I began writing this blog in the depths of ‘lockdown’. We had seen the world and everything we considered ‘normal’ change, seemingly in a matter of days. I realised that God was at work, as he always is involved in the changes we experience, and I started wondering what was going on and how would our world be changed by this movement of God. So, I turned to my Bible, and the people and passages that fill its pages, and prayed that he would give me words of encouragement to share, that would inspire and sustain the weary. My prayer is that you might be encouraged. Encouraged to reach for a Bible and to read God’s life-giving word, encouraged to reflect on what God has done and is doing, or simply just encouraged to live another day.
All my blogs in this series have ‘Living’ in their titles. I did not plan this at first but then it struck me that in times such as these it is so important to focus on the fact that we are living. How we are living may have changed and perhaps what we are living for, but the fact that we are alive unites us all and gives us some common ground from which to start…
Sometimes, it can be possible, to focus our thoughts and fears on the wrong thing.
Death is not an encouraging idea to dwell on. At best perhaps we can strive to do something ‘before we die’, but death is never hopeful or positive. For those of us who have been following our Government’s handling of the Coronavirus Pandemic, who have watched the briefings, the graph that shows the number of deaths each day fixes our attention. Of all the bars and lines, this number, of those who have sadly lost the fight, defines how serious the fight is and the ultimate power that this virus has over us. Death has the power to grab our attention, it has the power to put the whole world in lockdown, it is perhaps what we all seem to fear the most.
Christians might perhaps be accused of giving too much attention to death, particularly the death of Jesus. Jesus, the man who walked this earth, who went around doing good and healing the sick, who was crucified by the Romans. The Christian’s cry, that they are thankful that Jesus died to save them can seem strange. Is it right to be glad that someone else has died, and that you are still alive? But isn’t that what we are all secretly relieved about when we look at the figures each day. We know that people will die, that this virus is dangerous, but today we are glad it is not us.
Jesus certainly died, because death is certain for everyone who has ever been born. His death was tortured, public, and unjust, but that does not make it unique. Throughout history, many good people have died in this way. Some might argue then, that his death was unremarkable, and perhaps they may have a point. Death is unremarkable.
Hundreds of years before Jesus’ birth, an old man looked out over a valley. The valley was full of death. Disaster had overtaken his people, everything they knew had changed, their future looked bleak. To him, it looked like life was finished. All he could see was what death left behind, bones. After his execution, Jesus’ followers shared the old man’s pessimism, and if we are honest, many of us do the same today. In the face of death, what hope is there?
The old man was called Ezekiel. What he was seeing was a vision. What we see today is reality, even though it can seem very unreal at times. As a child, Ezekiel had lived in Israel, but life had changed when his country had been invaded, its cities destroyed and its people carried off to live in exile in Babylon. Now, as an old man living in Babylon, in this vision Ezekiel was faced with a question, ‘Can these bones live?’ Perhaps, this is a question we should consider today? In the face of an unknown future, in the face of death itself, can we live?
In the vision, God told Ezekiel to speak life over the bones in the valley, and so he did. Tendons and flesh appeared and brought the bones back together, but the bodies did not breathe. It was not until the old man spoke a second time, asking God to send his spirit, his breath of life, into these bodies, that the people came to life and the valley was filled with a mighty army. God showed Ezekiel that it is not death that has the ultimate power, it is life!
The fact that any one of us is alive is a miracle. The birth of every child a reason to celebrate. Another day living, even with all its challenges, should fill us with awe that even though one day we will die, today, we are alive. That Jesus died, may not be remarkable; that his friends and many other witnesses met him, raised from death to life again, certainly is!
Christians are people who have allowed their lives to be changed by this reality. The reality that life, far from being a meaningless accident, is a gift from a life-giving God. This God has the power to breathe life, his very spirit, into everything that lives. Jesus was dead, but God breathed his life into him, so that he was able to stand up and walk out of his tomb. Ezekiel saw this power at work in his vision as the bones came back to life. You and I can see this at work in the world around us, in the lives of those who have met this life-giving God.
The idea that a God might be the source of life is neither new nor life-changing, but the historian Luke recorded something he saw in the lives of the witnesses who knew Jesus, that is. He saw in them, and in others too, not only life but something more than life. In their courage to speak in the face of threats of imprisonment and death, in their ability to bring healing and wholeness to the broken, in their devotion to caring and sharing with each other, in their willingness to break down barriers that divided their society, he saw the life, the breath, the spirit of God himself, living in them. He saw God’s spirit enabling and empowering them to live in ways that changed the world forever.
Meeting the risen Jesus changed Luke’s life, as it has the lives of countless millions since Luke’s time. Accepting, and welcoming that the God who gives life is willing to breathe his Spirit into our lives, will change us. It has changed me. This God, you see, not only gives life to our bones and flesh, he is also willing to fill our lives with his presence. To quite literally, live in us. This God, has the power to overcome our limitations and our brokenness. This God, has the power to bring life, a life that cannot be overcome by death.
If you do not know this God, if you have never met Jesus, then may I encourage you to seek him out. If he is as powerful and as wonderful as I have described then he will be able to meet your needs and change your life too. With God’s Spirit living in you, you will be able to live life differently, more fully, with a power and strength that is not your own. You will also begin to see death differently; not something to be feared, but something that has been overcome.
Perhaps too, you will not just be glad to be alive, you will be really living!
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