John 16:16-22; 1 Peter 2:11-20; Isaiah 40:25-31
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Fear is a powerful motivator. That is why your enemy, Satan, uses fear to motivate you to do his will. He wants to make you uncomfortable, uneasy, and uncertain about your safety, about your finances, about your children, about your future. For, when he’s got you on edge, then you are open to him, his lies and deceptions, his subtle manipulations. First, he gets his foot in the door of your soul, and then it’s all too easy for him to bust right in and take control.
When a megalomaniac foreign leader aims his nation’s intercontinental ballistic missiles at American cities; When a sociopathic young man enters a first grade schoolroom and systematically slaughters six-year old children and their teachers; When bombs explode and innocent by-standers are killed and maimed – even the most grounded of Christians may begin to consider God’s providence in permitting such evil, suffering, and death. And, that’s not to mention economic and financial uncertainty, dysfunction and strife within the family, and the sensation that the world and culture is changing faster and more than you are able or willing to adjust and cope with. When these types of forces bear upon a soul, all sorts of emotions begin to well up within you like a slippery slope: doubt, anxiety, fear, anger, hate, and despair. Any one of these is an opening for the devil who will turn them into something far worse – unbelief.
They had been so optimistic, Jesus’ disciples. Everything seemed new, exhilarating, relevant, and fresh when it all began. Jesus taught with an authority they had never heard from the rabbis. His preaching was comforting and liberating, pointing to God’s mercy, grace, love, and forgiveness instead of to what they must do to satisfy a wrathful and demanding god. But then, when He was betrayed by one of their own, arrested and tried before the Jewish counsel and Pilate, then stripped, scourged and beaten, and crucified until He was dead upon the cross – they were filled with doubt, anxiety, fear, anger, hate, and despair. Like sheep, they were all scattered, each going his own way as frightened and confused prey for the wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Jesus knew this about them, and Jesus knows this about you – O you of little faith. Therefore, He prepared them for His going away saying, “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me. […] Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.” Jesus knew that His disciples would be shaken by the horrific events of His Passion and that the devil would seek to sift them like wheat, therefore He comforted them and He prayed for them to His Father saying, “I do not ask that You take them out of the world, but that You keep them from the evil one.” And, this is key – Jesus does not pray that you should be raptured out of this world and life with all its brokenness, evil, suffering, and death, but He prays to His Father that you would be protected from the devil’s assaults as you make your pilgrimage way through this wilderness valley of the shadow of death.
When you are afflicted with doubt and uncertainty and are tempted to fear, anger, hate, and despair, you will be tempted to think that it is a good thing to just drop out – that is, to isolate yourself from those persons and things you believe can harm you, to anesthetize yourself in drug or drink so that you do not feel the fear, pain, and suffering, or even to end your own life, believing it better to be dead than to continue to suffer, bear, and endure. And, this is precisely what Satan wants; he wants you to seek an escape, a way out other than the Way that God has ordained for you – Jesus. For, Jesus is the only Way, the only Life, and the only Truth. And, Satan wants you to forget that, to doubt that, to disbelieve that, to despise and to hate that – for, it doesn’t really matter to him, because anything, anything at all, that takes your focus off of Jesus and puts it on to something or to someone else is a victory for him.
St. Paul experienced these very same feelings, emotions, and temptations. In his Epistle to the Church in Philippi, Paul confessed his inner conflict saying, “For me to live is Christ, to die is gain. […] I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.” Paul wrote this Epistle while he was in prison for confessing Christ and proclaiming the Gospel of His death and resurrection. He was well in touch with suffering and the temptation to anxiety and doubt, fear, anger, hatred, and despair. Still, he did not pity himself and, in faith, he submitted himself to God’s alien will to permit him to suffer, confessing that his own suffering was bound up with and sanctified in Christ’s own suffering. Therefore, Paul exhorted and comforted the Philippians, and all Christians saying, “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in Him but also suffer for His sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.”
Suffering has been granted to you – chew on that for a moment. I know that it’s difficult to comprehend, but it’s absolutely the truth. Suffering is something that your gracious, merciful, loving, all-knowing, and all-powerful God grants you, allows you, and permits you to experience – for the sake of Christ, and because it is good for you. Your Father and Your Lord Jesus know the willingness of your spirit as well as the weakness of your flesh. There is a sinful law in your body that is at war with the desire of your heart to serve God. And, Paul writes, “So long as we are at home in the body we are apart from the Lord.” Thus, it is natural for a Christian to long to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. However, that is not your call. That is not a choice you get to make. Your heavenly Father has a purpose for you in this world and life, for you are “His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that [you] should walk in them.”
Here the significance of the Incarnation is made manifest – “In Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself.” That is to say that, in Christ, God took upon Himself your humanity and humbled and submitted Himself to His own holy and perfect Law which you transgressed, fulfilling it for you, in your place, perfectly, without sin, so that He might present Himself as a holy, pure, perfect and undefiled sacrifice for the sins of humanity, of all the world. Therefore, His death was a full and atoning sacrifice, and His resurrection is the proof that it is finished, that all that was necessary to make you right with God again was accomplished. Now, though your must pass through suffering and death, death cannot hold you; it has become but a doorway to new and everlasting life in and with your Holy Triune God.
Still, there is more! Not only will you enjoy full, perfect, and satisfying life forever with God after you pass out from this veil of tears, but that life is already yours now, though veiled and hidden, because Christ has taken up your flesh and blood and redeemed it. Because He lives, you live, now and forever! Christ is risen, and you are risen in Him, so that the life you live is Christ’s life, lived in and with you. This is why St. Paul exclaims, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
Therefore, you can live that resurrected life now, without anxiety and doubt, fear, anger, hatred, and despair. Though the way may be uncertain and the path unclear, faith in the Word of God become flesh, Jesus Christ who has faced death, defeated it, and passed through its hell to life, will lighten your path and provide you a sure footing upon which to stand against all temptation, suffering, evil, and even death – His holy and true Word of life and power.
Though the desire to depart and be at home with Christ is a pious and a holy desire, the Christian, following Christ’s example, and living Christ’s life, submits to God’s holy will in love and trust, saying with the Mother of Our Lord, “May it be to me according to Your Word.” A Christian remains faithfully at the place where he is needed as God has determined, and he goes thankfully through the gates of life when the portals open to the joy of the Lord. We live as “sojourners and exiles” in this world, subjecting ourselves for the Lord’s sake to the vocations and authorities He has established.
All your life is but a little while from the perspective of eternity with Christ. You can bear with most anything in the knowledge that it will soon pass. How much more then can you bear with sin, trial, and tribulation, even suffering and death, knowing that Christ has suffered and borne and overcome these things and even now bears them with you that you may overcome and pass through the valley with Him into the Father’s pasture, where His sheep may safely graze? Our example and trailblazer is Christ Himself 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.” He is risen, and He is ascended to the right hand of His Father in Heaven so that He now fills all things – so that He is present with you now and always, just as He promised, with His Words and His Wounds to comfort you, to strengthen your faith, to forgive your sins, and to seal and keep you in Him for eternal life. Though you have sorrow now, you will see Him again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.