You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.

Mark 7: 8

During the Christmas season people are often focused on Jesus’ humble start to life on earth when He was a baby. We like to contemplate the reality of a God who would join with His creation in a manner such as this, and it is comforting to know that every aspect of growing up that we went through and that we endured is something similar to what Jesus knew, as well. As much as we may enjoy this meek and mild image of Jesus, He did not always think and act in this manner. In fact, the Lord had a great capacity for telling truth in very strong and stern terms, and He also had no fear regarding who He might offend or turn against Him when He did this. In this instance, Jesus is confronting His on-going foes in the Pharisees; however, these same words might be said to many other people over all of history. Although it may not be quite as obvious in its expression today, it does seem that we continue to act in this same manner on a regular basis.

We have allowed our own ways of doing things in this world to take precedence over God’s law of love, grace, reconciliation, and peace making. This is stated as a blanket condemnation, and I mean it as such. I do not live as God has commanded me to live, and I know and observe very few others who function differently. All that is necessary in order to start to see the application of this sad fact is to turn on a television, open a computer, or walk out your front door and travel a short distance into almost any community on earth. We live in an angry and a selfish world. We care more for our own minor rights and privileges than we do for the life of another person. We are caught up in protecting our turf when we have far more of it than we can even manage while others in our world are starving, being physically and emotionally harmed, and are being denied the basic necessities of life. I fear that Jesus would see all of this much as He saw the actions of the Pharisees.

Everything that we protect and cling to with ultimate tenacity is something that God has given to us out of the abundance of His love, care, and provision. So, why is it that we hold on with a death grip to tangible and to intellectual things that God gifted to us with open hands? We need to understand that all of God’s commandments predate any of our rights of possession and that God has given everything to us so that we could be good and loyal caretakers of the rest of creation. We are not here to be full and self-satisfied; rather, Christ calls upon us to follow him by giving away what we have been given, loving others even when they are hard to understand and even more difficult to embrace, and by calming violence instead of promoting it. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is a statement of God’s love for people, and this is the commandment that holds precedence over any and all other laws, rules, or concepts and traditions that people might attempt to establish and follow. In Christ, we are called to bring reconciliation not division, and as we follow Christ, we will turn from everything that is contrary to God’s will and be willing to sacrifice all in order to bring the touch of our Lord’s love, grace, and mercy to our needy world.      

In peace I will both lie down and sleep;

for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.

Psalm 4: 8

 

In our world today, peace is a hard thing to find. There is so much anger and fear out there, and it just continues to move closer to each of our homes, too. It seems as if there is simply no place to go in order to escape the relentless beat of this creature’s wings as it hunts down victim after victim. It is no wonder that good, restful sleep is hard to find; so, anxiety is a regular part of the day for many of us. Some people say that they simply avoid all contact with those aspects of the world. They don’t read news, they overlook political commentary, and they stay as far as is possible away from people and places in the world where pain and need dwell. Still, all that is hard and painful around us finds a way inside those protective walls so that it touches almost everyone’s life at some point.

 

This peace that the writer of the psalm speaks about is truly a rare commodity in our day, and I believe that it was in the writer’s days as well. Our nature as people has been aggressive, violent, and fear inducing since the beginning of our time of separation from the close relationship with God that was our Creator’s intent for us. This world has been a hard place for us to live throughout most of our history, and it will continue along this path until that day when Christ returns and redeems all of creation from its sin-infused and lost state of existence. Yet, God speaks to us about entering into peace and regarding a form of rest that penetrates the heart and the mind to the deepest parts of our being. The Lord would have us set aside the anxiety of our days and find a form of comfort and security in His presence that overcomes all forms of anxious concern.

 

There is something else present in the way that the Lord asks for us to trust Him as it goes beyond our sense of how things are. The writer says that he is actually dwelling in a form of safety that allows for peace to overcome the concerns of the day. This dwelling is both a state of mind and a literal place. It exists regardless of the circumstances and the situations that are enfolding us. This safe dwelling place is established and formed by Christ for each of us who know Him. He protects our souls from any and all harm that might attempt to enter into our hearts and minds. Our Lord is already victorious over all forms of evil; so, the fight that we are facing is one that He has already won. We can trust in Christ in any and all that comes our way. His will is for our best, His love for each of His people is absolute, and we can truly lie down and sleep soundly in the safety of the Lord’s presence.

Violence shall no more be heard in your land,

devastation or destruction within your borders;

you shall call your walls salvation,

and your gates praise.

Isaiah 60: 18

 

In the light of the horror that is at the center of our news these days, the ideas expressed here must be a dream, a fantasy that the weary mind concocts while precious sleep insulates us from further exposure to life’s harsh reality. How can there be such a time and this sort of place? We live in an environment wherein violence is far too close to us to consider what it might be like to be without its presence. As it must have been in Isaiah’s days, so it is in ours. Death and destruction, hatred and fear, angry words and harsh shouting, and proliferation of personal and national weapons of war are the instruments that are playing the discordant symphony that presides over our world.

 

This dream-like vision is not as fanciful and as illusive as it might seem. It is God’s promise for the future when Creation is returned to its true and original design wherein sin and its death are abolished and Christ reigns in His rightful place as Lord and King. According to God’s Word this sort of peace will come after a time when the world will have devolved into the sort of chaos and upheaval that is very real today. I am not a prophet and do not pretend to know God’s plans or to be able to predict what is to come, but I have no doubt that the way that our world is going now is in keeping with God’s revealed truth about the force and the effects of evil in our world, and it is in line with the sorts of things that do precede Christ’s return and final victory over all that is evil.

 

Until then, we can still live in hope and be fearless despite all that is happening in our world. We can enter into the presence of Christ here and now so that His assurance of peace can be ours today. This is a gracious gift that God has granted to anyone who believes in Jesus, the Christ, as Lord of life and as Savior for now and all of eternity. A relationship with Christ does not remove any of us from the world where we live, but it does provide us with a form of hope that transcends the nature of this place and that adds the perspective of unceasing love and grace to our vision of the landscape around us. Christ removes His people from dwelling in the realm of darkness that pervades the world, and He transforms our lives into ones that are lived out in God’s Kingdom come to earth so that the spiritual walls that surround us are truly formed out of the timbers of the cross of Christ which has brought about salvation. Thus, we can sing out a new chorus to fill the ears of the earth with something joyous and that is infused with Christ’s hope as we lift up our experience of redemption in thanksgiving to be heard throughout the land.

“For the mountains may depart

and the hills be removed,

but my steadfast love shall not depart from you,

and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,”

says the LORD, who has compassion on you.

Isaiah 54: 10

 

The language of Isaiah 54 has an emotional and a highly figurative quality to it. Yet, the nature of what is described is quite real. Mountains are a point of reference for us. If you live within sight on them, they create a frame in which the home environment is set as in a statement like, “The mountains are to the north, “ or, My city is surrounded by mountains.” So, the idea that the mountains and their foothills would be destroyed by an act of God’s hand or by the destructive forces that seem to operate at will in this broken world is powerful. This is the sort of societal upheaval that is on display here. This is a description of a world where the sorts of things that we use to set our frame of reference and to get our bearings are torn apart and turned over.

 

So, this statement from about 2,700 years ago seems to be accurately directed at our times and this world today; thus, the point that the prophet was making is also for us in our culture. He is saying that regardless of the upheaval and the chaos of the world where we live, God’s love remains constant and is poured out onto His people. The Lord has called upon us to trust Him and to trust in Him because God’s trustworthiness never falters or fails. The Lord is with us in and through the tumult and trials of living in this land where evil conceal itself in order to pounce upon the unwary and the innocent, and He protects our souls and brings peace to our hearts in all circumstances.

 

In simple terms, God cares deeply about people. He desires to be in relationship with all of us. There are no limits or limitations on God’s willingness to pursue people in order to save our souls from destruction and to bring our lives into the peace of His presence. He will even allow evil to operate with little restraint at times and in places in our world if that will bring some of us into that place of realization that we need Christ in order to truly live. There is nothing that anyone can do; there is no act of violence, anger, or oppression that can defeat the unceasing love that Christ has for us. Thus, we can walk with confidence in our world, and we can love others without reservation by pouring out this same love that Christ is constantly giving to us.