Yesterday was Easter Sunday. Hundreds of thousands of Christians met all across the globe to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ over 2000 years ago through song, prayer, Scripture readings, sacraments and preaching. Easter Sunday is a day of triumph for the Christian – the seeming destruction of their religion and their king was turned around as God in his great power raised Jesus from the dead. Moreover, just a few weeks after he was raised from the dead he ascended to heaven giving us the hope of following suit.
But, as we look around at the creation creaking under the weight of sin; as we watch the evil and wickedness perpetrated by humans against humans; as we feel the sinful nature and flesh waging war within us, we can sometimes wonder where the victory, joy and triumph have gone.
Recently it has been impressed upon me through some study that waiting in difficult circumstances for this victory, joy and triumph has been a feature of God’s people throughout redemptive history.
Prior to the exile that Israel suffered, righteous people were awaiting God’s intervention. Habakkuk lamented the fact that God’s chosen people were neglecting law and justice (1:2-4). God’s response was as shocking as it was delayed (in the eyes of Habakkuk anyway). God was going to deal with his chosen people, but through the wicked Chaldeans (1:5-6). This was a problem for Habakkuk; how could a less righteous people execute God’s punishment of a more righteous, albeit still wicked, people (1:13).
God’s response in chapter 2 makes it clear that neither the wicked Israelites, nor the brutal Babylonians will escape his judgement. Indeed, they will all know the glory of the LORD (2:14) and it will be evident that the LORD is in his holy temple (2:20). However, it will not all take place immediately – there will be a period of waiting, perhaps even a long wait. Therefore, Habakkuk confesses ‘Yet I will quietly wait for the day of trouble to come upon people who invade us’ (3:16).
Sadly, things did not improve much after the exile.
The Jews have looked on somewhat helplessly, and somewhat to blame, as their nation was divided into two kingdoms; then as those kingdoms were invaded; after invasion came the deposing of the kings and finally the exile of the peoples to foreign nations. In amongst all of this the beloved city Jerusalem, and the revered Temple were demolished.
In the book of Haggai the Jews have returned to Jerusalem, and have already begun rebuilding the walls and the temple. But the temple is not quite as spectacular as when it was first built (2:3). Life as a Jew is not what is should have been – all God’s promises seem to be failing. This will not continue though, as Haggai makes clear to Zerubbabel, a descendant of King David. Haggai tells Zerubbabel that the LORD has said ‘I will take you my servant and I will make you like my signet ring’ (2:23, paraphrased). In other words, there will be a king in Jerusalem again.
Zerubbabel fades from the face of history though, and no king is reinstated in Jerusalem. The people are in for a long wait yet again. But this wait is worth it, because in little over 500 years from Haggai uttering those words the Messiah, King Jesus, is born. And in the genealogies recorded for us in Matthew 1 and Luke 3 this man Zerubbabel is named.
God’s people in the New Testament still find themselves waiting even though they stand on this side of the Messiah’s birth.
This is evident in the book of James. James writes to Christians facing differing trials (1:2). In these trials he has much practical wisdom to share with them: from how they live their religion (1:27; 2:24), to the way that they use their tongues and speech (1:19; 3:1-12; 4:11). The book then comes to a close with the exhortation to wait patiently (5:7ff.)
James is addressing those who are living in difficult circumstances, most likely farmers being exploited by the rich landlords (5:1-6). In the context of coming judgement James then has this exhortation, ‘Be patient’ (vv. 7, 8a). Patiently endure, just like the prophets and Job (vv. 10-11). If you do so the Lord will be seen to be compassionate and merciful (v. 11).
Those suffering trials are told blatantly by James, wait!
The Long Wait
And so we reach the twenty first century, with we who find ourselves on Easter Monday 2015 awaiting the full victory and triumph that Jesus’ resurrection initiated. The message is no different – we as God’s people must continue to wait.
This is not a sitting back and twiddling our thumbs kind of waiting though. It is an active, militant and tenacious waiting. We strive, and work, and labour for the spread of the gospel, the building of the kingdom and the revelation of God’s glory in all its fullness here and now. But we do so with the knowledge that we wait, we wait for the full victory and triumph that Jesus’ resurrection is a foreshadowing of.
Therefore, as we look around at the creation creaking under the weight of sin; as we watch the evil and wickedness perpetrated by humans against humans; as we feel the sinful nature and flesh waging war within us, we know that the victory, joy and triumph will one day come – all we must do is wait patiently.