On Tuesday I wrote about seeing life as a gift from God. That doesn’t mean that everything is exactly as God wants it. In a world full of sin many things are wrong, and not God’s desire for us. Why was there another tragic shooting yesterday? This is only one more in a long list of “why” question that have no satisfactory answer. Yet there is a truth that remains beyond all the questions. God has not and does not abandon His creation. We’ve just entered the Lenten Season, a season of humbling one’s self before God in repentance. It is a season that culminates with the truth of the atoning death and glorious resurrection of God’s only begotten Son. This is a gift, an act of the greatest love and extreme grace from Almighty God for mankind. It is an act assuring us that in spite of all our unanswered questions, things will be set right. God can be trusted to bring all things to their right conclusion. And in the midst of the day to day struggles He is there. His grace is sufficient for all our needs.
Some years ago I was walking over a piece of wooded property with the man who owned it. Wanting to appear somewhat knowledgeable I remarked that this was a nice stand of pine trees. He responded saying “Oh, their not much yet”. The difference was that I looked at the tree and saw their beauty. He was looking at the trees for their commercial value when they were cut down and sold for lumber. It seems that a lot of life is viewed with one or the other of these perspectives. Especially the way one looks at other people. Are they only useful for their utility and what they can contribute, or are they beautiful as ones whom God created and for whom God’s Son gave His life. I guess I was trying to be smart with my woodsman friend, but I think there is a need to look at life more with the eyes of grace rather than utility.
Everyone hates the C word. There is apprehension and fear when one hears a diagnosis of cancer. It usually means lengthy and painful treatments. A person wants to seek the best medical option that is currently available. The value of the treatment is in proportion to the seriousness of the disease. We have learned how serious this disease is, and so seek the best treatment possible. Now to my spiritual parallel. I am thinking of people’s attitude toward our Lord Jesus. We have a serious, in fact terminal, disease called sin. “All have sinned,” Paul tells us, “and fall short of the glory of God”.(Romans 3:23) The Christian faith declares that because of our sin we are lost, condemned, and separated from God. We deserve eternal death. Yet Jesus took the penalty for our sins in His own body, dying in our place, and giving us as a free and unearned gift His perfect righteousness before God. We have salvation and life through faith in Jesus Christ. The problem is that too many today minimize the seriousness of sin. In so doing they minimize the value of the Saviour. He becomes only a great moral teacher, and a perfect example of love. Think about the disease. One far more serious than cancer. And humbly bow in worship of our gracious Lord.
On a number of occasions when Jesus healed a person He began by saying, “your sins are forgiven”. He knew that healing begins on the inside. For a person to be whole it must include spirit and soul, as well as body. We, too often, only look at the outside need. Take this away, Get rid of that, Heal this diseases . Certainly, these are important. But the necessity for inward healing is the reason why Jesus died on the cross, and didn’t take over the throne of Rome, as many wanted Him to do. He could have displaced the political leaders and ushered in a new government of justice for all people, but there would still have been angry disputes among neighbors, envy, and covertness among people, fornication and adultery, and all the other evils that come from a corrupted heart. The cross has to be Jesus’ ultimate throne, and His crown woven of thorns. Only His atoning sacrifice that removed our sin caused separation from God could be the means of our true healing. We do pray for outward physical healing, and change in other bad physical conditions of life, but the greatest healing is always the one we find at the foot of the cross.
Two hundred and fifty years ago a man by the name of Augustus Toplady wrote “Rock of Ages, cleft for me. Let me hide myself in Thee”. Nine hundred years ago a monk by the name of Bernard wrote, “Lord, let me never, never out live my love for Thee”. We can go back to Apostles and saints for two thousand years and find the same faith built upon the same Rock. That Rock is Jesus Christ. Even in the darkest times that Rock has never moved and His light has never faded. Paul was writing about the Israelites on their journey out of Egypt fifteen hundred years before Jesus’ birth. He wrote that the people drank from “the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.”(I Corinthians 10:4) You and I live in this ultra modern era with all its advances, but our feet are sill set upon that same Rock, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”(Hebrews 13:8)
The Apostle Peter has taught us to “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”(I Pt.3:15) But perhaps we need to ask two questions first. Do we have a real and solid hope for whatever is ahead? And what is the content of that hope? Christians should be able to answer a solid “yes” to the first question. We are people of hope, and that hope is the strength of life. But to the second question we need to be clear on what that hope rests. It is not upon some vague belief that everything will somehow turn out OK. It is not a hope based on some political figure, some scientific achievement, or even upon a belief in the basic goodness of mankind. Our hope is in the One who created us, the One who has loved us enough to redeem us from the power of sin, and the One who will bring His purpose for His creation, and His people, to perfect fulfillment. It is in this hope we “give answer” by actions of God’s love, and words of His truth, to as many as God gives us the opportunity.
Acts chapter sixteen gives the account of Paul and Silas having been put in jail in Philippi. They had been arrested for preaching the Gospel and accused of causing a disturbance. They were stripped, beaten with rods, thrown into a dungeon, and had their feet put in stocks. A terrible experience for anyone. One would expect them to be angry, to be looking at their wounds, and concerned about what their fate would be in the morning. Instead, the text tells us that “about midnight (they) were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.”(vs.25) You can read the account to see the outcome, but my point here is what they were focusing on. Of course they were hurting and uncomfortable, and their fate uncertain, but they chose to focus their attention, and their hope, upon the Lord. Instead of allowing themselves to be consumed with their situation they focused upon the Lord with prayer and song. They looked to the Lord who is our strength in all situations.
God had chosen the Hebrews to bring His truth to the world. Jesus was born of the Hebrews in the midst of a Greek culture. That’s was a bit of a problem, and it is for us as well. There is a difference between Hebrew and Greek thinking. We need to approach the Bible as a Hebrew book. I was reading this morning in John 14 where Jesus was telling the disciples He was going to prepare a place for them, and that they knew the way.(vs.3f) Thomas objected, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Thomas was asking a Greek question. He wanted to know the details. He wanted step by step instruction. Jesus gave a Hebrew answer. “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” In other words, if you know Me, if you walk with Me, if you are willing to trust me, then I will lead you through all the steps you need to take. We so often struggle with the “what ifs” of life, trying to know in advance all that is ahead. Yet Jesus is extending His hand and asking us to walk with Him in trust. No, it’s not always easy. We are Greeks and want the road map. But Jesus is always there, extending His hand, and saying, “Come.”
Reading in the Gospels it will say Jesus did this and His disciples believed in Him. Then a little further on, Jesus did something else and His disciple believed in Him. But then something would happen and Jesus had to chide them on their unbelief. Even after Jesus was raised from the dead, walked with the disciples for forty days, and was ready to be taken up into heaven, Matthew tells us that “some doubted”.(28:17) Believing is difficult. We say we believe in Jesus, and we do. We really do, but we are surrounded by a broken world with its many trials, and things that really don’t make sense. It’s not that we question our salvation, or the love Jesus has for us, or sacrifice He made to redeem us. I think these are firm. But will the Lord work in this particular situation I’m facing? Will He answer this prayer I bring before Him, even as I still see the need before me not seeming to change? Yes, our eyes see the trials, and we are praying to an unseen realm. Even so, we have the evidence of all the Lord has done for us in past years. We know the love He has shown for us by paying the price for all of our sins. And we have His clear promise never to leave or forsake us. Even though we only see through a glass dimly right now, these are the rocks to which we cling. We can believe. The love Jesus has for us is deeper than anything we can imagine. We can trust ourselves, and all we care about, into His hands.
I probably should apologize for some of my comments in my Good Morning message this past Friday. I was talking about the expressions on the faces of soap opera actors, and the people on the fashion runways in New York. I know nothing about the individuals who earn their living in those lines of work. I certainly do not know any of their hearts, and it is not my place to judge any of their motives. But we do see what is portrayed, which in greater or lesser degrees is a reflection of the values of the world in which we live. We must make judgments about those values, and seek to guide our lives by all that God has give us for our best good. Our Lord always wants so much more for us than what can be found in seeking worldly peace and prosperity. He has given the life of His Son so that we could have life to the fullest extent (John 10:10) both now and eternally. That is something the world cannot give.(John 14:27)