Simple Faith

 So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elisha’s house. Elisha sent a messenger to say to him, “Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.”

But Naaman went away angry and said, “I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?” So he turned and went off in a rage.

Naaman’s servants went to him and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, ‘Wash and be cleansed’!” So he went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, as the man of God had told him, and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy.

2 Kings 5:9-14

When we read about the life of Elisha, almost everything he did was a foreshadowing of Jesus. This event was no different. Naaman, the commander of the armies of Aram, had leprosy and traveled south to Israel to seek healing from Elisha. When he arrived at Elisha’s house, we was told to simply go wash in the Jordan River seven times and he’d be healed. But the simplicity of this act was offensive to Naaman.

The Jordan River was not impressive back then nor is it today. Dipping in the Nile or the Euphrates may have seemed significant. Even the rivers of Aram (Abana and Pharpar) made more sense than the Jordan. Naaman was expecting a magical display of Elisha’s power. The healers and witch doctors of that day all had ceremonies and herbs and incantations for practicing their healing arts (as they still do today). They all had strict and complicated rituals for a person to follow in order to be healed. But God through Elisha didn’t need all of that. The power of the Spirit was enough to heal.

Notice that when a person has been taught their whole life that to get right with God, to get well, to get clean, one must work for it, simple grace is offensive. Earning one’s righteousness through works, though a heavy burden, comes with it the feeling of control. It comes with it the ability to retain one’s pride and self-sufficiency.

But receiving simple grace requires humility. It requires giving up on earning our righteousness, our healing, our cleansing. It demands simple obedience in receiving the grace of God. It means laying down my self-sufficiency and my control. This is why the simplicity of dipping in the Jordan was so offensive to Naaman. It was too easy. It displayed too much of God’s grace and not enough of his own works. Many people react the same way to the message of the gospel.

But if we want to be cleansed from the inside out, it requires something very simple. We only need to receive the grace of God through Jesus Christ. That’s what this weekend is all about. Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday are the once and for all declaration that God paid the price for our sin so that we wouldn’t have to. He sacrificed Himself so that we wouldn’t have to work for our righteousness. We could simply receive His righteousness, a righteousness that we don’t deserve in any way.

By believing Jesus, entrusting our life to Him, we lay down our attempts at saving ourselves through good works. We lay down our self-sufficiency and pride. Humbly, we come before the Lord and repent for our sin. And in doing so, we are given the free gift of grace. We are forgiven for all past, present and future sin, and we are given a new heart. The very Spirit of the Living God comes to dwell in us and begins to transform us from the inside out.

Naaman dipping seven times in the Jordan was a foreshadowing of the simplicity of baptism. We are washed clean from our sin, not by complicated religious rituals and incantations, but by simple faith in Jesus Christ. What He did for us was enough. We need only to believe it. We need only to take Jesus at His word.

Have you been spending your life trying to be a good person on your own merit? Apart from the transforming work of Christ, that kind of life only leads to failure and disappointment. If you haven’t already, receive the free grace of God, purchased for you by the death of Jesus. And receive a new heart, a new life, a life won for you by the resurrection of Jesus.

Don’t be offended by the simplicity of it all like Naaman was. Let go of the pride and self-sufficiency that would keep you from surrendering your life to Jesus, and invite the Holy Spirit to come and dwell within you. Pray something like this:

Father God, thank you for sending your son Jesus to take my place on the cross. Please forgive me for my sin and my selfishness. I receive your grace today. I know I don’t deserve it. I know I can’t earn it. I know Jesus did for me what I could never do for myself. I surrender my life to you, Jesus. I am yours. I ask You to come and transform my heart. Wash me clean. Make me new. Holy Spirit, I invite you to come and dwell in me and give me new life. I ask you to transform me from the inside out. I lay down my pride and my self-sufficiency. And in its place I receive your love and your peace. I ask all of this in Jesus’s name. Amen.

Rise of Skywalker: Biblical Themes (Part III)

So far, I have covered three themes that are in the movie Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker that we also find in scripture. (You can read Part 1 here and Part 2 here). In this third installment, I am unpacking a fourth theme from the movie. [Warning: spoiler alert if you haven’t seen the movie yet.]

4. The power to raise the dead

In Episode III, Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, Chancellor Palpatine tells Anakin a legend about an ancient Sith, Darth Plaguies, who could essentially raise people from the dead. We are led to believe Palpatine was the apprentice who learned this “unnatural” power from Plaguies. Cut to Episode IX, Rise of Skywalker, and it seems as though Darth Sidious (Palpatine) has returned from the dead using this power in a sort of Frankenstein body. Darth Sidious further animates his carcass of a body by using the dark side of the Force to steal life energy from Rey and Kylo Ren.

At the end of the movie, we also see Kylo Ren, who is Ben at this point, use the Force to transfer all of his remaining “life energy” into Rey who is dead. This is essentially force healing on steroids. (I talk about Rey’s explanation of force healing here.) This raises Rey back to life but ends up killing Ben.

Both of these forms of resurrection/resuscitation are very different than what we see in the New Testament. Jesus does, in fact, raise the dead in His ministry and, like healing, passes that calling on to His disciples. We see both Peter (Acts 9:36-42) and Paul (Acts 20:7-12) raise the dead through the power of the Spirit in their own ministries. I write more extensively about that here in a conversational format, but I don’t have the space in this post to get into too much detail.

Suffice it to say that the same differences that exist between praying for healing and force healing exist between raising the dead in the New Testament and using the Force to bring back the dead in Star Wars. Jesus is the resurrection and the life. By dying and defeating death through His own resurrection, He showed His own authority over death. And through the Holy Spirit, the same power that raised Christ from the dead now flows in us as followers of Jesus (Romans 8:11).

Jesus is the source of life. Jesus is the source of resurrection/resuscitation, not our “life energy” getting transferred. We are the conduits of the power of the Holy Spirit, but we are not the source. Jesus alone has that power.

In one instance, Jesus raised a young girl from the dead after her father asked Him to. He apparently had become so well known for healings and resurrections that people had confidence He could do it again upon request.

“My daughter has just died. But come and put your hand on her, and she will live.”

Matthew 9:18

In another instance, Jesus raised a young man from the dead right in the middle of his funeral. Can you imagine being at that funeral?

As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out—the only son of his mother, and she was a widow…When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.”

Then he went up and touched the bier they were carrying him on, and the bearers stood still. He said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!” The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother.

Luke 7:12-15

Far from being an “unnatural” power as described in Sith lore, Jesus, the author of life, releasing life to this young man. Bringing him back from the dead was the most natural thing in the world. In God’s Kingdom, there is no death. Jesus was ushering in the Kingdom of God to invade the kingdom of the world in that moment. The New Testament describes Jesus this way:

For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 

Colossians 1:16-17

The Son of God, Jesus Christ, was the One through which all of creation came to life. He has been bringing things to life from the very beginning of time. In Him all things hold together. So for Jesus to bring this young man, and the young girl, back to life was the most natural thing in the world for Him to do.

Jesus is the Source of Life. He has authority over death. He is the resurrection and the life. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. In Him is life and that life is the light of all humanity. He alone is worthy of our worship, our surrender, our life.

Raising the Dead: A Conversation

Sam: Did you hear that Bethel Church is praying for the 2-year-old daughter of one of their worship leaders to be raised back to life? She died a few days ago and they are praying for the little girl to be resurrected. Can you believe that insanity?

Me: I can believe it. And I love it! I am so inspired by their faith and courage. I only wish I would be able to have the same boldness to take that kind of risk for the sake of the name of Jesus if I were in that situation.

Sam: What? Are you crazy? You actually believe we should be praying to raise the dead?

Me: In certain situations, yes. And, technically, what we’re talking about is resuscitation. Theologians usually reserve the word resurrection for what will happen at the end of all things when we get a resurrected and glorified body. To delineate this from when a person comes back to life after being dead, they use the word resuscitation. Lazarus was resuscitated. He was dead and was raised back to life in his earthly body, but he eventually died again (John 11). In common vernacular, resuscitation is what EMT people do through CPR before a person is dead. This is why some people prefer the term resurrection because it is a little clearer to the average church goer. But in theological terms, resuscitation is when a person has died, then they come back to life in their earthly bodies.

Sam: But that was like a one time thing right?

Me: Actually, no. Jesus resuscitated/resurrected Lazarus, the little 12 year old girl (Mark 5:40-42), and the young man during his own funeral in the town of Nain (Luke 7:11-17). He was following in the tradition of and improving upon the resuscitations/resurrections performed by the prophets Elijah (in 1 Kings 17:22) and Elisha (in 2 Kings 4:34-35 & 13:20-21).

Not only that, but the early church performed resuscitations/resurrections as well. Tabitha (also called Dorcus) was raised back to life by the power of God through Peter (Acts 9:36-42), and Eutychus was raised back to life by power of God through Paul (Acts 20:7-12).

Sam: But I thought that when a person dies, it was the sovereign will of God. Isn’t it just a person’s “time” when they die?

Me: I used to think that too. But with that thinking, the stories of resuscitation/resurrection in the New Testament make no sense. If it was the little girl’s “time” to die because of the sovereign will of God, why then did Jesus bring her back to life? This would seem to imply some conflict between Jesus’s actions and the will of God. Yet, we know Jesus only did the Father’s will.

Likewise, if it was just Tabitha’s “time,” if it was God’s sovereign will that she died, why did Peter pray that she be raised to life? Further, why did God then answer Peter’s prayer and bring her back to life? Or what about Eutychus? Was it God’s sovereign will that he fall out of a window and die while listening to a sermon from Paul? Is that what we are to believe? Clearly, Paul did not believe that or he wouldn’t have prayed for him to be raised back to life.

From these situations in the New Testament we learn that sometimes people die before their time and that Jesus has authority even over death.

Sam: So are you saying that sometimes people die before they are supposed to?

Me: Yep. Tabitha in Acts 9 died before her time. Eutychus in Acts 20 died before his time. Lazarus in John 11 died before his time. The young man in Nain died before his time. Jesus has authority over death, and He gives that authority to His disciples to be used for His glory.

On a number of occasions, I have cast out of a person a demonic spirit of death. The assignment of a spirit of death on a person is to bring all forms of death into that person’s life. And sometimes that demonic assignment tries to bring about an early death. On more than one occasion, I’ve tried to cast out a spirit of death only to have it fight hard to stay. It’s a stubborn demon and doesn’t want to let go of the person to whom it is assigned.

I believe that sometimes people die, not because it is their “time,” but because the enemy is trying to take them out early. In the end, Jesus wins anyway because, as believers, we get to spend eternity in heaven. But the enemy is actively trying to take pieces of the Kingdom of God off the chessboard because he doesn’t want God’s Kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven. After all, Jesus told us, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy…“(John 10:10).

Sam: Wait, wait, wait! This is nuts. Are you serious? How are we supposed to know if a person died because it was their time or because of the enemy attacking them?

Me: Great question, Sam. How did Jesus know to raise some from the dead but not all? How did Peter and Paul know to pray to raise some but not all? They didn’t pray to raise everyone who died. They only did this occasionally. How did they know?

The answer is not formulaic, though we love formulas in western Christianity. Jesus was in constant communication with the Father so that He could execute the perfect will of the Father. Peter and Paul were checking in with the Holy Spirit for discernment and guidance. And so, we must do the same. The truth is, we don’t know. When a person dies, we have to ask the Lord what to do next. But in the range of options of “what to do next,” we need to have the option of praying to raise the dead.

Sam: But why?

Me: Because Jesus commanded it. When Jesus sent out His disciples, He commanded them, “As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give” (Matthew 10:7-8).

Then before ascending into heaven, Jesus told his disciples, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you“(Matthew 28:18-20). In other words, Jesus commanded them to heal the sick, raise the dead, and drive out demons. Then, before He leaves, He tells them to teach the next generations of disciples “everything I have commanded you.” This includes healing the sick, raising the dead and casting out demons.

Based on the book of Acts, that is exactly what they did. We see the early church heal the sick, raise the dead, and cast out demons. Just because the American church has such little faith that we struggle with these realities doesn’t mean we aren’t still commanded to do them.

Sam: Okay, okay. First, doesn’t praying to raise the dead disrupt the grieving process? Isn’t that unhealthy for grieving parents? Secondly, do we have any evidence that God is still raising the dead today?

Me: As to the first question, the parents will be grieving the loss of their child for the rest of their lives. Is it too much to ask to wait for a few days in an atmosphere of faith and hope, trusting Jesus with whatever the outcome might be? The Bethel people have buried plenty of people. They’ve done lots of funerals. They are not denying reality. They have faced the fact that the child is dead. They are not praying for healing. They are praying for resurrection, which means they are owning the reality that she is dead. But they are also trusting that God is a God of miracles, that Jesus has authority over death, and that biblically, in certain situations, the church has a mandate to pray for the dead to come back to life.

All of that said, it must be done lovingly and carefully. Just as praying for the sick must be done with love and care, so too must praying for resurrection. It should not be done for every death, and it should never be forced on any family. But when parents ask you to join them in prayer for their child to come back to life, that is not the time for speculations about God’s sovereignty. It’s a time to get on your knees next to the parents and believe in resurrection.

Sam: But what about my second question? Does it even still happen? Do we have any reason to believe God still does this?

Me: Yes, Sam, it is happening today all over the world. Story after story of resurrection are coming out of Iris Global’s ministry in Mozambique. And before we doubt these stories because they are coming from Africa, we need to check our xenophobia and cultural prejudices at the door. They know what death is. They have hospitals, doctors, and morgues. They also have seen people who had been dead for days sit straight up in the morgue. Heidi Baker and Supresa Sithole have seen resurrections in their ministry over and over again. David Hogan of Freedom Ministries has also seen resurrections in his ministry in Mexico. It’s not hypothetical. It’s happening in the global church today!

But if your skepticism or cultural prejudices are still getting the best of you, a notable resurrection happened here in the U.S. a few years ago in St. Charles, Missouri. They made a movie about it called Breakthrough. John, who was 14, was trapped under a lake for 15 minutes. Then paramedics and ER doctors tried unsuccessfully to resuscitate him for 43 minutes. This is medical record. Medically, there is no coming back from this. Yet, when his mom came in and prayed for him to come back to life, he did. His heart, which had not been beating for roughly an hour, suddenly started, not because of a defibrillator but because of prayer. Roughly 48 hours later, he was awake and answering questions.

Again, Jesus has authority over death, and part of our inheritance in the Kingdom is that we get to share in that authority because we are in Christ.

Sam: But why would God bring some back and not others?

Me: Sam, the answer to that question is way above my pay grade. But I am encouraged by the true testimony of Joanne Moody (watch her full testimony on YouTube here). She was dying on an operating table after years of having debilitating chronic pain, and she felt her spirit release from her body. She floated above her body and saw what was happening around her. Then Jesus entered the room. And He told her, “I have heard your cries and I know full well your pain. You can go with Me now, or you can stay, for the prayers of the saints have given you a choice.”

In other words, so many people were praying for her that God was going to give her a choice to go back into her body or to go to be with Jesus in heaven. Everything in her wanted to go be with Jesus. She wanted to be done with the chronic pain. Yet, in her heart, she remembered her son. Her love for him took over and in her heart she knew she had to go back. Jesus read her heart and responded by saying, “It is as you wish, child.” And with that, she was sent back into her body.

So I believe that, sometimes, the prayers of brothers and sisters in Christ give us a choice. I don’t know how it all works, but I believe that Joanne Moody’s testimony reveals that sometimes our prayers for resurrection give that dead person a choice as to whether they will stay with Jesus or return to their body. It is Jesus’s prerogative to give us these kinds of choices. But our prayers do matter. Our prayers do impact things in the spirit realm even when we can’t see their effect (read Daniel 10:12-14 if you struggle to believe the truth of this).

Sam: So, now are you going to pray for resurrection for everyone who dies?

Me: No. That’s not what we see in the New Testament. But I hope to be the kind of pastor who will believe that Jesus has authority even over death, and that if I am led by the Spirit to pray for someone to be raised from the dead, I will do it in obedience.

My prediction is that years from now Bethel will be seen as a church that pioneered radical faith. More and more resurrections will happen in the U.S., and people will look back in awe that Bethel was willing to believe even when most of the anemic American church was not.

Count me among those who are willing to look foolish if it means taking Jesus at His word.

Mediation

So he said to them, “Why do you do such things? I hear from all the people about these wicked deeds of yours. No, my sons; the report I hear spreading among the Lord’s people is not good. If one person sins against another, God may mediate for the offender; but if anyone sins against the Lord, who will intercede for them?”

1 Samuel 2:23-25

Eli had his two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, ministering with him as priests. But these two sons were engaged in the two most notorious scandals a minister can be involved in. They were stealing from the offerings people were giving to the Lord and they were sleeping with women who were serving at the place of sacrifice. Money scandals and sex scandals have long been tabloid fodder for people in positions of power.

