Incredible things have happened to you. Life-changing, reality-altering things have happened and you’ll never be the same again. The only problem is, you don’t always feel all that different, right? Don’t worry, you’re not the only one. We all struggle with this from time to time. If you know Jesus, everything in your world has been flipped upside down and in some ways, things are better than you could have ever imagined, even in your wildest dreams. Except that you don’t always feel like your dreams have come true. Sometimes life is scary, confusing, difficult and even mind-numbingly ordinary. Sometimes life feels more like a nightmare than a dream and it’s easy to feel like you are somehow behind the curve if you don’t feel excited and brand new every minute of every day.
The truth is, we all struggle to recognize the incredible realities of our new life. Believers in Jesus have always had a hard time with this. In fact, there’s a place at the beginning of Colossians 3 where the Apostle Paul tells these folks some of the the amazing things that have happened to them and then encourages them to do whatever it takes to recognize it. The thing is, when you read what he says, it’s easy to wonder why he had to tell them in the first place. If those things have happened to them, shouldn’t they be the first to know? He says, “You’ve been raised with Christ. You died and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life appears, you will also appear with Him in glory.” Whoa. That’s huge stuff. That’s not like one of your friends getting a haircut and maybe you notice it, maybe you don’t. If you died and were raised from the dead with Jesus, you’d know it, right?
And yet, Paul has to remind them and us that it has happened. He has to tell us to set our minds on the things above and to set our hearts on things above, not on earthly things because that’s where we belong now. The words he used for setting our minds and hearts above are words that mean to seek, search, try, think, observe, care about, feel, inquire and even demand. He’s telling us to go for it with all we have. In other words, “Your whole life has been changed, now do everything you can to keep yourself thinking about that changed life.” But, if our life has changed so much, why in the world does he have to say any of this?
This is just part of living in fallen bodies in a fallen world. We forget what’s most important and we ignore what’s right in front of us. Jesus has completely changed us and yet we still need Him desperately even to recognize these amazing changes. The real question is, how do we keep all this at the forefront of our mind? How do we search it out and demand to feel and experience this new life? I personally can only speak to my own experience, but for me, it has been all about two big things. One, I wake up every day needing Jesus as desperately as I did when I was helplessly lost. I need Him to help me feel it. I need His power. And two, I need people in my life who live out the new life. I need people who get what it’s all about and I need them around me all the time. I build my life around believers I respect and around my own weakness and need for Jesus. The biggest things ever have happened to me and I want to feel the truth of those outrageous events.
We worship Jesus together in singing because He won. He defeated sin and death forever and brings us into His indestructible life.
Easter Sunday is the day we celebrate the hinge around which everything else in our Christian life turns. Jesus rose from the dead and is vindicated as being exactly who He always said He was. On the cross, He defeated sin, reversed the curse and extracted the poison of the Fall. As the sun rose on Easter Sunday, the empty tomb proved that the days are numbered for evil, pain, sadness, grief and wrong. When Jesus walked out of His grave, death itself died.
Now every single day is new because every single day the sun rises on a world where the fallen human race is being redeemed, reborn and recreated. Every day, we get to wake up knowing that the Living Christ is at work in our lives, making everything new by the power of His indestructible life. No matter what happens, we have the promise of Heaven, which means that even our own death will be like waking up from a much-needed nap into the eternal bliss of paradise with God. On this day, we celebrate the triumph of the Risen One and the everlasting joy that is ours because of it.
One of the hardest things about being human is the question of your own worth. How can you ever really know whether your life means enough? On top of the difficulty of that question is the fact that death cuts the answer off. When you die, everything’s just over. Death is so final. When you lose someone really close to you, it takes a long time for the fact to sink all the way down into your heart that they really are gone and their life on earth is over. You’ll hear a song they really loved or remember an old inside joke you shared with that person and think of them. You might even start to call them or send them a text message only to remember with a painful stab that you can’t make that call because they won’t pick up. It’s over. They’re gone. Their work is finished, their laugh is silenced and all their stories are told. Surely this is the way the disciples felt on the Saturday after Jesus died on the cross. Waking up Sunday morning would have had that same, dull, numb sadness of grief until the greatest news broke over their weary hearts like a tidal wave of impossible joy. He’s back! He’s not dead! Incredibly, amazingly, Jesus is alive. His story didn’t end and His work isn’t finished. In fact, one of the beautiful things about Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is that He gives us that same indestructible life that beats in His ribs. We are His kids, and we will never really die. Your worth is sealed by the fact of His spilled blood for you and His everlasting life is pulsing in your veins. He’ll never be finished with you.
This temptation doesn’t mean I’ve sinned yet. Jesus was tempted too.
This temptation is lying to me about myself, about God and about what is good.
This temptation is not going to last forever.
This temptation does not guarantee a given result. I don’t have to do this thing.
This temptation is going to get loudest right before it’s over and I make it through.
This temptation is stronger than I am, but not as strong as God in me is.
This temptation doesn’t define me. I am first and foremost a child of God.
This temptation doesn’t want me to pray, but can’t stop me from praying.
This temptation doesn’t want me to call my friends for help, but can’t stop me.
This temptation will absolutely buckle if I am courageous right now.
This temptation knows that if I really believe any of these true things, it’s done.
He didn’t have to do it. Whatever you read or listen to or think about on this Good Friday pertaining to the cross of our Lord, keep this in the forefront of your mind - He didn’t have to do it. As you enter into this day and your heart scrambles to deal with the emotions of remembering those awful hours of pain and darkness, make sure you remember this one outrageous fact - the cross was not a given. It was not inevitable. He could have said no and yet, He said yes.
I’m not saying there was any other way for us to be saved. The cross was our only hope. The Son of God paying for our wrong was the only way we could be forgiven. It was the only plan that could or would work, but it was not forced upon Him. It was not fate. It was not the cleverness of His enemies. It was not a trap. His hand was not forced. He could have stopped the motion of those dreadful wheels at any point and He didn’t, which means the cross was His choice.
He chose to go. He decided to endure the pain. He allowed Himself to be humiliated. He intended for this to happen. I guess you could say He wanted it. Yes, He did ask for this cup to pass from Him. He did ask the Father for another way, but when no other way could be found, He chose it, which means that however badly He did not want this, there was something in doing it that He wanted more. As F.B. Meyer said, “Whilst there was much that cried, “Back!” there was more that cried, “On!”
As you go through this Good Friday, remember Him and the cross He chose. Remember that He willingly endured everything for the joy set before Him. What could that joy be, if not His love for you? It was love. He didn’t have to do it, but He loved you and me. Every believer in Jesus can rightly say along with the Apostle Paul, “He loved me and gave Himself for me.” - Galatians 2:20
I bet you sometimes feel really far away from God. Not only that, but I bet you think the distance is God’s way of showing you how unhappy He is with your behavior. In other words, you assume God punishes your sin by withholding Himself from you. The reason I know you sometimes feel this way is that I do too. We all do. Everyone goes through seasons of feeling really far away from God and we all naturally think this is a direct result of our wrong. The thing is, despite the way you feel, if you know Jesus, your sin will never separate you from the love of God ever again. The truth is, we used to be separated from God because of our wrong. We were all born that way, excluded from His fellowship like the Israelites of old who worshiped God knowing that they could never really approach Him. There was a special room in the temple where God’s presence was said to dwell and a giant curtain hung in front of the entrance to that room, keeping them separate from God. Only one person could go behind the curtain and only one day out of the whole year. Even then, this High Priest had to have the blood of a spotless substitute on his head, hands and feet. Jesus came and lived a perfect life and then laid that life down to be your Spotless Substitute. His perfect blood was shed to take you behind the curtain. In fact, before He died, that curtain ripped from top to bottom. You are no longer separated from God’s presence. No matter what you have done, you can be with God right now.
Springtime is amazing. It’s surprising. No matter how old I get or how many times I see it, I always love to watch the blossoming of new growth on the trees when winter gives way to spring. For months, the cold hard ground and gray skies have been silhouetted by the lonely bones of barren branches. The trees have been like skeletons sticking out of the earth, yearning for life. And then one day you see it: tiny, fragile, yellowish-green buds of new leaves start appearing as if by magic. Some trees have unbelievable blossoms that paint the landscape with pastel colors and some just start churning out green as if to proclaim the emergence of health and life.
It almost seems like a dead thing has come back to life again, and yet we know that’s not what happened. That tree wasn’t dead during the winter. It was always alive through the bitter and biting winds. It was drinking in the rain and waiting on the sun.
Do you ever feel like a winter tree? Does it ever seem as if you are empty and fruitless, exposed and just barely hanging onto your stiff patch of ground, waiting for the sun to shine? I know I’ve felt like that. Sometimes my heart feels cold and lifeless. Sometimes God feels as though He’s a million miles away. And yet, spring is around the corner. You see, we are like those trees. God has you planted right where He wants you. Even the cold winter rain is going down into your roots and giving you what you need to bloom. If you feel like a skeleton on the landscape, hang in there. Your spring is coming. The sun is going to make the gray sky blue and you are going to spin new leaves out into the open air. Keep digging your roots down deep into the Scriptures. Keep going to the Lord in His word and asking Him to nourish you, fill you and grow you. Your season is coming. You’re going to blossom and thrive.
“Blessed is the one whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on His law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water - which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither.” - Psalm 1
I want you to answer a question in your own head without thinking about it. Just give your gut reaction as soon as you read the question. Ready? Here we go: who is the person you love most in the world? Is it your best friend? Is it your spouse or your child or your Great Aunt Liz or your German Shepherd, Roscoe? Who in your life just sets your heart on fire? Who is that person you are most devoted to and most excited to be with? Who is that person you’re crazy about, in spite of all their faults? Who is that person you would defend at all costs? Okay. Now picture them. Can you see their face in your mind’s eye and hear their voice and their laugh? Focus on that face you love and think about the way you feel about them. I want you to try something. Take your affection and commitment for that person and multiply it a million times. Multiply it a billion times. Imagine that huge love you have radiates with the eternal, explosive power of a trillion burning suns, no matter what that person does or who they become, forever and ever. Now, I want you to imagine what it would be like to be loved like that. What if Jesus loves you with that kind of intensity and constancy? He says you’re the apple of His eye. He says you enthrall Him. He says you are His chosen, His beloved, His friend. He says He’ll never forget you and never forsake you. What if you believed those words with all of your heart? What if His thoughts about you were the most precious thing in the world to you?