Out of the Ashes
by Jack Wald | March 21st, 2010


I have been enjoying watching a TV show from the US titled Monk. It is about an obsessive-compulsive detective who brilliantly solves crimes. At the end of one show when the captain of the police thinks his wife is having an affair, he is comforted by a colleague saying, “There’s an old saying: ‘When God closes a door…’”
The captain replies, “When God closes a door, sometimes he breaks your heart.”

In this past couple weeks, cliched sayings have not been of much help. Today is day 13 of the separation of the Village of Hope children from their parents. A diplomat visited the site this week and talked with some of the children. They asked him, “Don’t our mommy and daddy love us anymore?”

A door was closed and I am still waiting for a window to open. It breaks my heart.

In the past couple weeks I have had fantasies of standing like Moses and Aaron before Pharaoh in a power confrontation to have the children of VOH released. I have told God I am willing to be his prophet, all he has to do is tell me and I will go.

I have wanted to pick up the metaphorical sword and fight the battle. But in reading a book for my course of studies, The Open Secret by Lesslie Newbigin, I realized that Jesus has led us into a new way.

In the Old Testament, Moses and Aaron confronted Pharaoh with plague after plague until he finally relented and allowed Israel to leave Egypt. Elijah boldly confronted the prophets of Baal and defeated them. But this is not what Jesus did. Jesus stepped up to his encounter with the Chief Priest and Pilate and those who were expecting a Moses and Aaron or Elijah power encounter were disappointed.

Peter picked up his sword to attack those who were arresting Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane and Jesus said, (Matthew 26:52–53)
“Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. 53 Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?

Jesus had the power to confront the Chief Priest, the Sanhedrin and Pilate and all their soldiers. He could have had an Elijah encounter with them in which the full power of God was displayed in all its wonder, but he chose not to use the power available to him.

Put yourself in the shoes, or perhaps sandals, of the disciples. In the three years the disciples had been with Jesus, the ministry of Jesus kept on growing. The crowds kept getting larger. The miracles kept flowing. Demons kept getting kicked out. This was an increasingly viable ministry. Success was all around them. When Jesus came into the temple and overturned the tables of the money changers, the disciples must have been thrilled to see the power of Jesus increasing. Even greater success was just around the corner. “What great thing will Jesus do tomorrow?” was the question they asked themselves.

Success followed success and then the world turned upside down. Jesus was arrested and he did not resist. Jesus was taken to the Sanhedrin, the ruling Jewish body. (Mark 14:60–66)
Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, “Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?” 61 But Jesus remained silent and gave no answer.
Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?”
62 “I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”
63 The high priest tore his clothes. “Why do we need any more witnesses?” he asked. 64 “You have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?”
They all condemned him as worthy of death. 65 Then some began to spit at him; they blindfolded him, struck him with their fists, and said, “Prophesy!” And the guards took him and beat him.

This is not the sign of a successful ministry with a bright future, to have the leader arrested and mocked and beaten.

Jesus was taken to Pilate, the Roman governor, questioned, sentenced to death, flogged, forced to carry his cross through the crowds, crucified and then his battered and lifeless body was taken to a tomb.

The leader of this growing, increasingly powerful, ever more successful ministry was confronted, humiliated, killed and buried.

Where were the disciples in all this?

Peter, earlier that evening, had boldly proclaimed his loyalty (Mark 14:31)
But Peter insisted emphatically, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the others said the same.

The disciples left that meal to go with Jesus, caught up in the wonder and power of his ministry, looking forward to the next confrontation with the Jewish leaders. It was true Jesus seemed upset that night, but he would get over it. He often said things they did not understand.

And then Judas came to betray Jesus and the Temple guard took Jesus away. What did the disciples do? (Matthew 26:56)
Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.

Bold, fearless Peter who stepped out of the boat to walk on water, who declared Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the Living God, this Peter snuck along in the shadows, following Jesus and the Temple Guards, stood with a crowd on the perimeter of where Jesus was being questioned, proceeded to deny that he even knew Jesus, denied him three times and then fled in tears and grief at his own disloyalty to Jesus.

Some women who followed Jesus were at the cross when Jesus was crucified. It appears that John was there at the cross but the other disciples were absent. Where were the disciples the day after Jesus was crucified?

John 20:19
On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”

Where were the disciples? Out in the streets protesting the innocence of Jesus and the injustice of his arrest and crucifixion? Were they in the Temple preaching the truth of Jesus? No! They were hiding in a room behind locked doors.

What were the Chief Priest and the other members of the Sanhedrin doing? They went home satisfied. One more threat to their establishment had been taken care of. He had been one of the more troubling problems, but now it had been resolved. Peace and serenity would return. The business in the temple could continue. This upstart from Galilee had been dealt with.

Where was the success of Jesus that so excited the disciples and all the others who followed Jesus? It was scattered and torn, lying among the ashes of failure and defeat.

The Sanhedrin was satisfied. The devil was delighted. He had struck a blow against God himself. God had made a tactical error, sending Jesus to live a human life and the devil exploited this error and killed Jesus.

The devil was the first to realize a mistake had been made. The spiritual battle commenced as Jesus preached to the dead. A day of earth time passed. Another half day of earth time passed. And then out of the ashes of defeat burst the risen Lord Jesus.

About forty days later the disciples were sitting and praying when the Holy Spirit came upon them with power and then they were no longer hiding behind locked doors for fear of the Jews. They went out into the Temple and boldly proclaimed the truth of Jesus. (Acts 2:36)
“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”

Imagine the shock and dismay of the Chief Priest when he received word that the followers of Jesus had not dispersed and were now preaching boldly in the Temple courtyard and were healing people just as Jesus had done. They killed Jesus and thought it was over but it appeared Jesus had been cloned and instead of just one man, now there were many doing what Jesus had done.

This is the pattern of the growth of the church. It is when the church is weak and helpless, lying in the ashes of failure and defeat that God brings victory.

This is why, when the church over the centuries of its history has been persecuted, the result has been the growth and expansion of the church. When it looks like all is lost and there is no hope for the future of the church, when people work to exterminate the church, that is when God is about to work and bring resurrection.

The story of Jonah is a wonderful example of this. (Taken from The Open Secret)
Jonah, as a picture of God’s chosen people, is called to go and bear witness in the midst of Nineveh, which represents the world with all its awesome power and wealth.

But Jonah because of his nationalism, and maybe other reasons, runs off in the opposite direction from Nineveh. He boards a ship sailing off into the Mediterranean to evade God’s call and thinks he has succeeded. He goes below deck to sleep – a picture of the church that sleeps in times of peace and prosperity, concerned not with God’s work in the world but only its own comfort.

But God whips up a raging storm and the pagan soldiers pray for deliverance. It is the pagan soldiers who have to wake up Jonah and ask him to pray. When lots are cast Jonah is forced to confess his guilt, that he is running away from God’s call.

Jonah is ready to pay for his sin with his life but the conversion of these pagan soldiers by this improbable follower of God has already begun. They work to save Jonah and themselves and they pray to God. But Jonah must be thrown into the sea. The grain of wheat must fall into the ground and die. The followers of Jesus must suffer. The church must lose its life.

But out of death there is resurrection. A penitent and restored Jonah goes to speak God’s word to the pagan world and his obedience is met by an incredible miracle. Nineveh repents.

Jonah was lying in the belly of the whale, lost and defeated but God brought resurrection. Out of the ashes of Jonah’s life, the sailors gave praise to God and the people of Nineveh were spared.

We see this also in the story of Joseph who was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers. From slavery he was unjustly thrown into prison and from prison he was brought out into the court of Pharaoh and given responsibility for distribution of food to the surrounding area that was affected by a famine.

When he was reunited with his brothers and they feared he would seek revenge for what they had done, he told them (Genesis 50:20–21)
You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. 21 So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.

Out of the ashes of the misery and defeat of Joseph, God raised him up to be the one who saved his family during the famine. God provided for his people through the resurrection of Joseph from the ashes of slavery and prison.

This was also the lesson Paul learned through all his preaching in the cities of what is today Greece and Turkey. The people who responded to his preaching about Jesus were not the religious or political or business elite. (I Corinthians 1:26–30)
Brothers [and sisters], think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him.

Out of the ashes of failed lives, God builds his church.

Paul learned this lesson himself. In the beginning of his ministry he was a bit arrogant, confident of his debating skills, sure he could overcome the objections of people to his message about Jesus with his many talents. But as he endured beating after beating and as the Holy Spirit worked in his life, Paul was transformed into a man who was more humble, who called himself the greatest of all sinners and who knew the power of God that worked through him.

It is with this depth of experience and spiritual insight that he wrote to the Corinthians in II Corinthians 12:10
That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

When we are weak, then we are strong. When the church is lying in the ashes of defeat, then God works most powerfully.

It is upon this paradox that the church is built.

I don’t know what will happen to the children at VOH. I don’t know if the children will ever be reunited with their parents. I don’t know what will happen in Morocco with the new restrictions on Christians who are working to care for the needy in this country. I don’t know what will happen with the pastors of churches around Morocco.

But this I do know. God is already at work preparing to bring resurrection out of the ashes of defeat.

Some might look at this and conclude Christians have developed a loser theology to turn defeat into eventual victory. The world that looks at success in very human terms sees the power and strength of institutions as evidence of their success. Which religion has more followers? Which religion has the fastest rate of growth? Which religion dominates a region?

Sometimes the Christian church has acted in this way and prided itself on its size and influence. But whenever, in the history of the church, the church has had power, it has abused that power and the church has been a destructive influence in the world. Pick up the sword to fight and the church loses. You can see this in church fights with churches splitting. You can see this in power struggles for leadership in a church or denomination. You can see this in countries that have called themselves Christian countries and tried to enforce their belief on everyone in that country.

This is not a loser’s theology. This is how Jesus blazed the way to victory over death. This is the way God builds his church. In our weakness God makes us strong.

Tracy, Zak and I talked about this sermon when we met on Tuesday and Tracy said, “The way God saved me is also the way the Gospel goes forward.”

How did God save you? Were you at the top of your world when you came to faith in Jesus? Were you at the top of the ladder of success with everything going your way when you decided to begin following Jesus? That is not the story with most of us. Most of us were at a point of need and called out for help. In our weakness we were saved.

Let me make three comments about this understanding of how God works.

First, are we to submit passively to every injustice that comes our way? I don’t think so. I have not been quiet about the injustice of the government in taking the parents of VOH away from their children. Anger is a Biblical response to injustice and we are to channel that anger in constructive ways to work for justice.

But I make a distinction between defensive and offensive responses. I think it is constructive to stand up and make noise when an unjust action is taken. So I will continue to speak to journalists to expose the truth about what has happened. I will continue to urge those in authority around the world to put pressure on the Moroccan government to undo the injustice they have committed.

But I will not encourage actions against the health and welfare of this country. I have encouraged people to bless Morocco and bless the people of Morocco. I want to work for this country but against this unjust action of its leaders. I do not work against the leaders. I pray for the leaders. I pray that they will turn and make just decisions. But for their own good, they need to bring justice to the injustice that has been done.

Secondly, while God does not call us into power confrontations with temporal authorities, he does call us into a deeper, more significant battle. When Jesus sent out his disciples (Luke 9:1–2)
he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, 2 and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.

Jesus has invited us into a deeper, more meaningful battle, the battle against supernatural forces of evil. We have power over demonic forces. So we submit to temporal authority and suffer and allow God to work and we participate with Jesus in the spiritual battle against forces of darkness. Most of us have this backwards. We shy away from spiritual battles and engage in temporal ones.

This is a growth area for the church. As God is at work in this world, we need to learn how to work with him in his battle against demonic forces.

Thirdly, when you suffer from a tragedy in your life or when you experience an embarrassing, humiliating failure, that is not the end. Your life is not over with no hope for the future.

Last week I mentioned four things important to remember when you are grieving because of a tragedy in your life.
Do not be rushed to get over your grief.
When you grieve, do not be afraid to express what you are feeling.
When you experience trauma, despite the evidence, God is in control.
And I said I believe, from God’s eternal perspective, the suffering we experience on earth does not seem as bad as it does to us – just as the joys we experience do not seem as great as we think they are.

I want to add a point to that list that I have learned this week. When you are powerless and helpless, it is at this point that any illusion that you can make things work with your own abilities and determination are stripped away. It is at this point that God can work most powerfully in your life.

This should always be a source of hope. I still think of the children of the Village of Hope day and night. This week I sent in our RICEmail a video I received that was taken when the children heard the news from the Moroccan authorities that their parents were being taken away. Their cries are haunting. I don’t understand why this happened but I know God is at work in this situation and he will bring good out of the evil that was done.

I am still grieving. It is still difficult for me to see my grandchildren having such a loving home with wonderful parents when I know the VOH children have been torn away from their parents. I look on Facebook and wonder how people can talk about such trivial things when this suffering continues.

But I am more confident than I was last week that God is at work and that he will bring resurrection from the ashes of VOH. I speculate about how this might happen but I know God is far more creative than I am. So I pray and I wait to see how he will bring good from the ashes of this tragedy.

I said last week that I was not yet able to sing Blessed Be Your Name with the chorus
You give and take away
You give and take away
My heart will choose to say
Lord blessed be your name.

But God has been at work in my life. My faith has been strengthened. I am still grieving but I know God is at work.

There are more tragedies than just the separation of the children from their parents at the Village of Hope. Diagro Gabla received word this week that his mother died. Another friend had to deal with her brother’s alcohol and drug addiction.

This is a broken world in need of healing and redemption and despite the evidence, God is at work bringing life out of death, giving hope to those who despair, building faith where there is doubt.

I encourage you to grab hold of hope. God is at work, redeeming this world with all its tragedy and suffering. You don’t have to sing Blessed Be Your Name with assurance. You can sing this with faith, knowing that in your weakness God will make you strong. It is in this light that we sing

Blessed be your name
when the sun is shining down on me
when the world is all
that it should be
Blessed be your name
and blessed be your name
on the road marked with suffering
Though there is pain in the offering
blessed be your name

Every blessing you’ll pour out
I’ll turn back to praise
And when the darkness closes in, Lord still I will say

Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be your name
Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be your glorious name.