Revelation 14:12-20 – Enduring to the End

Judgment Day by William de Kooning 1946
Judgment Day by William de Kooning, 1946

Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and hold fast to the faith of Jesus.

And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who from now on die in the Lord.” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them.”

Then I looked, and there was a white cloud, and seated on the cloud was one like the Son of Man, with a golden crown on his head, and a sharp sickle in his hand! Another angel came out of the temple, calling with a loud voice to the one who sat on the cloud, “Use your sickle and reap, for the hour to reap has come, because the harvest of the earth is fully ripe.” So, the one who sat on the cloud swung his sickle over the earth, and the earth was reaped.

Then another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle. Then another angel came out from the altar, the angel who has authority over fire, and he called with a loud voice to him who had the sharp sickle, “Use your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth, for its grapes are ripe.” So, the angel swung his sickle over the earth and gathered the vintage of the earth, and he threw it into the great wine press of the wrath of God. And the wine press was trodden outside the city, and blood flowed from the wine press, as high as a horse’s bridle, for about two hundred miles. (NRSV)

The Scripture meditations I offer each day are based in the daily readings of the Revised Common Lectionary. The readings are designed to move us through the whole of the Bible in a three year cycle; and, they are arranged so that Thursday, Friday, and Saturday readings anticipate the Sunday scriptures, and the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday readings reflect on Sunday’s texts. Today’s New Testament lesson is such a reflection on Sunday’s Gospel reading of Christ’s Parable of the Weeds (Parable of the Wheat and Tares).

Jesus made it clear in the parable that it is not our job to weed out evil. This will be done by the angels at the end of the age. Well, here we are in Revelation with a grim look into the future as to how it all shakes-out. And, as you can readily see, it is not a pretty picture. Those among us who are visual learners and picture the words in their minds, their stomachs might just be turning about now.

The entire book of Revelation was originally meant to encourage believers in Jesus to persevere, endure, and keep going in their commitment to Christ. As they were undergoing difficulty and even persecution for their faith, this apocalyptic vision of the Apostle John was to instill hope that it will not always be this way. There is a time coming soon in which the problem of evil will be taken care of, once for all.  Until that final day of judgment comes, we are to hold fast to our faith and continue to keep the commandments of Christ.

Judgment Day by Aaron Douglas 1939
Judgment Day by Aaron Douglas, 1939

The wrath of God has always been an issue with various people throughout the ages. In contemporary theology, it is common to have groups of folks polarized between either making God out to be constantly angry and looking to zap people, or dismissing God’s wraith altogether as some outdated and antiquated idea. Neither of these approaches will do.

God’s anger and wrath exists, yet it is never divorced from God’s love. Rather than viewing wrath and love as two sides of the same coin, I believe a healthier and more biblical understanding is to discern God’s wrath as an expression of God’s love. I will explain….

When God bends to observe us in the world and sees injustice, war, poverty, oppression, trauma, and abuse from narcissistic people who exalt themselves above others and use them for selfish purposes, I am here to say to that God is not okay with this! Whenever God looks at the world and sees governments, institutions, corporations, and even churches which maintain structures that keep others from becoming all that God intends for them to become, Divine compassion is stirred along with a determination to bring about justice and righteousness.

Only God has the combination of willingness, power, and ability to handle the evil of this world in a way which is both just and loving. I fully realize there are many times when we wonder if God is really watching, or not, and are curious if he is aloof and uncaring to our plight. There is a day when the dramatic will happen, but that day is not today. For now, God is patiently and carefully working his love into the fabric of this world in a way that will not destroy the innocent and compromise the integrity of the righteous.

So, until the time is ripe for God to act in a more decisive manner by equipping angels with scythes and bringing in the final harvest, we experience pain and hurt. We sometimes are misjudged and misunderstood by others. We often get shafted by systems which are supposed to be helping us. We can, however, be assured that God is working behind the scenes, planting seeds of love and grace, and tending to the growth till the time is right to gather the abundant crop. Acting too soon and going off half-cocked without enough information is what we humans tend to do. Not so with God.

So, the fact of the matter is that justice and injustice will co-exist side-by-side for a while. Righteousness and evil will be found together everywhere we go, including our own hearts – holding both our altruistic motives and our evil inclinations.

Sisters and brothers, let us endure, persevere, and be patient. God is good and will not forget your deeds done in faith, your actions inspired by hope, and your work animated by love.

