death

Free - From The Penalty And Power Of Sin

Over and over in the opening of Genesis, we read that God created and declared  the world ‘good’ (towb, good in the widest sense; some would say it meant the world was prepared or completed,). As opposed to other ancient creation stories where everything was created by an act of violence, this was an act of artistry, care, and design.

This was a world where ‘shalom’ characterized life. Shalom is a Hebrew word found throughout the Old Testament that means peace, interconnectedness, wholeness, fullness of life. It’s life as it ought to be in a world without sin, brokenness or despair. 

There is a problem.

Adam and Eve are given a choice – to be obedient to God and live within God’s design or choose their own way. God said, “You can have all these things, but there is one thing here that I don’t want you to have.  You don’t need to know why, it’s just not good for you. There are some things that will make life worse.” 

But of course, Adam and Eve focused on that one thing they couldn’t have in the midst of all they could.  And being people with free will – the means and the capacity to do what they choose – they did what any of us would have done.

They chose their own way, and immediately the world began to break apart in what we call The Fall.  God said to them, “What have you done? (Literally, “Why did you make/craft this?”)  Now they have to live in a world in which the blessing of God is distorted; now they have to live in a world that they broke.

Now, a life that was supposed to be characterized by harmony and wholeness would be full of chaos and brokenness.  Now, there would be violence instead of gentleness, deception instead of truth, rebellion instead of obedience.

As Genesis unfolds, we see the original version of “that escalated quickly.” Cain kills Abel; soon men are bragging that they’ve killed a ton of people; before long, the whole world is evil in God’s sight. It really doesn’t get any better as you read the Old Testament. Paul would eventually write to the church in Rome that all of creation groans as it waits for redemption. We are in ‘bondage to decay’ and ‘subject to futility’ (Romans 8). A modern writer put it this way:

Countries like ours are full of people who have all the material comforts they desire, together with such non-material blessings as a happy family, and yet lead lives of quiet, and at times noisy, desperation, understanding nothing but the fact that there is a hole inside them and that however much food and drink they pour into it, however many motor cars and television sets they stuff it with, however many well balanced children and loyal friends they parade around the edges of it…it aches.” (Bernard Levin, British columnist)

We know the source of the problem: sin.

For all the criticism we have of Adam and Eve, we would have made the same choice they did. They are what we call archetypes, real people who in a broader sense are all of us. Their story would have been our story. We default to sin.

  • All have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23)
  • Apart from God, we are enslaved to sin (Romans 6:6, 16-17)
  • The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).
  • We have bodies of death in need of deliverance (Romans 7:24)

The Bible doesn’t use the word ‘sin’ in the original language. The word sin comes from the Old 
English word synn, which is from the Germanic sunta or the Latin word sons, both of which mean guilty.[1] The Biblical writers were pretty creative with how many ways they expressed the many reasons we are guilty:

  1. hamartia; to miss the mark. “We all fall short of (or “miss”) the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) The devil has done this from the beginning (1 John 3:8)
  2. Paraptoma; trespass. A blunder.  (Matthew 6:14-15)
  3. Parabasos; crossing a specific line.  Think of an athletic field in which there are boundaries you cannot cross without penalty (Galatians 3:19)
  4. chatta’ah : willful going against what one knows is right and accidentally going 
against the divine order of things (Leviticus 4:14; Exodus 32:34)
  5. pasha: rebel; breaking a rule that has been established (Jeremiah 3:13)
  6. avon: willful 
or continuing sin (Genesis 15:16)
  7. adikia; injustice (Luke 18:6; 1 John 5;17).  Action that causes visible harm to another person in violation of divine standard
  8. Anomia; lawlessness.  When we read, “Whoever commits sin (hamartia) also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness” (Matthew 7:23; 1 John 3:4), we see that even the most accidental of well-intentioned moments of sin are like the worst.

Eskimo and Inuit cultures have around 50 words for snow. [2] There is a lot of snow and a lot of different conditions, so they want to be very precise. Apparently, the biblical writers saw a lot of sin, and they wanted to be precise. 

We look around at all the atrocities around us and think, “How can this be? Why do people fly planes into building, and wipe out entire tribes?  Why do people abuse other people?  Why do so many people exploit others sexually and financially? Why are people mean?

Is it poverty?  Then economic wealth should fix everything.

Lack of education?  Then we can throw more money at our schools and all will be well.

Lack of information? Free internet for all.

Corrupt political parties?  We can elect a new president and resolve the problem.

Greedy corporation and people?  We can picket and boycott.

But have any of those responses ever offered a long-term, lasting solution to the problem? No. The problem lies in sinful human hearts.  Or as G.K. Chesterton famously said when asked what the problem with the world was: “I am.”

It is important to humbly embrace this harsh fact of the world.

  • I embrace behaviors and make lifestyle choices that destroy me and hurt those around me. Others do the same to me, but at the end of the day I make my own choices.
  • I decide my way is better than God’s way.
  • I say mean things, and lose my temper, and gossip, and lie, and cheat, and feel jealous when other people succeed, and wish the world revolved around me, and view people as things, and treat things better than I treat people?

We don’t fail our spouses, or badly raise our children, or hurt our friends because we can’t get Dr. Phil on our cable. Our core lack of inner peace is not because our health care provider does not give us enough coverage, or Big Oil makes a lot of money, or the stock market is out of our control, or politics is corrupt, or fake news is fake.

This sickness is within us. We must own up to this or whatever diagnosis and treatment we choose will not make us well.

But this is where the story makes an important turn. It does not have to be this way. God is not stumped by the human capacity to undermine ourselves. God did not forsake Adam and Eve  - he covered them and promised them an ultimate victory over the very thing that tempted them. We fall, and there are consequences to that fall, but God does not forsake us. 

Like God covered up the shame and nakedness of Adam and Eve and showed them the role of sacrifice as a means of redemption, Jesus covers up our shame, our spiritual nakedness, and offers us Himself as the means to triumph over the power and destructiveness of sin.

“People who believe in me, though they are dead, they can still live.” - Jesus, in John 11:25

“When the Son has made you free, you are free indeed.” (John 8:36) Literally: “When Jesus has set you free from the restrictions of sin, you will be truly free to live.”

So sin is a problem, but there is a solution. The only way we can be saved is through Jesus Christ.

The objective basis and means of salvation is God's sovereign and gracious choice to be "God with us" in the person of Jesus Christ, who is described as both author and mediator of salvation ( Heb 2:10 ; 7:25 ). But the movement of Jesus' life goes through the cross and resurrection. It is therefore "Christ crucified" that is of central importance for salvation ( 1 Cor 1:23 ), for "Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures" ( 1 Cor 15:3 ) and was handed to death for our trespasses ( Rom 4:25 ). What Jesus did in our name he also did in our place, giving "his life as a ransom for many" ( Matt 20:28 ). And if Christ demonstrated his love by dying when we were still sinners, how much more shall we now be saved by his life? ( Rom 5:8-10 ). So critical is the resurrection to the future hope of salvation that ‘If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins’ ( 1 Cor 15:17 ).  (“Salvation,” http://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionary/salvation/)

We are meant to be free from the wages and power of sin. We are meant to be free to pursue shalom once again. The death and resurrection of Jesus is proof that we who are dead can be raised to new life spiritually in this life and physically for eternity.

So freedom - yay! – but let’s not forget the cost.

We observe Memorial Day to honor those who gave their life so that others could live. It’s what we mean when we say, “Freedom isn’t free.” We must never forget to honor a Savior who gave his life so we could live and be free.

Forgiveness involves suffering on the part of the one forgiving. The greater the forgiveness, the greater the suffering. We experience this in small ways all the time. When we forgive people, we not only take the pain of the original hurt (against our happiness, reputation, self-image, etc), but we give up the right to inflict the same in return. We give up making them feel what we felt. True forgiveness will cost us something. And the greater the sin that needs to be forgiven, the greater the cost of forgiveness.

“God did not, then, inflict pain on someone else, but rather on the Cross absorbed the pain, violence, and evil of the world into himself… this is a God who becomes human and offers his own lifeblood in order to honor moral justice and merciful love so that someday he can destroy all evil without destroying us.” (Tim Keller)

Because of the sacrifice and forgiveness of Christ, we are freed from the eternal PENALTY of sin; a overwhelming debt we build all our lives will be covered because Jesus has gone to the Cross to take our just penalty upon himself. The wages or cost of sin is still death; it’s just that Jesus paid it for you.

Justice must be served because God is just; to save just one of us, it would have cost him a crucifixion. This should always humble us, because it reminds us that we are more sinful than we want to admit. 

But mercy must be offered because God is merciful. To save just one of us, Jesus was willing to do this. This should always encourage us, because it reminds us that God’s love for us is so much deeper than we can ever imagine. 

Because of the sacrifice and forgiveness of Christ, we are freed from the present POWER of sin. We were once dead in sin. We were incapable of bringing ourselves to life, and we were going to inevitably default to sin. Because the Holy Spirit is now in us, we have God’s power to break what the Bible calls “chains” of sin. We will struggle with temptation, but we are not doomed to failure. God will work in us (sanctification).

Because of the sacrifice and forgiveness of Christ, one day we will be freed from the very PRESENCE of sin. In heaven, shalom will be restored.  The New Heaven and New Earth will not be broken, and neither will we. This is the solution that frees us from a life of brokenness and sin and an eternity of despair.

 

[1]  (HT John Oakes, “What Are The Origins of the Word Sin?”)

[2] https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/there-really-are-50-eskimo-words-for-snow/2013/01/14/e0e3f4e0-59a0-11e2-beee-6e38f5215402_story.html?utm_term=.a0cbcb729310

 

The Days We Mourn (Easter 2017)

The Bible is full of ‘three day stories”[1]:  Jonah; Joseph’s brothers in jail in Egypt; the plague of darkness in Egypt. When the Israelites left Egypt, they traveled three days into the desert before they found water; Rahab hid the spies for three days; plagues of judgment against Israel often lasted three days.

Jesus was in the tomb for three days.

On the third day is when the bad stuff ends. That’s the day we celebrate, and rightly so. But third day stories aren’t clear until the third day. On Day One and Day Two, it’s not yet clear how the story will end. The First day of Third Day story is often a brutal one.

It was the First Day -  Crucifixion Friday, or Good Friday -  that Jesus died.  His followers did not know this was a Third Day story. All they had on that Friday was the First Day. They had seen so many failed messiah’s by this point[2]. They did not understand the prophecy that pointed toward Jesus’ resurrection. They were afraid and in despair.

Crucifixion Friday reminds us that Jesus knows what it means that all of creation groans (Romans 8:22) and how the very land mourns (says Jeremiah 12:4). When the prophet Isaiah wrote of the coming Christ, he wrote, “Surely he has borne our grief’s and carried our sorrows; He was stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.” (Isaiah 53:4)

Jesus understands our First Days. His entrance into the human condition showed that God is not a distant, uncaring and cold God. God understands us.  

“God’s beloved Son, leaving the echoes of His cries upon the mountains and the traces of His weary feet upon the streets, shedding His tears over the tombs and His blood upon Golgotha, associating His life with our homes, and His corpse with our sepulchres, shows us how we, too, may be… sure of sympathy in heaven amid the deepest wrongs and sorrows of earth.” - Edward Thomson.

So today, we are going to begin our journey toward the Third Day - Resurrection Sunday – but settling into the reality of First Days in our lives, and the importance of clinging to a Savior who understands even the most terrifying and tragic days of our lives.

“The psalms of pain and protest shock Christians who are not used to this way of talking to God. Yet they have an explicit place in the New Testament. Jesus uses the phraseology of Psalms 6 and 42 in Gethsemane, and on the cross utters the extraordinary cry that opens Psalms 22. Nor does Jesus pray these prayers so that we might not have to do so, for a lament such as Psalm 44 appears on the lips of Paul (Romans 8:36). In the New Testament, believers grieve and protest. To refuse to do so is often to refuse to face our pains and our losses.” (John Goldingay)

In ancient Israel, mourning was a community event. Family and friends showed support by participating in the rituals of lament with the mourner (e. g. Job 2:12-13). To fail to show solidarity in such a situation was to deny the shared covenant. The lament was so formalized that Zechariah gives directions about how to do them in proper order. (12:11-14).  I think Nicholas Wolerstorff, in his book Lament for a Son, captures the reason why well.

“What I need to hear from you is that you recognize how painful it is. I need to hear from you that you are with me in my desperation. To comfort me, you have to come close. Come sit beside me on my mourning bench.”

On Resurrection Sunday, we are going to talk about the primary reason Jesus died: to forgive our sins and save us from the penalty of eternal death. That will also be a part of this morning as well, but first we are going to focus on a different part of the story that the church has commemorated for 2,000 years (at least the more liturgical churches have). We are going to sit on the mourning bench with each other as we offer our suffering to a Savior who suffered and died so that we could live.

READER: As the soldiers led Jesus away, they seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the country, and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus. A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned for him. Jesus turned and said to them, ‘Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children.’”  (Mark 15:1-15; Luke 23:13-28)

It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, for the sun stopped shining...  Then Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “He’s calling Elijah.” Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. The rest said, “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.” Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.”  (Matthew 27:45-50; Luke 23:44-47)

Pastor: Jesus entered a world that was broken, suffering, and full of pain. He grieved the loss of his friends; he wept for his people. He was a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. He entered into a lonesome, weary world in desperate need of the light of hope and peace to bring the promise of God's everlasting presence and love.

 

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M_gxM9NCyKU[/embed]

 

Pastor: God, you have given us reason to celebrate, but we often find the days cold and our hearts hard.  As we await our resurrection into the new life in the world to come, it’s sometimes hard for us to lift up our hearts. You understand the grief of this world; meet us in our aching hearts we pray. Hold as we walk through darkness.

Congregation: Help us. Embrace us. Heal us.

READER:  “He was despised and forsaken by men, this man of suffering, grief’s patient friend.
As if he was a person to avoid, we looked the other way; he was despised, forsaken, and we took no notice of him. Yet it was our suffering he carried, our pain and distress, our sickness-to-the-soul.


We thought that God had rejected him, but he was hurt because of us; he suffered for us. Our wrongdoing wounded and crushed him. He endured the breaking that made us whole. His injuries became our healing. We all have wandered off, like shepherdless sheep, scattered by our aimless pursuits; The Eternal One laid on him, this silent sufferer, the sins of us all. (Isaiah 53:3-6)

Pastor: Jesus knows the feelings of abandonment, anger, and loneliness we sometimes feel. Jesus knows the depths of our broken hearts, and He alone has the power to bring beauty from the ashes in our lives. We long for the day when His work will be completed in us and in a world that groans as it awaits redemption.  

Congregation: Meanwhile, we weep with those who weep, and we mourn with those who mourn.

READER: The Psalmist wrote in the 88th psalm: O Eternal One! O True God my Savior! I cry out to You all the time, under the sun and the moon. Let my voice reach You! Please listen to my prayers! My soul is deeply troubled, and my heart can’t bear the weight of this sorrow. I feel so close to death…

You crush me with Your anger.
You crash against me like the relentless, angry sea. Those whom I have known, who have been with me,
You have gathered like sheaves and cast to the four winds.
They can’t bear to look me in the eye, and they are horrified when they think of me.
 I am in a trap and cannot be free…

Are You the miracle-worker for the dead?
Will they rise from the dark shadows to worship You again? Will your great love be proclaimed in the grave or Your faithfulness be remembered in whispers like mists throughout the place of ruin? Are Your wonders known in the dominion of darkness,
or is Your righteousness recognized in a land where all is forgotten?

But I am calling out to You, Eternal One.
My prayers rise before You with every new sun! Why do You turn Your head
and brush me aside, O Eternal One?
 Why are You avoiding me… I am desperate. Your rage spills over me like rivers of fire; Your assaults have all but destroyed me…  You have taken from me the one I love and my friend; darkness is my closest friend.

 

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D6PP-YS-FqU[/embed]

 

PASTOR: In the midst of the brokenness of this world, we have reason to say, “Hallelujah.” Because even when we are tempted to give up, even when we have lost that which brings ‘life’ to our life, even when the comfort of our friends has brought us nothing but ashes, God does not abandon us.

READER: “At different times and in various ways, God’s voice came to our ancestors through the Hebrew prophets. But in these last days, God’s voice has come to us through His Son, the One who has been given dominion over all things and through whom all worlds were made.” (Hebrews 1:1-2)

Pastor: God of light and life, you speak even when we do not hear. You are present even when we do not sense you are near. In the midst of darkness and silence, we listen for your voice and long to feel your comforting grace.

Congregation: God of the desperate, draw near us as we draw near to you. Open our eyes so we can see you; open our ears so we can hear.

READER: The prophet Jeremiah wrote: “My joy is gone, grief is upon me, my heart is sick… For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt, I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me.  Is there no balm in Gilead?  Is there no physician there…?  O, that my head were a spring of water, and my eyes a fountain of tears, so that I might weep day and night…”  (Jeremiah 8:18,21-9:1)                    

Pastor: In this place, we join with the prophets in freely admitting our pain, our loss, our fear. Though the light of God’s mercy illuminates our tears, we mourn without shame. Here, among God’s people, we are welcome even if we're cynical, even if we're angry, even if we scoff at the mention of hope and meaning. Here we can bare our hearts to those who will help us to bear our burden.

Congregation: Here we, the followers of a weeping Savior, bear one another’s burdens.

Pastor: Here, in the company of those who follow the Prince of Peace, let us be at peace. 

Congregation: May we, the church, be a sanctuary of God’s peace for those in need of shelter.

Pastor: We will cast our sorrows upon Christ, for He cares for us.

READER: The Psalmist wrote:

“My soul is dry and thirsts for You, True God, as a deer thirsts for water.

I long for the True God who lives.
When can I stand before Him and feel His comfort? Right now I’m overwhelmed by my sorrow and pain;
I can’t stop feasting on my tears.
People crowd around me and say,
“Where is your True God whom you claim will save?” With a broken heart,
I remember times before
When I was with Your people. Those were better days. 

I used to lead them happily into the True God’s house,
Singing with joy, shouting thanksgivings with abandon,
joining the congregation in the celebration. Why am I so overwrought?
Why am I so disturbed?
Why can’t I just hope in God?
(Psalm 42:1-6)

 

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zulKcYItKIA[/embed]

 

READER: Though we are worn as we wait for all that is dead to be reborn, we can agree with what David wrote in Psalm 42: “ I will believe and praise the One who saves me and is my life… in the light of day, the Eternal shows me His love. When night settles in and all is dark, He keeps me company—His soothing song, a prayerful melody to the True God of my life.” (Psalm 42:7-8)

Pastor: As we lift our broken hands toward the only One who can heal us, we light the darkness of our memories with candles that help us to remember that though our grief is real, our hope burns brightly with the light of the True God of life.

The First Candle

We light our first candle to acknowledge the pain of loss: the loss of relationships, the loss of jobs, the loss of health. We take the pain of the past, offering it to God from whose nail-scarred hands we may receive the gift of peace. We light this candle for the light of love to illuminate that which was lost in the darkness of our history.

Congregation: Renew us, God of light and joy.

The Second Candle

We light the second candle to remember those who have died. We remember their name, their face, their voice, the memory that we carry with us. We remember the times we laughed, argued, loved, hugged, smiled, and wept. The valley of the shadow of death can seem relentless, so we light this candle to commemorate the memories of a life once shared, and to illuminate with comfort the path of those of us who mourn.

Congregation:  May the light of a dying and risen Savior’s eternal love surround us.

The Third Candle

We light the third candle to our attitudes, our mindset, our hidden, inner times of darkness.  We acknowledge the times of disbelief, anger, despair, and frustration, the times we have compromised our integrity and lost our innocence. We bring God’s pure light to the depth of our flawed mortality. With this light, we also remember the family and friends who have stood with us, and the Savior who is faithful even when we are not.

Congregation:  Let us remember that Christ brings the light of life.

The Fourth Candle

We light this candle to remember those who feel alone, who feel isolated from loved ones, far from home, far from friends, far from a God they believe is unconcerned with their suffering. We light this candle to remember that the God who guided His people through a wilderness with fire can illuminate the way of those captive to the darkness of loneliness and disillusionment.

Congregation:  May Jesus, who was despised and rejected, comfort the lonely and brokenhearted.

The Fifth Candle                                                                                                                           We light this candle to remember those who are in the midst of hardships that threaten to overwhelm them. For the poor, the persecuted, the hungry, the homeless, the sick. We lift up those who suffer the pain, indignity, and bewilderment that accompany a broken body, spirit or soul. We pray that God, who lit up the night to guide wise men to the healing Christ, will light the way today to a Risen Savior. 

Congregation: O God, light our path; bring hope to the hopeless; make us new.

The Sixth Candle

We light the sixth candle to remember our faith and the gift of hope. We remember that God promises those who love him a world with no more pain and suffering. We light a candle for courage in the darkness. We confront our sorrow, our loss, our confusion. With God’s Spirit and the presence of his people, we bring the light of comfort to each other, bearing each other’s burdens, and praying for hope in our broken world.

Congregation.  Let us remember the One who draws beauty from ashes, brings the truth, and offers us hope.

READER: The Apostle Paul wrote: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.”  (2 Corinthians 1:3-7)

Pastor: It is through the suffering of Christ that we find comfort in the midst of our suffering as well.  On the night Jesus offered himself up for us he took bread, gave thanks to you, broke the bread, gave it to his disciples, and said: "Take, eat; this is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me." When the supper was over he took the cup, gave thanks to you, gave it to his disciples, and said: "Drink from this, all of you; for this is my blood of the new covenant, poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”  

Congregation: Because of Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection, we have been delivered from the power of sin, death, and despair. In the light of Gods’ Word, the sacrifice of Christ, and the presence of God’s Holy Spirit, may we endure with hope and faith.

Pastor: It was in His parting sorrow that Jesus asked His disciples to remember Him. May we, the church, be united in the fellowship of his suffering so we can experience the power of his resurrection.

READER:  “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.  And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘See, the home of God is among mortals.

He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes.  Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.’  And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’  (Revelation 21:1-5)

Pastor: In the promise of God’s never-ending love from which nothing can separate us, we claim peace. We long for the day when there shall be no more tears, no more sorrow, no more sickness, no more death. Even when we see only a glimmer, we know the light of your love is overcoming all darkness.

Congregation: Christ himself is with us.  He is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

Pastor: Hear the good news:  God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him will not perish, but have eternal life. One day, Christ who died and rose again will wipe all tears from our eyes. He will make all things new.

Congregation: All Honor and glory to the only One who can bring us peace.

Pastor: As we wait for Resurrection, we lift up our broken hearts. May the God of Comfort be with us.

Congregation: May the God of Resurrection be with us all. [3]

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ezmme0B2Awg[/embed]

________________________________________________________________________________

[1] I got this idea from a brilliant teaching called “Saturday: Living Between Crucifixion and Resurrection,” posted by Richmont Graduate University on youtube. You can access the video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U90EKNZPKCU

[2] http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/12416-pseudo-messiahs

[3] NOTE: I had never written a liturgy or a lament before this one. I found four or five online, read them for a week, then wrote this one. In other words, I could not have written this without learning from others. I think one of those can be found at Blue Christmas Resources; another at A Service for Longest Night. Unfortunately, I have no idea where I found the rest of them. I tried hard not to plagiarize; I hope I succeeded.

Taking Off Grave Clothes (John 11)

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany. [Mary and Martha, his sisters] sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.”  But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness is not unto death; it is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by means of it.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.  So when he heard that he was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go into Judea again… Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awake him out of sleep.”

 The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead; and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him...”

On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home. "Lord," Martha said to Jesus, "if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask."

Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again." Martha answered, "I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day." Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?" "Yes, Lord," she told him, "I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world."

And after she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. "The Teacher is here," she said, "and is asking for you…”   Then Mary, when she came where Jesus was and saw him, fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled; and he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept.[1]

 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. "Take away the stone," he said. "But, Lord," said Martha, the sister of the dead man, "by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days." Then Jesus said, "Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?"

So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, "Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me." When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!" The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, "Take off the grave clothes and let him go."

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The physical revival of Lazarus was yet another of the seven miracles that John included in his gospel[2] to fulfill his stated goal: so we would believe that Jesus was who he claimed to be. Jesus himself says this happened “so the Son of Man will be glorified…so that you may believe…you will see the glory of God…for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe you sent me.” In this miracle, we see Jesus establishing that he has has the power to raise the dead. This is important, because the Bible teaches us two key principles that follow from this fact.

First, death cannot stop God from raising us into eternal life. One chapter earlier, John quotes Jesus as saying: “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:28) Martha affirms this. She believes it will happen on the last day. Jesus basically says, “Yes, because of me.”

Second, God can raise us from spiritual death to life in this life. Paul wrote in Romans 8:

“If Christ lives within you, even though the body is as good as dead because of the effects of sin, the Spirit is infusing you with life now that you are right with God. If the Spirit of the One who resurrected Jesus from the dead lives inside of you, then you can be sure that He who raised Him will cast the light of life into your mortal bodies through the life-giving power of the Spirit residing in you.” (Romans 8:10-11)

Jesus infuses us with new spiritual life through His Holy Spirit even before he raises us up to the ultimate glory of eternal life in bodies that are incorruptible and free of the ravages of sin and death.

Matthew records that Jesus healed a lame man so people would know he had the power to forgive sins (Matthew 9). In other words, he did something miraculous they could see in order to prove he could to miraculous things they couldn’t see. Here again, Martha believed in an unseen world of resurrection; Jesus raises Lazarus in the seen world so that people would believe the entirety of his claims. 

But there’s another portion of this story that lingers with me, an odd and even gross detail that was important enough to include. In this midst of this celebration is a sobering reality: even though Lazarus had been raised into new life, he had spent some time in the corrupting power of death, and he stank. And now those who loved him were going to need to hold their noses and get their hands dirty as they unwrapped him.[3]

I realize that this is not the main point of the story. That fact that Jesus has the power to bring the dead to life is the main point of the story. Next week, I am going to focus on the implications that has for our lives. But today I want to focus on a small detail I believe offers something for our spiritual instruction. Remember: Jesus used a physical miracle to prove a spiritual reality. In this case, I think we see a physical analogy that acknowledges an important part of the spiritual reality of what it will look like when we are raised into a new spiritual life in Christ.

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When we move from death to life, it’s glorious but it’s not always pretty.  Let’s start with the glorious part. Our resurrection with Christ saves us from spiritual death. It frees us from the legacy of our sin eating away at us and corrupting us. This is fantastic news.

“You laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him.” (Colossians 3:9-10)

“Put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:22-24)

So it’s glorious. If you have a testimony that includes freedom from bondage to sin, you know this. When Jeff shared his story a couple weeks ago, the glorious power of God at work in his life was made clear. Our new life is glorious. It’s just not always pretty. Zombie stories give us a decent analogy for what sin does to us. It kills us and we don’t know it. We stumble around, falling apart, consuming others, wasting away in ways that are both heart breaking and terrifying.

And Jesus heals us from that.

I was watching a special on the History Channel about Halloween, and in their segment on the history of the zombie in world literature they noted that Jesus was the only ‘zombie’ (person who was dead and came back to life) that came back to give life to others rather than take it away.  The History Channel was not promoting the divinity of Christ, but even they recognized that there is something different and important about Jesus.

But even though we have been brought to life, we spent time dead in sin experiencing spiritual corruption, and there is a legacy that lingers. It’s going to be a process. There’s some cleaning up to do. Can we just be honest about that? Here’s Lazarus celebrating – “Woo hoo! No way! I’m alive!” and his friends are like, “You need to take a bath.”

In heaven, the corruptible will put on the incorruptible (1 Corinthians 15:54). We are not there yet. New life on this side of heaven is glorious but it does not yet equal perfection. We are freed from the controlling power and the eternal penalty of our sin because of Christ, but God made a world in which we reap a temporal penalty for what we have sown (Galatians 6:7).

This is why, if you were dead in greed, or gossip, or sexual sin, you likely won’t walk away from a new commitment to Jesus suddenly freed of the habits and patterns you have formed over the years. We are “being renewed” (2 Corinthians 4:16) and “being transformed by the renewing of our minds” (Romans 12:2) Those are progressive verbs. We still have to “put on the new self” (Ephesians 4:24).

This is not one momentous moment where you announce “Old self out!” drop the mic and walk away with no connection whatsoever to anything you have done before. We walk away from who we were, but when we first start out we are still pretty close to where we started. Distance takes time. Addicts will long for their addiction even as they conquer their old habits. Criminals might spend time in jail even if those they wronged forgive them. Gossips have wounded friendships that need time to heal. 

I often hear people say, “I’ve changed. Why can’t we just move on and forget about who I was?” Well, because you have grave clothes on. They will come off, but it will take some time, and you still stink. You’ve trained yourself to think about people and situations in a land of corruption. You have spent years building a whole system on how you gauge your value and worth in a land of corruption.  

God promises to transform you if you surrender your life to Him, but it’s a process (what we call sanctification).[4] Be patient. You need some unwrapping, and right now you don’t smell new yet.

We must be honest. The church is full of forgiven people who have been given new life in Christ and who stink. I know I do. I might clean up good on a Sunday morning and look fine (theoretically), and I have been raised from death to life by the power of Jesus Christ, but if you know we me at all, you know that there are still some clothes from my time spent in the grave that still need some unwinding.

Back to Romans 8. After Paul talks about new life in Christ, he writes that all of creation groans in anticipation of God’s New Creation in the world to come but has not yet arrived – and that includes those who are children of God:

“Though we have already tasted the firstfruits of the Spirit, we are longing for the total redemption of our bodies that comes when our adoption as children of God is complete—  for we have been saved in this hope and for this future. But hope does not involve what we already have or see. For who goes around hoping for what he already has? But if we wait expectantly for things we have never seen, then we hope with true perseverance and eager anticipation.” (23-25)

We celebrate new life, we take great hope in the total future redemption we can experience because of Jesus – and we recognize that the reason we are full of expectation and hope is that Heaven has not yet arrived. We live in a church community full of people who have walked out of their spiritual graves (yay!) and are trailing grave clothes behind them (yikes). I hope this gives us a realistic expectation of church community.

  • It’s why we celebrate together - and then struggle with each other.
  • It’s why we praise God for redemption – and then beg him to help us be better at forgiving the redeemed around us who wound us.  
  • It’s why we can feel torn between loving Jesus and loving the people who claim to love Jesus.
  • It’s why we can’t hide from others in our walk with Christ. We need others to help us move into the life God has given us.

It’s beautiful and messy on this side of heaven. And it’s in these times that the community of the Church has an opportunity to shine.

God expects the church to move stones and unwrap grave clothes.

Jesus could have enlisted angels or moved the stone himself; Jesus could have knocked those grave clothes off with a word. He didn’t; he let Lazarus’ friends and family do it. This physical reality points toward an important spiritual one:

“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2)

“Therefore encourage one another, and build up one another.” (1 Thessalonians 5:11)

“Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another. In the end, you may be healed.” (James 5:16)

For whatever reasons, Jesus enlists us in His service.

“In the commands for the bystanders to roll away the stone and unwrap Lazarus we learn that although only God can raise the dead, He still uses men to do the things they are capable of doing. That's how the Lord always operates. He does what He does, but we do what we can do. There's no greater joy in the world than … taking off grave clothes for the Lord! We play a part in what He does.”  – John McArthur

I don’t think “joy” is a word that comes to mind, frankly, when I think of helping others get rid of the lingering reminders of their spiritual corruption. I’d like everyone around me cleaned up, thank you very much. I don’t want the hassle of high-maintenance friends or needy family members or other people in church who offend me or make me angry because their words, attitudes or actions still stink. But that’s a crucial reason we do life together. There are 59 “One Another Verses” in the Bible.[5] Why are there so many? Because it’s hard to do life together, but it’s crucial.

I have two tips to offer today on this aspect of ‘life together’: be humble and be wise.

1. Be humble. Get over yourself. For every person you help become free from their grave clothes, someone else is helping you. You might think the lingering effects of someone else’s sin is overwhelming…but I’m telling you, somebody close to you has is rubbing Vicks under their nose when they help you out. There is never room for arrogance or meanness in the church.

2. Be wise.

  • Seek God’s wisdom and truth. Sin is subtle. You can enable someone rather than help them if you aren’t careful. You can shame those you are trying to help if you aren’t careful. You can get pulled into the very sin you are trying to help others be free from. We are to be people of grace and truth, and that balance can be tricky. You will need to pray and read Scripture. You may need to read books on a particular subject or listen to sermons/podcasts. If you can do this without betraying someone’s confidence, you may need to ask an expert you know. Seek wisdom beyond your own feelings and thoughts.
  • Know your boundaries. Do you have a relationship with this person? Will you be meddling or helping? Do you have good reason to believe they will value what you have to say? Are there others around them already doing the unwrapping? Maybe you can help, but maybe you will be in the way. This is part of the things for which you should be praying, and, if appropriate, seeking counsel.
  • If you are helping someone and it feels messy, use your words. Here are four examples for different situations.
  1. “I feel like I need to be honest about you, but I don’t know if what comes out of my mouth will reflect what’s in my heart.”
  2. “I am not your enemy; I am your friend, and because I am your friend we’ve got to talk about this thing in your life.”
  3. “I’m glad you have confided in me, but I don’t know what to do or say right now. Can we just hang out?”
  4. “I think I offended you. I’m sorry.”

So be humble, and be wise.

Jesus does what only he can do: bring the dead to life.

We do what he asks us to do: welcome those who were dead back into the community of the living. And in the process of God raising and we, the church, unwrapping, the glory of God will be revealed so that the world might believe.

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[1] Why did Jesus weep when he knew that he would raise Lazarus from the dead? The Bible is not clear, but I suspect it had to do with a) Jesus’ grief over the calamitous reality of the devastating consequence of what sin does in the world. See “Why Jesus Wept,” http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/why-jesus-wept

[2]  This passage occurs in a broader context. The gospel of John is famous for Jesus’ Seven Miracles. They progress in interesting ways:

  • Water to wine – Jesus shows the power to change elements, and he only reveals this to his mother and servants, two classes of people looked down upon in Jewish culture.
  • Healing the official’s son – Jesus shows power over temporary sickness as well as distance (he doesn’t have to go to the man’s house). This miracle was shown to a Gentile from Herod’s court, one of the oppressors of God’s people.
  • Healing the paralytic – Jesus shows power over long-term sickness as well as his power over the Law. This third miracle is done once again for one of the culturally marginalized.
  • Feeding the 5,000 – Jesus shows power not only to multiply elements rather than just change them , perhaps linking him to God’s provision during the Exodus. This is his first very public miracle, shown to thousands.
  • Walking on water – Jesus shows his power over elements once again, perhaps as another purposeful connection with God as revealed in the Old Testament. The Spirit of God moved over the water in Genesis 1; now John, who made a clear connection to Genesis in the beginning of his book, records the Word of God moving over the water. 
  • Healing the man born blind – Jesus shows he has the power of creation; he doesn’t just heal eyes that had once been good and then gone bad, he creates working eyes where there had been none.
  • Raising Lazarus – Jesus shows his power over physical death, which establishes his power over spiritual death .

