Facing the Reality of Evil

“Then the dragon became furious with the woman
and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring,
on those who keep the commandments of God
and hold to the testimony of Jesus”
(Revelation 12:17)

October 1, 2015 brought us another school shooting; this time, at a community college in Oregon.  The shooter in this horrific tragedy reportedly asked his victims if they were Christian, and shot those who answered “Yes.” In all, 9 were killed, and 9 others wounded.

Setting aside all the political debate that has arisen from this, what we can say for certain is this: we are witnessing evil in this world, and our hearts are crying out for an answer. Politicians will debate this to try to find the best policy (either to fix the problem or get them re-elected); that’s what politicians do.  As I wrote in my previous post, it is the role of the pastor to stand in the middle of such senselessness and point to the end of the story, and the One who has written it.

I’m currently in the middle of reading a rather long commentary on Revelation. I realize that doesn’t sound like the most exciting reading. In the light of recent events, however, Revelation and the commentary speak powerfully to our lives today.  Consider this:

The victory won through Christ’s blood must be the basis, not only for the saints’ earthly victory, but also for Michael’s triumph in heaven. V 11 summarizes the purpose of the whole chapter and especially of vv 7-12. The single intent… is to assure those who meet satanic evil on earth that it is really a defeated power, however contrary it might seem to human experience. Christians can be assured that the serpent begins to battle against their bodies only after he has lost the battle over their souls. This expresses one of the major themes of the book: the suffering of Christians is a sign, not of Satan’s victory, but of the saints’ victory over Satan because of their belief in the triumph of the cross, with which their suffering identifies them.

If the devil’s accusations had been effective with God, then all of God’s people would have been cast from his presence and would have begun to experience the anguish of the final judgment, which would be consummated at the Last Day. Instead, the devil was cast out from heaven, because his charges had become groundless. The saints’ status in heaven has been legitimized finally by Christ’s suffering on the cross. All believers, past, present, and future, have overcome the devil because of the blood of the Lamb.

How have they overcome the devil? Through Christ’s death they have been declared not guilty of the accusations launched against them. Therefore they are exempt from the ultimate punishment. Satan’s accusations are unable to unleash the infliction of the “second death.”

Beale, G.K., The New International Greek Testament Commentary: The Book of Revelation. (Eerdmans Pub Co, Grand Rapids MI, 1999) Pg663-4.

What you’ll hear from the politician is this shooting is evidence that we need better gun-control, better health-care, better control of such “toxic-masculinity” (whatever that is).  What we need, they’ll tell you, is for the government to fix this; we need a stronger, more powerful, state.

The reality is, Satan has been cast down, and he is raging against the church until he is finally conquered by Christ (Revelation 12). As the old hymn goes:

The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure…

This is the reality of the evil we face today, but is also the reality of our conquering King Jesus the Christ.  This evil will continue to rage against His rule until the very end, and our only hope in the face of such evil is found in Christ our King, the one who died and is alive forevermore.  You won’t hear that from your politicians.

Safe on Base

“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will abide in the shadow of the Almighty…”
(Psalm 91:1)

Today’s message is brought to you by that eternal and ever-present childhood game: Tag.  You remember the game: running furiously to avoid getting “tagged,” until that moment you are “it” and you begin to chase the rest of the crowd.  “No-Tag-Backs!” you’ll hear the children shout, just to make sure they can get away.

Of course there are countless varieties to the classic game:

Freeze Tag – once you’re tagged you are “frozen” in place until another person crawls under your legs.

Blob Tag – one person starts as “it,” but as others are tagged, they join hand-in-hand to create a large “it” blob

Toilet Tag – when you are tagged you must squat down to form the toilet and hold out your hand like a handle.  To get back in the game, someone must flush you and make the flushing sound.

Then you will all remember crying “Base” just before you got tagged.  Now, a good game leader will have established a base, if there is one.  But when kids just get together and start playing,  base” becomes whatever is closest to keep you from getting tagged; a tree, a wall, a rock, it doesn’t matter, just so long as it keeps you “safe.”  Of course then, arguments ensue about the legitimacy of the base, how long one can stay, and how far away “it” has to stay from the base.  Who knew Tag could be so complicated.

Now you be thinking, Pastor Ethan’s lost his mind… and you might be right.  But there’s actually a point to all of this.  When playing tag, having a pre-determined base could come in handy.  It was a safe place, a place to catch your breath.  I always thought, as a kid playing tag, that base was a cop-out.  That was, until I needed one.

Wouldn’t it be nice if in this life, when thing are spiraling out of control, when everything is “tagging” you and you feel like you’re always “it” – wouldn’t it be nice if there were a place to call “base,” a hideaway, a safe place to go?

This is the promise of the Lord’s presence in Psalm 91:1-2.  “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.  I will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’”

Now, before you all start singing “And he will raise you up on eagle’s wings…” consider for a moment what those verses have taught us about God.

God is a Shelter, a Refuge, a Fortress, He Hides us in the Shadow of his wings.  All of these images tell us that the Lord is a secure defense for those who trust in Him.  Keep in mind, you don’t need a shelter, a refuge, a fortress, a hiding place in times of comfort and ease.  The image of God as savior and keeper are only meaningful for those who need to be saved and kept from harm.

We are never promised that we will not face adversity.  In fact, Jesus said that those who follow Him must expect trials and tribulation (John 15:18-21).  Paul even said that no one who seeks to be righteous will avoid persecution (2 Tim 3:12).  We are not exempt from the storm, but we do have a shelter in the midst of it.

Today, whatever your facing, whatever storms are brewing, whatever “it” is chasing you down; run to Him who is your Shelter, your Refuge, your Fortress, hide yourself in the Shadow of His wings.

Sola Deo Gloria!