The 20th episode of “Carnivore Theology”.
During the Christmas season the CT guys are taking a little time to share some special Christmas memories and devotionals in these 5 minute episodes. This week Steve shares the hope we find at Christmastime.
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Have you ever had a bad week? I had a tough week this week, and I’m sure that some of you did as well. Holy Week is a tough week for Christians. There’s a lot on the calendar, a lot of emotional ups and downs, and of course there always seems to be a stronger spiritual opposition. Maybe you sensed it too. As you tried to concentrate on God, or enjoy time with your family, things seemed to go wrong. Everything was a bit more tense, a little more difficult, and a little more emotional. I’ve been in a funk all week long, and I’m sure some of you know how I feel. It’s not a sin to have a tough week though. The question is: What to do when we have one?
A Little Perspective
As a Christian I believe that God is in control, that He takes care of all things, knows what He is doing, and that He loves me. I believe that from the core of my being. But during a bad week, that belief gets challenged. When things don’t go my way, other things get in the way, stuff goes from bad to worse, it’s sometimes hard to remember that God is in control. But my faith tells me that God has a plan and that this is part of it.
And then, I pull myself from my navel-gazing and take a look around at the rest of the world and try to put my troubles into perspective.
I read of people in other countries who are fighting for their lives, as their “leader” sends troops to shoot and bomb his own people… while in my country, the elected leaders are arguing about how to make my life better. Countries around the world are literally going bankrupt and millions of people are out of work… and I have an amazing job, surrounded by wonderful people, in the greatest country in the world.
I watch news coverage of earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, mudslides, heat-waves and tornadoes…. And I’m complaining because spring hasn’t come quickly enough. There are thousands of people dying every day because they don’t have access to clean water and basic medical supplies… and I have access to clean water at the turn of a tap and universal health care. People around the world are starving to death… and I’m overweight and because I eat too much. And then, I start to think about the problems of abortion, human trafficking, rape, murder, wars, and then I turn on the news and see that this week commemorates the 1 year anniversary of the Boston Bombing… oh yeah… terrorism.
Now, instead of feeling better, I feel worse. Now I’ve compounded my week’s frustration with sadness, confusion, powerlessness and a huge pile of guilt. Instead of this new perspective helping me feel better about how much better off I am, I now feel besieged — overwhelmed by the problems of the world. I don’t know where to even start praying, let alone helping. Who do I pray for first? Who do I help first? What is God doing? Why is there so much evil in the world?
Reactions to Evil
Have you ever felt that way? Ever had a bad week where it all piles up like that? What do you do? Here’s a few ways that people go:
Some people go the way of the ostrich. They bury their heads in the sand and pretend that bad things don’t happen. All negative is in their minds, so they change their minds. Evil is merely a perception, so they change what they’re looking at. They are confronted with something they don’t like and say to themselves, “I don’t want to think about that”.
They’re told that if they don’t change their habits, their health will suffer. A storm is coming and everyone is warned to get prepared and take shelter. A friend does something foolish and is in trouble and needs help. Their solution is to turn on the tv, watch their show, and order a pizza. If they ignore it long enough, maybe it will go away.
Some go the way of the lemming and just keep walking. They’re broke and lost, their relationships are falling apart, they’re about to lose their job, the world is in crisis, but they’re “making believe” that it’s not and just keep walking. It doesn’t matter that there’s a cliff at the end, they’re pretending there isn’t. They’ll keep going to the mall, but just use the other credit card. They won’t tell anyone and maybe it’ll work itself out. They know it’s dangerous but they want to live the same life they lived yesterday and act as if everything is ok.
Others go the way of the spider and try to catch as many people in their web as they can. They love to suck people in and spread the drama. If their life is falling apart, then so must everyone else’s around them. If they have that bad week, it becomes all-consuming for them.
They Facebook and tweet about it – usually some passive aggressive attention grabber like these ones I found online:
- “Wow, some things really make you find out who your real friends are…”
- “I’m fed up with the people who like to feed on gossip and like to spread rumour about stuff that isn’t true… stop doing it! You all definitely know who you are.”
- “I should have known better.”
Then they look for other miserable people with similarly miserable stories and eat ashes together. Soon no one else exists unless they are willing to talk about their issues. Every conversation is steered towards them. Every silver lining has a cloud. They infect everyone around them with their dread. They spread the lie that they have been abandoned… no friends, no family, no God, no hope. And beckon others to join their hopelessness. The ironic thing about these folks is that they will talk to everyone about their problems except God.
