Can dead bones come back to life? What does it mean for God’s Spirit to enter his people? Listen to Pastor David’s sermon on Ezekiel 37:1-11.
“That meeting took forever!” “I’ve been waiting for you all day!” “We’re never going to get to Grandma’s house!”
When we use the language of impatience, we often exaggerate in order to make our point.
But when Jesus says “forever,” he is being very serious and deeply profound.
Let’s walk through five snapshots of Jesus’s life and ministry as recorded, in order, in the Gospel of John. In each of these situations, Jesus uses the Greek phrase εἰς τòν αἰῶνα, which is often translated “forever” (or “never” if its clause is negated). Literally, this phrase means “into the age”; it points indefinitely into the future. In the quotes below, I have italicized the phrase’s English translation so you can identify it easily.
- Jesus is enjoying great popularity; he has more followers than John the Baptist.
- “Whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:14)
- Jesus is still popular, but he begins losing many of his followers because of his strange and difficult teachings.
- “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; this bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” (John 6:51)
- “This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever.” (John 6:58)
- Jesus is now arguing with the Pharisees, the religious leaders of his time.
- “I tell you the truth, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” (John 8:51)
- Jesus has now divided the people; some believe in him, but others think he is guilty of blasphemy and want to stone him to death.
- “I give them [my people] eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:28)
- Jesus is now away from the crowds, grieving the death of his friend Lazarus with Martha and Mary, the sisters of Lazarus.
- “Whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” (John 11:26)
Do you notice a pattern in these five scenes?
On the one hand, Jesus is decreasing in popularity as we walk through these passages. He begins with large crowds of followers, but those crowds slowly fall away and even turn against him. Finally, the crowds disappear altogether while Jesus deals with the painful loss of his friend.
On the other hand, Jesus uses increasingly intense language to describe the destiny of people who follow him. The phrase “will never thirst” becomes “will live forever.” Then that phrase is strengthened as well: “will never see death.” But no, that isn’t yet strong enough: “shall never perish.” Finally, Jesus makes it as clear and as strong as possible: “will never die.”
During the time that Jesus is becoming less popular, he is ratcheting up his language about the value of remaining faithful to him. The long-term rewards of discipleship are enormous and fly in the face of what people anticipate will happen in their lives. We all expect to become thirsty or hungry again, probably within 24 hours; if we are honest with ourselves, we all expect to die someday as well. But Jesus has the audacity to claim that his people will never thirst, never perish, never even die – and this he speaks while on his way to the tomb of Lazarus, who has already been dead for four days.
Jesus raises Lazarus back to life, which caused many people to put their faith in him. In the very next chapter of John, Jesus enters Jerusalem and begins talking about his own upcoming death. Like Lazarus, Jesus would die and be raised to life again. But unlike Lazarus, who eventually died again, Jesus never died again. He lives and reigns forevermore, seated at the hand of God the Father on high.
Jesus uses the phrase εἰς τòν αἰῶνα one last time in John’s gospel: “If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever – the Spirit of truth.” (John 14:15-17)
Whoever lives and believes in Jesus will never die.
It’s not a statement of impatience or exaggeration. It’s a statement of faith, a statement of trust, a statement of the orientation of life for people who follow Jesus. We live with eternal hope and eternal purpose by participating in the never-ending love of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: one God, now and forevermore.
A FREE DAY! Our trip had a strange twist: we could not find reasonable airline tickets out of any city in Michigan. However, God answered prayer, and we flew out of Chicago which meant a 7-hour trip to the airport from Midland. Our flight home was a red-eye out of Guatemala City late on a Saturday night, which resulted in a blessing: we did not have to pay for another night in our hotel, and we had an extra full day in Guatemala. It did mean we traveled at night and didn’t get home until Sunday evening, but it worked out. The 2016 trip was indebted to Jim Sirks, Youth Pastor from the North Avenue Church of God in Battle Creek. Jim drove their big bus and transported us to and from O’Hare. Thank you Jim! Continue reading
Expect to meet with God. Anticipate an audience with the Almighty. Prepare yourself for an encounter with the one who loves you … and who emptied himself so that you might live abundantly.
This Sunday’s theme is “belonging to God’s family.” In Christ, our deepest needs and desires for belonging and acceptance are met!
- Welcome/Announcements: We review our upcoming schedule and important events.
- Prayer: We welcome God’s presence in our midst as we begin our worship.
- “Blessed Be Your Name”: We lift our voices in praise to God – no matter what our present circumstances are.
- Responsive Reading – Psalm 27: We recite together the ancient words: “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?”
- “Whom Shall I Fear?”: We sing, in response to scripture, this affirmation of God’s provision for us – because he loves us as his children.
- Offering: Out of thankfulness and praise, we give our very selves to the Lord, symbolized by the tithes and offerings we place in the offering plate.
- “The Family of God”: We continue in a mode of thanksgiving by celebrating the truth that we have been brought into God’s family, through Jesus.
- Missions Moment: We take a moment to review our involvement in missions activities around the world. God’s family is quite large indeed!
- “Facing a Task Unfinished”: We unite with thousands of churches around the world who will sing this song this Sunday as well. It’s a song of commitment to the unfinished work of sharing the love of Jesus with everyone around us.
- Prayer: We lift our praises and concerns to God, who cares for our every need.
- “Be Still and Know”: We remember, in song, that God’s desire for us is simply to rest, to know that he is God.
- Special Music: We contemplate the goodness of being in God’s presence while we listen to a special selection presented by one of our members.
- Scripture Reading – Philippians 3:17-4:1: This passage teaches us to eagerly await our Savior, Jesus Christ, and the eternal life which he promises us.
- Scripture Reading – Luke 13:31-35: In this sermon text, Jesus compares himself to a mothering hen who only desires to draw her chicks to herself for protection, love, and life. Yet those chicks are unwilling…
- Message – “Poured Out: Empty Nest”: This second week of Lent has us thinking about how Jesus poured himself out for all people, even though the people around him did not respond favorably to him at the time.
- “Just As I Am, Without One Plea”: We respond to God by presenting ourselves to him, without apology or modification, so that he might draw us under his sheltering wing and give us life.
Come and worship with us!
One of the joys of walking, driving, or riding a motorcycle at this time of year is seeing all the tremendous, vivid colors of the changing leaves. I hope you are taking time in these weeks to enjoy the beauty of God’s creation!
Do you know why leaves change color just before they fall? Let me summarize, to the best of my limited understanding, why this happens. Leaves are green during the spring and summer because they contain chlorophyll. This green chemical allows plants to absorb the sun’s energy, which empowers the plants to grow and thrive and multiply. (Of course, this turns out to be a good thing for us humans, because plants take in carbon dioxide and expel oxygen, which is the reverse of our breathing process.) This chlorophyll must be constantly produced by plants in order to take full advantage of the boundless energy of the sun.
But when it comes time for trees to take a long Midwestern winter’s nap, they stop producing chlorophyll. They have stored up as much energy as they need to survive the winter, and they say farewell to their leaves, which cannot survive cold temperatures.
When the leaves stop receiving chlorophyll from the tree, their greenness disappears. It is then that we can see their true colors. The reds, yellows, and oranges we see in this season are actually the real colors of leaves all through the spring and summer, as well. Only when the leaves are connected to their branches, when they are filled with live-giving chlorophyll, do we see them in their healthy green state.
People are just like these leaves. We come in many different sizes, shapes, colors, and varieties. And it truly is a beautiful thing to observe the diversity and complexity of humankind. (Those of you who have gone to Guatemala on our recent mission trips will understand!) God has done marvelous work in forming us, each a unique creation loved deeply by our Creator.
“I have come so that they may have life, and may have it abundantly.” (John 10:10 NET)
And yet when we are connected to the true Source of Life, namely Jesus Christ, something amazing happens. The life given to us by Jesus Christ changes us in fundamental ways:
- Jesus makes us truly healthy. Just like leaves filled with chlorophyll, we are able to take in the life-giving Spirit of God and expel toxic, harmful behaviors and attitudes.
- Jesus unites us. Just as red, yellow, and orange leaves share the same greenness during the spring and summer, we all carry our own unique identities, but we are deeply united in our connection to Jesus Christ.
- Jesus gives us life. Just like leaves only stand a chance of surviving while connected to the tree, we are designed and built to be connected to the true Source of Life.
May God fill you with his Spirit each day, and may you remain connected to the Lord throughout the changing seasons of life!