Easter Message: A Living Hope

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3).

This week at our church, something wonderful happened. A young couple in our church had a beautiful baby.

What better picture of hope can there be than a newborn baby? When you see that new life, you feel a sense of hope. Life will move forward. Good things will happen. There is a future.

And that’s the picture that Apostle Peter used to describe Easter for us. We have a new birth to a living hope! For a long time, it may have seemed like there was no hope. Then, there was a new birth. A new birth of hope. Life will move forward. Good things will happen. There is a future.

It’s easy to get focused on the small picture, especially when we are suffering. When we feel loss, rejection, or frustration, or when we experience physical suffering, it’s easy to think that there is no hope.

We must remember that even if there are hard parts to our story, the ultimate outcome is going to be not just good but glorious. That’s why Peter calls it a living hope.

Every good story has moments when hope looks in doubt. Think of C.S. Lewis’ Narnia story, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Four human children are needed to break the White Witch’s reign. Then, Edmund betrays his brothers and sisters to the White Witch. It looks like there is no hope. But, then, Aslan shows up, and you know that there is hope. Things will turn out well in the end.

That’s how a lot of stories work, and that’s how the story of the human race will turn out. History is ultimately a story of hope because God will bring it to a glorious end. History is His story. It is God’s plan working itself out. There may be dark moments where we weep, but joy comes in the morning, a living hope.

It’s important to remember that hope here isn’t a hope that can disappoint us. We may hope the lockdown ends this month, but it may not. That hope may disappoint. When the Bible speaks of hope it means a hope that doesn’t disappoint. It means a certain hope. It means we firmly expect that God will do us good.

So we can be confident that all things will turn out well. We have an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade. Everything will be put together in the right way. We will enjoy what we were created for—forever! That’s where the story is going.

Why can we have hope?
Why can we have this hope of such a good end? The resurrection of Jesus Christ. Peter says that God has given us a new birth to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

How does this give us hope? This tells us where history is going. What God is going to do for us and all creation at the end of history, God did for Jesus in the middle of history.

Out of all bad things that can happen to us, death is the worst. It is the ultimate enemy. It comes for us and everyone we love. Jesus tasted this death, as Peter says, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God” (1 Peter 3:18). That’s why two thousand years ago, Jesus’ body was dead in the grave. He died for the sins of you and me.

But that wasn’t the end. At one particular moment, on a glorious Sunday morning, life returned to His body. Life came back in such a way that he didn’t merely stumble out of the tomb. It was power and abundant life, and it was glorious. Jesus could shine like the sun like the angels did who came down to roll away the stone. The crack, tough Roman soldiers melted in fear because of them.

Then, Jesus walked out of the tomb, His body filled with life. He walked out of the tomb in glory into the beautiful Garden fresh with the new flowers of spring time. That was Jesus’ resurrection.

So, Jesus has broken the power of death. The greatest enemy of the human race has been defeated. Death will not have the last word. Life, abundant life, is now the destiny of all who put their trust in Jesus. That is our living hope.

What hope is there now?
Well, that’s great, you might say, that we have hope that things will someday be good. But what about now?

We can enjoy this hope right now. This glorious end gives us cause to rejoice. Whatever happens, we know that it will turn out well. Having hope that it will all turn out well can help us in the present.

But we can say more. What we are experiencing now are trials that purify us. “These [trials] have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Peter 1:7).

The language here is taken from metallurgy. Gold is not found in a pure state. It is mixed with other metals. So, ancient metallurgists would go through a lengthy process of mixing the gold with other metals and then heating it up in a blast furnace to get the purest gold possible.

That’s how our faith is. We’ve got it mixed with other things, other loves, other attachments. We think our life is dependent on this or that situation or this or that person, so our faith doesn’t shine forth like it should. God puts us through situations that purify our faith. These situations may sometimes feel like a blast furnace, but they make our faith shine forth. We realize that what matters is ultimately His love and care for us, not having the right clothes, the right vacations, the right job, or even the right people. These things may be nice and helpful, but God is the one we ultimately need, and He is enough.

I’ve watched people get purified. It’s an amazing thing. Right now, in the midst of this crisis, I’m seeing your faith shine forth. It’s beautiful. It’s not that you’re indifference to the world. When people don’t need the world to make them happy, they can serve the world because they have everything they need from God. That’s how faith shines forth like pure gold.

