What Is Our Only Hope? – Why Jesus’ Humanity Matters…

What is our only hope?

We are faced with a crisis of hope in America today. Fewer people have true hope than at any time in the past. Two or three people have committed suicide since this service began, and before it ends, several more will have committed suicide. Someone commits suicide every fifteen minutes, twenty-fours a day, seven days a week, and one out of five is a Veteran. Suicide is the ultimate expression of hopelessness. Why are so many people living without hope?

We see hopelessness in divorce courts. Over fifty percent of the people who say “I do” will say “I don’t” sometime in the future. Those marriages may last for many years before they dissolve or just a few days as my most recent one did. Why do people say “I do” and then say “I don’t”? Why was there so much hope when they said “I do” and yet they are hopelessly broken when they say “I don’t“. “Til death do us part” has become “Til death or disconvenience do us part“. Why this epidemic of hopelessness? What has caused all this hopelessness?

Could it be that throwing God out of America has real consequences?

Could it be that when people say “I don’t want anything to do with God“, He gives them their wish and turns them over to the worst to torture themselves for all eternity.

The Bible will provide the answers people need, but only if they are willing to get acquainted with its Author. Are you living without hope? If so, I hope that you will stay tuned as we look at “What is our only hope? Why Jesus’ humanity matters“.

We are broken people, living in a broken world, and if we are truly honest with ourselves, there is far more brokenness in us than we would like to admit, which is why we act like we are “okay” even when we aren’t. We have learned to put on a “happy-face” even when we are crying inside because we don’t want those around us to know how broken we are. Only God can heal our brokenness and make us whole again, but we have to trust Him to do what we can’t do for ourselves. God, in the person of Jesus Christ, became a man so that He could bring us back into a right-relationship with God and with one another. He IS our ONLY hope.

We often ask “Where was God when…?“, and we can list a thousand-and-one events when God was seemingly-absent, but was He? If we don’t really know who Jesus is, we would be tempted to think of God merely as a detached observer, but we couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Four major traumatic events are etched deeply into my memory, and beg the question Where was God when…?

Where was God when the Space Shuttle Challenger became a ball of fire?

Where was God when the Murrah Federal Building was bombed?

Where was God when the Twin Towers fell?

Where was God during the Pulse Nightclub massacre?

While I was somewhat “detached” from those events, every one of them left grieving family and friends behind, and I was deeply-shocked by them. The Pulse Nightclub massacre struck way too close to home, since I live fairly close to Orlando. Where was God when those events took place?

Getting more personal…

Where was God when my wife committed suicide?

Where was God when my brother Darrell died of cancer?

Where was God when my mom died?

Whether it is a major-event or a personal-tragedy, our deepest desire is to know that God cares, that He understands our pain and suffering. While we might think that God was “detached” from those events, as we will see from John 11, God was very-much present during and after those events. This should give us hope, both for the present, AND for the future.

The Death and Resurrection of Lazarus
11 Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 It was the Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick. 3 So the sisters sent word to Him, saying, “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.” 4 But when Jesus heard this, He said, “This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it.” 5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So when He heard that he was sick, He then stayed two days longer in the place where He was. 7 Then after this He said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” 8 The disciples said to Him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone You, and are You going there again?” 9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. 10 But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” 11 This He said, and after that He said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I go, so that I may awaken him out of sleep.” 12 The disciples then said to Him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” 13 Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that He was speaking of literal sleep. 14 So Jesus then said to them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, 15 and I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, so that you may believe; but let us go to him.” 16 Therefore Thomas, who is called Didymus, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, so that we may die with Him.”

17 So when Jesus came, He found that he had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off; 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary, to console them concerning their brother. 20 Martha therefore, when she heard that Jesus was coming, went to meet Him, but Mary stayed at the house. 21 Martha then said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to Him, “Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world.”

28 When she had said this, she went away and called Mary her sister, saying secretly, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29 And when she heard it, she got up quickly and was coming to Him.

30 Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha met Him. 31 Then the Jews who were with her in the house, and consoling her, when they saw that Mary got up quickly and went out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32 Therefore, when Mary came where Jesus was, she saw Him, and fell at His feet, saying to Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled, 34 and said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to Him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus wept. 36 So the Jews were saying, “See how He loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not this man, who opened the eyes of the blind man, have kept this man also from dying?”

38 So Jesus, again being deeply moved within, came to the tomb. Now it was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39 Jesus said, “Remove the stone.” Martha, the sister of the deceased, said to Him, “Lord, by this time there will be a stench, for he has been dead four days.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” 41 So they removed the stone. Then Jesus raised His eyes, and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. 42 I knew that You always hear Me; but because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe that You sent Me.” 43 When He had said these things, He cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth.” 44 The man who had died came forth, bound hand and foot with wrappings, and his face was wrapped around with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” (John 11:1-44)

In our era of instant-communications, we barely remember when all news from friends and loved-ones came by “snail-mail“, so it is hard for us to fathom that it could have taken several days for Jesus and His disciples to have found out about Lazarus’ sickness, but it did. At the end of John 10, Jesus had escaped Jerusalem with a price on His head and headed East to beyond the Jordan River where it was a bit “safer“. Jesus and His disciples were there when they heard the news that Lazarus was sick. “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.

Jesus was deeply-relational. Mary, Martha and Lazarus weren’t merely “friends“; they were virtually “family“. Jesus’ love for them transcended “friendship“; it was a deep, intimate love, which was reserved for those who were closest to Him, such as John.

I have no biological siblings, but I have a few dear friends who have become “family” to me. We care about each other on a far-deeper level than mere “friendship“. Maybe you have some of those too.

Mary and Martha had sent for Jesus, but He didn’t respond immediately. He stayed where He was for two more days. Oh, He could have spoken the word and Lazarus would have been healed immediately, but He didn’t. He waited until after the funeral. Jesus tells us why He waited in verse 4, But when Jesus heard this, He said, “This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it.”

17 So when Jesus came, He found that he had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off; 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary, to console them concerning their brother. 20 Martha therefore, when she heard that Jesus was coming, went to meet Him, but Mary stayed at the house. 21 Martha then said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to Him, “Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world.”

Lazarus being in the tomb for four days was proof-positive that he was actually DEAD. He also wasn’t in a coma or merely sleeping. He was stone-cold DEAD. Bethany was close enough to Jerusalem for her to have friends there, and many of them had come to console Mary and Martha, and while funerals happened very quickly, public-mourning continued for quite a while.

Martha was reeling from the death of her brother, but Jesus could have prevented his death. She expresses a curios mix of scolding and confidence. Martha then said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.”

Jesus begins to show her that, while He was too late to prevent Lazarus’ death, it WASN’T too late for Him to do something about it. Jesus wanted her, and us, to realize that God doesn’t operate on our time-schedule. 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”

Martha, unlike the Sadducees who didn’t believe in a resurrection, DID believe that Lazarus would be raised when the final-curtain was dropped on this phase of our human existence. However, she still didn’t have any confidence that Lazarus would rejoin their family. It seemed that death had still gotten the last word…

This is where Jesus begins turning the tide. 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; Standing before her was the very Creator, the ultimate Author of life. He had breathed life into a pile of dust and given Adam life. He was also the ultimate Authority on resurrection, because if He could breathe life into mankind, He could also breathe new life into a man. He was also making an explicit-claim to Deity because only God could raise the dead.

