I like holidays. Do you? Sometimes they can be just a flat hassle. But most often the joy outweighs the work.
One of my favorite holidays is Thanksgiving. There’s something about family, food and football that does my heart well. On top of that, it’s a time of reflection and praise unto God for the good grace he has shown over the past year (Psalm 136).
Perhaps Christmas is your favorite. Decorations, gifts, smells and bells (and flavored coffee for some of you lightweights …) is about as good as it gets. And then you add what Christmas is really about — Christ — and you are overwhelmed with joy. As you should be. Me too, I love Christmas. God has not left us alone to ourselves. He has come to us in Christ (John 1:14).
But then there is Easter. You can’t forget about Easter, yet many do. Sometimes is nothing more than egg hunts, spring colors, and those nasty marshmallow ducks and bunnies (I apologize). Many folks look right over Easter. Maybe they go to church, perhaps share a meal with family, and most likely take a nap. Not a bad day, but not exactly on the holiday radar.
But for Christians, Easter is the crescendo of the calendar. It is the holiday that celebrates the one spiritual reality that makes everything else make sense — Jesus Christ is alive. In fact, truth be told, every Sunday is an Easter Sunday.
Christians believe that Christ came (Christmas) to live the life we could not live. God requires a sinless life for life with him (Rom. 3:19-20). We are sinners and we cannot live perfectly. But Christ came for us. You and me. To live for us.To earn righteousness for us through his perfect life (2 Cor. 8:9). But here is the twist — he went to the cross and died, suffering the wrath of God on our behalf (2 Cor. 5:21). That’s Good Friday (1 John 2:2). He was judged in our place as if he was a criminal and committed our sins! What a scandal! Exactly.
The gospel is a scandal. It’s not fair. Our sins were laid upon Christ (Isa. 53:6), and by faith in him, our sins are forgiven (Eph. 2:8-9). That’s not fair either. That is the glory of God’s grace in the gospel, that “God demonstrates his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).
Enter Easter. God the Son, Jesus Christ, did not stay dead. He bodily resurrected (cf. John 20:1-10). God the Father raised him from the dead by the power of God the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:20-23).
Why do I front load this blog post with such theology? To make this point — whether it’s Thanksgiving, Christmas, or Easter — the holiday is not about us. Translation: God does not need you, nor does he need me for the gospel to be true. You and I could have never existed (let alone miss a holiday or two) and Jesus would still be the Son of God who died to save sinners, and who was gloriously raised to life as God’s exclamatory stamp of approval upon his Son’s death. I need to be reminded, year after year, day after day, it’s just not about me.
That’s a lesson God will teach his church this weekend. Easter is God’s Easter, not ours. Let’s face it — we’re not gathering together this Friday night and Sunday morning. There will be no Good Friday communion. That hurts my heart. There will be no corporate worship service this Sunday morning. No singing, no “togetherness,” no first time guests that make me do spiritual backflips of joy, and no opportunity to express the “one anothers” (cf. 1 Thess. 5:26) named in Scripture. That hurts my soul. But that does nothing to change the fact that Jesus is alive. And alive, he reigns supreme, in control and totally in charge. The resurrection of Christ literally changes everything. Happy Easter.
Are we sad that the church will not meet corporately — yes, indeed. Will we miss each other deeply — of course. And will we see our separation this weekend with a greater perspective towards the protection of others in this pandemic — we must. We do well to remember that God is calling us to be neighborly (Luke 10:25-37). Let us not forget the real reason we are not meeting. It is because people are fighting and dying with a serious, novel coronavirus. And therefore we step forward in humility and prayer for those most affected by this humanitarian crisis. May God have mercy as we seek to do our part of the solution.
But here we are, at home this Easter. How can we make the best of a weekend that is already great (remember the theology…)? In other words, how can we make sure the focus of this weekend remains where it should be — on Christ, his gospel, and his glorious resurrection?
1. Go to church. Yes, I know, I just told you that we are not meeting together. But praise God he has given us technology. Is a live-stream service a one-for-one swap with a live-incarnational (in the room) service? Absolutely not. But it is what God has graciously provided for such a time as this. So we take it, use it, and leverage it for his glory. Let me encourage you to join us live — here.
2. Invite others to church. People are looking for hope. They are looking for something outside themselves like perhaps never before. I can’t think of a better time than Easter weekend for people to find the hope they are looking for. So, invite your friends and your neighbors. Send a text, share a post, do what you can to leverage an online service for a gospel win. Be a blessing, and receive a blessing. Join us on Facebook — here.
3. Slow down. Sit down. Stay down. In some sense, God has given us all a forced sabbatical (that’s a break, a “time-out” designed to help us learn how to trust God.) Let me be honest, I’m having a hard time. I constantly feel unproductive. God is showing the idols of my heart. It’s not fun, but it is spiritually beneficial. (Praise God for social distancing… in a weird way) What am I saying? This is your opportunity. Not just this weekend, but this season.
- Slow down and pray. Most of us have more time on our hands than we did a month ago. You may be working from home, living the online life. And yet, God has given you an opportunity to grow in prayer. Take advantage of this new normal. It won’t be like this for long. Make this a season to spiritually remember. It may just change your life.
- Sit down and read. As a pastor, I know people struggle to read and understand their Bible. I get it. Take this time to lean in and read your Bible like never before. You don’t have to go whole hog, setting lofty goals. Just take a book, like Esther, or John, or the Proverbs. Read the Bible, pray the Bible and ask for God’s help to live the Bible.
- Stay down and worship. Personal worship is the antidote for the dry soul. Just read a few Psalms and you’ll know what I mean. I’m willing to bet there are some dry souls out there in this season of pandemic. God wants your worship. In the chaos and confusion of all that’s happening – worship God. (And I’ll give you a hint – you can’t worship without prayer and your Bible. Cf. John 4:23).
4. Teach your children. Two nights ago I witnessed a miracle. Yes, a miracle, a person I know and love very much became a Christian – that is they repented of sin, professed faith in Christ as Savior and decided to follow him as Lord. Who was it? It was my daughter, Emma. As she put it, having wrestled with repentance of sin and the understanding of true, biblical faith in Christ as revealed in Scripture, she said, “I want to be a part of God’s family.” The lesson this dad (and her mom) learned: Do not underestimate the ministry you have in your own home. In the providence of God, we are all under a “stay-at-home” order. Ha! Are you kidding me?! That sounds like a perfect opportunity for families to finally get that much needed time together, for real conversations, for real life to take place. “But you are a pastor,” you say. Yes I am, and we do not, I repeat, do not have it all together. But I’ve learned this much — ministry starts in the home.
5. Say thank you. There’s been a lot of talk lately about true heroes. From what I’ve heard most of that talk has been right on point. It is true that some of our bravest and most respected heroes are in uniform, but they’re also in scrubs. Some have stethoscopes around their neck, others are riding in the back of ambulances. Let us thank God for them. As we have the opportunity, let us thank them personally, those men and women of the hour: our doctors and medical staff, and those who support them.
But let us be reminded that this is indeed Easter, and what happened outside the gates of Jerusalem is infinitely more important than the events of our time or any other time. There is a greater Doctor who deserves an even greater praise. He is the Doctor of souls, the Shepherd of sheep, whose words pierce our souls today,
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father… Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” – John 10:11, 17-18; 15:13
It’s words like those that put it all in perspective. A perspective we desperately need in times like these.
May our risen Christ grant you a very blessed and gospel-centered Easter weekend, with friends, families and all whom you hold dear.
Your pastor and friend,