Elisha was pursued by Ben Hadad, King of Aram, but He was protected by the Lord. Ben Hadad was angry because Elisha knew what he was planning and kept the king of Israel safe from the schemes and traps that Ben Hadad set, so Ben Hadad sent his armies to get Elisha and end that problem (2 Kings 6). His servant, one presumes it was Gehazi, was frightened by their circumstances. Elisha told him, "Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.", then he prayed the Lord and the Lord opened the eyes of Elisha's servant, and he saw the protection of the Lord, in the form of armies of angels on the mountains and chariots of fire surrounding Elisha.. Did Elisha see that protection before that moment? The Bible does not say. I suspect, however, that it was faith, not sight, that gave the prophet his confidence.
The New Year is coming upon us. Much like the armies of Ben Hadad, the devil and the world around us intend us great harm in the coming year. We are servants of God in the midst of territory dominated by God's enemies. This is becoming clearer by the day as the culture of our society changes politically, economically, and socially. Like Elisha, we are viewed as a problem that needs to be "taken care of" and gotten out of the way. We are ambassadors of a foreign power, and we have seen how ambassadors can end up being treated by hostile forces of the region. Just like Elisha, however, we know that those who are with us are more than those who are with them. We know it, not because we can see the flaming chariots covering the hillsides, but because of God's promises, and by faith.
Faith. Weird stuff that. The Bible says, Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Heb. 11:1. The new year comes with extraordinary threats as our world is changing in ways we have not been accustomed to in America. Law and order don't seem to work the way they used to work. The comfortable and the familiar seem to be receding into the background and the uncertain and disquieting seem to be coming to the fore. Like Gehazi, we are tempted to fear at times, but we are called to be somewhat more like Elisha, confident in God. No matter how alien the times or our circumstances may seem to us, God knows what is going on and the times are not all that new to Him. He has seen this all before, many times.
Faith walks where God leads with confidence. Our confidence is not in ourselves or our talents and abilities. We are not confident in our circumstances. Even the most familiar and comforting circumstances can turn suddenly and tragically wrong on us. Our confidence is - or it should be - in God, and God alone.
Now, where has God ever promised that life would roll forward just as we desire it to be? He has not. He has been awfully good to us, abundant in earthly blessings and consistently generous with what we would call serendipitous situations. Life has been good and fairly easy for most of us most of the time. Judging on previous dealings with God, we would have to admit that the expectation that something will go wrong smacks of distrust of God unmerited by our prior experience. But isn't that just like sinful mankind? God is good and yet we harbor that expectation that somehow it is too good to be real - or at least too good to continue.
It is true that others have experienced the abundance of His blessings for a time and then seen them evaporate. There is no guarantee that this life will always flow forward in abundance or in comfort. We Christians, in particular, have the promise of God that difficulty and suffering will find us. Knowing that it may come is one thing. Watching it come, or dealing with it when it has come, can be another thing entirely. Is it coming now? Only God knows.
So, how are we supposed to handle it? I mean, what do we do?
We are to walk in faith, and live in the conditions God sets us among, confessing Christ by word and deed, and trusting God to be true to His Word. Since He has not promised us a bed of roses, so to speak, what can we depend on Him to do?
Well, we have to answer that question by searching out what God has promised to do. He has promised, "I WILL NEVER DESERT YOU, NOR WILL I EVER FORSAKE YOU," The answer of faith to this promise is contained in the very next verse (Heb. 13:6), so that we confidently say, "THE LORD IS MY HELPER, I WILL NOT BE AFRAID. WHAT SHALL MAN DO TO ME?" God has promised that we will not be tempted beyond what we are able to handle, 1 Cor. 10:13: God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it. Jesus promised that God will listen to our prayers and answer them, because He, the Father, loves us because we believe in Jesus.
Faith is taking God at His word and depending on it to be true, and on Him to keep His word, regardless of the situation. Faith doesn't evaluate God on the basis of what one sees and how he or she assesses the situation. It evaluates the situation on the basis of the Word of God. As the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews observes at length, God has effectively dealt with seemingly impossible situations in the past. Faith is the assurance that God is with us and aware of our lives and our needs and is capable and willing to do what we need when we need it.
Hebrews cites Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Joseph, Moses, and others as examples of faith. One common thread we may observe in these "heroes of the faith" is that they all faced situations in their lives that they would not have chosen for themselves, in all likelihood. They faced dangers, pains, sorrows, and great tasks, and they faced them all with faith, and God brought them all through. They are known as great heroes of the faith because they played pivotal roles and God enshrined their stories in the Scriptures, but there were others, unknown to us by name, who also walked in faith, trusted God, and were brought through as well.
Rahab is mentioned, for example. What did she do? She took the word of the men she had hidden in her home, trusted that God was going to work a miracle of destruction on her town (Jericho), and helped the Hebrew spies. She never did another thing, nor was the thing she did a big thing, except to those men she sheltered, but she not only lived through the horrifying destruction of Jericho, her name is listed among the ancestors of Jesus, the Savior, in Matthew. There were undoubtedly many who held fast to the faith like Rahab, whose stories are not written in the Bible, but are in the Book of Life.
Faith is the common link. They expected something from God and faith was the evidence of what they looked for. You might wonder how faith could be evidence of something not seen. After all, faith is something inside you, not something 'out there' to be grasped and leaned on. The answer, of course, depends on sound theology (as most answers do).
Faith is not just something in you - a feeling you have. Faith is a work of God in you. It is His gift. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ. We don't make a choice and decide to believe. God creates faith in us by Word and Sacrament. He sustains us in it, by His almighty power. Sometimes it doesn't feel all that powerful, but that it survives the onslaught of the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh is the mark of greater power than we are conscious of working within ourselves. That you believe is something of a miracle.
You have a choice of course. What the world doesn't make clear, however, is that the choice you have is to walk away from God. You have no choice to believe. God must create that in you. Once it is there, you can say no to it, but you cannot make it appear where it is not. That is God's work through His Word. If you have not heard about God and His grace and love, you have no way of believing it. Even those who have heard struggle with it. God is too big to worry about us, or so says human reason. Or, if life is not going just the way you want it to go, God must not exist, or He cannot really care. For some, God just does not make sense, which is actually quite absurd, since most of the really large issues of life and reality are beyond our reasoning out.
Take, for example, evolution. When men knew nothing about how life worked - cells and DNA and such things - one could imagine evolution might work, somehow. Today we know a great deal about how DNA works, although we know less than we now know we still do not yet know. We understand the intricacies of energy transfer, and how the internal stuff in a living cell works, and how fragile and precise these things are. We know how similar different species are at a sub-cellular level, and yet we can all see how different they are at a whole-creature level. Knowing this 'stuff' is mind-boggling! Yet we are to believe that the incredible precision and complexity that modern science is observing in the working of the processes of life just fell together by happy coincidence, and then drifted with great good luck into being able to duplicate itself reliably, and yet slowly and accidentally fall into a myriad of similar and yet different functional patterns to constitute plants and animals and germs and bacteria and viruses.
Everything we know, for example, about the creation and transmission of meaningful information tells us that no meaningful information can arise out of random events. That is the conclusion of the branch of science called "Information Theory". But our DNA is a tightly packed store of information that enables your body to grow and develop and function and causes you to be you, at the physical level at the very least. Where could the random events that some suppose caused evolution have come up with the incredible code in which the data of your existence is written? How could all of that data have been assembled into one cell? How can life itself contradict every observation of science, and then be called the scientific principle? You see, we humans don't understand much very clearly even when we know a great deal of information.
Even among those that reject God, faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen. They simply hope for something different, and their faith is their choice and generated by their own stubborn wills in rebellion against God.
The faith of which Scriptures speak is something else, and it accomplishes something else as well. Rather than making us cling to things that contradict one another, our faith leads us to see beyond what our eyes can observe and our senses can note, and it works the good will of God. Hebrews 11:2 says, For by it the men of old gained approval. In fact, And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.
The Apostle Paul said, "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Faith is the gift of God that receives forgiveness and salvation from Him. It assures us of God's love, reminds us of His faithfulness, and conveys to us everlasting life, won for us by Christ. And this life, delightful or challenging as we may find it at one moment or another, is filled with those good works which God has prepared in advance for us to do for Him.
So, this new year is part of what God has planned for us. It has dangers and sorrows, blessings and joys for us to experience and handle. Some of them are set before us to give a good confession of Christ and His grace and love to the world around us. Some of what is coming is coming so we have the opportunity to proclaim the law of God to people who are content in sin and need to be awakened. Many of the things coming in the new year are given to us that we may encourage one another in faith by singing hymns and quoting Psalms and speaking God's Word directly to the situations of the moment. We face the new year with faith, because that is what God gave us to deal with the new year with, and what He has given us to the new year to share with one another and the world!
A Blessed New Year to you all!
Yours in the Lord,
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