Top 7 stories in 2023 (from heaven’s perspective)

It’s the season for reflecting on the year that has been. People are compiling lists of the biggest or most momentous events of 2023. While these lists can be interesting, I want to do something a little different here. Rather than taking the usual perspective, I want to remind us that the Scriptures give us another view of reality and it’s one that we can easily miss or forget in the midst of everyday life.

Enjoy and be encouraged and a little bit challenged as well.

Two angels are in heaven. They are enjoying sipping ‘heaven’s nectar’ (single origin bean 2023; naturally), when they strike up a conversation. These two angels, let’s call them George and Sally, have seen much in 2023. The date (on earth) is December 14.

The universe may be cut off from heaven, but heaven knows what happens on earth. George and Sally read the New Jerusalem Gazette and learn of decisions and events as they go about serving God. 

Amidst the clamour being made by 8 billion people in every corner of the world, the annual sound of Christmas carols crescendos. Although most carolling fails to hit the heights of heaven, such is the powerless nature of lips singing truth from hearts that don’t believe.

George takes another sip and thinks to himself, ‘if only Melbourne knew what the greatest coffee tastes like!’ As the sweet aroma fills their angelic nostrils and swims around the palate, Sally says to George, ‘What do think are the 7 biggest stories of 2023?’

Where do the angels begin? The year has brought about eternal cheer and also much grief. On earth conversations and debates rage over a million stories and events that have influenced and shaped, bringing happiness and sadness. Which of these do angels choose?

Sally began compiling an initial list in her mind. She thought, ‘The Ashes were certainly memorable… maybe we won’t mention the Commonwealth Games or Rail Link… And of course, there have been more than a few political elections this year but none of them make the cut…’

George observes that the 7 biggest stories in 2023 are in fact the same headlines from 2022, and pretty much every year. It’s not that each incident and event is glossed over and ignored. The angels have been around long enough to realise that the human condition remains unchanged and God’s eternal decree continues to work over and through every page of history. Sally agrees, which isn’t surprising given there is no unction for disagreement around God’s eternal home.

So here are the 7 biggest events from 2023 according to George and Sally:

7. Every act of injustice and evil in 2023.

The angels agree that number 7 isn’t on the list because of any virtue or value, but because of Divine outrage that continues against God’s world. Sally and George understand how God grieves every sin and transgression. They appreciate how God, much more than they, grasps the gravity of these events that harm and offend and destroy. 

Whether the acts are carried out by terrorists in the ancient land or by governments promoting injustice, by greedy corporations or the hidden sins of a billion people, God grieves. God angers. His anger thunders with a ferocity that shakes the very foundations of the cosmos. The angels witness that while even the most judicious of man-made courts cannot capture every offence, in the heavenly court every perpetrator of evil will face God’s wrath and eternal judgment. 

Sally points out to George how human beings, blinded by hubris, readily believe they can circumvent Divine justice. At our worst, we even redefine righteousness and call evil good, but God isn’t fooled by our calculations. Whether it is the slaughter of civilians in Israel, or the abusive parent in a suburban street in Melbourne, the academic legitimising the dehumanisation project, or the employer cheating his staff out of fair pay; God sees and condemns and guarantees justice.

Some events make the news in Sydney, New York and Colombia, while a billion others go unnoticed or are wilfully ignored by friend and neighbour. There is no such overlooking by the King of Kings.

As the angels consider all the headline news, they ponder that God persists with the world; what a staggering thought. Sally then reminds George of what God has said:

“But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.” (2 Pet 3:9-10)

6. Christians chasing lesser things that distract from ultimate things.

George remarks, ‘God has given the most precious gift of all and to people who did not want or ask – his Son. And yet look at all these Christians filling up life with lesser things.’ 

George scratches his head, ‘God gave himself in Christ but these Christians still aren’t satisfied. They are working harder and earning more and playing more, and yet sacrificing the very thing that can give them life. And see how they’re teaching their children to chase after the wind. Why are they feeding them junk food when God offers living water? Sure, who doesn’t enjoy a party and decent education or long weekends at the beach. But do they have no sense of discipline and seeking first God’s Kingdom? No wonder millennials don’t take God seriously, when their elders are teaching like this.’

5. Grief over churches abandoning the Gospel and Christians deconstructing the faith.

It is another year of sadness as more churches give up Jesus for a seat at the table of respectability, success and ease. 

Sally notes a conversation she had with Thomas Cranmer and Hugh Latimer on November 16. She saw them weeping over the Church of England. To give up Divine love for the sake of a moment’s likability staggers the mind. Cranmer reflected on his own moment of weakness and then the grace that caused his repentance. Latimer remarked that if the bishops of England snuff out the candle, then God will light it again among others. 

Spurgeon still can’t get over the joy that his old days of melancholy are over forever. He remains overjoyed knowing that all the superlatives he used in his sermons to convey the wonders of Christ, were barely a tiny impression of the true glory that is being with Christ and seeing him face to face.

As he overhears Latimer talking with Sally, he interjects with Shakespearean flourish, to describe the ongoing downgrade among Baptists as being like the melting polar ice caps. Spiritual climate change is eroding church faithfulness and vitality. Instead of displaying the glory of God in the face of Christ, churches convince themselves that they need to become more like the world to reach the world. The gospel is melted down and replaced with mirrors to reflect the culture, thus confirming unbelievers’ assumptions about the irrelevance and idiocy of the Christian faith in 2023.

George observed the unusual number of Bibles that are never opened or read.  

‘It’s like churches don’t ever open the Bible and read what God has to say to them. Don’t churches believe the Lord of the Church? Why do they pretend that the Lamb’s 7 letters to the churches are always about someone else and not for them?’

Mary and Martha walk past and add, ‘Churches who choose between love and truth end up losing both.’

Both angels are pleased to announce that the top stories of 2023 include more encouragement and thankfulness than sadness and grief. At number 4 is…

4. Growing holiness in the face of suffering.

Sally is convinced that one of the highlights for 2023 is seeing so many people becoming more like Jesus. George gives an emphatic nod of agreement. 

It’s amazing to observe the breadth of places and conditions in which people are living and the countless challenges many are facing. Instead of becoming bitter or turning to jealousy or despair, Christ’s light is shining. LED lighting might be seen from space, but the Spirit’s light in people’s lives reaches heaven. 

The encouragement and comfort of God’s words produce the perseverance of the saints:

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (Gal 6:9)

Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly livesas you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming…So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.” (2 Pet 3:11-12; 14)

“For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge;and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness;and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Pet 1:5-8)

3. Thousands of churches are planted.

Sally and George praise God for his faithfulness in 2023. God’s big project in the world is reconciliation and the church is the people of reconciliation. After all, Jesus shed his blood for the church and gave his word, ‘I will build my church’. The Lordship of Christ and the promises of God in the gospel are intimately tied to God saving a people:

“And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church,which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.” (Eph 1:22-23)

“…you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household,built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” (Eph 2:19-21)

God is pleased and heaven is enthralled to see churches of all shapes and sizes given birth in Kenya and Cameroon, in Iran and India, in China and Argentina, and even in the great lost nations of England and Australia. People may turn their backs on God, but his gospel is compelling and he will finish what he has started building. 

2. The salvation of millions of people.

George and Sally agree that integrally tied to story number 3 is story number 2. Indeed, stories 2 and 3 are easily interchangeable, and really the same story, just being reported from different angles.

The Church is God’s masterpiece and churches are made up of countless names and faces of the imago Dei, sinful, forgiven and redeemed. Conversion may be considered a dirty and immoral word in parts of the world, but heaven rejoices.

2023 is another year of explosive gospel growth around the world. A few of these names are recognised by society and media and their conversion stories go viral. In heaven, the new birth and adoption of every person goes viral among heaven’s choir. 

What a massive year for heaven’s choirs! It’s been non-stop singing with all the millions and millions of people from every language, ethnicity and city turning to Christ and coming to know new life in his name. George exclaims, ‘Every time I finish the chorus we sing it again. In heaven, Taylor Swift never gets a nod, not even Bach is back. It’s constant no.1’.

“Salvation belongs to our God,

who sits on the throne,

and to the Lamb.”

1. Welcoming home all who finish the race.

Heaven loves a home coming. 

George confessed to Sally that while they enjoy a vantage point that those on earth don’t possess, God authored a word for people. It wasn’t to the angels that Scripture was given, but to people.

Sally recalls the words of Jesus, 

 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.”

George adds the Apostolic voice, 

“We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies”.

Heaven longs that people daily correct our myopic gaze. It’s not that we have lenses to see through all time and space; naturally, we are not omniscient as is God (and neither are George and Sally). We do have, because of the God of wisdom and grace, His word which reveals more to us than we deserve and can imagine. The Scriptures provide more than a detailed account of human affairs and moral statutes. God opens his Divine foreknowledge to us so that we can see beyond the immanent frame and know a tiny snapshot of what was and what will be. These words from God give great assurance and encouragement to keep going.

A great crowd this year have finished the race and received those words from God, ‘Well done good and faithful servant’. 

Sally is fascinated by the commitment people make to winning gold medals, trophies and awards. ‘See how they pour their lives into attaining a piece of tin or gold or something with a $ sign attached. The number 1 story of 2023 isn’t a World Cup or Grand Slam, but the crown of righteousness given to all who finish the race. In 2023 millions of people have made it home’.

Thanks be to God.

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” (2 Tim 4:7-8)

This article first appeared on Murray’s blog.