His next claim either confirms His place in the looney-bin or completely-separates Him from the rest of humanity. “He who believes in Me will live even if he dies, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.” He is either who He says He is, the Incarnate Son of God, or the biggest fraud that ever walked the earth, because He is claiming that those who truly believe in Him WILL have eternal life.

Do you believe this?” This is the reality-check. Does Martha believe in Him? Her answer shows that she was willing to risk believing His claims and lay skepticism aside. She knew that, standing before her, was the ONLY person who could alter the course of history, who could make their family whole again. 27 She said to Him, “Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world.” She affirms that she believes that He is the long-awaited Messiah.

28 When she had said this, she went away and called Mary her sister, saying secretly, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29 And when she heard it, she got up quickly and was coming to Him. Mary didn’t waste any time going back with Martha to where Jesus was.

30 Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha met Him. 31 Then the Jews who were with her in the house, and consoling her, when they saw that Mary got up quickly and went out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32 Therefore, when Mary came where Jesus was, she saw Him, and fell at His feet, saying to Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled, 34 and said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to Him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus wept. 36 So the Jews were saying, “See how He loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not this man, who opened the eyes of the blind man, have kept this man also from dying?”

Two sisters, same exact statement to Jesus, but He gave two very-different responses. Why? Both sisters expressed confidence that Jesus could have prevented Lazarus from dying if He had been there. How could He confront Martha one moment and bawl like a baby with Mary the next? He was strong one moment and vulnerable the next. He was either a deluded, wacko nut-case, or He was who He said He was, the Incarnate Son of God. He revealed both His true Deity and His true Humanity by His responses to Martha and Mary. He is both fully God and fully human, the perfect God-Man. His favorite title for Himself was “Son of Man“.

When we look at Martha, she is almost angry at Jesus because He allowed Lazarus to die. Had He gotten there sooner, He could have healed Lazarus, rather than allowing him to die. Mary approached Jesus with pleading-humility, falling at His feet. Why did Jesus answer Martha rather harshly, while He entered Mary’s grief and broke out in tears?
Jesus demonstrated both “sides” of His personhood, that He is fully-God, and at the same time, fully-human. His deity allows Him to claim, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.” , while His humanity allows Him to enter into our pain and grief.

33 When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled, 34 and said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to Him, “Lord, come and see.” We may be wondering why Jesus didn’t know where Lazarus was buried, but that may have been in deference to His friends.

35 Jesus wept. This is the shortest verse in the Bible, and it should cause us to pause and rethink our doctrine of Christ. He was God, enshrouded in human-flesh.

38 So Jesus, again being deeply moved within, came to the tomb. Now it was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39 Jesus said “Remove the stone.” Martha, the sister of the deceased, said to Him, “Lord, by this time there will be a stench, for he has been dead four days.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” 41 So they removed the stone. Then Jesus raised His eyes, and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. 42 I knew that You always hear Me; but because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe that You sent Me.” 43 When He had said these things, He cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth.” 44 The man who had died came forth, bound hand and foot with wrappings, and his face was wrapped around with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

Jesus hurt with Mary, Martha and their friends as they came to Lazarus’ tomb, which was simply a cave with a stone rolled in front of the entrance. It was, in most cases, reusable, because in that desert climate, bodies dried out very quickly, leaving nothing but bones, allowing other family members to be buried in it also. Joseph was buried in Egypt, but he bound his family with an oath that they would take his bones with them when God liberated them from Egyptian domination. (Genesis 50:24-26). He didn’t want to be interred permanently in Egypt.

39 Jesus said “Remove the stone.” Martha, the sister of the deceased, said to Him, “Lord, by this time there will be a stench, for he has been dead four days.” Only dead bodies decay, proof that Lazarus was really DEAD. The stench of death was going to be replaced with the joy of resurrection.

40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” 41 So they removed the stone. Jesus, speaking as God Incarnate, was going to reveal the glory of God in a dramatic way.

Then Jesus raised His eyes, and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. 42 I knew that You always hear Me; but because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe that You sent Me.” Jesus’ prayer may sound strange to us a first-glance, but it reveals something very profound about who He is, His intimate connection with His Father. He wasn’t just a man with an elevated “God-consciousness“; He was the Incarnate Son of God. He was God in human-flesh. He had a perfect “hotline” with His Father far beyond our wildest imaginations.

When Jesus walked up to the tomb, He didn’t have a look of glee on His face. No, He had tears in His eyes, and righteous-indignation in His heart, because Sin, the Fall, and the Curse had robbed Him of one of His dearest friends. As Creator-God, He never intended for Lazarus’ story, or anyone else’s story to end this way, in death. We are created to live, not to die.

Was He already starting to feel the icy-jaws of death close around Him? He knew that in order to raise Lazarus from the dead, He would have to die for the sins of His people. In order to interrupt Lazarus’ funeral, He would have to be buried too, and only by His own glorious resurrection would He be able to secure Lazarus’ resurrection. He was only a few days away from the cross…

We can almost hear the anger in His voice and see His rage as He bellowed-out “Lazarus, come forth.” Death was not supposed to claim the lives of those we love, but it had claimed the life of one of His dearest friends, Lazarus. They were virtually family. He was staring in the face of the vilest result of our fall into sin, death. Death wasn’t part of God’s original plan. Death came as the ultimate curse of the Fall. It wasn’t “natural“, it wasn’t “normal“, even though we have come to think of Death as being both “natural” and “normal“.

How many people have you known who have slipped the bonds of this life and entered into the next life without dying first? If you are like me, you have attended far too many funerals as you have lost far too many friends and loved-ones to death. I lost my “twin” brother in 2011. That was a tough memorial service, but I couldn’t have NOT been there. My dad died in 2013. My friend Liz lost her mother in 2015 and her father this year as well as her best friend. I lost my mother in April.

He, who was the Creator of Heaven and Earth, invaded the Dragon’s lair, bound the Dragon, grabbed the keys and released one of its captives. He, who had breathed life into the first man, breathed new life in Lazarus. The Dragon would not be finally slain until Jesus strode from His own tomb after His crucifixion.

Lazarus didn’t come out of his grave as a zombie; rather he came out of his grave struggling with his grave-clothes. Lazarus was, after he was relieved of his grave-clothes, buck-naked. When someone died, those who were close to them washed their body, and if spices were available, packed spices around the body as they wrapped it almost “mummy-style“. Since clothing was handmade and costly, there was no reason to bury them in their clothes.

We can imagine the jubilation of his friends and family when Lazarus walked out of the grave – ALIVE. That would have been an event to celebrate in style. Their family was whole again!

45 Therefore many of the Jews who came to Mary, and saw what He had done, believed in Him. (John 11:1-45)

Why does Jesus’ humanity matter? Only by becoming human, one of us, was He able to live the life we cannot live, die the death that we deserve in our place, and be resurrected that we may be resurrected. God had to become a man, so that man could be brought back into fellowship with God.

