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Two Big Promises

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[Jesus said:] “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

Jesus makes two big promises that Christians need to hear. The latter is more popular and, at first glance, more comforting. It is the kind of promise that people put on the signature line of their emails or make into memes on Facebook or Instagram. The former is just as certain, however, and equally significant, but in a different way.

Jesus spoke these two big promises to His disciples in the Upper Room just before His death and resurrection, but they apply to all followers of Christ.

We’ll start with the first promise: “In the world you will have tribulation.”

Jesus begins by talking about the world. He said a lot about the world in the Upper Room that night: it cannot receive the Spirit of truth (John 14:7); it does not give peace as Jesus gives (John 14:27); it hates Jesus and will therefore hate His disciples (John 15:18); Christians are not “of the world” and are chosen “out of the world” (John 15:19); the ruler of this world is judged (John 16:11); and the world will rejoice while the disciples weep and lament (John 16:20). Then comes John 16:33, where Jesus promises His disciples that in the world they will have tribulation.

The word translated “tribulation” has both a literal and a figurative meaning. In the literal sense it means physical pressure. This pressure is not the good kind. Think pressure cooker or hydraulic press. The kind of pressure you experience when life squeezes you or when circumstances beyond your control press down on you. It is when the weight of the world bears down and threatens to crush you. Christians should expect this kind of pressure from the world.

When you are not experiencing this kind of tribulation, the promise of “you will have tribulation” hardly seems comforting. It seems almost threatening—at least disconcerting. But when you are in the midst of it—when the pressure of this world is bearing down on you—it is comforting to know it has not caught God unawares. It is comforting to know God has not abandoned you. Indeed, experiencing the unpleasant fulfillment of this first promise drives us toward dependence on the second promise: “Take heart, I have overcome the world.”

This is not the first time Jesus told people to “take heart.” He said the same to the disciples during the storm at sea (Mark 6:50), to the paralytic in Capernaum (Matthew 9:2), and to the bleeding woman who touched the fringe of His garment (Matthew 9:22). Those who follow Jesus are to be “always of good courage” (2 Corinthians 5:6-8) even amid extreme pressure.

On what basis? On the basis of His victory. He has overcome the world which opposes Him. Note the verb tense. “I have overcome.” When Jesus makes this promise, it is before Easter. Even before He rises from the dead, Jesus has overcome the world. His resurrection confirms His lordship of the world opposing Him. This is no small thing, for it reminds us how His victory over the ongoing pressures we face is already completed, even before we finish enduring them.

The disciples are going to need these comforting promises of Jesus. Though they confidently claim that they understand Jesus’ parting words, Jesus utters the sober prediction that they will soon abandon Him. The time is coming when their faith will undergo a severe test, a test they will fail miserably. When push comes to shove, when the going gets tough, they will all scatter, each going his own way. They will leave Jesus alone in His darkest hour. But Jesus will overcome.

In a very short time, Jesus will face and overcome tribulation greater than any of His disciples will ever face. In great fear of death, He will sweat blood on the Mount of Olives. He will be abandoned by all His disciples. He will willingly give Himself into the hands of those who will lead Him mercilessly, bound hard and cruel, from one unjust judge to another. He will be falsely accused and condemned, spit upon, scoffed at, and struck in the face with fists. He will be hit, whipped, crowned with thorns, and treated wretchedly—like a worm and not a man. He will be counted a sinner and hung up between two evildoers as a curse. He will be pierced in hand and feet with nails, and in His highest thirst He will be given vinegar and gall to drink. Finally, in great pain, He will give up His spirit.

All of this Jesus will do for you and me, so that He might redeem us poor and condemned creatures, not by any of our works, merit, or worthiness, but by His holy suffering, death, and shedding of blood. So that He might pay our debt and we might be healed by His wounds. So that He might overcome sin, death, and the world on our behalf.

Let us heed the warning: Pride goes before a fall. Those boasting about spiritual maturity stand in danger of succumbing to human pride and unbelief. And none of us are immune. The devil and the world seek to scare us or ensnare us. And our old Adam is all too often a willing ally.

It’s no secret that it’s not easy to be a Christian these days. Millions of Christians across the world are experiencing persecution. Thousands are martyred each year. While we need not meet in secret, and none of us here has yet shed his or her blood due to tribulation, the time of being in the majority—if not in numbers, at least in cultural and political influence—is past. We are living in what some call a post-Christian era. Politicians used to at least give lip-service to Christians and Christianity; now some openly mock us or chastise us. A few of them go so far as to insist that they are the true Christians, and that we who hold to biblical teachings regarding the sanctity of marriage and human life are unloving and teaching falsely. For most of us, we are in completely new territory.

What are Christians to do, scattered throughout a pagan world that seems to thrive on hatred, violence, and oppression? What are Christians to do when we feel we are a minority, out of place, out of step, out of time? With the world falling apart all around us, what are scattered Christians to do?

Two common responses of Christians to the world’s attacks is withdrawal or compromise. Both are toxic because both acts reject the vocation and intellectual inheritance handed down to us. The act of withdrawal contracts Christianity leading to apathy or elitism, whereas compromise reinterprets Christian doctrine according to the ways of thinking currently in vogue. Withdrawal and compromise are inconsistent with biblical Christian living. Withdrawal denies that the Christian life is to be lived out in our vocations, lived out in the world, not of the world, nor separated from it. Compromise ultimately denies Christ and Him crucified for a world of sinners.

Dr. Peter J. Scaer had this to say about that in an online essay entitled “Double Down”:

For years, the American church has been in decline, and for a good number of reasons. My own best guess is that prosperity isn’t good for the soul. The more we have, the less God is needed. Or so we think. And so, what have we done? Well, we seek to make the Church more like the world that surrounds us. The Church becomes less a sanctuary, more a motivational center. The hymns are replaced with praise songs, not so much light, but flimsy. Fellow Lutherans have a hard time finding a decent church, one that has reverence, one that uses the liturgy, and sings hymns that fortify.

And still we wonder, what should we do? I would say, enough with the retreating, and the self-doubt. Enough we trying to be what we are not. What should we do? Double down. Double down on Lutheranism. Double down on our confession. Double down on hymnody and liturgy. As the world grows darker, the Church must be salt and light. Salt that loses its saltiness is good for nothing. And the greater the darkness, the greater the light that still shines.

And if the world is hell bent on spreading lies, let’s be heaven bent on speaking the truth, even and especially when it’s under assault. “Do this in remembrance of Me,” says our Lord. And as often as we do, we proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. So it is, we are memory keepers. We hold sacred the Scriptures that uphold us. One thing is expected of a steward, and that is faithfulness. And he who is faithful to the end will be saved. No gimmicks, no rebranding, no euphemisms, or treating the truth as if a distasteful vegetable that needs to be hidden under a fatty and sugary sauce.

So, dust off those hymnals, those catechisms and Bibles, and together, let’s double down on the faith of our fathers, the one thing needful.

What should the Church do in the face of declining interest and increasing opposition? Not new strategies or promotions, but more of what she’s done for centuries—the basics of faithful Word and Sacrament ministry.

Let’s be making disciples of all nations, baptizing in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that Christ has commanded us (Matthew 28:19-20).

Let’s live in the benefits of our Baptism, which works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.

Let’s put to death the Old Adam in us by daily contrition and repentance, that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.

Let’s live in the new life of the Spirit, loving the Lord our God with all our heart and all of our strength and with all of mind, and loving our neighbor as ourselves, loving one another as Christ has loved us.

Let’s be confessing our sins, and receiving absolution, that is, forgiveness, from the pastor as from God Himself, not doubting, but firmly believing that by it our sins are forgiven before God in heaven.

Let’s be receiving Christ’s true body and blood in, with, and under the bread and wine, given and shed for the forgiveness of sins and the strengthening of our faith.

Let’s be singing joyfully and heartily the liturgy and treasury of hymns—old and new—that we have received from our fathers in the faith.  

Let’s have no fear of those who may harm us, nor be troubled, but in our hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks us for a reason for the hope that is in us; yet doing it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when we are slandered, those who revile our good behavior in Christ may be put to shame (1 Peter 3:14-16).

Let’s turn to the heavenly Father in prayer, trusting that He hears our petitions and will grant our requests according to His gracious will, for our benefit, and eternal good.  

Dear Christian brothers and sisters: In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; Christ has overcome the world. Amen

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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6 thoughts on “Two Big Promises”

  1. People are leaving the churches because they are hearing another call: That of the Most High to His sure and ancient paths. No other generation alive is more subject to Jeremiah’s prophecy: “O Lord, my strength, and my fortress, and my refuge in the day of affliction, the Gentiles shall come unto thee from the ends of the earth, and shall say, Surely our fathers have inherited lies, vanity, and things wherein there is no profit.”

    If you want to double-down on something, make it something that is not a tradition of man. Double-down on ALL of the 10 commandments. Yes, you may worship any day of the week you like–or even all of them, but the Sabbath is a different thing. It is rest, withdrawing from the world for a day to spend it with the Most High. (And by the way, if you sabbathed every day you’d starve to death–it’s a day of not working and not making anyone else work.)

    The only lie that you HAVE to counteract is one in-house: “We don’t have to do that stuff anymore.” The patience of the saints according to Revelation 14:12 is not an either/or thing: It’s the doing of the commandments of YHWH AND the testimony of Yahshua/”Jesus” Messiah. Yes, dust off your bibles–and for once read what’s actually in there.

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    1. Christ is the fulfillment of the Old Testament Sabbat and the commandments. The saints of the Old Testament were not saved by their doing of the commandments, but by faith in the promises of Yahweh in the coming Messiah. How do you square your view with the epistles of Paul and the author of Hebrews? I suspect those books of your Bible are not as worn as your think they are. If you are serious about learning what the Bible really teaches, I am more than willing to communicate. If you wish to simply dismiss my words by calling them “tradition of man” you obviously haven’t read them very closely.

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      1. Oh, you have read me wrong. Paul was a Pharisee of Pharisees. He had the entire Torah memorized before going to study with Gamaliel. He upholds the Torah constantly. If he had not, the Bereans would have called him on it. If Stephen had ACTUALLY preached a twisting of the Torah, the Pharisees would not have have had to enlist liars to say that he had.

        You are correct that Messiah is the fulfillment, but then what does that mean? Does fulfill mean to complete and terminate? Then Paul was rather strangely asking the brethren to “fulfill my joy.”

        And you are correct that nobody was ever saved by the Torah. But I have to ask: What exactly do Christians repent to? The Hebrew teshuvah means to repent–by turning back. (You know, the same thing the prophets implored Israel and Judah to do) if all that stuff is done away with, then what exactly do Christians come back to?

        PS. I didn’t berate your personal bible study habits so why do you mine?

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      2. I wasn’t berating your personal Bible study habits, but your selective use of Scripture. The reply of “I suspect those books of your Bible are not as work as you think they are,” was partly in response to your statement, “dust off your Bibles–and for once read what’s actually in there.”

        It was also related to how your theology seems to me to lead back to what Paul chastised Galatians, for instance “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith— just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”? Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.”” (Galatians 3:1–12, ESV)

        Or “Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” (Galatians 3:23–29, ESV)

        Or Colossians (e.g. “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.” (Colossians 2:16–17, ESV).

        Hebrews chapter 4, one of few New Testament passages to speak of the Sabbath, clearly speaks of the Sabbath rest as being fulfill in Christ through His Word.

        How do you square these passages of Scripture with your comment it is the commands of YHWH and the testimony of Jesus?

        When Paul is saying “fulfill my joy” or “complete my joy of being of the same mind,” (I’m assuming you refer to Philippians 2:2), the context is clearly living a life “worthy of the gospel of Christ.” Nowhere is the Sabbath mentioned.

        As far as repentance, what do Christians repent to? They repent of their sin. They repent and believe (turn to?) the Gospel (Matthew 1:15). They “repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that He may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus…” (Acts 3:19:20).

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      3. 1. Galatians: Paul was speaking to a group who was dealing with those Jews who were teaching the necessity of circumcision. The whole blessed letter is about that. They were teaching that circumcision was a necessity for salvation, when it never was. Abraham was accounted righteous for keeping the commandments AND THEN received the circumcision to him and his house. His keeping of the commandments is WHY he was the father of nations. The Judaizers wanted converts to Judaism before being eligible for THEIR Messiah. That should sound familiar.
        Colossians was written also to new believers who were being dinged by their families and friends and business associated FOR keeping the Sabbath and feasts and such. He’s telling them not to worry about that Score of Public Opinion. And if the Torah doesn’t lead you to Messiah, then you are no more righteous than the Pharisees who thought their good works would demand Messiah to come.
        Hebrews Sabbath rest: Doesn’t say it was changed in there anywhere. He kept it on the 7th day as did assemblies clear up until Nicaea when a handful (only around 200 or so of almost 2,000 existing assemblies–the ones led by Jews were not even invited) of climbing religionists threw the brethren under the bus and Constantine had to issue an edict to make them stop keeping the Sabbath and to keep the Roman day of the Sun. Tell me: Why would he have had to do that–if nobody was doing that at the time as good Christian assemblies???
        How do you “square” the praise and glory and honor attributed to the Torah JUST in Psalm 119–if not anywhere else–with your position of abrogation?? It’s perfect, converting the soul. Or did you imagine that was your witnessing tracts that converted souls?? How do you “square” Revelation 14:12 in your mind? The overcoming of the saints is due to the keeping of the commandments of “God” AND AND AND their testimony of Messiah. It’s not either/or.
        How do you repent of sin in the absence of a Torah? Sin is defined as transgression of the law, no? (1 John 3:4) Without a Torah, you even have no need of grace. He Himself came to the world in the flesh–the Word. You repent by turning again–the law of sin and death were blotted out–as you have written from Matthew.
        The rich young ruler couldn’t see the Messiah in the commandments he kept. He was never told “Oh, don’t worry about those because once I die, you’re in like Flynn.” He didn’t know the Truth even though he claimed to have kept the Torah–it never pointed him to salvation by way of the Messiah he stood before–for the restoring of the covenant. Sir, I will pray for you and your awakening and hope that it will not come too late.
        Mat 5:19  Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 

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      4. Of course Paul was speaking of the Judaizers. But their error was more than insisting on circumcision. It also included insisting on the Jewish liturgical calendar. Paul addresses works righteousness through much of Galatians, including those who rely on works of law are under a curse; for it is written, cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Bbok of the Law, and do them.. Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us…”

        As far as Abraham goes, “Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness” long before he showed much obedience. That is one of the points Paul is trying to make.

        I don’t think our discussion will prove to be fruitful until you stop picking only verses that fit your narrative. I pray the Holy Spirit will lead you to see the truth of all Scripture.

        If you wish, ponder these questions? How do you decide which commandments the text is speaking about? Are we speaking about torah or mitswoth? How well must you keep the commandments of God to be accounted as a saint? Can anyone other than Christ do so? Where do you fit in Jesus’ words, “A new commandment I gve to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” Do you believe Scriptures teaches substitionary atonement through the person and work of Jesus Christ?

        On Mon, May 27, 2019, 3:56 PM Three Strands Lutheran Parish wrote:

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