Jesus always sees the bigger picture. A Jew named Nathaniel came toward Him one day. Jesus didn’t see just an ordinary townsman, but a man whose heart was free of any guile and bitterness. This was one who would be of great service to the Lord. Jesus walked by a tax collecting booth and looked at the hated man who was occupying it. He saw a man who the Jewish leaders considered a sinner, and the towns people reviled. But He also saw a man whose heart would change, and who would be mighty in proclaiming the Gospel to the Jewish people. Even with the storms on the Seas of Galilee, and the trials that the disciples would face, Jesus knew there was more than just the pain of the moment. Jesus is helping us to look beyond the surface, to look to Him to open our eyes, to pray and to trust that He is working to change our hearts for our good and for His good purpose.
Jesus has given His life to redeem us. We look to Him as our source of life, strength, and peace, but sometimes His word are difficult to apply. In Matthew 6:25-34 He tells us not to worry about life. “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. … But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” …….. But Lord, life is so frightening. 59 people died by some crazy shooter. We don’t know where it will happen next. Our nation is in such debt the economy could collapse. Numerous illnesses threaten to kill us, and yet You tell us not to worry. How do we do that Lord? ……. Jesus’ instruction is not easy. We live in a very broken world. There are no guarantees that we won’t suffer various trials. Paul talks about this with the Roman church, but then assures us that “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”(8:31-32) That is the point of the little pink flower I wrote about yesterday. We have seen the truth of God’s hand at work in our own lives. We face trials in His strength, in the assurance of His presence, and that eases the worries for our future.
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)
We had a devotional time yesterday morning at the meeting I’m attending. The leader began with the Kyrie, the three part prayer in our liturgy, “Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.” Years ago one of my professors called this the most important prayer we can pray. We may think this strange, or an exaggeration. It doesn’t contain any words of praise. There are no requests for needs. Quite true, but it does bring us in humility before our God. It is kneeling in trust before our Lord who has shown Himself to be merciful many times in life. It focuses our attention on the true source of life from whom all good comes. Yes, in thinking about the Kyrie in this way it does, at least, make it one of our most important prayers. May the wideness of God’s mercy rest upon you today and always.
Having faith is tough! Our Scripture lesson for yesterday was from Matthew 14, Jesus walking on the water in the midst of the storm. The disciples saw Him and were afraid. Peter said “Lord, if it is you, tell me to come to you on the water.” Jesus said, “Come”, and Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus. He really walked on the water. That is the power of faith as Jesus always taught His followers, but it’s tough to maintain. Peter looked around, saw the waves, felt the pressure of the wind, saw the blackness of the sky, and began to sink. He cried out to the Lord to save him, and the Lord did.(Mt.14:28-31) Jesus asked, “why did you doubt”. But having faith is tough! We do have faith in our Lord Jesus. We believe He is the Christ, God’s only begotten Son. We believe we have our salvation because of His atoning sacrifice on our behalf. But the storms of life continue to rage. We feel the wind and see the waves. It is not that we doubt our salvation, but the situations of life cause us to cry out “Lord save me”. And in great mercy He does. He will bring us into the boat where the seas will calm.(vs.32) “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. “(Hebrews 4:15-16)
The word praise is used over 300 times in Scripture. God’s people are taught to ” Let the high praises of God be in their mouth,…”(Psalm 149:6) Sometimes it can sound like God is egotistical and needs our continual praise. It is not that God needs it at all, but in His great grace He knows that we need it. It is in praise that we draw closer to Him, and find strength and direction for life. Psalm 22:3 speaks of God being enthroned or inhabiting the praises of Israel. As we offer our praise to God in word and song we humble ourselves before Him, and rejoice in the presence of His love. Our eyes are raised from the trials that surround us to the face of Him who has come and is in the midst of all life. Praise is a love song to our Lord who is the gracious and glorious Bridegroom of us all.
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.
There has always been a lot of controversy about Jesus. Who is he? Is he really what he says he is? Jesus once asked His disciples what people were saying about Him? The disciples had heard a variety of opinions. Some say John the Baptist had come back from the dead. Others that He was Jeremiah or one of the prophets of old. That’s all very interesting, but Jesus wouldn’t let the discussion lie there. “But who do you say that I am?” He asked. That really is the central question. It doesn’t matter much what the public opinion surveys have to say. Where do you stand? It was Peter who answered first. “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”(Matthew 16:16) It is in that confession true life is found. It is a confession that God, Himself, reveals to our hearts. It is upon that confession the whole foundation of our life is built. Who do you say that I am?
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.