Don’t confuse calm with peace

Matthew 14:22–33

It’s easier to talk about the Jesus who walks on water than the Jesus who made the disciples get in the boat before the winds and waves pulled their boat from land and soaked the disciples to their bones. It’s easier to talk about the Jesus who didn’t have to take baths as a kid if He didn’t want to than it is to wrestle with the God who clearly has control of the waves since He made them stop, but let this thing go until the 4th watch of the night.

The wind was against them. Which is an understatement sort of like when someone asks you “how’s it going?” and you say “OK”. The wind was against them in the kind of way that took control of their boat from them. The wind was against them in the kind of way that the water doesn’t splash them. It beats them. These fishermen spent enough time on the water to know that if they go under in the dark in a storm like that, they’ll die. They’re surrounded by death right now. And it’s washing over them just to make clear the point.

It’s great that Jesus walked on water in a storm, but if you ignore the reality that He also made the disciples go out into what just might have killed them, you’ll miss the point. Both were done out of mercy. It’s easy to find the Jesus who walks on water then calms the storm, then squint so you don’t realize the He just might be saving the disciples from Himself. In the middle of the night, surrounded by death, the deeper truth is that Jesus rescued the disciples from the misconception that calm is the same as peace.

When Christianity confuses calm for peace, it offers neither. But still, so often, we want to describe our faith as a calmed storm, not a present Lord. We gravitate towards pictures of sunsets on the beach, scenic mountains, and quiet plains. Calm. They’re beautiful. The problem with the scenic using landscapes to symbolize your faith as a calm feeling isn’t just that those moments are few and far between. The pictures of calm are nicer, but don’t help anyone in the middle of a storm. It’s easier to stand on shore and appreciate the miracle of Jesus walking on water than it is to sing hymns while trying to keep the boat from overturning in the waves. But when Christianity is an unshakable calm feeling, the only place people can’t admit to struggling is the church, the one place God built as a refuge for them.

We imagine that a thriving faith is the kind that can walk on water and not sink, but I wonder how many of the people who’d criticize St. Peter for the doubt that sunk him into the sea also took swimming lessons. “When Peter saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”” When Christianity confuses calm for peace, anyone who gets caught struggling in it must be measured by their struggle and not their God. So we’d count Peter as weak, not rescued.

“O ye of little faith, why did you doubt?” O ye of little faith, why would you think that would stop God from working? O ye of little faith, doubt all you want. It won’t stop God from pulling you out of the water. The disciples were anything but calm. Peter doubted. God still saved. All of this is given to you so you’ll stop measuring the storm, stop measuring the calm, stop measuring your faith, and start looking to your God. “Lord, save me” might not be the cry of someone who can walk on water without a care, but it’s the faith that turns toward the God who rescues us. It’s not that doubt is good. It’s that God is so good He won’t wait until we have everything figured out to draw near and save.

Even as He does it, the disciples wrestling with the storm they know is death to them. Jesus walks right over death while they struggle with it and they figure He’s a ghost because they think the only thing that can walk on death is from evil. But God promises. Take heart. It is I. Do not be afraid. Because the best place to find God is in the middle of the storm, walking over death. The best place to find God is on the cross, then rising from the dead. This isn’t just a Christianity that endures the storm. It’s one that thrives in spite of the storm.

Because some storms, God sends, others, the devil, the prince of the air. You’ll never sort it out in the middle. The only difference is Jesus uses His to drive you closer to Himself, the devil uses his to pull you farther. God tests to strengthen faith. The devil tempts to destroy it. So stop questioning where it came from and instead look to the God who draws near to save regardless. Always.

In reality Christianity is not Christians copying Jesus to walk on water. It’s Jesus pulling up sinking sinners. Even though we doubt, Christ pulls us out of the water. Even though we lose focus on God in the storm, He doesn’t lose focus on us. He reaches down into death and pulls us back out. He dies upon the cross for you and rises from the dead, taking you with Him. And if Christ can pull you out of the grave, go ahead and let your calm be damaged. Set aside the idea that calm is the same as peace. Peace is knowing God draws near to save those who struggle. Those who sin. Those who doubt. Those who sink. Peace is knowing Jesus joins you in the storm to pull you out of death. Peace can exist in the storm because Jesus will be in it too. That means we can even find peace when we sink into death. God will only pull us back out to life.

When Christianity confuses calm for peace, it offers neither. Because I wish I could promise you that if you just believe enough, you’ll walk on water and nothing bad will ever happen, but you won’t. I can’t. But worse, you’ll never have peace in the storms that do come, no matter who sends them, because you’ll only measure God’s presence by whether or not the wind’s blowing, not whether or not He’s there with you to pull you out of the water. Forget calm. Know the peace that surpasses understanding. Know the Jesus who draws near to save.

Jesus gives peace that doesn’t need calm, just a promise from the God who saves sinners. You don’t have to be afraid of the water. You don’t have to be afraid of the prince of the air and the storm. Maybe the waves beat you too, but they cannot hurt you. You see, you have already been stung by water. You have already been drowned once. In baptism, the old Adam inside us was stung, and he was drowned, so that just as Christ would die and rise, we would die and rise with Him. Just as Christ has risen above death and the grave, we too will rise. In our baptism, just as Christ walks above the waters, we will be brought with Him, over any wave, through any storm.

Christianity is the promise of peace given in Jesus. He is with us, in our baptisms, until that last hour at the very end of the night when Jesus returns to his boat. On that glorious last hour, when Christ returns to us as Judge, the wind will cease, because satan, the prince of the air, is once and for all defeated. On that day all our troubles will end, all our pain will vanish, and we will live with our Lord and Savior forever in peace. In the Name of Jesus, Amen.

Don’t confuse calm with peace

Jesus has compassion

Matthew 14:13-21

The disciples just got back from their first taste of trying this in the real world. I remember how that went. They have some concerns too. They really shouldn’t complain though. It went worse for John the Baptist. He died. To be more specific he just had his head cut off and paraded around a party for saying the things he was sent to say – the word of God. Things weren’t going great. The disciples are frustrated and scared. Even Jesus is hurting.

