And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night…’ Luke 2:8
While others slept in the comfort of their beds, the shepherds were out in the fields at night, taking care of their sheep.
The work of a shepherd was serious business in those days. He practically placed his life on the line for each and every one of his sheep. He would lead them to suitable grazing grounds and protect them at all times. If he needed to sleep, he would herd the sheep into a pen and lie on the ground, across the entrance. If any wolf or predator tried to come in to get some mutton, the shepherd would be the first line of defence. He valued the lives of his sheep, possibly because of the income he would get from their wool or from their sale. But the more time he spent with them, the more he got to know each and every one of them, so that if one got missing he would know, he would search for it, and he would rescue it.
But the shepherds of Luke 2 were more than one, so the flock was probably much larger than a usual flock. While they could have been shepherds of different flocks in the same area, some believe that this particular flock belonged to the temple, a flock out of which the relevant sheep and lambs would be selected for the necessary sacrifices. Away from the bustling streets of Jerusalem, the hill country of Bethlehem was perfect grazing grounds for these sheep. The account does not ascertain if they were temple sheep or not, as the sheep weren’t the focus of the story. The shepherds were. Because that very night God gave them a front row seat at the 3DHD premiere of His salvation plan: God had been born as a human baby that day.
An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and God’s glory shone around them. They were scared at the sudden ‘close encounter of the third kind’ … or maybe of the ‘God’ kind. The angel, bursting with joy, said to them, “Do not be afraid; for look, I’ve got good news, great news for you, and it will bring you and all people great joy! For to you, this day in the town of David, a Saviour has been born. He is Messiah, the Lord! Here’s the sign: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger—“
And suddenly, as if one alien invasion wasn’t enough for one day, the night sky was suddenly lit even more as thousands of angels filled the horizon. They were screaming and leaping and shouting their praises to God, filling the air with music and laughter and rejoicing. Their words were summarised as “Glory to God in the highest! And on earth, peace, goodwill toward men.”
It lasted a while, but soon the angels retreated through their portal to continue the after-party in heaven.
(P.S.: We looked into why the angels were so joyful a couple days ago. You could check it out, using the #FacesoftheChristmasStory hashtag)
The shepherds exchanged glances. Had they all seen the same thing? They had? So it … really was true? And soon the amazement at the angelic visit led to the realization of what they had said: Messiah had been born, in David’s town! Just down there!
And they hurried to Bethlehem to find this Baby. When they, they left to announce to anyone in town who listen, the wonderful things they had heard about this child.
Ever wondered what happened to their sheep? These guys prized the angel’s news over whatever advantage they could obtain from their flock. Nothing else could have drawn them away. Maybe they locked the pen before leaving. Personally, I think the sheep would’ve been fine either way.
The shepherds remind us that God came for us, even to the lowest of us all. They had no offices of governance or priesthood. They were just the working-class everyman, the man that worked day to day to put food on the table. But God called them to be the first to see the Baby, the One Who would be their salvation. God prized them, valued them, just as He values us all. He wants us to be a part of what He is doing, to receive the gift that He’s offered to us.
It is also significant because through Scripture, God had led His people like a shepherd. He had rescued them from their messes and protected them. He promised them that He would give them a shepherd who would feed them and be their shepherd (Ezekiel 34:23). He came to be that shepherd.
Since the prophecies came to Israel, Jesus even said in Matthew 15:24 that He had come “…for the lost sheep of Israel.” But now He had come to be a shepherd for the whole world, for as many as would come to His fold. Jesus would later tell us that He is the Good Shepherd. He would say of the Gentiles, “And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice, and there shall be one fold and one shepherd.” (John 10:16)
God had come to lead us to a better place. And the first people He told were shepherds.
He came to be one of us, like one of His sheep, so He knows how we feel and why we do the things we do. And that leads to the even more interesting part of this.
Jesus came to be God’s Lamb on our behalf. (John 1:29)
In the Jewish tradition, a lamb was a very important part of the ceremony for an offering for sin. A lamb without spots or blemishes would be selected and sacrificed as an offering for the sins of the nation. The high priest would sprinkle its blood on the lid of the Ark of the Covenant, a symbol of God’s throne, and the sins of the nation would be covered for that year. There were many other sacrifices for sin that involved lambs. God gave them this tradition as a picture of what He was going to do.
And in the fullness of time, Jesus came to be the Perfect Lamb for us all. He alone was without sin, so He gave His life to be that sacrifice for us. When He rose, He ascended to God’s throne where He is now seated, as the One with all authority and as the One who has completed the sacrifice. Just like the blood on the Ark, Jesus is on the Throne. Now the sins of all who believe in Him are forgiven, because He stood (or sits?) in the gap for us. This is the perfect sacrifice.
God did that for our sakes, when we couldn’t. Like the Good Shepherd that He is. He did it in Himself and by Himself, because He loves us.
Christmas reminds us that God has come to lead us out of the dreary existence we were doomed to, and into a good and fruitful place where He can be with us and we can be with Him. He has come to save us, and He has!
Christmas reminds us that He is always with us, guiding us, leading us, feeding us and protecting us. He knows us all by name, our respective stories, our failures and our triumphs. He is here to bring out His best in all of us.
We don’t have to wander anymore. We don’t have to live without direction or purpose. We don’t have to be slaves to fear anymore.
We do have a Good Shepherd.
‘All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned everyone to his own way; and the Lord has made to light upon Him the guilt and iniquity of us all…’
Isaiah’s prophecy in Isaiah 53:6
5 days to #Christmas
‘Going through a long line of prophets, God has been addressing our ancestors in different ways for centuries.’ Hebrews 1:1
When we think of the prophets, much of the time we imagine old men with flowing beards bellowing words of doom with glazed eyes, ready to rip their clothes at the slightest hint of blasphemy from their audience. Well, some of them were like that. But some of them were kings like David and government officials like Daniel.
Whenever God wanted to let His people in on what He was doing, He spoke to His prophets who would then speak to the people. So, no, these prophets were not ‘fortune-tellers’.
The people of Israel lived through some of the worst times. From slavery to finding a homeland, to raising a kingdom, to occupation by invading armies, to a scattering and an exile and the plundering of their land, to their return to that land, to another invading army coming in … phew! Talk about a rags-to-riches-to-even-more-rags story! But in all this time, God did not leave them alone to face it. He had His prophets among them, men who would speak to them exactly what God needed them to hear. Sometimes theirs were words of judgment, sometimes they were words of comfort. But one thing the people of Israel knew was that God had not abandoned them. These prophets were given to God, faithful to Him so that they could be effective mouthpieces for Him to inspire His people.
In the midst of their prophecies and teachings, the prophets were inspired of God to utter and write about His Big Plan: God was going to save them! God was going to raise someone who would bring them to a prosperous place, a King that would bring them home and restore their glory. While these prophets had glimpses into these plans, they did not fully understand it, but they wrote the prophecies as they were inspired by God. Some had their contextual interpretations, but they did not fully know.
They told of how he would be born from the tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:8), from the family of Jesse (Isaiah 11:1) and a descendant of King David. They told of a ‘son’ that would be born to rule them in a peaceful and never-ending kingdom, who would also be the ‘Mighty God’ (Isaiah 9:6-7). They told of how He would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2).
What they didn’t realise was that they also spoke of the same Person when they prophesied about an anointed one that would be killed for the sake of others (Daniel 9:26), a suffering servant that would be scourged to bring healing to others, be rejected and despised, stricken for the sins of the people (Isaiah 53). They probably thought they were describing their own pain and agony when they wrote about someone that would be forsaken by God, be pierced (long before crucifixion was even invented), and whose clothes would be gambled over (Psalm 22). They probably didn’t even link it all together when they wrote about someone who God would not leave in the land of the dead, but would raise to life (Psalm 16:10). They didn’t know this was all God was talking about when He talked of giving them new hearts so they can always do what is pleasing in His sight (Ezekiel 36:26-27)
Only later, by the inspiration of God’s Spirit, would the apostles look back and see the road map God had prepared long before, telling of what He was doing. They could look on this, gain more understanding, and edify one another, confident in God’s faithfulness to His Word. (1 Peter 1:10-11)
The Prophets lives were not wasted, however, because in the time before God would become a Man and set things right, these were the people He used to bring comfort to those around them. Telling them that God was still with them. They too were human with their failings and doubts, fears and questions. But God used them. And they knew there was something more coming, and they looked forward to it.
And God fulfilled His promises, by Himself. He became a Man and fulfilled all He had promised He would. Just as He had said.
Like these Prophets, the circumstances around us may seem to cloud our understanding of God’s Word. They may even make us doubt if He is even there. It may look bleak, like we are all on our own. But we are not. The grace they prophets looked forward to has arrived in the Person of Jesus. He has promised to never leave or forsake you (Hebrews 13:5), and He is true to His Word. He is alive in you, making you who He wants you to be. His promises for you are true, and He makes sure they come to pass.
Even when it doesn’t look like it. He is faithful and reliable, and you can trust Him, and in Him. Trust in His Word, in what He has said.
You don’t have to be in the dark about His faithfulness to you anymore. He won’t leave you in the dark. The Light has come. This was what the Prophets looked forward to. Now God can be known by all. Everyone.
The more you experience His love, the more it becomes a part of you beyond facts, and the more you can be a blessing to others. And they will see Him in you. That’s a life fulfilled.
It’s what God intended.
‘Going through a long line of prophets, God has been addressing our ancestors in different ways for centuries.
Recently he spoke to us directly through his Son…’
Hebrews 1:1 and 2
In my previous blog post I wrote about how humans like to conform to certain laid down labels and stereotypes for a subconscious sense of belonging. I wrote about my own journey into figuring out which one I fit into, and I must say, putting it all down there was quite … releasing. I didn’t put in everything I had wanted to, but it was okay.
This one is about moving on from there.
You see, in trying to pick an appropriate label, we can sometimes be like the girl who walks around a room, looking at pictures of flowers on the table and trying to figure out which one is the most beautiful. She would learn something, of course, and may find out which of the flowers is the prettiest.
But then, someone opens the day and calls to her. “Hey, girl!”
She replies with a reserved but cute smile. “Hey.”
“What you doing?”
“Looking at pictures of flowers.” She holds up one picture. “I think this one’s quite pretty.”
The person smiles. “Come on outside. You’ve been looking at pictures all this time. I want to show you real flowers. Flowers you can touch, you can smell, you can see in … well, in 3D! You think you’ve seen ‘pretty’? Wait ‘til you see the real thing.”
We have lived our whole lives in the room full of pictures.
We’ve lived our lives searching for identity in the options laid out by those that have gone ahead of us. We tack on labels popularized by the media in movies and music and novels and the news, picking those that seem to describe us best. We consider ourselves based on our nationality, our background, our race.
But God comes from outside the room and says, “I’ve got something better for y’all. A New and Better Identity.”
Come out. Let me let you in on this Identity a little bit.
Coming to Christ is like stepping out of the room. We receive a new life with this new identity; a new history, a new future, a new background.
With His blood, Jesus “…purchased men unto God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” (Revelation 5:9) When you buy something from a store it belongs to you, not to that store anymore. It’s no longer called “that shirt on the Top Shelf, Aisle 5, Megabuy Stores”. No, now it’s your shirt. It’s called “my shirt.”
You are God’s own.
He makes you His child with the full identity and rights of a son, an heir of God. Imagine being the heir to Bill Gates estate! Pretty tight, huh? Now imagine being the heir of the Creator of all things. Now THAT’S bigger. MUCH bigger than we can or could ever imagine.
He remains with you forever, and He produces from within you a nature of love, of joy, of peace and serenity, of patience and perseverance. He makes you kind, good, faithful, to not find the need to insist on your own way, and to be self-controlled.
Sounds like the perfect human being. Actually, it’s so much more than that: He’s making you like Himself. That’s much more awesome than being the perfect human being.
The earth and all that is in it is your inheritance, to take care of and to prosper in.
As a child of God, He gives you the ability to heal the sick, to cast out devils, to live supernaturally, and to be an all-round blessing.
That’s what He promises. That’s the new identity He gives.
But the girl in our story has grown used to the room. It’s not her fault, though, ‘cause she’s been in there all her life. But now she’s been invited to come out.
“But I’ve never been outside before,” she says.
“I have,” he says.
“What does it look like?”
“It’s … beautiful. There are flowers, lots and lots of flowers. And not just flowers, my dear. Grass, trees, animals! The blue sky, the amazing clouds taking different forms, the water flowing, the breeze in your face … and you can feel it all.”
“I’ve never seen these things you’re talking about,” she says. “I don’t even know if they really exist.”
“They all do! My dear, they are! And it’s all just outside, waiting for you.”
“But…” she crosses her legs as she takes a step backwards. “I’ve been doing pretty well in here. I don’t need to go out there. I’m fine where I am.”
We like to hold on to the reality we are familiar with, to the life we are used to, to the things we have seen and experienced. Even the bad memories and painful experiences that we’ve gone through. We want to hold on to it all because, good or bad, they have all contributed in building us into the people we are. In a sense, we see them as a part of us. And as much as we want to let go, we really don’t want to. We are comfortable with them.
We want to stay in the room, while God has a whole world that He’s prepared for us – OUT THERE.
The world we know pales in comparison to the awesome life he offers. We think we are comfortable where we are … but we haven’t even a clue what ‘comfort’ really is.
True comfort can only be found in the one that made us, God.
You know the hardest part? Accepting.
Accepting the new identity that God offers would require giving in. It would require admitting that we were ignorant and wrong in staying in the room of pictures, and that He’s been right all along. It punctures our pride, the shield we’ve given ourselves to building all this time. It shames what bliss we thought we had to think that there is greater bliss beyond, bigger and better, just a door away.
And that’s how we miss out on God’s greatest gifts.
But when we do accept, we realize that we’ve been wrong all along.
When we do accept this Identity that He gives us, we come to know that we’re already accepted. That we’re affirmed and accepted by the Ultimate Dad, who defines fatherhood for all.
There is no more fear of rejection. There is no need to prove anything ever again.
We’ll come out of the room into an awesome new world that makes the room of pictures look like nothing but a mud shack.
It’s a new identity.
And it’s for us all.
“What if I get hurt?” she asks. “Every new picture I’ve seen in here promises something better, but … it never lasts. I’m tired of getting my hopes up.”
“It’s OK. I know. What’s waiting for you outside this room is much bigger and better than you can imagine.”
“I’ve never been outside before.”
“All the more reason to come. It’ll be OK.”
“What if it’s not? What if it’s not everything I’ve hoped it’d be?”
“You can trust me.”
And, with a smile he responds, “Because I made it all.” He stretched a hand out to her. “I made it all for you. You can trust me.”
(TO BE CONTINUED)
‘For sin shall have no dominion over you, for you are not under the Law but under Grace.’
Lately my mind has been on archery and the movement of an arrow. For the arrow to go far, the archer must pull its tail and the bowstring in a direction directly opposite to its projected trajectory (just follow, I’m unto something here, don’t worry). With his/her target set on the bullseye, the archer releases the arrow and lets it sail through the air. Its path is influenced by prevailing air currents, physical laws such as the downward pull of gravity, and the material the arrow is made of. All of these forces active, the archer’s attention and input is in that initial pull on the arrow. And he/she fires. If it misses it’s intended target, he/she misses a few points. In ancient Hebrew parlance, this scenario is a ‘sin’ (not in the ‘religious’ sense, just as a term, for now), meaning ‘to miss the mark’.
Our lives can be like that arrow. The Ultimate perfect good life is everyone’s target. But our getting there is influenced by conditions within, conditions around, and the downward pull of the Law of Sin and Death (like gravity), which makes man miss the target. That’s what sin is. But you know what, sometimes we don’t even know the right target. God does.
His intended bullseye for us all is much better than the targets we all want to achieve. It’s called ‘The Glory of God’. It’s a life that’s so awesome, it’s victorious over all spheres of life. It’s the Life of God, Eternal Life, and that’s His target for us all, His Plan for us all. So not only do our arrows fall short of that target (Romans 3:23: All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God), sometimes the life of man may be focused on the wrong target altogether.
That’s a life under the Law of Sin and Death. With an arrow pointed away from the target, it has no choice but to result in ‘sin’ over and over again.
But then God’s Grace…oh, how Amazing this is!
God’s Grace is God’s energy directed towards us, working through us, helping us, making us reach His bullseye! And you know how He exercised it? He did it, like the Archer, by focusing on the initial pull of the arrow in a direction directly opposite to its projected path: to give us Life, He died.
His Death and Resurrection dealt with every single thing that could have held us bound to sin. He made us free from the Law of Sin and Death and gave us a Life that operates under a new law: the Law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus, i.e. Grace.
So He pulled the arrow (died) and when He released it (resurrected), He rose with us, now we’re in Christ. Identified with Him, we’ve been released with a force so great, no physical laws can stop it. It’s the Power that raised Christ from the dead and set Him far above all principalities and power (Ephesians 1:19-23). And with all those laws silenced, we’re given a Life that reaches God’s intended target for us at all times!
I pray you see and comprehend the depth in this.
This is a Life where sin (missing the mark, and all that could make you miss the mark) has no dominion over you, for you are living a life under the Grace (enablement) of God. It’s His strength, His power, His Life at work in you (Galatians 2:20: I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I but Christ liveth in me. And the life that I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God Who loved me and gave Himself for me).
Whenever, if ever, you feel weak and these things don’t seem true, if it seems your career or family or academics or any other sphere of life seems not to exhibit this life, look again into what God has done for you in Christ. That’s where your victory lies through all eternity. It’s through His death that we have life.
And your faith in His work is what gives you access into this Life of Grace (Romans 5:2: By [Christ] also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand and rejoice in the hope of the glory of God). It’s established in Scripture that when you recieve this Gospel message, it comes with faith, and you have the faith required to gain access. (Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God…Romans 10:17)
So don’t live life as if it’s one hustle to another that helps you survive. Acknowledge and thank Him for His grace at work in you, assured that He’s the one that taking you forward, closer to Him, closer to where He wants you to be.
Let all you do and all you are be identified in this, and you will see His Grace at work.
We sailed for weeks; spent months at sea
With nothing but ocean and sky to see.
Hoping we’d reach our destiny
The land of Hope. Home of the Free.
They say its citizens are live truly free
In that place, life needs no remedy.
It’s where I’ve always wanted to be.
I hope that there’d still be a place for me.
I was below deck when my mate called out to me
“Come out!” he yelled. “Come out ‘n see!
I can feel it beckoning on me?
Is that the monument they call Liberty?”
I reach the deck in a hurry
And see the sign that takes away all my worry
I’m home at last. It’s all been worth the fuss.
For this Statue of Liberty is a Great Big Cross.
Working on The John 11 Story has been an interesting experience for me. Sure, I’ve known the whole story about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead for years, but taking it from this new angle was a pretty amazing opportunity. And sure enough, it looked as if God had pre-prepared the story to fit the format in which it is crafted here, with specific lessons to pick from on Love, Faith and Hope. And I love the way it all rounds up on my favorite story: Life over Death.
The first installment, Love, tells of the part when Jesus first heard that Lazarus was sick. He loved his friend so much … that he waited and let him die. I gotta tell you, this blew me away. But that’s what Jesus did, because He knew it was best for His friend. It didn’t matter that others would see it as downright inhuman, He saw the Big Picture and He lived according to that.
The second installment, Faith, shows us a little bit about ‘walking in faith’. It’s an assurance we have based on God’s reality that affects all that we do and how we live. Others may not see into this other reality, so walking in faith may look crazy to them. That’s probably how Jesus must have looked to his disciples and friends back then. With discouragement on the outside it can be quite hurtful. But He held on, not changing His conviction and confession.
And then, it all boils down to the final installment. Hope.
To many, hope means nothing more than a baseless expectation. Some even preach and teach –with the best intentions, I’m sure— that hope is inferior to faith. But they are so wrong.
But Hope is a word very dear to me. It’s entwined in my heart and in all my stories. I see Hope as … uh, like a rope –a sure and steady rope— that keeps us connected to our expectation. It’s like you’ve been on a ship sailing, with nothing but water for miles. Then suddenly, your shipmate yells from the crow’s nest, “Land ho!” Suddenly everyone rushes to the starboard side to catch a glimpse of the land to which we’ve been headed and they turn the ship toward that direction. We can finally see where we’re going. In a sense, we feel connected to that place already because, on the inside, we are finally home.
For children of God, we have a sure and steady hope waiting beyond this sea we’ve been sailing all our lives. It’s an anchor in another world, waiting just beyond this one. We know that we are going to still live even after we leave this world. And why will we live? Because we believe in Jesus, the One that is Life Himself. So no matter what we go through in this world down here, everything seems worthwhile. It is worthwhile because the satisfaction waiting for us is much greater, much better, more grand, extravagantly more amazing than anything down here. Such joy, such peace, such fulfillment and satisfaction in that Other World called Eternity.
And because of this Hope we have on the inside, we are connected to our Home. We already experience the joy and peace and life and love waiting beyond. It’s a life rooted in Eternity, and we call it Eternal Life. It flows on our insides like a river, and overflows to bless this world. It’s literally Heaven on Earth … through us. That’s what Jesus was probably talking about when He said that “The Kingdom of God is within you” in Luke 17:21.
We know it’s not a baseless hope because of the One Who has been there already, and made a way for us to get there. His name is Jesus. He died and rose to life so that He could open the portal for all that believe in Him to join Him, so that they can also have Eternal Life. Nothing can beat that. Not even Death.
Ha! Even death is no match for Eternity’s Conqueror.
He defeated Death so that we would not have to fear it anymore (Hebrews 2:15). The fear of death keeps us from living life to the full. It holds men in bondage all their lives until it finally snatches them away. But Death does not ‘snatch’ those who have Eternal Life. It serves them to bring them Home, at the right time. If you believe in Jesus, you need not fear Death any longer.
But Jesus ended all that. He literally dealt with Death, and rose up to life. It’s actually more awesome than the way I described it, but you get the gist, right? Because He is alive, our faith is effective! Because He is alive, we have Hope, a real Hope. Because He is alive, we can go the extra mile for others out of Love. Because He lives.
But then, it did not end there. He did not just defeat Death that day. Something bigger is coming.
The Grave Robber is Coming.
Here’s how the Bible describes it.
Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,
In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
1 CORINTHIANS 15:51,52
One day, everyone who believed in Jesus before they died will rise to life and their bodies will become immortal. Death’s very throne room –the graveyard— will be raided instantly, and everyone that belongs to Christ will rise to meet Him and be with Him forever. And everyone who is alive and believes in Jesus will also join them. It would all happen in an instant, ‘in the twinkling of an eye’.
There will be no more death for us ever again. Ever. Forever.
We’ll have finally reached the shore.
That’s part of why I love this Hope, especially since my father went Home a couple of years ago. I don’t talk about it much, I know, but one good thing God brought out of all that is that my attention has shifted from this world to the next. Sure sometimes I get distracted by the holograms of this world and forget my true identity, but my Home –my true reality— is in the next. Nothing fulfils me completely except it’s also rooted in that World. I tell myself, “Oi, if you ever want to see your Dad again, you better be good!” I believe in Jesus. My father also did. Our Hope is in Jesus. And I believe that one day we will both meet together at that Grand Reunion. But I get the feeling that our attention would be taken, not by ourselves, but by the One that got us in this great story in the first place.
Jesus. Eternity’s Conqueror.
So I’m no longer afraid of death because I have Jesus.
But I’m not suicidal, no. I don’t go around looking for death. I just have the confidence to live to the full without being afraid of death. I’ve got the Eternal Life of Jesus Christ in me. He influences how I live, so that I can bring His Light into the darkness around. This is what my life is about. The Hope and freedom that I have in Christ is what I share in my writing and artwork, so that you can see Him in me and come to the Hope we have in Him. You don’t have to fear death any longer.
Jesus is here. He loves you sooooooo much! Yes, He really does. Really.
Come to Him and find Life. Outside Him there is nothing but darkness and gloom and fear and Death.
Have you received Jesus? You can receive Him today.
Below are the words to one of my most treasured songs. It’s called Grave Robber, by a group called PETRA, and it explains everything I’ve been talking …uh, ‘writing’ about so far.
(Based on Hebrews 9:27, John 4:14, 1 Peter 1:24, Romans 8:11, 1 Corinthians 15:26, 51-55, Revelation 7:17)
There’s a step that we all take alone
An appointment we have with the great unknown
Like a vapor this life is just waiting to pass
Like the flowers that fade, like the withering grass
But life seems so long and death so complete
And the grave an impossible potion to cheat
But there’s One who has been there and still lives to tell
There is One who has been through both heaven and hell
And the grave will come up empty-handed the day
Jesus will come and steal us away
Where is the sting, tell me where is the bite
When the grave robber comes like a thief in the night
Where is the victory, where is the prize
When the grave robber comes
And death finally dies
Many still mourn and many still weep
For those that the love who have fallen asleep
But we have this hope though our hearts may still ache
Just one shout from above and they all will awake
And in the reunion of joy we will see
Death will be swallowed in sweet victory
When the last enemy is done from the dust will come a song
Those asleep will be awakened – not a one will be forsakened
He shall wipe away our tears – He will steal away our fears
There will be no sad tomorrow – there will be no pain and sorrow
The day is coming. And everyone will see. Believe in Jesus and receive the life He came to give.
The Grave Robber is coming for His own.
We who have run for our very lives to God have every reason to grab the promised hope with both hands and never let go.
It’s an unbreakable spiritual lifeline, reaching past all appearances right to the very presence of God…
And so we got to the tomb. A rock was fixed in place over the entrance of the cave to seal it. And there I saw him. No one else could see him except me. I saw the enemy himself.
Leaning on the gravestone, his hands folded, my foe stared at me through hideous eyes cold from millennia of nothing but darkness. He just stared at me, an ugly sneer playing at his lips.
“It appears we meet again, Son of God,” he said, sarcastically dragging that last part.
So this was the monster that had held man bound for years. The one whose lethal sting festered in the blood of men, bringing them slowly to the grave through sin. This was the one that had kept humanity in chains, in oppression because of sin.
“What do you think you can do here?” he hissed. “Too late to heal this one, so you want to take him out of my hands? Like you did in Galilee? What’s your deal? I have a right to keep them, and you know it. However, you’re too late. It’s been four days. This one’s spirit is long gone.”
Yes, this is the monster that I will defeat on a cross. The last enemy. A painful reminder of what is in store for me.
But I was not there for him. Not yet. I was there for Lazarus. My gaze was set on what lay beyond Death. I would not let him have the final say here. I would not engage him before his time.
I turned to my disciples. “Brothers, take that stone out of the way.”
Martha started at that. “Master, are you—? I mean … he’s … he’s been dead for days! Four days—“
“His spirit’s gone and I get it that you want some closure – I probably even get that more than you do – but … the stink! He’d be rotten by now.You don’t—“
“Martha, dear Martha … didn’t you hear me say you would see God’s glory if you believe?”
She stared at me, wondering if she should dare believe in what I was implying.
Yes, I dared her to believe, to expect the ‘impossible’. Let hope be rekindled in your dear heart. She stared at the tomb, her mouth agape.
“Go on,” I told my disciples. “Get the stone out of the way.”
They were already pushing the large rock. Behind me the crowd gasped in shock, some in horror. It was downright disrespectful disturbing the dead, they must have thought. To some I must have appeared like a hopeless rebel adamant to see my dead friend’s body one last time. The cold interior was opened. And, sure enough, the putrid odour drifted toward us. The others withdrew behind me. But I kept on staring into the darkness beyond, where my friend’s dead body lay.
“So that’s it?” Death scoffed. “You’re just going to ignore me now?”
Never again will death oppress those that believe in me, and those that will believe. The day will come when I will take all that Death has got for their sake, and dump it all on myself. I will die too, yes. But I will rise again. Death will lose its sting. The grave will lose its victory. That’s my Father’s plan.
“You do know that you are just a man,” Death growled. “All men eventually come to me. Men die. You may have taken three or so from my claws … but who will raise you when you fall into my hands, hmm?”
One man would die for all men to be saved. That would be me. It is all playing out as my Father had said. Death’s biggest mistake would be to take me, the one who is Life.
“I will maim you, and crush you, and destroy you before their very eyes, Son of God.”
See? The winner has already been decided. It is already written.
I lifted my eyes. “Thank You, Father! Thank You because You have heard me! Of course, I know You hear me always. I just said that for the people standing here, so they can believe that You have sent me.”
Some thought I had finally snapped. Death was furious, seething because I gave him no heed.
“I will deal you the worst death ever,” he said.
“LAZARUS!” I called out. “COME OUT!”
“You dare take him from my hands—?!“ But then, he vanished. No doubt, with vengeance in his heart.
Death was gone.
The crowd peered into the darkness from a safe distance. In the silence that followed, the passing breeze and the chirping of birds filled our ears. Heavy breathing echoed behind me.
And then there was a scream. Someone had observed movement in the tomb. But then she was not the only one.
“Look! There! Do you see it?”
“See what? Oh, wait … oh my! Oh my—“
“Where? What’s going on?”
“It’s a GHOST!”
But he was not a ghost. My friend bounded out of the tomb to their screams and cries for mercy. I’ll admit, it’s not every day you see a dead man come to life. He was still bound and wrapped up in strips of cloth so he could barely move. “Quick,” I said. “Someone, unwrap him. Get him out of those … clothes.” They hesitated at first, but then some of my disciples went ahead, the others too scared to come. The sisters held back, crying.
When the sheet from his face was removed we all saw him. Lazarus. Thank You, Father.
The sisters ran to embrace him, crying out loud. The screams of terror turned to cries of joy. The man held his sisters, joy streaming from them. The news was spreading, the grapevine already reaching the village: Lazarus is alive! So many people that doubted before believed now. They had now seen what my Father is capable of.
It was totally amazing as faith rose that day. I saw people trust in God again. Many who had given up on God’s saving power were now filled with faith. They could now see that God could do anything, that He was here for them, and that He had sent me here. They had faith in me. These people were getting set up for the days of the kingdom, after the final battle comes to pass, and is won. They will believe. They do believe.
It does not matter that they may not continue believing. My story is not done.
I will die. I will rise. All who believe in me will be filled with eternal life, and they will never fall into Death’s hands. Death will become my vehicle to victory, and theirs too.
It will be painful for me. Torturous and unearthly for me. So that you can be free.
And the result will be awesome. Everyone who believes in me will be filled with the Life that conquers Death. Yes, everyone— even you!
It surely is worth it.
‘Whoever has this hope in him purifies himself, just as He is pure’
1 John 3:3 (NIV)
In the recesses of the study in this palatial mansion, a group of men meet to discuss. They are leaders and priests, the top in the land. And the high priest sits with his fist on his mouth, deep in thought. A messenger has just arrived with the news.
“Are you certain?” one of them asks.
“Yes, sir,” the messenger says. “I saw him with my very eyes. The man lives.”
“BAH! There must be an explanation,” another says dismissively. “No man can bring the dead back to life.”
“He’d been in that tomb for four days, sir!”
“Do you expect us to believe that this demon-possessed Galilean – a chronic blasphemer– can raise the dead?”
“Well … I, uh—“
“It’s a trick, nothing more. A very costly one. There must be a logical explanation.”
“But his sisters mourned four days. We all saw them—“
“Even worse,” another puts in. “With such miracles – or rumors of miracles – this Jesus will have many more people believing in him. They’ll make him some sort of Deliverer. A … a messiah.”
“Some think he’s the Messiah.”
“That could be dangerous.”
“There would be an uprising. They will try to defeat the Occupation.”
“The Romans … they won’t take this lightly. There will be bloodshed. They’ll tighten their control—“
“And we’d be removed from our positions!”
“That … that would not do. For the sake of the people, of course.”
“We must stop this Jesus!”
A very deliberately audible groan from Caiaphas makes them all fall silent. His hand is on his forehead. “You’re all so stupid! Isn’t it obvious what we must do?” He stands, staring them down. “One man dies, and this uprising is no more. One man’s death, and our nation is spared destruction.” The priests warm up to what he’s implying. “He dies … and everyone is saved.”
Truer words have never been spoken, unbeknownst to him.
In the shadows, Death smiles.
It is all playing out as my Father said it would.
Now, more than ever…
…it has begun.
This story is inspired by the eleventh chapter of the account of John Bar Zebedee on the life and ministry of Jesus the Christ, the Son of God.
We did not set out for Bethany until two days later. Lazarus was, no doubt, dead by then. Mary and Martha were in deep mourning by that time.
When my disciples were gathered I told them. “We need to get ready. We’ll be setting off for Judea today.”
To say they were astonished would be like saying the Jordan is wet.
“But, Master … Judea?! They’re out to kill you over there. It’s not safe to go now.”
“We’re just coming from there.”
“Can’t it wait?”
I turned to them. Yes, there were logical grounds for fear in Judea. But fear is never a good option. “Wouldn’t you rather walk in the day, when there’s light?” I told them. “Or would you prefer to walk in the night, when there’s no light? That’s an invitation to stumble.” Besides, I needed to be in Bethany. I wanted to get to my friend.
But they could neither see it, nor understand it. Not yet.
“Our friend, Lazarus, is asleep. I’m going over there to wake him up.” Oh, what a glorious sight it would be. Sickness thought it had its day, but Lazarus would not stay dead.
Andrew perked his ears at that. “Oh, so you’re saying he’s better now?”
“I mean, if he’s asleep, then he must no longer be sick. He’s alright. That doesn’t require a visit now.” The others nodded in agreement.
“Wisdom is profitable to direct,” Thomas counseled. Interesting. “These times are dangerous in Judea.”
I eventually had to use the ‘D’-word for them to understand what I was saying. I wanted their faith to be strong enough to see these things the way I saw them. But for now, it’s just one step at a time. “Lazarus is dead.” The room fell silent. “And I’m glad that I was not there earlier, for your sakes. You’re about to be given new grounds for your faith.”
The silence lingered for a moment.
I stood. “So it’s settled then. Let’s get ready to tell the others. We’ll leave after lunch.”
I could feel their stares as I walked out of the room.
“He is serious … isn’t he?”
“Does anyone understand the Master these days?”
“You did see him leave the room. He means to leave now!”
“Sometimes I worry about him.”
“He’s been talking about dying and stuff. Now this?!”
“This is trouble, I tell you. Is he suicidal?”
“Don’t say that! You know who he is…”
“OK, alright. But still…”
“We’ve sworn our lives to him.” A loud sigh. “We might as well go and die with him.” That was Thomas’ voice.
I shook my head. Not even my closest friends could trust me on this. They just couldn’t see the Bigger Picture. They however trusted me enough to come along with me.
Looks like it’s just You and me, Father.
For as long as sin has existed, man has been subjected to death and the pain it brings. I’ve seen and felt that pain many times. I should know … my father on earth, Joseph Bar Yacov, died years ago. The pain of separation can be gut-wrenching, from this side of heaven. Death has been holding humanity in its grasp, bringing fear, oppression and despair in its wake.
But there is another side to these things. I am the One that brings life to the dead. There was Jairus’ daughter back in Capernaum; and there was also that young man in Nain. I brought them back to life.
But one day, I will be the death of Death itself … by my own death. It sounds crazy to the human mind now … but the Father knows what He is doing. We know the evil principalities will orchestrate my death, not knowing that they are bringing Life to Death’s very doorstep. It will be painful … torturous … the pain of the punishment for millennia-worth of the sins of men … Sometimes I wonder how I can go through it all. But I trust my Father to give me the strength when I need it.
In many ways, this whole experience reminded of me of my own coming sacrifice. Like Lazarus, I too will die. But I will rise. My friend has been given a front row seat on one of the greatest stories of all.
By the time we approached Bethany, Lazarus had been dead for four days already. We were still about a mile away from the village when I noticed the woman in black coming down the path towards us. Even from that distance I could tell who it was. Martha. The news of our coming had reached her already. I hurried ahead of the others, extending my hands for the embrace. She just stared at me as I approached, her face quivering. She had cried so much, her eyes were red. She willed herself not to cry anymore. With Lazarus gone, she and her sister would be at the mercy of their relatives. At least, that’s what she probably expected. Oh, Martha…
“It’s OK,” I whispered as I embraced her.
“Four days, Master,” she whispered into my shoulder. “Four days. If … if you had been here … my brother would not have died.” I stared into her face. What could I say? I knew waiting would hurt them, but I could not have done otherwise. If only she knew the great miracle waiting ahead. Would she understand? She inhaled deeply. “But I know that God will still give you whatever you ask.”
She still believed in me? Underneath all that pain and hurt, could she see what was really going on? Or did she think God was unfair in granting my requests but not healing her brother? “Your brother will rise again,” I told her.
She avoided my gaze. “I know. I know that he’ll be raised up too at the Resurrection at the end of time, when all the dead will rise—“
“Martha! Don’t be afraid to get your hopes up. You don’t have to wait for the end! I am —right now— Resurrection and Life. Even if they’re dead, if anyone believes in me they’ll live! And everyone who believes in me while they are still alive will never ultimately die. Do you believe this?”
It must have been hard for her, I know, demanding such faith. But it’s the truth. After all this, she would be able to believe in God for anything. That’s what I want. She nodded. “Yes, Master. All along, I’ve believed that you were … are the Messiah, the Son of God come into the world.” She knew and believed all that, but now it probably just felt like nothing but words. Was she reassuring herself? Did she really believe? She inhaled deeply. “Ah … I must go, get the house ready … please excuse me—“
“We’ll go with you—“
But she was already hurrying back into the village, desperate to keep the tears from falling in our presence. It was definitely not going to be easier. There was so much fear and doubt out here. It hurt that my friends had to go through so much pain. Was it necessary?
Father, thank You because in the end … it is all worth it.
“He really is dead, isn’t he?” Peter said behind me.
I turned and nodded. My disciples, the ones that would be my witnesses when all this is over. “For your sakes, I’m happy I waited.”
“You said so before. But…”
“Trust me,” I said. “This is so that you all –everyone— can see what my Father is capable of. Through me.”
We waited for the others to catch up. We had barely left that very spot when Mary came hurrying toward us. Friends and family, all in mourning, accompanied her. Many halted when they saw my friends and I. But my attention was on Mary alone. She did not hide her tears. She had believed in me for so long, and I had not come when her brother was ill. How should I expect her to feel?
She fell to her knees at my feet, crying. “Master! If only you had been here, my brother would still be alive!” No, she was definitely not happy.
“It’s too late! Now my brother is dead. He died, Jesus. Lazarus is … gone.”
This was more difficult. She was crying. The pain… It was as though we were swallowed by this barrage of wails, as the mourners raised their voices with her. Dear Father…
Father, they’ll know this was worth it in the end. Let their faith be strengthened.
The fear and gloom and despair out there left a bad taste in my gut. Death had left its footprint, and it was a painful sight. Death, you will be the last enemy I will defeat.
I felt a lump in my throat when I asked, “Where was he laid?”
“Master, come and see,” one of the mourners said.
And they led us to the graveyard outside the village limits. It was a bare wasteland that reeked of loneliness and gloom – the opposite of what I have come to give humanity. These were my enemy’s stomping grounds, and my friend had been brought there as its trophy. Just like all humanity.
Lazarus in a grave.
Before I knew it, I was crying. I let the tears fall. I let the sobs turn to wails. Pent up feelings gushed out to the surface in that instant … and I wept. My disciples were troubled to see me cry, but I couldn’t help it. This was man’s lot because of sin’s curse. Death. So far, so opposite from what We intend for them.
But I will end this.
I will surely end this.
It is worth it, Father.
“Aw, he must really miss his friend,” someone said. “See how he loved him.”
They did not know that it was because I loved him that I had delayed my coming.
“Love, schmove! If he really loved him, why couldn’t this ‘Healer’ make his friend well before he died, eh? But call him to make a blind man see and he’ll show up. But for his friend? Meh!”
Not on a day like this. Not adversity now; not today. It will be worth it, my friend. It will all be worth it. You may deny me now, but this is for you too. Your faith will be energized.
No one saw what I was seeing, or expected what I was expecting. But in the midst of the doubt and adversity, the fear and gloom – I held on to my Father’s words.
Lazarus, I’m bringing you to life today.
When we got to the grave I lifted my eyes. “Thank You, Father! Thank You because You have heard me!”
To be concluded… in Hope
NOTE: I understand that this interpretation of the story may cause some questions. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments. I’ll also share mine. Thanks! 😀