April 18, 2023
TODAY’S SCRIPTURE READING:
“Look, I come like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake and remains clothed, so as not to go naked and be shamefully exposed.” (Revelation 16.15)
TODAY’S REFLECTION ON GOD’S WORD:
I find it a bit confusing that Christ followers spend such an inordinate amount of resources (time, money and energy) to fitting into the world. We raise our eyebrows and our voices against the current culture and climate, yet we dare not raise a hand against it. And do we dare raise Christ up in the midst of it? Jesus reminded His disciples “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness [in order to lead the people through the valley of the shadow of death– my inclusion], so must the Son of Man be lifted up.” We have to remember why Jesus is lifted up. We repeat the scripture that marks Jesus’ declaration “I AM the way, the truth and the life; by no other can our Father in heaven be approached.” We should be fervent in our own declaration saying, as we take up our cross, “Let’s go this way. Follow me.” You see it isn’t actually our cross that we are lifting up but the yoke which Jesus has prepared for us to share with Him as we “toil in the soil” making disciples of all nations. He commands us to do so (read Matthew 11) and in so doing learn from Him. What is it that we are to learn? Isn’t it how to be fully equipped to stand in the world which we have now seen leads us to “put on the whole armor of God”? Do we really grasp the impact of being “yoke bearers” and “cross sharers” with Christ? Do we embrace His mission, purpose and calling as the Son of Man and Son of God? He showed that He came into the world not to lead a vast army against the irreligious Temple leadership or that of the pagan Roman Empire. He even confessed that if He allowed Himself to consider it, He could call down the Heavenly Host who always stand “at the ready.” But, if that judgment came in that moment (as one day it will come), then that judgment would be on all people everywhere who were not yet prepared. Are we really ready for that? Time to take that personal inventory and hold yourself accountable before God in prayer. Better to do so now and respond appropriately than when Jesus returns “as a thief in the night unsuspected by us” and well….there you are!
We can look at the “seven” words which Jesus issued to the “seven” churches of Asia Minor who were under the leadership of the Apostle/Presbyter John and see such a “look in the mirror.” He was still fitting them for their service. He was still tailoring their faith to be suitable for the work of faith they have agreed to in the gospel of Jesus the Christ. He was affirming them, calling them and then empowering them to take their stand in the world. They would not be able to do so without that faith, without putting on the whole armor of God and without rehearsing and bathing their spiritual awareness in the practice of prayer.
Remember in John when Jesus, after His baptism and acceptance of His earthly ministry, first entered the Temple. He had gone there many times before since He was a boy of eight days of age. But, no visit was like “this” visit. In just thirty years, He watched as the leniency, maybe we should call it “greed,” was extended to the buyers and sellers in the Temple. They had branched out of the marketplace and moved into the Promenade Square. It was there that the men would gather at the appointed times and bear witness to the sacrifices for the blessing of God to fall on their lives and livelihoods. Now it seemed to be more of a carnival midway or that of a state fair. Imagine it, if you will: rides, games of chance, fast food, fortune tellers, side shows and contests. This was the atmosphere which had been given permission to not only exist but increase in the thirty years of Jesus’ life. The seeds for such unrighteousness had long been planted and cultivated. Now the fruit of that labor was so visible that it was acceptable and even demanded. For that generation it had become something that fit what we know as “it has always been this way.” Sadly, it had not always been this way. But, it had been going this way against the very word of God since the days of the Prophets. Now one greater than the prophets stood among them. He not only stood among them but He could “stand” it no longer. He took off the belt of truth which girded His waist (see Ephesians 6.14a) and fashioned a whip from it. He cracked it over their heads. He herded people through, over and around the tables of the moneychangers, the “salvation” vendors and those whose innocence had been captivated by all the sights and smells of the Temple “midway” attraction. Everything was scattered and disrupted. When the dust settled, you could hear a pin drop. In that silence of accountability, Jesus turned to face those who would seek to accuse Him of blasphemy and terminate His life by tearing down the temple of His body and said, “You have allowed this mockery of My Father’s House. It was intended to be a House of Prayer and Praise but you have made it a den of thieves!” I can actually see Jesus drop His unravelled and twisted belt of truth to the ground like some today “drop their microphone” and walk away. In John, this was at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. In the synoptic gospel retelling, it came during the last week of His life. I wrote of that recently contemplating that nothing changed in three years from the first to the last visits there. That is how entrenched unrighteousness had become. Forty years later, the Temple would be ransacked by the Romans and left in ruins. It was a political move because there was no spirit of faith, hope and love there anymore.
I said yesterday that I was shown a connection between “putting on the whole armor of God” as a call to the Church and the words left to the seven churches as we can read in Revelation. I will go further with today’s reflection tomorrow building on the first word which Christ gave out. That word was to the church in Ephesus which had “forsaken their first love.” They hated false teachers, prophets and apostles. They were skilled in testing for the “truth,” yet it had become their identity to do so. In the mix, they had become too much like the world filled with skepticism and judgmentalism. They took a stand that was necessary but left out the heart of what made it important. We will reflect on that tomorrow. Until then, shalom.
A PRAYER FOR TODAY:
O God, You have clothed us and fitted us to be Your people in the world. From the provision of sheep skins in the Garden to cover our “shame” to the blessing of the Holy Spirit in the Upper Room to declare Your “claim,” we are ready to enter into the world and let Your Will not ours be known. Now, we pray that our eyes may see and ears may hear the understanding of being clothed in mercy and grace with power from on high. May it be so today in Jesus’ name. AMEN.