Sometimes We Cry

Sometimes We Cry

My first message in about a week and a half, went on family vacation, and I unplugged and recharged.  Actually started this last Friday, I’m finally ready to share it with you…

“Woe is me because of my hurt! My wound is grievous. But I said, “Truly this is an affliction, and I must bear it.””

Jeremiah 10:19 ESV

http://bible.com/59/jer.10.19.esv

Pain in the great equalizer in life.  Pain comes to us all, unwanted and uninvited.  It puts us on an even playing field.   It comes to us all.  It comes to the rich and the poor.  Black and white.  Educated and uneducated.  Powerful and weak.  Religious and irreligious.  In a broken world, pain is inevitable.

Jeremiah’s pain, Woe is me because of my hurt!was the pain of watching his country be invaded and fall to the Babylonians.  Jeremiah was a prophet in the southern kingdom called Judah.  At the time they were being ransacked by the Babylonians.  His pain was the pain of watching his countrymen captured and carried off to Babylon.  The pain of watching his city, the holy city of Jerusalem, being burned and ransacked, with the holy temple of Jewish worship being destroyed by a pagan army.

Jeremiah was able to put to words the pain we have all felt.  We’ve all felt pain, but sometimes in those painful moments we just can’t find the words to express the hurt you feel.  Maybe the wound is more than you can bear.

Jeremiah’s pain was the pain of a nation falling.  Maybe your pain is the physical pain from some disease or malady.  Maybe you feel the emotional pain of someone you have loved who has hurt you.  Maybe it’s the hidden pain of abuse.  Maybe it’s the stinging pain of loss through death.  Maybe you know the shameful pain of personal failure.

For many of us, it’s the pain and regret and sorrow of lifelong struggles with with addictions that cause us to hurt other people.  How many examples have we seen of the saying hurt people hurt people.  We who have been wounded and have been hurt, end up hurting others.  How many deep wounds have we seen and felt that we have tried to self medicate with sex, alcohol, gambling, drugs, but we just can’t.  We end up, out of our hurt and wounded-ness, hurting the people we love.  We tell our stories, we tell of our lies, we tell of stealing from those we love, we abandon them, we break our relationships apart.   Truly this is an affliction, and I must bear it.   

Jeremiah, living in a time when the southern kingdom and Jerusalem itself were being laid bare, had in mind the words of Isaiah.  Jeremiah became the weeping prophet, carrying the wound of the fallen Jerusalem.    But one hundred years before Jeremiah, God had sent to Israel the prophet Isaiah both with a warning and a message of hope.   Isaiah opens the second half his book of prophecy with these words –  “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord ‘s hand double for all her sins.”  Isaiah 40:1-2 ESV.  One hundred years before Jeremiah and his wounds and his hurt, Isaiah prophesied that a day of new creation was coming to Israel.  There would come a day when Israel would flourish, where they would build houses and plant vineyards, and have babies and lots of babies and grand-babies and have big kosher BBQs and the family would all be together.  One hundred years before Jeremiah’s pain there was this great prophecy that there would be a time of flourishing and this time of new creation when God would come and dwell with his people again.

Then there was this promise that Isaiah gave – “The wolf and the lamb shall graze together; the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain,” says the Lord.” Isaiah 65:25 ESV.  The hurt Jeremiah felt compelled to hold onto (ever been there?), he would not have to hold onto any longer.  There was coming a time of new creation where in God’s rule and reign they would not hurt or destroy anymore.  Isaiah prophecies this yet one hundred years later there was the fall of Jerusalem and the people watched as the wolves and lions from Babylon came devouring…

Yet a promise remained from Isaiah.  Even at this point in Israel’s history, God had not forsaken them, he had not given up.  There was coming one called the anointed one, the Christ, the Messiah.  There was one coming who would come to bring God’s kingdom, God’s rule and reign, to the earth.   Remember, when we speak of the kingdom of God, we are not talking about a place but a power.   The church is not the kingdom of God, but rather the witness to the kingdom of God.  We are the servants of the kingdom of God.   But the Kingdom of God is God’s rule and reign on the earth.  So there was this prophecy that even through the destruction of the temple there would be a day of new creation and that Messiah would come.

Isaiah tells us that when Messiah would come he would be a suffering King, that he would take all the hurt, pain and sorrow of Israel away.   In Isaiah 53 it tells us “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.”  Isaiah 53:4 ESV. Jeremiah is carrying this wound, this hurt, this pain, yet he has the promise that Messiah would come and be a suffering king.

Five hundred years (God does move slowly, doesn’t he?) after Isaiah’s prophecy a virgin girl gives birth to her first born son, and they would call his name Jesus, for he would save God’s people from their sins.  Jesus came to bring God’s kingdom, his rule and reign, to bring God’s holy mountain to the earth.   Jesus came to bring the Kingdom of God and show us what God is like.

So what do we see in the gospels that Jesus was doing?   He was proclaiming and preaching that God’s kingdom is a peaceable kingdom.  There’s not going to be eye for an eye, tooth for tooth anymore (even though sometimes we argue with him over this!).   No more hating, destroying and killing of your enemies, that’s done away with.  We see Jesus proclaiming a kingdom of peace and we see Jesus healing the sick.  And as he was healing the sick, he was demonstrating what God is like, what life lived in the kingdom of God is like.

What do we see about God through the preaching and ministry of Jesus?  We see that God is good, full of compassion and mercy, that he’s a God who wants to mend what is broken and heal what is diseased.  We see in the ministry of Jesus the promise of Isaiah coming to pass, that there will be a time when people will come under the rule and reign of God.  In that place, They shall not hurt or destroy.

So Jesus has come.  He has proclaimed the kingdom.   And you know how the story ends.   At the end of his life, Jesus dies.  He goes to the cross, gets executed, and dies.  One of his closest followers, Peter, says this about Jesus in his death.    “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.”  1 Peter 2:24 ESV.  Amen.

Jesus came not just to demonstrate what life looks like in the kingdom of God, but Jesus came and he collected, he carried our griefs and sorrows, he carried all sorts of human pain into himself, took it into death, and overcame it in his resurrection that he might offer healing to all.  (Amen!)  So in his suffering, Jesus was suffering for us, but also with us.  Jesus experienced all sorts of human pain.  He experienced your pain.   He experienced it for you so that he can take it in himself, overcome it, then rise again to offer healing for your wounds.  He took your pain and your brokenness so that you don’t have to carry it anymore.  So that if you choose to live under the rule and reign of god, then you shall not hurt or destroy anymore.

Have you experienced the pain of rejection?   Jesus was abandoned and rejected by all of his disciples at his arrest and execution.  Experienced the pain of injustice?  Jesus was unjustly tried and sentenced to death.  Experienced the pain of bondage and addiction?  Jesus was bound and held against his will at his arrest.  Experienced the pain of physical abuse?   Jesus was slapped, spat upon and beaten before his death.  Experienced the emotional pain of harsh words spoken to you in anger?  Jesus was mocked, ridiculed, laughed at and scolded as he died.  Experienced the shame of sexual abuse?   Jesus at the cross was stripped naked, exposed for all to see.  Experienced physical pain from disease or malady or sickness?   Jesus experienced real human physical pain at his crucifixion.  Experienced profound disappointment with God?  Jesus at the cross cried out…“And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”” Mark 15:34 ESV. Experienced the stinging pain of the death of a loved one?  Jesus experienced real human death.  Jesus cried out at the end from the cross “Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last.”   Luke 23:46 ESV.  He breathed his last and went into death.

Jesus took into death with him all amounts human suffering and pain, and he overcame it in his resurrection to offer healing and solace.  So when people ask, and they will, why suffering??   Or for those who make it really personal, and when they are hurting or in that moment of pain, ask where is God, why am I hurting??   God thunders back from heaven, saying I entered into that kind of pain, I took it for you, I overcame, so that you may be healed.  Jesus Christ became a co-sufferer with humanity.

Where does all this come from?  God does not give us the answer, scripture does not give us the answer of why suffering?   But God does give us the remedy.  He becomes human, suffers with us, and takes all of our suffering within himself so that our wounds may be healed.

Healing for you can begin today.  Offer your brokenness to the one who was broken for you.  Exchange your empire of dirt for life in the kingdom of God.  Enter into the kingdom of God, that place where Isaiah promises that we will not hurt or destroy anymore.  Let healing begin…

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At the Door

At the Door

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”” Revelation 21:1-4 ESV.   Our great eschatological (end times) hope.   The great Christian hope.   As I’ve said many times before, it’s not that we are going, but that He is coming, coming down out of heaven from God.   God will, finally, come and dwell with us, walk with us, and forever be with His people.  And we with Him.   And there will be no more tears, no more death, no more mourning, no more pain.  A wondrous and beautiful end to the story, not so much an end but a final beginning, with all things made new, right and beautiful.  More beautiful than our minds can even imagine…

This is the end we wait for, the end we hope for, the end, in fact, that we actually believe all things are headed for.   For all the pain, violence, anger, hatred, ugliness of the world in which we live, we live with the hope of an ultimate beauty in our hearts.  The hope that for all the ugliness with which we live, the beauty for which we strive will ultimately be our dwelling place.  As Fyodor Dostoyevsky once said, ‘tis beauty that will save the world.

Oh, we do catch glimpses now.   We do can find beauty in the ugliness around us.   We find the beauty in God’s good creation.  Maybe that’s why our Millennials are all about the experiences of life, all about the destination, the next destination they can snap or tweet their presence to the world from.   The next beautiful place they can take their selfie and prove to the world that such beauty exists, and I was there.

This is ultimately what we hope for.  But how?  How do we get there from here.   By what means will the world come to such a beautiful ends?   How will this peace on earth, with God reigning, finally, as our one true king, with every knee bowed and every mouth declaring that Jesus Christ is Lord come about?

We know that it will be God’s presence and power that ultimately brings this about, but does that mean we have no part??   Are we mere spectators to what God is doing?   The answer is, no we are not.  There is a human instrumentality involved.   This is why God waits for the fullness of time determined by our abilities and capacities to receive what he would give.   We are called to be part of his efforts.  We have a participation in the making of all things right and new.  God works with humankind, and we with him, to extend his Kingdom into all our affairs, and the works around us.

Look at Revelation 3:20 – “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” Revelation 3:20 ESV.  This is part of Christ’s message to the church in Laodicea, which wraps up his direct message to the seven churches in Revelation.  Christ stands and knocks on the door, that is for sure.  But it is not the door of the individual human heart, as we are so often told and so quickly assume.   Rather, Christ is knocking on the door of the church.   It will help us greatly to understand the gospel, the church, and indeed our own lives today if we can understand from this that Christ is outside the church as know and identify it.

Yes, we know that “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.””  Matthew 18:20 ESV.  And yes, Christ is with us always.  But he is also on the outside,  calling in to us.  Remember Him, he’s out there, in that big bad world, chasing down that lost sheep.   He left the ninety nine to chase me down, he still leaves the ninety nine to chase that one.  He still eats with the sinners.  The prodigals.  The lepers.  The outcast.  Those who don’t go to church, ain’t going to church, and don’t wanna hear about no d**n church…

Yes, Christ is with us always, but he calls us further up and further in to a. deeper fellowship than we’ve  ever known.   He’s out there, in the world, where we don’t have the courage to follow him fully.  Our little church, no matter how big your church may be, will always be too small, too cramped for Him.   Inside is just not big enough, only outside is great enough for the creator of the universe.  He’s out there, building his kingdom.  One sinner at a time.

Meanwhile, the church cries out.  We struggle with hating the sin but loving the sinner.   Jesus doesn’t worry about all that.  He just loves.  The loves the sinners and the saints.   All the same.   We still struggle to accept and understand this.  We hold onto our stones, ready to throw them at any time.

Yet he knocks on our door.  He invites us to invite Him in.  We are, after all, the ones most prepared to fully receive Him, and fully cooperate and participate in what he is doing.  We are the ones waiting and praying for his return.   We are the ones most longing for all things to be made new.

He stands at the door, knocking.  Will we ever let Him in??   Or, would we crucify him all over again?

John Lewis

Something Good is Coming

There’s something good coming.  We all go through hard times.  We all have struggles.  But we don’t give up hope.  Even in the midst of our trouble and hard times, we hang onto our hope.  We hope that something good is coming, for you and for me. There has to be something good coming.

Because we believe life to be good.   I know I believe life is good.  I mean, life, in its essence, is good.    Despite the fact that trouble comes and is present and is real, no matter how frequent and no matter how at times it may be horrible, we still believe this because trouble, no matter how frequent or horrible, is an anomaly.  Because life is created to be good.

Think about looking upon the face of a newborn child.  We might say “welcome to God’s good world”.   There will be trouble, there will be hard times, but it’s good…

Why do we believe this?   Why do we believe life is good?   We believe this because it’s what is told us in scripture about this God whom we worship and build our life around.   That in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.   He’s working the first day, he said it’s good.  The second day it’s good.  The third day he said it’s good twice.   Then the fourth day, fifth day, sixth day, he says it’s good.  Then at the very end he says ahhh….it’s very good.

So the even though we have trouble and hard times, we believe that somehow that is an anomaly, and that is not how life is ultimately meant to be.  And what we really believe is that God is going to be true to his declaration and God is going to intervene and break into our lives, and where it’s wrong he’s going to make it right, so we can say the something good is coming.

When God does this, when God breaks through and intervenes in the world to set what is wrong right, we call that the kingdom of God.  It’s the reign and rule of God, the government and policy of God, it’s the intervention of God.   It’s God coming among us to make things good again because that’s what he intends.

God accomplishes this chiefly and primarily through Christ.   The firstborn of all creation, the center of the cosmos creation and salvation.  “…. Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”” Mark 1:14-15 NIV.  When the human heart is aching for something better, when we have that hope, Jesus responds and says yes, that’s right!

So I want to say to everyone reading this today…something good is coming.   I want to say to myself, something good is coming.   It’s an announcement.  If you think it’s for you, it is.  If you don’t think that’s for you, it’s not.  But if you don’t think it’s for you, I want to say something to you – something good is coming!   Repent, rethink your life, and believe this good news that something good is coming.

For you.

John Lewis

Hope. Or no Hope?

1 Thessalonians.  The first Christian scripture.  Paul’s letters were written before the Gospels, and the first of Paul’s letters wasn’t  Romans, it was 1 Thessalonians.  Paul had been preaching the good news in the Greek city of Thessalonica.    These Gentiles, non-Jews, were coming to believe in the Jewish Messiah.  That was the announcement, that God was reframing or reforming his own people.  There was going to be a New Jerusalem, a new Israel, a new kingdom, a new redeemed people.  It was no longer going to be defined by Jewish ethnicity, or Jewish circumcision, or Jewish Torah.   But rather, it was being expanded, and was now being defined by faith, baptism, and obedience to Messiah.   Anyone, Jew or Gentile, who believed that Jesus is the Messiah, whom God has raised from the dead and made to be Lord, they would be incorporated.  It doesn’t matter whether they are Jew or Gentiles, male or female, slave or bond, Scythian or free.  They are going to be incorporated into this new body of Messiah, the new israel, the new society of the redeemed.   “Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.”  Colossians 3:11 ESV

Paul has been preaching this in Thessalonica and some of these Greeks have believed have been baptized.  They’ve become members of this new community, and are waiting for Jesus to come.  They are waiting for the king to come.  As Paul says to the Philippians, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.”   Philippians 3:20-21 ESV.  Our citizenship is in heaven…our citizenship is in heaven, but we are colonizing earth.  From heaven, We are waiting for the king to come, and when he comes he will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.   We are waiting for the king to come.   When he comes, he will transform our bodies to be like his glorious, risen body.   Paul is preaching this to the Thessalonians, to which they say “Sounds great. Can’t wait!”   And they are anticipating the imminent return of Christ.  Whether that week, that month, but certainly that year.

But now a couple of years have gone by, and Jesus has not appeared.  Worse yet, during this time, some in their community have died.  Some of the church people have died.  So some of the Thessalonians are having a crisis.  They want to know what’s going on, what’s going to happen to those who have passed?  What’s going to happen to them?  They thought Jesus was coming and was going to transform them.  But now their friends and loved ones have died, what’s going to happen to them?

So Paul writes to the Thessalonians to comfort them, to instruct them, and teach them more accurately the way of the Christian faith.  “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.” 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 ESV.  But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep...notice Paul’s word for those who have died in the Lord is “asleep”.   This is how Paul describes those Christians who have died and are dead.  But he does not want us to be uninformed about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.   

And this is very interesting.   The pagan world had plenty of theories about what happens when someone dies.   They did not believe the dead ceased to exist.   They fully believed they went to a better place, they went somewhere else, on and on.  But they had no hope of resurrection, no hope of coming alive in this body again.  Paul, quite simply, calls that no hope, and says that’s why we grieve so severely.

For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.”  Amen.

Paul says that when the Lord comes, those that have already fallen asleep, that have died and been buried, will not be left out, in fact they will be raised first.  Then all of us will go forth to welcome the coming of the Lord, will meet him in the air, and henceforth will always be with the Lord.

But keep in mind, don’t get our thinking wrong, Jesus is not coming to take us away to a better place.  This place is just fine.  He’s coming to reign and to rule and to raise the dead.   He’s coming to finally fully establish his kingdom.

We will go forth to meet him, because that’s the proper thing to do when the king comes.  You don’t just sit in our house watching television when the king comes, you go forth and meet him.  We’ll go forth and meet our king as he comes from the heavens, but he’s not taking us off anywhere.  He’s going to be with us, because he’s coming here.  He’s not coming to whisk us off somewhere else, he’s coming to to reign and to rule and to raise the dead, and that is the hope that we have.   Paul says Therefore encourage one another with these words.

This is our hope.  Paul later will call it the blessed hope.  The Christian hope, the Easter hope, the hope of resurrection.  The hope is that unknown brothers, unknown sisters, mothers, fathers, relatives we have met, relatives we have never met.  Friends and relatives we’ve known well and have buried, that we will meet them again someday.  Hallelujah

Then there’s this mystery.  The mystery that in one sense the whole body of Christ, the whole company of the redeemed, is to each of us unknown brothers and sisters.  We need to get to know one another.  Might take a while, but we have time.

What has happened is death.   The problem is not time, the problem is death.  Death has separated us from one another.  Maybe you’d like to meet the apostle Paul, maybe you’d like to meet Peter, how about meeting Mary, the mother of Jesus?   I mention them because they are famous.   But there are others out there who lived who knows when and who knows where.  But they are my unknown brother, my unknown sister.  But it’s death that has separated us. But Christ has conquered death…

As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15 “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” 1 Corinthians 15:57-58 ESV.   But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.  It’s the victory over the grave.  Therefore, because death is defeated and we’re going to have an ongoing life in the resurrection,  Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.   Because it will find continuation in the age to come.  Have that hope.

John Lewis

Overcoming Death

The religions of the ancient world had one thing in common.  They all developed around an elaborate afterlife theology.  One of the primary religious impulses of the ancient religions is the ideas of some kind of theory about the afterlife.   Greeks, the Babylonians, the Egyptians, native Americans, Hindus, eastern Indians, all have their own elaborate afterlife theologies.  Whether it’s joining the world of the forms, going off to the stars, a happy hunting ground, or reincarnation…

All the religions of the ancient world had developed elaborate afterlife theologies with one notable exception – the religion of the Hebrews.  The worshippers of Yahweh, the God of Israel, not only did they not have an elaborate theology, they barely had any afterlife theology at all.  It’s almost as if God, in leading his people through the Old Testament, did not let them develop a lot of theories about the afterlife.

As we read the Old Testament through the lens of the New Testament, we tend to try to read more into the Old Testament than what is actually there.  The fact is, there is very little emphasis on an afterlife in the faith of the ancient Hebrews as they became the worshippers of Yahweh.  The psalmist would say things like “God deliver me, who is going to praise you in sheol (the land of the dead)?   If I die, whose going to praise you when I’m dead?  I can praise you when I’m alive You better save me now before I go down into the pit, into Sheol.    No ones going to praise you in Sheol.”   That kind of language is common among the prophets.

The religion of the Jews of the Old Testament was a religion that was centered on being formed through the Torah into a just and worshipping society here and now.  Unlike the pagan religions, the religions of the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks, the Egyptians, the Hebrew religion was not founded or based upon an afterlife expectation.  It was based upon being the people of God formed into people of justice and worship here and now according to the Torah.

But late in Jewish life there began to be a few hints of afterlife theology, notably in the books of Isaiah and Daniel.  “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. It will be said on that day, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.””  Isaiah 25:6-9 ESV.  Here’s the image.   God is setting up a banquet table, a sumptuous feast for us to come and enjoy.  But if you’re going to enjoy a sumptuous feast, what good is it if you’re dead?   What good is the finest New York Strip if you don’t have any teeth?   You’ve got to be raised from the dead to enjoy this feast.  If you’re lying in the grave with all your teeth falling out, that steaks not gong to do you any good.  You’re going to have to be resurrected to eat that steak.

The picture the poet gives is this – And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nationsHe’s talking about this shroud covering the nations, the veil covering the people.   You know how when someone dies, we will pull a sheet over them to cover their face.  What Isaiah sees is that this shroud of death is being pulled over all humanity, because all humanity is subject to death.   Every human being will have that experience of the veil, the shroud, the burial cloth being pulled over their face.   But Isaiah imagines a day when God takes that burial shroud, that sheet being pulled over the dead, and he takes it off, turns it into a tablecloth and spreads his banquet and calls people out of their graves to a feast, to experience once again the richness of life.

It will be said on that day, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.   What is it we need to be saved from?    Death.   This resurrection becomes the hope of the Jewish people.   It happens late in their history.  It’s not during the time of Abraham, not during Moses, not during David, but late, as we get into the prophets, especially after the exile.   Resurrection begins to become the hope, especially when we get to Daniel.  It becomes the hope that what God is going to do is raise the dead.  This is unique, none of the Gentiles think like this.   The Gentiles think “what we’ve got to do is go to a better place.”   You hear that kind of language, “he’s  gone to go to a better place.”   That is the dominant pagan, gentile way of thinking.   This place is subject to death, ultimately it’s no good, what we’ve got to do is go to a better place.

That is not the Jewish hope or the Christian hope.   The Jewish, and Christian, hope is this – this is good.   God’s creation is good.  Yet it’s been defiled by death because of sin.  But God has not given up on it, he’s not kicking it to the garbage can.  God is going to conquer death.  There is going to be a resurrection.  Death will be defeated.  Death will be no more.  We don’t have to go to a better place, this place is just fine if we can overcome death, if we can conquer death, if we can get rid of death.   If we can overcome sickness and disease,  this place is just fine.  That’s the Jewish hope, that’s the Christian hope.

That’s the hope that’s been fulfilled in Jesus Christ, because on the third day he was raised from the dead.  Now we have come to believe in Him.

John Lewis

Practice Resurrection

Why does Jesus do this thing that he does, bringing back the dead??   Why did he go to the house of Jairus and bring his daughter back from the dead?  Because that’s the work of the Father.  What does the Father do?  He gives life to the dead!   Because the great problem facing humanity is death, and the work of the Father is to give life to the dead…

A son, a young man, dead for a whole day, is about to be buried.  He is heading to the cemetery.  Jesus comes across the funeral procession.   He touches the coffin, they stop.  The body, the corpse in the coffin, comes alive, sits up, and begins to speak to them.   “And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.” Luke 7:13-15 ESV.  Jesus gives a widow back her only son.

The greatest, most spectacular  of all Jesus’ miracles is the raising of Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha.  Lazarus is four days dead.  He’s  buried in a tomb.  But if you believe you will see the glory of the father revealed in the son“Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?”” John 11:39-40 ESV.   Roll away the stone.  Lazarus come forth!!   That is the glory of the father revealed in son.  “”Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.”  John 5:25 ESV

To believe in Christ and be baptized in Christ, to be born of spirit and water, is to receive the promise (since we all like promises so much) that as Christ was raised from the dead, so shall we be raised from the dead.

Think about it.  On Good Friday Jesus is nailed to the cross and he dies.  He breathes his last,  he commits his spirit to god.  He’d already told the thief today you’ll be with me in paradise.   So Jesus breathes his last, commends his spirit to the father, and is with the father in paradise.   But he’s also dead.

His body is taken down from the cross, lifeless, and laid away in a tomb.  We do not celebrate Good Friday independent of Easter Sunday.  We commemorate Good Friday and recognize what was done there.  But what we celebrate is the victory of Jesus Christ over the grave when on Sunday morning he was physically raised to life again.  (Amen and amen)

The promise is that the we who have been baptized into Christ and believed  on Christ shall join Christ in a similar resurrection.  So no matter what we experience in the interim state, where we die and are absent from the body and present with the lord, the great promise is the resurrection that Jesus Christ accomplishes when he comes again.    The Bible tells us very little about the interim state, where we die and we are absent from the body and present with the lord.  Paul refers  to those in that state as those who are asleep, but apparently not unconscious.   It’s blissful, it’s peaceful, it’s paradise, it’s with the lord, but it’s not the great promise.  The great promise is the resurrection that Jesus Christ accomplishes when he comes again.

But – we who believe in Christ are to live by faith according to the realities of the age to come.   For when Christ returns and the the dead are raised and Jesus reigns over the nations, things are going to change.  Some things will be abolished and done away with.  Other things will be inaugurated and will continue.  We who live by faith in Christ now are to as much as possible live out those resurrection realities now.

In the words of Eugene Peterson and Wendell Barry, we are to “practice resurrection”.   We are to practice resurrection by trying to imagine and understand, in the age to come, what will be abolished and what will be continued and inaugurated.  If it will be abolished, let’s abolish it now.  If it will continue, let’s continue it now.  If it will be inaugurated, let’s inaugurate it now.

Let’s be a preview of the age to come.  Let’s practice resurrection.

John Lewis

That Death Be Not Final

One of the absolute deepest longings of human beings is that death would not be the end.   That somehow love might overcome death, and loved ones we have lost, or even loved ones we’ve never met, we would somehow be able to meet again.   One of the deepest religious longings that human beings have is that death be not final.  That death can be overcome.

One of the most basic things that Christians believe is that life is good.   We believe that when God created the heavens and the earth and all that fills them, he looked upon it and said it’s good.  He said it’s good, it’s good, it’s good, and finally He said it’s very good.   And we have come to believe that.  We believe that even though life can be hard and difficult and challenging and sometimes filled with pain, nevertheless life is worth living, because in its essence life is good.

We are surrounded by beauty.  But we can become numb to it.  We sometimes need to be reminded to wake up to it and be aware of it.  But just think of waking up in the morning.  You open your eyes, the sun is shining.  That’s good.  You might hear something, the birds are singing.  That’s good too.  Maybe you’re like me and set the timer on the coffee pot, because that smell when I’m waking up in the morning is very good.   Maybe you have have a nice breakfast, and it tastes good.  Maybe you share a touch with your husband or your wife or even a pet.  So you get all the senses involved, and it’s barely daylight outside, and we are reminded once more that life is good.  It’s worth living.  It has capacity for mystery and wonder and exploration and discovery, that leads to more mystery and wonder and exploration, that leads to more discovery, and it really is a beautiful thing, and life is worth living.

But then we run into a problem.  Life is so good that death threatens to make life absurd, and in the end rob it of its inherent meaning.  Life is so good that in one sense we are tasting and seeing that God is good.  We are having some encounter with the divine, and 100 years is not enough.  I would say that if you lived 120 years and then died, you died too young.  Of course, the way it works out is that death begins to draw near, and the body begins to fade away and fall apart, and there is a sense in which, in that case, death can be a kind of a rest, a release, or escape.

But that’s not what was intended.   That’s not what God had in mind.  When God breathed upon man and man had the capacity to be God-aware and self-conscious and be able to contemplate the goodness of life, God did not intend for that to ever be lost.  But the effect of sin has been death…

So we run into the problem of having tasted enough of life to know it’s good, but we want it to go on forever.  We don’t want the ride to be over.  We don’t want it to end.  We don’t want it to stop.  But we know it does…

And thus, the problem.  The problem of mankind being subject to futility and death.   That though we find out that life can be good, and there are moments so precious and so wonderful and so good, yet we know that death constantly stalks us.  So the Gospel of Jesus Christ primarily addresses itself fundamentally to that problem.

The primary problem that the gospel addresses is not the problem of personal sin, though that is included.   But the problem problem the gospel addresses is death.   The wages paid by sin to the human race is death…forgiveness is included, but the primary emphasis of the gospel is that we are saved from the tyranny and dominion of death.

“So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel. For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will.” John 5:19-21 ESV

Here are two fundamental, most basic truths of Christian theology.   Theology is simply how we think and what we say about God.  Theology is important because how we think and what we say about God matters.  1).  God is immutable.  God does not change, is not subject to change, never will change.  If God himself is subject to change then we’re all in trouble because then we’ve lost our constant, we’ve lost our rock, our foundation.  We’ve lost that which doesn’t change when everything else changes.   This is undeniable,  I haven’t heard of anyone who really disputes it.  One of the bedrock foundations of Christian theology is that God is immutable, He does not change.

2). God is fully and perfectly revealed in Christ.  It is as we look at Jesus Christ that we discover what this unchanging God is like and has always been like.   “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.” John 1:18 NRSV. Jesus says in the earlier passage in John 5 that When I’m doing these things that I do, all I’m doing is I am looking at the father, and seeing what the father does, and I am doing them so you can see it, what the works of the Father are.  So if we want to know what God is all about, what God is interested in, what God does, what the work of God is like, we look in Matthew,  Mark, Luke and John, we see what Jesus is doing, because he always does the works of the Father.  He reveals to us the works of the Father.  Then He says “…and the Father will show Him greater works than these, so that you will marvel.” John 5:20 NASB.

Of course, the greatest sign that Jesus gives us in his ministry are the raising of the dead.  When Jesus raised the dead….

In Capernaum, the ruler of the synagogue there is a man named Jairus.  He has a little daughter, she’s been deathly ill, now she’s died.  Jesus comes to the home, the mourners are already there.   She’s died not long ago, but have no doubt, the girl is dead.  Jesus said she is not dead, she is only asleep.  “And all were weeping and mourning for her, but he said, “Do not weep, for she is not dead but sleeping.”” Luke 8:52 ESV.   The people began to mock him, Jesus put them out.   He took the father and the mother, went into the room, took the child by the hand and said “Child, arise.”  And the girl woke up, and he gave her back to her parents.    “And they laughed at him, knowing that she was dead. But taking her by the hand he called, saying, “Child, arise.” And her spirit returned, and she got up at once. And he directed that something should be given her to eat. And her parents were amazed, but he charged them to tell no one what had happened.”  Luke 8:53-56 ESV

Why did Jesus do this??   Because that’s the work of the Father.  What does the Father do?  He gives life to the dead!   Because the great problem facing humanity is death, and the work of the Father is to give life to the dead…

More to come…

John Lewis