February 12, 2018
Author: Scott Hoezee
Lent begins in the wilderness. And it’s not a terribly safe place to be all things being equal.
Some years ago after a seminar I was attending in Tucson, Arizona, wrapped up around the noon hour, my wife and I decided to check out a nearby National Park. We took a big bottle of water with us but as we strolled through the cacti that June afternoon, the temperature on the desert floor topped 120 degrees Fahrenheit (we found this out later when watching the local weather report). The water was depleted much sooner than we anticipated, and while we may have never been in any real danger, we were most assuredly glad to get back to our car eventually. It required no imagination whatsoever to conceive of how easily one could die in such a harsh, hostile environment.
But biblically the desert or wilderness was always a sign of grave spiritual danger, too. Before God imposed order on his creation—before he made it a cosmos—all was chaos. It was, in the original Hebrew, tohu webohu, it was formless, shapeless, and dangerous. Life could not flourish unless God started separating things and carving out a life-nourishing niche for his creatures. But throughout the rest of Scripture, wilderness (the same tohu webohu of Genesis 1) became shorthand for the devil’s realm, for temptation, for threats to life, limb, and also to soul.
If we are going to follow Jesus to the cross in Lent, then we have to start where he started, where John the Baptist started.
We have to start in the wilderness.
John went out there first to declare the fulfillment of those prophecies that forth-told God’s plan to build a salvation highway—a road back to shalom—starting right there in that dangerous desert. Jesus then joins John in the desert but is no sooner baptized and hailed as God’s beloved Son before he is violently thrown—quite literally hurled—into a far deeper wilderness experience where the wild animals prowled and howled.
Think of that: In Mark, Jesus says not one single word in public, preaches not even two minutes’ worth of a sermon, before he is dropped down smack in the middle of a very bad place of chaos. It’s almost as though Jesus cannot credibly say or preach anything until this happens. Jesus has to enter the worst of evil on this planet before he can reliably declare that the kingdom of God has drawn near. Maybe that is because the kingdom of God cannot draw near until the kingdom of darkness—epitomized by the deep desert of evil—is engaged.
It may seem a trite example but years ago on the TV series M*A*S*H the unit’s priest, Fr. Mulcahy, tried to talk with a wounded soldier who had been severely traumatized by what he witnessed on the front lines of the war. But when this soldier discovers that the good Father had never been anywhere close to where the fighting of the war was taking place, he concludes they just cannot talk. The soldier had no interest in hearing the pious platitudes of one who had no idea what he was talking about. Later in the episode, after Mulcahy does come under enemy fire and is forced to perform an emergency medical procedure on a soldier even as shells are exploding all around him, the soldier welcomes the Father after all. Now they have a common frame of reference, now they can talk. Now Mulcahy gets it.
Jesus could not say the kingdom was near until he had been to the front lines, until he had engaged the evil of this world head on in the wilderness. Because then when he spoke words of hope and promise, everyone could know that these were not the sunny predictions of some starry-eyed but finally unrealistic optimist. No, this was someone who had engaged the jagged edges of real life in a fallen world and had even so emerged victorious. The features to this world that make us need the coming of God’s kingdom will not thwart the advent of that same kingdom. The post-wilderness Jesus was living proof.
“He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.”
That’s all Mark says in his typically spare way of writing. It’s maybe all he needs to say, too. Because here is an early indication in the gospels that where Jesus will go, somehow shalom will follow. Jesus will touch the unclean but not become unclean himself but will instead leave cleanness in his wake. He’ll touch the dead and they’ll come back to life. He’ll speak to the blind and leave them seeing, to the deaf and leave them hearing. He’ll enter situations of despair and isolation and leave behind him a cornucopia of hope and community.
Lent begins in the wilderness, in the worst parts of life in a fallen, broken world. It begins there as a reminder that Jesus is transforming this world by his very presence. Lent begins in the wilderness so that by the time we see Jesus enter into nothing short of hell and death itself near the end of it all, we will have more than a firm sense that somehow, some way–by a grace and a power we can scarcely imagine–Jesus will leave even those places changed. He’ll pass through the hell of death and somehow leave Life in his wake. (In a way, this is the same point made in this Sunday’s Epistle lection from 1 Peter 3—Jesus has gone ahead of us into death, into the place of spiritual imprisonment, and has brought life there.)
It’s a strange and mysterious alchemy that he works again and again. But it’s a little less mysterious when we remember the very first thing Mark told us when he opened his gospel: this Jesus we’re talking about is (you may be interested to know) “the Son of God.”
That little fact doesn’t change the wonder of his shalom-restoring powers. But it sure explains a whole lot!
This short lection does not contain any particularly striking textual points of which to take note, though there are a couple of verbs here that tend in the direction of drama (if not a measure of violence). Mark is perhaps the most dramatic of all the gospels and so he has a penchant for using very colorful verbs. Here within the span of a couple of verses he does this well. The heavens are not merely “torn open” in verse 10 but are rather rent asunder, split wide open (the Greek verb is schizein.) You can almost hear the sound of a very loud tearing open. Similarly, the dove/Spirit in verse 12 does not politely lead or send Jesus into the wilderness but rather violently hurls, throws, or ejects Jesus in that direction (again, the Greek is the vivid ekballein). The image is the classic one of the bouncer hurling a rowdy bar denizen through the window and out onto the sidewalk. On the surface this all looks calm and serene but the text indicates that cosmic happenings were afoot here. Reality on this earth was being invaded by no less than the power of Almighty God. We ought not miss the drama of it all! We should note also the connection to the end of Mark’s gospel when, after Jesus breathes his last (literally he EX-SPIRITS his last), the Temple curtain is schizein or split from top to bottom. The gospel begins with the pneuma or Spirit of God coming on Jesus from a split heaven (unleashing the power of God in the world in a new and dramatic way) and it concludes with Jesus’ EX-pneuma and the Temple curtain is then torn (from the top and so by God) thus giving us access to God in new ways.
When I was growing up, my parents had an old pump organ that my father had refurbished. When a certain stop was pulled out, the organ’s keyboard would automatically play bass clef chords to correspond with and harmonize with notes you played in the treble clef. I used to like playing that organ (which was also something of an aerobic exercise of pumping those pedals!) because I loved to see those other keys go down automatically when I pressed the right keys higher on the keyboard–to my young mind it was almost like magic!
That kind of thing happens in the Bible, too. If you press the right notes in one place of the Bible, you find that corresponding chords resonate in other parts. In the case of Mark 1, Mark plays the key to tell us that Jesus was with the wild animals, and presto: accompanying musical chords rise up from the pages of Isaiah where the prophet predicted that when shalom returned to this world, the wilderness would bloom and become a place of verdant life, not a threatening place of imminent death. What’s more, when that happened, the lion would lay down with the lamb and even small toddlers would be perfectly safe making mud pies right next to the hole of the cobra snake. In shalom, all creatures and all people could be with each other in harmony and goodness and without peril.
So in Mark 1:13, you don’t even need the part about the angels attending Jesus to figure out how Jesus’ tempting by the devil turned out. Jesus won. He won so marvelous a victory that for at least a time, shalom burst forth, life exploded onto the scene in a place of death. Maybe that is why Jesus had to be tossed out there as an immediate consequence of his anointing by God. Unless the powers that be are met head on, evil cannot be dealt with. God cannot bring salvation by remote control, pushing buttons and directing the action from a distance some light years away. God must mix it up with evil and that is precisely what he does through Jesus.
Author: Doug Bratt
21st century society seems to largely believe that people have the world and its future squarely in our own hands. They claim that if we don’t somehow make history turn out right, it simply won’t happen. Yet experience suggests that if it’s up to people to make things right, we’ve got real trouble on our hands. People, after all, don’t have a very good track record of making things right or turn out right.
Those who proclaim Genesis 9 might want to explore with hearers evidence of human failure to fix what’s wrong with us. They may note that, for example, though we fought several “wars to end all wars” in the last century alone, war and rumors of war still flourish. Even when people try to do what’s right, we find that we still make things a mess. We declare a war on poverty . . . and yet it still flourishes, right around our corners.
I think of the mess white people like me have made of race relations. White folks, after all, participated in the unjust horror that was slave trading. White preachers, including some in my own Reformed tradition, abused the Scriptures to try to justify slavery and segregation.
By God’s grace, we’ve tried to make some things right.
Yet various issues still deeply divide Christians of different colors. We still have a hard time talking and especially listening to each other. The church is among the most racially divided institutions in all of America. If it’s up to people to make things right in the world of race relations, I fear we’re in a world of trouble.
The season of Lent is traditionally a season for honesty about our sin and us. So perhaps it’s a particularly good time for God’s people to be honest about the mess we’ve put our world in. But how can we dare to be so honest about our sinfulness and ourselves?
Maybe it will help to think about that this way. What would happen were I to report only half my earnings to the United States Internal Revenue Service? Well, I’d only pay half the taxes that I should. So I’d get to keep quite a bit of money that I’d otherwise have to give to the government.
But what would happen if I decided to be honest about such cheating? At the very least, I’d have to pay back what I owe. What’s worse, the government could throw me in jail. It’s enough to make one think at least twice about being honest about cheating on income taxes!
In a far broader way, how can people be honest about the way we’ve contributed to the mess our world is in? How can I dare to be honest about my greed that has contributed to others’ poverty? Think, after all, about how people would view you and me if they knew we were so sinful.
If we’re going to be honest about our contribution to the world’s mess, we’re going to need some assurances that the consequences won’t be dreadful. If you and I are going to be honest about things like our prejudices and selfishness, we’re going to need some promises.
God created our first parents to perfectly obey the Lord. Yet they quickly proved to be stubbornly disobedient. God gave us this wonderful creation that God consistently evaluated as “good.” But look at what we did in only nine chapters of Genesis.
In fact, by Noah’s day, God deduces that every inclination of the thoughts of peoples’ hearts is evil all the time (Genesis 6:5b). Things are about as bad as they can get. So we could hardly have blamed God if God had just drowned all of us in the floodwaters.
Yet Genesis 9:9-17 opens with rescued Noah, his family and at least two of every kind of creature standing on “completely dry” ground. But now what? Will Noah and his family have to somehow make things turn out right? Is the future after the Flood up to people?
Noah’s drunkenness and his sons’ disrespect show that the thoughts of post-Flood peoples’ hearts remain quite evil. The mess you and I have made of our world also shows that our own hearts are still naturally evil. So if the post-Flood future is up to people, God help us. We’re in a lot of trouble.
Thankfully, then, in many ways the future is up to God. God is willing to basically start over with humanity after the flood. After sending so much water, destruction and death, God promises to graciously give the human race a kind of “do-over.”
Genesis describes God’s act of creation as God’s separation of the waters from the earth’s floor. In the flood, God, in a way, reverses that order, blurring the boundary between water and land. However, after the Flood, God graciously steps back in. God restores order out of the chaos and brings life out of death.
Genesis’ stories, our history and the current world show that we will lie, rebel, kill and push our way into the future. God, however, responds by insisting, “I now establish my covenant with you and your descendants . . .” (9). At the heart of that covenant with Noah and his descendants is God’s promise that “Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life” (11b). In other words, God seems to promise that God will never again use a natural catastrophe to destroy all earthly life.
Yet while God says “never again,” God doesn’t add, as we might expect, “but in order for me to spare creation, you must do this and that.” God’s post-Flood covenant is unconditional. God simply promises never again to wipe out every living thing with some kind of natural disaster.
Perhaps the Lord does this because the Lord knows that if the Lord’s restraint depends on us keeping our end of a bargain, the Lord will have to destroy it again. People after the Flood, after all, aren’t much different than they were before it.
