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Struck Down But Not Defeated

Acts 16:5-15;   John 16:16-22

Our Lenten journey with Jesus continues – in two more weeks, on Palm Sunday, we’ll arrive to Jerusalem. Our Easter Cantata that Sunday will remind us of the welcoming, cheerful multitude along the main road.

Now, why are we walking with Jesus all the way into Jerusalem, a Hebrew name that literally means “house or city of peace”? Quite simply, to celebrate Passover with Jesus and his disciples – and many other Jews who went to the holy city to thank God for all God had done for them – specially how God had pulled them out of slavery in Egypt to bring them to a land they could now call home.

As you may remember, things did not go the way Jesus’s disciples might have expected – suddenly the welcoming crowd is gone, and their sinister enemies begin to harass them. Jesus’s hopes of a Jerusalem turnaround, now close to 0 –his heart is already broken.

That’s the kind of situation I dread so much – when everything seems about to collapse and even my best dreams have lost their power to keep me going. I’m sure you can relate to such a dreadful feeling.

Jesus’s somber words and images now speak of broken dreams, and even though they also seem to point out to a time of new beginnings, chances are, his disciples don’t seem to buy Jesus’s rainbow after the storm.

Jesus can feel their disappointment, so he reassures them — “You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.”


Some twenty-five years later, and not far from there, the apostle Paul would spiritually survive crisis after crisis because of those same reassuring words.

In the 16th chapter of the book of the Acts of the Apostles we read that Paul is setting sail for the city of Troas even though he doesn’t want to go there, for he believes he has nothing to do there. He had wanted to go in the opposite direction, to his native Asia Minor, to preach the gospel in familiar and welcoming places, where he had left a blooming church.

Like prophet Jonah before, Paul did not want to go where God was sending him, for he was totally convinced that the Macedonians were not ready for Christ. But after prayerful consideration, Paul obliged, so despite his obvious frustration, he sailed to Macedonia instead. And right there, in the least expected of all places, the very first congregation in Europe was born — Paul’s beloved church in Philippi, some 410 miles north-east from mighty Athens.

What can we learn from Paul’s reversal of fortunes? As much as we can learn from Jesus’s own reversal of fortunes during holy week –that we too can be raised from the ruins of our dreams a new self if we only trust that God’s direction for us is the best.


You know already how much I enjoy suntanning and practicing Spanish by the Riviera Maya, the Caribbean coast of Mexico. A few years ago, I saw a unique broken tree somewhere along the beach. It was a palm tree, so beautiful and elegant, more handsome than all the other trees around, yet it was a broken tree – perhaps broken by a tropical storm.

That tree, my friends, reminds me of Paul on his road to Macedonia — it also reminds me of Jesus on his Lenten Road to the holy city for his final Passover. But it also reminds me of how I feel when my best dreams and expectations seem to collapse for one reason or another.

That beautiful palm tree – broken as it was — also speaks to me like this – “Listen, Ariel, learn from me. For even though I have been struck down, I am not defeated.” Although that palm trip no longer had its regal height and shape, it had a new beauty all its own and the dignity of a surviving hero.

That is, precisely, what Jesus tries to share with his disciples a few days before entering the holy city when he told them, “Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take that away from you!”

And that’s precisely what Jesus wants to share with us today as we face our own broken, disappointing moments.

Brokenness, my friends, cannot stop beauty in palm trees neither in human beings, for God’s grace is always made perfect in our tribulations, as the apostle would once day tell  his beloved congregation in Corinth.

“Stand up, Paul; stand up, Ariel; stand up brothers and sisters whenever you may feel like a broken tree, for my grace is sufficient for you, for my grace is stronger and wiser than your weakness!”


Paul’s story in Philippi has a happy ending. There he finds Lydia, a unique woman – she sells very fine and expensive fabrics for ladies’ dresses, so she must be a fashionable and wealthy woman. But Lydia is also a very sensitive, caring, open-minded member of the newly born congregation in such a remote place. The unassuming Lydia will soon become a friend in the work of Christ and one of the greatest leaders there, that spot on the map where, according to Paul sometime earlier, people were not ready for Christ!

A few years later — perhaps a few days before his own death in the prison — Paul sends a letter to Lydia and the others in that church. He writes: “Always in every prayer of mine for you, I do thank God for each of you, for your partnership in the gospel from the very first day until now.” “And I hold you in my heart,” the apostle concludes.

What a superb lesson on how to deal with broken dreams and disappointments!


“A little while,” Jesus tells his disciples when they begin to realize the growing complications ahead and perhaps even the impending tragedy of the cross.

“You are going to fail, for sure, and you are going to come short of the glory of God when you don’t measure up, when you run for your lives and box yourselves in a close room with closed windows and doors and huddle together like a bunch of scaredy-cats.

“That day – Jesus goes on — you may look and feel like a broken tree, but just for a little while, for my grace will be made perfect in your tribulation, and when that happens, well, your pain and disappointments will be turned into joy.

I love Jesus’s closing metaphor:

“You will be sad [for some time], but your sadness will turn into gladness. When a woman is about to give birth, she is sad because of her hour of suffering has come; but when the baby is born, she forgets her suffering, because she is happy that a baby has been born into the world. That is how it [will be] with you: now you are sad, but I will see you again, and your hearts will be filled with gladness, the kind of gladness that no one can take away from you.”


Friends, let us pray in earnest that this Lenten journey with Jesus may help us see our own crosses in all their beauty, not only in all their ugliness.

For our crosses remind us, time and again, that God’s grace keeps getting better and stronger in our weakness.