ENCOUNTERING CHRIST WHEN DEATH AND DARKNESS REIGN

One of the greatest sermons ever preached may be the shortest – the last dying words of a born again but tortured man.  Destined for glory, his last words on earth were ordained and anointed by God and still resound throughout the ages with eternal value.   Judged by a ruthless government, his day of execution neared with crushing dread, fear, remorse and anguish.  However, within that nightmare, amidst the powers of darkness, he was redeemed.  He honored God in his remaining moments and preached a message that should stir our hearts today.

“Don’t you fear God?” he preached, rebuking the unbeliever and even us today.  We are often among those who insult and challenge God in times of turmoil and confusion, in the midst of  pain and anguish.  So apt to put God on trial, how many times have we indicted Him in our hearts?  In a culture of self importance and self esteem, ‘fear of God’ becomes an obsolete virtue, yet it is the only position from which the life of God flows toward us.   The preacher continued, “We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve…”   We are that lawbreaker, deserving of the same death – the very wages that our deeds have earned.  (Romans 6:23) 

What an appointment – condemned to die with the Giver of Life!  The most hopeless moment of his life empowered with shekhinah glory and divine revelation of Jesus, the King with an eternal Kingdom.   In utter humility of failure and worldly condemnation, this brother has the bold faith to cry out, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”

Dig deep into this message recorded in Luke 23:40-43.   With a humble heart and short message (under forty words), this famous nameless man of God demonstrated great eternal truths.  Firstly, there is nothing random about the works and plans of God.  Creator of all, He is sovereign over all.  Only omnipotent God can promise that “all things work together for good” for His people because He will ordain it so. Even the most dreaded and heartbreaking events can, in His hand, become turning points with divine purpose and destiny.  The excruciating death of this man was an ordained appointment with eternal life.

Secondly, this brother teaches us to suffer well, with endurance and humble faith, that we might see God, fellowship with Him in suffering, and share in His glory.  Can we believe that the Lord can carry us through our darkest hour, through the torment of our worst failure?  When crushed by our own sin, can we trust in Christ’s mercy and faithfulness?  “Everyone who trusts in Him will never be put to shame.”  (Romans 10:11)   The living Word of God has the power to rob Satan of victory every time. In spite of disappointment, tragedy or pain, we can say as Job in 42:2,

“I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted.”

Thirdly, we are challenged to finally die to this world and relinquish our love for the things therein.  The appealing self-empowering, and self-gratifying culture of our society is an alluring façade, built to supplant the supremacy of God and deny Him due honor and worship.  The pleasures of this world distract while the achievements in this world puff up.   Every strength and ‘self help’ offered by man dilutes our dependence on the faithfulness of God and His supernatural power. Worldly success and prosperity here do not propel us toward heaven and moreover, they are the weakest oars in the storm.  Only when our eyes are fixed on Christ can our love of this temporal world fade away and bring eternity and God’s Kingdom into focused view.

What man intended for condemnation and death was God’s appointment for infamous pardon and eternal life.  Our Savior was indeed “numbered with the transgressors” and surely we are they.   Apart from His protection, powers of hell will tempt, scheme and ensnare, accusing God during our darkest hour.   However, it is the fear of God that rightly aligns us with Him.   Suffering pries us from our confidence in the flesh and love for this world.   Surrendered to the Lord, we have every assurance that His presence is with us and will speak life into every dark hour and lost hope.   Like our famed brother on the cross, we also, as redeemed transgressors, will be honored with words of life for others, words backed by heaven with divine purpose and eternal value.

 

"For great is Your love, reaching to the heavens; Your faithfulness reaches to the skies."

“Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”  Luke 23:43

                                         

Great – But Left Alone to Die

Old prison windowHis was no ordinary conception, born to parents past child bearing age.  John the Baptist was the fulfillment of great prophecy – bridging the Old Testament with the New – in the ‘spirit of Elijah’.  Endowed with the Holy Spirit in the womb, he consecrated his life to one mission:  ushering into the world the incarnation of God on earth.  John’s calling exceeded the realm of priesthood.  He would not sit before the scribes or teachers of the Torah.  He became John the Baptist through years of sequestered fellowship with God.   When he “grew and became strong in the spirit” he was drawn to the desert in preparation for his high calling.  This meant total separation from the world, from all that would distract, all that would influence and indeed – even that which would bring natural comfort – home, family and friends.

Prevailing culture and social protocols had no power to restrain John’s convicting preaching.  This great herald emerged with divine anointing, baptizing an estimated 300,000 in Judea.  His anointed ministry was fulfilled at the sight of Christ, “Behold!  The Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world!.”  With words endowed by the Holy Spirit, this was the peak of John’s life and perhaps the beginning of the end to his profound ministry.  He would not serve alongside Christ in His mission, nor would he continue his preaching and baptizing.  “He must increase, I must decrease” was his prophetic declaration. This powerful, godly man was arrested by Herod the tetrarch.  Imprisoned in the remote fortress of Macherus, John was again separated from all and – at the whim of a dancing girl – was beheaded. Disciples went and claimed the headless body of this beloved prophet of God and buried him.

In Luke 7, Jesus declared John to be a prophet, even “more than a prophet…among those born to women, there is no one greater than John”.  The Lord’s ministry was well founded as John languished in a cold stone cell. ‘No one greater’, Jesus proclaimed of his anointed cousin, but did nothing to rescue John.  All knowing and all powerful, Jesus Christ knew of the darkness that overshadowed John and the debauchery that would lead to executing this holy man.  It was well within the Lord’s power to dispatch powerful angels, to release John and even strike Herod dead.  What was Jesus doing as John – held in highest esteem by Jesus – was led to his gruesome death?

In Isaiah 53, an infamous prophecy of the coming Christ, Jesus is called “a man of sorrows”.  Is there not great  sorrow in knowing that your beloved kin, acclaimed even in heavenly places, is suffering and will die at the hands of reprobates – and you could but don’t intercede and rescue? 

In God’s sovereignty, evil men do not prevail.

John had a singular high calling, yet it was far second, an underpinning, to the mission and passion of Christ on earth.  Leaving the grandeur and majesty of heaven, Jesus came to be despised, rejected, oppressed.  While He displayed supernatural power in compassion – healing the sick, feeding the hungry, raising the dead – the Son of God came not to extend His power to intercept or overthrow worldly kings and kingdoms.  The Son of God refrained from rising up against Herod, an act which would change the course of His mission,  the pathway of the cross.   Rather than establish Himself as ‘hero’, saving a man from wicked men in this world, Jesus maintained His singular focus – saving mankind from damnation for all eternity.  As Satan tempted Christ in the wilderness with places of power and position in this world – regardless of outward appearance  here –  again the Lord prevails.   He would allow no temporal victory in a condemned world to undermine His victory over death for all eternity.

This “Man of sorrows” had the anguish of foreknowledge here and would deeply grieve the death of His beloved prophet, servant, and cousin who would be left alone to die.   More than foreknowledge however, Christ divinely knows – even if we don’t – that for those surrendered to Him,  suffering and death are servants to the purposes of God.

Great – and none greater – was John the Baptist.   His divine mission complete, the sword could not rob him.  “Alone” was John’s place of communion and strength in God.  In the desert or a prison cell, John knew intimate heavenly fellowship that would strengthen and encourage, buffering all torment and fear.  The one who prepared the way for  God into the world would himself be ushered from this world to great reception and reward in the presence of almighty God.

 

Crushed By God

“Why? Why, why, why!!?” cried my anguished heart toward God, “What kind of God are you??!!” “How could you let this happen!!!!”

After a personal acceptance of God, trauma and suffering can be the most fiery trial of faith. At this cross road, many become embittered and cold toward their Maker. Their faith, once alive – now dries up like a dead leaf.
Be assured of two things at this juncture – God can handle our anger, our accusation and disbelief. He will not take on our challenge – the powerless clay rising up against the potter. As He Himself entered into every realm of suffering and temptation, He does not judge our anguish before Him. But He waits.
You may be at this juncture, have crossed this point, or perhaps will face a time of crisis in life and in your faith. When in the fire, we cannot see clearly nor can we think or meditate when the flames rise up around us. But no fire burns forever. When we step forth from it, still smoldering and weak, will we turn our back against God or will we ask – with heartfelt quest, “What kind of a God are you?”
He is waiting for this because He is ready to answer. He holds the powerful salve for our heart which alone can reach the inner recesses of sorrow and bitterness. Only God can prepare us to hear from Him. The Lord does not waste any of our afflictions, our pain, our loss – through the fire comes a powerful presence and revelation of God. We must go from the faith that God exists to the faith that He is sovereign.
For the Christian, surrender brings victory. Affliction and grief are not random nor has calamity occurred outside of God’s providence. These are challenging milestones of faith – battles with great reward. Only in the sovereignty of God can we begin to accept and see divine purpose. And only in deliberate seeking can we glimpse beyond the natural, towards eternity, where glory comes from being crushed by God.