Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Reading the Last Chapter First

(A Reflection on Genesis 28:10-19; Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43)

Do you remember when the novel Scarlet, the sequel to Gone With the Wind, was published? Someone I know acquired the book and immediately flipped over to the last chapter to see how it ended. “Why would you want to do such a thing?” I asked. “Because,” she said, “I don’t want to waste my time reading that book unless Scarlet and Rhett are going to get together.” She wanted to know how the book turned out so she read the last chapter first!

I don’t recommend that practice because it detracts from the thrill of the read. It can alleviate some anxiety, though, to know how the story is going to turn out. Consider the case of Jacob. He was on the run. He had cheated his brother Esau one time too many and so he had to leave home. His destination was Haran, the home of his mother Rebekah. He stopped along the way to spend the night. What was in his mind? As usual with an Old Testament story, we’re not told. We can imagine that he was anxious—anxious about leaving home, anxious about going to a strange place, anxious about the threats his brother had made against him, and maybe even anxious about coming to grips with how his own actions had gotten him into his predicament.

He dreamed. He saw a ladder or stairway reaching to heaven with angels going up and down the ladder. He was at a place in his life where he could experience the presence of God and he did experience it. Among other things the LORD told him, “The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, … and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring.” He furthermore said, “Know that I am with you and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”

As Jacob prepared to enter his uncertain future, the Lord told him how it would all turn out. He told him that he would bring Jacob back to the land and that he would give that land to him and to his many descendants. Can you imagine how Jacob clung to that promise? Over the next twenty years he would deal with many problems and deceptions. The Lord would bless him over those twenty years but they would still be very difficult. Whatever problems he encountered, whatever setbacks he suffered, whatever fears he had, he could always remind himself, “One day it’s going to be all right. One day I’ll be going home. God has promised. I know that it’s so.”

Sometimes we wonder though, don’t we? Sometimes circumstances are such that we really wonder if everything is ever going to be all right. We feel like we’re surrounded by evil and we feel that way because we are. But Jesus has told us how the story is going to turn out. At the end of the age, he said, “The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” That’s the last chapter in the book. It is God’s plan and God’s promise that the wrong will fail and the right prevail; it is God’s plan and God’s promise that evil will be destroyed and righteousness will be exalted. It is God’s plan and God’s promise that the children of the evil one will be punished and that the children of the kingdom will be glorified. We can believe it. It is true. God is working his purposes out and he has already told us what the last chapter says.

Knowing what the last chapter says helps us get through what we deal with in these days. We who are the wheat have to live with a whole lot of weeds. We also have to be careful lest we get a little “weedy” ourselves. Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the weeds reminds us that God’s grace and patience are still operative. In his grace and with great patience God lets the wheat and the weeds grow up together. The day will come when both wheat and weeds will be shown to be what they are. In the meantime, though, and I know this cannot occur naturally, but it can occur supernaturally, some weeds can become wheat.

The parable also teaches us something about our role in these days. The parable does not explicitly say that we who are wheat are to be witnesses to those who are weeds, but we know it from other places in the Bible. The parable does teach us that it is not our job to judge those who are not Christians or to go about trying to tear out all the evil that we can. If we try that we do as much or more harm to ourselves than we do to any of the evil that we are trying to combat. Our calling it to be what we are and to recognize that as long as this world exists good and evil, saved and lost, God’s people and the devil’s people, will live side-by-side. We do our best work when we bear positive witness with our lives to who our Lord is.

Everything really is going to be all right one day because God really is working his purposes out. We know that because we have read the last chapter first.

No comments: