Matthew 28:1-20 // With Fear and Great Joy

Fear and Great Joy

Text: Matthew 28:1-20, CSB

Prayer for Illumination

O God, who made this most holy [day] to shine with the glory of the Lord’s resurrection: Stir up in your Church that Spirit of adoption which is given to us in Baptism, that we, being renewed both in body and mind, may worship you in sincerity and truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. [1]

Introduction

He was guilty and everyone knew it, but more than that. He knew it. His lawyers were urging him to ‘not guilty’ or at the very least plead the fifth because they thought they could pull some strings, or maybe come up with something that could convince everyone that he wasn’t involved even if it wasn’t true, but his conscious wouldn’t allow him to do that now.

 

From the time that he committed the crime to the time of his hearing he was a different man.

 

He plead guilty, was given a 1-3 year sentence. Charles Colson was finally brought to justice for his involvement with the Watergate scandal.

 

But, what happened? What was different? What changed?

 

As he was facing the prospect of arrest, one of his friends, gave him a copy of “Mere Christianity” by C.S. Lewis and in reading that book, Colson was faced with the arguments for the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Colson said that as he was reading the book, got out a yellow legal pad and pretended that he was in a courtroom, and he was trying to find holes in Lewis’ arguments, and he couldn’t.

 

I’m sure Colson read the part in that book where Lewis says that given all the evidence we have, Jesus is either a lunatic, a liar, or He is Lord, and if He is Lord, and then it changes everything.

 

The resurrection of Jesus Christ CANNOT BE of little importance. It is either of no importance or it is of great importance, but it cannot be of little importance.

 

  • How important is it to you personally that Jesus actually rose from the dead? Does it affect the way you live your life? Would your life be different if Jesus hadn’t risen from the dead? If he was just a good guy who taught some nice things, and then he died, and we never heard a word about Christianity, how would that affect your life?
    • If it wouldn’t affect your life at all if Jesus had never risen, then you don’t know the power of His resurrection.

 

Charles Colson would go on to say later that, “I know the resurrection is a fact, and Watergate proved it to me. How? Because 12 men testified they had seen Jesus raised from the dead, then they proclaimed that truth for 40 years, never once denying it. Everyone was beaten, tortured, stoned and put in prison. They would not have endured that if it weren’t true. Watergate embroiled 12 of the most powerful men in the world-and they couldn’t keep a lie for three weeks. You’re telling me 12 apostles could keep a lie for 40 years? Absolutely impossible.”

 

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is a reality, and it affects the way live, think, and make decisions. How we respond to the resurrection matters and that’s what I want us to here in this passage.

 

First of all, as we look at this chapter, I want us to see who communicated the message of the resurrection.

Who Communicated the Message?

The Angel (v. 5-7)

The first person to communicate the message of the resurrection was the angel.

 

“The angel told the women, “Don’t be afraid, because I know you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6 He is not here. For he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has risen from the dead and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; you will see him there.’ Listen, I have told you.” – Matthew 28:5-7, CSB

 

In verse 6, we see three ideas:

 

  • “He has risen” – The Message of the Resurrection
    • 1 Corinthians 15:1-8, Paul’s argument for the resurrection
    • 1 Corinthians 15:20-58, Paul explains that Christ’s resurrection informs and guarantees our own resurrection.
  • “Just as He said” – The Basis of the Message
    • Up to this point in the Gospels, Jesus has told the disciples over and over and over again, that He was going to go to Jerusalem, and be beaten and killed at the hands of the chief priests and Pharisees and then He would die, but then He would rise again.
    • The most clear picture of this is Mark 8:31-10:45 where Jesus tells, in detail, of His death and resurrection three times almost back to back, and if you were last Sunday night when we covered Mark 10, you realize that the disciples just don’t seem to get it, and yet, this angel basically said, “He told you so!” So, the basis of the resurrection is rooted in what Jesus has said about Himself. Everything that Jesus has spoken has been fulfilled and will be fulfilled.
  • “Come, and see the place where He lay” – The Evidence of the Message
    • Not only does the angel give us the message of the resurrection, and the basis for the claim of the resurrection, but he also gives us the evidence because he invited the women to come and see the place where He lay.
    • The empty tomb in Jerusalem is one of the only tourist attractions where people travel thousands of miles and pay lots of money just to go and see nothing.

The Women (v. 8)

“So, departing quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, they ran to tell his disciples the news.” – Matthew 28:8, CSB

The women told the disciples about the risen Lord, but Matthew says that they’re going with “fear and great joy.” Why are they afraid? Jesus is alive. They should have no reason to fear, right?

 

    • The problem was that they were women and the testimony of women was considered untrustworthy. The Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible even tells us, “Both Jewish and Roman law normally regarded a woman’s testimony as of limited value, treating women as unstable. [2] It is to the women, however, that God’s agents first entrust the testimony of Jesus’ resurrection.”
    • They have every reason to be afraid. There’s a big “what if” in their minds. There’s joy because they know the truth, but there’s fear because what if the disciples don’t believe what they have to say? And the truth is that they weren’t believed at first.
    • “Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them were telling the apostles these things. 11 But these words seemed like nonsense to them, and they did not believe the women.”- Luke 24:10-11, CSB

 

 

 

So, what happened when the disciples didn’t believe the women? The women took them to the tomb.

 

“Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. When he stooped to look in, he saw only the linen cloths. So he went away, amazed at what had happened.”
– Luke 24:12, CSB

 

Now, if you go and read John’s account in John 20:7, they were able to identify the linen cloths as those belonging to Jesus so this wasn’t a case of them showing up at the wrong tomb. This also wasn’t a case of a grave robbery because grave robbers don’t neatly fold grave clothes. This was something entirely different.

 

  • Jesus of Nazareth, who had been dead, actually got up out of a tomb that had been sealed with a stone and kept guarded by soldiers, and the women were not only able to relay this message, but they were also able to show them the evidence, and I think this is important because we have to ask the question, “How do we show people the evidence of the resurrection now?”
    • I think it’s one thing to make a cognitive surface level argument for the resurrection. As a matter of fact, I think when you consider all the historical evidence involved, it’s a fairly easy argument to make, but what happens when we make all the arguments and present all the evidence, and yet still live as if it’s not true?
    • I asked the question a few months ago, and I’ll ask it again now: how would your life be different if Jesus had never risen from the dead?
      • If your life wouldn’t be different, then the resurrection of Jesus doesn’t mean all that much to you, and if Jesus’s resurrection doesn’t mean all that much to you, then you have every reason in the world to question the validity of your faith.

The disciples, after hearing the news from Mary, had to go to the tomb and see it empty because that would affect everything they did with the rest of their lives from that moment going forward.

 

  • And in that same way, the truth of the resurrection should affect our lives from the time that know the truth of it.

 

The next group of people who carry the message is the guards that were at the tomb.

The Guards

“After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to view the tomb. 2 There was a violent earthquake, because an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and approached the tomb. He rolled back the stone and was sitting on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing was as white as snow. 4 The guards were so shaken by fear of him that they became like dead men.”
– Matthew 28:1-4, CSB

 

“As they were on their way, some of the guards came into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. 12 After the priests had assembled with the elders and agreed on a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money 13 and told them, “Say this, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him while we were sleeping.’ 14 If this reaches the governor’s ears, we will deal with him and keep you out of trouble.” 15 They took the money and did as they were instructed, and this story has been spread among Jewish people to this day.” – Matthew 28:11-15, CSB

 

I think it’s interesting that the first instinct of the guards is to tell the truth, and then the first instinct of the chief priests is to cover up the truth.

 

  • No one involved assumes that the resurrection won’t be believed. Think about how remarkable that is. The Chief Priests (who hated Jesus, who hated His followers) would never believe that there would come a day when those who claimed to believe in Jesus didn’t believe in His resurrection, and yet, here we are.
  • There are many people who claim to be Christians, they want the fellowship, they want the comradery, they want heaven even, they want all the benefits of Christianity without believing in the truth of the resurrection of Jesus because, “after all, dead people don’t come back. That’s just one of those superstitious things for those people who aren’t as advanced as we are, right?”
    • That’s precisely the problem. We think we have the world figured out, and then God does something like raise His Son from dead and it just messes with everything we think we know.

 

The guards, without realizing what they’re doing, actually carry the information that makes Christianity what it is. “Jesus, this guy who said that He was the Son of God, who said that He would die and then rise again in three days, actually did it.”

 

Think about why the guards are there in first place. Look at the end of Matthew 27.

 

“The next day, which followed the preparation day, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate 63 and said, “Sir, we remember that while this deceiver was still alive he said, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ 64 So give orders that the tomb be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come, steal him, and tell the people, ‘He has been raised from the dead,’ and the last deception will be worse than the first.” – Matthew 27:62-64, CSB

 

Some of you were here last Sunday night when we looked at the tail end of Mark 10, and we talked about how leading up to that point, Jesus has just told the disciples about how his death and resurrection three times, and they still didn’t seem to understand what Jesus was talking about because they wanted to know if they could sit at His right or His left hand in the kingdom.

 

  • It’s ironic that the chief priests seem to understand more about what Jesus was saying than the disciples.
    • And if that weren’t enough irony, it’s not even Jesus’ own disciples who first witness what happens, it’s the guards. They saw the angel come down and they knew what was going on because they were able to report what happened to the chief priests.

 

And the chief priests, instead of believing in Jesus at that point, they do whatever they can to cover it up.

 

  • And again, people haven’t changed that much. The information is there. They can’t deny it. They either have to believe it or cover it up.
  • In Romans 1, the Apostle Paul said that people try to cover up the truth about God all the time except he’s uses different language to describe it, he says that they “suppress the truth with their unrighteousness.” And that’s exactly what the chief priests are trying to do. They’re trying to suppress the truth of the resurrection with falsehood and deceit because they knew that if the news ever got out, it would change everything.
    • If even these godless chief priests knew what kind implications the resurrection would have, why don’t we?

How the Disciples Respond to the Resurrection

Now, look at how the disciples respond to the resurrection. Look at Matthew 28:9-10. Remember in verse 8, our passage said that Mary Magdalene and Mary were filled with fear and great joy and then they ran to tell the disciples.

 

“Just then Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” They came up, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus told them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to leave for Galilee, and they will see me there.” – Matthew 28:9-10, CSB

 

  • Jesus commissions the women with a specific message for the disciples.

 

“The eleven disciples traveled to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had directed them. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped, but some doubted.”
– Matthew 28:16-17, CSB

 

Think about the people that are here. These are the disciples who have been following Jesus around for 3 ½ years. They are His friends, His followers, even His students (they saw Him as a rabbi). Now, they’re worshipping Him because it all makes sense now. They finally realize that He is who He said He is, but not all are worshipping. Some are doubting.

 

  • Now, before we start casting stones at the doubters, I want us to think about what a doubter is. A doubter isn’t simply an unbeliever. An unbeliever says, “Nah, I’m good. I don’t believe that Jesus is who He said He is, He’s just some guy that said some cool stuff.” Doubters, however, are different. Doubters don’t completely dismiss everything. They want truth, they want assurance. They need to know that they can have some solid ground to stand on.

 

We have to be clear, we don’t know why they’re doubting.

 

  • John’s account may shed some light on it in John 21:4, when he says that when daybreak came, Jesus was standing on the shore, but some of the disciples didn’t realize that it was Him, but the point remains: they were confused, they were doubting, and Jesus, instead of addressing their doubts goes ahead and sends them on mission.

 

“Jesus came near and said to them, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” – Matthew 28:18-20, CSB

 

When John Wesley was in the process of trying to figure out his faith, he was visiting with a group of Christians called The Moravians and he records in his journal that he after spending time with them he was convinced that he wasn’t saved because they preached a faith alone that saved and led to good works, and after observing how they lived he was convinced that he wasn’t saved, and he went to one of the Moravian ministers named Peter Boehler and he said, and I’m paraphrasing, “You guys are the real deal, and I don’t think I am. After seeing you guys I think maybe I’ve been faking it. Maybe I should stop preaching.”

 

In the March 4th entry, Wesley writes, “I asked Boehler, whether he thought I should [stop preaching]. He answered “By no means.” I asked, “But what can I preach?” He said, “Preach faith till you have it; and then, because you have it, you will preach faith.[3]

 

Most of us probably wouldn’t have said that, and most of us probably would have told the disciples to get their act together before they go out preaching, and yet, Jesus tells everyone present, including the disciples, “Go out there, make disciples, baptize them, and teach them everything that I’ve taught you.”

