REVELATION #46: FAITH-WORTHY & REALITY-DEFINING

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The words of Revelation are true, and worthy of our faith. The words of the whole Bible describe reality, and are worthy of our faith. Jesus Christ is the ultimate Word of God, and he created reality. He is more than worthy for us to put our faith in him. Among other things, that means that we believe what the Bible says, and act accordingly.

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Revelation #46.  Revelation 22:6-11

The book of Revelation ends with…(get ready… do a drum roll…) that’s right, you guessed it –   Chiastic structure! What I consider to be the last section consists of chapter 22:7-21. In these verses, we have seven different declarations made by Jesus Christ himself. I will try to combine some of them, but for now, we’ll just take the first. It know it may seem like we are dragging out the end of the book, but these are the last seven things that Jesus Christ himself said to His people, the church. It’s worth focusing on them for a while.

Verses 6-9 are a little confusing because John is conversing with an angel, and then Jesus makes his first proclamation, and then John goes on talking to the angel. I will walk us through it. It is the angel who says: “These words are trustworthy and true and the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent his angel to show his servants what must soon take place.”

The fact that the angel says it does not make it any less true or powerful. Now, at the time, John undoubtedly believed that this statement applied directly to the book we have just been reading: Revelation. However, the Holy Spirit, who inspired these words, obviously knew that the writings of the apostles would be collected together and called the New Testament, and combined with the Old Testament to be called the Bible. So, we must understand that these words apply specifically to the book of Revelation. That is the first meaning, in context. But it also good and right to apply this statement to the entire Bible.

There are pieces of these verses that come across more powerfully in Greek. So, in a few places,

I am going to give you my own rendering of this text from the Greek. For those of you who are Greek scholars, I am simply trying to convey how it comes across. I am not saying that this is more accurate. But hopefully, it provides an accurate feeling of how it sounds in Greek. Here we go:

“These words are worthy of complete faith, and they present reality as it truly is.”

It is not just that the words are accurate. They are the basis for faith. The Greek word for “trustworthy” is the same root word used for “faith” as in “put your faith in Jesus Christ.” In addition, the word for truth is not just “accurate.” It means something that defines reality. Also, the word for “word” is logos. That is the same word that John uses in the beginning of his gospel for Jesus himself:

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God….14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (ESV John 1:1 &: 14)

Now, here in Revelation 22:6, the word “words” is in plural form. But I think it is appropriate to let this text remind us that behind the words of the Bible is the very Word of God, Jesus himself.

The words of Revelation are true, and worthy of our faith. The words of the whole Bible describe reality, and are worthy of our faith. Jesus Christ is the ultimate Word of God, and he created reality. He is more than worthy for us to put our faith in him.

Virtually all Bible translators believe that next, we have a statement not from the angel, but Jesus himself: “Behold, I am coming soon. Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.” One reason to think it is Jesus, not the angel, is because Jesus is the one who is coming soon, he is the one whose return really matters. Once again, let me give you my own partial rendering from the Greek. As before, I just want to give you sense of what it feels like in the original language:

“Give me your attention! I am coming quickly. You will be supremely blessed if you guard and hold on to the words of this prophecy – this Bible.”

Yes, the Greek word for “book” is bible. Now, any time you say “book” in ancient Greek, bible is the word to use. So that, in and of itself doesn’t mean it applies to the whole Bible (as we mean the Bible). But Jesus could have just said “prophecy” and left off there. In fact, he did that, earlier on, in chapter 1:3. Or, perhaps, he could have used the word for “letter,” or “document.” I can’t help thinking that Jesus knew that much of the world would come to call one particular book “The Bible,” and so used the word to mean not only the prophecy of Revelation, but the entire book that he inspired.

This statement reminds me of what Jesus said at the very beginning of Revelation:

3 Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near. (ESV Revelation 1:3)

I do notice that here, Jesus does not use the word “book” (that is, bible). But the fact that this promise and this command are given twice means that it is important.

You may notice that for the word “keep” in Revelation 22:7, I used “guard, and hold on to.” That is because those are part of the meaning of that Greek word. To keep the words of this prophecy (or, of the whole Bible) doesn’t mean you just keep it in your house, on a shelf. It means you are actively engaged in preserving it, protecting it from harm, and making sure that it fulfills its purpose. Once again, I think it is appropriate to apply this to both Revelation, and also, all of scripture. It is good and right that we have studied and wrestled with this prophecy called Revelation. It is part of the word of God, and here in these verses, we see that Jesus highly values it.

Moving on to verse 8, John mentions that after the whole vision – that is, I think, the whole of Revelation – he falls down to worship the angel, who showed him the vision. The angel stops him: “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers the prophets, and with those who keep the words of this book. Worship God.”

By the way, this is one of the key ways in which Jesus claimed to be God. When people tried to worship him, he never stopped them.

Then, the angel continues:

“Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near. 11 Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy.”

I do not think that God actually wants people who are doing evil to continue to do so. However, this is a warning. If you are determined to do evil, and if you continue down that path far enough, you will reach a point of no return. The analogy I use for this comes from swimming.

Imagine you are in a little boat, carrying a large block of gold. Imagine that the gold falls out of your boat, and you dive in, after it, and reach it ten feet below the surface of the water. Gold is one of the heaviest metals – roughly as heavy as lead. This block of gold weighs one hundred and twenty pounds. You grab on to it, and try to swim back to the surface. However, the gold is too heavy. Instead of you dragging it up, it is dragging you in deeper. You kick with all your might, and you slow your rate of descent, but you don’t actually make any progress back toward the surface. You are still sinking. Sooner or later, if you are going to live, you must let go of the gold. If you allow that gold drag you too deep, you will no longer have enough air to make it back up to the surface before you drown. You pass twenty feet, and the thirty. How long will you hold on? Maybe eventually, you decide, it is not worth living if you can’t have the gold, so you hold on, and it drags you to your death.

I think this is something like the warning to those who are doing evil. There is a point of no return. There is a point when it is too late to turn back. Now, when it comes to salvation, this point of no return is not about how terribly you have sinned. But suppose you sin, and you know it, and you know God wants you to repent, and turn back to him. Your attitude is: “Later. I’m not going to do that right now. I want to keep enjoying this sin for a while.” The next time, it is harder to hear God’s call to repent. Several times after that, it may not even occur to you that you ought to repent. The more you say “no” to God, the more you damage your conscience. The more you say “no” to God, the harder and harder it becomes to hear him anymore. If you continue to ignore God, if you continue to go your own way, and shut out the call of God, eventually, you won’t care anymore. You will harden your heart so much that you won’t even notice, won’t even be able to hear his call to repent. I think the message is this: We have heard in Revelation all about the coming judgment, and God’s vast patience. One of the major messages is that although God is inhumanly patient with evil-doers, there will be an end to that patience – there must be an end to it, if we are to have the joy of the New Creation. Now, with all these stern warnings, if we still say, “No, I’ve got plenty of time to turn back to God. I’ll do it later.” If we continue to stop our ears against God, eventually, we will no longer be able to hear him. Eventually, we will no longer care about following him. At that time, we may be passing the point of no return. God says, “OK then. Do what you want.” He doesn’t mean that it is OK to do so. It means, that God has done all that he can to save a person who has the will to reject Him, and that person has made a decision that is final.

By the way, if you are worried that you have passed the point of no return, then, by definition, you have not passed it. When you pass the point of no return, you will no longer care about, or be interested in your relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Those who have passed that point don’t care anymore. Also, I want to make it clear, I am not talking about a Christian who struggles with a sin that they just can’t seem to beat. Such a Christian does indeed sin, but each time, that person is heartily sorry for their sin, and intends to continue on following God. They really would like to stop sinning, even if they can’t seem to find a way how. Such a person is not ignoring God. They are still responding to him in repentance, confession and receiving God’s forgiveness.

All of this reminds me of something that Paul wrote to Timothy:

2 Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13 while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. 14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (ESV 2 Timothy 3:12-17)

This is really another way of saying exactly what our Revelation passage says. Evil people will go from bad to worse, being deceived, and deceiving others. But we, the people of God, should hold on to Word of God – both the scriptures in general, Revelation in particular, and, above all, Jesus Christ himself. These are worthy of our complete faith. God’s Word (and his words) are not just accurate – they define reality more fully than any human wisdom.

I don’t know when Jesus will return. But I can promise you, if you are reading this, the time when you will stand face to face with Jesus is no more than one-hundred years away, almost certainly a lot less. It could be any moment now. The time is soon. No one has to wait very long. Let us live our lives accordingly.

WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN YOU DON’T HAVE ENOUGH?

 

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It isn’t what you bring that makes a difference. What makes the difference is that you bring it to Jesus. He can take the little you have and make it enough – more than enough.

 

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Matthew #46 . Matthew 14:12-21

NOTE: THIS IS ANOTHER MESSAGE THAT WILL PROBABLY BE MORE MEANINGFUL IF YOU LISTEN TO THE AUDIO VERSION. IN THE AUDIO, I INVITE YOU TO LISTEN AND GET INTO IT WITH YOUR IMAGINATION.

I love this particular passage of scripture. In one elegant action, Jesus accomplishes so much. First, he shows his miraculous power once more. Second, he takes care of a bunch of hungry people. Third, he uses it as an extremely effective object lesson for his disciples.

Before we start into the “meat” of this scripture, however, let me address a very common, but ill-conceived idea about the feeding of the five-thousand. Many people read about this miracle and say, “Oh, I know what happened here. All the people actually had food with them, and Jesus simply got them to share. The real miracle is that Jesus got ordinary people to share with each other.” I have heard more than one person add something like, “To me, that’s a much bigger miracle than producing a bunch of food.”

To which, I say, politely, “That is a load of male-bovine defecation” (figure it out).

I say this for several reasons. First, the reason most people gravitate toward the idea that the miracle was “sharing” is because they believe in sharing, but they don’t really believe Jesus was capable of providing more food than was there to start with. In other words, it starts from a point of disbelief.

Second, the idea is in itself nonsensical. Everyone ate, and there was a significant amount left over. If there was no miraculous provision by Jesus, then obviously, everyone had more than enough to start with. In other words, in this scenario, sharing wasn’t even required. If that’s the case, the “miracle” is reduced to the fact that Jesus got a bunch of people to sit down and eat their supper. I could see the miraculous aspect of this if they were all three-year olds, but for adults, that is ridiculous.

Third, this was widely reported as a miracle, and it made a huge impression on the people. People don’t generally get excited and worked up just because they heard that some other people ate supper. They don’t usually see it as a messianic sign that one man can get five-thousand people to unpack their bagged lunches and eat them at dinner time. But clearly, the disciples, and the others who were there, took this event as a sign that Jesus was someone special. John records their reaction to the feeding of the five thousand.

When the people saw the sign He had done, they said, “This really is the Prophet who was to come into the world! ” Therefore, when Jesus knew that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, He withdrew again to the mountain by Himself. (John 6:14-15, HCSB)

This response makes no sense if all Jesus did was to get them to eat the food they had already brought.

All right, now that we have settled that if anything happened here at all, it was miraculous, let’s get on with it. As we have sometimes done in the past, I want to invite you to put yourself into the middle of the situation with Jesus.

It’s been a difficult time. You just heard that John the Baptist died. You and some of the other disciples knew John pretty well – in fact, it was John who first told you about Jesus. But Jesus knew him even better than you did. The news of his execution has hit you all hard. Jesus wants to get away from it all for a while, and you agree whole-heartedly. You all climb into Simon-Peter’s boat and head across the lake. The trip is peaceful and healing, but not long after you put ashore, far from any town, people start showing up. Someone must have overheard where Jesus was going, and now they are all here, begging for him to heal their diseases and illnesses.

Jesus is tired and full of grief, but when he looks at the people, you can see his heart going out to them. He closes his eyes for a minute in silent prayer, and then starts going through crowd, healing those who need it, and then speaking about the kingdom of heaven. More and more people keep coming, until there are enough to populate a small town, and even more.

It’s been a long afternoon, and now evening is coming along. You start getting hungry, and then it hits you – what about all these people? You cut across the lake in the boat with Jesus, but these folks spent a good portion of the day walking, and if they make it home at all tonight, it will be very late.

“Jesus,” you say. “You better get these people going before it gets too late. They’re going to get hungry, and there is no place here to get food.”

But then it gets weird. Jesus says, “They don’t need to go. You give them something to eat.”

Now seriously, this isn’t fair. You didn’t want these people here in the first place. Jesus was the one who encouraged them to stay when they started showing up. He’s the one who got you into the situation, and now he tells you to figure it out? You look around the crowd. You would have to work for about nine months and save every single penny of it in order to buy enough bread for everyone to have a small bite. In truth, the cost represents more money than you expect to save in a lifetime. You ask around, after a while, what you come up with is five small loaves of barely bread and two dried fish, each one less than ½ a pound.

You take it to Jesus. Now, honestly, you do that more just to show him how impossible the situation is, than for any other reason. He looks at you with a big, slow smile.

“Perfect,” he says.

He starts by thanking the Father for the pathetic little meal. Then he breaks off some of the bread, and about half of one of the fish, and hands the food to Peter. “Go on and break off pieces, and give it to the people,” says Jesus. He breaks off more bread, and another piece of fish, and hands it James, with the same instruction. Next comes John, and then Judas, and then Philip. You sit down, because at this point, the food is all gone. But it isn’t. Jesus gives some to Nathaniel and then Thomas. He motions to you, and hands you a surprisingly large chunk of fish, and some bread. “Don’t skimp now,” he says, grinning. “Give people as much as they want.” He’s crazy. You know you will run out before you have fed four people.

You find a skinny old man who hasn’t yet been served by the others. He looks so hungry and thin, you don’t have the heart to deny him. You break off a big piece of fish, and tear your loaf of bread in half, and give it to him. Next is a young man, at the age where one is hungry all the time. You give him some, and he asks for more. You tear off some more, surprised there is any left. As you go through the crowd, it dawns on you. No matter how much you hand out, you still have plenty left to give the next person.

It keeps going like that, and once you are done serving, you sit down and eat until you are full. Afterwards, each of you grabs a fish-sorting basket from Peter’s boat, and you go around collecting what the people couldn’t eat.

Later, when you think about it, the whole thing reminds you of how the Lord dealt with your ancestors when they left Egypt. He led them to the desert, where they grew hungry, and then he fed them, to demonstrate that they could and should rely upon him for everything. You recall Deuteronomy 8:3

He humbled you by letting you go hungry; then He gave you manna to eat, which you and your fathers had not known, so that you might learn that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. (Deut 8:3, HCSB)

All right, now, let’s make this practical in our own lives right now. First, of course, Jesus did this particular miracle in this way to show the people that he was the messiah. His actions are a very close parallel of how the Lord dealt with the people of Israel during the Exodus. They could hardly miss the significance of it all. He led them into the wilderness where they experienced their need, and then he satisfied that need.

Second, this is often exactly how Jesus deals with us. Jesus allowed a difficult situation to develop, and then left it to the disciples, to see what they would do. More than once, I have faithfully followed Jesus to the best of my ability, and I wind up, figuratively speaking, alone and hungry in the wilderness. Instead of great results from trying to be faithful to Jesus, I end up feeling like I’m worse off than I was before. And then comes the worst part. Like the disciples, I go to him with the problem and he says, “Look at your own resources. What have you got? What will you do?”

I’m sure the disciples first thought this was unfair. Jesus got them into this – why should they be the ones to figure a way out? But that wasn’t Jesus’ point, and it isn’t his point when he does this with us. His point is this: whatever resources you have – when you bring them to Him – are enough. Five loaves of bread split between five thousand people is one one-thousandth of a loaf of bread for everyone. It is pathetic, even laughable. We are supposed to look at our resources and see how hopeless it is without Jesus. But when we bring what we have to Jesus – even when it is as pathetic as five loaves and two fish among five thousand – Jesus can turn it into enough.

You probably aren’t reading this on a deserted hillside in Galilee with five-thousand hungry people. But you might be in the middle of another difficult situation, one that seems impossible. Perhaps you are in a very troubled place in one of your important relationships. Maybe you are in the midst of work or career difficulties. Maybe your struggle has to do with finances, or health. It might seem like you got into this mess in the first place by trying to follow Jesus. It might feel like he’s asking you to care of everything.

Take a moment right now, and bring to mind a situation that seem difficult or impossible for you. Stop reading for a bit, if you need to, and enter into that situation. Now picture Jesus. Let him ask you to give him your resources. It’s OK if your resources are pathetic. In fact, imagine him as he looks at the inadequacies you bring to this situation and smiles a big smile, and says “Perfect.”

You see, it isn’t what you bring that makes a difference. What makes the difference is that you bring it to Jesus. He can take the little you have, and make it enough – more than enough.

Now, Jesus did ask the disciples to trust him. He provided the food. He supplied the miracle. But he asked his disciples to trust him, and to act on that trust. They took what he gave, and went out the crowd and gave it away. So also, he asks you to trust him. He will provide. He will take your pathetic resources and make them more than enough. But he wants you to trust that, and act on that trust. Listen as he tells you what to do right now, and then obey.

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