Thursday, 28 March 2013

Holy Saturday Talk: From The Winter of Good Friday To The Spring Of Easter

In CS Lewis’ ‘The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe’ the magical land of Narnia is in the grip of an eternal winter.  As Lucy informs her brother Edmund, the White Witch ‘has made a magic so that it is always winter in Narnia— but never Christmas.’  Considering the weather we are having, you may be forgiven in thinking a similar fate has befallen us, always winter but never spring! 

But with the return of Aslan, the true King of Narnia, the witches spell over the land is broken.  The first sign of change is that signs of spring start to appear.  ‘Soon Edmund noticed that the snow which splashed against them as they rushed through it was much wetter than it had been last night....  All around them, though out of sight, there were streams chattering, bubbling, splashing and even (in the distance) roaring. And his heart gave a great leap (though he hardly knew why) when he realised that the frost was over.’

Tonight we are marking a similar change, as we move from the winter of Good Friday, to the spring of Easter Sunday.

For the disciples the day Jesus died on the cross was a day of utter desolation and despair.  All their hopes and dreams died with Jesus that day on the cross.  They were a broken and crushed group of people.  With the exception of a few faithful women, and the apostle John, Jesus had been abandoned, to die a dreadful, lonely death on the cross.  
To everyone who had witnessed what had happened that day, it must have seemed as though God had totally abandoned Jesus, and that they had been plunged into a dark and long winter of grief. 

There is a well known saying that the darkest hour is just before the dawn.  As several of Jesus’ followers approached his tomb on the Easter Sunday, they were expecting to find a sealed tomb, containing the broken body of Jesus.  Darkness and despair must still have clinged to their hearts, as they went to perform the last loving act for Jesus, to anoint his body with spices. 

But when they got to the tomb, just as dawn was breaking, the light of a new day, revealed a very different scene.  The stone that had sealed the tomb had been moved, and where the body of Jesus had lain were two angels, who said to the women ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.’ In that moment the winter of darkness and despair that they had been plunged into on Good Friday suddenly gave way to the spring and light of Easter.

Where there had been only despair and grief, now there was hope and joy.  Where there had been confusion and fear, now there was understanding and assurance.  Where there had been death and defeat, now there was life and victory. 

To this day, this same transformation takes place in the lives of the men, women and children who encounter the risen Jesus. 

Just as we lit candles to dispel the darkness of this night, so we need to let the light of the risen Christ, illuminate our lives and shine through us for all to see.  Because there are many who are live as though the world is still in grip of winter, the grip of death, the grip of despair, the grip of sin, and they see no hope.  Whereas we know that because of Christ’s victory on the cross spring is here, and the signs of that are all around for us to see.

Because Jesus lives, we can face tomorrow.  Because he lives, all fear is gone.  Because he lives, life is worth living, because we know that whatever we may have to face in life, he holds the future. Because he lives, the winter of sin and death is over, the spring of new life, new hope, new purpose and new joy is here for all to experience.   

Maundy Thursday Reflection

Joseph Bayly was an American author who died in 1986.  He wrote several books including The Gospel Blimp, a series of modern day parables.

One of the stories in this book is called ‘How Shall We Remember John?’  It tells the story of a very close knit family, which had two sons, one of whom was called John. 

Breakfast was always a special time for this family, they would sit around a large oak table, and they would eat a steaming hot bowl of porridge.  As they ate their breakfast they would talk about what they were going to do that day, they would talk about their hopes and dreams, and it would be a time for sharing and a time for fun and laughter, before they would each make their separate way to either work or school.

Life went on like this for John and his brother, a breakfast of porridge and milk, walk to school, classes, walk home, chores, supper and study around the kitchen table. 

Everything changed however one fateful Christmas.  It was a very cold day and John and his younger brother went skating on the big pond.  John had his skate’s on first, and set off across the pond, but as he reached the middle of the pond the ice gave way, and John fell into the freezing water.

It was several hours later that John’s body was recovered.

A few days after the funeral the family were sitting around the kitchen table, eating breakfast.  Nobody was saying anything, they were all thinking about the empty chair against the wall.  Eventually the mother spoke, “Look, we all love John, and miss him terribly.  Now I have a suggestion to make.  We all know how he liked porridge and milk.  Well lets think about John every time we eat our breakfast. Let’s talk about him.

And that’s what this family did.  Every morning as the family sat around the kitchen table they would talk about John.  Occasionally they would shed tears, but it wasn’t sad talk, instead it was a time for remembering, and after a while they found they could laugh and smile as the told stories about John.  Sitting around that table, as they it felt as though John was still with them.

One day several months later, the mother said “I don’t think what we’re doing is respectful enough for John’s memory.  I think we’re too casual about it.  I think we ought to set aside time when we’re not rushed like we are at breakfast.  Let’s say Saturday morning. And we’ll remember John in a more fitting place than the kitchen.  We’ll sit in the front room and we’ll have a special time worthy of John’s memory.”

And so that is what the family did.  Every Saturday morning, after they had eaten their breakfast, they would go to the front room and remember John.  The mother would get some little silver cups for the milk and some tiny plates for the porridge. 

This continued for a while, but then eventually these special times became less and less frequent.  But John’s younger brother secretly wished they had never begun this “fitting” remembrance, and that instead they had kept on remembering John every time they ate breakfast.

This story challenges us to think about how and why we celebrate communion.  How different is the way we celebrate Communion, to the way the first Christian’s celebrated? 

That is why I am so pleased that tonight we can share this meal together, because it reminds us that it was within the context of a meal that Jesus instituted Holy Communion. 

Jesus and his disciples wouldn’t have been sat on chairs around tables like we are, but would have reclined against one another on the floor, with a low table in front of them, the meal spread before them.  Imagine for a moment what it must have been like in that upper room, try and picture the scene in your mind.  The anticipation and excitement as Jesus’ followers talked to one another about the events of the last week, the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Jesus casting out the money changers from the Temple.  The way the crowds had flocked to hear Jesus, and the obvious hostility of the religious leaders. 

Listen to the hum of conversation and the sound of laughter and the disciples talk to one another.  Imagine the smell of the food filling the room, and the sound of wine being poured into cups.  Because tonight is the Passover, a time to celebrate God’s deliverance of the Israelite’s from slavery in Egypt.  Then as Jesus begins to speak, a hush falls over the room.  He takes the unleavened bread, used in the Passover meal to remind the Jews of their deliverance from Egypt, and he gives thanks, breaks it, and hands it to his disciples saying This is my body, which is given for you. Eat this and remember me.” How do you think the disciples responded to these words?  Did a murmur of shock and surprise leave their lips, or did they look on in silence as they took the bread and shared it amongst themselves. 

Then when the meal was over, Jesus takes the cup of wine in his hands, called the cup of Redemption, the cup which represents the shed blood of the innocent Lamb which brought redemption from Egypt, and lifting it up Jesus says “This is my blood, and with it God makes his new agreement with you. Drink this and remember me.” The cup of redemption now becomes the cup that represents Jesus the Lamb of God, who through the shedding of his blood, sets us free from sin. Again try to picture the scene in your head. 

The fact that Jesus introduced the Holy Communion within the context of the Passover meal is important for several reasons.  Firstly the Passover was a celebration of how God delivered his people from slavery and oppression in Egypt.  But through Jesus’ actions, it now becomes a celebration of the freedom and deliverance that Jesus won for us through his death on the cross.

Secondly, in giving us the bread and wine as symbols to remember him by, and setting it in the context of a meal, Jesus is saying something important about building community. Because sharing food together helps build and strengthen community.  One of the best ways of getting to know someone is to share a meal with them. And one of the purposes of Holy Communion is that it builds and unites God’s people one to another.

Jesus gave us communion so that our relationship with him can be fed and nurtured, and that we can recall his sacrifice for us on the cross, and all that he has done and continues to do for us.  But he also gave us communion so that we may be united with one another, and setting this communion in the context of a meal is a reminder of this.  This is why in the communion service we often say Though we are many, we are one body, because we all share in the one bread.’ So that through receiving Holy Communion, we are united with God, becoming “one body and spirit” with Christ, and also that we are united together as his family, through the deeper sharing of our lives.  

Monday, 4 March 2013

The Parable Of The Fig Tree: Luke 13:1-9

It is a great privilege being a Vicar, because I get to share at special moments in peoples’ lives.  There are the joyful moments such conducting a wedding, celebrating the birth of a child, rejoicing with people when they have received some good news.  But I also get to be with people in the difficult and sad times of life, being there for someone when the doctor has given them some bad news, supporting the dying and comforting the bereaved, being there for people when life is a struggle. 

It is when bad things happen, when tragedy strikes, that we look for explanations and answers.  We ask the why questions.  “Why did I get cancer?”  “Why did my mum die?”  “Why when I try to live a good life, do bad things seem to happen to me or my family?”  We need an answer, because an answer feels better than not knowing.

Behind these questions, there is often another, deeper, more challenging question, “Why did God allow this to happen?” and “Where is God in all of this?”

In the Jewish mind, there had to a reason for suffering, and they believed that suffering was a consequence of sin.  So if personal tragedy befell someone, it was believed that in some way they were responsible for it, it had something to do with the person’s past. 

For example Job in the Old Testament, in a series of terrible tragedies, loses his family, property and health all within a short period of time.  His friends assume that Job must have done something wrong to deserve this suffering.  One of Job’s friends, Eliphaz says “Think! Has a truly innocent person ever ended up on the scrap heap?  Do genuinely upright people ever lose out in the end? It’s my observation that those who plow evil  and sow trouble reap evil and trouble. (Job 4:7-8)  In other words “you must have done something to deserve this!” 

And in the New Testament when Jesus and his disciples saw a man who had been blind from his birth, the disciples asked Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents,  that he was born blind? (John 9:2)  There had to be a reason why this man was blind.  But Jesus replies that neither this man nor his parents sinned so as to cause the blindness.

In our reading today, Jesus mentions two tragedies, the first where Pilate had killed some Galileans in the Temple in Jerusalem, and the second, where the tower of Siloam in Jerusalem had collapsed killing 18 people.  Jesus asks the question, were these people worse sinners or more guilt than anyone else?  To which the answer is an emphatic no. 

The reality is that we live in a world where tragic things happen all the time.  Anyone happening to be at the wrong place at the wrong time can be a victim of an accident, like the 19 people who were killed in the ballooning accident in Egypt this week.  Job worries, family tensions, health problems, and accidents can affect us all, and sometimes there isn’t always an explanation why.

But still to this day, there are those who believe that human suffering is due to divine punishment or sin.  For example there were some who claimed that the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in December in Connecticut was God’s judgement on America.  This of course is an absolutely outrageous and totally unjustifiable claim to make, but it is what some people believe. 

And this type of thinking is more common than I think we’d like to admit.  For example when people receive bad news and they say “What did I do to deserve this?” there is an assumption that they are somehow being punished.  But Jesus never promised us that if we follow him, we would have an easy life, free from trials and difficulties.  Instead he promised us that he would always be there for us, “behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20) 

Jesus uses the stories of these two tragedies, the killing of the Galileans and the eighteen killed by the collapse of the tower, to turn attention on our own lives.  He reminds us that we all fall short of God’s standards, we are all sinners, and that we need to repent, which means turn from our sin, and turn back to God.  Jesus says "Unless you repent, you will all perish as they did."
Jesus goes onto to tell the parable of the fig tree, which carries an important challenge for us, but also words of grace and encouragement.

A landowner had planted a fig tree in his vineyard, and employed a gardener to look after it.  But after three years this fig tree had failed to produce any fruit.  The tree was failing to do what it was intended to do.  So the owner of the vineyard tells the gardener to cut down the fig tree, because without fruit it is worthless, and is taking up space that could otherwise be productive in the vineyard.  But the gardener was not willing to give up on this tree just yet, “Leave it alone one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilise it.  If it bears fruit next year, fine!  If not, then cut it down.” 

In the Old Testament a fruitful tree was often used as a symbol of Godly living, and John the Baptist called people to “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” (Matthew 3:8)  What is this fruit?  It is the fruit of the Holy Spirit, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness and faithfulness (Galatians 5:22).  As Christians, we are called to be fruitful, this happens when we open ourselves up to the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  It happens as we seek to live faithful and obedient lives.  This is what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.  It all starts with repentance, recognising that we have failed God, turning away from that sin, and surrendering ourselves to God. 

