The House of Mourning

It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting: for that is the end of all men; and the living will lay it to his heart (Ecclesiastes 7:2).

The Bible exposes the vast gulf between the perspectives of human beings and God. Humans tend to focus on the short-term and that which seems beneficial in the short-term: pleasure is always preferable over pain, and that which is easy and comfortable is valued over what may be more difficult and painful. Humans also tend to forget that their perspective and views are limited and, to at least a small extent, self-delusional. God, as author of our present reality, takes the longer view, fully understanding the limitations of mankind. We always do well to learn more from Him.

This gulf is evident in the ways people look at feasting versus mourning. If you asked most people which was better, to go to the house of feasting or the house of mourning, the answer would be the former. Feasting is fun– it provides all kinds of short-term benefits, can allow one to at least temporarily forget the future, and to enjoy the good life for at least a little while.

The house of mourning, however, is much more painful and difficult. In the house of mourning, we must confront our own mortality. In the house of mourning, we come face to face with human limitation and weakness: we are not as strong as we would like to think we are, and there is not one person among us for whom it would be impossible to be dead in a matter of moments (cf. James 4:14). In the house of mourning, we have to come to grips with the pain of separation and losing those whom we know and/or love. In the house of mourning, all of our pretensions are stripped away from us. We can feel like Adam in the Garden, trying to hide his shame/nakedness from God (Genesis 3:8-10).

The house of mourning, therefore, is extremely uncomfortable. It is little wonder why many people avoid the house of mourning at all costs– it can really put a damper on the “good life”!

If we stop and think about it, however, we can see the wisdom in the words of the Preacher. Even though man has attempted to fend off his weakness and mortality for generations, man remains weak and mortal. And this creation, which God declared to be “very good,” (Genesis 1:31), has been corrupted by man’s sin (Romans 8:20-22). Therefore, this world is fundamentally in “dis-ease,” for things are not exactly right with the world. This world is not an easy and comfortable place.

Therefore, it is good for us to become uncomfortable with our present existence. It is not a bad thing for us when we are confronted with our own weakness and mortality. It is good to be reminded that we are as a vapor and will not last. The pain of separation, while difficult. reminds us that this world should not be our home (cf. Philippians 3:20-21, Hebrews 11:14-16).

Man in his arrogance and self-delusion attempted to build the Tower of Babel (cf. Genesis 11:1-4); Jesus, the God-man, in His humility and love died on a cross so that man could be reconciled with his God (Romans 5:1-11). Man, in his arrogance and self-delusion, thinks he is the greatest power in the universe and serves the works of his hands. God, in His love and mercy, created all things and has allowed us to participate with Him in His eternal plan in Jesus Christ (cf. Ephesians 3:11). But we cannot participate in that plan while constantly living in the house of feasting– we must come to grips with the house of mourning and our own weaknesses and limitations. When we can learn the humility that comes from the awareness of our fragility and complete dependence on God, then we can become most effective servants of God for His Kingdom.

There is a time for the house of feasting and a time for the house of mourning, but indeed, it is better to go to the house of mourning. Let us come to terms with our own weakness and mortality, serve the Living God, and obtain eternal life!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Death

But we would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning them that fall asleep; that ye sorrow not, even as the rest, who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also that are fallen asleep in Jesus will God bring with him (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14).

Death is a “four-letter” word in our society. It is a topic that most people avoid. We all know that it is out there, and we realize in the back of our minds that it will happen to us and the ones we love someday– but we never think that it will be today. But we do not want to think about it at all until it happens, and then we are expected to quickly forget about it and move on. There is no room for death in a society where this life is all that is prized.

Nevertheless, death is a natural process, as natural today as being born and being alive. And we would do well to consider it and be prepared for it.

Some people take the verses above from 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 and reason that it is sinful or improper for Christians to grieve and mourn for the dead. That reasoning is inappropriate and quite dangerous. As we will see, we should not mourn the death of a faithful Christian like those who have no hope mourn their dead. Nevertheless, when someone whom we love dies, we suffer the pain of separation. That pain is real and should not be denied. In fact, that pain is quite healthy, for it reminds us that this world has been cursed with death, and that this type of separation is not the ideal at all (cf. Genesis 3:19, Romans 5:12-18). It is another reminder for us that this world is not our ultimate destination, and the pain we experience should lead us to obey God so that we may never again have to suffer the pain of separation and loss (Revelation 21:1-22:6).

It is still true, though, that the Christian should look at death and dying differently than others. The Christian has hope for a future beyond death. His Lord has suffered like he has, and has even tasted death (Hebrews 5:7-8), and God raised Him from the dead in power on the third day (Matthew 28). Death is a powerful force; what man alone can subdue it? Yet, through the firstfruits Jesus Christ, we have the hope of that wonderful final day, on which will come to pass the saying that is written,

Death is swallowed up in victory.
“O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?”
The sting of death is sin; and the power of sin is the law: but thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:54c-57).

For too many people in this world, death is the end. For the Christian, however, death is only the beginning. When a faithful child of God dies, we mourn and sorrow for our pain at the loss of a beloved friend and brother/sister, but we take comfort in the hope of spending eternity with them before the Father who loves us and the Son who died for us (Revelation 21:1-22:6)!

The somber reality of death is not meant to paralyze us, causing us to constantly fear or rue each passing day. Instead, the reality of death is to be our catalyst for action. No one is guaranteed even the next breath (James 4:14). In an instant, your life, or the life of someone you love, may end. This should lead us to appreciate the blessing and gift of life, and we should refuse to take even one second of it for granted. We can take the best advantage of our lives by living every day as if it were our last– as far as we know, it very well might! Let us appreciate all the gifts that God has given us, especially the gift of His Son. Let us not be the sad souls who put off obeying Jesus one time too many, and meet our God unprepared. Let us no longer try to deny or hide from the reality of death, but live in hope of the resurrection to come!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Spiritual Illness

But when he heard it, he said, “They that are whole have no need of a physician, but they that are sick. But go ye and learn what this meaneth, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ for I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:12-13).

One of the rather universal and unpleasant aspects of life is illness. We generally do not have time to get sick, and the pain and difficulties that go along with illness make life uncomfortable. Very severe illnesses can lead to loss of function and even death.

Even though illness causes difficulty, we all understand the need to recognize illness and find a way to treat it. The body sends plenty of signals that all is not well, and foolish is the one who does not heed them. It will not– and cannot– do to act as if the illness is not there and to attempt to go on with life. We could spend hours going through terribly tragic stories of people who have died because of various treatable illnesses. Many times these deaths take place because people did not seek after medical treatment for difficulties they were experiencing. When and if they sought treatment, it was too late.

We recognize that such is true about physical illness. And, as Jesus indicates, there is also a spiritual form of illness that is insidious and ultimately fatal!

Those who have sin have this spiritual illness. We generally do not have time for sin, and the pain and difficulty that goes along with sin are quite uncomfortable. Many sins do lead directly to physical death; all unrepentant sin leads to spiritual death (cf. 1 John 5:16-17).

All conscious human beings are afflicted with sin (Romans 3:23), and even if many seek to deny it, we do have this internal sense of discomfort with ourselves as we presently are (cf. Romans 8:23). We feel that something is missing– we are not whole! While many try to fill this void with earthly and fleshly things, only when we seek after God and His will can we find true wholeness and wellness (Ephesians 4:20-24).

Many people deny that they have the spiritual illness of sin, or would much rather continue within it than to seek after its remedy. Such “healthy” people are not really healthy, but their self-deception is so strong that God’s Word cannot take root (cf. Matthew 13:1-8). Ultimately their sin will lead to their destruction (Revelation 20:11-15)– we can only pray that they discover their illness before it is too late!

We honor and respect doctors and nurses and researchers who work tirelessly to develop treatments and provide greater quality of life to mankind. If a researcher discovered the cure for cancer, would we expect him or her to cover up the discovery and do nothing with it? If such a person were to do such a thing, how would we view them? How many lives ended because they did not proclaim their discovery?

Yet how many of us recognize the cure for the spiritual illness besetting so many around us and then do not proclaim it? How many souls are perishing who have not heard the message of redemption in Jesus? If we know the cure for spiritual illness and do not make it known, how will God view us (cf. Romans 10:14-17, Romans 1:16)?

The spiritual illness of sin is quite pervasive and destructive, and we would do well to look toward Jesus, the Great Physician of our souls, and do His will so that we may be whole. Let us also proclaim the cure for sin in Jesus Christ, and always remember that we, too, are God’s “patients” in constant need of “medicine” for our sin!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Greatness of Jesus’ Accomplishments

For while we were yet weak, in due season Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: for peradventure for the good man some one would even dare to die. But God commendeth his own love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:6-8).

Part of the greatness of what Jesus has accomplished involves the profound contrasts between who He is and what we are. He humbled Himself mightily by becoming a man, let alone a carpenter’s son in the backwoods of Galilee (Philippians 2:5-11). While we humans prize strength, power, glory, learning, and might, Jesus came in weakness, humility, and relative insignificance (Isaiah 53, 2 Corinthians 12:9, Matthew 11:28-29). When humans would expect the Son of God to conquer with the sword, Jesus conquered through dying and being raised again (1 Corinthians 15:57-58).

And even though we are sinners, and deserve nothing but death and condemnation for what we have done, Jesus died for us.

He by whom all things were created died so that we could live (John 1:1-3).

The Author of Life laid His down so that we could live in Him (Acts 3:15, John 10:17, 2 Corinthians 13:4).

He who has all strength took on weakness to deliver us from our own weaknesses (2 Corinthians 13:4).

He who loves beyond measure experienced mockery and derision so that we could be reconciled to God (Matthew 27, Romans 5:11).

The High Priest became the sacrifice so that we could minister to God (Hebrews 7).

And this was all accomplished not because we were holy, not because we were righteous, and not because we deserved it.

It was accomplished despite our sinfulness, despite our unrighteousness, and despite our own lack of love and mercy.

It was finished so that we could learn to love through Jesus Christ. Jesus suffered, and we are to suffer (Romans 8:17). The Word became flesh so that flesh could obey the Word (John 1:14).

Jesus died for sinful man so that man could be restored to His image (Romans 8:29).

When we ponder on these things, it is hard not to be humbled, astonished, and greatly thankful for all that was accomplished despite ourselves.

And it should provide sufficient motivation to go and reflect that love to all men (Matthew 5:13-16)!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Consolation of Israel

And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon; and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Spirit was upon him (Luke 2:25).

Times were not easy in Israel.

The LORD of Hosts had promised that a Branch would come from the house of Jesse. Yet after Persian rule came the Ptolemies, followed by the hated Seleucids. Yes, the Maccabees gained freedom for awhile, but they brought in Greek practices, and now the Romans were in charge. Israel suffered under the Idumean Herod.

Simeon had seen some of these events take place. He was looking for the consolation of Israel. He looked forward to the LORD’s Messiah– the Christ.

Yet the LORD’s Christ was not coming to redeem Israel from Rome. He would not sit on a throne in Jerusalem and crush the Roman army. He would die on a cross, reckoned as a common criminal, to atone for the sins of mankind.

On the third day He rose from the dead, defeating both sin and death. The LORD’s Christ would rule– over all nations. The LORD’s Christ would defeat Israel’s true enemies– sin and death.

That is how Jesus of Nazareth represented the consolation of Israel: He showed the way of light and truth, the way of the Father: the way of eternal life, free of sin and death.

But Jesus is not just the consolation of Israel– He is the consolation of the whole world. Through Him Jew and Greek would be reconciled to become one Kingdom of God. His sacrifice could atone for anyone who believed in Him. Anyone could share in His victory over sin and death.

Jesus indeed is the consolation of Israel– and the consolation of the world. Do you find consolation in Him and His glorious work? Have you conquered the world of sin and death through your faith in Him?

Let us take comfort in the consolation of Israel: through Jesus Christ, we can overcome the world (1 John 5:4)!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Promised Messiah

“And behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: and he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end” (Luke 1:31-33).

At this time of year, many stop to consider the birth of Jesus of Nazareth.  The picture of the Son of God– God the Son, in fact– as a relatively helpless infant is quite touching.  To consider that the Son of God experienced the same stages of physical growth as we have really brings the reality of the Incarnation home.

Nevertheless, many put great emphasis on the birth of Jesus, yet even in His birth, His purpose and plan are foreseen by Gabriel.  We can only imagine what Mary can see when she is told about her Son– King of Israel, sitting on David’s throne.  It presents so much hope and promise.

God’s plan, however, involves future suffering in order to accomplish this glorification.  Jesus was born so as to die as the Lamb of God (cf. John 1:29).  Jesus was born to be raised again in power (1 Corinthians 15).

Indeed, Jesus was born to be a King, but not like any other king who has ever been or ever will be.  While it is good to recognize that Jesus was born to Mary in a manger, we must never forget that we have life through His death and victory through His resurrection, and that Jesus is our King (Matthew 28:18, Romans 5:6-11, 1 Corinthians 15).  Let us stand firm in His Kingdom and proclaim His Word!

Ethan R. Longhenry