Jesus Is Lord (Revelation 21:5-27)

“The Risen Lord” by Chinese artist He Qi, 2001

Then the one who sits on the throne said, “And now I make all things new!” He also said to me, “Write this, because these words are true and can be trusted.” And he said, “It is done! I am the first and the last, the beginning and the end. To anyone who is thirsty I will give the right to drink from the spring of the water of life without paying for it. Those who win the victory will receive this from me: I will be their God, and they will be my children. But cowards, traitors, perverts, murderers, the immoral, those who practice magic, those who worship idols, and all liars—the place for them is the lake burning with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”

One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came to me and said, “Come, and I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.” The Spirit took control of me, and the angel carried me to the top of a very high mountain. He showed me Jerusalem, the Holy City, coming down out of heaven from God and shining with the glory of God.

The city shone like a precious stone, like a jasper, clear as crystal. It had a great, high wall with twelve gates and with twelve angels in charge of the gates. On the gates were written the names of the twelve tribes of the people of Israel. There were three gates on each side: three on the east, three on the south, three on the north, and three on the west. 

The city’s wall was built on twelve foundation stones, on which were written the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. The angel who spoke to me had a gold measuring stick to measure the city, its gates, and its wall. The city was perfectly square, as wide as it was long. The angel measured the city with his measuring stick: it was fifteen hundred miles long and was as wide and as high as it was long. The angel also measured the wall, and it was 216 feet high, according to the standard unit of measure which he was using. The wall was made of jasper, and the city itself was made of pure gold, as clear as glass. 

The foundation stones of the city wall were adorned with all kinds of precious stones. The first foundation stone was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, the fifth onyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh yellow quartz, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chalcedony, the eleventh turquoise, the twelfth amethyst. The twelve gates were twelve pearls; each gate was made from a single pearl. The street of the city was of pure gold, transparent as glass.

I did not see a temple in the city, because its temple is the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb. The city has no need of the sun or the moon to shine on it, because the glory of God shines on it, and the Lamb is its lamp. The peoples of the world will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their wealth into it. 

The gates of the city will stand open all day; they will never be closed, because there will be no night there. The greatness and the wealth of the nations will be brought into the city. But nothing that is impure will enter the city, nor anyone who does shameful things or tells lies. Only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of the living will enter the city. (Good News Translation)

“The Risen Christ” by He Qi, 2004

So, I’m just going to put something out there and see if you resonate with it, or not:

Sometimes we long for Christ’s return, the end of time, and eternal bliss because we don’t want to deal with being our true selves right now in this present moment in time. We just want out of our current reality.

At times, we take ourselves so darned seriously that the true self never comes through to others. Yet, when I’m real, authentic, and genuine, I connect with others from the very core of my being, and not from some contrived self that I’ve put up for others to see.

I say all this because, if we want to see the New Jerusalem, the heavenly city, and experience the very presence of God and the Lamb, then it comes because you and me are being our real selves. Only the true, the brave, and the vulnerable shall have their names written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.

I think the reason why we have such a detailed description of the New Jerusalem is that this is a sure thing; it’s real, man. And only real authentic people can inhabit the city.

Please know that, even though we may want things to change from the way they are now, things will not always be this way. Life will not always consist of heartache, suffering, and tears. The world, as we now know it, will eventually pass away with its constant barrage of war, famine, hunger, sickness, misunderstanding, conflict, and pain. 

There is a coming a day when Jesus will return and make everything new. The vision of this next-to-last chapter of the Bible portrays a sovereign Lord who is in charge, and whose authority, in the end, shall be seen for what it truly is. 

Everything wrong will be made right; all that is crooked shall be made straight; and the endless struggle to do what is right and just will prevail once and for all.

Whenever we get caught in some seemingly endless cycle of addiction, or insecurity, or fear; whenever we find ourselves having to endure yet another day of undeserved backtalk; and whenever we see that perseverance has become our abiding companion; it is in those times – much like the original recipients of the Apostle John’s vision of the final apocalypse – that we are strengthened and encouraged with the truth that Jesus is Lord. 

Jesus Christ reigns as King over all creation; his rule will be revealed to all nations. In Christ’s benevolent kingdom, everyone who is thirsty for justice will receive from a life-giving fountain; and all who hunger for righteousness will be filled and satisfied.

Yet, until that time comes, we hold to our hope that Jesus shall return to judge the living and the dead. 

For righteous persons, this is truly good news. For the wicked, not so much. 

Only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life will be in the celestial city. 

So, today is the day to be a real, authentic, vulnerable Christian who puts on words and deeds that are appropriate for God’s kingdom.

Lord Jesus, you are making everything new. You are the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. All things hinge on your gracious rule in this world. Help me to so embrace your kingdom ethics that every word I say and each deed I do is consistent with your divine justice and mercy through the power of the Holy Spirit, to the glory of God. Amen.

Galatians 6:1-16 – Fulfill the Law of Christ

Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load. Nevertheless, the one who receives instruction in the word should share all good things with their instructor.

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand!

Those who want to impress people by means of the flesh are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ. Not even those who are circumcised keep the law, yet they want you to be circumcised that they may boast about your circumcision in the flesh. May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation. Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule—to the Israel of God. (New International Version)

It’s all about grace. God’s grace. Not rules. Not a list of principles to live by. Not judgment. Not punishment or penance. Grace – amazing, wonderful, scandalous grace.

The Law of Christ is to help each other in our troubles, no matter what.

Overwhelming physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual burdens can become even more heavy through failing to live up to someone’s or some group’s unwritten list of rules. “Keep a stiff upper lip.” “Everything is possible for those who love God.” “Stay positive.” “Just have faith and trust God.” Or someone’s silence…. These and hundred other phrases communicate to people with crushing spiritual and emotional loads that they will have to carry them alone.

The letter to the Galatian believers spells out what is to truly characterize Christian interactions, and what it means to walk in the Spirit. Believers in Jesus are to emulate the behavior of Christ, the ultimate burden-bearer, who came to restore sinners, not condemn them. We have a responsibility to rescue, renew, and revitalize persons who have lost their way. We are our brother’s and our sister’s keeper.

Someone caught in the crosshairs of a bad decision, or ensnared by making a wrong step, who is now in over their heads, needs help. In such a case, we are to restore, not punish. The person’s wound needs spiritual cauterizing. The broken spirit needs to be set back into place to heal properly.

The tone and the attitude which we do this important work of restoring people is through gentleness (meekness). We are to have a mindset and a heart stance which understands there is no moral superiority with me. I could easily be that person in need of restoration.

With a gentle spirit, we discern no one is above falling into the same trouble. We, too, are ethically and morally vulnerable. So, the church has a corporate responsibility to bear one another’s burdens.

There are other people who, through no fault of their own, find themselves in over their heads, too. Their physical struggles, mental health challenges, the emotional weight of hard circumstances, and their broken spirits require others to help shoulder the load so that the weighted-down person is not crushed.

Burden-bearing is the work of everyone and not a select few. You and I are to take responsibility for our own backpack of stuff – our own actions and attitudes. A mature spiritual community of people are able to distinguish those loads which individuals must bear for themselves, and those burdens where help is sorely needed. We are accountable to carry our own backpack. And we are also accountable before Christ to share our load with others when it becomes too heavy to carry.

If we choose not to allow others to assist us when we need it, then we will reap what we sow – we’ll feel the full weight and consequences of our silence. The planting and harvesting metaphor isn’t just for those who have engaged in wrongdoing. It is also for those who don’t put any seeds in the ground to begin with. They shouldn’t expect a harvest, at all.

Grace lived out in real experiences knows when to get under a load and help carry it. And grace also knows when to be kind to self and share the heavy burden with others who can help shoulder it for a bit. This is a Christianity which relies on the enablement of the Spirit, made possible by Christ, who carried our crushing weight of guilt and shame for us.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Jesus (Matthew 11:28-30, NIV)

Motives matter. The interior life of a person is important. Life is neither a mere getting things done nor doing what is needed on the exterior. A house may be beautiful and orderly on the outside, with careful landscaping, a manicured lawn, and attractive appearance – yet on the inside it might be disorderly, full of relational discord, and completely discombobulated.

The exterior life of a person is also important. But it’s only half the person. And, unlike God who sees the heart, we aren’t always privy to what’s going on inside someone. Folks who are enamored with outward displays of spirituality and righteousness tend to be compulsive about maintaining appearances – for both themselves, and everyone else.

Policing outward forms of righteousness through clear identifiable means is really nothing more than old fashioned judging of one another. It’s antithetical to grace. And it smacks of the snooty superiority of Star-Bellied Sneetches.

Rather than a star on the belly, in the Apostle Paul’s day it was circumcision. Those who had it were “in” and those without it were “out.” Never mind the interior life. A hard outward boundary of righteousness was established by false teachers who made the Christian life easy by simply holding to readily observable forms, like circumcision.

It wasn’t that circumcision was a bad thing. The issue was making it a necessary part of the Christian life. Not circumcised? Not a Christian, insisted the false teachers. In other words, one had to become Jewish before becoming a Christian. I can picture the Apostle Paul doing a  face palm, saying, “Oy vey.”

For the Christian, one must be vigilant not to exaggerate baptism. On the one hand, I would argue far too many believers underestimate the significance and importance of baptism. Flippantly making it a personal choice, as if the individual is in complete control of one’s own salvation, is not only wrongheaded – it’s downright blasphemous.

Yet, on the other hand, a preoccupation with getting a person, especially a child, baptized, as if the world might end if it doesn’t happen, betrays the same problem as Paul faced with circumcision in the first century.

The proper approach, it seems to me, is to embrace the full spectrum of Christianity – both outward and inward – the whole person. And Paul addresses this by anticipating a question of the Galatian congregation: What, then, is of central importance?

The answer is: a new creation. To be transformed by the power of the Spirit is what really counts. The grace of God in Christ, applied to a person, brings a change to inner motives and attitudes, as well as outer behavior through loving actions.

We must always keep in mind that the sign points to the substance. It would be weird if I were traveling to Milwaukee on I-94 and pulled over on the interstate next to the sign marking the city is ahead, crawl all over it, and say, “I’m here!”

The overall thrust of Paul’s letter to the Galatians is that they were debasing the true worship of God into an outward show, honoring Christ with their lips but not holding him in their hearts through carrying one another’s burdens.

Christianity is fundamentally not about what we do for God but what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. It is divine grace which saves people. We belong to God. Just as we neither chose our own parents nor the time when we were born, so also, before we chose God, God chose us. We don’t “born again” ourselves; God does the rebirthing.

Since salvation is solely the work of God in us, there is zero reason to boast about the circumstances of our new birth and becoming a new creation in Christ. We didn’t save ourselves. It would be like getting a COVID-19 vaccine and then bragging about how we personally stopped the pandemic.

Instead, we are to bear the spiritual marks of Christ’s crucifixion on our inner selves. No one is saved because they deserve it but simply because they need saving. That’s what grace truly is – and that’s how we are to live toward one another.

Merciful God, you are our Burden-Bearer. Awaken our hearts to remember your love. Open our eyes to see your grace. Stir up hope in those who are overwhelmed with sorrow and fear. Teach them to place their burdens at your feet as an offering — a sacrifice well-pleasing to you. Teach us all to allow others to help us in our time of need, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit are one God, now and forever. Amen.

2 Kings 4:32-37 – But That Is Not the End of the Story

Elisha and the Shunammite woman by Dutch painter Gerbrand van den Eeckhout (1621-1674)

Elisha entered the house and found the boy stretched out on the bed dead. He went into the room and locked the door—just the two of them in the room—and prayed to God. He then got into bed with the boy and covered him with his body, mouth on mouth, eyes on eyes, hands on hands. As he was stretched out over him like that, the boy’s body became warm. Elisha got up and paced back and forth in the room. Then he went back and stretched himself upon the boy again. The boy started sneezing—seven times he sneezed!—and opened his eyes.

He called Gehazi and said, “Get the Shunammite woman in here!” He called her and she came in.

