Moses is a really clever guy. He loves to take old patterns and repeat them and expand them. Like all really good writers, he uses these larger meta-patterns to set up expectations in his readers.
For instance, over the last few chapters we have been noticing that Abraham’s life has resembled Noah’s. Both men were called to build a space where God’s people would be protected from judgement. Both men lived through Judgement Day and inherited the earth. Both men offered up incredibly costly sacrifices. And both men were rewarded for their obedience with the blessings of an everlasting covenant.
And so, by highlighting that pattern and setting up expectations in us, Moses actually deepened our understanding. Because we noticed the pattern, we actually learned more about Noah, more about Abraham, and more about God! than we would have if we had not noticed the repeating pattern.
But sometimes — like all really good writers — Moses sets up a pattern, and sets up the expectations of his readers…and then he disappoints our expectations. He breaks the pattern.
For instance, Moses actually sets up a pattern in Chapter 21, and then repeats it in Chapter 22.
Let me show you:
In Chapter 21, God tells Abraham to send Ishmael away. In Chapter 22, God tells Abraham to sacrifice Isaac.
In Chapter 21, Abraham puts food and water on Hagar’s shoulders. In Chapter 22, he puts wood on Isaac’s shoulders.
In Chapter 21, Ishmael is just about to die when the Angel of the Lord calls from heaven. In Chapter 22, Isaac is just about to die when the Angel of the Lord calls from heaven.
In Chapter 21, Hagar lifts her eyes and sees a well, which saves Ishmael’s life. In Chapter 22, Abraham lifts his eyes and sees a ram, which saves Isaac’s life.
In Chapter 21, God promises to make Ishmael into a great nation. In Chapter 22, God promises to make Isaac into a great nation.
In Chapter 21, Ishmael gets married. In Chapter 22…Moses breaks the pattern and disappoints our expectations.
Chapter 21 is the story of Hagar’s son, the son who rejected Abraham’s household. It ends with Ishmael getting married, and riding off into the sunset where he is going to live a long, happy, prosperous life. And that was meant to show us that Abraham’s God is infinitely gracious even to people who reject him.
Well, Chapter 22 has been the story of Sarah’s son, the son who remained faithful to Abraham’s household, faithful even to the moment of death. This kid Isaac is a good kid! And since God has already been so generous to Ishmael, the son who rejected him, how much more gracious is he going to be to the son who has proven himself worthy of blessing?
And so, we come to the end of Chapter 22 expecting to see Isaac also get married, and ride off into the sunset where he is going to live a longer, happier, and even more prosperous life than Ishmael.
But instead we get this:
 Some time later Abraham was told, “Milkah is also a mother; she has borne sons to your brother Nahor:  Uz the firstborn, Buz his brother, Kemuel (the father of Aram),  Kesed, Hazo, Pildash, Jidlaph and Bethuel.”
It is wonderful to hear that the rest of Abraham’s disobedient family — the part of the family that did not follow Abraham’s new god to a new land, the part of the family that stayed back so they could continue to worship idols — it is wonderful to hear that they are also getting married and living long, happy, prosperous lives with lots of kids and everything.
But that is not really what we want to hear, Moses!
I mean: it is wonderful that God is so infinitely gracious even to people who reject him. But the truth is: we want to see the good guys prosper also, not just the bad guys!
And we do have to wonder how Abraham received this news. I’m sure he was happy to hear that his brother Nahor has had at least eight sons. But when you compare those eight sons with Abraham’s one remaining son…well, I know how I would feel. I would feel like, “Really, God? I’ve been faithful to you for 50+ years, and I get only one son? Meanwhile my slacker brother back home gets eight?”
But there are some other pieces of news Abraham did not receive, details that Moses wants to share with us. For instance:  Bethuel — that last son on the list — became the father of Rebekah. Oh, and also, Nahor’s concubine, whose name was Reumah, also had sons: Tebah, Gaham, Tahash and Maakah.
So that adds up to twelve sons in all for Nahor!
…great. It’s a good thing Abraham did not hear that part, because his concubine only gave him one son, and how annoying would it be to hear that your little brother’s concubine produced four more sons —
— but wait a minute: rewind that a second?
What was that bit about Bethuel becoming the father of Rebekah? Who is Rebekah?
Well…that is a feminine name. So apparently Moses wants us to know that there is at least one daughter in the family. And that is a very interesting detail, because most ancient genealogies do not mention the daughters.
So what does it mean? Why did Moses include this daughter’s name here?
