I think spring finally has arrived. While next week is still expected to be cooler than usual for this time of year, have you noticed the buds? They can be easy to miss. But if you look closely you will notice them everywhere. On tree branches. Shrubs. Even some flowers have bloomed.
It is a beautiful thing to witness the sprouting of new life each spring following the cold, gray, deadness of winter.
What if God has designed the seasons, and particularly the transition from winter to spring, to teach us significant spiritual and theological truths? What if God’s design is to do in us what he does with tree leaves and flower blossoms?
In the bodily resurrection of Jesus and in the changing of the seasons, we see how God’s redemptive plan is to bring forth buds of new life on branches and in lives that previously had appeared lifeless.
What if God were to do that in your life? What if God were to awaken new life within you, like a bud emerging on a branch in spring? Or let me ask it like this. Where do you need rebirth and renewal? Where do you want to see buds of new life begin to grow?
- For you, new life may look like a personal encounter with God that sets you free from guilt and shame, where you genuinely feel his unrelenting love for you that has been proved for you in the cross of Jesus.
- New life may look like supernatural power over addiction, renewal in your marriage, healing of a chronic physical illness, the return of a prodigal child, or a new vision of your vocation as a ministry rather than a way to make money.
The bottom line is that because Jesus rose to new life, we too, can experience the power of resurrection in our lives.
We know this is true because…
God is in the Business of Bringing Life out of Death.
We see this in verse 4, “just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”
At the very heart of the Christian message is the concept of God bringing life out of death, with the literal, bodily resurrection of Jesus being the primary evidence.
Granted, this claim defies typical human experience. We don’t see people come back to life after they have been pronounced dead.
But Jesus did.
- Not only did the Old Testament Scriptures predict his resurrection, but
- Jesus himself spoke of the event before it happened.
- Then, a gang of cowardly disciples became courageous preachers who were willing to die for what they claimed to have seen, which wasn’t merely an empty tomb, but the Risen Christ in the flesh! Not just what they believed, but what they had seen.
- Furthermore, Paul states in 1 Corinthians 15 that over 500 people witnessed the risen Jesus in person at one time.i
The evidence for a physical, bodily resurrection is so convincing that numerous skeptics trying to disprove the event have ended up writing books that, to their own astonishment, confirm that the evidence is incontrovertible.
With Jesus, God brought life out of death.
The same thing takes place within every person who becomes a follower of Jesus. It is what is called being “born again.”
The apostle Paul describes this spiritual resurrection in Ephesians 2:1, 4-5a, “1 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins… 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ…”
Paul is telling us that being a Christian is not about obeying religious rules; it is about experiencing a supernatural resurrection. Rebirth. New life.
With this new life come new desires and new motives as we begin to come alive to a potential for change that we didn’t think possible.
Then, we remember that God is in the business of bringing life out of death.
The Meaning of Baptism Raises our Expectation for Buds of New Life to Grow in our Lives.
We see this in verses 3-4, “3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”
The preceding context to Romans 6:1-4 reveals that the issue that Paul is addressing is a concern that folks would misinterpret his teaching on grace as an excuse to continually live in rebellion to God, which is what sin is—living in rebellion to God’s ways.
After all, for the entire first five chapters of his letter to the Romans, Paul has not given one single imperative. So far, he has spelled out GRACE in bold with all caps.
As the thinking goes, if we are not saved by our works but by the works of Jesus for us, what motivation is there now to live according to God’s ways.
This is why he writes in Romans 6:1-2, “1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?”
In Romans 6:11, Paul will explain that to die to sin is to consider yourself free from both the condemning penalty of sin and free from the controlling power of sin.
As Paul states in verses 3-4, these twin graces are both represented in baptism.
On one hand, baptism represents our union with Jesus in his death where we receive forgiveness for our sin.
The second aspect of baptism is our union with Jesus is in his resurrection, where we receive empowerment over our sin.
This new power within that brings buds of new life is the result of the indwelling Holy Spirit, who fills us and changes us as we abide by faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus. This is the Jesus who said in John 15, that if we abide in him, we will produce much fruit as a result. We will experience buds of new life as his Spirit changes us from the inside out.
