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Scattered

Today, April 5, 2020, is Palm Sunday and not a single church in my area opened its doors to honor the Holy Day. They’ve all closed up their sanctuaries in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Now all services and ministries are online, streaming from any and every device.

When the shuttering of churches first happened, I couldn’t understand why every body of believers rolled over so willingly to the government’s “strong suggestion.” As Christians in China risk their lives to smuggle Bibles into their country and hide in their basements to read them, Christians in American voluntarily capitulated. Only a few pastors put up a fight. Most barely even batted an eyelash.

What happened to heeding the words found in Hebrews 10:25-27: “Don’t stop meeting together with other believers, which some people have gotten into the habit of doing. Instead, encourage each other, especially as you see the day drawing near.”  Why didn’t anyone defend the sacred practice of meeting together? Didn’t they think about the message this sends to the enemy? Won’t shuddering the church shatter the mission of the church to minister to hurting, fearful, broken people? How can we be light in the darkness when we’ve turned out the church lights and locked the door behind us?

These questions and others were heavy on my heart when I opened the Bible and turned to my daily reading which just so happened to be in John chapter sixteen.

In this particular passage of scripture, just days before His crucifixion, Jesus gives His disciples a heads up, warning them about the trials and troubles that will soon come. After the men confirm that they believe what Jesus says is true, Christ tells them, “A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered…”

It was that last word that caught my attention. “Scattered.” Until this time, Jesus’ followers had been in their own little comfortable clique. They went out two by two to perform miracles. They traveled together by boat. But a time was coming when they would be “scattered.” Spread out. Strewn about. Separated. 

Isn’t this precisely what’s happening to the church?  Connect groups and life groups have been spread out into their apartment complexes. Greeting teams and worship teams have been strewn about in their neighborhoods. Pastors have been separated from their flocks. The whole church has been scattered.

But Jesus didn’t stop there. He then went on to explain that this scattering would be each to his “own home.” Now if that doesn’t sound like what’s happened to the church then I don’t know what would!

Can you imagine it? The disciples were about to experience the horrific crucifixion of their Messiah. They were about to be questioned and possibly persecuted for being followers of Jesus. They were about to have their faith in God tested unlike ever before. And right before all these trials arrive, Jesus warns them that they will be sent into the solitary confinement of their own homes to endure them.

In isolation is where the followers of Jesus would be still and trust in who God is. In solitude is where their faith would be solidified. It wasn’t on the boat. It wasn’t on the hillside with the loaves and fishes. It wasn’t while waving palm branches and singing Hosanna. Christians became “the church” of the resurrected Jesus at home and all alone.

Looking through the lens of previous Biblical history has transformed my perspective on the modern-day church and what God is doing within its scattered walls. By dismantling the familiar rituals and routines of church, a deeper and richer faith is being discovered. In the resting of small groups, Christians are being given the opportunity to relish the quiet and be refreshed in the stillness.

The enemy might think he’s winning but we, God’s people, know the truth. We have not been defeated but deployed. We have not been shattered but scattered.

And in this scattering, there will be sanctifying. In this shuttering of doors there will be an awakening of souls.

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But what about Saturday?

Every year during the week of Easter, my thoughts turn to two events in the life of Jesus. His crucifixion on Good Friday and His resurrection on Sunday. But what about Saturday?

On the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, Jesus was dead and buried in a tomb. He was neither seen nor heard from. The day before He had been crying out from the cross, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” but on Saturday His voice was silenced. His spotless, blameless, nail-pierced body lay still and motionless in a dark, lifeless grave.

For the followers of Jesus who loved Him and were witness to His death, Saturday was a day of confused heartbreak. They loved Jesus and believed He was the Son of God, the Messiah they had been waiting for. They left behind families, possessions and livelihoods in obedience and dedication to Jesus. All of their hope and trust was in the person of Jesus

But how could they believe in His power to save if He was dead?

Then there was the memory of the bewildering statements the Messiah made before the crucifixion. Jesus explained to His disciples that He had to go to Jerusalem and suffer unto death before being raised to life again. These words were beyond His followers’ comprehension.

Why would their Savior have to die and how could He rescue them from their sins if He couldn’t rescue Himself from the cross?  

Although Jesus clearly described the events of His rescue mission as they were to unfold, it was such an unlikely way to save the world that even His closest friends struggled to understand it. And so, on the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, Jesus’ disciples and followers mourned, fearing that all hope was lost. It was a still, silent, sorrowful Saturday indeed.

In this post-resurrection world, we have the blessing of 20/20 vision and can look back on the accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John to read about what happened after Saturday. Jesus most certainly did come back to life.

On Easter morning the stone was miraculously rolled away, as explained by a radiant angel. Jesus did walk along the road and talk to His followers, encouraging them with the truth of scripture. He even helped His disciples catch fish and prepared a place for them to partake of it.

When Jesus rose from the dead He not only redeemed the brokenhearted, He removed any need to fear the silence. At His resurrection, the Son of God proved that stillness does not signify hopelessness. Just because Jesus was silent did not mean that God was absent. Even while Jesus lay behind the stone, in a dark and empty tomb, God was at work accomplishing the impossible, orchestrating His redemptive plan, reviving the dead in spirit with new, eternal life.

Although as post-resurrection Christians, we live as children of the Risen, Ascended King, we will still encounter days of silence. There are destined to be seasons when we will not see the visible evidence of God’s promises in the circumstances of our lives. At times, the covenants we received from God will appear to be dead and buried.

But those who have been purchased by the blood of the Lamb have the assurance of Easter Sunday.

As God’s redeemed children we need not endure our still, silent seasons with hopelessness and sorrow because we know that, behind the stone, God is working all things together for our good and His glory. We can obediently and faithfully praise Him on Saturday knowing that, when the time is perfect and right according to His will, God will miraculous open the grave and reveal His resurrection power.

As followers of the risen Christ, may we spend each and every silent day and still season worshipping God with hopeful expectation and the full assurance that He who promised is and always will be faithful.

 “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” – Jesus [Mark 9:31]