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Comfort and Joy

He comes to make His blessings known/Far as the curse is found.
—Isaac Watts

Doom and Sorrow

Jesus came to a broken world—a world wracked by war and disease; a world plagued by addiction, alienation, and abuse; a world polluted by bigotry, hypocrisy, and lies. A world littered with failed marriages, broken homes, and shattered lives. It was a world and an age much like our own. It was a world of doom.

Jesus knew our world’s sorrows, from the poverty and pain surrounding His birth to His torturous death on a Roman cross. He knew rejection, treachery, and hate. He preached against them all.  But His primary concern, the driving force of His life, was something deeper and more central than all of these. You see, He came to Earth to die.

Our Deepest Need

In a world of pain and sorrow, it is easy for us to forget what we need most. But God sees clearly. Our deepest need is forgiveness. We need to be reconciled to our Creator. We have broken His laws—laws designed for our good—and we’ve worshipped the crazy passions of our hearts instead. As people, we gravitate towards being selfish and self-centered. We are suspicious of God and His laws. We are out of touch with true reality, and all of our proposed political and economic remedies are nothing but smoke and ashes. Technology has limits. Psychology has tripped us up, big government has failed us and education has sent our children adrift. We need industrial strength help. We need salvation from God Himself.

Jesus Christ is God incarnate. He is eternal deity manifest in true humanity:  God in the flesh (John 1). This is what the Christmas carols keep reminding us:

Veiled in flesh the Godhead see/Hail th’ incarnate Deity…

Hail! Hail! The Word made flesh/The babe, the Son of Mary.

Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing.

Joy to the World! The Lord is come!/Let Earth receiver her king…

In Jesus Christ, creation’s Lord stepped into history as a man to settle our deepest problem…  our sin. On the cross, Jesus bore the wrath of God against the crimes and sins of humanity. He became our Substitute and suffered for not only what we have done, but what we have failed to do. On the cross He went through hell, the Just suffering for the unjust, to bring us to God (1 Pet. 3:18). And so He died.

Three days later, He came back to life. Now He sits enthroned in the highest heaven as Lord of creation. Our King has come.

But how does this help us, here and now?

Good Tidings of Great Joy

The angels who heralded Jesus’ birth spoke of it as “good tidings of great joy” for all people (Luke 2:10). The Greek word translated “good tidings” is the verb form of gospel. From God’s perspective the Christian gospel is truly good news; but it’s good for us only if we will receive it as such. The King has come. How will we receive Him?

We must lay down our rebellion, our self-will, our desire for autonomy and self-determination, and receive Jesus in true faith and humility. Each of us must be able to say with sincerity, “Jesus died for me. Jesus is my Savior. He is my King.” When by faith we receive Jesus’ sacrifice for us, lights go on and everything changes.

A New Life

When we believe in Jesus Christ, God becomes our Father. The sovereign Creator, who spins the galaxies through space, who measures out our every breath, now receives us as His own children, as precious in His sight as Jesus Himself. Yep, it’s true, as our Father, God promises to hear our prayers, to meet our daily needs, to forgive our sins, to disciple and discipline us, and to lead us even through the darkest of shadows (Matt. 6—7; Ps. 23).

He also sends His Spirit. Practically, this means that everyone who trusts in Christ has become a new person. The Spirit of God changes our priorities and values. They become God’s. While these changes don’t always happen instantly, He does give us a new ability to do what we ought to do. The Spirit progressively frees us from selfishness and pride. He breaks our addictions. He enables us to settle down and love others. He fills us with joy and contentment. He gives us peace (Gal. 5:22).

This Spirit-filled life comes with a guidebook. We call it the Bible. This earthly book is divine revelation. It’s God’s own Word. As such, it shows us reality from God’s perspective. It gives us God’s promises and tells us what He requires of us. It tells us how to live wisely and well.

