It happened again this week. Someone walked into a location full of people they didn’t know and opened fire, with no goal except to kill as many as possible. It seems entirely meaningless and yet it’s starting to seem like a weekly occurrence. It’s something we are being numb to. In fact, it’s probably not even the biggest news story anymore. What does it say about the times we live in that we are just used to the fact that random people decide to kill random people and it happens all the time all over our country? I’m not a sociologist. I don’t study the trends among the demographics most affected by this. But, as your pastor, I want to shepherd you through these events. We’re going to do that today by looking into God’s book.
Often in church when we refer to a book, we mean the Bible. We’re going to do that, too, but we’re not really referring to the Bible. We’re referring to another book. It’s a book that God has in his presence. He knows their contents. He knows who is written in that book, and it won’t be opened until that last day. This book is mentioned throughout the Bible as the ledger that God will use to know who to give eternal life to. On that day, when he looks into that book of life, will he see your name? Will you make it through these times of distress, awake one day from the dust, and stand before the Lord’s throne to hear your name read?
To get to that day, there’s a story we must live. I can’t tell you every part. Only God knows the whole thing, but I can give you the basic structure and spoil the ending. This story begins on the day of Pentecost. We celebrated that day last spring. On that day, the apostles began their mission of bringing the gospel to the entire world. So, the Word of God went out and spread across the globe. Once that one prerequisite was met, Christians began to wait—for a long time. During that time, much has changed, but one thing has remained the same. It’s the End Times, and God’s church waits for the time when Christ will return. During that time, they have readied themselves.
These End Times are full of trouble. Did you catch that in the words of the prophet Daniel: “There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then” (Daniel 12:1). Jesus confirms this for us: “But in those days, following that distress, ‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken’” (Mark 13:24-25). We’re seeing that trouble now. We’re seeing it every time there’s another mass shooting. We’re seeing it every time that some country in the world threatens to attack, or to impose sanctions, or bombs someone, or whatever. We’re seeing it every time a hurricane strikes, with every fire that burns the countryside—every natural disaster confirms these troubles.
Do you listen to how people respond to these things? It generally goes two ways: despair or fake hope. Listen to how some people responded to the shooting this week: “What can we as citizens do? Vote? I vote! Protest? I show up at protests! Call my representatives? I do that too. And then here we are with more students getting killed while they’re just out living life in a safe place. It’s just too much.”[i] Can you hear the despair? It’s people throwing up their arms in confusion because they can’t change the situation no matter how much they want. Is there an answer? There is. We look into God’s book.
But, there’s fake hope here, too. It’s when people believe that there’s an answer to all of this if we just do this one thing, or elect this one person, or get rid of this policy, etc. You can hear it in this reaction: “If you’re looking for one speck of hope, know that several other countries got sick and tired of this, but they did something, and had dramatically successful results. There is hope for improvement if we ever decide to actually make changes.” Is that really hope? You might be thinking, “No, these people need Jesus.” You’re right. They do. But Christian buy into this strange pseudo-hope, too: “Mass shooting have gone up as church attendance has gone down. Can you not see that if we want these things to stop, we need to get people back into the pews? That’s the only way to fix this.”
Can you sense the futility of all this? This isn’t true hope. New policies aren’t going to fix the world. Electing new politicians isn’t going to stop hate or war. More guns or less guns aren’t going to halt all the violence. And if you missed Daniel’s words, as God gave him this vision of the future, he saw not that Jesus would return to a world of peace and harmony, but one in which things are constantly getting worse: “There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then” (Daniel 12:1). It’s going to get worse. Is there a way to get past the despair and the fake hope? There is. We look into God’s book.
One hymn that we sometimes sing says, “I’m but a stranger here, // Heaven is my home; // Earth is a desert drear, // Heaven is my home” (CW 417). I’ve had people push back against that hymn. They say, “Shouldn’t we celebrate God’s creation? Doesn’t he give us so many blessings here?” But, that hymn is not trying to deny God’s blessing, but is trying to keep you from getting to attached to this world. The distress is going to get worse. As the end comes, more and more mindless, meaningless things are going to happen. Don’t get too attached to this world. You can’t fix it. Nothing you do can save it. And that’s good. Because who would want this to go on forever?
Instead, let’s open God’s book. God mentions it in Daniel 12:1—“At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. But at that time your people—everyone whose name is found written in the book—will be delivered.” Michael is the only archangel listed in the Bible. As far as we know, he may be the only one. He is listed as a great prince who protects God’s people. Isn’t it appropriate that, according to the apostle Paul, it’s the call of an archangel that we are waiting for: “The Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first” (1 Thessalonians 4:16).
That day the Lord will deliver his people from all of their enemies. This is us looking into God’s book. It’s this book that contains the names all those people God has chosen to be his own. Only these people will be delivered out of the distress of sin, the distress of death, the distress of this world. Is your name on that list? When Jesus calls you before him will your name be found there? Yes. Your name is written in the book of life. It was written there before the world was created. On that day, you will be delivered out of the struggles of this life. You’ll leave them behind.
Even death: “Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.” (Daniel 12:2). The dead will rise. Can you picture how amazing this is going to be. The dust of the earth, once used to shape and fashion Adam, will reassemble itself so that all who have ever lived will be raised. But not everyone will face the same end, some will rise to life, others to shame and contempt. Most importantly, “the dead in Christ will rise first…. And so we will be with the Lord forever” (1 Thes. 4:16-17). This is what we see when we open God’s book. There, you find your name written, chosen by God to have faith in Christ, chosen by God to have your sins washed away, chosen by God to be saved on that last day. You will stand triumphant with all of God’s people on that last. Your name is written in the book.
It’s a part of human nature to try and fix this world and rescue it. But you don’t have to try and do that. Your mission is not a mission to conquer this earth in God’s name and make it into heaven on earth. You are on a rescue mission. “Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever” (Daniel 12:3). Those who are wise through faith in Christ will have join him in heaven, but there’s more. Those who lead others to righteousness, to know Jesus Christ, they will have the special reward of shining like a star. I can’t tell you exactly what that is, but you can picture it, can’t you? This is our rescue mission. We can’t save the whole world. It’s going down in flames. So be it. We can lead others to righteousness. Parents can lead their children. Friends can lead their friends. Relatives can lead relatives. So, friends, don’t be surprised by the trouble of this world. It’s just going to get worse. But, let it encourage you to take up your mission to rescue others and lead them to righteousness. Amen.
[i] All quotations in sermon taken from comments responding to this article: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/08/us/shooting-california-thousand-oaks.html.