He Did Not Shrink Back
"When the days drew near for Him to be taken up, He set His face to go to Jerusalem." (Luke 9:51 ESV)
Jesus saw what was coming, and He did not shrink back!
Jesus knew what awaited Him in Jerusalem. He knew the Cross was coming. He knew He had to go and die, laying down His life as a perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world. And He did not shrink back!
Love for the lost, broken humanity He co-created with the Father compelled Him to make redemption for us. We cannot save ourselves. No matter how much we try to clean up our act, we fall short. The standard of God is holy perfection, and we all fall short of it. Without a Redeemer, we are all hopelessly, helplessly lost.
Oh, I know. It doesn't feel that way. I don't feel like a wretch (at least not most days). I compare myself with a terrorist or a child molester, and I feel pretty good about myself. I try to be a good person. I live by my morals. I try to treat people the way I want to be treated. Doesn't that make me a good person? Isn't that enough?
It isn't enough. Because God does not compare us to each other. God compares us to His intention in creating us. God compares us with His own holiness. Two verses in Paul's letter to the Romans name our human condition apart from Jesus Christ:
"For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23 ESV).
And, "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 6:23 ESV)
We are all sinners. And sin carries a death penalty. We need the redemption only Jesus provides.
I, for one, am glad that He did not shrink back! I thank God that Jesus, in an act of selfless love, laid down His life for me. I have trusted Him for forgiveness of my sin, and I am walking with Him by faith into a life that is ever being shaped into a holiness of heart and life that honors God. I am far from a completed, perfect work, but I am on the way. I am so grateful that God is not finished with me, yet!
And here's the thing. I believe Deitrick Bonhoeffer was right in his book, The Cost of Discipleship. He wrote: "When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die."
He did not shrink back from death on behalf of us, and we are called not to shrink back from death in serving Him. Believers in Jesus Christ are laying down their lives for Him in many places of persecution throughout the world. It those places, to be faithful to Christ is to be imprisoned, beaten and killed.
I believe the COVID-19 pandemic offers the opportunity for Christ followers here in the US to either shrink back into protecting ourselves, or to show Jesus to the world in ministries of compassion and mercy. People are going into social isolation. That is understandable. Trusting in Jesus, let us reach out to them, check on them, pick up groceries for them, extend love to them so they know they are not alone.
During the days of the Antonine plague of the second century, followers of Jesus stayed behind and cared for plague victims while others fled. Many believers contracted the plague themselves and died, caring for others. Their witness opened the door for thousands to come to Christ. A century later, the actively pagan Emperor Julian would complain bitterly of how “the Galileans” would care for even non-Christian sick people, while the church historian Pontianus recounts how Christians ensured that “good was done to all men, not merely to the household of faith.”
This is our time to BE the Church. This is our time to shine as light in the dark places. This is our time to live by faith, and not by fear. I want to state clearly that we may worship in the next few Sundays only via live streaming, allowing our congregation to worship from home if the spread of COVID-19 call for it. That decision will not be one prompted by fear. It will be a judicious strategy to help slow the spread of COVID-19. We do not walk in a spirit of fear. We walk in a spirit of faith.
He did not shrink back. This is our time to run toward the people who are suffering, rather than away from them. This is our time to care for one another and for those affected by a highly contagious virus. This is our time not to shrink back, but to BE the Church.
Let's pray all the prayers we have in us against the spread of COVID-19, and particularly for those most vulnerable to its effects. And let's reach out in compassion to those around us who need the caring of Jesus in these fearful days.