For those of us who have been raised Christian and have grown up immersed in good Biblical teaching and preaching we don’t appreciate how big a deal this is and how controversial it is in the rest of the world. To believe in one God is easy. There are two major monotheistic faiths in the world, Islam and Judaism. And to believe in many gods is even easier. There are many polytheistic religions in the world like Hinduism (third largest religion, 80% of India), Buddhism (fourth largest religion, Tibet, China, SE Asia), Taoism (up to 30% of China) and Shintoism (80% of Japan). But when we say there is one God who is three persons, each of whom is fully God, that’s not so easy. This belief sets Christianity apart from all other religions. No human would make up a religion like Christianity. Nobody would have come up with something like the Trinity apart from God Himself revealing it. The whole idea of the Trinity defies human understanding. Jesus being fully God and fully human is tough. And the Bible being fully inspired by God and written by humans is a challenge. But the Trinity is the Mount Everest of doctrines, that highest and hardest mountain to climb. Let me state as plainly as I can, the Trinity is absolutely crucial to our understanding of God. In fact if we get this wrong we will get everything else wrong, and to deny it is heresy. At the center of every cult is disagreement over the Trinity. The Muslims totally disagree with it. So do Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Unitarians, the Unity church, the United Pentecostals, and many others. When they come to your door they have been trained how to refute the Trinity and they are not without much success.
I know it’s a little tough to remember where we are and what’s going on when we have these breaks between preaching on Revelation. We have heard six trumpets sound and we are now in a two chapter intermission. In chapter 10 there was an angel with a scroll who told John to eat it. Now we come to the second half of the intermission in chapter 11. We are still waiting for that seventh angel to sound the seventh trumpet. As you know every chapter of Revelation is an invitation to all kinds of wild interpretations, and this chapter has been subject of some of the most diverse interpretations. I haven’t spent a lot of time talking about other interpretations, I have mostly just tried to give the sane balance that takes in the OT allusions and the symbolic rather than literal approach. But just to give you a taste of what’s out there let me briefly mention two other prominent perspectives. The Preterist interpretation, so named from the Latin word for past, views most of Revelation as having already happened in the first century before and leading up to the fall of Jerusalem. They take Revelation and this chapter very literally, that it’s about the real temple in the real Jerusalem. The two witnesses are either the religious and civil authorities, or some say they are James and Peter. At the other end of the chronological spectrum is the dispensational, pretribulational (or futurist) interpretation which says all of this is yet in the distant future. This is a time when the temple will be rebuilt in Jerusalem and the worshippers will be faithful Jews. There will be a final 7 years of tribulation the last three and a half years of which will be particularly severe. The witnesses will either be Moses and Elijah themselves or two people who speak and act much like them. At some date in the future two great preachers are going to rise up in Jerusalem and witness for three and a half years and then be martyred, after which there will be a resurrection and rapture. I believe that Revelation as apocalyptic literature like in Ezekiel and Daniel is to be taken symbolically, not literally, and is applicable to the whole church through all the church age, from the time of Christ first coming to the time of His second coming. The message is not just for the seven churches in the first century, and the message is not just for some yet far distant Christians.
In the forty fifth chapter of Genesis we read about how the long and painful separation of Joseph from his brothers and father led to a great and rich blessing. In the sixty first chapter of Isaiah, he prophecies of the year of the Lord’s favor, when beauty would come out of ashes, and gladness out of sorrow, and praise out of sadness. In the second chapter of Acts the sadness of the disciples over the absence of their closest friend and Lord and Savior, was turned to gladness as their eyes were opened to a far greater blessing that wasn’t possible without the absence of Jesus’ physical presence with them. Jesus said to the disciples, “It is to your advantage that I go away.” “It is for your own good that I am leaving you.”
It seems like a long time ago already, but six weeks ago we celebrated Resurrection Sunday. Forty days after Easter, which would have been this past Thursday, Jesus ascended into heaven. Ten days after the Ascension or fifty days after Easter the Holy Spirit came on Pentecost. In some church traditions today is called Ascension Sunday. The ascension doesn’t get the attention that Christmas and Easter get, or even Pentecost. Just about everyone, even non-Christians, knows about the meaning and significance of Christmas, they know about Jesus’ life on earth, His great miracles and wisdom, about His teaching and parables, they know about His crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection. But ask someone, even a Christian about the ascension, how it happened, why it happened, why it matters and you are likely to get some shoulder shrugs. The life of Jesus could be thought of as four rungs on a ladder, birth, death, resurrection and ascension. The birth rung begins on earth and the ascension rung ends in heaven. If our ladder only has the first three rungs we will come up short of the goal and short of understanding all that we should understand about Jesus. In fact if it wasn’t for His ascension, all that He did before it would be of little significance or power. Think of some great explorer who leaves his own country and goes out to discover some faraway land and makes all kinds of fantastic discoveries. It’s of no value if he doesn’t return and tell someone else about it. The Father sent His Son on a great mission and that mission would not be complete until He returned home. It’s an interesting irony that we devote most of our thinking about Jesus to His 33 years spent on earth, and very little of our thinking to what Jesus has been doing for the past 1985 years or so. It’s important that we know about this event, why it happened and what it means for us as
The LCS Chamber Choir is going to conclude our service with the great hymn “How Firm a Foundation.” It is powerful hymn for anyone going through a serious trial in life, which we will all do at some point. The author of this hymn remains a mystery. When it first appeared in 1787 it simply bore the initial “K.” The hymn tune, Foundation, is also of unknown authorship, dating at least to 1832. This hymn was sung at the funerals of American presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. It was loved by Andrew Jackson and his wife Rachel. It was sung at the funeral of General Robert E. Lee. We have no idea who wrote this hymn or what he suffered, but every stanza breathes firsthand knowledge of God’s presence and provision in the difficulties of life. What we hear is God’s abundant and sufficient and intervening grace every step of the way. There is something unusual about this hymn that I want us to notice. All hymns have a point of view. Someone is speaking and someone is being spoken to. Most hymns are sung by us to God and in them we are either offering worship and praise or we are making a request. “How Great Thou Art” is praise to God. “Be Thou My Vision” is a request of God. Many hymns we sing are about God and what He has done. “Amazing Grace,” “This is My Father’s World,” “Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise.” Sometimes we sing to each other. “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” “Come, Christians, Join to Sing.” Sometimes we even sing to
Our text is Proverbs 31 and the famous Proverbs 31 wife/woman. This section of Proverbs is a well-known acrostic poem based on the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. That means that the author sat down and decided to write 22 praiseworthy things about his wife. It is a string of pearls in praise of a woman who fears the Lord (31:30). That’s the focus of the whole text in particular and of the whole book of Proverbs in general. Proverbs 1:7 starts us off by giving the theme, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” And it ends as it began. A praise of someone who has taken this wisdom to heart and lives it. The woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Let’s look more closely at the closing verses of this text which deals with the special virtues and rewards of a woman who fears the Lord. Please apply anything specific I say about mothers to all women, single, married or widowed.
It was a rough week in Oklahoma this past week. They had over two dozen tornados creating states of emergency in 12 counties, two earthquakes, major flooding from a foot of rain in a couple of days, and on top of all that, one of the tornados hit an exotic animal zoo and a bunch of lions and tigers escaped. They are calling is a “Tigernado.” I saw a weather map showing the percentages of a chance of tigers around the state. You’re supposed to go underground for a tornado but above ground for a flood. You’re supposed to get outside for an earthquake but stay inside for tigers on the loose. What a confusing week. Living in Oklahoma is a little like living in the book of Revelation. As we turn the page to chapter ten we are expecting to hear the seventh trumpet, but instead there is an intermission with two parts, 10:1-11 and 11:1-14. Remember this happened with the seals. There was a break between the sixth and seventh seal, and here there is a break between the sixth and seventh trumpets.
This story from the life of Jesus is another one of those upside down stories. So much of what Jesus says and does is upside down to our way of thinking. The story begins rather embarrassingly. Jesus’ two cousins, James and John, the sons of Thunder, ask Jesus to do something for them, to let them sit on his right and on his left in glory. Jesus decides to turn this into a teaching opportunity, one that is appropriate for us on this day when we set apart some men to serve. What do these verses show us and teach us?
In chapter one of Revelation Jesus appears to John in His resurrection glory. In chapters two and three Jesus dictates to John seven letters to seven churches. In chapter four Jesus calls John into the throne room of heaven and John describes for us an incredible scene of worship with strange creatures and 24 thrones. Jesus tells John He is going to show him what soon must take place and that begins in chapter six when Jesus takes a scroll from the Father and begins to open the seals. The seventh seal shows that God’s people will not be ultimately harmed by the judgments that are to come. As the sealed saints and martyrs offer up their prayers, God hears and answers with angels blowing seven trumpets. We have heard the first four in chapter eight, and now come to the next two in chapter nine. The first four affected the created world, the earth, the sea, the rivers and the sky. The two in chapter nine affect human beings with destruction and death. Seven angels blow seven trumpets that announce and set in motion the judgment of God on earth. This second cycle of events show God’s activity on earth from a different angle. We continue to get vivid, even fantastic descriptions of various calamities on earth. While the intensity increases it still spares many. Some of it lasts only 5 months, some of it affects only a third of mankind. If there is not repentance a more thorough devastation awaits.