Reflections on Covid-19

It was Saturday morning. In fact it was Holy Saturday, a religious day that my particular flavour of the Christian faith doe not put much recognition into. In fact so little recognition that I struggle to dredge the depths of my memories to recall if I have ever even heard it referred to. I have concluded for brevity that I have not.

Holy Saturday is a much more recognised holy day in the established churches such as the Church of England. I am pentecostal by birth. And by that I mean “born again” birth, John 3:16 birth.

And none of that really matters about what I am wanting to mention in this post simply because on this particular Saturday, Karen and I had taken the dog for a walk and was planning on stopping at the local shop just down the road from where we live to get a few essentials in.

Now the astute amongst you who are reading this soon after I posted it will understand that this was the Saturday morning of 2020’s Easter weekend (I really do hate that term, Easter). It was the Holy Saturday that will be unlike any that most of us have experienced ever before and God willing ever will again, because it was in the throes of the Covid-19 lock down and things were not normal.

To that point I had worked form home for a total of 5 weeks. Karen had been sent home from work for the past three weeks and we had been holding church meetings via YouTube and Zoom. Social distancing was in force (even though the WHO wanted everyone to stop using the phrase social distancing), and we were not allowed to go about our daily lives in the free manner that we were all used to because Covid-19 was, and at the time of writing, still is, running rampant!

We, that is Karen and I were doing our bit for the NHS and staying at home save, for the odd essential visit to the supermarket, as allowed by Government decree, and for a bit of daily exercise, the two things in this instance that we married together.

The fort thing that hit me, bearing in mind this is only a local shop, was the 30 plus minute wait we had outside as the staff studiously only allowed two customers in at a time. We had arrived clearly at a busy point in the day!

But as we stood, and smiled at passers by some of whom joined the queue behind us, as they took the wide sweep mostly into the carriageway of the road to avoid the line of would be customers to the local shop, I got to thinking.

There are many lessons that will come out of this stint of lock down many lessons in society, for the Government, for us individually, for the church and I suspect it will be a period oft referred to in sermons from the pulpit in months and years to come.

But what may we learn from it now?

The reason we are in local down is because in order to fight the virus the Government has imposed the rules on us using legislation. An urgent Act of Parliament was passed and now those who are selfish enough to ignore the rules can be fined for doing so. There is a penalty for breaking the rules.

There is a clear Gospel message in this, but that is not where I want to go.

What I started thinking was how we are all going to feel when this is over. When we are free again to visit family, when we are free again to go to church and meet in our Life Groups, and church services.

Imagine for a moment the feeling of relief and joy and happiness and well, you think of the rest……

We will once again be able to hold our relatives in our arms, our grandchildren can give us loads of cuddles again, we will be able to hug brothers and sisters in Jesus name we will be able to simply pop down to the shop and buy none essential things when we want to rather than having to think about getting everything in one visit (per week) if you are sticking to the rules.

Pause and think forward to that time.

What a picture of Salvation this is.

The Old Testament has a lot of laws, rules and regulations in it. (Not as many as some people think, but it has a lot). These rules and regulations are there for a purpose, (for many actually), but one of the main purposes of those rules, regulations and laws is to demonstrate to us that God loves us and rather then wanting to take our freedom and joy, and happiness away, he wants us to live within certain parameters that will make us safe. Or more accurately make His chosen people safe, be those chosen ones native born Jews or people adopting the Jewish faith as their own.

You see laws and rules are essentially there to keep us safe from harm.

So life is possible under these rules, regulations and laws, as evidenced by the Jewish nation, in just the same way that life is possible under the current lockdown as a result of Covid-19, and please do not get me wrong I realise that it is easier for some and much harder for others, but the truth of the matter is that life is possible, because we are living it.

The rules and regulations bring their own sets of problems and issues, there is no doubt about it, but they place a restriction on us. Shopping, once a week for essentials only. Is one of them. Not been able to go and sunbath in the local park is another, not meeting up with friends, family and workmates except through the internet is another and there are many many more.

But life is possible.

However, what joy, what relief, what happiness there will be when Boris eventually gets on his podium and tells us the restrictions are lifted.

And so it is like this in the New Testament, in the New Covenant made possible through Jesu and the sacrifice he made on the Cross. Pertinent given it is the weekend Chrstinedom is celebrating this very event.

What joy, what happiness, what peace the new believer (and hopefully us older ones) experience when we realise that our sins are forgiven and that we are “free” in Christ. Free to worship, free to love, free to not keep the religious ceremonial laws of the OT. A freedom that is rooted in life and life eternal, free from the curse of sin, free from the consequences of sin.

So perhaps take time to think on this a little. We take our freedom for granted until such a time as it is taken away form us or restricted in some way.

