I Am the Resurrection and the Life

Topical Scripture: John 11:21-26

Two deaths during the month of April dominated the news here and abroad. One lived a full life devoted to public service; the other never had a chance to live. Both had families who loved them. When former first lady Barbara Bush died at the age of 92 a few weeks ago, she told one of her sons, “I believe in Jesus and he is my savior. I don’t want to leave your dad but I know I’ll be in a beautiful place.”

When Alfie Evans died in Great Britain after life support was withdrawn upon court order, his father said, “My gladiator laid down his shield and gained his wings….” His 23-month-old son had been the subject of a legal battle by his parents to keep the child alive for further treatments.

When Mark Twain buried his beloved daughter Olivia’s body, he placed over her grave this epitaph: “Warm summer sun, shine kindly here; Warm southern wind, blow softly here; Green sod, lie light, good night, dear heart.” He was sure that she was in the grave, that death is all there is.

Was he right?

What happens when we die? When death comes to someone we care about? In our series on faith issues from the seven “I Am” statements of Jesus, we can consider no more relevant or emotional questions than these.

Why do we die?

W.C. Fields on his deathbed was seen thumbing through a Bible. Someone asked why. His answer: “Looking for loopholes.” But he didn’t find any. The death rate is still 100 percent. If Lazarus, Jesus’ best friend, was not kept from dying, neither will we.

In fact, you and I are one day closer to death and eternity than we have ever been before.

God’s word warns us: “It is appointed unto all men once to die, and then the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). Death comes for us all.

Neither wisdom nor wealth can prevent it: “All can see that wise men die; the foolish and the senseless alike perish and leave their wealth to others” (Psalm 49:10). We all face the same end, unless Jesus returns first: “Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (James 4:14).

On a tombstone in Sevenoaks, Kent, England, are found these words:

“Grim death took me without any warning

I was well at night, and dead in the morning.”

It can happen that way for any of us.

But why? Why does death exist? If God were all-loving, he’d want to destroy death, we assume. If he were all powerful, he could. But he doesn’t. Why did he allow someone you loved to die, or the Holocaust, or 9/11?

Here’s the simple answer: because of sin.

The Bible teaches, “Sin entered the world through man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all have sinned” (Romans 5:12). The thief on the cross said, “We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve” (Luke 23:41).

This wasn’t God’s intention. He created a perfect world for his children. But when sin entered, death stayed. Death exists, not because God doesn’t love us or isn’t powerful, but because of sin.

Sometimes we die because of our own sin, as did the thief at Jesus’ side. Sometimes we die because of the sins of others, as when a drunk driver kills a child, or a terrorist flies an airplane into a skyscraper. Sometimes we die because of the sin of humanity, as a result of the diseases and disasters which plague this fallen planet. But we all die because of the existence of sin.

However, Jesus died so our sins could be forgiven. Why, then, do we still die?

God’s word is clear: “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable” (1 Corinthians 15:50). Physical death frees us to live forever in glorified bodies with God in his heaven.

Then one day, death will be destroyed forever: “Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of five” (Revelation 20:14). His word promises: “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

What happens when we die?

So, what happens in the moment when you die?

You are with Christ, if Jesus is your Lord.

Jesus told the thief at his side, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). Jesus taught us that the moment we die, the angels carry us to God’s side (Luke 16:22). When you close your eyes here you open them there. You will never die (John 11:26; Philippians 1:23). You are forever and always with Jesus.

You’re home.

Paul said, “We would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). Most of us have had surgery of some kind. You are in one room, then you fall asleep; when you awake, you’re done. It’s that way for us all.

You’re in glory.

Heaven is paradise, as Jesus said. Paul said, “to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21), for “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord” (Revelation 14:13). We will gain imperishable, glorified, spiritual bodies (1 Corinthians 15:42-44), and be like Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:49). We will know God and each other as we are known (1 Corinthians 13:12). And we will eat of the tree of life and live forever (Revelation 22).

Dwight Moody on his deathbed said, “If this is death, it is sweet. There is no valley here. Dwight! Irene! I see the children’s faces. God is calling me. I must go. Earth recedes. Heaven opens before me.”

If Jesus is your Lord, when you die you won’t. Instead, you’ll see God. And you’ll be safely home.

Three reasons your resurrection is relevant today

When Martha began her conversation with Jesus, she was full of grief but also faith. She clearly believed that Jesus could have saved her brother had he arrived sooner, and she held onto hope that he could still bring healing to their crisis (John 11:22). However, her response when he spoke of resurrection, and even more her objections when he began raising Lazarus (v. 39), showed that her optimism was limited to the next life.

Before Jesus, resurrection was little more than a theological hope. The Sadducees denied it even existed, while the Pharisees incorporated it into their understanding of the afterlife. Jesus, however, made it relevant here and now. He made it something more than a hope—he made it a reality.

What difference does the reality of your resurrection make in your life today?

One: The security of eternity in Christ gives us courage in the present.

If you were told that you have ten years to live, but that you are guaranteed not to die until then, would you be more or less afraid of tomorrow? As Christians, this is how we should approach every day.

The worst that can happen to us leads to the best that can happen to us. We can say every day with Paul, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).

Where do you need courage to serve Jesus today?

Two: The security of eternity in Christ gives us hope for those who have died.

Most of us have loved someone who died. My father died in 1979, my mother in 2008. A personal friend died recently at the age of twenty-nine. But the fact of our resurrection means that we “do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13 NIV).

Our faith in the midst of our loss is a powerful witness to an unbelieving world. And it sustains us in the darkest nights of grief.

We can say with David, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me” (Psalm 23:4). Notice that David did not say we walk “into” the valley, but “through” it to the other side.

Three: The security of eternity in Christ gives us motivation to share our faith.

Jesus is the only resurrection and life. He is the only way to life beyond death. Giving the gospel to others is not imposing our values on them—it is sharing the greatest gift there is.

If you had a cure for all cancer, sharing it with the world would be an obvious imperative. In Christ, you have a cure for eternal death. Sharing it is a privilege.


Because Jesus is the resurrection and the life, when we die, we don’t. When we breathe our last breath here, we breathe our first breath in paradise. When we close our eyes on earth, we open them in God’s presence.

Jesus was emphatic: “Whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:26). Are you ready for that day?

There’s an old legend about a Baghdad merchant who sent his servant to the market to buy food. After a few minutes the servant ran back, pale and trembling. He stammered, “Down in the marketplace I was pushed by a man in the crowd. I turned around and saw the man was Death. He raised his arm to strike me. Please, Master, lend me your fastest horse so I can get away. I will ride to Samarra, where I can hide. Death will not find me there.”

The merchant lent his fastest horse to the servant, who rode away swiftly. He then went down to the marketplace himself, where he also saw Death standing in the crowd.

“Why did you frighten my servant this morning?” he asked. “Why did you scare him like that?” Death replied, “I was not trying to scare him. I was simply surprised. I was astonished to see him here in Baghdad. You see, I have an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.”

Let’s make sure we’re ready for ours.

I Am the True Vine

Topical Scripture: John 6:35

You and I live in a culture that separates Sunday from Monday and religion from the “real world.” We learned this heresy from the ancient Greeks, who had transactional relationships with their gods.

They offered their gods what their deities wanted in order to get what they wanted. But these were mean, capricious gods. You didn’t want a personal, intimate relationship with them. You made offerings to placate them, then went on your way.

The Romans adopted this approach to religion. When Christianity spread into the larger Roman world, many of its followers adopted the same mindset.

They eventually invented the concept of “clergy,” separating the religions leaders from everyone else. Then they constructed buildings so the clergy would have a place to work while everyone else watched. Then they developed a monastic mindset that measures spirituality by time spent in the building.

All the while, the “real world” outside the church recognized none of these values. You had to go along to get along. You had to make a living to make a life. So, you went to church on Sunday to please God, hoping he would bless you on Monday.

None of this is what Jesus intended for his followers. In our last “I Am,” he offers a metaphor that explodes our Western separation of the “spiritual” and the “secular.” Let’s see what he taught and why it matters so much to our souls today.

How do we become part of the vine?

Our text is part of Maundy Thursday and Jesus’ “Farewell Discourse” with his disciples. The “I am” he states is simple and profound: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener” (v. 1). “I am” is emphatic in the Greek. The definite article, “the true vine,” shows that he is the one and only. But how is he a “vine”?

Our Lord and his disciples have probably turned off the road and into one of the temple courts for a while. Here they’ve come face to face with one of the most beautiful and powerful symbols in all Israel: the vine of grapes. A large vine of pure gold, fixed to the gate of the Temple itself.

The “vine” was Israel’s image of herself. She put it on her coins and used it constantly. As America’s image is the eagle, and Russia’s is the bear, so Israel’s was the vine. Over and over again in the Old Testament, this symbol was used for their nation.

However, the Old Testament also makes clear that Israel’s vine had degenerated. Her vineyard has run wild; her grapes are sour and bitter. The psalmist complained: “Your vine is cut down, it is burned with fire” (Psalm 80:16). Jeremiah quotes the Lord: “How did you turn against me into a corrupt, wild vine?” (Jeremiah 2:21; cf. Isaiah 5:7).

On the other hand, Jesus is the “true,” authentic and correct vine. Israel is the false and corrupted vine; Jesus is the true and right vine. Being “attached” to their temple or our church is not enough. Being an adherent of their religion or ours is not enough. We must be connected to the “true” vine, the only One who is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). No other vine will do.

When we trust in Christ as Savior and Lord, we become his. We “shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16); we are “a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17); we “shall never perish,” for no one can take us out of Jesus’ hand (John 10:28). All this happens when we make Jesus our Lord.

To what vine are you attached today?

What is spiritual fruit?

It’s not enough to be in the vine—we are also supposed to bear fruit: “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples” (v. 8). If we bear “fruit,” we are his true disciples. If we do not, we are not.

So, what is this spiritual fruit? How do we bear it? What happens to us if we don’t?

The vines of Israel, then and now, grow two types of branches. One bears fruit—the other does not. Those which do not bear fruit are immediately cut off, so they won’t burden those which do. Those which do bear fruit are pruned—cut back, disciplined as it were—so they will bear more fruit. This occurs each year in December and January.

Jesus’ point is clear: some branches bear fruit, while others do not. How do we know which we are? Here is the “fruit” God inspects.

One: Our lives glorify God. “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit” (v. 8a). Jesus told us to “let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). When last did someone praise God because of you?

Two: We have the joy of Jesus. “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete” (v. 11). When we are properly related to the vine, we bear the “fruit of the Spirit,” including “joy” (Galatians 5:22). We have joy which no circumstances can give or steal. How much joy is in your heart today?

Three: We reproduce spiritually, bearing “fruit that will last” (v. 16). A tree reproduces by bearing fruit—so does a disciple. We are to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). We are to tell what we know, to give what we have. God measures the faith we possess by the degree to which we share it.

How do we bear spiritual fruit?

So, what do we do to bear such fruit? How can we be attached to the vine so that our lives glorify God, bring us joy, and bring others to him? Let’s learn Jesus’ imperatives, as they build one on the other.

First, admit that we need the vine: “apart from me you can do nothing” (v. 5). Not something, but “nothing.” No matter our stock portfolio or educational achievements, or title or status.

When we moved to Midland many years ago, I was sent out to the front yard to clear off all the vines that had grown up on the walls of the house. I thought they looked just fine, but the landscape artist who lived inside disagreed. So, being the hired help, out I went.

I pulled at ivy and vines for hours, to little effect. Then a thought occurred to me: it would be easier to cut them off at the roots, then come back later. I did—a week later they were all dead. I didn’t have to pull them off the brick—I could brush them off. They had turned to dust. The branches couldn’t abide without the vine.

Admit that you need the vine, that you’ll shrivel up and die without staying connected to Jesus every day. “Abide” in him, choose to stay connected with Jesus every day, to “remain in me” (v. 2). A branch without the vine is Christianity without Christ. A branch in the vine climbs and grows to the sky.

Second, pray continually: “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you” (v. 7).

How much do you pray? How often? Prayer is how we connect with the vine. We are never taller than when we are on our knees. We are never stronger than when we are surrendered to God in prayer.

Third, obey his word: “If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love” (v. 10).

Is there an area of disobedience in your life? Do you need to confess gossip, slander, anger, lust, laziness, pride? Are you giving the tithe to the Lord? Are you using your spiritual gifts fully in evangelism and ministry?

Last, love his people: “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you” (v. 12). How did he love us? Unconditionally, absolutely, no matter how we treated him. Our Master says it again: “This is my command: Love one another” (v. 17).

You may not have the human ability to love all those God loves. There may be people in your family, community, or church whose words or actions have hurt you. You may find it difficult if not impossible to forgive. But your Father will help you. If you will abide in him, his Spirit will give you the grace to give others. He will lift the burden of your pain, heal the wounds of your betrayal, calm the fears of your frustration. He will love his people through you.


Your culture wants you to separate soul and body, Sunday and Monday. Your Lord wants you to abide continually in his presence in dependence, prayer, and obedience.

The choice is yours. But know this: the only way you and I will impact our lost world is by abiding in Jesus. The only way we can speak words that change lives is if he speaks through us. The only way we can love those who do not love us or our Lord is with his love.

But when we abide in him, he works in us and through us. And the world cannot be the same.

Many years ago, my church in Midland, Texas invited a retired Baptist missionary to Vietnam to speak to our annual missions banquet. He told a story I’ll never forget.

It had been a difficult day. People were not responsive to his work; churches were struggling; his car had broken down and he had to ride around town in a beat-up taxi. The heat was oppressive. He got home that evening to discover that a thief had stolen all his family’s furniture and belongings, leaving only their sofa in the middle of the living room.

The missionary collapsed on that couch in total frustration and prayed, “God, I can’t do it any longer. I don’t love these people. You have to get me out of here. I don’t love the Vietnamese anymore.” He sat for hours on that couch, praying and crying, angry and bitter. Around 2:00 in the morning, the Lord spoke to his heart and said, “You’re not here because you love the Vietnamese. You’re here because I love the Vietnamese.”

If you abide in the vine this week, someone will see your Father’s love in yours. This is the promise, and the invitation, of God.

I Am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life

Topical Scripture: John 14:1-6

Today is Mother’s Day. If you still need to get a gift, take heart…number one on the list of gifts most moms want may surprise you, and can be provided at low cost. According to a recent survey, a whopping 52% of moms want more sleep. Next to more sleep on the list, moms wanted a spa day. Who wouldn’t? Third was a great day out with family. Jewelry ranked lowest on the list.

The answers shouldn’t come as a great surprise. A poll of over 1000 new moms showed that 90% said they feel tired or exhausted on most days. There are no days off for mothers, and research shows that the average hours moms work per week is 98, the equivalent of 2.5 full-time jobs. No wonder they want more sleep.

On April 13, 1989, in Los Angeles, California, a little girl named Tiffany Schaffer was walking home from school clutching her teddy bear. Mrs. Johnnie Matheston, mother of one, was waiting at a red light where Tiffany was crossing the street.

All at once a man turned right on red and headed right for little Tiffany. Mrs. Matheston blew her horn, but it was too late. She watched in horror as the blue Datsun ran over the little girl. The car stopped, with Tiffany directly under the motor. Before anyone could react, Johnnie Matheston got out of her car, ran to the twenty-six-hundred-pound car and picked up the front end four inches while someone pulled Tiffany out.

Tiffany escaped with only two broken bones and some abrasions. Mrs. Matheston pulled two muscles but was otherwise unhurt. Though six months pregnant, she dead-lifted over one thousand pounds—something no man has ever done, but one mother did.

Today we come to our sixth “I Am” statement of Jesus, one that offers us a remarkable promise. After we explore our Lord’s words, we will apply them to this special and sacred day. And we will learn that, next to our Lord, we owe our mothers an incalculable debt for their faith, hope, and love.

Truth is now tolerance

A friend once told me this less than spiritual story. It seems a lady called a Baptist pastor to say that she’d been visiting and wanted to join. “That’s wonderful,” he replied. “Yes, but first I’d like to ask you something. My dog just died, and I’d like to bury him at the church.”

The pastor was shocked: “Ma’am, we don’t do such things in the Baptist church. Maybe the Methodist church down the street would do that for you.” “I’m so sorry,” she replied. “I was thinking of giving half a million dollars to the church.” The pastor immediately answered, “Oh, you didn’t tell me it was a Baptist dog.”

Being Baptist or Methodist has never mattered less than it does today. For the first time in American history, Protestants comprise less than 50 percent of the total population. The proportion of Roman Catholics in the general population is 20 percent. The group growing the most quickly is composed of those who declare no religious affiliation at all.

The watchword in our culture today is “tolerance.” Only 35 percent of Americans believe that moral truth is absolute. It is conventional wisdom today that truth is personal and subjective. To claim objective truth is to be insensitive and intolerant.

Four claims of Jesus

In light of this “new” morality, consider Jesus’ statements to his followers on the night before his crucifixion.

Our text begins: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me” (John 14:1). The Greek syntax indicates the stopping of an action currently in progress; the phrase could be rendered, “Stop letting your hearts be troubled . . ..”

Jesus has just instituted the Lord’s Supper, at which he told his disciples again of his impending death (13:33). Imagine a loved one who just told you that he or she would die tomorrow—it is no wonder that they were “troubled” (the same word used for the “troubling” of the waters at Bethesda, John 5:7).

If anyone deserved to be comforted while facing his own “troubled heart,” it was Jesus on this night. Soon he would suffer the worst torture and execution humans can invent. And yet he is the one comforting them!

Jesus will soon die for their sins, abandoned by them at the cross. Imagine a victim comforting her murderer, a Jew comforting a Nazi, a black slave comforting a lynch mob. And so, Jesus comforts us still with these precious words.

Consider four claims by our Lord:

First, Jesus claimed that he is God.

“Trust in God; trust also in me” (v. 1). The Greek construction makes clear that the first and second phrase are parallel, equating the two. In this brief sentence Jesus clearly defined himself as divine. In verse 9 he added, “Anyone who has seen me as seen the Father.” Earlier the authorities tried to stone him to death “because you claim to be God” (John 10:33). Other religious leaders claim to reveal God; Jesus claims to be God.

Second, he is preparing heaven for us.

“I am going there to prepare a place for you” (v. 2). Earlier, Peter had asked him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus replied, “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later” (John 13:36). Now he fulfills that promise with this one.

“Prepare” means to go before and make ready for the arrival of others (cf. Hebrews 6:19–20). This word was used for the “preparations” made by Peter and John for the Passover meal just completed (Mark 14:12). Other religious leaders told their followers how to get to heaven; Jesus is preparing heaven for us.

Third, he will take us there himself (v. 3).

“Take you to be with me” means “to walk alongside of.” Jesus didn’t return home after leaving directions for finding our way there—he promised to come back and lead us there personally. Other religious leaders pointed the way to heaven; Jesus will take us there personally.

Fourth, he is the only way to God (v. 6).

His Greek was emphatic: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” Still later, Jesus was even more emphatic: “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18). No one in all of human history ever made this claim. Other religious leaders said, “I know the way, truth, life”; Jesus claimed to be the way, truth, and life.

We need to be clear on these claims to absolute truth. Jesus said in essence: I am God; I am preparing your place in heaven; I will take you there; I alone can take you there. Acts 4:12 asserts, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” The Bible clearly claims that Jesus Christ is the only way, the only truth, the only life.

Gratitude for godly mothers

How is this text relevant to Mother’s Day?

First, if your mother is no longer living but made Christ her Lord, she is in heaven with him right now. Your mother did not die when her physical life ended. She stepped from time into eternity, from death into life, from this fallen world into God’s glorious paradise.

I remember my mother’s homegoing as if it were last week. She had been ill for years and in rapidly declining health for several days. It was a Sunday. My brother and I were with her in her hospice room. We were talking together and looked over to check on her when we discovered that she had died.

In that moment, something died inside of me. There is something we cannot fully explain about the death of the person who gave us life. My mind flashed back to so many moments when her love was so real for me. It was impossible to imagine a world without her in it. But I knew in my soul that I would see her again, that she was home and she was well. And that fact gave me the comfort I needed.

Two days later, I was alone with her body at the funeral home, and the finality of her death became real for me in an even deeper way. Once again, the fact of her eternal life with Jesus enabled me to stand beside her dead body and know that she was alive.

Because Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, our mothers who trust in him are with him forever. As we will be one day.

Second, if your mother helped you know Jesus, you owe her an unpayable debt.

The courage of Moses’ mother saved his life and gave the world all that he did. Hannah’s godly faith gave us Samuel, the last judge and first prophet of Israel. Elizabeth’s faith gave us John the Baptist. Mary’s sacrificial surrender made her the mother of our Lord.

The great expositor G. Campbell Morgan said, “My sermons were Bible stories which I had first learned from my mother.” The remarkable evangelist Dwight L. Moody admitted, “All that I am or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.”

The greatest Baptist preacher ever, Charles Spurgeon, agreed, “I cannot tell how much I owe to the solemn words of my good mother.” The mother of John Newton’s final prayer for her young son before she died was that he become a minister. He led a wayward life of sin before he came to the Amazing Grace of which his hymn testifies.

