Posts tagged ‘Miracle’

The Best of Times and the Worst of Times

Jean Duplessis-Bertaux, Depiction of the storming of the Tuileries Palace during the French Revolution

Jean Duplessis-Bertaux | Depiction of the storming of the Tuileries Palace during the French Revolution

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…”[1]

So begins Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. Though the story is set during the French Revolution, its opening line strikes a universal tone. Life comes mixed with good and bad, wisdom and foolishness, faith and doubt, light and darkness, hope and despair. This is true even of Jesus’ life. For example, in Mark 7, Jesus heals a blind man:

Some people brought to [Jesus] a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged Him to place His hand on the man. After He took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put His fingers into the man’s ears. Then He spit and touched the man’s tongue. He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!” (which means, “Be opened!”). At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly. (Mark 7:32-35)

On its surface, this story looks like one that should be marked only by joy. After all, a blind and mute man gets healed! But right before Jesus heals this man, He looks up to heaven and lets out “a deep sigh” (Mark 7:34). The Greek word for this sigh is stenazo, which denotes a groan of sorrow (e.g., Romans 8:23).  Why would Jesus groan in sorrow right as He is getting ready to do something as joyful as a healing?

Like Charles Dickens, Jesus knows that even when it’s the best of times, it’s also the worst of times. He knows that even as He is getting ready to do something great, evil is not far off. Indeed, Jesus knows that He will soon face the horror of the cross. And so He lets out a groan.

The Old Testament prophets spoke of a Messiah who would come and do many miraculous things, including that of making the deaf hear and the mute speak:

Your God will come, He will come with vengeance; with divine retribution He will come to save you. Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. (Isaiah 35:4-6)

Notice even in this prophecy that the best of times and worst of times are comingled. On the one hand, the Messiah will open the eyes of the blind and unstop the ears of the deaf. This is good. On the other hand, the Messiah will come with “vengeance” and “divine retribution.” This sounds bad. But it also seems strange. Isaiah says, “With divine retribution [God] will come to save you.”  Just how does God intend to use His retribution for our salvation?  Isn’t His retribution supposed to lead to condemnation?

Timothy Keller notes that, when Jesus came, retribution and salvation were not so much in tension with each other as they were complimentary to each other, for Jesus “didn’t come to bring divine retribution; He came to bear it.”[2] On the cross, Jesus took the retribution our sins deserve so we could receive the salvation we could never earn. This is how divine retribution can lead to our salvation.

In A Tale of Two Cities, a kind of dualism runs through its opening salvo. There is good and bad, hopefulness and despair, and the reader does not know which one will ultimately prevail – or if either will prevail. In the case of Christ, though good and bad, hopefulness and despair are real and are in tension with each other, there is no doubt which will finally carry the day. Jesus may have groaned. But He still healed. And Jesus may bear divine retribution on a bloodied cross, but He still brings salvation out of an empty tomb. In Christ, the tension of Dickens is resolved. And that’s why we can have hope.

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[1] Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities (Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 1999), 1.

[2] Timothy Keller, King’s Cross (New York: Dutton, 2011), 94

October 26, 2015 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

ABC Extra – You’re Inadequate

This weekend in worship and ABC we talked about the stain of inadequacy.  We’ve all grappled with inadequacy, of course.   A project we’ve been working on isn’t up to snuff according to the boss.  And we feel inadequate.  The money we make isn’t enough to keep up with our next-door neighbors.  And we feel inadequate.

I always enjoy watching the opening outtakes on the hit FOX TV show, “American Idol.”  Some of the auditions are atrocious.  What is really fascinating to me, however, is that some of these contestants, who couldn’t carry a tune if their lives depended on it, believe that they are truly good singers.  When they find out that they are not, they are crushed.  And they feel inadequate.

I suspect that Peter must have felt much like an “American Idol” contestant feels after Simon Cowell announces, “That was atrocious.”  As Luke 5 opens, we find Peter, a professional fisherman, casting his nets into the Sea of Galilee.  And Peter was no poor fisherman.  To the contrary, he was one of the best.  But even one of the best gets skunked from time to time.  And this was the case with Peter.  He had been fishing all night and had not caught a thing.  But not to worry, for a carpenter from Nazareth named Jesus is on the case.  “Put out into the deep water, and let down the nets for a catch,” Jesus says (verse 4).  A carpenter giving advice to a seasoned fisherman on fishing?  That’s rich.  But Peter trusts and obeys the Lord.  And the results are nothing short of miraculous: “When [Peter and his companions] had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break“ (verse 6).  Apparently, this carpenter knows a thing or two about fishing.  And all of a sudden, Peter is struck with an acute bout of inadequacy.  He says to Jesus, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man” (verse 8)!  Jesus, in turn, responds to Peter’s declaration with a promise of hope in the midst of inadequacy: “Don’t be afraid” (verse 10).

Sadly, many people have twisted this precious promise of Jesus.  In the sixteenth century, a young monk named Martin Luther twisted this promise by refusing to believe it.  He refused to hearken unto God’s call to “be not afraid.”  Instead, in his younger years, he saw God only as a cruel taskmaster who would surely damn all mankind for their inadequacies.  Blessedly, he later came to understand the wonderful compassion of our God, expressed in Jesus Christ.  In the twenty-first century, many people twist this promise by turning God into a wrathless deity who overlooks, rather than forgives, sins.  The promise, “Do not be afraid,” is conceived as an admission that God does not really care about, much less gets angry over, sin.  Indeed, a popular preacher recently toured the country with the message, “The gods aren’t angry.”  His point was this:  God is not angry with you or at your sin.  But this is not true.  God is angry.  And He’s angry at your sin.  As the apostle Paul writes, “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men” (Romans 1:18).  God has wrath at sin.  Jesus says, “Do not fear,” not because God doesn’t get angry with sin and sinners, but because His wrath is taken by Jesus Christ in our place for our sins on the cross.  It is by Jesus’ work on the cross that our sins are forgiven.

When Jesus tells Peter, “Do not be afraid,” it isn’t because Peter is really a good guy.  No, Peter’s statement, “I am a sinful man,” is perfectly true.  He is inadequate.  But through Christ’s atoning work, Peter’s sin is taken away and he has nothing to fear.  The answer to inadequacy is not to pretend you’re adequate.  You’re not.  The answer to inadequacy is to trust in Jesus because He is more than adequate.  He is perfect.  And His perfection covers all of our inadequate sins.  Find your adequacy in Christ.

Want to learn more on this passage? Go to
www.ConcordiaLutheranChurch.com
and check out audio and video from Pastor Tucker’s
message or Pastor Zach’s ABC!

June 28, 2010 at 4:45 am Leave a comment


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