Lent is for You

repentance

Please read Luke 3:7-14 in your Bible.  I’ve used the NIV 1984 to prepare these remarks.

          USA Today called it “Date confusion;” as this year Ash Wednesday falls on St. Valentine’s Day and worse, Easter on April Fools’ Day.  Writer Ann Zaniewski of the Detroit Free Press sagely predicted, “Christian couples might celebrate their love next month with smudges of ash on their foreheads.  And a prank or two could infiltrate Easter Egg hunts.”

This quirky calendar coincidence hasn’t happened since 1945 and will not occur again until 2024.  Ned McGrath, director of communications for the Archdiocese of Detroit commented, “For the record, the last time there was a confluence of these dates — 1945 — the Detroit Tigers won a World Series. No joke. I’m just saying.”

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2018/01/06/ash-wednesday-valentines-day-easter-april-fools-day/1004317001/

Leaders in Chicago’s Roman Catholic Church are offered this guidance: “Solemnly mark the start of Lent, a day the faithful are asked to abstain from meat and to fast, on Wednesday. Celebrate love over a steak dinner and candles another day.”

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-met-ash-wednesday-valentines-day-20180207-story.html

It seems to me that we’re missing the point here.  We have an opportunity to observe, just once every eighty years – give or take – that LOVE was expressed on the cross of Jesus Christ.  LOVE motivates us to repent and do better.  Rather than just the cheapened version of love, we’ve been given a rather obvious opportunity to LOVE.

At Easter I’ll show how God made a fool of the devil with the empty tomb!!

“Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand,” was the heart (pun intended) of Jesus’ message (LKE 5:31-32; 19:10) and the message He commanded His disciples carry to the world (LKE 24:43-47).  Ash Wednesday is the day in the traditional year devoted to repentance.  Today we’ll look at JTB’s take:

Repentance is a single act and a way of life.

  1. Context: John’s ministry was to preach a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. (3:1-6)
  2. John preached that repentance requires bearing FRUIT in KEEPING with a changed life. (3:7-14)

His sermon included a stern warning (3:7-9).

Verse seven has some tough talk: VIPERS and WRATH.  These people are coming out to him; treating potential converts this was counter-intuitive, to say the least.

Matthew’s version clarifies John’s sternness – these remarks were probably directed at the PHARISEES and SADUCEES – religious leaders who’d probably come out to spy on and maybe oppose John.

Because of the Gospels, the name PHARISEE has become a byword for hypocrite.  That is certainly one reason they were always at odds with Jesus.  Worse, they turned their inflated legalism on others, creating burdens impossible to bear (see Luke 11:46).  The SADDUCEES were a larger party of Jewish religious leaders who collaborated with the Romans, often to line their pockets.  Whenever the Gospels say these two parties were working together, we should know that was a rare occasion and happened only when they saw a worse threat.

What was threatening about John?  First, in Jewish practice, baptism was reserved for people not born Jews who converted to Judaism or Jews undergoing an extreme rededication of faith.  John was using baptism in a new way; baptism for repentance for all people.  John’s baptism created a doctrinal stir and that’s probably what caught the interest of the Pharisees.

Second, John was preaching about the Christ, the promised Messiah, as foretold in Scripture.  This kind of talk got people wound up.  The CROWDS gathering were an occasion for a riot.  That would’ve made the Sadducees feel defensive.

The word VIPERS refers to poisonous snakes, which most of us would consider a physical and emotional threat.  When there is a fire in the desert, snakes will come out their holes in the ground to flee the flames, which leads to the other provocative word, WRATH.  This is a warning of God’s just punishment of all non-believers which will occur on the Day of the Lord (see Isaiah 13:9; 30:23; Ezekiel 7:19; Zephaniah 1:18; Malachi 3:2; Romans 1:18; 1 Thessalonians 1:10; Hebrews 10:27).

Real repentance requires righteous FRUIT.  Repentance itself is not a work; it’s a change of direction based on sorrow over sin and a decision to discontinue it.  However, a genuine change of mind leads to good fruit; actions that are godly in character.

In verse eight we find another warning: don’t rely on being Abraham’s kids.  John tells them their ancestry dating back to Abraham is worthless toward salvation: “OUT OF THESE STONES GOD CAN RAISE UP CHILDREN TO ABRAHAM.”

