Posts Tagged With: forgiveness

Revelation 6: The Great Reversal Begins

4Horseman

Yesterday we were introduced to the scroll of destiny.  Today the lamb begins to open the seals one by one.  As each seal is broken some monumental event takes place.  The first four seals launch a horseman — yes, the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.”  Off they go on white, red, black and pale horses bringing death in various ways as they go.  Whether battle, disease, famine, or even wild animals, when the time comes for the seals to be broken Death personified will ride into the lives of those who have oppressed God’s people.  If we look at the history of the Roman Empire in the three hundred years after John’s vision, that is exactly what we see happen.  And so often since then, we have seen Death have his way with the godless regimes of human history.

But why is this happening?  We might wonder.  Some may bristle at passages like this one.  There is no escaping that in this passage God is orchestrating the death of at least the fourth of the world’s population (6:8), if we are to take that number literally.  Some might object that this sort of action is beneath God.

how-long-o-lordBut this is not just violence for violence sake.  God doesn’t go on a tear for no reason at all.  Here we get a stark look at the justice of God.  We must remember that justice is on the other side of the coin from the forgiveness and mercy we like to focus on.  When people are seeking forgiveness, the good news is that it is available.  But when there are powers afoot that desire only their own will and have no regard for God or moral living, good news for those oppressed can only be the punishment of the tyrants of this world.

The fifth seal reveals the cause of the first four.  The “witnesses” who have died because of their faith are now revealed shouting at the top of their voices:

How much longer are you going to put off giving judgment, and avenging our blood on the earth-dwellers? (6:10)

As the sixth seal is broken and the world as we know begins to melt (highly poetic language borrowing all the standard apocalyptic symbols for cataclysmic change), the oppressors of the righteous know they will be made to pay for their transgressions and hope that hiding will save them:

Hide us from the face of the One who sits on the throne, and from the anger of the lamb!  The great day of their anger has come, and who can stand upright? (6:16-17)

Some who read Revelation are turned off because of its violence.  This is a picture of God they deem unbecoming.  However, as anyone who has ever been persecuted for their faith can tell us, there are some situations in life where justice is the only way to rectify a situation.  To not bring evil to an end would, in fact, be unjust and erode the very fabric of life.  Revelation is dark in many places, but always in vindication of the faithful who have suffered even unto death.

The times, they are a-changin’.  The balance is shifting.

What did you notice in this chapter?  

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Categories: Revelation | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

John 21: Never the Same Again

When you really meet Jesus for the first time, your life will never be the same again.  

I trained for the ministry in undergrad.  I earned my degree in Bible and at twenty-two I launched out into the world with too many fears and too little faith.  I then proceeded for several years to run away from the call to ministry. I worked in restaurant management and then in the insurance industry.  Mainly I worked at getting a paycheck and distracting myself from the fear and inadequacy I felt about he prospect of working for a church.  Then, I could fight it no more.  At the insistence of my good wife, we moved off to Memphis for graduate school and I have been in educational ministry ever since.

I enjoyed the insurance job a great deal (the restaurant job, not so much) and could have stayed in that job for many years and many promotions, but I had a nagging sense that all I was doing was making a rich company richer.  My life was missing purpose.  I was made for something different.  I am not being dramatic when I say that there is rarely a day in my ministry career now when I would say there is no purpose to what I do; I see the point of my work by the hour practically (though not the results, often).  Still, there are days when I am tired from the pace and never-ending nature of teaching (not the kids, they are great!) that I joke with my wife that I ought to quit and go back to insurance.  Of course I never would, by choice.  Never.  I don’t think I could ever do that job again with any degree of satisfaction.

Peter had left fishing behind three years before.  Had it been a lucrative job?  Maybe, maybe not.  But it had been a job and it put supper on the table, or breakfast as this story would have it.  Then he matched off after this rabbi and his life had never been the same since.  But he blew it.  He didn’t just deny Jesus once, but three times.  How could he keep following Jesus?  How could Jesus accept him?  So he went back to fishing:

Simon Peter spoke up.  “I’m going fishing,” he said. (21:3a)

Maybe we read this and think Peter was going off to wet a line like some retired man passing some time.  But fishing was not a pass-time with Peter, it was a job.  Peter was saying, I am going back to what I did before.  I am a failure as a disciple, so back to the boat and nets.  What happens next is so interesting:

So they went off and got into the boat; but that night they caught nothing. (21:3b)

Peter can’t do what he did before.  It doesn’t work.  There is no going back.  He has met Jesus and his life will never be the same.  His ability to catch fish is frustrated, because he has a new purpose in life: to be a fisher of men.

Only when Jesus comes along and guides Peter’s hands again does he find success.  A night without a single fish turns into the catch of the year, only because Jesus blessed their work.  Do you really think that there was a miraculous number of fish just on the other side of the boat and they never tried that?  The point, though, is not about fish.  Peter will only find success when he is working for Jesus again.

Then three times Jesus reinstates Peter to his new ministry:

“Well, then,” he said, “feed my lambs.” (21:15)

“Well, then,” he said, “look after my sheep.” (21:16)

“Well, then,” said Jesus, feed my sheep.” (21:17)

Peter can’t go back to catching fish; he has a job to do feeding the sheep of Christ’s church.  And the rest is history. Peter’s life was never the same.

John has taken us from the beginning of Jesus’ life — actually before his birth, to the point when he created the world — to the death and resurrection of our Savior and now to Jesus as he prepares to leave the world in the hands of people like Peter.  What will they do now? History tells us that all of them went on to live radically altered lives of service and sacrifice.  Eleven of the twelve apostles will die a martyr’s death and our author John will die in exile.  John leaves the reader with the same question Peter had to answer: what do I do now?  Now that you see who Jesus really is, what will you do now?  There is no turning back.  You will never be the same again.

What did you learn from this month’s reading of John?

Categories: John | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Luke 3: Baptized with The Holy Spirit

Another characteristic trait of Luke’s Gospel is his emphasis on the Holy Spirit.  Of course, we see this most clearly in Acts, volume two of the set, but there have been several time already where mention of the Holy Spirit has been made when it was not in Matthew or Mark.

The adult John was clearly a prophet, one who spoke necessary words even if they were confrontational, even if they would get him killed one day.  (I noticed today that verses 4-6 were first spoken by Isaiah, who tradition says was sawn in two; then John the Baptist, who was beheaded; then Martin Luther King Jr. in his “I have a dream” speech, who was assassinated.  People don’t usually like prophets.)  John came preaching of repentance and forgiveness of sins and offered a water baptism that brought this to one’s life.  Yet he also says Jesus will do more than simply offer repentance and baptism for forgiveness.

To all of them John responded: “I am baptizing you with water.  But someone is coming who is stronger than I am.  I don’t deserve to untie his sandal-strap.  He will baptize you with the holy spirit and with fire.” (3:16)

The thing that was new with Jesus was not baptism, it was the gift of the Holy Spirit offered to all who would follow him and come into Christ through Christian baptism.  Baptism was the ritual; the Holy Spirit was the power and the result.  Even forgiveness was available through John’s baptism; it was the Spirit that was missing.  Remember Acts 19 (also written by Luke) where this was precisely the issue with a group of people baptized by John but who were missing the Holy Spirit?  To punctuate the point, in this chapter Luke includes Jesus’ own baptism in which the Holy Spirit comes upon him.

A life with forgiveness is wonderful, but we are destined to end right back where we were before.  We would be a people obsessed with forgiveness because of our permanent fallen state.  What we need is empowerment to become something better than what we presently are.  That is the importance of the gift of the Holy Spirit.  God not only forgives us, He empowers us by that Spirit to live a life that is progressively more holy and capable than it was before.

I wonder if sometimes we are guilty of still only preaching “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (3:3).  We emphasize the need to be washed clean of sin.  We encourage each other to turn from sin.  And, yes, we become obsessed with forgiveness because we have missed the part that we can actually become something different than an incapable sinner.  Acts 2:38, a verse ultra-familiar to many of us here, says:

Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins.  And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Have we forgotten about the last part?  And if so, are we missing the most important part?  Are we missing the one unique characteristic of Jesus’ baptism, the one part that is essential to becoming God’s people in a fallen world, the Holy Spirit?

I think so.

What do you think?

Categories: Luke | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Luke 1: A Worshipful Response

Major things happen in this long first chapter.  God starts moving again.  Remember this follows four hundred years of divine silence.  Angels appear.  Temple worship is interrupted.  Signs and miracles occur.  Babies are conceived in unlikely and unnatural ways.  God is on the move and it is BIG!

All of this action has a point:

He [John] will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. (1:16)

He [Jesus] will be a great man, and he’ll be called the son of the Most High.  The Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he shall reign over the house of Jacob forever.  His kingdom will never come to an end. (1:32-33)

He [God] has rescued his servant, Israel his child. (1:54a)

Blessed be the Lord, Israel’s God!  He’s come to his people and bought them their freedom.  He’s raised up a horn of salvation for us. . . . Salvation from our enemies, rescue from hatred, mercy to our ancestors. . . . Letting his people know of salvation, through the forgiveness of all their sins. (1:68-69a, 71-72, 77)

God moves so as to save, to bless, to rule, and to redeem.

“Magnificat,” Maulbertsch

So, how do you respond when God starts doing magnificent things in your life?  Just like Elizabeth, Mary, and Zechariah: you worship!

Elizabeth:  Elizabeth was filled with the holy spirit, and shouted at the top of her voice: “Of all women, you’re the blessed one!” (1:41b-42)

Mary:  My soul declares that the Lord is great, My spirit exults in my savior, my God. (1:46-47)

Zechariah: Immediately his mouth and his tongue were unfastened, and he spoke, praising God. . . . “He swore an oath to Abraham our father, to give us deliverance from fear and from foes, so we might worship him.” (1:73-74)

Over what in your life right now can you worship?

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Matthew 27: Let His Blood Be On Us!

I am struck by the utter irony of this passage:

“So what shall I do with Jesus the so-called Messiah?” asked Pilate.

“Let him be crucified!” they all said.

“Why?” asked Pilate. “What’s he done wrong?”

But they shouted all the louder, “Let him be crucified!”

Pilate saw that it was no good.  In fact, there was a riot brewing.  So he took some water and washed his hands in front of the crowd.  “I’m not guilty of this man’s blood,” he said.  “It’s your problem.”

Let his blood be on us!” answered all the people, “and on our children!”  (27:22-25)

Of course, the crowd means they will gladly take the guilt of killing Jesus.  His death is justified.  He is a law-breaker and blasphemer.  He incites riots and disturbs the peace.  Look at the company he keeps: he likely has some hidden sin.   If he really is God’s son then he can save himself.  But he won’t.  This guy is a ruffian.  We’ll answer for spilling his blood.

The irony is that by the end of the day that is exactly what happened.  Jesus’ shed blood was potentially “upon them and their children,” but not at all in the way they had imagined.  That blood signified redemption and atonement.  It meant they all had the potential to be saved by the very man they had crucified.  And if they accepted that invitation that blood would wash away their sins.  Were some of these same people among the 3000 saved on Pentecost forty days later?

What an amazing reminder of the grace of God!  He gives them what they want, and so much more!

What did you notice today?

Categories: Matthew | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Matthew 26: Two Very Different Roads Converge

We are approaching Jesus’ death and I am struck by how there are two very different roads to the same place, Mt. Calvary.

The chapter begins by telling us that Jesus and the Jewish religious leaders are both contemplating the same event, but have very different intentions:

Jesus said to his disciples, “In two days’ time, as you know, it’ll be Passover!  That’s when the son of man will be handed over to be crucified.” (26:1-2)

The chief priests got together with the elders of the people. . . . They plotted how to capture Jesus by some trick, and kill him. (26:4)

Next, we have the two groups making preparation for death.  An unnamed woman comes to Jesus and anoints his head with very expensive perfume, unbeknownst to her as preparation for his burial.  She does this as a sign of honor.  Meanwhile, the chief priests strike a deal with Judas to lead them to Jesus in a private place so they can arrest him without a scene.  Preparations are made for betrayal.

When Jesus is arrested in Gethsemane, a stark divergence is seen again.  Everyone around Jesus — including impetuous Peter — operates by force.  Swords are brandished, an ear is cut off, and Jesus is manhandled away to the house of the high priest.  In contrast, throughout it all Jesus operates by peace.  He so opposes force that he heals the high priest’s slave’s ear and chastises his own defender Peter.  These are two radically different ways of operating in the world.

Both groups see Jesus’ body as an object to satisfy a need.  For Jesus, his body is an instrument of “forgiveness of sins” and healing (26:28).  Later, as the palace guard spat on Jesus and beat him, they show that Jesus’ body is simply an object on which to show hatred and humiliation.

Yet, both of these roads end up at the same place.  However, for one it is a cross of shame, mockery, and elimination.  For Jesus it is the cross of victory, love, and forgiveness.

What did you see anew in this very familiar chapter?

Categories: Matthew | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Hebrews 9: Inheritance Follows Death

What will you do about sin?

In one way or another, every human being answers this question.  Some are intentionally religious about their answers.  Others would prefer to call sin something like “mistakes” or “regrets” or “negative energy.”  Regardless, the topic is the same.  That is precisely the topic taken up in today’s reading, maybe the clearest and most sustained discussion of “atonement” we have come to this year.

By far, the most common answer to the sin question is that we will work it off through good works.  It is not always verbalized that way, but that is the point.  The solution is up to us.  Do more good than bad.  Straighten up your own mess.  Make better choices.  Try harder.  Religious people of all sorts answer the question this way, yes, even some that swear an allegiance to Jesus.

The Hebrew author is quite clear what he thinks of that answer:

Gifts and sacrifices are offered which have no power to perfect the conscience of those who come to worship. (9:9)

Good works won’t do it.  Offer whatever you wish.  Kill a hundred animals.  Rely upon yourself and the results will always be the same: failure.  We can’t solve the problem ourselves.

Then the writer offers his best answer later:

There’s no pardon without bloodshed! (9:22b)

This is not always a well-liked answer.  Some don’t see why God needs to have blood; he can simply forgive.  Some see this as barbaric and archaic.  Some paint this as the bloodlust of a neurotic, angry god.  Well liked or not, the Bible’s answer is always the same: forgiveness takes blood, or more to the point of the symbol of blood, it takes death.

The reason for the death and blood will be answered several different ways as we go through the New testament this year, so we will add to the answer as we go.  The point here is a legal or contractual one: we stand waiting for an inheritance (9:15).  We look forward to the fullness of the Spirit and the world where “everything will be put into proper order” (9:10).  Inheritances come from wills, and a will can only be executed when the death of the person promising an inheritance has been substantiated (9:15-17).  Thus, blood as a symbol of death is necessary.

What did you notice anew in this familiar chapter? 

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Acts 24: Resurrection is Key

Paul is confronted by Felix, the Roman governor in Caesarea.  Is Paul truly the rabble-rouser the Jews make him out to be?  That is a serious charge in peaceful Rome.  In response, Paul confesses the following:

It is true that I do worship the God of my ancestors according to the Way which they call a “sect.”  I believe everything which is written in the law and the prophets, and I hold to the hope in God, for which they also long, that there will be a resurrection of the righteous and the unrighteous. (24:14-15)

What strikes me here (and in almost every other public address either Peter or Paul gave in Acts) is that resurrection is so foundational to the belief-system of the apostles.  Key to the gospel is resurrection from the dead.  This is mentioned again later in the chapter at 24:21.

I wonder if resurrection is that fundamental to our ways of thinking and talking today.  I more often hear forgiveness from the guilt of sin mentioned in our gospel language.  That is okay.  Of course, forgiveness is important as well, and it was a part of the gospel sermons in Acts too (c.f., Acts 2:38).  But not as often as resurrection.  If we have downplayed resurrection in favor of forgiveness of guilt from sins, what are we missing?  And why have we made this switch?  What does this reveal about us?

Paul is a wanted man.  Leave him alone in Jerusalem for 15 minutes and he is dead.  He is sitting in a Roman jail under suspicions of disturbing the peace.  Rome deals swiftly and decisively with people who upset the Pax Romana.  In Felix, he is talking to a man who more so wants a bribe than the truth, and Paul has no intentions of paying up.  He is headed to Rome, where Caesar’s word is truth, and Caesar has no reason to preserve Paul’s life.

How can Paul maintain such boldness and calm?  Paul has already told us:

I hold to the hope in God . . . that there will be a resurrection of the righteous and the unrighteous. (24:15)

What do you think about this?

Categories: Acts | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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