The believer can take their freedom fro granted. If that is you, pause and remember what it was like before you met Jesus and what you have gained since then and thank God afresh for it.

And any unbelievers reading this, pause please and think how it might be. Compare the restrictions of the Lockdown to the freedom of movement you will have when the lockdown is finished and try to imagine this magnified 10,000 times and more if you compare your life not knowing Jesus to knowing Jesus -Probably impossible so let me encourage you, take that step, ask Jesus into your life and experience it for yourself.

Passover 2020

Have any of you considered what/if there is anything to be learned from our lockdown situation?

Tonight at sundown Passover starts for our Jewish friends and one of the criteria imposed on the Israelites that first Passover once they had daubed the door posts with the blood of the lamb was to stay indoors.

Maybe, and this is simply a thought that I have not fully worked through yet, we might take something from our lockdown and our celebration of the risen Jesus on Sunday.

Do we feel any connection?
Do we achieve a deeper understanding of that first Passover?
Can we achieve a deeper connection between Passover and the weekend that we erroneously call Easter?

I don’t know the answer to these questions and there will be others that pop into your mind but maybe go read about the exodus afresh and let Gods Spirit speak into your life.

Jesus Clears the Temple

Matthew 21:12-17
Jesus Cleanses the Temple
And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.”
And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them. But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant, and they said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” And Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read,
“‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies
you have prepared praise’?”
And leaving them, he went out of the city to Bethany and lodged there.

Soon after Jesus entered Jerusalem on the donkey we get this story.

Again it is a popular part of the narrative in the events of Holy Week and one of the events that Messers Lloyd Webber and Rice dramatise well in their musical re-telling of the Holy Week story. Their interpretation of the theology is rubbish but for entertainment its enjoyable enough!

Anyway, what is it that stands out for you when you read this passage?

Maybe it’s the violence of the act? In one version from the pother gospels Jesus forms a whip to assist Him in his cleansing of the temple, so this is no polite and orderly request for the traders and customers to vacate.

Maybe it’s the healings. There is probably much that can be gleaned from this, much sermon material about how the traders were there to profit and possible “con” the customers, yet Jesus freely gives of His power and Love? Maybe!

Maybe it’s the reference to the OT by Jesus a little odd maybe of Matthew to have reimbursed this part of the speech when and I think it is Luke who recounts that Jesus the disciples recalled that the OT makes reference to “zeal for thy house shall consume him” (I paraphrase so please don’t criticise me too much). To my simple mind the zeal quote is much more apt to the situation, but hey, there must be a reason why Matthew here recounts these words of Jesus.

What stand out to me, presently at least, is the contrast between the words fo the author, “the many wonderful things that he did” against the attitude of the religious leaders of the time “they were indignant”.

What if anything can we learn from this?

In our men’s bible study on Saturday mornings (at 7:00 pm Saturday mornings when there is no lockdown or at 7:30 online at the moment due to the coronavirus pandemic ask me for mor details if you are interested in joining in), we looked this week, in part, at spiritual pride. Or knowledge that puffs up.

The leaders here clearly were suffering from a big dose of that! Here was Jesus doing many wonderful things. Healing, blessing giving sight to the blind, helping the lame to walk and probably lots of other things as well, and all the leaders could do was look on indignantly!

HOWEVER, before we get on our own moral/spiritual high horses, I encourage you, and me (because if you didn’t realise this by now, most of what I write in these posts are actually for my own edification and if they speak to or bless you then that is a bonus), let us pause and take time to consider how many times have I looked indignantly upon a brother (or sister) and in my mind have though “pah” or worse?

To be brutally honest far too many times.

So now, I am going to take myself off to a quiet place and think on this a little I hope I come out the other end a better person.

The Triumphal Entry

Matthew 21:1-10,
Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.” This took place to fulfil what was spoken by the prophet, saying, “Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’” The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them. Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?”

Mark 11:1-11
Now when they drew near to Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately as you enter it you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever sat. Untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord has need of it and will send it back here immediately.’” And they went away and found a colt tied at a door outside in the street, and they untied it. And some of those standing there said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” And they told them what Jesus had said, and they let them go. And they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it, and he sat on it. And many spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut from the fields. And those who went before and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!” And he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple. And when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

Luke 19:29-44
When he drew near to Bethphage and Bethany, at the mount that is called Olivet, he sent two of the disciples, saying, “Go into the village in front of you, where on entering you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever yet sat. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ you shall say this: ‘The Lord has need of it.’” So those who were sent went away and found it just as he had told them. And as they were untying the colt, its owners said to them, “Why are you untying the colt?” And they said, “The Lord has need of it.” And they brought it to Jesus, and throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. And as he rode along, they spread their cloaks on the road. As he was drawing near—already on the way down the Mount of Olives—the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.” And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”

John 12:12-19
The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written, “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!” His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him. The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness. The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign. So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.”

