What is the difference between wishful thinking and Biblical hope?
During Christmas, we talk about a Messiah, a King and Savior who was anointed or appointed as our deliverer. There are a lot of things that need fixing in the world – the song rightly included a whole list of things that Jesus fixed while he was on earth – but the most important thing is that “the child you delivered will soon deliver you.” All of his miracles, as wonderful as they were, served to confirm that He had the power to deliver us from sin and the spiritual death that comes with it. 
What should we expect this deliverance to look like in my life and in the world around me? When I pray, “Thy Kingdom come, they will be done,” I have a pretty good idea of what I think that ought to look like. But does my expectation align with reality? What will a world look like in which Jesus is the Messiah, King and Savior?
I ask these questions because they are intertwined with our Advent focus today: hope. How can we understand and experience a godly hope in this life? In order to answer this question well, we need to understand what it means that Jesus is the Messiah and what kind of hope he meant to bring, or we will experience a lot of frustration and anger because we have false expectations about what a Messiah will do.
So, let’s do history.
Every king of Israel was known as “anointed one,” (the prophet or high priest anointed him); the Hebrew term was “messiah.” When the line of kings in both Israel and Judah ended with the exile to Babylon, the title “anointed one” gradually began to mean a future king who would save Israel. 
The Jews believed that “the covenant will be renewed: the Temple will be rebuilt, the Land cleansed, the Torah kept perfectly by a new covenant people with renewed hearts.” (N.T. Wright) A lot of hope was placed in this “age to come,” or the messianic age. The ‘salvation’ would be a rescue from the national enemies, the restoration of the national symbols, and a state of peace.
The Jews were waiting for a Messiah, a King. And they waited…. and waited… through captivity and bondage and despair. Not surprisingly, false Messiahs arose. They were longing for God’s Kingdom to come - and they had a pretty good idea of what it ought to look like.
There were three main Messianic movements around the time Jesus was born (it’s more complicated than my overview. These are broad, very general categories).
First, the Warrior/Politician Messiah. For those who wanted to fight, the Messiah would free them from Roman oppression; there would be a physical rule on earth where other kingdoms would bow to them. These were the Zealots. Just to give you an idea of how serious they were, about 100 years after Jesus died a man named Simon Bar Kochba amassed an army of 200,000 men. When he went to war he would pray: ”Master of the Universe, do not help us and do not help our enemies.” (He was crushed by the Romans and tens of thousands were slain. Some Orthodox Jews still consider him the closest to a real Messiah the Jews have seen).
When Jesus entered Jerusalem, people spread coats (a sign of a king – see 2 Kings 9:13) and waved palm branches. Here’s why. Solomon dedicated the Temple during the Feast of Tabernacles using palm branches; when Judas Maccabeas, one of the founders of the Zealots, briefly freed Jerusalem from Roman rule and purified the Temple in 165 BC., the Jews celebrated with palm branches – a symbol which continued to be used by the Zealots. Many of the Jews likely greeted Jesus with palm branches because they thought He would be the new Judas Maccabeus, fighting for the Temple and God’s people. (Jesus apparently had a Zealot among his followers - Simon, on whom the Bible is largely silent).
Second, the Torah or Temple Messiah. Under this Messiah, the temple and the Law would finally be exalted over all the earth. The Sadducees were pretty elitist about the priestly class, though they had no problem with working with Greek culture. The Essenes moved into the desert to get away from everybody else – including the Sadducess. This wasn’t so much a revolt as a movement toward holiness and piety. If they could just have the space to recreate the theocracy of old and follow the Law freely, fully and publicly, the world would notice and change. That’s how the Kingdom of God on earth would arrive.
Third, the People’s Messiah. This messiah would do those other things, but most importantly he would he would bring about world peace and comfort. He would bring freedom from economic inequality and class oppression. They were most inclined of all the Jewish groups to long for a day when everybody would get along. The Pharisees were the most closely aligned with this idea.
Jesus’ three temptations in the wilderness were loosely connected to these three Messianic hopes (Matthew 4:1-11):
- to rule the world (Warrior Messiah)
- to restore the glory of the temple (Torah/Temple messiah)
- to turn stones into bread (People’s Messiah)
Perhaps these all point toward a New Heaven and New Earth, where all these longings will be perfectly fulfilled; however, that was not Jesus’ primary mission while on earth. His mission was focused on a spiritual salvation, not a physical one.
Human nature being what it is (and the world being what it is), it is no surprise that we all long for some type of messiah. You don’t have to be a Christian to know that something is wrong in us and around us. It may be something we did or something done to us, but we know that the world needs help. We, too, run the danger of missing the hope of our Deliverer if we expect the salvation Jesus offers to be something different than he intended.
We can long for a Warrior Messiah who offers hope through power.
If we aren't careful, we will confuse the Kingdom of God with the empire of America. We will think, “If my culture or my government is for me, who can be against me?” We will begin to believe that winning whatever culture war is in front of us is the answer to the world’s problems. In its worst form, we will long for a God of Judgment who gives the world what’s coming to it, and we will just settle in and watch as all the pagans get what's coming to them.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t be involved in our culture. We are called to be ‘salt’, and salt preserves (Matthew 5:13-16). Our faithful and bold presence is necessary. I’m talking more about where we place our hope. I’m talking about the danger of seeing ‘winning the culture wars’ as the salvation of our culture. If we do that, we will see religious, political, and celebrity leaders as messianic figures, and we will see all those who aren’t on the same page as we are about particular issues as lesser Christians.
We can look for a Temple Messiah, a savior who offers hope through the Law.
If we aren't careful, we will locate the Temple Messiah within the walls of a withdrawn, internally focused, know all the right phrases, build an impressive theological resume, look just right, volunteer for the right things Christian community. Our hope is in our ability to follow the Law and in so doing usher in a compelling vision of the Kingdom of God.
The Saducees became elitist; the Essenes retreated. That’s the danger. If we place our hope for ourselves and our culture in being good, we will begin to inevitably judge ourselves and others by our conformity to the Law, and we will either become elitist (if we think we do it well) or we will withdraw from culture because we think that’s the only way to keep ourselves pure. Either way, our hope is not in Christ, and we will end up in a place where we have no real hope to offer a world that desperately needs it.
