The Easter Epidemic
It’s a surreal weekend, isn’t it?
On the one hand, we’ve got the Surgeon General saying the next several days could be as devastating as Pearl Harbor or 9/11. Many of us have friends or family members who are struggling to fight through this virus. We’re concerned about our organizations and businesses. Many of us have lost our jobs or are afraid that we are about to lose them. And we are naturally anxious about our kids and their futures.
The pain is real. The death is real. The fear is real. And there’s no immediate solution in sight.
Juxtaposed with this is the fact that this is Easter weekend. It’s the pinnacle of the Christian calendar. It’s supposed to be a weekend full of joy and celebration. How are we to experience joy and to celebrate as we sit here waiting for the impending doom of the COVID-19 crisis?
There’s no simple solution. There’s no apparent answer to the dilemma in which we find ourselves. So how are we supposed to get through this weekend? And even more, when the alarm clock goes off on Monday morning, how are we supposed to get through next week? How are we even supposed to function as we sit in the middle of this surreal moment?
I believe that the foundation of the answers to all these questions is actually the answer that the Bible gives to the question that we posed in When Helping Hurts. The title of the very first chapter is “Why Did Jesus Come to Earth?” In the present context, we might reframe that question as, “Why did Jesus die on the cross and rise again from the dead?”
You see, the Bible’s answer to that question provides the foundation of hope for the materially poor—and the materially non-poor—in the midst of this crisis.
So why did Jesus die on the cross and rise again from the dead?
If you ask most Bible-believing Christians, they will say something like this: “Jesus died to pay the penalty for my sins so that my soul can go to heaven someday when I die.”
That’s a true answer. Hallelujah! I’m a sinner. I need a Savior to pay the penalty for my sins so that I can go to heaven someday when I die. The fact that Jesus has done this for me is definitely fantastic news! But it’s not the fullness of the good news of the Gospel, and as a result, it fails to provide all of the comfort and all of the hope that’s available to us this weekend and in the coming weeks and months.
Imagine going into a brothel and discovering a little girl there who is 12 years old, whose parents have sold her into the sex industry because they can’t eat. Every day, she’s tortured, she’s degraded, she’s raped, she’s hungry, she’s brutalized. She has no hope. And so we walk into that brothel and we say to her, “I’ve got good news for you. Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty for your sins so that your soul can go to heaven someday when you die.”
I don’t think this will sound like good news to her. You see, she needs answers for the pain and suffering that she’s experiencing today. She needs freedom—comprehensive deliverance—right now. Do we have any hope for all of that?
And do we have any better hope for her future? What’s this strange place called heaven, and why would she want to float around like a ghost there for all eternity? Being that ghost doesn’t sound that great to her, and heaven doesn’t sound like home. You can almost imagine her saying to us, “I thought you said you had good news for me.”
Yes, for those of us who are believers, it is good news to find out that if the Lord should use COVID-19 to take us in the next weeks and months our sins are paid for and our souls will go to be with Him. That’s definitely fantastic news! But it’s not the fullness of the good news that is available to us this weekend…
You see, like the little girl in the brothel, we have concerns for the here and now. I’m struggling not to be anxious about things like these: Am I going to get sick? What’s it going to be like to have the virus? Am I going to have a job? How am I going to pay my bills? What will happen to my wife and kids if I die? And I would like to know: Does God care about this? Does He care about my body? Does He care about my job? Does He care about my family right now?
And I have some concerns for my future too. I’m happy that my soul will go to heaven when I die. But is that the fullest thing that I can anticipate in my future? To be honest, I don’t want to be a ghost floating on a cloud for all eternity. Quite frankly, that doesn’t sound like me, and it doesn’t sound like home.
The good news of the gospel is that there’s a bigger story—and that bigger story provides real hope—right now and for all eternity. Real hope for little girls in brothels, and real hope for you and for me in the midst of the COVID-19 virus. Our hope is bigger than the fact that Jesus has paid the penalty for our sins—as wonderful as that payment is, and as much as I need that payment!
You see, 700 years before the birth of Christ, Isaiah 9:6-7 promises that a King is coming who will usher in a Kingdom that will bring healing as far as the curse is found. This King and His Kingdom would bring restoration for our souls, for our bodies, for the land—indeed, for the entire cosmos! “He comes to make his blessings known far as the curse is found.”
Now fast forward 700 years at the very start of Jesus’ ministry. In Luke 4, Jesus declares that He is that King and that He is ushering in that Kingdom. And Jesus demonstrates the present reality of His Kingdom by providing healing and restoration to the leper, the lame, the blind, and the poor.
And Jesus’ Kingdom is inaugurated on the cross.
It’s on that cross on Good Friday that He pays the penalty for our sins. But it’s also on that cross that He defeats Satan and his legions and that He overturns the effects of the curse as far as that curse is found.
This is great news for the entire universe, including for you and for me!
Does God care about the suffering of that little girl in the brothel? Does He care about COVID-19? Does He care about our jobs, our bodies, and our kids?
Yes, God cares enough to send His only Son to die in order to establish a Kingdom that is addressing all of those real concerns!
So, whatever we are going through this weekend and in the coming weeks and months, we know these truths: God cares about the whole thing; God loves the whole thing; And God actually has the power to do something to fix the whole thing.
He could intervene right this moment to crush COVID-19, and we can call on Him and ask him to do so. And He really might provide a miraculous solution right now. And if He doesn’t, if He tarries, if He says no, we can have confidence in this: that He has something even better in store for all of us.
But there’s even more good news. You see, the story of this weekend doesn’t end with the cross. The weekend ends with the resurrection. As we discuss in our recent book, Becoming Whole: Why the Opposite of Poverty Isn’t the American Dream, properly understood, the resurrection gives us real hope for both our present and our future circumstances. We quote theologian Greg Beale, who describes the resurrection this way:1
“Christ’s resurrection…placed him into the beginning of the new creation. The resurrected Christ is not merely spiritually the inauguration of the new cosmos, but he is literally its beginning, since he was resurrected with a physical, newly created body. Recall that when Matthew 27:50 narrates Jesus’ death, Matthew immediately adds in verses 51-53, “the earth shook; and the rocks split, and the tombs were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they entered the holy city and appeared to many.” These strange phenomena are recorded by Matthew to signal his readers that Christ’s death was the beginning of the end of the old creation and the inauguration of the new creation.”
Yes, the new creation is not yet fully here, but it actually began two thousand years ago with the emergence of Christ from the grave. His resurrection body is the start of the new creation, a spiritual and physical world that is emerging out of the current spiritual and physical world. As a result, there is real hope for this universe—in its entirety—both in the present and in the future. There’s real hope for our souls, for our bodies, for our families, and for our vocations.
In this regard, Becoming Whole cites John Piper, who says:2
It seems to me that the hope of the resurrection does not have the same place of power and centrality for us today that it had for the early Christians. And I think one of the reasons for this is that we have a wrong view of the age to come. When we talk about the future and the eternal state, we tend to talk about heaven, and heaven tends to imply a place far away characterized by non-material, ethereal, disembodied spirits.
In other words, we tend to assume that the condition that the departed saints are in NOW without their bodies is the way it will always be…but NO this is not our ultimate hope. This is not the final state of our joy. This is not our final or main comfort when we have lost loved ones who believe.
This is our hope—to be with the risen Christ with a body like his glorious body. To know him in a form like his. Our final destiny and our eternal state is not in an ethereal, disembodied state in a distant heaven. It is to reign with Christ here on the renewed earth. This hope was so vibrant for the early Christians that they comforted each other not mainly with the joys of the disembodied state after death, but with the hope of resurrection bodies (cf. Philippians 3:21).
We don’t know what COVID-19 is going to bring to us this weekend or in the coming weeks and months. But we do know what Good Friday and Easter bring. They bring real hope for our souls, for our bodies, for our vocations, and for our families. It’s that hope that we need to cling to this weekend and in the days ahead.
One of the great creeds that emerged from the Reformation was the Heidelberg Catechism, written in 1563. The first question and answer have provided great hope in the midst of hardship for God’s people for centuries, and it reads like this:
Q. What is your only comfort in life and in death?
A. That I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.
He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven in fact, all things must work together for my salvation.
Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.
May we all live in light of these great truths in the midst of the paradox of this deeply tragic and yet wonderful Easter weekend.