Tuesday, January 31, 2012

EMMDEV 2012-01-31 [Revelations Reassurances] God's plan: The Church

Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later. 20 The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches Revelation1:19-20

Revelation chapter one ends with John being instructed to write down Seven Letters to Seven Churches in Asia Minor. These letters are lovingly dictated to John by Jesus Himself.

There has been much scholarly debate about these Seven Letters and the congregations they are addressed to. Some have postulated that each of these letters represent a historical chapter in the church's journey. But this is problematic: If we knew the end of the world would be soon, then we'd be the Seventh Church, but if it is another thousand years before Jesus returns, then which church are we? I think there is a better explanation...

The Seven Letters were written to seven real congregations in seven real geographical contexts in Asia Minor (modern day Turkey) and they all existed at the time that John wrote to them. The number seven is symbolic of completeness and I think it is best to say that at any time in history there are congregations that are loveless, persecuted, tempted to compromise, overwhelmed, depleted, courageously faithful or lukewarm. (Or some combination of these!)

These letters represent God's heart toward the churches and there is a phrase repeated in all the letters: "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches."

As we noted earlier, Jesus stands among the Lampstands, He is passionate about the church. His plan is to be at work in the Church. John had been at the first church, Ephesus, for many years. These Seven Churches would have been familiar to him. As he writes, he experiences God's care, concern and priority for these congregations, and we are once again reminded that God cares about the local church.

So, if God cares about the local church, so should we.
I found this great quote recently:
If you don’t cross over from "What-can-I-get?" to "What-I-can-give?", your church will become increasingly unsatisfactory to you. (James MacDonald)

Theo Groeneveld theo@emmanuel.org.za
You can see past EmmDevs at http://emmdev.blogspot.com/

Friday, January 27, 2012

EMMDEV 2012-01-27 [Revelations Reassurances] Do not be afraid

17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: "Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. 18 I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades. Revelation1:17-18

"Fobos" is the Greek word for fear, terror and fright.
It is used in the New Testament to describe the fear Peter felt of the wind and waves when he was walking on the water, the fear Joseph felt when an angel appeared to him, the fear the temple-bouncers who were supposed to arrest Jesus felt of the crowds, the fear of the lazy talent servant towards his hard master, and the fear of the three disciples at the Transfiguration.

It is a primitive, knee-buckling and debilitating fear. It brings the worst out in us, it paralyses us and inhibits faith. The Bible regularly reminds us that this kind of fear does not belong. In fact, those who count these things tell us that the Bible says "do not fear" some 365 times - one for each day of the year.

But I am interested in _why_ we do not have to fear:
1. He places His right hand on John. It's a simple gesture, but one of great comfort and closeness.

2. He is the First and Last - there are no surprises to Him. He knows where we have been and He knows the road ahead. We can trust Him to guide us through.

3. The greatest fear we have is for our lives, but Jesus has conquered death. He has conquered our mortal (pun intended) enemy. Not only has He overcome, but He has dominated death - He holds the keys.

We are often tempted to "fobos" but we don't have to be debilitated, paralysed or inhibited - Jesus is close, Jesus has the bigger picture and Jesus is our Victorious Champion!

Don't let fear bully you!

Theo Groeneveld theo@emmanuel.org.za
You can see past EmmDevs at http://emmdev.blogspot.com/

Thursday, January 26, 2012

EMMDEV 2012-01-26 [Revelations Reassurances] Not the beard and sandals

... and among the lampstands was someone "like a son of man," dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. 14 His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. 15 His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. Revelation1:13-16

As glorious as the truth of the incarnation is, there is a danger inherent in the picture of Jesus walking in the dusty streets of Nazareth or teaching on the peaceful shores of Galilee. The danger is the temptation to reduce Jesus to beard and sandals. The risk we run is that we might limit and domesticate Him.

John inoculates us against this danger. He does so by describing Jesus in all His glorious majesty. Paul tells us that when Jesus came to earth, "He made Himself nothing" and "humbled Himself even to death", but now we can see Him in His fullest resurrection glory.

So what does John see?
1. Christ is _among_ the lampstands (i.e. with the church) (we discussed this yesterday...)
2. His robe and sash depict kingly and priestly majesty.
3. His head and hair suggest wisdom, purity and dignity.
4. The blazing eyes hint at omniscience, justice and purity.
5. Glowing bronze feet most probably indicate judgement.
6. His voice, like rushing waters, indicates power and glory.
7. The stars are messengers of the churches, held in His right hand show that He is in charge and interested in the leaders of the church.
8. The double-edged sword from His mouth reminds us the authority of His Word.
9. His face is glorious and majestic - and as happy as we are to see the sun after a dark night, John is happy to see the face of Christ.

This is a glorious picture and it challenges us never to domesticate Jesus. In the "Chronicles of Narnia", CS Lewis depicts Christ as Aslan the lion. In his story one of the characters says "Aslan is not a tame lion." To which someone responds "Is He safe?" And I love the response: "He isn't safe - but He's good!"

Theo Groeneveld theo@emmanuel.org.za
You can see past EmmDevs at http://emmdev.blogspot.com/

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

EMMDEV 2012-01-25 [Revelations Reassurances] Among the Lampstands

12 I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and among the lampstands was someone "like a son of man," dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. Revelation1:12-13

John is describing his transition from worship to vision. He has _heard_ the voice of Jesus instructing him to write down what he sees and to send it to the churches.

Now John turns to _see_ the voice that was speaking to him...
So what did he see?
"Seven golden lampstands and someone like a 'Son of Man' among them."
(The lampstands are a symbol of the church)

So wait a minute! If Revelation is about Jesus being the victorious champion and John was turning to look for this voice that was speaking to him, why does he see the symbol of the church first?

Surely he should have eyes only for Jesus? Surely he should have seen Jesus first? And why is Jesus "among" (in the midst of) the lampstands?

Because Jesus _chooses_ to be revealed and seen in and through the church. Because He _chooses_ to be at work in and through the church. The church is God's plan in the world and Revelation consistently describes the church as the Bride of Christ. The church is the reason He came to the cross and the reason He is returning again.

But not the organised structural church with all its faults and foibles, but the church made up of people who love His name and long to have Him "among" us.

No matter how tough times are: Jesus is among His faithful church!

Theo Groeneveld theo@emmanuel.org.za
You can see past EmmDevs at http://emmdev.blogspot.com/

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

EMMDEV 2012-01-24 [Revelations Reassurances] Triple Triplets

Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, 5 and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. Revelation1:4-5

Many years ago, Annette Stiff, one of our elders, gave a children's address I will never forget. She brought a sprig of a bush from her garden. It had blossoms on it: mauve, lilac and white.
"What kind of bush is this?" she asked.
Eventually the right answer came out - it was a "yesterday, today and tomorrow bush" and she explained how each individual blossom transitions from purple to white, usually over a period of three days.
"We are like the blossoms," she said, "but God is like the whole bush!" He knows us at every part of our lives and He is the same - Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow."

John's view is the same: He is an old man (a white blossom) but God is the One who is, was and is to come. I think it's significant that John starts with God's role in the present because it's the present that vexes us most!

But today, yesterday and tomorrow is not John's only triplet. He is also, more subtly making a reference to the Trinity. As we have seen he has described the Father as timeless and unchanging, but he also talks about the Holy Spirit and the Christ the Son.

In many translations, the phrase "Seven Spirits" is translated "Sevenfold Spirit" which is quite helpful in conveying what is meant. Seven is a number of perfection, when God's Spirit is described as "Seven Spirits", John is really saying that God's Spirit is always perfectly present and near.

And John is still "tripletting" when he describes Jesus! Here are the three introductory points John would make about Him:
* He is the faithful witness - He accurately revealed God to us.
* He is the firstborn from the dead - He finished His mission and triumphed.
* He is the ruler over the kings - and by implication He is coming to reign!

In the midst of trouble and hardship we need a big and erosion-resistant view of God. John provides this for us.
- An unchanging Father through our todays, yesterdays and tomorrows
- A Spirit is a supernaturally and amazingly always present
- The Son who reveals God, conquers our greatest fear and is our champion.


Theo Groeneveld theo@emmanuel.org.za
You can see past EmmDevs at http://emmdev.blogspot.com/

Friday, January 20, 2012

EMMDEV 2012-01-20 [Revelations Reassurances] Pastoral Poetry

Greetings and Salutations for the New Year to you!
May God's strength and peace be your guide in 2012!
With schools re-opening on Wednesday it is time for the eDevs to start again and I must say that it is with a certain nostalgia that I am writing to you... There are two reasons for this:

Firstly, in December Calvin Cook, one of our denomination's senior ministers passed away. Calvin was a great mentor and encourager to me and I will miss his encouraging and provocative emails very much. This eDev series is dedicated to his memory.

Secondly, this year marks the tenth year of EmmDevs. Can you believe it? Thank You Lord for your faithfulness!
9 I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 10 On the Lord's Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, 11 which said: "Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches. Revelation1:9-10

We start a new series today: "Revelations Reassurances."

We'll be looking at some of the gems in the book of Revelation. This won't be a verse by verse commentary, or even an overview, but rather I'll be trying to use Revelation as I believe John meant it: As an encouragement to believers who face tough circumstances, who find their faith being tested and who experience opposition from the world.

Many people think that Revelation was meant to be a book about "How it will all end." But that does not make sense! How would a book about how the world would end in 2000+ years time be of great comfort to the early Christians in the first century? To limit Revelation to being a "book about the End Times" is to completely underestimate the book!

Jesus spoke about history and the end times and described it as a woman in labour: There is a contraction, then relief, a contraction and then relief, and this cycle continues until the baby comes. History is the same: It is a cycle of contractions and relief and we don't know which contraction will bring the end. (Although many have foolishly tried to guess!)

Revelation was written for the church to read during the contractions of history. It is a dramatic and colourful book that does not shrink back from trouble - it describes trouble in terms of monsters, beasts, thunderclaps, bowls of judgement and other vivid pictures. But it also describes God as our glorious champion and our ultimate victory as a complete certainty.
Eugene Peterson describes Revelation as "Pastoral Poetry."

Nearly two thousand years ago, John wrote to comfort a church experiencing trouble and opposition and today we still draw comfort, inspiration and courage for the year ahead from Revelation's Reassurances.

Theo Groeneveld theo@emmanuel.org.za
You can see past EmmDevs at http://emmdev.blogspot.com/