Secure In His Care

Ezekiel 34:28-31“They will live in safety, and no one will make them afraid. I will provide for them a land renowned for its crops, and they will no longer be victims of famine in the land or bear the scorn of the nations. Then they will know that I, the Lord their God, am with them, and that they, the house of Israel, are my people, declares the Sovereign Lord. You my sheep, the sheep of my pasture, are people, and I am your God, declares the Sovereign Lord.”

Let me share with you part of a remarkable e-mail I once received: “My name is Mr. Abdul Wade, the Auditor General of Standard Chartered Bank and Security Company, Medina, Dakar, Senegal (West Africa). There is a consignment containing the sum of 12 million, five hundred thousand United States Dollars. The said box was deposited by Mr. Mark Francis Roderick, an American who died on Sept. 11, 2001 in a plane crash. Going by the usual rules governing our operation, the box shall be handed over to the relevant government authorities as an unclaimed deposit. Details shall be made available to you as soon as I hear from you. Please kindly send me (your contact information). At the conclusion of the transaction you will be given 25% of the total fund. I shall furnish you with all the necessary information you need in this transaction.”

Apparently if I had helped the man get the money into the hands of the proper authorities, I would pocket a little over 3 million dollars! All my money problems would have been solved!

But you already recognize that this is something known as a “Nigerian Bank Scam.” The only person who would make any money from this deal is Mr. Abdul Wade (if that is his real name). The offer is, as they say, “too good to be true.”

Do God’s promises ever seem that way to you–too good to be true? Through Ezekiel God promised Israel a very special relationship with him. They would be his people, his sheep. He would be their God, be with them, and care for them like a shepherd. They could be sure they would have enough to live on. They could live in safety, because he claimed them as his own.

Today you and I are his people, the people God claims as his own. Like Old Testament Israel, we can take this promise for ourselves. Do you see why that is so important for us, that he claims us so? In war, it may be good to have mercenary soldiers on your side because it adds to your troop strength. But mercenaries can present a problem. There is only so much one will do for pay. Mercenaries have been known to flee the field of battle because they are willing to fight for money, but they aren’t willing to die for it.

But when men are fighting to protect their own children, their own families, their own communities, their own people–there you have a soldier faithful to the very end. Our God is not a mercenary we have hired to protect us. We are his family. He claims us as his sheep, his children, even his bride. He joined our family as a real human being. He died to save our family and spare our lives. He lives to assure us we live in safety, and all the more so when we finally reach the family home.

If something looks too good to be true, it probably is–except for the promises of God. Because he claims us, we can be sure of his providence, protection, and care. We are his sheep, and we can live securely.

The Lord Is My Portion

Lamentations 3:24 “I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.’”

“Portion” is an important Old Testament word for understanding God’s loving relationship with his people. When forty years of wandering in the desert were over, and Joshua finally brought the people into the land we know as Israel, each family received its own piece of land. This was that family’s “portion,” a kind of gift and inheritance from God. Your house, your yard, your farm were to be constant reminders that you had a place in the Lord’s extended family.

One tribe didn’t receive the same kind of “portion” as everyone else. The families from the tribe of Levi received much less land. They got scattered towns and villages all across the country. But God had chosen them as temple workers. Every one of them had a job to do in supporting the worship and sacrifices. Because they had been given this special connection with his work and worship, the Lord told them that he himself was their “portion.” They had something more direct than a piece of property to remind them of their place in God’s family. More than anyone else they were immersed in the system of worship that kept God’s love and promises in front of their eyes. In the message communicated in the preaching and sacrifices, the Lord was giving them himself. He was their “portion.”

Of course, the other people also went to the temple. They heard the preaching and participated in the sacrifices, if not as much. The idea grew that God gave himself to the people of this nation in a special way, that he was the “portion” for all of them. For Jeremiah, remembering “the Lord is my portion” was an important reason for hope.

This is no less true for us. By describing himself as our portion, the Lord shows us that he is a self-giving God. He makes himself a “self-gift” to us. That finds its ultimate fulfillment in Jesus. In telling the story of Jesus’ birth, the gospel writer Matthew reminds us that Jesus is “Immanuel,” which means “God with us.” God was giving himself to us when Jesus came to earth. During his ministry Jesus taught his disciples about the reason he came. “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” He came to give us himself as the ransom that sets us free. He kept that promise months later when he let himself be arrested without cause, refused to defend himself at his trial, and allowed himself to be falsely convicted and crucified. His death on the cross, and all the many spiritual blessings flowing from it–forgiveness of sins, reconciliation with God, power for faith and a new life, admission to heaven, life that never ends– this is our portion. In Jesus God is giving us his very self.

Now Jesus promises to be with us always. He is here, even if we can’t see him. The Lord is my portion. He gives his people the Holy Spirit and he lives in our hearts by faith. The Lord is my portion. He comes to me in his word, he spends time with me when I receive his body and blood in his Supper. The Lord is my portion.

Someday he will welcome me into heaven. He will wipe the very last tear from my eyes with his own hands. He will sit me at his table, and we will feast forever and ever. The Lord will be my portion forever and ever.

The God Jeremiah worshiped, the God we know as Jesus, give us more than property, money, health, family, friends, a life to enjoy. He says, “Here. I am yours.” He gives himself. That is the chief part, the great blessing, of the portion he has given us.

Because of the Lord’s Great Love…

Lamentations 22-23 “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”

Let’s talk for a few minutes about “the Lord’s great love.” Many, if not most, Christians are familiar with a distinctive kind of love described in the New Testament. The Greek word “agápe” often refers to God’s unconditional love: love not based on some attractiveness, some worthiness, in the person God loves. The Lord loves us because he chooses to love us, and our behavior cannot make him stop.

The Old Testament has its own word to describe unique characteristics of the Lord’s love for us. It is the word behind “great love” here, “chesed.” It brings together two things: God’s faithfulness and God’s mercy.

The Lord loves his people faithfully. Human love is like a roller coaster ride. It gets pushed all around by all the competing emotions we have going on inside us. How many books and movies don’t make use of that to keep the story interesting? It may make for good entertainment, but it doesn’t make for very happy experiences. Hearts get broken. People get mistreated, even abused. Human love is chaotic and unreliable.

 The Lord’s love is faithful. He doesn’t have good days and bad days. He is never confused about how he feels about us. He is the unchanging God. You remember that when the Lord revealed himself to Moses at the burning bush on Mt. Sinai, he referred to himself as the “I am.” He is never, “I was.” He is never the “I will be.” That would mean change. He is always, has always, and will always be the same as he is right now. And that applies to his love for us.

Our circumstances may change. They change every day. Our behavior may change. One day we are full of passion and zeal for God. We make all kinds of resolutions for improvement. We are going to be the parent, spouse, sibling, employee, Christian servant, godly role model we always said we would.

But we are like the weather. Give it a few minutes. It will change. We wake up on the wrong side of bed one day. We have a few things go the wrong way. People cross us and stick a pin in our balloon full of good intentions, and out come the claws. The stress and mistreatment put us on the warpath. Get out of the way before I run you over, and curse God for letting my day, or letting my life, be ruined!

Remember, Jeremiah says. Remember that you, that we, are not consumed. We have just poked our Lord in the eye. We have practically begged him, dared him, to come and dish out some pain and hurt. We have given him reason to throw in the towel and give up on us altogether. That’s not what happens. Why? “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed.” “His compassions never fail.” “Great is your faithfulness.”

I said that chesed brings together two things. One of them is this absolute faithfulness of God’s love. The other is his compassion. When we pray at the dinner table, “O give thanks to the Lord for he is good, for his mercy endures forever,” that word “mercy” is chesed.

This says that God is moved to do something about our misery. Feeding us when we are hungry is just one small example. Practically the whole history of the nation of Israel before Jesus was God looking down from heaven at the misery of his people and being moved to action. He delivered them from slavery in Egypt. He brought them food and water in the desert. He rescued them from invading nations time after time. He kept the people who went into exile in Jeremiah’s day together as a nation, and seventy years later he brought them home. They were not consumed. They were spared as a result of the Lord’s compassion.

This compassion isn’t limited to nationwide events of historical significance. Your personal misery moves him, too. He may allow it. He may even initiate it. That doesn’t mean he likes it. As soon as it has served its purpose, he wants to remove it. He is not a sadistic God. He is compassionate and merciful. Together with his faithfulness, he gives us what we need to survive each day.

His Testimony in Our Hearts

1 John 5:10 “Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his heart. Anyone who does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because he has not believed the testimony God has given about his Son.”

Every moment of a Christian’s existence his faith is under attack. The attack is unrelenting and takes many forms. It is such a constant feature of our existence that sometimes we hardly notice it. But from time to time something happens to make us feel the attack again. We become deeply aware of how hard it is to hold on to our faith.

This is a major side-story of the Easter account. Is it possible to believe that Jesus rose from the dead? Just hours after it happened Jesus’ enemies were spreading rumors about his disciples stealing the body. They paid good money to make sure that their version of the events got air time around Jerusalem.

Jesus’ own disciples didn’t find it any easier to believe he was alive again. Ten of them refused to believe the women when they came back with the first report from the empty tomb. Thomas held out a week longer in spite of the growing number of witnesses who had seen Jesus alive.

Since then many others have kept up the attack. One thousand four hundred years ago the Prophet Muhammad decreed that Jesus was never crucified, so of course he never rose from the dead. For hundreds of years many so-called “Christian” academics have offered alternative explanations for Jesus’ empty tomb. The women, they say, went to the wrong tomb that first Easter morning. Or, Jesus didn’t actually die on the cross. He only passed out. Or, the disciples and the women never saw an empty tomb or a living Jesus. They all experienced a mass hallucination, a corporate vision, that Jesus was alive. One genius with university credentials suggests that Jesus’ body was eaten by wild dogs.

The onslaught against faith isn’t limited to Jesus’ resurrection, or even the Bible’s claims of supernatural events. People also make moral objections to Christian teachings. Isn’t spanking violence against children? Doesn’t respect for authority contribute to injustice and neglect of the poor? Isn’t traditional marriage teaching unfair, even mean, to those with same-sex attractions?

God’s word addresses human skepticism and speculation. That is not only because it is more reliable, complete, and accurate. It is especially because it is more powerful. The good news about God’s Son does more than offer of grace. It is the gift of grace. It does more that invite us to believe. It grants, it plants that faith deep within our hearts.

I have read many stories I loved because they excited me, moved me, even inspired me to change. Sometimes they play my emotions like a cheap violin. None of them are like the testimony God has given about the life and love of his Son. This has embraced me, possessed me, and now inhabits my heart and soul in a way that has made, and is still making me, a different man.

That is why John can say, “Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his heart.” I don’t understand everything God demands or promises. I may still struggle to agree with it all. There are certainly things I would do differently if I were God. But I can’t shake the inner conviction that says, “Jesus is your Savior, and God’s word is true. Trust him. Follow him.” It is not my own inner voice. That voice often contradicts and corrects that testimony. God’s testimony exposes my inner rebel and puts him down. Even more, it invites me, it leads me, to the certainty that I live in a perpetual state of forgiveness. Love is always where my Lord stands with me. His way is good, if not always easy or pleasant, and he won’t steer me wrong. Listen. Believe.

This is the part that sometimes makes giving my testimony of faith to others frustrating. John also describes the skeptic who does not believe: “…(He) has made (God) out to be a liar, because he has not believed the testimony God has given about his Son.” “Prove it!” the skeptic says. “Prove that Jesus lived, died, or rose. Prove he said this or that. Prove his demands. Prove that he saves.”

I would love to. I have only the story, the word, the testimony God has given. The skeptic thinks it is all a lie. But it has conquered my heart, and I know that all of it, all of it, is true. I can only repeat the testimony God has given. I can’t make you believe. That’s the sum of the matter.

Our faith is always under attack. But God has given us his word to defend it, to feed it, and to make it live and flourish. Listen like the little children. Believe like them, and keep your heart of faith.

God’s Testimony Is Greater

1 John 5:9 “We accept man’s testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God which he has given about his Son.”

A friend of mine once asked me to buy into an investment that promised to multiply your money by seven to ten times in just five years. He couldn’t tell me exactly how the investment worked. Part of it involved bank accounts in the Cayman Islands. I even went with him to a presentation by a man who helped create this “investment.” The place was packed. Many of the people accepted the testimony of the man selling the investment and gave him their money. I kept mine. They lost theirs. Greed is a powerful influence to get people to believe something.

It has become common to hear about the release of some person falsely convicted from prison. At their trials experts testified about the evidence, and juries believed them. Witnesses testified about things they had heard or seen, and juries believed them. Lawyers led the jury along carefully guided logical paths. We accept man’s testimony. Now, however, DNA evidence often shows that the experts and all the witnesses were mistaken.

Even science doesn’t offer the certainty people often believe it does. I have nothing against science. Often it is the best information we have. But it doesn’t always get things right. Scientists were once convinced that heat passed from warmer things to cooler things in a mysterious vapor called caloric fluid. That theory has been discredited. Good medical science once believed that you could cure a fever by letting blood out of a person. Our nation’s first president died that way. “But science is better today,” we may believe. I wouldn’t be too sure. It’s still done by fallible humans.

For all their faults, we tend to accept man’s testimony, John says. It doesn’t take a great deal of thought or faith to reach John’s next conclusion, then. “But God’s testimony is greater, because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son.” Ironically, some people want to discount God’s testimony in favor of human ideas about some subject or other. This makes no sense.

Many years ago my friend Marty’s dad disassembled an old mechanical adding machine just to satisfy his curiosity about how it worked. I looked into his workshop. Spread all across the workbench and the floor were parts of this machine. Who do you suppose would be in a better position to tell you how that machine worked: the inventor, who imagined it and built the prototype, or my friend’s dad, who tried to figure it out by taking it apart? Wouldn’t you go to the inventor?

God is the Inventor of everything. As the Inventor he knows more on every subject than fallible humans. All they can do is study what God has made, sometimes trying to take it apart. His testimony is always greater, always to be preferred.

On no topic is that more true than the testimony he has given us about his Son. This is the subject nearest and dearest to his heart. He may have created the world, but he did not give us a science book to explain it to us. God invented social institutions like family and government. He provided no detailed instruction manual for their operation. All these get passing references in the testimony he does give us. It would be foolish to ignore that. But the theme, the focus, the point of the testimony he has given us is his Son, the one he sent to save us.

This is the topic God spoke about for thousands of years to patriarchs, deliverers, kings, and prophets. It wasn’t all dumped on one man at once. You need not worry it is nothing more than one man’s personal fantasy. As generations rolled along the Lord revealed a little bit more, then a little bit more. He expanded the knowledge base, built on what had already been revealed, always supporting, never contradicting, what had come before.

Finally, God’s Son arrived to save us. His Father sent angels to announce his birth. He sent his Spirit to empower his ministry. On at least two occasions his own voice announced from heaven that Jesus was his Son. He confirmed Jesus’ ministry with an outbreak of miracles unlike anything the world has seen before or since. In the end he let his Son be captured, convicted, and crucified. By his blood he fulfilled all of the old promises, satisfied the demands of justice for the world’s crimes, freed us all from debt we owed for our sins, and redeemed us as God’s own sons and daughters. We are reconciled and restored to a dear place in God’s own family. By raising Jesus from the dead God has given us proof of this. He has placed his approval on all that Jesus said and did.

            So important is this testimony God has given about his Son, he had it written down in four separate accounts…four separate accounts! He further explained these in twenty-three books and letters. We call them the New Testament, the last quarter of our Bible. “Jesus love me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so,” our children sing. “We accept man’s testimony, but God’s testimony is greater, because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son,” is the way that John says it here. Our Lord has spoken it from heaven, sent it by his Spirit, embodied it in Jesus’ life and death, and recorded it on the pages of Scripture. It convinces me of his grace and love.

The Spirit Still Gives Witness

Acts 5:30-32 “The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead—whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel. We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”

A striking change had taken place in the men speaking these words since the first Easter morning. They were not afraid to preach the death of Jesus, nor to confront the powerful leaders responsible for it.

No less notable was the change in so many of the people to whom they preached. The apostles had seen Jesus after he rose. They had touched him and eaten with him. They themselves had received the miraculous outpouring of the Spirit on Pentecost Day. These were powerful forces that moved them to believe.

