Cleaning House

temple cleaner

Love for God’s “house” (His people) may require a cleansing.

          Even a quick look around our house would cause you to observe that I have no business preaching a message entitled “Cleaning House!”  I’m afraid matters are worse after Wednesday night.

This sad story begins with God giving me a warning on Tuesday when Dawn stopped by the office to accuse me of working overtime.  Of course I denied it.  In the course of our conversation, she mentioned how they had to quick get the hose back on their sump pump discharge because it had started running with all the snow and ice melting outdoors.

That is something I had never thought of doing.  Take off your sump pump hose?  Who does that?  The Lord sent Dawn to warn me to check my own hose.  But I did not catch the warning, so when I got home after Bible study Wednesday night, it finally occurred to me to check.  The answer was waiting for me at the bottom of the stairs: at least a half-inch of water all across the basement floor.  The sump pump couldn’t run because the hose outside was frozen shut.

So now we have some serious house cleaning to do, especially in the basement.  This experience confirms a pair of my sayings:

“Snow is rain on credit.  You’ll pay for it later.”

“A basement is a hole under your house for catching rainwater.”

Jesus never had to use a wet-dry vac, but today we’ll look at a time He set out to do some cleaning out of the house of God.  It was a dramatic, aggressive act on Jesus’ part but entirely necessary.  Let’s see what we can learn from His example.

CONTEXT: This passage follows Jesus’ first miracle, the changing of water into wine (vs. 1-12) and precedes His instruction of Nicodemus (3:1-21).  In John’s Gospel, these are all precedent-setting events; the first miracle demonstrated Jesus’ power, the cleansing of the temple His authority, and the encounter with Nicodemus the substance of His teaching.

  1. Jesus’ actions invited opposition. (vs. 13-17)

The PASSOVER was the ideal time to launch a new ministry and that’s how this incident is used in John’s gospel.  The PASSOVER was one of three annual festivals godly Jews were required to attend.  At that time the city swelled with pilgrims from around the ancient world. The event probably occurred in the Court of the Gentiles, the most public place in Jerusalem.  All lights “green” for launch!

The people doing business there were “authorized sellers” in one sense or another.  The sellers of sacrificial animals (CATTLE, SHEEP AND DOVES) were authorized by the Law: Deuteronomy 14:24-26 allowed those traveling a great distance to sell the animal they intended to offer, converting it to cash.  Upon arrival at the sacred place, the cash could be used to buy another animal to be offered to God.  This avoided the inconvenience and expense of transporting live animals.

The MONEY CHANGERS were not authorized in Scripture, but were deemed necessary under Roman occupation.  Roman coins depicted Caesar and described him as god.  They were considered blasphemous, unfit for use in the temple.  Every adult Jewish male was expected to pay the “temple tax” of a half shekel to support the temple and the priests (Exodus 30:13).  Specially minted coins called “temple tokens” were used.  The exchange rate always benefitted the exchangers.

No weapons were allowed in the temple or its courts.  When Jesus MADE A WHIP, he likely bundled together some of the ropes used to contain the cattle.

He DROVE ALL out.  This stampede was a severe disruption of “business as usual.”  Jesus threw the tables and coins of the MONEY CHANGERS into disarray.

Why did Jesus do it?  The gospels advance three explanations:

Jesus told the sellers of DOVES they’d turned His FATHER’S HOUSE INTO A MARKET.  Zechariah 14:21 promises an ideal future where NO MERCHANT would be found in the temple, so turning the temple courts into a marketplace was bad all on its own.

The disciples believed Jesus’ ZEAL for God’s house consumed him.  They saw Psalm 69:9 as a prediction, Jesus’ actions as the fulfillment.

In Matthew 21:13, Jesus condemned them for making the temple into A DEN OF THIEVES, quoting the prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 7:11).

  1. Jesus’ actions were opposed. (18-22)

Matthew’s reference to THE JEWS in verse eighteen is shorthand for the religious/civil leaders of the Jewish people.  They demanded Jesus give them a SIGN – a miracle – that would prove his authority to disrupt the ordinary business of the temple.

Jesus did offer them a SIGN, just not the kind of SIGN they were expecting.  Referring to His own body, He offered His resurrection as the ultimate proof of His authority.  When they killed Him, he would not remain dead, but be raised to life.

In Jesus’ reply John used the word RAISE, unlike the other Gospels, which used the word REBUILD.  RAISE is a more typical figure of speech for “resurrection.”  After Jesus was raised from the dead, the DISCIPLES understood Jesus’ intended meaning and believed all had taken place as God had predicted in the SCRIPTURES (22).

THE JEWS’ misunderstanding is in evident in verse twenty.  They thought Jesus was referring to the temple.  Jesus’ words were later turned against Him: during His trial, Jewish leaders cited them as a threat to the temple (Mark 15:58; Matthew 26:61) and people used them to mock Him at His crucifixion (Mark 15:29; Matthew 27:40).  After Jesus returned to heaven, this charge was repeated when Deacon Stephen was on trial (Acts 6:14).

  1. Jesus backed up His claims with miracles. (23-25)

Ironically, Jesus would not give the Jewish leaders a SIGN when they demanded it (18), but He gave several to the people (23).  In reaction to Jesus’ MIRACULOUS SIGNS, MANY PEOPLE BELIEVED IN HIS NAME.

In JHN 1:12 the phrase BELIEVED IN HIS NAME described those who faith was adequate for salvation.  But here, the same Gk words describe people who did not possess true faith.  This use of the same words to describe very different spiritual conditions illustrates the difficulty we have in knowing people’s hearts.  However, Jesus knew the difference; HE KNEW ALL MEN.  There’s no fooling Him.

Knowing their faith was merely superficial, Jesus did not consider them to be trustworthy followers.  Their excitement about the miracles would not carry them through the real work of following Him.

The Pharisee Nicodemus is offered as an example of these fair-weather disciples.  In fact, He began the conversation referencing the miracles, “FOR NO ONE COULD PERFORM THE MIRACULOUS SIGNS YOU ARE DOING IF GOD WERE NOT WITH HIM.”  The good news is that he did come to true faith.  In John 19:39 Nicodemus joined Joseph of Arimathea in burying Jesus’ body.

Love for God’s “house” (His people) may require a cleansing.

At this point we should all be asking ourselves, “What would Jesus if He walked into our church right now?”  Would He thank us for our faithfulness or chase us out of here with a broom?  I would expect most churches fall somewhere between obviously faithful and obviously false. And that is a big reason why churches can be so hard to sort out.

Dr. Thom S. Rainer is a church consultant.  He published an article on his website five years ago identifying nine traits of “mean churches.”  Based on his experience and training, he offered these insights as a means of prayerfully and carefully considering our own life together.  Take a moment to think about each one as I merely list them.

Too many decisions are made in the cloak of darkness. 

The pastor and/or staff are treated poorly.

Power groups tenaciously hold on to their power.

There is lack of clear accountability for major decisions and/or expenditures.

Leaders of the power groups have an acrimonious spirit.

A number of the members see those outside of the church as “them” or “those people.”

Many members have an inward focus; they view the church as a place to get their own preferences and wants fulfilled.

Many people in the community view these churches negatively. 

Most of the members are silent when power plays and bad decisions take place. 

(https://thomrainer.com/2015/03/nine-traits-mean-churches/)

How are we doing?  It’s not realistic to think that churches are only going to be places where nice people are nice to one another.  Real people in real places having real relationships will often be quite messy.

That said, the point is that we have chosen a direction aimed at Jesus: that we are characterized by love manifest in forgiveness and cooperation.  That kind of fellowship is the kind that will attract and retain new life.  The question is never “What kind of church do I want?” instead it is “What kind of church is Jesus working to make us?”  Like Jesus, we must not let the Pharisees have the final say.

 

Resources:

The Anchor Bible Commentary, Raymond E. Brown.

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Opportunistic Evangelism

witness

The best witness follows God’s lead.

          “A little boy built a model ship, glued all the pieces together, and worked on it for hours.  It was perfect.  Every detail was correct, down to tiny sailors standing on the deck.  He put it in a glass case.  He wouldn’t let his brother play with it in the bathtub.  He was going to keep it perfect by keeping it safe.

“His parents bought a real boat so they could spend the weekends sailing out on the harbor.  They loved it.  At first.  It was a lot of work to maintain.  Boat owners will tell you that the day you bought your boat was the happiest day of your life, and the day you sold it was the second happiest.  At first, they used it a lot.  But then they used it less.  It was expensive.  After a few months, they went to spend a day sailing and found barnacles growing on the side, algae all over it, and a dead motor.  A real boat is only kept in shape by being used.

“The two boats worked in opposite ways.  The model was preserved by being kept safe.  The real boat was preserved by being used.”

<James Miller, found at https://illustrationexchange.com/illustrations?category=631.&gt;

CONTEXT: This is the last word in Matthew’s Gospel, the last thing Jesus says to His disciples, His final instructions before returning to heaven.  They were gathered on a mountain top in Galilee, their home territory, for this final encounter.  Incredible as it seems, Matthew honestly reports that some of the disciples WORSHIPED Jesus, but some still DOUBTED.   Let’s begin there.

For those who DOUBTED, the words of Jesus had no immediate meaning.  His promises of His authority and abiding presence were not for the doubters.  They weren’t committed and at that time, had no part with Him.  The promises were not for them.

Instead, Jesus’ promises were for those who had faith and WORSHIPED Him.  They knew and believed that He commissioned them under the AUTHORITY that had been given to Him by God the Father.  They knew and believed His promise to be with them ALWAYS was perfectly reliable.  They would count on His abiding presence to inform and empower their obedience to His commands.

And so it is for all of us in this very moment.  This passage is for everyone who worships Jesus as Lord of their life.  It will sound like mere words in the ears of those who have not crossed the threshold of faith.  Do you have a model faith or a real faith?  Know which you are as we begin.

  1. This passage has been misunderstood.

Matthew 28:19-20 is known as “The Great Commission” and is frequently cited as a call to evangelism.  On this basis we have been sending missionaries to foreign lands for over 150 years.

Preachers love to cite the four verbs as imperatives to soul-winning.  GO has been understood as being assertive in seeking out t unsaved, creating our own opportunities to tell others about Jesus.

MAKE DISCIPLES has been taken as a call to “soul winning,” a term that never appears in the Bible.  The emphasis is lopsidedly on making converts.

The fact that the word BAPTIZING appears here has been taken to mean that baptism is somehow necessary for salvation.  The evidence in Scripture points to baptism as a demonstration of salvation, not a means of obtaining it.

TEACHING is the most obvious of the four verbs and Jesus Himself explained the aim of our teaching ministry; “TO OBEY EVERYTHING I HAVE COMMANDED YOU.”

The usual use of this passage creates problems.  If Jesus’ Great Commission makes every disciple responsible to assertively create opportunities to witness, then we all bear responsibility for every human contact we make throughout the day.  This is a massive responsibility that none of us is capable of undertaking.  It is not biblical, not Jesus’ intended understanding of the Commission, and produces a lot of guilt about the subject of evangelism.

  1. How this passage should be understood.

At the risk of sounding like I am splitting hairs, a correct interpretation of the passage requires translating the word GO properly. We first need to observe the order of the words.  In the Greek, the word GO has emphasis because it comes first.  Here’s how a direct translation reads: “GOING THEREFORE DISCIPLE YE ALL THE NATIONS, BAPTIZING THEM IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER AND OF THE SON AND OF THE HOLY SPIRIT, TEACHING THEM TO OBSERVE ALL THINGS WHATEVER I GAVE COMMAND TO YOU; AND BEHOLD WITH YOU I AM ALL THE DAYS UNTIL THE COMPLETION OF THE AGE.”

Second, we must observe the nature of the word: GO is a verb and we are commanded to it, but it is assumed we are going already.

As translated above, GOING THEREFORE is not a command to get moving, but to do something as you are moving.  As you live, put your real faith to work.  To put it another way, Jesus said, “As you go, make disciples.  Baptize them and teach them to be obedient.”

Now we can move to application of the rest of the commands.

The word DISCIPLE means to make new converts and to mature those who have accepted Jesus.  Discipleship is a life-long process where followers of Jesus help each other to mature spiritually.  I believe Jesus had Deuteronomy 6:6-7 on His mind as He gave this teaching.

THESE COMMANDMENTS THAT I GIVE YOU TODAY ARE TO BE UPON YOUR HEARTS.  IMPRESS THEM ON YOUR CHILDREN.  TALK ABOUT THEM WHEN YOU SIT AT HOME AND WHEN YOU WALK ALONG THE ROAD, WHEN YOU LIE DOWN AND WHEN YOU GET UP.

Even though the word GO is crucial for our understanding of this passage, in the Gk it is the word DISCIPLE that is the main verb.  It can be said that GO, BAPTIZE, and TEACH are all explanations of discipleship.  If you live for Jesus, the reason you draw breath today is so that you can disciple and be discipled. That’s the bottom line.

The word BAPTIZE is important to all Christians but not all of them will agree with the way I am about to define it.  Baptism is an action that is both a proof of a real faith and a means of discipleship.  It serves the purposes of witness and maturing a person’s faith.

Throughout the centuries, the Church has recognized this dual role of baptism and has historically used it as a means of maturing new believers.  For example, in the first century church, candidates for baptism had to go through THREE YEARS of preparation before they were baptized.

Finally, the word TEACH takes in all forms of instruction in Scripture and spiritual disciplines.  Because the main ingredients for maturing followers of Jesus are prayer and the Bible, it will always be necessary to be taught.  Folks who figure they have no more to learn reveal they have a “model” faith, not a “real” one.  A faith that works and is not just limited to display purposes is a growing faith.  There is always more to learn.

What we teach and learn draws us closer to God.  We grow by book learning and by life experience; we must not rely on one or the other but seek both.  Teachers teach by setting an example to follow as well as by passing along information, illustrating it with personal experience.  Teachers are lifelong learners.  In this life, we are both teachers and learners.  This is our greatest duty.

The best witness follows God’s lead.

We usually see witnessing as something we initiate, an opportunity we create by being assertive.  Worse, what often motivates us to witness is a false sense of guilt when we aren’t assertive, leading us to approach people in ways that aren’t genuine.  The result is often an awkward, unproductive encounter that may cause more harm than good.

This passage in Matthew’s Gospel indicates a better biblical way to approach witnessing.  Witnessing encounters start with the knowledge that God is the Initiator.  He will guide us to persons on occasions where He has already prepared their heart and ours.  He will give you words to say.

The second step is ours.  We need to listen to the Holy Spirit for the urging to speak and the words to speak.  Awareness of a God-directed opportunity to witness will come to us quietly, a gentle urging that can be easy to ignore or overlook.  What’s needed is active hearts, eyes and ears to sense the opportunities as He sets them in front of us.

The third step is also ours.  We must speak up, say something.  What’s needed here is obedience, not eloquence.  These opportunities are time-sensitive immediate obedience is necessary.

The final step involves the witness, the other people, and God.  We need to fully see and hear the others as we enter into conversation with them, so we can find points of connection to them as people and points to connect them with God.  We need to be awake and aware of the Spirit’s guidance as the dialogue develops, and follow His lead.  In these instances, our book learning (the Bible) and our experience (testimony) will be useful, so we need to be prepared to talk about both of them.

Be forewarned.  These opportunities will not arise in moments convenient or comfortable for you.  Your adult skills of flexibility, risk assessment, and sensitivity will be required.  It will be tempting to “pass by on the other side” ala Luke 10, but you will not be obedient if you do so.

If you have never sensed God leading you in this way, then something is wrong at the center of the faith you’re claiming.  Persons with a “model” faith will not sense God leading them in this way; they’ve schooled themselves on how to ignore it.  Persons with a “real” faith will want to have this experience and will grow from it when they take a chance that Jesus’ promises of authority and abiding presence are true.

Prayer that Wakes the Dead

Pray-First-1

Real prayer changes things.

          A visiting farmer stopped at a city restaurant to eat lunch. When he was served his food he bowed his head and gave thanks to the Lord. Some teenagers sitting at a nearby table noticed the farmer’s prayer and shouted, “Hey, pops, back where you come from does everybody pray before they eat?”

Their laughter was silenced when the unmoved farmer answered, “No, the hogs don’t.”

Prayer is appropriate before mealtime and any time we can turn to God.  Because we can see their effects sooner, we mistakenly think our own efforts are more important than prayer.  That’s exactly backwards.  We’ll learn this morning that prayer is partner with action.  We don’t pray and then wait around for something to magically fall from the sky: we pray and then proceed in the direction God points out to us.  Prayer precedes action; it does not replace it.

CONTEXT: You’d assume a book named “Kings” would be about kings, but this chapter is part of a section that centers on the prophet Elijah and his successor, Elisha.

SHUNEM was one of the cities given to the tribe of Issachar (Joshua 19:18). An early church leader named Eusebius said Shunem was five miles south of Mount Tabor, which was in the northern part of Israel, near Nazareth and the Sea of Galilee. The name meant double resting-place, which is very appropriate to this account, as it was a place where Elisha received great hospitality from a woman of the village.

  1. The gifting of a child. (vs. 8-17)

The prophet was warmly welcomed in a prominent local woman’s home (8-10).  In that culture, hospitality was needed and expected, but this gal went the extra mile.  This is apparent in a couple ways.

First, she sought out Elisha and URGED HIM TO STAY FOR A MEAL.  This became a regular thing when the prophet was in the area.

Second, while a room on the roof may sound uncomfortable to us, it was one of the choice places at night when the heat of the day raised the interior temperature of the home.  The Shunnamite made sure the room was fully equipped.

In gratitude for her hospitality, Elisha offer to pull some strings to get her some unspecified favors.  This offer was met with polite refusal.  She showed independence in a deferential way proper to a woman in her culture.  In modern terms, she said, “No thank you, we country folk take care of our own.”

The prophet asked his servant, Gehazi, for advice.  He replied that the woman had not borne a son and as her husband was an old man, it was unlikely she ever would.  Since she is not called “barren” or “childless” we can assume she had only birthed daughters.  This culture valued sons as the inheritors of the father’s estate and a sign of God’s blessing.

From her reaction to Elisha’s pronouncement (16), we can infer she was disappointed about this.  Sometimes we can become so thoroughly disappointed we’re reluctant to allow ourselves even to have hope.  However, just as Elisha had predicted, she gave birth to a son about a year later.  Hope was realized.  A son was given.

  1. The re-gifting of the child. (vs. 18-37)

Something very tragic struck the child and he died (18-21).  Several years passed; enough time for the boy to become old enough to go be with his father and his workers at harvest time.  Suddenly he cried out with head pain and he was carried to his mother.  Imagine the tragic scene where the boy died, sitting on the lap of his mother.

The Shunammite woman sought out Elisha to either protest his death or see if the prophet might somehow save him (22-28).  This lady went into determined action immediately.  She laid her dead son out on the prophet’s bed and immediately left to find him. Elisha was at Mt. Carmel about 20 miles away.

When her husband asked why she was going to find Elisha, she did not even tell him their son was dead. His reference to a NEW MOON OR THE SABBATH were the usual times you’d want a prophet around, conducting a worship service.

Curiously, her reply was only, “It’s all right” (23), an English phrase translating the Hebrew word shalom.  As this is what she also said to Gehazi (26), it makes me think she think she wanted only to talk to the prophet.

The Shunammite woman’s emotions become plain when she finally sees the prophet.  Elisha can see for himself she was in BITTER DISTRESS, even though God gave him no insight into the reason for it.  She TOOK HOLD OF HIS FEET (27), a sign of surrender to his authority.  Her taking hold of the prophet’s feet reminds me of how the women took hold of Jesus’ feet at his Resurrection (MTW 28:9).  These were two extremely emotional situations as well.

Her BITTER DISTRESS was evident when she cried, “DID I ASK YOU FOR A SON, MY LORD?  DIDN’T I TELL YOU, ‘DON’T RAISE MY HOPES?’”  In effect, she is protesting the turn of events; “Why give me a son only to take him away?”

At first, Elisha tried to affect a resurrection by “remote control” but it didn’t work (29-31). This is a curiosity to me.  I don’t know why he sent the staff with his servant, instructing him to lay it on top of the boy, but there are three possible explanations.

First, in the Bible, inanimate objects are sometimes imbued with divine power, like Moses’ staff.  Elisha may have expected something similar to happen here.  In Acts 19:11-12 we read that cloths that Paul had touched cured illnesses and exorcised demons.

Second, it would keep them from burying the boy before they could get there: no one would dare to touch the prophet’s staff or move it off the body.  No one would dare touch the prophet’s staff.

Third, Gehazi was a kind of trainee or apprentice in the school of prophets, so this may have been on-the-job training.  This also explains why Elisha constantly spoke with the Shunammite through Gehazi.

However we understand Elisha’s reasoning, the boy’s mother was not having it.  She was entirely focused on Elisha as the cure.  She vowed she would not leave his side (30).  The text is not clear whether she was blaming him or had faith in him.  Whatever her motive, the woman and Elisha left for Shunem together.

Gehazi traveled to Shunem as quickly as he could, but Elisha and the woman went at a pace more reasonable to an older man.  The servant got there much sooner, attempted the instructed cure, and still had enough time to meet Elisha and the boy’s mother on the road to Shunem.  He reported the attempted cure failed: he got no response from the boy (31).  As “sleep” was a polite euphemism for death, he said, “THE BOY HAS NOT AWAKENED.”

When he went there to pray in person, God gave a miracle (32-37).  All three of them went to the rooftop room, but Elisha shut Gehazi and the mother out of the room.

Verse 33 is key to the passage.  Elisha PRAYED TO THE LORD.  All that follows is a product of prayer.  However, the prophet did not only pray, he did something.   Though some would look at Elisha’s actions to see if there is some medical explanation, some scientific reason why his laying atop the boy’s body would help him, they are missing the point.  These are symbolic actions.  Like circling around the city of Jericho, the action cannot be a cause of what happens.  The outcome is entirely up to God.

This account is very similar to Elijah restoring the son of a widow who lived in Zarephath (1 Kings 17:17-24).  On that occasion, the prophet also laid atop the boy’s body.  Elisha may’ve been familiar with that account and attempted something similar.

I believe that occasionally God tests our obedience by requiring us to do things that don’t make sense in our earthly wisdom.  Elisha’s actions seem weird to us.  The strange action had to be repeated before the boy’s life was restored. Elijah had to do it THREE TIMES to restore the widow of Zarephath’s son!

The boy “awoke” with a sneezing fit (seven, the number of completeness) and opened his eyes.  You’d sneeze too if you awoke to find a bearded old prophet lying on top of you!

After expressing her gratitude, we read an understated account of the  touching reunion of mother and son in vs. 36-37, a great end to the story.  I probably should repeat this sermon on Mother’s Day!

Real prayer changes things.

This account perfectly illustrates the principle of prayer we want to take home with us.  When first confronted with the problem, the prophet Elisha didn’t want to have to do anything himself.  He attempted to have God do a miracle without any effort on his part.  We saw that didn’t work at all.

The prophet was face to face with a determined woman and that wasn’t going to be good enough for her.  She vowed she would not leave his side until he got off his fanny and went to her son.  After sending his servant with his staff in hand on a fast horse, the prophet himself reluctantly rode with the mother back to Shunem.

It was when he arrived that Elisha got involved.  The text tells us the first thing he did was pray to the LORD!  Then he went into action.  It was not his actions that restored the boy’s life; it was his attention to prayer and obedience to what God showed him.

What we learn about prayer here is encouraging: pray first then act.  Don’t wait until after you act and then have to plead with God to “bless your mess!”  Make prayer your priority and then see what God will do through you!

 

RESOURCES:

Expositor’s Bible Commentary, R.D. Patterson and Hermann J. Austel

The Daily Study Bible, A. Graeme Auld

Zondervan Bible Commentary, F.F. Bruce (Ed.)

Doing Our Jobs

church-work-day-clipart

Churches thrive when members do their jobs.

          Today is Church Vocations Sunday and Installation Sunday; we are celebrating and supporting those who give leadership to our church.  It’s wonderful to see the leaders of the church cooperating with one another to show a congregation the way Jesus wants them to go.

For example, I’m reminded of a church where the trustees took out the old paper towel dispensers and replaced them with modern hot-air hand dryers.  For their part, the deacons added signs above each dryer which read, “For a sample of this week’s sermon, push the button.”

<http://javacasa.com/humor/pastor.htm&gt;

CONTEXT: Our passage this morning is the second of two threats to the unity of the First Church.  The first, in ch. 5, was hypocrisy.  Ananias and Sapphira pretended to sell their home and give all the proceeds to the church.  In a demonstration of how much God hates hypocrisy, this lie cost both the husband and wife their lives.  As we will see, the second problem was complaining.

We will also note the selection of deacons set up the next two sections of Acts as the spotlight falls on two of the newly-elected deacons, Stephen and Philip (chs. 6-8).

  1. The problem. (vs. 1-2)

Part of the problem was the rapid growth of the Church = THE NUMBER OF DISCIPLES WAS INCREASING.  References to church growth bracket this narrative.  A great problem to have, right?  The Church added people faster than they added the leadership to take care of them.

How fast?  Note 3,000 converts were mentioned in 2:41 and the 5,000 members in 4:4, we know for certain that the Church numbered in the thousands in a city of 100,000 residents.  That’s a lot for twelve guys to administrate!

The other part of the problem was complaining = THE GRECIAN JEWS COMPLAINED AGAINST THE HEBRAIC JEWS.  At this point the Church existed only in Jerusalem and was made up only of Jews.  It was considered to be a sect of Judaism.

At that time, there were two kinds of Jews.  Luke referred to one group as GRECIAN JEWS; they were people who converted to Judaism or were born Jews, but came from other parts of the world.  HEBRAIC JEWS, on the other hand, were people who were born in the region.  The primary difference was the fact they spoke different languages.

The out-of-town Jews believed that their widows were not getting their fair share of the daily soup kitchen.  This is not a small thing: Ministry to widows, orphans, aliens, and other down-and-out types was a big focus of the early church.  It was where a lot of their money was spent.  It is no coincidence that the first complaint in church life involved widows – the Old Testament commanded care for widows (i.e., Deuteronomy 10:18).  Jesus taught neglecting the care of widows was evidence of disobeying God (Luke 7:12-14).

The result was that the Apostles’ time was being spent waiting on tables when they should have been ministering the WORD.  The same Greek word translated here as DISTRIBUTION OF FOOD appears in 1:17+25 as the MINISTRY the Apostles received from Jesus.  This linguistic connection makes two things clear.  One, the TWELVE did the work of waiting on tables.  Two, waiting tables and proclaiming the Word were both considered ministry.  Both were important work.

Why were the Twelve doing all this themselves?  Sometimes it’s easier for leaders to do things themselves than it is to recruit people to do them.

What’s more important in this case, is that the Twelve demonstrated wisdom by recognizing taking care of this problem themselves was not a good idea.  When it came down to a choice between waiting tables or ministering the WORD, they knew which was part of their calling and which was not.

Again, both these were ministries were important to the church.  But the Twelve realized they were called to minister the word, not administrate a social program.  It was not RIGHT for them to WAIT ON TABLES because that would have required them neglecting their true ministry.  Somebody needed to do it, but it needed to be somebody else.  Here is an example of a situation where spirituality and practicality both need to be heard.

  1. The proposal. (vs. 2-6)

They proposed the congregation choose seven godly men to WAIT TABLES.  The Twelve created the proposal but they left it up to the members to decide who would administrate this program.

They proposed a group of SEVEN men because seven is seen as a symbol of completeness; that’s all that was needed.  Social scientists tell us seven is just about the ideal number for any working group.

The Twelve set forth the qualification the Seven were to be KNOWN to possess: FULL OF THE SPIRIT AND WISDOM.  True wisdom comes from God through the Holy Spirit.

The DISCIPLES (the members, the congregation) chose seven men from among their own number.  The fact that they all have Greek names does not prove that all Seven were GRECIAN JEWS, but if they were, that was an extraordinary accommodation by the HEBRAIC JEWS to the GRECIAN JEWS.

Luke describes only two of the Seven in any detail.  His mention of Stephen as A MAN FULL OF FAITH AND THE HOLY SPIRIT set up the account of Stephen, the first martyr, starting in verse eight.  The other mention is Nicolas, a CONVERT TO JUDAISM.  This proves that not all of the church members were born Jews.

Delegating authority was not a new idea: in Exodus 18:13-26; Numbers 11:1-25, and Deuteronomy 1:9-18, we read about 70 Israelite men who were selected to assist Moses in settling disputes among the people and to train them in faithfulness to God.

The phrase WAIT ON TABLES is the Greek word diakonein, from which we derive our word “deacon.”     Though Luke does not refer to the Seven as “deacons” in this passage, he will by chapter 21.  It’s ironic how the church has turned this word upside down.  The original deacons were table waiters; workers in a soup kitchen that delivered daily meals to the needy.  Their jobs were practical.  In the modern American church, deacons are responsible for spiritual ministry while the practical work is given to “trustees.”  Biblically, it ought to be the other way around.

If the proposal were accepted, the Apostles would have more time to pay ATTENTION TO PRAYER AND THE MINISTRY OF THE WORD.  PRAYER is a separate ministry.  It includes public worship and private visitation.  MINISTRY OF THE WORD includes preaching and teaching; discipleship that occurs in public and private situations.

As we stated earlier, this division of labor does not imply any kind of elitism.  The Twelve and the Seven had two different kind of work but BOTH were considered ministry.  The fact that the Seven were commissioned for ministry by the laying on of hands (v. 6) is further evidence of this variety of callings without a hierarchy of callings.

  1. The product. (vs. 5+7)

For possibly the last time in recorded history, all the church folk were happy at the same time.  The Greek word for PLEASED denotes a kind of satisfaction with the actions of another.  Our objective is to aim to please God, not any individual or group in the church.  So if everyone’s happy, that’s gravy, not our goal.

Luke listed two signs of God’s approval of the way the problem had been resolved.  He wrote, THE WORD OF GOD SPREAD.  On a practical level, the Twelve had their time freed up by turning the food ministry over to the Seven.  On a spiritual level, God registered His approval by giving them more opportunities to speak the word to those outside the church.

He also wrote THE NUMBER OF DISCIPLES INCREASED.  This is the other bracket that frames this passage; the Church was growing in number before the complaint and it continued to grow after they faithfully resolved the complaint.

The text supplies two qualifiers of the growth the First Church experienced.  The word RAPIDLY implies the Church’s growth gained speed.  A LARGE NUMBER OF PRIESTS were added to the membership.  These were men who had a vested interest in the status quo and were trained in the Scriptures.  And they overcame all that to choose to follow Jesus!

Churches thrive when members do their jobs.

          That’s not important.  What is important is the example set for us by the early church. Every believer is given their individual set of spiritual Gifts and other resources they can contribute to the life of their local church.  When all the believers make their contributions, the church prospers.  We need a variety of contributions and a depth of contributors in order to be faithful to God and the mission He has given us.  Church is not a spectator sport.  Everyone’s contributions differ slightly, but everyone contributes.  With love, we assemble these offerings of various resources and expend them in ministry to our people and the people outside our walls.

Here’s their example for us to follow:

– When a problem is announced, the leaders are responsible to see if it is a problem and take reasonable steps to resolve it.

– The leadership formulates a proposal and presents it to the membership, requiring them to share responsibility for a solution.

– Working together, the leaders and followers enact the solution with prayer and good sense empowering a godly way forward.

– When we are faithful, God makes us fruitful.  It may not be immediate, but it is inevitable.

 

RESOURCES:

Message #1291

Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Eckhard J. Schnabel

Walking in Jesus’ Footsteps

footprints

Please read Luke 9:51-62 in your Bible.  I used the NIV (1984) to prepare these remarks.

Followers follow Jesus’ example.

          Have you seen members of the Third United States Infantry Regiment of the United States Army guarding the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery?  Every day since July 2, 1937, the Old Guard has stood guard.  Pastor Andy Cook wrote about them:

“When a sentinel comes on duty, he walks exactly 21 steps across the tomb, representing the 21-gun salute, the highest honor given to any soldier or foreign dignitary. When he turns, he faces the tomb, and remains in that position for 21 seconds. He turns again and walks 21 steps across the tomb. When he completes the short journey, he stops, turns toward the tomb, and pauses for 21 seconds. The sentinel repeats the process until his shift is over.

“With an average age of only 22, these enlisted men and women prepare for weeks to take a turn at the tomb.  Strict training ensures that the guard will be unwavering in duty.  The guard’s steps will remain perfect, even when no one is watching.

“If you want to join this group, you’ll have to learn a new way to walk.

https://www.lifeway.com/en/articles/sermon-a-clearly-different-way-to-walk-ephesians-4

That statement really impressed me.  The same thing can be said for the Christian faith.  Anyone who wants to become one of the followers of Jesus can no longer walk in the way our culture approves.  We have to learn to walk in Jesus’ steps.

Peter said the same thing in 1 Peter 2:21; TO THIS YOU WERE CALLED, BECAUSE CHRIST SUFFERED FOR YOU, LEAVING YOU AN EXAMPLE, THAT YOU SHOULD FOLLOW IN HIS STEPS.  What an image!  These words were inspired and written by a man who had literally walked right behind Jesus, putting his feet in the same spots on which the Son of God had left His mark.

Now he turns that personal memory into a picture of discipleship, one that we will examine today.  Looking at a pivotal moment in Luke’s account of the life of Jesus, we will see one good & five bad examples of discipleship.

  1. Jesus set a good example.

I like the King James Version’s translation of v. 51; it says Jesus STEADFASTLY SET HIS FACE TO GO TO JERUSALEM.  This gives us a view of the courage Jesus displayed.  He was resolved to do the will of God, to obey His Father.

Courage is not the absence of fear.  It is not about the absence of doubt.  It is a resolution to do the right thing, period.

Jesus resolved to go to Jerusalem in spite of what He’d suffer before being raised from the dead and later, returning to heaven.  The phrase Luke used seems curious, knowing what awaits Jesus when He appeared in Jerusalem that final time.  Let’s explain what Luke meant by THE TIME APPROACHED FOR HIM TO BE TAKEN UP TO HEAVEN.  This verse puts a good face on it, leapfrogging over His death and Resurrection, going right to the Ascension.  In this statement, Jesus showed enormous faith: He looked beyond the trial to the reward.

This choice of words reminds me of Hebrews 12:2 where Jesus’ motive for obedience is explained in this way: FOR THE JOY SET BEFORE HIM HE ENDURED THE CROSS, SCORNING ITS SHAME, AND SAT DOWN AT THE RIGHT HAND OF THE THRONE OF GOD.

  1. James and John set bad examples.

When their patience was tested, they got angry (52-56).  At the start of this narrative, Jesus and His disciples were in Bethsaida.  That city was north of the Sea of Galilee.  Jerusalem was 80 miles away, as the crow flies.

The province of Samaria lay between them.  God-fearing Jews would go the long way around to avoid Samaria.  It’s a long story, but Samaritans and Jews pretty well hated one another.  That’s why Jesus sent MESSENGERS ahead to GET THINGS READY.  Jesus’ caution was correct; the Samaritans in this village were not keen to have travelers going to JERUSALEM; they did not WELCOME Jesus and His people.   Maybe we can maybe see both sides, but James and John were provoked to anger.

Their reaction betrayed an immature faith.  Jesus nicknamed these brothers the SONS OF THUNDER (Mark 3:17), which may be a comment on their short tempers or bluster.  Based on personal experience and Jesus’ teaching, they had faith to expect that if Jesus said so, they really could “CALL DOWN FIRE FROM HEAVEN TO DESTROY THEM.”

Jesus did not get stressed or retaliate.  As v. 55 says, JESUS TURNED AND REBUKED THEM.  After that, they sought hospitality in ANOTHER VILLAGE.  James and John had faith, but they wanted to exercise it in an immature way.

One kind of experience that reveals a lot about our character is how we deal with rejection.  Sometimes, like James and John, we get mad and we want to “get even.”  It’s not right to be so hard-hearted.

Other times we take the opinions of others too seriously, allowing them to wound our tender hearts. In Galatians 1:10 Paul condemned this attitude as “people pleasing” when he wrote, IF I WERE STILL TRYING TO PLEASE MEN, I WOULD NOT BE A SERVANT OF CHRIST.

Followers of Jesus display His character by avoiding these extremes.  We’re not to overreact to every perceived slight; neither do we have to be a doormat.  Good character is manifest in middle; keep moving forward.

  1. Three “wannabe disciples” set bad examples.

Luke grouped these encounters together to show us how seriously Jesus took discipleship.  While only two of the three of them volunteered for service, all three wanted to join on their own terms.  It’s not that their reasons were bad, but Jesus knew their hearts were insincere, so He confronted them.

“Wannabe #1” I call “The Volunteer” (57-58).  This fellow came to Jesus making such a confident-sounding statement.  Jesus heard his heart, and discerned the Volunteer hadn’t really thought about what following Jesus would cost him.  While Jesus wants His followers to show zeal, have passion for the things of God, no good will come of commitments based on temporary enthusiasms and vain emotion.

“Wannabe #2” is “The Good Son” (59-60).  His request sounds very reasonable, which makes Jesus’ reply sound less reasonable, even harsh.  One of the teachings of Jesus that makes Evangelicals squirm a bit is when He says that the family of faith is more important than one’s family of origin (Matthew 10:37; 19:19; Luke 14:26).  Jesus’ response here is similar.  If this “Good Son” lived in our time, we might remind him the windshield is bigger than the rear view mirror; it’s time to move forward.

“Wannabe #3” is “The Family Man” (61-62).  On the face of it, the Family Man doesn’t seem to be asking for much.  But Jesus recognized an excuse when he heard it and warned this would-be disciple that a divided heart ends in disaster.  In James 1:6-7 we read that prayer with a double mind is not going to be answered affirmatively; it is a sign of instability.

Following Jesus isn’t about pleasing yourself or other people; it’s about pleasing Jesus.  Following Jesus requires sacrifice. Getting our own way and always being right are among the first things to go. Following Jesus requires discipline: the world and your own human nature will keep getting in the way: don’t let them.  Following Jesus requires patience and persistence.  If it’s just a hobby, don’t expect God’s blessing.  Expect to fail.  Following Jesus is motivated by love, even love of self.  At its most basic level, we follow Jesus because we want to have life and every other way leads to death.

Followers follow Jesus’ example.

          In Hebrews 12:2 Jesus is identified as the AUTHOR of our faith (see also 2:10).  In an article entitled “Walking in the Footsteps of Christ,” I read, “The Greek word translated ‘author’ is archegos, and it means ‘the first one in line in a column or file.’”

It is one of those ancient words to which English does no justice.  The picture is that of a ruler who has founded a new kingdom.  If you President Thomas Jefferson personally lead the Lewis and Clark expedition to explore the Louisiana Purchase, you’d call him an archegos.

Hebrews 12:2 exhorts us to FIX OUR EYES ON JESUS, which is natural and necessary when you’re trying to step in the footprints someone else has left for you.  We can’t find life on our own; we have to walk in the footprints of Jesus.  He’s already walked past death into life and He alone knows the way.

RESOURCES:

https://www.etsjets.org/files/JETS-PDFs/29/29-1/29-1-pp047-054_JETS.pdf

https://www.truthortradition.com/articles/walking-in-the-footsteps-of-christ-becoming-like-christ

Labor Disputes

denarius

Please read Matthew 20:1-16 in your preferred version of the Bible.  I used the NIV (1984) to prepare these remarks.

The first to cry “foul” are people who feel they have suffered loss.  You rarely hear people complain because they benefited unfairly.

For example, in one of last Sunday’s football games, a player for the LA Rams committed a foul against a player for the NO Saints.  But the referees did not call a foul.  Saints players and fans are outraged at the “no call” play and believe it cost their team the victory and a chance to play in the Super Bowl.

Imagine for a moment if the offending player called a time out, gathered the officials around him, and asked them to call a foul.  What if he pointed to the giant screen in the stadium and confessed?  What if he said, “See, there I am cheating.  I wish you’d go ahead and call a foul on me.  It’s not fair I should get away with such an obvious foul”?

How do you think his teammates would have reacted?  The other team’s players and fans?  Some would no doubt object to such a generous, selfless act because winning would me more important to them.

God’s grace is not going to fit your idea of “fair.”

  1. Setting the stage: context.

Much of chapter nineteen is about who goes to heaven.  The rich young man was concerned about what he had to do to get ETERNAL LIFE (v. 16).  Jesus’ response was tailored to this individual.  He told him to go and sell all his possessions and give the money to the poor.  The man was prepared to do anything BUT that: HE WENT AWAY SAD (v. 22). Jesus reflected on how hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven (v. 23-24).

The disciples were stunned (v. 25); they assumed the rich were blessed by God & that’s why they were rich.  Peter wasn’t really listening.  He was thinking that if the rich young man could get into heaven by donating his wealth, he could too (v. 27).  After all, that’s just what he had done!

There are two keys to what Jesus taught.  One is in 19:26 where Jesus said, “WITH MAN THIS IS IMPOSSIBLE, BUT WITH GOD ALL THINGS ARE POSSIBLE.”  The other is in 19:30 and 20:16 as “book ends.”  These verses identify the one main point of the parable: “THE LAST WILL BE FIRST, AND THE FIRST WILL BE LAST.”  This is Jesus’ teaching: no one earns eternal life; God gives it.  This point will be applied when James and John’s mother’s requests Jesus make her boys His left and right hand men (20:20-28).

  1. Reading the program notes: The one main point.

The emphasis in all of scripture is always on what God has done for us.  He chose us.  He sent His Son Jesus to die for us.  He forgives our sins.

The point of this parable is that salvation is God’s gift.  It is never about our deservedness.  We can never qualify ourselves.

  1. Watching the play: plot points.

It is essential that we identify God with the LANDOWNER.  He goes out and calls people to have ETERNAL LIFE.  Notice the workers do not seek Him out, nor do they apply for a job or show him a resume; all of this event is at the LANDOWNER’s initiative and depends on His resources.

In v. 2 we see the LANDOWNER and the WORKERS agreed to a specific wage: one DENARIUS.  This was the usual rate of pay for a day’s work.  This is a very typical scene in Jesus’ time; land owners kept costs down by hiring day laborers.  Jesus’ parables often start with an everyday circumstance, then got to something surprising and that is certainly how this parable unfolds.

Every three hours the LANDOWNER went to the marketplace to hire more workers (vs. 3-5). The later workers agree to work for WHATEVER IS RIGHT, not for a specific amount.  This will be an important detail later when the workers are paid.

Verses 6-7 give us the first clue about the generosity of the LANDOWNER.  He went out a fifth time that day to hire more laborers.  It is near the end of the day.  A more practical employer would not have bothered, as he would not get any more than a couple hours’ work out of t latecomers.  Moreover, day laborers were usually down and out people.  When the LANDOWNER asks why they’ve been standing around all day, their reply is only half of the truth; “NO ONE HAS HIRED US.”  Inquiring minds want to know why no one made them an offer!  They did not have a regular job for a reason.  The ones still hanging around the marketplace at that time of day were likely to be “the worst of the worst.”  The youngest and healthiest workers of the bunch would’ve been hired earlier in the day: the workers still hanging about the ELEVENTH HOUR were the “leftovers.”  Knowing all this about him makes the LANDOWNER seem even more generous.

The tale becomes more curious in verse eight, when the LANDOWNER pays off the workers beginning with those who were hired last.  This would make no sense if this had been an actual event.  Instead, it is a plot device that serves what Jesus taught in 19:30 and 20:16.  It makes sense only in that light.

The tension builds in verses nine and ten as the workers are paid.  Naturally, the men hired first thing in the morning are expecting extra payment as they see the LANDOWNER’s generosity toward those who were hired later in the day; the latecomers were paid a full day’s wage even though they didn’t work a full day.  That is undeniably generous.

Vs. 10-12 = The all-day laborers are naturally upset when they get exactly the same pay as the latecomers.  “YOU HAVE MADE THEM EQUAL TO US,” they complained.    “Foul!  Not fair!” they protest.

In verses 13-15 the LANDOWNER’s answer does not justify his actions to the bellyachers.  He simply affirms his right to do as he pleases.  He calls them FRIEND & reminds them they were hired to work all day for a denarius.  What’s fair is that all the workers agreed to work for a wage that was RIGHT. Legally, none of them have a right to bellyache.

The LANDOWNER rightly exposed the real motive of the complainers.  They were not trying to right a wrong or insist on what was fair, they were simply ENVIOUS.  The LANDOWNER was GENEROUS, not unfair.

God’s grace is not going to fit your idea of “fair.”

          Some people interpret this parable as a comparison of people who accept Jesus early in life and those who are saved late in life.  That’s a mistake because the center of the parable is the actions of the LANDOWNER, not the workers.  The main point is about the generosity of the employer.

God is the hero of this parable or it is just a strange little story that’s hard to figure out.  It’s really simple and rather obvious when we put our attention where it belongs; on the LANDOWNER.  Then we see that he was more interested in being generous than in meeting someone’s self-centered notions of what is fair.

This parable contradicts Peter’s very natural but wrong assumption that we can earn our way into heaven.  We like to think that we are somehow very deserving of the eternal life God offers.  We’d like to believe that all these good deeds, the hours of service, have somehow made us worthy.

That’s a worldly and self-serving point of view and something we must unlearn.  We are saved by grace, nothing else.  Grace is God giving us what we don’t deserve (eternal life) and not giving us what we do deserve (eternal death). So whatever notions we have about fairness are likely to be self-serving, not real.

The application of the teaching gets at the motive that powers our work in church or in the community.  Any motive based on earning us something is not a God-centered motive.  We need to do what we do because we love God and His people.  Motives that begin with a love of self should always be suspect.  God has promised heavenly rewards for our good works, but it is still up to Him to decide what those works are and who truly deserves them.

In commenting on this passage, William Barclay wrote, “In the Christian church seniority does not necessarily mean honor.”  We’ve all heard church people – who ought to know better – recite their achievements and investments in the church as reasons for expecting to be heard and heeded.

The Bible does not support that kind of pride.  Either we do things out of love or, like Peter, we do them expecting to rewarded with power and influence.  It’s wrong to think experience or education qualifies us to lord over one another, earning us some kind of status in the church or in heaven.

In those moments we are very far from Jesus, who said His mission was service, not self-service.  In the very next chapter (Matthew 20:28) Jesus said, “THE SON OF MAN DID NOT COME TO BE SERVED, BUT TO SERVE, AND TO GIVE HIS LIFE AS A RANSOM FOR MANY.”  When we go on about our “rights,” and what we “deserve,” we’re grieving the Holy Spirit and are guilty of hypocrisy.  It is better by far to copy the attitude of Jesus; His humility and self-sacrifice.  It is better by far to rely on His AMAZING GRACE than our puny works.

 

RESOURCES:

Message #32

“Our Unfair God,” Ministry magazine (pp. 14-16), Gary Moyer

The Story of God Bible Commentary: Matthew, Rodney Reeves

The Savior You Need

jesus

Please read Revelation 1:4-20 in your Bible.  I used the NIV (1984) to prepare this article.

If you were asked, “What kind of savior do you want?”  How would you reply?  Some would question whether they need a savior at all.  Many people assume they’re good enough to deserve a place in heaven or deny that heaven exists at all.

Biblically, we know that is nonsense.  No one is good enough, because God’s standard is perfection and none of us can live up to that.  We all need a savior as human nature alone keeps us out of heaven.

In an article entitled, “Why do I need a Savior?” Eric Segalini compared human nature with the famous literary character Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Hyde.  After a disturbing dream, Robert Louis Stevenson wrote feverishly for days to complete the book.  Segalini sees the dual nature of the title character as illustrating the dual nature of every human being.

Dr. Jekyll is a symbol of the polite, public side of most people while Mr. Hyde is the private side that we want to “hide” from others.  You recall that the story revolves around the good doctor’s experiments leading to a formula that split his personality and transformed him physically.

Eventually, the brutal Mr. Hyde committed murder.  His evil alter ego showed up at bad times and fought Dr. Jekyll for dominance.  It was Hyde that murdered, but Jekyll was no less guilty.  The two personalities shared the guilt, and that’s how we can show everyone needs a Savior without having to open our Bible.  Every person with enough sense to be honest must concede to having their own Mr. Hyde.

Segalini concludes: “Instead of leaving us to the harsh demands of justice, Jesus stepped in on our behalf. He extended both justice and mercy. He offered to be our Savior.

“If we come to Jesus in surrender, sick by our sin and certain of justice’s demands, He will take our place.

“In exchange for our sin, Jesus gives us love, gives us hope, gives us Himself.

“Things didn’t end well for Jekyll, by the way. He kept thinking he had Hyde under control, but they both wound up dead.

“The good Dr. Jekyll disappeared first.

“Jekyll and Hyde’s case is not as strange as the novel’s title suggests. The problem isn’t out there; the problem is me.

“I know what I need, like it or not. I need a Savior.

“Because my dark side lurks. And so does yours.”