So Jesus pulls everyone back. Full retreat. You can call it a crises of faith if you want, but even if hate term, faith is under siege. Heartbreak. Fear. Sin. Suffering. Hate. Death. All of them chip away at it. It’s easier to talk about words like hope when you aren’t losing sleep over something. Or 5 somethings. It’s easier to maintain conviction when you’re the one in control and feel safe. It’s one of the honest criticisms of our faith that we’d rather ignore because it hits too close to home. It’s easier to think God takes care of you aren’t on a ventilator. It’s easier to talk about His commandments when you didn’t get caught breaking them. It’s easier to be pro life when you aren’t pregnant at 15.

When you’re not in control, when you’re not safe, when you’re best friend was just beheaded for preaching the same kind of sermon you’re supposed to preach and you realize maybe God has a different plan for your life than you do …then what? When you’re heartbroken and afraid and hurt and sinful…then what? We all still try to keep that conviction we had in better times, but our voices get shaky. God will take care of me…but…really?

You can see it as the crowds follow Jesus out to the wilderness. They want answers. They want hope. They want help. You can hear it in the disciples nervous answer. How are we going to feed so many? “We only have five loaves here and two fish.” You might even do it yourself in a few minutes. Look up at the host that is the body of Christ in some flatbread, listen to the promise, this is the peace of the Lord who is with you, and say…ok…but…really?

Then call it like you see it. Jesus didn’t save John’s life. He fed 5000, but that seems like a pretty small miracle in comparison no matter how many people Jesus picked up the check for. Especially since a verse later He left so He wouldn’t have to keep doing it as their king. He immediately gets into a boat and dismisses the crowds. Especially since He hasn’t done it for you. We know people hurting, dying, suffering, and Jesus isn’t helping the way we want. And if that’s all we have to go on, yeah, conviction will be in short supply. If you want to look at each problem, things look bleak. So instead of measuring God by every single problem, by everything you think you lack, look to who He is in the face of all of it.

It was compassion that moved Jesus each time. It was compassion for the loss of His friend drove Him to the desolate places to mourn. It was compassion for the people there drove Him to feed the people that followed Him. It was even compassion that drove Him away after. When He went, it wasn’t to abandon them. He carried their pains and fears and most of all their sins with Him. He wanted to do more than answer one fear after another as they arose. He wasn’t meant to be that kind of King. He left to snuff them out completely. His was to go into Jerusalem to wear a crown of thorns so that sinful desire and scared idolatry would not devour us, that enemies like death and the devil would be robbed of their sting. That the sinners would find mercy. That the dead would live. That those who hunger and thirst for righteousness would be satisfied. Even when everything looks like this. Maybe you don’t see Him still working in the middle of all your problems, but neither did the disciples surround by hungry mouths to feed.

In the face of fear and sorrow and a complete lack of everything needed, Jesus took bread, and after giving thanks, broke it and gave it to the disciples. 5000 were fed. It wasn’t dependent upon their conviction that everything would be ok when it didn’t look like it. It was dependent upon Christ’s mercy. The same love, the same mercy that drove Him to care for those saints drives Him to care for you, even if He does it different. 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish and 5000 people I never met honestly don’t make me sleep better at night in the face of what’s wrong in my life, but the God who had compassion on them does. He’s the same God who has compassion on us too. That’s the same God who, in a one time miracle, helped and saved us all, not because of our conviction, but because of His mercy. He bore one cross, one resurrection, one sacrifice for all of time and for all people. In that one miracle He conquered every enemy, forgave every sin, and destroyed every death. It was compassion that drove Him to that cross so that we can stop addressing each day like a brand new disaster. Because there’s always another problem. Always another fear. Always another tragedy and another loss. But there is a one time miracle that stands in the face of all of it. Christ was crucified for you. He is risen from the dead. Let the cross shape your hope for the future, not whether or not God dropped a pile of money from on high to pay off your mortgage. Let the compassion of God that has no end give you hope for tomorrow, not what you’re afraid He neglected. Eternal life guides cares of this world, cares of this world does not guide eternal life because the compassion God had to save your soul doesn’t disappear when it comes to what you don’t think you have enough of.

It worked for John. They cut his head off, but he stood beside Christ at the Transfiguration, alive and whole. Jesus says he is Elijah come again for those who will hear him. John is in heaven now. On the last day, he will rise, because Jesus did it first. Even a death like that could not separate us from the God who has compassion enough to join us in the grave to raise us from the dead. And in the meanwhile, when conviction is in short supply, see the same thing played out again. Jesus has compassion on His saints. Week after week, He takes bread, and after giving thanks, breaks it and gives it to you here until everyone is satisfied. It is His body, given for you, for the forgiveness of all your sins, especially the ones that make people look at you differently. You eat forgiveness. Be satisfied. It is His body, given for you, for the victory over death for you and all who believe. Even those gasping for breath. You will live. Rejoice. It is His body, given for you, as an answer steeped in compassion to every frustrated sinner losing sleep over one something or five of them.

It doesn’t mean we won’t ever go without. It means we can have hope even when we do. Because even when our conviction wavers, God’s mercy doesn’t. We won’t throw out the law that convicts and burdens us. We’ll embrace it to serve our neighbor. We won’t measure God strictly by His providence before our eyes, but by His miracles that give way to providence. We will be the sinners Jesus died for and the sinners Jesus fed. When conviction is in short supply, when you are afraid or burdened, guilty or ashamed, turn in here. There was one miracle that gives us hope. Christ, who was crucified for you, is risen from the dead. There is a new miracle here for you each week. God still takes bread, after giving thanks, breaks, gives to you.

Jesus has compassion

parables are about Jesus

Matthew 13:44-52

Jesus speaks to the disciples in parables. At the end He asks if they understand. Everyone says yes, because parables are simple. Almost nobody actually does, because parables are hard.

The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. We always figure we’re that man. It leaves us speaking boldly about our love for God but in an awkward spot when it meets the real world. We can be perfectly comfortable insisting we’d give up everything for Jesus while scoffing at the notion of tithing 10% of everything. We can insist we’d face death rather than fall away from this confession and faith while watching the service online for safety. We can insist Jesus is our treasure but most of us would have a harder time going a week without a cell phone than a month without a bible. It makes even temperance feel like sin and caution like unbelief. And it festers inside us since nobody can see it. It leaves us feeling dirty like a man who makes sure nobody’s looking before dishonestly covering up the treasure so nobody else will find it before lowballing someone for the field. But sure, Jesus is the treasure we seek out and give up everything for in secret, and at someone else’s expense. Because why would you want to share Jesus with anyone?

Maybe that parable’s broken. Let’s do the other one. They’re short so we can do that today without going long. Lord, Thee I love with all my heart, but if the sermon is longer than 15 minutes I’ll depart. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Let’s go searching for the pearl of great wisdom here. Unless it takes longer than 15 minutes. Moving right along.

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. But I’m sure we’re the good fish because I can think of other people doing way worse. Never mind that we spend more time with this one taking on the role of angels doing the separating than imagining actually having to subject our sins, our idols, and our excuses to their eyes. Because weeping and gnashing of teeth is easier to consider if you’re sending other people there instead of being sent there yourself.

Jesus speaks to the disciples in parables and we usually treat them like Christian nursery rhymes and fables. We assume there’s a moral to each story, a way to behave. We assume they’re about us. It’s why we misunderstand them. Hearing we do not understand. Seeing, we don’t perceive. There’s a law answer and a gospel answer to most questions. Only one brings any real peace though the other doesn’t do anything more than let us excuse what we can’t fix.

Consider the parables today. None start with you. Each begin the same. The kingdom of heaven. Nobody gets to the kingdom of heaven by the law. By works of the law no one will be made righteous. No one will be saved. The kingdom of heaven is about the gospel. It’s about Jesus for sinners. There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” If this is about Jesus, parables are simple. If you make it about yourself, parables are impossible.

When we treat parables like Christian nursery rhymes and fables, they always end up in the law and never the gospel. Do this. Be that. The law accuses. If you can hear the law and not feel like a sinner, you’re not hearing the real law or you’re not really seeing yourself for all your excuses. Parables contain the secrets to the kingdom of God. That means they’re about the only way we’re getting there. Jesus. The gospel. If you want to understand parables and you don’t see Jesus at the center, you’re missing the point. It is God who justifies. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Not even yourself.

You aren’t the man who finds the treasure and sells all you have for it. You’re the treasure. God loves you so much He considers you priceless even in the face of the sins, idols, and excuses that leave you buried and dead in a field. He sells all He has to buy you. He doesn’t pay in gold or silver, but in His holy and precious blood and His innocent suffering and death that You would be His own. He finds us buried under the wages of sin, buried in cemeteries, and pays the price on the cross to redeem you. He gives His own life to buy yours back. He joins you in the tomb then pulls you up out of your grave. He promises that even as He is risen from the dead, you will rise. For you were bought with a price. You are the pearl of great price. Jesus looks at you and sees someone worth saving no matter the cost.

The parables aren’t about how much you love God. They’re about how much He loves you. They aren’t about how much you would give for God. They’re about how much He already paid for you. Look to the cross and see the stories come to life. Everyone trained to find Jesus in the parables finds the true Treasure. The gospel. The old promise made to Adam and eve, the new promise made every day to you. You are righteous because Jesus died for you. You are baptized. Washed. Holy. Loved. This is how the angels sort the catch on the last day. Those who find their righteousness in Christ fear nothing. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. In your baptism, you are more than conquerors through Him who loved you. In your baptism, you are the prize Jesus conquered death to win.

parables are about Jesus

There’s only one cross that matters.

Matthew 10:34–42

I always get nervous when Christians start talking about taking up their cross and following Jesus. It isn’t that we shouldn’t. It’s in the bible. What makes me nervous is the way we talk about it. It always sounds off. Hey Jesus, I know you were literally scourged, beaten, spit upon, and had nails driven through your body to hold you to a cross to suffocate on your own fluids while people mocked you as you hung naked to die. I totally get where you’re coming from. Like this one time, someone made me wear an old tshirt over my face and I didn’t want to. It was really uncomfortable, but I get it. Sometimes Christians just have to bear their crosses too.

Never mind some of the disciples our Lord spoke to were literally crucified, I don’t think that’s what Jesus means. It’s actually not that most of us haven’t suffered the way Jesus did. Good. It’s not a contest. The worst pain you’ve ever felt is still the worst pain you ever felt. That’s the whole thing. When Jesus says “take up your cross and follow me”, most of the time we only identify the cross by how it looks. Painful. We look for the times we hurt as the fulfillment of what He calls us to do. It completely changes what the cross is. It turns it inward. Selfish. You’re the only one that can feel your pain. If you stub your toe, mine doesn’t actually hurt. I can relate to it. Empathize with it. Remember doing it myself. Still, I’ve got nothing to do with your toe and the coffee table. Sorry, the time the coffee table made you take up your cross to follow Jesus.

When you measure your cross by the pain you feel, the cross is just the source of the pain. The coffee table is one thing, but if we’re being honest, the worst pains most of us have felt were usually caused by someone, not something. The people that can hurt us the most are usually the ones closest to us. Do not think that Jesus came to bring peace to earth, but the sword. Families set against each other hurt in a way that puts the coffee table to shame. This is the really dark thing that happens when Christians talk about “taking up their cross and following Jesus” in terms of dealing with suffering. Most of the time, by bearing the cross, we mean each other. Bearing the cross stops being for your neighbor and usually ends up being because of them.

That’s why we don’t make the crucifixion a contest in hurting. We don’t mark the real Christians as the ones who have been through more. We don’t identity the cross by how it looks. The cross isn’t about what hurt looks like. It’s about who it’s for. Jesus sacrificed for the very people hurting Him. When we lose sight of that, the cross is robbed of all forgiveness. When the cross is because of our neighbor instead of for them, it leaves us only as victims looking for oppressors and enemies. It leaves you looking for injustice, not justification. It leaves you angry at the very people Jesus bore it for in the first place. The word martyr is robbed of its first meaning. It isn’t just someone who dies for the faith. The word martyr used to mean witness. Witnesses pointed to Jesus. Some of them died singing hymns. Some prayed for their enemies. Jesus died for the whole lot, and those martyrs who clung to Jesus found a life that no death could take away. Jesus didn’t come to bring peace, but the sword. For once, realize that isn’t a call for more war. It’s a call to stand for something even if it’s for the ones who have hurt you. Ask Peter who swung one at the soldier’s ear. You aren’t to wield the sword but to endure it and cling to one truth the whole while. He who died for you even died for them.

The call to take up your cross and follow Jesus isn’t a call label your hurts as true marks of Christianity and revel in them because they prove you love Jesus more than the people hurting you and more than the ones who haven’t hurt as badly. If all you’re looking for is enemies who caused you pain, the second part of the reading makes no sense. It’s a call to hear those sent to you by God as the ones who bring hope. Look to the little ones who need a cold cup of water and serve them. Then stop pretending they’re only God given if they don’t happen to be sinners who have wronged you. They’re the sinners sent to you by the God who showed you how much they were worth by paying the price for their souls in blood. Care for the least of these, because God paid the highest price for them. Sacrifice for your neighbor not out of obligation, but because that sinner who hurt you is someone God said is worth His own life. Not because it saves you. It doesn’t, and it doesn’t need to. It’s just an extension of the mercy shown to all. Because there’s only one cross that matters.

Jesus died on it for sinners. For you. He bled and died not because of His enemies, but for them. That’s what makes His death a sacrifice and not just a tragedy. The sins of all are forgiven there. It’s even for you, angry and hurt. It’s for you, bitter and resentful. It’s for you who would rather see someone Jesus died for as a source of wrong than a soul redeemed. For that anger, your sins are forgiven you. For that grudge, there is a call to carry forgiveness. Take up the cross and follow Jesus. Then realize that isn’t a call to hurt. It’s a call to cling to the only cross that saves. All forgiveness comes from there. Even the forgiveness you offer to each other. None of it comes from you. All of it was won by Him. Take up your cross where your Jesus died for you and carry that forgiveness won there everywhere you go. Revel in it. Your sins are forgiven you. Take up your source of salvation, where Jesus died for you. Wear it on your neck. Hang it on your walls. Take up your cross and let your identity not be the one who hurts, not the victim, but the one who carries the mark of forgiveness and the peace it brings everywhere you go. That forgiveness means something. Angry or not, it is still finished. Sins are paid for. Your salvation doesn’t depend on your feelings, but your Jesus. Hurt or not, you will not lose your reward. Victim or oppressor, your salvation is given in Jesus and cannot be taken.

There’s only one cross that matters.

Compassion, not control

A lot of the frustration of Christianity comes from the idea that we expect the God who is all-powerful to hold a tighter grip on creation. So much of what matters to us is fragile. So much can destroy the body and everything it holds dear. It’s easy to say God is in control when everything works out in the end like movies taught us things should. It’s harder when life is a slow-motion train wreck. It feels like God spun up the world then stepped back. At best, when Christians try to describe a God in control, it feels like nothing more than occasionally giving things a little push here or there. You can tell by how many of the descriptions of God’s control involve the words “at least”. At least I didn’t die. At least he only lost one arm. It wasn’t even the one he writes with. You’ll be hated by all for my name’s sake, but at least the one who endures to the end will be saved. You’ll be persecuted in one town, but at least you can flee to the next. So…yay?

It’s so frustrating that we usually lose sight of the fact that this is exactly the world God intended to send missionaries to. He sent them out into a world full of “at leasts”. Into a world full of dangers.  Bearing a truth that will turn families against each other and invite persecution on the ones who speak it.

A disciple is not above his teacher. If they call Jesus the servant of evil, how much more will they call you bigots, enemies, and small-minded idiots? It is enough for the servant to be like his master, and Jesus came into the world to die, so what’s that leave for us who follow Him? This was the pep talk Jesus gave the disciples before sending them out.  Jesus is a terrible motivational speaker. There’s no way to dress this up. He intended them to fail by all worldly standards.

He didn’t promise them people would hang on their every word. He didn’t promise them power. He didn’t even promise the church would grow. It’s something we need to come to terms with. The church was never called to growth. Just faithfulness. God promised to handle the rest as He wills. You. Go and speak the truth.  Don’t hold back a word. I’ll take care of the rest in my time and on my terms. Don’t worry about how it looks. Just cling to the truth. It’s freeing, even if it’s terrifying. Jesus sent us out into this world to cling to the truth, and even though it should have failed by all worldly standards, we’re here. We didn’t do that. God did. He’s still working, even if it looks like the world is falling apart.

Christianity will not conquer the world. It’s not supposed to. There have been a few times we’ve tried and maybe even come pretty close, but if we ever do, whatever that is, it isn’t witness. I’d argue the times we came the closest were the times we looked the least Christian. It’s madness by the world’s standards, but when you look to our Lord, nothing is covered that is not revealed. To aim after what the world calls success is to aim away from the failures Jesus points us toward. To aim after glory is to aim away from the cross.

See it embodied in Jesus. He entered into creation not for what the world calls success. Not for the power they measure it by. He came into our world to fail by those standards. Jesus came into the world to allow all those things to overwhelm him as He died on the cross to save sinners who didn’t have enough control to save themselves. He came to save you, not by strength, but by weakness. He would not call down fire or angelic armies. His divinity was not measured in control, but compassion. He came to be given over unto death, and after dying, to rise again to life, that we would have hope even if we don’t have control. It turns everything on its head. How do you see failure? Suffering? Humiliation? Are these the things you flee from, or the marks of the cross our Lord bore for you, the promise of victory? If you measure God’s love by the control He gives you, you’ll miss it, but what He tells you in the dark, say in the light. You are loved in the way of the cross.

It’s the great difference between the religions the world puts together and the ideals the church so often steals from them. To the world, it’s all about control. To Jesus, it’s all compassion. He has compassion enough to sacrifice control to save you. Hear it in what would otherwise sound like a threat. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. The world can’t destroy your soul. Even the devil can’t do that. The only one who can destroy both your body and soul in hell is God. Recognize if this is about control, you don’t have it. You can’t do enough to fulfill the law. You sin and fall short of its demands. Those weaknesses you flee from are evidence even apart from the 10 commandments. Fear God. Recognize you can’t control Him. Then recognize you don’t need to. If God is the lion, He may not be tame, but He is good.

Look at the weaknesses you try hardest to escape and recognize that when God tells you even the hairs on your head are numbered, it isn’t Him telling you how to keep from going bald. It’s Him telling you He loves you so much He knows all your going through and joins you there. He enters into weakness. Failure. Humiliation. Weakness isn’t proof God is far. It’s proof He is near. Look to the cross where He is made weak with you and for you. He bleeds and dies for you that you can know that no failure can keep Jesus in the tomb, and so no weakness can harm you either. Do not be afraid of what can destroy the body. Jesus will raise it. You are of more value than sparrows. You are of more value than the things that fall apart. You are worth what was paid for you. Not gold or silver, but the death and resurrection of God. You are worth God’s mercy and compassion.

