Posts Tagged With: repentance

Revelation 16: Armageddon Begins

DRH31

I know, it is the eve of Mayan Apocalypse.  No, this post is not about that.  We have come to the end, at least for Rome.

The seven angels come forward and cast out the contents of their golden bowls onto various aspects of the natural world (the earth, sea, rivers, the Euphrates, sun, sky) and on the throne of the beast (Rome, itself).  The bowls are filled with “plagues” (16:9), and we can’t help but think of the Exodus, especially when people are afflicted with painful sores, water is turned to blood, the world is plunged into darkness, and a river is dried up.  Let there be no mistake.  This is a second Exodus (or a third, if you count the Babylonian invasion, captivity, and return towards the end of the Old Testament).  Rome is another Egypt.  Caesar is another Pharaoh.  Just like Pharaoh, there are hard hearts in the crowd:

They cursed the name of the God who had authority over these plagues.  They did not repent or give him glory. (16:9b)

But unlike the Egyptians, many who softened and begged Pharaoh to relent, the average Roman remains hardened, cursing God and refusing to repent.  In the first two sets of seven, we had an interlude between the sixth and seventh bowl or trumpet which was spoken to the saints directly intending to bring hope.  We have an interlude here, but only for the triumvirate of evil (dragon, beast, and false prophet, 16:13) to gather forces to enter battle from forces marching from the east across the “dried up” Euphrates.  The march to the bloody end continues, and will do so for three more chapters in a grand mix of images.

The term “Armageddon” is a Hebrew derivative and comes from 16:16 where Wright follows several MEGGIDOMAPNICE translations and calls the site of the last battle “Mount Megiddo.”  That translation is not unanimous, in fact, this passage is a hotly contested one.  Is this referring to the city of Megiddo in northern Israel?  Is this referring to a mountain (that Megiddo did not have)?  Is this being used symbolically (which I suspect), as Megiddo had been the site of many pivotal battles between nations from that area of the world?  We run the risk of getting too caught up in specific details.  The fact that East meets West in Israel (some say) in this vision is why people inclined towards latter-day prophecy see some final battle involving the modern state of Israel and tension in the Middle East, especially Iran now (though, wasn’t it Iraq ten years ago?).  Mix religion with American foreign political policy and you can see how this gets messy in a hurry.

Mount Megiddo?

Mount Megiddo?

Back to the Bible: today, it all ends with the seventh bowl, where a divine voice says “It is done!” (16:17) — an echo of the cross? — and the great city (Rome, presumably) both falls in an unparalleled earthquake and is crushed by gigantic hailstones.

I am struck by how the people of the great city have become so depraved that God’s punishment has only caused them to become more set against God and resistant to repentance.  But after the evil we have seem in Newtown, Connecticut and various other places recently, I shouldn’t be surprised.

What made you wonder in this chapter?

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Categories: Revelation | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Revelations 3: The Jesus of the Churches

2171172330103330085S500x500Q85Promises.  We all get a lot of them.  Promises are only as good as the one making the promise.  Making promises isn’t the same as wishful thinking.  To give a good promise you must have the ability to deliver on that promise.  In each of the letters to the seven churches of Asia Minor in Revelation 2-3, Jesus makes a promise to bring something — good or bad — to someone because of what they have done or not done.  In every case, Jesus makes it clear he possesses what is necessary to fulfill his promise.

Each of the seven letters starts with a description of the ascended, victorious Christ.  Then at some point in each letter Jesus promises something to either those who have persisted in wickedness or faithfulness.  John has done a masterful job of connecting promises with aspects of Jesus’ description in each letter so that the point is driven home that Jesus possesses the ability to deliver on what he has said. (Click here for a PDF of this chart.)

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We don’t just serve a God of wishful thinking.  Jesus doesn’t just hope he can help us.  We aren’t just crossing our fingers and wishing on a star.  Our God makes promises, and He possesses all that is necessary to fulfill those promises.

What did you notice in this chapter?

Categories: Revelation | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

2 Corinthians 7: Godly Sadness

If I did make you sad by my letter, I don’t regret it; and, if I did regret it, it was because I saw that I made you sad for a while by what I had written.  Anyway, I’m celebrating now, not because you were saddened, but because your sadness brought you to repentance.  It was sadness from God, you see, and it did you no harm at all on our account; because God’s way of sadness is designed to produce a repentance which leads to salvation, and there is nothing to regret there!  But the world’s way of sadness produces death. (7:8-10)

We don’t like sadness in our culture.  Life is supposed to be happy all of the time.  Nothing but butterflies and rainbows.

Of course, you can’t have rainbows without rain clouds and butterflies emerge from a strenuous battle with a cocoon.

I am afraid that this “happy-all-the-time” mentality has seeped into American Christianity too.  We expect God to smooth every road before us.  Life with Jesus is supposed to be a charmed life.  Surely, hard times are punishment.  And those who bring hard words of correction are not welcomed people at all.

At some point prior to 2 Corinthians, Paul has written a “sad letter” to this church.  This description doesn’t really fit the tone of 1 Corinthians, so many scholars think Paul is referring to another, lost letter to the Corinthians.  Clearly, Paul had hard things to say.  Things the church did not want to hear.  Things that made them ashamed of themselves.  Those are uncomfortable letters to write and conversations to have, and Paul confesses he regretted having to write such a letter.  Yet, the sadness the letter produced was exactly what the Corinthians needed.  It woke them up and they acknowledged in repentance that Paul was right.  A momentary spate of sadness created a wholesale change of direction.  Truly, “there is nothing to regret there!”

This sort of godly sadness is absolutely necessary, and it reminds us that not all we greet as bad is necessarily so.  Godly sadness created changes and results in salvation and redemption of that which is lost, broken and dying in our lives.  Godly sadness is what makes rainbows and butterflies possible.  There is always hope underlying the sadness.

There is a worldly sadness that is rightly undesirable.  Worldly sadness is nothing but rain and there are no silver linings.  Worldly sadness sweeps the cocoon away in a torrent and butterflies never emerge.  Worldly sadness offers nothing but death.  Hope is nowhere to be found.

When was a rebuke the most appropriate word you have ever received?  

Categories: 2 Corinthians | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Luke 19: Belong then Believe

I grew up with the thinking that all people respond to God for the first time the same way.  I guess this came from the pattern theology that I grew up with that likes to reduce everything to simplified formulas that are binding on all.  While that is neat and tidy, I don’t tend to believe that anymore.  As I read the Bible, I see people responding to God for the first time in many different ways, often depending on who they are and what has happened and what the situation calls for.  Sure, there are general trends but it isn’t as nicely tied up with a bow as I once thought.

I am drawn today to how Zacchaeus responds to Jesus in this, their first encounter of faith.  He is “very rich” (19:2).  Think back one chapter, to Friday, and the story of the rich young ruler.  Different from that man, Zacchaeus is not told to sell everything he has and follow Jesus.  Yet, the attitude of this tax collector and the rich young ruler are quite different.  That latter went away without change while Zacchaeus is quick to make financial, concrete amends for his life of shaking down his neighbors.

We are never told why Zacchaeus is drawn to Jesus.  Is he wanting to follow Jesus as a disciple of this new rabbi who has come to town?  Is he just a bystander wanting to get a glimpse of this man in the news?  Is he drawn to the healings and exorcisms that Jesus brings about?  Is he in need of some healing we are not aware of?  We simply do not know.  He quickly responds ethically, so that might indicate he was responding with faith.

I am struck by how Jesus accepts this tax collector and is willing to dine with him at his house, no insignificant gesture in their time and place as table fellowship connoted unqualified acceptance, even before Zacchaeus has done anything more than climb a tree.  Maybe Jesus is making the first gesture here.

Then Zacchaeus does what can only be described as repentance.  He turns in a very practical way from his life of deceit:

“Look, Master,” he said, “I’m giving half my property to the poor.  And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I’m giving it back to them four times over.” (19:8)

Jesus response is unmistakable:

Today, salvation has come to this house. (19:9)

Zacchaeus has launched off in new, uncharted territory of faith.  He will follow Jesus, not his own conniving.  He will stand for righteousness and even fall over himself to make sure people around him know it.  Jesus seeing this repentance and Zacchaeus receives a new label: “saved.”

Interest ~ Acceptance ~ Repentance ~ Salvation

That is a pretty good flow.  No need to turn that into another pattern.  Not every person will respond this way, but it is a good reminder to us that for many people that we wish to reach in this world — especially those marginalized in society — acceptance from the Body of Christ often has to precede the lifestyle change and submission we wish to see in their lives.  Like many are saying these days, some have to belong before they decide to really believe.

What did you see anew in this chapter?

