Day 281

Glorified in Defeat

Wisdom Psalm 118:17-29
New Testament Colossians 4:2-18
Old Testament Jeremiah 16:1-17:27

Introduction

I will never forget a conversation I had with Father Raniero Cantalamessa, Franciscan monk, now a cardinal and preacher to the Papal Household since 1980. He was about to be involved in a public debate with one of the ‘New Atheists’ in Italy.

I asked him whether he thought he would win the debate. He replied that he did not know. He said he might lose. ‘But,’ he added, ‘the Lord can be glorified in defeat.

Jesus turned the world upside down. He reversed the values of the world. Supremely on the cross, Jesus turned the world upside down. In an act of ultimate humiliation and apparent defeat he brought the greatest victory the world has ever known.

It was said of his followers that they were ‘turning the world upside down’ (Acts 17:6, NRSV). In each of today’s passages we see how this works, and how the Lord can be glorified in defeat.

Wisdom

Psalm 118:17-29

17 I will not die but live,
    and will proclaim what the Lord has done.
18 The Lord has chastened me severely,
    but he has not given me over to death.
19 Open for me the gates of the righteous;
    I will enter and give thanks to the Lord.
20 This is the gate of the Lord
    through which the righteous may enter.
21 I will give you thanks, for you answered me;
    you have become my salvation.

22 The stone the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone;
23 the Lord has done this,
    and it is marvelous in our eyes.
24 The Lord has done it this very day;
    let us rejoice today and be glad.

25 Lord, save us!
    Lord, grant us success!

26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
    From the house of the Lord we bless you.
27 The Lord is God,
    and he has made his light shine on us.
With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession
    up to the horns of the altar.

28 You are my God, and I will praise you;
    you are my God, and I will exalt you.

29 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
    his love endures forever.

Commentary

God can bring success out of apparent failure

As I look back on my life, God seems to have used the difficulties and defeats more than any apparent success.

The psalmist has clearly been through a difficult time. He writes, ‘God tested me, he pushed me hard’ (v.18a, MSG). Yet he is full of thanksgiving, praise and rejoicing: ‘I will... give thanks to the Lord’ (v.19). ‘This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it’ (v.24).

He is full of thanksgiving because he sees that God is able to bring success out of apparent defeat. He writes, ‘The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone’ (v.22, AMP).

Jesus is the supreme example of God bringing success out of apparent failure. He is the stone that the builders rejected, which has now become the cornerstone of the church. Jesus quotes this verse in Psalm 118 as referring to himself (Mark 12:10). Peter too makes this application (1 Peter 2), pointing out that Jesus is ‘the living stone – rejected by human beings but chosen by God’ (v.4). Jesus is now the chief cornerstone on which the whole church rests.

Respond like the psalmist: ‘Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures for ever’ (Psalm 118:29).

Prayer

Lord, thank you so much for the way in which you bring success out of apparent defeat. ‘You are my God, and I will give you thanks; you are my God, and I will exalt you’ (v.28).

New Testament

Colossians 4:2-18

Further Instructions

2 Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. 3 And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. 4 Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. 5 Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. 6 Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

Final Greetings

7 Tychicus will tell you all the news about me. He is a dear brother, a faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord. 8 I am sending him to you for the express purpose that you may know about our circumstances and that he may encourage your hearts. 9 He is coming with Onesimus, our faithful and dear brother, who is one of you. They will tell you everything that is happening here.

10 My fellow prisoner Aristarchus sends you his greetings, as does Mark, the cousin of Barnabas. (You have received instructions about him; if he comes to you, welcome him.) 11 Jesus, who is called Justus, also sends greetings. These are the only Jews among my co-workers for the kingdom of God, and they have proved a comfort to me. 12 Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured. 13 I vouch for him that he is working hard for you and for those at Laodicea and Hierapolis. 14 Our dear friend Luke, the doctor, and Demas send greetings. 15 Give my greetings to the brothers and sisters at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house.

16 After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea.

17 Tell Archippus: “See to it that you complete the ministry you have received in the Lord.”

18 I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you.

Commentary

God can use you in spite of your circumstances

At times, we are distracted by many ‘if onlys’. If only we were married. If only we were not married to the wrong person. If only we were in the right job. If only we didn’t have to go to work. If only we had children. If only we didn’t have so many children. If only we lived in the right place… But God used Paul in spite of his circumstances, and even because of them!

Paul writes, ‘Make the most of every opportunity’ (v.5, MSG). We cannot all be ‘successful’ but we can all do our best in whatever situation we find ourselves. Paul writes that they are to tell Archippus, ‘Do your best in the job you received from the Master. Do your very best’ (v.17, MSG).

Paul was extraordinarily gifted. He had a vital message to proclaim to the world. He might have expected that God would place him in a position of authority and power so that he could best use his gifts and proclaim his message.

However, God allowed him to end up in prison. He ends the letter, ‘Remember I am still in prison and in chains’ (v.18, AMP). Yet the Lord was glorified in his apparent defeat. God turned Paul’s position upside down. Almost 2,000 years later you are still reading the words Paul wrote while in prison. God used his words to change the world.

Your words are powerful. Paul writes, ‘Let your speech at all times be gracious (pleasant and winsome), seasoned [as it were] with salt, [so that you may never be at a loss] to know how you ought to answer anyone [who puts a question to you]’ (v.6, AMP). For example, if you are hosting on Alpha, pray for wisdom to know when to speak, what to say and how to say it.

God also used Paul’s prayers to change the world. Here is another challenge to our priorities. He writes, ‘Devote yourselves to prayer’ (v.2). The world considers prayer a complete waste of time. Paul saw it as the highest priority of our lives. He commends Epaphras because he is ‘always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured’ (v.12).

He wants his readers to pray that ‘God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should’ (vv.3–4).

Here is yet another challenge to our priorities. Paul does not want them to pray for large crowds to come and hear him – rather he prays that he may proclaim the message clearly.

Paul doesn’t want them to pray for an open door to the prison, but an open door for the message of the gospel to be proclaimed. Rather than looking to the future when you might be in a better situation in which to serve God, focus on how you can serve God in the present, whatever your situation.

Prayer

Lord, help me to get my priorities right – to devote myself to prayer and proclamation whatever my circumstances. Give me wisdom today to know when to speak, what to say and how to say it.

Old Testament

Jeremiah 16:1-17:27

Day of Disaster

16Then the word of the Lord came to me: 2 “You must not marry and have sons or daughters in this place.” 3 For this is what the Lord says about the sons and daughters born in this land and about the women who are their mothers and the men who are their fathers: 4 “They will die of deadly diseases. They will not be mourned or buried but will be like dung lying on the ground. They will perish by sword and famine, and their dead bodies will become food for the birds and the wild animals.”

5 For this is what the Lord says: “Do not enter a house where there is a funeral meal; do not go to mourn or show sympathy, because I have withdrawn my blessing, my love and my pity from this people,” declares the Lord. 6 “Both high and low will die in this land. They will not be buried or mourned, and no one will cut themselves or shave their head for the dead. 7 No one will offer food to comfort those who mourn for the dead—not even for a father or a mother—nor will anyone give them a drink to console them.

8 “And do not enter a house where there is feasting and sit down to eat and drink. 9 For this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Before your eyes and in your days I will bring an end to the sounds of joy and gladness and to the voices of bride and bridegroom in this place.

10 “When you tell these people all this and they ask you, ‘Why has the Lord decreed such a great disaster against us? What wrong have we done? What sin have we committed against the Lord our God?’ 11 then say to them, ‘It is because your ancestors forsook me,’ declares the Lord, ‘and followed other gods and served and worshiped them. They forsook me and did not keep my law. 12 But you have behaved more wickedly than your ancestors. See how all of you are following the stubbornness of your evil hearts instead of obeying me. 13 So I will throw you out of this land into a land neither you nor your ancestors have known, and there you will serve other gods day and night, for I will show you no favor.’

14 “However, the days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when it will no longer be said, ‘As surely as the Lord lives, who brought the Israelites up out of Egypt,’ 15 but it will be said, ‘As surely as the Lord lives, who brought the Israelites up out of the land of the north and out of all the countries where he had banished them.’ For I will restore them to the land I gave their ancestors.

16 “But now I will send for many fishermen,” declares the Lord, “and they will catch them. After that I will send for many hunters, and they will hunt them down on every mountain and hill and from the crevices of the rocks. 17 My eyes are on all their ways; they are not hidden from me, nor is their sin concealed from my eyes. 18 I will repay them double for their wickedness and their sin, because they have defiled my land with the lifeless forms of their vile images and have filled my inheritance with their detestable idols. ”

19 Lord, my strength and my fortress,
    my refuge in time of distress,
to you the nations will come
    from the ends of the earth and say,
“Our ancestors possessed nothing but false gods,
    worthless idols that did them no good.
20 Do people make their own gods?
    Yes, but they are not gods!”

21 “Therefore I will teach them—
    this time I will teach them
    my power and might.
Then they will know
    that my name is the Lord.

17“Judah’s sin is engraved with an iron tool,
    inscribed with a flint point,
on the tablets of their hearts
    and on the horns of their altars.
2 Even their children remember
    their altars and Asherah poles
beside the spreading trees
    and on the high hills.
3 My mountain in the land
    and your wealth and all your treasures
I will give away as plunder,
    together with your high places,
    because of sin throughout your country.
4 Through your own fault you will lose
    the inheritance I gave you.
I will enslave you to your enemies
    in a land you do not know,
for you have kindled my anger,
    and it will burn forever.”

5 This is what the Lord says:

“Cursed is the one who trusts in man,
    who draws strength from mere flesh
    and whose heart turns away from the Lord.
6 That person will be like a bush in the wastelands;
    they will not see prosperity when it comes.
They will dwell in the parched places of the desert,
    in a salt land where no one lives.

7 “But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
    whose confidence is in him.
8 They will be like a tree planted by the water
    that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
    its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
    and never fails to bear fruit.”

9 The heart is deceitful above all things
    and beyond cure.
    Who can understand it?

10 “I the Lord search the heart
    and examine the mind,
to reward each person according to their conduct,
    according to what their deeds deserve.”

11 Like a partridge that hatches eggs it did not lay
    are those who gain riches by unjust means.
When their lives are half gone, their riches will desert them,
    and in the end they will prove to be fools.

12 A glorious throne, exalted from the beginning,
    is the place of our sanctuary.
13 Lord, you are the hope of Israel;
    all who forsake you will be put to shame.
Those who turn away from you will be written in the dust
    because they have forsaken the Lord,
    the spring of living water.

14 Heal me, Lord, and I will be healed;
    save me and I will be saved,
    for you are the one I praise.
15 They keep saying to me,
    “Where is the word of the Lord?
    Let it now be fulfilled!”
16 I have not run away from being your shepherd;
    you know I have not desired the day of despair.
    What passes my lips is open before you.
17 Do not be a terror to me;
    you are my refuge in the day of disaster.
18 Let my persecutors be put to shame,
    but keep me from shame;
let them be terrified,
    but keep me from terror.
Bring on them the day of disaster;
    destroy them with double destruction.

Keeping the Sabbath Day Holy

19 This is what the Lord said to me: “Go and stand at the Gate of the People, through which the kings of Judah go in and out; stand also at all the other gates of Jerusalem. 20 Say to them, ‘Hear the word of the Lord, you kings of Judah and all people of Judah and everyone living in Jerusalem who come through these gates. 21 This is what the Lord says: Be careful not to carry a load on the Sabbath day or bring it through the gates of Jerusalem. 22 Do not bring a load out of your houses or do any work on the Sabbath, but keep the Sabbath day holy, as I commanded your ancestors. 23 Yet they did not listen or pay attention; they were stiff-necked and would not listen or respond to discipline. 24 But if you are careful to obey me, declares the Lord, and bring no load through the gates of this city on the Sabbath, but keep the Sabbath day holy by not doing any work on it, 25 then kings who sit on David’s throne will come through the gates of this city with their officials. They and their officials will come riding in chariots and on horses, accompanied by the men of Judah and those living in Jerusalem, and this city will be inhabited forever. 26 People will come from the towns of Judah and the villages around Jerusalem, from the territory of Benjamin and the western foothills, from the hill country and the Negev, bringing burnt offerings and sacrifices, grain offerings and incense, and bringing thank offerings to the house of the Lord. 27 But if you do not obey me to keep the Sabbath day holy by not carrying any load as you come through the gates of Jerusalem on the Sabbath day, then I will kindle an unquenchable fire in the gates of Jerusalem that will consume her fortresses.’”

Commentary

God can make the ‘worst of times’ the ‘best of times’

‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.’ These are the opening words of Charles Dickens’ novel A Tale of Two Cities (1859), set in London and Paris before and during the French Revolution.

Again, we can see that God can be glorified in apparent defeat. A ‘year of drought’ can become a ‘year of bearing fruit’ (17:8). Bad times can be good times for the church. The good news shines brighter as society gets darker.

COVID-19 is a horrible disease. But God can take something horrible and use it for good. The supreme example of that is that God took the worst event in the history of the world, the crucifixion of the son of God and used it for the salvation of the world. God can take a horrible disease like COVID-19 and use it for good and he has done in so many ways, the church has grown in both online attendance and its presence in the community reaching out to those in need. Now is not a time to retreat but for the Kingdom of God to advance. The worst of times can be the best of times.

Something like this is expressed in this passage. Jeremiah continues to warn of the coming judgment because the people have followed the stubbornness of their evil hearts instead of obeying God (16:12). He cautions us against the danger of deceiving ourselves: ‘The heart is deceitful above all things’ (17:9).

We can easily deceive ourselves. If we want something, our minds can present a variety of reasons why we should have it. We can easily justify ourselves even when we are in the wrong.

This is one of the reasons you need to stick close to God (v.7, MSG). Constantly check yourself with the word of God and the wisdom of the Christian community, or else your trust can end up in the wrong place. The Lord says, ‘Cursed are those who trust in mortals, who depend on flesh for their strength and whose hearts turn away from the Lord’ (v.5).

On the other hand, he says, ‘But blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit’ (vv.7–8).

Again, God turns things upside down. ‘When heat comes’ we would expect the leaves of the tree to dry out and turn brown. Yet because the tree is planted by the water it sends out roots by the stream and the leaves are always green. The psalmist likens this to the person who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. That person will neither fear nor worry when heat comes.

There are times in your life when the ‘heat’ increases. You are tested by difficult circumstances and challenges. If you stay close to the Lord, trusting in him, God is able to turn things upside down. ‘Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose confidence is in him’ (v.7).

Prayer

Lord Jesus, you brought success out of apparent defeat. Thank you that I can trust you even when circumstances seem to be against me. I put my trust and confidence in you today.

Pippa adds

Jeremiah 17:7

‘… blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose confidence is in him.’

Trust is being able to let go and give oneself, or a situation, over to God without holding back. It is a child in a parent’s arms, never doubting for a moment that they are safe.

Verse of the Day

Jeremiah 17:7

‘… blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose confidence is in him’
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References

The One Year® is a registered trademark of Tyndale House Publishers. Used by permission.

Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities (Penguin Classics, 2003).

Rick Warren interviewed by Nicky Gumbel at the Leadership Conference 2012 in the Royal Albert Hall. www.alpha.org/lc

Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.

Scripture quotations marked (AMP) taken from the Amplified® Bible, Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. (www.Lockman.org)

Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

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