We can limit Jesus to being a People’s Messiah, one who offers hope through the eradication of injustice.
The People’s Messiah is a social justice warrior, convinced that God’s Kingdom will come to earth in the form of equality, fairness, justice, and an environmental and global consciousness. We provide clean water, and buy fair trade products, and talk about carbon footprints. None of these are bad things, right? They just a bad foundation for hope.
- We provide clean water – to people who are sold into human slavery. We buy fair trade products – from people whose local government takes their profit.
- We raise the standard of living - and people are no more happy, loving or generous than they were before.
- We change our Facebook profile with a logo Facebook so helpfully provides so you can help promote what Facebook wants us to promote, and we radically change our lifestyle to support all things socially conscious - and yet the world does not look saved.
We can run ourselves silly in good causes while forgetting that the problem causing all these symptoms hasn’t been addressed.
I want to be clear: to whatever degree you get involved in helping to offset the ravages of a fallen world, it is commendable. God cares about all the ways in which the world is broken, and we should too. I’m not suggesting that you don’t get involved in social issues, or that you don’t seek to live holy lives within the confines of God’s law, or that you don’t get involved in politics or entertainment. These are good and just ways to offset the impact of sinfulness in a fallen world, and we ought to be faithfully present to be the ‘salt’ in our world. These just can’t be the things in which we place our hope.
The reason the world is broken – the reason we long for a Messiah to save us - is that sin has broken the world, brought spiritual death to us, and hurt those around us. The Bible is clear that we - and by connection, the world - are dead without Christ in our trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1). And because of that part of our nature, we do not steward the world as we should; we don’t share our wealth like we should; we don’t pass laws like we should; we don’t live the holy lives we should. In and of ourselves, we can never be good enough, and we can never make the world good enough. Until God fixes the sin inside of us, nothing will successfully or fully fix the impact of sin around us.
There is only one solution for this: the life, death and resurrection of the Messiah, Jesus, “who takes away the sin of the world!" ( John 1:29; Matthew 1:21). That is our hope. If we want the fallenness of ourselves and the world to be addressed, there is no other name under heaven by which we can be saved (Acts 4:12).
Since we have been acquitted and made right through faith, we are able to experience true and lasting peace with God through our Lord Jesus, the Anointed One, the Liberating King. Jesus leads us into a place of radical grace where we are able to celebrate the hope of experiencing God’s glory. And that’s not all. We also celebrate in seasons of suffering because we know that when we suffer we develop endurance, which shapes our characters. When our characters are refined, we learn what it means to hope and anticipate God’s goodness. And hope will never fail to satisfy our deepest need because the Holy Spirit that was given to us has flooded our hearts with God’s love.
When the time was right, Jesus died for all of us who were far from God, powerless, and weak. Now it is rare to find someone willing to die for an upright person, although it’s possible that someone may give up his life for one who is truly good. But think about this: while we were spiritually dead because of our sin, God revealed His powerful love to us in a tangible display— Jesus, the Anointed One, died for us. As a result, the blood of Jesus has made us right with God now, and certainly we will be rescued by Him from God’s wrath in the future. If we were in the heat of combat with God when His Son reconciled us by laying down His life, then how much more will we be saved by Jesus’ resurrection life? In fact, we stand now reconciled and at peace with God. That’s why we celebrate in God through our Lord Jesus, the Anointed. (Romans 5:1-11)
 Think of what Jesus said to the paralytic in Mark 2: “Why do My words trouble you so? Think about this: is it easier to tell this paralyzed man, “Your sins are forgiven,” or to tell him, “Get up, pick up your mat, and walk”? Still, I want to show you that the Son of Man has been given the authority on earth to forgive sins. (to the paralytic) Get up, pick up your mat, and go home.”
 Here is a great explanation of ‘Messiah’. http://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionary/messiah/
 Here’s a good article on false Messiahs. http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/12416-pseudo-messiahs
 We read in Luke 9:52-55 about a time when the disciples were angry at the Samaritans and asked Jesus if he wanted them to call down fire and obliterate those terrible people. Jesus said, “Of course not: I came to liberate people, not destroy them.” If you think the Messiah can’t wait to burn the evil out of the world, and you can’t wait to burn it with Him, you have missed the mission of the Messiah.
The following satirical letter to NYU has been floating around the internet for a while:
IN ORDER FOR THE ADMISSIONS STAFF OF OUR COLLEGE TO GET TO KNOW YOU BETTER, WE ASK THAT YOU ANSWER THE FOLLOWING QUESTION ARE THERE ANY SIGNIFICANT EXPERIENCES YOU HAVE HAD, OR ACCOMPLISHMENTS YOU HAVE REALIZED, THAT HAVE HELPED TO DEFINE YOU AS A PERSON?
I am a dynamic figure, often seen scaling walls and crushing ice. I have been known to remodel train stations on my lunch breaks, making them more efficient in the areas of heat retention. I write award-winning operas, I manage time efficiently. Occasionally, I tread water for three days in a row.
I woo women with my god like trombone playing, I can pilot bicycles up severe inclines with unflagging speed, and I cook Thirty-Minute Brownies in twenty minutes. I am as expert in stucco, a veteran in love, and an outlaw in Peru.
Using only a hoe and a large glass of water, I once single-handedly defended a small village in the Amazon Basin from a horde of ferocious army ants. I play bluegrass cello, I was scouted by the Mets, I am the subject of numerous documentaries. When I’m bored, I build large suspension bridges in my yard. On Wednesdays, after school, I repair electrical appliances free of charge.
I am an abstract artist, a concrete analyst, and a ruthless bookie. Critics worldwide swoon over my original line of corduroy evening wear. I don’t perspire. I am a private citizen, yet I receive fan mail. I have been caller number nine and have won the weekend passes. I bat 400. My deft floral arrangements have earned me fame in international botany circles. Children trust me.
I can hurl tennis rackets at small moving objects with deadly accuracy. I know the exact location of every food item in the supermarket. I have performed several covert operations with the CIA. I sleep once a week; when I do sleep, I sleep in a chair. While on vacation in Canada, I successfully negotiated with a group of terrorists who had seized a small bakery. The laws of physics do not apply to me.
I balance, I weave, I dodge, I frolic, and my bills are all paid. On weekends, to let off steam, I participate in full-contact origami. Years ago I discovered the meaning of life but forgot to write it down. I breed prizewinning clams. I have won bullfights in San Juan, cliff-diving competitions in Sri Lanka, and spelling bees at the Kremlin. I have played Hamlet, I have performed open-heart surgery, and I have spoken with Elvis. But I have not yet gone to college.
He’s a fantastic guy, but he is not real. He sounds good, but neither I nor anyone else I know of will be restructuring their way of life to follow him, or introducing others to him, or starting a Church of The Living NYU Student, or wearing a bracelet (WWNYUSD). It doesn’t matter how great he sounds, he is not real (and neither was the letter).
If Jesus was not real – if he was not who he said he was – then Christianity has nothing to offer that you can’t find in another worldview, a self-help shelf or a bottle. But if Jesus was who he claimed to be, then He matters in ways that nothing else does.[i]
This is what I want to address today – the reality of Jesus Christ. If you attend here throughout the year, you are going to hear over and over again how Jesus saves and transforms even the most broken and hopeless lives. You are going to here how God is awesome, and Jesus alone is worthy of our praise. You are going to here testimonies about how Jesus enters into our reality and changes us from the inside out. But this Sunday, I just want to talk about the reality of Jesus. [ii] The APOSTLES CREED (which probably dates from the second century) begins like this:
I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only son, our Lord, Conceived of the Holy Spirit, Born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried, [he descended to the dead] on the third day he rose again, he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come again to judge the living and the dead..,”
If we have grown up in church or been a Christian for a while, we can lose sight of how fantastic this claim is. The Incarnation says that God came to earth as a human being in order to save us from the penalty of our sins and restore peace between us and God. God made a good world; we break it. Over and over, we do the kinds of things that destroy peace with God, with others, and within. In an unbelievable act of love and grace, God himself took care of the penalty we deserved so that our sins could be forgiven and peace could be restored. [iii]
If you think that’s a fantastic claim today, so did those who lived with Jesus.
The Jews had been waiting for a Messiah (a Savior) since David. Time and again they ended up enslaved to other nations. By the first century, they had spent several hundred years convinced that the Spirit of God had been removed from them. They were waiting for a Messiah who would do two key things to fix this broken world: defeat the enemy and liberate Israel (in Jesus' day, that was Rome), and purify / rebuild the temple. Plenty of people claimed they were this promised Messiah.
- Judas Maccabeus 160's BC, entered Jerusalem at the head of an army, purified the temple, destroyed altars to other gods, but was eventually killed in battle.
- Judas (of Galilee), Zealot, led revolt against Romans AD 6 (Acts 5). It failed.
- Theudas (mentioned in Acts 5.36) claimed to be a Messiah, and led about 400 people to the Jordan River, where he would divide it to show his power. He was stopped and executed in AD 46.
- The Anonymous Egyptian (Jew), with 30,000 unarmed Jews, did a reenactment of Exodus around AD 55. He led them to the Mount of Olives, where he claimed he would command the walls around Jerusalem to fall. His group was massacred by Procurator Antonius Felix, and he was never seen again.
- Simon bar Kokhba ca. 135), founded a short-lived Jewish state that he ruled for 3 years before being defeated in the Second Jewish-Roman War. 580,000 Jewish people died.
No wonder John the Baptizer, while in jail awaiting his death, sent a message to Jesus: “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” This was John the Baptist, who once announced Jesus as, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” He needed to know if Jesus was the real deal.
Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. And blessed are those who do not take offense in me.” (Luke 7)
That last line seems odd, but remember that the Jews were expecting a Messiah with a sword, not a healing touch. Jesus is basically saying, ‘Don’t let this trip you up. This is what a real Messiah does.”[iv]
So after doing all these things to show He was who He claimed he was, Jesus’ crucifixion suggested that he was just another failed messiah. He had not freed them from Roman rule and had not restored the Temple as they expected. Now he was dead and his followers were hiding. Typically, another person would be tagged to continue the movement, usually a family member or relative.
And yet three days after Jesus’ death this movement begins.
- The early Christians claimed they had seen a Resurrected Messiah at a time when no one believed that individuals would be resurrected. The Greeks thought the soul would finally be rid of the body. The Jews believed in the coming Resurrection where the entire world would be renewed, but they did not believe in the personal resurrection of individuals.
- They didn’t appoint a successor (which was the normal response at the time)
- The early Christians said they had more hope than ever before, not because Roman rule was gone but because they had been offered life in a Kingdom that was not of this world.
- They claimed that Jesus had set them free from a much greater problem than Roman rule – the just and eternal consequence of their sin.
- They claimed that the community of the church was now the temple, and it was being restored as the people in it were transformed into the image of risen Christ who was at work inside them through His Spirit and His word.
- They worshipped Jesus at a time when worship of a human was blasphemous to the Jews and potentially traitorous to the Romans.
The early followers of Christ reordered their entire worldview, changed their view of God, and radically changed their way of life to the point of being willing to die. Why? What had happened to cause them to confidently make this claim? [v]
It was the belief that Jesus had resurrected. He had shown He was the Christ, God in the flesh, by showing his mastery over death.
“But when they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away – for it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man clothed in a long white robe sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is risen. He is not here. See the place where they laid Him. But go, tell His disciples – and Peter- that He is going before you into Galilee, and there you will see Him, as He said to you.” (Mark: 16:4-7)
Several years later, after a miraculous conversion that moved him from a killer of Christians to an apostle of Christ, Paul would write that the power and hope of Christ’s Resurrection is meant to bring us to life.
“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world… all of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts… because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus…” (Ephesians 2:1-10)
We are all in need of a Savior. We cannot save ourselves from the sin and brokenness within us and around us. Nothing outside of us can save us either. We won’t be saved by a new tax system or a higher minimum wage or better health care or another person who will ‘complete us’. We don’t need a better social circle or more money or amazing sex or the latest I-something. Substitute saviors will never save us. We know this. They have failed us time and again, and then ones we think are working now will fail us too.
Christ offers to raise us out of sin, despair and death. As Tim Keller says, because of Christ we are offered the hope that one day “everything sad will come untrue.” The very things that were once a sign of the deadness and despair of sin can be the very things that are a testimony to the life-giving power of Christ.
That is what Easter offers to us. The Crucifixion showed us how much God is willing to sacrifice for our good. Our salvation cost Him a crucifixion. The Resurrection of Christ shows us that Jesus has the power to do what He claimed. We, who are sinful, broken and so often wondering if there is any hope, have an answer.
“God so loved the world, that He gave His Son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send His son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” (John 3:16-17)
This is the heart of Christianity, and it is the hope of Resurrection.
Cold Case Christianity, J. Warner Wallace
The Reason for God, Timothy Keller
Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis
The Case for Christ and The Case for the Real Jesus, Lee Strobel
The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, by Gary Habermas and Mike Liconna
The Jesus I Never Knew, Phillip Yancey
What if Jesus Had Never Been Born? D. James Kennedy
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis (fiction)
The Sin Eater, Francine Rivers (fiction)
A.D. 30, Ted Dekker (fiction – recommended to me)
The Gospel of John (movie)
[i] By way of contrast, the historicity of the founder of other world religious does not carry the same level of importance in other major world religions. Buddhism does not rise and fall on the historical reality of Siddartha – which is good, because the earliest records start 2 to 3 centuries after his death, and some of the trusted manuscripts appear 1,000 years later. Hinduism does not rise and fall on the reality of anyone. It is not based on historical truth, but revealed principles. (If fact, it sees history as a weak point for other religions, because they become falsifiable.) Islam does not rise or fall on whether or not Mohammed rose from the dead, or was who he claimed he was. He was a prophet, not a Savior.
[ii] For the extra-biblical evidence about the life and person of Jesus, check out an article by J.Warner Wallace, “Is There Any Evidence for Jesus Outside the Bible?” (http://coldcasechristianity.com/2014/is-there-any-evidence-for-jesus-outside-the-bible/)
[iii] The death of Jesus was understood by the early Christians as a fulfillment of a covenant God had made centuries earlier.When God made a covenant with Abraham in Genesis 15 (and following), he used the standard form of what was called suzerain covenant-making. In typical fashion, Abraham killed some animals, cut them in pieces, and arranged them to walk through. Typically, both parties or just the weaker party would walk through the dissected animals as a way of saying, “If I break our covenant, may this be done to me as punishment.” But then only God, the stronger party, passed through (as a fiery pillar) – but never made Abraham, the weaker party, do the same.
By passing through the slaughtered animal, God was saying that if He didn’t bless Abraham and honor the covenant, God – the stronger, initiating party - would have to pay the penalty. That alone would be unusual, but that wasn’t the most incredible point. God was saying that if Abraham doesn’t keep the covenant, God would pay the penalty for Abraham.
This was unprecedented. God was clearly not a consumer god, paying attention and blessing us because we made him happy. God was a covenant god, but completely different from the wealthy, powerful lords of earth. He gave the rules, established the penalty of rule-breaking, then committed to paying that penalty for everybody.
What kind of God would do that? A God who arrives in the person of Jesus Christ. On the cross, Jesus fulfilled the conditions of the covenant by paying Abraham’s penalty. We commemorate this every time we partake in communion – His body broken, His blood spilled. The covenant must be honored. Someone must pay for breaking the agreement.
Read more at “The Only Thing That Counts,” http://nightfallsandautumnleaves.blogspot.com/2013/10/the-only-thing-that-counts-galatians-51.html
[iv] There are at least two key reasons Jesus performed miracles.
Miracles confirmed Jesus’ divine mission
- He “manifested His glory” at the marriage feast in Cana, so his disciples “believed in Him.” (John 2:11)
- "Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through Him, as you yourselves know. (Acts 2:22)
- “Even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father." (John 10:38)
Miracles confirmed the message of the gospel (Hebrews 2:1-4; John 2:18-21; Matthew 12:38)
”Then the Jews demanded of him, ‘What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.’ The Jews replied, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?’ But the temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.” (John 2:18-21)
“...This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.” ( Hebrews 2:1-4)
“Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Get up, take your mat and walk'? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins . . . ." He said to the paralytic, "I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home." He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, "We have never seen anything like this!"” (Mark 2:9-12)
[v] “If we are to think in first-century Jewish terms, it is impossible to conceive what sort of religious or spiritual experience someone could have that would make them say that the kingdom of God had arrived when it clearly had not, that a crucified leader was the Messiah when he obviously was not, or that the resurrection occurred last month when it obviously did not.” - N.T. Wright
I am a big fan of Lebron James. But as I watched the playoffs this this last week, I thought, “Glory is hard taskmaster.” Lebron promised Miami a handful of championships, and now there is tremendous pressure on him to win. He gets high renown and honor if he performs up to expectations, but he can go from hero to zero over the course of just two games. He may look magnificent in the moment, but those moments fade, and then he has to look magnificent again by doing something amazing yet again.
But let’s be honest: We pursue glory (renown, recognition and applause) in our homes, our work place, our church, online, with our friends. We want to be renown for something. We might not say “Look at me!” but we think it and hope it. And if being noticed become the most important thing – an idol, really - we will need to keep accomplishing things, and we will need to have people around us who notice.
In our homes: we want our spouse or our kids to be impressed by our magnificence. So we do more yard work, or cook more, or take them on a bigger vacation, or buy them stuff, or work harder at our job to make more money…. And it’s not that these things are necessarily bad. They just become bad if they become about us. Soon we realize we are running ourselves into the ground, and the family isn’t noticing. So we have to either remind them about everything we are doing, or point out all their failures so our successes look better.
With our friends: We want them to be impressed with our magnificence. So we get the beach body abs, or the new car, or the degree, or the new job. And even when they notice, we are never satisfied with the applause, and our friends are growing weary of us, and we just keep pushing ourselves harder and others away. And it’s not that these things are necessarily bad. They just become bad if you make them an idol.
In church: We are generous with our time and money, we read and study so we know a lot, we have grown kids God’s way and they are just a model of respect and godliness (at least in front of others), we lead, teach, worship or serve in some way that is powerful and moving. And all of these are good things – unless we have turned them into something that is supposed to get us the glory and honor that is finally due to us. But we keep trying harder, thinking that one day God will reward our hard work and we will be NOTICED!!!