Above are the 4 Gospel accounts of the events of what have ben known as Palm Sunday throughout the Christian era. I have fond memories of sitting in Sunday school classes, green wax crayon in hand vigorously colouring in a pre-printed palm leaf ready to celebrate through re-enactment of the entry of Jesus into the city of Jerusalem. At that time it all meant very little to me and the hastily coloured in “palm” leaf was quickly relegated to the rubbish within days of returning home.

Little did I realise those days that there were 4 accounts of this event, one in each of the Gospels, and for your ease of reference I have reproduced them above. Can I ask you to take the time to prayerfully read them through each maybe even a few times and digest and see the variations on the accounts.

What is interesting about this particular event is that it is one of the few that is recorded within all four Gospels. We know that there is an over-lap between them all but there are few incidents recorded that are recorded in all 4 accounts. Oftentimes John leaves out much of what is in the other three but this event was so significant that all four Gospel writers felt compelled to include it.

Let me encourage you to prayerfully meditate on why that was so.
Clearly the principle reason is that this event marks the beginning of the end of Jesus mission for coming in the first place. Jesus could see the cross at the end of this week, He knew that this would be the last time that He would visit Jesus before the mission parameters were completed and He knew the mighty mountain that he was to climb for yours and my salvation.

Notice how the three synoptic Gospels specify that Jesus was approaching Bethany and Bethpage near Jerusalem. John on the other hand was only interested in informing us that Jesus was on the approach to Jerusalem, why do you think Johns account appears “less accurate” that the others?

When we read the differing in accounts of the Gospels we need to understand that the writers had different primary reasons for writing their “versions” of the events and the likes of Luke was using the first hand sources available to him at the time when composing his account. Interestingly it appears that Luke who wasn’t present when these events took place (unlike Matthew, Mark Peter and John who were followers of Jesus), makes a longer account from the various sources he uses.

But parking this as interesting as these things are the question I want to pose is what are these accounts about?

Yes they are about Jesus entry into Jerusalem!

Yes they are about a miracle in that Jesus foreknew that there would be a colt standing waiting for him to use and that the colts owners would be amenable to letting the colt go off with the disciples!

Yes it is about the fulfilment of prophecy – even the intentional fulfilment of ancient prophesy by Jesus – I think we need to understand that just because there are critics out there that will “argue” Jesus sought to fulfil some of the OT prophesies about Him, that argument does not invalidate the fulfilment of those prophecies in any way whatsoever. This is potentially a whole separate subject that a whole article can be devoted to, but suffice it to say here and now, this miracle is no less a miracle for the appearance that Jesus may have “self-fulfilled” it)!

What I would like to draw attention to is that whilst these passages are clearly about all the things listed above and probably more, they are principally about showing, even proving who Jesus truly is to the people of the day.

Fulfilment of the Jeremiah prophecy (9:9) is a significant event. Apart from the first century backdrop of Roman occupation and that the Jewish nation was looking for a “saviour” that would rise up as a political and/or military leader and kick the Romans out of their land, the idea that the Messiah would enter Jerusalem in such a significant manner, was a key indicator to them that whoever entered the capitol city like that was making claim to be Gods chosen one.

Can I encourage you to meditate prayerfully on the significance of this. We tend to look in these verses at the story of the donkey, as if the story is about that, or we concentrate on the contrast that we see in the crowds reactions in a short space of time and how all these people worshipping Jesus soon turned on Him, or we tend to concentrate on the fulfilment of the Zechariah prophesy, all of which to various degrees are important elements of this event in Jesus life.

But let us also take time to consider the implications of this whole event. Jesus here is clearly marking himself out through the nature of his mode of transport to be The Messiah, it is one if not the only time he allows public worship/adoration of His earthly self or at least the only time it is recorded for us.

The spontaneous reaction of the crowds, was this inspired by the Holy Spirit? Was it a natural reaction to the circumstances of celebrating the Passover for which they were all in Jerusalem for, and that reports of Jesus’ miracles prior to His arrival at Jerusalem? I don’t know the answers to these questions, but what I do know is that in the clearest possible way, at least to the first century Jew, was that He was proclaiming to be The Messiah!

We know that His subsequent resurrection emphatically proved this claim but back then? Well they were reacting in faith. How much more should we, in faith, worship and glorify our King, Lord, brother, master and God.

As we move into Holy Week let em encourage you to read carefully the accounts of this week and to be fed spiritually by them and to share, especially in these times of lockdown, with those who you are in contact with and who may themselves be looking for answers.