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God’s Restoration Returns Me to Joy – Psalm 126

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Psalm 126:1-6 (NASB)

A Song of Ascents.

1When the LORD brought back the captive ones of Zion,
We were like those who dream.
2
Then our mouth was filled with laughter
And our tongue with joyful shouting;
Then they said among the nations,
“The Lord has done great things for them.”
3
The Lord has done great things for us;
We are glad.

4Restore our captivity, O Lord,
As the streams in the South.
5
Those who sow in tears shall reap with joyful shouting.
6
He who goes to and fro weeping,
carrying his bag of seed,
Shall indeed come again with a shout
of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.

Hallelujah! The dry spell has ended! God has restored the sinner! In this case, it is the nation of the Jewish people who sinned. They brought the calamity on themselves, but the Lord in his great mercy has forgiven them and restored them as a nation. Without Yahweh, they would not be a nation, called out of Egypt. But when they possessed the land, they immediately went their own way. Their rejection of Yahweh as God required God to show them the great evil of their idolatry.

They were not simply Jews, but they were “the captive ones of Zion.” They belong to Zion, but the captivity of their hearts to the idols of prosperity (in the worship of Baal, etc.) caused them to lose everything. God’s blessings were not enough for them, so they have to learn what life is like when separated from the blessing of the land God gave them.

Cast in Christian terms, they were like Christians who refuse to find joy in God’s blessings and become envious of what others have. They then pursued money, sex and power like the rest of the world, and chose idols rather than Jesus.

When we do that, we become alienated from God. We are like those who want to belong to the kingdom of God where there is freedom from sin, but sell ourselves to the devil because of the pleasures of this world.

The just course of action for God is to reject us for good. But God in his great mercy and forbearance towards us restores us. What joy!

The immoral woman crept up to Jesus while he was dining at the home of a Pharisee. She poured out perfume at his feet, kissed them and wiped them with her hair. She knew she was not worthy to be a daughter of Zion. But she came humbly to seek forgiveness. And Jesus explained, “her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.” (Luke 7:47).

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Wall built by the Olim under the leadership of Nehemiah

The psalmist felt like he was in a dream. It’s so good, it was too good to be true. “Then our mouth was filled with laughter / And our tongue with joyful shouting.” They could now return to the Promised Land, the Kingdom where Yahweh rules.

There was, however, a sobering thought. The Olim (Hebrew term of those who immigrate back to Israel) were ecstatic. But they were fully aware of another reality. There were hard times ahead. They repossessed the land, but it had become barren. We have a powerful image in “the streams of the South.” The South (Negev) is a dry area crossed by wadi (Arabic) or nahal (Hebrew). These are mainly dry river beds except for the occasional rain. The denuded land cannot hold water, and the rain runs off into these river beds. The water becomes a torrent that washes away land and fails to nourish it. When nobody owns the land, herders will graze their livestock on the land and denude the land of vegetation. This turns the entire area into a moonscape, quite unsuitable for agriculture.

The psalmist asks God to restore them from their captivity to the land. And may the scattered (diaspora) return as the torrential rain that fills the riverbeds in the South. However, they were looking to farm the land and use it, not abuse it. The water from the rain would be a destructive force because of the abuse of the land. But God’s people will restore the land, preserve the water, plant crops, and will enjoy rich harvests.

The Olim will sow in tears, but they will reap in joy. This is just a poetic way of saying that they will face very tough beginnings with the abused land. They would have land back, but it had been rejuvenated. The starting will be extremely tough, but they will be rewarded.

Divine approval was seen in the return from exile. They were not to read the challenges of rejuvenating the land and rebuilding the city to be evidence of God’s displeasure. God does not magically remove the challenges of life because we are in his will. We will see him leading us, but we will need to labor on with tears as we address the challenges one at a time. He will give us the wherewithal to see us through. There can be tough times even when we are obedient to God.

The apostle Paul was obedient to Christ. But he suffered rejection by the brethren, the physical hardship of travel, of hunger and cold, of shipwreck and stoning, of beatings and wrongful imprisonments. If we judge our spiritual connection with God by how well we live, Paul must be considered a total failure given the hardships in his life.

The psalmist talks of one who went to and fro sowing and doing it in tears. Sowing is not a tearful task – ordinarily. And when the sowing is broadcasted, the going to and fro is much less than at harvest. What we have is a picture of sowing and re-sowing. The farmer sows but the seeds do not take for various reasons. He sows again, perhaps trying a different seed, or a different method to water the plants. He meets with partial success and sows again and again until he gets it right.

God does not suspend the laws of nature because we are obedient to him. He does not keep us from mistakes if our ignorance leads us to them. He does not auto-correct our mistakes. What he does is to give us the strength to overcome the challenges placed before us. And what we need to do is to enjoy walking in obedience to God.

There is another group of people not mentioned here, but they must have been very much in the mind of the psalmist. They were those who chose not to return to the land, but to remain in Babylon and Persia. If we compare the Olim when they had just returned, to those who remained behind, we can guess that the Olim did not fare as well. Perhaps some may even be tempted to question why they who return to the land to fulfill God’s declared will for them were struggling while their brothers who took the easy route were faring a lot better.

It was not wrong to remain in Babylon or Persia. But those who returned were fired with a higher ideal, committed to a closer obedience to God, aligned their hearts to God’s best for them in the kingdom. Yet they were worse off.

Some Christians ask why the Lord blesses the nominal, less committed Christian more than them. One error of such thinking is that they look at blessing only in material terms. There is great joy in obeying God and living out his plan for our life. The one who chooses to live for himself has a form of godliness, but has denied himself the power and joy found in one who is truly surrendered to God. At the same time, if we think this way, it shows we are not surrendered to God, we give the appearance of surrender only because we want God’s material blessing.

The psalmist does not end here. He tells us that those who sow in tears will reap in joy. And that is indeed true. In our day, we see Jews who returned to the land of their forefathers. The initial years were difficult, but they live in safety compared to their comfortable European Jews, who then suffered the wrath of Hitler or the pogroms of the Russians.

Things may look better for those who remain compared to the Olim. But they were thinking only in material terms. If they could foresee the sufferings of their children, they would have returned.

Jesus taught his disciples, “Seek first the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be yours as well” (Matthew 6:33 own). While we must not measure God’s reward to us only in material terms, we see that God is not our debtor. What will we give him that he will not repay in great abundance?

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The Life that Fell Apart Returns to Joy – Psalm 125

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Psalm 125:1-5 (NASB)

A Song of Ascents.

1“Those who trust in the Lord
Are as Mount Zion, which cannot be moved
but abides forever.
2As the mountains surround Jerusalem,
So the Lord surrounds His people
From this time forth and forever.
3For the scepter of wickedness shall not rest
upon the land of the righteous;
That the righteous may not
put forth their hands to do wrong.

4Do good, O Lord, to those who are good,
And to those who are upright in their hearts.
5But as for those who turn aside to their crooked ways,
The Lord will lead them away with the doers of iniquity.
Peace be upon Israel.

The Babylonians came. They destroyed the city, killed the warriors, and brought the flower of the land to Babylon. The Jews were no strangers to displacement. Their life fell apart when the Babylonians defeated them. They knew what it was like to lose everything and to restart life from scratch. This psalm describes the return to joy from this devastation.

We have no wish for such loss. But we have encountered lighter shades of that night. There can come a time in our life when God gives liberty to the wicked to pluck us out of our comfort zone. Even though some of our suffering may be due to our own sins or failure, the rod of God’s chastisement have done worse. In addition, some the righteous in the land were swept up with the chastisement meant for the wayward.

A tidy life can fall apart in a flash. This psalm recalls an earlier desperate time of exile, and affirms those who trust in God are unmovable like Mount Zion. This seems such an ironic assertion in the face of what the Jews faced in their exile. And for many of us, our displacement makes it impossible to think of ourselves as unmovable in Christ.

Our life can be like Jesus’ warning to Peter, 31Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded [permission] to sift you like wheat; 32but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22). Peter was going to be crushed and tossed into the air like wheat with chaff. He will not know earth from sky as he tumbles about in the air. He will desperately seek direction and not find it. After being tossed in the air, he will land on the sifting tray, he would think it is over, only to find himself tossed into the air once more—helpless, desperate for this ordeal to stop. 

Such things happen to God’s people.  But not without God’s permission!

In the spiritual realm to which we are not privy, Satan could demand in some way, that we are sifted. And when God gives the go-ahead, we experience our displacement. This psalm returns us to joy in the Lord. “Look at Mount Zion,” the psalmist says. “It’s going nowhere is it?” “When you trust in Yahweh, you are not going anywhere. You are staying right here where he is.” And standing on Mount Zion, he looks around and sees even higher mountains around Jerusalem. He uses this image to tell us that the Lord (Yahweh) surrounds his people.

When we are tossed about, displaced by events beyond our control, we must recall a reality larger than our situation. For Simon Peter, it was larger reality that Satan had to ask permission to sift him. For Job, it was the larger reality that all his life, God had placed a hedge around him to keep Satan out (Have You not made a hedge about him and his house and all that he has, on every side?  Job 1:10.)

A larger reality is working around our turmoil. Even though Satan may sift us and confusion prevails, he does not control our life. His actions remain circumscribed by God’s sovereign control.

When the Jews were exiled to Babylon, those who trusted in the Lord did not move from Mount Zion (figuratively). While the scepter (rule) of the wicked descended on the land, it shall not rest there. It would be a passing moment. As the prophet Jeremiah had told them, it would be for seventy years. This was an entire generation or two, but that rule of the wicked over the land shall pass. We may want it to pass faster, and we may not like God’s timeline. But God is sovereign – and good.

He tells us our wind-tossed life is under his sovereign control. He has not abandoned us even though we may feel that way. The heart that finds confidence in the Lord is unmovable, like Mount Zion. As a song of ascent, the pilgrims to Jerusalem recount with wonder God’s fulfillment of his promise to restore them. Jerusalem has been restored and the temple rebuilt. The scepter of the wicked passed over the land, but did not rest on it.

Even the righteous need the promise of victory to stay true. If we are told, “Do everything right, and in the end, wrong shall triumph, and the wicked shall rule”, what ordinary person can find the fortitude to persevere?

We need to know the triumph of God to find our joy and not lose hope. We need the promise that when the wicked rule, God remains in control and that wicked rule will pass, “So that the righteous will not put forth their hands to do wrong.

When Jesus came with the Good News of the Kingdom, he taught us to pray, “Thy kingdom come.” We are to pray for God’s kingdom to come on earth. Our goal in life is not to leave the earth and be transported to heaven. Human destiny is here on earth. We are to ask God to realize his will “on earth as it is in heaven.” God will have the victory. We are not escaping a world where the devil has the victory and we escape to heaven through death. Satan does not have the last laugh. Jesus Christ our Lord defeated death by rising from the dead. And he will COME to earth to reclaim it for himself. He will rule the earth and we will reign with him. In the meantime, we declare and live out the Good News of God’s kingdom here on earth.

Too many Christians live as though there is no hope in life, and their only hope is in death. There is nothing further from the truth. The Good News of the Kingdom is that we will have victory over death in God’s kingdom. Even when we die, we will rise from the dead and defeat death. The way of the ungodly will perish, and the way of the righteous will prevail.

When it comes to hope, again too many of us give up on our world as though God is calling us to heaven to escape earth. He is not. He is calling us to victory here on earth. God’s will on earth will be as in heaven “So that the righteous will not put forth their hands to do wrong.

When we are surrounded by the prosperity of the wicked, we must remember that God wants to bless us with good gifts even in the midst of our turmoil. We come boldly before the throne of grace and ask, “Do good, O Lord, to those who are good / And to those who are upright in their hearts.”

We find strength when we see the goodness of God in the midst of our struggles. God has not called us to stoically bear our pain while he remains silent. There may indeed be such times, but even in these times, we can call on him to “do good” for us, to show us his good hand and bless us with reprieve from our suffering. We come to the throne of grace to seek good from God.

Scripture teaches us, “No trial has overtaken you except what others also experienced. And God is faithful. He will not allow you to be tried beyond what you can bear. When you are tried, he will provide a way out so you can endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13, own).

The right response in times of suffering is to call on God, “Do good, O Lord, to those who are good / And to those who are upright in their hearts.” But some Jews gave up on God and “turn[ed] aside to their crooked way,” that is, the way of the Babylonians. These were the ones who said, “Since being righteous does not work for me, I will now turn to the dark side.”

These could not see that if they would trust in the Lord, they would remain unmovable. For these, “The Lord will lead them away with the doers of iniquity.” When the time of reckoning comes, these who claim they belong to God, but do not, will be counted with the enemies of God. God’s people and God’s kingdom will have peace. But God’s enemies and the kingdom of this age will be led away to judgment.

