First United Methodist Church
November 13, 2022
Rev. Lauren Hall
Keeping Your Trust in Jesus
“It is finished.” These are the words Jesus spoke moments before he died on the cross. What “it” was varies depending on who the audience happens to be. The Romans thought they had finished a potential insurrection. The Jewish leaders and priests believed they had finished the potential threat of Jesus’ movement and preserved their tradition. Jesus’ followers believed their mission with Jesus was finished, and scattered at first, before gathering together in the Upper Room.
Depending on who you ask, you will discover that Jesus actually meant a number of things when he uttered these words. Jesus accomplished the redemption of humanity. The debt of sin owed to God by humanity was wiped away completely and forever by Jesus’ death on the cross. When Jesus said, “It is finished,” he declared that the debt was “paid in full.”
Just prior to his arrest by the Romans, Jesus prayed his last public prayer, asking the Father to glorify him, just as Jesus had glorified the Father on earth, having “finished the work you have given me to do” (John 17:4). The work Jesus was sent to do was to “seek and save that which is lost” (Luke 19:10), to provide atonement for the sins of all who would ever believe in him (Romans 3:23-25), and to reconcile sinful humanity to a Holy God. Because God required a perfect sacrifice, none other but God in the flesh could accomplish such a task.
Although the redemption of mankind is the most important finished task, many other things were finished at the cross. Jesus completed the fulfillment of all Old Testament prophecies, symbols and foreshadowings of the coming Messiah. The sufferings Jesus endured while on the earth, and especially in His last hours, were at last over. God’s will for Jesus was accomplished in His perfect obedience to the Father (John 5:30; 6:38). Most importantly, the power of sin and Satan was finished. No longer would humanity have to suffer the “flaming arrows of the evil one” (Ephesians 6:16). By raising the “shield of faith” in the One who completed the work of redemption and salvation, we can, by faith, live as new creations in Christ. Although Jesus finished a lot of things on the cross, we know that greater things were about to begin. Jesus’ finished work was the beginning of new life for all who are now made “alive with Christ” (Ephesians 2:1, 5).
Living this new life, however, is not going to be easy. In the Christian world, Jesus and “hope” tend to be almost synonymous and today’s scripture describes the “end of the world as we know it” in terms that are more frightening than hopeful. Jesus warns of a world filled with wars and insurrections. Nation will rise against nation and there will be earthquakes and famines and plagues. But these are not signs of the end, Jesus says. Rather, they are simply part of the regular sufferings of this world. (v. 9)
And it only gets worse. Jesus goes on to tell his disciples to expect all of these things to happen, and they will experience persecution as well. No one will escape. Jesus’ words are a little harsh, but as he tells us of this new age that is to come, he reminds us of one very important thing. Bad things are going to happen, and because we live in the here and now, we have to figure out how we are supposed to live in the midst of it.
Jesus’ answer is simple. He says, "I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand." He teaches us that there will be disasters of all sorts. Even our own lives might be threatened. “During all of this,” Jesus tells us, “Keep your eyes on me. Keep your ears open for the voice of the Spirit. Trust and Listen.” That’s it. Period.
I don’t normally get persecuted, not like the early Christians, and not like Christians who live in other countries. People may disagree with me and government policies may not always be what I prefer. But no one is out to arrest or torture me and I’m not going to be executed by the government because of my faith. Sometimes I get made fun of when I take a stand based on my faith, but that’s not the same, and I can easily deal with that.
But here’s the thing. The world doesn’t need to persecute us to stop us. It only needs to divert us. Wars, uprisings, threats, these are all diversions. So are sports, hobbies, materialism, social media and work. Although these things don’t have to be diversions, they often take our eyes off Jesus. They capture our allegiance from following Jesus and declaring and embodying the good news of God’s kingdom. If anything, the world has gotten better at not needing to resort to extreme measures like persecution because it can manipulate our desires in other ways. And it does. All the time.
There are so many forces out there that try to use us as marketers for their products, services, or political, social, or economic agendas for the sake of their own gain, and not necessarily for the common good or in witness to God’s kingdom. We’ve forgotten our role and purpose as Christians. We’ve forgotten that we are called to represent the ideals of the Kingdom of God.
I think that this is one of the things that gets in the way of our political elections. With all the name calling and divisive language that is used by both parties in their efforts to win, I think in some ways the candidates forget their roles as public servants.
According to Martin Luther, both the church and the government have a unique role in society. Luther believed that God was an active God, always at work for the good of God’s people. And he believed that God exercised authority through two distinct arenas and toward two particular ends.
The first arena is the spiritual one, and God works through the church to make sure that all know of God’s love, grace and mercy in Christ and as a result have peace of heart in this world and eternal life in the next.
The second arena is what he would call the “temporal” one – the world of our immediate and physical needs of this time and place (as opposed to our spiritual and eternal needs) – and God’s means of caring for our temporal needs is through the family and government. In short, Luther believed that the government is one of God’s instruments for caring for the people.
Although each political party differs in their perception about the best way to do this, they should agree on the fundamental commitment that the government is responsible for caring for the welfare of its people. What we are witnessing more and more often in our government officials is that they know how to fight. The question is whether they know what (or whom) they are fighting for.
For the past several weeks, our gospels have focused on the gap between the rich and the poor and if nothing else, we have figured out that Jesus has a preferential option for the poor, which doesn’t mean that Jesus doesn’t like wealthy people, but it does mean that Jesus is very concerned about the poor and wants us to be concerned as well. In the General Rules, John Wesley called Methodists to live in such a way that we would not simply "go to church" and "do no harm," but we would also do all the good we possibly could for all people—visiting and caring for the needs of the sick, the prisoners, the poor, the hungry, those needing clothing, working for the good of those who cannot work to help themselves.
And that is why Jesus’ words this week are so important. We can’t allow ourselves to be diverted. When we do, we forget who we are and whose we are.
It is important that we, as Christians, hold our government accountable for the care of its citizens and remind office-holders of their God-given responsibility to care for all people and particularly those who are most vulnerable. It’s also important that we hold all of our leaders in prayer no matter which party they represent, because acting in the interest of the larger society takes courage and conviction.
Jesus’ words are meaningful, because with or without persecution, we are in the midst of tragedy all the time, whether it is personal or centered somewhere else in the world. Jesus completed his work on the cross so that we could begin our mission in the world. One of the things Jesus instructed his disciples to do in the face of upheavals or direct threats was this: “Always keep listening to my voice,” he said. “You’ll be given what is needed. Keep listening. Endure.”
Trust Jesus. Keep trusting him. Listen for Jesus. Help one another listen. Re-divert your attention, and help others be re-diverted back to Jesus. This is what the church is all about. Our mission, to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, is carried out when we remain faithful and when we listen to and keep our trust in Jesus.
I hope that our scriptures and messages over the past several weeks have reminded you of the depth of Christ’s love and compassion. And I hope in some way they have reminded you of the importance of the church.
Today’s message was about keeping your trust in Jesus. Jesus is the head of the church, and throughout his ministry he taught his disciples to not only to trust in God, but also to trust in each other.
As a member of the church, you are trusting the work that we will do together in this church – the ways that we will support and care for one another and the ways that we will live out our faith as we embody the gospel.
I am convinced more than ever that not only do our best years lie ahead of us, but also our greatest challenge. God continues to dream incredibly big dreams for us and that we are called to dream God’s dreams.
Carrying out Christ’s mission requires that we keep our trust in Jesus. Let us pray:
Lord of the universe, we live in an ever-changing world. As we embrace the word you have shared with us today, show us your steadfast mercy, and your unconditional love. As we seek to live the guidance of your Holy Spirit, help us face the competing demands for our loyalty. As we seek to faithfully follow your Son, help us find comfort in your presence, for you alone are our help and our salvation. Amen.