Revelation Chapter 12 - Part 2
12:11 “and because of the word of their testimony”: “This is not only what they said but their saying it. It was the message they proclaimed and trusted in. Of all the stories the Devil hates, he hates the Gospel. Of all the talk that drives him wild, the talk about Jesus drives him wildest. We have a story to tell and we need to tell it, for it is not only for the salvation of others, but in doing this we’ll save both them and ourselves that hear us. Have no fear that it is irrelevant. We are told right here that it was the difference between life and death, between victory and terrible loss. Of course, it’s relevant. Have no fear about its relevancy, for it deals with man’s basic needs. Sometimes we might be led to wonder by the pace this world is running at all, if the time won’t come when the Bible is not longer needed. This will never be the case that the Bible won’t be needed” (McGuiggan p. 177). Henry Ward Beecher said, “The Word of God is the book of the common people; it is the workingman’s book; it is the child’s book; it is the slave’s book; it is the book of every creature that is downtrodden; and do you suppose it is going to be lost out of the world? When the Bible is lost out of the world; it will be because there are no men in it who are in trouble, and need succoring; no men who are oppressed and need release; no men who are in darkness and need light; no men who are hungry and need food; no men who are sinning and need mercy; no men who are lost and need the salvation of God” (The Beliefs of Unbelief, W.H. Fitchett, p. 228). Their testimony involved unashamed confession before all, especially their persecutors and various Roman officials. Their confession was the belief that Jesus is the Son of God, “Everyone therefore who shall confess Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32); “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord” (Romans 10:9); “Every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father’ (Philippians 2:11); “Consider Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession” (Hebrews 3:1).
This “confession” includes not only our words, but also our lifestyle. “The committed Christian bears witness by his words and actions as to whether or not he loves the Lord: on the job, among friends, the language he speaks, his manner of dress, the company he keeps, the places he frequents, and the love he manifests. All of these things testify what is the state of one’s heart. He either loves the Lord, or he is a hypocrite (Galatians 6:7-8)” (Revelation, Harkrider, p. 141).
The Embarrassed Believer
“Whoever is ashamed of Me and of My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of man also be ashamed, when He comes in the glory of His Father’s with the holy angels” (Mark 8:38).
“That’s Jesus Christ talking. He is direct. He is speaking to the Embarrassed Believer, cowed and hiding. ‘I am not ashamed of the gospel’, wrote Paul to the Romans. When Paul penned that bold proclamation, he was preaching to a world more than merely hostile to his faith. It was a world willing to execute believers. In other words, there was in Paul’s day a very genuine risk to belief. Yet the imprisoned Paul wrote to his colleague Timothy, ‘Do not be ashamed then to testifying to our Lord, nor of me His prisoner” (2 Timothy 1:8). Time and authorities had caught up with Paul. When he wrote to Timothy it is almost certain that he knew the price he would eventually pay. Still, he urged Timothy to ‘share in suffering for the gospel”. Now the Embarrassed Believer has already begun to put some distance between Christ’s words cited above and herself, between Paul’s double imperative and himself. The Embarrassed Believer is happy to have nearly two thousand years of possible ambiguity to put between Scripture and today. Boldness and embarrassment mean different things in different centuries, right? Nowhere does the church appear less confident than in the United States. The church’s failure to contend vigorously for the mind and the soul, and to do so publicly with a strong and defensible claim for truth, opens up a gap in the lives of millions. The Embarrassed Believer is silent, and silence is a condition that does not last long in modern America. The quiet has been displaced by a cacophony of voices, each one selling a different, non-Christian ‘meaning’” (The Embarrassed Believer, Hugh Hewitt, pp. xi-xii). Not only have many Christians become quiet, but even denominations who used to have slugfests over doctrine, now have tricked-up mystics using Eastern slogans with Western marketing. Hewitt notes that the problem of the Embarrassed Believer is the problem of faith apart from the mass rally, faith apart from Sunday services, and faith apart from small group studies. That is, we need more Christians to manifest their faith when they are the only Christian around.
Our Faith is Essential
“In America today, we feel entitled to criticize another person’s smoking habits, but not his or her religious beliefs or moral behavior. For Americans, the health of their bodies, what they eat and drink, the exercise they get, the shape they are in, has become a far greater obsession than the moral questions that tormented their forebears” (Hewitt pp. 151-152). We do live in a culture that teaches that religion is not to be taken seriously, even by those who profess to believe in it? The Bible says the complete opposite, (Hebrews 11:6; 1 Peter 1:5). Hewitt notes, “For at least a generation, Americans in the chattering class have stopped naming evil. Commentators, editors, columnists, and pundits of all sorts have just abandoned the project. It’s as though the opinion class became embarrassed at the very thought of being thought squares. Unfortunately for the country, that which is not condemned routinely proliferates” (p. 134). Compare with Ephesians 5:1, Ezekiel 3:18, and Luke 3:7.
Teaching Job, not a Therapy Session
Hewitt indicts the typical denominational Sunday School program which plays more attention to crafts than Scripture. He says, “Here’s the problem. Nature abhors a vacuum, and young minds abhor vacuity. If theology does not fill the mind, New Age stillness will. Teachers and churches face a daunting task, they must work harder to make doctrine interesting” (p. 120). At the level of the pulpit as well, the preacher must demand more of his audience. It is a teaching job, not a therapy session, yet Christians in the first century did not have the technology for fancy lesson outlines or class books. People who love God will naturally embrace whatever God wants us to believe (Psalm 119:97 “O how I love Thy law! It is my meditation all the day”; Acts 17:11). If we are to overcome, then we too need to be grounded in the truths of Scripture (Colossians 1:23; 2 Timothy 2:15).
Believer or Bystander?
Hewitt offers the following guidelines concerning seeing if you are a believer or a bystander:
· Believers attend church services on a very regular basis. It is unusual for them not to be there. Bystanders attend either occasionally, infrequently, or not at all.
· Believers teach their children and other’s children the essentials of the faith. Bystanders entrust that chore to others.
· Believers talk to others about Christ, even if they find it unpleasant. Bystanders are theoretically willing to do so if approached but have never been approached.
· Believers read Scripture though it takes work and effort. Bystanders intend to get around to it.
· No job is beneath a believer. Bystanders don’t want many jobs, but can sacrifice themselves for leadership positions if coaxed and pleaded with.
· Believers honor the men who lead the congregation. Bystanders, when they notice church leaders at all, are consistent only in their willingness to critique.
· Believers savor and seek more and more teaching about God. Bystanders have what they need and would rather not be bothered.
The above is convicting and needed, for we live in a very shallow culture. Some of the Christians who first read the book of Revelation had become bystanders (Revelation 2:4-5; 3:1; 15-16). Someone noted that the problem of spiritually in the United States was that Americans wanted “a good five-cent religion”. If we want a cheap and inexpensive religion that does not cost us much, then we need to abandon Christianity, for there is nothing cheap about being a Christian (Luke 14:26; Philippians 3:7-8). Consider this last verse. Everything except Christ is rubbish, trash, and throwaway stuff. “If this verse seized the minds and hearts of even a handful of Christians, the engines of evangelism would go to warp speed immediately. Consider why: Persons caught by the truth of this verse would know that position and honor have no value, much less any relative value to ‘the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord’. Moreover, knowing this, they would want others to know it too, and they would seize every appropriate opportunity” (Hewitt pp. 79-80).
The Fear of Embarrassment
Hewitt notes that there seems to be in our society a list of acceptable “religious” terms, like “Spirituality”, and “Belief system”, but then there are words that are harder to say, like “The Lord”, “Jesus Christ”, and “My Savior”. Too many Christians have been tempted to opt for the modern philosophy in our society, that if you are uncommitted, you can hardly be a target of someone’s ridicule, yet this is the very opposite of what the Christians did in Revelation 12. As one writer said, “Cling to Christ absolutely, and to all other things be relatively committed”. The Bible does tell us that Christians will be ridiculed for what they believe (Luke 6:22), yet, often the hand wringing prior to sharing Christ is a far more painful process than the actual abuse that follows the conversation. Embarrassment at belief is often self-inflicted. Consider the following points to get over this embarrassment or fear of ridicule:
· Who is likely to mock and ridicule us? Sinners and unbelievers; people who definitely have many problems in their own lives.
· People ridicule Christianity because they do not have a good argument against what the Bible teaches. Hewitt notes that in American History, heckling against Christianity has basically taken the place of argument.
· If we are afraid of confronting an question or argument for which we do not have an immediate answer, Hewitt reminds us that within driving distance from almost every American there is bound to be an articulate and earnest defender of the Christian faith. In addition, there are volumes in any preacher’s library that have convincingly answered the objections and scorn of unbelievers.
· Finally, realize something about those who ridicule us. “Unhappy, miserable people want to fight. They live for an argument and for the petty triumphs that such verbal battles can bring. It is perhaps the only way in which they can feel connected with others. Angry people cannot be in close relationships with God. Hot-tempered and crazy people tend to get their way because the effort to engage them is so exhausting….they shout and pout their way through life” (pp. 68,66). They need Jesus Christ! (Acts 26:18).
Mark Dunagan/Beaverton Church of Christ/503-644-9017