We need Christ to return in power and glory to take over the world. That's what the Feast of Trumpets pictures in the Christology of the annual holy days. We would love to see the end of this era of suffering and sin. But is there a reason for suffering? What do the scriptures say? Are you suffering from some problem or painful condition? This article may help explain why God's people need to go through times of trial on their way to the resurrection.
It’s hard to believe. We observed, just this week, yet another anniversary of the 9/11 attack on this country. It looks like many of the “bad guys” over there have been dispatched by our armed services. Many more keep coming out of the woodwork. I don’t know if there are any easy answers to this problem. (I use the term “bad guys” light-heartedly, in the sense of American movies of the wild west, where the “good guys” and the “bad guys” battle each other throughout the movies, with the “good guys” always winning in the end. That is a simplistic approach to life, which often does not work in the real world, a world with many baffling complexities and shifting concepts of right and wrong.)
I think the
Roman Empirehad a very effective strategy when dealing with enemy combatants and countries that became problems for the peace and tranquility of the empire. If a country presented a problem, and the people were out of control, the Roman army would simply march through, leaving a quietude behind. It was a rather ruthless solution to the problem, but very effective. It kept the peace in the countries that were involved, and assured the continued existence of the Roman Empire.
But remembering the 9/11 attack brings back many memories. The news accounts this week were filled with recordings that were broadcast during the attack, and hearing these and seeing these can awaken memories, feelings, and emotions that we may have forgotten. At the time, it took the nation by surprise. Something like this had never happened before. We had never been attacked on our own soil here in the continent. The attack on
Pearl Harborwas way out in the Pacific, and a long, long time ago. This was a new experience.
In times of tragedy, we humans often ask, “Why?” “Why would God let this happen?” I can’t really say I’m going to give you the answer today. All the religious and pious things we say during times of grieving all tend to sound so hollow, so unsatisfactory. And even after all these years, there are thousands more Americans dead, and who knows how many times more Iraqis dead. The end of this mess is not at all in sight, and there continue to be no easy answers.
At the time, the whole picture of the 9/11 attack reminded me of the prophecy of Joel 2. We could see on our televisions all those frightened people running down the street, already covered with dirt and ash, with a rapidly growing cloud of dust and ash racing down the street and catching up to them.
The Day of the LORD
Let’s look at the prophecy in Joel chapter 2. It isn’t really a picture of the 9/11 attack, but something about what we all were watching on television brought this to mind. I remember thinking this as I watched the news unfolding on the television.
1 Blow the trumpet in
; sound the alarm on my holy hill. Let all who live in the land tremble, for the day of the LORD is coming. It is close at hand – Zion
2 a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness. Like dawn spreading across the mountains a large and mighty army comes, such as never was of old nor ever will be in ages to come.
3 Before them fire devours, behind them a flame blazes. Before them the land is like the garden of Eden, behind them, a desert waste – nothing escapes them.
(Joel 2:1-3, NIV throughout)
Of course, that’s not an exact picture of what the 9/11 attack looked like. And yet, I couldn’t help but think of that kind of destruction and fear when I was watching the panic-stricken New Yorkers fleeing for their lives. And there’s a reference here to an army marching through, leaving desolation behind.
Skipping down to verse 28, talking about the Day of the Lord:
28 'And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.
29 Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.
30 I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and billows of smoke.
31 The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD.
32 And everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved; for on
Mount Zionand in there will be deliverance, as the LORD has said, among the survivors whom the LORD calls. Jerusalem
That’s part of the prophecy of Joel chapter 2.
Then, some time later, as we jump forward in history, the Spirit came in power on the day of Pentecost in Acts chapter 2, Peter said that what was happening that day was in partial fulfillment of this prophecy. Let’s look at that. Acts chapter 2.
There are certain tie-ins between the Day of Trumpets and the Feast of Pentecost. Both have to do with Christ’s coming and the resurrection. Both have to do with the beginning of the church in today’s world and the beginning of the ruling family of God at the beginning of the Millennium.
1 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.
2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.
3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.
4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven.
6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language.
7 Utterly amazed, they asked: "Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans?
8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language?
9 Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and
Cappadocia, Pontusand Asia,
10 Phrygia and
Pamphylia, Egyptand the parts of Libyanear Cyrene; visitors from Rome
11(both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs – we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!"
12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, "What does this mean?"
13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, "They have had too much wine."
I have a picture in my mind about this. Have you ever heard someone speaking, and suddenly that person starts talking in another language? I’ve experienced that. It can be startling! The person may be translating for a family member, so they talk to us in English, then they talk to the other person in the other language. They didn’t say they were going to shift languages. But all of a sudden I couldn’t understand what they were saying. The voice is the same. The person is the same. The only difference is, I go from understanding them to not understanding them, suddenly. Then I understand that they’re speaking in another language.
I picture that sort of thing happening here, in Acts chapter 2. The disciples are running outside, excitedly saying things that can’t be understood by some of the people. What do you expect people to think? They suppose these excited disciples have slurred speech because they’ve been visiting the happy water cooler for the holy day! You know, we’re supposed to party at the holy days! That’s apparently what some people thought was going on here. “That’s why we can’t understand what they’re saying. They’re drunk!” The truth was, they were speaking in other languages.
14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: "Fellow Jews and all of you who live in
, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. Jerusalem
15 These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It's only nine in the morning!
16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
17 "'In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.
18 Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.
19 I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke.
20 The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
21 And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.'
A new religion
Something very special, something totally unique, happened on that Pentecost day in Acts chapter 2. It was the start of a whole new thing. When Messiah comes down from the sky, he’ll set this whole thing in motion – a thing that has never happened before. The things that were pictured on Pentecost in Acts chapter 2 are going to be put into motion because of what’s pictured on the Day of Trumpets.
This new Way wasn’t just a new sect of Judaism. It really was a totally new religion, founded on some of the same principles as the previous one, but also on some entirely new concepts that had been kept hidden from the foundation of the world. Paul identifies this mystery in various places. One example is in Colossians chapter 1.
26 the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints.
27 To them [to the saints] God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
There was a concept in earlier times in
Israelthat God lives among His people, that He dwells with , and of God’s Spirit being in people to some extent, but nothing like this! Now – God’s only-begotten son – who had ever heard of such a thing? The Messiah, yes. A savior of some kind, yes. God’s promises of deliverance for Israel , yes. Israel
Now, in this new Way of life, there was a new hope: resurrection from the dead as real sons of God. There was a new ideal: being adopted as children of God. There was a new way to get there: Christ in you, the hope of glory.
And the way to accomplish all this? Faith. Simple faith. Sacrificing animals doesn’t do it. Faith. In what? In that first-century itinerant preacher Yeshua as being the Messiah. In his shed blood as the atoning sacrifice for our sins. In the belief, corroborated by many people, that he was alive again and they had seen him. In the faith that was backed up by miracle after miracle to show that God’s hand was in this new Way, in a big way!
I’d like to take you on a brief trip through the book of Romans to show you how this faith can open the door to salvation and eternal life. We’ll begin in chapter four of Romans. Paul is talking about Abraham, way back in Genesis, way back in the Old Testament, showing the importance of faith!
18 Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, "So shall your offspring be."
19 Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead – since he was about a hundred years old – and that Sarah's womb was also dead.
20 Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God,
21 being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.
22 This is why "it was credited to him as righteousness."
23 The words "it was credited to him" were written not for him alone,
24 but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness – for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.
25 He [Jesus our Lord] was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.
This was a whole new ball game. This went way beyond the sacrificial system, where an animal was a substitute so that the animal would pay the penalty so the sacrificer could go back to his home with his sins covered.
In this new Way, the sins weren’t just covered. They were forgiven. In this new Way, the slate wasn’t just wiped clean. The slate was thrown away! It was nailed to the cross (Colossians 2:14).
Continuing in Romans chapter 5:
1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,
2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.
3 Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;
We were talking about searching for some answers to the “why” questions. “Why didn’t God intervene and stop the attacks?” "Why does God allow suffering?” Let’s look at this as a partial answer to questions about why God allows suffering, and why God sometimes allows us to suffer.
3 Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;
4 perseverance, character; and character, hope.
This looks like a three-step process. If we are in some condition that forces us to suffer for a long time, and there’s no quick solution, what does that produce? If there’s no way to end the suffering, and you just have to suck it up and keep on trucking, that suffering produces something very valuable in us: perseverance. That perseverance, in turn, helps to create in us a strong and noble character.
Have you ever noticed that people who have always had the way paved for them, who have always lived the easy life, often don’t have much in the way of character? You can’t get past it at the supermarket check-out line. It’s staring us right in the face. Who is divorcing whom? Which unmarried
Hollywoodbimbo is pregnant now? Whose face – or whose unclad body – is on the cover of the magazines, crying out, “Look at me – I’m an idiot!”? There’s an entire industry given over to ogling and idolizing people who have little or no character.
On the other hand, how many people have we known who are quietly suffering through some horrible situation in life, or some painful health problem, and yet they are the picture of peacefulness because of their trust in God. And it’s that perseverance, coming through prolonged suffering which we must endure, that finally creates in people the hope that Paul is talking about here, a hope that transcends what people ordinarily hope for.
Someone in pain might hope for the blessed sleep of death and the resurrection at Messiah’s coming. Someone who is suffering for another person’s plight might hope for God to give the other person rest, peace, a blessing, or whatever that other person needs.
Common, ordinary people tend to have common, ordinary hopes. “I hope it doesn’t rain.” “I hope I get a raise at work.” “I hope my favorite team wins the game.”
Suffering, persevering people have hopes at an entirely different, and much higher, level. We have a hope in the resurrection of the dead. A hope in the return of the son of God to take over the reigns of government of this world. A hope that that day will come soon so this world of suffering will be healed. A hope that fallen mankind can be forgiven and elevated back up to its rightful position. A hope that God’s intentions for every human will be met. A hope that peace and harmony and love will overflow from
to all nations, and that this era of human existence will become a rapidly shrinking image in our rear view mirrors as we race down the road into the Millennium, year after glorious year. Jerusalem
That’s the kind of hope we need to have.
Peter also wrote about this.
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade – kept in heaven for you,
5 who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.
6 In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.
7 These have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.
8 Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy,
9 for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
(1 Peter 1:3-9)
Suffering does seem to be a part of life for many Christians. But we aren’t called on to suffer because God is cruel, mean, or vindictive. There’s a larger purpose at work. If we are called to greatness as God’s children, we may also need to be called to go through strengthening experiences, which develop in us the patience, long-suffering, and greater overview of life we need to be effective as God’s children. One of the aspect of the fruit of the Spirit is patience, or long-suffering (Galatians 5:22).
Can we expect to be excused from what our savior had to go through? In Hebrews 5:8-9, we read this:
8 Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered
9 and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him
Many scriptures indicate that we are to take up our crosses and follow him. We are to be baptized into his death (Romans 6). We have to drink the cup he drank from (see Matthew 20:20-28). We have to be lifted up in order to be lifted up. (In other words, we are crucified with Christ, yet we live with Christ in us – Galatians 2:20).
It seems as if some of us have been called to endure hardship. In Hebrews chapter 12, we read:
7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father?
8 If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons.
9 Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live!
10 Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness.
11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
12 Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees.
13 "Make level paths for your feet," so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.
This might help us to understand why we need to suffer at times in this life, and especially why we often end the few days of our lives in pain and helplessness. God wants us to be thinking of Him, of the resurrection, and living in a glorified spirit body that doesn’t grow old, doesn’t wrinkle, doesn’t need to be washed or ironed, and doesn’t wear out! And He wants us to be disciplined, so that we may have the righteousness He wants to give us.
Righteousness is a gift from God, not something we have to work up (see, for example, Romans 1:17 and Philippians 3:9). But how God chooses to give us that gift may seem a bit painful while we’re going through the process! But the end result will definitely be worth it.
Sin from the beginning
Returning now to Romans chapter 5, we continue in verse 5:
5 And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.
6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.
7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die.
8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
9 Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him!
10 For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!
11 Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned –
13 for before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law.