William Wallace was right: “The hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world.”

If your mother helped you trust in Jesus as your way, truth, and life, thank her today. If she is with the Lord, thank him today.

Third, if you have been given the privilege of motherhood, lead your children to your Lord.

Your influence in their lives cannot be overstated. What you do and say will be with them forever. You are truly writing on the clay of their souls. You have the eternal privilege of helping them receive eternal life.

If they are already believers, continue to help them follow their Lord. You are never too young or too old to minister to them. What Jesus has done in you, he wants to do through you. And your family is your first kingdom assignment.


Since my mother is with Jesus today, I’m remembering her with great gratitude. I’m remembering her courage, her intellect, her unconditional love for me. I’m remembering all the ways God used her to bless me and to draw me to himself.

How would you express your gratitude to or for your mother today?

Let’s close with Peter Marshall’s beautiful Mother’s Day prayer and express in its words our commitment:

“On this day of sacred memories, our Father, we would thank Thee for our mothers who gave us life, who surrounded us early and late with love and care, whose prayers on our behalf still cling around the Throne of Grace, a haunting perfume of love’s petitions.

“Help us, their children, to be more worthy of their love. We know that no sentimentality on this day, no material gifts—no flowers or boxes of candy can atone for our neglect during the rest of the year. So, in the days ahead, may our love speak to the hearts of those who know love best—by kindness, by compassion, by simple courtesy and daily thoughtfulness.

“Bless her whose name we whisper before Thee, and keep her in Thy perfect peace, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

So Great a Cloud of Witnesses

Topical Scripture: Hebrews 12:1-2

Ty Williams was a linebacker for the Georgetown Hoyas. While making a routine tackle during his team’s 2015 season opener, he sustained a fractured vertebra and lost the ability to move his lower body.

He underwent numerous surgeries and spent the last two years in medical rehab working to walk again while completing his degree in government. Last weekend, he walked for the first time since his injury as he crossed the stage to receive his diploma. He got a standing ovation.

Michel de Montaigne, one of the most influential writers in Western history, noted: “Valor is stability, not of legs and arms, but of courage and the soul.” Such valor requires a purpose worth its cost and more.

George Bernard Shaw wrote:

“This is the true joy in life . . . being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one . . . being a force of Nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. . . I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die. For the harder I work the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no brief candle to me. It’s a sort of splendid torch which I’ve got to hold up for the moment and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.”

This weekend our nation remembers the 1.1 million men and women who have died in the service of America and freedom. How do we honor their sacrifice and further their cause? How do we hold up the torch they have handed to us?

Is your life dominated by a mighty purpose, by a cause worth its cost and more?

“A great cloud of witnesses”

Our text begins: “Therefore.” The writer has just described the “hall of faith” in Hebrews 11. He began at the beginning, with Adam and his descendants. He moved to the persecutions they suffered for their faith. He concluded in verse 38, “The world was not worthy of them.”

Now he calls them a “great cloud of witnesses.”

“Great” is the Greek word “mega.” “Cloud” was a common figure of speech, signifying a vast multitude. “Witnesses” comes from the word “martyr,” people who bear witness to their faith no matter what.

The text pictures us in a Roman arena, preparing to run a long and difficult race. In the stands are all those who have run it already. Because they have done it, we can do it.

We look into the stands, and who do we see?

There’s Noah, a man who spent a century to build an ark to survive a flood when he was on dry ground. His neighbors mocked, his friends laughed, but he warned them and preached to them, and trusted God. He’s watching you tonight. You may be tired, or tempted to quit, but he’s saying, “You can do it.”

Over a little further is Moses, eighty years old, tending sheep on the back side of nowhere. Then comes a burning bush, a holy voice, holy ground, a rod into a snake, the Red Sea, the edge of the Promised Land. You need to trust God in spite of opposition, and Moses says, “You can do it.”

There’s Peter. Three times he denied his Lord, cursing his name. Then Jesus forgave him, redeemed him, used him to start the Christian movement. You’ve sinned and failed and fallen and wonder if you can get up and go on, and Peter says, “You can do it.”

They’re all around us. Godly parents and grandparents who have gone before you; those who have been where we are today. Those who taught us in Bible study and preached to us in church, those who prayed with us and walked with us and loved us. They’re part of the “great cloud of witnesses.” They say to us today, “You can do it. You can go on.”

“Let us run with perseverance”

What are they urging us to do?

“Throw off everything”—this is an athletic metaphor for a runner who strips off his coat and jacket and gets down to his running shorts, or a basketball player who strips off his warm-ups to enter the game.

“Hinders” is literally “swollen flesh” or “fat,” that which has built up around our spirit. The text calls us to go on a spiritual diet. “And the sin that so easily entangles” is literally “that which clings close to us.” A robe that tangles up your feet, clothes that hinder your competition. A golfer in winter must remove his parka to swing his club.

For what purpose?

“Let us run with perseverance”—the word means endurance, refusing to quit or give up or give in. “The race marked out for us”—the good, acceptable, and perfect will of God (Romans 12:2). Do what God has called us to do. Commit ourselves fully and only to his perfect will for our lives. Get rid of everything which hinders us from doing the purpose and plan of God for this day.

“Fix our eyes on Jesus”

How do we “run with perseverance,” no matter our obstacles?

“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus”—the words mean to focus with intent and purpose. “The author”—the word for “architect,” the one who designed all that is. In the New Testament, this word is applied only to Jesus. He designed our lives and our faith.

“And perfecter”—the word means the finisher, the first one to finish the race. He’s been where we are going and knows the way. He’s done what we are to do now.

Jesus has obeyed the will of God. In Gethsemane he prayed, “Not my will but yours be done.” He knows what it is to obey the plan and purpose of God. He has done what this text is now calling us to do.

Why did he do it? “Who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Jesus ran his race of sacrifice and suffering because he had a larger purpose. He did it to obey his Father and to purchase our salvation.

Now he calls us to do the same.

How to win this war

My father fought in the Second World War, and his father in the First World War. Both fought for freedom, for America, for our survival and way of life.

Today, nearly 1.3 million men and women are deployed in active military duty around the world. They are fighting to preserve and promote the freedoms we exercise by meeting for worship this morning. To protect us.

How can we live in a way which makes their sacrifice worthwhile?

Some of us are called to military service. All through Scripture, God calls and uses his people to fight their enemies and win their peace. In the same way, some are called to arms today.

Some of us are called to political service. God used Jewish kings to lead his people and foreign kings to free and serve them. Some of us are called to similar service.

And all of us are called to spiritual service. Scripture teaches that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12).

How do we fight this war? Paul commands: “Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints” (v. 18).

Pray with gratitude. Not just on an annual Memorial Day weekend, but each day. If America’s wars had ended differently, we would still be British subjects; or we would still live in a world of slavery; or German, Japanese, or Communist aggressors would rule our globe; or jihadists would determine the future of our nation and our faith. If the men and women we remember today had not defended our nation and our freedoms, those freedoms would not exist today.

Pray with urgency. As you thank God for their sacrifice, pray for the loved ones they left behind. Intercede for grieving mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters. Pray for those who are fighting for our freedoms today. Fight at their side in prayer.

And pray for spiritual victory in the spiritual war for souls to which we are called. This is a mighty purpose, a cause worth its cost.


On this Memorial Day weekend, remember George Bernard Shaw’s words: “This is the true joy in life . . . being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one.” Are you dedicated to a mighty purpose? One which is worthy of the sacrifices made by millions on your behalf? One which is worth your life and your all? A cause worth its cost?

Martin Luther King, Jr. was fond of saying, “If a man hasn’t found a cause worth dying for, he isn’t fit to live.” Nineteenth-century British missionaries found such a cause. As they departed England for Africa, many packed their belongings in long, narrow wooden boxes—their own coffins. They knew that, more than likely, they would return home in those coffins. Felled by disease and violence, many did. But their cause was worth its cost and more.

In the movie Chariots of Fire, the English runner Harold Abrams races against the Scottish champion Eric Liddell and loses. It’s the first loss of his life. The pain of his failure is so great that he tells his girlfriend he will never race again. “If I can’t win, I won’t run,” he insists. She wisely replies, “If you don’t run, you can’t win.”

Today we remember 1.1 million men and women who ran the race for us and won the freedom we celebrate this day. Now we must answer their sacrifice with our own. We are called to a mighty purpose, to a cause worth its cost.

We can do no more to honor their sacrifice. We must do no less.