The Good News of the Kingdom is good news to God’s people. The Bible makes it clear that God’s kingdom is not a free-for-all. “For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God” (Ephesians 5:5). God honors the choice of those who choose the kingdom of this age, and when Jesus returns they will not have a part in his kingdom.

In the midst of turmoil, we return to God’s joy as we return to God’s peace. This psalm ends with a blessing, “Peace be upon Israel.” Our confidence in God takes us through pain, uncertainty, and leads us to the path of peace in God. Let peace and joy be yours, my beloved, even all you who are called by the name of Christ, peace and mercy to “the Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16).

Red rose

 

Notes on Mount Zion

Mount Zion (sometimes spelled Sion), is located within the city of Jerusalem, not a separate mountain as the name may suggest. It lies at the southwest corner of Jerusalem. Below is a map showing Mount Zion (and the area of an archeological dig).

To the south of Zion lies the Hinnom Valley. To the east lies the Tyropoeon Valley which drops to the City of David and then to the Kidron Valley. The Mount of Olives, across from the Kidron Valley, is higher than Jerusalem.

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Farewell to My Sister Rachel

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Please forgive my appearance, l know I am a real sight. In truth I never was very pretty, and the present situation does not help. My sister is the pretty one. Tonight, I will tell you the story of Rachel from my own perspective.

I’m the eldest in the family, and as all Aramean fathers wished to have boys, I was a disappointment to him. When my family realized there was something wrong with my eyes, mom found it hard to accept. But dad took a different turn. He began to pity me and from that pity, he grew to love me more. This is really quite amazing, and a great mercy from God. Dad had always been a go-getter in the family. When you combine a higher-achiever father and a let-down daughter like me, he could have easily ordered mom to abandon me by the Euphrates.

Rachel came along not long after me. They watched her closely, and to their relief, her eyesight was normal. And that was a good thing too. You see, after Rachel, mom stopped having children for a long time, and our brothers came much later, and they were no help till later.  This is pretty bad for us as a family because we had no boys. Who will pasture the sheep? When Rachel was old enough, dad asked her to take the sheep out.

This can be dangerous for a girl, but I just couldn’t do it because of my poor eyesight. I think that additional work kept her slim. My sister, she has a beautiful body and a beautiful face to match. She is real eye-candy. On top of all that, she is lively, gets along well with people, and has a perky personality. There is nothing not to like about her. You know, from childhood, she would wear an ankle bracelet that jingles. She continued wearing a jingling bracelet until she got married. Well, it announces her presence. She skipped as a child, but there is something about the way she walks even when she was grown up. She always had this light playful step about her.

Me, I am different. My eyesight limits me to the home. So I am pretty much home bound. I think that also made me rounder than I like to be. I was always the rounder one between Rachel and I.

I recall that day that changed our lives forever. Jacob our cousin, son of Isaac and Rebekah, had come to us because Esau his brother wanted to kill him. He met Rachel at the well where she watered the sheep, and immediately fell in love with her – as many men have.

He wanted to marry her, and dad made him work seven years for her hand. When it was almost time for the wedding, dad pulled me aside and we had our talk.

“Leah, he said, “I have something I need to talk to you about.” I could not read his expression, but his voice was strained.

“Your sister is about to marry Jacob. We will begin the wedding feast in about a week. You know I have promised Rachel to Jacob, but it is a real problem if she is married before you.”

“Leah, you are such a wonderful girl, but your weak eyes have made it hard for us to find you a husband. I like to suggest to you that at the end of the week of feasting, when it is time for Rachel to go to the bedchamber, that you go in her place.”

I could not believe my ears! It is so outrageous and so impossible. But nothing is pass my dad when he set his mind on something. He always has a plan. When the time came, he would persuade Rachel not to go, and I would wear a similar ankle bracelet and go to Jacob. I will wear her scent, and learn to walk like her. I will keep the veil on most of the time, and he will ensure the bedchamber is dark, and Jacob would have had lots to drink.

It seemed like a betrayal to Rachel, but dad reasoned, “You know the custom is that you must be married first. Rachel has much in life and you have little. This is one thing she can share with you. In a way, you will be forever indebted to her for getting you a husband, but I will also give her to Jacob, so he will still have Rachel.”

It took a while for this to sink in, but dad is always right in getting things done. He tends to stretch what is right and wrong, and this seems to be a stretch. But I don’t have an alternative to offer.

Most of you would have heard what happened after that. Everything went as dad had planned. Rachel had to be tied-up, but I did not know that till after the event.

Tradition can be very harsh. I know I got myself a husband through this deception. But I still cringe when I recall Jacob’s reaction in the morning. Dad calmed him down by giving him Rachel also. This whole thing is really hard. From that very first night, I was allied with dad and Rachel with Jacob. I am the first wife, but it was Rachel Jacob married.

I guess now that I am older, I can talk about it without the same level of shame and pain. But I can tell you it was hard when he calls me “Rachel” when we were together.

Where is God in all this? I admit to you that God was not in our consideration when all these things were happening. Dad had adopted some of the gods of the Arameans, and the Lord (Yhwh) seems to be a dying family tradition.

I don’t know if it has happened to you, but we were so desperate to get me married that we didn’t really think about what God wants. And Jacob, he could not see my beauty, only Rachel’s. And sometimes, I wonder what would have happened if we had not deceived Jacob. I guess that is something we will never know.

Jacob does love me. He is not a mean man. But it is clear he loves Rachel much more. Our marriage was very imperfect. And we forgot all about God.

It is really strange how God returned to our lives. To be more accurate, I should say how I returned to the Lord God. When the Lord saw that I was not loved, he comforted me my giving me a son. Reuben, our first born, came to me when I was feeling really low. But when Reuben came, “It is because the Lord has seen my misery. Surely my husband will love me now.” (Gen 29:32).

I suppose I should never have wandered from the Lord, but I did. And God is so merciful. I am weak and I just could not see God’s goodness outside of the things that were important to me. And God in his mercy made himself known to me again by his goodness. I am so glad he did not punish me for my wrong, but showed me grace upon grace so I would return to him.

It was not right for me to have felt that way, but I was really happy that finally, I had something Rachel didn’t. Even though I am the elder sister, I lived in her shadow. Now that I bore Jacob a son, things will go well for me.

But Jacob’s love for Rachel did not change. So the Lord gave me another son “because the Lord heard that I am not loved” (Genesis 29:33). I certainly gained status, but not love. So God gave me a third son. “Now at last my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons” (Genesis 29:34).

I have come to accept it now, but I was really struggling then. When the Lord gave me three sons, I knew God had not rejected me. These were proofs of God’s grace to me. But when my three sons could not change Jacob’s love, I began to ask if God is asking me to find my satisfaction in him and not in my spouse. I began to ask, “What if Jacob would never love me the way I crave? Will I spend the rest of my life in misery?”

Then something remarkable happened. As I leaned more on God and looked less to having the love of my husband, the Lord blessed me again. So I conceived and bore Judah. “This time, I will praise the Lord” (Genesis 29:35). It was no longer about getting my husband’s love. It was just embracing God’s goodness to me.

I learned something powerful. I had always imagined God would punish me until I learn my lessons. Instead, I see the Lord to be full of compassion. He saw how unloved I was, and instead of beating me into shape, he blessed me till I understood his love for me. I wanted God to bless me in a certain way. But that way never came. Instead he blessed me differently, in a way he thinks is best.

It seems that I have just got a handle of life that things started going wrong again. Rachel was really envious that the Lord had blessed me with four sons, and had not opened her womb. So she adopted Plan B. We all know it is not the best, but when we women get desperate, we can do desperate things. She gave her slave girl Bilhah to Jacob to bear children for her.

As much as I failed to see God’s love to me and only saw Jacob’s love for Rachel, Rachel could not see God’s blessing for her in the love of Jacob, but could only see what she did not have.

Rachel then made child bearing an issue of who God is vindicating. So when Bilhah gave birth to a boy, Rachel said, “God has vindicated me” (Genesis 30:4). I guess it is different for men and women. For us women, our children are our vindication, but for men it seems their work success is their vindication of God’s goodness. Sometimes we just insist God must bless us in one area and fail to see his abundant blessings in other areas. It seems the success we have is unimportant and the success we don’t have is what we really want. That was exactly where Rachel and I were.

Rachel had a second son through Bilhah, and she said, “I have had a great struggle with my sister, and I have won” (Genesis 30:7).

Satan, our adversary is always ready to bring us down. Just when I thought I had my heart under control, all these remarks stoked my anger back to flame. “Two can play the same game,” I thought. So I also gave my slave girl to Jacob to have children. My slave girl Zilpah gave birth to a son. But I really should not have done that. This time, I took my eyes off God and returned to the ways of man.

One day, Reuben found some mandrakes and Rachel was sure this will help her get children. So she traded her time with Jacob for the mandrakes. And guess what! God was not pleased with such human schemes. He showed it by reopening my womb, and I had my fifth son, then my sixth, then to our only daughter Dinah. Three children for the mandrakes! Good deal!

Rachel finally understood what the Lord was saying. She stopped this baby contest which I also got sucked into. Rachel then stopped using all kinds of methods and gave up. She just accepted that she might never have children. And if God wanted to bless her with children he will do it.

The great thing about God is that he loves Rachel just as he loves me. He spoke to her differently and when she stopped her schemes (I guess it is a family trait), God suddenly blessed her with a boy! I did not feel the least bit resentful. I actually rejoiced with her sincerely when Joseph was born. By now, I focused on God’s blessings to me. I was not in competition with my sister. Rachel had also grown. “God has taken away my disgrace” she said (Genesis 30:23). And I heartily agree.

Tonight’s sad episode happened when we were approaching Bethlehem. Rachel was pregnant, and had to deliver the baby before we could get to Bethlehem. It was a very difficult birth, and my sister did not survive giving birth to Benjamin.

How I wish we had not squabbled as we did. How I wish we had a full reconciliation. We never did. We just sort of each returned to the Lord in our own way, and we each lost our envy of the other, but we never really became as we were before Jacob came into our lives.

One regret I have is that I should have reach out to her so we have full reconciliation. When God has blessed us and we understand and feel his goodness, we should have reach out and eased those strained relationships. There is really no better time to be gracious than when we have drunk deeply of God’s grace.

Here we are now at Bethlehem. The time of mourning for Rachel is about over. But she will always live on in my heart. And now, I want her to always live on in Jacob’s heart also. It’s strange how the Lord has changed the way I think and feel towards him, towards Jacob, and towards my sister.

I cannot imagine what my life will be from here on without Rachel. Through good and hard times, Rachel and I never lived without each other. Only God knows the future. While I regret our squabbles, I see God’s hand there as well. Rachel and I were trying to outdo each other and the end result is that there are now twelve sons born to Jacob. I believe this is the start of God’s promise to my grand uncle Abraham, that his descendants will be like the sand on the sea shores.

One more thing before I close. I have a special feeling about this place. Bethlehem is the place of Rachel’s weeping for a season. But I have a sense that some time in the future, God will give us a son in Bethlehem. He will reverse the weeping of Rachel, and the curse of painful childbearing. He will wipe away the tears from our eyes, and in the resurrection, my weak eyes will be whole again. Rachel’s passing is not the end of hope but the beginning of it. When God has worked out his purpose in our life, our redeemer will come and make all things right.

My honored guests, thank you for coming to my sister’s funeral. Thank you for allowing me this privilege of sharing with you the wonderful life of my beautiful sister, of how we squabbled, and how God returned us to himself and to each other. And finally, of the day that will come when Bethlehem will be remembered for life and not death, for wholeness and not infirmity.

Leah, daughter of Laban
182 years after God’s Promise to Abraham

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God’s Deliverance Returns Me to Joy – Psalm 124

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(Psalm 124, NASB)

A Song of Ascents, of David.

1 “Had it not been the Lord who was on our side,”
Let Israel now say,
2 “Had it not been the Lord who was on our side
When men rose up against us,
3 Then they would have swallowed us alive,
When their anger was kindled against us;
4 Then the waters would have engulfed us,
The stream would have swept over our soul;
5 Then the raging waters would have swept over our soul.”

6 Blessed be the Lord,
Who has not given us to be torn by their teeth.
7 Our soul has escaped as a bird out of the snare of the trapper;
The snare is broken and we have escaped.
8 Our help is in the name of the Lord,
Who made heaven and earth.

What if…?

Recently, I had a spill in a small boat on a choppy sea and hurt my foot. It has taken me some three weeks for me to recover enough to do a walk-run, and it still hurts a little. But I am thankful to God for the incident.

My wife and I were on a boat after a delightful little adventure with stingrays. She was feeling thirsty and I went to the cooler to get her some water. The deck was wet and slippery, and I was barefooted. I cannot say if it was a pitch or a roll, but a sudden motion caused me to lose my footing, and I slammed onto the deck. My foot hit something, and there was an abrasion on my knee. The blood from the knee was apparent, and some on the boat were concerned – nice of them. But the real injury was the foot, which was pretty banged-up even though only a slight swell was indicated.

In the days that followed, I was minded to grumble within me that my foot is taking forever to heal. But every time this automatic negative thought comes to my head, I remind myself that I am really grateful it happened to me and not to my wife. She being smaller, I might rightly assume that if she fell, it would have been worse. In addition, my wife is clearly a better caregiver than I would be if she were down. To top this off, I need to thank God that my spill was not worse.

This is but one small event among many in my life that God has been merciful. But there have been many, and some quite dire indeed.

When God delivers us from a problem, we can choose to see it as God not protecting us. Instead, we ought to pause and ask, “What if the Lord did not protect me.” The psalmist says, “Had it not been the Lord who was on our side … then they would have swallowed us alive … then the waters would have engulfed us.”

Many of us suffer some loss on account of events, as I did when I banged my foot. But far worse than the pain that comes from small spills like these, is the pain of being a victim in the schemes of others. There are times in our life when we are the victims, not of some unfortunate turn of events, but of the deliberate attack of others. Some may attack us out of malice. Some may do it out of greed. Some may even do it in the name of God. When we look back, or see how the Lord has sustained us, our hearts must well up with gratitude, and our hands must lift up to bless the Lord.

The psalmist encountered trials when “men rose up against us.” It was the evil machinations of man that placed the psalmist and other believers in their predicament. This was a serious crisis. If their enemies succeeded, they would have “swallowed us alive.” There is no doubt that the enemies tried to destroy God’s people. “Had it not been the Lord who was on our side,” we would be “swallowed” and “engulfed” by the evil doers.

The people of God faced many dire crises. Nebuchadnezzar captured the Jews in Jerusalem and exiled them to Babylon. Many things threatened to extinguish this remnant nation. The Jews faced many daily pressures to lose their identity and become like the Babylonians, and later, the Persians. Under the relatively benign Persians, Haman, a kingpin in the Persian court, attempted genocide against the Jewish people. But God’s hidden secret agent, Esther, was God’s means of delivering his people. Another dire period was when Nehemiah and Ezra returned to Jerusalem to rebuild. There, they faced opposition from people who should have been their friends. We do not know when this psalm was written, but there are so many times in the history of the Jewish people that “had it not been the Lord who was on our side” the people would have perished.

When we survive the schemes of people who do us harm, we can look at the past event and be unhappy because we think God should have kept us from it, or we can see God’s mercy in delivering us, and thus return to joy.

Our walk with God is one of joy. It may not be joy every moment, and certainly not in times of crisis. But when the worst is over, and our enemies fail to destroy us, what do we do?

The psalmist cries out “Blessed be the Lord.” He praises God and acknowledges that God has delivered him from grave danger. His danger was like a bird escaping from the fowler’s snare.

When a fowler sets a snare for a bird, there is really no escape for the bird. If the snare is a noose to asphyxiate the bird, the bird will die in panic with the noose around its neck. If the noose is for the foot, the bird would not know how to untie it, tug in vain until all strength is gone.

There are times in our life when our best wisdom, and the best wisdom of our friends cannot deliver us from evil machinations. One bird is not able to save another from the snare. But “the snare is broken and we have escaped.” God makes a way for us when there is no way.

The help came from God. It does not mean God does not use means, but the means that God uses are unexpected. Who would think that God would use Esther, considered by some Jews to be a traitor of her Jewish identity when she married the king, to deliver the same people who hated her? Who would have thought that God would raise up a Persian king (Cyrus) to facilitate their return from exile? I can testify that in my own life, when I was without my usual support, God sent me one person, then another, then another, to deliver me in times of trouble. I know they were from the Lord because they were truly unexpected.

What overwhelms us when we survive a crisis? We can remain shaking in fear as we come to grips with what just happened. This is a version of post-traumatic stress syndrome. Or we can return to the joy of the Lord.

“Our help is in the name of the Lord, / Who made heaven and earth.”

The name of the Lord (YHWH) is simply the Lord himself. Jews sometimes use a roundabout way when they talk about God. They say “heaven” instead of God, they say “worship his majesty” instead of “worship God.” We must not imagine for a moment that we are worshipping God’s majesty rather than God himself. It is like when people address royalty as, “Your majesty.” To give dignity to the court, it is also customary to address the judge as “your honor,” “my lord,” or “my lady.” When help is in the name of the Lord, it is the Lord himself who helps, and not some magic incantation of a name. It is like in Genesis when we read that people called on the name of the Lord (Yhwh). It simply means they called on God. This may have involved a special time of prayer and spiritual commune with God, calling on him in thanksgiving, dependency, or commitment.

The Word of God calls us to the right focus when we escape the snare. First we are to dwell on what could have gone wrong. The writer uses several images to convey this.

First, he uses the image of the kindling of a fire. Anger is “kindled against us.” Being city raised, I had to learn how to build a fire when I wanted to light the wood stove in our family room. An American friend explained to me about the use of small twigs for kindling. That small fire in turn causes the logs to catch fire. The kindling is a small but fierce starter fire to ignite a larger biomass. The psalmist recounts with horror how they watched an anger “kindled against us.” Some people were deliberately building a fire to burn them alive. They were saying things that were half-truths or interpreting everything in the worst possible light.

There was at least one historic situation when this was true for the Jewish people. When the Jews returned to Jerusalem, the Samaritans, their half-brothers did not like it. So they sent a letter to Artaxerxes, the Persian overlord explaining the danger of the Jews rebuilding, and how this was once a great people, and they aspire to rebellion once the city and walls were rebuilt. There was truth in those assertions, but it was the perspective that was wrong. On receiving the letter and upon investigation, Artaxerxes ordered the Jews to stop (Ezra 4). The Samaritans chose to serve the interest of Artaxerxes in ensuring a weak Judah rather than the interest of their half-brothers. They wanted to dominate those who returned to rebuild Jerusalem and used the insecurity of a pagan king to do that job.

A bad report has a greater strength when there is truth in the report. In the case of the Samaritan opposition to the returning Jews, it was 100% true. And should there come a time when the Jews became strong again, would that not be a good thing? The Samaritans were close to the Jews and a strong Judah would not be in their interest. So they used the prospect of a strong Judah to stop their rebuilding. There was nothing untrue about the Samaritan report. It was their desire for a weak Judah that motivated it. They kindled a fire against their own brothers. Artaxerxes naturally gave a lot of weight to the Samaritans who were related to the Jews and gave such an evil report of them.

Artaxerxes then wrote to the Samaritans, “So, now issue a decree to make these men stop work, that this city may not be rebuilt until a decree is issued by me” (Ezra 4:21). The Samaritans won. God’s people lost. “Then work on the house of God in Jerusalem ceased, and it was stopped until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia” (Ezra 4:24).

Second, the psalmist uses the image of a predator. He pictures himself as a small prey about to be swallowed up by the predator. The predator was so much bigger, so much stronger. It would be like a big fish that gulps down a little fish whole and alive. “They would have swallowed us alive.” As the prey, the psalmist, and others with him, was simply no match to the predator. It was a predator they could not fight against. It was a predator against which they had no hope of escape.

Third, he uses the image of drowning. They are like people in a small boat trying to survive gigantic waves. The danger they faced cannot be appealed to. It was a pitiless force to which any plea for mercy could be heard. It is one enormous wave after another, and all it takes is for one of them to land on their little boat and there will be nothing left but splinters.

The impossible odds did not burn them up, did not swallow them alive, and did not drown them.

God delivered. “Blessed be the Lord, / Who has not given us to be torn by their teeth.”

Our gratitude to God is proportionate to the crisis from which he delivers us. If we have trouble learning gratitude, we need to learn from the psalmist. He goes through the extreme danger he faced so his heart is realigned to God. He demands that his heart listens to the story of danger and deliverance. He demands his heart to hear it again and again, so it will be lifted up in praise to God.

Of course, God is able to deliver. He “made heaven and earth.” And he now experiences this truth in life.

Jesus healed ten lepers and only one came back to thank him. Gratitude does not come to us naturally. We know it is important to be grateful, but our sinful hearts have to be trained for it.

Every child who is born wails for food, for love, and for all good things. It takes years, even decades before parents will hear words of appreciation, and see deeds of gratitude from their children. We are those children. Gratitude is a wonderful virtue quite contrary to our natural selfish responses.

Gratitude returns us to joy.

Gratitude is better than medicine to address our post-traumatic anxieties. Gratitude for God’s deliverance causes us to look at God’s mercy, grace, and goodness. “Blessed be the Lord!” How good and how healing it is to bless the Lord!

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God with Us

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“Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which translated means, “God with us” (Matthew 1:23).

“God with us” is a Christmas message that we will always hold dear to our hearts because it is love in action. Jesus left the splendor of heaven, became flesh, so he can show us the full extent of his love. We do well to dwell on this theme. But today, I wish to take you a little further. Is God still with us? Is he gone for a little while and will return some time later?

The answer is “Yes” to both questions.

Matthew, the disciple, started writing the Good News of the kingdom with what it means to have Jesus. It means God is with us. And he ended the Good News with Jesus saying, “Lo I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). The Gospel starts with “God with us” at the birth of Jesus, and ends with God with us at the resurrection. Yes, Jesus is still with us. The resurrection of Jesus, with his ascension, does not make us lose Jesus. He is with us to the end of the age.

There is no contradiction in the presence of Christ and the return of Christ. It is only our limitation that prevents us from embracing both his presence and his return. We cannot think of a person who is present having to return. So we choose to focus on one and diminish the other. Today, we explore the true presence of our ascended Lord while we affirm his return.

John, another disciple of Jesus recounts a conversation with Jesus. It was after the last supper Jesus had with his disciples and Jesus was explaining to his flabbergasted disciples about things they had real trouble wrapping their minds around. In human categories, Jesus was about to leave them. So he said, “Do not let your heart be troubled … I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to myself” (John 14:1-3).

Jesus affirms he is about to leave his disciples. But he also affirms his presence. “I do not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. After a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you will live also” (John 14:18-19). While the world will not see Jesus, Jesus insists that his disciples will see him. Because Jesus lives, his disciples will also live. The disciples will be drawn into a new life in the resurrected Christ. The world will not see Jesus, but the disciples will see Jesus.

Jesus will be truly present with them even with his resurrection. And that applies to all of us who live between the resurrection and the return.

There are several aspects of the true presence of Christ. One important aspect is the presence of Jesus Christ in the person of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper [i.e. the Holy Spirit] will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.” (John 16:7).

God is with us; not God was with us. And he is with us in authority and strength. Jesus made it clear, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. … and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20).

Let’s take a second look at the Christmas messages. We start with “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6, KJV). One of the aspects of the Messiah is that “the government shall be upon his shoulder.” This suggests the rule of Jesus Christ as king in a geographical way.

When Jesus was born, magi from Persia came and presented gifts of homage to Jesus as to a king. Their limited understanding was the Jesus would be “king of the Jews” but they also knew he was more than just a king to the Jews because these Persians “fell to the ground on worshiped him” (Matthew 2:11).

King Herod was fearful of this infant king and decided to massacre the boys in the town of Bethlehem to satisfy his insecurity. Jesus as king was central to how the magi and how Herod perceived him.

Mary prophesied in the Manificat, “He has brought down rulers from their thrones, / And has exalted those who were humble” (Luke1:52). This is very similar to the beatitude “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.” Jesus will depose proud rulers and fill those posts with the humble. That sounds rather geo-political to me.

Zechariah, prophesied, “To grant us that we, being rescued from the hand of our enemies, / Might serve him without fear” (Luke 1:73). Here we see in the Messiah in the role of delivering the Jewish people from Roman control in their worship, and by extension, this is a promise of freedom of worship through Jesus.

In the famous song of the angels, we are told that with the coming of Jesus, there will be “peace on earth” (Luke 2:14). Does this sound geographical to you?

When John the Baptist introduced Jesus, his message was, “Repent for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2). When Jesus began his ministry, “Jesus was going throughout all Galilee … proclaiming the Good News of the kingdom” (Matthew 4:23, NIV).

Throughout the Gospels, Jesus taught the kingdom of God. The message is clear. Jesus the king has come. God’s kingdom has come because God’s king has come. The Jews of Jesus’ day could not accept the Messiah as the suffering servant, and saw him only as the conquering king. These two aspects, both taught in the OT are so diametrically opposed that the decided the prophecy must be about two different people.

Christians today still suffer from this false dichotomy. In our case, we accept the suffering servant but push back the idea that Jesus is a conquering king to the end times. We replace the Good News of the Kingdom of God with the Good News of going to heaven. But the word of God is clear. The triumph of Christ at his resurrection is the true triumph of God in him.

At the resurrection of Jesus, the kingdom of God was not spiritualized. Instead it took another step forward. A kingdom comprises (1) government, (2) people and (3) territory.

When Jesus came, the kingdom was declared. Jesus is the king. The government of this kingdom will be Jesus through this twelve apostles. The territory will include the whole earth and eventually heaven and earth will be one. This will happen at the return of Christ. The first disciples of Christ had a job. They were told they need to fulfill the people aspect of the kingdom. They are to make disciples from all nations.

The kingdom of God will not be accomplished by the sword but by the power of the word of God. The kingdom of God has started and will be completed when Jesus brings it to completion.

The message of the early church was not about “accepting Christ.” It was the Good News of the Kingdom (Matthew 24:14; Acts 8:12; 28:23,31; etc.). When we proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom, we are proclaiming that the king has come! All authority has been given to Jesus, in heaven and on earth at his resurrection. The resurrection is not the point in time when Jesus made his exit from this world. It is the time when he is given authority over it. He is the true king of the earth. And in that authority we are to make disciples of all nations, because Jesus is with us to the end of the age (Matt 28:18-20).

Jesus has started his rule on earth, and will bring it to completion himself. The world cannot see him, because by the measure of the world he is not here. But the disciples of Jesus see him, because he had begun his reign on earth.

Do the subjects of a nation see their head of state every day? Does the fact that we don’t see the Prime Minister or the President mean that he is not in control? If man can rule over man without their actual presence in every instance, how can Christ not rule over this world without his being in our face every day?

For many, Christmas is a respite from the harsh reality of the grabbing and fighting in this world. It is good to have this respite. But our hope that comes at Christmas is even more profound.

The point that Jesus is the real and present ruler with the government upon his shoulder gives us a different perspective to the rulers of this world and our role in government. We become at once more distant and more engaged. We begin to distance ourselves from political issues that do not matter to Jesus, the true king over all the earth. We begin to engage in the things that count. The first and main matter that counts with Jesus is our role to increase the people of the kingdom. Other things matter, but they are secondary.

When we understand that Jesus is the true king of the earth, we are not as upset when our preferred politician did not gain power. Even the rise and fall of nations are only footnotes in the progress of the Kingdom of God. So who becomes the president or the prime minister is of very little consequence to King Jesus.

The presence of Jesus as king helps us face the good and bad of any government with confidence. We do not depend on the government to pass laws against abortion to help pregnant women. We do not wait for the government to help the poor. Kindness, courtesy, gentleness, honesty, integrity. All these wonderful reflections of God’s attributes, and against such there is no law.

Jesus as the true king of the earth empowers us to do good without waiting for the government. Disciples of Jesus have the privilege of taking initiatives without waiting for the government. We are called to lead in doing good, not pan-off that responsibility to a human government, no matter how good that government may be.

We cannot genuinely separate the discussion about government and our personal welfare. Human government will pass laws that favor one group and not another. Sometimes this is done with virtuous intentions and produces good result; sometimes, regardless of intention, these laws and policies hurt us. Our personal sense of well-being is tied to what a human government does.

God with us as the true king transforms our life. When we feel we have become the victim of policies, we do not depend on the good graces of a human government solution which may or may not respond positively to our plight. We turn to Jesus, the true king for deliverance. He may act through human agents or he may deliver us without human agents. But we have confidence that our Lord knows what is right, and what is best, even when things are not right.

Suppose you were abused by a low-level law enforcer but we you are the child of the Chief Prosecutor, would you be fazed? Suppose an unjust law or policy is proposed that will hurt, but you are the child of the Prime Minister or the President, what will you do?

Jesus has “the government upon his shoulder.” Jesus is our “Everlasting Father.” Jesus is the “Prince of Peace.”

Christmas is not the romance that God was with us. It is the Good News that God is with us. God is with us in the power of the Holy Spirit, and in the rule of Jesus Christ as king over his kingdom.

There is a chorus worth committing to memory:
Jesus, name above all names Beautiful Savior, Glorious Lord, Immanuel, God is with us, Blessed Redeemer, Living Word.

Red rose

*Bible quotes are ordinarily taken from the NASB unless otherwise noted. Unconventional capitalizations in the NASB are usually changed to follow convention.

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When Children Die

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                            Newton, Connecticut

Twenty children died when they were gunned down with five adults. The loss of the adults who died in the line of duty towards the children is severe and cannot be forgotten when we face the horror of the twenty children who died. We do well to remember the loss of the adults. At this point, I want to join in grieving for the loss of the twenty children and use this occasion to present hope in times of such tragedy.

As I write this, there are still many unanswered questions. But the most difficult question is reserved for those who suffered the greatest loss. How will they cope with this wave of grief that crashes down on them, choking and drowning them? Where can they find strength to go on when the pain rips the heart out of them?

Sandy Hook, Connecticut is an upscale neighborhood you move into so you can get away from violence. Sandy Hook Elementary is where you happily pack your children off to another day of fun learning with excellent teachers with an administration to match. You look forward to your children finishing elementary school and moving on to middle school, then to high school. It was not so long ago when we were doing this with our own children.

When we see the horror of Sandy Hook Elementary, and the assault on the Amish Schoolhouse in Lancaster PA, we are deeply grateful to God for the opportunity of raising our children in peace. In addition, they have been easy children to raise, and that adds to our sense of gratitude to God. Regardless of how easy or difficult our children are to raise, raising them is infinitely better than burying them.

Imagine yourself as a mother or a father looking down at the lifeless body of your beautiful child—now violated by bullet holes. You look at the delicate fingers and feel the cold. You cup her hand in yours desperately trying to will your warmth into her. Her dropped jaw speaks the ghastly truth. She is no longer alive. Your thoughts wandered to her baby teeth, and you remember your casual conversation with your neighbor about the orthodontics you think she might need in a few years’ time.

Oh, if only you can have the blessed problem of orthodontics. Oh God! If only you can have not just the orthodontic problem but all the problems of raising her. Shopping for her clothes, helping her with homework, applying for college, meeting her future husband…

At a different time, another village wept for their loss. The soldiers came in and massacred baby boys two years and under. You, the parent, cannot help shaking from the helpless, hopeless nightmare of Herod’s soldier thrusting his sword through your son.

A voice was heard in Ramah
Weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children;
And she refused to be comforted,
Because they were no more.
(Matthew 2:18; cf. Jeremiah 31:15)

There is a national grief at the tragedy of the killing of children who are just out of their diapers. The horror is beyond words.

There will be many reasons to blame the killer’s mother, the gun manufacturer, the video games, the right to bear arms in America, etc. We do not justify the killing in any way, and as we get more information, we will each begin to formulate our own thinking about the sequence of events leading to the killing and we may start assigning levels of responsibility to different people or policies in the chain of events.

We think of life as the supreme value because without life, there is no consciousness, and nothing else matters. Life is indeed of supreme worth. But we must not limit life to this existence alone.

No, I am not talking about heaven. When a person dies and his soul goes to heaven (or hell), he is conscious, but his body is still dead. That reality of death does not change. When Jesus came to give us eternal life, he was not talking about the soul going to heaven. If we strip away all the spin, the reality is that the person is gone from this world, the body lies dead, and even when the eye of faith sees the soul in heaven, the body is truly dead.

There is a debate in the Gospels between the Pharisees and the Sadducees. The debate is: does the body rise again from the dead? There is no debate that there is a consciousness beyond death. The question is the nature of that consciousness. Would it be a soul floating about in ethereal space? Or would the dead body come back to life and walk this earth again? That is the question of the resurrection.

Jesus comes out strongly for the resurrection, which in this case, means the Pharisees were right and the Sadducees were wrong. Eternal life is not a soul living forever. The Apostle’s Creed, the oldest Christian creed makes this clear: “I believe in … the forgiveness of sin, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.”

Our salvation starts with the forgiveness of sin while in this life, continues with the resurrection of our body on the judgment day, and then in our resurrected body, we enjoy life everlasting. This has profound significance on how we understand death, and the death of little ones.

To every parent who has to bury a child, and to every person who has to bury a loved one, the Good News of Jesus Christ is that this body violated by crime, sickness, or decay will one day defeat that violation. This loved one will rise up from the dead with an incorruptible body.

The child who has died will be alive again. Christian parent, I do not know exactly how it will be because the word of God does not tell us, but what I know is that you will have your child again – free from the violation that took life away prematurely. Perhaps we will have opportunity to parent that child in the resurrected body. Perhaps all who have aborted their babies will have opportunity to make good the harm they did to their own flesh and blood.

The crown of life is not a crown you wear on your head. It is an expression meaning that we will be crowned with life. Life is of supreme value. Sin is the cause of all death, but there is forgiveness of sin because Jesus Christ died in our place to pay the penalty of our sin. The debt to sin (death), has been paid by Jesus.

Jesus arose from the dead to tell us that resurrection is real. Death cannot hold him because he is without sin. When we receive his gift of forgiveness, we too will rise from the dead because death cannot hold us. Like Jesus who went before us, we will move from death to life. He was the first to move in this opposite direction, and all who belong to him will do likewise. All life move towards death. But for the dead in Christ, we move from death to life.

True comfort for those who have lost their loved ones is to know that in-Christ, the dead shall live again. We shall live again, not in ethereal space as disembodied spirits, but in our resurrected body. We will really conquer death and have real life.

What did Jesus mean when he said, “Permit the children to come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (Luke 18:16)? Perhaps it suggests to us that in the resurrection, children who die here will be there running around until they grow up. Perhaps all the parenting we miss when they die young will be realized. I do not know, I am just guessing what it will be like for us in the resurrected body. The resurrected body does not decay, but does it also mean it will not grow from childhood? When we die at a ripe old age, will we look like the age we die, or at our prime?

There is much that we can speculate, but we need to accept that the everlasting life we have in Christ will be wonderful. It will be God’s surprise gift to us, much more than we can imagine. So I feel at liberty to indulge a little, and imagine the best that I can think of, and then leave room for God’s generosity that I cannot imagine.

What we do know is that we will have physical bodies like the resurrected body of Christ. What that means for children is unclear, and what that means for parents is also unclear.

But there is great comfort for parents to know that their children will be restored, not just turned into little puffs of ethereal substances that float about. The salvation that Jesus provides is not vague. It is not a hope that we cling to because we are desperate. It is a hope that is demonstrated with power in the resurrection of Christ. It is a promise with a proof.

This promise is available to all who come to Jesus and receive it in faith. What does this mean? It is quite simple really. It means we want to move out of the kingdom of sin and death, and move into the kingdom of forgiveness and life. When our sins are forgiven, death loses its power over us, and we have the hope of resurrection. And how do you move into the kingdom of God where there is forgiveness of sin?

The Bible makes it clear and simple. It says, “Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38, NASB). We need to tell God we are sorry for our sins, and turn from them. We are then to express our commitment to repentance through baptism, which publicly confesses our faith in Jesus Christ. When that happens, we will receive the Holy Spirit of God who lives in us and empowers us to live a new and everlasting life.

Everlasting life is the result of “forgiveness of sin” and “the resurrection of the body” (Apostles’ Creed). When we have the blessed assurance of the resurrection, we will possess the comfort that nothing else can bring.

Parents must be allowed to grieve when they lose their children. The initial pain knows no bounds. But when pain has done its worst and left a devastated emotional landscape, what is there to do to pick up the pieces?

King David lost his child. He prayed and fasted for the life of the child, but God did not save the child. After seven days, the child died. David arose and ended his fast. This puzzled his servants. If David was fasting when the child was alive, why would he now recover when the child is dead? And this was David’s reply, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, ‘Who knows, the Lord may be gracious to me, that the child may live.’ But now he has died; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me” (2 Sam 12:22-23, NASB).

King David had seven days to sort out his mind and his heart. When his child finally died, he found comfort that he will be reunited with his lost child beyond this life. It is the resurrection that makes this reunion possible and tangible.

Let us possess everlasting life by taking the first step: repent and be baptized. All the other things will follow naturally.

In the case of parents who grieve over the loss of their children, there is one parenting duty you have that extends beyond the grave. It is the life that extends beyond the grave. You must secure your own salvation so you will resurrect to everlasting life and be reunited with your child.

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       The Kingdom of heaven is such as these

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