This blog is the combined effort of four senior pastors of different churches. Their desire is to point you toward living a God-centered, gospel-focused, Christian life.

Monday, December 19, 2016

The Third Way: Beyond Escape and Beyond Despair

The headlines these days are difficult to read without the loss of innocence.  One of the more contentious presidential elections in generations, the unabated battle against terrorism, the decline of moral sensibilities so that our culture cannot even say that there are only two genders—these events give us a jaundiced eye and push us in one of two directions. 

One direction is to seek to escape the news by hiding in our own smaller world, attempting to make it as prosperous and peaceful as possible.  There are several ways that we can do this.  We can insulate ourselves from the world as it is by our selective engagement with media that we agree with.  We can protect ourselves by cultivating friendships only with people who think like we do.  We can avoid facing painful things by focusing our determination to do well in our work, in our families, and in our church community.

Another direction is to get grumpy and frustrated over the whole mess, wondering if there is anything worth the effort required to maintain a sense of optimism.  We fall under the weight of despair described by Longfellow’s “I Heard the Bells” (a song written in the throes of the American Civil War)—
“And in despair I bowed my head;
there is no peace on earth I said;
for hate is strong and mocks the song;
of peace on earth, good will toward men.”

Now, neither of these directions is entirely wrong.  In fact, at least parts of these responses are biblical ways to respond to challenging times.  1 Timothy 2:1-3 tells us that we are to pray for those in high positions in our culture so that “we may lead a quiet and dignified life”.  So, it is not entirely wrong to want to escape the painful realities of a sin cursed world.  As for the second direction, the Psalms are replete with grumpiness and frustration at the apparent triumph of wickedness.  Psalm 74:1, 10 provides a good example, “O God, why do you cast us off forever?  Why does your anger smoke against the sheep of your pasture? . . . How long, O God, is the foe to scoff?  Is the enemy to revile your name forever?”  So, it is not entirely wrong to get grumpy and frustrated over the apparent victory of evil over good, either.

However, there is a third way!  It is the way that faces rather than tries to hide from the realities of evil.  It is the way that acknowledges sin in all its horror and pain, yet it is not a way to despair.  This way is rather a path to glory.  Consider the words of the Bible, and note how sin is not minimized or ignored, yet it is no reason for despair, either.

“You shall call His name Jesus;
For He shall save His people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21)
Note here that there is hope.  A Savior named Jesus is coming.  But this is a Savior from sin.  Sin is not denied or ignored.  It is faced, faced by a Champion who will deliver us from its grip.

“God is so rich in kindness that He purchased our freedom through the blood of his Son, and our sins are forgiven.” (Ephesians 1:7 NLT 1996)

Note here that there is freedom.  This is not the freedom of hiding from reality.  It is rather the victory of a new reality.  God is so kind that at high cost, the blood of His Son, He bought our freedom from the shackles of sin.  Indeed, our sins are forgiven!  Sin again is not denied or ignored, but neither is sin triumphant.  God has purchased our freedom through Jesus’ blood.

“For God sent Jesus to take the punishment for our sins and to satisfy God’s anger against us.  We are made right with God when we believe that Jesus shed his blood, sacrificing his life for us.” (Romans 3:25a NLT 1996)

Note here that there is reconciliation with God.  To be reconciled to God, we must first face the reality that we are NOT right with God.  Then, we embrace by faith this remarkable fact that God sent Jesus to take the punishment which we deserve.  His death satisfies the anger that God has against us.  We are right with God when we believe that Jesus shed His blood as a sacrifice for us.  Again, sin is not denied or ignored.  Sin tempts us to despair, BUT it is not ultimately triumphant.  Jesus Christ provides the third way, not denial of reality, not despair over reality, BUT triumphant in a new reality—the forgiveness of sins!!

Here is a hymn describing our victory in Christ.  Note how biblical the idea this “third direction” is, as nearly every line comes from some text of scripture.

Before the throne of God above
I have a strong and perfect plea. (Heb 4:15-16)
A great High Priest whose Name is Love (Heb 4:14)
Who ever lives and pleads for me. (Heb 7:25)

My name is graven on His hands, (Isa 49:16)
My name is written on His heart.
I know that while in Heaven He stands (Acts 7:55)
No tongue can bid me thence depart. (Rom 8:34)

When Satan tempts me to despair (Luke 22:31-32)
And tells me of the guilt within, (Rev. 12:10)
Upward I look and see Him there (Acts 7:55-56)
Who made an end of all my sin. (Col 2:13-14)

Because the sinless Savior died
My sinful soul is counted free. (Eph. 1:7)
For God the just is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon me. (Rom 3:24-26)

Behold Him there the risen Lamb, (Rev 5:6)
My perfect spotless righteousness, (1 Cor 1:30; 1 Peter 1:18-19)
The great unchangeable I AM, (Heb 13:8; John 8:58)
The King of glory and of grace,

One with Himself I cannot die. (John 11:25-26)
My soul is purchased by His blood, (Acts 20:28)
My life is hid with Christ on high, (Col 3:3)
With Christ my Savior and my God! (Tit 2:13)

And in the words of Charles Wesley,

“Mild He lays His glory by,
Born that man no more may die;
Born to raise the sons of earth;
Born to give them second birth.

Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn king.”

No need to hide, no need for despair, our King has set us free.

Merry Christmas!