The Miracle of the Earthquake

Five miracles happened as Jesus hung on the cross. The day became night, symbolizing Jesus taking the sin of history upon Himself. Next, the temple veil was split from top to bottom, symbolizing a new covenant of salvation available and accessible to all. Today, we examine the third miracle. Matthew reported an earthquake. I believe that this “splitting of the rocks” points back to a statement Jesus made to the Pharisees as He was welcomed into Jerusalem on the Sunday before that Friday.

Luke provides the details of the entry into Jerusalem as recorded in Luke 19.

36And as he went, they spread their clothes in the way. 37And when he was come nigh, even now at the descent of the mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen; 38Saying, Blessed be the King that cometh in the name of the Lord: peace in heaven, and glory in the highest. 39And some of the Pharisees from among the multitude said unto him, Master, rebuke thy disciples. 40And he answered and said unto them, I tell you that, if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out.

When we collaborate the accounts from Matthew and Luke, we find an interesting detail. “If these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out.” At the cross, we find the disciples at their worst. I remind you that it is not just Judas that betrayed Jesus. Likewise, it is not just Peter that denied Jesus. In one way or the other, is it not true that all of the disciples deserted Jesus? Is it not true that the “these” of Luke 19:40 did in fact become silent? So, what was the response? Matthew tells us that the stones cried out!

I give you as a hypothesis that the earthquake and the splitting of the rocks were the prophetic fulfillment of Jesus’ words recorded in Luke 19. If this hypothesis is correct, then we have some certain conclusions from the earthquake. First, the earthquake establishes that Jesus is worthy to be praised. The precise reason that He is worthy to be praised was established at the cross.

Second, the earthquake establishes that Jesus will be praised. The fulfillment of this prophecy makes clear that Jesus will always be praised. The whole world may fall silent, but His name will be praised forever.

So, what’s the reason for our silence? Why do we not always praise Him as we should?  Some fail to see the significance of the cross. Do you really realize that would it not be for the cross, all of us would be stuck in our sin and bound for Hell? But, because of what Christ did, we are forgiven of sin, have the ability to be free of sin, and are on our way to Heaven at the exact moment of our death. That alone should keep us praising Him every moment of our lives.

Others are limited in their praise because they focus on what is seen rather than on that which is not seen. Here is the problem of the disciples. The disciples could only see Jesus’ death. They could only see the cross. They hadn’t understood Jesus’ words that He would only be three days in the grave. They could only see with human eyes. We do the same. We get distressed by our problems and forget that God is working all things together for our good.

So how should we praise Him? We should praise Him with our lips, of course, but do not forget, we should also praise Him with our lives.

The Miracle of the Splitting of the Veil

At the cross we see five miracles. Each of the miracles has a distinctive message. The first miracle, three hours of darkness in broad daylight, symbolized that Jesus took upon Himself the sins of the whole world. The second miracle, the miraculous splitting of the veil, symbolizes that we are all welcome into the presence of God. This is how God always wanted to relate to us.

Each year millions of people go to the holy Indian city of Haridwar to bathe in the River Ganges. These multitudes come believing that this Hindu ritual will wash away their sins.  Such extreme measures may be uncommon, but people try all sorts of things to build a relationship with God. The splitting of the veil reminds us that the death of Christ upon the cross gives us a way to have a relationship with God.

Matthew reported that the tearing of the veil happened simultaneous to Jesus breathing his last breath. (Matthew 27:50-51) Scholars debate which veil is being referenced. The temple would have had two curtains or veils—one separating the outer court from the Gentiles and another separating the inner court from the Holy of Holies. Since none of the Gospels indicate which veil, we do not know exactly, but in either case the issue is one of separation. The veil reminded that there was a barrier between sinful humanity and Holy God.

Understanding the purpose of the veil helps us to see the significance of this miracle.  The tearing of the veil symbolizes several aspects of the nature of our salvation.

First, we see that salvation involves the removal of a barrier. The veil in the temple was a barrier. The first veil kept non-Jews from entering the inner courts. The second veil kept all, except the most High Priest, and this only once a year, from going into the Holiest of Holy Places. Sin is our barrier, but at the tearing of Christ’s flesh on the cross, the temple veil miraculously tore apart, thus symbolizing the removal of the barrier.

Second, in the tearing of the veil, we are reminded that God initiates salvation. Salvation is God’s idea, not our idea. Some have remarked that the Gospel writers were sure to indicate that the veil was torn from top to bottom. Perhaps this imagery is symbolic of God from Heaven ripping down the curtain.

Third, in the tearing of the veil, we are encouraged that God invites all to be saved. The temple being torn dramatically announces that access to God is open to all.
Finally, the tearing of the veil insists that God is the only way of salvation. The simultaneous tearing of the veil with His death announces that we gain access to God only through the cross.

Yes, I think much more was happening than just a tearing of a veil. God was announcing through this miracle, as the writer of Hebrews declared, “Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us.” (Hebrews 9:12) Hallelujah to the Lamb!

The Miracle of Darkness in the Day

Every Christian will agree that a great miracle occurred that Friday that Jesus took upon Himself the sin of the whole world. Actually, as Matthew related that scene, as recorded in Matthew 27:45-54, one can count as many as five miracles: the sun turning to darkness, the splitting of the temple veil, the shaking of the earth, the resurrection of dead people, and the response of the soldiers. In these miracles is the message of the cross. In the noonday darkness, we learn the first lesson of the cross. Though Paul did not refer to the darkness, his commentary on the cross in 2 Corinthians 5:21 is a good synopsis of the lesson from the darkness. “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

Reason for the Darkness

Have you ever stopped to ponder the reason for the darkness? Considering the imagery of darkness in other moments of Biblical history, perhaps God was saying something in the darkness of Crucifixion Day. God seemed to use darkness in the period of the Exodus to indicate a significant moment. The ninth plague was total darkness for three days. Right before the plague of death, which was the tenth plague, was the darkness. God was announcing through darkness, “I’m up to something.” The darkness at the Exodus and at the cross announced, “Look, this is a Divine moment! Don’t miss it!”

Does your way seem kind of dark right now? Don’t be in despair! God may be about to make an announcement about your life! Darkness often comes before Divine moments.

In addition to the darkness signaling a Divine moment, the darkness symbolized that the cross was a defining moment in human history. All throughout Scripture, evil and sin are referred to in terms of darkness. Good and righteousness are referred to in terms of light.  The darkness of verse 45 is linked to the declaration of verse 46. Christ took upon Himself the sin of the whole world. In that moment, all sin—past, present, and future—fell upon the Savior. No wonder the sky grew dark!

The Theological Relevance of the Darkness

Out of this darkness, we sense some theological truths. First, we are reminded that sin separates us from God. Second, the depth of God’s love is revealed. Stop and think about it. The Bible describes Hell as a place of darkness, a place of torment, and a place of separation from God. Jesus, in those hours of darkness, went through all three so we would not have to go through these ourselves. Sometimes, people get into great debates as to who put Jesus on the cross. Was it the Jews, the Romans, Pilate or Judas? Let’s be clear about the answer. First, all people put Jesus on the cross. Second, Jesus placed Himself on the cross. He wanted to save people from sin.

What should be our response to such a display of love? We must join the centurion in saying, “Truly this {is} the Son of God.”

Crying out to God in the Midst of the Crisis

Here I raise my Ebenezer
Here there by Thy great help I’ve come

We sing these words in the hymn “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” I’m sure many of us sing these words without realizing exactly why we are singing them.

Do yourself a great favor and go read 1 Samuel 7:1-12.

As usual, the Philistines are causing trouble for Israel. As usual Israel is scared. As usual, Israel cries out to God through their leader at the time to “make it stop.” This time the leader is Samuel. As usual, God hears, and Israel is victorious.

What Samuel did and said next give us the words of this beloved hymn.

Afterward, Samuel took a stone, named it Ebenezer, explaining, “The Lord has helped us to this point.” (1 Samuel 7:12)

Meditate on those words today. Another translation renders it, “Thus far the Lord has helped us.”

When we began this journey, we had more questions than answers. We had fears. Who are we kidding? Today, we still have more questions than answers. We still have fears.

But, we can also say, “The Lord has helped us to this point.”

We have seen churches learn to do worship through technology. We have seen people have Sunday School through ZOOM. We have heard amazing stories of people stepping up in a variety of ways.

Yes, we can say, “The Lord has helped us to this point.”

And, believe this, dear friends, one day we will be on the other side of this global crisis and still be able to say, “The Lord has helped us to this point.”

Go Raise an Ebenezer Somewhere Today!

We want to invite you to join us for a statewide online prayer meeting Thursday, April 2, at 7:14 p.m. on our Louisiana Baptists Facebook page (facebook.com/louisianabaptists).  The writer of Hebrews encourages us to boldly approach the throne of grace so we can receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need (Heb. 4:16). I think you’ll agree that we are in a time of need, so please join us as we unite our voices and our prayers, surround the throne and cry out to God.

How I Would Do Live Streaming If I Was Still a Pastor?

I find myself saying a lot these days, “If I was still a pastor.” So, for what it’s worth and if it helps some of our pastors think through some issues, here are several things I would do with live streaming or producing a recorded version of a worship service during this COVID-19 crisis.

  • I would be a minimalist. Pastor, this is not the time to be fancy. Your congregation needs a word from God far more than a need professional broadcast. In addition, having a minimum number of people involved also helps slow the spread which is way more important right now than the quality of your production.
  • I would seek to make the remote worship gathering as normal as possible. The order of service would look the same. I would welcome guests inviting them to send a text or email to tell us that they were watching. I would have a pastoral prayer. Congregations need to be comforted by hearing their pastor pray for them. I would sing. Well, I would have someone else lead in musical worship. I would receive an offering at the usual spot in our worship. I would use that moment in worship to ask people right then to electronically send in their offering or prepare their gift for mailing. This seems much more worshipful and Biblical than the appeal that the bills won’t be paid if the people don’t give. I would preach. And, I would extend a Gospel invitation and extend an opportunity for people to email, text, phone, or mail their commitment. I would conclude with a benediction—a good word. The point is that we are far from anything that is normal right now, but I would try to be as normal as possible in leading people to worship.
  • In my sermon I would ask people to do something. In my last few years of preaching, I have fallen into a practice of concluding my sermons with the question, “So what?” The idea is to make sure that we were moving from the information to transformation, from the theological to the practical. I would certainly not deviate from that practice during this crisis. Now, more than ever, folks need something to do. I would make sure that the message calls them to do something.

Pastor, I am praying for you as you prepare to preach each Sunday and as you redesign ministry for the weeks and months ahead.

A Remote Ministry

On Sunday, March 22, Louisiana’s Governor John Bel Edwards gave the grim news that Louisiana has the fastest rate of confirmed cases for the COVID-19 virus than any state or nation in the world.

Along with that foreboding news, Governor Edwards implemented a “stay at home order” until at least April 13. The Governor’s Sunday proclamation makes it official that we are in this for the long haul. And, “this” seems to be changing on us daily.

So, the thought occurred to me that much of the Apostle Paul’s ministry was remote. Because of his imprisonment, much of his ministry became remote instead of in person. Paul could have said that there’s nothing that he could do, but instead, he stayed connected to the churches through a ministry of writing.

Think about the book of Philippians for example. The contents might help us to understand how we do ministry in these “remote” days.

  • Paul engaged in a ministry of prayer. (1:3-11) If our prayer life doesn’t grow in these days of our “confinement,” we must confess that we are really not all that interested in praying.
  • Paul expected a new wave of evangelism. (1:12-20) Paul, in his confinement looked for evangelistic opportunity, and to his no great surprise, it was right in front of him. I believe the same is true for us if we will open our eyes. May we, as Paul did, understand that opportunities for Gospel advance now exist that did not before the COVID-19 crisis.
  • Paul elevated that which was most assured in his life. (1:21-30) Every day we live with this truth that to live is Christ and to die is gain. Every day we live with this truth that whether we live or die, as Christians, we truly win. This crisis causes us to face this truth in a brand new way. We are going to be tested as to whether we believe the message we have been preaching.
  • Paul exhorted true Christian doctrine. Paul spoke of humility, the importance of our Christian witness (shine like stars), and the power of the Gospel over everything else.
  • Paul experienced joy and contentment. (4:1-18)
  • Paul expressed hope for the future. (4:19-20)

“And my God will supply all your needs according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”

So, while we engage in this remote ministry, know that God is up to something! Just imagine where we would be without Paul’s remote ministry. For starters, we would be missing a lot of the New Testament.

Stay encouraged!

How About Some Different Headlines?

I don’t know about you, but I could you use some different headlines these days.

I want to share with you some Scriptures that sound a lot like headlines to me. Hopefully, these headlines will put in right perspective the headlines of the last couple of weeks.

  • God’s Grace is Sufficient—This headline comes from 2 Corinthians 12:9, which says, “But He said to me,“My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Therefore, I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may reside in me.
  • God Reigns—This headline is affirmed in Revelation 19:6. “Then I heard something like the voice of a vast multitude, like the sound of cascading waters, and like the rumbling of loud thunder, saying: Hallelujah, because our Lord God, the Almighty, has begun to reign!”
  • Jesus Announces Peace—This headline comes from John 16:33, which says, “I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world.”

There will be many who panic, but as believers in Jesus, let the peace of God rule and reign in your heart.

How Should Churches Respond to Government Guidelines on Gathering During the COVID-19 Crisis? (03-17-20 – 4:43pm Update)

Even though I’ve been out of the local pastorate for around 10 months, I’m a pastor at heart. I try to think like a pastor in my current position. With that being said, if I was still pastoring a local church, I would follow the federal, state, and local recommendations being presented and updated on a regular basis.

Think about it, we’re not being told we cannot worship. We’re not being forced to believe something contrary to Scripture. We’re simply being asked to temporarily restructure the way we do so in order for everyone to benefit. From my perspective we can make these work.

I base this decision on what I see in God’s word.

For example, my Scripture reading yesterday was from Luke 10. Verse 27 in the Parable of the Good Samaritan says:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,” and “your neighbor as yourself.”

Love God and love my neighbor is the command. In our present context, with all the information that I have at the moment, that means protecting my neighbor. No, I am not afraid of getting COVID-19, but, I have an obligation to my neighbor to take necessary, even unprecedented, steps to not transmit this disease to those who might not be healthy enough to fight it. I certainly have a neighborly obligation to not add to the potential crisis facing our healthcare providers.

Therefore I’m going to participate and I’m leading our state missions staff to participate as well. I urge you, my fellow Louisiana Baptists, to join us in adhering to these guidelines. As we do, let’s pray fervently that these guidelines work, allowing us to get back to assembling again sooner rather than later.

Louisiana Baptists Update (03-31-20)

Revised 03/31/20 – 1:30 pm

In keeping with the requests of our federal, state and local officials regarding efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19, also known as the Coronavirus, we are directing our state missions staff to work remotely through April 12.

[Updated] All events through May have been canceled or postponed. No decision has been made with regard to camps at this point.

Your state missions staff will be available via email and phone during this period.

A list of resources has been developed to help you navigate these uncharted waters. Click here to be redirected to the COVID-19 Resources page.

Be faithful to pray for and encourage each other as well as our leaders.

Be faithful in giving to the Lord through your church. This can be done online if your church offers that option or you can mail your tithe to your church.

While these are unprecedented times, these are also wonderful opportunities for spiritual growth and outreach. If you’ve fallen behind in your Bible reading, now’s a good time to catch up. If you’re engaged with the “Who’s Your One?” emphasis, continue to pray for them and reach out to them during this time. More than likely people will be in front of their TV’s and on their devices more than normal so visit HereforYou.org and share your favorite Here for You commercial. Pray God will draw people’s attention to the commercials they’ll see on broadcast and cable TV as well on social media. Pray the seed of God’s truth will find good soil and water the seeds that have already been scattered. Ask God to prepare some of the hearts for harvest in the days ahead.

Even the midst of uncertainty, God is faithful. May He find us faithful during this time as well.

Coronavirus (03-13-20 – 7:06pm Update)

Greetings,

Your state missions staff continues to monitor the quickly evolving Coronavirus situation and appreciate your prayers as we process all of the information coming from federal and state sources.

We posted information and suggestions yesterday regarding Sunday services. While many of these are still valid, the Governor’s proclamation today certainly tweaks and changes some of those.

As you know, every church is autonomous therefore the Executive Board does not have the prerogative to pass down directives to Louisiana Baptist churches. However, after conducting conference calls today with several pastors and Directors of Missions, here are some suggestions for you to consider over the next several weeks.

If your congregation runs under 250 in attendance, which the vast majority of our churches do, the suggestions offered yesterday are still worthy of consideration.

For those of you who run over 250, here are some ideas you may find helpful:

  • Consider foregoing Sunday School and hold multiple worship services thus assuring your congregation remains under the 250 limit.
  • For those who already have two Sunday Schools and two worship services, in addition to foregoing Sunday School, you may need to adjust your schedule to give ample time for sanitizing between services.
  • If you do not currently offer multiple services and need to conduct them in order to stay under the limit, consider assigning Sunday School classes a specific service to attend.
  • A Saturday night option may also need to be offered in some cases.
  • A few pastors indicated they are considering a house church option.
  • Others are going to use Facebook Live in lieu of gathering.

Even with these changes, we’re still calling for Sunday to be a dedicated day of prayer. Whether you gather corporately, worship through technology, or worship privately, please join Southern Baptists across the country in this consecrated time of prayer for our nation.

Let me take this opportunity to urge all Louisiana Baptists to refrain from public criticism of the Governor’s proclamation. He is in a difficult spot and needs our prayers and not our criticism.

These are unprecedented times, but at the same time we have opportunities to show the love of Christ and grow in our personal discipleship. Remember what Paul told the Roman believers “All things work together for good …

Please know we are praying for you as you decide the best way for your people to worship in the coming weeks.

Keep looking up,

Steve Horn
Executive Director
Louisiana Baptists