On Sunday 19 April the reading for our online service was from Acts 2.14a, 22-32
It's a wonderful reflection from scripture on the times we are living in and the hope we continue to have in Jesus. Do take a read
I wonder how you are feeling about these strange times we are in? Perhaps anxious, afraid (about health, livelihood..., for yourself or others), frustrated – restrictions on going out? fed up with being isolated, losing patience with those you’re cooped up with; perhaps bored with constant talk about it, in which case apologies for mentioning it!
We can’t escape it, whether we have it or not, in a sense we are all infected, because we are all affected. It’s controlling our lives...
We are desperate to get back to normality, ‘take back control’ of our lives.
So what should the government do – should they lift the restrictions soon, let us all out? Should it be phased, with schools and young people set free first? Which are the most important industries and businesses to open up (hairdressers??); and what measures do we need in place like testing, to be confident that it’s safe?
In other words, what is the exit strategy – how will we get out of this situation? That’s what everyone wants to know.
We need an exit strategy to give us hope – hope that things will change, that we can get out of this situation that is disrupting life for us and the whole world.
Hold onto that thought as we turn to today’s passage, where the apostle Peter is addressing the crowd at Pentecost, after Jesus’ resurrection, and the pouring out of the Spirit...
He reminds his hearers of recent events: Jesus’ life – his ‘miracles, wonders and signs’ as Ptr puts it, his death and then his amazing resurrection: ‘God has raised this Jesus to life’. (v24)
What really struck me as I read the passage is how everything that happened in these events was God’s doing: v22 Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God; the miracles etc which God did; God raised him; and most importantly of all, everything was done ‘by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge’. (v23)
The thing is, whilst Jesus’ death came as a terrible shock to Jesus’ followers, Peter is at pains to point out that none of it was a surprise to God – it was part of his plan all along, it happened ‘by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge’ (v.23); even when things looked at their bleakest, he was still in control. It wasn’t that Jesus’ death was a terrible mistake which he then had to rectify with the resurrection: it was all part of the plan.
Nothing comes as a surprise to God – not even coronavirus (CV); he’s still in control, even if we can’t understand it, just as the disciples couldn’t understand what was going on when Jesus died, God was still in control, it was always in his plan; whatever it looks like on the ground, he knows the full picture, even when to us it’s complete confusion.
So why did God’s plan include Jesus, his own Son, dying on a cross? Why did he need to?
Well the bible tells us it’s because he had to deal with a sort of ‘virus’ that infects us all, one more pervasive and deadly even than CV – that is, our natural inclination to put ourselves first, to live the way we choose rather than God’s way, and according to our own rules, rather than God’s – it’s what the bible describes as sin.
And so God knew that an exit strategy was needed, so that we could be restored to living life the way we were designed to, life as it should be, allowing God to be in charge.
And that plan involved sending his Son, Jesus to die on the cross, to pay the price for our sin, for our turning away from God. But not just for Jesus to die, but to raise him from death, to give proof of who he is: not just a good man dying for his principles, but the Son of God, Messiah, dying for us – the resurrection is this proof that it’s not an ordinary man dying, but one who cannot remain dead, as Peter says: ‘it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him’. It means Jesus is vindicated in his claims: to be able to forgive sin and to have power even over death.
We may still be waiting for an exit strategy for CV, but here we are offered the way out of the dead-end of life without God that leads to death, and the way back to living the fullness of life as God intended. And whilst the strategy for CV may have different paths for young and old, for people in different circumstances or occupations, God’s exit strategy for us is the same for all, there’s no distinction between anyone: it’s offered freely to everyone who is willing to accept it, and acknowledge Jesus as the risen Lord.
Peter’s message is that Jesus is alive! and that’s what changes everything, that’s what means we don’t have to fear death, whenever it comes, because it isn’t the end, death is defeated.
But it’s not just about not fearing death, it’s about the way we live now.
Peter quotes psalm 16 here, where the psalmist David describes what living God’s way is like:
‘You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence’
- when we let God in to our lives, allow him to be in charge, he shows us ‘the paths of life’ - how to live, in his presence there is joy now.
Maybe you’re thinking: how can we live with joy in this broken world, esp now with CV? Perhaps we need to remind ourselves that the resurrection didn’t suddenly make everything easy and peaceful, sunny & happy for the first disciples: they faced opposition, suffering, persecution. There was no great transformation of their circumstances. But their outlook, perspective on everything changed because they knew that Jesus was alive; and that gave them a hope which could not be extinguished, that they were part of a new reality which was bigger than how things appeared to be on the surface.
Because Jesus is alive, they had - and we have – hope; not a ‘wishful thinking’ kind of hope (like ‘I hope it’s sunny tomorrow’ or ‘I hope CV goes away’), but hope based on the knowledge that God is in control, however bad the situation looks; that he loves us and wants the best for us – all of which is shown in the death and resurrection of Jesus. So we can live as hopeful people, not fearful, knowing that whatever happens God’s loving presence is there with us.
That’s why we can have hope for ourselves, but also offer hope to those around us...
to those who are afraid of CV; afraid of death for themselves or their friends and family; afraid of losing jobs and livelihoods. These are all difficult things, and just as for those original disciples, our problems may not be miraculously removed, we may still have to live with those difficulties. But the hope we can have, and can offer, is that we have a God who is bigger than this, who raised Jesus from the dead, who promises to be with us, to meet our needs; who has provided this exit strategy, and offers us the path of life lived with joy in his presence. Not a joy that demands that we feel joyful at every moment, but one that holds onto the truth that Jesus is alive – and that changes everything.
So every time we hear the ‘exit strategy’ mentioned, let’s remind ourselves of this truth, this exit strategy that matters even more than the one for CV, one that is not unclear or uncertain because God has planned and prepared it for us all along; one that is available now, for everyone; and the proof of it, as we celebrate this Easter season, is that Jesus is alive.
Fiona Alty 19th April 2020