, “[17]…Fear not, I am the first and the last, [18] and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades” (Revelation 1:17-18). Jesus alludes to his death and resurrection. He says I was dead, but now I am alive…forevermore! And then there is a pause, and he holds up a set of keys, and he declares he now has the keys to death and the place of the dead.

I love this. This is our hope. Take this image with you!

Picture that hospital room, the family gathered around the bedside. The doctor shakes his head and says they have tried everything. It is only a matter of time now. Jesus walks in that room and holds up a set of keys. Death will not have the last word. Picture that family huddled around a small grave, praying over a lost little one. Jesus interrupts the prayer with the sound of clanging keys emerging from a pocket. The story will not end at this graveside. Picture that nursing home room, loved ones now weakened and waiting. There is a knock on the door. Jesus steps in the room, holding the keys to death. Let’s get out of here he says! Picture yourself ten years from now. You ache and creak a bit more. You stand in front of the mirror and count the wrinkles. You sigh. There is so much you can’t do anymore. Your body can’t keep up. There was so much you wanted to do, so many places you wanted to go, so many things you wanted to see, so many things you wanted to learn, but you are running out of time. But then you spy in the mirror Jesus stepping out of the shadows behind you with a grin, as he spins a set of keys around his finger. This isn’t the end. The person you see in the mirror is not who you will finally be. You will run again and not get tired. Your strength will be renewed. The risen King has returned with the keys to death in his hand, and he has come to set you free from its chains.

How can this be? Well we already know the answer. The wages of sin is death. But Jesus has paid that penalty with the sacrifice of his perfect life, so death is undone. And now we are offered eternal life in Christ as a free gift (Romans 6:23). You can have the keys.

The Apostle Paul goes into great detail about the physical nature of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15. Let me read for you one particularly poignant part. In verses 20 and following, Paul writes, “[20] But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. [21] For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. [22] For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. [23] But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:20-23). There is a lot of good stuff in these verses, but let me draw your attention to one word: firstfruits. The resurrection of Jesus is the firstfruits of those who have died. This term tells us three things. First, it indicates that his fate is the same as ours. His resurrection is not a different fruit. It is just the first fruit of the same fruit. So, we see in Christ our future state. Second, firstfruit tells us something of the order and timing. We still die because the full harvest has not come in. But, and this is the third thing the term tells us, firstfruits tells us the harvest has already begun! So, we see in the physical resurrection of Jesus what the harvest is and will be.

So the promise of Easter, the joy of our risen Lord, is not just that we are forgiven. Yes, yes, that, but so much more! Easter is the day we remember the dead in Christ will rise! No more sorrow, no more shame! We will rise! The millions dead on a thousand hillsides will rise. And we will live, and we will have our bodies restored and we will dwell on earth as we were meant to forever with God.

Did you just say “on earth”? I thought we went to heaven when we die. Well, yes we do go to heaven when we die, but this is not the final state. We are told in the Book of Revelation that God will make a new heavens and a new earth, and we will live with him on earth. And this brings us to our next reason why “Christ is risen” is the most amazing news in all of history.

4. Because Christ is risen… Matter matters.

I can’t spend a lot of time here, but the resurrection says something very unique about matter, that is, the physical world around us.

Now, typically, there are two extremes when it comes to how we view matter. On the one side of the spectrum is an atheistic, materialistic view that says there is only matter. Ironically, this demeans matter because there is no higher meaning to matter. Categories like truth and beauty are nonsensical in a purely material world. But this perspective doesn’t quite seem to make sense of the world we experience. It seems like there is more to this world than just atoms. There are such immaterial things as majesty and beauty. So then we turn to religion and philosophy.

Many religions and philosophies recognize this higher order (beauty and truth). However, it leads them to disdain the physical. Plato believed behind every marred physical object of this world was an ideal, or in other words, an idea version of that thing which is pure. And many religions seek to put off the body and look forward to the day when we will be free from it completely. But that end of the spectrum doesn’t quite sit right either because we sure feel like physical beings, and earth kind of feels like home. There is something in you that knows you were meant wonder at the stars and lay in the grass and soak up the sun.

Enter the resurrection of Jesus. The resurrection of Jesus says something remarkable. It says our physical existence matters. Matter matters. By having a physical body restored to Jesus, God reaffirmed that creation was good, while also confirming that right now it is broken. So in the resurrection, we have forgiveness, justification, and spiritual life AND we have physical healing and remaking.

And indeed we read of this connection between the resurrection of Jesus and the restoration of all of the physical universe in the scriptures. The Apostle Paul writes in the Book of Romans, “[18] For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. [19] For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. [20] For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope [21] that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. [22] For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. [23] And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:18-23). So the death hold on creation is also broken. And when we are physically redeemed so shall this world be redeemed and remade.

There is nothing better than laying in a hammock on a sunny spring day in East Tennessee. The next time you find yourself in such a spot I want you to remember that Christ is risen and that means God has not given up on earth. There will be a new earth for us to enjoy with God, as we were created to do. Gaze at that blue sky through green leaves and remember because Christ is risen, you can be sure God is remaking this (your heart), and he is remaking this (the earth).

At this point, all the benefits I have mentioned are glimpsed now but realized fully in the future. So we might ask if the resurrection has any more to say about this life NOW. And the answer is yes!

5. Because Christ is risen… Our current lives matter.

I mentioned earlier that the Apostle Paul goes into great detail about the resurrection of the dead in his first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 15. Well now, listen to how he concludes that discussion. Starting in verse 54:

“[54] When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” [55] “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” [56] The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. [57] But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. [58] Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:54-58)

Your labor and work and suffering are not in vain! If there was no resurrection, if there was no life after death, what would be the point of all this? Whether you were a good person or an immoral person, what would it matter? Whether you followed Jesus or not, what would it matter? What does it matter if you have learned something? Your knowledge will rot with you. What does it matter if you have grown as a person? Your righteousness will rot with you. What does it matter if you have suffered and come to look more like Jesus. The memory of you will dissolve with your flesh. I mean, what is the point of any striving, any hoping, any anything apart from the hope that one day we will live again with Christ, enjoying the fruit of his labor and ours? The hope that one day we will live again with Christ is what makes everything worthwhile. It changes everything. And apart from that hope, you have no hope.

But we can have hope. Easter says we can dare to hope! Easter proves we have hope. The resurrection of Christ is our anchor. It is our rock. You can build your life on the resurrection of Jesus.

Children, you have hope that though your family goes through hard times, God will one day set all things right. You have hope that you are more than your current limitations. You have hope that you are more than your illnesses. Friends, you have hope knowing that God has already made a way to protect and provide for you family. You have hope knowing that God has already made a way to care for your dear loved ones. We have hope. So, though it be only a first fruit, we will keep nibbling on it until the full harvest.

We have the hope of total victory over sin, spiritual death, physical death, a broken world, and current suffering.

Conclusion

I told you at the beginning of the message that this is not the kind of news that you shrug at and flip the page. This is news that demands a decision. Why? Because the man Jesus, in coming back from the grave, just showed himself to be the Son of God and the King of Kings. He holds the keys of death and Hades. So, there is no room to shrug him off.

When the people heard this news in the first century, they often responded with this urgent question: “What must I do to be saved?” In other words, how do I get on the right side of history on this one? How do I line up with that guy, the resurrected King? The answer was always the same: Repent and believe in Jesus. How do you do that? You can do that right now in prayer.

Pray with me now to the resurrected King, that he might save you.