I haven’t seen the movie Risen. I really want to, but things just keep getting in the way. The thing my friends who have seen it keep telling me struck them about the film is the realization of how changed, how emboldened, how transformed Jesus’ disciples were once they saw Him raised from the dead. We know they went from frightened little mice, huddled in an upper room, fleeing from the Romans and the Pharisees to boldly standing on street corners and in synagogues, traveling all over the known world and eventually enduring prison and death, in order to proclaim this one great phenomenon they had all witnessed: this man they had known and loved, and watched die, risen before them, clearly recognizable yet so much more. It completely changed them.
Does it change me? Really? God has been bringing me back again and again lately to the first chapter of Nehemiah. Many of you know the story. Nehemiah is a Jew, a cupbearer to King Artaxerxes of the Persians, over 800 miles from the Jerusalem from which he has been exiled for generations. He has never been to Jerusalem, probably doesn’t even know anyone still living there. And yet, when he hears a report from his brother that the walls of Jerusalem are destroyed and marauders plunder the city at will, Nehemiah is crushed. He weeps for days. The thought of these people he really doesn’t even know, these people of God’s promise, living at the mercy of those around them, a shell of their former selves, provokes him to mourning and grieving and fasting, and asking God what he should do about it. And, God speaks. And, God moves the heart of the greatest king of the age to give Nehemiah all that he asks. And, Nehemiah plays a major role in restoring Jerusalem’s integrity, and restoring Israel to her God.
I was listening to a sermon by Matt Chandler about this story, and he was asking, “Is this reaction by Nehemiah descriptive, or prescriptive?” In other words, is it simply telling how Nehemiah responded, or is it a lesson to us all of how the things of this earth ought to move us? I think it’s the latter. But, the reality for me is that nothing makes me weep for days. I don’t mourn like that for anything, outside of personal tragedies in my life. I think the Syrian refugee crisis is horrible, but it doesn’t cut me to the core. Babies are dying every day, and I pray and I give, but do I literally weep and mourn over it? Does my heart truly soar when I find that someone has come to know the Lord, or can I just say I’m fairly pleased? That, in itself, is a tragedy. Because I have seen the risen Jesus. And, I am supposed to be just as transformed as those disciples.
This is not where we “cue the guilt trip.” I really believe that the answer to this tepid response to others isn’t that I just really need work up compassion, to work harder to feel for others, or feel guilty about not feeling happier or sad. The stark reality is that only the Holy Spirit can change my heart. He’s the one who took a man who was living in deep rebellion to God, a man who was His enemy, and turned Him into one who truly loves Him and wants to do the right thing, not to get more clicks on my spiritual punch card, but because I am just so grateful that He rescued me. If He can quicken my heart toward Him, He can easily quicken it toward those around me. I can’t gin up those feelings; I have to pray that God will align my heart with His, so that I’ll be sad about what makes Him sad, be joyful about what brings Him joy, be angry about what makes Him mad, and have my priorities shaped by His.
Nehemiah left the glory of Susa to face trials and tribulations in Jerusalem because His heart had been moved. The disciples’ lives were changed because their hearts were changed. They weren’t acting at spiritual gunpoint, against their wills. They were doing exactly what they wanted to do, what they were passionate to do. As we once again gaze upon our risen Lord, I am asking Him to transform me, so that I will think His thoughts, and feel His feelings. That old, rebellious guy died on the Cross with Him. I want to live like the resurrected man that I am now, and will one day completely be. He is risen indeed.