"When my anxious thoughts multiply within me, Your consolations delight my soul." Psalm 94:19 Anxiety and fear are very commonplace features of our culture and society. We are so used to them, in fact, that we hardly notice when we are engaged with our fears and anxieties. We are simply being "normal". But when a conversation begins between a democrat and a republican, a friendly discussion usually quickly devolves into an ugly shouting match which uses fear, often disguised as anger, as its fuel. We are all very anxious about the world we live in. Terrorism, economy, cultural morays, foreign affairs, nuclear weapons, etc. gives us plenty to think about and to fret about. Our relationships suffer because of it. People who don't share our fears feel like a threat to us. People who fear what we desire definitely threaten us! It might be fair to say at times that we hate people like that because we feel like what they want will destroy us. And the sad truth is, that might be true. The truth is that millions of lives have been lost to communism, abortion, racism, medical malpractice, etc. Not every idea is a good one and some have been very devastating. Is there a valid way out of being afraid of very real evil? The Psalmist said that the consolations of God delight his soul when he is full of anxiety. How is this so? With what does God console his people? Upon the announcement by an angel of the coming messiah, Zacharias the priest and the father of John the Baptist, danced and shouted saying "salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us!" (Luke 1:71).And he celebrated saying that this means that "we (Israel) being rescued from our enemies, Might serve Him with fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all our days..." The question is, was he correct about this hope? The Israel that Zacharias knew continued to stir up revolt and ultimately drew the brutal wrath of Rome unto themselves. Their Temple was burnt to the ground and their capital city was leveled. Certainly, Zacharias was wrong about his hopes. Christians today face immense persecution in places like Yemen, North Korea, India and Iran. Christian men are murdered, wives raped, and children kidnapped. How can we "take refuge in the shadow of Your (God's) wings" as the Psalmist says (Psalm 91), when God's children seem unprotected? Is there a Refuge in God's care? Is there a rescue from our enemies? Is there an actual consolation that would delight our souls and calm our fears? Yes there is. Luke would not have given us Zacharias' celebration song if he thought the promises were empty. Neither was Luke ignorant of the destruction of Jerusalem that lay just around the corner of history. In fact, the warnings about this coming catastrophe play a central role in Luke's Gospel and most of the warnings come directly from Jesus' mouth. Even as Jesus is led to the cross, some of his final words to the women of Jerusalem are "stop weeping for me, but weep for yourselves because of the destruction that is coming upon you and your families..." (Luke 23:28). The hope that we are looking for is found in the fact that as Jesus is warning against this coming judgment, which would also be an indictment against a failed Israel, Jesus was in the middle of sharing the embodiment of that judgment in Himself. Jesus was being led away to crucifixion as though He were a violent brigand. He was being inflicted with the punishment that was to be meted out against the Israel that was indeed guilty of brigandry. And because he was taking on this punishment, the actual violent brigand, Barabbas, was freed. Because Jesus died in our place, we can go free. But free from what and for what? Israel was freed from the condemnation of failing to be the light of the world. In His death on the cross, Jesus not only took the punishment for Israel's failure, He also condemned the brigand's methods of bringing God's kingdom. We ourselves are freed from the punishment of failing to be the image of God in the world and our violent ways of forcing our will upon the world has also been condemned on the cross. Israel was always representative of the whole human race. But what does this all mean? We are still persecuted. We are still crucified! ISIS has been crucifying Christians in the middle east in just the last few years. What is the consolation that will delight my soul? The consolations of God are these: If you died tonight
because of your following of Jesus and His way of doing the Kingdom of God, you can be assured through Jesus' words to the repentant brigand crucified at His side: "Today, you will be with Me in Paradise." Luke 23:43. And if you are facing danger today, you can be assured through the One who went through death and out the other side and said to His followers "I am with you, every single day. to the very end of the age." (Matthew 28:20), will also be with you. Jesus has taken away all need for fear by defeating the power of evil in Himself. And Jesus has given us a way of being human, of being Israel, and of being His people that doesn't lead us into degradation and to the use of the weapons of evil to accomplish His purposes. Jesus gave us new life and a new way to be human. We no longer have to fear anything from the way the world used to be. The Kingdom of God has arrived and it looks like Jesus.