The problem arises however, when we believe that we can add Christ to our lives, but not subtract sin.  In other words have a change in belief without a change in behaviour.  You cannot have one without the other.   

In the parable of the fig tree, there is a sense of urgency, time in short.  The vineyard owner is giving the tree only one more year to produce fruit, or it will be taken out.  This tree is being given one last chance to prove itself.  We need to recognise that time is short for us as well.  Christ calls us to come to him today, to repent and turn from our sins, and to start bearing the fruit of the Holy Spirit.  Jesus warns us that “unless you repent, you too will all perish.”  

None of us know what tomorrow will bring, none of us know how long we have on this earth, which is why there is a sense of urgency in needing to turn to Christ, and living faithfully today. 
But whilst this parable warns of judgement, it speaks even more of God’s grace, patience and mercy.  The gardener has not given up yet on the tree, he says I'm going to do everything I can to help this tree live and bear fruit.This is a reflection of God’s love and unending patience with us all.  God does not give up on us, even when it may appear we will never bear fruit, or never change – God does not abandon hope that change is possible.    

In this teaching Jesus is calling us to repentance, to turn our lives in a new direction.  As individuals we are called to acts of generosity, compassion, love and service.  These are the fruits of a life turned to God, of a mind and heart changed by the Spirit of God.  As a community of faith, we are called to bear fruit as well, to engage in God’s mission in the world, to be build God’s kingdom of justice and peace for all.

This season of Lent is a time to take stock of our own hearts, souls and life in God. There are some steps that help us to do just that; here are some of them:
First, acknowledge your need for God
Second, confess your sins. Tell God about the things that you do regret and want to leave behind as you turn a new direction and embark on a new journey in your living. 
Third, accept God's forgiveness and lay claim to God's love. The truth is, God is much more ready to forgive than we are to receive that forgiveness and much more ready to love than we are to own that love.
Fourth, take time to examine your life, your priorities, and your patterns of activity. Let God renew your mind with God's grace and love.
And finally, bear fruit. 
"Repent. Change your mind. Bear fruit." There it is, a repentance recipe for this season, the ingredients for spiritual renewal during these 40 days of Lent, which can lead to a new future, and renewed hope in the love of God for each one of us.

Money Matters: Lessons From The Story of Lazarus And The Rich Man

The issue of money and wealth, and what we do with is a clearly important topic, and is the subject one-sixth of the gospels touch upon, including one out of every three parables.  It is an issue which is also central to the story of Lazarus and the rich man, sometimes referred to as Lazarus and Dives.

What we work for, and what we do with our wealth clearly matter to God.   

In the story of Lazarus and the rich man, there is a stark contrast drawn between the wealth of the rich man, who wore the finest clothing, ate the best food, lived in a beautiful house, surrounded by many possessions, and the poverty of Lazarus, who had nothing.  No fine clothes, just what he wore on his back, no food, but only that which he could beg or which he could scrounge of the streets, and no home.  No place of safety or refuge.
It wasn’t the case that the rich man was cruel or unkind to Lazarus, it was simply that Lazarus was invisible to him.  He did not see him at all, despite the fact he lived on his doorstep.
The parable acts as a warning about what can happen if our wealth and material possessions take the central place in our lives.  About what can happen if we define ourselves by what we own, not what we are. 
Others looked through the doorway and saw a poor man there; the rich man looked and saw nobody. 
As I read this passage the challenge I’m left pondering is, how different am I?  I may not have anyone living on my doorstep, but what about the people living rough on the streets in Walsall?  Or the people living in extreme poverty around the world? 
Do I notice them?  Do I see them as people?  Or do I turn the other way, and ignore them, and pretend they are not there? 
It is easy to read this parable and stand in judgement over the rich man, but I wonder how different we really are.  After all, we may not feel particularly wealthy, but compared to the vast majority of people in the world, we are incredibly wealthy.  It is estimated that 80% of the world’s population lives on less than $10 a day, and half the world’s population live on less than $2.50.  That 1.1 billion people in developing countries have inadequate access to water , and 2.6 billion lack basic sanitation, and 1.6 billion lack basic shelter. 

We may not think we are rich, but we are, and therefore what we do with our wealth really matters. 

How we handle our money, reveals much about our depth of commitment to Christ.  Godfrey Davis, who wrote a biography about the Duke of Wellington, said, "I found an old account ledger that showed how the Duke spent his money. It was a far better clue to what he thought was really important than the reading of his letters or speeches.

How do we compare to the rich man?  Are we any better than him?  We should not feel guilty about earning money, or for that matter wealth.  Wealth in itself is not evil or wrong.  But it is what we do with it that matters.  In the section immediately preceding this parable, Jesus says, we cannot serve two masters, we will either hate the one and love the other, or we will be devoted to the one and despise the other.  We cannot serve both God and money. 
And as the story of Lazarus and the rich man shows, the decisions we make in this life, affects what happens to us in the life to come.  Both Lazarus and the rich man die, Lazarus goes to heaven and the rich man is sent to hell. 

It is clear that the rich man had a religious part to his life.  Because he cries out to Abraham for help, it is clear that both he and his brothers had been brought up with the teachings of Moses.  But he had compartmentalised his life.  So that there was a divide between the sacred and the secular.  He did not allow his religious beliefs and knowledge to influence other areas of his life.  For instance how he used his wealth. 

Do we allow our faith to shape what we do?  When we make decisions, do we consider how they may affect others?  Do we use our wealth or the gifts we have been given for the benefit of others?  What are our priorities in life? 

There are many challenges in this story of Lazarus and the rich man.  Challenges about what we do with in our money.  Challenges about the daily decisions we make.  The question I leave with you is are we making the most of the opportunities God gives us each day to help others? 

E100 Bible Reading Challenge: The New Jerusalem (100)

Revelation 21:1-22:21

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
‘See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them; 
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.’

And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.’ Then he said to me, ‘It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life. Those who conquer will inherit these things, and I will be their God and they will be my children. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, the murderers, the fornicators, the sorcerers, the idolaters, and all liars, their place will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulphur, which is the second death.’

Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, ‘Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.’ And in the spirit he carried me away to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God. It has the glory of God and a radiance like a very rare jewel, like jasper, clear as crystal. It has a great, high wall with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates are inscribed the names of the twelve tribes of the Israelites; on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. And the wall of the city has twelve foundations, and on them are the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

The angel who talked to me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city and its gates and walls. The city lies foursquare, its length the same as its width; and he measured the city with his rod, fifteen hundred miles; its length and width and height are equal. He also measured its wall, one hundred and forty-four cubits by human measurement, which the angel was using. The wall is built of jasper, while the city is pure gold, clear as glass. The foundations of the wall of the city are adorned with every jewel; the first was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, the fifth onyx, the sixth cornelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst. And the twelve gates are twelve pearls, each of the gates is a single pearl, and the street of the city is pure gold, transparent as glass.

I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. Its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. People will bring into it the glory and the honour of the nations.But nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practises abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign for ever and ever.

And he said to me, ‘These words are trustworthy and true, for the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent his angel to show his servants what must soon take place.’

‘See, I am coming soon! Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.’ 

I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I heard and saw them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed them to me; but he said to me, ‘You must not do that! I am a fellow-servant with you and your comrades the prophets, and with those who keep the words of this book. Worship God!’

And he said to me, ‘Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near. Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy.’

‘See, I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay according to everyone’s work. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.’ 

Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates. Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and fornicators and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practises falsehood.

‘It is I, Jesus, who sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.’ 
The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come.’
And let everyone who hears say, ‘Come.’
And let everyone who is thirsty come.
Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.

I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this book; if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away that person’s share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.

The one who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!

The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen.

- - - - - - -
Those Pearly Gates

God’s great plan is that we will live forever with him in heaven.

These chapters are filled with popular images of that wonderful moment when we enter heaven—pearly gates, streets of gold, river of life, etc. But the reality is better still. First, everything will be new (21.5). When Jesus returns, he will create a new heaven and a new earth (21.1). A new Jerusalem will appear (21.2). But the second and most important
reality of Heaven is that it is where God will dwell with his people forever (21.3). That was his plan from the beginning, and why the sent his Son to earth (John 1.14).


E100 Bible Reading Challenge: The Revelation: Hallelujah! (99)

Revelation 19:1-20:15

After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying,
Salvation and glory and power to our God, 
   for his judgements are true and just;
he has judged the great whore
   who corrupted the earth with her fornication,
and he has avenged on her the blood of his servants.’ 
Once more they said,
The smoke goes up from her for ever and ever.’ 
And the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshipped God who is seated on the throne, saying,
‘Amen. Hallelujah!’
 And from the throne came a voice saying,
‘Praise our God,
   all you his servants,
and all who fear him,
   small and great.’ 
Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the sound of many waters and like the sound of mighty thunder-peals, crying out,
For the Lord our God
   the Almighty reigns. 
Let us rejoice and exult
   and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
   and his bride has made herself ready; 
to her it has been granted to be clothed
   with fine linen, bright and pure’—
for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.

And the angel said to me, ‘Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.’ And he said to me, ‘These are true words of God.’ Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said to me, ‘You must not do that! I am a fellow-servant with you and your comrades who hold the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.’ 

Then I saw heaven opened, and there was a white horse! Its rider is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems; and he has a name inscribed that no one knows but himself.He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is called The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, wearing fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rulethem with a rod of iron; he will tread the wine press of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name inscribed, ‘King of kings and Lord of lords’.

Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, and with a loud voice he called to all the birds that fly in mid-heaven, ‘Come, gather for the great supper of God, to eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of the mighty, the flesh of horses and their riders—flesh of all, both free and slave, both small and great.’ Then I saw the beast and the kings of the earth with their armies gathered to make war against the rider on the horse and against his army. And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who had performed in its presence the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshipped its image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulphur. And the rest were killed by the sword of the rider on the horse, the sword that came from his mouth; and all the birds were gorged with their flesh. 
Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and locked and sealed it over him, so that he would deceive the nations no more, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be let out for a little while.

Then I saw thrones, and those seated on them were given authority to judge. I also saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their testimony to Jesus and for the word of God. They had not worshipped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. Over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.

When the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison and will come out to deceive the nations at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, in order to gather them for battle; they are as numerous as the sands of the sea. They marched up over the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city. And fire came down from heaven and consumed them. And the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulphur, where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.

Then I saw a great white throne and the one who sat on it; the earth and the heaven fled from his presence, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Also another book was opened, the book of life. And the dead were judged according to their works, as recorded in the books. And the sea gave up the dead that were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and all were judged according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire; and anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire. 

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Waiting on the Overlook

“The end” will be good new for some, bad news for others.

The main point of this passage is that in the end, evil will be defeated (19.11–20.10). The devil lost the decisive battle at the Cross. Another reality of the end is judgment (20.11-15). That’s what the “book of life” symbolized. Only those who believe in Jesus will be saved (Romans 3.23; 5.8; 10.9). For those who are in Christ, the end of the world will be a time of joy and celebration (19.1-10). In his vision, John saw a magnificent wedding with Jesus (the Lamb) as the groom and the
church as his bride (19.7).


E100 Bible Reading Challenge: The Revelation: The Throne of Heaven (98)

Revelation 4:1—7:17

After this I looked, and there in heaven a door stood open! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, ‘Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.’ At once I was in the spirit, and there in heaven stood a throne, with one seated on the throne! And the one seated there looks like jasper and cornelian, and around the throne is a rainbow that looks like an emerald. Around the throne are twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones are twenty-four elders, dressed in white robes, with golden crowns on their heads. Coming from the throne are flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and in front of the throne burn seven flaming torches, which are the seven spirits of God; and in front of the throne there is something like a sea of glass, like crystal.

Around the throne, and on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with a face like a human face, and the fourth living creature like a flying eagle. And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and inside. Day and night without ceasing they sing,
‘Holy, holy, holy,
the Lord God the Almighty,
   who was and is and is to come.’ 
And whenever the living creatures give glory and honour and thanks to the one who is seated on the throne, who lives for ever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall before the one who is seated on the throne and worship the one who lives for ever and ever; they cast their crowns before the throne, singing, 
‘You are worthy, our Lord and God,
   to receive glory and honour and power,
for you created all things,
   and by your will they existed and were created.’

Then I saw in the right hand of the one seated on the throne a scroll written on the inside and on the back, sealed with seven seals; and I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?’ And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it. And I began to weep bitterly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. Then one of the elders said to me, ‘Do not weep. See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.’

Then I saw between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. He went and took the scroll from the right hand of the one who was seated on the throne. When he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell before the Lamb, each holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. They sing a new song:
‘You are worthy to take the scroll
   and to open its seals,
for you were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed for God
   saints from every tribe and language and people and nation; 
you have made them to be a kingdom and priests serving our God,
   and they will reign on earth.’

Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels surrounding the throne and the living creatures and the elders; they numbered myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, singing with full voice,
‘Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honour and glory and blessing!’ 
Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, singing,
‘To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb
be blessing and honour and glory and might
for ever and ever!’ 
And the four living creatures said, ‘Amen!’ And the elders fell down and worshipped. 

Then I saw the Lamb open one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures call out, as with a voice of thunder, ‘Come!’ I looked, and there was a white horse! Its rider had a bow; a crown was given to him, and he came out conquering and to conquer.
 When he opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature call out, ‘Come!’ And out came another horse, bright red; its rider was permitted to take peace from the earth, so that people would slaughter one another; and he was given a great sword.

When he opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature call out, ‘Come!’ I looked, and there was a black horse! Its rider held a pair of scales in his hand, and I heard what seemed to be a voice in the midst of the four living creatures saying, ‘A quart of wheat for a day’s pay, and three quarts of barley for a day’s pay, but do not damage the olive oil and the wine!’

When he opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature call out, ‘Come!’ I looked and there was a pale green horse! Its rider’s name was Death, and Hades followed with him; they were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword, famine, and pestilence, and by the wild animals of the earth.

When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slaughtered for the word of God and for the testimony they had given; they cried out with a loud voice, ‘Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long will it be before you judge and avenge our blood on the inhabitants of the earth?’ They were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number would be complete both of their fellow-servants and of their brothers and sisters, who were soon to be killed as they themselves had been killed.

When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and there came a great earthquake; the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree drops its winter fruit when shaken by a gale. The sky vanished like a scroll rolling itself up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. Then the kings of the earth and the magnates and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of the one seated on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?’
After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth so that no wind could blow on earth or sea or against any tree. I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, having the seal of the living God, and he called with a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to damage earth and sea, saying, ‘Do not damage the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have marked the servants of our God with a seal on their foreheads.’

And I heard the number of those who were sealed, one hundred and forty-four thousand, sealed out of every tribe of the people of Israel:5From the tribe of Judah twelve thousand sealed,from the tribe of Reuben twelve thousand,from the tribe of Gad twelve thousand, 6from the tribe of Asher twelve thousand,from the tribe of Naphtali twelve thousand,from the tribe of Manasseh twelve thousand, 7from the tribe of Simeon twelve thousand,from the tribe of Levi twelve thousand,from the tribe of Issachar twelve thousand, 8from the tribe of Zebulun twelve thousand,from the tribe of Joseph twelve thousand,from the tribe of Benjamin twelve thousand sealed.

After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying,
‘Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!’ 
And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshipped God, singing,
‘Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom
and thanksgiving and honour
and power and might
be to our God for ever and ever! Amen.’

Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, ‘Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?’ I said to him, ‘Sir, you are the one that knows.’ Then he said to me, ‘These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 
For this reason they are before the throne of God,
   and worship him day and night within his temple,
   and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. 
They will hunger no more, and thirst no more;
   the sun will not strike them,
   nor any scorching heat; 
for the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd,
   and he will guide them to springs of the water of life,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’

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My Heavens!

Heaven is a glorious place where we’ll worship Jesus forever.

Heaven is not a place in the clouds where people go to strum harps and watch their relatives below. What will it be like? First, the Lamb of God will be at the center (5.6; 7.17). Second, as we see throughout the book of Revelation, worship will be the main activity. And the worshipping community will include people from “every nation, tribe, people and language” (7.9).