The challenge of the book of Revelation is that there’s more to life than what we see or experience. Without a connection to the author of life and surrender to the grand story, life becomes merely a trivial pursuit. Jesus informs everything. He alone gives significance meaning and abundant life to those who will surrender their hearts and lives to him. The Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End, Jesus is Lord overall.
Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21
12 “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”
14 Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates.
16 “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.”
17 The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.
20 He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!
As we go through great tribulation in our day, an eternal perspective provides great hope. One day all the pain and suffering and sorrow will be no more. The lamb upon the throne will wipe away every tier from our eyes.
A Great Multitude from Every Nation
9 After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11 And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”
13 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” 14 I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
15 “Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. 16 They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. 17 For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
We have now entered into the period of the church calendar between Easter and Pentecost, known as “The Great 50 Days.” In the year of the Lord’s resurrection, this period was one of great intimacy with the Lord for the early Church, because the resurrected Savior was physically present with them on the earth. They could see him, touch him, and eat with him. This intimacy with the resurrected Lord became the foundation of the apostles’ enduring faith, and the basis upon which the apostle John wrote his first epistle.
The early apostles had the privilege of being tangibly present with God in the flesh, something which none of the rest of us since then have been able to experience. John knew that not many were able to experience that, and so he proclaimed plainly that he himself had seen and touched the Lord:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us.
1 John 1:1-2
It’s the same concept as the way John opened his Gospel, with an expression of the physical presence of God among his people:
The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.
Following Jesus was not just a theory or a philosophy. It was a tangible experience with a living person. After the ascension of Jesus in his physical resurrected body, the mission of the disciples was to transition the Church from following the physical person of Jesus to BEING the physical manifestation of Jesus in this world through the fellowship of believers, also known as the body of Christ. That’s a challenging transition!
John wanted to emphasize that believers can still have a physical, tangible encounter with Jesus through his people, the Church.
That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.
1 John 1:3-4
John goes on to clarify that if we want to walk in fellowship with the Lord, we have to walk as children of the light. He explains that the fundamental of problem of why we are estranged from God is that we love the darkness; we love to hide from God, to lie, and to stay in our sin. This is why Jesus came – to deal with the sin that kept us separated from God.
I can testify to this in my own life. When I was younger, I enjoyed living a self-focused, hedonistic lifestyle. But when I was a junior in college, I began attending a Bible study, and suddenly through my encounters with the Word of Life and the people of God, I began to feel all sorts of conviction about the things that were wrong in my life. However, the more obvious my own sins became, the more I wanted to distance myself from the people of God. Not knowing how to deal with my sin, I wanted to just avoid the conflict I felt when my attention was drawn to the things that separated me from God and from his people. This is exactly what John was talking about.
Do you ever notice that in a church, it’s usually the back row that fills up first? People want to get just inside the door, but not risk getting too close for fear of exposure. Darkness is exposed by the light, and that becomes really uncomfortable. Sinners would prefer to stay in darkness.
The apostle John, however, calls us to press in to the fellowship of the light. This is what Jesus came to do for us.
But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
1 John 1:7-8
If we will embrace fellowship with God and with God’s people, he will reveal our sin and provide the way to cleanse us from them.
God longs to bring us back into a restored relationship with him. He knows and understands our weaknesses and failures. But he has made the way for us to be brought back into fellowship through his Son.
John speaks tenderly to the recipients of his letter:
My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.
1 John 2:1-2
Jesus has made the way for us to be restored to the Father, for us to be safe with him rather than wanting to hide from him. When we live in his fellowship, we are filled with his light, with his power, with his fullness. Move past the discomfort to receive his forgiveness and salvation, and walk as a child of the light today.
One argument that skeptics have used against the death and resurrection of Jesus is called “swoon theory,” meaning that they think Jesus wasn’t actually dead when they took him from the cross, but rather he had fainted or was in a coma. Or in the words of Miracle Max from the movie The Princess Bride, he was only “mostly dead,” meaning he was partly alive and not beyond saving. However, a close look at John 19 disproves this theory.
But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water.
Modern science now understands that when a person dies and their body remains still, their blood separates into the heavier clot and the lighter serum. When Jesus’ body was pierced, John saw the gush of these separated liquids: first the red blood and then the light serum, what John described as water. This is proof that this body was dead – a living person’s blood does not separate.
John used the two facts that they did not break Jesus’ legs and that they pierced him with a spear not only to prove that Jesus was actually dead on the cross, but that he was the fulfillment of the Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament. In verse 35, John testifies that he saw these two things with his own eyes. Then in verses 36 and 37, he quotes the prophetic Scriptures that he is now applying to Jesus:
Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all. He keeps all his bones; not one of them is broken.
And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn.
During Holy Week, we frequently meditate on prophecies of the Messiah. We focus on passages like Isaiah 52-53 about God’s Suffering Servant or Psalm 22, which Christ himself spoke from the cross. However, Zechariah has a lot to say to us during this time as well. The book of Zechariah is filled with prophecies about the events of Holy Week. Zechariah was a prophet and leader in Israel in the time when the Israelites were returning from exile and beginning to rebuild their nation in Jerusalem.
On one hand, this was a time of great hope for Israel because it seemed like things were turning around for them. They were able to leave Babylon and return to their homeland. The people wondered if now was when God was going to usher in his Messianic Kingdom. On the other hand, they saw Jerusalem and the temple lying in ruins, and there was also a great sense of discouragement at the huge task that was before them.
I think we can relate to this feeling right now. The world is just beginning to come out of the exile we have been in because of coronavirus. Life was changed for us drastically, and now we are beginning to see a light at the end of the tunnel that it may be coming to an end. However, there are so many things that have to be rebuilt. We have been through so much grief and loss, and our lives have been so utterly changed. Will we be able to go back?
As a pastor, I believe a time of hopeful transition is actually a time to take very close care of my congregation. Strange things can happen to people’s hearts, minds, and lives during times of great change, even change for the better. There is a chance that now may be a time of great revival and reformation for our nation and world, but maybe not. It depends on whether the people of God will be faithful in this moment. Just because things are looking up, we can’t become careless with our faith and trust in God. It’s actually more dangerous at this moment that we may slip back into business as usual and forget God.
Zechariah’s book contains first a series of prophetic visions, then a series of poetic sermons. In these, we find many images foreshadowing Jesus, such as the priest who bears the guilt of his people (3:1-5), the priest who is then crowned king to rule (6:9-15), and the humble king who rides on a donkey’s colt (9:9). The parallel gets even stronger in chapters 10-13, where God condemns the false shepherds of Israel and comes down to be their shepherd himself, but is then rejected, betrayed (for thirty pieces of silver! See 11:12-13.), and killed by those false shepherds. However, through the death of the good shepherd, the people are cleansed from sin and idolatry.
From this side of history, there is no question that Zechariah’s entire book of prophecy was pointing to Jesus. Zechariah challenged his readers then, and his words still challenge us now, to recognize the righteous one sent from God and look to him, the one who was pierced. From his broken body flowed not only blood and water, but also streams of living water for the cleansing, healing, and salvation of the world.
In John 19:35, John explains clearly why he outlines these things in his Gospel: “that you also may believe.” Place your trust in the one who was pierced for your transgressions. Look upon him, and through his suffering, find salvation for your soul and cleansing for your heart, mind, and spirit. Allow the flow of God’s Spirit to bring you life in him.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ changes everything for us. He is making us new from the inside out, and, in the words of 1 Peter, he have given us “new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1:3).
People often wonder why Christians usually meet to worship on Sunday, the first day of the week. I’ve heard it explained that it is because the resurrected Christ first appeared to his disciples on the first day of the week (John 20:19), and many other resurrection sightings took place on that day. As Christians, we choose this day to gather as a celebration of new beginnings and new life. Every Sunday is the possibility of a new start, a new resurrection that can happen in our lives.
So what is it that is being made new for Christians? How is the resurrection made real in us? Let’s look at how it happened for the disciples.
First, the resurrection is an opportunity for us to say goodbye to insecurity and fear in our lives. In John 20, the disciples are hiding behind locked doors in fear, and Jesus walks straight past those locked doors to bring incredible peace to them. I feel like this has a direct application to our current context. We are stuck in our homes behind our doors because of quarantine due to the coronavirus, out of fear of spreading the illness. Stay at home right now is an appropriate action, but I just want to acknowledge that Jesus can bring his peace straight through those locked doors.
