"He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything."
Colossians 1:18

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Sunday, May 19, 2013

God Bless the Child (Who Gives Us Peace)

This, believe it or not, is a post about Christ, and though it may not appear as such for a while, I must importune your patience and indulgence.  Sometimes the sobering realities of humanity's deserved lot are the best way to illuminate Christ's glory; amen?

Imagine for a moment that you have died in your sins, and that the time of your judgment has come upon you. (You will remind me, of course, that these are events very likely to be separated in time for most of us, which is true, but we will skip to the judgment here.) You find yourself, eyes to the ground, before the Lord Jesus Christ, unmistakable in power and incontrovertible in holiness.  This is no dying Savior upon the cross, not anymore.  This is the risen, exalted King.  Perhaps those words once caused no more than a shrug or a smirk with you, but now you see what they mean, in their fullest, most wondrous, most terrifying sense:  Christ, the risen, exalted King.

You feel the hope and the confidence bleeding out from your heart - a flow not to be stanched, a death wound.  Your legs are stone, and you make no doubt that this God - the only God there is, you now see - will know all about you, more than you know yourself, and far, far more than you would care to remember, if you could help it.  Your life is laid bare, though, and the sum total of what you are overwhelms the simple objections you used to make in defense of your supposed goodness of character.

You are a sinner.  God is holy.  He justly delivers your sentence of condemnation.

Perhaps you meet this sobering moment with quiet.  Perhaps, though, you are familiar with Jesus, and so feel as though your long hypocrisy gives you cause to speak, to say something before all is lost.  So words erupt from your lips and hang as a conspicuous intrusion into the reverence demanded by divine holiness.  You have just spoken the only words you will ever speak in the presence of God, and they are blasphemous:  "‘Lord, Lord, did I not do many things in your name?" (cf. Matt. 7:22) You have questioned the recollection of the Omniscient, and the judgment of the Omnisapient (the All-Wise); He is not moved; this latest sin augments your considerable tally, and you go down to the lake of fire.

As you find yourself in the suffocating maw of that blackness, the punishment will begin.  Whether you have a brief instant to anticipate and to dread the arrival of God's wrath or not, I cannot say.  However, when the fullness of divine, just, holy fury explodes upon you in that lonely place, it will exceed the meager limitations of any of your experiences or imaginings.  You will feel, in that first instant, that there is no possibility of your surviving even this preliminary fragment, this barest sliver, of God's fury.  How indeed could it not destroy you, and all of the universe with you, in a truncated flash of agony?  It is as though every conceivable pain which mankind has ever endured, or ever could endure, through every millennium of our world, has been compressed and concentrated into one divine blow - except a thousand times stronger.

The intensity of this fury is not the amazing part - the truly astonishing thing is that you find yourself quite whole and intact; indeed, the next wave of torment is already upon you.  You find even that your mental faculties are similarly preserved, although such complete agony should drive one mad.  It is then that it drives home in your perfectly clear intellect - the same God who visits such omnipotent fury upon you is the God who has omnipotently fitted you for that fury.  It will never consume you completely.

This is a pain beyond reckoning, a sharp, hot, complete misery that would annihilate a normal human body in a heartbeat.  Ten thousand white-hot bands of iron wrapped about your frame and searing into your flesh would be a welcome, even laughable alternative to what you now endure.  How I wish it could be described!  It crowds out and banishes hope.  You may clench your fists; you may double over until your knees touch your cheeks, but no such measures will bring relief.  Your tricks from your previous life can do nothing here.  Neither is there a friend whose hands you may grip, whose shoulder you could embrace.  You are utterly alone; your only companions are your own cries.  There is also nothing to distract your mind from your torment; the once-pleasant recollections of your former life now simply herald your sinfulness.

In fact, in the basest sense, this is probably the complete and ultimate focus of all your thoughts:  God and my sin.  God and my sin.  God and my sin.  Every wave of agony brings a fresh remembrance of your absolute deservedness of hell.  You cannot argue against the justness, but as you never learned to love God when you labored under His grace, you certainly cannot do so now.  You find yourself cursing Him with the appallingly blasphemous self-destruction of unrestrained sinfulness.  And for this, your miseries are now doubled, but still you live. 

As this indescribable maelstrom of inescapable agony continues, you realize that you are not growing accustomed to it at all.  It is in no way like those pains back on earth that afflict people until they simply learn to deal with them on a continual basis.  Every stab, every bite, every hot needle is exquisite in its novelty and relentless upon your person.  If there are two things which you begin to learn after the first thousand years of unbroken torment (that first drop in that infinite, incomprehensible bucket), they are simply that you will never grow even the slightest bit acclimated to your situation (if anything, the contrary), and that you will never, ever get out of hell.  Could you see that great ocean that is God's holy wrath against you, your heart would break to see that it has not lowered even a thousandth of an inch.  Your shrieks of pain, of frustration, of hopelessness, and of black, impotent rage, will never cease to pour from your parched and writhing lips. 

This is what it is to have enmity with God - a battle which we can never win, and which will rob us of every glory, every prize, every grace, and every hope.  Of course, we have no choice but to be the enemies of the Lord, having been born into the family of sin.  Romans 3 teaches us that we never could and never would love God, so it seems a hopeless matter from a human standpoint.  We are doomed, in and of ourselves, to run straight into the teeth of hell.

I speak specifically to you here, Christian.  Walk your mind as profoundly as you can through the horrific marches of hell, which, for all these words, I have not even begun to describe here - this is how the enemies of God meet eternity.  It is sure, unavoidable, and deserved. 

For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us;
And the government will rest on His shoulders;
And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 9:6

These are familiar words, but does your heart not bound for gladness at them?  Read the last phrase once more:  Jesus Christ is the Prince of Peace.  This is a far, far greater thing than the dubious fraternity that the world pretends around Christmas - this is peace with God Himself!  This is a complete reversal from the devastating certainty of eternal despair at the hand of a just God to the heartening certainty of eternal delight at the hand of that same God!  "Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." (Rom. 5:1)

Let us never commit the sin of naming Christ the Prince of Peace without reverent remembrance of what that means - the incredible magnitude of the hell which He suffered on the cross, and the immeasurable gift of peace with God.  Our esteem for Christ the peace-giver should be seeping more and more, if not outright flooding, into every element of our lives - certainly into our interaction with others and into our faithfulness to kingdom work, but let it start where it should, with a heart of humble and grateful worship toward the Prince of Peace.


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