The Witness and War of the Church (Revelation 11)

 

            The American landscape is breathtakingly beautiful. America is known for her Midwestern plains, two extensive coastlines, the Rockies and the Appalachian Mountains, along with the great lakes. Teddy Roosevelt, an avid outdoorsman, helped to preserve our land and heritage by establishing the National Park Service. Years before Roosevelt, Yellowstone became the first national park being signed into law by Ulysses S. Grant in 1872. This past year the National Parks almost had 80 million visitors to their various parks across the nation. Today, there is an even greater interest in protecting the American landscape from over-development and pollution. America wants her precious land to be preserved for future generations.

            I have had the privilege to visit several national parks and have driven from coast to coast. We have a beautiful nation. One of my favorite things to look at as I travel is church buildings. My wife often laughs at how easily it is for a church building to turn my head. As communities continue to grow and space diminishes, developers need to maximize space, so they are building taller and taller buildings. However, if you drive through smaller towns throughout the Northeast, Midwest and South, you will see shorter, different skyline: ones with a cross. The church steeple used to be the center of the American skyline as it pointed people to heaven. American architecture communicated its values of being people of faith. This is not unique to America but was adopted by English architecture from our first settlers. How do we preserve that heritage?

            Two years ago, China’s government started to dechristianize the skyline of the city of Wenzhou, known as China’s Jerusalem. The Government did not want crosses at the top of the skyline. China forcibly removed 400 crosses from the skyline as a clear symbol of their secular principles. The America has not forcibly removed the cross but simply merely marginalized it. Driving force of the American culture is the economy. Church steeples have been replaced with skyscrapers. In a growing secular age, how will the church preserve the message of the cross? How will the church continue to point people to heaven amidst a hostile, secular culture?

            The American government wants to preserve the most precious land while Christians want to preserve our most precious message. We are stewards of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. We must strive to preserve the message of the cross regardless of its reception. Our task of preservation was no different for the seven churches of Asia in the 1st century. They, like we, worked to proclaim the glory of God in Christ to a secular, hostile nation. As we think about our glorious yet challenging task, we must never forget the God who works on our behalf.

The Measuring of the Church

 

            Revelation 11 is one of the most controversial and widely debated chapters in the all of John’s apocalypse. I will not provide all the various interpretations of this text, but what I believe it to mean and what it means to us today. Revelation 11:1-2, “Then I was given a measuring rod like a staff, and I was told, “Rise and measure the temple of God and the altar and those who worship there, 2 but do not measure the court outside the temple; leave that out, for it is given over to the nations, and they will trample the holy city for forty-two months.” John continues to participate in this vision. Remember this vision is an interlude between the sixth and the seventh trumpet. John was given a measuring rod and was told to measure three things: the temple of God, the alter and those who worship there. As we have seen in recent chapters, Revelation 11 is written with the backdrop Ezekiel 40-48.

            There have been numerous interpretations of this measuring from very literal to more figurative. Beale writes, “In Ezekiel, measuring secured both the inner and outer courts against the contamination of Israel’s former “abominations,” namely, unbelievers worshiping false gods in the sanctuary and priests participating in idol worship in the sanctuary (44:8–10).[1]” John is likely drawing on Ezekiel here to show that God’s measuring is a promise of protection from spiritual danger. John is not referring to the literal temple of Jerusalem but the New Testament temple of the people of God. Jesus was the temple of God during his earthly ministry. After the resurrection of Christ, the Holy Spirit came to bring life to individuals forming them into the temple of God. The NT often refers to the church as the “temple” as in 1 Cor. 3:16–17, “you yourselves are God’s temple,” and 2 Cor. 6:16, “we are the temple of the living God.” One may also look at Ephesians. 2:19–22, Hebrews 3:6 or 1 Peter 2:5.[2] Following the New Testament tradition, I believe John is referring to the whole church rather than Jewish believers or even subset of the church.

            Another interpretative key for me is that John does not only measure the temple but the worshippers there. He is not referring to the bricks and mortar of the temple, but the people of God. The altar is measured to show that God’s people are called to be living sacrifices to him (Romans 12:1). God’s presence with his people will protect them, but his protection does not mean there will not be persecution and physical harm. We have already seen that God said that there will be more martyrs before the end comes (Revelation 6:11). When John is told not to measure the outer court, God is communicating that unbelievers will persecute the church. This has already been the case in the seven churches of Asia (Rev. 2-3). Jesus exhorted them to conquer meaning hold fast to him amidst persecution. This is what the church has always done, but we continue to do this knowing that God will carry us safely into his heavenly kingdom.

            John is told that the holy city will be trampled for 42 months. Most numbers are symbolic or figurative in Revelation. What is the significance of 42 months? The same number is Revelation 13:5 in the time allotted to the beast to exercise authority over the earth. 42 months is equivalent to 1,260 days. 42 times 30 equals 1,260 or 3 ½ years. This is a reference to Daniel 7:25 who says that the people of God will be worn out by those who oppress them for 3 ½ years or a time, times, and a half of time.[3] The number should not be taken literally but more symbolically as a period of intense persecution where evil reigns. If seven is the number of perfection where righteousness reigns, half of seven or 3 ½ is a time where wickedness reigns. The wicked will reign for a time and persecute church, but God will keep his people.

            Consider Jesus words to Peter in Luke 22:31, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you turned again, strengthen your brothers.”  Jesus knew Peter was going to fall away for a season, but his faith would not fail because of the power of God. No one can snatch a believer from God’s hand. (John 10) The good work he begins, he will carry to the day of Christ Jesus. (Phil. 1:6)

Or consider the Apostle Paul when he was alone at his first defense, he said, “The Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil dead and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory forever and ever Amen.” (2 Timothy 4:16-18) Paul was beheaded. Peter was crucified upside down. Stephen was stoned. And all of them were kept by Christ. Do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. (Luke 12:4). Friend, God will keep you. God will sustain you.

The Message of the Church

           

            As the church faces persecution, she must continue her role in proclaiming the message of the kingdom. Revelation 11:3-6,

3 And I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth.” 4 These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth. 5 And if anyone would harm them, fire pours from their mouth and consumes their foes. If anyone would harm them, this is how he is doomed to be killed. 6 They have the power to shut the sky, that no rain may fall during the days of their prophesying, and they have power over the waters to turn them into blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague, as often as they desire.

There has been much debate on who are the two witnesses. There are two broad camps of identifying these two witnesses. Either they are two literal end-time individuals, or they are symbolic figures representing the whole church. There are biblical reasons for both, but I believe these two witnesses represent the whole church for 5 primary reasons.

            First, the entire church is called to exercise her prophetic ministry of proclaiming repentance and forgiveness of sins to all nations. (Luke 24:47). The message of repentance can be seen in the two witnesses clothed in sackcloth picturing a mourning of sin. The message of the church has always and will always be repentance. Repent and believe in Jesus Christ. If you are here today and have never trusted in Christ, we would be failing in our responsibility if we did not plead with you to repent. As you will see later in his chapter, only those who know Christ will experience a blessed resurrection.

            Second, two witnesses were necessary in the Old Testament in rightly judging against an offense. The two witnesses, ie the church, have been granted God’s authority to validate and announce judgment on the world.

            Third, the reference of two olive trees and the two lampstands is from Zechariah 4. Both Zechariah and Joshua were called olive trees representing the two-fold function of God’s people in Exodus 19 where the nation of Israel would be a kingdom and priests for God. John describes the church as a kingdom of priests in Revelation emphasizing that all believers are both priests and kings (Rev. 1:6; 5:10: 20:6).[4] It also appears that there is no distinction between these two witnesses in Revelation 11:4, “These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth.” They are both called olive trees and lampstands rather than one being one and the one being the other.

            Fourth, the olive tree and the lampstands also are corporate in nature as they symbolize how the church is filled with the Holy Spirit, the olive trees, and a light unto the world, the lampstands. Although it is possible there are two literal figures that represent this idea, the whole church is called to be a light of the world as they witness the resurrection through the power of the Holy Spirit. The dominate theme in the book of Acts is how the church is called to witness unto to Christ. Mounce aptly writes, “By these two metaphors John is emphasizing a truth concerning the church that has always been true but is especially appropriate in times of persecution—that the power and authority for effective witness lie in the Spirit of God.[5]” In referencing the Olive trees, John is communicating Zechariah 4:6, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.”

            Fifth, the picture of the rest of the text is that the beast wages war against the witnesses and kills them. It appears from the text that it is far more than merely two bodies but a great number of slain Christians (cf. Rev. 13:7). The celebration of the wicked for their victory of their whole church makes more sense in the context of the passage especially as people from every people and language and nations will view the bodies.

             The language in verse 5 and 6 giving these two witnesses or the church the power to speak with fire from their mouth and to shut the sky and to have power over the waters would also be symbolic. The church has been given authority by God to speak true judgments against the world. The Old Testament parallels of Elijah and Moses serve as a type of judgment that is to come. Jeremiah 5:14, “Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of hosts: “Because you have spoken this word, behold, I am making my words in your mouth a fire, and this people wood, and the fire shall consume them.”[6] Jeremiah’s words used against the nations when they would not repent.

The prophetic ministries of Elijah and Moses are in view here serving as a forerunner to the ministry of the church. What is the ministry of the church? We are called to proclaim the message of salvation and judgment in Jesus Christ, not by might but by the Spirit, says the Lord. How is the church fulfilling her role? Are we proclaiming salvation and judgment? It is easy to preach salvation through Christ while it is hard to preach judgment without him. Salvation always comes through judgment. Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin. (Hebrews 9:22) Jesus was judged and took God’s wrath, so we could be saved. God will save the righteous and judge the wicked.

            Church, when you share Christ do you talk about the judgment that is coming? Or are you shrinking back from the whole counsel of God? Too many Christians apologize for God’s judgment against sin. We must not apologize but continue as his light to the world proclaiming salvation in Christ and judgment without him.

            Friend, if you have not yet trusted in Christ, do not delay. He desires to save you. He wants to give you himself. His life for yours. But you must turn from trusting in yourself to trusting in Christ for salvation. Turn from sin to Christ. Reject your idols and run to Jesus.

 

The Massacre of the Church

            The wrath of the beast will come upon the church. He will unleash death and destruction on the saints. Revelation 11:7-10,

7 And when they have finished their testimony, the beast that rises from the bottomless pit will make war on them and conquer them and kill them, 8 and their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city that symbolically is called Sodom and Egypt, where their Lord was crucified. 9 For three and a half days some from the peoples and tribes and languages and nations will gaze at their dead bodies and refuse to let them be placed in a tomb, 10 and those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them and make merry and exchange presents, because these two prophets had been a torment to those who dwell on the earth.[7]

Jesus promised the world will hate his people because it hatted him. The church is the aroma of death to those who are perishing. The church is that nagging reminder to the world of their need to repent.

            The church completes her testimony. She finishes her proclamation and then is destroyed. Those who dwell on the appear to have the final victory. They are killed, and their bodies are not buried a sign of great disrespect in the first century. This is to happen in the great city that is called Sodom and Egypt. The reference to where the Lord was crucified has led many people to believe the great city to be Jerusalem while textually the great city has also been Rome thus far in the book. I agree with Mounce who writes,

The inclusion of a reference to the crucifixion is not to identify a geographical location but to illustrate the response of paganism to righteousness. The great city is “every city and no city. It is civilized man in organized community.” Spiritually (or allegorically) it is “Sodom and Egypt.” Sodom refers to the depths of moral degradation (cf. Gen 19:4–11), and Egypt is a symbol of oppression and slavery. The great city in which the martyred church lies dead is the world under the wicked and oppressive sway of Antichrist.[8]

This is the city of man that stands against the city of God to borrow Augustine’s language. This should be a reminder to all of us not to seek the praise of the world.

 About forty years ago, Christians started to refer to themselves as evangelicals or those who believe and prioritize the gospel. It is hard to understand who an evangelical is today as moral compromise is so prevalent in the church. We should just call ourselves what we always have been: Fundamentalist. We are those who hold to the fundamental doctrines of the church. We believe there is one way to heaven: through Jesus Christ our Lord. We believe God hates sin. We believe in biblical marriage and sexuality. The world will never love us until we compromise our fundamentals values. Let embrace who we are in Christ.

            The world will hate us and eventually take our lives and they will celebrate our demise until…

The Resurrection of the Church

            The church will rise from the dead. The church will face physical harm and experience the harsh treatment this world has to offer. Jesus was put to death. Paul and Peter were put to death. Some of us may be put to death. And yet, we will rise. Revelation 11:11-14,

11 But after the three and a half days a breath of life from God entered them, and they stood up on their feet, and great fear fell on those who saw them. 12 Then they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, “Come up here!” And they went up to heaven in a cloud, and their enemies watched them. 13 And at that hour there was a great earthquake, and a tenth of the city fell. Seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the rest were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven. 14 The second woe has passed; behold, the third woe is soon to come.

God will breathe life into our bodies and will rise. God’s breathe brings life. This is the final fulfilment of Ezekiel 37 when God breathes life into those dry bones. Christians we always interpret life on the resurrection. There is a future promise of hope that is as sure as the rising of the sun.

            A great earthquake will come and kill many of those in the cities. It is said that seven thousand people were killed in that earthquake, either a literal number or (and probably most likely) the full number of wicked. And yet, not all will perish. There will be some, or as the text says, ‘the rest’ who understand their place against God and in terror turn to give him glory. This may be a reference to the large turning of the wicked to God. God’s wrath will come on those who do not repent, but his kindness and patience extend to the end. Turn to Christ. Give him glory and live.

            In the face of all our trials, all our failing health, all our broken lives, all our sinful disobedience, all our relational strife, all our persecutions and insults, let us remember that great is our reward in heaven because God has promised us a resurrection. Never define the success of life without the resurrection of Christ. D. Martin Lloyd Jones aptly reminds us,

There is a resurrection after death. Let this never be forgotten. The life that we live here in the flesh is not all…The trumpet shall one day sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible. All that are in the graves shall hear Christ’s voice and come forth–those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of damnation. This is one of the great foundation truths of the Christian religion. Let us cling to it firmly, and never let it go.

The Reign of the Church

            The seventh trumpet finally sounds, and God fully and finally vindicates his people. Let our hearts rejoice in the victory of Christ and give thanks to Lord God Almighty, who is and who was, and who will reward his saints both great and small. Revelation 11:15-19,

Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.” 16 And the twenty-four elders who sit on their thrones before God fell on their faces and worshiped God, 17 saying,

“We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty,

who is and who was,

for you have taken your great power

and begun to reign.

18 The nations raged,

but your wrath came,

and the time for the dead to be judged,

and for rewarding your servants, the prophets and saints,

and those who fear your name,

both small and great,

and for destroying the destroyers of the earth.”

19 Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple. There were flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail.

Beloved, the nations will rage, God’s wrath will come. Saints are rewarded with the reign of Christ. Let us live everyday with an eye on that day when, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.” Amen, Come Lord Jesus.

 

 

[1] Beale, G. K. (1999). The book of Revelation: a commentary on the Greek text (p. 561). Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press.

[2] Osborne, G. R. (2002). Revelation (p. 411). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[3]Observation taken from Thomas Schreiner’s sermon on this text that can be found here: http://www.credomag.com/2012/10/26/protected-persecuted-vindicated-revelation-111-19/ accessed 2.10.2018

[4] Schreiner, Tom. (Sermon)

[5] Mounce, R. H. (1997). The Book of Revelation (p. 218). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[6] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Je 5:14). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[7] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Re 11:6–10). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[8] Mounce, R. H. (1997). The Book of Revelation (p. 221). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

Angelic Prophecy (Revelation 10)

         Former NASA Engineer, Edgar G. Whisenant, wrote and published an American best seller, “88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will be in 1988.[1]” Whisenant sent 300,000 copies of this book to ministers all over the country. Several pastors read the book and promoted it to their people. Overall, 4.5 million copies of the book were sold throughout the United States. Whisenant was quoted during the “end of the world” hysteria, “Only if the Bible is in error am I wrong; and I that to every preacher in town.” Well…you may have guessed it by now, but Whisenant was wrong. The world did not end in 1988, but his prophecy caused a world of damage. One man, Jason, wrote a review on Amazon, several years ago, I quote,

I too was one of the idiots who bought into this hysteria in 1988. I was a naive 21-year-old who put way too much faith into anything my church pastor taught. When he brought Edgar Whisenant to our church for a series of talks about the 88 reasons, I believed every word of it because my pastor believed it. As a matter of fact, belief in this book compelled my then girlfriend and I to marry much earlier than we originally had intended. We were taught that what is bound together on earth will be bound together in heaven and so we HAD to get married so we would be together after the rapture occurred. When the designated range of dates passed, I remember there being a lot of confusion and anger in the church and we ended up leaving. After several years of religious exploration dosed with much more skepticism than before, my wife and I both ended up rejecting Christianity all together. I'm not saying that his book caused us to become atheists, but it was a major catalyst for us to start thinking for ourselves about religious issues. In light of that and its novelty value now, I give it 5 stars. Oh, and we just celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary!

There were several other reviews from people who bought into this destructive theology in 1988. Sadly, there people today who buy into the same interpretative principles of Whisenant, as Thomas Schreiner would say, “Newspaper Theology.”

            After my first sermon in Revelation, a visitor came up to me and said, “I can’t wait to hear you preach through Revelation. I mean with everything you see in the News the end has to be near.” They will probably leave dissatisfied after listening to this series as I have not interpreted Revelation yet through CNN or Fox News. There will always be a subset of the Christian community that thrives off charts and analysis of daily events in how they relate to the end of the world. Four years ago, my wife and I stopped at a hotel with our kids. It was late, and Ellen took the kids to the room while I went to ask the hotel clerk a quick question. After a few seconds, he found that I was a pastor and immediately launched into a long analysis of current events and how each event related to prophecies in Revelation. The only thing I learned from true conversation was my wife’s frustration that she had to put three young kids to bed by herself in a hotel in Kentucky. As a pastor, I get invited into “Newspaper Theology” more often than the average person. People are eager for specifics about prophecy, but there are certain things we will never know.

            We must be careful when we think about prophecy, because if not, we could be like Jason’s pastor and make statements that lead people away from the Lord. Jason trusted his pastor and his church. Their “Newspaper Theology” led him away from Christianity. One day he will stand before God and realize that not all prophecy is false. Jesus told his disciples about the final day in Matthew 24, “Concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven nor the Son, but the Father only….Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know what day your Lord is coming…you also must be ready, for the Son of man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”

            As we turn to Revelation 10 this morning, let us ask the Lord to keep us awake and ready for that Day of his coming. Our goal is not to understand when he will come , but to be ready when he does.

Sealed Prophecy

            Jesus opened the seven seals of the scroll introduced in Revelation 5. There was an interlude between the 6th and the 7th seal. The seventh seal brought the blowing of the seven trumpets. The first sixth trumpets brought woe on the earth and those that dwell on the earth. After the sixth trumpet, there is another interlude in the vision before the sounding of the seventh trumpet at the end of Revelation 11. Revelation 10-11 are connected as they form a separate vision within the full vision of the book. It is unique to the book in that John is not a bystander to the vision but a participant. Revelation 10:1-4,

Then I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven, wrapped in a cloud, with a rainbow over his head, and his face was like the sun, and his legs like pillars of fire. He had a little scroll open in his hand. And he set his right foot on the sea, and his left foot on the land, and called out with a loud voice, like a lion roaring. When he called out, the seven thunders sounded. And when the seven thunders had sounded, I was about to write, but I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Seal up what the seven thunders have said, and do not write it down.”

Revelation 8-9 appear to have the background of the plagues of Exodus while Revelation 10-11 have the backdrop of Ezekiel.

John begins by saying he saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven. The first question we should ask is, “Who is this angel?” Many believe this angel to be the Lord Jesus Christ himself. This angel came down from heaven wrapped in a cloud with the only, God the Father and God the Son, having that description in the rest of the Scriptures. The description of the angel is also very similar to the description of the Lord Jesus in Revelation 1:12-16 specifically, “his face was like the sun and his legs like pillars of fire.” Also, in Revelation 4 and Ezekiel 1:26-28, God is described with a rainbow over his head. There are solid biblical reasons to think this mighty angel is the Lord Jesus Christ. I believe this angel is not the Lord Jesus but a representative of the Lord Jesus. There are two main reasons I think this is merely an angel. First, nowhere else in Revelation does John refer to Christ as an angel. Second, following Thomas Schreiner’s observation, the angel swears by the Creator. Revelation 10:6, “and swore by him who lives forever and ever, who created heaven.” The angel does not swear by himself but by another.

Regardless, if this is an angel or Christ, both come with divine authority. The angel has one foot on land and the other one sea showing how his prophecy covers the entire other. His voice roars like a lion and as he calls out seven thunders sound out prophetic words, but we do not know what it said for as John was about to write down the prophecy, a voice from heaven says, “Seal up what the seven thunders have said, and do not write it down.” There are certain things that God has not revealed to the saints but that only will be revealed at the final judgment. This should produce humility in believers. Only God knows the final end of history. Only God has all the answers. We are creatures and serve the Creator.

Revelation 10:4 should make us weary of anyone who tries to predict the exact time and hour of the end. There are things we will never know this side of heaven. Our knowledge is limited. The seven thunders have been proposed as seven more judgments like the seals, trumpets and bowls. Mounce has proposed that the seven thunders are judgments that God was going to send on the earth, but since the people did not repent at the seven trumpets, he was going to remove any chance of repentance by bringing the end. I am more inclined to believe that the seven thunders form another series of judgment on humanity that has not been revealed because of its extreme nature or to show God’s complete omniscience or all-knowing nature. There are certain things we will never know.

We should not speculate about the end and we should not listen to or endorse others who speculate about the end. Paul warns both Timothy and Titus not to speculate or wonder into myths. Let us recognize our creaturely state before a holy, wise, and just Creator.

Set Prophecy

            And although we want to be humble about the how of prophecy, we do not want to dismiss the prophecy. We may not know the details, but the end is still coming. Jesus told us that we do not know the day or the hour, but we are called to be awake and ready. Revelation 10:5-7,

And the angel whom I saw standing on the sea and on the land raised his right hand to heaven and swore by him who lives forever and ever, who created heaven and what is in it, the earth and what is in it, and the sea and what is in it, that there would be no more delay, but that in the days of the trumpet call to be sounded by the seventh angel, the mystery of God would be fulfilled, just as he announced to his servants the prophets.

The mystery of God will be fulfilled. Mystery in the Bible is referred to things that were once hidden but are now made known. The mystery of God’s plan which has been hidden through the ages will be made known. We know from Paul’s writings that the mystery of God in Christ. Paul writes in Colossians, that he

became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me. For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God's mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. (Colossians 1:25–2:3)

Paul’s life was about making known the mystery of God in proclaiming the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Come behold the wondrous mystery, Christ the Lord upon the tree
In the stead of ruined sinners hangs the Lamb in victory
See the price of our redemption, see the Father’s plan unfold
Bringing many sons to glory, grace unmeasured, love untold

            John says that when the seventh trumpet blast the mystery of God will be fulfilled. In Revelation 11:15, “Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ and he shall reign forever and ever.” Oh, how we should long for that day when the full and final mystery shall be revealed. Christ is the hope of glory. In Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Him we proclaim. His sacrificial death; his glorious resurrection; his magnificent return. This is a set prophecy. Christ is coming. Acts 17:30-31, “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

            There are two extremes we want to avoid in prophecy. One is the hyper-prophetic Newspaper Theology looking for the final day in every headline in the news. While the other extreme is just as dangerous, a complete neglect of the final day. Many ignore thinking about judgment and the final day of God’s wrath on humanity. If we neglect to think about the coming judgment, we will most likely rarely warn people of the wrath to come. Jesus commands all people everywhere to repent. This angel spoke a word of prophecy with one foot on the land and one foot on the sea to communicate that his words apply to all. If the day is coming, have you warned anyone lately? Have you told anyone that unless they repent and turn to Christ they will face judgment? God has made a way of salvation through his Son. The lion of Judah, the root of David, the lamb of God. God sent his only Son into the world so that they world could be saved through him. Are we proclaiming this great truth?

            Paul’s ministry was simple. I read it above, Colossian 1:28-29, “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.” The end is coming. Jesus is the only hope. Let us labor and toil with all our God-given strength to help people know and believe in Jesus. We do not know the hour, but we know the hour is coming. Are you ready? Friend, if you do not know Christ as Lord and Savior, turn to him today. We are not guaranteed tomorrow. Jesus died to save everyone who would turn to him in faith. Beloved, turn from your sins. Run from your idols. Do not stay in the dark but return to Christ.

            Listen again to John’s words from the voice from heaven, “but that in the days of the trumpet call to sounded by the seventh angel, the mystery of God would be fulfilled, just as he announced to his servants the prophets.” (added emphasis) Ezekiel, Daniel, and the rest of the prophets announced that the end would come, and it will. It may not come in the hour we expect but it will come. Are you ready? Will you help others be ready?

Sweet Prophecy

            The vision concludes with John being asked to eat the scroll. This is a clear parallel to the vision given to Ezekiel (Ezekiel 3). The scroll is either the same scroll first referenced in Revelation 5 or this is a different scroll holding a different prophecy. There are strong arguments on both sides perspectives. The word in Revelation 5 and Revelation 10 are different but they have the same root which could be interchangeable. The scroll in Revelation 5 is sealed and contains the judgement of the seals, trumpets and bowls. The scroll in Revelation 10 is open and appears to hold the prophecy in Revelation 11:1-13. Either way, John is commanded to take the scroll and eat it as Ezekiel was commanded before his prophetic ministry. John is called to prophesy to the church what is to come.  Revelation 10:8–11

Then the voice that I had heard from heaven spoke to me again, saying, “Go, take the scroll that is open in the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land.” So, I went to the angel and told him to give me the little scroll. And he said to me, “Take and eat it; it will make your stomach bitter, but in your mouth it will be sweet as honey.” And I took the little scroll from the hand of the angel and ate it. It was sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it my stomach was made bitter. And I was told, “You must again prophesy about many peoples and nations and languages and kings.”

The word of God is always sweet because it is from God. It was bitter because of its message. God was going to send persecution on his people and judgment on the nations. Sweet and bitter.

            There are many times when the Word of providence are sweet and bitter. God allows persecution and trials to fall on the saints. Through many trials and tribulations, we will enter the kingdom of God. (Acts 14:22) Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. (2 Timothy 3:12). Although trials will come, we can count it all joy. God will not give us over to our persecutions but sanctify us through them. Naomi lost a husband and two sons in Moab. She returned home only to be called Mara, which means bitter. God gave her the bitter pill of providence, but she returned home at the beginning of the harvest. She could not see that through her daughter-in-law, Ruth, would come Obed, the father of Jesse, the father of King David. We never know how God will use the bitter pill of our own stories to bring about his sweet providence, but we know that God will use our trials and bring us safely into his heavenly kingdom. The Bible says that through many trials and tribulations we will enter the kingdom of God. We will enter. We will be in God’s presence. We will see Christ and all his glory. We will never weep again. We will feel no more pain. We will enjoy the pleasure forever more at his right hand. We will be his people and he will be our God.

The Word of God is sweet because he contains the precious promises of our Lord. How do you approach the Word of God? Is it sweet to you?  Psalm 119:103, “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth.” And Jeremiah 15:16, “When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight.” The Word of God will sustain you through many trials. We, like Ezekiel and John, must feast on the word of God for we do not live on bread alone but every word that comes from the hand of God. Do you feast on the word? Do you write it on your heart? Do you long to hear and embrace the Word of truth?

The word of God is always sweet as it will carry us through everything in life. It is bitter because it shares the reality of our suffering and persecution. The church will suffer in the last days. I do not believe that the church will be spared from the Great Tribulation through a rapture. I believe that God will keep his saints on the earth to witness their sweet trust in God amidst suffering. This has been the role of the church for 2,000 years. We hold that our light and momentary afflictions are not worth comparing to the glory that is to be revealed in Christ.

John is called to prophesy again about many peoples and nations and languages and kings. So far in Revelation, this phrasing has referred to the eschatological believing community around the throne worshipping the God and the lamb. (Rev 5 & 7). As the book continues to unfold, this phrasing will refer to judgment against those who reject Christ. It could be interpreted prophesy about many peoples and nations and languages and kings relating to the church and their coming persecution. It could also be interpreted to prophesy against many people and nations and languages and kings relating to their facing the wrath of God in judgment. Most scholars who believe the scroll is the same one in Revelation 5 believe that it should be read as against the nations as a prophesy of judgment. The scholars who believe that it is a different scroll in Revelation 5 typically believe that it should read as about referring to the persecution that will come upon the followers of Christ. As so often is in the book of Revelation, one interpretation leads to other interpretations throughout the book.  

We do not want to get lost in either interpretation but understand what it means for both groups. If you do not repent and trust in Christ, you will experience the eternal bitterness of judgment. You will be liable to hell of fire. You will be thrown into the eternal prison and will never get out to you have paid the last penny. Or you may be in the other group. If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, you will experience the temporary and momentary afflictions of life in a fallen world, before you are ushered into the kingdom of Christ for all eternity to experience eternal joy with God and his people on the new heavens and the earth. Which group are you? Bitterness in suffering now and eternal joy to come or momentary joy now and eternal bitterness forever.

Friend, there is hope and joy for you in Christ. No matter what you have done. No matter what sins you have committed. If you turn from your sins and trust in Christ, you will be forgiven. You will be united with Christ and his perfection will belong to you. He offers you salvation, will you arise and come to Jesus? Will you take him at his word? Will you take the sweet word of salvation and feast on your future hope with Christ?

Beloved, do not lose hope. The bitterness of pain and suffering and persecution and trials will not last forever. The Lord has fixed a day. The kingdom of this earth will become the kingdom of the Lord and Christ and he shall reign forever and ever.

I heard a story this week of Martin Luther when he was (allegedly) asked what he would do if he knew the Lord was coming today, he replied, “I would plant a tree and pay my taxes.” Luther was saying that I desire to live every day as if it was the day of Christ.

Beloved, live today for Christ. Hold fast to the gospel. Fight your sin. Love your spouse. Obey your parents. Share Christ with your neighbor. Labor hard at work. Study hard in school. Delight in God’s Word. Serve the Church. Give to the needy. And continue behold the Wondrous the Mystery of Christ in you; the hope of glory.

 

[1] Referenced take from Thomas Schreiner’s sermon of this text. http://www.credomag.com/2012/10/15/come-lord-jesus-come-revelation-101-11/ The general outline of the sermon is also loosely based on this sermon as well.

The Trumpets of Judgment (Revelation 8-9)

On January 13th, 2018, the Hawaii Emergency Management System sent a text message to all residents on the island, “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.[i]” An unpredictable dictator in North Korea, the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, and a volatile political discourse, made the text message very plausible. It was not a drill; it was an accident. A simple staffer clicked live alert instead of test alert. It took the officials’ 38 minutes to send a follow-up text of the mistake and everyone and everything was safe. Thirty-eight minutes of silence waiting for a ballistic missile to crash into the island. What would you have done during those 38 minutes? Where would you have gone for shelter? What would you say to your family? What would you say to God? Thirty-eight minutes of silence.

            Waiting for disaster is nothing new. The Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 or the War Scare of 1983, America has been under serious threat of attack in the past. Hawaii was on ready alert for imminent and immediate disaster. “THIS IS NOT A TEST.” Putin. Kim Jong-un. Trump. Three leaders who can attack irrationally and make verbose claims of their country’s military prowess. Former Secretary of State William Perry recently warned, “We are at greater risk of nuclear catastrophe now than we were during the Cold War.” If you woke up to a that text message, “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO THE UNITED STATES. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL,” what would you do? Would you dismiss it or seek shelter?

Scripture warns of a far greater threat than a ballistic missile. The Bible warns that God will pour out his wrath on all the earth. I pray today that as you receive this “text message,” from God’s Word, you would seek shelter from the storm of God’s wrath. 

The Preparation

In Revelation 5, John sees a scroll sealed with seven seals. He begins to weep because there was no one worthy to open the scrolls. And as John wept, one of the elders said, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.” (Rev.5:5) Jesus is the only one who is worthy to open the seals. Revelation 6 begins with Jesus opening the seals. There is an interlude between the sixth and the seventh seal reminding the readers of the great multitude who cry out, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”  (Rev. 7:10) It is a glorious picture of the throne room of heaven. Revelation 7:17, “For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water and God will wipe away every tear from eyes.” After this glorious picture of grace and mercy, and those who were washed and clothed with white in the blood of the lamb, the seventh seal is opened.

      The seventh seal brings God’s wrath to bear on a rebellious world. The proud and the arrogant, the lawless and the obstinate, will finally face God’s justice. Heaven is full of God’s praises. The cherubim and seraphim, the twenty-four elders, and the angelic choir fill heaven with their praises of the Triune God until the seventh seal is open. Revelation 8:1, “When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.” There is a holy anticipation and awe for the coming of the power of Almighty God. There is silence. Heaven is preparing for the end.

      There is rarely silence in our day. Silence is a gift. It forces contemplation. It presses our minds to consider our own mortality and our eternity. Maybe once a month you can model Revelation 8:1 by sitting in silence meditating on what God has done and what God will do as a sober reminded of our ever-present need of him. Heaven is silent and then prepares for the trumpets of judgment. Revelation 8:2-5,

Then I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them. And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne, and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel. Then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth, and there were peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake.

The prayers of, “how long,” from the persecuted saints in Revelation 6 are brought before the Lord. “Your kingdom come. Your will be done. On Earth as it is in Heaven.” Heaven joins with us in our longing for the justice of God to come to earth. God answers the prayers of the saints in a visible manifestation of his power.

            The storm imagery in verse 5 (the peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake) would have brought the original readers back to Mount Sinai and God’s deliverance from Egypt through the plagues. Through the plagues account in Exodus there is a refrain giving the purpose God’s actions, “that they may know that I am the Lord.” Each plague shows how that the LORD is above the earthly gods of the Egyptians. There is only one Lord. In the blowing of the trumpet, the LORD is showing that he is far above any earthly gods. The plagues were sent to Egypt to deliver Israel and now the plagues are sent to the Earth to deliver eschatological Israel. As One scholar notes,

As plagues will preceded the release of the children of Israel from their Egyptian masters, so plagues will precede the Exodus of the church from hostile political powers. They are the prelude to the great and final Exodus in which the church is taken out of the world and enters the eternal presence of God. Constant allusion throughout this section to the Egyptian plagues is a way of emphasizing that in the last days God will again bring punishment upon those hostile powers that oppress his people.[ii]

The Exodus was only a small preview of his power.

The Punishment

            As we read of the effect of each trumpet blast, it is easy to see terror and dread that comes upon the earth, but notice that through the first four trumpet blast, the destruction is not permanent. God has warned with words and continues to warn with partial destruction giving people a chance to repent. Revelation 8:6–12,

Now the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared to blow them. The first angel blew his trumpet, and there followed hail and fire, mixed with blood, and these were thrown upon the earth. And a third of the earth was burned up, and a third of the trees were burned up, and all green grass was burned up. The second angel blew his trumpet, and something like a great mountain, burning with fire, was thrown into the sea, and a third of the sea became blood. A third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed. The third angel blew his trumpet, and a great star fell from heaven, blazing like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water. The name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters became wormwood, and many people died from the water, because it had been made bitter. The fourth angel blew his trumpet, and a third of the sun was struck, and a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of their light might be darkened, and a third of the day might be kept from shining, and likewise a third of the night.

The first four trumpets are brought upon nature. The judgments affected the physical earth in the burning of trees and grass, the seas and those creatures who depend on the sea, the rivers and springs, and even luminaries of the sun, stars and the moon.

            There are three main ideas in these first four trumpet blast. First, God is powerful. We never want to forget the power of Almighty God. God will not be mocked. We should not approach him in a light and trivial manner. God is holy and awesome, and we should approach him as such. Second, God is proving how he is greater than all earthly gods. God is not just powerful, but he is supreme. It is futile to turn against him. Third, God wants people to repent. God does not destroy all the earth, but only a third. The third could be taken literally or it could be that each trumpet affected a large section of the earth. Either way, it is to communicate a partial destruction. A partial destruction is giving people a change to turn to him. It is foolish to follow earthly gods. They will come to nothing; only God will last.

            As the first four trumpets affect the physical earth, the next three impact the people who walk on the earth. This was like the seals as the first 4 affected the earth and the next 3 impacted those on the earth. There is an ominous warning from an eagle about what was still to come, “Then I looked, and I heard an eagle crying with a loud voice as it flew directly overheard, “Woe, woe, woe to those who dwell on the earth, at the blasts of the other trumpets that the three angels are about to blow!” (Rev. 8:13) Remember every time John references “those who dwell on the earth” he is referring not referring to humanity, but only to those who do not trust in the Lord (earth dwellers equal unbelievers).

            One may say, “God is unfair to send these judgments on the earth.” This merely exposes our exalted view of our own importance. God is God. We are creatures. Creatures do not dictate to the Creator. We should hear of these first four judgments and the impending woe of the last 3 trumpet blasts to bring us to repentance. God is kind in giving people an opportunity to repent. He is kind to you to today. These trumpets are warnings. They are warning you to repent, but never forget who opened to seventh seal to bring these trumpet blasts. It was the Lamb who was slain to ransomed people for God from every tribe, and language, and people, and nation. The One who will judge the earth is the same One who came to save the earth. The Lord Jesus first came to take our punishment on the cross. He lived perfectly before the Father and was punished for the sins of all who would turn and trust in him.

            God is kind. He has made a way for salvation. “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” The power we see in the trumpet plagues is meant to bring repentance from those who dwell on the earth and to encourage his people. God will vindicate his people. God will deliver his people from the hostile powers of the day. His power is an ever-present reminder to his people to hold fast to Christ and wait for his coming. As his power is an ever-present remind to everyone else to turn to Christ or face his wrath.

            The last three trumpet judgments are woes that fall against the wicked. The fifth and the sixth judgments are twice as long as the first four. Revelation 9:1-12,

And the fifth angel blew his trumpet, and I saw a star fallen from heaven to earth, and he was given the key to the shaft of the bottomless pit. He opened the shaft of the bottomless pit, and from the shaft rose smoke like the smoke of a great furnace, and the sun and the air were darkened with the smoke from the shaft. Then from the smoke came locusts on the earth, and they were given power like the power of scorpions of the earth. They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any green plant or any tree, but only those people who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads. They were allowed to torment them for five months, but not to kill them, and their torment was like the torment of a scorpion when it stings someone. And in those days people will seek death and will not find it. They will long to die, but death will flee from them.

In appearance the locusts were like horses prepared for battle: on their heads were what looked like crowns of gold; their faces were like human faces, their hair like women's hair, and their teeth like lions' teeth; they had breastplates like breastplates of iron, and the noise of their wings was like the noise of many chariots with horses rushing into battle. They have tails and stings like scorpions, and their power to hurt people for five months is in their tails. They have as king over them the angel of the bottomless pit. His name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek he is called Apollyon. The first woe has passed; behold, two woes are still to come.

The demonic forces are sent to destroy their worshippers. Those who worship the things of the earth will be destroyed by the things of the earth. They will long for death, but death will escape them. The leader of these demonic forces, Abaddon or Apollyon, both mean Destroyer. The message is clear: the demonic forces are meant to destroy the image of God.

            I am reminded of the story of Pinocchio. Pinocchio went with this friends for the promise of fun only to become a donkey. The world promises fun and excitement and pleasure, but its real aim is destruction. Earthly pleasure leads to eternal torment. Do not be deceived with the intent of earthly gods. Their ultimate aim is not your good, but to torment and destroy.

            Mankind longed for death in the torture of the scorpion-like locust and were granted death by the demonic cavalry unleashed and led by angels for that very purpose. Revelation 9:13–19,

Then the sixth angel blew his trumpet, and I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar before God, saying to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, “Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.” So, the four angels, who had been prepared for the hour, the day, the month, and the year, were released to kill a third of mankind. The number of mounted troops was twice ten thousand times ten thousand; I heard their number. And this is how I saw the horses in my vision and those who rode them: they wore breastplates the color of fire and of sapphire and of sulfur, and the heads of the horses were like lions' heads, and fire and smoke and sulfur came out of their mouths. By these three plagues a third of mankind was killed, by the fire and smoke and sulfur coming out of their mouths. For the power of the horses is in their mouths and in their tails, for their tails are like serpents with heads, and by means of them they wound.

The sixth trumpet finishes what the fifth began. The demonic cavalry rides to destroy.

It is unwise to think about parallels in Johns days (Parthian invaders) or in our day (tanks and helicopters). We must read these theologically. What is John’s purpose? Why did God give him this vision? These visions were given so that the people would repent. People will be destroyed by the very things they worship. Grant Osborne writes,

The message for John’s day and for our day is clear. We must help believer and unbeliever alike to realize what is at stake. Idolatry in our society is not so obvious but is just as real as it was in John’s day…Whatever we place ahead of God in our lives is our idol. Therefore, the modern world is replete with idols: money, possessions, power, pleasure, sex, success, fame, drugs. These are all tools of Satan, and there are countless stories in which these very things have tortured and killed those who pursue them. We must warn people of the cosmic powers in control of this secular world and call them to God.

Friends, this world will disappoint and destroy. Do not believe the lies of the evil one. This world and your idols will turn on you. Do not trust them. Turn to God and live. He is the only trustworthy Savior. He is the only Sovereign. He is supreme. Turn to God through Christ and live.

The Protection

            The saddest part of these two chapters is in the end of chapter 9. God has sent his judgments on the earth and those who dwell on the earth and people still do not repent. Revelation 9:20–21,

The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands nor give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk, nor did they repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts.

The greatest tragedy of life is a lack of repentance. God has made a way, but people refuse to listen to God. They follow their own idols to the grave. They love sex and greed more than the gracious, merciful, compassionate God who made them. They are blinded by the spirit of the age as C.S. Lewis as said, “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”[iii]

            Friends, let us not fall into the tragedy of this passage. Let us run from our idols and seek shelter in the storm. God is our refuge. We cannot avoid the trumpet blast. The storm is coming, but we can seek protection from God. Revelation 9:4, “They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any green plant or any tree, but only those who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads.” The Great Tribulation will be severe, but it will not be able to touch those with the seal of God on their foreheads.

            Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved. Everyone who confesses that Jesus Christ is Lord and believes that he rose from the dead is marked for eternity. We are sealed as sons and daughters by the Holy Spirit of God. As Paul so beautifully wrote by the Spirit, “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Jesus Christ is the only sure shelter in the coming storm. Bob Kauflin writes,

I have a shelter in the storm
When all my sins accuse me
Though justice charges me with guilt
Your grace will not refuse me
O Jesus, I will hide in You
Who bore my condemnation
I find my refuge in Your wounds
For there I find salvation


I have a shelter in the storm
When constant winds would break me
For in my weakness, I have learned
Your strength will not forsake me
O Jesus, I will hide in You
The One who bears my burdens
With faithful hands that cannot fail
You’ll bring me home to heaven[iv]

Friend, Jesus is our own shelter in the storm. Heed this “text’s message,” “DANGEROUS THREAT INBOUND TO EARTH. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.” Friend, this is not a drill. The trumpets will blast, and woes shall come. Repent of your sins and seek shelter in Christ. He is our sure and steady anchor in the fury of the storm. When the winds of doubt blow through us, and our sails have all been torn. In the suffering, in the sorrow, when our sinking hopes are few; let us hold fast to the anchor, it will never be removed. Christ the sure of our salvation, Ever faithful, ever true! We will hold fast to the anchor, it shall never be removed.[v]

 

[i] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/posteverything/wp/2018/01/16/the-hawaii-alert-was-an-accident-the-dread-it-inspired-wasnt/?utm_term=.23091dd98b0b accessed 1.28.18

[ii] Mounce, Bill. The Book of Revelation. 8:5.

[iii] https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/we-are-far-too-easily-pleased accessed on 1.28.18

[iv] Kauflin, Bob. I Have A Shelter in the Storm. 2014. Music and words by Steve & Vikki Cook and Bob Kauflin. © 2008 Integrity's Hosanna! Music/Sovereign Grace Worship (ASCAP)/Integrity's Praise!Music/Sovereign Grace Praise (BMI). Sovereign Grace Music, 

[v] Boswell, Matt. Christ, the Sure and Steady Anchor.

Recovering Spiritual Unity (1 Corinthians 1:10)

             “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. shared these words more than once throughout his public life in sermons and speeches. This year marks the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination at that Memphis hotel. His words still ring true today, “We must learn to live together as brothers.” When Dr. King wrote those words, his aim was at the shared humanity and a shared citizenship of white and black people. He declared, “We may have all come on different ships, but we are all in the same boat now.” He fought for a shared unity among people from all races. His dream was that one day his four little children would “live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” His dream was that a shared humanity and love would rise above hate. “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”

            Although Dr. King’s desire was right and true for humanity, it is even more poignant for the church. We must learn to live together as brothers and sisters. We share far more than a shared humanity, but we share the same Spirit of the same Lord. We are citizens not of an earthly kingdom that will one day perish, but an eternal kingdom that will last forever. We are part of one body with one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of all, who is over and through and in all. God has lavished his grace upon us and, as our Church Covenant states, there is now on us a special obligation now to lead a new and holy life, to live carefully in the world. We must work and pray for unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Dr. King was right, “We must learn to live together as brothers.” Unity and brotherhood is not easy, but it is a learned skill and a much-needed skill for believers today.

            America is a powder keg of emotional turmoil and frustration. From political disagreements to racial strife, one inflammatory comment or tragic shooting ignites a fierce firestorm of frustration and anger and hurt and hopelessness. Our world is divided, but the church should never be. We must lead the way in unity amongst ourselves here in this body and unity amongst other believers across our land. We must work and pray for unity in the Spirit in the bond of peace. We must learn to live together as brothers.

            As we think through unity, let me ask three questions to help us learn to live together as brothers and sisters in Christ. First, why should we even care?

Why Care about Unity?

            Unity is hard work, and before we begin the necessary task of unity, we must see its value. I remember a story a few years ago about a father who always had a hard time losing weight. Nothing would motivate him enough to push him to work hard in getting healthy until his daughter needed one of his kidneys. The doctors told him even though he was a match, his weight made it impossible for the transplant to happen. He lost all the necessary weight in six months. He had the proper motivation. Before we begin with the hard work of the “what,” we must identify the “why.” Why care about unity?

            Paul encourages unity to the church at Corinth: “I appeal to you brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.” Paul’s first appeal was based on their shared family relationship. “I appeal to you brothers.” When we repented of our sins and trusted in Christ, we were transferred from the world into the kingdom. We are no longer primarily citizens of this nation, but of heaven. We are brothers and sisters together in Christ. In the first century, being a member of the same family trumped anything else. Your greatest loyalties did not depend on political or religious affiliation, but on your blood. Your family depended your highest loyalty. When Paul appeals to their brotherhood, he is appealing to family.

            Paul’s second appeal, and I believe the most important reason for our unity, is “by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” We strive for unity, because of our Lord Jesus Christ. I find it interesting that Paul does not say the Lord Jesus Christ, but our Lord Jesus Christ. We all have come to Christ. We all have recognize our need of him. The cross is the great equalizer. It casts judgment on all of humanity. The cross says everyone deserves death, but it also states that everyone is loved. Jesus died for all who would repent of their sins and turn to him. We are all sinners, and all need a Savior. Jesus has made a way. He has rescued us from ourselves. He willingly laid down his life to save us. He willingly was beaten and mocked and cursed for us. He willingly took God’s wrath for us on. He did so because of his love for us, Romans 5:8, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” We do not deserve God’s love, but he freely gives it. In the cross, we see love. In the resurrection, we experience hope.

            Paul appeals to the Corinthians with the gospel. If you are here today and have never trusted in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, let me encourage you to consider the price God has paid for you and the love God has shown you in the gospel. We all know our sin. We all have experienced the pain, regret, guilt and shame that comes with sin. Those feelings are God’s kindness to you to show you that something is wrong so that you would come to him. Our sin separates us from God. Without a Savior, we will perish. Friend, God has made a way for you to become part of his family. The Bible says, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” We call on the name of the Lord, not merely by saying we trust in Jesus, but by giving him our lives. When we call out to the Lord, he saves us and gives us his Spirit to live for him. Friend, we may all have come here on different ships, but we are in the same sinking boat. Only those who cling to Christ will saved from the ocean of despair.

            Beloved, I appeal to you by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to pursue unity. Pursue unity because it pleases our Savior. There is no greater place to see the desire of our Lord Jesus than in the garden right before his crucifixion. Jesus pleads with the father that we may be one as he and the Father are one. One of the greatest desires of the Lord Jesus is that his church would be unified. And in that prayer, we see that our unity has a purpose so that the world may know that the Father sent Jesus and that the Father loves the world through the sending of the Son. True unity can only come through the truth displayed in Jesus Christ.

            Church, do we need any higher motivation to fight for unity than this? Our great and glorious Lord Jesus desires our unity. And our unity will help bring more people to Jesus and therefore, will bring Jesus more glory on the earth. Our beloved, let us learn to live together as brothers for the sake of the glory of our loving and compassionate Savior.

Where do Divisions Begin?

            We know we should fight for unity. We know we should be at peace with our brothers and sisters in Christ, but that is not often the case. Why? Where do these divisions begin? They begin in us all. James 4:1, “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?” Fights and quarrels, arguments and divisions, begin in our hearts. Our desires and passions wage war within us. We desire something, and we do not get it so we fight against others made in God’s image. Unity is hard today because it is not natural to man. The natural man, or one who has not been made alive through the spirit of Christ, has his highest allegiance and loyalty to himself. He does what he wants when he wants. He looks out primarily for his own interest. Author Tony Reinke says it this way,

What causes our fights and quarrels? We want. We are want-ers. We are driven by desires. And want-ers, driven by unchecked desires, find themselves in a lot of fights — some bloody fights, but mostly unseen fights, non-physical fights, the kind of internal loathing towards others, a pot of boiling acid that simmers under the surface and only rarely bubbles up and bursts out in verbal disdain. Under the surface is where we nurse this insidious porridge of worldly yearnings for what others possess: a certain house, or car, or salary, or physique, or spouse, or background, or spiritual gift, or gift, or ability. “If only . . .” we think. We lust and we covet and we become fighters. We fight because we are want-ers, and we want the wrong things.

We want the wrong things. Our wanting of things and reputation and prestige shift us from wanting the highest good: God. God and his pleasure with us should be our highest good; our strongest motivation.

            If you look around at the heated discourse of our day, we see a lot of ‘Christians’ fighting for a lesser good than God himself. We too often are not careful with our tongues and allow our internal passions to control us. Divisions and strife begin in us. All of us! It may start in a small way when a friend doesn’t recognize that you’re hurting. You desire to be loved, but feel ignored because a close friend is not aware of your struggle. You begin by harboring bitterness and anger towards the person. You may never blow up and yell at the person, but you intentionally cool your relationship. You distance yourself. You pull back. Your desire to be loved starts to control and create malice in your heart towards others. It may start when you see a social media post on race or a comment defending the president.

            Friends, we all have passions and desires that wage war within us. They show themselves in different ways, but to deny them is foolish. We must learn to navigate our hearts. We must search and study our desires to pull them inline with Christ. Remember Paul words, “I appeal to you brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.” It is not that we just want to have no divisions among ourselves, but we want to be united in the same mind. God demands far greater unity than just an absence of conflict. He wants that conflict to be replaced with love.

What is the Way Forward?

            How do we strive for unity in the bond of peace? We know we should desire unity. It has extremely high implications: the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ and the salvation of sinners. There is nothing more important in this world that God’s glory and the redemption of sinners. This list is not exhaustive, but hopefully a good place to start.

Humble Yourself

We are called to have the same mind as Christ. In James 4, after exposing our sinful passions, he encourages humility. James 4:6-8, “But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, your double-minded.” We begin in our quest for unity by humbling ourselves before God. We recognize our sin. We confess it and repent. Humility and repentance is the beginning to the end of any strife and dissension.

In humbling ourselves, we are reminding ourselves and following in the footsteps of the Lord Jesus. Paul exhorts the church at Philippi to think about their salvation and being connected to Christ. He tells them to do nothing from self-ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Then says, Philippians 2:5-8, Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” The key to unity is humility. It is beholding the humility of the Lord Jesus and following his example.

Pray

Only God can change human hearts. Only God can bring peace from division. One of the reasons our churches are so filled with strife is because we are a prayerless people. If you have bitterness and anger towards anyone, pray for them and watch your bitterness and anger melt in the heat of God’s presence. I have known people overcome much bitterness and anger from being severely sinned against through prayer. As I have known others remain angry and bitter from minor offenses because of not bringing them to the Father.

Beloved, if we want to be united as a local body and as a larger Christian community throughout our country, we must pray. We must seek God’s help, God’s power and God’s Spirit to bring peace were there is division, to bring healing where there is pain, to bring joy where there is sorrow.

Believe the Best about Others

It is so easy to believe the worst about people. We are slighted in some way and we assume it is because the person hates us when it could be the person had other things on their mind that day. Training your mind to believe the best of others is a powerful defense against disunity. The natural mind looks to faults while the spiritual mind looks for blessings and evidence of grace. It is natural to criticize and condemn others, but we should make it our practice to see God moving in someone’s life rather than where he is absence. For example, we may be upset that we have less time with a friend or mentor, but we can thank God for how that friend of mentor is pouring himself into others. We can bemoan someone’s lack of giving, but celebrate how kind they are to help serve in the nursery. We criticize the tone of someone’s fight for justice, but we can affirm their desire for justice as a good and godly thing.

There are times when we should speak and at times be critical, but only after much prayer and searching of our own heart. This is true for our closest relationships as well as our response to our public leaders. Instead of assuming the worst of others’ actions, let’s make it a practice to see the good rather than focus on the bad.

Build Relationships in Person

Social media and the online world has its benefits, but we should not over depend on it. God has made us relational beings. We all have ignorance. It is natural to fear what we do not understand. One face to face conversation with someone you do not know can begin to help you overcome your ignorance. The most valuable experiences of my life have been when I had the privilege to enter into someone else’s world. It is only in entering their world that I began to understand what they experience. The knowledge gained in relationships is essential to overcome our ignorance and prejudice.

I would be a very different person if I never lived in Washington D.C. and if I never taught at an all-black high school. My five years in D.C. exposed a lot of prejudice in my own heart. God exposed my prejudices, so I could confess it and move beyond it. I would be a very different person if I never lived at a group home with teenage mothers in foster care. It was only through those relationships that I could understand the how and why of the decisions. It was learning about who they were and they life stories, that created empathy and compassion in my heart to them.

We do not want to be ignorant of the lives of others. We do not want to assume. Get to know people who are not like you. If you are young, get to know someone older. If you white, get to know someone who is black or Hispanic, so you can learn how it feels to live in America as a minority. If you are black, get to learn the struggle of a white person navigating their own privilege and prejudice. God wants to expose our ignorance and our prejudice, so we can be changed and Jesus Christ can be glorified and sinners will be saved. Jesus said, “If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do no even the Gentiles do the same?” The calling of Christians is far higher than the calling of this world. We have been redeemed to live redeemed. We are the light of the world. Let our light shine so that others may see our love and give glory to our Father who is in heaven.

Read to Understand

We can confront our ignorance by reading books on the experience of others. If you are man, maybe it would be valuable for you to pick up a book written by a woman on ministry. There is so much we can learn by entering someone else’s world by reading. Read the books that have impacted different cultures. If you want to understand Germany in the 1940s, it is wise to read Mein Kompf. If you want to understand South Africa, read Nelson Mandela’s biography. Read to understand.

Race is not going away. It has been one of the most widely debated and controversial issues in our society. We must learn to live together as brothers and one way we can do that is understanding the history of our brothers and sisters. The goal is to understand the lives of others and develop empathy and compassion for their struggles. We do not have to agree with everything we read or even like it, but we must strive to understand. The world is watching Christians. The world is watching how Christians specifically respond to the issues of the day. Let us show the world that we may be from different backgrounds, but our goal is glory of Christ.

Be Patient

It is hard to be patient in general, but it is especially hard to be patient in matters of justice. Patience means to be able to accept or tolerate delays, problems, or suffering without becoming annoyed or anxious. There will always be people who want leaders to move faster than they do and others who want them to slow down. Progress is slow. Waiting is hard. There are no easy answers or quick fixes for disunity. It takes time for people to work through their ignorance. It is takes time for prejudice to be exposed. It takes time to get over the hurt of racism. It takes time to grow in godliness.

Beloved, be patient with each other. Love each other enough to be patient with your brothers and sisters as they work for unity in the bond of peace. Life takes time. We may not love the pace of change, but we can love people as they change. This pleases the Lord. God does not only care about where we get to but he cares about how we get there.

Sanctification in our own lives is usually a slow process. Of course, there are times and seasons we may experience rapid growth, but most growth in life is gradual. Let us be patient in the sanctifying work of the Spirit in others lives and in the life of the church.

Trust God

We can be patient because we know God is at work. God is not surprised by anything that is happening in our lives. God uses the injustice to sanctify his people. God uses suffering to build character, endurance and hope in the hearts of his people. God uses pain to create a holy longing for the day when there will be no more tears or sorrow. God took the worst injustice that ever happen: the sacrifice of the sinless Son of God to bring eternal salvation to sinners. God will work all things to the good of those who love him and called according to his purpose. God is trustworthy.

Unity is a glorious and beautiful thing. It may be as fragile as a snowflake, but what immense beauty happens when that fragile snowflake is united with others. It creates glorious wonder. Friends, we must learn to live as brothers.

            In an old Peanuts cartoon, Lucy commands Linus to change the channel. Linus said, “What makes you think you can walk right in here and take over?” Lucy responds, “These five fingers. Individually they’re nothing but when I curl them together like this into a single unit, they form a weapon that is terrible to behold.” Beloved, a holy and unified church is an awesome weapon in the hand of God. Let’s curl ourselves together into a single unit for glory of our great and awesome Savior.

Recovering Spiritual Disciplines - 1 Timothy 4:7-8

            Slave trader turned pastor and hymn writer, John Newton, wrote,

I am not what I ought to be. Ah! How imperfect and deficient! I am not what I wish to be. I abhor what is evil, and I would cleave to what is good. I am not what I hope to be. Soon, soon, I shall put off mortality, and with mortality all sin and imperfection. Yet, though I am not what I ought to be, nor what I wish to be, nor what I hope to be, I can truly say, I am not what I once was—a slave to sin and Satan. And I can heartily join with the apostle, and acknowledge, ‘By the grace of God, I am what I am.[1]

Newton was changed by the grace of God. A slave trader to a pastor. All godly change is only by grace. Paul writes of his own calling as an apostle in 1 Corinthians 15, “Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain.” Paul knew that all that he did for the Lord has a gift from his hand, but that does not mean that Paul did not work hard. We are usually familiar with the first half of verse 10, but listen to the whole verse, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.” Paul was an apostle by grace, but he labored hard to grow in grace.

            I pray this morning that you will be challenged to labor hard to grow in grace. Grace and work. It may seem like a contradiction, but I pray you will see how grace fueled effort will lead you to Christ.

The Why of Spiritual Disciplines

            Discipline is to train someone to obey rules or a code of behavior or using punishment to correct bad behavior. Discipline is often viewed through negative lenses today. The reason people do not like discipline because they forget the purpose of discipline. Discipline can be hard, challenging, and tiresome, but it can produce something wonderful. Paul wrote to a young Timothy while he was serving as his representative to the people of Ephesus on what to avoid and how to live. He wrote in 1 Tim 4:8, “Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” There were false teachers in Ephesus who were encouraging abstinence from marriage and extreme ascetism. Timothy was to avoid these silly myths, but to train himself for godliness. Godliness is referring to a God-honoring life. Life of righteousness and upright living. Godliness implies a close relationship with Jesus Christ. To be godly is to know Christ. Godliness comes through growing in one’s relationship with Jesus Christ.

            As we approach the topic of spiritual disciplines (the practices found in Scripture that promote spiritual growth among believers in the gospel of Jesus Christ[2]), it is important to remember the purpose. We labor to grow in godliness. We labor to grow in the knowledge and love for Christ our Savior. Jesus died for us. He saved us from hell. We must realize how glorious the hope offered in Christ is. Octavius Winslow writes,

The obedience and death of the Lord Jesus laid the foundation and opened the way for the exercise of this great and sovereign act of grace. The cross of Jesus displays the most awesome exhibition of God’s hatred of sin, and at the same time the most august manifestation of his readiness to pardon it. Pardon, full and free, is written out in every drop of blood that is seen, is proclaimed in every groan that is heard . . . . Oh blessed door of return, open and never shut, to the wanderer from God! How glorious, how free, how accessible! Here the sinful, the vile, the guilty, the unworthy, the poor, the penniless, may come. Here too the weary spirit may bring its burden, the broken spirit its sorrow, the guilty spirit its sin, the backsliding spirit its wandering. All are welcome here. The death of Jesus was the opening and the emptying of the full heart of God. It was the out gushing of that ocean infinite mercy that heaved and panted and longed for an outlet. It was God showing how he could love a poor, guilty sinner. What more could he have done than this?[3]

There is nothing more glorious than the gospel and the Savior who brings it. And if we want more of Jesus, than we should train ourselves for godliness. If we forget the purpose, and make spiritual disciplines an end rather than a means to end, they will become hard, tiresome and drudgery. But if we keep in sight the glory of our Redeemer, we will find joy in the journey. Friend, Jesus is worth it. The grace fueled labor it takes to know Jesus is worth it.

The What of Spiritual Disciplines

            Spiritual Disciplines are activities and habits that God uses to grow people in grace. Grace is a gift. We cannot earn it. Although we can’t earn it, we can place ourselves in its path. As Zacchaeus climbed the tree and Bartimaeus was on the road, we must place ourselves in the path of God’s grace. We cannot expect to grow and become like Christ without labor. God is knowable, but he has provided us means to know him. We must exercise the spiritual disciplines if we are going to grow in godliness.

Bible

            The God of the Universe speaks to us in his Word. God creates new life with his Word. His Word brought forth life in creation and now he creates new life through his Word. God speaks, and life happens. One of the greatest resources for our spiritual growth is the Word of God. The challenge for us today is we because we have unfettered access to God’s Word, numerous study bibles, different versions, a plethora of electronic options that we are “tragically tempted to take it lightly.” We too easily and too often neglect the Word of God. Now, we do not want to create some sort of legalistic Christian mandate that we must read the Bible every day, but when we neglect the word of God, we are turning our backs on a wonderful means of God’s grace. What do we do with Bible?

            Read – D.L. Moody’s mother gave him a Bible and on the inside cover it was inscribed, “The Bible will keep you from sin and sin will keep you from the Bible.” If we are honest, all of us have fallen into the sinful neglect of the Word of God. Too often we simply blame busyness, but our busyness reveals our heart. We do not make time for God’s Word because we do not desire to know the Lord. We may “want” too, but we all know we make time for things we really want. Maybe this morning, the first thing we need to do is to repent of our neglect and turn back to the Lord. Remember, discipline yourself for godliness. Do not let guilt keep you from the Word. Confess your neglect today and ask God for help by the Spirit to prioritize the Word of God.

There are a number resources that can aid your bible reading (reading plans, new Bibles, apps, reading groups, etc.) But I think David Mathis is right when he says, “At the end of the day, there is simply no replacement for finding a regular time and place, blocking out distractions, putting your nose in the text, and letting your mind and heart be led and captured and thrilled by God himself communicating to us in his objective written word.” There is no substitute for unhindered time in the Word. Set a time and put your nose in text.

            Study – I enjoy raking my backyard. In about 30 min with relatively little effort, I can make my back yard look amazing. Simply removing the leaves to the side beds does wonders to the look of the yard. Raking is easier, but grabbing a shovel and digging out a tree stump is a different story. There are times we simply rake over our Bibles. We read for breadth, but there are times we must dig for diamonds. Digging takes a lot more effort, but it is necessary if we want to penetrate the surface of our study. Spend an hour reading the cross reference to different verses. Get a good study Bible and read all the footnotes. Trace a Biblical theme from Genesis to Revelation. The greatest truths are the ones you discover yourself.

            Meditate – The first birthday where Ellen and I knew each other she made me a homecooked meal and then treated me to a Dulce de Leche crepe at this fancy D.C. restaurant called, The Saint. The crepe arrived, and the presentation was beautiful. It was warm and perfectly made. I grabbed my fork and started digging in. My wife was shocked. She stopped me, “Dave you don’t eat this kind of dessert like that!” I was not savoring the dessert. I needed to slow down and taste all the different flavors and textures to truly enjoy its beauty. The same is true for the Word of God. We must learn to meditate, and savor is beauty with all its different textures and nuances to fully appreciate its beauty. Don Whitney defines meditation as, “Deep thinking on the truths and spiritual realities revealed in Scripture for the purposes of understanding, application, and prayer.”

God commands Joshua as he takes over for Moses to be strong and courageous. How will Joshua be strong and courageous? By taking the Word of God and meditating on it day and night. (Joshua 1:8). The blessed one is Psalm who prospers how? By meditating on the Word of God day and night. Psalm 1:1–2

            Blessed is the man

                        who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,

            nor stands in the way of sinners,

                        nor sits in the seat of scoffers;

 but his delight is in the law of the LORD,

                        and on his law he meditates day and night.

Remember the Word of God is not an end, but a means to an end. The Word leads us to God. The reason we slow down and ponder, chew on, think hard on the Word is so that we would know Christ and become like him. Thomas Watson says, “The reason we come away so cold from reading the Word is, because we do not warm ourselves at the fire of meditation.[4]” In our frantic, busy world, imagine the immense spiritual benefit by slowing down and savoring the beauty and majesty of our great Savior in the Word of God.

            Memorize – One way to meditate on God’s word is to memorize it. Write the Word of God on your heart. I have found no greater practice for my own heart than to take the time and effort to memorize the Word of God. I do not have the time here to offer details on how, but simply take a verse read it aloud ten minutes emphasizing a different word each time. Then recite it ten times. After you get that verse, repeat. You will not regret the time you take to put God’s Word on your heart.

Prayer

            The Word is God speaking to us while prayer is us speaking to God. We pray to have more of God. We pray so he takes our will and bends it to his will. We pray so we can help spread the greatness of his name in all the earth. We pray to talk to God, to relate to him, to hear from him, and to make him our highest joy. And here is the most amazing thing about prayer; God is listening. God inclines his ear to his people. He delights to hear and answers the prayers and petitions of his children. He is a good, good Father. The God of the universe has a ready ear and willing heart. I am ashamed at how many times my own children come to me and I am distracted from their words with other things. I must fight to focus on every word and be present. God is not distracted or preoccupied when we come to him in prayer. He is present, and we have his ear.

            Pray in Private – Private prayer is an important test to our sincerity with God. It is so easy to impress with our prayers or to use prayer as a tool to get what we want. Jesus said, “When you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” What does your private prayer life reveal about you? Do you take time to pray? J.I. Packer says how we pray, “is as important a question as we can ever face.” Our prayer life reveals our relationship with God. If our prayer life withers, so to does our walk with the Lord. Neglect at your own peril.

            How do we grow in our prayer life? Here are few tips. First, plan to pray. Find a time and a space where you spend dedicated time in prayer. Of course, we are to pray without ceasing and are to be praying throughout the day, but it is good to set aside a time for dedicated prayer. Susanna Wesley, John and Charles’s mother, would throw a blanket over her head to create her own mini prayer closet. Whatever and however, find a time to prayer. Second, pray as the Lord taught us to pray. One method in using the Lord’s prayer is ACTS: (Adore -Hallow Be Thy Name, Confess – Forgive us our debts, Thanksgiving – thank God for his grace and mercy and that you have been brought into his kingdom, Supplication – ask God for specific requests for yourself, family, church, nation, world, etc.) It is a one way to order our prayer life.

            Third, be real with the Lord. Share your anxieties, fears, anger, desires, passions, joys, etc. Approach him with reverence and honor, but also as a caring Father who delights in your prayers. He knows what you need before you ask him. He knows your heart’s struggle. He desires to offer help. He wants to bend your will to his will. God can handle whatever you bring, and he will not turn his love from you. Fourth, pray the Scriptures. Take different passages of Scripture and pray them over yourself and others. Take the prayers of Paul for example and pray them over yourself. For example, Colossians 1:9-13,

Father, fill me with the knowledge of your will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding so I may walk in a manner worthy of you. Help be bear fruit in every good work. Lord, help me increase in the knowledge of you so that I may be strengthened with all power according to your glorious might for all endurance and patience and let me do so with joy. Thank you for qualifying me to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. I am humbled that you have delivered me from the domain of darkness and brought me into the kingdom of your Son, where I have redemption and the forgiveness of sins. Oh Father, thank you for your redemption in Christ. In His precious name I prayer.

This is one way we let the word of God dwell in us. And one way, we know we are praying according to his will and if we pray anything according to his will he hears and if we know he hears us we know have what we ask for. (1 John 5:13-15)

            Pray with People – We are also called to pray with others. One of the sweetest times we have together is Wednesday evening prayer time. We pray for our physical needs and our evangelistic efforts. We also spend time just thanking God for his work in our lives and the lives of others. It is a rich time together. Let me offer a few tips when you get together and pray with others. Take turns and keep your prayers shorter. I get distracted when someone is praying for 4 minutes straight, but it is easier to focus if each person prays for 30 seconds. Take less time sharing about prayer concerns then actually praying. Praying can be the way you learn about what is happening in people’s life.

            Corporate prayer was a clear mark of the early church. It is interesting that the least attended services in most churches is the prayer gatherings. Prayer is an essential ministry in the life of the church. It is powerful and fruitful work. I pray we would be a church that is devoted to prayer.

Keeping the Heart

            We pursue spiritual disciplines to help us grow in Christ. We desire to be mature. Spending time in God’s Word and prayer are essential for keeping our heart in Him. There are other spiritual disciplines that can protect our hearts. We want to keep our heart in Christ. The world wants us to drift from Christ, so we have to intentional use the disciplines of the Christian life to keep our hearts steadfast in Him. Here are a few practices that could benefit you in protecting your affections in Christ.

Solitude – In a busy world, it is paramount that we spend time alone and in silence. Slowing down and getting away can reveal things about our life that can help us grow in Christ.

            Reading – There are power in words. In an image driven society, the word of great saints can help us deepen our walk. If you want to grow in your knowledge of Christ, a good book can do wonders.

            Learning – There are plethora of resources that can aid in your spiritual growth. Podcasts, sermons, free online classes, and good Christian articles can all be very helpful in setting your mind on the things above.

Journaling – Journaling is a wonderful tool to apply what you are learning to your life. I have found that I retain a lot more of what I write down than what I don’t. Journaling can be a tool to help you meditate and retain the things you are learning.

            Fasting – Fasting is a wonderful tool to teach you self-control and reveal the lusts of your heart. Giving up food or television or social media for a day, week or month can expose your hearts longing after things. We do not live on bread alone but on every word out of the mouth God. We may be leaning too heavily on the things of this world and fasting helps to expose those crutches.

 

Whatever disciplines are helpful for you, remember the purpose is for you to keep your heart on fire for Christ. We do not want our love to grow cold, but we want to fan the flame of affection for our great Savior. We want to grow in godliness and be like Christ.

Fellowship

            One of the failures in the conversation of spiritual disciplines over the last twenty years is that it has neglecting the gathering of the saints as a discipline. The fellowship of the saints is a wonderful means of grace to help us grow in Christ. I would say the benefits of the body of Christ to our walk with Christ are incalculable. Acts 2:42–47

And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

The early disciples devoted themselves to the fellowship. We do not merely come to the church for preaching of the Word, but for the fellowship of the saints. We come to stir one another up to love and good deeds as the day is drawing near. Hebrews 10:24-25, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” God wants to use you for the good of your brothers and sisters. When we gather together, God wants us to be the means of grace to encourage others to hold fast to Jesus Christ.

            Can I encourage you to make the gathering of the saints a priority? We gather Wednesday nights to pray. Sunday morning in Sunday School to meet around the Word and for discussion. We worship our great God together in song, prayer and the proclamation of the Word of God. We gather Sunday night for fellowship, to hear testimonies and grow more in the Word of God. Life is busy. Kids get sick. Families visit. Many of you can’t drive at night. All caveats aside, we know there are a lot of things that are important in life, but there is nothing more important that growing in godliness. Godliness holds promises for the present life and the life to come.

 The church was purchased by the blood of Christ and is given as a means of grace to all the saints. It is a precious gift. We should not neglect the gathering of the saints, but make it a top priority in our lives. I am so grateful how many of your sacrifice for this body. It is so encouraging to see how you consider each other and learn how to encourage each other to hold fast to Christ. And although I am encouraged by many, there are others that I believe could benefit more and grow more in godliness if they spent more time in the gathering of the saints. If the church is a means of grace, what would your spiritual life look like if you attended all our gatherings? How much more would you grow in godliness if you prioritized the gathering of the saints? My intent is not to guilt you to come to church, but to see the beauty and the value of the assembly of the saints. Remember your gathering with the saints may not primarily be for you, but for others. Your gathering may be to encourage others to hold fast to Jesus.

As pastors, when we get together and think through how we can best disciple our people to grow in godliness, every service has its function. Tonight, for example, you will hear a testimony from a new couple in the life of the church, hear a young man lead worship, and learn about the uniqueness of the Baptist church all the while our kids are learning God’s truth through great hymns of the faith. And that is not including the 20 minutes of conversation and encouragement before the service and the 30-40 minutes following the service. There is no mandate that you must attend every service of the church, but the gathering of the saints is a means to godliness. I want to encourage you to take advantage of the incredible gift of the gathering of the saints.

Conclusion

            We are pilgrims on our way to glory. Jonathan Edwards once wrote a sermon titled, the Christian Pilgrim, where he writes of the highest good of all Christians,

The enjoyment of him is our highest happiness, and is the only happiness with which our souls can be satisfied. To go to heaven, fully to enjoy God, is infinitely better than the most pleasant accommodations here: better than fathers and mothers, husbands, wives, or children, or the company of any or all earthly friends. These are but shadows; but God is the substance. These are but scattered beams; but God is the sun. These are but streams; but God is the fountain. These are but drops; but God is the ocean.[5]

How can we arrive at the ocean of God? We must take the highways built by God, spiritual disciplines, that lead us to Christ, the true essence of godliness. Paul told Timothy to, “train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.” My dear believing friends, set your hope on the living God, toil and strive for godliness for it holds promises for the present life and the life to come. Use the spiritual disciplines so you can drink from the fountain of Christ.

 

[1] Quoted in John Whitecross, The Shorter Catechism Illustrated (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1968), question 35.

[2] Whitney, Don. Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life.

[3] Octavius Winslow, Personal Declension and Revival of Religion in the Soul (London: Banner of Truth, 1962) 183-84 as quoted in Gospel by Ray Ortlund.

[4] Watson, Thomas. How We Read the Scriptures with the Most Spiritual Profit. Dir 8.

[5] Edwards, “The Christian Pilgrim,” in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Sermons and Discourses, 1730-1733, [Yale University Press, 1999], 437-438)

The Sealed Israel (Revelation 7)

  Last year, I came home from late from a conference to find my wife folding clothes and watching, “This is Us,” a new NBC sitcom. My wife was totally engaged in the show, so I sat down and tried to follow it along with her. After ten minutes I was extremely confused with the who, what, where and when of the show. It was hard to follow the storyline for several reasons. First, this was not the first show of the season, but it was the 4th or the 5th. I did not know who the characters were and how each of the various storylines fit together. Secondly, I did not know when each scene was happening as the writers weaved in flashbacks to help provide greater contexts for the present-day storylines. For most people who begin to watch the show from episode 1, it is not hard to follow, and everything seems to make perfect sense, but if you come in the middle of the story with no background of the individual characters, no knowledge of how the characters are interconnected or how the writers regular interject flashbacks, it can be hard to follow at first.

     Apocalyptic literature can also be confusing. Apocalyptic literature uses symbolic language can obscure the meaning for someone who begins reading the middle of the book. Apocalyptic literature can also change the “when” of the story without providing clues for the reader. We are in middle of the book of Revelation. Now if you are here and are just beginning this journey with us, it may be confusing to follow the flow of the book. Even if you have been here since the beginning of our study, Revelation can seem daunting because our culture is very unfamiliar with apocalyptic literature. We must not only understand the when the book is talking about, but we need to understand the prophetic backstory of the Old Testament. So as in, This is Us, every flashback helps the viewer gain greater insight into the storyline and the character, every prophecy, and allusion to the Old Testament gives the reader clues to the present meaning of this book. The other challenge of Revelation is that there are often various interpretations of the book from godly, intelligent, conservative, sound theologians. Although there may be disagreements, we all can agree that the book is given to help us know and love the one who is seated on the throne and to the Lamb who was slain.

The Setting

    Revelation 6 through 16 tells of the last days. As I taught last week, I believe the first 5 seals are opened and unleashed on the earth after the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ began the last days. Seal 6 is the beginning of the end of history. Revelation 7 is an interlude between the 6th and the 7th seal. Although the events of Revelation 7 are written after Revelation 6, that does not necessarily mean that they happen after the opening of the seals. Remember that in apocalyptic literature chronology is not used in the same way as in prose. Revelation 7:1-3,

After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, restraining the four winds of the earth so that the wind could not continue to blow on the land or on the sea or on any tree. And I saw another angel ascending from the east holding the seal of the living God. And he cried out with a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to damage the land and the seas, saying, “Do no damage the land or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the slaves of our God on their foreheads.”

John provides details of what he sees. He saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth. Remember this is apocalyptic literature so John does not mean that the earth is flat and there are only four corners. It is a symbolic description that is referring to the whole world. The four winds that are sent on the earth is used through the Bible as a picture of God sending judgment on the earth. Remember in chapter 6, God is unleashing judgment, war, famine, disease, and death upon the earth. There is great devastation coming on the earth. If you are a 1st century Christian hearing Revelation for the first time, a natural thought would be what about us? How will we endure this judgment?

God knows our thoughts and our hearts and provides an answer to their questions before it is asked. He does not say the judgment will not happen, but that before the judgment comes, the people of God will be sealed unto the Lord God. The seal of God is a form of protection. In Ezekiel, God places a seal on the foreheads of his people who are grieved with the abominations and sins of the people of God. They were marked unto the Lord because they did not compromise their faith. Ezekiel 9:3-4, “Now the glory of the God of Israel had gone up from the cherub on which it rested to the threshold of the house. And he called to the man clothed in linen, who had the writing case at his waist. And the LORD said to him, “Pass through the city, through Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in it.” Before God sent his judgment, he protected his people from his wrath. This is the background of Revelation 7.

