Archive for October, 2009
Near the end of his life, the apostle John was exiled to the island of Patmos, sent there because of his faith in Jesus. While there, John received a vision. That vision contained a message for his fellow Christians who were also facing persecution. That vision is recorded in the book of Revelation.
In the first chapter of the book, John sees Jesus. Not baby Jesus in a manger or half-dead Jesus hanging on a cross. John sees a triumphant Jesus, dressed in shining white robes. This Jesus has something to say to his followers:
Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades (Revelation 1:17-18).
To these Christians who faced the very real possibility of dying for their faith, Jesus says, “Don’t be scared. I’ve been there. And I’m back.” Then he tells them something important: he holds the keys of death and Hades.
Maybe I should explain that Hades in the Greek-speaking world didn’t refer to a place of punishment. It was merely the dwelling place of the dead. It was the great unknown, the mysterious place everyone went after leaving this world. Jesus says, “Don’t be afraid of death nor what comes after … I’ve got the keys to let you out of that place!”
Are you scared of death? You don’t have to be. In the book of Hebrews, the author says that Jesus destroyed the power of death by his own death so that he could “free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death” (Hebrews 2:15). We don’t have to live our lives fearing death. Jesus died, but he’s alive now. He went into the place of the dead and came out with the keys. We can enter that mysterious realm without fear, knowing that our Jesus holds the key to let us out again.
Jesus promised his disciples that he would build his church “and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matthew 16:18). Those gates can’t hold us in because Jesus holds the key.
Don’t be afraid! Jesus is the resurrection and the life (John 11:25). He has freed us from the fear of death.
One of the grandchildren brought me one puzzle piece the other day. I am not sure exactly what she wanted me to do with it, but I found myself attempting to explain how one puzzle piece is not good for much. It’s true. It does not matter how pretty, or how intricate it looks — there is just not much you can do with one puzzle piece. It needs the rest of the pieces to make a picture. That is the way puzzles are designed.
Christians are that way too. The Christian life was never intended to be lived in isolation. In fact, one of the great attractions of following Jesus is that you live in community with other believers. So when we are not in community with other believers, we are like that puzzle piece. We are not going to function the way we are supposed to function. And if God’s plan for His people is like a puzzle … we do not want our piece to be missing.
Christian community is where we find support, encouragement, and accountability. The Christian family — the church — takes care of each other. We provide for needs, we provide resources to help strengthen weaknesses. We show up at weddings, funerals, hospitals, and living rooms. We are there for each other. We rejoice together, we cry together, we pray together, we sing together, and we remind each other that we are not alone.
This is one of the reasons Christians meet together. We get to know each other. We demonstrate our unity around the Communion meal as we remember together the death and resurrection of Jesus. We are inspired to love God and His Son Jesus. We express our love to each other. We are motivated to do good works for the glory of God.
That verse, John 11:35, is the shortest verse in the English Bible (in the original Greek, 1 Thessalonians 5:17 is shorter). Two words. Three syllables. But that verse conveys a world of meaning.
Jesus was watching Mary and Martha, dear friends of his, weep for their brother. He knew that Lazarus would live again, that the moment of his resurrection was only moments away. But Jesus wept. Not for his own sadness. Not from any sense of despair. He wept at the grief of people he loved.
Mary and Martha knew that Jesus could have kept their brother from dying. They also knew that he hadn’t done so. They wanted to believe in him, yet he seemed to have failed them in their moment of need. Did his tears mean that their faith was misplaced, that he was actually powerless in the face of death?
Moments before, Jesus had shared a secret with Martha when he said, “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25) He had also promised her that Lazarus would live again. Still, he wept upon seeing Martha and Mary’s tears.
We face that same internal conflict. Sometimes it feels like God is far away when we are hurting. It can even feel like he doesn’t care. He could prevent all death and suffering, yet here we are, drowning in a sea of grief.
Let me tell you that Jesus still weeps. He still hurts. He grieves with us. He knows that death is not the end, that resurrection and life will soon triumph. Yet he sees our pain and weeps with us.
God cares. I can’t explain every aspect of pain and suffering, but I want to assure you that God cares. And we Christians, as the body of Christ, also care. Your hurt is our hurt. Your pain is our pain. Those of us who seek to live as Jesus lived are called to weep alongside those who are grieving.
God cares. Jesus weeps. And his church wants to stand by you in your time of need. No, Christians aren’t perfect, and we will sometimes let you down. But we have been called to imitate the man who wept at the pain of his friends.
I was checking in at London Heathrow airport for a trip back to the States when the most amazing thing happened. The ticket agent told me that they had overbooked the flight and would I take a complimentary upgrade to Business class. My first reaction was to look for the hidden camera. I was sure it was a prank. But it was real. I flew across the ocean in Business class. I never dreamed anything could be that nice.
I had seen glimpses of that section of the plane before, and I had heard stories about what it was like. But I had no idea. I could stretch my legs out. I could recline my seat in four different configurations. Flight attendants kept bringing me drinks and snacks. The meal was like something I would expect at a nice restaurant. I never even waited in line to use the restroom. I just never imagined.
That is exactly what it is like to live in Jesus. Our world is full of those who cannot imagine a life full of joy and peace. They have no idea concerning the hope within each of the followers of Jesus. They only dream of a life of purpose, glory, and immortality. So I am reminded not to take this life for granted. I am so thankful for abundant life now. I am even more thankful for the life to come.
I doubt I will ever fly in Business class again. I cannot pay the price for that ticket, and it may never be given to me again. And I certainly cannot provide that service for my fellow airplane travelers. But I can help others know the life they only imagine. The ticket for that life has been paid for… they just need someone to tell them the good news.
If you are reading this, and have wondered about the life fully given to Jesus, it is better than you have ever dreamed. There is a life of joy, peace, purpose, and hope available to you.