Tag Archives: hope

Our Posture Towards Death

The following was a sermon given on Sunday, November 20th, 2016 at Nelson Covenant Church.

Today many within our community are still in shock at the news of the tragic death of Devon Dunkley this week.  Devon’s family is part of our sister church at the Junction, and he was a part of our youth group for many years.   This past Wednesday Blair invited me to share from the Scriptures at our youth group, and I thought it would be important to pass along those thoughts to our entire community this morning.

We have record of an early Christian community in the ancient city of Thessalonica.  These were new believers in Jesus, and after experiencing a series of deaths within their community, they were seeking to understand how they were supposed to process death as believers in Jesus.  Paul addressed their questions in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18:

13 Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. 14 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. 15 According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.

What is our posture towards death?  How are we called to live as Christians in the face of death?

The first thing that must be said, is that We MOURN. We MOURN the loss that comes through death. 

“13 Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.”

Notice Paul doesn’t say, “You’re Christians—so you shouldn’t mourn!”  He says, “I don’t want you to grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.”  Paul wants these early Christians to know that they will grieve and mourn, but their grief and mourning will take on a different shape.

I’ll expand on that in a second, but let’s stay on this first crucial point:  Christians MOURN the loss that comes from death.  Death is a monster, because it takes someone from us who was an image-bearer of God; someone who was valuable and loved, beautiful and good.  That’s why it’s important—critical—to mourn.

o-aog-900

Jesus taught, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Matthew 5:4.  In the kingdom of God it’s not a virtue to remain stoic and unfeeling in the presence of significant loss.  We are not more spiritual if we can keep sorrow at bay, nor are we stronger if we manage to keep our grief contained and controlled.

Jesus wept in the face of tragedy.  When his cousin John was beheaded, Jesus mourned.  When Jesus was informed that his close friend Lazarus had died, he wept.

That we can allow the searing pain that comes from losing a loved one find expression through our tears and our crying out to God…reveals we are becoming more like Jesus, not less.

Christians mourn in the face of death.

But there is a second thing that must be said.  In the face of death, We MOCK. We MOCK the powerlessness of death.  Paul continues:

14 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. 15 According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.

And in 1 Corinthians 15:22–26 Paul declares:

22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 24 Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, 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.

 

capture3

I’ve been reading through St. Athanasius’ On the Incarnation (written in the 4th century).  In a chapter on the resurrection Athanasius shares how he has witnessed the truth of Jesus’ resurrection transform how the Christians of his day responded in the face of death.  Specifically, he highlights how the resurrection has led to Christians “despising” death (and by “despising” he means mocking/belittling).  Listen to his words:

A very strong proof of this destruction of death and its conquest by the cross is supplied by a present fact, namely this. All the disciples of Christ despise death; they take the offensive against it and, instead of fearing it, by the sign of the cross and by faith in Christ trample on it as on something dead. Before the divine sojourn of the Savior, even the holiest of men were afraid of death, and mourned the dead as those who perish. But now that the Savior has raised His body, death is no longer terrible, but all those who believe in Christ tread it underfoot as nothing, and prefer to die rather than to deny their faith in Christ, knowing full well that when they die they do not perish, but live indeed, and become incorruptible through the resurrection.

“There is proof of this too; for men who, before they believe in Christ, think death horrible and are afraid of it, once they are converted despise it so completely that they go eagerly to meet it, and themselves become witnesses of the Savior’s resurrection from it. Even children hasten thus to die, and not men only, but women train themselves by bodily discipline to meet it. So weak has death become that even women, who used to be taken in by it, mock at it now as a dead thing robbed of all its strength. Death has become like a tyrant who has been completely conquered by the legitimate monarch; bound hand and foot the passers-by sneer at him, hitting him and abusing him, no longer afraid of his cruelty and rage, because of the king who has conquered him. So has death been conquered and branded for what it is by the Savior on the cross. It is bound hand and foot, all who are in Christ trample it as they pass and as witnesses to Him deride it, scoffing and saying, “O Death, where is thy victory? O Grave, where is thy sting?

If you are a Christian, you serve a King who has broken death and trampled it underfoot.  When Jesus was resurrected, he overcame death’s power and signaled the beginning of the end of death’s rule and reign over God’s good creation.

Therefore, those in Christ are no longer held hostage by death’s power.  Death is a defeated foe, so that we now live without fear, knowing that “We are confident…and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” 2 Corinthians 5:8.  Even more astonishing than the hope of life after death, is the hope of life after, life after death.  The Christian’s ultimate hope is that one day Jesus will return and bring full Restoration and Redemption to this broken world.  Then his kingdom will be fully established within the context of a new heavens and new earth, and “‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

In light of this great hope, Christians mock death, seeing it for the temporary inconvenience that it is.

And so death causes us to mourn, but it ought never cause us to despair.  Christians must never be frozen by the fear of death, nor overwhelmed by a misunderstanding of its grasp.

Because of what Jesus has accomplished–for you, for me, for Devon–death does not have the final word.  It has been swallowed up in the life and victory of King Jesus; a life and victory that Devon now knows fully, even as he is fully known (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:12).

Share

Bible Overview Series: Hosea

Hosea2


Hosea 
by Joseph Novak

She has given birth. Another son! Tenderly her humiliated husband gathers the little prophecy into his arms.

(Ben Myers’ #CanonFodder Summary)

Jeffrey Kranz’s Overview of Hosea

The Northern Kingdom of Israel had turned her back on God.

When God chose Jeroboam to rule the northern ten tribes of Israel, He was prepared to establish Jeroboam’s bloodline the same way He’d done for David (1 Ki 11:38). Instead, King Jeroboam set up two golden calves and instituted a pagan priesthood—forever cementing his legacy as the one “who made Israel sin” (1 Ki 13:26).

Israel had left the one who had saved her, loved her, and made her His own. The Southern Kingdom of Judah wasn’t far behind.

So God tells a man named Hosea to marry a harlot.

Hosea marries her, and has children. But she leaves him and commits adultery.

Then God tells him to go after her and bring her back.

Hosea’s marriage is symbolic of God’s covenantrelationship with Israel. Through Hosea, the Lord tells the story of Israel’s disobedience, His discipline, and His steadfast, faithful love:

  • Rejection and betrayal. Hosea’s wife, Gomer, leaves him for another—just like Israel has left God to worship idols.
  • Rejection and discipline. Just as Israel rejected Him, God will reject her. Israel and Judah will fall to other empires and be taken away from their promised land.
  • Restoration and reconciliation. Hosea brings back his adultrous wife and loves her again. In an even greater way, God will not forget his love for Israel and Judah, nor His promises to them. He will bring them back to their land. He will restore them to Himself and to David their king: “they will come trembling to the LORD and to His goodness in the last days” (Ho 3:5).

Hosea’s message is harsh. Hosea’s message is tender. Hosea’s message is heartbreaking.

It’s the story of God and the unfaithful nation He loves anyway.

Theme verse of Hosea

“Then the LORD said to me, ‘Go again, love a woman who is loved by her husband, yet an adulteress, even as the LORD loves the sons of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love raisin cakes.’” (Ho 3:1)

Hosea’s role in the Bible

Hosea’s book is the first of the Minor Prophets—the last 12 books of the Old Testament. When God had a message for the people, He gave his message through the prophets. These messages came in visions, oracles, dreams, parables, and the like.

While most of the Minor Prophets were from the Southern Kingdom, Hosea was from the North and ministered to the North. He does mention the Southern Kingdom of Judah a few times, though (Ho 1:111;4:155:58–156:4118:1410:1111:1212:2).

Hosea is especially famous for his marriage to the prostitute Gomer. His role and Gomer’s profession don’t strike readers as the best match, and their marriage certainly would have attracted some attention when it occurred. So does did it happen?

Hosea marries a harlot because God was proving a point: Israel had treated Him in the same way Gomer treats Hosea.

That’s the dynamic that sets Hosea apart from the rest of the Scriptures: no other prophet so squarely focuses on the intimate relationship God holds with His people, even when they betray Him.

Unfortunately, we know that Israel did not listen to Hosea’s warnings (2 Ki 7:13–14).

Like Jeremiah and Habakkuk, Hosea lives to see his prophecy of captivity come to pass. Hosea ministered during the days of southern kings Ahaz and Hezekiah (Ho 1:1), who reigned when the Northern Kingdom was sacked and carried off by Assyria.

Quick outline of Hosea

  • Hosea illustrates God’s relationship with Israel (Hos 1–3)
  • Hosea’s wife is unfaithful to him, like Israel is to God (Hos 1–2)
  • Hosea brings his wife back, like God will do for Israel (Hos 3)
  • Hosea explains God’s plan for Israel (Hos 4–13)
  • Israel’s idolatry against God (4–7)
  • Israel’s impending punishment (8–10)
  • God’s loving discipline (11–13)
  • God’s promise of restoration (14)
Share

Third Week of Advent: Sunday, December 15th

Isaiah 60:1–3

60 “Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.
2 See, darkness covers the earth
and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the Lord rises upon you
and his glory appears over you.
3 Nations will come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

The hope of Israel before the coming of Jesus the Messiah was rooted in the conviction that God’s faithfulness to His covenants made with Abraham and his descendants (i.e. Israel–the people of God) could not be shaken or placed in jeopardy.  Despite periods of “thick darkness,” the Lord would rise and His glory would set things right: not just for Israel, but for the entire fallen world.

That was a longing that every Israelite felt deep in their bones.  Their love and obedience to God was connected to this shared longing for restoration.  The forces of darkness, evil, and death were realities that consistently confronted Israel throughout its history.  And yet Israel clung to the prophets’ voice that dared to proclaim that darkness, evil, and death would not be the end of their story.

Who in your life needs to hear that good news?  How could you be a gentle, humble witness to fact that Jesus’ glory has appeared, and He has come to invite those living in thick darkness into an entirely new life of hope, peace, and joy?

Share

Second Week of Advent: Monday, December 9th

Psalm 43:3–5

3 Send forth your light and your truth,
   let them guide me;
   let them bring me to your holy mountain,
   to the place where you dwell.
4 Then will I go to the altar of God,
   to God, my joy and my delight.
   I will praise you with the harp,
   O God, my God.
5 Why are you downcast, O my soul?
   Why so disturbed within me?
   Put your hope in God,
   for I will yet praise him,
   my Savior and my God.

You cannot get to God simply by seeking Him.  He has to give you enough truth and light to find Him.

Yes, the Bible does make it clear that “those who seek me shall find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13), but today’s Scripture reminds us that God has to send his light and truth–like breadcrumbs–otherwise we would seek endlessly and in futility.  And all seeking without finding is heartbreaking.

None of us can find God through our own resources.  What we know of God is voluntary self-disclosure.  It’s a gift.  And if there was any doubt about that, just look at the incarnation.  God had to send forth His light and His truth in a way that we couldn’t help but notice and in a way that really showed us how deaf and blind we were (are!) to the things of God.

At the heart of Christianity is a God who draws us–often subtly–towards Himself.  He knows we can’t make it to Him via religion, moralism, sincerity, nobility, etc., so He comes to us.  That is good news.

Share

Second Week of Advent: Sunday, December 8th

Romans 15:4–13

4 For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
5 May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, 6 so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
7 Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. 8 For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, to confirm the promises made to the patriarchs 9 so that the Gentiles may glorify God for his mercy, as it is written:

“Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles;
I will sing hymns to your name.”
10 Again, it says,
“Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.”
11 And again,
“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles,
and sing praises to him, all you peoples.”
12 And again, Isaiah says,
“The Root of Jesse will spring up,
one who will arise to rule over the nations;
the Gentiles will hope in him.”

13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Endurance and encouragement.  Two things that this passage reminds us God gives us through the Scriptures and His Spirit.

Of the two,encouragement seems to get more air time within the Christian subculture.  But the last few years have been ones where I’ve needed just as much endurance as encouragement.

I was recently taking in a teaching of someone who was addressing the challenge of moving through suffering as a Christian.  They noted that sometimes we are simply called to endure our suffering.  Not figure out the “why” behind our hardship.  Not pray it away.  Sometimes simply enduring suffering with grace and hope glorifies God in ways that getting out of our suffering (or explaining it away) cannot.

God gives both endurance and encouragement.  During this advent season, which are you most in need of?  Go to Him and boldly ask for what you need, because God is eager to provide so that you can live in hope.

Share

First Week of Advent: Friday, December 6th

14 “ ‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will fulfill the gracious promise I made to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah. 15 “ ‘In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line; he will do what is just and right in the land. 16 In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. This is the name by which it will be called: The Lord Our Righteousness.’  Jeremiah 33:14-16

Written to a people in the midst of exile and heartbreak, Jeremiah’s words speak powerfully into Israel’s deepest fears (alienation from God and the land He gave them) and into Israel’s deepest longing (restoration with God a return to the land).  James E. Smith, in his commentary on the book of Jeremiah, writes:

The glorious future which God promised to his people was wrapped up in the appearance of a scion from the house of David. God repeated the promise of 23:5 that he would “cause a righteous branch of David to spring up.” The term “righteous” points to the character of the coming Ruler; the term “branch” (lit., sprout) to his humble origins. This one would “execute justice and righteousness on the earth,” i.e., he would be the ideal Ruler. He would be a savior to his people. The city, saved by his power and grace, would wear a name which would bear testimony to her trust in God: “Yahweh is Our Righteousness.” That which would make possible the salvation and protection of the people was not their own righteousness but that of God himself (33:15f.).

Advent is a time to remember that God’s is eager to address our deepest fears and hopes head-on.  He has a track-record of bringing salvation and shalom to those who turn to Him.  And the good news is that God’s salvation, peace, and protection is not offered to us because of how moral or religious we are, because because of His love and goodness.

“8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9

Share