The centre of Christianity is Jesus: his life, death, resurrection and present rule. But this is not the only thing Christians speak about – far from it.
It’s probably true that Christians spend more time speaking about ethics than anything else. (I’m using ‘ethics’ broadly to cover any thoughts about how to live.) This is true in the public arena, as well as privately over coffee after church. Public examples range from well-known Christians (denominational leaders, say) to specific lobby groups like the Australian Christian Lobby (http://www.acl.org.au/).
In this post, I am not going to critique how well Christians do at public ethics-talk. I have a different aim: to claim that all our ethical talk must include the empty tomb of Jesus, otherwise it’s not Christian at all.
The empty tomb of Jesus is the powerful demonstration the Jesus really is the Son of God (Romans 1:4). Despite the shameful cursedness of Jesus’ cross – even through this curse – Jesus greatness remains: Jesus is Lord. The empty tomb changes everything, including the shape of life.
Empty tomb ethics
I think there are (at least) two factors that link ethics and the empty tomb.
- To crush evil, God had to defeat death itself
God had to do this personally, in the person of Jesus the Son. No one else was capable of facing sin’s deadly sting with purity sufficient to remove the poison of that sting.
- In defeating death itself, God overwhelmingly crushed evil
What’s the worst that could have happened to Jesus? The worst was to be handed over to evil men and condemned to an unjust death. That worst thing happened, yet God prevailed.
The first of these points makes it crystal clear: evil and sin are a big deal. The evil act of any person is death. No evil is ever trivial or can be shrugged off as of no account. If God went to that extent to crush evil, we have no permission to be blasé about our wrongs (or anyone else’s).
In other words, Christians must speak about ethics, including placing a spotlight on wrong. If we go soft, we do a disservice to the empty tomb and the astounding completed work of Jesus.
The second of these points is the wonderful glimmer of hope defeating the blackness of sin. God won the victory, therefore sin will not have the victory. More than that, since God won the victory, sin cannot triumph.
In consequence, all Christian talk of ethics must also include hope. Sin-talk that functions as a blunt-instrument attack is not consistent with the empty tomb. Sin-talk is serious, but always looks to the transformation God promises to those who have been raised with Christ.
To take one sin for an example, consider the greed for ‘stuff’ so prevalent in affluent Australia.
The empty tomb shows how useless is possession of the latest gadget, or fastest car, or shiniest house. The pursuit of these is a pathetic effort at self-definition. It spurns Jesus’ victory over sin by pushing it aside. ‘I’d much rather get a flat-screen TV than have union Christ who rose as the Son of God.’ We should name greed for the sin it is.
Yet there is hope. Once convicted of this failing, the greedy one can be sure: if s/he stops the pursuit of stuff, life will not end. There will be no loss of identity, but possession of true identity in Jesus! Change and transformation and resurrection life are real today. The sinner, therefore, is not left downcast but is lifted up to where Christ is seated in the heavenly realms. Life changes – and that is empty tomb ethics.