Some times there are words in the Bible I would rather not deal with. As I looked through this week I found very little I actually wanted to engage. Burning worlds, families ripped apart, unrepentant nations being punished. But there is a connection between Jesus’ words and the Hebrews passage that connected it all for me.
In Luke, Jesus talks about the baptism of suffering he has to endure. In Hebrews we see the other side. Jesus was willing to go through that baptism because he knew what was on the other side. There was life and joy and hope after the difficulty. This is the message for the week.
We are never promised a difficulty free life. We all know too well the pain of families being ripped apart, injustice, oppression, consequences of our own mistakes.
But there is hope.
When we enter into the difficult words, experiences, situations and conversations of life we are building a better future. We engage the difficulties because we know there is life and hope and joy on the other side.
So join us as we engage some difficult texts, and think through what difficult situations God might be calling you to engage this week.
“I have come to set the world on fire, and I wish it were already burning! I have a terrible baptism of suffering ahead of me, and I am under a heavy burden until it is accomplished. Do you think I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I have come to divide people against each other! From now on families will be split apart, three in favor of me, and two against—or two in favor and three against.
‘Father will be divided against son
and son against father;
mother against daughter
and daughter against mother;
and mother-in-law against daughter-in-law
and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.’
Then Jesus turned to the crowd and said, “When you see clouds beginning to form in the west, you say, ‘Here comes a shower.’ And you are right. When the south wind blows, you say, ‘Today will be a scorcher.’ And it is. You fools! You know how to interpret the weather signs of the earth and sky, but you don’t know how to interpret the present times.
Now I will sing for the one I love
a song about his vineyard:
My beloved had a vineyard
on a rich and fertile hill.
He plowed the land, cleared its stones,
and planted it with the best vines.
In the middle he built a watchtower
and carved a winepress in the nearby rocks.
Then he waited for a harvest of sweet grapes,
but the grapes that grew were bitter.
Now, you people of Jerusalem and Judah,
you judge between me and my vineyard.
What more could I have done for my vineyard
that I have not already done?
When I expected sweet grapes,
why did my vineyard give me bitter grapes?
Now let me tell you
what I will do to my vineyard:
I will tear down its hedges
and let it be destroyed.
I will break down its walls
and let the animals trample it.
I will make it a wild place
where the vines are not pruned and the ground is not hoed,
a place overgrown with briers and thorns.
I will command the clouds
to drop no rain on it.
The nation of Israel is the vineyard of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.
The people of Judah are his pleasant garden.
He expected a crop of justice,
but instead he found oppression.
He expected to find righteousness,
but instead he heard cries of violence.
Psalm 80:1-2, 8-18
Please listen, O Shepherd of Israel,
you who lead Joseph’s descendants like a flock.
O God, enthroned above the cherubim,
display your radiant glory
to Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh.
Show us your mighty power.
Come to rescue us!
You brought us from Egypt like a grapevine;
you drove away the pagan nations and transplanted us into your land.
You cleared the ground for us,
and we took root and filled the land.
Our shade covered the mountains;
our branches covered the mighty cedars.
We spread our branches west to the Mediterranean Sea;
our shoots spread east to the Euphrates River.
But now, why have you broken down our walls
so that all who pass by may steal our fruit?
The wild boar from the forest devours it,
and the wild animals feed on it.
Come back, we beg you, O God of Heaven’s Armies.
Look down from heaven and see our plight.
Take care of this grapevine
that you yourself have planted,
this son you have raised for yourself.
For we are chopped up and burned by our enemies.
May they perish at the sight of your frown.
Strengthen the man you love,
the son of your choice.
Then we will never abandon you again.
Revive us so we can call on your name once more.
It was by faith that the people of Israel went right through the Red Sea as though they were on dry ground. But when the Egyptians tried to follow, they were all drowned.
It was by faith that the people of Israel marched around Jericho for seven days, and the walls came crashing down.
It was by faith that Rahab the prostitute was not destroyed with the people in her city who refused to obey God. For she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.
How much more do I need to say? It would take too long to recount the stories of the faith of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and all the prophets. By faith these people overthrew kingdoms, ruled with justice, and received what God had promised them. They shut the mouths of lions, quenched the flames of fire, and escaped death by the edge of the sword. Their weakness was turned to strength. They became strong in battle and put whole armies to flight. Women received their loved ones back again from death.
But others were tortured, refusing to turn from God in order to be set free. They placed their hope in a better life after the resurrection. Some were jeered at, and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in prisons. Some died by stoning, some were sawed in half, and others were killed with the sword. Some went about wearing skins of sheep and goats, destitute and oppressed and mistreated. They were too good for this world, wandering over deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground.
All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised. For God had something better in mind for us, so that they would not reach perfection without us.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.
You sent your Son to show us what life is all about.
We thank you for the example of the cross.
We thank you for the hope, life, peace, and joy the cross brings.
We thank you for the grace we receive.
We often forget how close and available those things are, especially when the hard times press in.
Remind us of your unfailing love.
Give us the courage to engage the difficulties of life so we may bring more joy and love into the world.