Prof. em. Forrest Bivens manages Grow in Grace’s mentoring program. In late August he sent a devotion to the mentors; we thought it would be much appreciated by our entire ministerium. Our thanks to Prof. Bivens for allowing us to share this with you!
Probably like you, I am quite weary of what I am seeing and hearing around me on a daily basis. The double whammy of the pandemic of COVID and the epidemic of violence and social unrest permeates too many conversations and newscasts. All churches and schools wrestle with how best to navigate varying legal restrictions in efforts to provide quality worship and education opportunities. It isn’t pretty.
Perhaps it’s because my paternal roots come from Wesleyan Methodist stock. (My great uncles were named after the Wesleys, John Wesley Bivens and Charles Wesley Bivens.) But when I was recently reminded of words penned by Charles Wesley, they meant a lot to me – and might also serve you well during these turbulent times.
Happy, if with my latest breath
I might but gasp his name,
Preach Him to all and cry in death,
Behold, behold the Lamb!
The words are the last stanza of the hymn “Jesus! the name high over all.” When the day came for his final breath, Wesley apparently got his wish. His last words, dictated to his wife were, “Jesus, my only hope thou art, Strength of my failing flesh and heart, O could I catch a smile from thee, And drop into Eternity.” He nicely echoes Asaph’s poetry in Ps. 73.
Do we see how utterly biblical and practical this focus is? The invitation is to keep our primary focus on Jesus rather than on ourselves or our situation. It is expressing what Colossians 3:1-2 recommends. Doing this does not deny, or even minimize, the distress and hardships that prevail around us. It does, however, keep the reality of Jesus and the security of our future the primary focus despite the ugly realities that continue to surround us on earth.
Whenever I read the books of Samuel, I pause and ponder 1 Samuel 7:10 in particular: While Samuel was sacrificing the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to engage Israel in battle. Picture the scene at Mizpah! While so many focused on the approaching enemy forces, Samuel’s attention remained on the covenant Lord. Both were realities. Samuel chose the correct reality as primary. “Behold, behold the Lamb!”
Despite differing reports about the specific time and place when Martin Luther wrote or etched the “Vivit! Vivit!” words, there is ample evidence that he did so, perhaps multiple times. “He lives!” was a reality greater than the equally real Satanic abuse, papal persecution, or bickering among colleagues. The truth that “Christ is alive!” didn’t remove the pressures Luther endured as professor, pastor, or parent. Nor did it eliminate the intense pain brought on by kidney stones. But it kept in heart and mind the higher reality of a salvation won, a heavenly home prepared, and an inheritance imperishable. “Behold, behold the Lamb!”
I’m writing these words a day after more killing mixed with protests, this time in nearby Kenosha, WI. Another city joins the growing list of places whose residents are put in turmoil and whose reputations are put at risk. Newscasts, talk shows, and neighborhood conversations will dwell on it and compete for our attention. Other high-profile media topics such as political conventions and COVID updates may provide some variety but not relief. To repeat: probably like you, I am quite weary of what I am seeing and hearing around me on a daily basis.
Our Savior understood and understands all this. Near the end of his extended conversation with the disciples in the Upper Room, he shared this comfort: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” It is yet another invitation to shift our primary focus from the often-appalling realities that surround us to the always-assuring greater realities that remain intact and await our ascension to glory. John’s most fitting and familiar cry, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” remains fitting after our sins have been removed by the Lamb’s self-sacrifice. The Lamb now seated on his throne is also to keep our attention and is worthy of praise.
You, my brother shepherds who serve our Lord’s flock and reach out to gather more sheep, have the privilege to help others sort priorities. Just as you strive to cope with the bad news bombarding you daily and to redirect your thoughts to the good news of Christ’s victory, so also strive to equip others to do the same. “Behold, behold the Lamb!” is a reminder that is helping me. May it also help you! And if by divine providence the words end up among our last words on earth, well, that will be okay too!