See God in terms of His goodness, not in terms of whether or not you can make Him do what you want. Let go of control. Know that somethings break and can’t be fixed this side of glory. Know that the universe is very big and you are very small. Know that’s exactly the world Jesus establishes His church in. Know the odds are against us, and always have been. Push back anyway. Disturb the universe. Rejoice in the gospel. Watch a world focused on control push back harder than you ever could, then rejoice. Jesus didn’t conquer the world either. He didn’t need to. He conquered death. This is why there’s a church. To give mercy to those God has compassion on. To give life to the dying. To give hope to you. To be a source of goodness and truth and beauty in a world so bent on success. 

It isn’t about winning. It isn’t about control. It’s about compassion. So that when we confront the world we live in we can acknowledge something about who we share it with. There are people here loved by God. You are loved by God. Acknowledge it before men, even though they’d mock it. You wear the robes of resurrection even now in your baptism. These robes can’t be stained. They can’t be sullied. They can’t be torn. They are proof that the Son sees you as His brothers and sisters. They are proof that God’s goodness is for you. They are proof that nothing in this world you can’t control can destroy you because the one in charge of your soul has promised you salvation and life everlasting.

Compassion, not control

spiritual warfare was fought against you

Romans 5:6-15

I feel like the devil got easier to believe in this year. It’s been bad enough I don’t need to name examples to prove it. You already know. Laying them out only reminds us they happened so recently. Things are moving too fast. Time flies when you’re having fun, but apparently unrest, fear, and panic seem to do the trick too. The idea that there are dark forces at work doesn’t seem like a stretch even to a world so steeped in the secular.

Christians know the devil prowls about like a roaring lion seeking those to devour. That his wrath is fierce because he knows his time is short. That he is the enemy, the deceiver, the accuser, the murderer. We know who he is and we know what he’s after. Ever since he cajoled Eve into eating the fruit she coveted, he tipped his hand. “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” “Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.” The devil wants none saved. The devil wants God’s creation undone. Of all the stuff nobody agrees on at least we can agree to stand together and say that’s bad. We’re against the devil. Sometimes Christians call it spiritual warfare.

We want to fight back. But since we haven’t found anyone in red suits with pitchforks, it’s harder to do. Spiritual warfare is easier when we can find that enemy in a pandemic. It’s easier still when we can find that enemy inside each other. The devil is in the thing making us hurt. The devil is in the one slinging blame that leaves us feeling like we can never do enough to make things right again. Accusation meets self justification. We paint the other side of every issue as the evil ones. The world as the problem. We pick sides to help. And Spiritual warfare becomes much less spiritual. Look around. The only thing we’re fighting is each other.

The scriptures are clear. All have sinned. The law always accuses. It shows how things are supposed to be. Things are not the way they’re supposed to be. That parts real easy to see in 2020. The devil doesn’t need new tricks to point it out. His pitchfork points to what God’s own law already condemns. Us. “Death spread to all men because all sinned.” The danger of spiritual warfare is assuming you’re on God’s side because you’re right and, and if not innocent, at least less guilty than the other side. It’s easier to talk about spiritual warfare when we find the enemy inside each other. It’s harder when the real problems in ourselves. I am a sinner. The problem is me.

It’s the devil who would have you think the only enemies are outside of yourself and outside of our walls. In true spiritual warfare, there is no us against them. There is only Jesus for sinners. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. WE were the enemies of God. Not the world. Not the devil. Us. If you want to understand spiritual warfare, don’t start with demon possession and angels warring against dark forces and crying for your help. Don’t look to the world and why everyone is doing the wrong thing about whatever just got called out on the 2020 Bingo card of horrors this week. Look to yourself. We were enemies of God. Spiritual warfare was fought against you.

It doesn’t look like all the good Christians teaming up with God to pray away the bad. Listen again. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. Spiritual warfare looks like the death and resurrection of Jesus for you. For me. For sinners. For all.

And that’s finished. Jesus died for you. Your sins are forgiven. So are your enemies’. Even the one who is wrong about the stuff that’s so important to you. Especially that one. Now we are reconciled to God by the death of His Son. Now, present tense, you are reconciled, so much more shall you be saved by His life. The devil lost. He wants none saved. He wants God’s creation undone. But Christ is risen. Sin and death cannot destroy anymore. The law cannot condemn anymore. The devil cannot condemn anymore. Now you are reconciled to God. The war over your spirit is over.

Now, the battleground is your conscience. Think back to Adam and Eve. The devil didn’t work damage through plague or war, but in a promise that never could actually comfort. Eat that fruit. You shall be like God. If you just do that, things will finally be better.

Today satan makes the same deceitful and empty promises. You can see it in the measurement of victory. How do even good and devout Christians talk about spiritual warfare? There is no talk of victory before the devil loses and we all get along. We don’t win until the devil loses and the vaccine is found and whatever other thing that goes wrong next gets fixed. In all the promises to make things better, there’s no comfort, only anxiety that grows as the next number gets called out in 2020 Bingo. G7. Murder hornets.

The devil’s true fight today isn’t in what’s wrong, but our mounting unrest, animosity, and fear. The devil’s war right now is fought over your conscience. The one that knows deep down that it’s more than “this isn’t how it’s supposed to be”. It’s “I’m not how I’m supposed to be.” I haven’t done enough. I haven’t trusted enough. Spiritual warfare is the devil doing everything he can to take your eye off the cross where Christ already won for you the victory.

Nothing in 2020 can change what happened in 33. Christ was crucified. Christ is risen. Christ is risen from the dead and death cannot hold you. You literally can’t stay dead. You literally wear the crown of life today because He who was crucified is risen. But I’m still scared. I’m still struggling. I’m still sinning. Even if all the problems in the world went away, I’d still be stuck with me. This is where the devil fights.

But spiritual warfare is not fought in us. It’s fought in Christ, for us. He fights back against the accusations of the evil one. “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” For you. The free gift is not like the trespass. The free gift is not found in the law that accuses and shows what’s wrong. It’s in the gospel that reconciles enemies. “Now you are reconciled to God through the death of His Son.” Now you are baptized. Now you wear the armor of God that protect you from the darts of the evil one even as you wear robes washed clean in the blood of the lamb that let you respond to the accusations of the law.

I am a sinner Jesus died for. No, I haven’t done enough. I haven’t trusted enough. I haven’t fought hard enough. But Jesus has. And He did it for me and He did it for you. Now there is grace, the free gift, given to sinners that reconcile us to God and so reconcile us to each other. If you can’t see past the picture the law would paint of your enemies and of yourself, your spiritual warfare is simply to receive the gospel. Receive pardon and mercy. Receive grace and reconciliation. Receive forgiveness, life, and salvation that unite us to the victory already won when Christ burst from the tomb. That unite us even to each other. We are the enemies that were reconciled to God together. We are the sinners Jesus died for. We are the baptized. We are brothers and sisters in Christ.

spiritual warfare was fought against you

Speak words spoken to you. speak forgiveness.

Genesis 1:1-2:3 Matthew 28:16-28

This week has been a painful reminder of just how much power words can hold. We’ve tried really hard to forget it. We live in a culture that laughs at the idea that words were used to create our world. That would trade books and poetry for tweets. Even in the church, hearing how God spoke and stuff happened leaves us not with a sense of wonder, but of loss. We can’t do that. Let there be beer, but nothing happens. Do other Christians buy Alexa out of spite for the divine or is it just me? Shuffle my playlist, but even that doesn’t always work. It’s why I used to think our words were less than God’s, even though He gave them to us. He spoke, and creation formed itself to His words. Sometimes it feels like the best we can do is describe a situation.

It leaves us with a creation story that we’re too quick to gloss over. It might have been of more comfort hundreds of years ago, but now we can’t skip past it fast enough. I don’t think God gave us this creation narrative to feel embarrassed about in front of evolutionists, or even so that we would think less of words. I think it was the opposite. So that we would find comfort in just how much power they have.

Words have more power than the nursery rhymes we teach our children would indicate. Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words shaped the sticks and stones in the first place. 2 of the 10 commandments about words. One in each table of the law. You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God. You shall not bear false testimony against your neighbor. Use words, not for evil, but for God. Don’t attach God’s name to falsehood, but call upon Him, pray, praise, give thanks. Don’t use words to harm your neighbor’s reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way. The reason God gives this commandment is to show us how careful we are with our words to defend ourselves and how reckless we can be with them when talking about someone we disagree with. Words have enough power that God tells you that things can break if you use them for evil, and things can be built and even healed if you use them for good.

Stop. Breathe. Take a step back and consider. There’s something to be said for a group of people so afraid that justice will not happen that instead of seeking it from those given to protect and serve them, they have taken to crying for it publicly. There’s something to be said for the group of people who bear witness to this and instead of shaping their response out of love for the people who hurt, do so out of fear of being called a racist. Look at two mobs crying out identities to each other. Each say “You are not righteous. You have not done enough.” Each cry identities to themselves. “We are the virtuous ones. We stand for good.”

See how God uses words. He builds. He brings order. He shapes. He uses them for the good of someone else. He creates for us. Now look at how we use them. Do you build or destroy? Do you cry for order or chaos? Do you speak for the good of your neighbor, or just for yourself? Words used for good to create good. Words used for evil create more of the same. Words used for hate and violence produce those things. Words used for mercy, for justice, the same.

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sin, God is faithful and just to forgive our sins, and to cleans us from all unrighteousness. I think what’s most heartbreaking is how little room there is to be called a sinner for how we talk. It points us away from seeking forgiveness for ourselves, but more, it leaves us convinced our neighbor wouldn’t want it either. This is why the world shouts at each other. If you can only find your neighbor’s sin in a sermon, look closer. This is not who you are called to be. You aren’t called to be the ones who justify yourselves. You’re called to be forgiven by the God who’d bleed for you. True virtue isn’t defined or demanded by the mob. It’s a gift of God who bestows it. And our God gives righteousness to sinners, to me, to you, to all.

He bore the cross to win it. He suffered not just the beating and the torture, but the mockery and the slander. He was called nothing so that you would be called sons and daughters of the king. He was hated so you would be called worthy of love. He was cast out so that you would be welcomed. Yours is the God who sends preachers into all nations, uniting them across all divisions. And something wonderful happens. The 11 go with Jesus to the mountain, and they worshipped, and some doubted. And Jesus still sends them. He said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.””

He stands in the face of those who worship Him, still inwardly fighting doubt that this can work. He stands among sinners cleansed in His blood. He sends them out to Baptize in the name of the triune God. Go give a new identity to all nations that would change every would you would speak. Doubt all you want. This doesn’t stand on you. This isn’t about you. This is for you.

We find our God dwelling among sinners in this promise. Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. He isn’t waiting until we finally get our act together. He isn’t waiting until one side wins. He is right here where He promised to be. That font and this altar are a mark of His presence. We gather, sinners with differences both seen and unseen, and some of us doubt too, but here, in the things He has commanded us to observe, He is with us. He is for us. And He will be so until that great end of the age when He comes again in glory.

Speak words spoken to you. speak forgiveness.

The church was never founded on safety

When the day of Pentecost arrived, the disciples were in quarantine. It was about 50 days after Easter, and not as much changed as we figure. A couple months pass after Jesus conquering death, and we figure everything’s got to be different now. The Pharisees were still running the temple. Caiaphas still offered sacrifices there as high priest, refusing to believe he already sacrificed the lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. The city was still under Roman occupation. The crowd still didn’t do anyone any favors by paying attention to them. Remember who this crowd is. They cried for a revolution when Jesus rode into town on a donkey. They cried for a cross when He didn’t deliver. On Pentecost, the 12 didn’t seek a crowd eager to hear them, the crowd heard a great noise and went to add to it. Pentecost wasn’t the sanctioned and safe beginning of an enthusiastic church we imagine.

