We believe that my step-father chose to send us the clearest possible sign of where he is and that we will all see him again.
In 2008, one of my best friends accompanied me to southwest Florida to help move my mother to an assisted living home. She had struggled with Alzheimers for near to a decade, and my step-father was unable to care for her any longer. After the emotional move, we saw my step-father off at my step-brother’s home because he wasn’t feeling well. He hadn’t felt well in a while, but couldn’t seek his own care because he was 24/7 caring for my mother. We could not have known that we witnessed the last time he would leave his own home.
A few weeks later my wife and I rushed down from Georgia, driving through the eye of a tropical storm on I-75, because my step-father was dying in the hospital. They had attempted surgery, but he was too far gone. As the doctors were about to remove his breathing tube, the staff told us to go in and say our “goodbyes” because they weren’t sure he’d breathe again. He did breathe, and was able to tell me, totally lucid, in my alone time with him, that he’d “never lost faith.”
You have to understand, my step-father was Italian—born into Catholicism—and converted to Judaism to marry my mother. He was in his 50s, and even submitted to the physical element (circumcision). They were married three decades, and you would find few more enthusiastic to celebrate Passover, Hanukkah, and the other Jewish feasts than he. He did his best to raise me, and believe me, I wasn’t easy to raise. In 1999, as an adult, I came to Christ. I told my step-father before anyone else in the family. We were all a bit scared of how my mother would react (she reacted as you’d predict). He did not judge.
Almost literally on his death bed, my step-father told me that he still believed in the Savior. That night, he was moved to a hospice. We all thought he’d have some time when I kissed his forehead goodbye the next morning, but by noon, he had passed.
The nurse made a point telling my step-brother that she saw in her notes that my step-father liked jazz. He was a drummer, a musician who played side gigs most of his life. She tuned the radio looking for a jazz station and found a station playing “Amazing Grace.” She stopped there, and could not tell anyone the reason. As she did, she saw him pass. She believed that he would want us to know this. None of us ever told this nurse anything about faith. We believe that my step-father chose to send us the clearest possible sign of where he is and that we will all see him again.
Friday night my family held a Seder, as we normally do on Passover. Jesus was a Jew and observed all the feasts. I find the Seder to be one of the most prophetic rituals of Jewish life, and directly illuminating Christ. In our Haggadah, Rabbi Gamaliel was quoted—the same Gamaliel who was Saul’s teacher, the Saul who became Paul. He was the same Gamaliel who ordered the Peter and the Apostles who had been arrested freed in Acts 5.
34 But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honored by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while.35 Then he addressed the Sanhedrin: “Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men. 36 Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing. 37 After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered. 38 Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. 39 But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”
Many Jews had falsely declared themselves Messiah in the time of Jesus. It was well known that prophecy pointed to that period of time. This is recorded in various histories outside the Bible. Only Jesus of Nazareth is remembered. Only Jesus has altered time such that we render our years of the calendar by his birth. The Jews have a year, 5782, that’s calculated from Biblical timelines. It’s rather arbitrary depending on your interpretation. But the time since the birth, death, and reported resurrection of Jesus is historically accurate to within a few years.
You can believe anything you want in this life. But Immanuel, God with us, is here, alive. He is not here, pointing to the tomb. He is the God of the living, not the dead. The Bible says Jesus is sitting at the right hand of the Father, awaiting His time to return bodily to earth to judge the living and the dead. Those who are dead to this world are not at their end. Many are with Him, waiting. Others rejected Him and await their final judgement.
Though we do not know perfectly in this world, I believe that God has given us sufficient evidence, Biblically, historically, and in the simple act of my step-father, to show us the Way.
Jesus is Risen. He is Risen indeed.