October 19, 2012

Marked for life

When anyone talked about grey hair, my mother often pointed to her own and joked, “I’ve earned every one of them.” For her, they were more than a sign of age. They signified endurance in trials and battles won.

Most of us bear marks, whether literal or hidden scars, that have shaped our lives. Sometimes we earn them, sometimes we deserve them, yet isn’t it possible that most are there by God’s design?

Cain was the first to be marked. He had murdered his brother and God judged him for it.

And the Lord said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground. And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength. You shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.” Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is greater than I can bear. Behold, you have driven me today away from the ground, and from your face I shall be hidden. I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” Then the Lord said to him, “Not so! If anyone kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.” And the Lord put a mark on Cain, lest any who found him should attack him. (Genesis 4:10–15)

Cain’s punishment was alienation and difficulty in making a living. He was also fearful that others would try to kill him. But God, in great mercy, marked this sinner so that he also would be protected. Do I bear scars that actually protect me?

In another situation, God’s prophet saw a vision. In it, God was dealing with the evil happening among His people. He told a man (likely an angel) to mark those who hated sin.

And the Lord said to him, “Pass through the city, through Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in it.” And to the others he said in my hearing, “Pass through the city after him, and strike. Your eye shall not spare, and you shall show no pity. Kill old men outright, young men and maidens, little children and women, but touch no one on whom is the mark. And begin at my sanctuary.” So they began with the elders who were before the house. (Ezekiel 9:4–6)

The obvious question here is: do I bear scars that mark me as a committed follower of God who loves righteousness and hates sin? Paul was such a person with those marks. He said, “From now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus” (Galatians 6:17).

One of the better known marks mentioned in the Bible is not from God. It is the mark of the beast…

Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name. This calls for wisdom: let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666. (Revelation 13:16–18)

While this mark is not clearly described, it will identify anyone who has rejected God. Clearly, there will be suffering because of that rejection. 

There is much speculation about what this mark will look like. Is it some sort of implant that enables a person to pay bills without cash? Is it a visible mark, or symbolic? Whatever it looks like, it is also avoidable. No one who worships and obeys Jesus Christ will receive this mark. By being “mark-less” Christians will suffer because of it, but our eternal destiny is secure. Jesus has already received our punishment.

Those who do have this mark will receive far worse. Unlike Cain who was protected, in the end all who do not repent will suffer God’s wrath. It begins with physical pain and ends with eternal damnation.

So the first angel went and poured out his bowl on the earth, and harmful and painful sores came upon the people who bore the mark of the beast and worshiped its image. (Revelation 16:2)…. And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.” (Revelation 14:9–11)

Lord, I don’t know how to apply this on this ordinary October day. Will this post warn someone? Will these thoughts motivate me to speak to someone? Should I consider the “marks” in my life and explore their significance and Your purpose for allowing them? You have given me much to think about and I’m relying on Your Spirit to enlighten me about my marks and scars.

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