We know the miracle of Pentecost, that tongues of fire danced over the apostles’ heads while they preached in languages they never knew. Each devout Jew gathered from every nation, heard in his own tongue the mighty works of God. The thing is, these same devout men spoke with one voice all on their own. No miracle necessary. Together, they cried, “Crucify!” The disciples were brought out of quarantine by God. He didn’t bring them out to preach to those who gathered together cheerfully after making all the right choices in the middle of it. They preached to the sinners who cried out for the death of God. They preached to the terrified. They preached to the confused who did their best and second guessed it every step of the way. They preached to those who hear what God would call good and mocked it then called the messengers drunk for it. They preached to us.

We can go back over the last couple months and wonder, second guess our choices, and attack each other for doing what we thought was best. The thing is, that doesn’t seem to be fixing anything. As it turns out, trying to feel better by making someone else feel worse doesn’t help. But this is the crowd God sends preachers to. Peter preaches hope, not in an action plan for the future. Not in being on the side that made the right choices. He preaches to the ones who put Jesus to death. He tells them Jesus didn’t die because of them, and for them. Of of the sins of all of the sinners gathered that day, the selfishness, the arrogance, the anger, the idolatry, are covered in the blood of God which pays the price for the evil they work. The sinners are forgiven. The path forward is, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Which is good, because God speaks a warning through him too. As weird as it is right now, it’s only going to get weirder.

“‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. And I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke; the sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day. And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Christians and unbelievers alike get caught in the same mistake. We’re all in this together. We see the same signs and marvel at them. It’s all the world talks about. We live in uncertain times. Look how weird it is. The internet says this all started when a gorilla named Harambe got shot in 2016. The political parties just blame each other. The preppers bought all the toilet paper. Sinners sinned. I don’t think it was any less weird a generation ago, we just didn’t have facebook to point it out. Wars and rumors of wars. Blood. Fire. Disaster. Fear. These have been the air we breathe since the crowds were gathered on Pentecost. And in all of it we miss the most important part. When all you look at are the signs, everyone can tell it’s weird, but nobody can hope in the middle of it. Even the world can see it’s weird down here, but it’s been weird so long we call it the new normal.

The crowd saw the sun blotted out from the sky when Christ was crucified. I’m pretty sure they didn’t mock the disciples and call them drunk for talking about the signs. Everyone was talking about them. Nobody gets filled with new wine and speaks perfectly in languages they never knew. It was what they promised that seemed so ridiculous. Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. That’s greater than any sign and wonder you see here. There’s salvation for the crowds of belligerent sinners because God rode into Jerusalem to die for them. There’s salvation in the middle of uncertain times when nobody knows what to do but we’re pretty sure everyone else is doing it wrong because God doesn’t reserve salvation for the ones who navigate the signs, but promises it to those who call upon His name. There’s salvation not in finding a safe place to wait out the dark days or fighting on the front line of whatever thing happens next, but in the God who chose to dwell in this mess to bring you through it. There’s salvation in His death and resurrection, because He died and rose for you. Don’t just look at the signs of the world. Look at the promise. Look at the greatest miracle done on Pentecost, because it’s still going on today. Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

Peter preached that the church was never founded on safety. It was never founded on things being normal. It was founded on Jesus, who gives salvation to every sinner who calls upon His name no matter what was happening. It’s what you see in our kids today. Confirmation isn’t a graduation. It isn’t a promise that our kids will grow up in a world free from scary things. They won’t. We point blank ask you. Do you intend to continue steadfast in this confession and church and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it? But again, don’t look to the signs. Look to the promise. It’s in the answer. We don’t answer yes. We’re still afraid. It can’t stand on us. We answer yes, with the help of God. God helps you. God saves you. It stands on that. Even for crowds like the sinners who gathered then. Even for crowds like the sinners that gather here today. Even in a world that looks like that. Even in a world that looks like this. Confirmation isn’t the end. Not just because you have more to learn. It’s because God has more help to give.

Pentecost wasn’t the sanctioned and safe beginning of an enthusiastic church we imagine. It was an illegal gathering of belligerent sinners, called, gathered, enlightened, sanctified and kept by the Holy Spirit through the power of God’s word. The church still stands in dangerous times, full of forgiven sinners, and sustained by the same promise. Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved. This promise is for you, for your children, and for your children’s children. It gives a new identity. Every nation gathered to in Jerusalem was given a new identity that joined them together. Baptized. Christian. Those that saw the signs and still dared to hope. Those who called upon the name of the Lord and were saved.

The church was never founded on safety

Glory is found in mercy

John 17:1-11

The hour has come for the Son to be glorified. He just seems to use the word differently than we do. Our glory days were back when things were better. When life was simpler. When all you had to worry about was the stuff you made look easy. When life seemed pretty doable and everything seemed under control. We were seen as mighty. We were admired. Respected.

The problem with those glory days is you don’t really know that’s what they are until they’re gone. We had problems back then, but todays are bigger. Glory days all worked out, but you’re not sure today will. We remember them as brighter days. A time before suffering. The problem with glory days is that we get so caught up in the power of them we gloss over not just the problems that worked themselves out, but all the sins we committed in the middle. The way we see those days shows how easy it is to be unbothered by what the Lord calls sin as long as it came without consequence to you. And maybe even worse, it leaves with a bad taste in our mouths for the God who would call suffering a blessing.

Jesus lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you. The hour has finally come for the Son to be glorified. Apparently that wasn’t when 5000 folks were willing to follow Him days out into the middle of nowhere just to listen to Him talk. Or in feeding all of them with 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish. Or in the water turned into wine that made Jesus the hero of the party. Or in the walking on water. Or in the calming the storm. Or in the healing the desperate and the sick. Or in resisting the devil in the wilderness in a 40 day trial of wills. Jesus wasn’t glorified in making everything look easy. He wasn’t glorified in power. The hour where the Son of God was glorified was about the third hour, as the sun was blotted out from the sky, as He hung from the cross to be mocked by His enemies. Not in strength, but weakness. Not in being admired, but humiliated. Not in the things the world respects and we sinners covet, but as He was despised and we esteemed Him not. When He was stricken, smitten, and afflicted for you. There, He won for you eternal life. There He reveals something of God we’d never otherwise see. Because that’s what glory really means.

