Lord, God, Creator of the heavens and the earth, who am I that you are mindful of me? Today, I pray that your breath will breathe through me, that your words will be spoken through me, and that your love will be shown through me. I am a jar of clay, containing great glory because Christ lives in me. May I be mindful of this glorious truth as I make my way through my day. Let your kingdom come, let your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.
Today, before digging back into Mark, I read through Psalm 27. So take a moment to read that and then skip forward to Mark 15:24-32:
The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid?
When evildoers assail me
to eat up my flesh,
my adversaries and foes,
it is they who stumble and fall.
Though an army encamp against me,
my heart shall not fear;
though war arise against me,
yet I will be confident.
One thing have I asked of the Lord,
that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord
and to inquire in his temple.
For he will hide me in his shelter
in the day of trouble;
he will conceal me under the cover of his tent;
he will lift me high upon a rock.
And now my head shall be lifted up
above my enemies all around me,
and I will offer in his tent
sacrifices with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make melody to the Lord.
Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud;
be gracious to me and answer me!
You have said, “Seek my face.”
My heart says to you,
“Your face, Lord, do I seek.”
Hide not your face from me.
Turn not your servant away in anger,
O you who have been my help.
Cast me not off; forsake me not,
O God of my salvation!
For my father and my mother have forsaken me,
but the Lord will take me in.
Teach me your way, O Lord,
and lead me on a level path
because of my enemies.
Give me not up to the will of my adversaries;
for false witnesses have risen against me,
and they breathe out violence.
I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living!
Wait for the Lord;
be strong, and let your heart take courage;
wait for the Lord! (Psalm 27, ESV)
And they crucified him and divided his garments among them, casting lots for them, to decide what each should take. And it was the third hourwhen they crucified him. And the inscription of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.” And with him they crucified two robbers,one on his right and one on his left. And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!” So also the chief priests with the scribes mocked him to one another, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Christ,the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.” Those who were crucified with him also reviled him. (Mark 15:24-32, ESV)
I always find it interesting how scripture informs scripture. What I mean by that is, the more of the Bible I read, the more perspective I get on different passages. While it is tempting to just take a small passage or verse and draw all sorts of conclusions from it, it is not until we hold all of the passages of scripture in tension with one another that we begin to get a fuller, richer picture of what the message of a particular section of scripture is.
That happened to me this morning. In one passage, Psalm 27, we read about someone who is being attacked yet has full confidence that the Lord will deliver him. “When evildoers assail me… it is they who stumble and fall.” Then we flip over to Mark 15 and read about evildoers assailing Jesus, but they do not stumble—they do not fall. Instead, they win. “And they crucified him… (v. 24) And it was the third hour when they crucified him. (v. 25) And with him they crucified two robbers… (v. 27) Those who were crucified with him also reviled him (v. 32).”
The thing I keep thinking about as I read through these passages and others is that the righteous do not always win.
Deliverance does not always come.
Sometimes the enemy attacks and good, righteous people are wounded… crushed… broken… killed.
Yet, when this happens, we are surprised! Why is that? Why are we so surprised when bad things actually happen to good people?
I think it’s because we have not really read scripture. Either that, or we have followed leaders—teachers—who have so wanted to tickle our itching ears that they have only told us what we wanted to hear, not what the Bible really teaches. Unfortunately, such teaching—rooted in a belief that because we have victory in Jesus, nothing can touch us—has set us up for certain disappointment. Because the truth is that evil absolutely can touch us. Even as we are hidden in the shadow of the wings of the Almighty God, evil is crouching at the door, waiting to pounce, waiting to devour.
David writes in Psalm 27 that God will “hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will lift me high upon a rock.”
Yet in Mark 15, we read that God did not hide Jesus—he allowed Jesus to be exposed (“they divided his garments among them, casting lots for them, to decide what each should take.”) God did not conceal Jesus—he allowed Jesus to be publicly mocked (“And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, ‘Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!'”) God did not lift Jesus high upon a rock, in order to deliver him to safety—he allowed Jesus to be lifted high upon a cross, in order for him to die at the hands of his adversaries and foes.
Sometimes God delivers us from evil. And sometimes God delivers us directly over to evil.
This is a terrifying thought.