John warned them that God is so powerful He can come by CHILDREN TO ABRAHAM pretty cheaply.  It’s nothing special and will NOT save them from God’s wrath.

At His Triumphal Entry Jesus was told to quiet His disciples.  Jesus’ reply was that if the people kept quiet, the stones beneath their feet would “cry out.” (see Luke 19:40).  In addition to Abraham’s physical descendants, all who believe are spiritual descendants (see Romans 4:11-16; 9:8; Galatians 3:7+29).

And in verse nine, John warned them God’s wrath is on fruitlessness and it was imminent: “THE AX IS ALREADY A/T ROOT OF THE TREES” = irreversible judgment.  Individuals are like trees in that they produce either GOOD FRUIT by godly living or bad fruit by godless living, sin.  The call to repentance is to turning away from evil and toward God.  Our new orientation will bear FRUIT.

In verses ten through fourteen John refined what he meant by FRUIT IN KEEPING WITH REPENTANCE.  The word repentance literally means “turning.”  It is a change of mind, direction.

What’s exciting about this passage is that each of these three groups of people had the insight to ask John “What must I do?”  They got John’s warnings and more deeply understood repentance is manifest in actions.

John did not use or set up a legalism.  Instead, he personalized what repentance would be for each of the groups.

To the general population (the CROWD), he used the example of TWO TUNICS and FOOD.  A TUNIC was a shirt-like garment, the main clothing worn by a person of the time.  A robe was worn over this.  At that time, most people had only ONE TUNIC and everyone wore only one at a time.

John’s principle was to share your surplus.  His example of FRUIT IN KEEPING WITH REPENTANCE was to suggest that whatever you have in surplus – beyond what it takes to satisfy your immediate needs – you should provide for those who have none.  We Americans typically have closets full of clothes, pantries and freezers full of food, more than we need.  We can demonstrate we are God’s people is by turning our surplus into support.

Addressing the tax collectors (12-13), John’s example was to meet your need, not your greed.  Tax collectors were locals who contracted with the Romans to charge taxes.  They realized a profit by charging more than what was required and pocketed the difference.

John’s repentance principle was “Save, don’t shave the sheep.” There’s a difference between making a living and making a killing.

To the soldiers (14) John gave three commands, but one example: don’t be abusive of your authority. These were likely King Herod’s soldiers and/or temple guards who accompanied the Pharisees and Sadducees.  It took guts for them to admit to considering John’s baptism right in front of their bosses.

Command number one: “DON’T EXTORT MONEY.”  It was common for soldiers to intimidate people and take bribes.  The word EXTORT means “to shake violently,” hence our slang term, “shake down.”

Command number two: “DON’T ACCUSE PEOPLE FALSELY.” The word of a soldier was always taken over a citizen’s, which is an obvious occasion for abuse.

Command number three: “BE CONTENT WITH YOUR PAY” is asking a lot.  Soldiers were underpaid, relying on bribes to make more money.

This is also John’s repentance principle: be content.  John is not just teaching a moral principle; he is also giving sound financial advice.  Repentant people are content with what they have; they don’t cheat or get themselves into debt simply to have better things.

  1. Context: John made it clear he was not the Christ, only His precursor. (3:15-20)

Repentance is a single act and a way of life.

Regardless of our individuality and circumstances, repentance is something we all must practice and it brings forth a character that is generous and refuses to abuse authority.  This Wednesday night we enter into the traditional season of Lent.  Lent is a period of preparation for Easter.  A particular focus of Lent is repentance.  We need to give additional time, thought, and prayer to turning away from sin AND turning to God.

Starting Wednesday night, here’s your homework.  Keep a pad of paper and pen next to your bed.  Before you lay your head down at night, list three sins you committed that day – either by omission or commission.  Ask God to forgive you those sins.  Cross them off to indicate they are forgiven. Next to each, write the opposite kind of action.  This would be something godly you can do instead.  Then, in the morning, circle those three things and go out and do them the next day.  Imagine what great things can be accomplished if we would commit to this kind of discipline over the 40 days of Lent!

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.