Revelation 21 – All Things New

Read Revelation 21

“See I am doing a new thing…” God speaks to His people through the prophet Isaiah.  That phrase reverberates throughout the end of the book of Revelation seeing it’s true fulfillment as John sees the New Heaven and New Earth.  In fact, much of what is happening here takes its cue from the words of the prophets, especially Isaiah as one who envisions “the day of the Lord” and sees that vision unfold throughout His writing.  God has been at work since the very beginning to redeem and restore all creation to its perfect, natural, created state.

John has just witnessed the final fall of Satan, the beast, the false prophet, and all those who oppose God, and the final inauguration of eternity has begun.  This is truly the moment that all of God’s people have been waiting for and the description of the eternal realm could not be more exciting and enticing!

“Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and He will dwell with them.  They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God.  ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

These words contain within them so much beauty, hope, and excitement, and they are full of references that span the Old and New Testament, drawing on imagery from practically every period of Biblical history to describe what is happening.  Allusions to the Tabernacle and the Temple, words of hope from the prophets, and references to the completed and full work of Jesus Christ from Paul are all contained in these short but powerful verses.  John is describing the true fulfillment of God’s redemptive work throughout history.

In this restored world, everything will exist in abundance for those who are God’s children.  All life will draw its sustenance from God and from the Lamb, finding its light and nourishment from them.  The Living Water, that is Jesus Himself, will sustain everything “at no cost,” pointing to a contrast to life as we know it now in which food and nourishment come with toil, sweat, and much work.

John then sees the city of God, Jerusalem restored, coming down to rest on the mountain of God.  This too draws its imagery from the Old Testament, first at Sinai, and then in the prophets who all envision God’s dwelling to be on the “highest of mountains.”  Isaiah, in the second chapter of His book, says this:

In the last days, the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills, and all nations will stream to it.

Many peoples will come and say,  “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lordto the temple of the God of Jacob.  He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.”  The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.  He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples.  They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.  Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.

Come, descendants of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the Lord.

John not only sees this mountain but also the city of God descending down onto it perfectly adorned and beautiful.  Again, this is a vision of the true fulfillment of God’s redemptive work as accomplished in Jesus Christ and culminating here at the end of time.  The city itself, however beautiful, does not shine with her own glory, though, but rather with the glory of God.  This too is a testament to God’s completed work.

The New Jerusalem is packed with imagery.  John finds it to be a perfect square, certainly not an accident, measuring 12,000 stadia, a number that is familiar and represents the fact that it contains the fulness of the people of God.  Having 12 gates is certainly not an accident either, representing a way in for all of the people of God from every direction and never closing for them either revealing that the people will always have access to and be in the presence of God.  Twelve foundations for the wall, representing the 12 Apostles is also not accidental and perhaps is representative of the Church, or more likely the Gospel message that the Apostles were charged with, as being the both barrier and protection; one cannot enter the city without receiving the Gospel message and those within it are protected by it.

Seeing the foundations of the walls closer, John records that they are also made with precious stones that correspond to the stones that were worn in the ephod of the High Priest’s clothing.  This is a beautiful picture too of the transfer of the priestly office away from a High Priest and being given to the entire city, the whole of the people of God.  It is a bridge between the priestly order of the Old Testament and the role of the entire people of God a “Kingdom of priests,” as Scripture says.

Finally, John recognizes that there is no Temple present in the city.  This is an important revelation about the nature of God’s dwelling in this renewed world.  God’s throne is in the city, and His dwelling place is among the people.  No longer is a special building needed for worship because God is with them in perfect reconciliation and relationship.  John points out that “all nations will walk by its light,” meaning that everyone will be worshipping God and living in perfect union with Him.



Day 365: Revelation 20-22; The New Heaven and The New Earth

As we close this journey that we began a year ago, we come also to the final scenes of John’s vision in Revelation, and the final goal of what God has been working towards since the very beginning of this story.  This vision, this end purpose, the final will of God which we see in Revelation chapter 21, is that which we are told about in both our reading today and also that which we have heard about for for the past 364 days.  God’s ultimate goal, God’s overall will for creation has always been reconciliation… and that is what we see here today, reconciliation and restoration… a return to Eden, to paradise, to a time when all of creation lives in the presence of God for all time.

You see, what we read here today is the second high point of salvation history, the first being the salvation brought through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  To think, though, that the scope of this salvation is limited simply to humans would be a gross understatement.  Sadly, however, this understanding of salvation is that which runs rampant in the church today and is perhaps a symptom some of the greatest misunderstandings of discussions about the end times and all that will take place.  For too often we’ve pared down Jesus’ salvation work to the saving of human souls so that they can go to heaven when they die.  Again, this is a sad understatement of God’s plan of salvation throughout the Bible.

This thinking, as I said, is held by many people and often leads to an “escapist” mentality of the end times.  Whether it be from natural death or the second coming of Christ, the prevailing opinion that seems to have taken mainstream Christianity by storm is that of the hope of “getting out of here” to be with Jesus.  Thinking like this has become rather prevalent in the idea of the rapture, the idea that Christian’s somehow get to be taken away from the earth in these last years so that they don’t have to endure the awful judgments and trials that are described in Revelation.  While one can understand the desire to not be around destruction of that magnitude, if indeed these are literal things that are going to happen on earth.

However, what is very clear here at the end of Revelation is that this escapist mentality is not what is described in the vision that is given to John.  In fact, it is not what has been shown for us throughout the whole of Scripture.  When sin entered the world, all of creation was affected, and the effect was systemic.  From that point on, God has been working His will through the people that He has called, to bring about the restoration of all creation, so that all things would be reconciled to Him.  How do we see this?  Because what is described to us in these final chapters is that of Heaven coming to a renewed and restored creation.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.  And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.  He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”  And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.  The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son.

There are several characteristics of this New Heaven and New Earth that we see here.  We hear the voice from heaven saying that “The dwelling of God is with men.”  More than this, in the words that follow John describes the New Jerusalem as being without a Temple.  This is interesting because the Temple was THE center of Jerusalem and the center of all religious life for the Hebrew people.  However, when the New Heaven and the New Earth are present, and God is dwelling with people, there is no need for a center of Worship because God will be the center of worship.  Jesus is the light and there is no need for the sun.  In short, God is the source of everything, the sustaining force of all that will be present in this new Eden.  I think this is even more interesting because this has been the Hebrew view of reality all along.  God is the center, the source, the completion of all being.  As John writes, “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.

From the beginning to the end, all things have been and continue to be through God.  He is the sustaining force of all creation and at the same time is working to redeem it, restore it, and reconcile it back to Himself.  This is the end of the story, the true end of all things… the conclusion of our journey both through Scripture and in life.  This is the fulfillment of the Covenant, the completion of the people being God’s people and He being their God.  This too is the truest and fullest realization of the Kingdom of Heaven as it comes to earth when the true King comes in all of His glory, splendor, and majesty on the day that only the Father knows.  Maranatha!  Come Lord Jesus.

He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!

The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.

(I would like to mention, that the articles that I am referencing as “related” are those that have been suggested by wordpress and do not necessarily support of coincide with the beliefs that I hold or write about.  I neither cast my unknowing support to them nor do I say that they are wrong, simply conversational partners in this journey through the Scriptures.)



Day 362: Revelation 8-12; Trumpets, Witnesses, and a Great Battle

We talked a bit about judgment and wrath yesterday, however we did not speak of one important aspect to God’s wrath and God’s judgment, something that I think needs to be mentioned here as we continue in our journey to the end of all things.  If we think back to the prophets, we see the warnings of the impending doom that come from the mouths of the prophets, warnings of the judgment AND a call to turn to God, to repentance so that the judgment may be averted.  While many of these images are unique to the book of revelation, they do hold similarities to those warnings spoken by many of the prophets about the judgment that would take place on Israel, Judah, and Jerusalem.  Here too we see God working to get the attention of all people, working to call them to repentance that they may turn to Him and be saved.  The image of the trumpets then, is not one that is so strange as trumpets and horns have been used throughout the ages to communicate with and get peoples’ attention.

