Looking for a Sign

“Lord, just give me a sign…”

“Teacher, we want to see a sign…”

“No sign with be given, except…”

“I saw the sign, and it opened up my eyes…”

I’ve been thinking a lot about signs in the last week or so. In fact, to be perfectly honest, I’ve been looking for signs. Wishing for a sign.

It’s Holy Week, a week for focusing on the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus. A week to be thinking about my mortality, my weakness, my sinfulness, and the awesome gift of grace found in Jesus. A week to stand before the cross and empty tomb and listen to my Savior speaking peace to me.

But…

A week before Palm Sunday I was asked by another church to join their ministry team. I have a few weeks in which to gather information, seek advice, and make a decision that will affect my ministry, my family, and both congregations for years to come. Funny timing. Humbling that God and these church leaders would put such a decision in my hands.

So, Lord, could you just give me a sign what the best thing to do is?

Have you ever felt that way? Ever had a big decision to make, and wished for some divine graffiti to tell you what to do? Ever prayed, “Lord, just give me a sign”?

Here’s some more funny timing – this week, my teaching plan for a religion class I teach on Thursdays to a group of 8th graders had us looking at Jonah 2. In the materials for this class, materials I wrote four years ago, we are led to Matthew 12:38-41 –

Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from you.” He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now something greater than Jonah is here.

“A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign.” Ouch. Did you put that there for me, Lord?

I don’t think Jesus is trying to heap guilt on people for asking God to give them some direction. He’s addressing the sinful motives of the Pharisees, who are essentially saying, “We refuse to believe that you are from God, and refuse to believe anything you say, unless you can prove to us in a way that satisfies our arrogance that you truly are who you say you are.” In many ways, this is no different than people today who insist that faith in God is foolishness if you can’t produce evidence of his existence. “Show us a sign that your God really exists,” they say, and Jesus answer to them is, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign.”

But there is a warning for believers in this as well. Many want to hear God’s voice whispering to their ears or hearts. Many want to see some kind of miraculous evidence that God is at work. The warning is not too look too hard for God to speak apart from his Word. What does Jesus point to? He points to the Scriptures, to the story of Jonah, and says, “This is the sign to look for. This was a foreshadowing of what will happen to me, and when it happens, then you will know that I am the Lord.”

And it did happen. And we have the testimony of the people who were there to see it. Today is Good Friday, and in just a few short days we will celebrate together the only sign Jesus says we should look for. Jesus died and came to life again. What greater sign do we need? This is where we get our confidence. This gives us every reassurance we need. If Jesus rose from the dead, then he is the Lord and God he claimed to be. The salvation he said he would bring is real. Nothing in this life can separate us from his love. Jesus is Lord, and we are his. What greater sign do we need?

If Jesus rose from the dead, then he is Lord wherever I go to serve. If Jesus rose from the dead, the choice to serve and the promise of blessings in either place is certain. If Jesus rose from the dead, I can’t make a wrong decision between serve him here or serve him there. If Jesus rose from the dead, it really isn’t that big of a decision, because in the end, he’ll use either choice to build his kingdom.

The same can be said of your big decisions. Jesus rose from the dead. That is the sign that he is Lord, and everything he said about your life and his promises is true. Are you wrestling with a job decision? Jesus is Lord and will bless either choice. Trying to decide if now is the time to work toward marriage? Jesus loves marriage and will be your strength. Deciding on a big purchase? Jesus is the giver of all good things, so if this is a good time for this, then take hold and enjoy with thanksgiving.

In the end, the decisions of this life are but a sliver of what is to come. We have eternity to look forward to – because Jesus rose from the dead. So while these decisions may feel very big today, when we pass on to glory, we won’t look back with regret. No need to worry, Jesus has this. Because he rose from the dead.

Now, I won’t say that God never gives us a nudge here or there. Sometimes everything falls into place and you just have to grin. It’s just that he doesn’t promise he will always work that way, and he doesn’t want us to get decision paralysis while we wait for him to convince us of something.

The empty tomb is the only sign we need. Would it be nice to have extra direction once in a while? Maybe. But it doesn’t really change anything. Jesus is Lord. That is enough.

“It is Finished.”

Christianity is more than just a philosophy or a way to live your life. The Gospel is more than simply a theory about the universe and humanity, or an idea to guide you in your actions. It is more than a set of values to live by. The Gospel is news – it is a report about a factual event, and all the implications that flow from the reality of that event. And at the center of that event is a man.

“These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” – John 20:31

Six hours had passed with Jesus hanging on the cross. Prior to that he’d gone through somewhere between nine and twelve hours of trial, abuse, beating, whippings, floggings. And he went through the greatest of all sufferings – complete abandonment of the loving presence of his Father, the God of heaven.

“Knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, ‘I am thirsty.’ A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. When he had received the drink, Jesus said, ‘It is finished.’ With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit” (John 19:28-30).

It is finished. A small phrase. A single word in the Greek text of the book of John. Tetelestai. Complete. Paid in full. Done forever. Accomplished.

It is finished.

Jesus had carried the weight of sin on his shoulders. The sinless Son of God had become the ultimate sinner on our behalf, and walked under the relentless gaze of his Father’s justice. He faced the unmitigated terror of earthly government and some of the worst forms of punishment it had ever devised. Finally, he had felt the burning, holy wrath of God poured out on him in all its terrible purity.

It is finished.

God’s anger was satisfied. Justice was met. The price had been paid. The power of sin was broken. Satan and all his demons disarmed forever. Mercy triumphed over judgment. Salvation had been won.

It is finished.

Those words of Jesus signaled that God’s great plan of salvation was complete, and that he had made the atonement needed to restore the relationship between God and man. That he had made atonement for me. That there is nothing I need to do to be right with God, because it is already done.

The fact of Jesus’ resurrection seals the truth of these words. Every man dies. But to say, “I’m going to die, and then I’m going to come back.” That was new. No one had done that before. No one has done it since. And by doing it, Jesus proved the truth of everything he said. Everything he said about me – that I am a sinner in desperate need of salvation, that God’s standard is perfection and that I don’t meet it, that I can only live by him – is true. Everything he said about himself – that he is the Son of God, that he is the prophesied Messiah, that he is the Savior from sin – is true. Everything he said about his death – that it brings release for the prisoners and healing for the sins of all – is true.

When he said, “It is finished,” it is true.

Because Jesus rose from the dead.

It is finished.

 

 

Perspective on Death

It isn’t hard to imagine the pain she felt when her only son, not yet a full grown man, died. Grief. Fear. Anger. Confusion. As would any of us, I’m sure she questioned God intensely. “Where were you? Why did you let this happen? Don’t you care?”

Questions that would remain unanswered this side of eternity.

Or so she thought. As the men of the town carried the boy out to his burial, Jesus stepped onto the scene. “His heart was filled with pity for her,” as the King James Version puts it. He saw her grief. He recognized her fear. He felt her anger. He understood her confusion. “Do not weep,” he said. And then he exercised his power over death, and brought the boy back to life. (Luke 7:11-17)

Grief turned to joy. Fear to confidence. Anger to trust. Confusion to clarity. Jesus is Lord. He can do anything. We can trust him completely.

But to anyone who has lost a child, this story might be unsettling. Why that child, and not mine? Why that one, and not this one? Jesus, if you could do that then, why didn’t you do it now? Jesus, if you cared then, do you not now?

A family in our community recently said goodbye to their 8 month old baby girl. Her death was sudden, unexpected, not the result of a long borne illness. Many in our community prayed for a miracle that never came.

It is so very clear that we walk through the valley of the shadow of death. And how do we answer that lingering question, “Why?” What answer can we give to our own hearts when we feel the confusion? We can try and rely on the cliche answers. “She’s in a better place.” “It was just her time.” “God has a plan.” There is, of course, truth behind all those answers, but they feel shallow in the moment.

What answer can we give to our children, who don’t even have the abstract thinking to understand those well-worn responses to tragedy? How can we make clear to them that which we ourselves struggle to understand?

I’d love to be able to say that I’m heading toward a thought that really answers the question, “Why did Jesus raise that one and not this one?” but that wouldn’t be true. I don’t have that answer. I know that when Jesus raised the young man in the village of Nain, the news about Jesus spread and people came to faith. I know that when this daughter of our community died, many people came to the memorial service to hear words of comfort, and Law and Gospel were preached, and the Holy Spirit uses that to bring people to faith.

That’s all I know.

Well, not all. There’s one more thing I know, and it’s the thing that really does bring clarity to the confusion. Replaces anger with trust. Puts confidence in place of fear. Turns grief to joy.

I know that my Redeemer lives.

And I know that he is good.

Jesus died. He paid the price of my sins. He took the punishment I earned. He carried my guilt and buried it in his tomb. And then he beat Death at his own game, coming back to life. He has promised me that none who die in him remain dead, but live forever with him.

So this little girl is not truly dead, nor are any children of any grieving parents. They live on. It’s a change of geography – from this earth to heavenly realms. It’s a change of form – from sinful mortal to glorified saint. This is the answer. This is how I know Jesus is good. If he lets one of his believers – a child, an elder, anyone – pass from this earth, it is only ever good for them. It’ll be good for us, too, when the time comes.

Jesus’ resurrection puts this all into perspective. Jesus has a way of doing that.

Just Another Sunday

Today is Easter Sunday, but for many people in the world – and even our country – it is just another Sunday. Maybe they are getting together with family, maybe they are exchanging baskets of gifts or watching the kids go hunting for eggs. But in the grand scheme of their year it isn’t all that big of a deal.

But for Christians it is another story altogether. We gathered in droves this morning to celebrate our Risen Savior! We put on our best Sunday clothes, we smiled and hugged one another and wished everyone we could a “Happy Easter” because we are filled with joy today. We rose early for sunrise services and joined in fellowship over Easter breakfast, we sang hymns with full hearts and full voices. Our musicians gave their best to add to our worship, to give our best to Jesus, who died for us, and rose from the dead.

It is quite a lot of effort… for just another Sunday. Because, after all, that’s all it is.

Continue reading “Just Another Sunday”