But it is Fleeting – so Live Wisely!
This chapter is rich in content, and many sermons and classes have been built around the Faith of the Centurion, the woman who washed Jesus’ feet with perfume, or Jesus’ discussion on John the Baptist. All very good stuff.
But something else stood out to me today in this chapter. Isn’t it interesting how often scripture speaks to us in different ways based on when we read it? That should be a very good reason to be in the word daily.
We have a funeral this coming week at our church for a World War 2 Veteran who lived a full life and passed away peacefully, and yet Bob will still be greatly missed. Last year around this time, my dad passed away unexpectedly. I really miss being able to talk to him. I know many people who are currently suffering from or have recently suffered from cancer. Someone else in our church is still suffering through a migraine headache that started three months ago. Death and suffering stink.
With all of these things in mind, this chapter has been an encouraging reminder for me. In the opening account of the chapter, Jesus fully heals the Centurion’s servant who was near death. Then Jesus raises a widow’s only son to life, after he had recently passed!
Later, in verses 22-23, it reads, “At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. So he replied to the messengers, ‘Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.’”
Wow. Imagine the grief you would be feeling if you just lost a close loved one (some of us don’t have to imagine) and shortly afterward, the loved one is returned to us, fully healthy and alive. Or imagine if you have never had the ability to see, and then suddenly you did!
We are promised that there will be a Kingdom where the dead will have been raised back to life and where all suffering has ceased. That is hard to imagine as well. But here Jesus offers the proof that it is possible. Not only did Jesus raise the dead and fully heal the sick here and at other times, but many dead were also raised upon Jesus’ death, and then Jesus himself was raised to life. Of course only Jesus was raised to eternal life. The rest will have to wait until Christ returns.
Friends, we have access to that wonderful Kingdom that God has promised. What an amazing opportunity and reward that is. It is good to be reminded about that continually, but even more so at certain points in our lives. Do you known anyone else who could use that kind of encouragement? Do you know anyone else who doesn’t share that same hope for the future? If yes, then spread the Good News!
Out in the world today, we see a lot of bold claims made by companies. They promise you weight loss, happiness, wealth, status, and anything else that you can think up. What is their purpose in making these bold claims? They want your money. Many of the times the claims are flat out lies and at best they deliver only a fraction of what was promised. What about Christianity? Does the Bible make big claims like companies do?
Personally, I think the Bible makes a lot of claims about those who put their faith in God. But the logical follow up question to that statement is – are they true? So in this blog post I want to set out to show you four claims the Bible makes about the benefits a Christian receives in this age. The fact that we are talking about this age is important. Obviously a Christian has a major benefit in the age to come with eternal life and the kingdom. However, I want to focus on this life and how being a Christian makes our lives better, now. The four benefits to being a Christian are peace, purpose, perspective, and people.
Peace is a commodity of which the world is in short order. It seems that mental illness is all over the news with illnesses like depression and anxiety sweeping over our nation. Christianity promises to those who put their faith in God that they can find peace. Look at Philippians 4:6-7, “6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Paul, talking to the people of Philippi, is saying that if we hand over our anxiety to God through prayer and thanksgiving in return we will receive peace that surpasses all comprehension. I love how Paul makes the point to say that this peace will guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus. I think Christianity has the best solution for finding peace in this life.
Purpose is an elusive things that some people spend their whole lives searching out. I truly think that people thrive the most when they are living a life after the purpose for which God created them. If you are looking for purpose look at 1 Peter 2:9-10 which says, “9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10 for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” First look at verse 10 where it says, “you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God”. In other words, once you had no identity and no purpose but now you are the people of God and you have a purpose. The purpose statement is at the end of verse 9, “so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light”. I think when we are giving the good news to people, and that is our driving purpose, we find fulfillment with our lives. What could be better than helping someone change their life forever?
Perspective can be a tricky thing to find, especially perspective that is trustworthy and true. Let’s talk about the world’s perspective on one of the most difficult things we deal with in life, death. To the world, death is crushing, scary, oppressive, breaking, and most of all final. The world has no hope when it comes to death but the Bible offers a better perspective on death. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 says, “13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. 15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words.” If you are a Christian, you are offered a perspective on death that doesn’t include fear but instead centers on hope. Don’t get me wrong, death is still a painful and difficult event but it isn’t crushing for Christians. To me, 1 Thessalonians 4 is a clarifying and liberating passage. Because of the Bible I am freed from the fear of death. Christianity offers us a better perspective on death and a whole multitude of other things.
People, who doesn’t want a people to call their own? Community is an essential part of human flourishing and Christians absolutely crush the competition when it comes to community. Look at what Jesus says in Mark 10:29-30, “29 Jesus said, ‘Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospel’s sake, 30 but that he will receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life.’” In this present age we will receive 100 times the family that we currently have. This doesn’t mean that all of a sudden our family multiples by 100. What it means is that those who are Christians become our family. You are probably familiar with the term family of God. It is short hand for the community of believers that form one large family all around the world. When I walk into church I know that those people have my back, they love me, they support me, and they are my family.
Maybe now you are asking how can I be sure that these claims actually hold up under pressure? Are these claims made by the Bible like the false claims made by big companies? If you are curious about the validity of the Bible, just ask a long time Christian that you know. They will tell you about the peace they have felt in their lives when there should not have been peace. They will tell you about the purpose they have found. They will tell you about how the Bible has shifted their perspectives for the better. They will tell you about the community that they have in the family of God.
If you are looking for peace, purpose, perspective, or a people I think you should give Christianity a serious look. Maybe you have been on the fence about dedicating your life to Christ or maybe you have fallen away and aren’t where you want to be with God. Either way there is a better life out there, it just takes commitment. You need to commit to following God wherever He leads and you need to put your trust in Jesus. If you are thinking about dedicating or rededicating your life to Christ find a pastor or Christian you trust and talk to them about how following God can change your life for the better.
We are excited about beginning our New Testament Bible Reading plan this coming Sunday. The rest of this week we will be hearing from various writers on what God’s Word means to them. Today, we are pleased to hear from Seth Ross, the Executive Director of the Church of God General Conference and Atlanta Bible College President.
Over the years, I have found certain portions of Scripture have come back to encourage me over and over. Revelation 21 is one of those chapters that encourages me when I’m down, it comforts me when I’m in pain, and it excites me when… well, all the time. When I’ve lost people close to me (grandparent, parent, etc) the particular verses below have given me comfort in what God has in store for us. On days when I’m not sad, this same passage excites me about what is coming and it gives me strength to make spiritual decisions that might not make sense to most people. In this special chapter, in this special section, there’s one special verse that gives me a sense of how much God loves for each of us individually and how much he really cares. This is what can encourage you to read the rest of the Bible through the year to see what else God has in store for you.
1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, 4 and He 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; the first things have passed away.”
“He 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; the first things have passed away.” ~Revelation 21:4
3 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
I wonder how those believers in Jesus understood those words when Paul first penned that letter to them. “you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God”. He told them that they died. What would it have meant to them to hear that they had died? Obviously they were still physically alive and breathing. They were not zombies or vampires or other popular dead, but not fully dead creatures. What part of them was dead.
Sometimes today we speak metaphorically about death. “I’m brain dead” means that I did something without thinking it through, it was silly or stupid. “I’m dead tired” means that I need some sleep.
I think that Paul was telling the believers in Christ at Colossi that when they were baptized into Jesus Christ, that part of their nature that was under the control of “the flesh” or their brokenness and alienation from God had died. Apart from Christ, that which drives us or controls us is sin living within us. When we come to Christ, that part that controls us is put to death. Our focus is no longer to satisfy our sinful desires. We live by the spirit of God, our life is now found in God. It has not yet been fully revealed. We are still living under the influence of sin, and the new nature has not yet been fully realized in our daily living. That process, known as sanctification, is ongoing. It requires, as Paul goes on to say, a daily putting to death of things like “immorality, evil desires, greed, rage, malice, slander”.
We’re baptized into Christ, then you died, and rose again. Your new nature has not yet been fully revealed and won’t be until the coming of Jesus, but as you live as a follower of Jesus in this present age, you die to your old self a little more each day as you live by the spirit of God in practical ways.
I 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.
