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.

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

He’s Something Else

liverbirds

Please read Revelation 1:4-20 in your Bible.  I’ve used the NIV (1984) as my resource for this article.  This is the second of three articles in a series.

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, the phrase “he’s something else” (the title of today’s message) can mean, “unusual; extremely good or extremely bad.”  (https://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/something-else) As I’m pointing to Jesus and saying “He’s something else,” I feel it’s necessary to make it perfectly plain that Jesus is SO unusual He’s one of a kind, and so extremely good He’s God.  So – make no mistake about that.

I also want to make certain that no one thinks I’m applying to Jesus the hit song “He’s Something Else,” made famous by the all-girl band, the Liverbirds.  Like some other rock group I won’t mention, the Liverbirds were from Liverpool, England, performing from 1963-1968.  They took their name from a mythical bird, a symbol of Liverpool.  In 2009 Irene Cara covered the song, changing the title to “My Baby.”  That song has nothing to do with Jesus either.

Now that we’ve got all that settled, let me tell you what I DO mean when I say “He’s something else.”  We will continue our look at Jesus in Revelation one to see Him in a different light, to emphasize the divine side of His absolutely unique existence as both God and man.  We will also, along the way, be reminded that when He comes the second time, it will not be as a helpless peasant child, but as the All-conquering Hero, the One who restores creation to its perfection, according to the plan of God the Father.  This is the second in a series of three messages to view Jesus in this way.  Yes, I think it’s that important.

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

  1. 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.

  1. 4 = He is enthroned = He exercises His authority.
  2. 5 = THE FAITHFUL WITNESS = He is trustworthy and truthful.
  3. 5 = FIRSTBORN OF THE DEAD = He leads us to life.
  4. 5 = RULER OF THE KINGS OF THE EARTH = He triumphs.
  5. 6 = He MADE US TO BE A KINGDOM AND PRIESTS TO SERVE HIS GOD AND FATHER = He delegates power for service.
  6. 6 = TO HIM BE GLORY AND POWER FOR EVER AND EVER!
  7. 7 = HE IS COMING WITH THE CLOUDS = Just as He ascended.

NEW

Verse seven = ALL THE PEOPLES OF THE EARTH WILL MOURN BECAUSE OF HIM.  This sounds very negative but consider this: in Revelation, a SIMILAR phrase – INHABITANTS OF THE EARTH – is a euphemism for wicked, self-condemned, unbelieving folk (Revelation 3:10; 6:10; 8:13; 11:10; 13:8, 12, 14; 17:2, 8).  They are OF THE EARTH, not of heaven in their spirituality and moral life.

They will MOURN because only at the end they will see they’ve rejected Jesus at their peril.  They may cry out, but it will be too late.  Zechariah 12:10-14 speaks of mourning, but there it is a cry of repentance provoked by the Holy Spirit, not at all what John records.

Verse eight = Jesus is the ALPHA & OMEGA, FIRST & LAST (v. 17). The words “I AM” remind us of God’s declaration to Moses, naming Himself as the “I AM,” or Yahweh.  ALPHA/FIRST refers to Jesus activity in the creation of the world (see Colossians 1:16).  He is the source, the beginning of all that exists.  OMEGA/LAST = His Second Coming is the event signaling the end of the universe, Jesus is also the end of all that exists.  This proclamation is repeated twice at the end of John’s vision; Revelation 21:6 & 22:13.

Verse Eight = Jesus is THE ALMIGHTY.  This is how the Hebrew words Yahweh Sebaoth are translated; “Lord of Hosts.”  The Leader of the Angels is one aspect of God’s complete power over His creation.  God is all powerful but He chooses to not use His power to negate the free will of the people He’s created.  Instead, He relies on the guiding power of love.  We do well to follow His example, using love to influence others.

Verse thirteen = “LIKE A SON OF MAN.”  According to the Gospels, Jesus used the title “Son of Man” more than any other to refer to Himself.  It is important we understand this choice.  It may sound less powerful than “Son of God,” but it is a title no less divine.  The title SON OF MAN originates in Ezekiel 2:1, where an angel addressed the prophet in this way and repeated it dozens of times in the book.  In Daniel 7:13, a figure endowed with divine power is said to be LIKE A SON OF MAN.  In Daniel 8:17, Daniel himself is called a SON OF MAN.  This phrase is repeated in Revelation 1:13 in a description of Jesus and in 14:14 as a description of an angel.

This title is used for prophets, angels and Jesus Christ.  It refers to someone endowed with a message from God and the divine power to make it known to all people in miraculous ways.  I assume Jesus saw this as His ministry and that is why He referred to Himself in this way.

Verse thirteen = He was DRESSED IN A ROBE REACHING DOWN TO HIS FEET.  Wearing a full-length robe was a sign of wealth and/or authority.  Persons so dressed did not do menial work for a living; they would be the ancient equivalent of what we call a “white collar” laborer.  This is yet another symbol of Jesus’ personal authority.

Verse thirteen = WITH A GOLD SASH AROUND HIS CHEST.  In Old Testament times, the high priest wore a gold breastplate adorned with twelve semi-precious stones.  Perhaps this SASH is meant to remind us that Jesus is our High Priest.

In Revelation 15:6 the seven angels who carried the plagues wore gold sashes.  The image of a gold sash is an ancient equivalent of having a badge or ID.  It verified the person wearing it had authority.  Whether high priest or angel, they represented God and enacted His will.

Verse fourteen = HIS HEAD AND HAIR WERE WHITE LIKE WOOL, AS WHITE AS SNOW.  White is a biblical symbol of purity.  The fact that His head is white indicates a purity of Jesus’ inner man.  This also directly associates Jesus with the Ancient of Days described in Daniel 7:9, whose head of hair is also WHITE LIKE WOOL and whose clothing was as WHITE AS SNOW.

Verse fourteen = HIS EYES WERE LIKE A BLAZING FIRE.  Fire is, among other things, a biblical symbol of judgment.  That His eyes are ablaze indicates that Jesus sees accurately and judges fairly.  This description is repeated in Revelation 2:18 & 19:12, marking it as important.

The phrase EYES OF THE LORD is repeated over 100 times in Scripture, it refers to God’s omniscience, His attention to His people, and whether or not they obey His moral law.  For example, in 2 Chronicles 16:9 it is written, FOR THE EYES OF THE LORD RANGE ALL OVER THE EARTH TO STRENGTHEN THOSE WHOSE HEARTS ARE FULLY COMMITTED TO HIM.  This is also seen in Hebrews 4:13; NOTHING IN ALL CREATION IS HIDDEN FROM GOD’S SIGHT.  EVERYTHING IS UNCOVERED AND LAID BARE BEFORE THE EYES OF HIM TO WHOM WE MUST GIVE AN ACCOUNT.

Verse fifteen = HIS FEET WERE LIKE BRONZE GLOWING IN A FURNACE.  FEET were considered the lowliest part of the human body; washing the feet of others was done by the lowest slave.  To sit at someone’s feet was a place for a learner, showing their humility before their teacher (Deuteronomy 33:3; Luke 10:39).  To be under someone’s feet was to be utterly defeated (Joshua 10:24; Psalm 8:6).  Given this cultural understanding, how extreme is this statement? HOW BEAUTIFUL ON THE MOUNTAINS ARE THE FEET OF THOSE WHO BRING GOOD TIDINGS, WHO PROCLAIM SALVATION, WHO SAY TO THOSE IN ZION, “YOUR GOD REIGNS!” (Isaiah 52:7).  I mean, beautiful FEET?  Really?

The prophet Ezekiel described FOUR LIVING CREATURES he saw in a vision.  One detail is that they had feet that BEAMED LIKE BURNISHED BRONZE (1:7), but theirs were calf-like (hooved?).

In the Bible, BRONZE is a sacred metal.  Many of the furnishings of the tabernacle were to be made of bronze.  When a plague of snakes killed many of the Israelites wandering in the wilderness, God commanded Moses to raise up a bronze snake and all who beheld it were saved (Numbers 21).

GLOWING IN A FURNACE = a FURNANCE is a biblical symbol of judgment, a place where fire melted metals to refine them.

Put all these elements together and in this one detail you get a picture of God defeating the enemies of His people, one of the things that will happen in connection with the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.  Paul wrote of this in 1 Corinthians 15:25 = FOR HE MUST REIGN UNTIL HE HAS PUT ALL ENEMIES UNDER HIS FEET.

Verse fifteen = HIS VOICE WAS LIKE THE SOUND OF RUSHING WATERS.  In Ezekiel 43, the prophet was given a vision of the glory of God returning to His temple.  He wrote that the VOICE of the glory WAS LIKE THE ROAR OF RUSHING WATERS; a sound that commanded attention.  Like a mighty waterfall, no one should miss the message of God or His commands.  This image requires us to sit up and take notice!

Verse sixteen = IN HIS RIGHT HAND HE HELD SEVEN STARS.  The RIGHT HAND is a symbol of authority; a king’s scepter was held in his right hand.  Verse twenty explains the SEVEN STARS as being the ANGELS OF THE SEVEN CHURCHES to whom the letters of chapters 2+3 are addressed.  In some way, the angels represent these churches and are responsible for their condition.

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

          “Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” is the witness of the writer of Proverbs (9:10).  “Fear” in this sense is the realization that God is all-powerful.  He can do as He wills and it is only because He wills good for us that we are able to stand.

My prayer is that this study of John’s vision will reintroduce some awe and wonder, some reverence and holy fear back into our conception of Jesus.  While He is the Gentle Shepherd and the Great Physician, He is also the Conquering King of Kings and Divine Judge.  Both sides of Jesus are necessary, not just for biblical accuracy, but for a balanced view that promotes salvation.

 

RESOURCES:

Harper’s New Testament Commentaries, G.B. Caird

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Please read Revelation 1:4-20 in your Bible.  I’ve used the NIV (1984) as my resource for this article.  This is the second of three articles in a series.

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, the phrase “he’s something else” (the title of today’s message) can mean, “unusual; extremely good or extremely bad.”  (https://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/something-else) As I’m pointing to Jesus and saying “He’s something else,” I feel it’s necessary to make it perfectly plain that Jesus is SO unusual He’s one of a kind, and so extremely good He’s God.  So – make no mistake about that.

I also want to make certain that no one thinks I’m applying to Jesus the hit song “He’s Something Else,” made famous by the all-girl band, the Liverbirds.  Like some other rock group I won’t mention, the Liverbirds were from Liverpool, England, performing from 1963-1968.  They took their name from a mythical bird, a symbol of Liverpool.  In 2009 Irene Cara covered the song, changing the title to “My Baby.”  That song has nothing to do with Jesus either.

Now that we’ve got all that settled, let me tell you what I DO mean when I say “He’s something else.”  We will continue our look at Jesus in Revelation one to see Him in a different light, to emphasize the divine side of His absolutely unique existence as both God and man.  We will also, along the way, be reminded that when He comes the second time, it will not be as a helpless peasant child, but as the All-conquering Hero, the One who restores creation to its perfection, according to the plan of God the Father.  This is the second in a series of three messages to view Jesus in this way.  Yes, I think it’s that important.

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

  1. 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.

  1. 4 = He is enthroned = He exercises His authority.
  2. 5 = THE FAITHFUL WITNESS = He is trustworthy and truthful.
  3. 5 = FIRSTBORN OF THE DEAD = He leads us to life.
  4. 5 = RULER OF THE KINGS OF THE EARTH = He triumphs.
  5. 6 = He MADE US TO BE A KINGDOM AND PRIESTS TO SERVE HIS GOD AND FATHER = He delegates power for service.
  6. 6 = TO HIM BE GLORY AND POWER FOR EVER AND EVER!
  7. 7 = HE IS COMING WITH THE CLOUDS = Just as He ascended.

NEW

Verse seven = ALL THE PEOPLES OF THE EARTH WILL MOURN BECAUSE OF HIM.  This sounds very negative but consider this: in Revelation, a SIMILAR phrase – INHABITANTS OF THE EARTH – is a euphemism for wicked, self-condemned, unbelieving folk (Revelation 3:10; 6:10; 8:13; 11:10; 13:8, 12, 14; 17:2, 8).  They are OF THE EARTH, not of heaven in their spirituality and moral life.

They will MOURN because only at the end they will see they’ve rejected Jesus at their peril.  They may cry out, but it will be too late.  Zechariah 12:10-14 speaks of mourning, but there it is a cry of repentance provoked by the Holy Spirit, not at all what John records.

Verse eight = Jesus is the ALPHA & OMEGA, FIRST & LAST (v. 17). The words “I AM” remind us of God’s declaration to Moses, naming Himself as the “I AM,” or Yahweh.  ALPHA/FIRST refers to Jesus activity in the creation of the world (see Colossians 1:16).  He is the source, the beginning of all that exists.  OMEGA/LAST = His Second Coming is the event signaling the end of the universe, Jesus is also the end of all that exists.  This proclamation is repeated twice at the end of John’s vision; Revelation 21:6 & 22:13.

Verse Eight = Jesus is THE ALMIGHTY.  This is how the Hebrew words Yahweh Sebaoth are translated; “Lord of Hosts.”  The Leader of the Angels is one aspect of God’s complete power over His creation.  God is all powerful but He chooses to not use His power to negate the free will of the people He’s created.  Instead, He relies on the guiding power of love.  We do well to follow His example, using love to influence others.

Verse thirteen = “LIKE A SON OF MAN.”  According to the Gospels, Jesus used the title “Son of Man” more than any other to refer to Himself.  It is important we understand this choice.  It may sound less powerful than “Son of God,” but it is a title no less divine.  The title SON OF MAN originates in Ezekiel 2:1, where an angel addressed the prophet in this way and repeated it dozens of times in the book.  In Daniel 7:13, a figure endowed with divine power is said to be LIKE A SON OF MAN.  In Daniel 8:17, Daniel himself is called a SON OF MAN.  This phrase is repeated in Revelation 1:13 in a description of Jesus and in 14:14 as a description of an angel.

This title is used for prophets, angels and Jesus Christ.  It refers to someone endowed with a message from God and the divine power to make it known to all people in miraculous ways.  I assume Jesus saw this as His ministry and that is why He referred to Himself in this way.

Verse thirteen = He was DRESSED IN A ROBE REACHING DOWN TO HIS FEET.  Wearing a full-length robe was a sign of wealth and/or authority.  Persons so dressed did not do menial work for a living; they would be the ancient equivalent of what we call a “white collar” laborer.  This is yet another symbol of Jesus’ personal authority.

Verse thirteen = WITH A GOLD SASH AROUND HIS CHEST.  In Old Testament times, the high priest wore a gold breastplate adorned with twelve semi-precious stones.  Perhaps this SASH is meant to remind us that Jesus is our High Priest.

In Revelation 15:6 the seven angels who carried the plagues wore gold sashes.  The image of a gold sash is an ancient equivalent of having a badge or ID.  It verified the person wearing it had authority.  Whether high priest or angel, they represented God and enacted His will.

Verse fourteen = HIS HEAD AND HAIR WERE WHITE LIKE WOOL, AS WHITE AS SNOW.  White is a biblical symbol of purity.  The fact that His head is white indicates a purity of Jesus’ inner man.  This also directly associates Jesus with the Ancient of Days described in Daniel 7:9, whose head of hair is also WHITE LIKE WOOL and whose clothing was as WHITE AS SNOW.

Verse fourteen = HIS EYES WERE LIKE A BLAZING FIRE.  Fire is, among other things, a biblical symbol of judgment.  That His eyes are ablaze indicates that Jesus sees accurately and judges fairly.  This description is repeated in Revelation 2:18 & 19:12, marking it as important.

The phrase EYES OF THE LORD is repeated over 100 times in Scripture, it refers to God’s omniscience, His attention to His people, and whether or not they obey His moral law.  For example, in 2 Chronicles 16:9 it is written, FOR THE EYES OF THE LORD RANGE ALL OVER THE EARTH TO STRENGTHEN THOSE WHOSE HEARTS ARE FULLY COMMITTED TO HIM.  This is also seen in Hebrews 4:13; NOTHING IN ALL CREATION IS HIDDEN FROM GOD’S SIGHT.  EVERYTHING IS UNCOVERED AND LAID BARE BEFORE THE EYES OF HIM TO WHOM WE MUST GIVE AN ACCOUNT.

Verse fifteen = HIS FEET WERE LIKE BRONZE GLOWING IN A FURNACE.  FEET were considered the lowliest part of the human body; washing the feet of others was done by the lowest slave.  To sit at someone’s feet was a place for a learner, showing their humility before their teacher (Deuteronomy 33:3; Luke 10:39).  To be under someone’s feet was to be utterly defeated (Joshua 10:24; Psalm 8:6).  Given this cultural understanding, how extreme is this statement? HOW BEAUTIFUL ON THE MOUNTAINS ARE THE FEET OF THOSE WHO BRING GOOD TIDINGS, WHO PROCLAIM SALVATION, WHO SAY TO THOSE IN ZION, “YOUR GOD REIGNS!” (Isaiah 52:7).  I mean, beautiful FEET?  Really?

The prophet Ezekiel described FOUR LIVING CREATURES he saw in a vision.  One detail is that they had feet that BEAMED LIKE BURNISHED BRONZE (1:7), but theirs were calf-like (hooved?).

In the Bible, BRONZE is a sacred metal.  Many of the furnishings of the tabernacle were to be made of bronze.  When a plague of snakes killed many of the Israelites wandering in the wilderness, God commanded Moses to raise up a bronze snake and all who beheld it were saved (Numbers 21).

GLOWING IN A FURNACE = a FURNANCE is a biblical symbol of judgment, a place where fire melted metals to refine them.

Put all these elements together and in this one detail you get a picture of God defeating the enemies of His people, one of the things that will happen in connection with the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.  Paul wrote of this in 1 Corinthians 15:25 = FOR HE MUST REIGN UNTIL HE HAS PUT ALL ENEMIES UNDER HIS FEET.

Verse fifteen = HIS VOICE WAS LIKE THE SOUND OF RUSHING WATERS.  In Ezekiel 43, the prophet was given a vision of the glory of God returning to His temple.  He wrote that the VOICE of the glory WAS LIKE THE ROAR OF RUSHING WATERS; a sound that commanded attention.  Like a mighty waterfall, no one should miss the message of God or His commands.  This image requires us to sit up and take notice!

Verse sixteen = IN HIS RIGHT HAND HE HELD SEVEN STARS.  The RIGHT HAND is a symbol of authority; a king’s scepter was held in his right hand.  Verse twenty explains the SEVEN STARS as being the ANGELS OF THE SEVEN CHURCHES to whom the letters of chapters 2+3 are addressed.  In some way, the angels represent these churches and are responsible for their condition.

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

“Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” is the witness of the writer of Proverbs (9:10).  “Fear” in this sense is the realization that God is all-powerful.  He can do as He wills and it is only because He wills good for us that we are able to stand.

My prayer is that this study of John’s vision will reintroduce some awe and wonder, some reverence and holy fear back into our conception of Jesus.  While He is the Gentle Shepherd and the Great Physician, He is also the Conquering King of Kings and Divine Judge.  Both sides of Jesus are necessary, not just for biblical accuracy, but for a balanced view that promotes salvation.

 

RESOURCES:

Harper’s New Testament Commentaries, G.B. Caird

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Superman or Son of Man?

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

The comic book character Superman turned 80 on April 18th last year.  Did anybody celebrate?  Imagine the effect if he used his “super breath” to blow out the candles!

Twelve years ago the movie “Superman Returns” had a line in it that got me thinking about the subject of Superman and Jesus.  From the first time I heard it, it sounded like a paraphrase from the Bible and it offended me to hear it used that way.

The line is spoken by Sir Anthony Hopkins, voicing Superman’s father, Jor-El.  As Superman orbited the earth, we hear Jor-El say, “They are a good people, Kal-el, or they want to be.  But they need someone to lead them, to show them the way.  That is why I have sent you to them, my only son.”

The director of this picture, Bryan Singer, is quoted as saying, “Superman is the Jesus Christ of superheroes.”  This is evidence of many intentional parallels between Superman and Jesus as a means of making the comic character more popular.

Ironically, the character of Superman was created by two Jewish boys, Jerry Siegel and Joel Schuster.  A compelling argument can be made that Superman was created as a counter-point to the growing threat of Nazi Germany in 1938.  I’ve read that Superman was modeled after Moses and seems designed to counter the Nazi ideal of an ubermensch, a member of the Master Race.

Superman may have started out being modeled on Moses, but there’s no doubt his handlers have turned a New Testament corner since then.  I have compiled a list of parallels between Jesus and Superman.  There’s too much evidence there to explain it in any way other than a deliberate attempt by those who’ve handled the character for EIGHTY YEARS to wrap Jesus in blue tights and a red cape.  It may be shrewd marketing, but I don’t like it and between the two – Superman and the Savior – there’s no question who’s real and who’s more powerful.

In order to deepen our understanding of Jesus, we’re going to use this occasion to take a look at Him in a slightly different light – the supernatural portrayal of Jesus in Revelation.

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

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

Verses four and eight = HIM WHO IS, AND WHO WAS, AND WHO IS TO COME.  This expression of praise is offered by the FOUR LIVING CREATURES to God the Father, seated on His throne in Revelation 4:8.  It refers to the present, past, and future – all three tenses of time – as a way of saying God is eternal.  As God, the Son of God existed before His birth in this world, He lived in a particular era of human history, and He will come again to this world to complete His victory.

Verse four = He is enthroned.  He is KING OF KINGS in 1 Timothy 6:15.  That same title is used in Revelation 17:14 and 19:16.  This title is a way of saying Jesus has the right to rule over all creation and that His authority and power have no limits.

Verse five = THE FAITHFUL WITNESS.  Palm 89:37 refers to the moon as a FAITHFUL WITNESS God set in the sky.  It is a dependable predictor of tides and is regular in its phases.  Revelation 2:13 refers to Antipas as a FAITHFUL WITNESS.  In John 14:6, Jesus referred to Himself as THE WAY, THE TRUTH, AND THE LIFE.

Taken together, this is a way of saying as the moon is dependable and predictable in its appearance and effects, Jesus can be trusted to tell the truth about God the Father.  In fact, theologians refer to Jesus as the “Personal Revelation” of God.  In His words and deeds Jesus taught and demonstrated God’s begin and His character.

Verse five = FIRSTBORN OF THE DEAD.  Throughout the Bible, the FIRSTBORN always gets special treatment and the “first fruits” are the most special part of the harvest, offered to God in gratitude.  Paul applied this to Jesus’ resurrection in Colossians 1:18; AND HE IS THE HEAD OF THE BODY, THE CHURCH; HE IS THE BEGINNING AND THE FIRSTBORN FROM AMONG THE DEAD, SO THAT IN EVERYTHING HE MIGHT HAVE THE SUPREMACY.  In 1 Corinthians 15:20 Paul similarly described Jesus as the FIRSTFRUITS of the dead.  All this reminds us that Jesus has led the way into eternal life.  Our resurrection will be like His; if we want to know more about our life after death, we need to study His.

Verse five = RULER OF THE KINGS OF THE EARTH.   THE KINGS OF THE EARTH is an expression is found four more times in the Revelation (6:15; 17:2; 17:18; 18:3), each time denoting the rulers of worldly kingdoms that have allied themselves to resist God.  The fact that Jesus is RULER over them is not meant to imply that He is responsible for their bad behavior, only that His rule is complete.  Though THE KINGS OF THE EARTH oppose Jesus, it is a futile gesture; His power is irresistible.

To His disciples enduring persecution, this is welcome news.  Though the KINGS of this world seem to hold power, God is in charge; He will sustain His people.

Verse six = He has MADE US TO BE A KINGDOM AND PRIESTS TO SERVE HIS GOD AND FATHER.  KINGDOM = Because Jesus Christ is RULER over all, He is able to make us part of His KINGDOM.  We are called out of earthly “kingdoms” to be obedient to Jesus’ will first and foremost.

PRIESTS = Way back in Exodus 19:6, Moses told the people that God’s will was to make them a KINGDOM OF PRIESTS.   This promise is mentioned again in Revelation 5:10, virtually word-for-word. This promise is unusual because only rarely in the history of God’s people have priests also been kings.  But that’s part of the point – when Jesus comes again, the world will be set back in the order God intended.  The New Testament makes it plain that all believers are PRIESTS and no longer need another human being to intercede between us and God

The purpose of all this is plainly spelled out: TO SERVE our GOD AND FATHER.  We do not rule on our own authority or serve as priests on our own will.  Instead, God delegates this power to us so that we can serve Him.

Verse six = TO HIM BE GLORY AND POWER FOR EVER AND EVER! This verse reads like a hymn of praise.  It is repeated as such in Revelation 19:1.  It is here to remind us that the focus of true service is never on self, but is always, only on God.  He deserves the GLORY and alone possesses the POWER.

Verse seven = HE IS COMING WITH THE CLOUDS.  In Mark 13:26 and Luke 21:27 Jesus predicted that at the end of this age, the world would see Him appear in the CLOUDS with great glory and power.  Psalm 68:4 locates God in the clouds, a symbol of His rule over the Earth; SING TO GOD, SING IN PRAISE OF HIS NAME, EXTOL HIM WHO RIDES ON THE CLOUDS; REJOICE BEFORE HIM – HIS NAME IS THE LORD.  (see also Psalm 104:3).  In Ezekiel 30:3, the prophet linked the appearance of CLOUDS with THE DAY OF THE LORD, which is the Old Testament’s way of referring to the events related to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.  In the book of Exodus, God directed His people on their travels with a PILLAR OF CLOUD during the daylight hours and by means of a pillar of fire at night (13:21-22).  In the DNL 7 vision the Son of Man came from the CLOUDS and is clearly God; this also predicts how Jesus will appear to us. At the end of the Gospel of Luke and the beginning of the book of Acts, we are told that Jesus left His disciples and returned to heaven, disappearing among the clouds.  Angels standing nearby promised that He would return the way He’s left: among the CLOUDS (Acts 1:9-11).

This expression looks ahead to the day when this promise is kept: Jesus’ Second Coming.  It is reassuring to know this will happen; it can happen any time.

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

We’re so entrenched in the “Gentle Shepherd” version of Jesus that we’re troubled by John’s depiction of Jesus.  It’s as if we expect the Second Coming to arrive as a gentle tap on the shoulder, followed by an apology for disturbing us.  It’s ludicrous that we should expect the sudden appearance of Jesus as conquering king to be meek and mild, accompanied by a gentle swell of violin music.

The end of the universe as we know it will be with a bang, not a whimper.  John’s vision of the ultimate triumph of Christ should mobilize us to action, not bore us into a little nap!

This is important because Jesus’ Second Advent will occur without any warning other than what we’ve been given, so preparedness is the issue here.  Are you ready?  Are you helping others become ready?

Readiness comes after accepting God’s gracious offer of salvation.  It is doing the daily work of prayer, study of Scripture, and loving one another.  We demonstrate our eagerness for heaven by making earth as much like heaven as we can.

Resources:

Message #1172

Zondervan Bible Commentary, F.F. Bruce