Know Bulls from Bears
Matthew 5:4, Isaiah 61.1-2
Dr. Jim Denison
The Pledge of Allegiance has been much in the news, as you know.
To clarify things, the Ninth Circuit judges in San Francisco did not remove one nation “under God” from the Pledge. They don’t have the power to do that. They did rule that using the Pledge in a public school is an unconstitutional violation of separation of church and state.
But the lawyers I’ve consulted believe that the rest of the Ninth Circuit judges will likely overturn this preliminary ruling, and if they don’t, the Supreme Court undoubtedly will.
In a nation which places “In God We Trust” on our money as our national motto, where Congress begins each day with prayer and the Supreme Court with the words, “God save the United States and this honorable court,” “one nation under God” is not likely to be changed.
During this Fourth of July week, after the events of the past year, we need to pledge our allegiance to God more than ever before.
This morning let’s consider the reverse: how God pledges his allegiance to us. Each of Jesus’ Beatitudes shows us a different way God is ready to bless those who will let him. Today let’s learn how God comforts us when we mourn. When you’re in a bear market with your investments or your marriage or your health or your soul, what do you do? Jesus will show us.
Comfort for every pain
In Isaiah 61, God makes four promises about the Christ who would come to comfort us: he would preach good news to the poor, bind up the brokenhearted, proclaim freedom for the captives, and release from darkness for the prisoners. In this way he would “comfort all who mourn” (Isaiah 61:1-2). Let’s explore the causes of mourning, and find the personal comfort of Jesus for each one.
First, many of us mourn because of our sins, our immoralities. We feel deep sorrow for our immoral thoughts, words, and actions, realizing that they nailed Jesus to his cross and grieve the very heart of God. Do you mourn for sin today?
Then claim the prophet’s first promise: Jesus has come “to preach good news to the poor.” Here is the “good news,” the “gospel:” Your Comforter died to pay for every sin you have ever committed, to purchase your forgiveness, to offer you God’s pardon. He died in your place, taking your punishment. Now he promises: if you will confess your sin, he is faithful and just to forgive you for your sin and to cleanse you from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). “All” unrighteousness.
Augustine was one of the most unrighteous men of his generation. He drifted from mistress to mistress, satisfying every lust and desire he felt. Here’s how he later described his condition:
“I was held fast, not in fetters clamped upon me by another, but by my own will, which had the strength of iron chains. The enemy held my will in his power and from it he had made a chain and shackled me. For my will was perverse and lust had grown from it, and when I gave in to lust habit was born, and when I did not resist the habit it became a necessity. These were the links which together formed what I have called my chain, and it held me fast in the duress of servitude” (Confessions 8:5).
Until the day he took up the Scriptures, and read of God’s salvation in Christ, and confessed his sins and gave his heart to Jesus. And Jesus made him the greatest theologian after Paul in all of Christian history.
Now the comfort to be forgiven, the comfort in mourning which our Lord gave to him, he offers to you.
Second, some of us mourn for personal failures in our lives. Failures in business, school, or relationships. Failures in marriage or family. Do you mourn for failure today?
Then, give your failure to God in faith. Admit it specifically and honestly to him. Mourn for your part in it, in genuine repentance. And claim the prophet’s second promise: Jesus has come to “bind up the brokenhearted.” He has come to restore your heart and your life to service and ministry.
Gordon MacDonald was a successful pastor when he engaged in an extramarital sexual act. Immediately he confessed this sin to his wife and congregation, and resigned from his pulpit and the ministry. He entered into a long process of counseling and accountability, with no plans ever to reenter the pulpit ministry. Then a church called him to consider its pastorate. He said that he was too broken to come. They said, “We’re broken people, too.” And through them, God restored the repentant, broken, mourning preacher to his ministry.
Now the comfort to be restored, the comfort in mourning which Jesus gave to him, he offers to you.
Third, some of us mourn over deep disappointments with others. Family, friends, those close to us who have hurt us. Personal betrayals and injury. Do you mourn for such pain?
Then, give your pain to God in faith. Ask him to help you pardon those who have hurt you, choosing not to punish even when you could. Ask for his grace to forgive as you have been forgiven. And claim the prophet’s third promise: Jesus has come “to proclaim freedom for the captives.” To free you from your chains of bitterness and injustice and hurt.
Corrie ten Boom’s story is familiar to you, I hope. She and her family harbored Jews in their home in Holland. For this the Nazis arrested their family. All but Corrie died during the Holocaust. Years later, she returned to Germany. In her best-seller, The Hiding Place, Corrie describes what came next:
“It was at a church service in Munich that I saw him, the former S. S. man who had stood guard at the shower door in the processing center at Ravensbruck. He was the first of our actual jailers that I had seen since that time. And suddenly it was all there—the roomful of mocking men, the heaps of clothing, [my sister] Betsie’s pain-blanched face.