The first Christians lived in anticipation of the near return of Jesus from heaven. He left by rising up into the clouds…. He said he would come back in the same way to bring their reward, the fullness of the Kingdom of God. They hoped that he would come in their lifetime. As his coming, or parousia, took longer than they anticipated, some of the believers began to die. This left those still living concerned. What’s going to happen to those who died before Jesus returned, would they miss out on his Kingdom when he returns?
Paul writes this letter out of a pastoral concern to give encouragement to these grieving (and scared) believers. He clearly tells them what will happen. Those who are still alive when Jesus comes will not have any advantage over those who died. In fact, when Jesus returns the trumpet will sound and those who have died will actually be the first to rise-they will come up from out of their graves to meet Jesus in the air. After they have risen, the living believers will rise up to join them and meet Jesus in the air together with those who died.
He then gives the assurance that we will be with the Lord forever. This is the fulfillment of our hope… life in the coming Age. The present, evil age will come to an end, and the kingdom of God, beginning with Jesus’ reign over all the earth will begin.
Paul concludes his letter by encouraging the church to comfort each other with these words. It was intended to offer comfort and hope to grieving believers whose loved ones had died before the coming of Jesus.
Today, as we wait for the return of Jesus, just as in the first century, believers die while waiting for Jesus. While nothing can take away the grief of losing someone we love, we can still receive, and give comfort to one another with the knowledge that when Christ returns, the dead in Christ will rise first, we will rise up to meet them with Jesus, and then, we will be with them and with the lord forever.
Personally, I’ve got several people that I can’t wait to see again. I’m sure you do too.
Solomon begins here with examples of improper decorum before a king. In his great authority he can do whatever he pleases, his word is law. So who in their right mind would say to him. “What are you doing?” We see this same idea applied to God in Job 9:12 and Isaiah 45:9. So Solomon says to obey the king, be loyal and not rebellious. Do not do something that is bad or wrong just because you do not like or agree with someone. Seems like common sense but we see it every day on the street level all the way up to those with the greatest wealth, power, and influence. There is even a saying that goes with it, “You cut off your nose to spite your face.”
So do not ask, “What are you doing?” but submit, for “whoever obeys will come to no harm.” This is the way of the wise. The wise person has a better chance of knowing the best course of action and when to act, knowing the proper time and procedure. And yet they still find misery as none knows what the future holds. Misery because we do know that there are consequences for our wickedness. And just as no one can control the wind or delay death, no one can escape the consequences for our wicked, sinful ways.
Life is not fair! … Solomon talks about the wicked being buried. In this context it implies that they receive undeserved respect. A proper burial given to an undeserving wretch. False believers who say the words and make a show of faith. So much so that they receive praise, but they are wicked none the less. They reach this status when justice is not dealt out in proper time. He may commit a hundred crimes and yet live a long life. Worse, he is adored by others who wallow in their own sin, rejoicing that this glorious example has been set for them to work towards. But there will be judgment! The righteous, God-fearing man will have life and the wicked … death!
Life is not fair! … Righteous men get what the wicked deserve and the wicked get what the righteous deserve. Circumstances and choices can lead to what might appear to be unrighteous judgment. Verse 13 tells us that justice will come … in time. Until then, verse 15 points to the wisdom of trusting God and enjoying the many ways in which we are blessed. See, we do not see the “big picture” that God does so we cannot fully understand why things happen when and in the ways that they do. It is better to accept what we are capable of and not stress ourselves with what we are not.
We are in God’s hands. He alone knows what awaits the righteous and the wise and all that they do. “All share a common destiny – the righteous and the wicked, the good and the bad, the clean and the unclean, those who offer sacrifices and those who do not.” … Death! Death is the destiny we share and the answer to the question, “What does the future hold, what awaits us?” Solomon refers to this as “the evil in everything.” It cuts down the young and old alike. Death does not care whether you are good or bad. Some believe that because death is so arbitrary that it is excusable to rush into sin, to relish in it all their days. It is where we get sayings like, “Live like there is no tomorrow, live life to the fullest” and of course the most popular one in recent years, “YOLO, you only live once.”
For the wicked I guess this is pretty much true. They have no hope for the eternal life promised by God through His son Jesus so this is all that they have. But the living, those who have life through Jesus, they have hope. But in death we will know nothing. No longer able to learn or grow and in time we will be forgotten. God will not forget you though. We can believe this, we can trust it. He did not forget Saul who became Paul. He did not forget Peter, who denied Jesus. He did not forget Ezra, Nehemiah, Joseph or Job. He will not forget you!
Life is not fair! … I hear this all the time from people of all ages. I used to say this myself in frustration, thinking of the ways that I have been hurt or wronged. I stopped saying it when I took Romans 6:23 to heart, “For the wages of sin is death.” If life was fair and was as immediate as our impatience would hope it was, we would be dead the moment we sinned for the first time. In other words, man-kind would be extinct! If we got what we deserved we would not exist! Instead we have received mercy and compassion that goes beyond our comprehension and that we do not deserve.
I for one am grateful, not for what I deserve but for what I do not.
In Solomon’s time, perfume or oil was a symbol of joy and prosperity and often used as a metaphor for one’s reputation. Solomon combines these ideas with birth and death. He suggests that it is better to have a good name or reputation at the end of your life than to have a joyful and favorable beginning which, by one’s own actions could result in nothing. “The day of death is better”, in his second letter to Corinth and in his letter to Philippi, Paul reminds us of how true this is for those found in Christ. But Solomon’s point is valid for everyone as he explains that we generally learn less from the good times than the bad.
Solomon was pretty big on wisdom so he wrote about the wisdom of reflecting on the brevity of life, “Death is the destiny of every man.” He said that the “living should take this to heart.” or reflect on it. The heart was considered the seat of reflection and of moral decision and action. Seems like the opposite of what most people think today. Anyway, here he recommends that we not only reflect but do so soberly rather than delving into foolish pleasures. Through serious reflection we may achieve some level of moral and spiritual growth or maturity. Moses understood this as he said “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” These words, this message, is desperately needed in this day that emphasizes and encourages self-centeredness. It is common for us to laugh at troubles rather than face them, to joke about what we should take seriously. People are living life like it is an all-you-can-eat buffet that will never run out. This is the fool’s way but the wise live life in light of life’s brevity. Not cautiously or in excess but with purpose and meaning. There is also wisdom in listening to and taking to heart the warnings, corrections, and rebukes of the wise. It is in this that we learn and grow.
With that being said, let us heed the words of a wise man. Solomon warns against adversity and prosperity bringing temptations – temptations that draw us away from wisdom and God. Drawing us into foolishness. Adversity and prosperity alike may lead one to become impatient or be provoked to anger, or complain about where they are, longing for the “good old days.” Each of these is contrary to the trust we ought to have in God. But he was not condemning either of these. He had already made a case for how we can learn more from adversity than times of plenty and he was also in favor of prosperity. In both cases though, wisdom is present. The wise learn from adversity and enjoy the fruits of their prosperity.
It is the wise who would “consider what God has done.” Some try to find fault in God’s ways. The fool is blinded to the ways in which God works through the good and the bad. It is a matter of perspective and … ours is limited. Solomon warned against depending on our perceived righteousness while living wickedly. Those who become “holier-than-thou”, the “high and mighty”, are often the first to fall. Over righteousness occurs when we begin to think too highly of ourselves. We lose the humility that helps balance our relationships … with God, Jesus, and each other. He suggests that we try to strike a balance in life. “Did Solomon just tell us to be a little wicked?” not at all. He is just acknowledging that we are already wicked by our fallen nature. We cannot escape it but we can work to counteract it.
We are not righteous in and of ourselves. The great part about being on this side of the cross is that we know that we can be made righteous through the blood of Jesus. This knowledge brings wisdom. Wisdom makes one powerful but it does have limitations. In itself, wisdom is inadequate to provide us protection or offer salvation. Additionally, we are not able to gain full wisdom. Solomon, yes that Solomon, said that true wisdom was far beyond him.
What he did discover though is that true righteousness and true wisdom does not exist among men. In his searching he finds that there is only one upright man among a thousand it says and none among women. This speaks to the rarity of such a person but if Scripture and experience have taught us anything it is that such a person is all but nonexistent. In fact I question whether this statement was more prophetic than observational. Could Solomon’s one upright man have been speaking of the coming Messiah, the Son of God, Jesus the Christ? The reason for man’s universal depravity is his own doing, not God’s. “God made men upright.” He made us perfect and we screwed it up. We follow our own schemes thus we lack true uprightness, true righteousness, and true wisdom. And we fail to please God.
Solomon asks many questions in this book. Some that we find in this reading will be answered when Jesus returns. At his return we will have true righteousness, true wisdom. Then we will be changed and made new. Into the glorious creations that He intended us to be. In knowing God, pleasing Him, we gain wisdom but in growing closer to Him through His Son we gain life everlasting. Do you see the wisdom in this?
To be continued …
Yesterday I went to the funeral of a dear man of God. Don Kizer, husband to one – for 70 years (WOW!), father to 3 – plus 2, grandpa to 7, great-grandpa to 15 – he was so proud of all his babies of all ages. And, most importantly – servant of God. He gave and he gave and he gave. Never begrudgingly.
No one ever asked Don for anything – they didn’t have to – he beat them to it. My father-in-law, Don’s pastor for many years, tells of a time when he told the church board he would need to take a week of vacation time to re-roof his house. Early Monday morning, Don pulled up in front of his pastor’s house with his tools. He was ready to work. And work he did. This retired workhorse came back every day until the job was done – drove an hour home and was back the next morning – all week long. Not because he had been asked to help – only because he wanted to.
His granddaughter similarly tells of a time she was painting in the basement when she was scared by footsteps in her supposedly empty house. Armed with a baseball bat, relief flooded over her when Grandpa rounded the corner. He explained, “You said you were going to be painting, right?”
When we bought our first house it had some work to be done – including adding a shower to the bathroom. Don to the rescue, again.
Don showed up for others – always serving, always giving, always working. The church yard received his loving care for years and years. He was even more dedicated to the people in his life – 70 years with his lovely wife Norma. Life was not always easy for them. But they remained dedicated to each other and the God they served.
The verses that come to mind when I think of Don are from Colossians 3. “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” (3:23,24). Don didn’t need to check with his pastor about roofing his house, or with his granddaughter about painting, or any of the other people he just showed up for. He was on God’s time clock, and he showed up for work, again and again.
Don is done working now. He is awaiting his inheritance from the Lord which he will receive when the dead are raised and the Lord’s New Kingdom will begin (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).
You might not be a roofer, or painter, or plumber, or lawn care specialist, or able to fix anything and everything with some wire and duct tape. But, you ARE gifted by God to serve. So, get out there and get to work. Work as if you were working for the Lord (because you are when you serve others). Work as if you were working alongside Don. Keep at it! Your reward may be closer than you know, or you may be given 89 (or more) years to serve. Either way, do it with all your heart.
Thank you, God, for the gift of knowing Don. May I work as he worked – on your time clock.
We have come to the end of I Corinthians 15, also known as the Resurrection Chapter. The last few days we’ve had chunkier denser passages but today we end with just one verse:
“Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.”
Paul has explained a lot in the previous 57 verses, such as:
Then Paul concludes, “therefore”. In light of the resurrection and its implications, this is how you you should live. Paul says four things: be steadfast, be immovable, abound in the work of the Lord, and know your work is not in vain in Jesus. I want to take a moment to look at each one briefly.
To be steadfast is to hold onto something tightly and to be without waiver. In light of Jesus’ resurrection, no adversity we face in this life should have the power to keep us from remaining in the faith and and stop us from being obedient. In the same vein, we should be immovable. Our hope and faith in Christ should be immovable with the reality of Jesus rising from the dead and God’s promise to those who are in Christ. The next phrase is a call for action. Because Jesus rose from the dead and is coming back we should strive to work for the Lord. One, because we want to share the good news with all people and disciple them, and two, he will hold us accountable for the works we have done in the body, “for we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (II Cor. 5.10). Lastly, Paul offers encouragement. Being in ministry can be a grind and sometimes you wonder if you’re making a difference at all. Sometimes you won’t see the fruit of your labor and someone else will. But you know who won’t forget or miss all the work you do and the fruit that comes from it? God and Jesus. Because God is faithful and Jesus is returning we can have confidence and assurance that our work is not in vain because even though no one may remember the work we did or see anything come from it, God and Jesus see it. And you will be rewarded as such when Jesus returns and you are given life.
Thank you for reading and live life in light of the resurrection reality.
(Photo by Alice Railton of Lake Waubee at Camp Mack in Milford, IN)