Revelation 15:1-3, “The Song of Moses, and the Song of the Lamb”

1] Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvelous:  seven angels having the seven last plagues, for in them the wrath of God is complete.

2] And I saw something like a sea of glass mingled with fire, and those who have the victory over the beast, over his image and over his mark and over the number of his name, standing on the sea of glass, having harps of God.  3] They sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying:

“Great and marvelous are Your works,
Lord God Almighty!
Just and true are Your ways,
O King of the saints!
4] Who shall not fear You, O Lord, and glorify Your name?
For You alone are holy.
For all nations shall come and worship before You,
For Your judgments have been manifested.”

Chapter 15 introduces us to the final series of judgments, then, after an intermission of a few verses, chapter 16 gives us the quick execution of these judgments.  These two chapters are the consummation of events leading up to our Lord’s return to Mount Olivet and this world, described in chapter 19.

Though the shortest chapter in Revelation, this chapter has a great deal to say to us.  It has two sections, though we’ll only get through a small part of it today:

  1. Praise, vs. 1-4
  2. Preparation, vs. 5-8.

Praisevs. 1-4.

Before John gets into the actual description of the seven angels of v. 1 and the bowls of wrath they carry, something draws his attention.  In vs. 2-4, he sees a great company of people praising God.  Perhaps we might think this is nothing unusual.  After all, praise and worship of God is the main activity in heaven, willingly and  joyfully entered into.  However, it is this particular group of worshipers which is noteworthy:   they have the victory over the beast, v. 2.  They have endured the worst time ever witnessed in human history – and are victorious over it!  Now, from the standpoint of the world, perhaps, they were deserving criminals who were executed for their refusal to bow down to the Antichrist and his world government.  Perhaps their adversaries thought, “Good riddance!”  It’s still often true that what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God, Luke 16:15.

The world mistakenly thinks that the grave is the end, that is there is nothing “out there” after the final breath is taken.  Scripture says that is not true.  The bodies of these martyrs may lie in disrespect on this earth, but the martyrs themselves are in heaven!

And there’s a great deal to think about in what they are doing, as well.  They are singing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, v. 3.  Why these two songs, and not some Psalms or other songs?  Because these two songs are especially songs of deliverance!

Exodus 15:1-21 records the song of Moses, a paean of praise for the great deliverance God had brought about for Israel, His chosen nation.  It had seemed like Israel was doomed, hemmed in by the Red Sea in front, and the armies of Pharaoh in hot pursuit behind.  There was no way out!

Ah, but there was….

There was a great rushing of wind across the water and a path opened up through the Sea itself, Exodus 14:21, 22.  Israel was able to cross on dry ground, 14:16, and so perhaps Pharaoh and his armies thought they could simply keep on after them, v. 23.  Not so!  There was suddenly difficulty with the chariot wheels, v. 25, so that the Egyptians began to sense that the LORD was against them, and they tried to flee.  But there is no flight from the Lord, and the Scripture says, when the morning appeared, the sea returned to its full depth, while the Egyptians were fleeing into it, v. 27.  The Israelites saw the Egyptians dead on the shore, v. 30.  Not so much as one of them remained, v. 29.

Victory snatched out of the jaws of certain and overwhelming defeat!

The song of Moses.

What about the song of the Lamb?

It may be that the song recorded belongs to both of them, and aren’t two separate songs.  I don’t know that it really matters.

The song of the Lamb is also a song of deliverance.

Deliverance from a far greater bondage that Israel suffered in Egypt.

John introduced to the Lamb in 5:6, where he saw that there stood a Lamb as though it had been slain.

Notice, though, that the Lamb is standing – alive.  He’s not still hanging on the Cross, as so much of the “Christian” world portrays Him.  Nor does His body lie moldering in some grave somewhere, as the world likes to think.  No one will ever find the skeleton of Jesus!

He lives!

Or else the Easter services we had a few days ago are a monstrous lie!

 

 

Revelation 14:14-20, The Darkness Before the Dawn

14] Then I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and on the cloud sat One like the Son of Man, having on His head a golden crown, and in His hand a sharp sickle.  15] And another angel came out of the temple, crying with a loud voice to Him who sat on the cloud, “Thrust in Your sickle and reap, for the time has come for You to reap, for the harvest of the earth is ripe.”  16] So He who sat on the cloud thrust in His sickle on the earth, and the earth was reaped.

17] Then another angel came out of the temple which is in heaven, he also having a sharp sickle.

18] And another angel came out from the altar, who had power over fire, and he cried with a loud cry to him who had the sharp sickle, saying, “Thrust in your sharp sickle and gather the cluster of the vine of the earth, for her grapes are fully ripe.”  19] So the angel thrust his sickle into the earth and gathered the vine of the earth, and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God.  20] And the winepress was trampled outside the city, and blood came out of the winepress, up to the horses’ bridles, for one thousand six hundred furlongs.  (NKJV)

Though we’re only about 2/3 of the way through Revelation, we’re down to perhaps the last few weeks before our Lord returns to this world and history as we know it will be over.  I say “perhaps” because it’s difficult to know for certain the “overlap” of various events in the book.  At least one of them takes five months, 9:5.  And we read of the days of the blowing of the seventh trumpet, 10:7, which actually includes what happens during the time of the pouring out of the seven bowls, or vials.  We tend to read the book as if A follows B, but A and B might overlap to some degree.  Further, the narrative switches back and forth between heaven and earth.

