Monday, December 31, 2012

Devotional Thoughts for the New Year: Don't Forget God Laughs

Reading: Psalm 2
As we step in to 2013, there are some things we are going to need to remember—some things we must not forget. One thing we are going to need to remember in 2013 is that God laughs. As our culture becomes increasingly hostile toward God and Christianity, our worldview is going to be tested. Our belief system is going to be tested. Are we going to become increasingly afraid? Does the church retract into a hole becoming the voice of doom?
Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? 2The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the LORD and against his Anointed One. 3"Let us break their chains," they say, "and throw off their fetters." (Psalm 2:1-3)
Psalm begins by describing the world in its hostility toward God. This hostility is not an innovation of the 21st century. It began in the garden of Eden. We see it expressed in the conflict between Cain and Abel. It reaches its zenith in the rejection and crucifixion of the Messianic King, God's Son, on the cross. It is nothing new.
How are we to respond? What are we to think when it seems that wickedness increases and godly efforts to stop it fail. What are we to do when the media undergirds and supports those who oppose truth and righteousness? When, “Not a word from their mouth can be trusted; their heart is filled with destruction. Their throat is an open grave; with their tongue they speak deceit.” (Psalm 5:9) We must remember the next verse in Psalm 2. We must remember that God laughs.
The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them. (Psalm 2:4)
Why does God laugh? Is it because He has a great sense of humor? No (though I am sure He does). It is because the greatest efforts of the powerful in this world to rid the world of God do not worry Him in the least. In fact, they are humorous to consider. We get a glimpse into what seems so funny to God in Acts 4:25-28,1 where this psalm is quoted.
You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David:
Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? 26The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against his Anointed One.”
27Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. 28They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.
The greatest violence the world could do in its hostility toward God, in its effort to rid the world of God, was to kill God's Son. And so the king of the Jews (Herod) and the Roman government (Pontius Pilate) together with the will of the people crucified our glorious Lord. Yet, even in doing so, they were playing into the plan and purpose of God. That generation in all its wickedness could ultimately only do what God's power and will decided should happen. God was not in the least worried that His plans would be thwarted. In fact, all the clamoring efforts that seem so much like victory to Herod, Pilate and the people (or to the powerful of our own day), seemed humorous to God because He knew they were only accomplishing His will. In their effort to rid the world of God's restraints, they were restrained to doing His will.
This year, 2013, will bring plenty of opportunities to fear, as last year did. The economy of our nation looms over the fiscal cliff—whatever that is. As best I can tell it means our taxes are going up—everyone’s. Do I like that? Of course not. However, none of this is a surprise to God, and none of this will hinder God's plan to work everything out in conformity with the purpose of His will (Ephesians 1:11). The world will continue to be hostile to God and His people. This too is no surprise. In all of this we should not fear, because God laughs. His good and perfect plans are never thwarted.
Rooted in this confidence, we can then respond by praying for boldness to proclaim the truth into this hostile world. Then we are to boldly share the gospel, the glorious announcement Christ reigns. That God has installed His Son as King. This is what the apostles did in response to the hostility they faced (Acts 4:29-31). This is what we are to do.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,
1My friend Vance reminded me of this connection yesterday morning as we gathered to worship together at Gulf Coast Community Church.   

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Building of Ezekiel's Temple

Reading: Ezekiel 47–48; Revelation 21–22  
Ezekiel 47:1-12 describes a river that flows from the temple, the design of which Ezekiel just set forth. It starts as a trickling stream coming out from under a threshold of the temple. As it goes, it gradually becomes larger and deeper. After only 1000 cubits (about 1/3 mile) it is ankle deep. In another 1000 cubits, knee deep; another, it is waste deep; and still another... it is swimming time! This river is lined with trees on both sides that produce fruit wherever the river goes—the fruit provides food; the leaves provide healing. The river produces life wherever it goes—fish teaming as in the days of creation (Genesis 1:20-21), and fishermen hauling them in (recall the loads of fish Jesus created for the fishers of men) (Luke 5:5-11; John 21:5-8). Life happens everywhere the river goes.
In John 7, Jesus is in Jerusalem for the feast of tabernacles. On the last day—the most important day—of the feast He stands up in the temple and cries out...
"If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me, and 38let the one who believes in me drink. Just as the scripture says, 'From within him will flow rivers of living water.'" (John 7:37-38 NET)
On that day the priest would take a pitcher of water from the pool of Siloam and pour it over the altar. It was anticipated that one day, when Ezekiel's vision was fulfilled, that the water would keep going—out under the threshold, growing and growing until the vision was fulfilled. Jesus is effectively saying, “I am that water of life. I am the river of life. It flows from within me.1 Earlier Jesus had already described Himself as the temple; now He is the river that flows from the temple (by the Spirit He would later give to those who believe; see John 7:39). The Pharisees didn't understand—they thought he meant a literal temple (“Destroy this temple and I will raise it up in three days”). They couldn't understand that He was the temple and the water would flow from Him to the world. (See also Revelation 21:22.)
Ezekiel goes on to describe the city around the temple—Jerusalem, presumably. The gates are named for the twelve tribes of Israel. But the name given the city will be, not Jerusalem, but “Yahweh is There.” (Ezekiel 48:36) Ezekiel is describing the temple and the city looking forward, prophetically. Revelation 21–22 describe it with similar prophetic imagery but from the fulfillment side—after Christ has come and we have a vision of how it is transformed. As always, the fulfillment is significantly better than the prophecy.
We know John is hearing about the “same” city because just as Ezekiel tells us the name will be, “Yahweh is There,” so John, as he sees “the Holy City, new Jerusalem,” is told “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them.” And just as Ezekiel's new Jerusalem has twelve gates named for the sons of Israel, so John hears that the New Jerusalem will have twelve gates named for the sons of Israel. John hears an added detail: It has twelve foundations named for the twelve apostles of the Lamb. It also has a river flowing down the middle of it with the tree of growing on each side of the river bearing fruit that is healing for the nations (Revelation 21:2-3, 12, 13; 22:1-2).
John also tells us that the city is the bride, the wife of the Lamb. We know that the bride, the wife of the Lamb, is the church (Ephesians 5:31-32). So the city is the New Jerusalem, is the church, the people of God. This mixing of metaphors (city/woman) should not seem so odd. Isaiah 54:1-17 describes the people of God in their devastation as a once beautiful bride, now an abandoned, barren woman, and a once beautiful city, now a slum. Then Isaiah goes on to describe how the city will be made beautiful and re-inhabited; how the wife will be taken back by God and have more children than the wife never abandoned. Paul mixes the same metaphors as well (Galatians 4:22-29). (For more on these texts go to A Reconciled Marriage, A Re-inhabited City, An Amazing Love – Isaiah 54.)
As would be expected, the fulfillment outshines the prediction. The city as Ezekiel pictured it was 4500 cubits square (about 1½ miles square). John was aware of that, but in his vision the city is 12,000 stadia square—that's about 1400 miles square (Far exceeding the prediction). It reminds me of the scene in Revelation 7:1-9 when John hears the number of the elect: 144,000 from every tribe of Israel—12,000 from each tribe. He hears of a perfectly countable, Jewish, kosher group. But then he looks to see it and what does he see? A vast multitude from every nation, tribe, people and language, so large that it can't e counted. He hears of the restored Israel of God and when he sees the fulfillment, he sees the church. Ezekiel describes a restored Israel; but when John sees the fulfillment, he sees the church, the bride of Christ. This is the New Jerusalem, the city whose name is, “YHWH is There.” Jesus is the son of David who will build a temple for God and He is building His church (1 Kings 5:5; 8:19; Matthew 16:18).
I write this on Christmas morning, 2012. I can't help but recall the name given to Christ, Emmanuel, God with us. In Jesus Christ God is still with us, for He lives in us by His Spirit. He is the river running through the streets of the city. And though one day it will come in its fulness, God has already begun making everything new. If any one is in Christ, he is a new creation—the Israel of God. (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15-16) Have you gone to Him to drink? Streams of living water flow from within Him.
Merry Christmas,
1I used the NET (New English Translation) above because it shows that by simply changing where you end the sentence, or add quotation marks (remember, no punctuation was in the original text) it changes the location of the river from the believer to Jesus. Traditional translations add punctuation that makes it read the the river flows from within the drinker of the water. I believe it is best understood to see the river as flowing from within Jesus and the drinker (the one who believes) as the one who is satisfied by the Spirit that Christ gives. This is far more consistent with John's Gospel and the theology of the book. (See also John 4:13-14)

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

What Will Be Reported About You?

Reading: 3 John  
What reports would you want to be given about you? Maybe there are some old friends you knew years ago from another city, and a mutual friend is traveling to see them. What might they report about you? John writes to a dear friend, Gaius, in his third epistle (letter); someone who, it seems, was converted years prior under his ministry. He has heard reports about this man—reports that tell him that Gaius' soul is doing well (3 John 2). What did he hear? What kind of report would tell John that Gaius' soul was doing well? What kind of report might John hear that would tell him your soul is doing well?
3It gave me great joy to have some brothers come and tell about your faithfulness to the truth and how you continue to walk in the truth. 4I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth. (3 John 3-4)
Gaius was faithful to the truth—faithfulness demonstrated by his walking in the truth, and continuing to do so—even in the face of pressure to do otherwise (3 John 10). What does it mean that he was walking in the truth and faithful to the truth? Does it mean all his doctrine was perfect? Does it mean he could debate doctrine with the best of them? While doctrine is important, that isn't the point here.
If one were to speculate how John knew Gaius was walking in the truth, or what it looks like to be faithful to the truth of the Gospel, one might easily surmise that John knew Gaius was walking in the truth because he was loving the brothers. (For instance by thinking about 1 John 2:3-6 you could conclude this.) However, we don't have to speculate, since John immediately tells us how he knew.
5Dear friend, you are faithful in what you are doing for the brothers, even though they are strangers to you. 6They have told the church about your love. You will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God. 7It was for the sake of the Name that they went out, receiving no help from the pagans. 8We ought therefore to show hospitality to such men so that we may work together for the truth. (3 John 5-8)
They were faithful to the brothers which they then described as love in their report to the church. John then describes it as showing hospitality (more literally, bearing up, or receiving into his heart) to these brothers that we may work together for the truth. What Gaius did in supporting these men who went to the churches teaching the truth was working together with them for the truth. They were loving the truth by supporting these men who taught it and they were loving the recipients of the truth through them. You might say they were loving the truth by living it.
Diotrephes, on the other hand, loved himself (3 John 9-10). He apparently felt threatened by other men who taught the truth. He did not want them supported, slandered them and retaliated against those who supported them by kicking them out of the church. What a contrast to Gaius and the love of truth he showed. Diotrephes has a very small world—small enough that he could be at the center of it. Gaius had a very big world—big enough that truth existed outside himself and was something he served, not something that served him.
What kind of report do you want to be given about you? Are you living for the truth? Do you live for the advance of the Gospel—something bigger than you and which you serve? Or, is the Gospel you have a very small gospel that exists to serve you? May the Gospel compel us to walk as Jesus walked—laying down our lives for the brothers.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,