When I cut my finger I don’t dial 9-1-1. I slap a Band-Aid on it and I’m good to go. A while back, when my son and I were wrestling around, I ended up with a broken rib. My family didn’t put me on the first flight to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. I just swallowed a few pain pills over the next few days, prayed I wouldn’t sneeze, and let the bone gradually mend on its own. Bodily injuries call for a variety of responses. You don’t call EMS when you stub your toe, nor do you reach for aspirin when your friend is unconscious and bleeding inside his wrecked car. There’s a little test I like to give people when we’re talking about things like sin, salvation, and Jesus. They tell me how spiritually messed up they think humanity is and I try to guess what kind of solution they think God provides. There is, in fact, a direct correlation between how bad you think people are and how good you think God is.
Maybe you think people's minds are darkened; they’re confused and spiritually uninformed. They need a teacher sent by God. Jesus is indeed a rabbi, a teacher, who has the words of eternal life, who instructs us in the ways of His Father. We do need a teacher, but because we are worse than confused, we need more than a teacher.
Maybe you think people are lost, like sheep gone astray, wandering away from divine care. They need a shepherd to lead them home. Jesus is indeed a pastor, a shepherd, whom the Father sent to seek and to save the lost. We do need a shepherd, but because we are worse than lost, we need more than a shepherd.
Maybe you think people have a sickness of the soul. They are weak and frail. They need a physician to give them medicine from heaven. Jesus is indeed a doctor, a healer, whose touch restored sight, cleansed lepers, made shattered souls whole. We do need a physician, but because we are worse than ill, we need more than a physician.
Or maybe you think people’s problem is that they are in rebellion against God. Enemies of heaven—that’s what they’ve become. So they need a peace-maker. And Jesus is indeed just that: He stands in the gap between God and man, making peace between His Father and humanity. He transforms foes into friends. We do need a peace-maker, but because we are worse than rebels, we need more than a peace-maker.
You might be thinking: Okay, so we’re confused, lost, sick, and rebellious. What could be worse than that?
Here’s the thing: if those were our only problems—major problems though they are—we would still be in a situation where we could partner up with Jesus to make things right. The teaching Jesus could help us overcome our ignorance; the shepherding Jesus could assist us in finding our way home; the healing Jesus could enable us to get back on our feet; and the peace-making Jesus could gently urge us to be reconciled to God. We may really need Jesus because we’re really messed up, but it wouldn’t be as bad as if, say, we’re dead.
But death, that’d be a game changer. Dead men don’t get taught. Dead men don’t get un-lost. Dead men don’t heal. And you can try all day long to make peace with a corpse, but all it’s going to do is lie there, gradually decomposing into dust.
“You were dead in your trespasses and sins,” Paul says (Eph 2:1). And when he says that, everything changes. We finally see just how bad off we are. And we finally see just how good God is toward us. “Even when you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with Christ, having forgiven us all our transgressions,” (Col 2:13).
I love that phrase, “Even when you were dead…” When a persons dies, there’s nothing more we can do with them. We can’t teach them, heal them, or help them in any way. All we do is bury them. Not God. The #1 skill on the divine resume is raising the dead. That’s what He does best. That’s what He does for you in Jesus Christ.
Even when you were dead, the Father united you to the death of Jesus Christ, made you alive together with Him, and raised you up with Him (Eph 2:5-6). God gave, you received. Even when you were dead, the Father poured the Holy Spirit into you, purged away all your sins by the blood of Jesus, and adopted you as His child. God gave, you received. Even when you were dead, God made you an heir of heaven, a brother of Christ, a friend of the angels. God gave, you received.
I am part of the grateful dead, for precisely because I was dead, God did for me what He does best: He made me alive in His resurrected Son, Jesus the Christ.