The Child Is Not Dead But Sleeping


Now, finally the time has come. Jesus had first told a man named Jairus that he would go with him to heal his daughter. Well, when they were on their way, Jesus stopped to heal a woman who had been sick for twelve years. As Jesus was talking to her, another man came up to Jairus and said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?”

Wow! Can you imagine what Jairus must have been thinking? He was probably both sad and mad. He was very sad that his daughter had died. He was probably mad that Jesus had waited too long to come to her. Maybe if Jesus had not stopped to talk to the sick woman they would have made it in time. The men and Jairus were now not just helpless. They were hopeless. This is because death is final. It is the end. There is no stopping it or reversing it. Once death comes, there is no turning back. Jairus knows this, so he weeps and worries. His faith grew very weak.

But look what Jesus said to him. He looked him in the eyes and said, “Do not fear, only believe” (v. 36). Now, how can Jesus say such a thing? Jairus knew Jesus had power over sickness. But how can he believe in Jesus now? He can only believe in Jesus if he knows he has power over death as well!

Jairus must have believed Jesus could bring his daughter back to life, because the men continued their journey. When they arrived at Jairus’ house, they saw people crying and screaming in sadness over the death of the little girl. When Jesus came to the house, he looked at everyone and said, “Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping” (v. 39).

What? The people laughed. Jesus may have had a lot of power and wisdom, but he didn’t seem to have much street sense. To the people it seemed Jesus couldn’t tell if a person was dead or not.

The girl was not sleeping. She was dead. But Jesus said she was sleeping. Why? Because when Jesus is in the room, death is no more than a cat nap!

Jesus does have power over death! He took the child by the hand and said, “Little girl, I say to you, arise” (v. 41). Can you guess what happened next? Yes! She got up and walked! Only Jesus has the power to command dead people in such a way that they obey. Jairus could truly not fear but only believe because Jesus has power over death. After seeing Jesus conquer his daughter’s death, he was now able to trust him with anything and everything else in his life.

The Bible tells us that we are all dead in our sins, and we will all one day physically die. Jesus brings us to life as he creates faith in our hearts. He gives us new life that never ends. And even something as bad as death cannot stop us. Death does not have the final word. Jesus does.


19149367_2014653971893374_3834793165439186257_nMathew Gilbert is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is a student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and the author of Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God. Mathew and his wife, Erica, live in Tupelo with their two boys, Jude and Jack.

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Flourishing in Life, Fearless in Death


In our pluralistic culture, it’s truly difficult to find much common ground between different groups of people. For example, in what ways are right wing fundamentalists, libertarians, and left wing socialists the same? Is there any common ground between religious hate groups and the people they hate? With the number of polarizing issues and worldviews marking the cultural landscape of America, it really is tough to find relatable common ground between you and someone you disagree with on every conceivable and important idea.

However, in my recent experience leading a non-Christian family through a funeral service and counseling them through the early days of the death of their loved one, it has become clear to me that we all relate to one another through four given expectations.

  1. We all want to live a reasonably pleasant, comfortable, and enjoyable life. We want to flourish in work, play, and home.
  2. None of us wants to die. But we all know death is coming. And none of us knows when it’s coming. True, some of us believe death is nothing more than a channel to an abyss of utter nothingness. Others believe death is a channel to true gain and lasting joy. But none of us wants to die, though we all know we will.
  3. We all want our lives to count. We want to matter. We want people to remember us with affection and miss our presence when we’re gone. We want to leave the world a better place than when we were born. We want to make our mark on the world through the things we believe, say, and do.

Because of these four things, the way you live your life and the way you view your death are absolutely crucial! So much so, that I tremble as I approach this topic. It is no small thing to talk about the way you live your life and the way you view your death. Both of these topics are offensive to think about and offensive to talk about. It is offensive to presume to tell someone how to live his or her life and it is offensive to tell someone how to view his or her death.

In fact, if there are two topics that are most uncomfortable for us to discuss with our families and friends, they are life and death. This is why we excel at small talk. This is why we make excuses for those we care about when they live recklessly. This is why we avoid visiting cemeteries and gloss over the reality of death by reminiscing good memories of the deceased. But the truth is, the most important realities in your life and my life are the way we live and the way we die.

And the pressing questions that come from this consideration are these: Can you find lasting joy and satisfaction in life and death? And, will you waste your life? I believe there is no other worldview, no other religion, and no other philosophy that probes these issues, which can provide an adequate answer to these questions. But, in the Christian faith we find answers to these questions that surpass all of our desires and fulfill all of our deepest longings.

The way we live and the way we die are directly impacted by whether or not Jesus was raised from the dead. The resurrection of Jesus informs us on what a wasted and unwasted life looks like. It also shows us where lasting joy can be found.

The way we live and the way we die must center on Christ. A Christ-centered perspective of life and death is the perspective that brings joy to the heart and purpose to life in the midst of tragedy and turmoil. True human flourishing in life and human conquering in death are only possible if it is true that a man named Jesus from Nazareth actually died and actually came back from the dead.

Lasting joy and satisfaction in life and death are only found in an empty tomb and in a risen Savior. The resurrection of Jesus directly impacts the way we live our lives and the way we approach our deaths. God glorifies himself and brings his people joy in the death and resurrection of his Son.

It is an endless quest to seek to find fulfillment in those three basic desires in anything other than Christ. And that’s not just smug, my-way-is-best-so-deal-with-it talk. That’s real talk. Consider where you find most happiness in life. If you are trying to fabricate or manufacture happiness, or flourish by working yourself to death to prove yourself to others, you will be both exhausted and unfulfilled. And no matter how hard you try to convince yourself otherwise, thinking about your death scares the life out of you. You know death is coming. But the fact you don’t know when you die and you have no control over how you die scares you to death. Only in Jesus can we find certainties in and beyond death. Only in Jesus can we face death with hope.


19149367_2014653971893374_3834793165439186257_nMathew Gilbert is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is a student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and the author of Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God. Mathew and his wife, Erica, live in Tupelo with their two boys, Jude and Jack.

Morning Mashup 09/14


coffee-newspaper

Don’t Let the Media Control Your Experience of Election 2016 – Trevin Wax: “When Christians fall captive to clickbait and jump from candidate to candidate depending on the polls, we abandon our responsibility as thoughtful and convictional people.”

5 Ways to Ruin a Perfectly Good Dating Relationship – Tim Challies: “Dating has become the most difficult thing in the world, probably because they’ve got a million books and web pages telling them how. They can’t just do it—they’ve got to do it by the book. And along the way they are ruining their dating relationships.”

Greetings from Heaven – A very helpful infographic detailing the recent phenomena of near-death experiences.

5 Ways to Talk to Your Children about Death – As a children’s pastor, I’m always looking for helpful advice in speaking to children about difficult issues. This is great.

On the Viral Rise of Divorce Selfies – Tragic.

Planned Failure – Jim DeMint: “The fight to end taxpayer funding of Planned Parenthood will be just that: a fight. And like all the struggles to return sanity and respect for human life and decency to our government, it will be a tough one.  But conservatives should fight to win, not plan to fail.”

Keeping the Spotlight on Planned Parenthood – Stephen Heaney: “Do not be distracted by misdirection. Do not let the horror of abortion be the main issue. Stick to the pertinent facts: Planned Parenthood is profiting from the sale of fetal parts. Planned Parenthood is routinely violating federal law. Planned Parenthood does not care about women.”

A Calvinist Evangelist? – Keith Mathison: “The fact of the matter is that Calvinism is not inconsistent with evangelism; it is only inconsistent with certain evangelistic methods.”

Djokovic Clinches 2nd US Open Title – This was a great match for a couple sets. Federer lost momentum. A thing you just can’t lose against Djokovic.

NFL Scores (Week 1) – Scores from Week 1 NFL action.

Before the throne absolved we stand / Your love has met your law’s demands –Edith Margaret Clarkson

Floating on Clouds: Reflections on the Physical Realities of the New Heaven and New Earth


Illumination-through-the-clouds

One of the most common things I see on social media sites on the anniversary of a particular person’s death or even days after someone dies is something like this: “I know my guardian angel is looking down on me,” or, “Heaven gained another sweet angel today.”

I am honestly not trying to be snarky or disrespectful because I know that the people who say, tweet, and post things like this are trying to find some way to honor their loved one who has passed away. I get that. I really do. But when I see these kinds of posts and tweets, I cannot help but think, “Do you really think your loved one transformed from a person into an angel?” But then I think, “No, surely not. They are simply searching for words to describe the intermediate state of believers awaiting the final resurrection of their bodies.”

But in the end, it really doesn’t matter. Whether these posts come from the errant notion that people actually become angels or from an incorrect expression of a true biblical reality, I think ignoring the physical dimensions of the new creation robs us of some incredibly sanctifying and fun thoughts.

When we think of what happens to Christians when they die, we typically think only of the intermediate state when the soul or spirit of a Christian is away from the body and present with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:8). We think of Christian’s who have died to be currently floating on clouds, possibly with wings, flying around from cloud to cloud as they listen to harps play in the background. Truly it doesn’t surprise me to see “Heaven gained an angel” posts because when we try to envision what life will be like in this spiritual state, we have no idea what to think because we have nothing to compare it to. Granted, this is unnecessary knowledge that speculation can take to unhealthy extremes (see Heaven is for Real).

This kind of thinking causes us to focus most of our post-physical death attention on the spiritual aspects of that time. We limit our understanding and thinking of life after death to the time before Christ returns. By doing this, we tend to see tremendous value in spiritual matters while (possibly unintentionally) ignoring physical matters. The truth is that our redemption is not complete until we enjoy the eternal bliss of being in the presence of God with our new glorified bodies. IMB president, David Platt, once said,

Heaven is not a place where we have nothing to do but float on the clouds, but a new earth where we have everything to do: a God to worship, a kingdom to rule, a universe to explore, work to accomplish, and friends to enjoy.

This is what we ultimately long for. This is why we cry, “Maranatha!” In that day, Randy Alcorn posits, “Not only will we see his face and live, but we will likely wonder if we ever lived before we saw his face!” The physical dimension of the final blessedness of heaven brings not only incomparable joy, but highly relatable joy.

While it seems trivial to point out an ignorance of one single aspect of life after death, I believe it dramatically impacts the way we live. In fact, after just recently being reminded of the reality of the overtly physical realities of the new heaven and new earth, it has caused me to deeply reflect on the way I treat my own body by overindulging in food. There are innumerable practical implications connected to the physical realm of the final new creation. And to be honest, I see a direct correlation between the lack of emphasis on the physical side of eternal life and the lack of emphasis on care for the body before death.

