by David Phelps

“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” – Mother Teresa

June, 2008

Not long ago, our area experienced an earthquake. Since this is the Midwest and not Los Angeles, this was a noteworthy event. I happened to be awake at 4:36AM when the quake occurred and I felt it firsthand. At the time, I was in the bathroom near our daughter, Monica’s room, and my first impulse was to yell, “Hey, knock it off in there!” I somehow got it into my head that Monica was responsible for the floor shaking. Then I realized that the entire house was shaking.

Later, I learned that the quake’s “epicenter” was near West Salem, Illinois, on the other side of Illinois from our suburban St. Louis home. The quake measured 5.2 on the Richter scale, which means it was a small one as earthquakes go. Even so, it contained as much energy as nearly a dozen tornadoes or more than 60,000 tons of TNT. It nearly equaled the most powerful Illinois earthquake on record, a 5.4 magnitude quake that occurred in 1968. United States Geological Survey geophysicist Randy Baldwin confirmed that “This is a fairly large quake for this region.”

The quake was felt hundreds of miles away, in places as far as Atlanta. A woman in Mt. Carmel, IL, about fifteen miles from the epicenter, was trapped in her house when her front porch collapsed, but was otherwise uninjured. The quake lasted only about twenty seconds, according to witnesses who were obviously paying more attention than I was. A 4.6 magnitude “aftershock”—with about 1/8 the energy of the original quake—occurred a few hours later at about 10:14AM. More recently, a 7.9 magnitude earthquake, more than 10,000 times as powerful as the one I felt, occurred in China and killed nearly 15,000 people and affected as many as 10,000,000 more, with millions rendered homeless. One of the most powerful earthquakes on record occurred in Chile in 1960, with a magnitude of 9.0, equivalent to 32 billion tons of TNT.

In Bible times, there was an earthquake the day Jesus died (Mat. 27:51-54). When the centurion and his companions saw what had happened, they exclaimed, “‘Truly this man was God’s Son!’” (Matt. 27:54b NRSV). There was an earthquake in Philippi while Paul and Silas were in prison in that city. Luke reports that “. . . the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened.” (Acts 16:26b NRSV).

And yet, for all the power of an earthquake, there is a power greater even than that, a power that will move mountains (Matt. 17:20). It is the power of God. When the earthquake struck Philippi, the doors were opened, and all the prisoners’ stocks and chains were loosed, Paul and Silas didn’t try to escape (Acts 16:28). Instead, they remained where they were and witnessed to their jailer (vs. 29-34). In Matthew’s account, it was an earthquake that rolled the stone away from the tomb where Jesus had been (Matt. 28:2).

The power of God can move mountains, set captives free, change lives, and raise the dead to new life. The same day the earthquake occurred, I attended the funeral of a former coworker, Ron. I thought about the resurrection and the power of God to transform lives and overcome death and sin. The power of God is beyond anything we poor humans can achieve or dream. God made the sun, moon and stars. God made us too and God cares for us enough to send God’s only child to die for our sins. God gives us the power to become children of God (John 1:12). We have a story to tell, a message of power to share. There are those who are hampered by mountains in their lives, held captive, living under the dominion of sin. We know about a power that can set them free and transform them into children of God. We owe it to them to let them know.

“At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many. Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, ‘Truly this man was God’s Son!’” (Matt. 27:51-54 NRSV.)

Copyright © 2008 by David Phelps