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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So long Danny boy!

What a ride! Twelve weeks in the book of Daniel. Terrifying visions, steadfast faith, incredible courage, unwavering commitment, a new chapter. The rules have changed during the Times of the Gentiles. Up is down, and down is up. Doing right brings punishment, while conforming to the world brings comfort. Following God will not be easy, but for those with insight and the courage to persevere, their inheritance is secure. As the divine messenger says, “Those who have insight will shine brightly like the brightness of the expanse of heaven, and those who lead the many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.” In the midst of a world seemingly out of control, Daniel is reminded (and reminds us) that God is still in control…”For wisdom and power belong to Him. It is He who changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings; He gives wisdom to wise men And knowledge to men of understanding. It is He who reveals the profound and hidden things; He knows what is in the darkness, And the light dwells with Him.”

A good friend of mine shared a lesson learned from Daniel that has rocked him. He used to ask the “why?” question when it came to suffering. Why, if he was following God, was he having to go through this or that trial. Then he came to expect suffering as part of the life of the believer…he became, as Kierkegaard labels it, a knight of resignation. But Daniel has helped him see that suffering doesn’t have to be faced with resignation…suffering is part and parcel to following Jesus, but that suffering can be faced with hope and even joy…not in the pain itself, but in the identification that we have with Jesus. It doesn’t mean that we won’t grieve. Quite the contrary. We’re called to grieve, but not as those who have no hope. He’s learning what it means to be Kierkegaard’s knight of faith. May God give us the courage and steadfastness of Daniel to face life in the fourth kingdom, and may we do it with an undying hope

Until next time…stay salty.

Terrifying Encounter

Three years I spent with Him. Three years of amazing, jaw-dropping ministry, seeing everything from the dead being raised to demons being cast out, the lame walking, the blind seeing, the sick healed, the feeding of a great multitude, Him walking on the water…and then, the beatings, the mocking, the persecution, the flogging, the crucifixion, His death…and then His resurrection, His commission, His ascension. It was an incredible three years. And even afterwards with Peter and the guys in Jerusalem, seeing the gospel spread out to the Gentiles, the death of my brother James… I wrote down my experiences, telling the story of Jesus. The most amazing thing to me was His love for me. I never got over it. I spent some time in Ephesus and wrote a few letters to the flock there. But after a lifetime of ministry, nothing prepared me for that encounter…

Revelation 1. John the disciple whom Jesus loved thought he had seen it all, and as he begins his account of Revelation, he is reminded of Jesus’ sacrifice and His great love. He also exhorts his readers, reminding them that they had been called to be a kingdom of priests, the same charge that Moses had given to the children of Israel in Exodus 19. So far, so good. And then John sees Jesus…and falls like a dead man. Here’s how John describes the scene: “Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands; and in the middle of the lampstands I saw one like a son of man, clothed in a robe reaching to the feet, and girded across His chest with a golden sash. His head and His hair were white like white wool, like snow; and His eyes were like a flame of fire. His feet were like burnished bronze, when it has been made to glow in a furnace, and His voice was like the sound of many waters. In His right hand He held seven stars, and out of His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword; and His face was like the sun shining in its strength.” This was not the carpenter from Galilee…This was the All Powerful Son of God, and John was terrified. And from this opening chapter in the book, there is no doubt who this story is about and who is in control!

Revelation is one of my favorite books to walk through. It would be easy to conclude that a book that deals predominantly with future things has little value for us today, but that could not be further from the truth. Revelation is the consummation of the story that began in Genesis. It is the conclusion of the cosmic battle between good and evil that has be waged for millennia. And we care who wins because our fate is tied up with the people of God throughout the ages. I hope you can journey with us through this terribly wonderful book!

Until next time…stay salty.

A Questionable Blessing

I’m the father of three boys. They are great fun and such a blessing to me. They truly are my pride and joy in many respects. But I don’t know that a day goes by that there isn’t at least one fight…usually multiple ones. It usually starts with a friendly (or not-so-friendly) competition that quickly devolves into an all-out brawl. It drives my wife crazy, especially when I tell her it’s normal for boys (I had five brothers, and we fought constantly). She’s convinced that we are doing something wrong as parents, but that much testosterone makes for a potent combination. When I talk to other dads, my suspicions are confirmed. Sibling rivalry is a part of our DNA.

Genesis 27-28. Esau has already given up his birthright. As the eldest son (even if only by a few moments), he had a right to a double portion of the family inheritance. The birthright was both a privilege and a responsibility. The double portion gave the eldest son the means to care for single women within his household, as well as to conduct the family business. In the case of Abraham’s clan, it would also theoretically identify the heir of the Abrahamic blessing, the one through whom the nations/families of the earth would be blessed. In trading his birthright for a bowl of stew, Esau takes himself out of the line of blessing. Jacob now has the birthright. And having secured the birthright, Jacob proceeds to acquire his father’s blessing as well.

Normally the birthright and the blessing went together, and both would have gone to the eldest son. But in this case, even though Esau had given up his birthright, he was still in line to receive his father Isaac’s blessing. The scenario in Genesis 27 is a curious look into the dysfunction of the family of promise. Before Esau and Jacob were born, Rebekah was told that Jacob would be the heir. It’s unclear from the narrative whether this information was shared with Isaac or not. If it was, Isaac’s decision to bless Esau would be in direct rebellion against what God had said, and Rebekah’s actions in orchestrating the deception are a direct response to safeguard God’s choice in light of Isaac’s rebellion. If not, then Isaac is oblivious to the prophecy, and Rebekah takes matters into her own hands to benefit her favorite son. Again, the narrative isn’t clear, but we are told that Esau was Isaac’s favorite, while Jacob was Rebekah’s.

It’s a familiar story. Isaac asks Esau to hunt game and prepare a meal for him so that he can bless him. When Esau heads out, Rebekah, having overheard the conversation, devises a scheme whereby Jacob, posing as Esau, will trick Isaac into giving him the blessing instead of Esau. The deception is quite elaborate, and a convincing disguise succeeds despite Isaac’s suspicions. Jacob receives the blessing seemingly in the nick of time as Esau comes in from the hunt. Esau is understandably upset when he learns that Jacob has stolen his blessing. Afterwards, learning of Esau’s murderous intents toward Jacob, Rebekah asks Isaac to send Jacob away to find a wife from her relatives. Isaac complies and repeats the Abrahamic blessing over Jacob, who is now the confirmed heir of the promise.

Looking back over the story, God’s purposes are accomplished…He had foretold that Jacob would be the heir…but at what cost. The carnage left behind in attempting to bring about God’s purposes in their own ways destroyed the family. Instead of trusting God, Rebekah trusts herself. Instead of obeying God (assuming Isaac is aware), he is ruled by his appetites. Thinking back to Abraham’s journey, it’s easy to come to the conclusion that deception and self-reliance are family traits. I would agree, but that I think that they are family traits that we can trace back to the garden. They are characteristics that infect us all. This story of Esau and Jacob reminds me that God can and does use dysfunctional, messed-up people to accomplish His perfect will. As one of those, I’m glad He does.

Until next time…stay salty.

Operation explosion

Saul and I grew up together as kids. We lived in the same village, went to the same synagogue, and played the same pranks on Rabbi Gamaliel for as long as I can remember. The one thing that stood out most about Saul was his propensity for controversy. It didn’t matter where he went, conflict always seemed to find him. And he didn’t back down easily from a fight. One time I had to rescue him from some of the other boys because he had attacked them after they questioned his understanding of the Shema. One against seven is never good odds, but Saul held his own. Somehow we lost track of each other after our training.

And then, while I was in Jerusalem, I heard rumblings that some of the followers of Jesus were back and claiming that He had been raised from the dead! Unbelievable. I wanted to find out more for myself. I came upon a crowd gathered outside the temple. Lots of shouting, but then a man named Stephen was thrust forward and began to address the crowd. I couldn’t catch all that he was saying, but it was evident that the crowd wasn’t happy. In fact, in an instant, everyone was grabbing rocks to stone him! And as I looked across the way, there was Saul, standing over the helpless body of Stephen. Somehow I wasn’t too surprised. I made my way over to talk to him, and it turns out that he was the Council’s new hitman against the so-called Way. I thought it was an appropriate choice.

Saul was on his way to Damascus, and we talked about catching up more when he returned. But when he came back, something was very different. In some ways he was the same Saul, stirring up controversy. But now he was a powerful proponent of the Way. He claimed that Jesus had appeared to him on the road to Damascus and that He was indeed the long-awaited Messiah that we had been waiting for. And not only that, but He was also the Son of God. I was both shocked and overjoyed because I too had become a follower of the Way. Saul’s zeal was impressive, but also deadly. He invited persecution from the moment he believed. He couldn’t help proclaiming Jesus as the Christ and facing down his opponents. It almost cost him his life, so he came to Jerusalem. And things were no different here.

After a tenuous meeting with church leadership, he was accepted in on the recommendation of Barnabas. But it didn’t take Saul long to stir up trouble and soon he was sent back home to our village. Saul had great zeal for the law and an aggressive personality that made him a dangerous opponent of the Way, but when he collided with Jesus he became a strong proponent of Christianity. God took the passion and the personality and the experience and the training that He had given to Saul and redeemed it to use for His purposes. How does God want to use you?

Until next time…stay salty.

Church Discipline

Excitement is growing. Peter and John have done some astounding things. Performed some truly miraculous signs. And God is on the move. Last week there were about 5,000 of us gathered at Solomon’s Portico to hear Peter preach. What a transformation! I don’t even recognize the belligerent quick-tongued fisherman. He speaks with such insight and authority. It’s clear that his time with Jesus has brought huge dividends. It’s also obvious that the Spirit is at work in him. So many folks coming to faith. Most have to leave behind family and friends, businesses and social status in order to follow Jesus. But like me, they believe it’s worth it. Joe, a good friend of mine, was one of the first to not only recognize the need of some of these folks, but also to do something about it. He had prime real estate in the district just outside of Jerusalem that had been in his family forever. To everyone’s surprise, Joe sold the property and brought the proceeds of the sale to Peter so that it could be distributed to the folks in need. Talk about generous giving. And Joe thought nothing of it.

But last week a shocking thing happened. Ananias, a newer member of the Way, brought a similar offering to Peter, and then…he died. It was the strangest thing. There was some question over the money he received from a parcel of land he sold – apparently there was a discrepancy between what Ananias claimed was the purchase price and what the actual sale amount was. It looked like Ananias was trying to deceive Peter (and not just Peter, but also the Holy Spirit). And he just died. Later on, his wife showed up. I don’t think she was aware that her husband had already been there, and more importantly, that he had died. Peter asked her about the sale. Well it looks like she was in on the deception, and Peter called her on it, and she…died. Talk about church discipline. I can tell you, we were all afraid after that.

But why was this such a big deal that it carried the death penalty. As some friends and I were talking, we came to the conclusion that it went back to a refrain we had heard in both of Peter’s speeches before the religious authorities: “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge…” Ananias and his wife Sapphira cared more about what the people thought of them than what God thought. Not acceptable in the fledgling church. Fast forward about 2,000 years, what would that look like today? What if God judged us as severely for giving heed to men rather than to Him. Hmmm. Food for thought.

Until next time…stay salty.