Devotional Message, Sermon Prompts

How the Resurrection Impacts Our Grief

Empty tomb
Empty tomb with three crosses on a hillside.

 

There are some chapters in the Bible that have no rival for the level of importance they play.  John 3 is one.  In that chapter, we have what many have called the message of salvation in a nutshell. In John 3:16, 16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  Another critical chapter is 1 Corinthians 15. Paul defends the truth of the resurrection in this chapter.  There were some in Corinth that questioned the validity of Christ rising from the dead.  So, Paul now is charged with dealing with the subject of the resurrection of the dead.  In doing so, Paul builds the foundation for what the theological point he is going to explain in detail. His underlying defense is clear.   The resurrection of Jesus is the foundation of the gospel and at the heart of our faith.

There are two essential elements in Paul’s argument.

  1. If Jesus Christ did not rise that casts doubt on the truth of God’s word and His promises especially as we deal with the death of loved ones.

 

Never is this more evident when the eternal fate of the one we love is in question.  This doubt is apparent in this story. As Vice President, George Bush represented the U.S. at the funeral of former Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev. Bush was deeply moved by a silent protest carried out by Brezhnev’s widow. She stood motionless by the coffin until seconds before it was closed. Then, just as the soldiers touched the lid, Brezhnev’s wife performed an act of great courage and hope, a gesture that must surely rank as one of the most profound acts of civil disobedience ever committed: She reached down and made the sign of the cross on her husband’s chest. There in the citadel of secular, atheistic power, the wife of the man who had run it all hoped that her husband was wrong. She hoped that there was another life, and that that life was best represented by Jesus who died on the cross, and that the same Jesus might yet have mercy on her husband.  – Gary Thomas, Christian Times, October 3, 1994, p. 26.

It is at the grave that the reality of the resurrection has its most significant hold on us or provides us with its greatest comfort.  This widow felt the full weight of this truth as she said her final goodbyes.  What is the more profound question of “is the resurrection real?”  Underlining that questions for Christians are what the fate of our loved ones is?  Can we have a confident hope that those who have died and gone before us are safe and sound in heaven? If they are then our mourning is tempered and temporary.    This is the deep theological dive Paul is plunging into in I Corinthians 15.  Without Jesus’ resurrection, the witness of the apostles is both useless and false.  For the believer our faith futile.  And the entire world is lost because of our unforgiven sins.  As we say our final goodbyes, we must weep like everyone else because our Christian dead lost.  And the cruelest trick of all is that we are all left without hope if the resurrection is not real,  then Christianity is a farce and none of this matters if Christ has not risen from the dead.  Our life, our faith, our hope is worthless.

Yet, in Jesus’s own words He refutes the claims that the resurrection is something made up by men to calm the masses.  Jesus tells Mary at the tomb of Lazarus as that family is dealing with unmeasurable grief.   25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” John 11:25-26 

  1. The Resurrection is Real!

Paul points out that just the opposite is true that indeed the resurrection is true.  And to prove his point Paul points out that this is not some new, fangled idea.  But that this was God’s plan from the beginning.

 20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.21 Since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead came through one too. 22 In the same way that everyone dies in Adam, so also everyone will be given life in Christ. 1 Corinthians 15:20-22

Our Lord Jesus Christ’s resurrection is the pledge of that of believers, and an essential part of God’s plan to reverse the consequences of Adam’s sin. Due to one mans sin the entire world was plunged into darkness, through the sacrifice of the next Adam, Jesus Christ the entire world is redeemed and rescued.  The word at the beginning of v. 20 indicates that this redemption is happening ‘now, at this very moment’!

The world needed a savior.  We needed someone to take upon themselves the weight of sin and be our substitute, and Jesus was that Lamb of God sacrificed for our sins.  Isaiah describes this so poetically.

But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all. Isa. 53:5-6

There is a Time for Weeping

So, there is a time and a place for mourning and sadness.

A psychotherapist tells about one of her patients who had been taught not to cry. The patient said, “My intellect tells me it is healthy to cry, but I have been brought up to be ashamed of my own tears. I feel weak, out of control and unstable when others see me cry, and I sometimes give in to depression if I allow tears to come.”[1]

That is a sad statement. But as a man, I have been guilty of buying into this philosophy and even at times teaching my boys that.  I was taught if you fall down and hurt yourself don’t you dare cry to get up rub some dirt on it and move on.  Today, God gives us permission to weep.  The Almighty says it is ok to mourn.  When we live our lives without mourning and sadness, we are hindering healing and help our souls need. We are meant to cry. Without grieving, we can’t get to joy.

No doubt Charles Dickens was right when he had Mr. Bumble in Oliver Twist say this about crying: “It opens the lungs, washes the countenance, exercises the eyes and softens the temper. So, cry away.”[2]

You may experience pain that is greater than any joy you have experienced in the past. It is possible you are holding in grief now.  Let it go. Know that one day you will be comforted.  The pain will be replaced with rejoicing. 

The apostle Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica: “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14.  Hope for us Christians is grounded in the belief in the resurrection.  This is why the resurrection matters.   Mourning like the widow in the earlier illustration can only be replaced by hope if the person dies, dies in the Lord, with their eyes looking forward toward the resurrection of all flesh.

[1] “Why Do We Cry?” by Samuel A. Schreiner, Jr., Reader’s Digest, February 1987, 141.

 

[2] Schreiner, 144.

 

Advertisements
Devotional Message

How We Handle Grief Is a Reflection of Our Understanding of Heaven

Cross shaped key
A woman carries a cross shaped key to gates of heaven

On November 1st every year the church stops to give thanks to God for all the Saints who have gone before us.  It is a time to remember all those special people that He put in our lives, mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, children, grandchildren and friends.  All these special saints that were witnesses to us.  I want to take time in this post to honor them for their walk with God and to thank God for sending us such a great cloud of witnesses.

The devotional theme for today is “Blessed are they.”  I am not here to glorify their accomplishments or lift them up because these saints are especially kind and good people.  We give thanks to God for them because they have finished their race, they have fought the good fight, they ran with perseverance the course laid out for them and now they have received their reward. No more struggle with the flesh, no more pain and tears for these people, they are in our Father’s house, they are at peace.  So “Blessed are they” because they have obtained an inheritance that will not fade, one that no robber can break in and steal. They have received eternal life.  They have crossed over from death to life.  Their struggle is over, they won their crown of righteousness, and we thank God for them.

Today we will look at one of the most famous sermons ever written, the Sermon on the Mount.  We will look at the opening section of this sermon, a section called the Beatitudes.

The church of the Middle Ages gathered together a list of attitudes that not checked could led believers away from God.  They called this list the seven deadly sins.  The sins were: pride, envy, gluttony, lust, anger, greed and sloth.
The first destructive attitude was pride.  We see the pride of sin on display daily, in politics, Hollywood, in our families, and even surprisingly in the church.  And if we are not excluded.  Simply hold up a mirror I am sure you will discover another culprit, you as well.  The church defined pride as “excessive egotism, being so self-centered that a person had no room in their spirit for God.” [1] It is easy to allow our ego to get puffed up, or as my mom would say, “became too full of yourself.”  When our pride goes unchecked that condition affects our relationship with God.  Pride pushes the need for God out of our spirit.  Making it easy to ignore the need for God altogether. Pride is very dangerous not only to one’s spiritual health but to one’s physical life as well.

During the Battle of the Wilderness in the Civil War, Union general John Sedgwick was inspecting his troops. At one point he came to a parapet, over which he gazed out in the direction of the enemy. His officers suggested that this was unwise and perhaps he ought to duck while passing the parapet. “Nonsense,” snapped the general. “They couldn’t hit an elephant at this dist—-.” A moment later Sedgwick fell to the ground, fatally wounded.

Today in the Word, August 30, 1993.
Martin Luther said, “Before God, everyone is compelled to lower his plumes.”

The Poor in Spirit

 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” 

 This verse is communicating that the Christ follower who realizes he needs a Savior is blessed.  “Poor in spirit” does not indicate that your faith is inadequate or lacking something.  “Poor in spirit” is the condition that our spirit finds itself in because of our original sin.

There was this patient who went into the doctor’s office and sat down and said, “Okay, Doc here I am, help me.”  The doctor responded, “Well what is wrong with you?” The patient said, “How should I know you are the doctor?”  To which the doctor responded, “You have to help me help you. And believe you me, you do need help!”

The believer like this patient needs help.  The human soul is “poor in spirit” because we are sinners.  Sin separates us from God. Paul helps destroy any illusions we have that somehow, we are excluded from that claim in Romans 3, “…as it is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.’” Romans 3:10-11.  Armed with this firm understanding, we realize that we need help.

As Christians, we are well aware of the spiritual truth that we can’t save ourselves.  We are spiritually unable to stand before a just and holy God.  Thus, Christ comes to the rescue.  Christ stands in the gap for us.  He takes the full weight of our sins upon Himself.  And Christ gave His life as a ransom for a spiritually poor world.

Those Who Mourn

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

Grief is never a blessed experience. Grief and sorrow are painful.  They test our faith and can rock our trust in God.  Yet, Jesus in this section says, “Blessed are those who mourn.”  But not because they are mourning, or they have endured a loss but blessed are they for they shall be comforted.  The blessing is in the fact that our faith in Jesus can help us work our way through even the most devastating losses.  Missionary John G. Paton shares this account.

Not long after arriving in New Hebrides as a pioneer missionary, John G. Paton and his wife rejoiced in the coming of a baby son to gladden their home. But the joy was short-lived. Soon death took both his wife and child, and Dr. Paton had to dig their graves and bury his loved ones with his own hands. In writing of this experience, he testified, “If it had not been for Jesus and the fellowship and grace He afforded me, I am certain I would have gone mad or died of grief beside their lonely graves.” Marvelously strengthened from above, the bereaved servant of God found that the promises of the Word were able to sustain him through the heartache and sorrow of his tragic loss. Our Daily Bread, August 6, 1992

In the original Greek, the word used for mourning is the strongest of those related to grief. It describes mourning the death of a person who is dearly loved.  Many reading this today are feeling the full weight of grief. You may be experiencing pain that is greater than any joy you have experienced in the past. Know that one day you too will be comforted.  The pain will be replaced with rejoicing.

The apostle Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica: “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died.

Know that mourning is not the end but a transition point.  A transition for your loved one from death to life.  A transition for you from mourning to laughter.  A transition to a great reunion in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Blessed are we who fight the good fight and persevere for the kingdom of heaven awaits.

[1] Parish Publishing, LLC