When the Worst Thing That Could Happen Does

Our Bible study class wrapped up part one of our Jeremiah study last week, which means we are through chapter twenty-four.  Chapter twenty-four happens after the second siege on Jerusalem, around 597 BC.  At that point the last king of Judah, Zedekiah (really bad king) was put on the throne by Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon.  Nebuchadnezzar also took over 10,000 people from Judah into captivity in Babylon.

For the Jews, God’s chosen people, leaving their home, the land God gave them, the land God promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, was one of the worst things that could happen to them.

But God (one of my favorite phrases in the Bible) had this to say about leaving their land and heading into captivity:

Jeremiah 24:5-7 (NASB) “Thus says the Lord God of Israel, ‘Like these good figs, so I will regard as good the captives of Judah, whom I have sent out of this place into the land of the Chaldeans. For I will set My eyes on them for good, and I will bring them again to this land; and I will build them up and not overthrow them, and I will plant them and not pluck them up.  I will give them a heart to know Me, for I am the Lord; and they will be My people, and I will be their God, for they will return to Me with their whole heart.”

Then He has this to say about those who were able to stay in their own land:

Jeremiah 24:8-10 (NASB)  ‘But like the bad figs which cannot be eaten due to rottenness—indeed, thus says the Lord—so I will abandon Zedekiah king of Judah and his officials, and the remnant of Jerusalem who remain in this land and the ones who dwell in the land of Egypt.  I will make them a terror and an evil for all the kingdoms of the earth, as a reproach and a proverb, a taunt and a curse in all places where I will scatter them.  I will send the sword, the famine and the pestilence upon them until they are destroyed from the land which I gave to them and their forefathers.’”

Turns out, according to the rest of the book of Jeremiah (which we will be studying next), it really did get a whole lot worse for those who were able to stay in their own land than for those who were led away.  In other words, as folks were packing up their lives and heading to a foreign land into captivity, likely they were thinking it was the worst day of their lives.  But the truth was God had a plan.  They just couldn’t see it at the moment.

There was another very pivotal point in history that looked like the worst thing that could possibly happen, the crucifixion of Christ.  By all human standards of measure, He appeared to have failed miserably in His mission as the King of Kings, Savior of the World.

Think about those precious folks who had followed Him over the three years of His earthly ministry:  the twelve disciples (down to eleven the day before the cross), His mother, Mary, Martha and Lazarus, Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus.  Many of them traveled, ate, drank, and slept with Him.  They listened to Him teach, they prayed with Him.  He washed their feet.  He spoke everything to them that the Father said.

But they didn’t get it.  When He died on that cross, it looked like all their hopes died with Him.  It looked like the worst possible thing that could happen.  How do you become King if you are dead?  They lacked perspective.

On this side of that same cross though we know God had a plan they couldn’t see.  We know in fact that Christ’s crucifixion was THE ONLY way to Christ’s resurrection and our salvation.  Without the terrible road of the cross we would still be lost on the path to destruction.  Still stuck in our own captivity to sin and death.

The truth is most of the time we lack the perspective to determine if our circumstances are good or bad, just like those headed into the Babylonian captivity and just like those who stood at the foot of the cross one dark Friday afternoon over 2000 years ago.

Father, help me to trust all my circumstances to You no matter how they look.  Even if it’s the worst possible thing that I think could happen, help me remember that You NEVER leave me nor forsake me and that You alone are Sovereign over all.   Help me to keep my eyes on You and trust all the outcomes to You alone.

The Transformation of a Son of Thunder

A few weeks ago I shared about a great listening activity a friend of mine led us in on our girls’ weekend getaway at Riverbend this year.  Just to recap here’s how that activity went down:  we listened to the entire book of First John from beginning to end without our Bibles in front of us, without paper to take notes on, without stopping and re-winding, without talking.  We just listened.  It only took about 15 or 20 minutes.  Then we listened to First John 3, but this time we had paper to jot down anything that seemed to jump out at us.  Then we listened to First John 3 one more time.  Once we had listened we discussed what spoke to our hearts.

First, Second and Third John were all written by John, brother of James, son of Zebedee, disciple of Jesus Christ.  He also authored the Gospel of John and the book of Revelation.  I am probably telling you things that you already know about him, but there’s a point, it’s not just about the facts.  All of these tremendous books of Scripture, God’s Word to us, were written fairly late in John’s life and fairly late in relationship to the other books of the New Testament.  Scholars believe that all five of these books were written between 85 AD and 95 AD.

Let’s do some quick math, if Jesus was crucified around 30 AD that means fifty-five to sixty-five years passed before John wrote a word.  So what was this first-hand witness to the life, crucifixion, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ the Son of God doing all that time?

Mark 3:17 introduces us to John this way when Jesus first called him to be a disciple: “…and James, the son of Zebedee, and John the brother of James (to them He gave the name Boanerges, which means, “Sons of Thunder”);”

It is believed that John was the youngest of the disciples and possibly an adolescent at the time of his call.  Therefore, he may well have been under the age of twenty when Jesus died.  During Jesus’ time on earth Scripture records John, and his brother James, at one point wanting to call down fire from heaven on some folks who wouldn’t receive Jesus (Luke 9:51-56).  It also records how John, and his brother James, requested to be seated on the right and left of Jesus in heaven (bold move, don’t you think?) (Mark 10:35-37).  Sounds like Jesus had good reason to call them Sons of Thunder.

Back to our listening exercise on First John, the one thing that all of us in the group zeroed in on was how frequently the word “love” is used in that book.  In fact, the word “love” is a consistent theme in all three of John’s epistles, as well as his gospel.  While the word “love” is not as frequent in the book of Revelation, it IS the revelation of Jesus Christ, Love Himself.

So how did John go from being a Son of Thunder to a messenger of Love?  How did he move from desiring to penalize people for their lack of understanding and exalting himself with Jesus, to a man who wanted nothing more than for all to “believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you (all) may have life in His name” (John 20:31)?  And how did he become a man who refers to himself in the third person (not the first person, as in the principle character) as the disciple whom Jesus loved?

While Scripture doesn’t record the details of those fifty-five to sixty-five years of silence (or anonymity?) they really make me wonder.  I think Scripture says a lot by the facts it includes, but I think it also says a lot by what it clearly leaves out.  And it certainly leaves out a large portion of John’s life.  The only two things we know for certain are that he cared for Jesus’ mother Mary and he was active in the early church of Jerusalem after the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.  Beyond those two things we don’t really know what John was doing during that time, but we do know what God was doing.

He was lovingly transforming a Son of Thunder into a humble servant of Jesus Christ, into a man not only able to care for the condition of the flock, but a man entrusted with arguably the most powerful vision and message in all Scripture.  He was given the privilege of communicating The End of the story to those of us in the middle of the journey.

I’ve been asking myself, am I willing to live in obscurity for the purposes of God?  Am I willing to allow Him full access to every area of my life to do the transforming work that only He can do?  Just as importantly, am I willing to wait as long as it takes and let God do the work in me in His time?  (Let’s face it, we live in a culture that wants everything immediately…waiting fifty-five years for anything seems incredible if not impossible!)

Going back to the idea of Surrendering ‘The Plan’ from Monday’s post, am I willing to operate on a need-to-know basis and live moment by moment with Him?  Seeking only to know Him, allowing Him to bring me to the place only He can see?  As John stood at the foot of the cross I doubt he saw himself penning the book of Revelation or caring enough about young believers to write letters of love and warning to them.  Only a life of dependence on God, whether its years or decades, could produce such lasting fruit.