Second Chances

John 21. As I reflected on this passage, I wondered why John concludes his Gospel with this episode. None of the other Gospel writers include it. This particular story is unique to John. So why include it? In verse 14, John reminds us that this is the third time that Jesus has made Himself known to the disciples. Two prior occasions, He had a purpose in mind…calming the fears and commissioning a group of the disciples, breathing on them the Holy Spirit and giving them life; and then a special encore presentation for Thomas. This episode also has a very focused purpose…the restoration of Peter. You see, after his denial, we as the readers are left wondering, “So whatever happened to Peter?”

Peter had blatantly denied and turned his back on Jesus. There was no getting around it. After all of the boasting, after all of the posturing, in the end he had failed miserably. And all of his closest friends knew it. Fear might have been involved, although given Peter’s boldness in confronting the soldiers that seems less likely. Frustration? Probably. Doubts? Sure. But Peter was supposed to be their fearless leader. Not so. Would he ever be useful again?

And now, miraculously Peter is given a second chance. Jesus shows up and takes him aside, and with the reminder of both his failure (charcoal fire…same as denial) and his calling in mind (Simon, son of John…mirrors his calling in chapter 1), he’s given another opportunity to follow Jesus. But following Him this go round would not end well from an earthly standpoint. It would involve a cross. Three years later…knowing all that he had been through and would yet go through, would he still sign up? Knowing that the journey would be a lonely one, with no guarantees that anyone else would accompany him, would he still follow Jesus?

The encouraging thing for me from Peter’s story is that Jesus makes a special trip to offer him his second chance. And not only a second chance, but also a bright new future chock full of opportunity to continue to pursue Jesus…and to fail, but also to change the world. He and this rag-tag group of Jesus-followers will take the Roman world by storm…not leading a military campaign, but waging spiritual warfare nonetheless. We are here today because of his ministry. Eusebius tells us that Jesus’ prophecy concerning Peter was fulfilled when he is fastened to his own cross upside down by Nero in Rome at the same time as Paul. According to Clement of Rome (c. a.d. 96), Peter suffered martyrdom under Nero (a.d. 54–68; 1 Clem. 5.4), probably during the final years of Nero’s reign (c. a.d. 64–66). Even knowing that following Jesus was a death sentence, Peter still signed up. And it was the adventure of a life-time.

But what about you? What’s your story of denial? How have you blown it? Have you come out the other side? What does life look like? Do you believe that Jesus can still use you, that He wants to use you? He made a special trip for Peter after a very public ministry failure…He wants to do the same for you. But how will you respond when He says, “Follow Me!”

It strikes me that Peter’s story would likely have had a very different ending had I been the one whom he had denied. And for some of us, we are in the position of being the betrayed. What about you? Have you restored the one who failed you? Have you forgiven them? Any second chances? Would you trust them with an even greater level of responsibility? Or would you do what I can be so quick to do, and write them off?

Peter’s story challenges us at so many levels: Do we believe that Jesus still can and wants to use us, no matter our failures? Are we willing to follow Him, no matter the cost? Are we willing to forgive and restore others when they fail us?

My prayer for you is that you grasp how long and high and wide and deep is the love of Jesus for you…that you may rest in His grace…that you may learn to love and forgive like Him and that you would do that exceedingly well this week.

Until next time…stay salty.

You can hear this sermon at: http://www.centralchristian.org/media

A Resurrected Jesus

John 20. John’ account of the resurrection. As I reflected on the sermon this week, I wondered why John includes this episode. The Synoptics seemed to have it covered, so John must have a theological purpose in including it. Somehow it must be vital to the story. We’ve pointed out some of those things like the fact that the relationship between the disciples and Jesus has changed from that of friend to brother…as believers we have a familial relationship with Father God. We also noted that the disciples were given new life when Jesus breathed the Spirit on them. And Thomas’ statement, “My Lord and My God” points to Jesus as both human and divine. Three extremely important theological reasons to include this episode which will be further developed by Paul. But John wraps those truths in a story that includes characters who respond in very different ways to Jesus’ death and the possibility of resurrection.

