The Seed of Righteousness

photo credit: k.landerholm via photopin cc
photo credit: k.landerholm via photopin cc

Third Sunday of Advent

 

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
Psalm 126 
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
John 1:6-8, 19-28

 

In the early twelfth century, crèche was used to describe the birthplace of Christ. The term was coined after Saint Francis of Assisi celebrated Midnight Mass in a stable where men and animals reenacted the Christmas story. The crèche, derived from the German word krippe or crib, refers to the animals’ manger in which Christ was born.

When we look at the Nativity Crèche today we think of our modern ideas of Christmas, ideas that have roots in the event itself but which did not really develop until Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol in December, 1843.  Before then, Christmas was another work day.  After that, the whole image changed.  Small traditions became big.

As mass media developed drawings, paintings and photos of Father Christmas/St. Nichols/Kris Kringle/Santa Claus, they began to take over our thinking of the meaning of the birth of Jesus.  Clement Moore’s A visit from Saint Nichols and Thomas Nast’s cartoon of the saint (he was a political cartoonist who also created Uncle Sam, the Republican elephant and the Democratic donkey) combined to give us the American version of Santa.  Coca Cola modernized the Santa image around 1900.

What does any of that have to do with Isaiah?

Not much.  That baby, wrapped in blankets in a manger, came to bring the news to the afflicted, to sooth the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to captives, release to those in prison, to proclaim a year of favour from Yehweh and a day of vengeance for our God, to comfort all who mourn, (to give to Zion’s mourners), to give them for ashes a garland, for mourning-dress, the oil of gladness, for despondency, festal attire. NJB

All of that is packed inside that baby.  Salvation comes from God through the least of these.  Like the child David killing the giant Goliath with a sling shot, God saves the world with a baby.

The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe.  He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. KJV  John, before his birth, was set aside to be a witness to the Light of God.  He told everyone who would listen that God placed his Messiah on the earth and we must listen to him.

Christmas is a happy time, a time to thank God for his Great Gift.  We can enjoy the images and traditions; we can have fun, but we must not forget the promise.  Our gifts to the world must be to sooth, proclaim, release, comfort, and give.  Above all, we must love.

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

Revelation 6—10

from Lost in Translation

Photo from page 53 of Lost in Translation vol 2 by John Klein and Adam Spears

from lost in Translation

Photo from page 66 of Lost in Translation vol 2 by John Klein and Adam Spears

Monday, December 8, Revelation Chapter 6

This chapter announces the breaking or opening of six of the seven seals (the seventh will be in chapter 8).  This is found on the second menorah on the right of the seven menorahs chart.

The first two verses of chapter 6 have led to great confusion in recent times.  Many have taken this as a description of the rapture because the first horseman rides a white horse and the Messiah is supposed to return on a white horse.  However, the Lamb (Messiah) is busy breaking the seals on the scroll.  But more importantly, whoever is on the horse is there to cause destruction, not rescue believers.  He/it carries a bow, a sign of war. The crown is not described like the crown of the Messiah.

Look back to 4:6-8: Prowling around the Throne were Four Animals, all eyes. Eyes to look ahead, eyes to look behind. The first Animal like a lion, the second like an ox, the third with a human face, the fourth like an eagle in flight. The Four Animals were winged, each with six wings. They were all eyes, seeing around and within. And they chanted night and day, never taking a break:

Holy, holy, holy
Is God our Master, Sovereign-Strong,
The Was, The Is, The Coming
MSG

We do not know which of the four angels speak with each of the first four seals, but they are the ones who release the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.  Who are the Four Horsemen?

The first brings war.  God does not bring war.  That is the result of sin.  Satan brings war.  He stirs up hatred within us.  He does all he can to get us to oppose love because Satan opposes the source of Love.  He wears a crown to try to fool us into thinking that he is the Messiah.

Notice that Satan brings war on numerous levels; war between husband and wife, children and parents, Republicans and Democrats, Americans and Arabs, and especially Christians and Christians.

In the End Times, God turns Satan loose on the world to do his worst.  We Christians must stand our ground and stay close to God.  This is happening now.  We cannot become comfortable in thinking that the End Times is in the distant future and will not affect us.  Revelation describes events happening in the past, now and in the future, all at the same time.  God is not bound by time nor is his Plan.