So if we are to have a future, it will be the future God gives us. Thankfully, God extends that future not only to Noah, but also to all succeeding generations, Jewish and gentile alike. What’s more, God’s protection extends not just to people, but also to all living things.
Of course, people won’t deserve that protection. Again and again and again we’ll show that we deserve punishment as we make our way through the world after the flood. Thankfully, then, the story of our world after the flood isn’t about humanity’s goodness, but God’s great goodness.
That God graciously continues to make and keep promises to people even when we don’t keep our promises. God refuses to destroy us even when we consistently destroy each other and scar God’s creation. While our thoughts and our tendencies remain stubbornly evil, God promises never again to obliterate creation with a natural disaster.
Yet just, as it were, to make sure God keeps God’s promise of “never again,” God drapes a rainbow across Genesis 9’s sky. Curiously, however, God doesn’t seem to hang it there to remind us of God’s promise to protect us. No, verses 14 and 15 suggest the Lord somehow hangs rainbows in the sky to remind himself of the Lord’s promise not to give up on people.
Of course, you don’t have to watch or read the news very long to see why God might be tempted to break that promise. So while we may fully not understand why God needed it, we thank God for God’s rainbow-reminder not to give us what we deserve. And we always pray that the Lord keep an eye on that rainbow.
After all, at the end of Lent’s forty days we plan to remember a particularly bloody and horrible weekend of death at a place called Golgotha. You and I will see perhaps the fullest expression of the evil inclination of our hearts at the cross of Jesus.
Yet even after the earth shakes and chaos seems to break loose again, God keeps an eye on the rainbow. Sunday comes. What some thought was the deathly end of the human story turns out just to be another kind of new beginning. What we might have assumed was the end of God’s gracious dealings with us turns out to be just the first chapter in a kind of new story of promise.
On January 30, 2018, cnn.com noted, “Rachel Den Hollander was the first woman to accuse Dr. Larry Nassar of sexual abuse. However, she was the last of more than 150 women and girls to confront him in court during Nassar’s sentencing hearing for criminal sexual conduct.”
While Den Hollander’s statement lasted nearly 40 minutes and was delivered in a court of law, parts of it could be delivered in any church. After all, they powerfully speak to both the mess people have made of the world and God’s gracious determination to address that mess.
Ms. Den Hollander told Dr. Nassar: “In our early hearings you brought your Bible into the courtroom and you have spoken of praying for forgiveness. And so it is on that basis that I appeal to you. If you have read the Bible you carry, you know the definition of sacrificial love portrayed is of God himself loving so sacrificially that he gave up everything to pay a penalty for the sin he did not commit. By his grace, I, too, choose to love this way.
“You spoke of praying for forgiveness. But Larry, if you have read the Bible you carry, you know forgiveness does not come from doing good things, as if good deeds can erase what you have done. It comes from repentance which requires facing and acknowledging the truth about what you have done in all of its utter depravity and horror without mitigation, without excuse, without acting as if good deeds can erase what you have seen this courtroom today.
“The Bible you carry says it is better for a stone to be thrown around your neck and you throw into a lake than for you to make even one child stumble. And you have damaged hundreds.
“The Bible you speak carries a final judgment where all of God’s wrath and eternal terror is poured out on men like you. Should you ever reach the point of truly facing what you have done, the guilt will be crushing. And that is what makes the gospel of Christ so sweet. Because it extends grace and hope and mercy where none should be found. And it will be there for you.
“I pray you experience the soul crushing weight of guilt so you may someday experience true repentance and true forgiveness from God, which you need far more than forgiveness from me — though I extend that to you as well.”
Author: Stan Mast
Psalm 25 is widely considered to be an ugly duckling among the Psalms. At first (and second and third) reading, it seems to lack cohesion and logical progression. But like the proverbial ugly duckling, there’s something beautiful here waiting to be discovered. It begins when one reads the Hebrew text and discovers that we have an alphabetical acrostic here, albeit a slightly irregular one. The writer has carefully constructed this poem to cover the waterfront of life from A to Z, or more accurately from aleph to kaph.
We make further progress in finding beauty here when we discern a chiastic structure that points to the central thought. It goes like this:
verses 1-3—contrast; the righteous/the enemy
verses 4-7—request for instruction
verses 8-14—covenant relationship
verses 15-18—request for deliverance
verses 19-21—contrast: the righteous/the enemy
This chiasm combined with the acrostic schema point us to the covenant relationship cradled at the center of the Psalm.
That covenant relationship is the basis for the trust expressed here in the midst of all the troubles of life. The last verse, which at first seems like a bit of an add-on, is really a clue to reading the whole Psalm. “Redeem Israel, O God, from all their troubles.” An old spiritual captures the spirit of Psalm 25. “Nobody knows the troubles I’ve seen.” The Psalmist is troubled by a deep sense of sin, by an unknown affliction that might be related to that sin, by enemies who want to use that affliction to besmirch the Psalmist reputation, and by a sense of being lost and needing guidance for the journey of life.
Over against that trouble or, better, soaring above it all, is the completeness and sufficiency of God’s covenant benevolence: his mercy, love, goodness, uprightness, faithfulness, and grace. Troubles are aplenty, but grace is abounding.
So the Psalmist begins with an expression of trust in that covenant relationship, in spite of all the troubles of life. Here is a real challenge to lay before your congregation. “To you, O Yahweh, I lift up my soul; in you I trust, O my God.” This is a fine Lenten prayer. As we begin our journey to the cross, we echo what could have been the words of Jesus as Lent began for him. As the opposition intensified and the accusations got nastier and his own sense of the weight of our sin increased and his need for divine guidance grew more desperate, Jesus may well have used this Psalm in one of his many times of prayer on the way to the cross. Particularly, verses 1-3 sound like the words of a suffering Savior.
Verses 4-7 sound like the words of a suffering sinner, especially verses 6 and 7. (I’ll come back later to verses 4 and 5 and their theme of needing to know God’s ways.) Verses 6 and 7, with their three fold repetition of the word “remember” remind us that Lent is about repentance and forgiveness. The contrast between verses 6 and 7 is exquisitely beautiful. Note the contrast between “remember and remember not,” “your love and my sins,” “from of old and my youth.” “Remember, O Yahweh, your great mercy and love, for they are from of old. Remember not the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways.” Here is the Gospel in a nutshell; “according to your love remember me, for you are good, O Yahweh.
Verses 8-10 are neither Christ’s words on the way to the cross nor our words on the journey of Lenten penitence; they are a reflection on the covenant relationship that was Christ’s motivation and is our hope. Verse 8 is the core theological vision of Yahweh in the Old Testament. “Good and upright is the Lord.” The rest of this section on the covenant (through verse 14) is an exposition of the goodness and righteousness of our Lord. Verse 14 (unfortunately not a part of our reading for today) is the exclamation point of this section. “Yahweh confides in those who fear him; he makes his covenant known to them.” The word “confides” suggests a close friendship in which secrets are shared. It’s a stunning thought. The Lord of the universe leans in close and whispers secrets in our sinful ears.
What does the Lord whisper? Well, that is the unique feature of Psalm 25, the aspect of this ugly duckling Psalm that is especially beautiful and surprising. Remember that I said I would come back to verses 4 and 5? After expressing his trust in Yahweh in the face of those who “are treacherous without a cause (verses 2-3),” the Psalmist inexplicably begins to pray that Yahweh will “show me your ways, teach me your paths, guide me in your truth and teach me.”
That theme of teaching and instruction in the ways of Yahweh is not an unrelated intrusion into a Psalm fundamentally about God’s covenant mercy. It is central to that covenant mercy. It is one of the ways God expresses his covenant mercy. That’s why prayers for God’s instruction run through this Psalm, especially in the reading for today. “He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way. All the ways of Yahweh are loving and faithful….”
The “ways of the Lord” are not first of all the rules and regulations that comprise so much of the Pentateuch. And given our Pauline caution regarding the misuse of the law of God, we would be hard pressed to appreciate such an emphasis. But Psalm 25 focuses on the covenant relationship. Thus, “the ways of God” here have to do with walking with Yahweh, as his friend. We are on a journey through a world that is filled with trouble, O Lord, so guide us by showing us how to live in covenant relationship, with you as our God, our Savior, and our Friend.
That is the beautiful and distinct feature of Psalm 25, and we should help our people to see it. We aren’t used to seeing instruction in God’s ways as a part of the gift of salvation. We think of forgiveness of our sins, deliverance from our enemies, being reconciled to God and experiencing Shalom. But sanctification is as much a part of salvation as justification and adoption and glorification. To be able to live for God on the road to heaven, we need instruction and the Holy Spirit. Indeed, before he died, Jesus told the grieving disciples that he would send another Comforter, the Spirit of truth who would lead them into all the truth. Without that Spirit showing us the ways of God, we would not be able to stay on “the Way” in our Lenten journey or on the rest of the Pilgrim Way. The Cross was followed very quickly by Pentecost, so that we could stay on “the Way.”
Or as verse 8 so eloquently puts it: “Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in his ways.” To do otherwise, to leave us to our devices once we are forgiven and reconciled, is very much like pardoning a serial killer and then letting him loose on society with no guidance and help. Recidivism is the nasty truth about sinners.
So we need to pray Psalm 25 daily, but especially in this time of Lent as we focus on repentance and forgiveness in the context of God’s covenant mercy on the cross. “Show me your ways, O Lord, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.”
As I reflected on the blessing of knowing God’s ways, several cultural references rose to the surface of my brain from my long forgotten past. I saw Ricky Schroder (remember that adorable little boy) as a fuzzy cheeked young detective in the gritty crime drama, “NYPD Blue.” He is struggling not only with his new job as a homicide detective, but also with his out of control life as a twenty something. He sobs to his partner, “I don’t know how to live my life.” How many twenty somethings would say the same thing today? Instead of inventing a life (the typical postmodern response to the difficulty of living in a rudderless world), why not listen to the Lord who wants to teach us how to live?
That old TV series reminded me of all old rock song by the Zombies, “Time of the Season.” The singer is trying to seduce a young woman/girl. “What’s your name? Who’s your Daddy? Is he rich like me? Has he taken any time to show you how to live?” The good news is that our Heavenly Daddy has taken the time not only to save from our failures through Christ, but also to show us how to live by his Word and Spirit.
Finally (a relief, eh?), I heard and saw on my mental TV screen one of those old anti-drunk- driving commercials. Remember? “Friends don’t let friends drive drunk!” If you really care about someone, you won’t let them do things that will destroy their lives. In an age of “every man or woman for themselves,” God is a Friend who doesn’t just let us do our own thing. He intervenes with the Word who gave his life to save ours and with words designed to help us live in the Shalom given by Christ.
1 Peter 3:18-22
Author: Scott Hoezee
This is a perfectly good passage selection for the Lectionary but it does carve this a bit out of context. If you look closely and glance just above where verse 18 starts, then you will see that the main thrust of this part of 1 Peter—like a good bit of the letter—ties in with our own suffering as believers. Peter’s talk about Jesus’ sufferings here are a way to round out this section by suggesting that there can be something redemptive about suffering when we suffer for the same Jesus whose own sufferings and death spell our salvation.
As we begin the Lenten Season, we naturally turn to passages that reflect on Jesus’ sacrifice. That is a key focus of Lent, after all. But for some of us today—though by no means for all Christians in this world today—that can be done somewhat at arm’s length. That is, we maybe do not have a lot of experience in being persecuted or otherwise suffering on account of our association with Jesus. Yes, Jesus suffered and predicted the same would be true for his followers but . . . for some of us, that has not been the defining trait of our discipleship. Yes, Jesus suffered and terrible though that was, we know he did it for us and so gratitude is summoned up in us for what he suffered. But for some of us, anything akin to that suffering in our own lives on account of our faith is not so vivid.
Yet that is the experience of many but according to Peter, there is at least the assurance that such suffering can be redemptive in that it participates in Christ’s own sufferings.
Most of what Peter has to say in this actual lection about Jesus’ sufferings is pretty similar to other passages by Paul, Peter, and others in the New Testament. Of course, this part of 1 Peter 3 has that novel section about Christ preaching to souls that were somehow imprisoned and not only that—which is a bit odd all by itself—there is some connection to those who were disobedient as long ago as the time of Noah and the Flood. It would surprise no one to find out that these verses have been interpreted in more ways than you can count. It would also surprise few if any that the result of all that is that there is little consensus on the meaning of all this.
It all ties in with one theological tradition of “the harrowing of hell” in which Jesus literally went down to Hades or Sheol or Hell or some such underworld place and preached good news to the those who had been awaiting release. Following this and en route to his own resurrection, Jesus “led captives in his train” and performed a kind of big prison break. Those who had been waiting for redemption finally received it.
Who knows what to make of this imagery or that particular theological tradition. Probably in preaching on this passage it would be a good idea to steer clear of those weeds and seek to preach down the center of the trench in pointing to Jesus as the only true hope anyone—past, present, or future—can have for life beyond this earth, for salvation despite our brokenness and sinfulness. We are washed in baptism—an image Peter gets to while he is thinking about the original floodwaters long ago—and once we are so washed, we are purified and saved in a way no one can ever undo.
We can be further assured of our salvation by following the trajectory arc of Jesus’ own resurrection in that it landed him at the right hand of the Father and from that position, Jesus is Lord over all. Everything is subject to him now. Nothing escapes his sovereign reign now.
In that this passage began with that focus on how to think about our own sufferings in life and particularly as believers, this crescendo at the end of the chapter nicely frames and qualifies all that. It is so easy—and perhaps it is somewhat our natural tendency—to see only what is right in front of us at any given moment. The events in our own lives—and most especially the painful events—loom large on our mental and spiritual horizons. Some things can loom so large as to be overwhelming. In the light of this reality, Peter tries to reassure us that there is always something bigger: the Lord of lords and King of kings who just is Jesus. We should not pretend that knowing who Jesus is and seeing him as exalted will smooth out every wrinkle of our lives much less completely wash out every sorrow. The day will come when every tear will be dried from our eyes but that day is not yet. For now the tears are still very real and very painful.
But there is properly something more than a little reassuring in sizing that all up in the light of who Christ is, what he suffered, what he has done for all of us imprisoned by sin and evil, and where he now is as a result of his glorious resurrection. We are not alone. We are not in this by ourselves. And the one who is on our side is not puny or ineffective. He is the King and all are in subjection to him and to his reign.
Knowing this does not erase every sorrow or fear. But it is more than a small comfort to turn our eyes onto this Jesus. During Lent we see what Jesus suffered but we are also reminded of what that suffering wrought and where it ultimately landed our Lord and Savior. He knows better than we can imagine everything we go through. He’s been there. Thanks be to God.
There’s an old “story” that you have maybe heard before. A guy is walking down the street when suddenly he falls into a deep hole he just hadn’t seen as he walked along. The walls are so steep he can’t climb out. A doctor happens by and the guy shouts, “Hey, Doc, can you help me out here?” The doctor writes out a prescription and throws it down the hole. A priest comes by and the guy shouts out “Father, I’m stuck in this hole can you help me out?” The priest writes out a prayer and tosses it into the hole. The guy’s best friend happens by. “Hey, Joe, it’s me. Can you help me out here.” Joe jumps down into the whole and the guy says “What did you do that for, stupid? Now we’re both stuck down here.” The friend says, “Yeah, but I’ve been down here before and I know the way out.”