hope

Easter is the high mark of the Christian calendar. Yes, we have Christmas and its celebration. But Christ’s advent has been shaped by commercialization and media. Even so, it is Christ’s entrance into the world. Christmas is special for the believer, but it is not ultimate. Jesus did not come to the world to live as a baby or as a child. Christmas matters because Easter happened.

Holy Week is our opportunity to reflect on Jesus’ passion and resurrection. Much of the gospel accounts are given to the last week of Jesus (1/3 of Matthew, 1/3 of Mark, ¼ of Luke, and 2/5 or nearly half of John). The last week of Jesus’ life emphasized his conflict with the religious leaders setting up the final act of his life. In this last week, Jesus predicted his future and taught his disciples. He invited them to witness something glorious and eternal. 

We cannot overstate Holy Week’s importance to Christianity. It is the culmination and fulfillment of the salvation we so loudly proclaim.

But this year it feels different. This year it is different. Holy Week 2020 does not feel holy. Many believers across our world will not gather in their churches. They will not dress up in their Easter outfits. They will not celebrate the season with Easter egg hunts, pastel colors, and decorative hats. Because many churches won’t gather, Easter musicals and cantatas will be cancelled or postponed. Easter sermons will take on a different tone. The high attendance day of the gathered church in the West will not be. This year, many of us will celebrate Easter in quarantine and during stay at home orders.

Holy Week does not feel holy. This year it does not feel like a celebration. It feels more like a separation.

We are tense—cooped up in our homes unable to visit, travel, go to school, or even work as normal. We are confused—frustrated at what we’re experiencing. We are afraid—uncertain if we will get sick, if we do, what will happen, and if we can recover from the challenges facing us. We are worried—anxious about tomorrow.

In truth, for many of us, Holy week 2020 may actually be more like the first Holy Week. 

The disciples could sense the tension. For years it had been building between the Jewish religious leaders and their Master, Jesus. Time after time they had questioned him, attacked him, and baited him. With ingenious wit and gracious words, Jesus always managed to silence his critics. This did little but anger them further. 

Upon Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem mere days before the Passover, the disciples could feel the tension.  Jewish lawyers, Pharisees, and other religious leaders saw this as the opportune time. They arrived with questions designed to trap Jesus in blasphemous statements. Yet as before, they were thwarted and left dumfounded. 

The tension of Passover week elevated at that fateful supper. The Lord’s table that he instituted the night before his trial and the day before his death. Judas was sent on his mission of betrayal. Peter’s denial was foretold. And the party left for a time of prayer. Jesus prayed while his followers slept.

The tension in the garden grew significantly with Jesus’ arrest. Led before the Sanhedrin, Pilate, and Herod, Jesus faced mock trials that culminated in his crucifixion outside of Jerusalem. During this part of Holy Week, the disciples scattered in fear, doubt, and confusion. 

The tension became passion when Jesus was beaten, crucified, and unjustly punished on Calvary’s cross. Jesus suffered unlike any man before. Not only did he face the physical brutality of Roman execution, but Jesus carried in his body the curse of God for human sin. Jesus became sin, that we might know God and experience salvation. 

 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

2 Corinthians 5:21

The tension on Calvary became death in a borrowed tomb. Any hope the disciples had that Jesus would come down from the cross and fulfill their vision as a political Messiah, was finished when Jesus’ dead body was removed from the cross and buried. 

The tension of his followers became confusion. How could One who had done so many miraculous things not keep himself from suffering like this? The confusion led to fear. If they would do these things to Jesus, which ones of us are next? The fear led to worry and uncertainty. What will we do now? Jesus was our life for three years. What next? Will where we go? What will we do? 

No, the first Holy Week did not feel holy. The first Holy Week did not feel like victory. The first Holy Week did not feel like a celebration. The first Holy Week did not culminate in fancy hats, pastel colors, musicals, cantatas, egg hunts, desserts, and celebrations. The first Holy Week concluded with an event at first confusing and ultimately more important than any other even ever to take place on planet earth. 

But at the end of Holy Week was a resurrection.

While our situations may cause us to feel isolated and separated this Easter, we can and must still celebrate. Here are some ways you can make this Easter special and unforgettable in your Christian faith.

IMAGINE how Jesus’ followers felt during Jesus’ passion week. Remember how it was during Holy Week for those who first experienced it. But also remember, they met the Risen Lord. Everything changed for them when they saw the resurrected Christ. Everything changed for us when we met Jesus, Jesus who is alive and not dead.

REFLECT on the universal and personal importance of Jesus’ death and resurrection. It was for you he died. Your sins are the reason Christ went to the cross. The sins of the world are the reason Christ died and went to the cross. It was for you that Christ rose from the dead. It was for the nations that Christ rose from the dead. We are right to individualize our salvation experience, but we must do so in light of the billions of other individuals who need salvation.

PAUSE all other distractions to make time to worship Jesus. That first Easter gathering behind locked doors with fearful disciples did not feel holy or full of celebration. But when Jesus entered everything changed. You may be celebrating Easter by yourself, with a spouse, or with your children. You may not be with your church family (in person). But you are not alone. Jesus is with you. He is ever present and you can worship him as you celebrate his resurrection.

JOIN other believers (your church) through streaming, radio, or television. While we may not by in the same rooms physically, we can still celebrate together. Here are some links to celebrate Easter with Wilkesboro Baptist Church. You can join us for worship through Facebook, Vimeo, or YouTube. If you attend another church, make sure you join them in whatever capacity you are able to worship.

ANTICIPATE gathering with fellow believers again. While our normal may be different after Covid-19, we will one day gather again to worship Christ. As for my church, we will create our own Easter Sunday celebration when we are able to gather again as a church family. Let the distance and separation created by our circumstances motivate you to participate in worship when we are able to gather again.

REMEMBER that Jesus’ resurrection defeated death. Everyone of us will face death. I’m heartbroken for those church members who have lost loved ones recently and have not been able to have memorials and funerals. I’m heartbroken for the thousands of families and friends who have lost someone to Covid-19. But we don’t have to grieve, worry, or dread like those without hope. Jesus died, was buried, and rose from the dead. Jesus is victorious over death. Death holds no power over the believer for Jesus holds power over death. This is the hope of Easter. And this is truly why Easter is Holy, no matter what it feels like.

Photo by Bruno van der Kraan on Unsplash

This post was originally published as a Sunday School lesson for the Biblical Recorder here.

In Matthew 8:5-13, we see a beautiful story of faith and hope. Do you hope for more? I hope for many more years to spend with my wife and children. I’m sure you’ve used the word hope in this same way. In the sense we so often use the word hope we mean something akin to wishful thinking. We would like something to be true. But the biblical use of the word hope is something far more certain. When the Bible speaks of hope it means something assured that we simply wait for. The biblical key to unlocking hope in this sense is faith. In this story we find a glorious example of faith. A Roman centurion sought out Jesus to heal his servant. Instead of asking Jesus to come to his house, the centurion observed, “Lord, I’m not worthy to have you come under my roof. Speak the word and my servant will be healed. I too am a man with authority. When I tell my servant to do something, he does it.” The centurion modeled great faith—so great that Jesus observed he had not found such faith in Israel. Here we see biblical hope unlocked. The centurion knew Jesus could heal. He displayed his hope with humble faith. He acknowledged his unworthiness—a picture of a sinner humbling himself before the only One who can save. He expressed his faith, “Only speak the word, and I know my servant will be healed.” Then the centurion experienced victorious hope. Jesus healed his servant. Did you know you were in this story? After Jesus’ complimented the man’s faith he said, “Many will come from east and west to recline at table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus asserted that if you’ve humbled yourself and trusted in Jesus, “You will be in the kingdom.” It doesn’t get more certain than Jesus’ declaration. So have hope. Look forward to the certain victory you will experience with Jesus in his kingdom.

Current news should bother us. Christians across the world, especially in countries where ISIS exists, are being persecuted, hunted down, and murdered because of their faith in Jesus Christ. Hardly a week goes by before we hear another report of another video of another group of Christians being murdered by Islamic terrorists. We should be horrified. We should ask our political leaders to do something. We should pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters. We should pray for God’s justice and vindication.

We should seek answers.

I propose that we go to a book of the Bible that does answer questions for us about persecuted believers. The apostle John wrote the book of Revelation while experiencing persecution on the isle of Patmos to believers facing the wrath of Rome’s emperor Domitian.

No doubt this apocalyptic text does describe for us much of what will happen in the future. However, the first readers of Revelation would not likely have been intent on discovering its end times interpretation beyond the certainty that Christ rules and reigns. Because of their personal suffering, they would have sought a more immediate hope than the consummation of the ages. In the book of Revelation, they would fin comfort, consolation, and encouragement. The unveiled Christ who gave John the vision of Revelation gives hope to Christian martyrs. They will worship at the throne of the King of Kings (Rev. 7:9-17), receive justice (Rev. 19:2), and they will experience the most glorious display of righteousness, justice, and victory in the history of mankind (Rev. 19:11-21).

John’s original readers met a Christ, not robed in the humble vestiges of a Carpenter or traveling preacher, but they met this Christ of Glory—this Sovereign in the midst of the churches—this King of Kings—this undaunted Prophet and Judge speaking his Word of judgment to the world—this paradoxical vision of High Priest and Worthy Lamb—this Ancient of Days—this returning Omnipotent Son of Man (Revelation 1). The unveiled Christ of John’s Revelation offered them salvation, hope, eternal life, justice, mercy, and victory.

We as believers should bemoan the persecution faced by our brothers and sisters in Christ. We should seek and pray for their vindication. We should persuade our politicians to pursue justice for them. We should give them aid. But we need to remember that we have the end of the story. We’ve read the final chapters of world history. And friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, we win. So, if genuine persecution should come to our shores. If we should face the persecution so many millions of our spiritual family members have faced. Then we must take courage. The Christ of glory is the King of kings and all will bow at his feet, all will tremble at glory of his holiness, and we will reign with him in righteousness.

“He who testifies to these things says, Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen. Revelation 22:20-21