‘It is finished’. (Rev 21:6)
For many, 2020 has been a year that has brought great difficulty and trials. It has been a year where they have lamented the loss of their liberty, mourned the passing of loved ones, felt the hardship of poverty and missed the company of close comrades. Life as they knew it has changed irrevocably and a season of suffering has been entered in to.
You may be traveling through a valley of shadow right now. You may be experiencing loneliness and loss. But don’t forget the words of the apostle Paul, a man well acquainted with suffering. One day, when trying to bring suffering into perspective, he wrote:
“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” Romans 8:18
Amongst the most famous words that Jesus spoke from the cross, was the triumphant cry, “It is finished” (John 18:30). He had completed the work He had come to earth to do. This was echoed by the clarion call that rang out through the courts of the new heaven and the new earth.“It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega—the Beginning and the End”. (Revelation 21:6) God was declaring the establishment of a new heaven and a new earth where we can look forward to a life without death or suffering or impurity or night. And, best of all, we can look forward to a perfect relationship with Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
There was an old chorus written by Ester Rusthoi we used to sing that many of us loved:
‘It will be worth it all when we see Jesus!
Life's trials will seem so small when we see Christ.
One glimpse of his dear face, all sorrow will erase.
So, bravely run the race till we see Christ.’
Whatever you have experienced in 2020, remember what Billy Graham once said, ‘I’ve read the last page of the Bible. It’s all going to turn out alright’.
This God—his way is perfect. (Psalm 18:30)
Though Christmas celebrations this year will be on a much smaller scale across our land, it is still a time when we rejoice and give heartfelt thanks to God for Jesus Christ. At the heart of most celebrations there are three main ingredients; the company of loved ones, food, and laughter.
For years, I have puzzled over this last ingredient; laughter. Why do we never read in the Bible that Jesus laughed? We are told plainly that at the tomb of Lazarus, ‘Jesus wept’ (John 11:35). It was clear also that his emotions ran high as he witnessed the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. And on two occasions we read of his disgust at what the money changers and vendors were doing in God’s house of prayer. But we never read that He laughed. We know He must have laughed from time to time, so why the silence?
I am indebted to Joni Eareckson Tada for shining a light on this for me. She wrote:
"So why is Scripture devoid of any reference to Jesus laughing? I can make a good guess: the book ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’. After reading the horrors of World War I, I had a pretty good idea as to why the Gospels leave out any record of our Lord laughing.' As grieving mothers and brokenhearted widows opened their Bibles in search of comfort, they didn’t have to worry about being assaulted by passages depicting Jesus breaking out in a belly laugh. Instead they opened their Bibles and found a man of sorrows with whom they could deeply identify:
“During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered..." (Hebrews 5:7-9).
It is in this picture the suffering find comfort.” *
We know from testimony that when men and women find themselves incarcerated, it is during these times of loneliness, apprehension and fear, that many turn to the Bible. How many millions of people down through the ages have been ministered to as they have sought comfort and solace in hours of suffering in the pages of this book?
It was in His wisdom and compassion that God hid the laughter of Christ from us to give us something that we need much more.
Thank God this Christmas; He makes no mistakes.
*More Precious than Silver by Joni Eareckson Tada Copyright © 1998 Published in Print by Zondervan, Grand Rapids
Jesus told him, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me". (Matthew 19:21)
Sometimes in English we use phrases whose meanings lie in the past. ‘Burning your boats’ is one of these. A story is told of Hernán Cortés who, in 1519, led a large expedition to Mexico in order to capture treasure that reportedly was there. Upon arrival, Cortés destroyed his ships to send a clear message to his men, ‘there is no turning back’. They would either win, or they would perish. Within two years, Cortés and his men had conquered the Aztec Empire.
‘Burning boats” represents a commitment to a point of no return, crossing a line you can never turn back from. There is no looking over your shoulder. Everything now — all thoughts and efforts — must be focused on succeeding in this new reality.
In today’s verse, we see a wealthy young man being offered the chance of a lifetime; becoming a follower of Jesus. However, in order to do this, Jesus asked him to burn his boats. He was being asked to cross a line and not look back. We are told that ‘when the young man heard this, he went away in sorrow, because he had great wealth’ (Matthew 19:22). He just couldn’t take the risk. What would happen if it didn’t work out? He would have nothing to go back to. What would his friends think? And what about his family? They would think he was mad, probably bordering on insanity!! Could he really risk ALL to follow this man?
A chance given and a chance lost.
What does it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, yet lose his soul? (Mark 8:36)
The same chance is given to us. The same call comes to us, ‘Come, follow me.’ The question is ‘Have you burned your boats”?
Keep pressing onwards beyond your fears
And only your Father goes before you
To your own frontier, you're a Pioneer"
I will give you the treasures of darkness and the riches hidden in secret places. (Isaiah 45:6)
Most people prefer daylight to darkness. We feel safer in the light; we feel warmer, happier and more comfortable. However, with the light comes a drawback; it obscures the magnificent treasures that go on display in the heavens night after night. If light does not make way for darkness, these treasures would be lost to us and so would the awe and wonder they bring.
Have you ever seen your shadow in the light of a full moon or sat out at midnight and watched a meteor shower? Have you noticed how the planet Mars shines in its golden splendour in the night sky just now? And what about comets and satellites, or have you ever seen the constellations through the veil of the Aurora Borealis? You never forget the wonder of that moment when you see it. But you can only see all these wonders when darkness falls.
There is a parallel to this in the spiritual world. We all enjoy times when our cares are few and our burdens are light; we all enjoy walking under a light filled heaven. However, there are treasures of the knowledge of God that we only find hidden in secret places of darkness; facets of the character of God that we can only ever see when darkness falls. Sometimes He draws us aside in times of sorrow or disappointment and reveals Himself as our comforter. At other times, when dark clouds of fear or worry threaten to overwhelm us, the realisation dawns, no longer in our minds, but by experience, that ‘he will never fail you nor forsake you’. Deuteronomy 31:6 The knowledge of this causes us to feel that our feet are no longer just standing on the rock which is Christ, but they have become embedded in the Rock.
At the age of 21, bereavement came knocking at my door; my father died. It was then that I understood and felt the triumphant truth of the words ‘death has been swallowed up in victory’! 1 Corinthians 15:54. It was true; it really was true!!
In natural life, we don’t like the darkness, but we love the treasures that are hidden there. How much truer is this of the treasures that God reveals to us in His secret places, which, although revealed to us in darkness, lead us into a blaze of light and an explosion of seeing, understanding and knowing His wonders.
Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10)
We are probably all familiar with the story of Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah who were taken from the royal palace in Jerusalem and deported to Babylon.
Daniel’s name meant ‘God is my judge’.
Hananiah’s name meant ‘Yah has been gracious’.
Mishael’s name meant ‘Who is what God is’.
Azariah name meant ‘Yah has helped’.
What lovely names to go through life with. Their names identified them as part of the Hebrew nation. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was their God. It was much more that just a name. It was part of their identity.
However, when they arrived in Babylon, their Hebrew names were taken from them and replaced with pagan alternatives. The chief official gave them other names:
Daniel became Belteshazzar.
Hananiah became Shadrach.
Mishael became Meshach.
Azariah became Abednego.
Suddenly, they were burdened with names of pagan Gods. The Babylonians' aim was to change their identity until their lives matched their names. Gone were their beautiful names that reminded them of ‘home’. But they refused to allow the new names to bring with them a new nature.
I think all of us have experienced times in life when things have not worked out the way we would have hoped. Beautiful things are taken from us and, in their place, we bear burdens not of our own choosing; bereavement, a cancer diagnosis, a bad accident, financial ruin, bitter disappointments are but a few. But look at what these four men did when their old lives were taken from them. They didn’t complain and say they weren’t going to accept these new names and all the difficulties that this new life would bring; they didn’t try to get the powers that be to change their minds and give them back their old names and their freedom. And they didn’t say, ‘Why me?’ They acted honourably and with integrity and, although outwardly bearing the name of a pagan deity, their lives bore the hallmark of the living God.
Next time when life seems to deal us a harsh blow, let’s remember the example of these four heroes of faith and step out into our changed tomorrows trusting Christ, our beloved Saviour and King.
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Struthers Memorial Church is a registered Scottish Charity No. SC 006960 | Struthers Memorial Church is a company limited by guarantee incorporated in Scotland Company No SC335480 | Registered Office: 33 West Stewart Street, Greenock, PA15 1SH.