It has been a tough year - we have all been knocked about by the pandemic. In the past 10 days we marked the one year anniversary - a time of genuine lament and recognition of the loss. Yet for those of us with faith in Jesus, the bad news is not the only news - for we also live by much bigger news.
We live by the fact that 2,000 years ago a man who was like no other lived, but was cruelly taken, given the most excruciating death, and sealed in a tomb ... yet 3 days later the tomb was found to be empty, and he appeared, he was alive and able to meet with those who believed!
This is the story of Jesus who shows us that death is not the end, that life through and beyond death isn't just an idea, but is real. That is why we as believers in Jesus, we who form Countess Free Church, with bad news, disruption and difficulty all around us just like everybody us ... why we live different. Whatever happens around us or to us, we live in the context of that bigger good news story, the story of God, the story of life despite death.
Here is an example of this principle in action. Paul in the story of Acts, in chapter 16 (verses 16 onwards), has him with Silas in Philippi. They are met by a girl who was a medium - she could tell the future to some degree by some kind of spiritual way. At this point let us be clear ... such a spiritual world is real, but we should understand it in two broad categories: there is the helpful spiritual - which always leads to Jesus and enabled by His Holy Spirit; and there is the unhelpful. What this girl had was definitely of the unhelpful kind. This led Paul to clearly declare 'In the name of Jesus come out of her!'. At that the spirit went, just like that.
Paul was able to command the spiritual because his faith is in the risen Jesus - in Jesus is all the authority over everything, including the spiritual: both good and bad. We too, as followers of Jesus, can learn to do the same: recognise the unhelpful and command it by the authority of Jesus to go.
The problem was the girl was being used by nasty people. They used her for profit, and now their money making machine was turned off by Paul. As you can imagine, they weren't happy about that. They had Paul & Silas set upon by a mob, stripped, beaten with sticks, flogged, and thrown into jail - the inner cell with feet in stocks.
Consider at this point how you would feel? If you were Paul or Silas, and you had done the right thing declaring the goodness of Jesus and acting in His authority - but you had been set upon, stripped, beaten, flogged and now in jail ... how would you feel?
We don't know how Paul & Silas felt, but we do know what they did: in the middle of the night, still aching from their wounds, uncomfortable with feet in stocks, stuck in the inner jail cell ... they prayed and sang worship songs to Jesus! Not just under their breath but out loud for other prisoners to hear. They did this because they lived by a different story. They weren't confined to the circumstances, the wounds, the stocks or the prison cell ... they had faith in Jesus - the risen Jesus - the one who lives despite even death! So they had praise well up from inside them, overflowing to the 'out loud'.
Let me be clear at this point. I am not saying that Christians should always be happy, forcing a plastic smile even when life plain sucks. Over the past couple of weeks we have had good reason to be sad, and we have lamented. Yet remember that even in lament we in faith go on a journey - a journey that leads us to raise our eyes up in faith to God.
With the praise still happening suddenly there are tremors, with the whole cell, the whole prison even starting to shake. The doors start falling off their hinges, the chain tie-points fall out of the walls. There is an earthquake! Paul & Silas have been praising God, honouring the risen Jesus ... and the whole earth shakes. The prisoners are effectively set loose - now they can escape!
The jailer wakes up and sees what has happened. He is now petrified, because his job is clear: "keep the prisoners locked up - if any escape it is your life for theirs!". He thinks his life is now over, and rushes into the prison panicking. Yet he need not fear - Paul, Silas and the other prisoners are still there! Why? Because Paul & Silas live by a different story - they don't need a quick escape, instead they rely on God for justice, because Jesus is risen and has authority over everything.
The jailer then asks what I think is the most significant question that all of us must ask at some point in our lives. Not an academic question, but a question from our hearts, the core of our lives. The question is:
"What must I do to be saved?"
Paul answers the question with a straight-forward answer:
"Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved".
So acknowledge that Jesus is the risen Lord, alive today. See that whatever mess you have made in life you can come before Him and ask forgiveness ... and you can receive that forgiveness, and you can now live different from this moment on, living your place in His story.
This is what happens for the jailer. Paul leads him in a simple prayer, and he lives a new life from then on.
Each of us can live this this different story. We don't need to be stuck in the circumstances - we can let His life flow so that even in the midst of difficulty we can overflow with praise. We can speak in the authority of the Name of Jesus, and we can share life with those of us around us who are panicking.