November 04, 2019
Author: Scott Hoezee
“And no one dared to ask him any more questions.”
That must have come as a great relief to Jesus in that he had lately been pummeled with one tricky query after the next. Technically that line in verse 40 falls just outside the lection prescribed here, which ends in verse 38 (why it ends there is anybody’s guess). But you really need to see that last line in verse 40 to appreciate the effect of what Jesus said.
After all, if ever there was a group of people who were invested in the so-called “Gotcha” kind of question, the religious authorities of Jesus’ day were it. Sometimes today certain politicians—usually the ones who don’t do well in interviews—say that the reason they had such a shaky performance in the interview was that they were being set up all along with “Gotcha” questions designed to make them look stupid to begin with. Whether or not that’s always true is something one can determine only based on reviewing the interview—and the questions—but sometimes it does turn out to be true and you can tell just by watching. The reporter didn’t want an answer—she wanted a headline.
There wasn’t much doubt about the “Gotcha” nature of the questions filling up Luke 20. But the one in this particular Year C lection is a real capper! It’s also almost clunky in its obviousness. The point could have been made with just 2 brothers marrying the same woman, but just for effect (and to throw in a biblically loaded numeral while they were at it) the Sadducees crank up the scenario to seven grooms for one woman. It’s almost childish. It’s the kind of thing my kids would have done when they were about 9 years old, exaggerating the point just to get under your skin a little.
The question of the Sadducees was like this. If you think that someone has silly ideas or a stupid stance on a given issue, then one way to reveal your opinion is to construct an absurd scenario and try to force the other person to enter it while trying to answer your question. It’s a sinful thing to do, and it’s unfair. It is not for this reason, however, uncommon, even in the church.
The Sadducees thought the idea of resurrection to be silly. Maybe they had been influenced by Greek thinking, maybe they felt you could not build a good case for it based on the Scriptures. But they thought it silly and had come to the conclusion that Jesus believed in it. Since Jesus was a prominent teacher, they thought it would be fun and instructive to publicly humiliate him and so concocted their over-the-top scenario that exploited the old Israelite practice of levirate marriage to wonder what a woman who on earth had had seven husbands would do in the afterlife.
Jesus, of course, wriggles out of the question by undercutting its entire premise. The Sadducees wanted to make resurrection look silly by showing the impracticality of what to do with people who had been married more than once in this life. Jesus simply challenges their premise that marriage as we now know it would have anything to do with life in the kingdom of God as we will experience it then. Essentially Jesus said, “Who ever told you marriage would be part of the life in a post-resurrection existence?” That left the Sadducees with a mouthful of teeth, of course, in that they had to admit that they had only guessed that marriage as we now know it would be in heaven. But as a matter of fact, no one ever really said that—least of all Jesus—and so far from catching Jesus out with their cynical question, they themselves were shown to be out to lunch!
In preaching on this text, there is a temptation to make it some kind of primer on sexuality and marriage in the kingdom of God. It seems likely, however, that if we make too much of Jesus’ words here on marriage in the kingdom, we will be guilty of the error of the Sadducees all over again. That is, we will infer things that are not explicitly taught and extrapolate from relative silence in the text. We are probably better off saying no more than that what Jesus teaches here is that we should not neatly assume that life in the kingdom of God will be just like the life we know now only more so. Yes, there is good biblical warrant to the idea that the kingdom will include a new earth and so we should not always envision heaven (as we tend to do) as some ethereal, non-physical domain that will be devoid of mountains, rivers, clouds, and songbirds.
But even so, we need to remember that the mysteries yet to be revealed remind us that precisely what our bodies and existences will be like in the life to come is not clear. What we need to be content with is the line in Luke 20:36 where Jesus reminds us that we will be “God’s children” in that life to come. And if that is not enough for us, I don’t know what would be!
“And no one dared ask him any more questions.”
It probably was a relief for Jesus to get to that point. At the same time, there is tragedy here, too. After all, when the Son of God is standing right in front of you, it’s a golden opportunity (to engage in vast understatement!!) to ask really important questions. But those who are not really interested in learning or having a relationship with Jesus get to the point where all questions dry up. And that is a very sad point indeed.
The question of the Sadducees in Luke 20:27ff should indeed be connected to the two previous questions in this chapter. It’s almost as though the religious authorities—despite their own differences of opinion among themselves—are taking a tag-team approach to tripping Jesus up with clever questions. It’s also important to note to other textual features to the wider context of this lection: first, the Parable of the Tenants is plunked right into the middle of it all (and the religious leaders were sharp enough to perceive that that one zinged right into them!); second, once the leaders decide they dared ask no further questions (Luke 20:40) Jesus asks his own question in verse 41ff—a question that, like the previous Parable of the Tenants—is not exactly kindly disposed toward those who were intellectually trying to rough Jesus up in this portion of Luke.
In her story “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” Flannery O’Connor introduces us to a grandmother and her family who have an accident on an abandoned country road. Shortly after their car runs into a ditch, the family is approached by a band of three armed men, one of whom is The Misfit, a wanted killer whom the grandmother admits to recognizing, thus sealing their fate.
One by one The Misfit’s partners take the family members off into the woods and shoot them dead. Finally just the grandmother remains with The Misfit, pleading for her life and suggesting to him that he pray to Jesus. At one point, the old woman calls into the woods for her now-dead son. This prompts The Misfit to say, “Jesus was the only One that ever raised the dead, and He shouldn’t have done it. He thrown everything off balance.”
The Misfit then goes on to say that if he could really believe Jesus had raised the dead, well then maybe he’d be a follower. But fact is, he wasn’t there to see it and so can’t really know one way or the other. Hence he figures that life is meaningless enough that you may as well do whatever you feel like with what little time you’ve got. When the grandmother tries one last time to reach out to The Misfit, he springs back and shoots her three times in the chest. “She would have been a good woman if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life,” The Misfit concludes. But the story’s bottom line comes when one of The Misfit’s friends claims that all of this killing and such was “Some fun!” “Shut up,” The Misfit snarls, “It’s no real pleasure in life.”
I’m not really sure just what all that bizarre stuff means but the notion of whether or not Jesus raised the dead–and by extension, whether or not Jesus was himself raised from the dead–appears to be a kind of fulcrum in this story. If the dead are raised, maybe life would have some purpose beyond the moment. Maybe there could yet be pleasure in good things. But some think they can’t know. Yet the very idea that Jesus may have raised the dead is enough to throw everything off balance.
“She would have been a good woman if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.” Maybe the meaning of that odd line is that it is only when confronting death and evil that we become sober and serious enough to ponder what we really believe. She had been all prissy piety before, urging The Misfit to pray and all. Yet in the face of this twisted and evil killer, at one point the old woman mutters, “Maybe [Jesus] didn’t raise the dead.” Perhaps that is another way of raising the question: what do we really believe and is that faith able to withstand the harsh realities around us? Does our belief in Easter occupy so central a place in our hearts that it has a shaping effect on everything else we do, say, and think wherever we go in life? Or could we be as easily knocked off our faith stride as this woman?
Author: Stan Mast
For me, one of the greatest proofs of the Bible’s divine inspiration is it’s applicability to life in every era of history. The prophecy given in Haggai was written in the last period of Old Testament prophetic activity, after Israel’s return from Exile, in the year 520 BC. And yet its narrow focus on a problem in ancient Israel is extremely relevant to life in 2019. How could such an old Jewish book possibly speak to contemporary life in North America? Because it is the Word of God, as Haggai the prophet claims over and over.
In 520 Israel has been back in the Land at least 18 years. As good covenant partners, they had begun to rebuild the Temple because it had been the focal point of their relationship with God. Get that relationship restored and all will be well. That was clear thinking. But after a couple of years at that vast project, they had slowed down and stopped rebuilding the Temple.
In part that was because of fierce opposition from those mixed breed Samaritans and other neighbors. And in part it was because of their own need to improve their lot in life, particularly their living situation, specifically their homes. So in 536, they stopped their temple building and focused on home construction. Here it is 520, sixteen years later. Over the course of 16 years, the Lord’s house was still a mess, while they had constructed their “paneled houses.”
Yet, in spite of their investment in their own lives (or as Haggai will say, because of their focus on their own lives), they were not happy, not prosperous, not fruitful. Haggai sums up their frantic and frustrated lives in verse 6: You have planted much, but harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink but never have your fill. You put on clothes but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them into a purse with holes in it.” You never get ahead, you are never satisfied, you never even have enough. Why is that?
Well, says Haggai over and over, “Give careful thought to your ways.” You are living carelessly, thoughtlessly, instinctively. So think, people, think about your life, because as the Greek philosopher, Socrates, said, “An unexamined life is not worth living.” So examine your lives and maybe you’ll discover the cause of your frustration.
Because Israel was so steeped in their ways and so caught up in their own thinking, God gives them a hint. “Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build [my] house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored.”
OK, if you still don’t get the message, the futility and emptiness of your lives is my response to your choice of priorities. “You expected much, but see, it has turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away! Why? Because of my house which remains a ruin while each of you is busy with his own house.”
And if you still can’t make sense of all this, I’ll put it as bluntly as I can. “Therefore, because of you the heavens have withheld their dew and the earth its crops. I called for a drought on the fields and mountains, on the grain and new wine, the oil and whatever the ground produces, on men and animals, and on the labor of your hands.” Note the dual agency in the creation of their unhappy lives—both you and I. Your unfruitfulness is the result of my response to your unfaithfulness.
Having just returned from exile, Israel should have known this, just as we should know it from our repeated reading of Scripture. While salvation is by grace through faith, God still expects obedience from his saved people. And he rewards obedience and responds harshly to disobedience. It’s not that obedience makes or breaks our relationship with a gracious God; it is rather that our gracious God expects us to respond to his grace with lives that are filled with fruit. When they aren’t, he responds with chastening (or pruning, as Jesus put it in John 15).
Because life was difficult, Israel wondered, as we do in such situations, if God had forsaken them again. But he hadn’t and he doesn’t. Indeed, as soon as the leaders and people of Israel began to fear the Lord again and obey him (verse 12), God assured them, “I am with you…. [and] my Spirit remains among you.”
Thus chastened by God’s stern words and heartened by his comforting words, the Israelites immediately began rebuilding the Temple. But not even a month later, the builders’ zeal began to flag. Those same enemies renewed their opposition. And this temple looked like “nothing” compared to the one built by Solomon. So God encourages them– “be strong” and “do not fear!” “I am with you and my Spirit remains among you.” You can do it, so keep at it. And the Lord stirred them to new enthusiasm and energy.
Then God issues a multi-faceted promise, a stunning piece of Good News that echoes down the ages into the 21st century and beyond. “In a little while (a phrase that often occurs in apocalyptic literature) I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. I will shake all the nations….” If you think I’m done acting in dramatic fashion in world history, you have another think coming. I going to shake things up and “the glory of this present house will be greater than the former house and in this place I will grant peace….”
That “little while” happened initially when God shook up the international order, as Alexander the Great conquered the mighty Persian Empire. But the definitive shaking of the world happened when “the desired of all nations [came]…” Clearly a Messianic prophecy, this was fulfilled when Jesus came and filled the heavens and the earth with God’s glory. Think of the announcement of his birth, when the heavens were filled with glorious angels who sang, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among those with whom God is well pleased.”
If we understand that Jesus is the “desired of all nations,” then we can understand the rest of our text. Jesus claimed that he was the new temple, the place where God dwells in the midst of his people. The glory of Jesus was “greater than this present house” or the temple of Solomon. And in Jesus Christ, in his person and work, God “grants peace.” The place where God dwelt among his people in Old Testament times has been replaced by the person in whom all the fullness of the God-head dwelt (Col. 1).
Thus, the hard words of Haggai about priorities are relevant to our lives. As God wanted them to prioritize his Temple, so God wants us to prioritize our relationship with Christ. As life became hectic and frustrating when Israel focused on their own needs, so our lives become empty and fruitless when we center on ourselves. Jesus said it definitively in Matthew 6, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you as well.”
As I meditated on these words, a couple of old songs came to mind. One is an Advent hymn, “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus,” which includes the phrase at the center of God’s earthshaking promise in verse 7 of chapter 2.
Israel’s strength and consolation, hope of all the earth thou art;
Dear desire of every nation, joy of every loving heart.
The second song is not a hymn, but it captures the gloomy frustration of someone who just can’t get ahead no matter how hard he works in the company coal mine. It was sung memorably by Tennessee Ernie Ford. Here’s the refrain:
He loaded sixteen tons.
What do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt.
St. Peter don’t you call me
Cause I can’t go,
I owe my soul to the company store.
Author: Scott Hoezee
Those of you who read the Psalm sermon starters here on CEP know that I frequently observe that different psalms fit different seasons of life. And so we always have to nuance upbeat songs of praise with the downbeat psalms of lament such that no one in the church gets the impression that true believers never have a bad day. If, as C.S. Lewis has noted, our prayer life is our autobiography, then we would expect an all-inclusive, capacious prayer book like the Hebrew Psalter to contain a variety of prayers/songs so as to fit life’s many and varied situations.
This will be important to bear in mind in encountering Psalm 17 because on the surface of it, the words here look to be very nearly the height of hubris (or chutzpah!). It is as though the poet is claiming to be virtually sinless. His lips are pure as the driven snow—no false or unclean words have passed through his mouth. His heart is likewise free of devious schemes or even the odd urge to take revenge on someone now and again. He’s had plenty of opportunities to sin, mind you: bribes have been proffered, moral shortcuts have been suggested by the GPS of his heart. But no, this psalmist has refused all evil, has kept his feet squarely in the center of God’s holy paths, and has just flat out done it all right.
Near the end of his lection, the psalmist goes for broke: “I am the apple of God’s eye!”
Now, I don’t know about you, but if a member of my church came up to me and claimed he always got bored during our weekly “Confession & Assurance” part of the liturgy seeing as he was already the apple of God’s eye, I would want to sit this person down for a LONG chat. Certainly in my Calvinist-tinged Reformed neck of the woods, talk of being sinless or free of the stain of Total Depravity would widen the eyes of not a few people. Of course, in the context of Psalm 17 it is not only these claims of moral purity and innocence. The psalmist is using those claims as leverage with God. “You just have to come through for me, O God, because let’s face it: you’re never going to have someone more worthy of your robust divine defense than little old me!”
Few people think that King David actually wrote the scores of Psalms attributed to David. Even the superscriptions—added later—can mean “By David, For David, In Honor of David,” and so on. It could even mean “in the style of David.” In any event, Psalm 17 is attributed to David but then again, so is an abject Psalm of Confession like Psalm 51 and several other penitential psalms chalked up to him. So if Psalms of Lament help to qualify and contextualize Psalms of Praise by reminding is that even true believers can go through bad times as well as joyful ones, then how might Psalms of Confession qualify or nuance something like Psalm 17’s apparent claim to moral superiority?
If we are thinking of preaching on this psalm, perhaps we can make two observations, one somewhat common sense and the other a bit more in the vein of offering up a proper challenge to our perspective now and then.
First, on the common sense side: no true Israelite would ever claim life-long sinlessness. The Psalms of Confession in the Psalter do not come with a little asterisk attached to say “For Those Who Need Such a Prayer (The Sinless May Skip It)”. So whatever else is going on in terms of the background dynamic of Psalm 17, we have to conclude that this poem was written with a more narrow time frame in mind. Perhaps what these words convey is that in the present set of circumstances (and with a particular foe or enemy closing in on this poet), the psalmist has been doing things morally right. Maybe the attacks on him truly are ginned up and simply false. Maybe he has been offered some apparently easy ways out but has steadfastly refused the bribes or the moral shortcuts that could get him off one hook but land him on another. Read this way, we could almost imagine an honest person as much as saying to God, “Look, I know I’m not perfect and I’ve made my share of mistakes in the past but in THIS situation, O Lord, you know I have been doing your will and so please deliver me!”
Second and a bit more challenging for some of us: maybe there is a lesson here in terms of our own disposition and attitude vis-à-vis God. This will be especially true if you were raised in a morally stern context that was heavy on guilt talk and an iron-clad doctrine of human depravity. If you have been taught a doctrine of Original Sin that rendered you not just corrupt before you were born but already guilty even before you did anything, then Psalm 17’s litany of self-adulation is very much terra incognita. It might even strike some as offensive in its incessant claims to having never committed any offenses!
And, of course, as we noted: if there were a person’s lifelong posture and belief, that would be highly problematic. As a general disposition toward every moment of your entire life, Psalm 17 would do an end-run on this person’s need for a Savior. Eternal Life would be a just reward for such peerless living year after year. But there are few theological traditions in Judaism or Christianity that would support the idea that some are self-saved.
Still, is there a bracing reminder in something like Psalm 17 (and there are other examples of this among the 150 biblical psalms) that sometimes we may properly point out to God that we do try hard and that, as a matter of fact, we often do have seasons of moral success? Would it be bad—as we see the character of Job doing again and again in the face of his “friends” and their accusations—for us to point out to God that compared to lots of people, we actually ARE pretty decent folks morally speaking? We really do resist some temptations, we really do refuse to go down quick and easy paths that promise us cheap thrills and quick but ill-gotten gain. We turn away from what altogether too many people gladly run toward: the tawdry, the shady, the disreputable.
Of course, most Christians would credit this to the concrete work of sanctification being worked in them by the Holy Spirit. This is all an overflow of redeeming grace and so the credit and the glory for also our moral deeds finally get traced back to Jesus and to his grace and to his working in our lives. We are hesitant to brag on ourselves at least in part on account of also all this. And indeed, let’s be clear that the good that we do is not per se saving good—only Christ can perform saving good (and he has). But what we do with our lives is still good. And when we cooperate with God’s Spirit (and let’s face it, sometimes we don’t and so need Psalm 51 after all), it ought not be seen as merely spiritual hubris or sinful pride to be grateful for that and expect even God to respond to it with joy. Might we even dare bring a little Psalm 17 to our lips in prayer, pointing out to God that we do try—and often succeed—in glorifying Christ in our lives and that maybe—just maybe—that ought to in turn motivate God to come through for us too as part of our wonderful covenantal arrangement of grace.
Most of us may properly stay a long ways away from ever wanting to claim we are the apple of God’s eye. Still, we ought not go so far the other way as to think God can ever and only but look upon us with disgust. I remember years ago preaching from Zephaniah 3 and I highlighted a line that when God restores his people, he will “take great delight” in them.
In my sermon I likened this to a grandparent whipping out his wallet to show off pictures of the grandkids. Grandmas sometimes carry around what they call their “Brag Book” to show off pictures of all those lovely grandchildren. And that, I said, is how God regards us now in Christ.
To my staunchly Calvinist congregation, this was a message that moved people to tears. They never thought they had a leg to stand on in front of Almighty God (what with all that Total Depravity talk and such) much less consider that God might just find us to be a source of delight. But we are that to God because of Christ’s work in us.
Maybe Psalm 17 reminds us that it’s OK to revel in that once in a while.
The writer and Reformed theologian Lewis B. Smedes once said—with a wry grin on his lips—“Anyone who know he’s totally depraved can’t be all bad.” Unfortunately too much sin talk can incline us to thinking we are in fact all bad, and maybe we even like groveling in our badness as an odd badge of honor.
I have used this illustration before but it bears repeating in the light of the foil that Psalm 17 provides. In his novel The Blood of the Lamb, the sardonic Reformed novelist Peter DeVries and his main character of Don Wanderhope recalled Sunday afternoons in his Dutch Reformed farmhouse when his father and a few Elders of the church would sit around to see who could out-deprave whom. They would make a brief litany of all their good works but then immediately tear them to shreds, calling them as being of no account, as being so many filthy rags whose stench rose to the heavens and caused God to recoil again and again.
And as DeVries observed, “This being what we thought of virtue, you can only imagine what we made of vice.”
Maybe Psalm 17 reminds us that such incessant deriding of our good deeds done in Christ and through the Spirit and to the honor and glory of God’s Name ought not be the mark of deep piety we sometimes think it is.
2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17
Author: Chelsey Harmon
Both First and Second Thessalonians spend a lot of their ink on the second coming of Christ, the Parousia. In the verses for today, Paul takes on some fake news spreading about Christ’s return head on.
The first five verses of chapter two, in a nutshell, are meant to bring comfort to the church. To paraphrase: “No, Jesus hasn’t come back. No, you didn’t miss it. No, your suffering isn’t a sign that you’ve been left behind. Remember what we talked about?” Like a parent who reminds their children at bedtime that they already checked for monsters under the bed and there are none, Paul is writing to comfort a very anxious people.
I find it interesting that in the first letter, they expressed concern for their friends and loved ones who had died. Now a little more time has passed and they are worried that the living are the ones who have missed out! Their anxiety shifted from the dead to themselves because someone, somehow, has claimed to have received an authoritative word that they’ve all missed the Parousia and that “teacher” is claiming that the message is connected to Paul.
Paul has proclaimed no such thing, however, and he’s having none of it. In fact, he’s a bit perturbed by the whole situation. He lists three different ways he can think of as to how this idea that Jesus had already returned took hold within the community and was allowed to stir up such fear. Paul wonders whether it was someone’s prophetic utterance, a teaching, or a forged letter supposedly from him and his fellow missionaries that is causing such a ruckus. Even though he can’t figure out the source of the story, what Paul knows for sure is that it is not true. Fake news!
The community should have done a better job of testing and discerning the spirits. Key components of what Paul explained to them while he was with them had not happened yet, namely the appearance and work of the “man of lawlessness.” We would do well to not spend too much of our time trying to decipher what (or who) Paul is referring to here. First of all, this particular letter wasn’t written to teach a doctrine. It was written to bring comfort to an anxious people. Second, none of the letters in the New Testament shed light on what Paul means. Third, our lectionary selection skips over most of the verses that discuss the man of lawlessness, keeping our focus on the positive work of Jesus Christ.
But if you do want to spend time exploring the contents of verses 6-12, I suggest that you take Ben Witherington III’s lead and explore how the “man of lawlessness” stands in contrast to Jesus Christ. It is also worth emphasizing the matter of fact pronouncement Paul makes about the man of lawlessness: he is destined for destruction. Even in his frustrated reminders, Paul seeks to comfort the church with the truth of Jesus’ victory over all attempts of the evil one.
Besides, where should a sermon focus? It should focus on Jesus Christ. Paul writes that he doesn’t want the Thessalonian church to get matters related to Jesus’ return confused. Even before he lays out why the Parousia hasn’t happened (all of the man of lawlessness stuff), Paul makes a big and important theological statement in a very understated way by pairing “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him” in verse 1. God’s people, the church in Thessalonica as well as the church in our cities and time, are gathered passively. In other words, God gathers us at his return—we don’t have to go looking for it! Paul doesn’t even bother to say it, but I will: if God gathers us when Jesus returns, and we haven’t been gathered, then doesn’t that mean that Jesus hasn’t returned??? That, if nothing else, should ease most of their (and our) fears of being left behind! You can’t miss it because God is doing ALL of it.
In verse 13, Paul’s comfort tactic is to focus the Thessalonians’ attention on God’s activity. They are the beloved of Jesus, they have received salvation from God, they are continuously receiving the Holy Spirit’s sanctifying work. It was God himself who called (or should we say gathered…) them to himself through the preaching and teaching they received from Paul, and all of this will result in being part of the glory of Jesus. And we know that glory will be fully known at Christ’s return. For “when Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.” (Colossians 3.4) And if God has done all of this, would he leave you behind? Would he leave behind those he loves? Would he leave behind those he has saved? Would he leave behind those whom he is presently transforming more and more into the likeness of Christ? Would he leave behind people who are growing in knowledge of the truth? Would he leave behind his firstfruits? Not a chance!
After such rousing comfort, Paul gently guides them as to what to do to avoid being confused and thrown off track again. Stick to the teachings that they have heard and read from Paul and Silas and Timothy. It’s these traditions and teachings that will help the community to stand firm when rumours and false narratives start to swirl as they wait for Jesus to return. It turns out that the best defense against fake news is to be well-grounded in the truth—the truth which flows from the knowledge of their salvation (verse 12).
At my church we’ve been singing a hymn by Wendell Kimbrough based on Psalm 62. Paul’s command to stand firm and hold fast made me think of the chorus of “I’ll Not Be Shaken”:
I’ll not be shaken! I’ll not be shaken
For all my hope is in His love
From God alone comes my salvation
I wait and trust His steadfast love
Imagine being so worried that you were left behind that you started to question all of it. Would that chorus be enough? My church community is quite the mix of Christians from various backgrounds, so I don’t have to try too hard to imagine the effects of bad end times theology. More than one person in my faith community has talked about the haunting effects of the fears of dispensationalism on their faith. Undoing that trauma can feel like an uphill battle. Paul’s commendation to trust in the things we know, and even more so, to trust in the God that we know, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, encourages me and is how I try to encourage others in their fear.
Paul’s word choice in the blessing prayer is truly Holy Spirit inspired. To a community that is full of fear and anxiety that they have missed God’s timing, Paul gives a blessing of eternal comfort and good hope. Eternal comfort. Comfort that crosses all time. Comfort that is unable to be missed because it always exists. That’s some comfort. And good hope. Hope for the future, the future that still includes Jesus’ return.
And just as Paul gently guides the community in what to do when they start to get worked up, he subtly places before them where they can focus their attention through the prayer that closes this section. After praying the blessing of eternal comfort and hope from both Jesus and the Father, Paul prays for them to have strength to act and speak, seeking to break the curse of being stuck in fear and worry. Paul ties the eternal comfort blessing to the continuing action of God in their midst through their good works and deeds.
You could almost think he’s trying to tell them that if they keep busy in the things of God, they won’t have time to worry about what’s coming and when it’s coming. You could almost think he’s trying to get them to stop worrying and be present to experiencing God in the here and now. Because through that experience of God in the here and now, our faith is strengthened for all things God. And since faith without works is dead, a strengthened faith is one that is seen by others.
So what’s better? Living in fear or living in trust? Is it better to just go about your life and trust that what God says God will do, God will actually do? The evil one doesn’t want God’s people to realize that they have eternal comfort and good hope because the alternative leaves us desperate and questioning, inactive and ineffective in doing kingdom good. The evil one wants us to question whether or not we’re “in or out” or have been left behind by God so that we won’t seek God’s face out of fear that God’s already rejected us. It’s remarkable how controlled Paul is as he writes to the church about such a significant topic. Though he is frustrated, his main aim is to comfort them with God’s loving truth. Paul lived and died by that grace. I’m reminded again of “I’ll Not Be Shaken”: “I’ll not be shaken! I’ll not be shaken/For all my hope is in His love/ From God alone comes my salvation/ I wait and trust His steadfast love.”