May 11, 2006

God Bats Last

IT’S GAME ONE IN THE 1988 WORLD SERIES; bottom of the ninth, with two out, and the Dodgers are behind by one. Kirk Gibson is batting for the Dodgers; there’s a man on second, but Gibson is fighting a bad leg and already has two strikes against him. Pitching for the Oakland A’s is Dennis Eckersley; with 45 saves for the season, he is every batter’s nightmare come true.
It doesn’t look good for Kirk Gibson; it doesn’t look good for the Dodgers . . . and already, the smart fans are heading for the exits. And they all know that nobody in a situation like this has ever come from behind to win a game.
Likewise, there are times we feel like giving up. Our budget’s a mess, our love life is in shambles--and even the dog has been acting up lately. Like Kirk Gibson, it’s the bottom of the ninth, with two out--and we already have two strikes against us.
That’s when we need the three angels’ messages of Revelation 14--a message of hope. A message of cheer. A message for desperate times. In the three angels’ messages of Revelation 14, we learn that it doesn’t matter how bad things may seem just now. God always bats last.

Judgment Day

Revelation 14 follows two of the most gruesome chapters in all of Scripture--chapters that describe a world in which it seems as though the bad guys have won everything, chapters that describe a world in which God’s people seem to have been utterly crushed.

And then God steps in . . . and it’s over. The bad guys disappear; God’s people show up without a one missing. And just to make sure we don’t miss the point, God sends a special messenger, as we read in Revelation 14:6, 7:
“Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth--to every nation, tribe, language and people. He said in a loud voice, ‘Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.’”
1513 page8In our language, we’d say that God wants everybody to put Him first, “because it’s judgment day.”
To most people today, “God’s judgment” is bad news. We think of “judgment day” the same way most drivers think of traffic court: simply put, you don’t want to go there!
But back in the days of the Bible, “judgment day” was good news. It was the day God stepped in to deal with everything that gave His people a hard time:
• war and death,
• disease and poverty,
• loneliness and all the other things that are symbolized in these verses as Babylon--that ancient enemy of God’s people. God has set a day when all these things will come to an end!
You see, God is like your mother when you were small . . . and you were out in the backyard eating a Popsicle . . . and a yellow jacket came along and discovered that Popsicle. And pretty soon you didn’t have one yellow jacket; you had a whole swarm of yellow jackets! And those yellow jackets didn’t just want your Popsicle. No, it wasn’t long before they were after you!
So what did you do? You screamed for Mom! And what did she do? As soon as she could, she was out there--and when Mom showed up, it was good news for you . . . but it was bad news for the yellow jackets!
It was good news for you--but it was bad news for the yellow jackets--just as the first angel’s message is good news for God’s people, but bad news for anything that’s out to get us. And just to make sure that we get this point, God gave us the second and third angels’ messages, as we read in verses 8-12:
“A second angel followed and said, ‘Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great, which made all the nations drink the maddening wine of her adulteries.’ A third angel followed them and said in a loud voice: ‘If anyone worships the beast and his image and receives his mark on the forehead or on the hand, he, too, will drink of the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. He will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment rises for ever and ever. There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and his image, or for anyone who receives the mark of his name.’ This calls for patient endurance on the part of the saints who obey God’s commandments and remain faithful to Jesus.”
We read this, and we say, “Whoa! That’s not very nice!” And the fact is that nothing here in these verses is very nice. These verses are not meant to be nice--and that’s because these verses are not meant for us; they’re not intended for anyone who lives on this earth!

Stay Out of the Trash!

What God says here through the second and third angels is like me telling my daughter, “Don’t wrap your retainer in a napkin and put in on the table--because, if you do, it’s going to go into the trash, and the trash is going to get thrown out, and you don’t want to lose your retainer . . . again!”

1513 page8Likewise, verses 8-12 tell us not to put our trust in Babylon--not to trust anything that tries to take on God; not to trust anything that tries to take on God’s people. “Don’t trust them,” God says, “because all of these things are going into the trash--and believe Me, you don’t want to go with them when they do!”
And the fact is that we can look back over our own lives, and we can see that this is true. For how many of us can think back to a time we wanted to do something that God did not want us to do--but we went ahead and did it anyway because it seemed like the easy thing to do?
How many of us can think of a time we did that . . . and looking back, we can say right here and now that we made a real mistake? That’s the message of the second and third angels. Likewise, how many of us can look back to a time we did something right--something God wanted us to do--even though it was tough? Even though it was hard? Even though we thought we were going to lose out big-time by following God?
How many of us can think of a time we did that . . . and looking back, we’re glad that we did so? That’s the first angel’s message right there.

Don’t Worry. And Don’t Give Up.

So don’t worry--don’t worry when it seems as though the odds are against you. Don’t give up when the going gets tough. Or ever get discouraged just because it’s the bottom of the ninth with two out, and two strikes against you.

Think of Kirk Gibson, standing there at the plate in game one of the 1988 World Series. Talk about pressure--with a runner on second, he could win the game! But remember, Gibson is hurt. He’s been injured. He can’t even swing the bat without wincing in pain--and already, he’s swung twice and missed.
Eckersley winds up . . . then throws it straight down the middle.
Gibson swings . . . and drives the ball into the right-field bleachers. For the first time in the history of the World Series, someone has won a game with a home run in the bottom of the ninth with two already out, and two strikes against him.
But none of this would have happened, notice . . . none of this would have happened if Kirk Gibson had given up. Likewise, it’s not always easy for us to play on God’s team. But at least we don’t need to worry about the way the game will end, because God bats last. God bats last--and He always hits a home run.
Greg Brothers is pastor of the Adventist church in Lincoln City, Oregon. He publishes a blog at: