Isaiah 11:1 says,
A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
Salvation comes to us in smallness, weakness, and hiddenness.
That gives me hope. I keep expecting big and loud events to convince me and others of God’s saving power. But that’s only what the world offers on cable news and social media. Our temptation is to be distracted by them and made blind to the “shoot that shall sprout from the stump.”
When I don’t see the small signs of God’s presence–the smile of a baby, the carefree play of children, the encouraging hug of a friend–I will always remain tempted to despair.
The baby of Bethlehem, the carpenter of Nazareth, the naked man on the cross asks for my full attention. The work of salvation takes place in the midst of a world that continue to shout, scream, and overwhelm us with its claims and promises. But the promise is hiding in the shoot that sprouts from the stump, a shoot that hardly anyone notices.
Jesus said in John 16:33,
I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.
Jesus was right. We have all dealt with trouble in different sizes and sources in work, family, church, and body. No one is immune. This is the absence of peace.
The Bible talks about three kinds of peace:
- Peace with others. Romans 12:18. It’s EXTERNAL and necessary for relationships.
- Peace with yourself. Colossians 3:15. It’s INTERNAL and this is our state of mind and the part that probably gives us most trouble.
- Peace with God. Romans 5:1. This is the ETERNAL peace, the most important, and comes from knowing God and being in right relationship with Him.
When you’re at peace with God you’ll be at peace with yourself and when you’re at peace with yourself you’ll be at peace with others.
That’s the direction it flows. So if you’re having “trouble,” start with God and let Him bring the peace that passes all human understanding.
Paul gives us a springboard for the Christian life in the simple phrase: “Therefore…in view of God’s mercy.” And then he urges us to do two things which are central to following Jesus.
#1) (vs. 1) In view of God’s mercy…offer your bodies as a living sacrifice. This is temple terminology. The confusion is that there were several different kinds of offerings.
- Sin offering: But Jesus is our sin offering.
- whole burnt offering: It had to be without defect (holy and without blemish). Why? Such an animal was expensive. It showed that all you had was at God’s disposal, not leftovers. To be a “living sacrifice” is to be fully at God’s disposal.
In mentioning our physical bodies Paul is saying that God does not want a purely inward and abstract worship, but a practical and total one. He wants us to give him everything we do.
#2) (vs. 2) In view of God’s mercy…Renew your mind. That’s how the Christian life occurs. It is the way we are to be transformed into Christ-likeness. He doesn’t define this but probably means more than just thinking true thoughts, but that the governing influence of our mind is reoriented. We could say that our imagination is captured by Christ. Who he is and what he did fires the imagination and controls our minds.
Sometimes as much as we hate to think about it, our past can catch up to us. We may be totally different people but you never know what the consequences of previous actions may bring years later.
Enter Jacob. 20 years had passed since he deceived his dying father and cheated his brother Esau out of the blessing that belonged to the first-born. In those 2 decades Jacob had found love, a home, and prosperity. But then the shadow of his old transgressions fell across his path. Esau is on the march to meet him with 400 armed men. Esau the cheated had sworn an oath that he would kill his brother.
After splitting his company in 2, Jacob prayed that God would deliver him. He also sent presents to his brother. Then Jacob remained alone to wait. It turned out to be his life’s greatest experience. Do not fear your solitary moments. God will come closer to you than at any time.
What happened? He wrestled with some unknown assailant from midnight to dawn. In awful solitude they fought. Jacob seemed to have an advantage when his mysterious opponent somehow got his hip or thigh out of joint. Yet Jacob fought on.
As the morning dawned, Jacob found out this wasn’t an enemy but an angel. Jacob gripped him close and cried, “I will not let go until you bless me.” The angel blessed him and departed.
What opposes us in life, even our past, or what makes us struggle is, after all, not an enemy but a friend in disguise. Do not mourn over the hard and difficult experiences of life that have thrown your thigh out of joint, for in ways that you know not they have made you strong. Make sure that you utter the prayer of struggling Jacob, “I will not let go until you bless me!”