As we say goodbye to 2019 and the last decade, it's easy to look back with grief and perhaps regret. We think of all that could have been and all the pains we've experienced. It may seem audacious to say now, but if I've learned anything about God, it's that he is a master of redemption. And in God's redemption, we can find hope in 2020. Here's how.

Look Back to Christmas, to Look Forward

A reflection on 2019 cannot be complete without looking at it from the perspective of Christmas. The celebration of Christmas is a reminder that the arrival of the Son of God equals unfathomable hope. The hope of Christ changes everything. For the hope of Christ means you are not alone, but instead that God is "with us." The Gospel of Matthew says it this way:

"'The virgin [Mary] will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel' (which means 'God with us')" (Matthew 1:20 NIV; compare Isaiah 7:14).

Jesus is "God with us." But perhaps at this point, you're thinking, but my regrets and grief produce serious fears. I'm afraid of what may come in 2020. Even fear itself is confronted in Jesus. Joseph, Jesus' adopted father, is told, "do not be afraid." And the angel continues, "give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins" (Matthew 1:20 NIV).

The salvation that comes in Jesus is a saving power, from both sin and fear. That means you can feel rest assured that God can address whatever happened in 2019.

Let Jesus Lift Your Regrets and Bear Your Sins

Jesus is born into uncertainty, fear, and poverty; and his life is marked by suffering. But it is also marked by redemption. By the end of the story, we know that his life is marked by resurrection. We know he is savior.

It is the resurrected life of Jesus, which he describes as "life and life abundant," that God wants to offer us (John 10:10). The prophetic book of Isaiah, over 500 years before Jesus' birth, puts it this way:

“From the trouble of his life he will see light. He will be satisfied. In his knowledge, my righteous servant shall make the many righteous and he will bear their iniquities" (Isaiah 53:11, my translation).

Jesus can bear your sins. Jesus can bear your grief. Whatever you're facing, Jesus can. Reflecting on the beauty of this Christian hope, the apostle Paul says:

“Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. [Christ!] Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword” (Romans 8:34–35 ESV).

God doesn't want us to stay in regret for 2019, but to find repentance. Nothing can separate you from the love of God, from God's hope.

Ask God to Use 2019’s Pain and Grief for Good

As you reflect back on the pain of 2019 and the past decade, ask: “What has God been doing in my life? Where is God at work and how can I follow him in that work?" I bet in the process of reflection you will find that God has been doing much more than you realized.

But perhaps you're reflecting back on a deep grief. Perhaps you have lost someone dear to you in 2019. That's happened in my family. And while 2019 meant saying goodbye, I find comfort that those we've lost no longer feel pain. And that they live on through the stories we tell of their life. And that those who know Jesus have been healed in heaven and are in deeper relationship with the Lord Jesus now than I can even fathom (2 Corinthians 5:1–10).

I also find hope in 2020 knowing that one day, we will see our loved ones again—we didn’t truly say goodbye, but rather acknowledged a stepping off point. For one day, we will all have resurrected bodies (Revelation 20:11–15; 1 Corinthians 15:12–58).

When I look back at the losses of 2019, and the past decade, I remind myself that this is not the end. But simply a stepping off point to a new period of life. That God will have the final say; and that word will be good.

Embrace the Hope of a Resurrected Perspective

As a Christian, my theology demands that I examine 2019 from the perspective of resurrection. I ask Christ to lift, and even bear, all of the last decades pains. I'm not strong enough on my own, but I know that "I can do all this through him who gives me strength" (Philippians 4:13 NIV).

I lift a glass up to God here at the beginning of 2020, requesting that he redeem the last decade. I ask God to give me new life, by the power of the resurrection of the Son of God. As I do so, I realize that my times of pain and grief are not in vain, but that God is there in all of it, working tirelessly to draw me closer to him. And that relationship has eternal value. What price wouldn't I pay for that? God will have the final say in the end:

“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38–39 ESV).

I believe in hope for 2020, because I know a God of hope. I believe in redemption for the last decade because I trust a God of resurrection. I want God to have the final word on 2019 and the first word on 2020. I pray the same for you.

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Over 500 years before Jesus came in flesh, a prophet proclaimed that one would suffer, die, and rise again for the sin of humanity. It was also prophesied that the resurrection of a Suffering Servant would lead to resurrection for every single person. Here is the gospel according to Isaiah and Daniel. This is Easter proclaimed 500 years before Jesus came in flesh.

In this sermon, I utilize the research from my first book, The Resurrected Servant in Isaiah, to explore Isaiah 52:13–53:12.

This sermon was originally delivered at Faith Reformed Church in Lynden, WA on April 1, 2018 (Easter Sunday).

Subscribe now to the Jesus' Economy Podcast on iTunes or SoundCloud.

On the cross, Jesus felt the agony of the entire world, including those who feel voiceless in the developing world. He died for us, all of us, so that freedom from sin and all of its consequences could be accomplished; so that we may live in relationship with God once again. All we must do is choose him back (John 3:16), to cry out to Jesus.

The Prophesy of the Suffering Servant

"Yet Yahweh was pleased to crush him; he afflicted [him] (with sickness). If she [Zion/Jerusalem] places his life a guilt offering, he will see offspring, he will prolong days and the will of Yahweh in his hand will succeed. From the trouble of his life he will see light. He will be satisfied. In his knowledge, my righteous servant shall make the many righteous and he will bear their iniquities.

Therefore I will divide to him [a portion] among the many, and with [the] strong ones he shall divide bounty, because he exposed his life to death and was counted with transgressors, and he carried [the] sin of many and will intercede for transgressors" (Isaiah 53:10-12, my translation).

500 years before Jesus, these words were prophesied. And in them is resurrection, for all of us. There is resurrection for the suffering in the developing world, who have placed their hands in my hands asking for prayer for relief from the pain. There is resurrection for the homeless man who I watched cry out "Jesus Christ my Lord," asking for salvation from his addictions. There is resurrection for me, the sinner who is only saved because of Jesus. There is resurrection for all of us.

The Resurrection I See

Here, in the gospel according to the prophet Isaiah, I see a suffering servant dying as a "guilt offering" at the hands of his own people, Zion (or Jerusalem). I see a servant who does things that can only happen in life, after his death has already occurred: He sees offspring, prolongs days, and sees light. In these things he is satisfied, for he has accomplished the will of God.

I see resurrection here for all of us.

The Hope I See for the Developing World

Jesus accomplished all the things in this prophesy. He is the suffering servant. In Jesus, I see hope for the entire world, including hope to overcome the pain being experienced by those in poverty in the developing world.

It is in Jesus that all things are possible (Philippians 4:13). In Jesus, one day, all things will be made new (Revelation 21). It is Jesus who can sympathize with our weaknesses and intercede on our behalf. It is Jesus who has overcome all.

Perhaps the author of Hebrews states it best:

"Therefore, since the children share in blood and flesh, he also in like manner shared in these same things, in order that through death he could destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and could set free these who through fear of death were subject to slavery throughout all their lives" (Hebrews 2:14-15).

Jesus has come to set us free. And we are given the opportunity to set others free, from spiritual and physical poverty. Let us live that message this day. Let us feel it. Let it be like the joy of Easter Sunday, the resurrection day, when we embrace the spiritual resurrection Jesus offers now and the resurrection of the dead when he one day returns. Let us live the resurrected life now.

 

(The views on Isaiah 53 in this post are based on my book The Resurrected Servant in Isaiah, published by InterVarsity Press, 2010.)

This article was previously published under the title, "Resurrection for All People, from All Pain, in Jesus."

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to walk a Stations of the Cross path for the first time at a local abbey. Stations of the Cross is a path made up of a series of images depicting the story of the day of Jesus’ crucifixion. Each station has an image and an accompanying prayer to read as you contemplate what Jesus experienced in his last moments before death. Many Christians walk through the stations during Lent because they focus on the suffering and sacrifice of the Lord leading to the celebration of the Resurrection.

When I visited the stations, I hadn’t known much about them and I didn’t know what to expect. Some of my reflections were surprising, others humbling, but the whole experience left my spirit quieted by Jesus and what he did for us. Here are a few of the reflections I made on my journey.

1. Jesus Became Weak for Us

Sometimes it’s difficult to picture how Jesus suffered. But as I stood at the fifth station and saw the picture of Simon helping Jesus carry the cross, I was reminded of the gruesome nature of Jesus’ death because of his humanity. Jesus was tired. He was exhausted. He was dirty. He had a human body, and that body was quitting on him. At some point, he nearly gave up—he needed help to carry his own cross.

Before his death, he was thirsty, and he had to drink wine from a sponge on a stick. We don’t always think about it, but Jesus got thirsty. And he got hungry, too. When Jesus came to earth he became like us—small and weak.

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” (Philippians 2:5-7, ESV)

2. God Isn’t Surprised

Many of the images made my stomach clench because of the horror of how Jesus died. Then I thought about the prophecies from hundreds of years before. Jesus was not surprised by how he was betrayed or how he was mocked or how it was finally finished. The blood and dirt did not shock him. God the Father was not surprised, either, as he turned away.

Everything that happened those last days from Gethsemane to Golgotha was known by God. He knew that Jesus would suffer, and that the suffering would ultimately lead to salvation.

Knowing it was planned doesn’t make the scene any less brutal. But it does remind us that God’s hand is in everything—even the things that make us cringe.

“For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.” (Isaiah 46:9b-10, ESV)

3. Jesus’ Death Was Sad, but also Peaceful

At the last station, I was very emotional because I could imagine the feeling of loss among the disciples. Their friend had just died and they were left alone.

I bet they felt abandoned. I bet they knew it would all be worth it, but I bet they were filled with sorrow. Even knowing they would see him again would not be enough to fully ease the pain of loss. But after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension to heaven, God sent the Spirit to guide us. We are not left alone, and that truth brings us peace.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:27, ESV)

These are words of peace Jesus leaves with his disciples before his journey to the cross.

4. We Have a Place in the Resurrection Story

Each station’s image was covered in a glass case, and as I stood at each one, I often found my eyes wandering to the reflection of my own face in the glass. I tried to avert my focus, to turn my eyes away from myself and onto Jesus.

But as I stood there, my face reflected at the feet of Jesus as he hung on the cross, I was struck with the reminder that this story is for us, too. Just as Jesus died with the full weight of our sin on the cross, so we “[die] to sin” daily so that we can be “alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 6:11, ESV)

Jesus died because all of us are sinful and we can’t amend that on our own. Jesus died because he has such deep love for us and he truly wants to spend eternity with us.

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit.” (1 Peter 3:18, ESV)

Jesus’ death shocks us. It humbles us and baffles us. It changes us. It brings us to our knees and reminds us of the greatness of God. We can live because Jesus died.  What a wonderful paradox.

In the middle of Lenten season, I encourage you to reflect on the journey Jesus took so that we might have life because of death.

 

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We all have moments of despair, but there are also the days when the sun peaks through the clouds and we stop and say, “You know, God really is here and working among us. I’m not alone at all.” It’s these moments that we have to capitalize on. These feelings of new life, of resurrection, can transform our lives and the lives of others.

1. Resurrection gets us through the rough times.

The last month has been rough for me. I have often felt like everything is going the opposite way it should. But today, I realize that Jesus is here. It’s not that I didn’t believe that before—of course, I did—but today I feel like he is sitting next to me. When I think about Jesus’ presence among us, about his resurrected life, I imagine how Mary Magdalene must have felt upon seeing the resurrected Jesus. John’s Gospel records:

“Mary stood outside at the tomb, weeping. Then, while she was weeping, she bent over to look into the tomb, and she saw two angels in white, seated one at the head and one at the feet where the body of Jesus had been lying. And they said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have put him!’ When she had said these things, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?’ She thought that it was the gardener, and said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will take him.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’ She turned around and said to him in Aramaic, ‘Rabboni’ (which means ‘Teacher’). Jesus said to her, ‘Do not touch me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and tell them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, and my God and your God.” ’ Mary Magdalene came and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord.’” (John 20:11–18 LEB).

When you encounter the living Jesus, in the midst of despair, everything changes.

Here’s how my viewpoint recently changed: I just had the wonderful opportunity of announcing that the organization I lead, Jesus’ Economy, will be able to fund two church planters in northern India for another year. For us, reaching this goal was huge and difficult. And honestly, I wasn’t sure if we would make it. But I also couldn’t bear the thought of not living up to our commitment to fund these two church planters for three years.

The prompting of being on mission for Jesus, in proclamation of his resurrection, is what kept me going through this rough patch. And God coming through inspired me.

I believe the resurrected Jesus will keep you going, no matter what you’re going through.

2. Resurrection is self-sacrificial.

I often think of what various holidays are like for those serving Jesus around the world—and of course, I especially think of our church planters in northern India.

Our church planters in northern India are living self-sacrificially everyday, spreading the gospel to those who have never heard Jesus’ name. Their lives are living testimonies of who Jesus is. And this puts it all in perspective for me: all of my difficulties do not remotely compare to their hardships. And yet, they get the splendid opportunity of seeing Jesus work everyday—which really makes it all worth it.

Easter resurrection is something real for church planters in northern India: They regularly see lives fully transformed by Jesus. And so, their lives make me wonder how much better and fuller my life would be if I could make the same kind of sacrifice. This makes me think of Jesus’ words just prior to the cross:

“This is my commandment: that you love one another just as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this: that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:12–13 LEB).

Living resurrected life with Jesus means living self-sacrificially. And that changes everything. It makes every difficulty an opportunity to do something good for someone else. It takes the perspective off of us, and puts the perspective on God’s workings in the world.

3. Resurrection is a fresh perspective on the world.

Until this last month, I thought of thankfulness as an attitude, but it’s so much more. Thankfulness is a perspective we look at the world through. As we are grateful for the resurrected life of Christ, and the resurrected life he offers us, our worldview changes. It’s not about saying, “Oh, I’m so grateful I have all this (whatever this is for you).” Thankfulness is saying, “Oh, I’m so grateful that Jesus came for me (for all of us), and that he is with me now—right here.” Saint Paul put it this way:

“One person prefers one day over another day, and another person regards every day alike [for the Sabbath and festivals]. Each one must be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who is intent on the day is intent on it for the Lord, and the one who eats eats for the Lord [in celebration], because he is thankful to God, and the one who does not eat does not eat for the Lord [that is he fasts], and he is thankful to God. For none of us lives for himself and none dies for himself. For if we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord. Therefore whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For Christ died and became alive again for this reason, in order that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living” (Romans 14:5–9 LEB).

Paul is talking about various viewpoints for feasting, celebration, worship services, and fasting among his audience, but this has a direct implication for us. Whatever we do, let us do it for Christ, in thankfulness—in order that he might be Lord over all things in our lives, in every season.

It’s this perspective that perfectly fits with the Easter season, when we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection for each of us, for all of us. This season we celebrate Jesus’ resurrected life and his resurrection of our lives.

I’m not saying that this sorts everything out; like all of us, I still get depressed along the way. But today on the other side of this, I feel different—today, I realize that God is much greater than I could ever imagine. Today, I realize that he indeed always comes through—he resurrects our efforts and turns them into something beautiful.

On the cross, Jesus felt the agony of the entire world, including those who feel voiceless in the developing world. He died for us, all of us, so that freedom from sin and all of its consequences could be accomplished; so that we may live in relationship with God once again. All we must do is choose him back (John 3:16), to cry out to Jesus.

The Prophesy of the Suffering Servant

"Yet Yahweh was pleased to crush him; he afflicted [him] (with sickness). If she [Zion/Jerusalem] places his life a guilt offering, he will see offspring, he will prolong days and the will of Yahweh in his hand will succeed. From the trouble of his life he will see light. He will be satisfied. In his knowledge, my righteous servant shall make the many righteous and he will bear their iniquities.

Therefore I will divide to him [a portion] among the many, and with [the] strong ones he shall divide bounty, because he exposed his life to death and was counted with transgressors, and he carried [the] sin of many and will intercede for transgressors" (Isaiah 53:10-12, my translation).

500 years before Jesus, these words were prophesied. And in them is resurrection, for all of us. There is resurrection for the suffering in the developing world, who have placed their hands in my hands asking for prayer for relief from the pain. There is resurrection for the homeless man who I watched cry out "Jesus Christ my Lord," asking for salvation from his addictions. There is resurrection for me, the sinner who is only saved because of Jesus. There is resurrection for all of us.

The Resurrection I See

Here, in the gospel according to the prophet Isaiah, I see a suffering servant dying as a "guilt offering" at the hands of his own people, Zion (or Jerusalem). I see a servant who does things that can only happen in life, after his death has already occurred: He sees offspring, prolongs days, and sees light. In these things he is satisfied, for he has accomplished the will of God.

I see resurrection here for all of us.

The Hope I See for the Developing World

Jesus accomplished all the things in this prophesy. He is the suffering servant. In Jesus, I see hope for the entire world, including hope to overcome the pain being experienced by those in poverty in the developing world.

It is in Jesus that all things are possible (Philippians 4:13). In Jesus, one day, all things will be made new (Revelation 21). It is Jesus who can sympathize with our weaknesses and intercede on our behalf. It is Jesus who has overcome all.

Perhaps the author of Hebrews states it best:

"Therefore, since the children share in blood and flesh, he also in like manner shared in these same things, in order that through death he could destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and could set free these who through fear of death were subject to slavery throughout all their lives" (Hebrews 2:14-15).

Jesus has come to set us free. And we are given the opportunity to set others free, from spiritual and physical poverty. Let us live that message this day. Let us feel it. Let it be like the joy of Easter Sunday, the resurrection day, when we embrace the spiritual resurrection Jesus offers now and the resurrection of the dead when he one day returns. Let us live the resurrected life now.

 

(The views on Isaiah 53 in this post are based on my book The Resurrected Servant in Isaiah, published by InterVarsity Press, 2010.)