Backwards Land

Reading today Psalm 95 and John 18:24-40

Jon-Mical and Jakson are our grandsons. They are 9 and 6, with birthdays in January and February. For a couple of years now we have been sharing an ongoing story when they come over to spend the night. We all squeeze in the same bed together, Mimi, Jon-Mical, Jakson, and PoppyC, and they say,”PoppyC, tell us a story about Backwards Land.”

Backwards Land is a fascinating place where everything is backwards. The two heroes that live there are Jak-Mical and Jonson. In Backwards Land everything is backwards. (I said it was a story. I didn’t say it was a GOOD story.) They say, “Good evening,” when they get out of bed every morning. When the breakfast is especially good they say, “Yuk.” And of course, they wear their underwear on their heads and gloves on their feet in Backwards Land. It is a continuing saga. We pick up where we left off and add to the story every time they come to stay.

The Jewish people have an ongoing story. They call it Passover and they tell the story at a Seder Meal every year to mark the beginning of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. The house is cleaned and all leavened bread is removed. The meal is ceremonially prepared. The women light candles and at the table the oldest child initiates the haggadah, the telling, by asking, “Father, why is this night different from all other nights?” To which the father answers by telling the story of the deliverance of Israel from the slavery in Egypt when God “passed over” the Jewish homes and brought death to the oldest sons of the Egyptians, causing Pharaoh to repent and let the Israelites go. Each item on the plate is used as an object lesson for parts of the story. The maror, or bitter herbs, reminds them of the bitterness of their captivity. The charoset, kind of like applesauce, represents the mortar they used for bricks to build the Egyptian pyramids. And of course, the zeroa, or Passover lamb, that was killed so that its blood could be sprinkled over the door post so the angel would know to “pass over” that Jewish house. Every year the kids, I imagine, sit enthralled while they hear how God has worked in an awesome and frightful way for their sakes.

Jesus kept that tradition and on this night, Maundy Thursday, He gathered His disciples in the Upper Room and celebrated the Seder Meal. The disciples all sat around the table. They posed for pictures by DaVinci, the local photographer. (Okay, I’m getting carried away.) And then, when the time was right Jesus told them a story. I imagine He went through the same story of deliverance that they had grown up with. Maybe Mary and Martha were there to light the candles. Maybe John asked the haggadah question, “Why is this night different?” But I’m pretty sure it was Jesus who went through the items on the plate and told how God had set His children free.

And then, are you ready for this? He told them the story of Backwards Land.  No, really. He did. He said that from now on the wine would represent His blood and the bread would represent His body. He told them that, to the old command of loving God, He was adding a new “Maundy,” a new command that they love each other. Then He really got backwards. He said, “This world is not your home. I’m going to prepare a new one for you.” (John 14:3) He said when you think I’m gone, I’m really not, “I will send you a Comforter.” (John 14:18) And He told them, “All these miracles you’ve seen me do. They’re nothing. You will do way bigger stuff than that.” (John 14:12) Their heads must have been spinning. This turns everything upside down. This is like, well, like Backwards Land.

Here’s the important thing to remember. We STILL live in Backwards Land. Everything for those of us who are Christ followers is just the opposite from what the world thinks. For example, in Backwards Land, when you die you live. Just a few hours earlier Jesus had said to His disciples, “Unless a grain of wheat falls on the ground and dies, it cannot bear fruit.” (John 12:24) He is comparing not only His life, but theirs, and ours. We “die” to ourselves so that we can have “abundant life” with Him. Paul says it this way, “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless, I live. Yet not I but Christ lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20) Boom! Backwards Land.

Here’s another example, when you lose, you win. Wow, is that backwards or what? “Whoever finds his life will lose it, but whoever gives up his life for My sake will gain it.” (Matthew 10:39) “I consider all things loss for the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus, my Lord.” (Philippians 3:8) The bumper sticker for the rest of the world says, “Whoever dies with the most stuff wins.” In the backwards land of the believer it is, “The more I can get rid of, the better off I will be.”

Finally, one more, what you see isn’t real and what is real you can’t see. 2 Corinthians 4:18 says, “We fix our eyes, not on what is seen but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary but what is unseen is eternal.” The writer of Hebrews says, “Faith is the CONFIDENCE of what we hope for and the evidence of WHAT WE DO NOT SEE.” (Hebrews 11:1) Does that not turn your world around? We are in Backwards Land folks. Isn’t that cool?

So, here’s the deal, sometimes this life is hard. We pray for things and they don’t happen. We get disappointed and heartbroken. Sometimes it just doesn’t make sense. Businesses fail. Churches implode. Marriages end. People that we love die. I don’t have an answer for all of that except to say, “This world is not our home. We’re just a passin’ through. The Lord’s prepared a place, somewhere beyond the blue.” It was a dark, scary, heartbreaking time on this Passover Thursday 2000 years ago but Jesus said, “Guys, this is Backwards Land. We are going to come out on top. Just keep holding on even when you can’t see.”

I have sat with people over the last couple of weeks that are enduring really tough stuff. A family that we love in Ohio lost a husband and father in a freakish, senseless accident, a couple that I care about is unraveling the pain of betrayal and infidelity, a family that we do life with has prayed for a wayward child for a long time and it just ain’t happening, a young couple is so heartbroken after losing an unborn child, and I can’t begin to make sense of any of that. It all seems so, so backwards from what we hope for. I guess that is the point. We do not, we cannot place our trust in this life or in the things that we see around us. Psalm 33:20 says, “We put our hope in the Lord.” We sing a song in church, “I will remain confident in this, I will see the goodness of the Lord. We set our hope on You. We set our hope on Your Love. We set our hope on the One who is the Everlasting God.“ That’s all I’ve got. But that’s enough. To trust anything else is to go the wrong way.

So, tell somebody “good night” this morning. Eat cereal for supper. And get your eyes off everything you see. “Fix them on Jesus, the author and finisher of your faith.” He will keep you from going backwards.

Ekim  (see what I did there?)

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