Perspective is a word that is often used in the arts to describe the angle or view from which a drawing or painting is made. We can talk about people’s background and how that might give them a different perspective on things than we might have. This is often referred to as “point of view.” Someone who grew up in the denominational world will have a different perspective on a number of things than I would have. When it comes to death, it often feels as if there is only one way to view; and for the world, this is true.
But the way that we can better cope with death is by viewing it through the perspective of the dead. Obviously I am talking about those who were Christians. In Revelation you read, “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord.” And please do not think I’m saying that having this perspective will take away all your pain and sorrow. But I think about Dad and I know he would not come back even if it were possible. The glories of heaven and communion with God the Father and Jesus Christ our savior – who would, in their right mind, give that up?
I miss dad fiercely. But that comes from my earthbound, physical perspective. When I think about it from dad’s point of view, I’m a little jealous. This is not an attitude we can adopt over night, but we have to mold ourselves to long for heaven. We have to set our hearts and minds on heaven to the point that when a Christian dies our first thought is not sorrow, but rejoicing for them! Of course we will experience sorrow being separated – even Jesus wept at the death of His friend Lazarus.
When dad died (almost four years ago) I remember thinking, “He’s not suffering anymore.” Do you see my perspective there? It’s still earthly. Yes, thank God he’s not suffering but there is more than that – HE IS IN HEAVEN! When we think of someone who has passed, allow our first thoughts to be, “Praise God! She’s home!” Obviously we are happy she is not suffering, but that is an earthly experience that the joys of heaven will help us soon to forget.
I still grieve for my father. You will grieve for your loved ones. But please remember to rejoice for them. They wouldn’t come back even if they had the opportunity. Remember in the parable of the Rich man and Lazarus how the rich man, who was in torment, wanted to come back. You don’t read of Lazarus wanting to come back.
My only goal here is to remind us to keep our eye on the prize. The simple truth is that to get to our great reward, we must all die. So in some ways, maybe we shouldn’t fear death quite so much.
Most of us cannot imagine what it would be like to be paralyzed or to be born without the ability to walk. We see people who, through accidents or injuries, lose limbs and our hearts break for them. Many hours are spent in developing prosthetic limbs and even more hours are spent in rehab and therapy trying to relearn basic life functions. At the Olympics in London, there was great fanfare surrounding Oscar Pistorius who lost his legs below the knees. There was a debate over whether or not he could run because of his prosthetics – often referred to as blades. (I know that Pistorius has been in the news more recently after being accused of shooting his girlfriend, but before that the whole story was about him overcoming his disability to be able to run in the Olympics; and it was a great story.) Such technology was not available in the first century.
Everywhere you turn in the Gospels and Acts we see someone who was lame. The story that catches my attention is the one in Luke 5:17-26 (cf. Mark 2:1-12; Matthew 9:2-8). Here was a man who was paralyzed but at least he had good friends. No doubt these friends had heard of Jesus, his ability to heal the sick, and they wanted to take their friend to Jesus. When they got to the house where Jesus was teaching, it was full and they could not get him in front of Jesus. So they went to the roof, tore a hole in it, and let him down into the midst of the crowd. The three gospels that tell this story make mention of “their” faith. They knew Jesus could do something to help this man and they did whatever it took to get to Jesus.
However, Jesus response was probably not what they expected. Jesus said, “Your sins are forgiven.” We are not told the reaction of the man and his friends, but I know my reaction. I read this story and I feel sorry for the man. This paralytic is completely dependent on everyone around him and the charity of others. He is finally in the presence of someone who can fix him, give him a normal life, and all Jesus wants to do is talk about sin and forgiveness. In a moment of shameful honesty, I must admit – Jesus’ response disappoints me.
I remember growing up – it was as if all my dad could talk about was spiritual things. I couldn’t talk about the Braves, the weather, or school without dad finding a way to bring up God or the Bible. It was irritating! I wonder if that’s how this man or his friends felt – “We didn’t work like dogs to bring him here for his sins. We did all this so you could fix his legs!”
I know that I shouldn’t think like this. I know that Jesus’ response to this man is the greatest news that man could ever hear; whether he thought it was or not. I know, looking back, what my father was doing and I appreciate it. I’m trying to do the same for my kids. It comes down to whether or not we understand the seriousness of sin and salvation versus the comforts and norms of the here and now.
This man’s inability to walk was not his greatest problem. His greatest problem was that sin was separating him from God. And we should never miss the fact that Jesus fixed this man’s greatest problem. The story goes on to show that Jesus gave this man the ability to walk, but that is a secondary aspect to the story. The healing only comes as a response to the internal questions of the Scribes and Pharisees. This makes me think of Matthew 6:33, “Seek first the kingdom of God and all these things will be added to you.”
But what if Jesus had not healed the man? What if Jesus had forgiven Him and left him in the bed? It still would have been the greatest day of the paralytic’s life. As Paul suffered from his thorn in the flesh, Jesus told him, “My grace is sufficient for you.”
There are some, no doubt, who are disappointed by Jesus. We know that the rich young ruler walked away from Jesus sad because what Jesus commanded of him was disappointin. But I want to say, to myself mainly, that when we are disappointed by Jesus it is because our hearts, minds, and priorities are not in the right place. How could we ever be disappointed in the one who died for our sins and made eternity with our heavenly father possible?
This world of sickness and death, pain and tears, heartache and sorrow is not the world in its original form as God created it. In the beginning God created paradise; a place for God and man to dwell together and have a relationship. While it was God’s plan for man to work – he was told to tend and keep the garden (Genesis 2:15) – it was to be a profitable labor. When man worked the ground, the ground was to produce. Man and woman were not even to understand shame. They walked about without clothes. So what happened? Sin.
We live in a fallen world of death and decay because sin entered the world. When Adam sinned, God cursed the ground. “In pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you…by the sweat of your face you shall eat bread…” (Genesis 3:17-19). God warned Adam and Eve that on the day they ate of the forbidden fruit – on the day they sinned – they would die. It is because of sin that death reigns. Paul said, “For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).
Paul explains this concept further in Romans 5:12, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” This does not say what Calvinists think it says. They argue that because Adam sinned we inherit his sin. This passage clearly says Adam’s sin brought death and we all die spiritually because WE ALL sin.
When Jesus began His public ministry heartache, death, and decay was the norm. It was all around. The lame, the blind, the demon-possessed, the sick, and lepers cover the pages of the Gospels. Then, in Luke 4, we see Jesus enter a synagogue and read from Isaiah 61 – “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” Through the rest of the chapter Jesus cast out a demon, healed Peter’s mother-in-law, healed many with various diseases, and cast demons out of many. When John the Baptist sent his disciples to Jesus to confirm that He was the one Jesus said, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them” (Matthew 11:4-5).
We understand that Jesus’ miracles were signs; they pointed to something greater. Jesus’ miracles showed Him to be the Christ, the Son of God (John 20:30f). But there seems to be something else going on as well. It appears that Jesus was undoing the effects of sin. He was ridding the people of their illnesses, their trouble, their demons, and (in some cases) death! These are normal things in our world because we live in a fallen world where sin reigns. (John 9 teaches that not all illness is a result of sin. But the Bible does imply that we have sickness and sorrow because we live in a fallen world of sin.) As Jesus reversed those conditions, He was providing the people a little taste of Paradise. In a world absent sickness and sorrow, the people around Jesus experienced what it was like to live in the garden with God.
But what is most interesting is that Jesus did not just perform miracles continuously. The end of Luke 4 says He was sent in order to preach the good news of the Kingdom of God. Those miracles were simply a momentary taste of heaven. The Gospel would provide a permanent place in heaven. By healing the people, Jesus merely whet their appetites for something more, something permanent. And He made that something possible on the cross.
That is the power of the Gospel. That is why it is “good news.” This fallen world with its sickness and sorrow, death and decay is not all there is. God is going to undo all of that which has fallen apart because of sin. And in eternity, as we worship our heavenly Father, there will be no more sin, no more tears, no more death, and no more sorrow (Revelation 21:4, 8).
So what whets our appetite? Shouldn’t our collective worship of God cause us to long for heaven? In many of the Gospel stories, the mere presence of Jesus provided a little taste of Heaven. As we worship together reminding, teaching, and encouraging one another of Whom we serve and why we serve Him, we experience a little bit of paradise. A little taste of heaven in the middle of this fallen and broken world is enough to let me know “heaven will surely be worth it all.”
“Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and took some of every clean animal and some of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And when the Lord smelled the pleasing aroma, the Lord said in his heart, ‘I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done.’”
When we read these verses we typically think of the rainbow that God set as a sign of His new covenant with Noah. We even have the song, “There’s a Rainbow in the Cloud.” But I want to look at one little phrase that is often overlooked. When Moses offered the burnt offerings, the Bible tells us that the Lord “smelled the pleasing aroma.” I worked with a church in Indiana for two summers and lived with the Beckhams – a wonderful family. Debbie made wonderful bread. I would sometimes come home from the office and I could smell the homemade goodness as I stepped out of the car. Who doesn’t like the smell of cookies or muffins baking in the oven? I always like it when we don’t eat all the bananas at home because Tiffany makes wonderful banana bread. My mouth is watering as I type this.
