Mission (Foundations #6)

Read: Matt 28:16-20

 

When I was growing up in the mid 1970s, I used to love watching Mission Impossible. The signature theme would play, and the opening scene would be Mr Phelps receiving a secret message on an audio cassette, “God morning Mr Phelps, your mission, if you choose to accept it, will be to …”. The message would close with “this tape will self destruct in 5 seconds” – and sure enough, it did.

Curiously, we never found out the real purpose of the secret organisation Phelps worked for. We guessed it was the overthrow of evil in the height of the cold war, but we were never told. All we had to go by was this series of exciting episodes.

Thankfully, God’s big picture has not been scripted by Hollywood. For God has a mission: to restore all things under Christ. And this mission of God shapes everything he plans, everything he does, and everything he is yet to do.

We have looked at God’s ‘big picture’ in this Foundations series: Creation, Rebellion, Promise, Redemption, Repentance, and eventually, Restoration of all things.

click to enlarge

What’s missing?

 

What’s missing in this picture? What’s missing is that the whole world needs to know this good news of God’s plan to restore his creation under Christ.

This is not something that God embarked on after the earthly ministry of Jesus. When Jesus said ‘make disciples of all nations’ he wasn’t inventing something new. When Israel was in Egypt, one of the functions of the plagues and Israel’s subsequent deliverance from Egypt was that Pharaoh, then, by far, the most powerful man on earth, would know God.

“Then the Lord said to Moses, “Get up early in the morning, confront Pharaoh and say to him, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me, or this time I will send the full force of my plagues against you and against your officials and your people, so you may know that there is no one like me in all the earth.” (Exodus 9:13–14, NIV)

“Moses replied, “When I have gone out of the city, I will spread out my hands in prayer to the Lord. The thunder will stop and there will be no more hail, so you may know that the earth is the Lord’s.” (Exodus 9:29, NIV)

 

Some 700 years later, at the dedication of the Temple, Solomon prayed that the Lord would hear the prayers, even of those who were not Israel. Why? So the whole earth might know the Lord’s name and fear him.

“As for the foreigner who does not belong to your people Israel but has come from a distant land because of your name—for they will hear of your great name and your mighty hand and your outstretched arm—when they come and pray toward this temple, then hear from heaven, your dwelling place. Do whatever the foreigner asks of you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your own people Israel, and may know that this house I have built bears your Name.” (1 Kings 8:41–43, NIV)

 

Some 300 years after that, as Isaiah spoke of the Servant of the Lord, he defined God’s mission as his role.

“I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles,” (Isaiah 42:6, NIV)

 

A few hundred years after that, Nebuchadnezzar the great King of Babylon, fell into delusions and insanity. The Lord God of Israel healed him, so the King announced the good news throughout his empire:

“…so that the living may know that the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth …” (Daniel 4:17, NIV)

 

The clear reality throughout all Scripture is that God loves his world, and has a wonderful plan of restoration. He wants the whole earth to know about this plan. He wants the effects of the curse to be overcome over all the earth.

 

The question that interests us today is How will he do this? How will he let the world know what he has done in Jesus, and what he is yet to do? Scripture gives us the answer: he will do this by his Mission. The Mission of God.

God’s Mission

Straight up, we need to be careful, and take time to understand what God’s mission is, and what it is not. Mission is often understood as what we do.

Everyone seems to have a mission. Companies. Banks. Australia Post. Churches. Community organisations. I have even read several CVs where people record their own mission statement, hoping to make an impression on prospective employers.

Here at Gateway Community Church, we are no exception. You’ll find our mission statement on our website: Equip, Reach & Grow.

So, more often than not, when we talk of mission we refer to what we do in order to work towards our desired future. That’s all fine. It’s good to be focused about what we do, and it’s good to use these statements as filters for future plans and current processes.

 

But we must also recognise that in the scriptural sense, God’s mission is not primarily what we are about, or what we do.

God’s mission is about what God is doing and intends to do in his world.

 

God’s mission is not primarily what we are about, or what we do.

 

It is not the people of God who have a mission in the world, but the God of mission who has a people in the world.

[Martin Robinson, Faith of the Unbeliever Conference, 2007]

 

God is redeeming his people through Jesus. God is restoring his world through Jesus. This is God’s mission. And in his sovereign grace and wisdom he uses his people to pursue his mission.

