Therefore My Heart Is Glad
December can be a hard month. It does not lack for jolly opportunities. People hang cheerful lights to brighten the early nights. Families gather together. We are surrounded by reminders of Christ’s birth and the blessing that he brings. We might sing special songs in church. We listen to Handel’s Messiah.
But as the years pass, those happy occasions can also bring memories of loss. I know this personally, having lost my dad in December several years ago.
My favorite part of Messiah is Part Three. After the triumphant chorus of Hallelujahs at the end of Part Two, the music slows and we hear:
“I know that my Redeemer liveth,
and that He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth.
And though worms destroy this body,
yet in my flesh shall I see God.
For now is Christ risen from the dead,
the first-fruits of them that sleep.”
Christ’s person and work are the root of all Christian hopes. This is the mystery of the Incarnation. The eternal Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, was born as the son of Mary. He shares our entire nature, body and soul, sin alone excepted. The eternal, fully divine Son now has a human mind, a human will, and a human’s experience of time. As we read in Hebrews, “in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.” (Hebrews 2:17 NKJV) How this all works together has not been fully revealed to us.
What has been revealed to us is that Jesus shared in every part of human life. He “increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” (Luke 2:52) Our great High Priest learned obedience as a man. (Hebrews 5:8) Indeed, it is only as a man that Christ possesses a will distinct from the Father’s. We know he celebrated at one wedding at least, even providing the wine. We also know that he wept at a funeral for a friend. Jesus labored. He traveled across the land during his ministry. He rejoiced when he saw faith, and he was angry when he saw hardness of heart. He taught, he debated, he admonished, and he prayed. He died at the hands of sinners, but death could not keep him. He rose from the dead in triumph, the shame of cross and grave transformed into glory.
He took on all of these things for us. Because we as Christians are joined to Christ’s person through the Holy Spirit, we are participants in him. We share in the fruits of his obedience, his death, and his resurrection.
These fruits are, in the present life, spiritual benefits. Christ’s death and resurrection bring us forgiveness of sins and are to have a moral effect on the Christian. As Paul writes,
“For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin… Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:5-6,11).
What Christ experienced bodily, we already experience spiritually. We die to our sins. More than that, we begin to be spiritually and morally brought to life. We can now do the good works that we were created to perform. (Ephesians 2:10)
But in due time, the fruits of Christ’s work will be bodily benefits. We all will die, except for those still alive when Jesus Christ returns. But, “if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 4:14) In death we sleep in Christ bodily while our soul enjoys his presence in heaven.
Death may grieve us, but in Christ we can face it with hope. Our loved ones who trusted in Jesus are not abandoned or destroyed. We can sing with the Psalmist:
“Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoices;
My flesh also will rest in hope.
For You will not leave my soul in Sheol,
Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption” (Psalm 16:9-10).
As we face the grave, we know that our Savior has already entered it. Just as he did, we will wait there until the day of resurrection.
As surely as we know that we will die, by faith in Christ we know that we will rise again in glory. Christ is “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” (1 Corinthians 15:19-21) Just as was the case with Christ and his body, our bodies will be restored, never to die again. “The last enemy that will be destroyed is death.” (1 Corinthians 15:26) We will stand before God on the Last Day, made perfect in body and in soul, and justified by the merits of the Son through whom we gained all of these blessings.
It was this hope in Christ that drove the saints in all ages, even when it was only known through types and shadows. As we learn in the Book of Hebrews, the saints of the Old Testament, “[desired] a better, that is, a heavenly country.” (Hebrews 11:16) By faith, we are told, they faced great suffering and persecution “that they might obtain a better resurrection” (Hebrews 11:35), a resurrection of glory and salvation and not one of shame and damnation.
Even as I mourn my own father anew each December, I can look to Jesus Christ, “the author and finisher of our faith.” (Hebrews 12:2) As I am repeatedly reminded this month of Christ’s birth in Bethlehem many years ago, I can remember that his Incarnation is the basis for a true and certain hope. Death is not the final word. With Job I can say, with clearer understanding:
“For I know that my Redeemer lives,
And He shall stand at last on the earth;
And after my skin is destroyed, this I know,
That in my flesh I shall see God.”
Kevin White is a writer and member of Providence Presbyterian Church in Robinson Township, PA.
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