Elisha said, “Embrace your son!”

She fell at Elisha’s feet, face to the ground in reverent awe. Then she embraced her son and went out with him. (The Message)

Life sometimes feels like a roller coaster. Our emotions go up and down alongside the circumstances which bring them forth.

Elisha was one of the all-time great prophets in ancient Israel. He developed an ongoing friendship with a woman from the town of Shunem. It was her simple hospitality to a stranger that brought about the enduring relationship.

Whenever Elisha passed through on his prophetic business, he would stop in and have a meal or spend the night in a special room set aside just for him.

But that is not the end of the story….

The woman was about to have a big change of life, a life she could not have ever seen coming and only dreamed of.

The Shunammite woman had no children and was not able to conceive. Yet, on one of his visits, Elisha promised her she would hold her very own infant child… which she eventually did. A year after Elisha’s pronouncement, the woman and her husband had a son.

The woman went from discouraged to elated. The child grew. The Shunammite and her family were content and living well.

But that is not the end of the story….

In today’s Old Testament lesson, we pick up the narrative as the child is a small boy, the family happy and healthy… until they weren’t.

One day the boy was playing, as he did every day. Whatever happened, he developed such a terrible headache that his dear mother rocked him for hours, trying to comfort him. The worst case scenario happened. The boy died.

The woman went from joy to despair in a matter of hours.

But that is not the end of the story….

The grieving mother refused to let death have the last word on her son. She saddled her donkey and went directly to Elisha. The Shunammite lamented to him about her son, and in her grief, cried out how Elisha had gotten her hopes up, only to be dashed by that dark enemy of death.

The prophet responded to the woman’s plea and set off  post haste to her home, which had now become a sort of funeral parlor. Elisha went into the room by himself with the dead boy. In an odd process similar to what Jesus would do centuries later, Elisha did some physical actions in bringing about a miraculous resurrection.

The boy sneezed, got up, and was given back to his mother. Her lowest of the low grinding sadness of distress and despair now turned to the highest of the high elation of joy and gratitude.

But that is not the end of the story….

The story continues because the larger overarching story of God’s gracious intervention into this world to bring about the redemption of all creation.

Along the way, across the millennia, the Lord continues to use faithful people to bring about renewal, restoration, and redemption. In the Christian tradition, the apex of this merciful work is fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ.

God himself was pleased
    to live fully in his Son.
And God was pleased
    for him to make peace
by sacrificing his blood
    on the cross,
so that all beings in heaven
    and on earth
would be brought back to God. (Colossians 1:19-20, CEV)

The resurrection of the boy, and all risings from death before Jesus, prefigured and foretold the ultimate resurrection of Christ. And because Christ is risen, we too, shall rise from death – both spiritually and bodily.

Therefore, we have been buried with him through baptism into death, in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too may live a new life. For if we have become united with him in the likeness of his death, we will certainly also be united in the likeness of his resurrection. (Romans 6:4-5, NET)

The end of the grand narrative story is moving to a climax. Jesus is coming again to judge the living and the dead. All things shall be restored. All will be made right. We may sorrow in the night, but joy comes in the morning.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,

“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them and be their God;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”

And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also, he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life. (Revelation 21:1-6, NRSV)

Our past grief and our present troubles will give way to a future hope – an ending to the story we can barely imagine, a glorious existence with our God which will have no end.

May the Lord come soon.

I pray the Lord Jesus will be kind to you.

May faith, hope, and love surround everyone who belongs to Christ Jesus. Amen.

Making Everything New

Welcome, friends! Revelation 21:1-6 brings us encouragement that the present world with its systemic evil will eventually be completely done away with. In its place, there shall be no more tears or crying, for the old order will pass away. Click the videos below and let us be reassured of God’s abiding presence with us…

Pastor Tim Ehrhardt, Revelation 21:1-6

May you know and experience the favor of God in your life.

May you be steadfast, patient, and immovable in faith.

May all things turn around and work for your good.

May your tears transform into joy and laughter.

May the Lord give your heart’s desires and grant you peace. Amen.