May 5, 2023
TODAY’S SCRIPTURE READING:
“After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.”(Revelation 4.1)
TODAY’S REFLECTION ON GOD’S WORD:
What is interesting in the discourse to be shared by John with the seven churches under his leadership and care are the promises and opportunities that will be granted to those who hold fast to the faith. We could outline the punishments rendered by the justice of God for those whose faith is “cold.” We already know the ‘tweeners fate as they will be “spewed from the mouth of Christ” because they are tasteless. This does not mean they will escape any punishment for not being “hot” in their commitment of faith. What it does imply is that they must make the choice and decide before God and the world whether they will be authentically “hot” or authentically “cold.” Will they be for God or against God. We know, as mighty ones of God, that if we are for God then nothing will prevail against us. The “what comes next” will include the expanding upon the promised act of justice to those who refuse to declare and choose to put their faith and trust in God. Let’s put it this way: first comes the nightmare of hell on earth and second comes hell. There is a great difference between standing next to the roaring fire and standing in it. Standing next to the fire and starting to get burned, one can move away. But, standing in the fire out of which there is no escape but the desire is to escape is another thing altogether. Enough about that. Let’s focus and reflect instead on what is promised to those who are “hot” in each community and remain steadfast in their pursuit to live out their days in faith. Let us remember that just as the words given to each of the communities individually, they were also given to them as one community corporately. The warning to one was a warning to all. The promised blessing to one would be one promised to all. In that regard, this is something then we can learn from ourselves, individually and corporately as members of the body of Christ and as the body of Christ whose head is Christ Himself. What then awaits us who persevere to the end to be faithful and true to the call of Christ in our lives?
Ephesus: To the victor will be given the privilege of eating from the Tree of Life which is in God’s paradise. We know there were two trees planted in the heart of the Garden of Eden, or Paradise. One Adam and Eve could eat of just as they could from any other tree save one: The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. It would seem obvious that to eat of the Tree of Life and live forever would be sage advice. What became appealing was the opportunity to be “like God.” To live forever as a human being would be good and certainly had its advantages over all the other creatures of earth. But, to be “like God,” whatever they thought that meant, had to be more advantageous because it entertained the idea of power, dominion and authority. Sadly, we know they did not choose wisely. They were ordered out of the Garden and thus never had the opportunity to eat from the Tree of Life and taste of its eternal fulfillment. In the promised Kingdom that opportunity would be restored.
Smyrna: To the victor comes the joy of life without facing the second death. What does this mean? Well, the second death is not death as we know it in its first reality. There is a difference between the cessation of life and dying forever. Death in the flesh becomes a release from the pain and suffering which comes from living in a world broken by sin. Many despair that God allows such tragedies to exist among all the people on earth. Diseases, hungers, thirsts, deformities, ailments, poverty, drought, fire, flood, storm, earthquake, terrorism, bullying, murder, etc. are all those tragedies. What God promises is that they will not define who we are in His sight. He does not desire for us to suffer. He desires even more that we do not suffer forever. Death then can be seen as a release from the pains of this world for those who pursue the Kingdom of God. But, there is yet a “second death” which exists as the judgment of justice. It is reserved for those who refuse believe in God. Despite the realities of testimony of God’s call to life which are faced in this world on earth, they choose still to not believe. Theirs will be a torment of their own decision to say “There is no God” even when they will see God fully on ‘that Day.’
Pergamum: To the victor will be given manna which has been hidden for that moment and a white stone on which their personal name will be engraved. In all we are called to say and do as mighty ones of God, it is with the purpose and spirit of “worship.” Our worship is bound to praise and prayer remembering our lives as they were (and may still be) and remembering the promise for our lives as it will be (and should be now.) We are given two symbols, or images, to help maintain our focus on this vital truth. Our righteousness is expressed best in our worship. Another word used in application is “service.” Our worship is intended to bear witness of ourselves before God in the presence of others. It is also a testimony before others of our alignment in thought and action with God as the singular focus of our lives. The promise of “manna that was hidden” refers to the practice of the Seder feast. At the start of the meal, the bread is broken. The larger piece is wrapped in a napkin (or put in a special bag) and “hidden” away. The smaller piece is then offered to all at the table in remembrance of how Israel had become enslaved to Egypt. Eventually, that slavery became an acceptable lifestyle as it finally reached a time when Pharaoh no longer remembered who Joseph was nor his father. In that day, God heard their prayers and brought them into His freedom. During that journey, the people argued against God because their current situation was too difficult. They preferred slavery in Egypt than to “die” in the wilderness. The truth is that their identity as “slaves” is what needed to die. What needed to live was their desire to “serve” the Lord their God and not any person on earth, especially not Pharaoh. Later in the meal, the hidden piece of bread is revealed (sometimes the children went looking for it and when finding it brought it back to the table.) That piece was the bigger part of the story represented by the larger piece of broken bread. Jesus said, “I will not eat of this bread nor drink of this cup until I can do so renewed in the Kingdom of Heaven.” That larger piece is emblematic of the “whole body of Christ,” that is-the Church. This is where the white stone comes in to play. When Jesus had cleared the temple of moneychangers and those who were literally prostituting worship of God, the disciples brought to His attention how beautiful the Temple was on the outside with all its alabaster stones carefully placed together. Jesus told them, as He did the rulers of the Temple, “Tear down these stones and I will rebuild them in three days. I tell you, not one stone will be left upon another. They will be stumbling blocks for you.” Remember His words of affirmation when He cleared the Temple court “This was intended to be a House of Prayer but you have made it a den of thieves.” So, it is with prayer and praise, worship and service, that our faith will fit us together beautifully and purposefully as the whole house of God.
Thyatira: To the victor will be given authority of nations, an iron scepter and the morning star. The disciples were warned about the authority they would be given. It was not an authority that was to be bandied about as the Gentiles did. Such authority was conditional in the hope of placating other leaders and nations to not destroy them. They, in fact, were destroying themselves as Israel did by adopting the ways and the means of those other nations. They surrendered their identity in order to survive. The disciples, as leaders of the Church and as disciple makers, were not to be given in to such practice. They had been exposed to, instructed in and empowered by the righteousness of God. Their whole identity was bound by the Great Commandments of loving God, loving the outcast who was their neighbor and to love one another. But, there was never meant to be a comprise intended. They had to hold fast to the truth which set them free from the burden of sin. Why enslave themselves back to their former “task master” as did their ancestors in the days of Pharaoh? The prophets spoke often “what happened to those people of old; where are they now?” So, the disciples were intended to “rule” with authority as with an iron scepter which could not be broken (although it could break others but that was not its first purpose) and with the “morning star.” Much can be said about the “morning star” as it is used to describe both Satan in the Old Testament and Christ in the New Testament. Of course, the focus on the past and the present is to highlight the future. The morning star for us is always to point out the power of the resurrection revealed as the “morning star” was rising above the horizon. The resurrection bears witness to the truth of our salvation and our restoration as being the people of God who have repented of their sins, accepted the forgiveness offered by the blood of the Lamb and who pursue all righteousness.
Sardis: To the victor comes the charge to be dressed in white and to have their name lifted up before God and the angels. It is not difficult to understand the simplicity of this blessing and promise. Life in this world is rarely pretty. Adam and Eve were told by God that they would have to make their living with a “toil in the soil.” Jesus alerted His disciples to the hardships they would face as they went into the world to proclaim the gospel and make disciples of all nations. It would be hard work requiring great sacrifice. They would have to get their hands dirty and life messy not in order to be saved but because they were saved and desired for others to accept their salvation, too. Jesus is the model: He laid down His life for us. He was battered, bruised, nailed, beaten, punched, slapped, stripped, spat upon and killed. Yet, He was raised on the third day as was promised and appeared in God’s glory as if wearing a robe of white that was unstained by the world.
Philadelphia: To the victor will be given the standard of a pillar in the temple on which the name of God, the new Jerusalem and the new name of the Christ will be written. The pillars represent the entry points into the temple, even the city gates themselves when it comes to the “New Jerusalem.” As we will read, or for some re-read, when Jesus returns to claim His Holy Bride which is the Church, it will be the New Jerusalem. In that city not built by human hands, there will be no “temple” as exists in the Jerusalem of today. God will exist in full glory on earth as He does in Heaven. He will be the only “temple” that is necessary. As such, the Temple can never be corrupted, misinterpreted and dysfunctional. So, then we read of the twelve gates in the city walls which are the portals through which all believers may enter but none will care to leave through back into the world of darkness. And those gates will not have doors on them to barricade the enemy from entering in as well. The glory of God Himself will be the reckoning force in the light of His mercy and grace which is the true justice. But, set in place will be the pillars which stand on each side of the gate. They are like sentinels, watchmen and a figurative “Chamber of Commerce” sign of declaration as to the true identity of this place. They are like a welcome and keep out sign combined by the spirit and truth which exist inside. Within those gates are found the true worshippers who, as Jesus told the woman at the well, “Will worship neither on this mountain or that mountain but only in spirit and truth. On that day and forever, there will only be two “locations” and/or two “realities: God and Hell. Even hell will not be independent and apart from the rule, reign and presence of God. Hell will be surrounded by the power and love of God to protect His people from all manner of harm and evil. And that name which is above all names will be written on every person who believes. There life of faith will be the forever testimony of the truth which cannot be overcome.
Laodicea: To the victor will be given the right to sit with Christ on His throne. The victor represented in the Word to Laodicea is the one who is “hot” for God. Their faith is “on fire” for God because Christ is in them and they are in Christ. They will be purified by the fire of judgment which removes the impurities of sin and the world. They are “steeled” in their confession of faith and the profession of God’s love made known in Jesus the Christ. We do not know what His new name will be. It is as much a mystery to us as is the understanding of the “666” which defines the Anti-Christ. But, when both are made known to us their identity will be undeniable. It is to those then who cannot deny the need for Christ in their lives and who commit themselves fully and continually to the pursuit of being fully in Christ that are granted the right and privilege of sitting with Him in the New Heaven, New Earth and New Jerusalem. Interesting that in the gospel story of James and John who requested the right of sitting with Jesus when He comes into power we hear “only those whom God has prepared and called may sit at My right and left; it is not for Me to determine.” We often take that word as a rebuff of James and John (or their mother’s request). From an earthly perspective we have to remind ourselves that we dare not project our passion for authority as the authentication of authority or privilege. Jesus never acted apart from His Father’s word or will. He was always in obedience and humble even to the point of death on the cross. Such humility in the pursuit of service rendered first to God and then to others validated the truth which God had declared which was the resurrection and ascension of Jesus as the Christ back into the realm of Heaven. In this word to Laodicea and to the churches and to us, such a privilege to sit with Christ is still the province of God to bestow. And He will do so. If God is the Temple in the New Jerusalem, the Godhead fully represented there in glory, then all who dwell in that place are welcomed to the table set in the presence of the enemy who cannot enter in but only peer in imagining what it would be like. Theirs is the sorrow that dwells forever caught between disdain and unfulfilled desire for such privilege as to forever be in the presence bathed by God’s love without reservation.
Mighty ones, these are the blessings which come to those who are faithful and true (yes, never perfectly so in this world but desiring to be so more and more). For those in this world as in the world to come, what comes next can now more fully be comprehended and desired as our eternal reality. I look forward to sharing that reflection with you in the days to come. Let us bear in mind, that day is coming and is undeniable present as we move forward in our lives serving Him who gave Himself for us that we might have life and have it abundantly and eternally. AMEN!
A PRAYER FOR TODAY:
You are our God and we shall be Your people in spirit and in truth. Continue to dwell among us and clothe us with what is fitting and good that Your will be done and our will be Your will done on earth as it is in Heaven. In Jesus’ name we live, serve and pray. AMEN.