Deon made a statement during Sunday evening's sermon that went something like this: "The whole world is governed by God for our salvation. We have to move beyond relying on our experience and emotions, to relying on faith and God's Word."
We are going through Isaiah on Sunday nights. Israel, because of its idolatry and immorality, was being disciplined by God. One foreign army after another marched through the land, devastating the countryside, slaughtering its inhabitants, and carrying the few survivors off into captivity. Famine, sword, pestilence, bondage. Huge, bitter pills to swallow.
But in the midst of such severe discipline, God assured His people that He would one day restore them. He would bring them home and remove all that oppressed them. In chapter 14, we have God telling His people to "take up this taunt against the king of Babylon" - God Himself would break the oppressor. We learn that even Babylon was under God's sovereign rule, and that, while the king of Babylon thought himself independent and great and powerful, he was instead little more than a surgical instrument in the hands of Almighty God.
I think one of the points Deon was making was that even our afflictions - even our very great afflictions - are ordained by God to bring us to salvation and to grow us in holiness. If I were an Israelite living during the Babylonian captivity, I might be tempted to think that God had abandoned me, or to even think God didn't exist at all. It is only by faith - and by firm confidence in the veracity of the Word of God - that I can look at trials in this life as instruments of grace wielded by my loving, merciful, all-powerful Father.
So, back to Deon's statement: "The whole world is governed by God for our salvation. We have to move beyond relying on our experience and emotions, to relying on faith and God's Word." I looked over my sermon notes this morning and spent several minutes meditating on that statement. Truths I need to consider and reflect upon daily. Then, I turned to my daily reading...and guess where I found myself, by God's good providence?
Hebrews, chapter 11! "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." Then, account after account of those who lived "by faith" - I counted that expression at least 13 times in chapter 11!
"Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for..." So, all these people mentioned in Hebrews 11 lived by faith, lived in the assurance of that great thing for which they hoped, which was...what? What humongous thing am I, as a child of God, assured? What sure hope do I possess that is so big that it grounds a faith such as the faith of Enoch and Noah and Moses? The faith of even Christ Himself?
As I sat pondering this question, having just read Hebrews 11, I thought to myself, "This Big Thing which powers a hope which in turn undergirds an unshakable faith...this Big Thing, I am certain, must have something to do with joy..." I flipped back to the concordance. "Where is that verse...the one about Christ enduring the cross because of joy?" Funny, that verse was in Hebrews, chapter 12!
"Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God." (Hebrews 12:1-2, italics added)
Past the wretchedness and horror of the cross, Jesus saw something so big and glorious, some fountain of joy so great that it was worth walking through the nightmare of Golgotha to reach.
Can you imagine a Joy so great, so compelling? A Joy which, to attain, would satisfy every longing, erase every hurt, make every trial and tear fade to nothingness by comparison? A Joy so big that it swallows all the suffering of exile and foreign captivity? That it swallows the pain of childlessness? That it compels a prince to leave his palace and wander instead in a wilderness? That it swallows up even the horror of the Cross?
Jesus knew such a joy. It was the joy of being in the presence of the Father. Of unfettered communion. Of standing before the face of God, and knowing, under that omnipotent, omniscient gaze, that He was God's Beloved.
If we go back to the beginning of the story (well, the written beginning), we find this is exactly the purpose for which we were created, you and me. We were created for pure and unfettered communion with God, to be an object of God's delight, to reflect His glory, to worship Him in His very presence.
And, in Christ, this is exactly what He assures us. Later in Hebrews 12, we read, "But you have come to Mount Zion and into the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word that the blood of Abel." (verses 22-24)
We are promised a very BIG JOY, sisters and brothers! And that, in turn, gives us great hope. And, as it is God Himself who has promised, and He cannot lie, we are assured of what has been promised, which in turn gives us great faith. Hallelujah!
If you're interested in considering this great joy a bit more, check in over at Tim Challies's blog: Finding Joy, Finding Hope and I Can Only Imagine. Good stuff!
3 days ago