Rev. Dick is pastor of Grace Protestant Reformed Church in Standale, Michigan.
“Nobody Ignores A Tornado” is the title of an article by Keith Sikkema, published in the April, 1999 issue of the Reformed Perspective. Nice article about tornadoes. Important advice given in it about how we should seek shelter when a tornado threatens. Glory given to the God of tornadoes before whose power and wisdom we must bow when we behold His right arm’s might revealed in the devastation of such storms.
Nobody ignores a tornado. I guess that’s right. It is hard, when skimming through such an article, to refrain from an audible “wow.” If you see and feel on a sultry spring day when the sky turns green that the conditions are right for a tornado, you start thinking “Which corner of the basement?” And if you’ve been in one—I mean if you in your shuddering about-to-be airborne pick-up just barely beat out a funnel cloud when it roared through Standale, or if you’ve been asleep in bed once when the roof was taken off, or been taken up and whirled around with the bathtub and the house cat and the gladiolas and then deposited a few miles down the road, and lived to tell about it—well, then you certainly do not ignore tornadoes. All you need is for someone to say “Dorothy” (or “Mitch,” I suppose) and you’re outta here…!
Fact: nobody ignores a tornado! Some people might not know anything about them. But then they are just ignorant of them. If they knew anything, just something, of the reality of tornadoes, they would and could never ignore them.
Strangest thing, though, when it comes to miracles. When it comes to things which act according to no law of nature, events in which God by His arm or finger or prophet or incarnate Son moves or speaks directly, and extraordinarily … then there is this ignoring. You see it all through history, this widespread ignoring of the miracles of God. Pharaoh is a case in point. He ignored them all the way to the bottom of the sea. Before that there were the scoffers in the days of Noah. They ignored God’s prophetic Word-miracle, and His ark-miracle, until His flood-miracle took them all the way to the bottom of the sea. The Jews in Jesus’ day are another case. “Show us a sign!” they demanded of Jesus, after He had abundantly proven by His Wonder-presence, wonderful words, and wonderful works that He is Messiah. Their ignoring The Wonder got them free passage to the bottom of hell.And so it is today. People will not and do not ignore a tornado. But they carry on, business as usual, doing the dishes, eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, saving rain forests, fantasizing and lining up to see wars among the stars, selling us faster computers, drinking beer, fornicating, and shooting up the place with no fear, no wonder, and generally uninterested and unimpressed when apprised of the truth of the Wonders of God.
Especially is there this blatant and widespread ignoring of the miracle of Christ Jesus of Nazareth — the Wonder of God. “Once upon a time there was a kind, loving, and noble man who was killed for standing up for what he believed. It wasn’t very nice of those people to kill him. He was such a nice guy. The end.” To the unbeliever, that’s the message of Christ and the cross, the gospel, and ethics. Hardly an F5. Hardly worth a “wow,” or running for cover. Not something that’s going to lift you up and turn you around. True, some across the ages and around the planet say they have been moved by this Jew from Galilee. And these promote his cause. But his cause/their cause — how is it so different, so earth-busting different from this, that, and the other cause the religious meteorologists tell us has now come rolling in? We’ve seen people get hyped up about this person, this philosophy, this book and that. They all claim to be something great, and THE way, and to offer the brightest of hopes. Christianity? It bores. Seen one religious storm, seen them all. Seen one intolerant bigot, seen a hundred. Heard one Christian prophet (just out of the slammer for bilking the flock of millions) tell us a comet is soon going to crash into the earth, and if I hear another I’ll fall asleep. Seen one Jesus, heard ten. Not one has moved me…. Not like they do in Kansas!
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What fools. What sinful ignoring. We know the reason: ignore the Christ of God and you ignore God, and sin, and the call to holiness and love and such hard things — all of which sinners love to ignore! And, ignoring, and therefore denying God and His name, Wonderful, you get to focus on man, and man’s goodness. And you get to pretend you can have a meaningful life and a place in heaven by establishing your own religion consisting in saving whales, and feeding the poor, and accepting everybody and everybody’s views as equal, and volunteering to clean up after tornadoes.
But this ignoring of God’s miracle-Christ and miracle-cross is not, I trust, for you, dear reader! Grace has made you a believer. Believing, you ignore no miracle. After all, the miracle of grace has lifted you up, and spun you around, and landed you, safe and sound, in the land of the kingdom of heaven. All because of that cross-storm when and where the wrath-wind of God came God-miles an hour bearing down upon the Son, and crushing Him, but also crushing your sin into nothing. Now grace, and the Spirit-wind of God, have given you to fear no wrath even from the holy Lord of the universe and to know and to love the Wonder, and the Father of the Wonder!
Our study today is all about not ignoring the Calvary tornado. Indeed, it is about adoring that Wonder which blew away sin and laid the foundation for an amazing house, the church. The cross itself is the focus of our attention as we examine the record in John and the other gospel accounts. I know you will not ignore it, or pass lightly over it. For that Wonder is for your life! Nobody who knows the love of God ignores that cross, that saving storm, and that awesome peace after the storm!
The cross itself. The salvation storm of our attention. The object of our boast. Wonder of God. But what is this? Other miracles too, accompanying, attending, articulating our Savior’s death. God knew even His own would need them to enhance their faith and increase their godly excitement about the salvation of God. Do you know the others? I count 7006.
For Study, Meditation, & Discussion
1. The darkness
(cf. Matt. 27:45; Luke 23:44, 45)
In an earlier article (April 15, 1999) we mentioned the darkness which occurred on the cross at about noon, after Jesus had hung there three hours. Let us review. What indications were there that this darkness was no eclipse or other natural phenomenon, but a miracle of God?
What words did Jesus utter at the end of the three hours of darkness? What is the significance of these words (Hint: What do they teach of the holiness of God? Of sin? Of the humanity and suffering of the Savior? Of the love of God?)
How do Scriptures such as Psalm 22:1; Psalm 89: 38ff.; Isaiah 53; II Corinthians 5:21; Galatians 3:13; I Peter 3:18; and others confirm the sermon of the darkness?
What would you say is the real wonder of the darkness?
2. The rending of the veil of the temple (Matt. 27:50, 51)
Most likely the veil that was torn from top to bottom when Jesus died was the veil in the temple which separated the most holy place from the holy place. What description of this veil does Exodus 26 give? What was the purpose of the veil? The significance?
How do we know that this rending of the temple veil at Jesus’ death was a miracle?
What does Hebrews 10:19,20 teach is the significance of this rending of the veil?
3. The earthquake (Matt. 27:51)
At the moment of Jesus’ death the earth shook and rocks were torn apart. What proof is there that this earthquake was a miracle?
What might be the significance of this earthquake (Hint: compare this earthquake with the earth quaking at Mt. Sinai. If the shaking of the earth at Mt. Sinai was to show the holiness of God, and the
sinfulness of sin, and the hopelessness of being a sinner under the law [and I believe it did show this!], then what about the shake-up of the earth at Mt. Calvary?)?
4. The miracle of the open graves
and the resurrection of saints
There is a lot of mystery to this one! Seems that at the time of the death of Jesus certain graves, graves probably sealed with stones, were opened miraculously by means of the earthquake. Where the graves were that were opened we are not told — maybe just in the vicinity of the cross where Christ Himself would be buried. Also whose graves were opened we do not know — the graves of certain patriarchs? Saints who had seen Christ and were known by those yet living? Martyrs? The only thing we are told is that the bodies that were raised from the dead were the bodies of saints (Matt. 27:52), and that, after they rose they went into the holy city, Jerusalem, and appeared unto many, verse 53.
About this, Hendriksen makes the following observations, observations with which I think we can agree. First, these resurrections were real; there was not an appearance of corpses to those in Jerusalem, or just an appearance of real people. Second, these resurrections occurred at the moment of Christ’s death, along with the various other signs, and pointed to the significance of Christ’s death. Third, just when these saints arose depends on either of two possible translations of verse 53. Here they are: “And having left the graves … after his resurrection they went…” or “And having left the graves after his resurrection, they went….” Fourth: these resurrections probably were not like the resurrection of Lazarus. They probably did not have to die again but, having appeared a short time in Jerusalem, they went, body and soul, into heaven to be with Jesus.
