Honest Loafers

Please read 1 Corinthians 5:6-8 in your Bible.

Honest Loafers (1)Image by James Best, (C) 2020, https://www.behance.net/gallery/90621713/Sermon-Illustrations-2020

      As I prepared this week’s message, I was determined to avoid mentioning COVID-19 entirely.  I want our worship time to give all of us a respite from the wearying anxiety caused by talking heads intent on making it an apocalypse for some form of personal gain.

Obviously in the world in which the Apostle Paul lived there was no knowledge of viruses and how they spread.  He used a familiar symbol – yeast – to describe how sin can work its way through a church.  So rather that mention COVID-19 even once, we’re going to make use of Paul’s symbolism instead!

CONTEXT – Paul’s letters to the church in Corinth dealt with a number of issues on which the church members had been divided.  Ironically, chapter five focuses on an issue in which they were united, but in the wrong.  There was an act of gross immorality among members of the church (v. 1).  Instead of confronting and condemning those involved, they were inexplicably PROUD of the sin (v. 2).  Paul promised he would deal correctly with this problem when he arrived if they did not get to it themselves (v. 3).  In our passage, Paul explained why it was disastrous for the church to condone sin and coddle sinners.

The Passover Lamb died to save us from sin, not to salve sinners.

  1. Dishonest loaves are corrupted by yeast.

The prohibition of yeast goes back to the original Passover.  In Exodus 12:14-20 we read God’s instructions for an annual Feast of Unleavened Bread, to be held on the week following the Passover.  This was a commemorative event.

However, the prohibition of yeast began as a practical consideration, unique to the historical moment that the Hebrew slaves left Egypt.  In Exodus 12:33-34 it is written, THE EGYPTIANS URGED THE PEOPLE TO HURRY AND LEAVE THE COUNTRY, “FOR OTHERWISE,” THE SAID, “WE WILL ALL DIE!”  SO THE PEOPLE TOOK THEIR DOUGH BEFORE THE YEAST WAS ADDED, AND CARRIED IT ON THEIR SHOULDERS IN KNEADING TROUGHS WRAPPED IN CLOTHING. All of this happened DURING THE NIGHT (31).  None of the slaves wanted to wait until morning for the dough to rise, so they didn’t add any yeast, but left Egypt as soon as possible.  The Egyptians didn’t want the Hebrews to wait around either – they were afraid for their lives!

The Apostle Paul, like Jesus, used yeast as a symbol of unresolved sin.  Jesus used it in Matthew 16:1-12, where He warned His disciples to be wary of the influence of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.  Every baker knows that when mixing dough, the amount of yeast is a lot smaller than the amount of flour and other ingredients, yet that yeast multiplies and has an effect on the whole loaf.  Similarly, the falsehoods of these hypocrites seemed very religious but would had a corrupting influence on one’s spiritual life.

In our passage,Paul used the same symbolism in regard to their ill-advised pride over a conspicuous sin. He wrote, DON’T YOU KNOW THAT A LITTLE YEAST WORKS THROUGH THE WHOLE BATCH OF DOUGH? and GET RID OF THE OLD YEAST THAT YOU MAY BE A NEW BATCH WITHOUT YEAST – AS YOU REALLY ARE.

The OLD YEAST is a symbol of sin and worldliness, vices like MALICE and WICKEDNESS.  Bread made without the OLD YEAST is characterized as having SINCERITY and TRUTH.

  1. Honest loaves are saved by sacrifice.

The practice of sacrificing a lamb goes back to the original Passover.  God commanded a year-old male sheep or goat be sacrificed at TWILIGHT, the beginning of the feast day He called the PASSOVER (Exodus 12:3-6).

Only on the very first occasion, the original Passover, the blood of the sacrifice was to be collected and painted on the door frames of the houses (Exodus 12:7).  The blood was a SIGN for those within the house that they would be spared the plague of the death of the firstborn (Exodus 12:12-3).  On that night, the angel of death passed over the houses where the door frames were marked with blood.

Under the New Covenant, sin is resolved by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, our Passover Lamb.  Several New Testament passages, identify Jesus as a “lamb.”

In John 1:29, John the Baptist used this symbolism:

THE NEXT DAY JOHN SAW JESUS COMING TOWARD HIM AND SAID, “LOOK, THE LAMB OF GOD, WHO TAKES AWAY THE SIN OF THE WORLD!”  In 1 Peter 1:9 Peter wrote about THE PRECIOUS BLOOD OF CHRIST, A LAMB WITHOUT BLEMISH OR DEFECT.  In Revelation, John used a LAMB as a symbol for Christ 31 times.

The New Testament confirms Jesus is the sacrifice for our sins, but only Paul specifically identifies Him as the “Passover Lamb.”  Paul’s purpose was to use the Feast of Unleavened Bread in a symbolic way to explain what Jesus has done for us.  The symbolism is fitting as there are similarities between the Passover lamb and Jesus.

The first is purity.  The lamb had to be WITHOUT BLEMISH – that is, having no physical defect.  Jesus was sinless, the human equivalent of being WITHOUT BLEMISH.

The second is function as a blood sacrifice.  Being under the lamb’s blood saved the firstborn of Israel.  By faith, we place ourselves under the blood of Jesus and are saved.

The third is having bones unbroken.  In His commands regarding the Passover meal, God made it clear that the bones of the lamb should not be broken.  In the John’s Gospel, it is clear Jesus’ bones were not broken after His death on the cross (John 19:33-36).  The significance of unbroken bones is not clear to me at the moment, but an educated guess would be respect for the sacrifice.

The Passover Lamb died to save us from sin, not to salve sinners.

When Paul wrote, LET US KEEP THE FESTIVAL he wasn’t thinking only of the Feast of Unleavened Bread.  Continuing his use of that FESTIVAL as a symbol, he referred to the entirety of our life in Christ.  The way we do that is having a similar attitude toward sin that the Israelites were to have toward yeast.  In Exodus, they were commanded to get the yeast entirely out of the house; to have a “zero tolerance policy” toward it.  That’s what our attitude toward sin should be.

Unfortunately, our first instinct is to look around for someone on whom this policy can be enforced.  This policy starts with self first.  Jesus made it clear we don’t complain about the speck in someone else’s eye while we look cross-eyed around the log in our own eye.  He used that silly image to put His followers on notice: clean the yeast out of your own house first.  Help others to do the same only as the Holy Spirit directs you and only in loving, positive ways.

 

RESOURCES:

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, #10, W. Harold Mare

The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, Pfeiffer and Harrison

 

Worthy Worker (Part Two)

Please read 2 Timothy 2:14-26 in your Bible.

