Taking Heart, Truth & Orthodoxy

The Resurrection Is Not A Footnote

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Question: How does Christ’s resurrection benefit us?
Answer: First, by his resurrection he has overcome death, so that he might make us share in the righteousness he obtained for us by his death. Second, by his power we too are already raised to a new life. Third, Christ’s resurrection is a sure pledge to us of our blessed resurrection.
(Heidelberg Catechism)

Easter Sunday is my favorite day of the year. I love meeting together as a church after having corporately embodied the wait between the cross and the empty tomb. I love waking up ready to sing resurrection songs with God’s people. I love hearing of the hope we have because Christ lives and joyfully declaring to one another “He has risen indeed!”

It has not always been this way though. I have not always looked forward to Easter with such anticipation. I suspect this is so for a number of reasons, including my own spirituality and progress in the faith. But in large part, it has had to do with my lack of understanding regarding the meaning of Jesus’ resurrection.

Back when I served in campus ministry, going on regular short-term missions, we would share the gospel here and abroad using an illustration. I would walk through creation, sin, Jesus’ death, and his promise of salvation and did it so often (maybe hundreds of times) it became second nature. But as often as I presented it, I still had to make a conscious effort to remember to tell people Jesus did not stay dead.

At the time, my understanding of the resurrection largely centered on its apologetic force— Jesus defeated death and Satan, proving he was truly God. Thus, we could be sure his teachings are trustworthy and that he was able to bear the weight of our sins. While this is by no means untrue, seeing the resurrection primarily as the greatest of Jesus’ miraculous signs pushed it to the background. More than once as I shared the gospel, I’d have to backtrack to say, “Oh yes, and Jesus also came back to life! Because, he is God and more powerful than death!” 

Without knowing it, I was missing a key pillar of the Christian hope. Since I grew up in the church, I know I’m not alone in this. While we see it as fundamental to our faith to understand the meaning of his death, we are a little hazy on the subject of his subsequent life. But there’s something wrong when the resurrection of Christ is not central to our understanding of the gospel.

How do we know this? 1 Corinthians 15.

The Apostle Paul, addressing the Corinthians about their doubts over a future physical resurrection of the dead, brings them through a thought experiment. He writes,

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. (v 12-13)

Did you catch that? If Christ has not been raised, Paul says, then his preaching is in vain. The believer’s faith is in vain. To Paul, the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ is no mere footnote — helpful but okay to gloss over– it is essential to the Christian faith. He goes on to list some implications of the hypothetical, “if Christ has not been raised.” 

According to Paul, if Christ has not been raised…

We are believing manmade lies. (v. 15)

We are still in our sins. (v. 17)

Those who have died trusting Christ are facing God’s eternal wrath. (v. 18)

We are the most sorry and pathetic people in the world. (v. 19)

This list shows just how devastating it would be if Jesus did not rise from the grave. But why are these things so?

Well, because the apostles claimed Jesus came back to life— and if he didn’t, they are liars.

Because if Jesus were still dead, it means he has not satisfied the wrath of God for our sins. In other words, if he did not rise, he is still under the curse of sin and has not finished paying the debt of sinners. Furthermore, “If Jesus had stayed dead, it would have proven that death had a rightful claim over Him, and since death has a rightful claim only over sinners, Jesus’ remaining dead would have meant that He was a sinner and not our Redeemer.” (“The Resurrection of Christ”)

Because if Jesus has not paid for sins completely, there is only fearful judgment awaiting believers in death. Those who died believing in Christ for eternal life would find they trusted him in vain.

Because to have staked our lives on a Christ who was not raised is utter foolishness. It is to suffer persecution for one who will not save, to labor in life and ministry for nothing, to trust in someone who cannot deliver.

If Jesus did not come back from the dead, we too are dead in our sins. We have absolutely no hope. But, wait! Paul goes on to declare, “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”

So, looking again at the list above, because of Christ’s resurrection…

We can trust the testimony of the Scriptures.

The early believers either were or had access to firsthand witnesses to the resurrection. The tomb was empty because Jesus’ lifeless body was raised with power and transformed to a new body with an indestructible life (Heb. 7:16). Jesus ate with his disciples to prove he was no ghost or vision. Those who had abandoned Christ at the garden now boldly proclaimed his Lordship, even unto death, because they had seen the Risen Lord.

Thus, our faith is more than morality and psychological wellness, right living and positive thinking. It is founded on the historical reality of a man who was declared dead and then seen more alive than ever before.

We are justified.

Romans 4:25 says Jesus was “raised for our justification.” His resurrection is proof our debts have been paid and the Father no longer has wrath stored up for those who take refuge in Christ. Herman Bavinck writes of Jesus’ resurrection as, “the guarantee of our forgiveness and justification” and, “a divine endorsement of his mediatorial work, a declaration of the power and value of his death, the ‘Amen!’ of the Father upon the ‘It is finished!’ of the Son.”* 

Therefore, when plagued by guilt over our sins and doubts about our salvation, we look to the cross and to the empty tomb. The cross shows us Christ has borne our punishment. The empty tomb assures us there is no longer any more of our punishment to bear.

We will live though we die.

Those who trust in Christ are saved from the wrath to come. While we still grieve over the unnaturalness and sting of death, there is such hope. For the believer, pardoned for sin and brought into the family of God, death has become a doorway into life eternal. Not only are we promised salvation from the wrath of God, but Christ is the “firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”

Many Christians think of life after death as a disembodied, ephemeral, dreamlike existence. Nothing could be further from the picture Scripture paints for us. Jesus went through great lengths to show he had risen into a real, material body. The Christian looks forward not to an escape from the physical world, but a renewal of creation at Christ’s coming— the New Heavens and New Earth and where we receive glorious, immortal, material bodies (Rev. 21, 1 Cor. 15:48-49).

How can we be sure we will be raised in this way? We have seen the firstfruits of Christ. In farming, the firstfruits was the guarantee that the rest of the harvest would be good. It was proof of what was to come for the remaining season. Jesus was not the first person to ever rise from the dead. But he was the first person to rise from the dead into an imperishable body, raised in glory and power (1 Cor. 15:42-44).

We have a sure hope of resurrection because one who is the Son of Man, now glorified, has put off his perishable body and put on immortality (1 Cor. 15:53-54). And what has happened to him, will happen to those who are in him.

We are not to be pitied.

Though the Christian life is difficult. Though we are discouraged and downcast. Though we labor and see little fruit. Though we mourn hardheartedness and the wreckage of sin. Though we weep over prodigals. Though we are hard pressed on every side, perplexed, and afflicted.

Christ is risen.

What assurance of our forgiveness! What courage as we labor to serve him! What power over sin! What comfort as we live in broken bodies! What hope as we walk with believers through death into victory!

Christ is risen indeed!

Crown Him the Lord of Life! Who triumphed o’er the grave.
Who rose victorious to the strife for those He came to save.
His glories now we sing, Who died and rose on high,
Who died eternal life to bring and lives that death may die.

 

 

 


*Herman Bavinck writes of the resurrection as being:
1) Proof of Jesus’ messiahship, the coronation of the Servant of the Lord to be Christ and Lord, the Prince of life and Judge. (Acts 2:36, 3:13-15; 5:31; 10:42)
2) A seal of his eternal divine sonship (Acts 13:33, Rom. 1:3)
3) A divine endorsement of his mediatorial work, a declaration of the power and value of his death, the “Amen!” of the Father upon the “It is finished!” of the Son. (Acts 2:23-24; 4:11; 5:31; Rom. 6:3,10)
4) The inauguration of the exaltation he accomplished by his suffering. (Luke 24:26; Acts 2:33; Rom. 6:4;Phil 2:9)
5) The guarantee of our forgivenesss and justification. (Acts 5:31; Rom. 4:25)
6) The fountain of numerous spiritual blessings: the gift of the Spirit (Acts 2:33), repentance (Acts 5:31), spiritual eternal life (Rom. 6:3f), salvation in its totality (Acts 4:21)
7) The principle and pledge of our blessed and glorious resurrection (Acts 4:2; Rom. 8:11; 1 Cor. 6:14)
8) The foundation of apostolic Christianity (1 Cor. 15:12ff)

Church & Ministry, Motherhood & Family, Taking Heart

A Better Vantage Point

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Jeff and I attended a pastors and spouses retreat this week. All the costs were completely covered– it was a generous gift from God through the retreat center. My parents took care of the kids for a few days, and we had a good time with other couples in ministry. We ate and rested well.

During the retreat, we decided to hike up the mountain on the property. It was the perfect combination of strenuous enough to be interesting and short enough to be survivable (for me). We talked and caught up as we followed the trail one mile up, comparing heart rates on our watches for fun and asking Siri about our elevation every now and again.

At one point, the trail seemed to end abruptly by a small waterfall. The next tree markings were visible only after we climbed up a set of large wet rocks streaming with water from the overflowing fall. Here, it looked as if part of the mountain had been plowed through, and I stopped to wonder aloud at how the massive rocks came to rest the way they did. The Ice Age was Jeff’s guess, and though we weren’t sure about the geology, it wasn’t hard to imagine a glacier moving through the mountain to expose bare rock, leaving huge stones in its wake and paving a miniature gorge for the waterfall and stream.

Soon, we arrived at a small lookout and were taking in the nice, though not exceptional, partial view, when another couple hiking down toward us pointed to a wooden cross 30 yards away marking the actual overlook. We made our way over and as we reached the rock ledge, trees by the trail gave way to a clearing with a stunning, 180 degree panoramic view.

Close to us by our left, about 300 feet below, we saw the retreat center buildings. In the far distance, 20 miles out, mountains filled the horizon. A set of almost indiscernible white lines on the base of one, we identified as a ski resort. A slight break and dip in the ranges toward our 2 o’clock, the Delaware Water Gap. Between us and the mountains, a valley of smaller, rolling hills covered with leafless trees and scattered patches of evergreens. At almost 2000 feet elevation, the view was so far and wide, I was dizzy from disorientation. “We’re not used to seeing this far out,” Jeff said.

The next day, back in our room, we talked and prayed about ministry and heavy things on our hearts. And as we prayed, I thought again of the huge rock formation on our hike and whatever had left it behind. I thought of how there is only One who knows how they came to be not only because he directs all things, but because he was there as witness to its history. And in view of God’s eternity, I was comforted.

I remember being fresh out of college and talking to older people who seemed to throw around years when they spoke. As a student and in your twenties, thinking about next semester is thinking about the future, and waiting one or two years for anything feels unbearable. We wrestled with questions regarding God’s will, which often meant knowing what to do the coming summer or next year, or maybe plans for after graduation. But these elders, who in retrospect were probably not too much older than me now, tossed about decades like semesters. In a few sentences, they’d talk about spending ten years in this country, then seven years in that one, now going on four here. Because of their age, their view of time was different than mine. Their perspective, unsurprisingly, meant when they spoke about the future, they were was less anxious, less urgent, less impatient.

Though I am now old enough to need to recalculate my age every time my daughters ask and I can’t recall off the top of my head how long I’ve been back in Staten Island, I’m still young. Young enough to give into anxiety about the near future, to be utilitarian in my decisions— wanting visible, guaranteed results to think something is worth my time. I get restless in the mundane and give up too easily when prayers are not yet answered. I feel worried when God doesn’t meet me experientially in the few hours I set aside to be in prayer and the Scriptures. I wonder if I’m missing his voice if I don’t hear from him this very instant and I get frazzled over hiccups in plans for family or ministry.

But, God. From the beginning, through the ages, thousands of years from now, he was and is and will be. In my restless, anxious toil, meditating on God’s eternal nature is often the force behind the seismic perspective shift I need.

When longing for swift deliverance, Christians are exhorted to remember that our view of slowness is not his. That though ten years may sound like a hundred to us, to him a thousand are as a day. That his purposes for our suffering go far beyond our years and through unsearchable paths into eternity.

When discouraged about the slowness of his Kingdom’s advancement in ourselves, our families, and our churches, we look to the God of ages past whose view of slowness is not the same as ours.  We remember that, “He has moved like rapids — quickly and vivaciously — and startling to see. But the Spirit also moves like a glacier — subtly and cumulatively — and sometimes so imperceptibly that the believer might be unaware of his work.” It may seem slow from my vantage point, but his movement through history is steady, unimaginably powerful, unstoppable.

God’s eternal view of time directly speaks against my need for fast answers, quick fixes, and instant results. He is not working on my timeline– and his eternity is good news for me. As a parent, my discipline is unkind when I feel the pressure of time and am unsure of the future. I begin to demand immediate perfection from my children, correcting in fear, not faith and love. God though, does not panic at the passing of time, nor does he resort to flustered last ditch efforts in his dealings with me. His eternity means patience with his impatient children.

Sometimes, in his goodness, God gives us glimpses of his good purposes, lookouts if you will over a few years of our lives. At the retreat, Jeff and I were placed in the same room we had been in two summers ago. We’d gone with our church and I was barely surviving. As I surveyed the room this visit, I could still see the set up we had then– the girls on one bed, the pack-and-plays side-by-side for our foster boys, and just enough floor space to walk from the entrance to the bathroom. I remembered not being able to sleep, being anxious about sick kids, and feeling upset toward God about both.

The days felt so long back then, so it surprised me how two years could fly by and find us at the same location but in such a different place. The boys are with another family and we welcomed our now almost 18 month old since then. There have been new beginnings in writing, headway made in homeschooling, lessons learned in life and ministry.

But there is still all I have been slow to learn, prayers God has yet to answer. I see recurring requests and repeated struggles thematically spanning years through the pages of my journals. There are new unknowns my mind fills with threatening futures. We all carry sadnesses yet to be healed, questions yet to be answered. There are long walks through the valleys of the shadow of death still to come.

So we look at our everlasting Rock (Is. 26:4).  One day, we will ascend the heights, having received the eternal weight of glory, to where our deepest sorrows will seem “light and momentary” and the longest seasons of darkness, “a little while” (2 Cor. 4:17, 1 Pet. 1:6).  Until then, we trust our eternal God has a view of our lives so complete, and from there his purposes so spectacular, we would be dizzied by its vastness and beauty if given a peek.

Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.
Before the mountains were brought forth,
or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
You return man to dust and say, “Return, O children of man!”
For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past,
or as a watch in the night.
Psalm 90:1-4 (ESV)

Taking Heart

Mourning

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Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 

“Do bad people live on this continent?” my sweet girl asked as she lay in bed. “Yes, bad people live everywhere.” What about here, she wanted to know, in our neighborhood? She was afraid. Was the door locked? What if someone bad tried to come in? She wanted me to give her my word, tell her no one could ever come in and take her away.

“You know, God will always be with you, no matter what happens… Do you want to pray to him that no one will come take you away?” She did, so we prayed, and her little heart was comforted. And my heart started breaking in a new way that night– in the knowledge that though my girl would have believed whatever I said (and though we live in a safe neighborhood) I could not give her the absolute promise of safety she wanted because we live in a fallen world.

The painful reality of living in a broken world punctuates our lives in thousands of ways. Sometimes they are pinpricks to the heart, like realizing how we live in a legitimately scary world as we talk with our fearful child. At other times, this reality is a heavy shadow cast over our days and weeks, with fresh images from the devastation of war or natural disaster. Still other times, our pain is personal, so close and so deep it threatens to crush us completely.

I have wondered at times what it was like for Jesus to walk on this earth. How could he have lived here without being completely overtaken by sadness every moment of every day? He knew the world untouched by sin. He knew the beautiful intention of the Father in creation. And then he lived, breathed, and suffered in the devastation wrought by our rebellion. A witness to broken bodies, hardened hearts, warring nations, hateful unbelief, how could he have been joyful, which he must have been as one filled with the Spirit?

While he walked our soil, Christ declared one feature of Christian blessedness this way: blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessedness, mourning, comfort, all three come together in our Savior, a man filled with the Spirit and yet familiar with sorrows. Jesus knew the resurrection that laid ahead and pressed on for the joy set before him. Still, he wept over death and destruction. Though not as one without hope.

Scripture speaks to us in our darkness and gives us many reasons we can grieve with hope. He has purposes we have yet to see and we trust him. In comparison to the glory ahead, our troubles are light and momentary. Still, we grieve. And far from carrying platitudes and quick fixes, we enter into dark places with Christ and weep. We who know how things were supposed to be have the most reason to grieve over and in the world we live in. We know that unlike what others may say, this isn’t how things always have been. We know from the depths of our souls this is not how it was meant to be.

And in these places, dear ones, he is near to us. He is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. In the fire of our mourning, he is forging hope that because of his suffering, there is comfort awaiting us– a new day when our hearts will be healed and the world is restored.

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

We live in this strange in-between as believers in this age. In between Jesus’ two comings, he has resurrected, but we still have not. So we wait for the day he comes and everything sad is going to come untrue. And as we wait, we cling onto the truth that our Savior who is lifted on high is also a man familiar with sorrows, near to us even as we cry for him to come and make things all things right again.

Maranatha, come O Jesus.

Taking Heart, Truth & Orthodoxy

Looking Unto Jesus

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If you’ve studied physics (or ever played QBasic Gorillas), you know it only takes a slight difference in launch angle to completely change the trajectory of a moving object. Likewise, in the Christian life, there are many seemingly subtle nuances which actually have massive impact on our worship of God and lives with him.

I enjoyed this devotional from Charles Spurgeon on “Looking Unto Jesus” and am struck by the fact that though there is a world of difference between looking to Jesus and looking to ourselves, sometimes the initial shift feels so slight we don’t realize we’ve turned our gaze inward.

Sometimes, it isn’t until we find ourselves despairing, doubtful and discouraged that we trace back our struggles to trying to find hope in ourselves and our own faith or spirituality. And sometimes, we need to hear someone articulate for us the difference between hoping in Christ and hoping in self to make that connection.

So, here’s an excerpt from the prince of preachers today:

“Looking unto Jesus.” (Heb. 12:2)

It is ever the Holy Spirit’s work to turn our eyes away from self to Jesus; but Satan’s work is just the opposite of this, for he is constantly trying to make us regard ourselves instead of Christ. He insinuates, “Your sins are too great for pardon; you have no faith; you do not repent enough; you will never be able to continue to the end; you have not the joy of his children; you have such a wavering hold of Jesus.” All these are thoughts about self, and we shall never find comfort or assurance by looking within. But the Holy Spirit turns our eyes entirely away from self: he tells us that we are nothing, but that “Christ is all in all.” Remember, therefore, it is not thy hold of Christ that saves thee–it is Christ; it is not thy joy in Christ that saves thee–it is Christ; it is not even faith in Christ, though that be the instrument–it is Christ’s blood and merits; therefore, look not so much to thy hand with which thou art grasping Christ, as to Christ; look not to thy hope, but to Jesus, the source of thy hope; look not to thy faith, but to Jesus, the author and finisher of thy faith. We shall never find happiness by looking at our prayers, our doings, or our feelings; it is what Jesus is, not what we are, that gives rest to the soul. If we would at once overcome Satan and have peace with God, it must be by “looking unto Jesus.” Keep thine eye simply on him; let his death, his sufferings, his merits, his glories, his intercession, be fresh upon thy mind; when thou wakest in the morning look to him; when thou liest down at night look to him. Oh! let not thy hopes or fears come between thee and Jesus; follow hard after him, and he will never fail thee.

“My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness:
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.”

( June 28, Morning by Morning. Tip: Access Charles Spurgeon’s Morning & Evening daily devotional at Biblegateway.)

Yes!

The Christian’s hope is not how much faith he has. It is in Jesus who trustworthy.

It is not in the progress in sanctification she’s making or how she is doing spiritually compared to others. It is in Jesus who sanctifies.

It is not in yesterday’s experiences or our own “decisions for Christ.”  It is in Jesus’ finished work on the cross and his ministry of intercession for us today.

It is not in our promises to “do better next time.” It is in he who finishes the work he began in us.

It is not in our penitence and sorrow over sin, but he who receives and purifies repentant sinners.

It is not in our fruitfulness as branches. It is in the life-sustaining vine.

It is not in our faithfulness as sheep, but the Shepherd’s steadfast care.

Dear Christian, look to Jesus today.

And take heart. Because in the final count, what matters most won’t be how well you did looking to him, but that his gaze was ever upon you.

Taking Heart, Truth & Orthodoxy

Christmas For Every Longing Heart

One of the more difficult parts of the holidays to navigate is the expectation to make happy memories and for things to be cheery. It doesn’t really make sense that a date on the calendar or a few weeks declared the “holiday season” would magically make things wonderfully happy, but for whatever reason we expect or hope for it which deepens the disappointment when things are not merry and bright— when instead of peace, there is strife in our family and hurting relationships. When there are unfulfilled secret hopes in our hearts or we are in the midst of grieving loss. When we’re burnt out from serving and maybe just tired from normal life and don’t feel particularly Christmas-y.

Personally, this year has been one with great joys and deep sorrows, and in light of this I am meditating on two prayers we can pray this Christmas as we face things we struggle to reconcile with the joyful celebration of Christ’s birth:

Jesus, this is why you came.

Jesus, come again soon.

Continue reading “Christmas For Every Longing Heart”