May 10, 2020 – We Shall Be Changed, and the Death of Death- 1 Corinthians 15:50-58, Isaiah 25:8, Revelation 21:4

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I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall 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 shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?” “O death, where 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 brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.             1 Corinthians 15:50-58 (ESV)

He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces,and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. Isaiah 25:8 (ESV)

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. Revelation 21:4 (ESV)

We shall be changed.  Into what?

Jesus has brought us from death to life. This is why we celebrate Easter. We trust in Jesus, that He has put death to death and that we have the hope and the promise of eternal life with Him.

There are times in our lives when it’s easy to forget the Easter hope and we forget that we have been changed when we were baptized into Christ, and that we will be changed yet again when He transforms us and gives us bodies that will never die. Either we get distracted by the cares and sorrows of this world, or we get preoccupied with the all the things we think are important (much as Jesus’ friend Martha did) and we miss the one thing – the One Who should be primary above all.

The implication to believing God’s promise of eternal life and transformation that were given to the prophet Isaiah, and again to the apostles Paul and John, and that Jesus Himself also promised, is that we have nothing to hold back, nothing to fear, nothing to put in a higher priority than God.  We belong to Him.  He cares for us and provides for us in this life as well as the next.

Both Isaiah and John remind us that God will take away our shame and mourning, and will dry our tears.  This is a wonderful encouragement for all of us, because we are all held captive to our own sin, shame and sorrow.  We have been changed, and we will be changed. Not because we earn it, not because we deserve it, but because Jesus gave His life so that we may be a part of His resurrection and His life.

The sting of death has been taken away. There is nothing to fear. There is nothing holding us back from the life that Jesus has already won for us.

Lord, help us to keep our eyes on You and to know that You will wipe away our tears and take away our sin and sorrow.  Forgive us when we forget that we belong to You and that through You we are forever changed.

 

May 7, 2020- The Resurrection of the Body- 1 Corinthians 15:35-49

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But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. For not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory.

So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven.Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. 1 Corinthians 15:35-49 (ESV)

As we profess in the last two “I believe” statements of the Apostle’s Creed: I believe in…the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.

The images we see in popular culture, such as in cartoons, when a character dies and its ethereal spirit rises to heaven, are not quite accurate.   We are both body and spirit, not just one or the other. When Jesus returns for His people we will be changed from an earthly, mortal creature with a disease and decay prone body,  to a heavenly, eternal creature with an eternal incorruptible body.  The old Adam, who was born of the dust, will die and be buried, but the new Adam will bear the image of the second Man- Jesus.

The apostle Paul uses the analogy of planting.  We plant a kernel of corn knowing that individual kernel will die, but that’s not the end of it.  It will be transformed and will become a corn plant that will have many ears full of kernels of corn.  Just one kernel of corn won’t feed a family or even one person, but many corn plants can feed many people.

When we look at the death of Jesus we understand that in His death, He sacrificed His body so that many would be freed from their sins.  Without His death our deaths are simply our physical bodies returning to the $8 and some change worth of essential elements they were comprised of.  But we who are baptized into Christ, and buried with Him will rise and be transformed.

There has to be death before life.  It seems sad that it must be that way.  But when we look at it from the standpoint that Jesus has conquered death for us, and that we share in resurrection life with Him, then it is no longer something to be afraid of.

Lord, help us to rely upon you alone, and keep us from being captive to fear.  Forgive us when we doubt You or we trust in mortal men or other things that cannot give life or save us.  You have defeated death and the grave for us.  You are here with us now, through the valleys of shadow, and You are returning for all of Your people soon.  Help us to live with the confidence that we belong to You.

 

 

April 2, 2018 – “Silly” Women, Hush Money, and Faith in the Risen Christ- Matthew 28:1-15

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Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.  And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.  His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men.  But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.”  So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”

 While they were going, behold, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place.  And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers and said, “Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’  And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.”  So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story has been spread among the Jews to this day. Matthew 28:1-15 (ESV)

Mary Magdalene and the “other” Mary encountered the angel at the empty tomb. So did the guards. The women were afraid. The guards were afraid. Both the women and the guards encountered the angel, but both groups had very different responses to the message from the angel.

The angel spoke directly to the women, who were shown the place where Jesus lay, and who followed the angel’s instructions to go and tell the disciples that Jesus wasn’t there, and that He had risen from the dead. Along the way Jesus met the women, and told them to tell the disciples to go to Galilee to meet Him.

The angel didn’t speak directly to the guards.   The guards responded differently than the women.  Out of their fear they trembled and became as dead men.

The women were afraid, but they still believed the angel and they followed his directions in spite of their fear. They followed the instruction to go and tell the disciples.  They met Jesus along the way.

The guards went back to Jesus’ adversaries, who paid them for their silence. The chief priests’ bribes to the guards attest to the veracity of the appearance of the angel and to the women’s story. Who pays hush money to silence a lie?

Jesus said that no one can come to Him unless that person is drawn to Jesus by God the Father (John 8:43-48). This is a hard reality and part of the paradox we have to wrestle with if we take Scripture at what it says.  Yes we must believe and have faith, but even faith is a gift of God that does not come from ourselves, but from God alone. (Ephesians 2:8-10)  Apart from the Holy Spirit we are not able of our own power to come to faith or believe God.

The first and chief article is this: Jesus Christ, our God and Lord, died for our sins and was raised again for our justification (Romans 3:24-25). He alone is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29), and God has laid on Him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:6). All have sinned and are justified freely, without their own works and merits, by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, in His blood (Romans 3:23-25). This is necessary to believe. This cannot be otherwise acquired or grasped by any work, law, or merit. Therefore, it is clear and certain that this faith alone justifies us…Nothing of this article can be yielded or surrendered, even though heaven and earth and everything else falls (Mark 13:31) – Martin Luther, from the Smalcald Articles

When we hear the message of the empty tomb, do we have doubts about the reality of the risen Christ? Are we like Thomas who had to see where the nails pierced Jesus and where the spear entered His side? Are we afraid to go and tell because we know that some people simply will not believe no matter what we say?

Certainly there were people at the time of the Resurrection who thought these women were nuttier than fruitcakes. The witness of a woman was not taken terribly seriously in Jesus’ time.

It goes with the pattern that God establishes throughout Scripture that He would choose the least likely, the weaker vessels, the ones considered to be less to see His risen Son first. God who chose the stone the builders rejected to be the cornerstone (Psalm 118:22) and who uses silly things and weak people to counter the wisdom of the wise (1 Corinthians 1:18-31) is in control here.

The Good News of Jesus Christ, who died to save us from our sins, and who rose to bring us into eternal life is silliness and fairytales to people who just live for this world. Thankfully this world is not the end for those who are in Christ. We have been included in real life, God-life. Through the water of baptism we are marked with the Cross of Christ forever. We are forgiven, set free, and made whole in Christ.  Because He has risen, we live!

February 20, 2018 – Whatever We Fear (Do It Anyway!) 1 Peter 3:13-16, 1 Corinthians 2:13

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Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?  But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 1 Peter 3:13-16 (NIV)

Whatever I fear the most is whatever I see before me/ Whenever I let my guard down, whatever I was ignoring /Whatever I fear the most is whatever I see before me /Whatever I have been given, whatever I have been – “Whatever I Fear”- Toad the Wet Sprocket

Fear in and of itself is neither good nor evil, but there are healthy and unhealthy fears. “Fear of the Lord,” as in a reverent respect for God, is a healthy fear. Fear of touching a hot burner is a healthy fear. At times fear can prevent us from diving into an action or a behavior that will cause us harm.

However, it’s easy in this world to get mired down in unhealthy fears that are borne of either bad experiences in the past or irrational anxiety. To “err on the side of caution” is usually considered a prudent and wise course to take, but too much caution can lead us to stagnation and lead us away from the things that God has for us to experience and accomplish.

We should not hesitate to do what we know is good. We should be unafraid to tell others about Jesus and what He has done and is doing in and through us. The apostle Peter tells us to have an answer for those who ask us why we hope in Jesus- a kind and respectful and helpful answer.

Unhealthy or excessive fear can keep us from doing and saying the things we know we should.

Martin Luther is known for saying, “Sin boldly.” This doesn’t mean just randomly sin, but to feel the fear and live and do anyway. Since we are sinners, yes, some of the things we do along the way will be wrong and will fall short of God’s will, but nothing will get accomplished if we are too afraid to try. We are challenged to be bold even when we are shaking in our boots, if we know what we are doing, saying or standing for is necessary and right.

The Holy Spirit has answers when we don’t have them –

This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. 1 Corinthians 2:13 (NIV)

God is the only One we should fear- the same God who tells us to get out there to do good, and to tell others about Him.

How is fear holding us back from the discipline of service today?

Do we fear getting too involved, whether it is emotionally, physically, financially or in committing our time?

Do we hesitate to make a sacrifice for the sake of others?

The spiritual disciplines of sacrifice and service do require intentional effort on our part.  Like the disciplines of sports or music, for example, we get better at it through small steps, and practice.

How can we practice a small step today- an act of service for someone, or a sacrifice of our time and talents to serve God?

July 19, 2017 – Do Not Fear, or Be Afraid- Isaiah 44:6-8, Matthew 10-28

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Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel, and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: I am the first and I am the last; besides Me there is no god. Who is like Me? Let them proclaim it, let them declare and set it forth before Me. Who has announced from of old the things to come?  Let them tell us what is yet to be. Do not fear, or be afraid; have I not told you from of old and declared it? You are My witnesses! Is there any god besides Me? There is no other rock; I know not one. Isaiah 44:6-8 (NRSV)

Fear is a word that can be taken in a few different ways in Scripture, but the only “fear” that we are told to hold onto is “fear of the Lord.”  The phrase “fear of the Lord” appears 134 times in the NRSV translation of the Bible, so it is an important theme.  However, the English translation, “fear of the Lord” can more accurately and completely be taken as meaning, “an obedient reverence and awe of the Lord.”

God doesn’t want us to be afraid of people or afraid of what people think they can do to us. As much power as some individuals may hold- even up to the power of physical life and death- all power ultimately comes from God.

Jesus tells us-

Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear Him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Matthew 10:28 (NRSV)

The fear of hell never brought salvation to anyone, and that’s not what Jesus is emphasizing here.  He is underscoring the point that there is a limit to what power other people and earthly circumstances actually have over us.  Life in the physical body is only for a limited time.  The worst thing any human or any condition can do to us is to extinguish the life of our bodies.   That is eventually going to happen anyway. Bodies are temporary.  But our souls live on, and they belong to God.

So God’s the one we need to be concerned with. Not with the fear of other people’s wrath, or the pursuit of stuff, or the fear of scarcity, or the fear of pain, or the fear of anything else.

God isn’t a big fan of people being bullies, or of people living to be trendy, or of people striving to “have it all.” God is a big fan of people living according to His love- bringing mercy and kindness to others, standing up to injustice, and being His hands and feet here on earth.  It’s His opinion of us that matters, because it is life with Him that will last.

What are we afraid of? What (or who) is holding us back?

January 12, 2017 God By My Side-Psalm 118:5-6, Romans 8:31-39

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Out of my distress I called on the Lord; the Lord answered me and set me in a broad place. With the Lord on my side I do not fear. What can mortals do to me?  Psalm 118:5-6 (NRSV)

Everyone has come to places in life where there are scary situations- health crises, loss, financial setbacks or physical danger.  Those who live with anxiety disorders deal with fear they often cannot name or explain.  Sometimes fear is simply overwhelming because it is in response to a situation we cannot stop or mitigate or control.

God is beyond the things that cause our fear.  He is the One Who is really in control, and even when the storms rage all around us, we truly have nothing to fear.

What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else?  Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.  Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?  As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all day long;
    we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced 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.

Romans 8:31-39 (NRSV)

The apostle Paul, who wrote the letter to the Romans (and other letters to churches that are now books of the Bible,) knew about hardship and persecution.  He spent time in prison for the sake of the Gospel.  He endured deprivation and physical pain on his journeys to preach the Word. Yet he could attest to the fact that God is in control, and that God is on our side even when it doesn’t look like it or feel like it.

Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ.  God is by our side, so what do we have to fear?