Sunday, September 15, 2019

A Tale of Two Scrolls

The Book of Revelation talks about two scrolls. One is sealed and no one is initially found worthy to open it until finally Jesus is deemed worthy to open this important document. It is closed by seven seals, and as each seal is opened the long-foretold events of prophecy will be realized in our world. The first four seals are often referred to as the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, which I understand as: the peaceful victory of the Antichrist in establishing a global government, followed by war, famine and death. The fifth seal is a global massacre of the saints that continues “just a little while longer” until the remainder are martyred, followed quickly by the earthquake I believe will occur in the middle of the seven year tribulation period that marks the Rapture, the end of man’s rebellion and the beginning of God’s wrath upon the rebellious. The seventh seal is then broken as the Lamb has now reclaimed the earth for God and His people, and there is a great and solemn moment in heaven, which is completely silent for a half hour. Shouldn’t there be exultation rather than this great solemnity? 

But hold that thought for a little bit while I talk about a second scroll in Revelation. It’s small and open for anyone to read, yet the contents are a bit of mystery to the reader. The scroll is announced loudly and echoed by seven thunders, yet when John starts to write down what has been said, he’s told not to write it down. The mystery is meant for the last days, when the angel is ready to blow the seventh trumpet. So John is told to eat the scroll, warned that it will taste sweet in his mouth yet will be bitter in his stomach. What could taste so good and yet leave him feeling so unsettled? 

In our brokenness, I’m sure there are many things that might be like this scroll, things such as revenge or justice dealt to our antagonists. It feels good at first, but would it feel as good if we knew the full story? Stephen, the first Christian martyr, set an uncommon example as his tormentors were stoning him, crying out: “Forgive them! They don’t know what they do!” And wasn’t he just imitating Jesus’ words on the cross as He slowly died: “Father forgive them! They don’t know what they do!”.

So what is the significance of the silence when the final seal is broken? And what is this small scroll that is open for anyone to read until it melts like honey in John’s mouth? I believe the silence and the bitterness of John’s stomach are related. Once that seventh seal is broken, no one else will enter heaven. We think of Christ’s return as our long-awaited victory, and it is certainly all that and more! But heaven has patiently waited millennia to pull in the harvest. It has tolerated the sowing of weeds next to the wheat, harvesting carefully so that nothing would be lost. While I’m grateful for this, I’m not nearly grateful enough… without God’s gracious patience I would be lost!

But what about this small scroll, the one that open for anyone to read, carried by a loud angel whose words are resounded by seven thunders? It’s obviously no secret yet the words spoken about the small scroll are stricken from John’s record. Could it be the list of people who still could have been saved? If so, I’m grateful that the list is small! I’ve no doubt the list is filled with all sorts of reprehensible people, perhaps even some of our past, present or future tormentors, people so reprehensible that heaven would be better without them, right?

Some of the most beautiful believers I’ve met were once totally depraved. Hearing the stories of how God redeemed their lives always fills me with such awe in God as well as a surprising compassion for person for all the events that led to their original depravity. As the saying goes: there but for the grace of God go I. Can you imagine what it would be like to see your worst tormentor die without being redeemed by Christ’s love? I bet it might taste pretty sweet at first, but in the light of eternity how will we feel. When we understand fully how our enemies are a product of how they were wounded, I believe it will leave a bitterness in our stomach and a regret for how we may have contributed to that wounding. Or maybe we’ll feel the shame for how we withheld our hand from helping them out of fear of being bit. 

No man knows the day or the hour of Christ’s return, but the time is short, shorter than it’s ever been. We can see the signs that Jesus gave us, that his disciples and the prophets have given us, so how shall we respond? Will we act the part of His Ambassadors to this world or pretend to be residents of this foreign kingdom? Will we continue to be willing to witness in love to the people who ridicule us, torture us, and someday martyr us like Stephen, or will we shirk away in fear and weakness? 

When Stephen died, there was a man standing in approval of his stoning. A rising star among the religious authorities of his day, this young man actively sought to destroy the early Christians, but his life was turned completely around as he met the risen Jesus on the road to Tarsus. We don’t know how Stephen’s testimony affected Saul as he meditated for 3 days in blindness, but I look forward to hearing Paul’s story from him directly one day. Likewise, we don’t know what seeds are sown through our faithful suffering, but we will one day! 

I don’t claim to have God’s heart or to see things as He sees them, but I desire to see as He sees and to feel as He feels so that every dark cloud I pass through fades and every giant shrinks. No one looks forward to suffering, at least no one who has a healthy mindset. Yet we all enjoy the victory received when we push through momentary hardships! 
Lord make us faithful in times of trial and triumph, praising You for every victory in the past, present, and future!
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