RESURRECTION 2022: THE ONLY REAL HOPE

When we are faced with the death of a loved one, or our own death, we have to reckon with the reliability of what we hope for. Do we have a real hope? Do we have a hope that offers true comfort? The Christian hope is built upon the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and it is very different from any other hope offered by skeptics, or by other religions. It is the hope of LIFE.

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RESURRECTION 2022. 1 CORINTHIANS 15:12-23; 48-58

When I was in seminary, Kari and I met Paul and Becky Hagen, and their kids. I was there for my master’s degree, and Paul was studying for his doctorate. They were about fifteen, or so, years older than us. We became dear friends, and we have remained so for the past twenty-five years. We had the pleasure of watching their children grow up. They watched our children be born and grow. Paul & Becky are godparents for our daughter, Alana. Their family feels like part of our extended family, and we theirs (I also went to college with one of Becky’s younger brothers). Paul and Becky, or their kids, or Becky’s mother or brother, and other family, have often stayed at our house. Their son Tim married Gerte, a woman from Albania. We stayed with Tim and Gerte in Albania in 2013. They had their third child just a few months ago.

This was just after Tim was diagnosed with cancer.

Tim died this past Wednesday, four days before Easter Sunday. His youngest child will never know him. His wife is a widow. His parents have lost a son. His siblings have lost a brother.

As I think about this, I am filled with grief for my friends, Paul & Becky. No parent should have to watch the death of a child. I’m overwhelmed with sorrow for Gerte who has lost the love of her life, and for their three young children, who have been deprived of their father. I am so deeply sad for Tim’s sisters, and his brother. I am so sad myself. I stopped and wept while I was writing this.

Sometimes, I think we are almost unaware of how much the Bible influences our way of looking at the world. In order to better appreciate the wonderful gift that Jesus brought to the world, I want us to think about things – temporarily – from other points of view.

Just for a moment, imagine the death of this fine young man, but consider it as if you had no Christian faith. It seems so tragic that a young man who had a loving wife and three young children who need him, should die. His parents have outlived him. It feels so wrong. If we looked at Tim’s death without the eyes of faith, it would be an unmitigated tragedy. Everyone who loved Tim should be inconsolable. If this life is all there is, then nothing could ever balance out the tragedy of his death for his wife, his kids, his parents. It’s appalling, heart-breaking, and that’s all there is to say.

But wait. If this life is all there is, why should death be appalling to us? If the atheists are right, the universe arose by accident from nothing. It has no meaning, no purpose, which logically means that life has no meaning or purpose. Things simply are what they are. Life is what it is, and death is what it is. Neither death nor life has any significance. In such a universe, death is simply natural – no different, for example, from any other natural thing, like digestion, or breathing, or the color of the sky. If death has no more significance than a burp, why should it upset us? I’ve not heard any atheists address this issue.

One of the arguments made by skeptics is that religion was developed in order to help human beings cope with the tragedy and fear associated with death. But the atheists are not thinking deeply enough. Why, in the first place, should we even think of death as a tragedy? Why should we fear it, if it is as natural and normal as blue sky?

I think the logical answer is this: death is unnatural. When we encounter death, something inside us says, “It should not be this way.” It is as if we have some kind of ancient instinct that knows death is wrong. Deep within us, our hearts tell us that the world was supposed to be a different kind of place than it actually is. I suspect that even most committed atheists cannot actually make themselves feel indifferent about the death of those they love, and about their own death. That’s extremely strange, and very difficult to explain, unless it happens to be true that death was not originally part of what it means to be human.

A lot of people believe that all religions are more or less the same. I’ve already mentioned the religion that is called atheism (and atheism is based upon blind faith, whatever people say). Atheism is very different from Christianity in this matter of death – as I say, it is meaningless, and there is nothing afterwards.

Buddhism is also not remotely like the Christian faith when it comes to death, and the possibilities of life after death. To a Buddhist, life after death is a bad thing. The whole point of Buddhism is to cease to exist altogether. They do believe in reincarnation, but reincarnation is a negative thing for a Buddhist. It means that they failed to end their existence and become nothing, and now they have to try again, possibly adding more suffering to the world as a result. The great hope of Buddhism is not life, but rather absolute nothingness, a complete cessation of being.

Hinduism is also very different from Christianity. Hindus, like Buddhists, believe in reincarnation – they suggest that the average soul is reincarnated about 8.3 million times before reaching nirvana. However, the ultimate goal (nirvana) is to cease to exist as an individual and be absorbed into the all-encompassing oneness that is the Brahman. In other words, in “heaven” you will no longer be a conscious self. For all intents and purposes, this too, as in Buddhism, is the destruction of your soul, the end of your “you-ness.”

Islam believes in a paradise that is somewhat like the Christian one, but it sounds a lot nicer for men than it does for women. Paradise is also divided into classes, with the more pleasant areas being reserved for the men, and for those who were the best Muslims. Even so, no Muslim can know whether or not they will actually go to paradise. It is based entirely on how you lived, and no one knows how much is good enough.

Judaism today is very different from the religion that began with just the Old Testament. It is very diverse, and many Jews either don’t believe in life after death, or simply assume it is some kind of mystery. Some Jews believe in a spiritual heaven and spiritual place of the dead (Sheol) but it would be inaccurate to say that modern Judaism’s view of life after death is similar to that of Christianity.

My point is this: All religions are not the same when it comes to life after death. The Christian view of resurrection after death is unique. To the small extent that Judaism and Islam are similar, it is because they were influenced by Christianity.

Before you start thinking this is all so theoretical, let’s apply this to the death of my friend, Tim. If he was Buddhist, what hope would we have, what hope would his wife and kids have? Well, one thing that is certain is that they will never again see him, certainly not to recognize him as the person they have known. The best case scenario is that he has ceased to exist forever. I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t bring me much hope or encouragement. It leaves me with nothing useful or kind to say to his family.

An atheist/skeptic/agnostic might say that Tim will live on in the memories of those who loved him. In the first place, that doesn’t help his wife Gerte when she wants Tim to hold her. It doesn’t help his son when he wants to play catch with his dad. Also, let me ask you this: how many of you have memories of your great-grandparents? I remember one of my eight great-grandparents. I have no memories of the other seven, and certainly none of the generation before that. Even my memories of great-grandma are few and fuzzy. So, if Tim lives on in the memories of those who knew him and loved him, seeing as Tim died young, the best case scenario is that he “lives on,” for another seventy years or so. Then his memory will be lost to this world. Not much of an afterlife.

If Tim was Hindu, one might say, “perhaps he will be reincarnated as someone you will meet.” Of course, he will now be younger than his own infant child, so it’s not like his wife will be able to remarry his new, reincarnated self. And obviously, if he is reincarnated, he will appear to everyone, including himself, as an entirely different person. Also, it is unlikely that in this world of billions, his family will happen to run into the reincarnated Tim. Once again, there is no hope that his family will ever again see him or know him as the person they loved. And again, the best-case Hindu scenario for Tim would be that he loses all personhood, and becomes indistinguishable from the all-encompassing oneness that is called the Brahman. (Although, because Tim was not the proper Hindu Caste, he would not be eligible for that “ultimate salvation,” anyway.)

Let’s try the Islamic hope. Well, Tim was not a Muslim, so it would be automatic hell for him. But even if he was a good Muslim, the only way to actually know for sure that you will be in paradise is to die in the cause of Islam – to be martyred. Apart from martyrs, everyone’s salvation is always in doubt, no matter how hard you have tried to be a good Muslim. So, for Tim’s family, there would be no substantial way to offer them hope. And if Tim was a particularly good Muslim, and he did make it to paradise, he may have earned more women for himself, which would not be an encouraging thought for his wife, Gerte.

As far as the Jewish hope – and I say this with a smile on my face, and love in my heart for my Jewish friends – there would more likely be a lively argument about the various possibilities for life after death than any substantial and firm hope for Tim’s family. That’s not to say that Jewish people lack compassion; rather it is that they lack a substantial hope of resurrection.

For most of my life I have had friends from all of these religious traditions. I love those friends, and I respect their freedom to make their own religious choices. In the event of a person’s death, they have great compassion, and many kind words. But all of these traditions are very different from Christianity, different in ways that mean everything when we are confronted with the reality of death.

The Bible says that the resurrection of Jesus proves that he has conquered death on behalf of all who trust him:

20 But as it is, Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead also comes through a man. 22 For just as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. (1 Corinthians 15:20-22, CSB)

Here we have the clue we started with: death was not part of God’s original plan for humanity. Death came into the human race through Adam. Human beings were not created to die. Death is not the way it is supposed to be. Here we also have this amazing hope: through Christ, though we all must die, resurrection to eternal, joyful life is now possible. Death came through Adam, but resurrection comes through Jesus Christ. Peter writes about this hope:

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:3-5, ESV)

The hope of resurrection comes through Jesus Christ alone, through his resurrection. When we belong to Him, His resurrection shows us our future:

1 See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! But the people who belong to this world don’t recognize that we are God’s children because they don’t know him. 2 Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is. (1 John 3:1-2, NLT)

We will be like Jesus. His resurrection is the beginning. Ours is assured through him, because of him, and one day we will be like him. Jesus once spoke to another grieving family:

25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me, even if he dies, will live. 26 Everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this? ” (John 11:25-26, CSB)

And so, Christian salvation is not earned (as in all other religions). It is not based upon the doubtful performance of imperfect human beings. It is based upon the performance of just one Person, who was perfect in every way. The way to receive it is to entrust ourselves, mind, body, soul and strength – to Jesus Christ.

What happened to Tim is a great tragedy. It is important for those who loved him to acknowledge that, and to grieve. But death will come to each one of us eventually. Sooner or later we have to face it, and when we do, the great question is the same as it is for us today: “Where is your hope? Do you have Jesus Christ?”

Having Jesus Christ means putting all of our trust and hope in him. It means that through faith, we trust in him each day. It doesn’t mean we are perfect. It doesn’t mean we never struggle. But we cling to Jesus every day as our only hope. Here is more of the hope that is promised to us in Jesus:

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 himself 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.”  (Rev 21:1-5, HCSB)

This is our future in Jesus Christ. It isn’t today. Today, we live in a world where a young husband and father dies, leaving behind a grief-stricken family. But we have a promise that someday, no more! Someday, no death, no crying or grief. So what about today? There is hope for today also. Listen:

What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He did not even spare His own Son but offered Him up for us all; how will He not also with Him grant us everything? Who can bring an accusation against God’s elect? God is the One who justifies. Who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is the One who died, but even more, has been raised; He also is at the right hand of God and intercedes for us.

Who can separate us from the love of Christ? Can affliction or anguish or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: Because of You we are being put to death all day long; we are counted as sheep to be slaughtered.

No, in all these things we are more than victorious through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that not even death or life, angels or rulers, things present or things to come, hostile powers, height or depth, or any other created thing will have the power to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord!  (Rom 8:31-39, HCSB)

My hope for Tim – the only reasonable hope for him, and for his family – is in Jesus. Our hope for ourselves is Jesus. Our hope for just getting through the rest of today is Jesus. He is hope for us, right now, and forever. Trust him! Cling to him! These bible verses that I have read are his promises for everyone who trusts him. Look at them as his own words to you.

Meditate on these words about the resurrection:

48 Earthly people are like the earthly man, and heavenly people are like the heavenly man. 49 Just as we are now like the earthly man, we will someday be like the heavenly man.
50 What I am saying, dear brothers and sisters, is that our physical bodies cannot inherit the Kingdom of God. These dying bodies cannot inherit what will last forever.
51 But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! 52 It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. 53 For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies.
54 Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.
55 O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
56 For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. 57 But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ.
58 So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless. (1 Corinthians 15:48-58, NLT)

He has risen!

He has risen indeed.

1 PETER #9: THE HERO OF MY LIFE’S STORY

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Jesus was foreknown from before the foundation of the world. That means that God knew ahead of time all of the pain and suffering that would occur after he created the world, but he did it anyway. He did it for love. The fact that Jesus was planned from the beginning also means that He is the Hero in the story of my life. My life is here to show the glory of Jesus to the world. This is true of all of us who have trusted him.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button: To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download 1 Peter Part 9

1 Peter #9.  1 Peter 1:17-21

Last time in our 1 Peter series, we talked about what it means to live in the fear of the Lord. Among other things, it means we do not need to fear anything else at all. Next, Peter reminds us that our salvation does not come from perishable things, like silver or gold, but rather from the precious blood of Jesus Christ.

This is one of those places that we might miss if we read too quickly. I think most of us do not think of silver or gold as perishable. To get literal about it, there are Roman gold coins from the time Peter wrote still in existence. That doesn’t seem very “perishable” to me. In fact, to get even more technical and literal, even though it is rare to find a two-thousand-year-old gold coin, the actual gold that was used in Roman coins is still almost certainly in circulation today, one way or another. What I mean is, over the centuries, people who had gold coins, or acquired them in some way, melted them down for other purposes. Nobody just throws gold away, and two-thousand year old gold is just as valuable as gold that was mined yesterday. The same goes for silver. Even though, unlike gold, silver tarnishes, it does not lose its value, and it does not cease to be silver, no matter how much time passes.

It is almost certain that Peter knows all this. In those days, people used coins made of actual precious metals (and some less precious, like copper). They were quite familiar with the properties of those metals. Peter certainly knows that fire does not destroy gold, but only refines it (1:7). So, why does he call gold and silver “perishable?”

In the first place, he knows that most people would think like me, and say, “wait a minute. Gold doesn’t really perish.” He’s getting our attention, and saying in comparison to the preciousness of Jesus Christ, yes, it is perishable.

Second, he knows that, no matter how long they may actually last on earth, the value of gold and silver to human beings does not last. To be very direct about it: the moment I die, gold becomes completely worthless to me. I might spend my life amassing millions. When I die, it will mean nothing to me. Most of us spend our lives desiring, and often pursuing, more money. When it comes to the end, however,  the amount of money you have is meaningless. It can’t help you when you stand before the throne of God. The moment you die, it is absolutely worthless.

Third, the value of gold and silver is relative, not fixed. There is nothing absolute, or permanent about its value. A  huge, untapped gold mine might be discovered, and then suddenly gold could become as common as rocks, making it worthless. Or humanity might decide for some reason that they don’t care so much about gold anymore – after all, other metals are much more useful for making things. Gold is only worth something because people have decided it is. They could just as easily decide they don’t care about it anymore. This is even more true of paper and “electronic” money. Inflation is the process by which money becomes less valuable. It happens all the time, and, in fact, is happening in 2022, when I am writing this. You can’t trust money to remain valuable.

Finally, in comparison to the preciousness of Jesus Christ, gold and silver are like moldy bread. That is the message of these verses: that Jesus Christ is infinitely valuable, and through faith, we have a part in that infinite value. What we have in Jesus is the most precious thing in the universe, and it will remain the most precious thing in the universe for all time. Remember, we have a hope that can never perish, spoil, or fade.

Just a quick note about the first part of verse 18. Peter mentions that his readers were ransomed from the futile ways handed down from their forefathers. This statement makes it almost certain that at least some of the readers were Gentiles. Neither Peter, nor Paul, nor any New Testament writer, considers the heritage of the Jews to be “futile ways.” They all agree that the Jews did not recognize Jesus, who was the point of it all, but they are clear that the Old Testament scriptures point to Jesus, and that, taking into account that it is about Jesus, the Old Testament is a reliable guide to faith and life. Peter would never call the Old Testament, nor Jewish traditions, futile. He might have argued that people used those things in futile ways, but the things themselves have value.

Peter continues:

20 He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you 21 who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.

1 Peter 1:20-21

Here is a stunning truth, tossed out rather casually by Peter: Jesus was foreknown before the foundation of the world. This sounds very theological, and so we often get a kind of glazed look in our eyes and move on. But it says something incredible about God.

Before He even began to create the cosmos, God knew that the humans he was going to create would turn against him, and reject Him. Before he spun the first light out of nothingness, he knew that we humans would create a massive mess of things, and bring death, and evil, and cruelty and horror into existence. Before anything at all existed (except for Him) he knew that he would enter a world of suffering; he knew that he himself would suffer a torturous death, and even go to a hell that had not yet been spawned, in order to save the creatures he was going to make. He knew it all long before it even began, before he put creation into motion.

And he created us anyway.

Knowing the horror that we would unleash by rebelling against him, God created a plan to neutralize our rebellion. He planned out ahead of time how he would defeat evil. That’s what Peter means when he says that Jesus was foreknown before the foundation of the world. When Adam and Eve fell, and sinned, in the Garden of Eden, God was not taken by surprise. His plan was already in place.

Now, why would God do this?

We Christians believe that God is one being, but that he is a Three-Person Being. The three Persons of God love one another with an eternal, infinite love. In fact, of all the worlds’ religions and philosophies, Christianity alone can legitimately show that love is at the core of God’s nature, and therefore, love is the foundation of the universe.

Because there is no limit to God’s love, he chose to make creatures who could share in his love. Now, love must always involve a choice. Imagine you could create a person who would love you unconditionally, no matter what. If you slapped this person in the face, he would adore you. If you mistreated him, ignored him or threw him out, he would still adore you. There would be no choice.  He would have to love you, because you created him without any say in the matter. Now, for the first few days, it might be kind of fun to have someone like that. But after awhile you would realize that this person actually has no will of his own. He doesn’t love you for your own sake. He doesn’t appreciate your good qualities, or forgive your foibles. This person simply does what he is programmed to do. In fact, after a while we would realize that if there is no choice in the matter, then it is not actually love. Real love involves a choice.

Now, if God is ultimate goodness and love, the choice against God has to be a choice for evil. So, as soon as God created angels and humans who were capable of love, he also created the possibility that evil would come into being. And, of course, it did.

To put it simply: He planned from the beginning that he would make creatures who are capable of true love. Therefore, he had to take into account from the beginning that there would also be evil. Therefore, he also planned from the beginning that he would send Jesus Christ into the world in order to defeat evil without destroying love. And he did it all for us, so that we could love each other, and especially so we could love him.

There is another important implication of the fact that Jesus was foreknown before the foundation of the world. It means that Jesus is the hero of the story. First, he is the hero of the grand salvation story found in the Bible. Second, Jesus is the hero in the story of my life, and the story of your life.

I don’t naturally think that way. I tend to think that the story of my life is about me. This leads me to act as if life is all about what I want, and what I need. Even if I devote myself to unselfish things, like my family, and the ministry of the gospel, I still look at it as if life is all about me. However, this way of thinking – that life is all about me – does not typically make me happy. It leaves me trying to figure out what I’m supposed to do. It leaves me trying to solve problems on my own. Even if I let Jesus enter the story of my life, if my life is still all about my own aims and goals, then it is up to me, ultimately, to figure things out. Jesus might help me (in this way of thinking), but the final responsibility for everything is still mine.

But Jesus was planned before the world began. Every person’s story is actually the story of what Jesus will do in and through their life. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote the world-famous Sherlock Holmes novels. He made a very interesting choice in telling the stories. The action is narrated by a man called John Watson. We are told the story from the point of view of Watson’s life. To illustrate what I mean, it reads like: “I met Holmes at our club, and then I told him about the empty room,” and so on. You might say, it is the story of Watson’s life. However, the story is not about Watson. The hero of the story, and really, the main character, is not Watson, but Sherlock Holmes. Watson’s life, and his story, were designed by Conan-Doyle to show the greatness of another character: Sherlock Holmes. If we were to put it in theological terms, we might say that Watson’s life becomes a platform to give glory to Holmes.

In the same way, our own lives are meant to be a platform to show the greatness of Jesus Christ. The story is not about us. Yes, we see it from our own perspective, just as Watson sees things from his own perspective. But the real story of our lives is not about us; the real story is about the Hero, the One who was known from before the foundation of the world: Jesus Christ.

When I realize that my life is not telling my story, but rather, telling the story of Jesus, a lot of pressure is taken off me. I don’t have to perform. I don’t have to save the day, or move things forward. Jesus is the main character of my life’s story. Jesus is the hero. I’m a sidekick. We sidekicks are still important. Without Watson, the story of Sherlock Holmes would not have been told. In a similar way, God wants to tell a story about Jesus through my life. There is a story through my life that will bring glory to Jesus in a way that is different from the story told through someone else’s life. But I am not the point. I’m along for the ride, along to admire and trust the Hero, who was foreknown from before the foundation of the world.

Now, this sounds very wonderful and lofty, but what does it really mean: “Jesus is the hero of the story of my life?” Let’s get real. I was thinking about this just a few minutes ago, while my pain was starting to get worse. Some nights, when that happens, I’m looking at hours and hours of pure misery. I prayed without much hope, “OK, Jesus, since we’re talking about this, I need a hero to save me from the pain in this moment.”

I’m telling the truth when I say that within a few minutes, the pain stopped getting worse, and even backed off a little bit. But let’s keep it real. I have often prayed for relief, and received none. What then? What happens when the hero doesn’t save you?”

Here’s the truth: He has already saved us. Yes, I live a difficult life. But the end of the story was written before the beginning of time, space and matter. Jesus always planned to go through hell so that I only have to go through earth. I won’t be thrilled if my suffering lasts a few more decades, but a few decades is nothing compared to the eternal joy that awaits me, because the Hero has already won the final battle. For followers of Jesus, every defeat in this life is temporary – even death! Every moment of suffering will be overwhelmed by joy piled upon joy. The Bible fully acknowledges the reality of suffering in this mortal life. But the end of the story makes everything else more than worth it:

6 For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. 17 And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering. 18 Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. 19 For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are.

(Romans 8:16-19, NLT)

So, recognizing that Jesus was foreknown from before the foundation of the earth, we can live a life of hope:

16 That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. 17 For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! 18 So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.

(2 Corinthians 4:16-18, NLT)

NEW YEAR: 2022. KILL THE RESOLUTIONS!

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New Year’s resolutions are a tradition far more dangerous to following Jesus than enjoying a pagan-inspired Christmas tree. The way we do resolutions gives us false hope, and encourages us to focus on things that probably don’t matter much, in the light of eternity. Scripture shows us a better way, a more encouraging, and ultimately, more effective way, to engage in change.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button: To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download New Year 2022

NEW YEAR’S 2022

I love Christmas. There’s no way you could call me a Christmas scrooge. I like the spirit of the season. I enjoy getting gifts and I like giving them too. But when it comes to New Year I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, some New Year’s traditions appeal to me. I think it’s a good thing to look at where you have been for the past year, and then evaluate and consider possible adjustments in your life for the next year. Hanging out with your loved ones and considering how important they are to you, is also a great New Year’s tradition.

There are other traditions that aren’t so great, like beginning the brand new year by getting falling-down drunk. I also don’t care for the tradition that there is no more eggnog available in stores after New Year’s Eve. And there is one New Year tradition to which I emphatically say, “bah humbug.”

New Year’s resolutions.

Let’s face it, almost nobody keeps them. Nobody remembers them. Do you remember your resolutions for last year? But it’s not just that New Year’s resolutions don’t really accomplish anything for most people. The fact is, New Year’s resolutions, the way our culture practices them, reinforce a false understanding of spiritual reality and human nature. New Year’s, when we make resolutions, is a time when we reaffirm our belief in the power of the flesh.

Consider your most typical sorts of resolutions. We resolve to lose weight. Most of us don’t ever think about how, we just say we want to. We resolve to exercise three times a week. We resolve to say one nice thing every day, or to finish writing a book, or even to read the bible every day. Maybe we resolve not to get falling-down drunk next New Year’s Eve.

None of those resolutions are bad. New Year’s resolutions are full of good intentions.

Three things draw us to New Year’s resolutions. First, we see there is a problem. There are things in our lives that should be addressed. This is a very positive thing, and it is the only part of the resolution concept that I approve of.

But secondly, we gravitate toward resolutions because we are inclined to believe that we have the power within ourselves to change ourselves and make the world a better place.

Third, we tend to make New Year’s resolutions because our focus on what is in this world, instead of our eternal future. I’m not saying it’s bad to lose weight. I want to be healthy. I want to look like my old svelte self. But whether I lose weight or not, I will die someday. When this body is gone, it really won’t matter whether or not I lost weight in 2022. Most of the things we resolve at New Year’s don’t matter eternally. I’m sure some people make eternal-oriented resolutions, but the vast majority of our focus is on things that really don’t matter very much.

New year’s resolutions fail so often for two reasons.

First, they are ultimately self centered. I resolve to do this. I resolve not to do that. The focus of almost every resolution is self. Even an unselfish resolution – like saying something uplifting every day – are not focused on all the encouraging things there are to say – but rather, on the fact that I am going to say them.

Second, they rely on the power of the flesh. Aren’t you the same person that failed to keep your New Year’s resolutions last year? Isn’t the reason that you need to lose weight in 2022 because you failed to control your diet in 2021 (for me, the answer would be “yes!”)? Isn’t the reason you are resolving to exercise is because you have not been exercising? What makes us think that the mere passing of a certain date will make us able to do what we have not done yet?

It is a fake chance to start over – to start over in exactly the same manner you failed before. It is doing what you have always done, and expecting a different result. The reason I’m talking so much about New Year’s resolutions, is because it isn’t just New Year’s. We tend to live our whole lives this way.

