Lively Former Corpses

no-zombies

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Please read Ephesians 2:1-10 in your Bible.  I used the NIV (1984) to prepare these remarks.

Sin is the cause of the “Walking Dead,” God raises the dead to receive salvation and life.

It’s a free country (at least at the moment) where everyone’s entitled to indulge their interests as they see fit.  However, speaking solely for myself, I don’t understand the popularity of zombies.  What had been for decade a minor sub-genre of horror, zombies have grown in popularity and become big business. For example, in 2011, NBC news estimated Americans spent $5 million on zombie entertainment products.

Money is one numerical way to gauge popularity.  In our time, another way to assess trends and objectively gauge popularity is to track internet searches.  I found some data that is seven years old – a eternity in pop culture – but I found the popularity of the undead has been growing since 2010.  By this measure, West Virginia was the state most interested in zombies, with South Dakota being tenth most interested.

When something becomes this popular, people want to explain why it has become so big.  The most obvious reason for the popularity of zombies is people’s fascination with things that are horrible, gross, and evil.  It’s like going to a hockey game hoping for a fight or a race hoping for a spectacular wreck.

A less obvious reason is that zombies don’t require a lot of thinking or feeling.  Their motivations are simple and the response of the living is simple.  We all want life to be less complicated.  Watching this stuff may require a stout gag reflex, but it won’t challenge your brains too much.

Some internet commentators want to dive more deeply into the zombie phenomenon and see zombies as being symbols of what’s wrong with modern American culture.  Or modern Americans.

Which interests me because today’s Scripture passage employs a symbol not unlike zombies.  Please read that correctly.  I am not attempting to legitimize “zombie culture” or say that it is in any way biblical.  I’m simply pointing out that Paul depicts life without Jesus Christ as dead people walking.

“BC” (Before Christ) persons have a form of life, but have no real life.  They are in bondage to forces beyond their control.  In the real world, people can be saved from zombie-like living, but only God can do it.  In this zombie-like state, they are insensitive to God, blindly pursuing just about any else instead.

  1. We were dead in our sin. (1-5)

We were “dead men walking” in ungodliness. (1+5)  Literally and metaphorically, DEAD means separated from life, which is found only in God (see Colossians 2:13).  In this passage, Paul uses death as a metaphor for a spiritual condition; a person as unconscious and unresponsive to the word and will of God as a dead person is unresponsive to everything.

The words TRANSGRESSIONS and SINS are two words for the same thing: the cause of our spiritual death.  In Romans 5:17 Paul explained this spiritual death is part of the curse of being Adam’s children but in Romans 6:23 he wrote that it’s our own fault because of the sins we chose to commit.  Adam’s sin brought death into the world, but we have condemned ourselves by our own choices to bring it into our personal experience.

We were “under the influence” of three masters.

#1 – We were following the WAYS O/T WORLD (1).  We were under the influence of the culture around us; bowing to peer pressure, fashion, and media without questioning whether the popular thing was the right thing.  The WAYS OF THIS AGE (2) is an equivalent expression.  Both refer to this present time; between the creation of this world and the world to come.  Both terms refer to a culture that has aligned itself against God (see John 15:18-19 and 1 Corinthians 3:19) and antagonizes those who truly want to love and serve Him.

#2 – We were serving Satan. (2)  We were under the influence of our Enemy, Satan, the RULER OF THE KINGDOM OF THE AIR.  He was tempting us and sending trials our way to distract and discourage us.

Paul is in agreement with John’s Gospel that Satan is the RULER of the worldly systems that oppose God (see John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11).  THE AIR describes the sphere of Satan’s influence; it covers the earth but falls short of heaven.  This language reflects Jewish belief that demons flew in the air and the pagan belief that evil spirits flew around.  In both Hebrew and Greek the word for SPIRIT can also be translated as “wind”.  The influence of the spiritual evil ruled by Satan is expressed in NOW AT WORK IN THOSE WHO ARE DISOBEDIENT.

#3 – We were serving selfishness. (3)  We were under the influence of self-centeredness; an orientation typical to humans.  When we are very immature, a certain amount of self-centeredness helps us survive and grow.  But as we mature, we must become God-centered, discarding childish and selfish ways.

Paul used the term SINFUL NATURE (“flesh”) to denote the part of our inner nature that has an appetite for doing wrong.  It is one way self-centredness manifests itself.  It is like a separate entity within a person that constantly tempts and misdirects us away from God and toward sin.

My belief is that the SINFUL NATURE is the part of our inner life that was CRUCIFIED WITH CHRIST (GLS 2:20) and no longer lives.  This extreme selfishness that seeks satisfaction through sin no longer affects the believer because it is dead.  We still struggle with sin because our human nature is with us in the form of our bodies.  Human nature is more oriented to self-centeredness than sin; it is not always encouraging evil actions.  Human nature is more the weakness and limitations imposed by our physical frame than a frequent source of sin.

The result of the influence of the “Three S’s”: we were OBJECTS OF WRATH. (3)  WRATH means two things.

In the short term, it means alienation from God.  Until forgiveness is obtained by repentance, prayer is useless.  God will not tolerate sin and will distance Himself from sinners.

In the long term, God’s WRATH will be poured out on the wicked and unbelieving on Judgment Day.  Their choices will land them in hell.

The phrase LIKE THE REST is meant to take in the entirety of humanity.  All of us are born under a death penalty because we inherited a sin nature from Adam.  God’s unique solution to the problem of sin is Jesus substitutionary sacrifice on the cross and it alone is effective to solve the problem of sin.

  1. We live because God gave us grace. (4-10)

Grace is the answer to the problem of sin.  We can approach our need for grace by asking three questions Paul answered for us.  The first is this, “What did God do for us?”

God the Father MADE US ALIVE WITH CHRIST. (5)  This is the key thought of the passage. This one verb (the Greek word is 14 letters long) supplies the main action for the passage: resurrection.  The change wrought in us by salvation is so dramatic and so complete that it feels like a dead person being raised to life again.  On the one hand, death is an apt symbol for life without Jesus.  Before Christ, we are as lifeless and hopeless as a pile of bones.  On the other hand, with Jesus, we are saved; the bones come to life again: we have hope and a future.

GOD also RAISED US UP WITH CHRIST. (6)  Paul saw the believer as having participated in the crucifixion of Jesus, to the effect of his/her sin nature being killed.  This phrase takes things a step further to say each believer has participated personally in the resurrection of Jesus too.

GOD…SEATED US WITH HIM IN THE HEAVENLY REALMS IN CHRIST JESUS. (6)  Here Paul makes it sound as if we’ve already been taken to heaven.  We have to learn not to get too wound up about verb tenses in the Bible.  Instead, we can be excited to know that the benefits of God’s GRACE are not just for the future, but have also redeemed our past and give us a confident future.  We can have experiences of heaven in this earthly life (see 1 Corinthians 15:47-49; 2 Corinthians 12:2-3; Galatians 4:26; Philippians 3:20).

In 1:20 we learned that Jesus was exalted to sit in the place of authority and access; at the RIGHT HAND IN THE HEAVENLY REALMS.   Paul repeated that language here to give the faithful further encouragement; “Heaven?  You are there already, dudes!”  Especially in Ephesus, he wanted the believers to know they were not subject to spiritual evil of any kind; they already enjoyed heavenly authority being in relationship with Jesus Christ.

Lastly, Paul reminded them of their origins; WE ARE GOD’S WORKMANSHIP. (10)  This word could just as easily serve as part of the answer to the next question.  God acted to save us because we are His.  But it is also part of the list of things God has done for us – He created us.  The word WORKMANSHIP could just as easily be translated “creation.”  However, the word also conveys skill, intelligence and achievement in execution, like “masterpiece,” “handiwork,” or “work of art.”

Verse ten is a counterpoint to verse nine: verse nine says we are saved by GRACE, not by WORKS, which would seem to render WORKS unimportant.  Verse ten reveals that WORKS do play an important role in life after salvation.  In fact, they are the very reason God created us.  We were CREATED IN CHRIST JESUS TO DO GOOD WORKS, so a well-spent life was part of God’s plan before the universe was created.  This interpretation is supported by a second phrase that means exactly the same thing: WHICH GOD PREPARED IN ADVANCE FOR US TO DO.

When we consider all of Paul’s teaching, we realize two things about GOOD WORKS.  One, GOOD WORKS is not the same as fulfilling the Law.  Instead, Paul meant for us to do things fulfilling the Law of Love and demonstrating the Fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) in everyday words and deeds (1 Thessalonians 1:3).  Two, God chose both His people and how His people would behave.  This is what Paul wrote in 1:4; HE CHOSE US IN HIM BEFORE THE CREATION OF THE WORLD TO BE HOLY AND BLAMELESS IN HIS SIGHT.

Paul’s second answer is to this question, “Why would God save such creatures?”  When you take notice the descriptive words in v. 4, GREAT love…RICH mercy…INCOMPARABLE RICHES of grace, it is clear God is generous with His people!

God showed us grace BECAUSE OF HIS GREAT LOVE. (4)  LOVE is the word that best summarizes the character of God in BOTH Old and New Testaments.

His LOVE is unconditional, positive, and always moves us toward greater good and maturity.

We have been offered GRACE because GOD…IS RICH IN MERCY. (4)  The merciful side of God’s nature is explained in Exodus 34:6-7, where we read that God only holds the sinner guilty, not his family.   He forgives sin.

This word was understood by Bible writers to mean “covenant love;” that God is faithful to keep His promise to love us, even when we are unfaithful to our promise to love Him.  GRACE, MERCY, and LOVE have a lot of overlap in Paul’s writings.  There’s no need to create strong differentiations between the three words.  As we saw in chapter one, this passage also underscores the fact that God took the initiative to save us even though we are completely unworthy (see Titus 3:5).

God showered us with GRACE that HE MIGHT SHOW THE INCOMPARABLE RICHES OF HIS GRACE…IN CHRIST JESUS. (7)  God’s purpose is always to draw us to Him.  When the Bible talks about God’s “glory,” that’s what it means.  God’s GRACE brings glory to Him because He is so generous with forgiveness.  His act of creating t human race and then saving us from ourselves is to resound throughout eternity as the greatest deed ever.

God offers GRACE to complete our original purpose: we were CREATED TO DO GOOD WORKS. (10)  GOOD WORKS are not a means to salvation, but a product of salvation, a means of deepening our spiritual maturity, and a proof that our claims to salvation are genuine.  When we do the GOOD WORKS we were created to do, it is for God’s glory and our pleasure.  GOOD WORKS bless everyone!

The third and final question Paul answered in this passage is “How did God do this for us?” Paul’s answer was two-fold.

First, God saved us by His gracious offer of salvation: BY GRACE YOU’VE BEEN SAVED. (5+8)  God deserves to be the focus of our lives, the object of our gratitude because He saved us by His grace, not our merit.  Paul wrote this twice (in verses five and eight) to make sure we don’t miss this essential truth.  GRACE means we are spared the WRATH of God (3) because God has guaranteed our salvation.  Neither this day nor Judgment Day holds any fear for us.

In verse eight Paul provided a little more explanation; God’s GRACE is ours BY FAITH.  Having FAITH does not make us any more deserving; it is the sole means by which we can be saved.  By FAITH we believe GRACE is available and receive it ourselves.  IT IS NOT OF YOURSELVES; IT IS THE GIFT OF GOD can refer either to GRACE or FAITH or both.  Which is interesting; we can’t really even have faith on our own; God supplies that too!

Second, GRACE is God doing for us what is impossible for us to do for ourselves (8-9).  Saving ourselves is not even a possibility: that’s what the phrases THIS IS NOT FROM YOURSELVES…NOT BY WORKS mean.

– Good WORKS won’t save us.

– Keeping God’s law won’t earn eternal life for us.

– Attempting to manipulate spirits by practicing magic (as the pagans of Ephesus did) won’t accomplish a single thing.

– Positive thinking and impulse control have value in this life, but are powerless to save us.

Why is it important for us to recognize that salvation is purely God’s action?  SO THAT NO ONE CAN BOAST means that no one should think they’ve earned or somehow deserve God’s grace or are in any way deserving.  That would be a fatal error, the worst kind of self-deception possible.  To think we can gain heaven on our own two feet would be to deny our need for a Savior and thereby cheat ourselves out of salvation by not seeking and finding true faith.  FAITH gives credit where it’s due and relies on God’s power, not ours.

Sin is the cause of the “Walking Dead,” God raises the dead to receive salvation and life.

God saves us from enslavement to the “Killer S’s” of sin, Satan, and self.  He does this in order to grant us true freedom to live in love; this is true life.  We must acknowledge the truth in order to live and to help others find life.  Part of that truth is that we were in a trap and had no way out that we could employ as an exit.  Jesus is God’s means of leaving the trap and living.

Paul’s message must’ve seemed strange to the people of Ephesus.  They were used to thinking of gods and spirits as beings whom you appeased to avoid their wrath or bribed with sacrifices to manipulate them into giving blessing.  As Paul presented Him, God did not operate in either of those ways.  People today are still surprised to find that God is not what they expected.  Too many reject a caricature of God without having any experience of Him or even of His Church.

Paul taught that sacrifice and praise were grateful responses to God’s prior acts of love and gracious gift of salvation.  His faith is not a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” kind of exercise, but the humble acceptance of a generous gift.  Once accepted, that gift makes all the difference in the way we want to live.

God offers life.  Choose to accept it and celebrate it by doing good.  Let’s be the lively people of God, not the “walking dead.”

 

RESOURCES:

Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: Ephesians, Clinton E. Arnold

Death Benefits

Please read Philippians 1:18-26 in your own Bible.  I’ve used the NIV to prepare these remarks.

Death is the consummation of life: God is in both.

We so typically think of death as an enemy (and biblically, it is) that it sounds strange to talk about “death benefits.”  When I went looking for a definition of death benefits, I was surprised to find out there is actually a website called “Investopedia.”  It seems Wikipedia has really started something and has imitators.  Anyway, Investopedia defines “death benefits” as “the amount on a life insurance policy, annuity or pension that is payable to the beneficiary when the insured or annuitant passes away. A death benefit may be a percentage of the annuitant’s pension. For example, a beneficiary might be entitled to 65% of the annuitant’s monthly pension at the time the annuitant passes away. Alternatively, a death benefit may be a large lump-sum payment from a life insurance policy. The size and structure of the payment in either a pension or a life insurance policy is determined by the type of contract held by the annuitant at the time of death. It is also known as ‘survivor benefit’.”
<Retrieved from http://www.investopedia.com/terms/d/deathbenefit.asp on 10/06/17.>

So, once you can think of death as benefitting someone, perhaps it’s not too much of a stretch to think of death as benefitting YOU.  In this section of Philippians, Paul wrote about death as being a benefit to him, even something he desired.  Why might he think that?

When you read 2 Corinthians 11:16-33, you get a summary account of all the things the Apostle Paul suffered as he was persecuted for his faith in Christ.  He’d been through a lot and this might be a partial answer to the question of why Paul was entertaining these thoughts.  You could understand if he welcomed death as a release from suffering, which it certainly is.

However, when you read this passage you see something more profound than relief being sought.  Paul viewed death as a means of realizing complete fellowship with Jesus Christ.  Paul was eager for heaven, but not as a place of escape.  He was eager for heaven as a relationship with his Savior in all its fullness.  We who share Paul’s faith must also share his hope.  Let us be encouraged to learn that death is an enemy, but not one to be feared.  Jesus defeated death.  For people of faith, death is the consummation of life; a better life lies beyond this one.  Also, God is with us in both death and life.

  1. Historical context: Paul was in a life & death situation.

Philippians is one of the last letters written by the Apostle Paul.  It is part of a group of letters written while he was imprisoned in Rome awaiting trial by the emperor, AD 61-62.

The events that lead to his imprisonment have been preserved by Luke in the book of Acts.

Paul had been arrested under false charges in Jerusalem, the victim of a plot against him by the Jewish religious leaders (see Acts 21-22).

He endured trials under two Roman officials and a king (see Acts 23-26) until it came to Paul’s attention that the Jewish leaders had plotted to kill him.  To save his life, Paul appealed directly to Caesar, which was his right as a Roman citizen.

The last two chapters of Acts (27+28) record Paul’s journey to Rome.