But what about those who had not seen Jesus alive again after his death, yet believed the apostles’ message? To be sure there were many who rejected it, by far the majority. But there were thousands who came to faith. What moved them? If I told you I had seen a dead man leave his grave after several days, would you believe me?

The difference was the other witness speaking whenever the apostles spoke. “We are witnesses of these things and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.” It may have been Peter, or John, or Thomas, or Bartholomew doing the talking. But even if they were all alone, the only human witness, there was always another more powerful witness present. The Holy Spirit was never separate from their words. He was always speaking to the hearts of those who heard, confirming what the apostles said about Jesus and his work. In the work of the Holy Spirit these witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection reaped yet another result: confirmation of the truth and power of the gospel.

God has not separated the Holy Spirit from his word since that time. I think that I can be persuasive. But if I thought the success of my ministry all depended on my powers of persuasion, I would have quit in frustration long ago. I am still amazed at how God’s word wins people I never expected to come around. We still see confirmation of the truth and power of the gospel in the Holy Spirit’s work.

Nor does the Spirit stop working when it’s not the clergy speaking. God’s word is God’s word whether it was in the apostle’s mouth or it’s in my mouth or your mouth. You are never alone when you tell others what you know about Jesus. The Holy Spirit’s witness is there, too, confirming what you have to say.

We were not eye-witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection. But we have witnessed it through the eyes of faith. We have seen it in the words of those who did see it with their own eyes. The testimony we give is still powerful stuff. The Holy Spirit will always make it so.

A Reliable Revelation

Revelation 1:10-16 “On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet which said: Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.”

One hears many Christians talk about how God “spoke” to them. That is why they decided to follow some certain path in their lives. Rarely do such people claim that they actually heard a voice. Rather, they felt some vague impression moving them to follow a certain course.

Occasionally such people will even admit that what they thought was God speaking to them evidently must have been something else. Even James Dobson warns, “I have come to regard the interpretation of impressions as risky business, at best…The human mind will often obediently convince itself of anything in order to have its own way.”

Neither you nor I are in a position to judge the source of every impression any person has ever had. But here is our comfort when it comes to Scripture: What John writes in the chapters of Revelation, what the other writers of Scripture recorded for us in the rest of the Bible, were not vague impressions open to their own interpretation. Though God didn’t always reveal his message in the way he did here, John heard a voice definitely speaking to him in a miraculous way.

Of course, John was only the messenger. Our confidence grows in what he writes when we see the one who gave him the words. Do you see who this is, this one who looks like a human, a “son of man” on the one hand, but whose features are all white and blaze like fire and shine like the sun? This is Jesus. We don’t have to try to find some meaning in every feature of his description. It is enough to recognize how majestic he appears.

This isn’t anything like the humble carpenter from Galilee John had spent three years sharing dinner with and walking alongside, who once even kneeled down in front of John and washed his feet. This is nothing like the condemned man John once watched bleeding and dying on a cross. Then John could relate to him more like an everyday acquaintance. There was almost a casual familiarity John had with Jesus before he returned to heaven. Now, he tells us, “When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead.” In the presence of Jesus, now displaying the glory of his godhood, John feels compelled to fall flat on the ground in humble worship.

Do we feel this kind of awe and reverence before Jesus today? Do we sense such holiness, such glory, that sets him so high above us lowly creatures below?

We are familiar with the very human face of Jesus that preached and healed, and ultimately suffered and died for us because of his unfathomable love for you and me. We love this image of our Savior, and rightly so. But let’s not forget that Jesus no longer lives in such humility. He is now the one who rules in heavenly glory. All power in heaven and on earth has been given to him. Countless angels attend and serve him. Evangelical-turned-Lutheran Craig Parton tells of how he took his family to the Greek Orthodox church for a while when he was still on his spiritual search. He did so not because he agreed with its doctrine, but because its people would get on their knees and put their face right on the ground in recognition of Christ’s glory and majesty. He wanted his children to recognize this about their God and Savior. We do well to recognize it about him, too.

