Jesus, in Matthew 22:44, quotes Psalm 110:1: The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet. John Calvin’s stated the following regarding Jesus’ words.
“The LORD said to my Lord. Here the Holy Spirit puts into the mouth of all the godly a song triumph, that they may boldly defy Satan and all the ungodly, and mock at their rage, when they endeavor to drive Christ from his throne. That they may not hesitate or tremble, when they perceive great emotions produced in the earth, they are commanded to place the holy and inviolable decree of God in opposition to all the exertions of adversaries. The meaning therefore is: whatever may be the madness of men, all that that they shall dare to contrive will be of no avail for destroying the kingdom of Christ, which has been set up, not by the will of men, but by the appointment of God, and therefore is supported by everlasting strength. Whenever this kingdom is violently attacked, let us call to remembrance this revelation from heaven; for undoubtedly this promise was put into the hand of Christ, that every believer may apply it to his own use. But God never changes or deceives, so as to retract what has once gone out of his mouth.
“Sit at my right hand. This phrase is used metaphorically for the second or next rank, which is occupied by God’s deputy. And therefore it signifies, to hold the highest government and power in the name of God, as we know that God has committed his authority to his only-begotten Son, so as to govern his Church by his agency. This mode of expression, therefore, does not denote any particular place, but, on the contrary, embraces heaven and earth under the government of Christ. And God declares that Christ will sit till his enemies be subdued, in order to inform us that his kingdom will remain invincible against every attack; not that, when his enemies have been subdued, he will be deprived of the power which had been granted to him, but that, while the whole multitude of his enemies shall be laid low, his power will remain forever unimpaired. In the meantime, it points out that condition of his kingdom which we perceive in the present day, that we may not be uneasy when we see it attacked on all sides.” –Commentaries, vol. 17, 69-70.
On Tuesday August 7th, a five-month old boy, Joel Gray, tragically died in the Nashville area. I can only begin to imagine the guilt and grief that the parents feel, given the gut-wrenching circumstances surrounding Joel’s death, and how hard it must be for them. I pray that, in ways beyond our understanding, the Lord will bring them a measure of peace. Joel was the youngest of four.
On Friday night, a few days later, Deborah and I were in our basement with our four children. We had come inside, after enjoying the unseasonably cooler temperatures and breeze of an August evening, to be treated to a makeshift play by our two oldest boys (8 and 7 years of age). Deborah was sitting on the floor with her back against a toy box/bench, with Noah (7 months old) on her right. He had his binker and a sizable stuffed animal to keep him occupied. I took a seat on the bench to Deborah’s left. The boys attempted to recruit their two-year-old sister for her part as the princess, and she was initially willing, but then when they turned the lights off to imitate a dark theater, she protested and eventually came and sat with Daddy. After about two scenes, which maybe took five or so minutes, it became clear the play needed a bit more planning, and maybe even a script, so I encouraged the boys to put a little more thought into it, and then present it to us again. It was time to get ready for bed and read anyway, so bringing the production to a halt was not a great tragedy.
What happened next I will never forget, and it is hard to describe how slowly time moved, and yet how quickly things happened, and how many thoughts raced through my head. I looked down, hearing Deborah cry out, as she lifted up Noah who was obviously choking. She raised him, arms up, thinking this would help and he would catch his breath again. A few seconds went by, but he was still choking, and his coughing became more restricted. His face reddened deeply and his body went limp. I moved down to the floor, and whether I took Noah from Deborah or she handed him to me I do not know. She was panicked, and, by now, Noah had even stopped coughing. In a flash, the reality of my son dying in my arms was tangible, and I knew the ambulance would never arrive in time. Thankfully, I remembered some of the training I had received years ago, and positioned Noah on his stomach on my left hand with his head pointing down. With my right hand I struck him on his back a few times, and, as I was doing so, remembered “finger sweep.” Deborah had dropped to her knees in front of me in silent and desperate prayer. Noah’s airway still seemed blocked. I sat him up, and reached my left index finger as far back into his throat as I could. Honestly, I do not know if I touched anything or not, but Deborah immediately recognized Noah was breathing again. He coughed a little, was drenched in sweat, and melted into his mother’s embrace. Shaking, sweating, still in the shock of the moment, eyes welling with tears, we thanked the Lord for sparing Noah’s life. As Deborah rocked him in her arms, he gurgled a bit, and soon was smiling as usual. I imagine the whole ordeal lasted all of sixty seconds. Maybe more, maybe less, but the fragility of life was so pronounced, so visible, so real. Death was so close, so very close, and was mercifully turned away just in time.
The Lord saved Noah’s life. I do not doubt that for a moment, and continue to be deeply grateful that He did. Deborah and I conversed and reflected later, trying to piece things together. We have absolutely no idea what Noah choked on. When Deborah set him down she did not see anything else there but the two items she gave him. And we were both right there next to him, and yet how perilously close Death came! The Lord who gives breath (Genesis 2:7; Acts 17:25) gave Noah breath again. Such moments compel faith to engage in self-examination; to be thankful; to seek the Lord’s face in prayer that He might use such moments to instruct and deepen faith. Moses prayed in Psalm 90:12: “teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” In Ecclesiastes, Solomon compares life in this world to a mere vapor, and throughout the Scriptures life is compared to a breath. I know that truth more profoundly now.
This past Tuesday, August 14th, Ford Tucker, the eighteen-year old son of CREC pastor Tim Tucker, was instantly killed in a highway collision. Ford’s trust was in Christ, and his father has faithfully expressed their grief in their loss, and and also their hope of the resurrection. How suddenly and jarringly did Death intrude! The lives of the Gray and Tucker families have been inexorably changed. I believe ours have as well, though in different measure. I cannot begin to fathom God’s ways in taking a five-month old boy on a Tuesday, but sparing a seven-month old on a Friday, or why one pastor’s son is spared, and another’s is translated into glory. “The secret things belong to the LORD our God” (Deuteronomy 29:29a). “But He is the unique one, and who can turn Him back? What He desires, that He does” (Job 23:13).
Saturday morning as Noah lay in our bed, and the morning sun was creeping around the edges of the curtains, I watched his stomach rise and fall, and listened to the steady sound of his rhythmic breathing…wonders to see and hear. A short while later, to feel his little hands grabbing my beard and nose, to see his bright smile, and hear the sounds of his grunts and laughter… gifts beyond measure.
I mourn with the Grays and the Tuckers, and pray that the God of all comfort will hold them fast. And taking a deep breath I am left to ponder the mystery and perplexity, and humbly confess, “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21).