Looking Up from Down on the Ground

By Charlton Hillis

“And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead.”  —Revelation 1:1

At his feet is the only position to take when face to face with God. And that begs the question, if God is always with us, shouldn’t that be our inner position always?

That was John who fell down on the ground, at the beginning of the Revelation of Jesus Christ. He later fell down to worship an angel and was quickly rebuked. The angel said: You must not do that! I am your fellow servant—worship God!

Now angels, according to scripture, are far wiser and more powerful than humans. If ever there was a time when it was appropriate to glorify a created being, it was here. But the angel shrunk quickly from being worshipped and went so far as to inform John he was only a fellow servant, stopping any hint of that sort of thing before it got started.

If ever there was a man to be glorified with a special title, it was our John. But he remains throughout scripture, just that. John. One of the twelve chosen apostles who walked with the Lord on earth. Called “the one whom Jesus loved.” Writer of five New Testament books. Chosen to receive and pass on the Revelation of Jesus Christ. There at the Transfiguration (“Let us make three tabernacles, one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah,” Peter said then. And when corrected from Heaven, Peter, James and John fell on their faces in fear). One of the three with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. In spite of the impressive resume, he is still just John, because God is the star attraction of the whole Bible, and everything else in there is to glorify Him.

A few years back I had one of those unforgettable dreams, the kind that leave an impact, the kind you don’t want to forget and know you couldn’t if you tried. I had just finished reading a doctor’s account of patients who seemed to have died and been brought back, but not before catching a view of the other side. There were some rather riveting descriptions, and I found myself wanting very much to see the golden city of one particular story. With that in my head I fell asleep and was startled with a vivid dream, not of Heaven, but of what I can only describe as the power of God. The visuals were abstract, but the message could not have been clearer.

What I came away with was the overpowering thought that God eclipses all else—not only earth, but Heaven as well. That mansions and reunions with loved ones are not what it’s all about. It was no new revelation, but only what I had always been taught, yet had perhaps suppressed.

C.S. Lewis pictured a purely fictional afterlife, in which the dead were allowed to visit Heaven, on a sort of trial run. It might blow your mind to think not all chose to stay. Many were unable to adjust to the spiritual world and found it distinctly uncomfortable, even painful. They were still infested with selfishness and pride, so they couldn’t possibly enjoy an existence that is the antithesis of all that. Some demanded to see loved ones and were frustrated and angry when told they must wait (they had not yet seen their Maker but had scant interest in that). The book is an eye-opener to the Biblical truth that God fully eclipses everything else, and the only way out of the darkness is for me to empty myself.

When we fail to see the true glory of our Father but get glimpses only, we want some for ourselves. It’s bright and shiny and approved by good people. We behave as children, running around putting glory glitter on one another, much like Max Lucado’s Wemmicks in that marvelous children’s book, “You are Special.” People praise. Tinsel titles. Holy hierarchies. Things that belong to God, alone.

We cannot fall down at His feet, with one arm up clinging to our own ambitions. When we do that—and we’ve all tried it—we fail to see His overwhelming Majesty that demands complete humility of every human being, bar none.

That sovereign power and glory of the Creator is a theme running through the entire Bible, and you could miss it only if you missed reading that book. It’s pounded hard in both the Old and the New Testaments, and not once is it shared with man. We are instead pictured most graphically as clay in the hands of a potter.

If the idea of being a piece of clay does not humble you, nothing will. And the ones who get the most name recognition in scripture are our best examples of humility. To get a glimpse of that, we have only to read how some of the writers of the epistles introduce themselves.

Paul, an apostle of God and of Jesus Christ

Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ

Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ

James, a bondservant of God and of Jesus Christ

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ

Peter, a bondservant and apostle of Jesus Christ

John, the elder (scholars believe this refers to his old age here)

Paul saw the power and the glory clearly, just before he lost his sight on the road to Damascus. He fell to the ground. That was a special case, but it doesn’t mean we cannot be every bit as convinced. It just takes us longer. But one thing is sure: once you see that power and glory, really see it, there’s no looking back. And it just about zaps you of all desire for any of that sort of thing for yourself.

You’re convinced, finally. Convinced you are clay in the hands of The Potter, who’s shaping you for something so good you can take anything bad that happens to you here. You can lose the stuff which makes you proud and not even miss it. You shed one by one the illusory trappings keeping you from being malleable in His hands.

Paul had a long list of stuff that once made him proud, and he called it all garbage and never looked back. And by the time you get to that point, make no mistake about it, you’re down on the ground. Down there where you’re closest to clay is where He begins to shape you into somebody who can feel at home in Heaven.

“I am astonished,” Paul wrote to the churches of Galatia, “that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and turning to a different gospel— not that there is another gospel, but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be accursed.”

It all goes back to the sovereign authority of the Lord, to whom alone belong the inspired word and all creation. Love of Christ demands we not toy with His word, as the Galatians did. They were not inventing another gospel. They were just mixing in some Old Law legalism with the pure gospel of grace, because they thought—this is the astonishing part—that God’s plan wasn’t enough. That’s the clay questioning the potter, another astonishing thing brought out more than once in the Bible.

Go back and look at John in Revelation 1:1—maybe he lies crumpled, or maybe flat out, face down. Either way, he’s in no position of importance, and in no position to question the One he worships. He’s just John on the ground, and he was John on the ground the rest of the time, metaphorically speaking. If you look closely through the New Testament, you’ll not find any of the first century church in any higher position than that.

“Stand up; I too am a man,” Peter said to Cornelius. (You must not do that!)

Scripture references and books cited:

Revelation 1:1; 19:10

Matthew 17:1-6

Galatians 1:6-9

Acts 10:26

The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis

“You are Special”  by Max Lucado