As 2019 and the Christmas season draws to a close, I find myself thinking about how many truths and principles exist as a paradox. The first shall be last. The greatest is the servant. Love your enemy and do good to those who spite you.
To me, the biggest paradox is that God chose to save the world by sending what was the most powerful force in existence – His Word – as a helpless infant.
But it didn’t stop there, for the salvation Jesus came to provide was not the salvation that people wanted. They wanted to be saved from Rome. He didn’t come to save them from Rome. Consequently, many were unable to believe that He actually was their Savior.
They missed their salvation
because it was not offered
in the form they expected or wanted.
For the last month or so, I’ve been increasingly impressed that the exact same thing is happening today.
Israel wanted to be saved from those who oppressed them and taxed them too heavily and took their rights away and made laws they didn’t agree with.
The thing is, He did not come to give them the government they wanted. Indeed, the government they wanted would have been ruled by the Pharisees and Sadducees, and He had rather harsh words for them.
He did not come to give them freedom from their oppressors. He came to give them freedom from their spiritual and emotional burdens despite their oppression.
He did not come to lighten their taxes. He came to show them how God would provide the tax money. (And He further horrified them by how He befriended the local IRS agents.)
He did not come to give them back the rights that Rome took away from them. Instead, He asked them to surrender even more, and not just their cloak and shirt. In fact, He led the way in surrendering Himself, and He said in Matthew 16 that this is the only way to follow Him:
24 Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. 25 For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?
Who can understand a paradox like that? If you try to save your life, you’ll lose it? But if you surrender it for Him, You’ll find it?
It’s hard to understand and harder still to accept… which is why still today we live in a world full of people who cannot accept that Jesus is the Savior of mankind because His salvation isn’t the kind that they think the world needs. He’s not eliminating world hunger, child abuse, war, drugs, disease, etc. It all still exists.
We as Christians nod our heads wisely and say self-righteously, “So true…”
But what about us?
How much of our own salvation are we missing because it’s not what we expect it to look like?
Salvation is more than where you go when you die. He offers salvation from depression, anxiety, fear, and worry. He offers joy to replace our mourning. He offers peace in place of our turmoil. All of that is part of what He offers.
We know this… and yet we so often pray for our circumstances to change.
Maybe “Rome” is a work environment that oppresses us, so we’re praying for salvation in the form of a new job. It’s not wrong to ask for a new job… but what if the salvation He’s offering us right now is strength and grace and power to work that job with peace and joy, despite the oppression? If a new job is what we’re focused on, then we can easily miss the strength and grace and peace and joy that He’s offering right now in the current job!
Maybe the oppression that we want to be free from is coming from our spouse, and so we beg God to make him/her stop doing those things that make us so angry and feel so wounded. Meanwhile, He is saying, My grace is sufficient… let Me show you how to walk in peace and joy even while your spouse is doing that. Give Me time to work on them, and let Me set you free in the meantime.
Turn on the news and you’re provided with a million reason to fear and worry. Fear is what news outlets and Facebook algorithms thrive on, and advertising agencies have fine-tuned it to an art… the more they can use your fear to get you to click here and there, the more ads they can serve you and the more money they make! Consequently, we live in a world where anxiety and depression are reaching record proportions. What gets you riled up and fearful? What if instead of taking away that thing that threatens you, He is offering peace despite the threat?
Most of the Jews totally missed their Savior. He came, He offered, and He died… and they gained nothing personally because their salvation did not come in the form they expected.
How often, in any given day, do you and I continue to live in frustration and worry and turmoil… because we too want our salvation that day to come in a different form?
He is challenging me with this… and I know I am not the only one!
Isaiah 60 says that darkness will cover the earth, and deep darkness will cover the peoples. I personally believe that the “darkness” refers to sin, but the “deep darkness” that is spoken of refers to depression, fear, and hopelessness.
My prayer for 2020 is that as we learn to walk in a Light that is independent of circumstances, that Light will reach into the deep darkness that is growing thicker and heavier, and enslaving more and more people around us. The world needs salvation, and the best thing we can do to let our light shine is to allow Him to show us what our salvation really looks like!
Isaiah 60:“Arise, shine; for your light has come,
And the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
2 “For behold, darkness will cover the earth
And deep darkness the peoples;But the Lord will rise upon you
And His (E)glory will appear upon you.
3 “Nations will come to your light,
And kings to the brightness of your rising.