I’m kind of at a loss for words in what to write next.  As we are walked through the judgments we see a great number of people dying and horrible natural disasters.  There is this meteor that falls into the water of the earth called “wormwood” which is the  name of a very bitter plant.  It could be representative of the bitterness of God’s judgment.  We also see that only a portion of the world’s population was killed, which means that there are limits to the judgments that are being poured out, at least for the time being.

There is really so much to write about here in these five chapters, we see a number of angels and demons working in different ways.  The demons seem to be working to torture and tempt those still on earth, working against God to continue to keep humanity on its destructive and sinful paths.  The Angels also seem to be at work, warning humanity of its impending judgment, carrying out the work of the Lord.  We also see that there are “witnesses” that show up as well.  In the “Left Behind” series these witnesses are Elijah and Moses who come back to earth with supernatural powers.  Actually, many of the signs that they do are indicative of the things that both did while they lived on this earth.  They were also present at the transfiguration of Christ before He journeyed to Jerusalem and to His death.  It could also be symbolic of the witness of the Word of God to the people, the two could simply represent the Old and New Testaments.  In any case, these join with the work of the Angels and that of the believers in declaring the Word of the Lord and warning humanity of the impending judgments and encouraging them to believe in Jesus.

Finally today we come to a somewhat extended narrative in this vision about “the woman and the dragon.”  There is a lot that takes place in chapter 12 and we will be revisiting it in further chapters as well.  John says that “a great sign appeared in heaven.”  This sign was that of a woman that was dressed like the sun, and had a great deal of imagery about her that is similar to one of the dreams of Joseph way back in Genesis 37.  It is enough to say that with this imagery, most people think that she is representative of the people of God.  In fact, we have talked about Israel being represented in the Bible as a woman adorned for her bridegroom, who is God.  Here she is pregnant and gives birth to a Son, another image of Jesus present in Revelation.

The dragon is also there, ready to snatch up the baby, who we are told is “the one who is to rule all the nations…”  Many people associate this dragon with Satan, with the different heads and crowns and horns to represent his earthly rule over the kingdoms of the world.  Some have also seen this as an image of the Roman empire, or perhaps corrupt world governments in general throughout history.  However, what we see is that the powers of evil were working against the plan of God, trying to prevent the coming of Jesus and the salvation that He brings.  We saw this with Herod at Jesus birth and we tend to see it often in our lives with those that persecute Christians and repress the freedom to worship God.

The deeper imagery here is revealed in verse seven of chapter seven, of a great war that is going on between the angels of God and the dragon, the evil powers that would seek to enslave and destroy all things.  While we may be naive as to what is going on all around us, there is a great war that is being waged between good and evil, between God and Satan.  This is something we tend to dramatize, glorify, and even over emphasize.  I think though that the point here really is that we need to make sure that we are aware of what is going on around us in our world today.  Satan would have us believe that he doesn’t exist, that demons don’t exist, and that he is not working against us to bring about our destruction.  What John is showing us here is that there is definitely more to this world than what we see with our eyes.  This doesn’t necessarily give us the right to start attacking corrupt governments, destruction groups, or evil people, but rather to pray against them, pray for them, and ultimately trust that God is on our side and that He is fighting for us.

We see clearly that the dragon is defeated here.  He has been thrown out of heaven and though he is still on the earth seeking those that he may devour, his doom has been sealed and his final defeat assured.  It is only a matter of time really, which is yet another thing that John is communicating here.  Has he had been encouraging the churches with his letters, so to does he encourage them now by laying out this vision that we might persevere with the assurance that the end of this story has already been told, and that our victory is assured in Jesus Christ the only true King and ruler of this world.

(I would like to mention, that the articles that I am referencing as “related” are those that have been suggested by wordpress and do not necessarily support of coincide with the beliefs that I hold or write about.  I neither cast my unknowing support to them nor do I say that they are wrong, simply conversational partners in this journey through the Scriptures.)



