His Terrible, Swift Sword
For me, the book of Revelation should probably come with a trigger warning. Something like: “Please note, the following content contains imagery that may be disturbing to some young Kaminskis.” This book has really made me flinch at some times, and it all goes back to when I was about 10 years old. There I am at 10, a very serious-looking young man, just a barrel of monkeys. Like Matt Nestberg, I was saved when I was 6. But I was the first person in my family that was saved. A friend of mine, Brian Miller, lived down the street. He invited me to Vacation Bible School at his church, and I went and heard the gospel for the first time and accepted Christ as my Savior. God had been working on my parents, too. And within a couple of years they both became Christians, and they were hungry to learn about God’s Word. They bought all kinds of books. And in those days end times prophecy was a hot topic in Christian books. This was the late 60s, early 70s and my parents bought a bunch of those, and I read them. They shouldn’t have left them laying around. I read them. And I remember there were some of them that had charts and timelines. And I remember looking at them and thinking, “Okay, now according to this one, Jesus is going to come back sometime when I’m in high school. But according to this one over here he’s going to come back probably when I’m 30, so I have more time if I go with this one.”
There was one of those books that had a picture in it that just got burned into my brain. It was a picture of a church in the background but in the foreground there … well, it’s kind of hard to describe. Let me just show it to you here. That’s the picture. This thing messed me up. In preparing for the sermon I’ve kind of had a little bit of exposure therapy by looking at this picture a whole bunch. But boy, it has stayed with me since I was a kid and I first saw it. And I remember that instead of a basket at the bottom of the guillotine, there’s that water tank, and man that just creeped me out for some reason. I still don’t know why there are waves in it, but that’s something else. That image scared me.
And those days we lived right across the street from the elementary school where I went. I used to come home for lunch. I was able to do that. And sometimes I’d come home for lunch, and my mom wouldn’t be there. I’d get a little nervous, and then I’d go, and I’d check the garage to see if her car were there. And if the car wasn’t gone then I got really panicky. Now what had happened is one of her friends had picked her up and taken her lunch, but I didn’t know that. I started to get really scared because as far as I was concerned, Jesus had come back, my mom was gone, and I was still there. I was scared. I was anxious. I was trying to think, “Okay, what can I do here?” My friend, Brian Miller, if I’d call his house and talk to his mom, if she’s there, I know I’m safe. I’d call, and I’d try to be as calm and collected as I could. “Hey, Mrs. Miller, this is Steve Kaminski. Is my mom over there? Do you know where my mom is?” And it didn’t matter what she said, because as long as I heard her voice I knew I was safe.
That stayed with me for a while. Eventually, I got over those fears a little bit, but I was still confused about this book of Revelation because I knew that it had a special blessing for those who read it. It’s there at the beginning and at the end. But what I saw was a whole bunch of people trying to decode it like it’s a Dan Brown novel. How do you get a special blessing out of solving a puzzle? I didn’t understand that. What I finally figured out, and what Peter and Ryan have helped us see, is that I think there’s more to this book than what we may have thought.
Figuring out a difficult passage like this is sort of like trying to put together furniture from IKEA. If you go into that and figure you know how it’s all supposed to fit together and just plow right in and start screwing it together, you’re probably going to end up with a few pieces left over. And sometimes when we try to put a book together like Revelation using our own idea of how we think it ought to go together, we’re going to end up leaving a bunch of parts out. And I think those parts are the best parts. I think some of those parts are the parts with the blessing.
What would those parts mean for a boy like me? What would they mean for young Steven? Maybe you know a young boy or girl who’s frightened by some of the things you see in this book or maybe you’re a little bit frightened by some of the things you see in this book. When I was 10, my parents were concerned about my anxiety with this. Since they were new Christians, they didn’t feel like they could help me enough, so they had me go see the pastor and talk to him, and that was helpful. But what I’d like us to do today is to take a look at Revelation 14 and see what we can find to encourage young Steven. And maybe there are some things that will encourage the rest of us, too.
Let’s set the stage for chapter 14. Remember Peter has talked to us about God’s sting operation in Revelation where God is setting the conditions for evil to show itself as evil, and that’s happened now. Evil has grown ripe. And it leaves in us, as we read this book, an appetite for justice. We want there to be a response. This is like Act II of a 3 act play where the plot gets complicated, and the hero is struggling. It’s like a dissonant chord that we want to resolve. It leaves us as the readers, in the same position as the martyrs back in chapter 6 who said, “How long [Lord] before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” We want a response. And now, after the most brazen display of rebellion in chapters 12 and 13 that we saw the last couple of weeks, now we see the beginning of God’s response. Let’s talk a little bit about how this fits in with those last two chapters because so much of Revelation meshes together. And this chapter here, chapter 14, is a direct response to the rebellion in the last two chapters.
It’s rebellion and response.
It’s the false lamb and the true Lamb.
666: the imperfect number of man and 144,000: the complete number of God’s people (the ones on earth, the others in heaven).
You have worshipers of the beast and followers of the Lamb.
You have those that get the mark of the beast on their hands and their forehead, and in 14 you have those who have the name of God and the Lamb written on their foreheads.
You have martyrdom for those who do not worship the beast in chapter 13 and blessing now in chapter 14 for those same people.
And in all of this there is a call for the endurance of the saints, which is an important thing that shows up in both of those chapters.
Let’s look at how this beginning of judgment starts. Chapter 14:1, it’s on page 1036 if you’re using the seat back Bible. John says:
“Then I looked, and behold, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads.”
Think about this picture for a minute, because what did we see in the last two chapters? A dragon and beasts. And now to battle beasts and a dragon, God sends a Lamb. That would not be my first choice. If you think about it, there are other ways that we see Jesus described. Earlier in the book we saw him as the Lion. That would be a better fit here, or a King, or God the Almighty. But here we see Jesus as a Lamb, the perfect sacrifice. In fact, the book of Revelation shows Jesus as the Lamb more than any other book in Scripture. This is a prominent theme here.
Somehow in God’s economy there is justice and strength in sacrifice and humility. We don’t normally think of it that way. And we don’t normally think about a lamb as anything but a follower. But here, this is a Lamb who leads. And who does the Lamb lead? It’s the 144,000, the same group that we saw back in chapter 7. And there’s debate about who makes up this group, but I think the best explanation is, as we said then, it’s all believers. It represents the completeness of God’s true people. And we see them here coming with loud sounds of crashing waves and thunder and harps and singing.
What kind of people are in this 144,000? I think young Steven would like to know if he would fit in with that group. Some commentators describe these people as God’s elite warriors. Okay, it is a war, and there are other places where we see Christians decked out in battle armor like in Ephesians 6 when Paul says, “put on the whole armor of God.” When you think about an elite warrior, what does it take to be an elite warrior? I had a friend who became an elite warrior, my high school friend named Kip. Kip always wanted to go into the Army. He went to college for a year, but then he dropped out, went into the Army and became a Ranger. Now to become a Ranger, you have to go through training where you lead, at the time, three missions — one in the desert, one in the mountains, and one in the jungle — and he failed the last one. And he had to go back and start at the beginning and do them all again. When he was done, there were officers who came up to him and said, “We feel like we should salute you because you went through this thing twice.” Kip had to work hard to earn his position as a Ranger.
What about these people, this 144,000? Are they working hard to earn their spot? How will we see them here? Well, we really don’t see them as warriors at all, at least not the way we’d normally understand it. First of all, they bear God’s name. You see that right there in chapter 1. And when I think about this, God writes his name on them, this reminds me of the movie “Toy Story” where Andy puts his name on the toys. We’re far more than God’s toys, but he does protect us. He owns us. We’re his. In fact, we were talking about this, this last week in our life group because in chapter 13 we saw that God writes our name in his book, and then he writes his name on us. He knows who we are. We’re connected to him. This is ownership, protection, and this is a direct contrast to what we saw in chapter 13 with the mark of the beast. These have the name of God.
“This seal, as one author puts, it is a symbol of allegiance, but it’s also emblematic of God’s power, which has enabled the believers to maintain their allegiance to the Lamb in the first place.”
You get the idea here. It’s not that because we’re loyal, God puts his name on us. But God puts his name on us and empowers us; and therefore, we can be loyal. And that’s an important picture.
The next description. These people are pure and blameless. In verses 4-5 we see this. Now in verse 4 that image is a little confusing because it says, they “have not defiled themselves with women.” Okay, are we saying that this 144,000 is a group of celibate men? Well no, that’s not really the picture when you look at the whole context here. Because often in Scripture, including the Book of Revelation, sexual immorality is used for spiritual faithlessness. It’s a picture of spiritual faithlessness. You see in verse 8 Babylon made the nations drink the wine and the passion of her sexual immorality. And we know that a little bit later there’s going to be a marriage supper of the Lamb between Christ’s bride and the bridegroom. This idea of being faithful and picturing that as a marital relationship, we see that throughout Scripture. In effect, what it means is that these 144,000 have not compromised with the world. They’ve remained loyal as a bride remains loyal to her betrothed.
It also says that, verse 5, “no lie was found” in their mouth. They’re blameless. And this means more than just that they speak the truth. It means they are true. They’re not false like the false lamb or the false prophet. They’re the same. They’re the same on the inside as they are on the outside, which we would say is integrity. You can sum this up by saying that these people did not compromise. Remember everything that the believers were subjected to in the last two chapters. But these did not succumb to the seductions and terrors and tricks of the dragon and its beasts.
We also see that they are redeemed as first fruits in verse 4. And that word “redeemed,” that’s a common church word. We say that a lot. But there’s really a whole story packed into that one word because the word for marketplace is right there in that word in Greek. And so, it means that we’ve been purchased, bought, ransomed. I had a Bible teacher years ago that gave us the definition of this word as “you’ve been bought back from the slave market of sin.” We can’t afford that, but God paid for that by the blood of the Lamb.
It also says first fruits, because this is the first taste of what God is going to be doing with his harvest. And that may be more people, or it may be other things that God is going to do. But we see that God is at work, and God is the one that’s doing the work for these people.
Next they follow the Lamb, verse 4. They follow the Lamb wherever he goes. That in Scripture is, particularly in the Gospels, following the Lamb is a way of talking about people who are Christ’s disciples. And these now follow the Lamb wherever he goes, and we know that he goes to the cross. That’s not necessarily an easy thing, but these people are singing a new song because of all God has done for them. The picture here is that this is a new chapter in God’s redemption, so it deserves a new song.
Look at this whole description here of God’s people and those who follow the Lamb. They’re bought and named by God. They are pure and blameless not because of their own effort, but because of the Lamb’s sacrifice. And so, they follow the Lamb wherever he goes because they really have nothing else of value. He’s given them everything and they celebrate that with a new song. My friend Kip had to earn his place with the Rangers. They don’t give out those Ranger tabs just to anybody. He had to work hard. But to qualify to be a follower of the Lamb we don’t need to do anything. The Lamb does it all. We only have to follow. So, we should tell young Steven that he only needs to follow. He doesn’t need to earn his place as one of God’s elite warriors. In fact, God uses the weak things of this world to confound the things that are mighty.
What else can we see here to tell young Steven going on? There are three angels now, a call, and a blessing. The first angel that John sees proclaims the “eternal gospel.” And this probably means, it’s really just a reference to the same gospel that we’ve always known. In fact, it’s very similar to the same gospel that you see Jesus saying when he starts his ministry. And it’s the same kind of message that you see in the Old Testament. God is one last time giving the message of salvation to the whole world, one last time before judgement.
Then the second angel announces that Babylon is fallen,
“Babylon the Great. She who made all nations drink wine of the passion of her sexual immorality.”
This is the first time in Revelation that we’ve heard about Babylon and in some of the chapters to come we’re going to be hearing a lot more about it. Here it represents the anti-kingdom of God. A world system that has set itself against God and his people. This is probably the same thing that we saw as the beast. In fact, Ryan said last week,
“Any empire that goes against the true authority of Jesus Christ and his Kingdom is ultimately pointing to the dragon and is therefore the beast.”
That’s Babylon, too. And God announces here that it’s done. It’s fallen.
And then we get to the third an angel that announces that judgment has come. This is a tough description. Anyone who worships the beast it says,
“will drink the wine of God’s wrath, [in verse 10] poured full strength [not watered down] … be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.”
That sounds harsh, but God is a holy God. God is a just God. And I will just say to you, if you’re here today and you have a hard time with this — “God is love. What’s going on here? How can God do this?” — talk to someone about that. That’s a good question because yes, God is holy. God is just, but he’s also the justifier of them that seek him. He’s made a path to meet the demands of his justice by sacrificing his Son. Find out what that is. Don’t leave yourself with that question. One thing we should note about this torment, the text describes it as, “they have no rest, day or night.” They will toil for eternity. Again, it’s a harsh image, but this is the holiness of God.
Now in verse 12, things change. The tone changes. Here is a call for the endurance of the saints. Everything so far in Revelation has been, (almost everything), has been John reporting his vision to us. But here it’s like he stops, and he talks directly to us. It’s like he puts this phrase on a post-it note and sticks it on the text to make sure that we see it. It’s like the text is commenting on itself. And I think this is one of those pieces that sometimes we leave out of Revelation when we try to piece it together. And I think this might be something that we want to talk to young Steven about. Let’s take a look at this.
When it says, “Here is a call for the endurance of the saints,” that should sound familiar to you because in chapter 13 the exact same line occurs. And if you go back even further in the book to chapters 2 and 3 in the letters to the churches, you’ll see that God commends them for their patient endurance and for keeping the commandments of God. This idea of endurance comes up time and time again in the book of Revelation. It’s another key theme. Why is this call for endurance here in this passage? In chapter 13 you can kind of see, “Alright, that was in the midst of persecution.” You can kind of see the persecution is hard, but endure. Stick it out. But here it’s attached to judgment. What’s the connection? Is it revenge? In other words, are we saying the believer should say, “Yeah I’m going to stick this out because you’re going to get what’s coming to you!” Taking delight in the punishment of the wicked? I don’t think that’s the picture. Jesus told us to love our enemies. Paul said judgement isn’t up to us, it’s up to God. Revenge isn’t the answer.
Is it a warning to believers? We were talking about this before the service. You could almost go either way on that one. In one sense, if we’re saying, “Believers, you’d better obey, because if not you’re going to end up with these same torments.” Well no, that’s not it. God has put his name on his children. He’s not going to erase it. He put it there in indelible ink. That doesn’t fit. But yes, realize God is a righteous God as we said. Keep that in mind that that’s the God who purchased us. Really, I think the best way to look at this is that it’s an encouragement to believers. We should endure because whatever tribulations we suffer, God will soon set it right.
I wasn’t here at North Hills a few years ago when you went through the book of Hebrews, but I’ve heard many of you repeat the theme, “Keep at it. He’s worth it.” Ryan alluded to that last week. Well here, we hear a variation of that theme. “Keep at it. He’ll set things right.” Whatever you may fear, in tribulations small and great, even in death, God will set things right. And to make this point, there is a blessing. This call includes a blessing for all believers who die. John says, verse 13,
“I heard a voice from heaven saying, ‘Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’ ‘Blessed indeed,’ says the Spirit, ‘that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!’”
There are seven blessings or beatitudes in Revelation. This is number two. It’s punctuated here because John says, “Look, I want you to see this. I got instructions to write this down. I want you to realize that this is important. The voice that told me to write this down said it very specifically.” And then the Spirit adds his amen. That phrase, “blessed indeed,” the word there is “yes” in the Greek, “indeed.” Blessed, yes, which has the same function as an amen. In other words, this is an important point, the Spirit is seconding what’s going on here.
And notice why this death is a blessing. The dead in Christ will have rest from their labors. That’s not just mere good works but it’s any kind of faith that endures hardship and trouble and difficulty. Verse 11 told us that unbelievers will have no rest, but God’s children who have toiled through tribulation, they will have rest. What should we tell young Steven about this? Should we tell him to endure? Well, yes, that’s in the text. That makes sense. But I happen to know young Steven a little bit, and I think we can be more precise with him. I think we should tell him to rest.
Now, I know what young Steven would say about that. First thing he’d say is, “What are you talking about, rest? It says it says you’re going to rest when you die. What do you mean? What does it mean for me now? What are you talking about?” But the other thing that Steven would say is that “I don’t get this rest idea.” I know young Steven would say that because when I was in high school, I read a book called “Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret.” Hudson Taylor was a missionary to China in the 19th century and his son and daughter-in-law wrote this biography of him that had that title. When I was in high school, I read the book. By the way, if you have not read that book, I would recommend it to you. It’s a good book. I read it and I think, okay, “Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret,” what’s that? Well spoiler alert: it’s resting in Jesus. Taylor said,
“It was resting in Jesus now, and letting Him do the work — which makes all the difference.”
And when I read that in high school I thought, “Wait a minute, I don’t get it.” How am I…? What does that mean to…? I’ve got to stand up and do something. I had to walk up here. I had to get up this morning. I’m not just taking a nap all the time. What are you talking about, rest?
Well, since then I’ve come to understand this a little bit more. I guess that’s what life does to you. I remember back when I was 10, and I’d come home and my mom wasn’t there, and I thought Jesus had come and I was left. I remember the anxiety that I felt. I could feel it in my chest. And since then I’ve felt many anxieties. That’s not resting. Resting is being at ease in Jesus. It doesn’t mean you don’t work. It doesn’t mean you don’t get up and do stuff.
Take a look for a minute at the second verse of Psalm 131. And if you’re not familiar with this little Psalm, three verses, you really should spend some time with it. It’s a beautiful psalm. I’ll read the first verse to you, but then we’ll talk about the second. First verse,
“O Lord, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me.”
What is that image, a weaned child? Think about that for a minute. Before a baby is weaned, when he’s around his mother, he wants something. He’s hungry. He wants to be fed. He’s fussy until he gets what he wants. But once a child is weaned, and he’s with his mother, he doesn’t fuss anymore. He’s at ease. He’s relaxed. His needs are taken care of. That’s the picture here. And that first part of the verse, “I’ve calmed and quieted my soul…” It’s a little hard to get the translation of the Hebrew there. This is pretty good, but there’s a picture there, that I’ve smoothed out the wrinkles in my soul. I’ve undone the tangles. I’ve untied the knots. I’m at ease. I can rest. I. I don’t have to be anxious. That’s what this idea is. And Steven needs to hear that. I think the rest of us need to hear it, too.
Now let’s look at the ending of this chapter. The last several verses conclude with a brief but dramatic preview of the judgment that we’ve been expecting all along. Again, go back to God’s sting operation that Peter talked about — God setting the conditions for evil to show itself as evil. John gets at the same idea by talking about crops that are now ready for harvest. It’s as if God has created the conditions for evil to ripen. Its grapes hang heavy on the vine, and like a vintner who knows the ideal moment to pick the grapes, God chooses this perfect moment to harvest evil and throw it into the great winepress of his wrath. God knows how to husband his creation. He doesn’t need our charts and timelines, because he knows when the time is right, and this is the time. Now scholars debate about whether this section of this chapter is talking about one harvest or two, or if it applies to believers or unbelievers. We don’t need to wade into that debate here. We’re going to focus on the description that starts in verse 17, which is directed most likely at unbelievers.
Let’s take a look at this. Verse 17,
“Then another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle. And another angel came out from the altar, the angel who has authority over the fire, and he called with a loud voice to the one who had the sharp sickle, ‘Put in your sickle and gather the clusters from the vine of the earth, for its grapes are ripe.’ So, the angel swung his sickle across the earth and gathered the grape harvest of the earth and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. And the winepress was trodden outside the city, and blood flowed from the winepress, as high as a horse’s bridle, for 1,600 stadia.”
This is a breathtaking scene — the precision of the timing, the hunger of the blade, the speed of the stroke, the depth of the cut. And when those grapes of wrath are crushed in God’s press, the blood flows out deep and as far as here to Charleston. John wants us to see that God’s judgment is swift, complete, and final. As powerful as this image is it’s probably familiar to you, because this is the text on which Julia Ward Howe based her “Battle Hymn of the Republic” when she was trying to show the justice of the end of slavery. And that theme keeps coming back in American history. About a century after she wrote it, in the final sentence of his final speech, Martin Luther King quoted the opening of that battle hymn.
“Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord. [And you know the rest.] He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored. He has loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword. His truth Is marching on.”
It’s noteworthy that this song text from this quirky book of Revelation has woven itself into our American character, and it’s become an anthem for anyone seeking justice. Why is that? It’s because all men and women want justice. We bristle when there’s some sort of injustice — the strong taking advantage of the weak, the rich abusing the poor, the innocent trampled by the guilty, and the guilty going free. And we know that on that day, that judgment day, the Lamb will come with a sound of waves and thunder, music and singing, to bring an end to evil. But today we only hear echoes of justice and joy. Today evil men and seducers wax worse and worse. Today God’s people suffer.
What should we say to young Steven about this? We told him that he only needs to follow the Lamb, but the Lamb suffered and died. We told him to rest. That doesn’t mean he won’t go through troubles. We need to prepare young Steven to accept sacrifice, and at the same time we need to remind him that God is always with him, and that he still has a new song worth singing. Let’s tell young Steven that he will never have to sacrifice more than the Lamb did. The Lamb sets our path and makes it possible, no matter how precarious it may appear.
Now some of you may be thinking, “Well we should tell young Steven that Christians won’t be here for all this really bad stuff.” Okay, I understand that interpretation, but think about what we’ve seen already in this Book of Revelation. Back in chapters 2 and 3, six of those seven churches there experienced some sort of trouble — toil, tribulation, poverty, slander, imprisonment, and the temptation to deny their faith. And by the way, five of the seven gave in to the world. They compromised by leaving their first love, tolerating idolatry and sexual immorality, and ending up spiritually dead. Yes, the tribulations grow worse throughout the Book of Revelation, but they were there from the start.
And what about Hebrews 11? The author there describes faithful believers who were tortured, mocked, flogged, imprisoned, stoned, sawn in two, killed by the sword, wandering in goat skins, destitute, afflicted, mistreated, in deserts and mountains and in dens in caves of the earth. These troubles happened to believers of old, and they happen to believers today, whether or not we find a guillotine set up in front of the church. Tribulations will come in the now times as well as in the end times.
We think of Isaac Watts as a hymn writer, and he was, but he was also a preacher. And the hymn, “Am I a Soldier of the Cross?” he wrote that hymn to go along with a sermon that he preached in 1724 called, “Holy Fortitude, or Remedies against Fear.” And he describes what Christians face even in a place like ours. He said,
“It is true, we live not in a heathen country, among lewd and barbarous superstitions: The land where our lot is cast, is honored with the Christian name, and professes the religion of Jesus … [Yet] the very nature of men is so corrupt and vicious, their hearts are so averse to the holy precepts of Christianity, the multitude of sinners is so exceeding great in every nation, even where the gospel is professed, the customs of this world are so contrary to the rules of the gospel, and the malice and rage of Satan with his evil angels, is so constant and so violent against the religion and the name of Christ, that it is true at all times, as well as in the primitive age, that all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.”
Whatever your interpretation of the Book of Revelation, you have to agree that all those who live godly will suffer persecution. However, you put this book together, don’t leave out the pieces that call for endurance and promise a blessing. Young Steven needs that message. We all need that message.
We came to this passage looking for encouragement for a young boy who was anxious about the kinds of things we find in Revelation. And this is a good chapter for encouragement, because it’s a pivotal point in the Book of Revelation. It marks the point at which evil is fully ripe, and God with one swift stroke cuts it off and crushes it. We looked at the followers of the Lamb who did nothing to earn their place but were redeemed and empowered by the Lamb himself. And we told young Steven that he only needs to follow the Lamb. We saw the call to endurance and the promise of rest, and we told young Steven that he can rest now and quiet his soul because of all the Lamb has done and will do for him. We saw the harvest of evil that will surely come. But in the meantime, as evil grows worse, God’s children suffer tribulations, great and small. And in the face of those tribulations we told young Steven that he will never have to sacrifice more than the Lamb did.
Those are encouraging lessons for young Steven, and I have to tell you they’re encouraging for old Steven, too, because I am still an anxious child of God. My fears are now more subtle and complex — they extend to my wife, my children, my mother, my friends, my community. Sometimes I find myself looking for a safe place to ease my fears. It’s not as simple as just calling up Mrs. Miller anymore. Sometimes I’m tempted to float along with the world’s current on flowery beds of ease. I mean, come on, just for a little bit. Can’t I just go along? Sometimes I want to build my own defenses against evil, to pour all my resources into protecting myself and my family above all else. And sometimes I just grow tired of waiting for justice, and I want to grab the sickle myself to cut down the evils that trouble me. I mean, good grief, it’s evil for heaven’s sakes. It deserves to be cut down. Why can’t I just go ahead and do it now?
But none of these things make me truly safe. I’ve learned that the safest place in tribulation is not compromise or escape but following behind the Lamb wherever he goes. This is the most important lesson for young Steven and for you and me. The safest place in tribulation is following behind the Lamb. You may be tempted to compromise, to cower, or to lift your hand to strike back, but instead follow the Lamb. I do not say that it will be easy. That’s why we have to toil. But first and foremost, follow the Lamb.
Tell young Steven to follow the Lamb, and, tell old Steven when he feels the anxieties that come with age to follow the Lamb wherever he goes. And when the single mother struggles to care for her children and pay for their needs, tell her to follow the Lamb wherever he goes. And when the businessman loses yet another lead that he’s chased for months, tell him to follow the Lamb wherever he goes. And when cancer eats away at a woman’s body and the best treatments leave her maimed, tell her to follow the Lamb wherever he goes. When the student is mocked for not mocking others, tell him to follow the Lamb wherever he goes. And when the lonely servant of God toils alone wishing for someone to stand beside her, tell her to follow the Lamb wherever he goes. To the outcast, the exile, the prisoner, the poor, the friendless, the faltering, the forgotten, tell them to follow the Lamb wherever he goes. Tell all God’s children to follow the Lamb wherever he goes. And may you follow the Lamb wherever he goes.