Revelation 12

Revelation

Revelation 12

1 And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth. And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it. She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne, and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which she is to be nourished for 1,260 days. Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. 10 And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. 11 And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. 12 Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!” 13 And when the dragon saw that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. 14 But the woman was given the two wings of the great eagle so that she might fly from the serpent into the wilderness, to the place where she is to be nourished for a time, and times, and half a time. 15 The serpent poured water like a river out of his mouth after the woman, to sweep her away with a flood. 16 But the earth came to the help of the woman, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed the river that the dragon had poured from his mouth. 17 Then the dragon became furious with the woman and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus. And he stood on the sand of the sea.

William Blake’s paintings “The Great Red Dragon” and “The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed in Sun” were painted from 1803 to 1805. They remain some of the most terrifying images of Satan ever produced. They are taken, largely, from Revelation 12, and from other images in the book of Revelation.

2 1

Interestingly, Thomas Harris, the author of the terrifying novel, Silence of the Lambs, used Blake’s images of Satan as both the title of his first Hannibal Lecter book, Red Dragon, and as a key aspect of the plot of that novel.

In the novel, a killer named Francis Dolarhyde draws sadistic inspiration and power from Blake’s painting. He has the red dragon tattooed across his entire back. He seeks to become the red dragon in the story and to break free of his own terrible life. Most frightening of all, he seeks to live the life of the red dragon by murdering and inflicting pain on others. In a pivotal scene in the novel Red Dragon, Dolarhyde gets access to the painting in a museum and eats it. It is his ultimate act of identification with the dragon.

All of this is frightening and disturbing stuff. The images of Revelation 12 inspire the artist William Blake whose paintings in turn inspire, in Harris’ novel, the killer Francis Dolarhyde.

But can the inspiration go the other way? Can the images of Revelation 12 inspire us toward Jesus and away from the red dragon? Indeed they can. They must! And, if read properly, this is precisely what Revelation 12 will do!

Satan wars against the people of God.

We now have another interlude. In this scene the camera pulls back further and we can see the cosmic scope of what is happening behind the scenes of the world’s unfolding story.

1 And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth.

Immediately we can tell that something different is happening here. Where are we now? We are being given a view of spiritual dynamics and realities that are above and beyond us. These realities break into time in the story of Israel and of the church and of the birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. These are big realities!

First, who is the woman of verse 1 and 2?

1 And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth.

Some argue that the “woman clothed with the sun”:

  • is a picture of Mary and Jesus[1];
  • is a picture Israel (due to the parallel imagery with Joseph’s dream in Genesis 37:9).

We should be humble in our efforts to identify the woman, though I do believe there are good reasons to see her as a picture of Israel (which would, of course, in time, include Mary). Consider the imagery of Genesis 37. In Genesis 37 we read of Joseph’s dream of his brothers and his father, Jacob, and his mother.

Then he dreamed another dream and told it to his brothers and said, “Behold, I have dreamed another dream. Behold, the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” 10 But when he told it to his father and to his brothers, his father rebuked him and said to him, “What is this dream that you have dreamed? Shall I and your mother and your brothers indeed come to bow ourselves to the ground before you?”11 And his brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the saying in mind.

Here we see parallel imagery: sun, moon, stars. These images would seem to link the woman of Revelation 12 with Israel. But what of the pregnancy and birth pangs? Those too are used of Israel many times in scripture. Two examples will suffice. In Isaiah 26 we read this of God’s people:

17 Like a pregnant woman who writhes and cries out in her pangs when she is near to giving birth, so were we because of you, O Lord

And in Isaiah 54 we read something similar:

1 “Sing, O barren one, who did not bear; break forth into singing and cry aloud, you who have not been in labor! For the children of the desolate one will be more than the children of her who is married,” says the Lord.

The woman is therefore likely Israel. The baby to come is quite clearly Jesus the Messiah. But there is another character:

And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it.

We will be told a little later that the great red dragon is none other than Satan. Danny Akin notes that “[t]hirteen times in Revelation Satan is described as a dragon.”[2] And notice his destructive power:

  • He has a kind of power as depicted by the heads, horns, and diadems.
  • He has wrought cosmic upheaval as depicted by his sweeping and casting down “a third of the stars of heaven” to the earth. (This is quite likely a reference to fallen angels who are under Satan’s control.)
  • He stands before the woman with the hopes of eating the child.

The great red dragon is indeed a terrifying figure! He detests God and His people and wants to destroy them. In fact, he wants to tear everything down to the ground! Beware of making light of Satan. Beware of joking and winking about him. He is dangerous and deadly and is not to be overlooked. And yet…

Satan’s doom is sealed.

And yet try as he might the Lord God frustrates the devil at every turn! In fact, the devil is a defeated foe whose doom is sealed and certain.

She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne, and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which she is to be nourished for 1,260 days. Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. 10 And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. 11 And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.”

First, we see that Satan wanted to destroy Jesus but could not. Christ is crucified, it is true, but he is “caught up to God and to his throne.” He is, in other words, resurrected and ascends to the right hand of the Father. I have seen pictures of the tailgate of a pickup truck that has Satan and Jesus dramatically arm wrestling.

3

I don’t like this. In the painting, they look almost equal. This is an unfortunate idea to communicate. They are not equal! Satan is defeated and cannot square up with Jesus at all!

And we are told that God nourishes His people for 1,260 days, or three-and-one-half years, the time of the Great Tribulation. There, too, Satan may strike at the people of God and wound us but he will not overcome us!

Then we see that Satan’s efforts in Heaven are likewise thwarted. He dares, in verses 7 and 8, to fight against Michael the angel and his angels. This is most unwise! The key phrase of verse 8 is “but he was defeated.” Notice that Satan does not fight Jesus. He fights Michael, another angel. Again: Satan dare not step into the ring with the ascended Christ.

Verse 9 depicts Satan being cast down: either in his original expulsion from heaven or in another effort to storm heaven in the time of Great Tribulation. It does not much matter. The result is the same. He is cast out and down!

Verse 9 gives us many titles for the devil. Danny Akin observes:

Revelation 12:9 contains a mini seminar in Satanology by means of four instructive titles of our archenemy: (1) “The great dragon” emphasizes his ferocity and terror. (2) That “ancient serpent” identifies him with the beguiling snake of Genesis 3 who seduced Adam and Eve into committing sin. (3) “The Devil,” literally diabolos, means “the accuser” or “the slanderer.” And (4) “Satan” is a proper name that means “the adversary” or “the enemy.”[3]

There is another title we should give the devil: the defeated one! He is cast down and defeated! The blood of the Lamb is stronger than the rage of the dragon! The love of the Lamb is stronger than the hate of the dragon! The nail-pierced hands of Jesus are stronger than the swooping sweeping tail of the dragon, Satan! Take heart! The devil is defeated.

Satan, enraged, seeks to destroy what he can before his final destruction.

Take heart…be beware! For the defeated devil has not yet been destroyed. As such, he is like a wounded and enraged animal. Listen:

12 Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!” 13 And when the dragon saw that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. 14 But the woman was given the two wings of the great eagle so that she might fly from the serpent into the wilderness, to the place where she is to be nourished for a time, and times, and half a time. 15 The serpent poured water like a river out of his mouth after the woman, to sweep her away with a flood. 16 But the earth came to the help of the woman, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed the river that the dragon had poured from his mouth. 17 Then the dragon became furious with the woman and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus. And he stood on the sand of the sea.

See what we are told about the devil:

  • He is angry.
  • His time is short.
  • Knowing he cannot conquer God’s people, he still hopes to hurt us.

Ah! See? He knows he cannot win but he knows he can wound…and he often does.

If we fail to understand this—that the defeated devil can still wound—we are setting ourselves up for great calamity and pain.

We must be aware of this. So consider:

Since the devil cannot keep you from your heavenly home he will try to destroy your earthly home.

Since the devil cannot make the promises of the Bible untrue he will try to keep you ignorant of them.

Since the devil cannot make you not the church he will try to hurt you in the church.

Since the devil cannot steal your salvation he will try to steal your peace.

Since the devil cannot keep Jesus from forgiving you he will he will try to get you to forget that you have been forgiven.

Since the devil cannot negate the cross he will try to get you to misunderstand the cross.

Since the devil cannot undo your future he will try to get you to live in the past.

Since the devil cannot get God not to love you he will try to use your troubles and pain to get you to think He does not.

Since the devil cannot take your soul he will try to destroy your body.

Since the devil cannot take your soul he will try to destroy your mind.

Since the devil cannot keep you from the joy Christ is offering he will try to keep you perpetually unhappy about trifles.

Since the devil cannot stop the mission and ultimate victory of the church he will try to keep you from being a part of it.

Since the devil cannot stop praise and worship he will try to drown it out with conflict and strife.

Since the devil cannot conquer Jesus he will try to hurt Jesus’ bride.

But here is the thing: he is a defeated foe, a cast down foe, and a foe whose destruction is certain!

So beware…but take heart! You have conquered through the Lamb! Take heart! The Groom, Jesus, loves His bride!

Take heart church! Take heart! We are the purchased and loved people of God!

 

[1] https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2018/09/unmasking-monsters

[2] Daniel Akin. Exalting Jesus in Revelation (Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary) (p. 235). B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[3] Daniel Akin, 238.

 

Revelation 11:15-19

Revelation

Revelation 11

15 Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.” 16 And the twenty-four elders who sit on their thrones before God fell on their faces and worshiped God, 17 saying, “We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, who is and who was, for you have taken your great power and begun to reign. 18 The nations raged, but your wrath came, and the time for the dead to be judged, and for rewarding your servants, the prophets and saints, and those who fear your name, both small and great, and for destroying the destroyers of the earth.” 19 Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple. There were flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail.

Can we live without hope?

The great Greek writer Nikos Kazantzakis struggled to understand life and death and what awaits us after death. He had a respect for Christianity but ultimately his unorthodox views got him excommunicated from the Greek Orthodox Church.

1 4.13.43 PM

Tragically, Kazantzakis came to see hope as a negative thing. He wrote this about the meaning of life and how to live it:

We all ascend together, swept up by a mysterious and invisible urge. Where are we going? No one knows. Don’t ask, mount higher! Perhaps we are going nowhere, perhaps there is no one to pay us the rewarding wages of our lives. So much the better! For thus may we conquer the last, the greatest of all temptations—that of Hope.

Kazantzakis believe that man had certain duties in life. Kazantzakis’ first duty, in the words of John Messerly, is “to bravely accept our cognitive limitations” and the second is “to accept the heart’s anguish at being unable to find meaning in life.” But what of the third duty? Kazantzakis writes:

The moment is ripe: leave the heart and the mind behind you, go forward, take the third step. Free yourself from the simple complacency of the mind that thinks to put all things in order and hopes to subdue phenomena. Free yourself from the terror of the heart that seeks and hopes to find the essence of things. Conquer the last, the greatest temptation of all: Hope. This is the third duty.[1]

Kazantzakis’ most profound and tragic statement on hope came from his own hand but did not appear until after his death. I am talking about the inscription on his tombstone: “I hope for nothing. I fear nothing. I am free.”[2]

2 4.13.43 PM

I am moved by the second statement: “I fear nothing.” I am inspired by the third statement: “I am free.” But I am positively chilled by the first statement: “I hope for nothing.” And what makes this first statement even sadder to me is that it is written on a tombstone that is itself standing beneath a cross.

3

Why does this sadden me? Because the cross is humanities great hope! Because time and time and time again the Lord God in the scriptures and the Lord Jesus in the gospels and the witness of the New Testament at large offers us precisely this: hope. Hope! A reason not to despair. The certain knowledge that Jesus wins in the end and that all is not for nought.

I want to argue today that nowhere is the offer of hope more powerfully evident than in the book of Revelation. This will strike some as odd because they find Revelation frightening. I understand that. Parts of it are. But all throughout the book the Lord offers us time and time again the gift we most need: hope.

Continue reading

Revelation 11

Revelation

Revelation 11

1 Then I was given a measuring rod like a staff, and I was told, “Rise and measure the temple of God and the altar and those who worship there, but do not measure the court outside the temple; leave that out, for it is given over to the nations, and they will trample the holy city for forty-two months. And I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth.” These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth. And if anyone would harm them, fire pours from their mouth and consumes their foes. If anyone would harm them, this is how he is doomed to be killed. They have the power to shut the sky, that no rain may fall during the days of their prophesying, and they have power over the waters to turn them into blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague, as often as they desire. And when they have finished their testimony, the beast that rises from the bottomless pit will make war on them and conquer them and kill them, and their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city that symbolically is called Sodom and Egypt, where their Lord was crucified. For three and a half days some from the peoples and tribes and languages and nations will gaze at their dead bodies and refuse to let them be placed in a tomb, 10 and those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them and make merry and exchange presents, because these two prophets had been a torment to those who dwell on the earth. 11 But after the three and a half days a breath of life from God entered them, and they stood up on their feet, and great fear fell on those who saw them. 12 Then they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, “Come up here!” And they went up to heaven in a cloud, and their enemies watched them. 13 And at that hour there was a great earthquake, and a tenth of the city fell. Seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the rest were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven. 14 The second woe has passed; behold, the third woe is soon to come.

Calvin Miller once told me about a time in which a man punched him in the face during a pastoral visit. Miller had gone to visit the man, whose children attended the church while he did not. In fact, the man was not a believer. But Calvin Miller used the children’s attendance as an opportunity to talk to their dad.

While visiting the man, the dad explained that he was not a Christian and had no interest in being one, whether his children went or not. Miller pressed the matter, asking the man whether or not he did not feel some responsibility to come to the Lord as his children had and whether or not his heart was not burdened to receive Christ.

The next thing he knew, Miller said, was that he was staring up at the man’s ceiling and could not feel his face. When feeling began to return he could tell that blood was seeping into his beard. The man had punched him right in the face there in his living room.

Miller collected himself and then left.

The next Sunday, the man was sitting on the front pew of the church with his family. He accepted Jesus. He was there every Sunday. He became a great leader in that church.

Now I ask you this question: was Calvin Miller a victim in this story? Was he defeated? Did he lose?

How you answer those questions will determine how you handle Revelation 11 and, indeed, a good bit of the book to come.

We have seen how God seals His children in the time of tribulation. We have seen how he protects them from the judgments that He pours out upon the rebellious world. We have seen how God is able to protect His children in the most frightening of circumstances! But as we move into the time of great tribulation—the “time, times, and half a time”—we will see something else: sometimes that protection takes the form of ultimate spiritual victory even if we are allowed to suffer.

In the great tribulation, the church gets punched in the face by the beast. Blood flows. Martyrs are made. And yet, this does not constitute a defeat for the church, for the people of God. This does not mean that God has abandoned the church. On the contrary, Revelation 11 is going to show us that God, while allowing the church to undergo a measure of persecution, ultimate vindicates us and gives us a victory that is so startling it results in a certain percentage of the world being moved to repentance and to saving faith.

Continue reading

Matthew 13:44-46

the_gospel_of_matthew-title-1-Wide 16x9 copy 2

Matthew 13

44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. 45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, 46 who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.”

Finding or burying treasures in fields is a common occurrence in films. Off the top of my head I think of “The Shawshank Redemption” and the treasure Andy buried in Buxton, Maine, in a hayfield that Morgan Freeman’s character, Red, later digs up. I think of “Fargo” and the money that Steve Buscemi’s character buries in the snowy field with the intention of coming back later to retrieve it. And I think of the Coen brothers’ film “No Country for Old Men” when Llewelyn finds the briefcase of money in the field.

What is interesting about those examples is that, in two of the three, the money is a negative reality that both results from and leads to crime and violence and bloodshed. Only in “The Shawshank Redemption” is the money buried in the field eventually recovered to good effect.

Apparently these kinds of stories were very popular two thousand years ago as well! The Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary reports:

Treasures were often hidden in fields, because there were no formal banks as we know them today. The intriguing Copper Scroll found at Qumran lists sixty-four places in Palestine where treasures were supposed to be hidden: e.g., “In the ruin which is in the valley, pass under the steps leading to the East forty cubits…[there is] a chest of money and its total: the weight of seventeen talents…”[1]

Jesus told two stories about treasures, one buried in a field and another discovered by a merchant. In both of Jesus’ stories the treasures are positives. In fact, the treasure is the Kingdom of Heaven that is more valuable than anything else we have and that, when grasped, leads ultimately to joy and to life.

Continue reading

Revelation 10

Revelation

Revelation 10

1 Then I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven, wrapped in a cloud, with a rainbow over his head, and his face was like the sun, and his legs like pillars of fire. He had a little scroll open in his hand. And he set his right foot on the sea, and his left foot on the land, and called out with a loud voice, like a lion roaring. When he called out, the seven thunders sounded. And when the seven thunders had sounded, I was about to write, but I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Seal up what the seven thunders have said, and do not write it down.” And the angel whom I saw standing on the sea and on the land raised his right hand to heaven and swore by him who lives forever and ever, who created heaven and what is in it, the earth and what is in it, and the sea and what is in it, that there would be no more delay, but that in the days of the trumpet call to be sounded by the seventh angel, the mystery of God would be fulfilled, just as he announced to his servants the prophets. Then the voice that I had heard from heaven spoke to me again, saying, “Go, take the scroll that is open in the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land.” So I went to the angel and told him to give me the little scroll. And he said to me, “Take and eat it; it will make your stomach bitter, but in your mouth it will be sweet as honey.” 10 And I took the little scroll from the hand of the angel and ate it. It was sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it my stomach was made bitter. 11 And I was told, “You must again prophesy about many peoples and nations and languages and kings.”

Kurt Vonnegut’s 1969 novel Slaughterhouse-Five is a truly odd and wonderful piece of fiction. There is a scene in it in which aliens called the Tralfamadorians struggle to understand what time is for human beings. In describing this scene, Vonnegut crafts a truly memorable picture of our human limitations in perceiving reality. Here, the aliens are observing the human, Billy Pilgrim, who is being held in an alien zoo and observed by an alien crowd of onlookers.

There was a lot that Billy said that was gibberish to the Tralfamadorians, too. They couldn’t imagine what time looked like to him. Billy had given up on explaining that. The guide outside had to explain as best he could.

The guide invited the crowd to imagine that they were looking across a desert at a mountain range on a day that was twinkling bright and clear. They could look at a peak or a bird or a cloud, at a stone right in front of them, or even down into a canyon behind them. But among them was this poor Earthling, and his head was encased in a steel sphere which he could never take off. There was only one eyehole through which he could look, and welded to that eyehole were six feet of pipe.

This was only the beginning of Billy’s miseries in the metaphor. He was also strapped to a steel lattice which was bolted to a flatcar on rails, and there was no way he could turn his head or touch the pipe. The far end of the pipe rested on a bi-pod which was also bolted to the flatcar. All Billy could see was the little dot at the end of the pipe. He didn’t know he was on a flatcar, didn’t even know there was anything peculiar about his situation.

The flatcar sometimes crept, sometimes went extremely fast, often stopped—went uphill, downhill, around curves, along straightaways. Whatever poor Billy saw through the pipe, he had no choice but to say to himself, “That’s life.”[1]

What a fascinating picture! We perceive reality, Vonnegut says, not by seeing the big picture but by being like a man on a train whose head is in a sphere and who can only look out through one little hole in the sphere down six feet of pipe which is itself bolted to the bed of the train car. So what we see is just the tiniest most miniscule perception of reality as it comes shooting past us on the train of life.

What an image! The Apostle Paul said something similar, though far less dramatic, when he wrote in 1 Corinthians 13.

12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

Notice that Paul agrees with Vonnegut on the limitations of human knowledge. We see “in a mirror dimly” and we “know in part.”

But Paul adds something. Paul says that, because of Christ, we will be able to see more and more until we can see with perfect clarity when he comes.

In Revelation 10 we find a fascinating scene, another interlude in the action (this time between trumpets 6 and 7) which says something about time, about reality, and about our perception of it. In chapter 10, some things are hidden, some things are clear, but the picture begins to emerge more and more.

Continue reading

Matthew 13:31-35

the_gospel_of_matthew-title-1-Wide 16x9 copy 2

Matthew 13

31 He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. 32 It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” 33 He told them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.” 34 All these things Jesus said to the crowds in parables; indeed, he said nothing to them without a parable. 35 This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet: “I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world.”

I used to pastor in a city that has within it a very famous Southern Baptist megachurch. This place was huge…as in huge! I pastored a small church just out of seminary about one mile from this church. The pastor of this church was nothing but kind to me and they had, by all accounts, a strong and vibrant ministry.

Across the street from this church was a very small house church. It was basically a house with a little steeple on it. It was literally across the street and, when you drove between the two—the megachurch on one side and the little tiny church on the other—you could not help but take note of the contrast.