Day 351: Hebrews 1-4; Introduction to Hebrews

Today we make a transition out of the Pauline Epistles and into what is known as the “general epistles.”  These books, Hebrews – 2 Peter, and Jude, are books that are written not to a specific church or person, but rather to the general audience of the Church throughout the Roman empire as it continued to grow and address a variety of issues and subjects, which compliment Paul’s writings well.  Paul is not considered to be the author of any of the general epistles either.  Most of the authors’ names show up in the title, with the exception of the book of Hebrews, whose author is anonymous.

The book of Hebrews is the first and longest of the general epistles.  There has a been a great deal of debate throughout the years about the authorship of this book.  Dr. Robert VanVoorst, in his book Reading the New Testament, points out that there have been many suggestions as to who Hebrews was written by.  Some, though this is not generally accepted anymore, suggest that Paul wrote this book.  This has been largely dismissed due to the major grammatical and stylistic differences between the writing in Hebrews and that of the Pauline letters.  VanVoorst writes, “The first author to cite this epistle was Clement of Rome (around 96 C.E.), although he does not say who wrote it… From the Earliest times in church history, whenever Hebrews’ authorship was mentions there has been great dispute about it.  Tertullian (in the second century) was the first to suggest Barnabas as its author.  The Protestant reformer Martin Luther in the sixteenth was the first to suggest Apollos, and this is a common conclusion today.  Adolf von Harnack, the greatest church historian of the nineteenth century, proposed that Priscilla was the author, which if true would make Hebrews the only NT book to be written by a woman.  (This makes an intriguing explanation for Hebrews’ anonymity.)   All in All, the argument about authorship is full of conjectures.”

While the author may not be known, it is very clear that this letter is written to the Church in general, and especially to Jewish converts to Christianity that might have been backsliding into Judaism.  It could also be that Jewish pressure on the Christian Church was on the rise and this was a letter written by one of the leaders of the Church to encourage those who were facing persecution from the Jews.  Many people think this letter was written in the mid 60’s A.D. because of its many references to the Temple which was destroyed when the Romans put down a Jewish revolt in A.D. 70 and destroyed for the final time, the city of Jerusalem and the Temple.  However, it isn’t abnormal for those writing after A.D. 70 to write as if the Temple of God is still standing, something common because of the beliefs that the Jewish people held about the house of God and the deeper nature of God’s existence and presence.

Though it is fun to know the context in which the letter is written, it is the content which is significantly more important and to which we turn now and for the next couple of days.  In some ways, Hebrews could be seen as an exposition on the speech that Stephen gave in Acts 7, when he was before the counsel of Jewish religious leaders in Jerusalem.  Remember how he walked through the story of the people of Israel and God’s faithfulness, how it all led up to God’s salvation in Jesus Christ, their Messiah?  Well, we see a great deal reference to the Jewish religious systems here in the book of Hebrews as the writer references God’s work in the past and how it points to Jesus as the Messiah and then continues on into what that means for the believers, the Church, and the world.

You can see this general trend even in the beginning chapters of this book, our reading for today.  The author begins by making the point that God isn’t doing something new here, He has always been speaking through various means.  Whether Abraham, Isaiah, Moses, David, or any of the priests that Israel had, God used them to reveal Himself.  Yet now “in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.  He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.”  It is not as though God is doing something different here, He continues to speak and reveal Himself, the truest revelation of which comes in the form of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, the Word made Flesh.

We see also that the author is making tons of references to Old Testament Scriptures and again, to Jewish religious systems.  He talks about the high priests, the prophets, Israel’s rejection of God, Joshua, Moses, and Abraham in the first four chapters.  Obviously, whoever was writing this was very acquainted with the Scriptures.  In many ways, one of the messages of the book of Hebrews is the understanding that we can’t fully know or understand Jesus without understanding all that God had been doing in redemptive history to work up to His coming.  As we have said time and time again, the who religious cult of Judaism and the sacrificial rites, the religious structures, the providence of God in their lives, and even the giving of the law all point towards this greater event in the coming of the Messiah.

Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.  For 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 of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.  And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.



Day 337: 2 Corinthians 8-10; The Cheerful Giver

Paul has the dubious pleasure that I think every pastor throughout the history of the church has probably had at some point in time in his ministry, that of talking about giving.  You know… that awkward sermon that is given on the need for tithing and giving cheerfully when you “can’t afford” it.  Generally it is made more awkward by the fact that church funds are usually low, giving is down, and many of the church member blame the pastor and leadership.  It is an interesting paradox that churches often face as we are asked to give into a system that is clearly broken, and we are asked to do it joyfully.

Well, that might be a little bit more than what Paul is talking about here.  Paul has asked the churches to given gifts for an offering that he is taking to the church in Jerusalem who has suffered a great deal of persecution at the hands of the Jews.  They were, at this time, likely doing a lot more hiding and were probably very poor.  Chances are, the church in Jerusalem had been kicked out of the synagogues and many of the believers had been arrested.  It is entirely possible that they were meeting in houses or even in back alleys to worship, if they were able to meet at all.  Some of them may have lost much of their businesses, their homes, and perhaps even their families.  While Saul, now Paul, wasn’t persecuting them anymore, there were no doubt many that rose up to take his place.

Wisely, Paul approaches this from the angle of giving cheerfully, even drawing on Scripture like Psalm 112 to talk about the need and benefit of giving.  He doesn’t simply say that he needs money and then guilts them into giving by making them feel bad.  Instead, he talks about how giving is part and parcel to the Christian life, yet another part of the sanctification that is taking place within the believers.  Interestingly enough, Paul points out right away that it is a matter of the heart, not a matter of wealth or physical abundance.

Remember a long while back when we talked about the Shema and some of the meanings of the words “heart,” “soul,” and “strength?”  Let’s recap real quick here:

MIGHT – מְאֹדֶֽךָ – “Me’od” – power, strength, very, greatly, sore, exceeding, great, exceedingly, much, exceeding , exceedingly, diligently, good, might, mightily – Roughly translated… “me’od” means ‘muchness.’  If you have some sort of a spell checker, you will see that ‘muchness’ isn’t actually a word.  If we look at what we are loving God with so far, it encompasses all of our inward and outward being.  This word indicates then, all of the things that make up our lives.  For Hebrew people, one’s strength and power was related to his (and I say his because it was a patriarchal society) family, his wealth (money, flocks, herds, servants, etc), his house, his land, defenses, etc.  All of these things were to be used to love God completely and bring glory to Him.  While loving God with your exceedingly large biceps is a nice thing, this really means a bit more than that.

This is a direct quote from Day 53, we talked about the deeper meanings behind this command that really has become the overarching theme that runs throughout Scripture.  Not only are we to love God with our mind and our heart, and even by the things that we do and the interactions that we have, we are also supposed to be honoring God with all the physical things that we have as well.  Part of this is really understanding the nature of all we have as being first and foremost a blessing for God.  Our Heavenly Father is the creator of all things, He is above all things, and it is He who has blessed us with all that we have, great or small.  In this we need to make sure that our hearts are not for our things, but for the One who has given them to us.

The other part of this has to do with the nature of our hearts in this recognition.  Not only do we remember that all we have is given to us as a blessing from God, we are also to have a cheerful and open heart when we are giving back to him and to others.  Yes, it isn’t simply about the giving of things that Paul is talking about here, he is talking about the nature of our hearts both when we give and in our everyday lives.  We have not been blessed to be hoarders of our blessings.  Like the gift of grace in Jesus Christ, we are blessed to be a blessing, given to so that we can give ourselves as well.  This is both the attitude and the stance that we are to take as grow ever deeper in humility and thankfulness, giving generously and joyfully of the gifts that God has given to us.



Day 324: Acts 20-23; Paul Arrested

After three missionary journeys totally almost 12 years, Paul finally returns to Jerusalem.  Interestingly though, we read that he doesn’t return there to be an evangelist as he had been in other places, he returns because it is the Holy Spirit that leads him there.  What’s more, he goes there knowing full well that he is going to be arrested and imprisoned for the Gospel.  Despite all the discouragement from the other believers that he is with, Paul follows the Spirit’s leading and heads out for Jerusalem.  The people in Ephesus, where he has been staying for some time, weep not only because he is leaving, but because he has told them what awaits him back in Jerusalem and they know that they will probably not see him again.

I can’t imagine the inner turmoil that must have been going on inside of Paul during this time and I honestly don’t think that any of us in the church in North America, or any of the other free countries throughout the world can appreciate at all.  We don’t know what it is like to be persecuted for the Gospel or put in prison for what we believe.  There are those throughout the world that do understand this, and while I can’t speak for them, I know that they would empathize with Paul’s situation.  I would like to say that I would go if the Spirit called me, and even be imprisoned for the sake of Jesus Christ, but we are blessed with the freedom to worship in the United States and as of right now, I don’t know if I’ll ever experience that.  To be honest, I think that some people in the church see such devotion to faith in the same way that we see “religious extremists” blowing themselves up, and somehow think that there may and possibly should be a limit to what we do for our faith.  Clearly, Paul has set an example for us that this is not the case.  While God cannot and would not call us to kill others in His name, something that is contrary to God’s nature in Scripture, He can and often does call us into uncomfortable situations in which we need to trust Him with all that is going on, and with ourselves as well and our futures as well.

One thing that I noticed in the reading of the narrative of Paul’s arrest and trial is the similarities between this and many other narratives in the Bible.  Jesus, like Paul, was arrested and they tried Him unfairly, drumming up accusations that wouldn’t necessarily hold up in court.  If we go back quite a ways we can also see similarities between Paul’s story and Joseph’s story as well.  Arrested and put in a prison (well), Joseph was going to be killed by a plot from his brothers.  Paul too was almost the victim of a plot to kill him from those that he once served with.  Both managed to escape through the work of a person intervening, and are shipped off to other places in what seems like a hopeless situation.  However, God meant Joseph’s situation for good in saving Jacob and the people of Israel from the death of a famine.  Here too God means for good as He is bringing Paul and the Gospel before many people in trials and even before the heads of the Roman government as well.  While Paul doesn’t necessarily become second in command to Cesar like Joseph, the Gospel of Grace reaches what might possibly be thousands of people who wouldn’t otherwise hear it, and countless people are brought to faith because of it.  Praise God!!



Day 322: Acts 13-16; Paul, Barnabas, and the Jerusalem Council

Today our focus shifts a little bit from the original Apostles like Peter and John and to the work of some of the “second generation” disciples, those that would have not necessarily followed Jesus, or not been close to Him during his earthly life, but have become believers and have been filled with the Holy Spirit during these first years of the Church after Jesus’ ascension.  Specifically we turn here to Paul and Barnabas, to key figures in the spread of the early church outward from Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria to the “ends of the earth” as they knew it.  As we said at the beginning of the book of Acts, this is really a historical account of the Holy Spirit’s work as the Gospel spreads from Jerusalem, the center, outward like the ripples on a calm pond that has just been disturbed by a rock.

We see also today the same pattern that has really taken place over the course of this book already.  By this point, we are already over a year past the time that Jesus has been taken up into heaven.  Remember, from Pentecost on, we see that in these events where the Apostles and believers speak, they are “filled with the Holy Spirit” and then open their mouths to speak the Word of God.  In some ways, they are not unlike the prophets of old that spoke through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit as well.  The message has changed quite a bit though for those 400+ year old prophetic messages.  In these times we are hearing how those messages and all of Scripture have led us to this point and how Jesus is the fulfillment of all that had been spoken and written before Him.

Anyways, this pattern continues here in chapters 13, 14, and 16.  Each move, each message, each time of spreading the Gospel is not something that is done on its own, but happens because of the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers and in those who do not yet believe either.  This really is the beginnings of the central theme and belief that the Holy Spirit is present in all that is done in the name of Jesus Christ.  From church meetings to worship services to outreach, the Holy Spirit is the one that is working within our hearts and the hearts of all those whom we encounter as believers.  I think too often we feel like it is up to us now to take care of things.  Even though the Spirit is with us (whether we acknowledge the Spirit or not), we are robbed of such confidence and comfort that it is not our work but the work of the Holy Spirit that is really key in the spread of the Gospel.  He will never leave us or forsake us!

One other thing that I wanted to point out today was Acts 15 and the first church council that was held in Jerusalem.  In many ways, this was the first rumbling of what would later become a church governmental structure.  Throughout history, there have actually been a great number of council type meetings that have taken place.  Their subjects have ranged from creating creeds and confessions like the Nicene Creed from the two councils of Nicaea in 325 and 381, to dealing with issues of heresy and wrongful teaching within the church which have taken place throughout history.  Some of these councils have also focused on things like changing how we worship, the most recent of which was Vatican II, in which the Roman Catholic Church decided to change the Mass into the common tongue so that all could participate, something protestants denominations had done a few hundred years before.

In this case, there were some that were teaching that all converts to what was becoming known as Christianity had to be circumcised like the Jews.  For the Jewish people, circumcision was a part of their identity, part of what made them the people of God.  It was a sign that they were members of the covenant.  Yet it is all to clear that things like circumcision and land had become more important to the Jews than their identity as the people of God.  Peter once again stands up in front of the people and speaks to the heart of God in this matter.  Like all councils, the goal is to discern what is God’s will for the direction of the Church.  I think it just awe inspiring that they see here that the purpose of the Grace of Christ is not one that binds them further into the Law, and it is not because of any particular action or association of this world that we are saved, but only through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Their letter, then, and the decision that they made here in this council has much to do with instruction and encouragement, urging the new Gentile believers toward a purely lived life in which they honor God in all that they do and say, but because they are required to in the law, but out of gratitude for the grace that they have received.  May the same be true for us yesterday, today, and always.



Day 321: Acts 9-12; Paul Converted, Gospel to the Gentiles

Today we read of two of the four “most important” events that take place in the New Testament after Jesus is taken into heaven.  The first important event, at least in my opinion, is that of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.  It is only after that event that we see the Apostles and believers begin to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all those around Jerusalem.  All the believers are filled with the Holy Spirit and preach the Word of God boldly, heal the sick, and are even driving our demons in the name of Jesus.  We saw the second important event yesterday with the speech, stoning, and subsequent scattering of the believers from the city of Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria.  As we said yesterday, it is because of the persecution that breaks out against the believers at the stoning of Stephen, that the Gospel moves outside of Jerusalem for the first time.

The person that we read is really in charge of this persecution, or at least the man who seems to be going after the believers is named Saul (who is better known as Paul later on).  With the permission of the religious leaders in Jerusalem, he heads to Damascus to find more believers and bring them back to put them in prison in Jerusalem.  This brings us to the third important event, Saul’s encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus and the conversion that takes place because of it.  It really is an irony to see God choose His greatest opponent and turn him into one of history’s greatest theologians.  There are so many echoes of this event to the speech of Gamaliel in Acts 5.  Remember that he spoke of being sure that the religious leaders were careful and that if this movement wasn’t from God then is surely would fall away.  Clearly here we see that it IS from God and its not going anywhere.

Paul’s conversion, as an event, really isn’t something that changes the course of history all at once.  In fact, for a while, Paul kind of flies under the radar as it were.  However, it isn’t what he is at the time, but what he becomes that is important.  Saul, who will start going by Paul when we meet him again, becomes one of the most prolific writers and theologians in the early church.  All together, he writes basically all the books from Romans to 2 Timothy.  He also takes part in numerous church plants and an over abundance of discipleship and missionary journeys that shape the face of the church for years to come.  Though he may have never known Jesus while he was on earth, Paul becomes one of the most important figures in the New Testament, the source from which a large amount of our contemporary theology derives from.

After Saul/Paul returns to Jerusalem we turn back to the exploits of Peter as he continues to work and spread the Gospel throughout the land of the Jewish people, at least at first.  He ends up in a city called Joppa where the fourth important event takes place.  Peter, while staying at a house there has a vision in which God reveals to him that the Gentiles are not to be excluded from the Gospel of Grace, that they are no longer considered unclean as they had been in the past.  “Do not call unclean what God has made clean” He says to Peter in this vision.  Peter realizes that God is calling the Church to bring the Good News of Jesus to the Gentiles as well, that the people of God are no longer divided by race or even land, but by those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and those who do not.

