Now Jesus’ mother and brothers came to see him, but they were not able to get near him because of the crowd.—Luke 8:19
Now when Jesus returned, a crowd welcomed him, for they were all expecting him…As Jesus was on his way, the crowds almost crushed him.—Luke 8:40-42
Wanting to release Jesus, Pilate appealed to them again. But they kept shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”
For the third time he spoke to them: “Why? What crime has this man committed…?
But with loud shouts they insistently demanded that he be crucified, and their shouts prevailed.—Luke 23:20-23
Thumbing through my study Bible this week, I found a chart that outlined Jesus’ three-plus years of public ministry. It was really helpful, putting in order the miracles, well-known teachings, and major events that shaped his time on earth.
What especially struck me was that this chart divided Jesus’ ministry up into three distinct years, calling them the ‘Year of Inauguration,’ the ‘Year of Popularity,’ and the ‘Year of Opposition.” Now of course, it doesn’t break down quite as neatly as that if you look closely at the events, and the Bible itself doesn’t label the years of His ministry in that way. But it was still helpful to realize that Jesus’ life passed through various seasons, just like ours do. Not every year was the same, and each presented its own blessings and challenges.
In the first year of Jesus’ ministry, he was just getting established as a public figure. He wasn’t widely known, and hadn’t even called all 12 of his disciples yet. He went through important experiences of preparation in his baptism and his temptation in the wilderness. He had time for important conversations with people like Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman. He did some miracles and began to be known as a teacher, but stayed mostly in the region of Galilee, the rural area where he was raised.
But then things began to ramp up. His reputation grew, and so did the crowds. Everyone wanted to see him and hear him. They wanted free bread and healing for their sick loved ones. They praised him as a prophet and began to wonder if He could be the Messiah. He attracted the attention and suspicion of the religious leaders. It became harder and harder to carve out times of peace and quiet to connect with His Father. In preparation for the next stage of His mission, He began to strategically prepare His disciples to carry on the ministry after He was gone. I wonder if, in those days, he ever longed for the simplicity of the previous year.
Then came year three. Now He was no longer just popular, He was controversial. He was divisive. Everyone had an opinion about Jesus. The voices of those who thought He was the savior of the nation grew louder, as did the voices of the those who considered him dangerous. He was teaching in the temple courts and openly challenging and being challenged by the Pharisees and teachers of the Law. It was clear where things were headed, and He began telling the disciples that He would soon be killed. Then everything culminated in the events of passion week, which began with the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and ended with his arrest, trial, crucifixion, death, and resurrection.
Each season of Jesus’ ministry was important, and each was different from the one before. Life is like that, in my experience. In my family, the year 2020 was marked by uprooting our lives and moving to Susanville, the COVID shutdown, and the passing of my father. We have never had a year like it, before or since. God did some important things in that year, but it would be just fine with us if we never had to repeat it. 2021 was the year of COVID continued, with the addition of massive wildfires. And now it’s 2022, the year we learned to live with the mood swings and expenses that come with having two teenagers in the house. It’s a new day. It’s good, and it’s hard, and it will never come again.
Churches go through seasons, too. The two churches that are closest to my heart, Faith Baptist Church of Lincoln City, Oregon and Community Church of Susanville, California, each faced two massive sources of upheaval in 2020: COVID, and a senior pastor transition, at the exact same time. In many ways, they are both still feeling the effects. Each of them has some people who are still grieving what was, and some people who are more excited than others about what lies on the horizon. And that’s okay. It’s okay to say “I miss the way things used to be.” “Those were some sweet times.” It’s okay to thank God for what was, and to acknowledge that this new season is harder, as long as we are still hopeful that God will show up in great ways. The first year of Jesus’ ministry was the easiest, maybe the most enjoyable. But it didn’t have nearly the impact of the second year, and it didn’t involve victory over sin and death like the third year. Resurrection and new life came in the hardest year, the one the disciples would probably be the least excited to re-live.
Right now at Community Church, it feels like a season of goodbyes, as people we love dearly are moving away, or even passing away. It is a season of yet more staff turnover, as people move on to new adventures, and will be replaced by different personalities who will change the dynamic of who we are as a team. We are saying goodbye not only to good friends, but to a good season. In some ways, we are saying goodbye to the Community Church of the past. Those days were good, and those days are gone. What was will never be again. God has something new for the next season, something important. Probably something challenging. But we can trust Him in it, and through it. Just as He did in the life of His Son, He is writing a story in which every chapter is unique and important. And no matter how sweet or painful the current chapter is, it’s better to look forward than to look backward, because the ending will be worth hanging around for.