A few questions that come to mind…What if Jesus really was raised from the dead? What if Jesus really is alive? In other words, what is the significance of a resurrected Jesus? Besides having a major holiday commemorating it, what difference does a resurrection make? If Jesus’ death on the cross allows for the forgiveness of sins, do we really need a resurrection?

There are four characters in the story. All four had believed in Jesus as the Messiah. His death paid the penalty for sin. At that moment we could say they were all Old Testament saints much like Abraham or David. But they had yet to pass from Old Testament saints to New Testament believers. Mary Magdalene is totally focused on her grief…let’s call it the circumstances she finds herself in. Her situation has so consumed her that she is unable to recognize resurrected Jesus even though He is right there in front of her. Peter is confused. The evidence is inconsistent with a grave robbing, but resurrection isn’t on his radar. The disciples are fearful. They are meeting behind locked doors. They gambled everything to follow Jesus. They went all in…and now it looks like they may have lost. Their expectation of Messiah has gone through some serious revisions and now a major disappointment. When Jesus shows up, twice He speaks peace over them to calm their nerves. The resurrection is unanticipated. Thomas refuses to believe resurrection with out seeing the evidence for himself. His doubt is representative of where all the disciples were prior to Jesus’ appearing.

A couple of observations…First off, all of these guys totally miss it. Resurrection is not even a consideration. They are totally focused on earthly realities…the heavenly has not entered their field of vision. Jesus says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Secondly, they all respond with joy when they encounter the resurrected Jesus. Distraught, confused, fearful, and doubting to rejoicing…not a bad trade. But in order to get there they had to meet Jesus…the real Jesus…the resurrected Jesus who was fully God and fully Man. Finally, and my favorite, Jesus meets each of them where they are. He patiently waits for Mary to recognize Him. He speaks peace over the disciples who are fearful. He even returns to allow Thomas to “see” the evidence.

As I thought about the resurrection question, there were some truths that came to mind: The resurrection is God’s “YES”, His stamp of approval on everything Jesus said and did. Jesus truly is all that He claimed to be. The resurrection is also proof that Jesus “freakin’ crushed sin and death for all eternity” (as a friend of mine put it).  Jesus’ death pays the penalty for sin. However, if we stopped there, we might be forgiven; but where’s the empowerment for life? It is the life of Jesus that allows us to experience life today…real, abundant life.

And while I readily affirm those truths today, many times I practically live like Jesus remained in the tomb…I know I’m forgiven, but I still tend to be totally consumed by the circumstances – broken-hearted, confused, fearful, and even doubting that Jesus can/will bring me out of the current situation. John says that he wrote “these things that we might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God and that believing we might have life in His name.” While Mary and the disciples had believed in Jesus…their experience of a crucified Jesus hadn’t brought life (fear, doubt, distress, confusion). Although Jesus was alive and although He had crushed sin and death, they were not experiencing the victory. That comes only with resurrection.

But what about you? “Think back this week, is there a worry, fear or circumstance in your life that drew your attention away from Jesus? Financial uncertainty, marital conflict, illness… ” a time where you were so focused on protecting, preserving, and ultimate investing in the “life” that you have “created” for yourself here on earth, that you don’t, can’t and fail to even think about investing in the “TRUE LIFE” that He has created for you through His resurrection, the eternal kingdom that will not pass away.

Some of us are believers…we’ve believed in Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins but we are not experiencing the life of Jesus that is ours by birthright through His resurrection. Maybe we are like Mary…distraught and broken-hearted, focused on our circumstances and having a hard time seeing Jesus. These have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name. Maybe we are like Peter…confused and unable to put it together. These have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name. Maybe we are like the disciples…fearful, betting on Jesus but feeling like you are on the losing side. These have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name. Maybe we are like Thomas…doubting, needing evidence that Jesus can help us in our present predicament. These have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name. For those of us who are Mary’s or Peter’s or disciples, or Thomas’…we need to be reminded of the truth of the resurrection. Jesus is alive. He died and rose again to give us life.

Some of you reading this post would not put yourself in the believing camp. You are somewhere on the road of your spiritual journey. These have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name. Jesus is patient with us and not afraid our questions and doubts.

For those of you who are experiencing the resurrected life of Jesus today, praise God! These have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name. Strengthen and encourage your brothers and sisters.

My prayer for all of us is that we live like Jesus really is alive, that we may truly experience life in His name…a life that radically impacts the way we love others this week.

Until next time…stay salty.

The Rock Gets Rocked

John 18.15-18, 25-27. Peter’s denial. Two disciples follow Jesus and the crowd from the Mount of Olives. We know that one of them is Peter…John tells us that. The other is most likely John himself. We’re not sure about John’s relationship to the high priest, but apparently he has enough pull to get Peter in. From the response of the slave-girl when she asks, “You are not also one of this Man’s disciples, are you?”, John’s relationship to Jesus as one of His disciples, seems to be well-known, at least to the help. Now it’s difficult to know what the slave-girl’s opinion was of Jesus…but we can take a guess. The way the question is framed, a negative response is assumed. In other words, she expects Peter to say “no”. Maybe because she assumes Jesus is a criminal based on the soldiers accompanying Him, or maybe she has bought into the negative propaganda of the religious elite. Either way, she doesn’t expect Peter to claim allegiance to Jesus…and Peter does not disappoint.

In stark contrast to the “I AM” of Jesus, Peter simply answers, “I am not.” But that one simple phrase speaks volumes. Peter, the first of the disciples to identify Jesus as the Christ of God, arguably the chief disciple, the one who was willing to take on a cohort of Roman soldiers with little more than a pocketknife, the Rock who would become a pillar of the church…gets rocked, and is seemingly cowed by a servant-girl.

As the scene continues to unfold, Peter is warming himself by the fire with a group of slaves and soldiers, when the question comes up for the second time, “You are not also one of His disciples, are you?” Again, a negative response is assumed. And Peter again responds, “I am not.” Starting to see a pattern here?

And before Peter can make a break for it, one of Malchus’ relatives, Peter’s victim in the garden, recognizes him. “Did I not see you in the garden with Him?” For the third time, Peter denies knowing Jesus, and immediately a rooster crows. And Jesus’ prediction in the upper room becomes a shocking and painful reality.

So the obvious question is, “Why does Peter deny Jesus?” And although, “Because Jesus said he would” is technically a correct answer, let’s dig a little deeper to see if we can identify what brings Peter to this disastrous outcome.

First off, it’s been a hard day for Peter…first Jesus informs him that Satan has demanded permission to sift him like wheat, then he’s told that he would deny his Master, he’s rebuked for trying to “save” Jesus from washing his feet, he’s told that Jesus is going to betrayed and murdered and then told that he is to follow Jesus’ example, and then he’s rebuked again when he attempts to defend Jesus in the garden… his expectations have not only been unmet, they’ve been utterly destroyed. You see, Peter was looking for Messiah. But he was expecting a Warrior-King who would overthrow the power of Rome and establish the messianic kingdom. He wasn’t looking for the Suffering Servant coming to die; he was looking for the White Horse Rider of Revelation 19 riding out to crush His enemies. And although Jesus has worked to correct Peter’s expectations, he has simply refused to let go of his version of Messiah – footwashing, talk of “laying down His life”, allowing Himself to be arrested and coming to the defense of those who were taking Him… Peter was ready to fight for Him. He was willing to die for Him. If Peter were asked, “Whom do you seek?” The answer would have been clear… “The bloody Warrior-King of Psalm 2 and 110 who would demolish His enemies and crush the head of the serpent!” He was looking for a Messiah who acted, well, more like him. And this Jesus wasn’t it.

So I’m not sure that Peter’s denials are based purely on his fear of death. First of all, last week Peter was ready to give his life for the cause. Even though Jesus flattened His enemies with a Word, 200 to 1 is still pretty long odds, so when he draws his sword (maybe dagger), he was prepared to die. And secondly, John goes into the courtyard of the high priest with Jesus and he sends for Peter. John isn’t “captured”, so Peter could see that John, a known associate of Jesus, is safe. It doesn’t appear that at this point he has any reason to fear for his life.

