Well, we are starting into our final book in the 90-day series through church history. This final book will be the most unusual and the most difficult to understand. The book of Revelation is notoriously challenging, but it plays an essential role in understanding the flow of Biblical history. Part of what makes it hard to understand is that it covers history that has not yet happened. We get to see the arc of the Biblical story from God’s perspective because he reveals it to us. It is unlike any other history that we ever talk about – because it is history that has not yet happened. Only God can reveal it, because only God has the capacity to know future events. In the next post we will go into greater depth, but we want to begin by thinking about the original audience. We will ask, who was the book of Revelation written to and what was the original purpose? (While all of the Bible is for all of God’s people, each book or letter had an original audience. For the letter of Ephesians, it was the church in Ephesus. For I & II Chronicles it was the Jewish people after exile. For Titus it was… Titus as he ministered to the church. Keeping the original audience in mind, helps us to ground our interpretation.)
The book of Revelation describes a series of visions that John saw while on the Isle of Patmos. Traditionally, this was understood to be the Apostle John, who also wrote the Gospel of John and the letters of John I, II, & III. The letter doesn’t say this explicitly, but this was affirmed from the earliest periods of church history. The first vision is from Jesus Christ himself, who is (v.17) “the first and the last… the living one, [who] died and behold is alive forever more.” What we need to see about the vision is that Jesus is “in the midst of the lampstands” (v.13), which represent the church of Asia Minor. Jesus is standing in the middle of the church and he is working to build his kingdom even when the world opposes the gospel. Like the book of Acts, Revelation is a book about the continuing work of Jesus, in and through the church. (Again, the whole time frame thing, is going to get tricky, more on that tomorrow. But we need to build this insight as the foundation.)
Jesus brings an address for seven churches in Asia Minor, which is modern day Turkey. These cities are all real places that existed in the first century and everything about the letter indicates that this is intended to be a prophetic word of correction and rebuke for each of these churches. The number seven is a biblical number of completion and is used figuratively throughout the book. It may be that John chose to list seven churches because they are representative of other churches and this was a way to show the totality of Jesus' interactions with the first century church. But, we can ground our interpretation in recognizing that the letter is addressed to actual people and interacts with their specific situation. From here, we will be given a scope of Biblical history that can apply to all of us, but it starts with a word that is personal and specific for particular people.
And what does Jesus say to the churches in Asia Minor? He brings encouragement and correction. This is not a surprise, because nearly every prophetic word in the Bible includes some combination of encouragement and correction. Jesus is speaking the truth in love (Eph. 4:15,19) to the church for their good and for their growth. We see a pattern for all seven churches in that Jesus acknowledges something specific about how they are doing. Then he gives a promise (“to the one who overcomes”) and in many cases he offers a warning, (“I have this against you”, and “if you don’t stop then there will be consequences.”) For the purpose of our study, we will have to draw back from looking at the details, but they are very interesting. When our reading program slows down, I would suggest going back and looking at each church – What does Jesus get concerned about here? What are his priorities? How can I learn from these rebukes and be encouraged by these promises?
Reflect: When we see that Jesus is offering a prophetic word of correction and encouragement to the people of God, we can understand that this book is fundamentally similar to the rest of the Bible. Just as the prophets came to bring encouragement and correction to the people of Israel, and just as the apostles wrote letters to encourage and correct the early church, John offers a prophetic word straight from Jesus to accomplish these purposes. The principle holds true for us. Every church needs to be reformed or it will go astray. We all need a cycle of renewal if we are going to stay spiritually vital.
Connect: The book of Hebrews shows that discipline and correction are an act of love from God toward his people.
Hebrews 12:5-7 And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?
“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.”
It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons.
[Note: At this point, our survey of Biblical history will again pick up speed as we move quickly through the second half of the Book of Acts. Beginning in Acts 16, the rest of the book will focus on the missionary work of Paul. I have to admit that I regret skimming this entire section in one post, but I believe that many people are more familiar with these stories and we have (fairly recently) preached through the books of Acts as a congregation. At the least, I hope that this survey will not only help to give us a big picture of biblical history, but also stimulate interest to return and read some of these books more fully.]
After the early church settles the matter of Gentiles inclusion and the ceremonial law at the Jerusalem council in Acts 15, the rest of the book focuses on Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles. Chapters 16-17 cover Paul’s second missionary journey (the first was before the Jerusalem council in Acts 13-14.) Chapters 18-20 will cover his third missionary journey. In chapter 21 Paul is arrested in Jerusalem and the remainder of the book follows his ministry while imprisoned. The book of Acts ends with Paul under house arrest in Rome, but “proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance (Acts 28:31.)” What we can learn from these chapters is that Jesus is continuing to build his church as he empowers his followers to be witnesses “to the ends of the earth”. (Remember Acts 1:8.) As this happens, we see these two principle truths emerge. First, it is happening by the power of God. Second, Jesus is using people to do it.
Sometimes, the power of God shows up in such unexpected ways that we are reminded that this could never happen without him. In chapter 16 he calls Paul supernaturally to change direction, then a demon is cast out which causes opposition, then a church is planted after divine intervention in prison. At the close of the book, we pick up the story in chapter 28 after Paul is miraculously spared from a shipwreck and then he gains a hearing among the island people when God protects him from a snakebite. In all of these things, we can see God working through both blessing and suffering to build his church. The large pattern of the story is completely out of Paul’s control, but God is working none the less.
But, in the midst of it we see something else. Paul also makes plans and takes initiative. He develops strategies for his missionary journeys, he raises funds, and he sends reports to the churches. We should not think that Paul simply wakes up each day and “goes with the flow.” He has a plan and a strategy. When in doubt, he tries to go to places where the gospel is not yet known, and seems to target larger urban centers. He intentionally goes to synagogues and looks for Jewish people to reason with (17:2,10; 18:4,19.) He also goes to the Areopagus, where the Greek philosophers meet, and reasons with them (17:22.) In each case, he reasons with people in ways that they can understand. This is part of a clear missions strategy.
So, what do we make of this? We can clearly see that the mission that Jesus gives to his church is always accomplished in his power, but always through his people. We never see Jesus act without using a member of his church. On the other hand, we never see the church grow in fruitfulness without being empowered by the Holy Spirit. Sometimes, the activity is through human initiative. That is, Paul makes plans and carries them out in the power of the Holy Spirit. Other times, it is completely a God thing. For example, we know that Paul wanted to go to Rome, but the way he reached Rome was as an imperial prisoner who appealed his case to Caesar. Furthermore, no one could have thought up the strategy of starting the Philippian church by getting arrested, then refusing to leave after an earthquake. Faithfulness in ministry means both human planning and dependence upon God’s power and leading. The gospel advances by any means necessary.
Reflect: What plans are you making in your personal life to minister to the people that God has put in your sphere of influence? Are you praying and seeking God’s power to accomplish this?
Connect: In his letter to the Philippian Church, Paul reminds them that they have a responsibility to act, but that they must rely on the power of God to do everything.
Phil. 2:13 “For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
Jesus had told his disciples that they would be his witnesses “in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8.) Reaching the ends of the earth would fulfill the promise that God had made to Abraham (Gen 15) to bless all nations through his descendent. Fulfilling this mission would mean that they had to cross geographical barriers like mountains and rivers as they went to the end of the earth. But it also meant crossing cultural barriers. All humans struggle to relate across cultural barriers, but the Law of Moses had erected cultural fences around the nation of Israel. The ceremonial laws restricted the way Jewish people could interact with the outside world. The foods they were allowed to eat and how they could eat them placed a particular barrier between them and outsiders. But especially, the practice of circumcision created a visible separation between Jewish people and the other people around them.
The word “gentiles” means the nations beyond Israel. Originally, these ceremonial laws were meant for the protection of Israel because the gentiles around them were knee-deep in idolatry and sin, and associating with them led to spiritual compromise. But now, after Pentecost, the situation is reversed. God is on the move with “infectious power.” Now, the spiritual cure is crossing the barriers that had previously been erected to prevent the infection of idolatry. (This is what is happening when Peter sees a vision which declares all animals unclean. It undoes the restrictions of the ceremonial law.) As a result, God removes the barriers provided by the ceremonial law. In doing this, he opens the door for gospel transmission and begins to form a church of all nations. God testified that this was his work by giving Peter a vision, then pouring out the Spirit on the gentile believers in the household of Cornelius. The early church interprets this as a sign from God that places both Jewish and Gentile Christians on the same footing in the church. Notice how they make the connection: “The Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning” (Acts 11:15.)
But, old habits die hard and forming a new community out of people who had always been separated is not easy. No sooner had Peter been directed to welcome Cornelius than he was opposed by “the circumcision party.” (That does not sound like a party that I want to go to.) Then, the diverse church in Antioch is troubled by those people who push circumcision on the new Gentile Christians (Acts 15:1-2). This requires the first church council to be called and the church gathered in Jerusalem to settle the matter. Their formal ruling (15:19-20) is to not apply the ceremonial laws to Gentile believers, but they do underscore the importance of avoid idols and sexual immorality for everyone (long recognized as a gentile problem.) They do seem to ask the Gentiles to also avoid meat that was straggled and blood – either because this was so closely associated with idolatry, or because it helped the Jewish people feel more at ease.
Reflect: What we learn in this passage is that God is deeply concerned about unity between Jewish and Gentile Christians. He goes out of his way to bring the gentiles in through a display of miraculous power, then the early church devoted an entire council to the issue. Our unity is important to God, it is grounded in our common experience of Christ, but it also requires our effort to live into it.
Connect: In Ephesians Paul rehearses the issue of church unity and tells us that Jewish and Gentile Christians share a lot in common, including their experience of the Holy Spirit. This is demonstrated in Acts 10-11. However, he also urges the church to invest effort in pursuing this unity. This is demonstrated in Acts 15 and the Jerusalem Council. How is God calling you to live into the unity that you have with other Christians?
Ephesians 4:1-6 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
Rev. Matthew Koerber
Today is Palm Sunday. A reminder of how quickly Jesus would rise and fall in public opinion. On Sunday, he entered Jerusalem to a hero’s welcome and the fanfare of celebration. By Thursday, he was betrayed, abandoned, condemned. By Friday the crowds call out – “Crucify him!” And they did. When Jesus did not turn out to be the king they expected, their opinion changed in a hurry.
For Paul, the same sort of startling transformation happens in reverse. When we first meet Paul (“Saul” as he is called by his own people), he is observing the murder of Stephen, approving of the execution. But on the road to Damascus things change quickly. He set off on the journey to capture and persecute the church, but when Jesus revealed himself to Paul – he is knocked to the ground, stunned by the revelation of Jesus as the risen Lord. He had to change his mind in a hurry. Jesus was not the sort of king that Paul had been expecting. He didn’t expect the savior of the Jewish people to endure suffering and crucifixion. He didn’t expect a king who was willing to serve others sacrificially – at the cost of his own life. When Paul reoriented his understanding of the Messiah around the risen Lord Jesus his life would also change dramatically.
In conclusion, these three chapters are full of great confusion about the identity of Jesus. The crowd in Jerusalem rejects Christ’s messenger (Stephen) as the generations before them had rejected the other prophets. Simon the magician thinks Jesus is someone he can use to advance his own personal agenda. The Ethiopian eunuch can’t figure out how to interpret the suffering servant themes of Isaiah 53. And Paul (Saul) needs a heavenly correction to grasp the identity of Jesus. Notice, the role that the Holy Spirit plays in highlighting the identity of Jesus. (v.55) “[Stephen] full of the Holy spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.” The Bible does not tell us that this is literally how every person will be filled with the Spirit, but the difference in our experience from Stephen’s is only in degree. Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would “glorify me” (v. 16:14). Like a spotlight that shines on the theater stage, the Holy Spirit works to magnify Jesus, the main character in God’s redemptive drama.
Reflect: Do you see Jesus as both the risen Lord and the suffering savior? Let’s pray that the Holy Spirit would open our eyes to see the glory of Christ!
Connect: Jesus explained the role of the Holy Spirit on his last night with the disciples.
John 16:14-15 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
Rev. Matthew Koerber
In Acts 1-2 the church metaphorically “explodes” into existence. Three thousand people were converted on Pentecost, and the thriving church had “favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day, those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47). And then God shakes things up some more. We might desire nice slow growth in the same positive direction, but that is not how kingdom expansion works. The world, the flesh and the devil resist God and the mission of the Church always faces opposition, eventually. The swift early growth of the church leads to swift opposition. When Peter and John heal a lame beggar, it creates an amazing opportunity for witness to Jesus Christ in Solomon’s Portico – the very outside wall of the temple. But the religious leaders are not excited about this new religious trend. So, Peter and John are hauled before the authorities and muzzled (or there is an “attempt” to muzzle them.)
Here is where the story gets challenging. Peter and John face a crisis in their ministry. Either they submit to the religious powers, or they complete their mission for Christ – they cannot do both. They express radical commitment to Christ with these words, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20). When the apostles are released they join with others in prayer to God. They request boldness to speak with confidence when facing opposition, and God grants their request with thunderous power. Notice, the request however: they request boldness to keep doing the thing that gets them into trouble. God does not promise that we can complete the mission without opposition. Instead, he promises to give us strength to endure, while facing opposition. This trend continues into chapter 5 when the apostles are rearrested and beaten for speaking about Jesus. After being released, they “rejoice that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.” Their prayers had been answered – not a protection from suffering, but endurance to be faithful in suffering.
Reflect: It is not wrong to pray for deliverance from the evil one, after all Jesus directs that sort of prayer when he taught his disciples. But, the apostles model a perspective on ministry that emphasizes endurance in trials, rather than exclusion from trials. Where do you need endurance in trials?
Connect: Like the other apostles, Paul understood that the Christian life is not free from suffering, particularly if we are committed to the mission of our cross-carrying savior. What Paul saw as encouragement was that suffering as a Christian aligns us with the life experience of Jesus as we share in the fellowship of his suffering. Suffering “with Jesus” transforms our understanding of what it means to suffer.
Phil 3:10 (NIV) I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,
The Gospel of Matthew ended with a commission for the Church. Jesus charged his church (through the apostles) to go to the ends of the earth, making disciples of all nations. The Greek word that we translate into English as “nations” is “ethne”, which is related to our word “ethnic.” This can help us to see that Jesus is not primarily thinking of political boundaries when he sends them to the nations, but ethnic boundaries. At other places in the Bible, the words “tribe, and people, and language, and nation” (Rev 13:7) are used roughly as synonyms to show that all sorts of people groups are being brought into the kingdom. Practically speaking, for the early church this meant that even when they stayed within the boundaries of the Roman Empire, they had to cross social and language barriers to accomplish their mission.
In the Book of Acts, we begin with another reference to the final words of Jesus. This is another way of looking at the same mission. The Church will be sent as witnesses for the risen Lord Jesus, to "Jerusalem, in all Judea, in Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” In many ways, these four geographic labels represent an outward expansion of the church across increasingly high cultural barriers. This outward expansion will also serve as a summary of the flow of action in the book of Acts. The books starts in Jerusalem, then persecution forces the church to scatter “throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria” (Acts 8:1). But doing this means that a social/religious barrier needs to be crossed in ministry to the Samaritans. Paul will be particularly active in taking the Gospel to the “ends of the earth” in his various missionary travels. As we shall see, this provides all sorts of difficult ministry challenges as Jews and Gentiles (non-Jews) enter the church together. Then book of Acts ends with Paul doing ministry in Rome (albeit under house arrest). He is located at the center of the Roman Empire which is the hub of travel in the known world. Here, he is well positioned to carry out this ministry to every group of people that come through the capital city.
But how will this infant church complete this mission? Without money, influence or political power, how will they make disciples of all nations? The answer is that Jesus will do it, through the power of the Holy Spirit. He promised to be with his church in their ministry (Matt 28:20), and while is not physically present after his ascension into heaven, Jesus pours out the Holy Spirit on the Church, who acts as his agent. Through the Holy Spirit, Jesus will be with the church, and we will be empowered to complete the task of discipling the nations. This is the particular emphasis that we see when the Holy Spirit is first poured out on the church. The Apostles are supernaturally empowered to preach the gospel in a way that crosses language boundaries. Although all of the first converts were Jewish, they had been drawn to Jerusalem for the Pentecost festival, and had come from their homes across the Roman Empire. When the Holy Spirit descended, the apostles were empowered to speak in such a way that each person heard the sermon “in his own native language” (v. 2:8). This was to fulfill the words of the prophet Joel that old prophecies were being fulfilled, that the last era of world history (“the last days”) had begun and that the doors of salvation were to be flung open to every group of people on earth – “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved (v.2:21.) The gospel promises to Abraham – that every family on earth would be blessed through the descendant of Abraham had found its fulfillment in Jesus Christ.
Reflect: God gives the Holy Spirit to empower us for the great task of disciple-making. Do we see that as our “great task?” Do we see God’s power available to help us in this?
Connect: Notice how the sermons of the apostles are grounded so much in the Old Testament Scriptures. (Of course, at this time, they didn’t yet think of this as the “Old” Testament, since the New Testament was in process of being produced. They simply thought of this as the “Scriptures.”) In this first sermon, Peter cites Joel 2, Psalm 16, and Psalm 110. In particular, they saw the pattern of Christ on many OT stories and saw Jesus as the fulfillment of many psalms and prophecies. From their point of view, the work of redemption in Jesus was continuous with the work of redemption that God had been doing ever since he first clothed Adam and Even in the garden. They certainly picked up this pattern from Jesus himself who showed how all of the Scriptures pointed to him and his work of salvation. Consider the words of Jesus on the road to Emmaus.
Luke 24:25-27 And [Jesus] said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.
He is Risen! He is Risen indeed! Jesus said He would be resurrected from the dead, and it actually came to pass! I’m not sure how many people historians would say lived previously to Jesus…estimates would probably vary widely. But I’m pretty sure they would all agree that death had claimed each and every one of them (minus Enoch and Elijah), and that none had returned. But the grave could not hold Jesus. The resurrected Jesus met His disciples, and they most appropriately fell down at His feet and worshipped Him! And upon the 11 disciples meeting Him in Galilee, Jesus, with all authority, commissioned them with the familiar words of The Great Commission. Go. Make disciples. Baptize. Teach them to observe my commandments. It’s no small task, but thankfully, they wouldn’t be alone as they did it. Jesus assured them that He would always be with them, and He is, to this very day, with His disciples as they take His Good News to the nations!
Matthew makes sure to point out that even some of Jesus’ 11 disciples, upon seeing Him in the flesh, still doubted (28:16). What doubts do you have about the Christian faith? Jesus commanded “doubting” Thomas to literally press his fingers into Jesus’ nail-scarred hands and pierced side, encouraging Thomas to “not disbelieve, but believe (John 20:27).” Press into Jesus with those doubts, praying as you do, “I believe; help my unbelief (Mark 9:24),” and confessing Jesus as “my LORD and my God! (John 20:28).”
When you think about the Resurrected Christ, and that one day you’ll see Him with your very own eyes, what thoughts run through your mind? This wonderful knowledge was enough to make Job’s heart faint within him. How about yours?
For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!
- Rev. John McCombs
Matthew 26 - 27
Matthew’s Gospel moves briskly up until the last week of Jesus’ earthly ministry. At that point, it slows down considerably, giving us more and more detail as we move closer to Jesus’ death. Due to these intentional narrative choices, we get much more than we would have otherwise with regard to the thickening plot to take Jesus’ life. We see up close and personal Jesus’ strong desire to take the Passover one last time with His disciples, where He transforms it into the LORD’s Supper. We learn of a woman’s costly devotion to her LORD in anointing Him with extremely expensive perfume oil (John 12:3 identifies this woman as Mary, sister of Lazarus and Martha). We see Judas’ betrayal with a kiss (and later the tragic taking of His own life). We learn of Peter’s denials, of Jesus’ closest disciples too sleepy for the most intense prayer meeting ever held, and of Jesus’ disciples writ-large fleeing upon His arrest. We learn significant proceedings of the most unjust trial ever conducted, wherein Jesus was condemned to die. So, He did just that, in the most excruciating fashion. Jesus went to the cross willingly, was abandoned by His Father, died a disgraceful criminal’s death, and was laid in an empty tomb.
Reflect: Have you ever wondered why Jesus was abandoned by His Father? Why there was no response when Jesus cried out to the Father with those famous words, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus was abandoned by the Father in our place, because it’s what we deserve. And because He was abandoned for us when He cried out, when we cry out, despite what it might feel like at times, the Father will never abandon us. He hears your cries, and the Father will never turn His back on you.
Connect: Clearly the words of Psalm 22 were on Jesus mind at His crucifixion. Take a few moments to meditate on Psalm 22, thanking God that Jesus was abandoned in your place, so that you might never be abandoned by the Father.
- Rev. John McCombs
Matthew 24 - 25
Jesus said the unthinkable. The temple, God’s dwelling place among His people, would be destroyed once again. The disciples, in disbelief, come to Jesus as he’s seated on the Mount of Olives (hence the name “Olivet Discourse”), asking when. So, Jesus begins to tell them. Some of His words seem to be clearly describing the destruction of the temple, which history tells us took place at the hands of the Romans in 70 AD. Others, however, seem to be describing events that have yet to take place. Biblical scholars have shed volumes of ink on this passage, seeking to understand which texts fall into which category. What we can probably say safely is that not everything in Matthew 24-25 took place at the destruction of Jerusalem, and avoid the extreme of seeing these as entirely past events. What we can also probably say safely is that some of these events did occur in 70 AD, and avoid the extreme of seeing these as entirely future events, yet to be fulfilled.
In light of Matthew 24:34, where Jesus says “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place,” I find it hard to argue literarily that the preceding verses in chapter 24 are not describing the destruction of Jerusalem, as that’s the direct question Jesus was answering. At some point beyond this, however, Jesus seems to transition into talking about His 2nd Coming. I find it very hard to argue that Jesus’ 2nd Coming is not the subject of the last portion of chapter 25 (verses 31-46). As for what’s in between, it’s often harder to tell with a high degree of certainty, so scholars seem to go one way or another. As an alternative to trying to fit everything neatly into one of these two categories, some scholars have seen these chapters as describing primarily the judgment of Jerusalem in 70 AD, yet that judgment being a type or forerunner of the final judgment upon Jesus’ return. By this line of thinking, it’s only fitting that the language often goes beyond what would take place just 40 years later, to describe the events of Jesus’ return at His 2nd Coming. Confused? It’s a lot, I know. Thankfully, Pastor Matt can answer all of your questions about it after service this Sunday!
Reflect: Despite the challenging nature of this passage with respect to timing, the parables Jesus teaches here nonetheless seem to give us significant lessons about the kingdom of heaven. Jesus would have His followers ready and waiting for His return; Jesus would have His disciples putting to use the gracious talents they’ve been entrusted with; and Jesus would have His servants loving their neighbors, especially those society so often overlooks. How might the Lord be calling you to engage more wholeheartedly in one or all of these areas? Ask the LORD, by His grace, to help you to walk more faithfully in that regard .
Connect: Although we most certainly glean something of Jesus’ 2nd Coming in the Olivet Discourse, the clearest teaching about the judgment that will occur on that last Day is found in the book of Revelation. Praise the LORD that each and every one of His children’s names are written in the book of life, and they thus have nothing to fear in the judgment that awaits.
11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. 13 And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. 14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
- Rev. John McCombs
Matthew 21 - 23
Today’s reading begins and ends with significant events centered on Jesus in Jerusalem. To start, Jesus enters into Jerusalem via His Triumphal Entry, riding on a donkey and fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9. By the end of chapter 23, Jesus is lamenting over the city of Jerusalem, for their refusal to come to Him. Many often wonder, how could things have started off so well, yet ended up so poorly? The answer is perhaps they didn’t start off as well as they appear. Why exactly were the crowds so excited as Jesus entered into Jerusalem? Was it because they knew Jesus came to die for their sins, or did they still expect Him to fulfill their long-awaited desire for an anointed king to overthrow the oppressive Roman government? It appears to be the latter, as many in this crowd would not only abandon Jesus as the week progressed, but outright ask for His crucifixion. Much of Jesus’ last week of earthly ministry is thus filled with great conflict, from His cleansing of the temple, to the teaching of many challenging parables, to Jesus pronouncing seven woes on the Jewish religious leaders. But it’s also filled with great grace, as we see Jesus continue to shepherd His flock, healing the blind and the lame.
Reflect: Many have said there are only two things that are certain in this life: death & taxes. Jesus had much to say about both. When asked about paying taxes to Caesar (22:15-22), Jesus, using a Roman coin to make His point, asked the simplest of questions: “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” The answer was obvious, so Jesus said give to Caesar what is Caesar’s. But Jesus didn’t stop there. He went on to challenge His hearers to also give “to God the things that are God’s.” If Caesar is the owner of things made in his image, and we should give those to Caesar, then an argument from the lesser to the greater implies that God is the owner of things made in His image, and we should give those to Him. So, what is made in God’s image? You are. Take a moment to reflect on the ways you may not be giving God what rightfully belongs to Him. Confess, thank God for His mercy, and ask God for the grace to help you more fully give yourself to Him.
Connect: The Bible, from beginning to end, declares that we are made in God’s image. Although the Fall marred that image, it did not destroy it altogether. And God, by His grace, is renewing that image as He remakes us after the image and likeness of Jesus Christ the LORD. Take a moment to meditate on some of the passages below, and praise God for how He is renewing you after His own image.
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
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.
Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.
1 Corinthians 15:49
And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
2 Corinthians 3:18
Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.
1 John 3:2
- Rev. John McCombs
This blog is part of the ministry of City Reformed Presbyterian Church. Unless otherwise noted, the entries are written by Matt Koerber. This is part of a project that our church is doing as we read through the narrative sections of Scripture between early January and Easter 2020. New entries will be scheduled to drop automatically at 5:00 am on the scheduled day.