But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body.
2 Corinthians 4:7-11
I’m a pastor. But that doesn’t mean I don’t love a great prank.
In a lot of ways, April 1 is the red-letter day for this kind of mischief.
There have been some fantastic April Fool’s Day hijinks through the years. In 1996, Taco Bell tricked millions of Americans into believing that they had purchased and renamed the great American artifiact as the “Taco Bell Liberty Bell”. On April Fool’s Day 2015, Cottonelle launched a single-day advertising campaign for left-handed toilet paper. That same year, the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum went to a lot of work to exhibit Wonder Woman’s invisible airplane.
But my all-time favorite April Fool’s Joke played out back in 1962, when the Swedish national television network presented a technical expert to inform the public that its black-and-white broadcasts could be made color simply by viewing the TV through nylon stockings. On that fateful day, men, women, boys, and girls all spent the day watching cartoons through mom’s panty hose:
Practical jokes work best when they surprise others with humor and joy. This is really what comedy is all about.
A year or so ago, my wife and I took in a presentation by Christian comedian Michael Jr. Midway through his set Michael offered an orientation to comedy as a metaphor for God’s work: “Here’s how comedy works,” he said. “First, there’s a setup to ensure that the audience is all moving in the same direction. Then comes the punchline where the actor changes the direction in a way that is unexpected. When you catch on to this change, the result is revelation, fulfillment, and joy.”
This is how Easter works, too.
Things look like they are moving in one direction, then God reverses the course of history. He flips the script, transforms lives, and something new and different plays out.
This about this from Satan’s perspective. On Thursday night, the Enemy had to have been thinking – “I’ve got Jesus now, I’ve got him, I’ve got him.”
On Friday afternoon – “I’ve got him, I’ve got him, I’ve got him.”
On Saturday night – “I’ve got him, I’ve got him, I’ve got him.”
Then came Sunday morning.
“I don’t got him.”
The setup gets counterpunched hard. And when you realize it, the experience is one of revelation, fulfillment, and joy.
So then, to what does Easter ultimately flip the script? How does it change us?
Three transformations immediately come to mind:
Easter changes the way Christians view people.
If Jesus has been raised from the dead – and all of us will someday be raised too – then there are major implications for our relationships.
If you think about it, most of our relationship problems arise from one or the other of two basic problems. Either we have an inferiority complex or we have a superiority complex. Sometimes it’s both, but it’s almost always one or the other.
Sometimes we get frustrated with other people because they can’t keep up. We get tired of trying to deal with a whole bunch of people who can’t get their acts straight. At other times, we sense the opposite; we compare ourselves against others and we feel like we can’t ever match up. This experience of inferiority spawns a different set of problems.
But in 2 Corinthians 4, Paul presents a really interesting metaphor that helps us deal with both of those issues. He says this in verse 7: But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.
Clay jars like those Paul references were common throughout the Mediterranean world. They were made from mud and broke easily. When they did, they were so inexpensive that nobody bothered to repair them. They just went out and made new ones. That’s why archaeologists find scrapped shards of clay pots all over the place.
Now, if that’s historically inaccessible for you, try this: In most of the world, this is called a “Cool Whip container”. But where I come from in Northwest Iowa, this has another name. This is called “Dutch Tupperware.” This is what you use to store your leftover fruit salad or gravy.
Containers like this are widely available, inexpensive, and disposable. If the thing breaks or if you lose the lid, that’s okay. You needed more Cool Whip anyway.
But for just a moment, imagine that you just inherited a big stash of priceless gold coins. Not very many of us would store them in a Cool Whip container, would we? The plastic is too insecure, too cheap.
But Paul says that that’s what God has done with people. He has invested his Son’s love in crackpots like you and me.
If you battle the superiority complex, if you think you’re pretty hot stuff, remember that you are made of clay. You crack and break. You’re brittle. If, on other hand, you believe that you are unimportant and worthless, remember that resurrection power, a gospel worth more than gold, lives in you. You are diamonds in Dutch Tupperware.
Easter changes the way Christians view resources.
If in the end we will be raised with Jesus to eternal life, then what we have here and now can’t held tightly. It’s passing away. We view our time and our money fundamentally as means of blessing other people. We want to be generous and caring. We want to use what resources we have to help other people know about Jesus and to feed them, clothe them, and provide them with the dignity of work.
Earlier this year, I was in Minneapolis. If you know anything about Minnesota, you know that most times of the year, it’s cold.
But despite what the calendar read, I saw people walking around Minneapolis in shorts and t-shirts.
Why? It’s because of where they were going. The folks I saw dressed in the summer casuals were lined up at an airport gate, ready to board a flight to Miami.
Where they were going, coats weren’t needed. Fleece jackets and woolen socks had to be cast aside. They were going someplace different.
If Easter is true, then someday we will live eternally with Jesus. And when that happens, what we have currently collected won’t make any difference.
What will happen then informs what we’re doing now. So we understand that our wealth is passing away. At it’s best, it is useful for resourcing the Easter message. Money is a tool for sharing the good news with others.
Easter changes the way Christians view adversity.
Paul says in verse 8 and following: We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.
I love these lines. Paul weaves our daily challenges into the epic story of Jesus’ death and life. Again, a setup followed by a plot twist:
We are pressed, and it looks like we’ll be crushed. But we won’t be.
We are persecuted and it looks like everyone’s against us. But that’s not it.
We are struck hard. But we get back up again.
We are down. But we’re never out.
Many people, when they experience persecution or antagonism, think “I must be doing something wrong” or “This world is cruel and everybody hates me.” Not Christians. We see what happened at Easter and we know that the whole story hasn’t been written yet. This provides us have confidence to press through.
Ultimately, Christians see our trials as staging grounds, as theatre, for God’s mighty acts. We understand our sufferings as opportunities to shine fresh light on God’s miracle-works.
It happened with Jesus and it can happen with us.
John Ortberg, who is a pastor in the Bay Area of California, writes this: I once was part of a survey on spiritual formation. Thousands of people were asked when they grew most spiritually, and what contributed to their growth. The response was humbling—at least for someone who works at a church. The number one contributor to spiritual growth was not transformational teaching. It was not being in a small group. It was not reading deep books. It was not energetic worship experiences. It was not finding meaningful ways to serve. It was suffering. People said they grew more during seasons of loss, pain, and crisis than they did at any other time.
Both for now and forever, the pain we are going through is making us better, stronger, more like Jesus. Paul continues in verse 17: For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
These – among myriad other ways – mark the way that Easter has flipped the script. This is how the punchline – Surprise! Jesus is back! – informs Christian hope.
No matter how dark the night. No matter how gloomy the Friday or desperate the Saturday, there is a Sunday morning. We’re down, but we’re never out.