On Saturday, July 4, Americans celebrated 239 years of independence by shooting millions of dollars of fireworks into the sky.
On Sunday, July 5, Americans celebrated the U.S. women’s team winning the FIFA World Cup as the victors held high the championship trophy.
On Monday, July 6 most Americans returned to work, having cleaned up the residual mess from the parties. We’re back to the routine, looking for the next big event to celebrate.
It’s true, fans of U.S. women’s soccer are pleased to have won the “third star.” Our first trophy was awarded in 1991 (the inaugural year of the competition). The second was the “memorable 1999 victory” – but how many actually remembered until reminded? Already attention is shifting to the attempt for four titles.
Chicagoans saw a similar phenomenon last month when the Blackhawks were feted for their national hockey championship. For players on the team since 2010, this was their third Stanley Cup in six years. And sure enough, fresh off their victory players were saying, “This was great, but a fourth would be even better.” [For hockey purists, we note Chicago also won the Cup in ’34, ’38, and ’61 – but that seems like ancient history to Millennials.]
It’s the nature of sports for success to be fleeting. But the same applies to nations and empires. Nebuchadnezzar’s “statuesque” prophetic vision of world powers (Daniel 2:31ff) begins with his own: Babylon is the head of gold. But Persia (chest of silver) will overthrow Babylon, which in turn will be supplanted by Greece (thighs of bronze). Then Rome will arise, and its legs of iron have dominion before disintegrating into the toes of iron mixed with clay.
World history is filled with the rise and fall of nations. The Greek Empire built by Alexander the Great and “the glory that was Rome” are glimpsed mostly in ancient ruins. Today Greece is in the news for its financial meltdown; most news references to Rome have the Vatican in mind. The sun has set on the British Empire.
Even as America is deemed “the world’s only super-power,” this nation seems powerless to prevail over Islamic jihadism. “Babylon” (Iraq) and “Persia” (modern Iran) have dreams of renewed ascendancy as ISIS seeks a Sunni caliphate through terror and Iran Shiite supremacy with force of nuclear weapons. China and Russia are not “waiting in the wings” but are active on the world scene, working to increase their spheres of influence.
The United States does not wish to play the role of global policeman, nuclear warheads and aircraft carrier fleets notwithstanding. Even “red lines” are drawn with erasable pencil. Moreover, the “bloom is off the rose” when it comes to American moral leadership. This nation is increasingly fractured, and moving farther away from biblical morality at astonishing speed.
It is good to be reminded in these “iron and clay” days that there is another chapter of prophecy to be fulfilled. In Daniel’s words:
“You continued looking until a stone was cut out without hands, and it struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay and crushed them. 35 Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver and the gold were crushed all at the same time and became like chaff from the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away so that not a trace of them was found. But the stone that struck the statue became a great mountain and filled the whole earth…. 44 In the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and that kingdom will not be left for another people; it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever” (Daniel 2:34-35; 44).
The Second Psalm adds to the divine perspective: the nations may rage and their rulers imagine vain things (vs. 1-3), but God holds them in derision (vs. 4). One of these days He will set His Son (Zechariah’s “stone cut without hands”) on the throne in Zion (vs. 5-6); the nations will be given Him as an inheritance (vs. 8) and be judged with a rod of iron (vs. 9).
The Psalmist concludes with a warning and a blessing, each dependent on treatment of the Son:
10 Now therefore, O kings, show discernment;
Take warning, O judges of the earth.
11 Worship the Lord with reverence
And rejoice with trembling.
12 Do homage to the Son, that He not become angry, and you perish in the way,
For His wrath may soon be kindled.
How blessed are all who take refuge in Him!
Celebrations of temporal victories dissolve like cotton candy. They provide no nutritional value to the soul, and leave us wanting “just one more.” Those who shake their fists at heaven may have their moment in the sun. “Thousand year reichs” melt like ice on a searing skillet. Those who trust in Messiah will never be ashamed, and will reign with Him who sits on the throne eternally. In Isaiah’s magnificent words (chapter 9):
6 For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us;
And the government will rest on His shoulders;
And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
7 There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace,
On the throne of David and over his kingdom,
To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness
From then on and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this.
As a Chicagoan, I celebrate the Blackhawks; as an American, I congratulate U.S. Women’s Soccer.
But as a believer in Messiah Jesus, when I think of Yeshua returning to reign in righteousness I feel a “Hallelujah Chorus” coming on! And that song will echo throughout eternity, long after sports triumphs and earthly kingdoms are forgotten.