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Forever, O Lord, Your Word is firmly fixed in the heavens, Your faithfulness endures to all generations. You have established the earth and it stands fast. We pray now that You would give us ears that we might hear this Word, that You would keep distractions to a minimum, that You would keep our stomachs from growling, our eyelids from growing sleepy, our minds from wandering, and help us with good hearts to think and to receive Your Word. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
We come this morning to Revelation chapter 10. I’ll hope you’ll turn there in your Bibles. If you’re not in the habit of turning in your Bible, I’d encourage you to do so so you can follow along. We refer many times to this passage and to other places in Revelation, that’s our habit here at Christ Covenant, normally to move verse by verse, section by section, chapter by chapter, through the Bible so that God’s Word sets the agenda for us.
This morning, as we continue through Revelation, almost to the halfway point, Revelation chapter 10. I’ll be reading all 11 verses.
“Then I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven, wrapped in a cloud, with a rainbow over his head, and his face was like the sun, and his legs like pillars of fire. He had a little scroll open in his hand. And he set his right foot on the sea, and his left foot on the land, and called out with a loud voice, like a lion roaring. When he called out, the seven thunders sounded. And when the seven thunders had sounded, I was about to write, but I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Seal up what the seven thunders have said, and do not write it down.” And the angel whom I saw standing on the sea and on the land raised his right hand to heaven and swore by Him who lives forever and ever, who created heaven and what is in it, the earth and what is in it, and the sea and what is in it, that there would be no more delay, but that in the days of the trumpet call to be sounded by the seventh angel, the mystery of God would be fulfilled, just as He announced to His servants the prophets.”
“Then the voice that I had heard from heaven spoke to me again, saying, “Go, take the scroll that is open in the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land.” So I went to the angel and told him to give me the little scroll. And he said to me, “Take and eat it; it will make your stomach bitter, but in your mouth it will be sweet as honey.” And I took the little scroll from the hand of the angel and ate it. It was sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it my stomach was made bitter. And I was told, “You must again prophesy about many peoples and nations and languages and kings.””
It should come as no surprise to you if you’ve been here for part of this series that there are several repeating cycles, recapitulation, like a picture in an art gallery and then another one, the same thing from a different angle. Or a piece of music that replays the same theme. So we have very deliberately, and if you haven’t noticed it before, you’ll see it and hopefully won’t forget it, a very deliberate echo of what we saw before. Let’s remember where we are. We have had seven seals and now we are on the third, or the second of these sets of three’s with the seven trumpets.
If you recall, what did we find in chapter 7? In between the sixth seal and the seventh seal, we had an interlude. If you turn back to chapter 7 you can just see the heading in your Bible and recall the interlude consisted of two pictures of God’s people. I argued that it’s really both God’s people from two different angles, the totality of God’s redeemed people first as 144,000, a holy army of Israel, and then a great multitude from every nation.
So we have six seals and then before the end comes with the seventh seal we have an interlude. What does that interlude show us? It gives us two pictures to say, ah, before we get to the end, let’s get a picture of God’s people who are safe, protected, though they’re threatened and sometimes persecuted. That’s what we had with the seventh seal.
So we have the very same thing here with the seven trumpets. It’s the same pattern. We’ve had six trumpets and now we have an interlude before the last trumpet sounds where we kind of round out the sixth trumpet into the seventh. This interlude, go back to chapter 10, contains just like the first interlude two pictures.
So chapter 7, picture of the 144,000, picture of the great multitude. Now in between the sixth and seventh trumpet, two other pictures. Chapter 10, the angel and the little scroll, and we’ll see what that has to do with God’s people, and then in chapter 11 we’re going to have a picture of these two witnesses and what that means that though they’re persecuted, yet God’s Church is ultimately protected.
Like the first interlude, there are two pictures, both of them show a safe but threatened Church in a hostile world. The Church is not exempt from suffering. In fact, we can expect that the Church in some ways will have more suffering as it faces opposition from a fallen world, and yet the picture here is that before we get to the very end, God wants us to know through the prophet John that God’s people ultimately will be safe and secure, even in the face of unpopularity and great hostility. In other words, the question that chapter 10 raises is the question of Revelation: How can we be overcomers?
Remember the seven letters in chapter 2 and 3 all end with that refrain – To the one who overcomes, or to the one who conquers. It’s that Greek word nikao, or nike, meaning victory or conquest. How can we be those who conquer? Or to put it more specifically for chapter 10, how do we hold on to hard words in a hard world? How do we as Christians hold onto the hard words of God?
Now we’re going to come here. They’re sweet words, but they also can give some indigestion, and they can be very upsetting. Let’s be honest. There are hard words, always been that way, and depending on our culture and your century, certain kinds of words may be hard. The words of God about marriage or your body, there were lots of centuries that those were not particularly hard, now they’re hard.
There’s other sorts of words that perhaps are not as hard in our day that would have been in another day, but there are hard words in a hard world.
How do you hold fast to those? And in particular maybe, those of you who are young, which is always those who are my age and younger, so there’s more young people in this world all the time, those of you who have, Lord willing, most of your life still in front of you, and as far as we can tell the pressure is going to get worse, harder, more virulent, maybe even violent, how will you hold onto the hard words of God in a hard would? How do you maintain the testimony of Jesus and the Word of God when it may seem like so few around you are interested in the testimony of Jesus or have respect for the Word of God? They may have some basic respect for Jesus, but not for the Word.
Revelation 10 helps us answer that question. I want us to look at seven, yes, we’ll move quickly, seven precious truths in this chapter that can help us hold on to God’s hard words in a hard world. Seven.
Number one. Here’s truth number 1. Our God is not tiny. He’s not small.
Look at verse 1. John sees another mighty angel coming down from heaven. The first mighty angel he saw was in chapter 5, verse 2. This is another one and it may be that this angel is another angelic being like the angel in chapter 5, but there are good reasons to think that this angel is something more. In the Old Testament when we have the angel of the Lord, it is usually the angel that is the Lord. So when you hear “angel,” the Hebrew word and the Greek word are the same, they mean messenger, so the messenger of the Lord is at times the Lord Himself.
So along with most of the other commentators that I read, I think that this mighty angel is in fact Christ Himself. Think about the parallels. This angel in chapter 10 is wrapped in a cloud with a pillar of fire, which is similar to the description of the Lord in Exodus 13 and the Son of Man in Daniel 7. This seems to be more than your typical angelic messenger. This angel has a scroll and who received the scroll? Who was found worthy in chapter 5 to break the seals on the scroll but the Lamb?
Notice also he roars like a lion, verse 3. Just as we’ve seen the Lamb is the lion of the tribe of Judah. He is robed in a cloud, just like we’ll see the Son of Man is robed in a cloud in chapter 14. He appears with a rainbow, just like God on the throne appears with a rainbow in chapter 4. He has a face like a sun, legs of fiery pillars, just like the exalted Christ in chapter 1. All of these connections make me think that this angel of the Lord is none other than Christ Himself. Perhaps it’s meant to represent Christ, but I think it’s more than just a representation. This is Christ Himself, why he is described in such stunning imagery.
The clouds speak of his heavenly dwelling. The rainbow speaks of his glory, the shining face of his radiance, the fiery pillars of his strength. Notice how he is frequently described in this passage as the one who has a foot on the sea and a foot on the land. Just like the ancient Colossus from the ancient world. This is a picture, so I don’t want you to picture God in your mind, but you just can’t help but picture some giant thing straddling land and sea. That picture would speak to you loudly and clearly. This is one who has authority over all things.
In fact, often in Scripture to be under one’s foot emphasizes dominion and rule. Psalm 8, as part of the glory of God’s creation, of us as His image-bearers, that all things are put under His feet. Psalm 110 is a messianic psalm, all things were put under His feet. Elsewhere it says that He rests his feet upon the earth like a footstool.
Or think about the image from Genesis 3 and it’s picked up later in Romans 16:20 that the serpent is crushed under the foot of the deliverer, the snake crusher who is to come. As that great theologian once told us, these boots are made for walkin’, and that’s just what they’ll do, one of these days theses boots are gonna walk all over you.
We understand to be under, we still use that phrase, to be under someone’s heel, to be under someone’s boot, is to be under their authority, their dominion.
