Revelation 15:3-4, The Giver, Not The Gifts

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.”

John has been describing the terrible desolation that has been poured out on the earth because of man’s rebellion and sin.  Here and there, though, there have been as it were rays of sunshine through the dark clouds of judgment as we’ve seen that there will be many who are saved by the grace of God in spite of the wickedness and ungodliness around them.

Chapter 15 records one such group, those who’ve been redeemed from the worst time this world will ever see and who now stand in the presence of God.  John gives us a record of their worship and praise in vs. 3 and 4.

it’s noteworthy that they don’t talk about the blessings or the gifts they’ve been given.  There’s no talk about what they did or who they were on the earth.  There’s nothing about their loving God or serving Him.  There’s nothing of themselves.  Perhaps we could learn from this in our own worship and praise.  God isn’t just waiting around for us to tell Him what we want.

The whole focus of these verses is on the greatness and majesty of God.  In v. 3, they describe His works:  great and marvelous.  They had seen something of this in what had happened in the seals and the trumpets, to say nothing of what they might have known of God otherwise.

Now, though some do, I don’t believe we live in the time of the seals and trumpets.  There’s nothing so obvious to show the presence of God.  We live in a time of relative “silence” as far as the heavens are concerned.  However, we can look around and see the marks of His handiwork everywhere, if we will but just look.  Whether through a microscope or a telescope, whether in the intricate structure of a single cell or in the awe-inspiring beauty of a far-off galaxy, we see evidence of a master workman.  It’s beyond reason that men believe all this just blindly “happened” without a guiding hand.

But further, just and true are His ways.  On facebook the other day, there was a video of a preacher dealing with the question of God and the existence of evil.  I really couldn’t hear what he was saying, my hearing not being what it once was, but it is a question folks ask:  “If God is good and almighty, why did He permit evil to exist?”

God never answers that question in Scripture.  He simply asserts that it will not forever have free reign, as it now seems to have.  I suppose that’s really the important thing – where it’s going, not where it came from.

However, God didn’t make Adam and Eve as puppets or robots.  He didn’t simply “program” them to do what He wanted.  He gave them minds, emotions, will.  They could think.  They could “feel”.  And they could make decisions.  And God gave them simple and clear instructions; they could eat of any tree in the garden except one.  They couldn’t eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

It just really struck me that the tree was about good as well as evil.  We have to remember that Adam and Eve were in a state of innocence.  Though they hadn’t yet sinned, they were not “sinless” as we understand that.  We might say that, in a sense, they were a blank slate.  They had no “experience” to draw on, nothing to tell them about things except God.  And we’re told nothing about what He said except as it pertains to their fall.

When Satan tempted Eve to disobey God, he implied that they could decide for themselves what was “good” and what was “evil”.  They wouldn’t need God.  We’ve seen, and see, the results of that.

However we may understand the answer to the question of evil now, there is coming a time when we will indeed see that God’s dealings with Adam and with every one of his descendants have been and are just and true.

However, all this isn’t just some arcane discussion reserved for clerics and scholars in musty halls of academia.  The question is asked, “Who shall not fear You, O Lord, and glorify Your name?”  It brings us out into where we are and what we are doing right now.  It brings us face to face with a God who alone is holy.

Holiness isn’t about experience, or the name of a religious group.  It’s about essential nature and character.  Though used in a variety of ways, the word “holy” means “separate from defilement or impurity.”  It refers to a state of being morally and spiritually clean and pure, absolutely clean and pure.  No hint of impurity or impropriety.

Only God is like that.

We are anything but….

This is why the question is asked, “Who shall not fear You, O Lord?”

There is coming a time when the heavens will not be silent.  When men will no longer be able to ignore or reject the God of heaven.  Even on this earth, to say nothing of what will happen to us after death.

“For all nations shall come and worship before You.”

Zechariah 14 gives us a graphic description of this:

And it shall come to pass that everyone who is left all of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts…, v. 16.  And this will be mandatory, as vs. 17-19 tell us.

But all of that is yet future.  What about today, this Tuesday morning that I type this, or the day that you are reading this?  One day you will stand before God to give an account of this life.  Are you ready?  Oh, that you might consider this, that apart from the Lord Jesus Christ, there is no hope for any of us, but only, as Hebrews 6:2 puts it, a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries.  Modern culture may not believe in a God who would do such things, but that doesn’t nullify what God said.

But God sent His Son to do what we can’t:  live a perfect, sinless life and die a death that would satisfy the requirements of the Law.  The Resurrection is God’s assurance that the price has been paid, and that all those who receive the Lord Jesus by faith are saved.

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

Revelation 2:8, The Christ Who Was Dead And Is Alive.

“And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write,
“These things says the First and the Last, who was dead and came to life.”

It’s with good reason that the Lord starts each letter with a reference to Himself.  Especially in this day of mega-churches and “personalities” (“Chrislebrities,” ugh! what a terrible word!), Jesus seems almost irrelevant.  Of course we believe in Him – we are Christians, after all – but with all the programs and projects and politics and all our efforts for the betterment of mankind, He kind of gets put on the back burner until something goes wrong, and then we run to Him, wondering why He doesn’t do something.  (Although, in this day of fast foods and microwaves, I wonder how many people know what a “back burner” is.  Anyway.)  If Christ were indeed to go away, how many churches would notice the difference?

I don’t mean to be critical, though I am, but without the Lord Jesus, there is no reason for “church.”  There is no salvation.  There is nothing.

Our Lord is simply reminding each church of that fact.  After all,

He is –

– “The First and the Last.”

Several cities in the Roman Empire claimed the title, “First (of something).”  There were several different categories for this.  Ephesus, Smyrna and Thyatira were among these cities.

I think the Lord was simply reminding them that long before Smyrna had been thought of, He could say, “I AM”, and long after the last ember of this planet has burned out, cf. 2 Peter 3:10, He will still be able to say, “I AM”.

We forget that.  Like Smyrna, there are places of incredible beauty and awe-inspiring scenery in this world.  Some of you have traveled all over it.  I’ve just seen a little of this country.  The vastness of the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, the Gulf of Mexico, fall colors in the Ozarks, the majestic beauty of the Rocky Mountains and Pikes Peak (the mountain in the header of this blog), the impressive vista of the Black Hills of South Dakota, the awesome feeling of the world’s highest suspension bridge holding sway 1000+ feet over the Royal Gorge and the Arkansas River.

And it does sway (move).  royal-gorge-bridge-again

Just a little….

You used to be able to drive over the bridge, but that’s long gone.  Cars got too big and heavy.

It’s enough to walk over it.

As an aside possibly only of interest to me, my grandfather worked in the steel mill in Pueblo CO where the steel cables were made that support the bridge.

With all that, there’s a great deal of beauty in this country that I haven’t seen.

Doesn’t matter.

One day, it’ll all be gone.

The Lord Jesus will still be the First and the Last.

But He also is the One –

“Who was dead and came to life.”  The Greek reads, “Who became dead and lived.”

It’s a study in itself just to consider the Lord’s “becoming.”  That’s why we split this letter into two parts.

In the first place, He became flesh, John 1:14.

The thing about this is, who was He before He became flesh, before He was born to the virgin in Bethlehem?  Everything rides on the answer to that question.

If, as some who knock on your door insist, He was just another created being, albeit maybe a little higher than you or me, if that’s true, then there’s no hope for any of us.  As and if only a creature like us, He would be completely responsible to God for Himself.  He would have to be perfection Himself in order not to be condemned.  His life would have value in this way only for Himself.  He would have nothing left over, as it were, for anyone else, or you or me.  We’d be doomed.

But John 1:1 says that before He became flesh, He was God.  Those same folks who knock at your door insist that John meant that Jesus was only “a god.”  It is true that in the original, there is no article, no “the,” before “God” in John 1:1.  If there were, then the Word would be the God, and the “oneness” folks are right.  But there is no article before the word, “God.”  In the Greek, there is no indefinite article, no “a,” and thus no way for John to write “a god.”

So?

The difference might be seen in comparing these two phrases:  you are the human; you are human.  The first phrase, “You are the human,” indicates a particular person.  It’s true, in English, to say, “You are a human” is possible, meaning that you are one among several, or as distinguished from them, but in NT Greek, you can’t say that.  To them, “You are human” would mean that you have the characteristics of a human, as opposed, say, to fish or birds.  And, no, we are not animals, although that’s another post.

What John is saying is that, whatever characteristics God has, the Word has.  He is God, not “a god.”

But these same folks again, persistent, aren’t they, will say, “Yes, but Jesus Himself said that the Father is greater that He is, John 14:28.  According to them, this means that He isn’t equal with God.  He isn’t Jehovah God.

Is that true?

Not at all.

When the Word became flesh, He laid aside His divine prerogatives, His “rights,” and came to this earth as a human being.  And He was truly human, not a phantom or apparition, as some teach.  In doing so, He did not cease to be God.  He just quit acting like it, for the most part.  Walking on water isn’t ordinarily a human thing.  When He comes back, He will act like it.

As a man and as a Jew, He was born under the Law, Galatians 4:4, and was as responsible to obey it as any other Jew.  In this way, because He was truly human, the Father was greater than He.  This doesn’t deny His deity at all, but merely affirms His humanity.

Further, He didn’t come to glory and fame.  He wasn’t born in Rome to a wealthy or noble family, but in Bethlehem, to a poor family from a despised race.  How do we know His family was poor?  When His mother, Mary, made the required offering after His birth, she offered turtledoves or pigeons, the offering prescribed for the poorest Jew, Luke 2:24; Leviticus 12:8.

He made Himself of no reputation, Philippians 2:7.

But more than all that, and the reason for it, He became a sin offering, Hebrews 9:26, but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.  

Then there’s 2 Corinthians 5:21, For He [God] has made Him [Jesus] who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.  I don’t even begin to understand all that’s involved in that.  I don’t think we ever will.

But the cross and the tomb weren’t the end of it.

“He became alive.”

This was the message of the apostolic church, And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, Acts 4:33.  It’s what they were supposed to preach:  Then He [Jesus] said to them, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations,” Luke 24:46, 47, emphases added.

Why go through all this “doctrine”?  Why emphasize it?  Because if that isn’t who Christ was to Smyrna, they had no hope.  They were suffering for nothing.  And if that isn’t Christ to us, we have no hope.   Indeed, as Paul put it, If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most pitiable, 1 Corinthians 15:19.

(photo credit:  2roadsdiverged.com)

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.

 

Revelation 1:7, “Behold, He Is Coming With Clouds”

Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye shall see Him, even they who pierced Him.  And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him.  Even so, Amen. (NKJV)

The Second Coming of Christ is a major topic in Scripture.  Indeed, it was promised to the disciples at the very moment when the Lord Jesus was disappearing from their sight and they hadn’t even really had time to begin to digest all that He had said to them in the 40 days He had been with them after His resurrection.

In Acts 1:9-11, we read,  Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight.  And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, who also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven?  This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.”

There is one difference.  When Jesus left this world, it was a private affair.  Only the eleven saw Him leave.   When He comes back, it will be very public.

Every eye shall see him.

Before fairly recent technology, it wasn’t seen how this could happen.  Now, with all the electronic devices, the internet, and the ubiquitous IPhone, it becomes more clear.  Still, there are places where these things aren’t available.  Though I won’t be dogmatic about it and mean no disrespect to Him, my own view is that He’ll orbit the earth once or twice on His way in to this world.  There have been some who have taken exception to this idea.

However it happens, I believe that what’s left of the world will come to a standstill as its King comes to take His rightful place among those whose last remark about Him was, “We have no king but Caesar,”  John 19:15.

Even they who have pierced Him (emphasis added).

A common view, perhaps the majority view, is that God is done with Israel as a nation.  The church has taken her place and all those OT promises to Israel are somehow “spiritually fulfilled” in and to the church.  Certainly, there’s nothing in our verse in Revelation that indicates anything about Israel’s spiritual condition at or as a result of our Lord’s return.  If it weren’t for other Scriptures, it might easily be said that Israel will only be judged and condemned for her rejection of her Messiah.

One of those OT Scriptures which casts light on this subject is Zechariah 12:10,11.  There God says, “And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplications; then they will look of 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.  In that day there shall be a great mourning in Jerusalem….”

To strengthen and clarify His statement, God continues in 13:1, “In that day a fountain shall be opened for the house of David and for the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for uncleanness.”

This is when, and how, all Israel will be saved, Romans 11:26.  This doesn’t mean every Jew that’s ever lived, as some say that we believe, but only those Jews alive at that time who have gone through the judgment of their King.

“the judgment of their King”!?

We read of this in Ezekiel 20:33-38, “As I live,” says the LORD God, ” surely with a mighty hand, with an outstretched arm, and with fury poured out, I will rule over you.  I will bring you out from the peoples and gather you out of the countries where you are scattered, with a mighty hand, with an outstretched arm, and with fury poured out.  And I will bring you into the wilderness of the peoples, and I will plead My case with you face to face.  Just as I pleaded My case with your fathers in the wilderness of the land of Egypt, so I will plead My case with you,” says the LORD God.
“I will make you pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant; I will purge out the rebels from among you, and those who transgress against Me; I will bring them out of the country where they dwell, but they shall not enter the land of Israel.”

Then God goes on to say that every Jew in the land will then serve Him, vs. 39-44.

This event sheds some light on Matthew 25:31-46, the judgment of nations, when the Lord Jesus, on the throne of His glory, v. 31, judges those nations on the basis of how they have treated “His brethren.”  Those who believe that the Gospel is about nothing more than doing something about social ills take the references to clothing and feeding simply to mean that we’re supposed to take care of the poor and homeless.

While it’s true that Scripture does indeed tell us to take care of the poor and needy, that’s not what Matthew 25 is about.

Joel 3:1, 2 tells us what it is about.  There God says, “For behold, in those days and at that time, when I bring back the captives of Judah and Jerusalem” [at which time Ezekiel tells us He will judge them and “purge out the rebels.” Having done that] “I will also gather all nations, and bring them down to the valley of Jehoshaphat;  And I will enter into judgment with them there on account of My people, My heritage Israel” (emphasis added).  These are the “brethren” to which our Lord refers in Matthew 25.

And all the tribes of the earth shall mourn because of Him.  

Revelation indicates that when our Lord returns to this world, there won’t be many people left.  We’ll get into this as we get further into the study.  And those who are left will not be happy to see Him.

Remember, while Matthew tells us that some nations will care for and protect Jewish people, Zechariah 14 tells us that the armies of the other nations have gathered against Jerusalem and have apparently conquered it. It seems that most of, if not all, Jerusalem lies in ruins and her people have been subjected to terrible atrocities.  When it seems that anti-Semitism has won, and Israel has finally been destroyed, suddenly her Lord will appear.  Along with some other things, what we mentioned above will happen.  Things will finally be set right – things over which politics and mere religion have no power.  Indeed, politics and mere religion are and will be the cause of most of these troubles.

Even so, Amen.

While what happens in this world affects the true believer, even at its very best this world has no hope for him or her.  This world can never be “home” for the true believer.  If we understand this, then we must also understand that the only hope we have is in the return of the Lord Jesus.  This is regardless of what we believe will happen when He returns.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus.

Hebrews 13:20-25, “Grace Be With You All”

[20]Now may the God of peace, who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, [21]make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever.  Amen.
[22]And I appeal to you, brethren, bear with the word of exhortation, for I have written to you in few words.  [23]Know that our brother Timothy has been set free, with whom I shall see you if he comes shortly.
[24]Greet all those who rule over you, and all the saints.  Those from Italy greet you.
[25]Grace be with you all.  Amen.  (NKJV)

As the writer comes to the end of his thoughts, he returns to where he started – with God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Earlier, he had spent several chapters on the nature, character and preeminence of the Lord Jesus in connection with the place of God the Father in His life and ministry, 1:1, 2, 5, 8 13, etc.  Now, as he closes, he commends his readers into the care of that same God the Father.

In describing the Father, the writer goes at once to the very heart of the Christian faith.  He says that the Father brought up the Lord Jesus from the dead, v. 20.  The idea of resurrection from the dead includes the thought of death.  It isn’t separate from it.  And “death” relates to the person who dies.  If the Lord Jesus isn’t who He claimed to be, and who the Scripture says that He is, fully God and fully human, then His death has no meaning and the resurrection is nothing more than a fable.  It’s a shame that many professing Christians seem to have this view.  If there is no resurrection, there is no salvation, 1 Corinthians 15:12-17, and those who believe in the Lord Jesus are of all men the most pitiable, v. 19.

In contrast to this gloomy and hopeless idea, the writer describes the Lord Jesus in view of His mission:  that great Shepherd of the sheep, Hebrews 13:20.  Our Lord used that same figure to describe Himself in John 10.  The angel Gabriel told Joseph that this child whom Mary would bear would save His people from their sins, Matthew 1:21.  Though Joseph possibly only ever knew the OT promises of the salvation of Israel, the Lord Jesus came to redeem folks out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, Revelation 5:9 (emphasis added), not just the nation of Israel.

If you are a believer, then the Lord Jesus had you in mind when He walked the dusty roads of Israel.

In the NT, believers are described as “sheep.”  Though this isn’t a particularly complimentary description, in Biblical times, sheep were a common sight and the Bible uses the relationship of shepherd and sheep more than once.  Psalm 23 and John 10 are only two examples.  The thing is, sheep are utterly dependent on the shepherd.  Left to themselves, they will get into all kinds of trouble and are exposed to danger on every side, against which they are defenseless.  It’s the shepherd who takes care of them and keeps them safe.  Cf. John 10:11-13.

The Lord Jesus came with a specific goal in mind:  the salvation of His sheep.  He didn’t just come to this world hoping for the best.  To hear some preachers and believers, apparently all that happened when the Lord left the glories of heaven was that the Father hugged Him and wished Him luck.  That’s a completely inadequate and false idea.  The writer alludes to this when he mentions the blood of the everlasting covenant, v. 20.

An old “gospel” song painted a scene in heaven of utter confusion when Adam and Eve fell into sin, with God searching everywhere to find someone who could step in and do something about it.  Finally, according to this utterly unScriptural and God-dishonoring song, Jesus volunteered to come to this world as Savior.

Whatever difficulty we might have in understanding or accepting it, the Bible is clear that salvation is carefully thought out and planned.  It speaks of believers being chosen by God for that blessing even before the foundation of the world, Ephesians 1:4, and given to the Lord Jesus, John 10:29, in order that He might save them, John 17:2.  It describes the Lord Jesus as the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, Revelation 13:8.  So certain is our salvation, in fact, that believers are already considered “glorified” in the mind and purpose of God, Romans 8:30.

Just to clarify something:  this “choice” by God the Father means the salvation of some who would otherwise by lost, Romans 9:29, not the condemnation of some who would otherwise be saved, as some charge that we believe.  Without election, there would be no salvation.

One more thing.  God didn’t just “look down the corridors of time,” as some say, and choose those whom He saw would choose Him.  That is not what the Scripture means when it refers to our salvation according to God’s foreknowledge, as in 1 Peter 1:2.  God’s foreknowledge isn’t dependent on what He sees His creation is going to do, but on what He Himself has planned to do.  This is taught in such verses as Acts 2:23, which says that Christ was delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, and Romans 8:28, which says that believers are the called according to His purpose, before it says, in the next verse, says that we are “foreknown.”

In v. 21, the writer continues the appeal he began in v. 20, asking God to do something in according with that everlasting covenant, namely, to make his readers complete in every good work to do His will.

This verse was the subject of the saddest example of misreading the Bible that I’ve ever heard.  The college-age class I was in years ago had a leader who taught from this verse that we were to make ourselves complete, etc., etc.  It was all about us.  Apparently, he had never noticed that the subject of the verb “make” in v. 21 was “God” in v. 20.  It’s not about what “we” do at all, but about what God will do.  Now he was a good man, an earnest man, but he himself admitted that, though he had led the class for 17 years, he had never read the Bible through.  It is so sad that there are so many like him, believers to whom the Bible is as foreign a book as if it had never been translated into a language they can read, because they never read it.

The objective of salvation isn’t just to take us to heaven, or to give us “a life without a care,” as another unfortunate “gospel” song put it, but to make us like the Lord Jesus Christ, holy and without blame before God, Ephesians 1:4.  The work won’t be completed in this life to be sure, but it does begin here, and it’s a work which God must do because we don’t know how to do it – and can’t do it, for that matter.

In v. 22, the writer does turn his attention to his readers and appeals to them to bear with the exhortation, the few words he had written to them.  He’s not the only one who ever had difficulty with this.  John had the same problem.  There’s just so much that could be said about the Lord that, as John put it, even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written, John 21:25.  There’s just too much that could be said.  Indeed, according to Ephesians 2;7, it will take God Himself the ages to come…to show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.  I don’t think we get much more than the first little bit of the introduction in this life.

And he’s not the only one who has been concerned that his readers pay attention to what he wrote, or, if he were a preacher, to what he said.  I’ve often wondered, when a person leaving a service tells the preacher, “What a wonderful sermon that was,” what would happen if the preacher would ask him, “What was it about?”  (What was your preacher’s sermon about last week?)  This may seem harsh, and it may be, and I’m sorry, but as I look around and see the terrible condition this nation is in, and “Christians” right out there in the middle of it, I wonder if anybody is listening to the Word at all.  Too many churches seem to be concerned more about personalities or programs or prosperity or politics than they are about the proclamation of the Gospel of our Lord and God Jesus Christ.

The writer closes his “few words” with grace be with you all.  I hear a great deal today about “love” and very little about “grace.”  Without the grace of God, though, we’ll never experience the love of God.

That’s why the writer closes his writing, and I close this series, with –

Grace be with you all.  Amen.

Hebrews 11:32-38, Faith: Paradox and Promise.

[32]And what shall I say more?  For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jepthtah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets:  [33]who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, [34]quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.  [35]Women received their dead raised to life again.
Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection.  
[36]Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment.  [37]They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword.  They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented – [38]of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth.

Hebrews 11 has been called “the hall of heroes.”  Men and women who did great things for God and were themselves great saints.  Yet this portion starts with men that we might not put into that category.  Here are some men of whom we might say, “What?!  Wait!  Why are they included?”

Gideon did indeed bring a great deliverance to Israel, but then led her into idolatry, Judges 6-8.  Barak, probably the least known of the four, was a man who reluctantly obeyed God, Judges 4, 5.  Jephthah is a man about whom the world and even many Christians have nothing good to say, Judges 11.  I’ve done a post on him if you’re interested.  He certainly isn’t one who is thought to be a “hero.”  Samson, who did do some mighty things, yet is perhaps best remembered for his dalliance with Delilah and his eventual death while a prisoner of and serving to amuse the enemies of his people and his God, Judges 13-16.

Here’s the first paradox.

To have faith doesn’t mean to be perfect and without faults.

There’s only ever been One who was able to say, “I always do those things that please Him,” John 8:29, emphasis added.  All the rest of us fall way short.

God doesn’t deny the faults of His people.

But then, neither does He define His people by those faults….

The second paradox is found in the rest of our text.

Some of God’s people may indeed do great things, vs. 33-35a.  While it’s difficult to know exactly who, if anyone, the author had in mind on some of these things, still, it could be said of Joshua that he conquered kingdoms.  Jeremiah and Ezekiel, even David, received great and wonderful promises.  Daniel certainly is one who stopped the mouths of lions.  His three friends quenched the violence of fire.  More than once, a badly outnumbered Israel turned to flight the armies of the aliens.  At least one grieving woman saw her dead raised to life again.  There are a lot of people the author could have had in mind.

The paradox is this:

Some of God’s people may suffer great things, vs. 35b-38.

We live in a time when, at least in this country, folks on TV tell us that health and prosperity and all good things are the lot of the Christian.  Great ministries have been built on this premise.  The truth is that while these things may and do come to Christians, more often than not their history has been written in their own blood.  This is especially true of those times when “the church” has sat on the throne.  This was true both of Rome and of the Reformers.  And suffering Christians, of whom the world [is] not worthy, live today in a large part of the world, and always have.  We just don’t see it on the 6 o’clock news.

The Apostle Peter put it like this, Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you, 1 Peter 4:12, emphasis added.  The word translated “strange” doesn’t mean “unusual,” but “foreign.”  Some folks seem to have the idea that any idea of “suffering,” whether personal or otherwise, should be “foreign” to them.  But you can’t really read the New Testament without seeing that this is not true.

But, if this world is all there is, as some think, or if we’re all headed to “a better place,” as others think, why would people endure such things?  The answer’s found in v. 35, that they might obtain a better resurrection.  Now, that word “might” doesn’t mean “might or might not,” as if there’s some question about it.  It speaks to purpose, not just possibility.  Faith understands the paradox, but rests on the promise.  As Paul put it in 1 Corinthians 5:5, Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God.  Or Peter, We according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells [is at home], 2 Peter 3:13.

For the Christian, this world is neither our home, our heaven or our hope.

 

Hebrews 11:13-16, Dying in Faith

[13]These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.  [14]For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland.  [15]And if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return.  [16]But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country.  Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.  (NKJV)

“These all died in faith.”

It’s one thing to live by faith, but when life comes to an end, with the things that sometimes attend that end, “faith” may waver a little.  One thing that bolsters faith is the firm and settled conviction that this life isn’t all there is; there is something better just beyond that exit called “death.”  And this conviction doesn’t depend on “out-of-the-body” experiences, or books written by those who say they’ve been to heaven, and it’s “real.”  Perhaps they have been there.  And certainly, heaven is real.  So is hell.  Even so, though, the Apostle Paul said that he had been caught up to the third heaven, but he didn’t have the words to describe what he experienced, 2 Corinthians 12:1-5.  Regardless, the true believer’s hope for the future isn’t found in “experience,” but in God’s promise, cf. Jeremiah 29:11; Revelation 21:1-4, the city which has “foundations,” v. 14.

not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off.

Even though Isaac himself was evidence of the power and faithfulness of God, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, and Jacob never saw the fulfillment of God’s promises about their inheritance of the land. (Now I believe that Israel [and they] will possess that land; the OT is filled with promises about that.  That, however, is a post for another time.) Nevertheless, they

were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.

The attitude of faith isn’t one of expectation of great things in this life.  They may come.  They may not.  We mentioned in an earlier post that faith gives us a different perspective about this world, about fundamental differences between God’s children and the world’s children.  One of them is found in Psalm 17:14, where the Psalmist refers to men of the world who have their portion in this life.  Another verse is Luke 16:25, which records something our Lord said of two men and their experiences in the after-life.  One was a child of God and the other one wasn’t.  Some are troubled by the things mentioned in verses 19-31 and try to lighten what they say.  Whether these verses are just a parable or an expression of something real is beyond the scope of this post.  But even parables address things which are real.  There is something our Lord said, however, which, even if it is just a parable, is vitally important.  In v. 25, it is said to the one who was lost, “Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things, but now he is comforted and you are tormented.”

To put it another way, this world is as close to heaven as some people will ever get, and for other people, this world is as close to hell as they will get.   To a world that believes that everyone goes to “a better place” at death this idea is troubling.  And there’s no way of knowing simply by the circumstances of their lives whether any particular person is saved or not.  A mansion may house a vile wretch and a cardboard box may shelter a godly person.  In that regard, prosperity or poverty don’t matter.

The point is, lest I wander too far in this direction, that the true Christian, the true believer, understands that this world isn’t all this is to his or her existence and that God’s promises don’t always come true in this life.  They didn’t for Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  They also understand that these promises will come true eventually.  We’ll see a little more of this as we go through Hebrews 11.

Our problem too often is that we try to measure God’s providence by our own tape measure.  We try to fit Him into the little box of our own understanding.  That’s like trying to teach an ant how to drive.  And the difference between us and that ant is insignificant compared to the distance between us and God.  And just so you don’t misread it, we are the ant.  Sorrowfully, way too many people would put God in that position.

Too often, we define “blessing” as things which we think are “good:” health, prosperity, good “relationships”.  He’ll heal our sicknesses and fix the broken things.  Now, I believe in healing.  My own mother experienced it.  She nearly died after having me and the doctors said that she’d never walk again.  Well, they were wrong.  And I’ve known others who were healed of serious illnesses.  On the other hand, I know a dear sister in the Lord who suffered from Lupus her whole life and was diagnosed with ALS shortly before she died.  It got to the point where she couldn’t talk, but even then, she showed more joy in the Lord than most of us who are a lot healthier than she was.

And sometimes, God is pleased just to use the broken things.  I think of Joni Eareckson Tada.  The tools in His workshop aren’t all new and shiny.  After all, which of us, in one way or another, isn’t “broken”?

The people of whom Hebrews speaks in vs. 13-16 understood a little of the temporary and sometimes difficult nature of this world and life.  (See also vs. 35-38.)  That’s why we read of them that they –

confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.

If they had simply been concerned about this world,

they would have had opportunity to return.

After all, the promised land was right in the middle to the trade route between north and south.  There were probably caravans often traveling through it.  They could have left at any time.

But they had a different perspective:  they were looking for –

a homeland.  …They desired a better, that is, a heavenly country.

Of Abraham himself, v. 10 says that he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.  I’ve read somewhere that Ur was built in a marsh and really didn’t have a firm footing, or foundation.  So Abraham was looking for something “solid,” as we might put it.

We really have a very sparse account of what happened between God and men in those early years.  In fact, it’s believed by many that from the Fall of Adam and Eve until the giving of the Law through Moses that there wasn’t any revelation from God.  Men were simply guided by their own “conscience.”  I think that’s an inadequate view.  There are incidental references which tell us of an abundant revelation.  For example, in Genesis 26:5, God appeared to Isaac and testified of his father that “Abraham obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My law.”  This tells us that there were “commandments” and “law” long before Moses.  We just have no, or very little, record of them.

Another example is Job, who certainly lived before the events at Sinai, and a long way from Israel.  There’s no mention of the priesthood or the Tabernacle, but the book is filled with references to sin, righteousness and judgment.  Indeed, the book opens with Job offering burnt sacrifices just on the possibility that his sons had sinned and cursed God in their hearts, Job 1:5.  And he did this regularly.  He’s described as one who was blameless and upright, and one who feared God and shunned evil, v. 1.  How could this be, if there was nothing to tell him about God and what He required?  Or that defined “evil”?

Beyond that, some of the greatest “confessions of faith” come from him.  Job 13:15,  “Though He slay me, yet I will trust Him.”  I’m afraid today that we say, “If He heals me, I will trust Him.”  He had insight into the resurrection, “And after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.  How my heart yearns within me! Job 19:26, 27 (emphasis added).  He had alluded to this earlier when he referred to his “change,” 14:14.

Granted, he said some things that he shouldn’t have, but God defended him against his three “friends” (and against those who would scold him today):  the LORD said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “My wrath is aroused against you and your two friends, for you have not spoken of Me what is right, as My servant Job has.  Now, therefore, take for yourselves seven bulls and seven rams, go to My servant Job, and offer up for yourselves a burnt offering; and My servant Job shall pray for you.  For I will accept him, lest I deal with you according to your folly; because you have not spoken of Me what is right, as My servant Job has,” 42:7, 8, emphasis added.

Job, too, “died in faith.”

And, unless the Lord comes back first,

It will be said of all God’s people:

These all died in faith.