Paul wrote of this to the church at Thessalonica, 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12.  This man of sin will come as Satan’s tool, full of satanic power, and will trick everyone with strange demonstrations, and will do great miracles. He will completely fool those who are on their way to hell because they have said no to the Truth; they have refused to believe it and love it and let it save them, so God will allow them to believe lies with all their hearts, and all of them will be justly judged for believing falsehood, refusing the Truth, and enjoying their sinsTLB

Why does he ride the white horse?  He is the Great Deceiver, he is imitating the Messiah.

The breaking of the second seal releases the rider of a red horse begins to bring war with his great sword.  As the revelation continues we will read of four great wars, not including the war of Armageddon.  Notice that the first rider on the white horse brings discord, setting the stage for the second rider to bring on war.

The third seal is broken in verse 5, releasing the rider of the black horse.  “Two pounds of wheat for a day’s wages, and six pounds of barley for a day’s wages.” NIV  This represents famine.  As we know, the price of food goes up with shortages.  Today, this day alone, 8,500 children will die of starvation.  Another 8,500 tomorrow and every day after.  One billion people go to bed hungry every night.  The US alone sends enough food to our dumps to feed all those people.  The black horse is already at work and it will be even worse before the End.

With verse 7, we see the Pale Horse released.  This rider is death.  He brings sickness, putrefaction, decay and rot; in short death.  But all of that is already our state of being.  From the moment humans first disobeyed God, death has stalked us.  The difference is that following Jesus will result in being raised from the dead.  We will die but Jesus has defeated death, so we will rise from the grave to join Him whom we love and who loves us.  Remember that the center lamp of every menorah is about the Messiah.  Here, death comes but it only reminds Jesus’ followers that the victory is won.

I am a historian by training and occupation.  By my training, as is true for most people, I think that A comes first, then B, then C, etc.  We need to always remember to think of Revelation as occurring in the past, present and future; what is, was and will be.  Jesus defeated death 2,000 years ago, but he also defeated death before time began and at the end of time.

You will notice a change starting with verse 9.  This menorah gives us a common four/three Hebrew pattern.  The 4 horsemen were all about events on earth.  The next three seals will deal with Heaven and earth and the interconnection between them.

Seal 5 deals with the martyrs, those who are killed because they believe in God and the Messiah.  They actually make up the base of the altar in Heaven.  On earth, the altar was over 200 feet high and about 50 feet wide.  It was located in the Court of Israel outside the Temple building itself.  When a sacrifice was made, priests walked up a long ramp with the sections of meat to place them on the fires at the top of the altar.

We do not know the process in Heaven, but we know that the martyrs are the altar.  The first martyr?  Abel.

Notice in verse 11 that they wear white robes, indicating that they are probably the Bride of the Messiah or at least a guest at the wedding.  Read Matthew 22:1-14 to see that everyone at the wedding will wear white.

The sixth seal takes a turn to terror.  Unlike the other seals, especially 5, this seal deals with the End Times only.  In verses 12-17 we see God trying to turn people’s minds to him in a desperate way.  This actually shows us God’s Mercy because it is all about salvation.  A few people will realize that they need God, but most will remain hard-hearted.  The suffering of this seal is spoken of in Deuteronomy 28 and Leviticus 26.  Several of the prophets spoke of parts of the prophecy.

Matthew 24 contains Jesus’ description of the end.  24:6 describes the second seal; 24:7 describes the third seal; 24:8 describes the fourth seal; 24:9 describes the fifth seal; and 24:10-16 describes the sixth and seventh seals and some of the trumpets yet to come.

The chapter ends with the sixth seal.  Chapter 7 will set up the seven trumpets and chapter 8 will include the seventh seal

Tuesday, December 9, Revelation Chapter 7

God has protected humans since He placed us on earth.  We are physically ill-equipped to defend ourselves from the numerous creatures that can kill or maim us, let alone from the millions of space rocks looking to pound our planet.  God has shielded us from the worst that could happen.  With the breaking of the seals and now with the angels holding back the wind, that all changes.

Wind is the Hebrew description of the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit comes like the wind.  Think about the baptism of Jesus and the Pentecost experience.  Adam was given life from the breath (wind) of God.  Now four angels, not Satan, are commanded to hold back the Holy Spirit.  However, those who believe continue to be under his protection; only those who oppose God will suffer the absence of the Spirit in their lives.

This is preparation for the selection of the 144,000.  A great deal has been written about this special group, most of it wrong.  What we know from this text is that an angel has been given the signet ring of God and uses it to mark a large group of people as belonging to God and therefore under his protection.  We learn in 14:4 that they never married, followed Jesus in every way, and avoided sin, we assume not completely but mostly.  This group is given white robes so they can attend the wedding, but it is not clear here what their role is.  Ezekiel 9:4 has a similar selection process.

They are marked with the name of God which is 777.  Humans have been marked 666 since the Fall.  Before the Fall, Adam and his companion were marked like God.  Today, when we confess our faith in Jesus the mark is changed to 766 and we start our journey back to 777.  The three digits represent body, mind and soul.  It is possible to reach 776 before death, but not 777.

These 144,000 people receive the distinction of the full mark of God.  The number is important, being 12 times 12.  Twelve is a perfect number and when it is squared that magnifies the perfection.  At the same time, we cannot take the number to mean that exactly that many people are marked.  When numbers are used in Scripture their meaning is often not found in the numerical value but in the religious value.  Forty days means a long time.  Twelve tribes mean perfection of a nation.  Six represents sin and Satan.

In the story of the wedding, the basis of Revelation, we have been introduced to the Groom and the Father of the Groom, the Messiah and God.  Now we are introduced to the best man, the groomsmen.  That, we will see, is the role of the 144,000.  In ancient Hebrew weddings the groomsmen had to be unmarried virgins, related to the groom, and willing to serve the groom in every way possible.  Chapter 14 provides more details about this special group.

Some people say that the 144,000 are chosen as special evangelist in the End Time but the text does not support that idea at all.

Starting with verse 9 there is a change in the scene.  We see a large group of people dressed in white waving palm branches and praising God.  This is a different group all together.  The 144,000 were marked on earth, this crowd is standing before the throne of God.  We read in verse 14 that they washed their robes and whitened them by the blood of the LambTLB  Clearly they are people who have accepted the great gift of salvation from Jesus.

In verse 15 we read that they are before the throne of God.  In every Jewish wedding even today the guest are in front of the chuppah (pronounced hoop-ah).  The bride and groom stand under the chuppah.  These people are guests not the bride.

Guests in a traditional ancient Hebrew wedding were expected to wear a single white robe; only one layer of clothing to indicate their status as guests.  This also connects to the first level of covenant relationship with another person or with God.  It is the blood or service covenant.  When I tell Jesus that I believe he is the Son of God, I also agree to become his servant.  That is why Paul sometimes referred to himself as a slave of Jesus.

Those of us who remain in that first level of service will be marked with 766, will be given a white robe to wear at the wedding when we are resurrected.  In contrast, the Bride of Christ will be wearing four layers of covering representing all four covenant relationships.  More on that later.  Reread Matthew 22:8-14 where Jesus describes the wedding guests.

Wednesday, December 10, Revelation Chapter 8

When the Lamb broke the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for what seemed like half an hourCJB

We need some background to understand why this is such an important sentence.  Not only are we looking at a wedding in Heaven, we are looking at a wedding inside the Heavenly Temple.  The earthly tabernacle, and then temple, was a small replica of the real Temple, even that monster temple Herod built.

On earth, every morning at sunrise and every evening about 4 o’clock a lamb was sacrificed for the sins of the nation of Israel.  What we non-Jews often overlook is the part of the service that occurred inside the Holy Place.  One priest was chosen to enter, refill the oil of the menorah and place incense on the hot coals on the golden incense table.  That generally took about thirty minutes during which time no sound was made and everyone in attendance touched their foreheads to the floor in silent prayer to God.  This is what verses 1-6 describe.

Before that is the breaking of the seventh seal.  Jesus, the Lamb of God, as the Groom is the only one allowed to open the marriage contract.  The seven seals represent the seven people who signed the contract: the two fathers, the bride and groom, two witnesses and a scribe.  With all seals opened the wedding may begin.

But this is more than just a wedding, it is also the time when God defeats sin forever, so other events take place.

Then I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and they were given seven shofarsCJB  The shofar is a trumpet made of the horn of a ram.  It was used at the temple services to announce the stages of worship starting with the opening of the gate in the morning.  There were seven blasts of the shofar throughout the daily worship.

In Revelation the seven blasts announce God’s judgment upon humans.  With the first trumpet hot coals are taken from the golden altar and thrown upon earth.  That is a symbolic act of God’s judgment found in the Old Testament, Ezekiel 10:1-2.

In the End Times the act is more than symbolic; the seraph angel, the fire angel, burns a third of the forests and rangelands.  Not just burns, destroys completely.  There any number of ways we can imagine this happening such as drought and lightening.  But know that it comes from God.

The second trumpet sounds and a mountain of fire strikes the oceans killing sea life and destroying our ships.  Meteor?  Mountains also represent nations so it may be that God intends to destroy the false gods of various nations.  Verse 8 says a third of the sea turned to bloodCJB  The sea represents humans and blood means sacrifice.  This whole second trumpet may refer to the destruction of humans.

The third trumpet sounds and an angel falls into the rivers and springs.  The Star’s name was Wormwood.  A third of the water turned bitter, and many people died from the poisoned waterMSG  Wormwood is the source of the alcoholic drink absinthe, so bitter few can stand to drink it.  In the Old Testament wormwood is connected to death and emptiness, Deuteronomy 29:18.

The fourth trumpet affects the earth, but concerns the heavens.  This is the central position on the menorah of the trumpets.  The sun was created on the fourth day and is here again in the fourth position.  The sun is associated with God as the source of light and the moon is associated with humans because we reflect the light of God.  Isaiah 13:6-12 seems to anticipate this trumpet.

The first three trumpets brought destruction to the earth and the fourth reduced the presence of God in our lives.  In the next chapter we will see three woes coming with the trumpets.

Thursday, December 11, Revelation Chapter 9

With verse 1 we see Abaddon, the angel of death, unlocking the bottomless pit and releasing nasty things to torment us.  Notice that John records that I saw a star that had fallen out of heaven onto the earthCJB also that he was given the key.  When Jesus died he took the key from Abaddon and entered Hell to free his people who were locked up there.  Notice how Peter describes the event in 1 Peter 3:18-20:  he went and made a proclamation to the imprisoned spiritsCJB  Not, he preached and converted.  What did Jesus proclaim?  “You are free.”

In Revelation 12:7-9 we will read that Satan was thrown out of Heaven when Jesus rose from the grave.  Since that time Satan has only been allowed to live on earth along with all the other fallen angels.

The problem is that some of the angels are teraphim, the lowest form of angel.  They are the only ones that can look like humans and can interact with us.  They are watchers who are assigned by God to watch over and protect individuals.

The teraphim that joined Satan are written about in Genesis 6:4.   In those days, and even afterwards, when the evil beings from the spirit world were sexually involved with human women, their children became giants, of whom so many legends are toldTLB  Many translations call them sons of God and heroes which is misleading.  They were fallen angels working with Satan.  Their children are called Nephilim and are the demons of the Bible.  While the Nephilim still exist, the teraphim were locked in the abyss as we read in verse 6 of Jude:  And the angels that did not keep within their original authority, but abandoned their proper sphere, he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for the Judgment of the Great DayCJB

The key to the abyss is given to Abaddon who releases the teraphim who appear on earth as locusts.  They will attack all those who do not have the mark of God on them.  Their attacks will cause great pain lasting for five months; the people will want to die but will not.  The Old Testament often describes the attacks of devils as locusts.

Notice all through Revelation how even the rebellious angels do the will of God.  Satan would like to do more but God restrains him.

Notice in the description that follows that the locusts appear as warriors.  They are making war on those who do not belong to God.  They want to attack those with the mark of God but cannot get past His protection.  Nonetheless, believers will have to suffer by watching their friends and neighbors suffer greatly.

Verse 13 begins the description of the sixth trumpet with the second woe.  This time an army of 200 million on horses will kill one third of the population not marked for God.  The image of human faces on the riders may mean that people team up with devils to make war on others.

Satan pulls another of his deceptions in that the riders’ breastplates are red, blue and yellow, the very colors of the first three covenant relationships with God.  It is easy to tell that this is the work of Satan when we see that the destruction is accomplished with Satan’s tools of fire, smoke and sulfur.  It is no accident that fire is red, smoke blue and sulfur is yellow.

This is the second great war.  Notice that the attack comes from the Euphrates.  It is similar to the descriptions in both Ezekiel 38-39 and the short book of Joel who even mentions locusts.

Friday, December 12, Revelation Chapter 10

The seventh trumpet will have to wait until chapter 11.  Chapter 10 contains a strange interlude of importance.

Look again at the seven menorahs chart above and see that the seventh trumpet ties into the seven thunders menorah.  For whatever reason, Jesus wants us to hear the thunders before the seventh trumpet.  In fact, before the sixth trumpet is finished as we will see in the first part of chapter 11.

The angel of verse 1 is clearly representing God, rainbow and all.  As we read the short chapter it becomes clear from several clues that the Messiah is appearing as an angel.  Dressed in a cloud, legs on the sea and land (Lord of both humans and death), and a voice like a lion (Lion of Judah) with the sound of thunder only associated with God.  Verse 5 begins to make it even clearer, he swears by God, not something an angel would do.

The Messiah holds in his hand the scroll that has had all the seals opened by him.  He loudly announces all of the qualifications to be his Bride, the seven thunders.  God instructs John not to write those words; perhaps because they are the same words he gave to Moses, the Torah.  The words are a description of the moment of the separation of the sheep from the goats (Matthew 25:31-46).

The words of the Messiah in verses 6 and 7:  “There will be no more delay; on the contrary, in the days of the sound from the seventh angel when he sounds his shofar, the hidden plan of God will be brought to completion, the Good News as he proclaimed it to his servants the prophets.” CJB  This is the moment written about by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:50-52:  Let me say this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot share in the Kingdom of God, nor can something that decays share in what does not decay.  Look, I will tell you a secret — not all of us will die! But we will all be changed!  It will take but a moment, the blink of an eye, at the final shofar. For the shofar will sound, and the dead will be raised to live forever, and we too will be changedCJB

Verses 8-10 is a reenactment of the first day of Torah study in the old days, though some rabbis may still do it.  The boys were told to put honey on the corner of one page and then eat the corner to remind them they were to consume God’s word, not just learn it.  Proverbs 2:1-5:  My son, if you will receive my words and store my commands inside you, paying attention to wisdom
inclining your mind toward understanding — yes, if you will call for insight and raise your voice for discernment, if you seek it as you would silver and search for it as for hidden treasure — then you will understand the fear of Adonai and find knowledge of God
CJB

In verse 11 John receives an additional command to share the Word with everyone.  The bitterness of the sweet Word of God is that we have to give up the things of this world and focus on the things of God.  John, remember, was in prison for his beliefs.

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

I Am Listening

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Second Sunday of Advent

 

Isaiah 40:1-11
Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13
2 Peter 3:8-15a
Mark 1:1-8

 

Go up on a high mountain,

messenger of Zion.  

Shout as loud as you can,

messenger of Jerusalem! 

Shout fearlessly,

say to the towns of Judah,

‘Here is your God.’ NJB

Do you hear the message?  The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Repent!

Repent.  To regret, to apologize, to atone, to expiate.  Can I simply say, “Sorry, God”?  Can I write a fat check to church or sponsor a child in Sudan?

Yes, I have regrets.  I wish I had not done that.  I wish I had done the other.  Have I heard the message?

Can I promise never to do it again?

God gave Isaiah the message about John centuries before John himself immersed sinners in the Jordan River.  John spoke the message of God knowing that the Messiah would soon replace him.  John gave up his life to deliver the message of God.

What does that say about repentance?

We need to respond, to do something, but what?  The answer is In view of the fact that all these things are to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be? Surely men of good and holy character, who live expecting and earnestly longing for the coming of the day of GodPhillips

When Karl Barth preached on 2 Peter 3:12a in 1917, he read from his German Bible.  Translated into English, it reads Wait for and hasten to the coming of the day of God!  Wait and hasten.  How do we do that?

I am an individual.  I am happy or grumpy, strong or weak, sick or healthy, vocal or silent, but I am me and God wants me to be me.  He does not want me to be Jesus, or John or Peter, or James, or Timothy.  Me.  As Barth put it, God says “Yes” to the laughter of amusing people and to the crying of those who are in sorrow…. But when we hear this “Yes” and accept it, and then push God aside, that is when it turns to evil…. We do not want to hear and understand that we may go our ways with God, that God wants to be with us as we go our ways…. We do not accept it from God; instead, we want to seize it for ourselves.  I want to repent, but I want to do it my way.

Be still and listen.  Allow God to stand beside you and lead you.  Do it God’s way.  Do not decide you know the way.

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence