Everywhere we are hearing the phrase, “The New Normal.” Government and health officials, even church leaders, are saying the effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic have been so impactful, they will likely transform the way we do things in the foreseeable future.
The Quarantine has certainly been hard in many ways, but some results will be beneficial.
Yesterday I was talking (properly distanced, of course) with a neighbor who is a teacher. He told me state schools have been planning to use technology more creatively, but the pandemic forced them to implement it and work the bugs out immediately. In his opinion students and schools will be much better equipped for the future by what they have gone through and learned as a result.
Utilizing social media and online platforms, churches have created many new ways for members to connect with each other for prayer, study, and fellowship–and to reach out supportively to their communities.
I joined a morning prayer group begun by our church prayer leader, to worship and pray for our members, our community, and our nation during the pandemic. We have called in at 7 am each morning for over a month so far. My wife and I are new to this church and do not know many people, but listening to these folk pray each day has drawn us closer to God and to them. We feel more a part of the church community as a result.
How is your new normal?
How have you grown during the pandemic? Have you gotten closer to people you love? The Quarantine forced us indoors, meaning we ended up spending more time with our family. Were you able to work through some things in your relationships and come through stronger? Have you identified things you can work on with God in this area? I have.
How has your relationship with God grown? I have heard many are taking stock of their connection to God and church and making changes during this time. Joining the prayer group I mentioned above was because I wanted to deepen my faith and connection with God through community.
Some really special things have happened for me as a result of this prayer time. My faith has grown stronger. I have been less worried about the news and the potential fallout from the pandemic. And even though I still don’t know most of the people by sight, I feel very close to them because of opening our hearts to God and each other.
Getting back to normal
There is a natural desire to get back to normal. We need the income from work; our children miss the structure of the classroom and their friends; we long for the end to disruption and a return to normality.
But are there ways in which you don’t want to go back to the way it was? Maybe you fell more in love with your spouse and family, and you don’t want to slip back into the humdrum again. Maybe you felt called to something deeper with God and found it; and, you don’t want to lose that.
In that sense, we want a “new normal.” We can tell God that, and determine, with His help to pursue it. God is longing for a new normal for you too. The Bible describes Him has a kind, loving Father who deeply wishes for a relationship with us. Though He certainly didn’t cause this pandemic, I imagine He has been wishing that many of his children would turn to Him and come home to His heart. He told Isaiah during a similar time:
“See, I am doing anewthing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”
If we feel the desire, that is evidence that God is drawing us to His heart. We can say, “Yes, God I want you to do a new thing in my heart and life. I ask you to make a road in the wilderness of my world and refreshing streams in the wasteland of my life. Renew my relationship with you. Restore my relationships with my loved ones.”
These are prayers He loves to hear and answer.
Seeing with New Eyes
How about asking God for 20/20 spiritual eyesight in 2020? The pandemic has forced us to look at our lives and re-evaluate things. Why not ask God to open your eyes to see what you need spiritually? I have been doing this. That is a first order of magnitude prayer He will answer.
We have been hearing so many stories of trouble related to the COVID-19 Pandemic and Lockdown. Hard stories of economic hardship, health crises, and losses of loved ones. Difficult stories of the chaos caused by the disease and the impacts triggered by trying to manage it.
Trouble. People are caught in trouble of all kinds. Mentally taxing, emotionally draining, soul trying, trouble.
Psalm 91 is a prayer for God’s protection and deliverance from trouble. I wrote in detail about it here. But today, I want to focus on one phrase in it: “I will be with him in trouble” (Psalm 91:15).
When trouble comes, we pray to be delivered from it. Psalm 91 promises faithful believers will be spared in the great Time of Trouble before Jesus comes. But between now and then, we go through trouble. Jesus said we would: “In this world you will have trouble, ” He said; “but take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
So we live in the in-between reality that Jesus overcame sin in all its forms, resisted the devil, and died victoriously. He had revealed that God is good, infinitely self-sacrificing, and that Satan is a liar and a murderer. Invisibly but powerfully, Jesus is winning hearts and taking back spiritual territory in this world, but His absolute reign is yet future.
In this between-the-times, Jesus is very much with us as we go through trouble, even if He doesn’t always deliver us from it. And what I want to say today is that the presence of Jesus with us in our trouble is a great gift. It is almost as wonderful, maybe better, than being rescued.
Years ago, I experienced a difficult loss. It took place over about two years, a time that was filled with grief, tears, heart longings, and many prayers. Often, I prayed to have the loss restored.
But something else was happening at the same time. My faith in Jesus was growing and deepening. He was becoming more real, and His love and presence were often palpable. The scriptures were becoming alive to me in ways that had never happened. Jesus was clearly fulfilling His promise to be with me in trouble.
He has promised to be with us many times:
“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10 NIV
Jesus, before His death and Ascension: “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.” John 14:18-20 NIV
“Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” John 14:23 NIV
Jesus during His Great Commission: “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:20 NIV
“The Lord is near.” Philippians 4:5 NIV
Jesus is here invisibly, through His Spirit. He is loving us, helping us, drawing us to Himself. His promise to be in our lives is especially fulfilled when we put our trust in Him. If we accept Him as our Redeemer and Friend and decide to follow His words, He takes up residence in our hearts. Here is His promise:
“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in. . .”
Revelation 3:12 NIV
So friend. whatever you are going through, Jesus is willing to be with you. He welcomes your prayers for deliverance and He will do what is best in the long run. I know this takes faith. Sometimes, it is only years later, that can see God knew best.
But, in any case, He will be with you. He will comfort you with His love and show you more of His heart. That is ultimately what David meant in Psalm 91.
Whatever you are going through, I pray you will experience the presence of Jesus with you. May you believe His promises and trust His heart, as this song speaks about.
After Jesus taught about the “signs” and events leading to His Second Advent, He pivoted to talk about how we should live, knowing about these signs.
Jesus could have said, “Now focus on ‘sign watching.’ Dig deeper into this and think more and more about signs. As my coming gets closer, spend even more time on this. Listen to all the YouTube teaching and sermons you can about this, and read as many books on the topic too.”
Actually, Jesus didn’t say that. He pointed His true followers in a different direction. Only Jesus’ way gives hope and peace and a solid foundation for our lives as we wait for Jesus’ Advent.
Focus on Mission, not Signs
Jesus definitely wanted His followers to know about the signs and events, or He would not have taught about them. In Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21, and Revelation, He told them the way the world would be before His coming (like the days of Noah) and about great celestial and terrestrial signs that would precede it.
He said natural disasters would increase in intensity and occurrence, like labor contractions before a birth. In many places, He described how society would become worse and worse before He came back. In Revelation, He clearly described the broad paint strokes of Earth’s Final events. We should understand these things.
But why did Jesus teach this? He wanted us to know that God foresaw it all. It did not catch Him by surprise. He is an all-seeing, all-knowing God; so we can trust His care. He also wanted us to understand we are on the right road toward the kingdom, and to have an awareness of the signposts along the way–that we are nearing home.
But, that is not where Jesus ended His teaching about this. He spent the next 55 verses in Matthew 24 (vs. 36-51), more than a chapter, speaking about what to do while we wait for His return.That is, He devoted more time to talking about how to wait, than to teaching about signs.
Jesus’ emphasis was on staying spiritually alert and faithfully serving others like He did, filled with His love and Spirit. That is how to be ready.
First, he spoke about spiritual alertness
“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.
Matthew 24:42-44 NIV
What did Jesus mean when He said, “Keep Watch!”?
We might assume He was referring to all the signs He had just mentioned, and that He meant, “Keep watching the signs of the times. Focus on that so you don’t miss my coming.” We should be aware of the signs, but I don’t think that is what Jesus wanted us to watch.
In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus told His disciples, “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41 NIV). I think Jesus’ warning to Watch in Matthew 24 is more related to that. He is saying, “Stay spiritually focused in your relationship with me. Keep ready and prepared for My coming.”
It is so easy to get distracted in this world. Many things compete for our time and attention. The nature of our relationship with God is that He must be at the center of our lives. Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:30, 31).
We were created for a God-centered, neighbor-loving life. God is our Creator and Savior. He gives us life and helps us with everything. It is out of this center that all good grows. When Jesus’ followers or His churches lose this focus, they drift. So in Matthew 24, Jesus is alerting His Church they will need to stay awake and focused on loving Him and loving others as they wait for His Return.
Jesus’ call to God-centered living was not an invitation to live in perpetual spiritual solitude, but rather to take up the work Jesus’ did while He was on earth. To stay connected with Him, share the good news about His love and grace, and care for the needs of others in His name.
“God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and. . .he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.”
Acts 10:38 NIV
The One Way to Stay Ready: Four Stories
Jesus illustrated this with four parables: a faithful servant, ten bridesmaids, loaned money, and a sheep and goat judgment. These stories describe four aspects of how Jesus wanted His Church to live in the centuries ahead, while they waited for His return. They show clearly how to be ready for His Second Coming.
1) A Faithful or Unfaithful Servant
“Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions.”
Matthew 24:45-47 NIV
The best way to stay spiritually alert and ready, Jesus says, is to faithfully do the work He has given us–to share the Bread of Life (Jesus and His teachings) with others. Whatever hope, forgiveness, truth, or love He has given, He asks us to pass them along.
We will not all work in the same way. God has given each person talents and abilities, ways to bless the world and show God’s goodness and love. Whatever vocation or role we have, our mission is to bless others and show God to them.
Continuing His story, Jesus gives a warning:
“But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, ‘My master is staying away a long time,’ and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of.”
Matthew 24:49-51 NIV
Here Jesus showed that His Second Coming would not take place for a long time. Many in Jesus’ day expected it to be soon; but Jesus said, “Prepare yourselves; it will be longer.”
When we lose sight of our goal and mission, it is easy to become self-centered and begin pursuing our own purposes or pleasure as the highest good. In Jesus’ story, some servants gave up their dream and started living completely for themselves. When we lose God, we run the danger we will not be ready with He comes. It is in unselfishly living for others that we stay ready for Jesus to come.
2) Ten Bridesmaids: Matthew 25:1-13
In the parable of the ten bridesmaids, a wedding takes place. The groom was delayed in arriving, and all ten women fell asleep. As they slept, their oil lamps burned out.
At “midnight,” the announcement was heard that the groom was arriving. The ladies all woke up and looked for oil to replenish their lamps. Only five had brought extra oil, the rest went shopping. While they were gone, the groom arrived and the wedding started. When the “five foolish” women finally arrived, the wedding was in progress and the door was locked. When they asked for entrance, it was refused.
Bible parables usually have one main point, but several symbols. The women represent the Church. They all have lamps (God’s word) and oil (the Holy Spirit) to begin with. Their long wait depicts the the apparent delay in Christ’s coming. Their sleepiness shows spiritual drowsiness and lethargy in the Church, especially close to Jesus’ Second Advent. The announcement of the groom’s coming symbolizes the Endtime message that Jesus is coming soon.
Crucial Point: Five of the women, though sleeping, had brought extra oil, five had not. This shows that some in the church will only have an intellectual knowledge of God and the Bible, not a life-changing experience. They know Bible teachings, but they have not surrendered their hearts to Christ (In the parable, He says He doesn’t know them). The ones with extra oil have a real relationship. They have accepted Jesus as a personal Savior, received the Holy Spirit as a personal guest and been changed by that experience. When Jesus comes, they are ready to meet Him.
3) Parable of Talents (Loaned Money) – Matthew 25:14-30
In this parable, Jesus shows that “watching” and being ready to meet Him when He comes involves putting the talents, abilities, and giftings we have received to work for Him in this life.
In this story, three servants are called in by their master. Today we would say an employer called a meeting with his managers. They are each given different amounts of capital to invest while he is away. Two double their money through wise decisions. One is fearful and buries his.
When the employer returns, he asks for a report. The first two managers are rewarded with eternal life, the last loses out.
This parable shows that our abilities and wealth are gifts from God which He has given us to put to work for Him in His world. The first two managers were grateful for the opportunity and put their money to work for the good of the company. The third man had a distorted view of his employer and was irresponsible.
God is good. He cares for us and blesses us in many ways. But living in the land of the enemy, where Satan claims to rule, we often misunderstand God’s character and see Him as harsh and unfair. Satan plasters his reputation on God.
Crucial Teaching: Being ready for Jesus’ coming means having an accurate knowledge of His loving and good character and using the gifts and blessings He has given us to make the world a better place. When we do, our abilities and opportunities grow because He blesses them as we put them to work for Him. Our relationship with Him grows too, as we partner with Him and get to see His love at work through our service.
This parable can also apply to whatever work or avocation we do. We might be a “domestic engineer,” as my wife calls it, caring for family and home. We might work outside at a profession or job. Whatever we do in the name of Christ, who has blessed us with ability, can be done for His kingdom.
4) Parable of the Sheep and Goats – Matthew 24:31-46
Don’t skip this story because of its barnyard setting. This is Jesus’ parable of the Final Judgment and shows who will make it and who won’t.
Shepherds in Jesus’ day often kept sheep and goats together, separating them for market or other purposes. Jesus took this common pastoral happening to graphically portray who will be ready to spend eternity with Him and who will not.
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.”
Matthew 25:31-33 NIV
My wife and I got takeout at a country restaurant the other day. The owners have some small livestock pens with sheep and chickens. I was reminded of years ago when my parents kept goats. Sheep and goats are quite different, and Jesus invested these creatures with human qualities.
To the people on the right, His sheep, Jesus will say, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me” (Matthew 25:34-36 NIV).
To the people on his left, the goats, he says they did not care for Him. In both cases, the people ask, “When did we do (or not do) these things for you; and Jesus’ answer was that what they did or failed to do was really for Him, in the person of others. “I tell you the truth, whatever you did (or did not do) for one of the least of these people of mine, you did (or did not do) it for me (vs. 37-45).”
Critical Issue: In this simple, but dramatic parable, Jesus showed that God’s decision in the Final Judgment will be based one one point–what people have done or neglected to do for Him in the person of the poor and the suffering. If our hearts have been touched by God’s love and mercy, we will give it in turn to others, especially the needy.
Being Ready: The Whole Picture
After describing what the intervening centuries would be like while His followers waited for His Second Coming; after describing the kind of events that would take place in the intervening years and some signs along the way, Jesus taught how they could be ready for that event whenever it came. Here is a composite summary:
In the Parable of the Faithful Servant Jesus says we have been called to faithfully share the Bread of Life, the good news of salvation with others. If we do that and resist the temptation to live selfishly, we will be ready. We don’t have to be a preacher or teacher to do this. If we just tell what Jesus has done for us personally and what we have learned, as we have opportunity, He will consider us a faithful servant.
In the Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids, Jesus shows that having a real relationship with God through Jesus will make the difference. When we accept Jesus as a personal Savior for our sin, the Holy Spirit comes to live in our hearts, and prepares us for Jesus’ coming, even if we grow a little sleepy.
In the Parable of the Talents, Jesus clearly teaches that our view of God determines how we use the gifts and talents He’s given us. If we understand His love and grace, we will put our abilities to work for Him and for the good of others. This will help us be ready for His Coming.
The Parable of the Sheep and Goats makes clear that those who have received God’s mercy and blessings and, in gratitude, shared them with the poor and suffering, visiting the sick, caring for the poor and those in prison, we will be accepted in the Final Judgment.
If we follow Jesus in the ways pictured here, we will be ready for His Coming whenever it happens. I think that was Jesus’ main point. (1)
The Devil’s Tricks
When I was in college, an outside religion teacher known for focusing on Last Day Events, had compiled a very detailed chart showing all the things leading up to Jesus’ coming, which, he was convinced, was very soon.
A group of my friends were deeply involved studying this chart and trying to “get ready” for Jesus’ coming. Some even left college and moved to New York, convinced they had to help that City get ready. There was a lot of fear and self-preoccupation.
That was about fifty years ago. The group who went to New York finally came back and finished college. The man who made the charts later confessed he was wrong in his focus–legalistic, perfectionistic, and fear-based–as if his good behavior could save him. He came to understand the good news and spent the rest of his life sharing that salvation and Christian growth are gifts received by faith and a personal relationship with Jesus.
In Matthew 24, Jesus warned about setting times for His coming and about false prophets and Messiahs who would entrap people to create a following for themselves (Matthew 24:24, 36).
Eschatological Caffeine. Some people relate to the topic of signs and Last Day events like a person hooked on caffeine. Every time some serious world event happens like the COVID-19 Pandemic, they feel a shot of spiritual caffeine. They start reading their Bibles and praying and getting ready, out of fear, for Jesus’ coming.
Some preachers and teachers play into this addiction (the news media aren’t the only ones who do it). They get out their charts and preach doom and gloom, motivating people through fear. With all this “crying wolf” people often turn off all conversation about such things and become desensitized to any good teaching on the subject.
Jesus taught that is is knowing God’s gracious, loving character and beginning a daily walk with Him is what creates a sustainable relationship that will prepare us for His Coming.
Aware of signs and focused on mission. Jesus wanted us to be aware of the signs and the times as He described them in Matthew 24, but not focused on that as if knowing it will save us. He wants us to understand Bible prophecy but be committed to God and His mission in this world, as depicted in the four parables Jesus told.
An Issue of the Heart
If we have allowed God’s mercy and love to speak to our hearts and change us, the way we live, the way we use our resources, and how we care for others will prepare us to spend eternity with Him. That is ultimately the key. That’s why Jesus says:
“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.”
Revelation 3:20 NIV
Will you open the door of your heart and receive Him as your Savior, letting Him do the work in you He wants to do. That is the key the unlocks the door into a beautiful life.
Many people have been asking if the Carona Virus Pandemic is a sign of Earth’s Last Days. They are asking not just because it is a serious illness, but because of the global impact of COVID-19, closing everything down, disrupting economies, troubling international relations. Something this impactful must be a sign, they feel.
I started writing on this topic by showing what Jesus said about pandemics in his teaching about the Last Days (In Matthew 24, He calls them pestilences, another word for pandemics or plagues). You can go to what I said about that in Part 1 and Part 2.
Then I moved to the book of Revelation. Why? The Bible’s last book speaks apocalyptically about Earth’s final events. Not just that, of course; it covers the stream of time from Jesus First Advent to the Second Coming of Christ.
Jesus Himself shows up in a vision to John, one of Jesus’ early disciples. It is now sixty years since Jesus died, rose, and ascended to heaven. The Christian Church is under serious persecution, and Jesus returns to reassure His followers of His care and concern and to lay out the future in broad strokes. It was comforting and enlightening to Christians then, and has been down through the centuries.
Revelation’s First and Last Sections
In the first half of Revelation Jesus lays out what the Church will experience in the years between John’s ministry and His return. In cycles of seven (seven letters to churches, seven seals, and seven trumpets), Jesus loops through history three times to show different angles of the same story – what His Church will face ahead. I covered that here.
The last half of Revelation is a dramatic exposé of Earth’s final events; not in the detail we might wish for, but in enough broad strokes to know the outline and major events that will come, what they mean, and how to relate to them when they arrive. It was given so we can take our stand on the right side of spiritual issues that come and have God’s strength to keep us faithful.
Purpose of this Blog
My purpose in this blog, Part 5, is to give a short overview of what Jesus told John would happen in the final period of Earth’s End-time. I will not go into great depth. The details have filled many books. My purpose here is to give you an orientation to chapters 12-22 and to spotlight a few things that show where we are in the stream of time. Jesus’ coming is certainly nearer than ever before.
A Master of Divinity student I am mentoring told me the other day that some people ask, “Why study the book of Revelation? After all, we should spend our time helping people get to know God and doing good like Jesus did, not conjecturing about the future. Besides, focusing on the Last Days just creates a lot of fear, not hope and peace.”
Those are fair questions. Remember, Jesus Himself gave us the messages and information in this book. He considered The Revelation very important for at least these three reasons:
1) To Strengthen Our Faith. Jesus knew the years ahead would be a very difficult time for believers to live in. Faith would have a hard time surviving. So He gave us information and evidence that would strengthen our faith when we saw events coming to pass. Jesus told His disciples, “I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am who I am” (John 13:19). Our relationship with Jesus should not depend on “signs,” but on knowing His character and trusting His grace and promises, but signposts are a “help” he has given as part of our trust relationship with Him.
2) Courtesy Signs. “Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door” (Matthew 24:33). When friends or loved ones used to come for a visit (before The Quarantine), as a courtesy, they would call or text a few minutes away to let us know they would arrive soon. That way we could do our last tidying up, finish food prep, and be ready to meet them. Jesus loves us and has given “courtesy signs” to let us know what will happen and when He’ll be arriving soon so we can be alert. As He said about this in Luke, “When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28 NIV). How thoughtful of Jesus!
3) Intense Times Require Preparation. I met a young man in Russia many years ago, shortly after the Iron Curtain fell. He told me that several years earlier, he expected to be arrested for his faith, so he spent time getting prepared spiritually so his faith would not fail in prison. He spent time reading His Bible, committing texts to memory, praying, surrendering His life to God daily. Fortunately, he was never arrested. Jesus gives us “signs” to remind us along the way we need to stay ready. Before his arrest and crucifixion, Jesus warned His disciples, “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41). Jesus has laid out final events in Revelation to encourage us to “Watch and pray. . . .”
Introduction to Earth’s Climax – Revelation 11:19
Revelation 11:19 introduces the Last Days. It describes the Inner Sanctum of God’s temple in heaven being opened. John sees the “ark of his covenant,” containing the Ten Commandments and covered by the “mercy seat.” Lightning flashes, thunder rolls, the earth quakes, and more. Something awesome is about to happen.
The Hebrew sanctuary or worship center illustrated God’s way of saving us and also a timeline for God’s salvation plan. Jesus’ death, His ascension to be our Mediator, the Judgment, and the Second Coming were all pictured.
This scene in chapter 11:19 initiates the Last Days, the Day of Atonement, the heavenly Yom Kippur. While this takes place in Heaven, Satan will ravage the earth like a wounded animal, knowing his days are numbered.
“Woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you! He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short.”
Revelation 12:12 NIV
Revelation 12 – 13:1-10: Cosmic Conflict
In Revelation 12 and 13:1-10, Jesus describes the Final Scenes in the long spiritual conflict between God and Satan. He does this by picturing the history of the Christian Church from the perspective of this cosmic conflict.
Revelation 12, like other parts of Revelation, contains several scenes. It begins with the birth of Christ. He is is born through the “woman,” God’s covenant people in the Old and New Testaments (Jesus said to the Samaritan woman at the well, “Salvation is from the Jews.” John 4:22). Her tiara of twelve stars represents the twelve tribes of Israel. Her standing on the moon while clothed with the sun is a picture of the old covenant (moon) with its symbols giving way to the realities of the New Covenant (sun) and “Jesus, the True Light who gives light to everyone.” John 1:9; 2 Corinthians 3:7-18).
But then, an enormous red dragon swoops in, landing in front of the woman to devour her child as soon as it is born. This dragon is Satan (verse 9), but he is works diabolically through a human government to try to kill Jesus before He accomplishes His mission to save us (Satan acted through King Herod. See Matthew 2:13-18).
Christ is eventually snatched up to God’s throne (after His life, death, and resurrection; verse 5), so Satan now turns his wrath on Jesus’ followers, the Church. She flees into the wilderness, trying to escape persecution by Satan through Rome and its successors. Revelation often skips over details as it describes a larger narrative.
Why all this suffering? After these scenes, Jesus pulls the curtain back to show why the Church will suffer so much down through history (of course other persecuted minorities have suffered too). Revelation 12:7-12 shows is because Satan is carrying on a long war with God. His hatred for Jesus and the Father lead him to harass and kill their followers. He diabolically delights in suffering and death and brings suffering on the whole world.
This rebellion began in heaven where Satan gradually changed from the Angel Leader, Lucifer (Light Bearer) to Satan (the accuser) through pride and coveting God’s throne. Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 tell the story, veiled in prophecies about human kings. Through brilliant propaganda and cunning lies, Satan persuaded one third of the angels to join his side (Revelation 12:4).
Revelation 12:7-17 describes this revolution in heaven, Satan’s and His angel followers’ eventual expulsion, and their long war on Jesus’ Church through the centuries. Most importantly, Jesus tells how His followers can be victorious in this war:
“They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.”
Revelation 12:11 NIV
The woman (Jesus’ true followers) will be the “Church in the Wilderness” always persecuted, through the Dark Ages (verses 14-16).
The transitional verse which opens the curtain on the final conflict described in Revelation 13 and 14 is very significant.
“Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring—those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus.”
Revelation 12:17 NIV
In the Time of the End, the period of the heavenly Yom Kippur, Jesus is finishing His work of intercession and Judgment in heaven. Satan knows that his time is short. So he turns his fury on the Woman’s (the Church) final descendants. Chapters 13 and 14 will describe how he does this through earthly powers.
