Midweek 5 LSB #731
Text – 1 Peter 1:6
Now for a little time you may have to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.
I Can’t Believe in a God who Would…
“You would destroy the temple & rebuild it in three days, save yourself, & come down from the cross!” The words of those who passed by cut deeper each time. Crowds had once hung on His every word. Now these onlookers had turned on Him in a most vicious manner. The chief priests & scribes pointed out the utter folly of this ‘Son of God.’
“He saved others. He cannot save Himself! Let this Christ, the King of Israel, come down from the cross that we may see & believe!” As if it couldn’t get any worse, then the criminals being crucified on either side joined in the fun, mocking Him as well. Jesus hung there, suspended between earth & heaven, utterly alone.
His followers fled into the darkness the night before, & except for His mother, the two Marys, & John, all His people seemed to have turned against Him. Even the midday sky closed itself to Him. The clouds were thick & the sun was nowhere to be found. All He saw was darkness. Desperately Jesus gazed into the abyss & cried:
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” His cry echoed into the darkness – unreturned. How could His Father leave Him like this? How could He trust in a God who would abandon Him in His time of greatest need?
On January 12, 2010, Odinel, a mother of six, was preparing rice & beans for the family dinner. One of her children was playing outside while the rest were inside their ground floor apartment doing homework. One moment, it was a day like every other – the next moment, the world itself shook with great convulsions.
An earthquake brought the six-story building crashing down upon them in a few
moments of chaos. Stunned & confused, Odinel was able to compose herself & dig free, but she feared the fate of her five children who’d been inside with her: “I was screaming out for the children as I threw pieces of concrete off me but heard nothing. I could see layers of concrete lying on the spot where [they] had been doing homework. I was sure they were dead.”
The silence Odinel faced was deafening. She could never move that amount of concrete rubble by herself, & with everyone else scrambling for their survival, this mother faced the harsh reality that her children were dead or very soon to be. In a matter of moments, five of her precious children were violently snatched from her motherly embrace.
The 7.0 magnitude earthquake that struck 16 miles west of Haiti’s capital city, killing an estimated 300,000 people, once again left people staring into the abyss. The reality is this – the world is a dark, dark place. When we aren’t entertaining or distracting ourselves into a dazed stupor, we are pressed by the brutality of this world on many different sides.
From everyday struggles & frustrations to wars, terrorist attacks, natural disasters, broken families, lost jobs, tragic car accidents & long battles against disease; in those moments we come face to face with our utter helplessness. We cry out to anyone for help! Where are the answers? Especially we pray to God, time after time, but what do we get for our prayers?
Often it’s the same thing that Jesus got – silence! How many Christians have prayed to be delivered from the clutches of cancer or other terrible illness to no avail? Sure one or two make it against the odds, but what about the rest? How often do people cry to God over broken relationships? How many people cry out of the despair of unemployment?
Does God ever hear? Is He even real? Did He ignore the cries of the 300,000 people killed in Haiti’s earthquake, or those killed by violent criminals, or by fentanyl poisoning? Is God dead? PAUSE As the dark clouds swirled over the head of Jesus, He faced His greatest trial. Everything He stood for hung in the balance. In a matter of hours He’d be dead, & already He had been shamed, humiliated, discredited. Everyone around Jesus had reason to abandon faith in Him, because the pressure to despair was enormous.
What good was it for Him to patiently wait? What could He possibly be waiting for as death reached out to embrace Him? How could this be the arrival of God’s kingdom that He’d so forcefully preached? How could He be Messiah & the long-awaited King of Israel? Had He been mistaken? Now was the time to own that! Now was the time to give up!
No one could fault Him for it! But stubbornly, defiantly, Jesus pressed onward. He did the unthinkable – He resolved Himself to wait patiently on His Father in heaven. He refused to give up hope that God’s kingdom was at hand. He did not fight to bring Himself down from that cross. He did not call an army of angels to intervene. Not once did He curse God.
Following the way of love, He persisted till the end & refused to back down. He would not be deterred; He threw Himself headlong into the destructive path of death itself. To the despair of those who stayed & watched – death did not yield. It also pushed forward unwaveringly, crushing this Jesus under its weight.
Under six stories of broken building, seven-year-old Kiki, his ten-year-old sister Sabrina, & their little brother were buried alive. Tucked away in a small pocket in the concrete rubble with the corpses of their other two siblings, these three had amazingly been spared from a crushing death. But now they were trapped – alone, hungry, thirsty & weak.
