God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.

Acts 2: 24

 

We are intrigued by stories of miraculous escapes. These are times and events when a person seems certain to perish due to the great danger that is being faced; when, at that crucial final moment before the peril has its way, someone or something comes to the rescue. This sort of thing populates fiction, and it does actually happen in the real world as well. Drama is not so much an invention of the imagination as it is a creative reflection of the world as it is. When this sort of thing happens, we gain a feeling of exaltation and joy that comes about because of the victory that has been achieved, and we also gain some confidence in going forward in life as we can hope that a similar victory could be ours if we were to need it.

 

So why did God choose to work in such a strangely different manner when it came to His plan for victory over the forces of evil that prowl about in creation? There was no last minute reprieve or daring rescue. There wasn’t even a ram miraculously present with its horns tangled in the brambles as the Lord had provided for Abraham. In Jesus’ scene of torture, trial, and the resultant death sentence God allowed everything to play out as the people who were determined to humiliate and to destroy determined that it should. Jesus, God’s own Son, was forcibly taken from His place in this world and carried away to the halls of human injustice and evil’s triumphant pinnacle of response to God’s authority and sovereignty over all of creation.

 

However, regardless of how things may have looked on the outside or the failure to follow the course that we seek to see happen in survival and redemption stories, this trial and execution of the death sentence were an important part of the narrative of victory that God was writing on that day. The Father was, in fact, turning the world upside down and inside out as He defied the form of nature that had come to be normal in the aftermath of humanity’s rebellious sin. In these momentous hours, Christ would pass through death and into life, and so the seeming finality of death was defeated fully. The victory that Christ brought about now flows forth for everyone who enters into it through faith in Him, and when we enter into this most strange of all victories we too are raised up with Christ into the glorious presence of our Savior and King. Thus, in His presence and by His care and guidance, we too are victors in this life and beyond it.

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For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

Galatians 3: 27-29

 

There is one and only one point of convergence for all that truly matters in this world. No one and nothing other than Jesus Christ brings us together in ways that are valid and lasting. Yet people who claim Christ are not unified. We argue and disagree, and sadly, we too frequently do so over trivia, minutiae, and about third-rate issues of our understanding of Scripture and faith practice. Yet, there are other issues that are not unimportant and that should work to bring those of us who know Christ closer together rather than drive a wedge into our unity. Paul is identifying a major set of division creators from his days, and these would appear to be rather universal in that even after these two thousand years they and related issues continue to break apart people who claim faith in Christ.

 

Too many of these divisions are based upon worldly issues such as nationalism, protection of human institutions, the acquisition of wealth and power, care for the powerless, inclusion of the oppressed, and gender or racial equality and right treatment. The resolution of these long-standing issues should be found in our Lord’s presence and through the safety of spirit that comes in knowing Him to the degree that God is trusted to provide all. In the light of this eternal truth, we can all be people who give up our sense of protection and self-defense, and we can become people and therefore nations of people who operate out of a first-fruits giving state of heart that fears for nothing and that embraces all others without regard to their differences from us. Unfortunately for many of us this is not a quiet and passive sort of sit back and watch for the Lord to work form of commission from Christ.

 

When we move toward Christ, we also step ever more fully toward His cross. We step into the painful encounters and the hard decisions that He was forced to make in order to right the effects of the world’s sinful brokenness. Christ’s church has always been gathered together on that hill of suffering and pain where the cross is planted; yet, as we so gather we are also entering into our Lord’s victory over every power and all of the evil that operates in this world. In our days with their violence, oppression, and divisive currents of arrogant speech and legislation, we need to stand as the church of Christ in open and fearless opposition to all that is ungodly in our midst. Even the thought or the suggestion that racial superiority exists is wrong, the concept of protecting one’s nation at the cost of the lives of the oppressed is anti-God, failing to care for the poor and the weak regardless of the cost fails to recognize the Lord as our true provider, and the list goes on. We can choose to step out of our fears and our selfish concerns and journey together through our days as the church of Jesus Christ united in His Spirit and pouring out His grace, love, and mercy upon this desperate world. Or we can remain separated and apart.

 

This is a choice that we get to make. I believe that Christ does call upon His people to make it. These are defining days for each of us who know Christ as we make decisions about the way that we will conduct our lives. If we remain silent on the issues that are confronting our world today, we are saying that we accept the rhetoric, the actions, and the course that those in power at this moment dictate. This is not an acceptable course for Christ’s people or for His church. We should not fear the outcome of our actions when they are dictated by the truth of God’s Word, and we cannot continue to hold onto thoughts and concepts that stand in opposition to that same Word. We, Christ’s people and His church, must repent of our sinful acceptance of the world’s standards and views, turn to the Holy Scriptures and the Spirit for guidance, and step onto the common ground of the cross from which we will work under Christ’s direction and in His power to bring redemption and healing to this world.

For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

Colossians 1: 19, 20

 

My mind has a hard time connecting the idea of peacemaking and the image of the cross. Sure, we wear crosses around our necks, carry them with us, and hang them on our walls, and all of these uses are comfortably harmless as they don’t come close to suggesting the pain, torture, and violence that is the nature of the real thing. In the Roman world where Jesus lived the cross was an instrument of terror. The death that ensued for its victims was drawn out and brutal, and the Romans set up these scenes of execution drama in the most public of places so that no one could miss their intended message which was one of domination and power mixed with a swift and merciless response to any opposition.

 

The violence of the Roman cross is a striking reflection of the nature of evil itself and that nature is the image of its author, Satan. This is the same evil energy that boils up in the rampages of destruction that seem to be a constant part of our world’s narrative. It is also on view in the oppression, hatred, and greed that people engage in with each other. These are some of the more overt expressions of Satan’s animosity toward God that we can observe and that have a powerful impact upon all inhabitants of the earth. There are many other such manifestations of the endless war that Satan is waging against God. Most of them are considerably more subtle that the cross, itself.

 

All of the damage, the destruction, and the pain that come about in our lives exist as a result of this elemental conflict between the righteous and the profane. However, Christ has changed both the outcome and the nature of this conflict. There never was a moment when God and His righteousness were not the victors, but Christ clearly defined God’s method for bringing about that result, and He has set into unceasing motion that final and absolute defeat of Satan. In the sacrifice of Jesus, the spotless Son, on that cross, God transformed the hour of execution and that instrument of torture and shame into the moment and the location where God’s mercy and grace were poured out in that final act of reconciliation so that all who come to Christ are enfolded into the perfect peace that is the air that we breath in God’s kingdom.

You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.

2 Corinthians 1: 11

 

Although these words are those of Paul speaking to his spiritual family in Corinth, they could be spoken by anyone who follows Christ to any other like-hearted believers in Christ residing next door or far across the globe. He is sharing the reality of one of the most tangible and significant aspects of a life of faith. For the sort of prayer that Paul mentions involves trusting God with the process and with the outcome of everything that takes place during our days on this earth. It says that I care about others and have certain desires and wishes for where and how their lives would go, but at the same time, I recognize that my care and concern is merely a shadow of that which God holds for these same people.

 

When followers of Christ turn to prayer as our response to the various types of situations and circumstances that we and those we care about encounter, we enter in with God into the journey of living in the outworking of His will. We join together in a circle of unity that is centered on Christ and is bound together by His Spirit. There is an otherworldly strength to all of this in that in prayer we are not dependent upon the sorts of might and power that this world embraces and trusts; instead, we are entrusting our hopes, dreams, and desires to the word of God and in His loving grace and provision. People of faith who pray together, whether physically in the same place or greatly distanced from each other, demonstrate to the world that there is another way to exist than that which is spoken by the worldly voices of culture.

 

In Christ, we all encounter the humility of His cross; so, we all need to experience the separation and the rejection that were poured out upon Him by the entire world. The strength that each of us needs to travel along that rough road of separation from the world’s way is supplied entirely by Christ, and the encouragement that is necessary in order to continue the trek comes from His Spirit and is amplified by the chorus of the voices of faith that lift us up to God in prayer. I am thankful and greatly blessed by the prayer that others express on my behalf. I am also blessed to have the privilege to pray for others. As we follow Christ, we may need to separate ourselves from much of this world; yet, as we do this, we join in a mighty family of faith that spans the world and reaches into Heaven as prayer communicates trust, faith, and love that are unending and unstoppable.

He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

Colossians 1: 13, 14

 

The Easter season is a time when many things come to mind. Regardless of the exact date for Easter Sunday, this time of year marks the beginning of Spring in the northern hemisphere and the start of Autumn in the southern one. For me this seasonal change is always welcome as it brings about newness by way of different colors and aromas in nature and the promise of different activities to come. Of course, Easter is a time of special remembrance and celebration in the world of the Christian church. Something very important happened in our history, and that event is perhaps the most worthy of any for us to focus our attention upon and our worship around.

 

This is the point in history when God’s plan for redemption and restoration came into full view. Until that first Easter, the Father had promised a way for people to come into an unbreakable relationship with Him, and He had provided His Son, Jesus, as the prophetically proclaimed Messiah who would bring about that permanent reconciliation. Now in a flurry of human anger and violence, the sinless Lamb of God was taken to that fulfillment on the cross, and God’s victory over the shroud of death that had covered all of creation was made full as it was torn away. As we surrender ourselves to Christ, we enter into that same escape from the eternal covering that buries us alive in the darkness of the grave. Christ cuts the shroud away from our souls and sets us free.

 

In our freedom we are new beings. We are a people who have a dwelling place in the Kingdom of God both now on earth and in eternity. The full price for our freedom that was required by a righteous God has been paid by Christ so that we are absolutely and totally redeemed from sin’s sentence of death. Now, in Christ, we have the gift of the light of the Spirit to illuminate our understanding of God’s purposes and plans. The glory of heaven penetrates into the darkness of the world so that we can know the way of God’s will for each of us. This redeemed nature, Christ in us, demands that we live in a manner that celebrates the miracle of Easter as our normal way of conducting life. As Christ has delivered us from death into life; so, we can share the story of that redemption and its freedom with a world that cries out for salvation.

And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.

Luke 22: 44

 

Our world is overrunning with fearful things and people. There is terror in the most tame of our streets, and sudden agony and grief fills our innocent halls of pleasure. These are terrible times with evil running loose and wild in our midst. As I was thinking about fear and what it means to be afraid, my thoughts went to that night in the early part of the first century when Jesus was at the place of awaiting the terror that would come down His street. Now, Judas, the Romans, and the rest of the angry crowd were no surprise to Him, but the events of that day were still terrible to contemplate.

 

The Roman army was one of the most powerful that our world has known, and they used fear and dominance as tools to gain and to hold control over the people who were unwillingly under their governance. Their ultimate punishment for crimes against their law was the cross with its torturous death-bringing process. Certainly Jesus was facing this. Yet, His anguish during this time of prayer was not caused by fear of facing His torture and death. Rather, it was caused by the impending reality of what it would mean to take on the sins of all of humanity. His agony was seated deep in His heart and was centered on the coming time of separation from the Father as the Christ fulfilled the purpose of His human life.

 

This is where the experience of our world and Jesus’ of His often diverge. I am not saying that fear isn’t real or that evil is not terrible, but that was also true for Christ. In the face of it all, He turned to the Father for comfort, strength, and guidance. Jesus moved away from the noise of the street and into the quiet of His garden of prayer. Christ faced into the most trying of situations with the grace of God on His lips and the confidence of a person who knows who He serves and why He is doing it. That terrible cross of Christ is the place where we can, too, hang our fears and our reactionary words. The sacrifice of Christ is the source of our courage and the reason for peace in our hearts and in our actions.