This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.

Acts 19: 10

 

Paul must have been a stubborn soul. He just didn’t get the message when people were growing tired of his persistent telling of the story of a new life that was to be gained through Jesus, the Christ. At this point in the account of Paul’s life of service to Christ he had been traveling from city to city in Asia Minor for a number of years. Generally he would stay in one place and preach, teach, and enter into relationships with the people there until his truth telling caused antagonism and hostility to rise up against him to a level that required Paul to move along to another place. It seems that the world where he lived wasn’t always very accepting of or even open to hearing the accounts of this new way of knowing God. You see, the Gospel of Christ is subversive; it changes people who, in turn, start living differently. This new way of engaging with life, which is foundational in creation, causes people to challenge the systems and the practices of the culture, and it impels them into becoming workers for that change.

 

The presence of these transformed people with their different perspectives on how life is to be conducted under the authority of God and within His grace, love, and mercy is upsetting enough for those who are in power. Yet, I think that there was more than this behind the antagonism that Paul encountered. His message of Christ was essential truth expressed in terms that moved beyond the abstraction of religious ritual and entered into the arena of real everyday life. This was both convicting and frightening to those hearers who were unwilling to accept the surrender of self that Christ demands of His followers. So, people who felt threatened or who were disturbed by this confrontation of truth pushed back and fought against the message of the Gospel by speaking and acting in opposition to the person who was delivering it. Most of this push back was expressed in words or in acts of rejection, but some of it was also carried out by means of physical violence. Paul’s mind, heart, and body were at risk.

 

Yet, he did not stop doing what Christ had called him to do. When required to do so, he would move along to another city, find a new corner to preach on, and start building relationships with more people whose eternal souls needed to hear the truth of the Gospel of Christ that Paul so diligently and joyfully served. This is a great story about the character and the calling of one of the people who we hold to be a foundational writer for our understanding of the Gospel that he served. However, like almost everything that is contained within God’s Word, the point here is not really historic in nature. I grant that Paul was a very special person with a particular calling from God; yet, I think of these aspects of his life as serving more by way of example and as a form of encouragement for each of us than as mere recitation of the past. We too live in a world that pushes back aggressively against the truth of the Gospel. Like Paul, we reside in cities, counties, and a world where the only real hope lies in the transformative presence of Christ in the hearts and the minds of people.

 

As followers of the same Christ as was Paul, we should also not be quiet and certainly not be satisfied until every one of the people who resides in our sphere of contact has heard the truth of the new life that is gained in and through Christ. We cannot allow the voices of disagreement and of opposition the momentary victory of our silence. We may need to follow Paul’s example and move from a place of overwhelming contention to a similar one where Christ’s words of love and reason can be heard, but this is not silence, and it certainly is not defeat. The Gospel of Christ is life, it brings hope, and it answers all of the fears, violence, anger, and oppression in our world. This truth must be heard, and you and I are the ones that God has called to speak it out loudly and clearly so that the glory of Christ lights these dark days with its compelling radiance of new life in Christ.

Advertisements

Your kingdom come,

your will be done,

on earth as it is in heaven.

Matthew 6: 10

 

God’s will can seem to be a strange and a mysterious thing. This earth just doesn’t feel like it is present all that much of the time, and if it is what prevails here much of the time then I just might not want to have anything to do with it. Perhaps Jesus is talking about some ideal situation, or an understanding of the future, or perhaps He is telling us about the reality in heaven where God resides full time. For from what I can see as I look outside my door, this world is willfully calling its own shots much of the time, and God is not very visible in what transpires as a result.

 

Yet, I think that Jesus was not merely setting out a model for prayer form or talking about some sort of visionary ideal. He was speaking about a central idea that related to His presence among us. Jesus was God’s Kingdom come to earth in its fullest form and expression. Although Jesus was a person in the same way that you and I are also people, He was also God among and God with us. Jesus, the Christ, walked our streets and felt our pains and our joys. He also brought the truth, righteousness, and love of God to a place where they and their Creator touch our lives and effect the way that we conduct them. God’s perfect will was present here in Jesus, and it remains with us in the real and tangible presence of Christ’s Spirit.

 

So, God’s will is really not so strange, except when considered from the point of view of a world that has lost its righteous way, and its mystery is resolved by knowing Christ deeply, intimately, and personally. God’s will is manifest in Christ, and it is carried out through the committed prayer, words, and actions of people like you and I who seek to know it and who courageously live as Christ calls and leads us to do. God’s will brings the love, the grace, the right living, and the peacemaking of His Kingdom to the streets of this world. God’s will is expressed as we love Him completely and so love others sacrificially. It also brings people to a place where we no longer view ourselves as citizens of this world, but instead, we know that our true home is found in the presence of Christ both now and into eternity.

Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as referring to many, but rather to one, “And to your seed,” that is, Christ.

Galatians 3: 16

 

The Lord, God is a maker of promises, and He is also the One who keeps them. From the beginning of time He has told people what He will do and how He was planning to do it. Without fail, the Lord has performed. Also, the commitments that God made with the earliest of my ancestors are ones that He makes good on with me, for God’s answer to all of His promises is found in Christ.

 

Thus, the answer to everything that is lacking in my humanity is found in Christ. The solution for my need to receive grace and pardon from the sin that separates me from God comes through Christ. He is my true lover and the One who comforts and protects my heart. Jesus, the Christ, shows me how to engage and to love the people of this world and how to care for the rest of His creation. His Spirit leads me to truth and teaches me to use it wisely and with His grace in evidence.

 

There is one and only one focus for my heart and mind to remain fixed upon, and that is Christ. When I am looking on Him and keeping the eyes of my heart centered on His will, Christ grants me understanding of His desires and direction for my life, and He provides me with everything that I will need to follow Him along that path. Christ, Himself, is the connecting point with all of the people in my life, for through Him, it is possible to actually love them to the degree that I am willing to take the risk of entering into honest relationship with them. God’s promises are great, and His answer to them, Christ, is the complete expression of His glory.

 

And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away, although it was extremely large.

Mark 16:4

 

The process began with the gift that God gave to humanity. Then the stone wall of separation from God was breeched. After that, Jesus engages in life with us. So, the stone was dislodged. It continued in a commitment by God to live in an eternal loving relationship with us, and the stone’s weight was eased. Jesus secured the accomplishment of the task as He surrendered to die as my lamb of sacrifice; then, the stone became weightless.

 

Finally, Christ is alive and death is defeated; so, the stone has no purpose. Jesus came to live with people just like me, in towns not that different from mine, and during a time in history that I can relate to. He came as the absolute gift of love from God to His children. Even more important to me, Jesus willingly surrendered Himself into the hands of evil to be sacrificed on the altar of human frailty, anger, and fear so that I could know my Lord and Creator on an intimate and a personal basis. Then God proved that people’s attempts to control the universe were futile when the battered and torn body of Jesus, the Christ, was raised to life. This is the most wonderful event of all to me, for in and through Jesus, I am alive as well!

 

The stone of oppression, the weight of sin, the certainty of eternal death are all rolled off of me, and I am freed from the crushing weight of sin which had overwhelmed my soul from my birth. Now I can walk through the streets of my town and live out the events of my days with Jesus. He counsels and leads me, and He speaks truth into my wandering mind. The stone was tossed aside and off of my heart by the mighty hand of God, and He lifted me out of my tomb and brought me into His presence forever.

 

It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.

John 6: 63

 

Try as I may, no matter how much effort I put out, and without regard for my diligence in doing the work, I can’t breath one additional breath of life into my soul. Death is resident in my cellular makeup, and it pervades every corner of my existence; thus, the cold hand of mortality reaches out and chills me to the core. So it is not at all unreasonable to consider that my reaper-owned flesh can do absolutely nothing to move me from the realm of mortality into that of God’s eternity.

 

Still, God, my Creator and Eternal Father, has committed to bringing me close to His side and to keeping me there forever. In my experience, God is always good to His word; so, there must be a bridge from the short lived existence into which I was born and to which we are all condemned and the unending, immutable, and perpetual aliveness that the Lord promises.

 

The connection is made in and through Jesus, the Christ, for He brings life to the soul and assures us of the unending nature of our existence in the loving presence of God. As wondrous as is this prospect, there is much more. The Lord does not leave us waiting and wondering about a distant future, and He wants us to live a life that is infused with the blessing of His gracious love and perfect wisdom. Christ gives us His Spirit to bring true life to our hearts, minds, and souls. For me this reality brings freedom; since, the Spirit does in me and for me what I am completely incapable of accomplishing myself, So, I am free to live everyday in the joyous certainty of eternity.

 

The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind,

to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

Luke 4: 18, 19

 

Ancient words from God that were delivered by the prophet Isaiah to ears that refused to truly hear; then, lifted from the shelf, unrolled and spoken by the only person who not only understood them in their totality but who was, indeed, their original author. Jesus spoke to audiences in His homeland that were stunned by the living truth of ideas and thoughts that had seemed to be more distant hope than present reality.

 

Jesus comes to our world and brings the same refreshing perspective to these texts that God spoke through people who are long dead. Christ now brings their truth to us in our present reality. Just as there were multitudes of poor, needy, and desperate people in the times of Isaiah and those of Jesus, our modern and progressive world has gained nothing in its riches and empowerment of the individual. Regardless of where, how or to whom we are born, we all come into this life with nothing. We are all enslaved and blinded. Everyone exists under the oppressive authority of evil that leads to nothing other than death.

 

God intended for everyone to live, to see, and to have absolute freedom. He mourns for what has become of the beautiful children that He created, and He was determined from the very start of it all to do something about the pervasive sadness of sin that holds people in bondage. Jesus, the Christ, the Messiah, our Savior brings to vitality the truth of God’s desires for each of us He provides the answer to all that is broken and diseased in our lives. For in and through Christ we are set free, given the ability to see the deep truths of God, and we are healed from the debilitating ravages of sin that hold us down and defeat our hearts.

 

This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet. “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

Matthew 2: 14, 15

 

As Matthew wrote down these words from Hosea 11, he was quoting a passage that was very dear to the Jewish people. The full text speaks to the love that God had for His people, Israel. It reminded them that God had rescued them from their captivity and that He had given them a dwelling place of their own. It also evokes the reality of the presence of God in their midst. It was a place to dwell; that is land to subdue and till, and the presence of God in that place that defined God’s chosen people. However, as he relates this passage Matthew’s eyes had been opened to understand the true meaning behind the prophet’s words.

 

Although at the time of their original writing Hosea was speaking about the nation of Israel, God meant much more than just that. He was also indicating the way that all people could be brought out of that place of exile where we had been taken as captives to sin. I think that a part of this entire narrative of the flight of Jesus’ family from the threat of death at Herod’s hands is related to the way that Jesus does, in fact, know from experience all that we do encounter in living in this world. Although He was just a child, I would imagine that Jesus did recall this time of exile and separation, and this understanding influences His ability to connect with each of us as we live apart from our true home.

 

Without Christ we are living in a form of what Hosea was calling Egypt. This is a place of utter separation from God. It is outside of His kingdom. It is a place where we can be as good as we can possibly be, work diligently and hard, and seek to do great good; yet, we will not truly accomplish anything of eternal worth or possess a place of dwelling in God’s presence. Christ understands that evil has taken our hearts and minds captive and that Satan is attempting to hold people as hostages for his own selfish purposes. Jesus, the Christ, leads us out of that kingdom of death. He brings us into the kingdom of God; then, Christ grants calling, mission and purpose to each of His people as we engage the work of bringing glory to God’s name.