Sometimes it is difficult to know what to say in a very broken world. One looks at the world where sabers are being loudly rattled to the point of serious conflicts. I talked with a policeman from one of our cities who gave a very bad assessment of inner city condition. Many western nations have pushed aside the Christian foundation upon which they were built. And the list goes on. All things out of my control that I can do nothing about. Certainly we pray for our nation and world. Yet, even that can feel like a rather hopeless effort. But I do have a family who depends upon me. I have a neighbor who is having difficulty and needs my support. I do have those close by who need prayer, and encouragement. I have clerks and attendants in places of business I patronize that need a smile and greeting by name. There are lots of things in this world I can do nothing about, but there are also a lot that are much closer at hand where I can provide some positive good. I will pray and weep before the Lord over the bigger things, but I will love and serve those who are close at hand. That will at least mend some of the brokenness.
Psalm 121 asks and then answers a question. “I will lift up my eyes to the mountains; From where shall my help come? My help comes from the LORD, Who made heaven and earth.”(vss.1-2) This is one of the so called Songs of Ascent. The city of Jerusalem is situated on a high hill, and pilgrims would sing these palms as they were going up to worship at the Temple. It was a rocky path, but their eyes were fixed on the Temple and the Lord they would worship there. There eyes were looking up. They knew their help came from the Lord. Is this not a song for life as we make our ascent through the various paths before us? Our tendency is to keep our eyes down, only seeing the four walls in which we live, or the uncertainties of the days ahead, but God has reached out to us. He has called us to come to His Temple. He has verified His call by many acts of grace. Lift up our eyes. Our help does come from the Lord who made heaven and earth.
One heresy of the Christian Church that has been around since ancient times, and still persists in some ways today says that Jesus was God, but He only looked like a man. He really didn’t suffer or truly feel the pain that we experience. Yet the writer of Hebrews assures us that Jesus is “one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are…”(4:15) In Matthew 14 it is striking to see the range of human pressure and burdens our Lord experienced. It begins with His cousin being beheaded by King Herod, the loss of a family member and the evil that would cause this. Then the demands of the multitude, the dullness and slowness of His disciples to believe, and seeing fear where there should have been faith, Jesus felt it all deeply. Twice in this 14th chapter it indicated that Jesus needed to get alone to pray. His burden was greater than we can imagine. But by His carrying that burden, and ultimately that of our sins to the cross, we have the assurance that He knows and cares about our individual needs and hurts. He has been there, and just as He reached out His hand to save Peter from drowning (14:31) He reaches out to us each day. His strength and grace are sufficient.
Paul was a man who suffered more for the Gospel than most of us can imagine. While imprisoned in Rome he would write to the Philippian Christians, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.”(1:21-24) I sometimes think of this phrase “to depart and be with Christ which is far better.” As a pastor I see the hurt and pain of this broken world that touches so many that I know and love. I hear of another death, or severe illness, or one who is in serious trouble because of a wrong path in life, and I am helpless. There is nothing I can do about it. I just want to burden of this sinful life to be over for all of us. Yet, it is not the Lord’s time, and we are to remain doing what is “more necessary” for those we can reach. My recently ordained son-in-law said that he sees his task as helping those he meets to move one step closer to the Lord. We don’t know when the Lord will choose to end the burdens of this world, but that is the task for all of us, to help each one we meet move a step closer to the Lord. All the rest is in the hands of our gracious God.
Yesterday I wrote about anger and the lack of civility being the tone of our country in recent years. Jesus used the illustration of a tree bearing good or bad fruit, and said , ”For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.”(Luke 6:45) What our current times are showing us is the truth the Church has been preaching since its beginning, that the heart is corrupt and in need of a change.(Jeremiah 17:9) All of our advanced medicines, our psychologies, and our self-help books cannot change the heart. The only One who can is the Lord who gave His life in order to exchange His righteousness for our sin. Only Jesus can change a heart. Unfortunately, as a people, we have moved further and further away from that One who gives new life. We see the result of bad fruit in our world. Even so, the Good News is that God doesn’t abandon us. His Spirit is still reaching out to any heart that is open to Him. And for those whose hearts have been touched by Jesus they are called to use their actions and their words to show that there is a different and better way of life.
This morning we are attending a memorial service for a man in our community. He died very suddenly last weekend from a heart attack. He was not a close friend, but someone we have known for many years. We are again confronted with the shortness and uncertainty of life. We all know death is real and will come to each of us. The Bible calls death an enemy. This doesn’t mean that we have to live in fear. We take reasonable precautions, but we do not have to seek every means to hold death off for as long as possible. Jesus said that life is more than food and the body more than clothing. Or, we might add, the latest pharmaceutical offering. The source of all life is in Jesus Christ. We rest and find our peace in Him. We share together and comfort one another in a time of loss. But above all we know that true life is far more than a beating heart. When the time come of us or someone close to step over the boundary we call death we rely on the life we have in Christ which has no end.
There are times in life when everything seems to be falling apart. Many things that were taken fore granted have been shaken severely. It is a very helpless feeling when it seems that there is nothing one can do to change the situation. Yet here is where we find help in the fellowship of believers, in the Body of Christ. We do stand together in all times, good and bad. One of the lessons from our friends in East Africa is that they are not afraid to ask for help. They have little and know they are in need. Nor should we ever be afraid to seek help. I think that Americans with all their wealth and Yankee ingenuity feel they should be able to solve all their own problems, but we simply can’t. There is no shame in being weak, and asking for help. We stand together as a body supporting one another. Maybe even just crying together. But we take seriously that the Lord is in our midst, and as His Body, He will see us through.
There was a fireworks display in our area last night, and today there will be parades, celebration and more fireworks in the U.S. all recognizing the freedoms we cherish as a nation. We are blessed that our constitution contains a Bill of Rights granting us freedoms as citizens of this country. We have and continue to fight many battles to maintain those freedoms. Our Bible talks about freedom, too, but of a far deeper and richer kind. There is a freedom in Jesus Christ that far surpasses anything worldly governments can provide. There are many dangers, many fearful things in this broken world. There are many ways of being in bondage. Yet through faith in Jesus Christ we know that none of these are the Lord’s last word for us. In a very uncertain time for His followers Jesus said to them, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.”(John 14:27) As we grow in understanding of what that really means we find a freedom that nothing in this world can remove.
I was reading Psalm 73 this morning, a very expressive psalm when one feels the weight of conditions in life. The psalmist spends the first fourteen verses recounting the unfairness and injustices of life. He said that “when (he) tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to (him).”(vs.16) But he immediately follows this by saying “till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny.” In other words, he began to see clearly that the present conditions were not final, and that God would ultimately set all things right. He declares “yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel and afterward you will take me into glory.”(vss.23-24) We do not, we cannot, understand all of the trials that plague us in our fallen nature and our fallen world. We have no answers for all of the”whys” of life, but God is still there. His “right hand” supports us. “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”(vs.26) Amen!
The word Gospel is used over 90 times in the New Testament. It is the Gospel or the Good News of Jesus Christ. When the angels announced the birth of Christ to the shepherds they said “I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people…”(Luke 2:10) Almighty God had broken into the midst of human life. God came into our world in the person of Jesus of the Galilean town of Nazareth. God knew our need, our failures, our separation from Him, and our inability to do anything about it. He came in the midst of our helplessness and did for us what we could not do for ourselves. We have just shared the truths of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and the glorious resurrection on Easter Sunday. The whole life of Jesus Christ is the Good News of a new life for us in Him. We began yesterday with the greeting “He is risen! He is Risen indeed!” No matter what happens in this broken world, we have the truth that Jesus Christ is alive. And because He is alive we also have life in Him. That is really Good News.