Why the resurrection will make marriage unnecessary

Our congregation has been recently exploring what the New Earth could be like; the discussions have been interesting. Our topic this past Sunday focused on if we will be married. The subject becomes front and center in Matthew 22 when the Sadducees challenge Jesus with an absurd hypothetical: “In the resurrection, then, whose wife of the seven [husbands she married] will she be?”

Jesus responded “You are wrong, because you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.”

Scripture has a lot to say about marriage: how we’re designed for relationship, God’s purposes for marriage, how holiness is to characterize marriage, how we are to treat our spouses. So after all the page-space and historical emphasis Scripture invests into marriage, why does marriage now get so easily discarded in the resurrection? A legitimate question to be sure.

Perhaps a more instructive question to ask, however, could be what is it about the resurrection that makes marriage unnecessary?

Jesus doesn’t explain. Since the Sadducees didn’t really believe in the resurrection, their question is a ruse he swiftly moves past. Yet the issue remains. How can all the energy, emotions, commitments, and sacrifice people have invested in their marriages be suddenly made irrelevant? We must look elsewhere in Scripture for possible answers. Thankfully, I believe Scripture provides those answers.

Ephesians is probably Paul’s most noteworthy text on resurrection living. Much of its latter half is spent explaining how the reality of the resurrection uniquely redefines our relationships and behavior. Concerning marriage, in Ephesians 5:22-33, Paul draws a significant correlation between a husband and wife’s marriage to Christ and the Church. Paul patterns the relationship dynamics between a husband and wife after Christ and the Church. Since the Church is the body of believers whose lives inhabit that of Jesus’ through his love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and continence, marriage becomes the perfect setting for such virtues to be authentically and maturely grown. In light of the reality-altering redemption Jesus’ resurrection affects, marriage is now most meaningful as a reflection of the covenant between Christ and the Church. In short, marriage potentially trains us to be the people of God. One could even call Christ-centered marriage a practicum.

If we also look carefully at Paul’s first letter to Timothy, who was then ministering at Ephesus, we can see this same idea at play. While there are several comparative examples, the clearest is probably 1 Timothy 3:5 where Paul bases a church leader’s competency on the quality of his home life. Possibly the process was learning Christian discipline from a teacher, practicing it at home with family, and continuing maturing with the assembled congregation. By learning to follow Jesus, they learn to lead their families, which subsequently teaches them to encourage and build up the larger congregation. From the teacher to the person, to the family, to the congregation, Christ is given expansive exposure and attention “until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.”

From this perspective, the Christ-centered covenant between husband and wife is ultimately meant to move us deeper into the Christ-centered covenant with each other, his body the Church. Perhaps it is this perspective that begins to help us see why the resurrection renders marriage unnecessary, or rather, ultimately fulfills marriage. By the time of the resurrection, marriage will have played its part in nurturing the communal intimacy rooted in God’s love for us and expressed in our love for each other. Christ-centered marriage trains us to love so that when God establishes the New Earth, Christ-centered love is both new and natural.

The struggle with this topic is the dissolving of a precious bond so many people have spent so many years nurturing. It seems to make marriage meaningless. But rather than the dissolving of a precious bond, the Scriptures point to the uniting of a billion bonds more. They reveal that when “the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready”, the love which has flowed from Christ will bind us into a blessed belonging with those whom God has joined together, forever.

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How will we worship in the New Earth?

On Sunday I was asked “How will we worship in the New Earth?”

It ended up being a pretty interesting conversation. While much was discussed, I felt there were two main thoughts that stood out and could be worth sharing here.

The first thought is that worship is more about how we live in relation to God and each other than it is about a praise service.

One of the commonest images the Church reinforces about life on the New Earth is that we will be constantly worshipping God. I don’t think this concept is necessarily wrong, but in a church culture where worship usually evokes the worship service, it encourages the idea that eternity will just be one long praise time. Thankfully, Scripture depicts worship more broadly than we often do.

While there are many passages that could be explored here, for the sake of summary, I think Romans 12:1 is sufficient for now. Here, in light of the new life in Christ, Paul appeals to his Roman brothers and sisters in Christ “to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”

Notice how Paul connects worship to living the holy life. From there Paul goes on to elaborate in detail how that might be done, and if you read what he writes, it’s obvious he’s hardly referencing a Sunday praise service. He’s talking about how we do life together in the ways that reflect Jesus.

So if we frame the question in more Scriptural terms, we are really asking “How will we do life together in the New Earth?”

The second thought, therefore, is God has designed the Church’s culture to be an anticipation of the New Earth’s culture.

