At Thessalonica, Paul and the early Christian evangelists were accused of being men who had ‘turned the world upside down’ (Acts 17:6). Actually, they were trying to turn it right-side up. Having rejected the creation’s clear testimony to the Creator (Rom.1:20), the world had plunged into futile, foolish and ungrateful thinking (Rom.1:21). In their worship and their ethics, they abandoned the natural, and became increasingly hard-hearted and perverse. God gave them up to the lusts of their hearts (Rom.1:24), to dishonourable passions (Rom.1:26), and to a debased mind (Rom.1:28). They could not see themselves rightly, so they assumed the apostles had it all wrong.
Ever since Genesis 3 the world has been upside down. The present age supplies plenty of illustrations that something is hugely awry with our thoughts and deeds. Reality TV is actually false; diversity officers are meant to enforce conformity; news is not reported as often as it is manufactured; John Lennon’s Imagine is regarded as a hymn; rap is mistaken for music; and apologies are offered not for one’s own real sins but often for the sins of others committed even hundreds of years ago. There is leisure but little rest; sensitivity but little empathy; and bravado rather than courage.
Commenting on media highlights is probably not to be recommended, but the recent outrage expressed over Will Smith’s slap of Chris Rock at the Oscars in March is too tempting to pass by. If we are still embarrassed by anything, this was cringeworthy. The Oscars Academy felt the need to denounce violence in all its forms (after first honouring The Godfather), and the comedian Jim Carrey declared that the standing ovation for Smith was ‘sickening’, and that he would have sued for $200m. The latest news is that the Academy has banned Will Smith for ten years. That is supposed to be a punishment, but if I were Smith, I would look forward to an improvement in my mental health.
The whole episode has dominated the news along with the war in Ukraine and the NSW floods, now that St Shane Warne has been ushered through the pearly gates to play cricket for all eternity. Candace Owens pointed out that Will Smith and his wife have an open marriage, and live accordingly, so insulting his wife might have ranked rather lower on his list of concerns. The Oscars have no moral compass, only moral outrage. ‘Meaningless, meaningless,’ said the Preacher (Eccles.1:2). The wrong things are treated with solemn reverence.
With His resurrection from the dead, Christ created a world which is right side up. His first words to His bewildered and fearful disciples were ‘Peace be with you’ (John 20:19). He had overcome the world, and established a kingdom of true peace – without sin, without all its distortions, without death (John 16:33; Rev.21:4). Augustine wrote of two cities – one of this world and the other being the city of God. What is the difference between them? Sometimes they look alike, sometimes there only seems to be one city, and sometimes we measure them with the wrong gauge. Ultimately, wrote Augustine: ‘both cities alike enjoy the good things, or are afflicted with the adversities of this temporal state, but with a different faith, a different expectation, a different love, until they are separated by the final judgement, and each receives her own end, of which there is no end.’
The empty tomb shows us that the fallen world will not win. Life is not just a case of trying to squeeze as many pleasures and as much meaning as we can out of a dry orange, Those who mock the resurrected Lord are weighed down with futile thinking. They are as those who bring out their own flashlights in search of the sun. Christ is the light of the world (John 8:12), and this light is for now in all the struggles and temptations of life, and for all eternity as His people reign in their glorious resurrected bodies. In Adam the world was turned upside down; in Adam we believed that this was right-side up; but in Christ we experience life and righteousness as it was meant to be.
Happy Easter! Christ is risen!
With warm regards in Christ,
Rev. Dr Peter Barnes, Moderator-General of the Presbyterian Church of Australia