14 Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who was a pattern of the one to come.
Now, we’d better stop and unwind some of these things Paul is saying here. He’s not saying that there wasn’t any sin until the Ten Commandments were given. He’s saying that, even though the Ten Commandments were not given to
until the time of Moses, sin was still there. Israel
Adam didn’t sin by breaking one of the Ten Commandments, but he sinned. This is saying that sin has been a part of our lives since day one, since the Garden of Eden.
Here’s an important thing to remember: Sin didn’t begin with the Ten Commandments, and the Ten Commandments didn’t end at
Calvary. Sin was from the beginning, and it continues to this day.
We live in a sinful world. We swim in a green swimming pool. We paddle upstream against a flushing toilet. Sometimes I feel like the cartoon character who sees a growing shadow going outward in all directions on the ground, only to find out a second later that a grand piano is falling on his head.
This typifies the world we live in. Sin entered the world through one man, Adam. If it hadn’t been Adam it would have been someone else. Everyone sins. That’s the point Paul is making here.
Skipping down to verse 20 in Romans chapter 5, Paul has established that sin exists, and that it was there since the Garden of Eden.
20 The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more,
21 so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
What is Paul getting at here? Sin and death reigned from the time of Adam forward, even without the written law from the time of Moses. Then along comes the Exodus, and God gives Moses the Ten Commandments.
What Paul is saying here, and he has also said this in other passages, is that the purpose of the law is to define what sin is. God pretty much looks at what humans do that hurt themselves and others, and then He says, “Don’t do that.”
The natural result of sin is pain and hurt. We hurt ourselves. We hurt other people. As an old song tells us, we always hurt the one we love, the one we shouldn’t hurt at all. We always take the sweetest rose and crush it till the petals fall. We always break the kindest heart with a hasty word we can’t recall. These are words from a popular song of many years ago.
My point is that sin brings pain and suffering. That’s why we have suffering in the world today. That’s why somebody thought they would address the sinfulness of the
through their own sinfulness by driving airplanes into buildings. That’s why we’ve had suffering in the world from the Garden of Eden forward. Every generation has had war, invading armies, cruel tyrants who rule over them, and a hopeless life, throughout human history. United States
And God set aside a day and gave mankind the Ten Commandments. And in the years that followed, He gave other statutes and judgments that also told people how to live.
In the narrower outlook, we are supposed to walk within the guidelines of these rules, or else we are sinners. From God’s perspective, as a Father looking down on His children, we are free to walk in these guidelines or not walk in them. It’s our choice. Obedience to God is voluntary. I want you to understand that. Obeying God is voluntary. You have the choice. But with that choice comes responsibility. With that choice there are consequences. Adam discovered that when he joined Eve in her sin.
In the narrower outlook, if we violate God’s laws, we are sinners. In God’s perspective, as a Father looking down on His children, if we violate the rules He has set down for us, we cause pain, suffering, grief, and unhappiness, both to ourselves and to other people.
So God says, “Don’t do those things.” He says, “Here, do these things instead. These things will bring happiness, long life, a prosperous economy, safety from your enemies, good crops, happy families, a good relationship with Me as your God, and an abundant life that you can hardly stand because of the joy you’ll experience.” That’s what God says.
But now, in this passage in Romans, and in many other places, Paul is writing about sin, sinning, and sinfulness. He says all it took was one man to be the first sinner, but everyone since then has also been a sinner. The natural consequence of sin is death. Paul says death reigned from Adam forward, even though the Ten Commandments weren’t given until the days of Moses. That’s how serious sin is. That’s how deadly sin is. Death reigned, right from the start.
Now, along comes the son of God, and in this one man God has restored the possibility of humankind being accounted worthy, accounted to be sinless, through faith and belief and hope, and through changed lives! This all comes about through God’s incredible grace and favor, His forgiveness, His willingness to accept us as His children, all because we are willing to accept His son as our savior.
But look at these last two verses in chapter five again:
20 The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more,
21 so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Paul is saying that there is no sin that can’t be overcome by God’s grace. There is no sin that can’t be forgiven if the sinner comes to repentance. God’s grace, and Christ’s sacrifice, are bigger than any sin. So even if sin increases, grace can increase even more.
We see this today. Sin has increased, to the point of saturation. There is so much sin in the lives of almost everyone around us, daily, in their thoughts, words, and deeds, to the point that we can safely say we live in the deep end of the cesspool.
But what about God’s grace? Will He forgive everything, every time, no matter what?
This creates a philosophical problem. There were some people who thought that God would forgive their sins endlessly, they can go on living their lives any way they want to, and that no matter how much they sinned, God would forgive them. There are people today who still think this way. They confess their sins to a religious leader, then they’re all cleaned up and ready to go out and sin some more, and God will forgive them all over again. It sounds like a joke. But it’s not a joke. They even brag about it. But that’s not what the Bible teaches. Paul even comments about that in the next verses, in Romans chapter 6.
1 What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?
2 By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?
3 Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?
4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
5 If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.
6 For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin –
7 because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.
We know that the penalty of sin is death. Once we’re dead, the law has no more power over us. It has won. We are dead.
When we come to the point where we are willing to give up our past lives, when we are ready to be crucified with Christ, then we are at the point where we are done with living a life of sin. We are done with following in the footsteps of Adam who sinned. We are ready to give up our citizenship in Adam, which begins in mortality and ends in death, and we are willing to join our savior in his death, which results in eternal life.
We may die, we may be entirely dead, dried up, and buried in the ground, but we won’t stay that way! That’s the good news!
Continuing in verse 8:
8 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.
9 For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him.
10 The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.
11 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.
12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.
13 Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness.
14 For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.
We try to explain this curious statement, “we are not under law, but under grace,” by saying we are not under the penalty of law, but under the forgiveness of grace. We don’t have the death penalty hanging over our heads any more. Other people, with limited understanding, say that this verse frees us from having to obey the law. We’re under grace, so we don’t have to slavishly obey God’s harsh, cruel law. First of all, that’s not what scripture teaches. But secondly, it doesn’t even make sense, as a sentence, to think that obedience is even in this thought. If we are freed from having to obey the law because we are under grace, do we now obey grace? Nobody who believes this has really been able to explain to me what that means.
The whole passage is talking about righteousness, and freedom from sin. It’s because of God’s grace that we have a shot at eternity. Sin is not our master. We are no longer slaves to sin. That’s the good news! If you die in Adam, you’re dead until further notice. If you die in Christ, you have a future that is so great we can hardly imagine it!
And in the Christology of the holy days, where we can see the plan of God being re-enacted every year, the Day of Trumpets is when it starts. That’s the day we look to as the day we are liberated from our graves to the glorious life as children of God.
What about today?
What can we say about the 3,000-plus people who died during the 9/11 attacks? Can we say that they are no longer under the penalty of sin? Did sin claim their lives? Sinners took their lives, that’s for sure. Somebody was a slave to sin in that whole episode. And yet, isn’t it appointed once for men to die, then after that, the judgment? How does that figure in? Let’s read that, in Hebrews 9.
27 Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment,
28 so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.
A lot of people died on 9/11. A lot of people have died since, because of that day. But you know, I’d say there’s a fair chance there were people who died in the 9/11 crashes who were waiting for Messiah to come again. In the airplanes, in the towers, in the Pentagon. Todd Beemer comes to mind. I’d also say, though, that most of those people might not have made peace with God, the true God, the One who can raise them from the dead, the One who will raise them from the dead to face the great white throne.
We can say all sorts of platitudes about it. “Well, at least their suffering is over.” “They have strived through life and now they’re at rest.” That’s not really satisfactory, at least not to me, since the families of the victims are still going through grieving, going through lawsuits, going through the media invading their lives. As I said, there really aren’t that many easy answers.
Really, the best we can do is to remember that we live in a fallen world, the world of Adam, the one who introduced sin into human existence. Eve took the forbidden fruit, but she was deceived. Adam saw that she had sinned and made a decision to join her in sinfulness. He was not deceived as Eve was. It was a deliberate choice.
In our fallen world, many people are limited in the choices they can make. They can’t help where they were born. They can’t help it if their bodies are maimed because somebody detonated a bomb near them. They can’t help it if they were malnourished as children because they lived in an area of famine or drought. They can’t help it if a maniac has seized control of the government of their country and terrorizes the people of that country day and night.
We have choices in this hope, this Way in which we live. If God chooses us, we can choose Him right back again. If God chooses to show us a better Way, we can choose to go down that path. If God chooses to invite us into the biggest responsibility in human existence – joining Christ in his death, but also in his resurrection – we can choose to take it or leave it. I believe many of the people who are reading this article are people who have chosen to take it.
In this discussion we have talked about a number of things: the 9/11 attack; the Day of the Lord, a day of clouds and gloominess; some of the meanings of Pentecost and Trumpets; the New Testament mystery that was kept hidden, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory; faith; sin; and grace. That’s a lot of territory to cover.
Let’s put it all together. When the world is falling down around us, when we are in a day of clouds and darkness and gloominess and destruction, we can remember that we have God’s Spirit in us, and we know the mystery, that Christ is in us, and that is our hope of glory, and by God’s grace and the faith He has given us, we can overcome sin, both the sin in our own lives and the sinfulness of the fallen and degraded world around us.
Knowing that, and knowing at least a little bit about why God allows suffering, we should be able to go through this life, and its difficulties, and its aches and pains, and its troubles, knowing that God has a plan, He’s working His plan, He’s invited us to join Him in that plan, and that He has created a place for us, in His family, in His kingdom, in His government, in His presence, forever.
All this, that we look forward to, starts on the Day of Trumpets in some year yet future. It starts, in real life, when Messiah returns from heaven and brings us up out of our graves.
13 Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. 14 We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.
15 According to the Lord's own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep.
16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.
17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.
18 Therefore encourage each other with these words.
(1 Thessalonians 4:13-18)
When I was attending another church years ago, every year at Easter time one of the priests would greet people with a big smile and say, “He is risen.” The countersign, which you were supposed to say back to him, was, “He is risen indeed.” We might just as easily greet people with the phrase, “He is coming!” And the countersign could be, “He is coming indeed!” Encourage each other with these words!
You may know the story in Matthew chapter 24, the sequence of events given by Messiah regarding the time leading up to his coming in power and glory.
27 For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.
28 Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather.
29 "Immediately after the distress of those days …
Now Messiah is going to quote from Joel chapter 2!
… "'the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.'
30 "At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory.
31 And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.
And I’m sure you know the story flow of the book of Revelation. In chapter 15 and 16, there are seven angels with bowls, or vials, ready to pour them out as God’s punishments on an already devastated world. Mankind will have made a complete mess of things, and then God steps in to make matters worse through these punishments. It’s going to be a terrible time. But after the punishment, God sends His son to take over the rulership of this sin-sick world. From that time forward, for a thousand years, things will get better and better.
The Day of the Lord starts with darkness and blackness. From there, it brightens into the most wonderful period of time in human history. All of mankind, from Adam forward, will be reconciled to God. The earth will become one big Garden of Eden. And humans will at last know God, and His Way of life, as the waters cover the sea.
6 The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.
I remember Woody Allen once saying, “The lion will lie down with the lamb, but the lamb won’t get much sleep.”
7 The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
I’m sure the lamb will be glad to hear that.
8 The infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child put his hand into the viper's nest.
9 They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.
That’s a wonderful future to look forward to. We need to keep our eyes focused on that goal.
But if you happen to be in a day, today, filled with darkness and blackness, go ahead and suffer if you need to – the Bible says we rejoice in our sufferings (imagine that!) – so you can build the perseverance, character, and hope you need.
But remember what’s on the other side: the most wonderful life imaginable, eternal life as immortal children of God, in a happy, peaceful, productive life that never ends, with God as your Father, and more brothers and sisters than you could ever get to know, even if you had all eternity. And that’s the good part – you will have all eternity!
And that’s really the message of the Day of Trumpets. The good news of God’s rulership goes out to the world, and we have a part in that, both today and forever.
I sure hope that day comes soon.