Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Celebrating Ascension Day

This year we are doing something new at the church where I pastor. We are celebrating Ascension Day with a service on Thursday night. This day is 40 days after Easter — the day Christ ascended after his resurrection. 

I have been struck by the importance of the Ascension as we have worked our way through the gospel of John. John, more so than the other gospel accounts, highlights the divine nature of Christ. He begins the gospel by telling the reader that Jesus was with the Father in the beginning in his glory. Repeatedly throughout the book, Jesus tells the disciples that he is going back to where he came from when his mission is complete (Jn 6:62, 7:33, 8:21, 13:1, 20:17). This is of course exactly what happens! 

After the horrors of the crucifixion and the joy of the resurrection, Jesus ministers for 40 days, presumably helping the disciples assimilate and synthesize his teaching and ministry over the past 3 years. This is preparation for the launch of the church. Jesus has promised they would do “greater works” than he did. These greater works are not greater in quality but greater in extent. Jesus was largely rejected and by contrast Peter preaches and thousands repent. Through the spirit, gospel fruit comes in abundance. This is the Spirit that Jesus himself sends once he has ascended. (Jn 16.5-7) 

In our service tomorrow night, we will explore the vital link between the ascension of Christ and the mission of the church. We will practically consider what this means for us and some ways we can engage in the mission. If you are in the Jacksonville/Beaches area, we would love to have you join us!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Sting of Death

This past week, Uncle Ken died. Ken was my dad’s older brother by some 20 years. Although the past few months had been extremely difficult for him with his health rapidly deteriorating, the final sting of death is still potent. There is no loss that feels as deep as the loss of a loved one. I don’t like death. Death hurts. It stings. It makes us uncomfortable. 

But isn't it normal for death to feel uncomfortable? Death was not in the original design for creation. Death was introduced as part of the CURSE handed down by God.(Gn 3) I was helped this morning by a podcast that I listen to, The White Horse Inn. It is hosted by Michael Horton. The men were talking about death and how we do not need to minimize the sting of death. Death is supposed to hurt, and it does. It reminds us of the horrible nature of sin.  

In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul’s words about death's defeat are encouraging. He speaks about a coming day when death, the last enemy, is no more. Paul taunts death by saying, “where is your sting?” The implication: right now, it does sting, then it will not sting because it will not exist. But the reality for now is, as long as it does still exist, it will sting. While it is true that once a believer dies, they are in a better place, it still hurts, doesn’t it? That’s normal. If it doesn’t hurt, that’s a sign that you don’t understand death properly. Jesus cried at the tomb of Lazarus, even minutes before he was going to raise him from the dead. Why? Because his friend died and it made him sad. 

So what do Christians do? Should we just grin and bear it? That's no solution. One passage that is particularly encouraging and instructive for Christians is I Thess 4:13. The verse says: “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.” Notice that Paul isn’t saying we don’t grieve, he’s saying that we grieve with hope. It’s a different type of grief but grief nonetheless. In the next verse we learn why this hope is possible — because of the resurrection of Jesus. Jesus really died and he really was resurrected. And that’s the Christian's story too. We really are going to die and we really will be resurrected. 

It is also encouraging to think that more was gained in Christ than was lost in Adam. In other words, death as a product of the curse is more than reversed in Christ. Death doesn't simply fade away, death is conquered never to return!