Getting Ready to Go Outside for the Sake of the Gospel

“So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

-2 Cor. 4:18

At some point the stay at home mandates will be lifted, and it will be time to leave our homes. While part of me is thrilled at that prospect, another part of me—the fearful part—is not. As a culture we’ve been focused on the fact that going outside and being around other people is risky. What if we just didn’t? Wouldn’t it be safer to just not be around people? While God is doing a work in these unusual times (watch for a post from pastor Jesse on that next week), we need to think ahead a little and consider re-entry.

In the coming days we will need to battle our fear with faith. We will need to leave our homes, but not just to go to work or school. We will need to leave our homes to fulfill the great commission, because the gospel of Jesus Christ matters more than our lives.

Of all the problems that have accompanied the coronavirus, one that may linger with tragic consequences is we will neglect risking our lives to make and mature disciples of Jesus because we have adopted the earthly perspective that longevity/quality of life matters most. In short, we want to live long, full lives instead of risk our lives for the gospel.

Consider these two scenarios:

Scenario #1– Should Christians travel to high risk countries to make and mature disciples?

Let’s say God has given me the desire, passion, and means to make disciples in a middle eastern country generally hostile to Christianity. Given that the risk of persecution including imprisonment and/or death is relatively higher than in other nations, should I go?

Most Christians would answer this question with a sober affirmative. Jesus calls us to make disciples of all nations, and in certain times and places that mission is high risk. Even so, it is crucial that we go because people’s eternal fate is dependent on the feet of those who bring good news.

This does not mean that we shouldn’t be wise and prudent in our endeavors to make disciples of all nations. Sometimes we have to temporarily suspend ministry in an area due to extraordinary circumstances like terrorist activity or outbreak of severe illness, but those are not reasons to abandon the mission entirely. Why? Because the unseen is eternal.

Scenario #2– Should Christians leave their homes at all to make and mature disciples?

Let’s say the government removes all stay at home mandates, which they eventually will. No one will be able to promise you will not get the coronavirus (or influenza, or cancer, etc.). Should you stay at home until the risk is zero? Of course not.

But at what point do we embrace risk for the sake of the gospel? Maybe we’ll use a concept like “acceptable risk” to help us weigh the decision—as in, “I’ll come out again when the risk is acceptable.” Here’s where I think we’ve drunk the cultural Koolaid—we’ll always be able to find ways to justify our fears. When we look honestly at the Scriptures and face eternal realities, we will be hard pressed to find any unacceptable risk for the sake of the gospel.

Here are some problems with the “stay home and be safe” worldview:

1. It produces mission laziness. Consider Proverbs 22:13, “ The slacker says, “There’s a lion outside! I’ll be killed in the public square!” Note the line of thinking—I might die, albeit by a statistically implausible means, therefore I’ll stay home and be safe. But the unseen is eternal.

2. It forgets that for Christians death is gain. Paul didn’t say “Live long and prosper.” He said, “To live is Christ, to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). Paul knew full well that his living for Christ might result in his death. He made peace with that fact. The vast majority of us will never face anything close to such a decision.

3. It does not account for the sovereignty of God. God has appointed the day of every person’s death, and because he is good and trustworthy we need not let fear of death prevent us from faith-driven obedience.

I believe we should comply with our government to temporarily suspend church gatherings and observe the stay at home mandate, but we cannot do so indefinitely. At some point we must, for the sake of the gospel, leave our homes. We can’t fulfill the great commission digitally (I don’t mean fruitful ministry can’t happen via technology, I mean we can’t make, baptize, and mature disciples exclusively over the internet).

People will object to this way of thinking. They’ll say, “We shouldn’t be reckless with our lives.” But what is worth risking our lives for? This is the crux of the issue; the unseen is eternal. Have we lost the Biblical view that an eternity with Christ is worth risk, loss, and sacrifice now? Consider the worldview of 19th century Scottish missionary John Paton when surrounded by hostile natives who wanted to kill him,

“I… assured them that I was not afraid to die, for at death my Savior would take me to be with Himself in Heaven, and to be far happier than I had ever been on Earth. I then lifted up my hands and eyes to the Heavens, and prayed aloud for Jesus… either to protect me or take me home to Glory as He saw to be for the best.”