I have had conversations with a couple of people recently who have experienced what it is like to be delivered over to evil. One was molested as a child, and as she was enduring a year-long season of being victimized, she was wounded, crushed, broken, and her spirit was pretty much killed. While the season of abuse only lasted about a year, the evil that was done to her has had a hold on her mind and heart for decades since. The evil that was done to her has shaped how she thinks of herself and what she thinks others think of her. For many years, in many ways, evil took and took and took from her.
Another friend has experienced three major life events that have crushed and broken her: a heart attack at age 34, a child with a brain anomaly that has sent them to the hospital on several occasions, and a house that was devastated by the Atlantic Ocean when Hurricane Sandy hit, destroying just about everything on the first floor of their house. These events have left her living a life of insecurity, wondering when the next tragedy will strike.
Both of these women love Jesus. Both are his followers, and both are faithful. But they have been touched by evil and they know that while sometimes the Lord delivers us from evil, there are also times when the Lord does not.
So what do we do this? How can we avoid being paralyzed by fear when we acknowledge that deliverance is not a guarantee for the righteous?
I have two suggestions—we worship and we wait.
First, we worship. We worship the Christ who was wounded, broken, crushed, and killed with us and, indeed, for us. We worship “YaHWeH,” the LORD, not because he did or did not deliver us from evil, but because he is Lord and because he is with us, our dwelling place, even in times of trouble. “One thing have I asked of the LORD, that I will seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to meditate in his temple.” (Psalm 27:4) We worship because YaHWeH is beautiful.
Sometimes we worship through tears. I was crushed in 2006, when a relationship I thought with all my heart would end in marriage instead just ended, abruptly. I did not have closure, I did not have an explanation. It just ended. I was devastated. I was beyond confused. I knew that God could “fix this” if God wanted to, but God did not. But one thing I do know: the worship I experienced during that season of grief was unlike any other worship I have ever experienced. As I got on my knees day by day, crying to the Lord in my confusion and pain, I experienced the presence of God in ways I have never experienced before or since. Truly, there is a balm in Gilead, and it is only those who have been crushed who can appreciate the beauty of that balm. As I borrowed a prayer guide from Habakkuk 3:17-19, I praised God with a fierce determination.
Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places.
Yet. I. Will. Praise. This is not happy-happy joy-joy praise. This is the cry of a woman (or man) who has lost everything, yet knows that even then, God is worthy, and there is reason to rejoice. There is joy in the God of my salvation.
So we worship…
… and we wait.
“Wait for the LORD; be strong and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!” says Psalm 27:14, and this is the hope we have as well.
Because the devastation is not the end of the story.
It is certainly part of the story. It is a huge part of the story. The devastations we endure are part of what shapes us and makes us who we are. That is certainly true for both of the the friends I mentioned here, as well as myself. The devastation shapes us, for better or for worse. For better, by creating in us empathy and humility and love for the broken. And for worse, creating in us fear and hindering us from trusting God.
The devastation shaped Jesus. Can you imagine Jesus without scars on his hands and feet? They are, and forever will be, part of who Jesus is. Even in his resurrected body, the scars remained. This is a profound fact that reminds me that we are not supposed to forget the devastating things that have happened to us! They are part of who we are, and part of what makes us a blessing to others—if we will let it be so.
But the devastation is not the end of the story—not by any means! Because no matter what happens to us, we have the hope of God’s redemption. God can take every evil thing that has been done to us and bring beauty from it. The very passage that defined Jesus’s ministry on earth points to this promise of redemption for those who have been assailed: “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me… to grant to those who mourn in Zion—to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, a garment of praise instead of a faint spirit…” (Isaiah 61:1, 3)
And why do we have this hope?
Because Jesus waited too. Jesus waited for three days in the tomb. And after he waited, his resurrection came.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory,obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:3-9, ESV)
I would guess that all of us have experienced times when God has delivered us from evil, as well as times when God has not. Perhaps you are in the midst of a confusing, painful season yourself right now. May I urge you with all my heart to worship and wait? Worship God through the confusion, through the pain, through the fear. And wait—wait for God’s redemption. We do not place our hope in the promise of an easy life protected from every evil thing. We do place our hope in a God who can take every evil thing and bring good from it. May we all say with the purest of conviction, “I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living!”