The Center for Disease Control (CDC) put out a graph that’s been going around the internet. It’s called “flattening the curve” and it shows two trajectories. The first trajectory shows what will happen when people don’t take protective measures seriously—when we don’t practice social distancing and hand washing and self-quarantine. It shows a high number of cases overloading our healthcare system, which can lead to high loss of life. This curve is steep and sharp. It looks like a looming mountain.
The second trajectory on the CDC graph shows what will happen if we are successful in our protective measures. There will still be cases, but not as many, and hopefully our healthcare system will be able to keep up with the demand. The goal is to get to that second curve.
I am no medical expert but the CDC is reporting a rapid increase in cases. Whether the increase in cases ends up looking like first curve, the second curve, or somewhere in-between I do not know. Maybe you’re thinking, “Jonathan, I didn’t tune in today to hear more bad news. If I want that I’ll turn on the news.” Next week I’m going to preach on Art and Beauty to give us a break from all things Coronavirus. But this week I still think we need to hear how Jesus calls us to live in our current cultural moment.
Right now we are living in the shadow of a pandemic and it is scary. It’s easy to live in fear. This week as I was working I started feeling sick and I put my hand up to my forehead and it feels warm. Uh oh… I must have the Coronavirus! So I take my temperature and it’s actually less than the normal body temperature. I did that twice this week. We feel like we’re in the shadow and maybe you do too.
Jesus can sympathize with us. He understands what we’re experiencing. Yet Jesus wants us to know there is grace and goodness in the shadow because he is with us. I believe Jesus has something for us here. First I want to talk about the shadow. Second. I want to talk about the goodness and grace we find in the shadow. And third I want to talk about Jesus walking with us in the shadow. So first, what is…?
Today I’m going back to our series in Acts. The book of Acts is the history of the first church. If you look in the New Testament, in comes after the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, then Acts). In the first third of the book we hear about two disciples, Peter and John, and how they told others about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. They have the power to heal people and many are putting their faith and trust in Jesus (5,000). Still, it’s not easy. They get arrested, thrown in prison, questioned, and released. There is a looming shadow, a growing threat of persecution and suffering.
Acts 5:12-16 (NIV) The apostles performed many signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonnade. 13 No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people.
The apostles are those men who knew Jesus, Peter and John and others. They are performing miracles of healing and casting out demons and the people are amazed. You would think everyone would be rushing to join them, but they’re not. Why not? Perhaps they are afraid of Peter’s power, which he just displayed in the story of Ananias and Sapphira who lied to God and died because of it (a scary story!). We are going to come back to that story soon but I think there was another reason the people were afraid to join them.
As I was studying this week I wondered why it mentions “Solomon’s Colonnade.” The colonnade was like a long meeting hall supported by columns (pillars). According to the historian Josephus, “The colonnades were all double, the supporting pillars were 37–1/2 feet high, cut from single blocks of the whitest marble, and the ceiling was paneled with cedar.” It was clearly a beautiful and amazing place.
If you’ve ever been downtown to Quincy Market and seen the massive granite pillars outside of Faneuil Hall you can imagine Solomon’s Colonnade. Actually, it was Westford’s Fletcher Granite Company that made those Quincy Market columns. They “were hauled to a landing in Chelmsford by 22 yokes of oxen, loaded onto a barge and sent into Boston.”
But why mention “Solomon’s Colonnade”? It seems like such an unimportant detail. The key to understanding is not what Solomon’s Colonnade is but where it is. A colonnade ran around the perimeter of the temple courtyard. Solomon’s Colonnade was on the east side of the temple and was like a “porch” to the temple compound. A porch is where you gather and talk and relax; but it’s not as important as the actual house. The Colonnade was nowhere near as important as the temple.
Since we’re talking about Boston imagine for a moment the Red Sox are having an amazing year (the season didn’t get delayed). They’re winning game after game and packing out Fenway Park. Ticket sales are through the roof and it looks like they’ll make it to the World Series. But in the fall a group of friends start a co-ed baseball division a couple blocks away at Clemente Field. The games really start to catch on. Everyone wants to watch these teams play. They show amazing skill, it’s free, and so they grow and grow. Pretty soon people are going to Clemente Field instead of Fenway and the Red Sox ticket sales start to drop. There are more and more empty seats because everyones over at Clemente Field having a great time. The executives at Fenway and the Mayor would take notice. Maybe they’d try to shut it down.
This is what it’s like for these early Christians. They’re performing miracles and telling others about Jesus and growing but people are afraid to join them because they are meeting in the shadow of the temple. It says the people respected them but “No one else dared join them…” The temple is the religious, political, economic, and social center of Jerusalem. It is an absolute powerhouse. If you upset the temple system with its priests and economic alliances you’re gonna pay. If the temple isn’t happy, nobody is happy.
This passage, right here, Acts 5:12-16, is a turning point in the book of Acts. Right after this the people in power at the temple begin persecuting the apostles and they seize and murder Stephen. All that was coming their way and still the Christians gathered, risking the the wrath of the temple. Why? Because…
There is goodness and grace in the shadow.
God is at work in our risk. God is at work when we’re worried or anxious. God is at work in this cultural moment. We can’t see what’s coming in COVID–19. We can’t see what’s coming in the stock market. We can’t see what’s coming in our relationships with family members and friends. We can’t see what’s coming a month from now or even tomorrow or even an hour from now. With all that uncertainty life can feel quite risky. But there is goodness and grace in the shadow. Look what God does in their shadow.
Acts 5:14 (NIV) Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number.
Here’s what this doesn’t say. It doesn’t say that God made sure nothing bad was going to happen to the Christians. It doesn’t say that they wouldn’t lose their money or financial security. It doesn’t say they wouldn’t lose their social standing or access to the temple. It doesn’t say they knew they’d live or be okay. It doesn’t say that all of their friends and family will be safe. It doesn’t say any of these things.
Here’s what this does say. It says that even though some people were afraid some saw the truth and came to Jesus. It says that despite the looming threat of the temple powers people realized Jesus is worth more than anything this world has to offer. It says that people were believing and becoming Christians despite the risk. It says there is goodness and grace in the shadow.
Here’s what this doesn’t say about our shadow. We don’t know what’s going to happen. We don’t know if we’ll all be okay or if those we love will make it through. We don’t know and that creates feelings of deep uncertainty and with uncertainty comes fear and anxiety.
Here’s what this does say about our shadow. We can count on Jesus no matter what. If you believe in the Lord, which means if you believe Jesus is God, and place your whole trust in him, your whole life in his hands, you’ll be okay. You’ll be okay not as the world defines it but as God defines it (John 16:33). God promises to never leave us or forsake us (Heb 13:5). God promises to use all things, even this, for our good (Rom 8:28). God promises that one day he’ll wipe away every tear and death will be no more (Rev 21:1-4). There is goodness and grace in our shadow.
The people saw their belief in Jesus and despite the risk some still come.
Acts 5:15-16 (NIV) As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. 16 Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by impure spirits, and all of them were healed.
When some dared to experienced God’s goodness and grace in the shadow, it drew others out. It was a ripple in a pond. Their faith in Christ brought others to faith in Christ. When others saw God’s power they stopped being afraid. They heard how these Christians were performing miracles and they dared to bring out their sick so that “at least Peter’s shadow might fall on them…” There was a lot of superstition around shadows back then. A shadow falling on you could benefit you or harm you depending on whose shadow it was. Peter pan’s fun-loving mischievous shadow wasn’t a thing.
This wasn’t the correct way to get healed; but still God healed them. “…all of them were healed…” This tells us we don’t have to have everything figured out. We don’t have to have perfect faith. We don’t need to be perfect. We need to believe Jesus is our Lord and Savior and he’ll take care of the rest. Do you think the people who were sick and tormented by evil spirits had it all figured out? No! They were probably really confused and delusional and maybe even spiritually hostile to Jesus, but still Jesus healed them. God takes broken people and mends them up. There is goodness and grace in the shadow.
That goodness and grace can look like actual physical healing, if we ask it and the Lord wills it. That goodness and grace can look like demons fleeing—true spiritual healing. God’s goodness and grace will look different in each of our situations but it will also look the same because it will look like Jesus.
Jesus is in the shadow with us.
There’s this other time Jesus was in Jerusalem for a festival and he was actually walking through Solomon’s Colonnade (John 10:22-23). The people were asking him if he is the Messiah, which mean’s God’s special chosen king (John 10:24). Instead of answering their question he talks about those who believe in him.
John 10:28-29 (NIV) 28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.
If you know Jesus as your Lord and Savior nothing can snatch you out of his hands. Jesus is in the shadow with us, holding us in his hands. He and his Heavenly Father hold us and we are secure. How can we know we are secure? How can we know we’re going to make it through, not necessarily in this life but to eternal life with Jesus and our Heavenly Father?
Because. We have a big brother who walked through the shadow before us. The shadow he experienced is much darker and deadlier than COVID-19.
Luke 23:44-46 (NIV) 44 It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, 45 for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.
At the cross Jesus experienced not just the shadow of God’s judgment on sin but God’s judgment itself. Jesus didn’t deserve God’s judgment. He never did anything wrong and always obeyed God. But he willingly took the judgment upon himself.
There is a much more serious threat than COVID-19—eternity without God. If we put our faith and trust in Jesus, God spares us. We still suffer in this life and one day we’ll die but that’s like the shadow of a far greater consequence we never have to taste if we know Jesus. We experience the shadow of God’s judgment because Jesus experienced the reality. I read this and think it fits perfectly:
In Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering, Tim Keller tells the story of a famous preacher at Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia in the first half of the twentieth century. His name was Dr. Donald Gray Barnhouse, and his wife died when their daughter was still young. He wanted to come up with a good illustration to explain to his young daughter what had happened to his wife, her mother. One day as he was in the car with his daughter, a huge truck passed by them, and the shadow of the truck swept over the car. Dr. Barnhouse asked the little girl, “If you were to get hit by the truck, would you prefer that you get hit by the truck itself, or get hit by the shadow of the truck?”
She answered, “Oh daddy! The shadow of the truck rather than the truck itself because it won’t hurt as much.”
He responded along these lines: “That’s exactly what happened to your mother. The shadow of the truck of the judgment of death came over your mother, but she is still alive. She’s actually more alive than we are. She’s in the presence of God, and we will see her someday. You need to understand that only the shadow of the judgment of death went over her, but the truck of the judgment of death crushed Jesus. The crushing judgment of the truck ran over Jesus so only the shadow will go over us, your mother, and all who place their faith in him” (Walking with God through Pain and Suffering, page 317). – Quoted from Micah For You: Acting Justly, Loving Mercy by Stephen Um
Jesus experienced the reality so we experience the shadow. Jesus experienced death on the cross so that even if we taste pain and suffering in this life one day we will experience eternal life with him. There is goodness and grace in the shadow because Jesus is in the shadow with us.
Numbers 6:24-26 (ESV)
24 The Lord bless you and keep you;
25 the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
26 the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
Pastor Jonathan Romig preached this message on Facebook Live during the 2020 COVID-19 (Coronavirus) lockdown in Massachusetts. You can download a PDF copy of this sermon above, which includes endnotes and references, or share it through Apple podcasts or Google Play Music. Read the story of our church here.
You and your family or friends can use these group discussion questions to talk through today’s sermon and Bible passage. Please use whatever questions you find helpful.
- How are you feeling about everything going on with COVID-19 (coronavirus)? Are you feeling fine or anxious or somewhere in-between? How’s your heart?
- What type of shadow did the first believers face as they met in Solomon’s Colonnade? Why is their meeting place significant?
- What do you think of the idea that “There is goodness and grace in the shadow”? How do we see this in the early church’s activity and how might we see it today?
- God healed the people through Peter and even his shadow? Instead of turning away because of their superstition God heals them. Why do you think God does this? What does it teach us about him?
- Do you think superstitious practices are okay today? Remember the principle that just because something is descriptive in Acts doesn’t make it prescriptive.
- Read John 10:27-29. Why can we as followers of Jesus know we are safe and secure in his hands? Do you feel safe and secure or not so much? Describe your confidence or lack thereof?
- What does it mean for Jesus to bear God’s judgment? What does it mean for him to bear the reality and us to only taste the shadow?
- How does the idea that Jesus walks through the shadow with us make you feel? How does it make you think differently about what we are going through as a culture and what you might be going through personally?
End your discussion by praying for what you learned and that the Holy Spirit would help you apply it to your life. Pray that Jesus would use it to further his kingdom and bring our neighbors, friends, and family to him.