The Old Preacher

Viewing the World through God's Word

Category: Resurrection

Things Are Not As They Seem

Jesus cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).  It looked to the cross-bystanders that God had forsaken him.  Maybe so, but things are not as they seem.

Jesus (unrecognizable) approached disciples on Emmaus Road and asked what things they were discussing.  They replied . . .

“The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.”  Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared!  Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?”” (Luke 24:19-26).

They had hoped he was the one to redeem Israel. But he was crucified, buried.  Now his body was missing.  Hope in him had died with him.   But things are not as they seem.

He had said, “Because I live, you also will live” (John 14:19).  He promised, “ . . . whoever believes in me will never die” (John 11:26).  The Jews exclaimed to him, “Now we know that you are demon-possessed! Abraham died and so did the prophets, yet you say that if anyone keeps your word, he will never taste death” (John 8:52).  Yet we do suffer and die and our body is buried.  But things are not as they seem.

He ascended into heaven with this promise echoing in disciples’ ears: “I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:3).  But 2000 years have slipped by.  The world grinds on as always.  We wonder if he’ll ever come for us.  But things are not as they seem.

Yesterday we celebrated Christ’s resurrection.  Triumphant gatherings all over the world.  “Holy parties” rejoicing in Christ conquering death.

But now, Easter Sunday 2017 is history.  Instruments have been closed or cased.  Microphones have gone silent.  Resurrection songs won’t be sung for another year.  Back to work.  To school.  To paying bills.  Enduring illness.  Coping with tragedy, too.

The week after Easter, it looks for all the world that it had never come.  This is reality.  The workaday world.  Weekends of chores.  And worship gatherings.  But we sing a little less triumphantly.  We cringe as suffering and death holds the upper hand.  We walk with a bit less confidence–the tread of the battle-worn, not the tread of the triumphant.  Silently, we wish for Easter year round, not just one of 365.

But things are not as they seem.

I played the trumpet in our high school orchestra.  Occasionally, we performed a concert.  Rehearsals filled the days leading up to the big event.  The nearer the date, the more disciplined the practice.  Then came the “dress rehearsal”.  We were to take our seats, adopt a serious demeanor, and hold and play our instruments as if this was “the real thing”.

Easter Sunday is like that. Oh, we’re celebrating “for real”.  That triumphant worship was indeed an end in itself.  To worship the risen Christ on such a gloriously victorious note has great value.  But things are not as they seem.

When we gathered yesterday, we weren’t just a community of Christians celebrating Christ conquering the grave.  At the same time, we were worshipers rehearsing for the concert, for the big day when death will be swallowed up in victory.  Last Sunday we weren’t just looking back to an empty grave.  We were looking forward to globally empty graves.

“Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.  For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality.  When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”  “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain
(1 Corinthians 15:50-58).

Things are not as they seem . . . for now.

 

 

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Sunday

Dawn hadn’t yet broken the horizon when Mary Magdalene retraced her steps toward the tomb.  She had watched Joseph and Nicodemus bury her crucified Lord on Friday.  Still, she stepped carefully:  the gray darkness cast trees and rocks into unrecognizable shapes.

Her mind was blank with sadness too heavy to form thoughts.  It was the third day since his death.  Would the grief ever leave?  She peered ahead toward the new tomb.  With little light from the heavens—though there seemed an uncanny joy in the air—she thought the entrance-stone had been rolled away.  She quickened her pace and brushed at her eyes:  his tomb did stand open.

Panicked, she ran for Peter and John.  “They’ve taken the Lord from the tomb!  Where could they have put him?”, she blurted.  Her words propelled the sleepy men from the house.  Fear of authorities forgotten:  they ran through city streets, past Golgotha Hill, into the burial garden.  Who could have taken Jesus’ body?  And why?

John outran Peter.  He bent under the low tomb entrance, saw linen strips lying where Jesus’ body should have been.  Peter, panting past John now, pushed inside.  Linen burial strips and head cloth neatly laid aside.  But no body, just as Mary said.  Who?  Why?  And why leave burial cloths behind?  Bewildered, but with nothing to be done, they scrambled slowly from the empty tomb and walked away.  They spoke not a word to Mary who, by now, had returned.  What, after all, was to be said? Their Lord, humiliated by crucifixion, was now desecrated in death.

