Nonsense

flower white lily“…they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense” (Luke 24:11, NIV).

When Mary Magdalene and the other women shared what they had witnessed on the first Easter morning, the disciples must have thought the women were out of their minds. A couple of Scripture-quoting angels, a huge boulder mysteriously set aside, a grave with no body – it was all too much to make sense of. Their leader and friend, Jesus, had been put to death on Friday. There was no doubt about that. But now, on this Sunday morning, these women were claiming that he had risen. How preposterous!

Peter decided to check things out for himself. He had always been the disciple to take things into his own hands. Just imagine what Peter must have been thinking as he ran to the tomb of Jesus. Jesus’ body, the women had said, was no longer in the grave. Surely this disappearing act could be easily explained. Someone could have stolen the body, a cruel trick, but one more believable than the alternative. But what if there really was no rational explanation? What if things were just as these supposed angels had said? Jesus, after all, had made such claims while he was still with the disciples.

Despite the “nonsense”, the foolishness, of a dead body coming back to life, there was a glimmer of hope in Peter’s heart as he approached the tomb and saw for himself that it was empty. Soon his hopes would be realized as he would see Jesus for himself, alive and well. Jesus had risen from the dead!

Friday

cross wooden scuptureIt’s Friday afternoon. Jesus’ body hangs limply upon a Roman cross which stands center-stage in a gruesome scene. Jesus has been beaten and scourged and spat upon. His nail-punctured wrists and feet still hold him securely to the cruel device of the cross. A crown of thorns impales his bloodied brow, and a just-for-good-measure side-piercing spear sits idly by.

Things are quiet now, with the exception of the thunder that rumbles in the distance and the sobs of those who have stuck around. As an angry sky spits upon the scene, the small drops of rainfall mix with the tears of on-lookers. The themes for today are darkness and despair, defined by the crucifixion of an innocent man. Make no mistake. Jesus is dead.

Jesus’ body is hurriedly taken from the cross due to the impending Sabbath Day of rest. Preparations of the body must be made quickly as sundown approaches. Jesus’ body is placed in a borrowed tomb sealed with a huge boulder. Roman soldiers are stationed at the entrance assigned with the task of guarding a lifeless corpse.

For the men and women who followed Jesus, this has been an all-too-real nightmare. Their Lord, their leader, their hope for a meaningful tomorrow, their friend lay silently in a grave. Even Jesus could not defeat death. Apparently, they had misunderstood him in a major way. He couldn’t save himself. So, how was he supposed to save them?

Heaven – Part 2 of 2

butterfly blue black yellow“ ‘My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am’ ” (John 14:2-3, NIV).

These are some of the words Jesus used to describe Heaven. Referring to his “Father’s house”, one with “many rooms”, Heaven is the place Jesus himself went ahead of us to prepare.

Likely, as Jesus spoke about Heaven, he was thinking about the Jewish practice of marriage. According to custom, the newly married husband and wife would move into the family home. This required the addition of a room to accommodate the couple. Depending upon the size of the family, several rooms would be added to the house over the years. Jesus, elsewhere, used the metaphor of marriage as he described himself as a groom and the Church as his bride. So, it’s no surprise that Jesus would extend this matrimonial symbolism to his description of Heaven.

I once had a student reason that God’s creative work on Earth was completed in six days, and that God has spent all the days since creating Heaven. While I’m not completely certain about the accuracy of this theological statement, I love this thought. Just imagine, the one who created all the intricate wonders of Earth – rainbows and butterflies, stars and planets, sunsets and waterfalls – intimately and purposefully preparing a room in Paradise for you and for me. I can hardly wait to see what Jesus, the carpenter and Savior, has in store for us!

Heaven – Part 1 of 2

butterfly yellow on purple flowers“…I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away’ ” (Revelation 21:3-4, NIV).

The Bible Book of Revelation can be difficult to understand. Its writer, John shares visions and images that are often foreign to the reader and at times downright scary – seals and scrolls and trumpets, a dragon and a beast, the abyss and the apocalypse, just to name a few. Still, in Revelation we find beautiful images of Heaven. And, whether taken literally or figuratively as metaphors of truth, these visions can provide comfort and peace to troubled and hurting souls.

That we would be the people of God and that the Deity would be our God makes me think back to stories from the Old Testament. Time and again, God made covenant promises with his chosen Israelite people. God looked over them. He protected them from harm. He made his presence known among them. Yet, time and again, God’s people failed to live up to their side of the deal. They rebelled. They sought after false gods. They sinned.

In the New Testament, God chose an even grander strategy and actually became one of us. He came in the flesh, in bodily and infant form, as Jesus, who lived among us and died for us. Still, we struggle with temptation and sin, with unbelief and lackluster faith. Eventually, our flesh simply fails.

But in Heaven, all is made new and right. There is no death, no crying or mourning, no disease, no sin. And God dwells with his people once again. Really, I think that’s the best description of Heaven, the place where God is with his people. In the meantime, we live and die, knowing that Heaven awaits us.

Fearless

flowers pink and blue“In God, whose word I praise— in God I trust and am not afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?” (Psalm 56:4, NIV).

I’m amazed when I hear of Christians who, for at least a moment in time, seem to be fearless. The Bible is full of such heroes, individuals whose faith was stronger than their fear. Daniel stood toe to toe with lions. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego kept their cool, and their faith, even while inside a fiery furnace. A stammering Moses found his voice as he faced Pharaoh. And the boy David took down one giant of a man.

Then, there are the Christian martyrs who made the ultimate sacrifice for their faith. The author of Hebrews speaks of those who “…were put to death by stoning… sawed in two.. (and) killed by the sword…” (Hebrews 11:37, NIV). Each of these individuals exchanged the worldly comforts of this life for an eternal reward in Heaven.

Even today, there are Christians who put their lives on the line for their beliefs. Some worship in secret places, because the Word they share is forbidden in public. Missionaries are called to remote regions with no guarantee that they or their message will be received kindly. All over the world, preachers preach and teachers teach the good news Gospel message of what Jesus has done.

Christians throughout the ages have had the courage to stand-up for their faith. May God make each of us fearless as well.

God Cried

flowers white and yellow“Jesus wept” (John 11:35, NIV).

I used to think as a kid that real men didn’t cry. But then I saw my Dad, tears falling from his eyes, mourning the loss of a friend, and I knew that it was okay to show emotion.

Years later, I watched a sports icon, basketball coach Jim Valvano, losing not a game, but a fight against cancer. In a speech at the 1993 ESPY sports awards, Valvano said, “To me there are three things everyone should do every day. Number one is laugh. Number two is think… Number three, you should have your emotions move you to tears. If you laugh, think and cry, that’s a heck of a day.”

Jesus, too, cried, at least once, as recorded in Scripture. In the shortest verse of the Bible we read, “Jesus wept” (John 11:35, NIV). One might wonder what sort of things God would cry about. It’s important for us to remember that while Jesus was completely divine, he was somehow, at the same time, completely human. Jesus had lost a dear friend, Lazarus, and it moved him to tears.

I’m glad these two words are included in the Bible, because they tell me that God understands and cares about the difficult things that we all go through. The author of Hebrews states, “For we do not have a high priest (Jesus) who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin” (Hebrews 4:15, NIV).

God in tears. Because he understands. I find that amazing!

Known

flowers white sunset

“I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:10-11, NIV).

Much of the New Testament of the Bible is written either about or by the Apostle Paul. Formerly known as Saul of Tarsus, Paul received a name change following his encounter with the risen Jesus on a road to the city of Damascus. Paul’s life as one who persecuted the fledgling Christian Church took a complete one-hundred-and-eighty degree turn as he placed his faith in Jesus as the one who would save him.

Under Paul’s leadership and laser-like focus on ministry, the Church exploded in number. Paul preached and taught the Word of God with Spirit-filled passion and conviction. He made several missionary journeys during his time as an apostle and penned at least thirteen letters to individuals and churches. These letters, also known as epistles, appear in our Bible’s New Testament. Even today, Paul’s influence radically exceeds his limited lifespan and martyred death.

With such ministry success, we might think that Paul knew the character and love of God better than anyone. He had, after all, come face to face with Jesus. Still, Paul expressed his burning desire to “…know Christ…” (Philippians 3:10, NIV). This was his ultimate hope.

I, too, want to “…know Christ…” (Philippians 3:10, NIV). This is the desire of my heart and the longing of my soul, to know Jesus intimately, just as he knows me. I want to worship him wrecklessly and serve him with unrestrained passion, to love him as he loves me, to speak to him boldly and follow him obediently. I desire to live my life for him, because he died for me.

May God bless our journey together as we strive to know Jesus better.