It doesn’t appear that God needs nourishment or that He eats. Jesus did while He was on earth. But since God exists of Himself, He doesn’t need sustenance. Yet, the Bible sometimes refers to Him smelling and enjoying the aroma of a sacrifice. The various sacrifices discussed in the book of Leviticus are said to be a “pleasing aroma to the Lord.” In Numbers 15, vow offerings and freewill offerings “make a pleasing aroma to the Lord” as well as the drink offering. Pagans believed they had to feed their gods. But the Bible never treats sacrifice that way. The “pleasing aroma” of scripture is simply the human language of God accepting our sacrifices.
In the New Testament, especially the book of Hebrews, Jesus fulfills the various sacrifices which deal with sin. But we are the fulfillment of the vow and freewill offerings. Our lives given to Christ are “living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God.” As we are transformed by His word, our lives ascend to God as a pleasing aroma. The Hebrew writer says our worship to God is a pleasing sacrifice: “Through Him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name” (13:15). In 2 Corinthians 2, Paul uses similar language of the fragrance we produce by the life we live.
But we also know the bitter smell of something burning in the oven. When Jacob’s sons killed all the men of Schechem, he told Simeon and Levi that their actions made him “stink to the inhabitants of the land.” When Moses first approached Pharaoh and he made the burden on the Israelites greater, they claimed Moses made them “stink in the sight of Pharaoh.” In Leviticus 26:31, God warned Israel of the consequences of disobedience and says, “I will not smell your pleasing aromas.”
While some things are pleasing aromas, others are not. Fresh-baked cookies will cause you to salivate; burnt toast will cause you to turn up your nose. Likewise, a life lived in accordance with the word of God is a pleasing aroma to God. But if our hearts are not set on what is right and serving Him then He doesn’t even sniff what we may offer. If that is true, what about the repulsive stench of sin, selfishness, and pride?
What are you producing with your life? A pleasing aroma? Or does your lifestyle cause God to turn up His nose in disgust?
More about Jesus would I know, more of His grace to others show; More of His saving fullness see, more of His love who died for me.
More about Jesus let me learn, more of His holy will discern; Spirit of God my teacher be, showing the things of Christ to me.
More about Jesus in His word, holding communion with my Lord; Hearing His voice every line, making each faithful saying mine.
More about Jesus on His throne, riches in glory all His own; More of His kingdom’s sure increase, more of His coming, Prince of Peace.
More, more about Jesus, more, more about Jesus; More of His saving fullness see, more of His love who died for me.
Today we will think about the last two verses and chorus of this song.
In some ways, we have made the term “communion” synonymous with the Lord’s Supper. However, the term “communion” simply means fellowship. The third verse of this song says that when read and study our Bibles we have communion or fellowship with our Lord. We understand that when we pray, we talk to God. But we need to be careful to avoid making this a one sided conversation. We must make time to allow God to speak to us through His word. In that way, we have communion, fellowship, and conversation with our God.
I love the phrase, “Hearing His voice in every line.” I went to a lecture on that topic of Old Testament prophecy and the lecturer said that any lecture or discussion on Old Testament prophecy is incomplete unless it contains the whole Old Testament. I think he was spot on. The whole Old Testament is the story of how God molded a people in order to bring about the Messiah. The New Testament is about how God brought the Messiah in order to mold a people. When we read our Bibles, we need to understand that it is the story of Jesus Christ and God’s relationship with a fallen people.
The last phrase of the third verse is something that I struggle with sometimes. I love to study the Bible. I love to dig in and find the missing puzzle pieces and solve difficult issues. God did not make the Bible in order to fulfill my academic curiosities. God designed the Bible to be a guide. I need to make sure that when I study the Bible I am finding ways to apply the things that I learn. Without application, the Bible is just another piece of literature. Too many people treat God’s word just as they treat Shakespeare – Christians cannot be guilty of the same thing. We must take God’s words and make them ours through application and formation.
The fourth verse of this song should help us to realize who it is that we serve. We praise, serve, and submit to King Jesus. Jesus, the perfect sacrifice, rose from the dead and ascended into heaven to sit on the throne as King (Acts 2)! Do we live our lives as though we fully understand that fact? Do we understand the nature of His kingdom? It is a spiritual kingdom that conquers hearts and minds not armies and land. [ADVERTISEMENT: The Moody church of Christ will have a one night symposium with Sewell Hall and Kevin Clark to talk about the nature of this eternal kingdom. March 5 at 7:00.] Do we understand that He is coming again? This should not be a fearful thing. The Christians of the first century were waiting for Jesus to come again and they were excited about it. We cannot allow ourselves to become so tied to this world that we dread or are afraid of the return of our King. If we are serving Him with all that we have, His return will be a joyous occasion.
The chorus of this song repeats the general message of the first verse. Do we truly desire more Jesus? Do we hunger and thirst for righteousness? In Isaiah 55 the prophet asks the people why they were spending their money on things that do not satisfy. We must ask ourselves the same question – why do we serve masters that cannot save. The apostles were clear in Acts 4; there is salvation in no one else, so let us know more about Jesus!