I was watching a national news program this past week (note: I encourage you to stay informed, but don’t watch these shows 24-7, it’ll depress you. I, for one, can’t afford to get too depressed. When I get depressed, I eat, and during this time when us math teachers are instructing online, I’m sitting much more than normal too!). At the end of the hour, after all the doom and gloom followed by doomier and gloomier and leading up to doomiest and gloomiest (now, don’t get me wrong, I want all the guests to tell the truth, and the truth right now is sobering and severe and should lead all Christians to fervent prayer; it’s just that too much consumption of this kind of talk is probably not healthy), the host advertised that coming up after their final commercial break was a pastor, they called him one of America’s most successful Christian pastors, who would give a message of comfort. True to their word, the ads came to an end and up came the host interviewing the minister they had promised. Finally viewers should see a ray of sunshine glistening through a darkened sky, finally hear a note of promise in the cacophony of despair, finally receive a buoy of hope in the midst of a troubled sea, finally they should; but alas they did not, at least not in a sure and certain way, not in an eternal way, not in a Christian way. In the entirety of the nearly six-minute interview, the words “repentance”, “sin”, “faith”, “forgiveness”, “salvation”, “heaven”; even the words “Jesus”, “Christ”, “Savior”, or “Lord” were never uttered and no Bible verse was quoted or even alluded to. (*I relistened to the piece again to make sure I was telling the truth in that last sentence and discovered that the word “faith” was actually mentioned twice, but it was in the context of being in “a place of faith” (versus a place of negativity) and of turning to “one’s faith” (no particular faith, Christian or otherwise, was mentioned at all).*) The pastor told us that not letting the negativity in, living one day at a time, being grateful for our health and our family, and doing good things for others such as making a positive call or sending a positive text were the keys to getting through this situation and feeling better about one’s self and condition. Now I’m all for not being negative, all for living one day at a time, definitely all for gratitude, and all for being kind to others in ways both great and small; however apart from faith in Jesus all of these things are non-attainable in the truest sense of the terms, and even if they were achieved would only be temporal attitudes based on temporal things that could be taken away in any given moment, and are self-centered (and self-dependent) rather than Christ-Centered (and Christ-Dependent). Only in Jesus can true, eternal, and certain comfort, peace, and joy be known. In this edition of the Gracelet, we will look at genuine tidings of comfort and joy! Comfort we can give because it is comfort that we have received (2 Cor. 1:1-4).
Comfort Because Jesus Has Come (Luke 2:8-20)…The old Christmas Carol from which the title of this Gracelet comes has a verse which reads, “from God our Heavenly Father the blessed angel came, and unto certain shepherds brought tidings of the same, how that in Bethlehem was born the Son of God by Name, O tidings of comfort and joy…” This lyric of course finds its basis in Luke 2:8-20. On the night of Jesus’ birth angels came to shepherds keeping watch over their flock by night. Shepherding was a rough job, it didn’t stop when the weather was poor or the sun went down. Shepherding was low paying work, they would be found towards the bottom of any wage list, never found enjoying the luxuries of the affluent. The shepherds of Bethlehem cultivated many of the animals needed for Temple sacrifices. Yet, the work of the shepherds kept them often ceremonially unclean and among the lower class, even among the outcasts, of society in every metric. However, it was not to a king or governor or priest or rabbi to which these angels appeared on that blessed night; it was to these rough, low paid, hardworking, unclean shepherds! What was announced to them was not the birth of a financial benefactor who could fill their bank accounts; or a union organizer who could negotiate higher wages, shorter hours and a better work environment; or a motivational speaker who could make them feel better about their social status; but rather the birth of a Savior, which is Christ the Lord! A Savior that we all need, regardless of any label or position or disposition that one has in this world, for we have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23)! And a Savior which has come for all who will receive (John 1:12)!
Comfort Because Jesus Has Called (Mark 10:46-52)…A blind beggar named Bartimaeus sat by the roadside near the town of Jericho. Sitting was the activity that dominated the days of the blind, especially during the time of the New Testament. They were very limited in what they could do or provide for themselves. The blind had scant reason for hope or comfort or joy. Then one day blind Bartimaeus heard that a man was passing by. Now, he was used to many people passing by, he couldn’t see them coming and going but he could hear them coming and going. No doubt he had cried out to many for alms and assistance of some sort. But this day it wasn’t just any man passing by, it was Jesus passing by! Bartimaeus didn’t call out to Christ for money or for help up and guidance to go hither and yon. No, the blind beggar cried out to Jesus for mercy, confessing Him as the promised Messiah, the promised Savior, promised as the Son of David according to the flesh in the Old Testament scriptures. He didn’t just call out for Jesus, he shouted out for Jesus. And when the surrounding crowd urged him to pipe down, he shouted out all the more, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” His plea wasn’t based upon his merit, but on Christ’s mercy, not based upon what he finally “deserved” in life, but on what Jesus could fully bring to this life and in the life to come that none of us deserve! Jesus stopped in His tracks and gave instruction for Bartimaeus to be brought to Him. Some of the crowd came to Bartimaeus and said, “Take courage, stand up! He is calling for you.” The beggar threw off his coat and jumped up off the ground! Jumping was something the blind had little reason to do. But Bartimaeus jumped! Why? Because Jesus had just called him to His side and he was going, and going with a jump! Bartimaeus not only received his physical sight that day, but also recognized Jesus as the Savior and followed Christ down the road. Many people were healed by Jesus and would follow Him on the road to get their miracle, but few followed Jesus on the road after they got their miracle. Thankfully Christ didn’t just call Bartimaeus to receive natural healing in his eyes, a blessing that though great is only temporary and would only last the length of his earthly lifetime. Jesus also called Bartimaeus to receive a spiritual healing, seeing and receiving Christ for Who He was, as both Lord and Savior! This healing, this salvation, is something that the world didn’t give and the world can’t take away; it is an eternal gift that goes beyond the limited scope of temporary earthly existence. Good and comforting news for me, for you, for us. Jesus still calls us to come to Him, and we should take courage and jump for joy, for those who come unto Him He will in no wise cast aside (John 6:37)!
Comfort Because Jesus Has Conquered (John 16:33)…The thirteenth chapter of John’s gospel recounts for us the Last Supper and John is the only one who tells us of the washing of the disciples’ feet that occurred that night. For the next five chapters we see Jesus teaching and preparing the disciples throughout the course of the night in which He was betrayed, leading up to His arrest in John 18. As I like to say, we know it was the “LAST” Supper through hindsight, certainly Jesus knew all along that it was the “LAST” Supper, but the 12 (or perhaps better said “the 11”) didn’t fully understand the “LASTNESS” of the situation at the time they were experiencing it. One of the most comforting things Christ said to them, and subsequently to all believers down through the ages of time, occurs in John 16:33. The Lord declared, “these things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage I HAVE OVERCOME THE WORLD.” In the hours that would follow; as He was arrested, tried, mocked, beaten, scorned, whipped, crucified, murdered and buried; it wouldn’t seem to any observer that Jesus had overcome anything, in fact it looked like He had been overcome. Then three days later, as the old song says, “up from the grave He arose, with a mighty triumph o’er His foes, He arose a Victor from the dark domain, and He lives forever with His saints to reign, He Arose, He Arose, Hallelujah Christ Arose!” Jesus conquered death, hell, and the grave. He paid the penalty for sin (not for His sin for He committed none, but for our sin!) and He broke the power of sin. We could not conquer our sin nor its wage of death. But Christ could, and Christ did, and Christ extends that victory to all who will come to Him through repentance and faith! In His Person and in His Work we have the greatest comfort of all!
Comfort Because Jesus Is Coming Again (1 Thess. 4:13-18)…The Apostle Paul had been used by God to start a church in Thessalonica. In the years that followed he was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write two epistles to this congregation that cleared up some bad doctrine and clarified some good doctrine, not only for them but for all congregations in all time. One issue Paul cleared up for them was the teaching on what happened to believers who died before Christ’s return. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 instructs us that when Jesus comes to rapture His church, the dead in Christ shall rise first, and then believers alive at the time will rise, and together we will be caught up together to the clouds and be with the Lord (and with one another) forevermore! Jesus said He was going to prepare a place for us, but that He would also come again and receive us unto Himself that where He is, there we may also be (John 14:1-3)! Paul says that we should “comfort one another with these words (1 Thess. 4:18). And the fact that Jesus is coming again is comforting indeed!