This is a simple thought. Most of you who are reading it will accept what I’m about to say simply as a statement and think, “No big deal, we all knew that.”
But slow down and think about that statement. Jesus willingly chose the cross. Sure, He was betrayed. Sure He was falsely accused and drug there by the Romans.
But the real question is this: Could He have stopped it? In the Garden, though he wrestles with God the Father over going to the cross, He says this: “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine,” (Matthew 26:39). He could have said “No,” but He didn’t.
And later, after wrestling the issue out in prayer with the Father, when He’s captured by the Romans, the disciples attempt to defend Him. But what does He say? “ Don’t you realize that I could ask my Father for thousands of angels to protect us, and he would send them instantly?” (Matthew 26:53).
But He doesn’t. Why?
I believe Jesus went to the cross.
I know He was taken to the cross.
I knew He was crucified.
But I believe at any point along the way He could have put on the breaks. He could have chosen His own will. He could have called on the legion of angels. Instead, He chose to follow through with what He knew would happen. He would die.
Jesus went to the cross because He loved you. The broken, often sinful, very undeserving version of you that you hide from others. He looked on you with love and knew that the only solution to your broken state was through the cross.
So He went to the cross.
This tells us something about the nature of God. He pays debts He doesn’t owe. He wrestles down demons for people are too weak to do it themselves. God sacrifices for those He loves. He takes on our pain because we couldn’t bear it. He went to the cross for us.
Hebrews 12:2– “Jesus…because of the joy awaiting Him, He endured the cross, disregarding its shame.”
Recently my wife and I made a trek up to Minneapolis to see her family. Long story short, we had a great time meeting relatives, hanging out with friends, and even meeting some new ones. Now, because we’ve been part of a house church for some time, if we’re out of town on a weekend we skip “going to a service” on Sunday morning out of some sense of guilt, unless of course we know people in the city that are meeting together at that time.
This being Easter Sunday, however, it felt more appropriate to actually go and gather with believers. So we visited my wife’s relatives’ church on Sunday morning and worshipped the Lord with them. What I wasn’t expecting was what I learned about my house church from being with them.
Now, before we go too much further, I have a confession to make. I hate Easter celebrations. Don’t get me wrong: I love the topic of the Lord’s resurrection. In my mind the Resurrection of Christ should be the premiere holiday of our faith. Everything hinges on the resurrection. I hate Easter celebrations because of what we make them. See, it seems to me that American Christians, still operating from a mindset born in a Christian subculture, have conflicting feelings about how Easter should be celebrated. Is it a our chance to worship Christ with abandon and celebrate the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords? Or is it a time when all of our lost friends and relatives are looking to go to a church service and hear about the Resurrection. In my mind, most churches think that it’s both.
And because they try to do both of these things, they end up doing neither of them well. Worship is both celebratory but not too celebratory. Preaching and Teaching are focused on the resurrection, but it’s simplified to the point where unbelievers can understand it but most believers are not edified. In my mind we (all churches) try to do both and end up accomplishing neither. (Just a side note: I’ve never met anyone who’s story about coming to Christ starts or ends with an Easter service. I’m not saying they don’t exist. I’m just saying I haven’t heard one.) Having confessed that, I was expecting to experience that very phenomenon, but I wasn’t expecting to learn about my house church from what I experienced.
So, here’s what I learned:
- I don’t expect unbelievers to show up at our house church. Our house church is hard to find. It moves around. If you don’t know where it’s meeting or you don’t know someone who does, you won’t be able to find it. So as you might imagine, we don’t have many folks showing up to our meetings unannounced, especially lost people. No one comes to our house church because it’s a holiday or they haven’t “been to church” in a while.
- Not expecting unbelievers to show up has benefited us. That might be a bit of a shocking statement, but let me explain. I don’t ever worry any more about whether I’m talking about something too deep for an unbeliever in our midst. I don’t adjust my teaching style to be politically correct or to not offend someone. I share out of the Bible about the things that Jesus is giving me. If someone disagrees with something I’m talking about, a conversation happens. It’s messy and unpredictable but it has made us all stronger by having to wrestle with an undiluted* message. No teaching is designed to be attractive to outsiders.
- Not expecting unbelievers to show up has helped us serve and touch lost people better. So this seems counter-intuitive, but think about it. I know (more or less) who to expect at house church. The beauty of not expecting unbelievers is we totally notice when one shows up. This causes us to acknowledge their presence with us and serve them specifically, not knowing how long they will be with us. We take time to pray and prophesy over those that are new in our midst. Not doing that seems wrong somehow now. But we also continue to be ourselves and edify one another during our gatherings, without watering down what happens for the newcomers. The result is they get to see us do what we always do and they get the undiluted Christian life, without trying to impress someone. Hopefully it gets close to what Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 14:24-25.
- I expect to be involved in a spiritual gathering. Okay, so this is a totally unrelated to the idea of having unbelievers in a church gathering, but I learned this about myself—I expect to participate when I gather with a group of believers. I noticed this because I felt strangely useless in this meeting that I participated in on our trip and the reason why is it’s no longer okay for me to sit by idly when I gather with other believers in my church. It was strange, because I’m not used to feeling this way in larger gatherings. Would to God that we all felt this way.
So that’s what I learned. If you’re part of a house church and have had a chance to gather with believers in a more traditional context lately, have you learned anything about yourself? Leave a comment so we can help each other learn from God is doing in each other.
*Please note that whenever I use the word “diluted” or “undiluted” in this post, I’m using it to describe a situation where the desire to win the approval of unredeemed men causes harm to the message of Christ. Diluted gospels and undiluted gospels can occur in organic and istitutional churches . However, the whole point of this post is that my time in an organic church has aided our community in this regard.