Posts Tagged ‘revelation’

We have all heard some version of the story about the town that had become a place of injustice. A place where greed and corruption became the new normal. If you have heard some version of this story (while growing up I was made to believe that Wyatt Earp coming into Tombstone was the primary version), then you know the feeling when a hero rides into town to make things right. That is the feeling that rides into town on Palm Sunday.

It is unfortunate that we sometimes talk about Palm Sunday in a way that simply details Jesus mode of transportation into Jerusalem. We can be certain the gospel has something else in mind.

Jerusalem is looking for a king. Someone who will drive the Romans out. Someone who might revive the glory days of the Davidic dynasty. Jerusalem is looking for salvation – salvation from Rome. The people were overlooking their sin problem because of their Roman problem. Then here comes Jesus, riding in on a donkey, and they were ready to cast their vote with him to deliver them from their Roman oppressors. This is about much more than transportation.

Still, a nonviolent prophet on a donkey seems too tame. There is a text in Revelation where the heavens open and a white horse appears. We are told the rider is Faithful with a capital F and True with a capital T. We are told this rider makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire. He is wearing crowns on his head. His name is the Word of God. Right behind him are the armies of heaven on white horses. Out of his mouth is a very sharp sword. He brings the fierceness of Almighty God. His robe is inscripted with “King of kings and Lord of lords.” If the people had a copy of the Revelation they would have said “Yeah, that’s what we want.”

But that’s not what it looks like when Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey amidst singing and palms. It looks more like a text from Philippians where God became a servant. Where God humbled himself and became obedient, even to death on a cross. But that story does not stop there. It goes on to say that this God was exalted to the highest place and given a name above every name. It tells us that at the mention of this name every knee, in heaven and earth, shall bow.

What we do not want to lose sight of is the fact that the rider on the white horse with eyes like fire and the one who became the servant who was exalted above every name is the one who rides into Jerusalem on a donkey. This is who rides into town on Palm Sunday. It is too easy to lose sight of this. It is easy to withdrawal our support for Jesus and cast a vote for Barabbas. Perhaps he will increase our odds of defeating Rome.

We often find ourselves looking for a man to become a god. We are given a God who became man. It is none other than the God of history who rides into town as King on Palm Sunday. The gospel hands us a palm branch and lyrics to a hosanna song and asks us to follow.

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Next week we will witness a lunar eclipse.  According to some, this one is different than others that we have seen before.  If they are correct, then strike up the band and let us to break out into a chorus of “Bad Moon Rising.”

This eclipse will be the first of four “blood moons” in the next eighteen months.  It is of interest that all four of these “blood moons” occur during Jewish holidays.  Since these four lunar eclipses occur on the holidays and so close together; it has been speculated that they have special, religious significance.  Noteworthy religious texts include Joel 2.31 “the sun will be turned into darkness and the moon into blood before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes” and Revelation 6.12 “and the sun became black as sackcloth made of hair, and the whole moon became like blood.”  Some project that verses such as these suggest that the blood moons are harbingers of doom.  This is not the first time that we have witnessed others who are tripping over prophetic and apocalyptic furniture.

I tend to get excited about the sky.  I also tend to get excited easily about the biblical text.  So, when sky and text get together in the same conversation it grabs my attention.  Studying the sun, moon, and sky fascinates me.  Yet, the idea of looking at them for prophetic revelation strikes me as a little odd.  Have we started to consider astrology as a Christian discipline?  Does this sound like a Dan Brown novel to anyone else?

It troubles me that preachers participate in this message.  At least pop scientists and writers of suspense thrillers are honest about their craft.  It isn’t the first (nor is it the last) time that marketers have caused a stir like this.  This is the sort of thing that we are tempted to become fascinated with when simple obedience becomes too boring.  Remember when the world last ended in December 2012?

Something we can be certain of is that lunar eclipse is another wonder in a remarkable cosmos that will stir your soul.  Another exhibit from a Creator who happens to possess a wildly creative imagination.  Perhaps a fitting religious text for a moment like this comes from Psalm 19.1 “the heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.”  Go ahead and pull out a lawn chair, and marvel at the sky.

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Reading in Revelation renews the imagination.  We often find ourselves reading narratives and letters.  We become used to facts and imperatives.   However, in Revelation we get a book full of angels, trumpets, earthquakes, beasts, dragons, and bottomless pits.  In Revelation we get a master retelling of the Gospel story.  This is not myth nor a puzzle to be pieced together, but a retelling of a known story that is like Gospel – it is Good News!

In Revelation, there are imaginative portraits of the Risen Lord, the church, and heaven.  Among these, we find ourselves looking at a portrait that may change the way we celebrate the coming of Jesus.  Revelation wants us to remember that there is more going on than the casual observer might notice.  Therefore, a reading of Revelation 12 describes the arrival of Jesus from a different perspective.

A woman appears, she is pregnant and begins to cry out with labor pains.  She is joined by a dragon.  It has seven heads that are ready to devour the infant at the moment of birth.  The child is born and the dragon lunges.  It is the kind of scene that makes you want to turn your head.  Yet, when we look again the child has been rescued.  We may want to respond with “Let earth receive her King”, instead we find a great war.  Michael and a host of angels do battle with the dragon and his army.

This is not the way we have come to picture the arrival of the Christ.  In recent weeks we have been reminded that the coming of Jesus evoked wonder and amazement.  Revelation reminds us that it was not without evil and risk.  Revelation makes certain that we do not get too comfortable snuggling up to “round yon virgin, mother and child”.  After a reading of Revelation 12, our response to Gospel can no longer be the same.

Having just celebrated Christmas we may have a picture in mind of what that may have looked like.  But whatever we try to pass off as Christmas, the bible expects us to see more.  So, we might find a jealous king (Mt. 2) or a seven headed dragon (Rev. 12) to remind us that Christmas is more than just a happy time.  But no matter what feelings are evoked, response to the coming of Jesus is inevitable.  Whether his coming results in songs from angels, gifts from Magi, or a war in heaven – the response to his coming has cosmic implications.

Revelation wants us to know the reality of the matter.  That there is more than the eye can see.  This time of year we have been reminded of the joy of parents, the cries of a newborn, the smells of a stable, the sounds of livestock, the sight of visitors, the witness of gifts.  This is earthy stuff.  We recognize the emotions of being human.  The sounds of children.  The smells of the natural world.  The company of others.  The practice of giving.  We recognize these as common parts of everyday living.

Yet, the arrival of Jesus is not limited to the earthy realm.  Even his birth brings us into contact with heaven.  Earth is not big enough to contain this celebration, earth is just another participant in the larger drama.  Words cannot express what has happened, an angelic choir is necessary.  Even the stars bring people to witness this event.  Beyond that, Revelation 12 tells that there was more, a war broke out in heaven.  “Michael and his angels were waging war with the dragon.  And the dragon and his angels waged war.”  Earlier, I mentioned that Revelation is like Gospel.  Here is Good News – “and they were not strong enough, and there was no longer a place for them in heaven.  And the great dragon was thrown down.”

This all reminds me of a very earthy parable.  The parable of the soils obviously includes a sower, seeds, and a variety of soils.  It also includes birds, rocks, sun, and thorns.  But, what we learn later, is that the parable also includes Satan (Mark 4.15).  What appeared to occur only in the earthy realm of a farmer’s field had very cosmic implications.

We are reminded that we can not separate the physical from the spiritual.  That is a strategy we have introduced, not God.  We sometimes try to convince ourselves that the physical does not mix with the spiritual, the earthy does not mix with the cosmic.  Conveniently, we believe that our activities here have little to do with the bigger picture.  But, Revelation reminds us that our lives, from January to December, are involved in a larger plot than we first imagined.  Yes, what happened in a stable, in a crowded inn, and in fields of sheep is of major importance in heaven.  So are the actions of an angry king, excited shepherds, and generous wise men.

Having never received a vision on Patmos, I can only imagine what cosmic implications there are when we discuss scripture during Advent, when we gather for worship on Christmas Eve, when we celebrate what happened on Christmas.  I can only imagine what really happens when we throw seed over the rocks, into the sun, in the midst of thorns, or to the birds.  But my imagination runs wild when it appears the seed has landed in good soil.  One thing is for certain, Revelation sparks my imagination.

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In Revelation chapter seven we are presented with a great multitude.  They appear again in chapter fourteen.  They are with the Lamb.  As evidence, the name of the Lamb and the name of His Father are written on their foreheads.  This second appearance immediately follows a passage where others are also given a mark on their right hand or on their foreheads.  This time it is the mark of the beast or his name.  What a contrast.  Two troops are being formed.  Two leaders gathering recruits.  The land beast vs. the Lamb.

This is quite a scene.  Here in the middle of Revelation a showdown.  A stand-off with one leader standing on the sand.  (Perhaps he has not heard that isn’t a good foundation).  And another standing on Mt. Zion.  (Certainly a better foundation).  A host of combatants witness this.  Some wear the name of the beast.  Some wear the name of the Lamb and His Father.  We are reminded that Revelation is a political book.

Satan, the seven headed dragon, recruits two beasts to execute his will.  The sea beast to frighten us (13.7).  And, the land beast, to deceive us (13.14).  As the Son receives authority from the Father, so the sea beast receives authority from the dragon.  As the Spirit glorifies the Son, so the second beast glorifies the first beast.  The beasts are described with traits borrowed from God, the Lamb, and Christians in an attempt to validate their authority.

They attempt but fail.  This trinity of beasts; dragon, sea beast, land beast are imposters, fakes, pretenders.  Religious – yes they are.  Political – yes they are.  The dragon, the sea beast, and the land beast form a competing trinity.  But they have nothing to do with God.

Most attention in my lifetime seems to be given to the land beast.  At least to his number – 666.  As the false trinity, the land beast is observed to be a fraud, “like a lamb.”  In the language of numbers, 666 is a triple failure to look like 777.  Have we mentioned that he is not what he claims to be?  666 falls short of the three times perfect, whole, divine number.

G. K. Beale suggests that to identify with the beast by worshipping his image is to identify with his shortcomings and imperfection symbolized by the triple 666.  The triple six emphasizes that the beast and his followers fall short of God’s perfect purpose for His creation.  Triple sixes are intended as a contrast with the divine sevens throughout the book and suggest imperfection.  Triple repetition of sixes intensifies the incompleteness and failure of the beast (and this false trinity).  Though the beast attempts to mimic God, he falls short.  Epic failure.

Eugene Peterson’s Reversed Thunder gets to chapters 12-14 and labels them “The Last Word on Politics.”  Not a bad summary for that section of scripture.  But in essence, it has been the theme of every chapter to this point.  Each chapter in Revelation is political.  Each chapter examines again the question “who is in control around here?”  Each chapter asks the one in control to please stand up.  And every time the Risen Lord rises to the occasion.

With the mark of the beast on the forehead the recipients are viewed as the property of the beast.  With the mark, recipients receive his stamp of approval.  This, of course, is the opposite and parody of the seal placed on the forehead of those who are God’s property.  Followers of the Lamb and followers of the beast are both stamped with the image of their leaders.  Revelation is a political book, we are being asked to give allegiance to Lamb or beast.

There is danger in this reading.  Revelation makes us aware that we are choosing a side.  Revelation alerts us to the risk of aligning ourselves with the wrong side.  Revelation wants us to know that we reflect the one whose name we wear.  Revelation asks the question “Who do you belong to?”

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William Willimon tells of a letter he once received from Walter Brueggemann that ended, “thank you for your help in the current preaching emergency.”

“Preaching emergency” might be a “Brueggemannism”, but it is not a new idea.  Perhaps it is because I have been reading Revelation but it appears to me that there we are directed to this emergency.  Times are so serious that Revelation removes barriers that may distract us.  Revelation catches our attention with imaginative pictures.  Revelation reveals perspective on the crisis at hand.  And Revelation preaches the danger of compromise.

Society fills us with voices of data and technology.  Voices that emphasize entertainment and marketing.  Voices that are rational and solution driven.  We might find these things to be helpful.  We might see these things as progress.  But Revelation puts all these things aside in order to remind us that our situation is serious.  In fact, the message is so important that Revelation removes nearly everything that we are familiar with and replaces them with imaginative pictures in order to magnify the seriousness of the situation.  Revelation proclaims with urgency.  As if we are in crisis.

When we take Revelation seriously we realize that preaching is not community service.  This is not fulfillment of your role in society, community, or church.  This is not light duty.  This is risky business.  Every time you gather is a one time opportunity to relay a particular message to a particular assembly of people.  Preaching may be the only voice of reality that some hear on any given week.

Revelation is a voice that is not attempting to sell you anything.  Not attempting to figure anything out.  Not attempting to teach anything new.  Not attempting to fix anything.  This is a proclamation of what is.  A redefinition of reality.  Whether our text is from Revelation or not, after reading the Revelation we can not help but realize the seriousness of the matter.

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Christian worship is an interesting thing isn’t it?  That we would get together every week to sing our songs, pray our prayers, give our gifts, and open up an old book to read words that were written long ago and considered irrelevant by many.  Yet, we keep getting together and we keep opening the book.

And then on some days we open the book and we read about evil.  We have pictures that come to mind when we think of evil.  I can’t help but think of one from Dr. Seuss.  Evil is big and green.  He’s a mean one, as cuddly as a cactus, has all the tender sweetness of a seasick crocodile.  He comes to take stuff just to make others unhappy.

Yet when Seuss’s people lose their stuff, they are not unhappy.  Instead – they sing.  “Fahoo fores, dahoo dores.”  We may not understand the words, but we understand what is going on.  Makes me think I should read Seuss differently.

Revelation addresses evil.  But perhaps even more it addresses worship.  In the midst of all the evil we find in chapter 6-7, we find ourselves in a context of worship.  Worshippers are active before, during and after.  It is saturated with song and the constant opening and reopening of the book.  These chapters are surrounded by prayers.  Here we are in worship.

We may not naturally see evil as a context for worship.  But Revelation does.  Here we find worship taking place.  This starts back in chapter four and does not stop when evil arrives in chapter six.  In chapter four, we found four living creatures singing “Holy, Holy, Holy…”  And then twenty-four elders fall down and sing “worthy…”

In chapter five, the creatures and elders join together to sing a new song.  And then are joined by thousands and thousands of angels.  And they all sing “worthy…”  They are then joined by all of creation.  The living creatures say “amen.”  The elders fall down and worship.  Chapter six sees repetitive opening and reopening of the book.  The four living creatures participate in an apocalyptic responsive reading.

In chapter seven, a great multitude is called forth “which no one could count.”  And they sing with all the angels, the twenty-four elders, the four living creatures.  They sing “Amen, blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever, Amen.”  And this all takes place in the presence of the One sitting on the throne and the Lamb.

Revelation presents a growing choir.  In fact, Revelation keeps responding to adversity, tribulation and evil by adding to the choir.  With the four horsemen of the apocalypse enter conquest, war, famine and pestilence.  The following chapter brings tribulation.  And the growing choir sings.  Four living creatures, twenty-four elders, the voice of many angels, and all of creation.  Chapter seven adds a great multitude, which no one could count.  And they sing!

