In Christ alone my hope is found He is my light, my strength, my song This Cornerstone, this solid ground Firm through the fiercest drought and storm
The Lion King taught be a great lesson, it taught me that life and death are intertwined in this world. Lions eat the antelope, lions die and feed the grass, and the antelope eat the grass. Yes dear reader, there is a circle of life that moves us all (and you now have the song is stuck in your head).
In Scripture, we are told that the pain of death is something that we cannot escape. It is always there, lingering on the sidelines of life. As the writer of Ecclesiastes puts it, there’s a time to live and a time to die. In my case, there’s a time for the birth of my daughter and a time for the death of my grandmother. Readers, life is strange like that.No guilt in life, no fear in death This is the power of Christ in me From a life’s first cry to final breath Jesus commands my destiny
Recently, I lost somebody who impacted my early life. My grandma helped form who I am in Christ. One thing I remember vividly was when she picked me and my brother up from school and took us to the Peppertree Frosty to get an ice cream cone. I remember sitting in her car, eating that cone as she began telling us stories. She told us stories about how Abram was called from the land of his fathers and how he journeyed with God, eventually taking on the new name Abraham. She told us about Ruth and how she became a key part of the lineage of Jesus. She told us about David and how he was a man who followed God even with imperfections.
She recounted the stories of people who followed after God. While eating ice cream, she embedded into me the tales of faith and how imperfect people could follow after Him.No power of hell, no scheme of man Could ever pluck me from His hand Til He returns or calls me home Here in the power of Christ I stand
When my grandma was laid to rest next to my grandpa, I was reminded about how all I can do in this world is build a legacy in others. I can leave behind a life of faith that was given to others. A life of faith that was poured into the lives of family, friends, colleagues, and neighbors. As Bonhoeffer would suggest, life together with others is only made better through being united in Christ.*
From the (soon to be) first cry of my daughter, to the final breath of my grandmother, I will trust in the assurance that in Christ alone I can put my hope. That it is in his assurance of life, that I can leave a legacy of faith to others. I can point them to the great story of how God pursued his people when they chose to walk away in the Garden. And we are invited to join this story, a story made even better with an ice cream cone.
* For more in depth exploration of this, see my four part series on Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together that can be found here.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. (Revelation 21:1-6)
When we hear or read about events in Revelation, what comes to mind? Usually it’s Left Behind or some apocalyptic scenario starring Kirk Cameron.
But let me suggest something different. Do me a favor and read that passage over.
It’s pretty startling isn’t it? It caught my eye because it is painting something new. A different story is being described to us. Something that is so new that I don’t quite know what to make of it.
Don’t get scared by the different imagery found in Revelation though. Revelation simply means an unveiling. It’s a revealing of what once was hidden to several First Century Church, placing world events into a new light. It’s like, while my wife and I knew that we had a child on the way, we chose to reveal what once was hidden to the world to our families and friends. We chose to reveal a hidden reality to others and it helped inform their frame of reference
Here in the final portion of the Bible, we are given a glimpse into the future. Here in the Revelation that was given to John, we are shown what it looks like when God moves into the neighborhood. That the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, will come down and establish its roots on this new earth. God’s dwelling place was made among the people.
We already had a glimpse of God moving into the neighborhood, when Jesus walked in ancient Palestine. While that was temporary and only lasted for a few decades, this time it is permanent. This time is when God pays cash for the house on the corner and invites the neighborhood over for a barbecue.
Did you catch what happens when God moves into the neighborhood? Check out the passage one more time and sit with it for awhile. We are given the image that God himself (!) will wipe away every tear from their eyes. God himself will look gently into their eyes, and will use the hands that formed the universe to comfort his people.
This is who God is. He’s not some philosophical construct, some wise Buddha or cosmic butler. No, he is deeply personal. The one who will wipe away our tears and call us his children, this same one will also declare that he has made all things new– including our broken lives.
This same God who started the story back a gazillion years in the past will complete it. The same Lord who declared “it is finished” on the cross will say “It is done” when the new Jerusalem is established. This is God’s character, this is what he is like. He will wipe away your tears, and he will make all broken things new. That is God’s eternal character.
How do you see God’s character?
Our pastor recently said that what is true about Jesus will be true of those who are united in Christ.
Think about that for a second.
If we have been united in Christ, we too can share the same Spirit of power that raised Jesus from the dead. Pretty incredible!
I did a search of “in Christ” at Biblegateway, and it is true that Paul is obsessed with this phrase. Not only are we raised to newness of life in Christ (see I Corinthians 15 and my previous post on this), but we are also a new creation (II Cor 5:17), we have freedom (Gal 2:14), we have been justified/declared righteous (Gal 2:16), and we are sons and daughters of God in Christ (Gal 3:26). More can certainly be written, since there are more examples of this phrase in Paul’s writings, but I hope you get the picture that being “in Christ” is more than kind of a big deal.
Our lives in Christ
Since being in Christ is a big deal, I hope you understand that our core definition of who we are is not our career, our marriage, our hobbies, or our history. No, it is who we are in Christ. A flower is beautiful whether it is connected to the root or when it is freshly cut. However, that flower will slowly wither if it is not connected to anything. We too must be connected to Jesus, like a flower planted in a beautiful garden. We too can be connected to a sustained life.
Don’t get me wrong though, being in Christ does not mean that all will be golden. We will be called to live differently, to act differently, and to speak differently. Sometimes, there will be conflict. Whether that conflict means a sword or heavy criticism from loved ones, being in Christ can produce incredible discomfort. For being in Christ means you are part of a different Kingdom, different than the darkness that is so often around us. Sometimes, this difference will promote tremendous conflict. We are given the choice, the chance to be a part of a grand story. You and I can become part of the story of God, the story of the Kingdom breaking into a broken world. If we are in Christ, we too can become a part of that narrative. We too can become be immersed into this story.
But dear friend, if you are in Christ, know that there is no condemnation, there is only an abundant life. You will be united in Him in his death and resurrection. As I mentioned previously, don’t worry about going to heaven when you die, know and be assured that if you are in Christ you will be given life. The resurrection of the dead and life everlasting will happen, and you will be in that number.
My time at Fuller Seminary has dramatically shaped me in many ways. One of the ways that it has formed me is the profound realization that Christianity is not concerned primarily with “going to heaven when I die.”
Please hear me out before you send off a tweet like, “Farewell @jeremydriley” or “@jeremydriley has gone heretical. Next he’ll be talking about how Five Guys is better than In-n-Out.” (For the record, In-n-Out beats Five Guys every day of the week)
I’ve noticed that there is an underlying theme to the New Testament, a tune that recurs in the Gospels and Epistles. As symphonies and movie scores use a recurring theme under a piece of music, the constant tune that reappears and reinvents itself in so many different ways in the NT, is that of union with Christ.
One thing you need to know about me is that I enjoy classical music. I love the emotion that captures me, it’s so unlike any other type of music. One of the pieces that caught me at a particular event was when the Pacific Symphony in Orange County played Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” (If you haven’t heard, you really need to give it a try). There is a part in the piece that the music grows in intensity and it left me emotionally paralyzed in my chair (it starts at the 6:30 mark in the video). As it builds, the crescendo is finally reached and the music slowly winds down for the next couple of minutes.
If the New Testament was like a symphony, Paul would see the high point, the crescendo of our lives, as union with Christ. Reading through his letters, we see this constant theme, this steady refrain of “in Christ.” Go ahead and give it a look. You’ll find Paul pressing this point many times in his letters.
Yes, I believe we will “go to heaven.” But heaven is not the end. Heaven is only the beginning. If you are in Christ, there will be a life after this life after death, as NT Wright would put it. Think about this for a moment: there will be a new heavens and new earth. Our bodies will be resurrected, just as Jesus’ body was restored to life on Easter morning. Thankfully, we won’t be like zombies with a hunger for brains, but instead we will be physical like Jesus, our bodies will be restored and renewed.
If we have been joined to Jesus, in his death, then we will be joined in his glorious resurrection.
Think of it this way, Jesus is like a prototype. He is the firstfruits, as Paul would write in I Corinthians 15. His resurrection means for us (if you are in Christ) that we too can be raised to newness of life and experience a form of it now. We too can go through death without the sting, for Jesus the crucified Messiah has given us victory. That, my friends, is something you can hold onto.
But what does union with Christ mean for us here and now? Head over to part 2 for the thrilling conclusion!
What other themes do you find in the New Testament?
One day, death shall slip away into the sunset.
One day, death shall die.
This week certainly holds a paradox. Tomorrow night, the Church throughout the world will remember the night when Jesus was betrayed. The Church will remember the Last Supper and subsequent betrayal. This feast that Jesus took part in would have been rooted in the Passover narrative. His disciples heard the story for years when God acted to bring his people out of bondage in Egypt. He brought them out, guiding them with a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of cloud by day. He led them and protected them even when they wanted to rebel. Even when they wanted to go back to the land of chains.
There was a new chapter being written in this book of redemption though. There was another meal being used to reinterpret the story of Egypt. There was another feast meant to point his friends towards another act of redemption. God had indeed come down to lead his people, this time it would be to defang death and to offer life to the community of the redeemed.
One day death will die, but that promise only comes through one man’s death. While sin and death came through Adam’s disobedience a long time ago, this “new Adam” (as one New Testament writer puts it) would bring in new life through an act of obedience. While Adam’s act of eating something (a natural part of life) brought on death, Jesus’ crucifixion would clear a pathway for life. This paradox makes my head spin sometimes, but you know what? We don’t have to fully understand this to be a part of the community of the redeemed.
Death shall die, my friends. For those who are in Christ, the sting of death has been removed. I hope you join this family, all you need to do is trust in the words of Christ and believe that God raised him from the dead. Through one man’s death, all men and women are offered life.
Aren’t you grateful for that paradox?
I once thought I lived in an ivory tower, constantly swimming about in my own mind. I thought I lived too much inside my own head, then something great happened. Fortunately, in my mind, I realized that I’m not an ivory tower snob (not yet anyways, and hopefully never). Sure, I am a man who likes to read and think. I am an introvert who is prone to rehearse ideas within the spacious confines between my ears, but that doesn’t make me an ivory tower dweller. I don’t own a tweed coat or smoke a pipe (Not yet, anyways).
I don’t pretend to have all the answers. In fact, I’m pretty darn sure I have a very small amount of answers. That’s the tricky thing. The more you learn, the more you learn that you don’t know anything. And the more you know you don’t know anything the more you just want to hang up the cleats and get lost in a binge viewing of a TV series on Netflix. Or at least I do.
Quite honestly, sometimes I’m on the verge of selling all I have and starting a life of passive consumption. Sometimes I want to not make any waves and use any talents or passions that I have for any benefit for myself or others.
But what is holding me back?
It has to be my view of eschatology- that this world is not the end.
I know that this Jesus, the one who was crucified, buried, and rose from the grave also ascended to heaven. He is seated at the right hand of the Father and will one day come again in glory. One day he shall return, and (if he doesn’t return first) one day I will die. One day I will stand before the throne and will have to look him in the eye, and I don’t want to say that my life was a loss here. That the wealth I possessed, the opportunity I was afforded in the USA, and the gifts I was given were squandered for fleeting moments of pleasure. I want to live my life well and live life to the fullest.
Sure, I probably will never compose a great symphony or found a major hospital. All I need to do though is to use the gifts that God has given me. I don’t have to imitate Bach or Mother Theresa. I get to be me. And if I honor God in my life, if I am formed, slowly but surely, into the image of Jesus, then I’ll be just fine.
Maybe I’ll watch one less episode today and do something of worth, bringing glory to the Crucified and Risen Lord.
What are some things that might hold you back or nudge you forward?
The master of stopping the spin, Bill O’Reilly, made the statement on his show recently that Christianity was not a religion but was a philosophy. Previously I have corrected dear Evangelical friends who would state that Christianity was not a religion but was only a relationship. So for the purposes of this post, I think that O’Reilly misses the point tremendously and veers into the errors of the Deists and Thomas Jefferson. Let me unpack that.
It sounds like O’Reilly believes that Christianity is a philosophy*, a set of ideas you can live by and teachings you can enjoy apart from the Lordship of Christ in one’s life. I have caught his show in the past, and it would be fair to say that he follows a more deistic understanding of Christianity- Jesus is a good moral teacher. I know I wouldn’t be saying anything offensive if I suggest that you know of someone like this, someone who might favor a buffet approach to spirituality or a stylized Jesus idea. It’s like the guy in a buffet line of ideas, where he might be tempted to take a piece of “Golden Rule” chicken, a little bit of “turn the other cheek” casserole, and a slice of pie in the sky “heaven is for everybody” for dessert. He could leave the whole sin, judgment, atonement, and other not-so-sweet dishes for those blasted fundies behind him.
Christmas is a dangerous holiday because it is more than a nice idea, something to brighten your day. It is dangerous because the birth of Christ is the beginning of these Last Days. The birth of Jesus is dangerous because it marks the Kingdom of God, spreading into the Kingdom of Darkness. Or as Handel reminded us in his Messiah, “The Kingdom of this world is become the Kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ.”
Christmas is also a comforting holiday because it recalls the arrival of God in the flesh, and he will one day come again in glory. That same infant in the cute nativity scenes, lived, died, rose again, and ascended to the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the world and to right the injustice that taints it.
As Michael Horton wrote in a recent post at the White Horse Inn concerning the O’Reilly comments, “Christmas is a wonderfully comforting holiday. In this era between his two advents, Christ is restraining Satan by his Word and Spirit, drawing sinners into the safety and joy of his banquet hall. Yet it is also a dangerous holiday, especially for those who defend it only by using it, “having a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Tim 3:5-7). Are we really sure that we want to celebrate this birth? Are we glad when pass by the nativity scene on the city lawn, defended as an American ‘philosophy’?”
Advent and Christmas is a religious holy-day, not just a philosophy, and I hope many in the American Church will live in that reality.
*Christianity has had a positive impact socially, in terms of values transmitted to society. See my post on Kicking out Nativity Scenes for more.
Kramer: Do you ever yearn?
George: Yearn? Do I yearn?
Kramer: I yearn.
George: You yearn?
Kramer: Oh, yes. Yes, I yearn. Often I sit… and yearn. Have you yearned?
George: Well, not recently. I’ve craved. Constant craving.
(From Seinfeld “The Keys” Season 3 Episode 23)
As Cosmo Kramer would ask George Costanza, do you ever yearn? What have you intensely longed for in your life? A graduation? Grandkids, perhaps? Something that I yearn for is the second Advent. Let me unpack that.
Advent is the season in the Christian calendar (yes, dear non-denominational Christian, there is such a thing as the Christian calendar and it’s not bad) that looks to the past and to the future. It looks back at the first coming of Christ, when he was born in ancient Israel. It also looks forward to the return of Christ, when he will come again in glory and right the world. Advent is about eagerly anticipating the return of the King.
Eric Metaxas at Breakpoint commentary wrote that it is a time of reflection and repentance. It is rooted in a hope of God completely righting the world one day. It is also a thought that provokes dread. Because with Jesus comes a righteous judgment, and that is pretty unnerving!
Like Metaxas exhorted at the end of his post, I also encourage you at the start of this Advent season. Don’t let the holiday debt, consumerism, and the madness at the mall ruin the forward looking nature of this season. I encourage you, as we look to Christmas– the celebration of the birth of the long expected Messiah– and look forward to the return of the King, stay focused on Him.
O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.
What will it be like to finally see God? To see Him as He is, face to face.
Can you imagine that? Stop reading this, and put yourself before God in a big throne room. What emotions are invoked?
For me, there is a tension that slips to the surface.
Majestic yet intimate. Awe inspiring yet inviting. Totally other yet vaguely familiar. King and Father- tied into one.
Picture it like seeing your childhood hero or waiting for the celebration parade of a championship sports team. When I met my childhood hero Chuck Finley (pitcher for the Angels), I was starstruck in every sense of the word. When we lined the streets for the World Series Champions to march through Anaheim, there was genuine excitement in the air of sweet victory.
I also imagine it would be like a surprise party. It’s as if you entered through the door and your friends are there yelling “surprise!” Only this time, it’s the host of heaven and God Himself waiting for you. It’s all of these emotions rolled into one. Joy, laughter, excitement, surprise, and awe. To see God as He is. The maker of heaven and earth, and the one who will right the world in his coming kingdom.
This excitement won’t be forced. It’s not as if you were forced to join a High School pep rally (remember those?). For those who are in Christ, it seems like, by all accounts, you’ll want to be there. It’s like that moment at a U2 concert when the electricity in the air makes you feel alive (only more so!). It’s like that moment when you finally have that book in your hands or are sitting in the movie theater for the final movie of an epic series. Surely, you probably know that feeling!
Why will there be excitement?
Revelation 5 describes a scene of worship where all of heaven shouted in praise, assigning worth to something superior than them. This one who is great is Jesus. This one is both the triumphant lion and lamb that was slain.
He was a triumphant lion, risen and glorified. He also was a lamb, that was slain for the sins of the world. St Augustine once said that our hearts are restless until they rest in God. This, my friends, is what you have been waiting for. Your hearts will rest in the care of your Redeemer, the Lion and Lamb.
You’re one day closer to seeing God face to face.
But you’re not quite there. There’s still more work to do.
How do you picture seeing God face to face?
What do you do in those moments when you sense a conversation has kicked the bucket? You know, those times, when words have run dry and the awkward feeling begins to creep in to a once vibrant talk? (Is it just me?)
I have never been good at closing out things. Saying goodbye to loved ones, stepping away from a conversation that has died minutes before, and disconnecting from a group is very tough for me. I don’t know why. I remember one time I said my goodbyes to somebody and told him how nice it was to reconnect. After hugging him and saying we’ll keep in touch, I then realized I had to ride the elevator down to the parking garage to get out of the building. It was probably the most awkward elevator ride in the history of elevator rides.
Sometimes I sit and stare out the window and hope that the Kingdom of God would come down finally. Sometimes I just wish things would get over already that way new things can finally begin with Jesus coming back and putting everything to rights. Because it is in that Kingdom where the universe will be put back into order and the people of God get to be with each other in the light of Jesus throughout eternity. I will say to somebody, “see you later!” and truly mean it. Even if I don’t see them for a million years, I will be able to reconnect with him or her after. Sin will be rooted out and love will be there. Love will be unhindered from the garbage of the world.
I don’t know about you, but that excites me. The New Jerusalem and the Renewed Heavens/Earth will be here one day, quicker than you know it! In fact, we are a few minutes closer to that glorious day when faith will be made sight. I look forward to the end of awkward goodbyes and look forward to heartfelt hellos.
Lord, come quickly.