Revelation 16 – Bowl Judgments

Read Revelation 16

The last series of seven judgments makes the end of the pouring out of God’s wrath on the world as well as the final defeat of Babylon, which has become synonymous as the center for evil and opposition to God in the world.  Looking closely, we can compare the first four bowl judgments with the first four trumpet judgments.  They are both similar in nature and draw their imagery from the plagues that we called down on Egypt.  Plagues of boils and sores, blood in the water, and impacts on the sun itself.

John makes a point of recording the reactions of the people of earth, those that worship the beast and are enemies of God.  Rather than turning to God and finding refuge and salvation in Him, they curse God because of the things that are happening.  Recognizing that God has the ability to not do these things, they blame Him for their own troubles which they have brought upon themselves by their allegiance to the beast.  This, to me, is strangely reminiscent of many conversations I’ve had about the love of God vs. the wrath of God.  When people, even Christians, experience hard times in life, rather than turning to God who can help them, they blame God for what is happening.  Here, however, is a different story.  In life, God allows us to face trials and struggles, not causing them but working in them to shape and mold us into the image of His Son (a process we call sanctification).  What John is seeing here is much different; a calamity that God authorizes in a last ditched effort to see some turn to Him while also punishing sin and evil in the world.  How are these different in our lives now?  It’s hard to say.

Much of the symbolism that is present here suggests the possibility of things that happen in our lives today.  Some, however, suggests a much greater calamity down the road.  The plague of blood on the water which people then have to drink is, or at least seems to be, a punishment for the crime of the oppression and killing of God’s people.  Fire is something that is often connected to judgment in Scripture, it both burns and purifies.  One thing is for sure, though, like all else, there is a great deal of wisdom that is needed here if we are going to link people’s personal struggles with the judgment of Revelation.  We have to be very careful when doing that or when looking at massive events like natural disasters as somehow being linked to things like this too.

As I have said before, the ultimate purpose of God’s work here is two-fold: the hope of bringing people to Himself and the punishment of evil.  God’s discipline is always restorative in nature; these judgments are not simply meant to kill people for killing’s sake.  When people say things like “hurricane Catrina was God’s punishment for all the ______,” we should be quick to question whether that is true; there is very little evidence in Scripture (none if you read it all within the context of itself) that would support God punishing just one type of sin over and above others.  Sin is sin; God’s punishment of sin is exhaustive and complete.  This, I think, is why we see in Revelation, the outpouring of all these judgments on the earth, the focal point of sin in the universe.  This is symbolized also in the dragon, the beasts, and the city of Babylon.

As we near the end of these judgments, not only are we seeing God’s last-ditched effort to draw people to repentance, we also see a final effort from the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet (the other beast) to rally the enemies of God for one final battle.  C.S. Lewis describes a sort of “Armageddon” image in his book “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” and it is compelling.  Though one thing that is different here is that no real battle takes place.  The armies of the opposition to God gather and then the final judgment is poured out and a voice from heaven says “It is done!”

When those words are spoken, we see many of the same images and symbols of God’s power and presence, like that of Mount Sinai; lightning, thunder, and earthquakes.  This final earthquake, though, flattens everything.  The image of this event echoes that of the words of Isaiah: “every mountain shall be made low, every valley raised up…”  These were the things that were going to happen that hailed the coming of the Lord; all obstacles would be removed.

In this event, even Babylon, the great city of evil, falls before the final judgment.  Here, we are left with the armies gathered and ready for the battle of Armageddon.  While this could be a specific geographical reference to a place known as “Megiddo,” it is more likely that this is symbolic for the final battle and overthrow of evil in the world.  Given that the entire world was flattened by the earthquake, geographical references don’t make much sense anyway.  Megiddo, however, is a place of great importance, being a very strategic location in Israel and the site of many battles throughout history.  John’s readers would have been familiar with the reference and would understand the meaning and importance behind mentioning such a place.  Suffice to say, the battle that is looming at the end of this chapter will be the last battle, a sign and symbol to us that evil’s existence in the world today does have a terminal date to it.  Of this, we can be certain.



Titus 2 – Salvation or salvation?

Read Titus 2

As Paul is writing to Titus, he is imploring Titus to teach and encourage transformed living in a way that is applied to all who are believers.  It isn’t simply enough to have leaders who reflect the transformative work that is done by the Holy Spirit, all must live in this way.  This is a response to our eternal Salvation, and yet at the same time is part of “earthly,” contemporary (current time) salvation as well.

Far too often we get “salvation” mixed up as being something that happens to us when we die.  When we believe in Jesus, we know that we will “go to heaven” after we die.  But if this is the extent of the salvation that we understand, we are getting a very small picture of what God is actually doing in our lives.

The work of our salvation begins even before the very moment that we place our faith in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit’s work in us, building up our faith.  God is constantly at work in us, reforming and reshaping us into the image of His Son.  We call this “sanctification,” and it is a very important part of the Christian life.

Not only is God working on us in this way, He continues to work in this world to bring about redemption and restoration to all of His creation.  This is something that He has been doing since the very beginning and something we also are called to participate in through the careful tending and treatment of this planet.

When we limit the scope of God’s salvific (salvation related) work to a sort of “escapist” mentality line of thinking that is only true for us when we die, we grossly limit and box in God’s extraordinary work throughout history, culminating, but not ending in the work of Jesus Christ when He went to the cross.



Galatians 6 – New Creation

Read Galatians 6

Paul closes his letter to the churches in Galatia by reiterating what he has just said along with a few practical applications.  Freedom gives us extraordinary latitude in how we can live, and yet there are limits to that as well.  However, rather than condemning those who sin, we have the freedom to love them and help restore them.  This is why Paul encourages mutual accountability within the body of Christ.  Not only does it help to bring people back after a sin, but it helps us to keep our own ego in check.

The reality is that, with freedom, comes a transformed life.  When we receive Christ, we are a “new creation.”  Even though Scripture tells us “the old is gone and the new has come,” we still struggle with sin.  Our impulse is to revert back to the legalistic notion of having to pay for our sins.  To this, however, Paul says No.  It doesn’t matter what you have done, all that matters is the New Creation that you are becoming.

Beautiful, no matter how lowly the start may be.

Jesus Christ doesn’t look at who you were, He is much more concerned with who you are becoming.  Part of who we are becoming is seen in the fruit that our lives produce as we embrace our freedom in Christ.  Paul reminds his readers that freedom gives us the opportunity to move toward each other in restorative, supportive, and loving ways the build up the body of Christ.

It is important to remember, though, that we sometimes confuse these actions with legalistic things that we *have* to do as Christians.  They aren’t.  Instead, they are things that we now have the opportunity to do to show the love of Christ and as a response to the grace of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.



Acts 10 – Clean and Unclean

Read Acts 10

As the Gospel continues to spread in the first century, there were many barriers to overcome.  We’ve see persecution and even language barriers be overcome through the work of the Holy Spirit.  One thing that happens here, something that is abundantly important to the rest of the world, is the Gospel going out to the gentiles.

Until now, all that we have read has been primarily a movement within Judaism itself, a sort of Jewish reformation. When the believers were scattered, they would go to the synagogues of other towns and preach the name of Jesus in those places.  They would go to the people that were familiar, keeping to tradition of Israel that encouraged avoidance of outsiders (which is completely contrary to the Law, but that is another subject for another time).

Here Peter receives a revelation of the true nature of the Gospel and its impact: God, in Jesus Christ, has taken the unclean and made it clean.  Jesus’ death was a once for all sacrifice for the sins of the whole world; the truest, deepest realization of His statements, “I AM the Light of the World,” “I AM the Way, the Truth, and the Life, no one comes to the Father  accept through me,” and all the other I AM statements too.  Through Him, this way has been open to all people who place their faith in Jesus Christ.

In many ways, this is the beginning of the reality of freedom that comes in Christ Jesus.  Through sin, the world was made unclean, but in Christ Jesus, all of that has been reversed and true restoration has happened and is happening.  This is the nature of the Kingdom of Heaven, the realization of the redemption of the whole universe through the work of Jesus Christ.



Acts 2 – Pentecost

Read Acts 2

The day of Pentecost is, for Christians, one of the most important days of the year; its significance is upstaged only by Christ’s birth, death, and resurrection.  As Jesus was preparing to leave this earth, He comforted His disciples that a helper would be sent to be with them.  Pentecost sees this promise fulfilled.

There are a number of things that begin to happen here, impacts of the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on all who believe in Jesus.  While this outpouring is important, we actually begin to see the beginnings of God’s restorative work in the world; the realization of the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth.

Pentecost was the day that Jewish people celebrated the giving of the Law of Moses.  That Law represented a specific revelation of God to His people in how He called them to live.  Yet when the Holy Spirit is poured out, the limitation of ethnicity disappears, a fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel:

And afterward,
    I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
    your old men will dream dreams,
    your young men will see visions.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
    I will pour out my Spirit in those days.”

More than this, however, is the fundamental reversal of the curse of babel.  At the tower of Babel, all language was confused separating and dividing people.  Yet here, as the Holy Spirit comes, this division again disappears and all people hear the Gospel clearly.

This is the teaching of Jesus about the Kingdom of Heaven coming to pass.  In God’s Kingdom, there are no more divisions, no more broken relationships; “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for we are all one in Christ Jesus.”



John 21 – Feed My Sheep

Read John 21

John records Peter’s denial of Jesus in chapter 18.  Unlike the other Gospels, though, Peter is not left in the miserable state that we leave him.  In fact, the interaction between Jesus and Peter after Jesus’ resurrection shows us the very nature of the restoration that takes place in our hearts and lives when we turn to (or back to) Christ.

It’s hard to imagine being in Peter’s place, knowing what he did and knowing that Jesus knew what he did.  I’m sure Peter felt a bit awkward here, unsure of what to say.  But Jesus doesn’t hesitate as all; they enjoy a meal together and Jesus wastes no time restoring He and Peter’s relationship.

The significance of the number of times Jesus asks Peter if he loves Him cannot be understated.  While it may seem like an obvious thing, Peter’s triple denial coupled with His triple affirmation, the repetition is important as we have talked about.  Jesus, knowing of Peter’s guilt, not only reinstates Peter, restoring their relationship but shows him that He is still able, and in fact called to the ministry that Jesus Himself was about.  No greater image of trust can be seen than here, an image of the Master charging the one who denied Him with testifying to His Name once again.

Jesus also has a difficult word for Peter, a prophecy of the trials that Peter would face.  I wonder if Peter felt a bit overwhelmed as if his future was unfair, and so he asks about John, Jesus’ beloved disciple.  The response he receives is an important lesson for us: what others deal with in life, the paths they have to walk and why is not our business; what is important is that we remain faithful to God’s calling for our lives.



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 254: Ezekiel 46-48; The River of God

Like the postings from the last 5 or so days, today’s reading is about the restoration of the world.  As we were talking yesterday, we started to touch on the restoration of the land and the life.  If you remember, to the judgments and to the Levitical laws that were given to the people of Israel to follow, when the judgment of God happened, the people would be removed from the land.  This we saw in the exile of the people of Israel.  What we also remember is that the land would be laid bare and be given its Sabbath as well.  The reason for this actually has greater implications than just a discussion about the land, it has to do with the greater effects of disobedience on the world.

Remember with me that the worldview of the Hebrew people was quite a bit different than that of our contemporary culture.  Where we see a huge dichotomy between the secular and the divine, they saw everything as being wholly and inescapably linked together.  This means that every action that took, whether for the good or for the bad, had repercussions beyond themselves and their “personal relationship with God.”  When the a person sinned, their relationships with everything and everyone around them were interrupted.  Indeed they needed to make recompense for this sin to make things right, that recompense being a sacrifice and the spilling of blood.  So, when a people like the nation of Israel sinned collectively, their relationship with the world suffered as a whole.  As the moral fabric of society went down hill so did the health of the land in which they live.

The Prophets Abraham J. Heschel

The Prophets
Abraham J. Heschel

In many ways, this is only intensified by the words of the prophets.  I’ve been fortunate to start a class that is studying specifically the prophets.  We are reading a book by Abraham J. Heschel, a Hassidic Jewish Rabbi from the 20th century whose book on the prophets has already enlightened my view, even in the first chapter.  Heschel writes that the language of the prophets is so very different than ours, speaking in broad sweeping strokes, seemingly huge exaggerations, and accusations of great magnitude.  The prophet does this because of the unique place that he (or she) stands in, seeing things through the eyes of God in many ways, and also feelings things the way God feels them.  For God, there is no sin that is too small.  We may think that society is doing ok; that there are good things and bad things, but it all levels out in the end.  For the prophets it is a tragedy of epic proportions.  Why?  Because of the sin and corruption and the damage it does everywhere to everything.  I would highly recommend picking up this book; Heschel is an amazing writer.

It is into this world, the world of a broken land and broken people where sin and its consequences have devastated everything.  It is to this land and this people that the Lord has spoken His words of restoration and hope through Ezekiel and the other prophets as well.  For as much as the prophet speaks in broad exaggerations about judgment, the Love of God and the Restoration that He brings knows no bounds.  The ultimate vision of this is given to us here in Ezekiel and again in the book of Revelation when both the prophet and the apostle witness a river flowing from the throne of God.  It is the river of life and it flows out of the city of God into all the land bringing life to everything everywhere.  Again this takes us back to some of the last words of God in the Bible, “Behold I am making all things new…”  While the Hebrew people wouldn’t have heard these words directly from Ezekiel, they would have gotten the picture from what Ezekiel has described to them.  This is their hope and ours, that one day God come and restore everything in this world, that we will be able to eat from the tree of life and drink from the river of life, and never again will we face sin, death, sorrow, or loss.

Maranatha!  Come Lord Jesus!

 



Day 203: Isaiah 22-25; Oracles Against The Nations (Part 3)

Again today we encounter Oracles against different cities and one directed straight at Jerusalem.  Along with Tyre and Sidon, these Oracles and the others that we have read for the past two days have taken aim at the hearts of these civilizations.  The messages would have shaken them to the core because God knew exactly what to go after, that which made them strong and gave them identity.  It is clear that the Lord will humble all of the nations before Him, that their wickedness will be brought to account, and justice will be served in its due time.

As we spoke about before, this is the easiest message to see in these writings, and in many ways it is the easiest message to communicate because it makes the most sense.  In fact, this is in many ways the stereotypical message communicated by “crazy Christians,” the ones with the bullhorn on the street corner telling everyone that they are evil and need to repent to be saved from hell.  This is the message that we all hear as part of Jonathan Edwards famous sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”  This is, in many ways, the message that Christianity is known for: ‘repent now because God’s judgment is coming.’  It seems like, as culture continues to spiral downward, that is the message the continues to be heard from the church as Christian communities bury their heads in the sand to try and escape it.

But isn’t this just a little bit arrogant?  Christians assume that we have it all together and clearly other people don’t.  The logical next step, apparently, is that for those that don’t know they don’t have it all together, we need to show them the error of their ways and then scare them into faith.  What has become clear in recent years, with the increase of the decline of the Church is that these tactics are obviously not working.  Admittedly, at this point in my writing today, I realize that I have categorized the whole church within the scope of this small minority, but I defend my criticism with the understanding that those that speak the loudest are heard the most… a sad reality for those who choose to say nothing, which I believe is true of a great deal more of the Church in the U.S. than we care to admit.

The message we get from the book of Isaiah seems, at first glance, to be similar.  Judgment is indeed coming, says Isaiah, and it is going to bring you to your knees.  Through these readings, there also is rather implicit and also explicit call to repentance from Isaiah.  Yet the judgment’s reality and scope are not effected by the repentance that takes place.  Unlike the book of Jonah, God’s judgment on the world is certain.  Sin will be judged.  The nations will be humbled.  Yet, the grand overall picture of this is not just one of destruction, but of restoration.  God is not in the business of creating for the sake of destruction.  In fact, God is solidly in the business of sustaining and upholding the created order in all things, working His will to fulfill His purpose in it… in us!

If we as a church choose to cry “judgment!” we need to make sure that we are crying the whole story.  Judgment in Isaiah has a great deal to do with humbling the proud and punishing sin, yes… but it also has a great deal to do with restoration, with God swallowing up death forever.  Chapter 25 and Chapter 2 of Isaiah are very similar, talking about the establishment of the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth.  This is the ultimate outcome of God’s work in the world, the final final reality that will exist in the world, a place where creation is made new once again, where sin has no presence, and where God will dwell with His people forever.



Day 199: Isaiah 7-9; The Sign of Immanuel

Portions of today’s reading are probably quite familiar to you if you have been around church during the time of Advent.  There are a great many references to the coming of Jesus, though Isaiah doesn’t name him directly, in these three verses.  Apart from reading over them to read through the Bible, I can’t say that I’ve ever closely looked at the Scripture surrounding these few prophecies of the coming Messiah.  To be honest, I don’t think that many of us have because of the nature of the timing with which we read them.  Advent is wholly focused on the coming of Christ.  We spend a great deal of time “preparing our hearts” for His arrival, to celebrate the incarnation of God into this world as a human baby.  There is so much that goes along with this, much of which I am sure we will talk about when we enter into the New Testament in a couple months.

For now, however, I think it is important to see these verses within the context that they are found here in Isaiah.  As he is writing, and as the Lord is speaking this word to him, Isaiah is prophesying both judgment and hope.  As I was reading this, I first thought that this was all gloom and doom for Israel, but really what Isaiah is talking about are the things that are to happen prior to the coming of the Lord’s anointed One.  So what we are reading here is kind of a back and forth talking about the judgment of the wicked and the hope God is also speaking to here in the coming Messiah and the kingdom of God.

When I read this Scripture and think about the message that Isaiah is speaking to these people, one that would likely be carried all over the people of Israel, I start to see the message of hope being emphasized, even though it seems as though the message of judgment is what stands out.  Isaiah is speaking of how God is going to use another nation to wipe out the Northern Kingdom of Israel, a message that, for the Hebrew people, probably shook their worldview to its foundation.  The God of Heaven had chosen this people to be His people since the time of Abraham their forefather.  All through that time, even in their rebellion and sinfulness, God had always been their for them, to fight for them and protect them as His people.  Yet now, it seems, the nature of God (perhaps ‘nature’ isn’t an appropriate word as God is unchanging) has changed in relationship to them.  They would probably be wondering about the covenant, whether God was dissolving it or not, and what the final straw was that got them to this point.

Yet I think the point that Isaiah is trying to get across to the people, that point being the message that God has for the people, what actually quite the opposite of God “giving up” on them.  Indeed God is saying quite the opposite to them, especially to the people of Judah.  He is saying that, though there is punishment coming, judgment for their sinful ways, that He is by no means giving up on them.  In fact, God already knows how and when He is going to bring about their restoration, both as a nation, and spiritually as His people.  This is a message of Judgement, for the Northern Kingdom especially, but as we will find out, the restoration that is brought about through Jesus Christ is not just for the Southern Kingdom of Judah, but for all nations, just as was originally promised to Abraham… a man chosen and blessed to be a blessing to all the nations of the world.  This is important to keep in front of us throughout the reading of the prophets, even amid the gloom and doom of judgment messages, the focus of God is always towards calling people to repentence now, of course, and towards hope and future restoration that would be and will be fulfilled in Jesus Christ.