The Last Word

The Last Word

As a pastor, few things are harder than preparing for a funeral. Not only are you sharing personally in the grief of beloved friends, but you are bearing the grief of precious sheep. The gravity of speaking the “last words” of a person’s life and the urgency the house of mourning presses upon us to declare the gospel — these are heavy weights upon the mind and heart of a pastor. Last words must declare the faithfulness and goodness of God and prepare those left behind to embark upon the voyage of grief. What we say at the funeral frames life and loss in the context of God’s promises, which are all “yes and amen, in Christ Jesus.”

Especially poignant is time at the graveside. In the quiet intimacy of the grave, we feel the tension between a palpable sense of finality and a nagging certainty that there is more. Andrew Peterson says it well.

This is not the end here at this grave
This is just a hole that someone made
Every hole was made to fill
And every heart can feel it still–
Our nature hates a vacuum

This is not the hardest part of all
This is just the seed that has to fall
All our lives we till the ground
Until we lay our sorrows down
And watch the sky for rain

There is more
More than all this pain
More than all the falling down
And the getting up again
There is more
More than we can see
From our tiny vantage point
In this vast eternity
There is more.
Andrew Peterson, “More”

For the believer, death is not the beginning of the end, but the end of the beginning. There is more. The last episode of the first book of the Bible recounts two funerals. Genesis begins with “in the beginning” and ends with “in a coffin in Egypt.” God began by speaking life and beauty into the world, but man’s sinful rebellion has brought death and decay. We see the great distance man has fallen and the fruition of the curse, ‘in the day you eat of the fruit of the tree of [moral autonomy] you will surely die.” We might be tempted to find discouragement in these last words, but nothing should be further from the truth.

The famous statement of God’s sovereignty in Gen 50:20, “what you intended for evil, God meant for good” is one of grace and promise. Sin is not the last word. Grace is the last word. What man has experienced and intended for evil in his fallen, sinful rebellion, God has worked for good by sending a redeemer in the person of His Son, Jesus.

We see this explicitly in Acts 2 as Peter declares,

“this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.”

This is the great exchange in the gospel; Jesus who bore our sins, Jesus who through our evil intentions and actions, brings us good and salvation. This is the last word. Don’t let sin and death be the last word in your life, for Jesus came to give life and life to the full.

Join us for worship this Lord’s Day, October 7, at Pottsville Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church as we conclude our conversations from the Book of Beginnings and consider how the God always speaks the last word, and it is a word of redeeming grace to ruined sinners. For directions click here. We look forward to seeing you there.

 

Laundry Work

My wife loves making lists, because she loves checking things off her list.  Striking through task after task brings a real sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.  Nothing beats the feeling of checking off that last item and heading for a well-earned rest.   But wait, there is one more item – that stubborn one that is always there, yet never removed, never finished.  You know the one I mean.  Laundry work.

Laundry is never done.  You may wash the last load and fold the last dishrag and smugly congratulate yourself in your victory over dirty clothes, then in a flash your family appears bearing those loads they have been holding back for “such a time as this.”   And, thus it starts all over again.  Laundry is never done.  By definition, as long as we live in this fallen world where we are no longer naked and not ashamed, laundry is ever-awaiting.

In our household, “laundry work” is a ready metaphor for any job or experience in life that is always being done but never getting done.  Life is filled with these, not the least of which is wrestling with God.  Wrestling with what He has done, wrestling with what He has not done, wrestling with what he has called us to do and where He has called us to go.   The trite slogan of evangelicalism is “Jesus is the Answer.”  But for those who have heeded the call to follow Him, you have probably learned by now that “Jesus is the Question.” Following Him is a task unfinished, a pilgrim life which finds no permanent resting place in this world, except in Him.   The life of the Christian is the life of wrestling with God, wrestling to cling to Him rather than to this world.

This is why modern-day Christians share the label “Israel,” with our forefathers in the faith.  Because we, like Jacob of old wrestle, with God’s promises and His power and His calling.   That wrestling is not a match, but a life.  It does not go a few rounds until someone gets pinned.   Jacob wrestled all night.   But our wrestling is for a lifetime.  Not a match, but a life.  The Christian life, this wrestling with God, is laundry work.  It is always being done, but never getting done.

After wrestling with God, Jacob returned to Canaan to take up residence in the land of promise.  But life there was anything but promising.  Joseph had been sold into slavery as a teenager and Jacob believed him to be dead.  He resolved never to stop grieving and refused to be comforted.  Meanwhile, Jacob’s others sons all lived wickedly and, like their uncle Esau, cared nothing for God or His promises.  Their birthright meant nothing and they despised it.  Jacob must have wondered if all the promises of God had failed.  Had it all come to nothing?  All the struggle, all the deception, all the conflict; what had it all been for?  Then comes the shocking, heart-stopping word that Joseph is still alive and is in Egypt.  All is arranged and Jacob is bidden to leave Canaan and go down to Egypt.  Leave Canaan?  Go to Egypt?  All of Jacob’s life and the lives of his father and grandfather have been bound up in a commitment to remain in Canaan and never, ever go down to Egypt.  Now Jacob is wrestling with two desires, two callings, and God’s will.

Join us for worship this Lord’s Day, September 2, at Pottsville Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church as we examine Genesis 46 and consider from the life of Jacob, how we wrestle with God when his call seems at odds with our desires.  For directions click here. We look forward to seeing you there.

 

Who Is This?

When someone mentions Jesus, what comes to mind?  Religious revolutionary? Social justice warrior?  Ethical teacher?  Failed Zionist leader?  Founder of a yet another world religion? Who is this Jesus?  For many it is a caricature, influenced by pictures you have seen or by clichés which permeate our cultural ideas of “the historical Jesus.”  Or perhaps you remember him from a collection of anecdotes or parables you heard as a child in some Sunday School.

Jesus’ own disciples struggled to understand who he was and what he came to do.  From time to time glimpses shined through their own preconceived notions of Him.  In a poignant moment, as they were crossing the Sea of Galilee, a furious squall sprang up and threatened to sink their small fishing boat.  Half of Jesus’ disciples grew up on these tempestuous waters, fishing with their families from their childhood. Yet even they were convinced that they would not survive the trip.  They woke Jesus who was asleep in the back of the boat.  They did not ask him to save them – for what miracle working teacher was a match for a force-ten gale?  They only asked, “don’t you care that we are about to die?”   Jesus stood up in the boat and with a word, brought the waters from tempest to mirror.   These seasoned seamen were almost speechless.  The only thing they could say of Jesus was, “who is this?”   They perceived that there was much more to Jesus than even their imaginations could anticipate.

Who is Jesus?  The accounts of him at the end of the gospel of John are really very unexpected.  As he faces an unjust arrest, trial, and execution, we seem him not as a failed revolutionary swept up in the unstoppable tide of Roman tyranny and religious jealousy.  What we see is that Jesus is the one in complete control of everything that transpires.  He told his disciples, “no one takes my life from me.  I lay it down and I will take it up again.”

Who do you think Jesus is?  Come and find out as we walk through the final days of Jesus’ earthly life, from John 18-21.  Join us for worship this Lord’s Day, March 11, at Pottsville Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church as we examine John 18 and consider just who Jesus is and what he came to do.  Click here for directions.  We look forward to seeing you.