The days passed & there was no sign that rescue would come. They heard no one calling for them or digging to set them free. Kiki & Sabrina’s little brother cried out to them, begging for water, but they had none. He asked for water on Wednesday… on Thursday… on Friday. They were helpless to save him. Fatigued & dehydrated, he died of thirst in their arms. Surrounded by the decaying bodies of their brothers & sisters, Kiki & Sabrina clung to each other & waited. Though it would’ve been easy to simply surrender in despair, slipping into death, they continued to hope beyond all hope that they would be rescued. They found their solace in one another, strengthened by the fact that they were not alone.
In this world death also stands on our doorstep – diseases, disasters of every sort, wars & violence rage all around threatening to tear your life apart. Will you continue to look to God in hope or will you walk away in despair? Alone, eventually you will fall into despair, but with others there is a chance for hope.
Like Kiki & Sabrina, it is important that you & I face the harshness of reality in the company of one another. If you & I try to go it alone, we will not make it – we simply are not strong enough. God has given us a community of brothers & sisters that we might build each other up & strengthen each other in the face of the world’s darkness.
Peter’s 1st letter was written to Christians facing persecution, people who were being tempted to give up on God. He wrote:
“…now for a little time you may have to suffer grief in all kinds of trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith – more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire – may be found to result in praise & glory & honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1:6-7) Peter wrote those words to Christian communities, not to individuals.
He wrote about facing despair as part of a community in Christ. Without community gathered around the cross the task ahead would be too much. When you & I stare death & despair in the face, we need each other. A hymn writer put it this way: “When all things seem against us, to drive us to despair, we know one gate is open, one ear will hear our prayer.”
On Friday they laid Jesus’ body in the tomb. He’d stared into the abyss & it swallowed
Him up. It looked like the kingdom He preached never came. Now He was just another dead Messiah – a failure. Scoffers said His trust in a god who would let Him face rejection, suffering & crucifixion was a joke. How, they ridiculed, could He have thought that such a god was real?
His god had been too late. His trust had been in vain. In a world where the strong conquer, He had been weak. In a world where wisdom rules, He had been a fool. In a world where death had the final say – Jesus was dead. This dark & unforgiving world once again asserted its strength.
But as it pressed down relentlessly on this weak & seemingly foolish Jesus, its iron grip began to slip. On Sunday morning, it was the way of the world that was shown to be a fraud. The world that everyone thought they knew was completely turned on its head. Jesus, this crucified failure, was bodily raised to life!
His foolishness proved to be true wisdom. His weakness, true strength! Everything the world thought it had figured out began to crumble in a pile of rubble.
A week after the disaster, Kiki & Sabrina’s aunt, Devinal, returned to the family’s apartment to look for belongings. As she looked through the rubble she heard what sounded like muffled cries. Immediately she began to dig with a crowbar. Amazingly, a team of 20 American rescue workers from New York & Virginia stumbled onto the scene. They moved in to help.
They began to dig. After four hours of digging & cutting through five layers of crushed concrete they came upon Kiki. Huddled next to the corpse of one of his siblings they were able to pull him free. Then they released Sabrina who was trapped behind a metal chair.
After eight grueling days without food or water the two children were reunited with their mother amidst tears & laughter. Their foolish hope was answered, & a small window into another world was revealed. It was a view into a world where Jesus lives & reigns with the Father & the Holy Spirit, one God, now & forever. In the story of Kiki & Sabrina, in countless others throughout the world, we are shown that our natural understanding of what is wise or foolish, strong or weak, has been turned upside down in Jesus Christ, the Crucified. The insignificant & humble ways of faith, hope & love are shown in Him to be God’s way.
The dark world around us continues to mock our foolish hope, but our assurance is that the outcome of faith in Jesus is nothing short of true rescue on the other side of death. “Though you have not seen Him, you love Him. Though you do not now see Him, you believe in Him & rejoice with joy that is inexpressible & filled with glory.” (1 Peter 1:8 ESV)
Though you do not see God, you know you will be saved from the evil grasp of a world of disease, disaster & war. Cling to God in all things & you’ll be raised from the dead, just like Jesus! As you lie on your deathbed, & even in the days between now & then, you can be certain that your God, the God of Jesus, will act on the other side of death, the other side of the abyss.
The eyes of faith, given by the Spirit of Jesus, reveal that the true God of this world is found in the midst of the fearful abyss – our God resides in the crucified Messiah. You’d be a fool to believe in a God like that, a God you cannot see, a God on the other side of death! You would be a fool – just like Jesus.
“…you believe in Him & rejoice with joy that is inexpressible & filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your soul.” (1 Peter 1:8-9 ESV) Amen.
O God, forsake me not! Take not Your Spirit from me; do not permit the might of sin to overcome me. Increase my feeble faith, which You alone have wrought. O be my strength & power – O God forsake me not! Amen. LSB 731:2.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet