I’m sure most of you can understand me, when I say that ‘I love my life and all that goes with it, my wife, my children, my family and friends along with all the other joys that sustain me, making my life comfortable, satisfying and fulfilling. Not forgetting the benefits of our society and the beauty of the countryside. In all these things we are so very fortunate’ – and I’m sure that many of you would agree and say something similar!
But sadly you don’t have to look very hard before you notice that the world in which we live is far from perfect. The terrible war in Ukraine is an obvious example. “You can rebuild Mariupol,” says one BBC headline, “but you can’t bring back the dead”. Sadly, this is true and although we don’t like to talk about it, death is a daily reality for many people around the world, whether it be through the deliberate and wilfully malicious actions of others culminating in war, or by natural means, disaster, sickness and disease, or poverty. Death is awful! This is why so many Christians have for generations, taken comfort from the famous words of the twenty-third psalm:
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for you are with me; your rod and staff, they comfort me.” (Psalm 23.4).
The ‘rod and staff’ mentioned here remind us of the opening verse which states that, ‘The Lord is my shepherd’. Christians take heart in the fact that not only had Jesus described himself as being ‘the good shepherd’ who cares for them even in the dark places of life, but that he is also their shepherd, the one ‘who lays down his life for the sheep’ (John 10.11). Therefore, Christ can identify with us not only in the joys of life but also in the painful experience of death – AND YET THIS IS NOT THE END – for in him we meet with someone who can lead us through it!
The Bible explains how God ‘so loved the world’ that in the person of Jesus he stepped into it, and having taught his disciples about how God loved the world, he demonstrated it by willingly submitting to death upon the cross, taking upon himself the terrible consequences of all our sin which by rights should separate us from such a holy and loving God for ever. His love for us took him to the cross and his death achieved for us our salvation, atonement and forgiveness. All we need to do is put our faith and trust in him and with grateful hearts say, ‘thank you – I believe’. BUT THIS IS NOT THE END for not only does Christ’s death upon the cross achieve for us our salvation, but it also bestows upon us life everlasting! No, this is not mere fantasy or make believe! It’s based upon the solid evidence of the resurrection and the eye-witness statements of people who were actually there! As Richard Bauckham observes, ‘all of our ordinary hopes are defeated by death, but in the resurrection of Christ, God has defeated death and we have a hope that is everlasting’. So whenever we are tempted to lose heart as we look at the sadnesses of the world or find ourselves walking through dark valleys, let us find both strength and comfort in the one who is not only with us by his Spirit, but through his life, death and resurrection offers us joy, hope and life everlasting.
Alleluia Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia.