Then I Looked

There is a recurring theme in the book of Revelation that you do not want to miss. The author will tell you about one thing that he sees or hears about. He will paint a picture, but then he will turn, and he will see something else. For example, in chapter 5, John hears that the lion of the tribe of Judah will take the scroll from the hand of God. But when John turns, he sees a lamb that appeared slain taking the scroll.

We see something like this at the beginning of chapter 14. Revelation 13 is a frightening chapter. There we see the dragon and the beast. We see the beast rise with the power of empire. And we see the mark of the beast, the 666 that has fascinated the world for so very long.

That mark indicates a name, though you will certainly hear much debate as to how that all works. The mark also apes the marking of the Lord. Back in chapter 7, God sealed people who belong to him, identifying them as his and under his protection.

Thus, another point behind that number of the beast is simply an identification that the people who hold that mark are identifiable as owned by the devil and by the rebellious, anti-God world system. Chapter 13 talks of people not being allowed to buy or sell without the mark. That, of course, reminds me of parts of our modern culture where people who do not mark themselves as standing with the world against the ways of the Lord are ostracized, ridiculed, or even fired for their refusal to applaud what God calls evil.

Chapter 13 ends ugly. It is scary. It looks like, with that beast and his mark, the devil is winning in the world. And then comes chapter 14.

Revelation 14:1 – Then I looked, and behold, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads.

Then John looked. As the scene got ugly, John turned, and God showed him something else, something deeper, something better. Yes the devil looked like he was winning. Yes, the devil looked like he had the world in the palm of his hand. But when John looked, he saw that the ugliness of sin was not the only thing to be seen.

Here in the beginning of chapter 14, John reminds us that God has sealed his own. The people of God bear the mark of the Lord. And even in the face of a corrupted, tainted, violent world system, the people of God are still able to stand with the Lamb. No matter how dark and how wicked the world gets, the Lord will not lose his own. And no matter how powerful it appears the beast gets, the Lord will not allow the world to finally fall to the enemy.

The world we live in right now can look ugly. Perhaps it will get worse. But the truth beneath it all is something we need to see from Revelation. You may look and see the messed-up system around you, but that is not the final truth. The final truth is that God knows his own. God marks his own. God keeps his own. And the Lord God will preserve his own. This world may hate us. It may even kill us. But God will keep us. The Lord Jesus will return. We will have, in Christ, victory and resurrection life. The evil will not win. The Savior will be victorious. And Jesus will reign with those who are marked as his own forever.

Do not let the darkness of this world make you lose hope. Even now, we still carry the gospel to the nations and watch our sovereign God make disciples. Even now, we stand in opposition to the world that marks itself as following anything but the word of God. Even now we call people to repent. Even now we push back the darkness. WE see victory. We see setbacks. And we live in true hope, true knowledge that, at the end of it all, Jesus will reign. So, yes, we see ugliness. But then we look, just like John did, and we see the Lord still standing and still holding firm to his own.

Advertisements

A Single Day of Change

How long does it take for the Lord to make a major change? We need to stop and consider that question from time to time. After all, we look at our world, and we are not always hopeful. We see the oncoming persecution and rejection we face, and we think there is just no way that things are going to get better.

While it is true that the Lord does not promise us anything like an easy life in the here and now, we also should not forget the fact that the Lord can accomplish world-changing moves in a single moment. The Lord can bring about great salvation and sudden destruction in a single day.

I thought of this concept when reading through Zechariah 3. Most Christians know this chapter of Zechariah because of its depiction of Joshua the high priest who stands accused by the devil. Joshua is given clean clothes and a clean turban by the Lord. And this reminds us of the work of Jesus to cleanse us before the Lord and to come to our defense against the devil who accuses us.

After Joshua gets his clean clothes and is clearly under the protection of the Lord, we read something else that is lovely to see.

Zechariah 3:8-10 – 8 Hear now, O Joshua the high priest, you and your friends who sit before you, for they are men who are a sign: behold, I will bring my servant the Branch. 9 For behold, on the stone that I have set before Joshua, on a single stone with seven eyes, I will engrave its inscription, declares the Lord of hosts, and I will remove the iniquity of this land in a single day. 10 In that day, declares the Lord of hosts, every one of you will invite his neighbor to come under his vine and under his fig tree.”

I see three things that I love to see this morning. There is a servant, the branch, who will come. He will remove iniquity in a single day. And the result of his coming will be life and joy.

The servant or the branch is a reference to the Messiah. While Zechariah presents something here that is pretty complicated with images, one thing is for sure: Jesus is coming. God’s servant, the branch of God, is going to arrive. As we find ourselves at the beginning of the advent season, we should remember how great was the longing and the hope of godly people that the Messiah would come. And we look forward to the second coming of Messiah as well.

Without trying to touch the imagery of the stone, we can still see the declaration of the Lord. In a single day, he will remove the iniquity of the land. In one day, the Lord will fix what generations of humanity could not get right. In a single hour, the Lord will set right what kings and priests could not do on their own. Yes, we saw in the Old Testament that the high priest would make atonement for the sin of the land on one special day of the year. But here, It looks like a greater, a more forever, atonement is being made. IN a moment, the world is changed. In a single act of grace, God is doing what man cannot do.

And the result in verse 10 is that those who are atoned for will have life and joy. These men sitting under their own vine and inviting others to come are people who have been blessed by God so that they can share that blessing with others.

This is our great hope. Jesus came. Jesus is the Messiah and the branch. Jesus, on a single day, made one and only one offering for sin. Jesus laid down his life to substitute for us in the judgment we should receive. Jesus took our place, bearing the wrath of God on our behalf, so that we could be forgiven. IN his perfect blood and imputed righteousness, Jesus cleanses us as we see symbolized in Joshua and his clean clothes.

In a single moment, Jesus changed the world. In a single hour, the one God had promised would come crushed the head of the serpent. In a single moment, Jesus took the wrath of God for us and bought for us eternal life. In a day, he took our iniquity.

And in that act, Jesus grants us the blessing of God. We are promised life. We are promised the rewards that God has for his children. We are promised adoption into God’s family. We are promised heaven. We are promised fellowship with God. We have greater than a vine to sit under with our neighbors; we are promised membership in the family of God and his holy church.

The Christian should see this passage represents God’s past faithfulness, as the Lord really did take away our iniquity in a single day in Christ. It represents God’s future faithfulness, as we look forward to the return of Christ when he will reign with his people forever. And it reminds us that God can change the world. It reminds us that God can do the impossible. In a single day, the Lord takes away sin, sets up reward, and shows us his glory. Let us find life and hope in this glorious word.

Hope in What is to Come

When people think of discussions of end times theology, we so often get bogged down in symbolism and timelines. What is the beast? What does that number mean? Are those years literal or figurative? Does this happen before that?

In my read through Isaiah, I found myself captivated by a passage that I think points us toward the reign of Messiah as King on earth. For sure, the things we see here are things that we should be pressing toward today as the church obeys the Lord’s command to have dominion on earth. And I think that these things are going to be perfectly seen at the return of the Lord.

Now, before we try to figure out if my eschatology or my present focus is right or wrong, how about we simply look at some promises that the Lord has made that we can find great joy in? IN fact, why not look at this and see what you find most joyful and hopeful for those who know the Lord?

Isaiah 32:1-5

1 Behold, a king will reign in righteousness,
and princes will rule in justice.
2 Each will be like a hiding place from the wind,
a shelter from the storm,
like streams of water in a dry place,
like the shade of a great rock in a weary land.
3 Then the eyes of those who see will not be closed,
and the ears of those who hear will give attention.
4 The heart of the hasty will understand and know,
and the tongue of the stammerers will hasten to speak distinctly.
5 The fool will no more be called noble,
nor the scoundrel said to be honorable.

Think about what we see in these 5 verses. A truly righteous king will reign with righteous princes under him. Any world in which politics is not the cesspool that we see today is a better world. And I think that the prince here is Messiah, an even better picture.

But also we see wonderful things . Blind eyes see. Deaf ears hear. Cluttered minds think clearly. Tongues that just can’t make words come out of dear little mouths are now free to speak and sing. This is a glorious world to come.

And we also see that fools and scoundrels are no longer seen as heroes. Instead, righteousness is honored and treasured. Folly is no longer worshipped. All this sounds like bad business for Hollywood and corrupt politicians, but it is great for a world in which we actually want to live.

The beauty is, we see these things when Jesus walked the earth. Jesus gave sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, clarity of mind to the oppressed, and speech to those who could not speak. Jesus showed us that he brings this glorious world. The church is to press toward that world. And the Lord promises us a day when Christ returns, and then the full joys of such a kingdom will be realized.

God often reminds us in his word to hope in heaven, to hope in the return of the Lord. Let’s not forget to do that on our day to day living. Let’s remember that Christ sets right the wrong of the world. Let’s remember that he is our glorious King. Let’s long for his return. Let’s rejoice in his promises. Let’s find that joy motivating to be a part of pushing back the darkness in our present world as we live for the one to come.

Hope When We Hurt

One of the flaws of modern church, modern worship, and much modern writing is that we have no category for pain. We will acknowledge, from a distance, that sometimes people hurt. But, in the main, when we think of the Christian life, it is often presented as a happy, successful, progressively better experience. As the sappy old hymn declares, Every day with Jesus is sweeter than the day before.”

But, is every day better than the last? Do we progress from happy to happy, from better to better, with seldom a bump in the road? This is not the real experience of many a Christian. So what do we do?

The book of Lamentations is one of those books we seldom see quoted. It is dark and tear-filled. Jeremiah the prophet has witnessed the destruction of the city of Jerusalem. He has wept over the brutality of the Babylonians as they came in and crushed Judah. And, in truth, there is little to offer comfort at present. The nation will be captive for 70 years, and nothing Jeremiah will do will change that.

Look at what Jeremiah writes, seeing both his sorrow and his hope.

Lamentations 3:19-26

19 Remember my affliction and my wanderings,
the wormwood and the gall!
20 My soul continually remembers it
and is bowed down within me.
21 But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:
22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
24 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.”
25 The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
to the soul who seeks him.
26 It is good that one should wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.

Jeremiah’s soul is bowed down. He hurts. He is grieving deeply. His heart is pumping the bitterest poison into his soul. What does he do? Does he pretend it is not there? Nope. Does he pretend every little thing is going to be just fine? Nope. Does he pretend that harshness and evil have not overtaken the land? Nope.

But Jeremiah finds hope in one truth: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”

Life hurts. God is still good. Our world can crumble. God is faithful. Our lives may fall apart. God will never leave us or forsake us. We may fail. God has new mercies.

Great is thy faithfulness only works when we see it in the light of our own dark, hurtful, overwhelmed world. Life hurts us deeply. Life pumps poison into our hearts from time to time. God is faithful. God cares. God knows.

In truth, in the Son of God, we know that he has experienced this. Jesus lived perfectly, and suffered greatly. He was mocked, ridiculed, persecuted, beaten, betrayed, and condemned. Jesus truly received in justice. And he knew his Father was still faithful. Even as he breathed his last, the Savior could say, “Into your hands I commit my spirit.”

You might take a moment to argue that this is not fair. Jesus knew that he would die and then rise again. And I would say to you, “Exactly!” If you are a believer, so will you. Your hope for comfort comes in two places. The mercies of the Lord and the sustaining power of his Spirit are with us now, renewed day by day. And we too will die and rise again in Christ. We too have eternal hope of eternal joy. Jeremiah says it is good for us to hope in and wait in the salvation of the Lord. It will come, in this life or the next. And that is our hope. We do not gain anything by pretending pain is not real. But we gain much by realizing that God is good, that God’s glory is eternal, that resurrection is our hope, and that we will see glory because of God’s great faithfulness.

Where Is Your Mind Stayed?