Think about it. One of the most common criticisms that Christians in the American South face is that we love to point out sins like homosexuality, we love to ignore sins like gluttony. While such claims are invalid, as others have shown, there is some truth in them in that if you want to find an obese or overweight pastor, a good place to look would be churches in the southern part of the country. In this same region, life after death is spoken of often and almost always in spiritual-only terms. You will likely hear the famous C.S. Lewis quote, “You are not a body with a soul, but a soul with a body.” True statement. Just incomplete. Could it be that we have indirectly, maybe even subconsciously, excused poor treatment of our bodies because we know that our bodies will pass away and the true us is found in our spirits? I am not so much as making a claim as much as I am asking a sincere question…of myself.

Like many of you, I have been mostly exposed to the spiritual, non-physical aspects of new creation theology. It is very sanctifying to start thinking of the certain eschatological future residence of believers as being physical. Though there is no absence of joy whatsoever in thinking of our future eschatological home in terms of being in God’s presence outside of an actual physical place with a physical body, there is almost a special feeling of joy that can be found in realizing that this home in God’s presence will be somewhat familiar to the place we call home now. Randy Alcorn’s words on the doctrine of the New Earth make total sense and speak directly to my heart on the matter.

The biblical doctrine of the New Earth implies something startling: that if we want to know what the ultimate Heaven, our eternal home, will be like, the best place to start is by looking around us. We shouldn’t close our eyes and try to imagine the unimaginable. We should open our eyes, because the present Earth is as much a valid reference point for envisioning the New Earth as our present bodies are a valid reference point for envisioning our new bodies.

I have resolved to think more about the physical realities of life after death. While I rejoice and anticipate the day that I will be in the presence of the Lord without my body, I desperately long for the day when Christ receives the final fruit of his work; a fully redeemed creation full of wonder and majesty. In thinking about these glorified physical realities, I pray it serves as a grace to cause me to think and act rightly with regard to my body before I die.

Christian, you will not be an angel when you die. You will be much greater than an angel. You will be an incomplete being in the perfectly joyful presence of God awaiting complete redemption when your new, glorified body is given to you. With this perfect and flawless body, you will reign with God forever. And when that day comes, unimaginable physical joys will be at your fingertips. Wonder with Alcorn when he dreams,

Skydiving without a parachute? Maybe, maybe not. Scuba diving without an air tank? I hope so. Will we be able to tolerate diving to depths of hundreds of fret without special equipment? We know that our resurrection bodies will be superior. Won’t it be fantastic to test their limits and to invent new technologies that extend our ability to explore and enjoy God in the mighty realms he makes? Those who know God and believe his promise of bodily resurrection can dream great dreams. One day we will live those dreams.”

Dream today about what a perfectly glorified physical world will look and feel like. How will we experience this world? The confidence we have in the work of Christ on our behalf grounds our confidence to biblically speculate about the specifics of this place. I look forward with great hope to this day and instead of closing my eyes to imagine being in God’s presence outside of a physical place, with eyes wide open I will anticipate standing, crawling, walking, running, jumping, flying? in an abundantly joyful, satisfying, and perfectly redeemed earth with the God whose glory shines in it all.


396110_519885398036913_1852978654_nMathew Gilbert is a student at Boyce College (B.A. Biblical and Theological Studies). He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God (CrossBooks). Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their dog, Simba. You can follow him on Twitter @Mat_Gilbert.

Precious Death: Flight 5191, Cancer, Brittany Maynard, and Eric Johnson


Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images
Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints. –Psalm 116:15

I will never forget waking up on a Sunday morning in late August to my dad weakly, yet urgently calling me into the living room. Both of my parents were glued to the TV. My dad looked like he had seen a ghost. As I begrudgingly woke from my slumber, I saw a sight that made my heart drop out of my chest.

Lexington. News coverage. A plane. A mistake. A crash. And…death.

On August 27, 2006, my cousin Jon Hooker and his new wife, Scarlett, boarded a flight that was to take them to their honeymoon. They had just married the night before at an unbelievably gorgeous ceremony filled with laughter, tears of joy, family and friends, and celebration. But with the laughter and joy fading into the darkness of the night, the morning brought something none of us were prepared for.

Comair Flight 5191 had 48 passengers on-board along with two pilots. For reasons unbeknown, the aircraft began traveling down the wrong runway. The plane was supposed to be taking off from the much longer runway 22, but instead it attempted to take off from a much shorter runway. Take off was unsuccessful. The plane crashed. My cousin, Jon, was killed. So was his wife. So was one of the pilots. So were the other 46 passengers.

So, there I stood in my living room with my parents, brother, and sister. Speechless. Helpless. Stunned by death. That is always what death does, no matter how expected or unexpected it comes.

In recent days I have seen two stories dominate much of my social media feeds. One is the story of a 29 year-old woman with terminal cancer who is planning to end her own life through assisted suicide. The other is of an 18 year-old boy who just died of Leukemia. One is Brittany Maynard, who understandably desires to escape suffering and face “whatever is next” peacefully. The other was Eric Johnson, who courageously suffered with full knowledge of what was next. Both stories have tormented my soul. My tears, love, and prayers are with both the Maynard and Johnson families.

There is no way for me to know what Brittany Maynard is going through or what Eric Johnson went through. I do not know them, except from what they have written about themselves and from what others have said and are saying. I do not even have a close relative who is currently suffering with cancer. I cannot even begin to know just how deep the confusion, anger, pain, and sorrow is that accompanies cancer. I weep with them and all who are battling cancer, but my tears are not laced with personal experience.

However, I have experienced tragic death in my family in various ways. And what I wish to do here is simply to offer some consoling words for those dealing with the death of someone they loved and those facing death even as I write.

Death never takes a holiday. Death is a certainty that none of us can escape. It is frightening, painful, and sorrowful. Death brought Jesus to tears at Lazarus’ tomb, most likely because of his holy hatred of death and its perverted place in God’s creation. Death exists because of sin’s perversion of God’s creation. None of us can elude its chase, but the way we face death is entirely based on where our hope and trust is found.

In Psalm 116, the psalmist is giving thanks for God’s deliverance from some unidentified trial (Ps. 116:8). This person has been “greatly afflicted” and “suffered distress and anguish” (vv. 10, 3). While the circumstance is not given, it is safe to assume it is one that was leading to death. It was most likely a personal struggle, either between the psalmist and another person or even sickness. We could easily apply this psalmist’s cry to that of someone suffering from cancer. Whatever the case, the psalmist was near death: “The snares of death encompassed me” (v. 3).

In the midst of this chaos, the suffering psalmist “called on the name of the Lord” (Ps. 116:4). In his innate grace, mercy, and righteousness, God responded with salvation and deliverance (vv. 5-7). Recognition of this deliverance is then followed by lines of praise and thanksgiving: “What shall I render to the Lord for all his benefits to me?” (v. 12; see also vv. 13-14, 16-19). It makes total sense that someone suffering through something as terrible as cancer would respond with a praise of humble thanksgiving after being delivered or healed.

That is the basic make-up of Psalm 116–deliverance and praise. For those who are cancer-free who were once suffering like this psalmist, there is reason to praise God! May your song be, “I love the Lord, because he has heard my voice and my pleas for mercy. Because he inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live” (Ps. 116:1-2).

Still, as some can fully identify with the totality of the experience in Psalm 116, others only know one part of the story. Some have indeed experienced suffering, anguish, and distress. But they have yet to experience deliverance. Cancer rages on. And for some, it will rage on until death comes, and takes. Is there any hope for those who are encompassed by death? Praise God, the answer is yes! The prospect for real and lasting hope is found even in Psalm 116.

Hidden between the expression of suffering, call for deliverance, ultimate salvation, and praise is one verse that changes everything. Psalm 116:15 reads, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.”

Precious? Death?

How can it be? How can something so manifestly divisive and severing be precious? See the beauty in what this psalmist is saying. Even though he has been delivered from death, he sees beauty in death for those who find life in God. As devastating as death is, it is precious for those who have hope beyond death’s grip. But death can only be faced this way if legitimate and grounded hope exists.

You see, the primary difference between the deaths of Brittany Maynard and Eric Johnson is that Brittany is uncertain what lies beyond death for her, while Eric was evidently secure in what he was to face once death finally came. The only way any of us could face and receive suffering like Eric, and not like Brittany is for there to be something greater than ourselves for us to hold on to. The key in the attitude toward death is found in the hope one has in what follows death, and whether that hope is true.

The hope Eric had was not fanciful, nor a mechanism to keep his mind off of the inevitable. No, he faced impending death with boldness because of his deep confidence in the real and reigning King who died to give him life and hope.

Only in Christ is death found to be precious.

Death is precious in God’s sight for those who have trusted Jesus not because he delights in the sorrow of death, but because he delights in the joy of life that follows death as a result of the work of his Son.

Death, which once served as a dreaded enemy, has now become a friend to those in Christ, for it ushers them into the presence of their eternal lover–the One who gave them life. By faith in Christ we walk from the valley of the shadow of death into the beaming and radiant light of the eternal glory of God. Death was defeated in the death of Christ and by his death his people find life that never ends. Death, yes even death, is beautiful for those in Christ.

In the end, neither cancer cells nor plane crashes have the last word. Jesus does.

Death is not precious simply because physical and emotional suffering has ended. Death is precious only when the sufferer is united to the one who suffered to obliterate suffering altogether.

Cancer is a dreaded enemy. It takes life. It severs families. It causes pain that for some never ends on this earth. Something both Brittany Maynard and Eric Johnson have taught us is this: Cancer robs us of our independence and it teaches us more than anything, except death itself, just how human we are. It is totally out of our control.

But there is a disease that is far more sinister and deadly than cancer that we all need delivered from. The cancer of sin kills and severs, and robs. The suffering it brings is eternal and there is no pill to relieve it. But in Christ, we have something better than a pill. Jesus lived the life you and I cannot live and died in our place to bear the wrath of God. He rose from the dead to eternally defeat sin and death, and by faith in him, you can experience the sin-defeating, death-conquering life that he gives.

So, what will we do? If we are faced with cancer and death, should we desperately grasp for the last bit of control we can find and end our lives to avoid suffering? Or, like Eric Johnson, will we walk courageously into the dense fog of suffering not knowing when it will end, but with absolutely confidence where it will end?

I am praying for Brittany Maynard. I am thankful that she has told her story. I am thankful that she has expressed her suffering. Her honesty has broken my heart. The snares of death encompass her. She is suffering distress and anguish. Oh, but I pray. I pray she would call on the name of the Lord. Because the moment she does, she will find deliverance that is far greater than temporary comfort from the pain of cancer. She will find that the Lord is gracious, righteous, and merciful.

She will be able to say, “Return, O my should, to your rest; for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you” (Ps. 116:7). I desperately pray that Brittany would not seek comfort in the pill she carries around, but in a cross where death died and where cancer does not have the last word. My desire for Brittany is to have what Eric had. Real hope. Real comfort. Only by faith in Christ can Brittany know what is “next.” If she would trust Christ, she would “walk before the Lord in the land of the living” (Ps. 116:9).

5191_memorial
Flight 5191 Memorial

Back to August, 2006.

My mind often travels back to the day death tragically and unexpectedly invaded my family. My family has struggled with the death of Jon and Scarlett since that dreadful August morning, and nothing will stop those moments when we painfully think about that day. We will always have days when we cry. Only one thing brings light into the darkness of those moments. It is knowing that they knew Jesus. Oh, and this thought makes even the most tragic death precious!

Death is precious for the saints of the Lord. If you turn from your sin and believe in Jesus, the one who died to defeat death, you can face death confidently and see it as a precious friend and defeated foe, that will lead you to God, in whose presence there is fullness of joy, absence of cancer, and pleasures forevermore!


396110_519885398036913_1852978654_nMathew Gilbert is a student at Boyce College (B.A. Biblical and Theological Studies). He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God (CrossBooks). Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their dog, Simba. You can follow him on Twitter @Mat_Gilbert.

Death Is Only the Beginning: Reflections on Recent Tragic Deaths


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Death is only the beginning. Both for the redeemed and for the rebel.

There have been many tragedies strike the heart of southeastern Kentucky recently. Two young men have recently died and their deaths have shaken communities in Laurel and Clay Counties, and beyond. Two young men, Brian Keith Griffin (28) and Cameron Harville (23), died only days apart. The former died from a gunshot wound while hunting. Senseless tragedy. The latter died from a car accident. Words cannot describe how in shock I am that I just wrote that. These deaths are very close to me and have struck a deep chord in my heart. I went to high school with Cameron, though I did not know him. I did know Brian. He was named after my father and although he wasn’t directly related to me, I called him my cousin. I love his parents and his brother dearly and my heart breaks for his wife and daughters. The amount of tragedy that this family has had to endure is insurmountable from a human perspective. In the words of my aunt on the day of his funeral, “It just doesn’t seem fair.” Amen. My heart has been in constant prayer for this family, as well as for Cameron’s. I have personally struggled with Brian’s death. It brought me back to the tragic death of my first cousin Jon Hooker. Those feelings of searing loss are hard to shake. However, his death also helped awaken me to the things that truly matter. For example, are petty arguments with my wife really worth it? What a waste of precious, fleeting time!

In light of these two tragedies and the frequent chatter I have seen and taken part in about life, death, and the afterlife, I see fit to consider in this post the tragedy of death and the reality of eternity. I pray each heart that is hurting today and in the days to come will be comforted by the words that follow and/or awakened to the impending reality facing every man, woman, and child.

Death Brings Debate

Death is the single tragedy that shuts every mouth before an eternally living God. Death is tragic when a 28 year-old dies while hunting and when an 82 year-old dies warm in bed. Even for those who deny God’s existence in favor of a naturalistic or humanistic worldview are muted in the presence of death’s deafening silence. When someone dies, there is an instinctual sense of moral judgment that arises in the mind and heart. But what happens to a person after they die? This question causes great debate. Existence beyond the grave, to those with some sense of morality, depends upon the way one lived his or her life. For example, most people would believe Adolf Hitler and Osama Bin Laden to be suffering some kind of eternal punishment for the evil they inflicted throughout their lives. On the flip side, most people would believe that the innocent victims of these men, such as Anne Frank or the heroic firefighters and first responders to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, to be enjoying the bliss of eternal reward based on their good deeds. Essentially, good people go to heaven and evil people go to hell. When various people die around us, we become gods and start pronouncing sentences based on our own personal estimations. This, I would say, is the most common official/unofficial view of death in America. Many things within Christianity are denied by many people in America, but one thing that many Jesus-deniers will compromise on is their view of eternity when a loved one (or an evil dictator) dies. But is this a sufficient basis for viewing life after death?

Death Brings Fear

The afterlife takes an entirely different place in our minds when someone close to us dies. Death takes us to the edge of life and forces us to look down into the abyss of eternity. The problem is that we fear what we will see, so when we are taken to this edge, we look up or out. We develop our own personal philosophies and beliefs of eternity and we might even deny that there is any eternal state. Oh, how much easier it is for us to construe the belief that everyone goes to heaven, that hell does not exist, and/or physical death is the end of our existence.

However, when a loved one dies, we are taken back to the edge of this cliff and forced to consider the possibility that our existence does not end after death. And for those of us with a keen sense of morality, we are frightened by the height of the cliff on which we stand. Eternity is a deep abyss that holds no hope for those of us who are aware of our constant moral failures. Sure, we are certainly not as bad as Hitler, but if our eternal state is dependent on a good moral report card, we fear we will fall below the necessary grade point average. Death breeds not only grief and anger, but it also breeds fear in the heart of every red-blooded man and woman because we all know we are not good enough to stand before a perfectly holy God.

Death Brings Bad News

Death causes us to pause and consider the brevity of life and the reality of eternity. Life is short. Death is certain. Heaven is real (no one deserves it). And so is hell (everyone deserves it). If you are trying to be a good enough person to merit heaven, you will fail. “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight” (Rom. 3:20). Whether Brian and Cameron were personally kind to you or not matters not with regard to their eternal destinies. Like you and me, Brian and Cameron were guilty of their sin before a holy God deserving of eternal punishment and separation from God in hell (Rom. 3:23; 6:23). There are not enough good things we can do to overcome the overwhelming guilt of our sin against God. Both Brian and Cameron in and of themselves had nothing to bring before God that would merit innocence. What horrible news for them and for us!

