The Unexpected Resurrection

I have always loved Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, especially the scene when the dying Beast finally gets Belle to love him. Then the unexpected happens: he comes back to life, no longer as a beast, but as a man, alive, filled with glory, hope, and love. I am always mesmerized by this scene because it speaks to my own longing for resurrection.

The New Testament repeatedly speaks to this longing, announcing that the resurrection of Jesus opens the door to our resurrection. We are to live knowing that this life is not the end of the story—that a great, great good is coming. But there is more. Paul claims that when God raised Jesus from the dead, He also made us alive with Him. Somehow what happened to Jesus has happened to us: we are now dead to sin and alive to God (Rom. 6:5-11). Somehow once we come to Christ, we have already entered this resurrection story! What could this mean for us and for our hearts?

Life here as we experience it seems to compel us to kill our hearts and then bury them. One of the most predominant forces is shame, the experience of exposure before others leading to mockery and condemnation. We are all enormously shaped by shame in different ways, yet its message is always the same: Run, hide, don’t allow others to see who you really are. If you do, you will only be mocked and degraded again. The only way to survive in this life is to bury your heart and put on a mask. Yes, we learn to survive in life, but at what cost? Our truest selves get buried in the rubble, unavailable to others, unavailable even to ourselves.

The second force is disappointment. Whatever we turn to, whether it’s marriage, career, the next night out, or the next vacation, there is always a letdown. Our longings don’t match our experience, and our dreams get hijacked by reality. The message from all our disappointment is this: Bury your heart. Forget about the ache. It will only hurt too much to keep longing. You must lower expectations. You must simply get on with life. Yet the longing keeps surfacing at unexpected moments, watching a child play with carefree abandon or noticing the beauty of a flower garden. Something or someone keeps calling out to us in these moments: There is more, so much more.

The third force is our wounding. The times when we did live out of our hearts have sometimes led to an even worse result—abuse or abandonment. It seems that others often manipulate our hearts to get what they need or are just oblivious to our own needs. The message we get from our wounding is this: Life is not safe. Others are not safe. Don’t be vulnerable before others, lest they wound you again. Don’t trust others, lest they turn on you. Bury your heart. 

The triple punch of these three forces feels unstoppable and irredeemable, yet there is one unexpected counter force. It is the same force that no one expected when they killed Jesus: the power of the Father to raise Him from the dead when all human hope was gone. This is the same power that can resurrect our hearts as well as our bodies.

What Beauty and the Beast is saying in fairy tale is what the gospel says in history: When Jesus rose from the dead, somehow we were there with Him and are now coming alive in Him. It means that the unexpected is happening: the power of Jesus' love is resurrecting our hearts now.

For only love dispels our shame.

Only love relieves our disappointment.

Only love heals our wounds. 

What is our part in this resurrection story? Ask Jesus to reveal His love to you. Then keep asking until He shows you. 

It will be the resurrection of your heart—and one day the resurrection of your body.

 

 

The Death of Dreams

In the eighth grade. I knew I had to shed my geeky mannerisms and enter the world of sports. I was terrified of football and had miserable experiences with basketball, but I discovered I was good in track, a spring sport. Yet I needed to play a sport one other season (a school rule), so I took up tennis in the fall. The summer before, I took lessons and began to play with a vengeance, spending hours on the backboard, hitting serves over and over. That first season of tennis, I didn’t make the team, but I was determined and kept at it. By my ninth grade year, I worked harder and began to dream of playing professional tennis. The dream seemed to come to fruition as I made the varsity tennis team even though I was at the bottom of the ladder. 

But the season turned out differently. The coach turned out to be a caustic, harsh man who never offered any help, and I kept losing matches I should have won. By my sophomore year, I didn’t even make the team. My dream was crushed. Something inside of me collapsed. Without the encouragement of older men, I had no way to make sense of what happened. All I knew is that I felt incompetent, uncoordinated, and uncoachable. The death of this dream was so painful that I ran and shoved it into a closet, labeling it Do Not Enter. Each of us has stories like this: of athletic pursuits that failed, careers that never materialized, loves that weren’t returned, marriages that failed, and children that rebelled. 

The theme of broken dreams is woven into the gospel story as well. Jesus is tried, sentenced, and condemned to die. During his crucifixion, almost everyone left him. Most of his disciples and the crowds that heard him have all fled out of fear, shock, and grief. They had all pinned their hopes on Jesus. He was a man of such brilliant wisdom and miraculous power, and they came to believe that He was the new Messiah who would throw out the hated Romans and finally restore the glory of Israel as a nation. But it wasn’t just the hope for political restoration. So many of these people had grown to love, honor, and respect Jesus. All of this had been shattered by a cruel crucifixion. The dream of restoration seemed trampled forever. 

But everything Jesus did was either surprising or stunning, and it is no different here. What had never happened in history before now occurs: He rises from the dead. The dream had not died after all because He rose from the dead to do more than His followers could have ever dreamed of. He didn't come to set up a new rule in Israel, but a new kingdom on earth. He didn't come to conquer the Romans, but the Evil One himself. He didn't come just to heal sickness, but sin and death. The death of their small dream yielded the resurrection of a dream no one could have imagined. 

We are to enter the story of Jesus this way with our own dreams. Jesus doesn’t deny or dismiss them, and He knows the losses we have experienced. What He asks of us is this: to give our shattered dreams to Him and let Him resurrect them however He chooses. I cannot tell you what He will do or how He will do it, but I can tell you this: His dreams are always categorically larger than ours. If we will choose to forsake control of our lives, we will find our broken dreams somehow renewed and recast in a way we could have scarcely conceived of before. I can attest to this over and over in my own life. He will come and heal our hearts, giving us our deep hearts’ desire. 

This is the Jesus we serve. He is the Lion on the loose. And when we follow Him, anything can happen. 

Anything.

The Answer to Our Suffering

Suffering. Who wants to talk about it? Yet who doesn’t want an answer to their own suffering? The surprise of the New Testament is that no final, explicit answer is given for our own individual pains and tragedies. The answer presented instead is something unexpected: the suffering Jesus. 

Crucifixion is probably the cruelest way to die ever invented by man. Even the word cross was seldom uttered in public at that time because of the horror and shame associated with it. Death came by slow exhaustion and eventually suffocation as there was no longer any strength to pull up one’s body on the nails to breathe. Added to the unimaginable physical suffering of Jesus was the emotional suffering of mockery and ridicule from the watching crowd. 

But the worst part of His suffering was spiritual. This is given a cosmic context as darkness came over the land from noon to 3 PM (Mark 15:33). Darkness is spoken of by the prophets as accompanying the all-important Day of the Lord. But perhaps more significant is that the plague of darkness came right before the death of the firstborn of the Egyptians. It signified God’s cursing of the land and consigning it to judgment. This is what Jesus felt now, the curse of the Father on Him as the unique Son of God, for the sins of humanity. For the first time in creation, the bond between the Father and Son was torn asunder. The love Jesus had always known to sustain and comfort Him, even that was now gone. He drank the cup of God’s wrath for us down to the bitter dregs.  

But the question still remains: how does any of this help us understand the suffering in our own lives?

My mother died from suffering a rare form stomach cancer. Her last two months were especially brutal as we watched her slowly waste away from starvation. So many friends came to her visitation to tell us how much they loved our mother and how sorry they were. But I will never forget one person, who proceeded to stop and give me a five-minute theological dissertation on why God had allowed this suffering in my mother’s life. It came off as not only inappropriate but insensitive. I remember feeling bothered and then angered by such a monologue.

My reaction triggers an insight. Perhaps we really don’t want an answer to our sufferings as much as we think. Perhaps what we need and ache for is presence, the presence of others, their comfort and love, and that’s just the kind of answer we get with Jesus. He doesn’t usually give us individual answers to our suffering in this life. If anything, He said that following Him would increase our suffering here. Remember that Job also never got a final answer to his suffering, but he got something else, something better: he got to be in God’s presence and hear His voice. With Jesus, we get this and more. He came to take on all of the suffering we will ever know and then more that we will never have to experience. The God of the universe took on human flesh to come and share in our suffering, to be with us, to comfort us, and to tell us of His love. Then He sent His Spirit so that we could know and feel His presence in our hearts. This is what we most long for. 

When Jesus asks us to follow Him, it’s an invitation to be with Him in all of our sufferings, both from this fallen world and from our association with Him. This is not a ticket to despair, but an opening doorway into joy. All the saints throughout the ages can testify to this truth.

Let us make every effort to enter that door with our own suffering so that we can know that joy.

 

The Beautiful Defeat

When I read the story of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:32-36), I feel like taking my shoes off. I am standing on holy ground. Here we see Jesus beginning to feel the weight of His impending crucifixion as it bears down on Him. The terrible physical suffering lay ahead, but that did not hold the most dread for Him; it was separation from His Father. By bearing our sin, He would be cut off from the One in whom He had lived His whole life. Jesus went to pray in that garden to find comfort from His Father, but instead found the bowels of hell opening up.

In that anguished moment, He cried out, “Abba, Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will” (v.36). The cup refers to God’s judgment, a metaphor used by the prophets to speak of drinking the cup of His wrath as a cup of wine. Jesus knew that His Father’s will was to go to the cross, and He was determined to surrender to it, yet even in that agonizing surrender, He addressed God as Abba, the Aramaic term for Daddy. There is no record of any Jewish prayer at that time ever using this term, one that implies such intimacy and love. It would have been considered disrespectful to address God this way. Yet for Jesus, it was the way He felt about His Father. 

He learned in the garden to surrender to that will because He had already surrendered to that love. 

How does this connect to our own stories? We are all enslaved to our wills, determined to find the life we long for in our own way. Yet in doing so, we all repeat the fall of Adam and Eve. They were seduced into thinking that God was holding out the best and giving them the leftovers. The doubt the serpent put into their minds still reverberates in ours: Is God really good? He’s really holding out on you. If you want anything good out of life, you will have to go out and get it yourself. God can’t be trusted. And so begins the attempt to be gods of our lives. So also begins the tragedy of our lives. Our best attempts become our worst nightmares. We make a mess of everything. But the call of the gospel is a call to surrender back to that will, to the Father whose goodness is utterly delightful. What does that surrender look like?

First, we learn to surrender our wills each and every day. When we do, we begin to discover the terrible lie of the enemy. God is not holding out on us. His will is not something that will make us miserable. He is the Father who longs to give good gifts lavishly to His children. Paul describes that will as “good, pleasing, and perfect” (Rom. 12:2). We find that what He desires for us is what we have deeply longed for anyway. 

But the harder surrender is still come—surprisingly, it is the surrender to His love. In all of our lives, there are shameful places we don’t want others to see and patterns of sin that seems impervious to change. It is in these very places that God wants to meet us, not with His plans for improvement but with His very love. Yet He must often sneak up on us when our defenses are down. 

Just such a moment happened over Christmas vacation as I was reading a book that contained written prayers based on various personality types. One of the prayers I turned to felt like someone had read my journal and knew of my deepest struggles. At one point, it mentioned the sadness of feeling love toward others much more when they are not present than when they are—something that has troubled me for years but has resisted all attempts to change. In that moment I felt utterly exposed before God and yet paradoxically loved by Him as well. There was no call to be better, just a call to receive the love of a Father for a son unable to heal himself. The tears surged forth, not over my lack of love but over the torrent of love I felt from Him. In that moment I was able to surrender to that love.

For all of us, surrendering to the Father's will and then to His love will be at times a terrible battle, but in the end it can be a beautiful defeat.

This is how we enter the story that He wants to tell with our lives.

I wouldn’t have it any other way.