Tuesday, April 21, 2015
April 19, 2015 Second Reformed Church
If God brought a bottle of wine to a wedding, do you think it would be good wine?
As we continue our look at John’s Gospel, we see that half-way through Jesus’ calling of His twelve disciples; He had a wedding to go to. John tells us, three days after calling Nathanael to be His disciple; there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee.
Now, in Jesus’ day, the most important thing a person could give the bride and groom was his attendance and celebration at the wedding. It was much more important to have a huge gathering of every family member and friend and friend’s friend, than it was to have an expensive wedding or to have expensive gifts. Of course weddings were an expense and a feast, but they didn’t cut the guest list short in order to have better food or have the wedding in a better location. It was all about the blessing that the people at the wedding were to the couple being married.
The first thing we should notice this morning is that Jesus honors – blesses – marriage.
“On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples.”
Jesus, the Incarnate Son of God Who came to earth to live a perfect life under God’s Law, die for the sins of His people, and physically rise victorious from the dead, glorifying God and making His people right with God, saw the wedding of this couple to be important enough to be in attendance to say, “Yes, this is right, this is blessed of God.”
We remember that God instituted the rite of marriage between the first man and the first woman: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24, ESV).
Marriage is a God-ordained rite in which a man and a woman are not merely physically united, but spiritually united. God created this union and blesses this union, and Jesus went to bless this wedding, to celebrate with the couple, and to enjoy the celebration and the coming together of a man and a woman as God normally intends it.
Second, we see that the mother of Jesus humbled herself to the Will of her Lord.
“When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.’ His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’”
Did you notice, in this text, the mother of Jesus is not named; she is just called “the mother of Jesus”? That is not because John did not know who she was – he knew who Mary was.
The point that is being made here is that although Mary would always be Jesus’ mother, and although Jesus always owes His mother honor, Jesus, Mary’s Son, is also God the Savior, her Lord, and she had to learn to submit herself to His Will. The Center of the Gospel, the center of the Scripture, the Center of this text, is Jesus, Who He is, and what He came to do. Everything else, including His mother, had to submit to His Divine Will.
At this point, John tells us that Jesus had not done any miracles – and we remember the point of miracles is to show Jesus to be God the Savior. Miracles are signs that point to Jesus. They do not exist for themselves or merely for any lesser reason.
So, Jesus and His mother and His disciples were at this wedding – it had gone on for some time – they were eating and drinking and enjoying themselves – and then the mother of Jesus noticed that they ran out of wine – which would have been an embarrassment to the couple, so she told Jesus what she observed.
What did she expect Jesus to do?
Perhaps as an up-and-coming rabbi, she expected Him to say some kind and soothing words before the guests became upset about the wine running out.
Perhaps she thought of what the angel told her that she always pondered in her heart: “[Jesus] will be great and be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:32-33, ESV). Perhaps she though there was something more He could do given His prophetic pedigree.
We’re no told what she really had in mind.
Jesus responded with what seems like a harsh rebuke of His mother: “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.”
The commentators assure us that the comment is not harsh, but respectful, though it is given to remind Jesus’ mother that Jesus had a time-line for His plan, and both He and she had to submit to the Will of God and follow it – so she had to submit to Him as He submitted to the Will of the Father. She had to understand that miracles occurred in accordance with the Divine Will, not any human will. Jesus did honor His mother, but He was not going to go against the Divine Will even if she asked Him to as His mother.
The mother of Jesus understood what He was saying and submitted to His Will, telling the servants to do whatever Jesus said.
How are we at submitting to the Will, the Plan, and the Promises of God?
Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the Mount to thank and trust God because He will provide us with whatever we need. Do we follow after the Will of God and trust that no matter how things look, God will provide for our every need? Do we strive to be faithful and obedient to God and to work hard with the gifts and abilities that God has given us and believe that God will provide us with what we need? Do we believe that we will always have – at the right time – what we need for that time? Do we place our hope in God’s Will being done on earth as it is in Heaven – or are we hypocrites?
Here we are called to pray that God would do whatever He knows is best – His Will – and that we would be thankful and glorify God for what He does.
“Do whatever He tells you.”
At this point, Jesus acts, and we wonder why: didn’t He just tell His mother this was not His problem and it was not His time? Why does Jesus now solve the problem?