Lord Christ, you came into the world as one of us, and suffered as we do. As I go through the trials of life, help me to realize that you are with me at all times and in all things; that I have no secrets from you; and that your loving grace enfolds me for eternity. In the security of your embrace I pray. Amen.

Revelation 2:8-11 – Persevering to the End

perseverance

“And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: These are the words of the first and the last, who was dead and came to life:

“I know your affliction and your poverty, even though you are rich. I know the slander on the part of those who say that they are Jews and are not but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Beware, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison so that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have affliction. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. Whoever conquers will not be harmed by the second death. (NRSV)

What is unique about chapters two and three of Revelation is that Jesus himself is the speaker to seven different churches. Today’s New Testament lesson is addressed to the church at Smyrna, which was a large and beautiful port city in the ancient world. 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.  This was surely an encouragement to the believers as they underwent 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 cowards and those with weak faith who will fold 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 reading this will ever likely 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 their devotion and beliefs puts our own troubles in a different light. The daily irritations and trials 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.

Our Lord 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 are within us because of Christ’s redemptive work and the Spirit’s abiding presence – not to mention the very personality God graciously gave us in the womb before we were even born. Even though it seems, at times, we lack 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.

To finish the race we need to be in good spiritual health. The perseverance of the saints will happen as we run step after step with boldness despite fear of the unknown future around the bend. This requires the equipment of risk, vulnerability, accountability, and steadfast love which is both received and given. 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.

When 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 Reformation and Holy Scripture testify to this truth:

“All our progress and perseverance are from God.” –John Calvin

“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

William Barclay, Prayers for the Christian Year

Revelation 2:1-7 – The Duty and Delight of Divine Love

love for Jesus

“Write this letter to the angel of the church in Ephesus. This is the message from the one who holds the seven stars in his right hand, the one who walks among the seven gold lampstands:

“I know all the things you do. I have seen your hard work and your patient endurance. I know you don’t tolerate evil people. You have examined the claims of those who say they are apostles but are not. You have discovered they are liars. You have patiently suffered for me without quitting.

“But I have this complaint against you. You don’t love me or each other as you did at first! Look how far you have fallen! Turn back to me and do the works you did at first. If you don’t repent, I will come and remove your lampstand from its place among the churches. But this is in your favor: You hate the evil deeds of the Nicolaitans, just as I do.

“Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches. To everyone who is victorious I will give fruit from the tree of life in the paradise of God. (NLT)

One of the great tragedies of this world is a love which has grown cold. No one simply wakes in the morning and deliberately decides to withhold love. Instead, love is one of those qualities which needs continual attention. Love must be cultivated and tended. Small decisions of procrastination in overlooking the growing weeds in love’s garden or wandering away and forgetting to wander back are the more common ways of a love which is withering.

It is probably inevitable that love will ebb and flow because love is one of those wondrous animations which never remains still. Love is always moving, either growing with life each day or becoming small. In either case, the critical element to love is the lover’s attention to its object of love because it takes time for love to both develop into something beautiful and, conversely, to devolve into a shell of its former self.

So, I have just presented an agrarian metaphor. After all, I spent my entire childhood on an Iowa farm. There are yet other metaphors and images of love we can use. The Apostle John’s received revelation mentions the churches as “lampstands,” imaging Christians as light. Like the use of an electrical dimmer switch, we can control how bright the light can shine to observe all that it in the room. Or, we can lower the illumination to suit the purpose. Whichever image we employ with love, it rarely stands still or remains the same. Love does wax and wane over time.

Hosea Ballou quote

For love to endure it needs both duty and delight. Delight in love’s object without duty is mere sentiment. And duty without delight is maintaining the forms of love yet eviscerating it of all feeling and meaning. Couples and people grow apart when they cannot or will not hold both duty and delight together over a long period of time.

What is amazing to me about Revelation chapter two is that the risen and ascended Christ personally addresses the churches, his bride. I detect in the words of Jesus to the church at Ephesus a wound of the heart, a hurt in which duty has continued and delight has ebbed away. Jesus was looking for love, and he was finding his bride dutifully soldiering on with perseverance under suffering and yet drained of those little things that lovers do in the early days of their relationship – things which thoroughly express delight.

Oh, I really do get it. Being under continued hard circumstances can wear on us. In the effort to simply make it, we can retreat into the singular focus of getting necessary things done. And Jesus most certainly noticed and affirmed the Ephesian’s herculean effort of maintaining the hard work of faith in the middle of adversity. Since duty and delight need one another, Jesus knew it would not be long until the duty part of the equation would give way, unable to bear the weight of being out of balance.

C.S. Lewis quote

What was at risk for the Ephesian church was both their love for Jesus and love for one another. In another pair of loves meant to be held together, Jesus and his people are inseparable. To love the one is to love the other, and vice versa. The answer to the inability of holding love’s duty and delight, and love’s objects of God and each other is to turn around and begin again to do the things you did at first when the relationship was fresh. Paying attention to the little things adds up to a wondrous pile of love.

One of the lessons here is that all of us who value a strong work ethic must be thoroughly and continually motivated by a compassionate and generous spirit, or our love grows cold and becomes worthless. We must pay attention or find that we lose ourselves. The Apostle Paul addressed the same sort of malformed love to the church at Corinth:

“I may speak in different languages, whether human or even of angels. But if I don’t have love, I am only a noisy bell or a ringing cymbal. I may have the gift of prophecy, I may understand all secrets and know everything there is to know, and I may have faith so great that I can move mountains. But even with all this, if I don’t have love, I am nothing. I may give away everything I have to help others, and I may even give my body as an offering to be burned. But I gain nothing by doing all this if I don’t have love…. So, these three things continue: faith, hope, and love. And the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3, 13, ERV)

Receive today this blessing, my friends:

When you find your love has drifted and has fallen out of delight, may you pause, feel the strain, and open to Love’s possibilities once again.

When your words and your actions are mundanely parroted day in and day out, may you again hear the song of Love’s first music within you.

When you discover affection is unraveling, replaced with a staid duty, may your soul be kissed once again with Love’s tender touch.

Now is the time to take the chalice of Love and drink deeply of the divine, reawakening to the longing of Love which has lain dormant within.

For God is Love, and Love is God. With God, it is always Spring.

Revelation 11:15-19 – It Will Not Always Be This Way

The World
“There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!” –Abraham Kuyper

At the sound of the seventh trumpet, loud voices were heard in heaven. They said,

“Now the kingdom
of this world
belongs to our Lord
and to his Chosen One!
And he will rule
forever and ever!”

Then the twenty-four elders, who were seated on thrones in God’s presence, knelt down and worshiped him.  They said,

“Lord God All-Powerful,
you are and you were,
and we thank you.
You used your great power
and started ruling.
When the nations got angry,
you became angry too!
Now the time has come
for the dead
to be judged.
It is time for you to reward
your servants the prophets
and all of your people
who honor your name,
no matter who they are.
It is time to destroy everyone
who has destroyed
the earth.”

The door to God’s temple in heaven was then opened, and the sacred chest could be seen inside the temple. I saw lightning and heard roars of thunder. The earth trembled and huge hailstones fell to the ground. (CEV)

The book of the Revelation was a vision given to the Apostle John late in his life.  At the turn of the first century, Christ’s Church was facing a great deal of difficulty and hardship.  Christians were in the minority; looked at with suspect; misunderstood; often persecuted because of false information.  In short, all the kinds of things that Jewish people currently face and have faced for millennia were true of the early believers in Jesus.

Therefore, the purpose of the vision to John was not to give slick preachers a reason to craft elaborate prophecy charts about what’s going to happen in the future.  Instead, God was concerned for the welfare of his people.  The vision was meant to bring  encouragement that this present hard situation will not always be this way.  The danger and adversity will not last forever.  There is a day coming when God’s judgment and benevolent rule will reign in its fullness.  In other words, our prayers will be answered that have been offered for centuries: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10)

God did not want his beloved children to succumb to discouragement and lose heart.  So, the vision from John assured them that all will be made right.  Jesus is Lord, and his good rule will have the day.  Yes, we currently live in a world profoundly touched by sin and death.  And because of that we feel pain and must endure the hardships of things like COVID-19 and economic woes. It is possible to observe it all and experience its effects and fall into despair, and, so, give-in to unhealthy ways of coping with the circumstances around us.

We graciously have been given a glimpse into how all of history will shake-out in the end.  That peek into what’s coming ahead is meant to bring us needed encouragement, steadfast hope, and patient endurance.  There is coming a day when our own personal and local expressions of grief and lament will give way to praise and gratitude to God.  And that incredible praise will explode with all believers, past and present, along with all creation, proclaiming together: “Lord God All-Powerful, you are and you were, and we thank you.  Now the kingdom of this world belongs to our Lord and to his Chosen One!  And he will rule forever and ever!”  Amen, and amen.

Click Hope in God to gain some encouragement from singer and songwriter Ken Medema.