A prominent theologian, who is the son of a prominent theologian, recently had to resign all of his positions in disgrace because he was caught driving under the influence of alcohol, AND, he had a minor child with him. The arresting-officer wasn’t swayed by who he is and what he has done prior to that time, because in the eyes of the law, he had violated the law. The judge might be lenient on him, but he won’t get off Scott-free. Thus it is when we stand before God. Regardless of how “good” we may have been, we were born sinners, and regardless of how “minor” our sins may have been, we are guilty before God, and there is NOT any “plea-bargaining“. There is ONLY on plea that holds up in God’s court and prevails, and that is the blood and righteousness of Christ on our behalf. Had God not become human in the person of Jesus Christ, there would NOT be any acceptable plea. We would ALL be guilty before God.

That was the way it was with the Apostle Paul. Paul, then known as Saul, was a Pharisee who was zealous for the Law of God, yet he rejected the very Messiah he had longed for all his life. He also rejected and persecuted the very faith that had grown up around Christ and His teachings. When the risen Christ confronted him on the road to Damascus, He didn’t confront him about the “good” that he had done, but about the EVIL he was doing. Paul was guilty before God, and he needed a new heart and a new life-direction. Acts 9:1-7 recounts his conversion.

His humanity also matters because He experienced everything that we experience, pain, sorrow, loss and grief, so that when we experience those things, He can share in them with us. When I lost my mom, as painful as it was, my supreme-comfort was that she is in the presence of God, and that Jesus shares in my pain, sorrow, loss and grief. I don’t travel this road alone. Jesus is with me every step of the way.

The Apostle Paul gives us even deeper reason to believe in Jesus’ true humanity:
12 Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; 14 and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. 15 Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; 17 and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15:12-19)

If Jesus had not truly become a man, He could not have died on the Cross, and He couldn’t have been raised from the dead. All of these events are absolutely-vital to our salvation. Paul ends with these words; “we are of all men most to be pitied.”

The Heidelberg Catechism opens with these beautiful words:
Q. 1 What is your only comfort in life and in death?
A. That I am not my own, but belong — body and soul,
in life and in death — to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.
He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood,
and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil.

He also watches over me in such a way
that not a hair can fall from my head
without the will of my Father in heaven;
in fact, all things must work together for my salvation.

Because I belong to him,
Christ, by his Holy Spirit,
assures me of eternal life
and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready
from now on to live for him.

For those who are in Christ, we are kept by the Lord and Creator of the cosmos. Jesus didn’t abandon His earthly-body when He ascended back into Heaven. He is living at the right hand of God the Father as the eternal God-Man, as fully-human as we are.

Is Jesus your Savior and Lord? I pray that He is, but if He isn’t your Savior and Lord, tomorrow is not guaranteed, nor are you even guaranteed your next breathe. We all have an appointment with death, but we don’t know when that will be. As I was working on this message, one of my elderly neighbors took her last breathe. I had seen her outside that morning. Only God knows her eternal-destiny. The only way for you to be certain that, when you die, that you will meet your Creator in peace, is by humbly acknowledging your need for a Savior and committing your life to Christ. He died that you might live, and He lives that you might live with Him forever. May this be your day of salvation. Jesus is waiting for you…

In Christ,
Steve

Bible Study – The Resurrection

Had Jesus Christ not been resurrected from the dead, He would have died the death of a common-criminal, proving the Jewish religious leaders right that He was a fraud, a deceiver, a self-deluded huckster. His outrageous claims would have been little more than the rantings of deluded mad-man, an illegitimate one at that, but when He rose from the grave on that third day, it validated everything He had said about Himself. His resurrection was also as important as His crucifixion in purchasing our salvation, because His glorious resurrection is the guarantee of our own future-resurrection.

The Apostle Paul summed up the significance of Christ’s resurrection with these words: 12 Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; 14 and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. 15 Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; 17 and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15:12-19)

If Christ has not been resurrected, what are we doing here? Am I also a “huckster“?

What “evidence” did Paul present to “prove” that Christ’s resurrection was “real“? 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; 7 then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; 8 and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me. 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed. (1 Corinthians 15:3-11)

The Resurrection

Imagine with me, if you will, the surprise, the shock at finding that tomb EMPTY. If ANYONE was convinced that Jesus was dead, those women were, because they had been there when He died. Only a small-handful of His followers dared to be there during the crucifixion, John, and those four women. They had seen the bloody-mess that used to be His back. They saw the blood running from many open-wounds. They heard the gasp as He was thrown down on that cross. They heard the “thud” as His head hit that hard wood. They saw the Roman soldiers drive those ugly spikes through His hands and feet. They heard His labored-breathing as He hung there. They heard His screams of agony. They saw the sky go dark, inky-black, for three hours. They heard His last words as He committed His spirit to His Father. They saw His last gasp as He said “It is finished“. They also saw the Roman soldier jab his spear into His side. Yes, He was dead, very dead.

They had watched as His body was taken down from the cross. They may have even assisted as His body was washed and prepared for burial. They saw Him being buried. Their only hope had died a horrible-death. Jesus was DEAD.

As many times as Jesus had told them that He would rise again on the third day, they still didn’t understand, until…

Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came early to the tomb, while it was still dark, and saw the stone already taken away from the tomb. 2 So she ran and came to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.” 3 So Peter and the other disciple went forth, and they were going to the tomb. 4 The two were running together; and the other disciple ran ahead faster than Peter and came to the tomb first; 5 and stooping and looking in, he saw the linen wrappings lying there; but he did not go in. 6 And so Simon Peter also came, following him, and entered the tomb; and he saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7 and the face-cloth which had been on His head, not lying with the linen wrappings, but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 So the other disciple who had first come to the tomb then also entered, and he saw and believed. 9 For as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead. 10 So the disciples went away again to their own homes.

11 But Mary was standing outside the tomb weeping; and so, as she wept, she stooped and looked into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had been lying. 13 And they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.” 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing Him to be the gardener, she said to Him, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to Him in Hebrew, “Rabboni!” (which means, Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene came, announcing to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,” and that He had said these things to her. (John 20:1-18)

How did that stone get moved? It was massive, and it would have taken a Herculean-effort to move it, particularly since it had been rolled downhill into place, but it HAD been moved. Mary Magdalene WASN’T seeing things. As incredulous as it was, she couldn’t keep that news to herself, she had to tell SOMEONE, and the first two people she ran into were Peter and John. We can’t blame them for racing to the tomb, because in that culture, almost nobody took a woman’s word for anything. They had to find out for themselves. We should note that the ONLY rational-explanation was that someone had stolen His body. They still didn’t “get-it“…

Things got even stranger because His grave-wrappings were there, but He wasn’t in them. If someone had stolen His body, why did they leave His grave-wrappings behind? Nothing made sense. The only thing they knew for sure was that He wasn’t there. They still didn’t “get-it“…

Peter and John went home, still shaking their heads, leaving Mary behind. We may never know why Mary stayed at the tomb, but her devotion to her Lord was soon rewarded.

Imagine the awesome-sight of seeing Angels in the tomb, as if her senses weren’t overloaded enough already. Then they spoke to her… “Woman, why are you weeping?” The only explanation she could come up with was “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.” She still didn’t “get-it“…

As she turned around, she saw her risen Lord, or did she? Was she prevented from recognizing Him, or had her grief so-blinded her to the reality of the resurrection that she couldn’t believe her eyes? Think about it for a moment before we go on…

Even though His voice should have been familiar, she didn’t recognize it when He said “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?”. Why did she think that He might be the gardener? Was He still naked, as He was when he was crucified and buried? Gardeners and other common-laborers often worked naked to preserve what little clothing they had. The Roman soldiers had stolen His clothes when they crucified Him, so He didn’t have those to wear, and there was no WalMart just around the corner either. Even though artists love to portray Jesus walking out of the tomb in a gleaming-white robe, we don’t really know how long it was before He actually got some more clothes. It also wasn’t “shameful” for Him to appear naked to her.

16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” Did His tone of voice change, or did calling her by name provide that needed-recognition? He didn’t call her “woman” again. He called her “Mary“, her name. “Woman” was generic, but “Mary” was personal, very personal. Don’t we love to hear our name? Our name makes us stand out in a crowd.

She turned and said to Him in Hebrew, “Rabboni!” (which means, Teacher). Mary was overwhelmed, and the only word she could get out was “Teacher“. He was that and more, but it was good enough for now. “Teacher” was also personal, because He was her Teacher before He became her Lord.

Jesus was ALIVE, and all Mary could do was hang-on to Him. The last three days had been HELL, so she didn’t want to lose Jesus again. Would we cling to Jesus as Mary did? It wasn’t “bad” or “wrong” for Mary to touch Jesus, but He wasn’t merely raised from the dead, He was resurrected, never to die again. His resurrection-body, while it still bears the marks of His crucifixion, is glorified, perfect, and the ultimate-template of the resurrection-body which will be ours when that time comes. Jesus still lives in and through His body, as He will for all eternity.

18 Mary Magdalene came, announcing to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,” and that He had said these things to her. I’m sure that Mary didn’t just stroll back into town to find the disciples, rather, she probably RAN back into town because that news was too good to keep to herself. She was excited, and for good reason, because the resurrection of Jesus Christ WAS good-news. Three days of hell had come to an end.

As we reflect back on those events which happened almost two-thousand years ago, we should come away with a renewed-sense of what our salvation cost. Had Adam and Eve not sinned in the Garden, we might still be perfect and there would have been no need for Jesus Christ to come to earth. Had there been no Jesus Christ, there would have been no crucifixion, and without the crucifixion, there would have been no resurrection. We, and our sin, are what brought Jesus to earth. We, and our sin…are why He died on that cross. We are the reason….

Next time, we will consider some of those events which Paul spoke about in 1 Corinthians 15. Please join us for “Seeing Is Believing“.

Sola Deo Gloria!
Steve

The Orlando Massacre

I was shocked and deeply-saddened when I opened my news-feed on Facebook this last Sunday morning, June 12, 2016, to read that there had been a mass-murder at a nightclub in Orlando, just thirty miles from my home. It is with grief and a heavy-heart that I am writing about this heinous event, an event I had hoped and prayed that I would never write about, but have to.

Those who have died or were injured were innocent victims of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. It could have happened anywhere in Orlando, or anywhere in America, anywhere large groups of people are gathered. There are many “soft-targets” within the metro-Orlando area, some of which receive over fifty-thousand visitors every day, seven days a week. The Pulse nightclub may have been chosen if the killer harbored anti-gay ideology, but we can’t read his mind after the fact. We all have targets on our backs because we can never know who will be targeted next, so it behooves all of us to be vigilant.

There will be lots of blame passed around over the coming days and weeks, and many “solutions” offered to help keep this from happening again, but they will all fall far-short of the true reason this happened. There will be many “scapegoats“…

Some people may blame the FBI for not “doing something” when they investigated the killer at least twice before he committed this heinous act. However, in a free society, where we value free-speech and free-thought, it isn’t against the law to hold to beliefs that aren’t “politically-correct“, or we would all be behind bars, myself included. As a Christian, in this increasingly-godless society, my Christian beliefs are not “politicallycorrect“.

Some will call for more “background-checks“, however the killer was a licensed Armed Security Guard and had passed a couple of “background-checks” already, so more “background-checks” would not have prevented this heinous act. “Background-checks” can only assess prior activities, but they are not good-predictors of future actions.

Some people will blame the weapon, an inanimate object, a tool, for what happened, however no gun has ever killed anyone without a human-operator. Guns and bullets don’t kill people, people kill people…PERIOD.

Some people will scream for more “gun-control“, claiming that if that type of weapon, an “assault-rifle“, hadn’t been “readily-available“, this might not have happened. That stance ignores the fact that if a person is determined to kill someone, they will ALWAYS find a way. Lest we get caught-up in this kind of rhetoric, Cain killed Abel with a ROCK. We must also remember that terrorists are using explosive-filled vests, “suicide-vests“, very frequently to kill large number of people. The fact is that an explosive-vest, with the right kind of high-explosives, could have killed far more people. Another thing to remember is that this type of weapon is readily-available in the underground-market even if it can’t be bought legally.

Some people will blame the religion or political-ideology of the killer for this heinous act, and that may have been part of his motivation, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. The problem goes far-deeper than that, which we will explore shortly.

Some people will even blame the LGBT community for what happened, saying that if they weren’t so “open“, so “out“, even “in your face” about their sexuality choices, this might not have happened. Again, this may have been a contributing-factor, but it is only a symptom of the breakdown of the moral-fiber of our community. Orlando is home to one of the largest LGBT communities in the world, and Disney is their largest employer. My friend and neighbor work at Disney, and she lost several friends and co-workers. It was, and is a real human-tragedy, regardless of how you stack it up.

The root-cause…
Yes, there IS a far-deeper problem than just one deranged man massacring over fifty people, and that problem is SIN! We ARE sinners. Every last one of us, and without the restraining-grace of God, any one of us could do what that evil man did, kill many people. Nobody is “exempt” from the problem of having an evil heart, and it isn’t that we are “better-people“, because we aren’t. The Bible states, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?(Jeremiah 17:9) Jesus also said, “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies.(Matthew 15:19) That, my friends is the “root-cause” of what happened in Orlando this last weekend.

The “cure”…
Yes, my friends, there IS a “cure” for our sin-problem, but it isn’t: being a “better-person“, being “more-religious“, or even being “more-spiritual“. God provided the “cure” almost two-thousand years ago in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ came to save sinners, like you, like me, because we are ALL sinners in desperate-need of a Savior. Trusting in the shed-blood and finished work of Jesus Christ alone for our salvation is the ONLYcure“. That, my friends, is the Good News of the Gospel. I need to be reminded of the Gospel every day lest I become just another “religious-person“.

There is a faction of people, who call themselves “Christians“, who are celebrating this event, but they aren’t truly Christians if their hearts are so full of hate. Jesus said that the second Great Commandment was to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no room in that commandment for hate.

What was the spiritual-condition of those who died? Only God knows for sure, so I can’t even presume to make any assumptions. If they died, having never accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, they are reaping what they sowed, eternal separation from God. If they were Believers, trusting only in the shed-blood and finished-work of Christ for their salvation, they are in the joyous-presence of their Lord and Savior. What grieves and saddens me most, as a Minister of the Gospel, is that those who died without Christ will not get a second-chance. They will never have another opportunity to hear and believe the Good News of the Gospel. Their destiny was sealed the moment they took their last breath.

I am gratified by the outpouring of support that has flooded in over the last couple of days. The downtown-Orlando blood centered had way more willing-donors than they could handle, and had to ask potential-donors to make an appointment for later in the week. I don’t think that it was coincidental that I donated blood just last Friday, so my “pint-of-life” was already “in the bank” and ready to use. Food, water and other supplies also came pouring-in for those in need.

My message to fellow-Christians:
Homosexuals are NOTworse-sinners” than we are, so before we join in condemning the LGBT community, we need to examine our own hearts. Examine them for what? PRIDE!!! PRIDE is rampant among Christians, but we have nothing to be “proud” of. Everything we have is by the grace of God, including our salvation. Maybe we need a lesson in humility, because God hates PRIDE more than all the other sins combined.

Final thoughts…
I am deeply-saddened by what happened, and I join in mourning those who lost their lives, and you should too.

In Christ,
Steve

Bible Study – Raising Lazarus

A dear friend was sick, but Jesus was ministering somewhere else when He got the news. While Jesus could have chosen to speak the word and heal Lazarus, as He did in John 4:46-54, He chose not to. Jesus healed the sick quite frequently, but He was going to do something that had never been done before, raise someone from the dead. Jesus was also going to reveal both “sides” to His personhood, His deity and His humanity, in a dramatic-way. This event also occurs just a few days before Jesus was going to be crucified, when He will not only bind the Dragon of death, but by His resurrection, He will slay the Dragon, once and for all.

We may wonder WHY Jesus didn’t heal Lazarus from afar. After all, He could have come home to a hero’s welcome. He could have thumped His chest and said “See what I did“, but He didn’t. Jesus wanted to bring glory to God the Father, rather than just to Himself. Everything He did brought glory to God the Father. There is a lesson for us too. Whose glory are we working for, our own, or God’s.

The Death and Resurrection of Lazarus
11 Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 It was the Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick. 3 So the sisters sent word to Him, saying, “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.” 4 But when Jesus heard this, He said, “This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it.” 5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So when He heard that he was sick, He then stayed two days longer in the place where He was. 7 Then after this He said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” 8 The disciples said to Him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone You, and are You going there again?” 9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. 10 But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” 11 This He said, and after that He said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I go, so that I may awaken him out of sleep.” 12 The disciples then said to Him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” 13 Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that He was speaking of literal sleep. 14 So Jesus then said to them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, 15 and I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, so that you may believe; but let us go to him.” 16 Therefore Thomas, who is called Didymus, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, so that we may die with Him.” (John 11:1-16)

Jesus was very relational, and some people were closer to Him than others. Mary, Martha and Lazarus were FAMILY, even if they weren’t related to Him, so when they sent word to Jesus, it was “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.” I can certainly relate, because I have friends who are closer to me than anyone except my mom. They are FAMILY, and I will do anything I can to help them, resources-permitting.

4 But when Jesus heard this, He said, “This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it.” 5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. This was a curious response, considering how close He was to them, but He had a reason.

6 So when He heard that he was sick, He then stayed two days longer in the place where He was. 7 Then after this He said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” Why did Jesus stay where He was for two more days? Had He started something that He wanted to finish before He left? We’re not told or even given a clue. He had slipped out of Jerusalem and Judea at the end of John 10, but to go see His friends, He had to go back into Judea because Bethany was close to Jerusalem.

8 The disciples said to Him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone You, and are You going there again?” His disciples were justifiably concerned about His welfare in Judea, but they didn’t realize was that nothing could happen to Jesus until the appointed time. He was firmly in control of everything, including the time of His death.

9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. 10 But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” We see another contrast between Light and Darkness, day and night, God’s presence and the forces of evil. As long as Jesus was there, God’s presence was in their midst. There would come a time when Jesus would be taken from them and evil would have free-reign, but Jesus was still with them.

11 This He said, and after that He said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I go, so that I may awaken him out of sleep.”Fallen asleep” is a metaphor for dying, and it is used in many other passages throughout the New Testament. On the flip-side, “awaken” or “quicken” means to bring back to life.

12 The disciples then said to Him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” 13 Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that He was speaking of literal sleep. 14 So Jesus then said to them plainly, “Lazarus is dead,” 15 and I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, so that you may believe; but let us go to him.” Hey guys, wake up and smell the coffee. Oh well, they will eventually get the picture.

16 Therefore Thomas, who is called Didymus, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, so that we may die with Him.” Poor Thomas still didn’t understanding that Jesus was firmly in control. Maybe he is imagining them being turned into a very large pile of rocks.

17 So when Jesus came, He found that he had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off; 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary, to console them concerning their brother. 20 Martha therefore, when she heard that Jesus was coming, went to meet Him, but Mary stayed at the house. 21 Martha then said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to Him, “Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world.”

Lazarus being in the tomb for four days was proof-positive that he was actually DEAD. He also wasn’t in a coma or merely sleeping. He was stone-cold DEAD. Bethany was close enough to Jerusalem for her to have friends there, and many of them had come to console Mary and Martha, and while funerals happened very quickly, public-mourning continued for quite a while.

Martha was reeling from the death of her brother, but Jesus could have prevented his death. She expresses a curios mix of scolding and confidence. 21 Martha then said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.”

Jesus begins to show her that, while He was too late to prevent Lazarus’ death, it WASN’T too late for Him to do something about it. 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”

24 Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Martha, unlike the Sadducees who didn’t believe in a resurrection, DID believe that Lazarus would be raised when the final-curtain was dropped on this phase of our human existence. She still didn’t have any confidence that Lazarus would rejoin their family.

This is where Jesus begins turning the tide. 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life”; Standing before her was the very Creator, the ultimate Author of life. He had breathed life into a pile of dust and given Adam life. He was also the ultimate Authority on resurrection, because if He could breathe life into mankind, He could also breathe new life into a man. He was also making an explicit-claim to Deity, because only God could raise the dead.

His next claim either confirms His place in the looney-bin or completely-separates Him from the rest of humanity. “he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.” He is either who He says He is, the Incarnate Son of God, or the biggest fraud that ever walked the earth, because He is claiming that those who truly believe in Him WILL have eternal life.

Do you believe this?” is a reality-check. Does Martha believe in Him? Her answer shows that she has gone from skeptic to true-believer. 27 She said to Him, “Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world.” She affirms that she believes that He is the long-awaited Messiah.

28 When she had said this, she went away and called Mary her sister, saying secretly, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29 And when she heard it, she got up quickly and was coming to Him. Mary didn’t waste any time going back with Martha to where Jesus was.

30 Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha met Him. 31 Then the Jews who were with her in the house, and consoling her, when they saw that Mary got up quickly and went out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32 Therefore, when Mary came where Jesus was, she saw Him, and fell at His feet, saying to Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled, 34 and said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to Him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus wept. 36 So the Jews were saying, “See how He loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not this man, who opened the eyes of the blind man, have kept this man also from dying?”

Two sisters, same exact statement to Jesus, but He gave two very-different responses. Both sisters expressed confidence that Jesus could have prevented Lazarus from dying if He had been there. How could he confront Martha one moment and bawl like a baby with Mary the next? He was strong one moment and vulnerable the next. He was either a deluded, wacko nut-case, or He was who He said He was, the Incarnate Son of God. He revealed both His true Deity and His true Humanity by His responses to Martha and Mary. He is both fully God and fully human, the perfect God-Man. His favorite title for Himself was “Son of Man“.

We may be wondering why Jesus didn’t know where Lazarus was buried, but in His humanity, He wasn’t omniscient. His deity didn’t always inform His humanity. He also claimed to not know when He will return in Matthew 24:36.

38 So Jesus, again being deeply moved within, came to the tomb. Now it was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39 Jesus said, “Remove the stone.” Martha, the sister of the deceased, said to Him, “Lord, by this time there will be a stench, for he has been dead four days.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” 41 So they removed the stone. Then Jesus raised His eyes, and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. 42 I knew that You always hear Me; but because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe that You sent Me.” 43 When He had said these things, He cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth.” 44 The man who had died came forth, bound hand and foot with wrappings, and his face was wrapped around with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

Jesus hurt with Mary, Martha and their friends as they came to Lazarus’ tomb, which was simply a cave with a stone rolled in front of the entrance. It was, in most cases, reusable, because in that desert climate, bodies dried out very quickly, leaving nothing but bones, allowing other family members to be buried in it also. Joseph was buried in Egypt, but he bound his family with an oath that they would take his bones with them when God liberated them from Egyptian domination. (Genesis 50:24-26). He didn’t want to be interred permanently in Egypt.

39 Jesus said, “Remove the stone.” Martha, the sister of the deceased, said to Him, “Lord, by this time there will be a stench, for he has been dead four days.” Only dead bodies decay, proof that Lazarus was really DEAD. The stench of death was going to be replaced with the joy of resurrection.

40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” 41 So they removed the stone. Jesus, speaking as God Incarnate, was going to reveal the glory of God in a dramatic way.

Then Jesus raised His eyes, and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. 42 I knew that You always hear Me; but because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe that You sent Me.” Jesus’ prayer may sound strange to us a first-glance, but it reveals something very profound about who He is, His intimate connection with His Father. He wasn’t just a man with an elevated “God-consciousness“; He was the Incarnate Son of God. He was God in human-flesh. He had a perfect “hotline” with His Father far beyond our wildest imaginations.

We can almost hear the anger in His voice and feel His rage as He bellowed-out “Lazarus, come forth.” Death was not supposed to claim the lives of those we love, but it had claimed the life of one of His dearest friends, Lazarus. They were virtually family. He was staring in the face of the vilest result of our fall into sin, death. Death wasn’t part of God’s original plan. Death came as the ultimate curse of the Fall. It wasn’t “natural“, it wasn’t “normal“, even though we have come to think of Death as being both “natural” and “normal“.

How many people have you known who have slipped the bonds of this life and entered into the next life without dying first? If you are like me, you have attended far too many funerals as you have lost far too many friends and loved-ones to death. My dad died in 2013, and my friend Liz lost her mother last year (2015). I also lost my “twin” brother in 2011. That was a tough memorial service, but I couldn’t have NOT been there.

He, who was the Creator of Heaven and Earth, invaded the Dragon’s lair, bound the Dragon, grabbed the keys and released one of its captives. He, who had breathed life into the first man, breathed new life in Lazarus. The Dragon would not be finally slain until Jesus strode from His own tomb after His crucifixion.

Lazarus didn’t come out of his grave as a zombie; rather he came out of his grave struggling with his grave-clothes. Lazarus, after he was relieved of his grave-clothes, was buck-naked. When someone died, those who were close to them washed their body, and if spices were available, packed spices around the body as they wrapped it almost “mummystyle“. Since clothing was handmade and costly, there was no reason to bury them in their clothes.

I can imagine the jubilation of his friends and family when Lazarus walked out of the grave – ALIVE. That would have been an event to celebrate in style. Their family was whole again!

45 Therefore many of the Jews who came to Mary, and saw what He had done, believed in Him. 46 But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them the things which Jesus had done. (John 11:1-46)

Yes, a few people believed in Jesus after He resurrected Lazarus, but the Pharisees had their “snitches“. As we will see next time, the Pharisees kicked their murder-plot into high-gear, even plotting to murder Lazarus as well. They had serious-concerns about Jesus getting too popular…

In Christ,
Steve

 

Easter Meditation

Imagine with me, if you will, the surprise, the shock at finding that tomb EMPTY. If ANYONE was convinced that Jesus was dead, those women were, because they had been there when He died. Only a small-handful of His followers dared to be there during the crucifixion, John, and those four women. They had seen the bloody-mess that used to be His back. They saw the blood running from many open-wounds. They heard the gasp as He was thrown down on that cross. They heard the “thud” as His head hit that hard wood. They saw the Roman soldiers drive those ugly spikes through His hands and feet. They heard His labored-breathing as He hung there. They heard His screams of agony. They saw the sky go dark, inky-black, for three hours. They heard His last words as He committed His spirit to His Father. They saw His last gasp as He said “It is finished“. They also saw the Roman soldier jab his spear into His side. Yes, He was dead, very dead.

They had watched as His body was taken down from the cross. They may have even assisted as His body was washed and prepared for burial. They saw Him being buried. Their only hope had died a horrible-death. Jesus was DEAD.

As many times as Jesus had told them that He would rise again on the third day, they still didn’t understand, until…

Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came early to the tomb, while it was still dark, and saw the stone already taken away from the tomb. 2 So she ran and came to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.” 3 So Peter and the other disciple went forth, and they were going to the tomb. 4 The two were running together; and the other disciple ran ahead faster than Peter and came to the tomb first; 5 and stooping and looking in, he saw the linen wrappings lying there; but he did not go in. 6 And so Simon Peter also came, following him, and entered the tomb; and he saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7 and the face-cloth which had been on His head, not lying with the linen wrappings, but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 So the other disciple who had first come to the tomb then also entered, and he saw and believed. 9 For as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead. 10 So the disciples went away again to their own homes.

11 But Mary was standing outside the tomb weeping; and so, as she wept, she stooped and looked into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had been lying. 13 And they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.” 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing Him to be the gardener, she said to Him, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to Him in Hebrew, “Rabboni!” (which means, Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene came, announcing to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,” and that He had said these things to her. (John 20:1-18)

How did that stone get moved? It was massive, and it would have taken a Herculean-effort to move it, particularly since it had been rolled downhill into place, but it HAD been moved. Mary Magdalene WASN’T seeing things. As incredulous as it was, she couldn’t keep that news to herself, she had to tell SOMEONE, and the first two people she ran into were Peter and John. We can’t blame them for racing to the tomb, because in that culture, almost nobody took a woman’s word for anything. They had to find out for themselves. We should note that the ONLY rational-explanation was that someone had stolen His body. They still didn’t “get-it“…

Things get even stranger because His grave-wrappings were there, but He wasn’t in them. If someone had stolen His body, why did they leave His grave-wrappings behind? Nothing made sense. The only thing they knew for sure was that He wasn’t there. They still didn’t “get-it“…

Peter and John went home, still shaking their heads, leaving Mary behind. We may never know why Mary stayed at the tomb, but her devotion to her Lord was soon rewarded.

