During the next several days ending on Sunday, March 27, 2016, we will be celebrating several events here in America that encompass one of the greatest themes known to humankind–deliverance. Also known as “Passion Week” (the last week in the life of Jesus Christ), it starts this Sunday, March 20, 2016, which is Palm Sunday, and is followed by Good Friday on March 25th, and Easter on Sunday, March 27th. Thrown into the middle of this week is the Jewish holiday of Purim (based on the Old Testament book of Esther), which starts at sundown on Wednesday, March 23rd, and ends at sundown on Thursday, March 24th.
For the past couple of years I have reposted a blog post I first wrote at Easter 2013. That post is titled, “On the Road to Emmaus” (click here for link to last year’s reblogged post). I’ve also posted two other blog posts on Easter titled, “He Is Risen” (click here), and “The Resurrection of Jesus Christ” (click here). Also, I have posted a blog post originally written on Purim 2014 with the latest version, “Celebrate Purim 5775 (2015),” published last year (click here for post).
The holidays of Purim and Easter are two holidays celebrating this theme of deliverance. Back in 2005 when Purim and Easter fell on the same day, Day of Discovery published a video titled, “Two Holidays of Deliverance: Purim and Easter” (click here to watch the video). Here is a brief description of Purim from Wikipedia.com:
Purim (Hebrew: פּוּרִים) is a Jewish holiday that commemorates the deliverance of the Jewish people in the ancient Persian Empire where a plot had been formed to destroy them. The story is recorded in the Book of Esther (Megillat Ester מגילת אסתר in Hebrew).
According to the Book of Esther, Haman, royal vizier to King Ahasuerus (presumed to be Xerxes I of Persia) planned to kill all the Jews in the empire, but his plans were foiled by Mordecai and his adopted daughter Esther who had risen to become Queen of Persia. The day of deliverance became a day of feasting and rejoicing (quote source here). [The entire story can be read in the Old Testament book of Esther].
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. ~John 3:16-18
While I was tempted to repost my previously written blog posts on Purim and Easter from past years again for this year, the subject of deliverance is one that is too important to overlook. So let’s start by finding out what the Bible says on the subject of deliverance. GotQuestions.org states:
Deliverance is defined as “a rescue from bondage or danger.” Deliverance in the Bible is the acts of God whereby He rescues His people from peril. In the Old Testament, deliverance is focused primarily on God’s removal of those who are in the midst of trouble or danger. He rescues His people from their enemies (1 Samuel 17:37; 2 Kings 20:6), and from the hand of the wicked (Psalm 7:2; 17:13; 18:16-19; 59:2). He preserves them from famine (Psalm 33:19), death (Psalm 22:19-21), and the grave (Psalm 56:13; 86:13; Hosea 13:14). The most striking example of deliverance is the exodus from Egypt (Exodus 3:8; 6:6; 8:10). Here is God defined as the Deliverer of Israel who rescues His people, not because they deserve to be rescued, but as an expression of His mercy and love (Psalm 51:1; 71:2; 86:13).
In the New Testament, God is always the subject—and His people are always the object—of deliverance. The descriptions of temporal deliverance in the Old Testament serve as symbolic representations of the spiritual deliverance from sin which is available only through Christ. He offers deliverance from mankind’s greatest peril—sin, evil, death and judgment. By God’s power, believers are delivered from this present evil age (Galatians 1:4) and from the power of Satan’s reign (Colossians 1:13). All aspects of deliverance are available only through the person and work of Jesus Christ, who was Himself delivered up for us (Romans 4:25) so that we would be delivered from eternal punishment for sin. Only Jesus rescues us from the “wrath to come” (1 Thessalonians 1:10).
Another aspect of deliverance concerns the temporal. While believers are delivered once for all time from eternal punishment, we are also delivered from the trials of this life (2 Peter 2:9). Sometimes that deliverance is God simply walking through the trials by our side, comforting and encouraging us through them as He uses them to mature us in the faith. Paul assured the Corinthian believers that “no temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). In these cases, rescue is not immediate, but in due time, after patience has had its perfect work (James 1:2-4, 12). God makes the way of escape simultaneously with the temptation which, in His perfect will and timing, He permissively arranges or allows for His people.
Deliverance is often sought from evil spirits or the spirit of lust, jealousy, etc. It’s important to understand that, as believers, we already have eternal victory over Satan and demons. But we can be delivered from their influence in our lives by using two weapons God has given us as part of our spiritual armor with which we battle “against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12-17). The believer defends himself with the shield of faith and uses the offensive weapon of the Word of God. Against these two, no spirit can prevail. By holding up the shield of faith, we extinguish the flaming spiritual arrows they send against us, arrows of lust, doubt, guilt, jealousy, evil speech, and all manner of temptations. With the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, we overcome the evil one by proving his temptations to be lies because he is the father of lies (John 8:44). John’s second letter commends the young Christians whose spiritual strength came from the Word of God living in them. By the offensive weapon of the Truth, we overcome the evil one (1 John 2:14).
Deliverance from sin, rescue from trials, and escape from the influence of a world in the control of the evil one come only through Christ, the Son of God who has come and “has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true—even in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life” (1 John 5:19-20). (Quote source here.)
It is God who delivers. When we find ourselves going through very trying times that never seem to end, no matter how hard we may try to coerce or plead with God, or try to work it out on our own or manipulate our circumstances, it is only God who delivers in His way and in His timing. He sees the whole picture, and it’s always much broader then we can possibly know, conceive, understand, or imagine it to be. And it is always far greater and wider reaching than what we as individuals are personally going through at any point in time, although what we are personally going through is also of great importance to Him, too. Everything in this life is connected in one way or another, and in ways we cannot possibly understand. God didn’t create this world and then decide to leave it up to us to run. After all, we know what happened in the Garden of Eden when left on our own, and we haven’t done much better on our own down through the ages to today.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945), a German Lutheran pastor, theologian, anti-Nazi dissident, and key founding member of the Confessing Church during the reign of Adolf Hitler in Germany (1933-1945), wrote a statement in his diary in 1939 at a time when he was contemplating returning to Germany after spending only 26 days in New York City. While he was “safe” in New York City from the reach of Hitler, he was compelled to return to Germany in spite of Hitler’s growing reign of terror. While making the decision to return to Berlin, Bonhoeffer wrote the following in his diary:
It is remarkable how I am never quite clear about the motives for any of my decisions. Is that a sign of confusion, of inner dishonesty, or is it a sign that we are guided without our knowing, or is it both? . . . Today the reading [a passage of Scripture not noted in this diary entry] speaks dreadfully harshly of God’s incorruptible judgement. He certainly sees how much personal feeling, how much anxiety there is in today’s decision, however brave it may seem. The reasons one gives for an action to others and to one’s self are certainly inadequate. One can give a reason for everything. In the last resort one acts from a level which remains hidden from us. So one can only ask God to judge us and to forgive us. . . . At the end of the day I can only ask God to give a merciful judgement on today and all it’s decisions. It is now in his hand. (Quote source: “Bonhoeffer Abridged: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy” (2014), by Eric Metaxas, p. 130).
Now I assume some people reading this blog post may not believe in God or at least think it is crazy that a God “out there somewhere” (if he even exists) would care about the decisions we make, or even on some level unknown to us, that this God could be directing our steps. However, God is not surprised by any of our actions whether good or evil, but only God can use everything to fulfill His purposes in this world which really does belong to Him. That is not to say we are robots as we certainly do make our own choices, even those choices that turn out to be extremely detrimental to us. When sin showed up in the Garden of Eden, it was passed down to all of us, and we all succumb to it on a very regular basis. The Bible is filled with the history of people who accomplished His will unknown to them on a personal level (even people who never claimed to believe in Him). However, it is also filled with many stories of people who loved God and sought His will on a regular basis.
Here are a couple of verses to get us thinking in this direction:
“The Lord works out everything to its proper end—even the wicked for a day of disaster.” ~Proverbs 16:4
“For it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” ~Philippians 2:13
While scoffers are everywhere, for those of us who believe in Jesus Christ, we know that Romans 8:28-30 are key in understanding the very thing Bonhoeffer wrote in his diary on that day he made his decision to return to Germany:
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. ~Romans 8:28-30
For the Christian, the more we love and follow after Jesus Christ (and I’m not talking about putting on a religious show), the more He shapes us into what he wants us to be and do in this life. Psalms 37:3-4 states the following:
Trust in the Lord and do good;
dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.
Take delight in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.
“Safe pasture” isn’t always what we think it might be, but if we trust in the Lord with all of our heart (see Proverbs 3:5-6), the safe pasture can be found even in a hotel room. It is not in the externals of life (e.g., a hotel room) where we find safe pasture, but in Who we trust to take care of us during this journey through life. And, in looking at the second verse, as we learn to delight in the Lord even when fear is stalking our paths, we find that the desires of our heart change to His desires for us, and our faith and trust in Him grows exponentially.
Let’s look at the two verses in Proverbs I mentioned above–Proverbs 3:5-6:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.
Being human, our tendency to lean on our own understanding is as automatic as breathing air. I can’t tell you how many times over these past almost seven years now since I lost that job in Houston that I have thought something would work out one way and what actually happened could not have been further from what I thought would happen. It is so hard to “let go” of our own understanding when our world gets pulled out from under our feet. It requires total trust in God that the inner compass he provides will lead us on even when we don’t understand, just as Bonhoeffer stated in his diary entry on that very important decision-making day in his life. And, as we learn to trust that inner compass and submit ourselves totally to God on a daily basis, He makes our path straight, even if that path includes living in hotel rooms temporarily in two different cities as has been my circumstances for the past 17 plus months. And there have been times when I have experienced exactly what Bonhoeffer wrote about when he was making his decision to return to Germany. As we experience God bringing us through each day according to His will and not our own, the world around us opens up in amazing ways we would never have seen and experienced in any other way. And all of the people mentioned in Hebrews 11 (the “Hall of Faith” chapter in the Bible) knew the power of following God without knowing where it was leading in this life, but with an eternal perspective in mind.
Returning to the Easter story, Jesus Christ was both fully human and fully God (see John 1:1-18). Imagine being in his shoes from a human perspective during that last week of his life (click here for the chronology of the last week). Imagine what he must have been going through during the last 24 hours before he was crucified. Imagine what he must have been praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. We know part of what he said as it is recorded in Matthew 26:39 when he prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” Yet he knew the balance of the whole human race was about to change forever through his death by crucifixion, his burial, and his resurrection again on the third day. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). And for the past two millennium people from all the nations around the world have been coming to him and trusting in him as Savior and Lord.
As Hebrews 12:1-2 states:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses [the people mentioned in Hebrews 11], let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
As we start into the Passion Week, the last week of Jesus’ life before his resurrection on Easter Sunday, may we commit to . . .
Running with perseverance . . .
The race marked out for us . . .
Fixing our eyes on Jesus . . . .
YouTube Video: “Ready” by Third Day: