Am I Safe?
14th Sunday after Pentecost
Am I Safe?
Text: Romans 7:1-8
Where were you? That was the big question to ask this last week on Thursday. Where were you 13 years ago on September 11, 2001? Every year Americans take time to reflect upon one of the greatest tragedies on American soil in U.S. history. Some of you were there in New York. Some of you know people who were there in New York. All of us remember where we were, what we were doing, and how we found out.
None of us will forget the feeling either. It was so terrible an attack and so personal an attack and so close to home that no matter how many years pass by we will not forget. The destruction. The dust. The deaths. The sadness. The tears. The anger. The fear. This is the terror that terrorism brings, and we all experienced it personally.
Now here we are 13 years later and still waters are starting to break again. For 13 years we have had relative peace. Yes, there have been attempts at attacks. Yes, there has been war in the Middle East. Yes, soldiers have lost their lives. But we have had relative peace and quiet, especially here in America. Now though, the glassy sea of peace is being disturbed by waves of terrorism.
Our archenemies are at it again. Muslims, worldly enemies to Christians for some 1,400 years, have another faction of militant soldiers taking arms against us. Thirteen years ago it was Al-Qaeda. Today it is Isis. This group is taking up jihad—holy war—in active, aggressive, and frightening ways. They are hunting down Christians. They are marking their homes with that U-shaped symbol you may have seen (which stands for the word Nazarene in Arabic). Men, women, even children are not safe as they are brutally slaughtering any they find. The public nature of these attacks and the video footage they purposefully share strikes fear. Now rumors are spreading about Isis living among us in the United States and immanent and impending attacks. There’s a reason they are called terror-ists. It makes a Christian wonder. Am I Safe?
It’s not just the threat of Isis that scares me though. There are things in our country that make me afraid. I see what our government is starting to freely allow. I see restrictions on what I can say and speak out against. I see people getting in trouble for refusing to support different kinds of relationships or lifestyles. I see the shrinking number of conservative Christians that take their beliefs from Bible truth. I see the number of people who believe in relative or personal truth growing, and I see their selfish, worldly thinking leading them to persecute our faith. It makes a Christian wonder. Am I Safe?
I suppose I could move to China where Christianity is flourishing. But it is still technically illegal and I would be outnumbered by several billion who believe in Buddha or a host of other eastern gods. I could move to Africa where tens of thousands are becoming Christians every year. But I would still be greatly outnumbered. War lords, witchdoctors, and yes Muslims there too would threaten me. Where can I even go in this world. Am I Safe?
So I stare that the ceiling at night. I wonder what is becoming of this world. I wonder when the next attack will be. I wonder if a terrorist is near me, or worse, near my children. I wonder what kind of a world our children will grow into. Will it be war-laden? Will it be unsafe? Will Christians need to leave this country? They say by 2020 there will be more Muslims in the world than Christians for the first time ever. Then what will happen?
Anxiety turns to fear. Fear turns to terror. Terror turns to doubt. And doubt leads to despair. That’s the path our sinful hearts will take as our thoughts will turn from Am I Safe? to I’m not safe! to Why aren’t you keeping me safe, God? to If you are forsaking me God, then I’ll forsake you, God! All the while Satan cackles with evil delight that another Christian has caved, another believer has forsaken his God.
What do we make of this? What do we make of these dangers in the world? What should we make of our enemies? What should we make of our safety as Christians? Are we just spinning our wheels in a losing battle? Is it even worth it? Am I Safe?
Our all-knowing God knows his people so well, though. He knows the heavy hearts of his people. He knows the feeble faith of his people. Thus God continues to comfort, encourage, bolster, and boost his people.
We saw one example in the Old Testament today. Joshua and the people of Israel had crossed the Jordan River. They were about to attempt a total conquest of the land of Canaan, a land filled with people that made the Israelites feel like grasshoppers next to giants. It was a land filled with armies and fortified cities. How could they overcome these enemies? So the Lord had them build a memorial with 12 stones—one for each tribe of Israel—a memorial they could always remember that God was their “rock” and their salvation. (You might remember one of the first battles after that how God proved his strength and the mighty walls of Jericho came tumbling down.)
We heard Jesus give comfort and courage today, too. Many people didn’t know who Jesus was. But the disciples did. Peter said boldly, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus declared that on that rock, on that statement of faith, he would build his church and that even the gates of hell cannot overcome it.
That’s a big promise, isn’t it? “The gates of hell will not overcome God’s Church of believers.” That’s a big promise considering Satan’s power. The devil has been ruining things in this world since Adam and Eve. He is constantly tempting. He has taken some 70%-75% of this world over to his side. He has filled the hearts of our enemies with anger and hatred that many, like the Isis Muslims, want to kill us. It would seem that with every day, with every news story, with every martyr dying for the faith we are getting one step closer to the gates of hell destroying Christ’s church.
But God is not one to speak empty promises. God is not one to talk a big game and not back it up. God is also not one to lose. So Jesus takes us on a little walk. He takes us to a hill, a little mount just outside Jerusalem called Calvary. There he shows us where his cross stood. There he shows us the ground his blood once stained. There he reminds us that he faced the gates of hell and he fought with Satan once. And it was finished. Jesus finished the battle. He won. Satan lost. Satan and the gates of hell cannot and will not overcome God’s people because Satan and the gates of hell have already been defeated.
Jesus has rescued us from the death and doom we deserve. Jesus has saved us from an eternity in the devil’s dominion. Jesus has conquered and won for us forgiveness and life forever with him. As far as Jesus is concerned, the battle is already over. We are safe with our mighty King and Savior at our side.
“But what about now?” we ask. “Are you sure?” we ask. “This world is dangerous,” we say. “The devil is hard at work. Terrorists are hard at work. Am I Still Safe?”
Again, God knows that though we are his forgiven children, we still have a sinful nature that tugs at us with fear. God knows that Satan loves to use terrorists today to toy with our confidence and to lead us to doubt. Knowing this, God gives us even more reason to be confident. Today we have just that in Revelation 7. It’s a vision that the apostle John saw of the End Times—the time leading up to Judgment Day, and the time that we are in right now.
Here’s what John saw: “After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth to prevent any wind from blowing on the land or on the sea or on any tree.” It’s important to know that Revelation is like one big painting. The book is filled with pictures that share an important message. One little part of the painting is numbers. We can see from here and other places that the number four often represents the earth. John sees angels holding back the destruction of Judgment Day, the destruction that will bring about the end of everything we know it.
As he sees Judgment Day being held off he sees this next: “Then I saw another angel coming up from the east, having the seal of the living God. he called out in a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm the land and the sea: ‘Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees until we put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.’”
A seal is something that shows ownership. It’s like a farmer branding his cows, or like writing your name on the inside of your favorite book, or like a parent putting a child’s initials on the band of their underoos. The seal shows ownership and possession.
What John saw in this vision then is that God was declaring that none of his chosen people were to be harmed until they had his seal of ownership saying. “You are my child.”
But how many would receive this seal of ownership and possession? How many are marked as belonging to God? Verse 4: “Then I heard the number of those who were sealed: 144,000 from all the tribes of Israel.”
You might know that there are all kinds of crazy teachings that come from this Bible verse. Some claim that this means only 144,000 people will be in heaven. Some even add that this has happened already and that heaven is full. There are others who read the verses that follow about 12,000 from Judah, 12,000 from Reuben, etc. and then claim that the 144,000 in heaven will only be Jews.
There are other varieties of interpretations. But we know very clearly that they are not even close to true. First of all, this list of 12,000’s cannot refer to Israel. Careful students of the Bible know that the tribe of Levi (listed in verse 7) was never ever counted as a tribe in the Old Testament. Similarly, it s very strange that Joseph would be mentioned and not his so Ephraim, one of the more important tribes of Israel. Perhaps most strange, the tribe of Dan isn’t even mentioned here. It leads us to see that clearly something bigger than “just Jews” is meant here.
Many of you know my rule of thumb: If you aren’t sure about something in the Bible, keep reading. If we were to keep reading only one more verse to verse nine of this chapter, there we would see John say about his vision: “After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb.” It is very clear that more people than you could count will be in heaven from every nation and culture in the world.
Why say 144,000 then? Remember that Revelation often paints us a picture. Sometimes numbers are important in the picture. We know that 12 is often a number that represents God’s people, like the 12 tribes of Israel or the 12 disciples. 12 x 12 = 144. We also know that 10 is a number that symbolizes completeness or totality. And we know that three often represents God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). So what is 10 x 10 x 10? 1,000. What is 1,000 x 144? 144,000! God is painting a picture here with a number. It’s not an actual, literal number. It’s a number picture that represents the complete, total number of all of God’s people, the people he will seal for victory in heaven.
Let’s review these verses then. God gave the apostle John a vision. The vision is that Judgment Day with all of its destruction will not come upon the earth until every last person who would be a believer becomes a believer. That number of believers is a multitude that no one can count from across the world, but it’s a number of believers that God knows. And he seals every last believer, marking them as his very own people, and nothing and no one can take away God’s dear possessions.
What a vision! It is one more testimony of comfort and courage from our God that the gates of hell will not overcome us. It is one more testimony of comfort and courage from our God that he will take us safely home to heaven.
Now is this God promising that there will never be wars in this world? No. Is this God promising that he will wipe out every terrorist or enemy? No. That won’t happen until the very end and Judgment Day. Is this God even promising that we will walk around this world with a forcefield around us and nothing will ever harm us and we will never die for our faith? No.
Humans have ruined the perfection of this world. Our sins and the imperfection of the world guarantees that we will have problems and pains. We will have enemies. We may be harmed. We may be martyred for our faith. God may use his mighty power to keep us safe, as he has so far in our lives. But God also might decide that now is a good time for us to live with him forever.
But so what? As the apostle Paul says, that is “better by far!” I don’t think I will miss sickness and disease. I won’t miss cancer. I won’t miss getting up early and having trouble falling asleep. I won’t miss tears or sadness. I won’t miss danger. I won’t miss terrorists. Living with God forever in the paradise of heaven is most definitely better by far.
Remember that God is always with us, but he’s not promising us in this vision worldly success and safety. He’s promising us eternal safety. God’s promising that his people, sealed with his ownership, cannot be snatched from his hand. God’s promising that even if a terrorist would take your life and you are martyred for your faith, that terrorist cannot take your eternal life with God in heaven.
So Am I Safe? Look at the evidence. Satan has been defeated. Death has been destroyed. Christ stands living and victorious. Then we have the promise of Jesus that his Church, believers, will never ever be completely wiped out. Not even the gates of hell can overcome his Church. Finally, we have God’s promise in Revelation 7 that he has placed his seal of ownership on us and that every last one of God’s chosen people will be taken to live with him forever. Amy I Safe? Absolutely! I am safe with God for all eternity. Psalm 118:6: “The LORD is with me; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?”
Posted on September 14, 2014, in Church, Sermons and tagged Church, Danger, Isis, Islam, John, Muslims, Revelation, Revelation 7, Safety, September 11, September 11th, Sermons, Terror, Terrorists, Vision. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.