Imagine the awesome-sight of seeing Angels in the tomb, as if her senses weren’t overloaded enough already. Then they spoke to her… “Woman, why are you weeping?” The only explanation she could come up with was “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.” She still didn’t “get-it“…

As she turned around, she saw her risen Lord, or did she? Was she prevented from recognizing Him, or had her grief so-blinded her to the reality of the resurrection that she couldn’t believe her eyes? Think about it for a moment before we go on…

Even though His voice should have been familiar, she didn’t recognize it when He said “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?”. Why did she think that He might be the gardener? Was He still naked, as He was when he was crucified and buried? Gardeners and other common-laborers often worked naked to preserve what little clothing they had. The Roman soldiers had stolen His clothes when they crucified Him, so He didn’t have those to wear, and there was no WalMart just around the corner either. Even though artists love to portray Jesus walking out of the tomb in a gleaming-white robe, we don’t really how long it was before He actually got some more clothes. It also wasn’t “shameful” for Him to appear naked to her.

16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” Did His tone of voice change, or did calling her by name provide that needed-recognition? He didn’t call her “woman” again. He called her “Mary“, her name. “Woman” was generic, but “Mary” was personal, very personal. Don’t we love to hear our name? Our name makes us stand out in a crowd.

She turned and said to Him in Hebrew, “Rabboni!” (which means, Teacher). Mary was overwhelmed, and the only word she could get out was “Teacher“. He was that and more, but it was good enough for now. “Teacher” was also personal, because He was her Teacher before He became her Lord.

Jesus was ALIVE, and all she could do was hang-onto Him. The last three days had been HELL, so she didn’t want to lose Jesus again. Would we cling to Jesus as Mary did? It wasn’t “bad” or “wrong” for Mary to touch Jesus, but He wasn’t merely raised from the dead, He was resurrected, never to die again. His resurrection-body, while it still bears the marks of His crucifixion, is glorified, perfect, and the ultimate-template of the resurrection-body which will be ours when that time comes. Jesus still lives in and through His body, as He will for all eternity.

18 Mary Magdalene came, announcing to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,” and that He had said these things to her. I’m sure that Mary didn’t just stroll back into town to find the disciples, rather, she probably RAN back into town because that news was too good to keep to herself. She was excited, and for good reason, because the resurrection of Jesus Christ WAS good-news. Three days of hell had come to an end.

As we reflect back on those events which happened almost two-thousand years ago, we should come away from this Easter 2016 with a renewed-sense of what our salvation cost. Had Adam and Eve not sinned in the Garden, we might still be perfect and there would have been no need for Jesus Christ to come to earth. Had there been no Jesus Christ, there would have been no crucifixion, and without the crucifixion, there would have been no resurrection. We, and our sin, are what brought Jesus to earth. We, and our sin…are why He died on that cross. We are the reason….

Had Jesus Christ just died and remained dead, His outrageous claims would have been little more than the rantings of deluded mad-man, an illegitimate one at that, but He DIDN’T remain dead, and His resurrection validates everything about Him and His ministry.

As we prepare to come to the Table of our Lord, we need to pause for a few moments to do whatever business we need to do with God, and then, if we are trusting only in Christ’s shed blood and finished work for our salvation, we may come to the Table of the Lord and celebrate what He has done for us.

In Christ,
Steve

Shattered Dreams…

Everything seemed to be looking up, all the pieces seemed to be in place, when suddenly all their hopes and dreams came crashing down around their ears. Their dream had become a nightmare. Dead. Crucified. Buried. Gone.

Had they misread the signs? Were all the prophesies wrong? What had happened? How could everything have gone to hell so quickly, so abruptly? Why???

Who can’t relate to this story? We have all been there, done that, and gotten the T-shirt. We have all been in times and situations which seemed to be so full of hope and promise that we were dreaming of a rosy future, when our dreams turned into nightmares and our hopes were extinguished.

A highly-anticipated pregnancy turns into a miscarriage, or worse yet, the baby is born with horrible birth-defects and only lives a few hours. A cancer surgery, which was hoped to be life-saving, turns into a closed-up incision with the verdict of “The cancer has spread too far, so it was impossible to get it all.“. A man goes in for open-heart surgery which will give him a new lease on life but dies on the table before surgery even begins. A person with cancer is given six months to live and dies less than six weeks later. Grieving parents, a grieving widow, and grieving family and friends are left behind to pick up the pieces of their dream-shattered lives.

A new relationship seems to be going well, but ends abruptly a few weeks later. “Til death do us part” turns into “Til death or disconvenience do us part“. “Happily-ever-after” turns into “Nightmare on Rainbow Chase Place“. What happened? How could everything that seemed to be going so right abruptly go so wrong? Why???

Were we all wrong to get our hopes and dreams up? Another question might be “Were we hoping for all the wrong things?“. Is there something better in store for us that we could never dream of or anticipate? Did the “good” get sacrificed to make way for the “best“?

Two thousand years ago, two men trudged along a dusty road, disappointed that their dreams and hopes had died, talking about what had brought those dreams and hopes to naught. They had witnessed their dream, their hope of a new and better future, being crucified on a Roman cross. Maybe they had even helped prepare His body for burial. The only thing that they knew for certain was that Jesus of Nazareth was dead, buried, and with His death and burial was buried their dreams and hopes. Grieving family and friends were left behind to pick up the pieces of their dream-shattered lives. Luke recorded this scene for us in detail.

On the Road to Emmaus
Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him.

He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”

They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”

“What things?” He asked.

“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed Him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified Him; but we had hoped that He was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find His body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said He was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”

He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning Himself.

As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. But they urged Him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So He went in to stay with them.

When He was at the table with them, He took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him, and He disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while He talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when He broke the bread. (Luke 24:13-35)

They had heard Jesus teach, they had witnessed His miracles, they had been part of the adoring crowd as He rode into Jerusalem, but they were totally-baffled by His crucifixion. We certainly can’t blame them for being despondent, because had He become their King, Jerusalem would have become His capitol and they would be in training as Ambassadors. They were dreaming of an earthly-kingdom, not realizing that Jesus was establishing a heavenly-kingdom.

Their despondency turned into amazement and jubilation when their risen Savior broke bread with them, and just a few weeks later, they were given their new assignments and received the Holy Spirit to enable them to carry them out. He WAS their King and they became His Ambassadors, but in a very-different way. The “good” had been displaced by the “BEST“.

Final thoughts…
We DO lose loved-ones to death and are left to pick up the pieces of our dream-shattered lives, but did their death spare them future or further suffering? Relationships DO go awry, but sometimes the opportunities we gain outweigh the loss of that relationship. That is certainly the case with my most recent debacle, because I have gained ministry-opportunities which wouldn’t have been possible had everything gone as “planned“. I am NOT saying that everything has turned-out peachy, but in spite of the pain, it has turned out well. One dream has been replaced by a far-better dream, so stay tuned.

In Christ,
Steve

The Faces of Suicide

Have you ever known anyone who committed suicide? Were you close to them? Were they your best friend, your lover, your spouse? How did they end their life? Were there any clues beforehand?

For those of us whose lives have been affected by suicide, our lives will never be the same. That moment when we either found them dead, or when we were informed of their death, is etched indelibly in our minds and hearts. For those who found someone who had committed suicide, that scene is seared into their memory, and may come back to haunt them over and over again.

This is not about the “Why?” of suicide, because the whole story is known only to God, and I believe that He still shakes His head when someone ends their life this way. It is about those of us who have been left behind, the survivors. Why do we sometimes include graphic descriptions of how our friend or loved-one ended their life? Because it matters. Suicide isn’t clinical. Suicide isn’t pretty. It is ugly. It is horrible. It is horrific, and those who found that scene will never be the same. We will never be the same.

Hanging…dead…
We all knew him, or knew of him. He was a well-know and popular comedian and actor, but he had battled depression for much of his adult life. Word of his suicide stunned us, as word of the death of Robin Williams spread like wild-fire throughout the media. We all wondered how someone so popular, so successful, could ever take his own life, but he did. He had it all, but all he had didn’t make his life worth living.

If there has been any good to come of Robin Williams’ death, it has been to put a very public face on suicide, and to get us thinking and talking about this very important problem.

Hanging…dead…
She was the wife of a pastor, but something went terribly wrong. Her husband came home from work to find her hanging in their garage, dead. Why? Were the stresses of being a pastor’s wife too much for her to handle? What caused her to snap? He was out of the ministry for several years because of it.

I didn’t know her, and I have only met him once. He appeared to be a loving, caring man when I met him. By the time I met him, he had remarried and was back in the ministry.

Suffocated…dead…
Searchers found him about half a mile up the trail from the parking lot and trail-head. He was buck-naked and had a plastic bag over his head. His clothes were neatly-folded and laying on his backpack a few feet away. His car was in the parking lot, abandoned. He had left a trail of clues, including a suicide note, which meant that it wasn’t a “spur-of-the-moment” thing. He was in his mid-twenties…

Being in search and rescue has its rewards, but that wasn’t one of them. I was in that parking lot coordinating communications during the entire operation.

Good cop…rough times…
In the early morning hours of December 2008 my friend John sat beneath the peaceful canopy of a redwood grove. He removed his off duty Glock handgun, leveled it against his temple and pulled the trigger. In an instant everything would change.

Two beautiful young daughters would never again experience their father’s love. His parents would face the insurmountable pain of losing a child. Urgent calls would reach shocked siblings, friends and coworkers. John’s girlfriend, a welcome light after his difficult divorce, would become consumed by grief.

For me the first news of trouble was a predawn phone call from a trusted friend. The ringing of the phone roused me awake. Then my friend’s voice, in cryptic tones, said, “John is missing.” As a police chief I’d grown accustomed to late night and early morning calls. They were usually bad news.

Friends and authorities began searching for John. Later that morning, troubling news came that he never showed up for work. And then I got the fateful call from the county Sheriff. “He’s dead. A hiker found him in the woods. Self inflicted gun shot wound. I’m sorry. You guys were buddies, weren’t you?” I remember holding the phone receiver in disbelief. No one close to me had ever committed suicide. “Yeah, we were buddies,” I told the Sheriff.

John and I began our police careers together. We used to be roommates. We went through training together. Bought motorcycles together. Got married, had kids. Back then we were young, ambitious and the world was our oyster.

John was strong, intelligent and proud. A rock to many. Someone you could count on and turn to for advice. He was the last person I ever thought would take his life. But despair can strike down the strongest among us. (Exerpted from The Nightmare of Suicide- Six Things You Need to Know by John Patrick Weiss) http://www.johnpatrickweiss.com/the-nightmare-of-suicide-six-things-you-need-to-know

My wife, my lover, my best friend…
We had been married for 19 1/2 years, and yes, we had had our share of hard-times, but we had survived all of them until… She was a wonderful wife and mother. Only God knows what caused her to commit that final act of desperation, to take her own life in a horrific manner. All I know is that it wasn’t a “spur-of-the-moment” act. It was planned, and for how long, only God knows. She had asked me where the weapon was kept a few weeks before. It was for protection and self-defense, but… She committed suicide the day after our oldest daughter got her driver’s license. She was forty-five…

A few months before her death, she had told me that another woman would be putting her feet under our dining-room table. All I could think of was divorce, and we had never talked about getting divorced. I disposed of that table almost immediately after her death.

Is there a common thread?
They all died too young! Even though they made their “escape” before things got worse, they weren’t around for things to get better. Even though I can attest to the fact that sometimes things get worse, WAY WORSE, before they get better, the sun WILL come out another day, and eventually things will start looking up.

I believe that suicide is a final act of desperation, what the person believes is their only way out of whatever situation or emotional trauma they are in. We had marital and family problems, and my wife believed that it was her “fault” that our marriage and family were falling apart. She also had some medical problems which she refused to get taken care of. I believe that she honestly thought that her death would make things “better” for the rest of us, but her death only made matters worse.

I have been there, at least a couple of times, when things were so desperate, when I was so down, that I thought that I, and everyone around me, would be better off with me out of the way. The first time was just a few months before my wife committed suicide. I was under immense pressure from all sides, and if I had taken my own life that night, my wife would probably still be alive, but my gut-feeling was that I could “pull it out“. It would be many months before I saw the first rays of sunshine, but I still had many months of hell to go through before things started looking up. I did “pull it out“, but at what cost? My own children still have nothing to do with me.

There was a period of time in 2013 when I felt like I was totally-disconnected from anyone who might have actually cared about me. It was after my wife left me, again, after coming home for only two weeks. I felt like an abandoned-dog, a stray, a lost-soul. I was sick as a dog, and on the verge of having to reschedule a surgical procedure, because everyone I knew was “too busy” to be there for me. Didn’t I “matter” to anyone? I asked God “why?“, “Why?“, “WHY?” for a solid hour, but the silence was deafening. If I didn’t matter to God, and if I didn’t matter to anyone else, what was I doing here? Why was I even here? Would anyone even notice if I simply disappeared? Maybe I was just too stubborn, too bull-headed to give up, and I didn’t.

Reason, sanity and purpose started emerging, but my purpose for being here wasn’t for myself. Rather, it was for someone else who was alone, “stranded“, and in need of way more care and compassion than I could ever imagine. She needed “someone“, and that “someone” became me. Her other friends certainly haven’t “stepped up to the plate“, because they are all “too busy“. That is a story for another day, and I know one of the local hospitals far better than I would really like to, because she spent about a month during 2014 in that hospital. I was there to spend time with her every day she was in the hospital, and I have been able to fill in details of things that happened while she was too sedated to remember. Even though I have spent hundreds of hours caring for her, at all hours of the day and night, I couldn’t have left her to fend for herself, because I know what it is like to be alone. She also battles depression…

Who is next?
No one knows who is next, but there will be a “next“. Another family will have their hearts broken by suicide. Another lover will lose his or her beloved to suicide. While it would be nice if a person started “telegraphing” their intention to commit suicide months in advance, that rarely if ever happens. Most will be “ordinary” people who are going through extraordinarily hard-times, but very few will ever ask for help, because they believe, rightly or wrongly, that no one cares.

Some will be Veterans who have seen the horrors of war, maybe are badly-mangled themselves, and whose country has abandoned them, because they are “disposable“. He may even be homeless, having even been abandoned by his own family. There is no such thing as a “disposable” person. A country that is unwilling to commit all the necessary resources to care for its veterans has no business sending them to war.

HELP!!!
Yes, you CAN help them, even if they never ask for help. I believe that, at their core, people who commit suicide are feeling alone and abandoned, maybe even betrayed. Their world either is, or already has come crashing down around them. What difference could a caring-friend make? It could be HUGE! Caring about them and what they are going through may be life-changing, for the better. Help them make their life worth living. If you are “too busy” to care, you are TOO BUSY! What is a life worth?

God bless!
Steve