The Back Story:
Last week I received a letter from someone who was worried about a lot of things. In the midst of her lamentations she declared that we (meaning Christianity, I assume) are “losing the battle.”
Today I went to the hospital after I had finished teaching morning Bible Study. I spent my time with an older gentleman (a senior citizen) battling a physical ailment he’s struggled with quite a while, and then with a young woman who just gave birth to her first child. Two chapters in life, separated by many years and many experiences–and I was privileged enough to be a part of both stories.
On the way home I was pondering those bookend episodes of two very different lives… because that’s what we introverts do: we ponder.
But my pondering was abruptly ended while stopped at a red light. I noticed a white-haired gentleman who looked to be about the same age as the man I had just visited in the hospital. This man, however, was standing on the interstate exit ramp, holding a sign I could not read because he was facing away from me. But I didn’t need to read it. I already knew that he was looking for financial assistance from those who were stuck in traffic.
I was just reaching for the few coins I had on me (I never carry cash) and wondering if I could get his attention and if he could safely cross the busy intersection to get to me… and if all that was worth the few cents (a dime and a few pennies) I could offer him when the light turned green and I had to drive on.
Then, I noticed a gray truck parked on the side of the busy highway and a young man hurrying along the gravel berm toward the ramp. Clutched in his hand was one of Sheetz’ distinctive bags. I watched in my rearview mirror as the young man darted across the ramp and walked right up to the white-haired gentleman and offered him the bag with a warm, friendly gesture.
And I thought, “My faith in humanity has just been restored.”
But no sooner than the scene behind me was out of view of my mirrors, I suddenly recalled the desperate letter that had so boldly proclaimed that we were “losing the battle.”
That sentence had been rubbing at me all week.
The Jesus I know is a victor. That’s what we sing about in church. That’s how we refer to him when we talk about him. That’s what we claim to believe.
And yet, so many times, Christians moan about losing a battle.
When Congress votes in a way that we don’t like: We’re losing the battle!
When we don’t like the president or his policies: We’re losing the battle!
When the Supreme Court offers a decision different from ours: We’re losing the battle!
Everything from Beyoncé performing at the Super Bowl to mass shootings sends up the cry: We’re losing the battle!
Debunking the Myth:
This past year I’ve had the opportunity to study the book of Revelation three times. Each one has been a long, comprehensive study. The first was a personal study to prepare me for the more daunting task of teaching the text to each of the two churches I serve. Back-to-back, three times over, I went verse-by-verse, chapter-by-chapter through Revelation.
And can you guess what I learned?
The battle is already won.
Over and over again, that message was clear. Whether it was heavenly hosts singing praises or words of patience uttered to saints and martyrs, it was clear–the victory had already been claimed.
He had claimed it, when stretched out and nailed to a cross, Jesus took our sins upon himself by asking God to forgive us.
Death and the grave could not defeat him. All the sins of the world couldn’t break him. Evil will never trample over him.
The battle is not ours to lose–it is Christ’s and it has already been won.
That’s the great thing about Revelation. No matter which of the twenty-dollar seminary words you use to describe your eschatological (end-times) views, the message is always the same. Whether you see Revelation as a historical book addressing the first century church, or as a symbolic writing with spiritual meaning, or as a prophecy of things yet to come, it all plays out the same: Christ has already defeated sin and evil. The battle is won.
The Moral of the Story:
Jesus told us that what we have done for the “least of these” we have also done for him. He told us this when he was warning us that some people (whom he called “goats”) would claim they had never seen him hungry or sick or in prison or naked. But others (whom he called “sheep”) would have seen his face in the faces of the poor, the sick, the helpless, the broken, the hurting…
Everyday we can live into the victory of the battle already won–we can be the sheep, chilling on the green pastures of the Kingdom and enjoying the abundance of life. Or we can be the goats–taking the hard way over brutal terrain, stumbling on stone after stone, and missing what is so painfully obvious right before our eyes: Jesus is the victor! He’s already navigated this terrain! He’s already found the way–we just need to follow him!
I Saw Jesus Today:
It was wonderful–the young man who had gone out of his way to drive to Sheetz (the closest one to that interstate ramp is notoriously slow in its service) and return to offer food to a man begging for help not only restored my faith in humanity, but also helped me to see Jesus.
Look closely at the image before you: A young man in the prime of his life, driving a nice new truck, with money enough to buy food on a whim and a white-haired senior citizen, begging for scraps and loose change on a hot day at a busy intersection.
Do you see Jesus, too?
Look a little closer–It’s not the young man.
That’s not Jesus.
Jesus told us that his sheep–his disciples–would be the ones feeding him.
But where did we see you hungry and feed you?
What you have done for the least of these you have done for me.
Look a little closer–Jesus is in the face of the white-haired man begging for scraps.
And his disciple was living in the victory of a battle already won–a victory in which he could share the abundance of his life for the sake of another. A victory in which he didn’t need to judge that white-haired man’s worthiness… he only needed to see Jesus.
I saw Jesus today. And today, I was reminded that I already live in the victory of eternal life.