I think we need a lot more of that.

People might say, “We should love our neighbor by not exposing them to disease.” Of course… but to a point. When we seek to make and mature disciples of Jesus we value the souls of the lost and their eternal state. We are not hating them by possibly exposing them to a disease we may or may not have; we are loving them by sharing the gospel.

For some who have health complications the situation is more nuanced. We must prayerfully consider the specifics of our own situation and what opportunities we have to engage in the mission. We must ask God for wisdom who gives generously.

So the day will come when the stay at home mandate is lifted, and we’ll have to decide: will we stay or go? I encourage you to spiritually prepare to leave your home to make and mature disciples of Jesus, whether in your community or on the other side of the world. When the time comes, let us go to work in faith, let us gather with the church in faith, let us meet our neighbors in faith. Our safety and longevity of life never trump the mission of the church. The unseen is eternal.

The Curious Case of the Resurrected Saints

“The tombs were also opened and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. And they came out of the tombs after his resurrection, entered the holy city, and appeared to many.”

-Matthew 27:52-53

These two verses are nestled into Matthew’s description of the crucifixion of Jesus.  They are frustratingly brief.  If you’re like me, you encounter them in your annual Bible reading or in a Passion week reading plan and think, “Wait, what?”  Alas, time demands you read on.  Well, not this time.  It’s time to solve the curious case of the resurrected saints (or at least think about it a bit).

What Happened?

Matthew tells us that when Jesus died tombs were opened, probably by the earthquake referenced in verse 51, and many “saints” were raised from the dead.  Two days later, after Jesus’ resurrection, those saints came out of their tombs and were walking around Jerusalem, appearing to many people.  Let that sink in for a moment.  “Did you hear Samuel was walking around town?  I saw him in the market!”  

A Few Observations

Matthew included this report out of chronological order. We know this because he relates, “they came out of the tombs after his resurrection…” Yet Matthew doesn’t relate the resurrection until chapter 28. In fact, Matthew includes this account right in the bullseye of his description of Jesus death (27:50).

After describing Jesus’ death, Matthew describes the veil in the temple being torn—a hugely important symbolic occurrence—and then these resurrections. Matthew views both of these events as effects caused by Jesus’ death with massive theological implications.

Who Were These Saints?

We don’t know. By “saints” Matthew either means pious Jews of days past, famous OT saints, or followers of Jesus who had recently died. The first may be the most likely, but we can’t know for sure. The important part is no matter who they were, they were known to be people of faith.

What’s the Point?

Matthew wants his readers to understand that Jesus’ death accomplishes the forgiveness of sins, thus he replaces the temple system (hence the torn veil), and also defeats death. These resurrected saints are a preview of coming attractions—Jesus’ death means death is defeated, and his resurrection guarantees the resurrection of the saints. Craig Keener put it this way:

“Matthew clearly intends this sign merely to prefigure the final resurrection, proleptically signified in Jesus’ death and resurrection.”

-Craig Keener

As we remember Jesus’ death on this Good Friday, let’s remember that his death was the death of death.  When Jesus died on the cross for us, the dead were literally raised to life.  This means his sacrificial death secures our spiritual and physical resurrection.  The first we receive upon regeneration, the second we look forward to with sure hope because Jesus didn’t just die, he also rose from the dead.  One day dead saints walking around Jerusalem won’t be the exception, it’ll be the rule.

Leaves for Healing (On Neal Barlow’s Passing)

The leaves of the tree are for healing the nations, and there will no longer be any curse.