Categories: Luke | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 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

Matthew 3: The Kingdom of Heaven is Coming

I hope your Easter was a truly blessed one!  I spent much of the weekend in solitude and with family (in part, because I was sick on Sunday), but it was a very good weekend of reminders of frailty and new life.  I did spend time with Henri Nouwen, one of my favorites especially on Easter.  If you would like to read my Easter mediations click here to go to my personal blog.

We have just made a huge jump in time in Matthew 3.  Kids have grown up to be adults.  The time for ministry has come.

"John baptizing Christ" by Guido Reni

This is the first mention of John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin, in Matthew.  He is one unorthodox bloke, to put it mildly.  He must have failed his seminary class on seeker-sensitive preaching:

He saw several Pharisees and Sadducees coming to be baptized by him.  “You brood of vipers!” he said to them.  “Who warned you to escape from the coming wrath?  You better prove your repentance by bearing the right sort of fruit!” (3:7-8)

His first words are what strike me in this chapter:

Repent!” he was saying.  “The kingdom of heaven is coming!” (3:2)

John’s first words introduce us to what will be a major theme in Matthew, actually the biggest idea Jesus and his followers ever talked about.  What is this kingdom?  It is coming here?  When?  One’s understanding of the Gospels is sadly deficient if one does not come to understand what the “kingdom” is.

What struck you in this chapter?

Categories: Matthew | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Hebrews 6: No Turning Back

For once people have been enlightened — when they’ve tasted the heavenly gift and have had a share in the holy spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the coming age — it’s impossible to restore them again to repentance if they fall away, since they are crucifying God’s son all over again, on their own account, and holding him up to contempt. (6:4-6)

We don’t like the word “impossible in this passage, do we?

Is this really saying if a person rejects Jesus it is impossible for them to return to Jesus?  Once lost, always lost?

One commentator argued this passage is likely the most controversial passage in the whole book of Hebrews.  Absolutely!

We need to look to verse 10 for some guidance: “God is not unjust.”  I think most of us would say a god who is unwilling to rescue a person who wants to be saved is a rather unjust god.  By that point alone, I think we need to reject any interpretation of this passage that argues a second genuine repentance would be rejected by God after apostasy.

Some commentators have argued that the word “tasted,” used twice in this passage, means the hypothetical person only tried out Jesus, like a seeker who might try on religion for a few months.  This is the person who tastes the free samples at Sam’s but then walks on without buying a box.  He never really accepted Jesus in the first place.  But verse 6 does indicate this hypothetical person has previously repented and the idea of “sharing” or partnering in verse 4 connotes active participation in the life of the Holy Spirit.  This sounds like more than a seeker.

The best explanation I have read in my limited study of this passage comes from George Guthrie (Hebrews, NIV Application Commentary) who says the Greek construction of the last part of this sentence — “since they are crucifying God’s son all over again, on their own account, and holding him up to contempt” — is best interpreted in a causal (“because they”) or temporal (“while they”) manner.  So the last clause is best read: “as long as they are crucifying God’s son all over again, on their own account, and hold ing him up to contempt.”  Thus the point is that as long as people are in the act of rejecting Jesus they could not feasibly be turned back to him.  Their hardness of heart would not allow it.  Of course, if their hearts softened and they wanted to repent again, that would be possible.  It is not that God would not allow them to return, their own hearts would not allow it.

He was the angriest, most bitter student I have ever taught.  He made no bones about it.  He hated God, hated the Bible, hated my Bible class, and I suspect he hated me by virtue of association.  At first I was perplexed by him, then hurt, then angered, and by the end I just hurt for him.  I have never met someone so unhappy with anything and everything.  His anti-religious bent made more sense to me when I learned that he had been raised by a zealously religious parent who he claimed did not treat him in a very godly manner.  He had been raised to have faith, but then he rejected all he had ever been taught.  To him, Jesus was a disgraceful fake fit only for simpletons.  God was a lunatic’s dream at best.  All of it was an object of contempt.  Try as I might to share a different view of God, religion, and Christians it was like speaking to a wall.  He had one illogical argument after another for why what I was saying could not be true.  His perception of God, Jesus, and Christians could best be described as caricatures.  Everything was black and white, and religion was purely evil.  His heart was hardened like stone.  It seemed impossible to hope that he would ever turn again to Jesus.  I would like to say he did, but I don’t believe he ever has.

Sad to say, today’s passage makes more sense when I think of him.

What do you think?

Categories: Hebrews | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

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