Editor’s note: Tim Keller’s ministry not only reached the ends of the earth; it also touched the city he loved in its most critical time of need. Just five days after the World Trade Center 9/11 terrorist attack, Keller’s sermon from John 11:1—44 fell on the ears and into the hearts of heartbroken New Yorkers. This is an adaptation from his September 16, 2001, sermon titled “Truth, Tears, Anger, and Grace.”
The governor and mayor, whether they know it or not, are using the gospel story line. It’s the best one there is. The moralistic story line is, “We are the good people; you are the bad people.” That doesn’t really help much in the long run. When your stance is, “We are the good people. We have been telling you that you have been sinning, and now you finally got what you deserved,” it doesn’t work terribly well.
The gospel story line is the one that works. To the extent that it is working in our culture right now, we can bring a better city out of the ashes. But Jesus says, “I can give you something so much more. If you want an even greater resource—the ultimate power to handle this apart from a kind of altruistic wishful thinking—you have to believe.”
Do you? I hope you do. What I am about to tell you is contingent on your having a personal encounter in faith with the Son of God.
Here is what he offers: not a consolation but a resurrection.
What do I mean by that? Jesus does not say, “If you trust in me, someday I will take you away from all this.” He does not say, “Someday, if you believe in me, I will take you to a wonderful paradise where your soul will be able to forget about all this.”
I don’t want a place like that right now. I am upset and mad about what we have lost. But Jesus Christ does not say he will give us consolation. He says he is giving us resurrection. What is resurrection? Resurrection means “I have come not to take you out of the earth to heaven but to bring the power of heaven down to earth—to make a new heaven and new earth and make everything new. I am going to restore everything that was lost, and it will be a million times better than you can imagine. This is the power of my future, the power of the new heaven and new earth, the joy and the wholeness and the health and the newness that will come, the tears that will be gone, and the suffering and death and disease that will be wiped out—the power of all that will incorporate and envelop everything. Everything is going to be made better. Everything is going to be made right.”
Every year or so, I have a recurring nightmare that my wife is very flattered by. The nightmare is that my wife dies. Something has happened to her, and I’m trying to make it without her. My wife is flattered because it is obviously my greatest fear. But let me tell you something really weird. I almost like having the nightmare now. Do you know why? Because the first minute after I wake up is so unbelievably great! To wake up and say, “Oh my, it was only a bad dream. Everything bad I was living through has come untrue.” It is not like being awakened to have someone give me something to make it better, in the sense of “Here’s another wife.” No. What I like about waking up is that the dream becomes untrue. It is a wonderful feeling to say, “It is morning. It was only a bad dream!”
Do you know what Jesus Christ is saying when he says, “I am the resurrection”? He is not saying that he will give us a nicer place. He is going to make everything that happened this week be a bad dream. He is not just giving you a consolation. He is going to make it come untrue. He is going to incorporate even the worst things that have ever happened to you. They will be taken up into the glory that is to come in such a way that they make the glory better and greater for having once been broken.
No one puts this truth better than Dostoevsky. The Brothers Karamazov contains this fascinating passage:
I believe like a child that suffering will be healed and made up for, that all the pitiful mirage … In the world’s finale, at the moment of eternal harmony, something so precious will come to pass that it will suffice for all hearts, for the comforting of all resentments, for the atonement of all the crimes of humanity, of all the blood they’ve shed; that it will make it not only possible to forgive but to justify all that has happened with men.
I feel like I am looking into a deep abyss when he says that. I know what he means. What he is trying to say is that we are not just going to get some kind of consolation that will make it possible to forget. Rather, everything bad is going to come untrue.
At the end of The Lord of the Rings, the hobbit Sam, who thought everything was going wrong, wakes up and the sun is out. He sees Gandalf, the great wizard. To me, this is the quintessence of Jesus’s promise. Sam says, “Gandalf! I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead myself. Is everything sad going to come untrue?” The answer of Jesus is “Yes.” Someday will be the great morning, not m-o-u-r-n-i-n-g, but m-o-r-n-i-n-g—the great morning that won’t just console us. Jesus will take all of those horrible memories, everything bad that has ever happened, and they will actually be brought back in and become untrue. They will only enrich the new world in which everything is put right—everything.
Do you believe this? Jesus says, “Do you believe this?” You say, “I want to believe this.” If Jesus is the Son of God who has come from heaven, if he is the incarnate Son of God who died on the cross so that we could be forgiven, so God could someday destroy evil and suffering without destroying us, he paid the penalty so that we could participate in this. Do you believe the gospel? If you believe the gospel, then you have to believe that.
There are a lot of people in this room who do believe the gospel, but they haven’t really activated it this week. That is what I am here to help you do. You have not thought about that. Your heart hasn’t leapt. You haven’t wept when you thought about it. I hope today is a start!
If, on the other hand, you do not really believe that Jesus is the Son of God, I ask you to keep coming and explore it. Jesus says, “Unless you believe in me, all this is just a pipe dream.” If there is a God up there who has never become human, and you are down here hoping that someday you will be good enough for him to take you to heaven, it won’t work. But if you believe in a God who is willing to come to die, to resurrect the whole world, a God who would come into our lives, that is the gospel.
In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis wrote, “If we let Him … He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a … dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects back to God perfectly (though, of course, on a smaller scale) His own boundless power and delight and goodness. The process will be long … but that is what we are in for. Nothing less.”
Everyone is wondering what kind of power New York is going to put back. I know that God is going to put something back. In the new heavens and new earth, everything we have here—even the best things we have here—will be just a dim echo of what we are going to have there.
This sermon excerpt is used with permission from Gospel in Life.
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