Glory is a loaded word in the bible. It doesn’t just mean cool stuff. When the bible stays glory, it’s a word for God’s presence. It means God is actually there. The glory of the Lord is the presence of the Lord. So when angel choirs sang “glory to God in the highest” to shepherds, it was because God was present on earth, laying in a manger. When the glory of the Lord dwelt on Sinai and a cloud covered it and Moses entered the cloud, it was to talk to God who was present there. Where God locates Himself, His glory shines. God can work everywhere and anywhere, but that His glory shines in certain places means these are where He works with purpose for you.

The Son was glorified on the cross, and the word glory takes new shape. This is where God wants to be present, not just everywhere, but for you, anywhere you find yourself. Not just in power, but in mercy. This is where the fullness of His will is revealed. Look at the Son of God suffer for you. He bears your sins. He bears the things you did in the name of your glory days. He bears your covetousness for days gone by. He bears your weakness today. And He wins for you a victory that none of these things can rob from you.

It changes how we see the weaknesses and darker days we wish we could go back in time to hide from. The glory rested on Sinai and a cloud of darkness concealed the Lord. Moses went up on the mountain to talk to God. So the closer Moses went into the darkness, the closer he came to God. The hour of glory was revealed in the Son, suffering for you on the cross. Jesus prays, “And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.” The presence of God is found on the cross. So the closer we come to suffering, the closer we come to Him. God doesn’t reveal Himself in power, but mercy. Mercy isn’t given to folks who don’t need it. Glory doesn’t exist apart from crosses, He hangs on them for you and with you.

So the Son does not pray for the might of the world. He prays for you, who suffer in this life. He prays for you, who sin and cause suffering to others. He prays for those given to Him, the baptized. He gives us words of truth so we can pray too. Learn from Him how to do it. We pray like we already belong to the Father. It’s even in the first two words of the prayer He teaches us. Our Father. Even in darkness. He cares for us as a dear Father cares for His dear children. He brings us out of it. Jesus isn’t afraid to go into the darkness if that’s where you are. It’s His to bring you out of it. He isn’t unwilling to be present on the cross to save you. Here He manifests God’s name. He manifests God’s glory. He saves sinners. He shows mercy to you.

He prays, “keep them in Your name.” and the glory is revealed again where God’s name was given to you. You are baptized. You wear God’s name. You bear His glory. You are baptized into His glory, into His cross, but also into His resurrection. Don’t look back to the days you had no problems. Look right into the dark of today, and then look at the cross and remember your baptism. Know the God who makes Himself present in darkness, who bears it unto death, and who rises again on the other side is with you now and evermore.

Glory is found in mercy

hope in suffering, not apart from it.

“Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good?” For some reason we read that and assume there should be no answer. If we really love God, how could He let us suffer? Peter wrote that line to a church in martyrdom. He’d die a martyr himself, crucified upside down. He made his defense for the hope that was in him upside down. On a cross. I don’t think he’s trying to make the point we think.

We imagine Christian witness is about power, intellect, charisma. Look how he found Jesus and got his life together. We imagine a witness apart from lowliness, humiliation, suffering. Nobody signs up for that stuff. We want a Christianity that makes our lives easier. It leaves us in the awkward position of trying to witness about a religion who’s symbol is the cross. When we imagine a Christianity apart from suffering, we imagine a Christianity apart from the cross. When you flee from suffering you flee from the cross. Peter calls suffering for righteousness’ sake a blessing. As someone who hates paper-cuts, that’s discouraging. I don’t want to hurt.

The thing is, “I don’t want to hurt” can become a religion to itself pretty quick. It has one great commandment. “Thou shalt not hurt”. To be fair, it sounds more appealing than any of God’s 10. The thing is, it offers no more hope. A religion that’s afraid to deal with suffering is a fragile thing. A religion that can’t explain it apart from a vengeful deity offers promises but never hope. If you don’t believe me look around. All the world bows to the goddess corona. I’m not saying we shouldn’t be terrified. I’m not saying the disease isn’t real. I’m asking how much hope do you really find in masks made from old tshirts? A religion that can’t deal with suffering leaves you always running, away from pain, and toward a promise that if only you do the right stuff, you won’t hurt.

Peter doesn’t promise a religion apart from suffering, but He doesn’t speak of a God apart from it either. Christ also suffered for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous. Our God works through suffering, not apart from it. He doesn’t stand on the other side of glory and dangle hope. He dives into the flood and bears the sinners lost to it. If your hope is in not suffering, there’s no hope until you get there, and you’re looking over your shoulder even there. If your hope is in Jesus, and Jesus wades into the suffering for you, you can even hope down here.

You will not find God in a place with no suffering. You find Him on the cross for you. That doesn’t just change how we see suffering. It changes how we see ourselves. Jesus didn’t bear the cross for those who were zealous for what is good. He bore the cross for the people who got what they deserve, who suffer for doing evil, for the sinners. For us. And that cross names you good. Forgiven. Righteous. Not by what you did. Not by what you earned. By the God who suffers for you and on that cross works a good so powerful if changes who you are.

You’re not just innocent, someone who can self-righteously insist they don’t deserve what happens to them. You’re someone who can stare at the suffering and say that’s where my God works. He isn’t on the other side as a prize for making it through. He’s at the center of it to work mercy and love as He carries us through it. That cross is a source of hope now, even if it hurts. Hate that it hurts. But don’t think hope waits on the other side of that pain. Know God dwells in the midst of it to carry you. You’re someone who can look into the suffering and know that if God is there, it can’t destroy you. You’re baptized. The mark of hope isn’t a future promise. It’s a now reality. Baptism now saves you. Through water. Through the flood. Through all that’s wrong and evil and still washed away in the victory over death by Him who conquered it for you.

God saved Noah through the ark. God works through means. He used an ark for Noah. He uses the font for you. It gives you something to hold on to in the middle of storms and suffering. You are baptized. Today you are saved. Today you are with God. Today you have victory. Today you are blessed. Have a good conscience in the midst of it. Not because you made the right choices in the face of danger, but because God bore that for you to cleanse you from shame and guilt and fear.

I don’t know if Peter had courage or cowardice upside down on that cross, but I know he’s baptized. I know that afraid or not, God had already saved him. The upside down cross they put him on became a joke we tell each other. The world calls it satanic, but the petrine cross is an ancient Christian symbol. A reminder that salvation is ours today no matter what they call us. God bore the cross first, so that ours would be like His. We are the baptized. We don’t stay dead. You are being carried safely through water.

hope in suffering, not apart from it.