‘They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not know the time of your visitation’ ~ Luke 19:44
Jesus speaking of the destruction that will befall Jerusalem ties it to their ignorance of not recognizing when God was among them. He says, ‘If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace – but now it is hidden from you’ (Luke 19:42). This means that it is well possible that God might be around us yet be unaware of it. Jacob, for instance, was escaping from his brother Esau, and when he comes to a ‘certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set’ (Genesis 28:11). He takes one of the stones there and ‘he put it under his head and lay down to sleep’ (v11). In his sleep, he has a dream. He sees ‘a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of the Lord were ascending and descending on it. And behold, the Lord stood above it’ (v12-13). God then speaks to Jacob in the dream, and when Jacob awakes from his sleep, he remarks, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place and I was not aware of it’ (v16).
God was in the exact place Jacob was and yet he was not aware of it. It was only after God appears to him in a dream that Jacob realizes that he was actually at ‘the gate of heaven’ (v17). One would think that being at the gate of heaven would be something very apparent and obvious, something one cannot fail to spot. But sometimes, our version of God clouds our vision. The place Jacob was seemed an unlikely place for God to even visit, let alone be in. The place did not even have a name. It is said that it was a certain place, some place. To add to the pressure of being pursued by his brother and fearing for his life, Jacob did not realize that the place he had come to was right in God’s presence, the gate of heaven. So, focusing on our problems and wanting to preserve our lives is one of the reasons that causes us to be unaware that God is present. Jesus admonishes, ‘For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it’ (Matthew 16:25). Probably that is why those who have had enough of life and are at the verge of giving up encounter God. They have nothing else to lose and nothing else really matters, and in that, they find God – they find their life. For when we find God, we find our true life.
When angels visited Sodom and Gomorrah, the people did not even realize that the divine was among them. That is because overarching wickedness also prevents us from noticing the time of God’s visitation, for it causes great spiritual blindness, strips off discernment, and sears the conscience. A refusal to denounce our own way after repeated warnings is considered wickedness before God’s eyes. ‘Since they have rejected the word of the Lord, what kind of wisdom do they have?’ (Jeremiah 8:9). Without wisdom, one cannot even catch a glimpse of God because ‘He has no pleasure in fools’ (Ecclesiastes 5:4). Wisdom in God’s eyes does not mean bookie or worldly knowledge, rather, ‘the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding’ (Proverbs 9:10). God through Job puts it this way, ‘The fear of the Lord – that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding’ (Job 28:28). However, wickedness causes a lack of reverential awe of God, and that is why those who practice it find it easy to go against God’s wishes. ‘Their deeds do not permit them to return to their God. A spirit of prostitution is in their hearts; they do not acknowledge the Lord’ (Hosea 5:4).
In fact, some intentionally practice evil, not because they cannot help it, but just to do the opposite of what God requires. ‘Though grace is shown to the wicked, they do not learn righteousness; even in a land of uprightness they go on doing evil and regard not the majesty of the Lord’ (Isaiah 26:10). To such, God asks, ‘Whom are you mocking? At whom do you sneer and stick out your tongue? Are you not a brood of rebels, the offspring of liars?’ (57:v4). So, due to wickedness, the men of Sodom and Gomorrah did not revere God nor His messengers, and even asked Lot to ‘Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them’ (Genesis 19:5). If they had repented, the outcome would be different. But they did not even recognize that God’s messengers were among them due to the wickedness they clang to, causing spiritual and literal blindness that the angels struck them with. They did not recognize the time of God’s visitation and so in the end, they were all destroyed. ‘But rebels and sinners will both be broken, and those who forsake the Lord shall be consumed’ (Isaiah 1:28). Indeed, ‘A man who remains stiff-necked after many rebukes will suddenly be destroyed – without remedy’ (Proverbs 29:1).
Lastly, pride is another reason why one may not recognize the time of God’s visitation. Pride in the sense that, they do not associate with other people simply because they are not of the same status, standing, race, or whichever ranking as them. Jesus says to such, ‘For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink. I was a stranger and did not invite me in. I needed clothes and you did not clothe me. I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me’ (Matthew 25:42-43). This is because, ‘Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me (God)’ (v45). But many in seeking prestige, class, or acceptance, only want to associate with what they consider as the rich and famous. No wonder there are membership clubs that are exclusive only to those who are of the same status. Yet, the Bible offers a completely contrary view saying, ‘Do not be proud, but willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited’ (Romans 12:16). In fact, ‘it is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting’ (Ecclesiastes 7:2).
Pride however does not allow one to associate with anyone they consider ‘below’ or different to them because it tends to make one ‘think highly of yourself than you ought to’ (Romans 12:3). Jesus admonishes, ‘When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honour, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited . . . But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend move up to a better place . . . For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted’ (Luke 14:8,10,11). Jesus was bringing forth a spiritual truth that pride causes one to overlook who they truly are before God, our host. Pride deceives and causes one to miss God’s visitation because they are already a god to themselves. To such, God says, ‘The pride of your heart has deceived you’ (Obadiah 1:3), for ‘when pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom’ (Proverbs 11:2). So, ‘think of yourself with sober judgement’ (Romans 12:3), and be open to associate with different people because God might just be visiting us through them. Paul puts it well when he says, ‘Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels unawares. Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow-prisoners, and those who are ill-treated as if you yourselves were suffering’ (Hebrews 13:2-3).
Ultimately, being in God’s presence is the only sure way of not missing out on the time of God’s visitation. Because it is in God’s presence that worry, fear, wickedness, and pride dissipate. Our attempts of self-preservation are also thwarted in God’s presence as we come to realize that our lives and times are in His hands. We then say like David, ‘Into your hands I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O Lord God of truth’ (Psalm 31:5). It is also being in the presence of God that we realize what a privilege it is being before the Creator of the Universe. Thus, realizing how small we are in His greatness makes looking down on a fellow human being something unthinkable. All in all, abiding in God makes our spiritual eyes constantly open as the Holy Spirit makes us sensitive by bringing to our attention any divine activity around us. When Abraham was ‘sitting at the entrance of his tent in the heat of day, (Genesis 18:1), ‘the Lord appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre’ (v1). Abraham who walked with God immediately knew that the ‘three men standing nearby’ (v2) were not just ordinary men, but God and His two angels. And ‘when he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground’ (v2). Abraham immediately recognizes God when He visits, and even calls Him ‘my Lord’ (v3). He does not ignore, second guess, or ask for a miraculous sign when he sees the Lord Jesus with two angels. This is because Abraham walked with God and abided in His presence, making it easy for him to discern God’s visitation- even when God came in the most unlikely and ordinary manner, and in the most casual of Abraham’s afternoon. For the most overlooked of places, people, and times, are those which God appears. Now, He stands at the door knocking on our hearts! ‘Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him and he with me’ (Revelation 3:20). So, the time of God’s visitation is also up to us.
‘Don’t you know me even after I have been among you such a long time . . .?’ ~ John 14:9