Coronavirus has impacted nearly every aspect of life on the planet – and for those really troubled by it – even our dreams!
We are all on a journey in God, discovering his goodness, favour, generosity, discipline and his ways and that journey continues despite the virus, and it gives us a sobering prompt to contemplate our circumstances, our ways and God’s ways.
This weekend, I was due to speak at a thriving Church in the North of England. With all the pressures such a church faces as it reaches out to the community, I felt moved by a certain story in Luke that engages the heart about what happens when we encounter the unexpected Jesus. When Jesus turns up in our lives, anything and everything is possible. In this Coronavirus ‘life-reset’ moment, there is still encouraging news in the gospel.
The unfolding story
Every step, minute, word and action of Jesus is an encounter with God.
In this narrative – having seen miracles Jesus does (rather than performs), the disciples are suddenly having their understanding of the greatness of Jesus stretched at every level. The disciples are slowly Increasing in the knowledge of God. Every step, minute, word and action of Jesus is an encounter with God. To be fair, He’s being watched, observed, and scrutinised in everything He says and does! Like you, the crowds are intrigued and challenged as they behold him, see his works, hear his words – watch his expressions – watching for the frown!
The relentless, ongoing personal encounter with Christ shows to them that no situation is beyond the reach of Jesus’ compassion and kindness (we need to hear that today). Their experience reflects Paul’s prayer for the Colossians years later; keep learning and discovering God;
And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.” (Colossians 1:9-10)
Jesus is ready to come into the circumstances of their lives and the community, with little or no notice
Luke 7:11-14 brings the compelling story as an answer in our COVID-19 lock downs! It’s an immense story that demands we read, think, muse and respond, and how you read, listen and think about God’s Word is so important; if you want to discern God’s work in your life, that’s where it happens. Where are you and your circumstances in the narrative of Scripture?
The Emmaus disciples are a good example as they discover from Jesus first hand, that he is everywhere in time and history, always showing us God’s immense ways, plans and God’s heart for us.
The story begins.
Jesus is on the move, crossing the town border from Capernaum, His time there is done – for now. It’s been a great time, but they needed to be alert and like us, know the time of their visitation” – and don’t miss it! (Lk 19:44) If God is doing something in your heart, don’t let the moment pass you by without responding.
Picture the scene: there are two crowds on the move. Jesus is moving out of Capernaum with the disciples and a great crowd. Imagine the mixed emotions;
They walked along behind Jesus, probably sharing stories of the miraculous, of healings and deliverance’s. Perhaps people were walking alongside or behind Jesus with pondering and speculating with questions about who this man was that could heal with a mere word, open the eyes of the blind, see the sin in the human heart and pronounce forgiveness with such grace and generosity of spirit.
They were on a journey and so are you.
Wherever Jesus is, you will find the Church – gathered around Him. Jesus is the magnificent obsession of anyone who knows the truth and growing in the knowledge of God.
It was a clash of kingdoms. No one expected the exciting drama that would unfold except Jesus.
You couldn’t plan what happens next though!
A great crowd full of excitement and anticipation were following behind Jesus when suddenly, 19 miles from Nazareth, they encounter another considerable crowd walking straight towards them. But the crowd ambling towards them was noticeably different, something was very, very wrong. The crowd moved slowly, heads down, crying, sobbing, wailing – and deep despair.
It was a clash of kingdoms. No one expected the exciting drama that would unfold except Jesus.
What was Jesus even doing there? The answer that took Jesus from Capernaum to the dusty roads of the small town of Nain couldn’t be answered by the disciples, or the miracle-hungry crowd, but only by Jesus, “I only do what I see the Father doing.” (John 5:19) Never underestimate what God can do in your life. COVID-19 is a wake-up call for faith to say, “Expect the unexpected Jesus!”
Never underestimate what God can do in your life.
The Father was showing His divine love and deep compassion. We are not alone. We are encouraged to cast all our anxiety on Him because He cares for us.
A day of insurmountable sadness is interrupted by the unexpected presence of Jesus. Unannounced; unexpected and unprecedented – a prophetic word for you!
You are not alone or forgotten by God in your city, town or village… and depending on which crowd we are with we either behold His glory, or we receive His gracious intervention.
