1 Peter 4:1-8 – Holy Saturday

The death of Christ, Holy Hill, Hubertus, Wisconsin

Christ suffered here on earth. Now you must be ready to suffer as he did because suffering shows that you have stopped sinning. It means you have turned from your own desires and want to obey God for the rest of your life. You have already lived long enough like people who don’t know God. You were immoral and followed your evil desires. You went around drinking and partying and carrying on. In fact, you even worshiped disgusting idols. Now your former friends wonder why you have stopped running around with them, and they curse you for it. But they will have to answer to God, who judges the living and the dead. The good news has even been preached to the dead, so that after they have been judged for what they have done in this life, their spirits will live with God.  Everything will soon come to an end. So be serious and be sensible enough to pray.  Most important of all, you must sincerely love each other, because love wipes away many sins. (CEV)

I haven’t been a confessing Christian my entire life. I can relate to Peter’s exhortation. I still remember what it feels like to live my life without any thought to God or spiritual matters. The thing about partying and immorality is that it’s a life filled with constant movement. Slowing down only makes one come face-to-face with what is truly inside the soul. 

If someone has an empty vacuous soul, or a damaged spirit, or a broken heart, then attempting to drink or work away the inner pain makes sense when there’s no regard for God. The last thing I ever wanted to do was suffer, yet until I had my spiritual awakening, it seemed I could never outrun the hurt no matter how hard I tried, even with all the constant locomotion.

Today is Holy Saturday – a quiet place sandwiched between the ignominy of the cross and the celebration of resurrection – a day of solitude, silence, and stillness. This is something of a lost day for many folks. In fact, many Christians haven’t had a thought that Holy Saturday could have any significance. Yet, this very day has its place in the scheme of the Christian life.

There cannot be resurrection and new life without death and dying to self. There must be suffering before there can be glory. Whenever Christians quickly jump to triumphal language about victory and speak little-to-nothing about suffering, then we are left with a cheap grace which has been purchased with the counterfeit currency of velocity. 

Today is meant for us to get out of our heads and wrap our hearts around the important reality that Jesus Christ was in the grave. It was real suffering on Good Friday. It was a real death on Holy Saturday. There is no movement. All is silent and still. Jesus is in the solitude of a dark tomb. There’s no getting around it. If we want a Resurrection Day with all its celebration and glory, then we cannot circumvent Holy Saturday. 

To put this in the spirit of the Apostle Peter: Are we ready to follow Jesus and suffer as he did?  Are we willing to stop our striving, manifested through constant movement, and embrace the Holy Saturday of solitude, silence, stillness with its contemplation and embrace of suffering?  Will you and I have sense enough to pray?  Will we practice a Christian counter-cultural shift and face the ridicule of friends so that we might take some much-needed time to be with Jesus in the tomb?  Or are we so antsy and anxious that we just want to leap into Easter with no solidarity with our Lord in the grave?

You may think I’m being a bit too hard or harsh or cold…. That’s because Jesus is cold. He has a bonified cold dead body. It’s no fake death. There’s no “swoon theory” here, as if Christ only passed-out and did a weird divine fainting spell. Nope. He’s dead. And if you and I want to live with Jesus, we must die with Jesus. 

Anyone who tries to promise new life apart from journeying with Jesus into the grave is a spiritual charlatan.  Only through death can there be life. 

On this Holy Saturday, let’s intentionally slow down, do less, give ourselves a large chunk of unstructured time, and put aside routine matters. Fill the time with unfettered access to God in Christ. Slowly read the Gospel accounts of Christ’s death and burial. Read the book of 1 Peter. Allow prayers to arise from the careful and mindful reading of Scripture. Feel the solidarity with Jesus, journey with him along the way from life to death… so that there might be a truly glorious resurrection filled with abundant life and flourishing – a life that doesn’t need hedonism and workaholism to feel happy and significant.

May you die well so that you might live well.

Loving Lord Jesus, today all is silent. You died a horrific death and gave incredible mercy from your wounded heart. Now you rest in the tomb as the soldiers keep vigil. I also keep vigil, although in a quite different way. I know this day doesn’t last forever; there is tremendous glory coming. Yet, for now I sit quietly mourning your death. Assist me, God Almighty, to enter the sorrow and the silence of this Holy Saturday. Today, help me to wait patiently and to sit with this constellation of emotions swirling around my heart. As I keep this sacred vigil, fill me with hope – not only looking forward to the celebration of your Resurrection – yet also to anticipate the hope of my own share in the new life you offer, as you lay lifeless and still. May your rest transform the brokenness of my own soul, my weaknesses, and my sin. I express my trust, O God, in your mighty power to do all things through Jesus Christ, my Lord, your beloved Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Temptation in the Desert

Christ in the Wilderness by Ivan Kramskoi, 1872

Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.

After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:9-15, NIV)

We are in the season of Lent. Beginning with Ash Wednesday, we take a forty-day journey, leading to Holy Week and Easter. Jesus spent forty days in the desert being tempted by Satan. So, the church remembers this event with the season of Lent. This is the time of year in which Christians are to give awareness of the temptations we face on a regular basis. We intentionally seek to fast or give up something for six weeks so that we might see how much we attach ourselves to other things and rely on them, instead of trusting in God.

Just as it was important and significant for Jesus to be in the desert, it is necessary for us, as well. Jesus retraced the steps of his ancestors, the Israelites, who wandered in the desert for forty years. They had an extended time in the wilderness before entering the Promised Land because they needed to re-connect with God after having failed in their faith. Their trust had to be strengthened and developed before they could ever be ready to receive God’s promises.

Jesus faced down the devil and overcame temptation in the desert. The forty days were a necessary preparation for the upcoming three years of ministry that would culminate in Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. But before any of that could happen, Jesus had to experience the desert.

We, like Jesus, need to have a desert spirituality. If we are not formed into followers of Jesus through learning to overcome temptation, then we are at risk to be shaped into followers of Satan. God desires to strengthen our faith. We, like Jesus, need to face down the devilish temptations which would impede our spiritual development.

In every sport, weightlifting has become a necessary part of athletic training. Athletes now know their muscles must be properly developed for their respective sport. Through weight training the muscle fibers are broken down with stress. Then, with proper hydration, nutrition, and rest, the muscles are re-built as better, stronger, and more agile. 

Christ in the Desert by Julie Lonneman

As Christians, the desert becomes the gymnasium where we are broken down through the stress of temptation so that we might become spiritually stronger in our faith. Without this kind of spiritual training, we become vulnerable to satanic accusations and become easy targets to demonic seduction.

After the baptism of Jesus, the Spirit “sent” him into the desert. The word is perhaps better translated as “thrown” or “hurled.”  It is an extraordinarily strong word conveying that the Spirit flung Jesus out into the desert.

Being tossed into the desert demonstrates how important spending time there was for Jesus. It was in the desert he learned to resist temptation in his ministry. There was real danger in the desert, wild animals, and vulnerability to the elements. Yet, put in that situation and having come through it, Jesus was able to deal with the crafty pursuits of Satan to distract him from his mission. 

Throughout the Gospel of Mark, after tossing demons out of people, Jesus would tell the unclean spirits not to tell anyone who he was. Part of what was happening is that Satan wanted to tempt Jesus to gain fame and power through popularity and accolades. And that was not the way of Jesus. Our Lord was not going to bring in the kingdom of God through the usual avenues of careful marketing and brand recognition.

Another practice Jesus kept up throughout his ministry was to seek places for solitude and prayer. The needs Jesus daily saw and dealt with were large and vast and never ending. Jesus resisted the temptation to continually work without any rest or guidance in prayer. It was through solitude and prayer that Jesus connected with his Father and would move from place to place traveling and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God.  Jesus never gave in to the temptation to settle in one place and build a petty kingdom of his own, apart from the Father.

As Jesus went about the countryside telling people to repent and believe the good news, he often spoke in parables designed to encourage thought and reflection. He did not succumb to the temptation to always be black and white about everything, giving just the bottom line of his teaching to people. 

Jesus did not teach to get immediate results or to let people know which side of the fence he occupied concerning the issues of the day. Instead, Christ understood his business – a ministry of building something permanent that would far outlast his mere three years of ministry. Because of the desert, and through his Father’s affirmation, Jesus lived a unique three years on this earth that has never been equaled before or since.

Some years ago, I went on a leadership retreat in the Canadian wilderness.  We were so far out in the sticks that we needed special first aid training before leaving because if someone got severely injured it would be hours before any medical attention could be received. There was no cell phone service, no towns, no anything except mile after square mile of wilderness. We had to be continually vigilant to not attract bears. The wilderness can be a dangerous place. On one of the days in that week, we were each dropped off on our own personal islands for an entire day, alone. Being face to face with yourself can be hard to deal with, which is what a desert experience does – it exposes the idols of our hearts and the ways in which we are tempted.

A person need not be in the Canadian wilderness or in a real desert to experience the effects of desert life. The Holy Spirit has a way of throwing us into the desert through changes of circumstances so that we will flex our spiritual muscles to get into spiritual shape.

The top three temptations of people today are worry, procrastination, and gossip. So, how do we face down those temptations (and others) and retrace our steps back to the path of God?  Here are some lessons I have learned in my own wilderness experiences through God’s Word:

  • Know your weaknesses. Know yourself. Know the temptations of Satan. The three temptations just mentioned all come from a tendency toward perfectionism. We worry about the future and not saying or doing something perfectly. We procrastinate saying or doing things for fear of screwing up and not being perfect. And we gossip to others about their faults and weaknesses because it maintains the illusion that our perfectionism is intact, at least as compared to others. However, perfectionism is slavery. 

We have freedom now because Christ made us free. So, stand strong in that freedom. Do not go back into slavery again. (Galatians 5:1, ERV)

  • Understand the importance of timing.  When are you at your weakest, at your most vulnerable time? What triggers you to sin?  We know that when our kids and grandkids act up, we first wonder if they are tired, hungry, or have some other need. It is the same with us. Carrying a massive sleep debt, skipping meals, or eating poorly because we are constantly in a hurry will set us up for temptation.

Be clearheaded. Keep alert. Your accuser, the devil, is on the prowl like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8, CEB)

  • Look to God and others.  Do not rely solely on your own willpower or think you ought to resist temptation all by yourself, all the time. Even Jesus looked both to his Father and his disciples. During a time of intense stress, Jesus said:

“My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:38-41, NIV)

  • Have a plan. Flying by the seat of your pants will not always work. One of the major ways I personally resist temptation is by having a daily plan of worshiping God, praying, and reading Scripture at set times throughout the day.

A prudent person foresees danger and takes precautions. The simpleton goes blindly on and suffers the consequences. (Proverbs 22:3, NLT)

  • Overcome evil with good. If we apply this to the top three temptations people face, that means the worrier will love his/her enemies and pray for those who persecute. It means the procrastinator will take intentional steps of faith and risk, being real and vulnerable with others through accountable relationships. It means the gossip will seek to speak words of encouragement that build others up.

Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:21, NRSV)

  • Realize you are never alone.  Angels attended Jesus. Even the Son of God was never on his own.  Whatever you are facing is likely not unique to you. Others face similar struggles. Our brothers and sisters throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of problems when they seek to walk with Christ.

Let the desert shape and strengthen your faith. If the Holy Spirit has thrown you into a dry place, learn all you can about resisting temptation so that you can come out the other end a stronger, more faithful follower of Jesus Christ. 

Mark 1:29-39 – The Rhythms of Jesus

Welcome, friends! On this bitterly cold day, may the gracious warmth of Jesus infuse your spirit with peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Click the videos below and let us discover the spiritual health and life of Christ our Lord…

Mark 1:29-39
Words by Edward Mote, Music by William B. Bradbury, A Cappella Arrangement by David Wesley

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen.

The Rhythms of Jesus

The Solitude of Christ by French painter Alphonse Osbert, 1897

As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they immediately told Jesus about her.So, he went to her, took her hand, and helped her up. The fever left her, and she began to wait on them.

That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon possessed. The whole town gathered at the door, and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was.

Incredibly early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!”

Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” So, he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues, and driving out demons.

A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.”

Jesus was indignant. He reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was cleansed.

Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning: “See that you don’t tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.” Instead, he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere. (Mark 1:29-39, NIV)

Solitude by Russian painter Tatiana Yushmanova

We need rhythm.  Everything in life is rhythmic. Each new year moves with the rhythm of the four seasons. Our hearts beat in rhythm. When we walk, our gait is in a distinct rhythm. When talking, we speak with a rhythmic cadence. We sing and make music because of rhythm. We need healthy rhythms of waking and sleeping.

When our rhythm is off, we are off. Busy or unhealthy lifestyles can insidiously drag us away from the spiritual rhythms we need for healthy living. Over time, it may go unnoticed that our rhythm is off.  For many folks, normal is getting dressed in clothes bought for work, driving through traffic in a car still being paid for, to go to a job to pay for the clothes, car, house, and other stuff that is left empty of life all day to afford to live in it. Many people are oriented more by the rhythms of work, school, and sports than by a connection to the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.

Our 24/7 world demands more time and resources, convincing us we can never slow down or take a break. Some people know their rhythm is off and out of sync with God’s ways but feel powerless to change it. So, how do we restore the unforced rhythms of God’s grace to the center of our stressed and chaotic lives without being overwhelmed by a new set of time commitments? To have healthy rhythms of life, we must look to Jesus.

Jesus was continually filled with the life of God the Father and therefore was always overflowing with that life to others. Christ had a rhythm of life which was oriented around times of inner solitude with his heavenly Father, and times of outward spiritual care to people.  Jesus needed regular, dedicated time for solitude and prayer for the rigors of ministry. So then, how much more do we!

There are two distinct sections in today’s Gospel lesson: Christ’s outward healing ministry; and his inward attention to solitude and prayer. By examining Jesus and following his rhythms of life, we can find the way to living healthy fulfilled spiritual lives as Christians.

The outward healing ministry of Jesus was powerful and effective.

Jesus was committed to helping and healing people with the authority given him. Peter’s mother-in-law was sick. Every sickness in the ancient world was serious and could easily result in either permanent physical damage or death. In a clear demonstration of power, Jesus simply took her by the hand and raised her up to new life. As soon the fever left her, the woman immediately began serving the people in the house. The proper response to being healed by Christ is to become a servant of others. 

13th Century Byzantine Church mosaic of Jesus healing Peter’s mother-in-law

Jesus and the disciples were in the little village of Capernaum, and being a small town, the news spread quickly of what happened with Peter’s mother-in-law. As a result, by evening, every sick and demonized person in the village showed up to see Jesus. Christ healed them all and confronted the demonic among them. Jesus wanted to avoid creating a circus and desired to move about freely, so he commanded the demons not to speak, because they knew who he was and what he was up to.

Healing is wonderful. Talking about it, not so much. Discussing healing is difficult because seeing one person healed and restored while another person is not, defies simple answers. So, I offer a few biblical observations about this human conundrum we all have likely experienced.

  • Healing narratives in the Gospels say much more about Jesus than about us. 

Jesus has the power and authority to overthrow demons, cure the incurable, and restore people to health. It is all a sign that the kingdom of God is near, and when the kingdom comes in all its fullness, there will be no more sickness, pain, or demonic influence.

  • Good health, security, and safety are not necessarily a sign of God’s presence any more than pain and suffering are signs of God’s punishment, or a lack of personal faith. 

We have enough stories in the Bible to let us know we are not privy to the big picture of what God is doing. We will not always see what the Lord is up to and very well may never have an answer to our questions, this side of heaven.

  • Every person who is healed today will eventually get sick again and someday die. 

Even Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead, died again. The ultimate meaning of any person’s healing is more than the physical – it affects the entire person – body, mind, emotions, soul, and spirit. For example, forgiveness is many times the needed miracle before any kind of physical healing can occur.

Sometimes the greatest miracle of all is our response to sickness and suffering.  A surgeon, Richard Selzer, describes one such miracle:  “I stood by the bed where a young woman lies in post-op after surgery, her mouth twisted looking clownish.  A tiny twig of the facial nerve, the one to the muscles of her mouth, has been severed to remove a tumor in her cheek.  Her young husband is in the room.  He stood on the opposite side of the bed as if I were not really in the room, his full attention on her.  She asked me, ‘Will my mouth always be like this?’  ‘Yes, it will, because the nerve has been cut,’ I say.  She nodded somberly.  But the young husband began to smile.  He said, ‘I like it; it is kind of cute.’  He bent down to kiss her crooked mouth and I was close enough to see how he twisted his own lips to accommodate hers, to show her that their kiss still works.”

Perhaps the kind of healing we all need is the ability to receive God’s love in the person of Jesus who has accommodated himself to us.

Christ did not spend every waking moment with people, teaching and healing. Jesus knew that working without prayer, rest, and solitude is not realistic and rarely ends well.

The inward prayer and solitude of Jesus caused him to be powerful and effective.

Early the next morning after a day of healing ministry, Jesus got up and went to be alone with the Father. The fact that Peter and the disciples hunted him down when they could not find him, shows they did not quite see the same value of solitude that Jesus did. In Christ’s healthy rhythm of life, he included significant doses of solitude with his Father.

It is important for believers to spend generous portions of time with God. If we fail to do this, God has ways of getting our attention. We must slow down and calm our racing thoughts enough to listen. Human suffering is a great way to meet Jesus!  We cannot rush from task to task and expect to live a healthy spiritual life.  We need time with Jesus.

“Without great solitude, no serious work is possible.”

Pablo Picasso

Only through a healthy rhythm of life that includes solitude and prayer will we have clear direction for our daily lives, and wisdom for sound decision-making.  Jesus came away from his time of solitude having re-connected with his purpose for being on earth.  It was his clear conviction that he must travel and not just stay in one place.

Traveling is important to the Christian life.  I am not talking about moving from state to state like I have done in my life; I mean that we must keep moving, like walking across the room to engage others we do not know. Our lives become stagnant when we only ever interact in our small circle of friends and family. 

So, Jesus traveled throughout Galilee, convinced to do so through his time of solitude and prayer, to spread the good news of God’s benevolent kingdom and drive out demons wherever he went.  Even in this we are to imitate our Lord.

Driving out demons is, yes, a literal reference. The demons were driven out so that people could be liberated and experience freedom and connection in community, since most demonized people were always in solitude. They were freed so that they could have healthy rhythms of life of not just solitude but of ministry, service, and community. Hell is a separation from God and others.  Jesus came to bring relational health and wholeness through relational connection.

Conclusion

Both continual work and prolonged withdrawal from others is unhealthy.  To always be working and serving eventually leads to bitterness, exhaustion, and burn-out.  To always be alone (even in a crowd) and not serving leads to spiritual sickness.  It may be counter-intuitive for us to break away from work, but solitude and prayer will help us more productive.

If we are constantly on the go, there is healing available through solitude. If we are continually withdrawn from others, then the healing we need will come through engaging with others and moving past passivity.

To attach and detach, to connect and let go, to engage and desist, are spiritual rhythms of life that we must hone and practice so that we will be healthy persons for ourselves and for others.