“…And behold, a throne was standing in heaven, and One sitting on the throne.”
“Why are You silent?”
Pastor Richard Wurmbrand asked God this question in the midst of his sermon. But this was not the typical new year’s sermon. The message was delivered at some point during his 14 years in solitary confinement. If you’ve seen the movie about his life called, “Tortured for Christ,” you know that he had been imprisoned under the tyranny of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu in the 1950’s and 60’s for teaching and preaching the Word of God.
You read that right: a sermon preached in solitary confinement. Wurmbrand explained in a book he wrote later called, Alone With God:
“During my years of solitary confinement I composed 350 sermons. I created them in my mind, because I could not write them down. I delivered them every night to an unseen audience. I also committed them to memory by using the simple mnemonic device of summarizing them in short rhymes, which I repeated again and again. When I was released from prison I did not sleep until I had committed all of them to paper. I managed to do so for 348 out of the 350.” (Prologue, p.7)
One of those sermons caught my attention as I read Alone With God. It was entitled simply, “New Year.” As you read a portion of that sermon, try to put yourself in his shoes for a minute or so. Put yourself in that dark cell. Alone. Not knowing when the solitary confinement might end. Not knowing when your torturers might return. Read Wurmbrand’s words with shoes removed. To enter that cell and listen in on a conversation between a tortured brother and the Sovereign Lord is to step onto holy ground:
“HAPPY NEW YEAR, MY BELOVED FRIENDS. Outside, the wardens interrupt the silence. They wish one another a happy new year. It is midnight. The year 1948 has passed. I cannot congratulate Jesus. It has been 1915 years since He was crucified. The 1916th nail will now be driven into His cross. I know that every doubt of mine causes Him more pain, as if a new dart were piercing His heart… There was a time when Jesus ‘had no fault, or I no fault could spy, when He was all beauty or all blindness I.’ But now, since I have nothing left in this whole world but my wit to live by, it has begun to value itself very highly. All else seems of little importance. My wit has questions to ask and I cannot stop it.
“I realize now that the New Testament had never satisfied me really, because I found the miracles recounted there much too small for the Son of God. Three people were resurrected, but millions of corpses remained dead. Only three families had the comfort of seeing their beloved ones restored to life. Many widows whose only sons died remained without consolation. Jesus stilled a storm, but on so small a lake as Galilee. Tempests on the ocean sank countless ships, and men drowned. He did not help them. On one occasion 4,000 and on another 5,000 (plus women and children) had a good dinner through miracles performed by Him. What about the next day when they were hungry again? And what about the millions who have starved throughout the ensuing centuries? He sent an angel to free Peter from prison. The incident stands alone. James was beheaded, and since then thousands have been martyred.
“Why? How can the world go on? It is New Year’s Eve … I don’t understand You. Don’t You have power enough? Don’t You have the will to wipe away all tears? …If I were in the pulpit today dressed in a beautiful cassock, I would speak about the one great miracle, that a lonely Galilean who hung upon a horrible cross became the subject of thousands of confident songs, that the painful execution of a Man deemed a criminal proved to be the means of salvation for the whole world. But inwardly I would be dissatisfied. What you have done is beautiful, but too little for an almighty God who could make the whole drama cease at once. Why are You silent?” (pgs.84-87)
We can relate — on some level — to Pastor Wurmbrand’s questions. We have questions of our own: Why did God allow 245 million believers (according to Open Doors International) to experience high levels of persecution last year? Why does He allow persecution to grow? Five years ago, only one country — North Korea — was on the “extreme level” list produced by Open Doors. Today, there are 11! Why did God allow 4,136 Christians worldwide to be killed/martyred for following Jesus last year?
Maybe — as you embark on a new year — those things are too distant. Your problems, your suffering, the struggles you face are causing you to ask, “Are you listening, God? Are you there? Why are You silent?”
No doubt, good Christians throughout every century have had the same questions. First-century Christians and churches were threatened by the same species of persecution as that which Pastor Wurmbrand faced some 1900 years later.
But make no mistake: God was not silent.