What is the significance of these resurrections? What is the relation between Christ’s death and the resurrection of all God’s people (cf. I Cor. 15 & Lord’s Day 22 of the Heidelberg Catechism)?
5. The miracle of Scripture fulfilled
We read in John 19: 31ff. that, at the request of the Jews, Pilate sent soldiers to break the legs of the ones crucified in order to hasten their death and prevent the desecration of the Sabbath (Should the Jews also have been thinking of Deuteronomy 21:22,23?).
But Jesus was already dead! Instead of breaking Jesus’ legs, therefore, a soldier pierced Jesus’ side with his spear so that blood and water came out.
This all, according to verses 35-37, was to fulfill certain scriptures. Which ones? What do these fulfilled scriptures preach concerning Jesus? Concerning His death? Concerning the scriptures themselves?
6. The miracle of Joseph, Nicodemus, & company
The dying of Jesus and the miracles accompanying His miracle-death served to work fear and/or faith in many people who witnessed these things.
There was the Roman centurion (Matt. 27:54), and others, who at Jesus’ death declared, “Truly this was the Son of God.” And according to the narrative in Luke 23 there was a multitude which returned from the cross smiting their breasts. In John 19 we read of one Joseph of Arimathaea, who begged the body of Jesus from Pilate, and took it to bury in his own new tomb which he had hewn out in the rock (Matt. 27). And then there was Nicodemus, the once “by night disciple” who came also to anoint the body of Jesus with spices.
Comment on the various reactions to Jesus’ death. Which reactions were fruits of faith? What caused these people to be so moved?
7. 7000 who cannot ignore the death of Jesus the Christ
The wonder of the cross! Tornado winds gyrate at 300 mph in Kansas or Oklahoma, or Arkansas, tear shoes off children, pierce fences with straw, and toss houses as if they were mere rose petals. But what greater wind is Calvary! Sin-destroying wind! Wind killing the Son of God! God’s wrath-wind! God’s mercy-wind! Church house-building wind!
Yes! So that even today there is this: a people who never saw the crucifixion, and yet who believe. It is God’s remnant according to the election of His grace. Yes! After the wind of Calvary has died down, and the Savior has been laid down in the grave, there’s this church-town, population 7000, I believe, which is discovered to have been spared the judgment of the Wind of God. Indeed, this Church-town, the city of God, built by this Wind!
Well, then, are you in the town? The town for which One died in the F-infinity storm of the ages, so that all the town might live? Are you thankful?
Is it not pitiful, shameful, when we are not? We sometimes forget. We sometimes read of that tornado-miracle cross of Christ without being moved at all! Maybe it is all the bungee jumping, or the professional wrestling we watch on the television. Maybe we have been looking over into the “other” town by night and marveling at the entertaining Hollywood-gospel of Lukas rather than pondering the gospel of the blood of the Lamb slain for sinners. Maybe we have been regularly and lustily lounging in our microsoft reality. So in our life, in our prayer-life, home-life, church-life, work and play-life it is as if the Tornado of which the Bible speaks never touched down for us and by us….
Tell me, friends: how shall we and our children in this age be strong in faith in order to look past the screen, beyond Kansas, beyond fairy tales and vain joy, to see and to glory in the Wonder of God on Calvary? What place will preaching have? Personal spiritual discipline? How can we help each other? How does the Spirit of God, who is, after all, the One who is not found in ordinary winds (I Kings 19:11), and who is not impressed by the power and might of men (Zech. 4:6), work to comfort and keep us?
The Tornado of tornadoes has hit the earth. God is in Christ in that whirlwind of the cursed cross reconciling sinners to Himself. Many ignore. They even run from it, and warn others to steer a world away from it. And you? Extreme folly it is to run into the path of a tornado. Wisdom and life to flee to the cross of salvation!