Now we know that the seal does not mean that Christians will not experience physical harm for God has promised that there will be future martyrs. The full number of those who will be slain on account of the Word still has to come in. The protection through the seal that God is providing here is protection from God’s wrath. Saints will still face the wrath of the beast. They may lose their physical bodies, but they will not lose their souls. They will be protected from God’s wrath because they have his seal. Martyrdom in Revelation is a victory. The martyrs are clothed in white robes in Revelation 6 and those who are standing around in Revelation 7 have white robes. White robes are a sign of victory.

Before the full wrath comes upon the earth, the people of God are reminded that there is nothing that can snatch them from the Father’s hand. They are sealed. They are protected. They belong to God. How encouraging would this have been for the saints facing intense persecution from the Roman empire? How much comfort would it have been to the church to know that God is with them?

Are you sealed? Have you trusted in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior? Have you turned from your sins? J.C.  Ryle says, “The heart that has really tasted the grace of Christ will instinctively hate sin.” Have you tasted Christ? Ephesians 1:13-14, “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.” When you believe in Christ, you are sealed until the day of redemption. There is nothing that can ultimately harm you. Are you sealed?

The Sealed

    But who are the sealed 144,000 in Revelation 7? I believe that the sealed 144,000 is a symbolic number that includes all the saints of the church of Jesus Christ throughout history. Before I give my reasons, there are other solid pastor/theologians who believe this is referring to ethnic Israel. I do believe there will be a large movement of God among ethnic Israel during the close of history (as I see that in Romans 11), but I do not believe John has ethnic Israel in mind here in Revelation 7. I believe the number is symbolic because of how John uses numbers through the Book. The number seven is used a picture of completeness and wholeness (7 horns of the lamb, 7 eyes, 7 spirits sent through the earth, 7 seals, 7 churches etc.). There are twelve tribes of Israel and there are the twelve apostles. John writes of both in the New Jerusalem so here we don’t just have 12 but 12 squared. 144 then multiplies 1,000 to give 144,000. It is a great number that shows whole and complete multitude. Here are my reasons that seven reasons why I believe the 144,000 are referring to the church of Jesus Christ.

    First, the book is written to the seven churches in Asia. John is trying to comfort the church in the rise of persecution. It makes sense that he would remind them that they are sealed by God and should know that they will conquer to the end.

    Second, if the number is symbolic, then the most natural reading is all the people of God. Jesus broke down the wall of hostility and united the two, Jews and Gentiles, into one people of God. The church is referred to as the new Israel in the New Testament. The people of God are the people of the lamb. There are ethnic Jews and Gentiles in the church. Both make up the church. Peter addresses the church as the elect exiles of the dispersion. James writes his letter to the church as the twelve tribes of Israel.

    Third, John has already differentiated ethnic Jews from spiritual Jews in this letter. Revelation 2:9 and Revelation 3:9, both share how unbelieving ethnic Jews are not true Jews. Revelation 1:7 and Revelation 5:10 calls the church a kingdom of priests (along with 1 Peter 2) a promise that was first given to Israel in Exodus 19. The church is a kingdom of priests. The sealed in Ezekiel 9 refers to those ethnic Jews who did not compromise and follow the world but the remnant who remained faithful to God. John is most likely not referring to ethnic Israel but those the remnant who have remained faithful to God by trusting in the promised Messianic Lamb who was come to take away the sins of the world.

    Fourth, Revelation 14:1-3, makes another reference to 144,000. It seems clear from that passage that the 144,000 is a reference to the whole church. Revelation14:1-3,

Then I looked, and behold, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father's name written on their foreheads. And I heard a voice from heaven like the roar of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder. The voice I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps, and they were singing a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and before the elders. No one could learn that song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. (emphasis added)

Those who have the name of the God and the lamb on their foreheads (a reference to the church at Pergamum and Philadelphia) as well all who had been redeemed from the earth. It seems like both referenced in Revelation 14 is speaking of the church which makes it more likely that when the same number is revelation 7 is referring to the same the church as well.

    Fifth, the listing of the twelve tribes is unique to all the renderings of the twelves tribes in the Old Testament. This is a clue that it should be read symbolically. Judah is mentioned first because Jesus was the lion of the tribe of Judah. This list is a people of the lamb. The tribe of Dan is not mentioned here. Many believed that the Anti-Christ would come from Dan because the serpent is referenced in Genesis 49:17, “Dan shall be a serpent in the way, a viper by the path, that bites the horse’s heels so that his rider falls back.” Dan was also one of the centers of idolatry. Excluding Dan from the list points to the purity of the church.

    It is also important to note that 10 of the 12 tribes have been lost. The northern ten tribes of Israel intermarried with the Gentiles when they were judged for their idolatry, they were lost from the pages of history. One could say that some of each tribe left the northern kingdom for the southern kingdom of Judah, but those ten tribes are lost.

    Sixth, and finally, John uses a literary technique to show are two things are the same. He heard of the Lion of the tribe of Judah and he saw the lamb. The Lion and the lamb are one in the same. In Revelation 7, he heard the number 144,000 (Revelation 7:4) and then he saw a great multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language standing before the lamb. It seems that the 144,000 that he heard of was the same as the multitude that he saw.

    I think there is a good reason to believe that the 144,000 are the church, but as always you should be good Bereans and study to show yourself approved and test what is said from the pulpit. We can get bogged down in trying to understand the specifics of the 144,000 but remember the context. Hear the words of those who dwell on the earth who do not know the Lamb at end of Revelation 6 again, as they called to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?” (Revelation 6:17). Who can stand before the wrath of the lamb? Revelation 7 gives the answer. Those who have been sealed. Those who are in the Lamb.

The Stand

    Those who are standing before the Lord is not limited to ethnic Israel but to all who trust in the Lamb who was slain. Revelation 7:9-14,

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

 

Who can stand before the throne? Those who have been clothed in white robes after washing them in the blood of the lamb.

    Salvation belongs to God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb. Do you have this salvation? We are sinners and deserve God’s wrath for our sin. I was talking with a non-Christian awhile back and the topic of fear came up. I asked them what they were afraid of and in a moment of honesty said, “I am afraid to die.” Why is there a fear of death? Is simply because of the unknown? Or is it because of deep down in all of our hearts, we know what we deserve? We know we need to be saved from our sin! And salvation belongs to God and to the Lamb. This means that the only salvation that is possible is given by God through the blood of the lamb. God sent his Son to the Lord to save us. Jesus died on the cross. As a lamb that was led to the slaughter, he opened not his mouth. We have turned to our own way and the Lord in his immense kindness has laid on Jesus the iniquity of us all. And after Jesus died, he rose again. No one took his life, but he laid it down.

The blood of the lamb has brought salvation for all who would trust in Him. Salvation does not belong to the obedient or the wise or compassionate, but salvation belongs to God. God gives salvation through faith in the lamb. Who can stand before the lamb? Only those who know him. Do you know the lamb? Have you gone to God to deal with your sins? Have you washed your robes in the blood of the lamb? Salvation is open to all; all who come to the lamb.

Beloved, how comforting is it to know that we are sealed until the day of the Lord? Nothing can take us from the hand of God. The good work he began he will bring it to completion on the day of Christ Jesus. We will face persecution. We will face trials. Rejection. Abandonment. Scorn. Hate. Through many trials and tribulations, we will enter the kingdom of God, but we will not be lost. God will not lose one of his blood-bought servants. Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” (John 10:27-30) You will not be lost. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation or distress or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger or sword?...No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, no things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, no anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:35-39)

The Shepherd

Are you weary today? Do you feel like your faith will fail? Does life seem too overwhelming to bear? Know this, those who know the Good Shepherd will be lead out of great tribulation by the Good Shepherd so that they can stand before the throne of God and serve him day and night. Revelation 7:15–17

“Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Our confidence is not in our faith but in the object of our faith. The Good Shepherd will lead us to the promise land. He has gone to prepare a place for us. A place where they shall be no more hunger or thirst. There shall be no more disasters or death. The Lamb will shepherd us and guide us to the springs of living water and He will wipe away every tear from our eyes.

    Beloved, we will have trials. This life is full of pain, but God has promised his presence in paradise. We can endure. We can press on. We can fight the good fight of faith. We can because we belong to the Lamb and salvation belongs to the Lamb. We will be spared from his wrath and given his grace. For we are not destined for wrath but to obtain salvation through Jesus Christ our Lord who died for us. He will keep us.

    Beloved, we will stand before the Lord, not on our merit, but on the blood of the Good Shepherd who laid down his life for the sheep. He knows his own and his own know him. Friends, take joy today that God was our Shepherd, is our Shepherd and will always be our Shepherd.

   


 


 

The Opening of the Seals (Revelation 6)

It has been a great joy for me this past year to build a relationship with Pastor Gary and his family. We have spent a lot of time talking of the things of the Lord and in prayer for his church. We have a lot in common. We share similar views on the Scripture, ministry philosophy and pastoral theology. And although we have a tremendous amount in common, we have one huge difference. I am a huge Chicago Cubs fan. Gary and the whole Huddleston family are huge Los Angeles Dodger fans. This past baseball season the Chicago Cubs faced off against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLCS. The series was the first real test to our friendship. The Dodgers beat my Cubs. And after the series was over, Pastor Gary said to me, “We are still friends, right?”

            Revelation 6 begins the first real test of our theological friendship. At the end of this series, I will look at many of you and say, “We are still friends, right?” Chapters 6-16 make up the largest section of Revelation. I will not have the time to teach on every possible interpretation of the various texts, but will teach what I believe the passages are saying. I believe it is wise when approaching apocalyptic literature, like Revelation, to hold your interpretation with conviction, but with an open hand. Pastors are generalists. We are the family doctors of the medical field. Family Doctors must know little about a lot of things. They normally can answer your questions about your health, but occasionally will send you to a specialist. I hope to answer your questions about the text, but may have to refer you to a specialist for deeper study.

            As we begin to dive into the heart of the book, it would be a good time to remember God’s promise at the beginning of the book, “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.” My prayer is that you would be blessed as you hear and keep the commands of that are written in this book.

The Purification and Punishment of the Seals

            John has shared the great vision of the Lion of the Tribe of Judah and the Root of David, as Lamb of God who was slain to take away the sins of the world. Only he is worthy to open the seals. It was because of his death and his resurrection that the seals of the scroll are opened. The pivotal event in human history was the crucifixion of the Son of God. Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection began the end of the age. I believe that Revelation 6 is connected to Jesus’ Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24. The first 5 seals are a description of the last days or the era of the church.

Many people look around at what is happening in the world and say, “The end is near.” This is true, but not in the way that they mean it. The events described in the first five seals have been happening over the last 2,000 years. One of the most important points in the discussion of the seals is that they are all under God’s sovereign control. Only the Lamb has authority to open the seals and only the Lamb has authority to send the four horsemen of the apocalypse throughout the earth. Revelation 6:1-2, “Now I watched when the Lamb opened one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures say with a voice like thunder, “Come!” And its rider had a bow, and a crown was given to him, and he came out conquering, and to conquer.” The Lamb opened the seals and one of the four living creatures who serve the Lamb said, “Come!” The movement of the horses are controlled from the throne.

The imperial cult worship is a prominent theme throughout Revelation. The seven churches of Asia (that this book is written to) are facing increasing pressure to bow down to the Caesar. As we have seen in the seven letters, the church will face intense persecution from the Romans as they stand for Christ. Rome was a mighty nation and defeated almost everyone in battle except for the Parthians. The Parthians defeated the Roman army twice in 55 B.C. and 62 A.D. and were famous for their cavalry who mastered shooting arrows with precision at full speed. The white horse came with a rider and a bow. He came out conquering and to conquer. The only other one who was pictured riding a white horse is the Lord Jesus in Revelation 19:11, “Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and true and in righteous he judges and makes war.”

After the resurrection and ascension of Christ, Jesus sends his Spirit throughout the earth to conquer men’s hearts with the gospel. Nothing can stop the gospel! This is connected to Jesus Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24. The disciples asked Jesus to tell them of signs of the end of the age. Matthew 24:12-14, “And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” The gospel will be preached to and believed by people from every tribe, language and nation. Paul was bound in prison but proclaimed, “the word of God is not bound!” Nothing can stop the gospel.

Jesus warns us that the love of many will grow cold like the church in Ephesus who lost their first love. We want to endure in our first love and share that love with a lost and hurting world. This should give us great confidence as believers. We can always share the gospel confidently because we know some will believe. The power of the gospel can melt even the hardest heart. Do we share the gospel believing that nothing can stop it by accomplishing its purpose? Too many us believe our gospel to be a water pistol attempting to distinguish a forest fire not knowing it is more of a fire hose shooting at a candle. Nothing can stop the gospel.

As persecutions and trials rise among the earth, we must always remember that our gospel as conquered and is conquering the hearts of man. How many of us have been conquered by that gospel? We were running headlong into sin, before we were arrested by the truth of Christ. Have you been conquered? Has your love grown cold? Friend, we all are sinners and only saved by the blood of the Lamb. Jesus died to pay for our sins for all who would trust in Him. Allow Jesus and the beauty of his gospel to conquer your heart. Turn to Him and live.

Jesus has inaugurated the last days. The last days will be filled with war and bloodshed and disease and death. Revelation 6:3, “When he opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, “Come!” and out came another horse, bright red. Its rider was permitted to take peace from the earth, so that people should slay one another, and he was given a great sword.” Similarly, in Matthew 24:6-8, “And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of birth pains.” Isn’t this what the last 2,000 plus years have looked like? War and bloodshed have filled the earth. The Lamb has allowed it. He has put human depravity on full display so that people would turn to God for hope.

War has become far more brutal. The development of gas in World War 1 to the atomic bomb in World War 2 to daily drone strikes today. War is part of world. Today, many of our troops know the daily pressure of war while many of us forget that the conflict rages. There is war throughout our world. Every generation believes that their times are the most challenging, but friends wars will always be there until the end comes. Jesus said, “All these are but the beginning of birth pains.” As a mother longs to see her new baby, war should create longing in our hearts for the peace of the new heaven and the new earth. The only true peace we can experience now is the peace of the blood of Christ. God has made peace with us through his blood. Endless war is a byproduct of human depravity. We can endure war through the peace of cross.

After war, comes famine. Revelation 6:5-6,

When he opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, “Come!” And I looked, and behold, a black horse! And its rider had a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard what seemed to be a voice in the midst of the four living creatures, saying, “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius, and do not harm the oil and wine!”

A denarius was an average day’s wage. A quart of wheat was enough food to feed one person for one day. A man’s entire wage could feed only himself and let alone his family. And remember there were few small families in the ancient world.

There have been great famines throughout history, but many live in daily famine-like conditions. Almost half the world, 3 billion people live on less than $2.50 a day. Over 80 % of humanity lives on less than $10 a day. As Westerners we look for the day when famines will come, but many people know famine now. Jesus said there would be famines at the end of the age. We are living in the last days.

            Revelation 6:7-8, “When he opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, “Come!” And I looked, and behold, a pale horse! And its rider's name was Death, and Hades followed him. And they were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by wild beasts of the earth.” The fourth horse came bringing death to ¼ of the earth. It could be a symbolic number, or it could be a real number. Think about how many people have died in war. Over 30 million in World War 2 and the Mongol conquests, over 15 million in the Germanic Wars and World War 1, and over 5 million each in the Chinese and Russian civil war. The loss of life from war has declined over the last 40 years, but has been replaced by the loss of life through abortion. There have been about 60 million deaths by abortion in the last 50 years, and 1.4 billion deaths by abortion since 1980.

            There have been more deaths through famine and disease. The bubonic plague or Black death killed 30-60% of Europe total population. What I am getting at is that death is part of the end of the age? We may think our time is the worst in history, but there has been wars, famines and death through the age of the church. These numbers should create a deep longing for heaven in our hearts. It also should show us how desperate our world needs a Savior. All trials that face the saints should purify them. Trials are given to test and purify one’s faith. They also are meant to bring punishment on the wicked. The Lord gives people over to their desires allowing them to experience the consequences of sin.

            Beloved, let us hold fast to Christ so our love does not grow cold and we can endure to end.

The Prayer and Preciousness of the Saints

            It is important for us to think about endurance because the world hates the saints. Jesus told us that the world will hate us as it has hated him. Matthew 24:9-10, “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake.” It is no surprise then when we come to the fifth seal and hear from those who have been slain for Christ. Revelation 6:9–11,

When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.

The saints under the altar cry out for justice. They want justice for their blood. They ask God to avenge them.

            A few observations from this seal. First, martyrdom for the faith is a very real thing. We still have religious liberty in America so a Christian being killed for their faith here is a rare thing. We think of the tragedy in Charleston or Texas that targeted Christians. Those events shake our country to the core. And yet, Christians are martyred daily in our world. We should not be surprised that the world hates Christians and we should not be surprised when that hate grows to murder. There may be some here who will face death for their faith. It could be on a mission trip to a closed country or at the workplace by angry coworker. And we do not know what will happen in America in 50 years. Christians have been jailed in Canada for preaching the gospel. Businesses have been bankrupted in America for holding to convictions.

            Second observation, it is a godly thing to cry out for justice. The martyrs in Revelation are crying out for God to bring down his wrath upon the earth. When you see John reference “those who dwell on the earth” in Revelation it always refers to unbelievers. The saints are pleading for God to avenge their blood and we know from the sixth seal that he will. When we see wrong in our world, we should long for justice. If there is no justice, then it would be a cruel world indeed. God has promised to repay those who do evil. God does not say that he will not avenge the martyrs but merely to white. He gives them a white robe and tells them to rest a little longer.

            This brings me to the third observation, God is precious to his saints. He gives the martyrs a white robe. Offering clothing is act of grace. He tenderly speaks to them to rest a little longer for there are more martyrs coming. The full number has not arrived. The picture I get in my head is when I go into my kids’ room and I cover them with a blanket and tell them to sleep a little longer. God is tenderly caring for his precious saints until the end comes.

The Preview and Panic of the Shaking

            We do not have to wait long before we see God fulfill his promise to avenge his people. I believe the sixth seal is the end of history. The language in the text is common language in biblical apocalyptic language. The great earthquake in Revelation refers to the end of history. The Day of the Lord is common theme throughout the Scriptures especially in the prophets. The language is apocalyptic meaning it is symbolic, so we do not want to press the image too far. Revelation 6:12–17,

When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale. The sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”

This is a preview of the end of history. God will come in power. The powerful, the generals, the rich, the kinds and all the great leaders of the world, will cower in fear. Everyone will hide from the wrath of the Lamb. In that day, they would prefer death rather than face the wrath from the one seated on the throne and from the Lamb.

            The wrath will come from God the Father and the Lamb of God, the Lord Jesus Christ. The Father and the Son are one. And on the great day of their wrath, who can stand? Can you stand on your wealth? Can you stand on your achievements? Can you stand on your church attendance or your church membership? Can you stand on your works? No. No one can stand against the wrath of the Lamb unless they are covered by the blood of the Lamb. The worthy one who opens the scroll is the lamb who was slain. God has made a way for sinners through the cross. He invites all people to, “Come!” Have you come to Christ? Will you come to Christ? On the Day of Wrath our only hope is to be in the Lamb for when he comes he will gather all his people to himself. They will be spared from the wrath of the Lamb by the blood of the Lamb and will become agents for the wrath of the Lamb when he comes to judge the earth.

            The birth of Jesus, the first coming of the Lamb, set in motion the end of history. Jesus has begun the end of the age. We are in the last days. Are you ready for the end? Remember, “Blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in this book, for the time is near.” We are all one breath away from eternity. And when your day comes or when the Day comes, will you be able to stand? Only if you are with the Lamb. He is our only hope today and on that day. The wrath of the Lamb will come. He will avenge his people. He will rebirth a perfect world. Praise God that we do not have to fear that day because we are in the Lamb. The Lamb of God has come to take away the sin of the world. If you are in the Lamb, your sin is done. And dear friend, if you are not, come to him today. Do not linger. There is fountain filled with blood drawn from Immanuel veins, and sinners plunged beneath that flood, lose all their guilty stains. Come to the Lamb so you can stand with him on the great and awesome day of the Lord.

The Worthy Lamb - Revelation 5

Frodo Baggins was the only one worthy to carry the one ring to fires of Mordor. Anakin Skywalker was said to be the only one worthy to bring balance to the force. The quest has now begun for the only worthy football coach can bring their team a championship. Only the worthy true king could pull the sword from the stone and deliver the people from tyranny. Only the worthy candidate can deliver us a political victory. Only the worthy Katniss Everdeen was able to dethrone President Snow. Only the worthy boy with the lightning scar could defeat the one who must not be named. Our world loves worthy heroes that bring deliverance out of hopelessness. Why? Is it just that we love a good story? Or is it something more?

            There are certain themes that are retold time after time from generation to generation because they reflect woven into the very fabric of our world. The worthy one who brings hope from hopelessness is at the core of our world. If you are not a Christian, I want to introduce you to the story above all other stories that all stories of redemption only dimly reflect. I want you to consider the only one truly worthy of our praise and adoration. And beloved, let us turn our hearts again to God’s glorious story of redemption so our hearts may give glory, honor and praise to the only One who is worthy.

            We continue with John’s vision of the throne in heaven. Chapters 4 and 5 are one scene. Revelation 4 gloriously pictures God sitting on his throne in all his glorious splendor surrounded by glorious heavenly beings who worship him by casting down their crowns saying, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” (Revelation 4:11) As the scene continues, Johns moves us through the vision by telling the reader what he sees. He uses the word, saw or looked 4 times in this chapter to draw our attention to key aspects of the vision.

No One Worthy

            John begins by introducing a scroll that was held in God’s right hand. Revelation 5:1, “Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals.” First, notice that the scroll is sealed with seven seals. The number seven is used throughout revelation to communicate wholeness and completeness. The scroll being sealed with seven seals shows how completely and totally secure the scroll was from all who desired to see its contents. Second, we notice that this scroll was in the right hand of God. It was secure with seals as it was secure in the right hand of God’s strong hand. Lastly, we must consider what is written on this scroll. There have been several ideas put forward on what are the scrolls contents: the book of life, the last will and testament containing the inheritance of the saints, a contract deed or a book containing God’s redemptive plan. Based on the context of Revelation and the prophetic material (Isaiah 29:11, Daniel 8:26, Ezekiel 2:9-10), it is most logically a divine contract that details God’s redemptive plan. Remember in the beginning of chapter 4, John is told that he will be shown what must take place after this (Rev. 4:1).

            The sealed scroll that holds the details of all history is a theme in key prophetic books of Isaiah, Daniel and Ezekiel. The audience would have understood the significance of that scroll. It is also written on the front and back to show the comprehensiveness and extensive nature of the decrees of God. This is an extremely important scroll. After introducing the scroll, there is movement in the vision. Revelation 5:2-3, “And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it.” The key word in Revelation 4 & 5 is worthy. Only one who is worthy can open the scroll and break its seals. And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth is found worthy. The three-fold description covers everywhere. There is no one worthy anywhere in all of creation. God does not open the scroll himself, but needs a mediator. Who is the worthy mediator?

            We all know where this is going as we have read the text, but let us camp in the feeling of the Apostle John. John said, “I began to weep loudly, because no one was found worthy.” The unfolding of history and the God ordained future is shut up and no one will know. There is a hopelessness here. Imagine you have a little boy who you love with all your heart. He is your only son and the delight of your life. One day he is diagnosed with leukemia. He needs a bone marrow transplant. After a search of everyone in the family no one is a worthy match. Think of the pain of a mother and father in that moment when they realize that no one is worthy. They would weep loudly because no one was found worthy. Hopeless. Desperate. Helpless. John weeps, no for himself, but for the future events of God to go unrealized, “namely the coming of the final kingdom of God.[1]

            Have you ever been hopeless? Desperate? Helpless? Have you ever experienced the tears and agony of hope unrealized? The good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ will only be truly good news if you first understand the hopelessness of your own sin. The lie of too many of our churches is that people can be worthy of salvation by their works. If people serve the poor, feed the hungry, care for the least of these, or are just good people, then they are worthy of God’s salvation. Friend, no one is worthy in heaven, on earth or under the earth. We are sinners. The wages of sin is death. John weeps because God’s redemptive plan is left unrealized. He knows that he and the rest of humanity need a Savior. And those tears symbolize the hopelessness we have without redeemer. True joy can only come after you realize that you are hopeless in yourself. We are sinners to the core.

            Many churches do not preach about sin because its uncomfortable, but friend, without hearing of our sin and our hopelessness, how can truly appreciate salvation? Take yourself back to the hospital waiting room. Mother and father are on their knees weeping because there is no one worthy to save their son. Hopeless. Desperate. Helpless. Then, all of the sudden they hear footsteps of a doctor running down the hall. They look up from their knees and they hear the doctor screaming down the hall, “We found a match! We found a match! Weep, no more.”

No One Weeping

            It is hard to capture the magnitude of the reversal between verses 4 and 5. It is a glorious declaration that there is salvation. There is help. There is hope. “And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.” Friend, weep no more. Let your tears turn to laughing. Let your weeping turn to shouts of praise. It is a glorious sentence. The Redeemer has conquered. Remember how each of the letters to the seven churches ends, “To the one who conquers.” Jesus has conquered for you to eat of the tree of life, to not be hurt by the second death, to receive a new name on a white stone, to give you authority over all nations, to clothe you in white garments, to make you a pillar in the temple of God, and to grant you to set on the throne with him. Jesus has conquered the grave for you who believe.

            Jesus is identified as the lion of the tribe of Judah and the root of David. These are both messianic terms. The first, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, is taken from Genesis 49:8-10,

Judah, your brothers shall praise you; your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; your father's sons shall bow down before you. Judah is a lion's cub; from the prey, my son, you have gone up. He stooped down; he crouched as a lion and as a lioness; who dares rouse him? The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.

The Jewish people were expected the messianic warrior king to come from the tribe of Judah. Notice the military prowess in the description. The lion itself is known for power and ferocity in battle is a good picture how Judah will have its hand on the neck of its enemies. The Lion of the Tribe of Judah has conquered, just not in the way the Jewish people were expecting.

            The second term, the Root of David, is taken from Isaiah 11. Here again we see the Messiah as one who will reign in power.

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins.

These verses may not be as familiar to us, but to the audience who John’s prophecy, they would have been precious. As they were longing and waiting for the vindication of their messianic warrior King. However, the King they were expecting did not come in power, but as a lamb who was led to the slaughter.

Only One Worthy

            Christianity is a paradox. We conquer, not by sword, but sacrifice. We win through defeat. We have peace through the blood of the Lamb who was slain. Revelation 5:6-8,

And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.

The Lion of the Tribe of Judah is a Lamb that was slain. The lamb had seven horns and seven eyes. The number seven is used symbolically throughout Revelations. These seven horns were to symbolize the complete power or omnipotence of the lamb. The seven eyes symbolize the omniscience or complete knowledge that God has throughout the earth. The eyes are further identified as the seven spirits of God referring to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is sent by God the Father and God the Son to bring about his salvation through the earth. The Spirit, first poured out at Pentecost in Acts 2, is unleashed throughout the world to bring salvation from people from every tribe, language and nation.

            The Lamb is worshipped. He is worthy. He is worthy not merely because of virtue but because of authority. Only God is worthy. The Lamb is one with the Father. And as we shall see, he praised along with the Father as being worthy. The 24 elders and the 4 living creatures fall before the lamb and sing a song of praise. This song reveals to us the worthiness of the Lamb. Revelation 5:9-10,

And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.

Worthy to Reward

            The Lamb is worthy to take the scroll and open its seals. The next several chapters reveal the effect of opening the seals upon the earth, but it is important for us is that the Lamb is the one who will reward people for their works. We know throughout Scripture that God will reward every man according to his works. God will reward humanity for their labors. As Romans 2:6-11 states,

 He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality.

We will be rewarded for how we live. Beloved, let us live for God’s glory.

Worthy to Redeem

            The reason the Lamb is worthy is because he was slain and by his blood, he ransomed people for God.

Hebrews 9:2 says that, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin.” We are all sinners. We all have wronged God by rebelling against his good word. As in the garden, when God shed an animal’s blood to clothe Adam and Eve, so to God shed the blood of his own Son to clothe us with the righteous robes of Christ. Jesus died, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring to God. Ransom is a term used in the slave market to buy someone’s freedom. Jesus bought our freedom from sin by bleeding for us. His blood has brought us peace.

            There is only redemption through the blood of Christ. If you have not yet trusted in Christ, there is hope for you today. Today you can weep no more because God has paid for your sins with his blood. He died for you. And we know his sacrifice was accepted because of his resurrection from the dead. Jesus was a perfect sacrifice. He was innocent and paid the penalty for all that would trust in him. For our sake, he became sin who knew no sin so that we might become the righteousness of God. God does not merely want to save you from Hell but wants to save you unto eternal life. He wants you to live the new life of the Spirit. Trust in the redemption of the Lamb. Repent and Believe. T and T… Turn and Trust. Turn from your sin and Trust in Christ. He has made a way. Will you walk in it?

Worthy to Reconcile

            The beauty of God’s salvation is that it is never merely individual. God saves us individually to be part of his ransomed people. The Bible is God’s plan to make a people for himself who are zealous for good works. The reconciliation that God brings it far more than a personal reconciliation. We are reconciled to God and we are reconciled to brothers and sisters from every tribe and language and people and nation. We are a multi-ethnic, multi-generational family. God will save people from every nation, every language, and every tribe for his namesake. God is on a worldwide mission of redemption and He invites us to join. We are called to go make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit and teaching them to observe all that Jesus has commanded.

            Every year we give to the Lottie Moon Christmas offering because there are people who have never heard the name of Jesus. The Apostle Paul said he made it his aim to go to where the gospel has not yet been preached and believed. In giving to the Lottie Moon Christmas offering, we can participate in a small way of sending the gospel to the most unreached places through thousands of missionaries. And our missions giving does not have with Lottie Moon, but we can give to those within our congregation who are going to the ends of the earth on short and long-term assignments. Maybe God is calling you to go to the nations. Maybe God wants you to leave the comfort of your home to go a remote village in Africa or to the mountains or Nepal or a secular city in Australia. Maybe God wants you to stay here and hold the rope for someone else to go like Andrew Fuller to William Carey. Maybe God wants you to engage with people who do not look like you for the sake of the glorious name of the Lord Jesus.

            Over this past year, my heart has been saddened on how Christians have not been leading the way in reconciliation. The racial divide in our country has been so pronounced over the last couple of years. I see a lot of anger and frustration among Christians but not enough reconciliation. During a recent bible study, we were studying Ephesians 2 where Paul speaks how the gospel breaks down the wall of hostility between Jew and Gentile taking the two and making them one people of God. We asked why churches do not often reflect the multi-ethnic reality. One brother said that our Sundays don’t reflect a multi-ethnic reality, because our Monday through Saturday do not reflect a multi-ethnic reality. Beloved, the church is God’s plan to reach the world. We want to display the manifold wisdom of God in sending forth the Lamb to redeem people from every tribe, language and people and nation. The more we reflect a multi-ethnic, multi-generational family the greater the reflection of our heavenly citizenship. 

            Jesus is worthy to redeem and to reconcile. Let our redemption be reflected in how we are reconciled to all people. Let us never look at people according to the flesh, but through the eyes of Lamb.

Worthy to Reign

            The Lord Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, has made us a kingdom and priest to God. We shall reign on the earth and rule as coheirs with Christ. The kingdom means the church will reign and the priests means the church will serve. We will serve God and reign with Him for all eternity. Christians have been transformed. We are no longer in the old Adam, but in Christ. We belong to Him. We were bought at a price. We have been made a kingdom and priests unto God. We are holy priesthood that offers spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

            Remember our victory is not by the sword, but sacrifice. Friends, we must lay our lives down for others. Jesus showed us the way of the kingdom by giving himself of us. We must give ourselves to each other and our lost and hurting world. If we want to reign, we must follow in the way of the lamb and suffer for the sake of others. The triumphalism that I see in the American church sickens me. It is not the way of the kingdom. The way of the kingdom is the cross. The cross of Christ conquers. The Lamb is worthy. And if the lamb is worthy, isn’t the way of the lamb worthy as well? The Lamb was slain for the sins of others so that they may be brought to God. Is not God asking us to bear with the sins of others so that they may be brought to God? The Lamb is worthy to reign because he was willing to suffer. “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs with God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” (Romans 8:16-17)

            The American church needs to be rebuked for our lack of willingness to suffer for Christ, but the seven churches of Asia would have rejoiced that they were counted worthy to walk with the Lamb.

            The heavenly scene closes a seven-fold doxological hymn to the Lamb followed by a four-fold hymn connecting the Father who sits on the throne to the lamb. The One who is on the throne and the lamb are one. Revelation 5:11–14,

Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped.

            There is in our hearts a deep desire to see one worthy. Let us train our hearts and minds that every time we see our world longer for a worthy one to bring hope amidst despair to turn in praise to the only One who is worthy. Let us forever rejoice that we shall weep no more for, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power, and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.”

 

[1] Osborne, Grant. Baker. 252-253.

The Heavenly Throne

Have you ever seen something so beautiful that you couldn’t speak? The Grand Canyon, the Pacific Ocean, the Northern Lights, the Great Pyramids…If Apostle John was not commanded to write his vision down in Revelation 4, it would have been one of those moments for him. God opened heaven and gave him a glimpse into the majesty of God. I pray we would catch a glimpse of that majesty this morning.

The Throne of God

            The first vision in Revelation 1 lays the foundation for the opening section of the book. Each letter to the seven churches had aspect of the vision of Christ in Revelation 1. The vision dominated the first three chapters. The second vision of the book begins in Revelation 4:1, “After this I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven! And the first voice, which I had speaking to me like a trumpet, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” The rest of the book will be dominated by this vision of the heavenly throne.

The interpretation of Revelation depends on how one views time. In Revelation 1:19, Jesus says to John, “Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this.” Many people that verse lays out the structure of the book of Revelation. chapter 1 would be the things you have seen, chapters 2-3 represent the things that are in the letter to the churches and chapters 4-22 represent the things that are to take place in the future. I believe chapters 4-22 primarily take place in the future, but just not exclusively in the future. We will have to be very careful in our interpretation of time as we move through the rest of the book.

The language of Revelation 4 is apocalyptic in nature. Jesus invites John into to heaven to see the future. As one commentary noted, “A true insight into history is gained only when we view all things from the vantage point of the heavenly throne.” There are three apocalyptic or “end time” images in this opening verse. The first two are combined with door and the open heaven. The door to heaven is like Jesus exhortation to strive through the narrow gate in Luke 13:24. Heaven was closed because of man’s sin in the garden. God banished man from paradise and placed the cherubim guarding the entrance with a flaming sword that turned in every direction, so no one could enter. However, Jesus has opened a door to heaven inviting John to bear witness. (We see heaven open at Jesus baptism, the death of Stephen, Peter’s vision and Paul’s vision). The third image is the voice like that of a trumpet like chapter 1 to announce the end time reality. All that to say, the audience would have been thinking of the eschaton.

It is important as we traverse through the rest of this book that we do not lose the historical context of the churches to whom this letter is written. The churches were struggling with intense persecution from false Jews and dealing with the compromise of the church to the imperial cult. Emperor worship and the cultic practices associated with the imperial cult are a major theme addressed in the letters. As each of the letters was not merely written for the individual church for we were commanded to hear what the Spirit says to the churches, Revelation 4 and following are speaking specifically to the seven churches but to all churches throughout history as well. We want to try to understand the details while not losing the big picture of the book. God is on his throne.

How precious would this truth be to a church that was facing intense persecution. God is on his throne. We judge our present reality by the future one. Throughout Scripture, God promises a reversal of fortunes for his people. The first shall be last, the last shall be first. He will vindicate his people and punish the wicked. The rich shall be poor, the poor shall be rich. The meek shall inherit the earth. Those who laugh will mourn, those who mourn will laugh. God is on his throne and He, and He only, determines our future reality. We are going to ascend with John into Heaven and the future reality so that we can find comfort and hope.

The Throne of Glory

            The main thrust of the vision is to show the glory of the throne of God. My former pastor would always say of Revelation that sometimes we have to look at the book like a twelve-year -old boy. Most twelve-year-old boys are not looking for deep meaning in all that they say, but simply say, “That is awesome.” When we approach the throne of glory there is a part of us that needs to push aside our desire to understand the meaning of every detail to simply say, “That is awesome.” Revelation 4:2-6,

[2] At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne. [3] And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald. [4] Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clothed in white garments, with golden crowns on their heads. [5] From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God, [6] and before the throne there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal.

The vision begins with one seated on the throne. This would have been an obvious contrast with Caesar and his small earthly throne compared to God’s heavenly throne. Remember the background of the imperial cult worship that has plagued the churches in Asia.

            God is often described as light. 1 John 1:5, “God is light,” 1 Timothy 6:16, “God dwells in unapproachable light.” The stones of jasper and carnelian and a rainbow with an appearance of an emerald are all meant to be taken together. Although the stones had certain qualities associated with them in the Ancient world, (jasper with majesty and holiness; carnelian with judgment; emerald with mercy), attempting to decipher the purpose for each stone is counter-productive. The stones should be taken together as they communicate God seated on his throne in splendor and majesty.

            Around the throne were 24 other thrones with 24 elders seated on those thrones who were clothed with white garments and wearing golden crowns on their heads. Who are the elders? The elders have been identified in various ways with the most common options being: (1) Stars (from an astrological background, (2) angels, (3) OT saints, (4), angelic, heavenly representatives of all saints, (5) patriarchs and the apostles representing the OT and NT saints together, and (6) representatives of the prophetic revelation of the twenty-four books of the Old Testament.

There is not enough time to unpack the different views, but after my study I believe that the most plausible option would be either a (4) angelic, heavenly representatives of all the saints throughout history (12 tribes of Israel representing all the OT saints and the 12 apostles presenting all the NT saints similar to Revelation 21:12, 14 describing New Jerusalem with 12 gates named after the tribes of Israel and the wall having 12 foundations named after the 12 apostles of the lamb). Or angelic, heavenly beings that function like the 24 priestly and 24 Levitical orders (1 Chron 24:1-25:13) to maintain worship of God in heaven. (We know from Hebrews that the earthly temple/tabernacle was a shadow of the things to come. Therefore, the worship of God maintained by the Levitical priesthood in the OT could serve as shadow the heavenly worship of God around his throne.) Regardless, the 24 elders on 24 thrones clothed in white garments with golden crowns continue to contribute to the overall picture of awe and wonder.

            God often communicates his power and presence through nature. We see that in verse 5. This would have brought back images of God in visiting his people on Mount Sinai and the images of Ezekiel 1. God is powerful and over all nature. Before the throne, the seven torches of fire represented the seven spirits of God, which is a reference to the Holy Spirit as seen previously in the opening Trinitarian doxology. Also before the throne there was, “as it were a sea of glass, like crystal.” It is not exactly a sea of glass, but appears to be like a sea of glass. This contributes to the wonder John’s view. Imagine the beautiful light reflected off the sea of glass. A sea of glass is mentioned 2 other times in revelation (15:2 and 21:1). As one scholar notes,

Here the crystal-clear sea of glass symbolizes God’s transcendent holiness and his awesome sovereignty that is a source of worship (4:6) and then becomes the basis of divine judgment (15:2) when God will eradicate evil from his creation.

Several scholars connect the sea of glass to Genesis 1:7 when God divided the waters that were under the firmament (the heavenly expanse) from the waters that were above the firmament. The floor of heaven and the ceiling of creation.

            Again, we cannot lose the overall portrayal of splendor, awe, and majesty this visual sight would have been. John was taken up into heaven to see the throne of glory. The beauty, majesty and splendor of what he saw was not meant for a precise description, but to create a sense of awe for the glory of God’s throne. John continues to describe what he sees around the throne, Revelation 4:6b-8a,

And around the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: [7] the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with the face of a man, and the fourth living creature like an eagle in flight. [8] And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within

As in the 24 elders, there has been much speculation on who the 4 living creatures are. Some have associated them with the 4 gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke or John, but there is no evidence for this view. Others try to connect the four to Babylonian or Assyrian mythology, but there is no hint of Babylon imagery in Revelation. Others believe that they represent divine characteristics (courage and majesty with the lion, patience and strength with the ox, intelligence and spirituality with man, and sovereignty and swiftness of action with the eagle). The most viable and accepted view is that the four living creatures both transcend and represent all life in the created order (perhaps the noblest, strongest, wisest, and swiftest in God’s creation.[1]) These four creatures have eyes all around them to communicate God’s all-seeing knowledge and his ceaseless vigilance.

            We should be careful not to hold our convictions on the who and what of the 4 living creatures because there are several viable options. And yet, regardless of what they represent in Revelation,

These four living beings lead worship (4:6-9, 5:8-9, 11;19:4), stand sentinel at the throne (5:6 7:11, 14:3), and take the lead in outpouring of divine judgment (6:1, 3, 5-7; 15:7) … Most likely are the leaders of the heavenly court.[2]

All we know for certain is that these 4 living creatures represent the highest of heavenly beings and help contribute to the awe, wonder, and majesty of God.

            I believe there is value in understanding the different particulars of John’s description of heaven. There is value in discerning who are the elders and who are the living creatures, why did God use these particular stones, but all of the specifics are secondary to the overall vision of God’s glory. Remember this book was written to the seven churches dealing with persecution and the false worship of Caesar as Lord. God gave this vision to John to help the church persevere with him.

Regardless of what this earthly world praises, we must understand the awesome wonder and majesty of God. He is far above the heavens. He is worthy of worship. He is awesome. He is glorious.

The Throne of Worship

            There are two responses that should come when we hear of the majesty and splendor of God. Our hearts will either worship or fear. The heavenly beings worshiped God for holiness. Revelation 4:8b,

[8] And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” [9] And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, [10] the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying, [11] “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”

The heavenly beings know exactly who God is and the only proper response is worship. We see the three-fold declaration of God’s holiness; He is holy, holy, holy. Then we see the elders declare that he is worthy to receive glory, honor and power for the Lord has created all things and by his will all they continue to exist. God is worthy of worship.

As humans, we too often focus on ourselves. We view our lives and our problems as the most important things in the universe. God is trying to correct that view in Revelation. We should always view life considering God who is seated on the throne of glory. The holy, splendor of God should create fear in those who do not know Him. How could man who is sinful stand in the presence of such an awesome God? When Isaiah saw the glory of God he replied, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell I the midst of people of unclean lips, for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” When Peter saw the glory of God in Christ, he said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” Have you ever truly understood who you are in the face of such a holy God? Have you ever been awakened to your own sinfulness?

            One of the greatest travesties of the modern church is a casualty and a lack of holy fear of awesome God. One reasons there is a lack of conversions in the church is that people do not realize they should fear God. The modern church’s love for authenticity and relationship hinders people from realizing their sin and their desperate need of forgiveness.

Our need to understand the depth of our sin is not just for the non-believer. I was with our college students on Tuesday night and I told them that one of my goals in my preaching is to help you see how utterly sinful you are. I want you to realize how wretched, poor, blind and naked we are before a holy God. Not exactly the feel-good message of the year, but it is only when you understand how utterly sinful you are that you will realize how incredibly glorious God is. And when we realize the transcendent majesty of a holy God compared to the depth of our depravity, it is only then, we can fully understand our need of forgiveness. If you consider yourself an unbeliever, do you have any fear when you hear of God’s glory? Do you believe that you will have to answer for what you have done? Christian, do you realize how much God has saved you from?

            The degree in which we love God and love others is determined by how view our own forgiveness. If we have a small view of God and a small view of our sin, our love for God and others will also be small. But if we have a large view of God and a large view of our sin, our love for God and others will be large. Jesus shared this story in Luke 7,

[41] “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. [42] When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” [43] Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” [44] Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. [45] You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. [46] You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment.  [47] Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.”

The sin of the Pharisee was not less than the woman, but the Pharisee viewed his sin as less than the woman and it affected his love for God and his neighbor. If we lose a high view of God, we also lose a high view of our sin, and lose our understanding of how much God has forgiven and lose our ability to love well.

            If one response to the majesty of God is fear, the other is worship. The elders and the living creatures worshiped God. And we can worship God because we belong to the Son. God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. This glorious God sent his Son to be our Savior. We must read Revelation 4/5 together. The whole scene must be taken together. John does not only see God sitting on the throne in unapproachable light, but he sees the lamb who slain. We will dive deep in Revelation 5 in a few weeks, but can we just hear it as a 12 year-old boy and say, “That is awesome!” Revelation 5,

[1] Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. [2] And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” [3] And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, [4] and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. [5] And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”

[6] And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. [7] And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. [8] And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. [9] And they sang a new song, saying,

            “Worthy are you to take the scroll

                        and to open its seals,

            for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God

                        from every tribe and language and people and nation,

            [10] and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,

                        and they shall reign on the earth.”

[11] Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, [12] saying with a loud voice,

            “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,

            to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might

            and honor and glory and blessing!”

[13] And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying,

            “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb

            be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”

[14] And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped.

John began to weep loudly and the elders said weep no more. Friend, weep no more. The Lion of the tribe of Judah has conquered the grave because he was led, like a lamb, to the slaughter. And that my friend…is awesome!

 

[1] Osborne, Robert. Baker

[2] Osborner, Robert. Baker 234-235.

Member Profile - Helen Lovelace

1. What is your vocation? 
-Christian, housewife, mother

2. Tell us about your family
-I have six children, and they are all grown

3. Who was the main influence that lead you to a relationship with Christ?
- My mother

4. What is your favorite Bible Verse?
-Psalm 100

5. What has the Lord been teaching you over the last 6 months?
-To be patient and to trust Him

6. What is something most people don't know about you?
-My life is an open book

7. Do you have any specific prayer request?
-My church and my family
 

Empty Church (Revelation 3:14-22)

A.W. Tozer writes in his classic work, The Pursuit of God, “Complacency is a deadly foe of all spiritual growth.” Complacency is a feeling of smug or uncritical satisfaction with oneself or one’s accomplishments. An uncritical satisfaction with oneself is a deadly foe of all spiritual growth. When was the last time you critically examined your spiritual walk with the Lord? Every fall we hear of football teams growing complacent and losing games that should easily win. Likewise, we hear of Christians who have grown complacent and are losing battles that should easily win. Complacency in one’s spiritual walk opens to the door to town of stupid where Christians have drifted into secret sins and destructive patterns that cripple one’s life. Listen again to Tozer’s quote in context, “Complacency is a deadly foe of all spiritual growth Acute desire must be present or there will be no manifestation of Christ to His people. He waits to be wanted. Too bad that with many of us He waits so long, so very long, in vain.”
Spiritual complacency is birthed from a lack of desire for Christ. Do you desire Jesus to be manifested in your life? Is your greatest passion to know Christ and to make him known? Are consumed with his glory, zealous for his name, driven by his mission?
I drink coffee every morning. This fall I have been pumpkin spice creamer. It is delicious. And in all capital letters on the side of the bottle, it reads, “SHAKE WELL BEFORE USE.” I believe that God desires to shake us up before we can be effectively used by him. Complacency lulls us to sleep while Christ-centeredness wakes us up. I pray that I will help to shake you up so that you will be ready to be used by the Lord. I believe this was the Lord’s goal in his letter to the Laodiceans in Revelation 3.
Laodicea was a wealthy city on the main Roman trade route and the last stop of the postal route that made up the destinations of all the seven cities addressed in this letter. It was known for his soft, raven-black wool and its famous medical school known for its eye salve. The church had fallen victim of the prosperity of the city. Like Thyatira, commercial success in Laodicea meant participation in the cultic practices of the city. It appears that the church had compromised her integrity and fallen into the trap of financial gain.
Who is your Authority?
Jesus establishes his authority at the outset of this letter by offering three titles to himself. In each title, he is showing how he is different than the believers in the church at Laodicea. Revelation 3:14, “And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: “The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation.” This is only the second place in all of Scripture where Amen is given as a name. The other being in Isaiah 65:16,
so that he who blesses himself in the land shall bless himself by the God of truth, and he who takes an oath in the land shall swear by the God of truth; because the former troubles are forgotten and are hidden from my eyes.
The Hebrew for truth in the verse is “˒āmēn.” Amen was used to confirm or verify a prayer or hymn in Scripture. Jesus used the word often to highlight and emphasized important teaching. Jesus is establishing that his word can be trusted, unlike the Laodiceans.
Jesus again refers to himself as the faithful and true witness. Revelation begins with referring to Jesus as the faithful witness (1:5) emphasizing his faithfulness to death on the cross. In Revelation, witness is connected to martyrdom. Jesus was the true witness who was slain for our sins. He was willing to die to show God’s love while the Laodiceans’ witness had become non-existent as its’ compromised, complacent lives had little reflection of Christ.
Jesus last tittle would have been especially familiar to the Laodiceans as it is a clear reference to the letter to their sister church in Colossae. Jesus is the beginning of God’s creation. The great hymn of Christ in Colossians 1:15-20,
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him, all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
Jesus is author of creation and he is the beginning of the new creation through his resurrection from the dead. The Laodiceans had forgotten this reality. In their prosperity, there were living as if they were in control. They may have claimed Christ, but they were functioning as atheist. They were living as their own sovereign, autonomous and separate from Christ’ authority. Jesus was reminding them that He alone is in control. He is the source of all their wealth and power.
Prosperity breeds forgetfulness. Deuteronomy 8 is a powerful reminder that this has always been the danger of God’s people. “Beware lest you say in your heart, “My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the power to get wealth that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day. (Deut. 8:17:18)
How do you look at your wealth? Do you view it as primarily yours or the Lords? What about your home? Your car? Let’s shake up our view of our wealth. How often are your decisions primarily decided by money? How often is your peace primarily governed by your bank account? How often are you anxious about money? Do you pray before big purchases? Do you pray for how many specialty coffee drinks you get a week? Are you unwilling to admit you have a problem with spending? Debt?
Friend, if God is the Amen, the faithful and true witness who died for your sins, the beginning of all creation and the firstborn from the dead, is he not trustworthy with determining your resources. One of the reasons we do not seek the Lord regarding our wealth is because we are afraid what he will ask us to do with it. We want to hold on to it, so we don’t ask God what to do with it afraid that he will ask us to give it. It is a small view of God and a weak view of his mission. We should ask God if we are able to give it so that we can participate in his kingdom. Do we view God as our authority? And not just as our authority, but as our good, wise and loving authority who desires what is best us.
Laodiceans were struggling not with the mental assent of God’s authority, but in practical application.
How is your Application?
Wisdom is not only about knowing what to do but doing it. Jesus is not concerned with your head knowledge, but how that knowledge governs your life. Revelation 3:15-16, “I know your works: you neither cold nor hot. Would that you either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” Jesus offers a stinging rebuke of the church. It is important to understand the context of the Laodiceans to fully appreciate Jesus’ words.
Laodicea was a prospering city, but it had no water supply. It depended on an aqueduct system to receive water from Hierapolis and Colossae. By the time the water arrived in Laodicea it was only a tepid, lukewarm. Jesus was trying to show the absence of spiritual fruit in their lives. The hot waters of Hierapolis were known for its medicinal healing effect while the cold waters of Colossae were pure, drinkable, and had a life-giving effect. The Laodiceans were neither providing the healing balm of the gospel to the city or the radiating the life-giving transformation that comes from knowing Christ. They were like the barren fig tree that Jesus withered (Matthew 21:19). The city was experiencing no spiritual healing and no life because of the compromising witness of the church. Jesus will vomit out the church for their lack of witness for his namesake.
Have you applied the gospel to your life? Friend, have you decided to follow Jesus as Lord and Savior? We all have sinned and need a Savior. God has provided a way to Him through his Son. Jesus died for us. He was raised for us. Anyone who puts their trust in Him will be saved. It is not the amount of our faith that will save us on judgment day, but the object of our faith. We must have faith in Jesus Christ to be saved from hell. We may not want to talk about hell, but in the quietness of your heart when you think about meeting God there is fear. If there was no fear of hell, people would not be afraid to die. But we are because there is. Friend, Jesus has provided a way to salvation. He died for all those who would turn and put their faith in Him. If you turn from your sins, and trust in Christ, you will be saved.
Beloved, how have you applied the gospel to your life? The gospel is not the diving board into the Christian life, but it is swimming pool. We never move on. We want our lives saturated with the gospel. We want the gospel to affect every area of our lives. And if we do, then we should never grow complacency in our walk with Christ. There is always room to grow. We can rejoice with words of John Newton, “I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I want to be, I am not what I hope to be in another world; but still I am not what I once used to be, and by the grace of God I am what I am.” We are all works in progress, but we are in progress. We labor and strive to go deeper with Christ. We should want to grow in our love for God, our knowledge of his word, in our love for the saints, and in our love for the lost. But do we?
We should, but that may not be the reality. “SHAKE WELL BEFORE USE.” The Lord desire to use us for his purposes. We may not be shaken up before we are ready to be used by him. God shakes us up with trials. He shakes us up with discipline. He shakes us up or prunes us, so we can bear more fruit. Are you applying the gospel in your life?
What do you Appreciate?
One of the ways we can determine if we are applying the gospel in our lives is by analyzing what we appreciate or value. The church of Laodicea valued their wealth but was spiritually poor. They valued their self-sufficiency but were in desperate need. Revelation 3:17, “For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” Jesus showed their true spiritual condition. They were rotten to the core. Their hearts were deceitful, and they were far from God. There are five aspects of the same condition. They claimed spiritual and material wealth, but they were spiritually bankrupt. They claimed excellent sight and the town was even known for its eye slave, but they were blind to the things of God. They were known to make beautiful, raven-like wool, but they were naked, a sign of shame before God. Everything that they boasted in or appreciated about themselves, was a sign of their wretched state.
What we value in our lives reveals our spiritual condition. If we value the opinions of others, we may be more willing to gossip or lie or unwilling to speak the truth, because of fear of losing status in the eyes of others. If we value own wealth, we will be more willing to use our resources for personal gain rather than the corporate benefit of the church. It is clear the Laodiceans were valuing the wrong thing. What about you? What do you appreciate? Not just what you say you appreciate, but based on your time, your checkbook, your thoughts, ask the Holy Spirit what you truly value. This is heart work. This is gospel work. John Flavel writes, “The greatest difficulty in conversion, is to win the heart to God; and the greatest difficulty after conversion, is to keep the heart with God…It is the hardest work; heart work is hard indeed. ”
Jesus is after the hearts of Laodiceans. Jesus is after our hearts. And in his kindness, he lovingly invites us back to himself, Revelation 3:18-19, “I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.” Jesus goes back and addresses every one of their blind spots. He invites them to be spiritually rich with gold refined by the fire. He invites them to clothe their nakedness with white garments. And he invites them to receive true salve to anoint their eyes that they may see. Jesus invites them to Himself. This is the most amazing reality in all the universe that a holy God would invite sinners into fellowship.
This spiritual complacent church is being reproved and disciplines so that they can know the Lord. I love to encourage people. I would much rather bring a word of encouragement than a word of rebuke, but God disciplines those he loves. Parents, disciplining your children is act love. Pastor/Elders, discipling the saints is an act of love. Church members, discipling each other is an act of love and gift of God. We should desire discipline. We may not desire discipline because we have become complacent. We do not value growth, so we hate discipline. The righteous should look for discipline. Proverbs 15:31–33, “The ear that listens to life-giving reproof will dwell among the wise. Whoever ignores instruction despises himself, but he who listens to reproof gains intelligence. The fear of the LORD is instruction in wisdom, and humility comes before honor.”
Friend, we all have areas of growth. Someone graciously pointed out a way to me this week of an area where I can grow in my use of words. Do you appreciate discipline? Do you value growth? Or are you complacent? Do you have an uncritical satisfaction with yourself and your achievements? Complacency is a deadly foe to spiritual growth.
How will you Answer?
Jesus desires to be in fellowship with you. There are excellent statements in the gospels about the purpose of the Lord Jesus. Mark 10:45, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Luke 19:10, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Matthew 11:19, “The Son of Man came eating and drinking.” Jesus gave his life as a ransom for many to seek and to save the lost so that they could eat with Jesus. Jesus desires intimate fellowship with his people. Revelation 3:20, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” Jesus is surprisingly outside the church. The church had drifted so far from the Lord that there was not even a definable remnant in the church. And yet, Jesus still desires to come in and eat with us. To share a meal was the beginning of reconciliation. Jesus desired to be reconciled with his church.
He is knocking on the door of the church. He is asking to come in. He is not forcing himself into the gathering but simply stands at the door and knocks. How will you answer? Will you repent and let him in? Or will you keep Christ shut out by staying in your satisfied in your complacency? Friend, where are you satisfied? What thing do you not want to give up? What area do you love more than Christ? How will you answer the glorious knocking of Christ? The King of glory condescends himself and invites you a wayward, complacent, wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, naked sinner to his table. He wants you!! How will you answer? We all know how you should answer, but that is not the question. How will you answer? 
How we answer determines our future. When we open the door for Jesus, we not only get to enjoy the messianic marriage supper of the lamb but also get to reign with Christ. Revelation 3:21-22, “The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’” The one who keeps their heart in Christ will be granted the privileged seat with Christ. It is not earned by our labors but given to us because of the labor of Christ. Jesus conquered the death and the grave through his resurrection from the dead. He has sat down with the Father on the glorious throne. He invites us to share in that victory. If we endure with him, we will reign with him. (2 Timothy 2:12).
Jesus wants to “SHAKE US BEFORE USE.” He wants to wake us up from our complacency. And it is only through the holy shaking of the Lord that our lives will be mixed with the good spiritual nutrients of a life devoted to Christ. Complacency is a deadly foe to spiritual growth as critical self-examination is essential for a life saturated by the Spirit and consecrated unto Christ.
Jesus has ended every one of these letters the same, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Friend, Jesus means for you to be changed by his words. We do not want to be hearers only, but doers of His Word. Allow the word to shake you out of complacency and spiritual malaise so that you can be a faithful and true witness unto Christ, daily dying to yourself and ONE DAY reign with him in age to come.

The Weak, Faithful Church

What does success look like for a local church? How should a church market itself? Or should a should market itself? Is success determined by the leadership of a denomination, the local newspaper or the pastor? Must a successful church have a lot of programs for its members? Must a successful have the proper signage and a spacious, well-lit parking lot? Do the Sunday School teachers have to have seminary degrees? How do you measure the success of a local church? How does God measure the success of local church? 
I get asked the question all the time, “How are things going at the church?” The question could easily be re-phrased, “Is the church going well? Is it successful?” Everyone has their own idea of success. Whether it is your physical health or your business, your family’s budget or your local church, we all have ideas what we consider successful. Unfortunately, we may not realize how easily our definition is not determined by God’s word, but our culture. America values bigness. American success usually is connected to growth in the number of people, money and programs. Therefore, a church is successful if it has more people, more money and more activities than the year before. But it that success?


I measure success by our love for God, his people and the lost. Are we growing in our love for God? I want to see a greater love of the gospel of Jesus Christ, a desire to grow in the Word, and a desire to grow in holiness. We want our lives marked by a holy love of God. Are we growing in our love for each other? I want to see a greater familial love between each other. I want to see self-sacrifice and concern for each other, bearing one another’s burdens and sharing one anothers joys. We want our lives marked by a holy love for one another. Are we growing in our love for the lost? I want to see a regular sharing of the gospel of Jesus Christ with unbelievers. I want us to hold fast to the faith once and for all delivered to the saints. There is one way to God and that is through repenting and believing in the gospel of His Son. Jesus Christ is the door that leads to heaven. We want our lives marked by a holy love for the lost.
The church of Philadelphia was a failure in the eyes of the world. They were small in number and had little impact on the culture. They were ridiculed and maligned by the religious elite in the community, but they were faithful to Jesus Christ. Philadelphia, along with Smyrna, were the only two churches that were not rebuked by Jesus. I pray that we learn true biblical success by seeing what the Lord Jesus Christ values in his church.


The One Who Holds the Keys


The great question that Israel was concerned with in the Old Testament is, “How can one be right with God?” How is someone righteous? Or how can one enter God’s kingdom? Jesus establishes with his opening words that He is the one who holds the key. Revelation 3:7,


And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: ‘The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens.


Jesus is holy and set apart from the world. He is the true and genuine Lord. He holds the key of David. 

The key of David is only used one time in the Old Testament in Isaiah 22:22-23 referring to Eliakim. Isaiah of Eliakim, 
And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David. He shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open. And I will fasten him like a peg in a secure place, and he will become a throne of honor to his father’s house.
Eliakim was going to be given the key to the sanctuary of God. He was going to determine who was able to enter into God’s house i.e. who would be able to enter his kingdom and be saved. There were Jews in Philadelphia who were claiming that right and Jesus wanted to make clear that it was not these false Jews who were representing the synagogue of Satan, but him and him alone. This reference to Eliakim would have been clear to the audience as the rabbis taught Eliakim was a messianic prophecy. Here are 5 reasons why Eliakim was a messianic prophecy.

• The house of David is almost always a reference to the Messiah
• Eliakim is called “my servant” which would have been heard in light of Isaiah 40-53 where “my servant” is used 13 times of the Messiah
• Eliakim is given the administrative responsibility of the house with very similar language of Isaiah 9:6-7, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore.” 
• Lastly, according to G.K, Beale, “main typological correspondence between Eliakim and Christ is that Christ, like Eliakim, was to have absolute power over the Davidic throne as king. Whereas Eliakim’s control was primarily political, Christ’s was to be primarily spiritual, as well as ultimately universal in all aspects; whereas Eliakim was to rule over Jerusalem, Judah, and the house of David, Christ’s sovereignty was to extend over all peoples. ”

Here is the point, the people are being reminded to judge their existence in relation to the only one who holds the key. Jesus is the only entrance into the kingdom. 

The One Who Honors the Weak

After establishing that he is the one who allows entrance into his holy sanctuary, Jesus goes not to explicitly states that he has opened the door for them. Revelation 3:8, 

“‘I know your works. Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.”

Again, Jesus knows the works of the saints at Philadelphia. And he reassures them that have been given access to his kingdom for He has set before them an open door. And no one, even the powerful religious elite, can shut it. 
The church has little power. They weak in the eyes of the wall. They are small. They are apparently insignificant and yet, they have kept the word of Christ and not denied his name. Here we see one of the most important determiners of success of Christ’s church: faithfulness to God’s Word. Are we faithful to the Word of God? We must determine our success not from the benchmarks given by a denomination or the local newspaper, but on our obedience and faithfulness to the Word of God. What does that look like? Let me offer two ways. 

First, we hold fast to the gospel. We believe that Jesus is the only way to heaven, God’s sanctuary. There is salvation in no other name. No one is justified by their works. People are only saved by repenting of their sins and trusting in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ as our only hope for salvation.

Friend, if you are not a Christian this may seem oppressive, narrow, and close-minded. But I want you to consider how beautiful, humbling and glorious this idea truly is. We all know how sinful we are in our hearts. We know our pride, our jealousy, our anger, our lust, our greed, and our self-centeredness. We cannot deny we have done wrong. Now, our world wants you to believe that God will overlook those sins, but he can’t. God cannot allow evil into his holy sanctuary. He stands at the door guarding the purity of his kingdom. We know we are impure so how can we enter through door? Thanks be to God; Jesus Christ has set before you an open door. Jesus came and lived a pure life. He perfectly obeyed God in every way. And although he was pure and innocent, he chose to die as a criminal on the cross. Jesus chose to pay for the treason and the impurity of all who would turn and trust in him. He died for sinners. And God raised him from the dead. The resurrection is our proof that the door of salvation is now open for all who trust in Christ. 
Friend, we live in a world that wants to believe all will be saved, but we know deep down that this is not true. Salvation is only open to those who know Jesus. You may look at this as narrow and oppressive, but how beautiful and glorious is it that God has made a way for impure, wretched sinners to enter his presence. Friend, Jesus has set before you an open door. You only have to walk through it. Will you trust in Christ? 

Beloved, we must continue to be faithful to this gospel. There is no other way to heaven, but through Christ. We must be diverted from our mission to proclaim the goodness and glory of the gospel of grace. We may be the biggest church in the United States, but if we are not faithful to the gospel we are failures in the eyes. Let us judge our success by the One who holds the key. 

Secondly, we hold fast to entire counsel of God’s word. Are we trusting what God’s word says about a holy life, marriage, entertainment, church order, the poor, friendship, money, etc.? We have to get the gospel right, but if we have been transformed by the gospel our lives will look radically different than the world. It is easy to say we love God, but it is harder to love God’s people. We can test our own love for God, but testing our love for God’s people. How are we loving God’s church? Are we willing to lay down our preferences for others? Are we willing to lay down our time to serve others? Are we willing to give of our resources or open our homes to those in need? Are we willing to show we have been transformed by the gospel of grace? We may be small in number, but we can make an eternal impact by holding fast to Christ and His Word.

The One Who Protects His People

Our labor for Christ is never in vain. The Lord holds out promises for us. He promises that if we hold fast to him he will vindicate from our enemies and protecting during the day of trial. Revelation 3:9-10,
Behold, I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie—behold, I will make them come and bow down before your feet, and they will learn that I have loved you. Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth.
Here again, we see Jews are called the synagogue of Satan. They claimed to be Jews, but they are not. Paul spends significant time in Romans explaining that a true Jew is one who has experience not an outward circumcision by one of the heart. A true is one inwardly not outwardly. 

These Jews in Philadelphia were claiming that held the key into entrance of the sanctuary. They were trusting in one’s ability to keep the law, but we know that no one is justified by the works of the law. Jesus promises that one day these Jews will bow at the feet of the Gentile believers and they will know that God has extended his love to them in the Messiah. The faithful saints will participate in the judgment of God’s enemies. These Jews claimed to know God, but they will be proven wrong. A side note, remember that it was John, a Jew, who was writing this book, and Jesus, a Jew, who gave the revelation. These are not anti-Semitic statements, but helping to show how true Jews trust in the Messiah, the long awaited one who will hold the key of the house of David.

God will not only vindicate his people, but he will also protect his people from the day of trial. Revelation 3:10 has some of the most commentary on the entire book of Revelation. Let us read it again, “Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth.” There are several times we will encounter specific verses that teach specific view of eschatology or the end times. The interpretation of this verse has many implications on one’s view of the millennium or the 1,000-year reign of Christ. There are three main views: premillennialism, postmillennialism, amillennialism. We will spend more time on this in the coming months, but this verse has helped promote a modification of historic premillennialism that taught a post-tribulation rapture to one that taught a pre-tribulation rapture. This view was proposed in a theological system called dispensationalism. Dispensationalism was first taught by John Darby in the mid-1800s and was later popularized by the Scofield study bible at the beginning of the 20th century. 

The key question is regarding verse 10 is what does Jesus mean by, “I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world.” Does Jesus mean he will protect them from the trial by removing them from the trial or by providing safe-keeping through the trial? As I said before there are is much commentary on this verse that I do not have time to dive into, but would happy to find a time to discuss it. I believe from the context this letter and the rest of Scripture that Jesus is teaching that he will keep his people safe from the trial that is coming on the world. The church in Philadelphia has kept God’s word during trial so God will keep them amid trial. Jesus says in his high priestly prayer, also written by the Apostle John, John 17:15, “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.” A biblical theme is throughout the Bible is God’s sustaining and growing his people through trial rather than removing them from it. I interpret this verse as a reference to God sustaining his saints during the trial that is coming upon the earth, spiritually protecting them in their pursuit of Christ. God will keep his people in Him. Revelation shows that God will protect them from the wrath of God as they experience the wrath of the dragon. Grant Osborne summarizes this well,

It is certainly true that the saints are the focus of intense persecution (indeed, martyrdom) from the dragon and his followers (6:9–11; 12:12–13, 17; 13:7; 16:6; 20:4). There is a great difference, however, between the wrath of God and the wrath of the dragon. Throughout the NT, persecution is seen as the believers’ lot, indeed their great privilege (e.g., Mark 10:29–30; John 15:18–16:4; Phil 3:10; Col. 1:24; 1 Pet. 3:13–14). In Revelation martyrdom is seen as a victory over Satan, not a defeat (6:9–11; 7:14–17; 12:11). As when he put Christ on the cross, Satan defeats himself whenever he takes the life of one of the saints. Therefore, the point is that the Philadelphia church (identified with all faithful believers here) will be protected from the wrath of God against the unbelievers but not from the wrath of Satan, and that this protection is within and not a removal from (as in a pretribulation rapture) that wrath. 
Jesus continues to encourage this weak, but faithful church in saying, “I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown.” Jesus is again encouraging the church to hold fast to Him and his promises. He wants them to remain steadfast in the midst of trials so that they will receive the crown of life. Philadelphia was known for its games and festivals, so this imagery of an athlete’s crown would have been especially relevant.

Friends, persevere in Christ. Hold fast to him. Where else can you turn? He is the only one who holds the key to the kingdom of God. He has set before us an open door. We must walk through it. Forget what is behind and press on towards the door of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Where are you being tempted to waver? Friend, wherever you are tempted to turn, it’s not worth it. Remain with Christ.

The One Who Promises His Name 

Jesus is full of promises. We should look often at what he has promised to those who love him. Hear the promises of the One who is holy and true, 

The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’ 

The church was threatened to be expelled from the sanctuary of God, but here they are promised to be a pillar in the temple of God. This is like the language of Isaiah 22 when Eliakim was to be fastened like a peg in a secure place. Philadelphia was a city on a major fault line. In AD 17, there was a devastating earthquake that crippled the city so bad that the emperor accepted no taxes for the next five years to aid in the recover. A church that knows the devastating shaking of earthquakes and the vindictive exclusive from the sanctuary by the Jews, this promise to be a pillar in the temple of God would have been immensely encouraging. Jesus speaks to us uniquely to encourage to follow him. Even the next line that they shall never leave the sanctuary would have been powerful for a people who often had to retreat to the hillside for protection against the earthquakes and its aftershocks.

The saints will also be given the name of God, the name of the city of God, and the new name of Christ. To have the name of God, is to belong to him. We do not belong to this world, but belong God and his kingdom. The name of New Jerusalem is significant as it symbolizes our citizenship belongs there. We are not of this world, but our citizenship is in heaven as is the promise of this verse. We are also given the new name of Christ. The most incredible idea of this passage is not what the names specifically mean, but that we have the Name at all. We are sinners deserving of eternal wrath, but God shows us mercy by giving us his name. We are no longer slaves, but we are sons. We are no longer seen as sinners, but as saints belonging to the new Jerusalem. 

Beloved, what is true success? A nice home? A nice car? A nice retirement? True success is being faithful to God. True success is to hold fast to One who holds the key to the kingdom. True success is loving God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength. True success is loving your neighbor as yourself. Do not be deceived by the culture of temporary success, but let live for the forever King who promises us a forever place in his forever kingdom to experience his forever glory. Now to the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

A Sleeping Church Revelation 3:1-6

         One spring day in 2004, I was invited to bring a group of High School football players to an elite Nike Sports combine. I was one of the coaches of Dunbar Senior High School, a powerhouse football program, in Washington, D.C. We brought four athletes that were in the top 100 recruits in the nation. At twenty-four, I thought I had all the energy in the world. We left Friday after school, drove 4 hours to Penn State University, crashed in a hotel before walking up at 6 to register at 7:30 am. I coached the camp for 2 hours and ran the combine for 2 more ate lunch and then hit the road. After the combine, we all piled in my car to go home.

            We all jumped in my car exhausted. We started are four-hour trek back to the national’s capitol. Twenty minutes later, I woke up rumbling through the grass in the median at 70 miles and away, with big 6’7 320 pound Kevin Wiggins, looking at me saying in a calm and collected voice, “Coach Kiehn, you alright?” I was obviously not alright. I feel asleep and was driving in the median. Kevin’s words saved my life and the lives of everyone’s in the car. I jerked the car back on to the highway and was finally awake. It took someone else’s words to wake me up.

            There are many Christian churches who are so busy living life and immersed in the secular culture that their spiritually “asleep at the wheel.” I hope to help you as Kevin Wiggins helped me that fateful day 13 years ago by asking, “Friend, you alright?” And if you are spiritually sleeping at the wheel that today you would wake up and turn to Christ.

The Spirit of Church

            Sardis was once a powerful city established around 1200 B.C. It was wealthy and strong. It was situated on a cliff making it a strongly defensible city. Because of the city’s great military position, the Greeks had a saying, “capturing Sardis” as a way to communicate doing the impossible. Although it appeared impregnable due to its superior military position, it was captured several times because the watchman neglected to guard the gate. It was once a prominent, powerful city, but at the time Jesus spoke to the church it was a shadow of its former self. It was living off the prosperity of years. Jesus begins his rebuke to Sardis, “And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: ‘The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.” The seven stars are representative of the seven churches. In the vision of Revelation 1, Jesus is seen holding the seven stars in his right hand. He is one who has control and authority over all the churches. Jesus reminds the church of his sovereignty over the affairs of the church of Sardis.

The “seven spirits of God” is most likely a reference to the Holy Spirit. We see the same term, “seven spirits” in chapter 1 in the trinitarian formula at the opening of the book. The imagery of the seven spirits is taken from the Zechariah’s prophecy. The Holy Spirit is the agent that brings life to church and completes the work of Christ. Jesus is speaking to this sleeping, almost completely dead church, reminding them that it is only the Holy Spirit who can wake them up from their spiritual slumber.

            The church was created and sustained by the Holy Spirit of God. As we moved throughout this letter, let us ask the Holy Spirit to guide and illumine our hearts. It is very easy to think that this letter is written for “those churches,” but this letter has application for our church and for your heart. Let us be ready to hear what the Spirit says to our church.

The Sin of the Church

            Jesus continues by identifying the sin of the church. He says, “I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead.” The church of Sardis was like the city of Sardis. It once was powerful, but now it is living off the fruitfulness of ages past. They have the reputation of being “Christians” but their Christianity was in name only. They were nominal believers because their church was undistinguishable from the world. Jesus is not fooled by their worldly reputation for he knows their works.

            Friend, Jesus is not fooled by your outward appearance, he knows the works of your heart. He knows what lies in the corners and the crevices of your life. Before we get to the solution of sin, we must first identify the sinful areas of our life. Where are you sleeping in your faith? In what areas do you need to hear, “friend, are you alright?”

 Friend, are you alright with your finances? Are you spending your money to the glory of God? Are you giving your resources to Christ? Are you spending your money without regard for the lost? Are you generous with yourself and stingy with others?

Friend, are you alright with your entertainment? Are you watching TV shows that would make Jesus cringe? Are you spending more time looking at screen or your Bible? Do your entertainment choices reflect your relationship with Christ? Do your entertainment choices reveal idols in your heart?

Friend, are you alright with your words? Do your words encourage or tear down? Is your humor used to spread love or boast? Are you quick to speak or quick to listen? Do your words reflect a life submitted to Christ?

Friend, are you alright? We all have blind spots in our life and we all have strengths in our life. One of the blessings of the church is that our strengths help to reveal the weaknesses of others as the strengths of others help to reveal our weaknesses. We need each other in the body of Christ. The only way in which we will be sharpen and help sharpen others is if we are in relationship with each other.

The Solution of the Church

            Jesus gives the solution for our sinful sleeping in five imperatives. Imperatives are not suggestions, but commands given to us by the sovereign Savior of our souls. Revelation 3:2-3,

Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come against you.

Sardis fell twice because their watchmen did not protect their gates. The church is now likewise being called to renew their vigilance to Christ.

            We are called to wake up. There is an urgency here. Imagine you hear sirens of a fire truck. The sirens are called to alert you to danger. We often hear those sirens and they become background noise, but what if those sirens where in our drive way to alert us that the fire was in our home. There would be a different level of urgency. The fire of destruction is coming to the church. We cannot sleep any longer, but must wake up! The church does an excellent job critiquing our secular culture. The church does an excellent job critiquing other churches. The fire is not in “out there,” it is in here.

            After we wake up, then we strengthen what remains. To strengthen is to stand up on its feet. Think of paralyzed man in Mark 2, who was stood up and walked. The church of Sardis had a reputation of being alive. They were doing alright by the world’s standards, but their works were not complete in the sight of God. The quantity of their works as well as the quality of their works were left lacking. If they did not strengthen what they had, even that would not remain.

            Verse three has the essential marks of the entire of Christian life. “Remember, then, what you have received and heard. Keep it, and repent.” We remember what we have received and heard. We have heard the gospel and received salvation. Friend, the first step in being alright with God is understanding that you may not be alright with God. The Bible says that all have sinned and fallen short of his glory. And because of our sin, we deserve God’s wrath against our sin. We deserve to go hell for our disobedience against a holy God. The first step towards God is a realization that we are apart from him. It is only when we realize we are sinners that we recognize our need for a Savior. God sent Jesus Christ, his Son, to be our substitute. Jesus died for all those who would repent and believe in Him. He died to pay our penalty. And God accepted his sacrifice on our behalf, by raising him from the dead. Jesus is now at God’s right hand holding the seven stars with the seven spirits of God. Have you ever heard that gospel? We are sinners and that God sent Jesus to die for our us and to be raised for us.

If Jesus died for us, we would do well to remember. The church at Sardis was living on past grace. Friend, the grace of Jesus is an everyday reality. Our salvation is not only a one-time reception, but daily process. We are saved, are being saved and will be saved. We must keep what we have received. We must hold fast to Christ as He holds fast to us. And every time we realize we are asleep at the wheel of our Christian life, we repent.

      If you haven’t read your bible in a month, repent and pick up today. If you have lusted with your eyes and heart, repent today. If you have withheld your giving, repent today. If you have spoken unkindly, repent today. Friend, are you alright? If you are not, repent. Turn from your sins and be saved. Turn from your sins and return to your salvation.

      There are serious dangers if we do not repent. God offers grace today in repentance, but if you do not repent, he will come in like a thief in the night. It will be unexpected and terrible. God will not be mocked. Hear Jesus words, if we do not repent, the sovereign Lord of lords and King of kings, who holds the seven stars with the seven spirits of God says, “I will come against you.” Friend, do not stay in a spiritual slumber. Wake up! Remember the gospel and the grace of Christ. Remain in Christ.

The Saved of the Church

            The church should be full of saved people, but many are self-deceived. They have reputation of life, but they dead. And yet, even in a spiritually diseased church there are those who remain faithful. Every true church has true believers. Jesus says, “Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy.” They are worthy not because of what they have done, but because they have remained with Christ. They have continued to walk with Christ.

The image of clothing as a representative of the Christian life is woven throughout the Scriptures. From the priestly attire in the temple to the robe of prodigal to the clothes needed for the wedding banquet, the image of having the proper attire for the proper occasion is part of the ancient world. The ones who remain true to the gospel will walk in white with Christ is probably a metaphor for the white worn by the Roman citizens to celebrate military conquest. For a city known for losing decisive battles, the promise of being with Christ at the final victory would have resonated with the church. As Christ comes in the final victory, his followers will walk with him in the triumphal procession.

Jesus continues his exhortation to follow him by promising, “The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels.” We bring soiled, dirty garments to Christ, but he cleanses us and gives us white garments. We who were unholy become pure and blameless with Him. We are no longer identified with our sin, but with our sinless Savior. We were once defiled, but will be pure. Jesus will never blot out our names from the book of life. Our names are only in the book, because we have been given new clothes. We no longer wear our filthy rags, but the righteous robes of Christ.

As a former capitol city, Sardis would have been home to all the records of the empire. In that culture, if one committed a serious crime, their names were removed from the book. In the Old Testament, a removal of a name meant capital punishment. Even in the New Testament, a removal from the church was a sign that one’s name was not written in the book of life. The modern-day concept of membership and being on a church roll is viewed as legalistic and unnecessary. Although it seems unnecessary, it is a helpful practice to remind us that our names must be written in the book of life. And it is clear throughout Scripture that there was a clearly defined number in the body of Christ (1 Cor. 5/2 Cor 2).

Church membership rolls should reflect the book of life. The church should be full of saved people whose names are in the book. We should keep accurate records so if we believe someone’s name is not in God’s book, we can warn them that Jesus will come like a thief in the night. As a congregational church, every member is responsible for that roll. If someone is on our church membership roll, what we are saying is that we believe that they have not soiled their garments and will walk with Christ in white and whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

The Supper of the Church

             The last promise that God gives his church is that he will confess our names before the Father and his angels. Jesus is the final arbiter of our salvation. When we stand before God in judgment, surrounded by his mighty messengers, our only home is Jesus confessing our names as forgiven and redeemed. Jesus said, “So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is heaven.” How do we acknowledge Jesus before men?

Although we acknowledge Jesus by living for him in every area of our lives, he gives us two specific ways to acknowledge him: baptism and the Lord Supper. When we are baptized we confess that we believe in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus as our only hope for salvation. And every time we come to the Lord’s Supper, we proclaim our trust in name of Christ crucified and risen again. Jesus said that every time we take the Lord’s Supper, we do so in remembrance of him. Jesus calls us in Revelation 3:4 to remember what we have received and heard. God in his kindness gives us the Table to help us remember and to give us an opportunity to proclaim the Lord’s death and resurrection until he comes.

The Supper is also a visual reminder for us to wake up from our slumber. The Apostle Paul says, “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and the blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.” We should not come to the table if we are not trusting in Christ. The table is for sinners but for a certain kind of sinner: a repentant sinner. If you are a baptized believer and a member of good standing of a church of like faith and order, you are welcome to the table. But if you know you are spiritually asleep and are not trusting in Christ, let the bread and the cup pass. If you are Christian who has been walking in sin, see this table as an invitation to return to Christ. Come to the table and confess the name of Christ. Proclaim his death again until he comes.

I hope that every time we approach that table we are reminded of our oneness with Christ and our oneness with one another. Today, is especially important as this is the first official gathering of Fellowship Baptist and Park Baptist as one congregation. We come to this table together as one body. As we come to the table, I would like all of us to take a few moments and remember the covenant we make with one another as members together of Christ’s church. I want us to stand and read our church covenant together. And as we read, I want you to repurpose in your heart to commit yourself to these promises. If you are guest with us, I would invite you to see our commitment to each other and find a church where you can carry out the spirit of these commands:

Having, as we trust, been brought by Divine Grace to repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and to give up ourselves to Him, and having been baptized upon our profession of faith, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, we do now, relying on His gracious aid, solemnly and joyfully renew our covenant with each other.

 

We will work and pray for the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

 

We will walk together in brotherly love, as becomes the members of a Christian Church, exercise an affectionate care and watchfulness over each other and faithfully admonish and entreat one another as occasion may require.

 

We will not forsake the assembling of ourselves together, nor neglect to pray for ourselves and others.

 

We will endeavor to bring up such as may at any time be under our care, in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, and by a pure and loving example to seek the salvation of our family and friends.

 

We will rejoice at each other’s happiness and endeavor with tenderness and sympathy to bear each other’s burdens and sorrows.

 

We will seek, by Divine aid, to live carefully in the world, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, and remembering that, as we have been voluntarily buried by baptism and raised again from the symbolic grave, so there is on us a special obligation now to lead a new and holy life.

 

We will work together for the continuance of a faithful evangelical ministry in this church, as we sustain its worship, ordinances, discipline, and doctrines.  We will contribute cheerfully and regularly to the support of the ministry, the expenses of the church, the relief of the poor, and the spread of the Gospel through all nations.

 

We will, when we move from this place, as soon as possible, unite with some other church where we can carry out the spirit of this covenant and the principles of God’s Word.

 

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all.  Amen.

 

Please be seated. As the deacons come and prepare the table, please take the next few moments to prepare your own heart before the Lord.

Avoid the Scheme of Ingratitude

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. (Ephesians 6:10-11)

Beloved,

It has been a rough year for the Chicago Bears U9 Flag Football Team for the Fort Mill YMCA. We have yet to win a game. We are heading into the playoffs with a 0-6 record. We are hoping that we will surprise everyone in the playoffs by finally stopping the offensive schemes of the opposing team. The challenge has not been not knowing what the other team is going to do, but rather stopping them. As coaches we know what is coming, but our team is surprised at how the other team attacks our defense.

We often are like the Chicago Bears U9 Flag Football Team. Our coach has told us what is coming, but we are still surprised at the schemes of the devil. The devil is cunning and will use everything at his disposal to work us woe. Pastor Tim Challies writes,

Satan is a schemer. He will use any tactic, any strategy. He has spies who study you and look for your weaknesses and he will exploit any weakness he finds. He will try everything he’s got to see what works well and what doesn’t. He may use temptation like he did with Jesus. He may use false doctrine, trying to get you to deny what is true or trying to get you to believe and teach error. He may use division, doing what he can do come between you and other Christians, giving you reasons to turn your back on other Christians. Whatever it is, he will do all he can and he is always plotting against you.

Do you know the tactics and strategy Satan uses against you? Do you know how he is scheming to disrupt our fellowship? We must not be unaware of the devil’s schemes.

One of the devil’s tactics is to provoke us to ingratitude. He reminds us of all that we do not have and all the ways people have sinned against us and what God has “withheld” from us. He gives us reasons to be ungrateful. One of the repeated sins of Israel was their ingratitude for what God has done. Their ungratefulness was expressed in murmuring and complaining, anger and forgetfulness, arrogance and complacency.

Beloved, let us be strong in the Lord and the strength of his might by being grateful for God’s kindness. When you are tempted towards bitterness when the devil reminds you of a friend’s failure, be grateful that God in Christ has forgiven you. When you are tempted towards anger when the devil reminds you of what you don’t have, be grateful that God has given you life through the Son. Don’t complain, but rather give thanks. Don’t murmur, but rather praise God for his tender care.

Thanksgiving is an essential part of our Christian life. The Lord’s Supper is called the Eurachrist which means “give thanks”. Every time we partake in the Lord’s Supper we give thanks for God’s salvation in Christ. We give thanks that when we were dead in our trespasses and sin, God saved us through his shed blood on the cross. We give thanks that when we were far from God, he brought us in near in Christ. We give thanks for the resurrection to come.

As we enter the season of Thanksgiving, let us not fall to the scheme of ingratitude expressed in complaining, and bitterness, but rather let us remember the kindness and mercy of God our Savior. We always have much to be thankful for because we have Christ. And if we have Christ, we have enough. Be strong in the Lord and the strength of his might by always giving thanks for the gospel of the Son.

 

Member Profile - Daniel and Jen Huddleston

1.)    What is your vocation? Daniel - I’m an Enviromental Lab Technician for the City of Rock Hill. Jen - Director of Human Resources at Healthstat in Charlotte.


2.)    Tell us about your family: We’ve been married for 11 years this past June. We have 3 girls- Hannah 8 years old, Chloe 6 years old and Lily 4 years old. And yes our quiver is full! 


3.)    Who was the main human influence that led you to a relationship with Christ? For both of us it would be our parents.


4.)    What is your favorite Bible Verse?  Daniel Romans 8:1 and Jen- I love 2 Corinthians 4 in totality but if I have to pick one verse it would be verse 8.


5.)    What has the Lord been teaching you over the last 6 months?  Daniel- That His grace knows no bounds particularly as it relates to Ephesians 3:20. Jen - To keep my eyes on eternity and that my children’s spiritual life is my biggest mission field. 


6.)    What is something most people don’t know about you? Daniel stated and I quote “I hold a class D biological waste water operator license for the state of South Carolina.”  Jen butchered her first cow when she was 9 years old on her grandma’s farm. Oh these were good laughs - LOL.


7.)    Do you have any specific prayer requests?  Continued grace to be disciplined in His word daily and a deeper prayer life.  Parenting our children and raising them in the knowledge of the Lord. 
 

The Searching Strength of the Son of God (Revelation 2:18-29)

Rock Hill was built on the back of mills. There was the Hiland Park Mill, the Aragon, the Bleacher, Celanese, and Bowater. Each Mill had its own community. Neighborhoods were built to support the families of the mill workers. As neighborhoods were built so were churches. Park Baptist Church received its name from the Hiland Park Mill a few blocks away. Of course, not everyone worked at a mill, but everyone was affected by the Mill. The mills were the center of economic life in Rock Hill. Now imagine if each mill formed its own guild. Guilds were organizations of workers who bonded together to protect their economic interests and craft secrets for each vocation. To work at the Aragon, one would have to join the Aragon Guild and if one wanted to continue to receive raised or promotions then one would have to participate in the guild activities.
If there were guilds of workers in the 1940s and 1950s in Rock Hill, SC, the rituals and activities would most likely be non-offensive for Christians. The workers may include activities such as joining the local softball team or attending one of the area churches. Christianity was the dominant religion in Rock Hill so mill guilds would not have asked their workers to do anything that opposed their faith. Now would if the dominant religion in Rock Hill in the 40’s and 50’s was not Christianity but overtly pagan. What if the activities and rituals the guilds asked you to participate in would be to sacrifice animals in honor of the United States President. What if the only way you were going to continue to get raises and promotions is by participating by having sex with a prostitute to show your devotion and oneness to the “mill god.” The lack of participation would mean eventual mean the end of your job.
 Every mill would have its own guild and every mill would require practices that were in direct contrast to the Christian faith. What would you do? How would you provide for your family without the mills? Would reject the guild practices and starve? Or maybe you would participate in the activities but only do so for a show without real devotion to the guild? Or would you fully participate in the activities so that you could gain more influence in the guild as time went on?
These were the questions faced by early Christians in Thyatira. Thyatira was 40 miles southeast of Pergamum on the road to Sardis. The town was relatively unknown until the Pax Romana enabled safe travel among the empire. The town’s economic and social life was centered around the various guilds of each trade. The town’s religious life was focused on the worship of Apollo, the sun god, and son of Zeus. Almost all worship was centered through the guilds or at the temple of Apollo. It was into this culture seeped pagan worship that 1st century Christians found themselves. And it was these Christians facing hard and perplexing questions of survival that the Lord Jesus spoke to. I pray as we study the letter to the church of Thyatira you empathize with their courage and learn from compromising spirit.
The Searching Son of God
 
As with each of the letters, Jesus begins by identifying himself with a specific aspect of the vision in chapter 1. Each letter begins with a unique descriptor which was most needed for each church. Revelation 2:18, “And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: ‘The words of the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like burnished bronze.” Jesus begins by identifying himself as the Son of God. This is the only usage of the title in Revelation. Jesus is letting the people know that he is the only and true Son of God, not Apollo. Son of God is a title frequently used throughout John’s other writing that depicts majesty and divinity. Jesus is defining himself as the supreme divine king in his opening words.
            Jesus then provides two descriptors: eyes like a flame of fire and feet like burnished bronze. The first-century audience would have immediately known what each of these images represented. The eyes of burnished bronze were to show the penetrating gaze of Jesus. He sees and knows all. He not only sees but he sees and will judge perfectly based on his sight. Nothing will escape his gaze. A Christian in Thyatira needed to be more concerned with the searching gaze of the true Son of God over the watching eyes of the guild and the false god and son of Zeus, Apollo. Jesus drives this home later in the letter when he says, “And all the churches will know that I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you according to your works.” Be careful how you live because the Lord sees and will judge you accordingly.
            The feet like burnished bronze would have communicated the strength of the Lord. The burnished bronze would also have been an attack against the leading “polished bronze” guild of the city. The bronze would have been primarily used for the military and even Apollo was pictured as a divine warrior god wielding a bronze double ax. Jesus is the one with burnished bronze feet and is the true divine warrior king who will execute his strength upon the church based on his perfect judgment. It is important to notice that God sees perfectly and the judgments he makes against his people are perfect (eyes of fire). He also has the power and strength to execute his judgment (bronze feet).
            The Christians of Thyatira needed to be reminded of the searching strength of the Son of God: Not to bow down to false gods, but to hold fast to Him who knows and sees all. Beloved, we need the same reminder. We may not be asked to bow down to Apollo, but we are asked to bow down every day to the idol of tolerance and sexual freedom. Beloved, there is one God whose penetrating gaze sees all and will judge accordingly. Stand fast.

The Loving People of God

The people of Thyatira were not with evidence of conversion. They were growing in their faith and love. Revelation 2:19, “‘I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first.” It is the opposite of Ephesus who left their first work of love. The church was growing in their love and faith. Love and faith are essentials for a Christian church. Faith is the most central characteristic emphasized in Revelation. John wants people to have faith that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and that by believing one may have life in his name. Persevering faith is the overarching theme in this book. The church had faith, but it was their misunderstanding of love that began to corrupt that faith.
Love is the strongest and most basic of Christian virtues. The two greatest commandments are to love God and love our neighbors. Christian love is intoxicating to the gospel. It draws people into faith. Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this, all people will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another.” Love should be the aroma of the Christian community. By God’s grace, I see love evident in our body. It is so encouraging to see how you are caring for each other throughout the week. Love gives itself to one another. 1 John 3:16, “By this, we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” Jesus teaches us what love is. He laid down his life for us. He showed us his love that when we were still sinners he died for us. The heart of our faith is the gospel of love.
If you are a non-Christian, I pray that you see a window through our love for each other to the love of God has shown us in Christ. God loves you. We desire to love each other in an authentic, deep, true way to model the love God has shown us. Christians often fail in loving each other for we are sinners. We want to grow in our love because Christ died for us. We recognize our inability to love and serve others without Christ because of our sin. The Bible says that every heart is deceitful and desperately sick. It is only the Lord that can change a person’s heart. Our hearts were changed because we realized that we are sinners deserving of severe punishment, but God in his mercy sent Christ to take our place. Jesus died for our sins on the cross. He was dead and buried but God raised him from the dead. He now gives us the opportunity to call on him as Lord and Savior. We want you to see our love not because we want your praise, but because we want you to see the love that God has for you in Christ. God sent Jesus to die for the ungodly. We love because he first loved us. I pray that you would know the love of God in a small way by witnessing our love for each other.
Beloved, may we always desire to grow in love. Let us love one another more. Let us love deeper. Let us love in spirit and in truth. Who can you love better? Is there someone who is not like you, maybe age or ethnicity, that you can go out of your way to love? Our love helps people find Christ. Never underestimate the power of love between God’s people.
The Christians in Thyatira were a loving people, but their love was not according to the truth.

The Tolerant People of God
 
Love is not total agreement. True love has a corrective punch to it. I love my kids enough to correct them when they are wrong. I hope my friends love me enough to speak words of truth to me when they see me doing something that will hurt me, my family or my faith. Love without truth is dangerous. I believe that the Christians of Thyatira desired to love deeply, but their misunderstanding of love paved the way for a compromising spirit in the church. Revelation 2:20, “But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols.” The key word is: tolerate. They allowed the existence and practice of false teaching without interference.
There is no uniform agreement on who Jezebel is in Thyatira. Jezebel was the wife of King Ahab. She led him to the worship of Baal and sorcery. Her name has become synonymous with false teaching. Some believe that Jezebel mentioned here is a specific woman teaching false doctrine. Women were free to prophesy in the church as we see in 1 Corinthians 11:5. Others believe that Jezebel was more a symbolic picture of the entire church for John calls the church the “elect lady” in another letter. Others view Jezebel as the wife of the leader of the Thyatira translating woman as a wife. Regardless of who Jezebel is, whether one woman or a group representing a Jezebel spirit, she was teaching compromise. She encouraged the church to participate in the cultic worship of the guilds. She encouraged Christians to eat food sacrificed to Apollo and to engage with sexual immoral activities practices in worship. These were in clear violation of God’s Word and the word of the Church. During the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15:29, the church decided, “that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well.”
Remember the church was immersed in a culture that demanded participation in cult practices. If the church refused to eat food sacrificed to idols and to participate in the sexual immorality of the guilds, they would have been ostracized economically. They would have not been able to find work and could starve for holding true to Christ. There was probably a group in the church that said, “We should just go along with the culture so that we can survive.” Or “We should just follow their ways so we can gain influence in their circles.” Or “We should be patient with them as they practice these things because God was patient with us.” There are many reasons the church may have tolerated false teaching.
We may be shocked that a church of the Lord Jesus Christ would have such a compromising spirit, but this type of tolerance has befallen the church throughout history. Even today we see the Western church falling to a spirit of compromise. First, I believe that compromise and tolerance in the church is often motivated by love. The church wants to love people so they feel like they should allow people to live the way they want. “Who am I to judge?” We are taught that accepting and tolerating is the highest form of love.
Our culture wears this kind of love as a badge of pride. Churches today hang rainbow flags on their buildings to show the world that it is a place of love, but in so doing they deny biblical love. Biblical love accepting of all people in Christ. There is no previous sin that can keep people from Christ if one repents. If one turns to Christ, his arms and the arms of his church are open wide. The cross is the greatest picture of love the world has ever known. And in the cross of love, we see a condemnation of sin. The cross does not make light of sin but punishes it. God hates sin so much that Jesus had to bear it in his own body on the cross. The intensity of facing God’s wrath against sin was so great that Jesus was sweating drops of blood pleading for another way. But there wasn’t another way. Sin could not be tolerated. Friends, in our efforts to love people let us not condemn them by allowing them to continue in sin. Let us not tolerate those who would propagate false teaching. False teaching false hope and false hope leads people to hell. It is very serious.
It does not matter how pure the motive is, biblical love does not tolerate sin. And yet, how we deal with this sin should be done in a spirit of kindness and patience as we wait for repentance.
The Patient Son of God
 
            God hates sin. He hates false teaching. And although he hates it, he is patient with his people. He has extended patience but there is coming a day when that patience will end. Revelation 2:21-23,
I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality. Behold, I will throw her onto a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation unless they repent of her works, and I will strike her children dead. And all the churches will know that I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you according to your works.
 The world often portrays God as vengeful and harsh when judgment is discussed. How could a loving God punish people? But how could a good God not hate sin? Notice how patient God is here. He has given the church time to repent. Even after this letter is written God offers grace. He pronounces what he will do, but says, “unless they repent of her works.” Let me pause and say to those here living in sin or tolerating sin, there is still time to repent. Turn from your sin. Trust in Christ. I plead with you: continue in your sin no more.
      Before I was a pastor, I ran a group home for teenage mothers. We were the last stop for many of the girls. They had made poor choices and could no longer be placed in foster homes so they were brought to our home. The choices of the girls would not only affect themselves but their children and all the residents in the home. I spent many days pleading with those girls to change and live for the Lord. By God’s grace, some did, but others didn’t. The saddest days were when I had to make the decision to put someone out of the home. Caseworkers would come in two cars. The mother would be taken in one and the child in the other. It is a good picture of what happens to those who do not repent. The repentant one is taken to the Father and welcomed into his kingdom while the one who refused to repent is sent away into outer darkness.
The false teaching that was tolerated gave birth to others who followed that teaching. Jesus said I will throw her into a sickbed and those who commit adultery with her and will strike her children dead. False teaching always will affect others. It is like gangrene that spreads to the entire body. If the diseased part is not cut off, it will corrupt the entire body. God is very patient, but his patient will one day come to an end. Do not presume on God’s patience tomorrow; repent today.
God is not only concerned with the church of Thyatira but all his churches. Revelation 2:23b, “And all the churches will know that I am he who searched mind and heart, and I will give to each of you according to your works.” God is the one with the blazing eyes of fire and feet burnished with bronze. He will give you all what you deserve according to your own works or he will give you mercy due to the work of Christ. Why would you not repent? Accept his mercy. Trust in the work of Christ crucified and risen again.
The Steadfast People of God
 
            By God’s grace, there were some that did not participate in the false teaching but held fast to the faith once and for all delivered to the saints. Revelation 2:24-25, “But to the rest of you in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not learned what some call the deep things of Satan, to you I say, I do not lay on you any other burden. Only hold fast what you have until I come.” The deep things of Satan were probably referring to the practices involved in the cult worship of the guilds and the temple of Apollo. Some remained innocent of these things but holding true to the word of Christ. Parents, I pray that you would be diligent to protect your children of the deep things of Satan in our culture. I pray that as our children come to Christ and give their testimonies that it would not those who left the faith for the world, but who were raised in godly homes and were taught the faith from an early age. Let us protect our kids from the deep things of Satan in our culture.
            The church that was faithful was not given any additional burdens but simply to hold on to what they had; to hold onto Christ.
Now, Lord, I would be Yours alone
And live so all might see
The strength to follow Your commands
Could never come from me
Oh Father, use my ransomed life
In any way You choose
And let my song forever be
My only boast is You
Hallelujah! All I have is Christ
Hallelujah! Jesus is my life

Friends, let this be our prayer. Let us hold fast to Christ until he comes. We know he will come. Great Baptist missionary Adoniram Judson once said, “The motto of every missionary, whether preacher, printer or school master, ought to be ‘Steadfast for life.” Friends, there are coming definitive crossroads for the American church. We will face many choices on whether to bow to economic prosperity and participate with the cultural idols or to hold to Christ. Friends, the decision may appear hard, but it is simple. Remain steadfast for life.
 
The Reigning Son of God
 
            Jesus makes our decision easy. Considering the grand reality of his sovereign reigning over history, what other choice is there? Hear the word of Jesus Christ, the Son of God,
The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father. And I will give him the morning star. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’
Jesus ends his letter to the church at Thyatira reminding them that he has been given all authority in heaven and earth and he will the nation with the strength of his power. Jesus is drawing on Psalm 2 (and Daniel’s interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream). Their true king will rule over all nations.
            And the utterly amazing thing is that God allows his people to reign with him. He shares his authority with his people. How utterly astonishing is the kindness of God towards his people? The morning star is probably another way of stating the initial promise of authority as the one who is over the stars is the one shown as the ruler. Apollo may be view as the god of the sun, but the saints of God will receive the morning star as they reign with Christ. Romans 8:15-17,
For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
We have been adopted as sons and daughters of God. We will reign with Christ but provided we are willing to suffer with him now. Our suffering for Christ is but short night that will turn into an everlasting day.  
            Life is full of choices. We will always be confronted with options, but the choice will always be simple. Choose Christ. Choose the King of kings and Lord of lords. Choose the bright and morning Star. Choose Him who bled and died and rose again. Choose Him who will hold us fast. Choose Jesus for there is truly no other choice.
 

Member Profile - Espich's

1.)    What is your vocation? Casey is a 7th grade history teacher at A.R. Rucker Middle School in Lancaster, along with working at Park as the Director of Youth & College. Casey working at Park has been a huge blessing to our family. Anna has worked for 5 years in Charlotte as a Payment Operations Specialist at an agriculture company, AGDATA. Together, we raise our boys, take care of our family & our home.

2.)    Tell us about your family: Casey is from KY; Anna is SC born and raised. We got married in June of 2010. We have 3 good dogs who make us a little (Casey - a lot) crazy. The day after Christmas of 2015, we welcomed our first wild baby boy, Abram Charles. This past May, we welcomed his little brother, Hudson Locke. They have changed our lives in the best ways & melt their mom's heart daily.

3.)    Who was the main human influence that lead you to a relationship with Christ? Anna: I attribute much of my spiritual growth to strong people of God in my family. All of my grandparents have lived lives that deliberately reflect the gospel. This was carried on in my parents, who have showed me dedication to the local church & faith, in even my earliest memories. Casey: I accepted Christ after getting involved in Young Life during high school. My young life leader, Dan, played a major role in teaching me the gospel & leading me from darkness to light. Since then, my friends Devon & Pastor Dave have continued to teach me to be a godly man, never stop growing, & lead my family.

4.)    What is your favorite Bible Verse? Anna loves Galatians 5:1 & 2 Corinthians 4:8-11. Casey loves John 1:5 & 2 Timothy 4:2-4

5.)    What has the Lord been teaching you over the last 6 months? Anna: I think God has been teaching me that when life gets hectic, to maintain perspective on the things He values. I am also learning to trust God to lead me when my life changes, and ministry and routines look different than they have before. Casey: God has been teaching me to surrender my schedule to Him. He has also been teaching me how to best love & serve my family in this current season of life.

6.)    What is something most people don’t know about you? Anna played basketball competitively from age 7 through high school & has a degree in Sport Management. Casey is an avid reader, built his own computer, & loves Premier League soccer.

7.)    Do you have any specific prayer requests? Pray for rest & balance for our family. Pray that we seek & trust God's guidance & provision as our life continues to change. Pray for a job for Anna that is closer to home. Continue to pray for Casey as he leads the OP group and the college co-ed Bible study.

 

The Piercing Word (Revelation 2:12-17)

Ellen and I began our teaching career in New York City. New York is truly the city that never sleeps. There seems to never be a moment without noise. Although Ellen and I both went to school in bigger cities, Philadelphia and Atlanta, respectively, New York is even more jarring on one’s senses. One evening Ellen went into a restaurant for dinner and someone thought it would be funny to light a string of black cat fireworks. When the fireworks went off, “pop, pop pop,” everyone from New York in the restaurant hit the ground thinking it was gunshots. My wife, on the other hand, lifted her head and moved toward the sound. My wife soon realized that in New York City there are certain sounds that one must react with speed and precision. Certain sounds demand a reaction.

The scream of one of your children. The security alarm in your home. The train whistle over the railroad tracks. The middle of the night phone call. There are certain sounds that penetrate our ears like no others. Our world is full of beeps, buzzes, and bangs. When you live in a city, police and fire sirens become background noises, but their certain sounds that pierce through the cacophony and stop us in our tracks. They pierce through the noise and demand a reaction.

The Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. God’s Word must pierce through the cacophony of worldly clamor to open our eyes to the One whom we must give an account. My prayer for you is that you will allow the penetrating power of the Word of God to pierce your heart, to break your love of the world, and encourage you to hold fast to Christ.

The Piercing Word Brings Judgment

In each of Jesus’ letters to the seven churches of Asia, he begins with a particular description of the vision of chapter one (Revelation 1:9-20). The vision of Jesus is, therefore, applied to the churches in a specific situation. Although Jesus addresses each of these churches individually, we know that he intends for the message to be applied to all churches throughout history. Jesus beings his letter to Pergamum, “And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: “The words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword.” Pergamum was the center of the Roman government and the Roman pagan religion in Asia Minor. The city boasted of being the “throne warden” to the worship of Caesar. It only defended the worship of Caesar, but the freedom to worship all sorts of deities. It was a polytheistic city.

Jesus confronts this “many ways” city by proclaiming that he is the one who holds the sharp two-edged sword. The sword was meant to invoke the image of judgment. Jesus was going to judge the pagan city with the sword. Paul writes in Romans 13 that the state was given the sword to execute judgment against lawlessness. Christians were not called to repay evil with evil but to overcome evil with good leaving judgment in the hands of the State and thus, ultimately, in the hands of God. Here, Jesus is reminding the church that he is the one who wields the sword of judgment. He will judge the kingdom of Satan. He will judge the apostate or the one who abandons the faith handed down from the apostles. Jesus is sovereign over all for he has the sharp two-edged sword that will cut through any worldly philosophy and pagan religion.

The sword imagery is meant to comfort and convicts the saints in Pergamum. The letter is dominated by Jesus’ rebuke of the churches permissive spirit of false teaching and false teachers. Jesus spends much of the letter rebuking the church from drifting from the truth and calling for their repentance to return to the church. Jesus also wants to encourage the faithful in the church. Even in the most dysfunctional churches, there is a remnant. There are always true believers in the true church. Jesus says to this mixture of true and drifting saints, “I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is.” There are many possible options of what Jesus means by “Satan’s throne” but the most probable option is that he is referring to Pergamum’s prominence in emperor worship.  The main reason for Christian persecution in John’s day was Christians unwillingness to bow to Caesar.

How comforting would it have been for Christians to hear Jesus say, “I know where you dwell, I know how challenging it to stand for me in the midst of intense, violent and aggressive emperor worship. I know the depth of the sin of the city.” There is a great comfort to rest in the fact that God knows what we are dealing with. Regardless of your trial today, God knows what you are going through. He knows your battle. Take comfort in God’s knowledge.

The Piercing Word Brings Joy

God does not only have knowledge of the saints of Pergamum, but he also has joy because many have remained steadfast in the truth even amid trial. Revelation 2:13b,

Yet you hold fast my name, and you did not deny my faith even in the days of Antipas my faithful witness, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.

The church continued to trust in the name of Jesus Christ. They were tempted to deny Christ when one of their numbers was killed for his faith. There is no scholarly agreement who Antipas was, but only that he was given the name ‘faithful witness’ the same name given to Jesus in Revelation 1:5. Jesus was pleased that the church held fast to his name amid intense persecution. There have been many faithful witnesses to the Lord Jesus throughout history. As we move closer to the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, we are reminded of all the faithful witnesses that held fast to the name of Christ.

Jan Hus was a preacher in the early 15th century. After reading the writings of John Wycliffe, Hus became impassioned for the authority of Scripture. He lived during rampant immorality among the clergy of the Catholic Church. As he started preaching against them, he was labeled a heretic and sentenced to death. As he was chained to a stake like a dog, he said,

My Lord Jesus Christ was bound with a harder chain than this one for my sake, so why should I be ashamed of this rusty chain?...What I taught with my lips I will now seal with my blood.[1]

Hus held fast to the name of Christ even unto death. Hus’ faithfulness continued to fuel the true church’s passion for the Word of God. Hus knew that the two-edged sword would continue to pierce the hearts of Europe. When Hus, which means Goose in Czech, was sentenced to death he said, “You may roast the goose, but a hundred years from now a swan will arise whose singing you will not be able to silence.” About 100 years later, Martin Luther became that swan igniting the Protest Reformation which has yet to be silenced. Hus had confidence in the God of the Word and Word of his God. His joy in the Word fueled his willingness to defend with his blood.

Do you have joy in the word of God? Is reading God’s word a delight or a burden? Jesus is pleased when we delight in his Word.

The Piercing Word Brings Division

The Word of God brings division. Jesus came to bring division. He came to divide the world based on how they respond to Him. The Word of God continues to bring division. There are churches who are beginning to waver on the Word. Let us learn from the error of Pergamum so that we would not drift from the Word but hold fast to it. Revelation 2:14-15,

But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam,

who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat

food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality. So also you have some who hold the

teaching of the Nicolaitans.

Balaam was a prophet in Israel. He was asked by the king of Moab, Balak, to pronounce curses on Israel, but instead only pronounced blessings. In Number 25:1-3, it relates how the people of Israel fall into sexual immorality among the pagans in Moab and sacrificed to their kings. Jewish tradition relates the cause of this apostasy on the account of Balaam’s advice referenced in Numbers 31:16.

The Nicolaitans were like Balaam in that they encouraged the church to eat food sacrificed to idols and to practice sexual immorality. If the church ate the food sacrificed to idols they would have participated in the imperial cult worship of Caesar. The church still believed in Jesus Christ, but were encouraged that it was fine to participate in the cult worship of Caesar. It may have been encouraged for their own safety or to help them have influence in the culture, either way, it contradicted the letter from the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15:28-29,

For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.”

The Nicolaitans were not only encouraging participation in the imperial cult but were also loosening the sexual boundaries of marital monogamy.

The problem in the church was a permissive spirit in accepting the culture of the world. We are not to be conformed to the world but transformed by the renewal of our minds. We are not to live in the world, but not be of the world. The Nicolaitans were encouraging the church to become like the world. We do not know their motives for this advice, but we can see similar advice in our day. The spirit of the Nicolaitans is alive in the American church. Churches are loosening their requirements on what is appropriate sexual ethics. It goes beyond the acceptance of homosexuality as a viable Christian lifestyle to the wide acceptance of cohabitation as normative for the church. They divide right doctrine with right living. Heterodoxy with heteropraxy.

The rebuke was not that everyone in the church held to the teachings of the Nicolaitans, but that the church was permissive that some did. Paul similarly rebuked the Corinthians because of their unwillingness to deal with sin in the church. He warned that a little leaven leavens the whole lump. Jesus also warned his disciples to beware of the yeast of the Pharisees that can affect the whole body. The problem in the American church is not that there is widespread homosexuality or sexual immorality in its members, but a permissive compromising spirit with those who engage in such things.

The Word gives us instructions on how we are called to live and how we are called to conduct our churches. We do not want to be a church of right doctrine without right practice. We want to believe the right things and live the right way. This pleases God. What areas of sin are you most permissive? Where are you most tempted to worldly compromise? Are their areas as a church where we are tempted to drifted into compromise? The desire to be accepting and welcoming is a God-given desire, but we can never go beyond what is described in the Word of God.

The Piercing Word Brings Direction

Jesus again redirects us with his Word. He calls the church to repent. Repentance is to turn from trusting in anything other than Jesus Christ and his Word. We must turn from our own ways and trust in God’s ways. There are times we may not understand the what and the why of the Christian life, but when we become Christians we no longer have the right to disobey Jesus. He is our commanding officer. He is the one with the sharp two-edged sword that by it will judge all governments and all people.

If you are not a Christian, listen to the gravity of Jesus’ words and what he commands of all people, Revelation 2:16,

Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth

The call of Jesus is very simple. It is a call of repentance. Why do we need to repent? It is fair to question one that is utterly challenged in our day. The Bible states that God is the creator of the world and all human beings. And as the creator, we are called to obey his word. He created the world good, but man disobeyed God. Man rejected the good word of a good Creator and chose to follow their own desire to be like god. They attempted to usurp God’s authority. Instead of following God’s law, they desired to follow their own law. The world has been corrupted by this selfish pride ever since and now the human heart is corrupted and bent towards self.

The Christian worldview says that every human being has sinned and has a sinful heart. Of course, Christian acknowledge that even the worst of humanity has elements of good in them, but their core is opposed to God. The punishment for sin is eternal death. When an eternal God is offended, then that eternal wrong must be punished as an eternal crime. Now it may appear harsh that God would exercise that degree of punishment, but in only understanding the severity of that punishment can we appreciate the kindness of Jesus’ word: repent. We are sinners deserving of eternal hell and God says there is another way. Jesus came to seek and to save sinners. He lived a perfect life. He never sinned. He always perfectly trusted God. He trusted God to death. He gave himself for our sins. He paid for all the wrongs we have done in his death. But God raised him from the dead. His resurrection opened the door to salvation. We now can be saved, not because of anything good in us, but because of the goodness and mercy of God.

Friends, Jesus is a kind, merciful Savior. He willingly took hell on the cross so we could repent. The one who calls us to repent is the one who bled and died for us. And this same one who gave himself for us is the one who says that if you do not repent then he will bring war against you with the sword of his mouth. Jesus desires your peace, but that peace came at a price. He offers you peace, but if and only if, you repent. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. Let God’s Word pierce your heart. I urge you to turn to Christ and live.

The Piercing Word Brings Deliverance

The surgeon’s scalpel hurts but brings healing. The call of the gospel may bring worldly pain in this life as you stand for truth, but it will bring deliverance. Revelation 2:17,

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.’

There are various interpretations on what exactly the “hidden manna” is referring to, but it is most likely connected to the manna God provided for Israel in the wilderness. God gave bread from heaven to strengthen and sustain his people as they travailed through the wilderness. The Israelites feasted on the manna as we feast on the bread of life. Jesus said,

I am the bread that came down from heaven…I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats this bread, he will live forever. (John 6:44;48-51)

Beloved, we feed on Christ by faith. He is the food our souls need to live.

Jewish tradition believed that white stones fell along with the manna in the wilderness. The manna itself was referred to as a heavenly stone (Exodus 16:31; Numbers 11:7). The white stone was also known as stone given to the innocent at their acquittal. Beloved, those of us who feed on Christ, the bread of life, will receive a white stone of acquittal. We will be fully and finally declared not guilty because the Jesus gave his body to be broken for us. The only way we get the white stone of acquittal is through the broken bread of life. And it is only when we continue in faith with Christ do we receive the new name of Christ.

The new name has several implications. It is a fulfillment of the prophecy in Isaiah 62:2, “The nations shall see your righteousness, and all the kings your glory, and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will give.  The end-time people of God fulfill this reality when we are named after God. As one scholar notes,

Believers’ reception of this name represents their final reward of consummate identification and unity with the intimate, end-time presence and power of Christ in his kingdom and under his sovereign authority. Identification with this name actually begins when Christ reveals himself to people and they confess his name by faith.[2]

Beloved, Christ has given us his name now and one day he will fully identify us with that new name and will enjoy our new status in the intimate presence of Almighty God. Revelation 22:4 says that we, “will see his face and his name will be on our foreheads.” What a gift to be bear the name of Christ.

Friends, let us never forget the name of Jesus. Let the name of Jesus be the piercing word that brings us back from wandering. Let the name of Jesus be the piercing word that causes our hearts to stir. Let the name of Jesus be the piercing word that ignites the passion in our soul to hold fast to his name. Jesus, Jesus there is something about that name.

Jesus, Jesus, Jesus

There’s just something about that name

Master, Savior, Jesus

Like the fragrance after the rain

Jesus, Jesus, Jesus

Let all Heaven and earth proclaim

Kings and kingdoms will all pass away

But there’s something about that name.

[1] https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/the-goosefather accessed 10.8.2017

[2] Beale, G. K. (1999). The book of Revelation: a commentary on the Greek text (pp. 254–255). Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press.

Member Profile - Ben Oliver

 

1.)    What is your vocation?

 

My vocation is to be a foreign missionary. I am finishing my undergraduate degree at Winthrop in Physical Education and would love to use playing sports or coaching as a means to share myself and the Gospel of Jesus Christ with those who are lost. 

2.)    Tell us about your family:

I grew up in Rock Hill with an older sister, Carly, my mother, Rebecca, and my father, Scott. My father taught me all of the sports that I know and love today and we would always play them together. My sister and I have grown to have a strong relationship and I value her now much more than I did when I was younger. My mother is the most generous woman I have ever met and is always looking for ways to serve the ones that she loves. I am truly blessed to have the family that I was born into.

3. 3.)    Who was the main human influence that led you to a relationship with Christ?

 The main human influence that I have had on my life that led me to a relationship with Christ is Casey Espich. I met Casey when I was in high school and he discipled me to know and fear the Lord and still pushes me to know our Lord all the more today.

4.)    What is your favorite Bible Verse? 

My favorite Bible verse is John 20:30-31. "Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name."

5.) What has the Lord been teaching you over the last 6 months?

Over the past 6 months, the Lord has been teaching me to be still and know that He is God. I continue to try to make plans instead of asking what God's will is for me and He continues to show me what His will is after I think that my plans are set. He continues to show me that He is sovereign.

6.)    What is something most people don't know about you?

Most people do not know that I am very competitive in all things, especially silly things like card and board games.

7.)    Do you have any specific prayer requests?
 That the Lord would use me on Winthrop's campus to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with the lost so that they may find life in His name.

PLEASE CONTACT JOHN WHITEAKER IF YOU ARE WILLING TO FILL OUT A MEMBER PROFILE

Be faithful Unto Death (Revelation 2:8-11)

The most famous disciple of the Apostle John was a godly man named Polycarp. Polycarp became the Bishop the Smyrna. Smyrna was a densely populated Jewish city with strong ties to Roman loyalty. Polycarp would have been in his mid-twenties when he first heard brief John’s Revelation and the letter from Jesus Christ to the church at Smyrna. As a young man he had to make a choice to follow Jesus Christ. In choosing to follow Jesus, he was choosing a life of persecution, of earthly poverty and constant opposition. Polycarp made the choice to follow Jesus. According to Church history, Polycarp was a disciple of the Apostle John. John was probably 60 years older than Polycarp, but John’s influence over this young man strengthened the church at Smyrna during his day and long after the Lord called him home.

      John served as a missionary to the future by giving his life to the next generation. The message John gave in life was a message embraced by those in face of death: to be faithful to Jesus Christ. I pray that whatever stage of life you find yourself this morning, a young man or woman in the beginning of your life or a senior saint nearing the end, I pray that you would be faithful to Jesus Christ. He is worth it.

Be Faithful to the Living One

            Jesus begins every one of his letters to his churches with an aspect of the vision of Revelation 1:9-20. Jesus begins his letter to the church at Smyrna with a reminder that He is God and in control of all things. Revelation 1:8,

And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: ‘The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life.

Jesus is alone sovereign over all history. He is eternal. He is the beginning and the end; the first and the last. The prophet Isaiah uses this phrase three times in his chapters of hope (40-48). Every time he uses the phrase, he is referring to God. Jesus is God. He is the second person of the Trinity. He is equal to God the Father and although his is equal to God the Father he as a very different role in our salvation. Jesus is our mediator who purchased our salvation by offering himself in our place.

            It is hard to faithful to God in a fallen world. Faithfulness is unswerving allegiance and steadfast trust in God. There is a multiplicity of temptations for believers. There is wealth, comfort, and pleasure that appears more attractive than the life of poverty, tumult, and denial. How can we remain faithful? We remain faithful by looking to Him who calls us to be faithful. The One who calls us to be faithful was the one who was faithful on our behalf. Jesus died for our sins. He committed no wrong. He knew no sin. He was innocent of all transgression. He was faithful to every word and in every way to God the Father. And although he was perfect, he remained faithful unto death. He was obedient to death even death on the cross. The One does not only demand your faithfulness, he provides you an example.

Jesus was faithful unto death, but he also came back to life. There is a great promise in faithfulness. The resurrection is our reward. Romans 6:5, “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” 1 Peter 1:3, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading, kept in heaven for you.” Psalm 16:6, “The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places, indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.” Psalm 16:11, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence, there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”

Following Jesus is worth it. He is glorious Savior and promises a glorious inheritance. When we are tempted to drift from Jesus, we must remember what he has done for us and what he has promised to us.

Polycarp was arrested for his faith. There was a warrant out for his arrest and he was traveling from house to house to avoid capture. During one period of prayer, it was revealed to him by the Lord that he was to be burned for his faith. Polycarp was brought into the stadium surrounded by a crowd that wanted him dead.

“Are you Polycarp?” the Roman proconsul asked. “Yes.” “Swear to Rome, and I will set you free. Curse Christ!” “For eighty-six years,” replied Polycarp, “I have been his servant, and he has never done me wrong. How can I blaspheme my king who saved me?”

In the hour of Polycarp’s greatest test, he remembered the kindness and mercy of the Savior. Jesus had done him no wrong, but saved him. In the hour of your temptation, whether it be at a computer screen, in your office, or at the dinner table with your family over the holidays, remember the Jesus is the first and the last, who died for you and came to life again. He will do you no harm.

Be Faithful in the Loss of Wealth

            There are threats to our faithfulness. One of the greatest threats is a loss of wealth. Jesus begins the letter to the church, “I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich).” Jesus knows the cost paid by his disciples. Smyrna was a largely Jewish city with strong ties to the Roman imperial cult. The imperial cult permeated virtually every aspect of the city and often even village life in Asia Minor, so that individuals could aspire to economic prosperity and greater social standing only by participating to some degree in the Roman cult.[1] As Christians refuse to participate in the Roman cult, they were ostracized from society and became poor. They would not have moved up the social ladder, but would most likely not been hired in the first place and/or the community would have avoided their businesses. To follow Christ in the 1st century often meant choosing a life of poverty. And yet, Christians chose to be poor rather than denying the Lord Jesus Christ.

            Will you be faithful in the loss of wealth? Will you choose to be poor rather than deny Jesus Christ? There are members of our church that have made that decision. Members who were part of businesses with dishonest practices that chose to walk away from those businesses rather than dishonor Christ. Beloved, we have members now who are daily pressured to deny Christ in their workplaces. Are you praying for their strength to be faithful? As the moral revolution continues to unfold, more and more Christians will lose their jobs simply by holding to a Christian sexual ethic. Holding to a biblical view of marriage will cause you to lose your job. When you are facing the temptation of the loss of wealth, will you be faithful?

One of the marks of the early church was a familial sharing of resources. They all gave to each other as any had need. Faithfulness in the loss of wealth is a community project. We must be willing to bear each other burdens including financial burdens when our brothers and sisters stand for Christ in the public sector. Let us choose to be poor with Christ than rich without him. Jesus reminded the church that even though we are poor in earthly means, we are rich in the spiritual realm. Even here Jesus is reminding us to follow him, 2 Corinthians 8:9, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor so that you by his poverty might become rich.” Jesus became poor so we would be rich.

Beloved, do you view your wealth as a tool to make others spiritually rich? As we move into a season of increased persecution for the church, it will take the resources of the entire body to encourage faithfulness. Let us commit to living as a spiritual family and give freely to all who have need.

Be Faithful in the Loss of Reputation

            The Christians at Smyrna also faced persecution in their reputation. Proverbs 22:1, “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold.” The reputation of Christians was under attack at Smyrna because certain “Jews” were more interested in protecting their own freedoms. Jews had certain rights under the Roman law. They did not have to worship Caesar as Lord. They were afforded certain rights for the peace of the Roman empire. Christians were initially viewed as a Jewish sect and were afforded similar rights under the Jewish umbrella.

As Christianity grew, Jews began to slander Christians and further separate themselves from believers. Jesus offers some strong words to encourage the church, “I know…the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.” Paul writes in Romans that a true Jew is not one outwardly, but inwardly and circumcision is a matter of the heart done by the Spirit. These Jews in Smyrna were not true Jews at all but were following Satan. Satan is the Accuser of the brethren. He is the one who spits false accusations against God’s people. These were false Jews and followers of the Slanderer.

Do you realize that every time you slander another person (speaking untruth to harm their reputation) you are following the ways of Satan? The tongue is hard to control. James says it is a restless evil. We must recognize sins of the tongue and repent of how we may have fallen into temptation. We also must be resolute in trusting Jesus with our reputation. It is natural to want to defend ourselves to others. When my reputation has been slandered, there is a part that wells up in me that wants to defend myself against those false accusations. Slander hurts for more than one’s pride but can hurt the reputation of the gospel and witness of Christ. And yet, God is first and the last. He is still in control of it.

Here again, we must look to Christ, 1 Peter 2:23, “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.” We want to treat others with gentleness and respect so that when we are slandered those who revile our good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. (1 Peter 3:16). If we are insulted for the name of Christ, we are blessed. (1 Peter 4:14) We must continue to entrust ourselves to our faithful Creator while doing good to others. (1 Peter 4:19). Give your reputation to Lord.

Be Faithful in the Loss of Breath

            The church at Smyrna was facing the very real possibility of death. Jesus exhorts them not to fear because he is the living one. We always face death as Christians remembering that our God has promised us a resurrection. Revelation 2:10,

Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.

The devil is going to work through human agents to persecute the church. He always has and he always will use earthly agents to tear down the church. And God is going to use the wickedness of persecution to purify his church. The church will be tested. 1 Peter 1:6-7,

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

God will use our trials to strengthen and confirm our faith. And our trials, don’t miss this, will result in praise and glory and honor of Jesus Christ.

            The ten days of tribulation are probably not referring to a literal ten-day period of persecution, but a symbolic period of testing where they can prove themselves faithful. The ten-day test is most likely alluding to Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego ten-day fast in Babylon where they chose not to defile themselves with the king’s food. Daniel and friends have always been models for faithfulness in the face of death. God spared Daniel from the lion’s den. God spared Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from the fiery furnace. Therefore, God will spare the church at Smyrna by giving them the crown of life. As God will spare us if we are faithful to the end. 

            Polycarp would have heard these words as a young man. As he grew into the bishop of Smyrna, there were probably many times when he recited these words to the people. Be faithful unto death and Jesus will give you the crown of life. And by God’s grace, he lived by those words. Polycarp was brought into the Roman stadium and was put on trial. They asked him to recant by shouting and waving his hands towards the Christians saying, “Away with the atheists,” as Christians were referred to that day. Instead, Polycarp was commanded to look behind him to the Christians but instead looked toward the crowd in front of him and waving his hands bellowed, “Away with the atheists.” The Proconsul continued to threaten Polycarp,

“I have wild beasts,” said the proconsul. “I shall throw you to them if you don’t change your attitude.”

“Call them,” replied the saint. “We cannot change our attitude if it means a change from better to worse.”

“If you make light of the beasts,” retorted the governor, “I’ll have you destroyed by fire, unless you change your attitude.”

Polycarp answered: “The fire you threaten burns for a time and is soon extinguished. There is a fire you know nothing about—the fire of the judgment to come and of eternal punishment, the fire reserved for the ungodly. But why do you hesitate? Do what you want.”

The proconsul was amazed, and sent the crier to stand in the middle of the arena and announce three times: “Polycarp has confessed that he is a Christian.” The crowd roared in unison that Polycarp must be burned alive.

Polycarp was trusting in the words of Savior and King, “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.” Polycarp has stood in a long line of faithful Christians who stood faithful unto death. They trusted Jesus for the crown of life.

Be Faithful for the Life to Come

            There are two deaths in this world. There is the first death when our bodies perish from this life and there is the second death where our bodies and soul perish forever in hell. Revelation 20:14, “Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” This is what Polycarp meant when he said, “There is a fire you know nothing about—the fire of the judgment to come and of eternal punishment, the fire reserved for the ungodly.” The ungodly are those whose names are not written in the book of life.

Jesus desires your name to be written in the book of life. Jesus came to give life and live more abundantly. Jesus says, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.” Jesus calls out to all who will hear his voice. The one who conquers in faith will not be hurt by the second death. They will perish in this life only then will experience the blessed inheritance of the saints.

The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death. How do we conquer? The way we conquer is to be conquered. We are only conquerors if we try to save ourselves. We cannot save ourselves. We are ungodly and unrighteous. We deserve the second death, but God sent through the Living One. Jesus Christ came to die and rise again. Jesus conquered the second death through his resurrection. We conquer by allowing Jesus to be our conqueror. We surrender to his Lordship. We bow to him as King. It is only by being conquered by Christ that we will conquer with Christ in the life to come.

We all must make a choice. Will we bow our knee to Christ or to our own will? Polycarp was a young man when he made the choice to follow Christ. He said, “For eighty-six years I have been his servant, and he has never done me wrong. How can I blaspheme my king who saved me?” When the time came and the wood was placed his feet, Polycarp prayed,

O Father of thy beloved and blessed Son, Jesus Christ, through whom we have come to know thee, the God of angels and powers and all creation, and of the whole family of the righteous who live in thy presence; I bless thee for counting me worthy of this day and hour, that in the number of the martyrs I may partake of Christ’s cup, to the resurrection of eternal life of both soul and body in the imperishability that is the gift of the Holy Spirit.[2]

Polycarp took the cup of Christ of death and the hope of his resurrection. He believed in the promise, “Be faithful unto death and I will give you the crown of life.” Friends, I pray who heed the words of Christ as Polycarp did. Be faithful, be steadfast, be immovable in the hope of the gospel, be loyal unto Christ, be faithful to death. Be conquered by Christ so that you will conquer the second death with Christ. He has promised the conqueror’s crown; will you receive it?

[1] Beale, G. K. (1999). The book of Revelation: a commentary on the Greek text (p. 240). Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press.

[2] Boa, K., & Kruidenier, W. (2000). Vol. 6: Romans. Holman New Testament Commentary (403–404). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.