Revelation 19:1-8 – The Time Is Coming

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After this I heard what sounded like the roar of a large crowd of people in heaven, saying, “Praise God! Salvation, glory, and power belong to our God! True and just are his judgments! He has condemned the prostitute who was corrupting the earth with her immorality. God has punished her because she killed his servants.” Again, they shouted, “Praise God! The smoke from the flames that consume the great city goes up forever and ever!” The twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God, who was seated on the throne. They said, “Amen! Praise God!”

Then there came from the throne the sound of a voice, saying, “Praise our God, all his servants and all people, both great and small, who have reverence for him!” Then I heard what sounded like a crowd, like the sound of a roaring waterfall, like loud peals of thunder. I heard them say, “Praise God! For the Lord, our Almighty God, is King! Let us rejoice and be glad; let us praise his greatness! For the time has come for the wedding of the Lamb, and his bride has prepared herself for it. She has been given clean shining linen to wear.” (The linen is the good deeds of God’s people.) (Good News Translation)

The past few years, it seems as if the world is upside-down. For many people, living on this earth has become something of a surreal experience of folks dying apart from loved ones, racism rearing its ugly head through microaggressions, as well as overt words and actions, and neighbors killed due to gun violence. The suffering is palpable.

However, things will not always be this way. There is coming a time when disease, death, and poverty will end. In the age to come there will be no more numbing grief, seemingly endless tears, constant oppression, grinding hardship, and silent suffering.

The day will arrive when, together with all saints past and present, and along with the angelic host, we will collectively shout, “Hallelujah!” The end of this present age will eventually come.

Time is nothing more than the relationship between events. When all events are ended, there will be no more time – only unending eternity in the presence of God. For the Christian, this is our hope and ultimate salvation. Our deliverance from sin, death, and hell will be complete.

So, we wait and watch, preparing ourselves for the consummation of God’s kingdom. Meanwhile, we are truly in an awkward time between the two advents of Christ. It is the already/not yet time. We are already saved, yet not fully; we are holy, yet not completely; we have our adoption papers as children of God, yet still wait for our celebration feast with Christ.

There are few times more impatient, agonizing, joyful, and hopeful than a marriage engagement. It’s as if two people are inextricably connected but not yet completely together.

I still remember the weird feeling of the six months between my engagement to my heart’s love and standing at the altar marrying my bride. Those months included every emotion imaginable, from exuberant happiness to agonizing waiting, along with hopeful anticipation and sheer nervousness.

It was a time, for me, of unique joy and unwanted suffering. Since I was separated by two-thousand miles from my beloved for most of our engagement, it was an unparalleled longing for the marriage to occur.

That is likely how believers have felt throughout the ages as they look forward to the second coming of Christ. In a period of hardship and even persecution, Christians long for their Savior – to be with Jesus forever and be shed of the world’s crud, the sinful nature, and the machinations of the devil.

In this present age, we have received the Holy Spirit as a sort of engagement ring, a constant sign and presence to help us until the marriage happens with Christ as groom and the Church as bride. Since we have not yet experienced this, it is difficult for us to anticipate just how incredible and inconceivable the coming age will be.

Yet, the Christian intuitively knows, by means of the Spirit, that the upcoming marriage supper will be a heavenly paradise – and so we long for it, especially in these days of uncertainty and difficulty.

Presently, the great harlot attempts to seduce the believers, if that were possible, away from Christ. However, along with all God’s holy angels, we will join in the heavenly chorus which continually sings, “Praise God!” to Father, Son, and Spirit.

The book of Revelation describes the end of history for the purpose of encouraging the saints of God in the present moment of hardship. God will, once and for all, destroy evil, and faithful believers will be united with Christ forever in glory.

So, as we plod through the Christian season of Lent, we do so with the anticipation and hope of Easter and new life. Because Jesus is risen from death, we gaze into the future longing for our own resurrection. Presently, we hold both suffering and glory together, the past and the future.

For it is the past redemptive deeds of Christ which guide us in the present and gives shape to our future. Christ shall return – and it will be soon.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus. Amen.

2 Samuel 7:18-29 – A Model Prayer

King David by Marc Chagall, 1962

Then King David went in and sat before the Lord, and he said:

“Who am I, Sovereign Lord, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far? And as if this were not enough in your sight, Sovereign Lord, you have also spoken about the future of the house of your servant—and this decree, Sovereign Lord, is for a mere human!

“What more can David say to you? For you know your servant, Sovereign Lord. For the sake of your word and according to your will, you have done this great thing and made it known to your servant.

“How great you are, Sovereign Lord! There is no one like you, and there is no God but you, as we have heard with our own ears. And who is like your people Israel—the one nation on earth that God went out to redeem as a people for himself, and to make a name for himself, and to perform great and awesome wonders by driving out nations and their gods from before your people, whom you redeemed from Egypt? You have established your people Israel as your very own forever, and you, Lord, have become their God.

“And now, Lord God, keep forever the promise you have made concerning your servant and his house. Do as you promised, so that your name will be great forever. Then people will say, ‘The Lord Almighty is God over Israel!’ And the house of your servant David will be established in your sight.

“Lord Almighty, God of Israel, you have revealed this to your servant, saying, ‘I will build a house for you.’ So, your servant has found courage to pray this prayer to you. Sovereign Lord, you are God! Your covenant is trustworthy, and you have promised these good things to your servant. Now be pleased to bless the house of your servant, that it may continue forever in your sight; for you, Sovereign Lord, have spoken, and with your blessing the house of your servant will be blessed forever.” (New International Version)

“The whole reason why we pray is to be united into the vision and contemplation of God to whom we pray.”

Julian of Norwich (1343-1416)

Perhaps you wish you had a better prayer life. To pray, as with most things in life, requires both motivation and how to do it. So, it’s appropriate to find answers about prayer by observing the biblical models of prayer contained in Holy Scripture.

Today’s Old Testament lesson is King David’s prayer in response to God’s revelation to him about fulfilling covenant promises. Looking at David’s prayer, there is a three-fold division which models for us a good way to approach God.

The Present: Gratitude for God’s Grace

David began his prayer with an attitude, posture, and words of humility, recognizing and affirming the relationship between himself and God. Although David is the king over all Israel and Judah, he repeatedly refers to himself as a servant (10 times).

God didn’t have to communicate anything to David about the future. Yet, the Lord graciously made known that it would be through David’s descendants that all of God’s good promises will be fulfilled. And David is overwhelmed with such gracious words. It comes tumbling out of him in a heartfelt prayer of gratitude and thanksgiving.

It is good for us to think about the spiritual blessings we have received from God. Not only can prayers of thanksgiving be uttered at any time to the Lord, but we can also write our gratitude in a journal as a prayer offering to God.

It’s also good to be specific about the circumstances and the praises. In the future, whenever there are discouraging situations, we can look back to what we wrote and remember the ways in which God showed up and encouraged us with very great and precious promises.

The Past: Praise for God’s Actions

David affirms there is no one and no god which can compare to Yahweh, the great I Am. It is the Lord God almighty who displayed divine power and presence in redeeming the Israelites out of Egyptian slavery and into the Promised Land.

Any greatness which arises from humans is the direct result of God’s greatness. Apart from God, there is no distinctive way of living. God’s presence makes all the difference:

Then Moses said to him [Yahweh], “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?” (Exodus 33:15-16, NIV)

The Lord specializes in bending hopeless situations to divine purposes, transforming people to new life, and turning systemic evil on its head so that the humble, meek, and penitent will be first, not last.

The Future: Prayer for God to Fulfill Divine Promises

King David already knew God’s promises to the Israelites. Now, however, David understands how he personally fits into the Lord’s plan.

Courage arises whenever God’s people know God’s promises and then discern how to fit into God’s plan. Confident assurance and settled peace cannot simply be ginned-up through positive thinking; bold faith needs a foundation of truth – a rock solid base which cannot be moved and is always there.

