A while ago, Reader’s Digest published an article entitled, “Words I’d Like to Hear.” For example…
Words I’d like to hear from my auto mechanic: “That part is much less expensive than I thought.” Or “You could get that done more cheaply at the garage down the street. Or “It was just a loose wire. No charge!”
Then there are the words I’d like to hear from my son’s teacher: “Everyone misbehaved today except Michael.” Or “Michael traded his candy bar for carrot sticks.” Or “I wish we had 20 Michaels.”
How about these words from a clerk at the store? “The cash register is down. I’ll just add up your purchases with a pencil and paper.” Or “I’ll take a break after waiting on you.” Or “We’re sorry we sold you defective merchandise. We’ll pick it up at your home and bring you a new one, or give you a complete refund, whichever you prefer.” (Readers Digest, March 1992, p.12)
Some words are just music to the ears. They’re sweet to hear, especially in the bitter experiences of life.
The Apostle John found such words even in the midst of his vision of the Great Tribulation. He sees the terrible pain and suffering that is to come, but in the middle of it all, he finds sweet words. If you have your Bibles, I invite you to turn with me to Revelation 10, Revelation 10, where John found those sweet words.
Revelation 10:1-3 Then I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven, wrapped in a cloud, with a rainbow over his head, and his face was like the sun, and his legs like pillars of fire. He had a little scroll open in his hand. And he set his right foot on the sea, and his left foot on the land, and called out with a loud voice, like a lion roaring. When he called out, the seven thunders sounded. (ESV)
Now, thunder in the book of Revelation is usually associated with God’s judgment. So these “seven thunders” are probably seven more judgments on the earth.
Revelation 10:4 And when the seven thunders had sounded, I was about to write, but I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Seal up what the seven thunders have said, and do not write it down.” (ESV)
For some reason, God doesn’t want us to know what these judgments are.
Alfred Hitchcock once told a story about a king who was granted two wishes. His first was to see the future. But when he saw everything that lay ahead – the beauty and the pain – he immediately asked for his second wish: that the future be hidden. “I thank heaven,” Hitchcock proclaimed, “that tomorrow does not belong to any man. It belongs to God.” (Guideposts, 1959)
There are some things we just can’t handle; and perhaps, that’s the case with these thunder judgments. They must be so bad that it is better for us NOT to know what they are.
And yet, in the midst of it all, John sees something that encourages him. He sees something that brings Him great comfort. He sees a big angel with a little book (or scroll). He sees a large messenger with a little message. Verse 1 calls him a “mighty angel.”
Now, we saw this “mighty angel” before in Revelation 5:2, and there we also saw another book – a 7-sealed scroll – which is the title deed to the world. It is a different book than what we have here in chapter 10. But there in chapter 5, we have the same “mighty angel.”
He is the one who asked the question, “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?” In other words, “Who is worthy to take ownership of the world?” That’s when Jesus steps forward, takes the scroll, and begins to break its seals. He is claiming his authority over the world, and all heaven rejoices!
Well, that was some time ago. By this time in the book of Revelation, the earth has gone through most of the Tribulation, and things seem chaotic. The world seems out of control. So we are in need of a reminder that Christ is still in control, and heaven still calls the shots on earth. That’s why we see this “mighty angel” again.
His appearance, his stance, and his voice all speak of divine authority. So in the tribulations of your life, when your world seems to be in chaos…
REMEMBER THAT JESUS IS STILL IN CONTROL.
Remember that the Lord is still sovereign
We see that in the “mighty angel’s” appearance. Verse 1 tells us that he is “wrapped in a cloud.” It reminds us of the pillar of cloud that led the children of Israel out of Egypt, through the wilderness, and into the Promised Land. God was in control then, even when they had to wander in the desert for 40 years. Certainly, He is in control now.
More than that, this angel has a “rainbow over his head” (vs.1). There is a rainbow that surrounds the throne of God (Rev. 4:3). It speaks of God’s power and ability to keep His Word. In Genesis 9, after God flooded the earth, He sent a rainbow as a sign that he would never flood the earth again. And to this day, many thousands of years later, God has kept His promise. Every time we see the rainbow, we’re reminded of His promise. We’re reminded that God keeps His word. We’re reminded that no matter how bad things get, God will never let us down. Even during the Great Tribulation, with the rainbow above the angel’s head, we know that God will never forget His plan and His promises.
In addition, the angel’s face shines like the sun and his feet are like pillars of fire. In Exodus, God protected and directed the children of Israel with a pillar of fire. And in Revelation 1:16, Jesus stands among the churches with his face shining like the sun. Everything about this “mighty angel’s” appearance reminds us that God is in control.
We also see that in the “mighty angel’s” stance. Verse 2 says, his right foot is on the sea and his left foot is on the land. In other words, He stands over all the earth, reminding us that Jesus is indeed LORD!
