Welcome, friends! John 21:1-19 is a story of Jesus and the disciples in the six weeks between Christ’s resurrection and ascension. It’s an awkward time for the disciples, as they try and come to grips with a new reality in which all the old rules have changed. Click the videos below and let’s help each other move into a new reality….
Before us it is blessed, behind us it is blessed, below us it is blessed, above us it is blessed, around us it is blessed as we set out with Christ. Our speech is blessed as we set out for God. With beauty before us, with beauty behind us, with beauty below us, with beauty above us, with beauty around us, we set out for a holy place indeed. Amen. –A traditional Navajo blessing
This is what you must write to the angel of the church in Smyrna:
I am the first and the last. I died, but now I am alive! Listen to what I say.
I know how much you suffer and how poor you are, but you are rich. I also know the cruel things being said about you by people who claim to be Jews. But they are not really Jews. They are a group that belongs to Satan.
Don’t worry about what you will suffer. The devil will throw some of you into jail, and you will be tested and made to suffer for ten days. But if you are faithful until you die, I will reward you with a glorious life.
If you have ears, listen to what the Spirit says to the churches. Whoever wins the victory will not be hurt by the second death. (Contemporary English Version)
Jesus not only speaks in the four Gospels of the New Testament; Christ also speaks in the final biblical book of Revelation to seven different churches.
In today’s New Testament lesson, Jesus addresses the church at Smyrna – a large and beautiful port city in the ancient world, on the eastern coast of the Aegean Sea (present day Turkey).
Jesus was letting the believers in Smyrna know they were about to experience severe persecution. However, they need not be fearful and can remain faithful because their Lord knows all about suffering.
The church’s perseverance under such trouble would result in the crown of life, given to them by Jesus himself. Words coming directly from their Lord and Savior must surely have been an encouragement to the believers as they underwent extreme difficulty.
The congregation at Smyrna was facing imprisonment and, for some, even death for their faith. The heart of the message by Jesus is to remain faithful.
There will always be those who are faint of heart with weak faith, giving up when the going gets tough. Yet, persecution and hardship have a way of purging the soul, as well as the church, of its dross. Suffering is inevitable; how we handle adversity when it comes is completely under our own control.
Few of us will likely never face a hardship that could result in martyrdom. Knowing there are brothers and sisters in the faith throughout the world who do face daily hardship for devotion and beliefs puts our own troubles in a different light.
The daily irritations and trials that God puts in our way to refine us and shape our faith certainly seem small compared to imprisonment and martyrdom. Yet, no matter who we are and where we are located on this earth – whether facing uncommon hardship or banal difficulty – the afflictions of both body and soul come to us as opportunities to lean into faith and love Jesus to the end.
Jesus is not looking for perfect people – just faithful followers willing to endure suffering with the truth that our Lord stands with us.
Whatever our current circumstances may be, Jesus offers us his perspective on it. He knows precisely what is going on and understands the spiritual resources you and I possess for each adverse situation we encounter.
In fact, few of us really discern the largess of internal resources within us because of Christ’s redemptive work and the Spirit’s abiding presence – not to mention the very personhood God graciously gave us in the womb before we were even born.
Even though it seems, at times, we lack the strength, wisdom, and courage for what is ahead – Jesus has supreme confidence in us to maintain faith and endure through our afflictions.
Life is not a sprint; life is a marathon. And to finish the race we need to be in good spiritual health. The perseverance of the saints will happen as we run – step by step, stride by stride – with boldness, despite fear of the unknown future around the bend.
Perhaps, most of all, it requires keeping our heads up and running toward the promise of reward at the finish. The crown of life is an image of both congratulation and celebration of a race well-run and the enjoyment of unending fellowship with our Lord for whom we have endured so much.
After all is said and done, and the end of the age has occurred, we will be able to look back in hindsight and see that it was really Jesus who all along was fortifying us to keep standing and keep going. Christ is so vested in us that he continually ensures our ultimate victory through a constant presence of help and encouragement. The heritage of both the Reformation and Holy Scripture testify to this truth:
“I’m sure about this: the one who started a good work in you will stay with you to complete the job by the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6, CEB)
May the grace of Jesus sustain you; the love of God surround you; and the encouragement of the Spirit surprise you, today and every day. Amen.
