Psalm 130:4; 1 Corinthians 15:20; Ephesians 2:4 and more
Last night in my sermon for our midweek Lenten service, I said to the congregation, “There is a really big “but” (B U T) in this Psalm. That of course drew some laughter. Everyone was chuckling at what they saw as a play on words. Someone even suggested that this might make a great title for a book – “The ‘Buts” of the Bible. All kidding aside though, I was serious. The little word “but” can often be one of the most important words in many texts… one worth paying attention to.
Now I know that in life, the use of the word “but” often means that bad news is coming. People start out saying nice things about us. Then they say “but” and we know the bad news is coming. “We have really enjoyed having you work here for 20 years BUT we are ending your position.” “Honey, I know we have been great kids, a wonderful family, BUT I don’t love you anymore. I want a divorce.” “Well the tests all turned out well. You don’t have a thyroid problem. BUT we found something else. You have cancer.” You can probably add your own “but” story. In life the word “but” often means someone is about to tell you something unpleasant… something you probably won’t enjoy hearing.
With God it’s just the opposite. 99% of the time the use of the word “but” in Scripture that good news is about to come. Take the text I preached on last night – Psalm 130. In verse 2 the Psalmist writes, “If You, O LORD, kept a record of sins, O LORD, who could stand?” That is so true. If God is keeping a record of our failings. If we are to be judged on that record – on the things we have thought, said or done – we are in trouble. We are sunk. We might as well give up now – because that list is a long one for each of us. Thank God the Psalmist doesn’t stop there. He has good news for us. There is a big “but” in this text. “If You, O LORD, kept a record of sins, O LORD, who could stand? BUT there is forgiveness with You. Therefore You are feared.” What a relief! What a joy! God forgives. “As far as the east is from the west so far does He remove our transgressions from us.” “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
Or there is Ephesians 2. The news at the beginning is all bad. Paul is not glossing over our sinful condition. “As for you, you were dead in your trespasses and sins…” We were already dead. The battle has been lost. What hope is there? Then comes verse 4 and another big “but.” “BUT God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—
One of my favorite “buts” in the Bible is in 1 Corinthians 15. Once again, Paul starts out with a gloomy assessment of our predicament because of sin. He describes exactly what it would mean for you and me if Easter didn’t happen. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. Once again, on our own, without Easter, because of our sin – we would be sunk! Then comes the “but” in verse 20. BUT in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. Easter did happen. Christ has been raised! Praise God.
That little word “but” is so very important. In that little word, in each of these verses, is summed up the whole meaning of Christ’s death and resurrection. Jesus – his birth, his life, his sacrifices for our sins, His Easter victory over the grave is God’s “But” to sin and death.
My point is this. There are times when guilt weighs down… when fear rules our life… when worry and anxiety takes hold… when all you see is gloom and doom. At those moments pay attention to the all important “but.” What God has done in Christ changes everything. In Jesus God has said “but” to all the troubles us. He has said “but” there is hope in Jesus. Amen.