-Revelation 22:2-3

I hate the coronavirus. Many will die today from it, but today is the first day someone I know died. My brother in Christ Neal Barlow is at home with the Lord. Neal was our newest elder at Green Pond Bible Chapel. We are grieving the loss of our brother, and mourning with the entire Barlow family. We prayed for Neal to be healed in the short run, but the Lord has seen fit to heal him for eternity.

Feeling the loss of Neal, I am angry at sin’s destructive effect on the world. Neal is the closest COVID-19 death to me by far, but I know that thousands are mourning lost loved ones and thousands more will in the days to come. If it wasn’t coronavirus it would be influenza, or heart disease, or cancer. Death is a stubborn reality in our world because of the curse of sin, and today it hurts.

Even as we prayed for Neal to respond to treatment, we were aware that such healing would only be temporary. The healing he needed, and we need, is a permanent healing. This is the hope of the gospel: by faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection we are not only forgiven of our sins, but we are promised a physical existence with him in resurrected bodies.

The New Jerusalem will be filled with those who have been eternally healed. I thought of the New Jerusalem—of the tree of life lining both sides of the river flowing from the throne of God. I thought of the leaves of the tree of life:

The leaves of the tree are for healing the nations, and there will no longer be any curse.

Neal’s spirit is at rest with the Lord until the resurrection. On that day there will no longer be any wicked viruses. No need for dialysis. No ventilators, no protective masks. The church, gathered from the nations, will be healed. There will no longer be any curse.

On that day there won’t be any grieving families and friends, mourning the lack of vaccines. There won’t be frustrated doctors and nurses who lack the research, manpower, or equipment to provide relief. There will no longer be any curse.

On that day there won’t be any finger pointing at politicians or media-spin. We won’t struggle with a self-centered survival instinct. There won’t be any mourning or depression. There will no longer be any curse.

Neal became a follower of Christ as an adult. As he grew in his faith, his life transformed dramatically. I first met him back in 2011 when we moved to New Jersey. He had a dry, quick wit, and was good at making me laugh. Over time we recognized Neal’s heart for shepherding. He joined our shepherding team and just this January began serving as an elder. We will miss him as a shepherd, and as a friend.

Neal was loving serving as an elder. He was recently reading Bible Doctrine by Wayne Grudem with some other elders and elders in training, and he commented on how much he was enjoying learning more about God. He has graduated. He no longer has to deal with a broken body. For Neal, as of today, there is no longer any curse.

Passion Week Readings in Matthew

This week we take time to focus on Jesus’ death and resurrection. At GPBC our Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday services will both focus on Matthew’s gospel—how Jesus’ death and resurrection is the launchpad for the mission of the church.

As you’re preparing your heart this week, consider reading about Jesus’ week leading up to the cross each day from Matthew. Below you’ll find the verse break down and a few summary comments.

Sunday/Monday— Matthew 21:1-17 || The Triumphal Entry, Cleansing of the Temple

Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem was a highly public affair, with explicit acknowledgement by at least his followers from Galilee that he is the Son of David, the Messiah. The cry “Hosanna” means “please save,” and in this context is loaded with Messianic implication. Note that the people of Jerusalem were curious as to who he was.

On Monday Jesus begins daily trips from Bethany on the Mount of Olives to the Temple. His first act is cleanseing the Temple from the money-changers. This is a declaration of all out war on the Jewish religious leadership in Jerusalem. Note how Matthew highlights the leaders’ unbelief.

Tuesday Morning—Matthew 21:18-25:46 || The Fig Tree Withered, Jesus Teaches at the Temple, Discusses Times to Come

Jesus’ cursing of the Fig Tree is a symbolic act picturing his rebuke of the corrupt Temple system and Jewish religious leaders. This launches into a long section where Jesus is teaching on the Temple Mount and the various groups of Jewish leaders confront him, seeking to assert their authority over him. They fail.

In Matthew 24-25 Jesus is leaving the Temple Mount and takes time to prophesy that the temple will be destroyed. He is not only speaking of the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, but also of the fact that his death and resurrection will fulfill the OT Law and thus remove the need for the sacrificial system. He then takes time to speak of his return and to warn the disciples to beware false Messiahs and rumors of wars. He prepares his followers for suffering and persecution. He focuses on the suddenness of his return, exhorting the disciples to be alert. He tells two parables to help the disciples understand the need for spiritual vigilance and investment in his kingdom work. He end this discussion with a focus on the judgment and a reminder that to care for the poor and needy is hallmark of his followers.

Tuesday Evening—Matthew 26:1-16 || Jesus Speaks of His Crucifixion, Plot to Kill Jesus

Jesus warns the disciples of his imminent crucifixion, even as the chief priests and elders were meeting to plan how to arrest and execute Jesus. Matthew records here the anointing of Jesus with perfume, although it had probably happened earlier. He places it here because Jesus describes it as his preparation for burial. In all of this note that Jesus is fully aware of the price he must pay to accomplish our redemption. What Judas views as a waste is actually the perfect use of such valuable perfume.

Wednesday—Silent Day

Thursday—Matthew 26:17-29 || The Passover/Last Supper

Jesus and the disciples head to Jerusalem to observe the Passover. During the meal he focuses on his betrayal by Judas. Note how he purposefully refers to himself as the Son of Man. In this unique celebration of the Passover, Jesus gives new meaning to the unleavened bread and wine. He affirms that by his death he will establish the new covenant, the forgiveness of sins. Here we catch a glimpse of the larger Biblical narrative—Matthew wants us to see that Jesus’ death and resurrection deal with the problem in the universe since Genesis 3, sin.

Thursday Night—Matthew 26:30-56 || In the Garden of Gethsemane

Matthew’s account of Jesus’ arrest, death, and resurrection is filled with Old Testament quotations. Multiple times he will mention the fulfillment of Scripture in the events of the passion week. Matthew doesn’t want his readers to miss that Jesus is the Son of David, the Son of Abraham, who fulfills the Old Testament. On the way to the Garden of Gethsemane in the Kidron Valley, Jesus prophesies Peter’s denial. He and the other disciples protest, affirming their steadfast commitment to Jesus.

Jesus’ affliction in the olive grove is evidence of the spiritual battle he was facing. To go to the cross was such a trial, bearing the weight of sinners was no small task. Yet Jesus conforms his will with the will of the Father, a reminder of absolute unity of the Godhead. The fact that the disciples are sleeping rather than praying shows they didn’t fully grasp the weight of the moment.

As Jesus is betrayed and arrested, one of his disciples (Peter, but Matthew doesn’t identify him) draws his sword and goes into battle mode. But Jesus corrects him, healing the high priest’s representative. He affirms that his mission, including the fulifllment of the Scriptures, requires his betrayal. At this his disciples flee.

Friday Early Morning—Matthew 26:57-75 || Trials Before Caiaphas & Sanhedrin, Peter’s Denial

Jesus is lead to the high priest Caiaphas and other leaders for a kangaroo court. Jesus is silent facing false charges until Caiaphas asks him is he is the Messiah. Jesus quotes from Daniel 7, identifying himself as the Son of Man who will return with divine authority to judge. Jesus faces physical beatings while Peter denies being a follower. Don’t miss that Jesus’ identity and his suffering continue to fulfill Scripture. Peter’s failure, though tragic, also confirms Jesus’ prophetic words. In the end, Jesus stands alone as our rescuer.

Friday/Saturday—Matthew 27:1-66 || Jesus Before Pilate, Condemnation, Crucifixion, Burial

Judas regrets his decision to betray Jesus, but his regret is not repentance. His regret and hopelessness leads him to end his own life, again in fulfillment of OT Scriptures. Pilate, with hestitations, gives in to the desire of Sanhedrin to have Jesus crucified. Polling the crowd, Pilate is surprised that the people choose a known criminal to free rather than Jesus.

Now headed to the cross, Jesus faces more intense beatings and persecution. They dress him up, crown of thorns and all, and mock his claim to be Israel’s king. On the way to the crucifixion site they commandeer Simon from North Africa to carry Jesus’ cross. Even the public insulted Jesus as they passed by, mocking him for claiming to be the Son of God. Note the poignant irony—they mock Jesus for not being what he was proving to be in his suffering: the Messiah.

Darkness covered the land, and Jesus cries out by quoting Psalm 22. As he died the earth shook and two remarkable things happened: the curtain in the temple separating the holiest place from the rest of the temple was torn in two and many tombs were shook open and people were raised from the dead. The centurion managing the crucixion confessed that Jesus truly was the Son of God. Don’t miss the imagery here: Jesus’ death makes a way for us to be united with God, and his death is actually victory over death brining resurrection to life.

Jesus’ burial shows the mourning and commitment of some of his disciples. The next day Pilate is alerted to Jesus’ claim to rise on the third day. Thus the Sanhedrin place guards at the tomb, to prevent any tampering with the body by Jesus’ followers.

Sunday—Matthew 28:1-15 || The Resurrection

Sunday morning there is another earthquake and Jesus rose from the dead. An angel rolled the large stone blocking the entrance to the tomb. He instructs the ladies who came to attend to Jesus’ body to inform the disciples he had risen. This is our hope—Jesus conquered sins and death, by faith in him we are confident of the forgiveness of our sins and look forward to our resurrection to eternal life.

Pray Like This

“Therefore, you should pray like this:  Our Father in heaven, your name be honored as holy.  Your kingdom come.  Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us today our daily bread.  And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” 

-Matthew 6:9-13

As we continue to face the immense trial caused by the coronavirus, we need to pray.  I’ve spoken to family members of those battling the virus for their lives.  I’ve prayed with nurses who are absolutely exhausted.  Many have lost their jobs–at the bare minimum for a few months.  I know in our families we’re seeing more conflict as we’re adjusting to new normals.  Our federal and state governments are scrambling to figure out what to do and how to do it.  We need to pray.

Who better to lead us in prayer than Jesus himself?  Using Matthew 6:9-13 as a model, here are some suggested prayer requests for these remarkable times:

“Our Father in heaven, your name be honored as holy.”  Pray for God’s glory and majesty to be put on display in the midst of this crisis.  Pray that God’s beauty, love, provision, and mercy would be apparent to all.  Pray that people would turn to him for hope. Pray that people would recognize how great God is, even in the midst of suffering.

“Your kingdom come.  Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  Pray for the advancement of God’s kingdom during this time.  Pray that the church would grow, and that the lives of believers would be a shining light as we live out God’s will on earth.  Pray for unbelievers to repent of their sins and put their faith in Jesus for salvation.

“Give us today our daily bread.”  Pray for the healing of people suffering with the coronavirus.  Pray for the provision of medical supplies to hospitals.  Pray for the protection of the medical professionals serving on the front lines.  Pray for emotional strength and endurance for nurses and doctors as they deal with so much stress.  Pray for the provision of finances and new jobs for those who have lost jobs.  Pray for wisdom for our governments on all levels.

“And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”  Pray for an attitude of grace for everyone as we face these difficult times.  Pray for believers to show the love and mercy of God by being quick to forgive when we are wronged.  Pray for families and workplaces to have an environment of grace rather than conflict. Pray that we wouldn’t be self-centered, focusing only on our own needs.

“And do not bring us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”  Pray for a keen eye towards temptation, especially new kinds of temptation given our extraordinary circumstances.  Pray that we would repent of sin and disobedience wherever we see it, and that we would walk by faith.  Pray that Satan’s attempts to deceive would fail.  Praise God for our ultimate deliverance from Satan through the death and resurrection of Jesus.  

Let’s intercede on behalf of our suffering world during this time.  God is merciful, let’s seek mercy from him.