Sweet and Sour
Sweet and Sour
When a housewife theologian goes to a conference, she has a lot of catch-up to do when she gets home. Thankfully, I have a wonderful husband who makes these opportunities possible for me in the first place. I think I came home to a cleaner house than I left. But aside from the ever-changing drama in my kid's lives that I needed to catch up on, the restocking of groceries, and the various other ends that needed tied, I also hoped to have time to reflect on all that was said at this year's Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology. The speakers were outstanding, and so I thought I would share some of the encouragement and instruction that I gleaned.
Derek Thomas kicked off the preconference with an opening Bible study on Rev. 10. Thomas points out that we are given some clues, particularly in his body language, that the mighty angel introduced in this section is the Lord.He set his right foot on the sea, and his left foot on the land (v. 2). Here we have a picture of a sovereign God who is in control. He holds a scroll, indicating that his providence for "today and tomorrow are in his hands." This sovereign power and the details of the Lord's plans are a mystery to us. And yet, Thomas encourages that one day God's plan for this age will be finished, it will unfold. But John cannot write down what he has heard. Thomas reminded us that "we are pilgrims meant to live in faith and dependence on the Lord," saying, "God is our interpreter and he will make it plain."
Isn't this one of the hardest truths for a Christian? We want to know and understand before we obey. And yet, God has already revealed everything that we need to know to obey. We know that he is God, that he is holy and good. From this passage alone we see that he is sovereign and will accomplish his purposes. We see the Lord's mighty power and his willingness to condescend to John, to communicate to his people. We know of his love for us and the work that he has done to bring us into his covenant of grace. And we know who we are without him. Without him we are without hope.
Secondly, Derek Thomas makes note from this passage of Scripture that "in Bible terms, the end isn't far away." This mighty angel swears that there will be no more delay (v.6). Here is where Thomas bravely pronounces that while the Lord very well may return in his lifetime, he can be fairly sure that it will not be in the next ten seconds because there are a few things left to be fulfilled. He backs up this remark by counting backwards, "10" (uncomfortable pause), "9" (getting a little anxious now), "8..." And he asks, "What is the next great redemptive event?" It is this seventh trumpet, the second coming of our Lord Jesus, and Thomas assures us that nothing will get in the way of this. He explains that Christ's return is impending rather than imminent, and there is a difference. I guess an imminent return would not make one so brave as to challenge it with a countdown.
But in reflection, I have to admit that while I believe in Christ's impending return, and I confess this with hopeful expectation, this already/not yet stuff can be very difficult. Thomas affirms that it is both sweet and sour, and so we have the angel telling John to take the scroll from him saying, "Take and eat it; it will make your stomach bitter, but in your mouth it will be sweet as honey" (v.9). We were encouraged to taste and see that the Lord is good; his Word is sweet. But we also know that his providence can be bitter. "John is recommissioned to live his life under the sovereignty of God, knowing the brevity of time and the urgency of the message," Thomas says, "knowing one thing: The sovereignty of Jesus with one foot on the sea and one foot on the land."
Isn't that a powerful image? We too are called to live an obedient life according to God's Word. We are equipped with the Holy Spirit of God to continue in our pilgrimage. But we are called to be theologians of the cross in this age. When we are tempted to disobey, we tend to forget that sourness is also part of the Christian life, we begin to think that we can provide our own remedies to return to that sweetness we once tasted, and we foolishly imagine that we are in control of our own destinies. But Christ is the One with a foot on the sea and a foot on the land, ruling over it all, over us all, in his goodness and love. In this age we live by faith, not by sight. We depend on the One who is in control. And yet our hope is in his great return. We also know that when we reign with him on the new heavens and the new earth, it will only be sweet.