Well…come to think of it, we were expecting Isaac to get married at this point in the story. So could it be that Moses is…raising our expectations again, getting us ready for a wedding after all?
Maybe. But the real question is: are we going to allow him to raise our expectations? After all: once burned, twice shy, fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me…so I’m not so sure I’m ready to let Moses get my hopes up only to dash them once again!
Am I right?
And it’s a good thing we are so cynical, because — sure enough — the next part is not about a wedding:
 Sarah lived to be a hundred and twenty-seven years old.  She died at Kiriath Arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan, and Abraham went to mourn for Sarah and to weep over her.
Sarah has lived a long and — for many years — a difficult life. Leaving her homeland at age 65, she followed her husband faithfully through all the years and all the moves and all the disappointments: from the land of Ur in the east, to the land of Canaan in the west, down to Egypt, back to Canaan, then 20+ years camped in the mountains, waiting, waiting, waiting for Abraham’s God to do something…!
And then, finally, the descent to the southern plains, where her husband dug a well in the wilderness, and planted a tree, and settled down permanently; where Sarah herself finally produced an heir for Abraham.
It was only in the last quarter of her life that Sarah found peace and fulfillment, living with her husband and her growing son at that oasis in the southern desert.
So it is interesting to notice here that Sarah did not die at that oasis in the desert. She dies at Hebron, in the mountains where she had lived for 20+ years.
And we don’t know why she was there. Perhaps she became ill, and thought that the fresh air of the mountains might help her recover. Perhaps she had gone back to visit some friends from the old days, and died during her visit. We don’t know: Moses does not tell us why she was there.
But Moses is not the kind of writer to waste ink: the fact that she died in Hebron is meant to be a significant detail. It means something that she died at the highest city in the land, at one of the most sacred places in the land, among the trees where God once met her face to face and spoke to her and told her that she would bear a son. It means something that she died in the place where she had spent so many years waiting.
And when Abraham had finished his initial mourning, he rose from beside his dead wife and spoke to the Hittites — the local people. He said,  “I am a foreigner and stranger among you. Sell me some property for a burial site here so I can bury my dead.”
Abraham wants to bury his wife here, on this mountain, in Canaan. He wants to buy a burial plot. And to us this makes sense. After all, why not? Sarah needs to be buried somewhere, and Hebron seems like a good place.
But actually, Abraham’s request is very unusual, because he is — as he says here — “a foreigner and stranger” in this land. In those days, in those cultures, a person’s identity came from his ancestors, his land, and his gods. And those three things were very tightly linked. It was always considered better to live your whole life in the land owned by your ancestors and protected by your gods. Leaving your ancestral lands was considered very risky, because that meant leaving the protection of your gods.
Of course, sometimes a person had to leave because of war or famine or something else — but it was always expected that they would eventually return. And if they died while they were away, then it was expected that their family would make sure to bring the body back and bury it in the ancestral lands, so that they could enjoy the protection of their own gods in the afterlife, and the company of their own relatives. To have to be buried somewhere else — far from family, in lands owned by other foreign gods, who might spent eternity tormenting your foreign spirit — well, that was a curse!
For Abraham to bury his wife here, on this mountain, in Canaan, means that he is making a total break from his past, from his ancestral lands, from his ancestral gods. Sure, he has been building altars for the last 70 years, digging wells, planting trees — but all that is strictly temporary. He can walk away from all that if he wants to.
But for him to purchase a tomb, and lay his wife to rest here? — this is permanent.
Well, the Hittites are delighted and honoured that Abraham has decided to stay on permanently. They say, “Sir, listen to us. You are a mighty prince among us —
— literally: “A Prince of God among us” —
“Bury your dead in the choicest of our tombs. None of us will refuse you his tomb for burying your dead.”
So the local people have noticed that Abraham’s God is way more powerful than any of their local gods.
In fact, they were convinced of this a long time ago: way back in Chapter 14, shortly after Abraham settled there, these local leaders had entered into a treaty with Abraham, they had even supported him in that long-ago war against the eastern kings.
So now, when Abraham asks to bury his wife here, they understand the significance at once: they understand that Abraham is permanently rejecting his old people, and looking to permanently join a new people. And they understand that if Abraham becomes a part of their people, then his immensely powerful God will also become their god.
So they invite Abraham to bury Sarah in one of their tombs, among the bones of their people. For Sarah to spend her afterlife among their ancestors would be a powerful symbol of their permanent unity with Abraham’s family and Abraham’s God.
This is a very generous offer! — one that benefits everyone: Abraham gets a new land and a new people, the Hittites get a new god, much better than any of their old ones.
But that is not quite what Abraham has in mind. He is making a total break from his old people — but he is not actually hoping to join a new people. So  Abraham rose and bowed down before the people of the land, the Hittites.  He said to them, “If you are willing to let me bury my dead, then listen to me and intercede with Ephron son of Zohar on my behalf  so he will sell me the cave of Machpelah, which belongs to him and is at the end of his field. Ask him to sell it to me for the full price as a burial site among you.”
Abraham does not want to bury Sarah in a Canaanite tomb, where her bones will lie alongside others unrelated to her. He does not want to join his people with the Hittite people. What he wants is a completely separate tomb, a cave that is still just a cave, a cave that has not yet been used as a tomb.
And because he lived in the area for so long he already knows that there is an unused cave available, and he asks if he can buy it.
Now  Ephron the Hittite was sitting among his people and he replied to Abraham in the hearing of all the Hittites who had come to the gate of his city.  “No, my lord,” he said. “Listen to me; I give you the field, and I give you the cave that is in it. I give it to you in the presence of my people. Bury your dead.”
And again: this is a very generous offer. For a man to be willing to give up his ancestral lands for free is just unheard of! — especially to a foreigner.
But  again Abraham bowed down before the people of the land  and he said to Ephron in their hearing, “Listen to me, if you will. I will pay the price of the field. Accept it from me so I can bury my dead there.”
Abraham does not want to be given the land and the cave, because that would put him in debt to Ephron and his people. The gift of the land would bind him to the Hittites with an obligation: he would, in essence, be joining his household to theirs.
And he is not interested in that: he wants to purchase the land so that he has total independent control of it in perpetuity.
Well, Ephron is not so keen on that idea. So he answers Abraham,  “Listen to me, my lord; the land is worth four hundred shekels of silver, but what is that between you and me? Bury your dead.”
400 shekels of silver is well over 50 years worth of daily wages: this price is a bit high. It is Ephron’s polite way of saying, “The land is not actually for sale.” Ephron really, really wants to just give the land to Abraham. He really, really wants Abraham to be in his debt. Because the Hittites are still really, really hoping that Abraham will join himself to their people so that they can also enjoy the benefits of having Abraham’s God as their god.
In other words, they are thinking that if they can get control over God’s prophet, then they will have control over that prophet’s god. Which would be a really, really useful thing to have.
But Abraham, unexpectedly, takes the deal:  he agreed to Ephron’s terms and weighed out for him the price he had named in the hearing of the Hittites: four hundred shekels of silver, according to the weight current among the merchants.
 So Ephron’s field in Machpelah near Mamre—both the field and the cave in it, and all the trees within the borders of the field—was deeded  to Abraham as his property in the presence of all the Hittites who had come to the gate of the city.
So now Abraham has total control of that property in perpetuity. He has not bound himself — or his God — to the Hittite people. He is under no obligation to them: they will not be able to come along later and bury their people in that cave alongside Sarah. Sarah’s afterlife belongs to Abraham’s God alone; she will not have to “share” her afterlife with the Hittites’ ancestors.
 Afterward Abraham buried his wife Sarah in the cave in the field of Machpelah near Mamre (which is at Hebron ) in the land of Canaan.  So the field and the cave in it were deeded to Abraham by the Hittites as a burial site.
So now it is clear to all the local people that Abraham has no plans to ever return to his ancestral homelands in the east — not in this life, or in the next. He has completely cut himself off from his past, he is making a completely fresh start for himself, for his family, for his nation.
It is equally clear to all the local people that Abraham has no plans to ever join his people to theirs — not in this life, or in the next. His faith in his God’s protection over this life — and the next — is so complete that he is not afraid to set up his family tomb right in midst of their ancestral lands, right in the midst of lands ruled by their local gods.
Okay. That is interesting. But what does it mean? What does Moses want his people — the ancient people of Israel — to learn from this sudden breaking of the pattern, this sudden disappointment of their expectations?
Moses set everyone up to expect news of a wedding. Instead, he gave us news about how well Abraham’s family is doing back in his ancestral homeland. Then he gave us news about Sarah’s death and burial. What is the significance of all this?
Well, when we look back over Abraham’s career in Canaan, we notice that ever since he first arrived he has been building altars to his God right beside trees that were sacred to other, local gods. The symbolism is obvious: Abraham was telling everyone, “My God is greater than your gods. My God can protect me from your gods. Oh, and — by the way — my God is taking over this land.”
Then, in Chapter 21, Abraham dug a well in the southern wilderness and planted his own sacred tree there. And again, the symbolism is obvious: Abraham was beginning the process of actually settling in, and taking over the land for his God.
But here, as Abraham purchases this property and buries his wife in a cave among the trees outside the highest city in the land — now Abraham is not just declaring that his God is the Lord over this world: he is also declaring that his God is the Lord over the next world as well.
And this would have been an important lesson for the people of Israel to learn from their ancestor Abraham. For generations they had lived and died as slaves in Egypt, and now that they were free, living in the wilderness between Egypt and Canaan, there was a strong temptation to return. Egypt was a prosperous nation. And it often occurred to the people that slavery in a rich country is better than freedom without a country: it is better to be a live dog than a dead lion. Besides, by leaving Egypt they were leaving their own ancestors behind, buried there: after so many generations, Egypt had become their ancestral land.
So Moses is telling his people that Egypt is not their ancestral homeland: Canaan is. “Don’t go back!” he is saying. “We are cut off from that past now. You were baptised when you passed through the Red Sea with me, and it has closed behind us now. There is no going back!
“So: press on toward the goal! Press on toward the land where our ancestors are buried: where Sarah, and Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob are all buried. Press on toward the land where we are going to enjoy the blessing and protection of Abraham’s God in this life and in the next!”
In other words: to live in the land is to live a life of worship under the blessings of Abraham’s God; to be buried in the land is to go and actually live in the presence of Abraham and his God.
“But,” the people would want to know, “What about all of our relatives that we have buried in Egypt? Are they going to end up in the Egyptian underworld, tormented by Egyptian gods for all eternity? Should we go back and get their bones and re-bury them in Canaan so they can also join Abraham and Abraham’s God?”
And Moses’ answer to that is: “No need.” Because the beauty of God’s covenant with Abraham is this: God’s grace, God’s kindness, God’s love for Abraham’s people was purchased by Abraham’s faith and obedience.
Abraham circumcised himself and his whole household, thus putting himself and his whole household under God’s blessing and protection in this life.
Abraham purchased land and buried Sarah — and then was buried there himself — thus putting himself and his whole household under God’s blessing and protection in the next life.
The beauty of God’s covenant with Abraham is this: every household that has joined themselves to Abraham through circumcision has also been joined to Abraham in his death and burial. Every household that has been circumcised into Abraham has also been symbolically buried with Abraham.
Which means that every child of Abraham who lived and died and was buried in Egypt actually lived and died and was buried under the blessing and protection of Abraham’s God. Their bodies might lie in Egypt, but their spirits do not exist in the dark underworld of the Egyptian gods, they have already gone to be with Abraham, because they were bound — body and soul — to Abraham’s body and soul through circumcision.
In short: it should not matter to the people of Israel that some of their relatives are buried in Egypt. The only thing that should matter to the people of Israel is where their ancestors’ bodies are buried. That is why the only body they are carrying with them back out of Egypt is the mummified body of Joseph, Jacob’s son — one of their ancestors — who made his children promise that when God finally rescued them from slavery they would bring his body back and bury it in Canaan.
Where their ancestors’ bodies are buried, there will their spirits be drawn into fellowship with them forever.
Now, all that was very Good News for the ancient people of Israel!
Is this Good News meant for us as well?
Well, the rest of the bible says: yes.
In fact, over the last 3500 years since Moses wrote it down, this Good News has actually continued to develop and get better and better!
The people of Moses’ time definitely believed that their dead ancestors were still spiritually alive in the presence of God. And they believed that one day — on Judgement Day — their spirits would be re-united with their bodies and they would rise again to live on a perfectly restored earth. For them, this Good News was purely a matter of faith: no one yet had returned from the dead to confirm that it is all true.
We now know that it is all true. Our Good News is better now because someone actually did return from the dead to confirm everything the ancient people of Israel believed: 2000 years ago a man named Jesus of Nazareth was crucified in Jerusalem by the Roman Empire. He was definitely dead. He was definitely buried. The government put an imperial seal on the tomb, and stationed soldiers outside to make sure he stayed buried. But he did not.
By noon on the third day after his death, the government was forced to issue an official press release, because the body had gone missing. The tomb was empty. The government’s explanation was that the Roman soldiers at the tomb had fallen asleep while on duty — a death penalty offense, by the the way — and that somehow Jesus’ disciples managed to break the imperial seal, open the tomb, unwrap the body, and carry it away naked, all without waking the soldiers or leaving any evidence.
But shortly afterward, Jesus’ disciples issued a different press release. Their explanation was that Jesus had actually risen from the dead, that he was transformed and stronger than ever, and that more than 500 of them had met with him, spoken with him, eaten with him.
No one disputes the evidence: Jesus was definitely dead; he was definitely buried; his body definitely disappeared; hundreds definitely claimed to have seen him alive, and held to their testimony even under government torture.
Which means we are left with a choice: we can accept the government’s explanation for this evidence, or we can accept the disciples’.
But — fair warning! — I should tell you that there are real-life consequences hanging from this choice. This is not merely an intellectual decision that will leave our lives untouched.
For instance: we are free, of course, to accept the official explanation of the Roman government — but if we do, then we should be aware of what we are giving up. If we look at the evidence surrounding Jesus’ death and disappearance and conclude that he did not rise from the dead, then we are giving up any certainty about what our afterlife will actually be like; we are giving up any certainty that any of our funeral traditions make any difference at all.
So: some of us grew up in a Buddhist/Taoist household watching our family pay priests to burn money in hopes of delivering dead family members from demonic torments — but how can we ever know if that actually works?
Some of us grew up in a Hindu household, watching our family pay priests to perform sacrifices in hopes of winning a better reincarnation — but how can we know if that actually works?
Some of us grew up in a Muslim household, watching family members faithfully perform the five pillars, all the while being taught that — no matter how devout we may be — we are all destined to fall into the fire, where we will burn for who knows how many centuries. But how can we ever know if all that is actually true?
Some of us grew up in a free-thinking household, and we know that “free-thinking” is actually code for “We are free to never think or talk about death or anything else of lasting significance.” We have been taught that there is no afterlife — but how can we know for sure?
The only way we can know for sure is to talk to someone who has been there. Someone who has died, and been dead for more than a day or two, and then returned to tell us all about it.
Which is why I recommend that we accept the disciples’ explanation. If we look at the evidence surounding Jesus’ death and disappearance and conclude that he really did rise from the dead, then this is what we stand to gain:
First, we finally know for sure that there is an afterlife, and that Abraham’s God really does rule over all of it, just as he rules over this life.
Second, we finally know for sure that what the ancient Israelites believed is true: that to die as a member of Abraham’s household means eternal life in the presence of Abraham’s God, no matter where and how we might be buried.
In the Old Testament, this meant that anyone who was circumcised into Abraham’s family was symbolically buried with Abraham. But now, in the New Testament, circumcision is no longer the entry point into Abraham’s family: circumcision has morphed into baptism.
This is how Paul talks about it in his Letter to the Colossians, Chapter 2: “Christ is the head over every power and authority!” In other words: Christ rules over this life and the next one. “In him you were also circumcised — but: with a circumcision not performed by human hands. You were circumcised by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism.”
In other words: anyone who is baptised into Jesus’ family today is symbolically buried with Jesus in this life, and when they are actually buried they go to be with Jesus in the next life.
But third — and most importantly — we finally know for sure that what the ancient Israelites believed about resurrection is true.
In the Old Testament, they believed that one day their spirits would be re-united with their bodies, and that they would rise again to live forever on a perfectly restored earth. They believed, but they had no evidence that this could happen. They could not be sure.
Now, in the New Testament, we can be sure. We have all the evidence we need that resurrection is possible. All that remains for us is to accept the disciples’ explanation for that evidence. If we accept that Jesus actually rose from the dead, then we ourselves can know for sure that we also will be resurrected.
This is how it works: anyone who is baptised into Jesus has been buried with him. Where his body is buried, there will our spirits be drawn into fellowship with him. Except that his body is no longer buried! — it has been raised to life in God’s presence. Which means that anyone who has been buried with Jesus in baptism has also been raised with him!
That is how Paul finishes that sentence in Colossians, Chapter 2: You were circumcised by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.”
In other words: when we accept the explanation that God really did raise Jesus from the dead, then in that moment we also are raised from the dead. Where his body is now, there our spirits are drawn into fellowship with him. This is how Paul explains it a few verses later in Colossians: “When Christ died, you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.”
When we accept that God really did raise Jesus from the dead, in that moment our spirits are raised from the dead, and taken up into Jesus’ presence — and in exchange we receive God’s Spirit of Life, the Spirit that can never die.
Now: our bodies die. Our bodies are buried. After a few decades there is nothing left but bones; after a few millennia, there is nothing left but dust. But if we are buried with Christ in baptism, then we live those thousands of years in the presence of Abraham and Sarah and in the presence of Jesus himself — until the day comes when we will be reunited with our perfectly restored bodies on a perfectly restored earth.
So what is our application, then? What are we supposed to do because of all this?
Well, first, if you are here today and you have never considered these claims made by Jesus’ disciples, then consider them now. Examine the evidence for yourself. Compare the only two viable explanations of that evidence. And then — I would urge you! — accept the disciples’ explanation. Accept the reality that a man died and then returned, and told us the truth about the life to come. Turn your back upon the gods of your ancestors, who cannot tell you anything for sure about the life to come. Cut yourself off from the slavery of your past, and the fear of your future. Enter boldly into fellowship with Jesus, and live as part of a new people, a new nation, dedicated to God alone. You really have everything to gain! — and nothing to lose except fear.
Now, if you are here today and you have already been buried with Jesus in baptism, then this is our application: do not turn back to the ways of our ancestors, and do not aside to the ways of our world. We are a new kind of people, a new kind of nation, and so we live according to a different set of values.
We have noticed, over the last few chapters of Genesis, that Moses has been teaching his people how live among the nations. There are some — like Sodom and Gomorrah — who hate God, who want to destroy his Church. These we are commanded to pray for, and show love to as we wait for God’s judgement to deliver us from their hatred.
But there others who are impressed by God and by his Church, and they are interested in making friends with us.
Some of these — like King Abimelek in Chapter 21 — treat us kindly because they actually want to join us and submit to our God. These we are commanded to live among, and preach to, and baptize into the covenant with Christ.
But some of these — like the Hittites in this chapter — treat us kindly because they actually want to put us in their debt. They are thinking that if they can get control over Christ’s Church, then they will have control over God. They do not want to join us, they want us to join them. They want to bind us to their destiny.
And in that case, we are commanded to reject their offer.
So, really, practically speaking, what does this look like in our day and age, in our city?
This is what it looks like: we are surrounded by nations, by religions, by philosophies that seek to control their eternal destiny — and control God — by mastering everything: politics, the economy, property, culture, every kind of ecological system. And they are always inviting us to join in their system of command and control, to participate in their ambitions, their plans for the future.
— and they really really do want us to become one nation with them, because nothing is more unsettling to a system than having a bunch of free radicals zipping around inside it! Because we live according to different values, we are actually a threat to the systems around us.
And the way these nations invite us to join their system is by making it very costly to hold different values. They will raise the price of doing the right thing as high as possible, just as Ephron did for Abraham by putting a very high price on the land.
For instance: we live in Malaysia, and we Christians have had many conversations over the years about how hard it is to do an honest day’s work in a system that rewards corruption. The nations of this world make sure that honesty costs money! But we are a new kind of nation that values honesty over wealth. So we are honest.
We have had many conversations over the years about how hard it is to raise godly children in a system that rewards endless hours at the office. The nations of this world make sure that taking the time to raise godly children costs promotions. But we are a new kind of nation that values family over career success. So we focus on family.
It is costly to live among the nations while also holding to different values. And I know we all struggle with these extra costs! — we struggle with fear of how we are going to survive if we do not compromise in all these different ways. We struggle with our lack of faith.
What is our solution to this lack of faith?
Well, as Paul says a few verses later in Colossians, now that we know that our lives are hidden with Christ in God, this is what we do: we set our minds on that. We set our minds on things above, not on earthly things. We do not know what our immediate future holds, as a Christian people in Malaysia. But we do know that our destiny is different: our destiny is secure. We know that we are not actually looking for a place in their world, we are looking forward to a different world, a better world.
When those moments of temptation come — and they will! They do, all the time! — when the nations tempt us to compromise our values in exchange for their rewards, when that voice of fear begins to speak in the back of our minds, asking “What will become of me if I say no?”…in those moments this is what we do: we set our minds on things above. We set our minds, again and again, on the Gospel, the Good News.
And what is this Good News? What is our only comfort in life and death?
That we, with body and soul, both in life and in death — we are not our own, but belong to our faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. We set our minds on this. And then we live. We preach. We love our neighbors. And we accept the cost, no matter what it is, knowing that in Christ all we have lost — and more! — will be returned back to us…even our bodies.