“Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” – Hebrews 12:3
One of the amazing feats that Christ accomplished through the cross was the creation of “one new humanity” – He abolished divides of race and descent, and bound together anyone who put their trust in Him as a single people: the People of God. Throughout the New Testament we read challenges to “consider it pure joy when we face trials of many kinds”, to “allow perseverance to complete its work of making us mature”, and perhaps most radically to “love our enemies”.
Why is it that this new People of God can be resilient? How can we live that out in this current season? Here are five good reasons from the Scriptures:
We have a faithful history
One of the joys of having a Bible that was written over a period of nearly 2000 years is that we get a long history of what life with God is like. We can look back at God’s interactions with individuals, families and nations, and with the benefit of hindsight we can see not only how God showed them love, faithfulness and undeserved kindness, but also how He disciplined people, taught them, and brought about justice on a personal, national and international scale.
God reveals himself in Exodus to be “the Lord, the Lord, the gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin – but not leaving the guilty unpunished.” Story after story show this to be the case. As we read on, we are shown an increasingly clear picture of a God who can be trusted entirely, who is never caught out, never acts selfishly, and consistently blesses people at His own cost. This picture culminates in God coming to earth as a man in Jesus, demonstrating all those same attributes clothed in human flesh.
This faithful history gives us confidence! God deserves to be taken at His word just because He’s God – but to help us in our weakness, God has given us nearly 4000 years of faithfulness to look back on, with much of the first half captured in Scripture. Will God find ways to bless us? Yes! Will He shield us from anything at all wrong happening to us? No – He wants us to grow through suffering. Will He stand with us and support us through difficulties? Yes! Will He consistently give us better than we deserve? Abundantly!
We have a Pioneer
Anyone who has been in a crisis situation will recognise this situation. Everyone is caught off guard by a sudden development, there’s a pause, and then all eyes turn to the most experienced person in the room. They’ve seen it before, weathered it, picked up some scars, and learned some lessons.
If I was given a penny for every time I’ve heard the word “unprecedented” over the last month, I’d be able to buy a decent-sized multi-pack of toilet roll! Who do we turn to in an unprecedented situation? One who has seen it all, experienced every difficulty that a person can, weathered it, and picked up some scars. Specifically, in His hands, feet, side and heart. Jesus has experienced poverty, oppression, violence, temptation, betrayal, hatred from others, torture and death. He was surrounded by crowds, yet when it really counted He was abandoned and left alone and isolated. He knows what it is to dread the future, even while others depended on Him for leadership and guidance.
We have a Pioneer who has gone before us. Nothing we go through is too much, and He promises to be with us – not to shield us from everything, but to stand with us. Hebrews 12 puts it this way: “let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy that was set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
We have company
In his foreword to the excellent history of Christian spirituality Water from a Deep Well, Eugene Peterson writes, “This book is a timely antidote to the amnesiac, one-generational world that we live in. A one-generational church is capable of generating energy but there are no roots. When the emotions wear off or difficulty arrives it withers. Soon there is nothing to show for it. Without a cultivated memory we live from hand to mouth on fad and novelty. But Christians don’t sprint out of the starting blocks in each generation in a race for heaven. We are on a relay team. We have a heritage, a richly composted family history. We need to know these members of our family who lived lives similar to what we are living and lived them well. As we get to know them, we are less isolated, less alone. We are not orphans. We are not misfits.”
We can look back to Christians who have gone before us – and persevered through plagues and worse. Hebrews 12 again: “Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” And we can also look sideways, to our brothers and sisters in other nations, also running the race with us. When we worship the Lord, we stand alongside believers in Portugal, Albania, Kazakhstan, Iran, North Korea, Japan, China, Bolivia, Canada, and so many others. Many of them are in the same situation as us, and can encourage us. Many have been through, or are going through, worse situations that are only compounded by the COVID-19 crisis. We can look to them for encouragement, and offer them our support as they too seek to be resilient.
We are a temple
We can read the Scripture quickly – ” You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you.” But pause. God lives in us. God lives in us. This is not a metaphor, but a reality! The Spirit who lives in us reminds us of foundational truths, like our status as children of God; He communicates to us the thoughts of God, and helps us to pray in ways that line up with God’s plan. You can see in the Scriptures how central the Temple was to Jewish identity – it was the centre of their world; it marked them out as God’s people; it was a place of direct access to God; it reminded them of their national history; it was a symbol of God’s protection over them.
We have all of that in us, the Church – Paul writes: “Don’t you know that you [plural] are a Temple of the Holy Spirit?” All those benefits and more are now found in us – the covenant People of God.
We have a certain future
I had a friend in a church in Wimbledon who used to say, “when the devil tells me all the wrong things I’ve done, I read Revelation 21 and 22 and remind him how it all ends!” She said it with a smile, but it’s true. The book of Revelation lays out picture after picture of what we can expect – first of all, Jesus with us, refining us, provoking us and offering rewards to the faithful; then troubles, including international upheaval and disaster; and then a true and lasting peace – not a dull, lack-of-anything-happening peace, but a celebration, a wedding, an eternal reconciliation of everything and everyone to God and to each other!
One of the most powerful things about Revelation is how so much of the imagery is utterly incomprehensible. The precious stones that have unusual appearances, rainbows like an emerald, creatures covered with eyes, the cubic New Jerusalem “adorned like a bride” with gates made of a single pearl each. The point is this:
‘What no eye has seen,
what no ear has heard,
and what no human mind has conceived’ –
these are the things God has prepared for those who love him –
these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit. (1 Corinthians 2:9-10)
The hope that lies ahead of us is amazing beyond belief. One more reason to look Coronavirus straight in the eye, note its danger to life an limb, and then face it with the far-more-certain hope of future glory in our hearts.
” Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe.“ – Hebrews 12:28