Palm Sunday is a day of contrasts, the people thinking Jesus is a reigning King, when He is coming to be a suffering servant. The crowds shouting hosannas on Sunday and crucify Him on Friday, was revered one day and rejected the next. Jerusalem is rejoicing and Jesus is weeping. Palm Sunday is the day Jesus rode into Jerusalem to set in motion the final pieces of His plan to rescue sinners from death, to confront sin. It was a plan that had lots of moving parts and involved lots of instruments, lots of players. As we come to the end of James, we remember from two weeks ago he urged all Christians of the necessity of prayer. He commended us to pray in all situations and circumstances, for all our needs. And as an encouragement or motivation he reminded us of the example of Elijah and the great power there is in prayer. Now James takes up another spiritual duty of Christians and gives us another great motivation to do this. As we ought to pray for one another, so ought we make every effort at reclaiming straying sheep. We ought to be like Jesus in what He came to do on Palm Sunday.
Chapter 8 of Revelation is an encouragement to keep praying, keeping it up a little longer, there is a relationship between our prayers and God’s plans. Revelation is the answer to our “how long” questions. Let’s recap. We have seen John’s vision of the Lamb opening six of the seven seals. We said that these seals are like a journey through church history. The reality of the first five seals has plagued the human race from Pentecost to the present to the end of time. The reality of the sixth seal of the great day of God’s wrath is coming. The sixth seal marks the end of human history. So now we come to the seventh seal and we are expecting something climatic. Seven symbolizes completeness so we are anticipating a vision about what happens after the second coming and judgment. Perhaps a description of the appearance of Jesus, or the final judgment and a new heaven and a new earth. Something really big. We expect the grand finale, but instead there is a moment of silence, and then a starting all over again of the same history but with a new series of symbols, this time trumpets. And after that more symbols. Revelation is not straight chronology. It’s like a symphony in which a musical theme is repeated with variations. What happens now is like a musical rest where the whole orchestra pauses in silence before taking up a new symphonic variation with trumpets.
Every day we read news headlines and hear news reports of terrible things all over our world, some close to home and many far away. Typhoons in the south Pacific, ISIS and Boko Haram, scandals in Washington, racial tension in Missouri and Oklahoma, Ebola and cancer, wars and rumors of wars, and on and on. Where’s God in all of this? What’s He doing? Why is our world the way it is? The answer we saw in Revelation six is because God has sent four horsemen into the world, the horseman of conflict, conquest and conquering; the horseman of the sword without peace; the horseman of famine and scarcity of necessities; and the horseman of death. Christians won’t be exempt from all this trouble as we saw in the fifth seal the souls of martyrs being delivered up to heaven where they join the myriads of martyrs there. When their number is complete the wicked will be judged as is seen in the sixth seal. Six of the seven seals have been opened in very quick succession. As we turn to chapter seven of Revelation we are anticipating seeing the seventh seal opened. But instead John describes two additional visions. We often resent interruptions, but we must learn to trust the providence of God and to wait with patience for His timing and His will. We have heard six aspects of God’s unfolding judgment on the unrighteous and there is a lingering question, what about the righteous, what happens to them during this time? The question was asked at the end of chapter six:
Politicians and sports figures are notorious for their poor confessions and weak repentance and aversion to the humility of coming completely clean. It’s no wonder we struggle with the idea of confessing our sin to others, we so seldom see it done well. Do you know anyone who regularly confesses their sins and failures to another person? Adam sinned and blamed Eve. Cain killed Abel and told God he didn’t know where he was. Joseph’s brothers sinned against Joseph and covered it up to their father. Ananias and Sapphira gave money to the church but lied about the amount to make themselves look better in the eyes of the apostles. King David was a politician, the master of cover up until God uncovered his cover. But his repentance was beautiful, full, honest, sincere. A gift for the rest of us. Peter also sinned as greatly as any man ever did, but when he realized his sin, he broke and wept. The Prodigal Son gives us as good an example as you can find in Scripture. He went directly to the one he sinned against and made a simple, clean, clear confession of his sin.
One of the great blessings of worshiping a living God is He can hear and because He can hear, He can answer the prayers of His people. Brothers and sister, imagine the despair and hopelessness of praying to a dead god, to a god who is no god at all. Imagine the futility of spinning a Tibetan Buddhist prayer wheel building up merit and good karma, believing its spinning emits positive energy. Imagine asking for help from Brahman, the supreme god of Hinduism, an impersonal force, the unknowable divine ground of all being. Imagine the terrible silence of gods who are deaf, dumb, and blind because they are dead. One of the distinguishing marks of Christianity is prayer offered to the personal, living God. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of David and Elijah, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, is the prayer-hearing and prayer-answering God. There is no other God like Him. Prayer is the first and last and best thing we can do. As God brings us to the end of our lives He prunes away all the lessor things and leaves us with one remaining thing we can always do, the best thing we can do, the most powerful and fruitful thing we can do, prayer. God has created this world of ours to run under the influence of prayer. The wheels of the machinery of this world of ours are turned by prayer. He has tied His activity to our prayers. He wants us the see again and again the connection between our asking and His answering. He wants us to see the glory of His power and goodness. Prayer is the first and last and best thing we can do. It applies equally well in all situations and circumstances.
Some of you have seen that YouTube video of children in a room with a plate that has one marshmallow on it. The adult says, “I will leave and come back in fifteen minutes. If you have not eaten the marshmallow I will give you two.” For some of the kids those fifteen minutes were pure torture. Patience is hard. Lord, give me patience and give it to me right now. Waiting is hard. I still have issues with long lines and certain drivers. Christianity is waiting. We have been waiting for 2000 years. A huge part of being a Christian is about patience. It’s part of the fruit or evidence of the Holy Spirit. The Bible recounts some great stories and testimonies of great patience. Abraham and Sarah waited twenty five years for God to fulfill His promise of son. Joseph languished years in slavery and imprisonment before being elevated to number two over all of Egypt. Simeon and Anna waited all their lives in the temple to see the Messiah.