They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.
- Acts 2:42-45
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
- John 13:34-35
You say, 'I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.' But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.
- Revelation 3:17
Today’s North American church has become utterly unrecognizable by biblical standards. Is it any wonder that we can’t persuade our neighbours to cease calling us evil, let alone listen to our message?
I implicate myself here as well, but where is the love for our Christian brother or sister? Not the sort of love that is characterized by emotional outpourings on Sunday morning, but rather that which is grounded in action and sacrifice? How often do we encounter someone in our church community who is struggling financially, and meet that need with prayer alone, or even (more cynically still) an empty promise to pray?
Where are our priorities? Where is our faith? Have we trusted our finances with God, or have we sprinkled a little biblical wisdom into the handling of our financial portfolios? Do we drop a manageable cheque into our respective collection plates and satisfy ourselves thereafter that our duty is fulfilled, and that while the family who sits next to us is out of work, staggering towards bankruptcy? How much of your church’s finances are dedicated to meeting the needs of its congregants, let alone the wider community? 10%? 5%? 0%?
We pray four our brothers and sisters yes, but are we their answer to prayer? If not, why not?
Heavenly Father, I bring my bankruptcy before you. You've given me talents, and I've buried them, deeply. Forgive my selfish and uncaring nature, and change me from the inside out. I ask this in the name of your precious Son, Jesus Christ, who died for my redemption. Amen.
Then everyone—the kings of the earth, the rulers, the generals, the wealthy, the powerful, and every slave and free person—all hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains. And they cried to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of the one who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb. For the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to survive?”
They have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb and made them white. “That is why they stand in front of God’s throne and serve him day and night in his Temple. And he who sits on the throne will give them shelter. They will never again be hungry or thirsty; they will never be scorched by the heat of the sun. For the Lamb on the throne will be their Shepherd. He will lead them to springs of life-giving water. And God will wipe every tear from their eyes.”
What a great disservice we do to our Lord, and how greatly we impoverish ourselves, when we cast the King of Heaven in two-dimensional clay. It takes only one chapter in Revelation to demonstrate the incredible richness of God’s character.
To His enemies, and to those who malign, mock and murder His children, He is the fiercest of predators. A perfectly rational and sensible person would rather be crushed to death by a mountain than face His wrath. He says, “vengeance is mine, I will repay” (Romans 12:19); and we are to take this in the most literal possible sense. Those who have caused us great pain because of our faith, unless they repent, have a terrible event on the horizon.
But what about those who have placed our trust in Him? You who have renounced your sin and spent your days in earnest attempts to overcome it, striving (however clumsily) to love God with your whole heart and your neighbour as yourself? The bible encourages you to envision the Lord of Glory going down to one knee, looking you in the eye, and wiping away your tears. This is no spiritualized metaphor; this is His promise to you. He will wipe away your tears.
Here in these verses we have the end-game. The Lord redeems people from every tribe, language and people for Himself, ushering in His new creation: one that will no longer be stained by sin and death.
The somewhat bizarre platonic notion that, when we die, our spirits will go off to the ethereal realm and experience eternal disembodiment is simply not true. For a time, perhaps, we will be separated from the corporeal, but only for a time. Early Christians simply took it for granted that Christ's return is about the establishment of His Kingdom on earth as it is in Heaven, not the abandonment of the creation 'experiment' in favour of a disembodied eternity. Somewhere along the way, though, we lost our way, and started to believe things that have no basis in scripture.
No matter, here we are today; we have our bibles and are capable of correcting course. Now, what we ought to remember today is that Christ's construction of His Kingdom, while perhaps mysterious to us, is perfectly sensible. He's going in order. What are the most important elements of a Kingdom? I would think:
1. Its King,
2. His Subjects, and
3. The Land in which the Kingdom rests
And what has He established thus far?
1. The King, who won His crown on Calvary, and
2. His Subjects, who continue to grow day-by-day.
The Land comes next, once part 2 is complete. The Lord will establish a new heavens and a new earth. And your end-game, believer in Christ, is a new, indestructible body. Happily, you may put aside any notions of an eternity of playing harps in the clouds (sounds awful, doesn't it?) to rest. You were made for the Spirit, but also for the physical. Heaven awaits, and it's better than we dare dream.
Herod holds the unfortunate record of being the only person in scripture to whom Jesus has nothing to say. This “king” is the worst kind of man. His extravagant wealth is plundered directly from the pockets of God’s people; a people to whom cleanliness is everything are forced to live in filth and destitution while he reclines in detestable luxury.
He is a vacuous, vain and exceedingly empty human being, uniquely responsible for the execution of the greatest man (besides Jesus) who ever lived: an execution brought about by a promise made in frivolity and kept in cowardice.
For Herod, Jesus has no words. And though Herod has or will ultimately come to understand how profound and damning that is, at the time, he can’t care less. Jesus is crucified; Herod goes on his merry way.
But what about you? Are you fearful of God’s wrath? Do you find Jesus’ words disconcerting? Do they make you uncomfortable? Good! Jesus has plenty to say to you! Jesus does not demand perfection, but He does demand repentance – a sustained and repeated decision to turn away from the world’s ways to His own.
Jesus loves us, so like any good parent, He rebukes and disciplines. Does a child enjoy punishment? Does a plant enjoy pruning? Of course not! But a child subject to loving discipline grows into wisdom. A plant properly pruned and lovingly tended bears increasingly better fruit with each passing season. So we may rejoice that God takes the time to discipline us. It is a clear indication that, though we may be a long, long way from shore, we’re not in Herod’s boat.
We wonder about God. We question His right to judge us. What does He know about our hardships and trials? It’s all good to sit there in Heaven looking down with contempt while we drink and drug and fight, but He doesn’t have to go through the pain brought us to this point, does He?
If you were abused as a child, you are much more likely to abuse your own children, and that highlights the point precisely. Sin got here before we did; can we be blamed for carrying on the tradition? It’s all good for God to sit in His clean and tidy little spot in the heavens and avert His eyes at our filth, but if He were here, wouldn’t He be just as filthy as the rest of us? Just a slob like one of us?
But all of that misses the point entirely. God was one of us. He took on our weaknesses and our hardships; and when He did, He didn’t choose an ivory tower in some calm, quiet country to do it. He chose occupied Palestine. He chose a conquered nation of people living in squalor, debt-slavery and poverty. He chose a country where the only chance someone like Him had for any sort of comfort was to become a puppet of the occupying forces: a tax collector, or perhaps a mouthpiece of the Roman Proconsul.
He chose instead the life of a servant.
Okay, well good for Him. He does all that, then goes through a life of hardship without sinning and proves the point that we are the problem. He goes home, His point is made, we lose the argument, right?
Wrong, He doesn’t just prove His point. God doesn’t come to show us that He can live one of the most difficult lives a human being can live and remain innocent. He comes to die so that our guilt may no longer prevent us from entering into His presence. He sheds his own innocent blood to rescue us from the condemnation that we have brought upon ourselves. We take pain and turn it into sin, which creates more pain, which in turn creates more sin. He takes pain, ours and His, and turns it into redemption.
God isn’t oblivious at all to the pain we have suffered, He has suffered it all, betrayal, loneliness, fear, death. What’s more, He’s not looking down in condemnation. He’s looking down with love and longing, erupting with joy and celebration every single time one of us turns from our sin, turns towards Heaven, and accepts the amazing gift that He has given us. God is not just free from sin, he is filled and brimming over with love, joy, kindness, patience and peace. He hasn’t hung a “keep out” sign on the gates of Heaven, He’s thrown open the doors; and His heart breaks for those who choose not to enter.
Worthy is the lamb indeed.
Colin McComb lives in Edson, Alberta with his wife, Gail, and their three lovely children.