Anxiety, fear, even depression are common issues among modern people. One might think that with the rise of technology, the prevalence of medications, and the ubiquity of mental health language, we would be a people who are the happiest and healthiest ever. But, in truth, we as a society are as frightened and miserable as any generation before us.

The reasons for this are many. Modern psychologists have a faulty understanding of humanity. They miss the significance of what it means to be created by God or to sin against that God. They also miss the comforting concept of the presence of God, the Holy Spirit, or the promise of eternity. And so the psychological community continues to try to work people through exercises and medications to be able to limp into the future.

But the word of God is clear that there is something else that brings peace to the mind of a child of God. And it is not a modern, atheistic, psychological technique.

Isaiah 26:3

You keep him in perfect peace
whose mind is stayed on you,
because he trusts in you.

Who is in peace? The one kept by God is at peace. Why is she at peace? Her mind is stayed on the Lord. Why is he stayed on the Lord? He trusts in the Lord.

Friends, when our souls are not at peace, our first test needs to be one of where our minds are stayed. Where do you let your mind go? Where do you let your thoughts rest? Is your mind centered on the truth of the Lord and his promise of eternity? Or is your mind centered on the things you fear might come, the things you are afraid could happen?

Many people have told us not to borrow trouble from the future. Jesus himself warned us at the end of Matthew 6 that to worry about the future is a gentile activity. But those who truly consider the Lord and truly believe, they find their minds comforted and their hearts at peace.

Have your minds stayed on the Lord. Make the truth of God the center of your thoughts, and do not let your thoughts move away from that truth. This is where the rubber hits the road in dealing with anxiety. Is the Lord we claim to serve real? Is he capable? Is he good? Are his promises true? Do we understand that any earthly outcome is tolerable in the light of eternity? Do we understand that God will do perfect justice in his time? Do we understand that our light and momentary affliction builds up for us an eternal weight of glory to come (cf. 2 Cor 4:16-18)?

How do you keep your mind stayed on the Lord? There are lots of answers to that. But let’s simply suggest a few:

  1. Regularly spend time in the word of God so that your mind will be stayed on the Lord.
  2. Pray.
  3. Talk about the things of God with mature Christians who will direct your mind toward the Lord.
  4. Encourage younger believers to focus their lives on the glory of God, and this will focus you as well.
  5. Attend worship service and take part in the glorious opportunities we have to hear the word preached, to pray, to sing, to participate in Lord’s supper, and to encourage other believers.
  6. Cut out of your life worthless things that trap your mind in worldliness and fear.
  7. Intentionally force yourself to think eternal thoughts, thoughts of heaven and the return of Christ (cf. Col 3:1-4).

Only Eternity Helps

There are many promises made in Scripture, promises of the great care and kindness of God. We see promises that the Lord makes that his people will have life and good days. We see promises of healing and preservation.

But, what about the world we live in? We do not, in our world, always see the rescue that the Scripture promises. What then do we do?

If the Scripture promises us a rescue from God, but then we do not seem to experience that rescue, we have a couple of choices. Primarily, we can choose to believe that something is wrong with the Scripture, or something is wrong with our understanding. Since Scripture is the revelation of the Holy God, inspired, inerrant, true in all it intends to teach us, we ought not assume that the problem is in the word. And that leads us to measure our understanding of and interpretation of that word.

Take the words of David here as an example. Consider what appears to be said. And then consider what we really must take from the text.

Psalm 34:19-22

19 Many are the afflictions of the righteous,
but the Lord delivers him out of them all.
20 He keeps all his bones;
not one of them is broken.
21 Affliction will slay the wicked,
and those who hate the righteous will be condemned.
22 The Lord redeems the life of his servants;
none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.

Take this first on the surface without attempting to consider context or reality. It looks like the Psalm is promising us safety in all circumstances. God will not let the bad guys get us. God will not let our bones be broken. God will judge the wicked and rescue the children of God.

