The Lion is the Lamb – Revelation 5

Lionlamb-3          There is a TV show called Madame Secretary. It is about a fictitious Secretary of State.  In one of the story lines there is a dangerous religious cult.  This cult believes that it is their calling to bring about the events of the book of Revelation.  They turn out to be terrorists in their own right.

Such groups exist. But they are wrong.  No one can bring about the events of the end but the Lion, who is also the Lamb.  He alone can open the scroll of God’s decree.

Up to the time of Christ, people were looking for a Lion. They wanted a great military leader. They wanted their own Alexander the Great, or their own Caesar to lead in conquest.

When Jesus came, he rode into the city on a donkey, not a war horse.  He was a teacher, not a terrorist.  He started with only 12 men – who had to follow him as a homeless preacher of righteousness.  He came to Jerusalem, not to reign, but to purify the house of worship from money making.

He was not a Lion as the people had hoped for. He was the Lamb, as John had called him.   Like a lamb, he accepted his arrest, his false trials, and his death at the hand  of the Roman governor.  Like a lamb he was a substitute, he gave his life to save his people from wrath.

All of that history of the Gospel is summarized when the Lion of Judah is revealed as the Lamb of God.

He went to the Almighty and took the scroll from his hand.  He alone is worthy.

What we see here is that the path for God’s will to come to the earth, the path to victory is not a military path.

In history the Roman General Constantine had a vision where a cross appeared in the sky, He took that as a sign to become a Christian. He baptized his army by marching them through a river.  That made them Christians (in name only). Later when he became emperor, he made Christianity a legal and even a favored religion.  Now the kingdom of God was tied to the power of Rome.

Through history the Gospel has been entangles with various political causes or parties or leaders. It always ends up as a disappointment.  Why, because we can only be lead by the Lamb of God.  The Lion of Judah is the Lamb who was slain.

Do not think that we can make our nation righteous by the use of Governmental power.  Government can do good and it can certainly do harm. But it is not capable of bringing about the kingdom of God.

“Evangelical” is not about Politics

greekThe word “evangelical” comes from the Greek word for Gospel or Good News.  It was lifted up as the descriptor of the Protestant Reformation – The Lutheran and Reformed churches were gospel centered.  The Gospel they were talking about was that religion and church politics had nothing to do with faith, but trust in Christ does.  Trends and culture can not determine the shape of the church or its message, the scriptures do.  Doing things does not make us right with God, believing the Gospel does.

The word Evangelical in mid 20th Century  America meant all of that, and it meant to distinguish itself from anti-intellectual fundamentalism and religious legalism.  It meant to affirm careful scholarship and intellectual rigor within the fence of faith.  It meant an open engagement with our culture. It meant to be aware of the world outside of our city, state and nation.

Since about 1980, the term Evangelical has become a descriptor of a voting block. some of this makes sense.  To be pro-life affirms that God is the author of life (See Genesis 1 and 2.)  But I would say that has implication for both abortion and healthcare, both end of life and middle of life.  We can hardly be pro-life and advocate random violence on our nations enemies.

But some of this does not make theological sense.  To be pro- or anti – gun control is not a thing found in the Bible – though indirectly we might talk about justice and freedom. Some issues can not be solved in a 140 character Tweet nor with a Facebook like button.

Some evangelical leaders promoted an agenda of Christianizing America through politics.  Now I agree with being informed citizens, active voters and advocates for truth and wisdom within our culture.  But I do not believe we can legislate people into Christendom.  It has been tried many times and failed. (Read up on Constantine, the Holy Roman Empire, the Crusades, the New England experiment, Prohibition, and the Moral Majority.)

This idea inevitably compromises the activist. In order to support a political coalition, we have to partner with and excuse partners that are personally unethical or who advocate things that disagree with our core document.  Hence the gospel is part of the hustle and wheeling and dealing of politics.  In this process it is debased.

We do need to speak truth to our culture.  Anti Slavery laws were motivated in great part by christian concerns for the dignity of human life.  The Civil Rights movement grew out and through churches in the 50’s and 60’s.  While abortion remains legal, the numbers of them has declined from the heyday of the 70s. It was said the life was a blob of flesh, but sonograms (science!) showed otherwise.

So as individuals and people dedicated to causes, let’s advocate and vote.  But as churches, denominations and ministers of the Gospel, let us not baptize the mixed sausage or truth, near truth, half lies and deal making that is the eternal recipe for politics.

Let “evangelical” cause people to think about Jesus, not Senator X, Governor Y or President Z. But let Evangelical Citizens A through Z vote, volunteer, give, advocate, serve, engage, disagree and be like Jesus doing it.

 

 

Reconciliation

blacklogoMy @ONE series on the Atonement is progressing.  On the aspect of Atonement that has to do with Reconciliation, I had come in my thinking to think of things like racial and national reconciliation.  That is all certainly in view.  Yet the methods of reconciliation among us usually deals with mutual interests, cultural competency, empathy, and other actions that come from us to others.

The need for Reconciliation to God has receded in our cultural thinking, for of course God is love and accepts all people.  Yet….

In the key passages of scripture the idea of Reconciliation is centered on the work of the Cross of Christ.  God does the reconciling and it is cruciform.

One passage is 2 Corinthians 5:18-21.  Here is my syntactical outline.  First of all, it is all from God. Then the work is accomplished by Christ (underlined portions) and our part is to be messengers (yellow highlight).  Not counting trespasses (v. 19) is not because God does not keep a record, but because he put the trespasses on Christ (v. 21).

At the top of the whole discussion is this statement “All this is from God.”

Capture

the yet in-progress sermon is this

I. Reconciliation is God’s work v. 18a

II. God Reconciled us by the death of Christ (underlined)

III. God Reconciles the world by the Gospel (yellow)

 

Who are “the least of these” in Matthew 25

Least

I am aware of two interpretations of the expression, “the least of these my brethren.”  It is used in the parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25:31-46.

One view emphasizes “brethren” and indicates that we will be evaluated by how we receive the servants of Christ. This interpretation notes that receiving the messengers of Jesus brought a blessing when the 12 were sent out in mission to the towns of Judea (Matthew 10:1-16).

Another passage on that theme is Matthew 18, where there is a blessing to those who humble themselves like a child to receive the kingdom. (Mt. 18:1-4)

Both of those passages indicate that a faith response is what makes someone one of Jesus “brethren.”

The other view puts the emphasis on “the least of these.”  This passage has been seen as a central motivator in missions of compassion to the poor.  Some go so far as to say that since God has a preference for the poor, they are already his brethren, and so this is very inclusive. There is no need for the recipient of acts of mercy to have a faith response because they are already God’s children.

This interpretation stands behind a lot of Christian ministries of compassion and justice.

Now, how can we answer this from Matthew?

First, we have to include both parts of “the least of these” and “my brethren.”  So Jesus is indicating something about social insignificance and about a faith response.  I say that because of verses like “blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.”  a recognition of need is a prerequisite to entrance into the Kingdom.(Mt 5:3)

Secondly,  we notice in Chapter 25, there is a division between those who receive grace and are included and those who do not.  In the parable of the 10 Bridesmaids, 5 are prepared and enter and 5 are left out.  In the parable of the Talents, the third servant is cast outside for his lack of faith in his master.  In the Sheep and the Goats, the nations are divided between those who are Sheep (who enter the Kingdom) and the Goats (those sent to eternal punishment.)  So Matthew 25 does not support the idea of total inclusion of all people into the Kingdom of God.  Some are outside, and can hardly be considered to be brethren of Christ.

Third, there is an equivalency between those who follow Jesus and becoming the least.  The Sermon on he Mount as a manual for discipleship is opposed to self-sufficiency.  The call to discipleship is the call to leave everything, (Mt:16:24)
The mission of the 12 involved self-denial and dependency on reception by those who hear the message. (Mt 10:8ff).

Finally, there is a connection between receiving Jesus messengers and receiving Jesus.  Matthew 10:40-42 reads as follows.

40 “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. 41 The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and the one who receives a righteous person because he is a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward.42 And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.”

Notice the strong connection between giving water to “little ones” with their being a “disciple”.

I believe we do have a strong calling to generalized compassion ministries.  We can find that all through the scriptures from the Law, the Prophets, the Wisdom literature, the teaching of Jesus and the Apostles.  But that does not seem to be the meaning of this text.

This text does call us to compassion.  Let us help the needy and seed justice for the poor.

But we can not separate sharing the compassion of Jesus from receiving the message about Jesus.

Romans Road

logo.nolineThe sermon in Acts 2 was to people who already believed in God and the scriptures.  They needed to get the part about Jesus.  So if you are sharing the gospel with someone who has a background similar to that – they believe in God and have a regard for the Bible, then this is one way to share the gospel.

“Are you free of evangelicals?”

Sign.smBut what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.

         This is a Gospel verse.  The word “Gospel” comes from old English and it means Good News.  We are here at Bethany Evangelical Free Church.  The word Evangelical – do you know what it means?

Some people think it means a group of people who vote a certain way.  A pastor friend of mine says that they get this call from time to time:  “You are an Evangelical Free church, does that mean you don’t have any Evangelicals there?”  They think Evangelical Free is like Sugar Free.

Gospel is English for this word Evangelical.   “evangel” is a Greek word that means good news. This is important because the Christian message is not about how to be good.  Lots of people think that the reason to be a Christian is to learn how to be good, how to be a good neighbor and how to earn a place in Heaven.

We have the word Evangelical in our name. We have the word Gospel in our message to remind us that the Christian message is not what we do for ourselves.  It is what God does for us. That is the Good News.  It is not about being good or becoming good, it is about being welcomed by God as if we are good.

Saving ourselves would be bad news – just ask all the people who know you if you are perfect.  Only what is perfect is fit for God.  So earning your way to God’s blessing is bad news, receiving God’s approval and blessing is the Good news.

Parable of the Sower – a worksheet on Jesus’ Gospel

seeds

 

To follow up the previous post, I have made a worksheet from Matthew on what the preaching of the gospel of the kingdom might mean.  It seems to me best to define the term from Matthew’s context first and then broaden the search.

 

What is the Message

 

Pick a Book – some preaching on Revelation 20

Books of Judgment:

Then some books are opened. First there are the record books.  Every person is then judged by their actions.  God keeps a record of our words and our actions.  It says two times that the dead are judged by what they had done as it is recorded in the books.

Many people are confident that they are good. They think God will measure our lives and say that we are ok.

One teacher said that as the record of our deeds are read out, that our good and our bad are put on a balance. If we measure good, we get heaven. If we measure out bad, we get hell.

But that idea is not in the bible.  The bible only says that we are condemned by our works. We already know what is in this book of records.

Romans 3:23  “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

The verdict for every person will be:  GUILTY

What do you think God has written down for you?

There is enough sin in every person go convict us.

The Book of Life:

The good news is that there is another book.  The book of the records of our lives only gives bad news.

The other book has good news.   It is called the Book of Life.

It contains Names.  It does not contain our sins or our good deeds. It has names.  It is simple how it works.  If your name is written in the book of life, you will be forgiven of your sins and given life.

If your name is not written in this book, then you have to take the punishment for your sins.  Here is what Revelation says about that:  “If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”

Our sins then would condemn us to the fire with the Dragon and the 2 beasts.

The Book of Life is mentioned through the bible.

Moses offered to remove his name from the book of Life if God would forgive the sins of Israel – God said that he would not do that.  Moses could not trade his life for theirs.  [Exodus 32]

Daniel the prophet spoke of the book of life that would be revealed in the last days.

Jesus spoke of the book of life in Luke 10 – He said to his followers that they should not be proud of what good works they did for the Lord, He said, “…but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”  [Luke 10:17-20]

Paul speaks of the book of life.  [Philippians 4:3]

And it is mentioned 5 times in the book of Revelation.  [3:5; 13:8; 20:12-15; 21:27]   The last time it says

”Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.”  Revelation 21:27

So the most important question is this.  Who gets their name written in the Book of Life.

The clue is that it is called the Lamb’s book of life.  This is the book of all those who’s sins were paid by the Lamb of God.  Jesus offered his life in exchange for ours.  Moses tried to do that, but God did not accept Moses offer.  But when Jesus gave is body over to death for us, he became our substitute.

The only way to be in the book of life is to receive Jesus, the lamb of God, by faith.

Have you done that?  Before we go to take communion, I want to pray.  If you know that you belong to him, thank God for the gift of forgiveness.

If you don’t, I invite you to ask for his forgiveness.

Prayer:  Lord Jesus, you are the Lamb of God.  I confess my sins.  My sins are written in your book. By these sins I deserve death.   Forgive me  in Jesus name.  Erase from your book all of my sins.  Come into my heart.  Include my name in the book of Life.  Amen.

The Gospel in James – James 1:18

James is described as a practical book. It seems to be guidance for the converted – preaching for the choir.  Some, including Luther, have had difficulty with James and specifically where we find the Gospel.

J. A. Motyer has the insight that the first chapter of the book is aimed at the individual (see the pronouns) and then later he deals with issues of life in community: wealth, words, favoritism, the needy.

With that in mind, the first chapter is preparation for the wisdom journey he wants us to travel. It includes a reminder of the Gospel – without spelling it out.

“He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of first fruits of all he created.”  If this were merely about natural birth in the world, then who are the “we” and are they distinct as first-fruits?  He is speaking of the redeemed  – those who have heard and received the “word of truth”.  So we are saying the word of truth is the Gospel.

Is it not reasonable to think that James, speaking to believers does not spell out the “word of truth” because his audience knows it.

Isn’t it this below, my take on John 3:16?   Yes the verse Tebow had on his football eyeshadow at U of Florida and which the rainbow wig guy held up in the end zone for years:

God, the creator of all things, including the heavenly lights, so loved the world, even though it is sick with sin, and all the people in it, even though we argue, rebel and ignore him, that he sent his only begotten son, Jesus, who was with him at the creation of all things, and was born to Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem in Judea.  He did this so that whoever believes in him, that is to say, whoever trusts in him, knows that he is the Son of God and Savior and relies on him totally for the ability to receive Gods life, will not perish, as a consequence of our sin and stubbornness, but will have eternal life, which starts at the moment of faith and lives on beyond the projected 5 billion life span of our solar system into the light of eternity.

Crossing Barriers, Facing the Issues – John 4

9 The woman was surprised, for Jews refuse to have anything to do with Samaritans.  

 She said to Jesus, “You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman. Why are you asking me for a drink?”

10 Jesus replied, “If you only knew the gift God has for you and who you are speaking to, you would ask me, and I would give you living water.”

11 “But sir, you don’t have a rope or a bucket,” she said, “and this well is very deep. Where would you get this living water?

Crossing Barriers.  You are probably familiar with the point that the text makes.  There was a long standing hostility between Jews and Samaritans.  This was based on religious differences, and on racial differences.

We know how fierce hatreds can exist between two nations who live side by side – such as between Irish and English or between Swede and Norwegian.  This sort of conflict existed between these two nations.

Most Jews would travel around Samaria, and never pass through the middle.  It was safer and more familiar.

I have friends who hate cities and never travel through the middle.  They take the freeway around the city.  How boring is that.  Every McDonalds and every Home Depot looks alike from the freeway.  But people and neighborhoods within cities are always changing and always interesting.

Jesus passed through Samaria – which was easier than going around it.  What is the straightest line between two points?  Is it a large circle, or a straight line?

Jesus spoke with a woman there.  Now men did not speak with women and Jewish men did not talk to Samaritan women.  It was not done.  Jesus did it.  But this was also easier.  Jesus could have climbed down a rope into the well, took some water and climbed out, but wasn’t it easier to ask this stranger for water?  Yes, I think so.

Jesus made lots happen because he did not let fears and frontiers scare him away.

Facing Issues.  Now let me list you what things Jesus spoke with the Woman about in these few verses:

  1. Jacob and his well
  2. Living water
  3. The woman’s multiple husbands
  4. Jewish vs. Samaritan worship (aka Religion)
  5. True Worship
  6. The Holy Spirit in conversion.
  7. Who is the messiah?

By my count they covered seven difficult issues.  For example if it were an Islamic Woman we might discuss Isaac and Ishmael.  Living water is a very spiritual concept.  Speaking of someone’s failed marriages or relationships is not calculated to make friends.  Religious differences are to be avoided in public.  Have you heard of the worship wars between hymns and choruses? What of those between Jerusalem and Samaria?  The Holy Spirit, now there is an easy subject for conversation, as is the Messiah.

Jesus did not avoid these. He did not paper them over.  He spoke simply and wisely about these.  Is it hard?  I think it is hard to live a life of ignorance. And it is hard to live a life where we ignore the issues that people talk about.  If you are a thinking person, and if you have been listening in church, bible study and in your own reading, you have thought about many of these things.

Is it so hard to speak of them?  No, it is hard to shut up all the time.  At least for me it is!