This morning, I read Psalm 13 during my devotional time. It is one of those psalms which shows that the psalmists struggled with waiting for the answers of God as much as we do. Just listen to these words:
How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
Look at me and answer, O Lord my God.
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As I was meditating on this psalm, I remembered the chorus from a song: “O Lord, Jesus, how long, how long, ere we shout the glad song, Christ returneth, Hallelujah, Hallelujah! Amen.” Apostle Peter is aware of this long distance between Christ’s promise and His return when he writes, “First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come scoffing and following their evil desires: They will say, where is this coming he promised? Ever since our fathers died everything goes as it has been since the beginning of creation.” (2 Peter 3:3-4)
Jesus started his ministry on earth by proclaiming “Repent, for the kingdom of God is near you.” (Matthew 4:17) The Kingdom of God was the major preaching theme of Jesus up to the time when Pilate asked him if he was indeed a king. Jesus announced the inauguration of that kingdom in Capernaum: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery to the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19) He was working to usher in this new kingdom, but it was not complete during his time on earth. Even Pilate asked him if he is the king of an earthly kingdom. By the time of Acts, the apostles were getting a bit impatient and asked, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom of Israel?” (Acts 1:6) Jesus told them that the exact time of the Kingdom’s restoration is only known by the Father. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
It is a costly decision for anyone to leave the things that are known in order to follow Jesus. Apostle Peter says this: “We have left everything to follow you! I tell you the truth, Jesus replied, no one who has left home or brother or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields-and with them, persecution) and in the age to come, eternal life.” (Mark 10:28-30)
In building the Kingdom of God, families are disrupted because many people within our biological families will turn against Jesus and against His followers. We are promised that a new family is being created—a kingdom family made up of new brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, children, and grandchildren. But we are also told about the reality of persecution. In fact, persecution is part and parcel of the Christian life to such an extent that Paul wrote that all who want to follow Christ will be persecuted.
Jesus told us that we will have troubles and persecution, but he will give us the peace that passes all understanding. Like the Psalmist, we often struggle to understand exactly what it means to live in the Kingdom of the one who was introduced as the King of Peace at His birth. Many argue that peace is an absence of quarrels and wars, but I understand peace as the Old Testament word shalom, which means wholeness. The Psalmist was struggling with the absence of wholeness – God seemed distant (something that the Latins named Deus absconditus or the hidden God), he was struggling with his own thoughts, and it seemed that his enemies were triumphing over him.
“How long, how long O Lord until you return triumphantly?” the church has cried over millennia. This year, the Chinese Communist Party celebrated 100 years. Somebody summarized its history as tyranny, genocide, and progress. The Christian church in China has been crying for Christ’s return for a long time, because very few countries have persecuted Christians as the Chinese communists did during the past 50 years and continue to do to this day. In 1949 when the communists came to power in China there were about half a million communists and the same number of Christians. Today in China there are 90 million card-carrying communists. There are also 90 million Christians in China, in spite of all the persecution unleashed against them.
There are two kingdoms in China – the communist kingdom which does not believe in God and the kingdom of Christians who believe in God and know that they will be persecuted by the communists. Will the Christians be able to act as salt and light to transform this atheistic kingdom into a kingdom that belongs to the Lord Jesus the Christ? Or under renewed persecution, will we hear the refrain again, “How long, how long until Christ shall return to declare the fullness of His Kingdom?”