This Holy Week leading up to Easter more than any other time reveals the human nature of our Lord Jesus. We believe that Jesus was both true God and true man. We can’t fully explain this duel nature, but it has been an essential Christian truth since the days of the Apostles. “Well”, many think, “Jesus was God so He didn’t really suffer as we do, or that He used special Godly strength to do miracles and show a wonderful degree of knowledge and wisdom.” Not so! This was a heresy that the church had to reject in its very early years. St. Paul makes clear in his letter to the Philippian Church that Jesus, while fully God, the second Person of the Holy Trinity, for our sake refused to use the Godhead “to His own advantage..rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness”.(2:6-7 NIV) Jesus fully identified with us and all we face. He experienced trials, temptations, joys, sorrows, love, pain, grief, and more. His twelve Apostles were His closest friends on earth, yet one of them betrayed Him. Another denied that he even knew Him. On the last night before His death He said “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer;…”(Luke 22:15) He wanted their human companionship, prayers, and support as He felt the incredible burden of the world’s sins, our’s included, being laid upon Him. Almighty God became fully human for you, for me. He knows who you are; where you are; and all you face in life. And He loves you deeply. He died so that you and I might live. No one knows what the next hours or days will bring, but we can trust ourselves to the care of the One who willingly gave Himself for us.
How do we measure God? That may seem like a strange question, but I think we have the tendency to measure God all the time. For example, Is God good only when He gives us what we want, what we think are good things? That seems to the the thought behind statements like – How could a good God ……? or If God is a God of love why …..? This is a god made in our image, which is something we try too often to do. Are we hearing that today in the midst of this Covid-19 pandemic? God Himself declares,”For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”(Isaiah 55:8-9) Many of God’s ways are hidden to us. In the smallness of our minds we cannot fathom the infinite wisdom of God’s mind. But He has revealed Himself throughout Scripture as our Creator God who loves and works for the good of His creation, and for His eternal purpose. We are in the midst of this Holy Week where “God demonstrated His love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.”(Romans 5:8) Rather than try to measure God by our standards, we do well to come in humble trust to Him who has shed the blood of His own Son for our redemption and new life.
We are in a difficult and fearful time. The number of virus cases and deaths in our country continues to rise. As Christians we believe that God is not absent. He is not uncaring. Scripture assures us that He knows and deeply loves each of us as individuals. We believe He created us and has a plan for our lives. Yet the pandemic continues with all of its changes, trials, sacrifices, suffering and death. We pray for the wellbeing and for the healing of those we care about. We want it all to stop, but there is a further important question. What is it that we are to learn? We believe the above statements about our Lord caring about each of us. We also believe He has the power to stop this virus. Do we take the advice Job’s wife gave him, “curse God and die.”?(Job 2:9) Some today are blaming, cursing, and rejecting God because of what is happening. Job refused to take her advice. And remember, in the Book of Job that poor man lost everything dear to him. Rather than curse God he declared, “Though He slay me, I will hope in Him.”(13:15) By the end of the 42 chapters in his book Job had received advice from a number of friends, but it was only when he was confronted by our sovereign Lord that he understood something of his relationship with the God who created him. He was willing to humble himself, and put himself into the hands of a Wisdom far greater than his own. This being the start of Holy Week for the Christian Church we are shown again all that our Gracious Lord has done for our redemption and life. (I believe there is meaning in the fact that this pandemic has disrupted the Church during its most holy season of the year.) It is in this week that God has shown us the depth of His love. He has shown us His pain when we suffer – as any parent suffers when their children are hurt. In our human limitations we cannot understand all His mind and His purposes. Yet He has, especially in this week, demonstrated the depth of His love in the sacrifice of His only begotten Son that we might have life. As Job, we do not understand all that is happening. We don’t know all that is ahead, but He can be trusted. Can we do that?
Jesus was on trial before Pilate. He had heard Jesus called King of the Jews. Pilate said, “You are a king, then!” Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” “What is truth?” Pilate asked. (John 18:37-38) That is a question people have always had to ask, what is truth? Whether they are searching out the claims of Jesus as the Son of God, or listening to some political speech. What is truth? We’ve had people come by church looking for assistance. They usually have a long story about their need. What is truth? We want to believe all people are truthful and of good will, but we have learned far too often that they are not. Even in the midst of this present pandemic there are people seeing to profit by various scams. Discerning the truth takes work. A Christian is taught to err on the side of grace and generosity, but we also know that what is said, or asked for is not the truth or even the real help that is needed. The question is, are we willing to put in the effort to find the truth. This applies whether we are trying to help an individual, detect a scam, or learn if Jesus really should be King over our lives. We must do the work necessary to find the truth.
Some years ago Larry Burkett, a Christian financial advisor, wrote a novel called Solar Flare. Understanding how dependent we have all become on electronics and computers for many aspects of life, he wrote a fictional account of what would happen if a massive solar flare were to disrupt electronic devices the world over. Solar flares are eruptions on the sun’s surface which emit electromagnetic radiation radiating out over our solar system. We’ve observed for years how these eruptions change the characteristics of radio signals. Some scientists have conjectured the possibility of the disruption from a massive one. At any rate, this was the premise of Burkett’s novel. All life was disrupted by it. Modern communication gone. All computer storage affected. You can imagine what that might do! Cars didn’t operate – more computers! People had to find a totally different way to live and relate to one another. There was an obvious separation revealed in human nature. Some took advantage of the time for their own personal gain. Others banded together and found a new way of life. (Not an unfamiliar picture to us facing the changes caused by the present pandemic.) People found great value in sharing and learning from one another. Many reconnected with their kids, bonding together in ways they had not had time for before. Burkett’s scenario is obviously more involved than my few sentences, but the upshot of it all was that when the danger had passed and the former way of life was again possible, many people didn’t want to return to it. They had grown in, and relearned values that had been lost over time. I’m wondering if perhaps that is something we are gaining in this present time?
I very much enjoy Gospel music, or sometimes called Southern Gospel. The Old Rugged Cross, Trust And Obey, I Love To Tell The Story, and many more. Our kids shared in these with their mom and me as they were growing up. I remember one time we were all driving back from a visit to Pennsylvania. We had a music CD in the player and sang together all the way home. It was great! The thing about Gospel music is that it doesn’t always express the best theology. Sometimes it’s a bit shallow and repetitious in its lyrics. But above all I think these are love songs. They are expressing something that can’t be fully put into words. The first and great commandment is, You shall love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength.”(Matthew 22:37) I have a couple of pet names for my wife that are a bit silly, but they do express my love for her. So it is with these songs. Even with somewhat shallow theology they express a hearts devotion to our Gracious Lord. In the midst of the trials we face today we could use the help of some of these love songs. They turn our eye away from our fears and toward the face of the One who is truly our life, our strength, our hope. Look up John 16:33 that one of our friends from church shared with us this morning, and in whatever means you like to use, tell the Jesus you love Him.
We don’t like things we can’t control. I say this especially for us in America. We settled this whole continent in a strong pioneering spirit. We live under a Constitution that has governed us well for over 200 years. Yankee ingenuity has shown its ability to build, grow, and solve many problems. We’ve built the world’s strongest economy and the majority of our people have prospered. We’ve faced and solved many challenges, but now we seem to face a challenge that we can’t control. As much as we work around the clock to heal illness, and to find a vaccine to abate this virus pandemic, predictions are that many more people will be infected and die. We may find that vaccine. We will undoubtedly save a number of lives. Covid19 may end in time as other pandemics have in the past. The question is, it seems to me, did we learn anything from it? Anything about ourselves, our values, our weaknesses? Or even other than Covid19, the horribly destructive tornadoes, and earthquakes that have been reported in various parts of this nation and world. We do all we can in a crisis, but who really is in control? Human strength and ability are clearly limited. Who really is in control? There really is one true God, Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier. “It is He who has made us and we are His.”(Psalm 100) Perhaps in the midst of this crisis we should use some of the time we’ve been given to recognize our weakness, humble ourselves before the One who really is in control of all life, and meditate on what He may be saying by these events. Our Lord wants us all to live by trusting Him and find a depth of peace in His life. This is a far deeper healing than just getting back to our normal life as it had been.
It was Sunday evening. In fact it was the Sunday evening of the very first Easter, the day the crucified Jesus came out of the stone tomb alive. The disciples were stunned and unbelieving of the reports that Jesus had come out alive from the grave. They gathered together in a room behind locked doors fearful of the Jewish authorities who had had Jesus crucified. As recorded in the twentieth chapter of St. John’s Gospel, Jesus appeared in their midst. Still fearful they thought He was a ghost. They had been through so much. So many of their hopes, what they had thought would be their way of life, had been crushed. Were their minds playing tricks? Even the strongest of them didn’t have answers, didn’t know what to think. Jesus, the real, living, resurrected Lord Jesus Christ, now stood in their midst. His very first words to them were “Peace be with you.” In fact, four times in St. John’s recorded words in this chapter Jesus says “Peace be with your”. They still didn’t know what was ahead for any of them. The Jewish leaders were still out to crush their message and them with it. Yet standing before them was their Lord, alive! He had broken the power of death. He had validated all the prophet’s words foretold a thousand years before, that He was the One who would break the devil’s hold over their lives. In His shed blood He had made atonement for their sins and the sins of all mankind. They saw the proof in the holes in His hands, and the spear wound in His side. Their Lord was fully, truly alive, and He was saying to them “Peace be with you”. In our present time are we fearful as those early disciples? Do we know any more of what the future holds for us? Are current reports from our world frightening? We have no more certainty about tomorrow than they did, but they and we have a livingLord saying to us “Peace be with you”. We do all the prudent things we are told to do each day, but above all we have a living Lord who declares that His peace be upon us. Hear his word’s dear Christian friends. “Peace be with you.”
Most of us are familiar with the housing and financial crisis of 2008. I go back a lot further. My parents lived through the great depression that began with the stock market crash of 1928. It was an experience that effected the rest of their lives even after there was a return to financial stability. My Mom told me many stories about that time. It was very difficult. Many sacrifices and changes in lifestyle had to be made. There were a number of tragic happenings. However, one thing that always struck me about those stories, they were told with a certain degree of nostalgia. While they didn’t put it in so many words, people felt good lessons had been learned. People worked hard trying to make ends meet. Values changed, they were thankful for what they had. People helped one another even if they were in short supply themselves. Not all was rosy, but people pulled together to get through. A day or two ago, I heard a radio commentator remark that this worldwide pandemic will change our lives forever. In the same way as in 1928? That remains to be seen. Will this change our values? Will this help us to focus more on others rather than ourselves? Will some of our idols seem a lot less important? It all remains to be seen, but I think this is a different time even than 1928. Is our Lord saying something to us? We are making all kinds of efforts to find a cure, taking precautions to protect ourselves, stockpiling supplies, and even buying guns. Maybe some of our efforts need to be in prayer, in humbly seeking the Lord in what He is saying to us. There is more going on here than just working hard to get back to life as it had been before the virus. Maybe there is more, and maybe it is much better.
Many years ago, as part of my seminary training, we all had an introduction to a mental hospital, the patients, and the conditions they suffer. (I was also in a federal prison for three months, but that’s another story.) One of the things we learned was that it was never a matter of we and they, but rather one of degrees. I have aspects of the same conditions in me that all these “insane” people have. The same can be said about myself and the prison inmates. It is so easy for us in our modern, affluent world to make that we/they distinction. The book of James cautions us against this. As does our Lord with the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector.(Luke 18) Maybe that is part of the lesson this pandemic is teaching us. Except for the grace of God in Jesus Christ, we can do the same, we are the same fallen people as all of humanity. It is why I said in another message, our prayer should be that of Daniel, Lord forgive me for my sins, and the sins of my people. They are all our people. Of course, there is evil in the world. There are people who do evil things. There are people who reject our Lord and His good will for their lives. It is too easy to make ourselves feel good by saying we’re not like them; we’re not that bad. We are all – all – ones for whom the Lord Jesus Christ suffered and died. He paid the penalty for all our sins. If we are His followers our task is to pray and not condemn; to love and show by our care there is something better than this world has to offer; and where needed to confront wrong directly speaking the truth in love. Maybe our Lord is leveling humanity’s playing field, and helping us to look at all others with the compassion of Christ.