Last week’s news in Sydney, Australia, carried the story of a 17-year-old being investigated for promoting Islamic extremism amongst other students at his school.
An editorial in The Weekend Australian newspaper (July 25-26) notes that this ‘coincides with the weakening of traditional religious teaching and its replacement moral relativism and insipid, postmodernist ideas’. ‘For many young people…,’ the editorial continues, ‘the language of good and evil is more convincing than arguments based on secular logic and reasoning. Some teenagers, including nominal Christians, are in a spiritual vacuum that has left them more vulnerable to Islamic radicalization and its poisonous, anti-democratic ideology. Or, to paraphrase GK Chesterton, when men stop believing in God they become capable of falling for anything.’
Rightly, authorities are concerned about this discovery in an Australian high school. Indeed, it is a development that concerns us all. Mindful of Jesus’ words that we touched on last week, “Blessed are those who mourn” (Matthew 5:4), it is one more thing in our world for which God’s people grieve. We need Jesus’ assurance: “…for they shall be comforted.”
But then we ask, where is the comfort in this messed up world? We mourn our own failings and we mourn the reality that every human bears the stain of sin in their lives. We long for a world where there is justice and peace. But as we look around us we see a world where life is dominated by constant tension and conflict, a world where there are only interludes of relative peace. How can Jesus say, “…they shall be comforted?”
When we reflect on his words, “Blessed are those who mourn”, and the line of interpretation we touched on last week, we begin to see his meaning. In grieving over our own sin before God, we are comforted with the knowledge of Jesus’ complete forgiveness when we turn to him with a true and humble heart. In the words of Colossians 2:13f, the charges that stand against us have been nailed to the cross of the Christ. Jesus’ use of the future tense, shall be comforted, in his sermon point to fact that the comfort could only truly happen once his perfect sacrifice had been made. The cross of Christ perfectly brings us personal comfort and joy.
THE POWER OF THE GOSPEL
And there is more. Insofar that we mourn the lost state before God of people around us, there is the comfort that God uses the declaration of his gospel to bring about change in the lives of men and women and young people. Paul the Apostle writes that the gospel, the word of the truth, has come to you,… in the whole world it is bearing fruit and growing (Colossians 1:5-6). Yet, too often our problem is that we don’t experience God’s comfort now because we have been silenced by the voices around us. And we fear the gospel will not work in others’ lives.
There is another layer in the comfort that Jesus promises: the comfort that history is moving to an end point, a day when Christ will be revealed in all his might and majesty, dominion and power. Our relationship with God, hidden now in Christ, will be revealed.
Before you go to bed this evening why not read Jesus’ words afresh: “Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted”. You may want to kneel beside your bed and open your heart to God. Ask him for forgiveness for yourself and your family, your friends and colleagues. When we put our lives in Jesus’ hands his promise of comfort rings true.
“Go into all the world, and make disciples,” Jesus said. “Lo I am with you always.” He wants to turn the night of grief into the day of comfort and joy. His death has made it possible.