Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Surprised by Joy



            From Good Friday to Easter we move from grief and confusion to joy and confidence.  In this post-Holy Week arousal from Winter to Spring, it is not simply a time to experience a Resurrection Sunday celebration and move on.  It is the season to rejoice in being surprised by joy in the risen Savior.

One day when I was a young seminarian, I was down sick with the flu and in bed.  I barely remember my wife coming into our bedroom after a doctor’s appointment upset and crying.  She was trying to rouse me with a mix of good and bad news.  Mary had gone to the doctor thinking that she probably had the flu, as well.  But the doctor gave her the news that she was pregnant with our first child.  However, after the examination he had reason to be concerned that our little baby was in the wrong place – she was not where she should be, but may very well be in the fallopian tube and not the womb.  So, here I am, barely able to move, getting out of bed and driving to the hospital to get my wife an ultrasound with such a range of emotions within me that all I can do is weep, feeling, like Mary Magdalene on resurrection morning, that my Lord has been taken away from me – it just felt like I didn’t know where Jesus was at that moment and why I was going through this craziness.  I will never forget the words and even the tone of voice of the ultrasound technician as we anxiously were in the dimly lit room looking at a screen we didn’t understand; the technician said, “She is right where she is supposed to be!”  The tears turned to complete joy.  And the words were prophetic; there was no way that the technician could know at six weeks in the womb that we were having a little girl, but she referred to the peanut within my wife as “she.”  And we immediately knew what her name was:  “Sarah,” which is the Hebrew name for “Princess.”  God had graced us with a precious gift of royalty, coming from the grace of King Jesus. 

            We are all right where we are supposed to be.  Whatever your life-circumstance is right now, God has you right where he wants you.  We are here on this spinning planet Earth because we have a divine appointment with Jesus.  Mary Magdalene embraced a mission from the Lord.  “I have seen the Lord” was her witness (John 20:18).  Easter opens up a new world for us, as it did for Mary – a future of spreading the good news and announcing resurrection.  A beloved disciple of my church has recently experienced hearing in an ear that did not hear anything for sixteen years.  Some wonderful technology has enabled her to hear in that ear again, and she has not been shy about spreading that good news!  I can now say her name and she can hear her name said in not just one ear, but in both ears.  Jesus is saying your name; he is calling you.  There is a simple reason why the grave-clothes of Jesus were left in the tomb just lying there – they were not needed anymore!  We no longer need the grave-clothes of discouragement and defeat; we no longer need to weep and wonder, because Christ is risen!  He has called our name and we can now hear in both ears!

            The 20th century Swiss theologian, Karl Barth, said that what brings people to worship – not just on Easter, but on any Sunday – is an unspoken question clinging to our minds and hearts:  Is it true?  Is it true that God lives?  Is it true that Jesus is alive?  Is it true that I can live a new life in Christ?  Is it true that I can rebuild my life?  Is it all true?

            All over the world followers of Jesus are testifying that it is true:  Christ is risen, and there is new life in Jesus our Lord.  Believers in Jesus gather together underground for worship with the threat of being caught.  Young college students gather for bible study with significant risk to their lives if they are found to be studying the Christian Scriptures.  Christians huddle together in secluded places celebrating the resurrection of Jesus because they believe it is true, and they believe it is true because they have seen Jesus and heard his voice.

            Pastor Tim Keller once told of a minister who traveled to Italy and there saw the grave of a man who had died centuries before who was an unbeliever and completely against Christianity, but a little afraid of it, too. So the man had a huge stone slab put over his grave so he would not have to be raised from the dead in case there is a resurrection from the dead. He had insignias put all over the slab saying, "I do not want to be raised from the dead. I don't believe in it." Evidently, when he was buried, an acorn must have fallen into the grave. So a hundred years later the acorn had grown up through the grave and split that slab. It is now a tall towering oak tree. The minister looked at it and asked, "If an acorn, which has power of biological life in it, can split a slab of that magnitude, what can the acorn of God's resurrection power do in a person's life?"

When a person believes in Jesus as Savior and Lord, the power of the Holy Spirit is there. It's the power of the resurrection—the same thing that raised Jesus from the dead.  Think of the things you see as immovable slabs in your life—your bitterness, your insecurity, your fears, your self-doubts and cynicism. Those things can be split and rolled off. The more you know Jesus, the more you grow into the power of the resurrection.  You do not need to just hear accounts of changed lives; you can experience new life yourself.


            Ministry in the church is to center in the redemptive events of Jesus; this is what makes the church a unique institution.  Use this Easter season to more fully circle everything in life and ministry around the person and work of Jesus Christ.  In doing so, the power of resurrection is with you.  Praise the Lord.

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