Eli finally confronts his sons and, even though they don’t listen, Eli’s confrontation is a foreshadow of Christ. It is one thing to ask God or a judge to mediate conflict between two people. But who mediates the conflict when we’ve sinned against God? God has become the one who has been sinned against and the only one who has enough authority to mediate between Himself and other. The implication here from Eli is that there is no one to intercede for us if we sin against God and so a guilty verdict will surely be the result.

The beauty of the gospel is that God saw this reality and decided to do something about it on our behalf. He loves us so much He couldn’t leave things this way. So He sent Jesus–God in the flesh–to become the mediator between us and God. Jesus took our guilty verdict upon Himself and in turn gave us the inheritance that was His alone. He took upon Himself what only we deserved and then gave us what only He deserved. He identified with the consequence of our sin–the crucifixion, death, and burial–and then gave us the opportunity not only to identify with Him in the resurrection–giving us new life–but also the chance to be seated with Him in the heavenly places–allowing us to reign with Him–receiving His inheritance and authority.

For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus…

1 Timothy 2:5

…Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.

Hebrews 9:5

Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

Romans 6:3-4

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus…

Ephesians 2:4-6

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God…The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

Romans 8:14, 16-17

Can you see that the Mediator Jesus did not come to make sure both sides, us and God, got a fair deal? What Jesus got was not fair. It was sacrifice. What we got was not fair. It was grace. Justice was satisfied as our sin was paid for, but the gospel goes way beyond justice. Because of His great love for us, God put all of His chips on the table. He went all in to bring about our reconciliation to Him.

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

2 Corinthians 5:18-21

This is why we call it good news! In moments where I am just quietly driving and reflecting on the goodness of God, there are times when the absolute beauty of the gospel hits me. I become overwhelmed with the grace and kindness of the Father. I become undone by the reality that God gave me what only Jesus deserved because Jesus took upon Himself what only I deserved. The weight of the love involved in that exchanged becomes so real that I break down crying in the car.

This is the gospel! We don’t earn it with good works or religious duties. We simply believe it. We believe and trust in what Jesus did for us, and it changes everything!

Jesus, thank you for this beautiful exchange! I don’t deserve all that You’ve given me, but I receive it by faith. I surrender my life to you, Jesus, and I invite the Holy Spirit to come and change me from the inside out. Your love for me is overwhelming! Your grace toward me is life-changing! Help me to live from that place of being seated with you at the right hand of the Father. My life is Yours! Amen.

Some Doubted

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.

Matthew 28:16-17

Some doubted!?! Let that sink in! They stood in the presence of the resurrected Jesus and still doubted. What? This is the same Jesus that casted out all manner of demons, demons who couldn’t stand to be in His presence. This is the same Jesus who healed all manner of diseases. This is the same Jesus who conquered sin and death.

To me it begs the question, “Why wasn’t doubt obliterated in His presence?”

I believe the root of this reality is that Jesus refuses to override our free will. Our faith will never be forced. God is not a coercive or abusive God, forcing Himself upon people. Instead, God patiently waits for our “Yes.” It doesn’t have to be a big yes. It can be as small as a mustard seed. But He won’t force Himself upon us.

This means the opportunity to doubt will always be there. Even if the resurrected Jesus stood right in front of you, you would still have the option of doubting. You will always have that option. We will also always have the option to believe and not doubt. This is the beauty of it all.

If people can still doubt Jesus even when His miraculously resurrected body stands right in front of them, then people will find reasons to doubt any sort of miraculous event. The spirit of unbelief is a demonic weed that will find any crack in your heart and set down roots as soon as possible.

Faith is choosing to trust. And no matter what we face, no matter the impossible situation in front of us, we can always choose to trust God, to trust His character, to trust His nature. He is worthy of our trust.

Have the seeds of doubt found a way into your heart?

Forfeit

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 

Matthew 16:24-26

One of the primary characteristics of a follower of Jesus is that they have denied themselves. To surrender our life to Jesus means that we are willing to lose our life. And when we deny ourselves–giving up our “rights” and the way we think our life should go–when we lose our life, we’ll discover the upside-down nature of the Kingdom of God. We’ll discover that we have found more life than we could possibly imagine.

This message was not popular in Jesus’s day. This message is not popular today. Instead, the message of the American culture is “I get to live my truth” or “I get to express myself in whatever way seems right to me.” This is not the way of Jesus.

There is a way that seems right to a person, but its end is the way that leads to death.

Proverbs 14:12

All a person’s ways seem pure to them, but motives are weighed by the Lord.