There are so many good things God has given us or placed around us, and they are meant to be a gift to us and the world. But if we simply pursue our own glory, this “I”dolatry will drives us mercilessly. It will always fades always leave us empty, always take a toll on the people around us. This brings us to Paul’s letter to the Colossian church. Right after his opening prayer, he quotes what many believe to be an early hymn of praise:
“Christ is the visible image of the invisible God, the firstborn of creation, the eternal. It was by Him that everything was created: the heavens, the earth, all things within and upon them, all things seen and unseen, thrones and dominions, spiritual powers and authorities. Every detail was crafted through His design, by His own hands, and for His purposes. He has always been! It is His hand that holds everything together. He is the head of this body, the church.
He is the beginning, the first of those to be reborn from the dead, so that in every aspect, at every view, in everything—He is first. God was pleased that His full nature should forever dwell in the Son who bled peace into the world by His death on the cross as God’s means of reconciling to Himself the whole creation—all things in heaven and all things on earth." (Colossians 1:15-20)
- The eternal God in the flesh
- Creator and sustainer of everything.
- The Designer of Purpose
- The Head of the Church
- The Resurrector of the Dead
- The Redeemer and Reconciler of all Creation
He is preeminent, ultimately outstanding, first in everything, everywhere. Why does this matter? Because that kind of God is the only one who can do this:
“You were once alienated from God, wicked in your ways and evil in your minds; but now He has reconciled you in His flesh through His death so that He can present you to God holy, blameless, and totally free of imperfections as long as you stay planted in the faith. So don’t venture away from what you have heard and taken to heart: the living hope of the good news that has been announced to all creation under heaven and has captured me, Paul, as its servant...
What I am talking about is nothing less than the mystery of the ages! What was hidden for ages, generations and generations, is now being revealed to His holy ones. He decided to make known to them His blessing to the nations; the glorious riches of this mystery is that Christ lives in you, giving you the hope of glory." (Colossians 1:21-27)
“The living hope of the good news” is that we have been reconciled to God through Christ who lives in us, giving us the hope of glory.Commentators note that this phrase probably has a dual meaning. First, “the hope of glory” refers to the promise our next life in heaven. Second, it also refers to the impact of God in this life as well. Dóksa ("glory") corresponds to the OT word, kabo ("to be heavy"). Both terms convey that there is infinite, intrinsic worth of God’s very essence that has a depth, permanence, and beauty beyond what we can imagine.
God alone can bear what C.S. Lewis called “the weight of glory” – and He chooses to pass it on to us. And I don’t mean the glory that we tend to pursue. This is a different kind of glory that is all about Christ. It’s the kind of glory that does not fade, and is not empty. So what are the implications ?
We are free from the burden of generating our own awesomeness. We don't have to worry about the applause of others – with Christ in us, we have the applause of heaven. We are magnificent because Christ is in us, not because we had the biggest sales month or have kids whose hair is always washed or we look good in a swimsuit or we are a leader. No one needs to notice. We no longer say “Look at me!” We say, “Look past me!”
We don’t need others to fail so we look better. We don’t need to impress anyone, and we don’t need to hold them hostage to our need for affirmation. They can flourish and we will rejoice. “You have the spotlight! Well done.”
Let’s just say, theoretically, that we were awesome for a day. And let’s just say that no one noticed. That’s okay. They weren’t supposed to look at us anyway. They were supposed to see Christ, and if I remember correctly, He is supposed to increase while we decrease. It’s when people look past us that they Christ in us, the source of our only true glory and our only true hope.
"Oh, Lord live inside me, Lead me on my way
Oh, Lord in the darkness, Lead me on my way
Oh, Lord heaven's waiting ; open up your door
Lead me home."
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 grief. 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, the promise of God's everlasting presence and love.
Congregation: Just as Jesus wept, we, too, weep for the death of loved ones, the loss of opportunities, the fading of hopes and dreams.
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, it’s sometimes hard for us to lift up our hearts. You understand the grief of the 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: "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." - Psalm 88, The Voice
"Say something, I'm giving up on you; I don't know what more that I can do
Anywhere I would've followed you; say something, I'm giving up on you
And I am feeling so small, I am over my head, I know nothing at all
Why have you pushed me aside? Can’t escape from the dark
And helpless to try
Say something, I'm giving up on you
I'm sorry that I couldn't get to you
Anywhere I would've followed you
Say something, I'm giving up on you
And I am shut out in the night, All the ones that I love,
Now I’m saying goodbye
Say something, I'm giving up on you
And I'm sorry that I couldn't get to you
And anywhere I would've followed you (Oh-oh-oh-oh)
Say something, I'm giving up on you
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: “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: “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)
God over the darkness, God over the light
God of those who bring us peace, God of those who fight
God of all the smiling faces, God of those who mourn
God of those in happy families, God of the forlorn
God, we lift up broken hands
And with our broken voices
We lift up a broken praise…
God over the empty hearts, God over the full
God over the kindly faces, God over the cruel
God of all that brings up hope, God of all our fear
God of those who never listen, God of those who hear
God, we lift up lonely hands
And with our lonely voices
We lift up a lonely praise….
God over the living, God over the dead
God over the hungry, God over the fed
God of all the crucifixions, God of all the graves
God of all the resurrections, That haven’t happened yet today….
God, we lift up open hands
And with our lonely voices
We lift up a broken praise….
- original song by Garageband and Anthony, punched up considerably by Nathan Gilmore, Tom and Becky Childs, and Ken Daniels)
Reader: “Despite all my emotions, 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.
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.
Pastor: 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 that those of us who mourn.
Congregation: May the light of a dying and risen Savior’s eternal love surround us.
Pastor: 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.
Pastor: We light the fourth 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: O God, who was despised and rejected, comfort the lonely and brokenhearted.
Pastor: We light the fifth candle to remember those who are in the midst of hardships that threaten to overwhelm them. For the poor, the persecuted, the hungry, and 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.
Pastor: 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: “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. In remembrance of all that has been accomplished through the life and death of Jesus Christ, we partake of the symbols of Christ's sacrifice for us. In the breaking of this bread and the drinking of this wine, may we experience in a new way the presence of the resurrected Christ.
Congregation: May we, the church, be united in the fellowship of his suffering so we can experience the power of his resurrection.
Pastor: (Invitation to Communion and Commemoration)
In the morning, when I rise, Give me Jesus
You can have all this world
Just give me Jesus.
Oh, When I am alone, Give me Jesus
You can have all this world
Give me Jesus.
Oh, When I come to die, Give me Jesus
You can have all this world
Give me Jesus.
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 Christ, we find comfort in the midst of sorrow. 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.
Congregation: We offer them to the Lord of Life.
Pastor: May the God of Comfort be with you.
Congregation: May the God of Resurrection be with us all.
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.
Gerald and Lydia Sittser and their children were driving through Iowa in 1991 when a drunk driver hit them at 85 mph. Gerald lost his mother, his wife and a four-year-old child in moment. He sat beside the isolated highway and watched them die. He eventually wrote the following in a book entitled A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows Through Loss:
“Catastrophic loss by definition precludes recovery. It will transform us or destroy us, but it will never leave us the same… It is not true that we become less through our loss – unless we allow the loss to make us less, grinding our soul down until there is nothing left. Loss can also make us more. I did not get over my loved ones; rather, I absorbed the loss into my life until it became part of who I am. Sorrow took up permanent residence in my soul and enlarged it… One learns the pain of others by suffering one’s own pain, by turning inside oneself, by finding one’s own soul… The soul is elastic, like a balloon. It can grow larger through suffering.
Life is characterized by loss. The weather changes. Cars break down. Favorite shows go off the air. We move into a new house. We leave a community and lose friends. Pets die. We lose our youth and our health. Then there is the loss of a marriage, of a parent, of a vocation, a dream, a life.
But though life is full of loss, it’s also full of new life. Age brings things that youth can’t. Some weather changes are good. We can enjoy new cars, houses, friends, pets, shows. The losses that threaten to overwhelm can enlarge us, deepen us, offer us something unexpectedly blessed on the other side. But the unexpected blessing follows the loss. Hope follows grief. Character follows the furnace in which that character was forged.
So as followers of Christ who want our emotional health to reflect the character and heart of God, let’s look at a biblical perspective on grief and loss.
Enter into your Grief
When King David’s friend Jonathan died, we read the following in 1 Samuel 1:17-27:
“Then David composed a funeral song for Saul and Jonathan, and he commanded that it be taught to the people of Judah. It is known as the Song of the Bow, and it is recorded in The Book of Jashar:
‘Your pride and joy, O Israel, lies dead on the hills! Oh, how the mighty heroes have fallen! Don’t announce the news in Gath, don’t proclaim it in the streets of Ashkelon, or the daughters of the Philistines will rejoice and the pagans will laugh in triumph.
O mountains of Gilboa, let there be no dew or rain upon you, nor fruitful fields producing offerings of grain. For there the shield of the mighty heroes was defiled; the shield of Saul will no longer be anointed with oil. The bow of Jonathan was powerful, and the sword of Saul did its mighty work. They shed the blood of their enemies and pierced the bodies of mighty heroes.
How beloved and gracious were Saul and Jonathan! They were together in life and in death. They were swifter than eagles, stronger than lions. O women of Israel, weep for Saul, for he dressed you in luxurious scarlet clothing, in garments decorated with gold. Oh, how the mighty heroes have fallen in battle! Jonathan lies dead on the hills.
How I weep for you, my brother Jonathan! Oh, how much I loved you! And your love for me was deep, deeper than the love of a mother or wife! Oh, how the mighty heroes have fallen! Stripped of their weapons, they lie dead.’”
It wasn’t just that David mourned the loss of his friend. He ordered it to be recorded and taught to thousands; it was written and named. It’s not a song with a happy ending. It’s just a primal mourning for the loss of a great friend. The world had changed. Goodness had been lost. It ought to be remembered, grieved, commemorated, never forgotten.
The depth of our grief reveals the weight of the thing we lost.When is the last time we considered that God is honored when his people offer songs of lament about their grief and loss? Jesus was a “man of sorrow, acquainted with grief.” If grief is a gauge of love, then both his love and his grief was deep. Perhaps we, too, should grieve deeply that which we love deeply, and do it without shame. If nothing else, we show all those around us what matters most in life.
Embrace the Journey
There was a day between Good Friday and Resurrection. In some traditions it’s called Holy Saturday, or Black Saturday, or Saturday of Lights. It’s that day between death and resurrection where all that was happening was burial. The Apostles Creed notes not simply that Jesus died and rose again; he died, was buried, and then was resurrected.
“It is a long day, this Silent Saturday. In many ways it represents life as it is for all of us. Though we like to say that we live on the other side of Easter, and that of course is true in the ultimate sense, it is also true that we live somewhere between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. The crucifixion is behind us, but death is still with us and the final victory lies somewhere in the future.” - Ray Pritchard, “Silent Saturday,” crosswalk.com
Silent Saturday is the day after the funeral, the weeks after the job loss or surgery, the months after the divorce, the years after a dream died. This is the dreaded in-between, that place where it feels like nothing is happening. We wonder if there is something wrong with us as people (or as Christians). Do I lack faith or dedication? Are God’s promises even real?
It’s important that we remember that God is just as present in these in-between times. The burial day for Jesus was part of God’s plain. It wasn’t the pain of loss; it wasn’t yet the triumph of new life. It was…burial. It was a time that tested faith and hope.
- Psalm 27;13-14: “I believe that I will look upon the goodness of the Lord in the Land of the living. Wait for the Lord…be strong…take courage…wait for the Lord.”
- Psalm 33:20: “My soul waits for the Lord…”
- The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:18)
- James 5:11: “We consider those blessed who remain steadfast…”
These are not wasted times in the Kingdom of God. Peter Scazzero uses the analogy of compost. As we throw scraps on the garden, we see the broken husks of things that were once full of life but are now empty shells. It seems as if their story is over. But give it time – from that which was dead will spring new life. It’s in these times that some of the best formation and preparation happens for the new life that is to come.
See the Loss in the Light of the Gain
God is able to salvage the broken parts of the world. Paul writes in Romans 8:28 that “All things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose.”
