The Vicar of Dibley, a UK TV sitcom featuring a woman vicar played by Dawn French, is based on the life of one of the first women vicars – Joy Carroll Wallis. A few years ago, Pippa and I met Joy. She told us a story about when she was an Anglican priest in London.
One of the congregation members was a very godly eighty-seven-year-old woman, called Flory Shore, who underwent serious surgery. Flory had been told that her prospects of recovery were very slim.
Thankfully, she survived the surgery. As she opened her eyes, one of the first things she saw was the blurred image of her doctor, dressed in his white jacket.
She smiled and said, ‘Hello God! I’m Flory Shore.’
Joy commented that this demonstrated two things. First, it showed Flory’s humility. She did not expect God to know who she was. Second, it showed her absolute certainty about the resurrection and where she was going.
Her certainty about the resurrection was based on the cornerstone of Christianity: the resurrection of Jesus Christ on the first Easter day. The same power that raised Jesus from the dead now lives in you through the Holy Spirit (see Ephesians 1:18–23). One day, you too will be raised and be able to say, ‘Hello God!’
Life beyond the gravePsalm 49:1-20
There is a stark contrast between life without God, and life with God.
- Life without God
Those who live without God tend to end up trusting in either wealth (v.6a) or themselves (v.13a). This trust is characterised by a search for status. The wealthy may ‘boast of their great riches’ (v.6b) and use money to impress others with their possessions (v.16). They may even name lands after themselves (v.11a).
They enjoy the praise of others (v.18b) and they count ‘themselves blessed’ (v.18a). They may try to use their wealth to ‘buy off’ their own death (v.7). Yet no amount of money is ever enough (v.8). In the end, it is all futile as wealth gets left to others (v.10b). ‘So don’t be impressed with those who get rich and pile up fame and fortune. They can’t take it with them’ (vv.16–17a, MSG). What is this all worth if we ‘decay in the grave?’ (v.14).
- Life with God
By contrast, if you live a life with God there is no need to search for status. This is because your status is determined not by your success in accumulating wealth, but in knowing to whom you belong and how precious you are to him.
Your ransom has been paid (v.7b) and you have been redeemed – your future is secure: ‘But me? God snatches me from the clutch of death, he reaches down and grabs me’ (v.15, MSG).
A life with God means you will ‘live on for ever and not see decay’ (v.9). The psalmist says, ‘Why should I fear?’ (v.5). Fear is a natural human emotion. But, with God you can face your fears with confidence because you are able to have complete trust in God for this life and the life to come.
Here is one of the few hints in the Old Testament of life after death. The writer is confident that ‘God will redeem my life from the grave; he will surely take me to himself’ (v.15). Life with God does not end with death but continues on into eternity. The psalmist was confident in this, even though he did not know how it was possible. The answer is revealed through Jesus’ resurrection.
Lord, thank you for the power of your resurrection, which now lives in me. Thank you that you will snatch me from the clutch of death and take me to yourself.
The dead will riseLuke 20:27-21:4
When we start to think about the resurrection and life after death, it is hard to imagine what it will be like. What will people look like? What kind of body will you have? How will we relate to one another?
Sometimes, people use these kinds of questions to suggest that the idea of the resurrection is fanciful or even absurd. The Sadducees belonged to a ‘party that denies any possibility of resurrection’ (20:27, MSG). They came to Jesus with this kind of trick question about a woman who had had seven husbands, asking mockingly how it would all work out with the resurrection.
Jesus answered by explaining that their question is flawed because they are working with a this-worldly mindset. The resurrection will transform all our human relationships and the need for marriage as a means of continuing a family line will be removed (vv.34–36).
Jesus answers the question, but then goes on to address the real issue. The Sadducees were unimpressed by the hints of the resurrection in the Old Testament because they placed far greater weight on the first five books of the Bible (the Pentateuch).
Jesus takes them on, on their own territory, by quoting from one of these books: ‘Moses showed that the dead rise, for he calls the Lord “the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob”. He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive’ (vv.37–38).
Jesus is absolutely clear that he believed, not only in his own resurrection, but also in a much wider ‘resurrection from the dead’ (v.35). Those who rise ‘can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection’ (v.36).
Of course, it all depends on Jesus being who he claimed to be. Jesus points out that he is not only a son of David, he is David’s Lord (vv.41–44). If Jesus is Lord, you can be confident in his assurance that ‘the dead rise’ (v.37).
If you really believe in the resurrection it changes your attitude to everything in life, including your possessions. Like the widow (21:1–4) you are challenged to give generously, hold your possessions lightly and, ultimately, to be willing to give up everything you have in this life.
Furthermore, you have a whole different perspective on this life. There is real hope in the face of the tragedy of death. This life is only the beginning.
Lord, thank you so much for dying for me and thank you for the amazing hope that I have through your resurrection. Thank you that the same power that raised Jesus from the dead will raise us also.
The everlasting armsDeuteronomy 33:1-34:12
If ever a person had a good end to their life it was Moses: ‘Moses was 120 years old when he died. His eyesight was sharp; he still walked with a spring in his step’ (34:7, MSG). He had lived a life of knowing the Lord ‘face to face’ (v.10).
Moses had been greatly used by God: ‘For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did’ (v.12).
One of the great challenges in life is to finish well. Part of finishing well is planning succession.
Moses finished well. He had planned for Joshua to be his successor: ‘Now Joshua son of Nun was filled with the spirit of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands on him. So the Israelites listened to him and did what the Lord commanded Moses’ (v.9). This is one of the few examples of the anointing of God passing from one generation to the next.
Before he died, Moses blessed all the different tribes with some extraordinary words. For example, about Benjamin he said, ‘Let the beloved of the Lord rest secure in him, for he shields him all day long, and the one the Lord loves rests between his shoulders’ (33:12).
As he comes to the end, having blessed each tribe, he says, ‘There is no one like the God of Jeshurun, who rides on the heavens to help you and on the clouds in his majesty. The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms’ (vv.26–27a).
Moses perhaps realised that death was not the end. He trusted the eternal God and he knew his arms were everlasting.
This does not entirely remove the pain and sadness of death. The people wept and mourned when Moses died (34:8a). It is natural and important to grieve and vital that we do so. Your emotions are God-given and should not be repressed.
However, there is a difference between grief with no hope, and the grief of the believer who has hope in the resurrection (1 Thessalonians 4:13).
I have been to many funerals and memorial services over the years and often the opening words are these great, reassuring, comforting and powerful words: ‘The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms’ (Deuteronomy 33:27a).
Lord, may I, like Moses, live in a close relationship with you, and know that the eternal God is my refuge and underneath are the everlasting arms.
‘There is no one like the God of Jeshurun, who rides on the heavens to help you and on the clouds in his majesty. The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.’
Words of great comfort when facing difficult times.
Verse of the Day
‘The eternal God is your refuge,
and underneath are the everlasting arms’ (Deuteronomy 33:27).
Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.
Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.