Revelation talks about the prayers of the saints.  Both before our passage (5.8) and following (8.3) the prayers of the saints are related to “incense.”  Before the evil of our passage is introduced and afterward – prayer.  I can’t help but think of how unusual this response to evil is.  The saints sing.  The saints pray.  Offer incense.  You may have prayed for someone this morning.  Someone may have prayed for you.  Revelation says prayers are like incense.  Mark Buchanan calls praying people perfume makers.

This is an interesting picture of prayer.  This “incense.”  But we are not looking for prayer that sends sweet fragrance to the supernatural.  We want prayer to eliminate evil.  Instead, Revelation places us in the midst of evil and portrays prayer as “incense.”

In Your God is Too Safe, Mark Buchanan tells a story that he learned from William Willimon.  The story is about a gentleman who was sent as a delegate from the World Council of Churches to check the status of the church in Russia during an atheist regime.

The man was not impressed.  “The church” he said, “is just a bunch of little old ladies praying.”  Buchanan calls them “just a bunch of perfume makers.”  Willimon told the story in the nineties.  After atheistic Russia was no more.  This is an important story.  Not because we wanted to win the cold war.  Not because we are opposed to atheists.  But because we need to be reminded of what happens when a bunch of little old ladies pray.  “Fahoo fores, dahoo dores.”

We need Revelation.  We need reminded that though evil is present, it has no real power.  Evil – beware.  Beware of the prayers of saints.  Beware of revolutionary perfume makers  disguised as old ladies.  Beware of elders falling down, living creatures who sing, and the multitude that joins in singing “salvation belongs to our God.”

Evil beware.  Ride out on your power horses spreading death and famine.  This is not fighting on your terms.  This is not methodology that you might use.  This is not the expected response to evil.  This is the response from another reality.  One that recognizes who is in charge.  One that knows who wins.  The response from Revelation insists that worship is the only way to see reality.  In the face of evil, we continue to open the book, to give, to pray, and we sing.

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I was recently assigned Revelation 6-7 and the theme “evil.”  Eugene Peterson has written a helpful chapter titled “The Last Word on Evil.”  It is a good title but it is not the one we would prefer.  That would be “The End of Evil.”  We want evil gone.  We want an exterminator for evil.  We would like to see it annihilated.  Can we call SEAL team six to destroy evil?

There are things we would like to say about evil.  We would like to talk about the end of evil.  Instead, Revelation acknowledges the reality of evil.  Moving through chapter 6, we find four horses with riders who carry a bow, a crown, a sword, a pair of scales, and the authority to kill.  We find slain souls “those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained.”  History is coming apart.  The world appears doomed.

Here the sun turns black, the moon becomes blood, the sky splits, and mountains and islands are moved.  Even nature is out of whack.  Here there is catastrophe so great that powerful men are hiding in fear and calling for mountains and rocks to fall upon them.  This is bad news.  We might say this is evil.  In fact, things are so bad that Revelation asks the question “who is able to stand?”

Revelation reveals reality.  That is a good way to read the Revelation.  It reveals what is really going on.  Without the blinders of culture, society, trends.  Without the distraction of news, sales, and gadgets.  Revelation tells what is really going on.  Tells what eyes tend to miss because we are caught up in another reality, a false reality.

Evil exists.  We know it.  This is reality.  The thing about evil is that sometimes it is where we do not expect it.  It is a mistake to think that we have evil figured.  Sometimes evil is obvious, other times not so much.  Revelation also recognizes evil.  Revelation does not minimize evil, but it does put it in its place.  In the Revelation, evil is surrounded by other realities.  In the Revelation, before we get to chapter six and all of its evil, we meet the risen Lord, are introduced to the church (where we find the risen Lord), and find ourselves in worship.

Revelation admits the reality of evil but sees a different world.  One where evil is put into a context.  Evil is put in its place.  Evil is given no long term credibility.  Evil does not rule the world.

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