This week in Lavender Hill, not unlike any other week, the painful reminder that we’re
living in a fallen world where reckless and violent men wreak havoc on communities, were brought to the fore of our attention again. When God saves us He does not remove us to some utopia spiritual community where we live out our lives until He comes for us again. Instead, God saves us and calls us to live faithfully in a fallen world – even a community such a Lavender Hill.
This does not mean we are naturally prepare to live in volatile and hostile contexts nor does it mean that we never have questions or that we never wonder why God continues to allow such things to occur. Another painful reality is that the violence affects believers as much as unbelievers – some directly and others indirectly. The brief point I hope to make here is that despite the violence we see all around us we must – through it all – look to Jesus and learn from Him, who suffered great violence at the hands of sinful men, how we can overcome and triumph over the forces of violence plaguing our communities.
There could not have been a more violent act of injustice in the history of the world than the cold and cruel crucifixion of Jesus and therefore we as believers are not left without a gospel witness in the midst of the most grotesque violence. Many of us live in violent surroundings that often directly or indirectly affect us and we rightly regard this predicament as unjust.
As Christians we are not without one who is able to sympathize with us because He also shared in the suffering of violence inflicted by sinful men. The cross is where violence was enacted against the Son of God by unholy men and yet despite such cosmic injustice, Jesus triumphed over violence, evil, sin and even death.
We who are subjected to the effects of violence can look to Him who also suffered violently and learn how to triumph in Christ over the forces of violence. We can learn from Jesus who triumphed over the violence suffered at the cross so that we can triumph over the violence suffered in our communities. Here are a few lesson we learn when we look to Jesus’ handling of the violence He suffered.
1. THE UNJUST EFFECTS OF VIOLENCE MUST CAUSE US TO ENTRUST OURSELVES TO GOD
What is the point of faith when all we see around us is violence? It’s easy to adopt such a view – especially if we believe the myth that faith must always bring comfort. This may quickly cause us to wonder whether the violence around us may not be defeating our faith. While we cannot be blamed for asking such a question we can be encourage that the answer is in looking to Jesus and how He triumphed over the forces of violence at the cross. We learn from Jesus that violence does not defeat our faith because:
1.1. In the face of violence Jesus did not give up on the Father but He gave Himself over to the Father.
One of Jesus’ from the cross is “Into Thy hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46). The Apostle Peter comments on the violence Jesus suffered on his way to the cross, he writes “…while reviled, He did not revile in return, while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously” (1 Peter 2:23). After enduring the horror, humility and agony of the cross – despite all the beatings, scourging, and being nailed to the cross at the hands of ungodly men Jesus committed Himself to His Father.
From a human vantage point it is easy to see how the fleshly temptation to give up on God especially after enduring such agony and even at one time feeling utterly forsaken by God, however, none of these things caused Jesus to distrust His Father.
We can learn from Jesus that when violence presses all around us we must not give in to the temptation to give up on God but instead commit ourselves even more firmly to God in confessing our dependence and trust in His goodness and love for us. Jesus entrusted himself to Him who judges righteously and right there in those words we find a great incentive for trusting God while suffering the effects of violence, namely, God judges righteously.
Those gang members and drug lords who reign in terror over communities and oversee all sorts of wickedness must know that God judges righteously. The fear that grip our hearts because of their malevolence must be allayed with the truth of who God is and what He is able to do, as Jesus said, “I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that have no more that they can do. “But I will warn you whom to fear: fear the One who, after He has killed, has authority to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear Him!” (– Luke 12:4-5)
1.2. In the face of violence Jesus did not become violent.
Peter writes“…while reviled, He did not revile in return, while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously” (1 Peter 2:23).Here is a lesson for us that though we are the ones suffering under the violence – because of Jesus and similar to Jesus – we can be grateful that we’re not the violent ones ourselves.
Matthew Henry, the famed Bible teacher, once related an account of him being robbed and Henry came away from that unfortunate event more grateful than sorrowful. His gratitude he notes was because though he was robbed He did not do the robbing. So too, though we are suffering the effects of violence and the despair and trauma of unsafe streets, we can be grateful that we are not the ones responsible for the violence nor are we the ones throwing our lives away and taking the lives of others. This too must encourage us all the more to entrust ourselves to our God because not only does He keep us amidst the terror and violence He keeps us from being violent and a terror to others.
1.3. In the face of violence Jesus endured joyfully in light of the glory of the resurrection.
Jesus’ resurrection from a violent death suffered fuels our faith and without the resurrection of Jesus the violence He suffered was meaningless and the violence we suffer is meaningless (1 Cor. 15:14-19). But because of the resurrection we can have hope for a new world without violence and so we too can now joyfully endure that which is busy passing away knowing the hope of the resurrection. Because Jesus died and rose again our faith is never defeated come hell or high water!
The chorus writer capturers this powerfully when he penned these profound words:
Because He lives
I can face tomorrow
Because He lives
Every fear is gone
I know He holds my life my future in His hands
2. THE UNJUST EFFECTS OF VIOLENCE MUST BE MET WITH FERVENCY IN PRAYER
The effects of violence and the hurting and killing of innocent people and the despair it brings to communities may lead many to murmur and complain. However, the church – the community of faith – responds differently. As believers we must learn to create a habit of prayer to address the culture of violence. It is often said that prayer is the least we can do, however, prayer is not the least we can do it is among the greatest of responses we can give in light of any situation.
When Jesus prepared to face to the violence of crucifixion and even the hostile arrest that led to his crucifixion he committed himself to prayer. We remember that Jesus went to the garden of Gethsemane and prayed until he perspired drops of blood (Luke 22:44). In light of the violence you may be facing in your community what has your prayer time been like? Have you been praying fervently for your community and for the violence in your community?
2.1. Violent times require prayer that is filled with fervency and passion
Never have a man faced such a volatile death and met it with such fervent prayer as in the case of Jesus of Nazareth. Not only do we see Jesus’ fervency and zeal in prayer when he sweet drops of blood in the garden but the writer of Hebrews tell us that, “In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety.” (Hebrews 5:7).
Brothers and sisters, are we praying? No really, are we praying? We should be praying. We should be praying fervently. We should be offering up both prayers and supplication with loud cries and tears to the One able to save our communities. We must not only rush to post about the violence on Facebook. We must not only be quick to share the most recent incident of a shooting on WhatsApp. We must also be eager and quick to turn to God and plead with Him for grace, for mercy, for safety and for salvation!
2.2. Violent times require prayer that is made from a humble disposition
Luke tells us that when Jesus arrived in Gethsemane right before the violence He would suffer at the hands of sinful men, “he knelt down and began to pray” (Luke 22:40-41). Notice the humility with which the Son of God came to His Father when He drew near in prayer. We can learn from that and we should humble our hearts before God in exactly the same way. The point is that amidst the violence, the crime, and the killings that traumatizes our communities, we are not entitled before God and we cannot make demands of God.
We can only come to Him and ask Him to be merciful and gracious. Let us assume the disposition of humility, the practice of prayer and the heart of faith knowing God does all things well. Like our Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ who humbled Himself in prayers prior to enduring great violence let us not become angry with God but remain humble before God.
2.3. Violent times require prayer that seeks God’s will above anything else
We know the content of Jesus’ prayer that night in the garden. It was a simple and yet profound prayer especially for someone in His position. Jesus prayed “Father if you are willing, remove this cup from Me, yet not My will, but Yours be done”. What a powerful prayer for someone awaiting to be forcefully arrested, beaten, mocked, scourged, humiliated and nailed to a piece of wood. Violent times require prayers that seek God’s will above anything else. Despite what we may think we know, God always knows better and it’s best we ask His will to take priority over our wishes.
3. THE UNJUST EFFECTS OF VIOLENCE CANNOT DIMINISH THE GREATNESS AND POWER OF GOD.
Jesus never lost sight of the greatness and power of God who could have at any time intervened and complete destroyed those who acted violently toward Him. Jesus famously said, “…do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels. How then will the Scriptures be fulfilled, which say that it must happen this way?” (Matthew 26:53-54). The violence Jesus suffered on the night he was arrested and the day He was sentenced to be crucified could have been stopped and Jesus knew that.
God has the power stop evil at any time. However, in the mystery of His will and sovereignty works, He permits certain measures of evil and wickedness to rise up – without it impugning His holy name – in order for His good and benevolent purposes to be accomplished. In other words, if He did not permit those sinful religious leaders to act out their deviously wicked plan against Jesus and crucify Him, where would we have been today?
We must reassess what we believe when we stutter in responding biblically to evil. We must affirm God is omnipotent – which means He has all power to perform His will and can stop evil at any time. We must affirm that God is perfectly good and does not do evil, nor is He tempted by evil. We must also affirm that we do not always know everything about how God works and we do not have carte blanch access to everything God intends.
God can stop the violence in Lavender Hill. God does not have evil plans for the people of Lavender Hill but only just and gracious plans depending on whether they believe Him or reject Him. We do not know why God does not stop the violence immediately and we do not know what God is working through the violence in Lavender Hill.
Here are a few more reasons why violence does not diminish the greatness of God is:
3.1. God is greater than violence and evil
Qualitatively, ontologically, and inherently God is better than evil, wickedness and violence. As a choice of the better options – God is always to be preferred instead of violence. Therefore, violence and wickedness which is qualitatively and ontologically infinitely lesser than God, cannot diminish the greatness of God. Amidst Jesus’ violent and cruel treatment of the cross he remained the spotless Lamb of God. Despite him suffering injustice and his blood spilled violently, his blood is still spoken of as precious. Evil and violence cannot diminish the greatness of God and we must never lose sight of that even if all we can see is gang violence.
3.2. Violence does not deter God from working good
The greatest good was worked through the greatest of injustice and violence to ever befall upon a man. This is what happened when God worked about our salvation through the suffering and death of Jesus on the cross. We must know this, the violence in Jerusalem did not deter the plans of heaven and likewise the violence in Lavender Hill does not deter the plans of heaven. The Apostle Paul affirmed clearly that God works all things together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).
3.3. In the end God will put an end to violence once and for all
Though evil may still be an unfortunate reality in our lives and in this world – God will end it. The book of Revelation tells us that God will overthrow wickedness and put an end to evil once and for all (Revelation 17-19). We have this great promise that God will make all things new. Let us take comfort in these words:
and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And He said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.” – Revelation 21:4-5
Our faith as believers can be aptly summed up as “looking to Jesus” in fact this is exactly what we are exhorted to do (Hebrews 12:3). By looking to Jesus we learn how we can overcome violence because He suffered violence and triumphed over it. By looking to Jesus amidst the violence around us we can be encourage that He is not bound from working good despite what’s happening in our community. And by looking to Jesus when violence in our streets swell up we have hope that He is coming to end violence, sin, suffering, pain and all evil. Behold, I am making all things new, says the Lord!
As we wait for Him to make all things new our heart must be encouraged that because of Christ we are indestructible and we overcome:
But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. –