One day the megachurch had a conference for pastors. I did not go but a friend of mine did. The visiting speaker (not, I hasten to add, the megachurch’s pastor) decided to make a point about success. “Look at this amazing church we are in!” he said. “Look at how God has blessed this church! Look at the thousands of people who come here each week! Look at the countless teams of missionaries that go out from this church to reach the world! Look at the reach and influence of this church!” Then he paused and continued: “And then look across the street at that other church. It is small. It is tiny.” He continued to point out the difference.

In the middle of his words a person stood up near the front of the church, turned, and walked out. It was the little church’s pastor. I was not even there and I still cringe to think of this! How embarrassing…for the speaker! How shortsighted! How foolish! How very, very wrong!

In Matthew 13:31-35 Jesus tells two brief parables, both of which honor the small and the seemingly insignificant…both of which tell of the great things God is able to accomplish through humble things.

Continue reading

Revelation 9

Revelation

Revelation 9

1 And the fifth angel blew his trumpet, and I saw a star fallen from heaven to earth, and he was given the key to the shaft of the bottomless pit. 2 He opened the shaft of the bottomless pit, and from the shaft rose smoke like the smoke of a great furnace, and the sun and the air were darkened with the smoke from the shaft. 3 Then from the smoke came locusts on the earth, and they were given power like the power of scorpions of the earth. 4 They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any green plant or any tree, but only those people who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads. 5 They were allowed to torment them for five months, but not to kill them, and their torment was like the torment of a scorpion when it stings someone. 6 And in those days people will seek death and will not find it. They will long to die, but death will flee from them. 7 In appearance the locusts were like horses prepared for battle: on their heads were what looked like crowns of gold; their faces were like human faces, 8 their hair like women’s hair, and their teeth like lions’ teeth; 9 they had breastplates like breastplates of iron, and the noise of their wings was like the noise of many chariots with horses rushing into battle. 10 They have tails and stings like scorpions, and their power to hurt people for five months is in their tails. 11 They have as king over them the angel of the bottomless pit. His name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek he is called Apollyon. 12 The first woe has passed; behold, two woes are still to come. 13 Then the sixth angel blew his trumpet, and I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar before God, 14 saying to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, “Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.” 15 So the four angels, who had been prepared for the hour, the day, the month, and the year, were released to kill a third of mankind. 16 The number of mounted troops was twice ten thousand times ten thousand; I heard their number. 17 And this is how I saw the horses in my vision and those who rode them: they wore breastplates the color of fire and of sapphire and of sulfur, and the heads of the horses were like lions’ heads, and fire and smoke and sulfur came out of their mouths. 18 By these three plagues a third of mankind was killed, by the fire and smoke and sulfur coming out of their mouths. 19 For the power of the horses is in their mouths and in their tails, for their tails are like serpents with heads, and by means of them they wound. 20 The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands nor give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk, 21 nor did they repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts.

I love corny preacher jokes. They are almost as enjoyable as corny dad jokes. Here is one I heard some years back:

A priest and a pastor from one of the local churches were standing by the side of the road, pounding a sign into the ground, that read:

“The End is Near! Turn Yourself Around Now! Before It’s Too Late!”

As a car sped past them, the driver yelled, “Leave us alone, you religious fanatics!”

From the curve they heard screeching tires and a big splash.

The pastor turned to the priest and asked, “Do you think the sign should just say, ‘Bridge Out’?”

At the least that deserves a polite chuckle, no? Ha! But it does make a valid point: human beings have an unbelievable ability to ignore and mock warnings only to plunge into destruction. Amazingly, tragically, this is the picture we find in Revelation 9 with the blowing of trumpets 6 and 7.

Continue reading

Matthew 13:24-30; 36-43

the_gospel_of_matthew-title-1-Wide 16x9 copy 2

Matthew 13

24 He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, 25 but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. 27 And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ 28 He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29 But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, “Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.”’”

36 Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples came to him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” 37 He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40 Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, 42 and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.

There was a bit of a scandal in the 2021 Olympics in Tokyo when a French marathon runner named Morhad Amdouni appeared in a video to be knocking down all of the water bottles on the front of a table while running past it so that no other runners behind him could get any. He was quickly condemned by many and was defended by a few. Some days after the incident Amdouni addressed the issue and claimed that the bottles were slippery and he was not trying to knock them all down. You can go watch the video for yourself and form your own opinion. I will simply say that the video is not a good look for Mr. Amdouni.