Mary wept, peering inside once more, as if a grieving look would return the corpse.  And the tomb wasn’t empty!  Two angels sat where Jesus’ body had lain.  “Woman, why are you crying?”  Between sobs, Mary replied:  “They’ve taken my Lord away, and I don’t know where they’ve put him.”

The angels stayed silent, as if waiting for—what?  Mary turned from them then, sensing another presence behind her.  The gardener.  “Woman, why are you crying?”  The repeated question momentarily struck her as strange.  This was a burial ground.  People wept at such a place.  But quickly she dismissed the thought as tears fell.  “Who is it you are looking for?”

Maybe the gardener had moved Jesus’ body.  “If you took him away, sir, tell me where you’ve put him, and I’ll go get him.”

He told her of no place.  Instead, he spoke her name:  “Mary.”  Suddenly, a scene of him driving out seven demons from her flashed before her crying eyes.  And scenes of traveling the countryside with him and the other women as he forgave sinners, cleansed lepers, even–yes–raised the dead.

His voice.  It drew her toward him.  It transformed her mournful tears into breathtaking joy.  She reached for him, then, to hold on to him, to never let him go again.  He had been brutally crucified and sadly buried in a tomb.  But, his body hadn’t been cruelly taken from her.

He was alive!

Death was beaten.  The grave was empty.  Nothing was impossible now.

And Sunday’s sun broke the horizon.

 

 

 

 

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Friday

What thoughts slogged through their minds as the two men carefully lowered Jesus’ battered body from the bloody cross?

Joseph of Arimathea was a disciple of Jesus, though secretly because he feared reprisal from the Jewish authorities.  So it demanded great courage—perhaps as a final act of open devotion he wished now he had taken before—to approach the Roman governor, Pilate, and ask permission to remove Jesus’ body.  Thus, Joseph came, grieving and guilty, for this final act of love.

Nicodemus, a Pharisee, a ruler of the Jews, came also.  He had first approached Jesus at night, sure that this miracle-working teacher was from God.  Now, on Golgotha’s hill,  he neared the lifeless body of the one who had spoken mysteriously of a second birth by the Spirit. If only the Spirit would come now!  With him, Nicodemus dragged a hundred pounds of burial myrrh and aloes.

Joseph pulled a soldier’s ladder across the hard ground and leaned it on the cross beam.  Nicodemus found another and did the same on the beam’s other end.  They secured Jesus’ body to the cross with a rope, then set about prying the spikes to set his hands free.  His arms dropped harshly to his sides and his body sagged in death; but the rope held.  They wondered how agonizing his pain had been—not knowing the world’s sin had weighed infinitely more.

By the time they’d released his nailed feet, their tears fell freely.  How could men treat another man so cruelly?  How could the Redeemer—or so they had thought—be imprisoned by nails to die?  What might Pilate do now that he knew they were his followers?  What would happen to their dreams that had died with him?

By the time they were hoisting Jesus’ body down from the cross, clouds scurried over the horizon and blotted out the setting sun.  They recalled the earlier eerie darkness.  His cry—“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”—echoed again in their minds.  The men were sweating, but chills ran down their spines–as if they stood on ground desecrated by mankind’s sin and sanctified by God’s judgment.

A garden lay nearby.  In it awaited a new tomb in which no one had been laid. The men’s arms ached as their feet plodded with the full weight of their master’s body.  Heavier were their hearts.

Weeping was no more, replaced by a sadness that ran more deeply than tears.  They were determined to offer an act of love, as much as possible a burial fit for a king who had welcomed outcasts, forgave sinners, healed the sick, raised the already dead.

With hearts as dark as the approaching night, they tenderly washed his wounds, wishing with each stroke, they, like him, could heal them.  They applied the burial spices and wrapped his body in burial cloth.  He was prepared now.  But the men hesitated, dreading the final act.  Jesus had to be buried before sundown, but they delayed, hoping life lay hidden and he would awake.

But now, prodded by the disappearing sun, they bore his body inside the tomb.  Tears returned as they laid him in place.  Again they stilled, wanting to beg forgiveness for their fear, longing to express their undying devotion, though afraid to speak and ignorant of words.

Silently, then, they bent under the low entrance and stepped outside.  They must secure his tomb, protect his body, seal it as holy;but both dreaded closing him off to the realm of the dead.  Finally, both strode at once.  Grabbing the stone, they rolled it in place, sealing in their Lord to the death they loathed.

Quickly then, as quick as sorrow would allow, they turned and trod away.  Joseph and Nicodemus.  Two secret disciples who’d at the last openly proclaimed devotion.  Whose minds raced with nothing and with everything.  What, they feared, would happen now?

With the tomb fading behind, it was late Friday.  Sabbath was about to begin.  But could any day be the same again now that their master–and their hope–lay buried in the tomb?

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The Living Dead

Jesus will come in our generation!

That’s what early converts to Christ envisioned.  Paul, too.  He wrote to the Thessalonian church:  “For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:15).  (Several years later, he apparently revised his thinking:  “ . . . knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will also raise us [this is, from death]with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence”—2 Corinthians 4:14.)

No convert questioned the promise of Christ coming again.  No apostle either.  Nor do we Bible-believing Christians today.  We’ve pages of questions about when and in what relation to other end-time events and so on (not to mention all sorts of “certainties” about details).  But the New Testament is clear:  he’s coming.  The Thessalonians, too, had a question, which they apparently relayed to Paul via Timothy’s visit.  (From Athens, Paul had sent Timothy back to Thessalonica to encourage these new converts in the faith—3:1-3,6.)

Question:  Will fellow-believers who’ve died miss some of the glory of Christ’s second coming because they won’t be alive when he comes?  That’s the implicit question Paul answered:    “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.”  He had taught them about Christ’s return (1:10); but this question probably arose when some of their number died (maybe in the persecution?).  What will happen to them?  Will they miss the explosive beginning of glory?

What’s so important about knowing the answer?  Because Paul isn’t writing a theology of Christ’s Second Coming.  He’s not answering every eschatalogical question.  Why is it important to know that?  Because unless we limit his answer to what they’re asking, we  may carelessly read into Paul’s words what he never intended, trying to establish a more complete end-time theology.

Example:  Let’s suppose I’ve just had back surgery and you, my friend, email me from California to ask how everything went.  Together with my health I include the procedure they used.  My explanation is accurate, but it doesn’t include everything about even my surgery, let alone all back surgeries.  We should keep that in mind in Paul’s text here.

“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep (a common euphemism for death), that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope” (4:13, ESV).

Paul writes this, not just to give them  knowledge about believers who’ve died, but “that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.”  This isn’t a theology lesson (though the theology is correct); it’s pastoral encouragement for the grieving.

A 2nd century condolence letter to a couple who had lost a son contained these words:  “I sorrowed and wept over your dear departed one as I wept over Didymas (the son he’d lost) . . . but really, there is nothing one can do in the face of such things.  So, please comfort each other” (1 & 2 Thessalonians, F. F. Bruce).  That’s grieving without hope.

These days, however, it seems virtually everybody has the idea that after death comes heaven.  In the 2nd century the error was “no heaven for Jesus’ followers”; in the 21st century “heaven’s the next stop on the journey for everyone.”

“For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep” (4:14, ESV).

Here’s why the Thessalonians and we “may not grieve as others do who have no hope”—“ . . . we believe that Jesus died and rose again.”  The resurrection of Christ’s Second Coming is founded on Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection in his First. “God will bring with [Jesus, when he comes again] those who have fallen asleep.”    Jesus’ historical resurrection will be repeated over and over and over again as every believer is raised out of the grave!  This is our hope (expectation, future).  Grieve?  Yes.   But not as the hopeless.

For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep” (4:15, ESV).

Those who’ve died believing in Christ won’t miss any of the glory by being bodily resurrected after the living are bodily raised. The opposite will be true.  Those who died will rise first. 

For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord” (4:16,17, ESV).

On that day, writes Paul, will come “the Lord himself”.  Not a vision or an angel, but “the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command.”   That’s not a whisper in the ear; it’s a military term that raises the dead!  Philo, a Jewish philosopher who lived during the time of Christ, spoke of God gathering his people from the ends of the earth with one shout of command.

Together with that command-call will come “the voice of an archangel” and “the sound of the trumpet of God.”  The blast of a great trumpet called the Jewish exiles home from Assyria (Isaiah 27:13).  And even now these words are spoken in synagogue worship:  “Sound the great trumpet for our liberation; lift up the ensign to gather our exiles . . . “  So on that day the great trumpet will call us “exiles” home to our Lord.

Those who died “in Christ” (that is, “connected to Christ by faith and by the Spirit” will rise first.  Those alive who are left will be “caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air . . . “  The Greek arpazo, translated here “caught up”, is used of the crowd that tried to take Jesus by force; therefore, it can also be translated “snatch, seize, take away (forcibly)”.  The Latin term for arpazo is repere, from which we get the English “rapture.”  That word has nothing to do with time in relation to other events; it has to do with the manner in which we believers will rise. Our Lord will enter again a seething, corrupt world and “snatch us up” to be with him.

And rapture raises a question:  Does Paul here teach a “secret rapture” of believers before the Great Tribulation?  (If that question means nothing to you, good!)  For what it’s worth, here’s my understanding  in this brief quote from F. F. Bruce:  “When a dignitary paid an official visit (parousia) to a city in Greek times, the action of the leading citizens in going out to meet him and escort him back on the final stage of his journey was called the apantaysis (the meeting).”  Paul doesn’t say if Jesus then leads the risen believers to earth or to heaven.  (I think to earth.  We’ll all find out the correctness of our eschatology some day!)

In any case, we believers will meet the Lord in the air and from then on “always be with the Lord.”

Therefore encourage one another with these words” (4:18, ESV).

Thessalonians grieving over departed loved ones?  Will they miss out on some of Christ’s glory when he comes again?  Take courage!  Be comforted!  The Lord himself is coming!  And they will meet him in the air first!

Who-goes-first isn’t our problem.  Ours is that groundless view that virtually everybody who dies goes.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  It is the dead “in Christ” who will rise.  Therefore, the most important eschatalogical question is this:  “Have you turned your life over by faith to the crucified, and resurrected Lord Jesus Christ?”

The final issue is this: 
Except for that last generation, we will all die,
most enduring the harsh aging process. 
But we can be confident of this: 
At the end of this life,
what’s coming is not the grave
but our Lord whom we’ll meet in the air.

 

 

 

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Does God Really Exist?

P.AllanI mean God as revealed in the Bible.  The Triune God.  God the Father.  God the Son.  God the Holy Spirit.  Occasionally (thankfully not often!), especially when I’m hurting and he seems silent, I wonder if all this God-talk is just that—talk.  A creation of humans ages ago passed on from generation to generation until we have a “sacred book” all about him.  (Please tell me I’m not the only one who sometimes wonders if God is really there!)

On those occasions I return to three realities—two objective, one subjective.

First, the universe.

Random?  Chance?  When I see photos of the galaxies and read the intricacies of the human body, I shake my head and marvel at the naturalist.  I realize then that naturalism is an ideology, not science.  So much complexity, so much power, so much beauty.  The universe screams, “INTELLIGENT DESIGN!”.   And when I look at humans, when I listen to us communicate and love and, yes, even hate, I scream “PERSONAL INTELLIGENT DESIGNER!”  The jump from there to God is a mere step.  If God doesn’t exist, how then does the universe?  Because the universe exists, God does.  What I see, taste, touch, hear and smell isn’t just universe, it’s creation at the word of the Creator God the Father through the Son by means of the Spirit.  Yes, God really exists!

Second, Jesus’ resurrection.

He never really died?  Disciples stole the body?  Come on.  All such  theories on their face are laughable.  Twelve disciples suffered martyrdom (and God alone knows how many other believers) refusing to recant their testimony that crucified Jesus the Christ ROSE FROM THE DEAD.  As prophesied.  According to hundreds.  They laid down their lives rather than deny what they had seen with their own eyes and heard with their own ears.  Chuck Colson, now with Jesus, pointed out how hard it is to keep a conspiracy quiet.  Had the disciples stolen the body, somebody eventually would have snitched.  Besides, what happened to the body?  If Jesus did rise from the dead, he’s all he claimed to be.  The resurrection joyfully shouts, “God really exists”.

Third, the Holy Spirit in my spirit.

This is the subjective reality, a sense, a feeling, an inward witness.  John Piper talks about the Bible being self-authenticating.  That is, when I seriously read it, it authenticates itself.   Something tells my mind and heart that it’s truth.  I would call that “self-authenticating” power GOD THE HOLY SPIRIT.  He makes the written word “come alive” so I know it reveals reality.  The same is true when I quiet down to pray and deeply think.  There’s an inner sense that God is there.  He really exists.  I just know that I know.  The Bible and the Spirit tell me so.

I could mention more, but these are my three bottom-line realities when painful circumstances whisper to my rational mind, “Maybe God isn’t there after all.”  When I hit those bottom-line realities, I bounce back up.  All things, then, become possible.  Nothing is random or chance.  I’m not alone.  And no matter the circumstance, he wins in the end—and I do too, because I am his through faith in Jesus his Son, indwelt by his Spirit.

Francis Schaeffer memorably titled one of his books, He Is There and He Is Not Silent.  Yes, he is!

 

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One Man’s Revelation

P.AllanDonald Trump attacks his opponents personally.  He charged former Florida governor Jeb Bush with being “low energy”.  He calls Senator Cruz “lying Ted”.  The apostle Paul could identify.  Trying to win over the Galatian churches to their doctrine, Jewish Christian teachers attacked Paul They might have said something like this . . .

“His gospel is just man’s gospel.  He’s trying to please the Jerusalem apostles.  After all, what he preaches, he learned from them. And they got it wrong.  Yes, we’re justified by faith in Jesus Christ.  But we also have to be circumcised and devote ourselves to keeping Moses’ law.”

So what difference does that long-ago battle make in my life?

Suppose we discovered that a group of men fabricated the Bible?  That somehow they convinced people their book was true?  That generations passed with belief growing stronger with each?  But now we learn it’s religious fantasy.  Would we think any differently about those writers and the “Bible” they produced?  I don’t know about you, but if it was proven beyond doubt, I’d realize I’d been building my life on a lie and burn all my Bibles.  It makes a life-changing difference, then, whether Paul’s gospel came from men or Jesus himself.

In Galatians 1:10-24 Paul begins a defense with two important points . . .

I Had Limited Contact with Jerusalem Church Leaders.

Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.  I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up.  I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.  For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it.  I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers.  But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased  to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not consult any man,  nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went immediately into Arabia and later returned to Damascus.  Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Peter and stayed with him fifteen days.  I saw none of the other apostles– only James, the Lord’s brother.  I assure you before God that what I am writing you is no lie.  Later I went to Syria and Cilicia.  I was personally unknown to the churches of Judea that are in Christ.

The bold face font highlights Paul’s limited contact with the Jerusalem church  Over the course of three years he spent only 15 days with Peter and James.  Hardly enough time to learn the depths of the gospel!

I had a Revelation of Jesus Christ.

The second point of Paul’s defense frankly makes me uneasy.  It has echoes of the Muslim claim that Allah revealed himself to Muhammad (http://www.allahsquran.com/quran_divine_book.phpand that God the Father and Jesus Christ appeared to young Joseph Smith alone in the woods to reveal the true teachings of Mormonism (http://josephsmith.net/article/the-first-vision?lang=eng).  Paul’s claim went like this . . .

I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up.  I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ (Galatians 1:11,12).  I think Paul was referring to his Damascus road experience (Acts 9)If so, his authority as an apostle preaching Christ’s gospel was rooted in Jesus actually, historically appearing to him after his resurrection.

Furthermore, he claims, “God . . . set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me . . . ” (Galatians 1:15,16a).  Paul contends that from birth God had acted to set Paul apart for his purpose.  And that, in the Damascus road revelation, God called him by his grace (no merits on Paul’s part).

Already in his greeting, Paul had summed up his defense to the charge that his gospel had a man-source:  “Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father—who raised him from the dead” (Galatians 1:1).

* * * * *

See what this means?  I’m staking my life on Paul’s claim to a revelation from Jesus Christ.  Can I trust that what he writes he received from Jesus?  I don’t know Paul.  I only know what I read that he said and did.  Is that enough for me to regard his words as Christ’s?

Yes.  Because Paul saw the risen Lord.  To be an apostle one had to have been a witness to his resurrection (Acts 1:21,22).  Paul claims he did (on the Damascus road).   Paul was accepted by the Twelve on that basis (Galatians 2:7-9).  And was willing to die to be true to that gospel (2 Timothy 4:-8).

