November 13, 2018

Pentecost 25 - Revelation 7:9-17



The Lamb is Able
1. To receive praise
2. To cleanse through blood
3. To use His power to provide

Revelation 7:9-17 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." (ESV).

How long ago was it when someone asked you what your favorite animal was? You might notice that in our short bios of the kids in school we ask some of them that question. Typically, it’s probably a question along the lines of what your favorite color or food is, usually asked of kids. But there’s certainly nothing wrong with adults having a favorite animal either. If you have been in my office you’ll notice I have a picture of a lion, my favorite animal.

If we had to choose a favorite animal of the Bible, it would probably be a lamb. The simple lamb is an animal that is so important throughout the Bible that you almost have to learn about it to understand what it means to be a Christian. Yet, I’m willing to guess that few people, if any, have ever said that their favorite animal is a lamb. A lamb is a young sheep, and one of the primary attributes of sheep is foolishness. Sheep are not smart animals. They are often helpless. They are easy prey for predators. They get themselves into trouble a lot.

What is it about this animal that is so important to the Bible? Obviously, we see a Lamb in our text today, from Revelation. This Lamb is Jesus. Jesus was called the Lamb of God because He came as the sacrifice for our sins. Early on the New Testament, John the Baptist declared of Jesus, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29).” That was at the beginning of John’s Gospel, now in the final book of Revelation, another of John’s, we see Jesus again as the Lamb.

We’ll talk more about Jesus as the Lamb, but in order to really appreciate the significance of this animal, you have to dig deeper into Scripture. What we see is a perpetual theme throughout God’s Word. One of the main themes involving a lamb is sacrifice. The Lord commanded His people in the Old Testament to use lambs as sacrifices – for sin and guilt. These offerings before the Lord were much more than just an act of worship. It was symbolic of the Lamb, the one here in Revelation, who would offer a sacrifice that was more “acceptable (Romans 12:1)” – a sacrifice “once for all (Hebrews 10:10).”
Two prominent stories come to mind about sacrifice. Abraham being told by God to sacrifice his only son, Isaac. At the moment of decision, God provided a male lamb – a ram – to take Isaac’s place; thereby prophesying in action the very thing He would do with His Son – the One who would not be spared. Of significance is also the Passover festival, when a year-old male lamb, without spot or blemish, would be killed and its blood spread upon the doorposts of believers’ homes. Yet, again, in this sacrifice God embedded a picture of the very thing He would do to spare sinners of death.

Think of other important stories in the Bible involving a lamb:
·       It was a lamb that Nathan used to teach David of his sin, picturing the innocence of the one that David had defiled (2 Samuel 12).
·       It was a lamb that Isaiah used to described eternal peace in heaven, that the lamb would lie down with the lion (Isaiah 65:25).   
·       The prophet Jeremiah likened his ministry to that of being a lamb led to slaughter as the people persecuted and rejected Him.
·       Ezekiel, as did Zechariah, spoke of how the shepherds of Israel, the spiritual leaders, had led God’s flock astray – literally to be killed.
·       Jesus, the Good Shepherd, promised that He alone was the way to safety for His sheep, that is, believers.

Part 1: To receive praise

Throughout the entire Bible, the lamb is prominent. And no more so than here in Revelation. Here we see three things about Jesus, the Lamb. He is worshipped. He cleanses by His blood. And He leads and reigns for you. And much like the other parts of Scripture, what is portrayed through Jesus here is parallel to what it means that we are His lambs. What He has achieved, you share in. How He has brought peace over sins, you embrace. You have a place with Him – in relation to Him. The praise He receives comes from your lips. The blood He shed for your life. The power He wields in your interests. We are lambs of God because we are with the Lamb of God.

Within that concept of Jesus as the Lamb is also a paradox however. As we mentioned before, why a lamb? Why a naïve and foolish creature – one which is so easily led astray? Well, that question is easy to answer from our perspective. We are foolish. We are ignorant. We are almost numb at times to the dangers around us. As the hymn writer aptly puts it, “The Shepherd dies for sheep that love to wander.” (TLH 143) But, what about Jesus? His characteristic as a sheep is not one of foolishness or stupidity. Jesus is the lamb in His innocence. A lamb is no predator. A lamb is not a danger to anyone. It is pure in that sense. The two concepts are no so far removed. The world often despises purity as a naïve and unrealistic thing – a pursuit not worth owning. The world loves strength. Yet, the two views of the lamb are also worlds apart. Our sins are the very things that separate us from God. Jesus had to come as one of us – He had to be more than the Shepherd, in order to win us to God. As our Savior, He is eternally worthy of our praise and honor. May it always be so in our hearts.

Part 2: The blood He shed

Here is the second paradox. We are washed clean by shed blood. It doesn’t take a genius to recognize that blood is far from clean. Blood serves a good purpose but when it is shed, it defiles. Shed blood is messy and ugly. It is anything but clean and holy. Shed blood was so defiling that God commanded the Israelites to stay away from it. Those who came into contact with blood were required to be thoroughly cleansed. Yet, as John witnesses this vision one of the Elders remarks, 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. John knew this already. He wrote in his first epistle, “the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:7).” John also knew it because He saw it. He was at the foot of the cross. He witnessed the literal blood of Jesus flowing from His head, hands, and feet. John described the blood and water that flowed from the side of the Lamb, as His lifeless frame hung from the cross. John knew enough about blood. He didn’t really need the Elder to explain it.

But, John was witnessing the effect of all that work His Savior did. We, too, know what it is to come into contact with that Lamb of God. We know what John felt – the awe, the mystery, the wonder, that God’s Son would willingly shed His righteous blood for us. We know our sins. We feel the guilt. The paradox of being sinner and saint; of knowing the righteous judgments of God, that those breaking them are deserving of death. Our Savior’s love and grace is not a confusing thing. But, that He would do it for me. That takes more. That is something to meditate on, as much so as blood that cleanses. Neither John nor the Elder really needed an explanation to what they were seeing. But, they both were in the state of grand appreciation and depth of blessedness – of witnessing the love of the Lamb. We, too, have been and a privileged to witness the same, as we share the sublime grace of God who daily washes us of the filthy stains of our sins in the blood of His. 

Part 3: The power He wields in our best interests

The final aspect of the Lamb is that He takes care of His flock. In contrast to the false shepherds of the Old Testament or the hireling of the New Testament, Jesus uses His power in our best interests. John’s vision of the scene concludes with images of how the Lord provides. They shall no longer hunger or thirst. They will be protected from the dangerous elements of the world, with their Lord in His presence. Tears and sorrow will be a thing of the past. For such gifts to be given, we need power. These are elements of the world that we are powerless against. Without the Lord’s daily provision, we would be helpless.

But, this power is capable of so much more. John describes at the beginning: 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!"

The power of Lamb is able to accomplish the seemingly impossible. It brings about the unity of all peoples from all backgrounds. It allows for sinful rebels to bow down in obedient worship and praise. These are miracles. These things are not part of some grand utopia here on earth. This is not a product of human hands and efforts. John says it as he hears it: “Salvation belongs to our God!” The Lamb provides for us – even for our eternal salvation, because He can. The gift is His to give. He is worthy. He is able.

Far too often, we’re too focused on our lives to think of this. We’re too worried about the things we can’t control. We’re too angry about the things that go wrong. We’re too confident in the things we’ve done. Look up, dear sinner! Salvation belongs to your God. The Lamb owns it. The Lamb freely gives it.   

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.

The Lamb knows your need. He shared in the hunger, thirst, and pain.
The Lamb knows your sorrow. He shared in the tears and hurt of sinful loss.
The Lamb knows your anger. He felt it in His body and in His soul as He shed His righteous blood to atone for your unholy life.

The Lamb is able and worthy – for you. Amen.

November 4, 2018

Reformation Sunday - Habakkuk 2:1-4



Habakkuk’s (and your) enduring Questions and God’s Answer
1. In Fairness 
2. In Feeling  
3. In Faith 

Habakkuk 2:1-4 I will stand at my guard post and station myself on the lookout tower. I will watch to see what He will say to me and what I should reply about my complaint. 2 The LORD answered me: Write down this vision; clearly inscribe it on tablets so one may easily read it. 3 For the vision is yet for the appointed time; it testifies about the end and will not lie. Though it delays, wait for it, since it will certainly come and not be late. 4 Look, his ego is inflated; he is without integrity. But the righteous one will live by his faith.

Dear fellow redeemed:

How do you react when you’re stressed? Psychologists talk about different reactions to stress that have been observed in people. They call them defense mechanisms – ways in which we process hard times that are happening. One reaction is denial – acting like the troubling thing isn’t actually happening. Another is projection – always being focused on what others are doing wrong instead of the ways we’ve contributed to our problems. A common one is displacement – where we cope with our stress by lashing out at easier targets who aren’t responsible for it. Or there’s identification – where we associate with other people or organizations who are popular or successful as a way to mask our own insecurities.

The thing about it is that humans are astoundingly acute when diagnosing the various ways that we handle stress – yet we’re often no better in actually handling it properly and getting over it. Habakkuk was stressed out. We might say that his defense mechanism for handling that stress was to blame God. In chapter one, Habakkuk lobbed two volatile complaints at God in the form of questions. In chapter two, under our text for consideration – Habakkuk gets his answer.

The same pattern plays out in our lives and in our faith. We question God – sometimes honestly and innocently, sometimes not so much. Our questions are similar to Habakkuk’s as we’ll see in a moment. They are the common inquisitions of a mortal human’s heart. And, much like Habakkuk, God doesn’t always give us the answer we want, but nonetheless an answer that satisfies. These questions and this answer, center on three things – fairness, feeling, and faith. May the Holy Spirit who leads through the Word of God bless us through it today.

Part 1: Fairness

Habakkuk’s first question was: How long, LORD, must I call for help and You do not listen or cry out to You about violence and You do not save? 3 Why do You force me to look at injustice? Why do You tolerate wrongdoing? Oppression and violence are right in front of me. Strife is ongoing, and conflict escalates. 4 This is why the law is ineffective and justice never emerges. For the wicked restrict the righteous; therefore, justice comes out perverted (1:2-4).

Habakkuk questioned God’s fairness. Like the rest of the prophets, Habakkuk was called to preach a message to God’s people. Like many of the rest of the prophets, the message was hard and the response was not good. In the very first verse Habakkuk calls the message a “burden” which was also a play on words in the Hebrew language. The Hebrew word for a message from God also contains the imagery of something that is carried under extreme pressure. We don’t know exactly what that message was, word for word. But, Habakkuk is clear enough that it wasn’t heeded. Wickedness had reached such as level that it caused the prophet to doubt whether God cared, or what value the law of God even held. Habakkuk questions the very principle of justice, like it doesn’t even exist. And perhaps most telling of all, this first question is extremely personal. Notice the personal emphasis: How long, LORD, must I call for help and You do not listen or cry out to You about violence and You do not save? 3 Why do You force me to look at injustice? Why do You tolerate wrongdoing? Oppression and violence are right in front of me.

How often have we faced the same personal conflict? What God tells us is extremely clear. His Word is that lamp to light the way. Yet, no one listens. People do what they please with the Word of God. Evil and wickedness abound in the world. The rich and the greedy continue to prosper. The vile and the disgusting continue to find ways to hurt others. Where is justice? Some, like Habakkuk, have felt this so acutely that they even question whether or not justice really exists. Some have given up trying.

Part 2: In Feelings

Habakkuk’s second question may be less personal but it’s certainly more pointed at God, Are You not from everlasting, O LORD my God, my Holy One? We shall not die. O LORD, You have appointed them for judgment; O Rock, You have marked them for correction. 13 You are of purer eyes than to behold evil, And cannot look on wickedness. Why do You look on those who deal treacherously, And hold Your tongue when the wicked devours a person more righteous than he (1:12-13)?

Habakkuk moves on from his personal feelings to now questioning the very nature of God. This is the next logical step. If God doesn’t care about me, but claims to – how can I then trust anything else about Him? Is He eternal? Is He holy? What happens to Habakkuk here is that he allows his feelings to get in the way of God’s Word. Feelings are a lot like temptations. They’re not necessarily bad, but they’re not always controllable. We will feel the way we will feel – no one can change that. Just like we will be tempted – no one can stop that.

The thing is, we don’t have to be dominated by those feelings. Sometimes people get upset at God’s Word or Christians because they think they’re trying to change the way they feel. This gets upsetting to say the least because there is so much to the way we feel that is out of our control. What do you think about Habakkuk’s second question? Have you ever felt the same way? Who hasn’t wondered about the Lord’s eternal nature? Who hasn’t contemplated God’s righteousness? Who hasn’t questioned God’s plan? These are natural feelings – meaning that they don’t come about by personal choice. Therefore, they also can’t be wished away as if they don’t exist.

But, this isn’t what God’s Word is aimed at. Feelings will always be there. God’s Word isn’t trying to change that. Instead, it gives you a way through those feelings to God. Feelings may come natural but that doesn’t mean they won’t betray the truth. Have you ever felt that God is asking the impossible of you? Have you ever been fed up with waiting for God’s answer? God is telling you right now He’s not trying to change you to act like those feelings will never exist. The fact that we see these examples so often in Scripture is a testament to their reality. God is giving you a way through – an answer that fills in your personal need and satisfies your natural struggle with His will. And it is the same answer He gave Habakkuk. The righteous one will live by his faith.



Part 3: In Faith

Here is true justice. Here is where divine righteousness is found. It is by faith. The Bible always means the same thing when it speaks of faith. It is trust in God. It is relying on Jesus as the only source of truth and salvation, even over ourselves. This is where we find answers. This is how we receive justice from our adversaries – through Jesus. Habakkuk would later sing, through a song, at the end of this book: Though the fig tree may not blossom, Nor fruit be on the vines; Though the labor of the olive may fail, And the fields yield no food; Though the flock may be cut off from the fold, And there be no herd in the stalls-- 18 Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation (3:17-18).

Notice that the stress isn’t over. Habakkuk confidently understands, even though evil still exists, even though bad things happen to me, even though I wait on the Lord’s plan – I can rejoice in salvation through my God. Joy in the Lord is not the absence of bad things – or the effects of sin in our lives. Rather it is the ability to get through it in the Lord’s name, with our faith intact.

Our text puts it another way, For the vision is yet for the appointed time; it testifies about the end and will not lie. Though it delays, wait for it, since it will certainly come and not be late. The Lord tells Habakkuk that His answer will seem like it’s late, but it will not be late. It is according to His plan. Doesn’t that encapsulate the difficulty that we face in matters of fairness and feeling in our lives? It seems like the Lord isn’t listening. It feels like He doesn’t care, or that He isn’t powerful enough. In those thoughts we are tempted to doubt His Word. At those moments there are others who offer more attractive answers – quick answers that I don’t have to wait for. At that time Satan brings the full onslaught of temptation – that God’s Word is false, that God doesn’t care about your complaint, that God has moved on, that there’s no point in waiting because it’s a pointless exercise. There’s no denying the stress – but God openly tells you it’s part of the process. His answer will feel like it’s late – but it never is.

The righteous shall live by faith. That is our motto as believers because that’s the only way through this sinful world. God told Habakkuk that He knew the source of his complaints; Habakkuk’s ego was inflated. He was proud in his own thoughts. But, the Lord didn’t leave him there – Habakkuk already knew that. The Lord reassured him – you are righteous by faith, that will never be late; that will never change. Write it down, make it clear that others may know it too.

How do you handle stress? What is your go-to defense mechanism? Do you hide from it? Do you try to mask it? Do you take it out on others? Is it always some else’s fault? Recognize your questions and God’s answer – just as Habakkuk did. You, also, are righteous by faith in Jesus. Tempted to question that? Ever feel like it isn’t true? Consider this word from God about His timing – explaining why you can have confidence.

Romans 5:4-8 We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. 6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

There’s an answer worth knowing. It’s okay to witness the evil. It’s okay to feel the stress. It’s okay to have the feeling of uncertainty. You have a way through – Jesus, the one who died for you. We can glory in those conquered things, because it’s glorying in our Savior. We can see and appreciate God’s hand at work, because it is. He died and lives for sinners and so I am righteous by faith. Amen.