“The Kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by all people.” ~ Romans 14:17-18
“Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion,
which cannot be shaken but endures forever.
As the mountains surround Jerusalem,
so the Lord surrounds his people both now and forevermore.”
Living as a child of God and a disciple of Jesus Christ is not like walking a tightrope without a safety net. This is not a situation in which you’re 200-feet up, trying to keep your balance, and taking extra care with every movement and twitch. A fly landing on your nose is life-threatening. People are watching you, everybody’s paying attention, some are secretly hoping you’ll crash and burn. That’s not the Christian life. It’s not a tightrope where every single step you take is a life or death deal. It’s more like sitting safely and securely inside a fortress. If you’re a Christian, you’re protected. You’re safe.
Even in your sufferings. Even when bad things happen to you. When you lose something you think you can’t live without. When your loved ones suffer pain. When you’re the victim of an injustice.
Psalm 125 says you’ll be OK because you’re surrounded by God. He’s got you. As long as the Lord is your God, you’ll be fine.
Whoever wrote Psalm 125 did not have anesthesia at the hospital, he didn’t have Tylenol or antibiotics in his medicine cabinet, and he didn’t have a government spending hundreds of billions of dollars on national defense. The writer here endured pain and suffering and threat personally and with the people around him every day. Why did that not destroy his confidence in God?
“The scepter of the wicked will not remain over the land allotted to the righteous.” ~Psalm 125:3
The wickedness won’t rest, it won’t last, it won’t stay with you permanently. The bad stuff is always temporary.
“…for then the righteous might use their hands to do evil.” ~Psalm 125:3
If the evil is permanent, if there’s no hope for deliverance, even the most faithful and devout person will break. They’ll use their own hands to do evil — it’s too much. But God never allows that to happen. The pain and the suffering are never too much for our faith.
“God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” ~1 Corinthians 10:13
At some point, at just the right time, it goes away. The bad stuff is never too much for your faith. And it’s never too much for our God.
“If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all — how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?… Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?… No! In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” ~Romans 8:31-39
“Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be shaken but endures forever.
As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds his people both now and forevermore.”
A lot of us grew up with a view of our salvation as something we slip in and out of pretty easily. According to what we do or don’t do, what kind of day we’re having or the last time we prayed, we might be saved or lost. If you’re not on constant guard, if you’re not vigilant in doing everything in exactly the right way, your mortal soul is in jeopardy. Losing your salvation could happen to you gradually or all of a sudden. Your status with God is fragile. Your salvation is a delicate thing. You’re worried about your worthiness. You’re anxious about your standing. There’s always a question. Always a doubt.
There’s a Greek word for this: Baloney.
There’s also a West Texas word for it. But I can’t use it here.
The Scriptures are clear that our salvation with God in Christ Jesus is secure. We don’t have to wonder about it. We don’t have to look over our shoulders in dread at what might take us out. The Christian life is not like walking a tightrope where every single step is a life or death deal.
Of course! I know this. In my head. I know this as a solid, indisputable fact. In my head. But my heart doesn’t always acknowledge this truth. My gut sometimes disagrees. Sometimes we do get anxious about our own salvation. Sometimes we do slip into uncertainty. We slip into fear. Or maybe we don’t slip into it; maybe we kinda live there.
Did I know what I was doing when I was baptized? Have I really been forgiven for my past? Have I really been good enough? Am I really doing enough?
Legalism is a disease we all have. We’re all in different places in our recovery, but nobody’s completely cured. If doing the rules and obeying the commands is what saves me, then, yes, I should be worried. But if it’s not… thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!
I want us to consider Psalm 125 this week to banish our insecurities and grow our confidence and Christian assurance. I’d like for these holy ancient words to get into our souls and remind us that we are safe and secure in Christ in the face of our feelings, in the middle of our sufferings, and despite our sins.
There are three things — I’m speaking very broadly here — that get in the way of the solid security we have in the Lord. The first of these is our feelings. The way we feel. Our feelings can hijack our security.
Psalm 125 says, “Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be shaken but endures forever.” But I do get shaken. It happens a lot. One day I’m full of faith and confidence as a beloved child of God, the next day I’m questioning and doubting almost everything. I wake up one morning full of energy and assurance in what God’s doing in me and through me, the next day I’m gray and moody and not real sure God’s doing anything at all. One day I’m a man of God, the next day I don’t know.
Cannot be shaken? That’s not me at all. I can be shaken by almost anything. Sadness, joy, success, failure, a bad meeting, another change in the coronavirus restrictions, a phone call, a disagreement — I’m like a thermometer, just going up and down according to the weather around me.
OK. Maybe so.
Think about the children of Israel. Up one day and down the next. Hot and cold all the time. One day they’re marching in triumph through the Red Sea, the next day they’re griping because they used to eat steaks and cheesecakes in Egypt. One day they’re worshiping God in his holy presence on Mount Sinai, the next day they’re dancing in the valley around a golden calf. One day they’re eating with Jesus in the upper room, listening to his words, basking in his love, pledging their allegiance; the next day they’re receiving warmth from someone else’s fire and swearing with holy curses they never met Jesus.
Up and down, up and down, like a yo-yo. You get whiplash with these people.
But the whole time, there’s something very solid and very steady: They are always God’s people. That never changed. God is faithfully and steadfastly with them. He never leaves them. He never forsakes them. He’s right there with his mercy and grace and love. You get the sense that everything that happens with God’s people happens in this bubble of God’s security. It all happens, the good and the bad, with this God who is always with them, constantly redeeming and restoring, forgiving and loving.
Following Christ is an up and down thing for us. But we don’t rely on our feelings. Our feelings about God are not as important as the facts about God. I had a professor at Austin Grad, Dr. Michael Weed. If somebody was talking about a church service or a worship experience or a spiritual conference and said, “I felt the Holy Spirit,” he would say, “Maybe. Or maybe it was indigestion.” His point was that you have to go on more than just feelings. Feelings can be deceptive. You can’t always trust them.
So we refuse to trust in our ups and downs; we choose to trust in God. We refuse to believe in our darkness and doubts; we choose to believe in God. Not feelings, but facts.
“There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death!” ~Romans 8:1
You know what the law of sin and death is: you sin, you die! We’re not under that law anymore! Why? Because by the sin offering of Christ, “the righteous requirements of the law have all been fully met in us.”
My salvation relationship with God cannot be shaken. I’m a mountain. It’s not psychology, it’s geology. My security doesn’t come from how I feel today, but from who God is both now and forevermore.
The puck drops this afternoon on the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, but I have little confidence in our Dallas Stars. They’re facing off against Calgary in this best-of-seven series, with some of the youngest, fastest, most skilled players in the NHL. But something’s not right. They can’t score a goal to save their necks. They’re great defensively — Stars teams always are. But they’re averaging less than 2.6 goals per game this season. Can’t light the lamp. Can’t put the biscuit in the basket.
Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn don’t look right. And we’re not sure if goalie Ben Bishop will even be dressed. What does “unfit to play” mean?
This same Stars team took the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Blues to seven games in the second round of the playoffs last year. It was wild. Thrilling. I believe NHL playoff hockey is better than football, the most exciting thing in the wide, wide world of all sports. And the Stars were playing so well before the global pandemic shut it all down. I was so sure the Stars were ready to take that next step and go all the way to the Conference Finals and maybe beyond this year. But the four month layoff has been disastrous. I guess. The Edmonton bubble isn’t working.
But it’s still playoff hockey. It’s still the coolest game on earth. It’s the only sport that has a true sudden death. It’s the only sport in which outcomes turn on an instant that you and I never see coming. So, here’s hoping I’m wrong about the Stars’ chances against the Flames. And here’s to playoff beards and penalty kills, to empty nets and overtime. Here’s to the start of sport’s most entertaining and most demanding championship tournament.
It’s striking to me that in the very last recorded conversation between Jesus and his Father in the Gospel of John, just hours before his hands and feet would be nailed to the tree, Jesus is talking about our unity as his followers. These are some of the very last words of our Lord. And they carry so much weight.
“I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. All the ones I have are yours, and all the ones you have are mine. And glory has come to me through them… Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name — the name you gave me — so that they may be one as we are one… My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world… I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe… May they be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me.” ~John 17:9-23
This prayer of Jesus is very familiar to us. Maybe a bit too familiar, like maybe we’ve heard it so often and read it so much and NOT made it the priority that Christ does, we’ve NOT pursued it and practiced it or been willing to die for it like Christ is. Maybe it’s lost its punch. Verse ten has really jumped out at me the past couple of weeks. Maybe the message of verse ten can revive the punch in our Lord’s prayer.
“All the ones I have are yours and all the ones you have are mine.”
All those who belong to God belong to Christ and all those who belong to Christ belong to God, which means all those who confess Jesus as Lord — “all who will believe in me” — all belong to each other. We’re not promoting Christian unity here, we’re practicing it. Christian unity is not something we chase or pursue, it’s not something we must generate or create; it’s already the reality! Christian unity is the gift we’ve all been given by God in Christ.
Scripture tells us we all form one body, that this is the way it is in Christ.
“For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body — whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free — and we were all given the one Spirit to drink… In fact, God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be… Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” ~1 Corinthians 12:13, 18, 27
We don’t try hard to be a part of the body. We don’t do our best to share in the blessings of belonging to God’s one universal and united people. No! Listen to the Bible! You. It’s plural, actually, so, you all. Y’all ARE the body of Christ. So act like it.
“You are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” ~Galatians 3:26-28
Because of our fallen, sinful nature as humans and because of the broken systems and structures of the fallen, sinful world, we don’t see each other enough. We don’t listen enough to each other’s stories. We don’t know each other well enough to practice and live this unity that’s already there if we’ll just pay attention to it. If we’ll just look each other in the eye. If we’ll really listen to each other well. If we’ll commit to loving all believers in Jesus as the brothers and sisters in Christ they are.
“In Christ, we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” ~Romans 12:5
What does it mean for all Christians to belong to each other? It means we love each other. We forgive each other. We help carry each other’s burdens. We look out for each other and take care of each other. It means offering grace to people we’d rather punch in the throat. It means standing alongside those whose politics we might detest.
This is what Jesus prayed. This is who Jesus is. The way Jesus lived his life, the things he taught and the stories he told — he erase all the labels we attach to others. He obliterated the ways we draw lines and build walls between us and others. He lived and taught the complete unity of all God’s people.
When you see the hungry and thirsty — listen to the words of Jesus — when you see the alien, the naked and the sick, when you see the prisoner, you’re looking at me.
The Samaritan? Yeah, he’s your neighbor. That’s right, the guy who doesn’t look like you, his skin’s a different color than yours, he lives in a different part of the city, he doesn’t smell like you, he doesn’t vote like you, he believes and practices his Christianity a little differently than you — he’s yours. You are responsible for each other.
Jesus completely turned upside down the whole economy of the way the world operates. The first are last! The poor are blessed! The oppressed are kings! We love our enemies and pray for those who treat us wrong! Why would we ever stand by and ignore or go along with the world’s status quo when our Lord Jesus prayed that it would all be changed?
Each member belongs to all the others. All the ones I have are yours and all the ones you have are mine. Taking care of each other. Uniting as one. That’s the prayer of our Lord. It’s what he asked for the night before he died.
The preacher of Hebrews ends his sermon by showing Christians a different way to view their position in the world. He tells us to go outside the camp, where Jesus is. He encourages us to bear the same disgrace Jesus did. Why? Because this ain’t our city. We’re living for the city that’s coming.
Earlier in Hebrews 13, he eludes to this radical shift in priorities by reminding us to “not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.” The stranger, the foreigner, the alien — open your door to them and an angel might walk in! They may look homeless and hungry when you invite them in, but for those who have the conviction or the certainty of things not seen, you’re inviting in the very presence of God!
We’re also told in that same context to “remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.” Those in prison, those who are mistreated, some translations say “victims of abuse.” Put yourselves in their shoes. Empathize with them. Act like what’s happening to them is happening to you. Feel it.
This is our calling. Why? Because Jesus also suffered.
“Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.” ~Hebrews 13:12-14
This is our missional mandate. This is the great commission. If Jesus went outside and suffered public abuse to make his sacrifice, then his disciples should be willing to follow him outside to make ours. The question here, and the decision we Christians have to ultimately make, is do you find your identity in the safety and security of Judaism and the pagan temples, or the Empire with its government and military and law, or is your identity grounded in Christ Jesus and the ways of the Lord? It can’t be both. It’s really the choice.
Going where Jesus goes will cost you status and security.
Why was Jesus crucified? Not because he was powerful, not because he was violent, not because he was exclusive and judgmental. Our Lord was rejected and mocked, he suffered and was killed, because he loved so unconditionally. Because he was so liberal with his forgiveness. Because he ate with prostitutes and partied with sinners and hugged the lepers. He was killed because he gave everybody the benefit of the doubt, because he worked so hard to tear down walls that divided people, because he refused to label people. And the world was offended by the way he lived. The government tried to shut him down, the religious leaders tried to shut him up. In the end, they all decided that Jesus was unpatriotic, that he wasn’t working in the best interest of society’s law and order. And they killed him.
And then he was raised. Romans 1 says Christ Jesus “was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord!” The resurrection and the ascension to the right hand of God validate this Jesus Way as the right way. It’s the eternal way. It’s the only way to live.
So show hospitality to strangers and aliens, show empathy for prisoners and victims of abuse. Share the shame. Bear the disgrace.
The middle of Romans 8 tells us where we are right now: the world is in pain. All of creation is groaning right up to the present time. Because of sin. Because of fallen human nature and the broken world.
This passage also tells us what we’re called to do: the Church shares the world’s pain. We ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly. We know how things are supposed to be and they’re not. Not yet. So we share the pain of the people around us.
And this important passage tells us very clearly what will happen when God’s people get involved and share the pain of his world: God’s Spirit works through that pain to glory.
“Our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us… The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will. And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose… Those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” ~Romans 8:18-30
All of creation is groaning. We ourselves are groaning. And God’s Holy Spirit — seeing all this, watching all this, experiencing all this with his creation and with his people — is groaning with groans that words cannot express. God’s Spirit lives and works in the pain.
He who searches our hearts — that’s God. He knows what’s inside our hearts. And I know God comes across things in our hearts we’d like to stay hidden. But God’s looking for the sound of his Spirit’s groaning. When we are sharing the world’s pain, when we’ve decided to embrace the world’s pain, and sit with it, live with it, groan with it, we realize we don’t have any answers. We don’t know what to do. We don’t even know what to pray for. And that’s when God’s Spirit is most obviously at work.
God the Creator, our Father, is always in constant communication with his Spirit who lives in the hearts of his people. God totally understands what the Spirit inside us is saying, even when we don’t. Our God hears and answers the prayers of our hearts, even when they don’t feel like prayers. Even when it just feels like heartache or hopelessness or inadequacy. When the pains and groanings of the world weigh heavy on your heart, you become one with the loving, groaning, and redeeming working relationship and conversation between the Father and the Holy Spirit.
It’s a mystery, for sure. I don’t understand it. But the Bible says God works through that for glory. For our glory. And ultimately for his.
The apostle Paul can’t find the words. He can’t describe the difference between where we are right now and the glory that’s coming. Everything he might say falls short, so he doesn’t even try. It’s not worth comparing! He has called us and justified us and glorified us! We know that in all things — even in the sharing of pain, maybe especially in the sharing of pain! — God works for our good! For ultimate glory!
“We share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory!” ~Romans 8:17
The devil means this mess we’re in right now for evil; God our Father is working in it and through it for glory! By the death and resurrection of his Son and by the power of his Holy Spirit, it’s going to be so good! As Christians, we don’t shake our heads and wring our hands and say, “Look what’s happening in the world.” We say, “Look who came into the world!”
All of God’s plans for the restoration of the world, all of God’s promises for glory for us and all of creation, all of what God wants to bring about for our good, is all “yes” in Christ Jesus. It’s not sometimes “yes” and sometimes “no”…
“For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ. And so through him the ‘Amen’ is spoken by us to the glory of God. Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.” ~ 2 Corinthians 1:20-22
Sin’s dominion is being broken. Our bondage to corruption and decay is coming to an end. And the Church speaks the “Amen!” We say it. We believe it. And we live it. The Holy Spirit guarantees the glory that’s coming because of Jesus. So, when the politicians say “No,” God says “Yes” in Christ. When the culture says “No,” God says “Yes” in Christ. When your friends say “No,” when the peer pressure says “No,” when your favorite website says “No,” when your family says “No,” God says “Yes” in Christ. When your gut says “No,” when all the experts say “No,” when your own brothers and sisters in Christ say “No,” God says “Yes” in Christ every time. Every time.
Maybe someday we’ll have a vaccine for the coronavirus. Maybe. But not for the sin that has plunged God’s world into so much pain. Sin is not new. It’s not novel. There’s no shot, there’s no pill, there’s no medicine for this pain that has us and all creation groaning. The only prescription for the pain is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Gospel is the only cure.
Everything we do and say, everything people do and say about us or to us, every experience we will ever have, is all lovingly used by our God for our good. We don’t always understand it. We don’t always enjoy it. But we know our groanings are not in vain. They serve an eternal purpose that’s being worked out by the Creator of Heaven and Earth who groans right along with us to make it happen.
The pain and the groaning are real. But so is the glory. We’re not finished yet. God’s not done. He has a plan for us and for the whole world and it is glorious. He has established his risen Son on his eternal throne and the whole world which is groaning under the weight of our sin is going to be redeemed. This is our Father’s world and he will do whatever he sees fit. And he sees fit to appoint it and us to glory.