Hail to the King!

Two thousand years ago, throughout the Roman Empire, it is traditional to stage a big parade to celebrate the arrival of the emperor or one of his puppet kings. In Greek, the occasion is called “Parousia.” In Latin, it’s called “adventus.”

People line the parade route hours in advance, hoping that they’ll get a good look at the king and his entourage. Who knows? If fortune is with you, perhaps some prize will be tossed your way – not candy, as is often thrown at parades today, but something more substantial and more valuable.

Eventually, the first heralds appear. These are the advance men. They shout: “Prepare the way! The king is coming!”

After them, nothing for awhile. Then you hear drums in the distance, and the sound of horse’s hooves and soldiers’ boots on the stone pavement. Another herald announces, “The king is coming!”

Now comes the imperial guard, splendidly attired and marching in perfect formation. Behind them, riding in a chariot drawn by four magnificent horses, is the man himself, and one last herald proclaiming, “Hail to the king!”

That is what the Advent season is all about. King Jesus is coming!

The entire Christian year is built around this promise, and all the year’s seasons as well. During Advent, we prepare for his arrival. At Christmas, we celebrate his birth. During Epiphany, we ponder the implications of God putting on human flesh. Then, during the Lent and Easter seasons, we learn what it really means for Jesus to be king. For the rest of the year, we eagerly anticipate his Second Coming, when he’ll bring heaven right down to earth.

How easily we call Jesus our King, and yet how shallowly we understand his kingship!

We often call him “Jesus Christ,” as if Jesus were his first name and Christ his last name. But in his letters to young churches, the Apostle Paul is just as likely to call him “Christ Jesus,” because Christ is not a name at all. It’s a title.

“Christ” comes from the Greek “Christos,” which means Messiah. Messiah in Hebrew means “God’s Anointed One,” one who is specially chosen by God and anointed for a specific service. In the Hebrew Bible, kings and priests are both anointed for service, but only kings are called “God’s Anointed One,” or Messiah.

So whenever you encounter the word “Christ” or “Messiah” in your Bible, you should read it as “King,” because that‘s what it means. That’s one reason that when people call him Messiah, Jesus generally tells them to hush up about it – because it’s a title with political implications. In a world ruled by Caesar and lesser kings, a title like that can get you killed.

The New Testament also calls Jesus “Son of God.” In the Hebrew Scriptures, that title is reserved for the king of Israel. In the New Testament, it’s also used, once, to refer to Adam. In Jesus, God gives the title new dimensions of meaning. But its earliest and simplest meaning is as the one who serves on earth as God’s Chosen One – first Adam, then David and the other kings of Israel and, finally, and most splendidly, and in a way that surpasses all the others, King Jesus.

The kingship of Jesus is one of those Advent themes that is hidden in plain sight. It’s so obvious that we just can’t see it. When we finally do see it, we realize that it’s everywhere.

One example: just listen to the music.

Next Sunday we’ll open our hymnals to page 196 and sing, “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus.” Why is his coming so eagerly anticipated? Because he’s the one who is “born a child and yet a King.”

Turning to page 213, we’ll sing “Lift Up Your Heads, Ye Mighty Gates.” Why should the gates open? Because “the King of glory waits.”

Page 219, “What Child Is This?” “This, this is Christ the King.”

220, “Angels from Realms of Glory” – tell us to “come and worship Christ the newborn King.”

234, “O Come All Ye Faithful” – “come and behold him born the King of angels.”

237, “Sing We now of Christmas” – “the King is born, Noel.”

238, “Angels We Have Heard on High.” They sing of “Christ the Lord, the newborn King.”

240, “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” – “glory to the newborn King.”

245, “The First Noel,” “Born is the King of Israel.”

246, “Joy to the World,” “let earth receive her King.”

249, “There’s a Song in the Air,” because “the manger of Bethlehem cradles a King.”

Whew! Talk of King Jesus is everywhere!

Wait, what kind of king needs a diaper? A baby king, of course. A baby king who will save the world once he’s grown – but first has to grow up.

He has a lot of learning to do – learning to walk, learning to talk, learning to feed himself, learning to reason and to read, learning a trade to support himself, learning how to get along with other people who may or may not want to get along with him, experiencing the soaring joys and piercing disappointments of loving others, experiencing first-hand all that it means to be fully human.

So scripture tells us he matures “in wisdom and years, and in favor with God and with people.” (Luke 2.52)

And when he is, finally, all grown up, we’ll have to kill him because he is not the king we want. He’s not the warrior we want to overthrow our oppressive rulers. And yet our rulers recognize him as a threat to everything they stand for, and anxiously do away with him.

What kind of king dies for his people, and even for those who are not his people? King Jesus, that’s who.

He is God’s perfect model of what a king should be. He’s not our model, not the human model. We think of kings as strong and ruthless. They get things done. They slay their enemies and share the booty with their friends. Best of all, they’re on our side. Who cares about any collateral damage to others along the way? Who cares about the cost, as long as we get what we want?

God’s model starts in the Garden of Eden, when God gives the first humans a mission to serve and protect, to be shepherds and stewards of God’s good creation, acting on God’s behalf, ruling as God would rule if God were there in person.

Israel, God’s test model for the world, isn’t even supposed to have a king. God is supposed to be Israel’s king. But the people clamor for a human king, like all the nations around them. The prophet Samuel warns them it’s a terrible idea. A king will make your sons serve in his army in endless wars, and he’ll make your daughters serve in his palace. He’ll tax you to death and take your land and make you his slaves.

But Israel wants a human king, so God tells Samuel to anoint one. It’s not your leadership they’re rejecting, God says. It’s mine. (1 Samuel 8.4-22)

Centuries later, when Jeremiah is prophet, the Lord thunders: “Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!” (Jeremiah 23.1)

God tells Jeremiah, “The days are surely coming when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.” (Jeremiah 23.5)

That righteous king is Jesus. As his apostles, we are sent out by him to change the world. We are the ones who execute his will. We are his mighty arm of justice and righteousness.

When we make him king of our lives, we sign on to a new way of life. As my spiritual mentor Bruce Larson used to say, when we decide to follow Jesus, we come under new management. We don’t run our lives any more, and nobody else does either. Only Jesus is our King. We follow no one but Jesus.

We don’t follow a program. We don’t follow an ideology. We don’t follow a philosophy.

We don’t follow a theology. We don’t follow a party line. We don’t follow a doctrine or a creed. We follow a person,a divine person. We follow Jesus Christ. We follow the King of the universe. And if we follow any one else or any thing else, we are lost.

There are those who suggest that on this Christ the King Sunday, it might be appropriate for us to say a pledge of allegiance to our King. It might be appropriate for us to make it known that we have no higher allegiance than to Jesus.

I have tried to find such a Pledge of Allegiance to Jesus, and I haven’t seen one yet that didn’t turn into a self-serving political manifesto. So I won’t ask you to recite any such pledge of allegiance today.

But I would ask you to live out your allegiance in your daily life.

Every time you say the Lord’s Prayer and ask for God’s kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven, you pledge allegiance to our King.

Every time you receive the bread and the cup in remembrance of Jesus’ sacrifice, you pledge allegiance to our King.

Every time you do what is right when everybody around you tells you to do what is wrong, you pledge allegiance to our King.

Every time you aid the poor and feed the hungry, you pledge allegiance to our King.

Every time you work for peace in a culture that cannot abide peace, you pledge allegiance to our King.

Every time you are reviled and slandered and attacked because you follow Jesus, you pledge allegiance to our King.

That’s how you show allegiance to King Jesus. You do it by living the way he taught us to live, by living in imitation of him, by loving God first and all others as deeply as you love yourself.

Remember that in the words of an ancient hymn, Christ did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.

And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.

Therefore God highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord – our King – to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2.5-11)

I ask you now to confess that by joining me in the words of another ancient hymn preserved in the New Testament, the scripture we read earlier.

God the Father has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.

For in him all things in heaven and on earth were created – things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers – all things have been created through him and for him.

He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

He is the head of the body, the church.

He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything.

For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1:13-20)

That is the great truth we proclaim today, that no banner can ever fly higher than his, because Jesus is King of the universe and King of our lives, and so we say, “Our King is coming! King Jesus is near!”


“Hail to our King” is a message preached Nov. 24, 2019, at Edgerton United Methodist Church, Edgerton, Kansas, by the Rev. James Hopwood.

Radical stuff

The United Methodist Church has finally caught up with the book of Genesis.

That’s how one member of my church described the news that the UM constitution has been amended to proclaim that “men and women are of equal value in the eyes of God.”

News of the amendment passing was announced recently after voting in annual conferences was completed earlier this year.

The measure got 92% of the vote. (You wonder about those 8%.)

Another version of the measure was approved last year, but it was ruled invalid because the ballot language accidentally included a paragraph that hadn’t been approved by General Conference

That’s the way the church works – methodically. Ploddingly.

Forever we in the churches are in the last car on the train of social action. Seems to me we ought to be in the engine that pulls the train. But no. “Traditionalists” always want to uphold the status quo, and the status quo is always stacked for the privileged few and against everybody else.

For the record, here’s the new language in the United Methodist Constitution:

 “As the Holy Scripture reveals, both men and women are made in the image of God and, therefore, men and women are of equal value in the eyes of God.

The United Methodist Church acknowledges the long history of discrimination against women and girls.

The United Methodist Church shall confront and seek to eliminate discrimination against women and girls, whether in organizations or in individuals, in every facet of its life and in society at large.

The United Methodist Church shall work collaboratively with others to address concerns that threaten the cause of women’s and girl’s equality and well-being.”

You can see why such language might cause a flap, don’t you? It’s one thing to say that men and women are equal in the eyes of God. It’s another to say that they are equal in the eyes of the church. But saying that the church will work for change in society? Yikes!

Oh, the mention of Genesis. In my church, we’ve been reading the opening chapters of Genesis in worship over the last couple months. You may recall that Genesis says God created humans, male and female, in the image and likeness of God.

Kindly ignore the doodling of “complementarians,” who maintain that men rule and women drool. Genesis says we’re all made in God’s likeness, and we ought to be treated that way.

Radical stuff. No wonder it’s “controversial.” Don’t you wish God were driving the train?


The book of Genesis says that when Adam and Eve ate the fruit they were told not to eat, their eyes were opened. They saw everything in a new light and in a new way. They saw things they had not been able to see before. They understood things that once were beyond their understanding. Their eyes were opened.

As we prepare to conclude this series of messages on the early chapters of Genesis, I hope your eyes have been opened as well. I hope you are seeing these stories in a new light and are beginning to understand and appreciate them in new ways.

You don’t have to agree with every interpretation I’ve presented to you. Indeed, some of these interpretations have been contradictory, just as some of the stories in Genesis are themselves contradictory.

Thinking the stories through and playing the contradictions against each other are part of the joy of biblical interpretation. Too many of us are stuck in the fundamentalist mindset. We think that there is only one correct way to interpret any passage of scripture, and of course it’s the way I interpret it, and even the slightest deviation from my version is not only wrong wrong wrong but it’s probably inspired by Satan.

These three and a half chapters of Genesis have been the subject of constant interpretation for the last two to three millennia. Rabbis have delighted in debating the meaning of these stories. They’ve delighted in debating the grammar itself – what the individual words and sentences mean in their original language and how to best convey that meaning in the language and thought patterns of their day.

When you sit down to eat later today, will you debate today’s scripture reading and my interpretation of it over the dinner table? Not likely. One of the most interesting books I’ve read recently is The Grammar of God by Aviya Kushner. She grew up in a small Jewish community in rural New York state. Hebrew was her first language. She recalls many meals when family members discussed the week’s scripture readings in detail and argued, sometimes heatedly, over grammar and meaning.

As a young adult, she was shocked when she read her first English translation of scripture. The translators seemed so sure of themselves, and yet so often, she thought, they were clueless about the nuances of a passage’s meaning.

This endless debate is what the rabbis meant by “reading Torah.” It’s not just reading. It’s close interpretation. It’s interpreting, and debating and exploring the mysteries of the text, trying all the while to move closer to what God has to say to us through it, and always realizing that multiple readings of the text often yield several ranges of meaning, sometimes readings that are complementary, and sometimes readings that are contradictory.

When we attempt to assign any biblical passage one single meaning for all time, we are simply not being faithful to the text or to the God who gave it to us. As Jacob wrestled with the angel at the River Jabbok, we have to wrestle with each text to see what new insights God might bring to us through it.

I hope you’ve been wrestling with these texts. I know I have. And I will continue to wrestle with them, because I’m sure there are many insights within them that haven’t yet been revealed to me.

What follows are some insights that have been revealed to me – mostly through the scholarship and careful reading of others.

I call these gleanings. Biblically, gleanings are the what’s left in a farmer’s field after the harvest. Poor people who have no land are allowed to forage for these leftovers. Some of the gleanings I have collected are big insights. Some are just leftovers. I number them only to make it clear when I’m moving from one to another.

1. As the first book of the Bible for both Jews and Christians, Genesis has a unique stature in our understanding of scripture. It shapes our understanding of everything that follows.

2. Genesis was written to people of another language and another culture and another time, and it does not always ask the same questions about the world that we do. Some of its concerns are not our concerns, and some of our concerns are not its concerns.

Much of our theology is speculative filling in of the blanks in places that may have been left blank for good reason. Our certainly about how we fill in those blanks may betray the intent of the text, so we should always “mind the gaps” but not foolishly cover them up.

3. The first chapter of Genesis declares, as did English poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.” (God’s Grandeur)

4. Genesis affirms without hesitation that God is the creator of all that is, and that only God is creator. As Christians, we believe that all parties of the Trinity participate in creation – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

In the Genesis story, the Father is represented by Elohim and Yahweh Elohim. The Son is not visible, but the Apostle Paul reminds us that “all things were created by him … and through him and for him” (Colossians 1.15-16 CEB). The Holy Spirit is right there at the start, hovering over the chaotic Deep, anticipating what comes next.

5. We tend to get hung up on some mostly imaginary conflict between faith and science. We are distracted from the meaning of Genesis by endless debates over origins – six days versus billions of years, evolution versus special creation, and so on.

Genesis is more about the purpose of creation than the process of creation. It describes creation in the terms of its time, just as we try to describe our world in the terms of our time. We should not be surprised that they are different.

We can safely ignore all talk about how if there is one tiny error in Genesis or anywhere else in the Bible, the whole thing cannot be trusted. That’s poppycock, whether it comes from the mouths of fundamentalists or atheists, neither of whom have much understanding of the Bible and both of whom seem determined to undermine its meaning by focusing on trivia rather than the core message.

6. A key theme of Genesis is freedom. God creates in pure freedom. God does not have to create anything, but God chooses to create, out of love for what is being created. God creates in freedom and love, and God gives creation freedom as well, hoping that the love will be returned.

For example, God gives plants and trees the freedom to develop on their own. They become God’s subcontractors in creation. God also gives animals a certain amount of freedom, and even more to humans, who are created in the very image of God, as God’s representative in creation.

7. God has a purpose and a will for creation, but God will not force that will upon God’s creatures. We always respond to God in freedom. God tries to guide us to God’s purpose, which is our good, but God will not compel us to comply. If we go astray, God acts to redeem us, but God will never coerce us to return to the right way.

8. Genesis offers two very different creation stories. The first one is a magnificent hymn of creation. In the second story, God literally gets down in the dirt to make animals and humans. Placed side by side, these two creation accounts show two aspects of our experience of God – God as transcendent and God as immanent, God on high far away and God up close and personal.

Both aspects of our experience of God are good and necessary. They remind us that God is not a one-dimensional person but someone who watches over us from afar even while walking with us hand in hand.

9. All humans, male and female, are made in the image of God. Our origin in God makes all humans of special worth and significance. All humans are created equal. All races and ethnic groups and nationalities and other divisions are secondary to our primary identity as representatives of God.

10. God has granted humans dominion over all other living things. We are commissioned to “fill the earth and subdue it.” That doesn’t mean pillage it. It means cultivate it, nurture it to completion.

In Hebrew, the word “dominion” has connotations of shepherding. We are shepherds of the earth and its creatures. Stewardship is another good image. As stewards of God’s creation, made in God’s image, we act on God’s behalf, and our actions should reflect God’s will for all, not our selfish will for ourselves.

11. We are intended to “serve and protect” our world. Environmental activist Wendell Berry has written a book titled What Are People For? In it he says: “The ecological teaching of the Bible is simply inescapable: God made the world because God wanted it made. God thinks the world is good, and God loves it. It is God’s world; God has never relinquished title to it. And God has never revoked the conditions … that oblige us to take excellent care of it.” (Wendell Berry, What Are People For?)

12. When God created the universe, God declared that it was all good – that is, suited for its purpose. And when God created humans, God pronounced the whole thing very good. Later, though, God concluded that it is not good for the human to be alone. Indeed, to faithfully mirror the nature of God in whose image we are made, we must live as a diverse community of males and females and many languages and cultures.

That’s one of the lessons of the story of the Tower at Babel, a story we did not look at. When humans think too much alike, when everyone speaks the same language, so to speak, we tend to fall into sin.

13. God’s free love sets us free to become the persons God wants us to be. We are meant to be free to live authentically human lives in a world that is optimized for the flourishing of everyone.

14. We are all meant to live in freedom. And all clearly means all. God gave humans dominion over the rest of creation, but not over one another.

Many bigots try to use Genesis to support various forms of domination and subjugation, chiefly the subjugation of women and people of color. All these campaigns are based on specious uses of scripture, especially several verses in these early chapters of Genesis.

Don’t fall for these Bible abusers and their toxic notions of God’s intent for humanity. God made all humans in God’s own image, male and female, no color or ethnic group excluded. Those who say otherwise are liars.

15. One very clear implication of all this is that our world is totally messed up. But then, you knew that, didn’t you?

All of our social orders are based on some form of domination by the privileged over those who are declared to be undeserving because of some bogus criterion such as sex or race or eye color, frizziness of whatever.

Born into such systems, we do not question the validity of their claims over us until we read Genesis with new eyes, or until we read the gospel of Jesus Christ. And then we realize that God’s magnificent plan for creation has gone awry, and the consequences for humans, for animals, for our environment and for very our future are potentially ghastly.

California is burning. It won’t be the last conflagration, or the last killing drought, or – as we have seen here in in the Midwest, in Missouri and Nebraska and Iowa, the last spring flood that won’t drain way. The way we have destroyed our environment is only a symptom of the larger disease.

16. We call that disease “sin.” Sin is fundamentally alienation – alienation first and primarily from God, but also alienation from other humans, from the rest of creation, and, finally, alienation from our very selves.

We think we can do it ourselves. We think we know best. We are fundamentally wrong. We cannot trust ourselves. We need to trust God.

God seeks our trust. We seek security. Because we do not trust God, we look for security in all the wrong places, starting with our own hearts, which cannot be trusted until they have been turned to God. In the end, we are all like Adam and Eve, trying to hide from God with loincloths made from fig leaves. We can’t hide from God any more than we can hide from ourselves.

