Christianity 201

July 24, 2021

Death, The Intruder

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Even in the unending shadows of death’s darkness,
    I am not overcome by fear.
Because You are with me in those dark moments,
    near with Your protection and guidance,
    I am comforted. – Ps. 23:4 (The Voice)

This is our third time visiting the writing of Jake Hunt at his blog Wiser Time. Though he doesn’t write frequently, we wanted to share this more recent article here. Jake writes from Prague in the Czech Republic.

Now ye need not fear the grave

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. (Hebrews 2:14-15)

All our fear is ultimately the fear of death. It is, as Paul says, “the last enemy.” It is the ultimate worst case scenario.

My grandmother died this year. She was 92. She lived a beautiful life, passed her final days in my parents’ home being cared for by those she loved the most, and died trusting in Christ. This is the way to go. Having seen her decline, and knowing she was tired and ready, I had even prayed that God would take her before too long.

And yet, this was the toughest blow of a tough year for me. I think of her daily. I miss her terribly. It hasn’t fully set in that I can’t pick her up and take her to dinner the next time I’m in Georgia.

This is because death, even a good death, is awful. It’s an intrusion into the good world God created. And we pass our entire lives under its shadow, knowing it awaits us all, awaits those we love. Death is inevitable. The fear of this makes us subject to life-long slavery.

Jesus stepped into time and space, became human with all that entails, in order to change this. He was acquainted with death, more so than many of us. He lived in a time when death was much more a part of everyday life than it is for us. People didn’t get taken to the hospital and then the funeral home; they typically died at home, were mourned at home, and were buried by the family and community.

Jesus seems to have lost his earthly father at a fairly early age, as Joseph departs the narrative between his adolescence and young adulthood. He saw children die– doubtless more than just the few he raised from the dead. He wept at the tomb of his friend Lazarus. But more than all this, he passed his entire life on earth in the shadow of the cross. He knew it was coming. He knew what he was here to do. “See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified.”

The fact that he also knew the Resurrection was coming didn’t change the fact that the suffering was coming as well.

Hebrews 2:14 and following is one of my favorite passages, and especially my favorite passage for Advent. One thing that always strikes me: The author doesn’t say that Jesus delivers us from death. Of course, in the greatest sense he does, but unless we are alive at his return, knowing Christ does not deliver us from the physical experience of death. He does, however release us from slavery to the fear of death.

This is not just about knowing that heaven is coming, though it is that. It is about knowing that because Jesus’ humanity is so genuine, his becoming one of us in every way so complete, we are united with him in every stage of our life, including the final one. How has he destroyed the power of death, and the work of the devil? Through death itself. He didn’t pretend to die, or seem to die. He died. His death destroyed death forever. And he accomplished this for us– for “the children” of whom he is unashamed, who share in the flesh and blood that he willingly adopted.

“Now ye need not fear the grave.” Because Jesus has been there already. And so we will not go there alone.


Here’s how Eugene Peterson renders today’s key text:

MSG.Heb.2.14-15 Since the children are made of flesh and blood, it’s logical that the Savior took on flesh and blood in order to rescue them by his death. By embracing death, taking it into himself, he destroyed the Devil’s hold on death and freed all who cower through life, scared to death of death.

October 30, 2020

The Necessary Benefit of Funerals

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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This morning, while waiting for someone to finish an appointment, I walked through our local cemetery, where I took these pictures. I couldn’t help but think of this verse:

Ecclesiastes 7:2

It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart.
We looked at this subject here back in 2013:
The writer of Ecclesiastes is offering some advice that is hard to take, but life is not all about laughter and hilarity. Elsewhere, he wrote that there is
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance,
Eugene Peterson renders Eccl. 7:2 as
You learn more at a funeral than at a feast—
After all, that’s where we’ll end up. We might discover
    something from it.

As to the first verse above, at StudyLight.org, we read that classic writer and Bible commentator John Gill wrote,

It is better to go to the house of mourning,…. For deceased relations or friends, who either lie unburied, or have been lately inferred; for the Jews kept their mourning for their dead several days afterwards, when their friends visited them in order to comfort them, as the Jews did Martha and Mary, John 11:31. So the Targum [Aramaic Bible] here,

“it is better to go to a mourning man to comfort him;’

for at such times and places the conversation was serious and interesting, and turned upon the subjects of mortality and a future state, and preparation for it; from whence useful and instructive lessons are learned; and so it was much better to be there

than to go to the house of feasting: the Targum is,

“than to the house of a feast of wine of scorners;’

where there is nothing but noise and clamour, luxury and intemperance, carnal mirth and gaiety, vain and frothy conversation, idle talk and impure songs, and a jest made of true religion and godliness, death and another world…

At the same link there is quotation from Matthew Poole, who noted,

…it brings men to the serious consideration of their last end, which is their greatest wisdom and interest.

Also there, this from Daniel Whedon,

To gain a good name one must cultivate a noble character. First of all is needed a large sympathy with one’s fellow-men. To share their joy in the house of feasting is good, but to share their grief in the house of mourning is better, as a test…

I wonder if the Evangelical penchant for “celebrating the homegoing of Brother [or Sister] __________” is to sacrifice or bypass the period of lament.

Spurgeon said that, “Some of the old Romish monks always read their Bibles with a candle stuck in a skull. The light from a death’s head may be an awful one, but it is a very profitable one.”

Many years ago Tim Archer wrote,

Part of what the Bible seeks to teach us is how to cry. How to be sad. Much time is spent showing us how God’s people mourn after a tragedy.

Little time is spent explaining the existence of evil or why bad things happen to good people. More time, much more, is showing how God’s people cry and how they cry out to him.

Much lament is also a confession of sin, but that’s not true of all lament. Sometimes the speaker is crying out to God after suffering unjustly, at least from their point of view.

Of course this is really the entire book of Lamentations, not to mention the various laments we find in Psalms.  There’s also this example in the book of Joel:

Joel 1:13 Put on sackcloth, you priests, and mourn; wail, you who minister before the altar. Come, spend the night in sackcloth, you who minister before my God; for the grain offerings and drink offerings are withheld from the house of your God.

Many writers today are noting that we lack a theology of lament, and that our worship times tend to avoid the minor keys insofar as we want our weekend services to be positive and upbeat.

A related New Testament verse would be this one:

Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom.  James 4:9

We covered this verse twice in 2013. The other time we quoted Daily Encouragement, where Stephen and Brooksyne Weber wrote,

Solomon, writer of Ecclesiastes, states, “It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting.”  This begs the question, in what sense is it better?

…The reasons that mourning is even more essential than feasting is listed in the following two phrases in the text. In retrospect as I consider the times we have experienced the “house of mourning” I fully understand the writer’s premise.

1) “For death is the destiny of every man.” In other words, death is inevitable. It’s part of the grand plan of how things work as a result of the original fall. Each time we go to the house of mourning this universal reality confronts us. We are reminded that life on this earth is temporary and that we all have an expiration date. Otherwise we might get so caught up in the “here and now” that we don’t make adequate plans for the “there and later”.

2) “The living should take this to heart” The “house of mourning” helps us to consider our heart’s condition and the state of our soul. Of course most of us have been to a variety of house of mournings, yet the tone of the memorial service and the variety of people who gather can make the setting as different as night and day…

The Webers ended with a reference to a related text, Hebrews 9:27-28:

Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and He will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him.

Modern worship leader Paul Baloche writes,

In our fast-paced culture, funerals give us the rare occasion to reflect on the brevity of life and how each of our days are numbered. There is a sense of “coming to terms” with reality that our life on this earth will end. As Christians we find assurance in the promise of God’s Word that Jesus Christ did indeed die for the remission of our sins and rose again with the invitation to live forever through Him and with Him.

At Daily Encouragement, the Webers added this prayer:

Father, we rejoice in the feasting periods and reflect in the mourning periods of our life. The richest experiences that shape our character are from the great highs and the deep lows we encounter over a lifetime. Not only do we spend time reflecting, studying, and learning from these experiences, but they speak to us of the importance of who we are in the midst of those circumstances. In the house of feasting we rejoice in our accomplishments and those of others from year to year. But in the house of mourning we consider the lives of those who go before us, seeking to mirror the good we witnessed or experienced from their lives. It prompts us to assess our own hearts. Are we ready should You call us to our eternal destiny? We know that planning for this life is important, but planning for the next life is absolutely essential. We want to be ready by receiving Jesus into our life and living according to Your plan as revealed in the Bible. By Your grace we can do so through Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

July 6, 2020

Found Naked: Paul’s Meaning in 2 Cor. 5:3

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:39 pm
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Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked.
2 Corinthians 5: 2-3

Just hours before our 5:30 PM deadline, I received a letter from a cousin asking about a particular Bible passage. I don’t claim that this is the best answer you’ll ever find on the internet concerning this verse, but I also wanted to share my process with her when delving into difficult-to-understand verses.

