Studies in Reversal

This is a companion article to “A Game Plan for Slumped Shouldered Christians,” which can be found by clicking here

God is up to something. The tumult of the present moment is setting up for a great reversal, which just happens to be God’s specialty. When God grows his Kingdom, things aren’t always what they seem. God can reverse trends. This is how God often works. The dead carpenter from Nazareth was dead. Then he wasn’t. It’s a pattern for the church. Consider two other biblical examples of reversal.

First, the town of Bethlehem

The first biblical reference to Bethlehem is Genesis 35:19-21 in association with the death of Rachel, who died in childbirth (Gen. 35:16f) and was buried in Bethlehem (Gen. 48:7). The next time Bethlehem appears is a macabre story in Judges 19 about a “certain Levite” who “took to himself a concubine from Bethlehem” (Judges 19:1). As they are traveling, the concubine is raped and murdered (Judges 19:16-26). The Levite responds by dividing her “limb by limb, into twelve pieces, and sent her throughout all the territory of Israel” (Judges 19:29). Bethlehem is also the place of famine resulting in a tragic death for refugees in the book of Ruth (Ruth 1:1-5). Needless to say, Bethlehem is not the site of fond memories for Israel.

But the God of reversals inspires the prophet, Micah, to write these words, “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has given birth; then the rest of his brothers shall return to the people of Israel.And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth.And he shall be their peace” (Micah 5:2-5). God’s plan meant reversing the reputation of Bethlehem from the least of Israel’s cities to the birthplace of the Messiah.

At the time of Jesus’ birth, Bethlehem was notorious. It was associated with tragedy and wickedness. Now, because of the birth of Christ, we associate it with Christmas trees, gifts, and “good news of great joy which will be for all the people” (Luke 2:10).[1]

Second, the church

The two witnesses—also known as the two lampstands and the two olive trees (Rev. 11:4)—appear to be defeated by the beast that rises from the bottomless pit (Rev. 11:7). But when all seems lost, they come back to life. What was the cause? “A breath of life from God entered them, and they stood up on their feet, and great fear fell on those who saw them” (Rev. 11:11).

Revelation 11 teaches us that we shouldn’t be surprised when the church encounters hostility. More importantly, we learn the church shouldn’t give up when it seems like the beast has won. God still has a plan for victory. If the church looks like a corpse, it will soon stir. What will be the cause? The breath of life from God will bring the witnesses to their feet.

The hour of opportunity is before us, not behind us. God is up to something during these bizarre times. Don’t misunderstand. The foolishness of the wicked won’t disappear overnight. There is a great deal of credulity in the world. Absurd deceptions (e.g., a man can birth a baby) have a history of persisting longer than plain reason merits. But it’s not going to disappear while the church carries on in a state of doom and gloom. Faith in the promises of God is our part to play. Then God will play his part in fulfilling those promises. Mark’s Gospel establishes this pattern. Those who have faith are healed. We see this pattern in the life of the bleeding woman (Mark 5:34), Jairus (Mark 5:36), the Syrophoenician woman (Mark 7:24-30), and the sick boy’s father (Mark 9:14-29). In Nazareth the locals reject Jesus and he could do no mighty work there (Mark 6:1-6). It’s not that Jesus’ power is limited by a lack of faith. It’s that Jesus will not force his miracles on a hostile, skeptical audience. God chooses to give grace in response to faith (Rom. 4:16).

During World War II, after the massive German counter-offensive known as the Battle of the Bulge, the Allied forces were on the run. Eisenhower met with the brass in a cold, damp room. Stephen Ambrose picks up the story, “Eisenhower’s lieutenants entered the room glum, depressed, embarrassed, as they should have been, given the magnitude of the intelligence failure and the faulty dispositions of their troops … They kept their faces bent over their coffee cups. Eisenhower walked in, looked disapprovingly at the downcast generals, and boldly declared, ‘The present situation is to be regarded as one of opportunity for us and not of disaster. There will be only cheerful faces at this conference table.”[2]

This is exactly how Christians should view the present situation. It looks like the enemy has punched a hole in our defenses. Evil is everywhere. Wickedness laughs. There have been major intelligence failures among the evangelical thought leaders. But according to the history of how God operates, we should see this as an opportunity. We can’t keep our faces bent over our coffee in glum despair. We can go to the prayer meeting with cheerful faces. We can go to the cultural apologetics group (talk to the elders or Bijan for more details) with optimism in our voices. We can go to Sunday worship with loud singing. Why? Because the God who makes all things new is also the God who wins in the end.

There is a pit reserved for Satan and his minions. And there is a throne upon which Christ is seated. God is up to something. He has a plan that’s better than your imagined plan. And he has a victory that’s bigger than your imagined victory. So, what is God up to? He is growing his Kingdom. It started as a mustard seed. Now it’s something bigger. And when God is finished, “the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” (Is. 11:9).

[1] Jerry Bowyer, The Maker Versus the Takers: What Jesus Really Said about Social Justice and Economics (New York: Fidelis, 2020), 23ff.

[2] Stephen Ambrose, Citizen Soldiers (New York; Touchstone, 1997), 207f.

Jason Cherry is an elder at Trinity Reformed Church in Huntsville, Alabama, as well as a teacher and lecturer of literature, American history, and economics at Providence Classical School in Huntsville. He graduated from Reformed Theological Seminary with an MA in Religion and is the author of the book The Culture of Conversionism and the History of the Altar Call, now available on Amazon.