Revelation 18 – Get Away

Read Revelation 18

When the first Gulf War erupted in 1990, there was considerable speculation from a number of Christian groups that thought these events hailed the coming of Jesus Christ.  They pointed to the destruction of Babylon, recorded here in chapter 18, as proof that we were witnessing the final events of the world as we know it.  Babylon, as a Biblical nation, was located in modern day Iraq, its capital located in the central portion of the country between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.  The coalition attack on Iraq and subsequent speedy victory over the country, for some, became further proof that Jesus’ coming was right around the corner.

As we have talked about several times now, however, it is very difficult to make links like this between modern day events and what is written in Revelation.  Sadly, a large number of failed predictions like this have led to a great deal of confusion and even apathy among believers when it comes to “end times” discussions.

John is taken by an angel to see the destruction of “Babylon,” which is described as “the great prostitute.”  Remember that in Scripture, those people and nations who commit idolatry against the Lord by worshiping false Gods are often described by the prophets as having “prostituted” themselves to these idols.  There is a considerable amount of sexual language and reference that is included in these references pointing to the intimacy of the relationship that God desires with us and the abundance of pain and betrayal that comes with idolatry.  This language is no accident; even Paul writes that, in talking about the relationship between husband and wife he is also talking about Christ and the church.

Babylon, as a city and a nation, is used here to describe the seat of the resistance against God and His people. Babylon was, in the Old Testament, the second “Egypt experience” that God’s people had after Jerusalem was conquered and the people forced into exile in 587 B.C.  In exile, the people of God were forced into idol worship, breaking the law by the foods that they were made to eat, and were completely cut off from their homeland and the Temple.  This civilization was given considerable power by God to dominate the world at that time, punishing both Israel and the surrounding nations for the sins that they had committed.

Daniel, however, also records God’s punishment of the sins Babylon as well in the story of the writing on the wall in Daniel 5.  At the peak of her power (and incidentally her idolatry as well) King Belshazzar holds a feast and uses many of the items from the Temple of the Lord.  In the middle of the feast, a hand appears and writes on the wall something only Daniel could interpret: “MENE, MENE, TEKEL, PARSIN.”  He translates it for the king: MENE, God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end; TEKEL, you have been weighed and found wanting; and PERES, the kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.

A similar fate is sealed for Revelation’s Babylon as well, though the Kingdom will not be divided but rather redeemed and restored to its rightful state and ruler, Jesus Christ.

A warning is issued to God’s people living in Babylon, they must leave or not even they will be spared the wrath of God that is about to be poured out.  This warning echoes the story of Lot who is brought out of the city of Sodom before God destroys is and Gomorrah as well.

The doom of Babylon is said to be equal to that of the judgment that Babylon imposed on the people of God.  This is, at least on some level, true of the Old Testament Babylon, losing everything just as the Jews lost everything.  In Revelation, this is also true.  As we have seen, Babylon, along with its leaders the dragon and the two beasts, have been active in their persecution of God’s people.  Scripture says she receives a “double portion” of what she poured out.  In essence, the scales are to not just going to be balanced at the end, but the weight of sin and evil will be completely eclipsed by God’s grace and love.

John records that many will mourn the loss of Babylon.  Kings, merchants, and seamen are all groups of people that had benefitted greatly from Babylon and her luxuries.  Their benefits and wealth are matched only by their grief for her loss, not because of a conviction of sins, however, but most likely a mourning of the great financial loss that they incurred because of Babylon’s fall.

There is one final point that is made about Babylon’s fall and that is the finality of it.  After all of this is shown to John, the angel shows him exactly what this end is to mean for the “great” city.  It will be like a millstone thrown into the sea; it will never be found again.  While I think that we’ve talked about this a number of times, it does bear mentioning again that this is the ultimate trajectory of Revelation and it is an eternal one.  The enemies of God will be thrown down, all opposition to God will be removed, and the earth will once again experience the full measure of love and grace with the presence of God being here with us.



Exodus 1 "Womb or Tomb?"

Sermon Series: Leaving Egypt (drawing from the book by Dr. Chuck DeGroat)

As the people of Israel were enslaved in Egypt, so we too find ourselves in our own personal “Egypts,” places that used to have been places of growth and prosperity, now turned into places of bondage.  But God doesn’t leave us there… He has paved a way out of Egypt through the work of His Son Jesus Christ.

