Thursday, July 5, 2012

He Came to Break the Rod

Recently, the World Health Organization researched suicide rates for teenagers.  They found that the global suicide rate is 7.4 per 100,000 adolescents.  They also examined individual nations.  I was surprised—and disturbed—to read that our teenage suicide rate is slightly higher than the world’s: 8 per 100,000.  When you isolate it to American male teenagers, the rate is even higher—13 per 100,000.  Think about that for a moment.  In many parts of our world, teenage boys woke up this morning having not eaten for days.  In other places, they are enslaved.  Other boys live like rats in the street, having to scavenge, beg or steal just to survive.  Still others are forced into guerilla armies to kill or be killed for someone else’s war.  American teenaged boys, on the other hand, wake up every day with adequate food, clothing and shelter, free public education, in a society that encourages every kind of freedom, pleasure and self-advancement.  Yet the suicide rate of our teenaged boys is almost twice the world average for adolescents.  By the way, it’s not just teenaged boys.  We live in the land of opportunity, the home of the free.  Never before has a culture been as prosperous as ours.  Yet by and large, we aren’t happy.  We live under the constant crushing pressure of despair.

            Just about every day, I meet people who are barely hanging on.  Life has beaten them down, and they are nearly at the breaking point.  The pressure, the disappointment, the despair have them ready to crack.  Perhaps that describes you.  If so, I have good news for you today.  But first, I need to say something that will be hard for you to accept.  If you are like most people, whatever you are putting your faith in, whatever you are hoping will make you happy, make life worth living, isn’t going to work.  If you are aiming for certain financial goals, even if you are one of the fortunate few who reach your dreams, it won’t be enough.  If you are single and are looking for Mr. or Ms. Perfect For You, he or she does not exist.  Even if that person did and you were able to find him or her, it wouldn’t be enough.  Perhaps you think, “if only I could improve my appearance,” “if only I could get a better job,” “if only I could move to a better place.”  All of those things might bring you a certain sense of pleasure and satisfaction, but none of them will be enough to make life worth living. 

In Isaiah 9:1-7--traditionally read as a Christmas passage-- Isaiah’s good news is this: “God has not forgotten you.  He sees, He knows, and He cares.  Best of all, He is coming—in person—to deliver you from all of these things.”  We know the fulfillment of these verses.  We know that “the child” of v. 6 is Jesus.  We know that when v. 1 talks about “on the other side of the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles,” it is talking about the region of Israel where Jesus began and spent most of His ministry.  God’s answer to our despair is Jesus.  Now you may wonder why that helps.  You may have Jesus pegged as a guy who lived a long time ago and made up a bunch of rules that make life less fun.  Or maybe you see Him as a ceramic figure on a cross in a church.  But the real Jesus was the god-man, the ultimate warrior, the One who came to defeat our enemies and deliver us from bondage.  In the words of v. 4, He came to break the yoke of our burden and the staff on our shoulders and the rod of our oppressor.  Back in the 8th century BC, those terms resonated with people.  What do they mean to us today?  This Sunday, we'll talk about what Jesus can do in your life today if you will let Him.

No comments: