This month we begin to observe that time in History that just had to be the most exciting time in all of human history. It probably wasn't the most important time ever, but I imagine that it had to be the most exciting time of all, at least for the followers of Jesus. I am sure that the day of the flood of Noah was a very exciting day for those who witnessed it, although not in a way that makes you wish you had been there. There have been other great and glorious days too, enjoyed, probably, by more individuals than the days I am writing about. I just cannot imagine a time that would be more exciting than the days between the resurrection of Jesus and His ascension into heaven! Imagine having seen the Lord die, then rise from the grave, and now to be able to spend time with Him!
Again, I am not saying that those days were the most important days in human history. They had some significance, or Jesus probably would not have hung around for them, but they weren't filled with the same sort of striking events as the days of the Nativity -or of the Passion of our Lord. Nevertheless, I imagine that those forty days were filled with wonder; the wonder of the resurrection and the continuing life of the One who had died and was alive again, and the looking forward to the coming mission!
Of course, you cannot tell that those days were all that exciting from Scripture - or from the witness of the modern church. The Bible tells us precious little about the days between Easter and the ascension, and the Church treats the post-Easter season as a quiet rest from the busy-ness of Lent. All we know is that Jesus appeared several times. Once He appeared to over 500 believers at one time. I presume that He taught or preached - but that is just my presumption, the Bible doesn't actually say much about those days. Still, it had to be exciting.
We know nothing about it, really. That means that God did not intend for us to expend a lot of attention on it. The period of time between the resurrection and the ascension was time just for then and for those who were there to enjoy it, but apparently not universally valuable time in the sense that we make a big deal about it today. Jesus showed Himself to be alive from the grave, and prepared His disciples, soon to be Apostles, for the work they were going to spend the rest of their lives engaged in. While the time was probably exciting for them, my guess, on the basis of all I noted above, is that it was not intended to be exciting for us.
Our times are supposed to be exciting for us. The lack of information about the forty days is roughly analogous to the time after a good fiction story ends. I mean, don't you wonder about what happens next in a good story, after the story ends? It is something we might wonder about, but it is not important to the story. Similarly, what Jesus did in those forty days was undoubtedly important, but our knowing about it is not. The time was probably important for the demonstration to the many believers at that time that the resurrection was real. People still doubt it today, after we have two millennia of the proclamation of the resurrection and of the enemies of the church trying to talk us out of it. Jesus needed to establish a foundation of eye-witnesses to answer the unbelief and skepticism of that day -and He needed that foundation to be absolutely, rock-certain of the truth of the resurrection. History shows us that they were.
Since the disciples did not believe all that well, and did not understand all too clearly while Jesus prepared them for the crucifixion, I suspect that part of the mission of those forty days was to train them up in that last bit of clarity so that they could confidently proclaim and teach. We know that Pentecost came with the gift of the Spirit, with wisdom, understanding, courage, and zeal. Still, beginning on the road to Emmaus, Jesus had to "connect the dots" for them. That would also be part of the forty days - a part we profited from, but of which God decided we need not have a lot of detail about.
So, exciting times do not need to make for exciting stories. Neither do they have to be for others to get all excited about. Just like our times are not all that exciting to tell people about. I suspect many of us lose the sense of the excitement of what we are living through because it is, after all, our every day lives, and we often forget to step back and look at the lives we live according to our theology.
Yes, I will dare to say it again; all of life is theological. Our theology informs our living — or at least it should. If we listen to what we confess, then we know that we are living in the heart of one of the greatest conflicts in human history. We don't notice it every day because human history is that conflict. The conflict began in a garden in the Middle East (or so we are led to believe) with a woman and a serpent. It has hit some high notes, some wet spots, and some low places along the way, over the years. We happen to be living in one of the most challenging times in that conflict.
It is exciting because the Lord is at work among us in so many ways, and with such great power. When we look back, we can see certain battles with greater clarity. There was Moses and His army. The prophets gave us some great battles. The very heart of the conflict, the decisive battle, was on Calvary, where the Lord Himself took up arms and did the most amazing things! Since then we have seen Athanasius struggle with Arius over centuries. History records numerous battles in the Christological heresies. We remember Luther in His great conflict, but we have to remember that he was not alone. He was not the first to fight in that particular battle, and the skirmishes raged on for a century or more after his death, fighting to hold the ground Luther had won for the King.
C.F.W. Walther captained another great battle, winning a brief peace before the enemy began to unravel his work in America. Our conflicts today appear to be part of that same battle. But our times are ours, and we wrestle with challenges that Walther did not face. We face assaults on several fronts. There is the charge of the feminists who deconstruct history and, by re-envisioning reality, rob Scriptures of their meaning and authority. There are those who work to disassemble language, to hobble our ability to clearly express the truth. We must contend with a culture of 'media' and dominated by those who distort reality and "spin" their accounts of current events so as to make white seem black, and good appear to be evil. The Spirit of our age denies the very possibility of absolute truth. We face the on-going desire of the enemy to dilute doctrine and set human activities and/or human needs where only Christ and Gospel can rightly stand. In addition, Islam is on the rebound in our world, and the so-called "Christian consensus" of society and culture, which provided cover and aid to our forefathers, has finally been shaken.
We face a battle like never before - and, in some ways, exactly the same as before. The temptations to fight like the enemy are enormous, and well-received in many quarters. But we who are faithful have one weapon, the Word of God. We have only the armor laid out for us in Ephesians 6. And we still have only one hope: Jesus.
The enemy? For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Although we face people who oppose us, they are not our real enemy, but the powers and spiritual forces of wickedness behind them. The people who stand opposed to us need rescue and salvation as much as we do.
Our weapons? The "Full Armor of God" "Stand firm therefore, HAVING GIRDED YOUR LOINS WITH TRUTH, and HAVING PUT ON THE BREASTPLATE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS, and having shod YOUR FEET WITH THE PREPARATION OF THE GOSPEL OF PEACE; in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming missiles of the evil one." It isn't the sort of stuff we send the guys over to Iraq with, but the enemy is different and the weapons that they use require different armor. And our weapons are absolutely everything we need. We just need to trust the weapons we have been given. They come with divine power and effectiveness.
We fight in this conflict every day. We face the assault of the enemy in print, on the radio, and on TV. He schools us, or desires to, in the values and attitudes we "should" have. He tries to sneak around our defenses by adding a bit of his poison to our entertainments, hoping we will laugh ourselves to death or get lost in the story and begin to cheer for the wrong things. He disciplines us by the words and the actions of those around us who disapprove of our faith or our faithfulness. He scolds us with disapproval for being out of step with the latest values and holding opinions not welcome, not considered polite or thoughtful in current society.
How you filter this endless stream of cultural propaganda, and how you respond to it is part of the battle. The values you espouse, and the values you actually live out (which are, sadly, not always the same), strike a blow for or against the army of the Lord. The words you speak, and the topics you elect to address are part of the great conflict. God is not merely watching you, as the popular song once intoned, He is working along side you, and with you, and in you, and through you to accomplish His good and gracious will. The battle is swift and relentless, and although we are tempted to think our part is insignificant and unnoticed, each moment for each one of us is of eternal significance. We cannot always tell, in fact, we cannot usually see what it is that God is doing, or what our part means to the conflict as a whole. Nevertheless we are called on to soldier on faithfully.
Like the days between the resurrection and the ascension, our days may never be reported with the sort of reportage that they merit. The excitement of these days may never be apparent to others, and that is okay. These days may not be for others to know about. We may find ourselves as unheralded as those many who perished in the Thirty Years War in Europe, confessing the Gospel, refusing to recant and deny their Lutheran confession, as the conflict over 'Lutheran' became very personal and costly for many. But it is only by the values the world teaches that they or we will be unheralded. God knows — and God rewards.
These days are so exciting! We can almost hear the final trumpet blaring. We can almost see that golden sunrise in the east that marks the second and final coming of our Lord. The battle is becoming more and more frenzied with each passing day. Society has turned on us without a thought for the many advantages the people of the Lord have provided them. Where we once had a relatively safe haven, we find an increasingly relentless foe.
When we turn to the Church, the comfort and fortress of Christians for so many centuries, we more frequently than ever before find betrayal rather than sanctuary. Doctrine is being undermined in many places within the church rather than being supported. Many preachers sell out the faith for security or riches or power. There always were such, but today it seems to be institutionalized and encouraged where it formerly was decried and disciplined and disavowed. We have grown accustomed to ease and comfort in our confession - and now the situation is demanding energy, zeal, and deliberate effort and conscious and dangerous confession. We now must stand up and risk taking the arrows of disapproval and even persecution where once we were confident and comfortable and safe.
This isn't the kind of excitement one goes looking for, but it has found us. The secular world has declared itself our enemy. Islam still wants to kill us - and has found fresh power to seek that will. Those in the church who do not stand on the faith once delivered to us by the Apostles and their faithful followers have multiplied tremendously and risen to positions of authority around us. But the truth is still the same, old Truth. The Gospel is still Christ crucified for us and for our salvation. The command is still, "Be thou faithful until death, and I will give thee the crown of life." And the promise still stands, "Behold, I am with you always, even unto the end of the age." And no matter how the progress of the battle may seem to us, the victory is still ours, for it has been won already by Christ! You and I are standing on the very precipice of eternity and, like the days between Easter and the ascension, the days in which we live are the most exciting time in history!
Yours in the Lord,
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