Revelation 22:1-5, Paradise Regained.

1] And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb.  2] In the middle of its street,and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month.  The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.  3] And there was no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him.  4] They shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads.  5] There shall be no night there:  They need no lamp nor light of the sun, for the Lord God gives them light.  And they shall reign forever and ever.  (NKJV)

These verses continue and finish the description of “the new heaven and the new earth” begun in chapter 21.  So far we’ve seen something of the New Jerusalem and of the inhabitants of the new earth.  Now we see something of the blessings of that eternal life.

In Psalm 46:4, the Psalmist wrote, There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God.  We believe this is a prophetic reference to “the pure river of water of life” John described in v. 1.  By the way, this river flows “out of,” not “by,” the throne, as one religious song used to put it.

However, John describes some things the Psalmist didn’t mention.  V. 2 might be translated, “Between its avenue on this side and its river on that side was the tree [or, wood] of life bearing fruit twelve times, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree [or, wood] were for the healing of the nations.”

John describes what we would call a lush, beautiful park.  The Greek word is, “paradise,” hence the title.  As in the beginning, God fellowshiped with our first parents in a park, so throughout eternity He will do so in the New Jerusalem.

The leaves of the tree are for the “healing” of the nations.  The Greek word is where we get our word, “therapy”.  I don’t understand what might be involved in that thought, but Adam and Eve ate before the Fall.  Our Lord ate in His resurrected body, though it wasn’t necessary to His well-being.  Though the saints will have glorified bodies, there will be others who, though perfect and sinless, will have ordinary physical bodies, which perhaps will need some care.  As I said, I don’t really know.

V. 3-5 gives us the reason why eternity will be perfect for God’s people:  “there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him.”  Never again will the glories of Heaven be marred by the intrusion of rebellion.  “They shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads.”  Only once or twice in Biblical history have men been allowed anywhere near to the God of heaven and that was only very briefly.  Here such association will be forever.

There are records of men having been caught up into heaven and telling their stories.  I make no judgment on these stories, but after being caught up into the third heaven, Paul wrote that he heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful to utter, 2 Corinthians 12:4.  The ESV translates this, he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter.   There is only one source of “heavenly things” and it’s not the minds or experiences of mere men.  Besides, these things “cannot be told.”  How could we?  What do we have in this life or world to compare?

It will be a time of continual day, with no need of artificial light, v. 5.  Cf. 21:23.  We will have the “true light,” that One who said, “Let there be light…,” Genesis 1:3.  God is light and in Him is no darkness at all, 1 John 1:5.

We live in a time when Christians are increasingly disregarded, even despised.  In some countries, the tag is a death sentence.  Somewhere in this world, a brother or sister may be killed while you read these words.  We won’t read or hear about them because, in the world’s eyes, they’re not important, maybe even deserve to die.

The time is coming when that won’t be true:  “they shall reign forever and ever.”  The devil will not forever have his way in this world.

This verse closes our view of the future.  Vs. 6-21 deal with other things.  We only have a brief glimpse of things which must shortly take place, v. 6.  Again, we don’t believe the angel was telling John that these things would happen soon, as we’ve said elsewhere.

But…

They will happen.

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Revelation 8:7-13: “As In the Days of Egypt”

7] The first angel sounded:  And hail and fire followed, mingled with blood, and they were thrown to the earth.  And a third of the trees were burned up, and all green grass was burned up.  

8] Then the second angel sounded:  And something like a great mountain burning with fire was thrown into the sea, and a third of the sea became blood.  9] And a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed.

10] Then the third angel sounded:  And a great star fell from heaven, burning like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water.  11] The name of the star is Wormwood.  A third of the waters became wormwood, and many men died from the water, because it was made bitter.

12] Then the fourth angel sounded:  And a third of the sun was struck, a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of them were darkened.  A third of the day did not shine, and likewise the night.
13] And I looked, and I heard an angel flying through the midst of heaven, saying with a loud voice, “Woe, woe, woe to the inhabitants of the earth, because of the remaining blasts of the trumpet of the three angels who are about to sound!”  (NKJV)

The title of this post is taken from Micah 7:15, in which God says “As in the days when you came out of the land of Egypt, I will show them wonders.”  In this verse, God promises something of a repetition of what happened just before Israel escaped Egyptian bondage.  This is important because similar things are said to happen in Revelation 8 as happened before the Exodus, e.g., water turned to blood, cf. Exodus 7:20.  Many scholars and teachers who will accept that things which happened before the Exodus were actual things will say that the same things mentioned in Revelation are only “symbolic” and not actual events or things at all.  It seems to me that Micah 7:15 tells us that they are “real”.  That God will once again intervene in the affairs of men in such a way that it can’t be denied, cf. 6:17.

1. The first trumpet, 8:7:  Vegetation destroyed.

Ezekiel 38:22 foretells of a time when God will rain down on him…flooding rain, great hailstones, fire, and brimstone.  The “him” refers to those forces who will gather for what seems to be one last time to overthrow and destroy Israel, as seen in Ezekiel, chs. 38-40.  I believe that Ezekiel refers to the same thing as  Zechariah 14:1-3.  It will seem that at long last Israel has been defeated, Jerusalem has been captured and terrible atrocities committed against her inhabitants.  Learned scholars will likely appear on television and proclaim that, at last, the “Jewish problem” has been solved. Little do they know!  This is also likely what Paul referred to in 2 Thessalonians 1:7, 8 as he describes the scene when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

I would sound one note of caution in the study of prophecy, even in our study.  Some ministries devote their whole attention to it.  That’s fine.  I don’t agree with those who say we ought to ignore it because there is so much discussion and controversy over it.  If God said it, we ought to study it and know as much about it as we can.  At the same time, there is an enormous amount of material throughout the Bible about the future, not just ours, but things future to those to whom it was originally given, much of which we view as history.  Much of it has been fulfilled; much remains.  And it isn’t all neatly strung together for us like pearls on a necklace.

I believe prophecy is about actual history and events told about before they happen.  It is not merely symbolic teaching about something or other.  Having said that, I expect that, when all is said and done, what is done will not be exactly as we, that is, teachers and preachers, might say it will be.  We will, however, see that it was fulfilled exactly as God has said it would be.

With regard to the effect of the first trumpet, I don’t know exactly how it will be fulfilled, whether every tree in a certain area will be destroyed, or just some trees over a wider area.  It doesn’t matter.  It will be evident what has happened: a lot of trees gone, as well as all green grass.  People will no doubt be aghast as this blow to the environment, that environment so many seem almost to cherish, even almost worship.  And we ought to take care of it; after all, we live in it.  But there is coming a time when that which is so important to us, even vital to our lives and well-being, will be greatly affected and destroyed.

2. The Second Trumpet, 8:8:  Oceans struck.

This trumpet and the next one refer to separate events which will greatly affect the waters of this planet.  The thing mentioned in this verse seems to be very large, perhaps like an asteroid or other larger cosmic body.  It won’t be the first time this has happened, cf. the meteor crater in Arizona.  There are other places as well which also bear witness to the violence this world has suffered before.  Our atmosphere has protected us from much of it, but still, some things get through.  Whatever this is will get through.

Its impact will result in great loss, as well as a great change in the ocean itself.  John says a third of it will become blood.  There is some discussion about this. Some say it will simply be a natural occurrence, like the Red Tide.  This phenomenon is caused by a harmful red algal bloom, which produces a neurotoxin that can be fatal to marine animals who ingest it and then to humans who eat the marine animals.

I don’t know if this will be the explanation or not, though I don’t think it will be.  I do believe these events will be beyond the ability of “science” to explain.

As for the destruction of ships, imagine the tidal wave, or tsunami, produced by the collision of this object with the ocean.  It will dwarf the one which made headlines a few years back.

3. Fresh water affected, 8:10-11.

This seems to be a smaller object, what we might call a shooting star.  It will affect a third of fresh water, so that many people die from drinking it.

4. Cosmic disturbances, 8:12.

A third of the heavens will be affected.  Even time itself will seem to be affected, with the shortened length of day and night.

How will all this be done?  Only God knows.

But that’s the point.

Today’s materialistic science prides itself on asserting that things are simply the results of natural processes, operating over billions of years.  There is no God involved, no supernatural interference with the natural order of things.

Science says that everything can be explained.

These phenomena will show that to be a lie.

5. A supernatural announcement, 8:13.

Newer translations say that an eagle flies through the heaven with this announcement.  However it’s accomplished, men are put on notice that there is worse to come.
__________

Ecclesiastes 8:11 says, Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the hearts of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.  We live in a time when there seems to be little, if any, evidence for God in everyday life.  The Bible has little effect, indeed, is forbidden in our government, in our schools, and in much of everyday life.  Secular philosophy rules the day.  Men and women live as if this life is truly all there is; there’s nothing “out there”.

God gave us books like Revelation to be something more than the subject of discussion.  It’s not just to be dabbled in or made a subject for speculation.  Granted, we may not understand a lot of what it says.  It says enough, though, to warn us that this life is not all there is, that in the words of Hebrews 9:27, …it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment.

The thought of Hebrews 9:27 is continued in v. 28:  And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many.

We can’t even begin to understand those verses.  We’ve sanitized and cleaned up the idea of crucifixion.  We’ve made the cross into pretty jewelry.  But it wasn’t pretty; it was an awful, bloody, painful thing.  Beside all that, our Lord endured the wrath of God against sin.  There’s no way to picture that.

So, you see.  There is coming a time of judgment, for this planet and for every single individual who’s ever lived on it.  For those who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, that judgment is past.  He endured it in our place.  Apart from Him, that judgment is still to be faced.

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

Revelation 4, There Is A God In Heaven

Revelation 4:1-11, After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven.  And the first voice which I heard was like a trumpet speaking with me, saying “Come up here, and I will show you things which must take place after this.”
Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne.  And He who sat there was like a jasper and a sardius stone in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne in appearance like an emerald.  Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and on the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white robes; and they had crowns of gold on their heads.  And from the throne proceeded lightnings, thunderings, and voices.  Seven lamps of fire were burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God.
Before the throne there was a sea of glass, like crystal.  And in the midst of the throne, and around the throne, were four living creatures full of eyes in front and in back.  The first living creature was like a lion, the second living creature like a calf, the third living creature had a face like a man, and the fourth living creature was like a flying eagle.  The four living creatures, each having six wings, were full of eyes around and within.  And they do not rest day or night, saying:

“Holy, holy, holy,
Lord God Almighty,
Who was and is and is to come!”

Whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne and worship Him who lives forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying,

“You are worthy, O Lord,
To receive glory and honor and power;
For You created all things,
And by Your will they exist and were created.” (NKJV)

John has given us a view of seven churches of his time.  Perhaps, perhaps not, they also foreshadow the history of the church in general.  Regardless, in the ebb and flow of church or national history, the rise and fall of cities, nations, kingdoms, or empires, he now points us to one throne that is eternal.  We look back on far more history than Daniel did, and see the rise and fall of many nations, kingdoms and empires yet future to his time, yet he, too, saw the rise and fall of nations under Nebuchadnezzar, and he points out the one central fact of existence.  In the words of Daniel 2:28, “There is a God in heaven.”  And, further, Daniel 5:26, “His kingdom is the one which shall not be destroyed.”

As we get into the chapter, note what the “voice” said to John, “I will show you things which must take place after this,” v. 1.  “Things,” not “principles,” not “processes.”  Not even just “generalities.”  Things.  Events.  True, there is a lot of discussion about this, but it’s my view that Revelation is the disclosure of history before it happens.  Actual, verifiable history.  Events future to our time which people will be able to point to in the book and say, “See.  This is what is happening.”  We’ll get into this later, Lord willing.

The first thing John saw was a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne, v. 2.

This is where every worldview, every way of thinking about life, without exception, begins.  What do you think of this One who sits on the throne?  Even those who flatly reject Him, or don’t know of Him at all, or worship other gods, live their lives in view of an answer to this question, though they may never actually come into contact with the question.

There are several such incidents in Scripture, beginning with Genesis where Adam and Eve enjoy fellowship with God in the cool of the day, though this soon came to an end when they concluded they could decide for themselves what was “good” and what was “evil”.  In Exodus 24:9,10, after the giving of the Law and Israel’s agreeing to keep it, though they had no idea what they were getting into, we read that Moses, Aaron and his two sons, Nadab and Abihu, along with seventy elders of the people, climbed Mt. Sinai and they saw the God of Israel.  This, too, never happened again because Israel very quickly broke her promise.

There are other such incidents, but perhaps my favorite is found in Ezekiel 1:25-30, where Ezekiel describes his vision of the likeness of a throne and goes on to describe a little of what he saw, ending with this:  like the appearance of a rainbow in a cloud in a rainy day, so was the appearance of the brightness all around it.  This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord.

“Like the appearance of a rainbow in a cloud in a rainy day.”

Have you ever seen a rainbow?

Really seen one?

I used to drive for a living and one of my vehicles was a well-used 1982 Dodge van.  One day, it rained.  As the storm passed and the sun began to break through the clouds, there was a rainbow.  Not like the ones you see on the horizon, this one looked like it came out the hood of that old beater.  It was right there, two feet in front of me.  I can’t even begin to describe it.  It was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.

That’s how Ezekiel saw the glory of God.

That’s how John saw the glory of God, with a rainbow around the throne, in appearance like an emerald.  This is different from the 7-color rainbows we see.  It had just one color, a glorious color “like an emerald.”

As I look out the window, I see the drabness of winter, with just a leaf or two here and there clinging to a branch, defying the pull of gravity.  Soon, though, we’ll begin to see green, just a tinge at first, but it tells us that spring is coming, that life will triumph.

Perhaps John is telling us that here he is seeing life at its most triumphant, in the presence and glory of God.

But he sees something else, as well.  Leaving aside much of the description of what John saw, and the description of the “living creatures,” John tells us of “twenty-four elders” who sit on thrones around the central throne.

Who are these “elders”?  There’s a lot of discussion about this.  My own view is that they represent the redeemed of Israel and the church.  I believe this is borne out by the description of the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21, which has twelve gates, named after the tribes of Israel, and twelve foundations, named after the twelve apostles.  This tells me that, no matter how they may be united in the future, Israel and the church will never lose their distinct and separate identities.

What are these elders doing?  Vs, 10, 11 tell us:

…the twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne and worship Him who lives forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying,  

“You are worthy, O Lord,
To receive glory and honor and power;
For You created all things,
And by Your will they exist and were created.”

This is probably as good a place to end this year as chapter 5 is to start the new year.  It takes us back to the beginning and tells us that we’re not here just as the result of some mindless, random, meaningless cosmic explosion.  Strange, isn’t it, that “science” is willing to believe that that’s how it all started, in spite of the fact that no one has ever been able to create anything by blowing nothing up and making something out of it.  They do tell us that there was this tiny amount of matter, and that’s what blew up, but they never really deal with where that came from.  They never really deal with “origins.”   It seems to me that it takes a great deal more “faith,” though of a different kind, to believe as they do than it does to believe –

In the beginning God created…. 

So, as we ring out the old year in a few days and bring in the new, let this be the confidence in which we rest, the hope that we cling to.  Regardless of what the new year brings, let this be our firm foundation:

There is a God in heaven.

Hebrews 10:1-25, The Way to God, part 1

[1]For the law, having a shadow of the good things come and not the very image of the things, could never with those same sacrifices, which they offer continually year by year, make those who approach perfect.  [2]For then would they not have ceased to be offered?  For the worshipers, once purified, would have had no more consciousness of sins.  [3]But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year.  [4]For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins.  [5]Therefore, when He came into the world, He said, “Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, but a body You have prepared for Me.  [6]In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You had no pleasure.  [7]Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come – in the volume of the book it is written of Me – to do Your will, O God’.”  [8]Previously saying, “Sacrifices and offering, burnt offerings, and offerings for sin You did not desire, nor had pleasure in them” (which are offered according to the law), [9]Then He said, “Behold, I come to do Your will, O God.”  He takes away the first that He may establish the second.  [10]By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.  [11]And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.  [12]But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God, [13]from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool.  [14]For by one offering he has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.
[15]But the Holy Spirit also witnesses to us; for after He had said before, [16]“This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord:  I will put My laws in their hearts, and in their minds I will write them,” [17]then He adds, “Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.”  [18]Now where there is remission of these, there is no longer an offering for sin.
[19]Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, [20]by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, [21]and having a High Priest over the house of God, [22]let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.  [23]Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.  [24]And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, [25]not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.  (NKJV)

In our last post, we noted the absolute contrast between the Old and the New Testaments, which are much more that just the respective collections of books that we know by those names.  As we saw, the Old Testament, or Covenant, was a two-fold revelation from God:  1) what was required if one were to come to God on his own merit, and 2) what was required since no one has such merit.

In other words, the Old Testament showed in the Law the absolute and inviolable perfection required by the nature and character of God.  The sacrificial system showed that no one ever had, or has, such perfection.  It also demonstrated the twin principles of substitution and sacrifice, principles shown from every sacrifice from that given for Adam and Eve down to the last one animal slain before the death of Christ.  His was the final sacrifice, and the only one that ever effectively dealt with sin.  Perhaps too simply put, “substitution” means that an animal died in the sinner’s place, and “sacrifice” means that the sinner lived in the animal’s place.  So with Christ:  He died in our place, and we live through Him.  Paul put it like this, For He [God] made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him, 2 Corinthians 5:21.  You see, the issue isn’t simply about “life” and “death,” but about “sin” and “righteousness”.

Though we’ll only look at part of these verses in this post, there are two things in our text:

1.  Preparation of the way to God, vs. 1-18.
2.  Participation in the way to God, vs. 19-25.

1. Preparation for the Way to God, 10:1-18

Giving of the Law, 10:1-4.  As we noted in earlier lessons, the Law was not given in order to provide a way of salvation, but to show that salvation was needed.

1. The Law was “the shadow of good things to come,” v. 1.  The Tabernacle and the sacrifices foreshadowed two things.
a. the sacrifices foreshadowed forgiveness.
b. the Tabernacle foreshadowed fellowship with God.
The purpose of redemption isn’t just so that we can go to Heaven, but that we may enjoy it when we get there.  Think about it.  If a person has no time for church or Scripture or spiritual things, but spends his time submerged in the things of this world, he would have nothing in common with the inhabitants of Heaven.  If he lives only to fulfill the desires and goals of the flesh, what will he do when these things are no longer important, or even possible?  If he knows only to curse God, how will he praise Him?  It isn’t just “streets of gold,” or “mansions” that will occupy us in heaven, but God Himself and the Lord Jesus.

And that’s not just for the future, but for this life, as well.  Death won’t be some magic transformation that changes us from what we are here to what we will be there.  The work is begun in this life, else there is nothing good in the next life.  Apart from the Lord Jesus Christ, there is only a “lake of fire” awaiting the lost, Revelation 20:15.  Redemption is the resumption of what was begun – and lost – in the Garden of Eden.  The Fall of man no more messed up God’s original purpose for mankind than the rejection of Jesus by the Jews messed up God’s plan for the Kingdom.

2. The Law was powerless to “take away sins,” vs. 2-4.  Why then was it given?  To drive home the truth about sin.  “By the law is the knowledge of sin,” Romans 3:20.  “The wages of sin is death,” Romans 6:23.  “And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire,” Revelation 20:15, which v. 14 refers to as “the second death.”  Sin isn’t just some momentary foible or weakness; it has enormous, and eternal, repercussions.  After all, it was a “minor” sin, as we judge such things, that plunged the race into the misery it suffers now.  “Hell” may only a swear-word to many folks, but they will find out when it is too late that Hell is an awful and eternal reality.

Generating ofa body,” vs. 5-8.
1. desirability, vs. 5, 6.  “Wherefore” – the sacrifices weren’t just for the sake of sacrifices – God had “no pleasure” in them – but to teach salvation by substitution and sacrifice, the two cardinal truths of the Gospel.  There is no other way that God saves sinners.
2. declaration, vs. 7, 8.  This is a quote from Psalm 40:6-8.  “I come” is the prophecy of the One Who would “do your will, O God.” – Who would keep the Law perfectly and satisfy its penalty completely.  This was typified but never accomplished by the sacrifices.

Giving of the Sacrifice, vs. 9, 10.

These verses clearly tell us that we are neither justified nor sanctified by the Law, but by the sacrifice of Christ, also v. 14.  Verse 9 tells us what Christ meant in Matthew 5:17-20 about “fulfilling” the Law.
1. He came to clear away the traditions of men and to present the Law as it really was.
2. He came to satisfy all its requirements so that it has no claim on Him as a human being, and, therefore, no claim on those for whom He came as Substitute.

The New Covenant removes the necessity of the First Covenant, v. 9.  It accomplishes what the First Covenant required – perfect obedience and righteousness, but could never provide.

The Baby at Bethlehem.

I belong to a facebook group where there’s been a rather spirited and lengthy discussion going on about celebrating Christmas.  There are earnest people on both sides of the question. Though I personally don’t like all the trappings that obscure the true meaning of Christmas, I have no problem with celebrating His birth.  Apparently, some do.

I thought the best post of them all was by a person who included a cartoon.  The cartoon showed the nativity scene with Mary, Joseph and the Baby, but also showed Santa, a chair, an elf and lights and a camera.  Santa has his arms outstretched, but Mary is holding Jesus away from him, and the caption, which I have altered slightly, has her saying to Santa, “Why in the world would we want a picture of Him with you?”  I’d have included it here, but my low-tech mind hasn’t figured out such high-tech thingys.

Anyway, that’s not what this post is about.  Perhaps some of you who have been with me for a while will find the rest of the post familiar.  Though not completely copied, it is taken from a post published last year at Christmas.

In all the celebration of Christmas, even with the nativity sets included, have you ever thought about the fact that the Lord Jesus is the only historical figure who apparently never grows up.  Nelson Mandela died the day before my birthday, which is how I can remember it.  This year, there was a news item about his being remembered.  It was very short, yet it was from the standpoint of his life, not about his birth.  And yes, I know there are those who deny the Lord’s historicity.  Not interested in that here.

Someone commented to me that we do celebrate Jesus’ death at Easter.  That is true, for without Christmas there would have been no Easter.  Still, we don’t normally associate those two events, His death at Christmas or His birth at Easter.  When we observe the birthday of any other figure, George Washington, Martin Luther King, Jr., etc., we talk about what they did, not so much about their births.  Only Jesus stays in the manger on Christmas day.

Why do you suppose that is?

Could it be that nobody’s threatened by a baby?

True, Herod was, but his was a unique case.

I don’t know what the situation was back in the Lord’s day, but folks today will come up to the parents of a little one and “ooh” and “aah” over how cute he or she is.  They’ll smile at the little one, want to know his or her name, and then go their way.  They have no real interest in the youngster, no responsibility toward him or her.  He certainly poses no threat to them.

What about the Baby in Bethlehem?

He grew up.

The Lord Jesus began His ministry by commanding people to repent.  He talked about sin and death and judgment and hell, where “the worm does not die and the fire is not quenched,” Mark 9:43-48.  Now there weren’t ignorant pagans in some out-of-the-way place somewhere.  They were people who for centuries had prided themselves on being God’s people.  After all, they were the chosen nation.  No other nation had ever enjoyed that privilege.  And no doubt many of them did know the Lord.  But the idea to some of them that they had to repent just like Gentiles who converted was just too much.

Jesus told them that unless “their righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees,” they would “by no means enter the kingdom of heaven,” Matthew 5:20.  You have to understand that the Pharisees especially were looked up to as the height of virtue and righteousness.  And there were good Pharisees, who lamented the “street-corner Pharisees,” as much as our Lord, who scolded them more than once for their hypocrisy.  Still, the idea that something more than what they had was unthinkable.  After all, they were the guardians of Israel and her heritage.  No wonder they perceived Him as a threat to them and to their way of life, cf. John, 11:48.

Even though Jesus was mostly against the leaders of the nation, it  doesn’t seem to have taken long for them to incite the crowds later to cry out, “Crucify Him!  Crucify Him!” Luke 23:20; John 19:15.

The Lord Jesus as a Baby poses no threat for folks.  They can ignore Him and go their way.

But as the incarnate God and Judge of all mankind – well, then He’s a threat.  People don’t want to think about things like death and the judgment to follow.  They don’t want to be told they’re sinners and that, apart from faith in the Lord Jesus, they stand condemned in the sight of God.  They want to hear about “love”, not righteousness, about a “better place”, not that other place.  They want “health”, not holiness.  Riches, not redemption.

The Lord Jesus as a Baby is safe.

But He grew up.

Thank you, Lord.

Happy Birthday.

 

 

…Continued

My last post, which was also the last post of 2013, was about TV shows which had been cancelled or shows which had been brought to a conclusion and so were finished. As things developed, though I was wrong, I thought that post might also be the concluding post for this blog. I have been pleasantly surprised by the number of views which the blog has continued to receive, even though there has been no new post for about six weeks.  Also, I have been amazed at the number of views a particular post has received.  My post on the daughters of Zelophedad has received 50 views just this week.

That last post of 2013 mentioned three shows, not by name, that were ending, or so I thought.  We’ll still never know what happened to “A” and “B” and the show that concluded satisfactorily has still concluded satisfactorily.  However, the third show, I was surprised to discover today, has a new season on Netflix.

Thinking about all this, I decided that these shows are a little like life, not that TV ever shows anything truly life-like, especially “reality shows.”  But some things turn out satisfactorily, some things don’t, and there are “surprises” quite often, like we recently had here at home when the furnace and the hot water heater both went on the fritz at the same time. 😦

We live in an age of increasing skepticism.  Traditional, that is, Christian, beliefs and morals have largely been jettisoned.  The Bible is illegal in schools and government [at least here in the US], and we’re pretty much just circling the drain.  Even many churches don’t really believe the Bible to be the Word of God.  They’re quite willing to “dialogue” with other religions which deny or contradict Biblical teaching.

Many people deny any such thing as an “afterlife”:  “Once you’re dead, you’re dead. There’s nothing beyond the grave.”  Believing that, many people spend their lives trying to find some “meaning” to their otherwise drab lives.

In contrast to this view, the Bible clearly teaches that “…it is appointed for men once to die, but after this the judgment,” Hebrews 9:27.  In other words, there is something beyond death and the grave.

There is some discussion among Biblical teachers about what the Bible says about judgment.  That discussion isn’t important here.  The point is, there IS judgment coming!  Revelation 20:11-15 graphically portrays it:

Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face earth and heaven fled away.  And there was found no place for them.  And I saw the dead, small and great [that is, whether famous or unknown], standing before God, and books were opened.  And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books.  The sea gave up the dead which were in it, and Death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them.  And they were judged, each one according to their works.  Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire.  This is the second death.  And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.  

This is not a favorite portion of Scripture.  Many people simply cannot agree with the idea that a “God of love” would do such a thing.  However, the God of Scripture isn’t the God of popular thought.  He is a God of righteousness, justice and holiness – as well as “love.”  Sin must be punished.  Sin will be punished.

One of the local TV stations has a news segment on “cold cases,” that is, crimes which have never been solved.  There are several TV shows with this as their theme – the solving of “cold cases.”  There will be no “cold cases” in eternity.  Every murder, every rape, ever crime, will finally be “solved.”  Those who have “gotten away with it” in this life, whether because they were never found or because of some legal maneuvering, will discover that they didn’t really get away with it.  Those who are guilty of gross or multiple crimes – like a Hitler or Stalin – which human justice really can’t adequately deal with, will discover that there is One who can.

We will finally find out, so to speak, what happened to “A” and “B”.

Yes, but not everybody is guilty of some crime or other.  That is true, however, we are all guilty of sin.  We may not have broken man’s law – we always drive the speed limit – but we have broken God’s law.  I doubt there’s a single person alive who would say that they have ALWAYS lived as they think they should.  If that’s true of us in our own sight, how much more is it true of us in God’s sight?

The issue in Revelation 20 isn’t whether or not one is “good” enough to make it into heaven, but whether or not one’s name is in the “Book of Life.”  Those whose names are there have repented of their sins and trusted the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation. They haven’t joined the church or been baptized or done a hundred of the other things men say must be done in order to be saved; they have simply rested on who the Lord Jesus was and what He did for sinners.  In short, they have “believed.”  They, and they alone, will enter heaven.

Hebrews 9:27, which we quoted above, also says, Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many.  In other words, He endured the punishment sinners ought to endure.  He paid the price for their sins, though He had none of His own.  Indeed, if He would have had sins of His own, He could never have paid for the sins of others.  But He lived a perfect and sinless life.  That perfect life is credited to those who believe, because we have no such perfection of our own and can never achieve it.  That is the only way we will ever “make it” into heaven.  His is the only goodness, or righteousness, that God will accept.  His is the only payment that can ever be made for sins.  We could never pay for even one of our own sins, let alone the myriad of them of which we are guilty.

Though there is much more I could say about all this, I’ll close with this.  There is a “new season” beyond the grave.  Are you ready for it?  

Voices of Christmas: The Babe in the Manger.

At last we come to the central figure in the nativity story.  The series hasn’t worked out quite like I thought it would when I started it at the beginning of the month.  There are “voices” not heard, and so much more that could have been heard from the ones that were.  Nevertheless, here we are:  someplace near a feeding trough for animals – a makeshift bed for the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe and of each and every one of us, because there was no room for Him elsewhere.  We understand the situation.  It wasn’t because of the hardheartedness of people.  There was just simply no room.

We could get sidetracked here about the evil government that had created the situation, but that’s not our purpose.  Our purpose is to focus on an unknown infant in an obscure village in a small, troublesome nation, an infant generally ignored in the hustle and bustle of the happenings of the day.  Pretty much like today.

Even among Christians.

And nativity scenes.

And the hustle and bustle of Christmas.

The celebration of the birth of our Lord brings about a curious situation.  Have you ever noticed that the Lord Jesus is the only historical character never allowed to grow up? (And, yes, I know that some think He never existed.)  I made a comment somewhere on a blog about this and someone replied, “Easter.”  That’s not what I meant.

What do I mean?

Nelson Mandela died a few weeks ago.  In the future, when his birthday comes around, the focus will not remain on his birth among the Tempu tribe in Transkei, South Africa, on July 18, 1918.  That will no doubt be included, but the focus will be on what he accomplished in his life.

By way of contrast, the Lord Jesus remains forever a Babe on Christmas Day.

Why do you suppose that is?

Nobody’s afraid of a baby.

I don’t know what the situation was back in the Lord’s day, but folks today will come up to the parents of a little one and “ooh” and “aah” over how cute he or she is.  They’ll smile at the little one, want to know his or her name, and then go their way because he or she isn’t theirs.  They have no real interest in that little one beyond today’s cuteness. But the baby certainly poses no threat to them or their well-being.

What about the Baby in the manger?

He grew up.

The Lord Jesus began His ministry by commanding people to repent.  He talked about sin and death and judgment and hell, where the “worm does not die and the fire is not quenched,” Mark 9:43-48.  Now these were not ignorant heathen in some out-of-the-way place somewhere.  These were people who for centuries had prided themselves on being God’s people.  They were the chosen nation.  And no doubt many of them did know the Lord.  But the idea to some of them that they should repent just like Gentiles who converted was just too much.

He told them that unless their “righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees,” they would “by no means enter the kingdom of heaven,” Matthew 5:20.  You have to understand that the scribes and Pharisees were looked upon as the paragons of virtue and righteousness.  The idea that something more than what they had was required – why, that was unthinkable!  More than once, the Lord publicly scolded them for their hypocrisy.  No wonder, they perceived Him as a threat to them and their way of life, cf. John 11:48.  Granted, this was the leaders of the nation, but it apparently didn’t take much to incite the crowds later to cry out, “Crucify Him!  Crucify Him!” Luke 23:20: John 19:15.

The Lord Jesus as a Baby poses no threat to folks.  They can ignore Him and go their way. But as the incarnate God and Judge of all mankind – well, He’s a threat.  They don’t want to think about things like death and the judgment to follow.  They don’t want to be told that they’re sinners, and that, apart from faith in the Lord Jesus, they stand condemned in the sight of God.  They want to hear about “love,” not righteousness, about “a better place,” not that other place.  They want “health,” not holiness.  Riches, not redemption.

The Lord Jesus as a Baby is safe.

But He grew up.

Thank you, Lord.

Happy Birthday.