“It is not by working, but by believing, that we glorify God, and confess Him to be true.” –Martin Luther
As we end the month of October, Halloween and All Saints Day will soon show up in the next two days. Death takes center stage in American life, with one day taking on the undead and ghoulish creatures in the exchange for Reese’s and M&M’s. The other day brings to mind those dearly departed in the faith who join the “great cloud of witnesses” of Hebrews 12.
When I hear that if I place my hope in Jesus and trust in his promise of life — that I can be release from the chains of sin and death — that my friends is something to get excited about. As I wrote last week, when we are joined with Christ, then what is ours is his and his is ours. The sin that once plagued us will be swallowed up in victory, and death itself was conquered through the triumphant resurrection (I Corinthians 15:55-57). Luther would add, “for death is swallowed up in victory, not only the victory of Christ, but ours also, since by faith it becomes ours and in it we too conquer.” Through Jesus, death has been defanged and one day it will be tossed out of God’s creation.
It is my hope that by highlighting the hope of the Christian faith through the work of Martin Luther that you might might understand a little more clearly concerning this faith. I don’t want to see that this faith is a cerebral one, or a faith that will merely warm our hearts. Instead, I want him to be a Messiah for you and me both. That what “is said of him, and what he is called, may work in us.”
Christian liberty is rooted in the confession that “Jesus is Lord,” and once that has been planted in our lives, then indeed we will be free. Freest of all people, and yet servant to all.
When I’m worn down and feel drained, I like to remember an end scene. I like to think of a big party where I am personally invited to be with friends and loved ones.
In fiction, there are often closing scenes in great stories that draw us into a celebration, when evil is vanquished and good prevails. I remember the coronation scene at the end of The Lord of the Rings, where the city of Gondor is renewed by the return of the rightful king. I also think about the scene at the end of the Star Wars saga where all the worlds celebrated the defeat of the Empire and look towards a renewed peace.
Why do these endings strike me?
Because they echo another party, one that will come at the close of this present chapter and mark the beginning of a new dawn. John saw this party and recorded it for us, writing:Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”— for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.” Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God.” For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.
I picture this scene with loved ones, with friends, and departed saints. Not only are my grandparents there, but all those who I have read about from throughout the ages. This party is a future reality, a hope that will be there and an encouragement when things go wrong. This feast full of laughter, wine, and unbridled happiness is coming.
I know it’s not always easy to believe this, it can be a pain to place hope in something down the road, but as sure as the sun will rise tomorrow, this feast will get here. The best Thanksgiving dinner you ever had pales in comparison to this one.
Why am I confident in this?
Because the risen Messiah promises it. The dead don’t typically rise, and if they rise bodily, then we ought to listen to them! And the one who conquered death will come to right the world, it might be next Tuesday or the next century, but he will return.
Until he returns, I will place my hope in his promise, for where else can I go? Only Jesus offers the word of life.
What gives you hope?
Dear readers and perusers-
This blog will be paused this coming week for a time of mourning. My grandmother, Dorothy Bremerthon, went to be with Christ and my grandpa in glory. It has been a tough few days, but I know that she has passed through the valley of the shadow of death, and now is beside the still waters and green pastures (as Psalm 23 comfortingly describes). But it still sucks. Prayers are appreciated for my family.
The Psalms helped all in the room centered on the covenant keeping faithfulness of the LORD, and Psalm 121 especially helped me.I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade on your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore. Psalm 121
Grandma, rest in the peace of Christ our Savior.
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?
Have you visited the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles? I visited it recently and was taken back at how majestic it is. The building, as expected, was grand and marvelous. It truly made you feel physically small, similar (but not quite) to the feeling you get when you walk into a European cathedral. The thing that stuck out to me the most was the sense of being surrounded by those who have gone before us. And several features demonstrate this, practically warning “lone ranger Christian” who goes on their own. I was reminded again that it’s not just me and Jesus. Instead, it’s we and Jesus.
There is a mausoleum under the floor that holds the remains of many departed saints. From priests to business people, many who have gone on before us will be found in those chambers. Ashes and bones and words of comfort all point to the coming reality when Christ will come again, restoring the saints to renewed life. The reality that he will come again in glory. Those remains serve as a reminder that we are all connected in the historical, catholic Church.
In the main sanctuary, there are tapestries that point out the great “cloud of witnesses” from Hebrews who also had faith in Christ. Our departed brothers and sisters are there to remind us that we are connected to each other. It is similar to looking at a family tree or a photo album. Those tapestries serve as a deliberate reminder that we are rooted in generations of fellow Christ followers and that we are not lone rangers. We are deeply connected to them and they all point us to Christ.
Augustine, Patrick, Catherine of Sienna, and Julian are side by side with Paul, Martha, and Andrew. Depictions of children and adults that represent the faithful (who are just as important in God’s eyes) are also there. While they might not have their names in biographies, they are also present on the walls. You see, we are surrounded by people who have gone on before us. These same people faced tough trials and now rest in the comfort of Jesus. One day I hope to join them. As I wrote about my grandfather last year: he is there, and one day I too will join him and see our Lord face to face. (1)
I hope we can all be there, as we await the bodily resurrection, the life that is to come, and the Kingdom without end.
I was sitting in Starbucks before class thinking about this time last year I was in the midst of going through the final days of my grandfather’s earthly life. Processing through the event in my head and recounting the incredible comforting power of the Holy Spirit, I was nearly overcome when the beginning of U2’s Where The Streets Have No Name began to play in the store. It got me, because it is there where the streets have no name that my grandpa is experiencing joy everlasting. While he is awaiting for the bodily resurrection, he is experiencing the taste of the comfort of God face-to-face.
My thoughts immediately went to the passage of Scripture I read this past week. John wrote in Revelation 1:4-8,
Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.
To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen.
“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”
The faithful witness is there and my grandpa gets to see Him face to face. The firstborn of the dead, the mighty King and gracious shepherd. He is there, and one day I too will see Him face to face. For now, I can smile, knowing that my grandpa is among the great cloud of witnesses that we told about in the Book of Hebrews. They also speak to the greatness of God’s loving-kindness.
One day, I too will join him in that joyous rapture.
But not yet.
There is still work to be done.
“Christ died for the ungodly”
These words pierced through my heart this past week, especially when it is connected with the metaphor Paul used in II Corinthians 4:7-18 of treasure being placed in jars of clay. Let me explain this connection. Paul writes in verse 7,
But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.
The metaphor reminds me that I am a mere pot, a jar that is used to contain just about anything. A pot could contain oil, garbage, the remains of a person, or something worse. God instead chose to fill the vessel with treasure. For those that are in Christ, Paul gives us the assurance that God placed treasure inside of an individual, and that is reason enough to be happy. Indeed all those who call upon the name of the Lord and put their faith in Christ will obtain this treasure.
Paul told us about the treasure earlier in the chapter. He found that the treasure is…
…the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
2 Cor 4:4-6
This treasure should not cause anyone to boast in their own worth, for again those who are in Christ are a jar of clay. These jars have been redeemed out of mire for service to the King. As I wrote above, Christ died for the ungodly. He took the punishment that I rightly deserved. He took it for me that I might be justified before God. This is reason enough to be excited, but He doesn’t stop there! He then gives us every spiritual blessing and draws us into what it means to be human again. Those who are in Christ are given new life with a promise. We are given the promise that,
Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, “I believed, and so I spoke,” we also believe, and so we also speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence.
(2 Cor 4:13-14)
Being united with God again and transformed into the image of Christ. Indeed, He who raised Jesus from the grave will also raise us up through the power of the Spirit. How can these incredible things be? We are assured that we will not be put to shame, for the resurrection of Christ is the firstfruits of new life. He will be faithful to His word, for that is His very character. Indeed how fortunate are those who can call themselves the ungodly and jars of clay? And the great thing is, is that you can call upon Christ and He will make you a jar of clay—an ordinary pot that contains the treasure of God! How great is that?
And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil.
It is very interesting to me that when Jesus was baptized with the Holy Spirit (which offers an interesting place to ask some Trinitarian questions, but that is for another day) that the Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness fasting for forty days. Immediately after this profoundly Trinitarian interplay, Jesus was prompted to withdraw into the wilderness. He went into battle, in a sense, full of the Holy Spirit.
This battle was not all glory though. Instead He faced tremendous hurdles and temptations that I would never even dream of facing. Jesus encountered temptation of pride and desire. How can I ever think for a second that Jesus does not know what it means to be human? Jesus (read: God) is our High Priest, as the author of Hebrews reminds us. This High Priest understands hunger, the oppressive powers, loneliness and despair. He knows intimately what is needed to get through and how horrible life can be sometimes. He bore the brunt of it. Indeed, it was more than what was deserving of Him.
The God of this universe and the essence of beauty descended onto this planet in order to reconcile the world back to Him. As we are reminded of the promise made to Christ-followers in Col 1:22, “He has now reconciled in his body of flesh by His death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before Him…” The entire passage is so incredible because it goes from this brilliant God of the cosmos to His intricate action to bring about reconciliation with fallen, rebellious humanity. He moved from grandeur to self-emptying humility (see Phil 2).
This is the God of Abraham. The One who makes a covenant and then keeps it despite the failures of those in Abraham’s line. He acted in order to redeem us. He kept the covenant and then allowed us to be reconciled through justification by faith in Christ. That is why we can trust in Christ; we are both heirs of salvation and promise. The faithful one of Israel (Jesus) has brought us into an abundant life and it’s time to live in that reality.
Soli Deo Gloria!
I recently came back from a trip on a plane and it hit a significant amount of turbulence in the flight. While I was in that choppy air, a morbid thought entered my brain. I thought, “What if this plane had a technical glitch and plummeted into the Pacific somewhere between Hawaii and California?”
I felt right with the Lord and shrugged at the dark thought. I realized at that time that God is Lord of all, even my days. If I died in that moment I would know that worrying could not save me. My entire being was in the hands of the Almighty One, He who cares for me. If I lived, I knew that my days would go along until I faced death and there was nothing I could do to stop it.
I had a remarkable assurance in the power of the Lord, the keeper of my life. I could relate for a moment (albeit not perfectly) to the psalmist in Psalm 19 who feared for his life yet trusted in the covenant keeping God. The Lord’s faithfulness would always come through, even in the dark moments. Even if the jaws of death snatched me from this world I could rest in the fact that Christ had conquered it. Death is fangless, death has had its sting removed. It is through the resurrection of Jesus that we can have full assurance that our lives will be kept, even after we die. To be in Christ means that we will be raised from the dead in glory, given new bodily life. In Christ, we are given life after life after death.