It was only three years after the 1988 fire when we visited the charred forest of Yellowstone National Park. The stripped and blackened trees were already a stark and vivid contrast to the new life growing at their base. The profuse yellow flowers were not delicate wildflowers only to be discovered by a keen observer. These blooms were shouting out life in movement, in number, and brightness of color. The forest above them was quite dead, but life was definitely afoot and pulsating. Pondering, I thought. . . Out of death comes life.
Beautifully illustrated in Yellowstone, this death-birthing-life principle is also seen in the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. While the impact of his earthly ministry is still reverberating among us, his ultimate purpose was to die and lead us into life eternal. Jesus’ crucifixion was neither an end nor a defeat, but a beginning and a victory. The same process of “dying” is required in our lives as believers. For new life to come forth, our “old self,” or sin nature, must die. Scripture describes our own salvation process as taking up our cross or giving up our life for Jesus in order to find it. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20 ESV
Returning to Yellowstone eighteen years later, my husband and I enjoyed a rather intimate visit with the park on our bicycles. Amidst a surprisingly healthy, dense forest I spotted, here and there, a single black tree trunk standing stark and alone—the only evidence of the previous destruction. Mile after mile, pedaling against a strong headwind to Old Faithful, we enjoyed the bright sun of a crisp autumn day sparkling on the river. The bison and elk were plentiful and grazing in meadows lush with vegetation. I was delighted to witness and celebrate the fulfilled promise made by those profuse yellow flowers in 1991. Happily, I again concluded, out of death comes life.
Similarly, it is exciting to see God’s promises, apparently dead, brought to life in the stories of his people! Repeatedly, the death-producing-life principle is illustrated in the experiences of fellow Christians as well as in the lives of biblical characters.
Joseph was given a dream of ruling; but his subsequent experience was betrayal, slavery and injustice. Yet, Joseph did become prime minister of Egypt and the means God used to save his people from famine and reconcile his own estranged family.
Moses felt a call to redeem his people, but he first experienced 40 years of exile and isolation as a shepherd. Ultimately, his leadership of an emerging nation was substantiated by signs and wonders. Moses was also given great intimacy with God and allowed to see His glory.
David had a heart after God and was anointed king only to flee persecution and live for years hidden in caves. Even though anointed by Samuel in his youth, David was forty years old when he finally became king.
Paul’s initial career was derailed by conversion, and his subsequent resume chronicles the abuse and persecution he suffered. Such trials birthed Paul’s letters, letters that became a major portion of our New Testament.
Each of these men experienced severe adversity, failure, and a kind of death. When it was God’s time to bring their visions into actuality, these faithful men were focused, equipped, and ready. They had not been defeated by bitterness. Because they had continued to trust and wait upon God, he redeemed their hard times. Like the profuse yellow flowers of Yellowstone, Joseph, Moses, David and Paul model resurrection life for us.
Today, Jesus followers continue to encounter many kinds of death and loss. Relationships die. Family ties can be strained to the breaking point. Persecution abounds all over the globe. Careers sometimes end abruptly. Grandbabies are stillborn or aborted. Close friends die of cancer after decades of friendship. Visions and dreams become dismal numbers presented in bankruptcy proceedings. Like Joseph, Moses, David, and Paul—God is asking us to look beyond what we initially experience as adversity for the newness of life that follows death. We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. Romans 6:4 ESV God can and will redeem all things to accomplish His purposes. Out of death comes the newness of life.