Sunday’s Coming BUT Today is Good Friday (COVID-19 Edition)

Reading Time: 7 minutes

It’s Easter weekend and it’s when we remember and celebrate how Jesus paid the price for our sin. The season starts with celebration (Palm Sunday) and ends with celebration (Easter Sunday). What happens in the middle of the season, however, doesn’t always get the same attention as it should. Good Friday is when we stop and reflect on the price Jesus paid for all of us

Sunday is coming but today is Good Friday-covid-19-ed

I often hear, “It’s Good Friday, BUUUT Sunday is coming!”

Ever hear that? Ever say that yourself?

I don’t blame anyone for saying it or thinking that way, however, if that’s our focus, we usually miss the significance of Good Friday.

On top of that, in 2020, we’re experiencing a global pandemic (COVID-19), which is making for an Easter weekend no one is really ready for.

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5 Resurrection Responses

Reading Time: 7 minutesJesus’ death has been recorded by many, but the resurrection of Jesus is ultimately founded in faith.  Where does that leave us?  It leaves us responding to a truth that is only seen through faith.  The good news is, there are five examples in scripture of how early followers responded and we can learn from them.  The question is: how will you respond to the resurrection of Jesus?


Five Resurrection Responses

1. Mary Magdalene
Mary Magdalene was healed from seven demons early in Jesus’ ministry.  She, along with other women, simply followed him in return (Lk 8:1-3).  After Jesus’ burial, Mary went to bring spices for the body only to find an empty tomb.  Angels told her of what had happened and scripture records her emotional and passionate response.1

What’s of most significance is the account found in John’s gospel (Jn 20:11-18). While experiencing the empty tomb, she turns and speaks to (who she thinks is) a gardener.  But once he spoke her name – “Mary,” she immediately knew his voice and her simple faith was solidified.

2. Guards and Jewish Leaders
The second response is very different.  After Jesus’ body was put in the tomb, guards were ordered to seal the tomb and stand guard (Mt 27:66).  Scripture tells us that the guards witnessed the angels; and, because of fear, acted like they were dead (Matthew 28:4).  They knew there were major military consequences, so perhaps they avoided them by going to the chief priests first.2

The response of the Jewish leaders should grab our attention.  Let’s be honest, the priests knew angels were real, they knew the supernatural was possible, and because of their previous action, they knew, more than ever before, they had to cover it up.  So they made a deal with the guards, and paid them to tell everyone that “[Jesus’] disciples stole the body.”  In return, the priests promised to keep them safe from military consequence.

To this day, Jews still believe that Jesus wasn’t the Messiah, and scripture confirms that (Mt 28:15)

3. Two Followers
Two followers of Jesus (outside the eleven disciples) were walking and Jesus appeared with them but they didn’t know it was Jesus.  They explained to him what had happened and why they were upset.  Even after Jesus rebukes them with scripture, it wasn’t until they stopped for the day, and Jesus broke bread with them, that they realized it was Jesus.  It took a “familiar experience” to believe it was actually Jesus (Luke 24:13-35).

4. The Disciples (the eleven)
It’s no secret that the disciples didn’t understand what kind of Messiah Jesus was.  They were often confused, misunderstood what Jesus was saying, and probably thought His death was the end of their relationship.3  It makes sense. I would have probably felt the same way.

What’s interesting, is that the people who probably knew Jesus the most, required the most to believe in His resurrection.  Jesus appeared before them through a locked door, but until they saw this scars and ate with him, they only perceived him as a “spirit” and were terrified (Luke 24:37).  But after their physical encounter, “the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.”4

5. Thomas
Apparently Thomas wasn’t present when Jesus appeared to the rest of the disciples.  While they shared their testimony, Thomas wouldn’t believe unless he too experienced such a physical encounter.  After spending eight days in “belief limbo”, Jesus again appeared through a locked door and Thomas (known by many as “doubting Thomas”) had the opportunity to physically witness the scars of Jesus.  He believed, but Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”5

The Purpose

It would be fair to ask: why are these responses recorded? Were there other responses?  John explained it this way:

30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.6

The ultimate purpose is so that all would come to know and believe who Jesus is.  And through that belief, realize that He is the son of God and Saviour of the world.

Proof of The Resurrection

Through these responses, we can also surmise proof of the resurrection and realize its authenticity.  Here are four points that can be found in the book The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus:7

1. Faithful eyewitnesses.
The Apostles (Jesus’ disciples) and early followers believed in the message so much that they died for their faith.  While these responses include some doubt, their final understanding was so real they were willing to put their lives at risk to spread the message.

2. Skeptics drastically transformed.
Thomas (from doubter to believer), Paul (from persecutor to author), and James (from unbeliever to leader) – they all suffered and died for their faith.  If the resurrection wasn’t authentic, why would such drastic change take place?

3. Reaction of the enemy.
They realised the tomb was empty, so they quickly put the blame on the disciples.  If the disciples did, in fact, steal Jesus’ body, why would they let their friends, family and themselves die for a lie?  The other rebuttal is that Jesus didn’t die in first place.  This can’t be true, because the condition of his body (from the suffering and beating alone) would have made him immobile, to say the least.

4. Women were the first witnesses.
I’m certainly not a sexist by any means; however, the first-century culture saw things differently.  The social gap between men and women was wide and women were low on the social scale.8  The simple fact that women are seen as the first witnesses would have been embarrassing and thus speaks to the authentic and faithful account of the gospel.

Our Response to the Resurrection

So, how will we respond 2000 years later?  How do we relate to these five biblical responses to the resurrection?

Do we have simple faith like Mary Magdalene?
Do we ignore faith like the priests and spread lies (cover up) like the guards in an effort to save our reputation?
Do we have blind faith like the two followers of Jesus who couldn’t see Him standing right next to them, but instead needed a “familiar experience?”
Do we have a physical faith like the disciples and need to see Jesus in action before we believe?
Do we have a doubting faith like Thomas who, even with the testimony of this close friends, still needed a physical encounter in order to believe?

Your turn…

Out of the five responses, who can you relate to the most?

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The Christian Flag & The Persecuted Church

Reading Time: 5 minutesIn 2015, our provincial government made the decision not to raise the Christian flag during Holy Week.  In 2016, the new government raised the flag, only to lower the flag shortly after.1  The local municipalities did the same due to religious controversy.2  Reactions seem mixed.  My challenge: let’s support the persecuted Church by focusing on Easter and the true message of Christianity.

Christian Flag

The Christian Flag

A flag by definition, is a piece of cloth used as a symbol of a nation, or organization.3 Symbols are powerful and they can recall ideals of many sorts – good and bad.  As a result, a flag can resemble unity and disunity at the same time.  I think the Christian flag may be doing this in 2016.

It wasn’t until 1897 that a “Christian flag” was established, and that seemed to be initiated through a patriotic desire.  The simple symbols represented Christianity in their own right: white for purity, blue for fidelity, and a red cross for Christ’s blood.  In 1907, a Methodist pastor wrote the first pledge to the Christian flag:

“I pledge allegiance to my flag and the Savior for whose kingdom it stands; one brotherhood uniting all mankind in service and love.”4

While the meaning and message seemed well-intended, I’m really not ready to associate my faith with a flag and all its potential meaning.  I would rather support the persecuted Church through prayer, a renewed focus on Easter, and the true message of Christianity.

Christian History

Flags engage patriotism.  Patriotism isn’t necessarily a bad thing; however, history has shown us that if God’s agenda is derailed by human agenda and patriotism becomes the driving force, the result is painful.  The Crusades are a great example of this.5 Modern examples include slavery and bigotry. My point, however, isn’t to point out the issues among Christian history, rather to show the powerful and sensitive ideas a flag can display.

I’m proud to say I’ve found eternal freedom through Jesus.  I’m proud to say I’m a follower of Jesus.  But I’m not quick to pledge allegiance to the Christian Flag, nor am I concerned whether or not it’s raised in political spheres.

The Christian Message

I’m more concerned about spreading the true message of Christianity: love, grace and peace (or I tend to say: selflessness).

Love: God doesn’t love everything we do, but God loves everyone.  He even loved us before we responded to that love.  The Church is called to show that kind of love to others.6

Grace: God sending Jesus for our salvation is the whole point of Easter.  The Church must protect and proclaim this message at all costs.7

Selflessness: Jesus himself acted with selflessness when He provided grace to humanity.8 We may have the right to raise a flag, but for the sake of the kingdom, is it beneficial?  Paul wrote:

23 “All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. 24 Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.9

Christianity and Culture

In 2015, Primer Davis met with various church leaders to come to a conclusion of whether or not to raise the “Christian flag” during Holy Week.

I don’t have the minutes to that meeting, but the resulting decision was not to raise the flag.

In 2016, thoughts on this matter changed – the newly elected Primer Ball, his Liberal government and surrounding municipalities raised the Christian flag.  It’s the result of our pluralistic culture.  There are now numerous beliefs, values, and ideologies that are often respected and celebrated.  Governments try to balance support so that equality is valued, but this process is obviously full of tension as the concern of one impacts the other.

Nevertheless, the question for Christians in this pluralistic society is this: how is the Christian message proclaimed better – by fretting over the flying of a symbolic flag, or by showing love, grace and selflessness to those who have concerns over its meaning?

How then, will we show our support of the persecuted Church? I believe that holding true to the Christian message respects those dying on account of that message.

Holding true to the Christian message respects those dying on account of that message. #PersecutedChurch Click To Tweet

References   [ + ]

Selflessness: What the Easter Bunny Can’t Do

Reading Time: 6 minutesEaster marks the celebration of something big.  For some, that “big” celebration is receiving and eating chocolate from a rather unique bunny.  For others, it’s a time for family to share in the extended weekend of a meal or two – Good Friday fish and Sunday turkey, to be precise. But for Christians, Easter changed everything.  The bunny might be able to lay chocolate, and family and friends might bring everyone closer for a few days, but Jesus undeservingly embraced our sin, died for us on a cross, and overcame death.  Jesus gave us a second chance.

Easter selflessness

We all know we’re not perfect – I don’t have to convince you of that.  We may, however, need to look closer at what Jesus taught, how Jesus led by example, and why a bunny doesn’t come close to giving us what Jesus can.

Jesus’ message of selflessness

At Bethel, we are working through a sermon series based on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew’s gospel.  As John Stott pointed out, Jesus didn’t simply preach this one sermon; rather, this is a summary of what Jesus taught over and over again.1 One of Jesus’ main messages is a message of selflessness.  Decreasing our personal power over our own lives, and increasing God’s leadership over us by serving and loving others.

In a culture where everyone has the “right” to live for themselves, this message of selflessness is often lost in the noise.  In fact, I’ve heard Christians and pastors speak of “putting ourselves first”, and “loving ourselves first”.  While this may be a true psychological and sociological idea, it couldn’t be a more false Christological one.  According to Jesus, His followers are to grow close to Him, by acting selflessly (as outlined in the Beatitudes) so that the world may see Jesus through their lives.2  This doesn’t equate to being a pushover, but it does equate to engaging in counter-cultural norms.

How Jesus led by example

In Matthew 5, Jesus gives special mention to how we are to respond to those who take away our “rights” and treat us poorly or with disrespect.  It’s clear that everyone deserves to be treated well, but for the sake of the gospel, we should be willing to lay aside our “rights” so the kingdom can grow.  Jesus said:

39…if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.”3

Among these cultural examples, we have to ask, “what is the principle Jesus is trying to teach us?” D. A. Carson penned this well:

“What Jesus is saying in these verses, more than anything else, is that his followers have no rights.  They do not have the right to retaliate and wreck their vengeance (5:39), they do not have the right to their possessions (5:40), nor to their time and money (5:41f).  Even their legal rights may sometimes be abandoned (5:40)…personal self-sacrifice displaces personal retaliation; for this is the way [Jesus] himself went, the way of the cross.”4

Jesus calls his disciples to be selfless by himself living out the most selfless act possible – giving up his own life for everyone else.  Jesus was wrongfully accused (27:187f), insulted and struck (27:30), striped of his clothes (27:35), and paid the ultimate price for humanity’s freedom (27:45f).

So when Jesus told us to “…deny [ourselves] and take up [our] cross and follow [Him].  For whoever would save [their] life will lose it, but whoever loses [their] life for my sake will find it,” (16:24f) Jesus is clearly defining the significance of Easter and the impact of selflessness on those who follow Him.

What the Easter bunny can’t do

I love eating chocolate.  In fact, it was just the other day when my wife called me a chocoholic.  It’s not my fault I believe every meal should end in chocolate.  But I digress… 🙂

The problem with the Easter bunny isn’t so much that chocolate is involved, as it is about how Easter is being commercialized and marketed just like every other event in our calendar.  Easter should be about Jesus’ selfless action and our selfless response.  

The most the Easter bunny can offer is chocolate, and the chocolate isn’t even free.  Americans spend about $2.1 billion on Easter candy, and all American Easter-related spending (including gifts, clothes, and flowers) equal about $14.6 billion every year.5  That’s a lot of consumerism for an event based on selflessness.  While it’s not even close to the 2015 Christmas retail sales of $630.5 billion,6 the fact that it only costs $30 billion to globally provide clean drinking water, to those in need, should get us thinking.7  Where is our focus?

Easter is about witnessing the selflessness of Jesus and responding to that free gift of grace – something the Easter bunny can’t offer.

Our response can be displayed in many ways.  For example, we can:

  1. Refocus our spending habits;
  2. Help a local organization (like a Church) reach those in need;
  3. Willingly give something up to help others;
  4. Care for those who have wronged us or persecuted us; and most importantly,
  5. Take a moment to be thankful for a God who selflessly loves us so much and accept His grace.

We may question God’s existence or God’s love because 10 percent of the world still doesn’t have clean water.  But the fact is, God doesn’t owe us a better world; because of the cross, we owe it to God to selflessly serve.

God doesn’t owe us a better world; because of the cross, we owe it to God to selflessly serve. Click To Tweet

In a world where our “religious rights” are under attack, we need to live out the meaning of Easter like never before.  Jesus isn’t calling us to “retaliate,” rather to serve selflessly – that’s the way of the gospel.

Your turn…

The Easter bunny can’t help us.  Those things can be fun and I’m not purposing we do away with them entirely, but they shouldn’t trump our desire to serve Jesus and others.  The ball is in our court.  We can’t point fingers.  The only person we can change, is ourselves. So…

How will we celebrate Easter?

Will we choose to embrace selflessness or commercialization?

What will we convey to our kids as most important?

Feel free to share how you have focused on the selflessness of Easter.

References   [ + ]