Because first, God is in the business of bringing life out of death. And second, the meaning of baptism raises our expectation for new spiritual life to grow in our lives.
The New Life that Sprouts is for the Glory of God.
We see this in verse 4, “Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”
Just as the resurrection of Jesus was a supernatural work of God that revealed the glory of God, the newness of life we experience is a supernatural work of God that reveals his glory as well.
Paul says it like this in 2 Cor. 5:17-18a, “17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God…”
This means that not only is our justification for God’s glory, but our transformation—the buds of new life—are for his glory, too.
In 2005, something extraordinary happened in Death Valley. Not Clemson Death Valley, but the Death Valley in California that borders Nevada. It is the lowest, hottest, and driest place in the Western Hemisphere. In fact, the highest air temperature ever recorded on the planet was at Furnace Creek in Death Valley in 1913, when the thermometer rose to 134 degrees, with the ground temperature reaching an unimaginable 201 degrees. The air was like an oven and the ground like a stove.
There is a reason why it is called Death Valley.
The region averages around 1 ½ inches of rainfall a year. Sometimes less.
But in the spring of 2005, the valley received six times the normal annual precipitation—the most rainfall in over a century. The result was what ecologists call a “super bloom,” where the vast, once barren and brown region erupted in a spectacular array of color as wildflowers began to emerge from the moonscape.
Life out of death… valley. Who would have thought it possible?
Then, it happened again in the spring of 2016.
If you have read my blog in the past several weeks, then you know that I recently experienced a pastoral Death Valley. After 8 1/2 years of church planting, I finally hit the wall. Or maybe it was the bottom. Whatever it was, I hit it hard. While I’ve hit that low place before as a pastor, I never expected it to happen in the context of a church and ministry that I love.
I sat on the sofa and said quietly to my wife, “I think I’m done.”
Done with what?
“Done with being a pastor.” I was emotionally, physically, and spiritually depleted. Just spent.
A few days later, we left with our kids for spring break—a week at the beach in a friend’s condo.
I was not prepared for what God would do within me by the end of that week. The last thing I expected was a “super bloom” within a heart that had felt so lifeless… but that is exactly what happened as a thrilling new dream exploded in my heart like wildflowers in a desert.
I wanted to be a pastor. You may say, “But you are a pastor.” Yeah, but the difference is that I wanted—really wanted—to be a pastor.
And not just a pastor who preaches, but a pastor who is fully present to really listen to your stories and marvel at the ways his grace is at work in your life, bringing forth buds of new life in whatever form they may bloom.
Being your lead pastor is a thrilling new dream bursting in my heart with bright colors of fresh possibility. My motives and desires seem to have been sovereignly and surprisingly rewired and reborn.
But this new life was born out of death. It’s been hard on my wife. It has been hard on Andy and our Elder Team. I’m so grateful for the grace they have shown to me through this valley.
I share my personal story because I know many of you are going through your own Death Valley experience, and I want to encourage you.
- You are not alone. So, share your experience. Talk about it. Talk to God about it. Share it with a friend. And with me. I’d be honored to listen to you and pray with you.
- Know that God is at work in the dead of winter, planning for spring, preparing branches for buds of new life that will bloom for his glory… and for your joy.
- Jesus understands the agony of Death Valley.
After all, why did he have to rise? Because he had just endured the ultimate Death Valley experience. Upon a Roman cross of execution, he was nailed and exposed, suffered the searing heat of judgement. For us. He was parched unto death. For us. He was pierced. For us. Then, he was buried.
Then, he rose, confirming and sealing all of the promises contained in the cross. Forgiveness full and free. No more condemnation. Adopted as beloved sons and daughters. The hope of eternal joy. This is all ours! And because Jesus rose to new life, we too can experience newness of life—new dreams, even a super bloom — all to the praise of God’s glorious grace.
If you have never received this Jesus as your Death Valley, sin substitute, the offer is on the table. The key word is receive. Receive him simply by saying “yes” to him. Saying, “Yes, I believe that you endured the cross for me for my forgiveness, and that you rose, so that I can truly experience a new life.”