For when we do, won’t we also approach his words with a sense of humble reverence? John is setting the stage here for the rest of the book. This is the source of the Revelation that follows. In fact, this is the source of all revelation. The words John writes are the words that come from this glorious God, and his glorious appearance assures us that we can count on the words he reveals.

Not a Fairytale Faith

Revelation1:8 “I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.”

The Christian faith has never been an ivory tower sort of religion, handed down to the people from isolated experts who don’t have a clue about what real life is like. Look at John. He was a brother and companion in suffering with the people to whom he was writing. He didn’t live an artificial life far from the problems of the people. He was persecuted for his beliefs. In fact, as he wrote these words he tells us that he was in exile on the island of Patmos.

Sometimes we would like Christianity to be a little less real, wouldn’t we. We would like it to be more of an escape from the mean world in which we live. But this isn’t a fairy tale religion. It deals with things the way they really are. Jesus didn’t have an easy life. His disciples didn’t have an easy life. All but one was executed for his faith. We don’t have an easy life, and God doesn’t promise us one.

But this shouldn’t discourage us. It means that the words he shares with us ring true. John was a brother and companion in suffering. We are brothers and companions in suffering. That’s the way things really are, and it gives us extra assurance that what Christ reveals is reliable. His messengers speak and write about things the way they really are with no sugar-coating.

That also gives us confidence when it comes to the other things he reveals that aren’t so obvious to our eyes or other senses. John adds that he was a brother and companion in the kingdom, and in patient endurance that we find in Jesus. Later in this book, and in other parts of the New Testament, we are told that we are not just citizens of God’s kingdom, but royalty in it. For all of our suffering, we actually live our lives here as rulers.

“How can that be?” we might be tempted to ask. When we say our prayers, God actually changes the course of history at times to answer them. When we spread the gospel, the power of God himself is at work capturing hearts for his kingdom. In everything that happens, God is directing the affairs of this world to serve you and me. The whole world bows to our true needs in God’s kingdom. And in such promises we find the patient endurance to continue on in our lives.

That may be hard to see, but we have Jesus’ own promises. That’s no fairy tale.

Rising to Secure Our Victory

1 Corinthians 15:23-26 “But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”

When Jesus rose from the dead, he did not retire to some heavenly Club Med® to sit under the palm trees and sip piña coladas. As we confess in the creed, he sits at the right hand of the Father. As Paul indicates here, right now Jesus is up and running God’s kingdom, cleaning out the remaining riffraff, getting it ready to present to his Father perfect and peaceful, when both Father and Son can sit on their thrones and enjoy the fruits of their labors.

Sometimes it seems as though the clean-up operation isn’t going so well. The spiritual enemies of the Church– the dominions, authorities, and powers that Paul mentions– seem to be doing a pretty good job of fighting back, even winning. False religions grow faster than Christianity. Christians are executed for their faith–some years as many as 100,000 of them. Basic Biblical teachings and morals are denied and contradicted inside the Christian churches, endangering the faith of millions. Circumstances in our own lives– disease, financial strain, broken relationships, unrelenting temptations– can lead us right to the edge of losing our faith. If Jesus is ruling, why doesn’t he just make it all stop? Why doesn’t he take control and end all the foolishness by force?

Then we remember that the operative word in Jesus’ rule has never been “force” or “power” but “love.” Jesus does not win followers at gun point. It is love, the love that carried our sins for us and died for them, that changes hearts and wins them to Jesus’ side. In his love he has chosen to make dear souls in every generation his own, and his love never fails to capture them. In order to build the kingdom he wants, then, love leads him to let this world go on until the full number of his people is included.

Under his loving direction, even the dirty work of his enemies is turned against them. When his people suffer it becomes the opportunity for powerful testimonies of faith and intense expressions of Christian love. I know that this is true, because many times my own family has been the beneficiary of both. In this way he lovingly strengthens the faithful and draws them closer to himself. He even attracts defectors from the enemy side, like the man Paul he used to write these words from his letter to the Christians in Corinth.

When Jesus’ love has snatched from Satan every soul he knows as his own, then his kingdom will be complete, and the end will come. “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” This means, not merely that no more bodies will die. What we know as death will no longer exist, and we will see what Jesus already promises us now: that our victory is secure.