This is not a promise of earthly happiness and ease, but of spiritual and eternal goods. How do we know? Because the verses before talk about how “creation groans” in its broken state, and the verses after that don’t claim that will change in this life. Paul notes that God will use these situations so that we will be “conformed to the image of His Son.” We will be called, then justified (or made righteous) and ultimately “glorified.” So in what ways can grief and sorrow conform us to the image of Christ?
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)
“I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can endure all these things because Christ strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:11–1
We increasingly realize that this world is not our home, the people matter more than things, that time is precious, that the truly good things in life are not found in money, or health, or entertainment, or fame.
When God responds to Job, God does not tell Job the why. He basically asks Job, “Do you understand how limited your power and perspective is? Do you trust me even if you don’t (or can’t) understand?” Job responds, “Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.” (Job 42:3)
I don’t know why my dad died so young. I heard, “God wanted him home.” Stop it. You don’t know. “God knew that in the future he might fall away.” Stop! I even heard the “lack of faith. Should have claimed his healing more boldly.” Really? You know this?
The Bible does not clarify why God allows us to suffer in a particular instance. There are broader principles: free will, a fallen world, God’s glory, our benefit (pruning), Satan’s schemes. But this particular time may not be known until after the fact, maybe not until we reach heaven and can see truth and reality clearly.
Paul said his suffering was “for the sake of the body, which is the church” (Colossians 1:24). Our suffering enables us to more fully “bear another’s burdens, and so fulfill the Law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). As we pass on the comfort of God, we are in turn comforted. We gain an appreciation for the community of the broken, journeying together toward a resurrection. We recognize the importance of the moment; we take risks we might not have before because we recognize that life is a vapor, and some things must be done now or they might not be done at all. We reach out and look up more than ever.
“I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:10-11)
“Know” in the original language means to “know through experience.” If we want to experience Christ’s resurrection in us, we must share in his suffering. We enter into the life Christ offers when we enter into the life He lived – in its fullness. We must know one to know the other.
“Do not lose heart,” said Paul, “for our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding glory that outweighs them all…” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18). What we suffer is “not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18).
**The posts in this series (Look Beneath The Surface, Break the Power of the Past, Live in Brokenness, The Gift Of Limits) are built from a summary of notes I used when preaching a sermon series based on Peter Scazzero's Emotionally Healthy Church and Emotionally Healthy Spirituality (both the books and the study guides). Most of the main points comes from his work. I note when I quote him directly, but most of what you read are this insights paraphrased or adjusted to fit my audience and venue. Learn more at his website and his blog, and by all means order his books and read them thoroughly.
Some Recommend Songs
Mercy Me (“I Can Only Imagine”; “Homesick”)
Tenth Avenue North (“Hold My Heart”; “Worn”)
Steven Curtis Chapman (“With Hope”)
Julie Miller (“You Can Have My Heart”)
Adam Again (River On Fire"; "Babylon")
Some Recommended Books
Robert Kelleman, God’s Healing for Life’s Losses
C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed and The Problem of Pain
Timothy Keller, Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering
Phillip Yancey, Where is God When It Hurts?
In some ways, life is like a slalom course. There are sudden turns that come too fast, rough water, fatigue, sharp turns, wakes that can send you flying or flailing. Success feels fantastic, but failure hurts.
So how do we successfully navigate the slalom course of life? Rough waters show up in many ways: the death of a loved one, sickness, employment changes, relational breakdowns. Our lives taken sudden turns when our children get in trouble, or our friends let us down. Fatigue sets in when our ministry is unappreciated or ineffective. Success feels fantastic, but failure hurts.
A common mistake is to use all our energy to change our circumstance. When we encounter rough waters and sharp turns, we look for a different job, a different car, a different town, a different husband or wife, a different church. If we are unhappy single, we look for a spouse. If we are unhappy married we look for a way out. We’re sure that if we can just change our circumstance our lives will change for the better.
In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul addresses people who are having trouble on the course of their life. While his message is aimed toward several particular groups, Paul has a common message for all of them: no matter the water, the weather, or the twists and turns of life, pursue undistracted devotion to the Lord (v. 35).
First, he addresses those who are unhappy with their relational status, and he begins with those who are married:
“But because of immoralities let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband. Let the husband give his wife the affection owed her, and likewise also the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does, and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again lest Satan tempt you because of your lack of self-control. “ (1 Corinthians 7:2-5)
Paul is not saying sex is the only or most important reason for marriage. He is answering a specific questions Corinthians had about marriage at that time and in their circumstances. Considering the culture in which they lived, it’s no surprise they had some questions about sex.
As noted earlier in 1 Corinthians, some of the Christians thought it was okay to hire prostitutes, and now others were wondering if it really spiritual spouses should have sex at all. Paul says no to the former and yes to the latter, but he moves the subject beyond just sex – affection matters too. (For what it's worth, Paul may have been married at one time. He was an exemplary Jew (Philippians 3:4-6). Jews believed that an unmarried twenty-year-old man was sinning by not being married. Paul was likely a member of the Sanhedrin (as he “cast my vote” in Acts 26:10), and only married men could be members of the Sanhedrin). Basically Paul says (and I am, of course, paraphrasing):
“Here’s what you need to navigate the slalom course of marriage. Self-sacrifice is the rough water; responsibility the fatigue. Your body isn’t yours alone. It belongs to God first and your mate second. The entire relationship - including sex - not just one person’s duty and the other one’s privilege. You need to meet each other’s sexual and emotional needs, and you need to hang in there even when you want to drop the rope and call it quits.
‘But he/she brings out the worst in me!’ Yep. That’s one way God reveals who you really are. Don’t change mates - change yourself by the grace of God. You are the temple of the Holy Spirit, part of the “body” of Christ on earth. Like Christ, you are called to be a loving servant, blessing when cursed, forgiving, interceding, confronting in love, and sacrificing. Don’t serve with expectation of earning something in return; it will only lead to resentment. You are trying to please the Lord and your spouse, not get something from them.”
Next, Paul addresses those who are single:
“(vs. 7-9) I wish that all men were even as I myself am. However, each man has his own gift from God, but I say to the unmarried and the widow that it is good for them if they remain even as I. But if they do not have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn. (Vs 28) But if you should marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin should marry, she has not sinned. Yet such will have trouble in this life, and I am trying to spare you. (Vs 32-34) But I want you to be free from concern. One who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and his interests are divided."
