I recently ordered a copy of Nicaea and its Legacy, by Lewis Ayres, as a bit of a Christmas present for myself during the recent Advent season. Having been exercised by all things Trinitarian since the summer’s public, but rather niche, subordination debate, I was assured by reviewers and experts alike that this book was sure to scratch my growing itch to understand the third and fourth century Nicene controversy better. While I would certainly love to discuss, over the next (hopefully under-eighteen hundred) words, the complexities of Pro-Nicene theology, what is more pertinent to my present task (and much more within my ken) is rather the shipping method of this order. It, unfortunately, was not an Amazon Prime order. In other words, who knows when this book would actually arrive!
I received a shipping confirmation within only hours; yes, exciting, off to a good start. The range for expected delivery was something like three to twenty one days, so naturally, it being a Saturday, I expected it by Wednesday. Well, no book come Wednesday. I rapidly became agitated checking my account over and over, looking for shipping updates, to no avail—I mean, come on, at least throw a guy a tracking number! Of course I emailed the seller asking for delivery information, but only to receive a worthless cookie cutter email in return. Eventually I did find that it was at a mail distribution center, but it seemed to be sitting there for days as I meticulously kept tabs. How could they allow this gem to just languish in a pile in some warehouse in Maryland? This near obsessive behavior of mine went on for days (just ask my wife!), but I will kindly spare you the rest of the details of this harrowing first world drama. There is, Lord willing, a point to it.
This little (somewhat) embarrassing story, coupled as it was with the Advent season, got me thinking and reminded me of a question I had pondered many years ago: when Christ came to His own, what caused the majority of His own to reject Him while others received Him gladly and with joy? What was it that differentiated a Mary, an Elizabeth, a Simeon, or an Anna from the masses that would in thirty plus years cry, “crucify him, crucify him!”? They were all children of Abraham, all had the same Law, read the same prophets, and even believed that a Messiah would indeed come. What differentiated the saints from the serpents at His arrival? Luke, I believe, gives us the answer in his Gospel account. When the Christ child, but eight days old, was brought to the Temple for circumcision, we are presented with two saints, each receiving Him joyfully as the expected Messiah. First Simeon:
And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon, and this man was just and devout, waiting for the Consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. (Luke 2:25-26)
We read again of Anna in the same chapter,
Now there was one, Anna, a prophetess, […]who did not depart from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. And coming in that instant she gave thanks to the Lord, and spoke of Him to all those who were waiting for redemption in Jerusalem. (Luke 2:36-38)
Christ’s true saints were waiting for Him.
This should have come as no surprise to me as it is the constant description of the saints throughout the entire Old Testament. Jacob, while blessing his sons, prophesying of the coming Messiah and the bloody history that would precede, cried out, “I have waited for your salvation, O Lord!” (Gen. 49:18). And how often do we read the saints instructed in the Psalms to “wait for the Lord” and the righteous described as those who “wait upon the Lord”? Even the prophets made clear to whom Messiah’s redemption would come in the last days:
And it will be said in that day:
“Behold, this is our God;
We have waited for Him, and He will save us.
This is the Lord;
We have waited for Him;
We will be glad and rejoice in His salvation.” (Isa. 25:9)
The Lord is good to those who wait for Him (Lam. 3:25), He acts for those who wait for Him (Isa. 64:4), and they who wait for Him will not be ashamed (Isa. 49:23).
We can even, with ample warrant, go one step further: waiting was an integral part of faith itself.
We read in Habakkuk 2:4, “the just shall live by his faith”. As we know, this passage is used multiple times in the New Testament as a proof text demonstrating that justification had always been by faith and never by works, even in the Old Covenant; the Apostles were shown thereby to be no innovators. But what was the Old Testament context of this declaration of the Lord? The prophet Habakkuk was, in chapter 1, bemoaning the wickedness that was rampant in Israel and frustrated that God was allowing it to continue. God tells Habakkuk that He will indeed deal with the sin of Israel by bringing judgement upon them, by a foreign and violent nation. Habakkuk was quite flabbergasted at this notion, viz., that a people even more wicked than Israel would be the means of judging Israel!
After completing his complaint, he determines to go up to his watchpost and wait for the answer and “correction” of the Lord. This then is what we read next:
Then the Lord answered me and said:
“Write the vision
And make it plain on tablets,
That he may run who reads it.
For the vision is yet for an appointed time;
But at the end it will speak, and it will not lie.
Though it tarries, wait for it;
Because it will surely come,
It will not tarry.
“Behold the proud,
His soul is not upright in him;
But the just shall live by his faith. (Hab. 2:2-4)
Clearly the contrast here is between those who would patiently wait for the salvation of the Lord (the just) and those who trust in themselves and lean on their own understanding (the proud). The just live by their faith as they wait upon the Lord’s gracious and sovereign intervention; the wicked see all through worldly eyes and worldly measures of success and power (see 2:6-17). Even the prophet’s own complaint was born of worldly understanding; his correction was to live by faith, waiting for the redemption of the Lord despite what he saw with his eyes (see 3:17-18).
When Christ came unto His own, His own did not receive Him because they were on the wrong side of this contrast. They were not waiting for their Messiah. They had chosen to rely upon the types and shadows that were intended to point them to the Messiah, to cause them to long for and daily await His coming. They had put their confidence in the Law rather than wailing under its discomfort when not coupled with its end, the coming Righteous One. When Christ came, they were already satisfied with their worldly arrangements. But His saints were waiting for Him and they received His redemption.
So, what of us New Covenant members? Does faith mean something different to us, living as we are after the advent of our Messiah? By no means. The saints are indeed the waiters, past, present, and future, until the great and final appearing of our Lord, the resurrection of our bodies, and the revelation of the New Heaven and Earth. We see throughout the New Testament the exact same description of the saints as we do in the Old. Paul addresses the believing Corinthians as those “eagerly waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 1:7) and the Philippians as those whose “citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior” (Phil. 3:20). To the Romans he writes,
We[…] who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body. For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance. (Romans 8:22-25)
Many passages can be mustered to demonstrate this truth; the saints are the waiters.
In fact, our situation is no different than those at His first coming, for Christ is returning to redeem only those who are waiting for Him! We read in the letter to the Hebrews,
Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation. (Heb. 9:28)
To those who eagerly wait for Him! Christ Himself warns of the same many times in words and parables throughout the Gospels. We read, for example, in Luke chapter 12:
Let your waist be girded and your lamps burning; and you yourselves be like men who wait for their master, when he will return from the wedding, that when he comes and knocks they may open to him immediately. Blessed are those servants whom the master, when he comes, will find watching. Assuredly, I say to you that he will gird himself and have them sit down to eat, and will come and serve them. (Lk. 12:35-37)
So, the question I ask myself after these ruminations, and you are welcome to join in the asking, is: am I waiting for the coming of the Lord? Not, do I believe that He will come nor do I expect that He will come, but am I eagerly waiting for Him? Am I “looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God” (2 Pet. 3:12)? This distinguishes the saints from the serpents, as it always has. To put a finer point on it, when I read the closing sentences of the Canon of Scripture, “Surely I am coming quickly”, does my heart flutter with anticipation, hope, and expectation, causing my satisfaction in these meager beginnings of my union and communion with the gracious and perfect Lord of Glory to vanish like a mist? Do I find complacency in knowing only in part, participating in the means of grace, a member of the Visible Church, without its glorious end, the presence of the Lord Himself?
Do I fear the coming of the Lord? Then I must look to the love of God which casts out all fear as demonstrated in the His self-sacrificing atonement on behalf of the undeserved such as myself. Am I apathetic about the coming of our Lord? Then I must contemplate the riches of His eternal presence, absent all sin, enjoying Him forever in His New Heaven and Earth.
Yes, the book story mostly demonstrated that I am a bit neurotic, but it really does all make some sense to me. The longing, the expectation, the excited/agitated nature of that period of waiting was directly proportional to my firm belief that I would be treated with a feast of delicacies and new revelations on a topic that had captivated my studies for months. I was also certain that it would actually arrive, no matter how long it may seem and no matter how little information I had about the date; its certain eventuality heightened my expectation. As paltry as this silly waiting was, it reminded me that I must always be agitated in expectation, never complacent or fully satisfied in this present dispensation. I must ever be a waiter to have Him for which the saints eagerly wait.
P.S. For those wondering, yes, the book came.