The outrage over the act—intentional or not—can be attributed to the apparent cruelty of it. “Temperatures were hovering around 30C and humidity levels hit more than 80%, meaning conditions were tough for the runners,” Yahoo News reported.[1] In other words, the video appeared to show Amdouni intentionally sabotaging a critically important hydration station simply so that the other runners could not drink.

As we come to Jesus’ next parable it is hard not to think of this recent scandal. Jesus sows good seed into the world and the devil, vicious and cruel, runs by and seeks to destroy the crop of the Kingdom with the weeds of his own wickedness. There is a legitimate question over whether or not the French runner did what he did on purpose. There can be no doubt that the devil does what he does on purpose. The devil is always running by the table and knocking over what God intends to bring life and vitality to the world. He is always seeking to ruin what should be a source of goodness and hope.

Let us consider the words of Jesus. He presents the parable in Matthew 13:24-30 and He explains it in 13:36-43. We will work through each part of the parable along with its explanation as we go.

Continue reading

Revelation 8:6-13

Revelation

Revelation 8

Now the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared to blow them. The first angel blew his trumpet, and there followed hail and fire, mixed with blood, and these were thrown upon the earth. And a third of the earth was burned up, and a third of the trees were burned up, and all green grass was burned up. The second angel blew his trumpet, and something like a great mountain, burning with fire, was thrown into the sea, and a third of the sea became blood. A third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed. 10 The third angel blew his trumpet, and a great star fell from heaven, blazing like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water. 11 The name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters became wormwood, and many people died from the water, because it had been made bitter. 12 The fourth angel blew his trumpet, and a third of the sun was struck, and a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of their light might be darkened, and a third of the day might be kept from shining, and likewise a third of the night. 13 Then I looked, and I heard an eagle crying with a loud voice as it flew directly overhead, “Woe, woe, woe to those who dwell on the earth, at the blasts of the other trumpets that the three angels are about to blow!”

In 2003 a recording of Johnny Cash’s rendition of the song “God’s Gonna Cut You Down” was released. It has since become very popular. The song itself predates Cash’s version of it and was first recorded in 1937. It is a fascinating song that simply depicts the judgment of God coming upon the world. Here are the lyrics of the Cash version:

… Oh my God

… You can run on for a long time
Run on for a long time
Run on for a long time
Sooner or later God’ll cut you down
Sooner or later God’ll cut you down

… Go tell that long tongue liar
Go and tell that midnight rider
Tell the rambler, the gambler, the back biter
Tell ’em that God’s gonna cut ’em down
Tell ’em that God’s gonna cut ’em down

… Well my goodness gracious let me tell you the news
My head’s been wet with the midnight dew
I’ve been down on bended knee
Talkin’ to the man from Galilee

… He spoke to me in the voice so sweet
I thought I heard the shuffle of the angel’s feet
He called my name and my heart stood still
When he said, “John, go do my will!”

chorus

… Well you may throw your rock and hide your hand
Workin’ in the dark against your fellow man
But as sure as God made black and white
What’s down in the dark will be brought to the light

… You can run on for a long time
Run on for a long time
Run on for a long time
Sooner or later God’ll cut you down
Sooner or later God’ll cut you down

… Go tell that long tongue liar
Go and tell that midnight rider
Tell the rambler, the gambler, the back biter
Tell ’em that God’s gonna cut you down
Tell ’em that God’s gonna cut you down
Tell ’em that God’s gonna cut you down

… Oh yeah
Cut him down
Cut him down
Cut him down

It strikes me that this kind of talk about God is increasingly unpopular. Maybe, at some points in the past, the church overemphasized judgment to the exclusion of God’s mercy. The opposite is probably the case in our day. Of course, the correct approach is to emphasize both. God is perfect in all of His attributes, which includes both His judgment and His mercy. But as we progress through Revelation we are likely going to experience a jolt at the course correction it offers a lot of modern theology, for Revelation does indeed depict the wrath of God coming upon the earth. With the blowing of the trumpets, we begin to see this in chilling detail.

Continue reading