Tuesday, February 27, 2018

The Sweetness Of The Absolute Sovereignty Of God, Part 2

In my previous post I introduced the sweetness of the reality of God’s absolute sovereignty and the first four truths that emerge from Revelation 4 and help unpack this great subject. In this post I will set forth the remaining five truths.

We start in verse 3.

e. In Spite Of All The Horrible Things That Happen To The Church In This Age, Christians Are To Remember Their Sovereign God Is Also Merciful And They Can Trust Him. 3
Here we read: “And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald.”

The fact that a rainbow is seen around the throne makes us go back to the throne room vision of Ezekiel 1:28, where God’s glory is displayed around his throne in this manner: “Like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness all around.” Yet it also takes us even much further back in history to the time God destroyed the world (all but one family saved through an ark) and then afterward covenanted with mankind he would be merciful to them and never do this again (Gen. 9:8-17). So, this rainbow seems to reveal that the God who is sovereign over this world is also merciful and has ordered history in a manner to show this.

What is also significant is that the Apostle Paul affirms that the reason God has ordained sin’s presence in the world, along with its curse and brokenness was that God might display his mercy (Rom. 9:15, 22-23). This throne room vision reminds us that God is not just sovereign, he is merciful, and part of the reason we must suffer in this age is that this mercy might be highlighted that much more.

Something else displayed in this part of the vision, in the presence of the precious stones around the throne, is that God’s glory is seen in his care for his people, his bride (see the presence of these stones in the new Jerusalem, i.e. God’s bride [Rev. 21:11, 18-20]), which has as its background the jewels in the breastplate of the high priest in the Old Covenant—jewels that represented the reality he went into the Holy of Holies representing the people of God (see Exodus 28:15-21).

Though the fact that God is sovereign over and in and through our suffering may be a hard truth, we must also remember he is a good, loving, merciful heavenly Father who has our best interest ultimately in mind (Mt. 7:7-11; Rom. 8:28).

f. Even Though We Live In The Midst Of This Fallen And Broken World, With All Its Suffering And Hardships, Our Identity And Citizenship Are Already In Heaven. 4

Our sovereign, merciful God has worked in our behalf to bring us to the future joys and rewards of his full kingdom. Part of the way we are assured of this is found in verse 4, where we learn that identity and citizenship are already in heaven. Here is what we read: “Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clothed in white garments, with golden crowns on their heads.”

We know from Rev. 21:12-14 that these 24 probably represent the Old Covenant patriarchs and also the New Covenant apostles—in other words the people of God of all times. We also know from 5:8; 7:19-17, they are distinguished from the redeemed humans and so are most likely angels. Yet, they are angels who represent or symbolize the people of God. They serve before God in the temple and worship him. The point seems to be that this is what the church is called to do and be, i.e. to be the worshiping ministers of God in this world—as they realize their identity and citizenship finds its origin in the new creation of heaven.

The point is that we define our circumstances and success in life by that which is bigger, rather than merely by what we experience.

g. Even Though We Live In The Midst Of This Fallen And Broken World, With All Its Suffering And Hardships, Our Ultimate Purpose Is To Serve And Glorify God By The Power Of God’s Spirit. 5

When John writes, “From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder,” this alludes to Exodus 19:16 and the same phenomena that Israel experienced when they were at Mt. Sinai, when God met with Moses to give him the Law, to covenant with Israel, and to call and prepare them for their mission after they had been delivered out of Egypt. God was reminding Israel of his holiness and the danger of ignoring him, taking him lightly, or rebelling against him. Several times in Revelation we also see these same phenomena, in contexts where God is bringing judgment (8:5; 11:19; 16:18).  The point seems to be that we are to serve and honor God, not to take him lightly.

John goes on to write that he also saw the following: “and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God” (see also 1:4), which is a clear reference to the vision Zechariah had in Zechariah 4:1-7, wherein he saw a lampstand with seven lamps on it—all connected to a continual flow of olive oil, and this represented the work of the Spirit to empower Zerubbabel, the governor, for his mission of rebuilding the temple. The main lesson was found in Zech. 4:6: “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.” The point seems to be that God’s Spirit is present and necessary to empower his people for faithful and enduring service. God, then, not only allows difficulties, but he also, in his mercy, provides power to face them and to persevere.

h. Even Though We Live In The Midst Of This Fallen And Broken World, With All Its Suffering And Hardships, We Have The Assurance Our God Will Save Us And Make All Things Right. 6-11

