Rescued from Every Evil
Rev. Kurt Lantz St. Thomas, Apostle Seventh Petition
December 21, 2022 Resurrection Lutheran Church St. Catharines, ON
“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). These words to the Apostle Thomas, whose confession “My Lord and My God” (v. 28) we celebrate today, are a blessing upon us who have not seen. We have not seen like St. Thomas saw. We have not seen like St. John saw in the revelation he received to pass on to us. We have not seen like Daniel who was given visions of the future events of salvation. We might feel like we have been left out, set aside, relegated to a lower caste of Christians. And yet, Jesus calls us “Blessed.” “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Daniel was blessed to receive visions in answer to his prayers. And yet those visions declare the blessing of God upon His people who did not receive those visions along with Daniel. It must be a blessing that they did not see all of the things that were coming to create a time of unprecedented distress. God declares them blessed. He describes them with the most beautiful words, those who live through the time of unprecedented distress with faith, whose names are found written in the Book of Life. “They shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and... like the stars forever and ever” (Daniel 12:3).
Despite their not seeing him, Michael the archangel arises to fight for them. Although they do not see the visions, they are delivered from every evil. Even though the words of the scroll were closed up and the scroll itself sealed, they are raised from death and they shine.
Do we live in unprecedented times of distress? That is the way that the COVID-19 pandemic was described to us. I suppose in some way all times are unprecedented. While there have been pandemics throughout history, there was never one in a society that is as globally mobile as ours. They say that from now on, all viral outbreaks will have to be considered pandemic, since such a great percentage of the population travels far and wide.
In some way every distress that comes upon you in life is unprecedented. You haven’t gone through anything exactly like it before. Perhaps you have experienced an illness before, but nothing like this. Or perhaps you have experienced grief before, but not like this. Perhaps we have seen natural disasters or war or criminal violence, or civil unrest before, but nothing like what is coming next.
Even though you didn’t see it coming, Jesus says, “Blessed are you.” Blessed are you who have believed His warnings and His promises. Blessed are you who have believed who the Son of Man is, that He was crucified and risen from the dead for your sins, that He is coming to “rescue us from every evil of body and soul, possessions and reputation, and finally when our last hour comes, will graciously take us from this valley of sorrow to Himself in heaven” (Small Catechism. 7th Petition).
What will be the latter part of these things? What is going to happen in the unprecedented times ahead? It is all closed up and sealed. Yet “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” They will be purified in the blood of Jesus, cleansing them from all sin and every unrighteousness. They will be made white and refined to be purely holy before God forever. “Blessed is he who waits and arrives at the 1,335 days” (Daniel 12:12), the Last Day, when the Lord returns in a cloud with power and great glory to put an end to every evil and to gather His people throughout the whole world to share His glory with them, when Daniel and all the faithful after resting in their graves will stand again in their allotted place before the Lord.
John heard Jesus promise to Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” John was there in the room with the other apostles. Later, John alone saw Jesus again and heard Him give another blessing, one of many in the revelation he received: “Behold, I am coming soon. Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book” (Revelation 20:7).
John was the keeper of the words in the sense that he was the one responsible to write the book and to transmit it to the Church. But all of those throughout the history of the Christian Church are blessed as they receive the words of the prophecy given to John and keep them in faith. “Blessed are those who have not seen” the revelation given to John “and yet believe”, keeping the words of the revelation in their hearts.
At the beginning of the revelation there was weeping in heaven because no one was found who could unseal the scroll and reveal the great prophecies and promises, the things that Daniel was told to seal up long ago. But then a great hymn of praise broke out in heaven as John saw the Lamb who had been slain and was standing again, who alone was worthy to open the scroll and reveal its contents (Revelation 5:1-10). Jesus had died, risen from the dead, and ascended to heaven where He now is opening that scroll, breaking its seals, and not only revealing the contents, but enacting them in His own gracious reign and rule.
As the seven seals are broken the unprecedented times come to pass and what is revealed is not only the distresses that we face as the time, times, and half a time come to pass, but also the gracious and merciful deliverance that God has promised in the books of His holy prophets and apostles. Unlike Daniel, John was told not to seal the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near (Revelation 22:10). It is time for those things revealed to the prophets of old to come to pass in the reign of the eternal Son of Man.
So what does the opened book tell us to do now in these unprecedented times? What are we to prepare ourselves to do in the times that are coming upon the world? What extraordinary steps are we to take? Strangely, we are not to do much at all. It is the resurrected Lamb who is active in opening the book and its seals. It is not up to us to save the world. It sounds to us that John might have got the ending wrong, when we read, “Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy” (22:11). But this is essentially the same thing that Daniel was told at the end of his visions. Let God do the saving. Let Michael do the fighting. Hold to what is written in the book. Believe, even though you haven’t seen.
Let “the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy.” Be the saints whom God has blessed you to be. Live in the forgiveness and salvation that He has secured for you. Rest in the promises that He has made and declared to you. Those promises will direct your faith into holy and righteous actions of worship to the true God and of love to your neighbours.
Jesus tells us that He will be the prime actor. Everything is in His hands. “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing My recompense with Me, to repay everyone for what he has done” (v. 12). Leave it to Him. He says: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End” (v. 13). That doesn’t leave much room for you to concern yourself with setting the world right.
And so the blessing can be restated as John heard and saw Jesus declare at the fading of that glorious revelation. “Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates” (v. 14). You see, it will be just like Daniel was told: “They shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and... like the stars forever and ever.” That is you, graciously taken from this valley of sorrow to your Father in heaven.
For Jesus’ coming to bestow these blessings is the very answer to your prayer, “Deliver us from evil.” In contrast to you shining like the stars forever and ever, those who have thrown you into the mud and keep trampling you under their feet will be taken out of the picture. They cannot be allowed to harass and hurt you any longer. “Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood” (v. 15). You will be delivered from all evil of body and soul, possessions and reputation.
So, when we pray “Deliver us from evil” we are praying for the Lord Jesus to come. We are praying for the Dayspring from on high, the splendor of light everlasting to come and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death so that we too shine like the stars of heaven.
“The Spirit and the Church cry out, ‘Come, Lord Jesus.’ All those who await His appearance pray, ‘Come, Lord Jesus.’ The whole creation pleads, ‘Come, Lord Jesus’” (Evening Prayer, opening sentences for Advent; Revelation 22:17, 20). He hears the prayers of those who have not seen and yet have believed, and He answers “’Surely I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (v. 20).
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.