Chapters 15 and 16 give us the “bowl” judgments.  Chapters 17, 18 and through 19:10 give us heaven’s perspective.  From 19:11 through ch. 20, we have the final chapters of this world’s history.  21 shows us the creation of new heaven and new earth, where righteousness dwells, or “is at home,” as 2 Peter 3:13 puts it.

Under the guise of a harvest, our text, Revelation 14:14-20, gives us something of the events which will precede our Lord’s return in 19:11 and explains a little of why He wears a blood-stained robe, 19:13.

Of note is the fact that there are two “harvests,” one in vs. 14-16 and one in vs. 17-20.  The first one involves the Son of man, and the harvest of the earth.  The second one involves an angel and the harvest of the vine of the earth.

Our Lord spoke of this first harvest in Mark 13:27, “And then He will send His angels, and gather together His elect from the four winds, from the farthest part of the earth to the farthest part of heaven.”  See also Matthew 24:31.  There’s a great deal of discussion of all that’s involved with this topic.  It’s possible that this verse refers to the gathering together of Israel, not “the church.”  It’s not our purpose to get into all of it.  It’s enough to remember that Paul wrote that 

we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep.  For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God.  And the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.  And thus we shall always be with the Lord, 1 Thessalonians 4:15-18.

We believe that Revelation 14:14-16 give us this same event.

Verses 17-20 give us a description of the expression of God’s wrath toward this earth.

Several Scriptures gives us details of this time.  Perhaps the best known are found in Zechariah.  According to chapter 14, Jerusalem will finally be captured and terrible atrocities will be committed against her inhabitants.  When all hope appears to be lost and Israel will finally be destroyed after centuries of her enemies trying to do that, the Lord will suddenly appear and will “destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem,” Zechariah 12:9.

At the same time, Zechariah 12:10 tells us that God “will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced.  Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn.”

At this time, Romans 11:26 will be fulfilled:  all Israel [alive at that time] shall be saved, as it is written:

“The Deliverer will come out of Zion, 
And He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob;
For this is My covenant with them,
When I take away their sins.”

Isaiah 63:1-4 refers to this time, as well:

Who is this who comes from Edom,
With dyed garments from Bozrah,

This One who is glorious in apparel,
Traveling in the greatness of His strength? –

“I who speak in righteousness, mighty to save.”

Why is Your apparel red,
And your garments like one who treads in the winepress?

“I have trodden the winepress alone,
And from the peoples no one was with Me.
For I have trodden them in My anger,
And trampled them in My fury:
Their blood is sprinkled upon My garments,
And I have stained all My robes.
For the day of vengeance is in My heart,
And the year of My redeemed has come.”

So great will the slaughter of God’s and Israel’s enemies be that Scripture tells us that it will take seven months to bury them all, Ezekiel 39:12, and seven years to get rid of all their weapons and equipment, vs. 9, 10.  The arterial spray from their deaths will even reach as high as horses’ bridles, Revelation 14:20.

This view of God is foreign to our time, even repugnant to many.  We’ve so distorted the Bible’s teaching about God that He’s been reduced to little more than an indulgent Grandfather chuckling over the follies and foibles of His grandchildren.  But we are NOT all His children, as so many believe.

We are, however, all His subjects.  He is our Creator and God.  Evolution has taken care of the idea of His being Creator and our materialistic worldview has taken care of any idea of God.  We’re all that there is – except maybe for alien civilizations which might have evolved on other planets – a popular tenet of sci-fi programs.  Nevertheless, we are as subject to His moral and spiritual laws as we are to His “natural” laws – like the law of gravity.  Even those who’ve never hear of Him have some idea of “right” and “wrong.”  They may not agree with our ideas, but still, they recognize that some things are “wrong.”  The thing is, no one has even fully lived according to those ideas, and are as guilty as those who have full access to the Bible.  This is Paul’s teaching in Romans 2:14-16.

All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, Romans 3:23.  All of us are condemned in His sight.  This is why the Lord Jesus came to this world – to save sinners.  Yesterday was Easter.  Yes, I know some much prefer “Resurrection Day,” and I understand why they prefer it.  The point isn’t so much what we call it, but what God was doing during it.  He was showing that our Lord’s death which has occurred three days and three nights before had been effective.  It was His receipt, if you will, for what Christ had done.  Sin had been paid for, and judgment satisfied for those for whom Christ died.

Those who believe on Him will never endure the wrath of God against their sin.  Christ endured it for them.  Those who reject the Lord Jesus?  He who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides [remains] on him, John 3:36.

I don’t know the spiritual condition of those who read these posts.  I only pray that they – that you – will consider your future.

Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, Acts 16:31.

As much as men might deny the God of the Bible, the time is coming when this will not be possible.

David and Bathsheba.

Like Jephthah and his daughter, here is another incident in the Bible which causes skeptics and unbelievers to sneer at and to speak against God.  It’s one of the things which make unbelievers say that the Bible is pornographic.  I doubt, however, that you’ll find the Bible for sale on “adult” websites.  It shows the consequences of actions like David’s, not only in this life, but in eternity.

In our post on Jephthah, we said that God doesn’t sugarcoat life.  He doesn’t hide the defects of His people.  David is a classic example of this.  Though “a man after God’s own heart,” his own heart, in common with the rest of us, was “deceitful above all things and desperately wicked,” Jeremiah 17:9.  And he wasn’t a very good father, 1 Kings 1:6.  Maybe he was too busy being “king.”  It’s easy to do that, to get so wrapped up in the trivial things that we forget the important things.Perhaps we can learn some things from this sordid affair, recorded in 2 Samuel 11, 12.

David’s Conduct, 2 Samuel 11.  

1.  David wasn’t where he was supposed to be.

2 Samuel 11:1 says that it was the spring of the year, when kings go out to battle….  Joab and the army was in Ammon, besieging the city of Rabbah.  David, however, remained behind in Jerusalem.  We don’t know why, so there’s no reason to go there.  He certainly wasn’t supposed to be there.

2.  He looked where he wasn’t supposed to look.

V. 2 says it was evening and David arose from his bed and walked on the roof of his house.  Perhaps he had gone to bed and couldn’t sleep.  Perhaps it was later in the evening.  So he got up and went outside to what was probably a deck or porch on the house, to take advantage of the cooler evening air.  We’re not to imagine that he was scrambling around on the roof itself.  From that vantage point, as he was walking back and forth, he could see the surrounding neighborhood.  To his surprise, there was a woman, bathing after the end of her cycle, v. 4.  Apparently, he didn’t just look away.

There have been those who blame Bathsheba for all this.  They say she deliberately put herself where David could see her.  I think that unlikely.  It was evening, so people would be asleep, or at least inside.  She would have more privacy for this very personal action.  We admit, this is all conjecture because the Bible doesn’t give us any detail.  (If this were pornography, “detail” would be the main thing.)  The point is, David saw her, and wanted her.

3.  He did what he wasn’t supposed to do.

V. 4 says that David sent messengers, …and she came to him….  Giving her the benefit of the doubt, we believe she came in innocence, not knowing what David had in mind.  It’s unlikely the messengers knew or said anything about it. Beyond that, we really can’t say.  She came to him.  Why or what she was thinking really doesn’t matter as far as Scripture is concerned.  Scripture is concerned with the result of this one evening.  A result which is with us even this very day, as I write or you read.

She became pregnant.

Having satisfied his desire, David probably thought that was it.  She returned to her house, v. 4.  He sent her home.  After all, she wasn’t married to him.  It was just a one night affair.  

I have no desire to turn this into some Hollywood production, some “Fifty Shades of David,” glorifying and exploiting the vile things humans can do.   From here on in, things get really ugly, as if they weren’t already, though in the end, there is a surprising “twist.”  Hollywood has no monopoly on “I didn’t see that coming!”

Trying to cover his sin, David sent for Uriah, her husband, on the pretext of finding out how the battle he was absent from was going.  Really, he hoped Uriah would go home to his wife, so that he would be assumed to be the father of the child his wife was carrying, vs, 4-13.

When that didn’t work, he set Uriah up so that he would be killed in the battle, vs. 14-25.

With the husband gone, there was still the problem of the child.  After the requisite time for Bathsheba mourning her husband,  David brought her back to his house and married her, vs. 26, 27. She bore the son.

But…. In his instructions to Joab about Uriah, it was obvious that David wanted Uriah dead, v.15.  After the thing was done, and messengers had relayed the news to David, he told them to tell Joab, “Do not let this thing displease you [be evil in your sight]….” But….

David was trying to cover up and hide what he had done, but he forgot there was Another who was watching what went on: But the thing that David had done displeased [was evil in the eyes of] the LORD, v. 27.  There are no “cover ups” where God is concerned.

Nathan’s Confrontation, 2 Samuel 12.

David no doubt thought that he had “gotten away with it.”  After all, it was just a little fling.  Folks forget that it was a “little” thing that got our first parents thrown out of Paradise, and plunged the whole race into the mess it’s in.

God sent His faithful prophet, Nathan, to David with a story about a rich man who disdained to take from his own riches to prepare for a traveling visitor.  Rather than do that, he took the one “treasure” belonging to a poor neighbor.  This poor man had a lamb, which was very much the family pet, and the rich man took that to take care of his guest.  A lot of people, I suppose, could identify with the poor man and the animal “family member.”  Strange how attached we can get to a dog or cat or horse….

Anyway, David was understandably upset at the injustice of all this and decreed that the man, worthy of death, should restore the lamb fourfold to his injured neighbor.

Just in passing, OT justice knows nothing of a “debt to society.”  It talks, as here, of a criminal’s debt to his victim.

David likely was completely unprepared for what Nathan said next:

“YOU ARE THE MAN!”

That was one time when “you the man” wasn’t something David wanted to hear.

Telling all that God had done for David and, if that wasn’t enough, He would do even more, Nathan accused David of despising all that and stealing the one treasure of a poor man for his own pleasure.

Unintended Consequences,

David found out that he hadn’t gotten away with it, after all.  Though he wouldn’t die, he would still suffer the consequences of his sins. Unbelievers look down on David, and on God, for that matter, because God forgave these horrific acts simply out of His grace.  There was no sacrifice which could be given to atone for adultery or murder, the things of which David was guilty.  Yet God “put away” David’s sin.  What folks often tend to overlook, though, is the fact that God didn’t “put away” the consequences of that sin.

In writing of Israel’s experience with God, Psalm 99:8 puts it like this: You were to them God-Who-Forgives, though You took vengeance on their deeds.

In other words, God may forgive the adultery which breaks up a marriage without restoring the marriage.  He may forgive the drunkenness which caused an accident without restoring the limb that was lost because of it,.  There are consequences to every action, good or bad.  Sometimes they are significant, as in David’s case.  In his case, there were several more or less immediate consequences to what he did.  Perhaps some of them weren’t directly related to what he did, but God had taken His blessing off the family.  They suffered because of what David did.

1.  The baby conceived in this union would die, 2 Samuel 12:14.

You might ask, “Why should the baby suffer for what the parents did?”  A lot of children suffer for the sins of their parents:  a drunken father or dissolute mother.  That’s actually nothing new.  There are consequences, and it isn’t always a guilty party who suffers. In this case, Nathan gives us the answer:  it was because what David did gave “great occasion [opportunity] for the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme.”  If the child were alive, then his very presence would be a continual reminder of David’s sin, and a continual reproach because of it.  The boy was taken away from all that.

2.  The sword would never depart from David’s house, 2 Samuel 2:10.

Two of David’s sons were literally killed.  Amnon was killed by one of his brothers for the rape of that brother’s sister, Tamar.  Tamar was another innocent victim, and, as far as the record tells us, never received justice.  As we said, David wasn’t a very good father.

Though we’re told nothing further about her, it’s entirely possible that she was prevented from marrying because her virginity had been stolen from her.  She had been disgraced.  It’s nothing today, but, back then, a girl’s virtue was her most precious possession.  It’s a shame that today’s society in general places no value on it at all, valuing promiscuity rather than purity.

When Amnon was killed, David though all the royal sons had been murdered, 2 Samuel 13:30-33.  The fact that only Amnon was dead was probably little comfort. The other son who was killed was Absalom, who decided that he would stage a coup and take over the throne, 2 Samuel 15-18.  When he was killed, David was almost overcome with grief.  

Though we don’t know, one of the contributing factors to Absalom’s rebellion might have been David’s refusal to punish Amnon for his sin against Tamar, Absalom’s sister. Another contributing factor might have been David’s treatment of Absalom after he killed his brother, 2 Samuel 13:37 through ch. 14.  Absalom had fled the country and lived abroad for three years.  Though Absalom was finally able to return, thanks to the efforts of his good friend, Joab, the commander of Israel’s army, he was forbidden to see the king.  Joab again intervened, but it seems the reunion wasn’t very cordial.

According to 2 Samuel 14:32, Absalom thought he had done nothing wrong in dealing with Amnon.  After all, he had acted when his father hadn’t.  He had avenged his sister.  He was angry that David hadn’t treated him better.

3.  There would be adversity in the family, 2 Samuel 12:11, 12.

Though there was a lot of trouble in the family, these verses refer specifically to Absalom’s almost successful attempt to overthrow his father.  The whole story is found in 2 Samuel 15-18.  The specific detail of vs. 11, 12 is found in Absalom’s actions in 2 Samuel 16:20-22.

Contrariety,

Here is what I meant by “the twist” at the end of the story.  From this woman, illicitly taken and then married after the murder of her husband, Solomon was born, who became heir to the throne.  We’re not told why.  Cf. Joseph’s experiences and his explanation  of them in Genesis 50:20.

Some might look sideways at this, thinking, “That’s not very fair!”

It’s a conceit of believers and unbelievers alike that God can do and must do only those things which we approve – and only in ways we approve.  But He does what He wants, and He asks neither our opinion nor our approval.

I’d never really thought about it before, but perhaps this, too, is part of the “judgment” on David’s family.  None of his other 18 sons were privileged to sit on the throne.  Only a few of them have anything told about them, but if they’re any example of the rest, none of them were fit to rule.

________

Though, as we said, God doesn’t sugarcoat or ignore the failings and sins of His people, but then, neither does He dwell on them.  In 1 Chronicles 20:1, a parallel account, although there is a reference to David’s staying behind in Jerusalem, there is no mention of what he did there.

When God forgives, He also “forgets,” not that it’s wiped from His memory, or ours, for that matter, but that He no longer holds it against us.  Indeed, He treats us as if we’d never sinned, but had always obeyed.  This is the glory of justification, that He declares righteous in His sight those who are anything but righteous.

Is that “fair”?

Not at all.

If we got what was “fair,” we’d all be in hell.

David would be.

But because of God’s love toward us and His immeasurable grace, He gives us what could never be ours otherwise.

How could He do that?

Because He gave to Christ what could never have been His otherwise – our sins.

Tomorrow is Easter.  I really hadn’t planned it this way, but that’s how it’s worked out.  Easter isn’t about bunnies and clothes and Easter egg hunts for the little ones.  Nor, as some insist, is it a celebration of paganism, though that may or may not be where some current practices come from.  It’s about the resurrection of the One who came to take away our sins, so that they would no longer be held against us.

More Than An “April Fool.”

April 1, at least in the US, is known as “April Fool’s Day.”  It’s a day when people like to play jokes on other people, to “prank” them, though anymore that doesn’t seem to be limited to one day of the year.  In Luke 12:13-21, our Lord told of a man who was more than an “April fool.”

This incident in the Lord’s life happened because someone asked Him to arbitrate a dispute over an inheritance.  Jesus replied that He wasn’t here for such things, that there was more to life than a lot of “things” and the desire for more of them was to be avoided.  In v. 23, He said, “Life is more than food, and the body is more than clothing.”  This echoes something He said in Matthew 6:25, “Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?”   I don’t think He meant that we should ignore physical needs; He was just telling those who were listening to Him, and us, that they’re not to be all we focus on.

And Paul, warning Timothy against the love of “things,” wrote, having food and raiment, let us therewith be content (KJV).

In Matthew 6, which contains similar teaching, Jesus continued, “…seek first the kingdom of God AND HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS…,” emphasis added because we tend to forget that part of what He said.  The best we can do can never be anywhere near good enough.  We must have “His righteousness” if we are to stand before God uncondemned.  

Then Jesus told a story to illustrate what He meant.  “There was a man….”  Perhaps not a real man, in that the Lord had a specific individual in mind, but certainly a representative man, because there were a lot like him around.  Still are.  Always have been.

He was a very successful man.  The story centers around what he did about it.  Liberals see only a condemnation of covetousness.  Is that all?

The Lord wasn’t scolding this man for planning or for possessing, but for planning too far ahead.  For not planning enough.  For being possessed by his “things.”

The man was a “fool” because –

1.  He considered the body, but forgot the spirit.

He was getting ready to take it easy; to enjoy his “golden years.”  He did have a little knowledge that there is more to us that just an animate body.  He referred to his “soul.”  Without getting further into the discussion about whether man is two-part or three-part, let me just say this.  The body enables us to live in this particular world, breathe its air, walk its surface.  Our soul is what makes us conscious of this world, the things which are around us, the warmth of the Sun, the coolness of water splashed on our face.  Our spirit is that which makes us understand that there is more to existence than just this world.  It’s that which makes us ask with the old song by Peggy Lee, “Is That All?” and know that it isn’t.  To know that we’re not the highest being in existence, even if we don’t or won’t admit it.

2.  He considered time, but forgot eternity.

He was looking forward to “many years,” but God said, “Tonight.”  The only breath we’re guaranteed is the one we have right now.

3.  He considered “goods,” but forgot God.

He apparently already had plenty.  The text speaks of “barns” – plural.  But that wasn’t enough; he was going for bigger and better.  He farmed, but apparently never thought about where the rain and sun that nourished his crops came from, to say nothing of the ground in which they were planted and the strength he had to take care of it all.

4.  He considered riches, but forgot righteousness.

The Bible does not condemn wealth.  In fact, in the OT, it was often a sign of God’s blessing.  That’s what puzzled the disciples when the Lord told them how difficult it was for  a rich man to enter heaven.

This man wasn’t condemned because he was rich.  He was condemned because he never considered his standing before God.  I don’t want to read more into the story than what’s there, but surely that’s at least implied by God’s statement to him that his soul would be required of him.  There would be an accounting of his life.

Hebrews 9:27 says, it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment….  So then, death isn’t “the end.”  It’s just a transition into a different plane of existence.  Science fiction, and some religion, talks about “ascending to a ‘higher plane’,” whatever that is, but Scripture talks about leaving this temporal life, this life confined to a body, and entering one beyond this body, one in which righteousness, justice and truth are paramount.  One in which God will be the ultimate “reality,” and our relationship to Him is determined by our relationship to the Lord Jesus.

Easter is this coming Sunday.  In the frenzy of sunrise services, easter egg hunts, and new clothes, it’s reality will largely be forgotten.  That reality is that the Lord Jesus Christ came into this world to redeem sinners.  He lived the life we could never live – a perfect, holy life, and died the death we could never die – a death that paid for sin.  We could never pay for even one sin, let alone the uncountable number of sins we’ve committed.  He rose from that death, proof that He had conquered it.  He told His disciples to proclaim to the world that eternal life was to be had through faith in Him.

Only through faith in Him.

In short, this man in the story forgot everything that really matters, that is really important to our being.  He lived for the moment, but forgot that moment when he would leave this life and face God.

He was more than an “April Fool.”

 

 

 

 

…And Then The Stone Moved.

The old man softly stroked his beard and leaned against the wall by his pallet. His grandsons, six and four, snuggled up to his side. He smiled at them and tousled their hair. They had asked him to repeat a story they had heard many times, a story he himself loved and never ceased to wonder at.

He had been a young man, a Roman soldier stationed at Jerusalem. Like many of his fellows, he had hated it, hated the country, hated the people with their strange belief in one god, their refusal to blend in with other people. And they hated him. He wanted to be back in Rome, where the emperor was, not in this backwater of civilization, with its strife, controversy and unrest.

Beside all that, now there had been an uproar in the city during Passover, always a difficult time with the influx of Jews from all over. Silly people, to believe that killing an animal could somehow take away their sins. Even sillier, to believe that their god was really interested in them and would, or could, help them. After all, look at their country now – occupied by Rome. And how often he had prayed to his own god, and nothing had happened.

And yet, here he was, on a clear Judean night, with only the stars, the crickets, and several of his fellow soldiers, guarding, of all things, a tomb! The tomb of a criminal, at that! The orders had been clear. Guard this tomb! It was said this criminal – this Jesus – had promised to come back from the dead. Everyone knew that was impossible! But the authorities had been afraid that His disciples would come and steal the body! Stupid authorities!

He looked at the stone which sealed the tomb’s entrance and smiled at the thought of a bunch of ragtag Jews moving it, especially after having to overcome the Roman guard first. He smiled again. So ridiculous! He and the other men, hardened Roman soldiers, would have had a difficult time themselves, moving the stone, nestled as it was in a shallow inclined trough. Beside that, the stone had been sealed. It was a death sentence to tamper with that Roman seal.

He began to muse on what he had heard of this Jesus. Strange things about what He had done and said. Something about giving His life for His sheep, giving them an abundance of life. Who cared about sheep!? Whether they lived or died? He supposed a shepherd might, but here, this shepherd was dead. What could He do now? And this talk of forgiving sins…. What was that all about? Everyone knew that you did your best, and hoped that was good enough.

The old man roused himself, and looked at the half-asleep boys by his side, thankful that his questions had been answered. That Jesus had indeed come as the sacrifice for sins, that He had paid the penalty for sin, and that those who repented and believed in Him would be saved from their sins. That Jesus had cared enough for an ignorant young soldier to take his place under the wrath of God and suffer what he, the soldier, should have suffered. That He had done the same thing for many others, as well. The old man looked at the boys again. “May you both,” he whispered, “come to know the Good Shepherd, who gave His life a ransom for many, that One Who died that His sheep might live.”

He thought again of that long-ago night, that watershed night in his own life….

Because, you see, it had been a quiet night, …and then the stone moved.

Voices of Christmas: Mary.

Without Mary, there would have been no birth of Jesus, no Christmas, no Easter and no salvation.  This doesn’t mean that she is the Savior, but simply that she was the channel through whom the incarnate God came into this world to be the Savior.  As we saw in our last post, it’s unlikely any other Jewish maiden would have qualified to be the mother of the Messiah.  (NOT “the mother of God.”)

Beyond the fact that she was a virgin, the NT tells us very little about this young woman. She lived in Nazareth, a small town in Galilee, Luke 1:26, a town evidently not thought of very highly, John 1:46.  She was betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David, Luke 1:27.  We’re told nothing of her parents or any siblings.  We do know of a elderly relative named Elizabeth, who became the mother of John the Baptist.

At the same time, it tells us a great deal about her.

We’re told she was a virgin.  This means very little today, but it meant a lot back then. There would have been no bumper stickers saying that “virginity is curable.” Girls realized that they could only give themselves the first time – one time.  So did young men, for that matter.  That was of surpassing importance, something to be valued, cherished, and protected.  And it was only to be to her husband – after they were married.  There was no moving in with each other to “see if it works out.”  There was no “it’s just sex,” as if that were just another sandwich for lunch or deciding which TV show to watch.  There was no such thing as “casual sex.”  It was the consummation of marriage, something looked forward to, not the commencement of “a relationship,” taken for granted.

To be sure, there probably were those who didn’t agree with all this.  Mary was not one of them.  She was a virgin.

At the same time, she was aware of marital activity and its result.  When told by the angel that she was about to become a mother, she asked, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” Luke 1:34.

A valid question.

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born of you will be called the Son of God,” Luke 1:35.  She would be the recipient of a miracle.

Now, there are those who deny any possibility of “a virgin birth.”  And, humanly speaking, they’re right.  It is impossible.  But that God Who created the whole universe in a week and made Adam out of a pile of dirt, and Eve out of one of his ribs, would certainly have no trouble creating that which would unite with an egg in Mary’s body to produce the infant Lord Jesus in her womb.

Of course, these same unbelievers also probably deny creation and redemption, so that a miracle conception is unnecessary as well as impossible.  They’re quite willing to believe that Matthew and Luke made up stories to make the best of an unpleasant situation.

But, if Jesus were an illegitimate child, there would have been, and are, repercussions, even if that means nothing to our society.  It meant something to hers.

As a betrothed young woman, she was considered as good as married, even though the wedding hadn’t yet taken place.  Divorce would have been required to break that engagement.  Joseph couldn’t simply have written her a “Dear Jane” letter.  Because of her status as betrothed, if Jesus were illegitimate, Mary herself would have been liable to death, Leviticus 20:10.  Jesus Himself would not have been recognized as a member of the nation, Deuteronomy 23:2.  If His were an ordinary conception, whether in or out of wedlock, He would have had a fallen human nature and, as such, would not have been able to satisfy the Law’s righteous requirements, even for Himself, let alone for others. He could not have been the Savior.

The Virgin Birth means something.  It meant something to Mary.

We’re told nothing of what happened when it became discovered that she was pregnant, when she came home after three months from visiting Elizabeth.  She would have begun “to show.”  What did she tell her parents?  How did she break the news to Joseph?  What did the neighbors think?  Remember, this was a small village, and human nature is human nature.  There were probably rumors and whispers.  So, you see, it meant a great deal to Mary – and to Joseph.  And to her parents.  Her reputation was likely gone – and Joseph’s when he went ahead and married her.  And her parents – where did they “go wrong” in raising their daughter?

Perhaps I’m reading more into this than is there.  Perhaps everybody concerned was cool with it, though I doubt it, at least to start.  Even if they were, though, the circumstances of Jesus’ birth cast a long shadow.  Years later, it was cast into His face by His enemies. In one of the many confrontations with Him that they had, they said, “We were not born of fornication; we have one Father – God,” John 8:41.  And the “we” and “of fornication” are emphatic in the original language.  Now, they might simply have been asserting their own descent from Abraham, but I think there may have been a dig at His own background as well.

Mary was a virgin.

She was also righteous.  What was her reaction to what the angel explained to her?  “Behold the maidservant of the LORD!  Let it be to me according to your word,” Luke 1:38.  We have no way of knowing how much of what we have written might have gone through Mary’s mind as she was digesting what the angel told her, how far through she might have thought it.  She’d just received the mind-blowing news that she was to become the mother of the Messiah!  Her!  Mary!  That was enough!  “Let it be….”

Luke includes one of the many “human-interest” stories for which his gospel is known. The next verse says that she made “haste” to go to her relative Elizabeth, whom the angel had told her, perhaps by way of confirmation of his message to Mary, was also pregnant, and this “…in her old age.  For with God nothing is impossible.”

Children were highly valued and loved in that society.  They were looked on as blessings from God, cf. Psalm 128:3, 4.  There were even provisions in the law that if an expectant mother were hurt during a fight so that she delivered prematurely or if the child were hurt in some way, damages and/or judgment was exacted of the guilty party, Exodus 21:22-25.  By the way, this is one of the two places in the Law where “an eye for an eye,” etc., occurs.  And her husband had something to say about it.

Children, even the unborn, were loved, and protected.

And a wife considered it a great calamity to be barren.  Cf Elizabeth’s own reaction to the angel’s message to her, Luke 1:24, 25.

So Mary hurries to her relative to share in the good news.  And probably to share her own good news.  With whom else could she share it?  “I’m pregnant with the Messiah.”  How would/could anyone believe her, apart from divine intervention, like there was with Joseph?

We’re going to have to write something on Elizabeth.  We weren’t going to, but there’s just too much here.  Probably more on Mary, too.

There was confirmation of  the angel’s message to Mary when she got to Elizabeth’s home.  Perhaps Zechariah chimed in, so to speak, since he couldn’t, with his own experience with an angel.  Mary’s reaction to all this is recorded in Luke 1:47-55.  It’s one of the great psalms of praise in the Bible.

Mary, highly favored, highly thankful, highly blessed.

Mary, the mother of our Lord.

Voices of Christmas: Matthew.

[This is actually a reprint, somewhat edited, of a post from last March.  However, it’s certainly relevant for this time of year.  Now, it does mention Easter, but Easter would never have happened if it weren’t for Christmas.]

Matthew’s genealogy is important because it tells us that the story of Jesus doesn’t begin “once upon a time,” in spite of those who claim it should.  It’s rooted solidly in Jewish history, in the Old Testament.  However, Matthew’s purpose isn’t merely to show us that Jesus is Jewish.  His purpose is to show us as well that Jesus is closely linked to two great covenants in Jewish history:  the Davidic and the Abrahamic.  Both covenants have national and global significance.  Jesus’ life and death have national and global significance.

Part of the significance of that life and death lies in connection with another covenant essential to the founding of the nation of Israel:  the Mosaic.  Moses wasn’t an ancestor of Jesus so isn’t included in the genealogy.  Nevertheless, there is a connection, though it’s spiritual, not physical.  Israel was given the Mosaic Law as a standard of righteous living, with blessings or judgment based on either Israel’s obedience or rebellion.

The Old Testament is filled with stories of Israel’s disobedience to the Mosaic Covenant, and the consequences of that rebellion.  Israel was never able to attain to the righteousness required by the Law.  Though that Covenant was never made with mankind – there is no “Dispensation of Law” for mankind – yet according to Paul in Romans 2:1-16, Gentiles, that is, the rest of mankind outside the Jewish race, understand the idea of “right” and “wrong.”  These may not agree with the Biblical definition of such things, but there is still that understanding.  The OT Jew never lived up to the Law, and we never live up even to our own understanding of right and wrong.  We can never attain the righteousness God requires if we are ever to stand in His presence uncondemned.  The Lord Jesus came to procure and provide that righteousness.  Hence, the Manger and the genealogies.

We see –

Importance of the genealogy.

1.  It established Jesus as a descendant of Abraham through Jacob (Israel).  This is important because only an Israelite could be king over the nation, Deuteronomy 17:15.

2.  It established Jesus as a descendant of King David.  Only a descendant of David could sit on his throne.  [You might want to check out my post on “The Daughters of Zelophedad” for more about this.]  I know there is a lot of discussion today, with “the kingdom” being considered only as some sort of “spiritual” entity which has nothing to do with the nation of Israel, but the Old Testament clearly requires something more than an invisible reign of the Son of David.  Jeremiah 23:5, 6 says “Behold, the days are coming,” says the LORD, “that I will raise to David a Branch of righteousness; a King shall reign and prosper, and execute righteousness and judgment in the earth.  In His days, Judah will be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely.  Now this is the name by which He will be called:  THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.”

Interesting things in the genealogy.

The genealogy is obviously incomplete.  That’s because it’s designed to show connection, not chronology.  Several names are left out, and the ones included are arranged in three sections of 14.  Perhaps Matthew did this to make it easier to remember these 42 names.  Perhaps there is also a connection with David’s name.  In Hebrew, the numeric value of the letters in his name is “14”.

1.  Each segment ends with a decisive event: the rise of the monarchy, the Captivity, the coming of the Messiah.

2.  Each segment involves a different Covenant.  The first segment involves the Abrahamic Covenant, as the promised line develops through Isaac [not Ishmael, who was rejected], Jacob [not Esau, who was also rejected], then Judah, and on down to the Lord Jesus.  The second segment has to do with the Davidic Covenant, a covenant in which the Lord promised David that he would always have a son to sit on his throne. That the Lord Jesus ultimately fulfills this covenant is without doubt.  The question is, how and when?  The third segment introduces the New Covenant.  Though it’s commonly understood that the New Covenant concerns the Church, we only enter into its blessing because of and through the Lord Jesus.  It was actually made on behalf of the nation of Israel, Jeremiah 31:31-34; 32:36-44; Ezekiel 34:20-31; 36:16-38 and others.

3.  Each segment has something to do with the Davidic kingdom.  The first sections tells of its establishment.  The second refers to its dissolution.  The third has to do with its re-establishment.

4.  The genealogy is a microcosm of grace.  Consider the names listed in it.

a.  Some were famous.  Who could ask for more illustrious ancestors that Abraham, Isaac, David, Solomon?

b.  However, some were forgotten.  Who knows anything about Abiud, Eliakim or Azor, or many of the others in this list.  To a church proud of its accomplishments, and forgetting its roots, Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:26-29, For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called.  But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world, to put to shame the mighty, and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things that are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence.

For most of us, any memory of us will die with us, except maybe for family and a few friends, and when they die, so will the memory.  But those whom the world has considered worthy to be forgotten, God has remembered in His grace.

c.  Some were foul.  Consider Manasseh, for example.  Though son to a godly father, he himself was so wicked that he single-handedly brought on the judgments which later happened to Judah, 2 Kings 21:10-16.  Romans 5:8 says, God demonstrates His own love for us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Never make the mistake that God saved you because you were so wonderful, or that you had done something that impressed Him, or obligated Him.  What is wonderful about it, is that God saved you, and me!

d.  Some were feminine.  Women were seldom included in genealogies.  What is even more amazing in this genealogy are the women who were included in it.  One had been a harlot; one had played the harlot.  Two were outsiders, members of races under God’s judgment (aren’t we all?)  One brought with her the scandal of adultery and murder.  One was placed in a situation where she was, and is, considered by many to be an adulteress.  Yet each was given her own special place of responsibility and privilege in producing a link in the chain from Abraham to Jesus.

In spite of the disdain for, and disagreement with, that many have for the Biblical role of women, it wasn’t Christianity that burned a widow on her husband’s funeral pyre.  It’s not Christianity that considers women as mere chattel or that requires them to walk several paces behind their husbands.  It is Christianity that commands husbands to love their wives as themselves, or even more, to love them as Christ loves us, willingly, sacrificially and for their benefit.

There is one final thing, and this is probably the most important.

e.  Some were forgiven.  SOME, not all.  Some people are very interested in their ancestors.  Someone was kind enough to trace my own family back to the Old Country.  There were five families he was tracing and his and mine intersected a few generations back.  My daughter was Salutatorian of her class at the Christian school she attended.  After the graduation, the wife of a pastor of a Baptist church in the area came up to me and asked me if I were the speaker’s father.  I was.  It turned out that this lady and I were (very) distant cousins.  I guess it is a small world, after all.

Lincoln is quoted as saying that people who are always talking about their ancestors are like potatoes.  The only good thing about them is underground.  That’s a little cold, but the truth is, it’s more important what kind of descendant my ancestors have, than what kind of ancestors their descendant has.

The thing is, and these people would have been looking forward, not backward, mere physical relationship to Jesus means nothing, as wonderful as that might have been.  Our Lord Himself taught that in Mark 3:31-35.  His ministry was still its enjoying its early enormous popularity and His family, to put it bluntly, thought He was nuts.  They came to try to talk to Him, and when Jesus was told about this, He said, “Who is My mother, or My brothers?”  And He looked around in a circle at those who sat about Him, and said, “Here are My mother and My brothers!  For whoever does the will of God is My brother and My sister and My mother.”

Now Jesus wasn’t disavowing His family.  One of the last things He did on the Cross was to provide for His mother, John 19:25-27.  He was simply saying that physical relationship isn’t what gets it done spiritually.  He mentioned “the will of God,” and in John 6:40, He said, “…this is the will of Him Who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life….”  Then, lest someone object, “How can we see Him?  He’s not here!?” He said to Thomas after the Resurrection and Thomas’ doubts about it, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed.  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed,” John 20:29.

There is only one religion (my, how I dislike that word!) in the world that has a Manger and a Cross, and that Cross is empty.  Many deny the Resurrection, but those who came to the tomb on that Sunday morning found it to be empty as well.

Several of my posts have mentioned Easter, and that has really been unintentional on my part.  Even when I started this post 1700+ words ago, I wasn’t thinking about it.  But it’s a week from this coming Sunday [remember, this is a reprint of an earlier post.  But without Christmas, there would be no Easter] – a reminder that Someone has broken the chains of sin, death and judgment that hold us all, apart from faith in Him.  That Someone has come to make a way of access into the presence of a holy, righteous and just God Who must and will punish sin.  That Someone has come and taken that punishment on behalf of those who believe on Him, not an academic or formal or “religious” faith, but an absolute reliance on who He was and what He did for sinners, to the point that if He failed, and He cannot! there is no other way of salvation, no other hope for you and me.

There is, or was, a TV program for children called, “The Neverending Story.”  At least, I think it was for children.  There really is a “neverending” story.  With Luke and John, Matthew gives us its beginning.