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May 2019 Church Newsletter Article: Triumphing in the Trial

At the end of this month we’ll be marking forty days since our celebration of Easter. It was at that time that Jesus left his disciples and ascended into heaven. The disciples asked Jesus just before he left if he was now going “restore the kingdom to Israel” (Acts 1:6). They still had it in their minds that the messiah is supposed to bring in an earthly kingdom. Why is that?

Well, the Old Testament speaks of a day when God’s kingdom will be all in all. There are sweeping promises of God’s reign and rule through his anointed one when injustice and oppression will cease. Even today many Jews reject Jesus as Messiah precisely because he did not bring in this reign of literal, physical peace on earth. There is the unusual case of Pinchas Lapide, a Jewish diplomat and historian, who accepts the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection and believes that Jesus is the Messiah of the Gentiles (non-Jews) but says that only the return of Jesus to rule on earth will show him to be the Jewish messiah.

As Christians we too long for the establishment of God’s righteous rule on earth. This is what we pray for every Sunday when we say “thy Kingdom come”. When we see the horrendous evil in our world today (as I’m writing this the news is filled with the story of coordinated attacks in Sri Lanka) we cry out with the martyrs of the book of Revelation, “How long Lord?” (Revelation 6:10).

However, we believe that Jesus did not simply leave this earth. We believe he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father (Apostles’ Creed). His ascension to the Father’s right hand signifies that, in spite of what we see, he is in charge. This is the message of the book of Revelation. Jesus is the lamb who is worthy to take the scroll from the Father’s hand and administer God’s decrees for our world (Revelation 4).

We’re told in that same book of Revelation that God has sealed his people (given them a sign of his having chosen them). These people come out of the great tribulation; that is, they go through the trials of this world but they do so as those sealed by God (Revelation 7), and they overcome in the midst of those trials. How are they sealed, and by what power do they overcome?

Ephesians says we were marked with a seal, the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13), which brings us back to Jesus’ ascension. At his ascension he told his disciples it was not for them to know when the end of the age would come but they would receive power when the Holy Spirit came upon them. Their task would be serving as his witnesses in the midst of this world of tribulation (Acts 1:7-8).

When we look at our world of tribulation, with its Sri Lanka attacks and other violence, our job is to bear witness through word and deed to a new reality that has come because of Christ. We do this in the power of the Holy Spirit, and we proclaim a coming day when what God has begun in us will culminate in a world where this no more sickness, sorrow, or pain, and death will be no more (Revelation 21). And we pray, “Even so, Come, Lord Jesus!”

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