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.

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“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