Entitled

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Romans 5:6-8 (NIV)

There appears to be a pervasive altitude of entitlement in the world today. This attitude manifests itself in a common phrase such as, “I deserve (fill in the blank) because…” For a long time people lived according to the idiom, “earn your keep.” This idiom was first commonly said in the 1800s and was in reference to working for room and board which was common on farms. The understanding of earning what one received was prevalent even to the point of going too far at times. Whether one deserves or has earned something depends a lot upon perception.

Paul understands the concept of being deserving or undeserving when he writes to the Romans. As sinners, people who have not lived out God’s love, what is deserved is punishment. According to the covenant which God first established with humans, and then continuously renewed, the punishment for sin is death and full separation from God. Paul points out that humanity did not receive what was deserved because at exactly the right time Christ died for us so we may live. God’s love overpowered what was deserved and instead of death, we received life.

It is great to not receive what is entitled to us or even what we have earned through our actions. We have been given a great gift, grace, in Christ’s death and resurrection. The love of God remains present even when we do not live it in the world. Instead of waiting for us to stop breaking God’s love (sinning), God gave us the gift. Thank you  God for not giving me what I deserve!

Life and Death

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? 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.

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 so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.

Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. 10 The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.

Romans 6:1-10 (NIV)

Almost thirty years ago, Disney released an animated movie entitled The Lion King. A major theme of this movie revolved around the concept of the circle of life. Mufasa, the Lion King at the time, is speaking to his son and future king, Simba. Mufasa tells Simba, “When we die, our bodies become the grass, and the antelope eat the grass. And so we are all connected in the great Circle of Life.” There is even a major song in the movie by the name Circle of Life. Nature has a way of taking death and using it to bring forth life, from death comes life.

The passage for today takes life and death in a different direction. We are told first that we are to no longer sin because we are now dead to sin through the power of Christ. Sin has brought death into the would but Christ overcame death and sin from his death on the cross. In baptism we are joined to Christ so we share in his triumphant death and resurrected life. Sin cannot have power over us anymore.

The challenge placed before us is how to refrain from sinning and live as ones who are dead to sin. There is no magic formula or a guidebook to give us steps to achieve this. Working toward this goal requires continuous effort on a daily basis. Failure will be a part of this journey. Grace as given by the Lord will allow us to move through our failure. No matter how we do, the continued effort will allow us to improve. God’s love will never abandon us in our successes and failures.

Released

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

Romans 8:1-4 (NIV)

The amazing work of the organizations which rescue and rehabilitate animals is something to be celebrated. When a television show broadcasts stories including the moments one of these animals are released back into their natural habitats, it is heartwarming to watch. As an observer, a person can only imagine the sense of freedom and exhilaration the animal must experience at the moment of release.

The passage from the letter to the Roman believers speaks of being released. This release comes through the actions of Jesus Christ. Christ releases us from the law of the flesh, the law which we who are flesh could not fulfill was fulfilled when the Son became flesh and offered himself for all sin. This law of the flesh is fully met in the flesh of Christ. We are released from any condemnation and placed within the law of the Spirit. We are set free from the law of sin and death. We now live according to the Spirit.

Having the truth in this passage revealed to us should cause a feeling of freedom and exhilaration within us. Like the rescued and rehabilitated animals mentioned above, we have been given a new lease on life. The fear of being condemned had been removed. What has held us and created a deadly situation for us was destroyed by Christ. Let us live our life in the Spirit, free from the power of sin and death.

Victory

50 I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

55 “Where, O death, is your victory?
    Where, O death, is your sting?”

56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 15:50-57 (NIV)

Competition is a part of everyone’s life. There are all forms of athletic competitions. Beauty pageants and performance competitions are held all over the world. Spelling bees, academic decathlons and game shows test skills and knowledge. With the rise of reality television shows, a whole new form of competition has entered our society. Then there is the fact of competition in our everyday lives. Competition exists in the work environment as employees vie for positions, promotions, and raises. Businesses compete against one another for the consumer’s money. The list of life’s different competitive situations can appear to be endless. Competition is not an exclusively human dynamic either. Throughout creation competition exists for food, water, mates and shelter.

The passage which we read today from Paul’s letter to the believers in Corinth speaks of a competition. This competition is between life and death. It is a competition not just for the physical nature of humanity as much as it is for the spiritual aspect of humanity. Yes, Scripture tells us that at the point of resurrection, the physical body will be raised and reunited with the spirit just as with Christ but a person’s spirit is even more important to God. The competition was ended by Christ as he defeated death by his destruction of sin and his resurrection. Christ claimed the victory.

For you and me, being given a victory which we have done nothing to earn is amazing. Paul tells the Corinthians and us that God has given us the victory over death through Jesus Christ. We obtain this victory because death is due to sin. Since Jesus wiped away our sin through the cross, there is no need for death anymore. The victory is ours in a competition we could never win. Jesus is the only way we have victory.

Reconciliation

19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— 23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. 

Colossians 1:19-23a (NIV)

Reconciliation is defined as “the restoration of friendly relations.” After the Civil War in the United States, the northern and southern states had to reconcile. Friendly relations were required if the nation was going to heal and move forward as a productive country on the world’s stage. Reconciliation can also be necessary among family members. When individuals become estranged from one another, there is a need to reconcile with one another for the family to become whole once again. Unreconciled relationships create a gap among people. It is as if there is a hole in the spirit of the person who has not been reconciled.

In his comments to the Colossian believers, Paul speaks of reconciliation with God. The reason for the need to reconcile is because our thoughts and behaviors stand often in opposition to the love of God. God is love so anything which cannot abide within that love is unable to exist in God’s realm. God chose to create a way for us to be reconciled with God. Jesus Christ is the means for reconciliation to occur. God decided to fully live among humanity in Jesus. At the right time Jesus became the reconciler by physically dying on the cross. He stood in for us, bearing our sinful thoughts and behaviors on his body. By doing this, he made us holy, free and innocent in the sight of God. Our thoughts and behaviors are now compatible with the pure love of God.

Now having been made compatible with God and fully reconciled in relationship, Paul says we are to continue in believing Jesus has made this so. He tells us to be unmoved from the hope found in this good news. Where we once were alienated from God, we now live in full relationship. This is the truth of the gospel and this truth gives us hope.

The Wait

I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,
    and in his word I put my hope.
I wait for the Lord
    more than watchmen wait for the morning,
    more than watchmen wait for the morning.

Psalm 130:5-6 (NIV)

Waiting can be a challenging aspect of life.  Children wait for birthday celebrations, Christmas, Easter and Halloween when they receive gifts and special treats.  When a woman is pregnant, there is approximately eight months of waiting (usually the first month the person is unaware). Family, friends, and her partner eagerly look forward to the arrival of new life along with the one carrying the child. In the midst of winter we must wait for the warmth and new life of spring. All of this waiting can result in impatient people.

On this day when we await the sunrise of Easter morning, we sit in silence. The events of Thursday and Friday, filled with activity and emotions, are over. Jesus died on the cross and it now stands empty. His body has been sealed away in a tomb where death holds the power. All there is for us to do is wait. The darkness of yesterday afternoon and last night lingers around our spirits. There is an unsettling quiet about today. As the words from the psalm portray, our whole being waits for the Lord. Tomorrow will bring a new beginning with new life but today we wait.

New Life

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh[a] and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. 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, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Ephesians 2:1-10 (NIV)

Spring is a wonderful time of year because of all the new life which surrounds us. During winter the fields lay fallow, trees are barren of leaves, and grass, along with other plants, become brown. It is easy to perceive everything as being dead. With the arrival of spring flowering plants shoot out of the ground, buds which will burst out as leaves on the trees, and the green color returning to the grass and plants signal that life now exists where death seemed to reign.

Paul writes to the church in Ephesus with words about death and life. In our sins and transgressions we were dead. We followed the ways of the world and the spirit of disobedience. But God made us alive in Christ because God loves us. God has raised us to the heavenly realms where we sit with Christ. This is grace which has saved us. We have been created and prepared by God to do good works in Christ. In Christ, what was perceived as dead is truly alive.

Like creation gets a new life in the spring, we are given new life. We can put behind us those behaviors of our past which were killing our spirits. Because of God’s love for each one of us, we were not left in death but instead we have been resurrected into a new life. With new life, new opportunities exist. There are opportunities to serve others, establish mutually nourishing relationships, and discover the wonders of God’s love and grace. Embrace this new life given to you in Jesus Christ.

A Celebration

Lord, you are my God;
    I will exalt you and praise your name,
for in perfect faithfulness
    you have done wonderful things,
    things planned long ago.
You have made the city a heap of rubble,
    the fortified town a ruin,
the foreigners’ stronghold a city no more;
    it will never be rebuilt.
Therefore strong peoples will honor you;
    cities of ruthless nations will revere you.
You have been a refuge for the poor,
    a refuge for the needy in their distress,
a shelter from the storm
    and a shade from the heat.
For the breath of the ruthless
    is like a storm driving against a wall
    and like the heat of the desert.
You silence the uproar of foreigners;
    as heat is reduced by the shadow of a cloud,
    so the song of the ruthless is stilled.

On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare
    a feast of rich food for all peoples,
a banquet of aged wine—
    the best of meats and the finest of wines.
On this mountain he will destroy
    the shroud that enfolds all peoples,
the sheet that covers all nations;
    he will swallow up death forever.
The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears
    from all faces;
he will remove his people’s disgrace
    from all the earth.
The Lord has spoken.

In that day they will say,

“Surely this is our God;
    we trusted in him, and he saved us.
This is the Lord, we trusted in him;
    let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.”

Isaiah 25:1-9 (NIV)

This is the time of year when we are engaged in a lot of celebrating with a lot of food. The year in which we are in  has seen a lot more modification to our celebrations due to the pandemic. Still, many reports indicate that people are making a lot of food at home this year. Celebrations have moved from public venues to more intimate and private gatherings in homes. Either way, the celebrations continue.

Isaiah speaks of the greatest celebration yet to come. He shares how the Lord has broken down the ruthless powers of the world. The manner in which God has looked out for the disadvantaged is recalled. All of this leads up to the time when the Lord will prepare a massive celebration. Isaiah tells us that at this banquet, the best food and drink possible will be set before us. The party favors include the destruction of death and the end of sorrow. All will be honored and lifted up. He tells us that at this celebration the Lord’s saving actions will lead to great rejoicing.

Many of us long for an end of the pandemic. I am sure that when the virus finally is under control, there will be celebrations to the magnitude which have not been seen since the day World War II ended. Yet, even as large and impressive as our celebrating might be on that day, there is no comparison to the celebration of which Isaiah foretells. Try to envision singing and dancing of all people together without any conflict or animosity.  Let your mind taste the richness of the food and drinks of which you will partake. Imagine never having to fear illness, grief or death ever again. These are the promises of the Lord. Your invitation to the party is waiting.

Afterlife Truth

13 Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. 14 For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 15 According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (NIV)

I have had the privilege to assist families and friends when someone who they are close to has died. I call it a privilege because being with individuals at such an intimate time is not something everybody gets to do. When you work with people who are grieving the death of an individual, you often see their raw emotions. A person in my position would usually get a good indication how someone perceives death, resurrection and the afterlife. Grief is a very individualistic emotion and never the same twice. Those who trust in the Lord’s promise of the resurrection and an afterlife in God’s presence grieve but you also notice a sense of hope in their response to death.

Paul writes to the believers in Thessaloniki regarding resurrection, ascension and hope. He states that he wants them to understand the truth of the resurrection so they can grieve with hope. Paul tells these believers that when the Lord shouts the command, there will be a voice of an archangel and the sound of God’s trumpet call. At this time those who have died will be resurrected and join the Lord. Then those still living will also join the Lord. Living and dead will be united in the presence of the Lord. This assurance brings hope and not fear.

There are limited details in Scripture regarding our death and resurrection. We tend to fear what we do not know or understand. However, if we listen to the promises of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels, we know that our earthly life is not the only life. Death is not an ultimate ending, we continue. God has provided a way that when our earthly life ends, we begin our spiritual life fully in God’s presence. Paul speaks of the day when our earthly body becomes our resurrected body and is rejoined with our spirit. This truth gives us hope in the face of our mortality.

Final Words

49 Now the days drew near for Mattathias to die, and he said to his sons: “Arrogance and scorn have now become strong; it is a time of ruin and furious anger. 50 Now, my children, show zeal for the law, and give your lives for the covenant of our ancestors.

51 “Remember the deeds of the ancestors, which they did in their generations; and you will receive great honor and an everlasting name. 52 Was not Abraham found faithful when tested, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness? 53 Joseph in the time of his distress kept the commandment, and became lord of Egypt. 54 Phinehas our ancestor, because he was deeply zealous, received the covenant of everlasting priesthood. 55 Joshua, because he fulfilled the command, became a judge in Israel. 56 Caleb, because he testified in the assembly, received an inheritance in the land. 57 David, because he was merciful, inherited the throne of the kingdom forever. 58 Elijah, because of great zeal for the law, was taken up into heaven. 59 Hananiah, Azariah, and Mishael believed and were saved from the flame. 60 Daniel, because of his innocence, was delivered from the mouth of the lions.

61 “And so observe, from generation to generation, that none of those who put their trust in him will lack strength. 62 Do not fear the words of sinners, for their splendor will turn into dung and worms. 63 Today they will be exalted, but tomorrow they will not be found, because they will have returned to the dust, and their plans will have perished. 64 My children, be courageous and grow strong in the law, for by it you will gain honor.

65 “Here is your brother Simeon who, I know, is wise in counsel; always listen to him; he shall be your father. 66 Judas Maccabeus has been a mighty warrior from his youth; he shall command the army for you and fight the battle against the peoples. 67 You shall rally around you all who observe the law, and avenge the wrong done to your people. 68 Pay back the Gentiles in full, and obey the commands of the law.”

69 Then he blessed them, and was gathered to his ancestors. 70 He died in the one hundred forty-sixth year and was buried in the tomb of his ancestors at Modein. And all Israel mourned for him with great lamentation.

1 Maccabees 2:49-70

If you knew that you were going to die tomorrow, what would you want to say to those who you will leave behind? Some individuals have this awareness. They may not know for sure the exact day or time but maybe because of a medical diagnosis they become aware of their soon approaching death. There are some individuals who would not know this type of information. Death is an aspect of life which so many people want to ignore or hide away. Yet even in death, we are given opportunities. A person of faith does not fear death for we know it is not an end but a transition. However, a person of faith still has a concern for those who remain after their death. So out of concern, what would you wish to say to those who remain?

The passage from 1 Maccabees, an apocryphal book of the Bible for all Christians except the Roman Catholics, is a recording of the words of Matthias to his sons as he prepares to die. Matthias was a Jewish priest who fled Jerusalem with his family and other faithful Jews. They had left Jerusalem because it had been captured by the Gentile King Antiochus. The king wanted all of his new subjects to abandon their faith and rituals in order to adopt his own. Matthias led those who chose to ignore the king’s decree to Modein and later into the hills to avoid being executed for noncompliance . As Matthias prepares to die, he reminds his sons of the characteristics of their ancestors who became great in their faith tradition. He instructs them to emulate these ancestors. Then he continues by telling them who to rely upon as they continue in their leading of the faithful. Matthias encouraged them to resist the Gentiles and remain faithful.

Matthias provides us with an example of what we should say to those who will remain when we die. We should recall to them the ancestors of our faith. Lifting up the characteristics which have made them noticed as being faithful. Then we should continue by telling them who can be relied upon in their lives. Those who will assist them in their own faith journey and those who will protect them in life. By doing this, we express our love and concern for those who will remain in this portion of life. Since few of us actually know the exact time and date of our death it would be wise to make this an ongoing conversation regularly.  What would you want to say?