Mission is “the outworking, in the power of the Spirit, of Jesus’ bodily resurrection, and thus the anticipation of the time when God will fill the earth with his glory, transform the old heavens and earth into the new, and raise his children from the dead to populate and rule over the redeemed world he has made”

[NT Wright. Surprised By Hope p.277]

So, when we talk Mission, we have to start here: The Mission of God to redeem and restore his world through Jesus.

The Church’s role

That being so, we need to ask, what then is the church’s role?

The church’s mission is everything God sends us into the world to do and to be:

Every life change that flows from repentance.

Every Sunday service.

Every word of witness.

Every deed of compassion.

Every ministry.

Every service.

Every pastoral care visit.

Every management team discussion.

All of it – everything the church does – must serve God’s mission.

And if it does not serve the mission of God, we must either stop it, or change it so that it does serve the mission of God.

I know this is a challenge. There are some who insist that mission is not everything, and many things the church must do have nothing to do with mission. Such people operate under a gross misunderstanding of Scripture and of God’s plan to restore all things under Christ (Colossions 1:20). This is where all history is headed. This is the singular focus of God’s redemptive effort. And everything we do as Christians or churches must serve that mission of God.

Let’s have a look at this in more detail. The mission the church has received from God is twofold. These two things are not separate entities. They are hand in glove. Two sides of the same coin. Stress only one at the expense of the other, and you have an aberration. You will eventually end up with either a deformed message and/or a deformed church.

So, what are to two indivisible aspects of God’s mission?

First: make disciples. We recall the words of Jesus as he ascended to heaven:

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18–20, NIV)

We could sum this apsect in one word: announce.

Announce God’s victory over rebellion, death and all its punishment in Jesus! Announce: Spread the good news! Announce: Let people know about God’s plan, his glorious big picture!

As the old hymn reminds us

Sin’s bonds severed, we’re delivered; 
Christ has crushed the serpent’s head. 
Death no longer is the stronger; 
hell itself is captive led. 
Christ has risen from death’s prison; 
o’er the tomb he light has shed.

This call to announce the love and mercy of God to his world is nothing new. In creation, God commanded Adam & Eve to multiply and fill the earth. In re-creation through Jesus – the second Adam – his people multiply and fill the earth. We are a people called by God to announce his good news!

 

The second aspect of God’s mission to the church: we are called to anticipate.

Anticipate, in the sense of foreshadow. God calls us, gives us life in Christ, lives in us through his Spirit, empowering us to show what is coming, foreshadowing the restoration he is bringing through Jesus. We anticipate the future life of the new heavens and the new earth in our here and now. As we pray in the prayer the Lord taught his followers, our task is to do his will on earth, as it is done in heaven. As John Ortberg says, to bring ‘up there down here’.

This is the second aspect of God’s mission to his church: to anticipate the new good of God’s restored world. The first aspect, announcing, is about proclamation. This second aspect is about transformation. It is not so much about us saying something, but about us being something: Light of the world, and salt of the earth.

bringing ‘up there down here’ – Ortberg

As before, we see how this aspect of God’s mission was not added after Jesus’s return to the Father. It has always been there: Just before God gave his law to his people (Exodus 20), he made a proclamation. The Lord declared his hand, as it were, as to how he would become known among the nations. And it would not come about through mere announcement. And you guessed it: it involved him working through his people:

“Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.”” (Exodus 19:5–6, NIV)

God’s people would live out this mission as they lived his commands. They were to be his contrast community, showing all the earth what life was like when lived with Yahweh. Jesus did not come to negate this law, but to fulfil it. To show its true meaning and purpose.

So, as God’s people live under the Lordship of Jesus, they bring his new life to expression. They anticipate the restoration he is bringing.

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:1–2, NIV)

The church is people of God. They are his temple. So we are not surprised to see how the calling given to Israel back then is placed on Jesus’ church today:

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (1 Peter 2:9, NIV)

 

We anticipate, we foreshadow, we show what the new heavens and the new earth will look like. We do this by living the life of new creation now:

“We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” (Romans 6:4, NIV)

the mission of God for the church is to announce his good news and to anticipate his new good

Now, we also need a reality check: we are still on earth. Even as Jesus’ repentant and repenting people, we are still part of a fallen world. We still exhale the breath of sin. We still smell of the fall. We anticipate, yes, but the great day of restoration is not yet here. Any reflection of this coming restoration will be imperfect. Perfection will come completely when Jesus returns. Until that day, even as people who live the new life of Christ, we remain pilgrims and strangers, looking for a better city.

 So, the mission of God for the church is to announce his good news and to anticipate his new good.

God’s Heart

Now, we need to acknowledge something here. Apart from some rare and notable exceptions, we have not been good at pursuing God’s mission. The church in general has not been that good at it. And our church has not been good at it. We have not well understood God’s mission, we have not well pursued it. And it’s worth thinking about why that might be the case.

Perhaps there are many reasons:

we are comfortable people in a peaceful country.

We are doing OK.

We enjoy our life and our comforts.

We don’t want anything much to interfere with them

…even if it’s God’s call.

 

We can talk about life pressures,

about being time poor,

about resistance and unbelief in the world,

about the rank individualism which infects our culture,

so that our world revolves around what we think,

about how our future is directed toward what we want.

 

In our culture, the idol of self will neutralise any zeal we might have for God’s mission. But there is another reason why we have not well understood or pursued God’s mission. And I think it is because we have not well understood the gracious, loving heart of God.

How do we see God’s loving heart? It is captured most perfectly in the birth, life, and death of Jesus Christ. Think about that: God loved the world so much that he sent his one and only Son.

 

Luke captures this poignantly in the story of a woman. She is distraught at losing a coin from her necklace. So much so that she turns the place upside down and will not rest until she finds her lost coin. And when she finds it, there is rejoicing and celebration!

Or a shepherd, so passionate about finding one lost sheep, that he secures the remaining ninety nine, then climbs over hill and dale to find that one lost sheep. And when he finds it, there is rejoicing and much celebration!

Then we read about a father, broken over a lost son. The son who threw his love back in his face. The son who did unimaginable wrong. Who threw away his precious inheritance with utterly offensive behaviour.

Interestingly, we never read about the father’s anger. We are sure his hurt is profound, and his grief crippling. But we don’t hear actually about that.

What we see is his longing. His love. His heart, even for this most broken and wayward son. Though torn with his son’s waywardness, the father waits on the balcony every afternoon. Thinking about his son. Scanning the horizon. Praying, weeping, longing for the return of that rebellious boy. We know about the lavish celebration with the whole village on the lost son’s return.

But the important question for us at this point is, do we ever look at the offensive behaviour of people in our world with the eyes of the father? Do we allow ourselves to sense the brokenness, to be burdened with the hopelessness, to see the reality of the lostness of those around us who are far from God? Do you need to look at the broken people on your street and in your city with different eyes?

Do you need to see the Mardi Gras marchers with the heart of God who seeks the lost?

Do you need to see the crack heads who have thrown their life (and often their sanity) away, do we need to see them with the heart of God instead of the cold eyes of judgement?

What about the ‘bludgers’, the ‘leaners’ the ‘losers’? Do we perceive their reality with the heart of God?

The broken? The lonely?

This is most disturbing question: Have I ever felt the heart of God for all those people who refuse to love his Son or live his life?

isn’t it time we asked whether the things that are important to Jesus are important to us?

If it was so important to God to send Jesus into a lost world, and if it was so important to Jesus to find the lost, isn’t it time we asked whether the things that are important to Jesus are important to us?

Whether the things that burn within the heart of Jesus burn within ours?

Whether the things that matter to God matter to us?

 

Or as Tim Keller said this week:

If the preaching of our ministers and the practice of our parishioners do not have the same effect on people that Jesus had, then we must not be declaring the same message that Jesus did.

 

I have been a pastor for almost 30 years, and I fin this very confronting. I have to ask myself whether the kind of churches I have worked for have ever tasted the passion of God for the lost in my ministry. And if they have not, isn’t that my responsibility? Have the things that are important to God been important to me over those near 30 years? Lord have mercy.

How is that for you?

Maybe you’re not a preacher, but do people sense in your life, your ministry, your engagement with your church, that the things that are important to God are important to you? Do your neighbours sense this? Your workmates? Would your friends say that about you, that the things that are important to God are obviously important to you?

Could there be a more important question for you and your church community to answer?

God’s mission for the church, for this church, for you is to announce his good news in Jesus and to anticipate his new good in Jesus. Listen carefully: we will only step into God’s mission and make it our own when we allow ourselves 1) to see the brokenness of our world, and 2) to feel God’s burden in Christ his son to put it all back together.

 

So, let us repent of our self centred pre-occupation with maintaining and perpetuating our own comforts.

Let us embrace, in the Spirit of Christ and through the Spirit of Christ, God’s mission in our world.

And in the same power that raised Jesus from the Jesus, let us rise into the calling that Jesus himself is praying for us to embrace: To be one with him and with one another in his work, so all the world may know that He has been sent by the father (see John 17:20-21).

Let us be people who announce his good news and who anticipate his new good!

What better life is there? What greater good is there? What more perfect calling for the church and all who God by the name of Jesus!

And let us do this until his Kingdom is so perfect and complete, that in it he is all in all (Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 123).

Dealing with Disaster (Group Questions)

Discuss:

Share your thoughts about how the tragic events of the last few weeks have impacted you. How have these events influenced your prayer life?

Read Lord’s Day 10 of the Heidelberg Catechism: What strikes you about this personal assertion of God’s providence?

Read Psalm 46

Think of a time when life was hard for you or your loved ones. Was it apparent that God was your fortress? What impact did this have – positively or negatively – on how you managed that challenge?

What would the writer of Psalm 46 have to say to those who hold that God’s blessing is measured in health, wealth and prosperity?

In times of tragedy and trial we will often say ‘God will work things out for our good.” Is this what Romans 8:28 actually says? Who are the “those” in the phrase “the good of those who love him”?

What does Genesis 50:15-21 tell us about divine sovereignty and human responsibility?

Are you ‘a person of the problem’ or a ‘person of the solution’? How is this seen in your behaviour?

Read Matthew 5:13-16. List the things your church is doing to be ‘a community of the solution’ addressing suffering in your local community.

Read the full text of “Dealing with Disaster: Where is God in tragedy?” here

Dealing with Disaster: Where is God in tragedy?

Read: Psalm 46

Images

A grandfather boards a plane with three young grandchildren. This is an adventure! The kids are incredibly excited!

Arjen and Yvonne Ryder are travelling home. They are keen to see their children and reconnect with their church community.

Six others traveling to an HIV conference in Melbourne, include Joep Lange who has dedicated his life to find a cure for HIV and to relive the suffering of those who have the disease.

On July 17 their plane was blown out of the sky. All 298 people died instantly.

Ismail, Ahed, Zakaria, Mohammed and Sayed live in a poor Gaza neighbourhood. Their play is simple. One hot day the boys run down to the beach, hoping for relief from the heat and from the rockets which slam incessantly into their neighbourhood.

While the boys are at the beach, a rocket slams into a shipping container on the nearby break wall. Petrified, the boys run for their lives. A second rocket targets them, and seconds later four of them are blown to bits. The fifth escapes with serious injuries.

Near Aleppo, Syria, six men once followed Islam. Recently ISIS extremists captured them, charged them with apostasy, and publicly crucified them.

We are people who follow Jesus. How do we deal with such evil?

God’s Word

God’s people have wrested with that confronting question all through the ages. They have seen slavery in Egypt. Exile in Babylon. Persecution of the early church. More currently eviction and persecution of Iraqi Christians under threat of death.

It all seems a world away from suburban Australia. Ours is a peaceful country, possibly the best in the world. We have ice cream in our freezers, iPhones in our pockets, we plan our holidays and leisure pursuits.

These terrible events invade our comfort. And the greatest temptation is simply to push them away. We escape into the screen. We get out with friends. We grab some food. We create a diversion to escape the world of horror and evil.

One writer says

We cannot and we must not soften the blow; we cannot and we must not pretend that evil is not that bad after all

(NT Wright: Evil and the Justice of God, p.20)

So, if we are not to soften the blow, how do we deal with it? How does God’s word help us?

Lord’s Day 10 of the Heidelberg Catechism opens our minds to the whole sweep of Scripture with a daring assertion: even in the face of evil, God is sovereign, in control of all things, and loving toward all he has made.
Q&A 27

Q: What do you understand by the providence of God?


A: Providence is the almighty and ever present power of God
by which God upholds, as with his hand,
heaven and earth and all creatures,
and so rules them that
leaf and blade,
rain and drought,
fruitful and lean years,
food and drink,
health and sickness,
prosperity and poverty
—all things, in fact,
come to us not by chance
but by his fatherly hand.

But wait: we are talking about MH17, about ISIS crucifixions – did these really come from God’s fatherly hand? Well, God did not do those acts of evil. They were done at the hands of people, people committing crimes against humanity.

But by the same token, they were not acts of chance, or random forces operating outside the mysterious sovereign will of God.

I don’t know how to explain this. But I do know that if there are things outside God’s power he is not much of a God. If there are things in our world over which he has no control he is not worth believing.

But this is not the testimony of God we read in the Bible. Scripture teaches this sovereign God remains passionately and compassionately involved in our world and our lives.

Scripture teaches this sovereign God remains passionately and compassionately involved in our world and our lives.

So we are left with a tension: people are fully responsible for their behaviour. God is fully sovereign over his world and our lives.

We understand there is great mystery here.

Truth is, there are some things we may never be able to understand. Even in eternity we will know fully, but we will not be omniscient. We will stay human, and God will stay God.

Jesus reminds us that despite these mysteries, despite the limitations of human understanding, our loving God stands above all our woes. That his sovereign grace and almighty power is our only hope.

This God knows what we need:

““Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:25–33, NIV)

Jesus reminds us that despite these mysteries, despite the limitations of human understanding, our loving God stands above all our woes. That his sovereign grace and almighty power is our only hope.

We see the same in Psalm 46. This Psalm is a voice of hope and trust in the midst of dark threat and danger.

Let’s go there…

vv.1-3 This Psalmist reminds us that anything can happen. Even the unthinkable: mountains fall into the sea; the earth gives way. In this very context we hear the voice of faith:

But we will not fear!

There are shades of Daniel in the lion’s den, or the three in the fiery furnace: When God is our refuge, our strength, whom – or what – shall we fear?

vv.4-7 God is with us, and his presence is our protection. “God with us!” That tiny word ‘with’, when the Lord is the subject, is an indicator of covenant language and a signpost to his covenant faithfulness. The promise that God will be with his people is grounded deeply in his eternal promises.

“I will be with you” the Lord said, and led his people through the Red Sea with a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of cloud by day. This God, Jacob’s God, is our mighty fortress.

But what, then, of Arjen and Yvonne Ryder?

Or Joep Lange?

Or any of the other 295 people on board MH 17?

A missile blew up their plane!

How could God be their fortress?

Well, Christians believe there is life, an existence with God that even a surface to air missile cannot take away. Those who trust in Jesus have an enduring hope in a glorious promise:

“What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:31–39, NIV)

It was this hope which prompted Daniel’s friends, when threatened with death in the furnace, to say that whether they survived or perished in the flames they would not bow down to Nebuchadnezzar’s image (Daniel 3:16-18). They knew, they trusted, they believed in the reality of life with God beyond physical death.

vv.8-9 Christians believe God will one day bring an end to warfare, to terrorism, to missiles, to grief and suffering.

“God will one day restore creation so the dark and threatening sea of chaos will be no more”
(NT Wright)

On that day they will beat their tanks into carousels, and their guns into bakery equipment.

This is no cliché. This is truth. This is where our world is heading, friends: a day is coming when God will put all things to right.

How do these truths impact God’s people?

v.10 “Be still, and know that I am God”

Cease striving.

Stop railing against it all.

Don’t let bitterness take root.

Stop hassling about ‘why?’ and concentrate on ‘what’.

Not: ‘why did this happen’

But: ‘as people who know the love and mercy of Jesus, what do we need to do to bring the grace of God’s kingdom to expression in this situation?’

Be still. Know that he is God.

And you are not. You are human. You cannot work this out. No one can.

No, God is not the author of evil. He sent Jesus to break the back of evil and to triumph over it.

And a day is coming when this Jesus will bring his world to rights. He will recreate it and bring it back to shalom, so that it will all be ‘very good’ once more.

A day is coming when those who fire missiles at kids on a beach will stand before the King of Heaven and Earth and give account for what they have done.

A day is coming when those who fired that missile at a plane full of scientists, families, couples, and children will give an account.

It is possible that human investigations into the incident may fail. The perpetrators might not ever be identified.

But God knows who they are, and they will answer before him.

A day is coming when ISIS extremists will stand before the Great King, and made to give an account for their violence.

There is One Judge who will act with justice. No one will miss out on that.

v.11 And so the Psalm’s refrain again: “The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.” (Psalm 46:11, NIV)

Your ultimate hope comes from relationship with the Lord Almighty. You are called to reach out to Jesus, who promised “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
This truth is no guarantee that we will never have any troubles, or that we will be spared tragedy and grief.

But we know, with the Psalmist, and with the writers of Lord’s Day 10, that it is in the crucible of grief that the strongest trust and confidence on the Lord is formed.

Take heart friends. You are not at the mercy of random forces of evil. You are in the hands of the living God, our sovereign Lord.

Answering the inevitable questions

But having said that, how do we answer the questions people ask? What can we say about all this?

First: Admit your ignorance. There are some things we just don’t know.

We don’t have all the answers. No one does. To admit this is to admit our humanity.
Try and say otherwise, or cover your ignorance, and people will know you’re faking it. And rightly so.

Second: Psalm 23 reminds us that even as we walk through the valley of death and grief, we know the Lord is with us.

You will notice the Psalm does not say we’ll be miraculously transported to the beautiful mountain top and start soaring with the eagles. We stay in the valley. The grief and suffering remain. The comfort is our God is not unaware or unmoved by our struggle. His rod and staff – his guidance and protection – comfort us. He is with us. Always. His Spirit, the Comforter, lives in us, experiencing with us all our struggle and pain. Our God is not unaware or uninvolved in our lives when tragedy or grief comes our way.

Third: The reality of suffering and pain challenges how we look at our world.

Tragedy is its own preacher: reminding us that despite all our advances and all our knowledge, we are small, and ignorant, and totally dependent on our living Lord.

Tragedy is its own motivator: drawing out of complacency. It drives us toward a better world, a greater story, a narrative – a view of life which can give us hope. This is why were are currently working through the Foundations Series: we want to understand our world, and how God’s plan in Jesus enables us to live as his new people.

Fourth: there is a greater tragedy, a greater evil than any warfare or act of aggression between people.

It happened 2000 years ago, when the Son of God was put to death on a torturous Cross.
This innocent Saviour died in the place of guilty rebels.

He was pierced for our transgressions. He was crushed for our iniquities. The punishment that brought us peace was laid upon his shoulders. By his suffering, we were healed.

In which other life context would you want another person to take your punishment? To suffer for your wrongs?

In that sense, the Cross of Jesus is the deepest and most appalling of injustices. In another sense through this greatest of evil, King Jesus conquered:

“And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” (Colossians 2:15, NIV)

This Jesus promises the comfort of his grace and the presence of His spirit to all who call on him. This Victor, the great Overcomer, is with you, and he will give you strength to cope with life’s sharp and brutal edges. The Cross and the open tomb remind us that Jesus takes evil and turns it into something that results in good.

“We will not be delivered from suffering, but with God’s help we can be transformed by it”

(Jerry Sittser, A Grace Disguised)

Fifth: This Jesus will return, to throw evil, aggression, and its exceptionally ugly author into the abyss for all eternity.

We long for and pray for a world where there will be no more weeping, crying, mourning or pain. Where the old order of injustice and aggression will be no more. In all the grief of this world, we look to the new heavens and the new earth.

We do this not as a means of escape, or as reason to ignore the pain and grief around us. We look to the next world to filter and focus what we do in the here and now. We want to see God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven. We also look to the new heavens and the new earth in faith that Jesus is returning. He will make it right. He will bring his eternal shalom.

Sixth: everyone of us must ask: am I a person of the solution, or a person of the problem?

Ask yourself: am I ruled by Jesus, and so working to break down evil in my community? Am I working to relieve suffering in my world? Am I a man, a woman of peace? Am I a person of the solution or a person of the problem?

See, if you ignore the evil around you and in your community, if you turn a blind eye, you are part of the problem. The church is not called to turn a blind eye. The church is called to be light of the world right there where you are.

So, is my church community working hard to address the suffering in our own neighbourhood? Do we understand that God’s mission is to bring an end to evil and suffering? As his people, do we accept his mission? Will we align all we do to see that he is honoured, that we will follow his call, and do all we can to bring his kingdom to glorious expression in our locality?

In the face of terrible tragedy, know that God will contain evil, he will restrain evil, he will prevent it form doing its worst, and he will even use the malice, ignorance and stupidity of human beings to further his own sovereign purposes (NT Wright). This is our comfort.

And we know that God seeks to wipe away the tears of the suffering even in this life, to break the chains of injustice, and to bring evil to account.

He will do this through the power of his risen Son.

And he will do this as his Son rules his people.

People like us.

This is our great mission.

May God give us the grace, strength and courage to shoulder it.