The Resurrection is No Joke

At this time of the year our thoughts turn to our Lord’s death and resurrection. Eternal life is offered to us because Jesus died for our sins and rose again in victory over death. This is what we celebrate on resurrection Sunday.

Yet there have always been those who deny the resurrection. The gospel of Mark describes an encounter Jesus had with some of his religious detractors. They did not believe in an afterlife or bodily resurrection. The way our Lord responded to them provides us with a reassuring basis for our own hope of life with God after death.

Jesus’ enemies wanted to do all they could to discredit him in the eyes of his followers. They tried to use the scriptures to disprove the resurrection. So they referred to part of the law of Moses which made provision for the care of widows in ancient Israel (Deuteronomy 25:5-6).

They treated the subject as a riddle, stretching the law to a ridiculous extreme. “Suppose,” they said, “a man died, leaving his widow with no children to care for her. So, in accordance with the law of Moses, the man’s brother married her to continue the family line in his brother’s name. He also died, leaving no children. So she married a second brother who died, and a third, and a fourth, and a fifth, and a sixth. The woman had had seven husbands, all of whom died” (Mark 12:20-23 my paraphrase).

Then they asked their big question. “If there is to be a resurrection, whose wife would she be in the hereafter?”  They thought they had outmaneuvered Jesus. We can almost hear them snickering at the ludicrous joke they made out of the resurrection.

Jesus’ answered that the resurrection is a certainty. It is not a joking matter. He said that they did not really understand the scriptures they claimed to believe. And in denying the resurrection they were denying the power of God (Mark 12:24). After all, the God who created the universe is perfectly capable of raising the dead.

He clinched his argument by reminding them that the God they claimed to believe in, the God of their ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, “is not the God of the dead, but of the living” (Mark12:27). The three patriarchs, long dead, were still alive in God’s presence. In heaven they continued to be who they were on earth, but without the limitations of earth.

Jesus also addressed the strange riddle posed by his adversaries. In the resurrection there will be an entirely new order of existence. “When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage,” he said. “They will be like the angels in heaven” (Mark12:25). Now our Lord was not saying we will become angels. He was saying that in the resurrection God’s people will be like the angels. beautiful, powerful, created beings, engaged in the happy service and worship of God.

Marriage here on earth, as wonderful as it can be, will pale in comparison to the perfection of our relationships in heaven. Our relationships there will be unspoiled by misunderstandings, slights, frustrations and disappointments. There will be no jealousy, selfishness, offenses, or sin in heaven. In heaven we will know and love each other with a perfect love.

John Newton said, “When I get to heaven I shall see three wonders there. The first wonder will be to see many people whom I did not expect to see. The second wonder will be to miss many people whom I did expect to see. The third and greatest of all will be to find myself there.”

Jesus answered his critics who challenged his teaching on life after death. In his brilliant response he linked the resurrection to the existence of an all-powerful God and the authority of his written word.

In stating that God is not the God of the dead but of the living, Jesus is teaching us that those who die in faith will live with him forever. Is your faith in Jesus? In John 11:25 he said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live even though he dies.”

Pastor Randy Faulkner

More Alive Than Ever

C. S. Lewis had a profound influence on the life of Sheldon Vanauken. Vanauken became a Christian when he studied under Lewis at Oxford University. In his book A Severe Mercy he described their last meeting.

Over lunch at a pub in Oxford they had spent time pondering the nature of life after death. When they had finished eating, they stood outside for a few moments and just before parting ways, Lewis said to Vanauken, “I shan’t say goodbye. We’ll meet again.” Then the great scholar plunged into the traffic to cross the street while Vanauken watched his friend walk away.

When Lewis got to the other side of the street, he turned around, anticipating that his friend would still be standing there. With a grin on his face, Lewis shouted over the din of the passing cars, “Besides — Christians never say goodbye!”

During this season as we anticipate the celebration of our Lord’s resurrection, it is important to remember that the hope of eternal life is not based upon wishful thinking. Our assurance of life after death is based upon the promise of Christ.

When Jesus was accosted by some of his detractors who denied that there would be a resurrection, he told them they were in error, badly mistaken (Mark 12:24). His opponents were religious skeptics who believed that this life is all there is. They believed the soul perished with the body. There would be no rewards or punishments after death.

This materialistic philosophy exists today. Doubts about life after death are widespread, especially now as our nation moves further away from biblical values. People seem to be pursuing pleasure and prosperity for the here and now, with little thought for a life hereafter.

The Lord Jesus answered his critics in Mark 12:25-27 by directing their attention to God. He is alive. He is the giver of life. Eternal life resides in God. Jesus quoted the Bible where God said to Moses, “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (Exodus 3:5-6).

Then Jesus said something that is a key to our understanding of life after death. “He is not the God of the dead, but of the living” (Mark 12:27). Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are alive! If they are alive with God, then my parents are alive with God. My brother’s baby who died is alive with God. My friend Stanley who was killed in Vietnam is alive with God. They will be resurrected when Jesus comes again.

That is why C.S. Lewis said what he did to Sheldon Vanauken, For a believer in Christ, to be absent from the body is to be at home with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8).

The American evangelist Dwight L. Moody famously said, “Some day you will read in the papers that D.L. Moody of East Northfield is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it! At that moment I shall be more alive than I am now; I shall have gone up higher, that is all, out of this old clay tenement into a house that is immortal — a body that death cannot touch, that sin cannot taint; a body fashioned like unto his glorious body.”

“He is not the God of the dead but of the living.” This brief statement of Jesus is proof that faith in him includes the certainty of overcoming death. It is a promise of eternal life.

Pastor Randy Faulkner




The Lessons of History

I read an article on the teaching of history in American schools. The author bemoaned the fact that students are being encouraged to overlook the failings of other cultures while being hypercritical of the USA. For example the ancient Aztec civilization is renowned for architecture and agriculture, but teachers fail to mention their practice of human sacrifice. Historians may discuss the Great Wall of China without saying that it was built with slave labor in which thousands died.

In the teaching of US history the National History Standards are quick to call attention to the KKK, the Great Depression, and the dropping of atomic bombs on Japanese cities, while paying scant attention to the achievements of America’s founding fathers, scientists, inventors and adventurers.

In a USA Today op-ed, John Zmirak wrote that it is now possible to earn a degree from an elite US university without taking a single course in American history or classical literature. He wrote, “If we expect the next generation to preserve the constitution of a free society, we cannot send students out after a Lexus-priced education knowing less about America than the graduate of a Slovakian high school. But that’s what we’re doing.”

The writer of the book of Hebrews wants his readers to learn from biblical history. The eleventh chapter summarizes highlights of Israel’s past to teach readers of the New Testament to live by faith in God today. It reads like a list of heroes, a hall of fame of the Bible.

The people listed were not perfect people, but they are singled out because of their faith. John Calvin wrote: “There was none of them whose faith did not falter. . . . Nevertheless, although faith may be imperfect and incomplete, it does not cease to be approved by God.”

Regular readers of this blog have noticed that I have been surveying Hebrews 11. We have now arrived at verse 32 where king David and the prophet Samuel are mentioned. What do these men teach us about faith?

David, one of the great men of the Old Testament, trusted in the Lord when he was a mere lad, tending his father’s sheep. He faced the giant Philistine warrior Goliath with complete confidence that the Lord would give him the ability to defeat him. His psalms are a testimony of his faith. His kingship and the dynasty that followed are based upon his faith in the unconditional promise of God.

Samuel represents all the prophets of God.  He was a man of prayer. He was a man of courage who was willing to confront king Saul when he was wrong. He was a preacher of the truth during the time of the Judges when people wanted to do what was right in their own eyes.

The rest of the chapter describes the fate of many in Israel who were not named but they had a faith worth dying for. They were “tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison, They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated — the world was not worthy of them. . . . These were all commended for their faith” (Hebrews 11:35-39).

These verses remind me of our Lord’s words in Luke 9:23-25, “If anyone would come after me he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet lose or forfeit his very self?”

Living by faith can be dangerous. It involves the possibility of suffering and dying for the Lord. Hebrews 11 refutes the preposterous claims of some preachers that if we have enough faith (as they define faith), God has obligated himself to give us lives that are prosperous and pain free. As a matter of fact, this chapter proves that living by faith does just the opposite.

Warren Wiersbe wrote, “Most of us know nothing of suffering. The church in America is protected and almost pampered, but it may not always be so. The pampered church may one day become the persecuted church.”

He was right. The experience of persecuted and martyred Christians around the world resembles the closing verses of Hebrews 11. We’d do well to pay attention to the lessons of history.

Pastor Randy Faulkner

Imperfect People

We live in distressing times. Every day there are news reports that cause anxiety and uncertainty. Pick your issue: wars in Ukraine and the Middle East, the immigration crisis, political divisions, random mass murders, the national debt, the rise of autocratic extremists, and moral ambiguity. Many Americans testify to a sense of foreboding, feeling that democracy itself is being threatened.

Hebrews 11:32 refers to such a time in Israel’s history, the distressing days of the Judges. It was a turbulent time. The obscure Old Testament book of Judges is full of stories of strange events and strange characters that are hard to understand and even harder to explain.

It describes a time (about 400 years) between the Exodus and the beginning of Israel’s monarchy. It is an historical bridge from the occupation of the Promised Land under Joshua to the anointing of Israel’s first kings. The book tells the stories of twelve civil and military leaders who led the tribes of Israel into battle against  powerful nations that threatened their survival.

During the time of the Judges, Israel was a loose confederation of tribes. They had not completed the task of conquering Canaan. The religion of the Canaanites was a persistent threat to their devotion to the Lord (Judges 2:10-19). Their spiritual compromise is expressed in the key verse of Judges. “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit” (Judges 17:6). This theme is repeated later in the book (Judges 21:25).

The New Testament teaches us that we are learn from the experiences of God’s people in the Old Testament. “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4).

A few of the lessons we learn from reading the strange book of Judges are: (1) The Lord wants his people to worship him as ruler. (2) When his people neglect  to acknowledge him, trouble follows. (3) Enemy nations are tools God uses to discipline his people and drive them back to dependency on him (Judges 2:14). (4) The Lord is gracious and merciful. When his people return to him, he is ready to forgive them. In the book of Judges we can see a four-fold cycle repeated: rebellion against God, retribution by God, repentance toward God, and rescue from God (under the leadership of one of his Judges).

We find the names of four of the judges in Hebrews 11, the faith chapter. They apparently represent the other eight. They were not priests or kings, but warriors who were called by God to deliver his people in times of trouble. In spite of some obvious moral and spiritual  flaws, they are held up before us as examples of faith. They are Gideon, Barak, Samson, and Jephthah (Hebrews 11:32).

Gideon (Judges 6-8) is distinguished for his unlikely victory over the vast Midianite army with an underwhelming 300 fighting men. All the credit for this victory went to the Lord. Other notable acts of faith were his tearing down of images of Baal, construction of an altar to the Lord, and his refusal to accept kingship, declaring that “the Lord will rule” over Israel (Judges 8:23).

Barak was called to be a leader in Israel by the prophetess Deborah who spoke for God. She summoned Barak from the tribe of Naphtali to fight against the Canaanite army (Judges 4:7). He agreed to lead the armies of the tribes of Naphtali, Zebulon, and Issachar on the condition that Deborah join him and share in the leadership (Judges 4:8). The eighth chapter of Judges is Deborah’s song of praise to God celebrating the victory of the Lord ever his enemies.

Samson may be the most familiar of the Judges. Every child in Sunday School has heard of this strong man’s exploits, as well as his moral failures. He may have displayed more faith in God at the time of his death than he did during his career as an unlikely hero (Judges 13-15).

Jephthah was a born leader of men, a warrior, who lived on the fringes of Israelite society, estranged from his family (Judges 11:1-3). When his neighbors called on him to lead them into battle against the forces of Ammon (Judges 11:4-11), “the Spirit of the Lord” confirmed his call (Judges 11:29). The Bible says that when the Israelite army under Jephthah fought the Ammonites, “the Lord gave them into his hands” (Judges 11:32).

His story is complicated by a dreadful vow he made to God before he went into battle (Judges 11:31). Did he really carry out his pledge to God to offer his daughter as a human sacrifice in return for victory? And if he did, how could the New Testament regard him as a hero of faith? He should have known that the law of God repeatedly prohibited human sacrifice. He should have known that obedience to the law of God overruled any rash vow that would have come from his mouth.

Bible students are divided in their opinions. Some say Jephthah’s daughter was given to Israel’s central sanctuary and dedicated to a life of perpetual virginity in the service of God. Others say that Jephthah was a son of his times and was influenced too much by the pagan practices of Israel’s neighbors and “he did to her as he had vowed” (Judges 11:39).

Clearly, God uses imperfect people. Gideon was fearful. Barak was hesitant and timid. Samson was egocentric and flippant. Jephthah was impulsive. But then, we are all imperfect people, aren’t we?.

God uses imperfect people who depend on him in faith.

Pastor Randy Faulkner


Faith’s Battle Plan

This year, 2024, will mark the 80th anniversary of what has become known as the Battle of the Bulge. This was a last gasp German offensive against Allied forces in Belgium, an attempt to prevent the invasion of Germany. The term “bulge” refers to the wedge the German army drove into Allied lines. Because of Allied resistance and reinforcements, the German army’s offensive was unsuccessful and costly. Both sides suffered heavy losses in the battle.

My father-in-law was in the American army in World war II. He was involved in this battle. He told me stories of the extreme cold, the harsh conditions, and the anguish of seeing comrades wounded or killed. He also told me about being a part of the victorious army that entered Berlin and occupied Germany at the end of the war in Europe.

Hebrews 11 was written to stimulate faith in God. The first readers of the letter to the Hebrews were tempted to retreat in the face of spiritual battles. The author of this letter reviews the stories of some heroes of faith from Israel’s history to encourage his readers not to lose their confidence in God’s presence or his promises.

Two people pf faith are highlighted in Hebrews 11:30-31. “By faith the walls of Jericho fell. . . . By faith the prostitute Rahab . . . was not killed with those who were disobedient.”

Joshua is not named, but his victory at Jericho is an example of faith in action. Rahab is named and honored for her role in helping the Israelite army achieve victory. These two people could not have been more different. Joshua was a national leader, Rahab was living on the outskirts (city wall) of her society. Joshua was a Hebrew, she was a Gentile. He was a man, she was a woman. Joshua was brought up to believe in the living God. Rahab was brought up amid the false worship of Canaanite idols.

But they both experienced profound changes in their lives to bring them each to their God-ordained destiny, the battle of Jericho.

The changes in Joshua’s life were stages in the growth of his faith. He was personally trained by Moses and prepared to be his successor. As he led the army into battle against the Amalekites  he learned that victory for God’s chosen people would come from God alone (Exodus 17:9, 16). When he went with Moses to the top of Mount Sinai, he experienced the overwhelming presence of God (Exodus 24:13,17).

By being at Moses’ side, he saw how God reveals his will and guides his people (Exodus 33:9,11). When he was appointed to go into Canaan as one of the twelve spies, he came back with a positive report. That experience taught him that the majority opinion is not always correct and that the nation’s disobedience would cost them dearly. Joshua learned that preparation comes before responsibility. It takes time to grow a faith leader (Numbers 27:12-23).

Rahab’s story is different, but it reveals her faith. She had been a prostitute. By this we may assume she was street smart, worldly-wise, and hardened by her former life. When we meet her in Joshua chapter 2, she was changed. God had given her a conscience and a hunger for the truth.

This flawed woman, stigmatized as “the prostitute,” was a changed person. She had a changed attitude toward the living God. She declared, “I know that the Lord has given this land to you. . . . The Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below” (Joshua 2:8,11). This was her profession of faith.

Rahab had a changed attitude toward God’s people. She harbored the Israelite spies who came to Jericho (Hebrews 11:31). She had a changed attitude toward God’s word. She had a changed attitude toward her own nation. She believed that God’s judgment was about to fall. She wanted her family to be rescued when that happened (Joshua 2:12-14,18). By faith she was identifying herself with God’s chosen people and rejecting her former life.

As promised by God, a great victory ensued. “By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the people had marched around them for seven days” (Hebrews 11:30). The battle plan made no sense militarily. Joshua had no elaborate strategy to take the city by force. Instead he led the army to follow God’s instructions precisely. They were to trust the Lord who had promised success.

The plan gave all the credit for victory to God alone. The plan required patience: thirteen circuits around the city wall, once a day for six days, and seven times around on the seventh day. When the priests of the Lord blew the ram’s horn trumpets, the walls of the city fell down leaving the inhabitants of Jericho exposed and vulnerable to the attack of the invading Israelites.

We may conclude from this that God uses all kinds of people. Rahab is an unlikely example of faith, but we find her in Hebrews 11, God’s hall of fame. Joshua’s faith is an example to us of complete obedience, even when God’s plan seems illogical.

The city of Jericho stood as an example of Canaanite invincibility. When God’s people obey him, as they did on this occasion, he displays his strength on their behalf. “Faith is the victory” (1 John 5:4).

Pastor Randy Faulkner