THE PEOPLE OF HOPE

resurrectionmatt2017

You may not believe Jesus was actually, physically raised from the dead. But there is no question that every single writer of the New Testament did believe it – and most of them claimed to be eye-witnesses. True or not, this isn’t a fairy tale, or an allegory.

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Download Matthew Part 99

Matthew #99.  Matthew 27:62-28:15

Many people seem to have the feeling that the Bible is a bit like a fairy tale. In a fairy tale, all sorts of strange and magical things happen. In the Bible, all sorts of strange and miraculous things happen. It’s somewhat understandable that some people get confused, especially if they don’t read fairy tales, or the Bible, very often.

Even so, the Bible is very unlike a fairy tale in several respects. In the first place, fairy tales take place in a vague and imaginary place. The classic beginning to one is “once upon a time, in a kingdom far away,” or some such variation. If you searched for the time and place where the events in a fairy tale took place, you would not be able to find them: they don’t physically exist.

The same is true of the people in the stories. When did Snow White live? Where was she born? In what year did the evil queen take power? It is silly to ask such questions, because clearly, when you are dealing with a fairy tale, you aren’t supposed to think it really happened.

Another thing is that in fairy tales, we accept magical and improbable events as simply ordinary parts of the story. Returning to Snow White, there is no explanation given as to why a mirror could talk to a queen. These things aren’t considered out of the ordinary, in the context of the tale. Of course the mirror can talk. The story doesn’t tell us how or why.

Let’s set this in contrast to our text today. Matthew 28:1-8 tells of a miracle. You might say, it tells of THE miracle, the most significant one that has ever happened: the resurrection of Jesus Christ from death.

THE miracle didn’t happen “Once upon a time,” or “far away in a strange Kingdom.” Matthew tells us where it happened: Jerusalem. The place where it happened still exists today. The people in the story of the resurrection are likewise real people. Pontius Pilate was really a Roman governor – all historians agree about that. Romans really did crucify people. Caiaphas really was a High Priest in Jerusalem. There really was a temple there. People really did and said the kinds of things that Matthew describes. The only resemblance to a fairy tale is that Matthew says something unusual happened: Jesus Christ was truly physically dead, and then later, he was truly physically alive.

However, the miracle of the resurrection is not treated as if such things happen all the time. Matthew records it as amazing and astonishing to everyone who learned of it. No one in the story of Snow White is amazed that the mirror talks, or that a kiss could cure a fatal illness. But miracles in the Bible, including the resurrection, are always treated as remarkable. It’s not like, according to the Bible, people rise from the dead all the time. In fact, no miracle is considered “commonplace;” by definition a miracle is something extremely unusual and amazing.

Matthew also deals with the skepticism of his readers. There was a counter story, circulated by some, that the disciples had stolen the body. Matthew tells us about it and explains how the story was concocted. How did Matthew know all this? Remember two of Jesus followers – Joseph of Arimathea, and Nicodemus – were members of the Jewish ruling council. They were probably there as these decisions were made.

By the way, when Matthew says the story is told “even today” that “today” was only twenty years after Jesus was raised from the dead. I don’t know about you, but I can easily remember the major events in my life from twenty years ago. My oldest child was three, and my youngest was one. I had recently started a church in which many wonderful things took place. Almost all of those who were part of that church are still around, and could verify the many stories I tell about it. The same was true with Matthew. Most of those who witnessed the resurrection (more than 500, before Jesus returned to heaven) were still alive at this point. The apostle Paul explains, a few years after Matthew wrote his gospel:

3For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. (1Cor 15:3-8, ESV2011)

You may not believe Jesus was actually, physically raised from the dead. But there is no question that every single writer of the New Testament did believe it – and most of them claimed to be eye-witnesses. True or not, this isn’t a fairy tale, or an allegory. If the New Testament described what it does, only without miracles, everyone would believe it: it describes real places, real people, and real first-century culture. People only disbelieve parts of it because they have a pre-existing bias against miracles.

The point of all of Jesus’ teaching hinges on the resurrection. We have seen throughout the book of Matthew that in a variety of different ways, Jesus claimed to be one with God. He continually acted as if the most important thing was how people responded to Him. Numerous times, he predicted not only his own death, but also his resurrection. If he wasn’t God, and he wasn’t raised from the dead, then much of his teaching doesn’t really make sense, and he would have to be considered an arrogant narcissist. We would also have to admit, that his major prediction – that of his resurrection – didn’t come true, so he certainly couldn’t be Divine.

This means that resurrection is incredibly powerful, and incredibly joyful. It means that what Jesus said is true! We are forgiven for our sins! We are empowered by the Holy Spirit to forgive and love others! If we submit our hearts, minds and souls to Jesus, we, like him, will be raised from the dead ourselves!

The first people to see Him alive – the women – responded with fear and joy. The fear part is that you don’t see a dead person come to life…really, ever. It filled them with awe. The joy is that everything he said was now proved to be true, and this man who filled them with peace, grace and love was still alive!

Christians, more than any other group on earth, are people of hope. The ultimate hope of Hindus is to cease to exist as individual personalities. The hope of Buddhists is to cease to exist entirely. Atheists have no real hope – they believe that death means the end of existence, which, though they usually refuse to admit it – makes all of life meaningless. Jews believe in a resurrection, but it’s a bit tough to know if you really qualify. Muslims hope they’ve been good enough to live in paradise, but the end, even for good Muslims, is very much in doubt. Allah makes no promises.

Only Christians, out of all the major world religions, have the concrete hope that we will be resurrected with new bodies to inhabit a new creation and live glorious eternal life, free from pain and sorrow. And that hope is based entirely upon the resurrection of Jesus, and therefore, our relation to him. If we entrust ourselves entirely to Jesus, and give him free reign in our lives, we are promised that wonderful, eternal future.

That promise makes a difference, even here and now. As I write this in February of 2017, I have been struggling with chronic pain for more than two years. For the past 8 months or so, it has become much worse. Even doctors at the world-renowned Mayo Clinic will not promise me that I will ever be free of this pain. But Jesus does. I may not be free of it in this life, but I will in the next. Through Jesus resurrection, I have the assurance that I will have  new body, perfected, and ideally suited to the new creation. There is more out there than this life can offer me. That gives me hope to endure anything. It can do the same for you.

THE COSTLY, FREE GIFT

marriage-proposal

God’s grace is free to us, but it was not free to Him. It was very costly. It is free in the same sense that a diamond is free to the girl who is getting engaged. It is freely given, but it cost the giver a great deal. And like the diamond engagement ring, it is offered not just as a trinket, but as an invitation into a lifelong relationship that will change the course of our future forever.

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EASTER 2015

LIFE FROM DEATH

 

On Good Friday, we remember the crucifixion of Jesus – how we was killed by torture on a Roman cross. On Easter Sunday, we celebrate his resurrection – the fact that he physically came alive again and appeared to many of his followers. But the truth is, the two go together. If we had a crucifixion with no resurrection, the result would be simply despair. It would mean that Jesus was not who he said he was, and there would be no hope for us for forgiveness or eternal life. But a resurrection without the crucifixion first would also be meaningless. Jesus wouldn’t be dead in the first place, so there would be no need for one. But if Jesus simply revealed his full glory, and then went back to heaven, it would be great for him, and everything he said would be proven true…but we would still have no way of receiving forgiveness or eternal life.

Mostly, each year on Easter Sunday, I preach on the resurrection. Go figure. But the resurrection is only one half of a two-part equation. So, in order to set the resurrection in its proper context, I want to spend most of my time this Easter, talking about Jesus’ death – the other, indispensable half of the story.

Jesus was killed by torture. There is really no other way to say it. It began with three beatings during the course of about eighteen hours. First, Jesus was taken to the high priest’s house – and you can bet they weren’t gentle in the taking. Most likely they pushed him and perhaps even struck him on their way there. Once there, he was surrounded by an angry mob, and beaten with fists (Matthew 26:67-68; Mark 14:65; Luke 22:63-64). At least some of the blows were to his head. This kind of beating alone would probably put most of us in the hospital, at least overnight. Picture an LA street gang finding the member of a rival gang alone, and deciding to teach him a lesson. You can imagine several people holding the poor man up, while others took turns punching him. It is possible that Jesus sustained a concussion from this, and certainly he received multiple bruises; possibly even broken ribs or teeth. Remember, there was no pain medication in those days.

After a mock trial from the Jewish religious leaders, they took him to the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, who did not live in Jerusalem, but was there to try and keep the peace during the Passover festival. A standard Roman response to suspected trouble makers was to have them “scourged.” Pilate had this done to Jesus. In common language, this means he was whipped – not horse-whipped, but beaten with an instrument designed to inflict pain on human beings. Instead of one “tail” to the whip, it had several strips leather. At the end of each strip was fastened rocks or bits of glass or even pieces of lead. So each strike of the whip caused multiple gashes, laying open the flesh, and bruising the muscles as well. Most probably Jesus was given the 39 lashes, which had been known to kill people occasionally. Remember, Jesus had been beaten up by a mob, just hours earlier. In addition to his other injuries, Jesus certainly lost a lot of blood from the whipping, and perhaps sustained more broken ribs. Between these two beatings, the overall physical shock to his body was enormous. Coming so close together, there is no doubt that many men would have died from the combination of these two traumas.

After that, Jesus was turned over to the Roman cohort for crucifixion. Before they did their job, however, the entire cohort had fun mocking him. This involved about 600 brutal, hardened soldiers. They jammed a crown made of thorns on his head. They took a staff most likely made out of a cane stem (something like bamboo, but smaller in diameter) and gave it to him, and then took it away and used it to beat him over the head. This cane rod would probably not have created any serious injury, unless it was used to strike Jesus on the face, and thus open up cuts on his cheeks. Even so, they were likely hitting the crown of thorns, driving thorns into his head, and the direct blows themselves would have been very painful.

But all that stuff – physical punishment which could easily have killed many men – was only preliminary to the suffering which killed the Son of God. After these severe beatings, they strapped a big beam to his back and made him carry it a mile or two. The beam was likely equivalent to a 4”x4”, perhaps six or eight feet long. Considering what he had been through, it was no wonder he needed help. When they got to the place, they put metal spikes through his hands, into the crosspiece. Though tradition pictures these as going through the palms of the hands, it is more likely that they put the spikes through his wrists between the two bones of the forearm, so that the flesh would not tear away and drop him from the cross. Either way, that alone would have been painful beyond belief. His legs were slightly bent, and then they pressed his feet, one on top of the other, and drove a spike through them into the upright beam of the cross. Tradition pictures a kind of triangular piece of wood for his feet to rest on, but this is doubtful. Then they raised it up.

At this point, Jesus had two choices. He could let the weight of his body hang from his wrists, tearing away at the flesh, and rubbing on bare bone. Or he could straighten his legs, and push up against the spike driven through his feet, inflaming the wounds there, and grinding against broken metatarsals and tendons. Each movement probably drove splinters into his raw, lacerated back. If he had an itch, he couldn’t even scratch it. If he had to go to the bathroom, it would be right there in front of everyone.

Over time, victims of crucifixion spend more and more time hanging from their arms, since pushing up on the spike through the feet was intensely painful, and required effort. As Jesus’ body weight pulled on his arms, and kept them above shoulder-level, his lungs gradually began to fill with fluid, and breathing became difficult. The only relief for this came from thrusting against the spike in the feet. By pushing himself up this way, he could straighten his body and breathe more freely. But the pain was such that no one could endure this for long. It also required strength and energy. He was undoubtedly weakened by his beatings to start with, and as his body grew weaker through this torture, he got less and less air. In this position, fluid also collected around his heart, putting pressure on it. As a result the organs slowly got less blood and oxygen.

Incidentally, this was why, late in the day, they broke the legs of the other men who were crucified alongside Jesus. By breaking their legs, it became impossible for them to straighten up and get air, and so they died more rapidly.

Jesus was taken to the Roman governor early in the morning. He was put up on the cross before noon, possibly as early as eight or nine in the morning. He endured this suffering until it killed him, about eight hours later. It killed him, either by filling his lungs with fluid and suffocating him, or by the pressure of the fluids surrounding his heart, which could have caused it to stop.

This was actually a relatively short time for death by crucifixion. When we read the gospels, we find that Pilate was surprised when he heard that Jesus had died by late afternoon. But then, most people being crucified were not beaten three times within hours before they were put on the cross. Jesus’ suffering began not when he was put on the cross, but in the early hours of the morning, with the first beating.

But the suffering wasn’t only physical. He also went through emotional and spiritual agony.

First, he endured the anticipation of suffering. He knew, long before what happened, what was waiting for him. When I have some special event approaching in the future, anticipation is almost half the joy of it. I enjoy the feeling of looking forward to a good thing coming. But the reverse is also true. If you know about something you dread that is coming up, part of the negative experience is anticipating what you don’t want to go through. It is clear that Jesus knew about his approaching suffering, and that he dreaded it. That is why he said hours before he experienced any physical torment:

“My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

39 Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Matt 26:36-39)

He also experienced humiliation. He was the King of the Universe, the very One whom everyone around him professed to worship. And yet, in order to accomplish his purpose, he had to allow them to mock him, to spit on him, to humiliate him as if they were right and he was wrong. There was a physical aspect to the humiliation as well. It is a terrible experience to be a man, and be struck, and yet not be able to strike back. In addition, they almost certainly stripped him completely naked when the put him on the cross.

In addition, Jesus experienced abandonment. All his followers ran away and left him to his fate. His faithful lieutenant, Peter, denied him publicly. But even worse, he was abandoned by God. 2 Corinthians 5:20 says this:

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

God the Father abandoned Jesus the Son in a way that he has never abandoned any human being, ever, nor ever will. The bible teaches us that if we choose to reject God’s grace through Jesus, then ultimately God allows us to do that. In other words, God doesn’t reject us, but he gives us the freedom to reject Him. If we choose that, we will experience what it is like to be without God – but it will be our doing not His. He does not willingly forsake us. But in the case of Jesus on the cross, it was the opposite. Jesus never turned away from the Father. He followed him obediently, and perfectly to the end. But when the Father made Jesus into sin – for our sake – He turned away and abandoned him. He had to, if Jesus indeed took our sin on himself.

Now, I want us to consider something. When I think about the horrible suffering that Jesus experienced, it’s hard to contemplate. But there are many other things in this life that are hard to contemplate as well. For instance, it is hard to contemplate the horror of rape. It is hard to truly grasp the awfulness of murder. We don’t like to think this way, but even the sins which we think aren’t so bad are so far removed from God’s holiness that they are as fully horrific to God as the suffering Jesus experienced. The extremity of Jesus’ suffering shows us the extremity of our sin. All this is the depth of God’s love for us. This is picture of the true horror of our sin. This crucifixion is the gulf that would exist between us and God if Jesus had not taken our place.

The cross is also justice for sin. This is what makes forgiveness possible. We can’t just wave our hands and say “it doesn’t matter.” When we hurt others, it matters. When we offend God, it makes a difference. There are a lot of people who like to say, “It’s OK to do whatever you like, as long as you don’t hurt anyone.” But what if you hurt God? He has told us, in the bible what matters to Him, what drives a wedge between us and him. Why is it OK to hurt him, but not anyone else? A sin that is only against God is just as much a sin as something which hurts another person.

Jesus, by his suffering, has endured what sin deserves – all sin. I can forgive the person who did something horrible to me because there was punishment and suffering for the evil that was done. It was made right, and justice was done for that sin.

No other faith takes sin or forgiveness seriously enough. You can’t just wave your hand and say, “it doesn’t matter,” as Buddhism does. One reason Buddhist monks dedicate their lives to separation from the world and to meditation is that you have to concentrate very hard and remain very isolated to believe that the suffering caused by sin in this world doesn’t matter.

You can’t say, “You’ll make it up next time you’re re-incarnated,” as Hinduism does. Since nobody is perfect, all you would do is rack up more “karma-debt” with each new life. Even Islam and Judaism say “Well, you do your best, and God forgives the rest.” But why? On what basis can God allow un-holiness into his holy presence? If he could do such a thing, it means that God isn’t really holy, and therefore that moral standards are not actually real; in short, that anything goes. We like “anything goes” if it means we can do whatever we want, but it becomes intolerable when someone else can do whatever they like to us with no consequences. If there is no moral standard, we live a world of senseless brutality, and all kindness and love mean nothing. Even what think of as moral good is meaningless. If nothing is evil, nothing is good either.

That is why it was necessary for sin to be accounted for. Justice must be done. Sin must have consequences. If not, there is no such thing as goodness or grace. If not, we cannot survive in the presence of a holy God. It is only through this extreme suffering of Jesus that sin could be dealt with. The Lord has made a way to take away the power of sin, and still allow goodness and grace and love to flourish.

There is one more thing about the cross. Scripture tells us that there is a mysterious spiritual truth: when we trust that Jesus did this for us, it was not only he who died there. We too, died with Jesus to sin.

Or are you unaware that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too may walk in a new way of life. For if we have been joined with Him in the likeness of His death, we will certainly also be in the likeness of His resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with Him in order that sin’s dominion over the body may be abolished, so that we may no longer be enslaved to sin, since a person who has died is freed from sin’s claims. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him, because we know that Christ, having been raised from the dead, will not die again. Death no longer rules over Him. For in light of the fact that He died, He died to sin once for all; but in light of the fact that He lives, He lives to God. So, you too consider yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Rom 6:3-11, HCSB)

This cross that killed Jesus also killed our sin. This is now also our death. This is why we can be free from guilt – our sins were punished with this severe and just punishment. Just last night I was speaking with a murderer. I mean it, this man was just released from prison after doing time for murder. He was marveling at the fact that he could be forgiven. It was this horrible crucifixion death that punished his terrible sin of murder, and he is putting his faith in Jesus that this is so. He doesn’t need to feel guilt anymore, because his murder was paid for – not by his ten years of prison time, but by the death of Jesus. I think when we feel guilt, it is usually because we have not considered how fully our sin was punished on the cross. The extreme suffering of the Perfect Man was enough for you, for me, for the world.

And now, the new resurrection life that Jesus has can also fill our spirits with eternal life. You see, sin had to die, yes. But what then? If our sin is dead, and we are dead, that takes care of the problem…except that we are dead.

But Jesus didn’t stay dead. And just as he invites us to place our sins on him, and die with him, so he invites us to put our faith in him, to live resurrection life with him.

Jesus’ resurrection proved that his suffering was not in vain. It means that it truly was all on our behalf, and not for his own sake. It means that death is no longer the end, or just the dark doorway into into an evil eternity of suffering or oblivion, but rather just a portal that we pass through into eternal life and joy. As the writer of Hebrews says:

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2)

As we consider all this, I want us to be very aware of one thing. God’s grace is free to us, but it was not free to Him. It was very costly. It is free in the same sense that a diamond is free to the girl who is getting engaged. It is freely given, but it cost the giver a great deal. And like the diamond engagement ring, it is offered not just as a trinket, but as an invitation into a lifelong relationship that will change the course of our future forever. A single woman doesn’t accept a diamond ring from the man she loves and then go on in her life without him, except for maybe occasionally remembering him fondly. No, the diamond is not just a gift – it is an invitation to a new life. When she accepts that gift, she also accepts that invitation, and enters a new relationship, a relationship that is strengthened and reaffirmed daily as they make their lives together. The acceptance of that gift is life-changing.

What Jesus did for us on the cross – the grace that God offer us – is far more precious than any diamond ring that ever has, or ever will, exist. It should not be received any less casually than a marriage proposal. To receive this gift is also to accept the invitation to a new life. It is to give your life to Jesus, to commit to Him for forever, to live in a daily relationship with him. It is life-transforming.

If you’ve never received that gift, never really accepted that invitation to a new life, now is the time. Pause and do it now. There are no special words, just your willingness and acceptance and surrender to God’s love.

Let us thank him for that gift today!

He is risen!

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LIFE

resurrection2

Heaven starts now. Our spirit-life with Jesus, our eternal, indestructible-life, starts when we trust him. It doesn’t start in our circumstances, or our material-life or even our soul-life. It starts in the new and holy spirit that we receive when we trust Jesus.

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To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download Easter 2013

EASTER 2013

Let’s talk about life.

Easter – Resurrection Sunday – is the day Christians celebrate life, more than any other. It hasn’t become as commercialized as Christmas. But then, it doesn’t seem to excite us as much, either. Why is that? Why do we celebrate a resurrection with chocolate, ham and a ho-hum attitude?

I suspect it is a symptom of three main things. First, sometimes, I wonder if we really understand the resurrection and what it means. Second, some people may not really believe it, not in a way that makes any real difference for life. Third, I think a lot of time, we are focused on the wrong kind of life, so the resurrection life doesn’t excite us that much.

I usually preach on the first two topics I just mentioned, on Resurrection Sunday each year. So this year, I thought I’d take a look at the third.

The New Testament uses three main words for “life.” The first one I want to talk about is the Greek word “bios.” This isn’t actually used that often in the New Testament, but the concept is important for people in Western culture today. Bios could be translated, “stuff of life,” or “physical things of life.” In the bible, this word is almost always used in the context of correcting people who are too focused on material livelihood. For instance:

As for the seed that fell among thorns, these are the ones who, when they have heard, go on their way and are choked with worries, riches, and pleasures of bios, and produce no mature fruit. (Luke 8:14, HCSB)

“Be on your guard, so that your minds are not dulled from carousing, drunkenness, and worries of bios, or that day will come on you unexpectedly like a trap. For it will come on all who live on the face of the whole earth. (Luke 21:34-35, HCSB)

Do not love the world or the things that belong to the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in him. For everything that belongs to the world — the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride in one’s bios — is not from the Father, but is from the world. And the world with its lust is passing away, but the one who does God’s will remains forever. (1John 2:15-17, HCSB)

Bios is about life in the here and now. It is about paying bills and owning houses and eating and drinking. Paul chided the Corinthians for engaging in lawsuits about bios. It is part of life, of course. We have to deal with bios to some extent, but it is not the essence of life. Mostly, it distracts us from the real thing. The consistent message of scripture is that bios-life is temporary, and it is spiritually dangerous to become too focused on it.

One of the most commonly used words for life in the New Testament is “psuche.” This is where we get our English word, “psyche.” Your psuche represents your personhood, including your personality and your existence as a unique individual. It is more than just physical existence. You might say it is your soul-life (and indeed, the New Testament often translates the word as “soul”).

Then He said to His disciples: “Therefore I tell you, don’t worry about your psuche, what you will eat; or about the body, what you will wear. For psuche is more than food and the body more than clothing. (Luke 12:22-23, HCSB)

So it is written: The first man Adam became a living psuche; the last Adam became a life-giving Spirit. (1Cor 15:45, HCSB)

Jesus came to earth as a psuche – a living, soul-man. All human beings have that kind of life. And while he was here, he had to deal with bios, just as we do. But Jesus had within him something more than psuche, more than bios. He had eternal indestructible, spirit-life. The Greek word for this kind of life is zoe (pronounced “dz-oh-ay”).

For just as the Father has zoe in Himself, so also He has granted to the Son to have zoe in Himself (John 5:26).

Zoe was in Him, and that zoe was the light of men. (John 1:4, HCSB)

Jesus came to earth to make possible a different kind of life. He didn’t come primarily to make bios-life easier for us to get. He did not even come to give us psuche-life. He came to give us eternal life. Jesus said,

A thief comes only to steal and to kill and to destroy. I have come so that they may have zoe and have it in abundance. (John 10:10, HCSB)

Jesus didn’t come to give us abundant bios, or even psuche. He came first and foremost so that we could have zoe, spirit-life. In fact, he taught that you had to give up psuche to get zoe:

The one who loves his psuche will lose it, and the one who hates his psuche in this world will keep it for zoe. (John 12:25, HCSB)

Jesus himself came to die, to give up his psuche so that we could all have zoe:

just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His psuche — a ransom for many.” (Matt 20:28, HCSB)

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his psuche for the sheep. (John 10:11, HCSB)

This is why the Father loves Me, because I am laying down My psuche so I may take it up again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down on My own. I have the right to lay it down, and I have the right to take it up again. I have received this command from My Father.” (John 10:17-18, HCSB)

One reason we don’t get excited about resurrection is because we aren’t excited about zoe-life. We already have bios-life. We already have psuche-life. Too often, all we really want is for God to make that kind of life better and easier for us. If it doesn’t immediately help us deal with bills and rebellious children and difficult work situations, we aren’t that interested. Or maybe, we get beyond that, and what we want is personal fulfillment or happiness right here, right now. But we’re still looking at psuche, not zoe.

The other thing, is that we tend to think that zoe-life is just like psuche-life and bios-life, only longer, and with less hassle. Frankly, if that’s the case, I’d say, why not just give me less hassle right now? And so, there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot to get excited about. We think it’s just more of the same, only easier.

It’s like we think a piece of painted plastic jewelry is prettier than the tarnished silver ring, at least for now. We want God to improve the tents we live in at the edge of the garbage dump, while we remain barely interested in the Spirit’s description of a permanent log-home set on a lake in the mountains.

I’ve heard people say something much like this: “Oh, I’ll enjoy heaven when I get there. But for now, I want to enjoy earth.”

But our spirit-life with Jesus, our eternal, indestructible-life, starts when we trust him. Heaven starts now. It doesn’t start in our circumstances, or our bios-life or even our psuche life. It starts in the new and holy spirit that we receive when we trust Jesus.That zoe-life can begin to grow and shape your soul-life and your material-life. And we can’t really get it, as Jesus points out, until we are willing to let go of our psuche life:

Remember Lot’s wife! Whoever tries to make his psuche secure will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it. (Luke 17:32-33, HCSB)

Imagine you found out that in a foreign country, you are descended from the Royal Family. The Monarchy still exists and rules in that country. The king and all the people have told you that you will be welcomed there as princes and princesses. You are to travel there soon. But before you do, in the meantime, the king wants you to do some things for him where you are.

Think about this. Would you learn the language of the country where you are a princess? Would you familiarize yourself with the customs of the place where you are a prince? Would you be interested to know the geography and culture? Would you correspond with anyone there, or call them on the phone? Would you be interested to know what it’s like there? Could you get excited about being a member of the royal family? Would you be more interested in improving your life in the garbage heap, or in preparing for your life as a royal?

Too many Christians could care less. It is as if they are saying, “I won’t care about that stupid old place until I get there. Who needs to know the language? They’ll teach me when I get there, I expect. Who cares what the place is like? I don’t have time for anyone else in my life right now. Let them wait until I get there. Time enough to learn all about it then. Right now, what I really need is a bigger tent that is a little farther away from the smelly part of the garbage dump.”

What does zoe-life mean right now?

First, it means that your circumstances, whatever they may be, are not the most important thing. Sometimes you have to deal with things, for sure, but what you are going through is temporary. It is weak in power, compared to zoe-life. So Paul, who was beaten by mobs, arrested, threatened, attacked by bandits and wild animals, shipwrecked, snake-bitten can say:

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us. (Rom 8:18, HCSB)

Paul didn’t just have a good attitude. He was drawing upon the zoe-life of Jesus in himself. He also wrote:

We are pressured in every way but not crushed; we are perplexed but not in despair; we are persecuted but not abandoned; we are struck down but not destroyed. We always carry the death of Jesus in our body, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. (2Cor 4:8-11, HCSB)

The “life” of Jesus, is of course, the “zoe” of Jesus, in Greek.

I used to scuba dive. I learned that at thirty-three feet under water, the pressure upon you doubles. At thirty-three feet, everything is under twice as much pressure – weight – pushing on it from all sides, as at the surface. At 66 feet, the pressure is three times as great as it is at the surface. It continues on like this. Several hundred feet below the water, the pressure is so great that even if a human being could breathe, she would be killed. The pressure would compress her body like a steam-roller.

Now, picture a paper-cup, the kind of thing you might get take-out coffee in. You can turn that cup upside down and push it under water so that there is a pocket of air inside. If you maintain the size of that air pocket, and also maintain the pressure of the air in the cup, you could take that flimsy paper cup all the way down to the bottom of the deepest part of the ocean, and the pressure would not crush it. The material of the cup doesn’t matter. What matters is the strength of what is inside the cup.

If we let it, the zoe life of Jesus inside of us can be stronger than anything we encounter in bios-life or psuche-life. Jesus said it could become a well of fresh water, flowing from inside us. It is a quality of life that depends upon the strength, grace and joy of God, rather than anything in us, or in this mortal world.

Zoe-life is now is a down-payment of the full zoe-life that we will have later. The New Testament tells us that our bodies will be changed. Paul says, along with Jesus, that our psuche and bios life dies so that we can be raised in complete zoe life.

What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And as for what you sow — you are not sowing the future body, but only a seed, perhaps of wheat or another grain. (1Cor 15:36-37, HCSB)

Jesus, in his zoe-life after the resurrection had a physical body. He was able to enjoy the pleasures of food. He was recognizable to those who had known him before He had pusche-life again – in other words, he was still Jesus, the person his disciples had known. But his body was immortal. He could pass from place to place instantly. Locked doors were not a barrier to him. Let me close with a few more words from the bible about what our zoe-life will eventually be like:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea no longer existed. I also saw the Holy City, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared like a bride adorned for her husband. Then I heard a loud voice from the throne: Look! God’s dwelling is with humanity, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will no longer exist; grief, crying, and pain will exist no longer, because the previous things have passed away. Then the One seated on the throne said, “Look! I am making everything new.” He also said, “Write, because these words are faithful and true.” And He said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give water as a gift to the thirsty from the spring of life. (Rev 21:1-6, HCSB)

Then he showed me the river of living water, sparkling like crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the broad street of the city. The tree of life was on both sides of the river, bearing 12 kinds of fruit, producing its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree are for healing the nations, and there will no longer be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and His slaves will serve Him. They will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads. Night will no longer exist, and people will not need lamplight or sunlight, because the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign forever and ever. Then he said to me, “These words are faithful and true. And the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent His angel to show His slaves what must quickly take place.” “Look, I am coming quickly! The one who keeps the prophetic words of this book is blessed.” (Rev 22:1-7, HCSB)

RESURRECTION LIFE: ARE YOUR DREAMS SHATTERED?

How do you react to broken dreams? Do you seek life in things and people apart from Jesus, or do you recognize that True Life is only in him. We have movie clips this, so enjoy the message!

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It’s always a challenge for me to preach about the Resurrection of Jesus. It is the central truth of our faith. Jesus physically rose from death; you either believe it or you don’t. In the past I have offered many facts and logical arguments that tell us it is reasonable to believe it. But this year I want to look at the difference it makes in our lives. It makes a huge difference in eternity, of course – the difference between heaven and hell. But it starts to make a difference right now, in the choices we make, and in how we deal with disappoint and grief here in this life.

One of my favorite movies of all time is Cast Away starring Tom Hanks. Hanks’ character, named “Chuck,” is on the verge of proposing to his girlfriend Kelly, the love of his life. But he has to take a business trip first. Over the Pacific Ocean, his plane goes down. He survives the next four years completely alone on a deserted island. Finally, he is rescued. But four years with no word is a long time. When he returns, he finds that everyone had given up on him, and considered him dead. Even his true love Kelly, had mourned him, and then moved on. She is now married, with a toddler.

Naturally, when Chuck returns – from the dead, so to speak – it is traumatic to both of them. Chuck drives to see Kelly at her house in the middle of the night, as the rain pours down. They both say goodbye in a heartbreaking scene, where much is left unsaid. Then, as Chuck pulls down the driveway, Kelly comes running out in the rain, calling his name. They stand in the rain, hugging and kissing. Then Kelly says:

“I always knew you were alive, I knew it. But everybody said I had to stop saying that, that I had to let you go.” Kelly pauses while they stare at each other. “I love you. You’re the love of my life.”

After another long pause while they look at each other, Chuck says, “I love you too Kelly, more than you’ll ever know.”

They get into Chuck’s car and sit in silence. But they both know that Kelly has to go back home, that it is too late for them to ever be together like that again. And so he drives her back up the driveway, and leaves her there.

There is a lot of tragedy in this scene that is simply the result of circumstances that neither one of them could control. But there is also the tragedy that Kelly gave up on Chuck, even when deep in her heart, she knew that she shouldn’t stop hoping. So she settled for life as best as she could get it. She quit working on her dream to be a professor. She married a decent man and had a child. And so when Chuck came back, it was too late. She had already made another life for herself, and there was no place for Chuck in it anymore.

This is heartbreaking, but it is, after all, just a movie. Even so, I think this part of the movie taps into a spiritual truth. It reveals the struggle of faith that we have sometimes as Christians. Our Lover – Jesus – has been gone for a long time now. All around us, voices tell us to give up, to move on, to settle for life as best as we can get it. But if we do that, we find, like Kelly, that when Jesus returns, we have no room for him in our lives anymore.

Jesus’ very first disciples struggled with this. They traveled with Jesus, watched his miracles and heard him preach. They came to believe that he was God’s chosen Messiah – true God in the flesh, their only true hope for salvation and real life. And then he was killed. Now they didn’t know what to do with all their hopes and dreams. It was all over. On the third day after his death, some of these disciples went on a short journey. A stranger joined them as they walked and asked them why they seemed so sad. They told the stranger about Jesus and all he had done and said, and then they told him how Jesus had been handed over and killed. They end with a brief and poignant expression of their loss and confusion:

“But we were hoping that he was the one who was about to redeem Israel.”

You can almost hear the pain in their words. Things didn’t turn out the way they planned. They were sure they were following God. They were sure they had it right, and that their future was bright with their savior. They are hurt and lost. They had put their hope in Jesus, and now Jesus wasn’t there anymore.

Only he was.

He was right next to them. He was the very stranger that they were talking to. This is extremely important. In our everyday life experience, we may feel far removed from the resurrection of Jesus. We may feel like it has nothing to do with us, like from now on we just have to get on with life as best we can. But Jesus is walking right next to us. Feeling or no feeling, whether we can perceive it somehow or not, the Resurrection of Jesus was real, and the resurrection life that he offers us is just as real.

The disciples’ lack of faith is surprising. Jesus told them exactly what was going to happen. He said several times that he would be taken captive by the authorities and executed, and then that he would rise from death on the third day. They didn’t want to believe the part about him dying, until they had no choice. They wouldn’t accept what he was saying. Peter told him not to have such a negative outlook. The others heard too, but it bounced off their skulls like water off a duck. They simply didn’t get it. And then when he did die, they still didn’t believe the part where he told them he would rise again physically. So the death of Jesus destroyed them mentally and emotionally. They were completely lost.

Sometimes, we are like those disciples. Jesus told us exactly what is going to happen. He said we would have trouble in this world (John 16:33), but he also told us not to let our hearts be troubled (John 14:1). Living in a world of sin, we will experience sorrow and grief. But living in faith in Jesus Christ, those sorrows and griefs are not the final word. They are not as real as the great reality that is coming for those who trust Jesus. The pain and severe disappointment experienced by those disciples walking along the road was real. But the man walking beside them was real too, and he had already overcome their grief, even before they were aware of it. The reality of his resurrection was greater than the reality of their sorrow, whether they knew it or not.

I think the danger we face as believers in the risen Messiah is that, like those other disciples, we forget the promises of Jesus, or we think he is not close, not next to us. And so, in the meantime, we try to just go on and get some kind of life and hope for ourselves.

There is another poignant scene in the film Cast Away. For four years alone on the island, Chuck had no companion. So he began to talk to a volleyball that had a face-shaped bloodstain on it. He called it Wilson. In a strange way, he grew to care for the volleyball and became deeply attached to it. When he is sailing to try and find help, the volleyball comes loose from where it is tied. Chuck tries to swim after it but he is held back by a rope that attaches him to the raft. He finally needs to make a choice whether to hold on to raft, which is his only chance at living and seeing Kelly again – or swimming after the volleyball, and drowning with it in his arms.

He reluctantly chooses life, but he cries his heart out at the loss of Wilson. It may be just a stupid volleyball, but it is all he has had for four long years. It is hard to blame Chuck for being so broken up after he lets Wilson go. We can understand it and even feel some of his pain. In the context of the whole movie, it is actually a very moving scene. And yet even though it is perfectly understandable, we know (and even the character Chuck knows) that ultimately, it is just a volleyball. It isn’t a real person. It isn’t worth giving your life for.

Sometimes I think we spend half our lives like Chuck in that scene, tugging on the end of the rope, not quite sure whether we are going to give up the raft, or give up the volleyball. Chuck’s problem was that after four years alone, part of him actually believed that Wilson was a real person. He wasn’t sure of the truth. He may not have been fully convinced that the raft would really bring him back to civilization and real people. Because of his experience, Wilson seemed more real, more important than the raft.

We are like that sometimes. This life sometimes seems so much more real than the Resurrection Life that Jesus told us about. The things we can have here tempt us to believe the lie that they are more real and more important than our eternal future. This is understandable. It is understandable also to have a hard time giving them up, just like Chuck had difficulty letting go of Wilson. But even though we understand, and it is hard, the choice is perfectly and completely clear. There is nothing in this life that is worth holding on to if it keep us from the real Life that Jesus offers us.

Will we hold onto something that is ultimately worthless, or will we give it up for real life? To give it up requires faith. It requires us to trust that there is a real resurrection, that real life is still waiting for us. We can see and touch the fake things, like Chuck could touch and see the volleyball Wilson. But those things are not as real and true as what awaits us when we trust in Jesus. Jesus said:

1 “Your heart must not be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in Me. 2 In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if not, I would have told you. I am going away to prepare a place for you. 3 If I go away and prepare a place for you, I will come back and receive you to Myself, so that where I am you may be also. 4 You know the way to where I am going.”

5 “Lord,” Thomas said, “we don’t know where You’re going. How can we know the way? ” 6 Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. 7 “If you know Me, you will also know My Father. From now on you do know Him and have seen Him.” (John 14:1-7)

The fact of the resurrection tells us that there is real life waiting for us. There is still true love possible. Our dreams have not been shattered and lost. We just need to recognize that the time is not yet. We are in the dress rehearsal, the practice before the real game begins. We are camping in a tent, not living in our home. We are practicing to love, practicing to be great.

One of the things that helped Chuck through, was his hope of the life that existed away from his island. So I want us to dwell for a little bit on the resurrection life that waits for us, away from this little island that we mistakenly call life.

I think a lot Christians have the feeling that the resurrection life will be a never ending worship service. Let me be honest with you. I am a pastor, and that thought does not excite me. Don’t get me wrong, I love to worship the Lord with other believers. But I also love to fish, to hike and come around the corner of ridge to a new vista I’ve never seen before. I love to just hang out and laugh with my family and close friends. I like to write, and read and experience moving stories. I believe amazing worship will be part of our experience of resurrection life. But I think there will also be so much more.

John Eldredge writes that you cannot hope for something you do not desire. The overwhelmingly good news is that resurrection life is where our deepest, strongest, purest desires are fulfilled. The desire for intimacy that sometimes we get confused with a desire for only sex – that intimacy will be fulfilled in resurrection life. The desire to be deeply connected to beauty – the thing that causes us to ache when see a beautiful person, or an awe-inspiring view, or hear uplifting music – that will be fulfilled. The desire to be significant, to be recognized for who you are and for the God-given gifts you have – that will be fulfilled in resurrection life. That thing in your that loves to rise to the occasion and meet challenges – that will find its ultimate expression in resurrection life.

We won’t be ghosts or angels, floating around somewhere. Jesus was not resurrected as a spirit – he had a physical body. On several occasions after he was raised, he sat down and ate with the disciples. He promises us resurrection bodies also (1 Corinthians 15). He promises us a new heavens and new earth (Revelation 21 & 22) where will live and love and do the things we love to do, and be connected to God and to each other without the destruction and cruelty of sin and sorrow.

I will never get the love I am seeking from human beings. I may never be recognized for who I am I this life. My talents might go unappreciated. I might have to toil and spend a lot of time doing things I don’t really want to do. If this life is all there is, that would be tragic. But if all that is fulfilled in the next life, in my resurrection, which Jesus made possible – then what I face here and now is bearable. It isn’t the final word. I’m not getting too old – I’m actually getting closer to the fulfillment of all I want as I age.

I’ve heard an expression: “Some people are so heavenly-minded, they are no earthly good.” I detest that expression. It is entirely false. I have never met anyone who is too heavenly-minded. And the most resurrection-oriented people I know are the ones who have done the most for the Lord and for their fellow human beings here and now. It is only when we lost sight of resurrection that we become focused on making ourselves happy here and now, whatever the cost.

Think back to Kelly, from Cast Away. Deep in her heart, she knew Chuck was alive. But she lost faith. She gave up that hope and settled for what she could get at the moment. Because of that, she missed out forever on the life she might have had with Chuck if she had only held on.

We who are Christians know that Jesus is alive. We know it through faith. We know there is more life, better life waiting for us with him. We know it. But everyone keeps saying we have to move on. Everyone tells us we shouldn’t spend so much time thinking about it. Sometimes it feels like God hasn’t come through. But we know better. Don’t let go of that knowledge. Don’t give up that hope. Don’t fill your life with other things, don’t make yourself a life apart from the one who truly loves you and is coming back for you, no matter how long it seems.

He is Risen!

Resurrection of the Body

1 Corinthians #28

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We have been talking about the resurrection. We have learned that it is central to the Christian faith. We have also learned that it is important to keep in mind that this life on earth is only a small part of the eternity that the Lord has prepared for us. Now, Paul uses 1 Corinthians 15:35-58 to speculate a little bit about what the resurrection will be like.

Paul notes that some people have questions about resurrection: how does it happen? What kind of body will we have? Once we start thinking about resurrection, there are many other questions that come up also. Will we know each other? Do the dead have some sort of consciousness even before the physical resurrection that is to come?

Before we get too far into it, I want to make something quite clear. The bible does not give us detailed answers to questions like these. As we have seen from 1 Corinthians 15, the bible is very positive that there is eternal life through Jesus Christ, and that eternal life includes a physical resurrection. But what exactly we will look like, what exactly we will do for eternity, whether or not our pets will be there – these types of questions are not answered in definitive detail. There are some things in the bible that suggest answers to some of our questions about resurrection and life after death, but a lot of it boils down to what I might call “informed guessing.”

Paul explains part of the problem in verses 36-38

What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body.

We are like seeds, sitting in a seed packet, wondering what happens after we are planted, but having no point of reference. I’m growing zucchini squash in my garden right now. The seeds are smooth and flat, roughly the size of a fingernail, but oval shaped. There is kind of beveled border all around the edge of the seed. The seed is cream colored. Now, that seed is pure zucchini. There is nothing in the seed that is anything other than zucchini. It contains every part of the DNA of a full zucchini plant. And yet, the seed is nothing at all like the whole plant – in fact it isn’t even very much like the zucchini squash. The plant is green. It grows to over two feet tall, and more than four feet around of spreading green stalks and leaves. The flowers are long and yellow or orange. The zucchini “fruit” is a foot long or more, with white flesh and dark green skin. The seeds do not change their essential nature. The DNA of the grown plant is the same as the DNA of the seed that dies to produce the plant. Yet the plant is so much more than the seed. And no matter how long you took, you would never be able to imagine the plant merely from examining the seed.

Another illustration comes from the caterpillar and the butterfly. The caterpillar is nothing at like a butterfly. It is slow and ugly and it must crawl on the ground. The butterfly is pretty. It flies, flitting nimbly from flower to flower. And yet the are the same. The caterpillar becomes the butterfly.

This explains some things. We are like seeds talking to each other about what our mature plants will look like – but there is nothing in our experience or knowledge that will help us understand.

So Jesus said in one place that there will be no marriage in heaven. I’m always a little ambivalent about that. What’s wrong with marriage? We will be resurrected, we will have physical existence, and yet things will be entirely different – as different as a seed from the mature plant. It would kind of like the seeds asking if they get to hang out in the little seed envelope with other seeds, once they are mature plants. It’s as if we are caterpillars, wondering if we’ll still get to eat our favorite leaves after we become butterflies – but we haven’t even dreamed of the possibility of drinking nectar from flowers. The kinds of questions we have probably don’t even apply.

Jesus had a resurrected body. This is just pure speculation now – don’t make a doctrine out of what I’m about to write. But it may be that we can learn something from the records we have of Jesus after his resurrection. His body looked human – it had two arms, two legs and so on. And yet, on multiple occasions, those who had known him well failed to recognize him. (John 20:10-15, 21:4, Luke 24:13-32). In those instances, Jesus said something or did something to open their eyes to who he was. So apparently our bodies don’t have to look like our earthly bodies if we don’t want them to. Maybe we can appear in whatever form we choose. Obviously, the wounds on Jesus’ hands were not visible to the disciples who walked with him for hours on the road to Emmaus, or they would have made some comment. And yet, when he chose, he made those wounds visible to Thomas.

Jesus ate food, made a fire and walked around in his resurrection body. That all sounds pretty normal. He also passed through locked doors and moved instantly to other places far away. That sounds kind of fun to me. My personal feeling is that Jesus’ resurrection body is operating in more dimensions than we can perceive. Our bodies operate in the three dimensions of space, and we also interact with the fourth dimension of time. Respectable scientists have theorized that there as many as ten different dimensions in the universe. My belief is that Jesus’ body operated (and still does) in space and time, but at the same time, it also operates in dimensions that we can’t perceive. Maybe our bodies will be like that.

Paul does tell us one thing one. He says our resurrected bodies will be “imperishable” or “incorruptible.” The word “perishable” or “corruptible” has several nuances of meaning. (In Greek it is phthora; fqora) It can mean something that ultimately decays and rots. But it can also mean moral decay, moral corruption. We all know (and Paul points out) that our present bodies decay. We all know that we are morally corruptible. But, Paul says that will not be the case after the resurrection. Our bodies will not decay and break down. Our moral will, the pure heart that is given to us by Jesus, will not ever be corrupted.

Paul says what we sow now is sown in corruption, dishonor and weakness. He isn’t blind to what’s going on here on earth. But the resurrection will be in incorruptibility, in glory and in power. Our present bodies aren’t suited to live forever. Our present soul suffers the effects of sin. But our future body will be indestructible. In the future, our souls will also be indestructible – safe from sin and corruption.

Verse 44 mentions a “natural body” and a “spiritual body.” Clearly the “natural body” refers to what we have now. But the spiritual body does not mean that it is all spiritual and we won’t have physical existence. We have already seen clearly that the Bible teaches there is a physical resurrection. The term “spiritual body” is almost an oxymoron. But clearly, by using the word body, Paul has something physical in mind – but something spiritual also. I think what he means is this. Our spirit has already been perfect in Jesus Christ. We are already – in spirit – cleansed from our sin, holy, blameless, powerful, righteous and so on. At the resurrection, our bodies and souls will upgraded to match that spiritual condition of perfection.

I have always wondered about some other things. Do we go to be with Jesus as soon as we die, or are we “unconscious” of time, so to speak, until the physical resurrection? I don’t think I can give you an answer beyond all doubt, but there are some things in scripture that seem to point to the idea that as soon as we die, our spirits go be with Jesus (if we trust him) or to hell (if we rejected Jesus).

In Luke 16:19-31, Jesus told a parable about two men who died. The point of the parable is not to describe heaven or hell, so we need to be careful not to be overly dogmatic here. However, the parable reveals an afterlife where those who have faith wait for the end in bliss, while those who reject God suffer torment. Since Jesus told the parable, it seems to me that he does not object to that view of what happens right after someone dies.

Matthew 17:1-8 describes how Jesus was transfigured, and the disciples saw him as he met briefly with Moses and Elijah. Obviously, at that point, Moses and Elijah had been dead for many hundreds of years. Just as obviously, the physical resurrection of Jesus had not yet happened, nor has the physical resurrection at the end of the world. But there are Moses and Elijah – in existence, interacting with Jesus. Now the point is not the continuing awareness of Moses and Elijah – the point is that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament. However, it suggests (though it does not prove) that people are spiritually alive and aware even before the resurrection at the end.

The book of Revelation records this scene:

When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the people slaughtered because of God’s word and the testimony they had. They cried out with a loud voice: “Lord, the One who is holy and true, how long until You judge and avenge our blood from those who live on the earth? ”So a white robe was given to each of them, and they were told to rest a little while longer until the number would be completed of their fellow slaves and their brothers, who were going to be killed just as they had been. (6:9-11)

Another verse in revelation says this:

“Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Yes,” says the Spirit,” they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.”(Rev 14:13)

And finally, one more:

13Then one of the elders asked me, “Who are these people robed in white, and where did they come from? ” 14I said to him, “Sir, you know.” Then he told me: These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15For this reason they are before the throne of God, and they serve Him day and night in His sanctuary. The One seated on the throne will shelter them: 16They will no longer hunger; they will no longer thirst; the sun will no longer strike them, nor will any heat. 17For the Lamb who is at the center of the throne will shepherd them; He will guide them to springs of living waters, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. (Rev 7:13-17)

All this seems to come before the final resurrection. I think sometimes we confuse this continuing spiritual existence with the physical resurrection from death. I’m not sure it matters all that much, because it’s all pretty good for those who trust Jesus, and pretty bad for those who don’t.

Peter writes that in the “day of the Lord” the heavens and the earth will be destroyed (2 Peter 3:10). Revelation 21:1 affirms that, and declares that God will make a new heaven and a new earth. What is the point of the new earth if we don’t have bodies?

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea no longer existed.I also saw the Holy City, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared like a bride adorned for her husband. Then I heard a loud voice from the throne: Look! God’s dwelling is with humanity, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will no longer exist; grief, crying, and pain will exist no longer, because the previous things have passed away. Then the One seated on the throne said, “Look! I am making everything new.” He also said, “Write, because these words are faithful and true.”And He said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give water as a gift to the thirsty from the spring of life.

Paul closes with these thoughts:

Death has been swallowed up in victory. Death, where is your victory? Death, where is your sting? Now the sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! Therefore, my dear brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the Lord’s work, knowing that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

RESURRECTION–PART 2

1 CORINTHIANS #27. (1 COR 15:12-34)

 

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Sermon from Tom Hilpert on Vimeo.

I want to clear up a little possible confusion about this passage. In our English translations, Paul keeps talking about the resurrection from “the dead.” This makes it sound almost like resurrection from the “world of the dead.” In fact, in Greek, they had a term for that world – they called it Hades. Some people may assume that what Paul is saying is that we aren’t left in “the world of the dead” – Jesus saves us from Hades or hell. This makes the whole thing sound like just a “spiritual” resurrection. We might have the idea that resurrection means we become happy ghosts. But all throughout this passage Paul uses a very specific term for “dead.” The word he uses is pronounced “nekros.” We still use this term in science and medicine – necrosis is the death of living tissue. Necrotic tissue is flesh that has died. So Paul is not talking here about rescue from Hades. He is talking about bringing dead and rotten flesh to life.

We so often misunderstand what the Bible teaches about resurrection. Is there a spiritual resurrection as well? The short answer is, yes, there is also a spiritual resurrection – and if you trust in Jesus, you have already received it. Your spirit will remain alive for eternity. It is already made perfect by Jesus. There is a direction and flow to resurrection – it starts with the spirit, and flows into the soul; ultimately, it is supposed to show up in the way we live our lives.

17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! (2 Cor 5;17)

20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” (Galatians 2:20)

1 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Colossians 3:1-4)

4 But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love that He had for us, 5 made us alive with the Messiah even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace! 6 Together with Christ Jesus He also raised us up and seated us in the heavens (Ephesians 2:4-6)

We get all tied up looking for the transformation of the physical. And I think that is why we fail so often to live like Christians. We are starting with the wrong end. God’s plan is ultimately to kill the flesh – to let the whole body become necrotic – so that he can raise it again with a perfection that matches the perfection we already have in spirit. That is the resurrection Paul is talking about here. He has already spoken of the spiritual resurrection earlier. In fact, if you remember, he began the entire letter by talking about how in Christ they were already complete. In Christ, their spirits were already raised in perfection. Their problem has always been that they are not letting that fact dominate their lives. So now Paul ends by speaking about how that perfection will ultimately come to our body as well.

The two resurrections – the spiritual and the physical are connected. Paul’s point here is that the physical resurrection of Jesus proves both of them. If Jesus wasn’t physically raised, then he was just like anyone else. He died, not for our sins, but for his own. He was not vindicated by God. If Jesus wasn’t raised physically then there is no physical resurrection, and there is no spiritual resurrection either.

Paul says two things in this passage that really catch my attention. First, he says this:

If we have put our hope in Christ for this life only, we should be pitied more than anyone. (15:19)

And yet, Christian churches and leaders in the United States are increasingly emphasizing this life over and above our eternal future. I understand some of this. Faith is not simply buying a ticket to heaven that we don’t have any use for until we die. Forgiveness of sins starts now. Right now, we are free from condemnation. Right now, we can receive power to live the way were made to, to be fulfilled in our purpose for life. Right now, we have a purpose for this life – to help the Lord in his disciple-making quest. Right now, the power of God is available to us to heal our bodies, our emotions and our relationships. Right now, God answers prayer and works in us and in the world.

But none of it means anything unless there is indeed a resurrection waiting, and an eternal future where both our spirits and our bodies are pure, uncorrupted and indestructible. This life is just the prelude. It is the count-in before the song starts, the ads before the movie, the opening ceremonies before the game. It isn’t the real thing. It is part of it, but it is not the main event.

Brothers and sisters, let us not treat it as the main event. Let us not get distracted. We have all kinds of grace and many blessing from the Lord in this life. But this life is not all there is. And this life is only an infinitesimally small piece of our eternal future. This life is not the point, not the meaning. And if we seek God primarily because we want his blessings in this life, we are to be pitied more than all people.

