By Elijah Lovejoy
A friend recently observed that her elderly mother was very scared: “My mom sits inside all day watching the news and is afraid to go outside. She thinks something bad will happen to her.”
Most of us have experienced situations where all hell has broken loose. It could be a family dispute, a natural disaster, a catastrophic accident, an intense firefight or a general sense that our life foundations are falling apart. We know what all hell breaking loose feels like. Often, though, we give hell too much credit. We glorify the work of the devil instead of the work of God. But, after all, who’s more powerful?
I'm going to invent a new phrase: “All heaven broke loose.” In the ministry of Jesus, this is literally what happened. From the beginning of his ministry, Jesus “opened up a can of whoop ass” on hell. Listen to a very partial list of Jesus’ activities: 1) Jesus’ first action after baptism was a 40-day battle of champions with the devil. He came away hungry and weak but, most importantly, sinless – the only human in history to go face-to-face with the devil and win. Just like David and Goliath, Jesus is our champion who came to represent us in battle. His victory benefits not just himself, but all who come to him in repentance, faith and baptism. 2) Jesus’ first miracle in Mark and Luke is to cast out a demon from a possessed man. When the demons speak, they often ask Jesus if it’s time for them to be destroyed and tormented. 3) Jesus healed diseases, raised the dead, calmed storms and generally reversed chaos and death wherever he went. 4) Jesus’ closest follower, John the disciple, puts it plainly: “The Son of God came to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8).
If Jesus has accomplished such an amazing once-in-the-universe victory (we haven’t even talked about his victory over sin and death on the cross and through resurrection), why are we so familiar with the concept of hell breaking loose and so unfamiliar with heaven breaking loose? Two reasons:
First, battles have to be won and the fruits of that victory have to be applied. Many soldiers who fought in the first battle for Mosul, Iraq, during Operation Enduring Freedom were disheartened to see terrorist retake the city in June 2014. An initial victory was won but the fruits of that victory were not applied and protected the way they needed to be. Similarly, Jesus can win an amazing victory on our behalf. The fruits of that victory can be sitting on the vine ripe for the taking but we can fail to receive, protect and apply the fruits of Jesus’ victory. Whether through laziness, busyness, pride or shame, we can let the fruit of Jesus’ victory rot on the vine before us, as if the victory never happened. Applying Jesus’ victory takes ongoing vigilance and hard work but if we have eyes to see and a heart to understand what is required, all heaven will continue breaking loose.
Second, the Christian life is a journey out of slavery, death and exile back into freedom, life and fellowship in the presence of God. Matthew, Mark and Luke all describe the introduction of Jesus’ ministry by John the Baptist the same way. Isaiah 40:3: “A voice cries: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.’” The context of Isaiah 40 is warfare, Jerusalem’s destruction for the sin of her kings and God’s judgment on His people through exile into Babylonian slavery.
Without exception the Babylonian exile was the biggest catastrophe of Israel’s long history. In exile Israel lost God’s temple, God’s promised throne of David, “the city of God” (Jerusalem) and the very land God had promised to Abraham. But Isaiah held out hope. One day God would return. He would forgive His people’s sins that sent them into exile. A highway would be prepared. Nothing would stop His purposes. He would rescue His people from slavery in exile and return them to His presence and care.
All this happened in the ministry of John the Baptist and Jesus. John the Baptist prepared a highway for Jesus. He proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. He called Israel to prepare for someone much greater, whose shoes John was unworthy to touch. Just as we can say one line from a movie (“Luke, I am your father...”) and evoke a whole familiar world of meaning, John the Baptist, by quoting Isaiah 40:3, does the same. Jesus came to deliver us from exile, not only in Babylon or Rome, but also our exile into sin and physical death away from the presence of God.
Deliverance from exile isn’t the end of the story. Israel didn’t think she had arrived in the promised land after she crossed the sea out of slavery in Egypt and neither should we. We need to learn new ways of living as a free person in Christ, to follow and listen to God’s voice on a long journey into the new land of Christ, to sustain ourselves with “spiritual food and spiritual drink” (1 Corinthians 10:3-4) along the journey, and to live in unity, holiness and love with our new spiritual family (the body of Christ – the church) whom God has made our fellow-travelers through a common baptism into Christ. This new year, quit getting whooped by the devil. Don’t let Jesus’ victory go to waste and don’t think you’ve arrived just because you’re baptized. In Jesus, all heaven has broken loose. Now learn how to fight and apply the fruit of Jesus’ victory.
Elijah Lovejoy is the pastor of Resurrection Church in Hope Mills