“Jesus Christ did not come into this world to make bad people good; he came into this world to make dead people live.” (Lee Strobel, The Case for Christ)
This week begins with Jesus being lauded as a king on Palm Sunday as he rides a colt into Jerusalem. The crowds sing and chant a victory song as their hope for a new ruler in Jerusalem is fueled. Yet, on Monday Jesus will begin to face opposition as the religious leaders begin to plot against him. On Thursday, Jesus and his disciples gather in the upper room. As Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper at the Passover meal, he said that the one that dips his hand in the bowl with him would betray him (Matthew 26:23; Mark 14:20; John 13:26). He spoke of Judas Iscariot. On this night, Jesus was betrayed and arrested in the Garden. He would ultimately be tried and put to death upon a cross. Even those that cheered Jesus on Palm Sunday jeered him on Good Friday as they raised their voices with the crowd crying, “crucify him, crucify him” (Luke 23:21).
If there is one thing this virus has done, it is to show us that we are living in the midst of death. As Christians we want to cry out like David, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? (Psalm 13:1-2). It is my hope and prayer that all this waiting, isolation, dread, and death will renew our faith and hope in the living God that raised His son from the grave and give us an urgency to proclaim the gospel.
The Puritan preacher Richard Baxter once wrote, “I preached as never sure to preach again, and as a dying man to dying men.” Allen Stanton was convicted of the importance of Baxter’s words on preaching after being a minister for ten years and being diagnosed with a Grade 3 Anaplastic Oligodendroglioma, a rare and fairly aggressive form of brain cancer. Stanton discovered his own mortality, and that motivated him to have a sense of urgency about proclaiming the good news. As a preacher, he also encourages those of us who have this sacred task of preaching to consider the gravity of our work. Coronavirus or not, if we stepped into the pulpit and preached as a dying man to dying men, how remarkable would our sermons be? Stanton goes on to write, “You know that’s what we all are anyway. We are all dying preachers preaching to a dying audience” (Allen Stanton, Gospel Reformation Network, March 31, 2020).
Here we are in the midst of a pandemic, reminded that we are knee deep in death – even knowing that the resurrection is only two days away. When I read Luke 24, I am confronted by the words of the angels in the cemetery, “Why do you seek the living among the dead” (Luke 24:5)? Ephesians accurately describes our condition prior to conversion as “dead”: “And you he made alive, when you were dead through your trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). When we were dead we walked according to the world, followed the prince of the power of darkness, were disobedient, and lived to fulfill the passions of our flesh (Ephesians 2: 2, 3). We were the epitome of death. Yet, God provided a way of life. The beauty of the gospel is that God intervenes to give us life! “But God, who is rich in mercy out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with him” (Ephesians 2:4-6).
One Sunday nearly 2,000 years ago, God offered a glimpse, a preview, of our great hope by raising his Son from the grave. The resurrection of Jesus Christ points us to God, who defeats death and decay all around us.
Today, as believers, we long for life in the midst of death, light in the midst of darkness. We huddle around loved ones in hospital rooms – if we are even permitted to be there – when their bodies are shutting down. We wait, perhaps in our cars, as those we love undergo tests to determine if they have a disease that could take their life. In this Holy Week, I pray that we eagerly await our eventual resurrection even in the midst of death.
When we feel the weight and the sheer magnitude of a dying world around us, let us all fix our gaze on the empty tomb outside of Jerusalem. Easter was a preview of mighty things to come. May we see, with fresh eyes of hope, the empty tomb, knowing that God’s actions in raising His Son point toward the eventual raising of everything around us. His resurrection does more than raise faith-filled bodies from the grave: His rising brings all of earth out of the grave and face to face with the King of Kings.
I encourage each of us to recall our own baptism into Christ and to remember the words of scripture: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:3-4).
Live! Build a bridge to those who are waiting to hear as you gain an urgency to share the gospel as a dying man to dying men.