Easter Reflection – The Isolated Jesus

This Easter is weird.

It’s weird because it’s not what we’re used to. It’s not something we’re familiar with. It’s something new. This Easter is weird because we can’t gather as God’s people in the churches we’re part of, or celebrate meals together with friends and family, or head away on long weekend holiday adventures like usual.

Instead, we’re at home. We’re at home with those in our household, isolated from others, and perhaps going a bit stir crazy by now too. But all of this is for that important cause, the cause the government has called us into. This Easter we’ve been called to save lives by staying at home.

Copy of The Grieving of the (Non) Gathering of God’s People

Living this isolated life is but a momentary trial, and while Easter may have a unique shape for us this year its meaning and significance does not change. Easter is still central to the Christian calendar, it still speaks of God’s display of sacrificial love to the world. It still reveals to us a God of grace who puts his life on the line for us, cleanses us from sin, and gives hope and peace to our anxious hearts. The meaning and significance of Easter doesn’t change despite the circumstances we may find ourselves this weekend.

And yet in reflection I wonder whether this gives us an opportunity to enter into the ‘aloneness’ of Jesus. Despite Jesus being surrounded by people, particularly for the three years he was with his disciples, there are indications that Jesus too felt isolated in what we now know were his final 24 hours before his death.

First, in his final meal with his disciples Jesus eats with his knowing betrayer. Judas, one who has followed him for a number of years, is about to gain 30 pieces of silver for delivering Jesus into the hands of the Romans. We read in John 13:21, “…Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified [to his disciples], “Very truly I tell you, one of you is going to betray me.” The act of betrayal is sure to feel isolating for Jesus as a relationship he invested in has turned against him.

Second, his disciples still don’t understand what Jesus has been talking about. In Luke 22:14-30, still in the context of the final Passover before Jesus’ death, the disciples begin to argue with each other about which one of them is the greatest. After hearing Jesus explain the significance of their final meal and the betrayal to come they end up selfishly disputing their own importance. I imagine Jesus throwing his hands up at this point, exasperated at his own disciples incompetence. An isolating feeling for any leader of any thing.

Third, at the time of his arrest Jesus’ disciples scatter far and wide. The disciples have experienced Jesus for three whole years teaching, performing miracles, and showing himself as the Son of God. Yet, in a matter of moments his disciples disappear. When Jesus is arrested we read of this disciple dispersion in Matthew 26:55-56,

55 In that hour Jesus said to the crowd, “Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I sat in the temple courts teaching, and you did not arrest me. 56 But this has all taken place that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.

If Jesus didn’t feel isolated and alone up to this point, he surely did now.

Fourth, as Jesus succumbs to his death on the cross we read of his isolation from God. You may remember that moments before Jesus dies on the cross he cries out to God, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46; Psalm 22:1-2). Jesus is essentially quoting the opening two verses of Psalm 22–words he would’ve known by heart. And as he calls out to God in this way he is in a place he had not experienced before, isolated and alone, apart from God. Smarter people than I can explain how this might work within the context of his humanity and divinity, what it means for the Holy Trinity at this point. But whatever the case, as Jesus takes the sin of the world upon himself the Father turns away from him, and places his rightful wrath and judgement for the sin of the world upon him.

The isolation of Jesus is vivid, real, and powerful.

As we enter into Easter this weekend perhaps it is worth considering the isolation and ‘aloneness’ of Jesus. We may resonate with feelings of isolation and aloneness as we sit at home with our friends, partners, family, or simply by ourself. All our social distancing measures mean we lack touch, we talk to friends through screens, and we only go out for essential needs. Our isolation is vivid and real for us.

At no time do I want to suggest that our isolation is similar to that of Jesus. We may have similar feelings but the circumstances are certainly different, aren’t they? Yet due to our experience of the Easter season we may approach this time in a way that we’ve never considered before.

As you remember and celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus this weekend may you be reminded of the One who has saved your life. Jesus, the one who has given his life for your sake, enabling the forgiveness of sin, peace for your soul, and an everlasting relationship as part of the family of God.

Podcast: #4 of The Sean & Jon Show

The boys give life reports, talk Lycra shorts and Easter isolation thoughts.

Topics Discussed:

  • Maundy Thursday
  • Easter & Exercise (the lycra story)
  • Hot Cross Buns
  • The ‘aloneness’ of Jesus and our ‘aloneness’
  • The sacrifice of Jesus

And we also referenced one of my recent articles: https://joncoombs.com/2020/04/04/the-grieving-of-the-non-gathering-of-gods-people/

You can listen here, and also subscribe on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

The Grieving of the (Non) Gathering of God’s People

We now enter the third Sunday where our church is unable to gather together.

And this week it has finally hit me.

