Death

The Resurrection: Grief to Joy

The resurrection defines Christianity. Without the resurrection, there is no Christianity. Christianity then becomes the biggest scam, lie and embarrassment in all of human history. Without the resurrection, there is no remedy to sin: Christianity becomes the weapon of sin. The resurrection can be believed not only through the accounts of the Gospel narratives but by looking at the transformations and changes that affected those involved.

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One of the most striking realities of the Christian faith is the fact that the foundation of said faith is such a tragic and devastating story. The founder of the faith was crucified as a criminal and died. The symbol that became synonymous with the faith is the very instrument that brought its leader to his last breath. At the heart of the Christian story is blood, pain, suffering and sadness. Without the resurrection, the story of Jesus Christ is not only tragic, but to place faith in the story without the resurrection makes no sense whatsoever. Without the resurrection the story of Christianity is just sad. There is no place for joy, no place for hope, and no place for faith. In fact, given the promises of Jesus and the claims he made concerning his own life, without the resurrection the story of Christianity is embarrassing.

One of the most courageous acts of the early apostles and early Church was their honesty in recounting and retelling the life, death and resurrection of their leader, Jesus Christ. The accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are all brutally honest when describing the early leaders of the church. These disciples are not portrayed as men of unshakable faith. They are honestly described as thickheaded cowards. The most shameful example of their weaknesses comes after the death of Jesus on the cross. Instead of clinging to the promises of Jesus that he was meant both to die and to rise again on the third day, they allowed the simultaneous death of their hopes in Jesus as the Messiah and Christ they had hoped he was. In an instant, they scattered before fear, their hopes shattered by intense grief. As Jesus breathed his last, the disciples who were to go on to be the early leaders and evangelists of the Christian Church were not only doubting everything they had heard from Jesus while he was alive, but were distancing themselves from Jesus entirely in the hopes that they might be spared punishment, torture and perhaps the cross as well. Considering the context, a person seriously questioning the reliability of the resurrection account must then ask several questions, among them “What happened? Why did they change? Why did they continue on with such unfailing passion for Jesus as God? How did their grief turn to joy?”

As we ponder these questions, the list of possible explanations comes down to one unavoidable conclusion. The reason their grief turned to joy was because their leader lived, died and ultimately conquered death and sin as he promised through his resurrection.

John 16:16-33

Jesus went on to say, “In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me.”

At this, some of his disciples said to one another, “What does he mean by saying, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me,’ and ‘Because I am going to the Father’?” They kept asking, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We don’t understand what he is saying.”

Jesus saw that they wanted to ask him about this, so he said to them, “Are you asking one another what I meant when I said, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me’? Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete. “Though I have been speaking figuratively, a time is coming when I will no longer use this kind of language but will tell you plainly about my Father. In that day you will ask in my name. I am not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf. No, the Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. I came from the Father and entered the world; now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father.” Then Jesus’ disciples said, “Now you are speaking clearly and without figures of speech. Now we can see that you know all things and that you do not even need to have anyone ask you questions. This makes us believe that you came from God.”

“Do you now believe?” Jesus replied. “A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me. “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Without the resurrection there is no reasonable explanation of why these men would change their attitude, why they would include their cowardice in the Gospel narratives and why the Church after the death of Jesus not only survived, but began to grow at a furious pace in the face of mounting persecution.

Communion: The Provision

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For the next few weeks we will be discussing Communion.  Four aspects of Communion are central, necessary for us to understand if we profess faith in Jesus Christ.  We will find that a study of Communion reveals:

1) The Command of Jesus Christ

2) The Provision of Jesus Christ

3) The Sacrifice of Jesus Christ

4) The Legacy of His Church

Last week we discussed the command of Jesus about Communion.  This week’s reflection discusses the provision of Jesus Christ as it relates to Communion.

2) The Provision of Jesus Christ 

The practice of communion was not simply a command to be followed “just because.” As was the case in everything that Jesus chose to do concerning his earthly ministry, there was a deeper purpose intended for the eyes to truly see and the ears to truly hear. While the primary focus of the communion meal was to direct the Apostles’ hearts toward the upcoming sacrifice on the cross, Jesus, through the communion meal, also intended for the Apostles to reflect back upon the provision of the past three years with him. At the feeding of the 5,000, before Jesus performed the miraculous multiplication of loaves and fish, Jesus took the bread, looked up to heaven, asked God to bless the bread and then broke it so as to feed the hungry crowd.

Mark 6:39-44

Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish. The number of the men who had eaten was five thousand.

At that point in Jesus’ ministry, only Jesus could have known how poignant the breaking of bread to feed the hungry was in the light of his upcoming breaking of the bread at the Last Supper the night before he was ultimately broken on the cross as a result of his sacrifice. At that point in his ministry, the focus was on the miraculous provision of Jesus, not on his sacrifice. Thus, the practice of communion, while a somber reflection of the sacrifice of Jesus at the hands of a sinful and broken world, it functions also as a reminder that God has always given us what we needed precisely when we needed it.

