By / Apr 13

How we face death, whether in fear or in hope, is a reflection of how we have lived. Back in February, I was asked by an elderly church member to visit her neighbor who was dying. The neighbor was in her 70s, and hospice began visiting to help her in her final days. This was the end. I was told the woman was a believer in Jesus, but had not been to church in some time and didn’t have a pastor. Of course, I was happy to go visit her.

As I drove up to her little mobile home to see her, I was reminded of Ecclesiastes 7:2, “It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, since that is the end of all mankind, and the living should take it to heart.”

Will we face death’s reality? 

Visiting with this woman was a very powerful experience for me. Her mobile home was small and crowded with items collected over a lifetime. I was welcomed in by a care nurse who was there to tend to her needs. He pointed me down the short hallway, and I could hear the television blaring with sounds from an old game show rerun. As I walked into the room, she was sitting up in bed halfway. Medical supplies, blankets, and other items took up the space around her. She heard I was coming from the neighbor who called me, so when I introduced myself, she was prepared.

In these situations, you don’t always know what to expect. Sometimes, people don’t want to see a pastor that they’ve never met before. They’re angry about dying. They know what the visit means. And their fear can turn into dismissal or lead them to lash out. The reaction can range from mild politeness to indifference to rudeness to anger. So, the short walk down the hall found me bracing myself for the possibilities of the exchange. 

When it comes to dying in the American context — one that seeks to hold on to this life with every drop of strength we have — we often reflect the first lines of the Dylan Thomas poem, 

“Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

We rightly see death as the final act of this physical life. As we fear it, we may try to put it out of our minds, loudly declaring all talk of it as unnecessarily morbid. Or, we fight it with everything we can muster, viewing the surrender to death’s inevitability as some kind of defeat. We are taught to uphold youth as the ideal, to do all we can to push away the effects of aging, and to see those who are close to dying as those who have little to contribute to our lives of production and self-fulfillment. The dying are to be cared for as an act of compassion from the living, but that final act of life giving way to death is often shunned by those of us who don’t want to face what is coming. This fear is described in Hebrews 2:14-15 as being manufactured by the devil, who holds the power of death and keeps all people in slavery to the fear of death. 

Met by God’s grace

So, I didn’t quite know what I would face as I walked down the dark hall to meet this woman who lay dying. Would she welcome my words and prayers? Would she be raging against the death closing in? I prayed that God would help me prepare her for her death and the journey to eternal life. 

In my visits with her over the next 10 days or so, I encountered a remarkable manifestation of God’s grace. After my first visit, I went out to my car and tweeted out some thoughts of reflection. I don’t normally do this after a time of ministry, but tears filled my eyes as I met with her, and I sensed the profound presence of God already there, helping prepare her for her final journey. I wanted to remember the holy:

I just sat with a dying woman. She was going down a list making calls to old friends to say goodbye. We talked about life, hurts, and her faith in Jesus and forgiveness. She said God is a fisherman and He caught her, and even though she tried to swim away, He reels her back in.

She was very peaceful. As we talked, she would cry at times. She isn’t a church member. A lady in our church knew her and asked if I could visit with her. We held hands and prayed. I read Scripture to her. As we talked about God’s love for her, tears fell from her eyes. Grace.

The doctors only give her a few days. They sent her home to die. She says she gets scared sometimes, but then she prays and the peace returns. As she is calling her friends all across the country to tell them that she’s dying, they cry, but she says, “Let’s share some memories together.”

Before I left, I hugged her. She thanked me for stopping by, but really, I was the one who was grateful. Her body is failing but her mind and spirit are clear. It was an honor to sit with her and hear her talk about her life. I told her I would see her soon on the other side.

It’s the most real thing there is, to sit with someone dying. Just to be with them, with their mind firing and laughter and tears and words and stories and to know that in just a short time the flicker of life will be gone. But, we hope in the God who raises the dead.

I went back to visit her a couple more times. She was so grateful. We talked and prayed, and she told me stories. She said she didn’t want to die, but, as I mentioned in my tweet, that Jesus was a fisherman and though she tried to wiggle off his hook, he caught her and was now reeling her in. She decided to pass that on to the pastor who would do her funeral that was already planned by her extended family back home in the Midwest. She never married and had no children, but she spoke of her nieces and nephews and the times they had together years ago. She continued to work down the list of people to call to say her goodbyes and remember the good times they’d had together. I sat there with her while she had one call and heard her congested laughter through the fluid building up in her lungs.

I told her that these days were a great gift to her and that she was dying well. She cried a lot, but would immediately say that her hope was in Jesus. We talked about how Jesus raises the dead and how she would live again. She believed that. With each visit, she was being prepared for burial and her spirit was growing in hope for the resurrection to come.

I visited her the last time the night before she died. Her physical light was dying, but an inner light was emerging. The list of friends to call was put away. All the calls had been made. She had trouble talking now as the fluid filled her lungs and she couldn’t cough it out. But, she thanked me with tears welling up in her eyes. She thanked me for being there with her, for talking with her and praying with her. She said again that Jesus caught her and was bringing her home. 

