October 21, 2022
TODAY’S SCRIPTURE REFERENCE:
“But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. I was delivered from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom. To Him be glory forever and ever. Amen.” (2 Timothy 4.17-18)
“For Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the original holy places, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; not that He should offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood of another because He then would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.” (Hebrews 9.24-26)
Today, I am urged to again focus on the opportunity for us to be strengthened by the Resurrected Christ who stands at our side. Paul admits this is the truth in his own life. He has experienced no time where the awareness of Christ with him was absent or forgotten. And while Paul was not a fan of legalism because he was bound by grace, this did not mean he was unaware of the concept which the legal system offered in describing the work of Christ for us in the days of judgment. The first Perry Mason television show happened in the year of my birth, 1957. I didn’t grow up in those early years watching Perry Mason because when I watched television it was generally for Saturday morning cartoons and serial adventures. But, later, I watched the reruns and the sequels (Ironside). One image stands out for me in each of those shows. And “stands out” is the key phrase as we reflected on yesterday in Paul’s admonition to Timothy to take heart in knowing that as Jesus stood by Paul He would also stand by him. And right there in the courtroom, we see Perry Mason standing by his client to defend him or her against the allegations raised by the prosecuting attorney. And most generally, when the decision is announced by the judge we see Perry Mason standing while the prosecuting attorney sinks into his seat in defeat. His cause is lost. By reputation, the services of Perry Mason are sought out for the most difficult cases and for those who find themselves with no other option for a chance at success. We would even watch as those who had no money to pay his expensive fee but had need were defended with the same vigor and intention as those who could pay the fee.
So, when I mention about Paul’s legal knowledge, it is in full play as he declares “the [resurrected] Lord stood by my side.” Yes, in the court of those who could declare his guilt of innocence according to the laws of the land, Paul knew that his Lord and defender was by his side to support and encourage him. In the cells of prison and house arrest, Paul knew that his “counselor” was visiting with him to strengthen his resolve and remind him of the bigger picture of salvation and grace. It is what “good” attorneys do. But, it was more than facing the courts of man that Paul understood “the Lord was at my side.” Paul knew and had expressed it in many ways throughout his letters to the congregations he founded, the same understanding in the heavenly court where we all will stand one day. He is our mediator and our advocate as we enter into the presence of God in the authentic holy place which are mimicked in greater or lesser effect. And because of His faithfulness to God, He alone is “judge, jury and executor of justice.” On the day of our judgment, He will be for us if we are for Him or He will be against us if we have been against Him and He will be the doorway through which we enter if we are truly for Him or He will be the gatekeeper to keep the path blocked if we have feigned allegiance to Him. Jesus as the Christ is able to accomplish all that for the governance of life, as Isaiah declared it, has rested upon His shoulders.
Of course, we may question some of this knowing that Paul himself was deemed guilty by the “law of the land” and executed by the order of the Emperor of Rome. We might ask “Where was Christ in all of this?” We often ask it in our own situations which seem to declare our “guilt and punishment” in the world. Paul’s answer was and would continue to be if he were alive on earth today, “The Lord is by my side.” Jesus went all the way through Paul’s life and ministry up to and including death. Jesus knew the price that had to be paid for faithfulness to God’s calling in His life. It is not different for us. We may not suffer our heads being chopped off, but we have had our heads “bitten” off a time or two. We probably have done our share of biting the head off of someone else with the unfortunate intent of taking it off altogether. But, Jesus also knew the blessing which would come due to such faithfulness. He knew of the mercy of the court for those who repent in life and accept that Jesus as the Christ is their only hope for eternity and peace of heart, mind and soul in this world. His presence is a comfort to us and a strengthening. We are not asked to do what He has not done. He not only extends grace and forgiveness; He is grace and forgiveness. At least He is for those who seek it from Him. And even for those who do not, I believe that He is still gracious in His lament that they have chosen another way in which to live which is eternal death and dying. I do not see joy in His eyes nor on His face nor from His mouth when He declares “Away with you whom I have never known.” He hears the weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth. He alone can bear such tormented cries though many in “that” place may not hear them as cries of anguish at all. Jesus knows the truth because He is the truth.
Mighty ones of God, Jesus fulfilled the Law and the Prophets which declared the purpose and promise of God’s will. He did not destroy the Law nor set it aside. He stood as the innocent in the court of the guilty so that the confessed guilty may stand as innocent on the day of our final determination. Knowing this should invoke far more than admiration. It should invoke inspiration to boldly go where He has gone before. He has gone with us and for us into all the world so that God’s will can be done on earth as it is in Heaven.
It is before You and with You and by You that we stand in this world. We will not sit as those who are defeated. We will stand as those who by grace are called into the fullness of life. We stand not on our own but with the full knowledge of Your presence as Immanuel. Without You there would be no hope. But, we do have hope and a faith and a love which is greater than anything this world can afford. We are indebted to the price You paid for our freedom from death. Hear our thanksgiving and receive it graciously. We pray AMEN.