“Do you think God is coming soon? It feels like the end.” I received this SMS from a dear friend when the government announced a pandemic.
Even though we don’t know the exact time of Christ’s appearing (and for good reason), we can see Jesus’ prophecies being fulfilled—such as the ones found in Matthew 24. The leaves are telling us that the fruit is about to appear. We feel the birth-pains growing closer and more intense. We are also aware that we have an individual end-time when we die.
The only human without a time limit is our Lord. We don’t know the exact date of Christ’s birth, but thanks to the Passover, we know more accurately when He died and rose again.
Easter corresponds closely to the celebration of Passover—a great opportunity to challenge ourselves and others to look at the evidence for Christ’s life, death and resurrection—the centre of our faith in Christ (1 Corinthians 15:17).
However, there is something else that happens after Jesus’ return to His throne—a precious gift that He couldn’t wait to give His followers. Something that has happened in previous generations, and can also happen in ours.
Forty days after Easter (or 50 days after the festival of first fruits) Jesus’ followers were gathered together, waiting. “And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place” (Acts 2:1). What happened next?
Not denying that the Holy Spirit has already been working, we see the promise of another powerful outpouring in the last days. Jesus repeatedly encourages us to ask for the Holy Spirit. He eagerly longs to give us this gift, more than a father wants to give his child bread (Matthew 7:9-11).
Our current COVID-19 dilemma has created a situation so inconvenient and interrupting to the majority of our church families, yet full of opportunities to stop what we are doing and reflect, re-evaluate and seek God.
There is another passage containing beautiful promises that seems perfectly appropriate to what we are going through—Joel 2.
In Joel 2 we see a call to stop everything—a call to repentance. This call to sacred assembly applies to everyone—from infants in their mothers’ arms, to the elderly. God promises such a powerful revival that there is no discrimination between old and young, male and female (Joel 2:28,29), often referred to as the latter rain.
How applicable to our current situation that, just before this outpouring, God asks everyone to stop what they are doing—no matter how urgent and important. Even the bridegroom is called out from his chamber, and the bride from her dressing room (Joel 2:16b).
You and I could swap stories to parallel this picture—weddings postponed; the terribly sad situation of funerals with 10 people or less; jobs, businesses and investments stalled or lost; international students stranded. These are so much more than interruptions. [pullquote]
My husband and I understand the fears and tears, due to our own world-stopping moment, and the reality of descending into the dark valley of loss—loss of health, loss of work, loss of hope—that must be confronted. In our case it was due to a cancer diagnosis over a year ago. Even though it is a very difficult journey, we have learnt in living colour how the Lord is our Shepherd. We are comforted by His promises of restoration, where He will give back the years that the locusts have eaten (Joel 2:25).
Through tough times and interruptions we also find hope, and new doors open. We have opportunities to share with people we never would have met otherwise.
What are the opportunities you see? How can we use our time right now to gather together as a Church? How can we use our time to bless others—to comfort, help and encourage—when peoples’ hearts are “failing them for fear . . .” (Luke 21:26)?
How can we connect, pray and share?
Christ didn’t tell us what would happen to scare us but rather to encourage and comfort us, so in reply to my friend I told her of His “birth-pain” analogy. While they may seem unbearable, birth-pains mean something amazing is going to happen.
The last prophecies are being fleshed out. The stage is being set. We are nearing the end of the race. How can we fulfil Christ’s command to preach the gospel to every creature?
After the time of repentance, fasting and weeping, and gathering together the sacred assembly (Joel 2:12-17), God describes the outpouring of His blessings.
Joel 2:28, 29:
“And it shall come to pass afterward
That I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh;
Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
Your old men shall dream dreams,
Your young men shall see visions.
And also on My menservants and on My maidservants
I will pour out My Spirit in those days.”
Even though we can’t be physically gathered together as a Church, like the disciples in Acts 2, we know that God isn’t limited. We can be together in other ways. Though many of us are suffering due to this pandemic, we also have unprecedented opportunities. Why not pray for God to quench our thirst with a flood?
Leesa Briones writes from Melbourne, Australia, where she lives with her husband Morris and daughter Mia.