Distress, Oppression and Tribulation

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Like so many, I am deeply troubled by the state of affairs in my country, the United States. Unlike others, however, I will not use this platform to simply re-hash the awful events of the past two weeks. I will state for the record that I have appreciation and respect for the brave men and women in law enforcement who serve all people with respect, dignity and understanding. I must also add that my heart breaks for all victims who have been mis-used, injured and even killed by those who have abused the power given to them in order that they can protect people.

I must also admit that a fair amount of defeatism has crept into my thinking this week. A focal point of the ministry God has given me is to be an encourager of others. I have found this most difficult to do when each idea in my head seems to be met with ‘What does it matter,’ or ‘what’s the use’ as one awful event after another comes to light.

Thankfully, God is infinitely more faithful than me! As I pondered these things this morning, He brought me to a familiar Scripture from which I have attempted to comfort others with through the years. It is John 16:33: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (NIV)

As I looked into the original language in which Jesus spoke these words, I found again the peace that He promises. When Jesus referenced this world, John, one of the Lord’s closest disciples, was describing not just the physical world, but also according to Strong’s, “a system opposed to God.” It seems as if the prevalent world view then, much as it is today, had aligned itself in opposition to God.

But to get to that peace Jesus spoke of, I had to better understand the awful events of our recent past through the filter of God’s Word. As always, knowing the context in which these words were spoken is the best place to start. Jesus uttered this statement found in John 16:33 to His closest disciples just hours before He was arrested, tried and crucified. He certainly knew trouble was coming. Again using Strong’s concordance, I found that the trouble the Lord spoke of was not only what they were to face in their immediate circumstance, but it also speaks of tribulation and oppression to come. We certainly are living in times of oppression and tribulation.

After stating that His followers would face troubles, Jesus said what must have sounded as a peculiar thing: Take heart! Basically Jesus was telling them (and us) to cheer up, even in the face of current events. Not that He was telling them to grin and bear it; rather Jesus told His followers to put their full trust in God, the only One who is immeasurably greater than any world circumstance.

Jesus then said something that must have seemed even more incredible at the time: I have overcome the world. To his original audience, it certainly did not look like anything but what they were trying to accomplish had been overcome. Yet, a little over twenty-four hours later, the full depth of this momentous truth would begin to play out as God’s plan for the salvation of the world began with the crucifixion of Jesus. Three days later, as He arose victorious from the grave, the fullness of what Jesus had overcome came to light. Death had been conquered; eternal life was now possible for all those who would put their faith in Christ.

Having reviewed and renewed my faith in this awesome God who loves us all, I re-discovered the peace that Jesus said was to be found in Him alone. Here too a better understanding of the original word used is extremely helpful. This peace, as Jesus described it to be, went far beyond a conventional meaning of the word. Peace for most means the absent of strife. True as this is, the peace Jesus speaks of goes much further as it tells of having a reconciled relationship, as one has through faith in the Lord with God the Father.

As I said, God is faithful! He has seen me through this low time by bringing me back to a place where He is the focus and motivation of my life. For me, this means to be not only the encourager I have tried to be in the past, but to increase my efforts in these troubled times. As I have found (again), God is the only true source of hope that there is.

In practical terms, going forward I will make myself more readily available to those who are hurting while promoting the cause of justice for all people. God has more than enough of His peace to go around. We as followers of Christ must walk boldly in this peace as we make His love known to all; both the oppressed and the oppressor. Only when all sides are confronted with the universal love of God for all (and the call of everyone to respond to this love by loving each other), can the true peace of God be known. Jesus has in fact overcome this world; may we all live as if we believe it to be true!

Blessings,

Pastor Chuck