May 12, 2013

Scripture and Commentary, Week of Sunday after Ascension


Monday after the Sunday after Ascension

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 2, 1 Sam. 2:1-10, Rev. 5
Evening - Ps. 147 - Is. 66:1-13, Acts 2:22-36

Commentary, Revelation 5

The fifth chapter of Revelation is part of a larger section dealing with the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. It deals with the same issues found in the 24th and 25th chapters of the Gospel of Matthew. In this chapter God arises in answer to the prayers of persecuted Christians and begins to accomplish those things "which must shortly come to pass" (Rev. 1:1). God sits on His throne holding a scroll bound with 7 seals. No one is found worthy to open the seals, and John begins to weep. Why? Because he longs to see God act on behalf of the persecuted churches of Asia Minor. John is imprisoned on Patmos during the beginning of a long and terrible persecution of the Church. He has held Apostolic oversight of the churches named in chapters 2 and 3, and he is concerned about them. How are they faring? Are they holding fast to the faith, or are they deserting Christ to save themselves? It was a difficult time for Christians, and it was going to get much worse. All Christians living at the time John wrote Revelation would be dead long before this period of tribulation ended. The seals of the scroll represent God's judgment poured out on those persecuting the Church.

But someone is worthy to open the seals. The Lion of the tribe of Jesse has overcome the world by giving His life as a Lamb slain, and is worthy, by virtue of His absolute righteousness, to open the scrolls and let the judgment begin. He is worshiped as God, and there is no doubt that He is the Lord Jesus Christ. He has overcome once by submission to death on the cross. Now He overcomes by conquering and judging His enemies.

Tuesday after the Sunday after Ascension

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 92, 2 Sam 7:18, Rev. 11:15
Evening - Ps. 57, Is. 26:1-7, Acts 2:37

Commentary, Revelation 11:15

The readings from Revelation this week were chosen because they show the Lord Jesus Christ risen, ascended into Heaven, and reigning as King of His Church. In these chapters we see Christ ruling His people, and also defending them as any good king would do. He is engaged in a deadly war with the forces of evil which want to destroy His people. So we, the Church, are not merely spectators in this battle, we are combatants following our King into the fray.

Revelation 11 is the conclusion of one battle in this war. Chapter 4 shows the beginning of this battle, and the first 14 verses of chapter 11 reveal the enemy. It is that city "which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified" (Rev. 11:8). "Spiritually" means symbolically or figuratively. So the city is not literally Sodom and Egypt. Obviously Sodom and Egypt are not the same physical place, and Egypt is a nation, not a city. The city is the one in which Christ was crucified, Jerusalem. The city is demolished in 11:13. Like the name of the city, the earthquake is also symbolic It refers to an invading army that is so powerful and destructive it is like an earthquake. It symbolises a conquest so complete and devastating it is as if a powerful earthquake has struck. This city has been in a great tribulation throughout this section of Revelation. In chapter 11 it finally falls. The city is Jerusalem and the earthquake is the Roman army. Chapters 4-11 tell of the Roman siege and conquest of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.

Today's reading shows those persecuted by the city rejoicing that their enemy has been defeated. This is a bitter-sweet victory, for the holy city has been destroyed, including the Temple and countless people. The oppression of the Church by this city has been ended, but at tremendous cost. But the true Israel, not Israel in name only, but in true faith, remains. It has become the Kingdom of our Lord who is shown in His glory as the conquering hero. This is but the first of many conquests as His army and Kingdom advances through history. Thanks be to God many will be conquered by grace instead of judgment.

Wednesday after Sunday after Ascension

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 21, 23, Is. 4:2, Rev. 19:11-16
Evening - Ps. 33, Is. 25:1-9, Acts 3:1-10

Commentary, Revelation 19:11-16

Revelation 19 is the conclusion of a section that began with chapter 13 and shows the destruction and defeat of the great beast of Revelation. This is the same beast found in Daniel 7:7-8, and it represents the Roman Empire, which at the time John wrote the book of Revelation, was beginning a 200 year persecution of the Church. The Roman Empire is also signified in the double image of the beast and the harlot in Revelation 17, where it is pictured as drunk with fornication (idolatry) and drunk with the blood of saints and martyrs of Jesus (Rev. 17:2 & 6). Rome is called "Babylon" in Rev. 17:5, as it is also in 1 Peter 5:13.

The Empire is defeated by the beginning of chapter 18. "Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen," calls the other angel coming down from heaven (Rev. 18:1-2), and her fall is lamented by many who shared her sin and reveled in her evil (18:11-19). But those who suffered under her wickedness rejoice (18:20). Chapter 19 portrays the rejoicing of the righteous over the Lord's conquest of Rome (19:1-6), and the contrast between the great whore and the pure Bride of Christ (19:7-8). The Bride's exaltation is so great and her deliverance from her enemies is so wonderful, John is moved to fall at the feet of the person showing these things to him (19:10). But the person forbids this, and John is shown heaven opened and Christ, who is called Faithful and True, riding a white horse and followed by His armies going forth into the earth. Here the Lord smites the nations with the sword of His mouth, which is the Word of God (19:15). He rules the nations with a rod of iron and treads them in the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. The "nations" are not just political entities; they are the masses of unbelievers who continue in rebellion against God and in persecution of His Church. They shall fall as surely as Rome.

But, thanks be to God, some will be saved. The Word of God is a fearful Word of Judgment to those who refuse Him, but a welcome Word of Grace to those who receive Him in faith. Thus, we see in Revelation 19, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords advancing through the earth, establishing His Kingdom and bringing all things under His rule. Many will be defeated by His wrath, but many will be won by His grace.

Thursday after the Sunday after Ascension

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 66, 1 Kings 2:1-15, Rev. 21:1-8
Evening - Ps. 72, Is. 9:2-7, Acts 3:11

Commentary, Revelation 21:1-8

Revelation chapters 1-19 have shown the conquest of Jerusalem and the fall of the Roman Empire. Though history to us, these events were far in the future when John wrote the Revelation. But chapters 20-22 leap into events that are future to us also. Chapter 20 shows the Millennial Age, and also the fate of the wicked on Judgment Day. They have followed Satan, the great deceiver, they have resisted God, and they have persecuted His people since Cain killed Abel. Now their end is come upon them and they follow the deceiver to his doom, and theirs. Chapter 21 shows the future happiness of the Church. Here we see God bring the days of earth to an end and bring His people to their eternal bliss in a new heaven and earth (21:1). "New" means a new and different kind of heaven and earth, for the old is passed away. In verse 2 we see the new Jerusalem, the holy city, the city of peace. She comes as a bride adorned for her husband. This city is a symbol of the Church (Rev. 19:7-9), but it is also a symbol of God. In it God and His people dwell together in perfect unity and joy. All the suffering of earth, the persecutions, the disease, the sorrows and tears are wiped away by God Himself. They passed away with the old earth. There is no place for them in the new.

Thus God says, "It is done" (21:6). Not done in the sense of being ended, God is telling us His great work is now fully accomplished. All enemies have been put under His feet. The corruption and decay of the physical creation has been ended. The Church has been gathered unto Him and lives in Him literally, face to face. All of the promises and hopes of His people have been fulfilled, and all of the plans and purpose of God have been brought into their fullest possible state of being. The story, the work of redemption is completed, but the state, the condition of redemption is a present reality forever and forever. Everything the Bible tells us about exists in absolute fullest perfection in Rev. 21:6. It is hard to put this into words, for we use superlatives to describe things that are meaningless in comparison to what God is doing in this verse, but it may not be too much to say "It is done" are some of the most important words in all of Scripture.

Verses 7 and 8 take us back to the first century Christians to whom Revelation was first addressed. But the words apply to all Christians of all times. Who will dwell in the New Jerusalem? Who will see the fulfillment of everything he has prayed for and longed for since the day he first knelt at the foot of the cross and gave his heart to Christ? "He that overcometh." He shall inherit these things. They are for those who overcome the world through faith. They are for those who overcome their enemies by remaining faithful to Christ. They are for those who live for Christ at all times and at all costs. They are not for those who turn back. They are not for those who call themselves Christians but live like the devil. They not for the unfaithful. They are for those who are faithful to the end. 

Friday after the Sunday after Ascension

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 115, Is. 35, Rev. 21:19
Evening - Ps. 116, 117, 2 Sam. 22:32-51, Acts 4:1-12

Commentary, Revelation 21:19

"It is done." These words in Revelation 21:6 are at the very heart of the Biblical message. Everything that comes before them, from Genesis to this very verse is about God working to bring His people and His creation to this point of fulfillment and accomplishment. Everything that comes after them expounds and elucidates them. David Clark called chapter 21 the "watershed that divides time and eternity," and verse 6 the consummation and climax of the long process of redemption. Writing of this passage, Jonathan Edwards said, "God created the world to provide a spouse and a kingdom for His Son: and the setting up of the kingdom of Christ, and the spiritual marriage of the spouse to Him, is what the whole creation labours and travails in pain to bring to pass."

In Ephesians 1:10 we learn the purpose of God in creation. Why did He create the world and put up with sinners, and even come to earth and die to save them? He did so for one purpose, "That in the dispensation of the fulness of times He might gather into one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in Him." In Revelation 21:6, "It is done." God's purpose is accomplished fully and perfectly.

Verses 9-27 show the wondrous happiness of God's Church in that era of "the fullness of times." It is the bride of Christ, the Church that is described in these verses. She is the New Jerusalem, the great and holy city descending out of heaven from God, "having the glory of God; and her light was like unto a stone most precious" (21:10-11). References to jeweled walls and streets of gold symbolise the glory and joy of the Church in Heaven. Chief among her joys is the absolute presence of God. In the age of fulfillment the Church literally dwells in Christ and He in her. There is no need for Temple or church buildings, which are symbols of the presence of God. Our communion with Him will be full and complete forever when, "It is done." 

Saturday after the Sunday after Ascension

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 81, Zech 8:1-23, Rev. 22:1-17
Evening - Ps. 46, 133, Deut. 16:9-12, Rom. 8:12-18

Commentary, 22:1-17

The 22nd chapter of Revelation shows the conclusion of God's work of redemption. In this chapter, the world has ended, the enemies of God have been defeated, and the Bride of Christ has been presented to Him in whom she dwells in everlasting joy. The sorrows of earth are passed away to trouble her no more. Sickness, death, and persecution, all aspects of the curse, are but as a shadow that has passed and is no more. Fears, doubts, and questions, have passed also. In that New Jerusalem we know even as we are known.

How this vision must have comforted the churches of Asia Minor. How it must have strengthened them for the tribulation they endured. But, as important as this picture of their future bliss must have been, it was also important for them to know God was already at work, already bringing this great redemption into being. "Behold, I come quickly" (21:7) does not refer to the Second Coming, but to Christ coming to His people to answer their prayers and to begin the work of their deliverance. They are not told to wait until the end of time; they are told their Saviour is even now at work to deliver them and accomplish His purpose for them. And this work, now begun in them, which seems so small compared to worldly powers, will bring them, and all of God's Church, to the glorious fulfillment shown in this chapter.

This completes the great work of redemption. We have seen the end, the goal, the complete fulfillment. We have seen the Church go from a small band of persecuted outcasts to the very pinnacle of honour and joy. We have seen her enemies judged and punished, but, more importantly, we have seen the great victory of our God. His purpose was not defeated in Eden. Rebellion in the house of Israel did not prevent His victory. The rejection and crucifixion of Christ Himself did not defeat our God, for it was His own plan that Christ should die, and it was by His obedience unto death that He overcame the world. The empires of the world, great and mighty in their own eyes, appearing to the Church as powerful and terrible in their relentless tribulation of the Church, cannot stand before the power of God. He sweeps them away with ease. Jerusalem has fallen. Mighty Rome is crushed. God has marched through history, extending His Kingdom and vanquishing His foes until all enemies are put under His feet and He alone is known to be King of kings and Lord of lords who reigns forever and ever. Not even the devil is able to resist His power. God uses Satan as it pleases Him, and, when the time comes, destroys him with ease. Thanks be to God, many of His enemies are conquered by grace. They have become the Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and they will live in Him forever.

Even in this vision of the end, the Bible thrusts us back to our own time with the invitation to come and drink the water of life (salvation) freely. This is an encouragement to those already in Christ. It tells us to abide in Him, to remain faithful to the very end, no matter what the cost. It tells us to seek and love God with all our heart, to make disciples of all nations, and to contend for the faith once delivered. Stand fast in the evil day. Never retreat. Never bow to any "beast," for your cause is Christ's cause, and "He shall reign forever and ever."

This is also an encouragement to those who are yet in rebellion and sin. The Day of Judgment is coming. Christ's enemies will not enter into His Kingdom. The joys of the New Jerusalem are not for them unless they repent. "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved."

Sunday after Ascension Sermon


Why We still Believe
1 Peter 4:7- 11, John 15:26-16:4
Sunday after Ascension
May 12, 2013

The Christian faith is either revealed truth from God, or it is just one of many made up stories that we can identify with or not as we choose.  Christian morality is either God's law binding upon all people at all times, or it is just another competing human view which we are free to accept or reject as we please.  Yet billions of people down through history, many of them the brightest lights of humanity, have earnestly believed the Christian faith is truth from God.  Even today billions of people still believe.  The  World Council of Churches claims to have 590 million members. There are over 330,000 protestant denominations. 300 million people are part of the Eastern Orthodox Church.  1.2 billion people are Roman Catholics.  I personally have problems calling some of these people Christians, but the fact is, they believe they are, and that raises a question; why, in this, "enlightened" age, do so many still believe?  Why do we still cling to Christianity?

We still cling to Christianity because we believe it is the faith given by God.  We say this because we believe Jesus Christ brought the Christian faith to us, and we believe Jesus Christ was is and forever will be, God.  We believe He is the word who was with God and who was God in John 1:1.  We believe He is the word who became flesh in John 1:14.  We believe Him when He said in John 10:30, "I and my Father are one, " and in John 8:18, "the Father that sent me beareth witness of me," and, "he that hath seen me hath seen the Father" in John 14:9.  Thus we agree fully with Hebrews 1:1 and 2, "God, who at sundry times and in diverse manners spake in times past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken to us by his Son."

How did God speak to us in His Son Jesus Christ?  He spoke to us in the teaching of Jesus.  Jesus came to teach us about God.  He said,"I do nothing of myself; but as the Father hath taught me, I speak these things"  (Jn. 8:18).  Looking through the Bible we see Jesus spending most of His time teaching about God.  We see the Sermon on the Mount.  We see Him teaching in the synagogues and in the Temple.  We especially see Him teaching the men who would become His Apostles.  We see Him taking them aside for special times of private instruction.  He even spent time teaching them after His resurrection.  Thus, on the Emmaus road, "beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself" (Lk. 24:27).

It was these same men that He commissioned to be His witnesses, preaching the same faith He gave to them.  They were "ambassadors for Christ" (2 Cor. 5:20),  and "stewards of the mysteries of God" (1 Cor 4:1).   They were to proclaim only what they had received from Christ, the very same faith He taught, the very word of Christ..  They were to "preach the word," as the Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy (2 Tim 4:1).  And they were to pass that same word on to others, who were to pass it on to others,  and so it will continue down through the generations (2 Tim. 2:2).

So we believe the Christian faith is given to the world by God, and taught in the Church from the time of Christ to this very moment.  It was preserved by God through the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit enabled the Apostles to understand and preserve the faith.  They preserved it by teaching it, and commissioning others to teach it.  They also preserved it by recording it in the books and letters we now call the New Testament.


We believe God established a people, a kingdom, an organisation called the Church, and a major part of its purpose is to preserve and proclaim the faith. given to it.  We believe the Church was established by God, for Christ Himself said, "on this rock I will build my church."  We believe all Christians are to be active and faithful members of the Church.  For Hebrews 10:25 tells us not to absent ourselves from its meetings.  Christ gave the faith to the Church and the Bible calls Christianity the faith once delivered to the saints.  This is why St. Paul calls the Church the pillar and ground of truth, because it preserves the faith given to it by Christ.

For two thousand years the Church has struggled to preserve the faith.  It has been persecuted by enemies, and untold numbers of her people have died in Coliseums and dungeons and on crosses, rather than give up the faith.  It has been torn by heresy.  I said earlier that I have a hard time calling some people Christians.  That is because so many of them have adopted other gospels and given up on the faith given by Christ.  This is not surprising to us, for the Bible itself says the time will come when people will not endure sound doctrine, and will turn away from the truth to fables.  I submit to you that many who call themselves Christians today are actually following fables rather than truth.  Yet God has His remnant, His people who have not bowed the knee to other gods or departed from the faith.  It is this Invisible Church within the Church that is the true Church.  And, though not perfect in either faith or practice, not even close to perfection, this Church continues in the faith, and always will.

That brings me to this present moment and this very place.  It brings me to we who call ourselves Christians here and now.  The faith has been given.  It has come to us at great cost and much suffering.  It is ours to believe, to treasure, and to preserve, and to hand down to future generations.  Having it makes us stewards of the manifold grace of God, as the Apostle Peter wrote in the passage we read earlier this morning.  But I note that Peter didn't just call us stewards of the grace of God.  He told us to do certain things, "as good stewards of the manifold grace of God."  He is saying that having the grace of God makes us its stewards.  Now we must decide to be bad stewards, or good stewards.  God help to be good stewards.