Synod 2013 Address

Address to Synod 2013 by Rev. John Terpstra, president of the Board of Trustees (abridged, with attribution to John Ortberg for Third Day imagery).

The apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian church, defending (in ch. 15) the resurrection of Jesus to those who doubted it. He writes that Jesus was raised on the third day, according to the Scriptures.

What Scriptures? The gospels? They had not yet been written. The Scriptures Paul is referring to are the Scriptures we know now as the Old Testament writings.  Paul is saying that Jesus was raised on the third day, according to the writings of the Old Testament. But there is no place in the OT where it says that the Messiah, the Christ, will be raised from the dead on the third day.

What we do find in the Old Testament are numerous references to the phrase “the third day.” Paul proclaims to us that that Jesus rising on the third day is a redemptive event fulfilling all of the three-day stories in the Scriptures written centuries before Jesus was born.

On a number of occasions in the Old Testament, God’s people are in a tough spot, facing a difficult challenge. The challenge is then followed by a time when all hope seems lost. The way forward can’t be seen.

Keep hoping and keep believing they are told. And in so many of these stories, Day One Disaster, followed by Day Two Despair, is resolved in Day Three Deliverance.

When Abraham took his son Isaac to Moriah, to sacrifice him as an offering to God, it was on the Third Day, as his hand was raised, that the angel of the Lord stopped him and provided a ram caught in the thicket, for the sacrifice.

When the Israelites arrive at Sinai, God says: Consecrate the people and make them ready by the Third Day, because on that day, the Lord will come down.

When Israel was afraid to go into the Promised Land, God said to them: Don't be afraid. Don't be discouraged. Three Daysfrom now, you will cross the Jordan to possess the land the Lord has given you (from Joshua 1:9-11).  

On his deathbed, King Hezekiah prays to God for an extension of his life. God sends word to Hezekiah. I have heard your prayer and seen your tears. On the Third Dayfrom now you will worship me in the temple.

When Israel was threatened with genocide, Esther, the Jew become Queen, is challenged by Mordecai to go to the King to seek the redemption of her people. On the Third Day, after fasting, Esther appears before the king, and the people of God are spared.

When Jonah was swallowed and was in the belly of the big fish, he is deposited on dry ground on the Third Day to fulfill his mission of calling the nation of Nineveh to put their hope in the God of Israel.

The prophet Hosea writes to the people of God saying, “After two days he will revive us, and on the Third Dayhe will restore us, that we may live in his presence” (Hosea 6:2)

The phrase “on the Third Day”was used so frequently in this way that it became kind of technical expression meaning a day of deliverance has come after a day of disaster and despair.

Right now, things are messed up; right now, hope is being crushed; right now, hearts are disappointed; but the third day is coming.

Jesus, at age 12, stayed behind in Jerusalem to the ire of his parents. After a day traveling back and a day of searching, Luke tells us that on the Third Daythey found him in the temple courts with the local seminary professors.

Jesus was crucified on Day One. A Day of Disaster, so it appeared to all who followed him. Hope was crushed. They had seen the glory for a while, and now it was gone. Now it was lying in a tomb.

The second day didn’t look any better. On the second day, Pontius Pilate posted a guard to stand watch over the tomb, saying, “Well, I guess that's the end of that.” The second day was a dark day.

But the story of Jesus is a “Three-Daystory.”

The Third Dayis God’s Deliverance Day.

The Third Dayis the day that lambs are provided so sons can go free.

The Third Dayis the day when prisoners of Pharaoh escape to enter a Promised Land.

 The Third Dayis the day when people come to a shaking mountain to receive words of hope that will guide them in God’s Word and way.

The Third Dayis the day when harem girls like Esther face down powerful kings to save their people from harm.

The Third Dayis the day that prophets are dropped off at seaside ports by giant fish.

The Third Dayis the day faithful kings have their lives extended to serve the Lord for another season of godly leadership.

The Third Dayis the day stones are rolled away.

The Third Dayis the day a crucified carpenter came back to life.

Our God is a God of Third-Dayhope.

Two years ago we experienced something akin to a Day One experience. A leader released from service. Followed by another, and then another. Tension and anxiety followed. “What’s going on?” many wondered.

What to do about the Network? What to do with the Leadership Exchange? What about the work of the Foundation? Who will lead the denomination? After one year of service Joel tried to comfort last year’s delegates by telling them that the ground is shaking beneath us. Comforting words to be sure!

These Day One experiences were followed for many by Day Two Despair. What is the role of deacons within the church? What is the place of children at the Lord’s Table? What will a name change do to the future of CRWRC?

And why did we go outside the CRC to find a new president for the college, and what on earth were we thinking to put a lawyer in charge of the seminary?

Why are so many congregations needing intervention and what can be done about that? Will Faith Alive remain an agency or is a realignment of resources and responsibilities necessary?

How can we realign Specialized Ministries so that they become distinct parts of a functional whole?

Will we gain better clarity about the role and function of Home Missions in a changing culture?

Will we ever find an expression of bi-nationality that results in a passionate appreciation by all?

But as I read the Agenda for Synod 2013 I felt the cloud of Day Two Despair begin to lift, and the hope of Third Dayrealities beginning to dawn.

In each and every situation just mentioned I sense the powerful movement of the God of Third Dayhope. Of course he has been with us all along. When there were only one set of footprints in the sand, we know and believe, we were being carried. We know the One in whom our only comfort lies.

Many churches are witnessing covenant families at the table of the Lord, together receiving the means of grace.

Early intervention strategies for churches and pastors are being addressed, and concrete plans have been brought forth.

A diversity director, if approved, will be there to remind and equip us to be in reality what we say we desire.

An ED search team will continue to serve us, building on what they have learned so far, and under the Spirit’s guidance continue to work until they discover the person God has called and equipped to serve us as executive director.

A renewed commitment to the mercy and justice ministry of the church may result in deacons affirmed in their leadership alongside the elders calling and guiding the church in word and deed ministries as we walking humbly before God.

Realignments within agencies and specialized ministries are in process that we believe will breathe new life into important, but too often disconnected, initiatives.

The task force is plowing some new ground, and is not afraid to name bi-nationality as an issue needing significant collaborative thought.

And it just so happens that the Presbyterian dude is exactly the right person to guide our college through the challenging times ahead.

And the lawyer it turns out has an amazing head on his shoulder as well and is doing transformational work at our seminary.

I sense God is moving in and through the Christian Reformed Church calling us to put our hope in him, the God of the Third Day. God is inviting us right now to face with new confidence the second-day challenges that have come before us in recent years.

Day Two has been a time for us again to come to grips with the fact that we are not our own but belong to our faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.

As we gather together here at Synod 2013, I believe God is inviting us to anticipate new life, new opportunities and new challenges with Third Dayhope. 

On the first day Christ died for our sins. On Day Two we waited in fear and trembling, and on the Third Dayhe arose from the grave, a victory from the dark domain and he lives forever with his saints to reign!

Third Daypeopleface each new day with Third Dayhope. May the synod of the CRC and the churches throughout Canada and the U.S. be filled with third-day hope as we live and worship and serve together as a family of God known as the Christian Reformed Church.