Here we are. It’s April 2020, and Easter is just around the corner. For the first time in American history, we will not be able to gather in our churches to celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. As believers, this is in our DNA.
To some extent, the thought of gathering around this sacred day is a thought that still runs in a small stream of a secular society. It just seems right. It’s tradition. Grandma did it. We used to always get new clothes or shoes for Easter. It was a day to dress up, a day to celebrate with family. It might not have been a priority the other 51 weeks out of the year, but it was still on the radar for millions of Americans.
Now things have changed, at least for this year. We will do live-streaming, Facebook live, and Zoom small groups to have some sense of gathering and worshiping together. It is very possible that millions of people who are looking for hope and answers will find a worship service and watch or listen for at least a few minutes. Let’s pray that many come to saving faith in the risen Lord this Easter.
So, what does this have to do with the title of this blog? The longer we are sheltered, isolated, and cut off from normal human interaction, the more temptations will rise. We will have played all the board games, watched all the old movies, and come up with new recipes until we are bored. At some point, everyone will think or say, “I just need some time alone.” While it is good to have time alone with God, it is also dangerous to have time alone with no discipline or plan. Time alone can be productive or destructive.
Think about Eve. When Satan tempted her in the Garden, she failed to remember God’s Word and recognize His perfect plan of provision. She was lured by lies, half-truths, and an appetite for the forbidden. She sinned, she gave the fruit to her husband also, and now all mankind is born into sin because Eve failed to heed God’s Word. Her tombstone reads, “I saw, I coveted, I took.”
Think of Achan. He had survived the wilderness experience. He had seen the divine intervention and protection of God in the wilderness. He had been a part of crossing the Jordan at flood stage. He was there when the walls of Jericho fell down. Nonetheless, he took something he wasn’t supposed to take. He took the spoils of war that weren’t his to take, and he hid them. It eventually cost 36 Hebrew soldiers their lives at the battle of Ai. It cost his entire family their lives. His tombstone reads, “I saw, I coveted, I took.”
Think of Elijah. He would one day appear on the Mount of Transfiguration with Moses and the Lord Jesus. But, after the great victory on Mount Carmel where he stood for God before a godless king and hundreds of pagan priests, we find him in 1 Kings 19 running for his life and going through a bout of depression. He was alone, tempted, discouraged, worn out, and doubting. He sat under a juniper tree, wanting to die, and he even asked God to take his life. What happened? He was drained from the intense spiritual battle he had just faced, and he left his servant in Beersheba – he isolated himself. But the good news is that Elijah didn’t stay there. Unlike Eve and Achan, that’s not how Elijah’s story ends. He gets up and has a fresh encounter with the Lord at Horeb.
God doesn’t always reveal Himself the way we think he should or would. Elijah didn’t see God in the great strong wind, the earthquake, or the fire. He heard God in a gentle breeze. When he heard it, the Lord gave him a new assignment. He also discovered he wasn’t alone in serving the Lord. There were 7,000 in Israel who had not bowed their knees to Baal. Elijah’s Tombstone reads, “You’re never too old, too discouraged, or too isolated to find the Lord.”
Think about David. David was a man after God’s own heart. Yet, he failed. At the time when Kings went to war, David did something he shouldn’t have done – he stayed home (2 Samuel 11:1). He went on the roof and saw a woman bathing. This one isolated moment, when he should have been with his army, ultimately led to adultery and murder. In isolation, David saw, he coveted, and he took. But, the good news is, this is not the end of David’s story. We read of his repentance in Psalm 51. This chapter is his epitaph of sorts. Yes, David was a great sinner, but he was an even greater repenter.
Think about the Apostle Peter. He was always confident. He was the one who confessed “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.” He was willing to die for Jesus. But after Gethsemane, he followed Jesus to the house of Caiaphas, and now he was alone. None of the other disciples were there. Warming himself by a fire, he denied Jesus three times. Isolated, his knees buckled, his heart quivered, his courage left him, and he cursed and denied the Lord.
But that’s not the end of his story. The good news is that Jesus knew what Peter had done in isolation. He had predicted it, but He gave Peter a promise before it ever happened. “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:31).
Simon’s failure was not final. He was restored by Jesus in John 21. He would spend the rest of his life strengthening his brothers, writing two letters to the persecuted church, and dictating the Gospel of Mark. Tradition says he was crucified upside down. Peter didn’t quit. His tombstone reads, “Simon Peter, a bond-servant and apostle of Jesus Christ.”
Finally, let’s think about the Lord. After His baptism, He went to the wilderness. He was alone, and the devil tempted Him there. He did not yield. He answered every temptation with the Word of God. “It is written” was His response to the pressure of the devil to take a detour from heaven’s plan. When Satan couldn’t gain a foothold he departed for a more convenient time.
Ultimately, Jesus found himself at the end of his ministry, basically alone in the Garden of Gethsemane. He prayed to His Father, “Not My will, but Yours be done.” He stood on trial alone, betrayed by one in His inner circle. His disciples all fled. He was accused, beaten, and crucified as people nearby mocked Him. But the transaction in the Garden between the Father and the Son sustained Him in this dark hour. He has no tombstone, for He is risen! The grave is empty. He has overcome death, hell, and the grave. Satan has been defeated.
When we are isolated, we will be tested. We will be tempted. Our emotions will, at times, overwhelm us. What if this never gets better? What if it gets worse? What should we do? Let me give you some simple suggestions:
1) Focus on the promises of God – they never change.
2) Be honest with God in your prayers – cry out to Him.
3) Call a friend, mentor, accountability partner, or family member and be honest about how you’re feeling.
4) Depend on the Holy Spirit.
Jesus said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” Be of good cheer, He has overcome everything you have to fear.