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Anthony believes

 

Anthony believes

by Andrew Lansdown

Late last year the English folk singer Steve Tilston toured Australia and I attended one of his concerts in Perth.

In a small courtyard-cum-amphitheatre, Tilston sat with his guitar on a low stage just two metres from the 30 or 40 people who had come to hear him. For over two hours he entertained us—no gimmicks or theatrics, just songs interspersed with personal anecdotes and a little banter with the audience.

Tilston’s appeal lies in his sensitivity and skill. His manner is quiet and personable. His lyrics are thoughtful and crafted. His melodies are distinctive and compelling. His guitar playing is intricate and accomplished. His voice is gentle and melodious.

Although he is essentially a folk singer, he is by no means exclusively that. His songs vary markedly in style, sometimes incorporating elements of jazz, blues and/or country.

One reviewer has said that “Steve is of that rare breed of singer, songwriter and guitarist who actually excels in all departments” (Folk Roots magazine). Another reviewer has said that Tilston “can stand shoulder to shoulder with any singer/songwriter/guitarist in the world” (Dirty Linen magazine). Comments such as these are not overstatements.

One of the songs Tilston sang in Perth is titled “Anthony Believes”. It is a song that appears on his live CD, Live Hemistry, and on his latest studio CD, Such and Such. When Such and Such was released in 2003, Lucky Oceans gave “Anthony Believes” airtime on his ABC Radio National programme, The Planet. And it was thanks to The Planet that I knew and loved the song long before Tilston’s concert in Perth.

The moment I heard it played on the radio, “Anthony Believes” became one of my favourite Tilston songs. So I was delighted to hear him not only sing it in person but also explain the background to it.

It seems that “Anthony” was Tilston’s neighbour. He was an elderly widower who had years earlier emigrated from Pakistan to Britain. He used to invite Tilston home for a curry and a chat. In the course of their friendship, Anthony revealed that he was a Christian, and that he believed that Jesus will one day return to earth. Indeed, it is Jesus’ return that is the object of Anthony’s belief. Hence, the song’s title is completed in the song’s refrain: “Anthony believes ... that Jesus will return.”

Tilston gave no indication in his comments at the concert that he shares Anthony’s belief. And the other songs he sang gave no indication either. If, as seems likely to me, Tilston is not a Christian himself, his achievement in “Anthony Believes” is all the more refreshing and remarkable. For it is a song that neither cringes nor sniggers. In contrast to the many artists who mock Christians and Christianity today, Tilston portrays Anthony and his belief with sensitivity and respect.

The opening stanza and chorus capture something of the beauty, sympathy and subtlety of the song:

Life is but a firefly

That glimmers in the darkest night,

Weaves a trace before the eye

That lingers though it’s gone from sight.

The old man climbs the homeward hill,

He wonders will he reach the top?

 

So many dreams and none

So many webs have been spun

So many friends have taken their last leave and gone.

Anthony believes that Jesus will return.

Tilston sings about failed dreams and departed friends. He sings about transience and mortality. But Anthony’s faith is a counterbalance to all these sorrows.

Life’s all a game of mystery,

destiny or random chance.

Science thinks it holds the key

for all to see the atoms dance.

The old man dreams of certainties,

faith’s the only guarantee he needs.

 

So many dreams and none

So many webs have been spun

So many friends have taken their last leave and gone.

Anthony believes that Jesus will return.

As Tilston sings about Anthony, he sings about humanity. Anthony stands for each one of us. The small triumph of his life is our triumph and the big sadness of his mortality is our sadness.

Anthony represents all people—except, perhaps, in the matter of faith. Many people lack the faith that gives Anthony’s life meaning and certainty. Many do not believe in Jesus, let alone his return. Many do not—but then again, many do.

Throughout the world, hundreds of millions of Christians share Anthony’s belief. They believe that Jesus is the Son of God who came to show us the love of God and to open for us the way to God. They believe that by his perfect life and sacrificial death and triumphant resurrection, Jesus made amends for our sins and has become the Saviour of everyone who calls out to him in repentance and faith. And they believe that Jesus will one day return to earth to complete the salvation he began 2,000 years ago.

Like Anthony, all Christians believe that Jesus will return. They may at times disagree with one another about the events that precede the Second Coming, but they all agree that Jesus is coming again. And this agreement arises from the plain and repeated teaching of Jesus, his angels and his apostles.

The Lord Jesus told his disciples at the Last Supper, “In my Father’s house are many rooms … I am going there to prepare a place for you … I will come back and take you to be with me” (John 14:3). He told the religious leaders at his trial: “In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matthew 26:64). He told everyone: “keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come” (Matthew 24:42-44).

As Jesus ascended to heaven after his resurrection, two angels told his disciples: “Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:9-11).

The apostle Paul said: “the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God” (1 Thessalonians 4:16).

The apostle John said: “Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him” (Revelation 1:7).

Christians believe that Jesus will return to claim his own and to establish his reign. They believe this because Jesus said it.

Of course, Jesus’ return is not dependant on our belief. He will return whether or not we believe it. The only thing affected by unbelief is the unbeliever. Indeed, unbelievers will mourn when Jesus returns because they will be locked into the consequences of their unbelief for eternity.

But this fact need not terrify anyone because everyone is invited to believe in Jesus and be saved. In fact, the apostle Peter states that the Lord Jesus is actually delaying his return to enable more people to be saved: “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise [to return], as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

Peter goes on to warn that Jesus will not delay his Second Coming indefinitely. On the contrary, “the day of the Lord will come like a thief” (2 Peter 3:10)—that is to say, it will come unexpectedly. It is therefore crucial to be ready.

And the wonderful thing is that when we get ready by repentance and faith to meet Jesus (either at his return or at our death, whichever comes first), we prepare ourselves not only for the future but also for the present. Like the Anthony of Steve Tilston’s song, Christians generally have found that belief in Jesus and his return counteracts life’s sorrows. Though still real and painful, disappointments, departures and death all lose their ultimate power to hurt us when we trust in the One who never disappoints, the One who has departed and will return, the One who was dead and is alive forevermore.

Anthony believes that Jesus will return. In this, he has set an excellent example for us to follow.


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