Generally, we recognize when we have problems. But our approach to solving them is to put hope in the same flawed person who got you your problems in the first place – you. We think we can pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps. We’ll think we’ll just act differently next time. But we can’t. We are trying to live not by the grace of “receive” but by the law of “do.”

God has a different approach to our problems. He would like to kill the sinful flesh. In fact, when we turn our lives over to Jesus, that is exactly what he does. Through faith, baptism buries us with Christ – our sinful flesh is dead and buried. We want to keep resurrecting it, so to speak, and trying to make it work for us. But the bible says, it’s dead. Let it rest in peace. Paul puts it this way:

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.

(Galatians 2:20)

So, you don’t get to make New Year’s resolutions anymore, because the old you is dead. The life you have now is the life of faith, not flesh. It is the Life of Jesus Himself that shall be lived out through you now. Are you going to bind the life of Jesus to some barely-relevant, ultimately meaningless New Year’s resolution?

Colossians 3:1-4, says this:

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

You died. Your flesh is counted as dead in God’s eyes. There’s nothing there anymore to fix or reform. You’re trying to put make-up on a corpse, and the result is only grotesque. Why are we messing around like this anymore? Paul says to fix our eyes and our focus on our real life – the eternal life that is ours with Jesus. It’s already in heaven, hidden until Jesus returns. That is where our focus should be for the New Year, not with what is already dead and dying.

Now, you may say, but Tom, what if there is something that really should change in my life, something that may have eternal significance, like getting into a habit of daily bible reading?

I’m so glad you asked.

When I was thirteen years old, I read a book called the Cross and the Switchblade, by David Wilkerson. It was the exciting true story of how a small-town pastor in Pennsylvania began a ministry to gang members in New York City. There was crime and fighting and it was a great book. Also in the book, was the story of how David Wilkerson got filled with the Holy Spirit when he was thirteen. I wanted that to happen to me, so I prayed that God would fill me with the Holy Spirit

As far I could see, nothing happened. I didn’t feel any different. I didn’t speak in tongues. Sometime, not long after that, I finished mowing our lawn. It was my favorite time of day, and our spot in Papua New Guinea was really quite pretty. I looked around and said, “God, you are so beautiful, I’m going to read the Bible every day from now on.”

That wasn’t the first time I tried to read the Bible regularly. I had started many times before, and never got much further than Exodus. But it was the first time I’d tried to read the bible after I asked to be filled with the Holy Spirit. I read a chapter that night. I read the next chapter the next night. For some reason, I didn’t start in Genesis this time. I read the psalms first. Then the New Testament. Then I went back a read a few books in the Old Testament. Ten years passed…and I had never missed a single day of bible reading until I was about 23. During many of those years I traveled extensively. I often went out, and stayed up late, like any respectable young person. But somehow, I always read my Bible before I turned in, wherever I was, no matter what time it was.

Now, it wasn’t New Year’s when that happened. I didn’t think about some resolution I wanted to make. But the life of God, living through me (not my flesh) resolved in me to do this. I really don’t think I can credit myself with anything here. What thirteen year old boy decides to take up bible reading? What teenager can stick to a promise to read the Bible every day? Not me. It was the Holy Spirit, living in me, that brought forth the resolution, and the power to carry it out.

What we need in 2022, is not more effort. We need more Holy Spirit. More trust in what Jesus has already done for us. We need to hear from him, to obey when he speaks, and trust that he – not us – will carrying it out through us, using His power.

Take a moment right now with the Lord. Ask him to fill you again with his Holy Spirit. Or ask him to do so for the first time!

Now sit quietly a minute more. Let Him speak to you about 2022, about your life, about His life that he wants to live through you. Be aware this next week, of how he might speak to you. And trust him for the power to do what he wants to in you and through you!

1 PETER #7: HOPE RESULTS IN HOLINESS

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Because we have an expectation that our amazing future will indeed come to pass, we will make different choices than those who have no such hope. And that will make us look different, sometimes, even strange, to those who do not share our hope. That differentness is a picture of the holiness of God.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button: To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download 1 Peter Part 7

1 PETER #7. 1 PETER 1:14-16

There is a reason we have spent so much time in 1 Peter looking at the hope we have as Christians. In order to understand our next verses, we have to have that hope firmly in mind. After telling us to fix our hope firmly on the grace that will be ours when all things are made new (the revelation of Jesus Christ) Peter goes on:

14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, 15 but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”

If we did not have the foundation of hope, these verses might sound to us like some kind of difficult and hard duty that we have to perform in order to please God: “Now look, people, you’ve got to do the right thing. You have to be holy. Get it together.”

But we need to remember that all of this begins with the grace that God has already given us, and the hope that we have in Jesus.

Before I go on, let me make sure we define “hope” a little bit. Let’s contrast it to a wish. A wish is something that would be nice if it happened, but for which you have very little expectation. I might wish to win five million dollars at the lottery. I might wish I was six inches taller, or wasn’t losing my hair. I have no real expectation of having those wishes fulfilled. In fact, my wish about the lottery is so weak that I don’t even buy lottery tickets. Wishes don’t change the way we live.

A hope is a reasonable expectation of something that will one day come to be in reality. It is still in the future, but we have a strong belief that it will, in fact, come to pass. Because hope expects fulfillment, it influences and changes the way we behave.

When I was at Oregon State University, I happened to have two friends who were on the women’s gymnastics team. At that time, OSU (Oregon, not Ohio) had a stellar women’s gymnastics program. The team was typically in the top five in the nation, for several years in row, number one, more than once.

One of my friends won the title of top female college gymnast in the country just a month before I met her. My other gymnast friend was a couple years younger, and she went on to win the national solo title the year after I met her. As I mentioned, their whole team also won the gold medal a few times.

Both of these women were part of my “core friends” group. This group of friends would get together, hang out, grab pizza, do Bible study, and even take trips together. But our two gymnast friends lived different lives than the rest of us. I had no hopes of ever becoming a top-ranked college gymnast. But my friends had legitimate hopes of being on the medal podium, when the NCAA gymnastics tournament came around. Their hope led them to make choices that made them different from the rest of us. Sometimes, they didn’t eat the pizza we had ordered. Sometimes, they couldn’t get together with the rest of us, because they had to practice. While the rest of us did our normal things, they spent hours doing abnormal things, like hurling their bodies into the air, twisting, flipping and turning, and landing on their feet.

Don’t miss the point: their hopes directed them to lead different lives. They didn’t practice for hours because “it was the right thing to do.” They didn’t do flips and twists in the air because that’s what good people are supposed to do. They did it because they had a wonderful, amazing hope, one which they fully expected would come to pass: that they would be on the medal podium, come tournament time. And so, they lived in continual expectation of that hope.

Significant hope changes how you live. If you have hopes that are different from those around you, you will live a life that looks different. Peter tells us that we should have every expectation of the fulfillment of our amazing hope. That leads us to live differently, to behave differently than we did before we had this hope. So, in the first place, we need to let go of the way we lived before the hope. At that time, we lived according to whatever passions motivated us. In other words, we lived to satisfy our own desires as best as we could. We decided on hopes that we thought might be workable, and lived for small things, mostly for ways to satisfy our own desires and needs.

Peter tells us that now, we should live as children who love their Father, and want to be like Him. In other words, this change of behavior comes out of love and hope, not law. When I was young, there were two men that I loved with all my heart, and looked up to: my father, and my maternal grandfather. They were different from each other in some ways, but I loved and respected both of them so much, I wanted to be like them. I didn’t try to be like them because someone told me that was the rule. I didn’t do it “because that’s what good people do.” I imitated them as a result of love and respect. I was tremendously blessed by God in that I knew for certain that both my earthly father, and my grandfather, loved me. And because they loved me, I loved them back, and I wanted to be like them.

That’s supposed to be the motivating factor with God. Now, I know not all of you were as blessed as I was by your earthly fathers or grandfathers. Some of you did not have that love growing up. But you can trust the love of your heavenly Father. He proved his love to you beyond any doubt by sending Jesus to suffer death in your place. Let the Holy Spirit pour that love into your heart and convince you of his Father-love for you.

2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:2-5, ESV)

So, we live different lives, holy lives, because we know that God loves us, and we love him back. We live different lives because we have a different hope. Now, let’s talk about holiness for a moment. Peter writes:

15 but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”

Remember, one of the key things about holiness is that it is different, set apart. I have previously used the analogy of clothing. Most of us in the Western world have “everyday clothes,” and then also “fancy clothes.” We reserve our fancy clothes for special occasions. They are set-apart – they are different, intended to be special, to celebrate special occasions. When we wear those clothes, we are sending the message that something special and important is going on. Or think of it this way: Many years ago, some friends gave us a very special set of plates, glasses and eating utensils. This set of dishes is very fancy, and each piece needs to be washed by hand. We don’t put those plates in the microwave either. Those dishes are set apart – they are intended for special occasions: Thanksgiving, Christmas, Passover, and so on. When we use them, it says: “Pay attention! Something important and out of the ordinary is going on right now!”

In the same way, we have already been set apart by God. We saw in 1 Peter 1:2 that God was the one who set us apart, who has made us holy through Jesus Christ. So, we don’t have to become holy – God has already made us that way. But what we are called to do is live out that holiness, that differentness. And, as I have just mentioned, part of living as holy people is driven by our hope of something different than the world hopes for. If we live according to our hope, we will also be living out the holiness that God has imparted to us. It will look different to the world, not “everyday.” We won’t cheat someone when it’s obvious that we could get away with it – not even the government or a large corporation. We won’t use alcohol or drugs, or sex, in inappropriate ways, (for instance, to numb the pain of this life), but instead we will rely on the hope of the grace of God that is coming. We won’t take the opportunity to indulge our sinful desires, even when we think we could “get away with it” without consequence. Because we have an expectation that our amazing future will indeed come to pass, we will make different choices than those who have no such hope. And that will make us look different, sometimes, even strange, to those who do not share our hope. That differentness is a picture of the holiness of God.

At a few different times in my life, I was making a living apart from ministry. In almost any job I had, others would comment about the fact that I behaved differently from most of our coworkers. I didn’t behave that way simply as a point of honor. I did it because I have a hope that my coworkers didn’t have. The same was true of another group of friends I had in college. These were not my “core group” but they were people I ate with regularly, and with whom I hung out occasionally; I don’t think any of them were Christians. Three of us were named Tom. One “Tom” was in the agricultural program, and wore a Stetson hat, so everyone felt the obvious way to distinguish him from the other Toms was to call him: “cowboy Tom.” They had a name for me, too: “holy Tom.” I don’t remember anyone discussing this much, or asking why they should call me “holy;” everyone else seemed to think it just fit, just like we thought “cowboy Tom,” was obvious. I was the only one who objected to that name. But they could see something that I didn’t yet understand: I was different. I wasn’t trying to be that different – but my hope made me different. In fact, I understand now that it was God Himself who makes us different – that is, holy – when we receive Him in faith.

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not trying to say I was in complete control of my behavior, or that I tried to put on a good front to impress people. In fact, I’m saying the opposite. It was the hope I have, and the love that God has for me, that made me look different to my coworkers and friends. They recognized something in me as “holy,” when I was not even consciously trying to look that way.

Remember, this different behavior proceeds not from laws about what we ought to do, but rather from our hope, and from our love for God. If you find yourself struggling to bring your behavior in line, I recommend meditating on your hope, and upon the love of God. There is a place for self-discipline, a place to have integrity for the sake of your own self-regard, but the engines that really drive our behavior should be hope and love. If we have a behavior problem, it might be that we have a problem connecting with the love of God, or with the amazing hope of our future in the New Creation.

So don’t be afraid to read:  “but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” I’ll say it again: it isn’t about trying with your own strength to make yourself behave. The key to holiness is hope and love.

That last part “you shall be holy,” is also a kind of promise. We shall be holy, because God has already made us Holy in our spirits, giving us His own Holy Spirit as kind of a down payment on the promised hope.

And when you believed in Christ, he identified you as his own by giving you the Holy Spirit, whom he promised long ago. 14 The Spirit is God’s guarantee that he will give us the inheritance he promised and that he has purchased us to be his own people. He did this so we would praise and glorify him. (Ephesians 1:13-14, NLT)

To encourage our resolve to live different lives according to our hope, let’s end with another statement of that hope:

1 For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. 2 We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing. 3 For we will put on heavenly bodies; we will not be spirits without bodies. 4 While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh, but it’s not that we want to die and get rid of these bodies that clothe us. Rather, we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life. 5 God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee he has given us his Holy Spirit. (2 Corinthians 5:1-5, NLT)

1 PETER #6: FIXING HOPE

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We were made for place we have not yet been. We need to learn to use our minds to fix our hope fully on the grace that is to come. Every good thing we hope for on earth is just a blurry reflection of the glorious hope that is to come.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button: To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download 1 Peter Part 6

I apologize for any typos, etc. I am getting this out at the last second for our churches to use, and I did not have time to edit properly.

1 Peter #6. 1 Peter 1:13.

13 Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

We will focus on just one verse this time, because it holds the key to a number of the verses that follow. Peter is going to exhort us to “be holy,” but we have to understand that being holy can only occur when we set our hopes fully on the grace that will be brought to us at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

The old bible-study expression still holds true: “Find out what the “therefore” is there for. In other words, to understand the next section, we need to realize that Peter is connecting it to everything that has gone before, which we will now summarize:

We Christians are strangers and aliens in this world, but we have the superb hope of a future that can never perish, spoil, or fade. That hope sustains us, even in difficult times, and we know that while the difficult times are hard, they are temporary; but our hope is eternal – when we enter it, our joy will have no limit. All of this has been delivered to us by the remarkable writings that we call the Bible, which continually reveals to us the solid core of hope, which is Jesus Christ.

Therefore – because of all that –

preparing your minds for action…

Let’s start with “preparing your minds for action.” Peter is saying: “Get ready to move. Get ready to think clearly and well. Get ready to act according your faith.” Part of idea from the Greek is also to secure anything that might get in the way. Don’t leave any loose ends. It was actually a common phrase from the ancient world, almost a slang expression about tucking your robes up into your belt so you could be ready for running, or other vigorous physical activity. Picture an action movie when the heroes finally understand what’s going on, and they commit to doing what it takes to deal with their enemies and win. Ready to roll! Shake off the dust. Roll up your sleeves. Lock and load. Let’s do this!

Peter applies this specifically to our minds, or, to our thinking. There are people who believe that to be a Christian means you have to give up thinking. The truth is, the Christian faith teaches us that our minds were created by a rational, intelligent God, and that he has given us intelligence as a gift to be used. In other words, there is a fruitful purpose in using our minds. Our faith also teaches us that God created the universe with purpose and design, and that design can be discovered and studied. In other words, it is possible and useful to study the world around us and learn what we can. Studying the world will also tell us things about God, in indirect ways. It was these two important aspects of the Christian view of the world that led to the development of modern universities, and particularly, what we call “science.”

There were centers for learning in the ancient Greek world, the Islamic world, as well as in the Buddhist, Hindu and Confucianist (Chinese) cultures. Certainly those cultures have contributed to the accumulated knowledge of the human race. However it was only in Christian culture that modern methods of study, including modern science, developed. That was because a biblical view of the world and of the human mind, and of thinking, led us to believe that we could, and should, explore our world in an orderly and methodical way. There would be no science without Christianity. That is not an opinion, it is simply a historical fact. There was no modern science anywhere else in the world, until the cultures founded by Christianity developed it and exported it. So, it is entirely appropriate to see Peter’s words here as an encouragement for Christians to be thinking people. We aren’t anti-science. And science is not anti-God. Though many atheists refuse to admit it, science depends on Christian presuppositions in order to function. Meanwhile, we Christians are supposed to use the minds that God has given us.

Now, I don’t want to misrepresent what Peter is saying. Though he is saying that Christians should use their minds in general, he also intends that we use our minds particularly to strengthen the faith of our hearts. He tells us:

and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

What does it means to be “sober minded?” Well, sober is the opposite of drunk, right? It has other connotations as well, like calm, thoughtful, and serious. In other words, we should engage in our hope with clear eyes, and clear thoughts, taking it seriously, not frivolously. Faith is a big deal. So, we should remain in control of our hopes, keeping them fixed on Jesus. We should use our minds to direct our hopes to Him.

What does that actually look like? Suppose you are single, and you really want to get married. And you think, “If I’m honest, one of my biggest hopes is to get married someday. I think I might hope for that even more than I hope for Jesus.”

First, it is good to be honest with yourself about things like that. That’s part of what it means to be sober-minded. You are thinking seriously and clearly about your deepest hopes.

But what of that fact that you hope for marriage more than you hope for the return of Jesus? Consider this possibility: What you really desire so much in marriage is exactly what you will get when Jesus returns. In other words, your hope for marriage is a kind of muddled echo of your hope for Jesus. In marriage, you want to be fully known, and loved, even as you are fully known. You want the joy of intimacy. You want the security of knowing there is a special someone, someone you is yours and someone to whom you belong fully. You want someone who always has your back, who will stand with you when the chips are down and the house is burning. Someone with whom you will share joy, fun intimacy and life.

You might not believe it, but I think that is a pretty good description of what we will have with Jesus when he returns. We don’t always realize that those sorts of desires are actually desires for Jesus. We think what we want is marriage. But our desire for marriage is actually looking beyond marriage to the relationship we were created to have with God.

I think this could be true of many other things that we deeply desire: beauty, intimacy, adventure, peace, security, rest, excitement, and even achievement. I think we desire such things because they are shadows or reflections of what a sin-free relationship with God is really like.

It’s like teenagers who want a car. The truth is, what they want is not mainly a vehicle to help them travel quickly from one place to the next. What they really want is freedom, and adventure, and independence, and to be cool, and have status, and the opportunities that come from being your own master. But try to convince a teenager that what they really want is all that other stuff, and they’ll probably say: “Nah. I just want a car.” But they don’t. They want what a car represents.

I think even adults make similar mistakes. We think we know what we want: financial security. A beautiful relationship with another person. An endless vacation. Freedom from fear and worry. Physical health. None of those things are necessarily bad, though we can pursue them in sinful ways if we aren’t careful. But none of them will truly satisfy us unless we have them in and through Jesus Christ. If we have them apart from Christ, they will always eventually end. If we have them apart from Christ, we will find a way to ruin them somehow.

Some desires, of course, are sinful, and we need to learn to recognize and reject those. But I think many of our desires are simply misplaced. We don’t realize that our desires represent a deeper reality: we were made for intimacy with God in a perfect creation, with things to do that we were created to partake in. That’s what we truly desire, even though we have a hard time realizing it.

It’s unfortunate, but sometimes it is hard to tell, with some Christians, how their hopes are any different from those of the secular people around them. They want the big house, the nice cars, the successful careers, and children they can brag about. They want leisure time and money for travel and fun. They live for the same sorts things everyone else lives for. Sure, they’re happy that the New Creation is waiting for them, but their focus is on the things of this life. They’ll think about their eternal future later, after they have gotten all they can from this present life.

There is fine line here, which why Peter tells us to use our minds well. It isn’t wrong to want your children to do well. It isn’t wrong to have leisure or fun in this life. But I believe what Peter wants us to think carefully about, is where we put our biggest hopes. If I hope more for a new house than for my eternal home, something is not right. If I am seeking intimacy with another human being more than with Jesus, I need to recognize it as an issue. Author John Eldredge puts it like this:

If I told you that your income would triple next year, and that European vacation you wanted is just around the corner, you’d be excited, hopeful. The future would look promising. It seems possible, desirable. But our ideas of heaven, while possible, aren’t all that desirable. Whatever it is we think is coming in the next season of our existence, we don’t think it is worth getting all that excited about. We make a nothing of eternity by enlarging the significance of this life and by diminishing the reality of what the next life is all about.

(John Eldredge, Desire)

C.S. Lewis wrote about this same thing. He says that we set our sights too low, going for the things we know. We are as foolish as children playing in the mud:

We are halfhearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

C.S. Lewis, “The Weight of Glory”

Scripture tells us that what is coming is far better than anything to be had on earth. The things we desire are mere poor shadows of the reality that will be ours when Jesus returns and ushers in the New Creation. It’s as if someone is offering us a gourmet meal, and we say: “No thanks, I just want McDonald’s quarter-pounder.”

Now, some of the problem is that we know what a quarter-pounder tastes like, but we have not yet tasted the gourmet meal. Peter is telling us that we should train our minds to desire the gourmet meal. There are tiny tastes of it available even now. The ache you feel after a beautiful piece of music. The excitement and satisfaction after reading a great book, or seeing an amazing movie. The inexplicable joy that hits at unpredictable moments.

So we must learn to fix our hope fully on all that we have in God, through Jesus Christ. God is eternal, and infinite. There is literally no end to the wonderful things we can have in Him and through Him. We are actually incapable of imagining anything better than what we could have when Jesus Christ returns. We need to train our minds to recognize and remember this.

When we set our hope fully on the grace that will be our when Jesus is fully revealed, it can create a longing. I believe an authentic life of following Jesus will always involve deep longing, because we were made for more than this life. Sometimes we can’t even put a name to what we want, because God’s resources for us are infinite – there might not even be words yet invented to describe what God has in store for us. But if you find yourself somehow wanting “more,” you are on the right track. Just remember to discipline your mind to recognize that the “more” we want can only be found in Jesus. We should also remember that although God offers us much in this present life, all of his promises will only truly be fulfilled when we stand face to face with him in our new bodies, inhabiting the New Creation.

When we train our minds and discipline our hope in this way, it leads to a different way of living. We will talk about that next time. But it is vital to understand that this different way of living – which Peter calls “being holy” is a result of setting our hope fully on the grace that will be ours when Jesus fully comes into His own.

We can’t really train our minds to do this without the power of the Holy Spirit working within us. So let’s ask the Lord to help us keep our hopes fixed fully on Him.

1 PETER #4: GRIEF AND JOY IN TRIALS

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It is normal and appropriate to grieve when we face hard things in our life. Even so, God uses those things to cause us to grow, and to refine our faith in Jesus. We can trust His work through our suffering because His greatest work came through the suffering of Jesus Christ.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button: To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download 1 Peter Part 4

1 Peter #4. 1 Peter 1:6-9

6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, 9 obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. 1 Peter 1:6-9, ESV

Last time, we saw that Peter began by encouraging his readers with the amazing promises of our eternal inheritance. He now provides a contrast. We have that amazing inheritance, a treasure that will always be there for us. It cannot be corrupted, and it will never lose its freshness or joy. Peter now acknowledges that in the meantime, before we receive that inheritance, we may experience various kinds of difficulty and hardship. The word Peter uses for these struggles is usually translated trials. This is a word that is often used in the New Testament.

I want to take this opportunity to address a misunderstanding that some Christians seem to have. Many people seem to think that the only kind of hardship that “counts” as suffering for Christ is persecution. In other words, (they think) if you are persecuted, any hardship that results from that persecution is suffering for Christ. But if a drunk driver hits you and you lose your legs, that’s just bad luck, and it isn’t the same thing as Christian suffering. But Peter here refers to “various kinds” of trials. This is exactly what is sounds like: it means that there may be many different kinds of hardship and struggles that you encounter. It could be illness, or something caused by an accident, or something done to you by someone else. It might be financial hardship, or emotional problems, or struggles in your relationship with someone. The point that Peter makes is this: whatever the source of the suffering, when we are in Jesus, God uses it to create character, or to test character, or both. It ultimately results in praise and glory and honor.

I want to make sure we are clear here. I don’t mean that God deliberately inflicts pain directly upon people. But when pain comes, he puts it to good use. The Holy Spirit, in Romans 8:28, says this:

8 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. (Romans 8:28-30, ESV)

God uses all things in the process of making us more like Jesus, more like the people we were originally intended to be, apart from sin. “All things” working for our good includes trials and suffering, obviously. So, when difficult times come about as a result of living in a world full of sin, and living in bodies that are corrupted by sin, God uses those to develop and refine our character.

3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:3-5, ESV)

The Spirit inspired James to write something similar:

 2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4, ESV)

I can say, without a doubt, that God has used suffering to make me a better person. He has used suffering to help me feel more close to Him than I had ever felt before. He has used suffering to wean my affections away from the things of the world, to help me become less interested in sin. As Paul, and James write, there have been times when I have rejoiced in the suffering that God entrusted to me. Suffering has made my faith far deeper and stronger than it was before – it has been tested, like gold in the fire, and purified in the same way. By the way, I am not claiming to be some great person. I just mean that God has made me more like Jesus than I was before I began to suffer. I’m still not very far along that road, and I don’t claim to be better than anyone else, but I believe I am farther along than I was before, as a direct result of my struggles.

