November 3, 2020
“Though I have been speaking figuratively, a time is coming when I will no longer use this kind of language but will tell you plainly about my Father. In that day you will ask in my name. I am not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf. No, the Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. I came from the Father and entered the world; now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father.”
Then Jesus’ disciples said, “Now you are speaking clearly and without figures of speech. Now we can see that you know all things and that you do not even need to have anyone ask you questions. This makes us believe that you came from God.”
“Do you now believe?” Jesus replied. “A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home. You will leave me all alone.Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me.
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
“In this world you will have trouble.”
That’s the bumper sticker I want to make. Why? Because the followers of Jesus often get it precisely backward. We think trouble should be the exception, not the rule. As a result, trouble all too often surprises us. We are shocked when something bad happens to us, of all people, the followers of Jesus. It leads to one of the most problematic problems of all time—the problem of evil— and one of the most problematic questions of the modern age: Why do bad things happen to good people? Jesus has a ready response to this question.
“In this world you will have trouble.”
Why do bad things happen to good people? Why do good things happen to good people? The first problem with the question is the false premise that we are actually good people. Remember that time when the guy approached Jesus and called him “Good teacher,” to which Jesus replied, “Why do you call me good? . . . No one is good—except God alone” (Mark 10:17-18). So there’s that. The second problem with the question is the way it affirms the fundamental value system of karma (i.e., that good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people). Remember that time Jesus’ disciples queried him about the man born blind, asking him, “Who sinned, this man or his parents?” (John 9:2). In other words, this guy’s trouble must be explained by someone’s bad behavior somewhere in the past.
It may be the most under-recognized promise in the whole Jesus catalog: “In this world you will have trouble.”
Jesus and the church he’s building is not interested in developing philosophical constructs and theological explanations concerning the problem of evil to middle- and upper-class people who believe they are entitled to trouble-free lives. No, the church about which Jesus said the gates of hell will not prevail against it, is all about fighting evil and overcoming it by the supernatural power of the love of God.
Friends in the Lord. We need to get over it. In this world we will have trouble. We will get cancer. Tragedy will strike our families. Untimely deaths will occur. Our children will endure trauma. At the other end of the spectrum, people will be beheaded simply for their faith in Jesus. Trouble is the unfortunate feature and bitter fruit of the insanely complex, compounded brokenness of the whole fallen creation. It is neither an indictment on the goodness of God nor the faith of his followers.
The big difference on this point is not between people who follow Jesus and people who don’t. Trouble is our common lot. The big difference is the people who follow Jesus get to add this tiny little hand grenade of a footnote to our bumper sticker: “But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
Okay, forget the bumper sticker. That’s our banner and battle cry. This is the very source of the fountain of eternal joy. This is the gospel, and it is not for later. It is for today, right now, this moment. And millions on millions of people are yearning not just to hear it, but to see it in our lives.
Abba Father, we thank you for your Son, Jesus, who has indeed overcome the world. Translate this truth into the depths of our souls. Shake us free from our indulgent enclaves of comfort in this world. Give us the courage to enter into the trouble of others and the grace to lead them to you who overcome. We pray in Jesus’ name, amen.
1. Do you struggle with the problem of evil in the sense that it keeps you from believing in a good God?
2. Have you labored under the false assumption that because you love God, follow Jesus, and serve other people that you have immunity from trouble in your life and family?
3. Are you ready, in a new way, to face the inevitable reality of trouble, to not be surprised by it, and to be so filled by the Holy Spirit that you show the world what it looks like when Jesus overcomes? What’s your next step? What will it look like to take heart?
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