The “mighty angel’s” appearance, his stance, and his voice all demonstrate divine authority. In verse 3, His voice sounds like the “a lion roaring,” the king of beasts. And in Revelation 5, when Jesus took the title deed to the earth, he was called a Lion – the Lion of the Tribe of Judah.
There is no question about it. In the midst of the seeming chaos of the Great Tribulation, God is still in control. Jesus is still Lord of all, and His plan is still being carried out.
Now, if that’s true during the Great Tribulation to come; that’s certainly more true during the little tribulations we experience today.
In his book, Unspeakable, Os Guinness tells the parable of the resistance leader. Quoting Oxford philosopher Basil Mitchell, he writes:
Imagine you are in German-occupied France during World War II and you want to join the resistance movement against the Nazis. One evening in the local bar, a stranger comes up to you and introduces himself as the leader of the local partisans. He spends the evening with you, explaining the general requirements of your duties, giving you a chance to assess his trustworthiness, and offering you the chance to go no further. But his warning is stern: If you join, your life will be at risk. This will be the only face-to-face meeting you will have. After this, you will receive orders and you will have to follow them without question, often completely in the dark as to the whys and wherefores of the operations, and always with the terrifying fear that your trust may be betrayed.
Is such trust reasonable? Sometimes what the resistance leader is doing is obvious. He is helping members of the resistance. “Thank heavens he is on our side,” you say. Sometimes it is not obvious. He is in a Gestapo uniform arresting partisans and—unknown to you—releasing them out of sight to help them escape the Nazis. But always you must trust and follow the orders without question, despite all appearances, no matter what happens. “The resistance leader knows best,” you say. Only after the war will the secrets be open, the codes revealed, the true comrades vindicated, the traitors exposed, and sense made of the explanations. (Os Guinness, Unspeakable, HarperSanFrancisco, 2005, pp. 149-150; www.PreachingToday.com)
That’s life in a fallen world, especially as we approach the End Times. Os Guinness says, “Evil is not a problem because God is too small… but because God is so great that we cannot be expected to know what he is doing”.
We just have to trust that Jesus, our Resistance Leader, is good; He knows what’s he’s doing, and He’s on our side. Jesus is working out His sovereign plan for our eternal good!
So when things are not so good, when your life seems to be in chaos, remember that Jesus is still in control. Remember that Jesus is still on the throne. And…
REALIZE HE WILL COMPLETE HIS WORK.
The Lord will finish what he started and accomplish his good plan. That’s what the angel says starting in verse 5.
Revelation 10:5-7 And the angel whom I saw standing on the sea and on the land raised his right hand to heaven and swore by him who lives forever and ever, who created heaven and what is in it, the earth and what is in it, and the sea and what is in it, that there would be no more delay, but that in the days of the trumpet call to be sounded by the seventh angel, the mystery of God would be fulfilled, just as he announced to his servants the prophets. (ESV)
Six angels have already sounded their trumpets of judgment. But when the 7th angel sounds his trumpet, God’s mystery, God’s plan is accomplished. You see, God announced to the prophets long ago that a King would come. He told them that the Messiah would bring peace to this world.
Isaiah reports about a time when the lion would lie down with the lamb. Jeremiah talks about a time when the “righteous branch of David” would execute justice and righteousness on the earth (Jeremiah 33:15). Ezekiel talks about a time when Israel would live in peace forever in her land (Ezekiel 37:24ff). Daniel talks about a time when God would set up an everlasting Kingdom (Daniel 2:44). He also talks about a time when the Messiah would put an end to sin and bring in everlasting righteousness (Daniel 9:24). All of the prophets looked forward to a time of world-wide blessing and peace. They looked forward to the coming of the Kingdom of God.
It is something we have all waited for, for thousands of years! Now, it’s about to come to pass. The angel swears, vs.6, “There would be no more delay!” And in the very next chapter, the 7th angel sounds his trumpet… and that’s exactly what happens!
Revelation 11:15 Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.” (ESV)
Jesus comes again to set up His kingdom, and the promise of the ages is fulfilled! It’s that promise which keeps us going in times of tribulation.
After the war in Uganda had dragged on for over 20 years, Professor Todd Whitmore, from Notre Dame, moved into the refugee camps in northern Uganda to hear the stories of the displaced Acholi people. As he observed the Christians who were working among the Acholi, he saw what he called “real Christianity”.
In fact, Whitmore discovered that the most practical and helpful workers among the Acholi were also those who believed most strongly in the Second Coming of Christ. Whitmore called them “reasonable apocalyptists,” which means that these Christian workers thought a lot about God's intervention at the end of history.
They believed that no human effort could be relied upon to help the Acholi; it had to come from God. As one of the Christian workers in the camps said, “God is tired [of this war and suffering], and he will intervene.” Well, because they believed that God would intervene, they also believed that it's worthwhile to work for good.
Here, in the United States, we who talk about Christ’s Second Coming are often accused of being escapists, impractical, or even mentally unstable. But in the refugee camps of northern Uganda, they were the most rational people. Whitmore discovered that they were the ones who kept saying things like, “We want to make a difference here and now. We want to help with the orphans.” (Jason Bayassee, “Eschatological Innovation,” Faith & Leadership, 8-4-09; www.PreachingToday.com)
You see, a healthy view of the Second Coming of Christ gives meaning to your work today. It not only helps you endure times of tribulation; it motivates you to be actively involved in His redemptive plan, because you know your labor is not in vain.
So, in the chaos of your life, remember that Jesus is in control, and realize that He will complete His work. Then…
FIND CONSOLATION IN GOD’S WORD.
Find encouragement and comfort in his promises. Find a sweet message there, even in the bitter experiences of life. That’s what the Apostle John found.
Revelation 10:8-11 Then the voice that I had heard from heaven spoke to me again, saying, “Go, take the scroll that is open in the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land.” So I went to the angel and told him to give me the little scroll. And he said to me, “Take and eat it; it will make your stomach bitter, but in your mouth it will be sweet as honey.” And I took the little scroll from the hand of the angel and ate it. It was sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it my stomach was made bitter. And I was told, “You must again prophesy about many peoples and nations and languages and kings.” (ESV)
With the sounding of the 7th trumpet in chapter 11, the events of the tribulation come to a close as Christ returns to this earth. The book of Revelation could end right there; but here, the angel tells the apostle John that He must “again prophecy.” In other words, John must again recount the terrible judgments of the tribulation, which he does in the last half of this book. The last half of Revelation is just another look at the Tribulation judgments already described in the first half of the book.
They are bitter words of judgment, and John is asked to eat them. He is asked to absorb them into his thoughts and emotions, into his very being. I’m sure he’s not looking forward to repeating those words of judgment. But when he does, he finds those very words to be sweet in his mouth.
He finds a sweet message in the bitter experiences of life and so can we. When we open God’s Word, we find words that are “sweeter than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb” (Psalm 19:10). In the bad news situations of life, find good news in this little book, the Bible. In the bitter experiences, find sweet comfort in God’s Holy Word.
That’s where our persecuted, North Korean brothers and sisters in Christ find their encouragement today. In their book, The Privilege of Persecution, Carl Moeller and David Hegg tell the story of a courageous believer who has helped their ministry, Open Doors USA, smuggle Bibles and commentaries into North Korea.
He is known simply as “The Traveler” and has served Open Doors for years, but they don't even know his real name. They never will, because the fewer people who know it, the better. That’s because it would mean a brutal death sentence for him if his secret work was ever to be discovered.
Recently, when Open Doors leaders asked the Traveler what the church in North Korea prays for, he began to weep. He told of a church movement that has remained underground ever since the fifties. In order to wipe Christianity from the face of the land, Kim II-sung's soldiers herded entire congregations into the streets and ran them over with bulldozers. Thousands of men, women, and children – nearly all of them North Korean citizens – were literally crushed to death, their remains… used to line roadbeds throughout the surrounding cities.
Today, under Kim's son, Kim Jon-il, there are [around] 240,000 believers, direct descendants of those who were left behind… [These] North Korean believers are prayerfully focused on one purpose: to be in place and fulfill God's will for their lives. Their prayer is a prayer for liberation, for lifting of the darkness, for a possibility to reopen the churches of their ancestors, and for reconciliation…
So despite the dangers, The Traveler continues to [risk his life in order to] equip believers with Bibles, commentaries, radio resources, training, and encouragement to keep them focused on the Lord. (Carl Moeller and David Hegg, The Privilege of Persecution, Moody Publishers, 2011, pp. 67-68, 70; www.PreachingToday.com)
It’s this book (the Bible), which keeps them going until the day God intervenes. Let me tell you: it’s the only thing that keeps any of us going until Jesus come again.
So when you hear bad news, find good news in God’s Word. Open this book and remember that Jesus is still in control. Realize that Jesus will complete His work, and find comfort in that. In God’s Word, the Bible, find sweet words in the bitter experiences of life.
On a windy October afternoon in 1982, Badger Stadium in Madison was packed. More than 60,000 die-hard fans were watching their University of Wisconsin Badger football team take on the Michigan State Spartans.
It soon became obvious that Michigan State had the better team that year. Even so, as the Badgers began to lose more and more, a lot of Badger fans would burst into applause and scream and yell from time to time.
It turns out that 70 miles away, the Milwaukee Brewers were beating the St. Louis Cardinals in game three of the 1982 World Series. Many of the football fans in Madison were listening to the baseball game on their portable radios, and they were responding to something other than their immediate circumstances (Greg Asimakoupoulos, Leadership, Fall 1994, p.42)
Hey, when your immediate circumstance are pretty poor, tune into God’s Word. Open this little book and consume its words. It really will give you something to cheer about.