John 6:35 

Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

The practice of communion is a call to reflect on the death of Jesus Christ, on the new life and victory given to us as a result of his death, and on the reality of daily and eternal provision in the person of Jesus.

Communion: The Command

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For the next few weeks we will be discussing Communion.  Four aspects of Communion are central, necessary for us to understand if we profess faith in Jesus Christ.  We will find that a study of Communion reveals:

1) The Command of Jesus Christ

2) The Provision of Jesus Christ

3) The Sacrifice of Jesus Christ

4) The Legacy of His Church

This week’s reflection discusses the command of Jesus Christ as it relates to Communion.

1) The Command of Jesus Christ

Communion has its roots with Jesus Christ on the night before his execution. Jesus Christ and his Apostles sat together, shared fellowship and “broke bread.” As the final hours of his earthly ministry were coming to a close, Jesus took the opportunity to clarify what was going to happen to him and what his Apostles in turn were going to be called to do. Aside from instructing them in continuing to spread the Gospel and loving one another, Jesus illustrated his upcoming sacrifice on the cross by using bread and wine found on the table.

Jesus proceeded to show that the bread that was broken was a symbol of his body that would soon be broken for them and for the world in his crucifixion. He then took the cup of wine prophesied that soon his blood would be spilled as he was sacrificed as a sin offering for the transgression of sin brought into the world since “the fall.”

Matthew 26:17-30

On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Where do you want us to make preparations for you to eat the Passover?”

He replied, “Go into the city to a certain man and tell him, ‘The Teacher says: My appointed time is near. I am going to celebrate the Passover with my disciples at your house.’” So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them and prepared the Passover. When evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the Twelve. And while they were eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.”

They were very sad and began to say to him one after the other, “Surely you don’t mean me, Lord?” Jesus replied, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.” Then Judas, the one who would betray him, said, “Surely you don’t mean me, Rabbi?” Jesus answered, “You have said so.” While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”

Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”

When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

After using the bread and the wine in the same way that the Jews commemorated their rescue from the slavery from Egypt, Jesus commanded the Apostles to remember his upcoming sacrifice with the bread and wine to commemorate how he rescued them from the enslavement of sin.

 

Previews of Heaven: Wanting More

This reflection series is about Heaven. To download this reflection series, go here.

Open Door

A good movie preview will be so impressive that it will almost distract you from enjoying the movie that brought you to the theater in the first place. The preview will be tattooed in your mind and the daily countdown to the release date will move slowly. A good movie preview will always leave us wanting more.

The life of a disciple of Jesus Christ is a process of daily transformation. We often do not see ourselves progress, but, at various moments in our walk, we realize that something in us is changing or has already changed. There comes a point where reading the Sermon on the Mount no longer feels like a list of impossible demands placed upon our limited human hearts, but rather realistic expectations of a renewed heart. The more one becomes recreated in Christ through his sacrifice and grace the more one begins to reflect his nature.

The more we let Jesus into our lives, the more he is revealed in and through us. We are born again in him, and therefore we find unity in our character with his.  At this point we no longer view certain things in the same light as we used to. To begin with, troubles no longer seem like the end of the world. Our jobs cease to define us.  Our relationships cease to guide us.  Our money ceases to control us. The more we become privy to the foretastes of heaven, the more we realize that all earthly things do pass away but the joys of heaven are ongoing, without end. As we walk deeper into this new life and existence in the Holy Spirit, there emerges a push and pull on the heart of two very different worlds.  While we value the time and opportunities God has prepared for us in this world, we anxiously anticipate finally seeing and being with the Lord. Paul puts it perfectly in his letter to the Philippians:

22 If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 23 I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; 24 but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me. (Philippians 1:22-26)

The words “death” and “the end” loom over our lives, applying pressure in one direction or another. We know how fragile this life is, and how with each passing day we inch closer to the end and further from the beginning. Many people are scared of death. This fear is completely understandable. Life is enjoyable, but more than that, it is known. Death is an end we know nothing about.  We never like to see the end of something familiar and good and death signals such an end. With the knowledge of death constantly looming overhead, we feel pressure to achieve or become something in the time we have left. It is the resurrection of Jesus Christ that breaks that chain.

Jesus proclaims that to believe in him is to have life, not death. And in his words we come to the understanding that this life is simply a preview for something else, something wonderful, something confidently promised and assured. Whenever Jesus speaks about heaven in the Gospels, he always says that it is “like” something. The reason he teaches about heaven in this way is because to describe heaven accurately to a human mind is impossible. A human mind cannot fully understand it. He uses the word “like” because heaven is “like” nothing else we totally know of yet.  There exists no true comparison for us to appropriately use.

In his brief, powerful dialogue with the thief hanging next to him on the Cross, Jesus clearly believed in the place he so confidently promised to lead the man after their suffering was to end.  Jesus described it as “paradise,” and so we must believe it to be, a place of life in Jesus that does not come to an end. Forever enjoying the presence of the Savior. For the Christian, this desire for Heaven isn’t about what we will get or see or do there, but about knowing Jesus completely. This process begins here in this life, but not until Heaven will all the work of God in us be made complete.