The Ultimate Christmas Story

Revelation 22.1-17

In Genesis 1 & 2, we’re told that God created a perfect world, where heaven and earth were one, a good world where there was no sin and no death. No crime. No hatred or animosity. No need for escape. It was paradise. Sounds a lot like what we just read. But that good world was fractured when we chose to rebel against our Creator, heaven and earth were divided, and now sin and death are a part of our experience on this planet. And if that were the end of the story, it would be a sad tale indeed. Not a movie we would want to see. A sad and hopeless tale full of despair. Maybe that’s where some of you are today. You look around and see a broken world and wonder, “What’s the point?” You are desperately looking for meaning, something that gives purpose to life. You totally get the fractured world part, but the notion of paradise seems like a fairy tale. Surely there’s something more.

There is. You see, even in the midst of our rebellion, God provided hope. A Promise. One day He would send a Hero to heal the fracture caused by our rebellion and to rescue us from sin and death…and not only us, but all of creation. And as history unfolded, God’s people clung to that promise as prophesies of the coming Hero created a fuller, richer picture of who He would be and what He would do. A King, a Priest, the Suffering Servant, a Sacrificial Lamb, the Conqueror of death and the Son of Man.

The good news is: the Hero has come. First Advent. Jesus came as a seemingly helpless Baby in a manager, as Andi read for us in Luke 2. The angels alert us that this is no ordinary Baby, but is in fact, the Hero we’ve been waiting for…the long-awaited Messiah, Jesus, God’s Son. He is the One destined to bring peace on earth…peace with God and men. And not only peace, but also joy and love. He is the One in whom we hope.

However since His First Advent, life on planet earth has continued seemingly uninterrupted, sin and death are still a part of our experience…yet something incredibly significant has changed. The reconciliation of heaven and earth has begun…by believing the truth of God’s Word, we can have true hope, peace, joy and love despite the chaos we live in.

Now flash forward to the end of the Story here in Revelation 22. John opens with this beautiful scene…imagery that reminds of the garden in Genesis 1 & 2. A crystal clear river flowing with living water. The tree of life. The removal of the curse. God’s presence. Seeing Him face to face (Matthew 5; Numbers 6). Realizing the purpose for which God created us…to rule and to reign with Him forever. It’s a picture of paradise, a return to Eden. Perfect peace. Unimaginable joy. Basking in the radiance of God’s love. The consummation of our hope. The end is like the beginning, only better. Our return to the garden is not by going back, but going forward. So paradise lost in Genesis 3 is regained here in Revelation 22.

The imagery of a throne reminds us who is in charge…who has the right to rule. The battle for planet earth will be won…the head of the serpent who deceived the hearts of men will be decisively crushed. The throne of God and the Lamb is a picture of the kingdom of God realized on planet earth…(Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven). Heaven and earth become one again, they are reconciled, the spiritual and physical reunited. Satan & His effects, nowhere to be found. And did you hear what John said? There will be no need for a light of any kind…God is the light and in Him there is no darkness at all. His perfect reign over a restored creation. It really is an incredible picture. God’s purpose for His creation being fulfilled.

After giving us a vision of this return to paradise, John warns us…only those prepared will enter. The time is short and only those who take seriously the return of Jesus, His Second Advent will be prepared. How? By believing that Jesus is the promised Hero who in His first Advent came and lived a perfect life…,and out of His great love for us, He died a bloody, horrible death…the death we deserved, but was raised again to life the third day, conquering both sin and death so that we could have life… eternal life forever, eternal life that begins the moment you trust Him, a life lived on this earth not for selfish gain, but for His purposes. A life lived out of love for your Savior and those He created. That’s the gospel. And when you believe that, death no longer brings fear, but hope…hope that we will see Jesus, our Hero face to face, that we will be united with Him in paradise.

Don’t give up, don’t give in, Jesus wins Jesus’ triumphant return is once again good news of great joy for the clean-robed ones, the ones who have trusted in Him; they will eat from the tree of life…and reign forever with Jesus.

But for those who have not trusted in Jesus it is a warning, paradise will be closed. Come to the waters. Jesus is…the Morning Star who signals the end of darkness and the coming of eternal Light, the Alpha and the Omega, the Hero of our story…only those who have washed their robes may enter the eternal city, only those who have trusted in Jesus. Through John’s vision God says to us “come”. Let the one who is thirsty come. Let the one who wishes take God’s life giving water without cost. Come. If you haven’t trusted in Jesus, I hope you will reconsider. His invitation is simple and straightforward…Come to the waters. By believing that Jesus did come as the promised Hero, in His first Advent to offer Himself as the Lamb, the perfect sacrifice for our sin,,our rebellion against our Creator God, and by believing that He is coming again as the Conquering King to rule and to reign, you can receive the greatest gift of all…eternal life. Hope. Peace. Joy. Love. All wrapped into one. In the present, the ability to view the circumstances of your life from a different perspective, from an eternal one, as opportunities to love others and bring glory to Him. In the future, paradise forever with Creator God.

Until next time…stay salty.

This post is based on our Genesis series. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on twitter: @ccclancaster

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In the Beginning…

Central Christian Church

Genesis 1.1 – 2.3

As I reflected on this passage, I was struck by the disparity between what the world says about the origins of life and what God says, and the implications for the question of purpose. Whether it’s the Egyptians view of a battle between the gods, or the atheistic evolutionary view that we are a cosmic accident…the result of time and chance, the resulting impact on the way we view ourselves, each other and planet earth is the same…negligible, forgettable, expendable.

I shared a tweet this past week, “Genesis presents a better, higher view of the world we live in…a world that reflects the creative genius of its benevolent Creator.” Several years ago, there was a movie that came out called “Contact”. Jodie Foster is the main character. As a little girl, looking through her first telescope, she was blown away by the enormity of the universe…

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A Dangerous Idea of Blessedness

Matthew 5.1-16

Some friends of mine and I started working our way through the Sermon on the Mount, wanting to see what Jesus had to say about living life in the kingdom. As I reflected on this passage, I was struck by Jesus’ list of kingdom characteristics of those who are citizens of the kingdom, of those who are blessed. It’s probably not the things we would have picked. They are certainly not characteristics that the world values. Those possessing these characteristics would not seem like “winners” from an earthy perspective, or to the spiritually elite, the I’ve-got-it-all-together crowd, the my-universe-is-running-just-fine-thank-you crew. But the kingdom belongs to those who recognize their desperate need for God and long for the reconciliation of heaven and earth.

As I shared on Sunday, the beatitudes are not a “how-to” list of instructions for entrance into the kingdom. They don’t tell you how to get to heaven. But much like the fruits of the Spirit, these are characteristics of folks who are already in the kingdom. They are produced by our connection to the King. And also like the fruit of the Spirit, these characteristics are produced in us and not by us…God produces the fruit as we submit to the process.

I shared a tweet this week, “Jesus has a dangerous idea of blessedness.” Following the unfolding of the beatitudes, there seems to be a progression…poor in spirit, mourning for sin, gentle, hunger and thirst for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, peacemaker…that leads inexorably to persecution. Alignment with the King is a dangerous proposition. It could even cost us our life. And why does the persecution come hot and heavy? Because of the undeniability of those who embody kingdom characteristics. The difference in us is going to be obvious to the whole world. Instead of being tasteless salt on some “french fries”, as a friend of mine described it, or a light under a basket, we will be noticeable. We will be a light on a hill. By doing that, by embodying those qualities and living that way, we are bearing the image of God brightly. Pointing people to Him and bringing Him glory. Said another way, if we embody the beatitudes, we will force a response from those around us. Some will persecute us and others with give glory to the Father. Both are good things!

As I thought about my own life, I’ve wrestled with my own saltiness at times and the times where it’s been easier to hide the light than face the consequences of following Jesus openly. As a recent college graduate, I often found it easier to blend in with my co-workers and not to be one of those “Jesus freaks”. But my life was miserable because although I had trusted in Jesus and so was a kingdom citizen, I was not living life in the kingdom. Finally when I had had enough, it was amazing the changes that God wrought in my life…I’m far from perfect, but I started enjoying the benefits of the present kingdom, persecution and all. And it has been worth it.

But what about you? What do you do with this? Some of you are not yet kingdom citizens, you don’t know what it means to be a son or daughter of the King. The beatitudes are not a how to manual for kingdom membership. They reflect the internal qualities that characterize those in the kingdom. It starts with the recognition of your need for Jesus. I would love to talk to you.

For the rest of us, we are in process of realizing more of the kingdom in our lives – all aspects of it. Last week I talked about the boxes we create that neatly divide our lives and keep us from experiencing the kingdom life that Jesus has for us. It is only as we blow up the boxes and allow the character of the kingdom to permeate all aspects of our lives that we truly begin to experience the abundant life…and yes, complete with persecution.

This story challenges us toward a change of perspective. Jesus definition of blessedness is dangerous…but it is true blessedness. It’ living life in the kingdom now. It’s being image-bearers of the King.

My prayer for us this week is that we live in the kingdom…learning more and more what it means to be sons and daughters of the King, and may we see His kingdom expanded.

Until next time…stay salty.

To hear this week’s sermon, visit us at: http://www.centralchristian.org. You can also follow me on twitter or facebook at: mattdumas1969.

Round Two

Sixty some-odd years ago Daniel arrived in Babylon as one of the captive exiles from Jerusalem. At that time, Nebuchadnezzar sat at the helm of the mighty Babylonian empire. Daniel distinguished himself early on in his career as a man of integrity and an uncompromising worshiper of the true God; and he enjoyed favor with both God and Nebuchadnezzar, rising to dizzying heights within the governmental administration.

Decades later, Daniel found himself in a similar role, a rising star, but in a different kingdom. The Medo-Persians had stepped on the world stage as the new conquering kingdom. Daniel was one of three high government officials, and Darius planned on making him the number two guy in the kingdom. Not good news for Daniel’s competitors. Not that Daniel had it out for them at all, but they did not like the idea of this Hebrew ruling over them. So they devised a plot. I’m not sure what it says about government officials today, but at that time these guys thought for sure they would be able to find some “dirt” on Daniel, political or otherwise. But he was above reproach. Eighty + years old and they could find nothing against him. What a testimony to his character. Their only shot was to try to entrap him in regards to the worship of his God. His reputation as a God-follower must have been well-know. They hatched the plot, Darius signed the decree, and worship of God (any god) was forbidden for thirty days. Once the decree was signed, they had Daniel. They knew that he would not compromise, and Darius would therefore be forced to carry out the death sentence – one-way trip to the lions’ den to be mauled by lions. Things seemed to go according to plan, except the king was unusually worried about Daniel’s welfare, and then the unthinkable…Daniel survived the ordeal! That did not bode well for the conspirators, and their lives were forfeited for their treachery. The story ends in much the same way that Daniel and his three friends other encounters with the king end…with the king acknowledging the greatness of God.

So why does Daniel include this story, especially since it highlights many of the same lessons that we’ve already seen in the book (i.e., God’s sovereignty, God’s protection, Daniel, et al. ‘s faithfulness/integrity, etc.)? I believe it has something to do with this being the second of the kingdoms (round two, if you will) that God revealed would rule over the Jews. Babylon was the first. The Persians were the second. God protected a remnant in the first kingdom, and now He’s protecting that same remnant in the second kingdom. For the Jews reading the story, it would be a strong encouragement that God would look out for them in the ensuing kingdoms during the Times of the Gentiles until He sets up His eternal kingdom. The same encouragement is there for us today as God-followers. Even though following God looks many times like losing rather than winning, we can be assured that the kingdoms of this world are temporary and that their power comes only at God’s discretion. He is still sovereign, and He still continues to work in history to bring about His divine purposes. He will establish His kingdom.

Until next time…stay salty.

 

Belshazzar’s Fatal Mistake

Nebuchadnezzar was the most powerful man on the planet. His kingdom was one of the wonders of the ancient world. His word was law, and he decided the fate of many a people. But Nebuchadnezzar also learned a lesson that radically changed the trajectory of his life…the God of the Hebrews was God, the eternal God who was Most High over the kingdoms of the earth. He proclaimed, “For His dominion is an everlasting dominion, And His kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, But He does according to His will in the host of heaven And among the inhabitants of earth; And no one can ward off His hand Or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’” And Nebuchadnezzar became a believer in the one true God.

Daniel 5. Several years later, a new king sat on the throne of Babylon…well maybe more of a co-regent since his father was still technically king. His name was Belshazzar. The fall of Babylon was imminent. The Medes and Persians were literally right outside the gates. And young Belshazzar decided to throw a feast, likely in honor of the constellation of The Scales (today known as Libra). During the feast, he commanded a curious thing: that his servants “bring the gold and silver vessels which Nebuchadnezzar his father had taken out of the temple which was in Jerusalem, so that the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines might drink from them. Then they brought the gold vessels that had been taken out of the temple, the house of God which was in Jerusalem; and the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines drank from them. They drank the wine and praised the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood and stone.” Subsequently a hand appeared and wrote a mysterious message on the wall. All of the king’s wise men were called in, but none could interpret the message. Finally Daniel was summoned, and after giving a brief history lesson, he gave the interpretation. “Now this is the inscription that was written out: ‘MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN.’ This is the interpretation of the message: ‘MENE’—God has numbered your kingdom and put an end to it.  ‘TEKEL’—you have been weighed on the scales and found deficient [ironic in view of the festival they were celebrating]. ‘PERES’—your kingdom has been divided and given over to the Medes and Persians.” That night Belshazzar died.

What was Belshazzar’s sin? And how was it different than Nebuchadnezzar’s? Didn’t Nebuchadnezzar worship idols and force others to do the same? Wasn’t he also proud? So why was one spared (Nebuchadnezzar) and the other destroyed (Belshazzar)? No doubt before his conversion Nebuchadnezzar was proud and idolatrous, and God patiently pursued him. But we have to remember that before Daniel’s arrival, the God of the Hebrews was the local deity of yet another kingdom Nebuchadnezzar had conquered. The fact that he defeated the Jews in battle proved that his gods were greater than theirs. And so God introduced Himself to Nebuchadnezzar, and he responded. In each instance, Nebuchadnezzar recognized God’s power and ultimately recognized His sovereignty. And Daniel told Belshazzar, “Yet you, his son, have not humbled your heart, even though you knew all this, but you have exalted yourself against the Lord of heaven.” Belshazzar knew who God was, but chose to dishonor Him all the same. Belshazzar had sinned with a high hand…open rebellion against both God and Nebuchadnezzar who worshiped Him. And God brought swift judgment.

While God was punishing His people for their infidelity, He would still protect the faithful during this time of judgment. We are still living during these “Times of the Gentiles”, so it’s imperative for us to remember that God is sovereign over the nations and kingdoms of the world. He establishes kings and pulls down kings. He sets the times and the epochs. And He will judge, but He will also deliver those who have trusted in Him. We can rest in that.

Until next time…stay salty.

Trading up

Nebuchadnezzar seemed to have it all. He had defeated every army he faced. He had envisioned and supervised a number of impressive building projects in the city of Babylon, including the famous “hanging gardens”, one of the wonders of the ancient world. He had wealth beyond compare, and he was the ruler over the vast Babylonian empire, which was considered the world power of his day. He commanded the respect of his subordinates and his peers. He was the most powerful man in the world. But one thing he lacked…and that was what Daniel and his three friends had. Daniel 4.

When Daniel and his friends were brought to Babylon, they respectfully declined to eat the king’s choice food because it violated the worship of their God. When Nebuchadnezzar had a dream, Daniel was the only one who was able to give both the dream and its interpretation with the help of his God. When Nebuchadnezzar later set up a golden image for all his leaders to worship, Hananiah (Shadrach), Mishael (Meshach) and Azariah (Abed-nego) were willing to go to a fiery death rather than bow to the image. And after both the dream and God’s deliverance of the three boys, Nebuchadnezzar acknowledged the power of the Hebrew God. Each instance was important, but the Hebrew God only seems to have been added to Nebuchadnezzar’s list of gods.

Then God gives Nebuchadnezzar a second dream. And in the dream (tree that is cut down), Nebuchadnezzar was warned that he would be humbled due to his pride. In fact, he would be given the mind of an animal until he acknowledged that God was Most High over the kingdoms of the earth. When Daniel was called in to explain the meaning of the dream, he was disturbed. But why? Could be any number of reasons…fear of the king’s anger on receiving bad news, self promotion, the good of the kingdom…but based on Daniel’s character thus far in the story, the most likely answer was that he genuinely cared for the king. He even told Nebuchadnezzar how to avoid the coming judgment…repent. But Nebuchadnezzar refused to listen, so God humbled him.

The amazing thing about this chapter is Nebuchadnezzar’s statements at both the beginning and end. He got it. You see, I believe Nebuchadnezzar traded up. He was missing a relationship with God, and he gained not only that, but also more prominence within his kingdom. God went to extraordinary links to reach this pagan king: raising his to power, two incredible dreams concerning the future, both far and near and rescuing three boys from a fiery furnace. But probably the most significant instrument that God used was Daniel himself. He gave him favor with the king, and Daniel took seriously his responsibility to serve and the relationship that followed. And through Daniel’s consistency and faithfulness, God brought the most powerful man in the world into His kingdom.

Many of us find ourselves in relationships with those who don’t have a relationship with God. Maybe they’re seeking, and maybe not. They could be your boss, your co-worker, your employee, your teacher, your student, your neighbor, your family member, etc. Do you live out a consistent testimony before them? May God find us so faithful.

Until next time…stay salty.

Exiled in Egypt

It’s been twenty years. Over half his life spent hundreds of miles away from home. And now the folks responsible for his exile are within his grasp, standing before him, the second most powerful man in all of Egypt. What will he do? What would you do? Genesis 41-42.

Joseph had two incredible dreams that defined his destiny. One foreshadowed the then current famine in Egypt, and both pictured Joseph in a position of power within his family. Sharing the dreams with his brothers proved to be a mistake, but his dad considered what these things might mean. Thirteen years of slavery and imprisonment, and what seemed like a lifetime later, the full meaning of the dreams began to take shape when he interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams and was promoted to the second highest office in the land, second only to Pharaoh. It hints at the importance that the interpretation of dreams played in ancient Egypt when a prisoner and one time slave is promoted to such high standing. And not only that, his marriage to Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera, priest of On would showcase his new-found status.

With Joseph’s meteoric rise to power and his seeming success at every turn, it would be easy to see him as totally content and even better off in Egypt. But when he names his two sons, we get a peek at the heretofore unpublicized anguish of Joseph. We’re told he named his firstborn Manasseh, “For,” he said, “God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household.” He named his second son Ephraim, “For,” he said, “God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.” It shows his faithfulness during this time to be all the more outstanding…he never seemed to waver in unbelief or to doubt God’s hand at work directing him towards his destiny. Even in some extremely difficult circumstances.

Now his brothers, who were the catalyst of the pain Joseph had endured the past twenty years when they sold him into slavery, were standing before him requesting help. He had the power to end them. And at first, it seems that he might be looking for a little revenge when he accused them of being spies and had them thrown into prison; but upon further reflection it appears that he was testing them in some way. In order for his dream to be fulfilled, Joseph not only had to be in a position of authority, he needed to be in a position of authority over his family which meant that they needed to be in Egypt. In order for Joseph to deliver/save his family, they would have to leave Canaan and come to him. And so began the process of seeing whether or not their character had changed and of bringing them down to Egypt.

This section of Joseph’s story is challenging. We get our first glimpse behind the curtain to his emotions and the incredible pain he’s suffered that we could only guess at before. His steadfastness of faith and willingness to fully engage in the “little things”, giving his all to the task at hand especially during this time is all the more impressive and encouraging. I pray that God would find us as faithful.

Until next time…stay salty.