On the other side of that coin are those who think they are Superman. Something goes wrong, and they are compelled to take up the fight. They join support groups and picket lines, and sponsor a child. They go on a diet and start exercising while changing their spending habits, getting a hair-cut, starting that hobby they’ve wanted to try, and updating their resume so they can get a better job. They ramp up their recycling habits, get politically active, and start a blog to express their opinions and feelings. They write letters and plan a trip overseas to join the protests. All good stuff, but in their mind they’re thinking: if God won’t do save these people, then I will!
And because you asked, I’ll tell you what I do with this kind of week. I do a little of everything. It’s not the end of the world for me, and certainly not the end of my faith, but I spend a little time eating ashes and moping about life… whining to my wife and a few friends that will listen… but I also keep talking to God about it. I also make plans and decisions to try to improve things, but I also remember that I’m not my own saviour. I stick my head in the sand a bit and watch some TV, but not nearly as much as I used to. If there’s one way I lean, it’s toward the lemming – I just keep going. Hopefully as much as an act of faith that God will work things out, rather than an abandonment to my fate (though there’s some of that too).
A Mature Reaction
One thing that’s changed over the years is that when I am confronted with evil, I’ve learned to turn to God. There are still times that I forget, but God has helped me to see that I can have a very tough week, and instead of having it push me away from God, it causes me to press harder into Him.
It’s taken a long time, and a lot of very poor reacting, but when I am confronted by something bad, I’ve learned to understand what Paul is talking about in Philippians 4:11-13 where he says,
“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 do all things through him who strengthens me.”
How? How was Paul able to say that? How is Paul able to “be content”? He’s not sticking his head in the sand and denying his problems. He’s not just moving forward hoping it will all get better. He’s not drawing people into his drama and spreading misery. He’s not trying to save himself in his own strength… he’s “content”! Where does that come from?
Let’s look at another scripture to get a clue about that. Let’s read from 2 Corinthians 12:7-10,
“So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Do you see that? Paul knows that God sent something difficult into his life, on purpose… “a messenger of Satan to harass” him. And he says he knows why. To keep him from becoming conceited. There was a purpose to the evil he was facing every day.
He asked God to get rid of it. Why? Because only God can do that. But God said to him, “Paul, I’ve given you grace… undeserved favour… and it is exactly what you need. It is sufficient for you. I want you to be perfected, Paul. I’m giving you something that will show you my power, that will help you, that will give you greater access to me. My power, for you, is made perfect, in weakness.”
You see, we are not the ones who sustain our spirits. We are not the ones who hold onto God. He is the one who holds on to us. It’s not about us reaching deep down and finding more strength, but all about knowing that God is strong enough. It’s not about us being smart enough to find our way out of bad situations, but about us being humble enough to accept what God is doing and trust Him to guide us through it. It’s not about trying to rally enough willpower to cheer ourselves up – to fake it until we feel it. No, when we are overwhelmed with concerns, needs, fears, pain, anxiety, or hunger, the answer isn’t to look inward, but to lean more heavily on Him.
If you’ve been with God for a long time, then you know what I’m learning what Paul means when he says “When I am weak, then I am strong.”
I don’t have a lot of money… that gives God more room to work miracles of provision.
I don’t have a very good attitude… that means that whatever joy I have comes straight from God.
I don’t feel strong and healthy, and my body fails me… that means that whatever can accomplish, God gets the credit because He has given me strength.
I don’t feel confident in my abilities – in fact, more often than not I feel completely out of my depth… that means that in order for anything good and meaningful to happen, God HAS to show up and work miracles.
“When I am weak, then I am strong”… because when I think I’m strong, I’m actually only working out of my own limited abilities instead of God’s unlimited resources. My weakness and incapacities allow me to have a front seat to see what God is capable of doing, often despite my weakness and failures. That’s a very encouraging thought.
Can We Be Sure?
But how can we be sure that God is going to come through? That He hasn’t forgotten me? That He has our best in mind? How can we be sure that the bad things in our life are gifts of grace and not just God being mean or punishing me? How do I know that God is good?
I think some of you need to hear this today. You need to be reminded of the promises that the Bible makes to you about why you can have a bad day, a bad week, a bad month, a bad year, and you feel like junk, like a failure, like a nobody, powerless or dirty, beyond help or hope. You need to be reminded about how we can be sure that God is good, and that He has the best interests of His children at heart – because you don’t feel like that right now.
I want to spend some time going through one more set of verses that remind us who you and I are in the eyes of God. Today is Easter Sunday, which is the last day of a week the church has set aside to commemorate Passion Week. We remembered Palm Sunday, the day when people celebrated Jesus as their coming king – only to turn on Him on Good Friday. We remember the crucifixion, death, and burial of Jesus Christ, as the most important event in history. And we celebrate the resurrection of our Saviour Jesus Christ. We do that every Sunday morning all year long, but it is appropriate for us to do it in a special way today.
Holy Week reminds us of the love Jesus has for us, how special we are to Him, and how He demonstrated that love in the most powerful way. When you have a bad day, and you start to wonder what God is doing and whether God cares anymore, this is where I want you to go: Romans 8:22-38.
The Source of Hope
These are the words of a suffering servant named Paul. These are the words of someone who has had a very, very bad week. These are words of a prisoner, a cast-away, one who has been beaten, rejected, abused and insulted in the name of Jesus. Who has watched his friends turn their backs on him, seen his faithful servants fall away, and has been living an incredibly difficult life.
“For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” (v. 22-23)
See how he frames the problem. Our eyes are seeing nothing but bad stuff. That’s what we’ve been talking about. Creation is groaning in pain. Nations are groaning in pain. Families and individuals, groan in pain. We ourselves, we who know God, we’re groaning because we’re not with Him yet.
We can’t wait for the time when we are free of the mess and sin of our world, free from temptation, and the curse’s effect on our bodies. Free from the wars of this world, and the wars within us.
“For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” (vs 24-25)
That’s the difference between we who are saved and those who are not. We have hope. Hope that one day, by the grace of God and the work of Jesus Christ, we will no longer be groaning, but will be fully redeemed. We do not fully see it yet, but we are waiting for it. It’s hard, but every day we pray, and read our bibles, and hang around other believers, keeping our eyes on the hope that we haven’t seen yet. We know there’s more. It’s hard to remember sometimes, and even harder to see, but we know deep in our hearts that everything that we see around us isn’t all there is. There is far, far, far more to life.
“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” (Vs 26-27)
“Likewise”, it says, “the Spirit helps us.” In other words, the Spirit of God Himself is groaning and hoping with us. This is why we need to turn here when we have that bad day, bad week, bad month. God is experiencing our pain with us. And when don’t have the words to speak, He speaks for us. When we are so overwhelmed by evil that we cannot even express our pain, He is praying for us. When we don’t know where to start, what to say, where to turn, who to pray for, when it will end, and we are simply overcome – the Spirit is there with us, praying for us, interceding and helping us. He brings to mind sins to confess, scriptures to give us hope, knowledge of the Gospel of Jesus, reminders of the presence of God, reasons to trust, and words to say.
God knows we don’t know, which is why He gives us His Spirit within us, to pray for us, pray with us, and to help us to trust God. He searches our hearts, cleans out our spiritual trash, organizes our thoughts, will, and emotions, and brings them into accordance with God’s will. That’s His promise to believers. We will not be left alone in pain and confusion, but God Himself will sustain our spirit.
If you’ve learned to turn to God during those times, then you know what happens when we allow the Holy Spirit to minister to us. This isn’t something that can be taught – it has to be experienced. You must stop yourself. Shut your door. Come to God, and just wait on Him. He will always, always come.
Now let’s read verse 28, which many of us know, but too often, which we wrongly apply.
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (vs 28)
This ties together what we talked about in Philippians and 2 Corinthians, but it is misapplied by people who are afraid of lamenting, or sadness or pain. The context doesn’t allow us to say that “God is going to make everything all better for you soon.” That’s not what Paul experienced, that’s not what Jesus experienced, and it’s often not what we experience.
And when someone comes up and misquotes this verse, taking it out of context, we want to say, “Really? All these things are for our good? All this pain comes from love? All this mess has a purpose? Really? My loss, my suffering, this messed up world full of suffering is ‘for the good’?”
I’m sure you’ve felt that way too. So, how can we be sure? Because of Easter.
Where Easter Comes In
Let’s read from verse 28 and see that the only way we can believe verse 28 is because of the Easter Story which is told in verses 29-39.
“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Do you see how the love of God is demonstrated by Him sending His beloved Son to us – to we who are in rebellion, in slavery to sin, idolaters, under His wrath, and who have made ourselves His enemies – for us Jesus came to die.
Because of the work of Jesus Christ, all those who he “foreknew” are saved. You did nothing to earn his love. You were on His heart before you were born. If you are saved today, then you are part of His royal priesthood, His favoured ones, and “he predestined” you (which means He chose you advance) “to be conformed to the likeness of His Son.”
He works every day to make you more like Jesus. He wants you to be conformed to perfection in every way possible. He wants you to have a Father/Child relationship Him. H wants you to be like Jesus. To live eternally, to serve others, to have a strong character and a beautiful spirit, to suffer well, to be imperishable, free, and righteous.
If you are a believer, then you are one of the called. You are “justified”. You don’t need to earn the right to come before God, because you have already declared to be right by accepting Jesus as your Lord and Saviour. And not only are you called, presdestined and justified, but you are also glorified. Every day, God is making you more like Jesus. In your suffering, you are made more like Him. In your obedience, you are more like Him. And soon, you will be perfectly glorified when you enter the eternal presence of the living God.
That’s why Paul those rhetorical questions. If you have a bad week and Satan is whispering in your ear that God hates you, He’s abandoned you, He’s punishing you, you turn here. Paul says, “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”
If you ever doubt God’s love, know that He is so for you, so on your side, that He was willing to trade Jesus for you. What more must He do to demonstrate the depth of His love?
Charles Spurgeon wrote something profoundly encouraging about this and I want to pass it on to you. Close your eyes and listen to this with me as we close:
“This morning let us hear the Lord Jesus speak to each one of us: “I will help you.”
“It is but a small thing for Me, your God, to help you. Consider what I have done already.
What, not help you? Why, I bought you with My blood.
What, not help you? I died for you; and if I have done the greater, will I not do the less?
Help you! It is the least thing I will ever do for you; I have done more, and will do more. Before the world began I chose you. I made the covenant for you. I laid aside My glory and became a man for you; I gave up My life for you; and if I did all this, I will surely help you now.
In helping you, I am giving you what I have bought for you already. If you had need of a thousand times as much help, I would give it you; you require only a little compared with what I am ready to give. ‘It is much for you to need, but it is nothing for me to bestow.’
Help you? ‘Fear not! If there were an ant at the door of your granary asking for help, it would not ruin you to give him a handful of your wheat; and you are nothing but a tiny insect at the door of My all-sufficiency. ‘I will help thee.'””
Then he turns his attention to the prayer of our hearts.
“O my soul, is not this enough? Do you need more strength than the omnipotence of the United Trinity? Do you want more wisdom than exists in the Father, more love than displays itself in the Son, or more power than is manifest in the influences of the Spirit? Bring here your empty pitcher! Surely this well will fill it. Hurry, gather up your wants, and bring them here—your emptiness, your woes, your needs. Behold, this river of God is full for your supply; what else can you desire? Go forth, my soul, in this your might. The Eternal God is your helper!” (From Morning, January 16, updated by Alistair Begg)
It is my deep prayer that your hope is fully and completely rooted in the truth of the Easter season – the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God? If not, there is little wonder that you feel hopeless and helpless all the time. If you are putting your hope and security elsewhere, they will fail you, if they haven’t already. There is only One who is truly good, gracious and mighty to save. And He is the Lord God – Jesus Christ. I plead with you to come fully to Him, to ask His forgiveness for your sin, to make Him your Lord, and then to come to Him with your every need.
As the sun gets warmer and the trees start to bloom, I find myself looking forward to summer vacation. I’ve heard of one place that sounds nice… but I’m not sure that I’d ever go there for a holiday. I think you’ll understand why once I tell you about it.
A Not So Lovely Vacation Spot
Behind the University of Tennessee Medical Center is a lovely, little wood-lot on a hillside where people are often seen lying in the sun or reclining in the shade, as squirrels and other little forest creatures play in the trees.
It is out on this hillside where a man named Arpad Vass, a scientist at the University’s Anthropological Research Facility, works every day. All those folks spread out there in the Tennessee heat didn’t get there on their own. They are not lying down because they need a tan, but because they’re all very much dead — they are cadavers, sprawled out intentionally as a way of studying modes of human decomposition.
They are the lifeless bodies of people who have donated their bodies to science, and it is Doctor Vass’s job is to evaluate how these bodies decompose under various conditions: buried in shallow graves, stuck in car trunks, wrapped in plastic bags, submerged in a man-made pond, just to name a few. He figures out all the different ways the human body can be disposed by a murderer. The data collected helps detectives throughout the world catch murderers.
Maybe you’ve heard of this. There is a TV show that I used to watch called Bones. At its core, Bones is a drama about forensic science. Each episode focuses on solving the mystery behind someone’s murder by examining the remains. They are brought to Dr. Brennan’s forensic anthropology team at the Jeffersonian Institution, and by studying whatever is left over of the person, they are able to figure out ‘who-dun-it’. The series is somewhat based on the life and writings of a real life forensic anthropologist named Kathy Reichs.
The truth is that in the 21st century, death has been almost thoroughly sanitized for our protection. We simply don’t like to think about death. We don’t even like to say that someone died. We’ve come up with all sorts of nicer ways to say it. They “Passed away”, are “deceased”, have “ceased to be”, are “no more”, have “gone to the other side”, , “shuffled from this mortal coil”, “gone into that good night”, are “in a better place”, have “crossed over”, are now “asleep”, are “dearly departed”, “pushing up roses” or have simply “kicked the bucket”. We’ll come up with any way to say it other than, “They died.”
Consider funerals. Many people spend thousands of dollars to pay an expert to prepare the body for us, so we don’t have to see it. We get them to put makeup on the body so they will look like they are only sleeping and not really dead. Then we pay them to put the dead person into very nice clothes, complete with jewelry and a new hairdo, and lay them into ornately carved, plush box full of silken pillows. Then after paying all this money to dress up the body, we close the box so no one has to see it, cover the box in flowers, so we don’t have to think about the box, and then we bury it in the ground — and put up a very expensive, beautifully carved piece of stonework to mark the spot. Even the hole we dug for the body gets decorated.
And sadly, people don’t even have to be dead for us to put them out of sight. It seems that anyone that reminds us of death is locked up and sent away. The elderly, the sick, the dying are stuffed away in special hospitals and homes, away from eyes of our society, so we don’t have to think about death – especially not our own.
Easter & Death
The way we celebrate the Easter season points to our phobia about death. These days, when most people think of Easter, their minds are filled with pink bunnies, new bonnets, marshmallow chicks, plastic grass, colorful eggs and candy! Even crosses – the symbol of the bloody death of Jesus Christ – is sanitized and decorated to make it easier on the eyes. We want to fast forward to Easter Sunday – and forget about the crucifixion.
But, scripture teaches us that as important as new life in Christ is – and the wonderful truth of the resurrection – it doesn’t overshadow the death of Jesus. Please open up your bibles to 1 Corinthians 15:1-8:
“Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.”
Nearly every year since it came out I’ve watched “The Passion of the Christ.” Not because I like the movie, but because it remind me of the price that Jesus paid for my sin. It shows me courage Jesus showed on His march to the cross. It reminds me of the love our Heavenly Father has for us, that He would send His Son to go through that for our sake.
Think back to you you’ve done on Good Fridays in the past, and how you’ve responded to Holy Week – from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday. Have you taken the time to remember what happened – to acknowledge the death of Jesus Christ – or do you avoid thinking about it in favour of more pleasant things?
The thing is, if we had to pick a decoration theme that the Easter season, it wouldn’t include flowers and bunnies – it would more resemble Halloween! There’s a corpse, burial clothes, embalming, a tomb, ghosts, screaming, torture…
I hope you come to the Good Friday service this week. Even though I don’t have control over what all happens there, I do get to preach, and it is my hope to remember the Amazing Grace of God and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on Good Friday that was necessary because of our sins.
Why? Because, as Paul said to the Christians in Corinth, it is of “first importance.”
You see, along with our discomfort with death comes the same kind of discomfort with Good Friday. We know the story and want to skip to the good part. We don’t like the part where Jesus is wrongly arrested, falsely accused, beaten, tortured, abandoned, crucified, stabbed in the heart and then placed in a borrowed tomb, alone. We want to skip to the good part on Easter Sunday.
We like to forget that the disciples and the women who went to the tomb on Sunday morning were fully expecting to the dead and already decaying body of their friend and teacher, Jesus. They did not go to His tomb to see His resurrection. They intended to make certain that the body of their friend, their mentor and their rabbi was properly and respectfully prepared so that it could decompose quickly and with dignity. That’s what the spices they were carrying were for. And then, later, the bones could be taken and put in an ossuary or “bone box” and then buried somewhere else.
We can make no mistake. The women and disciples expected to find a corpse. Although Jesus had told them of His resurrection all the time, they really didn’t get it. Even though He said that He would rise in 3 days, they didn’t really believe it. Jesus said in John 14:1-3,
“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”
Jesus said it over and over, but on Easter Sunday, there was absolutely no doubt in the minds of the women who were coming to the tomb (Luke 23:56-24:1, 10), that that when they arrived they would find the lifeless body of Jesus… and they wouldn’t need a forensic scientist to tell them how He died. Most of His followers didn’t have the stomach to stay and watch, but they knew. He’d been on a Roman cross – and while you go up on a cross alive, you always come down dead.
That’s why they panicked! Let’s read the story from John 20:
“Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’ So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb. Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.
And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples went back to their homes.
But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’ She turned and said to him in Aramaic, ‘Rabboni!’ (which means Teacher).”
In a lot of translations there’s exclamation point there on “Rabboni!” That’s possibly the most under-rated exclamation point in the entire Bible. Seeing Jesus alive was the most incredible thing that she had ever seen – and the last thing she would ever expected!
And that’s the point the apostle Paul drives home in 1 Corinthians 15 when he writes to the church about 20-30 years later. Verses 3 and 4:
“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried…”
You see, back then there was no funeral homes to preparing bodies for burial. Family and friends were the default morticians. Their culture knew what death smelled like, what death looked like, what death does to a body. Tombs were closed, barricaded by large rocks and stone, but everybody knew what was happening inside the darkness of the sealed tomb. In fact, before Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, Martha reminded Jesus of how much it would smell.They knew what tombs were like, and what went on in them.
When Easter happened, those first witnesses saw something unprecedented in the history of human remains. The material, fleshly body of Jesus of Nazareth, somehow became a former-dead-body! They had seen Lazarus come to life after 4 days, sure… but that was Jesus healing someone else. What they were seeing here was different. This was someone actually bringing himself back to life! No one performed a miracle. There was no doctor, no prophet, no prayers. But He came back!
Even modern science hasn’t found a way to change dead bodies into live ones. They can take the parts from a recently dead body and transplant them into the living – like heart or lung…. but they can’t raise the dead.
The Miracle of Resurrection
When Paul is writing this to the Corinthians he’s addressing something that was being wrongly taught in the church. Some people were saying that there was no resurrection from the dead… no life after death. Even people today have a problem with that concept. But the church in Corinth had people who were teaching that there was no such thing as someone rising from the dead. Paul’s whole point here… his whole reason for writing this section… is to give proof and testimony to the fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, which is a critical, uncompromising part of the Christian faith. It is the central part of the Christian faith – that DEATH HAS BEEN OVERCOME!
Paul hammers this message here: Jesus was dead, and then He was alive. And Jesus, as a live, post-crucified person, was seen by numerous individuals whom he lists in verses 5-8.
“…and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.”
The disciples did not make the resurrection up. To them it was a crushing defeat. Peter returned to fishing… the disciples has scattered… the followers of Jesus knew He was dead. They were not just gullible witnesses who were testifying to a hope that they had… they were people who were telling the story of the hard evidence that had stood right in front of them!
Resurrection = Hope
Here’s why it’s important: Look at verses 16-19 of this same chapter:
“For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.”
This is how monumental the death of Jesus is to Christians. Our salvation is only possible if Jesus died and rose again. As Hebrews 9:22 says,“… without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” That’s a restatement from the Law of Leviticus 17:11, “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement…” Jesus had to die.
If Jesus didn’t die, our sins wouldn’t be paid for. And if He didn’t die, then he couldn’t be resurrected. And if there is no resurrection, then we have no hope.
If Jesus wasn’t raised, if the tomb isn’t empty, if death can’t be reversed somehow, then, as verse 14 says, “your faith is futile”. If Jesus’ death didn’t pay our penalty for sin… then we “are still in our sins.” If There is no resurrection, then all those who have died before us… no matter what they did… “Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.” They’re dead in their sins because “the wages of sin is death, and the gift of God is eternal life, through Jesus Christ …”(Rom 6:23)
Paul says, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” If the only reason that we are Christian is because of the perks we get while we are alive on earth… then we are to be pitied. One of my commentaries says it this way:
“If all the preachers lied (15:15) and no one will be raised, then not only is faith meaningless for this life, it is meaningless in death. Those who believed in Christ believed a lie; those who died because of persecution for their faith perished for no reason. The consequences of believing the lie that there will be no resurrection shake the very foundations of the Christian faith…. If the only promise of the Christian faith applies to this life, then why believe in it? Why believe in a faith that brought –in this culture and even still in many places in the world – persecution, sorrow, death, ostracism, separation? Without the resurrection, there would be no hope for final judgment and justice or hope for a final dwelling place with God. There would be nothing but death to look forward to. If the end is the same for everyone, then why not live like the pagans in sensual pleasure (15:32)? Why deny oneself? Why be miserable if the other choices bring the same result?” (Life Application Bible Commentary – 1 & 2 Corinthians)
The bodily death and burial of Jesus is truly of “first importance” and is the very linchpin of human history. His dead body, coming to life, has made all the difference, and has given hope everyone who believes.
