The death of Prince Philip: Continuing the case for Christian optimism

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Buckingham Palace announced Friday that Prince Philip had died at the age of ninety-nine.

His story is truly remarkable. He was born on the Greek island of Corfu, the only son of Prince Andrew of Greece and Princess Alice of Battenberg. His uncle, King Constantine I of Greece, was forced to abdicate the throne in 1922. The family fled just ahead of a riotous mob, smuggling the eighteen-month-old prince out of Greece in an orange crate they converted into a makeshift crib. 

Philip and the future Queen Elizabeth II first met as children at the wedding of his cousin in 1934. They met again at Dartmouth Royal Naval College and began corresponding while he served in the Mediterranean and Pacific Fleets during World War II. 

The two were married when she turned twenty-one. He served his adopted country for more than seventy-five years. By the time of his death, he had undertaken 22,191 solo engagements, delivered 5,493 speeches, and served as the patron of 800 charitable organizations. 

The queen has described being left with a “huge void in her life” after his death, their son Andrew said yesterday. Prince Philip’s funeral is planned for next Saturday at Windsor Castle. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the ceremony will be limited to thirty mourners with no public processions or viewings. 

“Did not our hearts burn within us?” 

I have been an Anglophile for many years. I have visited Westminster Abbey numerous times, the church where Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth were married in 1947. I have visited their homes at Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle. I have even watched every episode of every season of The Crown. But I never had the privilege of knowing Prince Philip personally. 

The same can happen for us with Jesus. Two people who met the risen Christ on the road to Emmaus knew all about him—that he was “a prophet mighty in deed and word” (Luke 24:19), that he had been crucified (v. 20), and that many had hoped he would be their Messiah (v. 21). They had even heard the report that he was alive (v. 23). However, they did not know him (v. 16). 

But when Jesus “interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (v. 27) and led them in prayer and worship (v. 30), “their eyes were opened, and they recognized him” (v. 31). Then they told each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” (v. 32). 

Their story is in God’s word because it can be our story. It is possible to know Jesus in the same way I knew Prince Philip—familiar with the facts of his life and respectful of his influence in the world. But knowing about someone is not the same as knowing them. 

Do you remember a time when you asked Jesus to forgive your sins and become your Savior and Lord? That was the time you established a personal, saving relationship with him. If you don’t remember making such a commitment, I urge you to do so today. (For more, please see my website article, “Why Jesus?“) 

If you have established a personal relationship with Jesus, how would he describe that relationship today? To draw closer to him, do what these two did: listen to him in his word and meet with him in worship. Ask his Spirit to show you anything that is blocking your relationship with him and confess what comes to your thoughts. Then ask Jesus to make himself more real to you than ever before, knowing that he wants such intimacy with you even more than you do with him. 

“The Bible says to take strength from weakness” 

Last Friday, I offered a case for Christian optimism based on the fact that none of us knows when our Lord will return. If we give up on our culture, our pessimism will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. As a result, we must believe, pray, and work for the spiritual awakening our culture so desperately needs while leaving the results and the timing of God’s judgment to him. 

Today, let’s add this fact: All that Jesus has ever done, he can still do. As a result, all that his followers have ever done, his followers can still do.

If Jesus could transform Peter from a despondent failure into the preacher of Pentecost, he can transform any life. If his followers, empowered by his Spirit, “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6 KJV), we can do the same.

The chaplain of the House of Representatives recently followed the example of the apostles before the Sanhedrin (Acts 5:29–32). When the House approved a coronavirus relief package almost entirely on party lines, she prayed in their presence: “Forgive them, all of them. For when called upon to respond to a once-in-a-century pandemic that has rocked our country, upended its economy and widened the chasm of partisan opinion, they have missed the opportunity to step above the fray and unite to attend to this national crisis.” 

A street preacher in Brazil has been following the apostolic example in praying for the sick with passion and compassion (cf. Acts 9:36–4128:7–9). He is leading his people in ministry to COVID-19 patients by standing outside their hospitals while lifting their voices in worship and intercession. “The Bible says to take strength from weakness,” he explains. “We sing and pray because our voice can bring assurance of the love of God to those taking their last breaths.” 

A predominantly white congregation in St. Louis recently followed the inclusive example of early Christians (cf. Galatians 3:28). After his church made a $100,000 contribution to a predominantly Black congregation, the pastor explained: “Any time you begin to do life together with somebody who’s different than you, you get different perspectives. You get different histories and you begin to create a shared history together.” 

Joining Jesus on the way to Emmaus 

The best way to convince a skeptical culture that Christ is relevant to our challenges is for Christians to be relevant to our challenges. The best way for Christians to be relevant to others is for Christ to be relevant to us. 

I invite you to join Jesus on the road to Emmaus today. Listen to his voice in his word; spend time with him in worship; ask him to make himself real to you and then through you. 

A case for Christian optimism rests on the fact that Christ is as fully alive and as powerfully active today as when he first walked our planet. William Carey, the father of the modern missions movement, was therefore right when he encouraged his followers to “expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.”

Let’s do both today, to the glory of God.

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