How have you answered this question lately: “How are you keeping?”
Anything like my answers? ‘Tired’, ‘Busy’, ‘Struggling on’, ‘Looking forward to the break’, ‘Overwhelmed’, ‘Trying to keep my head up’. Or perhaps you haven’t expressed these things, but are feeling them: ‘Worried’, ‘Sad’, ‘Down’, ‘Fearful’…
Why do we experience the madness of the world, and the madness of our own worlds a bit more acutely this time of the year? Whatever the reasons, a part of God’s Word has come home to me a whole lot more forcefully lately – Jesus’ words to his disciples in their world, with all its governmental madness: “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In this world, you will have tribulation. But take heart; I HAVE OVERCOME THE WORLD.” John 16:33
Jesus is preparing them for the time when he will be gone, when they will desert him as he goes to the Cross, but because of the Father’s love for them will be restored, and then released into their crazy world, armed with the message of Christ crucified -the One who has overcome the world. I take at least two great encouragements from Jesus’ words. Something we will find in this world, and something we will find in Him:
‘In this world…
you will have tribulation’… trouble, difficulty, persecution, struggle, trial, hardship, failure, loss, grief, moelikheid!
How is that an encouragement!? Well, the Bible tells us what to expect from this world -it doesn’t hold on to some utopian, idealistic notion of this present world. It doesn’t sugarcoat or ignore reality. This side of heaven, there will always be self-serving leadership battles, protests, poverty, wars, disasters, tragedies, persecution, and the like. When tough things happen to us, it is not strange -it is what we are to expect from a creation ‘subjected to futility’ (Rom 8:20) It forces us to look to the One who is in control. And particularly here, as even the disciples’ own painful desertion of Jesus at the Cross is prophesied-revealing that they are not the ‘somebodies’ they may think they are, but as they will learn from Jesus’ remarkable preparation for their failure- ‘nobodies’ used by His Grace and for His Glory!
As CH Dodd said: ‘It is part of the character and genius of the Church that its foundation members were discredited men; it owed its existence not to their faith, courage, or virtue, but to what Christ had done with them; and this they could never forget.’
But secondly, take heart from what we find in Jesus:
‘…in me you may have peace.’
What a promise in the midst of such a conflicted world, of such conflicted hearts: Peace!
Can this really be so, or is it a phantom like the peace declared by British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain before world war two broke out!?
It all depends on who is offering the peace, and what this peace is, and as we will see, we cannot separate the two. It is clearly not ‘world peace’ in the classic beauty pageant answer-sense! It is peace promised amidst world chaos! What kind of peace is this?
The answer lies in knowing Jesus and what he has come to do, and this Jesus answers when he speaks of ‘overcoming the world’, that those who trust in Him find true peace.
In what sense has Jesus accomplished victory over the world -conquered it?
It’s what the whole discourse from ch14 has been all about. Remember it started with that assurance to the troubled disciples hearts – ‘Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.’ (Jn 14:1) His preparation of a place for them, his giving of the Spirit, his binding them to himself the Vine, him forging deep friendship with them -all these hopeful, glorious, eternal gifts all come by means of His one great mission for which he came: They all come via his death, all through the Cross. It’s that, his death, resurrection, and exaltation that triumphantly conquer and bring certain, real peace. Jesus is calling his disciples to look at the world from the perspective of this triumph. He is calling us all to do that, especially when the heat is turned up -when the world presses in with its temptations, allure, and lusts; when the world scythes in with its slander, suppression, and persecution; when the world groans with disease, difficulty, and grief; when your world teeters with doubts, discouragement and desperation -look at it from the perspective of His triumph, and hold on! Therein lies the secret to joy, perseverance, and true peace. Therein lies the heart of the call to the churches in the letters in the book of Revelation -‘to him who overcomes’. Who is the one who overcomes? Is it not the one who keeps trusting the Overcoming King until he returns and brings His reward with Him?
That is what really matters -clinging to the faithful Jesus until his triumphant return.
What a year it has been -2016 is nearly over, and much of it from a St James perspective has been very blessed. Thank you for your ministry, your generosity, your prayers, your encouragement, your investment in God’s work here, your celebration with us for 30 years of service for Jesus in this place. But it would all be worthless without faithful perseverance in Jesus -thank you for that most of all, and may we continue in Him fruitfully for His Glory.
And can I take this opportunity to wish you on behalf of the staff a Christmas season and holiday that will be greatly blessed and Christ-centred -may we have many conversations about Him, and may we use much of the time to reflect on our response to the world. And doing so, may we rest in His peace.
I leave you with Don Carson’s words: “On the one hand the world appears all the more evil and loathsome; yet, on the other hand, this is the world for which the Lamb of God died. On the one hand, this is the world that rejected the Saviour and condemned him to death; yet, on the other hand, by that same death, the Saviour defeated the prince of this world. On the one hand, this is the world which persecutes God’s people and inflicts both petty irritants and massive scourges upon them; yet, on the other hand, that is the way the Master went, and therefore it is the way his disciples must be prepared to go. On the one hand, the world spells trouble; but on the other hand, living by faith in Jesus enables us to partake of the age to come and thereby serve and grow as members of an eschatological community transported into time.”