This week we remember the final week of Jesus’ life. In Jesus’ death we see God’s willingness to come to us in the place of our pain—life in and under the consequences of sin—and to take it all upon himself. In Jesus’ resurrection we see God’s final “yes” to what Jesus did for us when he died on the cross.
And we see more than that. In the cross, we see Jesus standing in our place, taking the judgment for our sin upon himself. We see Jesus defeating both death and the devil by dying. We see Jesus revealing to us what the heart of God really looks like. In the resurrection, we see God’s intentions for our future, for the remaking of his whole creation. We see God’s future coming to us in our present.
No doubt most of us understand almost instinctively that in the death and resurrection of Jesus we are able to see something of enormous significance for our own lives, our own deaths, and our own futures, as well as the lives, deaths, and futures of all those around us, and indeed of God’s whole world.
We recently had a couple of deaths in our family (one quite near, the other a bit more distant). In the days following a death, you hear a lot of comments about death, about heaven, about the “afterlife.”
During my time in my previous church, deaths and funerals were a significant part of my ministry, so I spent time with quite a number of grieving people. In that context, you hear a lot of things.
You hear about our loved ones “being in a better place.” You hear about them “looking down on us.” You hear about them being “together with their old friends and loved ones.” You even hear about them going hunting and fishing sometimes.
Sometimes you hear stranger things. Recently I read an obituary that spoke of a loved one “accepting the invitation to join the spirit world.” Recently, after one of those deaths in the family, we heard comments almost exactly like that one.
We are confused about our hope. We are confused about what is going to happen after we die. And we are confused about God’s ultimate purpose for us and for the world.
Some of these comments I hear come from non-Christians, people who are really just trying to come to grips with all the different ideas they’ve heard over the years. But it’s not just non-Christians who are confused. Within the church, confusion is rampant. And this confusion can’t help but play into our understanding of what we’re made for, and of what God is like.
So over the next few days, I’d like to address some of these confusions, with the aim of communicating simply what Christians have always understood the Bible to say (and therefore what we believe the truth to be) about these important but misunderstood matters.