This is post 2 of 12 in the series “HOMEWARD BOUND”
- Life Is Forever!
- Reflections On The Resurrection
- The Promise Of The Pearl
- Someday Our Prince Will Come
- Take Me Home To My Mother
- You Can’t Take The Sheep From The Shepherd!
- Life Is Uncertain, So Eat Dessert First!
- Facing Death Unafraid
- Finishing What We Start
- Moments Difficult To Treasure
- The Dark Side Of The Good News
- The Choice Is Yours
Homeward Bound: Reflections On The Resurrection
Herbert Easton became a millionaire by finding a new way to talk about death. He started the Garden Grove Memorial Cemetery out in California a number of years ago—and he trained his employees to look at death in a different light and to speak of death in a different language. He told his employees: “Always refer to the one who has died as one who has ‘taken leave’ or ‘passed away.’ Call the room in the funeral home where the casket is placed ‘the slumber room’. Never refer to death as death, instead refer to it as ‘rest.’ Don’t call the hearse ‘a hearse,’ rather call it a funeral coach.’ ” Herbert Easton developed a whole new way of talking about death—and it made him a wealthy man.
Now I know Herbert Easton meant well, and I am sure he helped many people cope with their time of difficulty and departure. But the fact remains that you don’t change death by changing the vocabulary. You don’t gloss over the reality of finality with cut flowers and manicured grass. The fact is death is death, as much as we don’t like to talk about it. And we really don’t like to talk about it, do we? If you ever want to stop a conversation at a party, just ask those present: “How are you feeling about your upcoming demise?” We don’t like to talk about it or even think about it, and yet it is an experience we all have in common. As far as I know, every one of us who has come into this life is going out of this life. So regardless of what we call it or how we cover it or why we deny it, the fact is that we all have to face it. Furthermore, it is my deep conviction that no one really learns how to live until they learn how to die. No one can truly enjoy the journey until they are comfortable with the destination. Our life here takes on meaning only in light of the hereafter.
Maybe that’s why the promise of Easter is so powerful in our experience, because the Easter promise dares to deal with the one thing for which the world has no answer—and that is our own finality. So if you don’t think that you are ever going to die, then you have my permission to tune out right now. On the other hand, if you think that someday you are going to have your own rendezvous with death, then listen up to what Jesus says about the resurrection. What He offered to His disciples here in John 20 is not just an answer for the end of their lives, but also an answer in the midst of their lives. He reminds them that
No pain is permanent.
It was Easter Sunday, but they didn’t call it “Easter”—they called it disaster. As far as they knew, Jesus was still in the tomb. They were huddled together in the same room where, just a few days before, they had shared with Jesus the Last Supper—and John notes that the door was locked. Understand, please, that these are people who before their lives were up would give their lives for Jesus Christ. They would become martyrs for the faith. They would literally re-route human history. But here in the Upper Room, they were cowardly, frightened, hurting, intimidated disciples hiding behind a locked door. Why? Because they realized that those spikes which had pierced the hands and feet of Jesus could be used again. They realized that Pilate was still in the palace and Caiaphas was still in the Temple and that those who had cried for Jesus’s death could just as easily cry for theirs. So they locked the door in fear.
Now look at what Jesus did. It strikes me that in this passage in the Gospel of John something is missing. It strikes me that there is no phrase saying that Jesus opened the door and went in. Instead it simply says: “He came and stood among them.” He just appeared. One moment He was not there—the next moment He was. And He said to them what seems to be the most absurd thing you could ever say to a group of frightened and hurting people. He said: “Peace be with you.” But the text says that they were thrilled when they saw Jesus.
Now let me ask you an important question. What had changed in the lives of those disciples? Had their circumstances changed? Had crucifixions been outlawed? Had Pilate been deposed and Caiaphas run out of town? No, their circumstances hadn’t changed. They knew they could be dead before the night was over. So what had changed? The presence of Christ in the room is what had changed. Not their circumstances, but their Savior. Not their situation, but their perception of God. Suddenly, they didn’t just see the mountain, they saw the One who could move the mountain. They saw Jesus and they recognized that they were not alone. Their circumstances weren’t changed, but their hearts were.
Dear friends, here is what is true about life. Circumstances—and the alteration of them—will not bring peace to your life. There is no pot of gold at the end of your rainbow. There is no Oz awaiting you at the end of your yellow brick road. There is no time when you will ever be able to say, “I am in a problem-free world.” I don’t care if you win the lottery, the circumstances of your life are not going to be all right. You don’t gain peace just by getting a new boss, a new car, a new city, or a new spouse. There is always going to be something in your life producing hassles and heartaches. The only way to deal with it is to recognize the presence of God in the midst of your life.
I think here of Jonah in the belly of the whale. He’s only got two exits, neither of which is very appealing! So what does he do? For the first time he is surrounded by what he has lacked all of his life—guts! So he prays. Not a prayer of complaint. Not whining or blaming or claiming to be a victim. Instead, it’s a prayer that says: “Lord God, you are sovereign and I’ve blown it. Is there any way you can help me?” And God is present and the whale burps and the problem is solved!
My beloved, peace is not the absence of calamity, but the presence of God. That’s why Jesus said: “I have said this to you so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage. I have conquered the world.” There is no trouble-free world. “So be brave,” Jesus says, “for I have defeated the world.” So if you’re in a mess in your life, then just believe that the Lord is going to come into the midst of that mess—and if you’ll notice, if you’ll look, if you’ll listen, if you’ll touch, you will find Him there. He will be holding out His scarred hands and showing his wounded side and saying to you: “They tried to hurt me, but I got over it. You will too.” He will be reminding you of what He reminded those disciples—that no pain is permanent and
No life is futile.
I believe that in that Upper Room, the disciples felt like somebody had cut the anchor of their boat and set them adrift at sea. Suddenly they had no sense of direction or purpose in life. For three years their calendars had been full and their agendas focused and their sense of purpose clear. But suddenly Jesus was gone, and their sense of purpose and direction died with Him. It’s a deadly thing indeed to feel that life is futile.
We are told that out on the prairie, in the pioneer days, people died—they went crazy and died—from hearing the endless moan of the prairie wind. People are dying today because they hear the endless moan of monotony and routine. They have no sense of what life is about or what their life is about.
Fyodor Dostoevsky, the great Russian novelist, in his book, Hope of the Dead, said that the way to defeat a person’s soul is to give that person responsibilities of an irrational nature. In other words, give that person purposelessness. Give that person tasks that don’t make sense. Give that person something to do every day that has no lasting value. Kind of like what one concentration camp commandant did to his prisoners. One of Hitler’s henchmen must have read Dostoevsky’s book because one day the prisoners came out and were ordered with shovels and wheelbarrows to move an enormous pile of sand from one side of the camp to the other. The next day they were told to do the same thing in reverse. Day after day the same thing—move the pile of sand—back and forth, back and forth—until one day an elderly man screamed for relief and was shot. The next day, a younger man threw down his shovel and ran to the fence where he was electrocuted. The prisoners began to fall like dominoes, until at one point the commandant boasted in his diary: “The crematorium is no longer necessary. We are driving them crazy by giving them stupid jobs.” Our situation in life may not be as vivid, but it is every bit as intense. Too many people today are living lives gray with boredom and senseless with routine.
But look at what Jesus said to those disciples. He said: “As the Father sent me, so now I send you.” He commissioned them. He gave them a purpose for their living. And what Jesus did for them He does for us. We are called, we are commissioned to be a part and a reflection of Christ’s life everywhere we go. Our goal in life—in our work life, in our leisure life, in our family life, as well as in our spiritual life—our goal in life becomes to make a difference in our little part of the world. To be the salt of the earth. To be light for the world. People then aren’t burdens—they are objects of love. Work isn’t senseless—it’s a mission field. Difficulties don’t stymie, they release in us power to witness. Purposelessness breaks the human spirit—but a sense of purpose in Christ inspires it.
Jesus came to those disciples and commissioned their lives. He knew that all they needed was the presence of the God of grace to remind them that no pain is permanent and no life is futile and
No failure is unforgivable.
Jesus said to those disciples: “Go and preach the message of forgiveness, for when you proclaim the message of forgiveness, people will be forgiven. When you don’t proclaim it, they won’t hear it. So preach the message of grace and forgiveness.”
Let me tell you about a man who knew the message of God’s forgiveness better than most. He was born in the early 1800’s in England. He grew up in a Christian home but his parents died when he was in his early teens, leaving him a waif on the streets. His life spun out of control. He started drinking and running with the wrong crowd. He lied about his age and joined the royal navy. He was shipped out to Africa and there went AWOL. He took up residence in a harem thinking it would be all pleasure. It wasn’t. The sheik of that harem was a cruel and evil man who regularly beat this young deserter into submission. Not yet twenty years of age, he finally escaped from the sheik, made his way to the African coast, and hooked on as a crewman on a slave ship. He worked hard and was rewarded with keys to the galley. Big mistake. He blew it again. He stole bottles of rum and got drunk. The captain ordered him beaten. In the process of the beating, he fell overboard. The other sailors then made a game of harpooning him and pulling him back on board. To the day he died he had a hole in his side the size of a fist from that harpoon. He was then thrown into the dungeon. There he began to remember some of the things his mother had taught him years before about how God’s grace is deeper than our greatest failure. Then that ship was caught in a terrible storm. He was released from the dungeon to help bail water from the sinking ship. He fell on his face on the deck and he cried out: “Lord Jesus, if you deliver me, I will never forget!”
The Lord delivered him and he did not forget. When he got back to London, he enrolled in school and became a preacher. All through the 1800’s he went through England preaching the story of God’s forgiving grace. When he was 85 years old, he was still preaching. On one occasion some young hoodlums stood up while he was preaching and cried: “Why don’t you sit down old man!” He fixed a steely eye upon them and said: “Shall the African blasphemer be silent when he can yet speak?” In the last hours before his death, someone inquired about his health. He replied: “My memory is almost gone, but I do still remember two things. I remember that I am a great sinner and I remember that Jesus is a great Savior.”
This man whose life for its first two decades had no purpose and whose body and soul were scarred by one failure after another, then spent the next 65 years of his life preaching and teaching and best of all, song writing. We still sing his words:
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found
Was blind, but now I see.
What John Newton discovered in his life, we can discover in ours—the undying grace of the resurrected Lord. Do you know that? I want you to know it. For you see, the reason Jesus came back from the dead was not just to make an impression on the world. He came back for you and for me, to make sure that you and I know that someday we will be resurrected from the dead. He came back to make sure that you and I know that, in Him, we are