If I may paraphrase Paul again, I believe he is saying something like this:
“Here’s the reality. You are on the slalom course of the single life. There’s basically one thing you need to know in order to navigate that course, come rough waters or fatigue: Marriage is a challenge. It’s hard. Staying single will free you from the relational challenges of marriage and free you to serve God with undivided attention. Sexual temptation is the rough water; loneliness the fatigue. If God has given you the ability to stay the course, stay the course. The slalom is not necessarily easier on the other side of the lake.”
On the slalom course, you can’t change the course – but you can learn how to navigate in such a way that the challenges become the very things that bring you joy. Paul says in verse 7 that successfully navigating both marriage and singleness is a “gift,” and he uses the same word he uses in 1 Corinthians 12 to describe spiritual gifts that God gives believers. Some are able and willing to please God better while being single, others while being married. Paul summarizes his teaching on singleness and marriage with this line in verse 17: “Nevertheless, each person should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to them, just as God has called them. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches."
If you read the entire chapter, you will see that Paul applied this principle even more broadly:
"Was a man already circumcised when he was called? He should not become uncircumcised. Was a man uncircumcised when he was called? He should not be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God’s commands is what counts. Each person should remain in the situation they were in when God called them. Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you—although if you can gain your freedom, do so. For the one who was a slave when called to faith in the Lord is the Lord’s freed person; similarly, the one who was free when called is Christ’s slave." (vs. 18-21)
That may seem like an odd list to include with marriage and singleness, but all of these "stations" in life were a big deal at the time. Marital status played a huge factor in social standing in Greek, Roman, and Hebrew culture; circumcision was such a contentious issue that the first church council in Acts had to deal with it (and there was a method to reverse a circumcisions); slaves were scorned by everyone. Jewish men routinely thanked God for not making them a woman, a Gentile, or a slave.
In the cultural context, Paul tells people that in the midst of their circumstance - no matter how dire - they were to live as a believer, not because their situation was perfect, but because God was present. Meanwhile, Paul gives advice on how to make that circumstance better (or in the case of slavery, a hope that it will end). Husbands and wives, give affection and show submission to your spouse; Gentile Christians, don't feel obligated to get circumcised; Jewish Christians, don't feel the need to reverse a circumcision; slaves, Christ has made you as free as anyone else - and if there is a way to make your physical reality match your spiritual one, that's ideal. And while Paul does not address slave owners directly, surely there is an implication for them as well.
The bottom line? Live devoted to God, no matter how dire the circumstances.
To Paul ,the most important thing was not changing circumstances (though he offers a path of hope). The most important things was changing our stance in the midst of our circumstance.
- Based on the sermon notes of Scott Norris, 9/16/12
- (Romans 15:4) - “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”
- (Colossians 1:5) - ”For the hope that is laid up for you in heaven, which you have heard in the word of the truth of the gospel.”
- (Galatians 5:5) - For through the Spirit, by faith, we eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.
So hopes builds on the firm foundation of faith. Hebrews 6:18-19 says, “The hope set before us…as the anchor of the soul.” It is meant to keep us stable through the storms of life. As Billy Graham said, "I've read the last page of the Bible. It's all going to turn out all right."
- Romans 5:5 “For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.”
- Ephesians 5:2 ”…and walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us.”
- Galatians 5:14 - "For all the law is fulfilled in one command: "You should love your neighbor as yourself."
“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
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."
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. If you are interested in a blog that primarily addresses how we as Christians find hope in the midst of grief and loss, visit
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.”
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)
In Luke Chapter 24 we see an event that takes place in the time between the death and the resurrection of Jesus
3) A conversation with our Savior. It's one thing to read about the Way, the Truth, and the Life - it's quite another to speak to Christ and experience his presences. We see on the the road to Emmaus that the travelers fellowshipped with Jesus himself. They talked; they shared supper and communion with Him. We can't talk to Christ like this, but we can pray - we can speak to God, knowing He hears, and that He is near.
McCarthy also wrote a play called The Sunset Unlimited (recently made into a movie starring Samuel L. Jackson and Tommy Lee Jones). In it, a ex-convict Christian stops an atheistic college professor from throwing himself in front of a train. The rest of the play involves the Christian trying to provide hope to the atheist. It ends badly. The atheist concludes:
DESPAIR IS A SHARED HUMAN EXPERIENCE. I know this is grim, but the Bible doesn’t shy away from recording despair.
- Solomon in Ecclesiastes sounds like he understood Bertrand Russell’s “firm foundation of unyielding despair.”
- Job wanted to die, and the Bible records it all. I can almost hear, “I tried so hard and got so far, but in the end it doesn’t even matter.”
- Gideon, a great warrior, gave up and hid on a farm until an angel went and got him. Despite all his rage he was still just a farmer in a barn, hiding while his nation was dying.
- Naomi said to Ruth, “It is more bitter for me than for you, because the LORD’s hand has turned against me!” Sounds like she felt something of the chasm that she believed surrounded her.
I grew up in the South. I spent my formative years listening to spirituals, and it’s a style of music that doesn’t look away from these seasons of life. “Precious Lord, take my hand, lead me on and help me stand, I am tired, I am weak, I am worn….”
(Part 2: "Between Crucifixion and Resurrection: Two Kinds of Roads"
Paul said about the church in Thessalonica: "They marvel at how expectantly you wait for the arrival of God's Son, whom He raised from the dead - Jesus, who rescued us from certain doom."
Those most aware of certain doom are most inclined to long for the freedom Christ brings. Those who know they are dead most appreciate the one who can give them life.
When's the last time we heard the drums that pound out a message of doom into the background noise of our own lives? We're pretty good at drowning them out with music, movies, video games, texting, drugs, porn, work, play - anything, really. The goblins and orcs that we have summoned are drawing closer and we have no idea. We throw our lives casually down the wells of sin and indulgence, but are never sobered and quiet enough to listen to what the consequences will be.
Read more at http://learningtojump.blogspot.com/2012/02/healthy-sense-of-doom.html.