Was the rebuke merely to show His mother that she had to submit to His Divine Will? Or did His human will just not know that it was time for Him to perform His first miracle? Or is something else going on here?
What we can conclude is, third, Jesus gives lavishly.
“Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, ‘Fill the jars with water.’ And he said to them, ‘Now draw some and take it to the master of the feast.’ So they took it. When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, ‘Everyone serves the good wine first, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.’”
Jesus told the servants to fill the six empty stone purification jars with water. These jars would have been filled with water for the ceremonial washing of hands and other such rituals. And they were very large – twenty to thirty gallons a piece – some 180 gallons in total.
Jesus told the servants – surely not more than six – probably closer to two – to fill the jars with water. The servants would not have been used to being told what to do by the guests, but they respected Jesus and His mother – perhaps they knew of Him – perhaps they simply respected His mother as their elder – and they filled the jars will water.
Once they had filled the jars, Jesus told them to take some of the water which was now changed to wine to the master of the feast – the caterer – perhaps a family member who was footing the bill. And he tasted the wine, and he couldn’t believe it, so he called the groom to him – this wine was top shelf!
And he states the obvious to the groom – though neither of them knew what happened or how: when you have a big party, you start out with the best wine you have, and then, after people have been drinking for a while and their senses aren’t as keen, you start serving the table wine, and eventually, you serve them the really cheap stuff – but this wine that they brought out at the end of the feast was the best wine he had ever tasted!
And Jesus had not just caused a bottle of wine to be made. He had not caused a gallon of wine to be made. He caused around 180 gallons of the best wine anyone had every tasted to be made! When God gives, He gives lavishly! It is inconceivable that there would be enough people to drink 180 gallons of wine, especially after all the drinking that they had done, but God changed an enormous amount of water into wine to provide for the wedding and for the future.
God gives the best and God gives lavishly.
Consider, do you have enough of everything for this moment? Do you have more than you need for this moment? Seriously, do you have more than you need to exist and be doing exactly what you are doing right this moment?
Just consider the basic principle of the tithe – that we are to give back to God ten percent of our gross income. That means God has given us at least ten percent more than what we need.
Here what Paul writes, “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need” (Ephesians 4:28, ESV).
Did you hear the principle of lavish receipts – if you have been stealing, stop stealing and work an honest job, so you can support yourself – and have plenty to give away. We don’t merely work and earn income to support ourselves and our families, but so we will have enough to give to God and to those in need. This is what God wants, and He provides it for us. So, even minimally, God provides lavishly, because we have more than we ever need.
That being the case, what sort of thankful people ought we be for all the things God has given us – including the lavish gift of His Son for the sake of our salvation?
Fourth, we are told that Jesus “manifested his glory” in changing the water into wine.
“This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.’
“After this he went down to Capernaum, with his mother and his brothers and his disciples, and they stayed there for a few days.”
When we talk about Jesus manifesting His Glory – we are talking about the same thing as when we talk about an epiphany of Jesus – we are saying that this event showed Jesus to be Who He truly is – it pointed to Him as the Savior God promised to send.
Jesus was revealed in turning the 180 gallons of water into the best top shelf wine they had ever tasted. They understood that Jesus was not merely a man – He is more – He is Divine.
As we have noted, this is the point of John’s Gospel, as well as the whole Scripture: “Now, Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:20-31, ESV).
Now, how many people knew that Jesus turned the water into wine?
Jesus’ mother, the six disciples, and maybe as many as six servants. That’s it. All the rest of the people at the wedding had no idea what Jesus did. At that moment – the performance of His first miracle – was for His mother, the disciples, and the servants of the household at the wedding in Cana. This miracle was to show this small group Who He is.
And we might be thinking, “Well, didn’t someone say, ‘Jesus turned the water into wine’?” We are not told that any such thing like that happened. The text reads as though no one else knew, and the servants didn’t explain where the wine came from.
And we might say, “Well, wouldn’t Jesus want everyone to know, so they would all see Who He is?”
And here we face the problem that came up when the wine ran out – the mother of Jesus said, “Do something.” And now we look at the account and think, “Jesus, take credit for the miracle – reveal Yourself.”
But it wasn’t time. It wasn’t according to plan. It wasn’t God’s Will.
I suspect we all have had times when we wanted to tell God a better way to do something – as we read the Scripture and shake our heads thinking, “Oh, no, Lord, if You don’t let people take part in their salvation, they aren’t going to be willing to believe. Let’s make salvation equal what You did plus all the good things we do.”
Or, perhaps, “I’m thankful for how You have provided for me, but I didn’t get that promotion, and You know if I got that promotion, I would have more access to people to tell them about You, so change my boss’ mind, ok?”
We think we’re so smart, but “[God] who sits in the heavens laughs; and the Lord holds them in derision,” (Psalm 2:4, ESV).
Shall we stop being arrogant and submit to the Will of God, rejoice and give thanks in the lavish gifts that God gives us, trusting Him for all of our needs?
Shall we see all that God has done for us and recognize that all God has done – according to His Plan and in His time – show Him to be exactly Who He has always claimed to be?
Shall we humble ourselves before our God and Savior Who created the best wine ever tasted and invites us to receive the bread and the wine, proclaiming His death and resurrection until He returns, when He will share in the fruit of the vine with us at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb?
Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You for the blessed rite of marriage and for those You call to union in it. We ask that we would hold marriage in high esteem as a holy ordinance of Your creation. We ask that You would help us to listen and hear You and follow after Your Will, giving thanks for Your lavish gifts and for the provision for our every need every day. We thank You that You have chosen to reveal Yourself to us and make us Your children. And we ask that You would lead us in the Power and the Wisdom of God the Holy Spirit. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.
April 12, 2015 Second Reformed Church
We return to our look at John’s Gospel this morning. Let us remember that John begins his Gospel making it perfectly clear that Jesus is the Savior and God Himself – revealed by both God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. In the first chapter of his Gospel, John explains that the One God of Israel exists in Three Persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And God Himself, in the Person of the Son, incarnate to be the Savior for all those who would believe by keeping the Law on our behalf and paying the debt for our sins.
John also explained to his readers that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament Sacrificial System.
After this introduction to Jesus, we saw Jesus call His first disciples: Andrew and Peter. Jesus calls His next two disciples in this morning’s text.
And we see, first, we cannot fully understand the Old Testament without Jesus.
“The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, ‘Follow me.’ Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.’”
Jesus went to Galilee and called Philip – commanding him to follow, and he left whatever he was doing and followed Jesus.
Philip went off and found his friend, Nathanael (who is called Bartholomew in other places), and told him that they had found the Savior – the One Who the whole Old Testament – Moses, the Law and the Prophets spoke about and pointed to – He had come – the Promise had been fulfilled.
I hope that rings a bell with you – just a few weeks ago we looked at Luke 24, where we are told: “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27, ESV).
Everything from Genesis to Malachi points to Jesus and His work of salvation. So, we cannot fully understand the Old Testament without looking at it through the lens of Jesus and His work.
Now, we must be careful to avoid two extremes:
On the one hand, we are not to consider the account of the sin of Adam and Eve and say it has nothing to do with Jesus. Paul explains in Romans 5 that just as sin came into humanity through one man, Adam, so righteousness came to those who believe through One Man, Jesus Christ. So, Jesus is called the “Second Adam,” because He lived the perfect life under the Law that Adam failed to live through his sin. So, Adam plunged humanity into sin and death, and Jesus saves us from sin and death.
On the other hand, we are not to consider the Old Testament and say it has no meaning on its own. After Adam and Eve sinned, they sewed clothes out of leaves to cover themselves. We would be wrong to speculate that there was a certain number of stiches that parallel the number of wounds Jesus received in His flogging – or any other such fanciful idea. The Old Testament history and writings occurred and are true as we understand them as the type of literature they are.
So, as we read the Old Testament – like we read any piece of literature – we need to ask ourselves, what type of writing is this? – poetry, history, etc. How do we read this type of writing? What did this mean to the people at the time it was written?
Then, we look at what we are reading again and ask how what the text says points to Jesus or how it can be understood through the work that Jesus did in salvation?
Philip went to Nathanael and told him that everything that they had learned in the Temple from the Scriptures had been fulfilled in Jesus. Nathanael’s curiosity was piqued. At least it was until Philip said that the fulfillment of all of the Old Testament was to be found in “Jesus of Nazareth.”
We see, second, this morning, that Jesus’ knowledge of Nathanael spurred his faith on.
“Nathanael said to him, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ Philip said to him, ‘Come and see.’ Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, ‘Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!’ Nathanael said to him, ‘How do you know me?’ Jesus answered him, ‘Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.’ Nathanael answered him, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’”
“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
A twenty-first century person from New Jersey would probably scratch her head at this comment.
That’s why we need to look at history – then we can understand that Galilee was a despised area by the Jews – it was where the red-necks of the day lived – and Nazareth in Galilee was the most backwards place of them all. The cultured people of the world lived in Judah (which was south of Galilee) and in Jerusalem in Judah.
So, think of a place that you think is completely backwards and uneducated and dangerous – somewhere you would never expect anyone to come from and do anything good, much less great. That’s what Nathanael heard – “He’s from Nazareth?! Are you kidding? How can that be?”
(There is some question as to how much of his response was sarcasm and how much was wonder. Certainly, it was not what he had expected.)
And Philip said, “Come and see.”
Have you ever had that experience talking with someone about Jesus, and they said, “No, I don’t need to read the Bible – I know all about Jesus.” Really? Put aside your preconceptions and see what the Bible really records about Jesus.
So, Nathanael followed Philip back to Jesus, and Jesus said,”Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!”
What’s He saying? We don’t usually say things like, “You are a person in whom there is no deceit.”
Jesus was saying that Nathanael is someone who is utterly honest and straight to the point. He isn’t a liar, and he doesn’t candy-coat what he’s saying. When Nathanael said something, you knew what he meant and that he meant it and it was true.
As we might expect, Nathanael wanted to know how Jesus knew him. Notice, Nathanael did not respond by pridefully saying something like, “Well, my reputation precedes me! Who told You about me?” No, in all humility, he asked Jesus how He knew about him.
And Jesus told him that He saw him sitting under a fig tree before Nathanael reached him to tell him about Jesus.
We would probably be skeptical if someone came up to us and said they saw us across town while they were miles away. We would wonder what the con was. We would wonder if we were being spied on. But not Nathanael.
When Nathanael heard Jesus say that He saw him sitting under the fig tree before Philip got there, the veil was lifted from Nathanael’s eyes, and he believed – his faith was spurred to belief on fire.
And Nathanael confessed:
“Rabbi!” – teacher of the Word of God.
“You are the Son of God!” – You are God the Savior incarnate in the Person of Jesus to fulfill all the prophecies made about You.
“You are the King of Israel!” – You are the Sovereign Authority over Israel – over Your people – over all that is Yours.
Nathanael burst forth with a confession – a correct confession – of Who Jesus is, because those words of Jesus removed the veil from his eyes and caused him to believe – his faith shot up like a rocket.
We never know what words our God might use to cause someone to come to faith. Yet, we are to speak, praying that the Holy Spirit would use our words to move the hearts and minds of those who hear us – but we must speak.
Finally, we see this morning that Jesus is the link between God and us.
“Jesus answered him, ‘Because I said to you, “I saw you under the fig tree,” do you believe? You will see greater things than these.’ And he said to him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.’”
Jesus says, “Nathanael, Oh, Nathanael – you believed me because I saw you sitting under the fig tree – you haven’t seen anything yet! You will see much greater things than this! You will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”
What’s Jesus talking about?
Again, a first century Israelite would know exactly what Jesus was referring to.
We will remember the twin brothers, Jacob and Esau, and how Jacob and his mother plotted to deceive his father and brother and steal the birthright from Esau – which he did. But then, being afraid of Esau, once the deception was discovered, Jacob ran away, and we read:
“Jacob left Beersheba and went toward Haran. And he came to a certain place and stayed there that night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep. And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! And behold, the LORD stood above it and said, ‘I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.’ Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, ‘Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.’ And he was afraid and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven’”(Genesis 28:10-17, ESV).
Jacob – who would later be called Israel – dreamed about a ladder that went from earth to Heaven – to the Kingdom of God – and he saw angels ascending and descending on a ladder – and God told him that he was the heir to the promise of the land that God made to Abraham.
Some of us are familiar with the spiritual “Jacob’s Ladder” – which has the chorus, “We are climbing Jacob’s ladder.” But there’s a problem – it wasn’t Jacob’s ladder, and he didn’t climb it, and neither can we.
Looking at the actual account, we have angels ascending a descending on a ladder between earth and the Kingdom of God. Why? Why would angels be going back and forth between the Kingdom of God and earth?
The understanding that we find in the Scripture is that God sends angels to earth to protect the elect, to kill and cause destruction, and to gather the dead. Here, the image is certainly positive, so we see the angels as a sign and a promise that God will keep His promise to Abraham to grant his descendants the inheritance of the land – and they will be His people.
We see symbolized the travel of the angels from the Kingdom of God to earth and back as they minister among us and do God’s Will.
So what is Jesus saying – if Nathanael and the others would have immediately thought of this historical event about the patriarch, Jacob, God’s Promise, and the ministry of angels, how would they understand Jesus saying: “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”
We have one new piece of information here – instead of a ladder, Jesus says Nathanael will see the angels ascending and descending on the Son of Man. And, again, they would have immediately understood – the Son of Man was a name given to God the Savior – especially in the Old Testament prophetic literature – and we know today, in reading the Gospels, “Son of Man” was Jesus’ favorite title for Himself. Jesus is the Son of Man – Jesus is God the Savior. Jesus is the ladder between the Kingdom of God and earth. Jesus, the Incarnate God the Son, sends the angels and calls them back to do His Will on earth and in Heaven – the Kingdom of God.
And Jesus – Jesus Alone – is the ladder – the link between us and God. Jesus makes us right with God and brings us into His presence. The only way we can safely come into the presence of God is through Jesus – the Son of Man – the ladder on Whom the angels ascend and descend.
Remember, we were banished from the safe presence of God when Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden, and there was no way for us to reach up to heaven to make ourselves right with God – we could not climb a ladder to Heaven. We tried to build the Tower of Babel, and that ended in further confusion and separation.
So, we understand that Jacob was not being told he could work his way back to God – he was being shown that there is a way that the angels take, but we cannot. Not until the Son of Man came and lived and died for us could we be taken up Jesus’ ladder into Paradise.
One more question we should have is when did this happen? Jesus said that Nathanael would see the angels ascending and descending on the Son of Man – he would see the way of salvation opened by Jesus – the way back to God in Paradise through Jesus’ work. When did Nathanael see the angels ascending and descending on the Son of Man?
Forty days after the Resurrection, we read: “So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.’ And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven’”(Acts 1:6-11, ESV).
Nathanael saw Jesus’ ladder on the day of Ascension, and he – and the entire world – living and dead, will see it again at the end of the age:
As Jesus said, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne” (Matthew 25:31, ESV).
Nathanael was called to be part of the inner-circle of Jesus’ work, and he needed to understand that everything he knew about God and how to be right with Him is answered in the Son of Man, Jesus, Who came to make all those who would ever believe right with God through His life, dead, and resurrection.
And so he and the first four disciples understood that Jesus Alone is the way to becoming right with God – the Old Testament is about Jesus and the message of the Gospel is about Jesus – the Only Salvation – and that is what we need to know.
Let us go and tell others.
And let us pray:
“Barbara Bell Funeral”
April 11, 2015 Bradley & Smith, Springfield
Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”
We just celebrated the holiday, Easter – when we remember that Jesus – God Incarnate – physically rose from the dead. On the third day, Jesus stood up in His physical body – after having been dead – and He exited the tomb, having merited righteousness – the perfect keeping of God’s Law and having paid the debt for all of the sins of all of those who would ever believe in Him.
And now we gather to mourn the death of Barbara Bell. We are shocked by the suddenness of it. The question keeps arising – what are we going to do without Barbara?
I met Barbara when I came to the church as a parishioner about twenty years ago, and she sat on the Consistory when I was called to be the pastor of Second Reformed Church almost seventeen years ago. Over these past seventeen years we became friends – working together in the church and caring for each other as people.
Most of you will know of Barbara’s cancer operations and her heart issues, and many of you know I have chronic health problems. Barbara and I checked in with each other regularly and discussed our doctor’s reports – encouraging each other as we struggled with our bodies.
And that included the size of our bodies – as we both struggled with our weight. On more than one occasion Barbara said, “Don’t pass out on the floor, because no one in the church is strong enough to lift you up.” Still, she would bake pumpkin pie or brownies and share them with me.
Barbara was tremendously supportive of me and the ministry at Second Reformed Church – and not just because her family founded the church! She didn’t make a big deal about that, even though there is a plackard on the front door that simply says, “Bell.” Early on in my ministry, there was a question about whether I was spending too much money – and Barbara defended me, explaining that I worked hard not to spend money – the church’s – or my own.
Barbara recently said, “I’ve decided I’m not going to call you cheap, anymore – I’m going to call you frugal.”
A few weeks ago, Barbara gave me one of the greatest compliments I have ever received – indirectly – she was speaking to someone else and I overheard her say, “Peter really believes what he preaches.” I will never forget her saying that.
Barbara worked on the finances, cleaned the church, decorated the church, headed up the Woman’s Association, the flea markets – in the past – and more recently, the Women’s Association sale table. She took part in most everything that took place in the church.
She did get frustrated with the church at times, and about her health and weight – her knees most recently – were a trial to her. And she was tough on herself in many ways – but she could be tough, too – keeping people in line in church and telling me to “cut the sermon shorter” – though she insisted that she wasn’t a boss and didn’t want to be in charge. Nevertheless, when something needed to be done – and if someone was in need – she was there.
She loved the times we have had babies as part of the congregation – graciously caring for them and enjoying them. And she loved her babies – most recently, Annie.
Which is another thing we had in common and connected on – as two single people each with a companion pet. We talked about our pets, their health and lives – as only people devoted to their pets can understand. And we mourned with each other when our pets died and encouraged each other to get new furry friends in time. Barbara counselled me – as I am currently looking for a new cat – that I “would be less grumpy once I got a new cat.”
Barbara was someone who cared deeply about the church and me. She was someone I could go to for church and personal help – I just had to wait for her to put her “eyebrows on and walk Annie.”
In the Scripture, we’re told about the death of one of Jesus’ good friends, Lazarus – and I’d like to look at one piece of that history – we read:
“Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ Martha said to him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.’”
Jesus was known as a teacher – He had healed many people of diseases – and Martha told Jesus that she believed that if He had gotten there while Lazarus was alive, He could have healed him. Nevertheless, even though he was four days dead, she believed that God would answer Jesus if He called on God to do something even then.
Jesus responded by telling her that Lazarus will rise from the dead. And Martha confessed what Christians confess in The Apostle’s Creed – something Barbara confessed all of her life – “I believe in the resurrection of the body.” Christians believe that at the end of the age – when Jesus returns – all those who have died will be raised in their physical bodies – to be received into God’s Kingdom – or to be cast away into eternal torment.
Barbara asked me if she would be thin in her resurrected body, and I told her that our bodies would be perfect and healthy, so, sure – she’d be thin.
But Jesus was talking about more than that – He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead that day.
“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?’ She said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.’”
Understand, Jesus did not say she was wrong – there will be a physical resurrection at the end of the age – but there was something more important that she needed to hear and believe:
Jesus said, “I am the resurrection.” Jesus is the resurrection in human form. Resurrection to life in God’s Kingdom after death only comes through Jesus.
Jesus said, “I am the life.” Jesus is the life in human form. Life without end with Jesus, saved from the eternal death that we deserve for our sins, only comes through Jesus.
Salvation is only through Jesus Alone, and we are called to confess it – as Martha understood and confessed, “Yes. I believe that You are the Savior that God promised. Yes, I believe that You are God Who has come to earth in the flesh.” And, yes, Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life for all we who believe.
We live in a culture that tends to say, we live, we die, and that’s it. But doesn’t the majesty and the wonder of the creation speak to something more? And doesn’t the testimony of the Scripture make sense?
Barbara and I were the last to leave church on Sunday, and Barbara was enthusiastically telling me about how much she enjoyed Easter dinner with her family on Saturday, and then Easter dinner with friends on Saturday, and how she was going to a Kosher deli with a friend Sunday afternoon. And she said, “You know, I could really go for a nap now.” And I said, “I was thinking the same thing – maybe we should run away and get a hotel room, so no one knows where we are, and take a nap.” And she said, “That’s tempting, but I better keep going.”
And now Barbara is dead – and yet she lives. And on the last day her body will be raised and all we who believe in Jesus as the Resurrection and the Life – God the Savior – will be received into His Kingdom forever and ever.
I believe in the resurrection of the body.
Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You for the gift of the life of Barbara Bell and all that she has meant to so many people. We thank You for her love and caring and dedication to Your Church. May Barbara’s life cause us to seek to love our neighbors and to seek out the Love You gave us in Your Son, Jesus Christ. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.