I want to tell you a story—a true story.
The snow had draped everything in a pillowy blanket of white that looked like something straight out of a Thomas Kincade painting. As a country kid, I preferred being outdoors. So when the snow stopped, I layered up, put on my boots, gloves and hat and went out to stand in the middle of the glory God had put on display.
I remember it like it was yesterday. The roads were all but impassable, so I stood alone and uninterrupted. It was bitterly cold—the dry kind that freezes the lungs when you breathe. Everything was so still that the sound of my boots crunching through the surface of the snow muted as though I were in an acoustically perfect concert hall.
I stood at the end of my driveway looking as far as I could past the stand of blue spruces draped in snow to my right when out of the corner of my eye I saw something out of place. There in a 30 foot spruce I saw something amid the alternating layers of bluish-green and pure white that was the color of ash. Unable to make out what it was, I went over to investigate.
It was a bird—a motionless, gray, speckled dove—nestled on a bough right at about eye-level. It wasn’t until I was only inches away that I realized the bird was dead—frozen as it had landed, preserved.
With my gloved hands I picked it up and held it in such a way that if it wanted to fly away, it could. I thought about the Bible verses that say God knows the number of hairs on our heads, (Mt 10:30) how we are fearfully and wonderfully made, (Ps 139:14) how the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, (Ps 24:1) and how God cares for the birds of the field. (Mt 6:26)
I thought about my bird and though it weighed next to nothing, it was all at once heavy in my hands. This was God’s bird. He made it. He was there when it poked its little beak out of its little shell. He aligned its DNA to produce feathers. He gave it instincts to find food. He gave it flight. And He numbered its days—a number now expired.
I found myself caring for the little creature, even grieving a bit. I couldn’t shake the thought that in ways I couldn’t comprehend God loved that lifeless little bird. So I prayed. It started as a prayer of thanks for creation and for God’s attention to detail. But before I knew it, I was praying for the bird itself.
Lifting it up like a priest with his offering, I prayed, “God of all Creation, You gave this bird life and You have cared for it all its days. Now it is dead, but if You wanted, You could bring it back to life, right here and right now. It would take nothing—just a word. Not even. If it be Your will, raise this little bird up and give it new life.”
Then I looked at the bird in my hands through the vapors of my own breathing.
What ending to this story are you comfortable with? Knowing I have already promised you this story is true, how do you hope it ends? How do you fear it ends? Is there a part of you pleading, “Please don’t tell me the bird came back to life. I don’t know if I have a category for that, other than doubt.”
If I told you the bird awoke in my hands and flew away to God knows where, would that be okay? If I promised you I had no intentions of taking a shred of credit for it, and swore I’d recoil at even the slightest hint that I was in any way its healer, would it then be okay if I told you God raised that bird from the dead?
How you answer matters, because if you are a Christian, all your eggs (no pun intended) are in the basket of belief in the resurrection of the dead—not just in Jesus’ resurrection, but in your own as well. Jesus Himself said, “This is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:40)
What is harder to believe: that God can raise a bird from the dead, or that He Himself has risen, and that He will also raise you?
Does the bird take flight? You want to know. Some of you might even say you need to know. Whether the bird rose to newness of life or not, if you are in Christ, the guarantee of the Gospel is that you will. The Maker of Heaven and Earth will scoop you up, cold and still, and warm your Spirit to flight.
How could I say such an audacious thing of the followers of Jesus? “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” (Rom 8:11)
Easter is a time for us to remember that we know how the story will end.
In Jerusalem 2,000+ years ago, we saw the first fruits of the resurrection. And it is a TRUE story: “IN FACT Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.” (1 Cor 15:20-21)
This is not a promise I make to you today, but one God Himself has already made. And He has sworn by the greatest name in Heaven and on Earth—His own. Resurrection for the believer in Christ is God’s promise, and “it is impossible for God to lie.” (Heb 6:18)
Easter is the guarantee that the story of the follower of Jesus ends in resurrection—eternal life in face-to-face intimacy with the Maker and Lover of your souls. Nothing less.
Death has long since been defeated. Still, we wait with baited breath for the end to come. But for those in Christ, we already know what the end will be.
Russ Ramsey is the pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church Cool Springs in Nashville, Tennessee, where he lives with his wife and four children. He grew up in the fields of Indiana and studied at Taylor University and Covenant Theological Seminary (MDiv, ThM). Russ is the author of the Retelling the Story Series (IVP, 2018) and Struck: One Christian’s Reflections on Encountering Death (IVP, 2017).
You were right. Before you brought it up I was wrestling w/ the stories end. Funny we believe He can perform miracles, yet we think we can pick which ones He does, and should do.
Knowing what the end is helps me keep my present trials in perspective. They won’t end in despair or death or dissolve into meaninglessness. Instead, they cause me to look forward to the day when I will see Jesus smile at me. And it’s a fact that He will smile…that miracles do happen…that God guaranteed this from the get-go!
“…and all the death that ever was when you set it next to life, well I believe it would barely fill a cup…”
Good words and true. Beautiful too. Bravo.
You’re right. I wanted to know the ending, in more ways than one. I found myself struggling to keep from skipping to the last paragraph. Stories like this one, impossibly true stories, unearth the cynicism that doggedly scoffs from the chambers of my heart. It’s the same bitterness that tires of hearing the motivational speaker sent to the church youth group meeting – that one whose life was rent by addictions until, in the thick of the last quagmire, God showed up. True, the reasons people tell such stories are different, and I am right to weigh the truth of what’s being said, but God is still undoubtedly there. And that haughty creature scoffs from the center of my own final quagmire.
But there are two factions at large, and the other, the impossibly hopeful one, will not be denied in the end. I hope to hope. I want to shout through the noisy rabble of skeptics that I hope the bird flitted from your hands, circled once, and was gone. Am I comfortable with that? Probably not, but I want it to happen nonetheless. Miracles are unapologetic and unnerving to the adult in me, and that’s a good thing.
Your story immediately took me back to my own ventures out to nature and the woods when I was young. The things that caught my attention – the hidden beauty of all the details found along the trail – were all clues to a far greater story which would be told to me, then neglected and eventually returned to as I became older. The hushed silence of the woods after a snowfall and then whispers on the wind through the treetops. I always wanted to linger for as long as possible. There was a truth there.
There is no greater gift than the gift of hope that was given to us on the day Jesus arose from the tomb.
Thank you for such a wonderful way to remind us of this gift on this Good Friday.
I’m borrowing heavily from your resurrection sermon posted on the rabbit room podcast a few years back for this Sunday. So the congregation of the expat anglican church in Casablanca will get a taste of your wonderful encouragement. I hope you don’t mind. In it you say that we would be wrong to think of the resurrection as simply a happy ending, that its just the beginning. So even though we know the end of the story its not the end at all (which you make known once more in this blog). Joy. Blessings to you and all who visit here.
Thanks brother. Great reminder and much needed redirection in vision for the work in which God has us right now.
Thanks for this story. It reminded me of one I just participated in last week. I was asked by the family of little Drayson Benz Johnston to speak at his funeral. He was a very little bird, stillborn at nine months on Palm Sunday. The resurrection is their hope, and I remembered the story of Jesus speaking to those resurrection sceptics, the Saduccees. He told them that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is the God of the Living, not the dead. In God, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are alive. In God, Drayson is alive.
When I was an agnostic, I feared death more than I would have cared to admit. I had known the hope of the Resurrection as a child, but its significance was lost on me at the time. It was of course not my understanding of the concept that was deficient, but rather my appreciation of the profound contrast between the stark finality of death without Christ and the sheer, unrivalled beauty of His promise. By the time I had grown old enough to apprehend the more substantive implications of the Christian Hope, I had already rejected the Christian God as a viable claimant to the titles of ‘Creator’ and ‘Moral Authority.’
Interestingly, while my ‘conversion’ (or whatever you want to call it) was preceeded by an honest and thorough examination of the evidences for (and against) the Christian faith, what served to cinch my return to Christ consisted of something rather different than what I shall call strictly a strictly ‘rational’ consideration–something that I had, as a general rule, not permitted into my epistemology. My rational acceptance of the central claims of Christianity was most certainly a necessary condition for my conversion, but it was not a sufficient condition. Much like Lewis, I became a theist before I became a Christian theist.
Ultimately, my acceptance of Christ followed from the realization that there was simply no beauty in life without Him. I came to this realization one day as I was driving in my car listening to the Switchfoot song, “The Setting Sun”. A storm had just passed over my home town of Lynchburg, which is situated in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. As the thunderhead drifted west the sun began to set below it, and it made the mountains appear as if they were set above the foothills, bathed in a luminescent golden light. It was the most beautiful vision I had ever seen before or since, and it is difficult to describe with words the change it effected in me.
Perhaps the experience reminded me of the unspeakable beauty of the Hope I had given up for the sake of what I supposed to be ‘reason’; or, perhaps I was just so struck by the resemblance of the whole scene to the artist’s traditional rendition of ‘Heaven’ that I couldn’t help but be moved (and remember, as I’m seeing this beatific vision of ‘Heaven’ the words ‘it won’t be long, I belong, somewhere past the setting sun’ are being sung in the background). In any case, it was then, by the grace of God, that I understood what I had been needlessly–and even quite irrationally–missing out on.
I thank God every day that He has seen fit to make enough of Himself known to convince me, the most faithless of cowards, of His love.
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