The story of God and his people has profound implications for our lives and our calling. We are part of this story. The book of Isaiah retells this story and, in doing so, offers a prophecy about Jesus. Over 500 years before Jesus, we learn of a servant that will take up Israel's call and suffer, die, and rise on our behalf. We also learn what our calling means.

In this sermon, I expound upon my extensive research for The Resurrected Servant in Isaiah. Isaiah illustrates God's purpose for our lives.

I originally delivered this sermon at The Table, a missional church plant in Bellingham, WA, on May 31, 2015.

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Enjoy this sermon? Check out my new book, Jesus' Economy: A Biblical View of Poverty, the Currency of Love, and a Pattern for Lasting Change. With simple, everyday choices you can make the world a better place. Learn how to live the currency of love.

Over 500 years before Jesus came in flesh, a prophet proclaimed that one would suffer, die, and rise again for the sin of humanity. It was also prophesied that the resurrection of a Suffering Servant would lead to resurrection for every single person. Here is the gospel according to Isaiah and Daniel. This is Easter proclaimed 500 years before Jesus came in flesh.

In this sermon, I utilize the research from my first book, The Resurrected Servant in Isaiah, to explore Isaiah 52:13–53:12.

This sermon was originally delivered at Faith Reformed Church in Lynden, WA on April 1, 2018 (Easter Sunday).

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In a slum in Bihar, India, I felt a ball of anger well up inside of me. As I stared into the faces of people living in extreme poverty, one word came to mind, "injustice." Someone, somewhere had let these people down. I was angry at the societal corruption that had caused this injustice and I was angry at the world for ignoring these people. But most of all, I was angry at myself. I realized that, in many regards, I was that "someone, somewhere."

I Felt the Injustice, but Where Did it Begin?

“This part of the village needs clean water,” the woman in her early 40s remarked. The look on her face, as she expressed her people’s needs, will never leave my mind. It was anger combined with pain—she was grateful that some people in her slum now had access to water, but infuriated by the fact that everyone had abandoned her outside of a local nonprofit. (Jesus' Economy would later partner with that same nonprofit to renew communities in Bihar, India.)

This woman understood that her community needed mercy, but she also understood that she was a victim of injustice. I was angry with her.

But where did the injustice the woman felt begin? The scary answer: The injustice she felt is something we all have inflicted upon her—each of us who has ignored the tragedy of poverty in some way or another. Each of us who had chosen consumerism or our comfortable lives over addressing poverty had contributed to this injustice. We could have done something.

But what about all the Christians in the world who claim to believe in doing good for other people? One of the reasons why injustices in our world continue is because we, as western world Christians, are not dealing with our own spiritual poverty—and that’s what is holding us back from tackling physical poverty. We've instead given in to the ideals of our culture (such as consumerism), while much of the rest of the world struggles.

A Solution: Godly Justice and Godly Mercy

The biblical prophets held in tension both mercy and justice. When they looked at the world, they saw that both must be present for God’s love to be fully known. They realized that God is both full of justice and mercy.

The prophet Isaiah once said:

“Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him” (Isaiah 30:18 ESV).

God is gracious and desires to show mercy. God moves forward in the world to offer such grace. (May we wait on him!)

But God is also a God of justice. God is not just moving forward with grace but intends to course correct our world. God is against the injustices that plague our world, such as people not having clean water.

In this instance of poverty, we must recognize that:

  1. An injustice needs to be corrected.
  2. Mercy needs to come to those who have been hurt by the injustice.
  3. We need lean on God's mercy as we learn to be people who bring God's justice.

Correcting the Injustices of the World

To correct the injustices of the world, like extreme poverty, we must look to our own lives, as well as the problems within societies. At their core, personal selfishness and societal corruption are spiritual problems. It is these dual evils that keep people poor: those with much choose selfishness and those with power give into corruption. Thus, without coming to terms with God, a sustainable solution cannot be obtained. Elsewhere, the prophet Isaiah says:

“Wash! Make yourselves clean! Remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes! Cease to do evil! Learn to do good! Seek justice! Rescue the oppressed! Defend the orphan! Plead for the widow!

‘Come now, and let us argue,’ says Yahweh. ‘Even though your sins are like scarlet, they will be white like snow; even though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool’” (Isaiah 1:16–18 LEB).

God is ready to argue with our selfish hearts. He is ready to show us the error of our ways. Consider what Isaiah says:

  1. We must learn to do good.
  2. We must seek justice.

This means doing things like rescuing the oppressed, defending the orphan, and pleading for the widow. But the source of this good is God, who makes us clean by the salvation that Jesus freely offers.