We are not told that the downhearted, sad crowd from Nain knew Jesus, but we know faith was present which was so unlike Capernaum; “He did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief.” Mt 13:58
Amazing stories – but this is Nain?
The crowds striding along with Jesus had recently seen and heard amazing stories; One Sabbath, Jesus healed a man who had an unclean spirit, on another day Jesus healed a fever in Simon Peter’s mother-in-law. Then a Roman Centurion asked Jesus to heal his servant, which turned out very well , followed by an amazing story of the healing of the paralytic lowered through the roof to reach Jesus.
Everywhere Jesus went, the Kingdom of God was making massive advances. Today we have had our various ‘God-spots’: Bethel, Kansas City, China, Korea, London, Brazil…
And now Jesus has come to somewhere called Nain. Nain? Really?
Only Luke has researched this and told about it. Wikipedia has very little to say about Nain. No reason for God to suddenly, unexpectedly intervene or do something wonderful and miraculous for a nameless widow.
Enter the unexpected Jesus
Enter the unexpected Jesus, and now the background music is building up like something from a Bond movie …
The crowds meet at the gate to Nain. The path is full of people. No-one is observing the ‘2-metre rule’ and here comes the funeral procession. Eyes are suddenly on Jesus, conversation stops. And then it happens, out of nowhere, Jesus saw her.
Only 10 minutes ago – what can change for you?
Ten minutes ago she was gathering her things, men were lifting the stretcher up to begin the journey to the burial site. Ten minutes ago the disciples were following Jesus somewhere, happy and cheerful. Your circumstance is exactly the same. Jesus knew where he was going, what the agenda was, how it would all turn out.
His gaze is on her, just her – and as he looks at her he had compassion on her. Not just for her, that’s what we would do. He did what only God could do; he had compassion on her, and with that he speaks such kindness, “Do not weep.” his words are not empty; he stops the procession and, breaking all the rules, touches the stretcher and tells the young man to get up! This is the dramatic moment that outshines the blasting musical outburst that follows, “My name is Bond, James Bond!”
Do. Not. Weep. Three words that fill your heart with hope and courage.
She came heartbroken and with the vocal expression of a deep, travailing, terrible despair, but she didn’t come to Jesus. He came to her. We never get to know their names. There is only one hero in the story, his name is told in the narrative. Jesus said. The good news is that you don’t have to come to Jesus, He’s coming to you. You don’t have to find Him, He’s here. Whatever your city, town, street, hospital ward or prison address is – he knows where you are – and he turns up unexpectedly.
The initiative is his. It always has been… (John 3:16)
Fear that produces worship
And so, as the mixed crowds look on, the dead man became a living man again, and immediately starts talking! What did he talk about?
This is Nain, the place where Jesus raises the dead, restores hope, vision and courage
The result is great fear seized them all, but this was the fear that produced worship, a deep sense of awe. The story ends not telling us of the celebrations that went on into the evening and into the weeks and months to come as they rehearsed the story of how Jesus had come unexpectedly and visited them. They knew what had happened. God had visited his people.
And so in a few verses Luke told us the story no one else mentioned. What a story, encouragement and challenge! These might feel like a dark, hopeless wilderness but this is Nain, the place where Jesus raises the dead, restores hope, vision and courage, the place where Jesus sees you and has compassion on you.
It’s the place where He visits His people with audacious, extravagant grace and kindness. The unexpected Jesus – who oozes life, hope, vision. God comes to town and turns our mourning into joy and celebration. All the light switches get switched on. God visits His people.
But what about you?
Have you crossed a point of no return? Are you that widow, with heartbreak, sadness and devastation, or the young man waiting for Jesus to call you from death to life? He’s here now speaking to you with insurmountable kindness.
The heart of the Christian message is that the happy God so loved our weeping world that he gave his own Son to weep with us, all the way to the place of utter forsakenness, that whosoever believes in him will not weep forever, but have everlasting joy.
And one day, when he wipes away our every tear, it is not because he is suppressing our sadness. The one who wipes away our tears has shed his own. And he has triumphed – and truly we can say today, God has visited His people.
This is a time of heart-searching. Coronavirus is changing things, inconveniencing people including our jobs, families and church life. Tragically some have lost their lives to the virus, but let’s encourage each other to keep turning to the Lord. The Nain event shows us that God has not forgotten us wherever we are, and He already knows about us.
Keep trusting the Lord.