Questions for Further Discussion:

  • Read Exodus 1:1-14 again. Notice the shift from Israel growing and thriving to Pharaoh’s persecution.  What do you suppose provoked Pharaoh’s wrath?  What do you think causes this in our own lives?
  • How is your story mirrored in Exodus 1? How does this chapter speak to your journey?  Do you see reflections of this at HCRC?  What are they?  Have you contributed to it?  How so?
  • Think of some good thing that has become misdirected in your life (ie. desire for success that turned into workaholism, love for food that became overeating, etc.). What good thing behind these things might you be longing for?
    1. Think about this in terms of ministry. Are there ministries that have become misdirected?  What good thing are those seeking after?
  • “Institutionalization” is defined as the process of becoming embedded in a conception, norm, role, value, or mode of behavior within an organization, social system, or society as a whole. It is where we accept the current reality, no matter how bad or harsh, and even fight to keep it.  How have you become “institutionalized”?  What about the church?
  • How does it make you feel to know that Jesus has also taken the Exodus journey?


Luke 4 – Wilderness

Read Luke 4

The theme of “wilderness” is something that is quite prevalent throughout Scripture.  From the very beginning, Scripture records people heading into the wilderness as a part of their journey.  One of the more famous of these is that of the people of Israel wandering in the wilderness for 40 years between their captivity in Egypt and entering the promised land.  King David also spent time in the wilderness being chased by Saul before finally ascended to the throne.  The people of Israel also experienced a “wilderness” type event in the Babylonian Exile.

All of these events have something in common, though, as they are all intimately related to the shaping of identity.  Israel leaves Egypt as a group of slaves and enters Canaan as a nation, the people of God.  David enters into the wilderness as an anointed shepherd but emerges as Israel’s great king.  Jesus is baptized, given His identity by the voice of God Himself, and enters the wilderness for 40 days before emerging to begin His ministry here on earth.  Each of these Old Testament events points forward to Jesus and brings meaning to His identity as the Messiah.

We too are a part of this story.  We find our identity in Jesus Christ and that identity is continually shaped and molded through the work of the Holy Spirit throughout our lives.  Our lives too contain times of “wilderness” experience when God seems distant and life seems hard.  Yet these often serve much the same purpose as those of the Bible, to develop and establish our identity and to teach us dependence on God.

Have you ever experienced a time like this in your life?  Sometimes we spend that time asking “where is God?”  Perhaps a better question is “what is God teaching me in this time?”

**Many of the colored words here are Links to other posts related to this topic.  Feel free to click and explore other writings on this subject!



Mark 15 – We Want Barabbas!

Read Mark 15

The people of God have a long history of wanting what they shouldn’t want, and denying the thing they need most.  From the very moment that they  were released from captivity in Egypt, the people of Israel immediately begin complaining and wondering whether or not they should just go back.  Every time they met an obstacle, whenever things got rough, no matter how faithful God had been to them, they always talk about going back to Egypt.

Even after they settle into the promised land, when they have received the inheritance God gave them, still they wondered at going back to Egypt.  Sure, life was difficult, the work was hard, but it certainly was familiar.

As the religious leaders of Jesus’ day make plans to capture and kill Him, they do so because Jesus is threatening the very same thing: freedom.  Jesus continues to teach about the Kingdom of Heaven and speak negatively about the religious elite.  They have recognized Jesus as a threat to their power and control; they want none of it.

I wonder at some of the similarities that are taking place in our cultural context today.  Looking at the landscape of the church and culture, over the last 100 years, a slow turn as been taking place, leaving the church and the transformative power of the Gospel on the side of condemnation and the greater culture, including many church-going Christians, turning to away from Jesus and the Gospel as the source of freedom and salvation, and to many other things and people that the world has to offer.  Whether it is a politician running for president, high educational achievement, or success, each of these, when compared to the transforming power of the Gospel is the proverbial “Barabbas” that America seems to be collectively calling for.



Mark 5 – Recognize

Read Mark 5

There seems to be an increase in the recognition of the spiritual realm and its influence and impact on our lives in today’s culture.  As we move out of the age of modernity, marked by the attainment of knowledge, scientific advancement, and the need for concrete evidence for proof, culture has seen a much wider acceptance of a reality that is both coinciding with ours and also beyond our vision and understanding.  This truth, however, is not one that took Jesus by surprise.

I am struck by the recognition that takes place from different characters in this narrative.  The demons see Jesus and instantly recognize who He is and are aware of what His presence means for them.  Jesus is quite aware of them too.  Whether or not the man they possess knows Jesus is uncertain, but what we do know is it took much more than human strength to bring him healing.  Yet the reaction of the people in that region is puzzlingly similar to that of the demons, both want to get away from Jesus.  Why, after such healing had taken place, would the people be fearful to the point of sending Jesus away?

Sometimes I wonder if people are actually afraid of healing, afraid of the light.  When we are confronted with our sin, and shown the way toward healing, it can be uncomfortable… even scary.  Our current way of living may not be the best, but it’s certainly familiar.  This is a constant theme in the Old Testament.  Israel complains everytime the going gets rough, wanting to go back to Egypt because at least they knew what to expect.

I wonder if our churches today engage in these same reactions, settling for the safe and familiar rather than the abundant healing Jesus offers us?



Day 354: Hebrews 11-13; By Faith (Israel's Hall of Fame)

Keeping in mind that the whole of this book was written as an encouragement to those believers who were facing persecution, especially from the Jews, and to those who were believers but may have been backsliding into Judaism.  With that in mind, there isn’t much else to say that isn’t eloquently spoken about in chapters 11 and 12.  So, I encourage you to read them again and remember all that we have covered over the last year.

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.  For by it the people of old received their commendation.  By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.

By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks.  By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God.  And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.  By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.  By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise.  For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.  By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised.  Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.

These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.  For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland.  If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return.  But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.”  He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.  By faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau.  By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff.  By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones.

By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict.  By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin.  He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.  By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible.  By faith he kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood, so that the Destroyer of the firstborn might not touch them.

By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as on dry land, but the Egyptians, when they attempted to do the same, were drowned.  By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days.  By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.

And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of GideonBarakSamsonJephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions,  quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.  Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life.  Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment.  They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.

And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.  In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.  And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him.  For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.”



Day 320: Acts 7-8; Stephen, Persecution, and Scattering

Today’s post, at least as I write it, is going to be mostly not my voice.  I think that what Stephen says here is probably one of the most important speeches in the Bible with the exception of the teachings of Jesus Himself.  Stephen, filled with the Holy Spirit rehashes the whole story of God’s faithfulness throughout the history of the Jewish people and how He has brought them to this point.  He lays out for them all the things that have happened, the things that are recorded in the Law and the Prophets, of which these folks are supposedly experts, and how they all lead up to Jesus.  I have marked a lot of the names and parts of the grand narrative of the Bible that Stephen really covers, linking them all of what we talked about in the first month of this journey through the Bible, and also some of the narratives of Joshua, David, and Solomon.  I encourage you to re-read this speech and as you do create some space for yourself to remember these stories, remember what we talked about, and remember all that God has indeed done to bring them to this point right now.  We have the opportunity right now to take a step back and, rather than reading individual portions of Scripture, to see if from a “bird’s eye view,” or perhaps more appropriately a “God’s eye view” of all that has taken place.

Apart from this speech, and the subsequent stoning of Stephen, we read of the scattering of the believers, the movement out of Jerusalem because of the great persecution that begins and takes place.  While this may see horrible, at least on the surface, for those of us that are reading it, this scattering actually facilitated the spreading of the early Church outside the city of Jerusalem into the areas of Judea and Samaria, just as Jesus says at the beginning of Acts.  Though their center still remains in Jerusalem, where the Apostles mostly stay, the outward movement that is precipitated by this persecution is really the beginning of the movement outward towards the “ends of the earth.”  Notice too that immediately we read that people are coming to faith outside of Jerusalem because of the preaching that is taking place.  The Holy Spirit is alive and well and very much at work in all that is going on here!

And Stephen said:

“Brothers and fathers, hear me. The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran, and said to him, ‘Go out from your land and from your kindred and go into the land that I will show you.’  Then he went out from the land of the Chaldeans and lived in Haran. And after his father died, God removed him from there into this land in which you are now living.  Yet he gave him no inheritance in it, not even a foot’s length, but promised to give it to him as a possession and to his offspring after him, though he had no child.  And God spoke to this effect—that his offspring would be sojourners in a land belonging to others, who would enslave them and afflict them four hundred years.  ‘But I will judge the nation that they serve,’ said God, ‘and after that they shall come out and worship me in this place.’  And he gave him the covenant of circumcision. And so Abraham became the father of Isaac, and circumcised him on the eighth day, and Isaac became the father of Jacob, and Jacob of the twelve patriarchs.

And the patriarchs, jealous of Joseph, sold him into Egypt; but God was with him and rescued him out of all his afflictions and gave him favor and wisdom before Pharaoh, king of Egypt, who made him ruler over Egypt and over all his household.  Now there came a famine throughout all Egypt and Canaan, and great affliction, and our fathers could find no food.  But when Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent out our fathers on their first visit.  And on the second visit Joseph made himself known to his brothers, and Joseph’s family became known to Pharaoh.  And Joseph sent and summoned Jacob his father and all his kindred, seventy-five persons in all.  And Jacob went down into Egypt, and he died, he and our fathers,  and they were carried back to Shechem and laid in the tomb that Abraham had bought for a sum of silver from the sons of Hamor in Shechem.

“But as the time of the promise drew near, which God had granted to Abraham, the people increased and multiplied in Egypt until there arose over Egypt another king who did not know Joseph.  He dealt shrewdly with our race and forced our fathers to expose their infants, so that they would not be kept alive.  At this time Moses was born; and he was beautiful in God’s sight. And he was brought up for three months in his father’s house, and when he was exposed, Pharaoh’s daughter adopted him and brought him up as her own son.  And Moses was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and he was mighty in his words and deeds.

“When he was forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brothers, the children of Israel.  And seeing one of them being wronged, he defended the oppressed man and avenged him by striking down the Egyptian.  He supposed that his brothers would understand that God was giving them salvation by his hand, but they did not understand. And on the following day he appeared to them as they were quarreling and tried to reconcile them, saying, ‘Men, you are brothers. Why do you wrong each other?’  But the man who was wronging his neighbor thrust him aside, saying,‘Who made you a ruler and a judge over us?  Do you want to kill me as you killed the Egyptian yesterday?’  At this retort Moses fled and became an exile in the land of Midian, where he became the father of two sons.

“Now when forty years had passed, an angel appeared to him in the wilderness of Mount Sinai, in a flame of fire in a bush.  When Moses saw it, he was amazed at the sight, and as he drew near to look, there came the voice of the Lord:  ‘I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham and of Isaac and of Jacob.’ And Moses trembled and did not dare to look.  Then the Lord said to him, ‘Take off the sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.  I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt, and have heard their groaning, and I have come down to deliver them. And now come, I will send you to Egypt.’

“This Moses, whom they rejected, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge?’—this man God sent as both ruler and redeemer by the hand of the angel who appeared to him in the bush.  This man led them out, performing wonders and signs in Egypt and at the Red Sea and in the wilderness for forty years.  This is the Moses who said to the Israelites, ‘God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers.’  This is the one who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the angel who spoke to him at Mount Sinai, and with our fathers. He received living oracles to give to us.  Our fathers refused to obey him, but thrust him aside, and in their hearts they turned to Egypt, saying to Aaron, ‘Make for us gods who will go before us. As for this Moses who led us out from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’  And they made a calf in those days, and offered a sacrifice to the idol and were rejoicing in the works of their hands.  But God turned away and gave them over to worship the host of heaven, as it is written in the book of the prophets:

“‘Did you bring to me slain beasts and sacrifices,
    during the forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel?
You took up the tent of Moloch
    and the star of your god Rephan,
    the images that you made to worship;
and I will send you into exile beyond Babylon.’

“Our fathers had the tent of witness in the wilderness, just as he who spoke to Moses directed him to make it, according to the pattern that he had seen.  Our fathers in turn brought it in with Joshua when they dispossessed the nations that God drove out before our fathers. So it was until the days of David, who found favor in the sight of God and asked to find a dwelling place for the God of Jacob.  But it was Solomon who built a house for him.  Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made by hands, as the prophet says,

“‘Heaven is my throne,
    and the earth is my footstool.
What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord,
    or what is the place of my rest?
Did not my hand make all these things?’

“You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you.  Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.”



Day 288: Matthew 25-26; The Lord's Supper – Passover Rebooted

Today’s reading is likely a familiar narrative for many people.  The story of Jesus’ death is likely the most told story of Christianity, rivaled I think only by the story of His birth.  While there is a lot to cover, and we will cover it, I think this time through I would like to look a bit deeper into the Lord’s supper.  To do this, I would like to offer some thoughts and then I am going to include some writing I have done for our Church recently regarding Communion.  I hope that this writing helps to locate this celebration of the Sacrament a bit more in the context and also give a bit of light to all that we do to celebrate it.  We will talk more about this again too as this is one of the most important parts of Christian Worship.

It is important to remember that the Lord’s Supper is actually an extension of the Passover celebration that has taken place since the time that the Hebrew people were in Egypt.  They were charged to celebrate this feast in remembrance of the night that the Lord “passed over” the people of Israel when He killed all the first born of Egypt.  There is a great deal of symbolic action that takes place here that has to do with sacrifice of a lamb, the use of blood as a marker for exemption from punishment, and even a communal meal together.  All of these things are shadows of what was to come, the fulfillment that would be found in Jesus Christ!  Remember that, especially in the early church, the Passover meal would have been the context in which the Lord’s Supper would have been understood; none of it really made sense to them without this historical fact.  Keep in mind too that, though we live in a different context, this “greatest of sacraments” has a lot deeper meaning than just taking a bread cube or reciting a liturgy.  I hope that the following helps a little.  We will talk more about this in coming posts.  I think it is also important to remember and recognize, as we read today, the different places where Matthew says “to fulfill Scripture” and such.  Again this is important because of the audience that Matthew is writing to and the point he is trying to make.

The Table, part of our response to God, is a very unique time for Christians in the Church.  I would like to take a moment to talk through this time, though I must admit that a moment will hardly do it justice.  Often in the Church, especially the reformed churches we have focused in on one very particular meaning of the Lord’s Supper, and have kept its practice well in check.  Yet in doing this, sometimes we lose the much fuller, richer, and deeper meanings behind our practice of going to the Table.  It is appropriate that we talk about Communion in this week as we prepare for the Church’s celebration of Worldwide Communion Sunday on October 6.

As we approach the Table on our communion Sundays, we often read the same liturgy which talks about the meaning of the sacrament and we say that the Supper which we are about to eat is a feast of “remembrance, communion, and hope.”  Following this, we often explain what it means to remember, to commune, and what we have hope for.  Some liturgies specifically state that the Lord’s Supper is a feast of “Remembrance, Celebration, and Anticipation” for many of the same reasons.  When we come to the Table, we remember the night that Jesus was betrayed as well as His death on the cross through which we receive atonement in His blood.  In this supper we also celebrate, because Christ did not only die, but He has risen from the dead and is ascended into heaven from which He sits and reigns!  We celebrate because our sins our forgiven and we have received grace upon grace!  We also anticipate, and our anticipation comes from the hope that we have that we are not left to struggle on our own, but Christ is with us Spiritually and will one day again be with us on this earth when He comes again in glory!

Along with these three main thematic elements, the Church in the New Testament used several different terms for this sacramental celebration, though they wouldn’t have called it a sacrament back then as the word sacrament actually comes from the Latin word for mystery.  Each of these four terms comes with different Scriptural references and emphasizes different elements of the Table.  The first of these and probably the most familiar to us is “The Lord’s Supper.”  This is referenced in 1 Corinthians 11:20 and points to communion as being the Lord’s Supper.  Here we see an emphasis placed on unity and equality as we come to the Table, reminding us that this Table, this feast is not ours but God’s.  The reference to 1 Corinthians 11 is also one of the foundational texts that were used in writing the Belhar Confession, the RCA’s newest confession emphasizing unity within the Church.  We need to remember this as we come to the Table, that Christ welcomes sinners (including ourselves) at His table to fellowship with Him.

Communion is also a familiar reference to the sacrament of the Table that we celebrate.  The ESV Bible that we now use here at ORC, in 1 Corinthians 10, has substituted the word “communion” for “participation” which only helps us to better understand this particular emphasis.  When we partake of the bread and the cup we are communing with and participating in the Body of Christ.  In this we touch Christ and Christ touches us, not in a manner in which these elements actually are Christ’s physical body, but in a spiritual sense in that at the Table, for these brief moments, Heaven and earth meet and we actually come to the Table of our Lord and sit with Him.  The liturgies of the earth church, and the great prayer of thanksgiving that is included on the next page, held this view as well.  As we approach the table we are lifted up and the barriers between heaven and earth are broken down and we are welcomed at the Table of our Lord.  This isn’t often how we think about Communion, especially as we sit in our seats and receive the elements from a tray, but it is a greater vision of what is happening in this time.  We are both communing with our Lord, but we are also participating as part of His Body.  Augustine said of this, when you take the elements, “Be what you see, receive what you are.”

