Peace In Tribulation

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33

Here is a perplexing phrase from Jesus, directed towards His closest companions. In this life they, and by extension we, can bank on suffering through trials, and all this on the planet which Jesus not only  brought into being but subsequently subdued after humanity’s rebellion made it unruly. Jesus triumphed over it by living a life of complete purity (despite being tempted in every way) and conquering it once and for all by His death and resurrection. And yet Jesus tells us that not even the cross undoes the trouble we experience presently, “In the world you will have tribulation.”

While tribulation is guaranteed (even for believers)—bushfires still devastate and Christians are still martyred—Jesus unlocks for us the means to meet it head on by making a deep-seated peace available to us in Himself and through what He taught.

Lord Jesus, equip us, by Your Word, so that we may mimic You, being courageous in the face of suffering and overcoming this world. Help us remain in You that we may know Your peace amidst this world’s tribulations.

Violence and Destruction

7 O LORD, you have deceived me, and I was deceived; you are stronger than I, and you have prevailed. I have become a laughingstock all the day; everyone mocks me. 8 For whenever I speak, I cry out, I shout, “Violence and destruction!” For the word of the LORD has become for me a reproach and derision all day long. 9 If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot. 10 For I hear many whispering. Terror is on every side! “Denounce him! Let us denounce him!” say all my close friends, watching for my fall. “Perhaps he will be deceived; then we can overcome him and take our revenge on him.” 11 But the LORD is with me as a dread warrior; therefore my persecutors will stumble; they will not overcome me. They will be greatly shamed, for they will not succeed. Their eternal dishonor will never be forgotten. 12 O LORD of hosts, who tests the righteous, who sees the heart and the mind, let me see your vengeance upon them, for to you have I committed my cause. 13 Sing to the LORD; praise the LORD! For he has delivered the life of the needy from the hand of evildoers. – Jeremiah 20:7-13 (ESV)

I’d like to linger in Jeremiah 20 a moment longer, because a stack of parallels were unveiled to me between Jeremiah, Paul and Jesus. In verses 7-8 Jeremiah, Paul and Jesus all had abuse and ridicule heaped on them. They were insulted and repulsed by their own people, simply for bearing God’s message. In verse 10, their very own turned on them and initiated their execution, and all because people found God’s message abrasive. And yet, verse 11, all three of these men set their hope in Yahweh, the mighty warrior (or their “dread warrior” as the ESV renders it) who, in verse 13, is the means of rescue for the destitute.

What is the essential message they considered was worth suffering for? Verse 8a reads:

For whenever I speak, I cry out, I shout, “Violence and destruction!” (ESV)

Can you blame anyone, for being outraged at such a message? “Violence and destruction.” How absurd. What an embarrassment. No wonder people think God’s Word is backward. I mean surely a kind and loving God is at odds with a message of “violence and destruction,” right? In its original context Jeremiah was pronouncing the impending downfall of the southern kingdom, Judah, as punishment for their apostasy. But, ultimately, this “violence and destruction” points us to crucifixion of Jesus. It is an indispensable, part of God’s gospel message. It is paradoxical. It defies logic that God could bring about any good, from something so terrible. Yet such is the message of the Cross, and Jeremiah, Paul and Jesus are not embarrassed by it, they are passionate about it. So passionate, they even staked their lives on it. From what we can piece together from History, Jesus was savaged then crucified just outside of Jerusalem on a Roman cross between AD 30-33. Paul was tortured and beheaded by Nero in Rome in 67 AD, and, according to Jewish tradition, Jeremiah was stoned to death in Egypt.

Father, help us embrace Your message of violence and destruction, visited upon Jesus in order to restore us to You. Jesus was torn down that we might be built up. Jesus is our only hope and, in order to defend the message of the cross, He is worth staking our lives on. May we follow in the footsteps of Jesus, Paul and Jeremiah.

 

Sexual Immorality

But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols. I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality. Behold, I will throw her onto a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her works, and I will strike her children dead. And all the churches will know that I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you according to your works. – Revelation 2:20-23 (ESV)

It is, perhaps, unlikely that any of us are at risk of eating food sacrificed to idols (although that may depend on your stance regarding Halal Certified foods), but what about unwedded sex or marital unfaithfulness? Your spouse (if you have one) may not be as willing to forgive but, if you have started heading down that path, I want you to know, without a shadow of a doubt, God loves you and will forgive you if you turn from it to Him. The only real question is: do you want forgiveness? since it might be something you are unwilling to give up.

Knowing that Jesus searches our hearts and minds the Sermon on the Mount springs to mind where (in Matthew 5) Jesus broadened adultery to even include our thought life: ‘everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.’ So with just a careless glance, or even an all out addiction to porn, and suddenly we look a whole lot more like Jezebel’s lovers and children.

For anyone who is still thinking of how this applies to other people and not you, Revelation 19:7 goes on to reveal that we (the saints) are the bride, with Jesus (the Lamb) as our husband. The reality, then, is that toying with sin—no matter how trivial it may seem—is tantamount to cheating on Jesus. A similar scene emerges from the book of Hosea: where God is the dutiful husband (represented by Hosea), remaining faithful despite the betrayal of His people, Israel, the wayward bride (identified with Gomer) who plays the harlot with false gods.

Lord Jesus, You are—quite literally—deadly serious about sexual sin. We are sorry for all the ways we cheat on You. At the cross You broke the power of sin, help us walk in Your victory; by the power of Your blood, please help us overcome sin—sin which may have plagued us for quite a while now. It is entirely fair that You should repay us according to what we do.

Bad Tolerance

But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols. – Revelation 2:20 (ESV)

What is the problem? If this verse applies to us, then Jesus is displeased because we are sitting idly by while Jezebel is given free-reign in our midst as a self-proclaimed prophetess. We are guilty of the wrong kind of tolerance. Jezebel has been allowed to dupe slaves of Jesus into sexual immorality and eating food sacrificed to idols (in contravention of the decision reached by the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 for the conduct of Gentiles).

We must resist the urge to minimise or dismiss Jesus. We may be inclined to rush ahead to verse 24 and number ourselves among ‘the rest . . . who do not hold [Jezebel’s] teaching, who have not learned what some call the deep things of Satan.’ But even if that is the case, at the end of verse 24, Jesus places this burden on us; the implicit expectation is that we will intervene. Even if we haven’t ‘soiled our clothes’ this has happened on our watch.

We’d tend to class these as ‘personal’ sins, however, Jesus insists that there is a corporate responsibility. Jesus will be suitably unimpressed if we stand in solidarity with Cain and ask, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” God’s unspoken response is a resounding yes. We are our brother’s keeper and there is a lot at stake since these two sins alone—sexual immorality and eating food sacrificed to idols—are enough, in verse 23, to provoke Jesus to kill Jezebel’s offspring.

Lord Jesus, sin is serious. So serious, in fact, that You paid the penalty for it with Your very life. You call on us to forsake our sin; to stubbornly continue in our sin is to risk You putting an end to our lives. Grip us with concern for our brothers and sisters who have fallen foul of Jezebel’s teaching; move us into action, interceding for them—bringing them back from the brink.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Sin

The LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.” Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him. Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” – Genesis 4:6-9

Cain allowed anger to darken his door, which led him to feel dejected. Sin lies in wait, ready to pounce on us in our moment of weakness. Trying to combat sin on our own is futile. God’s assistance is absolutely vital if we are to gain mastery over sin, but it remains our responsibility.

Not even speaking with his sibling was enough to assuage Cain’s jealous rage. Instead, Cain galvanised his resolve to murder Abel. In light of this, it should hardly surprise us that Jesus equates anger with murder (Matt 5:21-22). Was Cain his brother’s keeper? The LORD’s unspoken response is a resounding yes.

Father, give us the strength to rule over sin and anger by the power of Jesus’ blood; accept us on basis that Jesus did well. May we take seriously the role You have given us: to watch over, and to care for, our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Inclined Ear

“Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: You have seen all the disaster that I brought upon Jerusalem and upon all the cities of Judah. Behold, this day they are a desolation, and no one dwells in them, because of the evil that they committed, provoking me to anger, in that they went to make offerings and serve other gods that they knew not, neither they, nor you, nor your fathers. Yet I persistently sent to you all my servants the prophets, saying, ‘Oh, do not do this abomination that I hate!’ But they did not listen or incline their ear, to turn from their evil and make no offerings to other gods. – Jeremiah 44:2-5

Our God is jealous and suffers none to be worshipped in his place. God is also merciful, in sending his prophets to warn us.

I pray that we not elevate anything or anyone in this life beyond our Creator. May God’s Spirit enable us to incline our ear, turn from evil and worship God in the right manner. Let us not ignore God’s correction like Judah.

Then all the men who knew that their wives were burning incense to other gods, along with all the women who were present—a large assembly—and all the people living in Lower and Upper Egypt, said to Jeremiah, “We will not listen to the message you have spoken to us in the name of the Lord! -Jeremiah 44:15-16

Intended Disaster

Sadly Jehoiakim, the king of Judah, shows here his utter contempt for God’s word. The scroll came from God’s prophet, Jeremiah, and warned of God’s impending judgement.

As Jehudi read three or four columns, the king would cut them off with a knife and throw them into the fire in the fire pot, until the entire scroll was consumed in the fire that was in the fire pot. Yet neither the king nor any of his servants who heard all these words was afraid, nor did they tear their garments. – Jeremiah 36:23-24

I pray that we would not make the same mistake of disregarding God’s word. May God’s Spirit cause us to take God’s warnings seriously and to respond appropriately. May we do what God craves for us, may we turn from evil and find God’s forgiveness.

“Take a scroll and write on it all the words that I have spoken to you against Israel and Judah and all the nations, from the day I spoke to you, from the days of Josiah until today. It may be that the house of Judah will hear all the disaster that I intend to do to them, so that every one may turn from his evil way, and that I may forgive their iniquity and their sin.” – Jeremiah 36:2-3