These lines from Isaiah are like the old adage, “You can’t help someone else, if you can’t first help yourself,” but with a twist: “You can’t help someone else, if you don’t first let God help you.”

Learning to do good, to seek justice, and to offer mercy starts with us being changed by God.

We know what the prophets would do. We know how they would react and act. They would correct the injustices of the world by offering mercy—may we do the same.


Want to go deeper into this subject? Check out my new book, Jesus' Economy: A Biblical View of Poverty, the Currency of Love, and a Pattern for Lasting Change. With simple, everyday choices you can make the world a better place. Learn how to live Jesus' economy, the currency of love.


*This article is based on my earlier article, "A Just and Merciful God: Loving the Impoverished Like God Does."

As we remember Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. today, I am reminded of his statement:

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Here's its original context, its origins, and what Dr. King would say to us today.

At the core of this statement, you can hear the prophetic voice. Let us remember that Dr. King also had another title—Reverend. He was a preacher.

In King's time, as in ours, many people looked at the injustices and simply ignored them or demeaned them. But for a person living in a country that treats them unjustly, these issues are not something that can be ignored. It’s only convenient to ignore injustices until those same injustices inconvenience you. King regularly pointed this out and mobilized people for action.

The Context of Dr. King's Words & Implications

Dr. King said the famous, "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere" in his work from Birmingham Jail, where he was imprisoned for advocating for equal rights of African Americans.

The context should remind us that this phrase cannot be a platitude; it must be lived. It means so much because of who said it and from the context in which it was said.

And it is injustice that we see today—all over our planet. The racial and economic inequality King was fighting against still exists today. So let us not just remember, but act. We have made progress but we must keep moving forward.

Near the end of his life, King was working to bring equality by creating jobs. And yet, so much of the world still lacks jobs, because we haven’t completed the task. This is injustice.

We look around the world and we also see those who are oppressed—who lack spiritual and religious freedom, who lack knowledge of Jesus. This too is an injustice.

We look around our own country today and we still see racism. And this isn't only within our nation (against one another), but it also has to do with the worldview many people hold. Many people view those from other places as outsiders (or less than Americans). There is racism and xenophobia on the global stage. This is injustice.

We must stand up, lift up, and rise up—to fight these injustices, boldly proclaiming that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

The Statement's Origins: The Prophets Agree 

The prophets resonate with Dr. King’s words, with lines like:

“Wash! Make yourselves clean! Remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes! Cease to do evil! Learn to do good! Seek justice! Rescue the oppressed! Defend the orphan! Plead for the widow!” (Isaiah 1:16 LEB).

“Thus says Yahweh, ‘Act with justice and righteousness, and deliver the one who has been seized from the hand of the oppressor. And you must not oppress or treat violently the immigrant, the orphan, and the widow. And you must not shed innocent blood in this place’” (Jeremiah 22:3 LEB).

“Remove from me the noise of your songs, and I do not want to hear the melody of your harps! But let justice roll on like the water, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:23–24 LEB).

The Bible’s cry is justice, mercy, and love. There is no other way that aligns with God’s desire.

Dr. King Would Remind Us to Fight Against Fear

Much of our world's problems come out of fear. We fear acting against injustice, because of the possible ramifications. We fear those we do not understand. And fear causes us to do terrible things and to not take action when we should. We must fight fear.

Fear cannot dominate our worldview. If any of us are to call ourselves Christians, we must believe in justice for all. We must love without bounds. We must lead out of mercy. This is the Christian cry. Jesus once said:

“ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:37–40 LEB).

Dr. King Would Remind Us to Live Love

Love means placing others before ourselves—to love God is to love others. The book of James puts it this way:

“If anyone thinks he is religious, although he does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (James 1:26–27 LEB).

Love is only truly practiced by those who can manage their own words—we must all work at this. Love also requires us to prioritize the needs of the widow, the orphan, the refugee, and the outsider. We must believe that is what is good for the entire world is also good for us, because it is.

But love does not mean simply loving those who are hurting—although that is certainly a major part of it. Jesus also once remarked:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor’ and ‘Hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven, because he causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust” (Matthew 5:43–44 LEB).

There is no us and them; we’re all simply humanity. God does not look on the world and smile upon one country over another. He loves the entire world equally. And we must do the same.

Love those you don’t understand. Love those on the other side of the aisle. Love those who protest. Love those who protest against you. Love in a way that forces you to self-examine. Love in a way that moves you out isolation and insulation. Love in a way that demands justice. Love with mercy. Simply put, truly love.

 

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This long-form article is part of our weekly series, “Living for Jesus.” It's adapted in part from my previous article by the same title and my article "4 Ways Justice Is Today's Christian Cry."

500 years before Jesus, a prophet shared good news. When we reconstruct the prophet's epic poem, we see the story of Jesus' suffering, death, and resurrection. We see Jesus bearing our iniquities and lifting our sins, in his bruised and battered body. And we see him rising again, granting us relationship with God and new life. Here's Isaiah 52:13–53:12.

Yahweh says:

See, my servant shall prosper; he shall be exalted and lifted up, and shall be very high. Just as many were appalled at him—so disfigured from a man was his appearance, and his form from sons of men—so [the servant] shall sprinkle many nations; kings shall shut their mouths because of him; for that which had not been recounted to them, they shall see; and that which they had not heard, they shall contemplate.

The prophet says:

Who has trusted our report? And to whom has the arm of Yahweh been revealed?

[The servant] went up before [Yahweh] like a tender plant, and like a root from dry ground; he had no form to him and no majesty that we should look at him and nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of pain and knowledgeable of sickness; and as one who others hide their faces from, he was despised and held of no account.

However, he has lifted our sickness, he has bore the load of our pain and we accounted him stricken, struck down by God and afflicted. And he was pierced for our transgressions; crushed for our iniquities; upon him were the bonds of our peace, and by his bruises we were healed. All we have gone astray; each has turned our own way; and Yahweh has interposed upon [the servant] the iniquity of us all.

[The servant] was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; like a sheep to slaughter, and like an ewe before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.

By a restraint of justice, he was taken away and with his generation. Who could have mused that he would be cut off from the land of the living? Marked for the transgression of my people. 

And [Yahweh] set his grave with the wicked, and [the servant] was with the rich in his death, although [the servant] had done no wrong, and there was no deceit in his mouth. Yet Yahweh was pleased to crush him; he afflicted [him].

If [Zion] places his life a guilt offering, he will see offspring, he will prolong days and the will of Yahweh in his hand will succeed. From the trouble of his life he will see light. He will be satisfied.

Yahweh says:

In his knowledge, my righteous servant shall make the many righteous and he will bear their iniquities. Therefore I will divide to him [a portion] among the many, and with the strong ones he shall divide bounty, because he exposed his life to death and was counted with transgressors, and he carried the sin of many and will intercede for transgressors.

 

Translation and reconstruction adapted from my book The Resurrected Servant in Isaiah.

This has been an odd week in the history of America: Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy was celebrated on Monday. Friday was the inauguration of an unexpected President, surrounded by protests. And Saturday women across the country marched together.

For many, there are a series of open questions: What does all this mean? Where is America going? What will or won’t happen next? All of should be asking one question: What type of person will I be?

Each of us must define for ourselves and others what type of person we will be, no matter what may come next. In this regard, Dr. King sets a great example. Dr. King once said:

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

At the core of this statement, you can hear the prophetic voice. Let us remember that Dr. King also had another title—Reverend. He was a preacher. In his time, as in ours, many people looked at the injustices and simply ignored them or demeaned them. But for a person living in a country that treats them unjustly, these issues are not something that can be ignored. It’s only convenient to ignore injustices until those same injustices inconvenience you.

The prophets echo Dr. King’s words, with lines like:

“Wash! Make yourselves clean! Remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes! Cease to do evil! Learn to do good! Seek justice! Rescue the oppressed! Defend the orphan! Plead for the widow!” (Isaiah 1:16 LEB).

“Thus says Yahweh, ‘Act with justice and righteousness, and deliver the one who has been seized from the hand of the oppressor. And you must not oppress or treat violently the immigrant, the orphan, and the widow. And you must not shed innocent blood in this place’” (Jeremiah 22:3 LEB).

“Remove from me the noise of your songs, and I do not want to hear the melody of your harps! But let justice roll on like the water, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:23–24 LEB).

The Bible’s cry is justice, mercy, and love. There is no other way that aligns with God’s desire.

Fear cannot dominate our worldview. If any of us are to call ourselves Christians, we must believe in justice for all. We must love without bounds. We must lead out of mercy. This is the Christian cry. Jesus once said:

“ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:37–40 LEB).

Love means placing others before ourselves—to love God is to love others. The book of James puts it this way:

“If anyone thinks he is religious, although he does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (James 1:26–27 LEB).

Love is only truly practiced by those who can manage their own words—we must all work at this. Love also requires us to prioritize the needs of the widow, the orphan, the refugee, and the outsider. We must believe that is what is good for the entire world is also good for us, because it is.

But love does not mean simply loving those who are hurting—although that is certainly a major part of it. Jesus also once remarked:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor’ and ‘Hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven, because he causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust” (Matthew 5:43–44 LEB).

There is no us and them; we’re all simply humanity. God does not look on the world and smile upon one country over another. He loves the entire world equally. And we must do the same.

Love those you don’t understand. Love those on the other side of the aisle. Love those who protest. Love those who protest against you. Love in a way that forces you to self-examine. Love in a way that moves you out isolation and insulation. Love in a way that demands justice. Love with mercy. Simply put, truly love.

 

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This long-form article is part of our weekly series, “Living for Jesus.” Image courtesy of Logos Bible Software.

From Haiti to Aleppo, 2016 was marked by tragedy. For my family, 2016 also brought grief on the home front. We said goodbye to a grandfather who passed away. We also said goodbye to our house and former career, as we embarked on a new ministry that is far more trying than expected. After selling nearly all of our stuff to follow Jesus, we were forced to adjust to a new reality—on every account. But I’m not content to leave it there—in the pain. I demand hope of 2017. I demand the kind of hope only Christ can bring. Here’s why I think you should do the same.

From Pain Comes Resurrection

A reflection on 2016 cannot be complete without looking at it from the perspective of Christmas. The celebration of Christmas is a reminder that the arrival of the Son of God equals unfathomable hope. The hope of Christ changes everything.

The life of Jesus is a reminder that suffering is a part of life and that God can use it to accomplish his purposes. Prophesying about the Christ, over 500 years before his arrival, Isaiah 53:10 says it this way:

“Yet Yahweh was pleased to crush [his servant]; he afflicted [his servant]. If [Zion] makes [the servant’s] life a guilt offering, he will see offspring, he will prolong days and the will of Yahweh, in his hand, will succeed.”

From the pain of Yahweh’s servant comes resurrection. Yahweh’s servant is made a guilt offering by Zion, who is symbolic of the people of Israel. The servant dies. And then he rises again: he sees offspring and he prolongs days—things that only happen in life. The servant’s suffering is not the end; it is a beginning.

It is the resurrection of Yahweh’s servant that leads to our new life. Isaiah 53:11 continues the passage with this statement:

“From the trouble of his life he will see light. He will be satisfied. In his knowledge, my righteous servant shall make the many righteous and he will bear their iniquities.”

The suffering servant of Yahweh—Jesus the Christ, the Son of God—bears our iniquities. It is Jesus who fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah 53 in his suffering, death, and resurrection. He makes many righteous by his suffering and death (compare Romans 8:18–39). Paul the apostle puts it this way:

“Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. [Christ!] Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword” (Romans 8:34–35 ESV).

Ask God to Use 2016’s Pain

For my wife and I, 2016 meant leaving a great job and going full-time—as volunteers—for the non-profit Jesus’ Economy. We had many hopes about this journey, believing that we would see radical giving that would support us. But so far, it hasn’t turned out that way. It’s been difficult and often disheartening. We also faced the loss of a wonderful man, Kalene’s grandfather—who we greatly miss. Yet I know that dwelling on pain does not get us any closer to healing or move forward God’s ministry. Instead, we must ask, “What is God doing through this? Where is he working, so that we may follow him?”

Reflecting on that question I see that through our work, God is creating jobs for the impoverished through our Fair Trade Shop. God is also planting churches in regions where people have never heard the name of Jesus. Furthermore, people are gaining access to clean water. Is that worth the sacrifice? Absolutely.

And while 2016 involved saying goodbye to Grandpa, we can take solace in the fact that our prayers for healing were answered, in a way. Grandpa John no longer feels pain; he is healed in heaven and with the Lord Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:1–10). And one day, we will see Grandpa John again—we didn’t truly say goodbye, but rather “farewell for now.” And one day, we will all have resurrected bodies (Revelation 20:11–15; 1 Corinthians 15:12–58).

The Power of a Resurrected Perspective

A truly Christian theology requires us to look at 2016 through the perspective of resurrection. I must ask God to raise all of 2016 up—to redeem it and give it new life. I must also acknowledge that the grief of 2016—the sleepless nights, the feelings of anxiety, the mourning, all of it—were used by God to draw me closer to him. Thanks to 2016’s journey, I know God better than I ever have and there is nothing worth more than that.

