Is Peace Even Possible?

Words cannot do justice to the tragedy and devastation our nation has experienced over the past month. Within the pressure-cooker of the Coronavirus pandemic we continue scraping at the festering wound of sinful racism. My heart breaks for my fellow black neighbors and for every police officer out there. Yes, the Christian heart pulses with compassion for all people “from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9-10); every human life is made in God’s image and equally precious in his sight (Genesis 1:27).

Which is why I get equally angry when anarchists with a political agenda hijack our national tragedy to serve their self-destructive end. Make no mistake, these rioters add insult to injury on those in the black community who rightfully pursue justice and peacefully protest. They undermine the very fabric of peace and order in our society and unnecessarily place our law enforcement officials in harm’s way. And I have to wonder—is peace even possible for our country?

There are rare moments in American history when we may have more in common with certain historical parts of the Bible than less. I think now is one of those rare moments. I’m referring to the crucifixion of Christ in Luke 23. In it, the gospel writer makes a point to establish Jesus’s innocence.

13 Pilate then called together the chief priests and the rulers and the people, 14 and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was misleading the people. And after examining him before you, behold, I did not find this man guilty of any of your charges against him. 15 Neither did Herod, for he sent him back to us. Look, nothing deserving death has been done by him. 16 I will therefore punish and release him.”

It seems like the case would be closed. But the Jewish leaders have insidiously incited the people to condemn Jesus, so the crowd unanimously cries out with the most shocking of demands:

18 But they all cried out together, “Away with this man, and release to us Barabbas”— 19 a man who had been thrown into prison for an insurrection started in the city and for murder.

There he is—Barrabas, the Insurrectionist. Does that name carry new meaning for you now? It’s the insurrectionists keeping us awake at night. It’s the insurrectionists burning our businesses, spray painting our monuments, and slashing police tires. It’s the insurrectionists who murder for the sake of anarchy. There seems to be no greater contrast than that of Barrabas and Jesus. The irony is the Jewish leaders had already accused Jesus of insurrection, but they failed to provide the evidence. Now Pilate, ready to release innocent Jesus, faces the inexplicable dilemma of unjustly substituting an innocent man for one already condemned to die. We read the gut-wrenching conclusion.

20 Pilate addressed them once more, desiring to release Jesus, 21 but they kept shouting, “Crucify, crucify him!” 22 A third time he said to them, “Why? What evil has he done? I have found in him no guilt deserving death. I will therefore punish and release him.” 23 But they were urgent, demanding with loud cries that he should be crucified. And their voices prevailed. 24 So Pilate decided that their demand should be granted. 25 He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, for whom they asked, but he delivered Jesus over to their will.

Injustice. Shame. Insurrection. Do you see the substitution God made on the cross for us? Innocent Jesus bore it all. Why? To pay the penalty your sins and for mine.

And it’s no secret that racism was an equally divisive and explosive sin-problem in 1st century Israel. Romans, Samaritans, Jews, and the surrounding nations harbored deep-seated hatred towards one another. So when Jesus, a Jew, died for the sins of mankind, it was very difficult for Israel, God’s chosen people, to understand God had thrown the door wide open to people “from every tribe and language and people and nation.” In the book of Acts, the companion book to the Gospel of Luke, we read of the gospel spreading from Ethiopia (Acts 8:26-40) to Rome (Acts 8:16-31). When this new reality sank in, it left even believing Jews speechless (Acts 10:1-11:18). God’s gospel is a global gospel.

Peace with God results in peace with each other. Jesus Christ bore the injustice, the shame, and the guilt of insurrection on the cross that we might confess our sins and be forgiven. But he also died on the cross to tear down the racial wall that has separated our country. So yes, peace is possible. Our generation needs Jesus to “tear down this wall” that runs through the heart of America. He’s the only one who can do it. Think about this truth in light of one final passage in Ephesians. Paul reminds the Ephesian Christians that they, as uncircumcised Gentiles, were at one time considered outsiders to the promises of God. But God tore down that wall and made peace between Jew and Gentile.

11 Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near.

We can only have peace with one another by first being at peace with God. When we confess our sins against God and repent, claiming Jesus’s innocent death and resurrection on our behalf, Jesus makes us into “one new man in the place of the two, so making peace.” We join together with those “from every tribe and language and people and nation” to praise God for his unmatched mercy and forgiveness poured out on us sinners. Oh how desperately we need this gospel truth in our world. How desperately we need it in our nation. How desperately we need to model it in our churches. If we are to find peace, we can only find it in Jesus.

~CP

Coronavirus and Christ (John Piper)

I wanted to write a blog post addressing how a Christian navigates our current Coronavirus crisis. Such a discussion is profitable not only for Christians, but also for anyone who is looking for a steady rock in the shifting sands of uncertainty. These truly unprecedented times have caused many of us to think more deeply about life than we otherwise would have.

Thankfully, John Piper penned and published a book in just 14 days that addresses those issues. I heartily recommend this FREE (digital or audio download) resource to you and anyone you know. At just around 100 pages, it is short, understandable, yet profoundly deep. Click here to download a copy today.

~CP

Jehovah Rapha (The Lord Who Heals)

Dealing with all the dirtiness of the Coronavirus made me start thinking about all the biblical themes of uncleanness that permeate the gospels. Jesus, by nature of his healing power, seemed to draw both physically and spiritually dirty people to him.

It isn’t something we like to think or talk about, but our world’s real and deadly plague reminds us of the deeper infection that all humanity already is plagued by. It reminds us that the only one who can heal us of our sin is Jesus Christ. The name Jehovah Rapha is a Hebrew title for God, meaning “the Lord who heals.” God may or may not choose to heal us from physical sickness, but the gospels make clear Jesus stands ready to heal anyone who comes to him for spiritual healing.

I wrote a song to try to capture this idea. I hope it ministers to your soul. You can watch me sing it here: https://youtu.be/TrKmHNil-yA

Jehovah Rapha (The Lord Who Heals)

“Unclean!” The leper cries,
He dare not lift his eyes,
But staggers up in shame and makes a scene.
For having found the Christ,
He begs with all his might,
“If you are willing, you can make me clean.”

Unclean a dozen years
With flow of blood and tears,
The suff’ring woman reaches through the crowd.
With just a simple touch
Her flow of blood dries up,
“Who touched me?” Says the Savior, turning round.

Jehovah Rapha, touch us with your hand,
For we cry “Abba! Father! Heal our land.”
If you are willing, you can make us clean.
For You alone are able to redeem.

With trembling and with fear,
We all can still draw near,
With wounds that go far deeper than our skin.
For Jesus saves the soul,
Who begs to be made whole,
Repenting from the plague of sin within.

Jehovah Rapha, touch us with your hand,
For we cry “Abba! Father! Heal our land.”
If you are willing, you can make us clean.
For you alone are able to redeem.

Copyright 2020 by Cameron Pollock

Give Us This Day Our Non-Perishables

My wife Emily just got back from the grocery store this morning. In light of the Coronavirus pandemic, we weren’t really sure what to expect. We prayed with our two little girls before mommy left for the store, “Give us this day our daily bread.”

Then she returned with an embarrassment of rations. Don’t get me wrong—we actually need all that food to survive (those with hungry little ones in their homes are all nodding in agreement). We thanked God for his provision, then began unloading grocery bags, when suddenly it hit me—a lot of people are consumed with obtaining non-perishables right now, but Jesus told us to pray for daily bread. There’s a lesson to learn there.

Do Not Be Anxious About Daily Provisions

In the same chapter he teaches us the Lord’s prayer, Jesus addresses the topic of storing up food. “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” (Matthew 6:25)

Jesus uses the Lord’s prayer to expose our anxiety. He prayed for daily bread, not non-perishables. I know, I know, the term didn’t exist in his day. But the basic truth stands: anxiety over lack of daily provisions is wrong.

“But,” you may say, “it is wise to plan for the future!” It’s true, God does elevate wisdom, calling us to embrace it. But we need to be careful we do not use wisdom as a cloak for unfounded fear. Rather, wisdom flows from an intimate relationship of reverent awe and holy fear of our Lord. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” (Proverbs 9:10) So if the Lord has anything to say about this topic, and he does, we would be wise to listen to him.

When my wife goes grocery shopping, she purchases about a week’s worth of food. Once a month we trek to Costco and buy some bulk items to save a few extra dollars. With refrigeration and storage considerations, weekly trips work well for us. That’s all we need, and we ought to pray that God would provide it for us.

In Jesus’s day, in spite of the lack of refrigeration, the situation was similar. Israelites could store up grain or bottle wine, they could fish on a given day, or they could slaughter a sheep from the flock. Most had resources available beyond their need of “daily bread.” Yet the sword, famine, or pestilence could threaten their food supplies. For some reason we think modern technology and food storage techniques make us less vulnerable. We are not.

Consider Your Value Before God

Jesus’s message to his followers is the same for believers today. Don’t build bigger barns, instead, “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” (Matthew 6:26-29)

It is not the lilies of the field that bear the image of God. It is not the birds of the air for whom Christ died. If God takes such diligent care for the least of his creatures, why do we doubt is care for us, the crown jewel of his creation? “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32)

We certainly do not need to gather any more anxiety in our hearts. Yet we often spend our time and money obsessing over things that will never happen to us. Our gathered goods often are a mirror image of the gathered anxiety in our hearts. In fact, Jesus just finished saying, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21) Charles Spurgeon nails the issue with his usual pithiness.

“Many of God’s people are constantly under apprehensions of calamities which will never occur to them, and they suffer far more in merely dreading them than they would have to endure if they actually came upon them. In their imagination, there are rivers in their way, and they are anxious to know how they shall wade through them, or swim across them. There are no such rivers in existence, but they are agitated and distressed about them. An old proverb says, “Don’t cross the bridge till you come to it;” but these timid people are continually crossing bridges that only exist in their foolish fancies. They stab themselves with imaginary daggers, they starve themselves in imaginary famines, and even bury themselves in imaginary graves. We are such strange creatures that we probably suffer more under blows which never fall upon us than we do under those which do actually come. The rod of God does not strike us as sharply as the rod of our own imagination does; our groundless fears are our chief tormentors, and when we are able to abolish our self-inflictions, all the worries of the world become light and easy. However, it is a pity that Christians who have the gift of faith in Christ given to them, should fall into so guilty and at the same time so painful a habit as this of fearing the oppressor who does not come, and who never will come.”

Charles Spurgeon, Needless Fears,
sermon on Is. 51:12-13 preached June 11, 1874

Confess Your Lack of Faith

Jesus has spoken so clearly about this issue that his words need no further explanation. He simply challenges us to make the application.

“But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’” (Matthew 6:30-31)

When Jesus tells us to pray for our daily bread, he really means it. He rebukes us for our “little faith.” And we don’t like this rebuke. The truth hurts. Peter knew what it felt like to be rebuked by his Lord. Peter put his foot in his mouth so many times, he probably would have done well to just leave it there. And Peter has some good advice for us when responding to our Lord’s words.

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:6-7) In our pride, we don’t want to confess sin. “Confession is good for the soul, bad for the reputation,” they say. And this fear of being humbled causes anxiety in our hearts. Just as we fail to trust God for daily bread, we also fail to trust God by humbly confessing our sin. Do you see a pattern here? Anxiety in one area tends to spread its ugly roots all throughout the garden of our heart.

Feed on the Bread of Heaven

Instead of stubbornly persisting in patterns of anxiousness, we would do well to listen to Jesus. Here’s his simple solution: “For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:32-33)

In John 6, Jesus tells us three times, “I am the bread of life.” He tells us to seek him for our spiritual and physical livelihood. He is not ignoring the reality of our physical needs, rather he is putting them in their proper perspective. Our need for physical bread should remind us of our greater need for spiritual bread. Saved saints should not live like those in the world who do not trust God to provide their daily bread. Your heavenly Father knows what you need. So seek him first, gather only what physical supplies you truly need, and “all these things will be added to you.” Your local Walmart store manager will thank you.
~CP