Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted (Isaiah 53:4).
Good Friday is good, but it isn’t pretty, Jesus, who was innocent of any crime, was executed in a horrific manner that left him mutilated and disgraced. It’s an image that makes us uncomfortable. Good Friday and the image of Jesus suffering on the cross is also a consolation: a reminder that God didn’t just suffer for us, he suffered with us.
Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted (Hebrews 2:18).
God knows the grief of being betrayed, the injustice of an innocent person being found guilty, the pain of betrayal, the loneliness of suffering alone, being abandoned by everyone. God profoundly knows our pain, because God suffered it in the person of Jesus Christ.
He humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:8)
This is not empathy. The Cross of Christ is an image of the eternal God, who grieves with the grieving and suffers with the suffering until the day when every tear is wiped from our eyes (Revelation 21:4). Good Friday is a God given opportunity, however uncomfortable, to seek God’s face in our suffering.
“Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Matt. 21:9).
Jesus did something strange on Palm Sunday. He rode a donkey into a city that kills prophets and executes trouble makers. When the residents of Jerusalem saw Jesus approaching, they took off their coats, cut off branches and spread them across Jesus’ path.
The palm branches symbolized high expectations: God had saved his people from foreign enemies many times before, so when this miracle worker and prophet arrived, they expected God to do it again. God will work another miracle, drive away the Roman occupiers and restore God’s holy city of Jerusalem.
The Palm Sunday story goes from expectation to disappointment, from a celebration in Jesus’ honor to his trial and execution. As soon as Jesus turns out to be something other than the savior they expect, their celebration becomes calls for his death. An expected glorious victory on the battlefield becomes a humiliating death on a cursed cross. God has disillusioned them.
That sounds like a terrible thing for God to do, but what is disillusionment but a removal of an illusion? Wrong expectations about God are replaced with the truth. God does not intend to meet our expectations. God meets our needs. Palm Sunday is not about victory. It’s a reminder that placing expectations on God based on our wants can lead to disappointment and resentment.
Rather than expect God to heal every pain, God teaches us to grow as we experience it. Rather than find our self worth in accomplishment and applause, we find it in Christ’s sacrificial death. Rather than pour our personal resources into our satisfaction, we imitate Christ’s sacrificial death through sacrificial service.
These are emotions we experience when we witness a violent event. In far too many places in the world, violence is a constant threat and a daily occurrence. Yesterday, it was on the steps of the nation’s Capitol.
So what is our reaction to Wednesday’s violence?
Fear? Fear of the possibility of violence. Fear that grows into a suspicion of anyone who is different from us. Fear, if left to its own imagination, can distort the way we see others. We can be tempted to avoid engaging with people who are different from us, but instead build walls to protect against anyone that seems to be a danger to us.
Anger? Angry about a mob breaching the Capitol building. Angry towards those who incited violence, or did nothing to prevent it. Such anger can grow in us, and can be turned on anyone who appears like an enemy. And it’s easy to add people to this frightening list. Anger can cause us to create evil caricatures out of people who look or think differently.
Fear and anger, if left unchecked, keep us from loving people.
Jesus said, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first” (John 15:18). Christ experienced fear and hatred, and yet he tells his followers, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27). Later in John’s Gospel he says, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
The dark reality we’re witnessing will tempt us to fear and hate. So when we are tempted to fear, remember to “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7) Let’s not allow fear to control our lives! When we are tempted to hate, remember Christ’s radical command to love our enemies.
Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save. When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing. Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD their God. Psalm 146:3–5
Throughout Scripture we are reminded that God is sovereign over all things, including political affairs (Daniel 2:21, Romans 13:1-7); not just domestic but international (Acts 17:26-27). God raises up leaders and takes them down. In other words, whatever the election results, God is in control.
Psalm 146 is especially relevant as the political fervor increases after another election.
Just as the people of Israel were tempted to put their trust in the king’s sons, the next generation of leaders – the “princes” – so we are tempted to place too much hope in presidents, senators and congressional leaders. We are reminded by these verses, however, that human beings by themselves cannot save.
Throughout history there have been a wide array of political and social leaders in this country and planet. History tells us that politicians can provide leadership that helps ease pain for the suffering, improve order in chaos, bring justice to the marginalized and provide security for the vulnerable.
But even when our politicians walk in integrity, they likely cannot live up to all of our expectations. They do not possess all wisdom, power, and benevolence. Our political leaders will make mistakes, their plans will be frustrated by political opposition, as well as the changing tide of popular opinion. Their hearts will be tempted by pride and the power entrusted to them. Thus the caution in Psalm 146:3: Do not put your trust in princes, but rather, hope in the Lord.”
God is the “maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them, who remains faithful forever…upholds the cause of the oppressed…gives food to the hungry… sets prisoners free … gives sight to the blind … lifts up those who are bowed down … loves the righteous … watches over the foreigner … sustains the fatherless and the widow, but frustrates the way of the wicked” (Psalm 146:6-9).
Centuries before November 3 God established an eternal ruler in the person of Jesus Christ. In Isaiah’s words:
“He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever“ (Isaiah 9:6-7).
Stay engaged with politics and be aware of political developments. Be informed with facts, not just political opinion. Pray daily for our elected officials, as they are incurably human. Hold them accountable, as they are charged with great responsibility. But do not be lured into placing too much hope in a political system, by embracing a political agenda that eclipses the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Social media and the internet have given us a newfound courage: keyboard courage. It’s the kind of courage it takes to write a strongly worded social-media post that invites debate and incites emotion. We can say things through our tablets and smartphones that we would never say to a person face to face.
Keyboard courage allows us to draw hard lines, take a stand for our beliefs, turn people off, create barriers, all from the comfort of our homes. We type without thinking through the consequences of those words.
Keyboard courage requires no indwelling of the spirit – it doesn’t require Christ’s lordship. Keyboard courage is counterfeit courage. Jesus calls His disciples to real courage:
When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say. – Luke 12:11-12
“When you are brought…“
Christ centered courage requires vulnerability. Disagreement is easier when can close an app. When listening and learning get hard, we can exit the web browser. Does our courage lead us to listen to and learn from others? Or will we stick to online truth-telling?
“…do not worry about how you will defend yourselves…”
Christ centered courage does not put joy at the mercy of an editorial. Reacting to a talk show host or press conference often leads to turbulent comments. Anger and defensiveness are signs of anxiety, not of peace. Christ centered courage allows us to speak the truth with confidence and love (Ephesians 4:15).
“…the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time…”
Finally, Christ centered courage is discerning. Jesus’s promise is that the Spirit will teach us “at that time” what to say. God gives us words that fit the occasion (Proverbs 15:23). It takes compassionate listening to discern whether courage requires affirmation of God’s love, a gentle or strong rebuke, a gospel summary, or silence.
As more and more of our communication takes place online, we face a growing danger of possessing bold keyboards while lacking the courage for face to face listening, learning and prayer. And the world is watching:
“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:35
The tongue has the power of life and death…Proverbs 18:21
Firefighters are describing conditions out west as a hectic situation on a scale they have not seen before. People are losing their lives, homes and businesses to forest fires.
Our speech, according to James, can be destructive like an uncontrolled fire. Scroll down a social media page and you can easily find the latest fire: emotionally charged political debates, the newest uproars and the biggest controversies. Online debates are becoming increasingly hostile, and we have to take this seriously. The metaphor of arsony is not an exaggeration, as we see in James’ letter:
“Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell” (James 3:5-6).
James’ teaching is not just a warning, it is also a description of the wounds we experience on social media. How many wounds come from words that “pierce like swords” (Proverbs 12:18)? How many regrets come from words we have said? Rather than be contentious and harsh, through our speech (spoken and typed) we can clothe ourselves with “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” (Colossians 3:12-13).
This does not mean we never confront error and contend for God’s truth. It does mean that our online conversations must “be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone” (Colossians 4:6).
To use a different metaphor, social media gives everyone a platform, and it’s hard to resist the opportunity. What will we do with our microphone (or keyboard)?
“My God, My God, Why Hast Thou Forsaken Me?” – Psalm 22:1, Matthew 27:46
Whenever people gather (in person or online) in Jesus’ name, God is present among them. But in the Bible God reveals his power and glory in god-forsaken places more than he does houses of worship.
My God, my God, Why Hast Thou Forsaken Me? – James Tissot
A group of gypsies living in the desert become pathetic brick makers for an empire. Their first born males are being killed as a form of population control. God hears their cries, claims them as His people and delivers them from slavery.
Centuries later their offspring are defeated by another mighty empire and held in captivity in Babylon. In Bible times Babylon represents a world alienated from God. In this god-forsaken country God again delivers them from their captors and brings them home.
Centuries later a young teenager becomes pregnant before her marriage ceremony. She is likely shamed by her neighborhood, but she carries the life of God inside of her.
God takes on human flesh and becomes a carpenter in a town so insignificant that it barely makes the history books. This simple peasant travels around the country healing the sick, freeing the demon possessed and preaching good news to the hopeless.
The Romans execute him on cross, crushing the hopes of His followers. After 3 dark days He is raised from the dead.
These are more than stories to be told on Sunday morning. They are the key to understanding where God is to be found – in god forsaken places where there is little or no expectation.
Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry…Ephesians 4:26
Anger is an overwhelming part of our cultural, political, and personal rhetoric. Should we be concerned, or is anger an appropriate response to injustices?
God demonstrates the purpose of anger: to reveal an injustice or sin. God detests people who become rich at the expense of the poor (Deuteronomy 25:13-16), declare the innocent to be guilty (Proverbs 17:15), and murder the innocent (Proverbs 6:17).Holy anger is an appropriate response to something broken that needs fixing.
Lovis Corinth’s Cain and Abel
Cain is an example of anger that has been distorted by jealousy and self centeredness. Cain and Abel offer sacrifices to the Lord. Abel’s sacrifice is found pleasing; Cain’s is not:
So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it. (Genesis 4:5-7)
God encourages Cain to act rightly and not to trust his anger. However, Cain ignores God, embraces his anger, and kills Abel.Ungodly anger impairs our judgement (Psalms 37:8) and leads to unhealthy conflict(Ecclesiastes 7:9).
God’s anger is directed at sin and injustice, and can be trusted. Our anger can be selfish and distorted by sin, so it cannot be trusted. Our anger can cripple our minds, so it can be hard to take on the mind of Christ. Anger is can be a poor motivator to action. It’s better to suspend our decision making until anger is no longer clouding our judgment.
Only when we master our anger can we search for the wrong which ignited it—starting with ourselves.
How can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a foreign land? – Psalm 137:4
If we consider how God worked in biblical history, probably not.
Psalm 137 was written during the Babylonian exile. Jerusalem has been destroyed. Israel’s monarchy has ended and God’s people have been deported. As Israel’s musicians grieved, their Babylonian neighbors made song requests:“Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” (v.3) The Israelite musicians refused: “How can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a foreign land?” (v.4) It’s hard to sing when we are so far away from our house of worship.
God’s people eventually did return to their homeland and began rebuilding their place of worship. When the foundations of the temple were laid, the band played and the choir sang (Ezra 3:10-11). But not everyone celebrated:
But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy.No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise. (Ezra 3:12-14)
The older generation grew up seeing Solomon’s splendid temple. By comparison, the newer temple is much more modest, and therefore the older people weep as they recall what Israel had in the past. They have returned to their place of worship, but things will never be the same.The younger generation, who did not remember the good old days, rejoices because they now have a temple where they can worship God. They are excited that God is doing a new thing.
By the Waters of Babylon, James Tissot
Church consultants are telling us that across the nation churches who have resumed some form of indoor worship are seeing only 20 to 30% of their congregations are coming. The doors to the sanctuary have reopened, but things are not the same. Church consultants are also telling us that this could continue to be the situation for a year, perhaps even longer. If this is true, what will we do now? Will we reminisce and long for the past? Or will we dream, and expect great things from God in the future?
Large worship gatherings will always be a part of church life. But to be faithful in our task of making disciples, we also need to be thinking smaller: Groups of all kinds (prayer, deeper study, spiritual accountability) meeting in all kinds of places (neighborhoods, parks and other public spaces), producing all kinds of fruit (spiritual growth, engaging our neighbors, forming new ministries).
When we reenter the building for worship, will we put our time and energy into making things the way they used to be? That will likely be frustrating, if only 20% of our people are ready to resume indoor in person worship. Or will we celebrate that God is doing something new in our midst – and that he has been doing it outside of the building?
Revelation 7:9 – “After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb.”
Never did I think I would do what I’m doing this Friday: attending a peaceful protest and a prayer vigil for George Floyd in Patuxtent UMC’s parking lot. This has been organized by the Calvert County NAACP. I’ve attended a prayer vigil before, but never a protest.
Jesus and the Samaritan Woman, Jesus Mafa Project
Here were my thoughts as I decided to attend:
I don’t have to understand everything. I would hope that everyone can see the hostility towards racial minorities, but I can’t fully wrap my head around the concept of “systemic racism.” I’ve read the numbers about unemployment, incarceration and drug arrests, but how are these direct a result of racism? I don’t know, but I need to be willing to listen, learn and pray.
I don’t have to feel comfortable. Some things I’ve read on Black Lives Matter’s website trouble me. I don’t see anything about the importance of fathers, and how fatherless children are more likely to suffer poverty and commit crime. I see no stated goal of reconciliation. Talking about the sins of the past with no intention of forgiveness runs contrary to the Gospel. There might be people wearing BLM shirts Friday night, so I must be willing to listen, learn and pray.
I need to practice what I’ve been preaching these past few weeks. The book of Acts tells the story of Jewish apostles taking the Gospel to the Samaritans and Gentiles. They went outside their property to people who were different from them. Christ was proclaimed, and everyone – Jews, Samaritans and Gentiles – was transformed.The Scriptures are clear that following Jesus includes crossing social barriers.
This Friday at 5pm I’ll be in the parking lot at Patuxtent UMC, and I’m not sure what to expect. This prayer vigil might give me an opportunity to listen to and learn from the black community, many of whom are my brothers and sisters in Christ. I may not encounter such possibilities at a single event. Crossing social barriers might mean going to more events like this.
Even if I don’t have the opportunity to listen and learn this Friday, I will have the opportunity to pray.