In my message yesterday – I’m sorry it was so long, but I had a lot on my heart – I used the term “we” a number of times. We sacrificed…we intentionally rejected…we removed…” It is very true that we as individuals may not have done these specific things, or approved them. But there is something I think we need to sense deeply in our relationship with our Lord, that we are a part of a common humanity He created for good, but we together have gone terribly wrong. We have our salvation. We have our new life in Jesus Christ. Yet we still come before God in humility with the prayer of Daniel, “Lord forgive me for my sins and the sins of my people”.(Cpt. 9) Life is not we and they – we’re the good guys, they are the bad guys. The Lord seeks those who are willing to humble themselves before Him, and cry out for His mercy, cleansing, and grace on all people.
We all like to get something free. Maybe it’s that toy that comes with a Happy Meal, or the Buy One get One Free deal at the food store. But we’ve also learned that if it is free it usually is not very valuable. It’s a gimmick or a “come on” to get you to buy something else. We’ve been ingrained with the idea that you only get what you pay for. But then the Lord steps into the path of our lives. He give us something free that is valuable beyond measure. So valuable that there isn’t enough money on earth to buy it. Our redemption, our standing in righteousness before God’s absolute holiness, our life now and for eternity. This is a gift purchased with the blood of the sinless Son of God, a free gift to each of us from Almighty God that no amount of money, no amount of good works, can possibly earn. Jesus asked the question “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”(Matthew 16:26) There is noting we can give, but it has already been given to us on a cross outside Jerusalem. All we can do is bow in humble worship and thanksgiving.
Sometime a very little phrase in Scripture can say a great deal. Mark Chapter six has the account of a storm on the sea of Galilee. Jesus had just fed the crowd with five loaves and two small fish. The disciples got into the boat and started across the lake while Jesus stayed on shore. It had gotten to be 3 or 4 AM. A storm had come up. The disciple were straining at the oars trying to make progress against the wind. The text says that Jesus came walking on the water, and “intended to pass by them”(NASB), or “He was about to pass by them”(NIV), or “would have passed by them”.(KJV) In other words, if they had not seen Him He would have left them to struggle through this situation on their own. Uncaring? No. What happened to the compassionate Lord? He was still there. He was near by. He saw everything that was going on with these disciples He care about, and was training to carry His truth to the world. But in this instance they were not in mortal danger. They would have to toil and struggle to get to the other shore, but that wasn’t a bad thing. They would face far worse trials in their later ministry. They did finally see Him, and the storm was stilled, but we face some storms that seem endless. But that doesn’t mean the Lord is not near, or does not care. All things are ultimately in His hands, and we will get to the right shore.
Psalm 125 declares that “Those who trust in the LORD are like Mount Zion, which cannot be shaken but endures forever. As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the LORD surrounds his people both now and forevermore.”(vss.1-2) This is a great word, and a great encouragement, but we also find ourselves in the midst of a world of trials, problems, and uncertainties. We can find it difficult to keep our trust in the Lord. But we do have the many real promises from our Lord that He is there for us “both now and forevermore”. Even further, we look back in our own lives seeing the times God has acted in life’s situations. He has brought us through many difficult times. Both Old and New Testaments teach us not to worry or be anxious, but to keep the eyes of our hearts fixed upon the One who is faithful. In Him “we cannot be shaken”.
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.