So as Christ straddles one foot on the land, one foot on the sea, it’s abundantly clear that this is not a small Christ. Yes, there are fearful things in the world, there are bad things happening in the world, so there are reasons for fear, there are reasons for prayer, there are reasons for precautions, reasons for strategy, all of the rest, but never a reason for panic, never a reason to be afraid of the one who is always under the authority of Christ. What can he do but that he has been granted by God Almighty to do?
The voice of the Lord shakes the cedars, but the vision doesn’t stop there. You notice that the angel, Christ, He raises His right hand. What is He doing? He’s taking an oath. He raises His right hand as if He were on the witness stand and He swears by God in heaven. Now some people think, well, that’s why it must be an angel and not Christ, but we read in Hebrews, for example, that when God wants to make indisputably certain His promise, He swears by Himself, because there is none greater than Himself, so there’s nothing wrong with the Son swearing an oath according to God the Father. He raises His right hand.
Notice He does not swear by some localized deity. He does not swear by some abstract generality, the spirit of nature or the big man upstairs. He does not swear by one who is just a nice option among the pantheon of gods and goddesses. No, look at verse 6. He swore by Him who lives forever and ever, who created heaven and what is in it, the earth and what is in it, and the sea and what is in it.
When God means for us to have courage, to have confidence, He does not tell us to be true to ourselves. He does not say I want you to dig deep and find your special calling. He does not tell us to look for the hero within and stir up that inner strength. Rather, when God wants us to have courage and confidence in a hostile world, He does not do as so many people in our day try to do and that is you need courage, you need confidence, you need to look deeper, deeper, deeper in yourself. You need to find the truest, most authentic self.
God says no. You want courage? You want confidence? Look out. Look up. Get a glimpse of God and His glory.
It’s like that old adage about playing for the name on the front of the jersey, not the name on the back of your jersey. If you have your name, DeYoung, and I don’t think I ever played a team sport and actually had my name on the back of my jersey, why don’t they put the names on the back of the jersey for cross-country? I don’t know. But you played a sport and you got your name here and then you have Lions or Tigers or Bears, oh my, whatever your team is, and that’s the old adage of the coach. What’s more important? To play for the name on the back of your jersey? No, any good coach is going to tell you no, the way we win is we play together and you realize that the name on the front of the jersey is what matters. That’s what a whole lot more important than the name on the back of your jersey.
Yet there are many today, even some professing Christians, who want to tell you, no, it’s stare at yourself, look in the mirror, look at the back of the jersey.
God says here in Revelation, no, don’t start with who you are and all that you can do. God starts by reminding us of whose side we are on and who He is. The Christ who straddles the galaxy is mighty in power and He swears by the God who lives forever and ever and created all things, as if to say stand fast, hold on to My hard words because I am with you, Jesus says, and I am not small.
That’s the first truth.
Here’s the second truth. We don’t see everything that God sees. We don’t know everything that God knows.
Notice the Apostle John hears the voice of the seven thunders. You see at the end of verse 3, a lion roaring, when he called out the seven thunders sounded. He’s about to write down, verse 4, “when they had sounded I was about to write.” That makes sense. You’ve got seven seals, write it down. Seven trumpets, write it down. Later they’ll be seven bowls, write it down. But this is very strange – in the middle we have seven thunders and John can certainly be forgiven for expecting, all right, seven thunders, here’s the next of the seven’s, ready to write it down, but God says nope, not this time. You’re going to tuck that one away. You’re going to seal up, verse 4, what the seven thunders have said and do not write it down.
There’s lots of speculation about why this is. I don’t think it’s that God has withdrawn whatever the seven thunders represent, the judgment. I think rather we see here that in the end they will take place. Maybe, some commentaries think, that maybe there’s really four sets of seven judgments. So there’s the seals, the trumpets and the bowls, those are the three sets of seven’s we think about, but maybe there’s actually a fourth set. We see here the seven thunders. We just don’t hear and know what the seven thunders are. It may be just a coincidence but it is interesting that Leviticus 26 says four times in that chapter “I will punish you for your sins seven times.” Leviticus 26, verse 18, 21, 24, and 28. Maybe just a coincidence or maybe there’s something there.
Remember four biblical speak, four in Revelation is the number of universal significance, totality. The four winds, the four corners, language, tribe, tongue and nation. So maybe from Leviticus there was this sense of a fourfold sevenfold judgment on the earth. Leviticus 26 may be the model for Revelation, which is four sevenfold judgments. Seven seals, seven trumpets, seven bowls, and here seven thunders. But we don’t know what the seven thunders are.
So this is important. Beloved, you and I don’t know everything God knows. No we understand that as a bit of theology, but boy, we all come to those times in our life where we’d like to know everything God knows. Or we’re not sure that God knows better than we know. Beloved, we do not see everything that God sees. I think that’s the point here. You’ve got seven thunders. Wouldn’t we want to know what was in those seven thunders? But it’s like Deuteronomy 29:29, the secret things belong to the Lord, the things revealed belong to us and to our children, and God, praise the Lord, has revealed to us a lot, but there are still secret things. There are some things not to be known by us. That’s very hard.
In some ways we never grow up out of that kid instinct, to think that we probably know more than our parents. It’s amazing by the time you’re 30 how smart your parents become.
But all of us who are parents or who have worked with children, you understand this instinctively. We know things that our kids don’t know. We have all sorts of experience that they don’t have. They may think at 5 or 15 that they’re very, very smart, but they do not know what you know at 35 or 45 or 75 or 85. Of course you have seen things that they don’t see. You know things that they don’t know.
So hopefully they will, for the most part, trust you. But it’s hard for all of us. Can you trust that God is powerful enough to do what is right and wise enough to sometimes keep some of those things from us? It looks one way down here to us and it looks a different way to God.
Some of you maybe flew this week, some of you maybe are flying home. You know if you take off and it can be rainy and miserable and windy and cloudy and gray and dark and it’s a bumpy ride, but we’ve all had that experience on a plane and you get through that and suddenly you didn’t know it was such a beautiful day. You’re above the cloud line. It’s all crystal blue sky, bright blinding sun. God sees the world in a way that we don’t see. We’re often living below that cloud line and sometimes the clouds are very think and very menacing and it takes faith to believe that there’s a view that God sees. There are things that God knows that we don’t know, and for His good inscrutable purposes, He keeps them from us. We don’t see everything God sees.
Truth number three. The Word of God will not fail.
Look at the end of verse 6. He swears by the One who created everything and all that is in it that there would be no more delay. What does that mean? We’ll see this in more detail next week, but it’s an allusion to the prophecies of Daniel. Daniel was told to seal up the words he had received until the time of the end; in Revelation John is told to unseal. So Daniel’s told seal it up, and now John is told unseal the words he received because what Daniel saw is now being fulfilled. Some of it fulfilled throughout all of history, but in particular, just like the seven seals, now with the seven trumpets, when we come to the sixth and the seventh, we’re really coming to the end of history. The point of this phrase “no more delay” is that when we are past the six seal, we will be at the end. The completion of God’s work will be at hand.
Notice another phrase. Look at verse 7 – the days of the trumpet call to be sounded by the seventh angel, the mystery of God would be fulfilled.
Don’t get hung up on the word “mystery.” It’s a good New Testament word. It simply means something hidden that is now revealed. Paul often uses the word “mystery” to refer to this coming together of Jews and Gentiles as the people of God. That was hidden. It was relatively obscure for a time but now it’s revealed.
Well, mystery language then becomes shorthand really for the Gospel. This seemingly foolish Gospel announcement of a Savior who dies for sins and on the third day is raised to life. The word there “announced” you see at the end of verse 7, he announced to his servants, you angelio, the evangel, he gospeled this, the mystery of the Gospel, is, according to Paul, Jews and Gentiles are both saved through Christ and that may be part of the idea here, but even broader than that the mystery of God becomes a euphemism for the Gospel itself.
So here’s what we’re told. The Word of God will not fail. God’s Word will prove true on three accounts. First, all the sevenfold judgments will take place. Second, when all has been accomplished, God will finish His work without delay. And third, before the end comes, this announcement of the mystery, this Gospel proclamation, will take place in all the earth, just as He announced to His servants, the prophets. In short, we can trust His Word. It’s going to happen.
You know if you have YouTube TV or you have DVR or something and you can record what you’re watching and you can see it and everybody’s out of the room and you can come and say, “Come, quick, quick, you’ve got to see this thing that just happened,” and just with a button, the little cursor moves back 35 seconds, and you can see it. If you go all throughout the house announcing some good news, something that happened in your sport, I’m not even going to talk about a lot of good things happened for some of you and some bad things happened for some of you yesterday, but you come and say, “Good news! Look, look, look!” and you start announcing to everyone, they’re a little incredulous, but they say, “How do you know?” You say, “I just saw it. Trust me. We’ve just got to go back 35 seconds. You won’t believe it. But trust me what happened here.”
You probably kind of believe it because the person in your house says, “I just saw it and if we can go back, it’s going to happen.” So you wait with anticipation and sure enough there it is.
Everything that is yet to come, future to us, God not only has seen it and knows it, but in eternity past He decreed it. It’s much more certain than running throughout the house to say, “Would you look at this play that just happened? Just come back with me one minute and watch it on the screen.” More certain for God. He sees it, He knows it, He has decreed it. You can count on it even more surely than having seen it with your own eyes. God’s Word will not fail.
Truth number four. The Word of God is sweet.
John is told to eat the little scroll, this imagery and this prophetic enacting comes from Ezekiel. We’ll go there in a moment. It’s probably the same scroll that we were introduced to in chapter 5, the one with the seals. There it was sealed but notice now it’s unsealed. That means it’s known and the events of history that were bound up are now to take place. The seals had been broken by the only One who was worthy to break the seals, the Lamb.
It’s called a little scroll in verses 9 and 10, but it’s referred to simply as “the scroll” in verse 8, so I think we’re right to conclude that this is the same scroll, the one we saw in chapter 5.
Both books are held by Christ, first in chapter 5 and here, if I’m right, and this angel is Christ, both held by Christ, both chapter 5, chapter 10, Christ is likened to a lion, both are associated with the strong angel who cries out, both are associated with the God who lives forever and ever, chapter 5 verse 13, chapter 10 verse 5, and both concern the destiny of peoples, nations, tongues, and tribes, that’s chapter 5, and here in chapter 10 peoples, nations, tongues, and kings.
So the scroll that John takes from the angel contains the prophecies. Maybe we’re meant to see it contains the prophecies of chapter 11 through 16, or maybe it’s the prophecies for the rest of this book, or maybe it’s more generic than that and it simply means God’s plan for salvation and judgment on the world. Whatever it means in particular, we can realize in general the scroll represents what God will do in the world. He says come, take it, and eat it. And it will be sweet.
I wonder if you and I have the right taste buds for the Word of God. Now I know sometimes people say about some specific teaching in the Bible, some hard thing, maybe it’s some hard thing about sex or gender or maybe some hard thing about the uniqueness of Christ, the only way. Maybe some hard thing about hell. Yes, there are a lot of hard things in the Bible. I know sometimes people say, well, I don’t like it, but the Bible says it. I don’t like what the Bible says about hell or predestination, but it’s in the Bible and so I have to believe it.
Now I understand why people sometimes talk that way, and there’s something commendable about that attitude. The commendable thing is okay, it’s hard and I don’t quite understand it and in my, I don’t quite resonate with it but it’s in the Bible and so I’m going to believe it. That’s commendable.
Yet, and yet I hope we can understand that sometimes people say that in a way to say, “Well, God doesn’t do things very well and I’d do things a lot better, but I’m willing to take it.”
So it’s commendable to say this is hard and I’m still going to believe it, but you know what would be better? Is if God’s Word tasted sweet.
Now were going to get to it in just a moment. There are parts of the Word that give some indigestion. But what I’m saying is let us now pass off like, “Well, I don’t like what the Bible says there” as if that was a mark of some authenticity, when it ought to be that God has given us such spiritually refined taste buds that we say, “This is sweet.” Maybe John blurted out Psalm 119, how sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth. Or Psalm 19, the ordinances of the Lord are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb.
See, we will not hold to the hard words of God in a hard world by sheer willpower alone. That’s what some of you are doing. And because you’re in a church and let’s just say for the sake of argument you’re in a good church, and maybe you have good parents and maybe they’ve taught you things and you’re holding on to it, but you need to examine your own heart this morning, because some of you are probably holding on to some hard things and you’re in a context, in a thick culture that expects you to believe those things, but you have long since stopped finding those words sweet. You don’t like them. What’s going to happen when you’re allowed to eat whatever you want to eat? That’s what happens when kids move out. They can eat whatever they want to eat. They don’t usually eat better. My whole life has been proving that remark.
So be careful. If you are holding on to the hard words of God by your willpower alone. Okay, all right, yep, I’m keeping my head down and sure, sure, I believe it. Get off my case. But the words aren’t sweet to you. They don’t taste good to you.
Jeremiah 15:16 – Your words were found and I ate them and Your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart.
Can you say that?
One of the applications here is it is not enough, Christ Covenant, it’s not enough that you just check off a box and you read through some verses each day. You must, as the Book of Common Prayer puts it, read mark, learn, inwardly digest. Are you really feasting? Are you really chewing? Are you slowing down to really ingest the Word of God?
Because here’s the parallel, if I’m not mixing up the metaphors too much. You need to eat a lot of that Word in order for your taste buds to be transformed by that Word so they become sweet. Like Jeremiah said, a joy, a delight.
Truth number five. The sweet Word of God can sometimes leave a bitter aftertaste.
So God’s Word should be sweet to us, but that doesn’t mean it never causes some indigestion.
The scroll that John ate was a good scroll. It came from Christ. Everything that it said was true and right, but it contained some hard words. You see verse 11 – I was told you must prophesy again about many peoples and nations and language and kings.
The preposition there “about” really has the sense of against. That’s what he’s given to do, this scroll has words of judgment. Again, notice the fourfold peoples, nations, language, and kings. That’s another way of saying universal scope of God’s judgment.
John knew this is the Lord’s pure Word and it’s a good Word, but he also knew to announce it is going to be hard for me and it is going to be hard for other people to hear.
I mentioned a moment ago that this imagery comes from Ezekiel. The prophet Ezekiel is told to do the same thing in Ezekiel 2 and 3, that he is to speak a hard word to a hard-hearted people and he, too, is given a scroll. He’s commissioned to go out, rebuke his own people, and he’s given no guarantee of success except that the Lord would be with him, and Ezekiel, just like John, eats the scroll, and Ezekiel 3:3 says it tasted sweet as honey. Then God brought him to the exiles near the Chebar River to deliver the message of woe, and Ezekiel 3:14 says, “The Spirit lifted me up and took me away, and I went in bitterness in the heat of my spirit, the hand of the LORD being strong upon me.”
Now don’t think that means that Ezekiel was bitter toward the Lord, but he understood this is a bitter pill to swallow. When you have to speak of God’s judgment on the earth, of the reality of everlasting condemnation, of the reality of Christ coming again to judge the living and the dead, that’s a hard word. I think he was angry with his people, he was bitter in spirit on account of the impending doom that he had to announce. The word itself was sweet, but what would happen to the people of God would feel to them most bitter. The word was sweet because it glorified God, it manifested His character, but it went down bitterly because Ezekiel knew, and John knew, that this Word would make his life difficult and bring judgment on his own people.
So here’s one of the things we need to realize, Church. Sometimes you cannot do anything to remove the sting of God’s Word. We try not to get in the way by being jerks about it, we try to be winsome bridge-builders. But look, if you have found a way for everything in God’s Word to fall lightly and pleasantly on regenerate people, then you are not dealing faithfully with the Word of God. Not in your own life and not in the lives of others. Sometimes there is nothing you can do when the person you’re feeding this spoonful of sweet, sweet honey, that is God’s Word, and if your taste buds worked like they should, you would say, “Give me that and more, more, more. This is delicious.”
But unregenerate taste buds don’t work like that. [sound effect] Hope you didn’t do that with any of your food on Thursday. If that’s how you felt, you should have just politely swallowed it.
When you do not have the Lord’s taste buds, His Word does not taste sweet, and woe be to us, to this preacher, to any of us, if we should remove all of the offense of God’s Word.
If someone burns their taste buds, you’ve all done that before, it’s terrible. You take something and you’re so eager to get that pie out of the oven or whatever it is and it burns your taste buds, suddenly it’s all just this waxy, terrible feeling in your mouth. If somebody has burned their taste buds, do you trust them to be an accurate taste tester of your Thanksgiving feast? No, you say because your taste buds don’t work right. I sort of don’t care what you think about the turkey and the potatoes and the gravy and the stuffing and the pie because you don’t taste the way you should.
Spiritually, it’s the same. We should not expect the world to be a good judge of the sweetness of the Word of God.
Truth number six. God’s hard words should not be rejected or avoided because others may have a hard time swallowing them. This follows on truth number five. God’s hard words should not be rejected or avoided because others may have a hard time swallowing them.
You can read sometimes in popular Christian books are methods must change but not the message. Maybe. Depends on what you mean. But now you will even read some books that say the message itself must change, or the message must be downplayed or avoided. People don’t want to be told what is right and wrong. They don’t want God to tell them what to do with their bodies. They can’t believe that there’s only one way to God. They don’t like the idea of an angry God punishing His Son because of our sins. They cannot stomach the notion of judgment.
It’s true. Those words will be bitterly received by some people. But there’s nothing new about that. Yes, the issues that cause offense change somewhat from age to age, but in a more profound sense they don’t. When have sinful people ever liked a God to tell them what to do? When have people… You think in Corinth they were really happy to have God tell them what to do with their bodies? No. They wanted to do what they wanted to do. It’s always been a hard pill to swallow.
If we are hoping that people will just hug us every time we tell them the words of God. You’re saying, “Pastor, you’re a dutchmen, I know you’re not hoping to be hugged,” but some of you, if you’re hoping that people will applaud you and celebrate you every time you give the Word of God to someone, then you and I don’t know much about Elijah, or Jeremiah, or Ezekiel, or John the Baptist, or Peter, or Paul, or Jesus. You killed the prophets, that’s that the New Testament says. The Word of God will be a bitter pill for some to swallow.
Pray for me. Pray for your pastors. Pray that the preaching from this pulpit never skirts around the hard things from God’s Word, especially the hard things that God’s people don’t want to hear, because we kind of like it when you say the things that people outside there don’t want to hear, but what about the things we don’t like to hear?
Which leads to the final truth. God can give us flinty foreheads.
What do I mean by that? Well, it goes back to Ezekiel. John here is told to prophesy about many peoples, nations, languages, and kings. Now not all have the gift of prophecy. You can make a good argument that prophecy ceased with the Apostles, the Church built upon the foundation of Apostles and prophets, that we don’t have prophecy per se. Certainly not apostolic prophecy. But in a more general limited sense, Revelation 19:10 says the testimony of God is the spirit of prophecy, so there is a sense in which when you bear witness to Jesus, you are in a way wearing the mantel of a prophet.
Prophets need two things. Well, more, but at least this – soft hearts, hard heads. People like one or the other. You need both.
This commission here, I think, is to be fulfilled by the whole Church because the word given to John still needs to be proclaimed. So we come back to Ezekiel. Ezekiel was told to eat the scroll, he was told to go out to a people with no guarantee of success. He was told that they have stubborn hearts.
But then God gives this word to Ezekiel – “Like emery harder than flint I have made your forehead. Fear them not nor be dismayed at their looks for they are a rebellious house.” He says, “You’re going to go out, Ezekiel, it’s going to be a bitter pill for some people to swallow. They’re not going to like it. They’re a rebellious people. They have hard hearts but I can give you a forehead like flint.”
Too many of us have foolishly thought that being a Christian would be easy, that people would like us more, and we tend to be fragile people these days, easily offended, easily hurt, easily wounded. Now don’t get me wrong, God does care about your hurts. He says cast all of our cares upon Him. But He also says to us, “Look at Me, look at Me. I’m not small, My words are true. Do not be afraid. Do not be terrified. The world’s a hard place. When has it not been a hard place? But I will make you of even harder stuff, harder than flint.”
Onward we go, Christ Covenant, with soft hearts and hard foreheads, which means we will not revile when reviled, we will love our enemies, we will bless those though they may persecute us, and it also means we will never compromise or apologize for the truth.
Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.
Let’s pray. Heavenly Father, thank you for the Word of Christ, this Christ who saves us from our sins by His death on the cross, this Christ who now reigns and is coming again. Give us soft hearts in this hard world and give us hard, flinty foreheads that we may not waver and we may not fear. We give thanks for Your Word and all that You will do in our midst through it. In Jesus’ name. Amen.