But, is that the experience of folks living in a fallen world? No, it is not. Pain crosses the path of the evil and of those who seem to follow the Lord. In many countries, Christians are brutally persecuted. Their bones are surely broken, and often their lives are forfeit. And it looks like the bad guys are getting away with everything.

One side note on the interpretation of this text, by the way, is that it prophesies Jesus. He had none of his bones broken. John noticed this and highlighted it for us in John 20:36. But we cannot say that Jesus did not suffer. What we find out is that, though Jesus died as a sacrifice for the sins of others, Jesus rose from the grave and lives eternally. His eternity of glory is the rescue that the Psalmist was writing of.

And for Christians living in a hard world, the concept of rescue in eternity is the key to dealing with these promises. If we do not have forever, if this life is all there is, then it looks like something is untrue in the promises of Scripture. But if we have forever, if we will live again after we die, if there is an eternity on the other side of this life, we can see the promises intact. How are we redeemed and kept from harm? In Christ, we are preserved. None of Christ’s bones were broken. In Christ, when we are raised from the dead, we will apply that text to ourselves, knowing that we live because of Christ. WE will see that, even if we die at the hands of evil men bent on persecution, we were not eternally harmed.

Christians, the Lord delivers us out of all afflictions. That does not mean that he keeps us from harm or death. Instead, it means something far better. He preserves us eternally. In Christ, he forgives us, keeps us, and brings us a resurrection. That resurrection will be to perfection, an eternity of joy without any sort of failing or sin. How can we know this will be ours? The fact that God raised Jesus from the dead is one piece of evidence. The presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer is another evidence. Our hope is not in comfort and protection in this life. Our hope is in the promise of eternity. That is Christian hope. And that hope helps us to see that all of God’s promises in his word will come to pass, even if this world is hard.

God Works Out Circumstances From Both Sides

When you and I have problems in our lives that we desire the Lord to help us through, often we fail to have faith in what God can do. We only see the problem from our own point of view, and our understanding is terribly limited. We fail, especially when we do not remember what the Lord might be doing on the other side of our situation, the side we cannot see.

This thought hit me when thinking about the anointing of Saul as king over Israel. If you know the story, you know that Israel sinned against the Lord in their desire for a king. But God told Samuel the prophet that he would give them what they asked for. In truth, God will give Israel exactly the kind of king they wanted, handsome, tall, and strong. Of course, Israel did not ask for a godly king, and they would not get one in Saul.

The way that God brings Saul and Samuel together is what fascinates me. Saul’s father lost some donkeys. Saul and a friend when out looking for the animals. But they did not know that God was using those circumstances to bring them to the prophet, Samuel.

1 Samuel 9:15-17 – 15 Now the day before Saul came, the Lord had revealed to Samuel: 16 “Tomorrow about this time I will send to you a man from the land of Benjamin, and you shall anoint him to be prince over my people Israel. He shall save my people from the hand of the Philistines. For I have seen my people, because their cry has come to me.” 17 When Samuel saw Saul, the Lord told him, “Here is the man of whom I spoke to you! He it is who shall restrain my people.”

Samuel, for his part, was told by God to expect to meet Saul on a particular day in a particular town. ?And the Lord made it happen.

Here is where we might find encouragement. God was working on both sides of the issue to bring Samuel and Saul together at just the right place and in just the right time. God told Samuel that Saul would come to him. All Saul was doing was looking for donkeys, but God was moving in Samuel’s life to prepare to anoint Saul as king.

Consider when you pray for something like the salvation of a lost friend or a need that you deeply desire to have met. Do you remember that God is working on the side of the problem you cannot see? Do you remember that, while you are hunting down your lost donkeys, God might be moving someone into place to meet you and change your world? Do you remember that, when you want to witness to someone, the Lord might be doing things in their heart that you cannot see and may never learn about until eternity?

Friends, we should remember that our God is sovereign. God moves in ways we cannot imagine. He can move people’s circumstances to put them right where he wants them, even when we have no idea what he is doing. Let us trust the Lord. Let us pray in faith. Let us remember that God works out problems from more than one side.