There is something else Paul says. He writes: “If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die.” The idea is this: “Let’s party hard, because it’s all going to end soon.” Our society, by and large lives by this motto. We look for the short term fix, the short term reward, the short term pleasure. We are used to meals in moments, and fruit out of season. We don’t look beyond the next five minutes.

This “party hard, live in the moment” attitude is a symptom. We live this way, because, by and large, we don’t really believe in resurrection. Christianity has always been more readily accepted by people who live in severe poverty or oppression. That is because they don’t have the option of thinking that life is great, and that everything should be about the here and now. People who are near death, also tend to be more open to the message of Jesus. You may have heard the expression “there are no atheists in foxholes.” I might add “or in cancer wards,” or any number of places where death is very real and possibly imminent. Some folks use that phenomenon to suggest that our faith is mere wishful thinking. I think it is exactly the opposite. When you know death is near, you have to confront the fact that this life always ends. No one gets out alive. There is no room for the wishful thinking that we can just have a good time now and not worry about what comes later. The only wishful thinking is the idea that we can ignore death, that we don’t need a resurrection.

Paul tells the Corinthians, “Come to your senses and stop sinning, for some people are ignorant about God. I say this to your shame.”

We need to come to our senses as well. There is so much more to life than this life. Yes, eternal life starts now. Yes God is at work in us and through us and for us right now. But our purpose will not be fulfilled in this life. We are destined for something so much more glorious and amazing. Your physical life began in the womb of your mother. You really were alive there. The way you grew and developed in the womb was important, and it had a profound impact on who you are today. But the womb was just the beginning. Not much of the entire amazing experience that we call “life” can be found inside a uterus.

Today, we are still in the womb. Yes, we are truly alive. Yes, what we do here and the choices we make will shape our future beyond this life. But the real life is still waiting for us out there. Let’s keep our hopes fixed upon Resurrection.

 

RESURRECTION

1 CORINTHIANS #26 (1 Corinthians 14:35-15:11)

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There is something 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 that I want to deal with briefly. Paul writes:

As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.

We have already covered the overall topic of gender relationships in depth when we looked for two weeks at the first part of chapter 11. If you missed that, please go back and read or listen to those two messages. You won’t get the full understanding by only reading this sermon. Even so, I want to cover this passage briefly, because it causes trouble for many modern readers of the bible, especially in Western culture. It also gives us a good practical example of how to interpret the bible, especially when you don’t understand something, or when the bible appears to contradict itself.

Paul has already acknowledged that is appropriate for women to pray and prophesy in church (1 Corinthians 11:1-16). Now he says they should keep silent. What is going on here? First, when we interpret the bible, we give the Holy Spirit the benefit of the doubt. In any other book we read, we start with the assumption that the author will try not to contradict himself. So in general, if a statement appears contradictory, in order to understand it, we try first to see if there is a way to interpret it that is not at odds with what has already been said. Not only should we give the Holy Spirit a chance, but we ought to also give Paul (the human instrument of the Spirit in this case), some credit for being the obviously intelligent person he is. Is he likely to contradict himself so blatantly just a page or so later in the same letter?

Therefore, plain common sense shows us that “women must keep silent” does not apply to absolutely every situation in church. We already know it doesn’t apply to women prophesying and praying. So there must be some specific context that Paul is talking about here, where women should keep silent. What would that context be? (Men, insert the joke of your choice here, but you laugh at your own risk…)

In all seriousness, the context of this statement is Paul’s description of an orderly worship service. We already know that women can pray and prophesy, so it isn’t the worship service in general where women must keep silent. Paul describes a few different people speaking, and then he says: “let the others evaluate what is said.” Remember, at that time, there was no New Testament yet. So it was a more difficult thing to determine if a prophecy or word was really from the Holy Spirit or not. Therefore, after someone spoke, Paul wanted the Corinthians to discuss what was said, and evaluate whether or not it seemed to really come from the Lord.

Reading this statement in context, it seems that this “evaluation discussion” is where Paul would like the women to keep quiet. From chapter 11 we learned that God created men and women to fulfill different roles: like dancers have different parts in a couples’ dance, or players have different positions on a football team. Paul describes those roles in terms of submission (for women) and headship (for men). We already covered what this means in our study of 1 Corinthians 11, but I simply want to remind us that biblical submission doesn’t mean subservience or devaluation, and biblical headship does not mean domination or control.

Paul connects this idea of women being quiet during the “evaluation discussion” to biblical submission. If you remember from chapter 11, God holds men uniquely accountable for the spiritual direction of their churches and families. Even though Eve was the one who took the apple and committed the first sin, Adam was the one who was held responsible for leading the human race into sin. So, when the church was basically deciding theology, it made sense that the ones who would be held responsible (the men) were the ones who ought to make the decision, and provide the final evaluation. When we also consider the word “to keep silent” might also be translated “hold your peace” our picture is more complete. Women indeed may have something to say about doctrine, but men are the ones who will be held responsible. So when it comes to a discussion of doctrine, women should hold their peace. Paul adds that if they have questions or concerns, they should share them with their husband at home. Once again the picture here is of a gender-dance, or a team. Everyone has something to contribute, but it is all done in order and with a recognition of how God made us to be, and what our roles are.

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Let’s move on now, to chapter fifteen. This is one of the longest sections in the whole letter, and Paul devotes it all to discussing the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Apparently, some of the Christians at Corinth were suggesting that there was no resurrection from the dead. Paul says this in verse 12:

Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?

It isn’t clear exactly what these skeptics were saying. They may not have been denying that Jesus rose – but at the very least they were claiming that there was no resurrection for anyone else. And it is possible that they even scoffed at the idea of Jesus rising from the dead. Remember, these are people who claim to be Christians. Paul spent more time with this church than any other church he started, except in Ephesus. Sometimes when I read his letters to them, I wonder what went wrong.

By the way, this kind of weird heresy has been repeated at various times in history by those who claimed to be Christians. Karl Baarth, one of the most influential Lutheran Theologians of the 20th Century, believed in the resurrection, but claimed it didn’t matter whether or not Jesus was actually raised. His protege, Rudolf Bultman, went the whole way, and claimed that Jesus was not. I always wanted to meet them and ask them, “So why do you call yourself a Christian and what is the point of your faith?”

So Paul goes back to basic Christian doctrine. This is it in a nutshell – Jesus Christ died for our sins. He was buried. And then he was raised from the dead. This is the message given by Paul and all the apostles. It is the bedrock of the Christian faith. Without the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, there is no such thing as Christianity. So he writes to the Corinthians, that this is:

…the gospel I proclaimed to you; you received it and have taken your stand on it. You are also saved by it, if you hold to the message I proclaimed to you — unless you believed for no purpose. (verse 1-2)

Paul is writing to them maybe twenty-five or thirty years after Jesus was raised from the dead. Today (in 2011) it would be as if I wrote to you about the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan in 1981. Many of us were alive, and we remember hearing about it right after it happened. We could certainly still find and talk to many of the people who were there when it occurred. The man who shot Reagan is still alive. Many of the secret service agents and other government workers who were there, are still alive.

At the time of Paul’s letter, the resurrection of Jesus was similarly recent. Paul says, besides himself, there were more than five hundred people who saw Jesus alive after his death, burial and resurrection. Most of those eye-witnesses to the resurrection were still alive when Paul wrote. The Corinthians had apparently met Peter, who was one of the witnesses.

I think we forget that we have this kind of evidence for the resurrection. Yes, it was a long time ago. But so was Julius Caesar, and Cleopatra, and Alexander the Great – and we believe the events we are told about in their lives.

Jesus’ resurrection changed everything – for us, as well as for those first-century Christians. There is a real hope beyond this world. Our entire faith is based upon it. Any meaning in life depends upon it.