"Dad, are we going tonight?" asked the young girl in the row in front of me, her voice full of anticipation. "No, once we land we are going to find our hotel and eat dinner, then we'll go to Disney first thing tomorrow morning," the father replied. The little girl then turned to her brother, and the two talked with excitement and childlike wonder about finally getting to visit Disney World.
I couldn't help but smile hearing them talk to one another. And then I thought about Abby and wondered how much longer before she can take her Make-A-Wish trip. Abby is a 16-year-old girl in our church currently battling cancer. She went to the doctor a year and a half ago with flu-like symptoms, and tests revealed that she had leukemia and would need to begin chemotherapy treatments immediately.
My plans in Orlando didn't include Disney. I was traveling to attend The Gospel Coalition National Conference at Rosen Shingle Creek. Apart from my time in the airport, I didn't see an advertisement for any of the parks or usual tourist attractions that bring people like me from Ohio to Orlando. But as I listened to the speakers throughout the conference, the simple joy of the two kids in front of me on the plane and the hopeful anticipation of Abby's trip regularly came to mind and challenged me to ask: what is unique about the gospel that can bring deeper joy and hope into the lives of everyday people than "the greatest place on earth"?
Suffering and Consolation
Disney has partnered with Make-A-Wish almost from the beginning, and Disney-themed wishes continue to be the most popular requests by children to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. One result from this demand is Give Kids the World Resort, an entire 70-acre nonprofit resort where children with life-threatening illnesses and their families are treated to week-long, cost-free, fantasy vacations.
Abby has heard firsthand about what's included in a Make-A-Wish trip from Holly, another young lady in our church who battled cancer and had her wish to Disney granted eight years ago. Holly and her family know the suffering that cancer and its treatment brings. And they know the need for hope, like a dream vacation, to give you something to look forward to in the midst of treatment.
Learning about the work of Make-A-Wish is simultaneously exciting and heart-breaking. If you are eligible for one these dream vacations, it is because you have lived a nightmare—it's a consolation for the pain and suffering. Some children never recover enough to be able to travel, and others await additional funds before their wish can be granted (if you are able, you can donate here). So what does the gospel offer that is better than consolation?
Resurrection and Restoration
In the final plenary session of TGC's National Conference, Tim Keller expounded on Luke 24 and the uniqueness of the resurrection of Jesus. He commented on verses Luke 24:40-43, where we read:
and when he [Jesus] said this, he showed them his hands and feet. And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, "Have you anything to eat?" They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate before them.
Keller argued that these seemingly minor details about food make a major point. Jesus—body and spirit—was raised from the dead. He did not merely appear to his followers in a dream, nor did he simply "live on" in the memory of those who loved him. He is risen from the dead! The fact that Jesus could show the disciples his hands and feet, and that he could eat broiled fish, demonstrates that the hope of the resurrection includes renewed physical bodies in a renewed physical world. "The resurrection promises us more than consolation for the suffering and death we experience in this world; it promises us restoration," he said. "The resurrection means nothing is truly lost."
Then Keller applied this truth to single people and those in difficult marriages, but I immediately thought of those two kids on the plane and the young people awaiting their Make-A-Wish trips. I thought of every parent who weeps over a sick child and thinks, My son will never be able to play outside or, My daughter shouldn't be confined to this hospital and miss out on high school. There is real hope of a renewed creation because of the resurrected Jesus.
As Christians we don't believe that all good things must come to an end. We believe that all that is genuinely good and of God will never end. The good news is better than the bad news is bad.
Abby has cancer, but cancer doesn't have Abby—Jesus does. And so she regularly lifts her hands as shown in the picture above and worships him, just like the disciples in Luke 24:52. The promise of restoration in the resurrection of Jesus is unique, and its joy is deeper than any temporary consolation.