Category Archives: Love of God

This Is Mine.

A Blog Series on the Book of Revelation, Chapter 7:1-8

Part 15 (6:9-17)  ΑΩ  Part 17 (7:9-17) →

Okay, where were we?

Somewhere between the sixth and seven seal being opened, unfurling God’s plan and purposes for the rescue and restoration of his broken world. Right? We’re at the point of no return in the Book of Revelation. The symbolism and imagery of the book are getting more and more thick and vivid and, frankly, strange.

As the scene opens in chapter 7, we meet four angels who are standing at the four corners of the earth (Don’t laugh. God knows the earth doesn’t have corners. But he’s speaking to people who don’t know that yet. Nice of him, if you ask me.) And John tells us that the angels are actually holding back a cataclysm that they’re about to bring on the earth. Another angel—a direct representative of God himself—arises and speaks:

“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.” (v. 3)

And then John hears the people of God being “sealed.” We’ll talk about “sealing” in a moment, but it’s important to understand who these “144,000” people are who are being sealed. As we’ve seen before, numbers are almost always symbolic in apocalyptic literature, including in the book of Revelation. So it’s very unlikely that God is literally sealing 12,000 from each of the twelve tribes of Israel. After all, even the tribe names are rich with symbolism here. Notice that Judah comes first, instead of the firstborn, Reuben. This is no doubt because of the preeminence of Jesus, the lion of Judah. Dan is nowhere to be found, likely because lots of Jews believed that the anti-Christ would come from Dan. And Manasseh, one of Joseph’s children, subs in for Dan.

Twelve is, of course, a particularly symbolic number that we’ve already seen in Revelation. In chapter 21, we’re going to see that the New Jerusalem—the “capital city” of the new heavens and new earth—is going to have the names of the twelve tribes of Israel inscribed on its gates, and the foundations will have the names of the twelve apostles, both of which symbolize the completed people of God—both Jews and non-Jews. The same idea is at work here. The people of God as a whole are being sealed.

A wax seal was, in John’s day, a way to keep a scroll closed and untampered with, as we’ve already seen. But a seal could also be used as an identifying mark. For example, I have a stamp in my library at home that impresses a personal seal into all of my books, so that when people borrow them, they remember that they don’t own them and (hopefully) return them. The seal marks out the books as mine.

That’s exactly what God is doing here. God is saying to the entire world and all the forces at work within it: These people are mine. Jews and non-Jews, men and women, people from every language and ethnic group and nation—all who commit themselves to God’s Christ by their confession and by their lives—are marked as God’s special possession. And here, he is marking them out for protection and rescue from the very forces that will soon sweep through his creation to cleanse and purify it.

As we will see in 7:9-17, this doesn’t mean the people of God won’t suffer. All throughout history the people of God have suffered, and the present and future will be no exception. We in the West haven’t felt it as acutely. The first two centuries of Christians in America were a historical aberration in that Christians didn’t face persecution much at all. But we will. It is coming.

But the message of this text to the followers of Christ is: You will come through this. Not because you’re strong. Not because you’re good. But because you’re God’s.

What an incredible gift, honor and privilege to be God’s beloved. You almost can’t put words to it. It’s amazing to know that God is our guard when the world revolts against him and his people. He hasn’t left us alone to fend for ourselves while he watches, like some general who sits on his horse, far off on a cliff while his soldiers are slaughtered in the valley below. He’s with us. He’s at the front. He leads the charge. His shield doesn’t crack. And he knows each soldier’s name.

God, your maker, king, general and savior knows your name. You matter to him, because you’re his. Does that knowledge embolden you in your endeavors for him? It should. May it be so for all of us.

Advertisements

John Calvin on Piety

From the Institutes (I.II.1):

“By piety I mean that union of reverence and love to God which the knowledge of his benefits inspires. For, until men feel that they owe everything to God, that they are cherished by his paternal care, and that he is the author of all their blessings, so that [nothing] is to be looked for away from him, they will never submit to him in voluntary obedience; nay, unless they place their entire happiness in him, they will never yield up their whole selves to him in truth and sincerity.

The Secret to Making A Great Mix Tape

A Blog Series on the Book of Revelation, Chapter 1:9-20

Part 1 (1:1-8)  ΑΩ  Part 3 (2:1-7) →

Do you remember cassette tapes?

Try hard.

If you were born after 1985, you probably never actually owned one, but you definitely saw your dad’s Journey, The Police, and Tony Robbins tapes in the glove box of his Chevy Lumina, right?

The thing I loved most about cassettes by far was the making of mix tapes. Making a great mix tape—particularly if you were making it for someone else (The girl from the roller rink maybe?)—was a very subtle art form that required a lot of attention to pacing and flow. Someone once said, “The making of a great compilation tape, like breaking up, is hard to do and takes ages longer than it might seem. You gotta kick off with a killer, to grab attention. Then you got to take it up a notch, but you don’t want to [burn out], so then you got to cool it off a notch.”

That sage advice reminds me a lot of the pacing and flow of the first chapter of Revelation. As we saw in my last post, John opens with one of the most forceful and powerful assertions of God’s power and sovereignty in all of Scripture (see 1:4-8). He kicks it off with a killer, to grab attention. And then… he takes it up a notch.

John hears a voice—as loud and clear as a trumpet (v. 10). And as he turns toward the voice he doesn’t hear, but sees something staggering:

“…Someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.”

What would be your reaction if you saw such a thing?

Now, “son of man” isn’t a term referring merely to Jesus’s human nature. “Son of Man” was Jesus’s preferred way to refer to himself and it was a title that was drawn directly from Daniel 7, in which Daniel sees “…one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of very language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.”

We don’t know how, but somehow John knew that the being he saw in his vision was this unspeakably powerful “Son of Man” of Daniel’s vision, coming to bring his judgment and rule on the earth. His attire (drawing on imagery from Daniel 7:9) makes it clear that he is completely and perfectly holy. His blazing eyes symbolize the fact that he is an all-seeing, all-knowing judge. His voice reminds us that when we hear him speak, we are hearing the voice of the one and only God of Israel (cf. Ezek. 43:2), and the sword coming out of his mouth emphasizes the power and judgment his voice will bring. His face shining like the sun reminds us that no one can look upon Almighty God unaided without blinding their own eyes.

God has taken the vision up a notch. And John response is right:

“When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead” (1:17).

N.T. Wright says, “For some, Jesus is just a faraway figure of first-century fantasy. For others, including some of today’s enthusiastic Christians, Jesus is the one with whom we can establish a personal relationship of loving intimacy. John would agree with the second of these, but he would warn against imagining that Jesus is therefore a cozy figure, one who merely makes us feel happy inside. To see Jesus as he is would drive us not to snuggle up to him, but to fall at his feet as though we were dead.” (Revelation for Everyone, 7)

We should love Jesus. He loves us. We should feel we can approach him. He has died for that. But we should never make him small. We should never think of him as our “pal.” We should never think of him in ways that domesticate him or bring him onto our level, as though he is not the ruler of all the universe, of which we are an infinitesimally small part.

But listen. After God takes the intensity of this revelation up a notch, he knows he needs to bring it down a notch. The weary and worried believers that are being addressed are already terrified because of their persecutors. Should they also be terrified of their savior? Of course not. And so John sees this staggeringly powerful God place his right hand on him and say, “Don’t be afraid” (v. 17).

Don’t

be 

afraid.

Again, imagine the effect this must have had on the battered, broken, scared and doubting believers. Is there anything they would have needed to hear more? “Don’t be afraid.” I imagine God meant more than just, “Don’t be afraid of what you’re seeing at this moment.” He meant it more deeply—more comprehensively: “Don’t be afraid of what you’re experiencing. Don’t be afraid of what’s happening around you.”

Why? Why not fear? Why should we not be afraid?!…

Because, “I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.”

We need a God that big. For all of the terrifying, unsettling, depressing and defeating things we see in the world and in our lives, we need a God who would absolutely terrify us… if he did not kneel down to us, meet our eyes, place his hand on our shoulder and say, “Don’t be afraid. I’m bigger than all of this. And I am with you. I am for you.” A Jesus who is your “buddy” or “pal” will not be big enough and strong enough to rescue you when life falls apart. Don’t think of him that way. “Fun” as that may be, it makes him smaller than what you’re going to need. A Jesus who has long hair, a well-trimmed beard, and wears Birkenstocks (as in all of the most historically inaccurate church basement portraits) will not be powerful enough to take on your worst enemies. He will not be able to conquer death and sadness. He will not be able to raise the dead and flood the earth with justice.

So let us never make him small. Let us envision Jesus, like John, as more powerful and terrifying than we can possibly imagine. Even as we remember that he died for us, and says to us even now, “Don’t be afraid.”

Oh, How He Loves Us

“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. …No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again.” (John 10: 14-15, 18)

Who killed Jesus?

It seems like a simple enough question and answer, right? Anyone who’s read through any one of the gospels might say, “Well, Pontius Pilate did. He gave the order to have Jesus crucified.” And that answer isn’t wrong. But it’s not the best answer. Some people might remember what they read earlier in the Gospel of John: “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him,” and say, “Well really it was the Jewish leaders. Pontius didn’t really want to crucify Jesus, but the Jewish leaders pushed him to do it.” And that answer isn’t wrong. But it’s not the best answer.

People who really know the depth of their own sin, and who understand what Jesus did for them on the cross might say, “It was me. I crucified Jesus.” As the song goes, “It was my sin that held him there until it was accomplished.“ And that answer isn’t wrong. In fact, it’s almost the best answer.

But not quite.

In John 10, Jesus is explaining the depth of his love for his followers—his sheep. He says, “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. …No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again” (vv. 14-15, 18).

This makes perfect sense if we just take a moment to connect the dots: Jesus is the God who spoke galaxies into existence, set the earth spinning on its axis, invented life and designed the tree from which his own cross was made. So… let’s try this again. Who killed Jesus? Who killed the architect of the universe and the Commander In Chief of the Armies of the innumerable angel warriors of Heaven?

Who killed Jesus? God did. That’s the best answer.

Jesus chose the cross. He chose this path. He chose death. He chose his death because he’s the only one who could choose it. He’s the only one who has “authority to lay his life down” and “authority to take it up again.” No one can take his life from him. I mean, how do you take life from the designer and giver of life? You don’t. No one can.

So why did he choose to give it up? Why did he lay his life down?

We have to start with the answer we gave to the question in yesterday’s post: He chose death first and foremostly for the glory and fame of God. This is the highest design of the death of Christ: God’s fame.

But, of course, there is another answer. Even though we are very, very small, he loves us so very deeply. “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me…and I lay down my life for the sheep.” Oh, how he loves us. No man has greater love than this: That he lays down his life for his friends.

I Am the Woman at the Well

Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.” (John 4:13-15)

Have you ever been in a conversation that was so uncomfortable that you just had to change the subject abruptly? It’s pretty well known, for example, that if you’re among Minnesotans, you’re not supposed to bring up religion, politics or money. For whatever reason, those are especially uncomfortable topics of conversation for people in these parts. We’ve all experienced that moment when someone brings up a touchy subject and everyone else at the dinner table gets wide-eyed and just looks down at their plate and hopes someone else changes the subject.

There’s a situation just like that in John 4. Jesus is sitting at a well, talking with a Samaritan woman. The conversation up to this point has been friendly and considerate (albeit maybe a little strange). But suddenly the conversation takes a turn into the super awkward.

Jesus gets really personal. He tells the woman, “Go, call your husband and come back,” knowing full well that that question was going to be incredibly awkward and uncomfortable for the woman. She knows she’s living in sin. She’s living with a dude she’s not married to. And Jesus’s question is going to reveal it. So she answers the way we sinners so often do—with a half-truth: “I have no husband.” Was that true? Well, technically, yes. She does not have a husband. But that’s also not the whole story. Unfortunately for her (and us), God always knows the whole story. So Jesus says to her, “I know. You’ve actually had five husbands, and you’re not even married to the man you’re living with now” (vv. 17-18).

Jesus’s direct and unapologetic response to her lifestyle choices is so uncomfortable and awkward for her that she brushes it off—basically pretends she didn’t her him—and immediately changes the subject and asks him for his opinion on a controversy about worship: “Well… um… What do you think about this whole ‘Mount Gerzim controversy?’” (see v. 20).

Have you ever been there? I know I have.

The Spirit of God speaks to me. He weighs on my conscience. He points right at some sinful choices I’ve been making. And I know he’s right. I know I’m guilty. I know I’ve been caught, but I think to myself, “Maybe if I can quickly change the subject, God will just drop it.” So, God says, “My friend, talk to me about this anger I’m seeing in your heart.” And I say, “Well… um… Don’t you think we should sing more hymns in church, God?” Or he asks me about the way I’ve been using my money, and I say, “Well… you know… What’s with these hurricanes I’ve been seeing on the news, God?” Or he points at your kids and says, “Talk to me about why you’re not setting aside enough time to love and encourage and disciple them.” And you shift in your seat and say, “Yeah… So… What’s the deal with the Boston Marathon bombings? How come you didn’t step in?”

We become so uncomfortable when he know someone else knows about the secret (or not-so-secret) sins of our hearts. And the worst news of all is that the One who cares most about these sins and pays the most attention to them is actually the One who can see all of them all the time.

But here’s the good news: We do not have to be afraid of these conversations with our Father.

God always has our best interests in mind when he raises these issues with us. Just as the best of parents have their children’s best interests in mind when we engage them in conversation about their disobedience. The best of parents bring these things up not to condemn and not to chide, but to shape and disciple and to shepherd their children’s hearts for the good of their children. For their joy and peace and happiness. And God the Father is the best of parents.

He loves us more than we can possibly imagine. And he wants to give us the water will become in us “a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (v. 14). He wants us to have life, and have it fully. May we never hide from him. May we look him in the eyes as he talks with us about our sin, helps us understand and fight it, and offers the forgiveness and cleaning that his son freely bought for us.