We live in a world that is changing fast. For many years in South Africa we have enjoyed a nominally Christian worldview (of course there were blatant inconsistencies1 also). Church was seen as good. Adultery and pornography were seen as bad. Homosexuality was seen as a deviance, not a viable, alternative, healthy lifestyle. Marriage was held in honour. Abortion was seen as evil. Creation, as opposed to evolution, was still an accepted worldview. Jesus as Lord and Saviour was taught in schools.
Times are changing
But times are changing, and changing fast. Last week France legalised homosexual marriage. A gay couple is suing a local restaurant for choosing not to host their wedding because of the restaurant owner’s religious views. Pornography is accepted entertainment. Couples rather live together than get married. Abortion is called a women’s health issue. Any Christian student who dares to stand up for creation will be ridiculed by his or her biology professor. One of these days anyone who attends church and dares proclaim the uniqueness of Jesus will be branded a fanatical extremist at best and a potential terrorist at worst.
How then should we relate to a world that largely opposes Christians and the Christian world view?
Interestingly, this was the state of the first century New Testament world. It was a godless, idolatrous, immoral society. Into this society the gospel came. Men and women believed the gospel and were saved and transformed. They were in turn ridiculed, persecuted, mocked and killed. How were they to live in that world?
Revelation 10 gives them and us the answer. This passage between the 6 and 7th trumpets and tells us what the mission of the church is while we wait for the final judgment of God (the 7th trumpet).
(v8) Then the voice that I had heard from heaven spoke to me again, saying, “Go, take the scroll that is open in the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land.” (v9) So I went to the angel and told him to give me the little scroll. And he said to me, “Take and eat it; it will make your stomach bitter, but in your mouth it will be sweet as honey.” (v10) And I took the little scroll from the hand of the angel and ate it. It was sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it my stomach was made bitter. (Revelation 10:8-10)
The Bible tastes good
The scroll contains the great mystery of the gospel that God has revealed, the awesome purposes of God in the universe to call a people to himself and to judge those who rebel against his rule. John is told to eat the scroll and God’s Word is sweet to John. By implication we can say that God’s revealed Word sweet to Christians, it nourishes the soul, it gives us hope, joy and comfort. Psalm 119:103 says “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” It is delightful to know that our sins are forgiven; that we are adopted as God’s sons and daughters; that God gives us his empowering presence and makes us new.
Is your home a Bible museum?
God’s word is not just to be placed on the shelf or thought about or even admired from a distance, it is to be taken, eaten, inwardly digested and absorbed into your life. The Bible should not be a monument, relic or artefact in your home, but the very food that sustains you.
Cranmer was very wise
One of the prayers in our Prayer Book for Advent (i.e. the run up to Christmas when we remember the coming or adventus of Jesus) goes:
Blessed Lord, you have caused all Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them…that, encouraged and supported by your Holy Word, we may clasp and not let go the joyful hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
Bible hearing and reading
The message of the Bible, the truth of the gospel, the contents of the scroll is nourishing to the Christian and should be inwardly digested – not merely acknowledged or admired. This means that regular bible devotions, Bible studies and the church services are a priority. As usual, some will disagree: They will say that you don’t have to go to church to be a Christian. But I will argue that if you do not submit to God’s word in public, chances are you are not doing it privately either. In fact, one of the great signs and evidences that you are a Christian and filled with the Spirit is that you have a hunger for God’s word.
Bitter as a lemon
However, that sweet word becomes bitter (v10) when we realise that many will oppose us for holding to that word. The same sweet word will bring opposition, ridicule and persecution, especially when you live in a culture that opposes the Christian worldview. The apostle John, as he writes Revelation, has been exiled to a remote island because of his witness to Jesus. This same sweet word is also bitter because it is a message of Judgement for those who reject or ignore Jesus and seek to run their own lives. As we faithfully proclaim that message, as we will see in Revelation 10:11 we are called to do, it will be bitter. It is not pleasant to tell a parent, a friend, a sibling, a colleague that if they reject Jesus, God will reject them.
Eating then speaking
What is John to do with the scroll after eating it? Verse 11 says ‘And I was told, “You must again prophesy about many peoples and nations and languages and kings.”’ He is to be a faithful prophecier or proclaimer of the contents of the scroll. He is not to make up his own message, but proclaim God’s revealed message. This is our task too in a world that opposes the Christian worldview, while we await the final judgement. We are to be faithful proclaimers of the contents of the scroll, the truth of the gospel.
More and more the world is going to hate Christians. We shouldn’t be surprised; the world crucified Jesus after all. How will we respond? Will we seek to leave this “evil” world and hang out only in our holy huddles and Christian circles; will we hate the world and look forward to God’s judgment; or will we, like John the Apostle and Jesus, be faithful in living and proclaiming the gospel to the world while residing in the world ? Eat the scroll. Digest the scroll. Have the scroll penetrate your being. Then speak the scroll.
1. Apartheid was and is totally opposed to the Christian worldview. The Bible teaches that we are all descended from Adam and there is only one race, the human race.