But I am so glad that the Holy Spirit inspired Peter to remind us that there is also grief in suffering. Peter writes here that we rejoice in our eternal inheritance, while the trials are bringing us grief. I don’t believe that there is a conflict in these perspectives. It is possible, and good and right, to rejoice in suffering. It is also good and right to grieve in suffering. Even Paul, who also wrote about rejoicing in suffering, in addition, recorded his deep distress, many times:

8 We think you ought to know, dear brothers and sisters, about the trouble we went through in the province of Asia. We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it. 9 In fact, we expected to die. (2 Corinthians 1:8-9, NLT)

I think there are times when suffering results in rejoicing. But at other times, we are pressed beyond our ability to endure (as Paul confesses), and we grieve, and cry out. This too, is an appropriate, godly response to trials, when we cry out in tears, yet still with faith:

11 What strength do I have that I should continue to hope?
What is my future, that I should be patient?
12 Is my strength that of stone,
or my flesh made of bronze?
13 Since I cannot help myself,
the hope for success has been banished from me. (Job 6:11-13, HCSB)
16 I weep because of these things;
my eyes flow with tears.
For there is no one nearby to comfort me,
no one to keep me alive.
My children are desolate
because the enemy has prevailed. (Lamentations 1:16, CSB)
3 I am weary from my crying;
my throat is parched.
My eyes fail, looking for my God.
4 Those who hate me without cause
are more numerous than the hairs of my head;
my deceitful enemies, who would destroy me,
are powerful.
Though I did not steal, I must repay. (Psalms 69:3-4, CSB)

Why do I call these passionate, desperate, words, responses “of faith?” Because they were poured out as prayers. They are full of sorrow, and pain and despair, but even in the midst of all that, they were poured out to the Lord. Job, Jeremiah and David (the writers of the three passages above) fully experienced their pain and suffering. They did not pretend that they were OK. They were honest and eloquent about how hard it was. But even so, they brought their pain to the feet of the Lord. Yes, the pain is deep, and even despairing, and yet, by bringing their pain to the Lord, they are showing faith. They are terrific examples for us. I’ll be personal for a moment. Today, I feel much more like the verses I just gave you (by Job, Jeremiah, and David), than the ones about rejoicing in suffering. Yet, I know that I am OK with God. There is room for many different responses to suffering. God can handle it. We have a God who personally knows what it is like to suffer within a human body. The writer of Hebrews says (about Jesus):

17 Therefore, it was necessary for him to be made in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. Then he could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people. 18 Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested. (Hebrews 2:17-18, NLT)

For the first two years of my suffering, I was confused and troubled; that was OK. God handled it. Then for almost four years, I did truly rejoice in my suffering. But now, today, I identify with the Biblical writers who talk about despair and hopelessness. I don’t believe that God loves me any less now than he did when I was doing well. He knows what it is like. He can handle our unexpected courage and fortitude, and he can handle our crushing despair. He won’t let either one go to waste, but instead, will use all things to cause us to grow into the people he intends us to be. He will use them ultimately to bring praise, glory and honor, where right now we experience suffering, grief and despair. Again, this is something that the entire New Testament affirms in many places:

17 And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering.18 Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. (Romans 8:17-18, NLT)

And, what has become my life-verse:

16 That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. 17 For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! 18 So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18, NLT)

One gigantic difference between Christianity and every other world-view is this way of thinking about suffering in the light of eternity. If you are an atheist, life is simply fundamentally unfair to most people, and then you die, and it is over. If you live in a wealthy country, you might not see just how deeply unjust and terrible life is for millions, but it is true. If you are a Buddhist, suffering is ultimately meaningless; it is merely an illusion. If you are a Hindu, all of your personal suffering is your own fault; perhaps from a previous life, but it’s still all on you to pay back your debt to karma. But we Christians see suffering in the light of a glorious eternal future, trusting that a God who is far beyond our comprehension is indeed making things right. It is only logical that an infinite God would do things, or allow things, that we don’t understand. Understanding doesn’t always bring comfort anyway. But our comfort comes from trusting God; trusting that He is indeed good, and that he loves us, and we can rely on that, even when we don’t understand, because he went through incredible pain and suffering himself, for our sake.

Remember when Jesus was on the cross? He cried out: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He understood what it was to have grief and despair in trials. And the cross gives us confidence that even when we don’t understand, God is doing something good. At the time, it seemed to the disciples as if it was a disaster. How could God use the crucifixion of the Messiah for good? And yet, through the suffering of Jesus, God brought about the eternal good of untold numbers of people. If God can use the death of Jesus for good, we can trust that he can use our sufferings for good as well, even when we don’t understand what he is up to, or how it could possibly result in good.

Peter has acknowledged the reality of the grief that suffering brings. He has also set up the eternal perspective, and so, he goes on:

8 Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, 9 obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. 1 Peter 1:6-9, ESV

Peter saw Jesus personally. It must have been a kind of wonderful thing to him to meet so many people who developed faith in Jesus without ever meeting Him personally. I am sure he was reminded of Jesus’ words to his friend, Thomas:

29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29, ESV)

Paul makes it clear, also:

7 For we live by faith, not by sight. (2 Corinthians 5:6-7, ESV)

Again, from 2 Corinthians 4:18 (quoted above), we are to fix our attention on things that are not seen physically. I’ve said this before, but faith requires a kind of surrender. We have to give up control in order to trust. We have to accept the possibility that we are being foolish. Even so, Peter gives us a clue that when we do trust our unseen Lord, there is a confidence that results. Many people have asked me over the years whether it is possible to know if you are being saved. Well, Peter makes it crystal clear here. He is writing to people who have taken the leap of faith. They are trusting the unseen and infinite God. As a result, they are filled with joy, and they can be sure that they are receiving the goal of that faith: the salvation of their souls.

Of course, as with anything the idea that you can be sure of your salvation can be abused. I have met people who prayed a prayer with a preacher, and got baptized, and have since had nothing to do with Jesus whatsoever. They live the same kind of life as people who have no faith. Even so, they seem to think they will be saved. Thankfully, I am not the one who will judge their fate; even so, I think such people are probably mistaken, and they are often the “so-called Christians” who give other Jesus-followers a bad name.

If you truly do know that you are saved, if you truly believe what the Bible says about Jesus, it will affect how you live. Certainly, you won’t become perfect, and sometimes it will be two steps forward, one step back, but our actions will reveal what we truly believe.

However, we need to be clear. We don’t have faith in our own ability to be good. We don’t have faith in our own strength of faith. We have faith in the person of Jesus Christ, and on His ability to keep us and guard us until we receive the amazing eternal inheritance he has promised (which we talked about last time). We can indeed have confidence that we are receiving the goal of our faith, the salvation of our souls. In the meantime, yes, we experience  trials and grief, but they are nothing compared to the joy of our eternal future.

Will you trust Him with whatever trials you face today?

1 Peter #3: A BETTER HOPE

When we experience hardship, we begin to see that this life is not strong enough, durable enough, to hold all of our hopes and desires. We see that ultimately, disappointment is the result of all things here and now. There is nothing on earth that we cannot lose. But we cannot lose our eternal inheritance in Jesus Christ.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button: To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download 1 Peter Part 3

1 Peter #3. 1 Peter 1:3-5.

Peter gives us a great example when he begins by praising God. Our salvation is a gift that we can often take for granted. But Peter reminds us that God’s grace to us is not automatic. God did not have to treat us with mercy and grace. What he has done for us is astounding, even more so because not a person in the world has ever deserved any of it. All of what comes to us is according to God’s mercy. It is not by justice, not by us earning it, not by us paying for it, not by another human getting it for us. God’s mercy alone gives us the incredible gift of salvation. Mercy is never deserved. We don’t deserve anything from God other than death and hell. But in spite of what we deserve, he forgives us, and instead showers his gifts on us.

It may be puzzling to some that he blesses “The God, and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” But this is phrase that packs a lot of punch in just a few words. Remember, Peter has already mentioned the Trinity: The Father, the Holy Spirit and Jesus, the Son. Here in one short sentence, we have the Trinity once again. Peter is obviously blessing God the Father,  who chose us to be in Jesus, and knew ahead of time what would take place. He also blesses “our Lord Jesus.” To call Jesus “Lord” is to call him God. In the Old Testament times, the ancient name for God was “Yahweh.” But instead of saying “Yahweh,” the Jews said “the Lord.” So calling Jesus “Lord” is like calling him “Yahweh.” Finally, Jesus is not only Lord, he is also “Christ.” Christ means “anointed one,” or, to put it more clearly, “one especially filled with the Holy Spirit.” So we have here Father, Son and Holy Spirit in this one short phrase.

In God’s mercy, he has caused us to be born again. In Greek it says literally: “according to his great mercy, he has regenerated us.” (Regenerated is often translated “given us new birth” or something similar). To generate something is to cause it to be. So, God caused us to be physically, but he has also regenerated us – caused to be all over again, in a new way.

Think abut a computer game. In a computer game, you are alive outside the game. You enter the world of the game through your game character, sometimes called your “avatar.” When your character/avatar dies in the game, it regenerates and comes back into the game at the last point in which you were saved. This gives us a helpful way to think about spiritual regeneration.

In some ways, game regeneration is almost the opposite real spiritual regeneration. Imagine that we are players who have existed only inside the game. We aren’t outside the world, sitting at a console, playing a game. Instead, we have only ever been inside the game. The game is our whole world. We have no perspective outside of it.

Now, when God regenerates us, it is like he gives us a life outside of the game. Instead of a player who is alive in the real world, stepping into the world of the game, and being regenerated inside the game, we begin inside the game, and God now regenerates us out into the real world. We are still in the game, but now we are also outside, sitting at a gaming console. We are no longer confined to the game. If we die in the game, we still have our life outside of it.

Our regeneration takes place in the real, eternal world, not the temporary world of the game, which is the only world we have known up until now. Now, our life inside the game – what we have always called “real life” – is not our only life, and it is not our most true life. Before, when we died, we died. But now, when we die, our “avatar” – that is, our body of flesh – is dead. We don’t get a do-over. But since we now have life outside the game, when we die here, it’s like shutting down the game, and participating in real life. What happens “in the game” is important, because here, in this life, God uses us to show his glory. But what happens outside the game is ultimately more important, because that is where our real life is waiting for us.

Obviously this regeneration is not (yet) a physical one. However, it will eventually result in a new physical body

20 But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died.
21 So you see, just as death came into the world through a man, now the resurrection from the dead has begun through another man. 22 Just as everyone dies because we all belong to Adam, everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life. 23 But there is an order to this resurrection: Christ was raised as the first of the harvest; then all who belong to Christ will be raised when he comes back. (1 Corinthians 15:20-23, NLT)

In the meantime, however, we have already been born again, in spirit. The Greek verb for “regenerated,” is in a special type of past tense form. This shows us that this has already happened. Being born again is not something that will happen to us in the future. It is not something that is still in process. It has already taken place. In addition, while it is a done deal, our regeneration has ongoing consequences.

There are many types of things that happened in the past, which, however, have ongoing consequences. Picture a wedding that took place ten years ago. The wedding is in the past. It happened; it’s a done deal. But the fact that the wedding happened in the past has a profound and ongoing effect today upon the two people who got married. Once you have a wedding, you are fully married. Yet, as you grow with your spouse, that marriage changes and deepens and affects you more deeply. It affects every day of your life, though some days the effect seems greater, and other days, less.

So it is with being born again. Because God regenerated us once, in the past, we are still  regenerated (born again) today. The fact of our being born again continues to play out in our lives. We are growing more and more fully into everything that it means to regenerated. Some days we see the effect more clearly, other days we question how much being born again has changed our life in the body. But it would be a mistake to think that we are only partially born again. Just as you can’t be “partially married,” so you can’t be partially born again.

Some days you may feel like you are doing well in your marriage. Other days you may feel like a lousy husband, or neglectful wife. Your feelings about how things are going do not change the fact that you are married. You can be a better or worse husband or wife, but you can’t get divorced without knowing it. So too, your feelings about how well you are manifesting the new life of Jesus do not determine whether or not you are born again. You might be a better or worse Christian on any given day, but you are born again because of God’s merciful choice, not your own performance. You aren’t more born again when you feel holy, and you aren’t less born again when you feel like a sinner.

Again, it may help to keep in mind that this regeneration takes place in our Spirit. Our bodies have not been born again, that’s obvious. But the rebirth of our spirit can now influence our soul, and then our mind, and then affect how we live in these mortal bodies into the Lord gives us new bodies that are also regenerated.

This becomes clear as Peter goes on. Our rebirth is through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is connected to the eternal life-force of Jesus, a life that has proven itself to be indestructible (Hebrews 7:16). Because we have been born again through the resurrection of Jesus, because we are born in again in the eternal spirit, we have a new kind of inheritance. This our life “outside the game,” a life which has already begun, but one which we cannot fully enter until we are done with the game.

Inheritance is a good way to picture all of the wonderful things we have through Jesus Christ. An inheritance is something that belongs to you. It is yours. And yet, you cannot fully receive all of your inheritance until there is a death. So it is with us. Our inheritance in Jesus belongs to us. It is certainly and assuredly ours. But we cannot step into the fullness of that inheritance until a death happens. In our case, it is two deaths: first, the death of Jesus Christ obtained the inheritance for us, and second, we wait for the death of our flesh, which is corrupted by sin, and keeps us from fully experiencing all that Jesus has given us.

Peter tells us that our inheritance is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. Imperishable means that it cannot be destroyed, it cannot decay or degrade. This isn’t  a stock portfolio that might lose some of its value. It is not  a warehouse full of goods that could burn or be destroyed in a flood. Even cash can lose some of its value through inflation. However, this inheritance will be there for us, guaranteed. There is nothing to be had on earth that we could not possibly lose at some point. In fact, age and death determine that we will lose all earthly things. But we cannot lose this gift, this inheritance held for us by God. It is the only thing we cannot lose.

Second, it  is undefiled. That is, it can’t be spoiled or corrupted. Sometimes, we are capable of spoiling a good thing for ourselves. At other times, someone else might ruin a perfect moment for us. However it occurs, something that once seemed so beautiful and perfect can often become crass, crude, or even just ordinary and no longer interesting or exciting. This will not happen to our inheritance in Jesus. It cannot happen. That is one reason we need new bodies before we can enter the New Creation. We need to be incorruptible, because the New Creation will not be corrupted. Jesus has already made us incorruptible in our regenerated spirits. He will make us that way in soul and body as well. Another aspect of incorruptible is this: There is nothing on earth that we can desire fully, heart and soul, without somehow making it into an idol, and therefore spoiling it. We might love our children so much that it consumes us, and in loving them more than God, we corrupt the beauty of parental love. We may desire marriage so much that it becomes more important than God, and thus we corrupt something that might otherwise be good. But in the New Creation, we can embrace our desires with no reservation. Nothing will spoil it. We can desire our incorruptible inheritance with our whole hearts. It won’t be spoiled, or made into an idol.

Finally, our inheritance will never fade away. We can’t use it so much that it wears out, because it will never wear out. It’s not like a favorite piece of clothing that slowly fades over time as you wash it, or that stops feeling new by the fourth time you wear it. The joy of newness that we will experience on the first day in the New Creation will never wear out. Every day will feel like the first day. Every time we see some beautiful scenery in the New Creation, it will be as delightful as it was the very first time. Every conversation we have with an old friend will feel like the first time we talked that way. Nothing will ever feel “old.” Nothing will ever lessen in delight, or lose its luster, even if we indulge that exact delight every day for a thousand years. It doesn’t become worn out with use or repetition.

This amazing inheritance, says Peter, is kept in heaven for us. The word “kept” indicates a kind of watchfulness, a guarding. It’s in the bank. Nothing will happen to it. It’s safe for us.

We too are being guarded, by God’s power, through faith. The word “guarded” or “protected” (verse 5) here is the word for military garrison. It is as if God has deployed a cohort of warriors to surround you and protect you. It would be appropriate here to think about both God’s power in general, and also his power in deploying angels to protect us.

The phrase “through faith” shows us our own one small part in all of this: we must trust the words of scripture. This is what God says. It is ours as we trust it to be true. We take hold of it through trust. Thanksgiving, of course, is a terrific way to make it tangible to our own souls and minds. Finally, this inheritance, as we know, will be full revealed and fully ours when we die. Our present mortal bodies are perishable. They do decay, they are corrupt, and every joy, every beauty that we can experience in these bodies ultimately fades and comes to nothing. That is why we cannot receive the inheritance until the last times, the moment when God lets the old creation self-destruct, and brings in the New Creation, and gives us new, incorruptible bodies which will have the capacity to receive and enjoy our amazing inheritance.

This is our hope. I love that Peter begins the letter with this. He is writing to people who are experiencing many trials and struggles – the very next verse explains that. When we experience hardship, we begin to see that this life is not strong enough, durable enough, to hold all of our hopes and desires. We see that ultimately, disappointment is the result of all things here and now. So, knowing that his readers are faced with deep struggles and bitter disappointment, Peter reminds them of a hope that will never disappoint, never let them down.

Too often, I look for hope in this life. I’m reminded of a quote by the late Christian teacher, Larry Crabb:

“I’m troubled by how unquestioningly we live out our determination to make this life work. All our hopes for happiness are bound up in it. It’s as if we believe this is the only world we ever plan to inhabit.”

Larry Crabb

 But everything I could hope for in this life will let me down at some point. Peter reminds me that one of the first tasks of faith is to set my hope upon the inheritance that cannot be destroyed, that never spoils, never loses its newness and wonderfulness, an inheritance that is kept specifically for me, even as I am guarded by faith.

What about you?

HOPE CHANGES EVERYTHING

Photo by Andru00e9 Cook on Pexels.com

One of our hopes through Jesus is a physical world created new, and fresh and perfect.

Hope is a surprisingly powerful thing. That is why it is one of the three foundations of the Christian faith. By and large, I think that we Christians do not spend nearly enough time thinking about and talking about our amazing hope. We have only to look at our behavior for evidence of our lack of hope. But when we focus on some of the astounding hopes we have through the resurrection of Jesus, our lives can be profoundly shaped in beautiful ways.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button: To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download Resurrection Hopes

In first Corinthians chapter 13, Paul talks a great deal about love. Near the end of the chapter he says this:

13 Now these three remain: faith, hope, and love ​— ​but the greatest of these is love.

(1 Corinthians 13:13, CSB)

I hear Christians speaking about love quite frequently. I also hear a great deal about faith. Hope is also one of the three great pillars of Christianity, however, we seem to ignore it most of the time. I think Easter Sunday is a wonderful time to meditate on some of our hope.

There are many reasons why following Jesus in this world is difficult. However, sometimes we make it harder on ourselves by ignoring the astounding hope that we have in Jesus Christ. Trying to be a Christian without a real and living hope is like trying to canoe up river without a paddle. If we are not deeply connected to a powerful, vibrant hope, it is no wonder that we have difficulty reading the Bible every day. If hope is not front and center in our lives, no wonder we struggle to pray regularly.

Let me give you an illustration. A few years ago, I had the wonderful opportunity to take a sabbatical. I had been in ministry for more than twenty years. Several difficult things had happened during the past ten or so years of ministry. I was battling severe, intense chronic pain, at that time, it had been for two years. I was worn out, and close to burned out. One autumn, Kari and I began praying for the chance to take a sabbatical. Many of our friends and colleagues in ministry had sabbaticals every seven years, and I had not even had one. I felt a desperate need, however, I did not have much hope that it could happen.

During that initial period I prayed, but I didn’t expect much. I certainly made no plans for traveling, and no plans to help the church during my absence, because I really could not even hope that I would actually get a sabbatical.

However, people in our ministry network began to send us contributions toward the sabbatical. More and more came in. We got a large tax refund during the early part of that year. Then, in March, I received a nerve block injection that seem to have potential to reduce my pain for a month or two. Finally, we found astoundingly inexpensive airplane tickets to Europe. Hope began to bloom in my heart.

Once I had hope, my behavior changed. I began to spend a great deal of time looking online at places to go and things to do on the sabbatical. I spent some money on travel gear. Kari and I and the kids spent many evenings dreaming and talking about our upcoming trip. I brushed up on my German language skills. I reached out to old friends who lived in Europe. I made plans with the church for what would happen in my absence. Suddenly the burdens I was bearing seemed less heavy, less important. I began to experience a lightness and joy, even in my everyday life.

Long before the sabbatical actually happened, my attitude was changed by hope. My plans were changed by hope. And finally, my behavior was changed by the hope that I had. I engaged in different activities, than I had before. I even spent my money in a different way once I had hope.

Hope is a surprisingly powerful thing. That is why it is one of the three foundations of the Christian faith. By and large, I think that we Christians do not spend nearly enough time thinking about and talking about our amazing hope. We have only to look at our behavior for evidence of our lack of hope.

When our hope is only for this life, then we spend our money on the things of this life. We spend our time, our energy, our passion on things that will ultimately be useless and pointless. We are not interested in spiritual things because we don’t really have any concrete hope connected with those spiritual things. If we truly had hope in Jesus we would spend our time thinking about Jesus, talking about him, dreaming about our future with him. We would naturally be spending our time reading our Bibles, finding out more about him, and what we will experience with him in eternity.

There are many aspects to the hope that we have in Christ, but since it is Easter, after all, I want to spend the remainder of our time focusing on the main thing: eternal life in the New Creation. I want to focus on just a few of the many aspects of that glorious future. That future is ours only because Jesus makes it possible through the resurrection.

Hope #1: Nothing that is good will be lost. All things will be renewed, restored, or made new.

28 Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, in the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields because of my name will receive a hundred times more and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are first will be last, and the last first. (Matthew 19:28-30, CSB)

5 And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” (Revelation 21:5, ESV)

19 Now repent of your sins and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped away. 20 Then times of refreshment will come from the presence of the Lord, and he will again send you Jesus, your appointed Messiah. 21 For he must remain in heaven until the time for the final restoration of all things, as God promised long ago through his holy prophets (Acts 3:19-21, NLT)

I love reading. Sometimes I will recommend a series of books to someone, and I am almost jealous to imagine them reading it for the very first time. I am often sad to realize I will never again have the delightful experience of “discovering” those books. I think there is something about this hope of renewal that is a bit like being able to experience those wonderful “first time experiences” once again. Everything will be renewed and refreshed in the full Kingdom of God.

As I grow older, loss becomes more and more real. I have lost touch with people who were once dear to me. I have lost a certain amount of physical strength, and athletic ability. I have lost opportunities. In the very business of living, we are often forced to make choices that will include losing something either way. But the promise of God is that he will make all things new. Yes he will make new things. But these promises are also applied to old things that are good and will be renewed. Relationships will be renewed. Part of this promise, of course, is that we will see our loved ones again, all of those who died in faith. There is no need for regret. Whatever you have lost that was good and right will be restored. Even the entire physical earth will be restored and made new.

Hope #2: The end of suffering and sorrow, and the beginning of eternal joy.

3 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. 4 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 21:3-4, ESV)

11 And the ransomed of the Lord will return and come to Zion with singing, crowned with unending joy. Joy and gladness will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee. 12 I — I am the one who comforts you. (Isaiah 51:11-12, CSB)

17 “For I will create a new heaven and a new earth; the past events will not be remembered or come to mind. 18 Then be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I will create Jerusalem to be a joy and its people to be a delight. 19 I will rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in my people. The sound of weeping and crying will no longer be heard in her. Isaiah 65:17-19

We are promised a world renewed without sin or defect, and bodies that also have no sin or defect. In the resurrection there will be no more grief, no more pain! Oh if you only knew what that particular one means to me! No more disappointment, no more fear, no anxiety, no loss. No separation from those we love.

Hope #3: Reward for the suffering, hardship and work that we have endured during this mortal life.

A lot of Christians don’t like to talk about this. They say, “Just being there is enough of a reward.” I think that such an attitude should be examined very carefully. The Bible is filled with references to rewards. Salvation, and the Eternal life that goes with it, of course, are not rewards for anything. We can’t earn it. It is the free gift of God (Ephesians 2:8-10). So, any time the Bible speaks of rewards in the New Creation, it cannot mean salvation, or eternal life. But the New Testament does speak of rewards frequently. This is not an obscure, disputed issue. It is a major teaching of Jesus himself.

Here are just some of the many passages that talk about rewards: Matt 19:28-29; Luke 19:12-19; Matt 5:12; Matt 6:1-4; Matt 6:20; Matt 10:41; Matt 16:27; 1 Corinthians 3:10-14; 1 Corinthians  9:7; Eph 6:7-8; Colossians 3:23-24; Hebrews 10:35; Hebrews 11:24-26; Revelation 22:12.

That’s fourteen Bible passages right there, and I could probably dig up a few more. The rewards are there for a reason. There are there to motivate us, and encourage us, and to give us hope.

Spiritual things are often hidden. A woman may be diligent in prayer, but no one else sees it. However, God sees it, and he will reward it (Matthew 6:6). Perhaps a certain man deals with deep temptations, and he battles faithfully to remain true to Jesus. No one on earth knows what it costs that man, but Jesus does, and he will reward it. A lot of what we think and do as we follow Christ is hidden. But it is not forgotten, and the scriptures promises rewards for those things. Some people give up opportunities, or relationships, or money or status in order to follow Jesus faithfully. None of that will be forgotten. All of it will be rewarded. The insults you have endured, the times others have treated you unjustly; the times you have held back when you might have retaliated – all of the sacrifices we make – will be used as occasions for the Lord to heap more blessings upon us once we reach resurrection life.

Personally, I think one reason why many Christians are so worldly is that they think it doesn’t matter how they live once they have received Jesus. They don’t realize that even more undeserved blessing is available to us when we trust the Holy Spirit and live the way he leads us to through the scriptures, and through his immediate promptings.

But it does matter. Listen to what Paul says. The foundation he refers to is salvation in Jesus Christ:

12 Anyone who builds on that foundation may use a variety of materials—gold, silver, jewels, wood, hay, or straw. 13 But on the judgment day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done. The fire will show if a person’s work has any value. 14 If the work survives, that builder will receive a reward. 15 But if the work is burned up, the builder will suffer great loss. The builder will be saved, but like someone barely escaping through a wall of flames.
16 Don’t you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you? 17 God will destroy anyone who destroys this temple. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.
18 Stop deceiving yourselves. If you think you are wise by this world’s standards, you need to become a fool to be truly wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness to God. (1 Corinthians 3:12-19, NLT)

He is writing to people who are being saved. But some of them, on judgment day, though they are saved, they will “suffer great loss,” and, essentially, barely be saved. Others will be richly rewarded. If you are content to be “barely saved,” Listen to the text: “Stop deceiving yourselves. You are foolish in God’s eyes.”

24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. (1 Corinthians 9:24-26, ESV)

God piles grace upon grace. Even though we don’t deserve salvation, let alone anything else, he allows us to store up even more blessing and heavenly treasure. Don’t be so foolish as to waste that opportunity. Certainly, it is only by the power of the Holy Spirit that we can obey the Lord in our day to day life. But we have a certain hope that when we allow the Spirit to work in us that way, he will pile on the rewards.

HOPE #4: An eternal, perfect, physical body to enjoy in an eternal, perfect, physical universe.

Make no mistake: the bible teaches the resurrection of the body. The thing that made Christianity so unique, and (for some) so hard to swallow, is that the first Christians claimed that Jesus was physically raised from the dead. Many, many people during that time believed in some sort of soul or spirit, and there was widespread belief that souls or spirits carried on even after the death of their bodies. To claim that Jesus was a disembodied spirit who appeared to many people would not have made Christianity particularly controversial. But when the apostles said Jesus was raised from the dead, they meant physically. They said his body was resurrected. They claimed they had seen and touched not his spirit, but his body. In many ways, his resurrection body was like his previous one. He still had his scars. He could be physically touched and his voice was audible, like anyone else’s. He ate food, smiled, laughed and so on.

In some other ways, however, Jesus’ resurrection body was different. He could make it so that others didn’t recognize him until he allowed it. He could disappear from one place, and appear in another. And for those who wonder if we can fly in the New Creation, remember that Jesus left his disciples by going up into the clouds. I don’t know what that is, if it isn’t flying! We are told that our bodies will be like his. We will experience the joy and glory of God as we eat, drink, laugh, play, use our gifts and abilities and relate to one another. John Piper speaks to this great hope:

The Bible says we are to eat and drink and do everything in our physical bodies to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31), which must mean that the pleasures of God or the pleasures that God has built into the taste of food are not designed primarily as competitors with God’s beauty, but designed as means of its communication. He’s communicating something of himself in the good creation that he has made. The creation becomes one of the ways that we “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8). Then the Bible makes it plain that this is not only true now, but will also be true in the resurrection. In fact, that’s why there is a resurrection of the body and not just the immortality of the soul.

(John Piper, “What’s the Appeal of Heavenly Rewards, other than Getting Christ?”. https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/whats-the-appeal-of-heavenly-rewards-other-than-getting-christ.  Accessed 5/21/19.  Bold added for emphasis)

Even now we can eat, and as we savor the taste, experience the goodness of the Lord. We can see beautiful natural scenery, or listen to music that touches us, and each one of those experiences are intended by God to connect us to him in deep, meaningful ways, full of variety and interest. Of course, here and now, the connection gets marred by our sin. We eat more than we should, or we eat things that are bad for us. We listen to things that arouse our lusts or angers. Sometimes we are just too spiritually dull to receive these things as good gifts from God. But the time is coming when every bite of food, every note of music, every word spoken or written will be a means by which we are blessed by God and receive more of him. None of it will be touched by guilt or even the weakest remnant of evil. Through our physical bodies, we will receive pure joy, not mixed with anything bad or wrong. Again, this will happen not only spiritually, but also physically.

If we could fully delight in God without bodies, I doubt God would have created a physical universe in the first place. But part of the delight he gives us is physical, and so part of our hope is for a physical future when every physical experience contributes to our delight in God.

We must continue to think about the stunning hope that we have because Jesus Christ was raised from the dead. We need to talk about it with each other. Just as we humans delight in sharing memories with loved ones, so too, we ought to delight in sharing our hopes of the New Creation, our hopes of Resurrection. I think it would be terrific if we often had conversations where we say: “I can’t wait for the day when I get to fly.” Or, “I am so excited about being pain-free.” Or, “I can’t wait to make music and delight in music as a vehicle for the joy of God.” Let us encourage one another. One thing is certain: the day is coming for each one us.

Often in this life we know that the presence of God is a good and wonderful thing, but we seldom feel it. In the resurrection we will have bodies and souls that can handle the presence of God. What we have now by faith, we will have then in its fullest reality. The hunger inside our souls will be fully satisfied, and our joy will overflow like a fountain.

Why don’t you set a timer right now for five minutes, and spend that time thinking about the four amazing hopes we’ve just considered. Or, is there another hope from the resurrection that captivates your heart? Ask the Lord to make these hopes real and present to you each day.

Colossians Part 3: The fountain of Love and Hope.

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Colossians Part 3: The fountain of Love and Hope. Colossians 1:3-9

When we truly hope for something important, that hope creates fellowship with others who have the same hope. Therefore, when the grace and love of God are poured into us, they create a kind of fountain that first fills us, and then pours out of us into our relationships with other Christians, and then fills the church (our fellow Christians) and pours out into the world. That is God design. If the fountain doesn’t seem to be working, the first place to check is the source: our own connection to the love of God in Jesus.

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By the way, I take all of the five verses above in one piece, because, in Greek, they are on sentence. There is a lot to this sentence (paragraph, in English) but all of the thoughts hang together. The ESV translation captures this quite well. Obviously, as we discussed before, Paul has never met most of the Christians in Colossae. But here he points out that because of their common faith, it is appropriate for Paul to give thanks for them, and it is appropriate for all Christians to love even those believers whom they have not yet met. It is worthwhile to notice that the Apostle Paul often gives thanks when he writes. But we should also notice that his giving of thanks is very specific. He thanks God, the father of our Lord Jesus Christ. He does not thank “the universe,” nor does he just feel vaguely thankful. He is thankful to a specific person, God, that is, the Father of our Lord Jesus (not a pagan god, nor some god-principle). He is thankful to the One the Bible describes as the only true God.

Second, Paul is specific in what he is thankful about. In all his letters, he is especially thankful when he hears that people are putting their trust in Jesus, and receiving the salvation that comes only through him. I think it is often helpful to be thankful for little things, like warm biscuits, and fresh cold water, and good friends and a working vehicle. However, none of those things is guaranteed in life. We can be rightly grateful for them. But we may not always have them. But there is one thing that is guaranteed. One thing, if we want it, is ours forever, and can never be taken from us. There is one thing for which we can give thanks, no matter where we are, or what is happening. That one thing is the love of God given in and through Jesus Christ. Every single person, in every time and place, from a cold dungeon to a sumptuous palace, can thank God for his love given to us in Jesus. God’s greatest gift to us is himself. If God is, well, God, then He is simply the greatest, most wonderful thing in the universe. He gives us many other things, but he also gives us what is best: Himself. He does it through Jesus.

I have said before that giving thanks has real spiritual power. One of the primary ways we can truly “take hold of” some of the “abstract” gifts of God (like love, peace, joy and so on) is to thank him for them. So, one of the primary ways to receive more of Jesus in our lives is to thank God for Him. Paul knew that, and did it regularly.

Paul is thankful for their faith in Jesus, and for the love they have for the saints (remember, that means, all Christians) because of the hope laid up for them in heaven. When we put our faith in Jesus, we gain an everlasting hope. One of the results of that hope is that we learn to love the other people who share it. Not too many weeks ago, we spent time thinking about the hope we wait for in the new heavens and the new earth. This is the hope Paul is talking about. The hope of having our sins and mistakes wiped away beyond memory, and being made perfect, to fulfill every purpose for which we were created. The hope of being completely and utterly known, and still loved. The hope of eternal, abundant, fulfilling, joyful life in the New Creation. The hope of being with Jesus, and our other loved ones, forever.

Hope brings people together. This might surprise you, until you think about it. Have you ever been a fan of sports team, hoping your team will win the big game? When the game is on, and you are gathered with others, don’t you feel a kind of fellowship with those who, along with you, hope for your team to do well? You have a warm fellow-feeling, even with people you don’t know, if they root for the same team. Hope creates fellowship. Also, the more important the hope is to you, the stronger you feel fellowship with those who have the same hope. Elsewhere Paul writes this:

5 This hope will not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. (CSB Romans 5:5)

Before we move on, I want point something out. Most of the verses in the New Testament that talk about loving other people are written to tell Christians to love other Christians. Now, it is certainly not OK to hate anyone. Jesus himself tells us to love our enemies, and even to pray for those who persecute us. But Christian love begins with love from and for Christ, and moves from there to love for other Christians. If you love those who are not  Christians, but fail to have love for your fellow-believers, something is wrong. Imagine a fountain that bubbles up into a small bowl at the top. The water fills that bowl, and then spills into second, larger bowl below it. It fills up the second bowl, and spills out over to a third, even larger one below that. That might work as a picture of Christian love. The first bowl is ourselves. The love of God is poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit (Romans 5). The second bowl is other Christians. The love that God gives us, spills over into love for others who have the same hope. Next, together, the love that Christians have for each other spills out into love for the world – including those who are not Christians.

Now, if we try to take short cuts on that process, it doesn’t work. If our own bowl is not full of God’s love, we will have nothing to give to our fellow Jesus-followers. Our bowl is the smallest. Loving the world is too big a task for individuals on their own. It needs the second bowl – the combined love of the fellowship of believers – to love the world.

Also, Jesus was very clear – one sign to those who do not know him is that those who do know Him will love each other. People will see quite quickly how we Christians treat one another.

35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (CSB) John 13:35

Think about it. If I see a group that sort of barely tolerates each other, that’s not something I want to be a part of, even if the group claims to love me. If they don’t truly love each other, the moment I become a part of them, I will no longer be loved them. You see? So we must love each other, or we cannot hope to love the world.

9 The one who says he is in the light but hates his brother or sister is in the darkness until now. 10 The one who loves his brother or sister remains in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him. 11 But the one who hates his brother or sister is in the darkness, walks in the darkness, and doesn’t know where he’s going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes. (CSB 1 John 2:9-11)

John writes this because if we have the love of Jesus in our hearts, we will naturally love our fellow Christians. The two go hand in hand. Let me be really clear. If we don’t love our fellow Christians, the solution is not to try harder. The solution is to connect more deeply with the way God loves us, and hope we have together in Jesus. The more we really trust how much God loves us, the more real our future hope is to us, the more we will love our fellow believers. The first will cause the second. And the more we love our fellow believers, the better we can together love the world.

Paul mentions that this very thing is happening both with the Colossians, and around the world. As a result, the gospel is bearing fruit. There are two kinds of fruit that come about. The first is inner growth. Paul says that the gospel is bearing fruit and growing in you. That means that it is causing them to grow inwardly. The fruits of the Holy Spirit are

love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. (CSB Galatians 5:22-23)

These are things that grow inside us as individuals, and which we practice in our relationships with each other. I would add, based upon many other texts, that we also grow in knowing what the Bible says, and what it means, and how it applies to our lives. There is also growth in the sense of learning to say to “no” to the ungodly world, the devil and our sinful flesh, while we say “Yes,” to God, more and more.

There is an outward kind of fruit, and that is: new disciples. The gospel makes us grow inwardly, and also it grows outwardly, by adding more people to those who have the hope that is found in Jesus alone. Paul says that all over the world, more people are coming to know Jesus. In fact, as we grow inwardly, that causes to treat people differently, and also to motivated to share with them the grace we have received from God.

Did you know that, just as it was true when Paul wrote it, it has been true throughout all of history, and is true even today? I live in the Western World, where Christianity has begun to sort of “age,” and perhaps show signs of decline. But the fastest growing religion in the world today is still Christianity. Though we don’t notice it in America, there are other places in the world where Christianity’s growth is dynamic. In the past, America, and Western Europe sent missionaries all over the world. Today, many of the places that used to be mission fields have such strong churches that they are sending missionaries themselves. I have personally met missionaries from Korea, China, Japan, Brazil, Angola, Kenya, Ethiopia, Bermuda, Tonga, and probably a few other places I have forgotten. Christianity is not, by any means, in decline, when you consider the worldwide picture.

Paul ends this sentence by praising Epaphras, who was the missionary to the Colossians. It is good and right for them to recognize and honor the one who brought God’s word to them.