King David found his ultimate motivation in life in God’s revelation. His basis of prayer was God’s Word. Biblical prayers, like David’s, are there for us to model our own prayers.

Accept, O Lord, our thanks and praise for all that you have done for us. We thank you for the splendor of the whole creation, for the beauty of this world, for the wonder of life, and for the mystery of love. We thank you for the blessing of family and friends, and for the loving care which surrounds us on every side. We thank you for setting us at tasks that demand our best efforts, and for leading us to accomplishments that satisfy and delight us. We thank you also for those disappointments and failures that lead us to acknowledge our dependence on you alone.

Above all, we thank you for your Son Jesus Christ; for the truth of his Word and the example of his life; for his steadfast obedience, by which he overcame temptation; for his dying, through which he conquered death; and for his rising to life again, in which we are raised to the life of your kingdom. Grant us the gift of your Spirit, that we may know Christ and make him known; and through him, at all times and in all places, may give thanks to you in all things. Amen.

Hebrews 11:4-7 – Let the Future Shape Your Present

By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead.

By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death: “He could not be found, because God had taken him away.” For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please God because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that is in keeping with faith. (New International Version)

Faith is important. It’s part of us. We are all people of faith – maybe not sharing the same faith – but it is faith, none-the-less.

Belief transcends time. Faith is rooted in the past, experienced in the present, and future-oriented. In Christianity, faith is historically moored to the redemptive events of Christ’s incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and ascension. This historic faith has continuing ramifications into the present time. And it is a faith which believes Christ is coming again to judge the living and the dead.

All of this means our salvation encompasses past, present, and future. So, it is appropriate and accurate to say the Christian has been saved, is being saved, and will be saved. Deliverance from sin, death, and hell was achieved on the cross. We are presently in the process of being delivered from our sinful nature and the effects of a fallen world. And we will be completely delivered at the end of the age when there will be no more disease, death, or grief-stricken crying.

The New Testament brings out all these dimensions of time. Whereas the Apostle Paul tended to continually look back to the past of God’s action in history, the author of Hebrews consistently looks ahead and brings out the future orientation of our faith.

And that is what the great Hall of Faith in chapter eleven of Hebrews is about – giving repeated examples of individuals who transcended their present hard circumstances through realizing what will be eventually coming. All of them acted particular ways in the present time because of what they believed would happen in the future. In other words, people of faith allow their belief in what is coming to shape how they live now in daily life.

Abel took the absolute best of his flock and made it an offering, with the intent of giving God an appropriate gift. Whereas his brother Cain cobbled together some of the leftovers from his vegetable harvest and gave them a nonchalant toss to God. Then, he got upset when God looked with disfavor on it.

Abel’s actions demonstrated the attitude of his heart. His belief and his practice worked together. And the gift he gave to God cost him his life, as Cain was inflamed with anger and killed his brother. Only by looking ahead and seeing that God’s reward is better than anything this world can offer, can we endure hardship.

Enoch focused on pleasing God through his three-hundred year life, knowing he would then enjoy an eternity with the Lord who provides good rewards. Enoch displayed his faith through obedience to God. He believed God existed and that God is good.

Noah, despite the jeering of his neighbors, took one-hundred years of his life to build a big ark, believing without a doubt that God’s judgment was coming. The daily grind of constructing an ark for such a long time was made possible because Noah was looking ahead. His present actions were shaped by his forward thinking faith.

In each individual’s life, their daily actions were a result of their unshakable belief in what was to come.

Faith enables us to persevere patiently through any kind of adversity. Knowing we have a better reward ahead; realizing our present trouble will not last forever; and believing Christ will eventually make all things right in this world which has so much wrong – forms the foundation of our faith in such a way as to buoy us so that we do not drown in a sea of injustice, microaggressions, unhealthy power dynamics, as well as plain old meanness and insensitivity from others.

So, when we face those times which tempt us to get lost or stuck in an ever-enclosing existential angst, take a pause, back up the truck, and see a more expansive big picture view of yourself, your situation, and others. You’ll be glad you did.

Christ be with me, Christ within me,

Christ behind me, Christ before me,

Christ beside me, Christ to win me,

Christ to comfort and restore me.

Christ beneath me, Christ above me,

Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,

Christ in hearts of all that love me,

Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

Amen.

-Prayer of St. Patrick

Hebrews 3:1-6 – Jesus Is Better

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Therefore, brothers and sisters who are partners in the heavenly calling, think about Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession. Jesus was faithful to the one who appointed him just like Moses was faithful in God’s house. But he deserves greater glory than Moses in the same way that the builder of the house deserves more honor than the house itself. Every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything. Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant to affirm the things that would be spoken later. But Jesus was faithful over God’s house as a Son. We are his house if we hold on to the confidence and the pride that our hope gives us. (CEB)

It’s hard to be patient. Perseverance can be difficult. If the Christian life were a piece of cake or bowl of cherries, then there would be no need for the strengthening of faith and the development of spiritual perseverance. But the Christian life is not those things. Every good thing in life typically requires a great deal of blood, sweat, and tears.

So, when it comes to Christianity, the believer’s faith muscles need vigorous work to grow, strengthen, and support the believer for a lifetime of service. If the muscles of faith go unused, they atrophy. Faith requires exercise. Christian belief must be tried in the fire with the struggle of adversity to grow and mature.

The reason the author of Hebrews wrote his letter to Jewish Christians is because they were losing their grip and faltering in their faith. The hard circumstances of those Christians were leading them to entertain the notion of returning to old ways of life, apart from Christ. 

It can be tempting to think of the past as “the good old days.” But if you think about it for any length of time, you know better. Because of struggles in the present, our minds can easily turn to filter out all the crud from the past to make it look like things were better back then.

“Better” is what the book of Hebrews is all about.

The writer consistently and persistently insists that Jesus is better than anything from the Hebrew Christians’ past. Moses was one of the most respected and revered figures of Old Testament history. The letter to the Hebrews acknowledges proper regard for Moses but goes further to point-out and remind the people that whereas Moses was faithful within God’s house, it is Jesus who is Master over the house. Jesus is better than Moses.

What’s more, believers and followers of Jesus are the house. Jesus Christ is Lord – not Moses, or anybody else.  Jesus cares for and protects his house. It might be tempting to believe that a previous house we occupied in another city or town was better. But the reality is that we live today in God’s house.

Therefore, we must hold on and not let go of the confidence we have in Jesus and the privilege we have in living in our present abode. We are to bloom where God has planted us without continually looking how much greener the grass is on the other side of the fence.

When life is tough, reminiscing about the past is easy. For sure, there are plenty of things to miss from previous days in another place. Yet, trolling your personal history, much like a time-wasting galivant on the computer, doesn’t do anything for your need of faith and perseverance. It just isn’t helpful.

Today, however, in this present time and moment, Jesus has a hold of you.

Today Christ wants to walk with you through your trouble, and not just transport you to the past. Sometimes it is necessary to remember how God helped and delivered in the past to aid us in the present with contemporary problems. Yet if the nostalgic trips only end with wishing things were different, it is simply a fool’s errand. It merely detaches us from the support we need rather than connects us with resources to buoy our discouraged spirits in the here and now.

As God’s co-workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain. For he says, “In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.” I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation. (2 Corinthians 6:1-2, NIV)

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
        to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
    and recovery of sight to the blind,
        to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19, NRSV)

It’s crucial that we keep a firm grip on what we’ve heard so that we don’t drift off. (Hebrews 2:1, MSG)

Wake up, for our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. (Romans 13:11, NLT)

Now is the time to follow Jesus into all the situations which we face. You are not alone. You can do this. Other people and other stuff may certainly help. Yet Jesus is better. He is our best hope through any trouble.

Lord Jesus, you are sovereign over my past, present, and future. Today has its worries and problems. Help me walk into and through them with your gracious protection so that perseverance is developed within me and my faith in you is strengthened for tomorrow. Amen.