Revelation 7:13-17 – Your Tears Will Not Last Forever

One of the elders asked me, “Do you know who these people are that are dressed in white robes? Do you know where they come from?”

“Sir,” I answered, “you must know.”

Then he told me:

“These are the ones
who have gone through
    the great suffering.
They have washed their robes
in the blood of the Lamb
    and have made them white.
And so they stand
    before the throne of God
and worship him in his temple
    day and night.
The one who sits on the throne
will spread his tent
    over them.
They will never hunger
    or thirst again,
and they won’t be troubled
by the sun
    or any scorching heat.

The Lamb in the center
of the throne
    will be their shepherd.
He will lead them to streams
    of life-giving water,
and God will wipe all tears
    from their eyes.” (Contemporary English Version)

Suffering Before Glory

There is a day coming when followers of Jesus will come before the throne of God, serving the Lord day and night. And he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. It will be a glorious time of unending peace, harmony, and rest.

But first, before this permanent Sabbath rest, there will be trouble, hardship, trial, and even martyrdom.  There will be suffering before glory.  Sometimes the difficult circumstances of life seem to have no end.  Yet, they will eventually pass, and we must continually keep this in mind.  There is a day coming when God’s pastoral presence will forever guard and keep our lives if we endure to the end.

Running Before Finishing

Perseverance, endurance, and pushing through hard situations are necessary to realizing the finish line.  We cannot just sit here on earth in some sort of holding pattern waiting for the end.  Just as an athlete must go into strict training to run the race well, finish strong, and cross the line, so we as Christians are to be in training. Believers possess at their disposal an array of spiritual practices that will fortify their souls to keep going and finish the race. 

The book of Revelation was a vision of the Apostle John given to suffering Christians in grinding hardship. Those ancient followers of Jesus had a great need of patience and perseverance. God graciously gave the believers a glimpse of the glorious ending to come. It was one way of helping them endure their present adversity and live for Jesus Christ.

Indeed, it is future hope which gives shape to the Christian’s life in the immediate here and now. Hope is what sustains us and helps us move through the difficulties of our current existence. Knowing there is a time coming when our tears will be personally wiped away by a loving God enables us to endure our griefs and sorrows.

Partial Before Total

God is with us. What we must continually keep in mind is that our salvation is assured – yet will not come in its fullness until the end of the age. So, we read Scripture portions like Psalm 91 with the understanding that ultimate safety and security is not found in this life but in the life to come…

Those who live in the shelter of the Most High
    will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
This I declare about the Lord:
He alone is my refuge, my place of safety;
    he is my God, and I trust him.
For he will rescue you from every trap
    and protect you from deadly disease.
He will cover you with his feathers.
    He will shelter you with his wings.
    His faithful promises are your armor and protection.
Do not be afraid of the terrors of the night,
    nor the arrow that flies in the day.
Do not dread the disease that stalks in darkness,
    nor the disaster that strikes at midday.
Though a thousand fall at your side,
    though ten thousand are dying around you,
    these evils will not touch you.
Just open your eyes,
    and see how the wicked are punished.

If you make the Lord your refuge,
    if you make the Most High your shelter,
no evil will conquer you;
    no plague will come near your home.
For he will order his angels
    to protect you wherever you go.
They will hold you up with their hands
    so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.
You will trample upon lions and cobras;
    you will crush fierce lions and serpents under your feet!

The Lord says, “I will rescue those who love me.
    I will protect those who trust in my name.
When they call on me, I will answer;
    I will be with them in trouble.
    I will rescue and honor them.
I will reward them with a long life
    and give them my salvation.” (New Living Translation)

May God’s peace and hope fill you with inexpressible joy at the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Patient God, you tediously work until your plans and purposes are accomplished.  As you are slowly bringing your kingdom to the world, strengthen me so that I do not give up.  Help me to persevere, living and loving like Jesus, to his glory.  Amen.

Psalm 19 – The God We Can Know

The heavens keep telling
    the wonders of God,
    and the skies declare
    what he has done.
Each day informs
    the following day;
    each night announces
    to the next.
They don’t speak a word,
    and there is never
    the sound of a voice.
Yet their message reaches
    all the earth,
    and it travels
    around the world.

In the heavens a tent
    is set up for the sun.
It rises like a bridegroom
    and gets ready like a hero
    eager to run a race.
It travels all the way
across the sky.
    Nothing hides from its heat.

The Law of the Lord is perfect;
    it gives us new life.
His teachings last forever,
    and they give wisdom
    to ordinary people.
The Lord’s instruction is right;
    it makes our hearts glad.
His commands shine brightly,
    and they give us light.

Worshiping the Lord is sacred;
    he will always be worshiped.
All his decisions
    are correct and fair.
They are worth more
    than the finest gold
    and are sweeter than honey
    from a honeycomb.

By your teachings, Lord,
    I am warned;
    by obeying them,
    I am greatly rewarded.
None of us know our faults.
    Forgive me when I sin
    without knowing it.
Don’t let me do wrong
    on purpose, Lord,
    or let sin have control
    over my life.
Then I will be innocent,
    and not guilty
    of some terrible fault.

Let my words and my thoughts
    be pleasing to you, Lord,
    because you are my mighty rock
    and my protector. (CEV)

Today’s psalm is a celebration of God’s self-revelation. Through both nature and law, the Lord has graciously made the divine life known to humanity. What’s more, God’s moral and ethical teachings provide insight for living a good life. This is for the common good of all persons.

The vision of the psalm is of a personal God, not an abstract deity who is aloof from creation. Through both land and law, there is the Lord of life, desiring humanity to know the divinity which infuses it all and has people’s best interests continually at the forefront of providence and goodwill.

The created world witnesses to God. Creation manifests the glory of its Creator. Each creature and every created thing have the capacity to acknowledge and declare their Originator. That which has no mouth can speak. Those with no vocal cords have a voice. We can hear them, that is, if our ears are open to listen. The creation is not God. Yet the created world and order knows the Lord so intimately that it sometimes seems as if the sun, the trees, the mountains, and the meadows are divine. The divine stamp is there, testifying with mysterious words to a glorious God who desires to be known.

So, the Lord graciously gave us law. God’s righteous and good law flows seamlessly from God’s good character. Law is the divine medium for humanity, a guide for human life toward thriving and flourishing on God’s good earth. We were put on this planet with instructions on how to get along on it. It is when we throw out the rulebook and improvise that we tend to get into all kinds of trouble.

“Knowing God is more important than knowing about God.”

karl rahner

Even when we as people dig our own graves and fall into them, God is there. Grace is available for the asking, redeeming the wayward life. Deliverance is a real possibility, to set us aright again, and restore us to our full luster as people created in the image of God. Law and land converge to guide into grateful living, into the wisdom of dealing rightly in all things.

Wisdom in the Old Testament is the combination of knowledge and practice. It is the application of God’s self-revelation to concrete situations in life. We live wisely when we get to know the sovereign God of creation and use the Lord’s revealed mores and ethos as our guide in daily experiences.

We need God’s gracious revealed law. It’s not just for theology nerds or spiritual eggheads; God’s law is for everyone – the learned and the unlearned. Every one of us needs the guidance and direction of God’s Holy Word, and the careful application of it to all our circumstances. That’s wisdom.

You and I are shaped and formed as godly people as we allow God’s Word to awash us and seep into our souls.  Reading this psalm out loud slowly and contemplatively more than once is an opportunity to let our common ordinary experiences transform into divine appointments.

Clean the slate, God, so we can start the day fresh! Keep me from stupid and idiotic sins, from thinking I can take over your work. Then I can start each day sun-washed, scrubbed clean of sin’s awful grime. Let me not be found in the dominion of darkness but bask in the glorious light of your glory. Accept both my words and my life when I place them on the morning altar, O God, my Rock, my Deliverer, my Redeemer, my All. Amen.

2 Corinthians 2:12-17 – The Sweet Scent of Salvation

“When I went to Troas to preach the good news about Christ, I found that the Lord had already prepared the way.  But I was worried when I did not find my friend Titus there. So, I left the other followers and went on to Macedonia.

I am grateful that God always makes it possible for Christ to lead us to victory. God also helps us spread the knowledge about Christ everywhere, and this knowledge is like the smell of perfume. In fact, God thinks of us as a perfume that brings Christ to everyone. For people who are being saved, this perfume has a sweet smell and leads them to a better life. But for people who are lost, it has a bad smell and leads them to a horrible death.

No one really has what it takes to do this work.  A lot of people try to get rich from preaching God’s message. But we are God’s sincere messengers, and by the power of Christ we speak our message with God as our witness.” (CEV)

God is the One who calls and empowers people for service in the church and the world. God is the powerful sovereign ruler of the universe who prepares the way for people to proclaim the good news of deliverance in the name of Jesus. God is the Being who dominates Holy Scripture. God is the main and principal actor in the unfolding drama of redemption in the Bible.

God is the Great Shepherd who calls, gathers, assures, forgives, teaches, leads, and sends people throughout every era. God is the diligent and careful farmer who enables the knowledge of Jesus to spread across the earth and cause a bloom of grace to flower.

God is the divine florist who produces the sweet smell of salvation from a rancid past of relational separation.

You see, my friend, that unless we capture the vision of a God who orchestrates and animates self-revelation to others, you and I will muck around this world trying to live the Christian life in the misguided notion that leading others to Jesus Christ is on our shoulders – that somehow our ability, or lack thereof, determines whether another person is delivered from their brokenness and finds God.

Oh, my goodness. Nothing could be further from the truth. Those who are estranged from God, like vulnerable lost sheep in the world, are called by the shepherd, not us. We simply go in the enablement of God’s power and blessing to pick up lost sheep and carry them back to the fold. 

You and I are messengers, couriers from God with a life-giving message of forgiveness and deliverance for all whom the Lord calls – and God’s voice can be heard across the entire world.

We are field hands who enter the harvest and enjoy the gathering of fresh grain into God’s great storehouse of grace. You and I did not make anything grow. God was really behind the planting, the growth, the rain, the sunshine, and the harvest. In many ways, we are just along for the tractor ride.

Many Christians put far too much emphasis on themselves – what they should and could be doing, as if the salvation of others depended on them. But God is behind every good and beautiful thing in this earth. Learning to trust the Lord’s leading and power makes all the difference in a world needing Jesus. 

Lord God, almighty and everlasting Father, you have brought me to the beginning of this day. Preserve me with your mighty power that I might be an instrument in your grand orchestra of salvation, giving off the sweet scent of salvation and blowing the sound of Jesus Christ in melodious sounds of deliverance; with the breath of the Holy Spirit giving the wind.  Amen.

Revelation 21:1-6 – Making All Things New

Make All Things New by James Janknegt, 2005

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;
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. (NRSV)

The world as we now know it will someday disappear. We have a future hope – it will literally be heaven on earth. The entire planet will be a renewed and God will descend to dwell with us. The Lord will bring us to the original design of the garden with Adam and Eve – an unhindered relationship between divinity and humanity. We shall no longer be dogged by our personal shame, institutional and systemic evil, and the temptations and oppression of Satan. Tears, death, sorrow, and pain will be a thing of the past. Eventually, our struggle with the fallen nature of everything will be completely over.

The message from the Apostle John to the early church was extremely encouraging. The people had faced all kinds of trouble and persecution due to their Christian commitment. To know that suffering only lasts for the night, but joy comes in the morning because of Jesus, changes everything. To the ancient church, as well as us today, this is a comfort and help in our present adversities.

Yet, we are such an impatient people! We want good things to happen, and now! All God’s people throughout history have been looking ahead for the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promises. The Apostle John did not  give a brand-new revelation to the church but upheld and anticipated what had been known and true for centuries. God said to the prophet Isaiah:

“See, I will create
    new heavens and a new earth.
The former things will not be remembered,
    nor will they come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever
    in what I will create,
for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight
    and its people a joy.
I will rejoice over Jerusalem
    and take delight in my people;
the sound of weeping and of crying
    will be heard in it no more. (Isaiah 65:17-19, NIV)

Making All Things New by Beth Lighthouse, 2018

In the first Advent of Christ, many of God’s people thought for certain all these promises would finally be realized. Yet, like a young couple in their engagement period, the promises of God had been initiated and promised, but not yet realized or consummated. The Apostle Peter addressed a common question asked throughout the ages:

“What happened to the promise that Jesus is coming again? From before the times of our ancestors, everything has remained the same since the world was first created.” (2 Peter 3:4, NLT)

Peter responded, in part, by reminding Christians:

Do not let it escape your notice, dear friends, that with the Lord a single day is like a thousand years and a thousand years are like a single day. The Lord is not slow to keep his promise, as some think of slowness, but he is patient toward you, not wanting anyone to perish but all to change their hearts and lives. (2 Peter 3:8-9, CEB)

“I am making everything new,” said Jesus. And he wanted John to get that down in writing so not to forget. God is still in the process of moving history to its final stage. Will we be patient in letting God do this work until the final day comes, or will we be impatient? 

Although we are awaiting the end of all things, this is no time to be idly sitting by, twiddling our thumbs with nervous anxiety. Nor are we to go all apoplectic with furious activity creating prophecy charts, trying to figure out exactly the day and hour of Christ’s Second Advent. No, rather, we properly anticipate the Second Coming when we let God change our hearts and lives, our neighborhoods and workplaces, our families, and churches, to be just like Christ.

God is presently preparing for Christ’s return by doing away with the old order to make room for the new. The Apostle Paul put it this way to the Corinthian Church:

When anyone is in Christ, it is a whole new world. The old things are gone; suddenly, everything is new! (2 Corinthians 5:17, ERV)

With each transformed life, we are reminded God is not slow in keeping promises but is now vigorously active preparing for the last day.

The Revelation of John helps us to break our fixation with the past and the ways we have always done things.  God’s capacity and ability to renew is astounding. Even now, we can walk now in newness of life.

We were buried with him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:4, NKJV)

To avoid impatience and to keep persevering, it is helpful to have a big picture view of what God has done, is doing, and will do.

In the Fall of 1991, a car driven by a drunk driver jumped its lane and smashed headfirst into a minivan driven by a man named Jerry Sittser. He and three of his children survived, but Jerry’s wife, four-year-old child, and mother died in the crash. In his book A Grace Revealed Sittser shares the following interaction with one of his surviving children, David, months after the accident:

“Do you think Mom sees us right now?” he suddenly asked.

I paused to ponder. “I don’t know, David. I think maybe she does see us. Why do you ask?”

“I don’t see how she could, Dad. I thought Heaven was full of happiness. How could she bear to see us so sad?”

Could Lynda, my wife, witness our pain in Heaven? How could that be possible? How could she bear it?

“I think she does see us,” I finally said. “But she sees the whole story, including how it all turns out, which is beautiful to her. It’s going to be a good story, David.”

God knows the whole story. When everything dies, all is stripped from our lives, and the world as we know it is done away with, what are we left with?  God and the renewal of all things. The troubles of this present evil age will be eradicated forever.

Whenever we seek to do away with the world’s grinding poverty and the starvation of children; whenever we work to end global sex-trafficking and domestic abuse; whenever we tackle epidemics, pandemics, and disease; whenever we help others face and cope with the evil of this world; whenever we come alongside others in their trouble; whenever we extend comfort to the grieving and grace to the wayward; whenever we choose mercy and kindness; then, God is using us to make everything new.

The end is coming. But it is not yet here. God is presently working to make everything new by bringing deliverance from sin, death, and hell to people throughout the world.

Almighty God, in the New Year, at this moment of transition, we understand this is the moment of your intervention. We offer to you, O Lord, everything that makes us sad and upset; everything that makes us desperate; all our unfulfilled plans, and all our unrealized dreams. They are yours. Take them and transform them into something beautiful, magnificent, and new. Let your Holy Spirit make us new creations in Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.