Burying a son

My dad’s 86th birthday is this weekend. It won’t be an especially joyful occasion for dad. About a week ago he lost his youngest child, my brother Darrell. Darrell died at age 56 from complications to pancreatic cancer.

Mom turned 85 a couple weeks ago. For awhile we wondered if Darrell might die on her birthday. Instead he lingered a few more days. These were hard days for my parents. They were basically housebound 500 miles away from Darrell’s hospice house. Their fare­well was accomplished with a phone call, although Darrell was unable to speak. He communicated only by grunts and gestures which were relayed by our older sister Pam.

After Darrell’s memorial service in South Carolina, I spent three days with my parents this week in Ohio. It wasn’t especially a deep or spiritual time, although we did pray together a couple times. We didn’t tell stories about Darrell or look at any old pictures of him when he was healthy. Maybe that will come later. Dad is stoic and self-contained. He wants to move on. Mom is tender and open, but quiet. I know the pain of losing a brother, but they have endured the crushing experience of burying a son. That’s a much greater loss.

The Scriptures provide numerous episodes of parents who lost their children to untimely death. They include sons and daughters of both the rich and famous as well as the poor and obscure. It isn’t a rare phe­nomenon. The parents of the human race, Adam and Eve, lost a son to murder.

Naomi lost two sons to death and her husband as well. King David lost multiple children to death by murder and the judgment of God. Jacob mourned the death of his son Joseph, but Joseph turned up alive in Egypt many years later.

A few of the children who died were subsequently restored to their parents. They include some of the most unique stories in the Bible. Elijah raised the son of a widow in Zarephath (1 Kings 17:8-24). Ironically, we are told neither the name of the woman nor her son. Elisha raised the son of the Shunammite woman (2 Kings 4:8-37). Again, their names are not provided. Jesus raised the son of a widow in Nain (Luke 7:11-17) and the daughter of a synagogue ruler (Matthew 9:18-26). These are the exceptions.

For the rest of us, death is final in this world. The mothers of Bethlehem mourned the loss of their baby boys by the sword of King Herod. But the children were not restored to their parents. Not yet.

Abraham almost lost his son Isaac in a very strange way. God commanded Abraham to sacrifice Isaac as a burnt offering on an altar (Genesis 22:1-2). Amazingly, Abraham obeyed without hesitation. He believed that God would raise Isaac from the dead. That’s incredible faith. At the last instant, when Abraham’s knife was in the air to slay Isaac as a sacrifice, the Lord stopped the procedure and rewarded Abraham’s faith.

At first it seems like Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac doesn’t make any sense. Why would God command Abraham to do that? The initial answer is that it was a test of Abraham’s faith. But the meaning goes much deeper than that. The typology wouldn’t be fulfilled for two thousand years until God himself sacrificed his own son Jesus on the cross. This time the Lord didn’t stop the procedure. Jesus died on the cross. God buried his own son.

Parents bury their children because they lose them. But God buried his son because he gave him (John 3:16). A few dead children were restored to their parents. Their resurrection is a type (a picture) of what is yet to come for all in Christ. Because he lives, we too shall live. Such is the hope of a parent who has buried a child.

Resurrection. To Abraham life after death was a belief and a hope. The resurrection of Jesus made it a reality. He was the firstfruits of resurrection. We will follow later in due time. In the meantime, resurrection remains our belief and our hope. Parents still bury their children with the hope of a future resurrection. When Christ returns, he will make that resurrection a reality.

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Welcome, Enemy

 

For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 1 Corinthians 15:25-26

Death is a vile enemy. It defies faith. It denies hope. It devastates love.

Death is a vicious enemy. Jesus prayed to his Father, “If you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). Then the Savior submitted to the most ignoble death possible. He willingly suffered the humiliating condemnation of a Roman cross.

Death is a defeated enemy. The Resurrection changed everything. Jesus turned death on its head. He came back from the grave, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.

Death’s final destruction is yet future. 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” (1 Cor. 15:54). In the meantime, humanity remains subject to the despicable throes of death. At present, death is still a powerful, hated enemy.

My brother Darrell is dying of cancer. It’s not a pleasant sight. He has not received food or water for six days. Yet he lingers. As far as we can tell, he is not aware of what is going on around him. His breathing is shallower today. Yet, incredibly, his vital signs are actually improving. His blood pressure improved today. His heart rate was closer to normal. The hospice care has been wonderful. He may yet linger for days. Or his departure from this broken world could come tonight.

God has his purpose in the timing of Darrell’s life and death. Yet I don’t recognize it in the lingering, unless it serves as an open door of invitation for those who remain.

God remains sovereign. Death remains an enemy, though a welcome enemy. When the angel of death finally arrives, it will sting. There will be genuine loss. We will feel pain. But death will accomplish only what God has decreed. Therefore I say to the hovering immanence of destruction, “Welcome, Enemy.”

Foundations

This month at New Life Church we are beginning a new study in the book of Acts. Basically, Acts is about two people (Peter & Paul) and one event (the Church). Acts 2 is a famous chapter in the Bible because it tells the amazing story of the birth of the church. Acts 1 lays the foundation for the church before the church is begun.

I’m not a construction worker, but I’ve heard foundations are critical to a building. A foundation goes down so a tower can go up. When bold builders erect skyscrapers in Manhattan, they dig deep into the earth until they reach solid bedrock and anchor the building to the foundation of rock. The foundation must support the entire weight of the building. A structure is no better than its foundation. The leaning tower of Pisa is a classic illustration. A few years ago, a strong wind blew over a poorly built 13-story apartment building in China. It had a lousy foundation.

The church is not a physical building, but it’s like a building. The foundation is all important. If the foundation is weak, shallow or fake, the church will go nowhere. The Apostle Paul wrote that the church is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:20).

How is Jesus the cornerstone of the foundation of the church? Our text in the book of Acts offers four clues: 1) The resurrection. It’s plain and simple. Take away the resurrection of Jesus and the church collapses.  2) Holy Spirit power. Take away the Holy Spirit and the church withers on the spot. 3) The Great Commission. We have a divine assignment. In the end, the church doesn’t exist for us. We are really here for unbelievers. That’s why God left us on the earth. 4) The second coming of Jesus. This last one is the surprise kicker. God placed an endgame into the church’s foundation. There will come a day when our work is done. Why? Because Jesus is coming again. That is our “blessed hope” (Titus 2:13).

Resurrection

Studies in the Gospel of Mark: Resurrection

The sacrificial death of Jesus Christ on the cross is the focal point of the Gospel of Mark. Jesus came as the consummate servant “to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Indeed the cross of Christ is core of the metanarrative (big story) of the entire New Testament.

But the cross is not the end of the story. It’s not even the climax. The greatest reversal theme of all history is the resurrection of Jesus from the grave on what we now know as Easter Sunday. Death, which is final and utterly irreversible to all human experience and reason, has been defeated and swallowed up by life in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Death is reverted to life. Despair is changed to hope. Night is turned back to day. The triumph of evil is toppled by an even greater triumph of good.

The reliability of our faith hinges on the unparalleled events of the third day following the crucifixion. Fortunately, the events of that day are attested by four separate writers, making Easter Sunday the most documented eye-witness event in all ancient history. It’s not even close.

The Gospel accounts of the Easter story are messy. The resurrection of Jesus is not a neat and tidy story. But the disarray may be a sign of authenticity. Let’s look at it tomorrow at New Life!