Three Things to Remember
So there are three important things that I want us to remember during the next week of the Easter Season, and they are found in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4.
1. Jesus’ Death was Always the Plan
First… Jesus died for our sins “according to the scriptures”. The death of Jesus as the substitute for our sins wasn’t something that the church or the Apostles came up with. It’s wasn’t something that God came up with on the spot. The crucifixion of Jesus was always God’s plan to save humanity from the consequence of sin, right from the beginning.
The Phrase, “according to the scriptures” refers to the Old Testament prophecies regarding this event that would come true in the future. Plans that God wrote into every book of the Bible. Plans He would carry out.
The People of Israel were waiting for God to send them a Saviour, and the reason they were waiting was because of the prophecies about the Messiah that would come, that God would send!
It is so important that we know that Jesus’ death as a sacrifice on our behalf wasn’t a way to make good of a bad situation. It was exactly the way the scriptures said He would save us – hundreds and thousands of years before.
2. Jesus Was Buried
The second thing I want us to remember is that Jesus was “buried.” The fact of His death is revealed in His burial. Everyone in Paul’s day there were false teachers of trying disprove the death of Jesus Christ.
But Jesus did die on the cross and was buried in a tomb. It’s a historical fact. Some have tried to say that Jesus only passed out… usually called the “swoon theory”. But consider that it was a Roman Soldier who told Pilate that Jesus was dead… not a follower of Jesus or someone with a political agenda.
And remember, they didn’t break His legs because they knew He was dead. They even stabbed Him in the side, right into his pericardium (his heart sac), making “blood and water” pour out of Him (John 19:34). Then Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus took him and wrapped his whole body in traditional fashion and placed it in the tomb themselves (John 19:38-42). Then the enemies of Jesus, the Pharisees, stationed a round-the-clock guard so no one could mess with the body. Jesus did die.
Consider for a moment the lives of the apostles after they saw Jesus alive. One theologian (David Strauss) said this, “It is impossible that a being who had stolen half-dead out of the sepulchre, who crept about weak and ill, wanting medical treatment, who required bandaging, strengthening and indulgence, and who still at last yielded to His sufferings, could have given to the disciples the impression that He was a Conqueror over death and the grave, the Prince of Life, an impression which lay at the bottom of their future ministry. Such a resuscitation could only have weakened the impression which He had made upon them in life and in death, at the most could only have given it a [mournful] voice, but could by no possibility have changed their sorrow into enthusiasm, have elevated their reverence into worship.”
3. Jesus’ Resurrection is a Historical Event
And the third thing that I want us to remember is that it is this week, as we gather together to celebrate and remember Holy Week, is that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead. Permanently. He did not die again.
This is not just a belief, but a historical fact. Jesus said Himself that He would be in the tomb for three days and rise again… and even though no one believed Him… He did. He was seen in the flesh by many people, and even ate and taught publically only days after his very public crucifixion. Hundreds of witnesses attested to this fact. Look at 1st Corinthians 15:6. Paul seems to be saying, “If you don’t believe me ask one of these other 500 or so people. Don’t take my word for it… go ask one of the witnesses who had seen Him live, die, be buried, and then come back to life!”
Believe it or not, there are those who doubt that Jesus rose from the dead. And there are lots of supposed “arguments” against the resurrection.
Some say that the women went to the wrong tomb… but they were present when Jesus was placed there and new the area well. (Matthew 27:61)
Some say that the followers of Jesus stole the body and then pretended He rose again.… but no one questions that there were soldiers stationed there to guard against that.
Most of the disciples ran away like scared little girls when the guards came to get Jesus in Gethsemane, so it’s hard to believe that they would suddenly became so brave that they would be willing to face a detachment soldiers to steal Jesus’ body and fake a resurrection.
Some say that Jesus’ resurrection was some kind of group hallucination, but it’s hard to believe over 500 people had the same hallucination. Not to mention that if it was all in their minds, there would be an actual body that could be produced to discount their story.
We simply cannot get away from the fact the historical evidence points to the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Sure, the details of the crucifixion, burial and resurrection of Jesus is a subject of debate among scholars, historians, philosophers and theologians… I admit that. You almost get the sense in reading chapter 15 that Paul himself was trying to describe a process that is somewhat mysterious to even him. But the bottom line is that somehow, at God’s initiative, and through the resurrection of Jesus, death became a lot less about blood and guts, bodies and decay, and a lot more about the power of new life – and the very temporary, unscary nature of death – now that Jesus has defeated it.
After His resurrection, Jesus invited His disciples to check him out — to put their hands in the wounds, feel inside, touch him. To be sure that it was Him, and that He had conquered death. It was a proclamation to everyone that this secret, dark world of the grave had been exposed — the gruesomeness of Friday had turned into the glorious light of Sunday morning.
For a while there’s still a lot of darkness in this world, but believers have the promise that it won’t always be that way. The cure for death has been found — and we learned it from the only One who could teach us… from the one who Himself died… and was buried… and rose again… so that we might live with Him.
Matthew 6:19-34, John 15:5-8 are key verses to read and know if we are to understand life as a Christian. They are encouraging, reassuring and powerful. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read them or referenced them in sermons. Life with Jesus is meant to be a life where our worries are minimized, our joy is maximized, and where we effective and joyful and “bear much fruit”. So how come most of us feel the exact opposite of that?
We love to quote the words of Jesus in John 10:10 to each other,
“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
Really? Some of us say “my life is full”… but it ain’t full of the things that Jesus was promising. It’s full of problems, frustrating situations, difficult people, money issues, time crunches and fatigue — full to the brim with problems.
Romans 8:31-32 says
“What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”
If God was so loving and gracious to send His Son to die for us, and is willing to forgive our sins through His blood… then He’s already proven that there is no limit to what He will do for us out of His love.
So how come our life doesn’t look like that? Why does our existence, at times, seem so meagre?
The Apostle Paul had to deal with this paradox all the time. How did he reconcile his knowledge of the love of God and the painful life he was living? A few verses later, in Romans 8:35-36, he says,
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.””
First he tells us of his unshakeable faith in the love and protection of God, and then proceeds to tell us about his life… trouble, famine, nakedness, danger, swords, and death all day long. Was he crazy? How can “if God is for us, who can be against us” be in the same breath as “we face death all day long”? Do those things really go together in this “abundant”, “fruitful” Christian life we’re supposed to have?
His answer to this conundrum comes in verse 37,
“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”
“Conquerers”? That doesn’t sound like the life of a conqueror! But there’s a very important word stuck in the middle there. A naughty little word that we don’t want to hear, but is in there anyway. The word “in”. “In all these things…”. Check out what John Piper says about this section:
“What I think “more than conquerors” means for your happiness is that a conqueror has his enemies lying subdued at his feet. You’ve got distress, famine, nakedness, peril, sword, persecution, and there they are, conquered at my feet. ‘More than conquerors’ means they’re not just at my feet. They are serving me. They’re not just in chained in prison. They are serving me. My persecution, my famine, my nakedness, my loss—as painful and as tearful as they are—are my servants. God works them all together for my good.
Now, that good that he works in and through them is the foundation of my happiness. It isn’t the circumstance. There’s plenty of tears. Jesus was “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” Paul says, “Sorrowful yet always rejoicing.”… So yes, God wants you happy. But he doesn’t do it with circumstance. He does it with himself. He does it with the gospel. And he does it in and through circumstances.”
That’s how to untie this knot. That’s the balance. Therein lies our hope and our perseverance.
Tomorrow I want to show you a picture of how I believe this works. It took me about 3 months to develop this picture, and I’m not saying it’s perfect (it’s more likely that I’m just slow), but it really helps me to remember how life works, and how to keep my priorities straight. I call it “Minding my buckets” and it has everything to do with being happy with God… not with circumstance, but being happy and filled with God himself. Seeking first His kingdom, and his righteousness, and having everything else come after. Connecting to the Vine who is Jesus, trusting the Gardener who is God, and living a life that abides in the source of our life.
Check it out tomorrow.