By Mark Dooley
In 2008, presidential candidate Barak Obama won the highest office in the land using the slogan “change we can believe in.” Change is a concept often touted by politicians on both sides of the aisle, but whether that change is positive or negative will be a debate until Jesus comes again.
There was one event that did, in fact, change everything. Almost 2000 years ago, the inaugural Easter event brought a change so fundamental to the human population that we now measure our calendars by it. While on the isle of Patmos, the Apostle John had a vision so grand and glorious that its full significance has baffled Biblical scholars for two millennia. As the vision culminated, John saw God Almighty seated on the throne, saying, “Behold, I am making all things new … Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true” (Revelation 21:5 ESV).
With His first advent, Jesus came to suffer and die as our atoning sacrifice. Through this, we experience justification and rebirth. When He comes again, it will be to reign as Sovereign, and we will experience glorification and the renewal of all things. This is a change we can believe in.
Most of us will celebrate this particular Easter under a stay-at-home directive. The emergence of the coronavirus has certainly changed the way we will celebrate this year. Some have opined about how things will never be the same post-COVID-19. Typically, the perspective is that stocks have dropped, the nature of how we do business and interact with one another is changing, and the like. So, the change such people are referring to is negative in nature.
But what about the good aspects of the change we are seeing? The earth is getting a break. Water systems are recovering. Air is clearing from pollution. The murder rate is shrinking. Crime has decreased overall, at least for now. We have the opportunity to spend time with our family, a blessing many have taken for granted in the past. Not all is negative from this temporary quarantine.
It is interesting to note that the word quarantine comes from Italian and means “forty days.” For women, there are 40 weeks of gestation when they are pregnant. Doctors recommend that women rest for six weeks (approximately 40 days) after giving birth.
Are these just interesting coincidences? Perhaps. But let’s consider the significance of the number 40 a bit deeper, especially as followers of Jesus who believe the Scripture. With even a cursory reading of the Bible, one can recognize the number 40 as a significant number.
The flood lasted 40 days.
The Exodus lasted 40 years.
Jesus appeared for 40 days after His resurrection.
We could continue with multiple other examples of the use of the number 40 in the Bible, but the point is clear —the number 40 is an important biblical number. Theologians often point to 40 as representing change. In the Bible, when we see this number, we typically see some change taking place. Things become new where the number 40 is involved.
The flood certainly changed the ancient world. Not only did it prefigure the coming final judgment, it also beautifully pictured our salvation from that judgment through the grace of God. Genesis 6:8 says that “… Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord” (ESV). The King James Version’s interpretation of Genesis 6:8 says that “… Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.” Paul would later say, “… by grace you have been saved through faith” (Ephesians 2:8).
The Exodus certainly changed the world of the nation of Israel. For years, the Egyptians enslaved the Jews. It is interesting to note where they were on the eve of their deliverance — sheltered in place, relying upon the covering of blood for protection, as the death angel trekked invisibly through the land. It is tempting to apply this to our current situation of sheltering in place while the coronavirus invisibly spreads through our land, but we look for safety in Jesus. That type of reading into the text ignores the fact that many devout followers of Jesus have suffered and will suffer from COVID-19. Contrary to what prosperity theology teaches, “… by His stripes we are healed …” was never meant to imply that followers of Jesus wouldn’t suffer. This type of interpretive abuse is no different than ridiculously saying that we are in quarantine (‘forty days’) because this is the year 2020 and 20 + 20 = 40!
Instead, the Exodus prefigured that first Easter when death, which reigned from Adam until Moses according to Paul in Romans 5 (and then was made evident through the law as Paul clearly articulates all throughout Romans), was utterly defeated by Jesus. The resurrection was proof positive that “ … death no longer has dominion …” (Romans 6:9). It has no dominion over Jesus (as Paul specifically says in the context of Romans 6:9), and since we are made new in the image of Christ through faith, it no longer has dominion over us. This is the reality we celebrate at Easter.
But if the flood changed everything for the ancient world and the Exodus changed everything for Israel, then the resurrection changes everything for the entire world. As we’ve already noted, the world bases its calendar on this event. The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, that is, the good news of the Gospel, is the thing that makes all things new. It is the only thing that makes all things eternally new.
COVID-19 may be giving our earth a rest that leads to renewal. That is a good thing; but it is temporal. The greed of humanity will inevitably lead us to pillage and exploit the earth’s resources once again. The overall crime rate may be down. That is a good thing; but it too is temporal. Human depravity has shown us over and over how transitory peace apart from Christ is. Yes, we are currently spending more time with our families. That is a good thing; but sadly, it is also temporal. If history repeats itself (and it always does), we will all eventually return to the frenetic pace of life that we led pre-COVID-19.
Yet, new life in Christ is eternal. Jesus left the glory of heaven and came to live among us. He died to satisfy God’s wrath against sin (a propitiatory sacrifice, for those more theologically-minded). And He rose again, defeating death and making all things new. Through faith in the finished work of His death, burial, and resurrection, you can be forgiven of your sin and made a new creation in Christ (see 2 Corinthians 5:17). Recognize your sinful condition before Him today and call out to Him if you’ve never done that, and you will be made new; you will be, what the Bible calls, born again.
Indeed, Easter reminds us that He has made all things new. We need to be made new before He comes again. Quarantine means “forty days.” Jesus appeared for 40 days after His resurrection until He ascended. He promised to come again in the same way He left. We are currently in a type of quarantine. We don’t know exactly how long it will last, but what if it lasts 40 days? What if He returns after those 40 days? Will you be ready? Trust Christ today so that you can be ready.
Mark Dooley serves as the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware state director of evangelism.