How does having this faith benefit us? It gives us access to an unspeakable joy. “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy” (1 Pet. 1:8). That is a foretaste of the glory to come.

And that, my friends, is the power of faith in the hope that comes from the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

As we consider our situation right now, we might ask, how bad will this be? How will it affect our economy? How long will it last? I have some thoughts like you probably do probably, but I could certainly be wrong.

But no matter what happens, no matter how rough it gets, I know this for sure. “Hope” will still be alive. It will still be the dominant theme of our story because we are born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. That won’t change.

That is the message of Easter, and so we can with the Psalmist speak to our souls today, “Yes, my soul, find rest in God. My hope comes from Him” (Psalm 62:5).

Not Giving up Anything for Lent, the Pagan Roots of Easter, and Other Holy Week Thoughts

Here is a collection of thoughts I’ve had on Holy Week.

  • I have still never given anything up for Lent. However, I did enjoy the Mardi Gras special at Courthouse Donuts. Laissez les bons temps rouler!
  • I’ve always had trouble picking out something to give up for Lent. If I need to give something up, I give it up. If I don’t need to give it up, I really don’t want to. But maybe that’s the point!
  • On the other hand, I’ve embraced Holy Week this year in a way that I haven’t in the past. I’ve done readings at home, a Seder at church, and a Good Friday service in Gatlinburg. Sunday, of course, will be our Easter worship service.
  • Our family has read slowly through Matthew 26–27 this week. Very powerful. Highly recommended.
  • Think of Jesus for a minute without knowing that He is the Messiah. The fact that Jesus says, in essence, that from now on the Passover is all about Him is really quite astonishing.
  • The thief on the cross exercised incredible faith when he looked at the bleeding, dying, suffering Jesus and said, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
  • I don’t want to condemn anyone who does, but I personally don’t find it an aid to faith to watch an actor play Jesus. I prefer my own thoughts on the Scripture.
  • When you read “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?” with the background of Jesus’ intimate relationship with the Father throughout His time on earth, beginning with going to the temple at age 12, it gives even greater profundity to some of the most profound words ever spoken.
  • Can you feel the anticipation of Easter in your house? I can in mine. Ever since there has been a spring and humans to reflect upon it, humans have experienced that same anticipation because they held celebrations of the wonder of spring.
  • “Pagan” has certain connotations today, but it really means everybody else besides the Jews who haven’t heard the Gospel of Christ. This includes most of the ancestors of those who are reading this.
  • The glory of spring demands awe, wonder, and celebration. There is something right about the pagans celebrating it, even if I can’t agree with all that they did to celebrate it.
  • Christians have taken the ancient spring celebration and centered it around the greatest new life event since creation itself: the resurrection of Jesus and the beginning of the new creation.
  • Speaking of spring, I love seeing all the flowers in the Southern spring. I was surprised to see my azalea bush do so well.

  • In Matthew’s Gospel, the first words of Jesus after the resurrection are “Do not be afraid.” Good words for people who live much of their lives based on irrational fears or not knowing how to live courageously in the face of rational ones.

If you made it through this whole list, I wish you an especially happy Easter!

Don’t Be Afraid

“Don’t be afraid.” That’s what the angel told the women who had come to Jesus’ tomb only to find it empty.

A few moments later, these same women met Jesus. “Don’t be afraid.” Jesus told them.

Don’t be afraid. The first words after the resurrection.

It’s not really surprising for two reasons. First, in the biblical revelation, this always seem to be the first word: Fear not! Second, we are a fearful people, and so we need this reassuring word.

Two of my daughters both recently bought a guinea pig (read a story about this here). They are adorable and fun to watch, but they are also very nervous. With the slightest movement towards them, they will scurry off into their little house. They are filled with anxiety and fear.

The more I’ve watched these guinea pigs, the more I’ve realized: we’re guinea pigs! We’re just like them.

Anytime anything surprises us, we start worrying, withdrawing, or attacking. Why? We have anxiety. We are afraid.

What happens anytime we get an unexpected tax, car, home, or health bill? Like guinea pigs, we start scurrying. This happens to me all the time. When I think over the past decade, I can think of very few times, if any, where I’ve failed to pay a bill. But as soon as I get a bill that I didn’t plan, what happens? I start to worry and think, Oh no! What am I going to do?

“Don’t be afraid.” Jesus says.

And what do we fear? We fear all kinds of things. We fear all sorts of threats from terrorists, world powers, and armies, like people feared the Roman army in Jesus’ day.

If there are any human beings that didn’t seem guinea piggish, it was Roman soldiers. These guys were the toughest of the tough. These soldiers would not stop in face of the most terrible enemies. One time, the great general Hannibal destroyed 80% of a Roman army at the Battle of Cannae. The soldiers at the front escaped because they would just keep moving forward no matter what. The problem was the tactics. They couldn’t turn well during the battle and so got surrounded and destroyed. Once Scipio Africanus developed new tactics for the Roman army, these tough Roman soldiers crushed the Carthaginian Empire. Roman soldiers were disciplined and tough.

However, when the angel of the Lord came down to roll away the tomb appearing like lightning, these tough Roman soldiers fell to the ground like dead men. The most powerful army of the day faded away before the awesome power of the resurrected Christ and His army.

Don’t be afraid, even of the most powerful army on earth!

And what about death? In many ways, this is the anxiety behind all anxiety. But Christ has defeated it! He appeared before the women having conquered this great enemy. So, when we face our great enemy, we don’t have to fear either. The Christ who is with us has already met death, looked it in the face, and crushed it.

Don’t be afraid.

And what about Jesus Himself? Encountering someone so powerful who conquered death can itself be a scary thing. That’s why the women were full of joy at the news of Christ’s resurrection but also terrified (Mt. 28:8). How can you relate to Him? I think that’s the main reason Jesus said, “Don’t be afraid.” He wanted them to know that as powerful as He was, He was the same Jesus who did not break a bruised reed or put out a smoking wick.

When Jesus talked with the women, He said, “Go, tell my brothers” (Mt. 28:10). It’s a touching term. They are part of Jesus’ family, and we can be, too. We don’t have to be afraid. Jesus welcomes all of us into His family as a free gift. We just have to say “yes” to it. Then, we can be baptized into the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Mt. 28:19) and be assured that Jesus will always be with us.

That’s the message of Easter. Don’t be afraid. Christ has come. Christ has risen. Christ has conquered. Don’t be afraid.

War, Peace, and Easter

I am not a pacifist.

I believe that war is sometimes necessary in a fallen world.

As I think of my ancestors, I remember the multitude of men who fought and who even died in military service. My Grandfather Lloyd Babb was a decorated soldier who did tours of duty in World War 2, Korea, and two in Vietnam. I think I justly feel some pride at his ability and willingness to serve in this way.

However, war can also be terrible. I think of my 3rd great grandfather Levi Parks Keith. He served in the Illinois Cavalry in the Civil War. He, like many others, succumbed, not to bullets or cannon, but to disease. In the midst of the Civil War, Levi grew ill. Here is how my cousin described the story as it came down to her:

My father related a story told him by his father, James Mason Keith. Grandpa said the only memory he ever had of his father was when he lay on his death bed. Levi was sick in Missouri and wanted to come home. They put him on a train for Crothersville, IN. This was the winter of 1863. The family met him with a wagon, filled with hay and lots of quilts, and took him home to Paris, Jennings Co., IN. This is how Grandpa remembered him, and this is where he died on 2 Jan. 1864.

Levi left behind four young children and his wife Charlotte. This is so often the legacy of war.

If you research your ancestry, one thing you will quickly find is that you don’t have to go very far back in time to find farmers. Most of my ancestors were farmers of one sort or another. Even those who weren’t farmers farmed.

There is a whole different glory in farming than there is in war, but there is a glory nonetheless. I was reminded of this recently as I labored to remove a small stump of a relatively small tree from my yard. It was hard, grueling work. It made me appreciate what my ancestors had done in clearing this continent for productive farming. Continue reading “War, Peace, and Easter”

Easter: Think Bigger!

The are several problems with the common perception of life after death. Here’s what people think: when we die, our souls go to heaven to float around there forever. This is only partially true.

When we die, our souls do continue to exist (Phil. 1:21), but our ultimate hope is in the resurrection of our bodies. Our hope is that Christ “will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (Phil. 3:21). With the ancient church, “we look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come” (The Nicene Creed).

A second problem is that people think it is only our individual bodies and not the whole creation that will be redeemed. But the vision of our destiny in the Scriptures is one of a redeemed world (e.g., Is. 65:17–25). As the Apostle Paul says, “the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay” (Rom. 8:21). Continue reading “Easter: Think Bigger!”