Posts tagged ‘Last Day’

ISIS Takes a Tumble

ISIS’s caliphate has fallen.

This is the news that broke last week when the Syrian Democratic Forces, who are backed by the U.S., finally broke the terrorist group’s last metropolitan stronghold in Raqqa.  The New York Times reports that:

Celebrations erupted in Raqqa, where residents had lived under the repressive rule of militants who beheaded people for offenses as minor as smoking. Fighters could be seen cheering and firing celebratory gunfire in the streets, according to residents reached by phone and text message.

One video shows a woman ripping off her burqa and chanting joyfully, overcome with emotion that her city has been liberated.

Even with this victory, Raqqa is still a plenty dangerous place.  ISIS still probably has suicide bombers in hiding waiting to launch attacks.  The terrorist group has also booby-trapped many areas with improvised explosive devices.  Moreover, the city of Raqqa itself has been devastated.  The New York Times published another article featuring images from cities across Iraq, including Raqqa.  All of them lie in ruins.

Still, this is an important milestone victory against a terrorist group whose territory, at its height in 2014, covered 34,000 square miles in Syria and Iraq and whose tactics against defectors and dissidents were nothing short of gruesomely brutal.  In Paradise Square in the center of Raqqa, later fittingly renamed Hell Square:

Prisoners were tossed from tall buildings, beheaded, lashed or shot while the crowds gathered … Hands and feet were chopped off. Others were stoned to death … Bodies and severed heads were carefully placed around the square by Islamic State militants and would remain there for days. Those who lived and escaped to tell the tale would describe how the bodies were labeled, identifying the victim’s crime in a deliberate warning to others.

Sadly, as chilling as these macabre parades were, we know that, even if scenes like these are in the past for now, they may not be in the past forever.  Wickedness is horrifyingly resilient.  But even if the war against the wickedness of ISIS has not yet been fully won, we can be thankful that a major battle has been.  We can also be thankful that, no matter how brutal a regime may be, we have a perfect Sovereign who, in the words of the prophet Daniel, graciously and often necessarily, “deposes kings and raises up others” (Daniel 2:21).

Daniel’s words about God’s power over world affairs come as he is interpreting a dream for Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon.  The king has a dream where he sees his kingdom, the kingdom of Babylon, along with four future kingdoms:  the kingdom of the Medes and the Persians, the kingdom of the Greeks, the kingdom of the Romans, and the kingdom of God.  In his vision, only one kingdom lasts.  Daniel, in his interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s vision, reveals to the king which kingdom will endure:

The God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever. (Daniel 2:44)

Only the kingdom of God, Daniel says, will endure.  Every other kingdom, including Nebuchadnezzar’s, will fall.

In a world where a kingdom like ISIS’s can have its say, we can be thankful that the kingdom of God will eventually carry the day.  So, as grateful as I am that ISIS’s caliphate is waning, I’m ultimately hopeful for a perfect kingdom that is coming.  For when that kingdom comes on the Last Day, ISIS will not only lose the prospect of further victories like they have now thanks to the brave work of the Syrian Democratic Forces, they’ll lose even their past victories, as the death they have wrought will be swallowed up by the eternal life that Christ, by the cross, has bought.

ISIS has an even bigger loss to come.

October 23, 2017 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Saving Marriage from the Heartbreak Hotel

Wedding Chapel

Credit: Viator.com

It seems as though declining marriage rates are not just changing our society sociologically, but are stressing the wedding capital of the world, Las Vegas, economically.  In an article for Bloomberg, Jeanna Smialek explains how:

Roland August has officiated at thousands of weddings in Las Vegas, the self-proclaimed capital of “I do.”

But these days August – who often presides dressed as Elvis Presley – has a rare vantage point from which to observe the nation’s long shift toward “I don’t.” …

The wedding chapels where August works have seen business dwindle, he said, and Vegas is pushing to reverse the decline in an industry that generates as much as $3 billion in economic activity annually. In 2015 the surrounding county introduced a $14 surcharge on marriage licenses to pay for marketing, and local business leaders helped start a Wedding Chamber of Commerce last year.

A drop in weddings, it seems, amounts to a drop in revenue for a city that is known as being flush with cash.  Of course, this is all part of a broader nationwide trend.  The Pew Research Center reports that, whereas 72% of adults 18 years of age or older were married in 1960, now, only 50% are.  But, if the graph published by Bloomberg is any indication, the nationwide decline in marriage has hit Nevada especially hard.

Marriage Decline

In one way, none of this is particularly surprising.  For all the fun and levity, which are not bad things in and of themselves, that I’m sure Mr. August brings to the weddings he performs, vows taken without things like spiritual guidance from a pastor or other religious mentor, serious prior consideration of all the things marriage entails, a commitment to make marriage alone the sacred space for sex, and, often, even a baseline of sobriety do little more than to cheapen and make a mockery out of the whole institution.  And when something becomes cheap, it inevitably becomes expendable.  After all, if Britney Spears can drunkenly marry her childhood friend in Las Vegas and then have their marriage annulled 55 hours later, one has to wonder:  why bother with marriage in the first place?

They key to reversing the decline in marriage and the denigration of marriage is not to try to repristinate the marriage-saturated days of 1960, hoping that, somehow, marriage rates will soar again if we just yell enough at the cultural forces that have damaged the institution.  No, the key to a deeper appreciation of and desire for marriage is to consider what marriage is really meant to reflect.  So here are three things that we can say, as Christians, marriage reflects.

Marriage reflects community in Christ.

One of the great mysteries of Christian teaching is that of the Trinity – that God is one, yet, at the same time, He is also three persons:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Thus, God is in community, in some sense, with Himself.  For centuries, professional theologians and Sunday School teachers alike have tried to explain this mystery in a way that is comprehensible.  My Sunday School teacher, for instance, mused that the Trinity is like an apple.  There is the peel, the flesh, and the core.  These are three parts, and yet they are all part of one apple.  The problem with this illustration, however, is that God is indivisible.  He cannot be divided like an apple.  He is not made up of three parts, but actually is three persons.

Thankfully, the Bible presents us with its own object lesson to help us understand the Trinity.  What is this object lesson?  Marriage.  When marriage is given by God, He explains that it is meant to be when “a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).  In marriage, there are two persons, and yet they are one flesh, even as in God, there are three persons, yet He is one God.  Moreover, throughout this life, a husband and wife ought to be indivisible, as is God.  This is why Jesus says divorce is so damaging – not only because it hurts the people involved, but because it tarnishes the very reflection of God!  Thus, community in marriage, even if it is broken by sin, is meant to reflect the perfect community of the Trinity.

Marriage reflects the sacrifice of Christ.

As anyone who has been married for any amount of time will tell you, marriage requires sacrifice.  It requires laying down your own wants, needs, and desires for the sake of another.  The apostle Paul eloquently explains the sacrificial nature of marriage when he writes:

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to Himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. (Ephesians 5:25-27)

Paul notes that the sacrifice a husband makes for his wife ought to reflect the sacrifice that Christ made for His church, even if that sacrifice includes laying down his very life, as it did for Christ.  Thus, at the same time marriage gives a community that reflects the Trinity, it also eats away at our proclivity toward selfishness.  Marriage is fundamentally centered not on yourself, but on your spouse, even as God is fundamentally centered on us and on our salvation.

Marriage reflects eternity with Christ.

The best marriage is not the one you celebrate once a year on your anniversary.  The best marriage is the one that is still to come:

I heard what sounded like the roar of a great multitude in heaven shouting: “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give Him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and His bride has made herself ready.” (Revelation 19:1, 6-7)

When the apostle John gets a window into eternity, he sees that every wedding on earth between a husband and wife is ultimately meant to reflect a perfect wedding in heaven between Christ and His people.  Marriage in this age, then, however wonderful it can be, is not an end in and of itself.  It is a sign pointing to something even greater.  This is why Jesus, when He is questioned by the religious leaders about marriage in eternity, says, “At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage” (Matthew 22:30).  Marriage between people till death do them part is meant to point to perfect communion with God where death no longer reigns.  Marriage, then, at the same time it fills a longing, should also create a longing.  It should create a longing for a deeper community that not even your spouse can meet.  It should create a longing for a deeper community that only Christ can fill in His wedding feast.

This is what marriage is meant to reflect.  It cannot be reduced, then, to a Vegas jag, or, for that matter, a well-planned out and exorbitantly expensive ceremony and reception.  These things are not necessarily bad on their own terms, but if they become the things of marriage, they reduce marriage to something that is entertaining, cheap, and contrived.  But marriage cannot stand if it is this.  Marriage must stand as a gift from God that gives you community, costs you your very self, and points you to the One who gave Himself for you so that, on the Last Day, He can walk you down His eternal aisle.

No neon or Elvis costumes needed.

July 17, 2017 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Humans: Never for Sale

Credit:  texasgopvote.com

Credit: texasgopvote.com

Shortly before the new year, The New York Times published a short, heartbreaking article featuring stories from U.S. sex trafficking victims. Though there were only two stories, these were all that was needed to shock and grieve their reader. I share one of the two here:

Now 32, Genesis was offered her first hit of crack cocaine by her mother when she was 13. By 18, she had a criminal record. She spent her teenage years in and out of strip clubs before becoming the property of a violent pimp. By 21, Genesis had lost a baby and become addicted to drugs.

For years under a violent trafficker, Genesis said she was never allowed to leave his house. The rooms were bugged, the bathroom had no doors. She said her pimp used to tie her and other women he trafficked to a weight bench, beat them and starve them …

“I didn’t know I was in hell,” she said. “I thought it was just life. Over those years I was held hostage, shot at, beaten with a pistol. And somewhere in my sick mind I thought this is how life is supposed to be.”[1]

If only Genesis’ story was unique. But it’s not. Sex trafficking is a much broader problem. Though it’s hard to track because so many victims of sex trafficking do not report their experiences, the Department of Justice estimates that as many as 300,000 children may become victims of sexual exploitation each year.[2] Even if the numbers are lower, one case of sex trafficking is one too many.

The sadness of human exploitation struck me in a new way as I was reading Revelation 18 in my devotions this past week. John is describing the fall of Babylon, a city symbolic of the world’s evil. John describes the decimation of this world’s systemic sin once and for all:

“Woe! Woe, O great city, O Babylon, city of power! In one hour your doom has come!” The merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her because no one buys their cargoes any more – cargoes of gold, silver, precious stones and pearls; fine linen, purple, silk and scarlet cloth; every sort of citron wood, and articles of every kind made of ivory, costly wood, bronze, iron and marble; cargoes of cinnamon and spice, of incense, myrrh and frankincense, of wine and olive oil, of fine flour and wheat; cattle and sheep; horses and carriages; and bodies and souls of men. (Revelation 18:10-13)

John’s Babylon sold many things to enrich itself. But most tragically, it sold the “bodies and souls of men.”

John’s Babylon is not far from us. Every time a young lady is prostituted out to the darkest of men, “bodies and souls of men” are sold by pimps – just like in Babylon. Every time a woman performs simulated sex acts at a club for a gaggle of wide-eyed gawkers, “bodies and souls of men” are sold by the adult entertainment industry – just like in Babylon. Every time a person sits hidden behind a flickering computer screen, staring at erotic images of the most carnal of acts, “bodies and souls of men” are sold by the porn industry – just like in Babylon. Every time a scared woman is counseled and even cajoled to abort her baby even though everything inside of her is telling her not to, “bodies and souls of men” are sold by the abortion industry – just like in Babylon.

How sick.

As heart-rending as human trafficking may be, John promises that, mercifully, this sick industry will meet its end. The “bodies and souls of men” will not be sold forever. Babylon will fall. And when Babylon does fall, the merchants who made their money off the pain of people will grieve their destruction and cry, “Woe” (Revelation 18:19)! But those who have been oppressed and sold will celebrate their liberation and shout, “Rejoice” (Revelation 18:20)!

May that day of rejoicing come quickly.

If you need help out of being trafficked, click here.

_______________________

[1] The Associated Press, “Sex Trafficking Shelter Filled With Survivor Tales,” The New York Times (12.29.2014).

[2] William Adams, Colleen Owens, and Kevonne Small, “Effects of Federal Legislation on the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children,” Juvenile Justice Bulletin (July 2010).

January 26, 2015 at 5:15 am 1 comment

The Waning of Marriage

Marriage 1Right now at the church where I serve, we are in a series on marriage called “We Do.” As I see it, this series is important not only because many marriages are in trouble and in need of help, but because many marriages are not even getting started in the first place. The precipitous decline of marriage in this country is well documented. Take, for instance, the recent alarm sounded by Robert J. Samuelson of The Washington Post:

In 1960, only 12 percent of adults ages 25 to 34 had never married; by the time they were 45 to 54, the never-married share had dropped to 5 percent. Now fast forward. In 2010, 47 percent of Americans 25 to 34 had never married.[1]

Marriage rates are in a free-fall. But Samuelson’s explanation as to why marriage rates are tumbling is especially fascinating to me:

The stranglehold that marriage had on middle-class thinking and behavior began to weaken in the 1960s with birth control pills, publication of Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique — an assault on women’s traditional housecleaning and child-rearing roles — and the gradual liberalization of divorce laws.

The resulting expansion of personal choice has been breathtaking. Those liberalized divorce laws have freed millions of women and men from unsatisfying or abusive marriages. (From 1960 to 1980, the divorce rate rose nearly 150 percent; it has since reversed about half that gain.) Taboos against premarital sex and cohabitation have virtually vanished. So has the stigma of out-of-wedlock birth or, for married couples, of not having children. With more job opportunities, women flooded the labor market.

Samuelson connects the decline of marriage to the “expansion of personal choice.” In other words, the more choices a person has – from the choice of pre-marital sex to birth control to cohabitation to divorce – the lower the chance a person will choose to marry or, as the case may be, stay married.