The gospel we believe isn’t a spiritual fairy tale conceived by men.  Nor was it given in a private spiritual vision.   Nor did its founder die (and stay dead).  Muhammad died in the evening of the twelfth of Rabi’ al-Awwal (June 8, 632 A.D.) at the age of sixty-three.  He was buried the next day (http://www.cyberistan.org/islamic/death.html).  Joseph Smith died June 27, 1844.  He was killed while in jail, charged with destroying the facilities of a newspaper which revealed Smith as a polygamist who intended to set himself up as a theocratic king (https://en.wikipedia.org/w/Death_of_Joseph_Smith).

Paul died too.  But the One whose gospel he preached lives . . .

Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand.  By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.  For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,  that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,  and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.  After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.  Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also . . . ” (1 Corinthians 15:1-8a).

 

 

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Mourning into Dancing

O PreacherHolidays are heart-hurting times if a loved one has been lost.  Christmas must be the loneliest, but Easter can’t be far behind.  Celebrating Jesus’ resurrection that points to coming reunion which in turn must make the present only emptier.

When the Bible predicts the future, it leaves foggy spots and unanswered questions.  It’s a sunny and clear forecast, though, when it tells us we will live because Jesus does (John 14:9).  Consequently, we have hope, but not without grief (1 Thessalonians 4:13).

What follows is a passage from Walter Wangerin’s excellent book, Mourning into Dancing.  (Wangerin is a Lutheran minister, award-winning author, radio broadcaster, professor, husband, and father, who is slowly dying of cancer.)  Mourning into Dancing is available from Amazon–-http://www.amazon.com/Mourning-Into-Dancing-Walter-Wangerin/dp/0310207657/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1458930935&sr=1-1&keywords=mourning+into+dancing.

Softly, without raising her head, Gloria whispered to me, “Where is he?”                        

I misunderstood her.  I thought she meant Jesus, and I said, “Here.  He has always
been with you—-“

“No, Pastor,” she said, looking at me now.  “Where is Sonny Boy?  Where is he?”

Before I could answer, the Senior Citizens broke into song and distracted Gloria
and gave me a respite from the question.  But I didn’t forget it.

And I answer it now:  “He is with the Lord.”

But I want to refine that answer until it truly comforts you, Gloria.  It is not meant cheaply.  It comes after long thought.

Listen:  when Sonny Boy left this life, he left creation as God gave it unto us.  He left all things and the space that contains things.  He left history and the time that contains history.  He departed time, Gloria, immediately and entirely to be with God.

You and I are still inside of time.  We will move in tiny ticks of seconds through long months and the interminable years.   Through days and days we creep toward the Last Day, when all of us will meet God, the living and the dead together, because on that Day the dead will be raised to life, and Sonny Boy too.

From our perspective, that’s a long time away.

But Sonny Boy has popped free of time.

From his perspective, there is no time any more.  He doesn’t have to wait.  He is there already!  For him it is already the Great Gettin’-Up Morning—and he’s up!  He is raised from the dead.  And we are there too.  And we are meeting each other in the joy of the saved.  And when you and I have died, all that is now for Sonny Boy will be now for us as well, as if no time at all had intervened.  He is with the Lord.

But we have a while to wait yet before we experience the now he knows.  But he’s not waiting.

Between you and Sonny Boy, Gloria, you are the lonelier one.  All your sorrow has been for yourself while still you are stuck in time.  He’s the glad one.  From his perspective he has never been apart from you.  The instant he rises from the dead, so do you.

It’s a mystery.  We shall not all sleep (which sleeping makes time a mere blink to the sleeper).  But we shall all be changed.  In a moment.  In the twinkling of any eye.  At the last trumpet.

For the trumpet will sound the long and sudden note, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.  This mortal shall put on immortality.  Then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written,

DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP IN VICTORY!                           

O death, where is they sting?

O grave, where is thy victory?

The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Therefore, my beloved Gloria, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as you know that your labor is not in vain.  No, not in the Lord.

Amen.

May our resurrected Lord
fill us who grieve
with hope and peace
and, yes, even joy,
this Resurrection Sunday!

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