seven seals 2

This life will never completely fulfill us or satisfy us, because it is not supposed to. The good news is that Jesus Christ is enacting God’s plan to bring history to its ultimate fulfilment, and to bring those who trust him – his people – into the New Heaven and New Earth, where we will be completely fulfilled, and completely joyful.

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Download Revelation Part 15

Revelation #15. 5:1-14

Pieces of Revelation chapters four and five can be found in countless hymns, songs and liturgies. “Holy, Holy, Holy,” is of course, from 4:8. There’s a line in that song: “casting down their golden crowns, around the glassy sea.” This is, clearly from 4:6 & 10. The music group “Casting Crowns” obviously got their name from here. Several of my favorite other hymns reference this part of Revelation. The phrase: “Worthy is the Lamb” is found in probably thousands of Christian songs.

All that shows us that these chapters can, and should, present us with a powerful desire for heaven. These images inspired generations of Christians to live their lives with a view of heaven. Some people object to this. There used to be a very common phrase: “He (or she) is so heavenly minded, he’s no earthly good.” I hate that phrase with a passion. The truth is exactly the opposite. If we do not have a clear picture of the hope that awaits us, and a deep, strong desire for the goodness and joy of heaven, we will be relatively useless as God’s people here on earth.

Let me make sure this is clear. If we are Christians, the best is yet to come. This life will never completely fulfill us or satisfy us, because it is not supposed to. We are made for something better, truer, deeper than this life can offer. And the wonderful news is this: because the of the Lamb of God, we will someday enter the world that we were made for. We will find true joy, total satisfaction and all that we need. Because we know that, we can be patient in the here and now. We can be willing to be less self-centered, because we now that someday, our hearts will be completely satisfied. We can put up with the crushing imperfections of this life, knowing that the best is yet to come. That allows us to work for good here and now, even when it does not directly benefit us. It is those people who are trying to get satisfaction here and now, who aren’t willing to trust and wait, that are not much use in this world to the One who sits on the throne.

Chapter five begins with a scroll, sealed with seven seals (5:1). The NAS version translates it “book,” and indeed, the Greek (biblios) would be literally rendered “book.” However, “book” to the majority of John’s readers would have meant some sort of written document in a scroll form (bound books were relatively uncommon until about hundred years after Revelation was written). The reason this is important is so we can picture what John is picturing. He is seeing a scroll –something like a rolled up poster. Instead of a rubber band to keep it rolled up, there are seven “seals” that keep the scroll from unrolling. A “document seal” in the ancient world was made of wax. The wax was heated and dropped onto the scroll. Usually, the sender of the document made an “impression” on the wax while it was still warm. The “impression” or picture that was pushed into the wax was often from some sort of ring or stamp that had a design on it. The design was usually unique to the owner of the ring or stamp. The reason it was called a “seal” is because the wax was dropped half on the edge of the end of the scroll, and half on the rest of the roll where it met the edge. This resulted in the wax holding the documented closed, or rolled up. On the scroll that John saw, there were seven seals; I would imagine them running across the width of the scroll, holding it closed in seven places. Another way to picture it would be as follows: The scroll held one seal on the outside. After the first seal had been broken, it was unrolled a bit, and another seal was revealed, keeping the rest of the document closed. After this was broken, further on came another seal and another. This certainly would have been an unusual arrangement, and not easily envisaged even by the initial readers of Revelation, though it is favored by many Bible interpreters. I personally prefer to think of the seven seals as found in the first arrangement – all at the beginning of the document.

In any case, the scroll and the seals clearly represent something more than just a written document. The scroll is in fact, God’s plan for the culmination of human history. In other words, the unrolling of the scroll results in God setting in motion the judgment of the world, the return of Jesus Christ and the ultimate salvation of all who know Jesus. The scroll gives meaning to human history. Without this plan, without God’s control and deliberate intervention, human history is just a series of random and meaningless incidents strung together in time. With it, the entire picture is given coherence and hope.

I believe that there is one primary purpose for the seals, and that is that they prevent anyone other than Jesus Christ from “opening the book.” In this way we are given a complete picture of God’s control of history. First, the scroll is in the right hand of the One who sits on the throne – God is holding the plan for the end of history. Second, only one person has the ability to enact this plan, and that is Jesus Christ. It is supremely important to understand therefore, that the breaking of the seals and the opening of the scroll is a GOOD thing, if you are a Christian. John wept bitterly when he thought that the scroll would not be opened – he wanted to see God’s plan brought to fullness. I have spoken with many people who are a bit afraid of Revelation and the things it predicts and teaches. They don’t like the thought of plagues and wars and all that. We must understand however, that to John and to the first readers of the book, the opening of the scroll and the beginning of God’s judgment on the earth was a completely positive thing. They weren’t afraid of the scroll being opened – to the contrary, they were afraid it wouldn’t be opened. Therefore, as we continue through Revelation, we ought to interpret it wherever possible in a way that brings hope and joy to the Christian – for that is how the first recipients of the book read it.

In chapter four we had a picture of God the Father in heaven – on the throne, in control, seeing everything. Now, in chapter five we are given insight into the role of God the Son – Jesus Christ.

Jesus is described as the “Lion of the tribe of Judah;” “the root of David;” and “a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, (5:6)” In his Gospel, John remembers that John the Baptist had called Jesus, “the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world,” (John 1:29). Peter also compares Jesus to a sacrificial lamb (1 Peter 1:19) as does the prophecy about Jesus found in Isaiah 53:7. The fact that Jesus appears as a lamb serves both to identify who John is talking about (Jesus) and what the Lamb’s great work was (to die for our sins).

That this lamb (Jesus) is part of the Trinity –in very nature the same as God – is indicated by the fact that he is “in the midst of the throne” (the most literal translation from the Greek). Once again we are dealing with things that go beyond our dimension, but it is clear enough that at some level, the Lamb is somehow ‘the same’ as the One who sits on the throne, yet also somehow different.

The four living creatures in God’s throne room worship and praise Jesus, the lamb of God. The 24 elders worship and praise him. A multitude of angels worships and praises him. Since the entire Bible is very clear that only God Himself is to be worshipped, this is yet one more strong affirmation that Jesus is in very nature, God. This is exactly what our Christian doctrine of the Trinity tells us (that God is one Being who exists in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit).

The picture of Jesus as a lamb also reminds us that like a sacrificial lamb, He was perfect in every way. Lest we be led astray imagining a cute cuddly little baby sheep, we are also told that the lamb “has seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God (5:6).” These horns and eyes are not literal – it is a word picture, used to communicate something. “Horns” represent strength throughout the Old Testament, and also elsewhere in Revelation. Although we might be tempted to think Jesus is weak and helpless, this picture reminds us that he is perfect in strength – you can’t get any stronger than seven horns. In addition, of course, he is also “the Lion of Judah.” The eyes, as the verse tells us, represent the Holy Spirit, completing the picture of a God who is “three-in-one.” Here is one, who with all the power in the universe at his command, laid it aside to willingly die for us (Philippians 2:6-11). He died instead of us, to pay the penalty for sins we committed (he committed none himself). By his sacrifice he lost none of his strength, and now arisen offers everyone a chance for a new life – for free. In all heaven and earth there is no one else so powerful or so perfect or so loving as to be able to break the seals of the scroll, and execute God’s plan of judgment and salvation. Only Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God can do it. Only He is worthy.

So taken together, these two things in chapter five tell us that Revelation is a book about Father God’s purposes being fulfilled through the work of God the Son, Jesus Christ and through God the Holy Spirit. This book (like the rest of the Bible) is all about Jesus, and the dark and scary things to come are only supposed to be dark and scary for those who do not know Him. The calamities unleashed by the breaking of the seals are unleashed by Jesus himself; to bring judgment to those who have rejected him, and to allow them one last chance to repent. As we read on, we must bear in mind that redeemed in heaven rejoiced at the breaking of the seals, and the martyrs groaned at how long it seemed to take before it was all brought to completion. The scroll will soon be opened, and it is time to rejoice!

So, let’s try to apply this to our lives right now. In the first place, perhaps some of us need to focus on the power and majesty and authority of God. In this day and age, we tend to not respect authority. But this picture of God leaves no room for insolence. He is God, we are not. This is a simple truth, but it is also very powerful. We don’t get to control things. We don’t get to judge God. He is the Supreme ruler of everything that is. Even Jesus, the compassionate lamb of God, is revealed as perfectly strong and all-knowing.

Secondly, perhaps we need to remember that Jesus Christ is in control of history. It is unfolding according to God’s plan. The seals are broken by Jesus himself; it is Jesus who enacts God’s will through history. If we trust God, we have nothing to fear from international tension, or corrupt politics. We have nothing to fear in the events of our own lives. That is not to say that everything will always work out according to how we want it to; but it is clear that we are never, even for a moment, out of the care of Jesus Christ. Even when things seems chaotic and scary (like much of Revelation) we know that Jesus is working all things for our good. In view of this truth, the apostle Paul writes some of the most comforting words in the entire Bible:

28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good,8  for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. 31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be9  against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised— who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.10  35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;

we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:28-38)

I pray that we would have such a clear vision of the joy that awaits us that any tribulation in the meantime seems small in comparison. I pray that we begin to truly desire God to enact his plan in history, to bring his will to culmination and welcome us into the New Heaven and New Earth.


glowing Jesus

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Download Revelation Part 14

Revelation #14. Revelation 4:1-11

We have come to the end of the first section of Revelation. Each of the seven major sections of the book begins with a view from the perspective of Heaven. Section one began with a vision of Jesus, and his words about being the first and last, about having control of all things. After that initial vision, which established the perspective of Heaven, there were seven letters, addressing the concerns among churches here on earth. Now that the entire first section is done, we return once more to the perspective of heaven.

To understand Revelation chapter four, it is useful to think of an analogy. In our world, a thing can move in three different ways: forward-backward; side-to-side; and downward-upward. Every direction is either one of these, or a compromise between them. We call these the three dimensions. If you are using only one dimension, you could draw a straight line, like this:Slide1

If you are using two dimensions you could draw a figure, say a square. The figure is made up of straight lines in combination, like this:


If you have three dimensions you could build a solid body, like a cube. Now imagine a world which was only two-dimensional; populated, I suppose, by stick-people. How could we communicate to those two-dimensional people what our three-dimensional world is like? If we simply tried to show them something three dimensional, they couldn’t comprehend it. For instance if we stuck cube in the middle of their world, they would only see a square, where the cube intersected with their two-dimensional plane. A better way might be to draw a cube. It would thus represented in a two dimensional way. Unfortunately, it could easily be misunderstood as simply six squares that are connected, like this:


I’m sure you are all thrilled by my grasp of spatial relations, but the point is this: When God tries to communicate with us about heaven and what eternity is like, it can be difficult for us to understand. He tries to use language that we are familiar with, and “word pictures” that help, but ultimately we cannot understand completely until he takes us there. It is sort of like we are living in a different dimension from him. That is why we find some of the language in Revelation so difficult – John is trying to use human words to describe something that human existence cannot fully comprehend. So he says things like: “he was like a jasper; or “the rainbow was like an emerald;” and so on. It’s OK if this is a bit confusing, because it is a bit beyond us. So what we will do as we continue to study Revelation is to seek out the main points that John is making, without getting lost in the sometimes-confusing details. I continue to believe that the major points of most Biblical passages – even in Revelation – are clear.

And so we come to Chapter 4. Remember what chapter one was all about? It was about God in control. Chapter four is a repetition of the same theme – God is in control – using different images to convey the same message. In chapter one God told us he was in control. He said things like “I am the Alpha and Omega, who is, who was and who is to come (1:8),” and “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living one; and I was dead and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and Hades (1:17-18).” Now, in chapter four through what John saw, he shows us that he is in control. He shows us this by means of “pictures” that John records.

For example, John sees a throne standing in heaven, and the throne is not empty! There is One sitting on the throne (4:2). The secular people in the 90’s AD were inclined to believe that the Roman Emperor was in charge of the world. Secular people today, though they don’t admit it, are inclined to believe that the throne should be occupied by self. They believe that we are supposed to pursue fulfilment by focusing on our own needs and desires. Others believe that the “throne of the universe” is entirely empty, and we are simply meaningless by-products of a random process.

Revelation chapter four contradicts these world-views. The control of the universe is not up for grabs. The direction of history is not controlled by a worldly ruler. Neither are we in charge of our own destiny. Nor does the universe roll on by mere chance – someone is sitting on the throne of heaven, ruling and directing – Someone is in charge.

When we get to the description of that Someone, we come to one of those places where a five, or ten, dimensional world is trying to communicate with our paltry three-dimensional senses. John says the one on the throne (in case you haven’t figured it out, it’s God) is like jasper and sardius in appearance. The truth is, we don’t know for sure which particular stones John’s language is referring to – the names of precious stones have often changed over the years. I personally resort to the idea that God simply looked amazing, but mostly indescribable to human senses. I place the emerald rainbow in the same category, though the reference to the rainbow could be a reminder that God has never forgotten his promises (Genesis 9:12-17). In any case, it is God’s position (on the throne) and not his appearance, that matters most.

John goes on to describe the rest of what he sees – what I call “heaven’s throne room.” Near the throne are twenty-four other thrones, with twenty-four elders on them (v. 4). There is quite a bit of speculation about who these elders are. They are often said to represent God’s people throughout history: twelve elders for the twelve tribes of Israel (representing the faithful before the coming of Christ) and twelve for the twelve apostles (representing the Christian church throughout history). There are a few clues, however, that suggest that instead these twenty-four elders are not human, but rather are angelic beings. I will not go into all the details here, but suffice it to say that elders “act” more like angels than like redeemed human beings. They appear expedite the prayers of the saints (5:8); they communicate God’s truth to men (7:13-14) and when they praise God they do not sing the song of the redeemed – instead they sing about the redeemed (5:9-10). They also cannot learn the song of those purchased by the lamb (14:3). So they appear to be some sort of heavenly council of elders, perhaps angelic beings who represent the interests of God’s people in the throne room of heaven.

The spirit of God is present in its fullness in heaven’s throne room (as represented by the seven lamps), and the presence of God is forcefully felt by thunder and lightning. God is not just a benign old man – sort of a white-robed Santa Claus – instead, he is an awesome and powerful being. His presence cannot be ignored. The ruler of the universe is not an ineffectual, weak king – he is firmly in control, and has the power to effect his will.

The living creatures are fascinating. They appear elsewhere (in similar form) in Ezekiel 1:4-28 (in a vision which is quite similar to John’s). Once again we are talking about a dimension we know very little about, but my best guess about the creatures is as follows: They represent the fullness of God’s creation, and possibly also they symbolize that his will is done all over the world, and that he knows and sees everything that happens in this world. The lion’s face represents God’s presence in, knowledge of, and provision for, the wild places of the earth. The ox-face likewise tells us that God does his will in, and provides for, the rural areas. The man-face indicates God’s activity in civilizations and cities, and the eagle represents the air. Probably there is no representation of the oceans and waters of the world because in Revelation John usually uses the sea as a picture of all that is evil. The fact that each creature has eyes everywhere indicates that God sees everything. The fact that the creatures are engaged in praising him indicates that all creation is under the authority of God, and gives him glory.

As we continue through Revelation we will be periodically brought back into the heavenly throne room, to be reminded that no matter what is going on here on earth, God is in control. He is awesome, powerful, and nothing escapes his attention. He knows exactly what is going on. When we look at the book of Revelation through this lens (as we should) it becomes a source of great joy and comfort.

Let’s try and make this practical. Is there some area of your life that is bothering you right now? Is there something that you are trying to control, or some outcome you are trying to achieve? Put God on the throne. Let Him be the one in charge. Picture Him dealing with the problem, and leave it with him.

Perhaps there is some area of your life where you feel like God doesn’t even know or care. Rest assured, he is paying attention. He knows exactly what is going on with you. We are called to hold on, even when it is long, and hard, even when it is boring and soul-numbing, because God is indeed at work, even when we don’t see it. As we go through Revelation, we will see that he has a grand plan that will culminate with God himself wiping the tears from your eyes. I’m not exaggerating, listen to the end:

3Then I heard a loud voice from the throne: Look! God’s dwelling is with humanity, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. 4He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will no longer exist; grief, crying, and pain will exist no longer, because the previous things have passed away. (Rev 21:3-4, HCSB)

Listen to what the Spirit is saying to you today!


Jesus with us

The first five verses of Revelation bring us incredible grace and comfort, by reminding who God is.

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Download Revelation Part 3

Revelation #3. 1:1-5

 We have spent two messages on introductory material. There is much more to learn about the background and writing of Revelation, but my plan is to teach about those things as we go along. That way, you’ll get the information when you need it to understand the text.

I want to clean up just a few details from the first three verses. John says in verse 1 that what he is sharing what “will quickly take place.” This is the best way to phrase it in English because it shows the ambiguity of the phrase. It could mean “it will all take place soon,” or, “it will happen, whenever it happens, suddenly.” Also, at the end of verse 3, “the time is near,” speaks, in Greek, of physical nearness, more than chronological nearness. Make of that what you will, but I keep thinking of Peter, who wrote:

8Dear friends, don’t let this one thing escape you: With the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. 9The Lord does not delay His promise, as some understand delay, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance. (2Pet 3:8-9, HCSB)

This is very important to keep in mind as we read Revelation.

It is almost as if in verses 1-3 John is preparing his readers. He knows that the contents of his letter (the book of Revelation) are strange and weird. He is preparing us for that. Next, in verse 4, John writes a somewhat more traditional introduction:

4John: To the seven churches in Asia. Grace and peace to you from the One who is, who was, and who is coming; from the seven spirits before His throne; 5and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

John identifies himself simply by his name. Though some Christians believe there was another John, “the elder of Ephesus,” there really isn’t any hard evidence for that. This is almost certainly John the Apostle. The Greek of Revelation is very different from that of John’s gospel and his three letters, but I think that is easily explained. It is likely that John wrote his other works with the aid of an amanuensis, which was, basically, a secretary, or scribe in the ancient world. So, the secretary-person probably helped John with the Greek phrases of his other work (Remember, Greek was not John’s native language). For Revelation, (also sometimes called “John’s Apocalypse”) however, John was a prisoner, on an island that was used as a prison camp. It would have been very surprising if John had the use of a secretary. In verses 1&2, he identifies himself by name, and as the one “who testified to God’s word and to the testimony  about Jesus Christ, in all he saw.” This sounds exactly like the Apostle John in his gospel:

He who saw this has testified so that you also may believe. His testimony is true, and he knows he is telling the truth. (John 19:35, HCSB)

This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true. (John 21:24, HCSB)

It also sounds like John in his first letter:

2that life was revealed, and we have seen it and we testify and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us — 3what we have seen and heard we also declare to you, so that you may have fellowship along with us (1John 1:2-4, HCSB)

 14And we have seen and we testify that the Father has sent His Son as the world’s Savior. (1John 4:14, HCSB)

 This is also in John’s third letter:

12Demetrius has a good testimony from everyone, and from the truth itself. And we also testify for him, and you know that our testimony is true. (3John 1: 12, HCSB)

 I think we should certainly accept that this is John the Apostle. If for some reason, you still don’t want to think it was written by John the Apostle, that’s fine. Let’s understand, however, that Revelation is still the Word of God.

