And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of His Spirit who lives in you. (Romans 8:11)
In last week’s sermon, we were reminded that Jesus sent the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, to “teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” (John 14:26)
The Apostle Paul has much to say about the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Though we are embodied beings, we are not defined by our fleshly, sinful nature. Rather, we are, “however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you.” (Ro-mans 8:9). We need to know that this makes all the difference in our lives! We read in verse 11: “if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of His Spirit who lives in you..”
Notice that Paul describes God as the God “who raised Jesus from the dead.” The death-defeating, life-giving power of God is essential and vital both to God’s nature and to our experience of God. This experience is centered in the Holy Spirit who is both “the Spirit of him who raised Jesus” and the “Spirit that dwells in you.” Through the dwelling Spirit within us, God “will give life to your mortal bodies.” Though our bodies are mortal because of sin, we will one day be raised when the Spirit gives eternal life to us.
How does this verse speak to us in the midst of our present coronavirus crisis? First, it offers the promise of life beyond this life. In a time when we are more aware than usual of our mortality, when we are reminded of the fact that we will die, it’s reassuring to know that physical death is not the end for us. We will be raised into the life of the new heaven and new earth, when disease and death are no more.
Second, this life-giving Spirit is not somewhere in the future. Romans 8:11 reminds us that the Spirit of life dwells in us right now. The very power that raised Jesus from the dead is available to us in the present. Now, this does not mean that we are immune to all suffering. What it does mean is that, no matter what our situation is in this life, God is with us, and not just with us, but within us through his Spirit. Even when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, God is right there – with us, in us, surround-ing us, empowering us, and giving us confident hope for the future.
Let us thank God for the gift of His Spirit, dwelling in us. Let us also live with confident hope in the future life that God has for us. May we be atten-tive to the presence and guidance of God’s Spirit within us, and thus, live with power and purpose in this life. For His glory, Amen!
We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experi-enced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to en-dure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. (2 Corinthians 1:8-9)
Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! This past week, fresh after Easter, I have been thinking through the question, “How does the resurrection of Jesus matter as we face the challenges of the current crisis?” To find the answer, turn to 2 Corinthians 1.
The Apostle Paul begins the letter remarkably transparent with his personal or-deal. In verses 3-7, Paul speaks of “trouble” and “suffering” that he has endured, without specific details. The suffering is likely associated with his preaching of the gospel. Paul’s point is that, in the midst of his trial, God comforted him so that he might comfort others. Paul admits that he was “under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself” (v. 8). In fact, he felt as if he “had received the sentence of death” (v. 9). This is a striking revelation of deep personal anguish.
Many of us can relate to that sentiment, especially in our present days when thou-sands of people are suffering with the coronavirus, grieving over lost loved ones, or experiencing financial hardships. We may very well know what it feels like to be “under great pressure,” “utterly, unbearably crushed,” and to “despair of life itself.”
Yet Paul says he experienced something truly redemptive in his suffering, “Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.” His affliction forced him to face his own limitations and weaknesses. On his own, he could not carry on in such hard times. He was compelled not to rely on himself, “but on God who raises the dead.” How does Paul know God in this way? Because of the resurrection of Jesus. The Easter event anchors Paul’s faith and secures his hope. (See 1 Corinthi-ans 15 for how the resurrection of Jesus is central to Christian faith.)
The verb translated as “rely on” (v. 9) could also be rendered “depend on” or “trust in.” Eugene Peterson wonderfully captures the idea in The Message: “We felt like we’d been sent to death row, that it was all over for us. As it turned out, it was the best thing that could have happened. Instead of trusting in our own strength or wits to get out of it, we were forced to trust God totally – not a bad idea since he’s the God who raises the dead!” Because of his affliction, Paul was forced to trust God totally.
When things are going well in life, when there is no pandemic, when the economy is strong, when our work is flourishing, it is easy for us to rely on ourselves. But, when bad things happen to us and our loved ones, when we are threatened by a powerful disease, when the economy falters, or when we wonder about our own financial security, then we, like Paul, realize just how much we need God. Self-reliance seems naïve and unwise.
Because of the resurrection, we have good reason to rely on God. We know that God is both trustworthy and powerful. Yes, we hope that God will deliver us from the perils we face, even as God once delivered Paul (2 Cor. 1:10-11). But we believe that, no matter what happens to us in this age, our lives belong forever to the Lord. In the end, He will not only rescue us, but also redeem and restore us, along with all creation. Thus, we rely on God by faith, trusting fully in the God who raises the dead.
“… the handkerchief that had been around His head, not lying with the linen cloths, but folded together in a place by itself” (John 20:7)
Today, Easter Sunday, the Christian Church formally celebrates Jesus’ resurrection. But we should practice Easter every Sunday as “little Easters,” as we take time to focus on how the resurrection that we say we believe in is actually lived out in our lives throughout the year.
As Christians, we believe in the historical Jesus and the cultural context within which He lived, as well as in the divine person of Christ Jesus who gifts us with salvation and eternal life. Therefore, Jesus, the man, was a reflection in many ways of the culture within which He was born and lived.
John 20:7 shows us one instance of how Jesus used the customs and culture of His time to teach with parables, to spread His message, and to prove His divinity and His return to earth again. The Gospel of John (20:7 RSV, NKJV) tells us that the napkin/handkerchief, which was placed over the face of Jesus, was not just thrown aside like the other grave clothes. John takes great care to tell us that the napkin, which covered His head, was neatly folded, and was placed at the head of that stony coffin.
According to John, early Sunday morning, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. She found Simon Peter and the disciple whom Jesus loved. She said, “They have taken the Lord's body out of the tomb, and I don't know where they have put Him!”
Peter and the other disciple ran to the tomb. The other disciple got there first, and saw the linen cloth lying there, but he didn't go in. When Simon Peter arrived, he went inside. He also noticed the linen wrappings lying there, while the cloth that had covered Jesus' head was folded up and lying to the side, away from the other wrappings.
Why did Jesus fold the linen burial cloth after His resurrection? Was that important? Absolutely! Is it really significant? Yes!
To understand the significance of the folded napkin, we need to know about the Hebrew culture of Jesus’ day. Every Jewish person knew the meaning of the folded napkin. When the servant set the dinner table for the master, the servant made sure that it was exactly the way the master wanted it. Then the servant would wait, just out of sight, until the master had finished eating. The servant would not dare touch the table until the master was finished. When the master was finished eating, he would rise from the table, wipe his fingers and mouth, clean his beard, and wad up the napkin and toss it onto the table. Only then, the servant would clear the table. The wadded napkin meant, “I’m finished.” But if the master got up from the table, folded his napkin and laid it beside his plate, the servant would not dare touch the table, because the folded napkin meant, “I'm coming back!”
Let us be reminded daily that Jesus Christ is “Not Finished.”
He is coming back for His faithful servants.
“If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it…” (Mark 11:3)
In college, I had a plethora of jobs to pay for school. I worked hard and long, yet I was still a poor and starving student. Well, I didn’t really starve, but I was limited on my choice of meals. My dream was to build a successful career in the medical field so that I would be able to lead a comfortable life, without worrying what I could or could not afford to eat. That was until the Lord began to place His dream for my life in my junior year in college. God’s call gradually grew over time to the point that I knew my future was not in medicine, but in full-time Christian Ministry. For several years, I worked a secular job with a very good salary, while I wrestled with God over His call for my life (never wrestle with God, not only will you not win, you might also end up walking with a limp for the rest of your life). I finally obeyed, resigned from my well-paying secular job and gave my future life into the hands of the One who called me. Though there have been many challenges, I have never regretted that decision. In fact, I often wonder where my life might have taken me, if I hadn’t obeyed His voice.
As Jesus was preparing to make His triumphant entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, Jesus asks two of His disciples to go to a nearby village, where they would find a tied colt that no one had ridden. He asks the two disciples to untie the colt and bring it to Him with the words, “If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it …” (Mark 11:3).
That colt became a symbol of the Palm Sunday story and a part of the fulfillment of the prophecy given by Zechariah, “Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your King comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9). “The Lord had need of it.” Thankfully, the people released it to the disciples (Mark 11:4-6). Thus, began Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem (Mark 11:7-10).
On this Palm Sunday, what is Jesus asking from you? What does He need from you, to fulfil a part of His great plan in this broken world; in this crazy world we are living in today? Is it a special talent, your time, your energy, your career, maybe part of your finances? Does He need your knowledge, your wisdom or your work experience? Whatever He needs, as He speaks to you, do not hold it back, but release it freely, just like the village folk released the colt. If ‘The Lord needs it’, and you release it, He will do amazing things through what you offer Him!
Many years ago, I read Pastor David Wilkerson’s powerful book “The Cross and the Switchblade.” In it, Pastor Wilkerson shares about how, convicted by God, he made a decision to give up his time of relaxation in the evenings so that he could use that time to seek God’s face in a deeper way. As he kept honoring that commitment to God, one night, God spoke to him about ministering to street gangs. That was the moment when the worldwide ministry of Teen Challenge was birthed!! It all happened because he responded by releasing what God needed from him. May we do the same: release to God’s use those things that “the Lord needs” from us.