Coronavirus: “The Bitterest Part”

Text: John 11:1-44

“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.’” —John 11:25

In Italy, thousands of families have been devastated by Coronavirus. When infected patients are hospitalized, their loved ones cannot visit them due to the contagion. Multitudes have perished in seclusion without family members by their bedside. Proper funerals are not possible during the pandemic lockdown, as the deceased are piled up in coffins and quietly taken away. As well, grieving family members are left to mourn in isolation without the typical closure of a funeral accompanied by the support of other loved ones. “This is the bitterest part,” said one Italian.  

In John 11, Martha and Mary are having a bitterly grievous moment, devastated by the loss of their dear brother, Lazarus. “Lord, if you had been here, he would not have died,” they both cried (John 11:21, 32). To make matters worse, when Jesus heard that Lazarus was sick, he delayed two days before coming to Bethany. His lack of urgency might’ve mystified the disciples and the distressed sisters.

Have you ever felt this way? Lord, why did you delay in coming to our aid? If you had only showed up, this wouldn’t have happened? Why didn’t you get here in time?

When Jesus finally arrived, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled, asking, “Where have you laid him?” Then we have the shortest Bible verse ever recorded: “Jesus wept.” In this moment Jesus hurts like we hurt. He grieves like we grieve. He suffers and mourns as we do. He steps into our pain, identifying with us that “the bitterest part” of our earthly journey is the human loss of our dearest loved ones. I’m so comforted that we have this moment in the Bible—Jesus pausing to grieve. He takes time to feel the pain. It shows that HE understands our suffering (Hebrews 4:15).

I’m also comforted in the fact that there is more to this story. Jesus has shown the disciples that he feels their pain, their loss, and their bitterness. Now he is about to show them that this chapter of agony is not the final chapter in life. As Paul Harvey used to say, “You know what the news is—in a minute, you’re going to hear the rest of the story.” Martha and Mary are overwhelmed by bad news, but they are only moments away from being overcome by the good news.

Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” He told the disciples to take away the gravestone. Then he prayed to the Father, and commanded Lazarus to “come out” in a loud voice. “The man who had died came out,” the Bible roars. The next chapter begins with Lazarus sitting at a table with Jesus doing dinner church! (John 12:1-2)

What a glorious picture of the resurrection. We are just a few weeks away from Easter, a time when the church celebrates the resurrection life of our Lord and Savior. It’s a time when we proclaim over all of our present pain, loss, tears, and suffering that a better day is coming. Jesus didn’t just preach about resurrection and life, He dramatically hailed, “I AM THE RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE.” He promised that whoever believes in him, though he die, yet shall he live.

Whenever we find ourselves in a chapter of sorrow and anguish, may we be reminded that there is still another chapter to come. One day we will sit at the King’s table during the marriage supper of the Lamb and we will have “church” like never before. Our ashes will be turned into beauty. Our weeping will be turned into laughter. Our grief will be turned into dancing—one day, beloved, one day. Let that resonate with your soul as you seek to abide in Him this week.

I have posted an audio message on my website from Francesca, our Breakaway Outreach Italia representative, about her EASTER HOPE. It’s a short voice message that I believe will inspire your faith in these days. LISTEN TO IT BELOW. If want to know the peace that comes with knowing Christ as Lord, go here.

PRAYER

Lord, sometimes it feels like you don’t understand our urgency. But we need to remember that our timing is not your timing, and your delays are not denials. There are things in our world and sufferings in our lives that we can’t understand in this moment. We may have the news, but it isn’t the whole story. We patiently wait for that day when our Redeemer will appear, redeeming everything that is lost and restoring everything that is broken. Help us to trust you in these times. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection, Small Group or Family Discussion:

  1. What is one of your greatest disappointments in life? When has God given you comfort in the middle of a sad time of life?
  2. What did Martha say to Jesus about His having come after Lazarus had died? (John 11:21-22) What did Jesus tell Martha that Lazarus would do? (John 11:23) 
  3. How did Martha misunderstand Jesus? (11:24) What did Martha and the others learn about Jesus’ identity? (11:25)
  4. What did Jesus say would happen to those who believed in Him? (11:26) How should that shape our faith in this present time?
  5. What attitude of disappointment do you need to confess to God and change to trust in His sovereign control? How can you be a comfort to a struggling or hurting believer this week?

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Coronavirus and Social Distancing: 5 Things to Remember

Text: Nehemiah 1:1-11

“As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven.” —Nehemiah 1:4

For this week’s Abiding In Him devotion, I want to share with you five things we can remember during an unprecedented time of social distancing due to the Coronavirus.

1. Remember how God defines His Church.

With church doors temporarily closing all over the country, it’s important to remember that the New Testament “church” was never defined as a building, a service time, or a particular denomination. Even though these may speak to aspects of how we gather “as” the church, they don’t define the church. Church isn’t something we go to, it’s WHO WE ARE as God’s body—practically His hands and feet in a broken world. The inconvenience of the Coronavirus gives us an opportunity to pause and remember WHO WE ARE as “salt” (a preserving agent) in the world today (Matthew 5:13). We are thankful for the technology of Zoom and WhatsApp that has helped us to continue to fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ, but we’ve also had time to have refreshing conversations about church as our identity, and not merely just a place in which we gather. Jesus is building His Church. HE is the UNCONQUERABLE King advancing an UNSTOPPABLE kingdom, of which the gates of hell will never prevail against. His throne hasn’t been rattled by this Coronavirus—it remains UNSHAKEN (Hebrews 12:27). Be encouraged by that, and remember WHO YOU ARE as His beloved.

2. Remember that discipleship begins in our homes.

According to scripture, parents are to be the primary disciplers of their children. In some ways, that idea can get lost in our Western Christian paradigms. This is a great time to be mindful that God never intended for you to outsource the discipleship of your children to “the trained professionals.” Take this time to get into God’s Word together. You don’t need to have all the answers to questions that arise from your Bible discussions together. In fact, your kids will respect your example more when you admit that you don’t have all the answers about the infinitely complex Creator of this universe. With such a BIG GOD, there is supposed to be room for wonder and mystery. It’s those who think they have all the answers that reveal their perception of God is very small, especially if God can be entirely explained by such finite human minds. The enigma of Isaiah 55:8-9 reveals that our God is so much bigger than our limited comprehension. David never considered the size of Goliath because he knew the size of his God was beyond comprehension. You are a disciple-maker right now, right where you are. That’s the mission of the Church. You can be about your Father’s business in your own home. Git-R-Done!

3. Remember the lostness of our world.

This week, I read that in Iran, a person dies from Coronavirus every 10 minutes. Let the thought of tens of thousands of people dying and slipping into eternity break your heart—especially as it pertains to those who are lost without Christ. Nehemiah’s heart broke for the things that broke God’s heart. I wrote a book about this called “Shapers.” When Nehemiah had his heart broken, he didn’t spring into his construction and renovation project immediately. He spent four months in isolated prayer. His social distancing prepared him for an unimaginable work that later contributed to reviving a whole nation. Once he was catapulted from that prayer chamber, in God’s right timing, all of the provision (the king’s throne) of the kingdom of Persia stood behind him. God gave him the favor of a pagan king with unlimited resources to do the job. Imagine the kind of gospel influence that can emerge from this present crisis when the church is catapulted back into everyday societal norms with a renewed missional focus. We have a much bigger throne behind us than a pagan king!!! Pray for God to break your heart for what breaks His, and to give you a renewed vision for how you can be His witness to gospel-destitute souls.

4. Remember that there are still ways to serve our neighbors and the marginalized, the underserved, and those at risk, even when we are “social distancing.”

Compassion hasn’t been canceled. Kindness hasn’t been canceled. Generosity hasn’t been canceled. As part of our normal programs throughout the calendar year, Breakaway Outreach helps to provide holistic supplementation (including meals, nutrition, and hygiene) for at-risk children affected by economic insecurity in our area. As Coronavirus affects closures to schools and after school programs, we are working creatively with others in our network to make sure no kiddos go hungry or get neglected of wellness resources. I’ve been inspired by many stories of altruism this week—churches utilizing their buildings to serve children of healthcare professionals who are working tirelessly around the clock, college students going grocery shopping for vulnerable elderly folks so they don’t have to risk leaving their homes, young people organizing donation centers to get food and supplies to low income families who don’t have the privilege of being able to stockpile goods. There are ways we can serve others without being exposed to large crowds. This requires getting quiet before God and letting Him speak into our hearts about how we can creatively flesh out compassion and generosity in such a time as this.

5. Remember to pray through a scriptural lens.

Many people have been asking, “Why is God allowing this?” Though our tendency may be to pray for God to just miraculously take away this plague and all of the inconveniences and suffering it brings, it’s also important to search the scriptures and pray according to God’s Word (the final authority in every aspect of a believer’s life). Dr. Roger Barrier has written a worthy response to why God allows plagues and how we should respond through the lens of scripture (our family had a great discussion and prayer time together while navigating this post). Sometimes it was to abolish idolatry, confront arrogance, reveal sin and disobedience, or lead people to repentance. Regardless of how we interpret the reason for this pandemic, and I try to be very careful about making assumptions, we should be earnest about praying for God’s purposes to be accomplished through manifold unknowns. We should pray for God to convict hearts, reveal sin, confront our personal and cultural idols, bring hearts to repentance, and draw people to Himself. We should pray for miracles. We should pray boldly for protection. We should pray for healing where there is infection. We should expect God to show forth His power, yet not to the neglect of spiritual introspection and biblical examination of ourselves. We should pray for the Holy Spirit to show us things we need to see about our communities, our nation, the world, and ourselves. If we do this, we may even see a major revival on the other end of this global crisis.

Think about these five things as you seek to abide in Him during times of social distancing.

PRAYER

Father, remind us that there is a purpose to every season in life. No matter what we face, we can be assured that You are on the throne, sovereign over all things. We trust Your heart, even in our constraints. We seek Your heart for the things that need to break ours. Holy Spirit, revive our prayer life. Confront our idols. Convict us of sin. Lead us to repentance. Bring healing through confession. Give us a healthy ecclesiastical identity and stir our missional creativity for discipleship. Show us our place in this moment, and remind us that we were made for such a time as this. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection, Small Group or Family Discussion:

  1. What has been the hardest part of your social distancing during the Coronavirus emergency? What has been positive?
  2. Of the five things listed above that are worth remembering, which one most resonates with you in this moment?
  3. Read Nehemiah 1:1-11. What was significant about Jerusalem’s walls of protection being destroyed? How did Nehemiah react to the news about suffering Jerusalem and the exiles? (Nehemiah 1:4)
  4. How did Nehemiah describe God in his prayer (Nehemiah 1:5)? What are the benefits of focusing on the attributes of God?
  5. What is the major theme of Nehemiah’s prayer? On whose behalf did Nehemiah pray and fast? What specific request did Nehemiah ask God to grant him? What can we learn from Nehemiah’s prayer life that may help us during this pandemic?

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