There is no reason to believe that the seven churches of Asia are symbolic, and every reason to believe that they were real, historical congregations of house churches in each of the named cities. When John writes, “Grace and peace to you,” that much is normal for most of the letters of the New Testament. His next phrases, however, are a bit different:

from the One who is, who was, and who is coming; from the seven spirits before His throne; 5and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

This description of God as the one who is, was, and is to come provides us with a clue for the whole of Revelation. Some of what we read in this book is past, some present, some future. God himself is Lord over all three “at the same time,” so to speak. Understanding this will help us to make sense of the some of the crazy things in this book.

When we read “from the seven spirits before his throne,” it sounds a bit strange. Most commentators believe that this is how John is representing the Holy Spirit. That makes sense. The first part (who is, was and is to come) is the Father. Jesus Christ, the Son, is named in verse 5. The seven spirits, then, represent the fullness of the Holy Spirit at work in the world. Later on, in Revelation 3:1 and 4:5, John explicitly calls them “the seven spirits of God.” In other words, together, they represent the work of the Holy Spirit.

This interpretation is bolstered by other parts of the Bible. The prophet Zechariah once had a vision. In the vision, he saw a golden oil lampstand with seven connected lamps, and oil channels running to each of the seven. Zechariah asked an angel what it meant, and this is what the angel said:

6So he answered me, “This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by strength or by might, but by My Spirit,’ says the LORD of Hosts. (Zech 4:6, HCSB)

In other words, the seven oil lamps symbolized the Holy Spirit. Remember, like Zechariah, John is writing in apocalyptic language. It is reasonable to assume the same meaning: the seven spirits of God are the many-branches of the work of the Holy Spirit.

The Number 7 in Revelation

We might as well pause here and deal with the number seven. For Jewish people, the number seven meant completeness, finality, and perfection.

For John, I believe it especially means the completion of God’s full and perfect work in the world. John, and all Christians after him, believed in a Triune God: one being, made up of three distinct persons, The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This means that three is the number of God.

John, and all Jews before him, thought of the number of four as indicating all of creation. We will see this when we get to chapter four in Revelation. Jews as far back as Ezekiel (590 BC, or so) imagined the world as divided into four parts: 1. The Wilderness 2. The Rural Areas 3. The Cities, and Cultures of Humankind 4. The Air.

So seven equals three (the number of God) plus four (the entirety of creation). It signifies God’s perfect work, plan, and will, expressed in the world.

Returning to our text, we don’t worship seven separate Holy Spirits. Instead, John describes him as “the sevenfold spirit of God” or “seven spirits of God” to express the work and will of the Holy Spirit in God’s creation. We are meant to know from this that the Holy Spirit is at work in the world.

Next, John brings Greeting from “Jesus Christ, the faithful witness.” It seems like a somewhat strange title. Aren’t the followers of Jesus witnesses for Christ? Why is He a witness? It might help to  know that in Greek, the word for “witness” is the same as the word for “martyr.” In John’s time, many Christians were being imprisoned, and some were even killed, for holding to their testimony that Jesus Christ is the God-man, savior of the world. I think John means to remind everyone that they are following in the footsteps of the original martyr: Jesus himself. Those who have died for their faith are in the best possible company: Jesus, the faithful martyr. Finally, Jesus is called, Ruler of the kings of earth.

I think, for now, we have enough to apply to our lives. Let’s begin with remembering that our Father is, was, and is to come. Nothing has ever happened to you that God cannot redeem for good (Romans 8:28). Even if you did not know him until later in life, He is the God of your past. If you let him, he can go back even to the muck of terrible things that you did, even to terrible things that were done to you, and redeem them through Jesus Christ. If you struggle with your past, I strongly urge you to pray about it. Invite the Lord of the past into your past. Give him permission to forgive, heal and redeem.

Our Father is also present. Nothing going on in your life right now is out of God’s control. He isn’t wringing his hands, saying, “Oh my! I never thought my people would ever get into this situation! What shall I do?” His plans are sometimes difficult – or even impossible – to understand (we only have to read on in Revelation to realize that). As I write this, I am fighting chronic pain in my left kidney that has been present for more than two years. I also have a new, arthritis-type pain all over my body, and I feel nauseous, two days out of three. But my greatest hope is to know my Father better in this present moment. Of course, I want pain relief and healing. It’s just that I want more to experience Him. And the wonderful thing is, that is what He promises I can have, here and now. He is my God, not just in the past or future, but now.

Our Heavenly Father is also our future. Nothing that comes to us in the future will be without God. When we worry about the future, the primary reason is that we are leaving God out of our calculations. He has already been to the future. He is there, and if we trust him, we can have peace about what is to come. Also, in the ultimate future, we will have more than just peace of mind. This book we are studying tells me that I will have pain relief and healing – if not now, then for certain, one day in the future. Paul wrote:

19If we have put our hope in Christ for this life only, we should be pitied more than anyone. (1Cor 15:19, HCSB)

We have an unimaginably glorious, thrilling, joyful, meaningful, PERFECT future waiting for us if we persist in our faith. John will describe it in detail at the end of this book.

Perhaps we need to remember that the Holy Spirit, in all its fullness, is at work in the world, and in our hearts. If we are followers of Jesus, the Spirit of God is in us. Revelation will go on to show us that the Spirit is work all around us in the world, though we usually don’t notice it.

John describes Jesus Christ as the faithful martyr. Sometimes we feel alone in our suffering. Perhaps a divorced woman, suffering the results of the unfaithfulness of her husband, feels all alone in her emotional pain. Maybe a man who lost his wife to cancer feels the death of all his dreams about their future together. Jesus has gone ahead of you. He too died – not just in part, but in every way. And somehow, he took upon himself all of the struggles of humanity. He has experienced all of the same struggles we have:

14Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens — Jesus the Son of God — let us hold fast to the confession. 15For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tested in every way as we are, yet without sin. 16Therefore let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us at the proper time. (Heb 4:14-16, HCSB)

Sometimes, ridiculous as it is, I feel like a martyr. No one else I know seems to struggle like I do. I suspect, however, that my feelings are quite common among all people. Jesus Christ was the faithful martyr who suffered unjustly, yet remained faithful. I am in good company when I suffer in any way. Not only that, but he is with me in my suffering. He is here to give me grace and mercy as I struggle. His presence is right here in the middle of struggles, suffering, and loneliness.

Jesus is also the firstborn of the dead, which is another title of hope. My future is tied to his. His resurrection ensures my own. I won’t always suffer or struggle. There are wonderful things ahead. Paul, thinking of this wrote:

18For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us. (Rom 8:18, HCSB)

Lastly, John writes that Jesus is also the ruler of the kings of the earth. That seems like a strange title, doesn’t it? When John wrote, there would have been almost no Christians in government, and very little hope (apparently) of there ever being Christians with influence in a worldly government. The most powerful man in the world insisted that others worship him as a god. He and his government were brutal, cruel, immoral and greedy. But John has just seen a vision of the world as God sees it, and he knows that no matter what it looks like, ultimate authority belongs to Jesus. Regardless of how it appears, Jesus Christ is over every king and ruler, and there is no power on earth greater than Him.

When John wrote, the Roman emperor, and everyone around him, believed he was the most powerful man on earth. No doubt, in our time, the current president of the United States believes he is the most powerful man in the world. They are all wrong. Jesus is the ultimate power. Though for a little while, Jesus gives rulers and kings a limited ability to do what they want, the buck stops not with the president, but with Jesus. He is in control. This calls for faith, because it sure doesn’t look like Jesus is in control. Yet, that is why John writes, and shares his vision: to encourage our faith. This is a call to believe these things that John has written. One way to “take hold” of these things in faith is by thanking God for them. I encourage you to take some time right now to thank God for being there in your past, here in your present, and in control of your future. Thank Jesus for his faithful death on our behalf, and that he allows us to be part of his company of witnesses. Even thank him for the “little deaths” that you might have to die here and now, knowing, like Jesus, that our reward is certain. Thank him for his many-splendoured work in the world, and in your heart, through the Holy Spirit. Thank him for being in control of the world, even in control of those who have worldly authority over us.

Let the Holy Spirit continue to apply these verses to your life right now.



Suffering cannot derail God’s plan for your life. It can be very, very difficult, but it does not have to be evil. In fact, the best thing that ever happened for humankind came about through suffering. It came not in spite of Jesus’ suffering, but because of it. Ultimate suffering was the means of bringing about ultimate good. If this tremendous good (our salvation) came through suffering, is it possible that our own suffering might bring also bring about some good?

To listen to the sermon, click the play button:

To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer:
Download Suffering Part 1

Suffering #1.

I’m not quite ready to launch into another long book-of-the-Bible-series. Instead, I’d like to do something that I don’t do very often – preach on a topic, with various scripture passages as support for the topic. In general, this is not the best way to learn the Bible, but at times, it can be an appropriate way to teach about some part of the Christian faith. I want to spend a few weeks talking about the topic of suffering.

As I write this, I am battling a chronic pain condition that often severely affects me, and limits what I can do. I may not be able to finish one sermon each week. I do appreciate your patience with me as we go through this. If you check for a sermon and don’t find one, maybe you could use that as a reminder to pray for me.

You may think it ironic (depending on how you use that word) that I want to speak about suffering while I am suffering from chronic pain. I’m not so sure. I think the fact that my life is not all rosy right now might be a good place from which to consider the issue.

Before I go any farther, however, let me say this. I do think I’ve suffered a little bit. I haven’t known an entire day without pain for more than two years. A significant amount of my time and energy goes into managing my pain every day. I’ve suffered enough to learn some practical things about the topic. But I don’t think I’ve suffered more than anyone else. I know many, many people who have undergone suffering that, from my perspective, looks much worse than my own. I don’t pretend to know what those other types of suffering are like. I wouldn’t dream of suggesting that I have suffered as much as many people I know. But I do know that the same Lord who is with me in my pain can be with you in your pain – whether that pain is physical, emotional, relational, or something else. I am not an experiential expert on suffering. But the main thing I have to offer is to teach and apply what the Bible says about the topic. That’s why I’m taking on this sermon series.

Within the past sixty years or so, people in North America, Western Europe, Australia and New Zealand (“Western culture”) have entered into a unique period in human history. Many of us who live in these places have come to look upon suffering as some sort of an aberration. What I mean is, we think suffering is an interruption to “normal life;” we picture it as something unusual, something that is not meant to happen. People in other parts of the world (and probably most people in my grandparents’ generation and earlier, in Western culture), understand that suffering is a normal part of life.

I grew up in a third-world country. A school-mate of mine always had to use crutches, because he had polio when he was little. Another acquaintance of mine died from tetanus. I had malaria nine different times. One of my closest friends nearly died from dengue fever. In Western Cultures, no one gets polio or tetanus anymore, because everyone is vaccinated for it. No one gets malaria in those cultures, and most have never even heard of dengue fever. Where I grew up, malnutrition was common. In America, the biggest “nutrition problem” among the poor is obesity.

Because Western cultures have reduced physical suffering, and increased life expectancy so dramatically, we can be lulled into thinking that suffering of any kind should be unusual. When suffering comes, we are surprised, and we often find ourselves in a spiritual crisis because of it. It doesn’t help that many Christians have been ensnared by the false teaching that if we follow God, things will go well for us in our lives. Christian author Tim Keller writes:

“Within the western secular view of things, suffering is seen as an interruption of the freedom to live as makes you happiest. The circumstances that cause suffering and the emotions that go with it must be removed and minimized or managed.” (Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering, pg188)

However, the shocking truth is that Jesus taught the opposite:

24Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. (Matt 16:24-25, ESV2011)


27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:27, ESV2011)

The cross in the time of Jesus was a symbol of intense suffering and death. Clearly, he was saying that to follow Him means to deny ourselves, and submit to suffering, and even perhaps death, along the way. Clearly, that is exactly what happened to many of the first generation of Christians.

I realize that many Christians are unsure about this. Is suffering really supposed to be part of the Christian life? Consider these verses also:

33I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world.” (John 16:32-33, HCSB)

12Dear friends, don’t be surprised when the fiery ordeal comes among you to test you as if something unusual were happening to you. 13Instead, rejoice as you share in the sufferings of the Messiah, so that you may also rejoice with great joy at the revelation of His glory. (1 Peter 4:12-13)

19For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. 20For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. 21For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. (1Pet 2:19-21, ESV2011)

Now, some people might say, “Ah, but Tom, those verses are only talking about persecution. If we live in a time and place without persecution, we should not expect to suffer.” Really? The Greek word in John 16:33, above is “thlipsis.” The literal meaning is “pressure.” It is translated variously as: tribulation, affliction, distress,  and pressure. The Greek word for persecution is quite distinct from this: diogmos (diokos for the verb). Jesus very clearly did not say “persecution,” here. Likewise, in the verse above, Peter does not use the word diogmos, but rather the most common New Testament word for suffering (patho, and various forms of it), which is far more general than just persecution.

There are a few other words used of suffering in the New Testament. I won’t bore you with them all, but they are all quite distinct from the word for persecution.

For instance, James writes of “trials”:

12A man who endures trials is blessed, because when he passes the test he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him. (Jas 1:12, HCSB)

2Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, 3knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4But endurance must do its complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing. (Jas 1:2-4, HCSB)

Though the words for suffering might include the possibility of persecution, they can, like in English, encompass all sorts of different pain, distress and hardship. If the Holy Spirit had meant us to believe that the only suffering Christians should face is persecution, then all these verses would have used diogmos, not the words that are actually there.

Here are a few more verses:

14For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.  (Rom 8:14-17, ESV2011)

3Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort. 4He comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any kind of affliction, through the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 5For as the sufferings of Christ overflow to us, so through Christ our comfort also overflows. 6If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation. If we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which is experienced in your endurance of the same sufferings that we suffer. 7And our hope for you is firm, because we know that as you share in the sufferings, so you will share in the comfort. (2Cor 1:3-7, HCSB)

How about this one:

29For it has been given to you on Christ’s behalf not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for Him, 30having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I have. (Phil 1:29-30, HCSB)

I could do this all day. Excluding the word for persecution, suffering is mentioned literally hundreds of times in the New Testament, most often in the context of the lives of Christian believers. Paul describes his sufferings for Christ in 2 Corinthians:

23Are they servants of Christ? I’m talking like a madman — I’m a better one: with far more labors, many more imprisonments, far worse beatings, near death many times. 24Five times I received 39 lashes from Jews. 25Three times I was beaten with rods by the Romans. Once I was stoned by my enemies. Three times I was shipwrecked. I have spent a night and a day in the open sea. 26On frequent journeys, I faced dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my own people, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the open country, dangers on the sea, and dangers among false brothers; 27labor and hardship, many sleepless nights, hunger and thirst, often without food, cold, and lacking clothing. (2Cor 11:23-27, HCSB)

Paul does mention persecution, and suffering imposed upon him by sinful people. But he also mentions natural dangers (the sea, rivers) the suffering that comes with hard labor, travel, sleepless nights, lacking food and clothing. Later on, in the same letter, he mentions physical illness. All of it is “suffering.” All of it might be expected in the life of a believer.

Some people seem think, particularly about illness, that Jesus promised to heal every physical illness of all of his followers, even here on earth (before heaven), if they just have enough faith. Not only is there no such all-encompassing promise anywhere in the Bible, but these dozens and dozens of verses about suffering contradict such an idea. It is no lack of faith to say that true and faithful Christians suffer in a variety of ways – it is a core teaching of the New Testament. To argue otherwise is to claim that the apostles did not have enough faith. It would also cast condemnation upon every Christian who suffers from an illness.

Now, I don’t think that all this means that we are supposed to deliberately seek out suffering. I believe that would be foolish. But all of these verses about suffering are actually good news. If we are in the middle of suffering, it is good news to know that we are not alone, that Jesus and the apostles expected that we would encounter such things in this life, as they, themselves, did. In other words, suffering cannot derail God’s plan for your life. Suffering does not mean that somehow, something has gone horribly wrong. I want you to consider this carefully: Suffering can be very, very difficult. But it does not have to be evil.

God can work wonderful, amazing things through suffering. In fact, the very best thing that ever happened for humankind came about through suffering. It came not in spite of Jesus’ suffering, but because of it. Ultimate suffering was the means of bringing about ultimate good. If this tremendous good (our salvation) came through suffering, is it possible that our own suffering might bring also bring about good?

This is a big topic, and there is a lot more to say. I encourage you to write to me, and ask questions about it. At the same time, please be patient – I will try to cover some of the most obvious issues connected to suffering.

Let’s close with more words from Tim Keller:

“So suffering is at the very heart of the Christian faith. It is not only the way Christ became like and redeemed us, but it is one of the main ways we become like him and experience his redemption. And that means that our suffering, despite its painfulness, is also filled with purpose and usefulness.” (Tim Keller, Walking With God through Pain and Suffering)



The truth is earthly suffering is intolerable unless there is a glorious, loving, sorrow-free eternity. We Christians are a people of hope. But our hope is not primarily in this temporary life. Everyone dies, sooner or later. All hopes – for this life – come to an end. Jesus, as usual said it best: “You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world.”

To listen to the sermon, click the play button:

To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download Matthew Part 45



Matthew #45 . Matthew 14:1-12

The first part of Matthew 14 relates the details of how John the Baptist was killed. It’s important for us to remember that the life and teachings of John the Baptist continued to influence a large number of Jews for at least a generation after he was killed. I think this is one reason Matthew describes this incident in detail – it would have been important to the readers he had in mind when he was writing.

Matthew has already told us that John was in prison. I want to spend a moment dwelling on the reason for that, and the thing that got him killed, because it may surprise us. The short version is, John was imprisoned, and then killed, for publicly supporting biblical sexual morality. He publicly said that Herod was wrong for having sexual relations with his brother’s wife, Herodias.

I point this out because I think it is very relevant today. Our culture is extremely intolerant of people who insist that sex has any moral significance in and of itself.

If you say that sex has intrinsic moral significance, then you set it within a larger moral framework and set limits to the legitimate use of sex. In doing so, you declare certain sexual acts illegitimate, something which is now considered hate speech…

By divesting sex of intrinsic moral significance [an activist] has helped to create a world where those who attempt to set limits to the legitimacy of sexual activity are seen as the moral equivalent of racists and the intellectual equivalent of flat-earthers: Irrational bigots who have no place in the public square. (Carl R Trueman, First Things, 2-23-15

There are many people who call themselves Christians who either don’t know, or don’t believe what the bible says about sex. There are many more who don’t like it, and refuse to adhere to it. A lot of people think that it gives Christians a bad name if we go around saying what the bible says about sex. Even more suggest that sexual morality is a “secondary issue” and we Christians should stay out of it for the sake of the gospel.

But John the Baptist died for it.

He could have said, “Well what Herod does in his own bedroom is Herod’s own business.” It’s likely that he could have made a public apology to Herod and Herodias, and at least have been spared execution. But he didn’t. He insisted upon telling the truth, and doing so publicly, and not retracting it. It got him killed.

Someday, a sermon like this may lead to my own imprisonment. It is no longer a question of disagreement in our culture. The power-brokers in the media, academe and government, as well as millions of narrow-minded citizens, want people like John the Baptist to be silenced. They don’t want to hear something they disagree with.

We have not yet come to executions for saying that adultery is a sin. But our government is already considering laws that make it a hate-crime to say in a public speech that homosexual behavior is a sin. In October of 2014, the city of Houston demanded in a subpoena that pastors turn over any sermon or communication with their congregation that mentions homosexuality, the lesbian mayor or transgender issues. To refuse to turn over the sermons would have been contempt of court, punishable by imprisonment. The government’s position is that pastors were using their religious positions to campaign politically, since there was law on the ballot about gay and transgender issues. But the fact remains, when the pastors spoke about the law (if they did) they did so because the issues raised by it are of biblical concern, and it is manifest that the city government wanted to silence and punish them for it.

Now, please understand me clearly. I am not saying that we should go around investigating everyone’s sex life, looking for something to criticize. But I do think sometimes we Jesus-followers avoid the topic because we don’t like getting flack for calling sin “sin.” I simply want to point out that perhaps this passage shows us that the issue of sexual morality is more important than we want to think, and I do suspect that it is with that issue that the persecution of Christians will begin in the Western world. Lest we think it is a secondary issue, remember that John the Baptist died for speaking the truth about morality. I think we Christians should consider this very carefully before we decide to keep silent about it.


After John was killed, his disciples buried his body, and then they did something very important: they went to Jesus. There is no doubt that they were full of grief and sorrow. There is no doubt that some of them wondered why Jesus didn’t do anything to save John. But they went to him anyway.

Jesus’ reaction is also important:

When Jesus heard about it, He withdrew from there by boat to a remote place to be alone. (Matt 14:13)

Obviously, the news of John’s death had an impact on Jesus. He wanted to be alone to process it. Jesus and John were relatives, and they had known each other all their lives. John had worked hard to prepare people for the ministry of Jesus, and he had unfailingly pointed people toward him. In short, they were family, friends and ministry partners. And now John is gone. Jesus knew his eternal home was heaven. He knew he would see John there again. But that didn’t change the fact that just like us, Jesus experienced pain and suffering in the world, and it hit him hard at times.

I think it’s important for us to dwell on this for a minute. We human beings have a very difficult time with pain and suffering. How can a good and loving God let these things happen? The answers to this are only partial, and sometimes complex. But I take comfort from the example of Jesus here. On the one hand, he knows everything is going to be all right. In fact, he knows that in eternity, everything is better than all right. John’s suffering on earth is over. He himself will be with John again in just a few short years. On the other hand, in the present moment, he grieves.

The truth is earthly suffering is intolerable unless there is a glorious, loving, sorrow-free eternity. About a year ago, I spoke at the funeral of a twenty-one year old who died unexpectedly and tragically. I said then that of course it was good and right to grieve. I said that we Christians are also people of hope. But our hope is not primarily in this temporary life. Everyone dies, sooner or later. All hopes – for this life – come to an end. Paul writes:

If we have put our hope in Christ for this life only, we should be pitied more than anyone. But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead also comes through a man. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ, the firstfruits; afterward, at His coming, those who belong to Christ. (1Cor 15:19-23, HCSB)

Jesus shows us that it is good and appropriate to grieve the tragedies of this life. But he also gives us a better hope, an eternal hope. I am reminded of the old song, Wayfarin’ Stranger:

I’m just a poor, wayfarin’ stranger

Travelin’ through this world of woe

But there’s no sickness, no toil or danger

In that bright world to which I go.


I’m goin’ there to see my Father

I’m goin’ there no more to roam

I’m just a goin’ over Jordan

I’m just a goin’ over home.

Jesus, preparing his disciples for his own death, said this:

I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world.” (John 16:33, HCSB)

We will have trouble and suffering in the world. Hope which cannot apply equally to the free man with the possibility of making his life better, and also the man doomed to suffer and die in prison, is not hope at all. Jesus offers us real hope, eternal hope. There is a time for grief, and Jesus himself grieved for his dear friend and cousin John. If this was the experience of Jesus, we should not think that we will be exempt from it. But even in grief, there is hope, hope not based on everything coming out right here and now, but on something greater and more lasting than anything in this life.

Like John’s disciples, and Jesus himself, it is often appropriate to mourn. But also like John’s disciples, let us bring our grief to Jesus, and receive from him the eternal hope we so desperately need.

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Therefore, as with all of these blessings, it is not so much the condition described which brings blessing, but rather, being in that condition at the same time as knowing and trusting Jesus


To listen to the sermon, click the play button:

To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download Matthew Part 11


Matthew #11 . 5:4-5

As we return to Matthew this week, let me remind us where we are. Jesus has climbed a small mountain with his disciples, and he is teaching them what Jesus followers “look like” and how they are to live. He has begun with a list of character traits, which nowadays, for obscure reasons, we call “the beatitudes.” These character traits are key to understanding the entire sermon on the mount. In fact, one way to look at it is like this:

· Jesus first explains that these character traits (the beatitudes) should be part of the life of every disciple.

· Following that, in the rest of the sermon, he gives practical examples of these character traits in action.