This woman who had not been to church in many years was experiencing God’s presence and hope in a profound way as she lay dying, even as Jesus overcame her fear. The full text of Hebrews 2:14-15 is, “Now since the children have flesh and blood, He [Jesus] too shared in their humanity, so that by His death He might destroy him who holds the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” I saw that happening before my eyes.

As they lay dying 

“As I Lay Dying” is a Southern gothic novel by William Faulkner that I haven’t read, but like most Southerners (especially if you are from Mississippi, as I am) do with Faulkner, I have pretended to know about it. The title comes from a line in Homer’s “Odyssey,” Book XI. Odysseus travels to the Underworld and meets Agamémnon, who tells how he was killed by the hands of his adulterous wife who would not close his eyes as he lay dying: “As I lay dying, the woman with the dog’s eyes would not close my eyes as I descended into Hades.”

Now, Agamemnon is angry about the betrayal of his wife. He’s descended into hell, but he also expresses anger over her not even closing his eyes in death. Not only did she kill him, but she didn’t even give him the courtesy of helping him die the right way. Faulkner’s use of this line for the title of the book — that I haven’t read — has served as a bit of a warning to me that when death comes (and it’s coming for us all), running from it doesn’t help. And not helping someone die well with mercy, grace, and care by ministering to them in Jesus’ name doesn’t really empower them to rage against the dying light as though they themselves had power over death. This approach of denial can often just distance them from the hope they really need.

But, as we now encounter Holy Week culminating in Good Friday and Easter Sunday, we are reminded with force that Jesus, through dying, defeated the power of death and the grave. He rose from the empty tomb and gives new life to all who believe. We need neither run from death in fear nor fight it in our own strength. Instead, we can persevere in hope as long as God gives us breath and then prepare for the new life to come. That isn’t a morbid surrender to death in defeat, but rather, it is true hope in the one who values and sanctifies our lives. He is with us all the way to death, and then carries us beyond into eternity and the resurrection of the dead. 

I now realize that as I was helping my friend prepare to meet with Jesus upon death, she was helping me meet with him now. He was there with her as she lay dying, and by being with her in her suffering and figuratively helping her to close her eyes in death, my eyes were more fully opened to the power of the resurrection of Jesus for this life — and for the life to come.

By / Mar 31

Unlike some of the other disciples, we don’t really have the exact details of Thomas’ early life and his calling. The three synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) only record Thomas as being part of the list of those called to be part of the 12 men Jesus called to leave their lives behind and follow him. The only detail we know from Thomas is that he was a twin (John 11:16). It’s likely that, like the other disciples, except for Judas, he was from the Galilee region. 

But while we don’t hear much from Thomas in most of the Gospels, we can see him there as Jesus commissions the 12 and sends them out to preach the good news of the kingdom. We can observe him in the ship, watching Jesus walk on the water. We can envision his stunned silence when Jesus calms a raging sea or makes the lame walk or raises dead people from the grave. His hands were full of food when Jesus took a little boy’s lunch that day on the hillside and fed his people in the wilderness. 

We do know that Thomas left everything to follow this itinerant rabbi. Something in Jesus compelled this young man to abandon his livelihood and risk his entire life on Jesus. When others left or faded away, Thomas was one of the few who stayed. When Judas slipped out of the Upper Room, Thomas was still there, hearing Jesus’ haunting and prophetic words about his arrest, death, and resurrection. He listened, likely with bewilderment, as Jesus taught about a new future he was creating, a Spirit-fueled movement that would be built on the foundation of these 11 ordinary men. Thomas cringed when Jesus prophesied Judas’ betrayal, wondering, like the others, if he had the seed of disloyalty in his own heart. He heard the footsteps of the soldiers as they came for Jesus. He saw the images of a bloody Jesus. He experienced the loss and separation of the One who had called him friend. 

Thomas, the brave

This is what Thomas saw. So while “doubting” has become the favorite adjective for Thomas, we must first know him as a brave follower of Jesus, who risked it all. 

Only the Gospel of John gives us any words from Thomas, and though they are few, they are profound and give us insight into his character. In John 11, Jesus was in a small town on the other side of the Jordan from Judea, near the place where John the Baptist began his ministry of baptism. Word got back to them that one of Jesus’ dearest friends, Lazarus, brother of Mary and Martha, was dying. Lazarus was in Bethany, a four-day journey away, so it was imperative for Jesus to go back and see his friend. Strangely, Jesus didn’t rush back but instead lingered for two more days. He reassured the disciples that Lazarus was not merely dead, but sleeping. He was referring, they wouldn’t know at the time, of his ability to raise Lazarus physically from the dead. His desire in waiting was for Lazarus to be so dead, four days dead, that nobody could doubt the miracle of his resurrection. Jesus purpose in returning to Bethany was not just to raise his friend, but to raise faith in those who witnessed the miracle, including the disciples. 

But there were also other worries about going back toward Judea. The anger of Jesus’ enemies among the religious leaders was rising, and there were plots to take Jesus and possibly kill him. Jesus’ growing movement and his claims to be the Son of God, the Savior of the world, so incensed them that they had tried to seize him (John 10:38-39). They had just slipped away across the Jordan river to this hideaway where they’d be safe. So the disciples were understandably nervous. They weighed the risks, discussing a trip back into the hot zone. Of course they loved their friend Lazarus, but if he was already dead, was it worth going back and risking Jesus’ death and their own? You can hear them carefully weighing the pros and cons. 

Jesus is determined to go, to show the world a glimpse of his resurrection power, a porthole into the new creation. And so Thomas, after hearing and perhaps participating in this heated deliberation, is the first one to volunteer to go with Jesus. “Let’s go too so that we may die with him (John 1116).” It’s kind of a macabre response, perhaps giving us insight into Thomas’ more pessimistic personality. It seems Thomas was the one always counting the cost, weighing the facts, looking for certainty when others like Peter were guided by the more emotional and subjective compass of the heart. And Thomas didn’t understand all that he even said. Thomas or any of the other disciples couldn’t really go with Jesus to die. To pay for the sins of the world, Jesus had to go alone to the garden, alone to the cross, alone to the grave.

And yet in a sense, Thomas understood the call Jesus gives every disciple to come and die with him. Because he went alone, we too can take up our cross and we can die with him. Paul would later say that he was “crucified with Christ” and “no longer lives” so that the life of Christ can be lived through him (Gal. 2:2). 

This is a bold statement. Thomas seems like the silent one, who carefully weighs and thinks before coming to a conclusion and yet when he speaks, it is a profound statement of courage and loyalty. “Let’s go die with Jesus” could be a life verse, the call of everyone who sees and believes Jesus. 

Which is why, I think, if we only think of Thomas as “doubting” we miss out on Thomas altogether. Before he was “Doubting Thomas” he was “Brave Thomas”, willing to put it all on the line for the one he loved. 

Adapted and reprinted with permission from The Characters of Easter, “Chapter Six: The Doubter – Thomas,” Moody Press, 2021.

By / Apr 11

How is it possible that a virus could create so much disruption, travail, and death? We see many good news stories of heroes stepping up to serve people affected by this disease, but the dominant storyline here is devastation. Many people are fighting for their lives, and many are losing that battle. Others face financial catastrophe they never imagined possible. The nations are writhing, and our losses are both personal and corporate.

The sobering reality is that COVID-19 is just one variety from a family of coronaviruses that was discovered in Wuhan, China, last year, but no one knows for certain its origins. This microscopic virus that travels on other microscopic droplets of human secretions has wrecked us. Although coronaviruses are well known to the scientific and healthcare communities, this particular strain is not currently containable. We can treat the symptoms, but there appears to be no known cure for this disease.

One might ask, “Is God judging us? Has he forgotten us? Does he even exist at all, and if on the chance he does exist, how could he allow this?” The near apocalyptic nature of our current circumstances forces all kinds of people from all faith perspectives to at least consider what this means in light of our obvious human limitations and the resulting awareness of our mortality.

While few people in the world saw this particular pandemic coming, no one who has read the Bible, even small portions of it, can be completely surprised by our vulnerabilities now displayed. 

The Savior’s sufferings

Consider the sufferings displayed in just the last week of Jesus’ life. The Gospels describe this in vivid detail. We see his heart break as he found the Jewish temple grounds converted from a house of prayer into a marketplace for the unscrupulous to profit on vulnerable pilgrims. The priests of God, who were God’s representatives on earth, no longer had any expectation for the people of God to experience the glory of God. 

On the night Jesus was betrayed by the now infamous Judas Iscariot, he was also abandoned by everyone close to him. The religious leaders who should have recognized him, the disciples who believed in him, and his closest friends who sincerely loved him all left.

And then we read the account of Jesus’ trials before both the Jewish and the Roman courts. These illegal and insincere tribunals were conducted under the cover of night and resulted in a sentence of death for Jesus, who deserved nothing of the sort.

Although the threat of a virus will restrict our public and congregational celebrations of Jesus’ resurrection this year, it does nothing to blunt the power of Jesus’ victory over sin and death or mute the sounds of our adoration of the One who has set us free. 

To put an exclamation point on the tragedy, this was no ordinary death. Crucifixion was brutal. Jesus’ execution began with a bloody beating, continued with his hands and feet being nailed to two crossed timbers, which were then hoisted into the air and into a hole in the ground. From this suspended position, Jesus finally, after six hours, suffocated in his own blood. 

If we could have sat on a hillside and simply watched this week of Jesus’ life unfold, we would weep at the human suffering and loss of it all. 

The apostle Paul wrote, “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, in this way death spread to all people, because all sinned” (Rom. 5:12).

“Sin entered the world and death spread to all people.” The groanings of creation are at a high pitch as we face this current global pandemic, but a fallen world is not a new phenomenon. 

