The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.
“God works in mysterious ways His wonders to perform,” or as the hymn says, “God moves in a mysterious way.” Nobody here doubts this. Just consider the texts appointed for today. Think of all the suffering and sorrow going on in these texts (or associated with these texts). And yet… from our vantage point, we see God clearly at work, working all things for the good of those who love Him. Hindsight is always 20/20, isn’t it? We can clearly see God working good out of all this terror and suffering. God protects His Son (and our salvation) by leading Him out of Judea and out of the murderous grasp of Herod and into Egypt. And it is through this exile into Egypt (as strange as that sounds) that God’s Word and Will is fulfilled, for it is only a couple of years later that wicked King Herod dies. “Out of Egypt I called My Son.” God is working in a very mysterious way. Jesus Christ, the Holy One standing in the place of all of Israel, comes out of Egypt and enters into the Promised Land… for us and our salvation.
But… because Herod’s son was still in charge, God sends an angel (again) to lead the holy family to settle in the lowly little town of Nazareth. For those who don’t know, was the proverbial “wrong side of the tracks.” Nothing good comes out of Nazareth, right? (ref. John 1:46) Looking back, though, we know that all this is God at work so that His Word/Promise is fulfilled. “He will be called a Nazarene.” I’m sure Joseph and Mary weren’t thinking, “Hey, we need to move to Nazareth so that Scripture will be fulfilled.” Nope. They were suffering in despair and worry… just like every single one of us would be doing. Through faith in God’s promise and providence, though, they go. My… how God works in mysterious ways. Some 2000 years later it’s all so clear to us, isn’t it?
God works in mysterious ways. We sing it. We say it (often). We believe it… except for those times that the mysterious working of God involves our fears, our suffering, our trials and tribulations. Looking back we can [maybe] see God’s hand at work, but when we’re in the middle of it [like now and like it’s been for the past 9 months], it’s a whole different (and terrifying) story, isn’t it? It’s a mystery to us. In fact, it often seems like an unjust punishment to us. “Why, God? Why me? Why this? Why now? Why not the other ‘more deserving’ guy?” We know and believe that God works all things for the good of those who love Him, and yet… when those workings include our sufferings (or the sufferings of a loved one), then it’s very difficult to recognize God working for good… at least for our good. It never occurs to us that maybe God could be using our suffering to work the good of His life and salvation in the lives of someone else. It certainly never occurs to us that maybe—just maybe—God could be permitting such suffering in our lives because He’s trying to work the good of repentance in our lives. The thought that we need a good turning around is crazy, right? The thought that our “perfect and strong faith” could need some necessary refining is absolutely foreign to us. Everyone else is messed up and weak in their faith though, right? In some cases, from our vantage point, God becomes the enemy (or at least, absent and/or indifferent to us and our suffering).
The fact is we could go on and on concerning the many different ways we don’t properly trust in God concerning His mysterious workings and ways. We could go on and on, putting all the focus on suffering. That would make sense. That’s what people want to hear. More specifically, they want answers to their suffering. They want to know why they’re suffering. They want to know how they can alleviate the suffering. Admit it: We’d all like to avoid suffering, if at all possible. We don’t rejoice when suffering rears it’s ugly head in our lives and we’re suddenly presented with the opportunity to show forth Him and proclaim His excellencies in Christ. It’s crazy, but so many Christians desire a crossless Christianity.
Here’s the thing: I’m not going to go on with all this. Harping on it doesn’t change it. Here [the crucifix] is what creates good and Godly change. (How’s that for a New Year’s resolution?) Here is what creates and sustains joy, even in the midst of suffering. Here is the reason for the hope/joy that is within you. Always be prepared to give a defense—a reason—for the hope/joy within you, right? I know this may offend some of you, but no one is saved because of your joy. They’re saved because of the reason for your joy. Look to this cross. Talk about the mysterious working of God! Here is the reason for joy, even in the midst of sorrow and suffering. Here is the mysterious working of God for your good and for the good of all those who love Him. Here is the whole reason Jesus came to this fallen and sinful earth! Here is the true bondage. All children of Adam are, by nature, slaves to sin and death, having no hope in and of ourselves. Egypt was just a small little type, pointing to the great and terrifying bonds of sin, death, and damnation that imprison all children of Adam. Jesus went into that damnable bondage for us. He suffered for us. He was forsaken for us. He died for us. All this so we would never have to experience a single second of it for ourselves. This was God’s mysterious plan from the beginning. Standing in the place of all of Israel—us included—the Son of God went into bondage/exile in order to burst those bonds once and for all. He went into that exile/bondage in order to put us on His shoulders and carry us out of the land of death and into the Promised Land of His eternal salvation.
Look to this font. Here is where this same God and Lord comes to you and brings you through the greater Red Sea, from death to life. Here is where He drowns all your sins. Here is where the justly-deserved death sentence of Adam is put to death. Here is where the New Adam; the new and greater Moses, comes to you and brings to you His bond-busting eternal victory. The Lord of Life comes to the corpse. He doesn’t wait for the corpse to make a decision to live. He comes to you and breathes His life into you. He puts His name upon your head and your heart, claiming you as His own blessed child and possession, transferring you out of death and into life. He picks you up and carries you through this baptismal Red Sea, crossing you from death to life, setting your feet firmly in His heavenly kingdom. Remember this. Never forget this! Through baptism you already have one foot firmly planted in heaven. Return to this promise and blessing daily. How’s that for some good repentance language? Return and rejoice.
Folks: No matter how bad things may get on this side of eternity; no matter how much suffering and sorrow you may have to endure, you belong to Christ. You are a baptized child of God. Nothing and no one can ever take that away from you. Notice: I never said you won’t suffer while residing on this side of eternity. Scripture never says that. My… how recent events have made us forget this though. If you’re hearing something different (and that includes what your heart is telling you), you’re being lied to. The reason we still suffer is simple: We still wear sinful flesh and we still live in a fallen and sinful world. Our Lord never calls us to be separated/quarantined from the rest of the world though (especially from our fellow brothers and sisters in the faith. “Let us not neglect to meet together,” right?) Our Lord never calls us to be separated from the rest of the world. He calls us to be in this world; just not of this world. He calls us to be in this world, letting our lights shine. He calls us to be in this world precisely because He desires the death of no man.
Yes, you may suffer. In fact, you will suffer. We all do. No one is immune. We suffer, but through faith we don’t suffer or grieve like those who have no hope. We suffer even as we entrust our souls to God, our faithful Creator, trusting that He is working all things for good. Who knows? Perhaps through your suffering God is working the salvation of others. Maybe God needs you in the hospital bed or the hospice ward or the divorce court or the prison or homeless under the bridge so that others may see and hear Christ as they see and hear you (cf. Matt 25). Would that change you? If you knew that through your suffering others (like your loved ones) would come to faith and enter into salvation, would you pipe down and humbly, faithfully… maybe even joyously bear the cross before you? God never commands you to know all the “whys” behind His mysterious ways. That’s why they’re mysterious. “The mysteries of God belong to God, and the revealed things He gives to us.” He calls you to humbly trust in Him and hold fast to Him, even as you suffer; even as you bear your respective cross. He calls you to hold fast to and even rejoice in that which He does He reveal to you: the Good News of your salvation in Christ and because of Christ. No matter how bad things may get, you already know how it all ends. “It is finished, once and for all.” It is finished, and you are baptized into His death and resurrection. Folks: How can you not rejoice? Kind of puts everything else into proper perspective, doesn’t it?
May this cruciform, Christocentric perspective be your focus, your joy, and your peace, now and throughout the new year and into all eternity. AMEN.
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