Revelation 4:1-11 – In Another Dimension

Hallgrímskirkja in Reykjavík, Iceland

After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and ruby. A rainbow that shone like an emerald encircled the throne. Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones and seated on them were twenty-four elders. They were dressed in white and had crowns of gold on their heads.From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder. In front of the throne, seven lamps were blazing. These are the seven spirits of God. Also, in front of the throne there was what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal.

In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes, in front and in back. The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle. Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under its wings. Day and night they never stop saying:

“‘Holy, holy, holy

is the Lord God Almighty,’

who was, and is, and is to come.”

Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say:

“You are worthy, our Lord and God,
    to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
    and by your will they were created
    and have their being.” (New International Version)

Whenever we open the door to God’s gracious invitation to commune with us, we gain an incredible glimpse of heavenly realities.

The Apostle John’s vision is so otherworldly that all he can do is try and describe what we saw with the limitations of language, metaphor, and simile.

Let’s acknowledge up front that, when it comes to the biblical book of Revelation, there are plenty of folk who want to understand it all. I believe this to be a fool’s errand, not because we ought not to try and make sense of things, but because far too many people try and conquer the text of Holy Scripture rather than letting Scripture capture them.

In our anxiety about the future, we would like some certitude, some semblance of knowing and understanding what will occur so that it will ease our icky feelings of not being in control. Newsflash: You and I aren’t in control of anything but ourselves. Ultimate control belongs only to God, not us. Our role is self-control.

So, before we start making complicated prophecy charts and trying to predict future events with precise certainty, let’s take a step back and see that worship is always the appropriate response to any vision of God – not conquering the Bible and colonizing other people’s minds with our supposed apocalyptic insights.

Okay, now that that’s out of the way, and the soapbox is back in the closet, let’s simply appreciate this incredible scene before us of God’s heavenly throne room in today’s New Testament lesson.

Since God is an awesome God, I imagine that John was downright slack-jawed with awe over the bedazzling vision before him. It is a vision befitting a God of great majesty and power. The scene of worship which unfolded before John’s eyes is continual – praise and adoration of God has been going on, is going on, and will keep going on forever and ever.

To a church beat down by the world, John’s vision is meant to encourage and inspire the suffering believers toward persevering in faith. Hardship is but for a season; worship, however, is for all time.

The four living creatures worshiping God reflect the nature and character of God: the lion (majesty); the ox (strength and power); the man (intelligence); and the eagle (transcendent over creation). All of them, covered with eyes, front and back, testify to the sovereignty and omniscience of God, who sees and knows all things – nothing is hidden from God’s sight.

The twenty-four elders, likely signifying the twelve patriarchs of the Old Testament and the twelve apostles of the New Testament, together represent the one new people of God without walls or barriers to unity, fellowship, harmony, and peace. They all rightly honor God by giving back their own authority, given to them from the Lord to accomplish divine purposes on the earth.

We, as the people of God today, are meant to be encouraged and uplifted by the reality that God is forever the same – powerful, loving, good, honorable, and holy – and will be so permanently for all time and beyond time.

The Lord does not exist merely in three dimensional space, as we humans do. God is truly multi-dimensional and reigns supreme over each and every one of those dimensions – however many there truly are.

I suspect the Apostle John was privileged to step into another dimension so that he could return to our three-dimensional world with the good news that God is still and forever on the throne. God’s good purposes shall be accomplished, no matter how tough things get here.

Now is temporary; then is eternal. Let us, then, embrace that which is permanent and unchanging, even Christ our Lord, who shall return to judge the living and the dead, and consummate a benevolent kingdom which will last forever.

May you be so privileged to have the dimensions unveiled, for even a few minutes, and know the eternal love and grace of God for humanity. Amen.

Revelation 1:4-8 – The One Who Is, Who Was, and Who Is To Come

John,

To the seven churches in the province of Asia:

Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.

“Look, he is coming with the clouds,”
    and “every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him”;
    and all peoples on earth “will mourn because of him.”
So shall it be! Amen.

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” (New International Version)

In my undergraduate college days, one of the required classes for my major was “Philosophy of History” taught by a crusty old professor who looked like he was one-hundred-and-ten-years-old. One day he came into the classroom and began his lecture by looking directly at me with those beady black eyes of his and said, as only he could say it, “Ehrhardt! Can God change history?”

The Apostle John was exiled to the island of Patmos. Late in the first century, all the other original disciples of Jesus were dead, having been martyred for their faith. Only John was left. The churches that the Apostle Paul established in Asia Minor were undergoing significant persecution. 

The trouble began with the church facing social ostracizing. Eventually, xenophobia took hold with many parts of the Roman Empire, and Christians began getting martyred. Misunderstandings of what the church is all about were rife.

If we were living during that time, we might seriously wonder if Christianity would survive, at all. Into this situation, the last Apostle, John, in exile, experienced a great vision (revelation) of Jesus concerning what is to come. While things looked awfully bleak, God graciously pulled back the veil between heaven and earth long enough for John to glimpse the great lordship of Jesus.

So, can God change history? You might be wondering about my response to the old professor. My answer was this: The question is only relevant if God were never in control and sovereign over history to begin with. There’s no need to change history if God is already actively working out divine purposes through history. Therefore, a more appropriate question is: Since God is Lord over all history, will we submit to the divine lordship? 

In difficult times, it’s only human to wonder if God is really sovereign over all the earth. With so much war, violence, and unrest in the world; with so many natural disasters and diseases all around; and whenever Christianity (and religion itself) is seen as a threat to many, we may sincerely ask ourselves, “Can God change history? Is God even in control of this present world?”

The revelation of Jesus to John, which he then shared with the struggling churches, was meant to encourage them – to give them hope that, even though Christ’s reign is invisible and seems limited and temporary, it will ultimately be visible, and is pervasive and permanent. 

Today’s New Testament lesson is meant to strengthen and bolster the believer’s faith with a vision of who Jesus is; what Jesus has done; and what Jesus will do.

Who Jesus Is

He is the faithful witness. The word “witness” is where we get our English word “martyr.” Faithful believers in the first centuries of the church witnessed to their faith and proclaimed the gospel of new life in Christ. They were effective enough to alter the social order, which brought persecution and, in some cases, death. 

These men and women died proclaiming their devotion to Jesus. They saw themselves as merely emulating and following the way of their sovereign Lord Jesus, who was himself a faithful martyr.

Jesus is the firstborn from the dead, that is, Christ has conquered death. Just as Christ rose from death, so also, we will be raised to life. Because Jesus is alive, Christians will live forever and experience bodily resurrection, as well.

Whatever happens to Jesus, happens to us. Jesus was persecuted, suffered, and died. We, too, shall suffer persecution and death. Jesus was raised from the dead and so shall we. The evil we experience in this life is very much known to God. Our solidarity with Jesus helps us to not grow weary and lose heart.

Jesus is the ruler, the king of kings and lord of lords. God reigns over the past, the present, and the future. Christ is in charge, presently now working out good plans and purposes. God bends events, situations, and hearts toward justice and righteousness. 

What Jesus Has Done

Jesus freed us from the power of sin by his blood. This is more than some nice information to know; it is truth designed for us to live a new life depending on King Jesus. Sometimes, we have horrible, no good, very bad days. We don’t respond to others well,  and then ask God’s forgiveness. Other days are wonderful, with bright sunshine and a spring in your step. We play well with others and express gratitude to God.

Jesus is Lord of both good days and bad days. Faith is not dependent upon our circumstances because it is the blood of Jesus which has freed us to live for God, no matter the situations we face. Christians overcome circumstances by the blood of Christ – and not because everything goes our way.  

We are never far from the cross of Christ. We overcome bad tempers, defeats, disordered love, fears, pettiness, and a host of other things by the blood of the Lamb. The daily goal is to not simply have a wonderful day without any adversity. Rather, the aim is to know Jesus Christ, and him crucified, dead, risen and ascended. 

Jesus has made us to be a kingdom of priests. Christians have continual access and unconditional acceptance of God through the blood of Jesus. We can intercede for others by going directly to God. Just as Jesus has unlimited access to the Father, so, the Christian has the privilege of coming to God at all times. 

Christians are a kingdom of priests where every believer intercedes for other believers, and even for the world which persecutes them. Jesus not only freed us from sin’s grip of evil for our own individual benefit, but also so that we can be agents of rescue for others. 

What Jesus Will Do

Jesus will come to judge the earth, the living and the dead. Moving deeper into Revelation, it truly becomes apocalyptic. It’s as if a group of trapped cave explorers choose one of the individuals to squeeze through a narrow flooded passage to get out to the surface and call for help. The point of the choice is more than personal salvation, it is the saving of the entire group. She is to bring help and equipment to ensure the rest get rescued.

Indeed, God elects, chooses, and calls us not only for our personal benefit but for the sake of many.

Conclusion

Jesus is worthy of our praise. He is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last. His kingdom will never end. Since this is true, we are to faithfully serve God. In life and in death, we belong to God. We are not our own; we were bought at a price. 

“Can God change history?” is not the real question. Since God has changed history forever in the sending of the Son, the proper question is, “What will we do with the lordship of Christ over the world?”

Jesus is coming soon. When he returns, what will he find you doing?

Gracious God, we pray for Christ’s Church everywhere. Fill it with all truth and peace. Where it is corrupt, purify it; where it is in error, direct it; where anything it is amiss, reform it. Where it is right, strengthen it; where it is in want, provide for it; where it is divided, reunite it; for the sake of Jesus Christ, your Son, our Savior. Amen.

Isaiah 43:8-15 – The Supremacy of God Matters

Bring out the people who have eyes but are blind,
    who have ears but are deaf.
Gather the nations together!
    Assemble the peoples of the world!
Which of their idols has ever foretold such things?
    Which can predict what will happen tomorrow?
Where are the witnesses of such predictions?
    Who can verify that they spoke the truth?

“But you are my witnesses, O Israel!” says the Lord.
    “You are my servant.
You have been chosen to know me, believe in me,
    and understand that I alone am God.
There is no other God—
    there never has been, and there never will be.
I, yes I, am the Lord,
    and there is no other Savior.
First I predicted your rescue,
    then I saved you and proclaimed it to the world.
No foreign god has ever done this.
    You are witnesses that I am the only God,”
    says the Lord.
“From eternity to eternity I am God.
    No one can snatch anyone out of my hand.
    No one can undo what I have done.”

This is what the Lord says—your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel:

“For your sakes I will send an army against Babylon,
    forcing the Babylonians to flee in those ships they are so proud of.
I am the Lord, your Holy One,
    Israel’s Creator and King. (New Living Translation)

I am an ordained Minister in a smallish denomination, the Reformed Church in America. This particular Christian tradition has its roots in the magisterial reformer, John Calvin (1509-1564). Calvin placed a strong emphasis on the sovereignty of God. In other words, all things hinge on God as the supreme Being of the universe. As Creator of all things, God’s actions and inactions are in no way dependent upon us creatures.

I believe in God’s unconditional election of persons to salvation and new life. Maybe that means nothing to you, and to others it means everything. For many folks, it’s just some churchy mumbo-jumbo which is rather irrelevant to the real stuff of the Christian life. 

I do not agree. It seems to me to be quite important. The heart of Reformation faith is a focus on God’s sovereignty, majesty, power, and grace. It is God who justifies, and not any human. That means there are no conditions to which God is beholden to act. That is, God works in the world according to divine free will and is not reliant upon anyone or anything to accomplish good purposes and fulfill good promises.

“We should therefore learn that the only good we have is what the Lord has given us gratuitously; that the only good we do is what He does in us; that it is not that we do nothing ourselves, but that we act only when we have been acted upon, in other words under the direction and influence of the Holy Spirit.”

John Calvin

Today’s Old Testament lesson is a soaring view of God’s grace and powerful control. Throughout all eternity God is God. There is none who can thwart the Lord’s plans. God acts freely and mercifully and nothing can cancel out those actions. Nothing can separate us from the love of God. We might jump from finger to finger in our puny attempts at autonomy, but we are not getting out of God’s hand! 

For me, this is a balm and a comfort to my soul. Not everything is up to me, as if my action or inaction has cosmic repercussions. As a guy who easily tends toward carrying the world on his shoulders, it is good for me to know that the earth spinning on it’s axis isn’t my job.

It seems to me, the assurance of God’s sovereignty in the world really ought to be a comfort to every believer. God’s decrees will be fulfilled, and there is not one thing any wicked person can do to subvert divine initiatives.

Furthermore, there is absolutely no way we can screw-up God’s purposes. We simply do not have such power. Our great task as believers is to rest secure in God’s will and to therefore place our trust in the One who knows exactly what he is doing in the world.

So, take a few minutes, draw in a few deep breaths, and think on the wonderful truth that God is sovereign. To help you, here is the great opening to the Reformed confession, The Heidelberg Catechism, giving us a glimpse into the majesty of God:

Q: What is your only comfort in life and in death?

A: That I am not my own,

but belong with body and soul,

both in life and in death,

to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.

He has fully paid for all my sins

with his precious blood,

and has set me free

from all the power of the devil.

He also preserves me in such a way

that without the will of my heavenly Father

not a hair can fall from my head;

indeed, all things must work together

for my salvation.

Therefore, by his Holy Spirit

he also assures me

of eternal life

and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready

from now on to live for him. Amen.

