The following is a devotion given by Rev. Mark Miller at our recent Central Illinois District pastor’s conference, which he has graciously permitted me to post for your enjoyment. It came right after news of the massacre at VA Tech, and it really hit home. I hope it brings comfort to you as it did for me.
April 17, 2007
The tribulation of these times is palpable. Terror has embraced our daily lives, and colored it in yellow, orange, and red — alerts. Trouble pains our bones, to the depths of our being, by reason of our weaknesses… as well as through the consequences of our decisions darkened by a clouded conscience. The foundation of the great tribulation is the continued rebellion of hell, the uprising of this gloomy and godless world, and the complacency of our sinful flesh. We are ill-equipped to fend off the temptations of these times. We honor power and discount faithfulness. We seek days of ease and vain glory. We long for heaven on earth yet God’s kingdom is never found where our minds and hearts suppose it to be.
The Lord Jesus has taught us that glory comes through suffering, true life rises up from the seed of death, humility begets exaltation, and victory comes by total sacrifice. Salvation is borne on the wings of comforting, pardoning, powerful, words of divine victory overshadowed by a blood-stained cross, and present and eternal life is found in water, bread, and wine. Not we ourselves, not by our will, nor by our schemes or works, but God Himself delivers and rescues us, calls us by His name, and adopts us into His royal household as kings and priests.
You can’t help but notice that the daily death toll is rising and we can’t seem to do anything about it. Thirty-three killed yesterday on a college campus in a rampage of senseless slaughter. But thousands, maybe millions more, succumbed yesterday to disease, famine, pestilence, the ravages of a quaking creation “groaning in travail,” and the finite limits to life outside Eden.
Today, the bad news is that the world promises more of the same! The dike was breached by our first parents and we haven’t been able to forestall the flood of despair and disappointment, nor end — on our own — the reign of death and the grave. Yet, we cry out to heaven… and in the throne room of the thrice holy God, the Most High and merciful, our petitions have been heard. Salvation belongs to our God! Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
Maybe, just maybe, through this world’s disappointments, the Lord would lead us to reconsider our attachment to the here and now, and whether or not we are a resident — or “we are but a stranger here.” Is this all there is or are we only passing through? Is our heart stayed on something higher and better, or is our treasure the stuff that fuels moth and rust, which tempts and enriches the thief, and lasts so short a time? Is this a pilgrimage… or permanent?
Even while the Lord God loosens our grasp of merely momentary treasures and pleasures, He assures us that He has loosened us from the grip of sin, death, and hell. His rod and staff guide and guard us. He brings us into the safety of His sheep fold. He feeds us in eternal pastures. He leads us to living water — and we live! He first loved us — and we live! The Lamb is the first born from the dead! The promise of heavenly bliss, our entrance into the wedding feast, our white robes and righteousness are given as a gift, and the tree of life yields palms of praise even as it bears the fruit of immortality.
The population of heaven is a great multitude which entirely owes its existence to the grace, compassion, undeserved love of heaven’s King and to the merit and morality of His Son, the Prince of peace, the Author of life, and the Perfecter of Faith. The Spirit testifies to the blood of Christ, the cross of Christ, the empty tomb that guarantees the world’s pardon and the inheritance of every believer. The world stands pardoned! You stand forgiven in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit!
Dr. Luther once remarked that heaven is big enough for everyone, and if God were offering gold and silver, most would desire to be there, but since He offers and gives spiritual blessings and riches, there will be plenty of room in heaven — for there are few who prize what He is giving. Still, it is a large number that no one could count, a “great multitude,” the full number of the redeemed and elect, the Old and New Testament Church. They are there, and we will be, because salvation belongs to God and to the Lamb.
Tribulation is our lot in this life. But our heavenly service, there and then, above and beyond, comprises hymns of praise, glory, wisdom, thanks, honor, power, and strength, not in reminiscence of ours but in acknowledgment of His.
God’s bidding will be our delight as it is among the angels. To serve Him in His temple will be our pleasant labor for eternity, never growing worn or weary. The Word who became flesh and tabernacled among us spreads His tent over us to provide for, protect, and preserve us. His dwelling place is our worship place. His throne is the mercy seat where there is redemption in blood, forgiveness for sins, and life everlasting.
There is no hunger at His feast, and there is no thirsting where the taste of His new and better wine satisfies as no other drink ever could. Light beaming forth from the bright, gracious, and accepting countenance of the “Light of the World” transfigures our faces so they bask in a radiance that doesn’t burn, but is illuminated, and doesn’t scorch, but is enlightened.
We long for that time when the Shepherd/Lamb will lead us and He will truly be the center and focus of our days and deeds. We desire to enter into that Sabbath rest where there is no more tears because there is no more failure and hopes are not dashed on rocky and treacherous shoals but shored up by promises fulfilled and heaven realized.
To Him be praise: He has done all things well! In every way He is worthy of our worship! In our captivity we were led out and set free.
To Him be glory: for His magnificent victory purchased by an obedience unto death, even death on the cross.
He is wisdom in its very essence: even as His wisdom saw to it that love and justice would work in concert for the salvation of sinners. “His ways are above our ways and His thoughts beyond our thoughts.”
He is thanked because everything we have, we are or ever hope to be, is given as a gift from above. Eternity is far too short to be done with thanksgiving.
To God goes every honor. He not only could demand our awe and respect but He earned it in ways beyond any speculation or expectation.
God has revealed His power in the creation of all things, but most especially in restoring life by overpowering death, so where He walks, life is left in His wake.
His strength is our strength and there is no strength in us apart from Him. His strength is divine and eternal, and His strength imparts the finest and best of eternity to us.The hymn will never end, because the reasons for singing His praise (as we have been blessed) show no sign of termination or conclusion. God, the Father, Son, Spirit, has been good to us in every way, and heaven will be a fine, fine destination for those who have been brought up from death and bestowed with the best our Father has to give, even His Son, our Savior, Lord and God, who lives and blesses us with the greatest gift of all — LIFE now and forever!