On the eve of this Lord’s Day, as I think of those gathering to worship and praise their Maker and their King across the world, I am glad that Scripture is replete with the attempts of the prophets, poets, and apostles to describe the relationship of God to His people. No one metaphor or image is adequate. We need all of them to describe its various dimensions. Moreover, each one expands in scope and vision with each passing day as we walk with Him in the fullness of the knowledge of His love and faithfulness; “for we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away…. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Corinthians 13: 9, 12).
Man ate of the bread of the angels; he sent them food in abundance. (Psalm 78:25)
The hymn, Panis Angelicus, written by Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century, comes close to describing the ineffable mixture of unspeakable joy and perfect peace that we experience in the sacrament of holy communion. Yet when we partake of the body and blood of Jesus Christ by faith, we are feasting on more than the bread of angels, this manna that rained down for forty years upon the Israelites in the wilderness that the psalmist describes. Instead, by faith we receive Christ Himself, the Son of God incarnate, in a gift of atonement and communion that even the angels cannot know but that by grace we possess through the Holy Spirit leading us into fellowship with the Trinitarian God, a fellowship inscribed within the eternal, steadfast love of the Father.
I wonder how many Christians have been feeling like Jeremiah watching woe upon woe fall upon the “land of the free and the home of the brave.” We have seen government decrees not only ripping apart our Constitution but also shredding the moral fabric of our nation.
There is a sea where no one drowns
Where breathing comes easier the deeper you go
And the feeble in mind or limb no longer flail in fear
At racing currents but leap in joy at buoyant waves
Lifting each torment from the soul,
Releasing the judgment grip of death.
There you sit, you strange little Greek word, daring me to say you:
koy-nohn-ee’-ah. Heard it on the grapevine. Neeah. Neeah. Coin O Neeah.
Koinōnia. Can’t scare me. Fat plum you are. Soaking in the sun.
Shiny little purple friend, all decked out on half-promises. Fellowship, is it?
Comraderie? Smarmy times of togetherness maybe. Then a kiss and a shove out the door. And leave your wallet behind if you please. No joke.
Cynic, am I? Just leave me alone. Jesus and I get on just fine.
Walking through a church door, community-of-believers door,
praying together, sharing together, caring, feeding,
hungering, thirsting together, finding courage and staying together,
that’s not me, that’s someone else,
wandering, seeking, and finding
that you can’t pick and choose the family you belong to
when God plants you there, like you can bloom where you’re planted.
Sunflower-clichèd, when it’s coming up roses just where I am,
just as I am, accepted for who I am by the One
who is the great I Am, finding grace and mercy,
redemption in the Lamb, slain for my sins, leading me
to drink from the fountain of salvation, giving me new life,
born again and adopted into His family, a new family,
in the house that He built.
Walking through a church door,
seeing is believing, and I see people belonging,
who were lost and now are found,
sending workers into the harvest,
still growing past imperfect,
stepping on toes on their way to the altar,
unruly sinners repenting, singing and crying,
praising the God who loved them enough
to send His only Son
to die upon a cross
and bring them home to Him.
You don’t scare me, you plum of a word.
John 13:34-35 [Jesus said,] “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Acts 2:42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship [koinōnia], to the breaking of bread and the prayers
Romans 12:9-13 Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.
When I first saw this painting, I was struck by the intensity of its vision, not simply the artist’s but the lingering figure of the woman by the reflecting pool. She seems oblivious to the slow burn of the golden light beyond the dark overarching trees and the darkened castle. Their shadows have won the day. She looks down, dwelling on her thoughts even as the shadows grow. She seems unaware of the fiery sunset, perhaps unconcerned. Her introspection holds her captive, there by the enchanted castle, be it memories or dreams or affairs of the heart or the world or the steady drone of the day.
I am Gimpel the fool. I don't think myself a fool. On the contrary. But that's what folks call me. They gave me the name while I was still in school. I had seven names in all: imbecile, donkey, flax-head, dope, flump, ninny, and fool. The last name stuck. What did my foolishness consist of? I was easy to take in. They said, "Gimpel, you know the rabbi's wife has been brought to childbed?" So I skipped school. Well, it turned out to be a lie. How was I supposed to know? She hadn't had a big belly. But I never looked at her belly. Was that really so foolish? The gang laughed and hee-hawed, stomped and danced and chanted a good-night prayer. And instead of the raisins they give when a woman's lying in, they stuffed my hand full of goat turds. I was no weakling. If I slapped someone he'd see all the way to Cracow. But I'm really not a slugger by nature. I think to myself: Let it pass. So they take advantage of me.
—from “Gimpel the Fool,” by Isaac Bashevis Singer (trans. Saul Bellow), 1957
Ah, Lord Jesus, Author and Word,
Speak into me Your eternal Light that I may see light,
May see You and seeing, be enthralled by Your gaze
Of love unbounded from eternity,
Yet stretched upon a tree by my crimes,
Then laid in a tomb in death’s cold embrace
Till it cracked and crumbled to contain
One by whom and through whom and for whom
All life sprang into being.
Ah, Lord Jesus, speak daily Your word of life into me:
Lest I be entombed once more by self,
Break through the self-drawn darkness of each day
And turn upon me the light of Your countenance
That I may live as You have willed, abundantly.
For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light.” (Psalm 63:9)
“I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)
You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16:11)
Remember Christ’s parable of the lost coin in Luke 15?
“Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Lk. 15: 8-10)
I love the happy ending, but I never quite connected with the bit about calling the friends and neighbors in to celebrate over a lost coin. After all, a silver coin was a drachma, “comparatively but of small value” as Matthew Henry puts it in his Commentary; it wasn’t even a day’s wages like, say, a denarius of the time.
But if the silver coin had a sentimental value far outweighing its monetary worth, this would surely explain the rejoicing that followed its discovery.
H. V. Morton’s “In the Steps of the Master” (1932) puts the story in the context of a tradition that dates back to Biblical times and continued up until the middle 20th century if it doesn’t still continue to this day. In Bethlehem, five miles south of Jerusalem, he tells of meeting a poor field-worker’s family whose daughter showed him her wedding dress, a heavily embroidered garment worn with a high headdress and its flowing white veil. The headdress is like something out of a medieval picture book or a fairy tale except that “the little tower from which [the veil] hangs is a small red fez held upright on the head by two cords which tie beneath the chin. All around this little fez are sewn row upon row of coins. The znekb [chain] hangs from the headdress and contains ten coins with a central pendant.”
All the coins would compose the bride’s dowry but the znekb with its pendant would be cherished by the bride all her life as a gold wedding necklace or ring would be today. For her, the ten coins on her wedding chain would be worth more than money. And the loss of even one of the coins would be disastrous. If I lost my wedding ring today, I would turn the house over, searching into the night until I found it, and my friends and family would know how distraught I was. They would also be the first to “rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.”
Every woman in the crowd hearing these words of Jesus would have known exactly what he meant. What would have surprised them is that Jesus was portraying God’s pursuit of every lost sinner and His overflowing joy over every sinner’s repentance and salvation as a uniquely personal love and joy.
This parable follows that of the lost sheep and is the second of three in Luke 15. You won’t be surprised that the next parable is that of the prodigal son. We who are Christians have this inexpressible comfort, that we belong to Christ Jesus who when we were dead in sin gave us new life. As He has said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” (John 10: 28-30)
For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)
The symbolism of the “two witnesses” in Revelation 11 has challenged the imagination of many a theologian. But if you go for the clearest and most simple meaning behind the text given its allusions to Moses and Elijah, it is one of the most comforting and emboldening passages for Christians during difficult times.
Revelation 11:3-13 (ESV)
“And I [Jesus] will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth.”
These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth. And if anyone would harm them, fire pours from their mouth and consumes their foes. If anyone would harm them, this is how he is doomed to be killed. They have the power to shut the sky, that no rain may fall during the days of their prophesying, and they have power over the waters to turn them into blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague, as often as they desire. And when they have finished their testimony, the beast that rises from the bottomless pit will make war on them and conquer them and kill them, and their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city that symbolically is called Sodom and Egypt, where their Lord was crucified. For three and a half days some from the peoples and tribes and languages and nations will gaze at their dead bodies and refuse to let them be placed in a tomb, and those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them and make merry and exchange presents, because these two prophets had been a torment to those who dwell on the earth. But after the three and a half days a breath of life from God entered them, and they stood up on their feet, and great fear fell on those who saw them. Then they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, “Come up here!” And they went up to heaven in a cloud, and their enemies watched them. And at that hour there was a great earthquake, and a tenth of the city fell. Seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the rest were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven.
The symbols of the two witnesses, the two olive trees, and the two lampstands actually refer to the same thing: those belonging to Christ Jesus throughout the church age, symbolized by the “1,260 days” or 3½ years. Christians are endowed metaphorically with the power of an Elijah, who called down fire from heaven, and Moses, who decreed plagues on Pharaoh’s Egypt, because Christians are witnesses to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which in its rejection brings judgment on the world.
But why is a witnessing Christian represented by two figures, and specifically Moses and Elijah? Perhaps because together they stand for the word of God, the Bible, composed of the two covenants or testaments, the Old Testament and the New Testament. The whole of the Old Testament with its prophecies regarding Jesus is represented by Moses, through whom God gave the Law. The New Testament is represented by Elijah in whose spirit John the Baptist “came as a witness, to testify about the Light, so that all might believe through him” (John 1: 7): “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (1:29). It was John who announced the coming of Christ, called the people to repentance, and baptized Him in preparation for His ministry and whose life, death, resurrection, ascension and immanent return the whole of the New Testament bears witness to. In Matthew 11: 13-15, Jesus Himself said,
“For all the prophets and the Law prophesied until John. “And if you are willing to accept it, John himself is Elijah who was to come. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.
So then, we as the Church, who witness to the Lord Jesus Christ, go not by our own testimony alone but testimony rooted in the Bible. In Luke 24: 45, before Jesus sent His disciples out into all the nations to proclaim the gospel, He first “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.” We must pray for the same while spending much labor studying God’s word, and relying not on our own ability but in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Now He said to them, “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and He said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”
As has happened in various times and places throughout history, the world will rise up against the church and try to stifle the witnessing of the Gospel and will even think it has won, but inevitably, the people of God will rise up and preach the Gospel again and again because they have within them the Holy Spirit of God. And though individual Christians may be killed, as indeed Jesus suffered and died but rose again from the dead, their victory is assured because they will be taken up to heaven to await the final resurrection with the second coming of Christ and the end of the age.
In terrifying times such as these when chaos and evil seem to have the upper hand, our Lord Jesus gives us such a revelation to strengthen our faith, to remind us that He is sovereign, and to encourage us to keep preaching the Gospel, to ourselves, to each other, and to our friends and neighbors. This is not only our calling, it is the supreme honor that we have been given through the Holy Spirit, even as Moses and Elijah in their times.
Most Christians try to avoid the book of Revelation. It’s there, they know it’s there, but the images of beasts and bowls and trumpets and signs are too complicated and unreal to bother with. If this is your view as well, I encourage you to take another look at Revelation.¹ You don’t have to understand the significance of every symbol, beyond recognizing that each series of visions cover the same sweep of history from Christ’s birth to the second coming of Christ and the establishment of the new heavens and the new earth.
It is a revelation given by Jesus Christ, as the apostle John tells us, to strengthen us in our mission of spreading the Gospel and keep us firm in our faith by reminding us that whatever the course of human events, in the end, we will emerge victorious because of the One who is the Alpha and Omega, and holds us firmly in His hand.
For more on Revelation 11, see “Two Witnesses, Olive Trees, and Lampstands.”
*All Scripture quotations from NASB unless otherwise cited.
¹A helpful start may be a series of sermons given at All Souls Church, Langham Place, entitled, “The Future Belongs to Jesus”.
It’s the question the people who were flocking to hear John the Baptist wanted answered in the third chapter of the Gospel of Luke. In our rush to get past the account of John’s ministry to read about Jesus, we can sometimes overlook some important and practical truths that John – “the voice crying in the wilderness” of the world – has to say to us.
As the forerunner of the Christ and one called to “prepare the way of the Lord,” John was going around the region of the Jordan River baptizing and preaching “repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” He warned those who came to listen of the coming judgment of God and he cautioned them that God demanded more than just lip service to His laws but rather they must “bear fruit in keeping with repentance.”
Yesterday’s sun shone bleak and dreary
Tomorrow’s promises no better
With the twilight the clouds part briefly
And in the dying embers of the day
You look over the tops of distant pines
To see a single starlight burning fiercely.
I’m no psalmist to sing God’s praises
As He deserves to hear from me
Yet gratefully I sing of parting clouds
Of gentle rays that hold the dusk at bay
Of today’s clear hope and the King of glory
And you standing near me with starlight in your eyes.
Let everything that has breath praise the LORD! Hallelujah! (Psalm 150:6)
Have you ever stood at the edge of a great height and looked down? From the safety of an intervening window, there is a panorama spread out before you. But if you’re standing on a ledge, there is the immediate danger of falling precipitously.
Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. (Luke 12:27)
There is no nonsense about them
These increments of light
Only they glow – if I may – in value, unvalue, devalue,
Empty terms in empty spaces ungraced in their absence,
These sun-warmed stalks and petals,
Disarranging ornate palaces, trailers, crumbling
Shacks, clutter of temples, stacked offices, neon tenements,
These all gathering the vindicating light
Borne by fragile forms, mortal all,
Sometimes dowdy, bent, flagging,
Sometimes pale, speckled, flashy,
Boldly striking, then again, unnoticed,
Yet there all the same,
Introduced by design, unbidden,
To one an offense to be discarded or tolerated,
Eliciting smile, laughter, scorn, welcome,
Refugees offering refuge immortal
This desire of sun:
These lilies of the field.
For your steadfast love is before my eyes, and I walk in your faithfulness. (Psalm 26:3)
If you knew your days were numbered, what would your last blog post look like? What truth would you declare to the world at large? Would it be one of sweet expectation and hope? One of peace and comfort for loved ones left behind?
Douglas Taylor (1948-2014) entered into glory in June of this year after a more than two-year struggle with cancer. The following was his last blog entry on May 8, 2014. May the God of all comfort be with his wife, Di, and their six children.
The Desired Haven
A rather poignant story is told (some may know its origin). A godly minister was dying, in everyone’s estimation, including his own. But, to everyone’s surprise, he gradually recovered.
But the sensation that overwhelmed him was disappointment. ‘I saw the harbour gates’, he exclaimed. ‘But now I am obliged to remain on the high seas, with my soul battered by every wave, doing battle with the world, the flesh, and the Devil.’
The ungodly world cannot understand this point of view, but should it not be the attitude of godly Christians? Should they not long for safety within the gates of glory, more than anything else?
Jesus, lover of my soul . . . let me to thy bosom fly. Charles Wesley
So he bringeth them to their desired haven (Psalm 107:30).
Strange to my own ears
This voice that shies
From the syllables – two –
Awkward, gangly, standing unspeakably
Balanced on my tongue
Continue reading “My Name”
A commenter on The Church Eternal put me on to this gem of a sermon given by the late Dr. Peter Eldersveld on Ephesians 1:22,23 on “The Body of Christ.” It reminded me of something John Owen wrote in his immortal treatise, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ (1684), when he described our Lord Jesus as
the “candlestick” from whence the “golden pipes do empty the golden oil out of themselves,” Zech. iv. 12, into all that are his.” (Book 1, ch. 3)
Likewise, Dr. Eldersveld reminds us through his preaching on “The Body of Christ” of who we are, the unattractive “stained glass” that is the church, yet lit from within by Christ Himself.
And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. (Ephesians 1:22-23)
Have you ever wanted to write a letter to your younger self? Not anything complicated. Just a simple note because here you are on the other side of darkness and the sun’s out and there’s so much to look forward to and so much to be grateful for.
I looked back at my younger self today and wished I had lived my life more fully, that is, conscious of God’s presence, as one who is living coram Deo, before the face of God.
I would like to tell her to commit each day to Him, because He’s the author; to give each moment to Him, because His hand is in it; to take each task however trivial and do it as for Him, because He assigned it to me; and to see in the darkness the same glory that I see in the light, because He never leaves or forsakes me.