From Adam to Abraham, from Moses to the prophets, Jesus had seen the violent, life-smothering devastation of sin. So when he rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, He knew exactly what to expect. He understood how deadly sin could be.

By his wounds, we are healed 

In one of the most important passages in the Old Testament, the prophet Isaiah described what the promised Messiah would actually do for us as he faced down the ravages of sin: “Yet he himself bore our sicknesses, and he carried our pains; but we in turn regarded him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced because of our rebellion, crushed because of our iniquities; punishment for our peace was on him, and we are healed by his wounds” (Isa. 53:4-5).

While every day of Passion Week came with a new version of bad news, and while every human being close to Jesus betrayed him, abandoned him, mocked him, or even executed him, Jesus never gave up his title of Messiah—the Promised One, the Second Adam who would deliver us from the curse of sin. 

Again, the apostle Paul wrote, “But the gift is not like the trespass. For if by the one man’s trespass the many died, how much more have the grace of God and the gift which comes through the grace of the one man Jesus Christ overflowed to the many” (Rom. 5:15).

Every tragic moment of Jesus’ final week, along with every sin-stained sorrow of our lives, was defeated early on Resurrection Sunday when Jesus was raised from the dead. The garden tomb still sits empty as a declaration that no bad news, no runaway disease, no loss, and not even the most microscopic residue of evil can survive under the pressure of Jesus’ heel.  

Although the threat of a virus will restrict our public and congregational celebrations of Jesus’ resurrection this year, it does nothing to blunt the power of Jesus’ victory over sin and death or mute the sounds of our adoration of the One who has set us free. 

So let us sing, even if through tears, the victor’s song: “Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, death, is your victory? Where death, is your sting” (1 Cor. 15:54-55).

By / Apr 11

At times, cultural engagement by Christians can seem vain and hopeless. The ever-changing, never-listening culture into which Christians speak is overwhelming. This reality often results in two extreme actions by Christians: withdrawal from culture or capitulation to culture. 

Neither of these actions represent the biblical example of the apostle Paul in Acts 17. We, like Paul, are expected to engage the various idols and ideologies of our culture with the steadfast truth of God the Father’s work in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit for the sake of his glory and the good of the world. But how do we faithfully engage in such work? I believe the answer lies in Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth. 

Specifically, in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul provided a basis of hope for engaging a lost and dying people in a hostile culture with the truth of the gospel. He begins with a clear presentation of the gospel in verses 1-11, which reveal that the gospel is the good news about how sinners are saved from God’s holy judgment through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ’s life, death, burial, and resurrection. This good news was not only rooted in verifiable, historical facts, but it was transcendently good for all people who placed their trust in Jesus.

How we view the world 

As Paul progressed throughout 1 Corinthians 15, he ties the message of the gospel to the ministry of the church in Corinth. Because of what Christ had accomplished through his life, death, burial, and resurrection, the church’s worldview and work should be different. As for the church’s worldview, Paul admonished the church to no longer think about life and death from an earthly perspective (vv. 35-41). Instead, the church should embrace a heavenly perspective about their life and death, recognizing that such a perspective will strengthen us to live in conformity to Christ and demonstrate a true hope. 

Ultimately, we must come to realize that there is only one true way to defy death. There is only one true way to overcome the daily decay. We must be raised to life again in Christ Jesus. Thus, we are not hoping in cosmetics, cars, cryogenics, or any other things of this world to secure our permanence. True life, even in the midst of death, comes only through Christ.

How we work in the world 

But the resurrection not only transforms the way that we view our world, it should also impact the way that we work in the world. Specifically, it should affect the way that we engage those who are shaped by the ideals of our postmodern, true God-ignoring culture. Writing in light of the resurrection, in verse 58, Paul concludes, “Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” To put it another way, “Because of what God the Father has accomplished through Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit, we continue to do the work of the Lord.” 

When we are overwhelmed by feelings like purposelessness, weariness, fatigue, discouragement, futility, brokenness, illness, hopelessness, the truth of the resurrection brings the power and peace of the future into the present to renew and refresh us in the “work of the Lord.”

This work begins with believing the gospel ourselves and then moves to sharing the gospel with others, which necessarily includes an engagement with our culture. Jesus has been raised from the dead, and all who place their trust in him will be raised like him when he returns to put an end to all of the sin and brokenness that torments and haunts our world. It is here in the hope of our own resurrection through Christ that we find an exceedingly practical and immovable hope for our ministry in the world.

When we are overwhelmed by feelings like purposelessness, weariness, fatigue, discouragement, futility, brokenness, illness, hopelessness, the truth of the resurrection brings the power and peace of the future into the present to renew and refresh us in the “work of the Lord.” With every day that passes, death itself is one day closer to its own death! The resurrection of Christ serves to give us hope both now and in the future. It serves to point us to the victory that is in Jesus. 

To this end, the resurrection reminds us that victory over all the sorrow in this world is coming. Because Christ has prevailed over the grave, we can trust that he will prevail in this world as well. When we engage our culture, we do not do so as those without hope. Instead, we do so as those with great confidence. There is no need for fear. Only faith.

By / Apr 10

In this episode, Josh, Lindsay, and Brent discuss Bernie Sanders ending his presidential bid, an important ruling on abortion, Queen Elizabeth’s speech on COVID-19, more laughs from the Cuomo brothers, and a very different looking Easter. Lindsay also gives a rundown of this week’s ERLC content including a piece from Alex Ward on coronavirus and Holy Week, Chelsea Sobolik on the pandemic’s effects on the vulnerable, and Stephen Grcevich on the church and mental health concerns during this crisis. Also in this episode, the hosts are joined by the ERLC’s Catherine Parks for a conversation about life and ministry.  

About Catherine  

Catherine Parks has loved reading biographies since she was a kid. When she's not reading, she loves playing volleyball and basketball, traveling with her family, and helping lead worship for her church. She's the author of Empowered and Real: The Surprising Secret to Deeper Relationships and lives in Nashville, Tenn., with her husband, two children, and a cute dog named Ollie. You can follow her on Twitter: @CathParks

ERLC Content

Culture  

  1. A new White House Press Secretary
  2. Wisconsin’s complicated primary
  3. Bernie drops out
  4. Ruling: Abortions are not essential services
  5. Are abortions essential during coronavirus? 
  6. U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson out of ICU after COVID-19 infection
  7. The Queen’s speech: “We Will Succeed”
  8. Pandas in isolation, Tigers contracting coronavirus, & Dogs, cats, and Covid-19
  9. Tyler Perry buys groceries for seniors at 44 locations in Atlanta
  10. Celebs at Lakewood for Easter Sunday
  11. John Kransinski’s second round of good news
  12. The Cuomo brothers make America laugh, again

Lunchroom  

  • Lindsay: A Loving Life by Paul Miller
  • Josh: All the feels: gas prices, food fights, and Cracker Barrel
  • Brent: A review of TV pundits’ home decor

ERLC Inbox  

  • Q: I’m a parent trying to reinforce the Bible’s view of sex with my children who are finishing high school next year. Are there any resources you would recommend or certain things I should be thinking about?

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By / Apr 10

Hebrews 2:10-18 explains Hebrews 2:9, which states that Jesus tasted death for everyone. Specifically, this passage answers the question, “Why did Jesus taste death for everyone?” And there are at least five answers to that question found in verses 10-18, which should give us hope when we face trials like the coronavirus pandemic.

First, Jesus tasted death to be made perfect through suffering (v. 10). 

What does it mean to say that Jesus was “made perfect through suffering?” 

Those familiar with Scripture are probably thinking, “Jesus is already perfect. He is without sin. How could he be made any more perfect than he is?” And, of course, Jesus is sinless. He is morally perfect. But moral perfection is not what this passage is referring to. Instead, the focus is on Jesus’ obedience as the incarnate Son of God. 

In a very real sense, while Jesus was perfectly holy from the time of his conception by the Holy Spirit, Jesus needed to be tested and tried in his humanity. His obedience as a man needed to be brought to completion, fulfillment, or perfection, as this verse states. This becomes clearer when we read verse 18, which states that Jesus can help us in our temptation, because he himself was also tempted. He understands our temptation because he was tempted too, but he did not arrive on earth with such understanding from the perspective of a human being. 

When the Son of God took on flesh and became a man, whom we call Jesus, God experienced something that he had never experienced before, namely, a man. There were experiences and sufferings that Jesus had to endure to be able to fulfill his role as our Great High Priest, and these were things that he had not yet experienced as the Son of God before his incarnation. So, Jesus tasted death. He endured suffering in order to be made perfectly fit for his role as a sympathetic and merciful High Priest.

Second, Jesus tasted death to identify with us in suffering (v. 11-14). 

Verses 11-14 makes this point clear, which is related to the last point. Now, though, the focus is on how Jesus’ suffering relates to us as sons and daughters of God. The author of Hebrews quotes from Psalm 22 and Isaiah 8 to highlight the role of Jesus as the suffering Messiah. He endures suffering and trusts the Lord for vindication in his suffering while “bringing many sons and daughters to glory.” By Jesus, we are returning to the glory that we all fell short of in our sin (Rom. 3:23). And the means of our being brought back is through the sufferings of Christ. 

As C.S. Lewis put it, “The Son of God became a man to enable men to become sons of God.” In other words, Jesus became like us in order to redeem us. He didn’t just phone our salvation in. He came to us in our weakness and need, and took on that same weakness in order to redeem us from it. Because Jesus became like us, we can become like him, in the sense that we can be children of God. The author makes this point explicitly at the beginning of verse 14, stating, “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things.”

Third, Jesus tasted death so that he might destroy Satan and deliver us from fear of death (v. 14-16). 

At first, you may not see the connection between Satan and fear of death. Your first thought might be, “Well, if I die and I am not a Christian, shouldn’t I be afraid of God. Isn’t he going to be the One who judges me? What power does Satan have at my judgment before God?” God is the judge before whom we will stand and give an account. So how does Satan wield the power of death? Satan wields the power of death through accusation. He is our accuser. He is the one who rattles us as we are facing the prospect of standing before the judgment seat of Christ. In Revelation, Satan is described as “the accuser of the brethren, who accuses them day and night before our God” (Rev. 12:10).

As the founder of our salvation, Jesus is perfectly equipped to sympathize with us in our struggles, free us from fear of death, and empower us in the midst of our temptation. There is no one else to whom we can flee for salvation. Jesus Christ alone is our hope.

So, what are we going to do? The author of Hebrews realizes that humanity has a real problem when it comes to death. In Hebrews 9:27, the author writes, “For it is appointed unto man once to die and then comes the judgment.” Do you realize that judgment is coming? That we will be held accountable? How will you stand before God one day? Well, according to this passage, your only hope is found in Jesus, the founder of our salvation, who destroys the devil and the fear of death. 

But you might be asking, “Ok, great, Jesus defeats the devil and strips him of the power of enslavement to fear of death. But how does this deal with my guilt and my sin?” This leads us to the fourth reason that Jesus tasted death. 

Fourth, Jesus tasted death to satisfy God’s wrath toward us (v. 17). 

We need to see and understand the relationship between our freedom from fear of death and the work of Jesus as our High Priest. This verse uses a glorious word: propitiation. Propitiation refers to the work of Jesus Christ whereby he absorbs and satisfies God’s righteous, holy, and just wrath toward our sin. 

In God’s holiness, someone must be held accountable for our rebellion. Someone must do the time for the crime. Someone must be punished. It would be unrighteous for God to clear the guilty without retribution. And that is the devil’s point in his accusations against before God. We are guilty. We have sinned. We deserve to die eternally for our sin. We deserve the wrath and judgment of God. Therefore, when we hear these accusations, we are terrified. We are enslaved. 

So, what is the solution to our plight? What is our hope in this seemingly hopeless situation? It is that Jesus was made like us in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful High Priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for our sins. Our hope is found in that fact that Jesus took the penalty and punishment that we deserved. The wrath and judgment that should have fallen upon us, fell on Jesus Christ. When the hammer of God’s justice dropped, it dropped on Christ, who willingly, for the joy that was set before him, took our place. God’s wrath is satisfied toward those who have trusted in Jesus Christ. 

Therefore, the threats of the devil are empty. They have no power because Jesus’ death and resurrection have stripped them of their power. Sin and death have no ultimate power over us because Jesus has died and rose again in our place.

Fifth, Jesus tasted death in order to help us in temptation (v. 18). 

Jesus suffered in our place in ways that we will never suffer. Jesus overcame temptation in the midst of suffering, so that when we are faced with temptation, we might endure and resist by trusting our Heavenly Father as Jesus did in the midst of his suffering. He helps us not as one who does not know what we are going through, but rather, as One who was made perfect through suffering and is able to carry us through our temptation.

In conclusion, as the founder of our salvation, Jesus is perfectly equipped to sympathize with us in our struggles, free us from fear of death, and empower us in the midst of our temptation. There is no one else to whom we can flee for salvation. Jesus Christ alone is our hope. 

As we face the temptation to despair in the face of the coronavirus, we must place our hope in Christ. Our salvation from earthly disease and disaster is found in the One who took on flesh, dwelt among the decay that sin has brought, and delivered us from it through his life, death, and resurrection. As you contemplate your own mortality in the face of disease, turn your eyes to Jesus, the One who, through death, destroyed the one who has the power of death—the devil—and delivers us from slavery to the fear of death.

By / Apr 7

I wouldn’t have realized the next morning was Sunday if my wife and I hadn’t talked about it the night before. I didn’t even realize that it was Palm Sunday until I looked at Twitter after I woke up. And now, in the midst of Holy Week, I am struggling to remember if it is Maundy Thursday or Holy Tuesday. 

Life in the midst of the coronavirus has caused every day to blur together. If the liturgy for Passover were written today, the opening question would not be “Why is tonight different from all other nights.” Instead, we would say, “Why is this day just like every other day?” Every day is filled with social distancing, a blending of one moment into the next with no end in sight, and an interminable supply of news fit to induce anxiety. Yet, this week, of all weeks, should provide us with hope and a reminder that this is not like all days and this is not like every week. 

As I have written before, the church calendar is one way to structure time and the Christian life. The calendar carries you from Advent and Christmas to Lent and Easter, before sending you out at Pentecost and finally, at the end (or the middle really), there is “Ordinary Time” as you await the next Advent of Christ. What is true of the church calendar in general is true of Holy Week. Regardless of whether you attend a church with all the “smells and bells” or one where the pastor wears skinny jeans and the worship service looks like a concert venue complete with fog machine and bass guitar, the liturgy of Holy Week reminds us in these moments of unending monotony that something unique was happening in the history of the world. The days leading up to Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection remind us that this was the hinge of history and the moment when nothing would ever be the same.

The Week had a purpose

Part of the reason that these weeks of social isolation are so debilitating is that they strip away our sense of purpose. Rather than wake up for a day structured around a job or school, our lives are now guided by which show we have binged on Netflix and the unending number of Zoom calls and Skype meetings. Even those fortunate enough to be able to work from home are left wanting more because the virus has stripped any semblance of a routine or goals for the week. The goal is simply to make it through intact while juggling a job, homeschooling children, maintaining your health, and managing the fear and anxiety that come from being in a pandemic. 

Holy Week reminds us that purpose exists amid the chaos surrounding us. The disciples definitely didn’t understand what it meant for Jesus to “set his face toward Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51). No matter how many times he told them what would happen, they just seemed to think that the goal was something else. But Jesus knew what his purpose was. He knew how the week would end and what it would mean for humanity. Even amidst all the busyness of Passover, and the cleansing of the temple, Jesus was not distracted from the cross. 

For the Christian, this should be an encouragement because it means that our goal of just making it through this time is enough. We don’t have to search out the purpose of the pandemic (as if we could). We only have to remain faithful in the daily tasks in front of us knowing that we rest in the completed work of Christ. Will the laundry still be there tomorrow or the dishes still unwashed later tonight? Possibly. But we are free from the anxiety of thinking we need to accomplish “one more thing” because we know that Christ has already set his face to Jerusalem and fulfilled all things (Eph. 1:10). 

The Week had a hope

Hope is an interesting thing. Rather than have hope be a nebulous thing in a box like the ancient Greeks, causing us to question if it is good or bad, Christians know that hope is the promise of God. After Adam and Eve’s sin, God pronounces judgement, but he also gives hope in Genesis 3 when he speaks of a coming child who will crush the serpent’s head, even as the serpent strikes his heel (Gen. 3:15). That hope is reaffirmed at every messianic prophecy throughout the Old Testament, and again in Luke 2 when Simeon and Anna rejoice that they have seen the newborn Savior (Luke 2:25-38). Holy Week was the moment when the hope of history came to a point.

In the midst of these unending weeks of isolation and sickness, it can be hard to remember that there is hope. Even Holy Week seems devoid of optimism as it progresses. The triumphant entry on Sunday becomes the betrayal in the garden on Thursday. The crowd that shouted “Hosanna in the highest” is the same one that shouted “Crucify him!” There is a definite turn in the narrative, and it looks like there is no hope. Jesus is betrayed, crucified, and buried. The disciples are scattered. Where is the hope? 

The hope is the promise made before Holy Week started. It is the assurance that somehow, amid all the suffering, God is at work. The same is true for us in the midst of the pandemic, whether his work is seen in the acts of generosity as people care for their elderly and vulnerable neighbors, as they socially distance themselves to “flatten the curve,” or in the moments of just reaching out to talk to someone because we are feeling isolated. Holy Week offers us a reminder that even in the middle of the chaos and pain and anxiety, there are moments of hope, we just have to know where to look. 

The Week had an end

Easter isn’t actually part of Holy Week. Holy Week ends on Saturday, and Easter officially starts the next movement in the church calendar. In some ways, it’s strange that we end Holy Week with a dead Savior, scattered disciples, and an unfulfilled longing. But in another it is fitting, because the start of Easter is the start of the rest of history. So, of course we should have a new time to mark the calendar. The first disciples didn’t know it on Saturday, but the end was coming. 

It is good to remember this during these weeks when everything seems the same: there will come a time when the pandemic will end. We don’t know when, or what the world will look like afterward, but a day will come when we look back. Some will look back with nostalgia to a time of proximity to family (or maybe frustration at too much proximity). Others will look back with sorrow because of family or friends lost, or lives displaced by the economic impact. We don’t need to glide past the reality of death and sorrow. That is how Holy Week ends, with disciples cowering in an upper room and thinking their Lord is dead. Nothing is more fitting for Holy Week than holy sorrow. 

But Easter is coming. And that should remind us all that there will be an end to our sorrow and social distancing—a time when we can gather together as the church and break bread with one another and talk without a computer screen or surgical mask between us. Holy Week reminds us that this is not like all other weeks, and also that Easter (and an end to this current pandemic) is coming. And that is the glorious hope that we have. 

By / Feb 28

Our faith stands on the shoulders of one person: Jesus Christ. Many of us, however, have never studied what it was like for our Savior to walk out his final days on earth. Justin Taylor, PhD candidate at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and vice president of book publishing and an associate publisher at Crossway, wrote a book to help us understand those final days.

The Final Days of Jesus: The Most Important Week of the Most Important Person Who Ever Lived can be used as a devotional, in small groups, or for general equipping. It is also designed to be read during Lent which begins on March 5.

I corresponded with Taylor to learn more about his book.

The Final Days of Jesus was co-written with Dr. Andreas J. Köstenberger? What led you to collaborate?

Several years ago I decided to post on my blog the complete ESV text for each day of Holy Week. So, for example, on Palm Sunday I’d post, “What Happened on Sunday?” and then include all of the biblical text—so on and so forth throughout the whole week. I did that for a couple of years, and began to hear from readers who found it to be a helpful tool during Lent and Easter. One friend suggested it might even work as a book. So after thinking and praying about it, I decided to get in touch with Dr. Köstenberger, an expert on the Gospel of John in particular and on the New Testament in general. He’s an outstanding biblical scholar, as well as a friend. I knew he would bring to the project a great deal of wisdom and expertise, as well as a passion to serve the church.

Why is it important that we follow or understand the timeline for Jesus’ death?

That’s a great question, Trillia, and it’s one that we often don’t ask. I’d answer it in two ways: first, we have to remember that the Gospels are not just a collection of Jesus’s sayings but are historical narrative. There is a beginning, a middle, and an end. Christianity is more than history, but it is not less. And if this is so, then it matters what happened when. Secondly, if this final week really is the culmination of the gospels and the end-game of Christ’s earthly ministry, then every detail matters. We often get confused when reading a narrative if we lose track of where we are. Because there are four accounts, and because we often tend to skim through them (or just focus on the final 24 hours), most of us actually know less about that final week and its timeline than we assume.

Your book, though written by scholars and definitely useful to scholars, is not just for scholars. It has a devotional feel, was that intentional? How might churches, small groups, or families use it?

Yes, we wanted this book to be accessible while being informed by the best of evangelical scholarship. We envision the book being used by lots of different people, from pastors to families to small groups. I am really thankful that Crossway is making available a study guide with discussion questions, as well as a 40-day guide to read through each day of Lent. We hope these tools will make it all the more accessible and user-friendly.

Also, when do you suggest beginning the book if it is to be used as a learning tool, teaching, or devotional leading up to Holy Week?  

It can be read any time of year, but I’d recommend starting it on Wednesday, March 5, which is the first day of Lent. If someone wanted to read each section of the book on the corresponding day of Holy Week, Palm Sunday this year is on April 13.

You write that each of the Gospels shares the story of Jesus slightly differently. How do you reconcile that in your book?

It reminds me of when someone once asked Charles Spurgeon how he “reconciled” God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. He replied, “I never have to reconcile friends!”

We sometimes wonder why God didn’t inspire just one account. But having four accounts is actually a blessing. It helps us to look at the one person of Jesus through four different lenses. And even if we had 100 lenses, it still wouldn’t exhaust the reality of Christ. As John says at the close of his Gospel, “Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book” (John 20:30).

It’s helpful to step back and remember that the gospels were written by four different men at four different times for four different audiences in order to present four complementary pictures of Jesus. It may be helpful to lay it out in a little chart:

  Author Date Audience Picture of Jesus
Matthew Tax collector turned follower of Christ; one of the Twelve 50s or 60s Jews Jesus is the Jewish Messiah predicted in the OT, the son of David who comes to establish the kingdom of heaven
Mark Close associate of the Apostle Peter; may be the young man in Mark 14:50–51 Mid to late 50s Gentiles in Rome Jesus is the authoritative, suffering son of God who gives his life as a ransom for many
Luke Gentile physician and companion of the apostle Paul who interviewed eyewitness for his two-volume work (Lk 1:2) 58–60 A man named Theophilus Jesus is the Savior of the world who seeks and saves the lost in fulfillment of the OT promises to Israel
John The beloved disciple; not only one of the Twelve but in the inner circle of Jesus’ closest friends (with Peter and James) Mid to late 80s or early 90s The church in Ephesus Jesus is the messiah who demands belief and the lamb of God who dies for the sins of the world and gives those who believe eternal life

How were you personally affected through your studies while writing this book?

We know that one day when we see Christ face to face, we will be like him (1 John 3:2). And we know that by beholding him we become like him (2 Cor. 3:18). So even though we cannot see him now, we love him and believe in him and rejoice in him (1 Pet. 1:8–9). As we wait for that day when we can know him fully, even as we are known (1 Cor. 13:2), we can behold him in the pages of his word. As I worked on this project, that was the result for me. My affection and admiration for my Savior grew as I walked again and again with Jesus on this final week toward Calvary.

How do you think the church could benefit from reading your book?

Most of us have the besetting sin of rushing through life. Even if we have devotionals—reading our Bible and saying our prayers—we go pretty quickly. One way folks could benefit from this book is simply to use it as an opportunity to slow down. We usually don’t know what to do with Lent, though perhaps a few of us might give us chocolate or something for 40 days! But if we were to take these 40 days leading up to Easter, using them to meditate just a couple of pages at a time on this final week of Christ’s earthly life, we may be surprised at what the Lord does in our hearts and minds. So we have hopes that small groups and families and individuals might take up the challenge to slow down this month and decide to walk through the final days of the most important week of the most important person who ever lived!