The Voice That Raises The Dead

This article was featured at For The Church.

The scene was all too familiar. Wailing pierced the air. A procession went through the village, holding the young body on a homemade stretcher. Some tore their mourning clothes. Others had a faint cloud of ashes near their head as they walked, remnants of the small pile of ashes they had put on top of their hair as a sign of mourning to identify with their destitute friend. How would she survive?

First her husband had died, and now her only child was gone, her son who had been her hope of financial stability. But she wasn’t concerned about money right now. She looked over at the lifeless body being paraded through town on the way to the burial place, and she let out another mournful, guttural cry deep from within her, the cry of despair that only a mother who has lost her child can feel.

What Jesus did for this young man and widow is a preview of what he will do one day for all of us who have believing loved ones who have died before us: one day Jesus will give us to each other again.

But then Jesus appeared on the scene. She was glad to see him. She had heard he was kind. She had heard that he could heal. But it was too late. Her son was dead.

She didn’t know that Jesus can turn funerals into parties.

Then he stopped the procession. He spoke to her, “Do not weep.” And then he spoke to her son–her dead son. “Young man, I say to you, arise.”

When Luke the physician wrote his Gospel, inspired by the Holy Spirit, he chose this phrase to describe what happened next: “And the dead man sat up and began to speak…” (Luke 7:15a) The Savior spoke to the dead man. And the dead man began to speak. The young man was no longer dead and he could speak because the giver of life had spoken to him.

Just imagine the reaction of the crowd! Jesus had stopped a funeral, spoken the word, and they had watched a dead man sit up. But our tender Savior was not done yet. “Jesus gave him to his mother.” (Luke 7:15b)

What Jesus did for this young man and widow is a preview of what he will do one day for all of us who have believing loved ones who have died before us: one day Jesus will give us to each other again. On that day Jesus stopped one funeral procession, but on THAT day Jesus will stop all funerals! Jesus has the voice that raises the dead.

There are five times that Jesus’s voice raises the dead in the Bible. I will be included in one of them and so will you (John 5:24-29). Each time before our resurrection day was simply a preview of what is to come. The question is, will you be part of the resurrection of life or the resurrection of judgment? The question is, have your sins been paid for by he who is the resurrection and the life?

The second time that Jesus’s voice raised the dead comes in the very next chapter of Luke. In Luke 8 Jairus, the synagogue ruler, has given up all hope except for Jesus intervening. He fell at Jesus’s feet and begged him to come heal his young daughter. Jesus said he would, but then a woman who needed to be healed of her bleeding touched Jesus’s robe. Jesus–the ambulance at this point–stopped. The woman who had suffered for 12 years seemed to take precedence over the girl who it seemed would only live for 12 years. Hadn’t Jesus heard of triage? But Jesus spoke to the woman who had touched his robe, comforted her, and grew her faith. Then the dreaded announcement came: a messenger from Jairus’s house said he could stop troubling the Teacher. His little girl was dead.

But Jesus replied, “Do not fear; only believe, and she will be well.” (Luke 8:50) When they arrived at his house, the scene was chaotic to say the least. A little girl had just died. But Jesus sent everyone out of the house except for Peter, John, James, and Jairus and his wife. Jesus took her by the hand as if he were gently waking her up in the morning. And then he spoke: “Child, arise.”

Before Christ spoke to her, there had been laughing. But it was the laughing of the mourners at the thought that Jesus would awaken her from death like a little girl is awakened from a drowsy Sunday afternoon nap. Now the laughing came from her room as her father and mother and undoubtedly Peter and James and John rejoiced in what Jesus had done–with his voice. Jesus has the voice that raises the dead.

The third time that Jesus’s voice raised the dead, he is standing outside of Lazarus’s tomb. His sisters are standing next to him, with tear-stained cheeks and quivers in their voices: does the stone really need to be rolled away? Doesn’t the Lord know that there will be the stench of death coming out of that tomb? But every time Jesus goes toe-to-toe with death, he wins. Lazarus will soon be washing off the smell of death with his own two hands to put on clean clothes and eat a feast with his loved ones and his Savior.

I used to think that it was just something that preachers said to have us feel emotion when they claimed that if Jesus had not said, “Lazarus” when he cried, “Lazarus, come out,” (John 11:43) that everyone would have come out of their graves. But I now see that this is nothing other than gospel truth: this is Jesus’s voice. And Jesus has the voice that raises the dead.

The fourth time that Jesus’s voice raises the dead is easy to miss. When Jesus gives up his spirit, right before he dies, he cries out with a loud voice, “It is finished!” (Matthew 27:50, see also John 19:30). We are well acquainted with what happens in the next verse in Matthew: the curtain of the temple is torn in two, and the earth shakes and the rocks split. But two verses after we read of Jesus crying out that his saving work is done, people are raised from the dead. The voice of the creator in human flesh declared that His atoning work for our sin was done, and some who were believers rose from the dead. 

They are raised to life at the voice of Jesus announcing his triumph over the penalty of sin. But they don’t come into Jerusalem and appear to many until after Jesus himself has risen from the dead (Matthew 27:53).  It’s as if they are deferring to the One whose voice raised them from the dead.

The fifth time Jesus’s voice raises the dead has yet to happen. It is the day Christ himself promises will come. Jesus tells those listening to him in John 5 to not be amazed that the Father has given him the authority to judge. For an even greater act of power will be shown on that great day of judgment: “Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.” (John 5:28-29)

Which resurrection will you be part of? There is a day that you will hear Jesus’s voice telling you to get up. Like to the young man and to the little girl, he will tell you to arise as if you are simply waking up from a long nap. If you are trusting in Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins and eternal life, at the moment that your soul is joined to your resurrection body, a miracle will happen for you much like the young man, the little girl, Lazarus, and the saints in Jerusalem who were raised.

The first words that your resurrected ears will hear are Jesus saying to you something like, arise–come out of that grave! And you will obey with joy at the voice of the giver of life–and you will live, never to die again.

Hold On to the God Who Holds You: How He Comforts Us with Election

This article first appeared on DesiringGod.org.

Desiring God water pic

As a pastor, I had visited church members in the psych ward before, but this time the church member was our dear friend Sarah (her name has been changed for privacy). She had no family nearby, but lived just a few miles from us. When Sarah was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer, my wife began to bring her meals. We would visit her whenever we could. One of the treatments had taken a horrible turn. Dark side effects landed Sarah in the psych ward.

She looked at me that afternoon from her hospital bed, almost without recognition, with deep pain in her eyes. I reminded her of the care of her church family and the love of Christ for her. A tear rolled down her cheek and she whispered, “Guilty.”

I knew that Sarah needed bedrock gospel truth under her feet, so I turned to Romans 8 and began to read to her, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Her eyes flashed with recognition. I continued to read until I got to verse 30, and then an amazing thing happened. Sarah was crying out the words of Romans 8:30 with me, like a drowning woman holding on to a life preserver.

We both exclaimed those precious promises out loud in the stark and sterile room, tears streaming down our faces: “And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (Romans 8:30). At that moment, neither of us was arguing for the doctrine of God’s absolute sovereignty over salvation. We were exulting in our election. Sarah could not hold on to God in her darkest hour, but she knew that he was still holding on to her.

Comfort of God’s Choice

“God didn’t give us insight into the great mysteries of his sovereign grace to confuse us, but to comfort us.”

I used to experience election merely as theoretical. Too often I saw the doctrine through the lens of debate rather than through the lens of worship and trust. Sarah changed that for me. Seeing election anchor Sarah in the psych ward gave me a fresh perspective on why God has revealed to us that we were chosen by him before he formed the world. God didn’t give us insight into the great mysteries of his sovereign grace to confuse us, but to comfort us with his unstoppable, eternal love for us.

Being reminded of God’s choice to love her in eternity past was a comfort for Sarah on that bleak afternoon. She knew that nothing could separate her from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.

Our salvation did not start with us, is not sustained by us, and will not be completed by our strength. The domino effects leading to our salvation did not begin at birth, or even at Christ’s birth, but in eternity past when God foreknew us. Unconditional election knocks the wind out of our pride, but it also buoys us up when we feel like we’re drowning.

When the clouds seem to be blocking our Father’s face, when all of our relationships are being dragged through a valley, when we hear of a relative diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, we need the security of electing grace. And when the sun is shining, our spouse loves us, our kids are well-behaved, and work is going better than we ever expected, God’s electing love reminds us that every gift is a gift of grace.

Holding On, Being Held

When I visited Sarah a few days later, she was doing better. The medications were being balanced and the side effects had diminished, although she was still being kept and monitored. As we sang “In Christ Alone” together, our voices rose loudest when we sang, “From life’s first cry to final breath, Jesus commands my destiny. No power of hell, no scheme of man, can ever pluck me from his hand.”

There is something profoundly stabilizing about knowing that the most powerful One in the universe holds you (John 10:28–29). He knew everything about our frailties and even our sins, but he chose us, came for us, and redeemed us anyway.

“Unconditional election knocks the wind out of our pride, but it also buoys us up when we feel like we’re drowning.”

That stay in the psych ward was not the end of the story for my sister in Christ. Just as God makes each of us more than conquerors, he empowered Sarah to conquer. She is not a conqueror because she overcame her depression immediately, or because the cancer stopped spreading. In fact, she died a couple of years later. Sarah is more than a conqueror because the God who predestined her also promised that she would be glorified.

That was the promise she was holding on to the last time I saw her, and it is the promise that she will be praising Christ for the next time I see her.

Autumn and the Beauty of Death for the Christian

jeremy-thomas-79493
(Photo by Jeremy Thomas on Unsplash)

This post appeared on The Cripplegate.

I am a pastor in New England, and let me tell you–there is a reason people come from all over the country to see the Fall foliage. Here in New England, we call them “leaf peepers.” During peak leaf season, our sleepy tourist town of 5,000 goes into traffic-jam mode on the weekends. And with good reason. In our part of Vermont, we are surrounded by the Green Mountains on either side of the large valley we live in. When Fall really hits, there are a couple of weeks when the Green Mountains become the Orange, Red, and Gold Mountains.

We are currently easing into leaf season. There are bright bursts of brilliant crimson and orange on certain trees, but there is still plenty of green foliage that will have the chlorophyll leaving soon. Many leaves, however, are already floating to the ground. When a leaf falls to the ground, it is dead. The beauty of Fall foliage is death.

The Beauty of Christian Death
As I have watched the breathtaking hues begin to appear this Fall, I keep thinking about the fact that sometimes death is beautiful. In fact, for those who belong to Jesus, for those who are “in Christ,” death is always beautiful. “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints” (Psalm 116:15). If the LORD calls the death of those he has saved “precious in his sight,” then it is beautiful.

I am a pastor. I am not naively saying that the death of those who are in Christ is without sorrow, or always happens painlessly in our sleep. Just this week I visited a member in a hospice home, suffering under the ravages of Alzheimer’s. I have sat and cried with spouses and children moments after their loved one has departed this earth, sometimes after a terrible battle with death. I have visited church members in the hospital who are in excruciating pain days before their death. Accidents happen to saints and sinners alike. Cancer can visit us all. The Apostle Paul calls death the “last enemy” (1 Corinthians 15:26).

No, I am not talking about Christian death being beautiful because it is somehow less physically painful or less final on this side of eternity than non-Christian death. I am talking about Christian death being beautiful because the gospel gives us God’s perspective on even our final enemy, death.

Going Home–The Joy of Jesus’ Presence
Last night in Prayer Meeting we sang, “When Christ shall come, with shout of acclamation, and take me home, what joy shall fill my heart.” Great gospel truths like this one from “How Great Thou Art” can become white noise to us if we don’t stop and think about the wonder of death being the door through which we are usually “taken home.” In 2 Corinthians 5:8 Paul reminds us of the joy of Jesus’ presence that awaits us by exclaiming, “Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” Death for the Christian is beautiful because it brings us to the place we were made for. We are only pilgrims now. We will finally be home with the Lord either when Jesus returns, or on the day that we die. This is why there is beauty in Christian death.

But there’s more. Four verses earlier in 2 Corinthians 5 we are told why the day of our death is the day of our greatest joy: “…so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life” (2 Corinthians 5:4). We think that we are really living life here and that one day we will die, but one reason that the death of the LORD’s saints is precious in his sight is because he knows that our death day is the day that we pass from mortality to life. The beauty in Christian death is that it is when we begin to really live, with the One we were made to live with, our Savior–not to mention saved family and friends who will meet us there. In Jesus, it is not death to die. This is why King David can sing, “in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11). It’s like arriving home to the family you love after a long trip–only a billion times better.

The Beauty of Fall and The Hope of Resurrection
Every time that I officiate a Memorial Service for a believer in Jesus, I feed my soul on 1 Corinthians 15 in the days leading up to the service. We need to weep as Jesus wept. We need to feel that death is so final on this side of eternity. But we need to remember that for the Christian, their death day was the most beautiful day they ever experienced.

And there is coming a day when Jesus will reveal that beauty to all of us. For on the day that he returns, the resurrection body given to each believer will be imperishable, glorious, and powerful (1 Corinthians 15:42-43)! “We shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).

The beauty in Christian death is hard to see sometimes. Winter can be long and bleak. After the leaves fall, our trees will be barren here for over 6 months.

But lift your heads, brothers and sisters, because Spring follows Winter. It may be Fall now, but Spring time–and Resurrection Morning–is coming.