Today (Tuesday), my association had a pastor’s lunch. Several of us gathered together in the private room of a restaurant and enjoyed plates that filled our bellies. It was easy to complain in part, though, for the restaurant is not accustomed to hosting groups at that hour on Tuesday, therefore the service was slow. Half of the table finished eating before the other half even sniffed their own food.
And sitting among us was this guest from Brownsville, TX (we met in Butler, MO). A man who pastors a church there and has also planted three churches across the river in a now drug-war-torn region of Mexico. He told the story of how over the past handful of years 30,000 people have died in this war; and of how the streets in the town where he planted the churches are now avenues of fear. Men, women, and children from the town and from the churches are threatened, some are murdered, some are beaten, and all are fearful. Members of various cartels drive around in trucks with heads impaled on poles, serving as a warning to anyone who might challenge them.
The parsonage of one pastor was broken into as he showered. They drug him into the street naked, and beat him in front of whoever watched—again just to send a message.
People walk around hungry, jobless, and scared. And it’s not just Mexico…we can think of the news of the wars, of the disease, of the poverty…
Does it move us?
What about the people in our own towns. Where maybe, just maybe, we are more fortunate than we realize because though we have our violence and crime we are not so beaten; and though we have our economic problems and the poor among us, we are not so destitute.
Yet above the tragedy of it all is the greater tragedy—and indeed the root cause: sin. Jesus said the devil is the father of lies and a murder from the beginning. When we sin, we identify with the devil. When we sin, we identify with the drug cartel. When we sin we identify with ruthless dictators and psychotic terrorists. Our sin makes us children of hell. And that hell is well deserved.
Here in a few days we will gather as churches—probably on Friday evening, certainly on Sunday morning—we will remember and we will celebrate the fact that God, who works all things for the good of his people, sent his son to die for us children of hell. He sent his son to hang on a cross and suffer great abuse for the ruthless. He sent his son to feel the sting of separation and taste the mercilessness of wrath for the sake of the liar. He sent his son to become the sin of his people.
We will celebrate that not only did Jesus die but he also rose from the grave, and is now seated at the right hand of the Father. We will celebrate the fact that nothing—not tribulation, not persecution, not famine, not sword, not death nor life, not height nor depth, not any angelic power—absolutely nothing can separate us from the love of Christ!
But will we truly celebrate?
The gentleman who will lead our music asked me if I planned on wearing a suit coat. Why? Because in our tradition there’s something about that day, Easter, that makes us think we are supposed to dress up a bit nicer. It is expected not just that we will put on our Sunday best, but we will break out the best of the best. It’s our tradition…
…but when our brothers and sisters in our Risen Lord are running around hungry, nearly naked, and scared, then why is a concern about what we will wear even a thought in our minds? Why does it matter that I look my best though they cannot on the day we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord and theirs?
When the service ends, many will go to their homes to sit down at their tables to overeat a lavish meal. And sure we will give thanks, but as we eye the ham will even a single thought enter our minds about all the needy, widowed, orphaned, and hurting Christians in the world?
And what about the lost? What about the children of hell—the children of wrath, of whom we once were?
Will we weep with great sorrow and unceasing anguish because they do not celebrate Jesus, and maybe haven’t even heard the Gospel explaining to them why they should? Will we wish ourselves accursed, if it meant our lost friends and kinsmen could come to know the Lord?
The suit and the ham—really there’s nothing wrong with wearing one and eating the other, and we rich in this present age should be exceedingly grateful we can clothe ourselves and keep food on our plate. But if they’re our concerns this Easter then we need to repent.
We have a God “who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all.” We have a risen Savior “who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.” And if we follow him we have life beyond all life, joy greater than all joy, and hope infinitely sweeter than all hope.
Therefore let us use this Easter not as a springboard back into the routine of the Monday and Tuesday which follow. Rather, let us use it to remember the bigger picture: Jesus died for sinners; and this violent, dark, and broken world is filled with sinners who need Jesus. And we who can celebrate well must let no reason stop us from proclaiming Jesus and serving needs to force light into the dark crevices of this world.