Friday, May 1, 2015

Taking Back Our Rest

Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus. And 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!” (Revelation 14:12-13)

This Sunday we were introduced to the second of two beasts described in Revelation 13 (Revelation 13:11). Together with the Dragon, who is identified as Satan in Revelation 12:9, and the first beast, these three gruesome beings form what Poythress in his guide The Returning King calls a ‘counterfeit’ or ‘unholy’ Trinity. They seek to be like Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but they consistently fall short. Nevertheless, their power is deceptive and enticing. The first beast alone is enough to make the whole world marvel (Revelation 13:3-4).
Essentially, the second beast acts like the Holy Spirit- it speaks like the dragon and exercises all the authority of the first beast (Revelation 13:11-12). It seeks to make the whole earth worship the first beast, whose mortal wound was healed (sound familiar?), and it performs signs and wonders to deceive the dwellers of earth (Revelation 13:14). And just as the followers of God received the Father’s name on their foreheads, so too, the beast likes to mark his followers on the forehead or the right hand (Revelation13:16). Yet, in the end, we are told that those who have the beast's mark are destined for eternal torment (Revelation 14:11). This second beast, then, is little more than a propagandist, a false prophet, promoting the devil's lies, supporting him in his bid to take people captive and keep them from God.
It all sounds kind of abstract, doesn’t it?  Dragons and beasts, marks on people’s foreheads, eternal torment... Perhaps John’s vision would have made more sense to his contemporaries. The ancient Near East had long been familiar with myths of sea monster gods producing chaos, and in first-century Asia Minor, priests promoted the worship of the emperor of the day by performing signs or ‘counterfeit miracles’. Those who didn’t worship the emperor could be at put to death for their disloyalty. In this context, then, the message would be clear- pledging allegiance to the emperor might save you in the short term, but from an eternal perspective, only allegiance to God could save.
But we also know that Revelation’s message is universal- it describes the state of all humankind. History repeats itself. We might confine our understanding of these passages regarding the counterfeit trinity to those living in countries today where Christianity is forbidden, where oppressive governments require people’s full commitment to their laws and ideologies, and where allegiance to a heavenly king is viewed as a threat to the government’s power. Yes, these places do exist, and the beast's propaganda is often more obviously at work in these places. But I would argue that even in countries where we enjoy comparative religious freedom, the beast's work is just as pervasive. The hard part is to identify where in our own lives we are falling prey to the beast's propaganda. 

On Sunday, we heard how one characteristic of the beast's worshippers is that they will never rest; whereas God seeks to give his people rest (Revelation 14:13), the beast's followers will know none (Revelation 14:11). So looking for the things that do not bring God’s peace in our lives, where we never rest, seems like a good starting place for identifying where the beast is at work. For me, the most obvious place is perhaps in my relationship with media, which is supported by increasingly sophisticated technology. Don’t get me wrong- I’m not saying that technology is the work of the devil or that we should abandon all progress in this area, but as I began to reflect on the message I started to reexamine my use of things like smartphones, facebook, and the internet and how they steal my rest and leave me feeling exhausted. Let me explain.
In March 2011 I got my first smart phone- it was love at first sight. So many things I could now do wherever I was, whenever I wanted. Look at maps, search google, email, call, or text people, take photos, share my photos with over a 100 friends at the mere tap of a button, read the news, check the weather forecast, play games, find out when the next bus was due to arrive, and the list goes on. I MARVELLED at it. My smartphone addiction had begun. Without being careful I could spend every spare moment (and not just the moments I have spare) on my phone. I carry it around the house. I reach for it when I’m bored. But what I’ve let into my life is a constant bombardment from the world about its preferences, its priorities, and its opinions.
Facebook is just one of the apps I regularly use- every time I scroll through I get deluged by everything from articles like ‘what my favorite (insert something here be it color, store, food, Disney character) says about me’ to announcements of births, deaths and marriages. I learn everything from what my friends (and distant acquaintances) ate for breakfast to their sometimes informed, and sometimes not, political opinions. I read this stuff when I want to rest, but most often I feel anything but refreshed after reading it. It’s not only exhausting, it’s worse than that. A friend who was considering leaving facebook recently expressed my sentiments exactly. She described the majority of time spent on facebook as depressing, empty, and disconnecting, and speaking more widely of the internet she said it made her feel alienated, frazzled, and ill.
Now like I said, I’m not waging a war on facebook or smartphones, I’m just using it as an example of something I personally struggle with. It’s just one of the many false propaganda I listen to, the noise that fills my head, which often prevents me from enjoying God’s rest. For others it might be the TV- Americans spend an estimated 4 hours watching TV per day. Or perhaps for you it is something else, like food, money, or sex.
The reason these things are so hard to kick is that they are so deceptive. Like my smartphone, they promise so much – the solution to all of life’s questions, solutions to our problems that will finally enable us to rest easy. Satan has a lot of practice, and he knows what he’s doing. Ultimately, though, we can come to rely on them so much that they become addicting; they can consume us and become exhausting. No sooner have I used my phone to solve my latest burning quest I find another reason to reach for it.
As followers of Christ, we do well to remember that we are a desert people like those in Exodus and the woman described in Revelation 12: we have been liberated from slavery and the Dragon's clutches, and we have the Promised Land ahead of us. But in order to enter it, we must trust God to be our source of nourishment in the wilderness of this world, and we must resist the false calls of Satan’s propaganda.

  1. What kind of things in your life, what activities and pursuits, currently keep you from enjoying God’s rest? In prayer, bring these things before God, asking Him to show you what you may need to lay down.
  2. Spend some time reflecting on the following verses, considering what they tell you about how to find rest in God: Proverbs 3:21-26,Hebrews 4:1-11, Matthew 11:28-30, Psalm 121
  3. Of Revelation 12:6, Poythress writes, ‘the woman [representative of the church] flies to the desert- an image that speaks of the powerful care exercised by God on behalf of his people. His people receive powerful protection, even in very difficult circumstances.’ Ask God to be your nourishment and a place of protection for the persecuted church.

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