When I was growing up there was a saying, I don’t hear much anymore. You are what you eat. What a ridiculous saying. That’s why we don’t hear it much anymore - it’s like our entire generation woke up and said, Nah, that’s not true. “If i eat this chocolate bunny …” yeah, no. It doesn’t make sense - I think it said to try to make us eat more healthy food, but who wants to how up and me a head of lettuce?
Maybe we’ve lost something when we threw out that idiom however. Maybe there was wisdom in the saying, it's just that I heard it wrong all those years. Maybe the idiom was never supposed to be taken literally at all (yeah, of course, you don’t really turn into a chocolate bunny.” What I mean is, maybe the idiom wasn’t about food at all. It wasn’t about what we consume with our mouths, but with our minds. If it’s not about food, but about our thoughts, then the saying has a bit more staying power. You are what you think about. You are what you let into your thoughts. You are the media and philosophies you consume.
This seems to be the Apostle Paul’s concern in this verse that I want to centre our thoughts on this morning, that our thoughts shape us, we are what we eat:
Phil. 4:8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
Last week, we finished a series in the book of Ecclesiastes, and at the end of that book, we saw a description of God’s communication to us through the Biblical writers as thoughtful, careful, delightful and true. That’s a great framework for all of our communication. And it is my prayer this morning as we reflect on the resurrection of Jesus Christ. For there is nothing more excellent or worthy of praise than the resurrection, and for that reason, it is good and proper for us to “think about these things”. But my prayer here this morning is not only to communicate information, but that the Holy Spirit might grant us illumination, that will turn our hearts to celebration.
whatever is true: the resurrection is true
We are not interested on Easter in filling our minds with fables and fairy tales. Magical bunnies who hide eggs are fun for the children, but beware lest we come to categorize the victory of Christ along with the fiction of myth. The declaration of Easter is not “once upon a time” but that Jesus really walked upon this earth. As the apostle Peter insisted, “We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.” Jesus really was sentenced to an excruciating death upon the cross. Jesus really was placed into a newly hewn grave outside of Jerusalem, and the stone that was placed over the tomb is still sitting where it rolled away that morning. And yes, Jesus truly raised from the dead - that is he physically walked out of the tomb, not as a ghost or as some sort of spiritual hope inspiring the hearts of his followers, but physically, bodily, give-me-a-bite-of-that-fish-and-I’ll-prove-that-I’m-alive, rose from the dead.
The message of the early church was not primarily based on making a spiritual argument, the message of the early church was not primarily based on making a scriptural argument (although they demonstrated from the scriptures that the Christ must rise), the message of the early church was not primarily based on making a logical argument, the message of the early church was primarily based on making a direct proclamation: He said he was the way to God and that he would prove it by rising from the dead. They killed him, buried him, finished him, and we ran away thinking it was over. Yet he came to us, met with us, ate with us, showing us his scars and teaching his ways. And before we saw him ascend to heaven, he commissioned us to take his message to the world. Therefore, your threats mean nothing to us - for we cannot deny what we’ve seen and heard. This was Peter’s - a friend and follower of Jesus - argument before the authorities in Acts 4:19-20: Acts 4:19 But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, 20 for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”
The apostle’s were not pre-scientific dupes. They knew that people do not simply rise the dead. Here's what John, one of the eye-witnesses wrote about a response to the resurrection:
John 20:24 Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” John 20:26 Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
This could be my whole message this morning. Last year (you can find online) it was. But believing in Christ is not only intellectual. It is an embracing of Christ with the heart, soul, conviction. To see not only the truth of Christ, but he beauty and goodness of the Lord.
whatever is honourable: the resurrection is honourable
The resurrection is not only true, but it is also honourable. The word suggests that which is “serious, sublime, dignified, majestic, or august … the lofty and majestic things.” The honour of the resurrection is highlighted in contrast to the dishonour, the indignity of the cross. The cross was an especially undignified manner of execution, reserved for the worst of criminals, the body of the traitor exposed naked to the elements and to the onlookers as every bit of strength and dignity drained from the victim. Onlookers mocked and scorned him, and his friends disowned him and disappeared. Crucifixion was regarded with special indignity by the Jews as they held a saying that especially cursed was one who died hanging on a tree.
Yet it was precisely the dishonour of the cross that makes the resurrection all the more honourable. Earlier in the book of Philippians the indignity of the cross is held up as the supreme example of Jesus’ glorious self-emptying love, and the reasons as to why is to be accorded such honour:
5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Do you see that therefore? He humbled himself to the humility of the cross and therefore God has highly exalted him. Now you might stop and say, hold on, many people have died undignified deaths, why are they not raised in such honour? Good point. The dishonour of Jesus’ death on the cross was not merely a function of how he died, but who died. Jesus Christ, as this passage says, who existed as God in the form of God who determined to empty himself of his divine position to walk among us as a servant. The indignity of the cross is magnified by the infinite dignity of its divine victim, and in subjecting himself to such an inglorious death, the glorious love of God was set in full display. What is “sown in dishonour is raised in glory.”
whatever is just: the resurrection is just
The resurrection is just - the word speaks of justice “in the broadest possible sense, not simply in relations to humans but in accordance with the divine standard, and thus fulfilling all obligations to God, others and themselves.” The resurrection is just because having fulfilled all obligation to God regarding sin, death no longer held sway over Him.
Rom. 6:9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God
To speak very clearly, the greatest tension in the teaching of the Bible is this: how can we as human beings stand in the presence of God. We all recognize that human beings are flawed, selfish, imperfect creatures. We know in the depths of our heart with only a moments reflection that we daily violate the standards and image that we set for ourselves, much less comparing ourselves to the standards of scripture. Now the way that many of us would deal with the problem is to remake God in our image: that God is not so great and holy and just and loving as the Bible make him out to be, but he’s kind of like a far-off pen-pal that sends us encouraging notes from time to time, and we don’t really make a big deal of sin, yeah we all make mistakes, but no ones perfect and God knows that, and after all its kind of his fault since he made us this way, so as long as we try to love and be nice to people, we don’t need to worry about all that sin and hell talk.
This is most definitely a god of our own imagination. It is not God as God has revealed himself in scripture and in history. God is indeed holy, he is indeed just and he is indeed loving. On account of his perfect holiness, he cannot be in the presence of sin. On account of his perfect justice, he must judge evil. This is bad news for us. The eye of God’s holiness sees our sin, and the arrow of God’s justice is drawn toward our sin. The judicial wrath of God is fully and fixedly set upon sinners, each one of us stand condemned to die for our sins, and the eternal sentence of hell awaits each of us. The Bible is clear in declaring our condemnation; the wages of sin is death. Death is a fearful fate to the condemned, for if there be not a means of reconciliation to God, we will be cast away from his presence eternally in hell.
Enter Jesus, driven by love, Jesus, the Son of God, the son of man, takes his stand with us. In identifying with sinners, he sets the target of the arrow of God’s justice upon himself. Jesus dies, for our sins, in our place. He drank the cup of the wrath of God, and perfectly satisfied all of the justice of God, that we might be accepted into God’s presence. And having died to sin, once for all, death no longer held any dominion over Jesus. Death could not hold him down, and defeating death, he raised to life. He ascended into heaven and now sits at God’s right hand, testifying before the heavenly court that all who find life in him are justly declared righteous.
whatever is pure: the resurrection is pure
The apostles declared the bodily resurrection of Jesus. As in, the self-same body of Jesus that was placed in the tomb and had already begun to decay, was the same body that was raised to life, however, in a form now immortal, imperishable, and indestructible. There is one other quality of this glorified body, however, and it is a quality that speaks to use now, that is, it’s purity:
1John 3:1 See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. 3 And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.
To all who have received the life of Christ, to whom Jesus’ death has been imputed, we receive a new identity and a new inclination. Our identity is that, while we were once children of the world, we are adopted into God’s family as his children. The world now a stranger to us, just as it did not accept him. We are God’s children, by identity, and as such, but the Holy Spirit we are given a new inclination. Whereas we once walked in the ways of the world, inclined toward the sins that would defile us, we who possess this hope of the resurrection, purify ourselves in that hope, just as he is pure. Do we experience fully this purity now? No, of course not, as we will walk in the stains of this world, but we see him and we seek him and we strive after him.
whatever is lovely
The word suggests: “that which calls forth love, love-inspiring … give pleasure to all and cause distaste to none, like a welcome fragrance.” There is a detail about the resurrected body of Jesus Christ, in that passage i referred to earlier; that when Jesus confronted Thomas the doubter, he demonstrated that he was indeed the self-same Jesus who was crucified by showing him his ands and his sides, in other words, the scars of the crucifixion remained on the perfected body of Christ. This is strange, that the scars of Jesus’ dishonourable death remain in his glorified personal presentation. And though this has been a matter of debate through church history, it seems as though the scars still remained after he ascended into heaven, for when John describes a vision of Jesus in heaven in the book of revelation, he describes seeing Jesus as a lamb standing as though slain, suggesting that the scars remain in heaven.
Early church father, Gregory of Nazianzus, in his Second Oration on Easter, remarks that the angels had to be convinced that the one bearing a body and “the marks of his passion” is the same one who had gone down from heaven to the earth. The angels ask the question of Psalm 24: “Who is the king of glory?” Yet the answer given to the angels is not that the scars of the passion should discredit the saviour, but speak for Him. Gregory writes:
“Set forth the beauty of the array of that body that suffered, adorned by the passion, and made splendid by the godhead, than which nothing can be more lovely or more beautiful.”
We sing the beauty of his scars to this day:
Crown Him the Lord of Love:
Behold His hands and side;
Rich wounds yet visible above
In beauty glorified:
No angel in the sky
Can fully bear that sight,
But downward bends his burning eye
At mysteries so bright.
His scars are beautiful, they are lovely because they speak to his love and our salvation. Nothing is more beautiful.
whatever is commendable
The word speaks to that “what is likely to win people”. And here is my appeal to you this Easter morning. I commend the resurrection of Christ to you this morning. Open your heart. Turn from you sins. Flee from hell to find salvation at his side. As Paul testified of the resurrection of Christ before the great King Agrippa, King Agrippa cried out, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” And what was Paul’s response? Paul said, “Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am.” Though we are hear together today only for a moment, this could be a monumental moment indeed - this moment could be the difference between a life in eternity with God raised to glory with Jesus, or a wretched eternity in hell. Brothers and sister, Jesus raised to life, declaring that God is for us, that the justice of God has been satisfied, and with a proclamation that forgiveness and salvation are now available to all who call on the name of the Lord and set their hope upon him. I commend the truth of the resurrection to you. I commend the honour of the resurrection to you. I commend the justice of the resurrection to you. I commend the purity of the resurrection to you. I commend the loveliness of the resurrection to you.
if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
Time fails me this morning to speak of the excellence and the praiseworthiness of the resurrection. But perhaps it is my time to be silent and let you reflect, let you celebrate, let you sing. Jesus is indeed worthy of all honour and glory and praise.
Rev. 5:9 And they sang a new song, saying,
“Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth.”
“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honor and glory and blessing!”
“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”