Deuteronomy 9:1-5 – A Reality Check

Jordan River by Ilan Szekely, 1944

Listen, Israel! Today you will cross the Jordan River to enter and take possession of nations larger and more powerful than you, along with huge cities with fortifications that reach to the sky. These people are large and tall—they are the Anakim. You know and have heard what people say: “Who can stand up to the Anakim?” Know right now that the Lord your God, who is crossing over before you, is an all-consuming fire! He will wipe them out! He will subdue them before you! Then you will take possession of their land, eliminating them quickly, exactly as the Lord told you.

Once the Lord your God has driven them out before you, don’t think to yourself, It’s because I’m righteous that the Lord brought me in to possess this land. It is instead because of these nations’ wickedness that the Lord is removing them before you. You aren’t entering and taking possession of their land because you are righteous or because your heart is especially virtuous; rather, it is because these nations are wicked—that’s why the Lord your God is removing them before you, and because he wishes to establish the promise he made to your ancestors: to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. (Common English Bible)

When my kids were small, I dealt with the issue of sharing, as every parent has to do. Once, two of my girls were fighting over a doll. As I entered the room, one of them quickly said, “She has my doll!” So, I sat her down with me and calmly asked, “Whose doll is it?” “It’s mine!” my daughter cried.

I asked again, “Whose doll is it?” Again, the answer came, “It’s my doll!” I asked yet a third time, “Whose doll is it?” Because this was not our first rodeo together about fighting over dolls and toys, my daughter bowed her head, gave a big sigh, and quietly said, “It’s God’s doll.”

“Yes, it’s God’s doll,” I said. “God is just letting you borrow it for a while and expects you to take good care of it and share his stuff with others.”

Kids often need a reality check of where things come from and who really owns it all. Many times, adults need the very same reality check.

We big people grow up and tend to think we are bigger than we really are. Over the years, we gain misguided notions of our possessions and accomplishments. We believe we did it all through our own skills and character.

Maybe you recognize some of these common notions about our life, work, and ministry:

  • “I worked a long time for my money. I’m not giving it to so-and-so.”
  • My church has a lot of people because we preach the Bible, not like other churches.”
  • “The government takes too much of my hard earned money.”
  • “Here, you can have this couch. I was going to throw it away, anyway. My couch is a nice new one.”
  • “I made a lot of sacrifices for my job. I’m not letting anyone steal my position from me.”
  • “I raised my kids and they’re all doing very well in life. They wouldn’t have made it without me.”
  • “Hey, that’s my yard. Your dog can’t be on it.”
  • “This is my time.”
  • “It’s my car. Don’t touch it.”
  • My way or the highway.”

Those are actual statements Christians have said to me over the years. In their extreme individualism, they believed they were the masters of their own goodness and achievements. In other words, they gave themselves more credit than they really deserved.

A person is proud and selfish not for pursuing their own good but for neglecting their neighbor’s.

It’s far too easy to chalk-up our positions, titles, degrees, jobs, and the good things which come with them as of our own doing. We then believe we are the true owners of all our stuff. Some can even take the next step of believing that if others would just do what I do and think the way I think, then all would be well in the world.

That’s pretty much how Lucifer thought about things. And even after getting cast from heaven, he still exists with the delusion that he didn’t deserve it, as if he were above ever getting treated any other way than like God does.

The reality, however, is that everything and everyone belongs to God. The Lord is the rightful ruler of the universe, and we are not. Every good and perfect thing we have in this life is a gift from a gracious heavenly Father.

Stupidity doesn’t come from a lack of brains or smarts; it’s a result of pride taking over one’s thinking.

Indifference doesn’t have its source in a lack of caring; it comes from believing certain people don’t deserve to have my attention, my stuff, or my time.

Arrogance isn’t an inbred personality trait; it’s the logical end of the successful person’s life who is convinced that everyone ought to adopt their particular set of societal mores, cultural values, political views, and personal disciplines.

Conversely, a person in humble circumstances with little to their name is not necessarily lazy or unwilling to work. And when they have giants in their lives, they can trust the God who specializes in taking down the stupid, the indifferent, and the arrogant.

All things are a gift from the Lord, even the difficult people and hard circumstances we face. They are really opportunities for God to show up and give us precisely what we need.

Everything is a trust from God that we are to steward well, whether it is people, things, or money. They are given to us, not because of any superior spirituality on our part or righteous ingenuity, but because God simply gives it. We have what we have because of God, period.

The appropriate way of stewarding our resources, as well as expressing thanks to God, is through sharing our stuff, our money, our time, and our love with others.

Whose life is it?

We do not presume to come to your Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in your abundant and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under your table; but you are the same Lord whose character is always to have mercy. Grant us, therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat and drink that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body, and our souls washed through his most precious blood, and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen.