I was intrigued by the article on the front page of the Times-News a few years ago. It was about church attendance in North Carolina in general and Alamance County in particular. One thing that made me laugh out loud was the pie chart that measured church attendance in our state. Forty percent of us in the Tar Heel state report that we attend church weekly. Twenty-four percent say they go nearly weekly, or monthly. Maybe that means they go weakly. Thirty-four percent never or seldom go. None of those numbers provoked laughter, only a groan or a sigh. But then I saw the tiny sliver in the very top of the pie chart, representing two percent of the people in North Carolina who don’t know if they attended church or not. Now, that is funny.
There are a lot of things that I don’t know if I did last year. I don’t know if I rode a bicycle more than once. I don’t know if I skipped a rock across a pond. I probably did; I just don’t remember. I don’t know if I played golf three times or two. I don’t know if I stayed up past midnight even once. I don’t know if I played a card game. There are many more, but you get the drift. The things I am not sure I did are just not that important to me. But I know whether I went to a funeral, a wedding, or a church service. How can someone not know that? Clearly because going to church is not something that is important to them, not just to the two-percenters, but to the growing majority of people in our city and state.
You need a reason to go to church? “And He (God) put all things under His (Jesus’) feet and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” The church is the sum and substance of God’s plan for the world. Jesus rules over kings and governments and scientific discoveries and technological breakthroughs and demonic powers and the powers of nature and universities and religions and the Milky Way and the galaxies that He has flung throughout the universe. He rules over everything that we do know about and He rules over everything we don’t know about. And the One who rules over everything we know about and everything we don’t yet know about is the head of the church.
Alistair Begg tells the story of John Reith, the first director of the BBC, the British Broadcasting Corporation. He was a tall man, six feet six, an intimidating figure who had big bushy eyebrows that he liked to peer through as he looked at you. But early in his tenure as director, he saw some of his employees huddled together, whispering about something. Later that day Reith called one of them to his office and asked what the group had been discussing. The young man said, “Oh, we were talking about how to produce a radio program that will be a fitting burial for the Christian faith. It’s time for that nonsense to be put to rest.” Standing up and towering over the young man, a red-faced John Reith looked through bushy eyebrows and growled, “The church will stand over the BBC’s grave one day!” And it will.
I want to invite the two-percenters to join us for worship. If for no other reason, at least you will know that you went to church in 2021.
See you Sunday.
We have all been behind that person in the grocery store express lane whose cart is loaded to overflowing. You stand there with your one jar of peanut butter and debate with yourself whether to tap him on the shoulder and point at the sign. Or whether to say something subtle like, “Excuse me, but what part of ’12 items only’ do you not understand?” Most of us who were raised in the south, however, will just grin and bear it.
Or remember the time you were standing in the aisle of the plane, waiting to find your seat while someone, as Brian Regan likes to say, is trying to shove a dead yak into the overhead compartment? If you have flown even once, you know what I am talking about.
How many times have you wished you could be a police officer for just 15 minutes so you could pull over the guy who just cut across six lanes of traffic on the interstate, nearly causing a ten-car pileup?
Or how about the time you were standing in line for hours to get into an event that is festival seating. Right before the doors opened, a hoard of people who just arrived on the scene broke in line ahead of you, and laughed about all the suckers behind them. Why did that grind your gears?
It’s because God is just, and we are made in His image. Every one of us is equipped by our creator with a well developed sense of justice, which means the slightest injustice can cause us to ball up our fists and clench our teeth. Or at the very least, shake our heads and sigh.
If you have ever read the incredible story of Esther in the Old Testament, you know that Haman plotted to have every Jew in the Persian kingdom destroyed. The king signed off on it, and the days were ticking by until it would be done. But Haman could not wait that long to remove his nemesis, Mordecai the Jew. So Haman built a gallows, 75 feet high, with the intention of hanging Mordecai on it the next morning. When the king discovered that the decree to annihilate the Jews would include his own wife, Esther, and when it was revealed that Haman had also schemed to hang the man who had saved the king from an assassination plot, he exploded. The king ordered Haman to be hanged on the gallows he had prepared for Mordecai.
You cannot read the story without despising Haman and wanting him to get what he deserved. And that’s because you cannot rid your soul of a desire to see justice done, and to live justly, without hardening your heart like Haman did. Want to be free of that nagging sense of right and wrong? Here’s what you should do. Live completely for yourself. Ignore any pleas for help. Learn to laugh at victims of injustice, especially those who cannot possibly defend themselves. Then, take the next step and begin to act on your convictions. Treat others with disdain. Plot to harm the weak and eliminate the burdensome. In no time at all, you will look and be just like Haman.
But be forewarned. The Bible says, “Whoever digs a pit will fall into it, and a stone will come back on him who starts it rolling.” You see, that sense of justice that you crushed through hatred and selfishness was given to you by a just and righteous God. He will always do what is right. Always.
Haman found that out the hard way.
When Jesus was crucified, there was darkness over the whole land for three hours. We know what it’s like when the power goes out, don’t we? But even when we have no power because of an ice storm, we can see during the day. The “light” is still on. But at noon as Jesus hung on the cross, God turned off the light. The darkness of the cross was magnified when God turned the sky black. Can I remind you for a moment of what Jesus was going through?
The punishment of crucifixion was meted out for such crimes as treason, desertion in the face of the enemy, robbery, piracy, assassination, and sedition. Among the Romans, scourging, undoubtedly to hasten impending death, preceded crucifixion. The victim then bore his own cross, or at least the upright beam, to the place of execution. A tablet, on which the feet rested or on which the body was partly supported, seems to have been a part of the cross to keep the wounds from tearing through the transfixed members. The suffering of death by crucifixion was intense, especially in hot climates. The swelling about the rough nails and the torn lacerated tendons and nerves caused excruciating agony. The arteries of the head and stomach were surcharged with blood and a terrific throbbing headache ensued. The mind was confused and filled with anxiety and dread foreboding. The victim of crucifixion literally died a thousand deaths. The length of this agony was wholly determined by the constitution of the victim, but death rarely occurred before thirty-six hours had elapsed. The end was sometimes hastened by breaking the legs of the victims and by a hard blow delivered under the armpit before crucifixion. The sudden death of Christ evidently was a matter of astonishment. (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia)
Jesus suffered more than any man ever has, not just because of the brutal killing instrument that He hung upon and the unspeakable pain He bore. He suffered the greatest pain because of the punishment He bore. Could this be another reason why God turned off the lights? The darkness over the earth magnified the separation between God and His Son.
Alistair Begg says that the basic meaning of sin is to forsake God. Before you say, “Oh, I would never do that,” stop and consider. To forsake God can mean to go through your days as if God is not important. It is to live life on your own terms and only fit God into the picture when it is convenient, to have Him as a sub-category in terms of what is really important to us. You are fine having him in the backseat. But you certainly don’t want him driving the car. The idea that He would take over and you would be under His authority in everything is offensive to you. If then, the essence of sin is to forsake God, the consequence of sin is to be God-forsaken. That’s why Jesus cried out as He did from the cross in His darkest hour, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me.”
Why was the perfect Savior God-forsaken? Because He was bearing your sin and my sin in His body on the tree. Peter wrote, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the Spirit.”
This is the mystery of Easter. The dark day had to come first, for the new day to dawn once and for all. That day is here, and it has dawned for all who put their trust in Jesus Christ, and Him alone, for salvation. There is no other way out of the darkness, but praise God there is a way!