Revelation 1:17-20, Encouragement

And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead.  But He laid His right hand on me, saying to me, “Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last.  I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore.  Amen.  And I have the keys of Hades and Death.  Write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after this.  The mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My hand, and the seven gold lampstands:  The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands which you saw are the seven churches.”  (NKJV)

Isn’t it interesting, in Scripture, when people see the Lord or a demonstration of His power, they don’t get all excited and jump up and down.  They’re more likely to fall down, in fear and awe, in amazement and wonder.

As one example, Isaiah saw the Lord, high and lifted up, Isaiah 6:1.  His response?  “Woe is me, for I am undone!  Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the king, the LORD of hosts,” v. 5.

We’re not given an example of what Isaiah meant by “unclean lips.”  Because of the “fame” of Uzziah, 2 Chronicles 26:15, as a result of the things listed in that chapter, it could be that the people were lamenting his passing and saying, “What shall we do?  Uzziah is dead.  How can we replace him?”  It could be that in the midst of this mourning and depression, Isaiah saw the LORD, reminding him that even though Uzziah might be dead, God was not.

This is pretty much the thrust of our text in Revelation.  Now though no  one was dead, John was in dire straits.  But the Lord whom he served, and on account of whose word he was in exile, v. 9, was very much alive and in charge.

Who is this One whom John saw?

Hear His own testimony.

“I am the First and the Last.”

Someone else had already said that.

Isaiah 41:4, “Who has performed and done it, calling the generations from the beginning?  I, the LORD, am the first; and with the last, I am He.”

Isaiah 44:6, “Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel, and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts:  ‘I am the First and I am the Last; beside Me there is no God’.”

Isaiah 48:12, “Listen to Me, O Jacob, and Israel, My called:  I am He, I am the First, I am also the Last.”

These three verses quote God speaking to Israel, telling them that He was First and Last.

In Revelation, Jesus applies this title to Himself.

He says, “I am the First and the Last.”

The original language is stronger: “I, I am the First and the Last.”  As it were, He underlines the statement.  He had already called Himself, “the Almighty,” v. 8.  Jehovah’s Witnesses claim that Jesus is never called, “Almighty.”  According to them, He’s only ever called “Mighty God,” as in Isaiah 9:6.  I don’t really see how this helps them.  What kind of God is Jesus?  And, then, how many “gods” are there, after all, if He is only a “mighty God” and not “Almighty”?

Was He deluded?

Deranged?

Deceived?

If He was any of these three, – if He is not God – then, in truth, He is no better than any of the founders of other religions.  In fact, He might be worse; I don’t know that any of them actually claimed to be God.

If He is not God, then He was guilty of blasphemy and the Jews were right to want Him dead.

There are those who say that Jesus never claimed to be God, that such an idea was tacked on later by Christians.  That is not true.  The Jews who heard Him in John 8:58 clearly understood His claim.  That’s why they tried to kill Him, v. 59 – and why they couldn’t.  Indeed, that was the real reason He was crucified, John 19:7; Matthew 27:39-43.

Our Lord’s comment to John was “do not be afraid.”  And throughout the rest of the book, with all the judgments, all the terrible things, that John saw, we don’t read that he “feared” again.  His Lord was alive.

This is the crux of the matter.  Resurrection was the “sign” that the Jews would be given that Jesus was who He claimed to be, Matthew 12:39, 40; 16:4; Luke 11:29.  Matthew’s accounts follow two notable miracles, the healing of the demon-possessed deaf mute and the feeding of the four thousand (men only.  There were likely several thousand there, counting women and children).  Luke’s account gives our Lord’s denunciation of the Jewish leaders for their refusal to recognize Him and their demanding of “signs” – in the face of the signs they saw!

As far as the world is mostly concerned, Jesus is still dead, or might as well be.  That is, if He even existed.

But the Cross is empty, and so is the tomb.  Christianity is the only “religion” of which that can be said.

The tomb is empty.

The One who lay in it says, “I am He who lives,” v. 18.  “I am the Living One.”

Now, He did die; He was dead.  Literally, He “became dead.”  There are those who blasphemously assert that He only fainted, or that there was some sort of a “Passover plot” in which the Lord faked His death.  But it’s hard to imagine that the disciples would suffer all that they endured following a Man who had appeared to them barely alive.

You see, we don’t know the first thing about a crucifixion.  We’ve cleaned it all up and sanitized it – made it “respectable”.  We wear a cross as pretty jewelry.  But there was nothing pretty about it, nothing “respectable.”  In the first place, condemned criminals were often scourged before and as part of their execution.  Our Lord was scourged, Matthew 27:26; Mark 15:15.  Again, we know nothing of such a thing.  We’re all concerned about “the rights” of the poor criminal, regardless of how violent he is or how many horrible crimes he’s committed.  We handle him with kid gloves.  There was no such insanity with Rome.  I’m not advocating harsh or unjust treatment of offenders, but perhaps less emphasis on them and more on their victims and what they did to them might be in order.

The Roman scourge was made of leather strips embedded with bits of bone.  At least one description of a scourging tells us that the flesh and muscles of the back were torn away and one could see ribs.  Some died because of it, never making it to a cross.  Then there was the crucifixion itself.  Crude spikes driven through wrists and ankles and the cross dropped into the hole made for it, jarring and tearing the already suffering body.

We know that Jesus actually died.  He “became dead.”  Pilate was astonished when Nicodemus came to ask for the body and sent a centurion to make sure that Jesus was really dead, Mark 15:44, 45.  Those crucified sometimes lingered for days; it had been only a few hours with Jesus.  The centurion wouldn’t have been a new recruit, but a hardened veteran, well-acquainted with what death looked like.  It would have been his life if he had been mistaken or lied about it.  In addition, there had been that spear driven into Jesus’ side, John 19:31-37.  This had been because the Jewish leaders wanted the executions to be completed before the Passover began.  What the soldiers saw with the spear satisfied them.  He was already dead.  There was no need to break His legs.

This is why Nicodemus wanted the body.

There was no doubt; He died.

He died, and….

…was buried, and that was the end of it?

That’s what the enemy wants us to think.

He was “dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore.”

Someone has commented that the “behold” should have come before the idea that such a One as Jesus could have died….

That’s why He came.

Sometimes you will hear someone say that God died for our sins.

While I understand what they’re saying, it isn’t true.

God cannot die.

This is the ultimate reason for the incarnation.  God doesn’t just “forgive” sin.  His justice and holiness require that sin be paid for.  An animal couldn’t do that, though its sacrifice looked ahead to that One who could.  An angel couldn’t do it.  There would be no correspondence between its death and the sin it was supposed to pay for.

Man sinned; man must die.

But “Man” is flawed, sinful, rejected.  He has no currency with which to pay that sin debt.

His death is the result of sin, not its remedy.

There isn’t a single individual born of the union of a man and woman whose life and death can do anything about sin.

This is why God sent His own son, born of a woman, in the likeness of sinful flesh to do something about sin, Romans 8:3; Galatians 4:4.  There is no Biblical basis for the idea that Mary herself was sinless or had been conceived without sin; she herself admits her need of a Savior, Luke 1:47.  Why would she “rejoice in God my Savior” if she were without sin herself?  She wouldn’t need a Savior.

It was necessary to Jesus be born of a human mother in order to be fully human, but without a human father in order to be completely sinless.  It was also necessary that His conception be of the Holy Spirit, Matthew 1:20; Luke 1:35, in order that He be fully God.

But not only is Jesus “alive”; He is alive forevermore, v. 18.  Paul put it like this, Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more.  Death no longer has dominion over Him, Romans 6:9.

On the contrary, Jesus says that He has dominion over death:  I have the keys of Hades and Death,” Revelation 1:18, emphasis added.

I think it can be said that we live in “perilous times.”  I don’t know what’s going to happen in and to this country.  I’m afraid the country of my youth is irretrievably gone.  Regardless of who wins in November, January will usher in new and uncharted territory.

It doesn’t really matter.

Democrats and Republicans don’t hold the keys to the future, to death.  My Lord holds them.  Only when He returns to this earth will things be straightened out.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus.

 

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March Memories: The 1812 Overture – and the return of Christ.

As I work on the blog, catching up on emails and posts, I’m listening to the 1812 Overture by Tchaikovsky.  *sigh*  Now that’s music.  Funny, this stuff used to be called “longhair.”   The “longhair” stuff today is a little different – all noise and percussion.  But then, I’m old.  What do I know?

I especially love the finale.  Always brings tears to my eyes.  All that joy and victory.

Triumph!

This time, I got to thinking about the return of Christ – the finale of present history.

I wonder what it will be like when the Lord comes back in honor, glory and VICTORY to this world which has done, and is doing, everything it can to get rid of Him.  When He ascends the throne of David in Jerusalem as KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS!  What rejoicing there will surely be among His people.  What a festive time that will be!

I know there are some who pooh-pooh the idea of “an earthly, carnal kingdom” of our Lord.  They’re quite content with the “spiritual kingdom” they envision in the Church, most of which doesn’t pay a lot of attention to Him, either.  I simply cannot understand how they can insult the Lord by calling ANY kingdom which He is over as “carnal,” regardless of where it is.

I’m sorry.  In my reading and study of the Bible, I do not see anything other than such a kingdom as has Jesus as its King, sitting of David’s throne in Jerusalem.  While it is certainly true that the Lord “rules” His people – He is, after all, LORD – that is just a dim foreshadowing of the time foretold by both Testaments when He will rule over all nations, not just in some unseen “providential” sense, but really and personally.

As the finale wound its way to its glorious end, my heart almost burst with longing for that time.

“EVEN SO, COME, LORD JESUS!’

 

“Thou Shalt Not Kill” – And the Death Penalty.

There are a couple of verses of Scripture that unbelievers and skeptics accept, and are quite insistent should be followed.  One, Exodus 20:13 (KJV), is in the title of this post:  Thou shalt not kill (KJV).  The other one is found in Matthew 7:1:  Judge not…. 

They don’t seem to mind adultery or dishonesty or using the name of God as a swear word, but the sixth commandment must be followed.

Never mind what they say about the rest of Scripture – these verses must be followed.  There may be other verses they “like,” but I think these are the two main ones.

So, when some killer is to be put to death for crimes he has committed, or when the execution is botched, as has happened recently, these folks get all worked up and say, “Oh, the poor man!  How can such things be done?”

It would be nice if they could show such concern for the victims of this “poor man.”

I certainly don’t advocate “suffering” in execution, but there are a couple of things to keep in mind about the sixth commandment.

First, the Hebrew word translated “kill” comes from a root meaning “to dash in pieces,” and refers primarily to murder or manslaughter. That’s how newer translations put it.  “Thou shalt not murder.”

Second, there are over forty “death-penalty” sins in the Old Testament.

These sins include such things as idolatry, spiritism, hitting or continual rebellion against a parent, kidnapping, false witness in a death-penalty case.

The criminals and their lawyers didn’t run things, like they do today.  Careful examination was indeed to be made as to the truthfulness of the charges against a person.  And two or three witnesses were required for an execution.  One only wasn’t enough.  And there was a recognition of what we call “technicalities,” only back then it was called “degrees of bloodguiltiness.”  These were used to determine the level of punishment, not as reasons for the offender to go free.

Some people can’t understand how the two ideas of “not killing” and the death penalty could coexist like that.  It’s simple.  Life was valued.  Individuals were valued, as being created “in the image of God.”  Those who took life forfeited their own.  Those who caused harm to others suffered harm themselves.

Some folks argue that we’re not under the Old Testament law.  I myself have made that point.  The Ten Commandments were given to a people in a certain historical and geographical setting.  They were never given to mankind in general; there’s never been a “dispensation of law.”

The Mosaic Covenant, which includes the Ten Commandments were given specifically to the nation of Israel at Sinai.  It forms, if you will, her constitution and bylaws.  In the situation in which it was given, there are a lot of things which seem very strange to our “modern” thinking. The idea that crime should be punished apparently has become one of them.  Our idea that violent criminals should be housed at taxpayer expense and “rehabilitated” would seem very strange to them.

Others argue that Jesus taught that we should love our enemies, so “love” has become the current buzzword.  Never mind that what passes for love in our society bears little resemblance to what the Lord Jesus actually taught.

Another favorite incident of opponents of the death-penalty is Jesus “forgiving” the woman taken in adultery in John 8:2-11.  We’ve done a post on this, so will just try to summarize here.

This woman had indeed been caught in the very act, v.5.  Now Jesus had often set Himself against the Pharisee’s interpretation of the Mosaic Law, so the Pharisees who dragged her into the presence of Jesus wanted to know what He said, it’s emphatic,  about this situation, because Moses said that such should be put to death, cf. Leviticus 20:10.

Uttering no word, the Lord simply began to write on the ground.  Since Leviticus 20:10 required that both parties be executed, I think He wrote, “Where is the man?” though that’s only supposition on my part because we’re not told what He wrote either time.

After what must have been an embarrassed silence, the men all left and the woman and Jesus were left alone, standing in the midst, v.10.  Note very carefully what the Lord asked her and the conversation that followed:  “Woman, where are those accusers of yours?  Has no one condemned you?”  She said, “No one, Lord.”  And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you.  Go and sin no more.” vs. 10, 11 (emphases added).  Not a word about “forgiveness.”  Indeed, the Lord told the men to go ahead and kill her – if they were innocent themselves in this particular matter.  I think they had set her up, and were trying to set the Lord up.  They failed.

Now, the woman was indeed guilty.  However, the Law was very specific about such matters.  Though the Pharisees had all testified against her and could have in fact killed her, their own consciences in the face of the holiness of the Lord Jesus prevented them from carrying out the sentence.  They, therefore, did not “condemn her.”  Because the provisions of the Law were not carried out, neither did the Lord.

The incident has nothing to do with “forgiveness” or “not judging,” as it’s often used.

Regardless of what He might have taught about these things, the Lord Jesus also taught that we were to render…to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, Matthew 22:21.  See also Mark 12:17 and Luke 20:25.  The fact that three Gospels record this incident show the importance the Lord placed on it.

Paul echoed the Lord when he wrote in Romans 13:1, Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities.  Among other things, that authority does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil, v.4.

“Execute.”

“Wrath.”

“Vengeance.”

Ideas certainly foreign to modern jurisprudence.

So we have felons walking around free who have murdered or raped or done other violent crimes, but they’ve “served their time,” and so they’re free, while ordinary citizens hide behind locked doors and windows and women are afraid to go out alone at night.  How often do we hear of some man whose been arrested for a crime, only to also hear that he’s committed violent crimes before, perhaps several of them.

I’m sorry, but it’s time to rethink this idea of “rehabilitation” for felons who obviously have no interest in being rehabilitated.

It’s often commented by opponents of capital punishment that it doesn’t “deter” crime.  That’s only because it takes decades and multiple “appeals” before the sentence is carried out.  If criminals were actually executed who deserve it, without all the modern coddling that goes along with it, people might begin to understand that felony is serious.

Besides, if a felon is executed, that certainly “deters” him from committing other crimes.

I know there’s a lot of heat generated by this topic, and this is only part of the discussion about the death penalty, but it’s high time to take our justice system out of the hands of criminals and their lawyers.

In Memorian

50 years ago, two men nicknamed “Jack” died just a few hours apart, though on different continents.  One was C. S. Lewis.  The other was President Kennedy.  I wonder which one had the more lasting influence, though Kennedy was a far better President than any from his party who have followed him into the White House since then.

Do you remember where you were 50 years ago this day?  I was walking down a hall in Berea Hall, which was a dorm at Baptist Bible College, when somebody came out and said that Kennedy had been shot.

Looking back, perhaps this was a major turning-point in modern American history – the turning away from what this country was – and what Kennedy embodied in his politics. Democrats today transported back into his era would consider him a right-wing extremist, a “tea-bagger.”

50 years ago, Obama would have had to ride in the back of the bus.  The civil rights movement was just beginning and Democrats fought it tooth-and-nail.  The Republicans were the ones who championed it, Martin Luther King among them.  Things were much different then – even with segregation.  White liberals got involved and messed things all up – and, no, I’m not in favor of segregation.  We’re all sinners in the eyes of God.  Our skin color has nothing to do with what kind of person we are.

– In memory of President John F. Kennedy, murdered 50 years ago today.

The Worst Part of Christ

By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, esteeming the reproach of  [for] Christ greater riches than the treasure in Egypt; for he looked to the reward,  Hebrews 11:24-26 (NKJV).

One of the Puritans is the source of this post’s title.  He made the point that Moses thought serving God, (and, please note, the writer of Hebrews says that he was serving the Lord Jesus Christ,) serving God as a member of a captive, slave populace, was worth more than the treasures of Egypt, even though it led to exile and reproach.  Remember, Moses spent 40 years in the splendor and riches of that great, ancient empire.  We marvel at the relics scattered throughout museums around the world.  Some are able to travel to Egypt and see the marvels of the pyramids and Great Sphinx for themselves.  Moses lived there.

Besides, he was the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, and perhaps was in line for the throne, or, at the very least, he could be in a position of great power and authority, power and authority which he could use to improve the conditions of his people.  Think what he could have done along that line –

if social reform is what “serving God” is all about.

He turned his back on all that, as well.

What does this say to, and about, “Christians,” at least in 2013 America?

Not much, and yet, too much.

We want the air conditioning and the padded pews.  Nice buildings, conveniently laid out.  Stained glass windows.  Coffee machines.  A well-delivered, but not too long, sermon. An early service time, so we still have the day to do whatever, eat out, watch football, whatever.   Theatrics, bright lights, what someone has called, “the trappings of religion.”  The right kind of music.  Loud, percussive.  Health, wealth.  Happiness.

Granted, there are those, even in this country, who suffer for their faith, perhaps not to death, but suffer, nevertheless.  Certainly, in other countries, martyrdom for the cause of Christ is not uncommon.  It just isn’t the stuff of news at 6:00 PM.

Then there are those who believe that all our problems would be solved if we could just get rid of social injustice.  Granted, social wrongs should be made right, but that’s not the thrust of the Gospel.  Social reform wants to take the man out the slum; the Gospel wants to take the slum out of the man.  Move the man, he takes the slum with him.  Convert the man, he takes care of the slum himself.  The Gospel is not about solving social problems; it’s about solving sin problems – which are the cause of social problems.  The Gospel cures the disease, reform just puts a bandaid on it.

Then there are those who believe that if we could just get the right man into political power….  There is nothing wrong with Christians taking part in the political process; the old saying is true that evil triumphs only when good men do nothing.  It’s just that when “the Church” has political, or civil, power, all sorts of evil happens.  That’s the genius of our Constitution, the separation of church and state.  [This, by the way, isn’t the same as the separation of church from state, as it is contended today.  The church has a great deal to say to the government; the government has nothing to say to the church.]  Just look at the Inquisition by Rome and the persecution and slaughter of Anabaptists by the Reformers.  Christ never meant for His church to have political power.  Our power is from another world, not this one.  You cannot legislate righteousness.  Immorality, yes; righteousness, no.

So.

Moses.

Had all we look for today, and more.

Turned his back on it all

for a far greater treasure:

the reproach of Christ.

A Time to Weep; A Time to Laugh

A time to weep; a time to laugh, Ecclesiastes 3:4.

There was, and perhaps still is, a popular conservative radio program.  I really don’t know because I don’t listen to the radio, and haven’t for several years.  I prefer silence to the inane yammerings and what passes for music in our time on the radio, even much of “Christian” radio.

I used to drive for a living and did listen to the radio, including the program mentioned above.  In fact, I could have listened to the final hour of this program three times.  Once was enough.  This was during the time of the Clinton administration and the troubles he had in the Oval Office.  This particular program delighted in making fun of the various things reported in the news, troubles and policies alike.  I’ll admit, some of the things were cleverly done and someone spent a lot of time dreaming them up and producing them.  Still, I eventually got tired of them and turned the radio off.

The thing is, even then I recognized that the program was wrong.  Make no mistake, I am conservative, politically and religiously.  I have no use for the liberal tendency to rewrite history and to destroy the things which made this country [US] great.  We’re not perfect, by any means, but we don’t have to build walls to keep people in.  And I’m not perfect, either.  You’d only have to talk to my wife to find that out.

But “laughter” isn’t the proper response to sin.

Ezekiel lived in a similar time.  Granted, he didn’t have radio or television or the internet,  but it was still a time of great wickedness.  Early in his ministry, he saw a vision in which God told some angels to “Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and cry over all the abominations that are done within it,” Ezekiel 9:4 (NKJV).

True, these men would later be spared from the judgment which, in the vision, befell the city, but that’s not what I’m thinking about here.  God was looking for people who did not make light of the terrible situation of their times, but who “sighed and cried” over it.

Can I make the application to today and the world in which we live?  Things are happening which would have been unimaginable in my youth.  I’m on Facebook, write a blog, spend some time on “yahoo answers,” but seldom do I see any real concern for the moral and spiritual cesspool this world has become.  Granted, my view is limited.  But I see jokes and cartoons and off-color or worse remarks and ridicule and scorn for what our spiritual ancestors suffered and died for to pass along to us.  This says nothing about the sacrifices of life and limb young men and women have given to protect our “freedom”.

Where are those who “sigh and cry for the abominations” championed and highlighted and promoted in our society?  Where are those who are heartbroken over what has happened to our country and our world?  The desolation and damnation at the end of that road – that broad road that leads to destruction?

I know such folks are out there.  Their voices just aren’t being heard in the din and depravity of our time.

This is a time to weep, not to laugh.