I’m grieving. I’m sad.

Perhaps I’m a little angry, but mainly I’m sad.

The Grieving of the (Non) Gathering of God’s People

I’ve been involved in church life all my life. Being born into a pastors family means church is part of my life and lifestyle of my weekly rhythms–as it is for many Christians around the world. And it is in this time of uncertainty and alleviated stress where we seek the rhythms of familiarity. There is something about our nature that seeks rhythm and regular structures in our lives.

And so over the last few days I’ve been aware enough to notice that my emotions have changed as I’ve gone about my responsibilities this week. Knowing we are not gathering as the local expression of God’s people here at Rowville changes the nature of how I think about my weekend. While I may well be on the premises during our livestream, while I may know many from our community maybe watching even, I know it is different and there is something sad about this.

In our secularised, comfortable Western world grief and sadness are not seen as positive emotions. In modern Christianity we are more inclined to want to speak encouragement, we want to push people to see the joy, and take up the opportunity of the season. And of course, we know that God is in control in all of this, there is hope; the peace of our souls does not rest upon the prevailing winds of the world.

Instead, we worship a God, who through Christ Jesus, laid his solid foundation of hope and joy upon our hearts–knowing we are still held in him with enduring joy.

Yet, I’m still feeling sad. I’m still experiencing the grief of not being able to gather with my brothers and sisters in Christ.

For two years I lived in a small village in the mountains of Lebanon. I was apart from my home church back here in Melbourne, but I gathered each week with a local community of believers and ex-pats that I was working with.

Despite being away from my home church, what I knew and what I experienced was still a closeness with those I gathered with each week. Even though I didn’t know many of them very well, particularly in the initial months, I was encouraged and reminded of our unity as part of the family of God.

This time it feels incredibly different.

It isn’t simply being away from the usual sheep pen I reside in, this time it feels like we’re all out of our usual sheep pens and left out in the pasture. This isn’t to say God is not with us. Nor is it to say we aren’t all alone–modern technology accounts for something, but not everything.

The feeling of isolation, loneliness, and sadness comes from not being able to gather together with our church family. Rather than try to find some sort of faux-joy in amongst all the strangeness, perhaps it is appropriate to lament…?

After all, we enter Passion Week tomorrow, the week that symbolises the final week of Jesus’ life, culminating in his horrific death and glorious resurrection.

And perhaps this is something we can take away from this season? As we recognise the aloneness of this season this year it may help us enter more into the aloneness of Christ during this time. Though Jesus was surrounded by his disciples, and though he continued his ministry in this final week, we read of the unique isolation he felt as he headed toward the cross. Luke 22:42-44 helps reveal this to us:

“Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me—nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” Then an angel from heaven appeared to him, strengthening him. Being in anguish, he prayed more fervently, and his sweat became like drops of blood falling to the ground.

And so, while we may feel alone, sad, and grieved, unable to meet in the same physical location this week perhaps this provides us with an opportunity to see Jesus more clearly and walk his way more steadily?

God’s Love Expressed: Through The Cross

In our house princess stories and movies are high on the agenda. Over the last few years the movie Frozen has been a regular viewing experience.

You may know the story yourself.

We sit on the couch and watch the journey of Elsa and Anna, both princesses of the royal family trapped within the walls of the castle. Yet, it isn’t until Elsa becomes Queen that the gates are opened and the connection with the people is renewed. But because of Elsa’s special powers, and their uncontrollability, the city is sent into a perpetual winter and she runs away to hide and live by herself.

Princess Anna goes on an adventure to find her sister and have her return, but in the process she is struck by Elsa’s icy powers. From here on in there is a distinct concern for Anna who can only be saved by an expression of true love.

I won’t spoil the ending.

But Frozen is a story with twists and turns, and is of course a story of love.

In the Bible we read of the way God has expressed his love toward us. In fact, the whole Bible is God’s love story toward his creation. We see this from Genesis to Revelation, as God seeks to be with his people who are so often rejecting his love.

In 1 John 4:9-10 we read about the pinnacle of this story, the pinnacle of God expressing love. It says,

“God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his one and only Son into the world so that we might live through him. Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.”

This is the extent of the love God has for us; his expression of true love for his creation.

God's Love Expressed Through The Cross

I wonder how you express love?

I wonder how you express the love you have for others, for your family, your friends, your pets, the things you do, the things you have?

A little while ago Ed Sheeran released his single, ‘Perfect’. In the lead up to the release of the song he publicly stated that he wanted this to be his best song ever. Here are some of the lyrics:

I found a love for me

Darling just dive right in

And follow my lead

Well I found a girl beautiful and sweet

I never knew you were the someone waiting for me

‘Cause we were just kids when we fell in love

Not knowing what it was

I will not give you up this time

But darling, just kiss me slow, your heart is all I own

And in your eyes you’re holding mine

Baby, I’m dancing in the dark with you between my arms

Barefoot on the grass, listening to our favourite song

When you said you looked a mess, I whispered underneath my breath

But you heard it, darling, you look perfect tonight

Ed here (yes, we’re on a first name basis) is expressing love. He is expressing his deepest love for his girl through song. It is a clear expression of love.

And while 1 John 4 isn’t talking about romantic love it nevertheless describes the love God has for us.

John describes the love God has for us as sacrificial love. He points out that God has shown his love for us through, (1) the sending of his one and only son, and (2) as an atoning sacrifice for our sin.

The way God has shown his love for us is through Jesus.

The way God has shown his love for us is through the cross.

It is a cross-bound, life-sacrificing love.

This love is a relational love, meaning God has such a strong affection for us, he cherishes us so much, that he is willing to die for us.

This is a love that is deeply personal, a love that shows his commitment and faithfulness to us. This committed love, this affection for us, is displayed for us through the action of sacrifice. He loves us so much that he sent his one and only Son to be an atoning sacrifice for us.

He loves us so much that he sent himself, in human form, to take our place on that cross.

This sacrificial love is the love God has for us.

In the original languages the particular word for ‘atoning sacrifice’ is only used twice in the whole of the New Testament. Here in v10 and also back in 1 John 2:2. As one commentator has put it, it is a term to,

“…emphasise that God sent Jesus Christ to be the atoning sacrifice to remove the guilt we have incurred because of our sins so that we might have eternal life. This is the great expression of God’s love, and on this basis the author can say God is love.” (Kruse, 161)

Due to our sin, both the sin we do as action and the sinful nature we find ourselves battling against as fallen creatures, we are in need of a saviour.

The reality is that our hearts are naturally inclined to sin. Sin isn’t just what we do that is bad, or immoral, or hurtful, it is more than that. It is a heart position. It is the state of our heart that means we are against God in everything we do.

The bible speaks of our heart as being against God and His goodness.

Our hearts, from birth, are defective.

Our hearts are selfish and messy.

Essentially we’re a mess.

And so, we find God sending his one and only Son in order for our sinful natures to be transformed. Transformed into life-giving, self-sacrificing, love-promoting hearts. Sin is forgiven, our hearts are changed, and we begin to be changed into creatures perfected by his love.

Ironically, Ed Sheeran’s song, which I read out earlier, points to this. You may not remember but he sings,

When you said you looked a mess, I whispered underneath my breath

But you heard it, darling, you look perfect tonight

Did you see it? Do you get it?

We are a mess yet because of God’s great love for us he looks upon us because of the cross and says, ‘you’re perfect’. As we dance with God through what we call life God understands our mess, and because of the cross calls us perfect.

Our mess is made perfect through his sacrificial love.

Through the atonement God’s love is expressed. And through the atonement we find ourselves transformed away from selfishness and mess and made into people of perfected, sacrificial love.

Published: Easter Reflection – Cleaning Feet

A little reflection piece I wrote about Easter was just published on the TGCA site.

You can find it here.

“Through his death on the cross Jesus has not just given us a symbol of humility and service but has acted in humility and service toward us. Jesus’ death provides us with the cleanliness we need. His death is the sacrificial service for our sin. It is an act that cleanses us. As Jesus washing his disciples feet, making them clean; so too Jesus’ death washes our hearts and makes us clean from sin.

As we solemnly remember the death of Jesus these next hours, as we enter into the remembrance of our Lord’s death, may we come to a new appreciation of this great act of humility and service, for us, for our neighbour, and for our world.

And boy, don’t we need it.”

You can read more articles I’ve written elsewhere here.

Screen Shot 2019-04-18 at 10.57.11 am

What Happens When All The Chocolate Has Been Eaten?

I’m currently trying to work out what I will preach on next Sunday.

It’s Easter Sunday and logic would suggest that the resurrection would be appropriate.

But, isn’t it the case that as we move through the Easter weekend we are more concerned with remembrance than on what’s next?

It goes without saying that we are to remember. It is a great time to reflect on the death and resurrection of our Lord. It is important to see and feel the gospel afresh again.

But are we missing something if all we do is stop there? 

Easter is a great time for remembering our Lord but it is also a great time to re-adjust our priorities. We can come closer to him, be convicted toward transformation, and seek to bring glory to God. The gospel changes and renews, and what better time of the year for this to make a tangible impact in our lives than at Easter.

So, what do we do once all the chocolates have been eaten?

Do we continue on our merry way like nothing much has occurred, only slightly slower from the extra calories?

Or, do we get a renewed sense of God and his purposes, a renewed sense of the gospel?