Eat from the Tree of Life!

What is the best possible food? In his letter to the church at Ephesus, Jesus offers the fruit of the tree of life, Revelation 2:1-7. Revelation 2 and 3 contain letters addressed to each of the seven churches. They follow a similar format: a greeting or address, Jesus’ self-identification, commendation (except Laodicea), rebuke (except Smyrna and Philadelphia) accompanied by a warning, exhortation, and a promise. In the case of Ephesus, that promise is amazing.

Be intolerant! Persevere. Ephesus was the best port city for traders coming into the province. Business and religion mixed in the city. It was the site of a great temple to Artemis (remember the riot described in Acts 19) as well as temples connected with emperor worship. If you lived in Ephesus you faced tremendous pressure to conform, to join (even if just for business reasons) in the idolatry that permeated the city. But the church had not given in. Jesus, who holds the seven stars (representing the angels of the seven churches) walks among the lampstands (representing the churches themselves). He knows the churches and how they are doing. He has seen the faithful hard work of the church. He has seen them persevere. Perseverance is crucial to your life as a believer and to the life of the church as a whole. Your good works, never the basis for your salvation, must be there if you are to see the Lord. Continue reading

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One Like a Son of Man

What do you do when you see something strange? I am tempted to stand and look. The Book of Revelation is full of strange sights—or at least the description of strange things. That includes Revelation 1:9-20. John’s purpose is not to make you exclaim and stare in amazement. Rather, he writes to encourage and comfort you—and to motivate you to trust in and serve the glorious Lord Jesus Christ.

Patiently endure suffering. John, in exile, is a companion in tribulation. John was in exile on the island of Patmos because of his faith. He writes to suffering churches, but not as someone outside looking in. He is a fellow sufferer. He is in exile. Words to a suffering church are relevant to you and me. Last Sunday before some of us had left the building, we learned of the murder of many members of the Sutherland Springs Baptist Church. John’s vision took place on the Lord’s Day, the day that particularly belongs to the risen Lord. (There is a reason the church worships on the first day of the week. As those who suffer along with John and his first century hearers, we need to persevere. How can you do that? Listen to what John hears and look at what John sees. Continue reading

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The Revelation of Jesus Christ

How challenging is the Christian life—not just in the Middle East or parts of Asia—but right here? The Book of Revelation gives hope, strength, and comfort to suffering and challenged Christians. Revelation 1:1-8 not only introduces the book, but points you to the heart of the comfort—the revelation of Jesus Christ.

God has revealed Jesus Christ. This book is the Apocalypse. You may have heard it called by that title, which is simply a transliteration of the word John uses, which we more often translate as revelation. Perhaps because some of the visions in this book describe earth-shaking events, the term apocalypse has come to have overtones of disaster. But John uses it to mean showing or unveiling what is there, but is perhaps not clear to the superficial look. Revelation has suffered from both overexposure and neglect. How do you understand it? Continue reading

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Are You Protesting?

There are silly protests—and profoundly important ones. Do you think of yourself as a protester? Why is this church a Protestant church? Protesting involves setting yourself over against some other position—likely an entrenched position. Paul does that in Romans 1:16-19. In a real sense Luther, though he had no intention of starting a movement, much less another church, when he nailed his 95 Theses to the chapel door, Luther was following Paul. Although it was not until 1530 that the term Protestant came to describe what Luther started, Luther was protesting 500 years ago this week.

Do not be ashamed of the gospel. Where are you tempted to be ashamed of the gospel? Paul is explaining his eagerness to come to Rome and speak about the good news. He packs his reasons one inside the other. Paul’s culture considered the gospel foolishness and offensive. So does ours. Where do you face challenges regarding the good news? Paul understood that the issue at Rome affected the heart of the gospel. Can you be right with God by your works or not? Although initially Luther was only protesting abuses of the indulgence system, he came to see that the approach into which the Medieval church had fallen undercut the heart of the gospel. The studying and preaching Luther had been doing in Psalms and Romans was shaping his thinking. Continue reading

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The Glory of the Lord

You’ve worked hard on a project. It’s finally finished—and turned out as well or better than you had hoped. How do you react? Exodus 40:34-38 shows you how God responded to the completion of building the Tabernacle and its furnishings.

Give thanks for the presence of the Lord of Glory. The Lord blessed the completed Tabernacle with his presence. Do you remember that as Israel left Egypt, the Lord showed his presence in the pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire by night? With the Tabernacle finally complete, the glory cloud descends on the Tabernacle and fills it. God was truly with his people. As God created, he paused at the end of several of the creation days and called his work good. In Genesis 1:31, at the end of the creation week, he surveyed the entire creation and pronounced it very good. And then God entered his rest, not because he was weary, but he entered it with the purpose of humankind also entering it. Of course Adam sinned, and instead of sharing God’s rest, instead of moving beyond the time of testing in the Garden to whatever exalted fellowship with his Creator would have resulted, he and Eve were expelled from the Garden. Some of the construction of the Tabernacle reflects the motif of Eden. Now, with it complete, God comes down in the cloud, fills the Tabernacle, and dwells in the midst of his people. It is not only a sign of God’s presence—he is truly with his covenant people. Continue reading

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