Metaphorically, what fears and insecurities are keeping you behind locked doors? Allow the resurrection of Christ to bring fresh hope and new life to those areas of your life.
On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
Second, he also commissions them to go out with apostolic authority. Although we cannot physically go out because of our stay-at-home orders, the Gospel is not chained behind locked doors. We have technology that can still allow us to communicate, and we can use all of those media to spread the truth of Christ.
Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”
Third, as he sends them, he also empowers them with his Holy Spirit, and he gives them the responsibility of being the very means of God’s grace and forgiveness in the lives of others.
He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”
We are ambassadors of his ministry of reconciliation. Maybe this current context can give you the opportunity to think about relationships you have where there are problems that need to be resolved. Is there anyone that you can extend grace and forgiveness to right now?
As the Scripture passage continues, we learn that poor Thomas was the only disciple who wasn’t there at that time, and so he missed the spectacular encounter that the others had with Jesus. I call him “poor Thomas,” because I think he has gotten a bad reputation from this story as “Doubting Thomas.” Yes, Thomas did doubt at first, but who wouldn’t when presented with such an outrageous tale as this? Later, when he does personally encounter the risen Christ, he is one of the first people ever recorded as calling Jesus, “My Lord and my God!” What a marvelous response to the truth of the resurrection! I think a better name for him would be “Worshiping Thomas.”
If you find yourself struggling with doubt like Thomas, please know that God wants to directly address those doubts the same way he did with Thomas. He wants to speak his peace into your heart, to bring new life and confidence to your insecurities, and he wants to commission you to become a means of his grace in this world. He wants to use this trial to test the genuineness of your faith (1 Peter 1:6-7).
John goes on to say:
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
Jesus wants each of us to claim the new life that he offers through his resurrection. He offers us the fullness of his resurrected life.
These are my meditations on the seven last words of Jesus from the Cross with application of the words to our lives as we are called to “pick up our cross, die daily, and follow Jesus.” It was part of the “Three Hours” Good Friday service at The Church of St. John the Divine.
I found myself emotional as I was watching the online service led by our worship team on the video screen. I’ve been involved in corporate worship for 25 years, and now because of the Covid-19 quarantine, it has been weeks and weeks since we have been able to meet as a corporate body and worship together. I realized the word for what I’m experiencing is grief.
Grief hits us all in different ways at different times, but it always comes in stages. I can see now how I’m going through them all in regards to my grief over the loss of the church body in my own experience right now: anger, bargaining, denial. And now we must come to acceptance, because the reality is that things are probably still going to get worse before they get better.
And so this Gospel passage finds even more significant application on this Palm Sunday as we face these unprecedented times. As Jesus is hanging on the cross dying, he says, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46). He is surrendering himself totally to the will of the Father. He knows that the will of the Father is his own death, as an act of atonement for the world, a way of expressing God’s love.
This statement from Jesus could be seen as his own acceptance stage of grief. We had previously seen him grieving in the Garden of Gethsemane, truly agonizing over the ordeal he knew was to come. Yet there, on the cross, he comes to acceptance: “Into your hands I commit my spirit.”
As we consider what Jesus went through, we see that he not only experienced the physical suffering that any person who died by crucifixion would. But Jesus also uniquely bore the spiritual suffering of the punishment for all the sins of the world. And yet he was the only person ever to die innocent. All those who witnessed his arrest, torture, and death could see it (Luke 23:4, 14-15, 22, 47). This is what makes him the perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world – the Lamb of God, whose sacrifice would reconcile the world back to himself.
Jesus’ death was the will of the Father, and it was the most difficult will anyone would ever have to bear. The good news for us now is that Jesus bore it on our behalf, and so now we don’t have to.
Jesus bore the most difficult will of the Father, and yet in the same way, the Father calls us to bear great difficulties – corporately and personally. We must follow Jesus’ example and surrender ourselves into the loving and trustworthy hands of the Father.
Take a moment to consider whose hands you are entrusting yourself to. Are we placing our trust in the hands of government officials who are making decisions about how we are to weather this crisis? Are we placing our trust in the hands of medical professionals, whose skill and sacrifice are crucial to our survival? Are we placing our trust in the hands of financial planners and banks who can help us weather the financial crisis? We are always entrusting ourselves to other people, and that trust is often well founded – we SHOULD be trusting people who know how to help us get through.
However, our ultimate trust should be in the good hands of God the Father. There is NO ONE more trustworthy and able to control our outcomes.
Like Jesus did, we should commit our spirits, our life, our breath to God the Father. It’s striking that in the current circumstance, the Covid-19 virus attacks our breath – it is the respiratory system that often fails under this disease. Will you entrust your very breath to the Father, even when it is under targeted attack?
The thief on the cross next to Jesus models this very thing to us. Facing his imminent death, he entrusts himself to Jesus by begging him, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42). Jesus shows him favor, love, and kindness, proving that his trust was well-founded.
As we face our own dangerous and uncertain times, let’s commit our own spirits to God the Father in the way Jesus did.
Corrie Ten Boom was a heroic woman who lived during the time of the Holocaust. She would hide Jewish children in her home, in a place that is known as “The Hiding Place.” After the war was over, she would travel around speaking about her experience, and she used to bring an old tapestry to show her audience. She would hold up the backside, showing lots of knots and loose threads – it looked like a tangled mess. However, when she turned it around, the tapestry revealed that those threads were all working to together to make a beautiful golden crown. She used this as an illustration, saying that often the things we see in our lives and in the world around us feel like a mess, but from God’s perspective, he sees glory. She encouraged her listeners to try to see things from God’s perspective, and this Scripture passage gives us the same message.
In this Scripture passage, Jesus saw a man blind from birth. Continuing the illustration above, this is a single thread, that many people couldn’t understand how this difficult situation was contributing to a good big picture. People looked at this man, and they said that the man’s lifelong blindness must be the result of sin. However, when they asked Jesus about it, he explained God’s perspective.
Jesus said that the blindness was not an evil or a problem or a reflection of sin, but rather it was an opportunity for something glorious.
In today’s circumstances with illness, fear, and isolation, it’s easy for us to focus on the negative, assuming that God is punishing us or that he has lost control. However, if we open our eyes and minds to consider what God might be doing during this time, he is more likely using this challenging time as an opportunity to reveal his glory.
Jesus said, “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world” (v. 5). In the midst of darkness and challenge, a light is shining, and that light is Jesus.
During this time when we are unable to go to church to meet with God and his people, we have an excellent opportunity to step back and recognize that church is not the only place that Jesus can be found! If we have eyes to see, we can recognize that wherever we are is where God can be found. Our homes are to be the dwelling place of God.
One thing to think about regarding this Scripture passage is that many people suffer from blindness. Blindness is not just a physical affliction, but also a spiritual one. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day were blinded by their legalism, their skepticism, and their pride.
Their blindness prevented them from accepting Jesus’ healing of this man, because he had done it on the Sabbath, and they focused on his breaking of that rule rather than on the amazing miracle Jesus did and what it meant for who he was (v.16).
Does our own blindness keep us focused on the rules and our own intellects and busyness, and prevent us from seeing what God is doing? He desires for us to focus on a relationship with him rather than on the way we think things are supposed to be.
The Pharisees also expressed their skepticism about what Jesus even did. They doubted the the man actually had been born blind, and so they questioned the man’s parents (v. 18). The parents gave in to their fear of the religious leaders, and they let it prevent them from being courageous in faith, even though they had seen the amazing miracle Jesus did for their son.
Like them, we have allowed our fears, doubts, and skepticism to rule our hearts. In today’s world, we have a common enemy – the coronavirus – and we have an opportunity to unify together in calling on the Lord. Now is not the time to be giving in to doubt and unbelief, but rather to be grabbing hold of our faith and living out the Gospel of Jesus.
The man who had been healed from blindness can be our example, because he stood up in courage and testified to what Jesus did for him (v. 24-34). Because of his testimony, the Pharisees cast him out of the synagogue, which many Jews would have considered to be devastating. However, the man went straight to Jesus, where he found faith, affirmation, and acceptance.
In the same way, the Lord is faithful to us, to always shine his light in the darkness in our lives, and to turn difficult and challenging events in our lives, and use them for good. I encourage you during this dark and difficult time to take a pen and some paper and actually write down all the blessings God is giving you during this time, and the ways he has blessed you in the past.
As you open up your eyes to see what God has done and what he is doing, he will continue to open your eyes to see how he is the eternal and unchanging Light of the World.
On Maundy Thursday, we meditate on two Passovers. The first took place in the Book of Exodus, where the firstborn of every living thing in Egypt was slain by the Angel of Death except for those who were passed over because they obeyed the Lord’s instruction to sacrifice a lamb and shield their homes with its blood. The people of Israel celebrated the Passover every year because this was such a miraculous and defining event in the history of their nation.
Many years later, Israel was once again celebrating the Feast of the Passover, and Jesus was in Jerusalem for the occasion. Jesus knew that His time had arrived, the time when He would become the Lamb who is sacrificed for the salvation of all those who would claim His blood. He was so full of love, that He was willing to make the sacrifice. Can our love go so far?
Jesus was also mindful that He was about to be betrayed by one of His closest friends. There were heavy things on His heart and mind this Feast of the Passover, but He was also fully aware that after His humbling and suffering and sacrifice, then He would be exalted to the highest place and given the Name that is above every name.
In the context of all of this, He does something very mundane. He stoops to wash His disciples’ feet. What an amazing act for the King of kings and Lord of lords! In the light of this example, is there anything that is too lowly for those of us who claim to follow Christ to do? Is there anything that is beneath us? If Christ can humble Himself, shouldn’t we as well?
There are two types of pride. The first is the type that can’t stoop down, that sees some things as being beneath them. The second type is a little more subtle, and it is the kind that Peter shows to the Lord when He wants to wash his feet. Peter says, “No, not MY feet!” This is a false humility where we wallow in our unworthiness and exempt ourselves from receiving the grace of God. When we look it in the face, this false humility is also pride. If Christ says that His sacrifice covers ALL, who are we to say that we are the only ones who aren’t good enough for it?
The word Maundy comes from the Latin “mandatum,” which means commandment. In the Passover meal with his disciples, Christ said he was giving a “novum mandatum” – a New Commandment (John 13:34) to love each other as Christ has loved us. No other religion has a New Commandment, which turns human pride on its head. Christ is exalted through service, suffering, and sacrifice, and so are His followers.
This is how the world can see that we are His disciples – by the way we pour ourselves out to love and serve others, the way He did for us.
In the Temple of Jerusalem during the time of Jesus, there were three sections. The larger part that worshipers were able to enter was the outer courts. Then there was a private inner section called the Holy Place where only the priests could enter. Then the inner sanctum called the Holy of Holies, and none but the most holy were allowed to enter. Therefore, only God could dwell there, and a high priest was able to enter once a year on the Day of Atonement after special animal sacrifices and offerings for his own sin an the sin of the people.
Between the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place here was a large curtain that separated these two places. The curtain prevented access to the Most Holy Place where the glory of the Lord dwelt.
We see in the very beginning of the Bible (Genesis 3) and mankind’s relationship with God when Adam and Eve sinned, and they lost access to the Most Holy God. They were separated from God, and they were kicked out of the garden where God dwelt.
Ever since then, man has been longing to return to dwelling with God, walking in His presence and fullness like Adam and Eve did before they fell. Only in God’s presence can we find peace and rest. The Temple was the place where God and man could meet, but only by sacrifice could worshipers even enter the Holy Place, the outer courts of the presence of God. They were continually bringing animal sacrifices, over and over and over just to try to earn minimal access to God. It was an exhausting and ineffective way to live, because we know that “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4).
However, God had a plan to end that ineffective system. Christ Himself became our sacrifice, once for all, and His sacrifice opened the way for all of us to be restored in relationship with God. When Jesus died, “there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun’s light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two“ (Luke 23:44-45). Jesus didn’t just pull back the curtain, He tore it right down the middle! He permanently opened the way for all of us to access the Most Holy Place, to be in relationship with the Most Holy God.
How do we respond to this powerful and wonderful truth? The writer of Hebrews tells us plainly:
“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.”
Think on this whenever you gather with the people of God. It is only because Christ gave you access to the Most Holy Place by His death that you are able to be in relationship with God and His people. When we lift our hearts in worship to the Lord, we are lifting them into the Most Holy Place, where Christ gave us access directly to the living God. Worship with confidence and joy, knowing that Christ permanently opened the way for you.