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Beauty and Ugliness, Trial and Triumph, Life and DeathMay 16, 2022
We see a glorious sunset over the ocean as we watch the beautiful colors splash across the sky and the water simultaneously. Yet, we know that beauty can just as easily bring destruction and death when the flood waters rage. We see a father and a son laughing over a meal and think good thoughts as we watch the joy they share with one another. Then we hear another about the eighteen-year-old who went on a shooting rampage and killed ten innocent people. We don’t want to hear any more sickening stories about mass murder. We see two teenagers on a date. Their smiles and youthful exuberance are so charming we forget for a moment the plague of drugs, alcohol, suicide, and mental illness that has descended on too many of our youth from the quarantine over the last two years.
Our world is full of vast contrasts of beauty and ugliness. When Jesus and his disciples gather in Caesarea Philippi the disciples can see the beauty of the world. They have seen the power of Jesus’ preaching, teaching, and healing on the crowds. He asks them who he is, and it is Peter who confesses what they hoped beyond hope was true, “You are the Messiah, the son of the living God” (Matthew 8:29).
Jesus praises Peter for recognizing and confessing what God has revealed to him. But this beautiful moment is shattered quickly when Jesus explains what being the Messiah will mean, that he must suffer and die in Jerusalem, and on the third day be raised from the dead.
Peter objects to the ugliness of this Messianic prediction. The world defines its messiahs as superior political rulers, who lead powerful countries, with mighty armies, and high standards of living. Are we like Peter, wanting a messiah to be strong, not weak? Powerful, not dead?
By going to the cross, Jesus is reinterpreting history in a radical way. Jesus is revealing that great kings and presidents come and go - Herod, David, Caesar, Washington, Lincoln - but the messiah must be more than a political leader. The messiah must suffer to redeem the world from its sinfulness, and reveal that God is present in our lives when our world turns ugly, tragic, and even deadly.
For when our world turns ugly, when the flood waters destroy, when the mass murders shock, when our marriages crumble, our children’s lives are broken, we become bankrupt financially, emotionally or spiritually Jesus is there. He suffers with us over and over again for the sin and evil of our world, as he did on his cross long ago. And Jesus will give us hope to live again, just as surely as Jesus was raised on the third day, so God can bring new life and resurrection into our lives.
The messiah must suffer and die if we are to find meaning in the contrasts of life. Otherwise, life becomes a meaningless blend of contrasts between beauty and ugliness, and we struggle merely to remain beautiful until the ugliness of death snatches life from us. Jesus has completely changed the way the world interprets history, as we constantly question the limits of power, fame and fortune. He has changed the way we live our lives as we realize we are still children of God in spite of failure and sin. wHe makes us people full of hope and joy, even when our world turns tragic.
To recognize the power of such weakness, to answer the call to be servants in Christ’s name, to worship Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, is to respond to divine revelation. For like Peter, we realize we cannot make such a confession based on wisdom and lessons learned in the world. The ugliness and beauty of the world shift like the sands of the desert. To confess Christ is to allow God’s Holy Spirit to reveal where love, hope, forgiveness, meaning, and purpose truly are - In Jesus Christ, Son of the living God. Are you tired of the ugliness of life? Have you endured as many days full of darkness as you care to? Can faith in Jesus Christ give you strength to have the victory over the tragedies of life? How can His light shatter the darkness of your life and give you new hope, meaning, and purpose? When was the last time you accepted Jesus as the Lord and Savior of your life? How would it change your life if you confessed him Lord and Savior every single day?