O God, whose Son Jesus is the good shepherd of your people: Grant that when we hear his voice we may know him who calls us each by name, and follow where he leads; who, with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
A Great Multitude from Every Nation
9 After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands,
- Note that in v 4 he said “I heard” and here he says “I looked”.
- This is the same crowd – the 144,000 and the crowd that cannot be counted.
- This is all believers of all times from all places. Abraham was called the father of all those who believe. Romans 4:16
- What was the prophecy that the church would be as numerous as the stars and grains of sand? Genesis 22:17
- The children of Abraham are not those by blood, but by the promise. Look at the Magi – when they arrived they said, “this is the king” – they worshiped him by faith.
- Those who were out at the river with John the Baptist, when he said “behold the lamb of God” – true Israel were those who said Amen!
- Look where the church is – before the throne, this is in the presence of God and before the Lamb.
- In ch 6 we saw the enemies of God fleeing from God. What did Adam & Eve do? They hid themselves. This is what the guilty conscience does.
- Clothed in white = purity that was received from the Lamb.
- Palm branches – our first thoughts should be to Palm Sunday & Holy Week. The hosanna of Palm Sunday was stated as an accomplished fact.
- Note how this continually recycles the history of God’s people (recapitulation).
- Where else have we seen palm branches? Exodus, the feast of tabernacles / booths – the waving of the palm branches and singing Psalm 118.
- Now in Rev7 the church celebrates her exodus through the Lord’s death as the paschal lamb – the church celebrates her deliverance, her salvation, or perhaps we should use the phrase, her forever more shelter in God’s presence.
- This is the point – the victory has been won, we are in the presence of the Lord, we have been sealed. We are safe, we can stand on that last day and we can endure the wrath of God against all unbelief and sin.
- So, the question “who can stand?” has been properly answered – those who believe in Christ. This is what leads to the proclamation we will see in verse 10.
10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
- This is the same worshipping church we saw in chapters 4&5 – just from a different perspective and John tells it from a different “camera” angle.
- Salvation does not belong to us but to God. We receive his salvation – Psalm 95:1-2. Think back to Mt Sinai and the Exodus – what was the purpose?
- To be in his presence and to worship him. Remember, this is still answering the question in Rev 6:17 during God’s wrath, who can stand? We can in God’s mercy.
- What is salvation? We can look at it in 3 parts
- Deliverance from sin, death, Satan and all evils of body and soul that go with it.
- In Rev 6&7 – you are secure, safe and protected from God’s wrath – this is the language of refuge. Please note that this is the refuge from God’s wrath versus what we see quite often, a denial of God’s wrath.
- There is a restoration – you are restored to life’s fullness and this includes a restoration of relationship – of a broken relationship between you and God and between you and everyone in this life and those in your life..
- Deliverance – Security – Restoration
11 And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God,
- The church is not alone – here we have angels.’
- Now what we see here in Rev 7 is what is happening when you come to the Divine Worship Service – this is what Hebrews 12:22-24 speaks of.
- There are not 2 churches, one in heaven and one on earth – no, there is one joyful assembly. Wherever Christ is giving out his gifts with all his angels.
- What we see in Rev 7 is not some other worldly scene; it is not something out of Fantasia. It is not some story – what is revealed is true – invisible, but true.
12 saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”
- Here we have the 7 fold worship to our God. The Greek contains the definite article before each; (1) The Blessing (2) The Glory (3) The Wisdom (4) The Thanksgiving (5) The Honor (6) The Power (7) The Might.
- This may also be called the 7 fold ascription of praise – the praise of 7 = completeness.
- When John places the definite article in front of each, what is the point? If there is to be any blessing etc, it is going to come from God – as salvation is only from God.
- Note that the praise is bookend by the Amen = which means Truth! This is very similar to when Jesus would say “Truly, truly.” He is saying Amen & Amen.
- 11&12 complete the report of worship begun in 6:9-11- beginning with the lamentation “how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?”
- Then we see here that the church has given her own answer Rev 7:9-12.
“But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he asked that he might die, saying, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.”And he lay down and slept under a broom tree. And behold, an angel touched him and said to him, “Arise and eat.”And he looked, and behold, there was at his head a cake baked on hot stones and a jar of water. And he ate and drank and lay down again.And the angel of the Lord came again a second time and touched him and said, “Arise and eat, for the journey is too great for you.”And he arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mount of God.
There he came to a cave and lodged in it. And behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and he said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”He said, “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.”And he said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake.And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper.And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”He said, “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.”And the Lord said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus. And when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael to be king over Syria.And Jehu the son of Nimshi you shall anoint to be king over Israel, and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah you shall anoint to be prophet in your place.And the one who escapes from the sword of Hazael shall Jehu put to death, and the one who escapes from the sword of Jehu shall Elisha put to death.Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.””
(1 Kings 19:4–18 ESV)
My favorite character in the OT Scriptures has to be Elijah.
He was pious and sarcastic and called down fire.
My kind of guy.
He was also honest to God…he didn’t hold back on how he felt.
He also is the author of my current “life verse”.
“It is enough”.
The translation should be “I’ve had enough”.
In this passage, he’s done…he’s forgotten all of the exploits that God empowered him to do and he’s emotionally, physically, and spiritually exhausted.
The government and the church are both corrupt and he feels all alone.
A lot of people don’t like him and some would do him harm.
He tried to be “better than his fathers” and he thinks he’s failed at that too.
When you’ve tapped all your wells dry, everything tastes like ash in your mouth.
The pious among us would chastise him for his self pity…they usually don’t attempt to do anything but commentary on others anyway…
What I want to do this morning is look at how God handled this exhausted child of His…so some of us with ash in our mouths can find refreshment as well.
First, I want you to note that God was with him, even though Elijah was too taken up with his stress to notice.
He’s with you and me, as well…
Second, God let him sleep.
There’s only one cure for any type of exhaustion…go and do likewise. The problems will still be there when you wake up.
Third, God fed him.
Seems basic…food and sleep…except for those who neglect both…
Fourth, God didn’t rush him.
“And behold, an angel touched him and said to him, “Arise and eat.”And he looked, and behold, there was at his head a cake baked on hot stones and a jar of water. And he ate and drank and lay down again.And the angel of the Lord came again a second time and touched him and said, “Arise and eat, for the journey is too great for you.”
Elijah needed another nap and more food…it takes time to recover.
Give yourself that time…
Fifth, God understood how difficult the situation was.
“the journey is too great for you.”
It is for us at times too…
Sixth, God let Him vent.
Elijah needed to pour his frustrations and fears out on somebody…and God is the best somebody there is.
Tell Him where it hurts and what you’re mad about…He can handle it.
Seventh, God didn’t rebuke him.
When you’re poured out and worn out, God understands, even if the people you poured out for, don’t.
Eighth, only when Elijah was rested, fed, and had expressed all his angst did God begin to change his perspective.
It’s hard to hear God when all your systems are shutting down…take the time to heal.
Ninth, God was in the whisper, not the noise.
It’s almost impossible to hear God when the noise inside and outside your head is so loud.
You’ll hear Him when you separate out from it and care for yourself.
Tenth and finally, God assured Elijah that he wasn’t alone.
Not only was God with him, but there was a remnant of family that loved God and each other…and that is true to this day.
You’re not alone and God isn’t done with you…now go get some rest and get ready for the rest of the journey.
Make your own application…
“A Psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son.
“1 O Lord, how many are my foes!
Many are rising against me;
2 many are saying of my soul,
‘There is no salvation for him in God.’ Selah”
In Part 1, we read that Christians, following the pattern of David and Jesus, encounter many types of foes in this life, who rise against us in all sorts of ways through violence, derision, disease and through the flesh in temptations to sin. The chief danger from all of them is to separate us from faith in Christ.
“3 But you, O Lord, are a shield about me,
my glory, and the lifter of my head.
4 I cried aloud to the Lord,
and he answered me from his holy hill. Selah”
In the First Commandment, “You shall have no other gods,” the Lord reserves that place in our lives for himself alone, and promises to be our shield, our glory and the lifter of our head.
In Part 1, we examined how Christ acts as our shield, as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. This week, we continue in verse 3:
“my glory, and the lifter of my head.”
David had “glory” (YLT: “honor”), but not a glory recognized by his enemies. His enemies gloried in their numbers, their physical strength and/or their wealth. Of Absalom it is written: “Now in all Israel there was no one so much to be praised for his handsome appearance as Absalom. From the sole of his foot to the crown of his head there was no blemish in him.” (2 Sam 14:25) In summary, David’s foes gloried in appearances.
Jesus’ enemies gloried in the splendor of the temple. Even Jesus’ disciples were captivated by the glorious temple: “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” (Mark 13:1) By appearances, the temple worship and those who ruled over it were glorious.
However, the glory which comes by appearances or by human counsels or wisdom, which is bestowed by men on other men, is illusory: “Truly no man can ransom another, or give to God the price of his life” (Ps 49:7). So there must be a different and better glory bestowed by God on man that surpasses all human glory, and which is steadfast and trustworthy, because it is founded on the Word of God.
Through the Word of God by the prophets:
- David was anointed king of Israel (1 Sam 16:12);
- David was forgiven his sins against Bathsheba and Uriah (2 Sam 12:13); see, also, Psalm 32:5: “I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,’ and you forgave the iniquity of my sin”; and
- Solomon was given a second name, “Jedidiah” (2 Sam 12:25), which means “beloved of the Lord ”
Therefore, David’s glory came through faith in the Word of God. When caught between the apparent glory of his enemies and the hidden glory that comes through the Word of God, David gloried in God’s Word.
Similarly, even Jesus did not glorify himself (although He had every right to), but as the only begotten Son of the Father who came in the name of His Father (John 5:43) to do the work given Him by the Father (John 5:36), Jesus likewise was glorified by the Father: “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ ” (John 8:54)
As Christians, we too receive glory which comes from God. It is an invisible glory to the world. Our glory does not come from human counsels, earthly riches or power, or on account of our own virtue, but by the grace of God and the righteousness of faith in Christ, as it is written: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor 5:21) Because it comes from God and not from man, our enemies cannot rob us of our glory in Christ.
(Here is the glory of the Christian: To hear and believe your heavenly Father’s announcement that Christ died for your sins and for His sake your Father forgives you all your sins, adopts you into His family and promises you eternal life!)
“my glory, and the lifter of my head.”
Absalom exalted himself (i.e., lifted his head) to kingship. Many people, trusting in appearances, joined him, including David’s trusted counselor, Ahithophel (2 Sam 15:12). Similarly, the Jewish leaders lifted their heads against Jesus. But as it is written in Psalm 2: “He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision.” (Ps 2:4)
Thus it is the Lord alone who is the “lifter of [our] head.” As it is written: “even when we were dead in our trespasses, [He] made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:5-6). Our Father exalts us in Christ!
“I cried aloud to the Lord, and he answered me from his holy hill. Selah”
David here changes from addressing the Lord in the second person, to addressing us concerning the Lord: that he cried aloud to Him; and that the Lord answered David.
David did not know when the Lord would answer or what that answer might be. David simply kept the First Commandment – You, Lord, are my only God; I now cry to you to be my help. Be a shield about me, my glory and the lifter of my head.
The Lord answered David’s cry in a very particular way. When Absalom, after having entered Jerusalem, had been given two conflicting pieces of advice regarding how to finish off David, the Lord caused Absalom and his men to take the wrong advice: “For the Lord had ordained to defeat the good counsel of Ahithophel, so that the Lord might bring harm upon Absalom.” (2 Sam 17:14)
And Jesus’ cry to the Lord is recorded in Psalm 22. God answered His prayer by raising Jesus from the dead.
We too are privileged to cry aloud to the Lord in our times of need, and He promises to be our God. Jesus has commanded us to pray and has given us the Psalms, the Lord’s Prayer and virtually the whole of Scripture to use as salutary prayer language. Prayer deepens our relationship with God and serves as confirmation that our faith is alive and active. May our Father grant us the Spirit of prayer; in Christ’s name; Amen.
Next week we will pick up Psalm 3 at verse 5 where the Lord’s sustaining care overcomes death. Amen.
I have cut back from my regular writing here over the past few months. Thus, you all have been spared of any articles about the Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles. However, today that comes to a precipitous end. Oh, and let me repeat that phrase again for my own amusement and edification….. Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles. (Sorry about your Vikings, Michael.) 🙂
A little over two months ago, the Eagles won their very first Super Bowl title in one of the most entertaining games in Super Bowl history. For me personally, it ended 58 years of pent up frustration and despair……. even as I am only 41 years old. (The Eagles last won a NFL championship in 1960, which pre-dated the existence of the Super Bowl). I was so glad and relieved to see the football team I had been cheering for my entire life finally win it all. I joined many millions of other Philadelphians and Eagles fans in their joy.
Moreover, there was another aspect that made cheering for this team all the more enjoyable. There are many professing Christians on the team, significantly more than there usually seems to be on a professional sports team. I am not one to think that a team is more favored by God to win or that it is morally superior to cheer for such a team because of this. But there does seem to be an extra level of delight cheering for a bunch of guys who I can identify as brothers in Christ and seeing them succeed and experience the joys of winning. Even more, it is encouraging to see many of them openly speak of their faith and acknowledge and give gratitude to God in their successes.
Which brings me to this quandary: A few weeks ago it was announced that a group of Philadelphia Eagle players would be sharing their faith from the stage at an arranged event. It is going to be held at the church I attend, but is being organized and hosted by another ministry. I imagine the church is being used, at the very least, for its ability to accommodate a few thousand people in its auditorium.
The instant and pretty much universal reaction of those around me was one of glee and jubilation. I, however, in spite of my great Philadelphia Eagles fandom, had some mixed feelings. As much as part of me would love to attend a live event where a bunch of my favorite players were speaking about their Christian faith, I did have some reservations.
First, I am not comfortable with the hero worship or borderline hero worship that Christian celebrities sometimes receive. I already had been a bit uncomfortable in the way that some of my fellow Christian Philadelphia Eagle fans talked about and glorified these players and seemingly put them on a pedestal. If I actually were to go to the event, I was concerned I ostensibly would be surrounded by such excessive adoration and figuratively drowned in it.
Second, again as much as I would love hear from some Christian brothers on the Eagles, I began to think about what potentially would be more meaningful or impactful. Would I glean something of greater importance or impact from a group of football players or a group of pastors or theologians who are far more trained and studied in the Word and in sharing the faith? I am not saying that the football players know nothing or that it is improper for them to speak, but you can recognize the difference. Or even setting aside the study and training part, what about the difference between a group of people, who are living an at least relatively charmed life, versus a person or people who are keeping their faith amongst great hardship or struggles? Again, I’m not saying you can’t get anything of importance from someone living a charmed life, but the contrast was something to ponder. If I’m going to make the extra time and effort to go to a speaking event, which one may be of greatest benefit?
Third, there is a roster of seven players speaking at this event but there are two players whose absences are suspicious, at least to me. There are at least two professed Christians on the Super Bowl team who have previously participated in the anthem protests and have also publicly stated that they will not visit the White House when the team is invited to do so, as typically happens with Super Bowl winning teams. The actions of these two Christian players likely would not be appealing to the audience that this event is being promoted to. Now, there are more than just nine Christians total on the Eagles and so there are others who also won’t be speaking and there could be totally justifiable reasons or just coincidences as to why these two particular players are not on the speaking roster. But my cynical side does wonder.
Fourth, and lastly, is a factor I didn’t even initially recognize. Later on, when I found out that all the tickets had been snapped up for this event within hours of it being announced, I came to find out that the tickets had cost $20 each. Additionally, when all the tickets were gone, an additional announcement was made along with much continuing promotion that streaming licenses for the event could be purchased for $20 a piece. Now I had my biggest reservation. You can do the math for yourself, just as I did in that moment, but it can be seen that $20 tickets for an auditorium that can seat a few thousand, plus additionally purchased streaming licenses will result in some pretty significant revenues. At the very least, it was noted that 10% of the revenues from the streaming licenses would go to a charity of the players’ choice. I had not seen any such notification in regards to the original tickets.
So I contacted the ministry that is organizing and hosting the event. I explained that I was a big Eagles fan and was thrilled by their Super Bowl win and was also appreciative that there are so many Christians on the team, many of whom are seemingly quite willing to share their faith. But I said I also had some honest curiosities as to where are the all the revenues were going for such an event which essentially amounted to a group of Christians sharing about their faith in a church setting. I granted that each player should receive some kind of speaking honorarium and imagined that travel costs would be reasonably covered where applicable. Besides those things, however, I asked as respectfully as I could as to where was all the money going? I received no response. I followed up a couple weeks later and again received no response.
Now, it is not necessarily my right or responsibility to know where the money is going for such an event. But I have had dozens of people talk to me personally about this event and every single one of them is more than thrilled about it. I have seen dozens and dozens of comments about the event on Facebook as ads for it keep popping up on my feed, and every single commenter is seemingly just as elated. Some of the commenters even being my Facebook friends. Out of all of these communications I have had personally or seen online, I have not come across one other person who has conveyed even the slightest question, reservation, or concern in any form or fashion about the cost or any other aspect of the event. Every single person is seemingly just so pumped up about it, with nary any other considerations.
Taking all these things into account, I am not saying that this is a terrible event. There are many good things about it. But as I observe the culture around me, I wonder where our priorities are? We are so quick to shell out $20 individually that will collectively result in tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands in revenues, to hear a group of idolized football players talk about their faith without the slightest reservation. We fall all over ourselves to hear a celebrity speak about the Christian faith, but would hardly even give a second thought to go out of our way to hear some “regular joe” theologian or pastor speak. Or maybe in some cases it is the theologian or pastor or the theology that we idolize and our exuberance blinds us to the harm that we sometimes cause others. At other times yet, it may be an idolization of making God conform to our own standards and the disregard of biblical truth that gets us in trouble. We can be pretty adept at seizing good things and taking them to unhealthy and harmful excesses.
I love my Philadelphia Eagles and I’m glad the team has many Christians on it, many who are willing to speak of their faith. But I’m sometimes not so crazy about the culture that accompanies the whole situation. Lord, help me to not be cynical where I should not, but also help your people to honor you in their priorities. We fail more than enough in these regards and we could use your guidance and wisdom to help keep us straight.
Big thanks to EricL for the link help…support him at top right.
The eight o’clock service was over. I had gotten a cup of coffee and went into my office when the telephone rang. It was a familiar voice on the other end of the line. But the words that were spoken suddenly became abstract, almost incomprehensible. “Stephen is dead.” Silence and a few mumbled responses finished the conversation and I set the telephone down.
Stephen is dead. I had known Stephen in the university where I was last employed. We weren’t old friends, but we were good friends. A year and a half before his death, he discovered that he had AIDS. This was in the days before “the cocktail”. He never spoke of how the disease had been transmitted and I never asked. I cannot tell you whether Stephen was gay or straight, or whether he had received a tainted blood transfusion, or what happened. What I can tell you about Stephen is this: he was an athletic and handsome man of about thirty-five; he was at church every week; he took his degrees at Northwestern and at Oxford; he taught in the English department and we shared a love of poetry. He had a keen sense of humor and he took very good care of his elderly parents. He had a steady girlfriend named Christine. He was my friend and now he was gone.
Desolation. Weeping. Despair. It is often the reaction to loss. Ezekiel, the prophet, stands overlooking a valley – not a lush, green valley with a gently flowing stream which we might see in our mind’s eye – but a desolate, dry and barren valley where practically nothing lives. On the floor of the valley are human bones, perhaps the remains of soldiers who had been slaughtered in some terrible ancient battle and had been left unburied. Dry bones on every side. Carrion perched on nearby rocks and the sun beating mercilessly down. That is the kind of vista which Ezekiel sees. It is a scene symbolic of the nation Israel now in exile. It is a vision of utter desolation and of terrible hopelessness.
Mourning. Recriminations. Anger. Lazarus is dead and his sisters, Mary and Martha, are beside themselves. This young man, who was obviously the life of the household and a friend to so very many, including Our Lord and His disciples, is gone. As was the custom, Lazarus is placed in the tomb on the day of his death, professional mourners are hired for a week and the high-pitched Middle Eastern sound of wailing is heard throughout the village. Our Lord, having arrived late, is met by the veiled reproach of Martha, “Lord, if you had been here earlier, my brother would not have died.”
The question comes naturally to the participants in both situations: Where is God in the midst of death and the loss of hope?
That question is ours as well.
In the valley of desolation, Ezekiel hears a voice: “Son of man, can these bones live?” In other words, “Do you think it’s possible for these dry bones to become living, breathing human beings again?” The prophet is a little dumbfounded. He replies, “Lord, only you know the answer to that.” Ezekiel is told to prophesy to those dry bones, that is, to share a word of life in the midst of death. I can only imagine that Ezekiel must have felt somewhat foolish, but he started. In a modern translation this is his sermon:
O dry bones, listen to the Word of God, for the Lord God says, ‘See I am going to make you live and breathe again! I will place flesh and the muscle on you and cover you, and I will put breath into you and you shall live and know that I am the Lord.’
Something very mysterious begins to happen. There is a rattling noise all across the valley and the bones of each body start moving and joining themselves together. As the bones connect they are covered with muscle and flesh. Suddenly, the four winds come and breathe new life into the bodies and they once again become a great army.
The message to the prophet, and to us as well, is that there is so such thing as a hopeless situation… even for a defeated and scattered nation in exile. Even for a diminished and scattered Church in exile…
We see it again in the story of Lazarus. Our Lord comes late into a hopeless situation. The sisters are completely overcome with grief. The process of grieving is played out in full. There are harsh words, anger, bargaining and resignation. These are people like us. Yet somehow there is also a sense that now that Christ is among them, something remarkable might happen. It does. First, however, Jesus weeps with the family and shares their grief. Then, He does something more. Against strident and practical objections, He orders the stone to be moved away from the grave of Lazarus and shouts the command, “Come forth.” And again, almost as in the vision of Ezekiel, the dead man rises from the tomb and comes into the light of day.
For us as individuals, for us as the Church, God enters our places of despair and brings hope. In our places of death and grief, He brings life and joy. “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.”
All of us have times of desolation, of loss, of discouragement. None of us are exempt. We all share the “human condition”. Sometimes we need to be reminded of God’s presence in the shadows and dark places of our lives which we all experience.
Often, like Mary, the sister of Lazarus, we simply believe that there is little to be done in an already hopeless situation. After all, Lazarus was dead and in the tomb for four days. According to Jewish lore, his spirit had departed after the third day. Although they believed Jesus to be the Messiah, He had simply arrived too late to do anything. The tragic situation was beyond remedy.
Beyond remedy – like the career that has crashed and burned… like the marriage that has failed… like the medical diagnosis at the last examination… like the child who has broken our heart. Beyond remedy… and God seems distant.
Even worse, why did God let this happen to us? When Martha says, “Lord, if only you had been here earlier, my brother would not have died”, we understand her frustration. As Eric Berne has written, many people spend much of their lives playing the game of “If only…”
“If only my parents had been different. If only I had been born someplace else. If only I were rich. If only I were married. If only I were not married. If only I didn’t live here. If only I could get that other job. If only, if only, if only. If only somehow I could get all the circumstantial furniture of my life and my past arranges in just the right way… then things would turn out right.”
Christ, however, comes to us in the reality of the “now”. He comes to us where we are. He weeps with us in our sorrow, He nails the “if only’s” of our yesterdays to the Cross and in the face of despair and death promises us resurrection and new life. You see, the death of our dreams, or the death of our bodies, is not the end, for death has been swallowed up in life… His life.
Some, however, know this better than others.
The last time I saw Stephen was in the Autumn of the year. He was obviously very ill. He looked as though he had aged thirty years in a matter of months. His skin, scarred by lesions, hung loose upon his frame, but his eyes, now set very deep, still sparkled. We sat and talked, not about his illness, for that would not have been like Stephen, but about the English poet and priest, John Donne. Stephen must have sensed how upset I was to see him so ill. I turned to leave the room having said what I almost certainly knew would be a final farewell. As I reached for the door, Stephen called me from his chair and said, “He was right, you know.” I turned and said, “What do you mean?” “John Donne,” he replied, “he was right”. From memory he then recited some familiar lines, with a half-smile as though he knew something that I could only guess at…
Death, be not proud,
Though some have called Thee mighty and dreadful,
For thou art not so,
For those, whom Thou think’st Thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poor death…
One short sleep passed, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more.
Death, thou shalt die…
You really do kid only yourselves if you think you can be an orthodox Christian and be at the same time cool enough and hip enough to cut it in the wider world.
Frankly, in a couple of years it will not matter how much urban ink you sport, how much fair trade coffee you drink, how many craft brews you can name, how much urban gibberish you spout, how many art house movies you can find that redeemer figure in, and how much money you divert from gospel preaching to social justice: maintaining biblical sexual ethics will be the equivalent in our culture of being a white supremacist.” Carl Trueman
2. We bombed Syria. Time for another round of “prophecy updates”… I wonder if the “prophecy updaters” just recycle what was wrong the last time the countries in the news clashed?
3. The reason “prophecy updates’ draw a crowd is that some Christians are bored with the kingdom and the Gospel…if they were ever interested in the first place…
4. The only way to believe that things are worse than they’ve ever been is to refuse to read or hear any history from any other era…
5. The only things you can post on social media without getting a political response are cat pictures…I may post nothing else from now on…
6. If you decide that one attribute of God is His primary attribute, the rest of your theology will inevitably mirror that choice…
7. “But of this you can be sure. Whenever you find tears in your eyes, especially unexpected tears, it is well to pay the closest attention. They are not only telling you something about the secret of who you are, but more often than not God is speaking to you through them of the mystery of where you have come from and is summoning you to where, if your soul is to be saved, you should go to next.” Frederick Buechner
8. A lot of people think Buechner is a heretic…which makes me like him all the more…
9. The difference between my online and offline personas is a shameful thing…it’s easy to be pious when people aren’t involved. I should seek to be the person I pretend to be online…some of you need to reverse that order…
10. I wonder if I’m insensitive because I’ve never had even the slightest confusion about my gender…