Furthermore, God will have the final say over pain:

“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38–39 ESV).

In light of Jesus, I demand hope from 2017. I can see how God used 2016 for good, and so I believe in resurrected hope for 2017. I believe in resurrected hope for you and me.

 

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This long-form article is part of our weekly series, “Living for Jesus.” Translations from Isaiah are my own.

I had ran this trail dozens of times, but this time it was almost pitch black. As I leaned on my memory of the curves in the trail, I thought, “This is what it’s like to follow Jesus.”

When you set out on a faith journey, no one tells you how many times you will feel completely lost in the dark. I know this feeling deeply; I also know the God who has been there for me in the midst of it all.

My wife and I sold nearly all of our stuff, including our house, to dedicate ourselves full-time to creating jobs and churches for the impoverished and unreached. When you first set out on a journey like this, the whole thing sounds romantic; we’ve all wanted to start afresh. But the reality is not romantic: the journey is often more difficult than words can describe. This is where faith comes becomes reality—in the midst of the feelings of darkness and the ambiguity.

But what God has done in me through this journey is of immeasurable worth. Here are three faith principles God has taught me through this adventure.

1. Cherish the Ambiguity, Despite the Pain

If we fully understood all that God is doing, we wouldn’t be on a faith journey at all. It requires no faith to trust in what you can see and understand. God, in his infinite wisdom, is doing far more than we can anticipate. We cannot know God’s mind or understand his ways (compare 1 Corinthians 2:6–13). God has not been instructed by us, nor is he in need of our instruction.

“Who has measured the Spirit of the LORD or what man shows him his counsel? Whom did he consult, and who made him understand? Who taught him the path of justice, and taught him knowledge, and showed him the way of understanding?” (Isaiah 40:13–14 ESV; compare Romans 11:34).

We must learn to cherish the ambiguity, for it gives us ample reason to come before our God regularly. The truth of the matter is that we should come to him, simply because he is worthy of praise. But in our needs, we find even more reason to come before the throne of God. The ambiguity teaches us trust in his word.

2. Remind Yourself of God’s Words

Faith journeys begin with an understanding of who God is and what he is doing in our lives. When God calls us to a new adventure, it emerges out of his unique plan for our lives—and his collective plan for the betterment of all of creation (compare Romans 8:19–24). In the midst of the journey, though, it is easy to doubt. We doubt ourselves, our partners in ministry, and God’s plans. Sometimes, we even doubt God himself—or at least our understanding of him.

Pain gives us an opportunity: We can either give into the darkness of our world, or we can lean into our God. It’s a familiar phrase, but Psalm 23 describes this well:

“He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:3–4 ESV).

It is for God’s namesake that he leads us—through the valleys, up the hills, and through the darkness into the light.

We must acknowledge that we don’t know where God is leading and trust him anyway. To do so, we must remember what he has originally revealed to us—through prayer, in discernment with other believers, and through the Bible. It’s important to count the promises of God and rehearse them regularly. We will learn to be in awe of him and through this we will learn wisdom (Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 1:2). This will naturally lead us to praise him more (compare Psalm 104:24).

3. In the Darkness, Praise the Light of the World

When we feel broken, there is nothing more sweet to our spirit than to sing a song of praise. God stands with us in the darkness—he is the light (compare Psalm 4:6; 13:3). Let us sing praises like the Psalmist:

“For it is you who light my lamp; the LORD my God lightens my darkness” (Psalm 18:28 ESV).

“The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1 ESV).

When we feel as if the path is clouded by the darkness, we must look to God like Israel did in the wilderness. God was a great fire in the darkness, leading Israel; he was physically in front of them as their beacon of hope (see Exodus 13:21).

God has already set a great light for humanity in his Son Jesus. Jesus once said:

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12 ESV).

Jesus has lit our lives up with his light; he has renewed our hearts, restoring us out of the darkness of this world and into relationship with God the Father (compare John 1:4–9; 3:16–17).

Although darkness may feel like it surrounds our path, the reality is that we are not truly in the darkness. Instead, we have the light of Jesus. It just feels as if we walk in the dark.

The journey of faith is often ambiguous, but the God we serve is not. True light is already there for us in Jesus—we simply have to look ahead to him.

We may not know precisely where Jesus is leading us, but we must remember who he is. We must trust him to be the light in the darkness.