Thursday, October 22, 2009

Mid-Day Devotion 10/22/09

Descent into Hell, icon from the Ferapontov Monastery

“But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ. Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. (Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.)”
Ephesians 4:7-10

As He descended into hell the most brutal of captivities bore down on Him. Despite the perfect life that He lived, despite the innocence of His soul and the blamelessness of His spirit, He would know the anguish and the agony, the suffering and the sorrow of the evilest of iniquity and the vilest of pain coming to weigh on His very being.

He had come to set men free, yet before He could do that, before He could bring them unto the blessed liberty of God’s wondrous freedom, He had to know the dark chains and the grim bonds of Satan’s evil power that He might conquer it. In love and mercy, in compassion and grace did He come, yet He would have to be first despised and persecuted, held in contempt and die before He could bring the light of the Lord unto this world. On the cross He would feel the torture of the world’s sins, the sting of death’s authority over the flesh. As the life drained from His temporal existence he would feel the despair of the Devil’s kingdom, the misery of the old Adversary's realm.

Yet Christ Jesus, the long awaited liberator, the Messiah and the Redeemer, would know that these things, they would be fleeting. For as He came down from Heaven, as He was made man, as He lived this mortal life with all of its temptations, with all of its lures and enticements, still that perfect son of God, even as the weight of the world bore down on Him, would not abandon us or His cause, leading captivity captive, and ransoming us all from the dark power and the grim hold of Satan’s imprisonment. Through Him we would have liberty, as freedom came to bear on this world and the bondage to sin, death and the Devil, the chains that so constrained us amidst pain and iniquity, sorrow and hurt, suffering and torment, would finally be broken.

By the power of Christ we would all be set emancipated from that slavery.

Here we come to know that there is no bondage, there is no wickedness, no iniquity, no pain or suffering that Christ Jesus, our Lord and our Redeemer, has not known through the course of His life. As He was made man in the flesh He came to know it all, he came to feel it all, to see it first hand, His lips trembling as he called out to God, His Father. He endured the worst of what the world, the most terrible of what the Devil had to offer and always confident in the promises and the faithful assurances of the Lord God Almighty, He overcame in the inevitable triumph of the spirit and the glorious wonder of the soul.

If this is the miracle and the power of the Lord, our God, if this is the miracle and the wonder of Christ, our Savior, then how much more faith, how much more trust can we put on our God through the captivity and the persecution of this world? How much more faith and reliance can we have in Him against the wickedness and the iniquity inflicted through this world? For we know that Christ, through God, is a conquering hero, and that He shall, through the power and the authority of the Holy and Divine Spirit, set men free from even the darkest of places, even the most grim of estates.

Perhaps we don’t always see the hand of God at work in this world, perhaps, as we look at the suffering and the sorrow that is inflicted on the prisoners and the slaves, the hostages and the captives, as we hear their cries amidst their sorrow and their pain, we too cry out not that differently than Christ did on the cross, asking “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken us?” We can’t find the purpose or the meaning behind the agony and the anguish, the torture and the torment of this vile wickedness in the world as it seems like evil is on the rise and chaos is setting the world ablaze.

Yet, just because there is evil in the world, just because there is pain and suffering, sorrow and torment, just because there is agony and anguish as the lives of people are held cheap and without value, without integrity or worth, does not mean that God is not at work in this world. He is there through all things, in all things, never abandoning, or failing, never forsaking or deserting His children. In faithful love and wondrous assurance He is there for them to guide them and protect them even in the most lost places that they find themselves held, showing His truth and His righteousness, His grace and His mercy in their lives.

It is here that we know that He brings justice with Him that, even in the most distressing of times, even in the most mournful of estates, there shall be a peace and a comfort that shall be known by His people.

Yes, it can be hard for us to understand the role and the authority of evil in this world, it can be difficult to comprehend the power that it has in the lives of people, for we see these dark times and these horrible places and we long for an end to be put to them. Why then, we wonder, does God not just come in judgment to put an end to it all?

He has. Through the life and death, through the sacrifice of Christ Jesus and that resurrection from the grave, He has. Captivity has been led captive and there is an inevitable peace that comes to bear in the life of all people. Regardless of the challenges and the suffering of this present age then their shall come a day when the Lord will set it all to flight and when He shall, in glory, put an end to all wickedness in this world. Until that day when Christ’s glorious return leads us all to our Heavenly home, we know that the Lord God shall contend with the cause of all who are held in any sort of captivity, who are chained by the bondage of this world and the suffering that it brings.

Here we can build our hope on the solid rock of His salvation, a glorious and a wondrous salvation that comes through mercy and love, through a compassion and a grace that He shows unto all of His people in all of their plights and all of their challenges. We can place all of our trust on His assurances knowing that even these things too shall come to an end, and just as He, through Christ, put an end to the captivity of sin, death and the Devil, He shall, through the Spirit, put an end to all the captivity of this current age.

Never then lose hope, be of good courage and strength, building your hope on the hope of the Lord, knowing that He shall never fail you or forsake you, He shall never leave you to the paw of the lion or the teeth of the wolves, to be devoured. He shall always, and forever shine the light of His truth and His love even in the darkest and the most grim of places for the cause of His people throughout this world, in all places, through all things, according to the great love that He has for them.

What a faithful and wondrous assurance we all have to shelter our spirits in.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

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