My Dear Shepherds,
I read about an old pastor who, like you, was required to “shelter in,” apart from the flock he loved. But, also like you, he was not alone. “On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit,” he wrote. Certainly not alone!
John was exiled to the small island of Patmos. According to long tradition, he sheltered in a cave high up a steep path looking away across the Aegean Sea toward his home church in Ephesus. The sacred quiet that Lord’s Day was suddenly broken by “a loud voice like a trumpet,” and there behind him stood the Son of Man, Jesus Christ, as even John the beloved disciple had never seen him before.
I, too, am an old pastor now, no longer the shepherd of the flock I served so long, but still a shepherd. Not exiled but sequestered, wondering what will become of God’s people. Over these weeks I’ve watched churches from a safe distance through the flat screen of my monitor, one brother or sister at a time. Then I took up John’s Revelation, gulping it several chapters at a time, reorienting again to the grand plan of God.
First, foremost, there stands Christ Jesus, so bright, so alive that the only words John could find were approximate: “like blazing fire,” “like bronze glowing in a furnace” and “like the sun shining in all its brilliance.” Jesus’ words, “like a sharp, double-edged sword” and thunder like a vast cascade. That is the Christ to whom we pray now. That is the Lord who reigns over the people of God now. That is whom we must hear.
Is all creation groaning? It is. Is a new creation coming? It is. Is the glory of the Lord to be the light within our midst? It is. Is it good that we remind ourselves of this? It is. -Andrew Peterson, “Is He Worthy?”
Then, he who is the First and the Last, the Living One, thrusts and thunders his messages to seven imperfect, ordinary churches; some failing, some frail, some faithful, all under pressures from without and within just like our churches. Each trumpet call is addressed to the angel—or just as accurately, the messenger—of each lampstand congregation.
I’m no angel but I have been a church’s messenger and I often wondered if I was hearing what Jesus was saying to our church. Now this season of the Great Interruption is a good time to step outside to stand by your church’s lampstand and listen. Be quiet. Be humble. Beware of your assumptions. Pray. Fast, perhaps. Listen to “what the Spirit says to the churches,” and to your church.
But now look up! A door opens high above the lampstands, visible only through the lens of Scripture and the Spirit, where the great reality abides, the glory of God and the Lamb. See the scroll unfolding, seal by seal, through the convulsions of creation and cultures under the judgment of God, and on to that day when the kingdom of this world becomes the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, releasing our long pent up hallelujahs. Peer ahead to our wedding feast and homeland, that bright, everlasting city with foundations. We need to see these things now in these disorienting times lest we shepherd our people to dry wells.
Our Lord revealed all this to John and to us for this particular reason: “This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of God’s people” (Rev. 13:10). That is our pastoral goal, especially now. Patient endurance and faithfulness. This pandemic has put us on notice that God’s apocalypse really can come like a thief in the night. Do all you can, through your prayer, preaching, and care, to be sure your flock waits well.
“Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.”
Be ye glad!