Impetuous Peter and Me
Imagine facing the worst event of your life, knowing exactly what is coming and how difficult it will be. Now imagine, while struggling through that dark moment, helping a friend and a foe in one selfless move. It is hard to fathom, but it did happen and is well documented.
It was in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus had been betrayed with a kiss and was being led away into the night to stand a mockery of a trial. In his best effort to protect his Messiah, Peter pulled his sword and severed an ear from the high priest’s servant. Then Jesus made a highly unpredictable move. He touched and healed the man’s ear!
When Jesus restored the ear of that servant, He changed the lives of two men forever. Of course, being the man of compassion that He was, Jesus certainly saw this man suffering and in agony from such a brutal wound. Even though he was a ‘bad guy’, the love and compassion of Jesus reached beyond what the man was doing to the fact that he was hurting and needed healing.
When I was a child, I could not understand why Jesus would help someone who was there with the intention of hurting Him. I knew I could never be as loving and forgiving as Jesus and was not certain I wanted to try. As an adult, I am thankful for the grace and mercy He extends to me when I am the bad guy.
Another man’s future was changed that night. Jesus courageously rescued Peter that night. There Peter stood, bloody weapon in his hand, somewhat frustrated that he had missed his mark … the servant’s head. Yet, his pride was perhaps somewhat pacified by the fact that he had made a notable statement of his allegiance to the Lord. He was more than willing to fight to protect Jesus.
In the moment between landing the blow and Jesus restoring the ear, Peter realized the consequences he would have to pay for that action. He probably saw what Jesus did for him the instant it happened. When Jesus healed the servant’s ear, the evidence that would have supported prosecution for attempted murder vanished. There would be no argument in court against Peter regarding that incident. He was acquitted before he was accused!
Much in the same way Peter did that night, I commit a punishable offense, yet Jesus steps in and rescues me. It is after I have done the damage that I see His action on my behalf has removed the evidence against me. My slate has been cleared.
In Lamentations 3:21-23 the Bible says,
“Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (NIV)
I hear Jesus’ voice ringing in my head and heart,
“Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)
Here I stand, undeserving, wrong, yet loved completely. He reaches out with compassion and mercy to heal and to deliver me. His acts of love and compassion effectively restore and renew me.
When I am called to step up to the Judge’s bench, there will be no evidence to hold against me … Just as if I had never sinned, He declares me “NOT GUILTY!”
My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness. — 2 Corinthians 12:9 NIV
The Scriptures don’t provide the specifics, but we know that the apostle Paul struggled with what he referred to as a “thorn in [his] flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:7). Whatever the problem was, it was so bothersome to Paul he pleaded with God three times to remove it, but God refused. Instead, today’s scripture tells us, God told Paul that His grace was sufficient and he needed to rely on God’s power rather than his own.
When God calls us to difficult seasons, He gives us the grace to persevere.
God’s grace gives us the power to be who He has called us to be and do the things He has called us to do no matter how challenging the circumstance. Sometimes it’s tempting for us to worry about how we will make it in the days, weeks, months, and years to come. But God provides His grace at the exact time we need it and not a minute before. We can be confident God will provide at just the right time.
Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? — 1 Corinthians 3:16
The Bible is full of important truths we are prone to forget. In today’s reading, Paul raised a question in his letter to the church at Corinth and asked if they were aware that the Holy Spirit dwelled in them. If we aren’t mindful of the Holy Spirit’s presence, we will fail to draw strength from Him, and as a result, we will walk in the flesh rather than the Spirit (Romans 8:8–9).
The Spirit is present to help us in our weaknesses.
The Holy Spirit helps, teaches, guides, convicts, and empowers us to glorify God (John 14:17; John16:8-13). Every Christ-follower is a temple of the living God and is holy. Jesus knew we would need help. That’s why He sent us a Helper, the Holy Spirit (John 16:7; Acts 2:1-4). As believers, we need to be mindful of the Holy Spirit’s presence and continually rely on His strength.
These may be unprecedented days in our lifetimes, but they are not unprecedented in the life of the church.
The church has endured such suffering and uncertainty before, and much worse, just by way of pandemic, not to mention persecution. In days like these, and in every season of our lives, we do well to remember the certainty and centrality of the church in the care of the living Christ.
To be clear, this is not a word about being the church in the coronavirus age. This is the church’s age, not a virus’s. The church will not pass. Coronavirus will.
And this is our Father’s world. This is Christ’s world. And as his Bride, this is indeed, in real measure, the church’s world. Not the news media’s. Not the epidemiologists’ and statisticians’. Not the economists’ and politicians’. The church will endure these days, and outlive this trial, and be stronger because of the footnote that is our present distress.
Main Story in the World Today
The main news happening in the world right now does not concern data about the spread, or the economy and the stimulus and the free money coming your way. The main news is the church. Jesus Christ, with all authority in heaven and on earth, is building his church (Matthew 16:18). Not even the gates of hell hold back the final advance of his church, much less temporary panic and financial freefall.
Not that Christians won’t get sick, and some die. Some already have. And not that particular local churches won’t go belly up. Some will. Some are. Some local churches have closed doors that will not open again. But the global Church stands unassailable, under no genuine threat, and will be stronger than before.
The story of the global Church, as seemingly isolated Christians text and call and video chat and learn anew how to care for each other, and for our towns and cities, is the main thing happening in the world right now. Neither CNN nor Fox is following the story. But this is the first and greatest headline. In Christ, we are living the story that will be told, more than any other, for ages to come.
We are not only the audience and eyewitnesses, but also the participants. As we gather in living rooms to worship as families. As pastors and elders assemble over Zoom to take counsel and care for their scattered and physically dispersed flocks. As we open our Bibles with a hunger and thirst for substance and guidance like some haven’t felt in a long time, or ever. As we bow our knees in our room, and bow our heads with the family. Our churches are being sifted, and some are being found wanting. But the Church is alive and well. Not just holding on, but growing in strength. Christ’s Bride will be better for having endured these days.
Through the Church
Not only is the future of the global church certain in the sovereign power of God through Christ, but his sovereign purposes in the world center, we might say, on his church. The picture the apostle Paul paints in Ephesians 3 of the centrality of the church in God’s work in the world is nothing less than stunning: Christ channels his global glory uniquely through his church.
God made him a minister of the gospel, Paul writes, “to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ” and
to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 3:8–10)
Did you catch that? God is making known his manifold wisdom, not just in the physical realm but also in the spiritual one — for all the universe to see. And how? Through the church. Wherever else human heads may be turning, the angelic and demonic hosts are watching the church. God is channeling his work in the world through his church.
And not just one channel among others. The church is the only channel mentioned here. Epidemiologists and economists have their part to play, but the main thing happening in the world right now, and at all times, is what Jesus Christ is doing in and through his church.
In the Church
As God’s people, united in Christ, we are part of that collective lens through which God is focusing his work in the world and for the very glory of his Son. Paul doesn’t just say it once. He comes back to it a few sentences later. He was not speaking imprecisely in verse 10. Don’t try to explain it away. The point is just as plain, and striking, in one of the great blessings in all the Bible:
Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:20–21)
How is God — the one able to do far more than we can even dream — being glorified in our world today, and at this time? Stand in awe: in the church and in Christ Jesus. Through Christ, seated in heaven, and through his church, displaying him around the world in every major city and advancing on every tongue, tribe, people, and nation. The Husband, who is the very image of God (Colossians 1:15; 2 Corinthians 4:4) and the focal point of God’s glory in history, gave us, his Bride, his own Spirit that we might collectively image him, and our Father, in this age.
This Is the Church Age
We are not the church in the coronavirus age. We may be enduring a global pandemic, but we do so as the church in the church age. We are not now living in a pandemic age, or a digital age, or a pragmatic age, or a whatever-new-thing-you-want-to-emphasize age. This is the church age.
And church is not simply another reality among others to swap in and out as an adjective for our times. Church is the adjective. This is what this age is. And in Christ, let’s not let the mainstream media, or social streams, or our own forgetfulness lead us to think any differently.
As days disrupted turn to weeks, and weeks to months, let’s be the church to each other, as promised, in these precious days. And let’s represent Christ, as the Church, to our neighbors. There’s no Plan B. Christ doesn’t need a Plan B. Quarantined hours invested in what it means to be the church in such unusual days won’t be in vain. Jesus will build his Church, however many congregations do not survive. The Church, every faithful member, will endure — and forever enjoy a new world without virus, disease, or any other ailment. The gates of hell will not prevail against Christ’s advancing church.
Let’s Be the Church
As odd as it may seem, days like these, when we cannot gather in large numbers, are precisely why we don’t simply attend but make promises to each other in the local church.
This is why we have membership covenants. Not for the easy and comfortable seasons. Anyone can do convenient. But for the hardest and most challenging days. For the threatening times. For the uncertain and (seemingly) unprecedented seasons. For the times when shallow people curve inward, concerned only for their own safety and protection and remote productivity, instead of reaching out diligently (and digitally) across the social distance to check in on others, get updates and pray, and, if needed, help with medications and supplies and groceries.
In marriage, we pledge ourselves for better and for worse, for richer and for poorer, in good times and in bad because those are the times when the objectivity of the covenant spreads its wings, gives life to our lives, and provides clear direction in our disoriented, confused, and subjective uncertainty. Objective covenants are for seasons of subjective confusion. This is one of those times.
The wind of these days may carry away much chaff. The tides are going out on the shallows. But Christ’s church will endure. And shine out all the clearer. Hard times are good days to be Christian.
Streams in the Desert – April 4
Times have changed, but life’s hard times haven’t
Then Elisha prayed, “O Lord, open his eyes so he can see.” The Lord opened the servant’s eyes and he saw that the hill was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. (2 Kgs 6:17)
This is the prayer we need to pray for ourselves and for one another, “Lord, open our eyes that we may see”; for the world all around us, as well as around the prophet, is full of God’s horses and chariots, waiting to carry us to places of glorious victory. And when our eyes are thus opened, we shall see in all events of life, whether great or small, whether joyful or sad, a “chariot” for our souls.
Everything that comes to us becomes a chariot the moment we treat it as such; and, on the other hand, even the smallest trial may be a Juggernaut car to crush us into misery or despair if we consider it.
It lies with each of us to choose which they shall be. It all depends, not upon what these events are, but upon how we take them. If we lie down under them, and let them roll over us and crush us, they become Juggernaut cars, but if we climb up into them, as into a car of victory, and make them carry us triumphantly onward and upward, they become the chariots of God.
—Hannah Whitall Smith
The Lord cannot do much with a crushed soul, hence the adversary’s attempt to push the Lord’s people into despair and hopelessness over the condition of themselves, or of the church. It has often been said that a dispirited army goes forth to battle with the certainty of being beaten. We heard a missionary say recently that she had been invalided home purely because her spirit had fainted, with the consequence that her body sunk also. We need to understand more of these attacks of the enemy upon our spirits and how to resist them. If the enemy can dislodge us from our position, then he seeks to “wear us out” (Daniel 7:25) by a prolonged siege, so that at last we, out of sheer weakness, let go the cry of victory.