Grace, mercy and peace, from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Our text is this comforting message from Jesus: “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” This is our text.
“May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of all our hearts,
be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my Rock, and my Redeemer.” Amen.
Christ is risen! (He is risen, indeed!)
He has risen, but our fallen war heroes have not – at least, not yet! Now, I was raised near the shore of Rhode Island, where, I’m embarrassed to admit, Memorial Day Weekend was joyfully celebrated as the grand opening of “Beach Season.” It is unfortunate when we get so caught up in celebrating beach weather that we neglect the true meaning of Memorial Day, when we forget to honor the men and women who died while serving in our military, when we neglect to give God thanks and praise for those who gave their all to keep us free.
As precious as that tremendous gift is to those of us who “yearn to be free,” it is not guaranteed. God did not spare his own people Israel, but actually sent the Babylonians to take them into captivity, a long way from their homeland. God never promised us a rose garden here in this life. He never promised to keep us from the fire or the flood. In fact, Jesus said plainly, “You will have tribulation in this world.”
Centuries earlier, Isaiah recorded that God the Father says,
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior…
Because you are precious in my eyes,
and honored, and I love you,
I give men in return for you,
peoples in exchange for your life.
Fear not, for I am with you…”
Notice carefully that God does not promise to spare us from the fire or the flood, but God our Father does promise to be with us in our trials and tribulations.
Clearly implied in Isaiah’s prophesy from God is the same advanced warning that Jesus gives his disciples in today’s Gospel lesson. Jesus tells us all these things ahead of time, to keep us from falling away, when and if the hard times come. 9/11 showed us so very painfully that we do “walk in danger all the way,” that we simply don’t know what tomorrow holds – but we do know Who holds tomorrow! We know Who holds us always in the palm of His hand! We know Who has promised us that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ! In Paul’s letter to the Romans, chapter 8, God (Who cannot lie) comforts us with His promise that tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword – none of these can separate us from the love of Christ.
Even if we “are being killed all the day long” and “are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered” – even under the most terrifying conditions in this world, “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”
God continues: “I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
We have God’s Word on it!
Now, battles still rage with Satan, with the evil world, and with our own selves (with our Old Adam). Battles still rage, but the war has been won! Jesus already won the war against Satan and evil. Christ crucified for us has assured that the war is won. As Jesus assured us from the cross, “It is finished!”
Jesus still reassures us today, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
Take heart! You may be spared extreme heartache, but even if you must experience the fires and floods of trials and tribulations in this world, even if you
“have sorrow now,” it is only temporary. “Your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” Word of God! A promise sealed with the blood of the Lamb!
God further reassures us that we need not fear even death itself. Now, you may be spared other heartaches in this life, but (unless Jesus returns first) you will eventually die… And if you live long enough, you’re bound to witness the death of others – but we need not fear our own death, or grieve uncontrollably at the death of the ones we love and miss. Even in the ultimate “trial and tribulation” of death, God will not leave us. In I Thessalonians, chapter four, God reminds you not to be uninformed about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. Oh, we do grieve the separation of death, but we don’t get lost in our grief. We have God’s Word on it that this painful separation is just for a little while. The great reunion is forever!
We read in God’s Word, “For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede [or go ahead of] those who have fallen asleep. [They will not be left behind!] For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.” Apart for a while, together forever…
Encourage one another with the promise of God through Christ crucified.
May God grant us the heart (the courage!) to stay true to the end, even in the face of pain and trials and tribulations. Feeling fear may drive out the feeling of peace with God, but remember: The condition of peace is still yours through Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, “given for you, for the forgiveness of your sins.” Even if you don’t happen to feel it at the moment, you still have peace with God!
In those terrifying moments, when you’re tempted to reject God’s plan and look for comfort someplace other than the cross, remember these words of Jesus: “What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26)
The same promise of comfort Jesus spoke to his disciples, he still speaks to us today: “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
The peace of God, which is beyond all understanding, will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.