The below was impressed upon me during the singing in a church service in Denmark Western Australia, 02.02.2003.
Denmark is visibly one of the most beautiful places in Australia. Situated on a river, it is bordered on one side by a vast ocean inlet whilst the hills which surround it are heavily forested with large native trees. Nearby these hills come down to vast stretches of ocean beach and rolling surf. I believe that the natural scenery of the area typifies a spirit that prevails in wider Australian culture and that God was communicating the following.
“This place is like the Garden of Eden to those who live here, a place of delight, pleasure and a paradise. Such a spirit of pleasure and the thrill of adoration has filled the hearts of the people and prevented them from seeking God. This spirit is also permeating the church.” (Compare God’s warning to Israel recorded in Deuteronomy 8:7-14.)
The song we were singing spoke of the angel who places one foot on the land and one on the sea, a picture of unmistakable relevance to the location of Denmark. The image is drawn from Revelation 10:1 –3: “And I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven, wrapped in a cloud, with a rainbow over his head; his face was like the sun, and his legs like pillars of fire. He held a little scroll open in his hand. Setting his right foot on the sea and his left foot on the land, he gave a great shout, like a lion roaring. And when he shouted the seven thunders sounded.”
This image is intensely symbolic and drawn from throughout scripture. The power of the angel is evident, the cloud speaks of the glory of God (1 Ki 8:10; Acts 1:9), the rainbow reminds us of the flood of Noah (Gen 9:8 –17), the radiant face recalls the glory of the ascended Jesus (Rev 1:16), the legs like pillars of fire repeats the way God guided his people through the wilderness (Ex 13:21- 22), the little scroll recaptures the picture of the Lamb’s sovereignty over history (Rev 5:6 – 7), the setting down of feet over land and sea images universal authority (Pss 8:6;110:1), the lion’s roar is a prophetic utterance (Amos 3:8), the sound of thunder indicates judgement (Ex 9:23; 1 Sam 2:10; Rev 4:5). All of this is relevant to what God is doing today.
The angel goes on to proclaim that without delay “the mystery of God” contained in the scroll will be fulfilled (Rev 10:6-7). This involves “many peoples and nations and languages and kings.” (Rev 10:11). Australia is not excluded from the message of the angel.
God is trying to convey to his people is that mercy always triumphs through judgement. As the word that came to the prophets in the Old Testament (Jer 15:16; Ezek 2:8) and to John (Rev 3:10) was sweet to the taste and bitter to the stomach, so God always delivers his people in the midst of judgement (Deut 32:32; Rev 8:11). This is how he saved the world in the time of Noah, how he acted in the exodus out of Egypt the wandering in the desert and the exile to Babylon. Without a painful purification and a cleansing judgement there can be no advance of the kingdom of God.
Mercy did not triumph in Eden; God’s mercy in Eden was to place Adam and Eve out of the garden of pleasure (Gen 3:22-24). Mercy did not triumph in Eden but in the wilderness of Judea and upon the cross. It is only ever from a place of suffering that the world and the people of God cry “Mercy!” This is alien to the Australian spirit and to the experience of the Australian church. “My people must accept the bitter with the sweet, this they are unwilling to do.”
The beauty of this land – its sun, sea, sky, trees and living things does not speak of death but life, and the goodness of life in this world. Pleasure does not witness to death. “The spirit of triumphant pleasure is cloaking the fear of death that grips people both within and without the church (Heb 2:14-15).” “The spirit of Jesus released on the cross did not triumph over death by avoidance but by confronting its power and pain and breaking it (John 19:30).” This will always be the way of God with his people (2 Cor 1:8-10).
The challenge for the church of Jesus is to move beyond being lovers of pleasure to being lovers of God (2 Tim 3:4). This means being willing to embrace the journey into the wilderness where even the pleasures of God are lost. Jesus did this for us by coming down from heaven and entering our poverty (2 Cor 8:9), by his voluntary deprivation of earthly pleasure in the wilderness (Matt 4:2) and the sacrifice of the joy of his Father on the cross (Mark 15:34).
A challenge lies before the Australian church. We may influence many by elevating a synthesis between the Edenic elements of our culture (gifted as it is by God) and the gospel message, but we will never see a powerful gospel transformation of our nation. Can we, will we, accept the bitter with the sweet?
If we do we will know the power of the mighty angel, the glory of God, the radiance of Jesus, supernatural guidance, the all embracing sovereignty of Christ, prophetic proclamation and all that is signified by John’s angelic vision. The key to all this is to receive the bitter truth with the sweet: mercy comes through judgement.
If we do not accept the bitter with the sweet, we will, as compromising Christians, share in the distress that God is bringing on the world (Rev 2:6, 16, 22 -23; 3:3, 16; 22:18-19). Living as we do in one of the most beautiful, pleasurable and affluent nations in the world, this choice is particularly difficult for Australian believers. However, Jesus is calling for such a choice, such a choice is possible. Let us cry out to God in prayer for enough mercy to follow in the way of the cross into the glory of the resurrection (Phil 3:10).