John writes in these verses the following:
…and before the throne there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal.
And around the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: 7 the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with the face of a man, and the fourth living creature like an eagle in flight. 8 And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!”
9 And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, 10 the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying, 11“Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”

In these verses we have allusions back to the Red Sea, which was a barrier to salvation and which God overcome to save Israel (6), and to visions of Ezekiel 1 and Isaiah 6 and their throne room visions (6-8). In both of these books God is showing he must bring judgment upon those who have ignored him, will ultimately save those who come to him in faith and repentance, and all of this to his glory. Elsewhere in Revelation (15:2) the sea of glass (an elevated reminder of the Red Sea) is associated with the deliverance of Israel out of Egypt as a type of ultimate salvation.

What we apparently see in these verses is that the sovereign God will surely save those who trust in him (including those who are persecuted) and bring judgment on those who don’t  trust in him (including those who are persecutors). This is one more indication we can trust God in this age, no matter what is happening.

i. God’s Sovereign Plan Is As Certain As if It Had Already Happened. 11
The final point made in this chapter about the sweetness of God’s sovereignty as applied to his people in this age is found in verse 11: “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”

In context, this statement of praise is not merely about God’s original creation, but it is also about his ongoing governance of all things (spoken of here as creating things). The last part of the verse seems to affirm that whatever God ordains will happen first exists and then it is created or comes into existence. I take this to mean that whatever God has decreed to take place, even though it hasn’t been realized yet, is just as certain as if it had already happened.

This is not only an indication of the certainty of God’s plans and his promises to his people, it is one more indication that his sovereignty is absolute.

So, to wrap up Revelation 4, God truly is absolutely sovereign and this should be a sweet truth to encourage, comfort, and motivate the church on mission, especially if Christians see God’s sovereignty accompanied by all these other truths about who he is and how he works.  

Yet, there are two more truths that emerge from this vision, both of which are located in the second half of the vision in chapter 5. We will begin looking at these next week.

Joyfully Resting On Our Sovereign God With You,


Monday, February 26, 2018

The Sweetness Of The Absolute Sovereignty Of God, Part 1

Imagine that your children or grandchildren are being harassed at school because of their profession of faith in Jesus Christ, as well as the fact they have been trying to tell their friends about him. How would you advise them? How would you seek to encourage them? What would you say?

Some Christians would tell them: “Back off a little. Surely God would not want you to experience such difficult things. He would want you to be happy.” Others may not say that, but would simply think and communicate, “Well, that is just the way things are in this broken world when Christians try to witness.” And, behind this thought may be the thinking that though God may have known ahead of time this would happen, he does not have the ability (or maybe doesn’t have the desire) to influence human free choices so that he can do anything about it or can bring good results from it. In other words, “If you keep witnessing, you are on your own.”

I say these are responses many would give because they reflect the way that many Christians view both God and living on mission. And, if these are the views we have of God—coupled with the thinking that our salvation is a free gift that means it doesn’t really matter whether or not we live differently or on mission—it is easy to see why the vast majority of Christians (some say well over 95%) never even attempt to share the gospel with others.

This brings up an additional question: How would the Bible respond to this situation and seek to encourage us, our children, or our grandchildren?  We don’t have to guess at the answer, since John addresses this very issue in the book of Revelation.

In Revelation we have already discovered that at the very core of who we are and what we are to do, the church is to live on mission, as disciplemaking witnesses to Christ (1:6, 20; 2:4 [see also 5:10; 11:1-14; 12:11, et. al.]). Yet, we have also learned that in this broken, cursed, sinful world, this typically leads to persecution—through which we are to persevere (1:9; 2:7, 9-10, 11, 17, 19, 25-26; 3:3, 5, 8-10, 12, 21). It is true that we do not want to be unnecessarily caustic or pushy. But, the reality is that if we are never receiving pushback at least to some degree for our gospel ministry, then we either are not living missionally, or we are sharing a false gospel (see Mt. 5:10-12; John 15:18-27; 2 Tim. 3:12)!

One of the main purposes of Revelation is to give comfort and encouragement to persecuted Christians in this age and also to spur the church on to faithful, enduring witness in spite of such tribulation. And the center, the very hub, of this message, is found in chapters 4-5.  These chapters, which are still addressed to the seven churches in Asia of chapters 2-3, the seven churches who represent the worldwide church of all time, form the theological foundation of the book.

And, what they teach by way of a vision John saw is that the church finds strength and comfort to persevere, as well as motivation to live on mission, from the sweet reality that God is absolutely sovereign and, as such, through God the Son, is carrying out his plan of redemption for the world.

1. The Reality of God’s Sweet Sovereignty For The Church In This Current Age. 4:1-11
The unpacking of this reality that encourages, comforts, and motivates Christians includes nine truths, four of which we will explore in this post and the remaining five in the next.

a. The Vision Does Not Present What Is Next Chronologically In History, But What Is Next In John’s Sequence Of Visions He Received. 1
The clause, “after this I looked,” or ones similar to it, merely introduce the next vision John receives, not necessarily what takes place next chronologically in history (see 7:1, 9; 15:5; 18:1; 19:1). This is important for us to understand since some interpreters of Revelation have suggested these verses introduce what will happen in the future, after Christ has returned, and the  church is raptured before a time of tribulation. Then, what happens in chapters 6-20 is perhaps a chronological depiction of what will happen at that time in the future. Because of how this clause is used elsewhere, as well as many other bits of evidence (some of which are here in chapter four and we will address soon), we should not expect these chapters merely to unfold events that happen in the future after Christ’s return.

b. The Vision Depicts Heaven To Be Like A Temple With A Throne Room In It. 1-2
We know this because John writes: “and behold, a door standing open in heaven! …At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne.” This makes clear that what John sees is a throne room. Later statements in the vision clarify that what is also depicted is a temple in which priests serve and from which God carries out his salvation of mankind (see 4:4, 10; 5:6, 8, 9-10, 13-14). So, what this vision is symbolizing (remember 1:1, that God is symbolizing what is taking place!) is that the salvation of mankind is emanating from this temple throne room. The manner in which this salvation activity or history is carried out or applied will be shown in chapters 6-20. But here is where it starts.

c. The Vision Communicates That God Is Absolutely Sovereign Over History In This Age—In A Manner That Humans Make Free And Responsible Choices (In The Biblical Sense Of These Words). 1-2

 This truth emerges from the following clauses: “…with God sitting on the throne…and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne.” The word “throne” appears seventeen times in Revelation 4-5, and twenty-one times in the rest of Revelation (chapters 6-22). From this, we know that whatever it speaks of, it is emphasized throughout the book, but especially in chapters 4-5. As it is fleshed out in the structure of the rest of the book and how all the subsequent visions flow out of Rev. 4-5, it shows God is King over all the world and its events. As we will be reminded of shortly, the main focus is on the events of this age in which we currently live—between the first and second comings of Christ.

The way that theologians typically refer to this truth that God is king is to say that he is sovereign or that he possesses the attribute of sovereignty. The kind of sovereignty displayed is absolute, meaning that it is in no way conditional upon or limited by human choices (or even his prior knowledge of those choices). In other words, it is a kind of sovereignty by which God initiates and determines all that takes place. We know this is the kind of sovereignty presented here for the following reasons:

(1) As we will unpack over the next couple of weeks, the structure of the book of Revelation suggests that God, in his sovereignty, determines all that takes place.

(2) The way Revelation 4:11 is worded, as will be seen when we come to the end of chapter 4, supports the assertion God’s sovereignty is absolute.

(3) The scroll of chapter 5 that symbolizes the events of history suggests a meticulous (down to the very smallest details and choices) governance of those events by God.

(4) The language of Rev. 5:9-10 strongly suggests that the same group of people Jesus ransomed, he also will transform into a kingdom and priest to God—which strongly implies he is able to influence all kinds of people (from all over the world) to trust in him and be transformed into missional people. This means he can decisively turn the hearts and choices of humans such that he is absolutely in control over them.

(5) In Rev. 6:11 John affirms that the very number of Christians in this age who will be killed because of their faith has been determined by God’s sovereign will. This means that even something as evil as the killing of his people for their faith (arguably the most evil thing in the world that can happen) has been sovereignly determined by God, including who will kill, who will be killed, how many, when will they be killed, what are the decisions that stand behind the martyrs and the killers coming together, and what are the decisions behind the killers taking their actions, just to name a few.

(6) The trajectory of Revelation 4-22 is such that all which God has said would take place in this age and in the age to come, down to the most minute detail, will take place, because he is able to determine that outcome.

(7) That God possesses absolute sovereignty, carried out through his meticulous or detailed governance of all things, is also taught elsewhere in Scripture (1 Chronicles 29:10-18; Prov. 16:33; 21:1; Isaiah 46:9-11; Acts 4:28; 13:48; Rom. 8:28-30; 9:13-23, et. al.).