But if it isn’t fear of death, what is it? A couple of options come to mind…maybe Peter thinks he is on the wrong side, maybe he’s beginning to doubt, maybe it’s the pain of unmet expectations. The rules have changed. Winning now looks like losing. How conflicted he must have been. A Jew who grew up believing that winning looks like winning. No one told him that the rules changed. He could very well be embarrassed and ashamed of his association with this “Criminal”, this “Want-to-be-Messiah”. Maybe it comes down to the fact that it’s easier to pick a side and go all-in, knowing that the consequence is imminent death than it is to say “Yes” hour after hour, day after day, year after year…the grueling task of “laying down your life”.

As I reflected on this passage, I wondered why John includes this episode with Peter. Peter had to be one of his closest friends, his brother-in-arms, his travelling buddy, a fellow disciple of Jesus…and yet John calls him out. And it couldn’t have been easy for John. How does this fit with John’s purpose of writing so that we may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, and that by believing we may have life in His name? Simply put: We all need Jesus. Peter needed a Savior…not the Jesus he wanted, but he needed Jesus because only Jesus can save.

We are all deniers. Since the garden, it’s been hardwired into our DNA. But Jesus came to bring restoration and healing. He came to make all things new, but even in that process we are prone to lash out when our expectations are unmet, when Jesus doesn’t conform to our image of Him.

Peter was looking for the Jesus whom he thought could save him…but that Jesus couldn’t. Only Jesus, the Christ, the Son of the living God, the I AM, the Word made flesh could truly save. And He’s the only One who can truly save us today. Granted that salvation doesn’t always look like we may want it to, but we must trust that we have a loving and benevolent Creator and Savior who is in the process of reconciling the world to Himself and conforming us to His image. That is often a painful process, but well worth it in the end.

We see Peter’s response to his expectations, but what about you? Think about an expectation, a hope, a desire in your life that currently isn’t being met. What’s your response? What does your denial look like? Anger? Frustration? Depression? Escape? Apathy? My prayer for all of us is that in the face of unmet expectations, we would be able to die to them, lay down our lives, and embrace Jesus for who He is an not who we want him to be.

Until next time…stay salty.

 

“Whom Do You Seek?”

John 18.1-11. Judas’ betrayal and Jesus’ arrest. Judas leads a group of Roman soldiers (200-600) to arrest Jesus. The soldiers are in for more than they bargained for as Jesus asks, “Whom do you seek?” The soldiers respond, “Jesus the Nazarene.” Jesus comes back with, “I AM.” With that the soldiers fall back to the ground. I AM is the divine name with which God identified Himself to Moses in the burning bush way back in Exodus 3. You are probably more familiar with the Hebrew pronunciation, “Yahweh”. John has used I AM statements throughout his Gospel to reinforce both Jesus’ Messianic and Divine roles (7 I AM’s: Bread of Life; Light of World; Gate; Good Shepherd; Resurrection and Life, Way, Truth and Life; and Vine; not to mention John 8.58). And I believe he’s doing the same thing here. This is confirmed by the soldiers’ reaction: they draw back and fall to the ground. The Word made flesh, the One who spoke creation into existence, and the One from whom the sharp sword will come out of His mouth to slay His enemies at His return, now speaks a word and the bravest of men fall back. Now we see the crux of the difference between John’s account of the betrayal and the Synoptics: the Synoptics highlight Jesus’ humanity and focus on the betrayal, whereas John highlights Jesus’ deity and focuses on the Betrayed. It shouldn’t surprise us because John’s Gospel is the most theological of the four Gospel narratives. In the early church, when controversy swirled around the question of Jesus, the early church fathers looked to the Gospel of John for support for their argument that Jesus was both fully God and fully Man. The purpose statement of John’s Gospel is: “these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.” Everything John includes and excludes goes to that purpose. The soldiers had come out looking for a man, an insurrectionist, a rogue, want-to-be king, but they came face-to-face with the Son of God. Jesus is constantly challenging folks’ perceptions and expectations of who He is. Belief is used over 90 times in the book of John, but there is an evolution of belief as the book progresses as Jesus reveals more of who He is. At one point, He even asks the 12 if they also wanted to leave…constantly challenging and expanding their category of who and what Messiah would be. 

As I reflected on the passage, I was struck by Jesus’ question: “Whom do you seek?” And I began to think about how different folks viewed Jesus in John’s Gospel. Peter’s view of/response to Jesus was one of action. This final scene where he cuts off Malchus’ ear is a great illustration. He’s constantly looking for Jesus to lead His followers into battle and establish the kingdom. He’s not a fan of the Lamb-before-the-Lion approach to the kingdom. Some of us are like Peter and can’t understand why God doesn’t act sooner or in some cases doesn’t seem to act at all, especially with the injustices in the world that threaten to overwhelm us.

Judas’ view of/response to Jesus was: what’s in it for me? Judas always seemed to be working an angle and was willing to follow Jesus as long as there was a perceived benefit for himself. A good example is his rebuke of the woman who poured costly perfume on Jesus’ feet, not because he cared about the poor (as John tells us), but because he was a thief. And if we are honest with our selves, some of us are like Judas. We are willing to follow Jesus as long as there is a perceived immediate benefit for ourselves…better life (job, marriage, kids, etc.). But should that perceived benefit fail to materialize and actual suffering become the reality of life, we are quick to fall away.

The Pharisees’ view of/response to Jesus was: what about us? We are told that the Pharisees wanted to silence Jesus because they were afraid that they would lose their status in the community. Some of us are like the Pharisees and are more concerned about status and appearances and the favor of men, so following Jesus will only work if it doesn’t cost me social capital with my peers.

The crowd’s view of/response to Jesus was: show us something new. The crowd who followed Jesus was extremely fickle. At one point they seemingly hang on every word, and then suddenly are abandoning Him when the miracles cease to amaze or the teaching becomes too hard. Some of us are like the crowd. We follow Jesus when it’s popular to do so, but when the tides of public opinion change, we are quick to abandon Him.

Reflecting on these responses, I realized that each of them was not so different than that of the soldiers response to Jesus…you see Jesus the Nazarene is the prototypical Jesus of our imagination. He’s who we have made Jesus out to be based on our own expectations and desires. And when He doesn’t live up to our expectations, we walk away. We want to come to Jesus on our terms and to make Him in our image. But Jesus’ answer is irrefutable: I AM. Jesus is the eternal Son of God, the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe and the Rescuer of our souls. And He bids us come and follow Him…not the Jesus we have made up in our own minds, not Jesus the Nazarene, but the I AM. He wants us to follow Him, but we must come to Him on His terms and not ours. We must be conformed to His image, and not He to ours.

So how do we work on our view of Jesus? How do we go about seeing Him as He really is? How do we conform? How do we submit? How do we walk in His footsteps? I really believe that happens best in the context of community. God is in the process of redeeming a people…sure He calls us individually, but He calls us into a body…into the body of Christ. And it’s to the people of God, to a body of believers that the Scriptures are written. There is no effective lone ranger Christianity. “It’s not about you, your Bible, and a cup of coffee” – but it’s about discovering and living out the truths of the Bible with other believers. That’s what discipleship is all about. It’s easy for me to become self-deceived, but when my life is bumping up against others who are also looking to follow Jesus, it’s harder to hide my sin and thereby deceive myself. The truth of the Scriptures are then able to penetrate at a deep level, so that when you are asked, “Whom do you seek?” you can confidently say, “I’m seeking Jesus.”

Until next time…stay salty.

 

Black and white

The battle lines are clearly drawn. Receive the mark of the beast and life continues seemingly undisturbed – buy, sell, trade, etc. Refuse the mark and life becomes increasingly more difficult. If life is viewed from a purely earthly perspective, then the choice seems pretty clear. Viewed from a heavenly perspective the choice is likewise obvious. But gaining that celestial perspective while rooted on terra firma is a challenging task.

Revelation 14. We’re reminded that while things appear bleak for the followers of God on earth, it is the pursuers of the beast who are in real danger. They will experience God’s divine wrath poured out in full strength. Follow the beast or follow God. Those who trail the beast will live today, only to die eternally. Those who chase after God may die today, but will live eternally. Two reapings. One to eternal life. The other to eternal torment.

But what about the third group? Those who have signed up to follow God, they’ve trusted in Jesus, but are unwillingly to lay down their lives. They live in-between kind of lives. They want to enjoy the benefits of the peaceful life promised by the beast here on planet earth, while still anticipating a future home in heaven…they long for the best of both worlds. However, John doesn’t seem to have a category for the inbetweeners, believers who are unwilling to persevere (who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus). So what does that mean for us today? The church today seems to subsist in compromise, especially the American church. And that can’t make God very happy. It should be one or the other. You are for Him, or against Him. Being for Him doesn’t mean that you won’t still make bad choices at times, but it means that you are making the conscious decision to follow Him no matter the cost. That takes courage and a great deal of trust. May God give us a greater ability to see life from His perspective and courage to follow Him.

Until next time…stay salty.

 

A Scary Pair

Two beasts. One from the sea and one from the land. One terrifying agenda: wipe out all opposition. Leave no survivors. All must convert or die.

Revelation 13. The scene opens with the dragon standing on the seashore. The first beast appears, 7 heads and 10 horns, who is like a leopard, and his feet are like those of a bear, and his mouth like the mouth of a lion. And the dragon gives him his power and his throne and great authority. One of the heads appears to have received a fatal wound, but the wound has been healed. And the whole earth is amazed and follows after the beast; they worship the dragon because he gives his authority to the beast; and they worship the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast, and who is able to wage war with him?” (Remember this is the guy who slew the two witnesses in chapter 11, who appeared to be unstoppable. His ability to slay the two witnesses made him somewhat of a hero, especially since it would have been easy to see the two witnesses as responsible for the judgments that had occurred thus far in the tribulation.) The beast will speak arrogant words and blasphemies against God and against heaven. He will make war with the saints and overcome them, and everyone who lives on the earth will worship him, everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain.

Using bestial imagery reminiscent of Daniel, John describes the man who will be empowered by satan with the trappings of the four beasts from Daniel’s vision of the Times of the Gentiles from Daniel 7. Based on John’s description, it is unlikely that he will be Jewish. His ability to slay the two witnesses and seemingly survive a fatal wound catapult him into instant star status…he is even worshipped as a god. No one will stand in his way, none can resist him. He slays the saints (overcoming them in the world’s eyes), and all those who are not God-fearers will worship him.

The second beast will come up out of the earth; and he will have two horns like a lamb and will speak as a dragon. He exercises all the authority of the first beast in his presence. And he makes everyone worship the first beast. He performs great signs, so that he even makes fire come down out of heaven to the earth in the presence of men. And he deceives those who dwell on the earth because of the signs which it will be given him to perform in the presence of the beast, telling those who dwell on the earth to make an image to the beast. And it will be given to him to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast would even speak and cause as many as do not worship the image of the beast to be killed. And he causes all to be given a mark on their right hand or on their forehead, and he provides that no one will be able to buy or to sell, except the one who has the mark, either the name of the beast or the number of his name. The number is that of a man; and his number is six hundred and sixty-six.

The second beast appears to be Jewish (from the land, lamb, false prophet). His job is to cause folks to worship the first beast. The false miracles that this guy performs mirror that of the two witnesses, and taken together, these two beasts form a diabolical duo who are the anti-two witnesses attempting to cause the world to follow after the dragon where the two witnesses call the nation of Israel to follow God.

The imagery in this section of Revelation would make for a great block-buster movie. Dragons, beasts, war, angels, end of the world…and while the fantastic pictures may cause us to want to ignore or dismiss the underlying reality of these terrifying images, it’s important for us to be reminded of the real spiritual battle that rages around us that will one day come to a culmination when heaven and earth begin to crash together, and the physical and the spiritual are again one. How then should we live? When the earth and the heavens are being shaken, we need to remember that we are residents of a kingdom that cannot be shaken. And our job is to invite others into that kingdom by sharing the good news of the gospel of reconciliation with God through faith in Jesus.

Until next time…stay salty.

Rattlin’ Cages

Some folks would swear I ask questions just to rattle cages. And…they’re right. When it comes to digging in to God’s Word, I’ve found that most, if not all, of us approach it with blinders on. Our preconceived notions of what a particular passage says based on what we’ve heard from this or that preacher or teacher clouds our ability to really see the Word for ourselves, and therefore we miss so much of the beauty and wonder, the mystery and sometimes mystical nature of the Bible. So I like to challenge folks to think outside the box, to take God’s Word at face value and dare to believe.

Revelation 11. Two witnesses show up. John has taken us back to the beginning of the tribulation. The first time through he used a wide-angle lens to capture the effects of the seal and trumpet judgments on a global scale. And now he zooms in on the events taking place in Jerusalem. During the breaking of the seals and the beginning of the trumpets, these two guys are prophesying in the city, calling down fire, shutting up the sky, turning water to blood, all for one purpose…to bring the Jewish nation to repentance. The two appear to be unstoppable until the beast shows up and slays them both and leaves their dead bodies in the streets of Jerusalem for 3 1/2 days. Then the two witnesses or caught up to heaven and a severe earthquake takes place…and the people repent. Israel becomes a believing nation once again.

Revelation 12. Using imagery from Joseph’s dream, John describes converted Israel as the mother of Messiah. Strong allusions to Genesis 3.15 permeate this section as the dragon, the serpent of old, who is the devil and satan seeks to devour the child (aka Seed of the woman). Being unsuccessful, he pursues the rest of her offspring (aka seed of the woman). A battle is waged in heaven and the dragon is cast out. (When does this occur? How does satan have access to heaven? Notice particularly that he is described as the accuser of the brethren who accuses them before God day and night.) Knowing he only has a short time, satan begins to persecute the Jews in earnest, attempting to wipe them completely out.

The Christian life is definitely a battlefield. That is nowhere more apparent than in the shocking scenes from the book of Revelation. The hero of the book is the overcomer, who we find defined in this last chapter…they overcame by the blood of the lamb and the word of their testimony and they did not love their lives even unto death. Overcoming by the blood of the lamb and the word of our testimony can be difficult enough, but not loving our lives even unto death…that’s all together different. My prayer is that God gives us the courage and the insight to live our lives in such a way that we do fear death, that we see beyond the physical to the spiritual world, and that we lay hold of that which is life indeed, each one realizing what it means to be a knight of faith.

Until next time…stay salty.

The Beginning of Woes

Trumpet judgments. The first four trumpets are poured out on creation itself – the waters and the land. The effects are devastating on both the earth and mankind. The nature of the calamities is reminiscent of the plagues on Pharaoh back in Exodus, but instead of one nation suffering, it’s worldwide chaos.

Revelation 9-10. The woes begin. The first woe is an angel falling from heaven with a key to the abyss. The fact that the angel is falling, tells us he’s probably not a good guy. That coupled with the realization that he is about to let loose the demons of hell, and I think we have a decent idea of who this angel is. As demons are released, thick, black smoke billows out and some pretty horrific creatures appear…locusts that don’t look like a normal locust and that don’t act like a normal locust. These guys attack the inhabitants of the earth – all those without the mark of God. The scary thing is that folks don’t repent.

The second woe is the release of angels who are bound…probably not good guys either since they are imprisoned…to prepare the way for Armageddon.

Then another angel shows up. A giant angel with one foot on the sea and one on the land. He has a scroll that John is commanded to eat. Tastes sweet as honey, but leaves him bitter. It’s time to re-prophesy. Back to the beginning of the tribulation.

As we mentioned before, the book of Revelation records the crashing together of heaven and earth. And as the veil between the spiritual and physical worlds is ripped asunder. Fantastical creatures appear and all hell breaks loose…shouldn’t surprise us. It’s interesting that the word repent shows up here. The last time we saw it was in Revelation 2-3 with the churches. So who is John seeing here? Definitely unbelievers…but maybe some believers? John doesn’t write the book of Revelation to make us comfortable, but to spur the church on to be the church. May we take seriously the calling to which we have been called and engage the spiritual warfare that rages around us, may we build ourselves up on our most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keeping ourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life. May we have mercy on some, who are doubting; save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.

Until next time…stay salty.

 

Heroes

Everybody wants to be the hero. In fact, I can’t think of anyone who would choose not to be the hero in the story if given the chance. There’s something about our make-up that longs for a battle to fight, a quest to undertake or a damsel to rescue. We might think of Indiana Jones or Iron Man or Jack Reacher, but the success of the Katniss Everdeen in the Hunger Games showed us that even the least likely of characters can be heroic. One of the things we enjoy about heroes is their ability to save the day. Rarely do they die in the process. And if they do, it makes for a very sad tale indeed. But as we continue in the story of Revelation, we find a surprising twist to the plot. The heroes of the story follow the example of the Hero of the Story…they give their lives for the sake of the cause.

Revelation 7-8. After the devastating effects of the seal judgments, John records a brief pause in heaven. First an angel is sent to seal, 144,000 Jews (likely converts during the ministry of the 2 witnesses around the middle of the tribulation) so that they will survive through the end of the tribulation (more on that in a later post). But then we get a celestial view from the end of the tribulation of multitudes of folks from every tribe and tongue and people and nation surrounding the throne and worshiping God and the Lamb. These folks are holding palm branches (a symbol of victory) and wearing white robes…the same robes that were given to the martyrs in the previous chapter. And now we see the full number of their brethren whose faith was forged in the fires of tribulation, who overcame by the blood of the Lamb, the word of their testimony and who did not love their lives even unto death. And these heroes of the story have a front row seat to see the remainder of the drama played out.

And then the trumpets. In the Old Testament, the trumpet was a symbol of war (think of Jericho, Gideon, David…when the trumpet sounded the battle was engaged). And now the trumpets will signal the turn of focus from Israel’s repentance to the judgment on the nations. And we will see destruction that starts with creation and has a ruinous effect on mankind.

So what does this mean for us. John writes the book of Revelation to believers, and repent is a key term. In the midst of a culture that is constantly telling us to give up or give in, John reminds us that the fate of the world truly is at stake. There is a war raging for the souls of men. He wants to shake us out of our complacency and ignite within us a desire, a burning desire, a faith that is worth dying for and so surely is worth living for. A faith that impacts not only the way we live contrary to the culture, but a faith that can transform the culture. Are you with me? Who’s in?

Until next time…stay salty.

 

On earth as it is in heaven

Revelation 4-5. The scene in heaven is a sharp contrast to the condition of the churches in 2-3. If the churches represent God’s hold on planet earth, that hold appears to be tenuous at best. But in heaven…in heaven God’s rule is unquestioned. The imagery and mood of John’s writing fill the reader with dread. Although the heavenly vision pictures the holiness and transcendence of God, of Him who sits on the throne, it’s a holiness and transcendence that is foreign to us. And like John in chapter 1, we feel compelled to fall as dead men before this vision. And although the scene fills us with dread, it truly is an amazingly hope-filled story. It’s the reconciling of heaven and earth. It’s “Thy will being done on earth as it is in heaven”. Shouldn’t surprise us that this collision will result in major collateral damage.

The opening of the seals in Revelation 6 mark the beginning of the process of reconciliation. Jesus appears as the white horse rider coming out conquering and to conquer (the white horse rider bookends the tribulation…here at the beginning in chapter 6 and at the end in chapter 19. The tribulation then is His conquering.). Judgments representing the curses of the covenant designed to bring Israel to repentance follow with the red, black and pale horse riders. The martyrs under the throne (tribulation saints most likely) long for the process of God’s rule being realized on earth as it is in heaven to reach fulfillment. The martyrs are the heroes in the book of Revelation, the overcomers who overcome “because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death.” And in the sixth seal the undoing of the work really begins as cataclysmic destruction rocks the earth.

Terrifying visions. Final judgment. Cosmic wreckage. What do we do with it? In a world increasingly similar to the overwhelming chaos that the early church was plunged into, we do the same thing the early church did. Don’t give up. Don’t give in. Know for certain that Jesus wins.

Until next time…stay salty.