Do Not Be Afraid

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A Facebook group that I’m part of, called Compadres, is having a blog tour. The general theme is The Glory of The Son and each of us will pick a story, event or teaching of Jesus that reflects His glory. Here are the posts so far:
June 3: Jeremy Schopper: Leaving the Noise Behind
June 5: Danny Holman: Jesus Challenge
June 10: Carl Jenkins: Give A Man A Fish
June 17: Jonathan Dobbs: Why Me, God?
June 19: Scott Elliott:The Beauty of the Gospel
June 24: Chris Hodges: The Glory of the Son
June 26: David Smith: then they can see my glory, which you gave me
July 1: Jeremy Hoover: Matthew and Mission
July 3: Allen Carr: The Glory in the Welcome
July 10: Daniel Burns: Not So With You
July 15: Rex Butts: A Place For Lepers
July 22: Jennifer Rundlett: A Vision of Harmony
July 24: Don Middleton: Come To The Table
July 29: Tim Archer: Do Not Be Afraid

Did you notice that last name and date on the list? (last for now… more to come) Yep, I forgot to make my contribution to the blog tour! So here it is, a couple of days late:

Do Not Be Afraid

“On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, which said: “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.” I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone “like a son of man,” dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.” (Revelation 1:10–18)

John knew Jesus well. John formed part of the inner circle of disciples, along with Peter and James; these three participated in Jesus’ ministry in a way that no one else did. Yet now, when John sees Jesus again, he faints.

This was the glorified Christ, the Risen One in all of his glory. The description is bathed in Old Testament imagery, filled with symbolism of prophetic authority and messianic identity. But what really catches my attention are Jesus’ words:

  • Do not be afraid. As we read through the Bible, we see heavenly messengers giving these reassuring words. It’s a scary thing for an earthly being to find himself in the presence of a celestial visitor! But in Revelation, these words have a special meaning.
    Christians were being killed for their faith. John was in prison for his. One of the key phrases in this book is “do not be afraid.” More suffering was to come. More prison. More death. But Christians were to face these things with courage.
  • I am the First and the Last. Jesus wasn’t just another prophet. He was God made flesh, using terms that described God and applying them to himself.
  • I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! Christians needed to remember that Jesus had the perfect résumé to be able to talk to others about not fearing death. His was not mere theoretical knowledge. He had been there and back.
  • And I hold the keys of death and Hades. Jesus didn’t just die; he stripped death of its power. Christians could face death with confidence; Jesus had entered the realm of the dead and emerged with the keys. He had promised that the gates of Hades would not overcome his church. How could they when he held the keys to those very gates?

The resurrection of Jesus changed history. Not just as something in the past nor something to wait for. The resurrections transforms our living today. We don’t have to fear earthly powers. We needn’t be concerned about those who can only threaten our lives. We face death with our heads held high, knowing that our Lord has forever conquered.

Do not be afraid.

Extravagance

The lists of odd and extravagant Christmas gifts are beginning to appear. Reminds me of something I wrote for the Hope for Life blog last year:

Extravagance

I have to confess: I like looking at extravagant Christmas gifts. Not out of any desire to give or receive them. I just like to marvel at what’s available.

Some of them are amazingly expensive. Like the Ferrari FF listed at Neiman Marcus; it can be yours for only $390,000. You may want to hurry. They only have 10 available.

For mom, Amazon lists a black pearl necklace for a mere $76,500 dollars. Don’t worry… the item ships for free.

Another option is a gift card from Halcyon jets. A $5 million gift card! Actually, it’s called a Dream Card, and it gives you full access to their complete fleet of jets, as well as a private aviation specialist and a personal concierge.

For the truly discriminating, might I suggest you consider purchasing an island? You can get a lovely 20-acre island off the coast of Rio de Janeiro for a mere $8 million. Sorry… only one per customer.

Most of us won’t be spending quite as much on Christmas gifts, though many will spend more than they should. There’s something about the Christmas season that makes us want to give gifts in a big way.

However, we know that the greatest gift has already been given. No one can match the extravagance of our Heavenly Father, who gave us what the apostle Paul calls an “indescribable gift.” (2 Corinthians 9:15) God gave us His own Son, not as a Christmas gift, but as the gift that never stops giving. God’s Son, Jesus, came and died, to give us all the right to claim the gift of eternal life.

The apostle John famously wrote, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16–17)

In this season of giving and receiving, let’s take time to remember the greatest gift of all: God’s Son. And let’s make sure that we’ve claimed the gift He offers each of us: the gift of eternal life.

photo by Michael Connors

The Case For Non-Participation: Jesus’ teachings

As we look at reasons for not participating in any nation’s military, it’s obvious that we need to look at what Jesus taught, as well as the rest of the New Testament. I read a piece by Patrick Mead where he claimed that the only way to support pacifism was to cut certain portions out of the New Testament. While I understand his feeling (I feel the same toward military involvement), such an attitude is counterproductive to biblical discussions. I won’t claim that those who choose to participate ignore Scripture. I disagree with them on how to interpret certain passages. And I think their interpretation is more reflective of our culture and society than it is of biblical teaching.

At some point, we have to take the Sermon on the Mount (and the Sermon on the Plain in Luke) seriously. The sayings are hard. As I’ve written about before, some want to explain them away through various creative strategies. But we can’t get away from the fact that Jesus taught that it’s better to let an evil man have his way than to retaliate. Turning the other cheek, letting people rob us and take advantage of us, loving enemies… none of these things are easy nor come naturally. Jesus was saying that what is natural isn’t right, that we have to overcome our human impulses and replace them with spiritual ones.

Those who live by the sword die by the sword.” These words were spoken as a rebuke, not merely as a commentary on life. Jesus wasn’t just saying that his disciples weren’t to defend him at that moment. He was saying that there are those who live by the sword… and they aren’t us! We aren’t them. Jesus’ followers are not to live by the sword.

What about the New Testament passages that talk about Jesus coming to execute judgment on his enemies? Aren’t those violent passages? Of course they are. Which is why Paul reminds us that vengeance belongs to God. He will do it. Just as we aren’t to judge because there is only one judge, we aren’t to avenge because there is only one avenger. Passages that show God doing violence argue against our doing the same.

We live in a militarized society. That colors the way we read Scripture. It leads us to look for every exception and every loophole to allow us to follow the current of our culture. We need to recapture the countercultural spirit. We need to seek to be a holy people. Jesus called us to a higher standard. I think we need to stop trying to talk our way around that and merely seek to live it.

The Sword-Bearing Prince of Peace

Since I’ve discussed Romans 13 at length in the past, I don’t really see the need to go back over that passage. So let’s turn our attention to the Book of Revelation. When seeking to refute pacifistic ideas, many look to Revelation 19. There we see Jesus in a robe dipped in blood, killing His enemies with a sword.

The word “dipped” can throw us off here, for, in Revelation, the martyrs have previously washed their robes in blood, but it wasn’t the blood of their enemies. It was the blood of the Lamb, the blood that won the victory over Satan. However, in Chapter 19, Jesus is “trampling the grapes of wrath.” In Chapter 14, when these grapes were harvested, it was said that the blood flowed as deep as the horses’ bridles. Whose blood? Probably a reference to God’s enemies, though that’s never made clear.

But no matter where the blood on His robe came from, Jesus’ intentions are clear. He is there to “strike down the nations.” This is a time for vengeance.

So there we have it. Christians are called to exact vengeance on God’s enemies. Or are they?

Let’s back up. Revelation is written to a group of Christians who are about to undergo persecution. The message to them is that they are to patiently endure, overcoming by being faithful witnesses. There’s a reason why the Greek word for “witness” became the English word “martyr,” for Jesus is held up as the example of what a faithful witness is. The mighty Lion of Judah turns out to be a lamb that was slain. He conquered on the cross, by dying for His faith. Now He calls His followers to be unafraid to risk the same.

The promise is that God will exact vengeance on their tormenters. Just as Second Thessalonians promises that those who persecute the Christians will be punished by God, so Revelation emphasizes that Christians are not to seek to bring about “justice” by their own hand, but they are to leave vengeance to God.

(By the way, did you notice what sword Jesus is using to strike down the nations? The sword which proceeds from His mouth. It doesn’t take much knowledge of apocalyptic symbolism to see that the judgment against the nations will be exacted by the Word of God. The scene is that of ultimate judgment, the final defeat of evil. The weapons are spiritual ones, just as the armies are heavenly armies and not earthly ones.)

So how did early Christians read Revelation? Did they see in it a call to arms, a summons to exact justice on the Romans via the sword? No. They saw it as a reminder that they were to submit to the authorities, honor the king, and leave vengeance to God. To get Revelation to say something else, you have to strip it from its original context.

(Do I really have to address the numbers question? Probably, because it always seems to come up. “Christians didn’t fight back because there weren’t enough of them. Had they had a chance of winning, God would have told them to fight.” Should you be clinging to that idea, might I suggest a quick perusal of the Old Testament? Stories like Gideon, Samson, David vs. Goliath, Jonathan and his armor bearer vs. the whole Philistine army… God doesn’t need numbers to win a battle. If violent resistance had been the answer, God was more than capable of enabling His people to triumph.)

I’d like to hear your thoughts, comments, questions and suggestions.