Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.

Ephesians 6: 10

 

There comes a time in everyone’s life when it is necessary to recognize certain fundamental truths. One of those is the fact that there is a lot more power afoot in our world than I have the capacity to stand up against. I can be skillful in debate, possess substantial financial resources, and even have armed responders to support my causes; yet, I will not have enough power and might on my side to defeat every true enemy that I will encounter. Thus, I will come to that end of the road where what I bring to the fight is no more than enough to lead me into defeat and wherein I can either remain beaten or I can surrender myself to the One who is already victorious over all that is in this world.

 

As I surrender to Christ, His victory is mine. When I yield any part of my fight to His will, Christ enfolds some more of me into His form of conquest over all that is evil and lost. In one sense, this process of yielding of myself and of entering into the hard won conquest of sin that came about on the cross is the real point wherein I become strong enough to even enter the battle that is life. Christ calls upon us to be strong and courageous, for this world is a place where terror roams our streets and pain and suffering are promised to us as a part of our spiritual birthright. Living righteously requires far more of these God-given qualities than does dwelling in the flesh. So, we need strength and courage to go out into the storm with God’s truth, love, and justice as our guiding principles.

 

Yet, this is what Christ promises to give to us. He tells us and has demonstrated through His life that He stands up to all forms of opposition and prevails. Now Christ takes His people into that same victory. He grants to us the strength that will be demanded of us along the path that we will travel today. That capacity to engage with the forces of this world does not come from our own skills, intelligence, or other form of resource; it is all a gift that is given out of the love that God has for us and that is found only in Christ. As followers of Christ, we are the truly strong people in this world, but that power is demonstrated in ways that are often strange and contrarian to the environment where we reside. Christ answers the forces of this world with love, grace, justice, and peace, and He uses our yielded selves as His workers in doing it all.

And he said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it? It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of seeds on the earth, yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts our large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”

Mark 4: 30-32

 

This is a really familiar statement that Jesus made to His followers as they went about the business of sharing the truths of living as people of God in their world. There is deliberate obscurity and vagueness at work in this parable. We are supposed to think about what it means, and we are also to rely upon spiritual insights in order to gain that understanding. Jesus knew that only a limited number of people would actually grasp what He was saying and also be willing to allow Him to change their lives in a manner that would lead to living as He said. The people who heard Jesus speak on this day were with Him and we are not, but we have the great advantage of the presence of Christ’s Spirit with and within us. This makes a very important difference for us in gaining understanding and deriving wisdom from God’s Word.

 

First off, it is apparent that Jesus is not talking about gardening here and that this account is not even about plants and their care or growth. Jesus is telling about a kingdom that is formed up by spiritual walls and that encompasses all of the earth within its borders. He is describing a place where all of His followers are citizens and a relationship that transcends all other affiliations and allegiances that we may have. The laws of this kingdom are superior to those of all nations as these laws actually form the foundation for all good and just ones that people have devised to bring order to our society. Yet, as wide spread and foundational as this kingdom may be and as mighty as is its King, the kingdom of God still relies upon people such as you and I to spread its message of love, hope, and righteousness in our world.

 

This task often seems to be overwhelming or even impossible. On many days it is hard to find a place where the Gospel of Christ is desired or even acceptable. It is easy to feel as if whatever I may have to offer to this world by way of bringing my beliefs and faith into the conversation of life will be insignificant and that doing this may actually diminish my credibility with the people around me. It seems that Jesus is telling us something else. He is saying that very small efforts and impacts as viewed from our perspective can have a monumental effect in the world around us as God’s creative and redemptive work is carried out through them. Christ asks us to take the small risk of going out into our world and being His disciple in it. His Spirit will go with us to reveal truth, provide us with encouragement and strength, and lead our way. As we each follow the leading of the Spirit and implant our faith in Christ alone into our world, a magnificent harvest of redemption will sprout up around us.

Since all of things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness?

2 Peter 3: 11

 

Peter is speaking of a time to come when the Lord is ready to fulfill His commitment to end the existence of all that has become broken by the presence of sin and then bring about the installation of the new creation in its sinless perfection. This event will be preceded by times of great upheaval and chaotic days when truth is hard to discern and where the usual points of reference will be lost so that up will seem as down and apparent friend may actually be fiercest of enemy. We are not at this place in history yet, but God does not promise to inform us of the coming of these harshest of final days. So, we cannot live in any certainty regarding the date and the hour that the Lord will set out as the moment to speak forth these days. This is the reality that leads Peter to set out this question for himself and for all other followers of Christ.

 

Everything that we see in this world, and even the relationships that we have worked to nurture and to build will come to an end. Nothing of this world is to remain at the end of this tumultuous period of conflict, purification, and restoration of the perfection of God’s pure creation. Although it is clear from Scripture that people who know Christ and are thus known by God do continue to exist into all of eternity, the exact form and manner of that new life is beyond human description and full comprehension. Also, there will be a very significant change in all of us in that the hard and very real presence of our sinful old natures that interrupts and disrupts our human relationships now will no longer exist. In God’s new creation we will love each other with the fullness and purity of Christ, and our love for God will know no limitations or lapses.

 

So, in light of the uncertainty of the events of the days ahead, in Christ we can enter into a very certain approach to life. We can trust God’s Word and His nature fully and can thus seek Him out for all wisdom, direction, and counsel. Christ is with us in all of the details of living as a victor over sin in this fallen world. We can enter into accepting the grace of salvation and the on-going provision of Christ’s grace for the various ways that we all do fail to achieve God’s standards of righteousness, and as we are granted grace and mercy, we must also be ever gracious and merciful with others, even with people who truly rub us the wrong way. Then, because of Christ’s love for each of us, we are enabled and empowered to love all others in a manner that is like Him. Thus, followers of Christ are to be a people who are known for our love and our mercy and grace; we must be the defenders of justice in our world and the people who work to make peace in the midst of the storm that swirls about us as the squall line of the end of days events begins to buffet our world.

Lead us not into temptation,

but deliver us from evil.

[For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.]

Matthew 6: 13

 

With temptation, evil, power, kingdoms, and glory all mixed together Jesus gave us the content for a great adventure or fantasy story. But He was not telling a bedtime fable or giving us some light entertainment. Jesus was entering into the holy realm of prayer, and He was speaking about the reality of life when He did this. There are no wasted words here. All of the content is important, and that is why I have chosen to add the bracketed last line from the New American Standard text to my usual ESV version here. There is a completion of thought that these final words of this prayer bring out that seem to matter to me today.

 

Temptation swirls about us every day. God does not place it there. In fact, it comes about because there is a very real and quite active presence of evil in our world that is continually working in opposition to God, for we live squarely in the center of today’s battlefield where Satan engages with God for power and dominion and for the ownership of souls. Temptation and the sinful thoughts and actions that it can lead to are placed before us and are used as weapons of war by Satan in order to distract and disable followers of Christ from our callings as servants of the true King. When we pray for protection and for deliverance from these temptations and in repentance for our sinfulness, we are recognizing that Christ is our Lord and Master and that He will lead, guide, and empower us in living righteously.

 

Jesus is giving us words of respectful and loving submission to Christ, and He is our one and only hope for walking through these perilous days in a manner that conforms to God’s Word and that brings honor and glory to the Lord. Yet, this singular hope will not be frustrated or defeated if we continually reach out in faith and trust to Christ who does actively work to save us and to redeem this world, for God does rule this world, and He has granted to Christ the power and the authority to save people and to enact that same sovereign authority on Satan’s attempts to exercise false rule over people and places here. As people who know God and who seek to follow His will, we must continually seek out His protection and guidance as we trust Him in all aspects of life’s journey; so, we pray from deep in our hearts as Jesus models for us.

 

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.

Ephesians 6: 10

 

The possession of strength is a popular idea. Most of us want it. Very few people actually seek to avoid it for themselves. Nations spend fortunes on the tools of war in order to achieve a form of strength that gives them superiority over their neighbors. Advertising and image building are generally designed so that companies and their products can gain an upper hand on the competition. It seems that this world even enters into a form of real worship around the altar of strength, power, domination, and control. Those bulging muscles and that powerful grip, whether seen on people or figuratively in other places, are the ideal that people aspire toward having. Strength, in the sense of control and might, is frequently the true goal for our lives.

 

Yet Christ did things differently during those years with us, and His Spirit speaks about a different sort of strength when He inspires people such as Paul to write down His words of life. This is a form of power that runs deep into the core of the person. It doesn’t need to be physically or visually demonstrated in order to exist. Instead, this Godly strength operates behind the manner and the way that people conduct themselves and engage in life. This is the way that Jesus lived. He was certainly strong and mighty; yet, His approach to most people was humble and open to hearing their stories and to engaging with their needs on both the practical, physical level and on the spiritual one. His strength came from that place deep within where the Spirit of God resided in Him and where He resides in His followers.

 

This same strength is what empowered Jesus to face into the terror of the final inquisition and its cross of torture with the peace of certainty and the resolve of God’s calling for Him. This was one of the pinnacle moments of the expression of God’s strength in this world. It came after that monumental outpouring of strength that was seen as He spoke the entire world into existence, and it stands in the middle of a continuum of the Lord’s narrative of ruling within the lives of people that is our current age. Then there will be that final great high peak when Christ returns and Creation id fully redeemed. So now, as we live in that ultimate middle time, Christ gives to His people the gift of strength. It is in the same form as that which took Christ to the cross. This is a humble and yielded form of power that enables self-sacrifice and that leads to denial of personal desire in order to love others with the same all-encompassing openness that Christ possesses. The strength that we require for life resides within, and all that we need of it is provided through and by Christ.

Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.

Luke 12: 51

 

I must admit that I don’t frequently think of Jesus in this manner. Now, I am long past those Sunday school images of the kind faced, soft bearded young European man who was carrying a lamb on His shoulders. The Jesus that I have encountered in God’s Word and in life is strong, wise, all knowing, merciful, and has a nature that is subtle and nuanced and ranges from the darkness of wrath to the light of glory. So, encountering the divisive Christ should not surprise or even startle me. Yet it does. The Christ of my usual thoughts is the reconciler of humanity to God and of people to each other. However, in this instance, I think that Jesus is actually talking about that very thing with these words of stern warning.

 

God demands certain things from us. We are to live in a manner that reflects Him in this world, and we are to do this because we know and respect Him. In order to gain these relational characteristics of knowledge and respect we are required to submit ourselves in total to God through Jesus Christ. This is a point of division among people. We have never been good at submission. Almost no one wants to give up our sense of complete freedom of choice in order to follow the will of another, and this remains true even when that other is God, Himself. But God does require this. In Christ, He was also willing to suffer and to take the pain of the penalty for sin upon Himself in complete obedience to the Father’s will, and in this suffering, death, and resurrection we also find a point of division in our world.

 

We want a King who sits in regal splendor in our world and who grants us a place of power, authority, and ease at His side. We dream of a time and a place where the royal command of our world’s ruler will remove all of our discomfort and loss. Yet, that is not the world where we live, and this is not the way that God has ordered things in His Creation. As we follow Christ we enter into the division that He causes. By virtue of allegiance to Christ we are separated from other people, and the only way for this division to be resolved is by and through a common bond with Christ. For followers of Christ, this tension and the rejection of others is something that we need to understand and accept as an on-going aspect of life. Yet, we, like Christ, do not need to settle into acceptance of separation, for we can join Him in seeking to know and to love the very people with whom our relationship with Christ has caused division.

For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them.

1 Corinthians 9: 19

 

I fear that these words are foreign to the practice of life in our days. Service is not a primary concern for many people, and serving is rarely set out as a primary goal for our leaders. Even in the church, true servants can be hard to find. No doubt the church sets out to change the world for the better, but it seems that we react to what we see when we get close to it and then we either determine to force or to coerce that change or we surrender to culture’s false sense of a higher understanding of truth. In the end, even the church has often become little more than a weak mirror image of the world that it should set out to change for the sake of the Gospel of Christ.

 

This is not how it needs to be. This is not how it should be. God determined to rule this world and to transform its inhabitants through the life and the sacrifice of Jesus. There is no other way, method, or truth that can have an effectively transformative and life saving impact on our world. Christ is the answer, and His life of service and sacrifice is the only viable model that followers of Christ should adopt and imitate. Evil and death are not overcome by the use of power, force, anger, fear, defensiveness, or by any other of the numerous human-devised tactics that we seem committed to deploying. In addition, we cannot separate our calling in Christ from the conduct of our public and civil lives. For followers of Christ, there is no separation of church from state.

 

Also, for followers of Christ, there is no safety or security in this world. Our Lord did not seek after either of those in the conduct of His life, and His command to follow is absolute and total. We are to join with Christ on a road that leads to suffering and to death for the sake of serving His will. If our freedom impairs another’s view of the Savior, then we ate to give it up. We can be certain that Christ will prevail in this world. However, if our lives are to matter for things that are eternal, we need to speak and act in a manner that is worthy of Christ’s sacrifice for us. In the process of giving all for the sake of winning eternity, we may need to sacrifice much if not all of what we have previously held as valuable, but if one life comes to Christ as a result, any sacrifice was more than worth the cost.