Elizabeth Wurtzel wrote in her memoir, Prozac Nation, “Why do anything—why wash my hair, why read Moby-Dick, why fall in love,…when all of us are just slouching toward the same inevitable conclusion? The shortness of life, I keep saying, makes everything seem pointless when I think about the longness of death.”
Clifford Goldstein added his thoughts. “We, like muskrats, die, and given enough time, it would be hard to tell the difference between us. Of humans and animals, said Solomon, ‘all go to one place: all are from the dust, and all return to dust.’ Except that God has placed ‘eternity’ in human hearts, which means that we, unlike muskrats, know the impassable gap between our own temporality and the eternity that, without divine intervention, will grind us and the muskrats into oblivion. But that’s what the death and resurrection of Jesus is all about:…divine intervention without which we would be nothing but ‘hunks of spoiling flesh on disintegrating bones.’…Eternity awaits us all: either eternal death or eternal life….Eternity’s coming, and it will unfold either with us or without us.” Yes, eternity looms before us, and only our daily decisions will determine what that will mean for us.
We love the promise in Revelation 21:4: “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.” This promise comes after the lost have been destroyed in the lake of fire, there is a new heaven and a new earth, and the New Jerusalem has descended. It’s over—sin, evil, sickness, death, war, and suffering. Only then do we read the promise we love, “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.” Tears? In the new heaven and the new earth? How could it be? What has just happened? “And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.” (Rev. 20:15) How many millions, including loved ones, including parents, children, and friends, are destroyed before the eyes of the saved? Gone, forever, as if they had never been.
Knowing our own unworthiness, and the amazing grace that spared us from this same end, how could we not weep, at the demise of so many who were offered the same grace that saved us? Remember, the fires of hell were “prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41), not for human beings. No one born on this earth should have to die in those fires. So we will surely shed tears for those who are destroyed. These are the tears that God will wipe away from our eyes. Afterward, only afterward, “there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain, for the former things are passed away.”
Faith in God’s Promises
If we would ever begin to doubt this future reality of eternal life and eternal death, maybe we need to be reminded about some simple realities in the observable present. For instance, the extraordinary human voice.
We all have two small bands of smooth muscle tissue, little more than the size of a dime, that vibrate as exhaling air passes from our lungs and into the air. This rushing air creates a wave motion in the vocal cords as they slam into one another and then are blown apart again, which happens between 55 and 1,047 times per second, for the low A of a basso to the high C of a soprano.
If you were to hear this buzz directly at its source, it would not be a very flattering sound, but more of a fleshy, annoying, squeaky buzz, like a full balloon leaking air through a semi-squeezed opening. But these thin little sound waves undergo a remarkable transformation, resonating through the throat, mouth, and nasal cavities and over the tongue before emerging as a sound. Singing comes naturally to humans, but like all natural skills, with practice the human voice can be refined into an instrument of staggering beauty.
Mark Willey writes, “On a late summer afternoon mountain bike ride with a friend of mine, we stopped to revel in a particularly beautiful stretch of trail we’d just experienced. As my friend talked, I was mesmerized by a little light show of tiny droplets that floated over his shoulder, revealed by the setting sun at his back. They seemed weightless, sparkling as they rose on the breeze. It was the first time I had ever seen with my own eyes this phenomenon of respiratory droplets that is suspected as the primary transmission vehicle for COVID-19. I realized I was probably seeing only the largest of them, that there were in fact many more I couldn’t see.” (Adventist Review, December, 2020)
Can we treasure the connection to one another that comes through the coordination of sound waves from those wonderful little folds of muscle vibrating in the larynx as the breath of life emerges in a universe of sound and tiny twinkling stars? Is it possible to doubt God’s promises in the face of something we take for granted every day?
Another contrast between faith and doubt in God’s Word comes from today’s rocket scientists. Do you know why we are expending huge amounts of money and energy to send small rovers to Mars?
The theory of abiogenesis, or chemical evolution, which holds that biologic systems evolved from nonbiologic chemicals, is strongly embraced by most of the theorists and designers of the Martian rovers. Their mission is to validate the theory of evolution. The rovers search for vestiges of past life on Mars. They look for chemical signatures that can be made only by biological processes. Numerous attempts to make such a discovery have all failed. These past failures are more than enough to lead secular scientists to conclude that chemical evolution of life is an invalid hypothesis for Mars.
Yes, there is evidence that eternity does exist, but that doesn’t mean that daily living will be easy. A recent Facebook quote made an interesting observation.
Marriage is hard. Divorce is hard. Choose your hard. Obesity is hard. Being fit is hard. Choose your hard. Being is debt is hard. Being financially disciplined is hard. Choose your hard. Communication is hard. Not communicating is hard. Choose your hard. Life will never be easy. It will always be hard. But we can choose our hard.
A story about wrestling with God is found in Genesis 32. Jacob has no chance, no plan, and no hope as he prepares to be reunited with his brother, Esau, who is still bent on revenge. And now the hard thing was coming for him, ready or not. Alone in the desert, Jacob gets down on his knees and begs God to intervene. And that night Jacob wrestled with God. This pandemic is hard, but it is the perfect time to get on our knees and wrestle with God.
The Bible is clear that we’re much closer to the end than to the beginning. Inconvenienced by stores’ mask mandates? One day we won’t be able to buy or sell. Social distancing got you down? One day we’ll have to flee to the mountains. Restrictions in attending church? One day church will be wherever we are. It’s almost always better to choose the hard thing now. When we choose the hard things now, we’ll be prepared for whatever comes next.
Another hard thing is sexual abstinence between two people who love each other. In the United States 88.8 percent of women aged 15 to 44 years of age, and 89.9 percent of men aged 20-44 reported engaging in premarital sexual intercourse. Many wonder how something could be wrong if it feels right.
But let us go back to Eden. In the beginning God created human beings with distinct sexual identities. “Male and female created he them.” (Gen. 1:27) “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” (Gen 2:24) To be “one flesh” encompasses the blending of heart, mind, and soul of two distinct individuals. It includes physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual unity. Jesus affirms that marriage is to be an inseparable union of one man and one woman. Yes, it is a hard thing to abstain, but it is much harder to deal with the results of taking the easy way.
Finances is one of those hard things that make daily living difficult. Mark Sandoval, the medical director of Uchee Pines Lifestyle Center, tells a personal story.
“With almost $75,000 in school debt and a family of six to support, I was led to come to Uchee Pines to learn a new way of practicing the healing arts. But I was very reluctant, because I didn’t know how this would work out financially. I asked the president how much I would be paid if I came to Uchee Pines, and when he emailed me the number, I turned to my wife and said, ‘I wonder if they pay every week? Because if they pay every other week, I don’t see how we could make it financially.” I also asked if Uchee Pines could help with paying my medical school debt, but they gave no promise of help. Unsure of how this was all going to work out, we decided to leave it in God’s hands and not inquire any more about finances.
“When we arrived at Uchee Pines and went through orientation, we found out that Uchee paid stipends every month! Now I was sure we couldn’t make it financially. I made more money working part time in a health food store when I was in high school! Someone suggested that I work part time in the ER to make the additional money I would need to support my family of six and to pay off my medical school debt. (In the ER, I would make in one shift what I would make at Uchee in over a month.) I was about to do this, but something stopped me.
“I was studying about the Exodus at the time, and it struck me that, just as God called His children out of Egypt into the Promised Land and supported them along the way, so God was calling me out of my Egypt into my Promised Land, and I was contemplating going back to Egypt to support myself in the Promised Land….I made my decision….I would trust in God to provide for what was needed.
“At times, when finances were very tight and we weren’t sure how we would purchase food for the rest of the month, an anonymous letter would show up in our mailbox with cash in it. Another time, we were short on funds, but another family needed help, so we got them what they needed, and again, an anonymous letter showed up in our mailbox with the exact amount of money we had used to help the other family! Eight years after coming to Uchee Pines,…we have never gone hungry…. I travel all over the world. I have a job/ministry that is absolutely fulfilling. And my medical school debt is paid off! I am debt free!...We are here for a purpose. We have a mission that God has called us to.”
There is a fascinating historical record in Luke 1:5: “There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judaea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth.”
It’s astounding how little notice Luke takes of Herod, the most significant man in the Eastern Mediterranean world. He wasn’t just any Herod: this was Herod the Great! When aged just 25 or 26, he was appointed governor of Galilee. Four short years later, governor of Syria was added to his domain. Then, at 32 or 33, the Roman Senate appointed him as king of Judea. He reigned until his death—for 36 years.
This Herod is credited with building and funding the second temple in Jerusalem. He substantially added to the fortifications of Jerusalem. He travelled Rome several times, meeting with the Roman Senate. Augustus Caesar and Mark Antony hosted a great banquet in his honor in Rome. Most of his building projects were funded from his own pocket. On one occasion he gave Caesar a gift of 800 talents of gold. Based on today’s gold prices, that single gift equates to more than US $1.72 billion!
Herod resolutely observed the laws of Judaism. His respect for the Sabbath was legendary. A Latin poet called the seventh day “Herod’s Day.” Pork and all other unclean foods were never permitted on his royal menu. None of his many children were permitted to marry Gentiles. Herod the Great really seems a very apt description of this man.
But when it came to real values, like integrity, Herod the Great was bankrupt. He had three of his own sons executed, fearing they wanted his throne. Of his many wives, it was said that he loved Mariamne I the most, but he had her killed when he concluded she was a rival. Killing all the infant boys of Bethlehem and the surrounding region wasn’t as surprising as it seems to us today. Today he is remembered as a merciless killer. And so, for good reason, Luke 1:5 characterizes God as walking straight past this man of influence.
Luke is eager to tell the story of heaven reaching out to humanity. This all begins with a low-profile priest and spouse, Zechariah and Elisabeth. While their names were not as well-known as Herod the Great, God knew their names. The great Herod is all but overlooked in the text, while the inconspicuous priest and spouse are noticed and remembered by the God of the universe. Herod’s power, wealth, and prestige look increasingly mediocre as the story unfolds.
Luke 1:6 relates that “they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.” If you think living a wholesome, godly life doesn’t matter, please think again!
Through the angel Gabriel, God seeks out Zechariah in the temple—the temple built and funded by Herod. Clearly, the quality of character is crucial in this moment. There were many Jewish priests and spouses in this era, and this is probably the only time in the whole life of Zechariah that he served in the temple, such was his obscurity. Unnoticed though he was, he and Elisabeth were people of prayer. God heard their prayer and assured Zechariah that their prayer would be answered.
“And they had no child, because that Elisabeth was barren, and they both were now stricken in years.” (Luke 1:7) “But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias, for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John.” (Luke 1:13) Contrast Herod’s death with this birth. When Herod died, there was joy and gladness that his murderous reign would die with him.
But there’s another phrase in Luke’s text, spoken by Gabriel—a prophecy of the destiny of John. “For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord,…and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb.” (Luke 1:15) Luke never refers to Herod as “great.” But John, though he was to minister in the wilderness, wear unsophisticated clothes, land survive on the most rudimentary diet, will be “great.” Jesus confirmed the fulfillment of the prophecy of John’s greatness. “For I say unto you, Among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist.” (Luke 7:28)
Only heaven’s assessment ultimately matters. Only Jesus is qualified to call anyone “great.”
The Latter Rain
Now let’s bring all of this down to the time in which we are living—the end of the world as we have known it. There is a very important statement in Acts 3:19: “Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord.” In the middle of Peter’s testimony about the death and resurrection of Jesus, he brings us right down to our near future. Every word is important here. We are to repent and be converted. Why? So your sins can be blotted out. Genuine conversion will lead directly to victory over sin, which will lead to the record of our sins being removed from the books of heaven and from our minds. All of this is connected with the Day of Atonement and the cleansing of the sanctuary.
The next word is very important. “When” is better translated “so that” the times of refreshing shall come. The times of refreshing is the second Pentecost when the Holy Spirit returns in far more power than in Peter’s time, and the final warning goes to every tribe and nation. In other words, the cleansing of the sanctuary and the blotting out of sins prepares the way for the latter rain and the loud cry. This means that victory over sin (all sin) precedes the latter rain and is necessary for the reception of the Holy Spirit in Pentecostal power.
If we have any hope of experiencing the latter rain, we must be converted daily and be experiencing victory over sin to the point of all our sins being blotted out, which means wiped away forever. Only then can verse 20 be realized. “And he shall send Jesus Christ.” Only then can Jesus return, and only then will we experience the times of restitution of all things.
The blotting out of sins precedes the times of refreshing. This becomes crucial present truth at a time when we are being assured by the best authorities that we will be sinning and repenting right up to Jesus’ return to the planet where He lived and died for us.
Verse 26 summarizes all of this very nicely: “Unto you first God, having raised up his Son Jesus, sent him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from his iniquities.”
The Sunday Law
There is another hard thing looming in our future—a Sunday law by which we will be prevented from buying and selling. This is our final test before we can welcome Jesus for whom we have waited so long. If I were to ask how many of us are determined not to yield to such an unconstitutional law; if I were to ask how many of us will pass our final test, I am sure that every one of us would say, I will not yield.
Let us think back to the time when we were in school, hoping to pass a course vitally necessary to graduation. The course has certain requirements, such as research papers, quizzes, an oral report, and a mid-term exam to assess how well we are doing on the way to the final test, so that we can pass the course. Now the final test is very important, making up 50% of the final grade, but the teacher will also give some weight to the quizzes and the papers (25%), and the mid-term exam (25%). What I decided to focus everything on the final test and ignore the quizzes and the papers, and just squeak by on the mid-term? What would be a realistic possibility of passing the course even if I did very well on the final exam (50% of the final grade)?
I submit that this is exactly parallel with passing the final test of the Sunday law. Even if we do not yield to such a law, if we have not been passing the daily quizzes it will make very little difference if we pass the final test. We will fail the course.
So what are the quizzes that we need to work on right now? Perhaps that quick temper, or irritation over little things, or jealousy, or personal pride because we are doing so much better than others in diet and dress, or yielding to discouragement and self-pity? Are we being faithful in Sabbathkeeping and returning tithe? What about sexual purity, and carefulness in what we put into and on our body? These are the daily quizzes to prepare us for the final test. If we are failing these it really doesn’t make much difference if we pass the final test with flying colors.
Remember that we will receive the seal of God only by settling into the truth intellectually and spiritually so we cannot be moved (LDE 219-220). This is daily conversion, and only this will prepare us to pass the final test. I submit that we need to move our attention away from the Sunday law to daily victories in the daily quizzes of life. Reflecting the image of Christ is much more important than whether we will yield to a Sunday law.
“To stand in defense of truth and righteousness when the majority forsake us, to fight the battles of the Lord when champions are few—this will be our test. At this time we must gather warmth from the coldness of others, courage from their cowardice, and loyalty from their treason.” (5T 136)