The final two terms for the sacrament that we use a bit less are the terms “Breaking of the Bread” and “Eucharist.”  These terms come from Acts 2 and the Gospels of Matthew and Mark respectively.  The emphases of these are both fellowship and thanksgiving.  Acts 2 gives us a vision of the early church in which the believers celebrated “the breaking of bread” whenever they were together.  Jesus Himself gives us a vision of giving thanks when He breaks the bread and when He passes the cup as He explains these things to His disciples.

On the next page, you will see the Great Prayer of Thanksgiving, a prayer that has been used before communion for many years.  See if you can find elements of what we just talked about in this prayer.



Day 279: Matthew 1-4; Intro to the New Testament, The Gospels, and Matthew

The New Testament Photo Credit: www.thinktheology.org

The New Testament
Photo Credit: www.thinktheology.org

And so we come to it at last, the New Testament, the fulfillment of God’s promises to send a Messiah, the fulfillment/expansion of the covenant that God made with His people.  In the New Testament, the term “God’s People” also takes on a new meaning as the promise of reconciliation and redemption extends outward from the people of Israel to encompass the whole world!  In addition to this, we see the culmination of God’s work throughout the whole of the Old Testament to bring about the coming of Jesus in the New Testament and the fulfillment of hundreds of prophecies and covenantal promises that had been spoken of for over 1000 years, all coming to fruition in the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ.

The Gospels are the first books of the Old Testament, four books that recount the life and work of Jesus Christ from His birth all the way to His ascension.  Each book is written by a different person, two Apostles, Mark who was an associate of Paul, and Luke (also the author of Acts) who was a doctor and one of the first gentile Christians.  Each of the Gospels is written to a different audience with a different purpose.  This will become apparent as we read through each of these books, however here is some basic information about each of the four Gospels, taken from both the NIV Life Application Study Bible (Tyndale House Publishing, 1991) and Reading the New Testament Today by Robert E. VanVoorst (Wadsworth, 2005).

Wordle of the Gospels Photo Credit: www.petergalenmassey.com

Wordle of the Gospels
Photo Credit: www.petergalenmassey.com

Matthew: Written specifically to the Jews in an effort to prove that Jesus was indeed the Messiah that the prophets foretold and was the eternal King in the line of David.

Mark: Written to Christians in Rome to encourage the Christians who were undergoing persecutions by relating the sufferings, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  Mark is said to be the first of the Gospels written.

Luke: Written to “Theophilus” which mean one who loves God, but also to Gentiles and people everywhere in an effort to present an accurate account of the life of Christ and also to present Christ as the perfect human and Savior.  Luke also makes an effort here and in Acts to challenge believers to be more devoted to the faith, especially its growth and defense.

John: Written to Christians and searching Non-Christians to prove that Jesus is the divine Son of God, the Word of God incarnate, and also to deepen faith in Jesus as Son of God and the giver of life, and to encourage readers to confess this faith  openly in the face of threats from synagogue authorities.

The Gospel of Matthew Photo Credit: www.spreadjesus.org

The Gospel of Matthew
Photo Credit: www.spreadjesus.org

As I said, the book of Matthew was written to a primarily Jewish audience, which is apparent right from the beginning of the book.  If you remember some of the culture we learned about the Hebrews, which are now referred to as “the Jews,” the orientation of their lives was towards God, which for them meant looking backward to creation and backing into the future.  This is a bit different than contemporary orientation of looking toward the future.  So naturally we being with a genealogy, a way of linking Jesus Christ with the ancestors of Israel, all the way back to Abraham and the original calling of the people of God by God Himself.  In effect, Matthew is proving right off the bat the Jesus is a decedent of Abraham and from the house and line of King David, two prerequisites for the coming Messiah which, as was said earlier, was one of the purposes of Matthew: to prove that Jesus was the Messiah, the predicted King that was to come, in the line of David, to set up God’s Kingdom here on earth.

Saint Matthew Icon Photo Credit: www.internetmonk.com

Saint Matthew Icon
Photo Credit: www.internetmonk.com

Matthew does a great deal of linking the Old Testament Scriptures to the person and work of Jesus Christ.  There are multiple ways in which he does this.  The genealogy which we just talked about is just one way.  Matthew’s account of the angel visiting Joseph also signifies a divine happening, a message directly from God.  Matthew points to this as well, something he does throughout his book.  He writes, “All this took place to fulfill…” In this case, the happening of Mary’s conception took place to fulfill with Isaiah wrote about in Isaiah 7, “The virgin will be with child…”  Interestingly enough, the course of Jesus’ life in the book of Matthew actually mirrors that of the course of Israel’s life as well going to Egypt to escape death while he was very young, a wilderness experience which lasted for 40 days (a mirror of Israel’s wilderness wanderings), and a Baptism before he began His ministry (which is reminiscent of Israel crossing the Red Sea and the Jordan before entering the promised land).  This too, we see was “to fulfill all righteousness” as Jesus says.

Today we also see a taste of the beginning of Jesus’ ministry as well.  The very route the Jesus took, Matthew says, was to fulfill what is written in Isaiah 9 about those being in darkness who have seen a great light.  From there he begins calling disciples, preaching and healing the sick.  For one reason of another, the work of Jesus as it has been preached in the Church is often boiled down to His work on the cross to die for our sins.  While this is a very major part of the work of Jesus, we also need to remember that His work was also with the sick, the poor, the homeless, and all those who were downtrodden.  As we will see in the coming chapters of books, Jesus work in the world is the very embodiment of what Israel was suppose to be, an assault on the powers of darkness in the world.   In many ways, Jesus too is an example of the outpouring of the wrath of God against sin, disease, and all forms of injustice.  He has come to bring healing, forgiveness, and restoration… the true nature of the Kingdom of heaven.



Day 270: Micah 5-7; What Does the Lord Desire?

In one verse, Micah summarizes pretty much the point of the entire message of all the prophets:

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God.

This is indeed what the Lord is calling the people back to.  Idle repentance, veiled holiness, and pretend religiosity is nothing to the Lord.  Actions without inner change are worthless.  God does not want their sacrifices or offerings, He does not desire festivals or celebrations.  God desires those who walk along the path that He has set out for them, the path of justice and mercy, in a humble and contrite manner.

What is at the core of this statement?  The fact that this is exactly what the people of Israel were not doing.  In fact, as we read in Micah and other prophets, the people of Israel were acting unjustly towards all, especially those who were poor, downtrodden, and could not defend themselves.  The original call of God to His people was both to love Him with all of their heart, soul, and mind, but also to “love your neighbor as yourself.”  This idea was in contrast to that which the world seeks, motivated by self-interest and the desire to promote the self at the expense of others, particularly the poor.  This is not how God created the world and God wanted to show the world through Israel the right way to be in relationship with others, and the mercy that He shows to all those who are downtrodden.

Going along with this was the Lord’s desire to love mercy.  For many this goes along with the idea of acting justly, but in many ways it is completely different.  From a strictly justice standpoint, debtors that are indebted to someone should have to pay them back and when the loan is called, the debt collector is justified in taking a person’s belongings to satisfy the balance of the loan.  But to do this heartlessly, without understanding is not what God has in mind either.  In fact, the Law is full of examples of when loans are to be forgiven, slaves are to be set free, and land is to be returned to its original owner, no matter what the circumstances are.  This is what true mercy is… this is the way God has called us to live… and it is in response to the way that He has shown mercy on His people as well.  Whether it is freeing them from bondage in Egypt or dying for their sins on the cross, God has shown us mercy upon mercy, grace upon grace.  There is really no two ways about it.  We are to be merciful in the same way that we have been shown mercy.

Neither of these have any traction without a true posture of humility that comes with following God and walking with Him.  The true purpose of the people of Israel was not in the actions of justice or mercy that they took, but in the posture in which they took them.  As the Psalmist writes,

You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
    you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart
    you, God, will not despise.

Actions can be empty.  Anyone can fake niceness or happiness when they want to.  God desires something much deeper from His people: their heart.  Micah uses the word and in this verse as well… like the commercials about ‘and‘ and ‘or’ say, “and is better.”  All of these are what the Lord desires of us…

To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God.