Death Brings Good News

Oh, but praise God for his grace in the gospel. The good news of the Bible is that sin and death have ultimately been defeated in Jesus (1 Cor. 15:54-57). Jesus lived the life we could not live (Heb. 4:15). He was holy for the sinful. Jesus died the death we deserve. He bore the wrath of God against us (Rom. 3:23-26; 5:6-8; Gal. 3:13; 1 Pt. 2:24; 2 Cor. 5:21). Jesus defeated death and sin by rising from the dead (1 Cor. 15:3-8). God the judge declares sinners like you and me to be innocent solely on the basis of the work of Jesus in our place. “Bearing shame and scoffing rude/In my place condemned he stood.” The innocent bore the sin of the guilty, so that the guilty may go free. By grace through faith in Jesus alone, you will be saved from the wrath of God. By God’s love, God’s wrath is appeased in Jesus. Works do indeed merit salvation, just not your works or my works. The works of Jesus on behalf of sinners merits salvation. And it is for this reason that to him belongs all blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might (Rev. 7:12).

So, there is hope for sinners who are heading toward the deep abyss of eternity. There is hope for the guilty. There is hope in the face of death, because Jesus defeated both physical and eternal death in his life, death, and resurrection. As certain as death is, so is the certainty of Christ’s victory over death!

Two Questions

I close with two questions that will impact your life for all eternity. (1) Will you reject Christ? If you do, you will remain in your guilt. You will live without him now and you will die without him forever. If this is you, non-Christian, death will remain an eternally dreaded enemy that you cannot overcome. “And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Rev. 20:12-15). (2) Will you trust Christ? If you do, then you die with Christ now (Gal. 2:20; Rom. 6:5-11) and live with him forever (John 11:25). Death for the Christian is not a dreaded foe, but rather a defeated foe that serves as a friend. Death for the Christian draws him or her into the very presence of the One he or she loves more than life itself (Phil. 1:20-23).

But regardless of your worldview and regardless of your response to the Christ that calls sinners to repentance and faith, death is certainly not the end. Either in heaven or in hell, you will continue to exist. I pray that by God’s grace you will be able to say with Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Oh, God, this is the end; for me the beginning of life.”

May God be glorified in your life and death.

Why Sunday Is So Glorious: Five Resurrection Realities (Part 4/5)


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[In this post, we will examine the most comforting reality that is true and only true because Jesus is alive.]

Resurrection Reality #4: The Dead in Christ are Alive

Paul writes, “And if Christ has not been raised…Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished” (vv. 17-18). If Christ has not been raised, we have seen that the wrath of God therefore remains on every sinner. So, all who have died believing in a dead Jesus will perish. If Christ has not been raised, then death is an undefeated enemy and death has the last word. There is a great reality facing us all and coming for us all. His name is Death. He comes swiftly and he comes unexpectedly. He is an equal-opportunity robber of life. He severs relationships. He wounds the living. He leaves great scars on the grieving. And he is coming for you. He is coming for me. If Christ is not raised, then there is no hope for you beyond the grave. You will die and then you will bear the wrath of God against your sin in an eternal hell.

Oh, but praise the grace of God today! Praise God! Christ has been raised from the dead! You can face death with confidence that he has been defeated. Paul would later write, “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” Death has been defeated in the death of Christ and this is proclaimed in the resurrection of Christ. You can rest in the assurance that those you know who have died in faith in Jesus are alive today and will one day be resurrected with a perfected and glorified body. So, bring on all forms of disease. Bring on all deformities and disasters. No matter what happens to your body on this earth, if you are in Christ by faith, you will inherit a body that is more glorious than your wildest dreams! Death is a dreaded enemy. But death is also a conquered enemy!

There is one story that my wife and I have read multiple times that I want to share with you to help drive this point of the hope we have beyond the grave in the resurrection of Christ home. It is one of those stories that we cannot shake from our minds, particularly with where we are in our lives. It is the story of John and Betty Stam. They risked all for the sake of Christ. They met as students at Moody Bible Institute and both surrendered their lives to be missionaries in China. They signed up with the China Inland Mission in response to a call for 200 new missionaries to be sent to China. China was an incredibly hostile place for a missionary to be at this time. However, fear found no place in John Stam’s mind. In his address to the graduating class at Moody in 1932, he said:

 Shall we beat a retreat, and turn back from our high calling in Christ Jesus; or dare we advance at God’s command, in the face of the impossible?…Let us remind ourselves that the Great Commission was never qualified by clauses calling for advance only if funds were plentiful and [if there is] no hardship or self-denial involved. On the contrary, we are told to expect tribulation and even persecution, but with it victory in Christ.

Betty left for China one year before John in 1931, but they were reunited and married in 1933. In September of 1934 Betty gave birth to a baby girl. In December of that same year, Communists ravaged the village they were serving in and took them captive. John and Betty were both 25 years old and had an infant. On December 6, 1934, John Stam wrote a letter to his superiors at the China Inland Mission informing them of his capture. He concluded his letter with these words:

Things happened so quickly this a.m. They were in the city just a few hours after the ever-persistent rumors really became alarming, so that we could not prepare to leave in time. We were just too late. The Lord bless and guide you, and as for us, may God be glorified whether by life or by death.

Two days later, John and Betty Stam hid their daughter in a basket to save her from execution just before they were stripped of their clothes and paraded through the streets of a neighboring town. They were then taken to a hill outside the village. John was ordered to kneel before his wife. The last thing Betty saw of her husband was a long sword taking off his head. Betty was next. It is told that she did not scream, but trembled as she lay down next to her husband’s lifeless body. With a similar swing, the same sword that beheaded her husband ended her life.

I have always asked myself, “Why didn’t she scream?” I like to think that behind her soft tears, a deep thought welled up in her heart that cried, “That sword does not have the final word! Because Christ has been raised, his head is coming back and so is mine! You may end our lives on earth, but we are far from dead because we are united to the one who is alive!”

Because of the resurrection of Jesus, the dead in Christ will never perish! The life that is not wasted is the life that faces death confidently and takes risks for Christ boldly knowing death has been forever defeated.

Why Sunday Is So Glorious: Five Resurrection Realities (Part 1/5)


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Over the course of this weekend, we have looked at why Friday is so good. We have looked at why Saturday is so confusing. Now it is time to think about why Sunday is so glorious. Why is the resurrection of Jesus so overwhelmingly glorious? A little over a month ago, I preached a sermon on 1 Corinthians 15:12-20, which focused on the resurrection of Christ and how his resurrection from the dead directly impacts our lives today. I challenged those gathered on that March Sunday to not waste their lives, but willingly risk their lives for the sake of the gospel, because Christ has been raised. Over the course of Easter Sunday 2014, I plan to post a series of five posts (including this one) throughout the day. These posts are based on that sermon and will examine five realities that we should live in because Christ is alive. This post will offer an introduction and provide some necessary context that will construct a foundation that each subsequent post will build upon. I pray this series of posts that serve as meditations on the resurrected Christ would deepen your joy in the God who saves sinners by the blood of his Son who died and rose for you.

Introduction

I know four things about every single one of you. The first is that you will live your life. The second is that you will die. I know! Very profound! The third is that you desire satisfaction or joy in your life and death. The fourth is that you want your life to count. You want your life to matter. Because of these four things, the way you live your life and the way you view your death are absolutely crucial! So much so, that I tremble as I approach this topic. It is no small thing to talk about the way you live your life and the way you view your death. Both of these topics are offensive to think about and offensive to talk about. It is offensive to presume to tell someone how to live his or her life and it is offensive to tell someone how to view his or her death. In fact, if there are two topics that are most uncomfortable for us to discuss with our families and friends, they are life and death. This is why we excel at small talk. This is why we make excuses for those we care about when they live recklessly. This is why we avoid visiting cemeteries and gloss over the reality of death by reminiscing good memories of the deceased. But the truth is, the most important realities in your life and my life are the way we live and the way we view death.

And the pressing questions that come from this consideration are these: Can you find lasting joy and satisfaction in life and death? And, will you waste your life? I believe there is no other worldview, no other religion, and no other philosophy that probes these issues, which can provide an adequate answer to these questions. But, in the Christian faith we find answers to these questions that surpass all of our desires and fulfill all of our deepest longings.

The way we live and the way we view death are directly impacted by whether or not Jesus was raised from the dead. The resurrection of Jesus informs us on what a wasted and unwasted life looks like. It also shows us where lasting joy can be found.

The way we live and the way we view death must center on Christ. A Christ-centered perspective of life and death is the perspective that brings joy to the heart and purpose to life in the midst of tragedy and turmoil. This is because the point that Paul is screaming at the top of his lungs in this passage is this: The resurrection of Jesus is central to the gospel! If there is no resurrection, there is no gospel. If there is no gospel, then there is no hope of lasting joy for anyone.

Lasting joy and satisfaction in life and death are only found in an empty tomb and in a risen Savior. The resurrection of Jesus directly impacts the way we live our lives and the way we view our deaths. God glorifies himself and brings his people joy in the death and resurrection of his Son. I see in the text before us today five powerful implications of the resurrection of Jesus that should change the way we live and the way we view death in such a way that it brings us lasting joy and brings God supreme glory. In other words, I believe Paul has given us five joy invoking realities that result directly from the resurrection of Jesus and inform us on what it looks like to not waste your life.

Context

In chapter 15 of his letter to the Corinthians, Paul confronts the erroneous thought in the minds of the Corinthian believers that there was no resurrection of the dead. This kind of thinking could have resulted from multiple junctures. Firstly, ancient Greek philosophy taught that the soul was immortal and while on earth, it is trapped or imprisoned in the body. At death, the soul would return to the heavens to no longer be tainted by the flesh. Resurrection was unthinkable for ancient Greeks and some of this dualistic philosophy could have crept into the church at Corinth. Secondly, there was the Jewish sect known as the Sadducees who also denied the resurrection of the dead. Death was also viewed as an escape of the soul from the body.

Paul interrupts this line of thought with alarming logic. He says that if that is true, if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then there is no Christian faith. The gospel is void without the resurrection. Paul is addressing an issue that had the potential to poison the church at Corinth. Denying the resurrection of the body after death is detrimental. This is because if the resurrection of the dead is a myth, then so is the Christian faith. Why? Because if there is no resurrection of the dead, then there is no risen Christ. And it is at this point that Paul begins to show us the absolute necessity of the resurrection of Jesus to our lives and deaths by using logic to eliminate the error of denying the resurrection. He highlights five implications of Christ not being raised. In light of verse 20, over the next five posts I want us to look at these negative points made by Paul in the reverse to identify five implications of the resurrection of Jesus.