Pastor at the Construction Site_v03 (1)Image by James Best, (C) 2020, https://www.behance.net/gallery/90621713/Sermon-Illustrations-2020

      I want to start by asking you to put on your thinking caps.  I’m going to read a variation of the classic “Trolley Problem” and ask you to record your response on your bulletin.

You are part of a seven man crew working on a section of railroad track.  You happen to be standing at a switch and notice that a out of control train barreling down the track. Directly ahead on the tracks are five of your coworkers who do not see the train that is headed straight for them. On a side track is one of your crewmates who has his back to the oncoming train.  There is no time to warn them as they’re all wearing noise-cancelling headphones.  If you pull the lever right next to you, the trolley will switch to the side track. You have two options:

  1. Do nothing and allow the train to kill the five people on the main track.
  2. Pull the lever, diverting the train onto the side track where it will kill one person.

You have to decide in a split second what to do.  What is the right thing to do?  Write a one or two on a piece of paper.  We will come back to this situation later.

For now, we’ll complete our look at being a Worthy Worker by observing that discerning right from wrong and choosing to do right is very much at heart of our worthiness.  God finds people of true faith to be useful to Him in the work of expanding His Kingdom.  This passage tells us how.

Our aim is to be worthy workers.

  1. Two examples of unworthy workers. (16-19)

Be alert: evil can grow in a church just as it can anywhere.  In v. 16, Paul warned THOSE WHO INDULGE IN [GODLESS CHATTER] GROW MORE AND MORE UNGODLY.  GODLESS CHATTER feeds negativity and encourages divisive sins of the tongue like gossip, complaining, and back-biting.  As we said in part one, CHATTER may sound harmless, but it is not.  It results in greater ungodliness.

In v. 17, Paul wrote that UNGODLY TEACHING WILL SPREAD LIKE GANGRENE.  GANGRENE is a flesh-rotting disease (one form of which is fatal in 48 hours), so Paul could hardly have chosen a more repulsive image to describe the effect of UNGODLY TEACHING.  He identified two people who were among the UNGODLY in Timothy’s church: HYMANAEUS and PHILETUS.  Who were these people?

In 1 Timothy 1:20 Hymaneus was one of two people whom Paul HANDED OVER TO SATAN TO BE TAUGHT NOT TO BLASPHEME (Alexander was the other).  This probably meant they were put out of the church in Ephesus for serious errors in their teaching.  PHILETUS is not named in 1 Timothy 1:20, nor anywhere else in the Bible.   He apparently joined Hymaneus and Alexander in their error and suffered the same penalty.  Putting them out of the church is somewhat similar to the treatment for GANGRENE; surgical removal of the bad tissue, usually in the form of amputation.  For the survival of the body, the bad parts have to be cut off.

Their sin was to HAVE WANDERED AWAY FROM THE TRUTH.  The word WANDERED is an unfortunate choice for translation of the Greek word that means “missed the mark, deviated, or went astray.”  “Wandered” allows for an accidental deviation when Hymaneus and Philetus chose to believe an error, and worse, talked others into believing the same error.

Specifically, their false teaching was stating THAT THE RESURRECTION HAS ALREADY TAKEN PLACE.  Paul does not explain their false teaching, merely noting that it attacked the most central teaching of the Christian faith: resurrection.  (See 1 Corinthians 15:12-19, where Paul vigorously defends the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, our personal resurrection, and the importance of these doctrines.)  What they did with this false teaching and how many people were taken in by it are details we are not meant to know.  It is sufficient for us to know that it was false and that it had a negative effect on the church in Ephesus.

The effect of their falsehood was to DESTROY THE FAITH OF SOME.  The word DESTROY can also be translated as “overturn.”  It meant that the false teaching had so affected some people that they ceased to believe the truth.  The health of the entire church was threatened, even though only SOME of the members fell in with Hymaneus and Philetus.

The good news is, though evil people and other circumstances can challenge our faith, the FOUNDATION God has set remains SOLID.  This FOUNDATION is the undeniable facts of God’s existence and His reward of those who earnestly seek Him (Hebrews 11:6).

There are two promises of God’s protection of His people.  These promises are etched in the foundation like a cornerstone.

The first promise: THE LORD KNOWS THOSE WHO ARE HIS (Numbers 16:5).  God knows false teachers like Hymanaeus, Alexander, and Philetus.  While they may fool SOME of the people some of the time, they never fool God. God also knows everyone whose faith is real and based on the truth.  Remain faithful, and He will help you overcome and reward you when you do.

EVERYONE WHO CONFESSES THE NAME OF THE LORD MUST TURN FROM ALL WICKEDNESS. Here Paul paraphrased Numbers 16:26.  Though we do not do good in order to be saved, we do good in order to demonstrate our salvation, the change Jesus has made in our lives. A commitment to discipleship is part of the faith that saves.  As we learned again last week, turning away from wickedness is half of being a worthy worker.  The other half is pursuing good. Sometimes TURNING FROM ALL WICKEDNESS involves separating ourselves from people and sometimes it requires us to avoid places or circumstances that tempt us to do wrong.

  1. An illustration with household items. (20-21)

Paul contrasted two kinds of household items.  In order to understand the illustration, we must first see the LARGE HOUSE is as a symbol of the world in which we live.  In this world, people are either living for the Lord or not.  God made all of them, but not all of the people in the world are useful for God’s purposes. In many of our homes, we have one set of dishes for special occasions and another set for everyday use.  All the dishes are useful for serving food, but some of them are reserved for special uses.  The contrast between noble and ignoble ARTICLES (pots, bottles, pans, etc.) is a contrast of spiritual status and resulting usefulness to God.

The ones used for NOBLE PURPOSES are made of GOLD AND SILVER.  They are less numerous but more valuable in the sight of the Lord.  In the world, some people are “gold and silver” because they have faith and are obedient to God’s will.  Timothy is an example of a “noble article.”

The ones used for IGNOBLE purposes are made of WOOD AND CLAY.  These are common, worldly, and less valuable pieces.  They are not useful to God because they refuse faith and practice disobedience.  Hymenaeus, Alexander and Philetus are examples of “ignoble articles.”

Paul used similar imagery in Romans 9:21 = DOES NOT THE POTTER HAVE THE RIGHT TO MAKE OUT OF THE SAME LUMP OF CLAY SOME POTTERY FOR NOBLE PURPOSES AND SOME FOR COMMON USE?  The phrase THE SAME LUMP OF CLAY indicates that we share a common humanity.  Tragically, we do not share a common destiny.  As Jesus observed in Matthew 7:13-14, there will always be more people who do not refuse faith and service to the Lord.

Like a handy kitchen gadget, a follower of Jesus becomes a fit INSTRUMENT FOR NOBLE PURPOSES when he has, with God, cleansed himself from IGNOBLE PURPOSES.  NOBLE refers to doing what God has called you to do.  It is NOBLE to be obedient to God.  IGNOBLE refers to doing what you selfishly want to do, or what the world wants you to do; all kinds of disobedience.  Moreover, IGNOBLE refers to sinful acts because Paul wrote that the worthy worker must be CLEANSED of it before he is useful to the MASTER.

Having been cleansed, the worker is MADE HOLY and is thereby USEFUL TO THE MASTER AND PREPARED TO DO ANY GOOD WORK.  In this world household items never CLEANSE themselves (wouldn’t it be great to have dishes that washed themselves?!) and neither do people – not on their own, anyway.  God cleanses us from sin and its effects, but He waits for us to repent and ask His forgiveness.

This cleansing is part of what Paul means when he says we are to be MADE HOLY.  Moral purity is part of holiness and the other part is being set apart from worldly and ungodly things to spiritual maturity and godliness.

People who are MADE HOLY are then USEFUL to God, just as clean pots & pans are useful to a cook.  People who are MADE HOLY are PREPARED TO DO ANY GOOD WORK.  Truly good works begin with holiness.

Our aim is to be worthy workers.

      Let’s return to the train problem.  You may be interested to know that this is not merely an intellectual exercise, In 2003 Union Pacific dispatchers in Los Angeles, CA had to make a decision very much like this one.

Did you choose #1?  Five people are dead.

Did you choose #2?  Only one person is dead and you are among the 90% of people who made this choice when presented with this problem.

Did you make no choice or want to know more about the six people on the tracks before deciding?  Then five people are dead because you hesitated too long at the switch.  Not deciding is making a decision.

My point here is that everything you’ve done, every choice you’ve made, everything you believe goes into making that decision about the switch.  Life doesn’t always conveniently present us with choices that include a lot of time for research and weighing out values and deciding on priorities.

Spiritually maturing people will know God’s leading before the train starts barreling down the tracks.  They will have studied the word, been faithful in prayer, and experienced in good deeds.  In so doing, they will have replaced sinful instincts with godly ones and are better equipped to do, as Paul promised, every good work.

 

RESOURCES:

Zondervan Bible Commentary, Alan G. Nute

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, #11, Ralph Earle

A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, Walter Bauer.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trolley_problem

 

Wide Receivers

Thanksgiving_finalPlease read 1 Timothy 4:1-5 in your Bible.

          For lots of people, football is part of their Thanksgiving Day traditions.  In my childhood years, turkey and football were a sedative that put the men to sleep while the women cleaned up the feast.  Ah, the good old days…

Of course, true football fans celebrate the sport all year round and in many different ways.  Here’s my top ten ways to tell who’s a true football fan.

#10 = They are so desperate, they watch draft day, the Hall of Fame game and the Pro Bowl.

#9 = Signs of their team are all around them: on their clothes, homes, cars.

#8 = They will have at least one player’s autograph on some bit of team merchandise.

#7 = Goes through cycles of tension during plays and relaxation between plays.

#6 = Knows team trivia and can argue statistics to prove his team is the greatest.

#5 = Plans vacations around attending games in person.

#4 = Believes the team has only three kinds of teams; his team, everybody else, and his team’s hated rival.

#3 = Has strong opinions on rules and officiating, even knowing several officials by name.

#2 = Does not use the bathroom until halftime.

#1 = Has at least one story of how he broke something in a moment of celebration or sharp disappointment.

In part, Thanksgiving Day is about being grateful for what we have received.  Today’s title, “Wide Receivers” is both a nod to football and an invitation to open your hearts to receive the wideness of God’s gifts and be appropriately grateful for all of them.

CONTEXT: This truth was revealed to Paul directly by the Holy Spirit, as he clearly said in verse one.  The phrase LATER TIMES refers to the time preceding the Second Coming of Jesus, including Paul’s time and our own; this is not a future event.

Thankfulness accompanies true faith.

  1. Forbidding folk follow false faith and foist it on their fellows (vs. 1-3).

Obvious opponents of our faith abandon it entirely.  They stand mostly outside the Church.  The Holy Spirit made it clear to Paul that their beliefs are from DECEIVING SPIRITS and DEMONS.  In John 8:44 Jesus referred to the Devil as THE FATHER OF ALL LIES: every falsehood finds its origin in spiritual evil.  This is in sharp contrast to the earlier reference to the Holy Spirit as the source of Paul’s true teaching.

Based on these beliefs, they abandon the faith: whether they abandon the Church or not, the truth does not find a home in what they teach. Much of the New Testament was written to expose and oppose false teachers.  It was a huge problem as our faith developed over the first four centuries after Christ.

Subtle opponents of our faith squelch it with legalism.  These false teachers are HYPOCRITICAL LIARS.  While the obvious opponents may not bother to have a pretense of faith, the subtle opponents wear church like a mask.  In fact, the Greek word “hypocrite” means “actor.”   Ancient Greek actors wore masks with built-in megaphones!

These false teachers knew enough of the truth to give a reasonable showing but only believed and practiced what they wanted.  Paul showed they could be identified by two things.

First, they had SEARED CONSCIENCES, which means hard-heartedness.  The word SEARED could be rendered as  “cauterized.”  If you’ve ever had a problem with scar tissue, you know how the dense flesh caused by a healed wound can interfere with healthy tissues and subsequent procedures in that area of your body.  Hard-heartedness is a spiritual condition where a person has made themself insensitive to God, to others, and the ethical obligations due to God and others.

Second, they were given to legalism.  In this case, they were legalistic about marriage and some foods.  Legalism is any belief that mimics godliness but is without God’s grace.  It replaces righteousness with rules.  Legalism is a religious-sounding attempt to manipulate others out of evil motives like pride, power, or money.

Marriage is something God instituted in the first days of creation.  He called it GOOD.  Contrary to that, these false teachers set up a rule that people who are holier-than-thou are celibate.  Making a choice not to marry in order to devote more time to God can be a good thing (Paul himself said so in 1 Corinthians 7:1-7) but it is not a choice others make for you.

These false teachers were also ordering people to ABSTAIN FROM CERTAIN FOODS.  Again, this is a rule they made up, it was not a command from God.  In the Old Testament Law, CERTAIN FOODS were forbidden.  But God revoked the dietary laws in Acts 10:9-15.  (See also Galatians 5:1-6.)  This was not a

  1. Faithful folk consecrate things by means of thanksgiving (vs. 3-5).

Faithful folk understand the truth and abide by it.  In this passage, the truth is two-fold.

The first truth is, EVERYTHING GOD CREATED IS GOOD.  That is the clear message of the first chapter of Genesis.  God approved of everything He created.

Keep the context in mind: this truth was affirmed in the face of legalists who were saying the things they chose to be bad were God’s choices too.  False!  EVERYTHING is a key word.  EVERYTHING GOD CREATED IS GOOD is a universal rebuttal of their legalistic scheme that condemned things that God approved.

The second truth is, the practice of thanksgiving has the power to make things holy.  This is our main point today.  WOW!  Thanksgiving is not just a sentiment; it is a powerful force that turns evil into good, unholy things into holy things.  Let’s see how:

The people who wield the power of THANKSGIVING are identified in verse three as THOSE WHO BELIEVE AND KNOW THE TRUTH.  In the same vein as EVERYTHING, verse four also says NOTHING; NOTHING IS TO BE REJECTED.  The word REJECTED means to throw something in the trash; to treat it like garbage.  The false laws and the unnecessary self-denial the false teachers were selling was contrary to the will of God.  NOTHING was to be rejected in the way they were proposing. This is the same message as the voice from heaven that said to the Apostle Peter, “DO NOT CALL ANYTHING IMPURE THAT GOD MADE CLEAN.” (Acts 10:15).  We do not make the rules; God does.  We obey and help others to obey, but we are not free to make up stuff to suit our personalities or passions.

Note the word IF.  Here’s the condition under which NOTHING IS TO BE REJECTED: IF IT IS RECEIVED WITH THANKSGIVING.  To receive something with THANKSGIVING is to recognize it as a gift from God and to be appropriately grateful.  Thanksgiving is entirely God-centered.  This means six things:

– It is an act of worship as we pray and tell God thank you for His generous grace.

– It is an act of fellowship as we join with other believers to express our praise.

– It is an act of stewardship to put His gifts to the most wise and righteous use.

– It is an act of service as we share God’s supply with those in need.

– It is a witness to persons outside our faith when they see our loving service.

– It is instruction to our children and to new believers when they see both God’s generosity and our joyous sharing of it.

Verse five explains how THANKSGIVING has such transformational power: BECAUSE IT IS CONSECRATED BY THE WORD OF GOD AND PRAYER.  To consecrate something is to make it holy, to set it apart from worldly uses for distinctly divine uses.  Consecration is done BY THE WORD OF GOD AND PRAYER.  When we rely on God’s revelation in all parts of life, we turn what is worldly and mundane into something heavenly and special.  The same is true of prayer.  When prayers for wisdom and guidance precede our everyday decisions and when prayers of thanksgiving follow everyday experiences, those things become something spiritual and special.

Thankfulness accompanies true faith.

          The point simply is this: Thanksgiving Day can be an exercise in sentimentality, a tradition that is available to people of all faiths.  That’s perfectly fine.

However, for followers of Jesus Christ, thanksgiving is to be a daily practice.  It is to be a God-centered approach to life that has the fantastic power to bring life to faith.  This is obviously not seasonal or limited to one day a week, but is something we choose to do as often as possible.

We began by poking fun at football fans.  We’ll conclude with the three things we’ve noted about Jesus followers and how they enact thankfulness.

1) They see all of life as being God-centered.

2) They see God’s blessings as empowerment for service and witness.

3) They receive God’s gifts with gratitude.

God bless your thanksgiving celebrations.  God bless you as you enact transformational thanksgiving every day.

 

Resources:

Message #1312

Worth the Wait

patience

<Image retrieved from http://bookboon.com/blog/2017/02/patience-important-soft-skill/.>

Please use your favorite Bible to read Isaiah 30:18-26.  In a momentary departure from the usual, I’ve used the NRSV to prepare my remarks.

Wait for it – God will dispense perfect justice.

Today we’re going to talk about patience.  I am always grateful for the opportunity to TALK about patience but aren’t always as appreciative of the opportunity to practice it.  Patience is a virtue, but not everyone understands it in the same way, as illustrated by the following quotes on the subject of patience.

+ “At my age, patience is not a virtue… it’s a luxury.”  – Erma Bombeck, humorist

+ “You can learn many things from children… how much patience you have for instance.”- Franklin Jones, businessman & humorist

+ “Patience and diligence, like faith, can move mountains. – William Penn

+ “Patience is something you admire in the driver behind you and scorn in the one ahead.” – Mac McCleary

+ “I am patient with stupidity but not with those who are proud of it.” – Edith Sitwell English biographer, critic, novelist & poet

+ “Opportunity knocks but once, but misfortune has much more patience.” – Dr. Laurence J. Peter, educator & writer

+ “Patience is what you have when there are too many witnesses.” – Anonymous

+ “Genius is patience.”  – Sir Isaac Newton

+ “Patience is not the ability to wait but the ability to maintain a good attitude while waiting.”  – Anonymous

An even better understanding of patience can be found in Isaiah 30:18.  It is an unusual verse in that it explains the patience of God and commands His people to follow His example.  There are texts aplenty to be cited to support either of those propositions, but to find both in one verse is, to my knowledge unique.

  1. The general principle: God graciously waits for our repentance; we must patiently wait for His justice (v. 18).

God waits for us to repent; He graciously gives us a lifetime of opportunities because He wants to be merciful.  Mercy tempers JUSTICE.  God is just, but He waits for people to repent and be saved. Justice delayed is not justice denied.  God’s justice will be perfect and universal and complete when it happens.  Peter also explains what seems like a delay in God completing his plan.  (See 2 Peter 2:8-9.) God’s holiness demands justice be completed, so this is a limited time offer.

This prophecy has an immediate and ultimate fulfillment.  The immediate recipients were the people of Judah.   They were to be faithful until He delivered them from Babylon.  The ultimate recipients of this promise are all those who love God and are called according to His purpose.  Judgment Day comes at the end of human history and is the day of ultimate justice.

  1. A specific example: God’s promises to His people (vs. 19-26).

This section explains and expands on the promises of vs. 15-18 by applying the principle to the situation in which the Judahites found themselves.  The people of Judah were captives in a foreign land and they would be for 70 years. It was a situation so far outside our own experience we can’t imagine how lonely and forsaken what that must’ve felt.

But – and this is the important part – God had not forsaken his people.   He made promises to them to motivate their faithful endurance.  We will examine each of them, noting the immediate and ultimate fulfillments we see.

Promise #1 = No more tears (19).  Restored to their homeland, the Jews would have no more reason to WEEP.  This promise fits perfectly with Revelation 21: 4, where God promises to wipe every tear from their eyes.

Promise #2 = God hears and answers prayer (19).  We should never use the expression “unanswered prayer.”  Verses like this assure us God hears and answers them all.  His answer may be “yes,” “no,” or “hold, please,” but those are all answers.  Seventy years is a lifetime to most of us, but even if you have to wait a lifetime, the point is that God responds at just the right time to the cries of His people.

Promise #3 = He sends ADVERSITY and AFFLICTION only for a limited time (20).  BREAD and WATER are the usual fare of prisoners of war.  Isaiah uses them as metaphors of the trials we face in life. The end of the Jews’ Babyloninan trial would be the appearance of their TEACHER (the Messiah).  This was fulfilled in Jesus’ first coming.  For us, the ultimate fulfillment of this prophecy is that our trials will end at the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

Promise #4 = He will guide you (21).  The emphasis here is not on the fact that God would be willing to guide them for that had always been the case.  The emphasis is on the degree of their repentance; they will at last listen and heed God’s guidance.  They will no longer ignore God and thereby wander off the path.

Promise #5 = He will meet your needs (23-25).  The references to RAIN, SEED, GROUND, GRAIN, CATTLE, PASTURES, OXEN, DONKEYS, SILAGE, and RUNNING WATER all sound worldly, like God is offering prosperity in return for loyalty.  It is a mistake to see these verses in such materialistic terms.  Instead, this promise has two less obvious meanings.

One, it is a promise to the Jews that they will be restored to their land.  In Judaism, the land is of central importance.  It was the Promised Land and to be out of it – even for just 70 years – was the worst sign of God’s having forsaken them.  To return to it was a sign of forgiveness.

Two, it is a promise that God would provide all they needed to survive.  Everything from SEED to GRAIN comes from God.  If we think our brains and strength are the means by which we provide for ourselves, we had better stop and remember who gave us brains and strength in the first place.

Promise #6 = In fact, God’s care will be so complete that even the DAY OF SLAUGHTER will not be a thing to be feared (25).  Referring to something like a DAY OF SLAUGHTER and the falling of TOWERS seems out of place, a downbeat in a passage packed with positivity.  Instead, its realism.  In this world there will never be a time of ONLY good news.  Everything is a mix of pleasant and unpleasant, gain and loss, good and bad.

It is a warning, based on fallen human nature:

– Do not take God for granted during the days of prosperity.

– Do not turn to idols and give them the credit for days of ease.

– Do not repeat the sins of the generations that resulted in your current exile, for you will suffer a similarly disastrous outcome.

Promise #7 = Enlightenment (26).  The repeated use of the number seven is not an accidental one; it is a significant number in the Bible, starting with the seven days of creation.  It is a divine number.  Scientifically, I’m not sure that the sun shining with seven-fold intensity would be a good thing.  However, most of us would be happy to have the sun shine seven times more often than it seems to shine.  I think the point is that – along with everything else from SEED to GRAIN – God will provide abundant sunshine to make the crops grow.  This factor is singled out because sunshine is one part of the ag process over which we exercise no control.

Promise #8 = Healing (26).  The LORD is clearly the power behind the throne of Babylon.  Though it was Babylonian soldiers that overran Jerusalem, they achieved victory only because God allowed them to do so.  Just as God allowed his people to be injured and wounded, He will be the means of their healing.  He will personally bind up the hurts of His people.

Look verse twenty-two, for here we find the application of these truths, the human half of this promise-keeping: repentance. Verser twenty-two is clear that repentance involves throwing away your idols.  THEN YOU WILL DEFILE YOUR SILVER-COVERED IDOLS AND YOUR GOLD-PLATED IMAGES.  YOU WILL SCATTER GOLD-PLATED IMAGES.  YOU WILL SCATTER THEM LIKE FILTHY RAGS; YOU WILL SAY TO THEM, “AWAY WITH YOU.”

The references to the idols being plated with precious metals is meant to remind us that idols are things that look precious and important on the outside but are worthless and woody underneath.  Idols are always superficial things that have no lasting value.

Repentance involves rejection of idols.  This is not a casual attitude.  The word RAGS describes the most foul, defiled thing of which the writer could think.  Repentance involves an 1800 turn, hating and casting aside the sinful things we used to worship and adore.

Since most of us do not have silver or gold-covered statues set up on little altars at home, we have to think of “idols” in a more symbolic sense.  We need to think about the things in this life that we love but cause us to sin and worse, occupy the place in our life that God is supposed to take: first place.  Those are the things we have to cast out.

What are the gold-plated idols in your life?  Even good things like Family, friends, church, business, can all be idols.  When you pray, ask God to reveal them to you and be prepared to act on His response.

A Saintly Stepfather

(Please read Matthew 1:18-25 in your favorite Bible.  I have used the NIV as a basis for these remarks.)
There was the little boy who approached Santa in a department store with a long list of requests. He wanted a bicycle and a sled, a chemical set, a cowboy suit, a set of trains, a baseball glove and roller skates.
“That’s a pretty long list,” Santa said sternly. “I’ll have to check in my book and see if you were a good boy.”
“No, no,” the youngster said quickly. “Never mind checking. I’ll just take the roller skates.”
A less materialistic little fellow came closer to the real meaning of Christmas. A store owner was doing some last minute Christmas shopping with his young son when he saw another store owner with whom he had been friends for some time. The two of them exchanged greetings and spoke with each other about what a financially profitable season it had been for their respective stores. The small boy overheard his father say, “This has been the best Christmas ever.”
As the store owners parted company, the father and son continued their shopping, but the father noticed his son had become very quiet. He inquired as to his son’s silence, and his son replied, “Dad, you just told Mr. Johnson that this was the best Christmas ever.”
His dad replied, “I did, son. The economy is great, and people are really spending.”
“O.K.” the son replied, “It’s just that I always thought the first Christmas was the best one.”
<Retrieved from http://www.tonycooke.org/holiday-resources/christmas_illustrations/ on 12/2/16.>
More than any other holy day, Christmas has been co-opted by our culture, turning it into something irrelevant to the event itself. We know from church history that the church took Dec. 25th away from the pagans who were celebrating the winter solstice. Now it seems they want their
holiday back.
The important thing to we who believe is keeping our perspective in order. At Christmas, we celebrate one of God’s signature events. He became one of us. Jesus Christ, fully God and fully man at the same time is a fact that taxes our knowledge and our imagination, but is wholly necessary for a saving faith.
Whatever reason others may have to observe Christmas in their own way, ours is to look to the Incarnation, the in-boy revelation of God, and rejoice that He came. This is why we return to the biblical texts year after year, reaffirming the faith we have received as a heritage and work to pass along as a legacy.
Last Sunday we looked at the family tree of Jesus. There we saw an important if neglected figure in our history of faith, a man named Zerubbabel. He set an example of perseverance and devotion to doing the will of God that we would do well to follow.
Which leads us to today. At the top of that family tree we found the name Joseph. Joseph, we should observe, was NOT the biological father of Jesus. While Matthew includes Jesus at the very top of Joseph’s family tree, this is not for the usual reason. It is not a relationship of blood that bound Jesus to Joseph.
As we shall see, God is the Father of Jesus. One of the persons of the Trinity would, from Jesus’ birthday forward, be known as “God the Son” because he accepted a human body that God the Holy Spirit made for Him in cooperation with a brave little lady named Mary.
Out of convenience and respect we refer to Joseph as Jesus’ “father,” but it would be more accurate to say that he was Jesus’ “stepfather” or “adoptive father.” I do not make this point to take anything away from Joseph. He too is a great man of faith who sets an example for us to follow.
1. Joseph made a wrong but kind decision (1:18-19).
It was a wrong decision because he did not know the true means of Mary’s pregnancy. Verse eighteen clearly tells the reader the cause of Mary’s pregnancy: THROUGH THE HOLY SPIRIT. Since he believed that Mary’s pregnancy was disgraceful, Joseph decided to DIVORCE her.
It was kind decision because he did not want to expose Mary to disgrace or harm. Joseph writhed on the horns of a dilemma. On the one hand, he was FAITHFUL TO THE LAW. The Law had a very strict penalty for adultery; death by stoning (see Leviticus 20:10). On the other hand, Joseph wished to spare Mary of both kinds of suffering if he could. If he extended her mercy, that outcome could be avoided. However, there was still the court of public opinion and the DISGRACE Mary would face in the community.
Joseph resolved his dilemma by his decision to keep the DIVORCE and its cause quiet. He wanted to keep Mary and her pregnancy out of the public eye as much as possible. In this instance, Joseph is an example of the classic struggle between law and grace, between holiness and love. Knowing how to balance these sometimes complimentary virtues is one essence of wisdom.
2. God’s messenger changed Joseph’s mind (1:20-21).
The word “angel” literally means “messenger.” The ANGEL OF THE LORD APPEARED TO JOSEPH IN A DREAM to deliver God’s message about the truth behind Mary’s pregnancy.
Let’s note the specifics of the message.
The angel addresses him as JOSEPH, SON OF DAVID. Especially in Matthew’s Gospel, it is essential to note that Jesus came as the fulfillment of God’s promises in the Old Testament to send a Messiah. One aspect of the Messiah is that he would continue the dynasty of David, being one of His descendants. We looked into this last week. Though Joseph is not Jesus’ father, it is still important that he be a descendant of David, and that fact is affirmed again by the angel.
DO NOT BE AFRAID TO TAKE MARY HOME AS YOUR WIFE. Of what was Joseph AFRAID? Based on the context, we can assume he was afraid of violating the Law. He may have also feared public ridicule or retribution.
This statement is puzzling if we don’t understand that culture’s wedding traditions. When the marriage was arranged and agreed-upon, the couple was considered to be married in every way until the wedding day. Then the wedding was held and the union consummated for the first time. What looks to us as an “engagement” is a different relationship in their culture. In this case, as Mary’s “reputation” was already under suspicion, Joseph was told to move up the wedding date and immediately include Mary in the home he had made for the two of them.
WHAT IS CONCEIVED IN HER IS FROM THE HOLY SPIRIT. Mary was not, as everyone assumed, guilty of adultery. She had not cheated on Joseph. Just the opposite; she had been faithful to both Joseph and God. The truth of the matter was that her pregnancy was a miraculous act of God.
SHE WILL GIVE BIRTH TO A SON…YOU ARE TO GIVE HIM THE NAME JESUS…HE WILL SAVE HIS PEOPLE FROM THEIR SINS. HIS PEOPLE are the Jews. Jesus’ own description of His mission was to the nation of Israel first.
FROM THEIR SINS = Jesus came to save people. Sin leads to death. The sacrifice of blood is God’s cure for the problem of sin and Jesus’ blood would be shed for that purpose.
3. Interlude: explaining prophecy (1:22-23).
As we’ve observed, Matthew is very concerned about Jesus as the fulfillment of prophecy, so, no surprise that 22 verses into his Gospel, we have the first citation of fulfilled prophecy. This is not part of the angel’s message, it’s an aside delivered by Matthew. Let’s note the specifics.
THE VIRGIN WILL CONCEIVE AND GIVE BIRTH. This is obviously a supernatural, miraculous occurrence. Both Matthew and Luke go to lengths (as we’ll see in v. 25) to let us know Mary’s pregnancy was this miracle.
To be clear – the conception of Jesus was supernatural; a miracle. The birth of Jesus was completely natural and typical. Mary shared the experience of every mother from Eve onward.
SHE WILL…GIVE BIRTH TO A SON, just as the angel predicted to Joseph in v. 21. As we see later in the passage, this is exactly what came to pass.
THEY WILL CALL HIM IMMANUEL might, at first glance, seem contradictory with the angel’s instruction to Joseph to name Him Jesus. Note that THEY, not “you” will call Him Immanuel. This is a name others will bestow on Jesus. The meaning of this name or title is literally “God with us;” Jesus was God present in the flesh. What is more significant than the name itself is what it tells us about Jesus; He would be GOD WITH US.
4. Joseph completely obeyed God (1:24-25).
WHEN JOSEPH WOKE UP means he didn’t waste any time. Joseph was obedient in time and in the fullness of the angel’s instructions.
It’s my pet theory that the wedding date was moved up and perhaps it was observed without the usual fanfare and the customary week-long party. I speculate that it was early enough in Mary’s pregnancy that no one else knew about it and a quick wedding might mislead others into thinking Jesus was Joseph’s son.
This theory has only a little support in the Bible. In Matthew 13:55, when Jesus returned to Nazareth after beginning His ministry, the people of Nazareth remarked, “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son?” If they had ever known about Mary’s pregnancy before consummating her relationship with Joseph, they forgot about it. I like to think that Joseph was such a kind-hearted man that he was willing to endure a slur on his character rather than let Mary take the heat for something she clearly had not done; be unfaithful to him.
Joseph is such a faithful man he took the command of God one step further and did not insist on his conjugal rights: HE DID NOT CONSUMMATE THEIR MARRIAGE UNTIL [after] SHE GAVE BIRTH TO A SON. This, of course, fulfilled the prophecy entirely, maintaining Mary’s virginity until the birth of Jesus. Also, Joseph followed through on all the angel’s instructions and GAVE [Mary’s son] THE NAME JESUS.
For all kinds of reasons, Christmas has occasionally been a tense, hotly contested holiday. One of the recurring stories is non-Christians complaining about how the holiday gives Christianity too much of the spotlight.
You may remember that our former governor Bill Janklow was not one to let complaints bother him too much. When criticized about having a nativity scene on display, Janklow prepared to let every religion put something on display in the Capitol, and even set aside an “empty corner” for the use of atheists.
Tony Cooke and David Beebe came up with a cute and insightful look at the conflicts of Christmas. They took a popular poem and wrote their own version of it. The titled it ‘Twas the Fight Before Christmas.
‘Twas the fight before Christmas,
And all through the house,
Not a creature was peaceful,
Not even my spouse.
The bills were strung out on our table with dread,
In hopes that our checkbook would not be in the red.
The children were fussing and throwing a fit,
When Billy came screaming and cried, “I’ve been bit.”
And Momma with her skillet, and I with the remote,
She said, “You change one more channel and I’ll grab your throat.”
When on the TV there arose such a clatter,
I sat up on the couch to see what was the matter.
When what to my wondering eyes should appear,
The cable was out, it was my worst fear.
“The Cowboys, the Celtics, the Raiders, the Knicks,
Without the sports channel I’d soon need a fix!”
And then in the midst of my grievous sorrow,
I remembered the times I had promised, “tomorrow…”
“Not now, my children, but at some soon time,
Dad will play with you, and things will be fine.”
Now under conviction, I looked at my wife,
Where was my kindness? Why all the strife?
My heart quickly softened; I now saw my task,
Some love and attention was all they had asked.
I gathered my family and called them by name,
And told them with God’s help I’d not be the same.
We’ll keep Christ in Christmas and honor His plan.
No more fights before Christmas—on that we will stand.
My children’s eyes twinkled; they squealed with delight.
My wife gladly nodded; she knew I was right.
It was the fight before Christmas, but God’s love had come through,
And just like He does, He made all things new.
<Retrieved from http://www.tonycooke.org/holiday-resources/christmas_illustrations/ on 12/2/16.>

We redeem the days of Advent by following the faith example set for us by Joseph.  In addition to being faithful to God’s will, Joseph showed grace.  He demonstrated personal holiness in his full devotion to God and gracious love in the sacrifices he made for Mary and by adopting Jesus as his son.

A Heavenly View (Part Two)

(Please read Revelation 21 & 22 in your favorite version of the Bible.  I use the NIV.)

MESSAGE: If we live today with a view toward heaven, today will be a better day as we will be better people.

(Part One was covered in last week’s post. Part Three will be covered in next week’s post.)

  1. The inhabitants of the HOLY CITY.

In 21:7 the inhabitants of the New Jerusalem are called the CHILDREN OF GOD. Adoption into God’s family helps us to overcome all of the challenges of life, including persecution by the world, and the shame of the enemy.  That’s why the CHILDREN OF GOD are also called OVERCOMERS.  (Several promises are made to the OVERCOMERS in chapters 2+3.)

This wonderful promise was first made in Jeremiah 24:7; I WILL GIVE THEM A HEART TO KNOW ME, THAT I AM THE LORD. THEY WILL BE MY PEOPLE, AND I WILL BE THEIR GOD, FOR THEY WILL RETURN TO ME WITH ALL THEIR HEART.

In 21:9 and 22:17 the residents of the Holy City are called the BRIDE and THE WIFE OF THE LAMB.  These are both names for the Church.  This marital language is used because this is the union of God and His people in the fullest and most personal sense.  Ideally, the union of husband and wife is an example, an insight, or sample by personal experience, of the profound relationship between Jesus and His Church.

As you might expect, this symbol is not unique to John’s Revelation: Isaiah 62:5 says, “As a young man marries a young woman, so will your Builder marry you; as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you.”  Throughout the Bible, the joining of husband and wife is a symbol of great celebration; it is an emblem of joy.  In fact, a wedding feast is referred to in 19:6-9 as a means of describing the celebration of the victory of the Lamb.

In Revelation there is a great contrast between the Bride of Christ and Babylon, the seducer of nations, in chapter 17.  She is a picture of the glossy side of evil, the lure of temptation.  She is destroyed and her downfall is part of the final defeat of evil.  The BRIDE OF CHRIST is here polar opposite.

Both chapters refer to the NATIONS gathered within the walls of the New Jerusalem: this points to the multinational make-up of the Church.  In 21:24 we read, THE NATIONS WILL WALK IN ITS LIGHT.  This is a spiritual truth: salvation will be by faith, not ethnicity.  God has made it available to all.  This is not a political truth.  As 21:4 clearly states, THE OLD ORDER OF THINGS HAS PASSED AWAY.  The OLD ORDER of politics and power has had its day and will be no more.  All of the redeemed will be rulers (and PRIESTS) according to Revelation 20:6, a further indication that the old creation ways of power and politics are no more.

The triumph of God over the worldly systems that arrayed themselves against Him and His people was anticipated in the Old Testament as well.  Psalms 72:11 describes a very similar scene to what we read in these chapters: ALL KINGS WILL BOW DOWN TO HIM AND ALL NATIONS WILL SERVE HIM.

What is the real GLORY OF THE NATIONS John saw paraded into the Holy city in 21:26?  In John’s time this would be a military parade, the conquering army bringing back its spoil and captives and parading down the main street for the home crowd to see.  In a spiritual sense, this is exactly what’s intended.  The forces of evil have been destroyed and the vanquished enemies of God and His people are being put on display in a victory parade.  This imagery may have been in Paul’s mind when he wrote, AND HAVING DISARMED THE POWERS AND AUTHORITIES, HE MADE A PUBLIC SPECTACLE OF THEM, TRIUMPHING OVER THEM BY THE CROSS in Colossians 2:15.  Of course there will be no military parade down the GREAT STREET of the New Jerusalem, for the enemies of God have been destroyed.  Further, of what use would be treasures in a city made of pure gold and precious stones?

NO, in this case, it’s the people!  It’s not a procession of vanquished foes and captives, but a procession of God’s people who have come out of the NATIONS.  It is a parade of victory, but only the victors are present, none of the vanquished.  Indeed, they have completely faded from memory by this time.  This is a description of the innumerable multitudes mentioned in chapter 7 coming into the NEW JERUSALEM to bring glory to God.  It also made me think of Revelation 4:10, where 24 ELDERS worship God and offer their CROWNS – their tokens of victory – to Him.

In 22:2, the LEAVES of the TREE OF LIFE provide healing for the NATIONS.  This is another way of saying – as we read in 21:4 – that God will WIPE EVERY TEAR from our eyes.  All the hurts of the old order will be healed and will vanish from memory!

Nothing UNCLEAN or ACCURSED – including people – will be admitted to the New Jerusalem.  21:8 gives us a list of specific examples.  We need to remember that biblical lists are meant to be examples, not exhaustive list.  It would be silly say, for example, that because “gossip” does not appear on the list, the sin of gossip will not keep someone from heaven.  Let’s don’t be legalistic here.  It would be more appropriate, following through with this example, to say LIARS represents all sins of the tongue.

Even though the Gates of the NEW JERUSALEM will never be closed, no evil will enter through them.  The reason is simple; no evil thing will exist!  21:27 substantiates this truth in with a more general statement then 21:8. Here IMPURE things are excluded from the Holy City, as well as all persons characterized by their SHAMEFUL or DECEITFUL lives.

More exciting is the description of those admitted: ONLY THOSE WHOSE NAMES ARE WRITTEN IN THE LAMB’S BOOK OF LIFE.  This is a subject fit for a message all its own.  It is sufficient for our purposes to note that it is an image found in Old and New Testaments and to observe that God knows His people by name and not by reputation alone.  God knows us and loves us anyway, calling us by name out of the world and into His eternal presence!  Wow!!

22:15 is essentially a reiteration of 21:8.  There is only one thing on this list of conspicuous sinners that had not already been mentioned: DOGS.  As dogs were more scavengers at that time (think “hyena” or “dingo” or “wolf” instead) – less pets – I assume this is John’s way of describing people who prey on the vulnerable members of society.  This word was used in the culture of John’s time to refer to people who had fully degraded themselves in sin.  We’d call them “gangsters.”

In 22:18-19 John issues two warnings regarding the prophecy; do not add to it or take away from it.  This is serious; do not make it say what it clearly does not say.  Adding to the WORDS will result in God ironically adding to their life the PLAGUES DESCRIBED IN THIS BOOK (described in the seven trumpets and bowls in chapters 8-18).  People add their own rules, traditions, and false notions.  Taking away from the WORDS will result in God ironically taking away their SHARE IN THE TREE OF LIFE AND IN THE HOLY CITY.  People take away from God’s Word when they want to excuse sin and make easier to sin.

Because the Revelation is written with so much symbolism, it is a bit easier to twist the meaning.  Because the subject matter is so important – it exerts an influence on our imaginations and our faith and thereby has power to influence others – it is tempting to misuse it.  However, those who attempt to manipulate the Revelation to suit their own agenda are warned with the most severe penalties.  Resist the temptation.

By the power of the Holy Spirit, we can understand Revelation.  This will happen as we allow the words to speak for themselves, not as we impose our meanings on them.  Those who ADD TO or TAKE AWAY from God’s Word reveal themselves to be unbelievers.  This warning sounds a lot like the one Moses gave His people after giving God’s Law to them; “DO NOT ADD TO WHAT I COMMAND YOU AND DO NOT SUBTRACT FROM IT, BUT KEEP THE COMMANDS OF THE LORD YOUR GOD THAT I GIVE YOU.” (Deuteronomy 4:2)

The primary activity of the citizens of the Holy City will be worshipping God (22:3+5).

Worship of God appears throughout Revelation. Every scene of heaven is a scene where God is honored and glorified.  He is the hero of every Bible passage and as the highest possible good; it is to our blessing to worship Him.

There are a couple of verses that show what we might call “secondary” activities for the citizens of the Holy City.

– In 22:3, it says that HIS SERVANTS WILL SERVE HIM. From this brief remark we see that we will serve God in eternity as we have served Him in our brief time here on earth.  We do not have enough information to know what kinds of activity will be included with this service.  But the word translated as SERVE is used to describe religious activity.  While you may find work to be a “four letter word,” I believe we are promised that there will be work in heaven.  However, unlike earthly work, our eternal jobs will be meaningful and satisfying!

– In 22:5 we are promised we WILL REIGN FOR EVER AND EVER. Who or what will we rule over?  Is this more of a status than an activity?  There simply is not enough information to be specific.  What’s important is that the disciples of the One whom the world rejected will be, like Him, raised to rule.

Finally, the eternal residents of the Holy City fully committed themselves to God during their life in this world.  One way in which this commitment is symbolized is in 22:4: HIS NAME WILL BE ON THEIR foreheads.   (See also Revelation 7:3; 9:4; 13:16; 14:1+9; 17:5; 20:4 for the ways in which a mark on the forehead separates God’s people from the devil’s people.  This is clearly important.)  In Exodus 28:36, God commanded that the headdress worn by the high priest be decorated with a thin gold plate inscribed with the words, HOLINESS TO THE LORD. The connection here is that Revelation 1:6; 5:10; and 20:6 all promise that all the citizens of the New Jerusalem will be priests, wearing the NAME OF THE LORD on their foreheads.

Why the forehead?  When God commanded the Israelites to observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread, Moses said, “THIS OBSERVANCE WILL BE FOR YOU LIKE A SIGN ON YOUR HAND AND A REMINDER ON YOUR FOREHEAD THAT THE LAW OF THE LORD IS TO BE ON YOUR LIPS.  FOR THE LORD BROUGHT YOU OUT OF EGYPT WITH HIS MIGHTY HAND.” (Exodus 13:9)  The answer to the question is simply “Because God said so.”  We can sentimentalize about head and hand representing thought and action, but there’s no textual evidence to support that extent of detail.  It is intended as a symbol of allegiance, a demonstration and reminder of whose we are.

The second way the citizens of the city demonstrated their loyalty was by keeping this prophecy, receiving the blessing mentioned in 22:7.  We can be confident about this promise of blessing because, as 22:6 points out, “THESE WORDS ARE TRUSTWORTHY AND TRUE.” The words of this prophecy bless us when we…

… rely on them as a guide to moral living.

… receive hope for salvation.

… learn to love & show grace as God has been gracious to us.

… are drawn into communion with God.