Revelation Week 13

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15 And the angel said to me, “The waters that you saw, where the prostitute is seated, are peoples and multitudes and nations and languages. 16 And the ten horns that you saw, they and the beast will hate the prostitute. They will make her desolate and naked, and devour her flesh and burn her up with fire, 17 for God has put it into their hearts to carry out his purpose by being of one mind and handing over their royal power to the beast, until the words of God are fulfilled. 18 And the woman that you saw is the great city that has dominion over the kings of the earth.” – Revelation 15:15-18

“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.” – Lord Acton (British historian and moralist)

Babylon is her name and she seduces in leaders, makes them kings, makes them monsters, and then leaves them for another. No, this is not a woman of questionable morals. John spells out this mystery for us quite clearly. It is a city: a culture, a group of people who work and act as one entity. If the Anti-Christ – the great beast from the sea, is the corrupted mirror image of Jesus, then Babylon is the twisted image that stands on the other side of the mirror from the church. Faithless. Dishonest. Greedy. Lusting. Always reaching and never satisfied.

The Roman Empire was the pinnacle of Western Civilization in its day and none could oppose it with its military, civic, and scientific advancements. It sprouted from one of the world’s first democracies and sought to spread its culture across the entire known world, shedding light into “backward” places like Asia Minor, Galilee, Egypt… Any who refused to buy into the Roman way was ruthlessly tortured and put to death. The more the Empire grew, the hungrier its people became for power, blood, immorality. Indeed, most of Rome worshipped the Emperor out of either fear or patronage, fearing his displeasure and profiting from his fancy. They feared and served their emperor, but they used him as well to put away their enemies and competitors and to be entertained at the cost of others they deemed unworthy of counting even as human beings.

We as the church often focus on the Christians that were martyred in horrendous fashion during Rome’s final years, but the truth is, Christians were just a fraction of the people who suffered under Rome’s rule. Prisoners, debtors, foreign captives of war, even servants who simply displeased the Roman leaders with their service… all these were persecuted and often executed in ways that far surpassed anything near justice. Jesus asked his followers to worship Him alone, which made them traitors to the state that worshipped the Emperor above all else, and so they joined the broken ranks of the criminals and captives. They were just like Jesus who, in His time on earth found Himself in the company of thieves, prostitutes, and tax collectors (traitors to the Israelite nation) and ended up on His own Roman cross. When Jesus told them to pick up their crosses and follow Him, he was not speaking in metaphors, He really meant it.

How many converts were made in the dungeons and holding cells of those coliseums? We will not know until we stand with those former prisoners in glory. What we do know is that John was right about Rome. Her hunger and licentiousness proved to be her undoing as she was literally burned from the inside out, supposedly by one of her own Emperors, and she fell from moral decay long before the northern Goths stormed her gates. It was sin that destroyed her. The other nations that took her over only had to scavenge through her broken pieces.

Rome, or Babylon as John called her, shows us both the lure and ultimate fate of sin. It leads us in with promises it cannot keep. Like Babylon, we always pay double for what we get when we make deals with sin. Finally, as Paul wrote to the church in Rome: the ultimate consequence of sin is death. It promises life, but only brings death and sin, even small sins, left unchecked fester and rot until it covers our whole body.

What is the cure? Revelation tells us that the whole of creation was searched in attempts to find a cure and nothing could be found. Nothing, that is, until the Lamb of God laid down his life for us. Nothing but the blood of Jesus, as the song goes. I cannot fix myself or rid myself from sin. Neither can you. Only Jesus can make us whole again. Only Jesus can rescue us from the pit. Only Jesus can raise us from death. Only Jesus can redeem the broken lives we live.

Oh Precious is the flow,

That makes me white as snow,

No other fount I know,

Nothing but the Blood of Jesus.

 

In Christ alone

 

 

 


 

Revelation Week 12

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17 Then another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle. 18 And another angel came out from the altar, the angel who has authority over the fire, and he called with a loud voice to the one who had the sharp sickle, “Put in your sickle and gather the clusters from the vine of the earth, for its grapes are ripe.” 19 So the angel swung his sickle across the earth and gathered the grape harvest of the earth and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. 20 And the winepress was trodden outside the city, and blood flowed from the winepress, as high as a horse’s bridle, for 1,600 stadia. – Revelation 14:17-20

That is some pretty gruesome, vivid imagery. Often when we think of the return of Jesus, we think about him taking the Christians away to heaven, but here Jesus sends his angels to gather all those from the “vine of the earth”. What exactly does that mean?

In John’s Gospel, Jesus teaches that He is the true vine, of which we, His disciples are branches. You see, we were made to be attached to something and bear fruit for it. When we are attached to (or “abide in”) Jesus, we bear fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control, among others. When we attach ourselves to the earth, or in other words, earthly things, anything other than Jesus, we end up bearing different kinds of fruit. We bear bad fruit like hatred, malice, discontent, arrogance, pride, bigotry, lust, greed, envy, murder, and the list goes on. It matters what kind of fruit we bear for we will be held accountable for our actions.

Jesus is not a get-out-of-jail-free card that God apathetically doled out to the world. To consider Him and His sacrifice as such is an insult to God and to the Christians that have gone before us. Jesus is an opportunity to get help turning our lives around and living in a way that brings glory to God. He lived as an example, died so we would have the opportunity for a second chance, and rose again to show us the power He has to lift us up from the dead weight of sin that drags us down… if we continue each day to choose to abide in Him.

Revelation is not the only place that mentions gruesome justice like this. In the gospels, Jesus Himself tells a story of a vineyard whose tenants are being judged for not giving their master the fruit he planted. They chase away and kill the messengers He sends until finally He sends His own son as an ambassador on His behalf. Instead of giving repenting, they decide to kill the son to take the inheritance for themselves. When Jesus asked the Jewish leaders what they thought justice would look like in this situation, they replied that the tenants deserved to be killed for their deeds and the vineyard given over to someone who would tend it properly – giving the harvest to the master. Little did they know, Jesus was telling this story about them, as leaders of God’s people and His earthly representatives. (Matthew 21:33-46, Mark 12:1-12, & Luke 20:9-19)

Realistically though, we need not be church leaders, or any official leaders for that matter for us to wake up and give this scripture serious attention. Jesus is coming. Justice will be done. Our deeds stand as witness either for or against us, either as good fruit or bad and the wicked vine of the earth will be harvested… along with us if we continue to abide in it.

Live for Jesus, not for this world for the days of this world are numbered.

 


 

Revelation Week 11

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Then I saw another beast rising out of the earth. It had two horns like a lamb and it spoke like a dragon. – Revelation 13:11

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. – John 10:27

 

I learned today that of all mammals, only humans and monkeys have color vision. That means the rest of the warm-blooded creatures God created use senses other than sight to determine whether something is friend or foe. Many animals use a highly developed sense of smell. Sheep, however, use their ears. For sheep, it matters less how the shepherd dresses, or whether or not their hair is neat and tidy, or even if they smell like they haven’t had a shower in a few days. What matters most to them is the sound of their shepherd’s voice. What does a true shepherd sound like?

I have met a number of very confused sheep who listen with their eyes. I am not talking about individuals who read sign language, rather those who trust in whatever looks the most appealing, paying no attention to the voice with which it speaks. Remember Eve, in the Garden of Eden, who chose to trust the serpent’s voice rather than God’s because the forbidden fruit looked appealing. Proverbs warns men many times about steering clear of the adulterous woman. How often are we fooled by the shiny wrapping or flashy pictures on TV advertisements and then terribly disappointed by the product once it is paid for, opened, and unable to be returned? In this world, if we seek our Good Shepherd with our eyes, we will likely be led astray… for if it looks like a sheep, but sounds like a dragon, it is not to be trusted.

Our Good Shepherd, the Lamb of God, speaks with authority. It was this voice, this living Word of God that spoke creation into existence. It is not the voice of arrogance – pushing its will over its followers by brute force and volume. It is not the voice of egotism – parading itself around as the center of existence. It is not the voice of seduction – stringing out lines of baited promises to lure in the unwary. It is not the voice of suspicion and accusation – constantly picking apart everything that crosses its path. It is not the voice of fear – stirring up anxiety and frenzy into each mind it reaches. Those are the many voices of the great serpent Satan, cast out of heaven… a dragon dressed in sheep’s clothing.

Scripture describes our Lord’s voice as something much greater. My favorite description of God’s voice is the sound of “many waters”. Many waters may sound loud or soft, rough or gentle, but it is constant and consistent. Our God, who is three in one eternally speak the same message of love: lifting creation up from the mire of sin and destruction. It is a voice that does not contradict itself. It is a voice that speaks truth, not just something that wins popularity.

How do we know what this voice sounds like if we are not sure we’ve ever heard it? Fortunately for us, there are samples of God’s voice recorded over several thousand years in the Bible. Spend some time with the Scriptures and you will be surprised how quickly you start to recognize the voice of the Good Shepherd around you… still speaking that same message of creative love into the world around us, calling us to follow Him upon the paths of righteousness that lead us up the hills, through the valleys, to green pastures and calm waters.

 


 

Revelation Week 10 – Flashback

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Then I saw another angel coming up from the east, having the seal of the living God. He called out in a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm the land and the sea: “Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees until we put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.” – Revelation 7:2-3

This week we celebrate Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the season of Lent. As we gather in worship to remember to Whom we belong and from where He has brought us, let us consider the “seal of the living God”. In the midst of the sufferings brought on by the first four seals – the spirits of the four horsemen, an angel calls a halt to the devastation just long enough for God’s messengers to “put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God”. What is this seal? What does it look like? How do we know who has it and who does not?

The seal given to these servants is a mark that distinguishes them from the rest of the world and acts as their protection from some of the suffering yet to come. Like the Lamb’s blood, left above the doors of the Israelites in Egypt during the Passover, and like the crimson rope that Rahab let out her window in Jericho, this seal signals to the approaching forces of God that this is one of their own, that we who bear the seal are captive strangers to this land ruled by Babylon (or whatever name the worldly power calls itself). Unfortunately, it does not win any social merit or provide any discounts for those who still walk the earth and live under the world’s rules. The sealed live with targets painted on their backs in their own communities as they fervently await the coming Kingdom of Christ their Lord. So, while it preserves them in the long run, the seal of the living God brings the attention and persecution of the world upon the believers who bear it.

What does this seal look like? Some believe it is a cross, marked on our foreheads. This is probably a Christian interpretation of Deuteronomy 6:8, where God tells Israel to bind his law on their hands and between their eyes. Conservative Jews observe this law by wearing ‘Tefillin’: small boxes containing scriptures, attached to the hand and forehead by leather straps. As Christians, we understand the Christ fulfilled the law on the cross and so we wear crosses as jewelry, tattoos, and other decorations as a similar reminder. Therefore, it is not outlandish to expect the seal of the living God to be a cross decoration. However, the letter to the Ephesians (one of the churches in Revelation) shines a different light on this subject.

In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit,– Ephesians 1:13

More than a physical symbol, we recognize the seal of the living God as bearing, or carrying the Holy Spirit in us. More than a baptism of water or an anointing of oil, the thing that separates the sealed people of God is the Holy Spirit in them. This is a mark that the angels would certainly recognize and although it may not manifest itself physically on our body, it certainly would manifest itself physically with our bodies. Look at these verses from Ephesians…

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.  And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.  Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.  Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” – Ephesians 4:29-5:2

Do you think it is possible to live this kind of life – a life led by the Spirit, and not be noticed or set apart from the world in which we live. In a world where it is uncommon not to swear (and if you think I’m wrong try driving through Lexington or Cincinnati about 5pm) do you really think you can love your neighbors the way Jesus loves us and stay under the radar? I think not. Stand up for Jesus, love the unloveable, put aside bitterness and embrace kindness and the world will take notice and will mark you as a stranger… but Heaven will notice too.

This is our purpose and our hope: we bear the mark of Christ – His Spirit and His sufferings, not because we want to escape the coming tribulation the world will face when Heaven comes down, but because we are God’s adopted children and we want to be just like our Heavenly Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We care not what the world nor anyone else thinks. Rather we live a life of love for God, putting Him before all others and all else, and rejoicing in that love he has for us and the rest of the world.


Revelation Week 9

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10 And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. 11 And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. 12 Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!” – Rev 12:10-12 (ESV)

 

The final trumpet has sounded. Christ has come. The walls are falling down. Satan has been cast from heaven and his accusations against God’s children will be heard no more… and he is ticked off. Heaven rejoices, for it is cleansed of that devil’s presence, but woe to those who inhabit the earth, for he has come in great wrath.

 

How quickly and easily we attribute our sufferings to God, reasoning that God is all-powerful and all-knowing, therefore if we suffer, it must ultimately be at His hands and likely as punishment for some wrongdoing. Or perhaps we consider it all a test to see if we are worthy of God’s affections. Like Job’s wrong-headed friends, the voices we hear come at us with a wide array of beliefs and explanation – all of which make us feel and cause us to pull further away from God. They all boil down to: it’s either God’s fault or ours. There’s no break from those accusations either, for here even those in heaven attest “night and day” the devil poured out his accusations before God. He may be losing, but he is persistent.

 

How then, are we to deal with living and suffering in a sin-sick world that God has promised to redeem, and is redeeming, but has not yet fully redeemed? That is the Big Question for the churches this was written to, and for us as well. Verse 11 tells us that the saints, who ran the race before us, and received their victory crowns “conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony”. They did not suffer alone, but with the Lamb of God. Indeed, it was only because of Christ’s suffering that they were enabled to overcome the accusations against them by the devil. Because of the loving sacrifice of Jesus, they had a testimony – proof you might say, that God did indeed love them and wanted to be with them… regardless of what the circumstantial evidence of the moment might appear. Indeed, so intense was their yearning for God that they were willing to go through even greater suffering, even lose their lives as a loving response to God’s love for them. They understood, and believed, that this mortal life is temporary, but the life we have hidden in Christ is abundant and everlasting, and they chose to live that life in the midst of suffering as a testimony against sin and evil accusations.

 

So today, as we scan the broken field before you and hear the stream of voices that counsel us to run, or hide, or point the blaming finger in response to the brokenness we feel in our lives… turn your ear instead to God’s voice: the sound of many waters that roars like a lion to overthrow the devil’s accusations and cuts like a trumpet through his deceit. Know that our suffering is a result of our distance from God, not from being too close to His holy presence, and that He bridged that gap and chose to suffer with us rather than lose us forever, and that love overwhelms and conquers any suffering the devil or this broken world can throw our way. Remember God’s love for us is forever… and the devil’s time is short.

 

With tidings of Peace and Great Joy