“A Family’s Faith”
They were rag-tag group of slaves that had labored under an oppressive hand for four centuries. Optimism was for someone else. They had endured an endless stream of identical days with no end in sight. These were God’s chosen people? It hardly seemed so. A Messiah would come from this? Doubtful. Then there was that burning bush.
It was deliverance time. Escape was just around the corner. The leader? An eighty-year-old fugitive? Four decades had passed since Moses had fled a murder rap and hid out among the livestock. It would be hard to imagine a less likely choice. He thought so, too. “Who me?” He tap-danced around God’s plan but failed to convince the Lord. “Go!” He did.
And he succeeded. It took one old man, a sidekick and an all-powerful God to open the way to freedom. The Israelites did not escape Egypt because Moses was young and energetic. He wasn’t. Neither was he a confident, take-charge guy. It was not his rhetorical skills that negotiated the way out of slavery. No, it took ten plagues and a sea divided by an invisible, omnipotent hand. It was a demonstration of might that no army could successfully challenge.
Their situation appeared hopeless. There was no clear way to escape the horrible conditions in which they found themselves. Even as Moses took on his God-given mission, circumstances only got even worse (Exodus 5). Discouragement hit an all-time high (Exodus 6:9). The storm clouds grew to their darkest as the Lord prepared to intervene. Indeed, He sees beyond the horizon of this moment.
Jesus stood on the brink of history’s most brutal day. Make that eternity’s most brutal day. Heaven and hell were about to collide on a hill far away. He had come to save His people from their sins, and the time had come. This was a deliverance of a different kind. Physical slavery is insufferable. Spiritual slavery exceeds description. His mission was soon to reach a crescendo, the darkest of moments. “Take heart,” He told His disciples, “I have overcome the world (John 16:33).” Unlikely words for such a time.
He is in the deliverance business. He is on the other side of those black clouds. They obscure the sun. The same could be said of the Son. Situations arise that obliterate our vision. We find ourselves held captive by our own thoughts and emotions. Old habits that refuse to die seem to tie our hands. Gloomy days fill our calendar. The Lord is above those overcast skies. He is still there, shining as brightly as ever. We have simply let something block our view. The God of the burning bush has not gone anywhere nor has He lost His power.
He is the Lord of victory. A sea, a cross, a death, a tomb; nothing can defeat Him. Absolutely nothing. He has overcome it all. In Christ, we will, too.
“Dollars and Sense”
Little more than seven weeks had passed since the events that literally rocked the world. The man they called Jesus was dead on a Friday and alive three days later. A day of despair and disillusionment for His followers had been sandwiched in between. Hopes had been nailed to a cross, only to be resurrected never to die again. It was an earth-shattering sequence. What was it all about?
Jerusalem awakened to a day of sights and sounds that they would never forget (Acts 2). It sounded like wind, looked like fire and a handful of men miraculously spoke in languages other than their own. Witnesses pointed a finger at the wine. “They’ve had too much to drink,” was their reasoning for this unreasonable activity. It defied explanation but demanded attention, and Peter wasted no time in seizing the spotlight.
God was at work. It was His plan carried out by ungodly men on that ugly cross. That is a little much for the human mind to grasp. Their eyes saw a world that looked totally out of the Lord’s control and in the hands of the devil. A close associate betrayed Him. His entire inner circle abandoned Him at the most critical time. The wages of sin were being paid. They fled. He died. It is a frightening sight when wickedness gets its way.
Those Friday events were devastating, but the Sunday discovery had been stunning. The tomb was empty. What could possibly be the explanation for that? David had written about it. The Lord has a way with death. No one else does. The devil can instigate, and humans can carry out the taking of life. God alone gives it, even to dead men. The one they killed had been raised and exalted.
That is what that Pentecost was all about. It was dazzling, attention grabbing, and the focus was on the Son of God.
Joel had put those days into prophetic context. This was the fulfillment of the words of God that he had spoken so many years before. The faulty notions of the kingdom to come were being corrected. John had made the proclamation. Jesus had, too. It was the dawn of a new age, one in which forgiveness was offered and the promised Holy Spirit had arrived. The world had changed. The audience was called to do the same.
Change. We resist. Routine is comfortable. Repentance takes aim at the mind. It turns preconceived ideas upside down. It erases old thoughts to make room for new ones. Jesus is Lord. That is different. To redirect our lives demands updated information; but the end result is a uniting with the Lord in baptism, forgiveness and the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). This was no temporary fix that had to be repeated. It is the promise of God for anyone who will accept (Acts 2:39). That promise still stands.
“A Heart Like His”
“For God so loved the world…(John 3:16).” There is no verse in the word of the Lord that is more recognizable that that one. It is a reassurance. It resonates with universal appeal. To think that an all-powerful Creator has such an attitude toward a rebellious creation stretches the bounds of our comprehension. He is so enormous, and we are so insignificant in comparison. He is holy. We are not. Yet, He loves us anyway.
The universe around us testifies to the existence of God (Romans 1:20). He has surrounded us with evidence. The cycle of seasons, the orbits of the stars and planets, plus the wonder of the human body all point to an amazing power behind them. It is impossible to explain the existence of anything without acknowledging that someone made it. Houses do not just spring up. Cars do not evolve from bicycles. He is beyond our understanding, but God must exist. This all came from somewhere.
His extraordinary magnitude and pure character make His love for us even more perplexing. He handcrafted a man and an ideal partner for him. He placed them in a perfect environment with a wide variety of beautiful trees with good food. Two of them were special. One was off limits. Of course, that is the one that they could not resist. It must be a human tendency. “Don’t” stirs up the worst in us, even when it comes from one who loves us perfectly.
One bite brought sin and death into the world, but it did not blunt the love of God. Surely, He grieved. He knows what is best for us, and we have rejected it time-after-time. He has cleansed the world by flood, provided guidelines for liberated slaves to keep them free, sent prophets to call them back to covenantal responsibilities and each met with failure. Still, He loved the world.
That explains it all. The strange star in the sky. The Bethlehem birth among the animals. The thirty years in obscurity. The three years in public. Enduring the ridicule, opposition, hatred and ultimate hostility of the religious establishment. The violent beating He took. The crown of thorns. The mocking. Spitting in His face. The nails through His hands and feet. The sword in His side. The quaking earth. The total darkness. The Son of God executed like a common criminal. Why? God loved us…all of us.
In an age of squawking and squabbling, this is a much-needed message. God loves you. It is not followed by an “if” or a “but.” It is simply a statement of fact. Now, it is up to each of us as to how to respond to that. The eternal benefits of that love are in Christ. That is where all the blessings are (Ephesians 1:3). What will we do with a God who loves us so much that He gave His only begotten Son?
“Strength Through Struggle”
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God (Matthew 5:9).” How desperately peacemakers are needed. We are in turbulent times. Politicians of all persuasions are encouraging confrontation. The temperature rises. Anger spills from their lips and incites their followers. Crowds gather. Words fly. Then fists. Peace remains an unrealized hope and, for some, an unwanted resolution. They enjoy the fight.
Jesus, the unique Son of God, was the ultimate peacemaker. His was a costly mission. It was not a simple negotiation but all-out war, and He came to settle the issue once and for all. He was not welcomed. Wickedness is never pleased when light intrudes on the darkness. He eventually became both casualty and conqueror. He stepped onto the battlefield armed with grace and truth only to be greeted with rejection and crucifixion. No, peacemaking is not a cost-free business.
Sin disrupts our standing with God. It turns our greatest ally into an adversary. The war is on, and He sent His Son to end it. The problem lies on the human side not the Divine. Yet, He took it upon Himself to resolve it. Our faith rectifies the dislocation between the sinner and his benevolent Creator. Peace with God comes through “our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1),” a brief phrase packed with meaning.
“Our.” It is both personal and inclusive. He is not mine alone. He is ours. I am part of a collective group of individuals who have embraced the same Lord. The result is a body of believers which we know as the church, the family of God. We stand united.
“Lord.” Although, we see multiple words used to describe the relationship between believers and Jesus, this one is frequent. He is Lord. All authority has been given to Him in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18). Having peace and being a peacemaker calls on us to surrender to that authority. Our mission in life is no longer self-serving but Lord-serving. He died for us: we live for Him (2 Corinthians 5:14-15).
“Jesus.” Mary had a son. There was the human side of Jesus, and He knows the experience because He has been through it. He is a merciful, faithful high priest because of His time in the flesh (Hebrews 2:17). He successfully endured the temptations and sympathizes with our dilemma. Divinity and humanity combined perfectly in one individual.
“Christ.” That is: He is the anointed one. He was chosen and sent on a mission of forgiveness and reconciliation. Peacemaking. There is no other way to have peace with the Father. He is the only road that leads there. Without Him, we will forever be at war with our Creator. It is a no-win situation without Him, just eternal alienation.
Four words that will aid us in being peace-making children of God, “Our Lord Jesus Christ.” He was the original. Peacemakers follow. It’s the family way.
In our rough and tumble world, questions about God can easily pop up. Where is He when I am hurting? A knife-wielding homicidal maniac charges into a birthday party for a three-year-old. The results are bewildering. Why anyone would want to stab children defies reason. But then, it is not a reasonable world. So, we scratch our heads and wonder: Where is the Lord?
The state of humans seems to be deteriorating at warp speed. Terrorists drive cars into crowds. Gunmen attack schools. City streets seem more like war zones. It should not surprise us that a culture that has expelled God from our schools produces ungodly graduates. It has happened since the beginning of time. The downward spiral picks up momentum until thoughts and actions are similarly anti-God. The word of the Lord warns us (Romans 1:18-32), if we’ll just listen. Life without God gets very ungodly.
That is where we live. He has been pushed to the margins of society. Principled Christians are challenged in the courts and protested in the streets. Confrontation is common. There is nothing new about that. Jesus saw it first-hand. He handed the torch to the apostles who experienced the same type of hostile rejection. Paul was the Johnny-come-lately missionary who was beaten, jailed and ultimately executed by the enemy’s forces. Yet, he shared a unique perspective on the brink of his death sentence.
“But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me…(2 Timothy 4:17).” He did not call the Lord into question, even in the worst of circumstances. All of his friends had deserted him. He was not doubtful of the Lord’s presence or of His certain safe delivery into eternity (2 Timothy 4:18). The road to heaven was sure to be a torturous one, but he had confidence that the Lord would see him all the way through. A crown of righteousness was waiting for him (2 Timothy 4:8).
Joseph felt the full brunt of the injustices that occur in this world. The world is not fair. It never has been and never will be. If we expect it, we will be perpetually disappointed. Jealousy drove his brothers to sell him. Yet, he did okay in Egypt. In fact, he did quite well…for a while (Genesis 39:2). The Lord was with him. Obviously. Then his master’s wife had eyes for him, and his life was turned upside down.
Bogus charges took him to jail. How’s that for unfair? Where was God then? Right there with him, that’s where (Genesis 39:21). In jail on false accusations? Yes, even then. His imprisonment told us about the world in which he lived, not about Joseph or God or the relationship between the two. The Lord was with him, and He is with His faithful children today, even in the hard times. Maybe, especially then, because that’s when we need Him most.