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Fight: Week 6

October 13, 2014 0 Comments Tweet This

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So today we come to the end of our 6 week series called Fight. We have been exploring together questions like:What does the Bible say about warfare and violence? Can a Christian use violence? Go to war? Kill in self-defense? Why does the Old Testament seem to present violence in a positive light while the New Testament seems more negative? Do we kill our enemies (Joshua) or love them (Jesus)?

Now if you’ve been with us throughout this series, you realize that these questions are not easy ones to wrestle with. They are complicated and take a lot of thought, prayer, dialogue, and reading Scripture together. I hope you also realized that the point of this series was to begin to ask the questions, help our community to wrestle with these questions, and look at what Jesus might have to say about these issues. And so maybe at the end of this series you have more questions than answers, that is okay. Keeping searching. Maybe you have really been challenged with the material and you want to continue learning and researching. Some good books that you might want to read include: Fight by Preston Sprinkle, Farewell to Mars by Brian Zahnd, Jesus for President & Irresistible Revolution both by Shane Claiborne, God Behaving Badly by David Lamb, the Politics of Jesus by John Howard Yoder, and read anything by Greg Boyd and Bruxy Cavey as well. Hopefully these resources will help you as you continue to wrestle with God’s call for his people to live Shalom in all areas of life and out in the world. And maybe you aren’t where I am in regards to Biblical non-violence and that is okay. But hopefully we all have been challenged to live more and more like Jesus and more and more living out his call to Shalom.

But today as we end our time together in this series we are going to tackle probably one of the more difficult questions that people who hold to Biblical non-violence get: What about Revelation? How do you get non-violence out of the book of Revelation? After all one theologian says, “Christ himself will engage in actual blood-shedding, life-taking warfare, when he returns to set up his Kingdom. He also instructs his people to engage in that warfare.” Another popular Pastor said this about the Jesus he found in Revelation, “In Revelation, Jesus is a prize fighter with a tattoo down his leg, a sword in his hand, and a pension to make someone bleed.” This Pastor is no doubt referencing our text for the morning, Revelation 19:11-21 in his words. So we will take a look at this text which from face value looks like it supports what the theologian and Pastor has said about it. We’ll see how it really is actually flipping violence on it’s head when we understand and really look at the text.

So let’s look at Revelation 19:11-21, “ I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war.  His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself.  He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean.  Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty.  On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: king of kings and lord of lords. And I saw an angel standing in the sun, who cried in a loud voice to all the birds flying in midair, “Come, gather together for the great supper of God,  so that you may eat the flesh of kings, generals, and the mighty, of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all people, free and slave, great and small.” Then I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies gathered together to wage war against the rider on the horse and his army.  But the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who had performed the signs on its behalf. With these signs he had deluded those who had received the mark of the beast and worshiped its image. The two of them were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur.  The rest were killed with the sword coming out of the mouth of the rider on the horse, and all the birds gorged themselves on their flesh.”

Now just from first glance, as I said, it looks like the text supports the statements from the theologian and pastor. But we need to realize something, Revelation is a genre of literature called Apocalyptic. This genre of literature is a highly symbolic type of literature. If you interpret Revelation as a literal snapshot of what is going to take place the last couple of years of world history, then yes you’ll find a Jesus who appears violent. But because Revelation is apocalyptic in it’s genre, it completely rules out a literal reading as virtually every scholar acknowledges. It is important to note, as NT Wright points out, that the military imagery here is symbolic and not to be taken literally. Some people anticipate a real physical battle with actual military weapons when reading and interpreting this passage. These people take military metaphors and make them literal. The Bible, however, takes military language and makes it metaphorical. This is a depiction of a real defeat, but it is not a description of actual occurrences. Evil will certainly be overthrown. Not, however, with an earthly military campaign. This is a spiritual conflict. It is fought with spiritual weapons. No general would actually lead a battle with a sword hanging out of his mouth. No army would actually go into battle dressed in “fine linen, white and clean” (v. 14). This is clearly symbolic language.

Once we stop reading this type of literature literally, we begin to see that the Jesus of Revelation is actually the same shalom-loving, enemy loving, turn the other check, nonviolent activist that we find in the gospel. In fact what John is doing is actually transforming violent images into images that are anti-violent. Also we need to know that this book was written to those who lived on the underbelly of the greatest empire of the world (at the time) and how that fact forms the central purpose of Revelation. The central purpose of Revelation is to call God’s people who are facing immanent persecution to remain faithful to God’s Lamb-like character despite the appearance that this way of living loses in the face of Babylon.

So with the idea that this isn’t to be taken literal (which to some might sound heretical or “liberal”) and the purpose of the book out of the way, let’s look at the words of John and see what it might say to us living in the midst of the empire that we live in and under.

In Revelation 19:11-12 we read, “I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war.  His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself.” So here we see Jesus, called Faithful and true, on a white horse, which symbolizes victory. The “battle” has already been won before it was ever really “fought”. We see Jesus judging and waging war with justice. Now what does it mean when it says Jesus wages war. Does this totally contradict what we have been saying during this series? This is not a physical war, it is a war of words, ideas, concepts, worldviews. It is a spiritual battle between evil and good. Between the power of Satan and the power of Jesus. This isn’t Jesus riding into a physical battle with physical weapons. This is Jesus riding into a spiritual battle with spiritual weapons, and we’ll find out in a little bit what the spiritual weapon is that he has.

So then we turn to a very interesting part of the text, and one that again seems to totally go against this non-violent reading of Scripture, but when we take a deeper look at it, we realize that it confirms the non-violent, enemy loving, crucified lamb of God that is throughout the New Testament. Look at verses 13-16 which says,  “He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God.  The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean.  Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty.  On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: king of kings and lord of lords.” Did you notice anything interesting in verse 13? Here he is getting ready to ride into battle but his robe is already dipped in blood. Dipped in blood even before the battle. Which then begs the question, whose blood is Jesus’ robe dipped in? What kind of warrior is soaked in blood before the battle? Well, when we look at the rest of Revelation we see that Jesus is often called the Lamb of God. And here we see that played out. Jesus, the warrior, is the slain-lamb and he is covered in his own blood. He didn’t and doesn’t spill others blood but allows for his own blood to be shed on behalf of his enemies. NT Wright says this, “the staining of clothes of the Messiah is his own blood. We are told again and again that the lamb has conquered through his blood, his sacrificial death, and that his followers are to conquer in the same way.”

And so as he rides into “battle” covered in his own blood, the text says that his name is the Word of God, and that he has a sword coming out of his mouth. These two facts, his name and the sword coming from his mouth are intimately connected. And remember the spiritual weapon that I mentioned before? This is it, the Word of God and the sword, which are both the same thing. Notice, that unlike what the Pastor says, the sword comes from his mouth. By placing the sword in the mouth of the slain lamb, John is reversing its violent meaning. John is saying that the Lamb warrior fights not by shedding blood but by simply speaking the truth of God, the word of God and slaying the lies of the deceiver. Remember the other week when we look at Isaiah 11:4 when it had a rod coming out of his mouth. This is the same idea. And so Jesus wins the war with a word. Jesus speaks and the armies fall over dead. No swords, no hale storms, no plagues. No giant insects. He speaks and it is over. The power of God’s word to confront, challenge, convict, and judge. It is exactly like Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” Just as God created the world in the beginning with the power of His Word, God will judge the world at the end with the Word of Truth and Justice.

What does he do with the sword that comes from his mouth? He strikes down nations. Does that mean he strikes them down by killing them? If that is the case then how can he rule over them with an iron scepter? It’s obvious that Jesus didn’t kill anyone with the sword because right after Jesus strikes the nations down he is set up to rule over them with an iron scepter. And later we find the slain nations walking by the light of the lamb.

And right after the ruling, we read these words, “He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty.” What does that even mean? NT Wright has this to say, “The symbolism is appropriate because it is taken directly from the passages which speak most powerfully..Isaiah 63, where he (the Messiah) will tread the winepress of the wrath of God. As John’s readers know well by now, the actual weapons which Jesus uses to win the battle are his own blood, his loving self-sacrifice.” Also what is pretty interesting about this passage is that while the ruling of the nation with an iron scepter (or better phrased shepherding) is in the future tense, his treading of the grapes in in the present, matching it with the present tense of his use of the sword which is coming out of his mouth. This means that Christ’s teaching on grapes doesn’t come after he smites the deceived nations with the word of truth, but rather treads on grapes while he slays the deceived nations. Or you could say that “smiting” nations with the truth (sword from his mouth) and treading on the grapes in the winepress are one and the same activity These nations are being slain by the truth.

The rest of the passage relies on what is found on Jesus’ robe and thigh, the tattoo that reads, “King of Kings and Lord of Lords.” The rest of the passage shows the total defeat of the powers of evil, sin, death, hell and of those who oppose the powers of good and of Jesus. That all of those aligned against Jesus at the end of time will come to defeat. That sin, death, evil, satan, and every thing aligned against Jesus will come to an end. That Jesus, the true King of Kings and Lord of Lords has been victorious, not by living a life of redemptive violence. That Jesus won the battle of sin, death, evil, hell and Satan, not by subjecting them to violence, but by absorbing violence on the cross, and defeating the powers that be by his resurrection from the dead. Again NT Wright puts it this way, “The victory here is a victory over all pagan power, which means a victory over violence itself.” In the end Jesus is victor and he is the last word.

He is calling all of us to live the same lamb-like life. One that doesn’t believe in redemptive violence. One that doesn’t respond in violence but absorbs violence.
Jesus is calling each of us, through this text, to the same thing he has called each and every follower of his to, which he says in Luke 9:23, “Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”

The final judgment of God will not be a cosmic bloodshed initiated by God. Rather, it is God allowing evil to consume itself and the victory of the Cross in not being like the world. As much as this imagery is depicted in 1st century terms, it is still a message for us today. Though we may not be killed in the streets of America, there are still many ways in which we must sacrifice and die to ourselves in order to live for Christ. And Revelation shows that is the true path to victory.

So let’s spend some time talking through this. Let’s talk about what it means that Jesus is victor not through violence but absorbing violence. Let’s talk about how this text might shape our life in the here and now. And let’s talk about what you have been learning and how you have been growing and wrestling with Fight over the last 6 weeks.

1. What thoughts, comments, insights, questions, etc.. do you have regarding the Scripture and/or the message?

2. what does it means that Jesus is victor not through violence but absorbing violence. How does this text might shape our life in the here and now.

3. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it?n What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?

4. As we end our series today, what are some things that you are still thinking about, wrestling with, praying through or something that made a difference in your life during this series?

Fight: Week 5

October 6, 2014 0 Comments Tweet This

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We’ve been spending the past 4 weeks wrestling through questions and thoughts related to Biblical Non-Violence. We’ve walked through the Old Testament looking at the Biblical concept of Shalom. Shalom being defined as peace, but also joy, wholeness, fullness, completeness, and well being. We said that Shalom can probably best be defined as the way that things should be.

We talked about the fact that God’s original intent and his intent all along has been shalom. A world filled with Shalom where people are at peace with God, with each other, with all of creation. And that how we threw a wrench into that dream, but that he is continuing with his shalom dream.

Last week we entered the New Testament looking at the words of Jesus and showing his radical, third way, non-violent activism.

Today we are going to tackle probably one of the top 4 questions that people who talk about Biblical Non-Violence get. The first being what do you do about the Old Testament, the second being is what we talked about last week, the third being about Revelation and the supposed violence in the book and the fourth being “What about the Government? Do you expect that the Government should become non-violent? Should the government turn the other cheek? Should the government live out God’s original intention of Shalom. And what do you do about Romans 13?”

So today we will look at Romans 13 and what it says about how Christians are to engage with the government and what it might say to us about governments and non-violence.

Romans 13:1-7 says, “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.  Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.”

So often, especially in the evangelical world, people read these words as a defense of violence. Wayne Gruden, a theologian and scholar said, “The sword in the hand of a good government is God’s designated weapon to defeat evildoers.” But the question then becomes “Who decides what a good government is and what a bad government is? Is the United States the good guy or the bad guy? Depends a lot on your perspective. In fact Adolf Hitler, Idi Amin and other “Christian” dictators have celebrated this passage as a divine ticket to execute judgment and justice on their enemies. But is this what Paul was getting at when he wrote this passage in the midst of the Roman Empire? Was he talking about giving Rome (or our government today) the okay to go to war or is there more to it? And just so you know Romans 13 doesn’t authorize a nation to police the world, let alone wage preemptive strikes against nations it considers a threat.

To truly understand what Paul is getting at in Romans 13 we need to do a little bit of contextual work not only in relation to where and to whom Paul is writing to, but we also need to go back to chapter 12 as well, which verse 13:1 is the last of Paul’s litany of commands in Romans 12:9-21.

So Paul is writing Romans in the midst of the Roman Empire, an empire that was definitely not friendly to the church. And so what he is saying is super radical. That we are to submit to governing authorities, especially in a day and age in which many within jewish circles, especially the zealots were hoping to overthrow Rome using violence and the zealot dagger. Also super radical when you realize exactly who was in power when Paul wrote these words. The book of Romans was written around 57 AD and the ruler of the Roman Empire at that time was Nero. Nero known as one of the cruelest Caesars of all. Known for taking Christians, covering them in oil, and lighting them on fire so that they could have light at outdoor garden parties at night.

Even still, Paul writes: “submit to the authorities… as a matter of conscience” (13:5).  This clearly is not a text that gives any governmental ruler a free pass, so to speak. In fact, by the time this was written, the emperor cult was growing at a rapid rate.  The emperor was worshipped as a son of god throughout the Roman world.  Paul reminds Christians of who God actually is and of who actually has all authority.  The Apostle states in a subversive fashion: “…for there is no authority except that which God has established” (v. 1).  This serves as a reminder that Jesus is the world’s true Lord and that Caesar will be subject to his judgment.

But to get more to the point about what Romans 13 means we also have to look at the context. When the Bible was written there weren’t chapters or verses so sometimes we have artificial breaks in thoughts that aren’t supposed to be there. Let’s look at Romans 12 and see how it directly applies to Romans 13. Romans 12:9-21 says, “ Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.  Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.  Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.  Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.  Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.  Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.  If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.  Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.  On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” So no doubt Paul in Romans 12 is making connections to the Sermon on the Mount. And so there is the connection between Jesus and Paul in relation to Non-violence. Paul is explicitly forbidding the church in Romans 12 from doing what the government is doing in Romans 13. The church is only commanded to submit to but not partake in the state’s practice. And what we read in Romans 12 and 13 could probably best be described as Submit to the sword but don’t carry one.

The word that we find in Romans 13:1 in the NIV is subject but it could be submit to or subordinate. It doesn’t say obey governing authorities, it says submit or be subject to. Submission sometimes involves obedience and obedience sometimes involved submission. The word there that Paul uses is intentionally and deliberately the word for submit and not obey. So we are to submit to the government, as far as the government doesn’t conflict with the Kingdom of God. The New Testament is clear. We are to honor, submit to, and pray for our governing authorities. Paul Jewett says, “Submission to governmental authority is therefore an expression of response not for the authority themselves but for the crucified deity who stands behind them.” And so, as Christians (especially in the midst of the empire) you consider yourself under their order. This word in Romans 13 is not about patriotism, pledging allegiance, or any affection for the powers that be. Paul isn’t trying to convince unpatriotic Christians to pledge better allegiance. Rather, Paul’s problem is the opposite, he must convince Christians who are not conforming to the pattern of this world, seeking to live out Romans 12 to not overthrow a violent government by using the same violence.

In Romans 13 we see that God establishes all authorities. But this doesn’t mean that God approves of everything that these authorities do. The point of this is that God is to be considered greater than, not equal to, all the powers of this world. And that even the best government still goes by the rules and ways of the Kingdom of the World, and is not the Kingdom of God. The United States as great as it is, and I’m blessed to live here, is still not the Kingdom of God and it still plays by the rules of the Kingdom of this world But those of us who are seeking to follow King Jesus, and live under his rule and reign need to put first the Kingdom of God. And so we really shouldn’t expect governments and people who don’t live under the rule and reign of King Jesus, who live under a different King, to live out Kingdom of God ethics like what Paul is saying in Romans 12. It doesn’t make sense for those who aren’t followers of Jesus to honor others before yourself, to bless those who persecute you, to not curse them, to not repay evil with evil, to live at peace as much as it depends on you, and not to seek revenge. And then in reverse it doesn’t make sense for those of us who live under the rule and reign of King Jesus, who seek to live out the Kingdom of God, to live like we are under the Kingdom of the world. To fight violence with violence. To instead of picking up the cross, to pick up a sword. To repay evil with evil. No, Jesus is calling us to live out his upside down Kingdom, spelled out in many places including Romans 12 (and 13 by not calling the believers in Rome to revolt, to pick up swords and fight the powers of the empire with the powers of the empire but to fight the powers that be with the powers of the Kingdom of God- that of love)

A lot of times this text as a whole (while not reading it in the larger context of Romans 12 and 13) has been used to defend going to war, at least in the just war tradition. But this text has nothing to do with war. In fact when we read verse 4, we read these words, “For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason.” When we look at the word sword we find the greek word machiara. This greek word is used to refer not to war but to the symbol of local policing. The sword which would be carried by Roman officers while accompanying tax collectors. We must remember that Roman soldiers served as modern-day equivalents of both the local police and the national military. And so we see that verse 4 about bearing the sword relates to police action within governmental jurisdiction but not warfare. So to read this text as a means of approving of just war, is taking the writings of Paul out of context.

So based on this reading of Romans 13 in dialogue and in context with Romans 12 it is clear, at least to me, that we as followers of Jesus, are called to separate from the violent roles within the state and to avoid putting one’s self in compromising positions where violence could be employed. That our role in relation to the state is clear. Submit to them, pray for them, pay taxes, respect and honor the authorities that God has ordained. But we are never to live out the values of the Kingdom of the world. We aren’t to plot violent overthrow of the government. We need to leave rulers answerable to God. We should take personal vengeance. And that we are to give ultimate allegiance to another King and another ruler, one who says love your enemy, don’t kill them. Pray for your persecutor. Don’t repay evil with evil. Fight not with violence but with love. And live out another Kingdom and rule right under the nose of the empire in which you live.

So what does this all mean to you and I today? What does in mean to live out Romans 13 in proper context (including Romans 12)? How do we submit to our authorities but giving true allegiance to King Jesus? How does this affect our daily existence? Let’s unpack this together in our discussion time.

1. What thoughts, comments, insights, questions, applications, etc.. do you have regarding the Scripture and/or the message?

2. What dos it look like for us to live out Romans 13 in proper context (including Romans 12)? How do we submit to our authorities but give true allegiance to King Jesus? How does this text affect our daily lives?

3. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?

Fight Week 4

September 29, 2014 0 Comments Tweet This

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We continue today our series entitled Fight. We’ve been looking at questions revolving around followers of Jesus and violence. Questions like: What does the Bible say about warfare and violence? Can a Christian use violence? Go to war? Kill in self-defense? Why does the Old Testament seem to present violence in a positive light while the New Testament seems more negative? Do we kill our enemies (Joshua) or love them (Jesus)?

We’ve spent the last 3 weeks looking at various texts in the Old Testament and for the next 3 weeks we’ll be looking at texts within the New Testament. Today we are going to take a look at probably one of the most foundational passages in relation to Shalom and non-violence and probably the most misunderstood passage, possibly within Scripture. This passage is part of a larger context, this context that we call the Sermon on the Mount.

We have talked a lot around the idea that violence is a failure of the imagination. That Jesus is calling us to live non-violently, use our imaginations when it comes to responding to violence. You see Jesus hates violence but he also don’t call us to passivity (many people might think that). No Jesus is calling us to a third way, and no more brilliantly and imaginatively than in the passage that we will look at today found in Matthew 5:38-42.

Matthew 5:38-42 says, ““You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’  But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.  And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.  If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.  Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.”

So before we dive too much farther into this text, I want to point out what Jesus is not saying. Jesus is not suggesting that we masochistically let people step all over us. Instead, Jesus is pointing us towards something more imaginative. A way of disarming others without returning evil with evil or fighting fire with fire.

Now let’s look at the greater context of these verses, the Sermon on the Mount. The Sermon on the Mount is Jesus way of laying out what life lived out in the Kingdom of God looks like. Or how the Kingdom of God is breaking out into the world. The Sermon on the Mount and what lies within are for those who are seeking to live life under the rule and reign of King Jesus. Yes they apply to everyone, but only those who call Jesus King and Lord are expected to live the Kingdom life out in the world.

In this section of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus is giving 6 anti-thesis of which the text that we just read is the 5th of the 6 anti-thesis. An anti-thesis in Scripture usually contains something like, “You’ve heard it said….., but I say…. and then he fills in an example of what that might looks like. So Jesus in these anti-thesis first cites a rule from the Torah. Secondly, he reinterprets the Torah command in a new and radical way. And thirdly, he provides specific illustrations for following this radical command

So we see this in 5:38-42. The citation from the Torah is found in verse 38, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.” Jesus is no doubt referencing Leviticus 24:20 which basically says in whatever way you get injured you can respond in kind. If a man takes off your ear, you can take off his but no more. It was a way of getting rid of the cycle of unending violence and stopping people from enacting unlimited revenge. This concept was also spelled out in many other Near Eastern writings, such as the Code of Hammurabi.

But Jesus is spelling out another way. His radical reinterpretation of the Torah is in verse 39 which says, “But I tell you. Do not resist an evil person.” Now is Jesus saying that when evil comes upon us, we are just supposed to lie down and take it? Is he saying that we are just to let evil go uncheck when it comes against us? The word resist could better be understood as “do not respond in kind”. Walter Wink puts it this way, “The Greek word translated “resist” in Matt. 5:39 is antistenai, meaning literally to stand (stenai) against (anti). What translators have over-looked is that antistenai is most often used in the Greek version of the Old Testament as a technical term for warfare. It describes the way opposing armies would march toward each other until their ranks met. Then they would “take a stand,” that is, fight. Ephesians 6:13 uses precisely this imagery: “Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand [antistenai] on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm istenai].” The image is not of a punch-drunk boxer somehow managing to stay on his feet, but of soldiers standing their ground, refusing to flee. In short, anti- stenai means more here than simply to “resist” evil. It means to resist violently, to revolt or rebel, to engage in an armed insurrection.” Jesus is not saying never do anything about evil. But he is saying that we need to renounce the use of force and violence. Jesus always resisted evil, but in non-violent ways or what we might call nonviolent activism. And in this text he is calling us to do the same, to follow in his nonviolent activism ways.

So once Jesus reinterprets the Torah in a new and radical way, he provides specific illustrations on what it means to not resist an evil person, or not to respond to an evil person in kind. In each of the three instances Jesus points us towards disarming others. Jesu teaches us to refuse to oppose evil on its own terms. He invites us to transcend both passivity on the one hand, and violence on the other by following a radical third way.

The first illustration he uses is found in verse 39 which says, “If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to hi the other also.” Now this text is so often mistaken for laying down and doing nothing. But when we understand the cultural context of what Jesus is saying, we see that it is one of the most radical, subversive, and countercultural things Jesus ever said. And to explain this I need someone to come up here and help me demonstrate. Don’t worry I won’t really slap you.

So one of the first things we need to understand is that in Near Eastern Culture then (and even today) a person would only hit with the right hand. You see the left hand is what is called the dirty hand and is used for dirty things. In some Jewish communities if you hit someone with the left hand you could be banished from that community for 10 days. So a person would have to use a backslap to hit someone on the right cheek with the right hand. This backhand slap is a slap of insult, degradation, and humiliation. This slap was meant for an inferior. Maybe a slave, a child, even a woman. It was to put them in their place.

And so if the person who had just been insulted, been demeaned and humiliated by a back handed slap would turn the left cheek to the person, that person had a few possible options. They couldn’t back hand them with the left hand, and to take the back of the right hand, turn it over and slap them doesn’t make sense. So they either need to slap them with the front of the hand, or punch them outright. But only equals fought with fists. And what the person is saying by turning other cheek is, I’m a human being, just like you. I refuse to be humiliated any longer. I am your equal. I am a child of God. I won’t take it anymore.

The second example of living the radical third way, resisting violence and passivity is spelled out in verse 40 which says, “And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.” Jesus envisions a poor person being sued in court for unpaid debt. The person suing the poor man wants his inner garment. The inner garment was made of cotton, linen or wool. It was worn next to the skin, had short sleeves and reached to the knees. The outer garment was blanket-like, used for survival meaning a robe by day, a blanket and pillow by night. Deuteronomy 24:10-13 provided that a creditor could take as collateral for a loan a poor person’s long outer robe, but it had to be returned each evening so the poor man would have something in which to sleep. So the poor person is taken to court by the rich person that they are in debt to. All they have is the clothes on their back. When brought into court, they not only hand over their inner garment but their outer garment as well. Now do the math. Yep, you guessed it, they are now stark naked. This is what Walter Wink says about nakedness and shame and how this move sends ripples through the justice system of the day, “Nakedness was taboo in Judaism, and shame fell less on the naked party than on the person viewing or causing the nakedness (Gen. 9:20-27). By stripping, the debtor has brought shame on the creditor. Imagine the guffaws this saying must have evoked. There stands the creditor, covered with shame, the poor debtor’s outer garment in the one hand, his undergarment in the other. The tables have suddenly been turned on the creditor. The debtor had no hope of winning the case; the law was entirely in the creditor’s favor. But the poor man has transcended this attempt to humiliate him. He has risen above shame. At the same time, he has registered a stunning protest against the system that created his debt. He has said in effect, “You want my robe? Here, take everything! Now you’ve got all I have except my body. Is that what you’ll take next?” Imagine the debtor leaving court naked. His friends and neighbors, aghast, inquire what happened. He explains. They join his growing procession, which now resembles a victory parade. This is guerrilla theater! The entire system by which debtors are oppressed has been publicly unmasked. The creditor is revealed to be not a legitimate moneylender but a party to the reduction of an entire social class to landlessness and destitution. This unmasking is not simply punitive, since it offers the creditor a chance to see, perhaps for the first time in his life, what his practices cause, and to repent.” This was another radical way of exposing the powers that be and not doing it violently, or just sitting by passively and letting injustice happen. The radical third way of non-violent activism.

So Jesus then ratchets up the radical third way non-violent discussion by bringing up what might have been a common occurrence in the life of his hearers. Being that 1st century Israel was an occupied land, occupied by the Roman Empire, there was a rule or practice that allowed the Roman soldiers to enlist the help of the people in the land that they were occupying, and to have these people carry the soldiers packs for 1 mile and no more. They could enlist the help of the oppressed people and have them carry the packs for 1 mile. Going beyond one mile, or going that second mile was an infraction of military code. It would be simply absurd for a Jewish person to be-friend a hated Roman soldier and walk with them an extra mile. And we turn again to Walter Wink to help us understand how this is a radical, subversive, non-violent way of dealing with an “evil person”, “With few exceptions, minor infractions were left to the disciplinary control of the centurion (commander of one hundred men). He might fine the offending soldier, flog him, put him on a ration of barley instead of wheat, make him camp outside the fortifications, force him to stand all day before the general’s tent holding a clod of dirt in his hands—or, if the offender was a buddy, issue a mild reprimand. But the point is that the soldier does not know what will happen. It is in this context of Roman military occupation that Jesus speaks. He does not counsel revolt. One does not “befriend” the soldier, draw him aside and drive a knife into his ribs. Jesus was surely aware of the futility of armed insurrection against Roman imperial might; he certainly did nothing to encourage those whose hatred of Rome would soon explode into violence. But why carry the soldier’s pack a second mile? Does this not go to the opposite extreme by aiding and abetting the enemy? Not at all. The question here, as in the two previous instances, is how the oppressed can recover the initiative and assert their human dignity in a situation that cannot for the time being be changed. The rules are Caesar’s, but how one responds to the rules is God’s, and Caesar has no power over that. Imagine, then, the soldier’s surprise when, at the next mile marker, he reluctantly reaches to assume his pack, and the civilian says, “Oh, no, let me carry it another mile.” Why would he want to do that? What is he up to? Normally, soldiers have to coerce people to carry their packs, but this Jew does so cheerfully, and will not stop’. Is this a provocation? Is he insulting the legionnaire’s strength? Being kind? Trying to get him disciplined for seeming to violate the rules of impressment? Will this civilian file a complaint? Create trouble? From a situation of servile impressment, the oppressed have once more seized the initiative. They have taken back the power of choice. They have thrown the soldier off balance by depriving him of the predictability of his victim’s response. He has never dealt with such a problem before. Now he must make a decision for which nothing in his previous experience has prepared him. If he has enjoyed feeling superior to the vanquished, he will not enjoy it today. Imagine a Roman infantryman pleading with a Jew to give back his pack! The humor of this scene may have escaped us, but it could scarcely have been lost on Jesus’ hearers, who must have been delighted at the prospect of thus discomfiting their oppressors. Jesus does not encourage Jews to walk a second mile in order to build up merit in heaven, or to be pious, or to kill the soldier with kindness. He is helping an oppressed people find a way to protest and neutralize an onerous practice despised throughout the empire. He is not giving a nonpolitical message of spiritual world transcendence. He is formulating a worldly spirituality in which the people at the bottom of society or under the thumb of imperial power learn to recover their humanity.”

We’ll stop there and let’s spend some time unpacking this radical non-violent activism third way that Jesus is speaking about in this text. If violence is a lack of imagination, then let’s imagine and dream what Jesus might say to us today. What instances from our culture would he use to help us see the same point that he made in these 3 instances? Or what is the modern day equivalent of turning the other cheek, giving your outer cloak, and going a second mile? Let’s talk and discuss how we can live this upside down, radical, subversive, non-violent activism in our world today.

1. What thoughts, comments, insights, questions, push back, etc.. do you have regarding the Scripture and/or the message?

2. If violence is a lack of imagination, then let’s imagine and dream what Jesus might say to us today. What instances from our culture would he use to help us see the same point that he made in these 3 instances? Or what is the modern day equivalent of turning the other cheek, giving your outer cloak, and going a second mile?

3. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?

Fight: Week 3

September 22, 2014 0 Comments Tweet This

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Today we continue our six week series entitled Fight. In this series we have looked at and will continue to look at questions like, What does the Bible say about warfare and violence? Can a Christian use violence? Go to war? Kill in self-defense? Why does the Old Testament seem to present violence in a positive light while the New Testament seems more negative? Do we kill our enemies (Joshua) or love them (Jesus)?

We’ve spent a great deal amount of time the last two weeks talking about this idea of peace or better yet the biblical and hebrew concept of Shalom. We talked that Shalom or peace is far more than just the absence of conflict or war. Shalom can be defined also as well being, wholeness, perfection of God’s creation, prosperity, peace, fullness, abundance, joy and harmony. Or think of it this way, Shalom is the way things are supposed to be.

And the text that we’ll be looking at today fits into this idea of shalom being the way things are supposed to be. This is a vision that God gave the prophet Isaiah and it’s a messianic prophecy that will one day come in its fullness, but as I said last week, those of us who call Jesus king, and seek to follow him, should begin to live the future reality now. Or as someone said this weekend at a conference I was at, God’s future is our present. Meaning that if we want shalom to come in the future, we don’t wait until the future, but begin to work that future out in the present. And wait of the day for total complete shalom will come into being through the rule and reign of King Jesus. Both the Old and New Testament proclaim the vision of a coming peaceable Kingdom preached and revealed by Jesus Christ. This vision is sometimes called the Peaceable Kingdom and inspired the artist Edward Hicks, a quaker, to paint 61 versions of a painting that he called the Peaceable Kingdom.

So turn to Isaiah 11:1-9. Isaiah 11:1-9 says, “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord—and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.
He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.   Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist. The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the cobra’s den, and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”

So Isaiah has this vision, this prophecy if you will and it is a grandiose, amazing vision of the messiah, his rule and reign in the world, and what will happen because of that rule and reign.

Isaiah starts off with this vision in describing where the messiah of God, the anointed one will come from. He says that, “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.” So this is giving us the lineage if you will of the messiah. Jesus came from the stump of Jesse. The royal authority of the house of David had laid dormant for 600 years when Jesus came as King and Messiah. When Jesus came forth, it was like a new green branch coming from an apparently dead stump. What the Lord is doing, through the prophet Isaiah at the beginning of this text by calling the Messiah a shoot and a branch is emphasizing the humble nature of the Messiah. Jesse was the much less famous Father of King David. It is far more humble to say “from Jesse” then to say “from King David”. Isaiah believed as did Israel that God would send a descendant of David to fix the injustices and restore the Kingdom of Israel. But many of the texts were then later reinterpreted by Christians to be pointing to something even bigger: Jesus restoring the Kingdom of God for all people. And this is not doubt what it happened here…Isaiah pointing to the Messiah, King Jesus who is currently, this very moment, ruling and reigning and his Kingdom will come in it’s fullness and the very system that is broken and fragmented, will be totally healed and fixed and set right. This will result in former enemies, those at enmity with each other now, to live in shalom-peace with each other. And Isaiah’s vision beckons us to enter a new vision, to walk into God’s ideal of what the world might be. His vision calls us to live by an alternative reality to our violent world.

Once Isaiah lays out the vision of where the messiah will come from, the family tree and roots of the messiah if you will, he then begins to lay out the type of ruler and King this messiah will be. What will the reign of the messiah look like? The first thing that will define the messiah, according to Isaiah is found in verse 2, “The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord—and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.” The messiah will live out the Spirit of the Lord. This Spirit of the Lord will be of wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, knowledge and fear of the Lord. The Messiah will have these seven aspects of the spirit and 7 in Hebrew is the number of completeness. Jesus fits this to a tee. He was spirit filled in the best sense of the word. His everyday existence, his walking around, his ministry, his engagement with people, his conversations with his disciples, were based on his connection to His Father through the Spirit of God. And because of this connection to the sprit, we begin to see how he rules and reigns in the world. We see how he rules and reigns in the world in verses 3-5 which says, “He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.   Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist.” You can see that the Messiah/Jesus will be about the poor, the needy, the marginalized. He sides with those not in power. Those who live under the thumb of the empire, who threatens violence to all those who get out of line. Jesus here does not threaten violence, even though it seems to say that. His words bring judgment. The rod is coming out of his mouth (reminds me of the text in Revelation where the sword of this word is coming out of his mouth.) The mere words of Jesus have the power to judge the wicked. He only has to announce a judgment and it is done.

Once we see how the Messiah rules and reigns, we then come to the section of the vision which spells out the effect of his rule and reign in the world. The effects of his rule and reign The prophet describes in verses 6-9 the effect of his rule and reign in producing peace and tranquility on the earth. Verses 6-9 says, The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the cobra’s den, and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” In the coming Messianic Kingdom, not only humans but all of God’s creatures will live together in peace and harmony. Jesus through his rule and reign will bring shalom. Will restore right relationships between not only himself and humans, but also between humans and humans, humans and animals, and all of creation. This vision is one in which former enemies will live together in peace. Where the cow and lion will be together without the cow having to worry and be weary of the coming moment when the lion pounces and kills him. That the child can lead them and be safe. Where the lion fills himself not will the meat of other animals but the straw. This peaceable kingdom also brings together peace between the child and the snake. In this texts Isaiah reminds us of the enmity brought through human sin in Eden and that God will overcome the curse of sin and establish a world in which all creatures thrive.

All creatures thrive because of what Isaiah says in Isaiah 11:9, “They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” God’s ideal, in terms of human relationships, is depicted in these words. That shalom will fully come and touch down on his holy mountain (remember that we talked about his holy mountain being mount moriah, or the temple mount), And people will be filled with the knowledge of God. This vision touched down in the person, life, ministry and death resurrection of Jesus Christ. There will be no more violence, no more harm, no more destruction, because people are living under the rule and reign of King Jesus. That this shalom comes about because of the life, death, and resurrection of King Jesus. That shalom is only possible because of the cross (which scholars believed Jesus was crucified close to where Mount Moriah was/is and where Abraham almost sacrificed Isaac). Jesus took on violence into his life and into his body. He absorbed it and returned it with shalom. He took on chaos into himself and returned it, not with violence, revenge, and hatred but with shalom. Here in this text we see that Jesus, the messiah (who Isaiah is speaking about, prophesying about) has the power to take enemies and make them friends. To turn them towards and for each other and not against each other. To return us and the world to the garden of eden where peace, love, harmony, shalom ruled. Where things were the way things were supposed to be.

The vision of a world in which wolves, lambs, and lions can all lie down together without killing each other, and where a little child can walk among them, stick his hand in a snakes den, and not die clearly moves beyond the possibilities of the present age. We live in a world where enemies don’t lie down together, but seek to destroy each other. Where power, might, and violence “rule” the day. Where shalom seems almost impossible. And if not impossible, some what of a pipe dream. And we realize that this scene of enemy becoming friend, of enmity becoming love, of a restored eden, will not be fully realized until the reign of the King, comes in its fullness and completeness. But remember what I said last week and at the beginning of this message. God’s future is our present. Yes Isaiah’s vision is yet to be fulfilled. But the vision invites us to step into the picture. It calls us to take up our cross and to follow the one who has walked out Isaiah’s vision with his whole life. The vision invites us to be at peace with our enemies and to live out a little bit of paradise in this broken and violent world.

But what does a peaceable Kingdom look like? How does this vision touch down with our everyday reality? How are you and I picking up our cross, and following the one who did not return violence with violence, but called us to love our enemy, return hate with love, and to pray for the very ones who are violent to us? How are we seeing to love our enemies so that they will stop being enemies and become friends? Let’s unpack what the peaceable kingdom looks like in our lives and in the life of our community as Veritas together.
1. What thoughts, comments, insights, questions, push back, etc.. do you have regarding the Scripture and/or the message?

2. What does a peaceable Kingdom look like? How does this vision touch down with our everyday reality?

3. How are you and I picking up our cross, and following the one who did not return violence with violence, but called us to love our enemy, return hate with love, and to pray for the very ones who are violent to us? How are we seeing to love our enemies so that they will stop being enemies and become friends?

4. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?

Fight: Week 2

September 15, 2014 0 Comments Tweet This

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Several years ago a well known musician penned these words, “Imagine there’s no countries. It isn’t hard to do. Nothing to kill or die for. And no religion too. Imagine all the people. Living life in peace…You may say I’m a dreamer. But I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us. And the world will be as one.” These lyrics come from the song Imagine by John Lennon. Now I don’t necessarily agree with all of his sentiments, though I understand them, especially in the fact that almost more wars are fought based on religion than anything else. But can you imagine with me, and with John Lennon a world where there is nothing to kill or die for? Where there are no wars and where people live life in peace and where nations don’t pick up the sword to kill each other. It might be hard to imagine but unless you can imagine it, you will never see it happen. Someone said, “If you can’t imagine it, you can’t achieve it.” And I believe it is no different. William Stafford said, “”Violence is a failure of the imagination.” And there have been many in our world who have had a failure of the imagination. But there have been many also how’s imaginations have led them, like John Lennon to have a vision of living life in peace and where there is nothing to kill or die for. People like Martin Luther King Jr, Gandhi, and others.

Even if we look back into the story of God, we find people who had imaginations and visions of peace winning out over war and violence. One such person was the prophet Isaiah. The prophet Isaiah was a dreamer. He imagined a new world. Isaiah envisioned a coming day when the mountain of Gods sacred presence will be lifted up, drawing nations to that place to learn God’s way of Shalom.

Last week we talked about the beginning of the story of God from Genesis 1-4. We talked about the idea of God’s original intention for all of his creation which is the biblical idea of Shalom which means peace. We talked about God creating shalom from chaos, choosing shalom in all the relationships he had, and then how humanity chose chaos instead of Shalom. We saw God continually seeking to move his people to Shalom and not chaos. In fact, as we will find out today as we look at the prophet Isaiah, that beginning with Isaiah we see God moving increasingly away from all species of militarism. The Hebrew prophets following Isaiah prophesy about a time of peace, an age of Shalom. They envision a kingdom shaped by harmony like in the garden of Eden, harkening back to Gods’ original intention, a demilitarized domain not of this world, a newly created people whose very identity will be marked by nonviolent shalom making.

No clearer in the book of Isaiah does this dream or vision of a world that is shalom filled than in Isaiah 2:1-5.

Isaiah 2:1-5 says, This is what Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem:
In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established as the highest of the mountains, it will be exalted above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. Many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He will judge between the nations
and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore. Come, descendants of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the Lord.”

So Isaiah 2:1-5 is a vision or prophecy that the Lord showed Isaiah concerning the future. This vision or prophecy is what will happen at the last days. This term last days refer to the “time of the Messiah” when the anointed of the Lord reigns over the earth. When the rule and reign of Jesus will be fully realized and come in it’s fullness. Jesus rule and reign, what we call the Kingdom of God is a now and not yet reality. Jesus is ruling and reigning now and will come in its fullness at the last days. This expression of the last days is an expression that often takes place in the Old Testament. It does not refer to any particular period and especially not to the end of the world. According to Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann, “The vision of Isaiah is ‘an act of imagination that looks beyond present dismay through the eyes of God, to see what will be that is not yet. That is the function of promise in the life of faith. Under promise, faith sees what will be that is not yet.”
So Isaiah writes down this vision that he sees (this vision was also given to Micah- Micah 4:1-3). He sees that the mountain of the Lord will be the tallest mountain in the world, and that all nations will stream to it. What is the mountain that Isaiah is referring to? He is referring to Mount Moriah, which was the exact mountain where Abraham led his son Isaac to. Speculation is that this mount is now known as the Temple Mount. Now, does this really mean that this mountain is actually the tallest and highest of all mountains in the world? Of course not. Isaiah, in his poetic way, in verse 2 is saying that the “government” (think Kingdom) of the house of the Lord shall have preeminence over all levels of human government. Or put in another way, there will be a time in the future when the Kingdom of God comes in it’s fullness and will have preeminence over all other Kingdoms. In Isaiah the rule of God (Kingdom) overwhelms all human empires and the power of militarism by which they acquire and sustain their sovereignty.

In that time, people and nations will flock to the mountain of God or the capital of his government (Kingdom). Nations will move towards him and towards the center. As people move towards God they will be transformed and they will then become fresh, sustained, and a source of life and growth for the earth, as they return from the capital of God’s Kingdom. What will they experience at the mountain of God? They will learn his ways and how to walk in his paths. As we talked about last week and will talk about during this series, his ways and his path is the way and path of shalom. That is what drives God and that is ultimately what should drive us. Once the people and the nations learn the shalom ways of God they will go out from Zion, living out the rule and reign of God in all areas of their lives, and teaching others to walk in the shalom ways of God and to live under the rule and reign of God.

When the people who have learned the shalom ways of God, when they come under the rule and reign of King Jesus, they begin to realize that the way of Jesus is antithetical to way of the world. You have the shalom way of God on one hand and the violent way of the world in the other. Isaiah 2:2-4 makes this clear. This is the vision of the end of war and to the preparation of war. The prophet Isaiah addresses the threat of war with a call to stand firm in faith rather than in taking up arms. The theology here is one is where warfare is understood as lacking to the power to produce the desired effect. Judah’s search for military solutions is understood and faithlessness and human fighting is understood to be counter-productive. The way of God, God’s original intention, is the way of Shalom. He calls the people of God to live out this shalom way of God by beating their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. By taking weapons of war and destruction and turning them into tools of agriculture. From tools of chaos to tools of shalom. The witness of the book of Isaiah to us today is that it encourages us to acknowledge that although empires will always wage war, that God’s purpose is for all people, especially those who live under the rule and reign of King Jesus, to ‘beat their swords into plowshares’ and to stop preparing for war.

When the Kingdom rules and reigns in the heats and lives of people. When the shalom of God breaks out into the world, nation will not take up swords against other nations, and they will not prepare for war anymore. There will be no more war or preparing for war because there will be a new rule on earth- King Jesus. We long for the day when there is no more need for a military budget, when the money that fires for weapons and armies can go to schools and parks. We realize that we aren’t there right now. All you have to do is look around and see that Isaiah’s vision or prophecy has not come true. Does that mean we don’t have to try to live out God’s ideal, God’s original intention for his creation, that of Shalom in the world because it isn’t happening? How are we to interpret this passage? Were Isaiah (and Micah) false prophets since their words did not and have not come true? Are these passages to be taken metaphorically or pictures of heaven? Are they like other depictions of utopia, too impractical to implement and designed only to get the reader to dream about a new reality? But that is just the point I believe. That if we can’t dream of a new reality, where people put down weapons of violence, destruction, and chaos and pick up tools of peace, construction, and shalom, then we’ll never experience this new reality. Yes we do live in a world of wars and rumors of wars, but this prophecy/vision promises that Israel itself will start living as if these promises are true. The people of God today might be encouraged and empowered by the gospel to practice peace-making at home, at work, in the congregation, and in society and the world at large. What would it mean for the world if Christians, the people of God took seriously the promises within Isaiah about the future? Will the swords be beaten into plowshares? Will nation stop preparing for war? Not this side of the rule and reign of Jesus coming in it’s fullness. But that doesn’t stop those of us who live under the rule and reign of King Jesus to begin living that reality here and now. Members of the Kingdom of God are called to turn swords into plowshares and to be active agents of peace…here and now and not wait until his Kingdom comes in fullness where there will definitely be no more weapons, no more war, no more chaos, no more violence, just the radical shalom way of Jesus and his Kingdom.

So how are we learning the ways and paths of Jesus, the enemy-loving, crucified (and not crucifying) shalom-making Son of God? How are we learning the way and path of Shalom? What does it look like for you and me to beat our sword into plowshare and our spears into pruning forks? What does it mean for those who follow the ways and paths of Jesus and his shalom to not study for war no more? How does this passage apply to our world today and how do we live it out in the midst of our violent, war filled, and non-shalom world? That is what we are going to unpack together.

1. What thoughts, comments, insights, questions, push back do you have regarding the Scripture and/or message?

2. In what ways are you seeking to learn the shalom ways and paths of Jesus? Is this a new concept for you and if so, why do you think that is?

3. What does it mean for you and me to “beat our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks? How do we live out Shalom and not study war anymore in our violent, war-filled world?

4. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?

Fight: Week 1

September 8, 2014 0 Comments Tweet This

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Today we begin a 6 week series entitled Fight. Over the next 6 weeks we will take a survey throughout all of the Scriptures, from the beginning of the story of God in Genesis, through the Old Testament, to the New Testament and ending in the New Testament book of Revelation. During our series we will explore questions such as: What does the Bible say about warfare and violence? Can a Christian use violence? Go to war? Kill in self-defense? Why does the Old Testament seem to present violence in a positive light while the New Testament seems more negative? Do we kill our enemies (Joshua) or love them (Jesus)?

No doubt that as we sit here around this room and listen to these questions, we all come at these topics probably from varying degrees of differences. But I am hoping that in the midst of differences, that during our time together over the next 6 weeks we can wrestle together with the Scriptures and with each other and come out stronger as a community for it. My prayer is that we would take a hard look at the Scriptures, and at Jesus to see what he might say about these questions that we’ll explore. My prayer is also that in our times of discussion that we can be open, honest, and loving to each other even (or especially) when we might disagree with each other. My prayer is that our discussions will be filled not with “fighting” but with mutual respect, love, and a desire for all of us to grow deeper in our journeys with Jesus.

So this first week of our series we will start where the story of God begins, in the book of Genesis, and we’ll explore the idea of what God’s original intention for all of his creation (which includes humans, animals and the creation that is all around us) was (and I still believe is his continuing intention for all of creation). Before we get to all those questions that we asked earlier, I believe we need to understand God and his intention from the beginning of why he created humanity and all of creation since that will give us some foundation for our later discussions of how to live out his original intention in the world.

I believe his original intention for his creation can be best summed up in the Hebrew word Shalom. Shalom is the word that we find when we see the word peace in the Scriptures. But what does Shalom actually mean? Is it just the absence of war or conflict or is there more to it? Shalom can be best described as well being, wholeness, perfection of God’s creation, prosperity, peace, fullness, abundance, joy and harmony. Or think of it this way, Shalom is the way things are supposed to be.

Let’s look at the first few chapters of Genesis and see where we find God’s original intention of Shalom popping up, and see what it might say to us gathered together today about living out Shalom and God’s original intention in our own, at times, violent world.

In Genesis 1 and 2 we read the story of creation. In Genesis 1:1-2 we read these words, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” So we see earth being without form, empty, and dark. Some have even termed this as chaos. That the earth was in chaos.

The rest of chapter 1 and 2 describe God creating everything, giving the earth and his creation form and substance, light, and moving from empty to filling it with every good thing. We see God creating light, water, ground, plants, animals, creatures, and ending up his creating by creating humankind. God creates everything in Genesis 1 and 2 and he brings order (or Shalom) out of Chaos. Genesis 1 and 2 paint a picture of Shalom. That from the beginning, God wanted Shalom to permeate his creation on every level. Genesis 1 witnesses to life as peaceable. Creation is formed without conflict or opposition to God. This totally differs from other creation accounts and stories from the Ancient Near East which usually had conflict right at its heart. Creation, according to the Bible, is not formed with or through violence. This story in Genesis 1 and 2 begins with the portrayal of Gods’ creative, life-giving power. God brings goodness, shalom, wholeness out of the void of chaos. The ‘miracle’ of creation in Genesis 1 is not God creating matter out of nothing (though that is certainly amazing) nearly so much as God creating wholeness out of chaos. Bringing shalom from chaos. And so we see that Genesis 1 and 2 establishes this world that we live in as founded on peace, not violence. Peace is then our default position.

We continue to see shalom all throughout chapter 2 where God interacts with Adam and Eve. We see this idea of wholeness and the way things are supposed to be when it says that the couple were naked and knew no shame. That they were in the Garden, in perfect harmony with each other, with the entire creation that was teeming with life all around them, and with God as well. That they could walk in the cool of the day with God, being totally free and unhindered. That perfect harmony was a reality. Humans with Humans. Animals with Animals. Creation with animals and humans. And all of Creation (Animals, Humans, Creation) with our maker, God. One can’t begin to understand shalom without first understanding or accepting the fact that God is creator. In the beginning, creation was perfect. All things were planned in proper order and relationships by the Creator. God called it all good.

In Genesis 1:26-27 we read these deeply impactful words describing humankind, “Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground. So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Here is where we get the theological concept and idea of what is called the Imago Dei, or the Image of God. That each and every person who has ever walked the face of this planet, including you and I, are and have been created in the image of God. That part of God’s image has been implanted in ours. Has been rubbed off of God onto us. If we know this, that we are created in the image of God, and then look back to Genesis 1:1-2 where he begins creating out of chaos to wholeness, we get a glimpse of what God might want from us. If we are made in the image of God who brought wholeness (shalom) from chaos, then don’t we have the same ability within us? Human beings, like God, have the power to fashion wholeness out of chaos, peace out of alienation, harmony out of disharmony. Now this ability to bring shalom is confirmed in the New Testament where is says, “Blessed are the peacemakers” which could be translated Shalom-makers. This isn’t to say that we can bring about full Shalom, only God can do that. But that we have the ability to participate with God in his shalom-making in the world. To bring peace to a world that desperately needs it. To bring Shalom between people in conflict. To bring Shalom to the creation that is all around us. To bring shalom into all of our relationships. But there is a problem. And we find that problem in Genesis 3.

Genesis 3 is the account of Adam and Eve in the garden and what theologians sometimes call The Fall. In Genesis 3 we read the account of Adam and Eve choosing their own way instead of God’s way, Genesis 3:1-7, the account of the fall reads this way, “Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’” “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman.  “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”  When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.  Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.” Here we see that shalom is now broken. The wholeness, the peace, the harmony that existed in the garden up to this moment was broken. You can’t understand shalom without also understanding and accepting the fall. In Genesis 1 and 2 we see God creating order out of Chaos and then in Genesis 3 we see humankind taking that order and reverting it back to chaos. We see enmity, strife, and violence taking the place of shalom. We see people choosing chaos and violence instead of shalom. We see people choosing their own way instead of the shalom way of God. But just because shalom was broken doesn’t mean that it didn’t continue to exist or be possible. In fact throughout much of the beginning chapters of the book of Genesis we see mankind choosing the way of violence while God continues to call out for shalom. God’s original intention for humanity was and continues to be shalom-peace and not violence. And Genesis and the Old Testament move towards this goal.

God chose shalom when he provided Adam and Eve with animal skins to cover their nakedness, even after Adam and Eve chose their own way. God chose shalom by sending them out of the garden, but by also going with them. And God continues throughout Genesis to choose and live out shalom, and calling his creation to live it out was well.

In Genesis 4 we find the first act of violence between humankind. We find the story of Cain killing his brother Abel, and in the midst of this violence we find God calling for Shalom- peace. In Genesis 4:8-16 we read, “ Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” “I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.  Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand.  When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.” Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is more than I can bear.  Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.”But the Lord said to him, “Not so; anyone who kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over.” Then the Lord put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him.”

God’s response to Cain’s killing is not to kill him but by placing a mark on Cain so that no one else will take vengeance on him. God responses to the first murder, the first act of violence, not with more violence but with grace. A visible presentation of shalom.

As we have seen in these early chapters of Genesis, the beginning of the story of God, lay out pretty clearly, in my estimation, that God’s original intention of his creation (animals, people, creation) is for shalom. Early chapters of Genesis celebrate peace while showing disdain for violence among humans, even as “just” punishment for a killer. God stepping into the chaos of the world and creating order, harmony, and shalom. God meeting humankind with shalom when we chose our own way. God protecting and showing a killer shalom and not vengeance. The early accounts in Genesis including the Creation is the establishment of shalom in a universe that apart from God’s role is disordered, unproductive, and unfulfilling.

So what does it mean to you and I today that the first four chapters of Genesis- the story of God- lays out God’s original intention for his creation- and his original intention is shalom? Where do you need God’s shalom in your life? How do you need God to step into your chaos and bring his shalom into it? What does it look like for you and I, as image bearers, to step into the chaos and work for shalom in all of our relationships and within creation? How can our community here be shalom-makers in the place that God has put us? These are the questions that we are going to unpack together.

1. What thoughts, comments, insights, questions, etc..do you have regarding the Scriptures and/or the message?

2. Where do you need God’s shalom in your life? How do you need God to step into your chaos and bring his shalom into it?

3. What does it look like for you and I, as image bearers, to step into the chaos and work for shalom in all our relationships and in creation? How can our community here be shalom makers in the place that God has put us?

4. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?

7 Letters: Laodicea

August 25, 2014 0 Comments Tweet This

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Today we wrap up our 7 week series looking at the 7 letters to the 7 churches in 7 cities in Asia Minor around 2,000 years ago found in the New Testament book of Revelation chapters 2 and 3.

We have looked at the letters to the church at Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, and Philadelphia. Today we wrap up our series by looking at the letter to the church at Laodicea.

The letter to the church at Laodicea can be found in Revelation 3:14-22. The letter from Jesus, written by John to the church at Laodicea reads like this, “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation.  I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other!  So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.  I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.  Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent.  Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne.  Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

So let’s go through this letter and see what this 2,000 year old letter can say to our church gathered together today in Lancaster, PA.

The first thing that we have seen in each letter is a description of the risen Christ always drawn from the pictures of Jesus found in Revelation 1. This is the only letter in which this isn’t the case. Nowhere in Revelation 1 do we read the description of Jesus that is shared in this letter. Jesus is described as the Amen, the faithful and true witness, and ruler of God’s creation. The authority of this letter to the church at Laodicea comes solely and strictly because of Jesus. Because he is the Amen. He is the end and the one who ties everything together. He is the ruler over all of creation. A theologian name Abraham Kuyper put it this way, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!” The letter to the Colossians puts it this way in the first chapter (which some theologians say that the church at Laodicea copied and treasured Colossians…which would make the connection even more evident), “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.  For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.  He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”

Once the authority of Jesus is established, and the understanding that what he speaks is true and right, Jesus then begins to speak words to the Laodicean church about where they stand in following him. Where they need to focus effort and time on. His criticisms so to speak. And if you remember from our 1st week of this series, we see that there is no praise for this church. Every other church had at least one thing to praise. Laodicea does not. And the thing that Jesus goes after lie at the heart of the city, and Jesus, through the pen of John, makes his criticisms super contextual. He understands the city, where they are located, what they take pride in, and their back story.

In verses 15-16 we read probably the biggest complaint against the church at Laodicea, that they were just lukewarm when it came to following Jesus. Verses 15-16 are probably one of the most contextual verses in all of the 7 Letters. Verses 15-16 says, I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other!  So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” You see one of the things you need to know about the city of Laodicea is that they did not have a good water source in their own city. They relied on 2 other sources for their water. The Northern source was in Hieropolis and their hot springs. These hot springs were magnetics for tourists and they were also piped through aqueducts to Laodicea. But when they travel the distance to Laodicea the water was no longer hot, it was lukewarm. The southern source of water was from Colosse and their supply of water came flowing down from high snow-capped mountains. This water source was fast flowing chilly streams of almost alpine-like quality. But again by the time the water ran along the aqueducts to Laodicea it was no longer cold, it was lukewarm. Both hot and cold water became luke warm. The hot water was no longer hot enough to bathe in and the cold water was no longer cold enough to drink. You see hot water heals, cold water refreshes, but lukewarm water is useless for either purposes and can only serve as a medicine to induce vomiting. Jesus is saying that he wishes that the Christians at Laodicea would either outright deny him or turn up the heat of following him and stop playing this game of phony piety. There is more hope for the openly antagonistic than for the cooly indifferent. Jesus wishes the same for us. He wants us to stop playing the religion “game”. He has no interest in religion and in self-made piety. He wants our hearts. He wants a relationship. He wants us to be whole heartedly, passionately, and, to use the cliche, on fire for him and his Kingdom and the things that he is passionate about. What breaks his heart should break ours. What he is passionate about is what we should be passionate about. What his dreams and hopes are for this world should be our hopes and our dreams for this world as well.

Once Jesus talks about the church being lukewarm he begins to confront other issues within the church at Laodicea that also were rooted in the life & history & culture of the city. In verse 17-18 we read, “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.  I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.”

This statement from the church that they are rich, that they have acquired wealth and do not need a thing, strikes right at the heart of their city. You see Laodicea was a very wealthy city. They stood on an important junction of trades routes running more or less north to south and west to west. They were a prominent banking center for the entire region. In fact when the city was destroyed by earthquake, around the same time that our last city Philadelphia was destroyed, many other cities took money from the Roman empire to rebuild, but Laodicea refused and built the city back up with their own money. This sense of independence and pride in their own resources led to a church that had the exact same traits. They believed that they were rich, that they had everything they needed, and that they could see just fine and really didn’t need anyone or anything else.

But Jesus calls them on the carpet for this. They think they are rich, finely dressed and can see but in actuality Jesus calls them wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked. These things strike right where the city of Laodicea put their hope, their trust, and their identity in. They were, as I mentioned a very wealthy city. They were a city known almost exclusively for their medical school. This school specialized in opthalmology. People came from all over to be trained as doctors as well as people came for healing. And this school was also known for an eye salve that was used in treating eyes. The eye salve was called “collyrium,” probably a reference to how it was applied—that is, in the form of plaster or a poultice. Jesus calls them naked, in a city which was known for local farms which produced a particular breed of black sheep whose wool was of a fine quality, which led to some fine fashions made of black wool. So everything they believed about themselves and what defined themselves was turned upside down. They thought they were rich because of the banking industry but spiritually they were pitiful, wretched and poor. They thought they could see and had the eye salve to prove it but they were spiritually blind. They thought they were well dressed in black wool but they were actually spiritually naked.

Jesus then calls on the believers at Laodicea (and all of us) to, “to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.” The remedy for being poor, blind and naked is Jesus. He will give real wealth, he will clothe you in white, and he will give you eyes to truly see. He is the one who will truly satisfy all the longings of our heart. He is the one who tells us that blessed are the poor in spirit. The ones who know they don’t have it all together and that they can’t rely on their own strength, their own money, their own ability and knowledge. The church at Laodicea needed to realize that their idea of being blessed was the exact opposite of what Jesus labeled as blessed. And is that any different today? Maybe Laodicea and us as well need to reread and take to heart and to action the beatitudes.

Jesus is lovingly rebuking the church. His criticism comes not from a place of hate and anger, but a place of love and sadness. He says that those that he rebukes and disciplines are the ones that he loves. Just like any parent who loves their kids. You help them determine how to live and do life by giving them boundaries and punishment when they don’t live in those boundaries.

This picture of Jesus loving calling his church back to himself, to reorient their life back to Jesus, to turn from their smug, well-off attitude and turn back to him, is no more evident then in verse 20 which shows Jesus knocking on their door and desiring a relationship. Verse 20 says, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” This text is so often misused as Jesus calling on those who don’t know him to come to know him. How many of us have sat through evangelistic crusades hearing the preacher say that Jesus is knocking on the door of your heart and wants to come into your heart, and you can have him as personal Lord and Savior? But that is not what this text is saying at all. He is knocking on the churches door. To a group of people who already supposedly know him, The echoes of stories in the gospels suggest that the one knocking on the door is the master of the house, returning at an unexpected hour while the one who should open the door is the servant who stayed awake. It is Jesus house in the first place, our job is to simply welcome him to his house. And when we welcome him to his house that is when he throws this amazing meal. A meal that anticipates the final messianic banquet.

So my question to us gathered here together today is do we resemble the church at Laodicea? Are we lukewarm to the things of Jesus and his Kingdom? Have we closed the door to a passionate, life-giving relationship with Jesus? Have we become to self-confident in our own wisdom, insight, resources, etc.. that we no longer rely on Jesus? He continues his response to us. Lovingly knocking. Calling us back to himself. Calling us to open up our lives to him. Calling us to return to him. To come back and live under his rule and his reign. What is your response? Will you open the door and come back under the Lordship of Jesus? Will you continue ignoring the knocking and try to handle life on your own? Let’s spend some time unpacking these questions together and seeking to apply these things to our individual and corporate lives.
1. What thoughts, comments, insights, questions, applications, etc.. do you have regarding the Scripture and/or the message?

2. As Jesus knocks on your door, what for you stands in the way of your opening it to him and his coming in and eating with you (relationship)? What things in your life give you a false sense of security and self-reliance? How do these things get in the way of your relationship with Jesus?

3. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?

7 Letters: Philadelphia

August 18, 2014 0 Comments Tweet This

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So our series entitled 7 Letters is quickly coming to a close. Today we look at the 6th letter, and next week we finish the series look at the 7th letter.

So the last 5 weeks we covered the first 5 letters found in Revelation chapters 2 and 3. We’ve looked at the letter to the churches at Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, and last week we covered the letter to the church at Sardis.

This week we cover the letter to the church in a place that sounds very familiar to us, but obviously is not the same place. Today we look at the letter to the church at Philadelphia found in Revelation 3:7-13.

The letter to the church at Philadelphia reads like this, “
“To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.  I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.  I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars—I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you.  Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth. I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. The one who is victorious I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will they leave it. I will write on them the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on them my new name. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

As we have talked about with each and every letter, that there are some radically contextual word pictures, images, and thoughts that unless we do some background research on the city we will never truly understand what John is getting at. So let’s talk a little bit about the city of Philadelphia and see what we might learn about following Jesus from this church in the 1st century.

Philadelphia was a city that was located in central Turkey. It was founded in 140 BC at the junction of roads that led to Mysia, Lydia, and Phrygia. Because of it’s location it was sometimes called the Gateway to the East. And also was prosperous city..partly because of it’s strategic location and partly because of the grapes that were grown there. Philadelphia was given the name by its founder Attalus II Philadelphus of Pergamum. And the city was intended to be a center of missionary activity for the Hellenistic way of life. It was also the center of worship of the god Dionysus, which was the god of the grape harvest, fitting for a city known for it’s grapes.

Something else that we need to know about the region in Turkey that Philadelphia was situated in was that in the 1st century it was notorious for earthquakes. In fact Philadelphia had suffered one of the worst earthquakes in its history only 50 or so years before the book of Revelation was written. Much of the city was destroyed and only was rebuilt due to a grant from the emperor Tiberius. Also Philadelphia had also been given two other names in its history (which will show up in the text later). The first being Neocaesarea as a sign of gratitude to Tiberius for his help in rebuilding the city and later Flavia, after the family name of the emperor Vespasian.

Now that we know a little bit about the history of the city of Philadelphia, let’s look at the text and see what we might learn about this church and what it might say to us today gathered together 2,000 years later.

One thing you’ll notice right from the start about this letter is that this is the second of the two letters which have no criticism from Jesus, the other one being Smyrna.

In verse 7 we find the description of the risen Jesus as one who, “is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.” There is a close tie in this verse to the description of the risen Jesus in Revelation 1:18 which says, “And I hold the keys of death and Hades.” So in this description we see that Jesus is holy and true. Jesus is holy which connects him with deity and true, which isn’t often used in the Bible when referring to anyone but God. This Holy and True One holds the key of David.

Now what is the key of David? To answer that question we need to look at Isaiah 22:22 which says, “I will place on his shoulder the key to the house of David; what he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.” Obviously this key is connected to the next part of the verse when John says that what Jesus “opens no one can shut and what he shuts no one can open.” Jesus has the key to the door. This door, this opening, could mean many things. It could mean entrance into the heavenly Jerusalem, the heavenly city of David if you will. It could mean the open door is referring to open missionary opportunities. That Jesus is redefining for the church at Philadelphia what their missionary life is supposed to be about. It is no longer about being a missionary for the hellenistic way of life, but about being a missionary for the Kingdom of God way of life. Jesus opens the door for them to spread the culture of the Kingdom throughout the whole region. And from history we know they took that calling seriously and became a missional church and a church planting church. They sent missionaries all over Asia Minor and these missionaries planted new communities of faith wherever they went. So the question that I have for us today gathered here is are we a Philadelphian-like church? Are you and I and our community being missionaries to the places that God sends us everyday? Are we sending people out from us to other places to serve, bless, and be about the Kingdom of God and the gospel of Jesus? What open doors has God set before you? To whom is God sending you? To whom is God sending us? These are questions we’ll be returning to later in our time of discussion.

Another possible meaning to this idea of a closed door and open door is related to the fact that Philadelphia had a very large and influential Jewish population. This Jewish community probably had several thousand in it, had buildings and an active community life. The church on the other hand were probably not much more than 2 or 3 dozen. The Synagogue community was using their civic status to block the advancement of the message of the gospel of Jesus and the Kingdom of God. They were the ones who were “attacking” the church, from the outside, unlike many of the other letters that we have looked at who were being “attacked” from inside the church. The door could refer to the synagogue versus the Kingdom of God. The believers were excluded from the synagogue. That door was shut. But the open door may refer to the opportunity to enter God’s Kingdom. Inclusion vs. Exclusion. God’s Kingdom is about inclusion not exclusion. People may close doors and exclude. But Jesus opens doors and includes. Are we more like Jesus in this or more like the Synagogue? Is our church an open-door for anyone and everyone? Or do we close our doors to people? I’m not saying that we think everything is open and up for grabs, that we don’t have values and beliefs and seek to live by them. I’m praying that we can be an inclusive community open to all while still hold to the Kingdom of God and the gospel.
Jesus, through John encourages the small faith community at Philadelphia and shares with them what they are to be praised for. In verses 8-10 we read, “ I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.  I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars—I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you.  Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth.”

In these verses we see the fact that this church was small and was seemingly insignificant in the eyes of the world. But not in the eyes of Jesus. That even in the midst of persecution, from the Jewish population of Philadelphia, these followers of Jesus held onto Jesus and never denied him. And here Jesus, through John is actually saying those who follower him are true Jews, and those who don’t, aren’t. This seems very harsh, even harsher than the equivalent statement in Revelation 2:9. But this is not an anti-Jewish statement, this is an inner-Jewish question. Which of these groups can properly claim to be the true Jews, bearing the torch of God’s ancient people? This was common question in 1st century Judaism. And in this Jesus is quite clear, those who follow him, the Davidic Messiah are the true Jews. And those who aren’t the true Jews will experience a reversal of fortunes. You see they expected to have Gentiles submit to them, which was pulled from Isaiah 60:14 which says, “The children of your oppressors will come bowing before you; all who despise you will bow down at your feet and will call you the City of the Lord, Zion of the Holy One of Israel.”

Jesus called on the followers of His in Philadelphia to patiently endure, to wait upon him, and to live out the Kingdom faithfully in their context. They were praised for 3 things: 1. Evangelistic opportunities and being missionaries for the Kingdom of God. 2. Reliance on Christ. 3. Faithfulness to Jesus. And because of those three things Jesus spells out in verses 11-13 what the church at Philadelphia will experience, “Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. The one who is victorious I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will they leave it. I will write on them the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on them my new name.”

When the church, whether at Philadelphia or anyone, lives out and stays true to these 3 things they will be victorious. They will receive a crown, just like the believers at Philadelphia. This crown, is not a royal crown, and refers to a garland or wreath that was used to crown victors in a competition. And so these believers who have held on to Jesus will eventually be victorious, through the victory of Jesus, his life, death and resurrection. And because of that victory they will also be a pillar in the temple. A Pillar that will never be shaken, rattled or destroyed. This is no doubt a reference to the many earthquakes and times that the city came crashing down all around them, and how it seems like pillars always remained standing. In fact if you go to Philadelphia right now you will still find standing pillars. And these believers are just like the pillars who stood whenever thing else crumbled.

And the last promises to the church at Philadelphia point to God’s faithful presence. They will never have to leave the presence of God ever. This obviously points to the many times that the people of Philadelphia would have to leave the city as an earthquake would hit and everything would begin to sway, move and crumble. They would go out in the countryside and wait. And when the earth had stopped moving beneath them they would then go back into the city. No more. These believers would be forever in his presence.

And they would also receive the tri-fold name of God on them and he would vouch for them. They would have a new name, a new identity. They would understand the power of a new name coming from a city that had several different names given to them.

In closing I want to quote NT Wright and what he has to say about the ending of this letter and its’ promises to the believers at Philadelphia. Wright says, “They are the ones, too, who carry the new name- now the triple name of God, of the heavenly Jerusalem, and of Jesus himself, bearing his new name of King and Lord. They are to be marked out publicly as God’s people, as Jesus’ people, as citizens of the city where heaven and earth will be joined for ever. No earthquakes there. Security, vindication, and the ultimate reward for patience. The time of trial is coming on the whole earth, and like a powerful searchlight it will reveal who is holding on to Jesus and his promise of a crown and who isn’t. The Philadelphian Christians are holding on a the moment, they must go on doing so and ‘conquer’ when the time comes. So must we.”

So what can we learn about following Jesus from those early followers of Jesus at Philadelphia? How can we walk through open doors that God has for us? Are we walking through those doors? Are we live as a sent community like Philadelphia? Are we opening doors or closing doors to people? These are some of the questions that we’ll unpack together.

1. What thoughts, comments, insights, questions, etc..do you have regarding the Scripture and/or the message?

2. What open doors do you have in your life to share/live/expand the Kingdom of God? To Whom are you being sent to? How can we help you live out the Kingdom of God in the world?

3. Have you ever experienced a closed door in relation to a community of faith? How did that make you feel? How can we as Veritas been better known as an inclusive community and not an exclusive community?

4. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?

7 Letters: Sardis

August 11, 2014 0 Comments Tweet This

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Today we tackle our 5th week of our 7 week series entitled 7 Letters looking at the 7 letters to the 7 Churches in Asia Minor found in the New Testament book of Revelation chapters 2 and 3.

We have finished Revelation chapter 2 and we have looked at the letters to the church at Ephesus, the church at Smyrna, the church at Pergamum, and last week we covered the letter to the church at Thyatira. Today we start the first of the 3 letters found in Revelation chapter 3. We’ll be looking at Revelation 3:1-6 and the letter to the church at Sardis.

So let’s look at Revelation 3:1-6, what the city of Sardis was like, and what a 2,000 year old letter might have to say to us gathered together here halfway around the world in a radically different context. And we’ll find out that what the church at Sardis struggled with, is still with us and is still something that, if we are truly honest, we all struggle with.

Revelation 3:1-6 says, “To the angel of the church in Sardis write: These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God.  Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you. Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. The one who is victorious will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life, but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels.  Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

One of the things that I have been noticing about each and every letter that we have looked at is the radically contextual nature of each letter. Each letter that is written has images, words, phrases, etc.. that the recipients of the letter would understand and relate to the context of each city. Sardis and the letter to the church at Sardis is no different. So let’s look together at the history as well as the context of the city of Sardis and see how they influence the letter to the church.

The city of Sardis was situated at a junction of 5 different trade roads. Their location on this junction led to the fact that Sardis was a city known for its commerce and trade. These things led to Sardis being a very active and very wealthy city. The city of Sardis was situated on a hill and was thought to be impregnable. It was thought to be secure. They were so secure in this “fact” that they became lax in their “defense” of the city. They fell asleep, if you will, in relation to the protection of the city. This led to the capture of the city twice. In 549 Cyrus of Persia (who is found in various Biblical narratives) took the city. And in 218 Antiochus the great conquered it. In both instances a soldier climb the hill at night and to a place where they didn’t place a guard because they believed that part of the city was impregnable. They fell because a soldier came like a thief in the night. They had fallen asleep and they were captured.

Knowing this history now, history that everyone in Sardis would have known and been taught, let’s see how that played into the letter to the church.

In verse 1 we read the words that describe the risen Christ as who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.” This, as I have mentioned before, is a picture of the Risen Christ drawn from the first chapter of Revelation. And in this case it is drawn from Revelation 1:16 where the Risen Jesus is pictured as one who is holding the seven stars. The 7 Spirits of God may refer to the Holy Spirit while the 7 stars are the angels of the churches.

In the second half of verse 1 through verse 3 is different than the other letters in that it actually starts not with what the church at Sardis should be praised for but what they should be criticized for. In verses 1-3 we read, “I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God.  Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.”

This criticism no doubt pointed the hearers of this letter right to their history of being taken over by attackers because they had fallen asleep. This would have come home with particular force because of their history of being captured twice. Their reputation around the region was one of being an alive, happening, and a church with lots going for it. But in reality it was a truly dead church. The reputation didn’t match with reality. But they had gone to sleep on their reputation and needed to wake up. Jesus through John charges them with 2 main criticisms…that there works had not been found to be complete, meaning their lives left much to be desired. And secondly the community was spiritual lazy if not dead outright. And if it were to continue, Jesus would come like a thief in the night.

Now this statement that Jesus would come like a thief in the night might sound familiar and is used by Jesus to describe his second coming. But in this letter, John is not referring to his second coming. He again is not doubt making reference to how the city had fallen asleep centuries before and were overtaken by people coming over the wall at night, like a thief in the night. Christ comes in many ways and this is clearly limited to coming in judgment on unrepentant sinners.

So one of the obvious questions for you and I right now is this…have we fallen asleep when it comes to following Jesus? Have we become lax in our spiritual disciplines? Have we got lax when it comes to blessing others? Lax in growing deeper in our journey with Jesus? Lax in sharing life together as followers of Jesus? If so, Jesus has the same words to us as he had for the church at Sardis. Wake up. Strengthen what remains. Repent and Return. Wake Up church!

Now not everyone in the church at Sardis was asleep at the wheel. There were a few people who were still awake, still fighting the good fight, still following Jesus and hadn’t become lax in their lives. We read about them in verse 4 which says, “Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy.” These few people in Sardis didn’t soil their clothes. Their reputation, their life, and their faith wasn’t compromised and lax. This idea of not having soiled garments is possibly a reference to inscriptions found in Asia Minor that stated that dirty clothing was held to dishonor the deity so that those who were dirty garments were debarred from worshipping. But those whose garments were pure would walk with Jesus dressed in white. This reference no doubt to triumphal processions of rulers who came back as conquering heroes, where people wore white robes. This triumphal procession points to the victory of Jesus. That Jesus through this life, death and resurrection is victorious over sin, death, evil and hell. That Jesus is victorious over the powers which hold mankind in bondage. And that all of us, if we follow him, and stay vigilant in our discipleship we will wear white robes and be victorious over the same things, not through our own power but by Jesus.

And so in that victory, the victory of Jesus, not only will the followers of Jesus be wearing white, a symbol not only of purity, and undefilement, but also a picture of justification, they will also be walking with the victor, who will also be dressed in a white. A beautiful picture of the presence of Jesus in the midst of our own lives. That as we walk this life, awake to the things of Jesus, and asleep to the things of this world, that Jesus will be walking with us. We aren’t alone. We are walking in white with the victorious one.

And when we walk with the victorious one, who has defeated the powers of sin, death and evil, and awake to life in the Kingdom of God, Jesus makes a promise to us. His promise, found in verse 5, “I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life, but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels.” This is a reference that appears elsewhere in Revelation (Rev. 13:8, 17:8, 20:12, 15,21,27) that also mentions this book of life, elsewhere called the Lambs Book of Life. It is helpful to know that in Greek cities they had official registries of all citizens. Some places kept the grim custom that when a citizen was to be condemned to death that their name would be blotted out of the book so as to not even show that they had even existed. But here Jesus, speaking on our behalf to God the Father, claiming us as his own, is saying that we, through him, are citizens of the Kingdom of God. That because we are alive and awake to his Kingdom that we won’t be condemned and then blotted out of the Book of Life. That Jesus is acknowledging us before the Father much like it says in Luke 12:8, “I tell you, whoever publicly acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man will also acknowledge before the angels of God.” And what a beautiful picture that is. Being acknowledged by Jesus as his own, as one who has the identity of Jesus within them, and to be vouched for, so to speak by Jesus when it comes to God the Father, and his Kingdom.

And so what about us? What message does Jesus have to say to us through this letter to the church at Sardis, many of whom had fallen asleep and become lax in their life with Jesus? How have we fallen asleep at the wheel? Where in your life do you need to wake up? In what ways have you been lax in the areas of blessing others, growing deeper in your journey with Jesus, and in sharing life? Let’s unpack these questions together and see how we might wake up, repent, and become alive to the ways of Jesus and his Kingdom.

1. What thoughts, comments, insights, questions, application, push back, etc.. do you have regarding the Scripture and/our the message?

2. How have you fallen asleep or gotten lax in your following of Jesus? In what area (Blessing the World, Growing Deeper in your journey with Jesus, Sharing Life) do you need to wake up?

3. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?

7 Letters: Thyatira

August 5, 2014 0 Comments Tweet This

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Today we continue our 7 week series entitled 7 Letters looking at the 7 churches in 7 cities in the Roman Empire, written by John, and inspired by the words to the churches by Jesus.

For the last 3 weeks we have covered Revelation 2 and three of the four letters in chapter 2. We have talked about the letter to the church at Ephesus, the letter to the church at Smyrna, and last week the letter to the church at Pergamum. Today we wrap up chapter two of Revelation with the 4 letter. The letter to the church at Thyatira.

Let’s look at what is the longest letter out of the 7 letters to the 7 churches, which is also to the city that was probably the least important of all the cities and see what we might learn about following Jesus in the midst of our own world.

Revelation 2:18-29 says this, “To the angel of the church in Thyatira write: These are the words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze.  I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first. Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols.  I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling.  So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways.  I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds. Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan’s so-called deep secrets, ‘I will not impose any other burden on you, except to hold on to what you have until I come.’ To the one who is victorious and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations— that one ‘will rule them with an iron scepter and will dash them to pieces like pottery’—just as I have received authority from my Father.  I will also give that one the morning star.  Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

So let’s first look a little bit at the context for the church at Thyratira and see what we might glean from the city and see if that will shed light on anything that comes out in the letter.

Thyatira, as I said, was probably the least important city of the 7 listed in Revelation 2 and 3. The thing that made it most famous was its trade guilds which specialized in various trades. One of the best known item of commerce, and one that made Thyatira the most money and prestige was the making of purple or indigo dye, which became a kingly color because it was so rare at the time. One of the Biblical characters who was from Thyatira and who was a dealer in linen and especially in purple linen was Lydia who is mentioned in Acts 16:14.

Now these guilds held considerable sway in Thyatira. You see this is more than just some type of Union. These guilds each had a patron god. In fact the patron diety of the bronze trade was Apollo Tyrimnaeus who also happened to appear on local coins together with the “son of God”, who better known to us as the Roman Emperor. These guilds weren’t just about employment, they were also religious or quai-religious. These guilds would hold ceremonies where the industry would be celebrated, they would sacrifice meat to idols, mostly to their patron god, and then eat the meat which had been sacrificed to idols. The powerful trade guilds would have made it very hard or difficult for any Christian to earn a living without belonging to a guild. No guild equals no job. No job equals no source of income to provide for your family. But if the Christians joined the guild, membership meant being involved and attending these guild banquets (more like religious ceremonies) and this meant, as I said before, eating meat that was sacrificed to idols. We’ll return in a bit to this struggle that, no doubt, most if not all of the Christians in Thyatira faced.

So the letter follows the same format as all the others. After the address part of the letter where the letter mentions the church in the various cities, comes the description of the Risen Christ, which also corresponds to a description of the Risen Jesus found in Revelation chapter 1. This description of Jesus to the church at Thratira is found in verse 18 which says, These are the words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze.” This description of Jesus is also found in 1:14-15. The reference to Jesus being the Son of God may be a statement in direct conflict with the understanding of the day that the son of god was actually the Roman Emperor. This is the only letter to use that designation for Jesus. And so right from the beginning of this letter Jesus is challenging the establishment and letting them know that He and not Caesar is the true Son of God. Jesus, through John, is also speaking directly to the guilds by the description of fire and bronze. In fact Thyatira was well known for it’s smelting of bronze (which obviously you need bronze and fire for smelting).

So following the description of the Risen Jesus we have what the church at Thyatira is to be commended for. What they are to be commended for is found in verse 19, “I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first.” This shows that there was much to commend the church at Thyatira for. Love- what is probably the most important part of a follower of Jesus life- both for God and for our neighbors. Their deeds, their faith, their serving of their fellow believers and others that God put in their path, and their perseverance all were focused on Jesus and pointing others to him. This was a church progressing, moving forward and growing in these four aspects, as stated that they “are doing more than you did at first.” Unlike the church at Ephesus who lost their first love and was regressing.

Now remember when I mentioned about the powerful guilds, their banquets which were more like religious ceremonies complete with eating meat to their guilds patron deity? And how if you didn’t belong to a guild, it was likely that you didn’t have a job? We come back to that when Jesus through John shares with the church at Thyatira the things that they are to be criticized for, things that are holding them back from following Jesus the way that they should. Verses 20-23 states “Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols.  I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling.  So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways.  I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.” Now we have an OT reference when John refers to this woman in the church as Jezebel. Jezebel was the wife of King Ahab and who seemed to be there cause of her husband’s wickedness. She enticed her husband into worship of Baal, which then in turn led many Israelites into that practice as well. You can read more about Jezebel in 1 Kings 16-22. We aren’t sure if this lady was an official or accepted church leader but we do know that she had a powerful influence within the church through her “prophetic gift”. Knowing the context of Thyatira and the power of the guild, this Jezebel was teaching that freedom meant that they could participate in these guilds, take part in the meals and ceremonies and everything that went with them, and still be following Jesus. And as I mentioned before the things that took place at these guild gatherings are the very things that the church in Thyatira is criticized for, the eating of food sacrificed to idols and to sexual immorality. For you see once one admits that it is all right to attend events in pagan temples or near equivalents, then all the things and practices such as licentious sexual behavior would come with the territory. And so it seems like Jezebel was promoting freedom and that their spiritual freedom could appropriately be expressed both in sexual practices as well as attendance at pagan shrines, cult meals and more ambiguous fellowship meals of the trade guilds.

And while the context is different for us. We don’t have trade guilds that hold religious or quai-religious ceremonies and eat meat sacrificed to idols. But we face the same question that the believers in Thyatira faced. The question that we all need to wrestle with and struggle with is this, “How far should I accept and adapt to contemporary standards and practices.” Or put in biblical terms how can I be in the world but not of the world? You see the church should never and can never deny Christ, yet at the same time we should not deny our membership within society. The mission of Jesus is not served if we as followers of Jesus appear to be old fashioned people who are always trying to retreat from the real world and not engaging the world.

Now Jesus calls the church at Thyatira (and by definition I believe also to us) to continue holding on until the day of his return. To remain faithful to Jesus in the midst of the culture in which they found themselves in (and in the midst of the culture where we find ourselves in). That no matter the struggles that the church was going through and the question of how to engage the culture without succumbing to the culture, that this,more than likely, small band of followers of Jesus were to hold on, to grasp tightly to the hand of Jesus, and to not let go until the end.

Let me say one word more and close out the message before we talk about application together by quoting, as I have done many times before, the theologian and writer NT Wright. He has this to say about the ending of this text and gives us a clue to the vocation that all followers of Jesus have, whether they are in Asia Minor in the 1st century AD or they are in Lancaster, PA in the 21st century. He says this, “Jesus promises to give them the morning star. Since later in the book (22:16) it is Jesus himself who is the ‘morning star’ we probably have here another hint of the level of intimacy which he offers to his people. He will share his very identity with them, as we have just seen him do with his royal authority. But the ‘morning star’ most likely the planet Venus at it’s pre-dawn brightest, is a sign of the special vocation of Christians, not least those “holding on’ when others around them seem to be compromising, under pressure, with local pagan practices. Christian witness is meant to be a sign of the dawning of the day, the day in which love, faith, service, and patience will have their fulfillment, in which idolatry and immortality will be seen as the snares and delusions they really are, and in which Jesus the Messiah will establish his glorious reign over the whole world.”

So what does it look like for you and I today to live out the message that Jesus, through John is calling us to live? To hold on to Jesus? To live a life of love, faith, service, and patience? And what does it look like for you and I to live counter cultural lives, not in the “amish way” so to speak but to live a life that we as followers of Jesus are in the world but not of it? Let’s spend some time wrestling with these questions together.

1. What thoughts, comments, insights, questions, applications, etc.. do you have regarding the Scripture text and/or message?

2. Share some modern day struggles related to being in the world but not of the world. How can we best live a counter-cultural life while at the same time not leaving the culture? And what does a counter-cultural life that doesn’t leave culture look like?

3. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?

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