Our new life also comes with a new family. The Holy Spirit includes us within Christ’s Church. Suddenly, we have brothers and sisters and friends we never knew before (Mark 10:30). God gives us family to help us, to bear our burdens, to pray for us. He also makes us responsible to do these same things for them.

Beyond all these things is an incredible future. Here’s the promise: Because Jesus rose from the dead and because His Spirit is in us… we too, will rise from the dead to eternal life and glory (1 Cor. 15). The good news for all of us is that this troubled world of pain and sorrow eventually comes to an end. Jesus Christ promises that He will return to our world to set everything right and to gather His people into His Father’s kingdom (Matt. 25). No more pain. No more sorrow. He will wipe away every tear. We’re even told His people live happily ever after (Rev. 21—22). Nice.

But What about Suffering Now?

From our Lord’s perspective, our universe is one of total meaning. His plan for us includes everything in creation (Col. 1). He counts the hairs on our head; He marks the fall of a sparrow (Matt. 10:29-30). He causes everything in time and space to work together for our good (Rom. 8:28-29).

This doesn’t mean, of course, that our trials and sorrows vanish when we trust in Christ. Often we pick up a few more. But here’s some good news: Jesus drank the cup of sorrow, pain, and hell for us. He understands our pain and frailty. He knows.

Jesus uses every one of our trials to forward His kingdom and our good. Sometimes His reasons are pretty straight forward. If we stubbornly persist in a sin, He may whack us with some of life’s broken glass—illness or financial loss, for example (Heb. 12:3-14). But more often our trials are refining fires (Jas. 1:3; 1 Pet. 1:3-7). They help to purge away our moral and spiritual weak stuff. They strengthen our spiritual inclinations and habits, and draw us closer to our Savior.

Some trials, however, seem (on the surface) to be of no immediate benefit to us at all. We may suffer a hardship, here and now, so that we may be of benefit to someone else later on (2 Cor. 1:4). We weep now so that we can dry the tears of others later. (My daughter Tracy, who lost a little boy late in pregnancy, knows this well.) But since those who trust in Jesus are one family, now and forever, the benefit of the pain impacts and reverberates throughout all eternity.

But right now, in this insane world, our heavenly Father does hear and answer our prayers. He can, and often will, turn aside our suffering or completely yank us out of it. Or instead, He may give us grace and strength to endure the trial to the end. He promises to be with us even in the depths of pain, confusion, and loss. In all cases, we can live in the certainty that everything we face comes to us with love and purpose from the One who died for us.

Far as the Curse Is Found

Christ does indeed heal broken hearts and shattered lives. But certainly there is more to the gospel message. We come to Christ as individuals, but Christianity is not strictly individualistic. Though Jesus begins His saving work in the hearts of men and women, He doesn’t leave it bottled up there. Through His word and Spirit, Jesus redirects our values, priorities, and energies toward the larger work of His kingdom. He wants disciples who will serve Him in all areas of their lives. He wants us to bring His word to bear on our work and play, our relationships and responsibilities, our science and philosophy, our culture and our environment. He offers healing and salvation wherever sin has corrupted our world. But the healing is on His terms. We must receive our King with our whole hearts and He must reign wholly in us. Only on such terms can we bring His healing to our culture and world. Only on such terms can we really and finally have peace on Earth.

For Further Reading:

Jerry Bridges, Trusting God: Even When Life Hurts (Colorado Springs:  NavPress, 2008).

John Piper, Desiring God, Meditations of a Christian Hedonist (Sisters, OR:  Multnomah Press, 1996).

J. I. Packer, Knowing God (Downers Grove, IL:  InterVarsity Press, 1973).

John MacArthur, Jr., Our Sufficiency in Christ (Dallas, TX:  Word Publishing, 1991).

Francis Schaeffer, True Spirituality (Wheaton, IL:  Tyndale House, 1971).

Francis Schaeffer, The Church at the End of the 20th Century (Downers Grove, IL:  InterVarsity Press, 1970).

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