Hi Paul,

I’ve been reading 2nd Corinthians chapter five, verse three and I have a question, so I thought I’d turn to you to get your take on this. In this verse it says “if so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked.”

This is not the first place in scripture that I’ve read a fear of being found to be a “naked or unclothed” spirit. My question is, what is so fearful about being found to be a spirit without covering? I think of spirit as being a kind of pure energy or light.  Not necessarily in human form. Genesis has some really interesting things to say about this as regards the condition of Adam and Eve after the fall, such that God covered them in skin (not skins).

Not the easiest question.

The IVP Bible Commentary notes:

Second Corinthians 5:1-10 is one of the most researched and written-about passages in Paul’s writings–and for a good reason. Paul is tackling the topic of the Christian hope beyond the grave, and more specifically, what happens to the believer at the point of death. In our culture the subject of death holds a certain fascination as well as repulsion. On the one hand, we try to mask the fact of death with euphemisms such as “he passed on” and “she went to a better place” and with funeral rites such as viewing the body, remarking how well someone looks and placing flowers on the grave. On the other hand, our culture, especially in recent years, has displayed an attraction to the topic of death in the form of accounts of near-death experiences, a resurgence of spiritism, the growing popularity of the New Age movement and the like… [continue reading here]

First of all, I don’t think on a basic reading of this verse I would go to the Genesis passage in parallel with this, for reasons too long to get into here.

There are some things you can do when you encounter a tough passage…

Step One: Establish the context.

With the possible exception of verse 3 (!) most people know this passage well as the one where Paul is describing — as only someone can who worked in canvas as he did — our bodies as a tent. So “when this tent is taken down” is talking about death. But here it gets tricky early on, because the word tent is reminiscent of ‘tabernacle’ so is this analogy just intended for believers? (See below.) Writing to the Corinthian church, this is a reasonable assumption. He’s talking about that covering or tent being removed, but then longing for a covering which is far better — a heavenly dwelling as the NIV puts it in verse 4. So it’s not that the metaphor is mixed, it’s just that it’s complicated; namely we do have a covering — and we are the tabernacle or dwelling place of the Holy Spirit — but we have a far better one coming. So we want to (at God’s appointed time) shed the former to put on the latter, we don’t want to be found without either. (More on what that would look like in step 3.)

Step Two: Let the translators do the work for you.

I think it’s interesting how the ‘freer’ translations are set up so the individual verses don’t show on BibleGateway.  You`re forced to read in a larger context. Eugene Peterson doesn’t (in my opinion) directly address the naked thing, but looks at the passage as a whole:

For instance, we know that when these bodies of ours are taken down like tents and folded away, they will be replaced by resurrection bodies in heaven—God-made, not handmade—and we’ll never have to relocate our “tents” again. Sometimes we can hardly wait to move—and so we cry out in frustration. Compared to what’s coming, living conditions around here seem like a stopover in an unfurnished shack, and we’re tired of it! We’ve been given a glimpse of the real thing, our true home, our resurrection bodies! The Spirit of God whets our appetite by giving us a taste of what’s ahead. He puts a little of heaven in our hearts so that we’ll never settle for less.

JB Phillips echoes what I said looking at the passage contextually:

We know, for instance, that if our earthly dwelling were taken down, like a tent, we have a permanent house in Heaven, made, not by man, but by God. In this present frame we sigh with deep longing for the heavenly house, for we do not want to face utter nakedness when death destroys our present dwelling—these bodies of ours. So long as we are clothed in this temporary dwelling we have a painful longing, not because we want just to get rid of these “clothes” but because we want to know the full cover of the permanent house that will be ours. We want our transitory life to be absorbed into the life that is eternal.

So what does this nakedness look like? I could see how it could be used as a pretext for annihilation; an entry into a period when the soul ceases to exist. That provides comfort for people who don’t believe in a ECT hell – eternal conscious torment – but it could just as easily describe other forms of an eternity without God. Again, see what follows.

Step Three: Study Bibles and Bible Commentaries:

Space is limited so I’ll just deal with one here. I’m very fortunate to have in my collection To Corinth With Love by the U.K.’s Michael Green, published in 1988. He deals with this on pages 139-160.

► First, he points out that the Corinthians were “resurrection” people. Each doctrine we stress is often at the expense of another doctrine. So death was a topic that was less-discussed and the Corinthians were less well-versed on what we might call a doctrinal position on death itself.

► But they were very much celebratory concerning the resurrection. Therefore, to get the bigger picture, 2 Corinthians 5 needs to be read in context with a parallel passage in 1 Corinthians 15. (Space prevents a longer exposition.)

► There is a sense — gathered from Green’s writing but not expressed directly as I would like — that the danger might be in leaving this earth without making appropriate consideration for the next. In other words, the passage has an Evangelical urgency to it.

► However, nakedness is not the only metaphor. In writing to the Thessalonians, he describes the in-between stage as sleep rather than nakedness. See, for example, verse 16 of chapter 4. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. Again though notice the words in him. This echoes for me what I suggested in Step One, that these words are being spoken, if not to believers, to both followers and not-yet-followers gathered in the assembled congregation at Corinth or Thessalonica.

So there is the present age, an age to come, but also an in-between stage for those who die in Christ.

…I hope that points everyone toward the right direction on this one!

 

 

September 5, 2019

Blessed Are They That Mourn

Matthew 5.2 And He began to teach them.

    Blessed are those who mourn—they will be comforted.

This summer I was given a copy of a book from Regent College Publishing, which is one of the best treatments of The Beatitudes in Matthew 5 that I’ve seen. Written by former pastor and Regent professor Darrell Johnson, it is titled The Beatitudes: Living in Sync with the Reign of God. I’ve offered a fuller review of the book at this link.



…the picture the second Beatitude suggests is not that of Jesus coming into our city, spotting people who are mourning, and reaching out to them with comfort. He did do that, blessed be His name. He spotted the widow in the town of Nain, following behind the funeral procession that was carrying her son’s corpse to the cemetery, and He reached out to her (Luke 7:11-17). He saw the tears flowing down the faces of Mary and Martha as they stood outside the tomb of their brother Lazarus, and He so reached out to them that he Himself began to weep (John 11:1-37). But those encounters are not the primary picture suggested by the second Beatitude. Rather, the picture is that of Jesus coming into our city, reaching out, and calling people to Himself who then begin to mourn. Yes, they (and we) begin to rejoice deeply! But they (and we) also begin to mourn deeply…

…”Blessed… for you shall be comforted.” When? When are the mourners to receive comfort?

In the end, when the kingdom of heaven is fully realized. When, as the Voice from the throne of the universe says, God “will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain” (Revelation 21:4).

But we shall also be comforted before the end, even now. How? The word translated “comfort” is the verb parakaleo, a rich word. The primary meaning of parakaleo is to exhort, to encourage, or to embolden. It is used of soldiers cheering each other on. This is also the original meaning of the English word “comfort”: com “with,” fortis “strength” – com-fort, “strengthen by being with.”

Jesus is saying that as we dare to open ourselves up to pain and grief, we feel ourselves strangely strengthened.

How? Why? From the verb parakaleo comes the noun paraklete. Paraklete is the word Jesus uses for the Holy Spirit, with whom and in whom Jesus baptized His disciples. Before the end, when every tear is wiped away, the Paraklete, the personal embodiment of the kingdom, comes alongside those who are mourning.

When we become aware of the depth of sin, the Paraklete speaks His word of comfort: “Jesus paid it all. Your guilt is removed, your iniquity is forgiven, your sin is covered by the blood of the Lamb.”

When we feel just how broken the world is, the Paraklete speaks His word of comfort: He reminds us that even now the Father and the Son are at work, that creation is groaning only because it is in the throes of childbirth, that the turmoil in the world is due in part to the kingdom invading and disturbing the status quo.

When we feel despair over how far we are from the kingdom’s way, the Paraklete speaks His word of comfort: The kingdom has come near; the kingdom is breaking in all over the world, and nothing can ultimately stand in its way.

As you can probably tell, I have great vision of what can be.

pp 45, 53-55

 

 

June 20, 2019

A Compelling Future

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Are Heaven and Hell Consistent with a Good and Loving God?

by Clarke Dixon

Does Christianity have a compelling vision for the future? It would be odd if you were considering the compelling reasons to trust in Jesus, but then upon asking about the afterlife you are told that you enter an endless cycle of being reincarnated as a bird if you receive Christ, and as a worm, if not. That should strike you as utter nonsense. Now what about Christian teaching? The idea that upon death we either sprout wings and play a harp while sitting in the clouds, or burn in an eternal fire, is for many people, too much to believe. Is the Biblical Christian vision for the future consistent with a good and loving God? Or is it nonsensical? When we hear what the Bible teaches about eternal destination, do we say ‘of course that is what a good God would do”?

Let us look first, to the Book of Revelation;

1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.

Here we have, not a hope of going up into heaven when I die, to spend eternity there, but something much grander. This is a vision of God’s re-creation of all creation. All of creation was negatively impacted by the sin of humanity (see Romans 8:18-23). All of creation will be positively impacted by God’s rescue of humanity.

2 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

Here we are told of a city, not in the sense of roads and buildings, but in the sense of people. The holy city is the “bride,” that is, the people of God. Just as people are the focus in the creation account of Genesis, people are the focus of the re-creation account. God created humanity, the only creature we are told he created in his image, for a special relationship. That relationship is what is truly important.

3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;

There is much in the Bible about separation from God being a huge problem for humanity. It begins with Genesis chapter three and the banishment of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. It becomes apparent at Mount Sinai when the people cannot approach the mountain on which God’s presence was made palpable. It is emphasized in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers, with the establishment of both the tabernacle and priesthood. While God was willing to dwell among his people, as symbolized through the pitching of his “tent” among them, God needed to remain separated from the people, for their sake. An unholy people cannot approach a holy God without becoming holy first. The sacrificial rigmarole of the priesthood was a constant reminder of separation from God and the need for atonement. The priesthood and the sacrifices pointed forward to something greater; God the Son making people holy through his sacrifice. In Christ the future of God’s people is wrapped up with being at home with God. There is no more separation from God.

The problems of this world, which separation from God creates, also are dealt with;

4 he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”  Revelation 21:1-4 (NRSV)

The consequence of sin and separation from God is death. The consequence of being reconciled to God is eternal life. In Christ death is no longer part of the human condition. However the consequence of God’s grace is not just eternal life, but as we have already seen, eternal life with God.

In sum, the Biblical vision of the future is one of transformation, for all creation, for our bodies, and for our very selves. The transformation within us begins now through the Holy Spirit. The fact that the Christian is to look to God to fix everything in the future is compelling. The fact that the Christian need not wait for Christ’s return to fix everything in us is also compelling. The hope of meaningful change, not into brilliant cloud-sitting harpists, but into good people who dwell with a good God in a good creation, is consistent with a good and loving God.

However, is the future of those who reject God consistent with a good and loving God? The idea of being on fire forever does not seem consistent to many of us. In answering this we must first appreciate that the people of the Bible often speak in poetic ways, just as we do today. We sometimes pick apart the Bible as if we are in math class working out equations. Let us remember our English literature lessons and have an appreciation for the poetic and literary nuances which often escape the math whizzes. We will not dig into this too deeply, but it is best to take the language about hell, with the everlasting fire and torment, as poetic. The least poetic, the most matter-of-fact, the most precise and concise description of hell we have in the Bible is this;

9 These will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, separated from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might 2 Thessalonians 1:9 (NRSV)

What is hell? It is separation from God. What is it like to be separated from God? Thankfully, no one alive can truly tell, for to be alive at all is to experience a measure of God’s grace. However, we do well to remember that “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23 NRSV). As you read through the Bible, watch out for how often salvation is spoken of as a matter of eternal life versus death. This is consistent with the Genesis account and the promise that death would occur if the forbidden fruit were eaten. What we can say with certainty is that to experience hell is to experience everlasting separation from God.

If hell is separation from God, then is separation from God consistent with a good and loving God? Consider first, the holiness and justice of God. That unholy people cannot dwell with a holy God is made clear in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers; at Mount Sinai, and through the establishment of the tabernacle and priesthood. God did not teach about His holiness and our sinfulness in the Old Testament then come to us in the New Testament and say “it doesn’t matter anymore.” It does matter, but God offers to make us holy in Christ and through his Holy Spirit. If you reject that offer of being made holy, then separation from God is a very natural consequence. The experience of death is a natural consequence of refusing the offer of eternal life. Therefore, the future of those who reject God is consistent with a good and loving God who respects the wishes of those who want nothing to do with him. Of course that is what a good God would do.

The Bible presents a compelling and beautiful vision for the future of those who receive Christ and accept God’s offer of relationship. While we might not use the word beautiful, the Bible provides a vision of the future of those who do not want a relationship with God that is consistent with His goodness and love. The consistency of the Christian vision of the future is yet another aspect of Christianity that is compelling.


This post is part of a series called “Compelling” which begins here. The full sermon can be heard on the podcast which is found here.

June 5, 2019

On People Coming and Going from Death

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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A year ago we introduced you to Graham and Amaryllis, a retired couple living in Trimsaran, West Wales, UK who have worked in Eastern Europe, Africa and the Middle East. Yesterday I revisited their blog and found this article on a topic we had been discussing the day before. Click the title below to read this at their site.

Once to Die!

There is a most interesting verse in Matt 27:52, 53 – The earth shook, and rocks split apart.  Graves opened, and many of God’s people were raised to life. Then after Jesus had risen to life, they came out of their graves and went into the holy city, where they were seen by many people – but I have never heard anyone explain this satisfactorily.

The sequence is important, at the Friday earthquake when Jesus died and the veil was torn in half, these ‘many’ Old Testament saints were raised up and must have been with Jesus in spirit until Sunday.  On Sunday, these people were seen in Jerusalem by many people, so, we must assume that they then were united with their bodies.  But what happened to them afterwards?

This is a fascinating and again we can assume that the purpose of it was two-fold, encouragement for God’s people in Jerusalem and also a demonstration of power against the Dark Kingdom – death, hell and the grave were thoroughly defeated.  But was there something more?

Now, another interesting verse – As the Scriptures say, “When he went up to the highest place, he led away many prisoners and gave gifts to people. Eph 4:8 – who were the prisoners Jesus ‘led away’ at the ascension?  Can we put these verses together?  We cannot be dogmatic about this, for there is too little information given, but we can read between the lines, as long as we don’t contradict any other verses.

So, were the prisoners that were ‘led away’, the risen Old Testament saints of Matt 27:52?  Their bodies had been prisoners in the grave and the spirits had been ‘in heaven’ waiting for resurrection, [Abraham’s bosom, paradise, sheol, where-ever!  There’s no need to get into a debate over those terms, they all suggest shades of meaning of the same thing for various people.  Every righteous person in any age who dies, goes to be with God in spirit!  They had passed their test and God would reward them, with His presence at the very least].

It is unthinkable to me that these raised people could die again, in any circumstances, besides the important verse – it is appointed to man once to die, after that the judgment, Heb 9:27 – those saints had been at the Judgment Seat of Christ as one cannot be in God’s presence without that; I’m sure there was something similar for Old Testament saints.  So, is it impossible that any one should go through death twice?  Certainly not judgment twice!

If this blessedness was for those Old Testament saints of being with Jesus as He ascended back to heaven, could it also be the same for Lazarus, Jairus’ daughter and the widow of Nain’s son?  Surely, God would not want them to go through the horrors of death twice?  Could Heb 9:27 refer to them as well as the Old Testament saints?

There might be one difference, especially for Jairus’ daughter who had not long died, perhaps her spirit had been held ‘in limbo’; even science is now aware of ‘out of body experiences’ where people were clinically dead, but revived once their spirit returned to the body.  American doctors researched this and are convinced these experiences are real and that the term ‘clinically dead’ has limitations!  Even the widow’s son, it might be reasonable to think that his spirit could be in limbo for a few hours, but surely it is stretching it for 4 days, for Lazarus.  These 3 are rather speculative, so I would be inclined to discount it, but it remains a problem, does God really want people to die twice which is contrary to Heb 9:27?

There is one more possible ‘candidate’ for this ‘captive ascension’, the dying Thief, who was told by Jesus – today, you will be with me in paradise – it is possible that he too enjoyed being one of the ‘prisoners led away’, a border line case?

Now, with Eph 4:8, also think of Col 2:15 – having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them – we assume this to be the Ascension of Jesus.  Now imagine the Risen and glorified Christ taking that band of risen Old Testament saints, at least, and going up slowly through the skies, right through Satan’s new sphere of authority.  Remember, in the Old Testament, he was the Ruler of this World, but Calvary’s victory demoted him to be Prince and Power of the Air and ex-occultists state that there is a dark spiritual cloud completely encircling the world like a mantle.  Jesus and His ‘new’ friends broke right through that mantle and -the Ascension was the final scene of Satan’s defeat!

Some claim that it was defeated demons that were ‘led away captive’, but I don’t think that is the sense.  Why should only some be led away, and where to, and what about the gifts distributed?  All demons were defeated along with Satan and they all still await their final judgment; dreading it.

Can you imagine the great joy of those saints as they rose up through Satan’s territory?  I’m sure the demons slunk away as far as possible!  It was yet another reminder for Satan that he is a defeated foe and the day is surely coming when the full harvest that those ‘firstfruits’ are a promise of, will be completely gathered in, the Rapture!

There is another ponderable, fascinating issue – the risen saints in Jerusalem the 50 days up the resurrection!  Amazing what God will do!

I hope this is helpful for you; to me it is very encouraging.  We must always remember that God always seeks ways to bless people and to demonstrate to Satan that he is a defeated foe, think of Job 1&2; after all – Jesus Christ was manifest to defeat the works of Satan, 1Jn 3:8 – this is our challenge today, the Dark Kingdom is rampant and causing so much suffering, globally; our hospitals can’t cope, in most areas of life are now, there is much angst, stress and pressure that are intolerable so that mental health is the huge problem and doctors cannot deal with it; for it is a spiritual problem.  Many preachers also appear not to have the answers, they can’t even help themselves so how can they help others?  We need to understand that, even for God’s people, even we are perishing if we are not in the enjoyment of the abundant life, not walking that Narrow Way.

So, the Kingdom of God is diminished for want of more Overcomers to walk that wonderful pathway; these few are the disciples of Jesus, the worshippers Father seeks; the problem being is that there are very few that find that Straight Gate to the Narrow Way that is the Life Abundant, Mat 7:13,14, Jn 10:10.

Pray dear friends that our churches will be led, by faithful men, real overseers, elders full of the Spirit, into great fruitfulness so that the Dark Kingdom can be set back until after the Rapture; that is what God wants to do!  Yes, that pre-Rapture Revival is coming, let’s hasten it with our passionate intercession.


Mission Statement: Christianity 201 is a melting-pot of devotional and Bible study content from across the widest range of Christian sites and blogs. An individual article may be posted even if some or all readers might not agree with other things posted at the same blog, and two posts may follow on consecutive days by authors with very different doctrinal perspectives. The Kingdom of God is so much bigger than the small portion of it we can see from our personal vantage point, and one of the purposes of C201 is to allow readers a ‘macro’ view of the many ministries and individual voices available for reading.

May 25, 2019

After the Righteous Die

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One writer we’ve borrowed from extensively over the years is Elsie Montgomery who writes at Practical Faith. This article reminds us that Christ’s resurrection foreshadows our own resurrection some day.  We sleep, but we will wake up.

As always, click the header below and send some blog traffic to Elsie (and all our writers).

What happens after death?

Someone close to us recently experienced the death of a loved one without having any assurance about life after death. Their traditional hope is reincarnation, yet this seems to give little comfort. I’d never met the person who died but am deeply grieving the lack of assurance in this other person’s life.

It is true that the instant we are born we start to die. Most push this enemy out of mind unless sickness or old age insist it be given consideration. The Christians in Thessalonica had lost some of their number to death. They once worshiped idols and for them the afterlife was a place of fear and darkness. They needed to know what God said about this final enemy so Paul wrote to them good news:

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. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. (1 Thessalonians 4:13–14)

For Christians, ‘sleep’ is a suitable euphemism for death. We will wake up. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is God’s full demonstration of His power over death and of the eternal future of those who put their faith in Him. While there is a bit of controversy of how this will happen (Will we rise out of the grave? Do we go directly to heaven? Does the soul sleep? Etc.?) the answer is in Jesus. He died and He rose again.

Paul uses a negative approach to this issue in another of his epistles . . .

Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15:12–19)

Paul goes on to explain what will happen, revealing that death is no longer an unknown and that our faith has an incredible reward. Because Christ defeated death, we who live by the power of Christ will also defeat death. It cannot overpower the eternal life of Christ that is in us.

For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” (1 Corinthians 15:21–27)

People hold all sorts of ideas about death. Some think that it is simply the end. Others hope their life will return in another form. There are a few reports from people who supposedly died, went to heaven then returned, but the Word of God is silent on most of this. It says only that we die once and that after death there is judgment. We only know the report from the only One who came back to life. Paul told the church at Thessalonica and He tells me to trust Jesus. He is my living Savior.

Prayer: Jesus, I am happy to trust You. Not only are You alive, You are alive in me. I am aware of Your presence and Your voice, also that You love me with an everlasting love. You are my hope. No idol nor ideology has ever done that for me. I’m grateful for the grace of God that brought me to this place of faith and peace. While I might not relish the idea of leaving this life right this minute, should it happen I do not fear death. You defeated it and Your victory is also mine! Amen!

June 13, 2018

Christianity is never sentimental about death

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:37 pm
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Today we’re back with Colin Sedgwick at Welcome to Sedgonline. Click the title below to read at source, and then navigate around the blog to look at other articles, including this one, which also made the short list for today!

Thinking about dying

Jesus called out with a loud voice, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.’ When he had said this, he breathed his last. Luke 23:46

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. Philippians 1:21

Every couple of weeks I attend a small poetry-reading group (oh, what wild, crazy, nefarious activities we retirees get up to!).

Recently someone read a poem by the Welshman Dylan Thomas – you may very well know it. It doesn’t have a title, but is known by its first line: “Do not go gentle into that good night.” The “good night” referred to is death, and the person Thomas is addressing is his father. He is pleading with his dying father not to meekly submit (“go gentle”) to the approach of death: “Old age should burn and rave at close of day;/ Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

I know nothing about the circumstances of Thomas’ father’s death, and I certainly would never pass any kind of judgment. But I couldn’t help but feel how sad those words are – and how alien to the Christian understanding of death.

Christianity is never sentimental about death. Paul bluntly refers to it as an enemy – “the last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Corinthians 15:26).

And though I love the old hymn based on words of Francis of Assisi, “All creatures of our God and King”, I must admit I’ve never felt comfortable with the verse that starts, “And thou, most kind and gentle death,/ Waiting to hush our latest breath…”

No! Death may indeed come as “kind and gentle” to a very tiny minority; but it’s not like that in the experience of most people, and that’s not how the Bible sees it: “enemy” will do for me, thanks very much!

But Christianity is all about hope, even in the face of death: at its heart is the greatest story ever told – that death, though certainly an enemy, is a defeated enemy, overcome not in some “spiritual” or “mystical” sense, but in hard physical reality on that first Easter morning. Jesus died; and Jesus rose again. Hallelujah!

Personally, I have no wish to die. I shrink from the very thought. I enjoy this life too much, and feel that there is still a lot of living, and loving, to do. No doubt I will cling to life as long as I can – that’s just a natural part of the way we human beings are made. Probably you feel the same.

But when that time comes I hope that God, in his grace, will help me not to “rage, rage”, not to “burn and rave at close of day”, but to approach death with the attitude of Paul: to me, to live is Christ, to die is gain.

What extraordinary words those are! Have you ever seriously reflected on them? If they mean anything at all, they mean that, whatever he or she may lose, the Christian can only gain by dying.

Jesus knew better than anyone the horror of death. His suffering wasn’t just physical, but far worse – the suffering of being abandoned by his heavenly Father: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” he cried (Matthew 27:46). But at the end he was able to pray – and “with a loud voice” too! – “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46). John adds the vivid detail: “With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit” (John 19:30). Forgive the cliché but… what a way to go!

Paul brings his great resurrection chapter (1 Corinthians 15) to a climax with words of victory and triumph, some of them echoing Old Testament passages: “ ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’ ‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ … But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” No burning, raging or raving there!

Why don’t we proclaim this breath-taking, life-changing, joy-giving truth more loudly? We need it for ourselves – oh, how we need it for ourselves! – for, unless Jesus returns first, we are all going to die. But, still more, our sad, troubled, frightened world needs it too – yes, your friends, your family and your neighbours, and mine. Trumpet it to all and sundry – and not just once a year when Easter happens to have come round!

I’ve quoted a hymn that I can’t really sing with conviction. But here’s another one that, so refreshingly, faces death head on by Matt Redman; it’s being sung everywhere, and deservedly so, I think…

And on that day when my strength is failing,
The end draws near and my time has come,
Still my soul will sing your praise unending
Ten thousand years and then forevermore…

I can sing that all right! — with the unspoken prayer at the same time “Yes, Lord, may it indeed be so!”

What about you?

Lord God, help me to live fully in Christ – and then to die triumphantly in him. Amen.

 

April 10, 2018

Death and the Body

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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by Russell Young

The body, or the flesh, presents a big problem for humankind. It functions well and can accomplish many amazing things; however, it also imposes many desires and wants. It can cause the body to entertain and be tempted to sin, and sin destroys. (Rom 8:13; Gal 6:8) All are familiar with the body’s need for comfort and protection, for sexual gratification, for elevation or prominence in the sight of peers, and for general acceptance. All want to be valued and to feel comfortable ‘in their own skin.’

The issue of concern is the tendency for people to take excessive interest in the things of the flesh, to give the body more prominence in life than the LORD has allowed. Pleasing the body through excesses can result in an ungodly focus and a denial of the purpose and place of God in a person’s life.

Paul calls the flesh “the body of death.” (Rom 7:24 NIV) That is, he refers to it as the body that brings about death. He states, “For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of death might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin.” (Rom 6:6 NIV) To find God’s eternal kingdom the interest of the body to entertain sin must be “overcome”. (Rev 7:21) Concerning the nature of his body, Paul lamented, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rom 7:24 NIV)

Paul made it clear that deliverance from the death imposed by bodily interests was gained through Jesus Christ our Lord. But how? Deliverance seems to remain a matter of great confusion, but it is really the means of eternal salvation. When the believer is liberated from the “body of death,” he or she will have met God’s righteous requirements and will enjoy an eternal hope. (Rom 8:23) There have been many different postulations as to how Christ rescues a person from the death brought on by the flesh; many provide an understanding that is more philosophically than scripturally based. However, Paul has presented a clear theological understanding to the Romans in Chapter 8.

According to him, “the law of the Spirit of life set [people] free from the law of sin and death.” (Rom 8:2 NIV) It is the “law of the Spirit of life” that has freed the believer from death. Many understand that the crucifixion of Christ has met their need when it is “the Spirit of life” who must do it. The sacrificial offering of Christ was made to cleanse the sin accumulated by the confessor from his or her consequent death, and to provide the Holy Spirit so that he might set the believer free from the “law of sin and death.” Paul has made it clear that the confessor’s redemption was to make the Spirit of life available to the confessor. “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us…so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.” (Gal 3:14 NIV Italics added) He is not saying that believers have received the fullness of the Spirit’s cleansing, but that we might receive the promised Spirit. The writer of Hebrews has stated that Christ died so that the confessor might be set “free from the sins committed under the first covenant.” (Heb 9:15 NIV)

Deliverance from the body that brings death is accomplished through obedience to the Spirit. “And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.” (Rom. 8:4) Living according to the Spirit requires that believers hear and obey the call of the Spirit concerning their life practices. (Jn 14:15) This theme is presented in many places in the Scriptures and the believer would do well to understand it.

Earlier in his book to the Romans, Paul had addressed the need to “count” the flesh to have been crucified or to reckon that it has been put to death and has revealed that baptism is a proclamation of the believer to that effect. Chapter 6 goes on to develop and to explain this point. Death to the flesh is a matter of a person’s will and is proven by his or her choices. Paul told King Agrippa that he had preached that people “should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds.” (Acts 26:20 NIV)

Further, Paul wrote, “But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.” (Rom 8: 1011 NIV Italics added) It is the Spirit who delivers the body of the believer–the obedient confessor—from its interest in sinful activities and gives it life, the life pleasing to God. Because of the saving power of the Spirit, Christ admonished that those who “blaspheme against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven.” (Mk 3:29; Lk 12:10) The LORD had defined blasphemy to the Israelites. “But anyone who sins defiantly, whether native-born or alien, blasphemes the LORD, and that person must be cut off from his people. Because he has despised the LORD’s word and broken his commands, that person must surely be cut off; his guilt remains on him.” (Num 15:3031 NIV Italics added) The Spirit must actively “live” (Rom 8: 9, 11) in the believer; he cannot be denied, quenched, or thwarted.

Paul has reminded his readers that they have an obligation to live according to the Spirit, if they are to be a son of God (Rom 8:14)—they are to put to death the misdeeds of the flesh. (Rom 8:13) They are to do something! The death that the flesh would bring is to be avoided or overcome. It is for this reason that he calls the Spirit, the “Spirit of sonship.” (Rom 8:15) Death to the flesh allows Christ to live his life in the believer and so to become like him.

Many have accepted the idea that they have been adopted into the family of God, however Paul taught that the believer’s adoption is being “eagerly awaited”. (Rom 8:23 NIV) Adoption into the family will occur when the body has been redeemed (Rom 8:23) from its sinful practices and from death.

Even Paul recognized that he had more to do in order “somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” (Phil 3:11 NIV) He wanted to suffer as Christ did to overcome temptations (Heb 2:18). Although his conscience bore witness that he was progressing well, his life had not been completed. Christ requires that the believer remain firm in his or her faith to the end. (Mt 10:22, 24:13; Mk 13:13)

Because Christ has provided everything that is needed for life and godliness (2 Pet 1:3), and because he indwells the believer as Spirit (Col 1:27), judgment remains for all concerning the things done in the flesh, whether good or bad. (2 Cor 5:10)

Paul knew that Christ could rescue him from his body of death, but he also knew that his needed deliverance was being awaited (Gal 5:5) and that it came through obedience. (Heb 5:9) Christ has admonished believers “to make every effort” to enter through the narrow door, because many would try but would not be able to enter. (Lk 13:24)

 


Author Russell Young lives in Ontario, Canada and is the author of Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” Really? available in print and eBook in the U.S. through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.  His column appears here every other Tuesday.  To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link.  There is also a feature-length article at this link.

February 2, 2018

When Someone Dies Without Christ

“The servant who knows the master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what the master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”  (Luke 12:47-48 emphasis added)

I asked my wife to copy this from a June, 2001 newsletter sent to supporters of Our Daily Bread in Canada. It was the references to Luke 12 which particularly got my attention.

A Personal Loss

by Mart De Haan

Dear Al,

The last time we talked, you asked a question I couldn’t answer.  I remember the concern in your eyes and how helpless I felt to give you any assurance when you asked, “Does the Bible offer any comfort when we’re afraid someone we love has died without Christ?”

Your heartbreak is understandable. So is your anger. I can see why you feel that your faith has turned against you. Beliefs that once gave you comfort are now robbing you of sleep.

Other questions you asked have also been hounding me. Why didn’t our Lord help us with such an important issue? Why did the apostle Paul write as if his readers are concerned only about loved ones who “die in the Lord“? (1 Thess 4:15-17).  Didn’t he realize the impact his words would have on those who, because of their faith, would agonize even more deeply because they would have no hope of ever again seeing someone they love so much?

Your questions caught me off guard. But the longer I have thought about them, the more convinced I’ve become that even in our concern for unsaved loved ones we do not grieve as those “who have no hope.”

There is a time to comfort

As there is a time to warn, so there is a time to console. That comfort goes beyond our Lord’s assurance that he will someday wipe all tears from our eyes (Revelation 21:4). We can also find consolation knowing that it is none other than Jesus who will judge all of the earth (John 5:26-27). Because of the concern He showed for people during His life on earth, we can be sure he cares more about our lost loved ones than we do.

We see a hint of that compassion when Jesus mourned the unbelief of those who rejected Him (Matthew 23:37). We hear Him teaching His disciples to love their enemies (Luke 6:35). And in the moment of His deepest suffering, we hear Him say of those who called for His death, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 3:34).

Ever since coming to know Christ, those of us who believe in him have been learning to rely on Him more than ourselves. We’ve been discovering that we can trust His goodness more than our own fears.

While believing that everything Jesus said about heaven and hell is true, we can cling to the truth that both mercy and justice have their origin in Him.  The God whom Christ personified is not cruel. He will not add unnecessary pain to the fate of those who die rejecting Him. The suffering of judgment will be neither more nor less than it needs to be.

What we don’t know

We don’t know how our Lord will give “many stripes” (lashes of judgment) to some and “few stripes” to others (Luke 12:47-48), except that the punishment of some will be as severe as the punishment of others will be light. We don’t know the full meaning of the fire and darkness of judgment, except that the Hebrew prophet Isaiah first used the language of everlasting fire and smoke as a way of describing a battlefield defeat that is final and irreversible (Isaiah 34:9-10, 66:24).

What we do know

What we do know is that God will be fair, and good, and right in judgment. We know that not all will experience the same degree of pain and regret. All will be judged according to their works, which is one reason my grandfather Dr. M. R. De Haan said repeatedly, “To some, hell will be a little heaven compared to what it will be for others.”

The Scriptures show that those who suffer the severest judgment will be the devil, the Antichrist, the False Prophet, and those who accept the mark of the beast in the last days (Revelation 14:11; 20:10). In a similar way, Jesus reserved His strongest warnings for those religious leaders who used their influence to turn the crowds against Him.

There is a time to grieve

The apostle Paul grieved for lost loved ones without losing his mind or faith. He cared so much for Jewish family members that he would have taken their place in judgment if he could have. He said, “I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh” (Romans 9:2-3). Yet Paul’s concern for others didn’t rob him of his affection for heaven or his confidence in Christ (Philippians 1:23-24).

There is time to rest

We cannot afford to let fear of what we don’t know about the future rob us of what we do know about our Saviour and Lord. There is no better person to trust with the souls of our lost loved ones. He alone is their judge. He alone understands all of the factors that make faith and character more difficult for some than for others.

Most of our fears for those who have died lie not in what Jesus said, but in what we add by our own imagination. This is where we need to doubt ourselves and trust that even as He judges our lost loved ones the Lord will give us reason to worship and love Him forever.

Al, with you in mind, I bow my knees and pray, “Father, in heaven, at the end of our own fears, and at the end of our own wits, we cast ourselves upon You. We take comfort in the fact that You take no joy in the death of lost people. We cling to the assurance that You, our Father, the Judge of all the earth, will do right.”

July 13, 2017

God’s Promise for Our Eternity (Part One)

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And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away (Revelation 21:4).

Last month at Daily Encouragement, Stephen and Brooksyne Weber took a week to present a five part article on the above verse. Today we begin our look at this passage with them, phrase-by-phrase. The days refer to the day of the week they published the topic and are also links to the original, longer articles.

Monday – No More Tears

…I doubt if too many of our readers have given much consideration on why we cry physiologically but we have all experienced the emotional aspect of tears; some positive and pleasant such as “tears of joy”. But we have also known the tears of grief and sadness. When the Bible refers to “tears” it is this type. One of the lesser considered but emotionally touching examples of this is when Paul writes to Timothy, “I am reminded of your tears, and I long to see you, so that I might be filled with joy” (2 Timothy 1:4).

Tears are actually healthy on this side of eternity, even the emotional tears, although when it comes to tears of grief and sadness we would rather avoid these prompters!

When grief has left you low it causes tears to flow
When things have not turned out the way that you had planned
But God won’t forget you His promises are true
Tears are a language God understands.
You have recorded my troubles. You have kept a list of my tears. Aren’t they in your records?” (Psalm 56:8).
We can have an assurance that God understands our tears.
Today some of you are going through a hard time, a season of trouble. It may be an illness, a broken marriage, a wayward child, a financial or health crisis, the loss of a loved one. Perhaps you even shed tears as you consider the sorrows of others.It’s a natural part of existence on this side of eternity in the present age which one day will pass away and be considered “the former things.” But a time is promised when “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes… and there will be no more crying.”

In the meantime may God fill your hearts with assurance of His love especially during times of tears.

God sees the tears of a brokenhearted soul
He sees your tears and hears them when they fall
God weeps along with man and takes him by the hand
Tears are a language God understands.

Tuesday – No More Death

…Death is God’s appointed method of transition to the afterlife, just as conception and birth are His appointed method of transition into life as we now know it. As William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania, wrote, “For death is no more than a turning of us over from time to eternity.” Forthrightly the writer of Hebrews states, “Man is destined to die” (Hebrews 9:27). Of course we are aware of the supernatural departure of Enoch and Elijah, as well as the wonderful promise of the rapture for those living at that time, however the norm for most will be death.

The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Corinthians 15:26)

In the above text Paul calls death the “last enemy”. We look for encouragement and comfort in the truths and promises of the Holy Scriptures. Death will one day be destroyed. The perishable will be clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. Death will be swallowed up in victory. When the old order of things has passed away there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain.

Meanwhile we continue to deal with death and grief, but not like those who have no hope, for we have hope based on the Bible’s promises. Therefore, we comfort and encourage you all with these words today. When the old order (life as we now know it) passes away, there will indeed be no more death!

The important thing we must each ask ourselves is this, “Am I ready to die”? “Have I accepted the glorious gift of salvation by faith in Christ” If you’ve answered “no” to the above soul searching questions we welcome you to say this prayer from your heart and begin serving Jesus, who declared, “I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father but through me.”

“Lord Jesus, I confess that I am a sinner and ask You to forgive me of my sins. I believe that You came to this earth and died on the cross as a substitute for me. I place my faith in You and what You have done for me. I receive You into my life and choose this day to follow and serve You. Thank You for hearing my prayer.”

Tomorrow: Part two; the other three clauses of the verse.

 

 

November 24, 2016

Is Peace Possible? Psalm 46 Gives the Answer

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clarke-dixon-picby Clarke Dixon

Will we ever have peace on earth? If you set out to write a book on the history of the world, by the time you are finished you might rather call it a history of conflict. Likewise a history of conflict is practically a history of the world. In the 1980’s I was fascinated by an encyclopaedia that chronicled all the world’s conflicts since WW2. Unfortunately, there were enough to devote a separate volume for every year. More recent volumes may be thicker.

We may also think that personal peace is an impossibility. Perhaps the enemy is at the gates, whether the enemy be in the form of threats to physical health, mental health, financial health, relationships, or well being in general. Will we ever have peace?

Peace may have seemed like an impossibility to the people in the Psalmist’s day, but the writer of Psalm 46 expresses great hope. Consider the great hope and comfort expressed in how the Psalm begins and ends:

God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble. Psalm 46:1

The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge. Psalms 46:11

What trouble might God’s people in the Psalmist’s day expect? Why might they feel the need for refuge? We can easily forget that Israel in the Old Testament was quite a small nation stuck between some very large and powerful empires. And just as there is a constant moving of, or a desire to move, territorial boundaries today, so in those days the empires would swell and abate with much conflict. Many Biblical scholars think that the sparring of the nations is the upheaval symbolized in the early part of the Psalm:

Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult. Psalms 46:2-3

Earth shattering events were always too close for comfort. Who wouldn’t feel stressed stuck as the little guy between several big bullies? Knowing that God, the Creator of the universe, was on your side was a very encouraging thing.

We may be tempted to think here that this Psalm is therefore only for the nation of Israel, and only for those days. However we can note how the hope of the Psalmist in Psalm 46 is reflected by the hope found in the book of Revelation. Consider, for example . . .

  • In verse 4 we have a river.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High. Psalms 46:4

This is actually quite a strange thing as there was no real natural river in Jerusalem. So we are meant to think of God’s supernatural provision of blessing whereas other nations could only boast of their natural provision. There is also a river in Revelation:

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb. Revelation 22:1

  • In verse 5 we have the presence of God.

God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved;
God will help it when the morning dawns. Psalms 46:5

In Revelation there are many references to the presence of God. Here are two:

I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. Revelation 21:22

But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him;  they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. Revelation 22:3,4

  • In verse 6 we have the nations at war.

The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts. Psalms 46:6

And in Revelation we have good news about the nations:

On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there any more. Revelation 22:1-3

  • In verse 8 we have the notion of God as a destroyer.

Come, behold the works of the Lord;
see what desolations he has brought on the earth. Psalms 46:8

This might seem out of character for God for those who believe that He is so loving He could not hurt a fly. But being a destroyer is completely consistent with a loving and just character. As verse 9 makes clear, he is the destroyer of war itself.

He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire. Psalms 46:9

That God is a great destroyer is a theme of Revelation also. He is the destroyer of death itself.

Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire; Revelation 20:14

Also, there is the destruction of empire, from Revelation 19:11 and following, all the way to the destruction of the most evil empire builder of all.

And the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulphur, where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. Revelation 20:10

Psalm 46 points well beyond its own time, in fact it points even beyond our own time as we find its hopeful themes reflected in the Book of Revelation.

Is world peace possible? In Revelation 7:9-10 we see a vision of something that has never been done before:

After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.
They cried out in a loud voice, saying,
“Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!” Revelation 7:9-10

Here we have all different kinds of people standing together. It is a vision of world peace. What seems to us to be impossible right now, with God becomes not just possible, but promised. And as for personal peace, every enemy that threatens us now will be destroyed along with all God’s enemies. What seems to us to be impossible right now, with God becomes not just possible, but promised.

This leads us to verse 10:

“Be still, and know that I am God!
I am exalted among the nations,
I am exalted in the earth.” Psalms 46:10

This is to be taken in two ways, and which way you understand it depends on your relationship with God. The word for “be still” is really the word for “cease” or “stop.” If you have picked up your cross to follow Jesus, then be still, cease from your stress and anxiety over everything that threatens you. God’s got your back. The peace that may seem impossible to you right now is not only possible, but promised. But should you be against God, then cease from your striving and conflict, knowing that the Lord is God and not you. In which of these two ways do you take verse 10? Is peace possible for you?

 All scripture references are taken from the NRSV

May 25, 2016

Christians and Cremation

NLT 1 Cor. 15:51 But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! 52 It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. 53 For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies.

Today we’re doing something a little more topical, but very appropriate for Christianity 201 readers. Perhaps this subject is an issue that has arisen in your local congregation or among your Christian friends.

This is an older post from regular Wednesday contributor Pastor Clarke Dixon.

Burial and Cremation: What Is a Christian to Do?

“The conclusion is simple. Cremation is devil worship and rejection of Jesus Christ and His gospel . . . the true followers of Jesus Christ will have nothing to do with it. His ministers and churches will not allow it, and they will speak boldly against it.”

So concludes an article I had reason to come across recently… People have asked me whether it is OK for them to be cremated to which my normal response is “yes, so long as you no longer have a pulse.” So why do I not speak against cremation as the writer of the article would urge that I do? What is the Christian to think and plan to do in this matter?

Cremation UrnThe first thing we should note is that nothing can trump the power of God.

What happens to the matter we are made of now, really will not matter to God. Some people have a fear, namely “what if there is nothing left of me to be raised at the resurrection?” And what if one’s family has ignored the desire for burial and gone ahead with cremation then lost the urn, or what if the circumstances of one’s death has ensured that there is no body to bury? Grim, but it happens. Let us note however, that we are not to be equated with the matter that makes us up. Most of our cells will be replaced over our lifetime, but even more importantly, the very atoms that make us up are continually being swapped out, so much so that it is suggested that the majority of atoms are replaced yearly. If our bodies are independent of the of the particular matter that makes us up, then what actually are they? They are the result of the information that guides the matter into place. We can think of creation when God spoke everything into existence. It is interesting that the language of speaking and communicating is used, for creation is not just about the creation of matter, but about the vast amounts of information that guides that matter into place. This was no cosmic tweet! And so if each atom of your body is scattered to the air, don’t worry, for as one of the youth from my last church profoundly put it, “God’s got your DNA.” He knows who you are and who you are to be, so as a matter of fact it does not matter what happens to the matter that matters so much to you right now.

Furthermore, the Bible teaches us that we “will be changed.” In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul uses the analogy of a seed to teach about the resurrection body. As with all analogies, we ought not to press the analogy too far, for example expecting that only if our corpse is “planted” will we expect to be raised. That is not what Paul is saying, but rather he is pointing out the continuity and change that we can expect. There will be a continuity that points to individuality, so if you die, you yourself can expect to be raised again as an individual. But you will be different, in fact whether alive or dead when Christ returns “we will all be changed.” (1 Corinthians 15:52 NRSV) For “this perishable body must put on imperishability and this mortal body must put on immortality” (1 Corinthians 15:53 NRSV) which does not mean to say that these particular atoms are used, but that you, who once had a body on a journey towards death, will now have a body full of life.

Finally, the Bible teaches us that God’s purposes stand. Job says “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2 NRSV). We have not learned this truth if we are worried about the future of our remains. As a Christian your resurrection is not dependent on the circumstances of your remains but on the purposes and power of God.

So it is not a matter of God’s power and ability, but is it a matter of obedience?

It is not a matter of law. Curiously, there is no law in the Old Testament stating what you must do with a corpse, though there are plenty of laws for what you must do if you come into contact with one. And there is no law given in the New Testament either. In fact it is instructive that when Jews and Gentiles join together in Christianity with all the ethical sorting out that goes on when two peoples bring their baggage along to a merger, we have no mention of burial versus cremation. Jews tended to bury their dead and Gentiles would sometimes cremate theirs, yet when they come together into Christianity this is not an issue. It is interesting that the issue doesn’t get a mention at the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 which would have been an ideal time to lay such to rest.

Though it is not a matter of law, burial was the custom. As already stated it was the norm for God’s people in the Old Testament to bury their dead, and while we hear of burials happening in the New Testament, we never hear of cremation. Throughout the history of the Church, burial has been the more common custom. But does the fact that burial has been more customary make cremation a matter of disobedience? We should note that our burial customs today are not the same customs practiced in Biblical times. Embalming was not a customary practice, and in fact we know that in New Testament times the custom was often to bury twice. First the body would be laid in a tomb (and not in a casket) where it would decompose, then after a year the bones would be collected together and placed in small box (just long enough for one’s femur bone) called an ossuary leaving the former space vacant for someone else. Now consider that when a funeral home hands you an urn, it is not filled with ash, but rather the pulverized remains that do not burn away into the atmosphere, namely bone. You could therefore almost make the case that cremation is closer to the Biblical model of keeping a box of bone than our current custom of embalming.

But if we opt for cremation are we not taking on a pagan custom? We might consider the one time we do hear of embalming happening in the Old Testament, with Joseph in Genesis: “And Joseph died, being one hundred ten years old; he was embalmed and placed in a coffin in Egypt” (Genesis 50:26). Embalming and use of a coffin was an Egyptian custom, and was related to the Egyptian theology of resurrection. That Joseph took on the pagan burial practice of the land he had made his home does not appear to have threatened his status as a godly hero of the faith. Further I have heard it said that Christians should not cremate their dead for Hindus cremate theirs. But Hindus also sing, and laugh, and breathe, and do all manner of things that we also do. Rather than ask what cultures and religions carry out the custom, we might better ask in what spirit we carry out ours. Chocolate itself is not an evil thing, but if I were to eat it in a spirit of gluttony, then I might be doing something bad. Right now I cannot think of any other spirit to eat chocolate in so perhaps that is a bad example, but if I could eat it in a spirit of celebration of God’s goodness in providing sweetness, then I would be doing something good. If I were asking for cremation in a spirit of willful rebellion towards and rejection of God, then yes, cremation would be a very bad thing to do, but if I ask for it in a spirit of trust and rejoicing in the power and grace of God, then it is not.

But if we opt for cremation are we not doing violence to a gift from God? Some will want to say “you cannot just do to a body whatever you want, it is a gift from God that is to be cherished in how it is handled.” Yes we certainly do want to cherish the gift of our body while alive, but does that carry over into death? The words of Paul are instructive here: “For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Corinthians 5:1). Here our current bodies are contrasted with those to come, they are mere tents in comparison to proper buildings, and though gifts indeed, they are not ones Paul seems too keen on cherishing as he looks forward to a better gift to come. They are tents which are prone to destruction, in fact there is no dignified process ahead for one’s corpse whether pumped up with embalming, naturally decomposing, or cremated – it is all rather undignified and a violence to the body. For many of us the concept of dignity will be a personal matter, and speaking for myself, I would find it a most undignified end for my body to be done up with make-up and dressed up with a suit and tie.

If we began noting that nothing can trump the power of God, let us finish by noting that nothing can trump the grace of God.

While the writer quoted at first would imply that one would lose their salvation by choosing cremation, a “rejection of Jesus Christ and His gospel,” we must ask if our salvation is in jeopardy. From my study of the issue of burial versus cremation for the Christian, I have not found the case convincing that to be cremated is to reject Jesus and His gospel. If in fact I turn out to be wrong (yes it happens, ask my wife!) and cremation does sadden our Lord, at worst it is a misunderstanding on my part, not a willful rejection of a clearly stated will. Is God’s grace not sufficient to cover such misunderstandings? Is the love of God so weak so as to be so easily ended through my one decision?

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 8:38,39 NRSV)

Dear reader, let us not belittle the grace, love, and power of God by taking salvation back into our own hands. Will you be buried? Will you be cremated? God’s grace, love, and power in Christ will shine through either way.


We also covered this topic (not as well) in 2011 at Thinking Out Loud under the heading
Cremation and Christianity.

April 20, 2016

Resurrection: Dead in Adam, Alive in Christ

Wednesday contributor Clarke Dixon continues his Resurrection Facts series, begun last week. Click this link to read at source.

•••by Clarke Dixon

Have you ever had the experience of knowing something is coming and there is not a thing you can do about it? I remember vividly the first time I capsized a sailboat. You might think it would be a sudden thing and that you would find yourself in the water before you knew it. But it wasn’t. It seemed to happen in slow motion. With the boat laid over on its side, the hull slowly sank into the water. I even had time to say to my sailing partner that day “well, here we go.” We knew we were about to get wet and there was not a thing we could do about it.

The apostle Paul speaks of something coming that we can do nothing about: “For as in Adam all die.” (1 Corinthians 15:22) There is much that confirms this fact. History confirms it. Study the history of any era in any place and time and time again you will see the same thing has happened; “In Adam all die.” Look to science and the same thing is confirmed again. Indeed the news there is worse as scientists point out, quite matter of factly, that some day the sun will go out and the earth will be no longer life permitting. “In Adam all die.” Look to the arts, and there you will find many novels, poems, songs, music, paintings, and movies dealing with the theme of mortality and what is the meaning of life when “in Adam all die.”

Of course the Bible itself confirms that “in Adam all die.” We can look to the time death entered our world:

15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die. (Genesis 2:15-17)

Adam ate the fruit. The consequence was death: “For the wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23). Some may point out that Adam and Eve did not in fact die that day. However, they did start dying that day. When the Bible says “for as in Adam, all die” the word for ‘die’ is in the present tense so could be translated “in Adam all are dying.” We tend to think we grow until we are 20, have a perfect body until we are 60 and then we start the ageing process. Being in my mid 40’s I can attest to this being untrue with the ageing process being quite underway. We actually begin the ageing process at conception. Our bodies are continually changing so that even while we are living, we are also dying.

To continue in the Greek, “in Adam all die” is also in the active voice. This means it is something we do, something we are responsible for. We can speak of this or that disease “taking us,” but in fact it is we who are doing the dying. We are responsible. Now some will deny this. “Put me in the Garden of Eden, I would have done better!” But when we are being honest we will relate to Paul who said:

21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, 23 but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death. (Romans 7:21-24)

“For as in Adam all die.” And there is nothing we can do about it.

Alive in ChristThat is the bad news. Is there any good news? Well yes, because we have only read one half of the verse so far: “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” (1 Corinthians 15:22). Back to the Greek; “All will be made alive” is in the future tense, so even if we feel we are presently dying, hang on, death is not the end of the story. When we are “made alive” we will have a new beginning within God’s grand story.

“All will be made alive” is also in the passive voice, meaning it is not something we do or are responsible for. Someone will do for us something that we could never do. This takes us back to verse 3 of 1st Corinthians 15 where Someone does something for us: “For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures.” All those sins we have committed that show we are no better than Adam and are sharing in the same fruit? Yes, Jesus died for those. The bad news gives way to very good news!

Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 7:24-25)

23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)

This is very good news indeed but we might be very typical and think it is all about us. We get to enjoy eternal life. But there is more going on here. The resurrection of the dead is not just about us.

Consider that back in the Garden of Eden there seemed to be new rulers in town. The serpent was powerful in temptation. Adam and Eve were powerful in exerting their own will and doing their own thing. Soon Cain was powerful in the ending of his brother’s life. And on it goes down through history with people wielding power and enforcing wills. “Just try to stop me God!” With all that exercise of power let’s read what happens with the resurrection of the dead:

Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “All things are put in subjection,” it is plain that this does not include the one who put all things in subjection under him. 28 When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to the one who put all things in subjection under him, so that God may be all in all. (1 Corinthians 15:24-28)

That can all sound quite complicated, but it points to something very simple; God’s rule, God’s sovereignty, for God’s glory. While salvation is really good news for what it means for us, it is also about the glory of God. He is “all in all.” The spanner thrown into the works by the evil one, and by Adam and Eve, does not upset God’s apple cart at all. Despite Satan’s best efforts to drive a wedge between humanity and God, despite Adam and Eve’s sin, despite yours and mine, The LORD will be

. . . among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them.
(Revelation 21:3)

God’s purposes will be accomplished, God’s Kingdom will come, God’s glory is intact.

Let us go back to the original question. Have you ever had the experience of knowing something is coming and there is not a thing you can do about it? The resurrection of the dead in Christ to eternal life is something Satan and the powers of evil know is coming  and there is not a thing they can do about it. When we repent and trust in the Lord Jesus, then our resurrection becomes something coming that no one can touch. Not because we are better than Adam, but because God is all in all.

All scripture references are from the NRSV except “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” which is taken from KJV.

Image: Augsburg Fortress Bulletins

April 13, 2016

Resurrection: Yes, There Will Be One

••• by Clarke Dixon

Click this link to read this at source.

When we Christians talk about the afterlife you might get the impression that we do not believe in the resurrection of the dead. Asked what happens when we die, there is often a reference to either going straight to heaven or hell, or of being reunited with loved ones in a spirit world. I imagine that my favorite bass player thought he was capturing Christian theology when he penned these words for a song by the Who in the 1960s:

On top of the sky is a place where you go if you’ve done nothing wrong
If you’ve done nothing wrong
And down in the ground is a place where you go if you’ve been a bad boy
If you’ve been a bad boy
Why can’t we have eternal life
And never die, never die?
In the place up above you grow feather wings and you fly round and round
With a harp singin’ hymns
And down in the ground you grow horns and a tail and you carry a fork
And burn away
Why can’t we have eternal life
And never die, never die?            (Lyrics by John Entwhistle)
There is something we can refer to as “pop theology.” That is, many people believe and say things that fit more with what popular culture believes and says, or what popular culture thinks Christianity believes and says, than what the Bible actually teaches. Often Christians will echo the belief that when it comes to the afterlife you are a disembodied soul or spirit for the rest of eternity. Pop theology is far from Biblical theology here. Those who believe pop theology today are not far from the Christians in Corinth who also had a pop theology problem. The Christians in Corinth had come to believe the Gospel and that Jesus rose from the dead. But it seems they continued believing the common theology of the culture they lived in, a Greek culture which tended to believe that when you die, your soul is freed from your body, never to have a body again. The apostle Paul addresses their pop theology:

12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? (1 Corinthians 15:12)

In other words “why do you say the future is only about being disembodied souls and deny that we shall be bodily raised?” Instead of taking their theology from Greek thinking, they really ought to be taking their theology from Jesus Himself, the fact He rose from the dead, and from where Jewish theology had been pointing all along.

Paul’s argument begins in verse 12. We might interpret “Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead” as meaning He was raised from a state of being dead, but the Greek behind it is quite explicit; “Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead ones.” So if Christ is raised from among the “dead ones” we ought to expect the same for all the “dead ones.”

13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised. (1 Corinthians 15:13)

The line of reasoning is easier to see if we think of it this way: “If we are not expecting the dead to be raised but rather to be disembodied souls, then why didn’t Jesus appear following his crucifixion as a disembodied soul? Why was the tomb empty?” 

Paul goes on to point out the logical consequences of not believing in the resurrection of the dead and therefore of not believing that Jesus rose from the dead:

and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ—whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. 17 If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have died in Christ have perished. 19 If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15:14-19)

ResurrectionThere is much to be said about this, but suffice it to say that the resurrection of Jesus was many things including the confirmation of who Jesus is and what God was doing through Jesus’ death. Had Jesus not been raised from the dead, history may have recorded that he was simply a miracle worker and teacher who said some quite blasphemous things about himself. The fact that Jesus rose from the dead is confirmation of who He really is, and that in His death God really was doing something about our sin.

So Paul’s main point to the Christians at Corinth? Move from the pop theology of the society around you and move into theology that comes from God Himself. Does this have anything to teach us today? Very much so as our views of the afterlife can often be informed by pop theology also. Consider the following:

  • We can focus too much on people, substituting our own sense of greatness for the greatness of God. While it is not wrong to long to be with our loved ones when we die, it becomes too much when the afterlife becomes all about that reunion, and not at all about being with the LORD. When I die I suspect my wife and children will miss me, they may even pine for me. But my hope for them is that their heart’s cry will be not for my presence, but the presence of the Lord. My prayer for them is that their longings to see the LORD face to face will overwhelm their desire to see me again. As John the Baptist put it: “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30). If we find it hard to let our loved ones take a lesser place in our longings when they pass on, or if the fact we will not be married in eternity disturbs us, then perhaps we do not have a great enough glimpse of the greatness and glory of God. We fall into pop theology when our focus is too much on people and not enough on the LORD. 
  • We can think our bodies are bad. If we think the goal is to become a disembodied soul, we might come to think of our bodies as something awful to be discarded ASAP. When we recognize that the future points to a bodily resurrection, yes a changed body, but still a body, then we can more clearly see that when the Lord gives us a body, it is a gift, it is a good thing. He already has given us a body, and it is not something awful, but rather a gift, one we will want to take care of.

Unfortunately, not only is pop theology messing with the minds of Christians, it also affects those who do not believe. Too may people think they are rejecting Christianity when in fact they are rejecting pop theology. So when people say things like “Christianity teaches that if you are a bad boy you go to hell” then we need to remind them that we are all bad boys and girls and that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) When we hear people say things like “if you are good you will go to heaven” we need to remind them that Jesus teaches “No one is good but God alone.” (Mark 10:18) Salvation is made possible by God Himself in Jesus and the Holy Spirit. It is by His grace. And salvation does not mean becoming disembodied souls with wings and harps. Salvation means the effect of sin that has separated us from God has been dealt with. It means life in the full presence and glory of God becomes a reality and will be most real when we are raised from the dead.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
4 he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away
(Revelation 21:1-4)

(All Bible references are taken form the NRSV)

 

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