Yesterday hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Christians celebrated the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Even though the resurrection took place more than 2000 years ago, through song, prayer, Scripture readings, and preaching Christians remembered the first Easter.
Easter Sunday is a day of triumph for the Christian, or at least it should be. In the resurrection the seeming destruction of Christianity’s leader was reversed as God in his great power raised Jesus from the dead. Moreover, just a few weeks after his resurrection Jesus ascended to heaven giving his people hope of one day following him. But, as we witness creation creaking under the weight of sin; as we watch a disease steal life; as we feel the sinful nature and flesh waging war within us; we wonder where is the victory, joy, and triumph of Easter.
The long wait before experiencing victory has been a feature of God’s people throughout redemptive history.
The righteous have often been found awaiting God’s intervention.
Facing exile, 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 revealed to Habakkuk that he was going to refine his people through the activity of the wicked Babylonians (1:5-6). This was a problem for Habakkuk; how could a less righteous people execute God’s punishment on a more righteous, albeit still wicked, people (1:13).
God’s response to Habakkuk’s second question 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, this resolution will not take place immediately — there will be a period of waiting; a long wait for victory delayed. Therefore, Habakkuk confesses, ‘Yet I will quietly wait for the day of trouble to come upon people who invade us’ (3:16).
The Jews had to look on, somewhat helplessly and somewhat to blame, as their nation was divided into two kingdoms, as those kingdoms were invaded, as their respective kings were deposed and finally as many were exiled to foreign nations.
In the book of Haggai the Jews have returned to Jerusalem, and have already started to rebuild the walls and the temple. However, 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. As Haggai makes clear to Zerubbabel, a descendant of King David, this will not be the status quo. 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, God promises a Davidic king will once again reign in Jerusalem.
As Zerubbabel fades from the face of history no king is enthroned in Jerusalem. The people are in for a long wait for victory delayed. But this wait is worth it. In little more than 500 years from Haggai uttering these 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 are still found waiting this side of the Messiah’s arrival. 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). He has this exhortation for them: ‘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 warned by James of a long wait for victory delayed.
The Long Wait
And so we reach the twenty first century, with we who find ourselves on Easter Monday 2020 awaiting the full victory and triumph that Jesus’ resurrection initiated. The message is no different: we as God’s people must continue to wait.
But this waiting is not a sitting back and twiddling our thumbs kind of waiting. It is an active, militant, and tenacious waiting. We must 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 which Jesus’ resurrection promises. We await his return and the realisation of all God’s promises, which are yes and amen in Jesus Christ.
As we witness creation creaking under the weight of sin; as we watch a disease steal life; as we feel the sinful nature and flesh waging war within us; we know that the victory, joy, and triumph of Easter is coming. We must simply remain faithful in the long wait for victory delayed.