Easter 5, 10 May 2020
The thief comes to steal and destroy (John 10:10). Satan, the adversary, is against you and against God’s plan in your life. He steals our peace and joy, and wants us to lose our trust in God and His Word. That’s the original temptation: you can’t trust God, so don’t do it God’s way – do it your way. When we lose our trust in the Lord, we lose our peace and joy. There will always be circumstances, hard times and trials here on earth; the place without hunger, thirst, tears, trials or persecutions is heaven.
Christ’s suffering and ours
Jesus knew His purpose on earth would be met with hard times:
· He would face many hardships and have no place to lay His head;
· He would be despised and rejected, even by His own people (Peter denied him);
· He would be betrayed by one He loved, one of His closest friends whom He drew unto Himself (Judas);
· He would be arrested, tried, sentenced and crucified;
· only His mother, John, and Mary would be there at the cross while the others would hide in fear behind a locked door.
The Bible tells us we have a God who is familiar with suffering. Jesus in His humanity, as a human God, experienced suffering, and in suffering learned obedience. That obedience led not to blessing or financial prosperity, but to the cross. He humbled Himself, became like a servant, and became obedient even unto death on a cross, and it was in that death that He was exalted and given the name above all names (Philippians 2:5-11). He has the name above coronavirus, and at the name of Jesus, a God who is human and suffering, and familiar even with death and conquering death, every knee will bow.
Jesus knew that if the Apostles, and even you and I, were to follow Him and do His will His way, they would face hard times and the same trials, struggles, rejection, and betrayal. To follow and be in love with Jesus is to participate in His life here on earth. If they persecuted Jesus, they’ll persecute us, and we’ll be called upon to pick up our cross in the process. Paul asked to share in the sufferings of Christ, that he would know the power of the resurrection. He writes that he has been crucified with Christ, so that he no longer lives but Christ lives in him.
How will we respond to suffering?
The question is not whether we’ll have difficulties – often very painful difficulties: pastors go to those who are suffering terribly, whether from losing loved ones or their own physical pain; and we wonder why, and settle that it’s part of being human. But when difficulties and adversities come, will you allow them to steal your peace? The peace Jesus offers passes all understanding. When suffering comes, will you give up your hope in God, and give in to fear, worry, anxiety and despair? Will you allow circumstances to oppress you? Or will your trust in God increase and cause you to press in to God? Will this be for you an opportunity to have the image of Jesus formed in you and learn that perseverance produces character and character produces hope?
How did Jesus endure suffering? “For the joy that was set before Him, He endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2). We need to see through suffering and into joy: to have eyes that see through pain, hurt and discouragement, and see that there’s joy set before us, until we see through and beyond and come to understand that what we’re going through is momentary compared to eternity. We look to Jesus – fix our eyes, stare, and gaze at things above where Christ is seated.
In preparation for the hard times the Apostles will face through His Crucifixion, Resurrection and Ascension, and for preaching Him, Jesus says, “Trust in God; trust in Me.” The Father loves Jesus, and Jesus loves the Father: it’s a relationship. He asks us to trust that relationship, and allow us to come into it and become part of the love of the Father for Jesus and of Jesus for the Father: “As the Father has loved Me, so I have loved you. Trust in Me.” That love is greater than anything the earth has, greater than any power in the universe, and you and I are called into that love. To do so, we only need to trust Him; then we’ll be able to see through the difficulties and see what is set before us: incredible joy.
Some people find it difficult to trust, and difficult to trust the Lord. Some have been hurt by trusting someone and being abused, abandoned, gossiped about – perhaps by someone you loved or even a family member – and have been hurt so deeply. If so, we need to ask, “Lord Jesus, heal me”. Jesus is a suffering God, a wounded God who knows your suffering and what you’re going through: He knows everything and is able to have empathy with us; He understands. I urge you to ask your bishop or your family to pray for you. It’s true that people will hurt you: I’ve been hurt deeply by people I trusted who have broken that trust; but I can’t not trust again, because my healing is in trusting the Lord. If I don’t trust, I’ll always hurt, it’ll build into resentment, bitterness, anger, depression, all kinds of spiritual ailments, and my soul will become dark. But the Lord wants to save our soul and bring it into joy.
Ask for prayer so you can be healed. When you receive healing, you’ll see there are wonderful things set before you, that God’s plan for you is greater than you could ask or imagine, beyond measure, and His love is everlasting and abounding. Jesus has prepared for us a place of refuge, peace, provision, protection and love, a place of fellowship, friendship, rest, joy and refreshment at the Father’s table.
How do you get there? By trusting Jesus, who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. The walk with Jesus isn’t knowing things or facts about Jesus – it’s knowing Him in a personal way. Christianity is about Jesus. It’s not a way – Jesus is the Way: His very Person is the Way, the Truth and the Life. When we see Jesus, we see the perfect unconditional love of God, who wants to love us and is willing to give His life for us. Are you in a relationship with Jesus? Can you trust Him today? If you don’t have that relationship and are struggling to trust Jesus, begin today by asking the Lord to come into your heart, giving Him all your worries and anxieties and allowing Him to take over. He’ll give you abundant life; He’ll be with you right now and give you all the blessings of the Father. Come and say, “Lord, forgive me. Enter my heart, take control of my life, make me the person You want me to be.”
Jesus is seated on the throne, and is also present with us:
· Absent from the body but present in spirit. He’s never left or forsaken us.
· The Holy Spirit will make His presence known.
· In the Eucharist (we can receive spiritually even if we can’t receive bread and wine).
· If you’ve asked Him into your heart or have been walking with Him, Jesus, the Head of the Church, is in the Church – in us: we’re the body of Christ on earth. He’s also in each of us as a temple of the Holy Spirit, and we’re called to do His work and be His body. When He has control of our hearts, He’ll use our hands and feet, mouth, eyes and ears to be Him in the world today.
This is a time to grow in trusting the Lord, be filled with the Holy Spirit, be Him, and bring others to the knowledge of Jesus, that they too can find the joy of God forever. There’s no other way to come to the Father except through Jesus. Grow in that relationship with Jesus, and bring Jesus to those around you. What a great joy, to bring people to the Lord! We can survive this seclusion and this pandemic; but let it not be only survival. Let us come out having repented of our lack of trust, hope, faith and believing in God. Let us repent of things that have hindered us in our walk with the Lord, turn back to Him, and develop a passionate love for the one who passionately loves us, Jesus – that will be revival.