Why is it important we grasp God is sovereign in an absolute sense? In the book of Revelation, it is important because it reminds suffering believers that not one bad, difficult, or evil thing comes to them that has not first passed through God’s hands. In other words, he can and does have a purpose for it, and he can and will fulfill all his promises to such suffering Christians. Such promises cannot be thwarted by any event or being (seen or unseen)! As hard as it is to get our heads and hearts around, we know that if we or someone else is suffering because of our faith, God has decided he would permit this to take place according to his sovereign plan.

The reality that God has determined who and how many would be martyred for their faith (Rev. 6:11) and yet over and over again chapters 8-18 makes it clear he will judge such persecutors, means that free, responsible, real human choices (in the biblical sense of these words) are compatible with absolute divine sovereignty. This also is taught elsewhere in the Bible (e.g. Gen. 50:20; 1 Chronicles 29:10-18; Acts 2:23; 4:27-28; Phil. 2:12-13).

d. This Vision Is Strongly Connected Into Chapters 1-3 And So It Pertains To The Current Age And Not Merely Some Future Time At The End Of This Age When The Church Is Raptured. 1-2

This truth is seen in the following ways.

(1) The following clauses, “And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet,” and “At once I was in the Spirit,” all allude back to 1:10, where John introduces his first vision: “I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet.” At the very least, this leads us to expect that what John sees here alludes to the same general time frame as that of chapter 1, which we have already seen applies to the church in this age. This is strengthened by the next piece of evidence.

(2) The clause, “I will show you what must take place after this,” we have already seen from 1:1, 19, is dependent upon Daniel 2:28, 29, 45, where Daniel interprets a vision King Nebuchadnezzar had, which looked a considerable distance into the future to see what would happen in the end times. John is making the point that he and we now live in the era of fulfillment. Because of the repetition of this clause, we are to conclude that the vision also focuses upon what is true in this age and not what is true of a future time when there is a rapture of the church out of this world.

(3) The vision of God the Father on his throne and the Son/Lamb with him is strongly connected into and may very well be a further explanation of the statement John makes in 3:21: “The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.” 

(4) Revelation 3:21 also introduces a truth that also is alluded to in the vision of Revelation 4-5 and thus displays the strong connection between Jesus’ first having conquered and the church being able to conquer (see 5:5 and also the call to conquer that is given to each of the seven churches).

(5) It is emphasized in 5:9-10 that the redeemed are a kingdom and priest to God, which shows the New Covenant Church carries out the original mission given to Israel as seen in Exodus 19:6. This same point is also made in 1:6.

When we remember that every one of the messages to the seven churches in chapters 2-3 begins with a description of Jesus that comes right out of Rev. 1, every one of the promises given to the seven churches is seen as fulfilled in Revelation 21-22, and that chapters 6-22 flow right out of the throne room vision of Revelation 4-5 (compare 5:2, 5 with 6:1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 12; 8:1-7; 11:15-19; 15:1ff.), we understand that the entire book is tightly put together and that chapters 1-20 all refer to this age and chapters 21-22 refer to the age to come (the latter in a manner that flows out of the former).

The conclusion, then, is that Rev. 4:1 cannot refer to a future secret rapture of the church, which would put all the events of chapters 6-20 into the future and after that rapture. Those who have read the book in this manner have misread it.

In our next post we will cover the remaining five truths that unpack the reality of God’s sweet sovereignty in this current age.

Joyfully Resting On Our Sovereign God’s With You,


Sunday, February 18, 2018

The Reproofs Of Discipline Are The Way Of Life (Revelation 2-3)

I encourage you to read Revelation 2-3 in preparation for this post and next Sunday’s sermon.

It has been hard for us to generate a sense of momentum in our series through the book of Revelation due to the breaks from it we have had. When I originally mapped out the schedle for it, I knew we would have two weeks out of Revelation—the week that I was in Peru and then this past week, with Bob Walz here to preach. What I did not count on was the week we had to cancel our service due to weather. What it has created is an inability for us to get a sense of where we have been in the book and where we are going. Because of this, I am starting my post with a review of where we have been so far.

Thus far we have discovered that first and foremost Revelation is a highly symbolic unveiling of Jesus Christ, and this such that if readers respond, the result will be great happiness (1:1-3). Much of this revelation of our Savior is designed to change our view of the world and of the church so that we see: 
·         Those of us who are in Jesus Christ have been saved by him, freed, and so we have the resources of the triune God to empower us for following Jesus. (1:4-8)

·         We are part of the kingdom and so can live underneath God’s reign, on mission, and to his glory. (1:9)

·         Because we live on mission in a broken and sin-cursed world, our following of Christ and love for the world brings push-back, even persecution sometimes, and this all in addition to the other trials we face. (1:9)

·         Yet, genuine believers endure through this, even if not perfectly. (1:9; ch’s. 2-3)

·         A big part of why we can be faithful growing in Jesus, serving him, and also sharing him with others is that he has us in his hands and he is in our midst to empower and encourage us. (1:12-20; ch’s. 2-3)

·         Much of the way we are propelled forward is both because of our love for Jesus Christ that leads to holiness and mission (2:1-7) and also by focusing upon the promises of eternal reward Jesus Christ makes to us. (2:7, 11, 17, 27-28; 3:4-5, 12, 20-21)

·         Additionally, we should be motivated to repent as needed, when confronted with our disobedience and idolatry. (2:4-5, 14-16, 20-23; 3:1-3, 15-20)

The need to repent prepares us for the last main message Jesus Christ wants churches in Revelation 2-3 to hear so they can be happy and healthy in him:  We must respond to and give correction. God wants us to respond to his correction and discipline he brings our way because he loves us (Prov. 3:11-12; Heb. 12:5-6); he wants us to make corrections to self as we see the need in his Word (Ps. 94:12; James 1:22-25); he wants us to be willing to give correction to and receive it from others (James 5:19-20), and all of this is necessary because, even though we have been saved and transformed by Jesus Christ, we are still inclined to all kinds of evil and can easily deceive ourselves (Heb. 3:12-13). The willingness to receive correction from and to give it to others is one of the marks of a true and healthy local church (see Mt. 16:19; 18:15-20; 1 Cor. 5:1-13; 2 Thes. 3:14-15; Titus 3:10)! Consider these contemporary confirmations of that point.

Gerald Bray (God Is Love, chapter 6 [emphasis added]) writes: 
Church discipline is too often understood in terms of who should and should not be allowed to belong to the fellowship of believers. People want to know what others believe and what commitment they can expect from them before admitting them to membership, which is perfectly understandable. However, the real task of church discipline begins after people have joined the fellowship—it is designed to help church members grow, not to chase away those who our human minds think are undesirable. It is hard not to think that the church could avoid a great deal of trouble by realizing that it is a home for sinners, not a company of the righteous who have no need of repentance. It can begin to do this by structuring its sense of discipline to focus not on punishment and exclusion but on forming a Christian mind and heart in those who have come under the teaching of the gospel.

Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears, Vintage Church: Timeless Truths And Timely Methods (Wheaton: Crossway, 2008), 38, write (emphasis added):  
The local church is a community of regenerated believers who confess Jesus Christ as Lord. In obedience to Scripture they organize under qualified leadership, gather regularly for preaching and worship, observe the biblical sacraments of baptism and Comunion, are unified by the Spirit, are disciplined for holiness, and scatter to fulfill the Great Commandment and the Great Commission as missionaries to the world for God’s glory and their joy.

Mack Stiles, “Nine Marks Of A Healthy Parachurch Ministry,” 9 Marks eJournal, 8, 2 (March/April, 2011) explains (emphasis added): 
The church is the God-ordained local assembly of believers who have committed themselves to each other. They gather regularly, they teach the Word, celebrate communion and baptism, discipline their members, establish a biblical structure of leadership, they pray and give together. Certainly the church may do more, but it is not less than this.

Notice how all three agree with Scripture and what the Church has historically affirmed, that one of the marks of a healthy and true church is discipline. In other words, there is a willingness to give and receive correction.

In Revelation 2-3 we discover this need for correction in three main areas.

1. We Are To Give And Receive Correction In Regard To False Teaching And Practice. 
We see this several places in these two chapters. Jesus commends the church in Ephesus for correcting false teachers (2:2), and for hating the works of false teachers, as Jesus himself does (2:6). Yet, he goes on to tell them they have left the love they had at first, need to repent, and to return to it (2:4-5). This certainly can be at the heart of much false belief and teaching. Jesus exhorts the church in Pergamum for allowing idolatrous, false teaching, and immorality (2:14-15), and he similarly exhorts the church in Thyatira for the same reasons (2:20). He even goes so far as to tell the church in Sardis they are dead and need to wake up (3:1-3).

