Its a bit of a journey and one where some direction can be really helpful.
In John Chapter 11 there is the famous story of Jesus bringing Lazarus back to life and calling him out from his tomb, still in his grave clothes.
But just before that happened, there was this conversation between Jesus and Martha:
23 Jesus told her, “Your brother will rise again.”
24 “Yes,” Martha said, “he will rise when everyone else rises, at the last day.”
25 Jesus told her: “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying.
26 Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die.”
What fascinated me about this was my preconception, undoubtedly from the many times I have heard and read this story, often in the run up to Easter, that it is about resurrection. In many ways, of course, it is – Lazarus is resurrected, Jesus self-names as the “I AM” (the personal name of God), he is the one who himself would die and resurrect, Jesus is the one who as God has power over both death and life. I do get that – it’s got a huge theme about resurrection. But, it doesn’t feel like that is Jesus’ main focus.
You see Martha, on hearing Jesus say her brother will rise again, focusses on her belief of end time resurrection – “Yes”, she said, “he will rise when everyone else rises, at the last day”. But Jesus doesn’t stay there. His reply, one of the eight “I AM” statements Jesus makes of himself in John’s Gospel, is that he is “the resurrection AND the LIFE”. He then reinforces this with “Anyone who believes in me will LIVE – even after dying, and everyone who LIVES in me will never die” (Capitals mine)
Part of this, of course, relates that following Jesus means death is just a point on an eternal line of life that is lived with him. However, it feels like his point is “life” and not resurrection.
In the prior chapter of John (10:10), Jesus says that his purpose is to give us a “rich and satisfying life”(NLT) or as the NIV translation puts it, “life to the full”. I have heard many talks over the years about that statement, and most have related to us reasonably expecting an exciting life, a fun filled exuberant life, moral but exceptional. A bit like the Pepsi slogan from the mid 1990’s – “Live Life to the Max” – as used for their new drink then, “Pepsi Max”. A bit like this advert of theirs…
You know, I really can’t believe that is what Jesus meant. It’s not that there is anything wrong with some use of extreme sports to spice up a weekend break, but really? Surely there has to be more than this. I think we can get some feeling for what “life” may be from Paul writing to both the Philippians and the Galatians.
To the Philippians he wrote (1:21):
“To me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better”
And to the Galatians (5:22-23):
“The Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control”
Firstly, Paul defines life through the lens of Jesus. “Living MEANS living for Christ”. That a life without that lens, isn’t really what life was designed for – and the perfect life, he believes, is only after a life with Christ through the point in time of death. If I take us back briefly to Genesis where so much theology sits, we were made to be in the presence of God to live forever. When sin entered the world, that was broken. But, God’s creation intention was that life would be lived – with Him.
However, we are in a broken world, a planet that is messed up by sin, and this is the place where we get to live out our lives with Christ. So, what does “life” look like biblically?
Paul’s list of the fruit that comes from our lives as we live them over time, fruit of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control”, this speaks more of a life that has become content rather than adrenalin fuelled. These fruits don’t arrive in our character the day we ask Jesus to become a part of our lives. They grow and ripen (its why they are called fruit) over time. If we think for a moment of someone we have admired, they will generally be older, have a great sense of wisdom and calm, probably be nearer the end of this life. They have discovered contentment under Jesus. Death has no real fear for them. In many ways, they may utter Paul’s Philippian refrain – “dying is even better”. There is something very attractive about someone who has discovered their purpose in life and arrived at peace-filled contentment.
As I mentioned, there I nothing at all wrong with having enjoyable times, of some adrenalin moments, nor even ambition. But, all of these things are only fully life when lived through Jesus. Otherwise they can be just distractions. If we are, as Paul suggests in his letter to the Ephesians (2:10):
“God’s masterpiece” and that “He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago”
then we discover the “good things” through Jesus.
Earlier I said that Paul defines life through the ‘lens of Jesus’. Without ‘Jesus spectacles’, we live a myopic life (it normally means short-sighted and therefore in need of glasses, but it also means lacking foresight or intellectual insight). The world can all seem fuzzy and out of focus, without reason or purpose – unfulfilling. But, when those new glasses arrive and we put them on for the first time, we start to see the world as it really is. We can then discover, over time, a “rich and satisfying life”.
Any church will always welcome and help you find some ‘spectacles’ if you ask them.
From the wisdom literature section of the Bible, Proverbs 3:5-6
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take”