Jesus dictated letters to the Apostle John — not with promises of immediate health and wealth or deliverance from all trials and suffering and evil. No, Jesus instead challenged those second-generation believers to be “Nikaos” (“him who overcomes”; Rev 2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12, 21; 21:7). How? What could possibly give persecuted, suffering and terrified believers the strength to overcome such horrible threats?
God’s answer came in a vision given to John more than 60 years after Christ died, rose and ascended. John was shown something that was intended to give strength to all who live with questions. He was shown something that should help all believers keep the suffering and struggles of this life in perspective. John saw the unseen reality of God seated on His throne.
“After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven, and the first voice which I had heard, like the sound of a trumpet speaking with me, said, ‘Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after these things.’ Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne was standing in heaven, and One sitting on the throne.” (Revelation 4:1-2, NASB95)
Of course, the “One sitting on the throne” is God Almighty. And even though Revelation 4-5 will mostly take place in the future, this part of John’s vision describes the present reality as well. John was given the privilege of seeing the future when the “Lamb” of God will take the scroll, break open its seals, and begin the end of evil’s tyranny. That moment will be the beginning of the judgments of God (see Revelation 6-19) leading to the return of Christ — the King of kings and Lord of lords (Ch.19) — the millennial reign of Christ (Ch.20), and “a new heaven and a new earth” (Chs.21-22).
But don’t skip ahead too quickly.
Stop for a moment and take it in — read Revelation 4 as an act of worship! Don’t miss the significance of the imprisoned apostle being shown God on His throne. Don’t forget those for whom this vision was being recorded. And then, join with the “four living creatures” as they “do not cease to say”:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come.” (Revelation 4:8, NASB95)
Fall down on your knees with the “twenty-four elders” who “will (future tense, but we can do it now too) worship Him who lives forever and ever, and will cast their crowns before the throne, saying
‘Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.’” (Revelation 4:10–11, NASB95)
Why worship? Why fall down? Why cast our crowns at His feet? Why should we seek to be overcomers? Because God is on His throne! That is reality! It is the ultimate reality! It is the unseen reality! God is presently seated on His throne! God will forever rule and reign in majesty and splendor! No matter what nonsense is happening in the world, no matter how out-of-control it may seem, God is on His throne!
Revelation 5-22 tells us God will — in His perfect timing — bring an end to the trouble, suffering and evil of this world. He is not neutral between good and evil. He is not disinterested in our struggles. He has a plan to wipe away every tear. But, Revelation 4 reminds us — those who are currently incapable of seeing the invisible reality in the heavenly places — of the constant invitation of the Bible: Trust the Sovereign God!
Pastor Wurmbrand’s “New Year” sermon did not end with the question, “Why are You silent?” He concluded with these words:
“Probably I am too small — not Your miracles. I am a disciple of Yours… How could an architect explain his designs to a disciple? Only a master builder could understand him. I suppose that all the beautiful things I crave exist, but I cannot see them yet. We must also reject the mistaken notion that a whole can be perfect only if each of its parts is perfect. Iago is vicious, an intrigue-maker and a liar, but he is a necessary part in a perfect work of art, Othello. For my part, I am in a small cell. We are all confined to too small a world. Imperfections seen by me can be a useful part of a perfect reality. Thank You for one more year. I will try to use it well for growth. Perhaps I will question You less next New Year’s Eve.” (Alone With God, p.87)
These thoughts of John’s vision and Pastor Wurmbrand’s sermon are offered especially for the alumni, faculty, staff and students of Calvary who may share Pastor Wurmbrand’s dissatisfaction at the turn of a new year; who perhaps desire to cry out to God, “I don’t understand You!”
Whatever questions you carry over from 2019, whatever the 20’s bring, whatever frustration you feel, whatever struggles you face, whatever suffering you must endure, let us thank Him for another year. Let us seek to use it for growth. And, let us seek to be true “Nikaos” by keeping our focus on the “One sitting on the throne.”
Shaun LePage is Chair of the Ministry Studies Department, Instructor of Ministry Studies, and Associate Vice President of Marketing and Communications at Calvary University.