Sadly, the “expansion of personal choice” does not insure against the unintended and often painful consequences of personal choice. Samuelson cites Isabell Sawhill, author of Generation Unbound: Drifting into Sex and Parenthood without Marriage:

“New choices for adults,” Sawhill writes, “have not generally been helpful to the well-being of children.” Single-parent families have exploded. In 1950, they were 7 percent of families with children under 18; by 2013, they were 31 percent. Nor was the shift isolated. The share was 27 percent for whites, 34 percent for Hispanics and 62 percent for African Americans. By harming children’s emotional and intellectual development, the expansion of adult choices may have reduced society’s collective welfare.

It is not (as Sawhill repeatedly says) that all single-parent households are bad or that all two-parent families are good. But the advantage lies with the approach that can provide children more financial support and personal attention. Two low-income paychecks, or two good listeners, are better than one. With a colleague, Sawhill simulated the effect today if the marriage rates of 1970 still prevailed. The result: The child poverty rate would drop by about 20 percent — a “huge effect” compared with most government programs.

Our emancipation from marriage comes with a price – a price born by the children of those who have emancipated themselves from marriage. A higher poverty rate is the price most easily measured, but other things, such as the lack of “two listening ears” Sawhill refers to, are also among the prices our children must pay.

I am well aware, of course, that there are certain situations where a person should not get married or cannot stay married. But these situations are far fewer and farther between than our culture makes them out to be.

At the heart of our marriage-phobia is the fact that marriage calls on us to think beyond ourselves, which is not easy when we have all the freedom in the world to make decisions for ourselves. It turns out that when we are given unrestrained freedom to make decisions, we make selfish ones.

But this is where the Church has much to offer. We do, after all, worship a Savior who not only thought beyond Himself, but lived beyond Himself and died by Himself so we could be a family in God.

Ultimately, as followers of Christ, our hope is for a marriage on the Last Day when it will be sung: “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give Him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and His bride has made herself ready” (Revelation 19:6-7).

If this is what we’re preparing and hoping for, we might as well get a little practice for our marriage on the Last Day by being married in this day. And that’s why marriage is good – even if it isn’t always easy.

____________________

[1] Robert J. Samuelson, “The family deficit,” The Washington Post (10.26.2014).

November 17, 2014 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

We’ve Only Just Begun

Empty Tomb 1As a kid, I remember a song my mom used to play from the 70’s by the Carpenters called  “We’ve Only Just Begun.”  The song is about a couple’s wedding day and imagines all the things still to come in their relationship.  “We’ve only just begun to live,” the song muses.

The message of this golden oldie is a message I often share with the soon-to-be-wedded couples I counsel.  “The wedding day is a big day,” I will say, “but it is only one day.  Don’t just plan for your wedding day.  Plan for all the days that come after your wedding day.  After all, when you walk down that aisle and make your vows, you’ve only just begun.”

Yesterday, we celebrated the resurrection of Christ.  The apostle Paul summarizes Christ’s resurrection thusly:

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures. (1 Corinthians 15:3-4)

For Paul, Christ’s death for our sins and resurrection three days later is “of first importance.”  The Greek word for this phrase is protos, from which we get our word “prototype.”  A prototype, of course, is a first run of a product or procedure meant to be a test for what comes after it.  And this is precisely what Christ’s resurrection is.  For, according to Paul, Christ’s resurrection – glorious as it is – is only the beginning.  Paul explains:

Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. (1 Corinthians 15:20-22)

Paul argues that in Christ’s resurrection on Easter Day, God was doing a test run for our resurrections on the Last Day.  As glorious as Easter is, then, it is only a foretaste of what is to come.  It is only a prototype for the big roll out of resurrection and life that will burst forth at Christ’s return.  God has “only just begun” to raise people from death.  An even bigger Easter is still on its way – an Easter when we will not only shout, “Christ has risen,” but, “We have risen!”

April 21, 2014 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Luther on Christ’s Resurrection…And Ours

Resurrection 6On this Easter Monday, I thought I would share with you some words from a series of seventeen sermons preached by Martin Luther in 1533 on 1 Corinthians 15.  In this chapter, the apostle Paul speaks of the resurrection of Christ and the hope and assurance that it gives us that we too will be raised on the Last Day:

Because Christ is risen and gives us His resurrection against our sin, death, and hell, we must advance to where we also learn to say: “O death, where is thy sting?” [1 Corinthians 15:55] although we at present see only the reverse, namely, that we have nothing but the perishable hanging about our neck, that we lead a wretched filthy life, that we are subject to all sorts of distress and danger, and that nothing but death awaits us in the end.

But the faith that clings to Christ is able to engender far different thoughts. It can envisage a new existence.  It can form an image and gain sight of a condition where this perishable, wretched form is erased entirely and replaced by a pure and celestial essence.  For since faith is certain of this doctrine that Christ’s resurrection is our resurrection, it must follow that this resurrection is just as effective in us as it was for Him – except that He is a different person, namely, true God.  And faith must bring it about that this body’s frail and mortal being is discarded and removed and a different, immortal being is put on, with a body that can no longer be touched by filth, sickness, mishap, misery, or death but is perfectly pure, healthy, strong, and beautiful…

God did not create man that he should sin and die, but that he should live.  But the devil inflicted so much shameful filth and so many blemishes on nature that man must bear so much sickness, stench, and misfortune about his neck because he sinned.  But now that sin is removed through Christ, we shall be rid of all of that too.  All will be pure, and nothing that is evil or loathsome will be felt any longer on earth. (AE 28:202-203)

Luther’s final words beautifully summarize the hope of Easter:  “All will be pure, and nothing that is evil or loathsome will be felt any longer on the earth.”  Because Christ is risen, the evils of sin and death will be destroyed.  Or, in the words of the poet John Donne, because of Easter, “death, thou shalt die!”

Christ is risen!  And this means you will too.

April 1, 2013 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

A Life That Ended Too Soon…At 116 Years

Besse Cooper

Besse Cooper (Photo: David Goldman, AP)

Last Tuesday afternoon, Besse Cooper of Monroe, Georgia passed away peacefully.  She was 116 years of age.  She was also the world’s oldest woman.[1]

I was doing the math in my head.  And though I don’t know her birthday so my I may be a year off on some of my calculations, I’m still pretty close.  Besse Cooper was born in 1896.  This means when the Titanic sank, she was sixteen.  When the United States entered World War I, she was twenty-one.  When the stock market crashed the Great Depression hit, she was thirty-three.  When Pearl Harbor was bombed, she was forty-five.  When John F. Kennedy was assassinated, she was comfortably settled into retirement at sixty-seven.  When Apollo 11 landed, she was seventy-three.  And when 9/11 rocked our nation, she had passed the century mark at one hundred and five.

As I thought back over all the events to which this woman had been witness, even if only from afar, I stood in awe.  A lot of history happens in 116 years!  And yet, even a life as long and robust and Mrs. Cooper’s is hardly a hairbreadth long in the eyes of the God who gives it.  The Psalmist puts it bluntly:  “Man is like a breath; his days are like a fleeting shadow” (Psalm 144:4).  On the stage of history as a whole, 116 years occupies nary a dark corner.

Though the biblical writers may look at life as fleeting, they nevertheless do not resign themselves fatalistically to its end.  Instead, they kick mightily against the truncated span of life.  The prophet Isaiah notes that a life that lasts a mere century – or perhaps a little more – has not lasted nearly long enough!  He yearns for a world where “he who dies at a hundred will be thought a mere youth” (Isaiah 65:20).  Even one hundred years is not enough for Isaiah.  He wants more.

Finally, the problem the biblical writers have has nothing to do with when life comes to end, but with that life comes to end.  A life that ends – be that at ten days, ten months, ten years, or ten years times ten years – is a life that ends too soon.  And indeed, this is true.  For God, when He gave us life, intended life to be a gift we keep.  He intended life to be a gift that lasts.

Sin, of course, had other plans.  But this is why Christ came on a mission – to recapture and raise, by His resurrection, people who die way too soon.  To recapture and raise, by His resurrection, people who die at all.  Like Besse Cooper.  May she rest in peace.  But better yet, may she wake at the telos’s trumpet.


[1] Associated Press, “Woman, 116, listed as ‘world’s oldest’ dies in Ga.,” USA Today (12.5.2012).

December 10, 2012 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Resurrection, It Does a Body Good!

In his book, The Historical Jesus, John Dominic Crossan says of Jesus’ resurrection, “Nobody knew what had happened to Jesus’ body.”[1]  Crossan is well known for asserting that Jesus’ resurrection was not a bodily resurrection, but a series of mystical visions experienced by and subsequently promoted by early Christians.  As for the fate of Jesus’ body after death, Crossan believes it was thrown in a shallow grave where it was quickly scavenged by wild animals.[2]  And Crossan is not alone in his belief.  Incredulous at the notion that a dead person can physically rise, many post-Enlightenment thinkers and theologians will speak of Christ’s resurrection as one that took place merely in the minds or hearts of His earliest followers.

The biblical account of Christ’s resurrection is not nearly so scientifically sterilized as Crossan and others make it out to be.  Whatever these people may believe about Christ’s fate after His crucifixion, the biblical authors believed that Christ rose bodily.  Indeed, this is Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 15:

Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep…So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. (1 Corinthians 15:20, 42-43)

Paul’s argues that Christ’s bodily resurrection is the first resurrection in a long line of bodily resurrections that will come on the Last Day.  The bodies of believers, once perishable, will be raised imperishable.  The bodies of believers, born into the dishonor of sin, will be raised into the glory of perfection.  The bodies of believers, formerly weakened by the Fall, will be raised in eternal power.  The resurrection, Paul says, is bodily.  And not just Christ’s resurrection is bodily, our resurrections are too.

Jesus Himself speaks to the corporal nature of His resurrection when He appears to His disciples:

While they were still talking about this, Jesus Himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at My hands and My feet. It is I Myself! Touch Me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” When He had said this, He showed them His hands and feet.  And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, He asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?”  They gave Him a piece of broiled fish, and He took it and ate it in their presence. (Luke 24:36-43)

Jesus will not have His resurrection mistaken by His disciples for a measly apparition.  This is why He invites His disciples to look at and touch His hands and His feat.  This is why He eats a piece of fish.  Jesus has risen bodily.

So why is this even important?  Why make such hay out of whether or not Jesus rose bodily?  Three reasons come to mind.  First, the bodily resurrection of Christ is the linchpin of our faith.  To deny this is to lose everything.  As the apostle Paul writes, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17).  To deny the resurrection of Christ is to deny all of Christ and His work.  There can be no compromise on His resurrection.  Second, the bodily resurrection of Christ affirms the goodness of God’s creation.  God created bodies.  And He cares about bodies.  Christ’s resurrection is proof of this.  For God could not stand by to see His Son’s body wrecked and ruined by a cross.  And God will not stand by to see our bodies and wrecked and ruined by sin.  And this leads to the third reason Jesus’ bodily resurrection is so important.  The bodily resurrection of Christ is a promise our bodily resurrections on the Last Day.  The fact of the matter is this:  our God is just getting going when it comes to resurrections.  One day, graves will be emptied, death will be defeated, and the redeemed of the Lord will cry,  “Where, O death, is your victory?  Where, O death, is your sting” (1 Corinthians 15:55).  What a glorious day this will be.  And this is why I believe in the resurrection of Jesus’ body and in the resurrection of mine.  For such a resurrection is the hope and promise of life everlasting.


[1] John Dominic Crossan, The Historical Jesus (San Francisco:  HarperSanFrancisco, 1991), 394.

[2] John Dominic Crossan, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography (San Francisco, HarperSanFrancisco, 1994), 160.

April 9, 2012 at 5:15 am 1 comment

ABC Extra – “Rejoice…Always!”

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice” (Philippians 4:4)!  This verse has always frustrated me.  Not because I think it is somehow incorrect.  Quite the contrary, I believe the command to rejoice is a divine and a good command.  No, this verse has always frustrated me because I’m no good at it.  The command is clear:  I am to rejoice in the Lord always.  I, however, seem to manage to rejoice in the Lord only sometimes.  There are plenty of moments when I either find my joy in something other than the Lord or I lose my sense of joy altogether.  I fail miserably at following this command.

It’s far too easy, when reading a verse like this, to chalk up Paul’s language here to a bit of hyperbole – a bit of overstatement just to make his point.  “Surely Paul wasn’t being rigidly literal!” we might whisper to ourselves.  “As long as I rejoice in the Lord sometimes, or even most of the time, I’m sure the Lord will be content with my best efforts.”  But when our God gives commands, He does not hand out “A’s” for effort.  He actually expects us to follow His mandates.  And this mandate is clear:  We are to rejoice in the Lord always.

But how can this happen?  On the one hand, we must confess that it doesn’t happen – at least on this side of heaven.  As I admitted above, I certainly fall short in the joy department.  But I can rejoice that God forgives me through Christ for my lack of rejoicing.  As with every other command of God, this is a command which we do not – and, because of our sinful natures, cannot – follow.  On the other hand, it is important to note that Paul does not give this command to rejoice without offering us a roadmap to joy when he writes, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6).  In verse 4, when Paul exhorts us to rejoice in the Lord always, the Greek word for always is pas.  In verse 6, when Paul tells us address everything with prayer and petition, the Greek word for “everything” is pas.  Here, then, is how we are to rejoice in the Lord during everything – we are to encounter everything with Him through prayer and petition.  That trial that we face – we are to face it with the Lord.  That triumph that we enjoy – we are to enjoy it with the Lord.  That question that we have – we are to ask it to the Lord.  We are to live our lives with a keen awareness that we live with the Lord.  For as long as we are with the Lord, we always have reason to rejoice.  This is why Paul says, “Rejoice in the Lord always!”

Rejoicing, then, begins not with an effort to conjure up joy, but with an awareness of God’s continual presence.  It begins with an awareness that, as Paul states, “The Lord is near” (Philippians 4:5).  He is near in time – for His second coming is imminent.  And He is near in space – for He promises to always be with us.  And when you are aware of God’s presence and closeness, which is an indication of His care, concern, and compassion for us, it’s hard to anything but rejoice…always. 

Want to learn more? Go to www.ConcordiaLutheranChurch.com and check out audio and video from Pastor Tucker’s message or Pastor Krueger’s ABC!

November 28, 2011 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

ABC Extra – Seven Tips for Reading Revelation Realistically

In light of recent predictions that the rapture would take place on May 21 at 6 pm eastern time, Pastor Tucker and I thought it would be helpful to address what the Bible truly teaches about the last days and Christ’s Second Coming in worship and ABC yesterday.  After all, there are clearly many unbiblical views of this age’s last days floating around, the May 21 rapture date being one of them.  Pastor Tucker and I had a great time addressing head on the lies of this world with the truth of the Bible.  In an effort to further cut through some of the confusion, I wanted republish an article I wrote a couple of years back for our church body concerning the Bible’s preeminent apocalyptic book:  the book of Revelation.

Revelation is truly one of the most difficult books in Scripture to read and understand.  If you’ve ever tried to read Revelation, you’ve encountered everything from dragons to beasts to horsemen, oh my!  Saint John, who wrote revelation, has imagery that is overwhelming.  He has metaphors which are befuddling.  And his numerology is harder to crack than your college calculus course.  So how in the world could we ever read, much less understand, such a confusing book?

Yesterday in ABC, I offered two tips to help you wade through Revelation’s mysteries.  I figured that if two tips for reading Revelation are good, then seven tips must be even better.  What follows, then, is what I like to call, “Zach’s Seven Tips for Reading Revelation Realistically.”  I arrived at these tips after writing a series of daily blogs on the book of Revelation.

It is important to note that these tips are not meant to offer a full-fledged interpretation of Revelation as a commentary might do; rather, they are meant to offer a hermeneutic – that is, a method of interpretation – to assist you as you read Revelation for yourself.  They are, in some sense, meant to “teach a man how to fish” so that he can properly read John’s mysterious opus.  So, with this in mind, remember these tips when you engage in eschatological inquiry with Saint John.

Tip #1:  If it didn’t mean that in John’s day, it doesn’t mean that in our day.

Many interpretations of Revelation get real weird real quick. The Christian theologian and humorist G.K. Chesterton once quipped, “Though St. John the Evangelist saw many strange monsters in his vision, he saw no creature so wild as one of his own commentators.”[1] The reason so many people find so many wild things in Revelation is because rather than asking, “What was John actually thinking about when he wrote Revelation?” they instead try to arbitrarily connect John’s visions to all sorts of current events. Whenever we read Scripture, however, we should first try to understand the author’s own intended meaning rather than making up our own meanings.  Old Testament professor Tremper Longman III explains cogently:  “If literature is an act of communication, then meaning resides in the intention of the author.  The author encoded a message for the readers.  Interpretation then has as its goal the recovery of the author’s purpose in writing.”[2] When we read Revelation, we should first try to decipher John’s purposes in his imagery rather than our own.  Sadly, many people fail to do this.  For instance, some people actually think the infamous Mark of the Beast, 666 (13:18), is a code contained on computer chips which will one day be implanted by our government in our foreheads in a conspiracy to make us all lobotomized Satanists. The problem is, there were no computer chips in John’s day. Thus, John is probably not talking about computer chips here.  And to say that he was is to claim that we understand John’s revelation better than John himself.  This constitutes the height of arrogance and ought to be avoided.

Tip #2:  Know your Bible.

John employs countless biblical allusions in Revelation that we can miss and misinterpret if we don’t know the rest of our Bible. For example, in Revelation 16, John writes, “Then I saw three evil spirits that looked like frogs; they came out of the mouth of the dragon” (16:13). Huh? Frogs coming out of a dragon? Well, a “dragon” is John’s image for Satan (12:9) and “frogs” are classified as unclean animals in Leviticus 11:10. John seems to be saying, then, that Satan will speak unclean, deceiving, and blasphemous things about the Gospel. Now it makes sense! But you have to know the rest of your Bible in order to catch John’s point.

Tip #3:  Know your history.

John wrote Revelation while exiled on the island of Patmos (1:9), a Roman penal settlement in the Aegean Sea. During John’s exile, Domitian was emperor of Rome. According to the ancient Roman historian Suetonius, Domitian demanded that the subjects of the empire worship him and even call him “lord and god.”[3] The German theologian and numismatist Ethelbert Stauffer writes of this emperor: “Domitian loved to hear…the cry of ‘Hail to the Lord!’…Other forms of acclamation…were the following: Hail, Victory, Lord of the earth, Invincible, Power, Glory, Honour, Peace, Security, Holy, Blessed, Great, Unequalled, Thou Alone, Worthy art Thou, Worthy is he to inherit the Kingdom, Come, come, do not delay, Come again.”[4] In Revelation 4:11, Jesus receives this acclamation: “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for You created all things, and by Your will they were created and have their being.” Many scholars believe that John is parodying the praises sung to Domitian in that day, saying that these praises to the emperor really belong to Jesus. But we only know this by knowing history.

Tip #4:  If you feel like you’ve seen this before, it’s because you have.

Revelation tends to be more thematic rather than chronological in its organization.  Indeed, when reading Revelation, you find that the world ends no fewer than four times (6:12-17, 11:15-19, 14:14-20, 16:17-21)!  Following these four apocalypses, John then offers a detailed account of history’s conclusion in chapters 17-19.  It is vital to recognize that all of these “endings” describe the same time period from different perspectives.  It is not unusual, then, the get a case of déjà vu when reading Revelation.  This is important to keep in mind Revelation’s thematic arrangement because if you try to read this book as a strictly chronological document, you can wind up with charts, diagrams, and maps detailing multiple returns and judgments of Christ that are so complicated, even Stephen Hawking can’t understand them.  There is only one second coming of Christ.  There are no third and fourth and fifth returns.

Tip #5:  Don’t balance your checkbook using John’s math.

John’s numerology is meant to be interpreted symbolically, not literally. For example, in Revelation 7, John talks about a group of 144,000, sealed for salvation (7:4). 144,000 is 12x12x1000. The number 12 is associated with the church in Revelation (e.g., 21:14) and the number 1,000 is a Scriptural number for completeness (e.g., Psalm 50:10, 2 Peter 3:8). John’s point, then, is simply this: All who trust in Jesus are sealed for salvation! And just in case we miss his point, John continues by saying, “After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb” (7:9). John’s 144,000 turns out to be innumerable.

Tip #6:  John’s imagery is polyvalent.

Yes, I just used the word “polyvalent.” It’s a word I learned in seminary describing something that has more than one interpretation or meaning. And much of John’s imagery certainly has more than one interpretation or meaning. One example comes with the frogs spewing from the dragon’s mouth in Revelation 16:13, referenced previously under tip number two. In the interpretation proffered above, I mentioned that frogs are unclean animals according to Levitical law. Therefore, John is positing that Satan will speak unclean, deceiving, and blasphemous things about the Gospel. But that’s not all that John is positing. This plague of frogs, along with the other plagues in Revelation 16, parrot the plagues against Egypt in the story of the exodus (cf. Exodus 7:14-11:10). Thus, while the enemies of God are crushed by plagues of frogs (16:13), blood (16:3-4), sun and darkness (16:8-10), and hail (16:21), the people of God remain “blessed” (16:15). Thus, this chapter is also a chapter of comfort for God’s people as they are protected through terrible plagues. One symbol – more than one interpretation. John’s images, then, are not meant to be precise predictions, but general descriptions of both the sad state of wickedness in this world as well as the glorious promise of salvation we have in Christ. One image can have more than one referent. So even if you’ve cracked one code, there may be another lurking behind that same image.

Tip #7:  Do not be afraid.

Too many people look at the second coming of Christ with fear instead of faith. They are scared of bloodshed, doom, gloom, and demise. But as John’s vision opens, he hears Jesus speak these words: “Do not be afraid” (1:17). In spite of a world full of trouble, Revelation is meant to offer us hope and comfort because it reminds us that Jesus wins over evil, as an elder in one of John’s visions says: “See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed” (5:5)!  If Jesus wins, we have nothing of which to be afraid.

So there you have it:  Seven simple tips to help navigate the labyrinth of mystery that is our final biblical book.  Are you ready to take it on?  If so, remember Revelation’s promise:  “Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near” (1:3).  Reading Revelation results in blessing.  It will bless you. And that, at least for me, is reason enough to read it and, yes, even enjoy it.  I hope you’ll read and enjoy it too.

Want to learn more? Go to
www.ConcordiaLutheranChurch.com
and check out audio and video from Pastor Tucker’s
message or Pastor Zach’s ABC!


[1] G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (New York:  John Lane Company, 1909) 29.

[2] Tremper Longman III, Literary Approaches to Biblical Interpretation, in Foundations of Contemporary Interpretation, Moises Silva, ed. (Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan, 1996) 135.

[3] Suetonius, The Lives of the Caesars, H.M. Byrd, trans. (Wordsworth Editions, 1997) 358.

[4] Ethelbert Stauffer, Christ and the Caesars (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 1952) 155.

May 23, 2011 at 5:15 am 1 comment

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