 

One commentator says, “We are tempted to criticize the disciples for doubting, but we should not imagine that we would have done better.  Jesus does not rebuke the disciples. He understands their doubt, but speaks to their faith. He understands their frailty, but calls them to carry on his work.[4]

 

  • God grants us faith as a gift, and His word causes our faith to increase.

 

Two months after Peter Boehler told John Wesley to preach faith until he had it, Wesley was trying to seek the assurance of his faith through prayer and the reading of the Scriptures, and he records:

“In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate-Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation: And an assurance was given me, that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.[5]

Conclusion

You may be here this morning and you see the evidence for the resurrection, and maybe you want to believe, maybe you want to trust in Christ. If that desire is in you, then that’s God working in your life, drawing you to Himself.

 

When you trust in Christ, the voice of doubt may come and try to creep in, but the voice of Jesus is always louder because He promises never to leave us or forsake us.

 

The resurrection is proof that everything Jesus said and did is true, and He can be trusted.

 

The Apostle Paul prays for us in Ephesians 1:18-20 when he says, “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened so that you may know what is the hope of his calling, what is the wealth of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the mighty working of his strength.

 

20 He exercised this power in Christ by raising him from the dead and seating him at his right hand in the heavens.”

 

Let’s pray.

Closing Prayer

Heavenly Father, give us a sense of the immeasurable power of Your greatness, this morning. Let us look to Christ and see Your power exhibited in raising Him from the dead and open our eyes to see that You have raised those of us who believe to new life in Him. If there is anyone here now who lacks faith, I pray that You would grant them the gift of faith so that they can see You, Lord, high and lifted up, and that they could experience life with You. In the name of Your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

______________________________

  1. Book of Common Prayer, pg. 285
  2. (see, e.g., Justinian, Institutes 2.10.6; Josephus, Antiquities 4.219; in the Mishnah see Yebamot 15:1, 8 – 10; 16:7; ketubbot 1:6 – 9; in the Tosefta see Yebamot 14:10)
  3. Person. “The Moravians and John Wesley.” Christian History | Learn the History of Christianity & the Church, Christian History, 16 Mar. 2016, www.christianitytoday.com/history/issues/issue-1/moravians-and-john-wesley.html.
  4. “Matthew 28:16-20 Commentary, Bible Study.” Sermon Writer, www.sermonwriter.com/biblical-commentary/matthew-2816-20/.
  5. Person. “The Moravians and John Wesley.” Christian History | Learn the History of Christianity & the Church, Christian History, 16 Mar. 2016, http://www.christianitytoday.com/history/issues/issue-1/moravians-and-john-wesley.html.

Escape from Monkey Hill

Monkey Hill

It has been three years since Allyson and I honeymooned in New Orleans. We had a great time eating our way through the French Quarter, learning to drive in a city of only ways, and forgetting that real life existed for only a few days. But as the exhaustive planner and lover of my wife, I decided to really go all out and take her on Allyson’s All Day Animal Adventure. See, Allyson loves animals and the zoo. If she could, she would go every day. But in New Orleans, you can buy a day pass and go t the insectarium, aquarium, and zoo for a discounted price. This is a top notch zoo with live exhibits where you can see and even touch the animals. We’re newlyweds and so of course poor. But this, I’m all over this; Day 3 of Husband Jay is going to kill it.

We arrived, only to wait in line for our passes to get stamped. Now we weren’t in line for a long time, probably fifteen minutes. But it was summer and the humidity was getting to all of us in line as we patiently stood in our Purgatorial Sweat Box. As Allyson and I are joking and kidding around, I saw the family in front of us. It’s a typical touristy family parents, two kids, and a grandparent; our fellow members of the sauna like queue. But about halfway through the line the older child began getting fussy. He was probably no more than six or seven. Now would I say that he was acting bad. He wasn’t throwing a tantrum or crying. He was just a bored, hot, child ready to get in to see the animals. So he’s hanging onto the dad, and just complaining. “How long is it going to be? I’m bored? Are we almost there? It’s hot today? What can we see first? Can I play Angry Birds?” You get the idea. But then he said the thing that really piqued my interest: I just want to go to Monkey Hill. Please can we go?

And he repeated it. For about two minutes straight.

Now Monkey Hill is actually quite famous. They built it in the 1930’s so that kids in New Orleans would know what a hill looks like. There’s a five story tree house, a wading pool, and kids often roll down the grass of the hill. It’s been there forever and kids of all ages still go ape for it. It is right in the middle of the zoo and so for parents it’s a great midway point to rest while kids play. However, after a while the dad had grown impatient about the Monkey Hill subject. Then he said it.

This father bent down to his son, mustering up all the kindness and tenderness in his voice. He ruffled his hair and said, “Brandon, I’ll tell you what. If you’re good, we’ll go to Monkey Hill.”

My heart sank. Not because this guy is a bad father. I don’t think he is. I’ve heard many parents say similar things. I get that I don’t get parenting decisions because I’m not one. That wasn’t my issue. But because in it I heard the legalism I had so often struggled with as a teen and younger adult. I heard all the legalism in that moment of “quid pro quo”

I think so often, I view God as this type of Father: one who looks at me and says, “Now Jay, if you act right, then I will come and save you. But you have to make sure that you have your act together in order to get the reward.” I struggle with viewing God from a place that if when I sin, He’s coming after me and mine to get me back. Or He’s causing bad things to happen because I wasn’t as faithful as I should’ve been. So then, what do I do? I try to grit and grind my way to holiness. I study the Catechism more, I sing out of the Psalter, I make sure that I’m listening to religious podcasts. But not out of a heart longing to know God or to worship him, but because I have to make sure I’m crossing things off my list.

When I was at CBC, I made sure that I had whatever new book I was reading at the time in my backpack and read before class. Not because I just loved reading, but because I wanted people to see my Older Brother self reading it. I wanted people to go “that Jay Sawrie is just so dedicated”. I made sure all of my tweets were deep theological truths, because that’s what I thought would be God pleasing. That was the deal. I was good, so I get to go to Monkey Hill. I was good, so now God doesn’t have a reason to ditch me when I sin. I was faithful and pious, so God now owes me to never leave.

But God’s faithfulness to us isn’t “quid pro quo” but rather “it is finished” faithfulness. God’s promise to keep us is based on nothing that we have brought, are bringing, or will bring to the table. Christ died for future sins too; so that now whatever we do wind up bringing is still going to the trash heap. Our Pharisaical righteousness doesn’t earn us our place or earn our keep. We don’t get in by faith and stay in by faithfulness. When God looks at us, He sees Christ. He actively obeys and then gives us His obedience for our disobedience. He works, we get the reward. He takes the spanking, we get to go outside and play. Any attempt to add to the works of Christ by our own bootstrap pulled attempts, really just scream “Eh I’ll do it myself”.

But here’s the ironic thing. As we made the turn in the zoo and approached the Hill, right at the entrance was the sign: Monkey Hill Closed for Repairs. No one got into Monkey Hill that day. The promise of legalism is so empty, that even when we strive and work so that God will delight in us, all we find is the broken promise that this wasn’t the way after all. Legalism only leads to tears and disappointment. Because then we feel cheated. We believe that God now owes us something in return for all the merit that we brought Him. But God has not promised us anything that He has not already provided in Christ.

So then, let’s keep looking to Christ. Let us see Him and taste of Him in the Sacraments. Let us run to Him by faith. Keep hearing and believing the Gospel.

When Your Sin is Exposed, Run to Jesus

When Your Sin is

“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 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 4:12-16, NIV

Every pastor has a pastor – someone that they can talk with and go to for spiritual advice. If you’re a pastor, and you don’t have a pastor, then get one. You’ll go insane. At the very least, get a therapist. I don’t really recommend that option because therapists tend to charge by the hour and ask you about your feelings in a very unfeeling way, but I digress.

I was listening to a recent sermon my pastor (which can find at this link), and he briefly expounded on Hebrews 4:12-16, and I wanted to share with you my take away from his exposition.

Notice, first of all, that our passage tells us of the sharpness of God’s word, and how it is that sharpness that tears into the root of our being. And what is it that is at the core our being? Sin. We’re sinful, and the word of God exposes that sin before a holy God. The same holy God before whose presence Isaiah feared that he might die because he was a man of unclean lips. So, if this is the case, then what hope is there for us?

Our hope is that Jesus is a faithful high priest who has taken upon Himself the sins of those who run to Him for light and life. Because He always lives to intercede for us (Hebrews 7:25), we are able to approach the throne of grace and receive mercy in the time of need. And when do we need mercy? All the time, especially when we see our sin exposed before Him, and do you know what? We can rejoice because it has all been laid on Christ.

“Till on that cross as Jesus died
The wrath of God was satisfied
For every sin on Him was laid”
– Keith Getty & Stuart Townsend

“And they sang a new song, saying:

“You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
and with your blood you purchased for God
persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.
You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
and they will reign on the earth.”
– Revelation 5:9-10, NIV

Jesus paid for you, and He continually intercedes for you. Go in peace.

It Really is Finished

It ReallyIs Finished.jpg

“Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” – Isaiah 40:2, NIV

We make life difficult for ourselves with every sinful choice we make, but sometimes what we need to hear is that our sins have been paid for, and that the hard service that we had to serve has been completed. This was the case with God’s people in Isaiah 40.

The first 39 chapters of Isaiah are the prophet confront the people with their sin. One of the chapters where this is most obvious is chapter 5. In verses 20-21, we read about how the people are exchanging sweet water for bitter water, trading light for darkness, and calling evil good. The people of God have clearly made their bed, and it would seem based on what we read in Isaiah 5:25-30, they’re going to have to lay in it.

“Therefore the Lord’s anger burns against his people; his hand is raised and he strikes them down. The mountains shake, and the dead bodies are like refuse in the streets. Yet for all this, his anger is not turned away, his hand is still upraised. 26He lifts up a banner for the distant nations, he whistles for those at the ends of the earth. Here they come, swiftly and speedily! 27Not one of them grows tired or stumbles, not one slumbers or sleeps; not a belt is loosened at the waist, not a sandal strap is broken. 28 Their arrows are sharp, all their bows are strung; their horses’ hooves seem like flint, their chariot wheels like a whirlwind. 29 Their roar is like that of the lion, they roar like young lions; they growl as they seize their prey and carry it off with no one to rescue. 30In that day they will roar over it like the roaring of the sea. And if one looks at the land, there is only darkness and distress; even the sun will be darkened by clouds.” – Isaiah 5:25-30, NIV

Here we have an imagery of God sending a call for pagan nations to come and swoop down like a pack of wild animals on his people as punishment for their sin. We see this fulfilled when Assyria comes in and attacks the people. God eventually brings judgement on Assyria for this attack, even Israel brought it on themselves (Isaiah 10).

For those first 39 chapters in Isaiah, we see God heaping on Israel woe, wrath, and judgement, but then in chapter 40 something happens. It’s all over. God declares that their hard time is over, and their sins are forgiven.

We can be stubborn and rebellious like the children of Israel. 1st Corinthians 10 shows us that we can be partakers of the covenant, and yet God can still not be pleased with us. However, unlike the children of Israel, someone has already taken our wrath and judgement for us – Jesus Christ.

What we should see in Isaiah 40 are comforting words that should encourage us to leave behind our sin and run to Jesus. When He says it is finished, He means it.

 

Why “Be Strong” or “Buck Up” is the Wrong Response to Suffering…

In the context of talking about people in difficult and ongoing situations, someone once asked me: “Why is the simple instruction to ‘be strong’ or ‘buck up’ at best insufficient and at worst harmful?”

When I heard this question, I was immediately struck 1) by my strong feelings on the subject and 2) by my natural ability to answer the question with insight and nuance. This was presumably in large part because I’ve dealt with significant and ongoing health issues (both physical and psychological) in recent years that have forced me to stare the painful realities of life full in the face. While on this journey, I’ve had my share of both helpful and unhelpful responses from people. Concurrently, I’ve had numerous opportunities to deeply connect with other people who are suffering, even when their suffering is quite different than my own. All that to say, I guess it makes sense that when I was asked the above-mentioned question, I felt both passionate and somewhat-competent in writing up the following reply…

Telling someone who is suffering to “Buck up!” or “Be strong!” shuts down conversation by shaming the person, instead of providing a safe place for healthy dialogue and compassionate understanding. It says that you are not willing to try to understand the other person’s situation, that you’re not willing to walk with them through this trial.

It overestimates the power of the human will and emotions. It assumes that if only the person tried harder or thought more positively, things would be better. It assumes that the problem is with the person’s effort or attitude. This ends up isolating the sufferer from resources and people that may be necessary for their situation.

It guilts people about things which are largely not under their control, instead of freeing them with knowledge that some things are not their fault, while providing a safe and empowering environment in which to make choices over those things that they can manage.

It downplays or denies the reality of the difficult parts of the human experience and the validity of unpleasant emotions. This means, of course, that such persons will be of little or no help in actually dealing with such experiences.

Basically, telling someone to “be strong” or “buck up” shuts down conversation and relationship, isolates the sufferer, guilts and shames over that which is out of the person’s control, may prevent the sufferer from getting the help they need, and denies the reality of the full human experience.

– Hannah

(Picture from: https://quotefancy.com/quote/1398985/Sheryl-Sandberg-Real-empathy-is-sometimes-not-insisting-that-it-will-be-okay-but)

He Whispers Sweet Peace to Me

Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me… Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. – John 14:1, 27, NRSV

Has your heart ever been troubled? Have you lost sleep over worry and stress? Has your entire being ever ached over an insurmountable problem that didn’t seem to have a solution? I think we all have at one time or another. What do we do in these times?I’ve often found that in these circumstances I’ve got no choice but to pray and wait for God to act.

I like being in control. I like being able to make life decisions for myself, but when I feel I’m backed into a corner I begin let my heart get troubled. I go over possible scenarios in my head of how the situation could work not knowing what could possibly happen and I just add to my worry and stress. What’s going on inside when I allow my heart to become troubled in spite of Christ plainly telling me not to allow my heart to be troubled? I’m giving in to my worry and stress and I’m ultimately looking to myself for answers instead of God.

Let me just tell you something that I’m having to remind myself every day for the last year – God will provide. You see, when you’re in the dark and it looks like you’ll never see the light again, that’s when Jesus comes into the dark and whispers peace. Jesus is the light of the world (John 8:12), but he’s also the light of our world. He exposes those things that the darkness tries to hide. He covers us with his wings, and He feeds us with sweet manna from heaven. That may not be comforting when the bills are due in three days and you have no idea what you’re going to do, and you’ve got nothing but Ramen in the cabinets, but God will provide.
Sometime when misgivings darken the day
And faith’s light I cannot see
I ask my dear Lord to brighten the way
He whispers sweet peace to me
– Will M. Ramsey

Momentary Affliction and a Merciful Savior

MAMS

“But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. …For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.” – 2 Corinthians 4:7, 17-18, NRSV

“So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.” – 2 Corinthians 5:17-19, NRSV

Let’s get one thing clear. I suck at being a Christian. I love Jesus with all my heart. He’s my best friend. I call upon Him as Savior everyday and I pray for Him to be my Lord, and I try to submit myself to what He wants for my life, but sometimes I just blow it. If I weren’t a Calvinist, I would say that I’ve lost my salvation two or three times in the last week. The struggle that I have is real and one of the reasons I believe God allows me to have these struggles is so that I can help others who have similar problems.

You see, this whole sanctification thing is from now until we die. We’ll never be perfect until we stand in the full presence of Almighty God in Heaven. Until that moment, God continually draws us to Himself. He beckons us into a beautiful relationship with Him. And this life is full of ups and downs, unexpected turns in the road, and sometimes we lose our way. Sometimes we make bad decisions. The good news though is that Jesus didn’t lay any terms and conditions in a negotiation with the Father before He came. Jesus didn’t look at God and say, “Now Dad, I’m only going to atone for their sins if they never blow it or mess up again from the moment of their conversion.” That conversation never took place. As a matter of fact, I don’t even believe there was any negotiation because Jesus humbly submitted Himself to the Father’s will.

Spurgeon said, “God came here in human form, not bound to be obedient; but “being found in fashion as a man, he became obedient”; obedient to his own law, and fulfilled every jot and tittle of it. He was “obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” And his obedience is ours, if we believe.” So you see, Jesus was perfectly obedient because He knew we wouldn’t be. He knew we were sons of wrath and disobedience when He saved us, and then He made children of the light.

Now, I’m a secure child of God, but there are days when it feels like the darkness will not lift and I have gone too far and Jesus, in all of His love and mercy, reminds me of the atonement that He secured for me over 2,000 years ago on an old rugged cross. My sins, my mess ups, my mistakes, my depression, my habits, and hangups were nailed to the cross and Jesus had already declared His victory over them.

So if you’re reading this and you’re having one of those days, remember He’s not done with you yet. He loves you and He still says to us, “Neither do I condemn you, go, and sin no more!.”