(https://www.cru.org/us/en/how-to-know-god/why-i-need-a-savior.html)

We learned Wednesday night at our Study of Proverbs that the “foolish” or ungodly person is self-deceived.  They have rejected God on the basis of the mistaken belief that they are OK all on their own.  This is a difficult deception to dislodge.  Once the problem of sin becomes personal, the search for the Savior can rightly begin.

Only the Son of Man is powerful enough to save us.

The descriptions of Jesus in Revelation 1 point to a powerful being.

REVIEW

Vs. 4 + 8 = HIM WHO IS, WHO WAS, WHO IS TO COME.

V. 4 = He is enthroned = He exercises His authority.

V. 5 = THE FAITHFUL WITNESS = He is trustworthy and truthful.

V. 5 = FIRSTBORN OF THE DEAD = He leads us to life.

V. 5 = RULER OF THE KINGS OF THE EARTH = He triumphs.

V. 6 = He MADE US TO BE A KINGDOM AND PRIESTS TO SERVE HIS GOD AND FATHER = He delegates power for service.

V. 6 = TO HIM BE GLORY AND POWER FOR EVER AND EVER!

V. 7 = HE IS COMING WITH THE CLOUDS = Just as He ascended.

V. 7 = ALL THE PEOPLES OF THE EARTH WILL MOURN BECAUSE OF HIM = Self-condemned people will lost.

V. 8 = ALPHA AND OMEGA, FIRST AND LAST (v. 17)

V. 8 = THE ALMIGHTY = Jesus has all power.

V. 13 = “LIKE A SON OF MAN” = Jesus is divinely empowered.

V. 13 = DRESSED IN A ROBE REACHING DOWN TO HIS FEET.

V. 13 = WITH A GOLDEN SASH AROUND HIS CHEST.

V. 14 = HIS HEAD AND HAIR WERE WHITE LIKE WOOL, AS WHITE AS SNOW = Jesus has a purity of spirit.

V. 14 = HIS EYES WERE LIKE A BLAZING FIRE = He judges fairly.

V. 15 = HIS FEET WERE LIKE BRONZE GLOWING IN A FURNACE.

V. 15 = HIS VOICE WAS LIKE THE SOUND OF RUSHING WATERS.

V. 16 = IN HIS RIGHT HAND HE HELD SEVEN STARS.

NEW

V. 16 = OUT OF HIS MOUTH CAME A SHARP DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD.

A SHARP DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD is a biblical symbol of judgment. Hebrews 4:12 is the example of how the word of God cuts through the externals and reveals a person’s true self: FOR THE WORD OF GOD IS LIVING AND ACTIVE. SHARPER THAN ANY DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD, IT PENETRATES EVEN TO DIVIDING SOUL AND SPIRIT, JOINTS AND MARROW; IT JUDGES THE THOUGHTS AND ATTITUDES OF THE HEART.  As words come out of a person’s MOUTH, this is an obvious symbol of Jesus’ pronouncing judgment.

V. 16 = HIS FACE WAS LIKE THE SUN SHINING IN ALL ITS BRILLIANCE.

This reminds us of the account of Jesus’ Transfiguration (see Matthew 17; Mark 9; Luke 9), where we read THERE HE WAS TRANSFIGURED BEFORE THEM.  HIS FACE SHONE LIKE THE SUN, AND HIS CLOTHES BECAME AS WHITE AS THE LIGHT.  In the Bible, the presence of God is often described as a brilliant light and is called the “glory” of God.  Artists have illustrated this brilliance by painting a halo around the head of Jesus.

The descriptions of Jesus in Revelation 1 point to a Savior.

V. 5 = HIM WHO LOVES US AND HAS FREED US FROM OUR SINS BY HIS BLOOD.

LOVE is something easily claimed; it is proven by sacrifice for the beloved.  That’s why John’s claim Jesus loves us is paired with the greatest evidence; His self-sacrifice for us.  Jesus demonstrated His love by freeing us from slavery to our sin nature and from the penalty for our sins.  His death on the cross did it.

In the Old Testament, blood sacrifice was the God-given means to forgive sin. As Paul explained in HBS 9:22, “In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of there is no forgiveness.”  When Jesus came, God did not just drop that system.  He accepted Jesus’ blood as the final and perfect sacrifice, satisfying forever the demand for blood. In 1 John 1:7 it is written, “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.”

V. 7 = EVERY EYE WILL SEE HIM, EVEN THOSE WHO PIERCED HIM.

This is borrowed from Zechariah 12:10: THEY WILL LOOK ON ME, THE ONE THEY HAVE PIERCED.  This verse tells us two things about the Second Coming.  One, everyone will see Jesus at the same time.  This is possible because He is God and is present everywhere at once.  Two, to people who reject Him, it will be a sudden reversal of what they expected.  This will be as Jesus warned in Matthew 24:37-38 and Luke 17:27; “People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all.”

It’s natural to expect things to continue in the way we’re used to – some people can be quite insistent on it – but people of faith are supposed to know better.  Jesus’ Second Coming will bring about the completed work of God and with it, a complete change to life and the world as we know it.

V. 18 = THE LIVING ONE: “I WAS DEAD AND BEHOLD I AM ALIVE FOR EVER AND EVER!”

His death on the cross is not the end of Jesus’ story.  He does not remain dead, but is alive; THE LIVING ONE.  This expression is used of God the Father, enthroned in Revelation 4:10 and 10:6.  We have identical descriptions of God the Father and God the Son, showing they are as one.  Jesus was not defeated by death; He lives and defeated death: THE LAST ENEMY TO BE DEFEATED IS DEATH. (1 Corinthians 15:26)

V. 18 = “I HOLD T KEYS OF DEATH & HADES.”

Biblically, KEYS are a symbol of authority.  In Matthew 16:19 Jesus said to Peter, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

Jesus holds two keys.  One is the key to DEATH.  The One who has authority over DEATH has the authority to give life.  The other is the key to HADES.  This Greek word refers to a place where the spirits of the dead reside until the Second Coming.  It is equivalent to the Hebrew word sheol; it is not a place of torment; it is just a kind of residence or holding area.  This is consistent between Jewish beliefs and Greek mythology.

Only the Son of Man is powerful enough to save us.

          Another way to approach the self-reliant person is to invite them to think about what they have based their self-view on.  A person’s self-worth is likely based on these five areas:

  1. Approval from others.
  2. Appearance.
  3. Achievement.
  4. Your character.
  5. Your faith.

The first three items on that list are material, worldly, and temporary.  Character takes some time to form and good character takes the Holy Spirit and some effort on our part to achieve, but can still be subject to compromise and change.  It’s only the fifth   item that is unchanging and reliable.

Here’s a new thought: what we believe about Jesus Christ is the only good basis for what we believe about ourselves.  It is ironic, but a faithful focus on Jesus is the surest foundation for our self-image.

Here in Revelation 1, we have seen the divine side of Jesus emphasized.  We have had our hope in Him renewed by focusing on the Second Coming.  When we center our life on the person of Jesus, we will be less invested in what others think of us, how we appear to them, what worldly achievements we have piled up, and even our own personal growth.  What should be most determinative of who we are is who Jesus is.  When we seek to duplicate Jesus in what we say and do, one of the beneficial effects is that we find freedom from worries about anything this world says about us.  The truth sets us free!

 

Resources:

The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, Leon Morris