What we see over and over again in these chapters is that we must be willing to be corrected, to make corrections to self, and to correct others in regard to false teaching and practice. The receiving and giving of correction in love to one another is particularly important since there are so many aspects of our thinking and behavior that we can be blinded to by the hostile and anti-Christian cultures around us. It is easy for us to be like the proverbial frog in the kettle. In other words, as the heat is turned up around us and pressue is put on us to change our beliefs to match those in vogue around us, we keep giving in little by little until we find ourselves in boiling waters of great compromise and heresy!

There is a second area in which we must give and receive correction.

2. We Are To Give And Receive Correction In Regard To Deafening Idolatry. 
Idolatry is “believing in created things, rather than the Creator, for our hope and happiness, significance and security” (New City Catechism, #17).

Idolatry is a strong emphasis throughout these two chapters seen in the exhortation at the end of each message, “he who has an ear, let him hear what the spirit says to the churches” (2:7a, 11a, 17a, 29; 3:6, 13, 22). This statement arises from the reality that we become like what we worship—blind and deaf (Psalm 115:4-8; Isaiah 44:9) and so we do not have ears to hear what God is saying to us (Isaiah 6:9-10). Idolatry, which usually includes love and desire for good things, makes us wobbly, unstable, and unresponsive to those things that are important to God, as if we are drunk on other things (Revelation 14:8). Typically these other loves and desires are confirmed by the cultures around us that make them seem normative, the way things ought to be. When this happens we simply don’t hear what God is saying to correct us or we explain it away as too extreme to follow—the weird and unusual view of a pastor or teacher.

This is why gospel community is so important. In other words, we need to come together by the gospel’s influence on us and for the purpose of helping each other live out the effects of the gospel—to correct one another when we are in danger of sin’s hardening and deception (Heb. 3:12-13), and also to spur each other on to love and good works (Heb. 10:24).

Keeping away from idolatry is so important that John ends his first epistle with the admonition, “keep yourself from idols” (1 John 5:21). Yet, we usually need the aid of each other to do this.

One of the ways to do this is to commit to a Bible Fellowship and an Iron Man/Woman team.

The final area in which we are to give and receive correction is a catch-all. In other words, it is every and any other area.

3. We Are To Change Course No Matter What Wrong Path We Are On. 
If we are not willing to do this, Jesus may: War against us (2:16); remove our lampstand, i.e. our witness as a church (2:5); bring sickness and death (2:22-23); come upon us for discipline as a thief, unexpectedly (3:2-3); and remove from us his protection and empowerment (3:15-20).

Whether or not we live faithfully, on mission, for God’s glory, as joyful followers, and endure in this all truly matters. Whenever we are off the path we are to make corrections. If God speaks to us through the Word as we read it alone, through a fellow believer, in a book, by a sermon, or while sitting under someone’s teaching, we are to receive and make corrections. We also are to help our family members, our brothers and sisters in Christ, to do the same.

It is a fearful and sober thing, to ignore the conviction and/or correction of God—directly upon conscience, through a friend/fellow believer, or through a pastor or teacher. Therefore, we need to develop a responsiveness to how God wants to grow us and change us, rather than protection against what he wants to do.

We should remember “…the reproofs of discipline are the way of life” (Proverbs 6:23). And, we need to help each other in this whole matter because of the joy of growing in our knowledge of Christ and of following Him (Rev. 1:1-3).

Monday, February 5, 2018

And You Will Be My Witnesses (Revelation 2-3)

Because we did not have our service on Sunday, I will preach the message next Sunday (Feb. 11) that I had planned for this past Sunday (Feb. 4). What that means is that the sermon I had originally planned for Feb. 11 I will not preach at all. So, that material will be covered only in this post. So, to be clear, the post that prepares us for next week’s sermon was last week’s post. This week’s post will not be followed up by a corresponding sermon.

This is our fifth week in the book of Revelation and I am sure that we have been surprised by what the book has talked about so far. After all, many of us anticipated this series because of the fantastic visions and material in the book, as well as the possibility we would look into the future. Certainly there are those visions and there is that forward look into the end times. Yet, we miss what the book is about, if we do not see it exhorts churches today, living between the first and second comings of Christ, with how to remain faithful in holiness and mission in the midst of hostile cultures.

As we make our way topically through the messages to the seven churches in chapters 2-3, we especially see this very practical bent. Last week we discovered the importance of retaining and growing our love for Christ so we can have adequate motivation to pursue holiness and live on mission. Now, this week, we look more closely at who this Jesus is, why his presence with us, and his knowledge of us, along with his promised future reward, all should captivate our hearts so we will be his faithful witnesses.

To start, let’s look at what this Jesus is like who is in our midst.

Let’s look at the different ways Jesus is described in these two chapters.

A. He Is In Our Midst And We Are In His Hands. 2:1
In this verse we read: “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘[Thus says the one] who holds the seven stars in his right hand, [the one] who walks among the seven golden lampstands.” Since we looked at this verse and truth last week, we need spend little time on it, other than to remind ourselves that Jesus is present with us as a congregation, to empower us for mission and against difficulties. Additionally, we are in his hands and so nothing can happen to us that he has not at least allowed. This means he can not only bring good out of it, but also can work in our behalf to help us.

In the rest of the descriptions of Jesus given to the other churches we see even more about why his presence and sovereign plan for our lives should make a difference.

B. He Is Sovereign Over History As The Eternal One And, At the Same Time, Is The Resurrected Lord Who Has Accomplished New Life For Us. 2:8
Here we read: “Thus says the first and the last, who was dead and came alive.”  These same two descriptions of Jesus are tied together in the chapter one vision of him (1:17-18): “When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, ‘Fear not, I am the first and the last, 18 and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.’”

This description of Jesus shows he is God and, as such, is stronger than those who may oppose our ministry (cf. Is. 41:4; 48:12; Rev. 1:8). He is in control of history and so can work in our behalf—and yet not only this, as the resurrected Savior he has secured our life and future. As such, as he exhorts the church in Smyrna, so we must remain faithful to him even in the face of opposition, push-back, and full-out persecution (Rev. 2:8-11)! The point is similar to what Paul makes in 1 Cor. 15:58: “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”

C. He Judges And Disciplines Those In And Out Of The Church, As Needed. 2:12
Here is how he is described: “And unto the angel of the church in Pergamum write: ‘Thus says the one who has the sharp two-edged sword.’” To a church located in a place filled with much pagan and imperial religion and also a strong Jewish population—and so they would have faced much push back and persecution—Jesus exhorts them to overcome this idolatrous spirit so they can avoid discipline, judgment, and can have eternal life. That he has the “two-edged sword” refers to the fact he is judge and one who can discipline (see Rev. 19:15). Additionally, because he knows the state of each church infallibly, he also knows those who need comfort in the midst of affliction and those who need to be afflicted since they are inappropriately comfortable.

This certainly corrects the current popular view of Jesus Christ among most evangelicals who see him as a Mr. Rogers-type figure who would never judge or discipline!

D. He Is The Only Son Of God, The One Worthy Of Worship, And The Only Ultimate Judge. 2:18
Because the situation at Thyatira was similar to that of the church in Pergamum, Jesus gives a similar picture of himself: “And unto the angel of the church in Thyatira write: ‘Thus says the Son of God, the one who has his eyes as a flame of fire and his feet like burnished bronze.’”  The message here is stronger since the church had moved that much further down the road of idolatry.

E. He Is The One Who Brings The Fully Empowering Spirit Of God To Us. 3:1
To a church in a town that twice in its history had been captured by enemies due to lack of vigilance, Jesus speaks with warnings about their lack of vigilance, reminds them they are in his hands, and also reminds them his Spirit is present among them, not only to reveal where they truly are, but also to empower them so they can be vigilant: “And unto the angel of the church in Sardis write: ‘Thus says the one who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.’”

F. He Is God, The Only One Who Can Save Sinners. 3:7
Referring back to the chapter one vision (1:18), we read: “And unto the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: ‘Thus says the holy one, the true one, the one who has the keys of David, the one who opens and no one will shut, and who shuts and no one opens.’”

Regarding Philadelphia one commentator explains: 
In appreciation for imperial reconstruction aid after an earthquake (a.d. 17), Philadelphia was briefly renamed Neocaesarea (“Caesar’s New City”), but Jesus promises his suffering church an infinitely greater name, “the city of my God, the new Jerusalem” (v. 12). Philadelphia lies near a fertile valley, especially suited for growing wine grapes. Inscriptions from Philadelphia mention worship of Zeus and Hestia, and the Roman imperial cult was already present by the first century a.d. An inscription from a nearby town mentions a synagogue in that town. Christians in Philadelphia later received a letter from the early church father Ignatius (c. a.d. 110), and they suffered during the martyrdom of Polycarp (c. 155).

Christ commended the church for its enduring witness—a witness he will enable them to keep. He also encourages them to persevere by his grace so they can experience his full end-times rewards.

The reality he can fully save them and all believers should encourage us to remain faithful, no matter what level of trials, push back, or persecution we face.

G. He Is The Creator And The Ultimate Faithful And True Witness. 3:14
One commentator helpfully provides some historical background to this town:
Damaged by an earthquake in a.d. 60, self-sufficient Laodicea, a commercial center and site of thriving medical and textile industries, declined imperial disaster relief. The city did not see itself as “poor, blind, and naked” (v. 17), nor did the complacent church within it. In this last church alone Jesus finds nothing to commend. Laodicea was famous for its worship of Zeus, who appears on some of the city’s coinage.

Referring to the supply of tepid water in the town that was unlike the cold water that was piped into Laodicea for drinking and unlike the hot water springs in the area that were good for medicinal or therapeutic purposes, Jesus unveils through the pen of John that the church was useless, for they had an ineffective witness and mission. They were in such a deplorable situation that there was nothing for which he could commend them.

Yet, he, as the Creator (the one who could change and re-create them) and the true witness (who could also work in them to be faithful witnesses) can transform them, if they are willing to answer his call and return to fellowship with him (3:20).

Part of the reason that we must look to Jesus’ empowering and correcting presence is that we face trials, as well as temptations simply to give up. This is why we must pay attention to the main take away in these two chapters, to endure patiently.

Though we won’t spend a lot of time here, consider what is said to each church…

A. 2:2-3: “I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. 3 I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name's sake, and you have not grown weary.”

B. 2:9-10: “I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 10 Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation.” (Dependent upon Daniel, see Beale)

C. 2:13, 17: “Yet you hold fast my name, and you did not deny my faith even in the days of Antipas my faithful witness, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells…. To the one who conquers….”

D. 2:19, 25: “I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first…. Only hold fast what you have until I come.”

E. 3:4: “Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy.”

F. 3:10-11: “Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth. 11 I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown.” (Compare to John 17:15)

G. 3:15-20: “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. 17 For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. 19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. 20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. 21 The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’”

So, we are not only called to faithful worship and witness, but to endure in these, even in the face of trials, persecution, and the temptation to give up.

Right now, our challenge in southcentral Nebraska is not full-blown persecution. Instead, it is our fear of what might happen, if we were his witnesses: Rejection, people thinking we are weird, losing our accolades from others, being seen as different, out-of-step, and maybe even negative employment results.

How do we deal with this?  It is found in the empowering, encouraging reality of Christ’s presence—especially as we grasp all the reasons why he is sufficient to take care of us and empower us.

Yet, there is another motivation for us…

Consider all the promises made to the churches in these two chapters, if we persevere in and by Christ. They are all also mentioned in the last chapters of the book of Revelation, which not only shows the book is tightly tied together, but these rewards are very important motivations for godly living.

A. 2:7b (eat of the tree of life [cf. Gen. 2:9; 3:24]).

B. 2:10, 11b (crown of life and not hurt by the second death).

C. 2:17b-c (eat of hidden manna and white stone with new name).

D. 2:26-28 (rule over the nations and given the morning star).

E. 3:5 (clothed in white, not blotted out of book of life, confessed before Father).

F. 3:12 (pillar in temple with name of God and God’s city written on them).

G. 3:21 (sit with Jesus on throne).

In Acts 1:8, after Jesus told his disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the promised Holy Spirit to come upon them, he also explained what the result would be: “And you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Part of the permanent and powerful indwelling of the Holy Spirit that the New Covenant Church experiences is that we are transformed into those who want to and can be witnesses unto Jesus Christ before others. Part of the way this happens is that the Spirit applies the person, power, presence, and work of Christ among the church and the Spirit can do this since Jesus Christ won for the church this pouring out of the Spirit through his death and resurrection (cf. Acts 2:33).

The church is not only empowered for mission by the presence of Christ and his Spirit among the church, but also encouraged toward faithfulness and perseverance by focusing upon the presence of Jesus Christ (and why he is sufficient to help us face trials, push back, and persecution) and the eternal rewards he promises to those who endure.

These first chapters of Revelation surprise us by calling us to this central question: Are we pursuing holiness and living on mission for the glory of God, even when to do so puts us at odds with the cultures around us?  There are ample motivations here either to start this pursuit or to persevere in it.

Joyfully Serving As A Witness To Jesus With You,