Readings: Psalm 51:1-12, Hebrews 5:5-10, Jeremiah 31:31-34; John 12:20-33
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, MD, March 18 2018
I want to reflect on some words that Jesus speaks about His mission recorded for us in John 12:27; "Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? 'Father, save me from this hour'? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour.” It is quite clear from this statement that Jesus knew His life was riding into a storm. He did so for a purpose.
- So that we may know that God stands with us in the storms of our lives.
- To save us from sin.
- To bring glory to God.
Let us think about each of these in turn.
1) Jesus rode into the storm so that we may know that God stands with us in the storms of our lives.
We live in a world that always asks "Why?" particularly in the face of suffering or death. Why is a teenager killed in an auto accident? Why do the majority of airplanes or trains go along without any problem, but some, with some particular people on board, become disasters? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why can't all the rotten things happen to the rotten people and then there would be some sense in trying to be good? And … the question that we fall into in our melancholy moments… "Why me?”
I will tell you this straight. If Jesus hadn't ridden into the storm I would find it hard to believe in any kind of loving God. For when you look around the whole structure of our lives, our world seems to be going from bad to worse. It seems almost stupidity to suggest that there is a guiding hand over and above, ordering things to happen, bad as well as good, earthquakes as well as sunshine, war as well as peace.
Were it not for Jesus riding into the storm, the idea that God could be love, would make no sense to me. It would seem that although God was some great creative force, in the creation of the world He had made His greatest mistake and was now toying with us in a sadistic and haphazard manner.
When I look to Jesus, my whole conception of God is changed. When I look to Jesus my whole perception of the world into which we are born is shifted and turned upside down. It is changed by the simple fact that Christ suffered; that in Christ the very heart of God experiences the pain and confusion and striving of creation.
That does not give a neat and tidy answer to every "Why?" question that comes into mind but it does throw overboard totally the idea that God is not involved or doesn't care. Because Christ struggled and wrestled with Gods' will I know that God totally understands the confusion and pain and desire we have not to accept the sufferings of our lives. I know that although the situation of doubt or conflict which may come to us may be different in kind, it is surpassed by the suffering of Christ in depth.
You know how it is when you have a problem;-
- One person comes along and says, "Oh, I'm sorry, that must be terrible."
- Another comes along and says, "That's bad," and they weep with you and enter into the situation.
- But often the only person who can really help is the one who says, "Believe me, I know how you feel, I've been into that storm as well, I rode through and came out the other side."
That is precisely the sort of person Jesus is. Whatever storms attack our lives, Christ can say, "Yes, I know, I know exactly how you feel...... now let me take you through it." And Christ alone is the only one who can tell us that about death.
He rode into the storm so that we may know that God stands with us in the storms of our lives, that God is no stranger to the realities of our existence, but One able to identify with our weaknesses in an active and positive way. This brings us to a second thing.
2) Jesus rode into the storm to save us from sin.
Sin wouldn't be much of a problem if we could drown our consciences. If it wasn't for the fact that somewhere built into us was a hint of the good and the bad (and probably the ugly) then sin wouldn't be a problem. But it is a problem. Like Jiminy Cricket in Pinnochio that little song keeps nagging at us, "Always let your conscience be your guide." So we have to deal with it.
Some try to rationalize it. "We are all in the same boat, aren't we... I mean I'm only human, what do you expect?"
Some try to deny it. "What me worry?" If you work at it, you can stifle the inner voice of conscience. You can convince yourself that your sin isn't really sin at all.
The Christian response to sin is neither to excuse it or to deny it, but to recognize it and deal with it. Why was Christ prepared to ride into the storm? In Romans 3:25, Paul explains it this way:- "God offered Him, so that by His sacrificial death He should become the means by which peoples sins are forgiven through their faith in Him".
Paul tells us that if we believe that Jesus died for our sins we are forgiven and set free. It is as simple and as complicated as that. It is simple, in that all faith is simple. It is complicated in that we like to be so sophisticated that we overlook the simple message of the gospel. People go around for years and years, being guilty, carrying around regrets and fears over past sins. Jesus, through His death declares them dealt with, but people don't let Him take care of them.
It is almost like ... I remember having a wart on my thumb. And although it wasn't very nice, it was in a strange way comforting. If I was a little bit nervous, I used to fiddle with the wart, I got used to it being there. In medical terms it was an affliction. If it wasn't dealt with it could spread. So I obtained some stuff from the drugstore which removed it. And at first, although it was something horrible and infectious, when it was gone I missed it.
We treat sin like that wart. Although we know that if we carry on in such a way we are heading for trouble, it's strangely comforting, it's what we are used to. But sin spreads. It's an infectious disease. It needs a cure, it needs cleansing. It leads to separation from God and alienation from real love. We need saving from it. And Christ has come to do just that. He rode into the storm to save us from sin. But there’s more to this than just salvation from sin. A third point needs to be made.
3) Jesus rode into the storm to bring glory to God.
Let us look at the verse from John 12 which follows the one I mentioned at the start of this message. John 12:27 "Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? 'Father, save me from this hour'? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour.” John 12:28, "Father, glorify Your name." Jesus was prepared to ride into the storm because He was convinced that such an action would bring glory to God.
That raises a question. What should be the purpose of our lives, our witness and our worship? Anything that falls short of the ideal of "Glorifying God" just doesn't make the grade. Glorifying God was the number one priority in the life of Christ. It should also be the prime consideration of those who are known as Christ’s disciples.
What brings glory to God? The answer is simple enough. People who want, more than anything else, to do God’s will. People who are prepared to go where God says go, do what God says to do and act how God says act.
Sometimes it may involve resting by the clear cool waters at other times it may involve riding into the storm. Most of the time it will just meaning giving your best shot at whatever you're doing right at that moment and in doing so give God the glory.
Anyone remember that song, "Riders on the storm?" Take courage. Jesus didn’t ride on the storm, Jesus rode through the storm. On a previous occasion He calmed the storm. For sure the storms of life will rage and thunder, but we have a Savior who set His heart on glorifying God, who died that we may be forgiven, and whom, because He faced the darkness of death and undeserved suffering can enable us to battle through the storms that come to us.
As we endeavor to live lives which glorify Him, may we discover that He rides through the storms of our lives, that our faith may be strengthened and renewed... particularly as we travel along the Easter Road and recall afresh the glorious message of His death and Resurrection, a message which continues to change the world.
To God's name be the Glory!
The Reverend Adrian J Pratt B.D.