“And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. And Simon and those who were with him searched for him, and they found him and said to him, ‘Everyone is looking for you.’ And he said to them, ‘Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.’ And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.” (Mark 1:35-39)
As Jesus began His earthly ministry He launched an assault on Satan and his forces. He did this not in some arena in great city with millions watching Him in person or by live video feed, but in an obscure backwater of the mighty Roman Empire known as Galilee. He attacked by preaching the truth: the Kingdom of God had arrived in Him, bringing freedom and liberation from sin. He demonstrated this loving the people He came to save with acts of healing and deliverance. He came to deliver not the high and mighty, nor the self-righteous and self-reliant, but the miserable and humble people whom they oppressed. These wretched people flocked to Him for help with their troubles, illness and demonic oppression.
The miracles Jesus performed, the signs and wonders He wrought were powerful demonstrations of His authority and power that showed that He came from God. The most powerful of His works was His preaching. He gave people hope as He spoke of God’s coming permanent deliverance from sin, sickness, death and the devil for it was Jesus who had come to reconcile the world to God. This would happen on the cross as Jesus took offered Himself as the sacrifice for the sins of all.
The world needs to know that Gospel of reconciliation. The Words and authority of God have been entrusted to us to bring that message to the billions in our world oppressed and enslaved by Satan. And we do this not with displays of signs and wonders but with acts of love, mercy, and compassion as servants of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Trinity Lutheran Hicksville
“For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay. ‘Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith.'” (Habakkuk 2:3-4 ESV)
After Habakkuk spoke his complaint, he waited on the Lord for a further reply. He wanted good news. He wanted words of encouragement. So he waited on Yahweh to answer. He did not worry and fret. He did not shout or yell or repeat the same phrases or complaints or petitions over and over. He realized that God had heard and would answer. And He did. The answer He gave was meant to provide His people, then as well as now, with practical help that would sustain them through trying times while remaining faithful to the Lord.
The righteous people of Judah were about to face devastation which they had never known before. The very foundation of their world was about to crumble. They were going to lose everything: their homes, fields and maybe their lives. Their families would be torn apart and exiled to a land a thousand miles away, enslaved and abused by idolatrous and cruel pagans. Since there was no way to avoid this, what possible hope could they have? What good news would make these circumstances more endurable? What would the Lord give them to help them to remain faithful without falling into despair or turn away from Him? According to Habakkuk the righteous will live by faith. They will walk in obedience because they believe what God says will happen even though the evidence of their eyes and their experience say different.
Now this explanation of the righteous will live by his faith in context differs in some way from our understanding of what it means for the righteous to live by faith. Our understanding of that phrase derives from Martin Luther’s proclamation that our salvation depends on God’s work not ours. Luther’s understanding of the verse was based on its reinterpretation by the apostle Paul in Romans 1:17 and Galatians 4:10-14.
Paul knew the practical meaning of the passage, that the righteous must live by faithful obedience to God’s word, trusting in His promises even in the midst of turmoil. This is the right way to live because it is God’s way. Yet under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit Paul explained the fuller meaning of the verse, a meaning which liberates us from the tyranny of keeping the Law. We no longer have to worry that God will condemn us. He offers mercy, forgiveness, wisdom and strength to those who come to Him knowing that without His help, no one can live a life of righteousness even if he or she wanted to. We can live in righteousness but we only as we rely on Christ. The words the righteous will live by faith mean that salvation does not depend on our good works, our piety or even our keeping of the law, or failure to do so. Salvation is by faith in the righteousness of Christ, in His atoning work on the cross. The benefits of His work are granted to all those who are humble and broken and who surrender themselves to His will.
“Pilate addressed them once more, desiring to release Jesus, but they kept shouting, ‘Crucify, crucify him!’ A third time he said to them, ‘Why, what evil has he done? I have found in him no guilt deserving death. I will therefore punish and release him.’” (Luke 23:20-22)
The Sanhedrin had no authority to condemn Jesus to death so they decided to place the case before the Roman governor, Pilate. They accused Jesus of provoking a rebellion against the Roman Empire as He had claimed to be the King of the Jews. Although Jesus did admit to this, Pilate could see that He was a humble and peaceful man and deemed this matter to be just a petty squabble among the Jews. He packed Jesus off to Herod to delay making a decision, but Herod was consumed only by self-interest and perhaps by guilt over the execution of John the Baptist. He did not want to make any decision. Eventually Pilate made a choice to placate the Sanhedrin. He did not really care about justice, compassion, or civil rights only politics and self-interest. Yet he wrote this charge over His head as if He were an insurrectionist: King of the Jews.
We should learn from Jesus’ humble and humiliating suffering. When we suffer we often complain, cry and become filled with self-pity especially when we are falsely accused. As Jesus was suffering, His concern was not His own pain but the feelings and needs of others. He comforted the grieving women. He forgave His executioners, both the Romans and the Jews. He granted mercy and salvation to the repentant thief. And, no doubt, His thoughts were for us as well, for He bore the weight of our sins. He experienced the wrath of God because of us, so we too are to be counted among those who nailed Him to the cross. When we suffer we should seek the help of Jesus so we may offer our pain for His glory. We do this because of what Jesus endured on our behalf.
“Then Jeremiah spoke to all the officials and all the people, saying, “The Lord sent me to prophesy against this house and this city all the words you have heard. Now therefore mend your ways and your deeds, and obey the voice of the Lord your God, and the Lord will relent of the disaster that he has pronounced against you.” (Jeremiah26:12-13)
The message of coming judgement that Jeremiah taught was quite unpopular with the people of Judah. When he preached that same message in the Temple courts he provoked the anger of the priests and the prophets because they were the religious authorities of the nation. Jeremiah’s message contradicted theirs and offended them. They claimed at he was a false prophet who should be punished accordingly. Yet the civil magistrates vindicated him by citing 2 cases of other situations in which true prophets had preached an unpopular message. It was best to let Jeremiah go and see what happened but his message was ignored.
The reactions of those religious officials shows us the depravity of the human mind. Those who are think they are religious or spiritual gurus because they have a degree or position or title often claim to know God, to be intimate with Him. Academia and the media both hail them as authorities when they need someone to speak about God or religion. However, the things they say reveal that few of them know Jesus. What they often proclaim is the truth as they see it. They refrain from talking about sin, sinful lifestyles, idolatry and false religions. Like the priests and prophets of Judah they do not want to disturb the status quo by antagonizing people or making them feel guilt, poor self-esteem or the need for repentance. But we who have faith in Christ are called to speak the truth like Jeremiah did despite the opposition and the consequences.
“Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:1-2 ESV)
The Corinthian believers erred when they thought they had achieved spiritual perfection. One of the ways this manifested itself was in the widespread teaching that there was no bodily resurrection from the dead because they were already in their glorified state. Their bodies they deemed expendable and useless for the resurrection were spiritual not physical. This disdain for the body expressed as either ignoring it or by indulging its sinful cravings. So Paul reminded them of their common belief in the resurrection of Christ.
Paul’s teaching to the Corinthians serves to underscore one of the central truths of the Christian Faith: the belief in the literal bodily resurrection of Christ from the dead. It is one of those truth we affirm in the Apostle’s Creed. What Paul teaches indicates that if we deny Christ’s resurrection, if we say it never happened, then we are denying our own resurrection. Christ rose from the dead and this is the proof that He died for our sins. To deny this truth then means that we are still spiritually dead and incapable of pleasing God. Christ’s bodily resurrection is the ultimate proof that He defeated sin and death on the cross. Believers need not fear death because we are certain we will be raised again to eternal glory for we are united with Christ.
“In that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah: “We have a strong city; he sets up salvation as walls and bulwarks. Open the gates, that the righteous nation that keeps faith may enter in. You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.” (Isaiah 26:1-3 ESV)
Isaiah likened the Kingdom of God to a strong city, a fortress, one where God dwells with the redeemed. Our strength as the people of God is in Jesus Christ our Lord. He has delivered us by His cross from sin and death. He gives us peace in the midst of chaos and suffering.
Perhaps the ancient Jews who heard these prophetic words as Isaiah spoke them thought he was referring to Jerusalem for at the time good King Josiah had launched sweeping religious reforms throughout Judah. God would be pleased with them now, so they thought. Josiah knew that whatever he did would not change the determined judgment of the Lord. He undertook reform not because it would assuage God’s wrath, but because it was the right thing to do. He acted with righteousness even though he received no benefit from doing so.
Many people today would not do as Josiah did if they knew it would have no benefit to them personally. They want the peace and joy God promises but without the cross. They want to know what the advantages of Christianity are to them before they will believe. What’s in it for me? Will it heal my illness? Will it make me happy? Will it make me prosperous and rich? And many churches, preachers and individual Christians go out to their way to accommodate them to make Christianity more palatable. Yet the message of Isaiah is that we should do the right thing because it honors God, no matter what the cost to us. And the good news is that the Lord will give us peace.