What person in history accomplished the greatest victories in this world? If you were asked that question, who would make your list? You might include men like Julius Caesar, Hannibal, Napoleon, Alexander the Great, Washington, Churchill, and so on. It is fascinating to observe people who excel at what they do, and thereby have made an indelible mark in this world. A crucial part of becoming good at something is to observe and learn from those who have excelled in a particular field.
If a person desires to excel as a successful military leader, the name ‘Jesus’ would likely not make his list of examples to study and follow. Yet, when Jesus came into this world, He accomplished the greatest victory that has ever been accomplished in this world. He fought the greatest battle, and he defeated the greatest foe. He made an open show of principalities and powers, and changed the course of history forever. The victory he won carries on, and will carry on forever. The prophets made clear that this One was coming— One who would be greater than any Napoleon, Alexander, Pharaoh, or Caesar who ever lived— and “when the fullness of the time had come,” He appeared.
But it sure didn’t look like it.
For those observing the events of His coming, it sure didn’t look the way they perceived that God’s Word, through His prophets, had told them it would look. When Jesus came, it did not appear to be that at all. What did it actually look like to those who were observing? How might it have appeared to those who did not have the eyes to see or the ears to hear, and even to those who were trying to see, but thought they had “all of the dots connected”?
I think it would have looked like a man had appeared on the scene who had been born out of wedlock to a very poor family, and who was saying that he was the son of the Father come down from heaven. What the people who were acquainted with him actually said was, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How is it then that he saith, I came down from heaven?” (John 6:42) It sure didn’t look like He had come down out of heaven and was the One for whom they had all been waiting. Even with the miracles he was doing, for most of the on-lookers, it just wasn’t enough. They were confused at best. This was simply not at all what they had been taught, nor the way it was supposed to be. “But we know where this man comes from, and when the Christ appears, no one will know where he comes from,” they said. (John 7:27) Where did they get that idea? These kinds of Jewish ideologies had been passed down through the generations, and they had their reasons for believing it was based on biblical prophecy.
In the eyes of those dedicated (and not so dedicated), knowledgeable, religious leaders of the day, it looked like a man who was rebelling against the very laws of God, and yet claiming he had come to fulfill the law of God. Because of the miracles which could not be denied, some of the worst of them even began saying, “He has an unclean spirit” and that by the spirit of the devil himself he was doing these things. And even those who really were trying to be true to God’s laws were having quite a hard time with this, such as a certain Saul of Tarsus a little later on. This most definitely didn’t look or sound right to them. Not at all.
It looked to his own family and relatives as if He had gone completely bats. At one point, his friends, his siblings, and likely his own mother Mary, came to find him and bring him home, thinking he had lost his mind. “And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, ‘He is out of his mind.’” (Mark 3:21) I’m sure there was also no small concern about the political and religious strife he was stirring up. Things were not looking good for the older brother.
What it probably looked like was a young man from Nazareth, carpenter-turned-teacher, who had now gathered 12 other men around him, and took them wandering about the countryside with him for three years. Yes, there was talk that he was doing some pretty amazing things, and some were saying he had to be the One Who was prophesied to come, but… this was certainly not what it was supposed to look like.
And in the (perceived) end, it looked like a poor 33-year-old man from Nazareth, who had grown up a carpenter, was hanging on a wooden Roman cross for making claims that infuriated a lot of people. And then he was buried in a borrowed tomb.
Of course, for those who have eyes to see, we know this wasn’t the end at all. In actuality, the greatest victory in the history of the world had just taken place on that Passover weekend, and things were just getting started with a King like no other. This is very easy and quite obvious for us to say now, after the fact, and after a couple thousand years of church history to help us out with our viewpoints. But the main point is this— what it looked like at the time was not actually what was at all. And even for those who did see and did believe, on the Friday before his resurrection, it looked like the greatest tragedy in the world was taking place on that cross of torture. And yet, unbeknownst to all who were looking on, God was defeating His foes.
As we look back on these things, we see that this appears to be a fingerprint of God. He is always shocking us. He is certainly the Master Storyteller! So often what seems so clear and decidedly obvious turns out to be completely different than we thought it would. How many times has God risen up and brought great victory when things looked to be at their worst? And how often, when things appeared to be all peace and safety, did God enter in and bring judgment? God’s Word is given to people, people end up thinking they have it figured out, God fulfills His Word just as He promises, but it happens in a way nobody expects. In the end, His Word is true, and God’s people stand in awe over Him and His righteous ways. More than anything, He gets the glory for it all.
That is all fine for people in the past, like all those Bible characters we learned about in Sunday school. They often seemed kind of oblivious to God’s plan and they are Bible story characters after all. But it surely couldn’t be this way in our day! Could it? It is very important that we awake to the understanding that all of us humans have the same tendencies, whether we lived two thousand years ago, or here in this presently strange looking 2020. It’s easy for us to think things are “just so obvious.” And even to get righteously indignant at times against others who may have a different perception. Remember, those folks in Jesus’ day were pretty convinced too. And they had a whole bunch of “experts” to assure them they had it right. But as we can see, they were very wrong.
This doesn’t mean it is wrong for us to have an opinion on what we believe God is up to. But what if it all doesn’t shake out the way we expected? What if a lot of the experts turn out to be wrong? What if things turn out to not look at all like what we thought they were suppose to look? When would the time come for us to change our opinion? We should be careful proclaiming from the mountaintops exactly what God is planning to do and how it will all be done. We should believe the Word of God with all of our heart. Then, in humility, we should learn the lesson that with an infinite and sovereign God, often things are not as they seem to finite and subordinate man. And so very often in the past, just when things seemed the worst, and evil appeared to be sure to win in the world, God was actually conquering His enemies. He is an absolutely awe-inspiring God.
The signs of the times may be exactly what we perceive them to be. Then again, they may not. Wisdom would likely keep us from looking to the news for our daily signs of God’s prophetic timetable. That method could likely lead us to wrong conclusions, and might even keep us from doing all that God has for us to do in this present world, for today, and tomorrow, and the years to come.
So let us bow on our knees and cry out with the apostle,
“O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? Or who hath been his counsellor?… For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.”— Romans 11:33-36
Let’s reach this world for the kingdom of Christ, ready to do the will of God, both for today, and for the future. No matter how things might presently be looking.