Finally, 17. God will not punish us. God is not in the punishment business. But God may allow the consequences of our sin to unfold. And the consequences of our sin are too scary to consider.

We dare not think that it is too late for us. Yet we have clearly failed to fulfill the mandate of our creation. God gave us a purpose for being, and we have done a poor job of living up to that purpose.

Some religious leaders who have their heads in the sand point to the rainbow as a sign that God will never again destroy all creatures with a flood. But a Genesis-style worldwide flood is not one of the chief dangers we face because of global climate change. Coastal and local flooding are. We may well see a rainbow in the sky as the Missouri River and its tributaries wipe out a significant portion of the Midwest.

This may not be God’s will. But it is a possible consequence of human sin. Pray for the salvation of God’s good creation, so magnificently described in the opening chapters of Genesis. Pray that God’s intent for creation will be realized, as promised in the book of Revelation, the enigmatic book at the other end of our Bible. Pray that the promises of both Genesis and Revelation will be fulfilled.

Pray that God’s intent for creation will not be subverted by our sin. Pray for salvation and redemption. And act on those prayers until we find our freedom and future restored by the grace of God.


“Gleanings” is a message in the series “Genesis: In the beginning…” preached Nov. 10. 27, 2019, at Edgerton United Methodist Church, Edgerton, Kansas, by the Rev. James Hopwood; the text is Job 38.

Thanks, Bill!

I am remiss in thanking faith and ethics blogger Bill Tammeus – first, for writing a jacket blurb for my book, Keeping Christmas; second, for doing a nice blog post on the book.

You’ll find what he wrote on his blog at: http://billtammeus.typepad.com

Scroll down to October 23, 2019: “Some necessary prep work for Christmas.”

Yeah, that’s how far behind I am in thanking him.

Thanks, Bill!

P.S. — Bill and I once worked together at The Kansas City Star.

That seems like a different lifetime now. But it was good then.

Come out!

It’s OK to cry.

It’s OK to cry when a loved one dies. It’s OK to cry months or years later when a sudden memory stabs you with pain. It’s OK to cry on anniversaries or other special dates when that beloved person feels so close and yet so far away.

It’s OK to cry because even Jesus cried at the death of his friend Lazarus.

We don’t know much about their friendship. We know only that Lazarus is not one of Jesus’ Twelve closest disciples, and yet he is one of Jesus’ closest friends. Theirs is a special friendship, and when Lazarus dies, Jesus is visibly shaken.

When arrives in Bethany, he meets the two sisters of Lazarus, Mary and Martha. They berate him for not arriving sooner. They say: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

This is both a statement of faith and a complaint. It is a statement of faith that Jesus could have done something to prevent Lazarus from dying, and a complaint that he did not arrive in time to do it.

He did delay two days in coming to them, after he was told that Lazarus was ill. But when he arrived in Bethany, Lazarus had been dead four days, so probably there was no way he could have gotten there in time.

All the sisters know for sure is that if he had been there, he could have done something. So that’s what they tell him.

Not, “Lord, how good of you to come.”

Not, “Lord, it’s good to see you.”

Not, “Lord, I am comforted by your presence.”

But rather, “Lord, if you had been here, our brother would not have died.”

When Jesus sees the depth of their grief, he is overcome by emotion.

Translators fumble trying to describe his reaction. They say he is “disturbed in spirit” or “deeply moved” or even provoked to something approaching anger. What the Greek text seems to be saying is that an involuntary groan is wrenched from his body, and he trembles with emotion.

You’ve seen and heard that groan from people who are grieving. Probably you have felt it yourself. I have. That is how deeply Jesus feels for his friends.

As he is led to the tomb, he is so overcome that he bursts into tears.

The King James Version gives us a two-word sentence, “Jesus wept.” That has been described as one of the most vivid sentences in all English literature, and yet it utterly fails to capture the full sense of what’s going on. Jesus does not merely weep. He is convulsed by tears.

Bystanders are heard to exclaim, “See how much he loved him!”

Why is he so shaken? He knows what’s going to happen next. He knows he is going to call Lazarus out of that tomb. He knows that in only a few minutes his friend will be alive again. And yet he is overcome by grief. He is overcome by emotion at the cold reality of death.

If the Son of God can cry at the tomb of a friend, it’s OK for us to cry at the death of a loved one or the memory of a loved one.

It’s OK because we are mourning a great loss. We are mourning the loss of a valuable relationship. We are mourning the loss of our hopes and dreams for that person. We are mourning our own loneliness.

It is altogether fitting and right that we should weep. Yet, as the Apostle Paul tells us, we do not grieve as those who lack hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13). We do not grieve from utter despair. We know that our parting is only temporary. As much as we will miss them in the interim, we know that we will see our loved one again.

The exciting news that Jesus has for Mary and Martha – and for us – is that he offers even more hope than that.

Jesus tells Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life.”

He is both the resurrection and the life. He is both the future and the present – and in him both future and present are one.

He makes this promise: “Those who believe in me will live, even though they die, and those who live and believe in me will never die.”

In saying this, he tells us several things.

First, he affirms our hope in the resurrection. We who believe in Jesus, even though we die physically, will not die spiritually. We will live again, and we will live eternally.

Heaven, the New Jerusalem, eternal life, resurrection life – these are all words we use to describe this powerful and sustaining hope that we have in Jesus. But it is not the only hope that Jesus gives us.

This new life is not simply life that goes on forever. It is not just a matter of quantity. Just as importantly, it is a matter of quality.

“Those who believe in me will live,” Jesus says. They won’t just exist. They won’t just plow ahead one day at a time, lurching from one crisis to the next, but really live.

Elsewhere, Jesus calls it abundant life. (John 10.10) It is life that is good not because of our circumstances, which may or may not be good at any given moment. It’s life that is good because of Jesus’ presence with us.

Those who believe in me live in me, Jesus says. Jesus is the source of all life, and when we place our trust in him, we are directly connected to him who is the source of life.

As the great commentator William Barclay says, when we believe in Jesus we enter into not only a new relationship with God but also a new relationship with life itself.

Our life is not determined by our immediate circumstance. It is not determined by our pain or our losses. It is not even determined by our death. It is determined solely by God’s grace and our trust in Jesus that flows from God’s grace.

It’s a living promise from the living Jesus who rules not only in our hearts but also at the right hand of the Father Almighty.

It’s a promise from the Jesus who delayed going to Bethany because he knew that Bethany was only two miles from Jerusalem, and that is where his last journey soon would end.

It’s a promise from the Jesus who went to the cross to show his love for all of us.

It’s a promise from the Jesus who allowed himself to be tortured to death for our sakes.

It’s a promise from the Jesus whose body lay in the cold rock tomb for two nights.

It’s a promise from the Jesus who was resurrected to new life.

This living Jesus is the one who promises that we, too, will be resurrected, and that we, too, can live the abundant, utterly free life that he lived.

A life in which it’s OK to cry even when we know that grief won’t have last word.

A life in which we can change direction when we’ve gone the wrong way.

A life in which we can overcome past mistakes.

A life in which we can be free of guilt and shame.

A life in which we can have hope for the future, as well as hope for the present.

All because of Jesus, who stood at the tomb of his friend and said, “Lazarus, come out!”

He stands at the tomb of our lives and says to us, “Come out!”

Come out to a life that is not bound by your past.

Come out to a life that is not bound by your death.

Come out to a life that is bound only by the unmeasurable depths and heights and widths and lengths of God’s great love for you.

Come out to eternal life.

Come out abundant life.

You who are dead, be raised to new life! Come out!

“Come out!” is a message preached Nov. 3, 2019, All Saints Sunday, at Edgerton United Methodist Church, Edgerton, Kansas, by the Rev. James Hopwood; based on John 11.