[3] Whenever the Bible takes the time to point out that something stinks, this is never a good thing. In Genesis 19, the angels said of Sodom and Gomorrah that “the stench of the place has reached the Lord…”  “And I have made the stink of your camps to come up unto your nostrils: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the LORD” (Amos 4:10). Isaiah 65 talks about God gagging on the stench of rebelliousness and pride and hypocrisy.

[4] See Theopedia’s definition: http://www.theopedia.com/sanctification

[5]http://storage.cloversites.com/wakarusamissionarychurch/documents/59one_another_scriptures.pdf

Comfort One Another With These Words

“Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore comfort one another with these words."                                              1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

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     There are three main observations in this section of Scripture:

Death brings grief.
Because Christ rose, Death does not have the final word. Comfort one another with the hope of the final Resurrection.

   The fact that death brings grief is really not earth-shattering.  People have always grieved death. But I appreciate how the Bible does not look away from real life.  There is no avoidance here.  Life is sometimes very hard, and it does us no good to look away.  There is something about entering into even the most painful emotions  and events that is important in a road to recovery.

    At the time Paul was writing this, the Jews had a variety of opinions about the afterlife, including a concept pretty close to our idea of Heaven, reincarnation, or annihilation.  No matter what they believed, there was a very methodical process to be sure the dead were honored: rituals for a day, three days, a week, a month, three months, a year, and yearly.  It’s not a process intended to consume them with grief, but to help them acknowledge a grievous loss and move on without forgetting the ones they loved.
    But the Greek/Roman culture didn’t just acknowledge grief; they indulged grief. When friends and family died, they hired people to play a dirge on a pipe or trumpet, or  to howl and lament in a dismal manner. They shrieked and tore their clothes and hair; they put dust on their heads, or sat down in ashes. This was a ritual of despair. 
    “Gladiator” contains a scene where Maximus is reunited with his wife and son after he dies.  It’s moving, but it’s just not accurate historically.  The Greeks and Romans  grieved mightily because they thought death was absolutely the end.  In fact the Stoics thought you were absorbed into the universe. Catullus wrote, "When once our brief day has set, we must sleep one everlasting night." 
      Some among the new converts in Thessalonica apparently doubted whether there would be any resurrection.  Those who accepted it were afraid that that the dead were cut off from the hope of eternal happiness with Christ, so their grief was more like the Gentiles in despair, "as those who had no hope."
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     Paul looks back to Christ's resurrection to lay a foundation for why they had a reason to view death differently:

   “For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him." 

     Since Jesus died and rose again, showing his power over death itself, we know that the power of life and death is under God’s control.  Having established that foundation,  Paul writes what is apparently the first written message to the Church about the return of Christ. 

According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.”

     This is a brilliant image, but a little background is necessary to fully appreciate the message.
     In 42 BC, Roman law deified Julius Caesar.  Poets celebrated the divinity associated with Augustus, and across the empire coins, monuments, temples and artwork promoted the cult of Augustus. The language of emperor worships contained a lot of words or phrases with which we are familiar today:

  • "Son of God"
  • "Faith" in the "Lord"
  • "A Gospel" about a "Savior" who brought "salvation"

     The Romans would gather together in something they called ekklesia, an assembly, where they would sometimes wait for the parousia, or triumphant return, of Ceasar ( or a Roman general or emperor) after an important military victory.  The citizens would go out to meet him and then escort him back into the city.  
Trumpets blew; crowds shouted; celebrants waved burning incense as a way of offering thanks for victory. 
      If commentators and historians are correct, Paul uses this image, so familiar to his audience, to describe a spiritual event--the most important spiritual event in this age.  

  • Churches were the true ekklesiai where the faithful citizens of heaven worshipped the true Lord and King
  • The church awaits the parousia, the triumphant return of Jesus, the king who has won the greatest spiritual victory there is. Through his death and resurrection, he has paid the penalty for our sins and thus conquered both physical and spiritual death.  
  • Just as loyal citizens went out of the city to escort Caesar home after a visit to the colonies, believers will go out to meet Jesus at his parousia and return with him in triumph.
  • The fanfare that accompanied the return of Ceasar is earthly; the fanfare that accompanies the return of Jesus will be heavenly. 

     Then, it appears Paul uses another great physical analogy – going to meet the returning, triumphant King in the clouds of the air – to address the fear the new Christians had that the dead would miss out on this great day. Paul wrote:

“Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us.” (Hebrews 12:1, KJV)

   The word for “cloud” here in reference to the multitude of followers of Christ is the same word used in 1 Thessalonians 4.  Paul makes the analogy that when the triumphant King returns, we will join the “cloud of witnesses” – all who have given their lives to God – to usher in the true Emperor and Lord. 
     One day, we will be taken fully into the presence of Christ along with everyone else who committed their lives to him, living or dead.  
     “Comfort one another with these words.”
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 If you are interested in a blog that primarily addresses how we as Christians find hope in the midst of grief and loss, visit (http://learningtojump.blogspot.com)