Readings: Psalm 46:1-5 & 10-11; Colossians 1:11-20; Luke 23: 33 – 43
HOW BAD DOES IT GET FOR YOU TO WANT TO GIVE UP?
I didn’t choose today’s readings. I have been doing that for quite a while choosing the readings. But not today. Today’s readings come from the lectionary.
I quite like Psalm 46 – while the ground still shakes on these wobbly islands, we can hear the word of God to us.
God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea.
I’ve only been in minor earthquakes back in Wellington. The Christchurch one that was at night sounded like a freight train in our bedroom. I watched with amazement on another occasion when the couch started jumping up and down, and the Christmas tree was doing sparrow jumps along the table.
Back in the old country we had bombs going off outside our home and Sheilagh had to dive to the ground waiting for me to pick her up one Saturday when a bomb went off across the road from her in 320 West Street.
Either way you are shaken.
Psalm 46 hits a high point in verse 10 – which we all know well – at least we know the first part: Psa 46:10 “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”
People are genuinely seeking stillness.
For us – it’s not just spacing out – or like Leonard Cohen signing up with a zen master to find that equilibrium.
For us – we are to be still and know that He is God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”
He will be exalted – praised – honoured – and that’s exactly what we do even when things are shaken up. We exalt and praise his name. AND by worshiping him we recognise we are not alone – Verse 11 states categorically – The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. The last verse of the Psalm goes full circle back to the first which reads: God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.
When things seem to fall apart – whether literally, emotionally (you’re on the edge), or physically (your body presents itself as something straight from hell through pain or collapse of key systems) – God Almighty is unchanging and totally faithful – we are to praise him because we are not alone – he is our ever-present help in trouble!
This greatness of God is consistent with what Paul says in Colossians about Jesus.
Paul speaks about Jesus’ centrality: Col 1:16 For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. Col 1:17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
The writer to the Hebrews captures this same steadiness about Jesus in two ways: The first will be known by anyone ever involved in Boys Brigade. What’s the boys’ brigade hymn? What’s the chorus?
Yes – will your anchor hold – and the chorus – we have an anchor….
Hebrews 6 is where that comes from. I used this to counsel someone recently when things were really troubled. My advice was to chuck up an anchor into heaven and stay steady. Listen to the passage: Heb 6:19 We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, Heb 6:20 where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf
The second reminder from Hebrews is simpler and easier to remember: Heb 13:8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
So my question to you is simple – HOW BAD DOES IT GET FOR YOU TO WANT TO GIVE UP?
If we can be still and know that He is God – in the midst of disaster.
If we can know that – in him (Jesus) all things hold together – that he is our anchor, that he is the same yesterday, today, and forever –
I reckon that we can be steady in the storms we face.
Today is the Sunday where we celebrate “Christ the King”.
How bad does it have to get for you to want to give up? When you have such a King – you can hold on!
As the other heroes of the faith in Hebrews chapter 11. I was listening to a sermon on the radio this week where the preacher read this passage out.
Hebrews 11 starts with this statement: Heb 11:1 Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. Heb 11:2 This is what the ancients were commended for.
And then the list comes. It’s long and profound. And it ends with this crescendo that has to speak to your heart:
Heb 11:35 Women received back their dead, raised to life again. Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. Heb 11:36 Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. Heb 11:37 They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— Heb 11:38 the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground. Heb 11:39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. Heb 11:40 God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.
They were steadfast. Steady. How bad did it have to get for them to give up? They took it all and more – and they remained faithful. As do martyrs today around the world.
So on Christ the King Sunday we read from the gospel the account of Jesus’ crucifixion. How bad does it have to get? That was bad. Being crucified alongside Jesus. What makes this one criminal reach out to Jesus, while the other one hurls insults at Jesus?
Probably nano faith tinier than a mustard seed – some sense that if it said “King” on the sign above his head on the cross, this Jesus must have been able to do something in this tight spot. Nailed to a cross and heaving yourself up in agony to breath rather than suffocate. Listen to the account:
Luk 23:40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? Luk 23:41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Luk 23:42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
King – Kingdom – he grasped something – joined the dots. Maybe he remembered a story doing the rounds about Jesus raising the dead. Who knows. Either way – Luk 23:43 Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Did he go to heaven that day? I don’t think so. Do you? Jesus didn’t – not just then. He descended to the dead (or visited hell depending on your view of 1 Peter 3:18-19).
We’re going to have to figure out what “Paradise” meant then. In those days, it meant the restored creation in which the righteous would dwell – like Eden.
People who take it as “heaven” put a comma in the sentence so it reads: “I tell you the truth today, you will be with me in paradise.” Which is convenient but unhelpful as there were no spaces between the words in the Greek original, never mind commas.
The promise assures his future either way – even if it meant as Tom Wright notes – a place of rest and refreshment before the final gift of eternal life in the resurrection.
If a convicted criminal dying on a cross could see in Jesus – also dying – a King who brought hope, and a blameless man, and who could trust Jesus in a tight spot – I think we’ll be okay. Or shall I speak kiwi and say “she’ll be right”.
Be still friends. Know he is control. He is the one who is our anchor in the presence of God. Our hope even when we breathe our dying breath.
Jesus Christ the King.
He’s the one! Trust Him!