Morning Mashup 02/04


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When Neighbors Begin – In response to Rachel Held Evans’ comments on when life begins, Douglas Wilson writes: “The size of these tiny people only affects the clarity of the situation if we define the humanity of others on the basis of our limited eyesight. But why is the question of a soul connected to size, as though the naked eye were in charge of these things?”

Returning Home to Ex-Cannibals – “The Sawi were headhunters and cannibals when Don and Carol Richardson arrived in their Indonesian village carrying their seven-month-old boy, Steve—and a message that would change the tribe forever…” In this fifteen minute video, see if things have changed in the past fifty years since the gospel was first taken to these people.

Sneering Calvinists – I have been guilty of many of the things mentioned in this post, but I will heed Rishmawy’s plea: “I’m issuing a plea of sorts to my Reformed brothers and sisters for patience with, or a “helpful humility” toward, those who don’t embrace the distinctives of Reformed theology, Calvinism, and those of us to those who hold it.”

4 Things a Pastor Should Consider Before Engaging Social Media – Some words of caution from Trevin Wax for pastors who are diving in or considering to make the jump into the world of social media.

Death: Shall We Weep or Rejoice? – When a Christian dies, what is the proper response? I know in the past, I have thought very erroneously about this. John Piper nails it in this post.

Donald Miller’s Prescription for Spiritual Suicide – I benefit greatly from Denny Burk’s frequent commentaries on multiple blog posts, articles, worldviews, etc. This is no exception. Errant views of the church can sound attractive, but “prescriptions” like the one Donald Miller provides is unhelpful, unbiblical, and dangerous for the soul.

The world is charged with the grandeur of God
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men now not reck his rod? –Gerard Manley Hopkins

Nice Try…He Is Risen


Matt Maher – Christ Is Risen (Listen while reading if you wish)

In my devotional reading this morning, John Piper expounded on the biblical truth that Jesus cannot be hindered, stopped, knocked down, kept out, or pushed away in any capacity in one of his meditations titled “They Gave it Their Best Shot in Vain”. I have been gripped by this thought and have a few of my own to add.

The authorities may give it their best shot to keep Jesus down, but it is all in vain. Jesus is a conquering lion, an all-powerful super Savior who cannot be defeated and will not be defeated. Victory and glory are the only possible ends for him. The Jewish leaders tried to silence him with death, but death could not hold him. Indeed he gave his life up and took it back again–he is sovereign (John 10:17-18).

All Hail the Power of Jesus' NamePiper moves on to say that “China was closed for forty years to Western missionaries”. This was not because Jesus had fallen asleep. No! This did not take him by surprise. Did Jesus’ death shock him? Did he fall into his tomb unwillingly? No, Jesus went into Jerusalem to be killed. He had a date with the predestined plan of the Father to redeem sinners on a hill called Golgotha (Acts 2:23). In the same way, when the way for western missionaries to tread into China was blocked, “he saved fifty million Chinese from the inside”. He did it without Western missionaries. So, go ahead, give it your best shot! Try to keep him out by closing the door to missionaries. “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8). And China cannot keep the Spirit out. He goes where he pleases according to the will of the Father, regenerating sinners. God saved Chinese men and women from the inside and “when it was time, he pushed the stone away so we could see what he had done”. You cannot stop Jesus. Give it your best shot.

Our government tries to take Jesus out of public schools, but staggering numbers of students come to faith in Christ every year due to clubs such as Fellowship of Christian Athletes and First Priority, just to name a couple. Sinners who will not hear of Jesus from their teachers are being led to him by their friends! School districts and governments can give it their best shot to keep Jesus down, but their attempts are in vain. He gave up his life…and he took it back.

So, go ahead. Give it your best shot. Try to keep Jesus out of your workplace. Try to keep him out of your city, your state, your country. If death could not hold him down, what makes you think you can?

RisenChristian, take joy in this all-powerful, sovereign, death-defeating Savior. Cling to him today. Trust him no matter what. You can confidently speak of him to your co-worker, your classmate, your brother or sister today. You can confidently sacrifice your money, time, and energies for his Kingdom today. The world may shut the door in your face. It may knock you down. You may be shunned, neglected, unappreciated, hated, outcast, abused, beaten, imprisoned, and maybe even killed. But in the darkness of the night a light will come bursting forth in glory. For Jesus is no longer here, He is risen (Matt. 28:6)! In the end, you cannot lose!

God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it (Acts 2:24)

If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you (Romans 8:11)

‘Death is swallowed up in victory.
O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?’ (1 Corinthians 15:55)

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. (1 Corinthians 15:56-57)

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us (Romans 8:37)

For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world–our faith. (1 John 5:4)

Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? (1 John 5:5)

But take heart; I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)

The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. (Revelation 3:21)

StandStand with your arms held high and your eyes gazing in awestruck wonder at the unmistakable, immaculate, quiet, and invincible power of the King of kings and the Lord of lords, the conquering Lion, Jesus Christ (1 Tim. 6:15; Rev. 5:5).

For twenty centuries the world has given it their best shot–in vain. They can’t bury him. They can’t hold him in. They can’t silence him or limit him. Jesus is alive and utterly free to go and come wherever he pleases. “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18). All things were made through him and for him and he is absolutely supreme over all other powers (Col. 1:16-17). (John Piper, Taste and See: Savoring the Supremacy of God in All of Life, Colorado Springs: Multnomah Books, 1999, 2005, p. 113)