Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Devotion for April 12, 2016

Then I saw in the right hand of him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals (Revelation 5:1).

            The sealed scroll is the first sign of trouble in Revelation vision of God in His heavenly throne room. (Read it here.)
            A sealed scroll figures in Isaiah 29, in which a sealed scroll is useless because, well, it’s sealed. Unless the reader has the authority to open it, the information is inaccessible. (Think of it as the taboo against reading someone else’s mail. One could physically open that envelope, but technically that’s stealing.)
            A sealed scroll also figures in Daniel 12, in which Daniel has a vision of the future, but the Lord tells him to seal it ‘until the time of the end.’
            What does this sealed scroll in Revelation mean? I think it’s a symbol of man’s precluded future, the future he cannot have because sin and death dominate the world. Think of it in terms of being stuck. Human history is an endless cycle of wars and oppression; as Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes, “There’s nothing new under the sun.” Humanity is stuck in patterns of behavior that we can’t seem to break out of. And human lives are the same way: how often do you find yourself during the confession at church thinking, “I’m confessing the same kinds of sins I was confessing 5, 10, 25 years ago”? We’re stuck in personal habits and sins that we can’t break out of, too. No wonder, then, that John weeps and weeps to see the sealed scroll!
            The good news comes tomorrow, when Jesus is declared worthy to open the scroll.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Devotional Thought for April 5, 2016

Tuesday: “John, To the seven churches in the province of Asia: Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth... “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty” (Revelation 1:4-5, 8).

            If Revelation is so unflinching in its portrayal of the fallenness of the world, how in the world can it be a book full of hope? Well, it does that in multiple ways. Consider, for example, the verses above. Notice how twice in these three verses the Lord God is described as him who was and is and is to come. Our God was there before our trials; He is there in the midst of our trials; and He can see through to the time beyond our suffering.
            Suffering can be so all-consuming. I noticed this when my dad died and I’ve observed it in others in their grief. For the mourner, time has stopped and there is no life beyond their particular grief. I came to value conversations that were ‘normal,’ about life beyond my suffering. It was good to be reminded that life went on.
            That’s the consolation of a God who was, is, and will be. He is the ultimate perfecter of perspective. In 2 Corinthians 4, Paul talks about our light and momentary troubles. Our troubles are only ‘momentary’ if someone is providing a longer and broader perspective. Since our God writes our story into the story of creation and Adam’s fall and Jesus’ death and resurrection and His glorious return, He alone gives the perspective that we need.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Devotion for April 4, 2016

Monday: “I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus” (Revelation 1:9; NIV).

            Revelation is a relatively straightforward book. I know that sounds weird but it’s true. In many ways the terrifying images of the book are just ways to describe what we all experience—that life is not perfect, that we have spiritual enemies, that the world is fallen.
            John notes this from the very outset when he describes himself as a companion in suffering and notes that he was on the island of Patmos. John writes around the year AD 95 and persecution is becoming more and more common. Around that same time other historical sources are telling us that Christians are being imprisoned and occasionally executed simply for being Christians. (Why the Romans thought Christians were worth punishment is an interesting study for another time.) John himself is on Patmos because he has been exiled from his home in Ephesus.
            Revelation will never candy coat the struggles of life in a sin-fallen. You don’t overcome trial by denying that you’re under pressure. It’s important to confront the brutal realities of a fallen world. And that kind of realism will equip you to endure and live in hope

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Devotion for March 23, 2016

            As Jesus was leaving the temple during Holy Week, His disciples commented on the splendor of the temple and its surrounding, supporting buildings. Jesus replied that no stone would be left on another.
            That might not mean much to us, but to a first century Israelite it was huge: it was like the destruction of a city’s cathedral and the city hall. Everything that identified Israel as Israel was tied up in that temple, and Jesus rather offhandedly declares its doom.
            The disciples naturally want to know when that will happen, and Jesus responds with what is sometimes called the eschatological discourse (a speech about the last thing). Other times it’s called the Olivet discourse because Matthew and Mark tell us He made the speech while sitting on the Mount of Olives, looking across the valley at the temple. I think it might be preferable to use the latter title. The first one presupposes an awful lot about what Jesus is talking about.
            Go ahead and read the speech (Luke 21:5-36), and you’ll think, “Well, it makes sense to call it the eschatological discourse. Jesus is talking about recognizing His second coming, after all.”
            Here’s the thing: I’m not sure that Jesus is talking about His second coming there. I think the horizons are different. I think He’s talking about the impending judgment of Jerusalem, which will take place within 40 years of Him uttering these words. And I think the nearer horizon of His words is the great catastrophe of Good Friday and Easter.
            It would take a massive amount of time and argumentation to prove that case and a blog is no place for that kind of work. Ask about it Bible study some time and I’ll make my case. For now, consider this: we often treat the last day as if it’s the big deal in Biblical history. But the real focal point of human history was Good Friday and Easter. On Good Friday the old age of sin and death was defeated by Jesus’ atoning death, and on Easter the new age of the Spirit dawned in Christ, the firstfruits from the dead. This is my Wednesday devotion, and I’m first posting it on Thursday—Maundy Thursday, to be specific. The Church’s liturgical tradition says that what begins tonight in the upper room and Gethsemane, what passes through the darkness of Golgotha, and what ends in joy on Easter morning is all one thing, the turning point of human history.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Devotion for March 22, 2016

            Jesus spent a good portion of Holy Week teaching in the temple. Well, teaching might not be the most apt description. He was tested in the temple, that’s for sure. There were questions about Jesus’ authority to occupy the temple; there were tests about whether or not Jews should pay the imperial Roman taxes; and there were challenges about the resurrection. Each one would be an incredible study all by itself. We’ll just look at a few brief things here.
            First, the chief priests questioned Jesus about His authority. Jesus didn’t answer; instead he asked them a question about John the Baptizer: was his authority of human or divine origin. The chief priests couldn’t answer—not because they didn’t have an opinion but because they were scared of what that opinion might stir up. They were pretty sure John’s mission was not God’s mission but they were equally sure the people thought otherwise. To bash John was to risk the ill will of the people. Jesus knew this and backed them into a corner.
            The question about taxes was a subtle piece of work. If Jesus had said that people should pay the Roman tax, then the chief priests could have painted Him as a Roman collaborator. If Jesus were to say they shouldn’t, then the chief priests had an accusation against Jesus before Pilate. After all, if Jesus could paint them into a corner, it’s only fair that they should try to paint Him into a corner, too. Of course, Jesus smelled them coming and headed them off with His famous, “Give Caesar what is Caesar’s and God what is God’s.”
            Lastly, the challenge about marriage in the resurrection was a typically Sadducee move: the Sadducees didn’t believe there was a resurrection. Trying to catch Jesus in with an absurd argument, they find themselves trapped when Jesus outright contradicts them: “You don’t understand the resurrection.”
            What does this mean for us? Well, certainly, in terms of the story of Jesus, it helps us understand the hostility that led to His crucifixion. It also helps us see a little bit how we, in our sin, challenge Jesus, trying to hold on to our viewpoints, trying to make Him say what we want Him to say. And, it reminds us of 2 Corinthians 10:5, “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” Human reasoning must always place itself under God’s own words.