Conditions in Rome were not good at all for Christians.  The ancient Roman historian Tacitus recorded some of the horrific persecution of Christians perpetrated at that time:

“Besides being put to death, the Christians were made to serve as objects of amusement. They were clothed in the hides of beasts and torn to death by dogs. Others were crucified. Others were set on fire to serve to illuminate the night when daylight failed. Nero had thrown open his grounds for the display and was putting on a show and a circus where he mingled with the people in the dress of a charioteer and drove about in his chariot. All this gave rise to a feeling of pity, for it was felt that they—the Christians—were being destroyed not for the public good but to gratify the cruelty of an individual.

Nero was the very man to whom Paul had appealed.  History tells us that Nero condemned Paul to death by beheading.

All that to say this – when Paul wrote to the Philippians about life and death it was because both of them were very real possibilities at that moment.  This was not an academic discussion, but the wrestling of his soul.

  1. Jesus Christ is our reason to live.

In our world, people want to live for various reasons.

Death is an unknown; they fear it.

We dread separation from loved ones and/or have anxiety about how our loss with affect them.

The things of this world hold our attention and we hate to lose them.

Our ambition to achieve can be so great that we fear death will thwart or undo all our achievements.  (This is the “legacy” talk we hear too often.)

Some fear God’s wrath on their sins.

Truth be told, we more often fear dying than we fear death.  Dying is one of those transitional times we typically hate.  We don’t like the thought that dying may involve pain and/or loss of our customary quality of life.

In faith, we have only one reason to live: to be of service to Christ His people: TO LIVE IS CHRIST.  Paul recognized this fact among his deliberations. He foresaw FRUITFUL LABOR (v. 22) if he were to be released.  Isn’t this the part missing in too many of our churches?  He also promised, I WILL CONTINUE WITH ALL OF YOU FOR YOUR PROGRESS AND JOY IN THE FAITH (v. 25) if this imprisonment ended with his release.  We long to experience progress and joy in church life but are so easily thwarted by sin and self-centered folk.

However, life – especially the Christian life – it is not just sorrowful obligation.  As depressing as it may seem, Paul brackets this passage with expressions of joy.  In the beginning (v. 18), he wrote I WILL CONTINUE TO REJOICE.  What brought joy to Paul was the fact that the Good News was still going out; Jesus Christ was being preached.  Would that make you rejoice? Toward the end of the passage (v. 25) he wrote, YOUR JOY IN THE FAITH.  Of all people on earth, followers of Jesus have the best reasons to be joyful.  What a shame when we aren’t!

Discussing death does not have to be doleful and dreary.  Death gives meaning to life and it affirms the things that have been important to us in life.  Paul saw life as ministry and ministry as joy.  If anyone are not characterized by joy, something is wrong at the base of their spiritual life.

  1. Jesus Christ is our hope for life after death.

Paul’s “death benefit” as expressed in Philippians 1:21 is the most important: we will be with Christ.  Jesus Christ is the focus of our hope and being with Christ is the summary of all our hopes for afterlife.  In v. 19 Paul attributed his hope to the PRAYERS and PROVISION offered by that church.  Because the Philippian church prayed, Paul had hope.

Paul predicted the result would be his DELIVERANCE.  Is he talking about DELIVERANCE from Nero or going to heaven?  Why not both?  The text itself does not allow us to make a definitive choice of either, so hanging our hat on both actually makes good sense.

For example, the Greek word for DELIVERANCE has a variety of meanings, but most typically meant to be saved from dying.  It is used in a phrase that is a quote from JOB 13:16.  Perhaps Paul thought he would, like Job, be delivered from his trials and his faith vindicated.

The point is this: because of his faith, Paul believed he was in a “win-win” situation: if he was released from jail, he would win as he would continue to preach the Gospel.  If he was executed, then that was a win, because he was released from the troubles of this life.

Its clear to me that this passage, Paul struggled for a clear sense of which he wants to happen, or which he thinks will happen.  Note the way he described his thought processes.  YET WHAT SHALL I CHOOSE?  I DO NOT KNOW! (22)  I AM TORN BETWEEN THE TWO. (23)

He is certain of one thing: in his life or death he wanted Jesus to be EXALTED.  In either case, his fondest desire is to have SUFFICIENT COURAGE to remain faithful.  His imprisonment was one of many trials Paul had to endure; each one was a temptation to call it quits.  I guess you could say Paul saw benefit for himself and for the Gospel in his life or his death, so whichever one happened was incidental.

He resolved the struggle in vs. 25-26 where he expressed a confidence in his survival and even his release, resulting in continued ministry to them.  Historically, we know that’s not what happened.  He was a martyr for his faith.  He never saw the Philippian believers again in this life.

Was Paul wrong?  Did he display a false confidence to comfort the Philippians?  I doubt it.  Paul’s confidence lay in the truth, so even well-intentioned falsehood was out of the question.

This holds meaning for us as we have faith and pray: we want God to do specific things for us and we faithfully pray about them.  But sometimes God has a different plan and those prayers are answered with a “no.”  It’s tempting to abandon one’s faith in that moment and conclude God is not real or He doesn’t love us after all.

Paul had no such reaction.  It’s clear in this passage he was prepared for whatever time would reveal as God’s will.  Paul had his priorities in order.

“Death Benefits” are also promised elsewhere in the New Testament.  (My thanks to John Piper, who identified four additional reasons that inform us of the biblical scope of Paul’s assertion TO DIE IS GAIN.  In the following Bible quotes, the emphasis in italics is Piper’s.)  (See http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/it-is-great-gain-to-die.)

Our spirits will be made perfect.  Hebrews 12:22–23 = But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and the church of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the just which have been made perfect.

We will be relieved of the pain of this world. Revelation 21:4 = He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, f/t old order of things has passed away.

We will receive profound rest for our souls.  Revelation 6:9–11 = I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained; and they cried out with a loud voice saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, wilt Thou refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” And there was given to each of them a white robe; and they were told that they should rest for a little while longer.

We will experience a deep at-homeness.  2 Corinthians 5:8 = We are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.

I read a wonderfully illustrative story recently.  “A bank in Binghamton, New York, had some flowers sent to a competitor who had recently moved into a new building. There was a mix-up at the flower shop, and the card sent with the arrangement read, ‘With our deepest sympathy.’

“The florist, who was greatly embarrassed, apologized. But he was even more embarrassed when he realized that the card intended for the bank was attached to a floral arrangement sent to a funeral home in honor of a deceased person. That card read, ‘Congratulations on your new location!’

“A sentiment like that is appropriate for Christians, because they move to a wonderful new location when they die. They go to be with Christ, and the sorrows and heartaches of this earthly existence are gone forever. Near the end of his life, Paul said that to be with Christ is ‘far better’ than to remain on earth (Philippians 1:23).”

<Retrieved from http://www.preceptaustin.org/philippians_illustrations_1 on 10-06-17.>

The point of Paul’s message is not to minimize the impact death has.  It is devastating to be suddenly and completely cut off from our loved ones.  The loss is real and we need to be gracious about it, assisting people in their individual expressions of grief.

However – contrary to those who refuse to have faith – we know that death does NOT have the last word.  The word of God reveals to us the great and grand hope that death is a doorway that opens but once and leads us into the eternal presence of God.  Beyond that doorway awaits Jesus and all our loved ones who trusted Him with their lives.

God gave Paul these words to comfort him and his church.  He gives them to us as a living hope and a firm foundation for our faith.

Death is the consummation of life: God is in both.

Joseph: The End

(Please read Genesis 49+50 in your preferred version of the Bible.  I have based the following remarks on the NIV.)

 

Eric Jackson, writing for Forbes magazine three years ago, listed the top 25 regrets people tend to have as they approach the end of life.  I’ve changed the list to make it proactive and positive – how to avoid having regrets at the end of life.

  1. Don’t work so much at the expense of relationships.
  2. Stand up to bullies in school and in life.
  3. Stay in touch with good friends.
  4. Turn off your phone more.
  5. Resolve romantic break-ups with honesty and then move on.
  6. Stop worrying about what others think about you.
  7. Have more confidence in yourself.
  8. Live the life you want to live, not to please others.
  9. Apply for the “dream job” you always wanted.
  10. Don’t take life so seriously.
  11. Go on more trips with family/friends.
  12. Don’t let your marriage break down.
  13. Teach children (especially your own) to do stuff.
  14. Bury the hatchet with a family member or old friend.
  15. Trust that voice in the back of your head.
  16. Ask more questions.
  17. Involve yourself with the good people.
  18. Get that degree (high school or college).
  19. Don’t always make decisions on the basis of practicalities – have faith and take a risk.
  20. Spending more time at special events.
  21. Take care of your health when you still have a choice.
  22. Not having the courage to get up and talk at a funeral or an important event.
  23. Visiting a dying friend before they get sick and die.
  24. Learn another language.
  25. Be a better lover.

(Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/ericjackson/2012/10/18/the-25-biggest-regrets-in-life-what-are-yours/ on 9/25/15.)

Message: Make peace in order to finish strong.

  1. Jacob (aka “Israel”) made peace with his sons and died.

Jacob had already hinted twice that death was near.

– 45:28 = AND ISRAEL SAID, “I’M CONVINCED! MY SON JOSEPH IS STILL ALIVE. I WILL GO AND SEE HIM BEFORE I DIE.”

– 46:30 = ISRAEL SAID TO JOSEPH, “NOW I AM READY TO DIE, SINCE I HAVE SEEN FOR MYSELF THAT YOU ARE STILL ALIVE.”

Still, death was not very near: Jacob and Joseph enjoyed 17 years together before he died. In 47:28 we read, JACOB LIVED IN EGYPT SEVENTEEN YEARS, AND THE YEARS OF HIS LIFE WERE A HUNDRED AND FORTY-SEVEN.

The big thing prior to death was for the father to pass along a blessing to his sons. Jacob’s first preparation for death was to gather his sons and pronounced that blessing. It is recorded in detail in chapter 49. First, let’s recall how Jacob had himself deceived his elderly father Isaac several years ago to unlawfully obtain the first-born son’s special blessing way back in chapter 27.

In the case of Jacob’s sons, the blessing didn’t work out as some of them expected. In fact, Reuben (the firstborn), Simeon, Levi, Issachar, Dan, and Benjamin – were all vilified by Jacob. He didn’t exactly curse them, but his words had the sting of rebuke in them! Watching those eleven knuckleheads grow up together, Jacob obviously knew his sons. With the possible exception of Judah, those who were virtuous received his praise and those who weren’t were blasted by his criticism.

Still, I believe that Jacob addressed his sons in this way to make one final attempt to make peace between them and with them. He hoped to end the sibling rivalry that had previously marked their relationships.

Though they were older, Reuben, Simeon, and Levi had been bad actors and did not deserve to be head of the family. Though that role traditionally fell to the eldest, these three were unworthy. So there would be no doubt and no arguments about his wishes, Jacob designated Judah as chief among his brothers. In 49:8 he said, “JUDAH, YOUR BROTHERS WILL PRAISE YOU; YOUR HAND WILL BE ON THE NECK OF YOUR ENEMIES; YOUR FATHER’S SONS WILL BOW DOWN TO YOU.”

Jacob blessed Joseph with the highest praise and affirmed that he was worthy of his father’s richest blessing. In 49:26 he said, “YOUR FATHER’S BLESSINGS ARE GREATER THAN THE BLESSINGS OF THE MOUNTAINS, THAN THE BOUNTY OF THE AGE-OLD HILLS. LET ALL THESE REST ON THE HEAD OF JOSEPH, ON THE BROW OF THE PRINCE AMONG HIS BROTHERS.”

The other preparation Jacob made for death was to hold Joseph to his earlier vow to bury Jacob in Canaan. This vow was sworn in 47:31 = “SWEAR TO ME,” [Jacob] SAID. THEN JOSEPH SWORE TO HIM, AND ISRAEL WORSHIPED AS HE LEANED ON TOP OF HIS STAFF.

Seventeen years later, (48:29-32) Jacob reminded Joseph of this oath and reminded all his sons of where he wanted to be buried.

The point here is that Joseph wanted to be buried in the land God had promised to his fathers. His last wish was to be perpetually connected with the land that would be the singular possession of his people. This final request reveals the faith of Jacob, who was utterly assured that God would keep His promise.

Notice the touching but understated way the writer of Genesis describes Jacob’s death (49:33): WHEN JACOB HAD FINISHED GIVING INSTRUCTIONS TO HIS SONS, HE DREW HIS FEET UP INTO THE BED, BREATHED HIS LAST AND WAS GATHERED TO THE HIS PEOPLE. Isn’t that the way all of us would wish to go? Quietly in our bed, with our family gathered around us?

Joseph’s reaction was also touching and obedient to his father’s wishes.

– 50:1 = JOSEPH THREW HIMSELF UPON HIS FATHER AND WEPT OVER HIM AND KISSED HIM.

– It’s interesting how Joseph followed all the Egyptian customs first; he had Jacob’s body embalmed in the Egyptian way (50:2-3). The embalming took A FULL FORTY DAYS and was followed by SEVENTY DAYS of mourning all over Egypt.

– After meeting all the Egyptian customs, Joseph asked pharaoh for permission to bury his father (50:4-6). Notice that Pharaoh did not merely agree to allow this, but – as he had done before – really went the extra mile and sent all of the court of Egypt along with Joseph traveling in the greatest luxury possible (50:7-9).

Then, once the caravan reached the burial site, they followed through with the burial customs of Joseph’s people: the mourners all LAMENTED LOUD AND BITTERLY, observing seven days of mourning before burying Jacob’s body (50:10-14).

  1. Joseph (aka “Zaphenath-Paneah”) made peace with his brothers and died.

One of the absolute truths of human nature is that the motives we attribute to others are a window to our own soul. So when we read about the eleven worrying about Joseph retaliating, it gives us insight into how little their character has changed over the years (50:15). For this reason they…

– Concocted a new lie (50:16-17).

– Humbled themselves before Joseph (50:18). Of course, this action is the fulfillment of the dreams back in chapter 37! Their reaction to the dreams set all these events in motion, then, toward the end, their choice of actions fulfill the dream. That is both irony and providence.

Joseph’s reaction offers more proof of his godly character.

– 50:17 = WHEN THEIR MESSAGE CAME TO HIM, JOSEPH WEPT.

– 50:19-21 = He did everything he could to reassure them that revenge was not on his mind or in his heart. Joseph knew vengeance is best left to God. He also knew that what they did so many years ago was out of evil intent, but God used it to accomplish good. As he had told them seventeen years earlier (45:4-7), God’s purpose was SAVING LIVES. With reassuring and kind words, Joseph urged his brothers not to be afraid of retaliation or anything else. He promised to PROVIDE FOR them and their children.

Three generations later, it came to be time for Joseph to be join his fathers in death (50:22-23). He called the eleven brothers to his side and said two things to them:

– 50:24 = He reminded them of God’s promise that one day God would help the descendants of Jacob leave Egypt. He reassured them that God would take them to the land He had promised their fathers.

– 50:25 = As his father had done before him, Joseph made his brothers promise that when they left Egypt, they would not leave his remains in Egypt, but take them along to be reinterred in the Promised Land. As we observed with Jacob, this is an act of faith on Joseph’s part. Confident God would keep His promise, Joseph wanted his remains to rest where his people would live. He saw their return to Canaan as inevitable

And with these simple words of 50:26, one of the most dramatic accounts in the Bible comes to an end. Notice again the restraint with which Genesis records Joseph’s death: SO JOSEPH DIED AT THE AGE OF A HUNDRED AND TEN. AND AFTER THEY EMBALMED HIM, HE WAS PLACED IN A COFFIN.

This promise was kept in Joshua 24:32 = AND JOSEPH’S BONES, WHICH THE ISRAELITES HAD BROUGHT UP FROM EGYPT, WERE BURIED AT SCHECHEM IN THE TRACT OF LAND THAT JACOB BOUGHT FOR A HUNDRED PIECES OF SILVER FROM THE SONS OF HAMOR, THE FATHER OF SCHECHEM. THIS BECAME AN INHERITANCE OF JOSEPH’S DESCENDANTS.

Old Max had started out as a diamond cutter, and through hard work and good judgment he finally became the owner of a National chain of jewelry stores. He was wealthy indeed.

But now, he lay dying, so he called his wife to his side. “Hannah,” he began, “I always meant to draw up a will but somehow I never got around to it. So pay close to attention to my last wishes.”

“Yes, Max, I am listening,” Hannah wept. “Whatever you want, it will be done.”

“First of all, the business I leave to Harry.”

“Oh, no, Max, not to Harry!” his wife protested. “With Harry it’s girl-girls-girls! Leave the business better to Jerome. He’s at least reliable and has a good head for figures.”

“Alright, let it be Jerome,” sighed the dying man. “To Harry I leave the stocks and bonds.”

“Better you should leave me the stocks and bonds. I should take care he doesn’t squander it on women or cards.”

“Very well, in your name I leave the securities. And the summer house I leave to our sweet Minnie.”

“Minnie!” exclaimed his wife. “What for what does Minnie need another summer house? Her husband didn’t buy her one last year? Give it to Anna – her husband is a poor man. After all she’s our flesh and blood too.”

“Fine! Anna gets the summer house,” he sighed resignedly. “And to our youngest Abe, I leave the car and the warehouses.”

“But Abe has already 2 cars. What does he need with another one? And he wants to be a musician – what would he do with warehouses? Take my advice and give them to Louis.”

That did it! Old Max had taken all he could of his wife’s interference. Raising himself off the pillow and summoning his last ounce of strength, he snapped, “Hannah, who is dying here – you or me?”

(Retrieved from http://www.greatcleanjokes.com/jokes/death-humor/death-joke/ on 9/25/15.)

Faces Around the Cross – Yours

Please read Galatians 2:17-21.

          In a sermon by Don Aycock he begins: “Menelik II was the Emperor of Ethiopia from 1889 until 1913. News of a successful new means of dispatching criminals reached him. The news was about a device known as an electric chair. The emperor eagerly ordered one for his country. Unfortunately, no one bothered to warn him that it never would work because at that time, Ethiopia had no electricity. Menelik was determined that his new purchase should not go to waste. He converted the electric chair into a throne.

          “There was another occasion when an instrument of death became a throne. On a Palestinian hillside about 20 centuries ago, a cross became a throne for one named Jesus of Nazareth. To this day, that ancient instrument of torture and death is converted into a powerful symbol of life, hope and resurrection. Millions of people around the world see the cross as God’s way of indicating His refusal to let death and destruction have the final word.”

(Retrieved from http://www.preaching.com/sermon-illustrations/11710755/ on 4/17/14.)

          A young man approached an older Christian with this question: “What does it mean as far as this life is concerned to be ‘crucified with Christ’?” The believer replied, “It means three things: (1) a man on a cross is facing in only one direction; (2) he is not going back; and (3) he has no further plans of his own.”

          Commenting on this, T. S. Rendall wrote, “Too many Christians are trying to face in two directions at the same time. They are divided in heart. They want Heaven, but they also love the world. They are like Lot’s wife: running one way, but facing another. Remember, a crucified man is not coming back. The cross spell finis for him; he is not going to return to his old life. Also, a crucified man has no plans of this own. He is through with the vainglory of this life. Its chains are broken and its charms are gone.”

In the light of these truths, would you say you are acting like a “crucified” Christian? – H.G.B.

Our Daily Bread, Saturday, November 28

(Retrieved from https://bible.org/illustration/galatians-220 on 4/17/14.)

          Grace is dispensed without the Law – by personal participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

            Throughout Lent we have taken a look around the actual, historical cross of Jesus Christ.  We have noted the faces of the people who were there.  We have learned what we could from their examples, both good and bad, to become, ourselves, more like Jesus.

            But now, in the final installment, we are going to look around the cross one last time, but with spiritual eyes, not historical ones.

          Paul is trying to show the church in Galatia that a return to Jewish-style legalism was a bad idea, because the Law never justified anybody.  The Law God gave Moses was designed, from the beginning to point out our sin so we would repent and seek God’s gracious forgiveness.

 

Be crucified with Christ = be dead to your sin nature.

          Paul is obviously writing about the cross in a spiritual sense because none of us were crucified on Golgotha that day.  Yet he wrote, I HAVE BEEN CRUCIFIED WITH CHRIST.  (The verb CRUCIFIED is in the perfect tense, which means that it is a past event that continues to have effects in the present and future.  It literally means “co-crucified.” Matthew & Mark use it to refer to the two thieves who were crucified with Jesus.  Therefore our face is at the cross.)

          We don’t know where he was on the day Jesus died, but we do know where Paul WASN’T – he wasn’t nailed to the same cross on which Jesus died. So when he wrote, I HAVE BEEN CRUCIFIED WITH CHRIST,” he’s writing about a two-fold experience.

          One, it was a spiritual experience.  It was not his earthly life that he lost on Good Friday, for Paul died a martyr’s death by beheading several years later.

          Two, it was a personal experience. “I” is a key word in this phrase.  Paul owned his faith fully and personally.  It was not off in a compartment of his life marked “Sunday mornings;” it was something he lived every day.  Philippians 3:10-11 = I WANT TO KNOW CHRIST AND THE POWER OF HIS RESURRECTION AHD THE FELLOWSHIP OF HIS SUFFERINGS, BECOMING LIKE HIM IN HIS DEATH, AND SO, SOMEHOW, TO ATTAIN TO THE RESURRECTION OF THE DEAD.

          Spiritual death means disposing of our sin nature.  Human beings are born with a three-fold nature.

          Our Sin Nature is an appetite for disobedience, a fascination with evil, and a tendency to violence (verbal, emotional, physical).  The Sin Nature is morally evil. The part of us that was CRUCIFIED WITH CHRIST is our Sin Nature.

          Our Human Nature overlaps the other two and is often mistaken for them.  Human Nature is our tendency to be selfish; the set of behaviors that are based on survival and self-care instincts.  It will be part of us as long as we dwell in this body, but our Human Nature is not intrinsically moral; it can lead to good or evil.  Human Nature is not our problem; misusing it to sin is our problem.  Jesus is the solution.

          Our Spiritual Nature is the inner, non-physical part of us.  This is the part of us that communes with the Holy Spirit in us.  Our Spiritual Nature is the accumulation of our moral decisions and our spiritual actions; the more evil we do or think, the more our Spiritual Nature becomes characterized as evil.  The more we do or think in alignment with God’s character, the more our Spiritual Nature becomes characterized as good.  Think of it as a ratio of good to evil.

          Paul describes the effect of the death of his sin nature; I NO LONGER LIVE.  He did not die spiritually; his Spiritual Nature lived on.  In fact, Paul had a very full life in the Holy Spirit and was greatly used by God to help found the early Church and write most of the New Testament.

          He did not die physically on that day; as we have already observed, his Human Nature continued on.  This explains why people continue to be tempted to sin even after they have been saved.  Human Nature is mistaken for the Sin Nature.  Sinful things continue to have a perverse appeal.  That is not a sign of failure or defeat; no one should be discouraged about that; it’s a sign of being human and nothing more.  The devil distracts and defeats too many perfectly good Christians with false guilt based on this very misconception.

          Paul means for us to know that his Sin Nature died at 3:00 pm on that day when Jesus bowed His head.  He is no longer a slave to it.  The Sin Nature has no influence because it is gone.

         This isn’t just a theological truth to which we must shake our heads in agreement; this is a fundamental change in the way we view the world and from that, a change in the way we live on a daily basis.  Very simply, we change from a “Me and Now” viewpoint to a “God and Eternity” viewpoint.  We get completely away from doing evil or even liking evil. We get away from selfishness and worldly things.  God becomes our first priority, love our primary reaction, and we put others ahead of ourselves.  Just remember – “Me and Now” comes way after “God and Eternity.”  We need to see each day as a divine opportunity to bring Jesus into our world, which has beneficial effects that last through eternity.

 

Be raised with Christ = live in your Spiritual Nature with Christ.

          Life truly begins when we are born again and we can say with Paul, CHRIST LIVES IN ME. The reality of Jesus living in us is accomplished by the Holy Spirit. This is real life – it is our best hope for joy in this world and our only hope for life when our Human Nature ceases to be.

          Paul described the difference this fundamental choice makes when he wrote, THE LIFE I LIVE IN THE BODY, I LIVE BY FAITH IN THE SON OF GOD, WHO LOVED ME AND GAVE HIMSELF FOR ME.  Let’s break that down:

          IN THE BODY refers to our Human Nature, our life in this world.  This life does not cease when we receive Christ as Savior, but it receives a different purpose.  It conforms to new priorities.

          I LIVE BY FAITH is the characteristic pattern of our new life.  FAITH is oriented toward the Spiritual Nature.  FAITH relies less on the Human Nature, so it is NOT a matter of “willpower,” or “gut feelings,” or having a big brain.  It is all about God, not self. Paul makes plain the specific focus of FAITH, THE SON OF GOD, WHO LOVED ME AND GAVE HIMSELF FOR ME.  Jesus and what He has done for us becomes the focus of our faith. Part of living by faith is not being bound to legalistic religious rules.  Colossians 2:20 = SINCE YOU DIED WITH CHRIST TO THE BASIC PRINCIPLES OF THIS WORLD, WHY, AS THOUGH YOU STILL BELONGED TO IT, DO YOU SUBMIT TO ITS RULES…?

          IN THE SON OF GOD means Jesus is the focus and objective of our faith. 

          WHO LOVED ME AND GAVE HIMSELF FOR ME shows that you are the focus and objective of Jesus’ faith. His act of sacrifice on the cross is what defines our life and is the example we follow as we live out our faith. The cross and the love of God are so linked in Paul’s theology that you can hardly find a reference to one without the other in all of his writings.

 

          Someone observed a sign in a Pennsylvania cemetery that read, “Persons are prohibited from picking flowers from any but their own graves.”  Now there’s a resurrection-minded bunch!

          Walking home from Easter Sunday at church, a woman saw a man sitting on his front porch in a rocking chair.  He was bent over, his skin sallow and leathery, his eyes beady behind thick glasses.  But there was a great big smile on his face as he rocked.  She walked up to him and said, “I couldn’t help noticing how happy you look.  What is your secret to a long, happy life?”

          He considered this for a moment and then replied, “Well, I smoke two packs of cigarettes a day, drink seven six-packs of beer a week, eat all the greasy foods I can get, and never exercise”

          The woman was stunned.  “Amazing!” she said.  “How old are you?”

          “Twenty-seven,” he replied.

          The mortality rate in the US is 100%.  Everyone is going to die – some day.

          The question is not “when,” but “how.”  “How” as in “How will you live until you die and most importantly; “How will you live after you die?”  As morbid as this may sound, it is at the heart of what we’ve learned today.  Our Sin Nature must die so that our Human Nature can be made subject to our Spiritual Nature.  As Jesus died so that we might live, so must we put to death the parts of our character and personality so that we might live.  It is something we cooperate with God to accomplish.

          Rob Frazier, a contemporary Christian artist, wrote a song titled, “He Doesn’t Want You Better, He Wants You Deader” Dead people don’t mind the pain, Don’t get offended so they never complain They’re not concerned about personal gain, Does that sound like me or you? The truth is rising from the mist And the word is this; That when Jesus calls a man He calls him to come and die! He doesn’t want you better, He wants you deader.

(Retrieved from http://www.sermoncentral.com/illustrations/scripture/illustrations-on-galatians-2+20.asp on 4/17/14.)