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Can God be trusted? – Chapter 13

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Almost two thousand years have passed since God won his case on Calvary. Satan’s lies and accusations have long ago been met. The freedom of the universe has been eternally secured. Why, then, does God still tolerate this one rebellious spot in his loyal universe? He longs to re-create our world and give it to his trusting saints. Why does he still wait?

Before Jesus left this earth to return to his heavenly Father, he told his disciples that he would come back soon. “How soon?” they asked. “Tell us, when will this happen? What will be the signal for your coming and the end of this world?” (Matthew 24:3, Phillips).

“Even the angels do not know the exact time,” Jesus replied (see Matthew 24:36). “[But] set your troubled hearts at rest. Trust in God always; trust also in me…. I shall come again and receive you to myself, so that where I am you may be also” (John 14:1, 3, neb).

One day as they sat together on the Mount of Olives Jesus told his disciples of many signs by which they could tell when the end is near. He spoke of alarming disturbances on the earth and in the sky, of growing distrust between the nations, the rise of false religious leaders. He especially warned of those who would teach that his second coming was to be in secret. “Don’t believe it,” Jesus said; “for the Son of Man will come like the lightning which flashes across the whole sky from the east to the west.” (Matthew 24:26, 27, gnt).

This is hardly the description of some invisible event. On the contrary, as John predicts, when Jesus returns, “every eye will see him” (Revelation 1:7).

Those who have learned to trust in God will be glad to see him come. As Isaiah wrote so long ago, “It will be said on that day, ‘Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation’” (Isaiah 25:9).

But according to Revelation 13 most of the world will have turned against God. And when lost sinners look into the face of their spurned Redeemer—though he comes back in his human form (see Revelation 14:14)—they flee from him in terror, “calling to the mountains and rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb’” (Revelation 6:16).

Peter and Judas looked at that same gentle but majestic face. One was moved to repentance and the other to take his own life. Our Lord is not two-faced. The difference is in us. Those who have welcomed the Good News will be ready to see him—even in his glory—and yet not be afraid. But those who have despised the truth will look at the One who died for them and, like Judas, be driven to suicide.

Of all the things that must happen before Jesus comes, he especially emphasized one. “This Good News about the Kingdom will be preached through all the world for a witness to all mankind; and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14, gnt). You can trust God to wait until everyone has had a chance to make

an enlightened choice. You can trust him not to ask anyone to pass through the final time of trouble without an opportunity to prepare.

God has always waited patiently for his children to make up their minds. He waited for centuries for the people of Israel to respond to the invitations and warnings of the prophetic messengers. Not until they had resisted so long that they were beyond even the Creator’s power to restore did God reluctantly give them up.

After the Israelites were taken off into Babylonian captivity, the writer of 2 Chronicles explained why God could no longer protect them: “The Lord, the God of their fathers, sent persistently to them by his messengers, because he had compassion on his people;… but they kept mocking the messengers of God, despising his words, and scoffing at his prophets, till the wrath of the Lord rose against the people, till there was no remedy” (36:15, 16).

Sometimes God’s patience has been misunderstood to mean that one can go on sinning with impunity, for God is too patient and kind to bring discipline or to turn the sinner over to destructive consequences. Paul warns of the error of such presumption: “Are you, perhaps, misinterpreting God’s generosity and patient mercy toward you as weakness on his part? Don’t you realize that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4, Phillips).

In the days of the prophet Habakkuk the people were crying out in despair that God was doing nothing about their predicament. The prophet was sent to urge them not to give up their faith in God but to trust him enough to let him choose the best time for working out his plans. “It may seem slow in coming, but wait for it; it will certainly take place” (Habakkuk 2:3, gnt).

Peter warns that “in the last days there will come men who scoff at religion and live self-indulgent lives, and they will say: ‘Where now is the promise of his coming? Our fathers have been laid to their rest, but still everything continues exactly as it has always been since the world began.’”

The apostle goes on to explain, “It is not that the Lord is slow in fulfilling his promise, as some suppose, but that he is very patient with you, because it is not his will for any to be lost, but for all to come to repentance. But the Day of the Lord will come: it will come, unexpected as a thief.”

Then Peter refers to Paul’s advice in Romans 2:4: “Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience with us is our salvation, as Paul, our friend and brother, said when he wrote to you with his inspired wisdom” (2 Peter 3:3, 4, 9, 10, 15, neb).

Sometimes God’s graciousness has even been an embarrassment to some of his people! When the prophet Jonah was asked by the Lord to take a warning to the city of Nineveh, he first ran away. Later he reluctantly delivered his message: “In forty days Nineveh will be destroyed!” Then he sat down on a hillside nearby to watch the city come to its end.

But the people of Nineveh repented, and the city was not destroyed. Jonah angrily complained to God, “That’s why I ran away. I knew you were too kind to go through with that prediction. You have made me look like a false prophet, and I’m so humiliated I could die” (see Jonah 3:4; 4:1–11).

God reasoned with frustrated Jonah: “Have you no pity for these people? Aren’t you glad that they have chosen to repent?” But Jonah was more concerned about his prophetic reputation.

Paul was proud of the Good News about our gracious, forgiving God. Jonah was ashamed!

When Jesus returns, he will come to a generation of believers who have experienced Satan’s last supreme attempt to deceive and destroy God’s people. They will have accomplished what one third of the angels failed to do. They will have refused to be turned against God by Satan’s lies. They will have been able to say with Paul, “If anyone—even an angel from heaven—should bring a different version of the everlasting Good News, he is wrong, and we will not believe it!” (See Galatians 1:8, 9.)

These are not babes in the truth. They are grown-up believers. They meet the Biblical description of Christian maturity: they have “their faculties trained by practice to distinguish good from evil” (see Hebrews 5:11–6:3). They have not only the teachable faith of a little child, which still needs much protection, but—like Job—they can stand alone. Though their faith is severely tested, they will never let God down.

They have welcomed the Holy Spirit, the Teacher of love and truth. He has sealed and settled them so firmly in the truth that they cannot be moved (see John 14:16, 17, 26; 16:8; Ephesians 4:30). To be filled with the Spirit of love means to be filled with the Spirit of truth. The loving Christian is not weak; he is a person of strong conviction, and he speaks with the authority of truth.

God is waiting for such firm believers. In Revelation 7:1–3 his angels are pictured as mercifully holding back the final winds of strife until the minds of God’s children have been unshakably settled into the truth.

The last book in the Bible frequently speaks of the marks of God’s true people who will endure the time of trouble and welcome Jesus when he comes. Above all, they trust in God and are loyal to his Son. They have accepted the testimony Jesus bore about his Father. They believe that God is just as gracious as his Son. This everlasting gospel has won them back to faith.

Because of their trust in God, they gladly keep his commandments. That is, they love each other and they love their heavenly Father. Moved by the same Spirit who inspired the prophets, it is their greatest delight to join with every friend of God in bearing witness to Jesus (see Revelation 14:12; 12:17; 19:10; John 5:39).

It is the mission of the Christian church to help produce such people. In his letter to the believers in Ephesus, Paul explains Christ’s purpose in establishing his church: “He appointed some to be apostles, others to be prophets, others to be evangelists, others to be pastors and teachers. He did this to prepare all God’s people for the work of Christian service, in order to build up the body of Christ [a symbol for the Christian church]. And so we shall all come together to that oneness in our faith and in our knowledge of the Son of God; we shall become mature people, reaching to the very height of Christ’s full stature. Then we shall no longer be children, carried by the waves and blown about by every shifting wind of the teaching of deceitful men, who lead others into error by the tricks they invent. Instead, by speaking the truth in a spirit of love, we must grow up in every way to Christ, who is the head” (Ephesians 4:11–15, gnt).

There is no closer unity than this oneness that is inherent in our faith. Growing up together in love and admiration for the same Christ and the same God, we are bound together by the very truth that sets us free! God’s true church is made up of individuals who in the highest sense of freedom choose to band together for mutual encouragement and for greater efficiency in spreading the gospel to all the world.

God still waits for his children to grow up like this. He needs better spokesmen than Jonah proved to be. Reluctant teachers of the truth, moved only by fear or obligation, are themselves a sad denial of the content of the Good News. God waits for loyal people who are proud of the Good News, who “look eagerly for the coming of the Day of God and work to hasten it on” (2 Peter 3:12, neb).

How much longer do you think God will have to wait? We can trust him to wait as long as there is hope for anyone. But we can also trust him not to wait forever. The One who reads our every thought will know when the gospel has gone to all the world and all final decisions are made. “So then,” Jesus advised his disciples, “you also must always be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you are not expecting him” (Matthew 24:44, gnt).

Each passing year adds further evidence that God is not the kind of person Satan has made him out to be. Our heavenly Father is an infinitely powerful but equally gracious person who values nothing higher than the freedom, the dignity, and the individuality of his intelligent creatures that our love, our faith, our willingness to listen and obey, may be freely given. Obviously, what God desires the most is not produced by force. And so he waits.

If, like Paul, we are proud of the Good News, and we worship God for his infinitely wise and gracious ways, this will greatly affect the way we live, the way we treat each other, and the way we represent him. Our admiration for God will show in all we say and do. Like Abraham and Moses, who were called the friends of God, we shall be jealous for God’s reputation. We shall want the world to see him as he really is. And we shall covet as the highest of all commendations the words of God about Job: “He has said of me what is right” (see Job 42:7).

The gospel does not end when Jesus returns. It is the everlasting truth. It will remain the basis of our faith for all eternity. From world to world through the whole vast universe there will never cease to echo the eternal Good News: Yes, you can trust God.

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