Grant, O God, That we may never lose the way through our self-will, and so end up in the far countries of the soul; that we may never abandon the struggle, but that we may endure to the end, and so be saved; that we may never drop out of the race, but that we may ever press forward to the goal of our high calling; that we may never choose the cheap and passing things, and let go the precious things that last forever; that we may never take the easy way, and so leave the right way; that we may never forget that sweat is the price of all things, and that without the cross, there cannot be the crown.
So keep us and strengthen us by your grace that no disobedience and no weakness and no failure may stop us from entering into the blessedness which awaits those who are faithful in all the changes and chances of life down even to the gates of death; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
Happy are those who respect the Lord and obey him. You will enjoy what you work for, and you will be blessed with good things. Your wife will give you many children, like a vine that produces much fruit. Your children will bring you much good, like olive branches that produce many olives. This is how the one who respects the Lord will be blessed. May the Lord bless you from Mount Zion; may you enjoy the good things of Jerusalem all your life. May you see your grandchildren.
Let there be peace in Israel. (New Century Version)
Obedience and blessing go together like a hand in a glove. Holy Scripture consistently connects the call to obey the Lord with blessing from G-d. Indeed, in carefully observing wise and biblical instruction, one will typically enjoy divine favor and approval.
Keep in mind, however, this is not a math equation. Like 2+2=4 there are folks who expect a neat linear connection between their obedience and their blessing. In math theology, when a woman is unable to have children, or a child goes astray from their heritage, the parent concludes that they themselves must have been unfaithful to G-d’s law or are being punished. Conversely, with children who grow to be good citizens and respectful persons, the parents might conclude it was because of their superior observance to the spiritual life.
In both cases, parents take too much credit, either for a child’s wandering or success. As for kids going astray, even G-d had prodigal children, so cut ourselves some slack. As for children who maintain faithfulness, a lot of factors went into who they are. I suppose it is only natural to quickly assume we have far more control of than we really do.
This all cuts to the heart of biblical interpretation. If all Scripture is read literally, then we will likely see the Bible as a math equation where doing and saying the right things gets a predictable result of blessing. Yet, this mistakenly views promise and proverb as the same thing, and divine work with one person or group will be precisely the same for another. The wisdom literature of Scripture, which includes the psalms, were never designed as prescriptive decree but rather as the sage approach for work, worship, and family.
Today’s psalm communicates the path of happiness coming through love and respect for G-d. It neither promises lots of kids, ensures money, nor guarantees smooth sailing. Rather, when one lives each day being cognizant and observant to center everything around the divine, then blessing and happiness will tend to follow.
Blessings and benedictions are given to sustain us in hope and confidence. The best things in life usually come through faith and family. So, when we choose to walk with G-d and travel down the ethical road, then life becomes full of peace and prosperity – perhaps not always in the manner we expect, yet blessing, nonetheless.
Humanity is hard-wired for blessing, for a steady diet of encouragement, acceptance, and approval from G-d and others. When this is withheld from us, unhappiness, even despair begins to settle. Giving and receiving blessing is at the heart of being fully human and alive. Our work and family life will likely be miserable if blessing is absent. Yet, with blessing, we have a sustainable form of happiness and enjoyment.
Most every good thing in life is obtained through a great deal of blood, sweat, and tears. Obedience is no easy task. It typically requires courage and is complicated in its application to life situations. Here are a few ways to maintain an obedient life to G-d:
Devote yourself to the daily reading of Scripture. One cannot obey that which is neither known nor remembered. A steady regimen of good old fashioned Bible reading is the best way to refresh the mind and incline the heart toward biblical commands. (Psalm 119:57-64)
Pray to listen and pay attention. There is more to prayer than petitions and praise. We must also practice silence and solitude so that we can give focused attention to hearing G-d, thus, obeying the Spirit. (Jeremiah 7:21-26)
Practice repentance. Being aware of our guilt and shame, acknowledging it, and naming it before G-d is the path of change – keeping us on the narrow road of obedience. (1 John 1:5-10)
Take the long view. Not all obedience is rewarded in this life but in the life to come. Perseverance and patience is needed to sustain obedience over the long haul of life. And, in the end, there are heavenly blessings awaiting us. (Hebrews 11:36-12:3)
Eternal God, by whose power we are created and by whose love we are redeemed, guide, strengthen, and bless us through your Spirit so that we may give ourselves to your service and live today in love to one another and to you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Then the Lord said to me, “Go and love your wife again, even though she commits adultery with another lover. This will illustrate that the Lord still loves Israel, even though the people have turned to other gods and love to worship them.”
So, I bought her back for fifteen pieces of silver and five bushels of barley and a measure of wine. Then I said to her, “You must live in my house for many days and stop your prostitution. During this time, you will not have sexual relations with anyone, not even with me.”
This shows that Israel will go a long time without a king or prince, and without sacrifices, sacred pillars, priests, or even idols! But afterward the people will return and devote themselves to the Lord their God and to David’s descendant, their king. In the last days, they will tremble in awe of the Lord and of his goodness. (New Living Translation)
Sometimes you have to get your behind in the past before you can put your past behind you.
The ancient nation of Israel was in a spiritual pickle. Gradually, over hundreds of years, they made small decisions of compromised religion which added up to a severe breach of faith with their historic God.
The relationship between God and God’s people, throughout the prophetic books of the Old Testament, is many times likened to a marriage of two spouses – God, the faithful spouse, and Israel, the unfaithful spouse who adulterated themselves by seeking the love of other gods.
This situation evoked feelings of sadness and anger within God. To help restore the broken marriage, the Lord used the prophet Hosea as an earthly illustration of the divine/human dilemma.
Just as Hosea graciously took a wife of dubious repute, so God mercifully took Israel. Just as Hosea’s wife, Gomer, slept with other men, so Israel went to bed with other gods. And just as Hosea remained faithful and actively sought to reconcile the past with his wife, so God tenaciously and dramatically honored the covenant relationship with Israel by showing steadfast love, despite her sordid past.
Israel needed to do her part by reconciling the past – returning to the Lord through acknowledging the truth of the situation and owning their responsibility to make things right.
Holy Scripture exhorts the believer to live according to truth. Whenever we fail to do so, we suffer spiritual loss. We are told to confess and reject unfaithful patterns of past behavior and not allow them to influence us today (Titus 2:12; 1 Peter 1:14, 18).
Neglecting our responsibility inevitably causes emotional, mental and physical repercussions, as well as spiritual. In the New Testament, when the Apostle Paul said he was forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, he could say that because he had come to terms with and reconciled his own terrible unfaithful past with God. (Philippians 3:4-13)
It is both helpful and necessary to go back into one’s life and deal with the past on the basis of truth. In doing so, we honor our relationship with God. We must ask the Lord to turn the searchlight of truth on us and our past.
Trust God to help you remember all the times in which you need to reconcile what has happened (or failed to happen). Make the choice before God to be as honest as you possibly can.
The following are some suggestions from a former professor and mentor, the late Dr. Victor Matthews, (put in my own words) to carefully follow:
Write out every time you were unfaithful or were hurt by another’s unfaithfulness (reject the temptation to just think and/or talk about it). Be complete, name the people involved, state what happened, do not try and protect yourself or other people and do not fantasize and let your thoughts run amok.
Evaluate each past event on the basis of truth. If you were unfaithful, then confess it to God truthfully and receive forgiveness and cleansing (1 John 1:9). If you were hurt by someone, and it was their fault, then state out loud that “_______ should not have done that to me.” When you have finished writing out the event(s) deliberately stop and completely forgive the person(s) (Mark 11:25-26). If you were at fault in some way, then confess that to God, as well.
Resist the temptation to hurry with this process! Do not generalize by putting many events into one. Be specific and take the time necessary to get in touch with what God is trying to help you connect with. This practice of reconciling the past is not introspection, so do not indulge in self-pity, self-criticism, or develop a martyr syndrome.
Affirm that your inner critic, others, and any dark force may no longer use your past against you. “In the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ I take this event away from Satan and declare that he may not use it against me anymore!” (Ephesians 4:27; 5:11; 6:14).
Receive the healing provided for those who believe and live according to God’s words and ways (Isaiah 53:5). “Now that I have made this right with you, O Lord, I receive the healing you have provided for me through the cross of Jesus Christ.” (Galatians 2:19-20)
When you have finished your work, then count it finished. When Jesus said, “It is finished!” he meant what he said. (John 19:30)
Reconciling the past means leaning into the finished work of Jesus for our complete healing. If and when we think of our unfaithful past, then firmly state: “I have dealt with that truthfully. It is settled, once and for all.”
Whenever unfaithful, from this point forward, confess it, receive forgiveness, and make the affirmations of truth. In doing so, we are living by faith in the Son of God who loved us and gave himself for us. Amen.