We had driven for miles that glorious July day along one of Northern Ireland’s scenic coastlines. The blue sea shimmered in sunlight, as we admired the rugged beauty of the landscape across the peninsula. Evening found us in a lovely little harbour town, but by now much traffic had slowed our progress. “Why is everything moving so slowly?” I whispered, as I wound down my window in the stuffy car. Just then I could hear the distant sound of drums and accordions playing some familiar melody. “A band!” one of the children shouted. “That’s why we’re stuck in traffic. Hope we see it soon!” But before the band came into view, we saw first the fascinating array of banners and colourful flags flown high and to the forefront, blowing in the sea breeze.
Suddenly I noticed something else too – the hostile crowd that had gathered across the street. Someone shouted at those who paraded. I hoped and prayed that there would be no further hostilities that evening, and thankfully I believe that the proceedings concluded peacefully – but I can still remember those flags flapping in the summer evening breeze, and the variety of expressions on the faces of those who observed…
Some years later we found ourselves again in traffic, this time travelling south of the border. Gaelic football supporters were driving swiftly towards the latter, their little flags and colourful ensigns rippling triumphantly in the breeze. This time the atmosphere was jubilant and light-hearted. At the sight of those colourful emblems of victory, even opponents of the team in question would cheer good-humouredly and wave. This, however, is not always so under similar circumstances. We are all acquainted with media reports of football hooliganism, and certain colourful emblems which inspire fury in the hearts of opponents. “It’s like showing a red rag to a bull” is a familiar old saying. Indeed (I am ashamed to say) I can recall watching a bullfight in Barcelona many years ago. I felt sorry for that bull as it charged in fury towards inevitable doom…
Somehow all of these thoughts came together as I studied with interest a little book I had discovered, on the history of all the flags of the nations of the world. There were flags which were used to distinguish between friend and foe on the battlefield; flags on sea-faring vessels; flags for signalling; flags for sport and recreation and flags for religious celebration. What fascinated me, though, were the complete array of flags currently in use by each nation, and the fact that each design and symbol was of historical and political significance. Many emblems (such as the hated swastika in Germany) are no longer in use on flags – but can be seen on graffitied walls, and continue to instil fear in the hearts of those who remember truly terrible days. Little nations, such as Lithuania, reverted to use of their old flags after gaining independence. On the Lithuanian flag, for example, yellow represents wheat and freedom from want; green symbolises its forests and renewed hope; while red symbolises patriotism and courage. It is interesting to note how many nations have been born out of warfare and shed blood, represented by the red on their flags, while the Islamic country of Saudi Arabia carries the Muslim statement of faith and a sword! On the other hand, the flag of the Republic of Ireland signifies peace between ‘orange and green’, while the flag of Cyprus, with its two olive branches, portrays peace and prosperity between the Greek and Turkish communities. However, since the Turkish invasion in 1974, the two parts of the island also fly the national flags of Greece and Turkey.
As the Lord looks down upon the earth He sees democracies, dictatorships, divisions, injustices, famine, war, evil laws, rampant terrorism, human trafficking and hostage taking. But beyond the flags of nations, with their colours, races and creeds, He sees, knows and loves each individual within those nations. Indeed, as we can see from His Word, there is no one for whom His precious blood has not been shed. (1John 2v2; 1Tim. 2v6; 1Tim 4v10; 1John 4v14). It is His will that all should come to repentance (2Pet. 3v9; 1Tim 2v4), and share eternity with Him in heaven. Of the Christian, the Bible tells us … “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” (Gal. 3v28&29) Whether we are black, white, yellow, coffee-coloured or of ‘Planter or Gael’ background makes no difference when we are true and loyal subjects of His Kingdom. The Christian cannot be ‘neatly filed away’ in precise little compartments governing colour, race, creed, gender or class. Out of every nation they are those who, by faith, have been born again of the Spirit of God. A ‘peculiar people’ (Titus 2v14) they put God first in their lives; the Bible is their guidebook through life’s journey; and they love their Saviour, even unto death. The verse: “If it be possible, as much as lieth within you, live peaceably with all men,” (Rom. 12v18) is applied, in practical terms to their daily lives. Also, as citizens of the ‘heavenly kingdom’ on a temporary journey through life’s short day, their mission is to reach others with the love of the Saviour, but not to be “conformed to this world” (Rom. 12v2). According to His promise they look for that day which is described in Isaiah 65v17… “For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind.”
In Rev.7v9&10 we read: “After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; And cried with a loud voice saying, “Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb.” Are you ready for that glorious Day, and will you stand with the ransomed of the nations singing (not national anthems) but praises to the Lamb, and waving (not your nation’s flag) but palms of peace? Surely “Jehova-nissi” (the Lord is my banner) is a powerful word to those who serve the “king?” As a child I remember being taught a little chorus:
“There’s a flag flown high from the castle of my heart – and the King is in residence there.”
I sang the words but did not have ‘the heart experience’ until many years later. Now, thank God, I have been set free to sing those words ‘in spirit and in truth.’ Remember, He loves you, and it is His will that you repent and ask Him into your heart now, for He has paid the ultimate price for you as an individual – whatever your skin colour, your nation’s flag, or your team’s colours! And it is His will that some wonderful day you will be allied with those who sing a new song…
“Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by the blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; and hast made us unto our God kings and priests; and we shall reign on the earth.”(Rev.5v9&10
Throughout the annals of history we may read of how invading armies arrived suddenly and unexpectedly to conquer. Some day Jesus, too, will return very suddenly to conquer and to claim His own. Just as the white flag indicates surrender and peace to an invading army, our white robes will show our total surrender to He who loved us and gave Himself for us. That dazzling white may not always guarantee safety where the armies of the world are concerned, but it will where He is concerned! Furthermore, unlike an invading army, he wants the very best for us and He wants to share His riches with us for all eternity.
In Revelations 6v17, we read: “For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?” Surely only those out of every nation, and under every flag, who have “washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (Rev. 7v14). Oh that all who read would be numbered amongst that “great multitude, which no man could number!”
© Elizabeth Burke 2010
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