Proverbs 16:2

When we decided to surrender to Jesus, invited the Holy Spirit to dwell in us, and chose to live the Christian life, we gave up our “No” to God. The process of discipleship–the process of sanctification and holiness–is that more and more the only answer we have left for Jesus is a “Yes.” We must be willing to totally and utterly give up on the “American dream” if we want to truly follow Jesus.

We’ve given up the right to demand that our material preferences, relational preferences, career preferences, sexual preferences, moral preferences, and social preferences be met. Our life is not our own. We were bought at a price and that price was Jesus’s death on the cross.

The Christian journey is a journey to the cross, not a journey to the palace. Only on the other side of “death of self” is there new life in Christ. We become a new self, a transformed self, a surrendered self, whose broken, sinful heart is made whole and clean. We are born anew and we experience that new birth daily.

Are you still saying “No” to God in some area of life? A “No” to God only brings death. But, a “Yes” to God brings a kind of death that leads to a resurrection of new life.

Give God your unconditional YES!

Resurrection Life

While he was saying this, a synagogue leader came and knelt before him and said, “My daughter has just died. But come and put your hand on her, and she will live.” Jesus got up and went with him, and so did his disciples.

Matthew 9:18-19

What kind of faith does it take to believe Jesus can raise the dead?

I am amazed by the faith of this synagogue leader. By asking for Jesus’s help, he put his position in the synagogue at risk. If the Pharisees get wind of his request for Jesus to come to his house, they could not only remove him from his position but prevent him from even participating in synagogue life.

Equally risky for the father and for Jesus is that they are dealing with a dead body. In Jewish law, touching a dead body made a person unclean for seven days and required ritual purification as a result (Numbers 19:11). Likewise, anyone in the room near the dead body would be unclean for seven days and required ritual purification (Numbers 19:14).

After healing the woman who had been bleeding for 12 years on their way to the synagogue ruler’s house, they arrive to a large funeral gathering.

When Jesus entered the synagogue leader’s house and saw the noisy crowd and people playing pipes, he said, “Go away. The girl is not dead but asleep.” But they laughed at him. After the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took the girl by the hand, and she got up. News of this spread through all that region.

Matthew 9:23-26

Jesus knew He would raise this girl back to life. He declared it before He even walked into the bedroom. Jesus is the resurrection and the life! But people laughed at the very idea of it. They had seen many dead bodies before this one. They knew the look of a dead body. They knew the cold, stiff feel of a dead body. They knew the smell of a dead body. Most people there had buried friends and family members. This girl was not just sleeping. She was gone.

Imagine if we actually believed Jesus can raise the dead. Imagine the laughing and mocking that would happen at our expense as we prayed for dead people. We’d not only get laughed at, like Jesus did, but we’d likely get kicked out of most hospitals.

I believe Jesus put the crowd outside because they had created an atmosphere filled with unbelief and doubt. The only people Jesus wanted in the room were those crazy enough to believe that Jesus can raise the dead. The Gospel of Mark records that only the girl’s father and mother as well as Peter, James and John–Jesus’s inner circle–were allowed in the room to witness the miracle.

At this point everyone in the room is ritually unclean because of their proximity to this dead body. Jesus compounds His “uncleanness” by then touching the hand of the dead girl. Except, instead of her uncleanness contaminating Him, His life contaminates her death. His cleanness contaminates her uncleanness.

Things flow in reverse in the Kingdom of God (light conquers darkness, clean conquers unclean, life defeats death, healing overwhelms sickness, wholeness overwhelms brokenness, grace covers sin). Life returns to the girl, and she gets up! Suddenly everyone in the room goes from unclean to clean, from death to life!

Incredible faith connects with an incredible miracle! Jesus is still doing these kinds of miracles all over the world today. He’s looking for a handful of people who are willing to believe enough to stay in the room with Him. He’s looking for people who are willing not to laugh but instead be laughed at.

What do you believe is possible with Jesus?

Glorified and Ascended Jesus

I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.

When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.

Revelation 1:12-18

John was worshiping the Lord on a Sunday and Jesus came to him in powerful way. The lampstands were prophetic imagery representing the seven churches of Asia Minor. Jesus was standing “among the lampstands.” The glorified, ascended Jesus looked magnificent.

John had seen Jesus in a glorified state with Peter and James when Jesus transfigured before them and talked with Moses and Elijah (Matthew 17:1-8). John had also seen the resurrected Jesus a few different times–the upper room (John 20:19-22), in Galilee (John 21:7), the ascension (Matthew 28:16-20). But this is the first time John encounters Jesus in His glorified and ascended state.

Yet, John is not the only one to encounter the ascended Jesus in a vision. The apostle Paul had Jesus show up to him a few different times. The first time was during Paul’s own conversion experience (Acts 9:1-9). The second time was when Paul was ministering in Corinth (Acts 18:9-10). The third time was when Paul was arrested in Jerusalem (Acts 23:11).

We get a somewhat detailed description of what the glorified, ascended Jesus looks like. He was glowing white all over. His eyes were like blazing fire. All of John’s descriptors give us an image of glowing and fiery bright light. His voice thundered as the double-edged sword came out of His mouth–prophetic symbolism for the word of God (Hebrews 4:12; Ephesians 6:17).

In the presence of such power and majesty John drops to the ground as if he is dead. I believe that this would be true of all of us. Our physical bodies can’t handle that kind of proximity with the Alpha and Omega. Yet, with one touch from Jesus’s hand, John is strengthened. And Jesus reminds us all that He is not dead but alive for ever and ever! One of His names is the Living One!

He Has Risen

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, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

1 Corinthians 15:3-7

First, Paul lays out the simple gospel of Jesus Christ. Then he states the reality that the truth of the gospel hinges entirely on the reality of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead…

1 Corinthians 15:13-20

If we reject the truth of Jesus’s bodily resurrection from the dead, we reject the gospel–the whole of the Christian faith. We can call ourselves whatever we want, but if we leave behind the resurrection, we leave behind Jesus Himself. We might be able to construct a nice religious facade without the resurrection, a pseudo-Christian facsimile, but Jesus won’t be found anywhere inside. If we don’t embrace the resurrection, our faith is useless and we are still mired in our sin.

“But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead,” and that changes everything! HE IS RISEN! HE IS ALIVE! Death and sin have been defeated and our victory has been won!

From Heaven To Earth

Paul tells the Ephesian Christians that when they were saved by grace something happened that is mind-boggling. He writes, “God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus”(Ephesians 2:6).

What does this mean?

The death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ was not just an event in human history, it was an eternal event. In other words, while things were unfolding within the bounds of time (the crucifixion, burial, and ascension of Jesus) there were other things happening outside the bounds of time in the realm of the spirit. Jesus didn’t just pay for the sins that had been committed up to that point, He paid for all the sin of humanity for all time⏤past, present and future. It was an eternal moment.

Paul tries to explain this to the Roman Christians:

“…don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him…”

“Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.”

“In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

Romans 6:3-6, 8, 11

So when we surrender our life to Jesus, it is as if our old self was there with Christ being crucified with him and being buried with Him. Likewise, we are raised to new life with Him just as Jesus resurrected out of that tomb.

But our journey with Jesus wasn’t done. Not only were Jesus’s death and resurrection eternal events but so was His ascension. Remember what Paul already wrote to the Ephesians about God the Father and Jesus’s ascension, “…he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come”(Ephesians 1:20-21).

So where is Jesus’s residence right now? He’s seated at the right hand of the Father in the heavenly realms far above all other human and demonic powers, far above any other name to which people pray. And He will be there not only now but for eternity.

Paul then drops the bomb on us and says that God has “seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus”(Ephesians 2:6). Just as we were somehow with Christ in His death and resurrection, we are now with Him as He sits with the Father in the heavenly realms.

Because we were with Christ on the cross, we don’t live hoping our sin was dealt with, we live knowing our sin was death with once and for all. Because we were with Christ when He rose from the grave, we don’t live hoping for new life one day, we live knowing we’ve been given new life today. In the same way, because we are seated with Christ in the heavenly realms, we don’t live hoping we get into heaven in the future, we live from heaven to earth today!

Living from heaven to earth means that heavenly things are now natural to us and earthly things have become unnatural. Having the mind of Christ, thinking from God’s perspective, has now become natural. By “natural” I mean “that which alines with our new nature.” Sin feels abnormal. It’s not who we are anymore. Operating in the authority of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit has become natural. Fear feels unnatural. Resentment feels like an old coat that no longer fits and smells bad. Forgiveness, however, has the feel of when a ball hits a bat right on the sweet spot.

Paul articulates this well to the Colossian Christians:

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 

Colossians 3:1-3