As of today we officially have 3 teenage boys in our house. Soon enough there will be 4. For their 13th Birthdays we like to take them to the local cemetery just to let the brevity of life sink in. At least that’s the tradition we started today 🙂 Our destination was actually a nearby pond where Nathan wanted to try out his new bass rod and reel. The pond happens to be adjacent to an old cemetery that we have explored numerous times but today as the boys fished and Tom read, there was a new poignancy about the place as I wandered around the 150-year-old markers.
The stories one reads between the lines of birth and death on the stones are pioneering dramas, written with the blood, sweat, and tears of mountain life and loss. Ol’ Mr. Breckenridge who was “killed by Indians.” The 1 and 4 year-old siblings who died just 4 days apart. The Kirkland babies–one died at 11 months and 3 years later her sister was born only to die that same day. The 2 unnamed Osborne babies. And right nearby, the 3 unnamed Wooley children. The heart wrenching sorrow and pain speak on through the stoney silence.
I was using my time there today to memorize the next couple verses in the Romans 8 Memory Challenge (click here for more info on that). “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirt of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” (Rom. 8:14,15). Looking around me I realized I was standing in the middle of everyone’s very worst fears. The pervasive fear of death, of sickness, of suffering, of loss now controlling every aspect of our country can only be described as a Spirit of slavery. Fear so paralyzing it inhibits any sense of sound judgement and judicious reasoning seems to have shackled the whole world.
Romans 8 says those who are led by the Spirit of God are His children, “fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with Him (Rom. 8:17). Whoa. That’s a big caveat there, Pauly. “PROVIDED WE SUFFER WITH HIM.” If you have received the Spirit of adoption, if you are a child of God, you’ve been bequeathed a remarkable inheritance. The gift of suffering has been entrusted to God’s family. But it’s not the kind of suffering the world is living in so much fear of today. On the outside our suffering might look very much like Mr. Breckenridge’s, or the Kirklands’ or the Osbornes’ or the Wooleys’. It might look like Covid-19 or the extraordinary loss of freedom and financial security that has accompanied it. But suffering WITH Christ is a thing altogether different. Verse 17 continues by explaining the distinction with just these few words, “in order that we may also be glorified with Him.”
Some 2 millennia ago. Christ subjected Himself to murder by the hands of the sinful men He created. He did this to satisfy the wrath of a Holy Father against all ungodliness and to purchase by His blood a people, spiritual sons and daughters, who through His Spirit can cry “Abba! Father!” That same Christ was buried in a real tomb in a real cemetery full of the corruption and decay and stories of suffering like I was surrounded by today.
But because He was God, that same Christ, by the power of His own Spirit, did what no other corpse could do. He rose victoriously, gloriously from the grave! Conquering, crushing, smashing sin and destroying death! The result is this stunning proclamation in Romans 8:1,
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.”
Brothers and Sisters! We are no longer slaves of sin or sickness or the kind of suffering that leads to death. Our suffering can lead only to one thing and that is the thing for which it was intended. GLORY! That glory was bought through Christ’s own suffering and secured through His resurrection and ascension. As surely as we will share with Him in His suffering, we will be glorified with Him through the resurrection of the dead. Verse 11 assures us that,
“If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.”
After Jesus rose from the dead, He appeared to many people, including 7 fisherman who had caught nothing all night. He told them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat and when they did they hauled in 153 fish. “Come and have breakfast,” He said to them. And there on the shore around a charcoal fire they dined together on bread and fish with their risen Lord (John 21:1-14).
Tomorrow is our emancipation day. The day we celebrate being set free from sin and death and the fear that enslaves us. We will celebrate the resurrection of our Lord sure of the hope of glory that event secured for all who believe. We will face the strangeness of isolation from our extended families and church bodies at this time knowing “the suffering of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be reveled to us” (Rom. 8:18).
And we will, at least our family will, eat fish. Course with all these teenage boys now I may need 153 to fill them up.
He is risen!