The Last Act: Cast of Characters
Previously, I said that Jesus gave the Revelation so His people, the Church, would understand the scope of what they would face from John’s day to the Second Advent. But now, Jesus focuses in on the last period of time in this cosmic spiritual struggle.
In Revelation 13, he identifies two kingdoms or nations that will especially persecute God’s people. They are pictured as “beasts.” This was an ancient way of identifying kingdoms. We do this today as well. School sports teams have their mascots, often an animal.
The First Beast of Revelation 13
At the close of Revelation 12, the dragon (Satan) stands on the shore of the sea in John’s vision. The sea represents the nations and people of earth. As he stands there, a beast emerges from the sea.
It becomes clear as we read Revelation 13:1-10, that Jesus is describing the ruling power that has been persecuting the woman in chapter 12. The dragon is going to work through this beast to persecute some of Jesus’ followers.
This first persecuting beast is actually a composite of the kingdoms in Daniel 7, Revelation’s companion book in the Old Testament: a lion (Babylon), bear (Medo-Persia), leopard (ancient Greece, and dragon (Rome). Animals in apocalyptic literature represent kingdoms; see Daniel 7:17.
This combination animal gathers the kings and nations of Europe and Western Asia into his reign. As the kingdoms of ancient Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome all persecuted God’s people, this beast does the same in the Christian era, from the time of Christ through the middle ages, to the End of Time.
Notice that he has a throne and great authority. So, he reigns as a monarch. He is wounded, but survives, and the whole world follows him (vs. 3, 8). He persecutes some of God’s followers for the same period of time (forty-two months) as mentioned in Revelation 12:6.
Second Beast of Revelation 13
As John watches amazed, he sees another animal emerge, this time from the earth. This beast looks lamb-like. A lamb is a symbol of Jesus in both Old and New Testament, so this is a nation with Christian roots. However outwardly Christian it is, it sometimes speaks with the voice of a dragon and becomes more and more dragon-like. This nation comes after the first beast in history because he leads the world to reverence and worship the first beast kingdom.
By working miracles, the second kingdom gains world-wide allegiance and leads all nations to set up an image of the first beast. He gives this image life so it can speak with authority and cause all who refuse to worship the first beast to be killed. So there is a collaboration between the first beast, which continues to exist, and the second beast. As John watches these two beasts in their dragon-like work, his attention is suddenly riveted by something happening in the sky.
Three Angels of Revelation 14
As chapter 14 begins, John sees Jesus’ faithful followers at the end. They are the “sealed” people of Revelation 7. They have a pure faith, follow Jesus faithfully, and have God’s character in their minds. While he is watching them, three angels fly through the air loudly announcing a three part message to the whole world.
Their message comes directly from God as a response to the activity of the two beasts as they fight for world-wide attention and allegiance. The angels’ proclamation is a universal warning not to worship the beast or receive the “mark,” or sign of his authority, on their forehead or hand.
What Does All This Mean?
There isn’t time to go into every detail, but here are some important things to notice:
It’s Who You Worship. The beasts are doing everything they can to gain world-wide worship and authority. Satan, who has wanted worship from the beginning of his apostasy (Isaiah 14:13, 14; Ezekiel 28:17) , works through them to get the worship he wants. Paul predicted this would happen in 2 Thessalonians 2. The Three Angels remind everyone that only God is worthy of worship because He is the Creator, Savior, and Judge of all.
It’s Who You Obey. The Last Day cosmic struggle will be about who to obey. The beasts and their image will try to force obedience and worship on pain of death. At the same time, Jesus invites all to obey and follow Him because He is the true God. Two key statements are made which show this.
“Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring—those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus.”
“This calls for patient endurance on the part of the people of God who keep his commands and remain faithful to Jesus.”
Revelation 12:17; 14:12 NIV
Jesus’ Last Day followers will obey all of God’s Ten Commandments (James 2:10-11) and hold on to their testimony about Jesus, that He is their Savior and Lord. They don’t just believe, they obey. They are grateful for saving grace, and through Jesus’ help they keep God’s commands. That’s why Satan hates them and is trying to get rid of them. They are the opposite of what he has become. They are faithful and, through grace, are becoming more and more like Jesus (2 Corinthians 3:18).
Final Call. This is earth’s spiritual Endtime crisis, Jesus’ final invitation to accept and follow Him. How do we know? Immediately after the Three Angels give their message, Jesus comes. His Coming is described as the earth’s harvest. The Seven Last Plagues take place, the judgment on the beasts and their followers (also called “Babylon”) occurs, and Jesus comes.
Who is Babylon? Babylon plays a prominent role in Revelation 14-18. Who is this Babylon? Ancient Babylon was originally made up of God’s followers, the family of Noah who were faithful to God and survived the Flood.
After the Great Flood, some of Noah’s family lost their faith, gave into doubt, turned against God, and established a religious philosophy of salvation through personal effort, instead of trusting God completely (Genesis 11). This group of Noah’s descendants became the ancestors of ancient Babylon, which in turn became a major antagonist to God’s people, Israel, in the Old Testament.
In Revelation Jesus draws on Old Testament names and places to symbolize what will take place in the Last Days. People that historically followed God, but turned away, will become the persecutors of those who humbly trust and obey Jesus’ teachings.
Miracles and Authority. In Revelation, Jesus warns us not to base our faith on the teachings of people or miracles, but on Jesus and His word. While genuine miracles will take place, Revelation warns strongly against false miracles. This is in line with Jesus’ earlier teaching:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”
Matthew 7:21-23 NIV
Conclusion: What’s It All About?
Revelation begins with Jesus. Chapter 1 is dedicated “to Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood,” and who “is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him. . .” (Revelation 1:5-7).
Jesus appears to John in symbols, showing that He has kept His promise to be with His Church “until the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). Revelation shows that our crucified, resurrected, and living Savior has led the Church through the centuries since His First Advent, and will lead us through the Last Days before He returns at the Second Coming.
We can trust this and love Him even more for His faithfulness.
So, is COVID-19 a sign of the End? Not by itself, though something like this could certainly help trigger the things described by Revelation. When we examine what Jesus taught about the Last Days, we see a coming together of many influences and events. It is world-wide in scope. Like a painting is made up of hundreds brush strokes, the Last Days will involve many things.
In times of crisis, people sometimes turn to God out of fear. Nationalism and majoritarian religion can create a climate of xenophobia and racism, which leads to persecution of minorities. In a crisis, leaders sometimes over reach in power. Constitutional liberties are overlooked in the interest of personal and national security.
Revelation predicts a time when this will happen on a world-wide scale.
Signs Visible Now – Questions to Ask
Looking over Revelation 13-19, what do we see now that might show Jesus’ Coming is very close?
Nations with World-wide Authority and Power. Ask yourself, what nations have the influence and power described in Revelation 13? What kingdoms and powers are collaborating to force obedience to non-scriptural laws. This may still be in the future, but it is important to be alert.
Miracle Movements. What movements focus heavily on the miraculous, and how broad is their influence? Do they accurately teach the Bible? When miracles are used to justify false teaching, as often happened in Old and New Testaments, those leaders and miracles are not from God.
Power and Force. What tendencies do you see to grab power and ignore the principle of freedom of religion and conscience? What movements exist to undermine human rights in major countries. In our nation, we must protect the Bill of Rights and the Constitution.
Economic Problems. Revelation 18:17 and James 5:1-6 predict a time when wealth will disappear through economic trouble or collapse. What trends in our world indicate this could happen?
Battle over God’s Law and Jesus’ Gospel. Revelation 12:17 and 14:12 say clearly that the final spiritual issue will be whether people hold to their faith in Jesus and keep God’s Ten Commandments. We are saved by grace to live a life of holiness and obedience as Romans shows. In Matthew 5:17-20, Jesus said He did not come to abolish the Ten Commandments. In other words, grace does not void out God’s Law. What efforts and movements do you see growing who distort these truths?
So, what should we do?
This is such an important question. When Jesus gave His teachings about Church history and the Last Days in the Gospels, He concluded by showing how we should live while we wait for His Second Coming.
Interestingly, He did not teach that we should focus all our attention on signs and events, but on living His life and serving others in His name. While we should be aware of all Jesus taught about signs and events, it is the mission He gave us that we should concentrate mostly on. I will conclude this series on COVID-19 and the Last Days by looking at what Jesus taught about this in Matthew 24:36-51 and 25.
“Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
Hebrews 4:16 NIV
In the Bible and in Christian teaching, God’s grace is defined as His mercy, kindness, and favor toward we who are undeserving. We usually think of grace in relationship to sin–disobedience of God’s will and human failing in general. God extends His grace to us when we realize our shortcomings and ask His forgiveness.
In the middle of the COVID-19 Pandemic and all its fallout, we are all struggling in many ways. Couples and families cooped up in Quarantine. Employers struggling to understand government requirements and getting needed supplies. Employees asked to do additional work, or let go indefinitely. Children being educated on Zoom or video chat, frustrated by the new ways. And so much more.
Personal and societal stress results in much need of God’s forgiving grace. In this short blog, I want to describe the two kinds of grace God offers us and how they can help us.
Two Kinds of Grace
1) Justifying, Saving Grace
God’s first gift of grace is amazing, almost unbelievable; but it is the foundation of every other dispensing of grace He gives us. It is the grace that saves us.
God offers me this grace when I realize how broken I am as a human being and how sinful attitudes, thoughts, words, and actions keep bubbling out of me, no matter how hard I try. When I realize there might be help from God and turn to Him, admitting my need for His forgiveness and help, He forgives me, justifies me, and changes my heart. Paul describes this in his letter to Titus.
“At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.
Titus 3:3-7 NIV
What allows God to do this for us is this: Jesus came in human form, lived our life without sin and died for our sins on the cross. In His life, he did what we had failed to do. By depending deeply on God (it was a daily battle fought by prayer and self-surrender), He resisted every from of temptation and lived a sinless life. Then on the cross, He willingly accepted the guilt and punishment of every human being (1 John 2:2; 1 Peter 2:24; Isaiah 53:5-10). Our sins broke His heart and crushed out His life.
When I understand this, and put my trust in Jesus to help me, He does several things.
He forgives all my past sins because Jesus liquidated my moral debt on the cross. He justifies me, a legal action, which means He pardons me and erases my guilt because Christ took it on the cross. At the same time, He credits Jesus’ perfect life to me, covering my past life with His perfect life, so I stand before Him faultless.
He also changes my heart in a supernatural “new birth” experience, so now, from my heart, I desire to love and follow Him and His path instead of my former selfish ways. Now, I am a child of God by spiritual rebirth, and He sends His Spirit to live in me to help me live a new and different life. The Spirit helps me become more and more like Him and grows the fruit of true goodness and holiness in me, more and more, as I learn how to walk with God.
Many people look at Christians and think they are living through self-effort, that they have accepted certain behaviors and practices and do this hard work to earn God’s favor. Probably many do. But real Christianity is a supernatural experience. God changes our hearts, and we live differently because He loves us and lives in us.
We have peace because we have been forgiven and justified. We have been accepted by God and are His loved children. We are pictured as “standing in grace,” in God’s favor and mercy, no longer under guilt and condemnation.
“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.
Romans 5:1-2 NIV
How would you like to have God take all your failures and forgive them? How would you like Him to take your life history with all the dark places, and cover it all with Jesus’ perfect life? How would you like Him to change you from the inside out. If you will admit your need and confess you sins to Him, surrendering your heart and life to Him, He will. The Bible describes this as being covered with a white robe of righteousness, Jesus’ life.
2) Helping, Growing Grace
God not only justifies us and takes us into His family, but He gives us daily grace to help us live a different, new life.
This grace is a different expression of God’s kindness than justifying grace, but it comes from the same place–God’s kind mercy. It is also based on Jesus’ death for us. But the first kind of grace is forgiveness, the second is God’s help to lives a different life. The second is based on the first.
This is the grace we need for patience with our spouse and children. We can ask for this grace when we have not been treated fairly. This grace is needed when we face inward brokenness and sin of any kind. God gives us this grace to grow and become more like we were intended to be.
Because we have been forgiven, justified (#1 above), God can now help us whenever we ask. We can request for this grace whenever we need it as our opening scripture said, Hebrews 4:16.
“He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”
Romans 8:32 NIV
This second gift of grace is known by different terms: inward grace, assisting grace, strengthening grace, sustaining grace, sanctifying grace, grace to help us in our times of need, grace that matures us, grace for obedience. This shows that God has grace for us for every situation in life. All we need to do is humbly ask in faith, depending on God for His help. His grace is sufficient for every need.
Here are a few scriptures that describe this helping grace God is so willing to give us:
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:9
“It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace.” Hebrews 13:9
“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.” Philemon 1:25
“But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. . .” 1 Corinthians 15:10
“Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Hebrews 4:16
One sad effect of the COVID-19 Pandemic and Quarantine is the loneliness so many are feeling. Many kinds of loneliness.
Probably the worst kind is the loneliness thousands of sick people are feeling as they are quarantined in hospitals or nursing homes, unable to received the love and support of family and friends. The the Pandemic first began, our pastors went to visit our members in their retirement homes, but for safety, visitation from outside people had been curtailed. Loneliness.
We have seen the pictures of elderly spouses waving to their loved ones through hospital windows, unable to speak to them and give the gift of loving touch. We are grateful for healthcare workers who are doing their best in such circumstances, but being very ill and dying without family around you must be so very hard.
And there are other kinds of loneliness. Not being able to gather as families. Grandparents who can’t be with their grandchildren. Being suddenly isolated from our social and work networks, the people we love to be around. Missing up-close, personal human interaction. Social media, Skype, and Zoom, help; but they are not the same.
Sometimes we are lonely even with others, if we feel unloved or unappreciated. That is a difficult kind of loneliness. The Quarantine may bring out the brokenness in our close relationships.
Then, someone pointed out the other day how dehumanizing it is to relate to people through masks. We communicate so much below the level of our eyes–affirming smiles, expressions of agreement, acknowledgment, and more. Wearing masks is important, but we lose so much of human warmth in doing so.
In the middle of all this, God can help us with our loneliness. That is what I want to share with you today.
“Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted.”
Psalm 25:16 NIV
King David wrote this at a time when he was facing attacks by political enemies and people who wanted to do him harm. He felt alone. Who could he trust? Who could he turn to in such circumstances? Only to God.
The truth is, God promises to be with us in our troubles, our isolation, our loneliness. Whatever circumstances are causing us to feel alone, He is there for us.
When Jesus was preparing to go back to heaven after His resurrection, he acknowledged that His followers would feel alone; so He made a wonderful promise we can take to heart now.
“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. . .Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.”
John 14:18, 23 NIV
This promise was not just for those disciples. It applies to everyone who accepts it. God offers to make His home in us.
This is not a replacement for human love and presence, but it is a deep help with the problem of loneliness. Having a God who loves us so much, a Jesus who lived, died, rose, and always lives for us be willing to be with us at all times an in all circumstances is a wonderful blessing.
Jesus experienced His Father’s presence with him in this way. He said, “A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me” (John 16:32).
Friend, if you accept Jesus as you Friend and Savior, and God as your Father, you can have the comfort of their presence with you all the time. You don’t need to ever be lonely in the sense of being completely alone.
Since I accepted Jesus, I want to tell you I have never been lonely, because He has always been with me. Yes, I have missed family when I couldn’t be with them. In some situations, there was a sense of being alone. But I have never felt truly alone because God has been with me. This is a gift He offers to everyone.
What about those who are dying alone? This is so tragic. My heart goes out to families who long to be with their loved one and cannot, and the sick person who so much would like to have their family with them.
I believe that in ways known only to God, He has been there for them. “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted. . .” “the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down” (Psalm 34:18; 146:8).
When my wife’s late husband died of cancer, they were alone at home together. My wife had prayed that her trust in God would not fail when the moment came.
After her husband took his last breath, and she realized he had died, she prayed, thanking God for His help and faithfulness during their difficult journey. She thanked God she still trusted Him. Suddenly she felt a physical touch like someone pressing on her back, hugging her. She knew instantly that God was truly with her and would be with her always. This reminds me of Jesus’ promise when He left:
“Surely I will be with you always, to the very endof the age.”
You can take hold of these promises from Jesus that I have shared today. We may not feel we deserve this, but He loves us more than we can imagine. In His eyes, we were worth enough to give His life for. He wants to be with us, to be a Friend and Companion. You can invite Him if you choose.
The COVID-19 Pandemic has presented many challenges at all levels of society. Government, business, healthcare, education, and finance have had to make huge adjustments in how to operate, often on a daily basis.
Teachers have had to re-tool how they educate. Hospital administrators have had to completely re-configure their hospitals. Businesses have had to build protection barriers and establish distancing requirements and customer flow. And the list goes on and on.
To complicate things, conflicting mandates come from different levels of government making decisions difficult. Resources are scarce. Income is drying up. Employees are being furloughed, or let go. This affects all of us, on a very personal level. Parents who work and home school. Healthcare givers who have to quarantine from family, and more.
In the middle of all this, God offers to give wisdom for all the situations and decisions we face. He makes this promise in James 1:5. It is a promise you can “take to the bank.” You can rely on it because a caring and grace-filled God stands behind it.
“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.”
James 1:5 NIV
Without finding fault. I appreciate so much that this says, “God gives generously to all without finding fault.“
This promise comes to us from a gracious God. A God who is full of sympathy and grace. (Biblically, grace is an act of favor or kindness toward someone who may not deserve it. But it is given because the heart of the Giver is full of compassion and understanding.) James is saying that God gives wisdom in that spirit when we ask.
We have a lot of faults, right? We have probably made a lot of mistakes. In the pressure of this situation, we might have lost our temper (more than once), hurt those under our leadership, failed in many possible ways. But God is saying here that He doesn’t scold us for past failures, when we come sincerely, with our needs. He doesn’t hold back because we have ignored Him. He gives it without finding fault. Because He is a God of inexplicable love and grace. That is the way He is.
He also “gives it generously.” He is a large-hearted God who pours out his blessings on everyone. According to Jesus, “He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45 NIV). How do you see God? As judging, condemning, or selective in who He helps. He invites us to know Him as loving, gracious, and generous.
A Promise for Troubled Times
This promise of generous help is given in the context of trouble, which is what we are certainly dealing with now. Here is what James says before verse 5.
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
James 1:2-4 NIV
We are facing trials of many kinds now. God’s promise of wisdom is for such times. He invites us to ask for it when we are faced with tough or complicated decisions. Decisions that affect our business, our employees, our families. Corporate decisions and personal ones.
James also reminds us of a benefit that comes to us in our trials. The testing of our faith in trouble develops perseverance which leads to spiritual maturity.
This perseverance is not human grit, but rather the perseverance of faith. Faith stretching out to grab hold of God’s help and wisdom in times of trouble. Faith growing stronger as we claim His promises and experience His faithfulness in giving us the help we need.
Yesterday, I was digging around a young citrus tree in my back yard. It hasn’t fared so well in the high winds of our area, losing most of its leaves. Most of Spring, it has looked dead. But as I dug, I found a long, thin root that had stretched out looking for moisture. New leaves are sprouting now, and it will be fine.
James is describing this kind of perseverance and faith that, weak as it is sometimes, stretches out to ask God’s help, perhaps find more of God Himself. Confessing one’s lack of faith and need of wisdom, and asking God for His faithfulness, is what he means.
That Kind of Help
So, when James invites us to ask God for wisdom, He will give us that kind of help. He will give it generously, with grace, without finding fault. We will experience His love and help in practical ways as we see our prayers answered. And our faith will grow as we persevere.
On One Condition
When we ask God for help, we must come in faith, trusting He is able to help us, and believing that He will give us the answers we need when it is best. James says it this way:
“But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.”
James 1:6, 7 NIV
Is God switching from kind to demanding? From generous to stingy? No, faith is the condition which allows God to help us.
In the beginning, humanity turned from God by through doubting His word and distrusting His heart. This led to disobedience of a clear command. And this allowed Satan to claim us and this world as his. We chose his way.
Trusting God allows Him to do what He could otherwise not do.
A man came to Jesus asking for help. His son was possessed by a demon who had often thrown him into the fire or water to kill him. The family was tormented by the constant suspense and danger. The father said to Jesus, “if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”
“’If you can?’ said Jesus. ‘Everything is possible for one who believes.’
“Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, ‘I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief’!”
Mark 9:22-24 NIV
Immediately, Jesus commanded the evil spirit to come out of the boy, and he was freed.
Jesus invited people to put their trust in Him; to have faith, to believe. And when they did, He was able to help them. But as Jane pointed out in a comment below (and I agree), the point of this story is that God knows we often have weak faith, or no faith at all. But when we admit our need, God can help us. Admitting our need is the key that allows Him to work. There have been so many times in life when I came to God weak, in need of faith, asking for help and wisdom; and He was always there to help me.
So you see, James is right. Faith is a condition of receiving God’s help. Even struggling, weak faith. Not that God is trying to withhold His blessings. It is a ground rule for His action in the face of the cosmic war going on now.
Now that you understand, whatever role and responsibilities you have in your life, I pray you will take God up on His offer and experience His kindness and help. The answer to your prayer may not come immediately. But it will come when you need it most. God somethings allows our faith to stretch and grow stronger as we wait. It is a growth process, and it clarifies our motives and purifies our desires. So pray and trust. God is faithful.
The last few years of my pastoral career were extremely busy. I learned more than ever before in my life to depend on God for wisdom. Projects, counseling, sermons, leadership–things came at a fast pace. I learned to lean on God constantly. I was praying many times a day for wisdom, sometimes just breathing a prayer as I worked. God’s promise in Isaiah became a reality: “Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear” (Isaiah 65:24).
This can happen for us because God loves us so much. He really cares and wants to walk beside us as we do life. He proved this by sending Jesus to walk with us. And when Jesus left to go back to heaven, He said, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. My Father and I will make our home with you” (John 14:18, 23 NIV).
So, if you need wisdom, guidance, or support, ask. He loves to help.
This morning, a lady reported to our online prayer group, that she had received the dreaded letter. The hospital she works for had furloughed her. Another woman told how a friend, a sole provider with children in college, has also been furloughed. Of course, this is happening to thousands, probably millions, of people across our country and around the world.
I want to encourage you with a story from the first book of the Bible. Hagar, an Egyptian servant to Sarah, Abraham’s wife, has been mistreated by her mistress. It’s a complicated story, which you can read in Genesis 16; but we pick it up where Hagar has had enough abuse and has run away.
She’s out in the desert, alone, wondering how she is going to survive. Support gone. Resources dried up. Fearful for the future. Tears in her eyes.
That’s where an angel from Heaven finds her and gives her some guidance and a very encouraging message.
What is interesting is that Hagar probably didn’t follow Abraham’s God. Being from Egypt, she likely had her own national gods. Also, if you read the story, she had not been behaving especially well. But God didn’t hesitate. Because He has a heart for those in need. For the weak, the oppressed, the fired or furloughed.
When the angel finished, Hagar did and said something which speaks to my heart. I hope it will encourage you.
“She (Hagar) gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: ‘You are the God who sees me,’ for she said, ‘I have now seen the One who sees me.”That is why the well was called Beer Lahai Roi (well of the Living One who seese me); it is still there, between Kadesh and Bered.
“You are the God who sees me.” I didn’t know you, but You knew what I was going through. You saw me here beside the spring. In my home. On my knees. Collapsed on the couch. At a bar. Far from town. Tears in my eyes and fear in my heart.
If you are reading this, I want you to know that God sees what you are going through. He knows your circumstances and your need. If you cry out to Him, He will hear your prayer and help you in ways only a powerful, loving God knows how to do.
There are many promises He makes about this in the Bible, the record of His interactions with us humans. I want to share a few to encourage you. You can take them to Him and ask Him for help, because He is faithful. He is loving. And He sees.
“He will respond to the prayer of the destitute; he will not despise their plea.” Psalm 102:17
“The poor and needy search for water, but there is none; their tongues are parched with thirst. But I the Lord will answer them; I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them. I will make rivers flow on barren heights, and springs within the valleys.” Isaiah 41:17-18
“The eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to Him.” 2 Chronicles 16:9
“Who is like the Lord our God, the One who sits enthroned on high,who stoops down to look on the heavens and the earth? He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes, with the princes of his people.” Psalm 113:5-8
“I know that the Lord secures justice for the poor and upholds the cause of the needy.” Psalm 140:12
“I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread.” Psalm 37:25
“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10.
“Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.” Psalm 62:8
So, friend; tell God your problems. Pour out your heart to Him. He will listen, and in His own time and way, He will act.