While some may contend that this really isn’t that important of an event, I would like to point out that it is this event right here that we all, or at least probably 99% of all Christians can find to be a common link to us as we are all “Gentiles” by birth.  There are many points throughout Jesus’ life in which we read of Him being called specifically to the “lost sheep of Israel.”  However, as Israel was to be a light to the nations, representing them before God, so to was Jesus a representative of all humanity before God and through Him all people everywhere have been offered this gift of grace.  For most of us, though we can trace our spiritual ancestry back to the death of Jesus on the Cross, of course, find that it is here in which the “spiritual family tree” begins to split off… it is here that that the Gospel of Jesus Christ moves outward from Judea and Samaria unto the ends of the earth.



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 319: Acts 5-6; If This Is From God…

Today we continue in watching as the Holy Spirit continues to work in the lives of the Apostles and the disciples that are are joining the ranks of believers in the early church.  It seems like anytime someone opens their mouth in these chapters, hundreds and hundreds of people come to faith!  What an amazing time this must have been for the Apostles and all the people to be witnesses to these happenings!

As I was reading these chapters today, I honestly had the thought that all of what is happening here could be summed up by the short speech given by a man named Gamaliel, one of the teachers of the law.  He points out to an enraged group of religious leaders that what the believers were doing was from God, there was nothing they would be able to do to stop it and they would actually be opposing God.  Here’s what he says,

Men of Israel, take care what you are about to do with these men.  For before these days Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing.  After him Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and drew away some of the people after him. He too perished, and all who followed him were scattered.  So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!

The man’s wisdom is insurmountable.  If there is something going on that is from God, it will lats and will be unstoppable.  The Spirit cannot be quenched.  I think this is a level of wisdom that we as believers often lack in our faith and in the ministries that we do.  We have this notion that all the ministries that take place in the church are contingent on our being a part of them.  We worry about funds, about volunteers, about new ministries that are coming in that might take people away.  Yet too often we don’t stop and take the time to talk to God about it or even consider if He is present in the ministry.  If we are to be about the Lord’s work in our lives and in the life of the Church and He is truly with us, nothing will be able to stop it.  Nothing is impossible with God.

While there are a couple narratives at the beginning of our reading that continue with the themes from yesterday and the general sense of wonder and awe of the things going on in these early days of the Church, I want to take a brief look at the narrative of the first deacons being chosen.  This happening marks the first rumblings of a formal church governmental structure, an hierarchy in which there are some that are in charge of particular tasks at hand.  The role of the Deacon in the RCA, the denomination that I come from, is laid out as being one who is concerned with the physical needs of those inside and outside of the church.  It lines up very nicely with what we see these men being selected for.  They bring food to the hungry, take care of the orphans and the widows, even take care of all the donations and dole them out as is necessary.

While what I am saying may seem self-evident, and perhaps it is, what we don’t often see in this part of Scripture is that it isn’t just these people in leadership that are doing the work.  In this day and age there were, of course, people that were new to the faith, people that had followed Jesus Himself, and everyone in between.  What we see here is that some of the more mature people that were filled with the Holy Spirit were chosen as leaders, to lead in the ministry of the Church.  This doesn’t mean that they were chosen to be the only doers of ministry, but that they would be the guides and the point people for doing ministry (in this case handing out food).  The church in North America has gotten into a bad and lazy habit of thinking that it is the church leaders that are responsible for doing the ministry and it is the congregation who are responsible for consuming a “religious product” if you will.  We seem to think that once we elect people to the different offices of the Church we are then exempt from doing any sort of work in it because they will do it for us.  We can just sit back and enjoy (or complain about) the worship services and the Sunday School classes.  This is simply not the way that things were set up.

The Christian life is one of active discipleship in which we participate in the life of the Church and the Body of Christ here on earth.  While there are some that are called to be leaders of this particular calling, it doesn’t exempt any congregant from opting out of the ministry.  Christianity, following Jesus as your Lord and Savior is not a sideline sport.  In fact, the only people sitting on the sidelines watching us should be those who have not yet joined the team… and those are the people that we should be serving, witnessing to, and showing the love of Christ Jesus to day in and day out as we live in faithful obedience and enormous gratitude for the Grace and blessings that we have received in Christ Jesus.