On the night of August 5th I went to a friend’s house to watch the Opening Ceremonies of the 2016 Olympics in Rio. I was amazed by the choreography and orchestrated efforts of the home country, as they displayed their culture and heritage for the world to see. My excitement was building, though, for my favorite part of the ceremony.
It’s called "The Parade of Nations", when each nation’s athletes walk into the stadium together. As each country is introduced, we’re told statistics about how big the country is and how many athletes they have competing. It’s a big spectacle and I can’t help but think of those athletes who have trained tirelessly and diligently for the last 4 years: the blood, sweat, and tears they’ve sacrificed, trying to comprehend the nerves they must feel representing their country on the world's biggest stage for one brief moment, with no do-overs. The elation that must be running through their bodies as everyone in the stadium is celebrating what’s to come; the joy each competitor must feel knowing they have reached the pentacle of their respective sport. What a great honor is bestowed upon those who represent their home colors. They all hope - and some even expect - to take home the gold.
But to me this represents much, much more. When I see all these nations, all these different people groups, all the languages being spoken, I see heaven. Specifically the one we read about in Revelation 7:9-10 (ESV),
“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
In times of trial or pain; in times of war, feast, or famine; in a time of racial tension (all of which we are experiencing now), I have hope knowing that God is doing something. He is working in ways that I cannot see, doing something that I cannot understand or comprehend. He is being faithful to his covenant promise. He is reconciling to himself...
“...a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that [they] may proclaim the excellencies of him who called [them] out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9 ESV)
How is all this possible? How can we who live in a world that seems so abysmal and self-destructive have hope? Who is able to understand our pain and suffering? Who is able to make lives anew, to put cities back together, to bring peace to war torn countries? The answer is the “Lamb” that Revelation 5 and 7 speaks of,
“And they sang a new song, saying,
'Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,'" (Revelation 5:9 ESV)
Jesus Christ came into this world to show the greatest act of love ever displayed. He humbly laid down his life so that he could one day answer the call; the call of the one who is worthy to open the scroll. He who ransomed all nations is worthy of their praise. So, in light of present troubles, we know that our God already has victory.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-2 ESV)
The athletes competing in these Olympic games are at the height of their competitive careers. But what will they do when it’s all over? What will their hope be in? The same questions could be asked of Christians worldwide. How are we able to “run the race” (Olympic pun intended) knowing that we will slip up, stumble, get turned around, experience triumph and defeat? Because we know the gospel will prevail!