Much of how life will be lived in the resurrection remains a mystery. Even so, there are clues. Again, there are several passages that could be explored here, but for now, Ephesians 3:8-11 is quite instructive. Having explained how through Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection all things in Heaven and Earth are being brought into subjection to Christ, Paul writes “This grace was given to me…to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord”.

Notice how it is through the Church that God’s plan is revealed to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places (possibly angelic and demonic forces). They were unaware of what God was intending. Though these are things angels long to look into (1 Peter 1:12), God’s kingdom mysteries are reserved for the people of God (Mt 13:11, Heb 2:5), for whose revealed glory all creation waits (Rom 8:19).

What is so unique about what the Church is supposed to reveal? It is the life Jesus teaches us to live; the way the Holy Spirit empowers and leads us upon. As the body of Christ, the Church and her culture are the perpetual revelation of Jesus and his holy character. Jesus’ “sermon on the mount” is a prime example of what Christian culture is called to be; an “on earth as it is in heaven” way of living. If this way of living originates in Heaven, I suggest it is because the Church’s Christ-shaped culture is designed by God as an anticipation of the New Earth culture for which we shall be resurrected.

There’s an old line that goes “Heaven—I wouldn’t miss it for the world”. While the line’s enthusiasm should be appreciated, it should also be acknowledged that through the ways of Jesus which God’s Spirit has set into us, the reality of the New Earth is already partially available. To miss it, or ignore it, or wait for Heaven for it would be to miss out on the completeness of the good news God offers us.

How will we worship in the New Earth? By doing then perfectly the Life together Christ has called the Church to lean into and now live faithfully.

Jesus’ invitation to Martha

Over the years, Martha from Luke 10:38-42 has come to be treated with a sort of condescension. A tension seems to have surrounded Martha and how she is interpreted. Many years ago a book was written encouraging readers to “Have a Mary Heart in a Martha World”. I did not read it (so perhaps I am ignorantly misjudging), but the title alone seems to lean toward a dismissiveness of Martha or pits the sisters’ spirituality against one another. I recently asked a minister for his thoughts on Martha; he commented she just thought she was better than Mary.

Such interpretations have not only done Martha an injustice, but have created within the Church an occasional Gnostic-like tendency to cast chores, tasks, or projects in an unspiritual light as work that gets in God’s way. I have known many Christian women who are very much like how Martha is depicted in the text—hospitable, generous, hardworking, multitasking, and a bit bossy. You likely know them, too. They are your mothers and sisters, wives and daughters, grandmothers and aunts. They energetically bounce from the laundry to vacuuming to cooking dinner to washing dishes to jumping large Lego-set buildings in a single bound. And do they occasionally raise voice to make us get with the program? They most certainly and, I daresay, rightfully do. If my Mom tells me to help her take the turkey out of the oven or to set the table, I don’t tell her to chill out. It therefore seems antithetical to Christian living to suggest that serving Jesus and his followers, even with a bit of a bite, is somehow bad behavior.

What if, however, Martha’s service or even snappiness had little to do with what is happening here? What if, rather, Jesus’ response concerned what Martha was not yet experiencing?

It should be noted that neither the text, nor Jesus actually condemns her tasks, which would have included preparing food and accommodations for guests. In fact, Martha’s actions are appropriately normal for the role society had placed on her. Here, as through history, women prided and distinguished themselves by keeping and offering the home as a haven for their families and guests. By recognizing Jesus’ prominence, inviting him and the disciples into her home, and providing them with food, shelter, and a preaching platform, Martha is executing her role with an excellence any Jew would praise. In her meticulousness, however, she was unaware of or distracted from how the reality of her role is expanding right in her home.

The boundary lines were clearly labeled by years of tradition. Surely Mary knew her role in society, that she was to prepare and provide. Yet here Mary sits at Jesus’ feet. Surely Jesus also knew the rules, that when the men assembled to listen to rabbis, the women were to remain in separate locations. Yet here he teaches without sending her away.

One could see this as just another one of Jesus’ social faux pas. Or, considering his mission to proclaim and ordain the Kingdom of God, Jesus’ actions could also be understood as the welcoming of women into a fellowship with himself that was equal to that of the men. As Mary is blessedly tuning into this new kingdom reality, however, Martha is busy carrying out her duty, all the while noticing her sister is not. “Doesn’t she know her place in this world? What is more, the rabbi is not redirecting her back to her place.” Of course she raised an objection; there’s a way of life and duty to safeguard.

Notice the numerical contrast Jesus draws in his response. He describes Martha as distracted by “many things”. He then adds “there is need of only one thing”.

The “many things” really aren’t the problem. On any day, Martha and Mary would have had “many things” to tend. What puts these tasks out of place on this day, however, is the king in the living room proclaiming the good news that is redefining the reality of everyone and the roles they play in God’s kingdom. Martha doesn’t have to give up her tasks, and Jesus doesn’t want her to. But he does want her to understand that the margins in which society has framed her role are expanding in light of the kingdom reality being learned in her living room. To understand this, Jesus wants her there with him and the other kingdom citizens. In this sense, Jesus’ words to her could be seen as an invitation to enter into what Mary had already joined.

If she did, she might begin to gain the sense that in Christ “there is no longer male or female”. She might also begin to see the hospitality and generosity she showed and shared would soon characterize Jesus’ early church body. Perhaps afterward, her, Mary, and even the disciples and Jesus would all pitch in with the tasks, learning to do life together.

Neither Martha or her tasks were the underlying issue; both just needed to be recontextualized to God’s kingdom. This time devoted to the “one thing” would come to set the tone for approaching and accomplishing the “many things” so that from the “one thing” would flow a joy, peace, and purpose permeating the “many things”.

We all have roles; we all have duties. They become ambiguous and our frustration grows when those roles and duties are not being lived out from the kingdom context in which God has framed them.  In light of the kingdom reality Christ calls us into, I pray you and your roles and duties may enter into a faith-filled spaciousness that opens your heart up to the redemption, community, and purpose his presence brings. I hope there you find the grace, clarity, and dignity that blesses and refreshes your heart for service.

The wizarding tent of Jesus Christ

Over the past year, I’ve periodically circled back to various Scripture passages (Ephesians 1, Philippians 2, Colossians 1:15-20, Hebrews 1:1-4, John 1 and it’s correlation to Genesis 1) in an exploration of how Jesus’ divinity and humanity combine to redeem both heavenly and earthly realities. There is much here to explore, and each time I have tried writing it out I am stunned by the vastness of the dimensions and nuances Scripture displays. In the meantime, however, perhaps an illustration would suffice; one that comes to mind whenever I reread these passages.

One of the most endearing aspects of JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series are the depictions of various magical novelties: wands, invisibility cloaks, animated paintings, floating staircases, hats that judge you. Like so many others, I found these to be quite a bit of fun. But the one that amazed me the most was the wizarding tent.

When Harry arrives at a tent-city for a Quidditch tournament, he is led to a quite average-sized pup tent. After several of his sizeable friends enter the tent, Harry approaches cautiously, concerned about space. Upon entering the magical tent, however, he delightfully discovers the inside is much extravagantly larger than the outside. Its greater length, width, and depth give mindboggling dimension to the deceptively modest canvas exterior. In addition to its spaciousness, simple luxury adorns the interior—cushioned armchairs, coffee table, curtains, bunkbeds, woodstove, area rugs, a kitchen with tables and chairs, plants, and a bookshelf. The atmosphere is perfect for allowing the friends to relax for joyful interaction and celebration. Awed by all this, Harry comments “I love magic!”

The Christological idea I am attempting to draw from this illustration is that though Jesus’ incarnate fleshly form is utterly average, within lies a magnificent multi-dimensional majesty that welcomes us in to what feels like home.

Interestingly, this imagery may not be without comparative Scriptural precedent. In the beginning of John’s gospel, the apostle writes “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

The root definition for the Greek word dwelt means to live in or pitch one’s tent. In essence, God pitched a tent and lived among humankind through the fleshly form of Jesus.

This imagery may be additionally supported by Jesus’ “x-ray-like” transfiguration where, in Luke 9, his appearance becomes splendorous, gleaming like lightning, as he walks gloriously with Moses and Elijah.

What’s more, when the LORD’s glorious presence was originally revealed to the people of Israel, God dwelt in a tent (Exodus 40:34-35).

There may have been a time when the LORD’s glory was shielded from Israel; and there was a time when Jesus told his disciples not to talk about him and the things they saw. But no longer. Jesus now definitely wants us to pay attention to the GOD behind the curtain.

To borrow Paul’s famous prepositional phrase, by abiding “in Him” through belief and obedience, we come to learn that Jesus’ inside is much greater than his outside.

Through his external nail-pierced hands, we learn “in Him” how to extend our own hands in blessing. Through his dust-covered feet, we learn “in Him” to leave peace in the paths we tread. Through his dry tongue that still deliberately spoke on the cross, we learn “in Him” to lace our language with grace and truth.

“In Him” all reality finds renewal as new creation is taking shape. “In Him” we find a vast community that now constitutes his body. “In Him” the Church body demonstrates to the world a better way of being and doing. As we abide “in Him” creation catches a glimpse of the redemption it will one day enjoy. “In Him” is an entire world of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and continence. Within the person of Jesus, we are being restored to wholeness.

These ideas are not merely the study of Christ. They are an exploration of “inside-out living”. In Christ we are learning to live out his inside through our outside. We are the physical correlation of his divine reality. It’s not magical; it’s miraculous. In view of his incarnate and transcendent majesty, our lives can enter into a perpetual wonder that marvels “I love GOD”.

Why blood was God’s currency

During the Lord’s Supper, we drink grape juice because it represents Jesus’ blood shed on the cross. If we go back further to when the Passover sacrifice was established, the lamb’s blood spread on the Israelite doorposts was the sign sparing them from death.

Why this emphasis on blood in the first place? Why blood at all? In a basic sense, blood makes all humans equal. Regardless of position or possession, blood is the one supply-and-demand we all share that means everything. But how or why did blood sacrifice become the system of exchange that balanced man’s relationship to God? To answer we must look even further back to when sacrifice was unnecessary.

All creation is God’s masterpiece; but human beings, affectionately created in God’s image, are creation’s centerpiece. God made humans just a little lower than the angels so they could fruitfully embody God’s goodness. This unique role required a unique substance.

In the creation story, Genesis 2:7 says “then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.”

We know from anatomy that the oxygen which flows into our lungs also seeps into our blood stream, which carries that oxygen all throughout our bodies, animating us with life. Blood, therefore, is the conductor of God’s most precious valuable—Life.

This life enabled human beings to abide in a shared goodness with God, each other, and all creation. When human beings disobeyed and sinned against God, however, it corrupted the goodness of the life being conducted in the blood flow within their veins. This corrupting act thus established enmity or hostility between humanity and God, removing them from the intimate fellowship they once freely enjoyed with God and each other. Enmity estranges family, turning communities into customers and competitors. It is enmity that essentially creates the need for an exchange system. Goodness must now be crudely bartered. But what price could restore the value of the now diminished life flowing through human veins?

At this point, sadly, restoration is impossible. Concerning the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, God had already told the humans that “in the day that you eat of it you shall die”. Destruction is their destiny now.

It is at this point of no return, however, that God, for the first time, introduces something that limits sin’s fallout—grace. God gracefully grants humans a lease on life. As for the debt of the goodness they squandered, God balances the books through the flowing stream of God-blessed blood. Not theirs, but that of animals.

According to Genesis 1:22 and 1:30, animals were God-blessed and had in them the “breath of life”. Though not as ceremonially elaborate as the eventual sacrificial systems that gave dimension and definition to covenants, sin, and law, Genesis 3:21 displays what could likely be the original sacrifice as “the LORD God made garments of skins for the man and for his wife, and clothed them”. As the God-given conductor of life, blood has thus become a kind of currency.

However, animals were not created in God’s image as humans were. Therefore their sacrifice would not be enough to restore humanity to right relationship with God. Though God-blessed creatures who have life within their blood, their sacrifice would merely be sufficient to “break even”. It simply reinforces the system of exchange which only anticipates the next transaction. With such a system in place to negotiate man’s relationship to God, humans would only ever remain in want of God’s intimacy. A sacrifice would be needed that would not only ultimately satisfy the balance the system required, but one that would decommission the system entirely. Such a sacrifice would require the blood of one created in the image of God, whose goodness was uncorrupted, and who possessed a transcendence allowing their sacrifice to be eternally applicable.

Jesus more than meets these criteria. His holy and God-man blood shed on the cross overwhelmingly satisfies the balance this system has always demanded, finally quenching its thirst for goodness. This debt finally settled, the Spirit of God again breathes anew the breath of life permeated with God’s intimate presence, raising Jesus from the dead.

Jesus’ resurrection is the beginning of God’s restoration of all that has been estranged. The sacrifice of blood no longer need be made to get in on God’s restoration because that system of exchange has been completed. We no longer need to owe God or live with a debtor’s burden shouldered upon our soul. The only sacrifice left for us to make is a living one animated by the lifeblood Jesus gave. To do this we abide in Christ by belief and obedience, through which, like blood to the body, flow the Spirit’s Life unto fruitfulness.

Do you know you are loved?

In Oliver Stone’s epic biographical interpretation Nixon, the controversial filmmaker makes much of Nixon’s personal insecurities as the driving force behind most of his professional decision-making. There is a scene near the end where, as Richard Nixon’s presidency is imploding, one of his last remaining advisors, Henry Kissinger, is watching a televised speech in which the president again denies having any knowledge of the Watergate cover-up. Exasperated their president has lost touch with reality, Kissinger comments to the chief of staff “Can you imagine what this man would have been had he ever been loved? It’s a tragedy, because he had greatness in his grasp”.

Historical accuracy aside, the comment stands out as a reflection of a narrative with which we all struggle—knowing we are loved and living from out of that awareness. For many people this struggle stems from growing up in an environment where they never were actually shown any love at all. For many other people, this struggle is the result of never having actively embraced the love they were actually shown. In such cases, the grounded assurance of being both loved and lovely is lacking. This deficient awareness of love seems only to fuel futures filled with fearfulness, distrust, bitterness, isolation, loneliness, and, ultimately, the withholding of love towards others, thus perpetuating the cycle.

I can do nothing about the environments that create such a poverty of love, but I can try bringing to your attention that love exists and is abundantly available and accessible. To do so, please allow me a well-worn platitude that is also very true: God loves you.

My father and pastor, Charles Robinson, recently preached a terrific sermon wherein he referenced Nebuchadnezzar’s casting of Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah into the fiery furnace. Citing Daniel 3:25, Pastor Robinson commented “God didn’t rescue them from the flames; God joined them.”

This arouses the deep awareness that God has not left us alone to the environments and moments in which we feel so often abandoned. Though they seem bereft of our preferred expressions of love, they are not without God’s presence. The totality of place and time is permeated with the presence of God. I refer of course to the incarnation of Jesus Christ: God with us, God amongst us, God for us. Through Christ’s incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection, the presence of God fills the present of every believer’s person, place, and period and expands across their past and future. When pains of the past and fears of the future come stealing in, Christ is already there to absorb every ache and anxiety, redemptively molding your memories and moments into a grace that emits his majesty through you. When time and life feel fractured and fragmented, Christ fills the cracks and the voids, the emptiness and brokenness, so that all may be restored to wholeness. We then shall find we need not resent the past nor fear the future, for they are becoming the planes upon which God’s salvation has and will play out.

In Christ, God conveys upon us love without end. Christ awakens us to what throughout this world lies dormant—the rich assuring awareness that we are lovely and loved.

Do you know you are loved? Has knowing Christ enabled you to accept that truth? If your mind was constantly attuned to this awareness, how might you imagine living?

God is up to something good

I was recently at a Barnes and Noble, relaxing with a crossword puzzle and a black French Roast.  I would occasionally glance up and look out over the rows of shelves containing their wealth of words and wisdom.  On one such glance I saw a table with books piled up; in the middle was a short sign that read “New in History”.

My first thought was how that’s an oxymoron.  History has already happened; there’s nothing new about it.  But of course, it referred to history books just newly published.

It reminded me of a phrase or way of thinking we occasionally use to generate fresh interest or enthusiasm in ministry settings: “God is up to something new” or “God is doing a new thing.”

I get it.  Like the would-be readers of these newly released history books, an individual or community is experiencing God’s grace in a way that feels refreshingly new and they’re rejoicing in this.  That’s only right; it’s good to rejoice. That being said, this idea could benefit from some unpacking.

We like new things. New phones, new clothes, a new car (and its new car smell), starting a new job, ringing in the New Year, turning over a new leaf. Why? Besides the sparkliness it brings, new things make us feel like we’re making progress. Change is good, we say. It moves us forward; so we make a change here, a change there, and soon we feel we’re making a difference. But we also say that the more things change the more they stay the same. That’s the idea that if things keep changing, eventually they come back around to what they were. What good is a rotating merry-go-round of new changes if they inevitably never affect a perpetual newness?

This is why it is best not to measure God’s work by its shininess or sparkle, but by the consistent vitality that has always characterized his goodness. Salvation is the rhythmic goodness of God at work in history, an ancient wonder that constantly renews.

Why might this be important to clarify? As with every new thing, our faith will experience the fervor of a honeymoon phase(s), then transition into a variety of seasons. The newness we felt will eventually feel old, possibly making us feel our faith needs an upgrade; then upgrade after upgrade. It’s a recipe for an anxiety-riddled faith. In such seasons, we will need a foundation reminding us that whether old or new, it is always God’s goodness at work, and that God’s goodness is always enough. In that reminder we find joy, peace, and rest in the God who, through old and new, is always up to something good.