Some areas for application: Should we consider making it a regular practice to give thanks to God for Jesus, and our salvation? What kind of difference might that make in our day to day life of following Him? Do we love our fellow-Christians? If we don’t, then answer is not to beat ourselves up, but rather, to dig more deeply into the that hope we share with all believers. Finally, is the gospel bearing fruit in your life? I am not concerned about the amount or “size” of fruit in the lives of disciples. I think the real issue is, is there any kind of fruit from the gospel in your life? You see, God is the one who provides the growth (1 Corinthians 3:7: John 15:4). How much, and in which ways, we grow, is up to Him. So the issue is simply this: if you have truly believed the gospel, there will be some fruit in your life, however small. It is usually best to ask a trusted Christian friend about how they see the fruit of gospel in you. We tend to either minimize, or exaggerate what God is doing.

Pray and meditate on these these things now.

DESIRE, HOPE & THE RESURRECTION

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What if our deepest desires – and our deepest disappointments – are really signs that we were made for something more? Jesus, by letting Lazarus die, was trying to get the attention of his loved ones. He wanted to reconnect them with their deep, unfulfilled desires, so that he could show them that He himself can and does fill them. He wanted to show them both, the depth of their desire for a world without death, and also, how completely unrealistic that desire is – apart from Himself

 

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RESURRECTION SUNDAY, 2019

John 11:1-53

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the central truth on which all Christian theology depends. If Jesus wasn’t really raised from the dead, then he was a madman or megalomaniac, or maybe a demon. But if he was truly raised, then what he said was true; and he said he was God the Son, come into the world for our salvation.

I have talked before about the theological implications of the resurrection. I probably will do so again in the future. I have shared with you substantial evidence that supports the claim that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead. I’ll do that again in the future also. But this year, I want to talk about the resurrection in a personal way. To do that, I want to consider a different resurrection: the resurrection of Lazarus, recorded in John chapter 11:1-53. Don’t get me wrong, this is also about the resurrection of Jesus. However, I think by considering what happened in this incident, we can learn some things about Jesus’ resurrection, and the eternal life he offers us.

Jesus was at least two days of traveling away from his friends Lazarus, Mary and Martha. Lazarus became seriously ill, and so the sisters sent word to Jesus. What John says next is pretty strange:

Now Jesus loved Martha, her sister, and Lazarus. So when He heard that he was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was.

John connects two things that don’t seem like they should be connected. He says Jesus loved Lazarus, so when he heard Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was. What kind of sense does that make? I can see John writing, “Jesus loved Lazarus, but when he heard he was sick, he stayed where he was anyway.” Or it would make sense to say, “Jesus loved Lazarus, so when he heard he was sick, he hurried to his side.” But John very deliberately connects the fact that Jesus loved Lazarus to the fact that he didn’t go to him, and allowed him to die.

Now, of course, that isn’t the end of the story. Jesus does go back – after Lazarus has died and been in the ground for four days. He speaks to Lazarus’ sisters, Martha and Mary. Martha says, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” This is actually a statement, but implied here is a question: “Why did you let him die? Why didn’t you come when we called?”

Jesus, typically, doesn’t answer her unspoken question. Instead, while their brother is still rotting in the tomb, he asks them to put their faith in him. You see, Jesus had bigger plans for Lazarus than merely healing him from a deadly disease. He had plans for resurrection.

We want to restore things as they were. Jesus wants to let things “as they were” die, so that he can resurrect something better in its place. In order for resurrection to occur, death must occur first. In other words, Jesus cannot resurrect something unless it dies first. To go back to the point I made earlier: Jesus loved Lazarus, therefore he let him die. This isn’t necessarily a pleasant thought. Usually, we want to skip the dying part, and go right to the resurrection; but death is a part of the equation. Jesus said:

24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.  (John 12:24, ESV)

This is an obvious truth when it comes to seeds. When you plant a seed, you destroy it, as a seed. But the destruction of a seed results in something new and wonderful, something that is actually much greater than the seed was. In the same way, resurrection requires death. This truth is all over the bible:

24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?  (Matt 16:24-26, ESV)

When Jesus says “take up his cross” he means quite simply, “be willing to die.”

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.  (Col 3:2-3, ESV)

20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.  (Gal 2:20, ESV)

Ultimately, this means our physical death. It means that death is not something to fear. It leads to resurrection. But even now, before physical death, there are things that Jesus would like us to let go. There are ambitions, hopes, values, material things, perhaps even relationships, that we need to allow to die. [By the way, when I say “relationships” I don’t mean marriages. As always, we need to consider the whole scripture, and the Lord has made it clear that he considers marriages to be permanent in this life. Please do not interpret this message in any way that contradicts some part of the bible].  We might feel like letting go of our rights, or our dreams or material things is a terrible thing. And it might indeed be very difficult and traumatic. But there is a resurrection waiting, and sometimes the only thing holding up the glorious new life is the death that must come first.

You can’t fault Martha and Mary and the disciples for failing to see this, when it came to their brother. It is so much bigger than anything they have thought of hoping for. They are thinking of this life. They are thinking of what seems possible, given their level of interaction with Jesus. But they are not thinking like Jesus.

23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”  (John 11:23-27, ESV)

I identify with Martha and the others. I usually hope for what seems somewhat realistic. Considering how they had themselves seen Jesus heal people, it was reasonable for them to hope for healing. But resurrection was outside their experience. It was outside their paradigm. So often, we are like that. We want healing and continuation of this life. Jesus wants to give us resurrection. We want what seems possible, even if unlikely. Jesus wants to give us what we haven’t even thought of yet.

Before we are too old, we learn that life is full of disappointments. We find out we can’t fly. Animals don’t talk. Mom and Dad are really going to stay divorced. Work is hard, as is managing money. The odds against winning the lottery really are one-hundred million to one against it (or even worse). My marriage isn’t perfect. I can’t make a living doing what I love to do. You know exactly what I’m talking about. So, we adjust our expectations. We adjust them radically downwards. Chocolate cake is doable. I can dream of having chocolate cake, and I think I can make that dream happen. I can’t be fulfilled in my work, but I think I can manage to be pleasurably distracted by TV, or computer games.

But what if our deepest desires – and our deepest disappointments – are really signs that we were made for something more? The great philosopher, Blaise Pascal wrote:

What can this incessant craving, and this impotence of attainment mean, unless there was once a happiness belonging to man, of which only the faintest traces remain, in that void which he attempts to fill with everything within his reach? (Pascal, Pensées)

When we get honest with ourselves, we know that the world doesn’t seem right. We have a deep restlessness. As I said, we cover it up with things we think we can realistically get for ourselves, like work, entertainment, shopping, sex, food, adventure, relationships – the list is endless. But if we would just stop, and be still, we would realize that there is a deep emptiness in us. That’s probably why we so seldom stop and be still. We often blame the emptiness on ourselves; and it’s true we certainly don’t do ourselves any favors. But the problem is not only just with us. It is that we are out of place. We were made for paradise, and instead we are living on the outskirts of hell. C.S. Lewis writes:

Now, if we are made for heaven, the desire for our proper place will be already in us, but not yet attached to the true object, and will even appear as the rival of that object. (C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory)

Jesus, by letting Lazarus die, was trying to get the attention of his loved ones. He wanted to reconnect them with their deep, unfulfilled desires, so that he could show them that He himself can and does fill them. He wanted to show them both, the depth of their desire for a world without death, and also, how completely unrealistic that desire is – apart from Himself. As we follow Jesus, he sometimes asks us to let some things die, so that he can replace them with that which is far better.

Let’s continue with the story:

28 Then she returned to Mary. She called Mary aside from the mourners and told her, “The Teacher is here and wants to see you.” 29 So Mary immediately went to him.
30 Jesus had stayed outside the village, at the place where Martha met him. 31 When the people who were at the house consoling Mary saw her leave so hastily, they assumed she was going to Lazarus’s grave to weep. So they followed her there. 32 When Mary arrived and saw Jesus, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
33 When Jesus saw her weeping and saw the other people wailing with her, a deep anger welled up within him, and he was deeply troubled. 34 “Where have you put him?” he asked them.
They told him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Then Jesus wept. (NLT) John 11:28-35

Jesus himself understood that this life is deeply troubling. Even though he knew what he was about to do next, he wept. It is entirely good and appropriate sometimes to grieve, to be deeply troubled – even when we have the hope that Jesus gives. This life can be terrible and tragic. Jesus did not pretend that a future resurrection meant that you should never cry here and now. We are indeed living in a place where we were not made to live. Continuing on:

36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him! ” 37 But some of them said, “Couldn’t he who opened the blind man’s eyes also have kept this man from dying? ”

And there it is: If God is so powerful, why does he let bad things happen? If he is good, why would he allow evil to exist? I think the full answer is beyond our understanding, but one reason is this: if God were to destroy all evil, he would also have to destroy all of us, because none of us is without some evil. Only those who trust Jesus to do it for them can be made holy without being destroyed at the same time. God is patient, waiting for more people to enter through the only door. I know, however that that particular answer, though correct, is not complete. There is more going on with that question than we can understand. I know that Jesus calls us to trust, even when we can’t understand. That is certainly what he was saying to Martha and Mary. Let’s finish this story:

38 Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39 “Remove the stone,” Jesus said.
Martha, the dead man’s sister, told him, “Lord, there is already a stench because he has been dead four days.”
40 Jesus said to her, “Didn’t I tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God? ”
41 So they removed the stone. Then Jesus raised his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you heard me. 42 I know that you always hear me, but because of the crowd standing here I said this, so that they may believe you sent me.” 43 After he said this, he shouted with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out! ” 44 The dead man came out bound hand and foot with linen strips and with his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unwrap him and let him go.” (CSB) John 11:36-44

Now, as amazing as this is, I want to point something out: today Lazarus is dead again. His resurrection was not THE resurrection. It was a miracle that Jesus did to show who he is, and what is coming. But it is important for us to realize that it was temporary, because far too often, what we think we want is for Jesus to fix this life, and what Jesus wants to do is give us an entirely new life that will never be broken again. We want Jesus to raise things that will just have to die again anyway. We get so focused on this life, and the things in it. But the resurrection that Jesus offers us is not just a restoration of what we have right now. That was Lazarus’ resurrection, but it is not the resurrection that Jesus promises, and ultimately that Jesus himself had.

The apostle Paul describes both the resurrection that Jesus had, which is also promised to us, when we trust Jesus:

When you put a seed into the ground, it doesn’t grow into a plant unless it dies first. 37 And what you put in the ground is not the plant that will grow, but only a bare seed of wheat or whatever you are planting. 38 Then God gives it the new body he wants it to have. A different plant grows from each kind of seed. 39 Similarly there are different kinds of flesh—one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish.
40 There are also bodies in the heavens and bodies on the earth. The glory of the heavenly bodies is different from the glory of the earthly bodies. 41 The sun has one kind of glory, while the moon and stars each have another kind. And even the stars differ from each other in their glory.
42 It is the same way with the resurrection of the dead. Our earthly bodies are planted in the ground when we die, but they will be raised to live forever. 43 Our bodies are buried in brokenness, but they will be raised in glory. They are buried in weakness, but they will be raised in strength. 44 They are buried as natural human bodies, but they will be raised as spiritual bodies. For just as there are natural bodies, there are also spiritual bodies.
45 The Scriptures tell us, “The first man, Adam, became a living person.” But the last Adam—that is, Christ—is a life-giving Spirit. 46 What comes first is the natural body, then the spiritual body comes later. 47 Adam, the first man, was made from the dust of the earth, while Christ, the second man, came from heaven. 48 Earthly people are like the earthly man, and heavenly people are like the heavenly man. 49 Just as we are now like the earthly man, we will someday be like the heavenly man.
50 What I am saying, dear brothers and sisters, is that our physical bodies cannot inherit the Kingdom of God. These dying bodies cannot inherit what will last forever.
51 But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! 52 It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. 53 For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies.
54 Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.
55 O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
56 For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. 57 But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ. 58 So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless. (NLT, 1 Corinthians 15:36-58)

Are you willing to let temporary things die so that you can receive something that will never die? Are you willing to believe that our deepest, most unfulfillable desires might be signs that we were made for Resurrection life? Especially, are you willing to trust Jesus to be the true Resurrection and Life, to be patient until he brings that Resurrection Life to us? When we are so willing, as Paul writes, nothing we do for the Lord is ever useless!

22 For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us. 24 We were given this hope when we were saved. (If we already have something, we don’t need to hope for it. 25 But if we look forward to something we don’t yet have, we must wait patiently and confidently.) (NLT) Romans 8:22-25

Let us look forward with hope, because the One who called us is faithful. He has risen!

He has risen indeed.