For example, in chapter 6, he talks about depending upon the Father for everything we need in life – including finances and other material resources. We can’t totally rely on the Father like that unless we become “poor in spirit” – understanding our complete dependence upon the Lord, and his gracious desire to take care of us. “Blessed are the poor in spirit” is of course, the first character trait that Jesus spoke about, which we looked at last time. For now, we will move on to two more of these Jesus-follower character traits.

Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted.

This statement of Jesus is full of meaning. I believe Jesus may have been thinking of several different kinds of “mourning” including:

a. The grief of lost loved ones. The Greek word used here for “mourn” describes lamenting for someone who has died. It is the sort of grief that consumes a person, and cannot be hidden. Therefore I believe that among other things, Jesus was referring literally to people who had lost loved ones to death. This is stunningly counter-cultural for me – how can we say someone who has lost a husband, a wife, a child, a sibling or a parent is blessed? The point is, of course, we can’t say that – but Jesus can. And the reason he does say it is simply and only because of his own resurrection. Remember, Jesus is talking here to Christians – people who know him, who have placed all their hope in him alone. Therefore, as with all of these blessings, it is not so much the condition described which brings blessing, but rather, being in that condition at the same time as knowing and trusting Jesus. In other words, not everyone who mourns the loss of a loved one is blessed – it is only those who know Jesus who receive true comfort for their mourning. When we lose a loved one who is in the care of Jesus, we know that we will see that person again. We know that in fact, we get to spend eternity with our Christian loved ones in the presence of God. We know that even before that, our loved ones are in a better place. Now, on the other hand I have often struggled with the idea of losing a loved one who doesn’t know Jesus – there doesn’t seem to be much comfort there. And yet, I receive in faith the promises of Revelation 21:4

“He [God] will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

There is a tremendous grief in losing someone who is close to you, but the blessing comes in the fact that this grief is temporary – for they shall be comforted.

b. There is another kind of mourning that brings blessing in Jesus. I call it the grief of brokenness. This is not so much mourning about losing someone else, but rather losing something inside yourself, or something that you desperately wanted or needed. For some, it might be that they didn’t receive the approval they sought from their parents. For others, perhaps they simply do not feel loved for who they are. Still others might be seeking self-significance, or a marriage partner, or healthy family relationships. What the world around us counsels in these situations is to do whatever it takes to make up for the loss in our lives. So people needing approval try to become successful or famous, hoping the adulation of the crowds will fill them up. Some try to make other people give them what they want – this is where we see unhealthy patterns of relationships developing. Jesus counsels us instead to mourn. The key to being comforted is first to mourn. So many of us (myself included) do not like to acknowledge those areas where we are truly weak and needy – it isn’t pleasant to go there. So we try to by-pass the mourning part, and go straight to the comfort. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. But when we acknowledge our brokenness, when we truly mourn the fact that we did not, and will not, get what we needed from circumstances or other people – then Jesus has an opportunity to heal us, and to bring comfort. This is a very deep truth, but very important. We can’t receive the blessing of comfort that Jesus promises unless we first learn to mourn. The mourning of brokenness, like the mourning of lost loved ones, is an acknowledgement that we can’t do anything about the situation, and that it grieves us to the core. It is only when we give up control that Jesus can begin to comfort. We must learn to mourn by giving up the right to try and fix ourselves. When we do mourn our own losses of love, approval, significance, relationship or anything else, we find the comfort of Jesus.

c. The grief of sin. The third sort of mourning I believe Jesus is talking about is heartfelt sadness and repentance for the sins we have committed. Our society has undergone a tremendous transformation in its attitude toward sin. Forty years ago, no one wanted to be a sinner, because everyone understood that there were consequences for sin. People cared about sin – it mattered. Today, most people freely acknowledge that they are sinners – but they don’t seem to care about it, and it doesn’t seem to matter to them. In short, although many people freely admit to sinning, they do not mourn about it. Sin does not grieve their hearts. Jesus is offering a better way. Listen to what James, the brother of Jesus writes about mourning for sin:

God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Submit yourselves then to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands you sinners, and purify your hearts you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will lift you up. (James 4:6-10, italics added by me)

When we truly, in our hearts, mourn for the sins we have committed, Jesus offers comfort. When we are sorrowful and grief stricken for the crimes we have perpetrated against Jesus and against our fellow human beings, God gives grace. We shall be comforted.

Very briefly, I want to consider the next blessing –unless we begin to move a little faster, we will never get through the sermon on the mount, let alone the book of Matthew.


Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth. The way most of us remember this verse is something like “blessed are the meek…” This verse used to bother me, along with the poem “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild…” Meekness is not something which is initially attractive to me – frankly, it sounds wimpy. But what does Jesus mean by it? I think it is obvious when we read the gospels that Jesus was no wimp. So what does he mean when offers this meekness, or gentleness as an important trait of a disciple? While researching the Greek word for gentle/meek (“pra-us,” if anyone cares) I found an excellent definition that seems to me to really get at the heart of what Jesus is saying here in Matthew 5:5. I’m not sure that I could word it any better than the lexicon, so instead I will quote at length:

Meekness toward God is that disposition of spirit in which we accept His dealings with us as good, and therefore without disputing or resisting…The meek are those wholly relying on God rather than their own strength to defend them against injustice. Thus, meekness toward evil people means knowing God is permitting the injuries they inflict, that He is using them to purify His elect, and that He will deliver His elect in His time. (Is. 41:17, Lu. 18:1-8) Gentleness or meekness is the opposite to self-assertiveness and self-interest. It stems from trust in God’s goodness and control over the situation. The gentle person is not occupied with self at all. This is a work of the Holy Spirit, not of the human will. (Gal. 5:23)[1]

Therefore the key to gentleness and meekness is to trust God to act on our behalf and to not rely on our own strength, which in comparison to God’s, is pitiful anyway. The result of such meekness, such trust? We inherit the earth, or in other words, the promised land. The promise is very germane to the business of trusting and being meek, because we cannot grab the land, or get it for ourselves. We receive it only as we trust God to get it for us.

I want to remind us again, that we cannot, simply through sheer effort, manifest these character traits in ourselves. We can’t just suddenly feel blessed as we mourn, or suddenly give up our own self-interests. Instead, remember, these are character traits of Jesus himself. The way we “get them” is first. to trust Jesus, and second, to allow him to own our lives, and to express His life and will through us.

May we be blessed this week as we mourn and remain humble and trusting!

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[1]Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon, (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.) 1995, emphasis added by me.